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The Big Day
The rant I was on had started as soon as I got home from work, and seemed unlikely to cease. As my fist came down on the dresser for the hundredth time, I, yet again, shouted in a flurry of raised and angry words. Tina, my wife and soul mate, was patiently watching me.
“I’m telling you, Tina. I put my heart and soul into that job. It is unfair, outrageous, that Larry Stein got the raise instead of me. Three mere years he has contributed to the office. I’m a loyal, hardworking executive who has made so many sacrifices for the job!” I took a deep breath and readied myself to shout some more, but Tina clutched my arms to keep me from inflicting harm on any other form of furniture and gave me a firm stare.
“Relax, Jim. I know how disappointed you are. And maybe you did deserve the raise. But it’s time to calm down. One small bonus is no need for such fuss.” Perhaps it was the finality in her voice, or the stern gaze she gave me with those large brown eyes I first feel in love with. I guess she deserved to be frustrated. She loyally listened to every outburst I let out for the past few hours. Now I was just repeating myself. Whatever it was, I stopped my extensive rage and sighed a deep, exasperated breath.
I got ready for bed mumbling words of hate. I brushed my teeth so ferociously I must have scrubbed off all my enamel, my thoughts returning to what had happened this morning….
It was as good a morning as any other, perhaps better. I shaved without cutting my cheek. My suit was crease-free and- Yes! - No new gray hairs. God, or whatever force there was, seemed to be doing everything possible to keep my morning pleasant. There were no traffic jams and no aggressive drivers. Nothing to make this much-anticipated morning go wrong. This Monday was the day. The annual honorable-employee award ceremony would take place in the offices auditorium at 12:00. And I’d been thinking of nothing for weeks. This award is given each year to a single employee in the company who has shown exceptional performance. The title was envious enough. But I was excited for the raise that came with it. All year I worked extra hard to acquire this reward. And I expected to get it. So I hummed my way into the auditorium filled with all my other colleagues, bosses and employees who were all fidgeting with anxiety. Rubin was already on stage. Rubin’s the CEO of the company. Enough said, right? I’ve spent months kissing up to him. And he has spent months praising me. So you could practically say we were buddies, without the barrier of the work stance between us. And this relationship, I felt, was an indication I’d get the raise. After a long lecture of the award, Rubin prepared to announce the employee of the year. And I prepared to stand up to receive the honor I knew I’d get. Rubin cleared his throat before he spoke, “Larry Stein….” And I heard nothing more. Crestfallen, bewildered and shocked, I watched Larry, wearing his usual shabby clothes, make his way up to Rubin looking dazed. Larry winning the award over me? I knew nothing of him except that he worked in a lower division and had only been an employee for a year. How unfair it was that this unimportant man received such an honor over me. I, Jim Bloom, was an executive who was perhaps the largest asset to the company. I felt oddly embarrassed that afternoon. Cocky perhaps. But I was so sure I’d get the award…
I reverted back to reality and looked around the bathroom, thinking of all the things the raise would get me. We lived in an expensive loft, but maybe with the raise we could buy a penthouse. Tina and I honeymooned for two-weeks in Singapore, but maybe with the raise we could go for another vacation in Brazil… and so much more.
I removed the washcloth from over my face and my reflection only worsened my mood. So this was the face of a forty–year-old. Lines of age, though hardly noticeable, were starting to form increases around my eyes. My hairline bothered me most. It was receding quite a bit, aging me to what felt like fifty. And my six pack from back in my basketball days had melted into some form of flub. Ughh! I tried to remember back to when I was young, when my face was youthful and full and had a wide smile plastered across it at all times. Back when I had triple servings of pancakes, back when I was invincible, when there were monsters under my bed….
I used to have no issues. How unrewarding was it to be a full-blown adult. Ultimately depressed, I turned off the bathroom lights and climbed into bed, Tina at my side.
“You’ll get that award one day, I know you will.” She muttered.
“When though? I was so sure I’d get it this time. I’m charismatic and smart and hardworking. How could Rubin overlook that to a man as insignificant as Larry?” My voice tone steadily rose as my anger increased within me.
“Maybe Rubin looks for certain traits in employees that you lack. It has nothing to do with your character, rather his expectations. Sweetie, just get some rest…” She flipped her hair back and pulled the covers over her, hinting to me that she had enough of my complaining. With an obnoxiously loud yawn I realized that I, too, was exhausted.
Minutes passed, or maybe hours. Hard thing it is, to keep track of time with such rage. I concentrated on the room around me. It was a pretty room, designed by Tina who had a knack for matching beddings with furniture, lamp shades with rugs. The moonlight was throwing strange shadows across the floor, and for a while I imagined pictures in those shapes. A distant car honked and the pitter-patter of a starting rain was peaceful enough to drift me into unconsciousness. As I slept, I dreamed…
This morning was insane. Utterly hectic and crazy. My nine-year-old daughter, Lisa, was puking all over the place with a stomach virus. Marie, the love of my life, shoved more unpaid-bill notices into my hand and the fridge had once-again broken. Between vomiting, Lisa was begging us to buy her an I-pod, something ‘everybody had’ but something me and Tina knew we couldn’t buy. One hand was clasped onto my phone, calling a handyman. I was also mopping up sick. With the havoc of the morning, I was almost late in going to work. I put on my single, frayed suit, hollered a farewell to Lisa who was then hunched over a toilet in the bathroom, and kissed Marie good-bye as she muttered words of good-luck.
