‘I shouldn’t have said anything,’ Ricky thought.
His boss rubbed his head fiercely, folding wrinkles on the last few stubbles of his shaved scalp. Ricky couldn’t imagine how this would release stress from his body.
‘You have one job! Your staff, damnit! One fucking job!’ The speaker phone filled the office air and Ricky noticed his boss’ scalp turning red from the rub.
Ricky imagined that the room was filled with this negativity and, being raised a Catholic, he equated negativity to uncomfortable heat — as a reminder of where he would be if he was a sinner. Ricky was a sinner, but this was one moment in his life that he felt that he had done the right thing.
Sadly, that didn’t matter, so contrary to scientific principles — as per his religious affiliation — the warm negativity was building to a soft boil, but high up — he could tell — the ceiling was cold, void of negativity. It was too high up for the negativity to reach. Even if the negativity could reach the ceiling, it would dissipate with the positive energy and there’d be a “warming” — in the personal sense — balance.
He would’ve liked to float up there… or grow — like Alice — from his seat, up to that layer of positive mist. He couldn’t however. He felt the anger and rage rattling through the speaker phone, pumping more heat into the room. The clarity was atrocious, almost as though the speaker phone speaker was used as a censor. Ricky couldn’t hear the larger, more deliberate words… but he certainly felt them. Then, there was silence… and it was hard to gauge when it was their turn to speak.
His boss stopped massaging his scalp — it was looking like a Sphynx cat — and quietly hit the mute button.
‘Ricky…’ His voice was ominous and dire, which was only emphasized by the fact that he needed to whisper even after the mute button had been hit. To openly convey that much weakness… his boss must have something very final to say.
This serious tone was daunting because it shouldn’t have been so striking. Ricky’s boss never smiled; never joked; never laughed. He was not a welcoming or sympathetic character. He was hard. His tone was always full of disapproval, but his words saved him from being entirely repellent. His words expressed sympathy where his voice could not. The staff felt it all the more in emails that praised their service. Ricky’s boss was not sympathetic here. Not in his words; not in his voice.
‘You don’t need to sit through this,’ He said, ‘I have to fire you.’
It was that word, “have” that stuck out to Ricky, that made him feel like this was premeditated and final. “I need to fire you,” puts an emphasis on “NEED” and you can’t stress the “-EED” without it sounding like you’re begging. Plus, “Need” would imply there is no alternative; no other choice. No. His boss used “Have” not “Haf” like a laid-back boss who jokes with his subordinates, “I haf ta fire you, dude.” No. His boss said, “I have to fire you.” It wasn’t a need, it was his choice and he was not going back on his decision.
Ricky felt his heart plunge into this stomach. He knew it was to be and he could not undo it. He was given a cautionary warning before the phone call that this would not be good and if Ricky had been interested in a career change, he might want to start looking.
Ricky was naive, but he didn’t see the point in not hoping for a miracle.
‘I want you to know that it is not based upon yourself as a person, it is based on your judgement,’ His boss continued, ‘I know you would never do a thing like this again, but it should have never happened in the first place.’
Ricky looked down, ‘I shouldn’t have said anything.’
‘The fact that you thought this was okay to begin with just proves you’re not cut out for this kind of business. I wish you the best of luck.’
Awkwardly, Ricky rose from his seat, feeling that the cool air must’ve been trapped beneath his buttocks. It wafted over him… and he felt better. The client on the line continued to shout obscenities, but by the time his tone had returned to a polite volume, Ricky had already packed his flattop desk and was out the door.
‘What is that? Lite mayonaise? No wonder you look so skinny! Look at you, you’re like a twig. Are you eating healthy enough? Where’s your pantry? What do you mean this is your pantry? My word, it’s so spacious. You could sublet this as a room. You’re not eating enough. You need to eat more.’
Unfortunately, Ricky’s mother was visiting that weekend, so it wasn’t easy to explain why he was home so early on a Thursday. Luckily, coming home early meant less messes to clean later. She may have been a God-fearing woman, but she had no idea how to clean up after herself. She ate like a minnow, but always sought a variety. As a result, everything would be opened and only lightly touched. It drove Ricky near to madness.
Food was never something he considered to be particularly enriching, but he liked the idea of vacuum-packaged products. It reminded him that there was sustenance and resources that would not begin to rot and decay until he opened the seal. It was part of the reason he hated his mother’s visits.
‘Did you get my letter? What happened to that girlfriend of yours? What was her name? Was it Martha? What happened to Martha? You can tell me I’m your mother. What happened to your little girlfriend? She leave? She left you didn’t she. I knew she was up to no good. You know Ricky, there’s one woman in your life and you’re lucky I visit.’
Ricky only put up with this because he knew, at the end of her visit, there would be a fat wad of cash in his pillow sheet. Without a job, this would get him through another month and hopefully he could find new employment in 30 days. 30 days. Not many years ago, that felt like an eternity, now it was a struggle.
