"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
"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.
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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.
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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
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.
"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
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"!