By Brandon C. Hovey
My assigned parking spot was coated in ice, so I duck-walked in a crouch to the employee entrance here at Farran Logistics. I’m a Planning Analyst in the high rises of the warehouse. Farran is a good company, and I’m proud to work here. Once I arrive, I file some overnight reports and then I listen to my voicemails. No voicemail. There’s a relief! I turn to my inbox. One’s from my boss.
Fine work you did on the TNP framing account. They’re very happy with the pipeline of parts you’ve given them. You’ve really kept making your mark on this company over the last five years you’ve been here.
Let’s meet in my office at 11:40am. I’ve some news for you.
Sr. Supervising MGR: Outbound Logistics
I smiled as I read the compliment. I swiftly typed a reply.
Thanks very much. See you at 11:40am.
Staff Planning Analyst
I imagined the news would be either the raise I asked for a month ago or perhaps it was the possibility of a merger with Supply Chain Experts Inc? It was hard to tell and I found myself, telling the Records Accuracy people how to do their job again via email for the fifth time. At least they thanked me profusely.
After a lengthy two hours of checking spreadsheets, and a single conference call. I grabbed my tablet from the charger and ascended from the mezzanine office into the warehouse to oversee Centers A and B, and the high rise system. A part of my job is making sure systems run smoothly with my Six Sigma Green Belt.
I made my rounds with the part pickers and their supervisor. They were all fine. I started in the warehouse as a supervisor. I didn’t really enjoy the work, but I fell into it and I did it well. When the opening came in the planning department I jumped at it after a year. The past four years I spent up in the mezzanine under Mr. Spence’s direction. I was in charge of planning the logistics needs for five different clients, and now a sixth one.
The merger that was in the works would make me busier. Perhaps even promote me. I smiled as I watched some new hires join the inventory accountants and the manufacturing liaisons and I felt their harmony in excitement towards working together at a respected privately owned company.
My old boss Harry Clanssen was teaching a new kid on a forklift. I never had to use one. I dropped by to say hello.
“How’s it going, Mr. Clanssen?”
“Fine, Milt. Just another new hire learning the ropes today.”
I thought about all the new faces here. I didn’t quite get it.
“I noticed. What’s with all the new faces?”
“Supposedly each of our new facilities is getting more labor for some reason. Mr. Farran was pretty quiet about the whole thing though. I bet it relates to the merger.”
Huh, I thought.
“Sure.” I verbalized. Something was up.
“It was good talking to you, Henry.”
“Thanks, Milt. See you later.”
That merger was a real mystery. I decided to stop back to the mezzanine and see if the supply chain engineer, Joab Martin had anything for me. The HR manager Del Smith looked oddly morose. He was typically jovial and his thick body and burdened pelvis demonstrated it with tremors during belly laughs.
“You okay, Del?”
He kept walking towards the new hires. Something was going on. Before I returned to my office though, I’d get a snack from the vending machines and have some coffee. I pivoted towards the central office wing which was far from Warehouse B where I was located at. After five minutes of walking I arrived at the break room.
An ugly mural showing forklifts coated the walls. A framed photo of our company’s founding event hung over the fireplace. That was in 1947. The current owner, Harris Farran was the founder’s grandson. Harris Farran was in the room coincidently removing a candy bar from the vending machine and he was looking at the old triumph.
“Good morning, Sir.” I poured coffee into a travel mug I had stowed in the office employee’s cupboard.
Farran’s smile was typically warmer; he gave a half grin as he returned my salutation.
“Good morning, Milt. How are Juliana and Lee?”
I was happy he remembered their names.
“The wife is great, and my son is learning new words each day, he’s going to be off to a great start in kindergarten.”
Farran gave a thumb’s up as he bid farewell.
“He’ll be a smart man like his father then.”
I was humbled by what he said. I took a sip of the coffee and bought a granola bar from the vending machine. My old colleague and counterpart in Warehouse A, James Wenneker entered. Wenneker had been with the company for five years just like me, and we started on the warehouse floor.
“James, how are things?”
“Fine. I’ve got a meeting with the boss man after my Santa Barbara conference call. How’s Detroit doing?”
“They’re catching on just like records management.”
“Good to hear. Say, did you ever buy that desk at CreamCabinets?”
As he inquired about the desk I had seen three weeks ago at a refurbished furniture marketplace just off of the main drag in our city the coffee pot he was holding was descending to the ground where it crashed into glass shards and plastic fragments. Only the carafe’s black handle remained intact.
Wenneker was a good man. But he was hard on himself. Buying into this corporate ladder thing drove him into an obsessive-compulsive state, and at times he was difficult to deal with. Largely because the only one he ever listened to was himself. He never listened to other people to understand them. He only listened to know how to react.
