Arnold Gray was in his cubicle composing a letter. The first sentence was: “I’m happy to inform you that I’ll be turning in my retirement papers from the State of California.” A few months ago, Arnold’s wife Ellen had been in the hospital with a life-threatening condition. A six-hour surgery had been successful and she was now home and almost back to her normal self. While waiting for the outcome of the surgery Arnold had made a decision. He’d stick it out in his State job for two more years, you could endure anything for two years, and then quit, that is, retire. Arnold had been investing in stocks and bonds for the last five years and was pretty sure that with his savings and the State pension they’d have enough to live on even with two sons approaching college age. Then something unexpected had happened. Ellen’s aunt Hattie, who’d been in a nursing home, had passed away and left them a considerable sum of money. He didn’t have to wait two years; he could retire now.
Arnold continued with his letter. “I’ve worked for the State for 25 years. When I started it had what was more or less a merit system. Written tests were given and those with the highest marks were usually promoted. That’s all changed now. There’s so-called affirmative action, which in effect is reverse discrimination. Not only minorities but women are also given preference. I, and those middle-aged white guys like me, know there’s no chance we’ll ever get a promotion. This takes away all incentive. Nevertheless, ---“
At this point Arnold’s phone rang. “Damn!” he said. He picked it up. It was Dr. Sylvia Hardcastle’s secretary. Dr. Hardcastle would like to see him that afternoon. No, the secretary didn’t know why. Arnold reluctantly said he’d come down after lunch. Dr. Hardcastle was head of another Division of the giant Department of Health in which Arnold worked. She was about forty, Arnold guessed, attractive, especially for a State manager. He’d met her a few times at the conferences the Department held to inform employees of the latest State policies, which went back and forth every few years and accomplished nothing.
It was lunchtime; he’d return to his letter after he’d seen Dr. Hardcastle. Arnold intended to leave his letter on the desk of his immediate supervisor, a woman named Genevive Dunlop. Genevive was one of those women who’d become a manager because of her gender and her political maneuvering rather than any ability she had. As a result, she was insecure, felt she had to keep tight control over everything and everyone, and felt threatened if anyone in her unit showed some initiative. She had put up a large board on which every one in her section was supposed to sign in and out whenever leaving the office and also when taking their morning and afternoon breaks. Arnold routinely ignored the board and so had almost weekly discussions with Genevive in which he told her he was too old for such kindergarten stuff and she argued that she had to know where her employees were.
Another thing Genevive was fanatical about was having her name on any report or paper that went out from her section. Arnold liked to produce papers and every now and then he’d deliberately leave off her name when presenting her with a draft just to see her reaction. Recently Genevive had let up on him somewhat as Dr. Peter Blandish, the head of the Health Department no less, had seen one of Arnold’s papers and wanted him to elaborate on it for possible publication in the Western Journal of Medicine. This was Arnold’s current project, aside from responding to various requests for health information from outside agencies and demands from legislators.
* * *
Dr. Hardcastle came right to the point; she wanted Arnold to come to her section, which dealt with children’s health throughout the State, primarily to fix their rickety computerized data system, which was on the verge of falling apart. She couldn’t promise him a promotion, he knew the way things were now, but she’d do her best. Arnold was surprised, just as he’d been surprised by Aunt Hattie’s bequest. He recalled that he’d had some conversations with Dr. Hardcastle at those meetings they’d attended and that maybe he’d given her some suggestions. She must have been impressed.
Arnold thanked her but said he was just about to hand in his retirement papers. Now Dr. Hardcastle was surprised. She asked him to think about it. She showed him the office he’d have. It was a large one, three times the size of his cubicle. And it was private. She told him he’d have a secretary and a research assistant. She was persuasive and she was definitely an attractive woman. What a difference from Genevive. Arnold said he’d think about it and let her know the next day. He’d talk it over with his wife Ellen that night.
Arnold was surprised again. Ellen told him there was no question; he should put off his retirement and take the job. She pointed out that their expenses would go up considerably when their sons were both in college and that after he retired they wanted to travel. Maybe they could get by but they probably wouldn’t have much of a cushion, especially if something unforeseen happened. Also, he’d be doing something useful, even if he didn’t get a promotion and that’s why he’d started in the State to begin with. Ellen was always sensible.
The next morning Arnold called Dr. Hardcastle and accepted the job. He said he’d probably have to give the standard two weeks notice. She said she’d call Genevive and see if she could speed up the process. Fifteen minutes later a distraught Genevive Dunlap burst into his cubicle. “You can’t leave me just like that,” she said. Evidently she’d gotten Dr. Hardcastle’s phone call. She told Arnold he couldn’t leave her just like that. “What about the article for the Western Journal. Dr. Blandish is waiting for it.”
“Sorry, I won’t be able to finish it,” said Arnold. He was teasing her. The article was almost finished. After a minute, he said, “I’ll see what I can do. Dr. Hardcastle is pretty reasonable. She’ll probably give me enough time.”
Genevive calmed down a little at this. “What about your other projects?”
“Someone else will take care of them. Just think, you won’t have to worry about me not signing in and out on your board any more.”
Genevive had nothing to say about this.
The next Monday Arnold settled into his new office. He took out the letter of retirement and put it in his top desk drawer. Now he’d never get to give it to anybody. Maybe he wouldn’t have even given it to Genevive. He was venting and also, he thought, speaking for many State workers like himself and he knew the State would never change its ways. He looked at the memos in his inbox. He had to go into an interdepartmental meeting that afternoon. Some legislator wanted to have some data on children’s health and needed it ASAP. He had to fly down to San Diego next week to try to salvage their broken data system. And to think, he could have been retired in two more weeks.. Oh, well, you can put up with anything for two years. Can’t you?