By Dr. Mullin
It had been four years – four slow, ignoble years – since Donald had last tasted the delectably sweet notes of leadership on his proud tongue. Far too long, he though, since he had walked into that famous oblong office and, without shame, planted his resignation on the desk of the most powerful man in the world.
He understood why it had to happen that way. The President had explained it to him, and he was almost as good at explaining things as Donald was.
“People are calling for my head,” the President had said, “but instead I’m going to give them yours to try and shut them up.”
Donald had no quarrel with the President over this decision. The President’s logic was infallible, a fact Donald knew very well from five years of faithful service to the man.
But it had been too long, and Donald knew that to stave off the inevitable mad rush of power-seeking synapses, he would have to get a new job, one befitting of the world’s most loyal former secretary of defense.
He finished filling out his W2 form and slid it across the desk, along with his job application, to the man on the other side who was wearing a nametag that said, “Ernie.”
Ernie looked over the forms and then up at Donald.
“Well Donald, this all looks up to snuff, and I’m proud to tell you that I’ve already made my decision,” he said. “Your reputation precedes you, and I would be glad to make you the manager at this branch of the GAP.”
They both stood and Donald gave Ernie an award-winning handshake. Ernie sat back down and reached inside one of his desk drawers, pulling out a shiny, golden “MANAGER” nametag. He handed it to Donald.
“You will be working with our existing assistant manager, Alan,” Ernie explained. “He usually spends his time walking the floor. He’s a hands-on type of person, but you can absolutely feel free to have him adopt a new policy if you think it would work better.”
Donald picked up the nametag and pinned it to his suit jacket. The engraved metal felt smooth and clean. Ernie smiled at his new employee.
“Well, without further ado I’ll let you get to work, Donald.” He put his hand on Donald’s shoulder. “I know you’ll do a great job. Good luck!”
With that, Ernie picked up his things and walked out of the office, leaving Donald exactly where he needed to be: in charge.
Donald walked out of his new office and surveyed the rest of the store. He smiled. This was a good feeling, and his acute instincts told him that the next few months would be a sterling mark on the resume for his new career.
Weeks passed, and Donald familiarized himself with his store and his personnel, and soon he felt the confidence of someone who had been doing this job for years. He planned on climbing the corporate ladder further, but in one short moment, those dreams were squashed like a spider in an arachnophobe’s bedroom.
Donald was at his desk going over sales figures for the past month when Alan, the assistant manager, came in.
“Donald we have a major problem,” Alan said between rapid breaths. “No one seems to know where the new shipment of men’s jeans is, and we need to get them in before peak season starts!”
Donald gave Alan a quizzical look and consulted a particularly stacked pile of papers to his left. He ruffled through them, then looked back up at Alan.
“We know where they are,” he said.
Alan’s terrified expression softened in relief. “Thank goodness! Where are they?”
“They’re in the area around the loading dock and the warehouse and east, west, south and north somewhat.”
Alan narrowed his eyes, confused. “So…you have no idea where they are?”
Donald looked back down at the papers in front of him. He pointed a guiding finger at a chart, seeming to study it for a moment.
“We do know of certain knowledge that they are either in the loading dock, in the factory or in some other place,” he said. He looked up at Alan too see if his second-in-command was satisfied with this response.
The assistant manager’s eyes were still squinted, and now his mouth had opened slightly in bewildered amazement. He shook it off and started pacing the office.
“Donald, can you please just admit that you don’t know where the jeans are?” he pleaded. “I mean, we are in a real quagmire here and we need to figure it out!”
“I don’t do quagmires,” Donald said with a shake of his head, still staring at the charts in front of him.
Alan stopped pacing. “Well you better do this one! Do you have any idea how big of an ass-kicking Ernie is going to give us if we don’t fix this?”
Donald shook his head again. “I don’t do predictions.”
Alan’s fingers tightened together into fists, shaking as he tried to control his anger. He let out an exasperated growl, took out his cell phone and left the office. Donald looked up to offer reassurance, but Alan was already gone.
Moments later, Alan walked back into Donald’s office, waving his cell phone.
“Just wanted you to know, Ernie is coming in tomorrow since you apparently can’t handle this one,” he said with a sneer.
Donald held up his hands. “Now settle down, settle down,” he said. “Hell, I’m an old man and it’s early in the morning and I’m gathering my thoughts here.”
Alan threw his hands up in frustration and then pointed at the clock on the wall of Donald’s office.
“Early?” he said incredulously. “It’s almost closing time already, you useless fogey!”
Donald opened his mouth to protest, but Alan stormed out and headed for the break room before he could say anything.
The next day, Ernie and his managers were in the break room before opening, studying a table full of charts and invoices.
“This is not good, gentlemen,” Ernie said. “We need to figure this out before next week, or we will have bare shelves once the fall sales start.” He turned to Donald. “Before we talk about this let’s make sure of one thing: this is the only shipment that’s missing, right Donald?”
Donald moved some papers around on the table. “If I said yes, that would then suggest that it might be the only one missing, which would not be accurate, necessarily. It might also not be inaccurate, but I'm disinclined to mislead anyone.”
Ernie’s eyes widened in panic, and Alan smacked him on the shoulder.
“You see?” Alan said. “This is what I was talking about! Ridiculous!”
Ernie rubbed his eyes. He leaned his head back, rested for a moment, then took a deep breath. He turned to Alan.
“Alan, please do me a favor and get started tracking down those shipments.” He worriedly scratched the back of his head. “If we don’t find them and get them in here soon, it’s going to be all of our butts when corporate finds out.”
Alan stood and gave his boss a viciously overdone salute. “I’m on it, sir. I’ll go through all the paperwork we have and get in touch with the shipping company.” He rushed out of the break room.
Ernie turned to Donald, disappointment evident in his features. He looked down at the break room table and shook his head solemnly.
“This is pretty bad, Donald,” he said.
Donald began wringing his hands. “Well, um, you know, nothing is really good or bad, but thinking makes it so, I suppose, as Shakespeare said.”
Ernie gave him a sad smile. “Perhaps, but this time I don’t think that’s how it is.” He gathered up the documents on the table and began assembling a neat stack. “Why didn’t you listen to Alan when he told you he was worried about the shipment? Didn’t you agree with him that it was a problem?”
“Alan and I agree on every single issue that has been before our managerial partnership,” Donald said. “Except for those instances where he is still learning.”
“I don’t think he is still learning,” Ernie said. “And I’m afraid that I’m going to have to promote him to manager.”
Donald’s face suddenly became very somber, and he slowly moved his hand from the table up to grasp his gleaming, golden badge. He remembered how fresh and energetic he felt when it was given to him weeks ago, but now it felt tarnished, sullied, like he feared his reputation was about to become.
Ernie held out his left hand. “Your badge, please, Donald.”
Donald knew there was no use fighting Ernie’s decision, just like four years ago. He reached inside his jacket and undid the pin holding his nametag in place. He gathered the pieces and deposited them in Ernie’s palm.
Ernie’s fingers closed around the glossy metal components. He reached toward Donald with his other hand, offering a conciliatory handshake. Not wanting to be rude, Donald returned the gesture.
Donald got up and walked out of the break room, heading for the back exit of the store. He pulled out his cell phone and placed a call to his agent.
The phone rang twice, and the third ring was interrupted by a cheerful, “Hello?”
“David? Yes, good afternoon, it’s Donald. I’d like to schedule a press conference.”
Listening to: The New Pornographers, Go Places