Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Legion of Followers

The line in the song went, “The dream never dies, just the dreamer” but Jeffery Salinger disagreed; dreams did die abandoning the dreamers to the orphanage of reality.  At forty, Jeffery had attended many a funeral for a dear deceased fancy without but shedding a single tear quickly wiped before a watery burn could momentarily scar his cheek as proof to anyone of an awareness of its passing.  This wasn’t from embarrassment wholly; he simply could not afford his reputation of pragmaticism questioned.   Jeffery, in his own mind and assumed others recognized him as such as well, was the ‘go to’ man; if there was a problem Jeffery was the one who would find a solution that worked – it was never some foolish ‘let’s give this a shot’, Jeffery prided himself on never being wrong in serving practicality.  A dilemma, Jeffery long ago assessed, was like a cardboard box.  As long as you fit things carefully and orderly into the box, you could always neatly tape the box shut.  A person created a mess when they tried to fit things that would not fit into the box or put things haphazardly into that box when the ability to close the box happened.  Problems could be put away securely on a shelf as long as they were of the shape of the box, if one thought of a solution that was outside of the parameters of the box then the problem would could not be sealed or bulged unseemly with the threat of bursting the seams of the box apart. 

Dreams never fit in boxes.  Dreamers had a habit of attempting to follow their dreams. The box that the dreamer was trying to fill would shift and fall from the shelf. Someone had to pick up the box and repair the damage that had been done to it.  Jeffery was the packing tape that was used to put the box back together.  Like packing tape, Jeffery was almost invisible to those around him that didn’t use him.  Standing at five foot five with a slim-ish build that was always covered by carefully ironed and appropriately pleated bland grey suit ensembles that seemed to blend into his pale skin and carefully groomed face with thin hair that never grew past a quarter inch Jeffery did not have a memorable presence to him; he spoke when spoken to in a quiet monotone voice in short bursts of information relevant to the query presented to him.  Jeff felt that a professional had to dismiss individualistic characteristics of one’s personality because the uniqueness of each person caused dissolution when group cohesiveness and understanding was paramount to the smooth operation of any problem solving.

Jeffery had worked at the Calgary plant, one of seventeen, for “Myron, Langski & Harris Soy Products inc”, the fourth largest supplier of the raw ground up soy for vegan meat alternatives in North America, for the past eighteen years as a customer service representative, second to the west and second to the south in the five by six foot sixty cubicle, ten to a row, six columned warehouse converted to service central.  He had started out fifth to the west and third to the south but his competency had earned him his location near the general manager of customer service’s office which was located in the very southwest corner of the warehouse.   Jeffery’s cubicle was a representation of his opinion on professionalism, it was devoid of anything that exhibited on his desk, his six foot high plastic walls or standard issue half back swivel chair that there was an individual who occupied that space except for one single item: a coffee mug coaster.  When Jeffery’s coffee mug sat upon the coaster it looked like every other coaster that “Myron, Langski & Harris Soy Products inc” provided for its employees to set their coffee cups on, a circle shaped blanched white quarter inch thin piece of repressed cork.  Jeffery had a dirty little secret, one that he made sure that no other employee or member of the management saw – eighteen years ago he had taken his pen and drawn a small smiley face in the very center of the coaster. For eighteen years for five days a week Jeffery would carefully wipe the bottom of his daily acquired Styrofoam sterile and non-personal coffee mug that the company supplied before setting it down on the coaster to ensure that the whiteness of the cork would not be discoloured by any stray dribbles of coffee and maintaining the purity of the coaster other than his own small image of uniqueness.

Jeffery’s job, he knew was an important one to the company, was to take the orders of the shapes of the meat that the customers wanted; one slip up and a company that wanted formed hamburger patties could end up with a shipment of formed sausage instead.  It had never happened to him, but to the others in the customer service center it could not be said.  Those others, once realizing their mistake would look to Jeffery for a way to fix their packing order slips so that “Myron, Langski & Harris Soy Products inc” would neither lose a customer nor sully the company’s reputation of professionalism and expedient service.

