It’s been a while since I last put anything up here because I’ve been working on Mr,. Wysquers. Well, it’s done and all that remains is toi get the cover art finished to my satisfaction. I hope to have it up by the end of October or sooner. In the meantime, I offer the first story of the book for your review and comments.
CHAPTER ONE: CALVIN
I always heard people talk about having their best day ever, or saying what they would do on their best day, but it was always just so much talk, as far as I was concerned. I figured we couldn’t know what our best day ever was until we reached the end of the line and could look back at them all.
So the day I met him started out like any other day, slow and aggravating with all kinds of difficulties to deal with, starting with that stupid fight with Gloria, then the blowout on the drive to work, followed by my problems getting the tire changed, and then the damn speeding ticket as I tried to get to work on time — I didn’t make it —, followed by more problems when I got to work. I was taking an early lunch, more to cool off than because I was hungry, and I was having my usual — a hot dog and a beer…or two, down by the river. It was a short walk from the warehouse, and I liked to buy my hot dog and beer from Madelyn. Actually, I didn’t really care about the hot dog, I just liked looking at Madelyn. She was one of those hot dog vendors that was selling more than a beer and a dog in her skin-tight halter top without a bra, and a pair of cut-off shorts that just barely did the job of covering what it was supposed to cover. She was selling a fantasy, and she had customers lined up for what she was selling. She was married, I saw the ring, and so far as I know, she never did anything but sell the fantasy, but she was a good seller.
Anyway, I was sitting on a bench, slowly eating the last of my hot dog when I suddenly became aware of someone sitting down next to me. I looked around to see a man in what I thought was his late sixties, wearing a kind of outdated suit. I saw it once in an old Fred Astaire movie. No, now that I think on it some, he reminded me of the little guy from the Monopoly game, Mr. Moneybags.
So I was sitting there, eating my lunch and envying whoever it was that Madelyn had married, and this old guy starts a conversation. I had no idea what I was getting myself into then, but he seemed innocent enough. Shows you really can’t judge a book by the cover. Anyway, he asked me was I having a good day, and I said no, that it was probably the worst day ever.
I put out my hand and introduced myself. “My name’s Calvin Sharp. And you are…?” I asked the old gent.
“Oh, I’m sorry, son. My name is Pemberton N. Wysquers,” he said with a smile.
“Whiskers?” I asked, thinking it odd his name was and how cool his hand was.
“W…y..s..q..u..e..r..s..,” he said with a smile. “It’s an old English name.”
“I apologize, Mr, Wysquers,” I said, embarrassed over my lack of manners.
“Pshaw, think nothing of it son, I’m used to it,” he said disarmingly. He noticed my attention to Madelyn, as she leaned over to pull another hotdog out of her cart for a customer, before fixing it up and managing to drip some mustard on her breast. I recalled her doing that same thing when she got my dog out, and wondered just how much of an accident it really was.
“She certainly is a very fetching young woman, isn’t she?” he said admiringly.
“She’s a looker, sure enough. She’s married though, so all I can do is look and imagine what it would be like,” I told him ruefully.
“You said that today is your worst day ever? How do you know that, if I may be so bold as to ask?” he inquired respectfully.
So I explained what was going wrong today, starting with my argument with my girlfriend, then my flat tire, then my speeding ticket, and then the problems that awaited me when I finally got to work.
He listened to me wide-eyed, and then shook his head and whistled. “That sure sounds like a rough morning, son, no doubt about it. But I have a question, if you wouldn’t mind.”
I shrugged my shoulders and told him to fire away.
“Well, I was just wondering, if this is your worst day ever, what would be your best day ever, son?” he asks me, innocently.
And like an idiot, I went and told him what my best day would be like. Then I made the mistake of explaining what my view of that concept is, that I wouldn’t know what it had been until it was long past me and too late to do anything else about it.
“Is that what your best day would be? Would you make the most of it if you knew when it was?” he asked me, just to be polite, I thought.
“Sure I would,” I told him. Who wouldn’t?” I said, watching Madelyn stretching both her full frame and that halter-top to their respective limits. I wondered which would give out first and thinking which one I hoped it would be.
