American International Health & Well-Being
This is a short story not a blog, but I'm not creating a new website tab every six months when I decide to write something. If you like it maybe comment, if you don't you can still comment, or not comment, I'm not the boss of you.
Terry awoke at 6:30 to the sound of his alarm. It was beeping from across the room. He’d read an article online that said putting the alarm on the other side of the room would ensure one would get out of bed and not hit the snooze button. The article also expressed how hitting the snooze button greatly hindered the quality of one’s morning. Terry lived in a studio apartment, meaning his bed was in eyeshot of his kitchen. “Kitchen” was a term generously used to describe the area of the apartment with the refrigerator, a few cabinets, and a small stainless steel sink. Terry got out of bed, turned off his alarm clock, which now sat next to the toaster, and began to make his toast. Terry did feel more efficient in the mornings after moving his alarm clock.
Terry would be turning 43 in exactly one week, but was not planning on having a party nor did he anticipate a party being planned on his behalf. Terry was actually unaware his birthday was even approaching.
Terry ate his toast with peanut butter and washed it down with a glass of orange juice. He took a shower, shaved his face, and rubbed his bald head. He had recently stopped trying to cover up the thin spots of hair since they had gotten too far away from one another to really fool anyone but himself. He thought for a bit that his new look made him look tougher, but in reality it made him look like he had fallen ill. When he finally did have it shaved off, the lady at the barber shop called it brave. Terry was smart enough not to confuse brave and tough. He’d once read an article titled 20 Words That Can Be Used as Compliments and Insults and “brave” was on that list. He also remembered the words interesting, blessed, strong, and bold.
He took a pair of underwear from a drawer that was part of his IKEA queen-size bed. It was the SHOKIGA model and had come with the apartment. He put on a pair of khaki pants that had been folded over the back of his armchair. He could typically get three to five days out of one pair of trousers as long as he did not spill anything on them. This particular pair was only on its second day. A plain white, button-up, short-sleeved, collared shirt would complete his office-ready look. He’d once read an article about how successful people wear basically the exact same thing every day. He knew this did not mean the exact same pair of trousers, but figured he did not sweat much from his legs and that he could buy less trousers and save on washing. His white, button-up, short sleeved, collared shirts were a one day wear.
On his way to work Terry was disappointed to find his local shop did not receive their shipment of The Morning Express.
“Sorry bro, we never got them in.”
“But I get that paper everyday!” Terry snapped at the clerk without thinking, immediately shrinking after realizing his tone was overly aggressive.
Without looking up from his paper the clerk replied, “I will write the Express a letter and let them know how important you are. I’m sure you will be compensated handsomely.”
Terry felt very uncomfortable, but not so nervous that he didn’t try and see what paper the clerk was reading in case they were hiding the Express to ruin his morning. The clerk caught him looking and with a twist of his wrist revealed the front page and familiar logo of The Daily Horn. “Now fuck-off.”
He would never be able to go into that shop again. Or at least when this particular clerk was working there. Terry thought about what he could possibly do now. Walk by each morning to try and sneak a quick look inside to see if this clerk had been fired or had died? Was it best he just find a new newsstand? Terry shook his head and mumbled the sound, “Meh,” into his own chest. That meant he did not need to come up with a solution on the spur of the moment and could address the issue of the newsstand clerk at another time.
Without his paper, Terry took a seat at the bus stop. The bench had a graphic from the Classy Chicken restaurant chain: a chicken with a top hat and a cane. Terry sat with his hands in his lap and stared across the street as he waited for the number 26 bus. It was the 26 bus which would take him to a stop where he could catch the number 38 bus to Fairfield. He sat broken but impressed with how the man behind the counter so causally told him to “fuck-off” and how the clerk had come up with the clever thing about “writing a letter,” not even looking at him to say it. Terry had never done something like this. Terry was quite good at thinking of things to say after the fact and imagining what it would have been like had he said it at the appropriate time with a delivery similar to that of the relaxed confident store clerk. Terry was thinking how he should have said, “Well if you don’t have the Express what reason would I have to see your beautiful face?” He smirked to himself and then, as he usually did, came to the conclusion that this was a pointless thing to worry about. If Terry did come up with a witty come-back at the right time and delivered with a relaxed, cool guy demeanor the store clerk would simply say another thing. Then Terry would be right back where he started from: having to come up with another smart reply. This could go on forever and eventually Terry would still lose.
Across from bus stop M was the old Marvin’s Incubators plant. His grandfather once worked in this now abandoned brick building. As a child his grandfather would bore him with stories of the plant and how young men Terry would never meet were all assholes. Only Terry’s grandfather would not use the word ‘asshole,’ just simply say that he worked with a lot of “unpleasant” men. Both Terry’s grandfather and the once thriving industries of this city had been dead for nearly twenty years.
Even though he sees this building every day, for some uncertain reason today he was daydreaming about what it would be like to work in that plant in his grandfather’s day. Quickly into the fantasy Terry stopped and became depressed that he was daydreaming about himself as a low level employee. He became angry at himself that he isn’t even middle management in his own make-believe narrative.
