Guest Post by Carol Teltschick
McAllister rummaged through his desk looking for a roll of Tums. He had just finished a drive-through lunch and his stomach was a roiling mess of burgers churning in a sea of Diet Coke. As he bent his head to search a drawer, Bertha the tech writer flitted past and dropped a scribbled note: “Please check 24th floor lunchroom for unauthorized commerce, insensitive behavior and un-American smells.” Waif thin and ephemeral, she evaporated before McAllister saw her. The note wavered on a random air current, landed near his left hand.
What the hell? He picked up the note and groaned. He was gassy and depressed and in dire need of a nap, and now he had no choice, he had to investigate. It had been a year of Anthrax poisonings and Bioterrorism Acts and lunchroom vigilance was required. On top of that, rumors of layoffs had already begun to circulate and impending layoffs always made people act goofy.
Scrabbling through the drawer, his fingers touched a tattered roll of Tums. He peeled off two, popped them in his mouth and began to chew methodically. It was like eating a piece of chalk, like something you would do in third grade to gross out your teacher and make the other kids laugh, only there was no more teacher, no more kids, and everyone in HR thought it was normal to munch down at least two Tums a day. Keeping an acid stomach under control was no laughing matter, especially now that everyone—even people on the top floor—might soon be sharing space. Consolidating office space was the second most popular way of cutting operating costs. Layoffs was the first.
He shoved the rolls of Tums deep into his trouser pocket and belched twice, welcoming the partial release of internal pressures that threatened to destroy his body from the inside out. It would take a lot more than two belches to handle all of it, but you take what you can get. Grimly he rose, hitched his pants over the protruding wreck that was his abdomen and walked to the elevators. Managing human capital certainly had its downsides, and he’d been doing it for thirty years.
The elevator emitted a polite ding. He got in and descended to the 24th floor.
By now the lunchroom was chock full of employees and they were all milling around a single point of interest. McAllister stood in the doorway, unnoticed and observing, watching in utter amazement as Bruce Felder, one of the company’s top programmers, looked down at his feet and said to Leela: “These are good, heh heh…real good…” Who would have guessed that Bruce was capable of such polite banter?
The aroma of spicy food rose sharply in McAllister’s nostrils, plunging his agitated digestive system into a confused whirl of desire and revulsion. Now Bruce was pulling a wad of bills from his pocket, putting them on the table. What were those silly women doing anyway, selling their homemade concoctions in the company lunchroom? What gall! Curse them and be damned. Now he was going to have to take some kind of action when all he really wanted to do was take a nap.
Another gaseous mass began forcing its way into his esophagus and he couldn’t help thinking that if he hadn’t lost Sally, his faithful admin, she might have brought him one of those healthy salads from Café Frais. Then he wouldn’t have eaten all those burgers.
He decided to retreat to his office where he would be better able to get his gases and his emotions under control. Then he would send an email to Noor, Leela and Molly, severely reprimanding them for violating standard policy. He hated to admit it, but he felt like crying. Sally was the only person in the whole company that had ever treated him like a human being. To everyone else, he was just a henchman in a three-piece suit. It was hard to believe, but he had once thought that HR stood for Human Relations.
This is a cutting from Carol’s novel about, among other things, working for multi-national organizations in the years directly after 9-11.