Scott Akalis

Randy addressed the petition to the Postmaster General and tossed it into the inter-office mail bin. His request to institute Casual Fridays was motivated less by comfort than principle: a man who alternately posed as The Easter Bunny, Batman, and Santa Claus should not wear a tie five days a week.

Getting back to work, Randy reread the letter he had drafted just prior to the petition:

Dear Jeffery:

Thank you for your nice note. I enjoy candy every once in a while, but I like carrots even more because they are good for me. Maybe if you gave hard-boiled eggs another chance, you might like them.

I will try to include more marshmallow candies and jelly beans in your basket this year, but if I put eggs inside, please know it is only because I want you to grow up healthy and strong. Thanks again for writing, and I hope you and your family have a special holiday.

Your friend,

The Easter Bunny

Two Fridays later, Randy had to inhibit a fist pump when his boss, Greg Feldman, walked by his and Michelle’s cubicles and announced an end-of-day meeting in his office. It would be a fast turnaround for the Washington bureaucrats, but Randy nonetheless expected that the fate of his petition would top the meeting’s agenda.

Michelle, the co-worker in charge of responding to the other half of the Santa letters, as well as those addressed to The Tooth Fairy or intended for fictional figures not already within Randy’s superhero purview, rolled back from her cube with a concerned look on her face. “I told you it was a mistake to mention global warming in the North Pole,” she said. “All it takes is one conservative mother with enough time on her hands to complain.”

“I think it’s about my petition. Don’t worry.”

Randy and Michelle shuffled toward their boss’ office at 4pm, anxiety replacing the sense of relief indigenous to that hour. After they sat down, Greg gave a brief, close-lipped smile and got up to shut the door. Randy scanned the familiar family photos and the row of Duke University paraphernalia on the shelf above. Greg had not attended Duke; his rabid allegiance stemmed from their basketball team’s consistent record of success.

When he returned to his seat, Greg began the meeting with a Band-Aid removal analogy. He then delivered his message in an envelope of language that only heightened the trauma Randy experienced. Employing a series of meaningless buzzwords, as cheap and impersonal as latex gloves, he handed his two subordinates their pink slips. In his monologue, Greg explained how sending kids form letters from Santa and Spongebob would benefit the federal deficit, but all Randy would remember was the collection of catchphrases that, as a professional—former professional—letter writer, grated against his sensibilities:

Reach out . . . Touch base . . . Tightening our belts . . . Trimming fat . . . Pushback . . . Circled back . . . Deep dive . . . Zeroed-in . . . Buy-in . . . Top-down . . . Leverage . . . Automated efficiencies . . . Value-add . . . Cost savings . . . Net-net . . . Going forward . . . It is what it is.

When he finished speaking, Greg slid across his desk two bullet-pointed checklists that delineated the actions Randy and Michelle needed to take in their “transition.” The steps included returning their office supplies, answering a survey, and filling out health care forms on a website. Randy slipped the checklist into the back pocket of his slacks and thought he might as well have worn jeans that day.

“At least we get to start our weekends early,” said Michelle, tapping her wristwatch. Greg had indeed conducted the whole process efficiently, wasting no time on apologies or other formalities.

“And end them late,” added Randy as he cleared his desk, leaving tacks, paperclips, and some–but not all—of his pens.

Once home, Randy logged into BenefitsConcept.com. The COBRA administrator planned to send his monthly bill to his now-former workplace. Seeing no change of address link, he called their toll-free number. Following a lengthy hold, Randy spoke to an agent whose foreign accent and strict adherence to script forestalled any chit-chat. She instructed him to mail in a written request, thanked him for his business, and read some line about having a good day.

Randy penned “To Whom It May Concern” and then scratched it out in favor of a more intimate “Dear BenefitsConcept.com.” After writing out his request and listing his home address, he debated the merits of “Sincerely” versus “Regards.” Finally satisfied with the latter, he slipped his letter into an envelope and jogged to his local post office with this epistolary baton in hand.

A ten-person line stretched from the door of the post office to the lone employee behind the counter. Randy looked at the two unmanned cash registers and concluded that the layoffs were more widespread than he had originally thought. He walked around the corner to the self-service station, an automated kiosk where he could buy a stamp. To his surprise, a second post office employee leaned against the kiosk, guiding customers through the steps on the screen.

When his turn came, Randy let the employee press the buttons for him. Then he swiped his credit card and waited for the receipt, which she relayed from the machine’s slot to his hand. On his way out, he stuffed the record of his 44-cent purchase into the pocket containing Greg’s checklist.

On the other side of the eagle-crested exit sat a man on a white bucket. Just before Randy stepped on the floor mat to activate the door, the man reached for the handle and held it open.

“Got any change?” he asked.

“Change?” Randy parroted back before stopping to reflect on his response. He considered his recent unemployment and form of payment, along with the needs of the man before him. Then he delivered a succinct but heartfelt reply.

 
 
 


Scott Akalis’s recent stories have appeared in Camera Obscura, Concisely, and The Summerset Review. Although he has not studied the mind or eaten deep-dish pizza in a few years, Scott has a Ph.D. in psychology and lives in Chicago.