======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ==== ======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ====
Eric frowned as he heard his email chime emanate from his computer’s speakers. He was deeply engrossed in a 25-minute-long conspiracy theory video on YouTube and was displeased to have been pulled out of the zone by something so boorish as actual work.
“Damnit, I was just getting to the good part,” he thought as he slowly paused the video, determined to get back to it as soon as he took care of that pesky red badge on his email icon. “It’s past 4 p.m. on a Friday, what could anyone possibly want?” He wondered. “If it’s one of our fucking outsourced engineers with a complicated question that could easily wait until Monday, I’m going to lose my shit. We’ve been working with these guys for months and they still don’t know or care how the time difference works. I swear they’re doing it on purpose because they’re mad we get paid triple—”
Eric’s train of thought ran off the rails as he realized the email that was plaguing him was from his boss. Not even his boss, actually. His boss’s boss. The COO herself. Janet. Outside of the occasional smile in the hallway and a three-minute drunken conversation at a company happy hour that had left Eric anxious for weeks, he had had no interaction with her. Until now.
Eric reread the email multiple times although it was barely necessary to read once. In classic senior management form, the only text was in the subject line, which read, “Swing by my office. Got something I want to talk to you about.”
“Fuuuuuuuck,” Eric groaned audibly as he desperately tried to glean some more information from the thirteen words displayed on his screen. What could this woman possibly want with him? It had been over a year since the happy hour conversation, so it couldn’t have to do with that. Was it about his performance? He thought he had been doing well, but in the nanosecond it took for an email to send, his confidence was completely shattered.
Eric’s thoughts raced. “I mean, sure I haven’t been the most productive today, but it’s a Friday, for god’s sake. The rest of the week has been…well, shit.” Eric had had a light workload throughout the week and had taken full advantage of it. He had snuck out the back door by 4:30 Tuesday and Wednesday and had taken a nearly two-hour lunch on Thursday. Come to think of it, he may have also returned smelling somewhat of booze after that lunch.
“Shit. SHIT. I’m going to get fired. It’s Friday afternoon. That’s when they fire people. That’s why the big boss wants to talk to me instead of my manager. How could I be so blind — just watching YouTube videos at my desk without a care in the — Oh, god. Have they been monitoring my computer usage? I mean, I know they can, but why would they? It’s not like IT would rat on me. Phil and I have been tight ever since I helped him with his Tinder bio and got him his first match. No, this must have come from higher up. Maybe they noticed productivity down across the board and started monitoring everyone’s internet habits?”
His head spun as he laid it in his hands. He was glad the office was mainly empty so no one could see the breakdown he was sure he was having. “I should have worked from home like all these lucky fuckers,” he thought as he looked around at the barren desks. “Maybe then I would have survived the layoff that’s coming my way.”
Slowly, like a man possessed, Eric stood. He shut his laptop with a click that echoed off the walls, carrying with it a mournful sound of sorrow, and loss, and a touch of resentment. As he began the long trek down the hall to Janet’s office, time seemed to slow. His thoughts consumed him, shifting from sadness to anger in a heartbeat.
“How could they fire me? Out of all the slapdicks in this office? What about the engineer that wears Teva sandals every day, and whose feet smell like they haven’t been washed since he was a baby? What about the salesman who ‘allegedly’ was the reason our intern quit? What about everyone that participated in the March Madness pool? That’s gambling, and that shit is illegal. Fuck that, I’m going to tell Janet that if she tries to fire me, I’m ratting on everyone. I’m taking everyone down with me. Shit, we both know I would never do that. Plus, I got second place in that pool. No. I’m going to walk in there, and take my firing like a man.”
Eric threw his head back and squared his shoulders as he neared the dreaded office. He knocked twice on the frame of the open door and spoke when he saw Janet’s head raise.
“Hey Janet, you wanted to see me?”
His boss’s face looked perplexed for a second, as though she had already forgotten the email that had been ruining Eric’s life for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually closer to five minutes.
“Oh, that’s right. How old are you, Eric?”
“What the fuck? What could she possibly need to know that for? Am I too young for my position?” While his mind raced, Eric’s mouth took over.
“Oh, I’m 25, why do you ask?”
Janet looked taken aback. “Oh, I thought you were older than that. Anyway, I have a date with a younger guy, in his thirties, this weekend, and I was wondering where to take him.” She gave him a smile that was both awkward and charming. “This may be inappropriate, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions.”
Whaaaat? This was the conversation that had been terrifying him? His middle-aged boss asking him for dating advice? It was awkward, to be sure, but definitely nothing to worry about. If anything, this conversation was a good thing. Any time spent conversing about something other than work with the boss was a good thing. Eric breathed a sigh of relief and returned Janet’s smile as he replied.
“Well, I usually go out around 2nd street. There’s actually a rooftop tapas joint that I really enjoy…” .