I grabbed a few sheets of paper towels and blotted up the coffee and foolishly picked up pieces of the glass rather than grabbing a broom.
“James, my son would say Spoofer Noodles.”
“My son started saying that instead of sketti or spaghetti when my wife made it. I caught myself saying it when I cut myself shaving.”
Wenneker nodded, he was recoiling from the embarrassment of dropping the carafe. He excused himself suddenly as I picked up the pieces of the carafe and tossed them into the garbage. It was 11:20 and I had my meeting in twenty minutes. I finished my snack and coffee and strode over to the far side of Central Office.
This environment was in stark contrast to the racket of the warehouse and the solitary atmosphere of the warehouse’s mezzanine floor where I worked. There was a hub-bub like the warehouse but it was a social kind. Faces were worried and busy. Fiscal and inventory accountants with corresponding atypical grimaces occupied blocks of cubicles. They typically had a quiet confidence and sublet cheer in their work. Once I passed a little lounge I arrived at Mr. Spence’s office. The door was cracked.
I met his reply by opening the door and closing it behind me. He stood up from his now spartan desk. Things were different. His office was practically empty. And his often dignified and noble countenance was haggard now. His immaculate dress shirt was wrinkled.
“Have a seat.”
His voice and appearance lent me a Dickensian portrait of a professional penury.
I broke the ice.
“Are you all right, Mr. Spence?”
“We’re both adults, Milt. Call me Walker from now on. You’re one of the very best here you know.”
“Thank you, Walker. I’m honored.”
“You are welcome. I figured you need to hear all the praise you can as you and I are going to be without jobs in two weeks.”
I was numb. He kept talking.
“I’ll be a stellar reference along with many others here. You’ve built a good professional life for yourself and any company will hire you. The merger won’t happen as that company has been bought by Baesick Logistics Enterprises, and they also gave Mr. Farran an offer he could not refuse. He’s going to walk away a rich man, and most of us in middle management are going to be out of work.”
I was speechless.
“A lot to swallow isn’t it?”
“ I don’t know what to say. I loved my job. Isn’t there a way to apply for a job here with the new company?”
“No. They like impressionable minds, not veterans who are used to doing things a different way, plus keep in mind that we were Baesick’s liaison for many years with their suppliers. They don’t want middlemen anymore; especially when it comes to their supply chains.”
“I’ll still try.”
“I need to tell James the same thing. I’ll let you know if I hear of anything you’d be interested in.”
I left his office realizing that I was twenty-seven years old with a four year old son and a wife who has a year left of PA school. Those were good things to be proud of and for, but they weren’t going to make me money. At my cubicle I finished up my tasks for the day over the next several hours. I did them mediocrely. My lust for quality was gone.
Then I left for home. My wife would be home to change places with the sitter and then I’d take over as she’d leave for her night class. As I crossed asphalt, concrete, gravel, and then more asphalt. I struggled with what to say to my wife about what happened.
The world slowed down as I spotted my son playing with his Legos.
I couldn’t help but smile at my boy. He cheered me up.
“Am I going to make spaghetti tonight?”
“SPOOFER NOODLES!” He called out.
I jumped up and down carefree as my child.
“Yes, Daddy is going to make Spoofer Noodles.”
My wife came out of the kitchen.
“I had time to run to the store, hun. I picked up the thick fettucine that you adore.”
“Not as much as you, sweetheart.”
I said this to her as our bodies embraced together. She knew something was wrong.
“We’ll talk about it when you get home, Milty. I need to get to class soon to prep with my study group for our clinical finals. The semester is about to end you know.”
“Good luck, Babe.”
I played with my son for an hour and then I made dinner the spaghetti was good, and we sang a little ditty as I plated it.
“When Daddy makes Spoofer Noodles all is well
Spoofer Noodles help us grow up big and strong
Big and Strong.”
I helped him with his Pre-K Spanish homework and I was thankful that next year he’d be in public kindergarten instead of the church preschool that he goes to three blocks down from the house.
I savored the hour I had with my son, and then my wife came home and I had to face the music after we put our boy to bed.
“How’d the final go?”
She came close to me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders.
“You seemed sad earlier, Milty? What’s wrong?”
I mentally recoiled at what I was about to disclose, but she was expecting an answer.
“Mr. Spence called me into his office today, Felicity. And it was bad news. The company’s been bought and my job will not exist in two weeks.”
“You’ll find a new job soon. You majored in Mathematics. You are an incredible mathematician, and you were great at what you worked on at Farran. You’ll be fine. It won’t take you long to find something soon.”
