Bobby Ryan was as surprised as anybody when he was named Employee of the Month at the data entry center. He had been on the job for a little over a year and didn’t think he’d distinguished himself too much one way or the other. He showed up on time every day, never called out sick and carried out his duties competently and without complaint. If that was enough to qualify him for Employee of the Month, then so be it.
The perks enjoyed by the Employee of the Month were minor, but Bobby wouldn’t have wanted a whole lot of hoopla anyway. He received a $20 gift card to a local eating establishment and a display with his photo and a brief write-up on the office wall (if they had an in-house newsletter, he might have been interviewed for it, but they didn’t, so he wasn’t), but the most tangible benefit was the use of the Employee of the Month parking space, which was right across from the building’s entrance. The trouble was he never got to park in it.
Bobby had been named Employee of the Month two weeks earlier and every day somebody was already parked in the spot when he arrived in the morning. And it wasn’t the same person every day, either. If it had been, it would have been simple enough to find out who it was (perhaps the previous Employee of the Month, who was unaware that their time in the sun had passed) and politely ask them to stop parking in his spot. As it was, he was resigned to never getting the coveted spot except maybe through sheer luck.
This morning was no different from any other. He thought he would get a jump on his co-workers by arriving half an hour early for work, but it clearly wasn’t early enough because one of them had beaten him to the punch. Even so, it was the only car in the lot, so he’d have no problem identifying the culprit. He didn’t know what he was going to say to them, but he had two week’s worth of frustration backing him up. Surely something would come to him.
Bobby entered the building and clocked in. (The company still had a manual time clock that you had to feed a card into. It had taken Bobby a couple months to master the art of lining it up properly.) He checked the board and saw that the only other person who was clocked in was named George Nolan. Bobby didn’t know George from Adam, but George was going to find out who Bobby was, by George.
Bobby found George in the kitchen, brewing a pot of coffee. He was momentarily at a loss for words, but eventually some same to him.
“Ah, so it was you!”
George turned to him, startled, an empty coffee mug in his hand – a potential weapon if it came to that, Bobby realized. Bobby decided to backpedal in the hopes that it wouldn’t.
“You’re the guy who makes the coffee I drink every day!”
This was a lie. Bobby never drank a cup of coffee in his life. He preferred going without artificial stimulation in the morning. George, on the other hand, seemed like a regular coffee achiever.
“Guilty as charged,” George said, putting his hands up as if under arrest.
“You have the right to drink decaffeinated. Anything you stir into it can and will be used against you in a cappuccino bar.” Bobby had no idea where that came from, but it sounded like the sort of thing one coffee drinker would say to another. Judging by George’s laughter, he was right. George lowered his hands and transferred the mug so he could extend his right hand to shake.
“Bobby Ryan.” They shook. George shifted the mug back to his right band. While they talked he continued to move it back and forth. Bobby figured it was some sort of nervous tic to keep his hands occupied before he got some coffee into him.
“I think I’ve seen you around the office,” George said, his eyes darting towards the coffee maker as it was percolating. “I didn’t realize you were a coffee drinker.”
“Oh. Well, I’m not a first thing in the morning kind of person.”
“Really? I can barely function before I have my first cup.”
“A slave to the java.”
“I suppose so.”
They stood in silence, which was punctuated only by the steady drip of water being strained through ground-up coffee beans. Suddenly George lit up.
“Wait, I know where I’ve seen you. You’re Bobby Ryan, the Employee of the Month.”
This time it was Bobby’s turn to raise his hands.
“Heh. I’d say congratulations, but we both know what a crock of shit that is.”
Employee of the Month a crock of shit? This was news to Bobby.
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, for starters, there’s no bonus involved, just a gift card to Chili’s or wherever. And I don’t know who does the displays, but they always take the most unflattering photo for it. Without exception. But do you know what the biggest joke is?”
Bobby shook his head.
“The parking space. Did they say you would get to park right in front of the building?”
“Let me tell you something: I was Employee of the Month two years ago and I never got to park in that spot the whole month – not even once. And this was March, so it wasn’t like I was shortchanged with one of the months that’s only 30 days or, God forbid, 28. Pity the poor fool who gets Employee of the Month in February. Probably a black guy, too. They can’t catch a break.
“So, ever since then I’ve parked in the Employee of the Month spot every chance I could get. I’m sure most other former Employees of the Month do the same. It’s nothing personal against you or anyone else, it’s just the way things are done around here. If I didn’t take the spot, somebody else would. But hey, maybe you’ll get lucky one of these days.”
George lifted the pot out of the coffee maker and filled his mug. A stray drop spattered and evaporated on the burner.
“Are you always like this before you have your coffee?” Bobby asked.
“Usually I’m worse. Can I pour you a cup?”
“No, thanks. I don’t drink coffee.”
“You don’t? But you said…”
“Yeah, I know.”
And with that, he left. There was nothing more to say. George put the coffee pot back and took the lid off the sugar. And to think he had thought he was grumpy in the morning.
Epilogue: Bobby did manage to get the spot the following Friday, but he lost it again when he want to the bank on the lunch hour to deposit his paycheck. Such is life.