I stepped outside for a break and winced as the winter air bit my lungs. I'm wearing my brown Carhart knock off winter coat but I would don an Apollo moon suit if I could, helmet and all. Something like that might, just might, be enough to insulate me from the post-Christmas cold.
You see, before Christmas the temperatures may dip a bit but you have parties and family arguments to look forward to. People hand out liquor and cookies like they've hoarded them all year and are finally free to dole out in unending quantities. After the wrapping paper has gone to the curb and the New Year's kisses have faded there's just the unending freezing of January and February until the uncertainty of March and April. Nothing to look forward to. Just cold weather that makes every little thing harder. Going outside? Bundle up. Going somewhere? Make sure you have at least a half tank of gas and jumper cables. Are the kids going with you? Forget about leaving in the next twenty minutes or so. It will take them that long just to suit up.
But now, it's break time. Not smoke break time, no, not anymore. I'm still adhereing to the resolution I made at New Years to stop treating my body like a brownfield site. More salads, less nicotine. No more familiar light headedness as I take the first drag after the lighter touches the tip of a Marlboro. No, now it's just five minutes in the cold, away from the sound of the ringing phones in the call center.
He announces his presence with a whipcrack fart. The Homunculus of Winter.
I don't know how he does it but he can sidle right up to you without a sound. Ops manager to a third rate call center touting cable package upgrades, by his attitude you'd think he was vice-president of a bailed out Wall St. firm. His suit comes from Jos. A Bank. He stocks up during their buy one, get two free Christmas sale. Today he's sporting a dark blue jacket over a canary yellow sweater vest and plaid button up shirt. He's too cheery for the dismal day. I resent him at once.
"Your numbers aren't looking too good," he says. Ignoring social conventions like greetings is something he excels at. He likes to put people off their guard by beginning conversations in the middle, forcing you to engage him by asking what the hell he's talking about.
"My group is doing well," I counter, engaging him but without asking him what he means. I let him come to me. The four people working under me have each sold an upgraded service tonight.
"New year, new requirements. Didn't you read my email? The new minimum is two premium upgrades per shift."
I finally look down at him. The top of his head rises to just under my chest. My wife calls his attitude 'short man syndrome'. I love her for it.
"We've got two hours left. We'll make it," I say. "And yes, I saw your email."
I watch in fascination as he extracts a Marlboro from a red topped hardpack. He pops it into his mouth and lights up. The smell of it washes over me and I hate him even more. He tilts the pack toward me.
"Need a smoke?"
I shake my head. He knows I quit. He just wants to enjoy my torment. He knows I want one and I know he'll take pleasure in watching me turn it down or watching my will break if I accept.
"Come on," he says, giving the pack a shake. "It's okay."
I shake my head again. "If my people start to fall behind, I'd appreciate some warning. To work with them."
"Don't fall behind," he says. The tip of the cig glows orange in the dim light as he inhales.
It's so easy for him. He draws on the whole center for his metrics. As long as we make the minimum to keep his boss happy he glides along without a care in the world. He just has to ride me and the other eight section managers, make sure our people are selling upgrades to HBO even as we're trying to explain why the customer has to haul their busted cable box down to our office for a replacement. We don't let the repair guys drive around with them anymore. Too many came up "missing".
"I'm just saying, I don't need people vanishing out of my pod. It's too hard to get the replacements trained." He won't care. It's the section managers who have to train the newbies, the one's who pass the pee test, don't have anything too rough in their criminal background check and can pass the literacy test well enough to read the script.
"You saying your job's too hard?" He always twists what you say, taking your meaning and circling around so you find your own words biting your ass. It's how he got to the second floor. It's how he keeps that office with a door that closes.
"No, of course not," I say. "It just makes things more difficult." My toes are going numb inside my imitation Oxfords.
"Hey, I'm only messing with you. Quit being such a damn grouch," he says. "I'm just trying to pep you up a little. Your group keeps me looking good. I know who should get the credit for that."
Another trick. He kicks you a little bit and then tries to make friends with you. He probably got this one from one of those managerial conferences he's always going to. You know the kind, four hours in a Holiday Inn conference room out by the interstate. A free breakfast buffet just for attending. You should see what he can do to a plate of waffles and scambled eggs. His dietary habits are directly related to his incessant flatuence.
"Sorry. It's just the cold working on me." I hate that I feel like I have to apologize.
He drags down the last of his cig and flips the butt into the storm drain between the sidewalk we're standing on and the parking lot. Not for the first time I wonder if his diminuitive frame could be forced in there. I'm pretty sure I could lift the grate but that pipe may or may not be wide enough to get him moving away from the building. I've given it some thought but I'm still not certain.
"Don't worry about it. The pressure of this job can get to you. I still remember, you know what I mean?" His hands are in his pockets and he nudges me in the hip with a tiny shoulder. This is something else he likes to do. Pretend he's one of the guys on the floor because he worked the phones for seven months a hundred years ago. "You ready to get back to it?"
"Yeah", I say, steeling myself for the final three hours. "Let's get back to it." I follow him through the door, wiping my feet carefully so I don't slip as I walk down the steel stairs. He heads up the other stair case, toward the second floor and the office with a door.
1 hour ago