Willard Johnson was a cantankerous old man. He lived with his cantankerous old wife, Mrs. Johnson. And he hated his job. He was what those privy to the lingo of his type of work referred to as a window watcher. Nearly every day for the past 10 years, Willard had braved Chicago’s hellish morning rush-hour traffic, pulled into his too-small parking space at O’Hare International Airport, walked to the security checkpoint of Terminal B, sat in a chair, and commenced watching the pathetic belongings of thousands of people float by on the x-ray screen.
Willard Johnson hated everything about his job. He hated the food selection in the cafeteria; the cold, hard chair he was forced to sit in all day; the near-minimum wage and, of course, the people. At first he hated only the business people, with their fancy-schmancy suits and their fancy-schmancy computers worth more than a month of Willard’s salary. Then he came to hate the families with screaming children who had been dumb enough to book the 7:30 a.m. flight because it was the only one that flew
direct to Orlando. Soon after, the first-time flyers, who kept setting off the metal detectors because they didn’t take off their jewelry and empty their pockets beforehand, earned Willard’s scorn. After about a year on the job, Willard decided that he hated people in general.
But what Willard hated most about his job was The Shoe Rule. Implemented after 9/11 (on that day he had heard about the tragedy going to work and promptly turned around to call in sick) and the capture of a terrorist attempting to smuggle plastic explosives onto an airplane in his shoes, the rule required everyone wearing closed-toe shoes to take them off and put them through the x-ray machine. It seemed, however, that most people had trouble getting this through their thick skulls. All day long, they nagged him, “Should I take off my shoes or can I keep them on?”
“Should I?” “Should I?” Most folks didn’t even have the decency to address him politely. No one ever said, “Excuse me, kind sir, I was wondering if you could please tell me if I should take my shoes off and put them through your machine before passing through the metal detector?”
This constant stupidity and the sheer monotony of his job weighed heavily on Willard. It troubled him and he thought about it a lot. He decided to make some changes, mix things up a bit. He bought some funky ties. He requested and received a transfer to the much-less crowded security checkpoint at Terminal E. He brought one of his son’s old hand-held video games to play during his breaks (well out of sight of his co-workers’ critical eyes, of course). He started buying his coffee Venti-sized instead of the usual Grande at Starbucks. And for a while, Willard wasn’t so grouchy. But as time passed, even the extra coffee, funky ties, new location and secret video games were not enough to keep Willard from falling into despair over his job. And, The Shoe Rule was always there to cause him annoyance. Willard even dreamed about The Rule at night. He had horrible nightmares about being stuck on an endless shift with an endless line of people waiting to get through the checkpoint, crowding around him and asking if they should take their shoes off. One day he even awoke to what he could have sworn was the odor of smelly feet. Willard sensed that he needed to make a major change in his life, but he was uncertain what it should be.
Then one dreary, rain-filled day in November arrived that perfectly matched Willard’s mood. After parking next to his wife in their garage, he braved the downpour to get the mail. Entering the kitchen, his thoughts on the phone bill were interrupted by an unearthly shriek from Mrs. Johnson.
“Willard Henry Johnson! How many times do I have to tell you? When are you going to get it through your thick skull to take off your shoes before you come in this house when it is raining? Honestly!”
Willard realized right then and there what he had to do: he was going to get a new job.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.