Unexpected Workplace Comeuppance

Chris Mohney

The maintenance man will not stop talking about his gun collection. For what must be the hundredth time, he explains that his favorite Sig Sauer pistol had a rough action when cycling a round into the chamber, and that rather than take it apart and polish it, he tried a new method his uncle had recommended. He packed the chamber with smoker’s toothpaste and dry-fired it one thousand times. The gentle abrasive nature of the toothpaste smoothed the action and easily washed out afterward. Everyone has heard this story in the lobby, in the elevator, in the filing area, even in the bathrooms, both from adjacent urinals and adjacent stalls. The maintenance engineer can hardly stand it anymore. When the maintenance man has a few too many at the Christmas party and starts to tell this story to the visiting vice president for physical plant, the engineer loses his temper and tells the maintenance man to shut up for once about the toothpaste in the gun. He feels bad about this as the crestfallen maintenance man nods and wanders off, humiliated. After the party, the maintenance man waits for the engineer by his car. When the engineer approaches, the maintenance man pulls out the Sig Sauer and shoots the engineer, then himself. When examining their corpses, the county coroner notes a pleasant minty aroma.

The television salesman had married into a prominent family of Ku Klux Klan nobility. He is a racist of course, and a homophobe, and his blond good looks are an Aryan joke, but his cruelty has a surprising intelligence and craft. Almost a year after the first Gulf War ends, he plays recorded CNN footage from the beginning of the war on all the televisions in the department. Customers passing through are aghast, thinking the war had begun again. He doesn’t seem to mind that many of the other salespeople are black, or that several are gay. He gets along with everyone who doesn’t already know him to be an asshole. But some anonymous person truly hates him. This person keys his car, slashes his tires, steals inventory paperwork, and otherwise terrorizes him. He cannot figure out who it might be, as he has never experienced personal vendettas, only vendetta by racial or sexual category. Eventually he quits. Someone circulates a rumor that his enemy was a spurned gay black lover. In the end, this is what everyone remembers about him, if they remember him at all.

The secretary has a black thumb, but she will not seek medical help. Instead she complains and worries for weeks, then months. The thumb changes color and shape. It feels too hot, too cold, has no feeling, becomes too sensitive. The thumbnail does not fall off but takes on a dark yellowish tinge. The secretary will not cease discussing the thumb, waves it in everyone’s face for a daily exam, always approaching with thumb extended like a hitch-hiker. Does she get cancer and die? No, it’s just chronic bad circulation. The black thumb becomes the most important thing in the office. All decisions revolve around the black thumb, its presence, its capabilities, how it might influence the proceedings. Temperature and light must be adjusted to suit. Female coworkers nervously avoid the bathroom stall and sink the secretary uses, subconsciously fearing contagion from anything the black thumb might have touched. No one will drink coffee on the days she brews it. Black smudges on her paperwork are viewed with suspicion. The worst elements of everyone’s base natures are made manifest. Productivity plummets. The department is closed, everyone is fired. Lives are destroyed. The secretary is sad, but she finds another job where the people are nicer and more sympathetic. As she begins to enjoy her less stressful job and more pleasant coworkers, her circulation improves and the black thumb clears up. She becomes one of the most well-liked people in the office.

You quickly write an essay consisting of a series of anecdotes, stealing personal details from people you know and work with. All of them are partly true, but one salient detail is really true. This truth is exposed later when the person in question reads the essay and your name, and realizes that it’s only a matter of time before other people make the same connection. This person does not act against you directly, but he or she comments to other mutual friends and acquaintances about how uncomfortable the essay made him or her. These others in turn wonder which part is true, and if certain parts that seem ridiculous might in fact be veiled references to their own history. One woman in particular, after considering this, decides that maybe she shouldn’t ask you out after all, since it’s not clear you can be trusted. Which is too bad, because the two of you might have been really happy someday.

Chris Mohney

Written by

Writer and editor and eater and drinker.

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