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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Southern Fried Anger

It's almost deafening; the sound of a million cicadas buzzing in the trees overhead.  Their sole purpose to eat/breed/die drives the mind-numbing drone that cuts through radio channels and rattles your fillings. The mercury outside the window begins to bubble by 7 in the morning.  When it's hotter outside than inside your cup of coffee, you know it's going to be one of those days.  The kind of day when it feels like you stepped into a sauna when you walk outside and stepped out of a shower with your clothes on when you come back inside.  It's the kind of day that make people lose their cool very quickly.  When people stop being civil and choose to offer up heaping portions of Southern Fried Anger.

 The weather man in his flashy suit shimmies and shakes on the screen. Trying to make his message of suffocating heat and humidity more tolerable to bear.  Showing us grade-school like graphics of a smiling Mr. Sun and the Lazy South Wind fanning themselves to get through the day.  Mr. Reynolds pays no real mind to the din in the background; the t.v. and Cicadas droning on in synchronicity.   Instead he is focused on the spoon in his coffee. While the spoon itself is nothing more than a standard, run of the mill spoon it is the action of the spoon that has him enthralled.   For while he stopped stirring his coffee several seconds ago; after being drawn into a newspaper editorial about lawn watering restrictions in Shelby County, the spoon seemed to have other ideas.  In this continue spinning of its own volition.

Mr. Reynolds is well aware of the laws of physics surrounding a body in motion tending to stay in motion but he has yet to find the law that allows a spoon to stand perfectly straight up in a cup of coffee while continuing to stir as if steered by a hand.  To his knowledge, he is witnessing something against the laws of physics. Something.....unnatural. He reaches out to stop the spoon from continuing it's whirling dervish around the cup but before he gets the chance, the motion stops and the spoon comes to rest.

A tiny object flits across his face and darts madly in every direction possible.  He swats sluggishly at the fly in a vain effort to show the tiny creature that it's presence is not appreciated. But much like man ignores an ant that scurries at his feet, so too does the fly pay no heed to Mr. Reynolds.  It continues its Kamikaze like behaviour diving aggressively towards his breakfast, his coffee and his face.  Mr. Reynolds can't help but take notice this time. He swings his arms ineffectively at this tiny nuisance to no avail.  He quickly grabs the newspaper in front of him and rolls it into a blunt weapon.  But this fly is wise to the ways of man and quickly retreats to the far end of the kitchen table; knowing the man will more than likely give up the chase if it requires leaving the comfort of his chair.  The fly's gamble pays off as Mr. Reynolds drops the paper back to the table.

"You got lucky this time." he says.  The fly rubs his legs together; unimpressed by the threat.
Mr. Reynolds points his finger at the fly and cocks his thumb like a gun.  He drops the hammer and the fly suddenly bursts into flames at the other end of the table.  Instant ash.  A small wisp of smoke curls up from the end of his glowing fingertip.  Mr. Reynolds is losing his mind.

He doesn't blink for what seems like an eternity.  The smoke dissipates and the finger throbs back to its normal peachy tone as if nothing so strange as firing imaginary incendiary rounds has just happened at the breakfast table.  The fly is nothing more than a smudge at this point; simply ceasing to be.  His heart is hammering the walls of his chest and he can hear the blood rushing through his veins.  It makes a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh sound in his ears.

A repetitive beeping noise calls out in the distance and Mr. Reynolds starts to bend back into reality.  The smoke alarm is going off; set in motion but the fly's spontaneous combustion.  He jumps up and uses the paper to swat at it until it stops squawking.  It is only then that he realizes that the noise may have been a blessing in disguise; functioning as both smoke alarm and alarm clock.  He's going to be late for work.  Already catching hell twice this week, he can nary afford another incident lest he wish to receive the stink eye and disapproving grimace of Jonathon, his new fresh-out-of business-school-dating-the-owner's-daughter-district-manager.

The two had butted heads since day one when Jonathon first came in to perform a productivity audit at the Owner's request.  Mr. Reynolds it seems, had been found lacking in a few key areas and was flagged immediately as 'dead weight'.  He received a tap on the shoulder while sitting at his little 4x4 cubicle and asked to follow a man in an impeccably expensive suit.  The man held the door open to the small meeting room and ushered Mr. Reynolds inside with a wolfish grin.

"Mr......Reynold's is it?" Jonathon said glancing over some papers on a clipboard.
"Last time I checked." Mr. Reynolds replied.  That got him a cocked eyebrow glance.  At least it was something he supposed.
"Mr. Reynolds, my name is Jonathon Beauchamp and I've been contracted to identify areas within the business that are not working up to snuff so to speak.  I've been asked to identify these gaps and then fix them.  Mr. are a gap."
Mr. Reynolds sat motionless across the small conference table.  He stared at the man in the suit but made no effort to respond or even truly acknowledge that he was being called out as unproductive.  This earned him a tie shift and throat clear.

"Mr. Reynolds the company has concerns that the input of money, training and time it has sunk into you has not yielded a sufficient enough return on investment.  They are concerned that they're losing revenue because you're not productive enough.  You've been seen on several occasions staring blankly at your desk or 'doodling' in your workbook.  One of your coworkers said they saw you staring into your briefcase for 20 full minutes! This is now my concern and I'm not fond of having concerns.  So....what are we going to do to fix this concern?  What are we going to do to make you more productive?"

"Well for starters" Mr. Reynolds said "taking me away from my desk and my work to ask me rhetorical questions is probably not a good start.  Wouldn't you agree Mr....Beauchamp was it?"

