Stan of Changes
After thirty-eight years, the universe revealed to Stan his destiny through a typo in an intra-office memo. With the recent downturn of the economy, the company was going through a period of readjustment. Stan’s position as the Head of Administrative Acquisitions and Maintenance Coordination, though by no means glamorous, was relatively secure. No matter how many people worked in the office, they would always need such office supplies such as printer paper, pens, white out, computers, chairs, and desks; and the executives could not be expected to make purchases themselves. There was also the constant need for IT tech support, printer repair, and maintenance of the heating and air conditioning systems for the building that warranted full-time attention. No, Stan wasn’t going anywhere, unless the whole office was closed and downsized. This basic fact did not stop Stan from worrying.
It was the new consultant, Ms. Sweetin, brought in to streamline the operations and increase efficiency, who really worried him. She worried everyone in the office, and her confident and perky demeanor gave off the impression of a secret ruthlessness that truly struck fear into employee hearts, especially the heart of Stan. When she entered the office in the morning, the resonance of her heels on the tile of the entranceway sounded distinct from anyone else’s, driving Stan’s pulse into a harder rhythm than it was previously pounding in expectation of her entrance. Once her heels left the tiles and hit the carpet that covered the whole office except for the conference room, their silence—or stealth mode—became a more dangerous trigger to Stan’s anxiety, his right hand trembling uncontrollably on his coffee mug. He would perk his ears to listen to her high lilting voice as it cheerfully greeted every person she passed, from cubicle to cubicle, on the way to her office, mapping her direction and progress away from him. After he knew she was contained, he would reflexively dab a Kleenex to the sweat on his bald head and adjust the belt across his rotund gut repeatedly, until he could resume work.
For the first week, his terror was Pavlovian, waiting for her to enter, hearing her enter and go stealth, listening for her to make her way to her office, and then waiting for the axe. That first week saw little else of Ms. Sweetin, as she spent most of the time in her office or the conference room, going over the employment records, office productivity reports, past quarter budgets and earnings, and meeting regularly with the CFO. Stan went about his day noticeably shaken and disturbed to any who cared to notice, but most people around the office didn’t normally notice Stan. When there was a paper jam or computer problem, or some supply ran low, the executives normally just told the receptionist, Kara. She then called, texted, or walked a post-it note over to Stan with the request or problem.
Attractive, blond, and practically translucent, Kara was a receptionist and nothing more. She was hired for that position, assumed that title, and gave no thought to any other function other than reception. She smiled when people entered the office, receiving them. She smiled when she answered the phone, receiving the call. As far as Kara was concerned, anything else was Stan’s job. When Kara was fired at 4:30 on the Friday at the end of Ms. Sweetin’s first week, Stan began to truly panic, believing that he was next.
That weekend was a rough one for Stan. His one bedroom apartment—full of all his favorite Marvel and DC comics super heroes and Simpsons characters lining the walls, some hermetically sealed, some out and ready for action—was less welcoming and inspirational than normal. As quick as any other weekend, he was out of his sweaty work clothes and into his purple bathrobe with random stars taped to the back, but he couldn’t relax. He ate a whole low-fat Hungry Man Family-Size chicken pot pie, his favorite, to no avail. Stan was plagued by foreboding. After a TiVo-ed episode of Battlestar Galactica, he courted sleep forcefully with the aid of allergy medicine.
Saturday was no different. No different as far as his normal activities and no different as far as his mounting anxiety level. He woke late and set about his work. It began with cereal, then television, then the full round-up of his favorite Internet sites, and then back to his star charts. The coverage of the window shades was tightened and the lights were turned out. The star charts glowed in the dark on the breakfast table, the only table, and the stars covering half the ceiling glowed too. He was ready to put up Orion, the hunter, the greatest superhero in the night sky. All the pieces fit, leading to this great figure, squared off and strong. Stan knew nothing more about the constellation Orion than the name and the description of “hunter,” yet making that shape on his ceiling with plastic stars brought to life the image in a way that stirred his soul.
By night he would be tired of, and from, this activity, and with the shades still drawn to the true night sky, he would turn in early, as he often did on weekends. Sunday was more of the same for his project, filling in plastic stars to accentuate the superhero in the sky. With every increasing breath, before he finally forced his way to sleep, his heart felt like it might explode.
