A Theology of Downsize: Dark Humor Short Fiction

Office-WorkersThe day God walked in through the revolving door of the Murray-O’Hare Accounts Receivable Associates Building, it marked the apocalypse for three local placement agencies.

(S)he had applied for other, more challenging positions on the bus line (God doesn’t own a car), but during interviews, God intimidated prospective employers. (S)he seemed very capable but was overqualified. That was the case at the cardboard factory (It says here you created the universe, but have you ever folded boxes?), Barnes and Noble (Someone has to shelve all the 50 Shades follow-ups and be prepared to talk about them), and, at the roller rink, where God had applied as a bouncer. The manager had said, “You just don’t have that tough look that we need to keep the kids in line.”

God had to beg for the accounts job at Murray-O’Hare, not-so-subtly reminding Cindi in Human Resources that when she was a little girl, she had prayed for her pet hamster to overcome its affliction of chronic eczema, which left the little creature perpetually hairless. The hamster had grown its fur back, and Cindi had not forgotten.

“Well, God, you went to bat for me once, so welcome to the team! I’ve got some paperwork for you to fill out, and I need to go over the sexual harassment policy with you.”

“Sexual harassment?” God blushed and stammered.

“Yes, just routine,” Cindi smiled her salaried smile. “You can be terminated for making unwanted sexual advances; giving or receiving sexually explicit material over the internet; touching, joking, or swearing; looking at someone the wrong way in the sauna; wearing a tie or a t-shirt with a scantily clad fifties’ pin-up star; or simply being nice to someone who isn’t emotionally balanced and interprets kindness with sexual degradation. Sign here.”

God believed in sacrifice, so signing the bureaucratic paperwork was simply a necessary evil. Why, in time, God might become a department supervisor and tuck some money away in blue-chip stock while working toward a regional promotion. Some day! Maybe a private office overlooking a busy street, the babble of traffic, and God would look down through the half-open blinds of her/his office and say, “Look at me! I was just like you! But now, through hard work and diligence, I’ve beat you at your own game, world!”

After months, however, it became apparent that no promotion would be forthcoming. Management was pretty content to keep God gobbling down the work for an hourly and a hit-or-miss dental plan.

God proved, well, a god-send to the accounts department at Murray-O’Hare: (s)he typed a lightning-quick 450 wpm, could set up pivot reports in seconds, and actually made a fresh pot of coffee when (s)he took the last cup. God took no breaks and, best of all, didn’t whine about the lack of portability of the company’s insurance benefits.

God was in for the long haul.

Unsure of how exactly to strike up a conversation with her/him, God’s coworkers found themselves always about to say something but then clamping their jaws shut, afraid that whatever came out would seem inadequate, and that suited God just fine. (S)he was pretty much a heads-down kind of worker, seldom looking away from the spreadsheets.

When nervous coworkers asked Cindi in Human Resources why God would settle for a seventeen-dollar-an-hour job, she merely offered her trained smile. “Whatever the reason, I’m sure we’re all glad to have God on board.”

Frankly, God’s presence was more than a little disturbing for her/his coworkers. Some felt guilty because they hadn’t been to mass since their first communions; for others, it was the fear of an imminent judgment about to be set upon their heads as they went out for a smoke. No one knew whether God ate pork so they never invited her/him for pizza Friday.

They sometimes went to their respective churches and temples on the weekends just to get away from the overwhelming burden of seeing God each weekday, trying to escape that nagging feeling of inadequacy they experienced when they looked at the weekly performance reports.

When it came time for the annual picnic, the others decided not to invite God, but somehow God found out about it and showed up with an armful of Old Dutch potato chips. Much to everyone’s disappointment, God won the raffle for the color TV, and the cake walk, too.

It wasn’t all bad having God around, though. The company softball team did remarkably well with God playing short stop. And left field. (S)he wanted to pitch, but so did Sandy, the night auditor, and since Sandy had seniority and seemed to be going through menopause again, she was allowed to lob the big white balls more-or-less over the plate.

Some of the Data Entry department had started a running collection of cartoon drawings made on yellow Post-it notes that showed God as a stick figure engaged in various acts of office drudgery and thinking ludicrous thoughts like “I’ll be damned if I can have this done by five!”

But, in reality, God usually had the work completed before lunch.

One Monday, the Accounts Receivable Department found their task lists blank, their computers gone, and a memo announcing major Department restructuring. They noticed, however, the flurry of activity in cubicle 34, the rustling of papers being passed over with deft fingers and the buttons of the keyboard being struck so quickly that it sounded like a hail storm walloping a tin roof.

Where once the office was stretched at the seams with sixty coffee-drinking, Monday-despairing people, each made of corruptible flesh and who called in sick two days a month and made four personal phone calls a day, now there lingered a solitary, diligent form in 34, third from last cubicle in row ‘D.’

