International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Salaryman
of the Day
alarm rang. 6:45. Arnold Gray reached over and turned it off. His
wife Mary stirred slightly but remained asleep. How many days since
theyd done it now? 23 and counting. With their six-year old
son Jack and one-year old daughter Susan, she was always tired.
morning Another day. Arnold was a mid-level manager in a State agency
in Sacramento, the state capital. A staff meeting that afternoon.. More
bad news probably.. The State already had a hiring freeze, leaving him
with one unfilled position. Probably another budget cut. His unit provided
health information extracted from various data bases the State maintained.
It was amazing how many people wanted such information. He climbed out
The morning routine was the same. The usual bathroom business, orange
juice and an instant breakfast, then a five-minute walk to the bus stop.
It was May, already getting warm but not too bad. In the bus, he took
a window seat and put his cheap State-issued briefcase, holding the
morning paper and his lunch, on the seat next to him. He hoped the good-looking
bus lady would get on at the next stop. She worked in another State
agency and had a six-year old daughter in the same class as Jack. But
she wasnt there that morning. He took out the newspaper and read
until the bus reached downtown.
At his office building, he went to the cafeteria to get his usual, a
container of coffee and a blueberry muffin. The muffins were one of
the few good things the cafeteria offered. His secretary, Pat, was at
her desk when he came in. "Anything?" he asked her.
"Yes. The good doctor wants to see you. ASAP." The "good
doctor" was their division head and Arnolds boss. His name
was Chauncy Hamish and he had a PhD from some obscure college. When
Arnold had first met him, after being promoted and being put in charge
of one of the agencys units, hed called him "Chauncy."
The quick response was that he preferred to be called "Dr. Hamish."
Everyone in the agency referred to him as "the good doctor"
and knew he was a pompous ass.
Arnold went into his office. It was small but had a window. He had his
coffee and the muffin while looking over his calendar and his phone
messages. The good doctor could wait. He then went out and talked to
each of his three analysts to see where they were in their assignments.
His lead analyst, George Rozier, was in his fifties, a large man with
an unkempt beard and no social manners. He was one of the few people
in the Division who knew all the computer programs needed to do their
work. He was working on a request for birth rate information from a
State legislator, always a top priority. Arnold asked how it was going.
George said he hoped to get it done by the afternoon.
Alice Adams was a woman in her forties. She was barely capable but she
was a single mother with two children. Arnold had asked her to make
some graphs of data. Her work was painfully slow. He asked about her
children, then said, "Try to finish by the end of the week, OK."
Stan Parker was a young guy just out of college, Sacramento State, a
junior analyst striving for a promotion. He was getting data for one
of the departments doctors, interested in deaths by suicide. Stan
told him the last computer run had bombed. This happened fairly often.
"Look at your program and try again," said Arnold. "Get
George to help you if cant figure it out."
That was time enough. Arnold knocked on Dr. Hamishs door and went
in. "You wanted to see me?"
Hamish looked up. He was a man in his forties, tall and bony, with sandy
hair, a large nose and a receding chin.
"Yes, I had a call from Assemblyman K------s aide; they havent
gotten the information on birth rates they asked for yesterday. He was
Legislators were always asking for information and when they didnt
get it immediately they were upset and had one of their underlings call
the Division head to complain.
"We have a dozen requests were working on. Ill see
what I can do."
"I want you to take care of it today. Another thing, that report
on injury deaths. Here it is. Ive made some changes. Look them
over. Oh, yes, make sure my name is on the title page. How are those
graphs I wanted coming?
"Alice is working on them."
"You have to keep a tighter reign on your subordinates. Remember,
youre still on probation."
"Thanks for letting me know."
"What was that?"
"Ill see you at the staff meeting. Dont be late."
Arnold had been unit head for four months, two months probation to go.
He wasnt too worried. Besides George Rozier, nobody in the Division,
certainly not Hamish, knew as much about health statistics as he did.
Still, hed be glad when the six months were over.
