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STICKING IT TO THE MAN


By Tom Waltz
Copyright © 2001





"I gotta get goin'," I told my co-worker, Bob, over the cubicle wall. It was about 4:20 in the afternoon. I'm not supposed to leave work until 5:00, but I figured, What the hay? It was Friday and nothing was really going on. What was forty minutes going to hurt? Besides, I'm one of those guys who's always pushing the envelope, if you know what I mean. A real rule breaker. "Gotta fill up the Festiva before the traffic gets too thick," I finished as I was shutting down the computer at my desk.

"Hey, what do you mean?" It was Bob. "You can't do that, man. Don't you know what today is?" He stood up from his seat and slowly moved to the opening of my cubicle, blocking my exit.

"Hell yes I know," I grinned. "It's TGIF day, my man! Party time!"

"No, not that. Dude, don't you read your e-mails? Today's the big 'Great American Gas Out' day. Everyone's boycotting the gas stations to protest the way the oil companies are gouging us Californians at the pumps. Didn't you know?"

Truth is, I did know, but had totally forgotten. I remembered getting the e-mail that had called for the "Great American Gas Out", but was pretty sure I had just glossed over it, then deleted it right away. I'd been under a bit of scrutiny for some so-called "unethical" things I'd done over the internet at work recently, so I was kind of being careful about what I kept saved on my machine, especially things like chain e-mails. I mean, I didn't think it was such a huge deal what I did, but apparently the company wasn't too fond of their employees using their corporate American Express cards to access porn sites via the company's web server during business hours.

Go figure.

How they pinpointed me, I'll never know. All I do know is that I got a call from Accounts Payable one day about some expense reports I had turned in, which, according to them, contained some questionable write offs.

"Mr. Ellsworth," the accountant on the line had said. Quite honestly, I don't remember her name. Hell, AP's not even located in the same building as my department--the company is that big. You could get lost in the place, no shit. So, you can imagine my surprise when I was picked out of all the thousands of employees who turn in expense reports weekly to explain my charges to this person. Anyways, I'll call her "Edna", cause I'm sure there's probably someone over there with that name; it sounds so accountant-ish.

"Yes," I replied.

"Mr. Ellsworth, this is Edna from Accounts Payable. I'm holding your last two expense reports in my hand, and I have to tell you that they appear to be a bit, um, suspicious."

Suspicious? They seemed pretty straightforward to me. "Why's that?" I asked Edna.

"Well, there are a few charges you've made using your company-issued credit card to pay for, um, well, what appears to be pornographic purchases over the Internet." I could hear Edna clear her throat on the other line, obviously uncomfortable with having to call me on this. I, on the other hand, was fine.

"Yeah," I said. "I did include a few things like that on the reports. I didn't think it would be a problem. They're not for that much."

Edna paused before answering. "Mr. Ellsworth," she finally said. "It's not the amount that is in question, so much, as is the nature of the transactions. You do realize that it is considered unethical by the company to utilize their hardware or software for reasons other than work-related ones, don't you?"

I did. It was the last form I signed before they let me out of new employee orientation my first day at the company. A rite of passage, I suppose. "I do," is all I said.

"Well, then, you can understand why we can't pay this amount back to you. Plus, you need to know that I am bound by company policy to report this to my superiors." Edna cleared her throat again. "Accessing pornography at work is taken quite seriously, Mr. Ellsworth."

Well, duh! I thought. I always took my porno seriously. "Edna," I said. "It really wasn't that bad. I mean, I really wouldn't call what I looked at 'pornography'."

Another pause. "Sir," Edna finally said. "How can you say that... that..." she grew quieter, as if she didn't want those around her to hear. I could barely make out what she was saying. "That www.handjobs.com and www.backdoorman.com are not pornographic?"

It was a fair question. "I'm not saying they're not, exactly. What I'm saying is that I didn't access them for pornographic purposes. I thought 'handjobs' was a site for carpal tunnel syndrome sufferers like myself. You know how bad working on a computer all day can be to your wrists, don't you? Anways, by the time I found out what it was really about, I had already charged it to the card, so I figured I might as well get what the company paid for."

On the other end of the phone Edna made a funny noise with her lips. "I see," she said. "And the other charge?" she asked, kind of breathy. I think she was trying not to laugh.

