Men at Work
Gerald, a process server
There’s no right of trespass in this state, but that didn’t matter; when I found The Deadbeat Dad, he was delinquent in his rent. The manager unlocked the door and stood out in the corridor while I searched the room. There wasn’t anyone inside, yet I saw The Deadbeat Dad enter the building five minutes earlier. His room was three stories up, and there was no fire escape. Had he gone to another room? Had he ducked out while I was speaking with the manager? It was a hot day, and the air conditioner was on, so he was still living there. The air conditioner was very noisy, rattling loudly. That got me to thinking…I pulled off a fifteen-inch grille near the floor, and saw two hands flipping the bird at me.
The Deadbeat Dad had seen me from the window and guessed what I was. Snaking into the air duct was a neat contortionist trick, but he was buck-naked and the cold air had made him shiver uncontrollably. “Peek-a-boo,” I said, while shoving my summons into his right hand.
Alex, a docent
I lead tour groups, I answer questions about the exhibits, and I enforce our rules of visitor conduct. I refer to these last as our ear offenses—one violation and I will literally throw you out on your ear. I’m not a feeble old coot, and our frequent visitors respect me as they do our uniformed, pistol-packing guards. Not a week passes without my ejecting someone for smoking, talking on a cell phone or committing our most common violation: touching the exhibits. Our paintings are behind acrylic, but sculptures have to be kept out in the open, and there are too many people who look at monumental abstracts and see furniture, too many children who see a stylized set of monkey bars.
Earlier today, I was shepherding a tour group through the Modern Art, and I spotted a flicker of movement where it shouldn’t have been. I took a few quick steps and saw a three-year-old boy lying on a sculpture near the center of the room, left there while his parents looked at our paintings covering the walls. This time I couldn’t bring myself to be the protector of order. It was one of our Henry Moores, and the boy looked so right, peaceful and protected, nestled into maternal curvilinear masses that weren’t cast bronze, even though I had told our visitors so a thousand times. I wished like anything that I could personally violate another of our rules: no photographing the exhibits.
V. L. E., a direct marketing clerk
My niche is to maintain the mailing list for Orson, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a dream job. Bloomingdale’s is the upscale Macy’s, and Saks is the upscale Bloomingdale’s, and Orson is so much the upscale Saks that the upscale Orson is a no-can-be. There are only seven bricks-and-mortar Orsons in the world, and anybody who buys there or via parcel service gets a free five hundred page catalog four times a year from then on. Having the catalog on your coffee table is a big status symbol, so nobody ever asks to be taken off our mailing list; in practice, the only way to get off is to die, and that’s where I come in. Knowing whether a customer has bought his last expensive toy takes some homework, and considering what it costs to print and mail these catalogs, it’s worth it to pay one person just to do that.
I’ve told my higher-ups that I won’t leave this position even for a promotion. The reason is that, even at the highest pay grade I could realistically get within the company, I still couldn’t buy one thing in the Orson catalog. And I simply love finding out that there’s one less rich man who will do it. Forget what you’ve heard about winning—he who dies with the most toys IS STILL DEAD.
About the author:
Robert Laughlin lives in Chico, California, and received his BA from California State University, Sacramento. His “Men at Work” stories will be collected for book publication at a later date. Apart from the “Men at Work” series, Mr. Laughlin has published over 100 short stories, two of which are story South Million Writers Award Notable Stories. You can view his website here.