Every morning I wake up exactly one minute before the alarm goes off. I can’t really explain why this happens, I guess it’s just routine. I stumble out of bed, wishing I could sleep for just a couple more hours. I brush my teeth, take a shower, and get dressed in my red Novak Home Improvement uniform. I don’t have time for breakfast because I’m a working girl, and I’ve got bills to pay. That’s the typical grind, and it never changes.
This particular morning, something feels different. I’m not sure what it is, but something feels off. I step out of the shower and wipe the condensation from the mirror. I watch as tiny droplets of water stream down like rain flowing off a window during a storm. I lean in for a closer look. I have a few more lines on my face that I didn’t notice before. I don’t hate what I see, getting older is a natural process. I brush my shoulder length black hair, and pluck a few gray hairs. I'm thirty five years young, and I take comfort that I’m an independent woman making her own way in life.
With my morning routine finished, I rush out of my apartment to go to work. My silver Chevy Spark might be a small car, but it gets me where I need to go. Plus, I can afford the payments. Three more years to go, and this baby is all mine!
I always get stuck in the morning rush. Bumper to bumper traffic is normal during this time. At least I have the morning radio to keep me entertained. I listen to Rockin’ Stevie bitch and complain about his life in between old rock classics. He makes my life sound exciting. Sometimes I switch over to Hillbilly Jim’s Country Hits show, but I get bored hearing songs about beer and lost puppy dogs.
That shit drives me crazy.
After a few miles of dealing with road rage, I finally arrive at Novak Home Improvement - the bane of my existence. I park in my usual spot behind the cart corral, and see Beth Lancaster running towards me. She looks all frantic like someone stole her purse...again. I mean seriously, her hair is all frizzy and her make-up looks uneven. I sometimes wonder if she owns a mirror.
“Did you hear the big news, Mia?”
I narrow my eyes, “I just got here...so...no…”
“Lewis Novak is here!” she says. I notice her hands trembling. “He’s called a big morning meeting!”
“What time is the meeting?” I ask.
We rush in, and make our way back to the time clock. I quickly punch in, and head up to the front of the store. I notice a large crowd by the customer service desk. This is the usual spot for morning meetings, so this is nothing out of the ordinary.
I look over at Paul, who is standing behind the service desk. He is banging on the keyboard and slapping the monitor. I instantly roll my eyes, because I know he needs help. I helped train Paul when he started, and he’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.
“What’s wrong with the computer?” I ask.
Paul takes a deep breath to collect himself, and says, “This computer won’t turn on! I’ve tried everything.”
After a quick inspection, I ask, “Is it plugged in?”
He looks beneath the desk and says, “Damn! No... it’s not plugged in.”
I notice Paul blush at his own stupidity, and I say, “It’s ok Paul. Don’t worry about it, just plug it up, and you’re good to go!”
The next thing I hear is a thunderous applause echoing through the warehouse. Lewis Novak, makes his way through the crowd shaking everyone's hand. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him. He looks like he has lost a few pounds, and gained a full head of white hair. He’s wearing a red uniform just like everyone else, but you can tell it’s brand new. He likes to fit in with the other employees like he’s a team player.
What a load of shit!
Lewis grabs a microphone and says, “Thank you everyone for joining us this morning! I’m sure you’re all wondering what I’m doing here, so I’ll make this short and sweet.” He pauses and looks around to make sure everyone is listening.
“You all should be proud of yourselves because we have broken last year's first quarter sales goal.” He pauses again to take in the applause.
“This calls for a celebration to congratulate you all on a job well done! When the store closes tonight we will have a big pizza party!”
I listen as everyone claps again. I can’t help thinking that a pizza party is not enough. We should get a bonus or even a raise. I’ve been working sixty hours a week for three months straight, and he wants to give us... a pizza party!
Once the applause settles, Lewis says, “Ok everybody, let’s get back to work and sell, sell, sell!” He disappears in the crowd, and walks to the back offices like he’s the king of the castle.
Beth is smiling ear to ear - electrified by the announcement. I walk over and pat her on the back. My intention was to calm her down but it didn’t work. Instead she says, “A pizza party! That’s so kind of Lewis to do that for us. He’s such a great man!”
I nod my head. “Yeah...it doesn’t take much to make you happy does it? You do know that Jerry’s Supercenter across the road just gave their employees a five hundred dollar bonus, right?”
“I heard something about that, but a pizza party brings everyone together as a team, and you can’t beat that,” she says.
I give her a weary smile, and walk away before I say something I’ll regret.
As the day drags on I go about my usual routine - the grind - as I like to call it. I walk around the store stocking shelves, fixing prices, and helping customers find what they need. It’s a hard job with a lot of walking around. If you're not a fit person this job will wear you down in a hurry.
I walk through the hardware department and notice an old man looking for something. I put on my customer service hat to see if I can help him.
It’s the right thing to do right?
“Hello sir! Can I help you find something?” I ask.
He looks at me like I’m some kind of alien life form from another planet. I watch him dig into his pants pocket and he looks like he’s playing with himself. After another awkward glance, he pulls out a pair of broken pliers.