Monday was the fated day for Stan, the day of destiny. He felt it in his bones, and the ache of his stomach, and he supposed it was a destiny of doom, but Stan was often wrong about what the universe had in store for him. His coffee mug was not joking when it declared that he hated Mondays, and this felt like the worst he had ever woken up to. He arrived before everyone else and passed Kara’s empty desk on the way to his own. Her desk was always empty when he arrived, everyone’s was, but he knew hers would remain empty and he read this as an omen. He sat and waited, waited for each hand on the door, each heel to the tiles, until eventually he heard the sound of her heels, different from every other sound of footwear to the very same tiles.
She was the fifth person to arrive, Ms. Sweetin, and once she hit stealth mode she was straight on down the good morning line to her office. Stan could barely gasp. He could barely sip enough coffee to wet his dry mouth and throat. It is coming, he thought, it is coming, over and over again. Until it came, after an hour, on his desk, dropped off by Ms. Sweetin herself with a smile and wink: an intra-office memo. It began with introductions, re-introductions actually, the usual As you all my know, I am Ms. Janet Sweetin, and I am here to better your work environment through an increase in productivity through greater efficiency…
Stan continued to read down through all of the talk about restructuring, and cultivating resources through valuing what is working and eliminating what isn’t, waiting for that axe, and feeling the hairs at the back of his neck stand in expectation of the blade. His peripheral vision caught the best of him, and he picked up a trace of his name further down the page than he had yet to read. He rushed to that paragraph. Reading fast, his comprehension was one step behind the words. As you all have noticed, the receptionist, Kara, was let go on Friday; and in lieu of replacing her we are reallocating all of her duties to where they belonged in the first place. Stan, The Head of Administrative Acquisitions and Maintenance Coordination, will be taking on the surplus duties and responsibilities. All functions of an Office Manager will be his. Please continue to operate as you always have and stay the course, but if anything should arise please notify Stan of Changes. He can make it happen!
He read it again. And again. Slower and slower, drawing his mind, and his lips, over each word, mouthing them out. It was that last sentence that initially got him; it ended with an exclamation point. But before it, the three sentences before it, all needed review. Kara was gone. She would not be replaced. He was mentioned with his title. Then a new title, Office Manager, all the functions of which will be his. That, he was slowly digesting. But the second to last sentence, it came on so cavalierly, addressing everyone about upholding protocol, and yet did it not end with another title? Did he have that right? He was Stan, Head of Administrative Acquisitions and Maintenance Coordinator, who assumed all the functions of an Office Manager, and was now dubbed Stan of Changes? That is what it said, in caps: Stan of Changes. He can make it happen!
That night he went home to a welcome of painted plastic fanfare lining the walls. He turned on the television, but forgot it was on while he heated his dinner. He didn’t put his purple bathrobe on, but nonetheless stripped down and drew it from the closet. At the kitchen table, Stan laid the bathrobe down and collected some plastic stars, seven large and two small. Removing the taped stars from the purple cloth and plugging in his hot glue gun to warm up, he brought his dinner from the microwave to the counter by the table.
Seven stars he glued in place, each one just right, with the two smaller ones for the tip of the sword and top of the head. Dutifully, he waited for them to dry before he put on the robe. He didn’t even finish his Hungry Man. He opened the window shades, and as he stood up against the night, with the sky and stars all around him, the constellation shape he bore fit in perfectly.
Jordan A. Rothacker is the author of the novella, The Pit, and No Other Stories (Black Hill Press, 2015), and the forthcoming novel, And Wind Will Wash Away (Deeds Publishing, Fall 2016). He lives in Athens, GA where he is currently a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia (where he also received a MA in Religion). His book-length dissertation in progress is titled On Cultural Guerrilla Warfare: Art As Action. Rothacker’s journalism has graced the pages of magazines as diverse as Vegetarian Times and International Wristwatch and his fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in such periodicals as The Exquisite Corpse, Mayday, Curbside Splendor, Red River Review, As It Ought To Be, Dark Matter, and Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag. Three of his favorite things to talk about are sandwiches, revolution, and his cat, Whiskey. For more see jordanrothacker.com