MAN OVERBOARD

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A new comic serial about a man, his life and the path of most resistance

‘A Break for Freedom’

By Leif Ecklert

“Do you know how long I’ve worked here?” Cindy asked me. I was collecting an order from the prep table right next to her office. She had come out to talk.

Cindy was small, maybe a little taller than five feet, maybe not. If she ever weighed a hundred pounds she was carrying a sack filled with bricks. Her hair was black, thick, with small, silvery inconsistent streaks of gray. It was always tied in a pony tail that exploded from the back of her head.

She looked at me with those cutting, intense, unrelenting green eyes. Her gaze made me look away, even as it demanded an answer.

“Twelve years.” I said.

“Close, it was eleven two months ago.” She said, with a soft, sad sigh.

“Your picture says twelve.” Every employee had a picture hanging on the wall by the time clock. Name, title and years of service. A little monument to association.

“I know, there was a real tool in personnel my first year. He thought after your first anniversary it was year two. It was almost Gregorian to him, a holy writ, like he was performing a miracle. No matter what I said he wouldn’t change it, and then it became fact and every new human resource person kept up the stupidity, no matter what I said. They must take an oath.” She explained.

“Oh,” I said, not really comfortable.

“I started in your job, assembly. Worked my up, did every job in the department, and then they made me supervisor. I can still do every job. Pretty damned well, too.” She said, looking into her coffee.

Cindy was small, but she was huge in this department. A dynamo, a perpetual motion machine, a whirling dervish, a screaming dizbuster, a non-stop tempest, movement, purpose, skill and knowledge bundled in a frumpy cotton jacket that might have been a lab coat, always carrying a clipboard with a lanyard holding a pen and a cup of coffee. The cup said “World’s Greatest Surfer” she bought it in Hawaii. She washed it every day, and never used a different cup. She hired me, trained me and her intensity scared me. But, this was a side I had never seen before, a melancholic, reflective side. And it scared me even more.

“I loved working here. It was a calling—I have names for every machine. Those scissors you’re holding, I bought those with my own money when the economy tanked and the company was in trouble. But, Leif, I hate this place since the new owners, those bankers bought it.” She said the word bankers as if she were talking about something evil, something inhuman. “All they want me to do is sit in front of that stupid computer, filling out forms, filing reports.”

“None of the supervisors are happy.” It was true, I had seen them grouping in tight little knots in hallways, beside machines, looking left and right, secretive. Whispering and breaking apart, only to reform by the coffee machine, a dissatisfied amoeba.

Displaying the most terrible timing possible the plant manager walked around the corner of Cindy’s office. He was big, football player big. His shirt was pressed smooth, straight, sharp pleats in his pants, his tie hung straight, a tasteful tie pin holding it in place. Even his hair looked ironed, it was that combed. He smiled, and it looked superior, a smug, school principal smile. The kind of smile that precedes the punishment.

“I didn’t get your 579-4/a Manpower Projection Estimate report last night. It was due at 23:59. Did the server hang up?” He was trying to offer her a way out, a simple excuse for what he saw as her recalcitrance.

“No, I didn’t have time. Machine 3 stuck, and I had to clear the problem. It wasn’t opening the circuit and the head wouldn’t lower. It is fixed, up and running, turning a profit now, though.” She said, trying to speak his language.

“Oh,” he understood now, “you should have filled out 1421-c Machine Repair, Electronics. One of the guys would have been here this morning.” He said, “you moron” was left unsaid, but implied by tone.

“I didn’t need ‘one of the guys’ I just fixed it.” She said, “you asshole” unsaid, but obvious.

The fury of their mutual dislike was a force that pushed me away, waves of anger rushed in all directions. They stood there, looking each other in the face. A title fight, between two behemoths, in this corner, the petite, disheveled Cindy, and in the far corner the hulking, impeccably groomed plant manager.

I ended up by the door between the die cut department and the sewing room. A crowd had formed. The sewing room manager was on his cell phone, and said, “The balloon is going up, the balloon is definitely going up.”

“Do you think I can have that form this morning?” the plant manager asked. Staring at Cindy, I wanted him to blink. My eyes were starting to dry in sympathy.

“No, I don’t, I think you can kiss me in the area of my ass.” Cindy said, and lifting her pen high in the air, the clipboard dangling between them she reached up with her other hand and broke the pen in half, it made an oddly appropriate snap. The clipboard fell to the floor with a clatter. She poured her coffee on the floor at his feet, and dropped the cup. It broke into pieces.

Cindy made a fist, held it high in the air and walked out. Followed by the sewing room supervisor, the shipping/receiving coordinator, the art room director, and the reclamation lead person.

“Far out, man,” the janitor, who was standing next to me, said. He walked past the plant manager, and gave the coffee soaked clipboard a kick, and walked out. A line of defiant, insubordinate ex-supervisors and a disgruntled, hungover janitor.

It was so moving I decided to cast my lot with the quitters. I had never planned on working here for long. It was only until something better came along.  This was the impetus to move. Freedom lay just outside that door. I started walking toward the exit, shoulders back, head held high, I was “the man.”

It was so convincing the plant manager stopped me mid-exit and shook my hand. “It is nice to see someone step up,” he said. “You are the kind of take-charge guy we need, Liam. You’re the new supervisor. Get somebody to clean up that mess and I need that report by the end of the day.”

“It’s Leif,” I said as he walked away. The next day there was a box of business cards on my desk. “Liam Ecklert, Die Cut Supervisor.” Eleven years later I still have most of them.

Leif Erklart chased success from Iowa to Ohio. He found glory managing a small department in a small production facility owned by a huge corporation. Married to the woman of his dreams, father of two sons, and firmly entrenched in the middle of the road.