One such person that relied on Jeffery’s ability to problem solve was Quincy Applebottom.  Quincy had started with the company six years ago; Jeffery had trained him and as a nurturing mother would, had held Quincy’s hand through the entire process without a second thought.  It was a matter of pride that someone Jeffery trained would be seen as competent, after all, if the apprentice failed, was it not the fault of the master who taught him?  It had not been easy for Jeffery because Quincy, in his dishevelled suits and poor penmanship tended to look ahead rather than keeping his thoughts on the task at hand; Jeffery ended up handling both the men’s workload rather than face the admonishment of being responsible for the debacles that Quincy constantly created with his inattention. 

It was with pride that he looked upon Quincy when the general manager had chosen Quincy to fill the newly vacant supervisor role two years ago.  Jeffery reasoned that the upper management recognized that Jeffery’s talent was in the trenches and that promoting him would lessen the chance of mistakes being caught before they made it over to the production side.  He also knew that Quincy respected him and his knowledge as the younger man still relied on Jeffery to go over the day’s work orders to ensure they were correct – sure he spent a few hours every night alone in the plant unpaid, but for Jeffery, it was a badge of honour that he was given the responsibility for the smooth transfer of work orders of the Calgary plant.  He even took the initiative afterwards of walking to the north side’s double doors that led straight to the four soy processing vats and the office of the production manager on the opposite side, carefully placing the mornings orders in the ‘in’ basket, placing a Calgary Flames paper weight on top to ensure that any stray drafts would blow those orders off the basket and thereby stalling the expedient completion of the work before he would go home to his one room bachelor suite to prepare his suit for the next working day.  To Jeffery it showed that his apprentice, Quincy, respected and valued him as a mentor.

With the extra work that Jeffery did it for Quincy Applebottom it came to as no surprise when he received a memo stating that for the extraordinary care and attention that Mr. Applebottom displayed in his role as customer service supervisor the management was happy to announce that he would be taking over the role of general manager while Miles Jergan, sixteen years Jeffery’s junior, would be taking the customer service supervisor position.  Jeffery was far from angry though he had once more been overlooked for advancement; after all, Applebottom’s success meant that Jeffery was successful.  Though he wouldn’t be credited for it, Jeffery knew that with Quincy’s appointment his own responsibility would be increased.  It wasn’t long before Jeffery’s supposition began to bear fruit.

It was four thirty; all the other customer service reps were putting on their jackets getting ready to head for their various homes or bars when Quincy knocked lightly on the corner of the wall of Jeffery’s cubicle.

“Hey Jeffy!” Quincy said in a slightly slurred manner; he must have been celebrating his promotion Jeffery thought as he smelt stale cigarette smoke and whiskey on the pudgier younger man’s breath.  “I need you to do me a favour!”  He tossed a sheet of paper and a photograph of himself onto Jeffery’s desk.  Jeffery saw the two pieces hit his nearly full coffee cup as they gave a slight bounce off the side of it before landing over his keyboard.

“I’ve got to catch a flight to New York to head office for a big pow wow in the morning,” Quincy continued to explain, not noticing that Jeffery’s eyes were not on him but on the brownish streaks of the Styrofoam coffee cup.  “Could you be a bud and do a write up as a sort of introduction of me to the big wigs?  I thought it would be a classy touch to include a picture to – thanks!”  Without waiting for a response Quincy then walked away from the cubicle.

Jeffery continued to stare at the coffee cup.  The cylinder was no longer pure bleached white; along the sides were the last remnants of the dark brown liquid’s escape from within; his perfect state had been destroyed.  Jeffery picked up the coffee cup to deposit it and its contents into the waste container that sat beside his desk; he would not be able to drink it now that the coffee’s presentation had been ruined.  He carefully set the cup in the basket so that none would feel the urge to spurt from it and splatter the sides of his desk.  It was when he leaned back up that he noticed that something else had been brought amiss by the arrival of Quincy B. Applebottom: his coaster.

