Disturber

The boss marched up to Carson’s workstation. He bent over the bench and pounded his fist, sending Carson’s bolts and tools jumping. The boss demanded to know why more of his shit wasn’t being made.

“Uh, we’re at half staff,” Carson said. “Used to be a hundred of us. Now there’s only fifty.”

Carson was confused. He’d never met, let alone spoken to the boss before.

“Not good enough,” the boss said. “Again, why isn’t more of my shit being made?”

“When we’re fully staffed, a hundred men make 1000 products and we ship ’em out. We’re at 50 men. We’re shipping 500 products. It’s simple math, unless there’s something I’m missing.”

His boss stood up from the workbench and crossed his arms.

“Not good enough,” he said. “Again, why isn’t more of my shit being made?”

“With only half the staff, we get behind. And we get further behind every day cause we’re not fully staffed. I think it’s called a snowball effect.”

The boss was supposed to be smart. That’s why he was the boss and got paid so much and had so much authority. At least that’s what Carson had always imagined.

The boss gave Carson a deliberate, dirty look as if his angry puss might squeeze the right answer out of Carson.

“Not good enough,” the boss said. “Again, why isn’t more of my shit being made?”

“I’m just a grunt, sir. I’m not even a manager or supervisor, let alone the boss. Shit, I just turn bolts. You all are the ones with offices and the brains for figures and numbers. Maybe they got the answers you’re looking for.”

Carson stared at his boss, afraid of turning away. Afraid of disrespecting him.

“Not good enough,” the boss said. “Again, why isn’t more of my shit being made?”

Carson paused to think. He stared at the big, fat knot of his boss’ tie. Little did Carson know it was a Balthus knot.

“If you send 100 soldiers off to battle 500, you ought to figure the 100 are gonna lose. Considering they’re similarly trained and equipped.”

“You in the war, Carson?” the boss barked.

“Yeah,” Carson said. “Corporal. Army.”

The boss paused to consider.

“Not good enough. Again, why isn’t more of my shit being made?”

“What are your supervisors and managers telling you?” Carson asked.

“They’re saying you’re doing the best you can. You’re working the best you can, as hard as you can.”

“Well, that’s true,” Carson said. “But it ain’t getting to the heart of the problem. The problem seems to be with the numbers. The flow. I think you all call it logistics sometimes.”

“That’s not it. You know what it is, so just say it,” the boss commanded. “Or you’re a disturber and I’m gonna can your ass.”

Fearful and panicked, Carson asked, “Say what?”

“You know what to say, so say it,” the boss demanded.

“I’m doing the best I can,” Carson blurted.

“See, now that wasn’t so hard, was it? So let’s try it again. Why isn’t more of my shit being made?”

“I’m doing the best I can,” Carson repeated.

“Well, it isn’t good enough,” the boss said.

“Okay, sir. Yes, sir,” Carson submitted. “I’ll try harder. We’ll all try harder.”

The boss was finally pleased. Very pleased.

“Now that’s the kind of attitude we like around here. That’s the kind of work ethic we appreciate. Keep it up and you just might get a promotion, Carson.”

Carson was relieved and pleased too.

“Why, thank you, sir. I been working hard for a promotion. My productivity’s increased by 3% this year. And since Williams retired, I turn a bolt faster than anybody else in this factory.”

“Williams? You know how long Williams was this us?” the boss asked.

Carson shook his head.

“47 years. And he retired making almost five bucks an hour.”

“Damn. Five bucks is pretty good,” Carson said.

“Five bucks is peanuts,” the boss said.

The boss looked around to make sure they were alone. He leaned over to whisper to Carson.

“Don’t be a dolt. I’ve seen the report on your productivity. That’s why I’m down here. See, it’s not about productivity. In fact, productivity’s a liability to you. Why’d I want to pull you off the line if you’re producing way more than everybody else for just a few nickles more than them?”

Carson couldn’t believe what he was hearing. And it stunned him there was booze on his boss’ breath, during work and before noon.

“Now, don’t let that slip and you just might get that promotion.”

“I won’t let it slip,” Carlson said.

The boss returned to his normal, authoritative voice.

“You’ve got the skills for this kind of work, Carson. It’s obvious by the numbers. So what are you going to do next? You going to sit there on your stool – in that greasy smock – for the next 40 years like Williams did? Or not? What’s your next move?”

The boss stood before Carson, examining him long and hard, waiting for a response. Before he could formulate an answer, the boss interrupted their silence and Carson’s internal calculations.

“Maybe this will help. What’s two plus two, Carson? Think about. Really think.”

But he didn’t. Carson chose to wing it and just think out loud.

“They always told me in school and even in the Army it was four.”

“But…….” the boss prodded.

That wasn’t good enough so Carson paused to actually think. He smiled. He imagined he was getting it.

“……but what’s it mean to the company? It’s whatever it means to the company.”

“Exactly,” the boss said.

It quickly struck Carson that his bulb might have more than one setting. Like his headlights, there might be regular as well as high beams. So he added, “And it’s what it means to you. Two plus two is what you need it to be.”

