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Nine To Five


Bob Schackner

Part II

Awhile ago I relayed a story to you about my escapades while working in a gas station in Northern New Jersey. I worked for a man named George. After George and I parted company, I decided automotive repair work was not to be my life’s toil. So I took about six months off and looked for work in a totally different field. I applied to AT&T as a marketing representative (yikes, what was I thinking?), and I worked part-time for an electrician. I labored part-time for a mason, part-time for a liquor store as a driver (never got caught sampling the goods either), and part-time for the State of New Jersey as a queue denizen twice a month (that means I was collecting unemployment). This allowed me to spend lots of quality time with those wonderful people who make you stand in line for hours and then treat you like crud when you get to the head of the line. I’ll give you an example...

I arrived at unemployment on my assigned Tuesday morning and promptly began looking for the end of the “R through V” line. I perused the large hall, following each serpentine line, some of them intertwined with each other and making me wish I knew a good forger so I would have at least three sets of credentials. I found the end of the line after stopping twice to ask for directions, and being accosted by a scruffy old chap who clung desperately to my arm and said, “I’ve been here since the end of the war.”

“Which war?” I asked, thinking the Vietnam War.

“The Big One,” he replied. “WW II.”

I left him at mile marker twelve and continued on to the end of the line. After about three days, I reached the head of the line only to have the lady put a sign over her window, which read, “Closed – Next Window Please.” The only problem was, there was no other window.

I looked down at the floor at the scuffed white line and its matching lettering that read in government font, “Do Not Cross Line Until Name is Called.” I thought to myself, how early-institution. I wondered if Al Capone fully appreciated his stint in Alcatraz as much as I was enjoying mine at unemployment. Pushing up on my tippy-toes, I peered over the counter at the very large lady that had decided to take her lunch break at a very inopportune time. I began to speak to her, “Ah, excuse me, but I…”

“Insolent son-of-a-dog!” She barked at me. “Back behind the line!” Instinctively I jumped back, nearly knocking over the man behind me, who in turn nearly knocked over the lady behind him. It was close. It almost looked as if the domino effect was going to take place right before my very eyes.

Shocked, I started again, “I just want to ask a question.”

She looked at me with pure evil in her eyes. She screwed up her face, twisting it as she rasped in a guttural voice, “You stay behind that line Mister, or there will be hell to pay.” And with that, she began to eat her lunch at the counter, right in front of the rest of us.

By the time she got to the Bon-Bons and the Dove Bar, I was pretty cranky and no longer held the fear I did when I first encountered her wicked wrath. Besides, there were steel bars in the window that kept her from harming me.

I started again, “Ah, excuse me, miss?”

Munch, chomp, chomp, burp.

I tried again, “Pardon me, madam?”

Chew, bite, slurp, swallow, chew again.

My patience all but gone, I shouted out, “HEY, FAT LADY!”

Well, let me tell you, that sure got her attention. It also arrested the attention of everyone else there that day. I’m sure people who came days later were still able to hear my voice as it echoed throughout those hallowed halls, eventually passing through the time and space continuum headed toward the end of the universe. I continued on, “You know, you shouldn’t be so rude to us. You need us. Why, if it weren’t for us, you’d be on this side of that window and we wouldn’t have to be here at all because we’d be someplace else, like working!”

I turned around and saw all the people behind me, looking at me in wide-eyed support (or as if they had been caught in the headlights of a Mack truck bearing down at them at ninety miles an hour). They all sang out in unison, one voice speaking out against tyranny and oppression, long lines and discontent. I’ll never forget the myriad of emotions that overwhelmed me, as they all stood up with one strong voice, solid and firm and said, “What??!!”

Security found me with very little trouble. Actually every one of my so-called supporters ratted me out without compunction. I got my check and the kind people at unemployment made arrangements for me to have personal interviews every two weeks after that. No lines, just an electronic ankle bracelet that monitored my every move. That is, until I got the job working for Ira…

I was about ten minutes early for my job interview with Ira’s company. I was a little bit nervous and the secretary did little to ease my obvious discomfort. “You’re here for the trainee’s position?” Sneering emphasis on the word trainee.

