There was this guy at work. We called him The Ashtray, and although it wasn't funny it was a better name than The Doormat. He had this talent, a dubious talent, but one that gained him notoriety from the upper echelons of management to the lower depths of the clerical pool.
He was a highly skilled, well-adjusted man who could buffer the abuse of any and all tyrannical supervisors in the office. Whenever a difficult supervisor tore through subordinates to warrant their own circus cage they'd send The Ashtray in to work for them. Every term served was practically a Master's thesis in abnormal psychology.
The Ashtray had dark hair, dark eyes and kind of looked like a walking shadow. He was very quiet and seemed to slip in and out of every department he was sent to. And he did all the problem ones, from corporate to casual. Dressy to messy, he was sent there if there was a difficult, dysfunctional boss to defuse any problem situation.
He won awards, citations, got fancy silver badges, the works, but especially the drama. What amazed everyone was that after all the dust had settled, he managed to walk out of the office in one piece, looking younger and happier than the rest of his co-workers. It was 100% weird.
He first gained notoriety when he served as the assistant to Miss Felice, a manager who demanded that her computer be turned on before she arrived in the morning, the air conditioning turned up to her preferred temperature and her favorite music streaming playlist set at an acceptable volume.
But that wasn’t what made her difficult; it was her disbelief in anything she was told. Her mind processed everything people said as a lie, so if someone explained a problem to her she would ask them to tell her again, and then of course again. She would then dissect what they just said and pointed out the inconsistencies in what they explained in each version. It drove her previous assistants mad, many running out crying and calling in sick too times too many.
They sent The Ashtray to her. She liked his looks; she was single and blonde and its’ been said that blondes like dark men and dark women like blonde men. Once she got over her attraction to him she went to work on cracking his marble veneer.
When he answered her questions she made sure to interrupt his answers to unnerve him. Every reply to her stern questioning would be brought down by her outraged interruptions.
One Friday afternoon The Ashtray had his nose buried in a report he had to complete by 4 pm and many co-workers had left early for the weekend. Of course the boss made him stop drafting his report to explain to her why everyone was gone. She made him explain one more time, and then again…his responses were so flat and indifferent he killed all the fun out of her sadism. Disappointed, she chastised him for not being done with his report.
But all good things must come to an end, as Del transferred to another section to find a less micro-managing boss. The next one hew as assigned to was a different kind of strange.
Mr. Boswick was an odd man. He'd report to work two hours later than Del and ignore him for most of the morning as he worked. Occasionally Del walked by Mr. Boswick's cubicle and would see him: 1) meticulously trimming his fingernails, 2) arguing on the phone with his wife, who always hung up on him, only to get him to phone her back and argue more; and, oddly 3) he would be prone to sitting in front of his desk simply staring off into space.
He trimmed his fingernails every day even if there was hardly anything left to cut. They were done so loudly you could hear the incessant snipping down the hall. Not so loud were his arguments on the phone with his wife, which were always delivered in a hissing stage whisper.
"Abby? Abby? ABBY? ABIGAIL!!!"
Mr. Boswick would fortunately gain his second wind by 3 pm in the afternoon and suddenly assault Del with an insurmountable pile of work for him to tackle, apathetically oblivious to the fact that quitting time was in two hours. It dove Del The Ashtray mad.
Co-workers would join him for a smoke on his break and the same question would arise.
"Boswick's an asshole, Del. How do you put up with his bullshit?"
"It's just part of the job, I guess".
"No, this guy goes over the line. I'd report him to the Internal Affairs Committee".
"I'll think about it. I got to go".
"Yeah! He's probably timing you with his watch! Later!"
Occasionally Mr. Boswick and Del would attend meetings and sit together at the conference table. Whenever Del got up from his seat to give handouts to the attendees he had to rise up slowly. It was peculiar, but the reason arose from an episode at previous meeting.
"Del", Mr. Boswick chastised him, "I need to speak to you about your attitude".
"Why? What's wrong?"
"The way you got up from your chair. You looked so angry, everybody stared at me. Your chair spun around a few times! That makes us look bad, Del. If that ever happens again I'll write you up for discipline".
After being admonished about the "spinning chair" incident Del did a peculiar rise from the chair to prevent it from spinning around, which only made the attendants stare at him even more. The rise was not unlike a cobra rising from its wicker basket, a sort of vertical unfolding. Mr. Boswick still looked disgusted, anyway.
The Ashtray was taken away from Mr. Boswick and handed over to a new supervisor, a Mr. Schubert. How Mr. Schubert scaled the heights of supervisory status was never known because his spelling and grammar were a modest grammar school D grade level.
The Ashtray would occasionally correct Mr. Schubert, raising his ire.
"The memo will go out AS IS!"
After the Division Chief was copied on the email, she would call Schubert into her office and ask why would he send out a message with so many errors. Schubert called Del into the room and blame him for typing up his poorly written memo.
