Donald Baker writes under his middle name. He has had his short fiction published in The Southern Cross Review, The Huffington Post and in Literally Stories. He is currently hard at work submitting his first novel, Bob, P.I. and rewriting several short stories. He is also an active amateur photographer, an actor in community theater (yes even Shakespeare), and progressive spoiler of seven grandchildren. Somewhere in there he works when he isn’t laid off. He happily resides in Central Indiana with his family. He maintains an author website at http://www.sylbun.com
Mr. Michaels was peeved as he walked to the elevator, briefcase in hand. In fact he was fuming, though it was hard to tell, what with Mr. Michaels’ amiable and harmless expression. His usual nodding and pleasant smile betrayed the outrage he felt.
He was perfectly dressed as always. His gray tailored suit hung on his fifty-eight- year-old slight frame. He once considered adding a fedora to the mix, but had yet to make a final decision on that matter, after all, it was not something one rushed into. He was different from most others in the office. Yes, some men still wore ties to work, but these days it was now business casual. And the casual standard was growing looser and looser as time went on. Mr. Michaels found this unprofessional and not to his taste. So he didn’t do it.
Everyone knows, he thought as he said hello, smiled and nodded to all of those in their cubicles along the way. Look at them! They’re happy it was me again and not them.
The large briefcase weighed heavy in his hand as it always did when he packed up the billing invoices for the quarter. He and only he ever delivered these invoices to the main office in Columbus. Yes, they could be sent by computer or by courier, but the company brass never wanted that. They always wanted hand delivery and Mr. Michaels had always been that man. For many years running, it had been entrusted to him. It was critical to the billing process, even in this electronic age, these folded sheets of paper were essential to the bottom line. Proper billing and accurate revenue would be impossible without them. Mr. Michaels saw the delivery of these documents as by far his most important task.
Sanford said ‘bottom performer’! It said bottom performer right on my official review. Me, a bottom performer! Out of the blue. He never even told me there were issues with my performance and never offered one shred of evidence for the complaints against me. Michaels stopped at the receptionist desk, smiled and nodded at Sylvia. He signed himself and the briefcase out for the day even though the Columbus trip would take him much less time.
He called it Columbus Day, and it happened four times a year.
He even wants to take Columbus Day away from me! Sanford said, ‘Enjoy it while you can old boy, I’m assigning it to a temp soon.’ A temp! He is going to trust a temp with documentation and invoicing vital to the company bottom line? Why, if something happened to these there would be repercussions! Severe repercussions! Thousands of dollars could be lost, thousands!
Will a temp deliver these with a severe strep infection like I did in 1992? Will a temp borrow his brother’s automobile at the last moment and make this delivery like I did in 1987? Would a temp battle the worst winter storm in decades and hand these documents over safe and sound like I did in 2013? I think not!
He considered coming back to work the last few hours of the day. No, he decided. It has been understood about these documents. They are priority. A priority that even Sanford can’t say anything about. It was Columbus Day four times a year and by God he was going to take the day, like he always did. He stopped at the water dispenser in the lobby and filled a paper cup.
“Bottom performer!” He whispered out loud as he punched the elevator button. He looked back at Sylvia. She was on the phone and hadn’t heard.
I have never been anything but a top performer for all these years. Then along comes this boy Sanford, not even thirty, and I am now at the bottom. Who is he anyway? My God, he was a child playing with his blankey when I started this job. The elevator dinged as it stopped on his floor. The door was very slow to open.
Mr. Michaels stepped into the elevator and the doors closed on him before he got inside. They did not bounce open when they made contact with his shoulder. He skipped in unharmed.
“Oh, my!” A young woman looked up from her phone and exclaimed.
“That’s not good,” a coal-black man in a bright white and immaculate caterer uniform said. “I don’t think it’s supposed to do that.”
Others in the elevator expressed opinions and concerns. Mr. Michaels, as he was wont to do, smiled and nodded, agreeing with all around. He drained the paper cup and straightened his tie.
