A Day In One Man's Life
“Blueberry or marionberry?”
Vern sat at the kitchen table overlooking the yard in desperate need of a good mowing. He didn’t even know who mowed the lawn for his family. Probably his father-in-law. Or was it the neighbor? Did his wife pay some kid from down the street to do it? Vern hadn’t mowed a lawn in years. He didn’t have the time – and when he had the time, he didn’t have the energy to do something as mundane as yardwork.
His wife slathered jam onto a piece of bread and deposited it into Vern’s lunch sack. It sat on the counter alongside a teething chain and a stack of home and garden magazines that hadn’t seen a human’s eye in weeks.
Kinda hard for Melinda to get around to renovating half the house when she carried a beach ball beneath her bathrobe. Their three-year-old son made a mess with his porridge, and it was Vern’s job to put down his tablet and clean up the goo on his son’s hands. Only then did he realize that the sonogram of their daughter (currently still in utero) was a victim of Chase’s porridge art on the kitchen table.
Vern wiped it off and hid it beneath his wife’s purse, left on the end of the table. Melinda didn’t need a heart attack so early in the morning.
“Here you go.” She placed the lunch bag on the table and kissed her husband’s temple. “And make sure your boss actually gives you a lunch break today.”
Vern inhaled a deep breath before breaking his whole wheat toast in half. He better eat a big breakfast, in case he didn’t have a chance to eat his lunch.
Another sidewalk was closed.
Vern looked up and down the one-way street before making a break for the other sidewalk. A Blue Line MAX chimed in the near distance.
Normally, it was a fifteen-minute walk to work from his house in Goose Hollow. Except it was summer, and the city and half the developers in Portland decided they needed to construct, construct, construct before the bubbles burst. That meant half the sidewalks in town were completely closed at any given moment, and Vern got in an extra two thousand steps on the way to work. When would he learn and fork over the cash for the MAX?
He couldn’t afford to be late to work!
“Vern!” The voice bellowed through the office the moment the man in question stepped off the elevator, his briefcase in one hand and lunch pail in the other. Would he remember which was which when he hit his desk? “Where the hell is he?”
There was never a moment to simply sit and check the office email. Not even if he showed up fifteen minutes early (instead, he was a mere five minutes early.) Someone always needed him the moment he walked through the door. Sometimes, like that morning, they needed him before he showed up.
“Thank God.” His boss, Julian Marcus, was in front of his desk. “You’re here.”
“Good morning, sir.” It was the first thing Vern said since leaving his house. “What can I do for you?”
Mr. Marcus always had that moment of incredulity whenever Vern spoke like a device named Alexa. “Right away.” “What can I do for you?” “That’s not part of my protocol.” Like he could ever get away with that last one.
“Young & Roberts have moved up the meeting to nine-thirty. I need to know that everything is already…”
Vern knew when to risk interrupting his boss, and this was definitely one of those times. A man who wanted to save seconds like a desert-dweller saves water like Mr. Marcus did would absolutely appreciate it. “I took care of it before leaving yesterday.” Vern opened the second drawer in his desk and pulled out a red folder marked Y&R. “All copies already prepared. I’ll have them on the conference table by…”
Mr. Marcus was just as talented at interrupting. “Have one of the interns do it. I need you in my office in thirty seconds because I need to pull a five-minute conference call with the director wanting to use one of our properties for his movie.”
“Yes, sir. Twenty-five seconds it is.”
“Don’t tell me how to do my job, Julian!” Mr. Young of Young & Roberts spat enough fire to burn down the building. Vern, who was a Libra born in the Year of the Rabbit, did an excellent job writing down the minutes while maintaining his cool. He wish he could say the same thing for his boss.
“I wouldn’t have to tell you how to do your job if you paid attention to anything but your Cadillac collection for more than five minutes!”
Vern dithered on how to create a shorthand code for “Cadillac.” He had a feeling it would be flung around multiple times over the next few minutes, and he needed to catch up.
“Blue cheese,” Mr. Bradley, who made the other half of Bradley & Marcus, said while Vern was heading out the door. “No! Make it ranch. But only if it’s the low-fat kind they still have. Do they still carry it?”
Vern neither shrugged nor maintained perfect decorum. “I’m not sure, sir. I can ask.”
Mr. Bradley popped back into his office the moment Mr. Marcus appeared from the elevator.
“What are you still doing here?” His words flitted on the air as he rushed by, tie askew and sweat dotting his forehead. “I was hoping to have my lunch by now!”
“Was just on my way, sir.” Vern hopped into the elevator his boss vacated before Mr. Marcus could ask anything else of him.
Vern sat down to finally eat his lunch when one of the interns tentatively approached. A quick glance at the clock said the executive assistant had exactly ten minutes to scarf down a sandwich, banana, and cold mac and cheese from last night’s dinner.
“Uh…” The boy looked like he was barely out of high school, let alone about to be a senior in some university. “What does ‘calcollect’ mean?” He referred to the shorthand notes Vern typed up during that morning’s meeting. It was the interns’ job to translate his shorthand into full reports that would go into the company records. This happened every time Vern had to come up with something on the fly – let alone out of context.
“Cadillac collection.” Vern shoved cold macaroni and cheese into his mouth. Too bad he didn’t have time to throw it into the microwave first.
The intern looked between the notes and the man shoveling food into his mouth. Appointment exactly at 1:15. Must be there to take notes and dole out reference materials. Eat faster. “Cadillac… collection.”
“That’s what it means.”
