Park car. Swipe security card. Put on gloves, mask, suit. Time on line 8:00. Watch the parade.
Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Goldenrod. Yellow.
Wait, Pete thought. That's not right.
He quickly pulled the off-colored Twonkie from the conveyor belt and added it to his report.
REASON FOR SCRAP: Discolored snack cake. SOLUTION: Maintenance check on Oven
He sighed and threw it away. To anyone else being a Quality Assurance Technician at a snack food manufacturer would be a dream job. It paid decent. You got free samples. There was no union. Supervisors left you alone for the most part.
But to Pete it was hell. 9 long months of hell. Pete didn't want to watch snack cakes one after another. He wanted to play guitar. He'd always wanted to play guitar. Instead he made excuses.
No time. No money. No venue.
It didn't help that Pete's “office” was small. Secluded with white sterile walls, his room stood apart from the rest of the plant and best of all had no windows and only one door. It was the perfect place for people to come, hide out, and complain about their jobs. Pete inevitably became their sounding board, their psychiatrist, their Quality Control.
When word spread there was a good guy in QA who listened, folks came out of the wood work to see the guru.
There was Ralph from Packaging with his incessant need to talk about his rash. Darlene from Logistics and the tales of her dating just about man in the place. Jim Dean from Maintenance and his drug binges.
No topic was taboo.
They'd all come to vent about Mr. Twonkie, or their supervisors, or the weather. Mostly Pete just nodded sympathetically, with a “that sucks” or “I wouldn't stand for that” thrown in for good measure. People didn't need Pete to start a revolution, they just needed encouragement and since he was held captive in a room with no windows and one door, he had no choice but to build them up.
Really he didn't mind. It was good for his sanity. Gave him a purpose of sorts, but no matter what Pete still couldn't kick his problems.
He was a conundrum. He had dreams, but did nothing to make them happen. Nothing except complain. He was good at that. Best in the state if you'd asked his friends. They'd all grown tired of building him up. No more words of encouragement. He'd have to do it himself.
Pete was 30. Long black hair down to his shoulders. Pasty. Chubby. Balding. He refused to cut off the damn mullet. Wouldn't throw out the Pantera 1993 Vulgar Display of Power Tour shirt. Wouldn't reform for anybody. Pete was Pete. A manchild lost between maturity and daydreams. The lack of compromise kept him fat, angry, and fulfilled. Not fulfilled in his wants, but in his relentless need for misery and to be unchallenged. Pete was a drama king. And with each passing day his kingdom grew larger.
“Pete to shipping,” the loud speak said. “Pete to shipping please.”
Pete glanced up from his viewing station and waited. He didn't usually receive pages.
“Pete McDougal to shipping.”
Pete scribbled in his report.
Paged to Shipping. Took off gloves and mask. Time off line, 9:07.
He put his gloves on the small table next to his position, paused the conveyor belt, and left his sterile room.
Faces. There were so many faces of workers, supervisors, maintenance technicians, suits, and office employees. Pete recognized only a third or so of them. Not because he wasn't social, but more for the fact the turnover was so high. People didn't stick around too long. Bad economy, bad middle management, bad workers. It also didn't help the boss was crazy. The revolving door made getting to know people hard, much less make friends.
Luckily, Pete had one.
A fellow inmate. A fellow aspiring artist. A fellow bum.
“Can you get heartburn from a place,” Dave asked Pete just as approached the shipping terminal.
Before Pete could respond, Dave held up a package. Pete wrinkled his brow and pointed at the package.
“I don't know,” Dave said. “ I'm only holding it up so it looks like we are talking about it.”
“The whole decoy trick.”
Without missing a beat Pete nodded, turned to face the way he came, and pointed.
“No,” he said.
“No you can't get heartburn from a place.”
“Are you sure?”
Dave put the package down and picked up the phone. He pretended to call someone about the package while Pete inspected it.
“Unless there is something in the air that's causing it,” Pete said.
“Isn't there always something in the air,” Dave asked, eyes wide with the phone against his ear.
“Dave it's too early to be philosophical.”