Bottom performer! He exclaimed to himself. When they came up with the idea to move the bulk of operations to Indianapolis and keep headquarters in Columbus, they asked for volunteers and who stepped forward? I didn’t want to leave my hometown, uproot my family, but I did! For them! When they needed Saturday work, who sacrificed? Who came back to work two days after knee surgery because Columbus Day was here? When they needed people to park on the top floor of the garage, who volunteered? And for this they put a pip-squeak in charge and let him call me, ME, below par!
After a few more people got on and off, narrowly escaping the disobliging doors, it was discovered that the door open/close button was the way to master the problem. Mr. Michaels offered to man the open/close button and thereby tame the doors. He reasoned with all aboard that he would exit at the parking garage and report the problem to the proper channels. Everyone thanked Mr. Michaels for his flawless action plan.
THAT, for a bottom performer! Mr. Michaels congratulated himself. But he could see the writing on the wall. Sanford and his toadies had it in for him. In less than two years, Sanford had arrived with the full blessing of the corporate brass and turned the staff over. All of the old guard, those in their forties and fifties were soon gone. He hadn’t fired them all, but they were gone nonetheless; replaced by people like Sanford: young, inexperienced, arrogant, less expensive. Mr. Michaels was one of the last of the original pilgrims and this had been his fourth trip to Sanford’s office. And he made it stick. This one goes on my record. My flawless record now says BOTTOM PERFORMER! He smiled and nodded at the man and two women who got out at the building lobby. He accepted their thanks for his sacrifice at the open/close button.
The doors sprung open at the parking garage level and a startled older gentleman with a cane got on selecting the second floor. Oh my, what if he can’t master the door? Mr. Michaels made a hard decision and shut the door.
“Not your floor?” The man inquired, puzzled.
Mr. Michaels smiled and shook his head. He would not burden the man with the door issue.
Sanford! He looks like a little boy playing dress up! I hate his smug smile. His toadies are even more sickening. They call me “Old Man” and “Pops”. Where were they when the sacrifices had to be made for the good of the company?
At the second floor he held the button. “Not your floor?” the older man asked again puzzled. Good-natured and amiable to a fault, Mr. Michaels smiled and shook his head. The man jumped as the door banged shut.
This infernal door is dangerous! Even an old bottom performer like me can see that! He thought as the elevator descended again to the parking garage level where the door opened at a snail’s pace. It was open no more than a foot and Mr. Michaels spied four or five people looking, puzzled and expectant, into the elevator. Again, he made a command decision and hit the open/close. This elevator is unsafe! So says the inveterate bottom performer! The door crashed shut and he punched in the tenth floor for no reason other than to get the elevator moving again. He now had full control of the elevator. He alone was deciding what floor to travel to and when the door opened or closed.
At the tenth floor a well dressed man looked up from his phone in time to see the door open about a foot then stop. A benevolent, smiling Mr. Michaels reached for the open/close button and traveled to the sixth floor.
This time it was two secretary looking women talking. They were startled by the elevator booming shut on the smiling, nice man wearing a suit and saying ‘bottom performer’ out loud.
They think, he fumed to himself, they think I am a nobody. They think because I smile and fault to the side of politeness, that I have no bark, no bite? They think that saying little means seeing little? Means knowing little? They think me a lap dog to roll over and let them off without penalty? Any dog will turn when cornered. And this dog knows where all of the bones are buried.
On the ninth, Mr. Michaels almost let the door open all the way in the lobby of his employer. He spotted Sanford walking over to speak to Sylvia, then turn to see him in the elevator and look baffled. Look at him! Wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt with tie. That tells you all you need to know! Mr. Michaels pointed one finger toward the ceiling for emphasis and proclaimed, “BOTTOM PERFORMER!” He hit the open/close and punched in the third floor.
There were a lot of people waiting on the third and someone shouted something at him as he hit the open/close and directed the elevator to the fifth where there was another crowd and loud talking as he again pressed the button.
He wants to take Columbus Day away from me and when it goes, I will, no doubt, soon follow. On a sudden impulse he hit the button for his company’s floor again. The elevator jerked to a stop and the doors creaked open.