Ricky had compiled a LinkedIn profile, not for the sake of networking, but to provide a picture of himself should professionals and companies look for him. He wasn’t ashamed of being a latino, but feared the stigma that may surround his last name: Lujan. He couldn’t understand racism and prejudice growing up. To be frank, he assumed all people were equal, but when racism started being taught, he began to question everything. Then, when they explained minorities — eesh, it was all a lost cause.
He feared that people would see his name and be influenced whether they knew about it or not. He liked people that were members of hate groups or the KKK because he knew where they stood, but the people that didn’t affiliate with such groups, but still looked at him with a glare you wouldn’t send to a friend, it was those type of people that Ricky feared. That fear translated into paranoia and he found those glares under every nook and cranny regardless of their existence.
So, he made a profile, not because he had a particularly stellar resume, not because he was proud of his work experience, and not because he wanted to meet employers and let them know he was interested. No, he crafted a profile in the opposite, passive effort. He wanted people to see that he could pass for Caucasian.
But the fortunate consequence of LinkedIn is that it requires the month and year a job begins. So every 30-31 days, his profile recorded another month, so it would read 3 months when he’d really only been there 2 months and a day. It was the best way to fudge his resume and it was automated so it was employers who were at fault for believing it. However after that first initial day… he would have to work over the course of the next 29-30 days to ensure another full month. It was those 30 days that he struggled through and now that he was “let go” on 22nd, he felt that a whole month had been wasted. His LinkedIn really only tallied an extra 8-9 days, instead of the 20s he was so fond of.
He sighed. And he made the mistake of sighing out loud.
‘What’s with the sighing? Am I boring you? Are you tired of me? I can get a hotel? Thought I was doing you a favor, staying here. Since Martha left? Was it Theresa? You don’t eat anything. I’ve opened all your cans and boxes though, now you have to eat something. Stop preserving things, it’s not healthy. You look too skinny. You’re too skinny. It’s not healthy.’
He sighed again. But it was silent and inside himself. It popped in his gut like a suppressed burp and he thought an ulcer was forming. He knew it wasn’t his mother though and it wasn’t Mary leaving. For the most part, it wasn’t even losing his job. What was making him suffer was the fact that, for the first time in his adult life, he felt that he made the right decision and there was no one that could acknowledge that.
Ricky Lujan worked customer service and IT for ViewMyPaycheck.com. His job was to answer phone calls about their service and how to set it up; how to walk a client through adding a new member; how to start a payroll in a business; etc. etc. His other part of the job was going live in chat rooms to provide online chat support. It was easy, he’d receive an email with the customer’s name, business, and problem. Then, he would utilize a cheat sheet for all the common courtesy protocols — it didn’t matter if he meant them or not — and he would run through the various troubleshooting steps.
Hello Edgar99, my name is Ricky L ujan and I’m here to help you sign onto ViewMyPaycheck.com
Thnx Rik, my login wont work.
I’m sorry to hear that Edgar99. Did you receive an email from us?
Okay then, let me resend it…
Did you receive our email this time?
Hm, that is interesting. Did you check your spam folder?
yea got it
Great, Edgar99! Your username should be there.
–user signed out.
In his head he’d write, “Have a nice day,” but in his 4 months and 22 days, he never got that far. Then on his 4th month and 22nd day, he got Jason3…
Hello Jason3, my name is Ricky L ujan and I’m here to help you sign onto ViewMyPaycheck.com.
y thank you ricky!
You’re welcome! What is the problem?
i cant figur it out. i put in my usrname and passwrod, but then it says error.
Hm, that is interesting. Did you receive an invitation to ViewMyPaycheck.com?
yea i accepted it to.
Then did you sign on with the temporary password provided?
yea i did that the first tiem an dthen i coudnt log in today.
Hm, the maintenance server is up. Jason, can you tell me what the exact error message says when you try to login?
(jason3 is typing)
OK ricky, teh error mesage reads ERROR 304 6&NS P00##
Ricky remembered thinking about this very clearly.
That error means that there is no data for the username and password you entered.
OK but ive done thsi like a millon times so were’s my info?
I understand sir, but it looks like it was removed from the system.
how can that b posible?
There’s usually one of three reasons. Did your company just start using our services?
no ben useing VMP for awhiel.
Has your company recently discontinued business with us?
no everone got there paychecks today.
He thought very hard about this.
The only other option is if the employee has been discontinued in our database.
If an employee is receiving their last paycheck from a company then, they usually mail a Cashier’s Check with all the funds.
(Jason3 has gone idle)
(Jason3 has been disconnected)
That was when the phone started ringing in his boss’ office. Ricky knew it would be bad; he knew that protocol dictates that when an employee has “likely” been terminated by the employer that you’re supposed to say they cannot sign in due to “server maintenance issues.” What struck Ricky to neglect protocol was not a matter of pride, but a genuine urge to not lie; to be a good Catholic.
And he was reprimanded dearly for it.
His mother left his home late that night, he got the impression she knew he was fired and made the conscious decision to leave him to his devices. He appreciated that. Then, when he got home, he took took the wad of cash hidden — beneath his pillow this time — and he appreciated that even more.
‘I shouldn’t have said anything,’ he thought.
For more short stories, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive