Novell: Scrooged Again?

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Scrooged Again?

It was seven days before Christmas. In some parts of California there was snow on the ground, but not in this valley. It had not snowed here for twenty years.

The brand new Cadillac pulled up to the curb next to the administrative employee's entrance of the sprawling blue building. The beautiful green luxury car shone like an emerald in the morning light, its chrome wheels sparkling like diamonds, and its gold license plate frame proclaiming for the world, "I love Jesus." The driver and his passenger exited the vehicle simultaneously. The driver, a white haired man with a slouching back and a blue-gray suit, appeared to feign a smile, and mumbled something to the passenger, his devoted wife of thirty years, half of which he had spent as a manager for the US Postal Service. During the other fifteen years, he was one of the employees, but he, like most managers, had forgotten about all that as though it were some sort of a bad dream. He noticed a group of his minions approaching, and in his most demeaning tone of voice, he loudly commanded to his faithful spouse, "Don't forget to be here at 5 o'clock. Get here five minutes early, just in case." With that, he handed her the keys, turned, and moved abruptly towards the doorway.

"It must be his wife's car," one of the more recently hired and naive peons commented to her co-workers. "Its his car, but that's definitely his wife's license plate frame," retorted one of the veterans. "Joe gets a new Cadillac every couple of years. He used to drive himself to work, but his cars were vandalized so many times that now he has his wife shuttle the car home, and she drives back again in the evening. What a joke!"

Joe was the manager of distribution operations for the day shift at the San Jose Processing and Distribution Facility, and his autocratic management style was the reason that the employee entrance was now equipped with an electronic security accessing device. Of course, the doorway in which the administrative personnel entered was the only one which really needed security, as the managers were far more likely to be killed in the course of performing their duties, while the employees were more likely to be injured on the job. Back and wrist injuries were most prevalent, and after a few months of the living hell suffered by an injured employee at the hands of Joe, his lackeys, and the injury compensation administrators, many employees wished they had died instead. It was the injured employees who were most likely to strike back, but Joe relentlessly persecuted them nevertheless, changing their schedules, and ordering his subordinate supervisors to discipline them for every minor infraction, especially for using their accrued sick leave.

There were two main entrances, the other was for the workforce, and although that entrance was also equipped with the same type of security accessing device, it rarely, if ever functioned. It really wasn't necessary because if someone wanted access to the workfloor all they had to do was pull the door open, or if for some reason the security door actually held tight on that particular day, there were a half dozen alternate routes which were absolutely devoid of security.

As was his daily ritual, Joe entered his small but strategically located office and demonstrated his newly acquired office automation skills by turning on his computer. He was virtually surrounded by plaques, awards and other Postal memorabilia which he had acquired over the years. This was his lair, where he could wallow in self-reverence, and revel at the shrine of his past glories. He had worked his way up from distribution clerk to his present middle management status, primarily through his affiliation and successes with the union, an organization he now loathed. As he waited for the machine to retrieve his electronic mail, he marveled at its efficiency and loyalty, so unlike the ungrateful employees he had done so much for throughout his illustrious career. He had worked hard for his position, and although he could have retired years earlier, he had no intentions of giving up his well deserved office, and the power he wielded over hundreds of his employees.

Joe truly loved machines and their efficiency. He could communicate with other Postal employees via e-mail, without the need to actually speak to them or make dreaded eye contact with whomever he was speaking. His technology learning curve had tightened exponentially when he discovered the data he could unearth through his own networked personal computer. He had all the numbers from the previous day's automated mail processing workload. He had everything he needed to maintain power over his underlings. But most importantly, he had the sick leave numbers. Sick leave was by far the most important management tool. The cursed labor unions had taken away management's right to evaluate employee's productivity, but sick leave was different. Low sick leave usage meant a bonus for him, and a bonus meant another Cadillac. Therefore, excessive sick leave usage would result in discipline for the offending parties, as it denied Joe the extra money which he deserved for all the hard work he had performed over the years.