“Well,” he said slowly, “what makes it the best day ever is the ability to make the best decisions for the future, and I’ve found that most…people don’t think about the future and how even little choices can change their future or make a bad day into the best one ever. You see, when…people say they’re having a bad day, what they usually mean is they are having a few bad minutes, but they’re allowing those bad minutes to overshadow their whole day. A really smart person recognizes that and makes the most of each opportunity to improve on what came before.” He hesitated and then looked at me. “Of course, that’s just my belief. So you think you would be able to make the best of your best day ever?”
“I sure do, but of course, there’s no way to know when that day will be.”
“Well son, as sure as my name is Pemberton N. Wysquers, your best day will be tomorrow.”
I turned to look at him to ask him what he was talking about, but he was gone.
I spent the rest of the day at work thinking about that old geezer and that con-versation, wondering if I had just imagined it. I thought about going back there and asking Madelyn if she had seen him, but I figured she might think I was just hitting on her and get mad at me. I couldn’t get that guy, Mr. Whiskers, out of my mind, and finally decided I had just been talking to some old guy who had time on his hands and daydreams on his mind. That thought lasted for about twenty minutes, then I remembered what he had said about bad moments over bad days. I was just about to blow it off again when I slipped in a spot of oil on the floor. I grabbed a nearby rack of pipes and held on for all I was worth, and avoided a fall. As I started to yell out for whoever spilled it to come clean it up and rip someone a new one, I thought about what the old guy had said. I had just about had a really bad moment, and I was all set to allow it to color the rest of my day. I took a deep breath and closed my mouth. I counted to ten and then called out in a calm voice.
“Anyone know how this oil spot got here?”
“Sorry, Calvin,” Gregg called out as he came running up to me, a mop and canister of grease solvent in his hands. “I put a cone and flag out for it, I was only gone a minute and thought I’d be able to get back before anyone came by,” he said as he knelt down to take care of it.
I started to say something, then saw the flag and cone off to the side. I suddenly remembered I had kicked them out of the way when I came up to them because I was distracted and hadn’t seen the oil spot.
“No problem, Gregg. I think I knocked the cone out of place myself as I slipped because I was distracted. I appreciate your taking care of it right away,” I told him calmly. More calmly than I would have done it normally. Maybe the old guy was onto something.
“Calvin?” Gregg said as I started to walk away.
“Thanks, boss,” he said simply.
“For not yelling. I was already angry ‘cause Mr. Hartman had chewed me out earlier for something I didn’t do, and that’s how I ended up spilling the oil on the floor. I was carrying a can of 10W-30, and I dropped it and kicked it instead of picking it up, and I put a hole in it. I let him get to me and it made me react badly. I’ll be more careful from now on, boss, I promise,” he told me as he cleaned up the spot.
“No problem, Gregg. I’ll talk to you later,” I said as I walked away. Now I was really taking note of what the old guy had said. Gregg had just said the very thing Mr, Whiskers had told me about letting one little thing take over my thoughts.
I don’t recall much of the rest of that day, but I got through it without any more problems. It was funny, but I think it was the first good day I’d had in three weeks. When I got in my truck at the end of my shift, instead of slamming it into gear and taking off, I sat back and thought about what the old guy had told me and how things went with Gregg. I thought about how the rest of my day had gone after that as well, and it started to make my head spin. I turned the engine on and pulled out of my spot and headed home. When I got to the light where I turn off, it was just turning yellow. For some reason, I didn’t run the yellow light like I usually do. I guess I was still thinking about the day and not in a rush to get back to Gloria and pick up the fight where I left it. Good thing too, because two seconds after I stopped, a big semi came barreling through the intersection…right where I would have been if I had run it as I usually did. That gave me a cold shiver, I’ll tell you. It would have nailed me right dead center, and that’s exactly what I would have been…dead. I guess I was still thinking about that when the light turned green, `cause I didn’t notice the change and the guy behind leaned on his horn to get my attention. I put my hand out the window to flip him the bird to show him what I thought of his way of getting my attention…and just waved. I kept all five fingers up. He blew by me and gave me a dirty look as he passed, and I didn’t respond to it. I didn’t respond because I was looking out the window for traffic and didn’t see it.
