Today, I tackle two pieces, “Ozark Empire,” and “Failing is Not Just for Failures.”
**This is a piece of short FICTION.
They mailed his last shred of dignity to him in 2007, a severance check for two weeks pay and letter signed “cordially.” He never got up from that chin shot. It crushed him.
He ran his office like a well oiled machine, allowed himself no indulgences except for the yearly hot rod calendar that was thumb-tacked to his felt covered wall. He kept his papers at right angles, kept his email inbox clean. “These are the things valued by the corporation,” he told me once.
Dad raised me on a steady diet of do-right. “Play the part,” he said, “tie a double windsor, floss regularly, and by God, keep your blood pressure in check.” Dad was risk averse, content to blend in. He ate less than he killed and always kept a storehouse for the lean years.
We were all surprised by the layoff. It was “company wide,” the nightly news reported, but some of his co-workers had kept their cubicles. Dad didn’t fight, just cashed his check and sank into a deep chair on his back porch for ten months. His jet-black hair grew long, grew until it curled in the back. He read an old collection of Sherlock Holmes, drank a daily sixer of PBR, and watched the blue jays. He slept.
Twice a week, I brought Dad supper and we talked about politics–Dad was a hopeless republican–or the economy. One night in February he told me, “I’m thinking about calling this ‘early retirement.’ I’ve got enough, and if I draw SSI….” His voice trailed.
“You can’t just hang it up,” Dad.
“Can’t I?” He pushed carrots around with his butter knife. There was a moment of silence before he unraveled.
“I’ve been thinking, son. You gotta shake things up as hard as you can. Don’t play it down the middle, make some noise. You have to push and push and push your way up. Push until you’re so close to the top that no one can pull you down. You’ve got to take it by horns.”
He took a slug of PBR. “I just don’t have that kind of energy any more. ”
I stared at my plate, mashed my potatoes under my fork.
“You understand, son?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. But what I wanted to say was, “I lost my best friend to sadness.”