larry and the witness

“I’m sorry Larry, but we have to let you go.”

“Let me go? Why?”

“Well, your profit margins are down.”

“My profit margins aren’t down, Jim,” Larry said, somewhat confused.

“Maybe they’re not down, but they’re not up either. Look, let’s not make this any harder than it has to be. I know that you’ve been here for 22 years, so it’s probably difficult for you to accept this. I get that. Really, I do. It’s just that we need some fresh blood managing the parts department.”

Larry’s boss was always talking about the virtues of “fresh blood” as if he were a disciple of Vlad the Impaler.

“So who’s going to be taking my position?” Larry already knew the answer, but he had to ask anyway.

“Tommy, of course. He’s a perfect fit.”

Larry had a feeling it was the beginning of the end when he started training Tommy. In college, Tommy played tight end for the Gophers. Caught a big pass against Wisconsin to win Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Larry’s boss Jim gabbed about that catch every chance he got, much like a father blanketed in vicarious pride. And now he was making Tommy parts manager even though the kid was always late to work and didn’t know a damned thing about inventory control.

“Larry, I want you to know that we here at Dodson Motors wish you the best of luck. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Now please go clean out your desk.”

On the drive home, Larry thought about having to find another job. Wondered what his wife would say. He hoped it wouldn’t lead to an argument. He hated fighting with her.

Larry’s wife was reading a book in the living room when he walked in. She looked up, glasses resting on the tip of her nose. “What are you doing home so early?”

“I got fired,” Larry said.

“Fired? What the hell for?”

“Jim said they wanted some fresh blood running the department.”

“Well what are you going to do? You have to work. We need the money.”

So as not to cause an uproar, Larry ignored the comment. He knew not to mention his wife’s video poker addiction, nor how she had drained their retirement account while casually drinking cranberry juice cocktail at the local casino.

“I’m just going to have to get another job,” he said. “Maybe as a windsurfing instructor. Or I could start my own dog walking business.”

Larry’s wife laughed, a hint of mockery in her tone. “Sure, and I’ll take up salsa dancing.”

The following day, Larry woke up with pain in his lower back. He went to the medicine cabinet, grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen and swallowed three of the little brown pills. He searched the want ads all morning, skipping over everything in the automotive field. Those days were in the past. He made a few phone calls. No one called him back. After dinner, he returned to the medicine cabinet for more of the little brown pills.

It took a week, but Larry eventually found something that interested him. When he told his wife that he had been hired on as a hospital security guard, she snickered.

“Security guard? You’ve got to be kidding,” she said.

“I’m not kidding,” Larry replied. “We need the money, and the benefits are good. I think it will be interesting.”

Larry quit the job three weeks later. When his wife asked what happened, Larry told her about a naked schizophrenic man who was brought in screaming about Satan.

“He kept saying the hospital was Purgatory and that he needed to escape,” Larry said. “Then he started calling me a ‘demonic sentry’. I don’t even know what that means. When we finally got him into one of the crisis rooms, he told me and the nurses that we were doing the Devil’s bidding by keeping him there. The guy was totally nuts. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

After that, Larry’s occupational adventurism was put back on the shelf. He called up a couple of dealerships that were looking for parts technicians. They both told Larry he was overqualified. He agreed, but still accepted a position at Hanson’s Chevrolet.

“But isn’t that a step down?” Larry’s wife asked.

“Yes,” Larry said, “but I don’t really have a choice. There aren’t any dealerships in the area that need a parts manager. Until something opens up, I’m stuck.”

Larry started his new job the following Monday. When he woke that morning, his feet were sore. He swallowed four of the little brown pills with breakfast. His wife smiled and told him to have a good day as he walked out the door.

At the dealership, Larry was greeted by his new manager Tom. Tom was younger than Larry, but not by more than a decade. The two had gotten along well during the interview and Larry felt that Tom was the type of man he could respect as a boss. Larry’s new co-workers were another story.

First, there was Jeff. Young and brash. Lazy, yet impetuous. Whenever Tom wasn’t in the room, Jeff would go on Facebook or look at porn. Then he’d complain that he didn’t get paid enough (to go on Facebook and look at porn). Larry wondered how the kid still had a job.

Next, there was Robert. 35 years old. Wife and five kids. A good man, but born slightly stupid. Always had a question about how to navigate the computer. Larry knew that he’d be running circles around Robert even with his plantar fasciitis. At least he’s not watching gang-bang videos, Larry said to himself.

The last of Larry’s co-workers was named Franklin. Franklin stood 6’7” with broad shoulders and thick arms, skin the color of chocolate ganache. When he walked, his footsteps echoed through the department like raps on a heavy door. Larry found himself feeling intimidated by Franklin, especially since the giant man kept to himself and didn’t say much of anything.

Just before lunch, Larry was sitting at his terminal completing an order when Franklin let out a big sneeze that sounded like a train pulling away from its station. “Bless you,” Larry said. Everyone in the department looked up from what they were doing. The tension was palpable.

“Please don’t say that to me,” Franklin replied. “I’m a Jehovah’s Witness. We believe that God is the only one who can bless us.”

“Oh,” said Larry. “I didn’t know.”

“That’s okay, just don’t do it again,” Franklin said, then returned to his computer screen.

Jeff looked over at Larry and chuckled. Tom went back to his phone call. Robert breathed a sigh of relief as if a fight had been averted. Meanwhile, Larry was stewing in embarrassment even though he knew that he’d done nothing wrong. Larry hated political correctness, especially when it came to religion. Still, he didn’t want to offend anyone. It just wasn’t in his nature.

At lunch, Robert told Larry of an altercation that occurred between Franklin and one of the mechanics. Supposedly, the same thing happened once before except that the mechanic didn’t apologize. Instead, he told Franklin to go fuck himself before launching into ridicule. Eventually, Franklin had enough and got in the guy’s face. Tom had to break it up. The mechanic was fired for harassment the very next day. The topic had been a sensitive one ever since.

“Wow,” Larry said, wondering if his new job was just as crazy as his last.

“I wouldn’t worry about it though,” Robert said. “You seem like a nice guy, and Franklin’s a gentle giant. He just got pushed too far, that’s all.”

The rest of the day was somewhat tense and uncomfortable for Larry. He didn’t want there to be any problems between him and Franklin. He would respect the man’s request. But Larry also didn’t want to tiptoe around a self-righteous co-worker. He already had to walk on glass with his mother-in-law and her Evangelic convictions.

Larry woke up with a headache the following morning. He popped four of the little brown pills into his mouth and washed them down with a glass of orange juice. When he got to work, Franklin asked to speak with him.

“I wanted to apologize if I came off like a jerk yesterday,” Franklin said.

“It’s no problem,” Larry replied. “I won’t bless you anymore.”

Franklin smiled. “Thank you for understanding, Larry. I look forward to working with you.”

Later that afternoon, Tom was consulting with the service manager at the counter while Jeff checked status updates on Facebook and Robert tried to figure out how to cut and paste in an email. Franklin was at his desk working hard as usual. Then the big man sneezed. “Achoo!”

Everyone looked over at Franklin, then to Larry. Larry felt the need to act.

“Go to Hell,” he said.

Jeff’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. Robert gasped. Both Tom and the service manager tensed up as if preparing to intervene in a brawl. Franklin stared at Larry for second, then smiled. Everyone else sighed.

Larry returned home that evening to find his wife cooking chicken parmesan. Larry loved chicken parmesan. He even had seconds. Before going to bed, Larry went to the medicine cabinet out of habit. He was all out of little brown pills.

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