Arnold ate his lunch quickly and left the building. He walked to Capitol
Park. It was a nice day. The sky was a pure blue. The trees in the park
were in full leaf. Squirrels ran up and down tree trunks and scampered
in the grass. He went over to the rose garden and looked at the plants.
The roses were doing better than his own. Hed have to water this
weekend. He found an empty bench and sat down. The sun felt good on
his face. He looked at his watch. It was almost one. Reluctantly, he
stood up and headed back.
The departments staff meeting was in the morning. Division heads
like Hamish then had their staff meetings in the afternoon. It went
about as Arnold had expected. The Governor wanted all State agencies
to cut expenses by ten percent. That meant no new purchases or travel.
Another thing, the department head had noticed that unit heads were
getting lax. Employees were overstaying their lunch hours and coffee
breaks. He wanted everyone to tighten up. When the meeting broke up,
Hamish asked Arnold when theyd have the birth rate information.
Arnold said by the end of the afternoon. In fact, George had brought
it to him right after lunch. "It had better be ready," said
Hamish. Yes, and Im still on probation, thought Arnold.
When he returned from the staff meeting, Pat told him that the "pretty
lady" had just stopped in and said she was going to the cafeteria
for her break. The pretty lady was Jane Collins. Arnold had worked in
the same unit with her for three years before finally getting his promotion.
Their supervisor was even worse than the good doctor, one of those neurotic
women who rode the feminist wave to become State managers. She was known
as the Wicked Witch. He and Jane had bonded together in self-defense
and had become very close. Jane had finally escaped to another agency.
She was, as Pat always called her, a pretty woman, in her thirties.
Divorced, she almost always had a boy friend but there was always something
wrong with them. They were alcoholics, bullies, wimps, in one case married.
He listened to Janes stories about them and she listened to his
stories about his family. He told her the latest about the good doctor.
She told him the department, unable to fire the Wicked Witch, had promoted
Arnold looked at the changes Hamish had made to the injury deaths report.
The good doctor had a habit of taking a brief sentence and making it
twice as long. Hed delivered the birth rate information earlier
and Hamish said hed walk it over to the Capitol building himself.
Arnold had no doubt that Hamish, if given a chance, would make it seem
as if hed single-handedly gotten the information. When his probation
was over, Arnold decided, thered be some changes.
After supper, Jack wanted to go for "their" walk, something
they did almost every evening. Arnold put on a cap and Jack put on his
cap. A tract of duplex houses was adjacent to their development. In
its center, for no good reason Arnold could think of, was a corral with
two horses in it. They walked to the corral, Jack holding his hand.
When they reached it, Jack said, "Hello, Coco. Hello, Pepsi."
The horses came over. Jack pulled out some dried grass and fed it to
them. When it came to feeding the horses, Jack was fearless. After a
while, Arnold said theyd better be getting back or Mother would
be worried. On the way back, Jack said he was tired so they sat on "their"
fence. "Will you read me a story tonight?" he asked. Arnold
said he would. Jack suddenly said, "I love you," and kissed
After Jack and Susan had their baths and were in bed, Arnold and Mary
sat in the living room. Mary looked tired. He felt tired himself. They
talked a little about their days. Arnold said everything in the office
was fine. They watched television. Arnold had only a vague idea of what
was happening on the screen. Hed have to hold his own meeting
with his unit and tell them to be careful about lunch hours and coffee
breaks. Big Brother was watching. Hed have to help Phyllis complete
her graphs. Her birthday was next week. Hed get her a card. At
ten, they turned off the television and went to bed.
The alarm went off. 6:45. Arnold reached over and turned it off. Mary
stirred but remained sleeping. 24 days and counting. Hed have
to look at that report again and see if he could minimize the damage..
He wondered if the good-looking lady would be on the bus. He hoped so.
He momentarily had a picture of himself and Jack sitting on "their"
fence, Jack saying, "I love you" and kissing him. He got out
© Martin Green May 2009
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