“Don’t bring me problems!” Jones’ face was beet-red, “I need solutions, dammit!”
Terence cringed before the wrath of his belligerent boss. He hated this. Hated his boss. Hated his job. He was just an accountant. It wasn’t his fault the company was in the red. He didn’t have the authority to make changes to keep them in the black. As general manager, solving problems and making decisions was Jones’ job, not Terence’s.
“Get out! Just, get out!” Jones screamed at the quivering man before him, “OUT!”
Terence shuffled back to his cubicle. A small soulless hole in the corner, lit by fluorescent bulbs, stripped of anything that could offend or provoke. Bare. Empty. Lifeless.
He sat at his desk and stared blankly at the computer screen, a stick in the mud as the office ebbed and flowed around him. The whole week had been that way. Morning and afternoon, every day since Monday and he was expected to work Saturday for some reason. To compensate for his lack of performance. That’s what Jones had told him.
Some of his co-workers looked at him, before swiftly looking away, unsure of what to say and embarrassed by that uncertainty. They knew he was struggling but what could they do? Terence had a problem with the manager, it was best to stay out of the way and be glad they weren’t in his shoes. Terence didn’t mind. He didn’t want to talk to them anyway. So he was surprised that he turned towards the voice that spoke from behind him.
“Excuse me?” A man in a suit said, “What’s your name?”
“Terence Crumby,” Terence hated his name. Why did he have to have such a weird name.
“Crumby,” the man smiled, “That’s one you don’t hear every day.”
“Can I help you?” The day just got better. First screamed at, then made fun of.
“Upper management sent me to talk with you,” the short man sat down, “If that’s all right with you, of course.”
“Upper management? Why?”
“Because they’re concerned about you Mr. Crumby. You’re having a rough time right now.”
“No, I’m not. I’m fine.”
“Is that so?” the man raised his eyebrows, “What do you think of your job?”
“It’s a job. Pays the bills. I get by.”
“I hear you. It’s what a job is, right? Allows you to survive, so that you can do the things you like.”
“That’s right,” Terence looked at the man, “Jones put you up to this, didn‘t he?”
“No. Tell me, Mr. Crumby, what things do you like?”
“I like, what? What kind of a question is that? What do you mean, what do I like?”
“It’s simple. You must like something.”
“I like normal things,” Terence said, “Who the hell are you anyway?”
“I told you, I’m with upper management. Call me Mike. Can I call you Terence?”
The question threw Terence for a loop. The conversation was so fast, so absurd. He felt out of his depth and looked around for a co-worker to serve as a distraction. Oddly enough, there was no one around. The desperate feeling he’d had for the past week slowly started simmering into a volcanic rage.
“It is all right if I call you Terence?” Mike asked, “So much more personal that way.”
“So what do you like, Terence? Puppies? Flowers? Club sandwiches? Your job?”
“I told you. Normal things.”
“But what are normal things?”
“What normal people like.”
“Are you normal, Terence?”
“It’s a simple question, Terence.”
“Ok,” Terence could feel heat building from his neck and spilling over his face. Who was this guy to treat him like this? Helplessly enraged, he listened, amazed, as his mouth began moving of its own volition.
“Maybe I don’t want to tell you what I like, Mike.”
“Maybe it’s because you don’t know.”
“I like lots of things. And I know one thing I don’t like, Mike. I don’t like assholes, in suits, prying into my personal life and interrogating me about who I am! I especially don’t like it when their name’s Mike!” Terence glowered, “Now I’d appreciate it, Mike, if you’d go away, and leave me the hell alone! I have a lot of work to do! A lot of work!”
Mike regarded the outburst with a kind, if critical eye, “Really? I thought you were coming in tomorrow to make up work. Work that was finished on Tuesday. Work that you’ve had to do over and over and over again for the past three days.”
Terence stared at him.
“I want to help you with that, I really do. But if you want me to go, I can do that to.”
Mike rose and started to walk away. For a split second Terence said nothing, then the anger fell away and he stood. He couldn’t take another week like this past one.
“Wait, Mike. I’m sorry I yelled. How can you help?”
“It’s my job. Helping people, that is. The first step is telling me what’s wrong.”
“It’s Jones. All my work is good quality, but it’s never enough. I just need the yelling and screaming to stop. It’s driving me insane. But I don’t know what else to do. I can’t change the laws of math. The numbers are what they are!”
