“Didn’t I ask for a cost statement?” It didn’t matter that Simon’s boss did not ask for a statement, he said he did. Simon’s boss glared at him and moved dangerously close to his personal space. It was confrontation time again.

“I’ll get you a cost statement,” Simon said clenching his teeth. He didn’t know which one his boss wanted, but it didn’t matter.

“Do it, now!” His boss’ voice chased after Simon as he walked down the windowless, gray hallway to his office cubicle.

Simon wished he could start over again. He would have gone to college after high school instead of allowing an easy job and good immediate pay tempt him. Achieving certificates of training became extensions of his company’s proof that they owned his mind and body. He was trained in their way of thinking. I could just as easily be shackled and chained like a slave, he thought marching into his dimly lit, gray cubicle.

No where else could he use the certificates on another job for another company. The trapped feeling bore down on him like the headache which came home with him almost every day. Quitting or going back to school were weighty issues he tried not to think about.

Simon’s returned with an outstretched hand full of paper. It all hung there extended into dry recirculated air and ignored by his boss. Instead, Favorite Debra stood proudly beside the boss’ chair providing him with whatever he wanted.

Walking out, Simon breathed a heavy sigh. This behavior was not too bad. Sometimes his boss was overtaken by wild, impatient outbursts characterized with a lot of yelling and threatening postures from his large gut. The boss justified this behavior by claiming a high stress level in the office. The only stress anyone ever felt was from him.

The boss couldn’t have much of a home life or family, Simon concluded. Most times his barking orders came over e-mail at one in the morning. Maybe if lives were at risk this behavior could be explained. But, their work constituted paper passing and moving offices every three months in time with the biannual reorganizations, all with unclear results or direction. In the end, the same papers Simon shuffled away from his desk three months prior came back to his cubicle shelf unit for further review. Could this have something to do with moving offices around to reorganize disorganization?

A week ago, Simon needed a mental health day. He called in sick taking his lying to the dare-you-catch-me stage by driving past his company’s building toward his favorite fishing spot. The carelessness of his action made him ill to his stomach so that no fish were caught. Perhaps the bait he handled absorbed the scent of tenseness from his sweaty hands and the fish knew that he was not worthy of handling them.

On the way back, Simon drove the country back road that Praddy from high school used to drive all day. Praddy’s dirty brown, ’68 Chevy pickup used to hog the road sending unsuspecting oncomers into the ditch. Praddy went on scouting trips in search of road kills that he scooped up with a polished stainless steel spade. A Rolling Stones tape from his cassette could be heard echoing off the trees; his loud belly laugh spouting sporadically like a rabid animal. Whatever remained of the animals he placed carefully on individual canvas bags in the back of his truck. Simon remembered the brown and gray mounds of matted fur and twisted legs. Praddy would proudly show them off while driving past the high school he should have been attending. Skipping became his middle name.

Praddy buried the carcasses in his garden where vegetables and fruits grew abundantly. Between his tongue and teeth Praddy savored the juices of many a green bean and swollen yellow cantaloupe while riding around the countryside looking for more road kill. He talked about how in his garden everything stayed moist.

Praddy didn’t finish high school. Instead, he became a foreman at a warehouse in charge of college graduates who could not find immediate work. Maybe the fear of working for Praddy one day made me pick the company I’m not with, Simon thought. Eventually, an employee killed Praddy by running over him with a forklift.

Not to say Simon’s job would ever turn violent. Instead, he dreamed about improving conditions with Herculean strength and a positive attitude. Yet, successful endeavors by subordinates caused aggressive attacks from managers while failed programs were guaranteed full support because someone could be blamed. At Headquarters where he worked, managers possessed long ‘Pinocchio’ noses lodged too far up someone’s ass. And the asses enjoyed the noses stuck up there.

This was how it seemed in Simon’s non-hero status. Sitting in his cubicle he wondered how he ended up in the crooked narrow chair with the torn fabric and dark coffee stains. At least he hoped it was coffee stains and not blood. Back pains persisted despite any repositioning. I’m here because of money and the need for subsistence, he concluded. Simon believed he still sat at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs trying to sustain food, water, and shelter. Self fulfillment was far to the top and out of his reach.

After work, Simon felt like he was being paroled from prison. He came home to a one bedroom apartment too late to do anything but go to bed. Eventually, he dreamed he was at work and some of his fellow office workers found an old muddy, World War I tank on the manicured front lawn of their office building. Five men climbed in and used the tank treads to rip the corporation’s green grass permanently from the ground. Suddenly, the tank evaporated and quickly reappeared as a polished steel Desert Storm M1 Abrams. The same five men manned this tank dressed in shining metal garb like polished non stick, aluminum pots. They brought news from a parallel universe in another dimension of space where the arrows of time pointed differently.

“It’s a revolution,” the five men cried out. “We’ve got to go back. And don’t forget to bring the toothbrushes! We’ll defeat our leaders with clean, truthful mouths. Honestly!”

In this other dimension, the boss was a tyrant enjoying his despotism and Simon agreed that it was time for common sense decency. Yet, alarms rang in his head and he quickly jumped out of bed instead of into the metal tank.

Simon clumsily wandered into the shower to wash away the ghosts from his dreams. These ghosts frightened him with their courage and lingered near the bathtub where he left them. The last of their courage was the substance Simon savored between his tongue and teeth just before his toothbrush rubbed them away.

It’s going to be a different day, Simon thought. I can prove it if I reach a higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy. Hercules will give me strength. I’ll take his comic book with me. It’s impossible to give up.

 Published October 1, 2001, by Liquid Ohio