Anyone who has worked with a staff of more than around 10 employees has seen an auto generated email before. One day Bob is at his desk, the next day he’s not. His extension no longer works. The family photos and matchbox cars that littered his cube are missing. Where’s Bob? Has anyone seen Bob? A brief chorus of shrugs at the water cooler before heading back to your cube.
Shortly after there’s the familiar ping of an inbox message. Click. It’s from management to everyone else. Bob is no longer with us, we wish him well in his future endeavors. Where is he endeavoring to? Is he o.k.? Did he leave the city? Is he still on the planet? And then another ping and it’s off to the races, again.
Your mind still spins ahead like the quick clicking on of desktop folder icons. Was it something I said? Could I have prevented this misfortune? You notice that there’s more work to do now that Bob is gone. Your’re not exactly sure what he did all day, but it must have been something since you are falling behind your normal fall behind. It doesn’t help matters that you and Bob were the only ones in your department. You are now – you and Bob. Great, you get to be Bob.
You look around the cubes. Is anyone else reading this message? Nothing. Crickets. Poor Bob. Poor, poor Bob. I hope he’s o.k. What if he doesn’t have a place to go? No where to hang his hat, so to speak. Hat. I need a new hat. I’ll just check amazon. Wait. Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe Bob checked Amazon one too many times. And now he’s gone. Vaporized. Poor Bob.
Back at it. Exhale. Coffee break? Better not chance it. I just took one five minutes ago. But you see a few people gathering. Maybe it’s a memorial service for Bob. You think about heading to the restroom then walking past them on your way back. You reason not to take your phone because it will raise suspicion. You opt for a pen and a note pad. You are now searching your four desk drawers and realize that only one of them opens, two are stuck shut, and the last one is fake. Nothing. A gum wrapper. A gum wrapper and a pen. Close enough.
You try not to dawdle in the restroom. And then you head over to the group. It is about Bob. They are talking in whispers. You approach. They stop. That probably isn’t a good sign. You smile and nod. They disperse. Oh God. The pit in your stomach erupts. If you only had a piece of gum to loosen your anxiety filled jaw. Your eyes dart around, sweat forms around the bridge of your eyebrows. A co-cuber gives you a reassuring smile that looks more like someone ran over you dog, twice. Then left the scene. Not the driver, your dog. Your dog threw himself in front of the car to get away from you. Not you per say, just the situation you’re in. And then he left. Even your dog had the sense to leave.
Your underarms are perspiring now. You lash out. I hate this job anyway. Hate it. It sucks. And I have a fake drawer. There has to be someplace I can go with a real desk drawer. You head defiantly into your boss’s office carrying a gum wrapper, a pen, and now a smug smile. You are daring her to fire you.
She looks up and waits. No, I know this. What is this? Right, whoever speaks first loses. You tighten your lips. She still waits. You do too. Then you can’t. I just want to tell you that –
She hands you a paper. It lingers there. She motions again. You are about to speak and then she does. Bob was working on this before he left. Can you handle it?
Can you handle it? You lunge for the paper, give a confident smile and practically skip out of the room.
Seated at your desk, you are working at a fevered pitch; like you have never worked before. Bob. What did he know. He was awful at his job. He brought the whole department down. You sit back, accomplished, your work done at a record pace. Your hands folded behind your head, looking up, you realize that everyone is staring at you. They look, what’s the word for how they look – sad? No, not sad. More like pity. The thought hits you like a ton of bricks. She used me. Once this is done, so am I. You look at your inbox, did it send? The report you did, did it send? The one Bob couldn’t do. It did. The next thought is interrupted by your boss.
She’s calling you back in. You could pretend like you didn’t hear her. You could sneak out the back, and say you took an early lunch. You look around for a life vest. This is what standing on the titanic must have felt like. Just like it. Minus the water, the sinking, the boat, well besides that, just like it. It’s been over 100 years since that thing sunk. Why do they still keep talking about it. Over and over. The history channel does a re-enactment every year. The show should take five minutes. The embark, they sail, they sink, the end. End. She’s standing over your desk now. You know because there is distinct chill where the sun used to be. And now just her shadow. She smiles at you.