My usual morning routine is too wake up at 6:00 am, go for a forty minute run, eat a bowl of cheerios, shower, and then walk to the bus stop which would lead me to work. These are all things I choose to do, actions that wake me up and keep me going for the day. I did not ask for the other things that were somehow thrown into my daily life, like each morning finding new things in our apartment that need fixing, discovering another expense for Lisa’s school that we couldn’t pay for. I, Larry Stein, am a poor man with just enough an income to sustain my family. And today I had a ray of hope that that might change. It was the big day. The day when Rubin, the CEO of the company, would come and present the ‘honorable employee’ award. And this award wasn’t just a title to flaunt; it also meant a decent-sized raise in your monthly salary. So it was with resentment I concluded that I would never get the raise. I worked hard alright, but I just wasn’t important enough to the company. I worked in a shabby cubicle and earned the lowest salary. I wasn’t like Jim Bloom, for example; the rich executive who was always accredited for the companies successes. I was working behind-the-scenes; useful, but unaccredited. Still, a man can dream. And as I trudged through car exhaust, working sites, and cigarette studs down my shoddy street on the way to the bus stop, I dared to hope.
I was sitting in the companies’ auditorium with hundreds of other employees at 12:00. Rubin, the CEO, was standing up front like a God. How I envied that title! But to be like this guy, who had decades of experience and somehow commanded honor without words, was like me wishing myself into a fairy tale. Rubin went into a lengthy speech, lecturing us on why this award was given, of the importance of it and of its tradition… I forced myself to listen, which was what all my colleagues were easily doing at that moment. You should have seen them, eyes enlarged and anticipating, hands clenched in their laps. And when he prepared to announce the lucky worker, there was such tension in the air it could have been cut with a knife. Rubin’s lips parted, he hesitated, and as a grin spread across his face he opened his mouth…“Larry Stein. Congratulations!”
I must have imagined the man said my name. So why was everyone looking at me with mouths agape? Why were my colleagues suddenly coming up to me, patting my back, fist-bumping me, telling me how lucky I was…? Why was Rubin asking me to stand up and receive the check that was supposed to be my monthly raise? I made my way upstage and Rubin looked down at me and muttered a few words that were for my ears alone:
“I can tell you’re the kind of man who works really hard and often never gets credit. Your division is likely what degrades you, making you seem unimportant. But I’ve been looking at your work and it’s really good. Unfortunately, it has been unnoticed for too long.”
I nodded in a daze. Only when every last employer left the room did it sink in. And I raced to my cubicle, snatched my phone, and punched in my wife’s cell-phone number with such enthusiasm I thought my phone might break.
“Hello?” Her voice never sounded so welcoming.
“I got it, Marie! I got it!” I sounded like a little kid showing his mother the sticker he got for being good, but I didn’t care. And Marie was shrieking with me; two spouses crying and laughing out of joy and happiness, the whole world seeming possible to conquer. Eventually the bonus could accumulate to being enough money to get a larger apartment. Maybe we’d even be able to take a vacation. But for now the small possibilities meant the world. Going out to dinner with Marie… Buying a new fridge…getting Lisa new clothes.... I sighed with contentment that was greater than I had ever felt. I was secure. And life was good.
The alarm clock next to me let out a shrill, unwelcoming shriek. And I sat upright in the dark of dawn to see the silhouette of Tina still sleeping, her chest raising and lowing as she breathed in peaceful breaths.
What a weird dream I just had! It flitted through my mind, pictures and words that somehow made sense. What a coincidence, to dream of the very person that twelve hours ago you somehow despised. Larry Stein, a man I knew by face, not personally, was a person I had so often overlooked. And I felt bad. Because when I came think about it, the dream was inexorably close to reality. The few times I saw Larry, I noticed how poorly he dressed, how little he decorated his cubicle. I never thought about why this was the case; I just saw his physical presentation as somehow making him less deserving. Sometimes I even heard him talking to his wife on the phone about financial issues, but I never cared enough to listen. I also knew he had a daughter from the photos he hung in his cubicle. The dream showed me just how self righteous I had been. I felt ashamed and guilty, for the life I had was a million times better then Larry’s and I knew that he deserved the raise so much more than I did. If I didn’t have such a feeling of superiority, I might have realized that before. Maybe it was a fluke I had that dream, perhaps there was a purpose. Whatever it was, it taught me a lesson. I sauntered downstairs and checked my Laptop for e-mails, sitting in my mahogany wooden chair on the dining set we could so easily afford. I devoured a bowl of delicious granola that came from my unbroken-fridge. All these things I knew Larry (and much of the world) lacked. One small raise to add on to the riches I already had? That was unfair.
So I glanced around my beautiful living room and I grasped something that took me much too long to comprehend:
This was the life.