By William Baker
Mr. Nathan Penrod Michaels is peeved as he walks to the elevator, briefcase in hand. In fact, he is fuming, though it is hard to tell, what with Mr. Michaels’ amiable and harmless expression. His usual nodding and pleasant smile betray his outrage.
He is perfectly dressed as always. His gray tailored suit hangs on his fifty-eight-year-old slight frame. He always wears only three simple adornments to his dress: a wedding ring, a gold cross necklace and a Timex wristwatch. He once considered adding a fedora to the mix, but is yet to make a final decision on the matter, after all, it is not something one rushes into. Men no longer wear ties, these days it is business casual. The casual standard is growing looser and looser as time goes on and Mr. Michaels finds this not to his taste.
Everyone knows, he thinks as he greets all of those in their cubicles. Look at them! They’re happy it was me again and not them.
The large briefcase weighs heavy in his hand as it always does when packed up with the quarterly billing invoices. He and only he ever delivers these invoices to the main office in Columbus, Indiana. Yes, they can be sent by computer or by courier, but the company brass never wants that. They want hand delivery and Mr. Michaels is the man for the job. For many years it has been entrusted to him. It is critical to the billing process, even in this electronic age, these sheets of paper are essential to the bottom line. Proper billing and accurate revenue is impossible without them. The delivery of these documents is by far his most essential task.
Sanford says ‘bottom performer’! He put bottom performer right on my official review. Me, a bottom performer! Out of the blue. He never even told me there were issues with my performance and never offered one shred of evidence for the complaints against me. Michaels stops at the receptionist’s desk, smiles and nods at Sylvia. He signs himself and the briefcase out for the day even though the Columbus trip will take him much less time.
He calls it Columbus Day, and it happens four times a year.
He even wants to take Columbus Day away from me! Sanford says, ‘Enjoy it while you can old boy, I’m assigning it to a temp soon.’ A temp! He is going to trust a temp with documentation and invoicing vital to the company’s bottom line? Why, if something happened to these there would be repercussions! Severe repercussions! Thousands of dollars could be lost, tens of thousands! Will a temp deliver these with a severe strep infection like I did in 1992? Will a temp borrow his brother’s automobile at the last moment and make this delivery like I did in 1987? Would a temp battle the worst winter storm in decades and hand these documents over safe and sound like I did in 2013? I think not!
He considers coming back to work the last few hours of the day. No, he decides. It has been understood about these documents. They are a priority. A priority that even Sanford can say nothing about. It is Columbus Day four times a year and by heaven, he is going to take the day, like always. He stops at the water dispenser in the lobby and fills a paper cup.
“Bottom performer!” he whispers aloud as he punches the elevator button. He looks at Sylvia, she is on the phone and hasn’t heard.
I have never been anything but a top performer for all these years. Then along comes this boy Sanford, not even thirty, and I am now at the bottom. Who is he anyway? My God, he was a child in the playpen when I started this job. The elevator dings as it stops on his floor. The door is very slow to open.
Mr. Michaels steps into the elevator and the doors close on him before he is inside. They do not bounce open when they make contact with his shoulder. He skips in unharmed.
“Oh, my!” a young woman looks up from her phone and exclaims.
“That’s not good,” a coal-black man in a bright white and immaculate caterer uniform says. “I don’t think it’s supposed to do that.”
Others in the elevator express opinions and concerns. Mr. Michaels, as he is wont to do, smiles and nods, agreeing with all around. He drains the paper cup, smooths his suit and straightens the little gold cross.
Bottom performer! He exclaims to himself. When they came up with the idea to move the bulk of operations to Indianapolis and keep headquarters in Columbus, they asked for volunteers and who stepped forward? I didn’t want to leave my hometown, and uproot my family, but I did. For them! When they needed Saturday work, who sacrificed? Who came back to work two days after knee surgery because Columbus Day was here? When they needed people to park on the top floor of the garage, who volunteered? And for this they put a pipsqueak in charge and let him call me, ME, below par!
After a few more people get on and off, narrowly escaping the disobliging doors, it is discovered that the door open/close button is the way to master the problem. Mr. Michaels offers to man the open/close button and tame the doors. He reasons with all aboard that he will exit at the parking garage and report the problem to the proper channels. Everyone thanks Mr. Michaels for his flawless action plan.