"Well, I've been doing some renovations on the back porch of my house lately, and..." But before I could finish, Edna exploded with laughter, forcing me to pull the phone away from my ear. I held it at arm's length until I could hear that she had finally calmed down. With the phone back by my ear, I continued: "So, what I meant before was that I hit those sites by accident, not for pornographic purposes, and I thought the company would reimburse me for that." Edna started laughing again. Man, I never thought accountants could laugh so much.

"Mr. Ellsworth," she said between snickers. "That has got to be the best one I have heard in all my time with this company. Really! How can you expect us to believe that?"

The fact was, I didn't expect anything, most of all getting audited. Christ! The company made billions of dollars every year. What was $29.95 times two to a huge, profitable corporation like that?

"Christ!" I said to Edna. "This company makes billions of dollars every year..." (you know the rest.)

"I told you, sir, it's not the amount that we are at odds with," she replied, all laughter gone now. She sounded like an accountant again. "It's the principle of the matter. Employees are strictly forbidden to do what you did, Mr. Ellsworth. If it is not reported, there will be an epidemic of these kinds of charges, I can assure you. Trust me: $29.95 here and there really starts to add up after awhile."

I did trust her. It's just that I didn't see what that had to do with my expense report. I wasn't about to tell anybody about it, so it would be sheer coincidence if anybody else took the chance I had. And, most people aren't like me... you know: envelope pushers, rule breakers. I didn't think they should expect a rash of pornographic expense reports.

"C'mon, Edna," I pleaded. "Give me a break. It wasn't that much, and you know it."

"Well, if you must insist on focusing on the amount, Mr. Ellsworth, let me remind you that this is an employee-owned company. Every penny you steal away from it directly affects my pocketbook, and I don't take too kindly to that. You shouldn't, either, because you are an employee as well, and you are only robbing yourself when you do these things."

Now that didn't make any sense to me at all, because I fully intended on paying myself back once the expense report was approved and processed. I knew I was beat, though, when she pulled the employee-ownership argument out of her hat. It was one of the selling points to prospective employees of our company: a share of ownership through an internal stock purchase program. It was very popular, but it sure did cause a lot of problems whenever you needed things like office supplies. Do you really need it? The supply people would argue. Every paper clip is a knock against the profit line, you know.

Sheesh!

Furthermore, now that I really think about it, if the company truly was employee owned, how come I never had any input into company policy? I mean, I was an employee as well, just as Edna had reminded me. I should have had a say in important matters like whether or not an employee deserved to charge a little stress-relieving, hardcore, electronic action to their company credit card once in awhile.

"Okay, Edna," I surrendered. "Forget the expense reports. Tear 'em up. I'll pay the bills myself."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Ellsworth, I can't do that. It would be going against company policy, not to mention my job responsibility. You will have to pay the charges, but I will still have to report this to my boss."

I was angry and frustrated, but I'm the kind of guy who stays laid back at all times, even when I'm angry and frustrated. "No way around it?" I asked, knowing the answer. "Nothing I can do?"

"I'm sorry. No. It wouldn't be right."

Wouldn't be right? What did that mean? And to whom? "Fine," I said to Edna. Fucking bitch, I said to myself.

"That's all I have, Mr. Ellsworth. Do you have any questions for me?"

Yeah, I thought. Do you want me to show you what I learned on www.backdoorman.com? Out loud I said, "No, Edna. No I don't."

"Okay, then," she replied. "I guess that's it." But before she hung up, she added, "Oh, and, Mr. Ellsworth. Good luck with your wrists." There was a burst of laughter over the line, and then the connection went dead.

About a week later I was reprimanded by my boss and put on a ninety-day probation period so my value as an employee could be re-evaluated. The ball was in my court, the boss had said. It was up to me. Rule breaker that I am, I needed the job, so I did my best to stay as close to the straight and narrow as I could.

And now, eighty-eight days after the boss had grilled me, I figured it was all behind me. Who would care if I left forty minutes early? What the hay? It was Friday and nothing was really going on. Problem was, co-worker Bob had my escape covered.

"Sure," I said to him. "I knew about the 'Gas Out'. Guess I forgot."

"Man, how could you forget something like that?" He asked. He seemed exasperated about the whole thing, and his tone reminded me of Edna's when she had slapped me with her employee ownership sermon. "Don't tell me you're still planning on buying gas today? You want to keep taking it in the ass from OPEC and the oil companies, or do you want to stand up for your rights as a consumer?"