It usually takes me about thirty minutes to get back to the apartment, traffic be-ing the way it is in my part of town. I took my usual route and drove a little slower as I thought about my day, and after that one light, I seemed to catch every green on the way home and still ended up getting there about five minutes faster, even in the rain that was starting to come down. About a block from the corner where I usually stop for a couple of beers before heading home to fight with Gloria, I saw a little girl selling flowers from a stand out in front of her house. Out of curiosity, I slowed down a bit to see what kind of flowers she was selling. Now I don’t know one flower from another if it isn’t a rose or a carnation, so I don’t know what she was selling but I could see she didn’t look too happy. On a whim, I decided to pull over to ask how much they were.
“Do you want to buy some flowers, mister?” she asked, a hint of desperation in her little voice. “They’re really nice and I’m selling them to raise money for my best friend,” she explained.
“Why? Does your friend need money?” I asked, reaching for my wallet. I figured to buy one of them to take home as a peace offering.
“No, she’s in the hospital and I wanted to buy her something nice to read while she is getting her treatments,” the girl said, a tear forming in her eyes.
“What kind of treatments?” I asked slowly. I didn’t like where this was going.
“I don’t know, but my daddy said I could visit her if I wanted, since she might not be coming home. She’s my best friend…” her voice began to quiver.
I changed the subject quick. “These are beautiful flowers, little girl, do you know what kind they are?”
“My daddy said they’re called gardenias. He grows them and he said I could sell a few to raise the money I need to buy Lucy a couple of her favorite books,” she told me, as she handed me one of the blooms. It was pure white and had a strong but pleasant smell. There were six small plants, each of them blooming, in small clay pots with colored paper around the pot, although the paper was slowly melting in the rain that was coming down a little harder now.
“How much are they, little girl?” I asked.
“Two dollars each, mister,” she told me.
I don’t know what came over me, but the idea that this little girl was doing something like this for a friend in this crappy weather had touched me. I looked in my wallet and saw the money I had set aside for my beers tonight and suddenly Iwasn’t as thirsty as I had been. “Here you go, I’ll take all of them,” I told her. I handed her the twenty and picked up three pots and put them in the back seat in a box I had been planning to throw out anyway. As I turned to get the other three, the little girl told me to wait and she would go inside and get my change. I put the other three pots in the box and told her okay. As soon as she went inside, I drove off and went straight home. The bar could do without me for one night. When I got home, I parked the truck and carefully picked up the box and climbed the steps to the front door. I couldn’t get my key out of my pocket, so I rang the doorbell with my elbow. When the door opened, Gloria just stood there looking surprised.
“Why didn’t you kick the door like you usually do when your hands are full?” she asked, suspiciously. “And what are those and why do you have them?”
“To answer your first question first, civilized people don’t kick the door to get attention,” I told her calmly, surprising both of us with that answer. “To answer your second question, these are —” I started to say.
“Gardenias! My favorite flower! How did you know?” she asked excitedly as she got a whiff of their fragrance. “And potted plants I can grow my own! Thank you, Calvin,” she said in a tone I hadn’t heard in some time.
“I guess I owe you an apology, Gloria. I’ve been a jerk for some time now, and I’ve been taking my frustrations out on you. I’m going to do better from this point on, I promise.” I was surprising myself every time I opened my mouth today.
“Thank you, Calvin. I can’t remember the last time you apologized to me for anything,” she said softly as she put her hand on my arm.
The look she gave me was one I hadn’t seen in a long time, either.
“You’re home early, nothing happened at work did it? I mean, you didn’t get fired and these are just to buy me off?” she asked, suddenly suspicious again.
As I started to react, I thought of Gregg and shook my head. “No, nothing bad happened at work and I’m still the shift foreman. I’ve just had a very unusual day. Would you have time to hear about it?” I asked her, hopefully. This being Friday, she usually goes out bowling with her girlfriends. I stay home, open a few beers and watch the boob tube until I pass out.
“I’d love to hear about your day, Calvin. Shall I get you a beer while we talk?” she asked in a much more friendly tone.
“No, I think I’d rather have some coffee if we have any,” I told her.
“Not on hand, but sit down and I’ll make us some fresh,” she said and gave me a big smile as she walked away to the kitchen.