"Ha!," Joe laughed. "The numbers never lie." His most submissive supervisor, Dominic, had overshot his quota of sick leave usage for his operation again. " 7.5 percent of total hours. I've got him now," Joe mumbled happily to himself. He picked up the phone and speed dialed Linda, the communications clerk."Linda," he said in his most deprecating tone, "Type up a memo, post it, and distribute it to all the supervisors. Everyone will work the holiday." He hung up the phone. It was 7:15 am, time to make his presence known through his favorite and most intimidating ritual of touring the workfloor.

He exited his office to the work area. The sound of productively functioning automated mail processing equipment was music to his ears. Joe always toured in a clockwise direction, and everyone knew it. His subordinate supervisors had gotten in the habit of ensuring that their people appeared most productive between 7 and 8 am, thus decreasing the likelihood of being threatened and intimidated by their feared leader. They all despised Joe, but his gift was the ability to make each individual believe that theirs was a unique inadequacy. There had been numerous attempts at rebellion, EEO complaints, sexual harassment charges, even lawsuits, and Joe was very proud to have weathered them all. Although his vocabulary did not contain the word, he believed himself truly omnipotent. Those loyal to him, especially attractive young women, had been rewarded with jobs for which they, like himself, were underqualified and overpaid. Those who conspired against him, or whom he disliked, especially those employees injured on the job, were blacklisted, denied access to any promotions, and harassed, however subtly, at every opportunity.

Joe's inferior supervisors were his lackeys, meting out the discipline which his personal grudges conjured, and aiding in deflecting the blame away from himself. He especially enjoyed coercing Dominic into carrying out his personal vendettas, threatening him with the loss of his retirement with only three years to go. Dominic hated taking any action, especially disciplinary action, he was easily intimidated, and because Joe was also the local leader of the supervisor's association, if Dominic, or any of Joe's other underlings defied his wishes, Joe had convinced them all that he could ensure their ouster by denying them a proper defense.

Joe smiled as he hurried along his predetermined course, contentedly mumbling his discourse of Dominic's demise. He passed through the loading dock, barely stopping to notice the sea of bulk mail pallets, stacked one on top of another. He seemed to look right through the trailerload of mail sacks, and made no disparaging comments whatsoever towards the clerks and mailhandlers busily dispatching the morning's mail to the stations for delivery. He smiled, and actually said good morning to employees with whom he shared a mutual hatred, shocking all familiar with his usually negative disposition.

As Joe left each work area, rumors began to spread that he had changed, that he had become kind and compassionate, and that things would be different from now on. "After all, it was almost Christmas," they chimed. The usual morning cloud of negativity had lifted to reveal a glimmer of the elusive and perennially sought after positive work environment. It was almost as if Joe were on vacation or had finally retired, yet there he was in their midst. Of course, the optimists were all wrong, but for a few short minutes it seemed as though almost everyone in the building, with the notable exception of the die-hard realists, sensed a positive charge to the highly conductive, dusty air. The alternative rumor, circulating the building in a counter-clockwise direction, held that Joe had recently received a $10,000 bonus.

Joe passed under the conveyor system and eyed his target, Dominic at twelve o'clock. Dominic stood tensely, not far from his operation. His employees could sense Joe's arrival, not by actually seeing Joe himself, but through the degrees of tension displayed by their immediate supervisor. Dominic's extreme level of anxiety, eye twitching and profuse sweating included, demonstrated to all in the vicinity that he had made visual contact with his sadistic superior.

Dominic's primary operation consisted of supervising a group of mailhandlers who prepared letters for Joe's coveted automated mail processing equipment by removing rubber bands. The operation's productivity was integral to Joe's success, as it fed the machines from which he derived the numbers which would make him look good to his evaluating superiors, and thus provide him with his well deserved bonus. Considering Joe's overtly negative feelings, and past treatment towards Dominic, it was popularly believed that he was being set up for a big fall. Dominic had somehow accumulated an abundance of sick leave abusers for workers, and as a consequence, his operation, considered tedious to most employees, was frequently understaffed. He had also been tasked with assigning his people additional duties, many of which detracted from his primary mission.

Dominic was terrified of his boss, even in the privacy of his own dreams. He had once dreamed that he was picnicking with his wife, in an idyllic meadow far from any signs of civilization, when he heard himself being paged by Joe. In his dream, Dominic searched frantically, but could find no phone. Combining his intense fear of his superior, his inability to render independent decisions, poor diet, lack of proper exercise, and his nearing retirement as his only salvation, Dominic was a fast sinking wreck.

