God and the Answering Machine
Buddy was glad to be home. Though it wasn't the worst day of his life, it was filled with disappointment after disappointment.
It started early when Jake, his workmate, showed up forty-five minutes late to drive him to work. Buddy's car was in the shop, and Jake assured him he would pick Buddy up at 7:00 sharp. Buddy had known Jake for years and Jake was man of his word. Usually. Except when it was important. Today it was important.
"Sorry, Bud. Just couldn't get my dog to poop this morning."
Just let him poop whenever he wants, thought Buddy, then immediately felt remorseful. Buddy thought, I never owned a dog, what do I know., He felt like apologizing but knew Jake wouldn't know why, so he held it in.
He arrived at work 15 minutes late for a meeting with his boss. It was his yearly evaluation.
"Sorry I'm late."
"Hmmmm," gruffed his boss in a voice aged beyond his years and deceptively free from the sting and crank the five cups of coffee he drank should have instilled. Buddy sat in a nervous silence.
"Falstep, Budward," his boss spoke to himself, while shuffling papers. "Here it is. So, Budward…"
"Please, call me Buddy." Despite every request of this nature, his boss never did.
"...says here that you're about due for a promotion."
"Well, yeah, I guess, but that's really not that important to me." As soon as the words crawled from his mouth, Buddy realized he said the worst thing to the worst person possible. Never, never tell your boss that a promotion is not important, his conscience scorned.
"You've been meeting more than your share of expectations. In fact, you're one of our best workers. The entire rating and ranking board gives you good marks and thinks a promotion is entirely appropriate."
"Thanks!" Buddy felt as if his "not important" comment was unheard.
Or maybe it was heard.
"...as you know, we've had one of the worst quarters in our business history. I wish it were not so. As a result, we've had to pare down our raises and promotions, and give them only to our top performers." Buddy felt a warm tingle of hope; he was a top performer, his boss just said so.
"So I’m glad you told me that a promotion is not important to you. Helps me out immensely. It was between you and Phipps; since it’s not important to you, I’ll give it to Phipps." Down sank Buddy's tingle, until it became a blunt murmur.
"Of course, the good news is you will get a raise. But don’t expect anything huge like you’d get with a promotion. I’d estimate about 1.5 percent." 1.5 percent. Not even enough to cover cost-of-living increases, Buddy thought. He felt as if he got demoted. Then he felt bad for feeling that way.
Buddy limped through the required business small-talk about projects and work satisfaction as he feigned a smile, then gave his boss his thanks. Afterward, Buddy retreated to his cube. Visions of torture, murder, revenge did not come to him. It wasn’t his nature.
He bumped into Doris at lunch time. Doris sat two cubes down from him and was his daily flash of clarity in a murky work-world. They’d talk for a few minutes every day. Not just business or small talk either, but fun, flirty talk. He sensed an attractive tension between them; a terse, perfumed, silky-satiny, physical tautness. Their exchanged innuendo balanced in perfect equilibrium. Buddy was about to tip the scales in his favor. Doris provided the advance gravity.
"Buddy, care to join me for lunch?"
"I’d love to, Doris, but today I’m attending a lunch-and-learn session on filter design. I’ll take a raincheck though." Buddy made his move. "How about we get together for dinner tonight? I know a great seafood place where the chowder is so good you’d..."
"Ummm…" she hunched. An air of mass grew around her, its ballast acting as a counterweight against Buddy’s confidence. "Thanks anyway, but I make it a habit not to date guys I work with. Besides, my boyfriend wouldn’t be crazy about it. And I’m really not attracted to you in that way." She paused. "How about lunch tomorrow?"
You bitch! You tramp! You flooze! How dare you flirt with me and then tell me I’m unattractive! What the hell is wrong with you None of these affronts went through Buddy’s mind. Out came, "OK," in a strained half-breath, as if he’d just been walloped in the gut. He went to the lunch-and-learn, only to find it was cancelled.
It was 4:30 when Jake stopped by. "Ready to go, Bud?"
"Yeah, just about." Buddy picked up his loose papers from the day, and shoved them in his top desk drawer. They mingled with loose papers from days passed.
"Oh, by the way, on the way over, I checked the softball bulletin board for the final team roster. Looks like we made the gold team!"
"Really?" Buddy perked up. "What positions?"
"I made shortstop. Looks like you’re right-field reserve."
The company softball team was the workplace equivalent of an everyone’s-a-winner contest. Anyone who possessed a warm body and was active enough to pen their name on the sign-up sheet made a place on the team. No one was rejected. Even old Van Walton, the company founder, made a spot, though he was re-designated as team mascot when he switched from walker to wheelchair. There were eighteen prime spots on two opposing teams – the gold team and the maroon team, mirroring the company colors. All other players were relegated to reserve positions. In the entire history of the company, no one who was designated as right-field reserve managed to play more than one inning a year.
Buddy and Jake arrived at the mechanic at 5:00. "Can you wait here a minute? I want to make sure my car is ready before you take off. The way things are going today…" He trailed off.
"Sure, no problem, Bud."
Buddy dropped off his car the previous day. Over the past week, he noticed his car made a squirtching sound when he braked and right-turned simultaneously. Yesterday, it clunked.
"Got your car all ready for you sir." The mechanic barked the words like a carny.
"Thanks. What was the problem?"
"Couldn’t find a problem, sir. Checked it out…nothing." He appeared delighted to find no troubles.
"But it was making a squirtching sound, and yesterday it clunked."
"Yes sir, we have that all written down right here sir. Checked it out…nothing."
Did you try actually driving the car, listening for a sound? Perhaps disassembling something? Maybe even looking, you know, with your eyes? These words were never contemplated, never spoken. Instead, Buddy let out a sigh. He took the keys, and motioned to Jake to go ahead without him. He got in his car and pulled out of the parking lot. When he made a right turn onto the street, the car clunked.
Squirtching into the driveway, Buddy was glad to be home. Opening the door, he saw a bright "1" flashing on his answering machine. He pressed the button.
"Hey, God here, just wanted to let you know, I didn't forsake you today. I know it was pretty tough, pretty disappointing. But have I got some good things in store for you in the next few months! You'll look back and laugh! Can't go into details now, gotta get back to work, you know, the grind - heh, heh." There was a slight pause. Then, quietly, away from the phone, as if talking to another under his breath, "What…you’re kidding…I wish they'd make a phone keypad for the large-fingered guy." Directly into the phone, and more embarrassed, Buddy heard, "Sorry…heh. Wrong number." Click.