I’m sure I knew this all along and had forgotten it, but Gloria looks real good going away, too. Maybe even better than Madelyn. Maybe I had just been too blind to see it. Or too stupid to see it, that was a possibility too.
I put the box of gardenias down on the floor and followed her to the kitchen. “I would like a hug, if you have one to spare,” I asked.
“You’re asking me for a hug?” she asked, astonished.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind my getting one in my work clothes,” I confirmed.
“Calvin, I’ll give you a hug any time you ask. In your work clothes…or out of them,” she said with a sly smile.
Two hours later, we got around to making the coffee and it was a good thing we did because I was feeling very relaxed about then. As we stood around in our pj’s in the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice how well she filled those out, too. I told her all about the day, including Mr. Whiskers and then Gregg and the close call with the semi and the rude driver, and then the little girl. She was curious about Mr. Whiskers, impressed by my reaction to Gregg, relieved to hear how I had avoided the crash with the semi, pleased with my response to the driver, and gave me a kiss for how I had helped the little girl.
“So how did he get out of sight so fast?” she asked when I told her how he had just vanished in the time it took to turn my head.
“I can’t figure it, honey. He didn’t look spry enough to run away, and why in the world would he run off in the first place? It doesn’t make sense to me at all. At first I thought I was imagining him, but what would make me do that?” I shook my head, I had no answers that made any sense.
“So tell me again what he told you, Calvin,” she said after we had spent a few more minutes in a very comfortable clinch.
“He said that instead of focusing on what went wrong, if I consider it just a bad minute or two, then focus on the rest of the minutes in the day, I can make the whole day a good one. He said tomorrow is going to be the best day of my life if I make the right choices,” I told her.
She looked at me and nodded. “That makes sense, really. I mean, if we only see one thing and tell ourselves how bad a situation is, then we can paint ourselves into a corner, emotionally.”
Gloria has told me this many times before, but this was the first time I really heard her. It made sense. After all, don’t we learn everything through repeating it over and over? So if I told myself over and over that someone was trying to cheat me or take advantage of me, it just stood to reason that is how I would see them, no matter what they did or said. I sat back and thought hard about what I was hearing and saying to myself. Suddenly I realized why everything Gloria was telling me made sense. This was the first time I had heard her with a clear head. I hadn’t stopped at the bar and listened to all the other losers complaining about their bosses and girlfriends cheating on them or whatever their complaint was. I hadn’t filled my head with their hardluck stories and tales of being the victim of life. I had come home with a clear head so I could actually hear something that made sense and could help me feel good.
“Gloria, I need you to help me do something, please.” Please? When did I start using that word? I took her by the hand and we went back into the kitchen. I pulled out the garbage pail and took off the lid. “Honey, please take a beer out of the fridge and hand it to me,” I asked her. I don’t know what made me want to do this, but it felt very right to do it.
“Sure thing, Calvin. You want that beer now?” she asked.
“Yeah. That’s what I want,” I said, knowing that she was going to be really surprised when she saw what I wanted it for. I heard her give a little sigh when she took it out but pretended to not notice. She handed it to me and I popped the cap off and leaning up against the sink, I held it out and poured it down the sink. When it was empty, I dropped the bottle into the garbage pail. Smacking my lips, I told her, “That was good, think I’ll have another. I reached over, put a finger under her bottom jaw and lightly closed her mouth. ‘I said, honey, can I have another beer?”
She reached in and handed me another one, watching with a new light in her eyes as I drained that one too, and dropped the empty into the pail. “May I join you in another one?” she asked happily.
“Sounds good to me,” I told her and opened one for her too. It didn’t take long for us to go through all six six-packs in the fridge, and we started laughing as each bottle broke on the fragments of the one before in the pail.
“Who are you and what did you do with the Calvin I know?” she asked me in mock seriousness. “You poor baby, did you hit your head?” she asked as she began feeling for bumps on my noggin.
“I woke up,” I told her, holding her hands in mine. “I had an…what’s that word you used the other day? Epi-something?”
“Epiphany,” she told me with a laugh, “It means a sudden insight or awakening,. Sure seems like you might have had one, for sure.”