The boss’ eyes sparkled with pleasure. By himself, he smiled the smiles of a dozen men and held as much pride in his heart – for himself and Carson – as the same dozen men conquering anything.

He patted Carson on the shoulder, commending him, “Even better. You’ve got a better mind for business than you give yourself credit for, Carson.”

Carson sat on his stool, nodding to himself in approval.

“You a God-fearing man, Carson?”

“Of course,” Carson said.

“What I mean is, do you go to church?”

“No.”

“Well you ought to,” the boss said. “You and the missus and the kids ought to attend church and get involved. It’s a good thing, socially. Get yourself some rank in the order. It’ll do you a lot of good. Plus, everybody knows a man that goes to church isn’t a disturber.”

“Yes, sir. Maybe we should,” Carson said.

“And what about the flag? You love the flag? You love your country, Carson? You served in the war so you ought to.”

“Of course,” Carson said. “I’m no traitor. I’m no filthy social disturber.”

“Of course not. You’re a hero. But you never thought that sometimes your country doesn’t work in your best interests? And maybe you only owe it what it gives you in return? You’ve never thought that way, have you, Carson?”

Dumbfounded, all Carson could say was, “What?” His boss was, surprisingly, sounding a lot like a disturber. But he couldn’t be. He was the boss.

“Other countries and flags can do wrong, but not ours. Am I right, Carson? It’s only the people you don’t agree with that are the wrongdoers, like those filthy disturbers. But it’s never the country. It’s never the flag. It’s them. Am I right, Carson?”

Carson gave a sigh of relief, assured it was all just rhetoric.

“You’re exactly right. That’s why I fought. That’s why we spilled blood. Cause our country’s always right. And we weren’t so stupid to offer our lives to our country if our country isn’t right.”

“Is it always right, Carson?”

“Well, almost always. I don’t necessarily agree with all the rights it gives those goddamned disturbers. But it’s still right enough. Right enough that it’s the best.”

“Right enough that you love your country and flag unconditionally, right?”

“Of course.”

“You’d love it even if it cheated on you with other men, again and again.”

Carson paused.

“Don’t think about it, Carson. Just say it.”

“I’d still love her, no matter what. I took a pledge to love her unconditionally all the way back in grade school. I pledged my unconditional allegiance every morning. And I feel something inside whenever I hear the Star Spangled Banner. I feel it stronger now than I ever did.”

“That feeling in your heart’s the same feeling you had when you a schoolboy in love. It’s the same feeling you have for your wife and your children and your mamma, am I right?” the boss asked.

“Sure feels the same. Same feeling I get thinking about Boxer too – my dog as a boy.”

“Good,” the boss said. “That’s your heart saying you’re good man, Carson. And I can tell too, you’re a good man. A hero. A war hero and a hero of the common man. But you know what those rotten disturbers say that feeling is?”

“What?”

“Conditioning. You’ve been conditioned to feel that way. Like a dog gets conditioned by getting rewarded or scolded.”

“Hell no,” Carson said. “I’m no disturber and I’m no dog. It’s love of country and family. It’s genuine feeling coming from pride and sacrifice. See, my buddies died for our country, despite her imperfections. So yeah, I’m unconditionally faithful, regardless of how she acts. And I’m proud of that feeling that wells up inside me whenever I see Old Glory wave.”

“Good, Carson. Very good. Well all need to feel that way about something. And all that’s how it should be if you’re an honorable man. But watch that talk about her imperfections. You know the disturbers do nothing but talk evil about what’s wrong with our country, giving her no respect.”

“Yes, sir. I understand. They’re degenerates.”

“But not you? Right, Carson?”

“Hell no. Not me, Sir. Never.”

“And what about around here? You know who runs this place?”

“Far as I can tell, you do, sir.”

“You don’t know who else?”

“Why, no. I just turn bolts. I figure everything else is up to you.”

“Forget those goddamned bolts, Carson. If you want to get ahead around here, you’ve got to know people. You’ve got to understand that people are like tools, just like that greasy goddamned wrench.”

“Yes, sir,” Carson said.

“And what else? What’s the last thing? ” the boss asked.

“We’re all doing the best we can.”

“Very good,” the boss said. “I think the Army may have missed out on you. You could have been Sergeant Major with those kind of smarts. Or maybe you were too smart for the military and both of you just didn’t know it.”

The boss turned to walk away. He took a couple of steps before Carson called him back. The boss paused and turned. Carson stood from his workbench to address him.

“Sir, if I may ask, are we in the business of making Gizmos? Or in the business of bullshitting?”

The boss smiled and winked.

“It’s not bullshit when everybody thinks it’s something else,” he said in a deliberately low and muddled voice.

As his boss turned and walked away, Carson thanked him. And with confidence, Carson took his seat and went back to making more of his boss’ shit. He’d just learned a valuable lesson about the way his factory and a whole lot of other things worked. He sat there for the rest of his shift, ploddingly turning bolts and feeling that he finally had what it took to get somewhere.

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