This time it was Dave who wrinkled his brow.
“Then why'd you come down here?”
Pete just shook his head and walked away. He could hear Dave fake calling someone else just as a supervisor walked passed.
At least I'm not as delusional as Dave, Pete thought. Or am I? After all Dave did want to be a paperback writer which was pretty close to musician.
Returned to work area. Put on gloves and mask. Time on line 9:30.
Pete's fingertips always hurt. Not so much from the Twonkies, more from his guitar. He'd play his Strat for a few hours, trying to master Tom Sawyer. He'd give up, drink a beer, and watch the same Rush concert DVD. Then the computer would beckon.
Come, it would call out to him. Check out the same 5 sites you looked at last night.
Pete would resist until he noticed how much his fingertips hurt. So he'd put away his Strat, turn off the DVD, and let the callouses heal over. Next month he'd do it all over again, wondering why his damn fingertips always hurt.
He stopped looking at his fingers and went back to watching the Twonkies. He glanced up and saw a sign that read,
One Brain. One Mind. One Team.
Who's mind exactly do we serve, Pete thought.
In that case they were all crazy. Suspicious and paranoid, Mr. Twonkie walked the factory like he owned the place and because he did it was OK. His strange behavior only really mattered when it affected others. Unfortunately, it did all of the time. His totalitarian posters were just the beginning of his madness. He'd yell at floor workers, count his wad of cash in front of anyone who would watch, and threaten insubordinates with kung fu. Luckily for Pete he'd never had to bear the wrath of the oddball in charge. Pete was odd enough on his own.
Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Oozing. Yellow. Wait, Pete thought and stopped the line. He grabbed the mashed pastry and inspected it. A flutter of excitement passed through him. This was a high point of his day. A chance to prove his worth. The reason he watched these stupid, cream injected delights endleslly pass by.
His purpose. His meaning. His reality.
The flutter went away. He discarded the mangled Twonkie into a waste basket and added it to his report.
REASON FOR SCRAP: Leaking snack cake. SOLUTION: Maintenance check on Curing Machine
When Stu, the Quality Assurance Supervisor, came around he was pleasant enough. He usually just watched to make sure neither Pete nor the second shift QA Tech Thurmond, were eating Twonkies. Yes, the yellow goodies were free, but you had to eat them on your lunch break. And who wanted them for lunch?
The answer was Stu.
He must've, because he had a spare tire that wheezed like it had been popped whenever he laughed. Pete saw Stu laugh only once, when Mr. Twonkie made a comparison between his beloved cakes and his genitals. The tire leaked for a solid five minutes.
So when Stu approached him while laughing, Pete was a little uneasy.
“What's funny,” Pete asked.
“Nothing,” Stu said.
“Really, cause you laughing.”
“Oh nothing, just something Boss said.”
Pete looked at the doorway to spot the shuffling, paranoid Mr. Twonkie.
“Is he around?”
“No,” Stu said, holding back a wheeze. “It was 20 minutes ago.”
At this, Stu got serious and puffed up a bit.
“You've been named Employee of the Month,” he said, holding back a smile this time.
“What,” Pete said. “What did I do?”
Stu wrinkled his brow.
“No one's ever reacted to an E.O.T.M. Award announcement like that before.”
Stu loved to use initials for things.
“I was just surprised,” Pete said. “I wasn't expecting it. It's great.”
It was terrible. Employee of the Month was a strange recognition at the Twonkie Plant. It was generally assumed that at the people who won were either having sex with their supervisors, providing drugs to their supervisors, or had survived a horrendous accident while on the job of which they were begged not to tell OSHA by their supervisors.
For instance, there was last May's E.O.T.M. Tony who narrowly missed having leg burned off from vat of Twonkie filling that fell over during a shift change. The company figured that while Tony's leg may never be the same, his value as an employee would be higher than ever. Coincidentally, Tony stayed on for three more months and then quit... with the threat of him calling OSHA still hanging in the air.