Meanwhile, the supervisors realized that between the six of them they should be able to manage a department consisting of only one employee — and a perfect employee at that — so they installed a dart board.

Ms. Murray-O’Hare, the owner, came to see her star employee, shoulders jutting squarely under foam padding meant to make her seem more line-backery. “God, you’ve been doing an outstanding job. Production has never been so high in this department! I just can’t believe it!” she said.

God didn’t glance up and kept on working, “That’s most people’s trouble.” But Ms. Murray O’Hare ignored God’s glum tone and clapped her/him on the back, reiterating her disbelief at God’s outstanding performance.

The mid-level department managers, those whip-cracking pencil necks, remained employed even though they had only God in their Covey-Habit clutches. Oh, they tried to look busy by calling one another on the intercom to see if the coffee was done brewing yet. They left the sports columns strewn in the sauna and never wiped up the benches after themselves.

Finally God realized it was time (s)he felt move ahead, and (s)he put in for a promotion to Department Supervisor. This unsettled God’s managers who knew that they would be easily missed and dismissed if God was raised to their ranks, so they put off the request by saying that her/his work levels weren’t quite good enough to merit a promotion. God was too wise, however, for the carrot-on-the-stick trick as (s)he had been using it on every one else quite successfully since they had begun walking upright.

Taking matters in her/his own hands, (s)he marched directly into the office of Ms. Murray-O’Hare.

“Look, God. We’ve done all we can to accommodate you here, not the least of which was actually hiring you. Let’s face it: we took a chance on you, and you’ve done pretty well for yourself, chosen Employee of the Month five months running, elected to head the Safety Committee. What is it, exactly, that you want?”

“Purpose,” was God’s response.

Ms. Murray-O’Hare tilted away from her desk in her multi-adjustable Ergo-King chair, rolling her eyes. “Your purpose is to do your job for which you are paid a fair rate. I’m afraid you weren’t hired to find some personal satisfaction; oh no, you were hired with very selfish motives on our part.” She folded her hands and leaned her torso over desk, “To be perfectly frank, you’ve saved us a bundle of dough! That’s your purpose!”

“But that purpose,” said God, “serves you alone. It provides no value for me to slave for you, to make money for you, while I grow restless, in need of something more…”

“How about a nice raise?” God shook her/his head. “Look, let me be direct here. You’re worth more to us right where you are. I guess you could say you’re too good for your own good. I have no intention of moving you from cubicle 34. If you need purpose, find a hobby. Crosswords or needlepoint. Deep sea fishing — hell, I don’t care!”

Sensing that God would not leave empty-handed, Ms. Murray-O’Hare handed her/him a pair of movie passes, encouraging God to perhaps get out there, socially, and find purpose outside of company time. She violated company policy by slapping God on the behind in an inappropriate attempt at camaraderie. “Now get back to work!”

Now God saw clearly where things stood, and (s)he no longer took great care in worrying her/his finger joints with blinding movement. God slowed down and made mistakes. In short, God became human, and the middle management pounced. They had been waiting to put God down a notch, especially since they each had lost fifty bucks to her/him in the Final Four office pool. Negative performance reports accumulated in God’s personnel file attesting to her/his “negative attitude” and “heightening inaccuracy.” They were setting the stage for a justifiable termination. God didn’t straighten up and, instead, began calling in sick, took twenty-two-minute breaks and snorted in disgust whenever new work was brought in.

Sandy, the former night auditor, popped in to Murray-O’Hare for a little chat with Ms. Murray-O’Hare. She was determined to bring God down. She argued that since God was an eternal being, then employing this God person would eventually drain the company into insolvency with the current 401k and stock option program. “Just think,” she told Ms. Murray-O’Hare. “In just a few decades, God would own the majority of stock.”

Ms. Murray-O’Hare did not relish the thought of losing control of her company, even posthumously. She decided to fire God and to rehire the mortals who tied up the phones with personal calls, played Angry Birds on their iPhones, and used the web site for illicit sexual purposes.

“At least they are content to go on for years and years in their same old capacities, their same old cubicles,” she concluded.

At the end of work one day, when God was punching out five minutes early, several of the managers and Cindi from Human Resources asked her/him to empty her/his pockets, whose contents amounted to a comb, a compact mirror, a coupon for two-for-one Chinese take-out, and a phone number with the words Call Jim scrawled next to it, jotted on company letterhead.

Cindi shook her head, clearly disappointed. “Sorry, God, but this is the final straw.” She held up the company letterhead to him. She delivered a prepared Speech of Termination. Cindi escorted God to the door with her arms crossed like a bouncer at a roller rink.

Nothing definite had been heard of God since (s)he left the Murray-O’Hare Accounts Receivable Associates Building. God’s LinkedIn profile listed only Author of Universe for current position. It was rumored, however, that God was approaching strangers in supermarkets and, under the pretense of friendliness, pressuring them to buy Amway products.