As Joe approached within eye contact range, his gaze drifted away from Dominic and instead locked in the surrounding equipment and machinery. It was Joe's classic method when dealing with other humans, especially his underlings, no eye contact. Joe asked Dominic the usual questions concerning mail volume and staffing, his almost grin tricking Dominic into relaxing and believing, like most of the employees who had seen Joe that morning, that he had somehow changed for the better. Joe completed his visit of Dominic's operation by exhibiting seldom used eye contact, along with the statement, "I need to see you in my office after the staff meeting. I'll page you." Dominic's chest pounded. Everything had gone so well up until that point. "He only calls me to his office when he wants to chew me out. That's it, I'm not taking it anymore." Dominic turned towards the exit sign and walked out.

At nine o'clock, Joe's voice was heard over the intercom system, "Supervisor Dominic, call extension 9991." Two minutes later it was the same thing. Again after two more minutes, and then again. Finally there was silence. Soon, one of the other supervisors wandered into Dominic's operation, inquiring as to his wherabouts. A few of the mailhandlers pointed towards the exit. The supervisor walked out to the parking lot, in search of his wayward peer, returning a few minutes later, seemingly preoccupied with the answer he would provide his boss Joe.

It was not until almost noon that Dominic returned, carrying a white plastic bag imprinted with the name of a local Chinese restaurant. The first employee to see him informed him, "Joe's been paging you." "I know," Dominic replied sedately, looking straight towards the end of the long aisle way, directly to the left of which was Joe's office. He walked assuredly down the aisle, never averting his direct gaze. He was ready for the confrontation to come. Half the distance to Joe's office, Dominic was stopped by one of his peers. "Can you believe it? Joe just got another $10,000 bonus. He used up most of the staff meeting reading his certificate, and talking about himself, and the rest of the time he told us what a lousy job we were doing, especially you." Dominic politely excused himself and continued walking.

When Dominic came to the door of the administrative area, he hesitated for a millisecond, took a deep breath, and opened the door. Joe hovered in the conference area, admiring the efficiency and loyalty of his copy machine. When he looked at Dominic, standing erect and wearing a look of determination, his planned words of degradation somehow disappeared. "Go sit down in my office," Joe commanded, "I'll be right there." Dominic said nothing. He turned and walked confidently into Joe's office. As he stepped into Joe's palace of Postal pilferage, he observed for the first time the transparent quality of all the awards and plaques. He saw only the bare walls, and he realized that, without all those tokens and decorations, Joe was nothing. Joe too was transparent, his whole reality based on his position as a middle manager in this ridiculous organization, and the accolades which went with it. Dominic began to laugh. He laughed at all the fears he had experienced. He laughed at all the intimidation and threats of termination. He laughed at all the accusations of inadequacy and ineptitude he had suffered in this same tiny room, this office with naked walls.

When Joe walked into his office, he found Dominic sitting in his chair, the leather swivel chair he had procured through one of his many contacts. Even the Postmaster didn't have a chair like Joe's. "Close the door," demanded Dominic. Joe was speechless. It was so uncharacteristic of Dominic to display assertiveness. Joe hesitated, he did as Dominic commanded, and then he replied, "You're in my chair." "Sit down!" commanded Dominic. He was enjoying his newfound sense of power. "Where were you this morning? You missed an important staff meeting. I got a bonus," Joe added matter of factly, reaching over the desk for his certificate, and for the bi-monthly sick leave printout. Dominic reached down below the desk, and picked up his lunch bag. He removed the Styrofoam container from the bag, clutching it close to his chest. Joe said, "You can't eat in here. You'll spill on my desk." Dominic began laughing again. He laughed so hard that his lunch dropped to the floor. "Now look what you've done," yelled Joe. "You're an idiot!" As Dominic's laughing subsided, he looked Joe in the eye. "I've put up with your crap for ten years, and enough is enough!" He reached under the desk once again, this time producing a .45 caliber handgun. "I wasn't going to use this. I just wanted to scare you with it, but you're not going to change. You'll never change." He pulled the hammer of the gun back with the palm of his left hand, squeezing the trigger with his right index finger.

