Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Ordealist - Part I

Wherever Bevin Bleakman went, he made an impression. He was like a human EMB (electro-magnetic bomb), silencing laughter by questioning jokes until they lay in pieces like disassembled clocks, mangling conversations with inane, irrelevant comments, and dowsing all cheer and merriment with his bland, clay-colored countenance, and dung-pillar bearing.

"I highly doubt there were a million kids at the Chuck E. Cheese," Bevin wheezed, unsmiling, interrupting a colleague talking about his child's birthday party over the weekend.

"I just meant the place was packed," the colleague said, annoyed.

"Then just say it was packed," Bevin replied, and walked away to get a Fresca from the soda machine.

Bevin kept no plants in his cubicle or at his apartment, but his colleagues did. Strangely, there was an invisible field radiating out from Bevin's cubicle, approximately thirty feet or so, in which his colleagues' plants wilted and died no matter how much love and attention they received. When Bevin stopped by a colleague's desk with a question or comment, that person's coffee went rancid, their pop went flat, their computer crashed, long dormant stuttering resurfaced, and facial tics suddenly flourished.

At the counter of the lobby cafe, Bevin eyed the food in the glass display case: "Uh, the egg-and-cheese-and-sausage-on-an-English-muffin," Bevin said to the cashier, "what's in that?"

"Egg and cheddar cheese, and sausage, on an English muffin," the cashier sighed. She went through this with him every time he came round.

"And the cinnamon roll," Bevin said, "what's in that?"

"Cinnamon and pastry," the cashier said -- then caught herself: "And pieces of walnut."

"No peanuts? I'm allergic to peanuts," Bevin said.

"Just walnuts."

"Mushrooms?" Bevin said. The cashier looked at him, wondering if he was joking, but realized, he never joked. He just went on and on and on, no matter how many increasingly-impatient people stood in line behind him. Bevin was impervious to the overt, angry coughs, the huffs of impatience, the odd "Come on, guy, we don't have all day!" from the others waiting.

"We don't put mushrooms in our pastries," the cashier said.

"Were they near mushrooms during transport?"

"No. I don't think so."

"Were they near mushrooms where they were made?"

"I have no idea."

After a further excruciating moment of deliberation, Bevin ordered a small, cup of hot water.

"What kind of tea do you want?" the cashier asked.

"None," Bevin said, placing a quarter on the counter for the cup. "I have my own upstairs."

The others in line watched like an outraged war crimes tribunal, as Bevin walked away, oblivious.

The depleted uranium of Bevin's personality first came to light at WorkplaceUSA soon after he was hired as a programmer for the Web site. Although it wasn't his job, he reviewed the HTML code of various pages on the site, and approached Sledge McFarland, the senior, lone, overworked Web designer, with a few pages of print-outs.

"Sledge," Bevin said, coming up behind the frenetic, overweight Web designer, startling him. "Can I talk to you about your coding?"

Sledge's startlement curdled -- as did the half-full pint of chocolate milk by his mouse pad -- into astonished rage. He slowly turned from his twenty-one inch monitor in which he had sixteen applications open and running in as many various-sized windows. "You want to talk about what?"

Oblivious, Bevin showed Sledge the pages he printed out. "You're not closing your 'p' tags. Best practices dictates that all tags must have closing tags."

Sledge glared at Bevin. Anyone else would have instantly read the look on the man's face: Are you kidding me? Anyone but Bevin.

Sledge rallied. This was the new guy; new guys made mistakes. About a hundred years ago, Sledge was the new guy and the odd person cut him a break, here and there. He unclenched his jaw, unclenched his fists, unclenched the cheeks of his expansive buttocks. "Guy," he said, trying to sound as friendly as he could manage.

"My name's Bevin," Bevin said, interrupting. "We were introduced last week. I'm Bevin Bleakman, programmer."

A facial tic began slapping around the corner of Sledge's right eyebrow. "Yeah," he said. "OK. Well, Bevin, I'm doing the work of four people here, and wherever I can make up a little time, I do it."

"Best practices dictates that all tags must have closing tags," Bevin said. He spoke as though he could repeat the line all day long, into the night, to the empty darkened office; into infinity.

"Then how about this?" Sledge said, sharpening his tone. "You do your job, and I'll do my --"

"Best practices dictates that all tags must have closing tags."

"It's perfectly acceptable to leave 'p' tags open!" Sledge exploded. "Each new 'p' tag is as good as a closing tag for the previous one!"

"Best practices dictates that all tags must have closing tags."

Sledge lurched his massive frame from his lopsided chair. "The pages look the way we want them to look! That's all that matters!"

"Best practices dictates that all tags must have closing tags."

The tic abusing Sledge's right eyebrow spread through his face like an electrical storm. He opened his mouth to tell Bevin to mind his own business, that he was not team lead, nor the manager, nor the director of the Web team, but all that came out was a scream: "Ahhhhhhhhhh!"

For the first time in a decade, Sledge ran. He had no idea why. The facial tic must have infested his brain, turning everything in there into static. Sledge lumbered to the end of the aisle, and without breaking stride, drove his large body into a file cabinet. He left a dent like a Volkswagen would have. He crumpled to the floor, eyes wide, blind, and verbalized what was in his mind: "Ugh! Ahhhhh! Yoooo-zebbbbb-yooooodel-dooooodel-mmmmmmmm . . ."

Colleagues jumped to their feet to see if Sledge was OK. One of them turned to Bevin to ask what had happened, but Bevin interrupted: "Best practices dictates that all tags must have closing tags."

The monitor on Sledge's desk flickered as his computer crashed.

Part II

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