She kissed me, and I prayed she was right. I hit the hay early as the day was depressing me beyond belief. She could sense that and her caressing hands massaged me to sleep after ten minutes of morose longing for a solution.
When I awoke I drove to work and went through the motions. Until I threw up at eleven minutes after eleven. I cleaned myself up and drove home at 11:40 after composing myself and letting Mr. Spence know I was using sick time. I took a nap while the sitter, a sixty-three year old grandmother named Katherine occupied my son.
I was awakened by my wife once she got home.
“You okay, dear?”
“I’m okay. I threw up at work, I also had some poop problems.”
She pinched my cheek.
“You probably are sick from all that stress. Did you take anything?”
I thought about it, I hadn’t.
Let’s get you something. I strolled to the kitchen where I rifled through the medicine cabinet. No meds.
“Is that like Spoofer Noodles, Daddy?”
Felicity was enraged but she didn’t express it. I mouthed out a sorry as I turned to our boy below.
“No. Don’t say that word, son. Stick to spoofer noodles.”
“I’m going to go to the store, honey. I’ll pick up those meds before you have to leave for class.”
“You don’t have to worry about that, you slept through the class and I paid the sitter extra.”
“No problem, dear. You are ill from the stress. Now get yourself to the store.”
I kissed her and hopped right back into the car. In seven minutes I was at the store. I picked up some over-the-counter pain pills, and some comfort food. Sopressata: A spicy, fatty, Italian sausage that is out of this world. Then on my way out I stopped by the liquor isle. I bought some Trillyn’s India Pale Ale: 7.2%ABV, and then I also picked up some Pale Beechwood Pilsner from the IM Brewing Company at 6.1% abv. Both of these brews were in the grocer’s fridge. This is a beer with character they claimed. I’ve never had it, but I had good reason to try it tonight.
Quickly I found a checkout aisle with the register being used by a college kid.
“Party tonight, sir?”
I remembered that I looked pale as a white sheet after I threw up. He probably did think I was high on something.
I mocked him.
I was going to enjoy some good beer that evening.
Once I arrived home, my wife left a note for me on the butcher block in our kitchen.
“I’ve put our boy to bed. I’m retiring for the night as I figure I better protect myself from what’s got you sick if it wasn’t stress. I love you.”
I was going to make myself a sandwich and get my mind off of jobs in the basement with beer. I made a sandwich out of a roast beef cold cut and then I left for the basement where I opened my first beer: A Trilwyn’s IPA. It was good with the sandwich, so then I opened another. It was good too. I thought of the events of the day, so then I had one more of the Trilwyn’s.
Then I felt good. My troubles were leaving me. Why not cap it off with an exceptional beer of outstanding magnitude: IM Brewing’s Beechwood Pilsner. They said it is great. Let’s see what all the hype is about in the beer world about this brew.
I crack open the can and pour the straw-colored beer into a dimple pint glass I received on my birthday. The three finger off-white head and vigorous carbonation is so invited. I am craving this smooth beer. I put the glass to my lips and sip.
It is good. I guzzle and after I drain the can, I open another.
I can taste the malt, the hops, and I feel a warming boozy sensation overtake me. I am drunk. Staring at the can in awe, I notice a number printed on the can’s side.
“For Questions and Compliments call…”
I dial, and I can hear the click of an answerer.
“IM Brewing Company, this is James. Do you have a question or a concern?”
I was drunk. Stone drunk! In the morning I would be sober, but this was the present. I spoke in a guttural voice to James.
“I’m here to tell ya your beer, is super-de-duper! Muy Bueno, Senor James.”
James was not amused.
“I’m glad you like it. You’re drunk though. Read the other side of the can.”
If I remember his tone correctly it was acerbic and raw.
“Sure, I’ll look at the can now.”
I cracked up at what I just said.
On the can it was written clearly in black soy-based ink: “Enjoy Responsibly.”
I said it out loud.
“Close enough.” Replied a snarky James.
“Do you need a cab?” He added this inquiry after he chuckled briefly.
“Nope. I’s home.”
My grammar had been degraded by my drunkenness.
“Buddy, what’s got you drunk at home?” Do you need to be watching your kid?”
“Nope. My boy’s asleep. My wife is too. I’m still up.”
I felt time stop. James was right on the money. Something was wrong. I had no inhibitions about telling him what was wrong either.
“My life’s wrong.”
“No life is wrong, buddy.”
“I lost my job. It’s all over.”
“That’s a job, buddy. You’ve not lost your career. You still have your family too. What did you do?”