A thought occurred to Jeffery that he had never thought before:  Quincy didn’t understand the beauty of boxes; in fact, Quincy was one of those who showed lack of attention by being a bag sort of presenter.  The years that Jeffery had happily tutored Quincy in the how to keep the box that contained work ethic looking trim and sturdy was all a lie.  There was no value or respect; there was only disinterest and disregard.  Jeffery was nothing more than a cheap plastic file folder to Quincy rather than the three ring binder that Jeffery had led himself to believe.  He had been used not for company purposes but personal.

 Jeffery stared at the brownish halo that now boldly shouted to the world that it was here to stay.  Every morning for the past eighteen years Jeffery had been soothed by the knowledge that no matter what had occurred the previous day, he, like the coaster, was pure and untouched by those events.  The cork circle had been ripped of its virgin-ness appearance; it had been raped by Quincy B. Applebottom – Jeffery could no longer pretend that Quincy’s wickedness had not left him tainted either.

His hand curled tightly into a fist as the unfamiliar emotion of rage filled every nerve ending of Jeffery’s body.  He fought to keep himself from doing anything destructive, instead settling to let his chair squeak violently as his entire body trembled as he sat there with his feet firmly planted on the ground. 

Ten minutes past, thirty minutes past, then forty minutes before Jeffery’s eyes relented on their vigil on the soiled coaster and settled upon the picture that Quincy had dropped off.  The box must be maintained, Jeffery told himself as he took the picture in his hands; he still had responsibility no matter how little it mattered to anyone else.  He had to give the company a summary of his once apprentice.  That summary needed to exemplify the kind of person Quincy B. Applebottom was. 

Jeffery looked at the picture hard; he realized that the picture was far too wasteful in terms of space – it should show efficiency and attention to detail.  He picked up a pair of scissors he kept in at the side of his desk and carefully clipped Quincy’s face from the picture. 

Jeffery then carefully disposed of the rest of the picture by placing it in the waste basket on top of the coffee cup, setting it down so that it would not upset the cup’s contents and then stood up.  He kept the picture of Quincy in his hand as he walked to the supply room that adjoined the general manager’s office. 

The supply room wasn’t very large; it gave little walking space between the multipurpose scan/fax/copier and the cabinets that held supplies for the office but Jeffery liked it – it was left little room for people to create messes and kept everything neat.  He put the picture of Quincy down on top of one of the cabinets. Jeffery unzipped his pants, carefully removed the perfectly pleated material from his person, folding them gently and placed them on the supply cabinet top.  Next came off his plain white boxer shorts that joined his pants upon the cabinet.  Once Jeffery had assured himself that the folds of the shorts and the pants were aligned and he had brushed off a stray piece of lint that he had somehow missed on the left inside knee of his pants Jeffery turned and pushed the power button on the photocopier that sat in the corner three feet from the supply cabinet.

He opened the lid, hoisted himself up onto the cold glass of the copier, squiggling around until he felt as if his butt cheeks had expanded from their normal thin center crack to a larger chasm.  Jeffery leant forward and pushed the “2” and “5” buttons then the “copy” button.  As he listened to the sounds of the scanner moving to and fro he wiggled his cheeks around in order to give several different versions of his ass that he could choose from.  Once the machine pinged to signal the end of the requested twenty five copies, Jeffery hopped off the copier, carefully redressed then examined each of the copies for the one that he preferred.  Copy number twelve he decided was the one that he would use.  He put the other twenty four through the paper shredder.

Jeffery took the cut out picture of Quincy and with a piece of scotch tape from the dispenser that sat next to the copier he placed it in the center of copy twelve.  He placed the altered copy back into the copier and selected the option to send the new copy to his computer terminal.  Once done, he took copy twelve and again used the paper shredder.

Jeffery walked back to his cubicle, pushing the chair out, sitting down then scuffling he and the chair into a tight position.  He opened the received folder, cutting his newly made news release and pasting it on the document he had entitled, “Summary of Quincy B. Applebottom”.  He typed in all the names on the list of executives and general managers that Quincy had given him.  For an hour Jeffery sat motionless looking at the image of his buttocks with Quincy Applebottom’s face in the center.