The gun made a resounding click. Dominic revelled again in the role reversal as he noticed the wet spot appear on the front of Joe's polyester trousers. Although terrified, Joe taunted Dominic, "You can't even shoot me, you incompetent fool." Dominic pulled the slide to the rear, loading a cartridge from the magazine into the chamber of the handgun, and said calmly to Joe, "Finally I'm going to do something right." He squeezed the trigger three times, each time sending a bullet flying into Joe's chest. "He pisses his pants and bleeds," thought Dominic as he placed the gun in his own mouth. "He pisses and bleeds just like everybody else."

One of the managers in a nearby office heard the shots. She quickly locked her door, grabbed her telephone and hid under her desk as she punched in 911. For some strange reason, perhaps out of guilt for her own misdeeds, she told the dispatcher that someone was shooting at her. By the time the SWAT team retrieved her from her office, she too had pissed her panties. It seems, the police told her, that an attempted murder and suicide had taken place in an adjoining office. When she learned the victim's names, she was not surprised, her statements only corroborated those of everyone else who had explained the dysfunctional relationship between the dead supervisor and his dying manager.

It was amazing that Joe was still alive. He had lost a tremendous amount of blood, a bullet was lodged in his heart, another in his lung, the third had shattered his spine, but he was still alive. His initial surgery took twelve hours, and his doctors were not optimistic that he would ever walk, let alone recover consciousness. Dominic's family members meanwhile, were preparing his funeral arrangements, as he had rather efficiently blown a large hole through the back of his own head, killing himself instantly.

Joe awakened in a peaceful, however unfamiliar place. It was a meadow, and he could hear the sound of a stream coursing by. The sky was a myriad of twilight colors, and the trees were full and verdant. He had never noticed little things like nature before, as he preferred the man- made glitter of Las Vegas over the natural beauty of Yosemite, but now that he was surrounded by the tranquility of nature, he could not help but take note. Joe sat up. He looked down at his chest and remembered that he had been shot, or thought he had. His new surroundings appeared more a dream than those he had experienced in the material world from which he had come. He stood up and scanned the horizon for his Cadillac. He saw only the figure of a solitary man walking towards him. He glanced at his watch, 12:00. The man looked so familiar, but Joe could not recall the man's name.

It was Dominic who approached him, smiling peacefully. "We've been waiting for you," he said. Joe said, "Who are you, and what is this place?" "Don't you recognize me? Its me, Dominic, and you're in my dream." "You're a fool," shot back Joe. "Where's my car?" "You can go look for it," Dominic replied, "but you'll end up right back here. Go ahead, I'll wait over there for you." Dominic pointed towards an ancient oak on the other side of a small stream. He walked over to the water's edge, removed his slippers and waded across. When he had crossed the stream, he replaced his footwear, walked over to the tree, sat down cross legged and produced a wooden flute which he began to play. It was a hypnotic tune, at once familiar, and yet Joe found it very irritating.

Joe wandered off in the direction from which Dominic had come, convinced that his car was parked just beyond a particular group of trees. As the sound of Dominic's tune faded, he remarked to himself only at the silence, barely noticing that the green of Dominic's meadow had browned and that he was now walking down into a sparsely vegetated, desert environment. He felt as though he had been walking for hours in the perennial twilight. He glanced at his watch, which still said 12:00, and muttered, "Damn watch!" When he again looked up, he noticed what appeared to be a small gas station and a highway in the distance. His pace quickened, and soon he had reached his destination.

