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Thursday, May 4, 2006 08:44 pm

The fan

Even in hell, it’s possible to come out a winner

John awoke to searing pain, running from behind both eyes to the middle of his forehead: a migraine triangle. He pressed his palms hard against both temples, went to the bathroom, turned the shower to very cold, and stuck his head under the frigid water. When the pain subsided some, he stumbled toward the kitchen for coffee and daily pills. Two steps into the living room, he tripped over the cat and smashed his shinbone against the sharp metal edge of an end table. There was blood. No time to brew coffee; he took his pills with milk. The milk was sour, and he spit it out. It hit the dog, full face. The dog bit into John’s foot. Back to the shower. No hot water! He was running late. He showered cold and shaved cold. The light over the sink flickered out; he reached for toothpaste, missed, and brushed his teeth with Preparation H. His car showed a flat tire; the wrench slipped as he loosened the last nut and his knuckles raked across the exposed lugs. More blood! The trunk was stuck, so he yanked it; it flew open and clipped him under the chin. The spare tire was flat. He walked to work — in the rain. At the first street corner, a speeding limo splashed him head to toe with muddy water. The shapely blonde in the back seat flashed John an obscene gesture. The fat man at her side threw an empty champagne bottle, John ducked — and split his pants from fly to back center belt loop. John Lowman worked for a large family-owned business. Unfortunately, it was not his family. He hated the job. The reality of the office workload called for three people: two people to do order-data entry, and a third person to answer the always-ringing phones and file. But there was no reality in this hell; there was “Just John” — and Mildred and Bucky III. Mildred and Bucky III were family. When so inclined, Mildred was at least capable of doing “something.” She was seldom so inclined. Bucky III was afraid of phones on desks and so never answered one. At 22 years old, Bucky III had yet to master the alphabet — no filing for Bucky III. As always, John was at his desk an hour early. He put on the phone headset and started his data entry. Mildred wandered in at 10 a.m. She was not inclined to work this day. She gave John hell for looking disheveled and slammed the door as she left. The picture of “Big Buck,” the company’s bloated CEO in a $4,000 suit, fell off the wall, and broke John’s glasses. John Lowman made $2,000 a month. Bucky III showed up for his midafternoon walkthrough. John hadn’t left his desk in eight hours, so he asked Bucky III to watch the phones for a quick minute while he grabbed a sandwich from the vending machine. Bucky III said, “Them headsets is mobile, ain’t they?” And then he disappeared, as always. Clutching his pants shut, John limped as fast as he could down the hall and put his last two bucks into the vending machine. The machine took his money and gave him nothing back. Mildred waddled by and gave him hell for leaving the office unattended. Back in the office, his glasses broken, John struggled to read Big Buck’s e-mail. It was a “command” to come to the conference room to join in the celebration of Bucky III’s promotion. There was a “P.S.” saying that the company had dropped employee dental insurance. John’s tomorrow-morning root canal would not be covered. Other folks went home after the Bucky III celebration. Just John went back to his everyday data work — and Mildred’s everyday work and Bucky III’s everyday work. His foot ached, his shin was on fire, his knuckles looked infected, his chin dripped “stuff” on his keyboard — and he was half-blind and starving. Big Buck popped his huge overfed head through the door as he left for the day — to remind “Just John” that he’d not be paid for his time partying in the conference room. John worked late into the night. The rain turned to hail during his walk home. An ice ball the size of a hubcap knocked him to his knees. A passing crow flew in and perched on his bowed head. Only a block from his house — John crawled home. Once inside, he continued crawling, past a furball-coughing cat and a snarling dog, and straight to bed. Five minutes of opening-day baseball on the bedside TV and then, with any luck, mind-numbing sleep. The game was just over: “We win! We win!” He rolled painfully to his side, pumped his arm, yelled, “Yes!” And then John Lowman prayed to his God for a season full of perfect days — just like today.
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