Saturday, December 21, 2013

A firing offense

I entered this in the El Paso Writers' League's annual writing competition and won Honorable Mention. 

Bang! Bang! The sharp gunfire frightened me. Was someone being murdered here in the office?

My employer was CGI, a well-established company that supplied software and support to automobile insurance providers such as Progressive Insurance. My colleague Lorraine and I were the only technical writers in our division, so we were attached to the Underwriting department. We worked in separate cubicles and were surrounded by sporadic noise as we churned out customer bulletins about product updates.

Bang! There it was again. The loud shot came from down the hallway, along with muffled conversation.

I hunkered down while others carried on with shouting and laughter. Our manager Patti was not a writer, and she relied on Lorraine, who was senior to me, for all editorial judgments. Every bulletin I wrote had to go to Lorraine for review. She marked it up and graded it in pencil—if she found typos, she graded the bulletin -1, -2 and so forth, then reported to Patti, who ignored my vehement objections. She told me it was nothing personal, but she was data-driven. “I’m anal retentive,” she liked to say.

No one screamed at the gunshots, but I heard a muffled conversation, so it seemed safe to stick my head out and see what was going on. Frank Chapman stood in the hallway, smiling as he showed a woman colleague what appeared to be a .38-caliber pistol. When he noticed my slack-jawed look he said, “Don’t worry. This is a starter pistol for races.”

That was a relief to me, although no one else seemed concerned. It was just one more part of the general office cacophony. I grumbled and went back to work. Frank and his friend finished their conversation, and he went back to his cubicle. It was next to mine, although he worked in another department. Thank goodness that’s over, I thought.

A few minutes later came another loud bang! from his cubicle, and by then I’d had enough. I stood up and looked over the cubicle divider and saw Frank at his desk, still playing with his pistol. I shouted at him, “Will you cut that out?” He looked embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, and he put the pistol in his desk drawer.

The next day, Patti called all of her department into a conference room. “There’s been a company reorganization,” she said, “and I’ve been promoted to Director, effective immediately.”

That was fine, but who was our new boss? “Your new manager is Frank Chapman,” she said. Then she gleefully recounted to us what I’d said to him the day before. Clearly she thought it a great joke on me. I thought the company should have fired Frank instead of promoting him, but I kept mum.

Once Frank took over the department, he apologized to me once more, and then we stopped talking about the gun incident. Then he learned about Patti’s policy of Lorraine nitpicking my work. “That’s demeaning,” he said. “That stops immediately.”

When I thanked him he replied with a wink, “I trust you to do your job. But if you disappoint me I’ll shoot you.”

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