“Yes, I am.”

“Please take a seat and complete this form.” She handed a clipboard to me and attached to it was a standard job application. I filled it out omitting all the details about the lady at unemployment and the short prison sentence in Upstate New York that followed. Her phone rang and she said into it, “I’ll send him right in.”

She looked at me and with a nod of her head aimed me toward a large oak door, which stood about twelve feet high. I walked into Ira’s office and saw this huge oak desk, huge oak credenza, huge oak bookcases, and a little guy about five-foot four sitting behind the desk. I choked back a guffaw as I thought to myself, “I bet this guy’s sitting on three telephone books.”

His head and shoulders barely clearing the top of the oversize desk, Ira had barricaded himself behind some large piles of file folders. He was on the phone and he motioned for me to sit in one of the leather chairs facing his desk. I sat down only to jump right back up again as there had been something already on the chair. I turned around and looked down to find a shaving kit. I felt an intense pain in the back of my upper thigh. I removed the styptic pencil from my leg and considered myself lucky that I had been impaled by a styptic pencil rather than a regular pencil. At least the flow of blood was halted almost immediately.

I peeked at Ira between the mounds of files and saw he was in desperate need of a shave. As I got to know Ira, I found he always looked that way. The man could shave at 9:00 AM and require another shave two hours later. His hair was short and gray, and had the look of steel wool. He wore a white shirt and a vest, with a smart tie (I found out later the tie was actually smarter than he was). He hung up the phone and stood up to greet me. While I think he may have stood up, he certainly didn’t get much taller. I heard a muffled noise as he moved. It sounded like three telephone books falling to the floor.

The interview began as he told me about himself, the company, himself, the other people who worked for the company, himself, the customer base, and a little bit about himself. During the interview I got to nod a few times and say, “Ahuh.” I noticed he had eggs with ketchup (salt & pepper), home fries and coffee for breakfast that morning. I wasn’t a detective, nor did I possess any amazing powers of deduction. He wore it all on his sleeve – literally. And on his tie, and on his slacks, and on his shoes.

I somehow managed to impress him or he needed a tax deduction because he hired me. That’s when the fun began.

One morning, as I was on my way to work, my car suffered a flat tire. After making the repair I continued on my way to work. When I arrived at my office building, I went into the men’s room to wash the dirt from my hands. It was then I found bits and pieces of toilet paper all over the sink and floor. Each piece was spotted with fresh blood. It looked as if someone had hosted a Rastafarian Wildebeest Bloodletting Sacrifice. Bypassing the need to wash my hands, I burst into our office in order to let Michelle, our receptionist, know we had a multiple homicide on our hands.

As I blurted out the whole sordid scene, she held up her hand and waved me off. “Oh, don’t be silly. Ira was shaving in there. He always does that when he’s late and has to meet clients.”

“B-b-but he must need a transfusion or something. There’s at least four gallons of blood in there. And given his size, he’s only got about three-and-a-half pints in him to begin with.”

She waved me off again.

As I walked past Ira’s office on the way to my desk, I could see him scurrying around preparing for his meeting. I could also see his face and neck dotted with pea-sized bits of toilet paper. His white shirt was also spotted with flecks of blood. I couldn’t help think about my career choice just then. As I was pondering my future with this company, the prospective client Ira was meeting burst into the reception area sweating profusely. He was obviously under a lot of pressure and was breathing heavily as he said to Michelle, “Any idea where a guy can get some toilet paper? There’s none in the men’s room.” Michelle smiled knowingly as she waved him off toward Ira’s office.

Ira was also known for his stream-of-consciousness generosity. His actions were almost always well intended, but they also almost always backfired on him. When the Jets football team was still based at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York (before they moved to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ), Ira got himself conned into buying four season tickets. The only problem was, no one in our office liked football, no one liked driving to New York City and quite frankly, no one liked Ira.

Late one Sunday morning in November, while I was reading a newspaper article about Samoan Yak Racing, the telephone rang. It was a cold, wintry day, with predictions of an ugly afternoon. I picked it up on the third ring only to hear a low, howling wind rushing into the earpiece.

“Hello,” I shouted into the phone. “Anybody there?”