To combat this he tried to paint a scenario of far off Scotland in the time of the opening scene of the film Highlander, which he had just watched the evening prior. He envisaged himself a novice sword fighter whom Sean Connery would come along and train. He stopped because he was doing it again, “Why can’t I be the master training someone else?” he thought to himself.
As Terry continued to beat out what little self-confidence the exchange with the store clerk didn’t take from him a young man sat next to him on the Classy Chicken bus stop bench. Terry had a quick rush of panic as he noticed his shoulder bag was just a tiny bit closer to the young man’s leg than his own. He wanted to quickly grab his bag, but was conscious how it might look for an older white man to grab a bag from the potential theft of a black teenager. He convinced himself that it was normal to feel uncomfortable about his property no matter whom he was sitting next to. Terry had recently read a few articles about “everyday racism” and was certain he was not part of the problem. Terry, with a stroke of genius, picked up his bag while muttering, “I hope I didn’t forget that folder.” He then opened his bag and looked for the imaginary folder. This was a perfect cover. The young man never looked up from his phone, completely unaware of the internal struggle that took place inside the man beside him. However, Terry took a seat on the number 26 bus next to a sleeping woman behind the young man to avoid any potential suspicion that he might be looking at him. There was no reason to take the chance Terry’s own one man play was not convincing enough.
Terry works at American International Health and Well Being (AIHWB). He is not completely sure where or how his employer fits into the grand scheme of healthcare providers. They seem to provide some kind of data management for several larger healthcare providers or help companies sell people’s policies to one another or work with the government as a go-between for a new government Medicare plan. He was never really sure why the healthcare company he works for provided healthcare to their employees but from an entirely different company altogether. Terry worked in the building maintenance department and did not really have to bother with what his company did anyway. He did remember Beth at the Christmas party saying something about a contract she was working on for the big state prison on Route 8, but he had not really been listening.
Terry’s job was logging all new employees into security software, taking their photo, and printing out an employee ID card for them. There was not a huge amount of new employees and he spent about twenty minutes in the morning checking which contractors signed out cards the day before and if they had turned them in or not. If they hadn’t he went into the Sydell program and turned off that card’s ability to access the building. Terry hated his job, but he liked that no one really knew what he did. Also, no one really bothered him once they had their ID card, which typically took about ten minutes once in each new employee’s time with the company. He did, at best, an hour of work a day and spent the rest of the time reading articles from dubious sources online and watching videos with interesting sounding titles.
However, the past couple of weeks at work had been a bit tense, or at the very least annoying. It was nearing the anniversary of the day Paul Gardener, an ex-AIHWB accounts manager and part-time gun enthusiast, came into the bullpen area with an AR-17 assault rifle and pumped round after round into the front office staff. To be more accurate, Paul Gardener never worked for AIHWB; he worked for Breacon Health. They changed the name of the company from Breacon to AIHWB shortly after the police gunned Paul down near the copy room while he was reloading and after the subsequent media storm had let up. Terry secretly really liked Paul, even more so after Paul shot Ed Laurence through the neck. Ed used to send company wide emails titled “From the Head of Ed” crammed with his arrogant, boilerplate business jargon filled thoughts on how to improve office morale and productivity.
As Terry’s office was, and still is, deep in the basement and far from the front office with its large desks made of real wood, he had sat unaware that the shootings were even happening until long after Paul had been gunned down. He remembered hearing something from upstairs, but was in the middle of watching a video about a mimicking octopus that could change both its shape and color to match its surroundings. When an overweight police officer came to secure that area of the building Terry had thought it was a joke.
Terry’s desk was originally right in the middle maintenance department. It was called the maintenance department, but it was really just part of the boiler room where walls had been installed, vinyl tile glued to the floor, and acoustic tile and fluorescent lights installed overhead to round off a make shift office area. For several years his desk was in the open and all the facilities guys would try to include Terry in their conversations about lawn care, football, their brother’s wedding out West, how they got their couch really cheaply when usually the big sectional couches could be up to $1000 dollars, or “those god damn Mexicans.” Terry would usually sit there and smile, pretending to care while dying more and more on the inside. Besides the asinine conversations, the other guys would also kill time by playing practical jokes on one another. The jokes were typically them putting their penis inside of things and trying to get another guy to look at it. When the other guy saw the hidden penis everyone would laugh and call the man accidently seeing a penis a homosexual. Terry was quite pleased with himself the day he found a closet big enough to fit his desk inside. He had assured the head of maintenance that his computer contained all kinds of employee personal data and should be in a lockable area. Not having any idea what Terry actually did, the head of maintenance allowed him to move into the closet.