“I guess maybe I have. I mean, I’m still the same person, but what that guy, Mr. Whiskers, what he told me made me think a bit. And thinking about it all day has slowed me down so I had more time to think about what I was doing. That saved my bacon a couple of times, with the semi and that crazy driver, I mean. And then that little girl, that she was sitting in the rain trying to sell flowers for her friend, that got to me. If I hadn’t been driving slower to start with, I probably would have just kept going, but because I was going slow, I was looking around more and I saw her.”
“Maybe that’s what he meant, your Mr. Whiskers. I mean, maybe he meant that if you slow down, you’ll see more and make better choices?” Gloria suggested.
“Maybe, but he was pretty clear when he said tomorrow will be my best day ever. So, whatever’s going to happen to me, whatever choices I’m going to have, I have to be on my best footing tomorrow. That means I don’t drink tonight, get some good sleep and I go to work tomorrow with my eyes and mind open and my mouth closed,” I told her. “I have a feeling that tomorrow is going to change our lives in ways we couldn’t possibly imagine.”
“I think that’s a great idea, Calvin. You want to get started on that now?” she asked me, as she took my hand and headed for the bedroom.
The morning started off good, Gloria made me breakfast and sat in my lap as I ate it, something she hasn’t done in a long time. Of course, it’s been a long time since I woke up without a hangover. Just a coincidence, I’m sure. When I got ready to leave for the warehouse, she gave me another hug and kiss. A great send-off!
On the ride to the warehouse, I looked over at the house where I had bought the flowers to see if she was still selling, but there was no sign of her. I put my mind back on the ride, and remembering that slowing down had actually shortened my ride coming home, I took care to keep it a couple of notches below the limit. As I had thought that was a fluke, I was rather surprised to find that I got to work about as fast as I had gotten home. Once I got to work, things began to unravel fast. I had pallets that weren’t packed right, I had pallets that weren’t packed at all, and I even had a few that were nowhere to be found, even though the paperwork said they were to be found on the shipping dock. All of this was my responsibility to keep running smoothly, so I knew that Hartman was going to be all over me as soon as it came to his attention that there was a problem. And I knew I could count on Ralph Copley to make sure it did.
Ralph was jealous of me getting the promotion he had wanted, and he never failed to let me know he deserved it more. He also never failed to point out my mistakes of course, naturally reluctantly, in front of Hartman whenever the oppor-tunity presented itself. He was constantly trying to undermine my authority with the crew whenever he could and it didn’t take a genius to know he was after my job. I had wanted to fire him several times over, but I could never find anything I could tie him to definitely, but he was certainly on my radar. I saw him coming, a clipboard in his hand, he always carried a clipboard to doc-ument everything he did to prove nothing was ever his fault. There were times I wanted to make him eat that damn clipboard, or shove it someplace the light doesn’t shine. With all that was going wrong today, I had a hunch this might be the day I followed up on that urge. Just then, I felt a tickle on my cheek and put my hand up to brush off any debris or insect that landed on me. As I did that, I realized I hadn’t shaved this morning. I realized it when I felt the stubble against my hand. And that act reminded me of him.
In that instant, I remembered what he had told me about taking a bad moment and allowing it to overtake the whole day. I also remem-bered something Gloria had told me once, that everyone has a point of view. We had been watching a program on the problem with eye witness stories, and the announcer was saying that eye wit-nesses often see something different depending on where they’re standing at the time. Well, I took all that into consideration in the few seconds it took Ralph to get to get to me and somehow I had a plan by the time he did.
“Ralph, just the person I want to see,” I told him in as cheery voice as I could muster. “I have a problem, several of them in fact, and you’re the only person who can get them cleared up properly.”
He stopped like he had run into a glass wall. I didn’t give him a chance to collect himself, but forged ahead, making it up as I went along.
“I’ve got several pallets that are all messed up one way or another, so what I want you to do is pick which group you feel you can resolve the fastest and take over getting them corrected. I’ll work on the others. Now, I know you can do this, you have always had a good sense of order and I have come to rely on you more than you know.” I tore the problem list into six strips, each with a problem issue, and then gave him the list of problem areas and told him to take the ones he wanted. I took the others and as I started to walk away, he called out to me.