“You work here, do ya?” he asks.
“Yes sir I do. How can I help you today?”
“The only thing I see you people do is stand around like a bunch of lazy assholes!”
I open my eyes wide, and say, “I’m sorry sir, I don’t know what you mean. Would you like me to get my manager to help you.”
“No!” he yells. “You people are all the same! I just want to find a new pair of these pinchers.”
He holds the pliers out to me, and I notice the blue hand grips are worn out from extensive use. The screw in the middle is also broken. I don’t know how he broke them but I do know they're not called pinchers. The proper name for these particular pliers is needle-nose.
“Please follow me sir, I can show you our extensive stock.”
He grumbles something that I don't understand. I feel like slapping him across the head, but then I remember that I have bills to pay.
I walk him over to the pliers, and point to the needle-nose section. He looks on with his untrusting eyes - scanning the entire bay. He grumbles and mumbles to himself, and I still don’t know what he is saying.
“You don’t have these!” he yells, holding the broken pliers out to show me again.
“Sir those needle-nose pliers are old and discontinued.” I raise my hand to show him the section again, and say, “These new models will work just like your old pair.”
“They’re not called needle-nose! I call em’ pinchers!” he yells.
“Sir could you please calm down. Those are discontinued, and I don’t think you’ll be able to find that exact pair anywhere else.”
He squeezes his old lips together, and wrinkles his forehead. “Since you can’t help me, I think I’ll just discontinue my ass right out the front door!”
He turns away from me and briskly walks away. I call out “Have a nice day, sir!”
The customer is not always right!
It’s now closing time, and my twelve hour shift is finally finished. I hear Lewis over the intercom say:
“Everyone to the break room please. Everyone to the break room.”
I walk towards the break room, while everyone else is running. I tell myself that one slice of pizza will do fine, and then I’ll have to go home. My feet hurt, and I am not in a good mood. I just wanna get this over with.
When I enter the break room I notice everyone raising their voices. I don’t see, or smell any pizza, just empty tables.
Maybe the pizza hasn’t been delivered yet, I thought.
Just then Lewis comes out from the back office laughing. He looks around at everyone and says:
“Sorry guys there’s no pizza party.”
I hear everyone gasp, and I suddenly feel pissed.
“Don’t you guys know what today is? It’s April Fools day!”
A disturbing silence fills the room. I looked around, and no one was laughing. This is a hungry mob, and they were promised a pizza party.
I have to do something.
“Mr. Novak! This is not funny. We worked our asses off for you, and this is the thanks we get?” I raise my voice louder, “This is a cruel joke!”
I hear the other employees cheer at my comments. It gives me strength to keep going.
“We all wanna know, have you seen the new cardboard box baler in the back? It meets all the new safety standards. I think you should have a closer look.”
I motion for Paul and Chris to grab Lewis. I trained these guys, and they are very loyal to me. I watch as they grab his arms and legs, lifting him up over their heads. Lewis is struggling like a caged animal with no means of escape. Some of the other employees run over to help carry Lewis to the back.
Lewis screams for dear life as we approach the big green baler. I look at Beth who looks just as angry as I am.
“Open the door Beth, so we can throw him in!” I yell.
“You got it Mia!” Beth reaches over, and lifts the caged door.
Lewis cries out, “Please, please don’t do this! I beg you!”
He looks at me with glassy eyes, and I say, “Throw him in!”
Paul and Chris back up to get a running start. Everyone is cheering:
“Throw him in!”
“Throw him in!”
Lewis screams like a little girl as he inches closer, and closer to the baler.
At that moment I yell, “Stop!”
Paul and Chris put Lewis back on the ground, and we all start laughing.
Lewis looks around and wipes his eyes dry. “What the hell is going on here?”
I walk up to him, and pat him on the back.
“We knew you were going to prank us with something this year. So... we all got together to prank you for a change!” I start laughing. I can’t help myself, the dumb founded look on his face is hysterical. He looks like his spoiled kids just wiped out his life savings.
After a few moments, Lewis starts laughing too. He pulls me away from the others and says, “Did you plan this?”
“Yes I did. We didn’t know what your prank was this year, so I got everyone on the same page to get you back. I hope you’re not too angry at me, I just thought this would be fun.”
I watch as he gives me a warm smile.
“This was very creative...and fun. No one has ever done this to me. It was thrilling!”
I start to laugh again.
Lewis continues, “You know our store manager Tom, is going to retire next week. I think you might be a good fit to take his place.” He reaches over and pats my shoulder.
I open my eyes wide in utter shock. “Are you serious sir?”
“Dead serious! The way you were able to get everyone together to do this to me shows great initiative. I think you're just the person for the job...if you want it.”
“Yes!” I yell.
“The job is yours! Congratulations.”
He reaches into his wallet and hands me a company credit card. “Go order these good people some pizza would ya?”
I smile and say, “Yes sir!”
At this very moment, I know my life will change.
I am ready for the new grind.
Daniel R. Hayes