The way I saw it, my rights as a consumer meant I could buy things that people were selling if I wanted to... or not-no matter the price. I never thought it meant that, because I was a consumer, I should always expect low prices. Of course, I already told you before: I don't expect much.

"Well," I said to Bob. "It's just that the Festiva's down past empty right now, and I'm not sure if I have enough to get home."

Bob clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "C'mon, man! It's a Festiva for cryin' out loud. That thing will probably go for fifty more miles with what you have left. Don't worry about it. Just worry about helping the rest of us in sticking it to The Man!"

Bob's retro-hippie talk and wild, staring eyes were starting to freak me out, but I figured he was probably right about my car. Hell, it didn't amount to more than a big roller-skate with a Ford engine, anyway. It would probably get me home. Besides, deep down I was all for sticking it to this "Man" Bob was so pissed about, especially if I was suffering as a result of The Man's actions--whether I really felt it or not.

"Yeah, you're probably right," I told him, wanting to end the discussion and get my Friday going. "I can always fill up on the way into work on Monday, I suppose." I had no intentions of going anywhere during the weekend, except back and forth to my fridge to get a fresh, cold beer.

"That's the spirit, bro!" Bob clapped me on the shoulder. "We'll get these gas prices down yet, man. You'll see." He stepped away from my cube, and I immediately beat a hasty retreat, away from him and the company.

Friday!!!

Well, today it's Monday, and I am no longer an employee owner. I was fired this morning. Half way to the gas station, the ol' Festiva conked out on me. Ran out of gas. I had to hike to the station, get a can of gas, and then hike back to my car. It took forever at the station cause there was a huge group of people, strangely dressed like myself, standing in line to buy gas cans. At the front of the line, the station owner was ear-to-ear grinning as he punched each new sale into the cash register. I tapped the guy in front of me on the shoulder.

"What's goin' on, man?" I asked.

"I don't know 'bout these others," he replied, motioning toward the other line standers. "All I know is I skipped out on gas for the 'Gas Out' thing, and now I'm stuck here cause my car ran out this morning. Shit, I'm late as hell. My boss is gonna kill me."

I didn't respond, but after a bit of eavesdropping, I quickly found out that it was the same for every one else in line. Boy, sticking it to The Man was pretty miserable doings, if you ask me.

By the time I got to work, I was already two hours late. A yellow post-it note stuck to my computer monitor greeted me when I entered my cube. The words "See Me"--written in my boss's handwriting--were on it.

When I entered his office, he asked me to close the door and sit down. Never a good sign.

"Chris," he began, folding his hands together in front of him on his desk. "We're going to have to let you go." Talk about coming to the point. "Your probation has yet to expire, and still you have been found to be leaving from work early, and now coming in two hours late today. I'm afraid we just can't support such actions within the company."

I leaned forward in my chair. "I only left early once, Brad. Last Friday. And I was late today cause my car ran out of gas. See..." I held my hands out in front of me for him to view. "They're still dirty from the gas can I used to put gas in my car on the side of the road." I noticed he wasn't even looking at my hands so I pulled them back. "It's not like this happens every day," I reminded him.

"That's not the point, Chris." He leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling. "The point is that you have a record of unethical behavior, and there comes a point in time where that has to be nipped in the bud. I can maybe see why you were late today, but that still doesn't explain why you left early on Friday."

"Well," I said. "It's just that my car was low on gas on Friday and I wanted to beat the traffic cause I wasn't going to be able to stop and fill it up cause of the 'Great American Gas Out' that was going on."

"'Gas Out?'" my boss asked, looking at me with one eyebrow cocked. "What's that?"

"You know... the one from the e-mail. Asking everybody to not buy gas for one day to stick it to the oil companies. That's why..."

"Chris," my boss interrupted. "We don't allow that type of e-mail at this company."

Fifteen minutes later I was cleaning out my desk. All the while I couldn't help but notice that Bob remained silent and inconspicuous in his cube.

Whatever.

Anyways, that was about six hours ago. I've been drinking all day since I got home, and I'm feeling pretty toasty right about now. I'm unemployed and soon-to-be broke, and that's a bummer, but I'll be all right. After all, I'm the kind of guy who stays laid back, even if I'm unemployed and soon-to-be broke. Hell, I'll bet I can even have fun with this. You know, my own little rebellion against the company.

I'll call it the "Great American Job Out"!




Send correspondence to tom@3ampublishing.com




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