It was the same gas station he had seen on TV, weathered wood frame with flaking paint, two pumps out front, and a man in a straw hat, coveralls, and work boots sitting on the porch, admiring the sunset which seemed never to set. "I enjoy this time of day," said the man. "Right," responded Joe, "have you got a phone?" "My name's Bub, and there's no need for a telephone." "Of course there is," said Joe. "How far to the nearest phone?" "Oh, couple hundred miles, but you'll never make it walking. You need a car," Bub smiled, revealing a perfect set of teeth which seemed a mismatch to his sloppy attire. "Where can I get a car?" asked Joe desperately. "Well, I've got a car you can use," replied the old man. "I keep it in the garage." Bub led Joe over to the garage and asked Joe to lift the overhead door. Inside sat the smallest, ugliest, rustiest car Joe had ever seen. He couldn't even determine what color it had been. "I won't be seen in a car like that," he whined. "She'll get you there. Besides, whose going to see you?" asked the man in the coveralls. Joe was desperate. He figured he could drive as far as the city limits, ditch the car and walk in without being seen. He swallowed his pride and accepted the ride. "I'll let you steal it for only one hundred dollars, including a full tank of gas." Joe reached for his wallet, but came up empty. In his increasing desperation he said, "Take this watch, its a two thousand dollar Rolex." "Well, I haven't got much use for a timepiece, but I'll tell you what, you throw in those fancy clothes of yours and you've got a deal," said the man.

Joe stomped around in circles, mumbling and cursing the old man, as well as Dominic, who he was sure he had hidden his Cadillac. "O.K, I've got to get to a phone," he mumbled, "But what will I wear." The man unhooked the suspenders from his dirty coveralls, "I guess I won't be needing these any more. Joe removed his polished shoes, throwing them one at a time at the old man's feet. After the two had swapped clothing, the man took the watch and handed Joe the keys to the car. Joe mumbled and whined incessantly at the insult of being forced to wear a working man's clothes. He was a manager, not an employee.

He winced as he opened the car door, producing a squealing sound which seemed to resonate over the entirety of the lifeless desert landscape, alerting all to the fact that he was preparing to drive this junky vehicle. After a half dozen attempts at turning the ignition key, the car fired to near life, spewing a dense cloud of noxious black, ashen smoke. Joe checked the headlights and otherwise oriented himself with the car. He finally located the gear shifter, which appeared to be an umbrella handle jutting from the middle of the dashboard, right where the radio should have been. He had not driven a manual transmission vehicle in years. After some coaching from the car's previous owner, he placed the car in first gear. "Well, it looks like you're all set." Bub pointed towards the setting sun, admiring the sleeve of his newly acquired sport coat. "Just stay on the road. You can't miss it. You should have just enough fuel to reach the city limits. Pleasure doing business with you, and I sure hope to see you again soon."

The small car lurched forward as Joe engaged the clutch, the motor whining as though explosion were imminent, but after shifting gears three more times, Joe was cruising at a steady 45 miles per hour. His concept of time had been completely altered since he first awoke in the meadow, and his watch's malfunctioning hadn't helped either. His only means of estimating his time was through the needle on the gas gauge which now read 3/4 full. In order to free himself from the pervading odor of whatever upholstery material was rotting, he attempted to open the window, only to break the handle of the window's crank. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror. He looked good, better than ever, he thought, except for the clothes. He began mumbling again. After ditching this crappy car and getting home, he thought, everything would be back to normal.

As the gas gauge needle pointed to the halfway mark, he noticed a pair of quickly encroaching headlights in the filthy rearview mirror. As the vehicle neared within fifty feet of his bumper, he recognized it as the same model Cadillac that he owned, even the same color. The Cadillac flashed its headlights and prepared to pass on the left. As the Cadillac passed alongside Joe's present car, its driver slowed and he and his familiar looking female passengers pointed and laughed at Joe in his work clothes and his tiny, beat up car. They continued laughing as the brand new Cadillac sped off into the distance. By the time Joe's gas gauge read 1/4 full, he had been passed by a non-stop processions of luxury cars, Mercedes, BMWs, and more Cadillacs, all of whose fashionable occupants laughed and stared at Joe and his rotting vehicle. As the gas gauge neared empty, Joe gazed in wonder at the lights of the great city ahead. "It must be Las Vegas," he mused. "I can't wait to get my teeth into a nice prime rib, check into a hotel, and toss a few dice, and then maybe I'll call the wife tomorrow." He was so entranced by the neon, glitter, and his own self-fulfilling goals that he wandered into the left lane. The oncoming headlights approached so quickly that all he could do was jerk the wheel to the right. The car rolled over three times, resting at the base of the city limits sign. "Lost Wages," it read, "Population 100,000."