THAT, for a bottom performer! Mr. Michaels congratulates himself. But he can see the writing on the wall. Sanford and his toadies have it in for him. In less than two years, Sanford arrives with the full blessing of the corporate brass and turns the staff over. All of the old guard, those in their forties and fifties leave, replaced by people like Sanford: young, inexperienced, arrogant, less expensive. Mr. Michaels was the last of the original pilgrims and this was his fourth trip to Sanford’s office. The other conferences were for minor infractions such as the Bible on his desk. This time he made it stick! My flawless record now says BOTTOM PERFORMER! He smiles and nods at the man and two women who get out at the building lobby. He accepts their thanks for his sacrifice at the open/close button.
The doors spring open at the parking garage and a startled older gentleman with a cane gets on selecting the second floor. Oh my, what if he can’t master the door? Mr. Michaels makes a hard decision and shuts the door.
“Not your floor?” The man puzzles.
Mr. Michaels smiles and shakes his head. He will not burden the man with the door issue.
Sanford! He looks like a little boy playing dress-up! I dislike his little man-boy smug smile. His toadies are even more sickening. They call me old dog and Pops, and worse they make fun of my faith. They call me Preacher Michaels! I have never preached. My sermon is a life lived, nothing less, nothing more.
At the second floor, he holds the button. “Not your floor?” the older man asks again. Good-natured and amiable to a fault, Mr. Michaels shakes his head. The man jumps as the door bangs shut.
This infernal door is dangerous! Even an old bottom performer like me can see that! He thinks as the elevator descends again to the parking garage where the door opens at a snail’s pace. It opens no more than a foot and Mr. Michaels spies four or five people puzzled and expectant. Again, he makes a command decision and hits the open/close. This elevator is unsafe! So says the inveterate bottom performer! The door crashes shut and he punches in the tenth floor for no reason other than to get the elevator moving. He now has full control of the elevator.
At the tenth floor, a well-dressed man looks up from his phone in time to see the door open about a foot and stop. A benevolent, smiling Mr. Michaels reaches for the button and travels to the sixth floor.
This time it is two office women talking. They are startled by the elevator booming shut on the smiling, nice man wearing a suit and saying ‘bottom performer’ out loud.
They think, he fumes to himself, they think I am a nobody. They think because I smile and fault to the side of politeness, that I have no bark, no bite? They think turning the other cheek is meant for them? They think that saying little means seeing little? Means knowing little? Any dog will turn when cornered. And this dog knows where all of the bones are buried.
On the ninth, Mr. Michaels almost lets the door open all the way in the lobby of his employer. He spots Sanford walking over to speak to Sylvia, then turn to see him in the elevator and look baffled. Look at him! Wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt with a tie. That tells you all you need to know! Mr. Michaels points one finger toward the ceiling for emphasis and proclaims, “BOTTOM PERFORMER!” He hits the open/close and punches in the third floor.
There are many people waiting on the third and someone shouts at him as he hits the open/close and directs the elevator to the fifth where there is another crowd and loud talking as he again presses the button.
He wants to take Columbus Day away from me and when it goes, I will soon follow. On a sudden impulse, he hits the button for his company’s floor again. The elevator jerks to a stop and the doors creak open.
Mr. Michaels has always detested slang language. He never does it. It does not suit him. But the more he considers it…
The door seems to pause, open about eighteen inches. Sanford steps into view with an angry expression “Michaels, what’s with the elevator? Are you messing with it?”
Yes! I must! Mr. Michaels makes another command decision and moves forward face to face and inches from Sanford on the other side. “Don’t SCREW with Columbus Day!” he shouts the infernal slang and shuts the door.
Then it is to the eighth, then the second, and the lobby, to the garage again and back to the tenth and on to the fifth. Each time more people gather and each time they are more irritated as the doors will not open enough for admittance. They can see the very polite, well-dressed man, smiling and nodding to all and saying something to himself as he controls the door.
They don’t know how vital I have been. How loyal. How sacrificing. To be sacked by a smirking child because of age! He pilots the elevator to his floor.
