In the parking garage in downtown Milwaukee signs are plastered all over the yellow ticketing kiosks saying the parking rates are increasing effective next week. I tap a button in the center of the kiosk; it spits out a ticket and the yellow stop bar in front of me rises. I take the ticket and drive up the ramp and find a spot.
The guy who parked next to me parked like a sausage. I get out of my car very carefully, and reach back in to grab my audiobook of Stephen King’s It.
I take the elevator down to the first floor and exit the building onto Jefferson Street. As I cross the street I see a fat dirty gray seagull standing next to a restaurant party shuttle. He ruffles his feathers at me. I don’t think he can fly. “Don’t worry, I’m not flying anywhere either,” I tell him. He waddles away. I take a left and shortly I’m in the arms of work.
I walk through the glass turnstile into the modest lobby. An elderly Native American man in a blue company security suit sits behind a desk next to the elevators. His face reminds me of that Indian chief with the tear rolling down his face in those anti-littering commercials from the ‘70’s. He sees the security badge hanging from a lanyard around my neck and nods. I hit the button on the elevator and watch for the overhead notification light to flash on.
“You listen to books?” the security guard asks, pointing to my copy of It.
“Yeah,” I say. “With school in, I don’t really get a chance to read what I want, so I listen when I can.”
“I listen to books too,” he says.
“Oh cool, what are you listening to now?” I ask.
He holds up a copy of Awaken the Giant Within. I think my polite smile is faltering a little. “Just some Tony Robbins,” he says. This elevator is taking forever.
“Oh nice,” I say. The facade is falling, but I try to keep up the pretense. “I’m listening to Stephen King’s It.”
“How do you like It so far?” There’s a big grin on his face.
“Just starting It today,” I say. The elevator doors open.
“Well, let me know how It goes,” he says. He looks fit to burst.
“Will do,” I say and enter the elevator. I hit the second floor and “Close Doors” buttons at once.
Work is actually quite enjoyable; it’s easy and I’m good at it, but there’s a reason I try to avoid talking to coworkers. During the semester I’m here three days a week and I have to see them when I’m here. In small doses they’re perfectly pleasant people. They don’t need to dispel my fantasy image of them by taking up more of my time in this building. The security guard seemed to be a decent fellow before today.
The second floor is a sea of cubicles. Mine is at the end of the aisle. I rush down the corridor before more human contact makes me too ill to work the rest of the day. I already don’t feel like staying here, but if I left early I’d still have to pay full price for parking.
The seat at my desk is comfortable enough to sit numb for a moment. I turn on the computer. There’s a multicolored mini-slinky next to the monitor on my desk; I pick it up and juggle it a little. It’s like my totem. I put the slinky down and reach into a drawer and pull out a set of ear buds and plug them into the computer’s headphone jack. I open the CD tray and pop in the first disc of It.
“Can I see you in the conference room for a moment?” The ear buds were halfway to my ears when Stacey’s voice interrupts. She’s my manager.
“Yeah sure,” I say. The ear buds drop to the desk. Stacey leads me to a nearby conference room. She has a thin manila folder in her hand. As she holds the door open, I walk through and pick a seat. She’s not too far behind.
“Do you know why I called you in here?” she asks as she takes a seat across from me.
“You were thirty minutes late this morning.”
“Oh, I’m really sorry about that, I was late with rent and I had to take a detour on my way to work this morning to drop it off. I promise it won’t happen again.”
“How many times have you been late this month?” Her eyes are trained on the manila folder as she opens it.
“I don’t know.”
“Seven times. You’ve also called in three times over the past month.”
“I’m really sorry. It’s been a difficult semester.”
She looks back up at me. “Things are difficult on our team right now too. With tax time right around the corner we’re seeing an increase in volume; we always do around this time of year. We really needed you present.”
“I understand that, and I’m really sorry. I’ll step it up, I promise.”
“I don’t think you understand. That many tardies and that many absences, especially considering your minimal schedule, is beyond company policy.”
“And I really appreciate you working with me.”
“I like you, the whole team does. You do a good job and you’re quick, but I can’t go up to bat for you anymore. My boss, Carol, made the final decision. I have no other choice but to let you go.”