Jeffery pushed “send’.  He looked at the screen for a few minutes as it flashed, “Message sent” before he picked up the coaster, slid his chair back seven inches and stood up.  The coaster twirled between his fingers as he considered the computer’s query of “Log out?” The coaster ceased its revolutions as Jeffery used his other hand to use the computer’s mouse to move the cursor to “yes”.  Jeffery clicked the mouse.  The monitor announced to Jeffery what he already knew; he was logging out.

Jeffery stepped out from between the desk and the chair, pushed the chair snugly into the desk and walked to the north exit aisle.  He followed the little arrows that pointed the way to the processing mills and entered the production area.  The whir of the swirling vats of soy purred into Jeffery’s ears as he climbed up the metal staircase to the suspended catwalk that over looked the four vats.  He stood over the first vat, looking down at the blades mixing the soy mush with various spices. 

For the first time since he had pushed the send button, Jeffery looked at the coaster that he held in his hand.  The sharpness of the coffee stain blurred as his eyes began to tear up.  He stretched his arm over the railing and held the coaster daintily over the rotating blades beneath him.

“The dream never dies,” Jeffery shakily sang as he let go of the round piece of cork.  He watched it fall into the mush and swiftly be taken under the thick paste and disappear as if it had never existed by the mixer. “Just the dreamer,” Jeffery stated with a finality lost in the myriad of mechanized conversations going on around him.  He climbed the metal rail and stepped off.

Quincy Boris Applebottom arrived at the meeting at the New York headquarters with an air of smugness about him; he had confidence that in as he slept good ol’ Jeff, a sap but his sap, had produced a stellar write up and sent it to all his fellow general managers as well as the board of governors exalting his accomplishments at the Calgary plant.  Quincy felt that his assuredness was well placed when he walked into the conference room and he saw every eye move to him; there were points and whispers.   He could sense the admiration of his peers and the three owners of the company. He smiled and nodded as he took his seat.   He opened up his lap top, turned it on. The woman to his left, Marjorie Sveltebushe of the Phoenix plant Quincy recalled from his readings of the company newsletter, placed her hand on his shoulder.

“You’re Quincy Applebottom of Denver, aren’t you?” She asked through a wide smile.

“Why yes I am,” Quincy said proudly, “I take it you received my introduction e-mail.”

“Oh yes,” Marjorie responded, her smile getting longer as she did.  Damn, Quincy thought to himself, Jeff must have really talked him up!

 “It’ll be interesting if you live up to the message’s expectations,” she finished and took her hand off his shoulder.

Quincy beamed.  Good ol’ Jeff, he thought.  The laptop’s screen welcomed him.  Quincy decided that he should check what the introduction said, just so that he would be prepared to act humble at the mention of any of his achievements.  He clicked on his mail.   

The colour drained from his face as Jeff’s message opened.  He looked around the room at the sixteen other general managers, Franklin Myron, Saul Langski, Janice Harris, and their personal assistant’s faces; it was not admiration that he had been seeing, it was ridicule.  Quincy the great had become Quincy the fool; he wanted to rush out of his seat and hide but it was too late, Franklin Myron had taken his seat and called order of business.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, Quincy thought, he could survive this embarrassment.

“I think we should go over the minutes of the last meetings,” Janice Harris said after Franklin had asked if there were any last minute additions to the agenda, “Just in case our newest gm, Quincy Applebottom, is a little behind.”

It was not long after the accident investigation at the Denver plant that Quincy decided that a career change was in order.   The police had absolved him in any guilt over the death of Jeffery Salinger but Quincy could not shake the image of Jeffery’s last act before taking his own life from his mind.  He wanted to but word had spread about the e-mail from the head office boardroom to even the newest customer service rep.  Every morning Quincy would open up his e-mail and in his inbox would be a carbon copy of the message; Jeffery’s insubordination had inspired people.  One man’s speculation lead to a legion of followers who now kept the word, or more precisely, the image, of Jeffery Salinger alive.

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