You follow her into her office. She shuts the door. This is bad. This is Bob bad. Unless she likes me. Maybe. No, that would be worse. You sit.
She’s telling you about all the great benefits of being let go, the free time, the opportunity to try something new. You’re not sure that’s what she’s saying, but you’re pretty sure it is. The room spins.
You exit. You can hear her typing. You know the message. The message about you doing well in your future endeavors. You clear your throat and address your co-cubers. Do me a favor, don’t wish me well. Don’t gather in the break room. Just hit reply. And type this. You scrawl on the gum wrapper and hold it up. Like Norma Rae with the Union sign. Except that sign was bigger and you’re not Sally Field. They all squint to see it. You give up and hand it over, one by one they pass it around.
You take your box full of silly putty, stress sponges, and the picture of your missing dog and you head towards the door. A co-cuber calls to you: You spelled it wrong!
You turn. She is holding up the gum wrapper. You shrug. What does it matter now. Nothing matters now. You turn towards the door and the sunlight hits you like a beam. Smiling, you head out. You are free. And as you pass by the windows of your co-cubers, and even your boss, it’s you who feels the pang of pity. They don’t know this sort of freedom. You think about your new adventure. You think about all the things you will do now that you don’t have to sit in your decorated cube, or go to the dog park. You think maybe your first quest will be to find Bob; maybe have an adventure with Bob.
The wind even offers an assist, rustling the ends of your hair. And then you hear it. Your name being called. Bob? You turn and it’s not Bob, it’s your boss. And she’s looking at you oddly. You smile. Someone must have hit reply. And even if they spelled it wrong, she knows what it means and where to put it.
Where are you going?
Is this metaphorical? Do I answer? And you do. I am endeavoring.
Are you taking a personal day?
You don’t understand. You answer, Yes. Several.
You need to get that approved.
Is she your boss for life? What was in the contract you signed. You look perplexed.
A promotion doesn’t necessarily translate into different rules.
She smiles at you. Then looks worried. Then looks as though she is questioning her judgement.
She is about – you speak. I was just taking a walk around the corner.
Oh, she replies.
Yes. I’ll be right in, you fire back. She leaves and you do a happy dance in your head. You wait until she’s inside and then you race around the back of the building to the propped door. A plastic drink bottle as your doorstop, you shimmy through. You smile at your cleverness; you put the bottle there. This is the door you use when you are going to be late, and typically it only happens Monday through Friday. You get inside and make a beeline to your desk. You exhale drinking in the familiar sound of keys tapping. Keys tapping!
No! You look up, and everyone is typing. Nobody hit send. Nobody send my misspelled gum wrapper message! You are willing the thought into reality. You clear your throat and stand. Everyone looks up. I just want you to know that I will still treat everyone as my equal. It seems to be working….It’s not working. “Everyone” returns to typing. Well, “everyone” except one guy. You know the guy. The guy who cuts you off in meetings. The guy who talks just loudly enough for the boss to hear that you were the one who parked in her spot. The guy who has all the great ideas for future projects that don’t include you.
He smiles. He’s chewing gum. You want to ask him for a piece, but you resist. He balls up the wrapper and tosses it to you. You open it. One word, his word is spelled correctly. SENT.
You fight the urge to cower and look away. He is motioning goodbye to you in all the socially accepted ways available to him. You turn and look into your boss’ office. She looks angry. She looks likes she’s angry at you. You wait. She looks up and motions towards you. You think it’s you. But, it’s not you. It’s him, the gum chewer. He glides past you with the ease of a gazelle. You slide further down with the grace of a drunken sloth.