Silence crept across the table as the two occupants of the room locked eyes.  Neither one was willing to back down on this matter; the young up-and-coming business man with everything to prove and the middle-aged tenured desk-jockey with nothing to his name but his job.  Mr. Reynolds understood the drill.  He knew the company had been struggling financially for the last few months.  Most businesses had.  But as hard times fell, so too did the job chopping axe.  Jonathon was a hired gun.  Mercilessly sent in to find the employees with the most tenure, the most pay or with the jobs that could be easily automated or forgotten.  Mr. Reynolds fit two of those three categories.

"Mr. Reynolds, truth be told...I don't appreciate your tone.  I know what you must think of me...."

"Actually, you have no idea." He calmly remarked.

"Well, regardless of hurt feelings you and I both have a job to do.  In this case, the ownership for improvement lands squarely on both our shoulders.  So here's what's going to happen.  You're going home for the rest of the day.  For the rest of the afternoon I want to you to write out an action plan as to the steps you are going to take to start being more productive while here at work.  We're going to meet tomorrow morning and go through your action plan to see how applicable your points are.  And believe me Mr. Reynolds, I have no qualms about scrapping all of your ideas for my own.  I'm simply entertaining this idea because the nice lady in Human Resources told me that I'm required to by law.  However, she also mentioned that the next steps we take after today's little meeting....are at my discretion.  So!  Let's be productive this afternoon and start fresh tomorrow shall we?"

Back in his kitchen, Mr. Reynolds stares at the blank page on his table.  There is no header or footer; no footnotes or end notes.  He hasn't even written his name or the date.  This pristine virgin page will not be sullied by ink meant to sign his death certificate.  He knows full well that Jonathon has no intention of even considering his recommendations.  Furthermore, he sees no need to write an action plan for things he doesn't even recall happening in the first place.  He squints at the paper and it crumbles into a tiny ball.  A slight smile crosses his face.  He grabs his keys and heads to the car.

He makes the drive to the office in the usual time.  The ride is uneventful except for the radio not coming in clearly.  Mr. Reynolds makes a mental note to get that looked into.  He pulls into his spot and walks across the lot to the front doors.  In his haste out of the house this morning, he realizes that he's forgotten his access card.  As he's typically one of the last employees into the office each morning, he knows that he might be stuck outside waiting for someone to let him in.  Imagine the joy it would bring to Jonathon if he showed up late to their meeting.  He glances at the doors and his vision trembles slightly.  The doors grind open against the hydraulic arm and the lights in the entrance way flicker violently.  Mr. Reynolds may be losing his mind....but he's enjoying the process.

Jonathon is waiting at his desk when he gets upstairs.  He looks at his watch and mutters something under his breath.  He impatiently twirls his fingers in the 'let's get a move on hoss' movement at Mr. Reynolds and then walks to the small conference room.  Reynolds takes off his coat and sets his briefcase down at his desk.  He notices his keyboard is slightly askew; most likely from the Cleaner.  He moves his hand as if to straighten it and it glides back into place.  He looks at his coworker across from him; sitting bug-eyed and disbelieving that he's just seen what he's seen.

Mr. Reynold's smiles.  "Magic." he whispers as he walks past the desk and towards the conference room.

Jonathon is waiting in his usual spot; across the table in the windowless room.  He has all his necessary papers fanned out and his 2 pens are clicked and ready for deployment.  What a good little soldier he is.

"Mr. Reynolds, I truly hope you used yesterday to think about your actions.  The business world can be a strange mistress some times.  One day you're sharing her bed, the next day you're out on the curb looking for a new place to sleep because she's found a new partner.  That being said, I believe you have something for me?  An action plan if I'm not mistaken?  Let's take a look please."

Mr. Reynolds looks down at the empty table in front of him.  "Well Jonathon.  There's a slight problem with your request."

"And that is?" Jonathon asks.

"I wasn't sure how to write something using bullshit.  So I just didn't do it."

"I see." Jonathon remarks.  He slides a manila folder across the table.  "You'll find all the pertinent information regarding your dismissal in the folder in front of you."

Mr. Reynolds opens the folder and begins perusing the contents.  Standard letter, final pay stub, business cards for Councillors.  Run of the mill.  Amazing at how your life can be summed up in half an inch worth of paper he thinks to himself.  The word 'legacy' seems offensive if applied to this sad display.

"On a more personal note Mr. Reynolds" Jonathon begins "if you want to survive in the new business world, you'll need to be ruthless.  Focused.  Nobody's going to want to hire a tired old man with no drive or ambition.  Take my advice....if you want to ever work in this field again, you better be willing to destroy your competition.  Because people want to be amazed....and you sir, certainly aren't blowing anybody's mind."

"Are you saying I need to 'wow' you?  That I need to blow your mind Jonathon?" Mr. Reynolds whispers.

"I think we're passed that point now Mr. Reynolds.  I just don't see that happening quite frankly."

"Well then..." Mr. Reynolds chuckles ".....allow me to entertain you."

The lights in the conference room begin to dim and sputter out.  A hollow hum begins to the fill the room around the two of them.  The table begins to vibrate ever so slightly and the papers start to singe and smoke at their corners.  Jonathon shifts uncomfortably in his chair as Mr. Reynolds stares him down.  The hum is deafening now but no one outside the room take notice.  That is because the humming is emanating from Jonathon's skull.  He tries to stand up.  He knows something is horribly wrong.  The man across from him makes no effort to help him even as he gurgles out a desperate plea.  There is a small pop behind his right eye and then the room goes dark.

Mr. Reynolds is losing his mind.  But at least he still has his. Unfortunately.....the same can't be said for Jonathon.