TWO: OLIVER VS LUTHER
THE BREAK ROOM WAS, thank the merciful gods above, devoid of people.
Oliver had requested that he be allowed to take his lunch as late in the day as possible for that very reason. He preferred to eat alone. It wasn’t that he didn’t like people; Oliver simply yearned for a bit of solitude now and again to break up a day of talking to customers who he had always felt were more than a little needy. He had tried eating in his car at first, but found it difficult to juggle everything in such a cramped space, especially when he brought chili or soup. So, as he couldn’t afford to eat out every day, he’d had to make the break room work.
He made a beeline for his table of choice—all the way in the back corner—took a seat and unpacked his lunch: Bologna and cheese slathered in mayonnaise and nestled between two slices of store brand white bread served up with a small bag of generic potato chips. Looking at the two items on the table, he realized that he’d forgotten to grab a soda from the machine, which was on the other side of the room. He sighed and pulled himself to his feet.
Back at the table, soda bottle in hand, Oliver sat down once more and placed the bottle next to the sandwich.
The word rang out across the all but empty room and Oliver’s stomach nearly dropped out from under him. There, striding across the break room floor, paper fast food bag clutched in one fist, was Luther Brodwell. He approached the table at a quick clip, a smile on his face and a bounce in his step.
Oliver wanted to cry.
He had just begun to hope that he’d be able to avoid lunch with Luther today. He had nothing against Luther, other than the man’s insistence at spending all of their free time together talking about work.
“You won’t believe the call I took today,” Luther said, sitting across from Oliver at the table.
Luther was tall and thin with a long mane of red hair that he let hang down to the small of his back. His entire wardrobe seemed to consist of Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoes, jeans, and Shadow Fox tee shirts, because Oliver had never known him to wear anything else.
Twenty minutes, one sandwich, one bag of chips, and whatever had been inside the fast food bag later, and Luther had himself worked into a narrative lather.
“So this guy is trying to get me to look up his student aid application, right?” Luther said as Oliver tried to focus in on a single spot on the wall at the other end of the room. “And so I ask the guy for his Social Security number. He refuses. I mean, he absolutely refuses. Can you believe that?”
“Crazy,” Oliver said.
“I know, right? So I tell him, I say to him, ‘Look man, I just don’t have the capability to look up your application unless you give me that Social Security number.’ So you know what he says?”
“I can’t imagine.”
“He tells me that he had his Social Security number deleted from the Social Security Administration’s records. Can you believe that?”
“Actually, no I can’t,” Oliver said, surprised to find one of Luther’s stories interesting.
“Yeah, he tells me that he’s sick to death of the Federal Government being all Big Brother and stuff and that he wants to distance himself from them and all that, right?”
“Can you do that?” Oliver asked.
“I don’t know, dude,” Luther said with a laugh. “But this guy wanted nothing to do with the Federal Government, yet he still expected them to pony up for his tuition. I mean, come on, dude. Wake up and get with life and stuff, right?”
Oliver chuckled and shook his head.
“It’s crazy here, dude. I’m telling you. I should write a book or something,” Luther said, cackling away like a madman as he got up from the table. “Oh well, you know. Thank God it’s Friday, am I right?”
“You are one hundred percent correct, sir.”
“You know I am,” and with that, Luther broke into the mad cackling again as he left Oliver alone with his soda. He could hear the man braying all the way back to his cubicle down the hall.
Oliver sighed and finished his soda in peace.
With his lunch drawing to a close, Oliver shuffled his way back to his cubicle, fell back into his chair, and pulled the headset onto his head. He let out another sigh and looked at a photograph hanging on the cubicle wall, just to the right of his monitor.
In the photo were two girls—ages ten and twelve—and a woman. All three had long, dark hair and were smiling. Oliver’s heart lifted. They were why he put up with guys who eat ham patties after their expiration date. They were why he could sit and listen to Luther Brodwell tell story after story about the same types of call he took himself each day.
The woman was Elyse, his wife. They’d been married now for twenty-two years, but started late on making a family. The two girls were his daughters. Ruthie was the youngest. She wore her heart right out there on her sleeve for everyone to see. Susie was the elder of the two. She was known—from time to time—to take things a little too seriously, yet could also be one of the silliest people he knew. He couldn’t imagine loving three people more than he loved his wife and daughters.
And so, taking one last calming look, Oliver took a deep breath and pressed a button on his phone marked AVAILABLE. A call popped in almost immediately.
First was a gentleman who needed to purchase dryer sheets and wanted to know how they might work on leather. Oliver assured the man that it might not be the best idea to put leather through the wash.
Next in the queue was a woman who couldn’t decide if she should purchase a garage door from the Huge Mart online store. The website stated that there were no refunds which made her nervous about making such a decision considering she wasn’t sure what size door she needed. She was afraid she’d purchase the wrong door and be stuck with it. Her contractor had the size requirements, but he wasn’t available today, so she hoped that Oliver could tell her which one to buy. Oliver—rather proud at himself for the infinite amount of patience he possessed—suggested that she put off her purchase until tomorrow after she had the chance to speak with her contractor.
The woman, however, was not at all satisfied with his suggestion and refused to believe that he could not tell her which door size to purchase without coming out and measuring the opening in her garage. She’d demanded to speak to his supervisor. Oliver had been more than happy to make the transfer.
Following the garage door lady, he had a guy who needed to fill out an application for Federal student aid. His daughter was attending school in the fall and they needed help with tuition. He wasn’t sure what to put on the line for STUDENT. Oliver assured him that as his daughter would be the one attending school, she would be the student, and therefore her name would need to go on that line.
After that was a guy who had somehow ingested an entire tube of foot powder, making it the second caller today that Oliver had had to refer to a local hospital. His record for a single day was six.
Soon the clock reached five, and it was time to go. Oliver collected his things and threw them into his backpack. He was zipping it up when someone called out his name.
“Hey, Oliver,” it was Luther again. “You going to the bar tonight?”
The bar in question was the Shady Banana. Oliver had never been inside—he felt the name to be a tad untrustworthy—but it was the regular Friday night hangout for most of the Customer Service Representatives at Solutions Incorporated.
“Oh, not tonight,” Oliver said as he slung the backpack onto one shoulder.
“Come on, dude! You never go out with us.”
“That’s because I have to work.”
“Aw, man. You still working that second job delivering sandwiches?”
“It’s pizza actually, but yes.”
“You need to call in sick, man. Come drinking with us, dude. When Phil gets drunk he likes to act out the entire opening scene from the Holy Grail. It cracks me up every time!”
“Sorry, I wish I could,” he thought he might actually like to see Phil drunk. “But even if I could call in sick, I don’t think my wife would appreciate me ditching work to go out drinking.”
“Ah, yes. The old ball and chain. I understand, muchacho. I truly do. Well then, you have a good weekend, dude. Later days,” and with that, Luther was gone.
Soon Oliver was in his car and speeding across Garrison to the Pizza Dude near the river on the other side of town. He typically took the bypass to avoid the traffic, but today he had to drop off a prescription for Elyse. This meant he had to cut right through the heart of downtown Garrison so that he could use the drive-thru drop off at the Drug Hut. Though traffic was heavy this time of day, he shouldn’t have any issue arriving at the Pizza Dude in time for his shift. He didn’t need to be there until six o’clock, and it took only twenty minutes to get across town with light traffic. He should be okay.
Ten minutes later a cell phone tower dropped out of the sky and landed in front of his car.