It’s the end of the day. Everyone goes home. But, not you. You will stay until the bitter end. You will stay until they force your carcass from the seat. It was your promotion. This is your space to claim. It’s not the end of the day. You have fallen asleep and hit your head on the desk. You snap back to consciousness. It’s only been five minutes. He’s still in there. Your foe. Bob’s enemy. The enemy of anyone who excels at about 50% effort for at least one quarter of the day. You cluck at him from your perch.
He exits, smiling again as he passes you by. You return to your computer. And you’re locked out. Your password isn’t working. Did you change it? No, he did. Bob’s enemy changed the password. This is war. This is worse than war. Then you remember your password. You changed it after the last Peter Jackson trilogy. The Lord reigns, The Hobbit not so much. You start typing. Feverishly again. The ghost of Bob has taken over your fingers. You write his goodbye. Bob’s enemy. His work eulogy. No one will miss him. He did nothing. Ever. We don’t wish him well in his future endeavors. And send.
You sit back. Ha! Ha! You out maneuvered him. You are smarter than him.
He laughs out loud. You turn and glare at him.
He points a finger at you and mouths – your own worst enemy is yourself.
You stick your tongue out and then wet the finger you give him. The shadow has returned.
What is the matter with you?
You turn to face her. You don’t care anymore . Even your tailored shirt is hanging out.
You start reciting lines from films
Go ‘head Mick, cut me. Cut me.
She stares at you.
I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!
She barks back, Get out. You heard me. Get out. That isn’t a direct line from a film. You’re annoyed that she’s not playing along. You stand, pushing your flimsy office chair back with force. In theory the chair should have flown across the room, but because of the bad carpet patch job that stops at your cube, it rolls a microscopic inch. Your are defiant.
Fine by me. Do me a favor. Forget the email. I don’t want one.
What are you talking about?
Wishing me well on my future endeavors. We all know what that’s code for. Bob knows.
Bob took a job down south to be closer to his grandchildren. We’re having a party for him this coming weekend before he leaves town on his boat. He and his wife are taking a sailing trip first.
Your eyes dart around.
They acted like –
Like they felt sorry for me.
Bob didn’t want you at the party. He doesn’t like you. A co-cuber blurts out.
Your boss takes this opportunity to dovetail. But now that you mention it I won’t wish you well in your future endeavors. Not sure what you would do with that information. If a promotion causes this reaction, whose to say what well wishes would do. Frankly, I don’t want to be responsible for the fall out.
You have to send out the email. It’s customary. Everyone knows it.
“Everyone” is typing with their heads down. Except him. That guy. He’s smiling at you.
Well, I wish myself well in my future endeavors. You can’t stop that from happening!
You storm out of the office. I wish myself well! Other people on the street wish you wouldn’t be walking near them. But, in life we all have to take some hits. Bob! I hope he sinks. I hope his whole damn boat sinks into the ocean. This makes you smile. A real smile, for the first time in a long time. Nothing but smooth sailing ahead for you. Not for Bob, though…your deep in endeavoring thoughts and that’s pretty much why you miss the yellow caution tape around the sewer grate….you plunge face first into darkness. Luckily for you it’s only a few feet deep, and you roll to a seated position. And you think that now is as good a time as any to take stock of your surroundings, and your life that sits around them. Yup, ‘bout right. From above, you hear a husky voice – that’s lunch! Before you can call for help, the cap scrapes over the opening to your future endeavors. A pin of light remains. You think to yourself, all is not lost. How long can lunch be? Then the husky voice rings out again:
Extra long lunch today guys! Someone retires, that’s the deal. They buy lunch. This one’s on Bob!
A chorus of Bobs bellow and then fade. You are left alone to ponder your thoughts in the dark. You lean your head back and it touches something sticky. You reach around and find a wad of gum. At least you think it’s gum. You smell it, it’s flavored. Probably a good chance it’s gum. You look around, what the heck. One point for me. That’s Bob 0 and me 1 in these endeavor Olympics. Satisfied with your conclusion, you open your mouth and toss it in. It’s not gum. But it’s too late, you already hit send.