Mr. Michaels had always detested coarse language. He never did it. Rather, he seldom did it. It did not suit him. But the more he considered it…
The door seemed to pause, open eighteen inches or so. Sanford stepped into view with an angry expression. “Michaels, what’s with the elevator? Are you messing with it?”
Yes! I must! Mr. Michaels made another command decision and stepped forward face to face and inches from Sanford on the other side. “DON’T SCREW WITH COLUMBUS DAY!” He shouted and shut the door.
Then it was to the eighth, then the second, and the lobby, then to the garage again and back to the tenth and on to the fifth. Each time more people gathered waiting and each time they were more irritated as the doors would not open enough to admit them. And they could see the very polite, well-dressed man inside, smiling and nodding to all and saying something to himself as he controlled the door.
They don’t know how vital I have been. How loyal. How sacrificing. To be sacked by a child because I am too old for their taste! He piloted the elevator back to his floor.
As the door began opening again, he could see that the lobby of his employer was now crowded. Sanford stood with arms folded across his chest, beet red in face and fuming. His flunkies were in a scared, huddled mass behind him. And at Sylvia’s desk were various others, gathered to see Mr. Michaels make a stand.
Another word he hated. A word he doubted he had ever uttered in his life. It was crude, offensive, and despicable. A term he despised. Yet none other would do. The door paused again at eighteen inches and Sanford started to step forward. Mr. Michaels stood ramrod straight at the opening and shouted, “AGE IS THE NEW NIGGER!”
The crowd at Sylvia’s desk cheered. Sanford bellowed “Michaels!” as the door slammed closed.
It’s on the wall, yes, he thought again. It’s a matter of time. All these years and it comes down to a youth movement and a pipsqueak. To the third, the fifth, the eighth. People were waiting, impatient. What did they care of Mr. Michaels and the injustice thrust on him?
At the ninth again and once more he let the door open enough to see his lobby. Sanford was boiling mad, stomping mad, two building security officers on one side. A worried Sylvia and a few head shaking toadies in the background. The crowd had been dispersed. An anxious maintenance man stood on the other side of Sanford.
“Michaels! What the hell are you doing?” Sanford bellowed.
Mr. Michaels smiled and nodded. He looked through the slow opening doors. “Now Sanford, that is no way to manage people,” he admonished, in full command. “In fact, I would call it BOTTOM PERFORMER!” He pointed to the ceiling again.
“Get out of the damned elevator!” Sanford yelled, making the maintenance man flinch.
Mr. Michaels smiled and hit the button. He pressed for the parking garage.
The elevator zipped downward, too fast for his taste. To Mr. Michaels’ surprise, the doors stayed closed for a moment then flew open and stayed there. A buzzing alarm went off. He exited to a small crowd of people who looked after him. As he walked swiftly around the corner and toward his parking spot, he heard a woman say “Why, that’s Mr. Michaels!"
He went to the trunk of his Audi where he placed the tire tool inside the briefcase, hesitated a second then the small scissors jack also. He forced the briefcase full of essential billings and tire implements closed, then walked around the Audi to the chest high wall. It was all open here and he looked over the wall and down. This part of the garage extended over the manmade lake that the office building was constructed on. He heaved the briefcase over the wall and watched it splash in the dark, still water and start to sink then turned back to his car.
He pointed to the ceiling again for emphasis. “BOTTOM PERFORMER!”
Mr. Michaels backed out of his space. Down the drive aisle he saw Sanford and building security as they came out of the stairs into the garage. I have the ill-dressed twit in my sights, he thought. He sat still in the Audi, one foot poised over the accelerator. What victory to be gained? He asked himself. Can solace and justice be found in such a manner? It would be my family that pays the price. Sanford and the guards saw him and began trotting his way.
But, do I not have access to every major system in the company and every major password? They will be slow to act, they always are. Still my time is short. Now they will see how fast an old dog can move.
Mr. Michaels steered the Audi down another aisle. He smiled to himself and nodded his head and he reflected that he was just another old bottom performer heading into the new morning’s bright uncertainty.