This was all why Pete was surprised. He'd never slept with anyone, scored drugs for anyone, or been burned by anyone. So why had he won. Maybe they really were happy with his work. Maybe he really was Employee of the Month. Or maybe they were going to fire him and wanted him to be lulled into a false sense of security.
Yep, that sounded about right.
Having successfully psyched himself out of being happy, Pete looked Stu straight in the eye.
“Why did I really get this award?”
“They're cutting back in shipping. Twinkie says too much slacking. So when the newsletter goes out, the employees won't notice the terminations because they'll focus on the QA spotlight piece with your face on it. It's really all S.O.P for the E.O.T.M.”
“Naturally,” Pete said, wondering why Stu couldn't have just said standard operating procedure like everyone else in the world.
Dave was going to kill Pete. Pete knew that, because either Dave or someone else in the shipping department was getting canned while Pete not only survived, but was going to be pictured smiling about it. Of course this was on purpose. Another S.O.P of Mr. Twonkie.
“Throw a steak in the middle of a pack of wolves and let them fight over it,” Twonkie famously said during a manager meeting. “The Employee of the Month is the steak... guess who the wolves are?”
Conflict between departments was the backbone of Twonkies business model. Conflict showed who was the strongest. Conflict made everyone miserable.
“I don't want to make a big deal out of it,” Pete said to Stu.
“But Pete, your the first QA Employee to win E.O.T.M.”
“I know and I would like it to be for everyone,” Pete said. “And I mean everyone. Shipping, packaging, handling, maintenance. They all deserve it.”
Stu glanced around as if Pete had said something about the Pope in the Vatican.
“We all do,” Stu said, getting in close. “That's just not the way it works.”
“Well maybe it should be.”
“Don't ssssh me Stu.”
“Fine,” Stu said. “Just don't make a scene. I don't want you messing this up for us.”
“I wont, Stu.”
At this Stu stiffened and became the supervisor again.
“Better get back to it,” he said. “You're about 65 off your hourly quota.”
Pete nodded, opting not to argue. He put his face mask back on. Stu reached the door and turned back.
“Oh yeah, your award is in the breakroom.”
Stu left. Pete checked the clock on the wall.
Twenty minutes until lunch. Twenty minutes until some alone time. Twenty minutes until he got his award. Pete watched every single minute pass until....
Twonkies. A big pile of Twonkies. So many in fact that the mere idea eating them all made Pete want a stalk of celery. The pile was his prize. You'd think 100 Twonkies would be awesome.
A sugary coma.
Sure at the beginning, Pete loved the Twonkies. Love eating as many as possible. But now, they smelled weird, tasted stale, and looked like Muppet fingers.
Pete sat down. Stu and Mr. Twonkie were already there. Carla, from accounting walked in with her camera. An amateur photographer, Carla was here for every EOTM crowning. She was one of the few sane ones and had thus gone a little crazy because of it.
“You've got to wear a mask here,” she said to him once, her eyes slightly bulged.
That cryptic message stuck with Pete. In fact, it haunted him. In fact, that brief interaction had most likely been start of his negative view of the place. If the only sane person working there had resolved to put on a happy face to deal with it and subsequently forgotten to take it off then were did that leave the well balanced, mature Pete. It left him wondering if he was one of the crazies.
For working there so long.
For not living out his dreams.
For complaining about everything, but not doing anything about it.
“Smile,” Carla said, behind the camera.
Pete, there in the middle of it all, did smile. He smiled from ear to ear. He snatched up a Twonkie, opened the cellophane, and ate it in one bite.
“Wow,” Mr. Twonkie said, watching Pete savor it. “He must love 'em.”
He did love it. The Twonkie tasted damn good. It tasted creamy, gooey, sugary. It was the best Twonkie he'd ever had.
Carla snapped the photo and looked at her camera's picture display.
“Good picture,” she said. “How does it feel to be Employee of the Month?”
“Great,” Pete said, his mouth still full of Twonkie. “I quit.”
REASON FOR SCRAP: Hatred for Job SOLUTION: Get the Hell out of there
Break security card in half. Throw away gloves, mask, suit. Leave the parade.