He was then made to apologize for arguing with Mr. Schubert. The Ashtray complied, feeling bitter resentment.
Things came to a head with them when the Ashtray planned a vacation a month in advance and Mr. Schubert decided the week before to take that very week off, too.
"Coverage, Del, coverage! Someone in our section needs to be here. You can't take off when I'm going on vacation. You're already on probation for sending out those poorly written memos. I'd watch my Ps and Qs if I were you. Just a friendly word of advice".
After that admonition he'd step out for an angry smoke and run into Miss Felice, smiling at him for the first time he'd known her.
"Oh, Del, things just aren't the same without you. I feel lost without my favorite assistant".
She continued for another minute telling him that she couldn't hold on to anyone as long she did with him. He wasn't surprised but just kept smiling that strange smile of his. Funny, the smile seemed believable but you could almost detect a few cracks beneath the surface of that smile.
Standing in front of the building, having his smoke, a co-worker sidled up.
"Schubert fucked with your vacation, you know? You should look into getting a lawyer, I'm telling you".
"What's that going to do?"
"You have to document every time you get disciplined, like keep a diary for every time he gives you shit and keep copies of every time he writes you up or threatens to write you up and maybe you should go to a psychiatrist and take time off for stress time taken off and then have the psych write you a report and..."
Schubert didn't last, either. The Ashtray was reassigned to a new supervisor, Mrs. Ganigher, a divorced mother who always demanded he sit next to her while she instructed him on how to type up a report. He had over ten years experience in drafting reports, but she needed him to sit right next to her while she tediously typed away, speaking to him as if he were her child. It was maddening.
"Now this is the way we title the report and format it", she would speak slowly as if he were simple. Co-workers would walk by the cubicle and look at him, then at her and roll their eyes.
Once Del was home sick and she called him, hysterical about not being able to find a file. He was doped up on flu medication and she screamed at him.
"How could you pick an important day like today to call in sick? I need to find that file. I know you know where it is! Tell me! Are you sure you don't know??? Sure you're sure?"
Mrs. Ganigher rarely bathed, so when it was time to attend a meeting she'd pull out a bottle of Evening Musk and spray herself like lice spray at the local jail. She also had a bad habit of pulling at the straps of her bra while talking to people, which always put them off from her and made them prefer to speak with him, which always made her insanely jealous.
Even an ashtray cracks and breaks and that day finally came. Mrs. Ganigher gave him three reports to draft and loaned him out to two more supervisors to transcribe their meetings. All of this work was due by the end of the day.
While he was processing all these reports Mrs. Ganigher kept interrupting him with important questions and a few stories of her porn-addicted teenage son. Finally it was nearing the final hour of the day and he only managed to draft two out of the five reports.
"WHY? WHY NOT??"
"I'll need more time", The Ashtray patiently explained.
"NO YOU DON'T. YOU TOLD ME YOU WOULD BE DONE BY THE END OF THE DAY AND YOU'RE NOT! DEL!!!"
"I'm going to need more time to complete this work".
"I've had enough of this bad attitude from you. We're going to see Ms. Adams about your sloppy output. I'm getting really fed up with it!"
The Ashtray's eyes got real big and he said, "No we're not. I'm not putting up with this anymore. You finish this fucking work!"
The Ashtray grabbed his jacket and walked out of the building, never to return.
He didn't take anything with him and that was pretty smart. If he had the company could have nailed him for stealing, but if he walked out without taking anything they couldn't put up anything against him.
This didn't go well with his wife, of course. When The Ashtray's wife found out he quit his job there went the medical benefits and the expensive vacations and the job security.
"HOW COULD YOU DO SUCH A STUPID THING? HOW COLD YOU JUST WALK OFF A JOB???"
"I had enough", he said, stammering a little bit. "You just don't understand".
"WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? YOU'RE AN IDIOT!"
"No, I'm not, we'll be fine. I have some money saved up".
'SO WHAT?? I WANT YOU TO APOLOGIZE TO ME RIGHT NOW FOR QUITTING YOUR JOB! I DON'T GIVE A DAMN WHETHER YOU'RE HAPPY OR NOT!"
"Look,. I've supported you all this time. Now it's your turn to support me, I mean-"
"OH, FUCK YOU, DEL!"
She stormed out of the apartment, going to a Mexican restaurant where she'd meet up with some man she was seeing behind Del's back.
Del mumbled mutely to himself and looked around the empty apartment. He wanted to cry and he wanted to laugh, but he just mused on the futility of making unhappy people happy.
Instead, he picked up the phone, dialed a number and said, "Hi, this is Del Carver. I have twenty years clerical experience and have awards and citations. Microsoft Office Suite, Adobe Creative Cloud and difficult supervisors a specialty. Please keep me in mind"....