By the time Joe crawled out of the overturned vehicle, a crowd had already gathered. A photographer's camera flashed and whirred. Police and ambulance sirens blared. People acted as though it was the biggest event that had ever occurred. He heard someone in the crowd say, "Hey, isn't that Joe?" "Look at that car," said someone else, "Its a wonder he made it this far in that piece of junk. I've never seen such a lousy car." "Its not mine," muttered Joe, "I own a Cadillac." The crowd laughed uproariously. Even the police and ambulance personnel could not contain their laughter. Meanwhile, a helicopter circled overhead, and two competing television crews had arrived, flooding the entire scene with high wattage lights and intruding on Joe's privacy with invasive questions. "Why did you come? Where did you get that old car? How did you lose control?" Joe could not contain himself any longer. He broke free of the crowd and stumbled into the desert, away from the city. He kept running until he could run no more.

As Joe caught his breath, he cursed God, and very soon afterward, the colorful twilight relented to a black, moonless and starless sky, leaving only the glittering brilliance of the electrically jeweled city as his guiding light. He reached his destination quickly, avoiding the main highway and slipping into the city via a less illuminated alley way. This was the part of town most people didn't see he thought, although it reminded him of the place in which he had grown up, fatherless, every day a struggle for survival. He had started his own gambling operation at the age of ten, mostly sports bookmaking, even loaning money to other kids, and by the time he was 13 years old, he was running the whole neighborhood. He made a good living for his mother, although with her strong Catholic beliefs, she would have kicked him out of their small apartment had she known the true origins of his money. The War came, and Joe was drafted into the army, where his wealth acquiring capabilities earned him a good deal of prestige, and upon his discharge, he left the streets for a legitimate job with the U.S. Postal Service, where, as a clerk, he became a threat to management through his union organizing abilities, as well as his mastery of intimidation. And as is typical of a system which rewards those who push the right buttons and play the right people, he appropriately became a Postal manager. It had been a long time since Joe had thought of his boyhood, or his labor roots.

He spotted a pay phone in front of a street corner market. Reaching into his pockets for some change, he realized that he had absolutely no money. The streets were deserted. He opened the battered screen door to the market, spotted the proprietor, and walked directly up to her. Without making eye contact he said, "I need some change for a phone call. Can you help me out?" "Wow, you are new in town," she laughed. "Why don't you go to the unemployment office like everybody else. Just wait at the bus stop across the street for the number 5 bus. The driver will know where to take you." "You've got to be joking," responded Joe. He turned around, shell shocked. As he pulled the door open, the proprietor yelled, "Be sure to come back after you get a job."

No sooner had Joe crossed the street than the number 5 bus pulled up. It's door opened and Joe climbed aboard. He began to open his mouth when the driver interrupted, "I know where you're going. Take a seat." There were only a handful of people on the windowless bus, all dressed modestly, four men and one woman, and all looked familiar. In fact, everyone Joe had seen in this bizarre place had an air of familiarity about them. What was it Dominic had said, something about a dream. That's what this was. It was a nightmare, and Joe was sure that he would wake up soon. As the driver pulled up to the front of the unemployment office, he instructed his passengers to gather all their belongings, and urged them to have a pleasant evening. "See you again soon," the driver said smiling.

Joe and the others descended from the bus. As the bus pulled away, leaving a cloud of diesel fumes, a well-dressed woman with a bull horn instructed applicants to fall in line. A man in a suit handed out clipboards and pencils to those who were newcomers, Joe among them. Joe looked at his surroundings. Besides the street lamps, the only light was provided by the office in front of which he stood. He was in the middle of a heavy industrial area, warehouses and factories towered above the street, and only the faintest glimmer of the grand city's neon rimmed the tops of the buildings. This was not the Las Vegas he remembered. It had to be a bad dream, but it was so real.