“I see,” Mike leaned forward, “Now tell me, just one thing that you like.”
“How does that help?”
“Just one thing. You’ll see. Trust me.”
Terence thought. And thought. What did he like? He hated his job, hated his car, hated his cramped little apartment. There wasn’t anything that he liked. At least, nothing that came readily to mind. Then a memory from far away surfaced. He’d been twelve and a friend’s parents had taken them sailing. He remembered the wind in his hair, the smell of the water, and the feel of the warm sun.
“You like sailing?”
“Yeah. I mean, I think so. Is that ok?”
“That’s fine. Do you sail often?”
“No. Not often.”
“When was the last time you went?”
“It was sixteen years ago.”
“Why haven’t you been since?” Mike was genuinely curious.
“I haven’t had time, and I don’t have a boat, and I, wait, how does this help me here?”
“You’ll see. Let’s find you a boat. Get on that computer and pull some up.”
For the next hour Terence and Mike ran through list after list of boats. Some they admired, others made them wince, while still others made them laugh. Finally Terence settled on a small, white hulled sloop. There was a blue stripe along the side and the lines flowed just right. It would even fit into his budget, if he cut back on the takeout dinners every night. Exhilarated, he leaned back in his chair and imagined he’d bought it and was taking it out on Saturday.
“Print the picture.” Mike urged, pulling him out of the fantasy.
“It’s just a pipe dream,” protested Terence, but he clicked the appropriate buttons and Mike ran to pull the picture from the printer and pinned it on the wall of Terence’s cubicle.
“Something to look forward to,” he explained, “Now, to your work issue. If you want the yelling to stop, if you want the boat, if you want to pursue and capture happiness, you must understand that your job as a human being is more important and far greater than any other you have. If you do that job well, then like dominoes, everything else works out one way or another…”
They stayed past nine that evening, talking back and forth about how to solve Terence’s specific problems. When Terence went home, he felt better, even confident that they had worked out a solution. The pep talk carried him through his Saturday work day, where he arranged to see the sailboat, expressing strong interest in purchasing if it was as described, and re-crunched his accounting numbers. He felt like power was flowing through his finger tips and he couldn’t wait to see the look on Jones’ face when the manager got the report on Monday. In fact he was so excited, he couldn’t fall asleep Sunday night and slept through his alarm the next morning.
“I’ve figured it out, Crumby!” roared Jones.
Terence stared at his feet and said nothing. Of all the days to be late, why did it have to be today?
“Don’t you want to know what I’ve figured out, Crumby?”
The whole office was watching, like rubberneckers staring at a traffic accident, “What did you figure out?”
“Why you always bring me problems,” Jones beamed, then he scowled, “It’s because you are a problem! A walking, talking, breathing problem! What am I going to do with you?”
Terence cringed. He was about to get fired. It was incredibly unfair. All the work he’d done in the last two days, all the dreams he’d started to dream, everything started to come crashing down around him.
“You look like a miserable slug, Crumby!” Jones shook his head, “I’m this close to firing you! Go back to your desk. I’ll let you know at the end of the day.”
It was a painfully clear dismissal, yet Terence didn’t move. He could almost feel Mike standing at his shoulder, keeping him from leaving. He knew he should say something but he couldn’t make the words come out.
“What? Did you have something to say, Crumby?”
Suddenly it became clear to Terence. He knew what to do, what to say. He wasn’t angry, or even resigned, simply determined to proceed.
“I prepared another report for this past quarter. I highlighted areas where we can cut costs down. It won’t bring us out of the red but it will bring us close. If marketing can bring in a little more, then we’ll be fine. And, you can’t fire me Jones! Because I quit!”
Head held high, Terence walked back to his desk and started clearing it out. He looked regretfully at the picture of the sailboat. It would have to wait a little longer, but it was good to have goal to work towards. As he folded the picture and put it in his pocket a thought struck him. Working quickly, he printed his most up to date files and another copy of his report. He looked for Mike under the corporate directory. When he couldn’t find him, he settled for writing the corporate address on the back of his business card. If Jones wanted to run the branch into the ground, perhaps corporate would be looking for a new manager soon. More so, if he sent them a copy of his report and proposals, that new manager might very well be him.