“I was a planning analyst at Farran Logistics. I’ll be out of work in two weeks.”
There was a pause for a moment. Then he spoke to me in a clear voice. Was he a quality control call center person at a brewery, or was he my guardian angel?
“You’re in a profession that is growing: supply chains. You’ll find a new job fast. You just need to look. Do you have a degree?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a BS in Mathematics with a teaching certificate in case if I wanted to switch careers.”
He interrupted me.
“You’ve got a good degree. You’ve lost your job, you’ll find a new one. Things may look bad now. But, you need to stop the pity party, buddy.”
“Call me Milton, Milt, or Milty, James.”
“Okay, Milt. You’ve got to stop this pity party. Now, enjoy your beer. Then I want you to drink a gallon of water. Then follow it up with four aspirin in the morning, right when you wake up. Can you do that?”
“I can, James. You seem like a smart guy. Smarter than me.”
“Nonsense, Milt. I may have a Master of Arts in Counseling from a prestigious university, but I cannot pass the licensing exams to save my life. That’s why I work at the brewery. I also happen to love beer. That’s a tangent though, Milt. Start looking for a new job, and quit throwing the pity party you’re having. It will all work out, buddy.”
He hung up.
I finished my beer, drank the water he said to, and fell asleep where I seated. My wife woke me up the next morning, she was unhappy.
“Why didn’t you come to bed?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“I’m sorry, darling.”
She gave a half-smile.
She turned her head towards the steps.
“You have work in thirty minutes. I made you a fast breakfast, and I made you a whole pot of coffee.”
“You are welcome, Milty. I’ll prep for my work and class tonight. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
I scarfed down my breakfast of eggs, toast, and iced tea. Then I left for work, where I parked in my usual spot, except I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be occupying this parking spot for much longer. What I thought was my career had now devolved into a mere waystation. As I made it to my cubicle to turn my computer on, I still kept thinking of it.
An email was sent by Walker Spence to me.
If you have any downtime today, use it to look for jobs. I have my first phone interview tomorrow. Keep me posted on your job search progress. If I get any tips I’ll let you know.”
The usual closing followed.
I briskly replied to thank him and I commenced my job search.
I found a lead at a management consultancy ran by a McKinsey alumnus. I filled out the job application for an associate’s position. Then after I filed it I sent an email with two attachments: my resume and my cover letter. I hoped for the best.
I spent the rest of my time thinking of the conversation I had last night with the quality guy at IM brewing. James was a good man. Oddly enough that state licensing exam did not do its job to keep him out of the counseling profession. What was an attempt to weed out the weak was actually my saving grace. I scored a 33 on my ACT, my GPA was 3.31. I imagine James’s GPA was higher and his exam score was lower.
I was a smart slacker, and I never had to pay for it until now. James on the other hand was, and he took time to not speak about what he was paid to speak on, and that was beer. Instead he spoke with me about the troubles in my life. James was a good man. And, one day I would have to thank him.
I get a call on my cell after I finished applying for so many jobs on Monster, Glassdoor, and Indeed. I don’t recognize the number. And for the life of me I’ve never seen this area code in my entire life.
“Milton Zimmern. How may I help you?”
“Hello, Milton. My name is Regis Carmichael. I am a Hiring Officer for MAT Games Studios. I spied your resume on Indeed.com. I have a few questions for you. Do you have time?”
“Cool. Tell me about your work history and academic background.”
I told him the tale.
“You have a cool story, Milt. Tell me about your hobbies, and do you game?”
I told him that I enjoy video gaming and that I grew up with their games. I imagined him smiling over the phone.
“Milt, I know you are a busy man. So am I. I’ll get to my point. I think you’d be perfect for this 75K/a year job opportunity. Could you do a webcam interview with me, and our owner tomorrow afternoon at your time’s 3pm. We’re on the west coast.”
“Good. We’ll see you then.”
I was ecstatic. These were the makers of Gilbert’s Pizza Adventure. The protagonist Gilbert, was on a mission to destroy a mutant pizza parlor and stop the evil scientist causing the pizza mutation. He also had to escape Fortress Crust. This game came out in 1994, and I still have a copy on floppy disc somewhere. I hadn’t played one of the studio’s games in ages, and I had no clue what they had been up to since that game.
I googled and noticed that the company had been in a dry spell for the past three years after changing owners. Their new owner, Nolan Lee had been a twenty year veteran of the company before ascending to ownership. He made a succinct statement of goodwill in a press release. “We’re going to make games that are old-school, but will appeal to young and old gamers. We need seasoned ‘new’ talent.”