“All right. Well, thanks. Enjoy your lunch.” The boy went downstairs to the intern farm where he belonged. He could have simply emailed Vern about it, but he couldn’t blame the kid for wanting to stretch his legs, let alone during lunch.
Vern hadn’t started as an intern at this company – he was a direct hire, after Mr. Marcus poached him from a rival at Intel – but he had seen countless waves of them. He rarely learned their names. What was the point? While a select few became direct hires after completing their degrees, they rarely stayed in the Portland office. Six months, three months… bam. They were gone like the sun on any given day. The only intern to have ever made an impact in Vern’s life was…
“Hi!” It was Alyssa Pendleton, the energetic – and somewhat corporately capable – girlfriend of Mr. Marcus. While Vern had dealt with a number of Mr. Marcus’s girlfriends over the years, watching him date an intern was a shocking first. Mr. Marcus was usually more discerning, not to mention cautious of his image. He was the type to not mind the youthful vigor co-eds offered, but not want anything to do with their inanity. That’s why Mr. Marcus hired a no-nonsense man like Vern to be his assistant. “I hear you only got ten minutes for lunch. How about I help Julian with that meeting at 1:15 so you get a proper break?”
Vern’s banana was half peeled. “I…”
“I insist.” Alyssa’s smile had no effect on Vern. But it had quite the positive effect on Mr. Marcus, and that was what mattered around that office. “I can handle it. I just need today’s password for the work station.”
Vern took a tepid bite of his banana. His stomach thanked him for finally slowing down.
He wasn’t about to say no to the boss’s girlfriend, especially when Alyssa did a good enough job covering Vern when a man truly couldn’t be in two places at once. But she was daft if she thought he was somehow getting a long lunch. Something else will come up. It always does.
Alyssa went into Mr. Marcus’s office to announce she was doing Vern’s job during the meeting. So happened that Mr. Bradley had walked right behind her and heard the good news.
Vern started counting down the seconds in his head.
“Since you’re free…” Mr. Bradley said. “Could you do me a favor and run down to the flower shop and pick up those roses I ordered for Gloria? You know, the lady I’m taking to…”
“I certainly can, Mr. Bradley.” Vern closed the top of his lunch pail and took a deep breath. “I’ll be right back.
Vern walked back into the office with the dozen roses that were to await Gloria’s arrival in Mr. Bradley’s office. Unfortunately, Mr. Bradley had a somber look about him when he caught Vern’s eyes.
“She broke up with me,” he said with a dramatic sigh. “You can have the roses. Give them to your wife. God knows you have the best relationship track record around here… you might as well reward the misses.”
Vern wondered what the hell he was going to do with a huge bouquet of red roses until it was time to go home. Whenever that would be.
“What do you mean you’re not coming home until eight?” Vern’s wife sighed into her phone. “Does he really need you at this dinner? Is he even going to feed you this time? Tell him to take the girlfriend that wants your job so badly!”
Vern, who had yet to finish packing up his desk for the day, matched his wife’s exasperated sounds. “She has her own thing to go to tonight. It’s me. Sorry.”
“Chase really misses his daddy. That’s all I’m saying.”
Vern glanced at the red roses on his desk. One of the interns walked by, unknowingly entering a trap the executive assistant rarely set. It was the kind of trap he could only get away with once in a blue moon.
“Excuse me. Could you do me the immense favor of arranging to have these flowers delivered to this address?” He handed a copy of his home address to the intern in question. “Thank you so much. Doing me a huge help.”
Red roses better be the balm that kept his marriage together that day.
Vern stumbled through his front door at a little before nine. His son leaped up from the Adventure Time episode playing on TV and ran straight to the man he saw about one hour a day.
“Daddy!” The chubby guy latched onto Dad’s leg. Meanwhile, Vern was considering it a miracle that he didn’t fall over and crush his oldest child. I can barely feel my body. Turned out that the dinner meeting included walking laps around a roof-top track near OHSU. Mr. Marcus had no trouble stripping down to his trousers and dress shirt while power walking alongside a professional marathoner. Vern struggled to keep up for the hour they burned off dinner. It was only toward the end when somebody thought to give him a golf cart.
“Oh, honey!” Melinda popped out of the kitchen, dressed in the same robe from that morning. She had probably gotten dressed that day, but Vern hadn’t been around to see it. Thanks, life. It was a good thing Vern made some good money. Good enough for them to have a house in Goose Hollow and for his wife to be a stay-at-home mom, her dream career. But that didn’t mean she wanted her husband to be absent for half of his life. “Thank you so much for the flowers! But do you need anything to eat?”
The roses were the centerpiece of the kitchen table. Vern had given his wife a number of second-hand bouquets over the years – most of them from Mr. Bradley, the die-hard romantic who couldn’t keep a girlfriend for a week – and she was never any the wiser. She probably thought they were a consolation prize Vern sent her because he would be home late.
Vern slumped into the couch. He needed to shower and get to bed. An early tele-conference was being held at seven in the morning.
But he wanted to be with his family, even for half an hour.
Chase climbed up into his lap while Jake and Finn went on another animated adventure. The scent of leftover spaghetti made the Italian dish manifest in Vern’s lap. He needed the carbs after all that power walking.
But he needed his wife and his kid more.
Vern had just closed his eyes to finally go to sleep when his work phone rang.
“Don’t you dare answer that,” Melinda muttered beside him. “You’re not available.”
The phone kept ringing. Too bad Vern had already fallen asleep.
He had a feeling he would still have a job in the morning.