The line moved quickly, and soon Joe was being interviewed by a social worker, a beautiful blond with clean hair. She wore a milky tomato soup colored business suit and skirt with white stockings and designer shoes. As she looked over the applicant information provided by Joe, she noticed him staring at her knees. "Don't waste your effort," she said. "It will be a long time before you can afford me." "I wasn't thinking of purchasing you, just borrowing you for a while," He replied, smiling longingly and maintaining rarely used eye contact. "I see that you have experience with the Postal Service," she continued, obviously accustomed to such remarks. "I manage 400 people," Joe responded proudly. "In that case, we should be able to provide you with a job right away." "Excellent," Joe added excitedly. "Take this referral, exit to your left and wait by the curb for the number 7 bus." "Lucky number seven," Joe retorted, taking the piece of paper and intentionally grabbing her young hand. "Maybe I'll see you again soon." "I don't think so," she replied, contorting her face and looking at his coveralls and work boots. "Don't miss your bus."

Joe was smiling ecstatically as he waited by the curb. Finally he was returning to his domain. He knew how to make good things happen for himself in the Postal Service, and his first act would be to make that long distance call courtesy of the government. His wife would wire him the money and he could get back to the good life that he deserved.

He was one of only three lucky men qualified to board the number 7 bus, and although Joe was by far the oldest, he was confident that, given his quasi-governmental navigation abilities, within a matter of days he would pass them both up for promotion. The bus pulled up to a massive compound, its ten foot exterior fence, topped with razor wire, surrounding a grey, windowless industrial building. Armed guards patrolled the perimeter, some with attack dogs. The entry portal looked more like that of a prison than a Postal Facility.

One of the guards boarded the bus. With his right hand resting on the holster of his handgun, he eyed each of the bus' occupants suspiciously. Finally, he commanded in a deep, booming voice, "Let's go ladies! Exit the bus post haste and give me a nice neat line in front of the gate." The other two candidates jumped out of their seats, racing for the door. Joe had barely stood up, his dazed expression adding to the guards exasperation at his apparent lack of urgency in getting to work. "It looks to me as though I've got a problem child. Are you a problem child?" The guard's rhetorical question was intended to impress upon Joe the need to follow the other two recruits, but Joe began to protest, looking at the guard's nametag and reaching for the pen and notebook which Bub had taken with him when he stole Joe's suit. "I won't be treated this way. I'm a Postal manager." The guard was amused at Joe's rebelliousness, although he contained his laughter in order to verbally motivate Joe one last time. "If you don't get off this bus right now, I'm going to get the dogs in here to pull you off!"

Finally, Joe joined the other two newly hired employees, all the while mumbling about his personal connections and his ability to ruin the careers of his adversaries. The guard briefed the three men concerning their activities for the night. "You will first remove your clothes prior to strip searching and cavity searching. You will be de- loused and your new uniforms will be issued to you. Next you will eat a first class meal, after which you will begin your training. At the completion of your first shift, you will be shown to your quarters, and then you're on your own. Your schedules will be posted, and therefore tardiness will not be excused or tolerated. Any questions?" Joe raised his hand, "Are you telling us that we can't leave this place?" "That's correct, problem child. Your first ninety days will be spent within the confines of this facility, after which you will have the option of living off-site, although considering the prices for decent housing in the city, most stay here a year full before venturing out. Its a good way to save money, and you'll be so busy working that it will go by pretty darn fast. Now, do you have any more questions, or can we get on with the business at hand?" Joe shook his head slowly. "Open gate two," yelled Joe's new tormentor.

The next few hours were straight out of a bad prison movie. Joe had never been so humiliated in his entire life. Even his military indoctrination had not been so degrading, and Joe protested at every opportunity with his new captors. He had to be restrained for the cavity search, and as his reward, the nurse with disproportionately large digits had been instructed to ensure that his experience would be an unforgettable one. At one point, while the three men were left alone, donning their new battleship gray uniforms, the other two recruits had threatened Joe with bodily harm far less enjoyable than his rectal examination. "You're going to get us all in trouble," said one of the men, "unless you stop whining." Joe heeded the advice and resigned himself to complying with his captors wishes. After a rather bland meal of fried fish sticks, mashed potatoes, peas, and all the white bread he could eat, Joe and his two cohorts were led to a large room whose four walls were covered with rules in large bold type face. "Memorize what you see on the walls girls. Live by these rules and we will all get along just fine." The guard closed the door behind him, leaving the three trainees alone in the room.