“You want me to check in with you before I do…”
“Hell no, Ralph. You just go ahead and fix it, I trust your judgment. We all work for the same company and have the same goals, so no, you don’t need to check with me first. Do whatever you think best and if anyone questions you, tell them to come see me on their way to clock out and go home. Now go on, get it taken care of!” I told him. The look on his face was worth the pain it brought me to say that. No one ever came to me to question his orders.
He had his half of the problem list cleared up in four hours, mine took just three hours because he had taken the harder list. We were just finishing up and comparing notes when Hartman showed up with all his usual bluster and noise.
“Sharp! What’s this I hear about all those pallets being done wrong or missing?” he demanded, expecting to get the usual excuses and alibies, no doubt.
“Well, Mr. Hartman, we did have a few problems today, but it’s all taken care of. We, that is, Ralph and I, we’ve got everything all cleared up. I did half and Ralph took the other half, the bigger and harder half, on his own, I might add. Between us, we have everything back on track.”
Hartman had nothing to say, and was completely floored, as he was expecting to lay into me for the problems. Ralph was also stunned, as he wasn’t expecting to get any credit for what he did. In for a penny, in for a pound, my father used to say.
“Mr. Hartman, I think we should give Ralph a promotion to either assistant day supervisor or if he’s willing, the night supervisor. He’s got the know-how and he deserves the recognition for all the time he’s been here. It will make the warehouse run a lot more efficiently, Sir.” I held my breath for his reaction. It wasn’t long in coming. But it wasn’t what I had expected.
“Sharp, they taught me in business school that the smart supervisor trains his replacement in order to move up. I think that’s sound business. Therefore,” he turned to Ralph, who was standing there looking like he was pole-axed, “Ralph Copley, do you want to be the new shipping supervisor?”
With his eyes wide open, Ralph just nodded. Words failed him for the first time I had ever seen in the twelve years I had been there.
“Very well, Mr. Copely, you will assume your new duties at once and Mr. Sharp will show you anything you don’t know how to do. Mr. Sharp, you are the new production supervisor. I just fired Kremser because I caught him falsifying records. You will take over his duties immediately as well. Now, both of you get back to work before something else goes wrong.” He turned on his heel and walked away.
Ralph was saying something to me, and pumping my hand, but I really didn’t hear a word he said. I was lost in thought, about how changing how I looked at Ralph had led to a door of opportunity opening up for me. I didn’t know how much the new position paid, but I was damn sure it was a lot more than I was getting now. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Gloria. I looked over at the clock to see what time it was, and it was time for lunch. I thought about going down to the park for another look at Madelyn, but then I realized I had a lot to catch up on in terms of what paperwork was going to be needed. I didn’t have time to go gawking any more. I had responsibilities.
After lunch, I met with Ralph to see how he was doing and if he needed any help. To my surprise, he was glad to see me.
“I want to thank you again, Mr. Sharp, for recommending me for a promotion,” he said as he stood up from what was formerly my desk, but was now his.
“What’s with the ‘Mr.’, Ralph? You never called me mister before, why start now?” I asked him out of curiosity.
“Well, Mr. Sharp, you gave me a position of authority and I figure I owe you the respect of your new job, just as I want respect from those I’m supervising. I just don’t figure it’s right for me to call you by your Christian name any longer. And while I’m at it, I figure I owe you an apology for all the things I’ve done in the past to make you look bad to Mr. Hartman. You’re a bigger man than I am, Mr. Sharp, to recommend me for a promotion in spite of all I done to you. You showed me that a real man doesn’t carry a grudge or try to hurt someone because he can, that he looks for and takes the higher road, as my granddad used to say. Well, I want you to know I’m going to make you look good from now on. You put me in this position and I’m not going to let you down. I promise you that, Mr. Sharp,” he told me sincerely.
This day was full of surprises, and I couldn’t shake the feeling there was more to come. I hadn’t had time to call Gloria to tell her about how the morning was going, but I was sure anxious to do it. I couldn’t wait to see the look on her face when I told her about the promotion and the raise, so I decided not to call but just tell her when I got home. Maybe even do something nice for her, something special. I decided to go ask Mr. Hartman about a small advance so I could take her out to dinner at that new restaurant she had been talking about.
