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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Salaryman

Events of the Day
Martin Green


The alarm rang. 6:45. Arnold Gray reached over and turned it off. His wife Mary stirred slightly but remained asleep. How many days since they’d done it now? 23 and counting. With their six-year old son Jack and one-year old daughter Susan, she was always tired.

Another 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 of bed.

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 wasn’t 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 Arnold’s 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 agency’s units, he’d 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 department’s 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 can’t figure it out."

That was time enough. Arnold knocked on Dr. Hamish’s 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 haven’t gotten the information on birth rates they asked for yesterday. He was pretty upset."

Legislators were always asking for information and when they didn’t get it immediately they were upset and had one of their underlings call the Division head to complain.
"We have a dozen requests we’re working on. I’ll see what I can do."
"I want you to take care of it today. Another thing, that report on injury deaths. Here it is. I’ve 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, you’re still on probation."
"Thanks for letting me know."
"What was that?"
"Nothing."
"I’ll see you at the staff meeting. Don’t be late."

Arnold had been unit head for four months, two months probation to go. He wasn’t too worried. Besides George Rozier, nobody in the Division, certainly not Hamish, knew as much about health statistics as he did. Still, he’d 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. He’d 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 department’s 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 they’d 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 I’m 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 Jane’s 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 her.

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. He’d delivered the birth rate information earlier and Hamish said he’d walk it over to the Capitol building himself. Arnold had no doubt that Hamish, if given a chance, would make it seem as if he’d single-handedly gotten the information. When his probation was over, Arnold decided, there’d 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 they’d 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 him.

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. He’d 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. He’d have to help Phyllis complete her graphs. Her birthday was next week. He’d 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. He’d 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 of bed.

© Martin Green May 2009
E-mail: mgreensuncity@yahoo.com

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