On days Terry was able to get to work early enough he could sneak into his closet office and most people would never see him. If they did not see him in the morning they found no reason to go find him. But when the guys spending their morning drinking coffee did see Terry they would shout something clever about how he was in the closest, a reference to him possibly being gay, or that he was watching porn and masturbating all day in his little room. Terry thought the closet jokes were an acceptably small price to pay to have most of the day to himself. Terry did wish he could watch porn at work, but was worried about the consequences if his computer was ever monitored.
When the sweating, overweight police officer came down to clear the maintenance area on the day of the shooting Terry had been all alone; almost everyone had snuck out the fire escape when the shooting started. They had simply forgotten Terry was there. The portly policemen knocked on Terry’s door. It had been a long time since someone had knocked on his door without an appointment. Terry spoke out nervously from his desk, “New employees need to make an appointment to get their ID.”
“Are you hurt or in danger?” Terry heard from a man trying to catch his breath.
“No. Are you guys having fun with me?” Terry asked, confused.
“Sir, I am a police officer. You need to open the door and show me your hands, slowly.”
“Ok,” Terry said with a broken voice as he closed the screen with his octopus movie.
Terry rolled over to the door while still in his chair, opened it slowly while still seated, and put his hands up. The officer became very confused as he looked upon the pale man with a bad comb over sitting in what was obviously a closet. He thought at first Terry might have been hiding in there, but then wondered how he would have had time to bring in his desk and lamp and hang a calendar.
Terry was confused how they would allow a man that fat to be a police officer. What if he had to chase someone? How long did it take him to get out of a car? Why was he standing at his office door?
“Are you ok?” The officer asked, holstering his side arm while both men looked confused, but also demonstrating a sense of relief.
“I’m fine thank-you.”
“You can put your hands down. You need to come with me.”
“Am I in some kind of trouble?”
“Not anymore what?”
“Are you serious?” The officer asked while immediately seeing Terry was serious and in fact had no idea what had happened. Puzzled, he raised his eyebrows as he said, “How do you not know? Everyone in the country probably knows. There was a shooting. It ended hours ago. ”
“Ok? So then why do I need to leave?”
“To be honest I’m not sure. It is an active crime scene upstairs, but it all seems pretty buttoned up really. Well, aside from all the dead people.” The officer seemed to relax after looking either way to see that no one else was in earshot of him.
“Dead people?” Terry asked.
“Yeah. He got like twelve or thirteen people. If you count him that’s like fourteen dead people.”
“That is a lot of people,” Terry said. As the officer continued speaking Terry had a somewhat strange realization that he did not care one bit about who in his office had died, but was sort of enjoying talking to this obese police officer. It occurred to him that it had been awhile since he’d actually wanted to talk someone. The “dead people upstairs” was shaping up to be a very interesting conversation. Although he’d knocked on the door with a sense of urgency the large officer made his way into Terry’s closet and sat in a metal folding chair beside the desk with a great exhale of relief as if the weight of the day’s events were being carried by just himself and he finally did not have to pretend to care about people he did not even know. The officer did not break stride in his story as he looked around his surroundings. The chair was right in front of a small digital camera Terry used to make co-worker’s IDs.
“Yeah, AR-17 buddy.”
“That’s big, right?” asked Terry.
“Yeah that’s big. Google it.”
As Terry turned to his computer the officer continued, “Yeah, backed his truck up to the fire exit on the back side of the building. He pushed…”
“That is a huge gun!” Terry interrupted.
“Sure is. He pushed a dumpster in front of the other door. He then walked around the building carrying one of those big bastards (pointing at the computer screen) in a box, said ‘how do you do’ to the lady at front desk, went back to, I guess, what is the big wig area, and just pow pow pow.”
“Gosh. I wonder how long he had been planning it.”
“Shit. Could have been years could have been ten minutes, but he made quite a mess.”
For the first time in a long time Terry felt excited to be in conversation. Terry even felt confident that once the conversation about people dying dried up he could segue into something about animals. Terry felt a strange urge to tell the officer about the octopus that can change color and was a master of disguise. Terry was in unfamiliar territory and became excited by it.
Then abruptly the officer strained to stand, “Well, we better get out of here.” And just that fast the conversation was over before it had really begun.
Terry now looked down at the chair for a moment and thought about that cop. He was not sure what he felt about that day but he did miss the cop even though their conversation had been so brief. They were both grown men. Terry could not have asked him to be his friend, but he wished he had. Terry typically felt intimidated by men in authority positions and never liked people who were overweight. Terry thought a lot about that man and the situation. Possibly since the man was so fat Terry felt some superiority to him, but him being a cop had balanced that. Or perhaps it was meeting someone who clearly cared as little for other people’s lives as he did. Terry would never know, but couldn’t remember another time he’d instantly felt comfortable with another person and for the first time in years thought, “I wish I had a friend.” He also thought about how powerful Paul must have felt when Ed’s pompous look left his tanned face in exchange for the terrified look that surely followed. Terry fantasied Paul pausing for a few moments just to breathe it in before pulling the trigger.
“No reason to dwell on the past” he thought and began watching a video about how there are miles and miles of tunnels under the city of Detroit.