No talking or socializing is permitted while working. No phone calls or unnecessary breaks are permitted while working. Employees are allowed one ten minute break every four hours, during which time employees will be permitted to visit the latrine. All complaints must be registered in writing, on the employee's own time. As Joe read on, he was appalled at the lack of labor rights. "They can't make us work under these conditions!" he protested. "We'll form a union and fight for our rights!" After having read some of the rules posted on the walls, the other two men caved in to Joe's adamant belief in worker's rights. They agreed to help Joe, but insisted that they first get to work for a few shifts, just to find out how bad it really is.

Joe's first shift consisted of 16 hours. He spent the entire time unloading sacks from truck trailers. The sacks were very dusty, and must have weighed an average of fifty pounds each. Joe moved the sacks slowly but steadily, attempting to conserve his energy, all the while listening to the armed guards yelling at him to work faster. He worked every day. His ten minute breaks were just long enough for him to urinate and get a drink of water. It was during his breaks though, that he began whispering rumors of unionizing, and the power that the employes could potentially wield. He began talking of fifteen minute breaks, eight hour shifts, overtime pay and other concepts so foreign to the other employees that many thought he was crazy.

One morning, Joe could not get out of his cot in the barracks. He had a fever and his muscles ached. When he did not report for the beginning of his shift, his favorite guard visited his bedside with the warning that, not only would he not get paid for the time he took off sick, he would have to make up the hours upon completion of his regular shift, as well as receiving a formal letter of discipline for his unexcused illness. On his time off, Joe began drafting a contract, whose wording provided for such radical ideas as sick pay, vacation time, and time incremental pay raises. Upon returning to his 20 hour shifts, Joe began distributing handwritten copies of his pro-labor manifesto. His guards and superiors attempted to segregate him from the rest of the employees, but he was able to continue spreading his rebellion. He revelled in the solidarity which was forming around him, harking to his glory days as local president of the American Postal Worker's Union and his great victories for the labor fight. He organized work slow downs, after hours rallies and pro-union meetings, and soon, he found himself in the office of the facility's top manager. "How would you like to be one of us?" asked the manager. Joe looked him straight in the eye and said, "I used to be one of you, but I've found my roots. I've changed and I'll never be one of you again. I'm going to lead my people to victory in the struggle against your tyranny and greed." The guards came in and hauled Joe away, all the while listening to his shouts of rebellion and the battle that would be waged for worker's rights. In the ensuing struggle, one of the guards struck Joe on the head, rendering him unconscious.

Joe awoke in Dominic's serene, twilit meadow. Dominic smiled at Joe, "You're back. It took you a long time, but now you've come to stay." Joe sat up, "I don't want to be here. It was just like the old days Dominic, remember when we marched with Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers? It was the good fight. I want to go back and fight for the rights of workers." Joe lay down again and closed his eyes.

This time he awoke to his wife's face. "Joe," she cried, "Welcome back darling, and Merry Christmas!" She kissed him on the cheek. "It was just a dream," he thought, "It was all just a dream. Now I can get back into my Cadillac, go to my office and get that facility back under my control." Joe tried to sit up but couldn't. "Oh, darling," sobbed his faithful wife, "I'm so sorry." As word of Joe's consciousness grew, a steady stream of doctors came to visit him, marvelling at his recovery, and especially at the fact that he had been in a coma for exactly one year. Slowly, Joe was able to piece together his status. He was paralyzed from the neck down. After a few days he regained his speech, and his first words to his wife were, "How's my Cadillac?" He asked about his job and his office, only to discover that, because he had used up all of his sick leave while hospitalized and comatose, his wife had signed the paperwork to have him retired from the Postal Service. "Retired?" he screamed as loud as his unpracticed vocal cords would allow. "I deserve my job. I earned my office and all my awards and bonuses. I'd rather be dead than retired." Joe cursed God one last time.

With that, he began choking. His still devoted wife screamed for the nurse, but there was no reviving him this time. Joe had received his final wish.

Joe awoke again, standing in the unemployment line. A familiar car horn honked. He turned his head to see his Cadillac, and Bub behind the steering wheel, still wearing Joe's favorite suit and flashing his Rolex watch, "Welcome home, Joe!"