As the door begins opening, he can see that the lobby of his employer is now crowded. Sanford stands with arms folded, beet red in face and fuming. His flunkies are in a scared, huddled mass behind him. At Sylvia’s desk are various others, gathered to see Mr. Michaels make a stand.
Another word he hates. A word he has never uttered in his life. It is crude, offensive, and despicable. Worse than the slang he has already shouted. Yet no other term will do. Yes, they have pushed Nathan Penrod Michaels too far! They will see that he means business! The door pauses again at eighteen inches and Sanford comes forward. Mr. Michaels is ramrod straight at the opening and shouts, “AGE IS THE NEW N_____!” Only he says it, the abhorrent N word! He feels shame yet the crowd at Sylvia’s desk cheers. Sanford bellows something as the door slams closed.
Mr. Michaels hangs his head. He has never said such a thing. It was immensely wrong. Against God and man. A hand goes to the cross at his neck. They have pushed him to desperation but that is no excuse and he knows it. In due time he will issue an apology to his coworkers. Mr. Nathan Penrod Michaels is not above admitting a wrong, not too proud for repentance.
It’s on the wall, yes, he thinks again. It’s a matter of time. All these years and it comes down to a youth movement and a pipsqueak. To the third, the fifth, the eighth. People are waiting, impatient. What do they care about Mr. Michaels and the injustice thrust on him?
At the ninth again and once more he lets the door open enough to see his lobby. Sanford is boiling mad, stomping mad, two building security officers on one side. A worried Sylvia and a few head-bobbing toadies in the background. The crowd is gone and an anxious maintenance man on the other side of Sanford.
“Michaels! What the … are you doing?” Sanford shouts.
Mr. Michaels smiles and nods. He looks through the slow-opening doors. “Now Sanford, that is no way to manage people,” he admonishes. “In fact, I would call it BOTTOM PERFORMER!” He points to the ceiling again.
“Get out of the elevator!” Sanford yells, making the maintenance man flinch.
Mr. Michaels smiles and hits the button. He presses for the parking garage.
The elevator zips downward, too fast for him. To Mr. Michaels’ surprise, the doors stayed closed for a moment then fly open and stay there. A buzzing alarm sounds. He exits to a small crowd of people who look after him. As he walks swiftly around the corner, toward his parking spot, he hears two women remark on him, “why, that’s Mr. Michaels. He’s such a nice religious person.”
Michaels scoffs mentally at the term. Never religious he thinks.
He goes to the trunk of his Audi where he places the tire tool inside the briefcase, hesitates a second then the small scissors jack also. He forces the briefcase full of essential billings and tire implements closed and secures it with bungee cords. He then walks around the Audi to the chest-high wall. It is all open here and he looks over the wall and down. This part of the garage extends over the manmade lake that the office building is constructed on. He heaves the briefcase over the wall and watches it splash in the dark water and sink. He turns to his car and points to the ceiling for emphasis “BOTTOM PERFORMER!”
Mr. Michaels backs out of his space. Down the drive aisle, he sees Sanford and building security as they exit the stairs into the garage. I have the ill-dressed twit in my sights, he thinks. He sits still in the Audi, one foot poised over the accelerator. He feels for his cross. What good? He asks himself. My God will not condone it. My family will pay the price. My life lived will be as nothing. Besides he does not deserve it. It is after all only a job. He rests his foot. Sanford and the guards spot him and begin trotting his way.
But, do I not have security override to every major system in the company? Are they not unaware of what I have discovered over the years. Things I have wrongly let go out of allegiance? False allegiance and I false for overlooking it. That I must face and face the reality of this life lived and put it right at last. Are there not things certain authorities may be interested in knowing? I do not have a box full of information in my garage for nothing! They will be slow to act, they always are. It is time to set things right, no matter the personal cost. Still, time is short. Now they will see how fast an old dog can unbury bones.
Mr. Michaels steers the Audi down another aisle. He smiles to himself and nods his head. He caresses the cross at his neck and reflects that he is just another old bottom performer heading into the new morning’s bright uncertainty.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in Indiana Voice Journal.
William Baker lives a postive life with his family in Central Indiana. He is a homesteader, author, actor, photographer, husband, father and grandfather. He is a working-class dude for a home care agency. He takes the commandment of Yeshua seriously to love one another. He is previously published online and in print.