“Mr. Hartman, I was wondering if I could ask you for a small advance on my new salary? Nothing big, maybe one hundred dollars?” I asked him.
“That’s rather presumptuous of you, Sharp. You haven’t had the job four hours and you’re asking for a raise?” he said sharply.
“No, sir. I’m asking for a small advance, maybe fifty dollars if one hundred is too much, so I can take my girlfriend out for dinner to celebrate, if it’s not too much to ask for, that is,” I responded calmly. I wasn’t feeling very calm, I could feel my blood beginning to heat up. But I was determined to keep my temper, and try to see it from his point of view. Just to help myself stay calm, I ran my hand over my chin to refresh my memory of the advice Mr. Whiskers had given me, since it sure seemed to be working out to my benefit. “Mr. Hartman, I didn’t mean to show you any disrespect or ingratitude for the promotion. On the contrary, I have nothing but gratitude for the opportunity to show you what I can do.” I didn’t allow myself to look like I was begging, only explaining. “What I was hoping for, sir, since I know that the next pay-period is two weeks away, just a small amount that I could use to take my girlfriend out for a celebratory dinner. I assumed it would be deducted from my first paycheck for the new position,” I explained. “But if that’s not convenient, then I certainly don’t expect any special privileges you don’t feel I’ve earned,” I lied.
He was silent for few minutes, I couldn’t tell what was going on in his head because he had one of the best poker faces I had ever seen. I made a mental note to never play poker with him. Finally he blinked and gave me an answer.
“Mr. Sharp, were you aware there is a petty cash drawer with one hundred dollars assigned to your position? Did you know that it has to be balanced out at the end of each month? You are aware, I trust, that today is the 15th of the month, and the next pay-period ends on the 29th of this month? I expect that you will always have your accounts in order and that the cash drawer will always be in balance. You will find the key in your desk drawer. Now please get to work and let me get to mine. Please close the door on your way out.” He dismissed me with a wave of his hand.
I had never known of any petty cash drawer for the production supervisor, but I wasn’t about to say anything. Besides, I suspected that if I waited an hour, there would be one and a key would be in the desk drawer. Just a hunch, mind you. i went out on the floor to check on Ralph, and it wasn’t a big surprise to find he had everything humming like a top. I walked around the floor, and it didn’t take long to discover the grapevine had already spread the news of Kremser’s firing and my promotion, as well as how Ralph had been promoted. There seemed to be no great resentment of either promotion and everyone wished me well and shook my hand.
No one had ever done that before. In all the years I had worked here, no one had ever said anything but a curt hello and that had been grudgingly given. What had changed, I wondered. Then I realized what it was. What was different was…me. I had started to change how I related to people and they were changing how they related to me. I was focusing on my choices, I was thinking about what would happen if I did this or that, and I was being more of a team player. I was changing, and I had done it in one day. Alright, two days, but yesterday was just a little change without really thinking about it, today I was thinking about it.
I plan to keep on thinking about it, and I plan to keep on changing. I see what I have missed out on, and I see the difference in my relation-ship with Gloria. That old man, I don’t know how he knew, but he did. I spent the rest of the day learning what I needed to know about being the production manager. It was a lot more complicated than I had believed. As I was sitting there, trying to figure it all out, I over-heard one of the clerks talking about her daughter who was going to college. She was saying that her daughter was earning her Bachelor’s degree in Business. I barely finished high school, partially because I kept getting in trouble. No one believed in me back then, and I hadn’t believed in myself either. I always heard I couldn’t go to college because I wasn’t smart enough, so I began to believe it was true, too. Today, though, I started thinking about it and it occurred to me that I wasn’t a dummy, I could do it. It might be hard, but hell, I wasn’t afraid of hard work. Suddenly I made a decision, and got up and went back to Mr. Hartman’s office.
“Come in,” he said when I knocked on his door. I could see in his eyes he was a little guarded about what was coming.
“Mr. Hartman, I was reading the manuals that Mr. Kremser left, and I realize that I need some more education,” I started out.
“Are you turning down the position, Mr. Sharp?” he asked in a strange tone.