More wind, rising and falling in intensity.

“Yo, anybody here?” I asked.

“Bob, is that you?” came the reply, barely above the rush of the cold, biting wind.

Still more whooshing sounds in the background followed by shouting.

“Yeah. Yeah, who’s this?”

“It’s me, Ira. I have two extra tickets to today’s game. You want to go?”

“What game?” I queried.

“The Jets are playing today. It should be a good game.” The wind was getting louder.

I could hardly hear Ira over the screaming winds. I asked, “Ira where are you?”

He responded with, “What, now?”

I shook my head and said, “No, in about an hour. Yes, now.”

“I’m outside of Shea Stadium at a payphone. I’m with my son. You should see it here, the crowd is filing in, and this is going to be a great game. You gotta get here.”

I said, “What time is the opening kick-off?” I walked over to the picture window of my apartment. I read the thermometer mounted on the window ledge. It showed fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. The wind was causing small trees to bend over and kiss the earth. I figured we were at about a Category 4 storm.

He replied over the shrieking wind, “What? I can’t hear you over the shrieking wind.”

Still glancing out the window, I could see snow swirling around the bushes,
narrowing visibility to a mere ten feet. I yelled into the phone, “What time does the game start?”

He shouted back, “What’s wrong with your heart? I didn’t know you had heart problems.”

I sighed. “Not my heart. I said, ‘What time does the game start? START?’”

“No need to shout,” he yelled back. “It starts at one o’clock.”

I took a peek at my watch. It read 12:40 PM. The wind was picking up, near gale-force I imagined. “Ah, Ira, that’s about twenty minutes from now. It’ll take me at least two hours to drive to Flushing from here. And it looks like we’re in for a blizzard.”

He replied, “Lizard? What are you worried about lizards for? It’s too cold and snowy for them. What are you, some kind of freak?”

“Blizzard. I shouted back, ‘Blizzard,’ not ‘lizard.’”

“Whatever. Come on. Get out here. It’ll be great.”

“Ira, I don’t think I can make it. Why don’t you call Ray?”

Ira said, “I called him last night. He couldn’t make it.”

“What about John? Surely he’d like to go with his son.”

“Ah, no. I called him at seven this morning.”

I was beginning to see the light here. “Okay, how about Art?”

“I called him at ten. And then I called Jessie, Lorraine, Dennis, Mike, Bill, Elisa, Margaret, Wally, Brett, Stan and Felicity. Heck, I even called the crew from the Weight-Watchers office down the hall. Nobody could make it. So I thought of you.”

My first thought was to tell him to stick his tickets, but I remembered I was talking to a man that made a good suit look bad. I declined, thinking about the dinner we had planned at my in-laws later that afternoon. Even my father-in-law, the original football fanatic who would choose football above all other of life’s gifts, would think I lost a bolt or two if I drove out to Flushing in near zero degree weather in a raging storm. “I don’t think so, Ira. But thanks anyway.”

He screamed into the phone, “You know, you guys are the most ungrateful
bunch of people I ever hired. I spend all this money for you and…” His voice trailed off, carried off to the North Shore of Long Island by a cold and bitter ill-fated wind that seemed to permeate Ira’s life for as long as I knew him. I hung up the phone.

My wife came out of the kitchen drying a thick coffee mug with a dishtowel. “Who was that?” she asked me.

“Some guy scalping tickets to a Jet's game.”

“Today?” she said. “What, is he nuts or something? Who in their right mind would go to a football game today anyway?”

I mumbled under my breath, “I know who’s nuts enough.”

“Huh?” she asked.

“Never mind,” I replied.

At about 1:30, I started channel surfing and turned on channel four, the local Jet's channel. The Jets were getting clobbered and as the camera panned around the stadium, I saw two people sitting in the last two seats of the last row of the last section. There was not another soul on camera. Even the beer man stayed away. There was little doubt in my mind those two lost souls, stranded in the frozen wasteland of nosebleed alley, were Ira and his son.

The next day Ira sold all his tickets for the remainder of the season for ten cents on the dollar. The guy who bought the tickets was a Colts’ fan and to show how much he hated the Jets, he burned all of his newly purchased tickets in front of Ira.