I ignored that oxymoron and viewed it as a sign of hope for a potential career there. I could not wait to share the good news with my wife. After work I drove home and told her.
“That is exciting. But, I’ve got three semesters left of night school and we cannot move yet.”
Her reply was what I expected.
“At least let me see what the possibilities are. This could be the golden opportunity from above that’s going to steer us in a better direction. I’ll know more tomorrow, and I’ll still look for jobs tonight. Okay?”
She gave me an acerbic yet mildly understanding reply.
“I suppose your right. Thanks for looking.”
She packed her things for class. My son came by me as I looked for jobs.
“Daddy, can you make Spoofer Noodles?”
“I shall, my dear son.”
I whipped up the noodles and had some with my son. Even at his age he is starting to appreciate the spinach noodles.
“Green Spoofer Noodles, how do they make them, Dada? Is it with magic?”
“It is son. They take green leaves and they come up with something neat.”
I grab a paper towel and drew spinach leaves.
“This is how they make the green noodles.”
“You know this magic, Daddy? Are you a magician.”
I was elated.
“To some people I am.”
I showed him a few more equations. Time flies when you’re having fun. I never did have time to look for those jobs like I said I would. I found one as a math tutor at the community college, but I passed on that. I was going to go to work for the bastion of old school gaming.
By the time my wife came home it was time for me to hit the hay. I dreamt I was a magician and my mathematical talents could solve all problems at their esoteric routes.
I prayed that the next day would be fast, and so it was. I was going through the motions, so ready to turn a page. Yet my hands were weighted with anxiety, and as I gestured to turn the page it was as if sinews of titanium fiber were connected to my hands and keeping me from turning the page. They were keeping me from enjoying and loving life. I was ready to move on. I was going to move on to be that role model for my son, and equal partner to my wife.
It was this time of waiting in what felt like purgatory that was killing me. I would be waiting until 3pm until I would get off of work and move forward with the hiring process, while there was hope this was my best lead to enter on a better path. What was also boring holes in my happiness was the fact that this was the only good lead I had to improve my family and my own future on this earth. The decision was mine, but it was also my wife’s. I had to do what I had to do, to save my soul.
I had to work for this company.
Long before the phone would go off I knew the choice I was going to make I would accept the job.
The phone rang at 3pm, and I answered.
“This is Milt.”
“Hello, Milt. I’m Nolan Lee, and you’ve already met Regis. How are you today?”
“I’m fine, Gentlemen.”
“Milt, I’m going to get right to the point. I need a new game consultant who understands pure mathematics such as yourself. Especially combinatorial games and quasigroups. I have enough programmers. You’re a mathematician and you are a gamer. I think we have a lot in common. Let Mr. Carmichael tell you about the job.”
Carmichael took his cue.
“You’ll be consulting with us on our new game think Borderlands and Deus Ex having a child, this is the offspring. You’ll be making sure each of the puzzles are logically sound and without too little difficulty or too much difficulty.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Good, when can you come out to Seattle?”
My body seized up. I braced myself for telling my story.
“That’s an issue. I will not be able to relocate to Seattle for at least one year. My wife is finishing up Physician Assistant’s school in our city.”
Nolan Lee raised his hand up to stop me.
“No worries, Milton. You’ll only be telecommuting at first. Your wife’s schooling is important and the level of work at the company is not up to where we need you to totally relocate.”
Carmichael nodded in agreement. Lee continued.
“Truthfully, I think you are the perfect candidate for this job for three reasons. The first is you are a mathematician. The second, you are a gamer, and the third and final reason is my favorite: you’re an outsider to the video gaming industry. We need someone like you, Milton. What do you say?’
My prayers were answered. My fears were dispelled. I had a job.
“I accept, Mr. Lee.”
“Call me Nolan, Milton. We’ll discuss relocation when your wife finishes school. In the mean time, wish her good luck. Regis will be sending you paperwork shortly. Welcome to the family.”
“Thank you, Nolan.”
“You’re welcome, Milton. I’m looking forward to seeing your handiwork.”
As the interview ended, I could not wait to tell my wife. She was coming home early from work. Now that her semester was over, class was no concern. I ran upstairs and cried out the good news.
My son laughed with joy alongside me.
“Daddy, will you make Spoofer Noodles for me?”
“I’ll make celebratory Spoofer Noodles for all of us, son.”
As my wife entered the house we all hugged and gave thanks for this new victory. I would be starting a new job, and she would not have to relocate from her school’s PA program. All was well with the world.
When your coffee spills, when life goes south, when the world is unkind, try not to curse it. Simply say Spoofer Noodles. Let go, Let God, and let your actions propel you to where you need to go.
Thank you, James.