“No sir. I want this job, but I want to do it right. I’m asking if the company would be willing to send me to college to get my degree, or at least pay a little bit of the costs, so that I can afford to earn my BA in Business. I promise it won’t affect my hours or my performance, and it will actually help me do the job better.”
He gave me the cold stare again, but this time I wasn’t afraid. I just stood there, waiting for him to make up his mind. He turned in his chair to look out on the production floor and began to tap his pencil on the desk. After what seemed like a long time, he went back to his paper-work. Assuming I was dismissed, I turned to leave, only to hear him call my name.
“I’ll think about it. Now get out of here before you think of something else you want me to do or pay for. Close the door on your way out and tell Miss Chandler in accounting to come in.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had a feeling he was going to help me. I had so much to tell Gloria about, the day couldn’t go fast enough. Finally the day was over and I was on my way to the time-clock when I heard my name over the loudspeaker.
‘Calvin Sharp, please report to Mr. Ackerman in Accounting before you leave,” it said.
“Calvin Sharp, to see Mr. Ackerman,” I told the secretary, who gave me a funny look, but got up to tell Mr. Ackerman I was outside. She came back in a few minutes and told me to go on in, giving me that funny look again.
Dennis Ackerman was sitting behind his desk, which was clean except for a single folder on the top of it. He didn’t say anything, but gave me a hard look. He didn’t tell me to sit down, so I remained standing. After a few seconds of that hard look, he pointed to a chair so I sat down. He picked up the folder and leaned back in his chair, then opened it and looked at the contents. “Mr. Sharp, how old are you?” He had a very flat, precise way of speaking,
“Thirty one, Mr. Ackerman.”
“Mr. Sharp, how long have you been with this company?”
“Twelve years, sir.” I wasn’t sure where this was going, or if this was an exit interview. I’d seen people go into Ackerman’s office and never saw them again.
“You’ve had some personnel issues in the past, haven’t you.” He wasn’t asking a question, but making a flat statement.
“Yes sir. I’ve had an attitude problem for a long time. I saw everyone as out to get me, or being unfair, and I felt resentful of everyone. But I’m changing that. I want to be better, to do better, and to be a better employee,” I told him.
He didn’t say anything for several minutes, so I didn’t either.
“Mr. Sharp, do you know why you are here in this office?”
“No sir, I just hope this isn’t an exit interview.”
“Mr. Sharp, Do you know what my role in this company is?” he asked me.
“No sir, I don’t.”
“I handle all of Mr. Hartman’s special projects, terminations, and other special situations,” he told me in that same flat and emotionless voice. “You appear to have become his newest special project. I have been told to see that you go to college, pass your studies and I am to mentor you whenever I think you need it. We will pay the fee for your books, but you must pay the registration. For every class you pass with a “B” we will pay half of the cost, and the full cost for any class you earn an A” in. In return, you will commit to working five years for the company. Are these terms acceptable to you?” he asked in that same flat voice. I briefly thought he might be a computer or a robot, but ruled that out when he smiled. Robots aren’t that warm.
“Yes sir, they are.”
“Very well, I will let you know when to report to the registrar’s office. Have a good day.” He said his piece, and turning his chair around, started looking through a folder on the table behind him. No handshake, no ‘congratulations. Oh well.
I was walking on air as I went to my truck for the drive home. When I got home I had another surprise. Gloria was waiting for me at the door, a smile as big as the great outdoors on her face. I couldn’t wait to tell her about my day, but I decided to let her tell me her news first. This day got better and better, and when she told me her news, I was pretty excited myself. I was finally getting everything I had always wanted out of life, but never thought I would. A good woman, a good job, and now I was going to have a family. I had always got in my own way over the years, and lived under a black cloud of despair, but now the black cloud was gone. All it took was a change of attitude on my part and a willingness to open my mind and my eyes to what could be instead of focusing on what I didn’t have and what I couldn’t do. Once I started looking at what I could do, I began to do more. I was feeling on top of the world, and I wasn’t going to let those negative thoughts ever take over again.
Pemberton told me that today was going to be the best day of my life. He was wrong. The best day of my life was the day I met him, December 11th.