Ira was the proverbial, consummate showman. He always demanded center stage and very often got it. When he brought potential customers into our office, he tried to wow them with his wit, he tried to wow them with his good humor and he tried to wow them with his knowledge. Oh well, two out of three ain’t bad.

There were big doings around our office one afternoon when Ira announced that representatives of the United States Army were coming in for a demonstration of one of our software products. Ira was unusually nervous as he shouted orders to each of us. “Make sure this office is clean. But not too clean, we don’t want them to think we don’t work around here. I want everybody to wear a tie to work tomorrow. Dave, make sure you take a shower and cop a shave before you come to work.”

Dave turned his head and said in my direction, “I’d like to give him a shave.”

“What? What did you say, Dave?”

Dave hung his head. “I said, ‘After they see our product, the Army is going to rave.’”

“Good,” said Ira. “Okay now everybody, get a good night’s sleep so we can all look great tomorrow.”

Dave whispered to me, “If that guy slept for a thousand years, it wouldn’t make a difference.”

The next morning I had an emergency call at a customer site so I didn’t get to my office until about ten thirty. Michelle told me the Army had shown at about ten fifteen. They were an hour and fifteen minutes late. Big surprise.

I walked toward the conference room, with its large glass wall and I could see seven people dressed in military regalia, three women and four men, all ranking officers. Our vice-president, Ray and our head programmer, John were also assembled in the room. Ira was dressed in his black Italian designer suit and had his back to me. He was busy writing some notes on the whiteboard, his arms flailing in all directions trying to drive home a point. As he turned around to face his audience, who seemed totally engrossed in what he was saying, what I saw made me gasp for air. For lo and behold, Ira’s starched white shirttail was prominently protruding from the open zipper in his Italian designer suit pants. If he was present to witness the event, Armani would have thrown up.

My face got hot as I tried to get his attention by waving my hand. He smiled and waved back. I shook my head and waved at him some more. He kept talking but his focus turned toward me. I pointed to my pants, just below the belt, trying to get him to understand he was showing more than just our product. Just before he turned his back, he glared menacingly at me. I shrugged my shoulders and walked back to my desk.

At about twelve o’clock, Ira came storming down to my desk. He was huffing and puffing and he obviously had worked himself into a panic. He started right in on me, “What in the hell do you think you’re trying to do? Do you know who I was in there with? Huh? Do you?”

I could feel my hands begin to ball themselves into fists. I clenched and unclenched keeping beat with every one of Ira’s words.

I tried to reply, but it was no use. He went on about how he was the only salesman we had and we should be thankful he cared so much about us, yadda, yadda, yadda. He finally got to the meat and potatoes when he asked me, “Just what in the name of Jumpin’ Jehovah was so stinkin’ important anyway?”

I slowly opened one clenched fist and pointed my index finger to the offending shirttail.

All the blood drained out of Ira’s face. But it didn’t last long. After about ten seconds, his face turned beet-red, all the blood in his body rushing back. I couldn’t help but imagine that his hands and feet would probably fall off if the blood didn’t get back there in time. I suppressed a smile. He stammered, “Jeez, what’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you tell me?”

I said, “Hey, remember me? I was the guy at the window, pointing. Remember that?”

“Oh hell. Thanks for nothing.” He stormed away.

As he made his way back to his office, I heard John say, “Hey Ira, your fly is open.”

Then I heard Ray tell him, “Hey Ira, your fly is open.”

I heard Art say in passing, “Hey Ira, your fly is open.”

Just before he stormed out of the office I heard Michelle shout, “Hey Ira, your fly is open.”

About three hours later I walked up to the front reception area. It was very quiet. The light was on in Ira’s office, but he wasn’t in it. I asked Michelle if she had seen Ira.

She was filing her nails and wickedly chewing a piece of gum, snapping it on occasion. She poked her head toward the door. “He’s got a date tonight. He’s in the men’s room shaving.”

I looked at her, hard at work on those well-manicured nails. I said to her, “Oh boy. You call 911, and I’ll get the tourniquet and the Mop
‘n Glo.”

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