Showdown: Part 1

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For the next week, the cold war between me and Edgar intensifies.  Every night, I come in to more ridiculous rules about what is acceptable and what is expected, and every night, I am technically a perfect employee.  On Tuesday, there’s a new memo stating that employees are not allowed to use their personal phones during work hours, so I dig an MP3 player out of the lost-and-found and do my rounds jamming out to a mix by some unknown patron of the museum, who was apparently very into Japanese pop music.

Wednesday, the new note informs me that headphones are not to be used on the job “to ensure maximum alertness and attention to detail.”  That one’s easy enough to skirt, and so I have a second night of J-pop rounds, this time with the tinny speakers of the MP3 player blaring into the echoey stillness of the museum.  I make sure to keep my crutch-based dance moves going, to make it clear to anyone watching the tapes that I’m still listening to music.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that on Thursday the MP3 player is gone from its long-time home in the lost-and-found, and the crisp new memo states that portable electronic devices of all sorts are now banned “in order to minimize distractions.”  Fortunately, I had anticipated this maneuver, and had brought a paperback book with me, carefully sealed into a Ziploc bag to protect it against the rain.  I’m not certain if the cameras can pick up the title, but it’s George Orwell’s 1984.  I had to make a special trip to the library to get it, so I hope it shows up on the tapes.

This plan almost backfires on me.  I’ve never read 1984 before, and it turns out to be really engaging.  At about two in the morning, I’m so caught up in it that I almost forget to go on my rounds.  Luckily, the vibrating alarm of my officially contraband phone reminds me of my duties, and I make it to the first check-in with 30 seconds to spare.

Finding loopholes in Edgar’s rules is undeniably the best time I’ve ever had at this job.  Amusingly, it’s also the most efficient I’ve ever been; with as much as I’m needling my boss, I know I can’t afford to slip up anywhere.  He may have been looking for a reason to fire me before, but by now, he’s got to be on an absolute mission to find one.  So I am early every night, I’m alert and caffeinated, I’m on time to my check-ins and I even found my iron so I could press my work clothes.  The pants may not have razor creases like Edgar’s do, but they look pretty good for a guy who’s never used an iron before.

I spend Friday trying to anticipate Edgar’s next move, but I can’t come up with anything.  I’m certain that he won’t give up, though.  At this point, I’m not sure he can.  Quitting at this point is admitting that I’ve beaten him within the rules of his own petty game.  Even just leaving the existing rules shows a failure of imagination.  He has to escalate, but I’m not sure how.

Edgar does not disappoint me, though.  Friday night, the new sheet of paper bears a stark heading, centered and bolded: “YOU ARE PAID TO WORK.”  Beneath that is a short paragraph outlining a number of additional make-work duties that basically come down to rattling the doors to make sure that they’re still locked and looking out of the windows to see if anyone’s peering in.  And beneath that is another, shorter paragraph:

“Time on the clock is not leisure time.  No personal activities will be permitted.  If you can’t find anything to do, why not tidy up?”

When I read that, the security monitors briefly roll with static and a number of loose paperclips skip their way across the desk towards me before I manage to calm myself down.  I’m supposed to fill eight empty hours at this mindless job without the help of a screen or even a book?  The rounds take fifteen minutes.  The new tasks might take ten, if I drag them out. That leaves thirty-five minutes out of every hour, a total of four hours and forty minutes over the course of the night.  That is a lot of time to sit staring blankly at the monitors.

I flash back to the night of my superintelligence and the memory of that boredom, of the feeling of my brain almost physically atrophying, makes me shudder.  I still have 1984 in my coat pocket, and I’m briefly tempted to just ignore the new memo, read my book, and let Edgar fire me in the morning.  But then I picture the vindictive little smile he’ll have when he sees the tapes, and I just can’t bring myself to let it happen.

The third hour is the worst.  For the first hour, there’s the novelty of the new tasks, stupid though they are.  They provide variety, at least, and I spend my downtime cataloging a list of names I’d like to call Edgar.  The second hour allows me to try the make-work stuff in a different pattern, searching for optimization of the routine.  By the third hour, though, I’m bored of rattling doors in case they somehow got unlocked since the first two times I checked, and I’ve run out of innovative rude things to say to my boss.  For lack of anything better to do at my desk, I end up reading Edgar’s memos again, hearing them in my head in his snide little voice.

All too soon, I get to the last line of the most recent memo again: “If you can’t find anything to do, why not tidy up?”  And suddenly a beautiful idea hits me.  I look back at the array of memos, taped across the previously clear desk and backboard of the security station, and I grin widely.

It takes some looking around, and it’s another hour before I’ve found the supplies I need, but eventually I’ve collected the simple elements of my master plan.  I painstakingly peel the taped-down corners of each memo off of my desk and carefully cut the extra tape off of the edges.  I stack the memos up in chronological order, neatly squaring the sheets into one stack.  Then, using a hole-punch I found abandoned on a shelf in a janitorial closet, I make three neat holes and secure the whole pile in a three-ring binder.  As a final touch, I slide a cover sheet into the plastic front on which I have neatly written, “DOBSON’S DOs AND DON’Ts.”

I make a matching label for the spine of the book and add it, then sit back to admire my handiwork.  My desk is clear and neat, all of the oh-so-useful memos are helpfully compiled, and Edgar is going to be absolutely, impotently furious.

When I wake up Saturday afternoon, I already have a voicemail from Edgar.  He’s practically spitting with anger, demanding that I come in today for a meeting.  I consider ignoring the call until Monday, but decide instead to be the bigger man and call him back.

“Hello, Edgar?  I got your voicemail.”

“When can I expect to see you?  We have very important matters to discuss.”  He’s hissing his words now, his sibilants gone soft in his rage.

“Look, I’m sorry, but I can’t make it in before Monday.  I’m afraid I’ve already got plans.”  To watch Netflix, but whatever.

“This concerns your continued employment, Mr. Everton!”

I pause for a moment before replying, collecting my thoughts.  Surprisingly, I’m not angry right now.  I’d expected to respond to Edgar’s ire with my own, but I’m just not feeling it.

“Yeah, I appreciate that.  But I just can’t come in on such short notice.  I’m happy to come talk to you before my shift on Monday.”

“You may not have a shift on Monday, Mr. Everton!”

I figure that if Edgar had cause to fire me, he would have done it already, so that means that this is all a bluff.  For some reason, that realization finally raises my hackles, but I keep my tone steady as I drawl, “Well, I certainly hope that’s not the case, but we can discuss it on Monday.  Unless you’d like to come to me?  I can find some time in my schedule for you if that works.”

I can actually hear a grinding of plastic as, on the other end of the line, Edgar clenches the handset tightly enough to threaten its structural stability.  When he speaks, though, his voice has gone calm.  “I will see you on Monday an hour before your shift, Dan.  Please do not be late.”

“Monday, then,” I say, and hang up.

Weirdly, I don’t feel apprehensive or jittery about the meeting, even though it’s clear that Edgar’s out for blood.  My actions were obnoxious, sure, but they were responses in kind to petty tortures being handed down from above.  And if he thought he could just dish it out and I would just take it quietly — well, I suppose he just learned differently.

I settle in to watch Netflix, letting my sense of indignation slowly build.  I figure that if I gently cultivate it all weekend, it should serve me well come Monday.

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