Written many years ago and dedicated to the Dilbert generation—those cube rats who are overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated. I never did find a home for this with a publisher, although one suggested I write an alternate ending, which I did; they never did accept the piece. The alternate ending appears after the original. Which do you prefer?
I’d had a miserable day. A perfectly miserable day. A perfectly miserable ending to a perfectly miserable week.
I work with college nincompoops. They may be very good at what they do—providing consulting services to the healthcare industry—but they sure as hell aren’t any good at writing about what they do for our clients. That’s my job—making them look good in the eyes of the client. I format their documents to a certain standard and perform a business read. I chase down errant punctuation and place it where it belongs, correct incorrect punctuation, and eliminate it entirely when it’s unnecessary. I cut the strings on dangling participles. I splice split infinitives and juxtapose compound sentences into their proper order, making sure all clauses are properly tucked into place where they belong, and further making certain that the predicate actually predicates what the subject is or does. I get tense making certain the nincompoops use the proper tense, and lower the case in cases where uppercase is inappropriate and vice versa (or as one nincompoop once wrote, “visa versa”). I also correct misspelled words as opposed (or as another nincompoop once wrote, “aposed”) to letting the nincompoop embarrass himself in the eyes of our clients by ignoring my penchant for perfection. I ensure that modifiers modify what they’re supposed to modify and make my own modifications when they don’t. I also meet impossible deadlines.
Got a deliverable that needs to be at a client site by tomorrow? Give it to me; I’ll get it to done. I just wave my magic wand and it shows up at the client site on time looking like a million bucks and reading like someone with some actual intelligence wrote it.
It was Friday and I’d had a particularly brutal week. I’d had to stay late tweaking some nincompoop’s HIPAA Impact Analysis—over a hundred pages of drivel (if you can’t impress them with clarity, overwhelm them with garrulous claptrap)—and had just finished a hastily prepared meal: a Dolly’s pizza that had been less than hastily delivered a little more than an hour after I’d ordered it… twenty minutes longer than had been promised. The pizza was good, but it was difficult to tell whether it had hit the spot by itself, or whether the shot of bourbon chased by the beer had paved the way.
I settled into my recliner to watch the ballgame. It was late September and the Tigers were struggling mightily. They’d been out of the hunt since late April, and now, instead of struggling to make a late run for the playoffs, they were struggling against finishing the season with 100 losses. If I’d been a betting man, I’d have bet on them to attain that triple digit milestone. Having fallen behind the Yankees early, tonight’s game looked like they would move one game closer to that dubious plateau.
Two and a half hours later the game ended with yet another loss, and I shut off the TV and went to bed. No sooner did my head hit the pillow than I heard the bathroom water go on in the apartment above mine: Bathman was awake and on the prowl…
Since moving into this apartment a few months ago I’d been continuously annoyed by the bathing habits of the resident of the unit above mine. Not having met him, I could only surmise I’d recognize him instantly if not by his acute cleanliness, then most certainly by his water-wrinkled skin, or maybe even by the scales I was beginning to suspect he needed to irrigate so regularly. I never heard splashing, so I assumed he was merely enjoying some perverse Calgon moment, letting the water soak away whatever dirt may have accumulated during the couple of hours since his previous soaking.
He bathed constantly. By noon on weekends he’d already have bathed twice, without ever having left his apartment. Twice more by six in the evening, and twice again by midnight. On one particularly restless night I’d been treated to the sound of his bathroom plumbing (located in my bedroom closet) groaning its protest at 2 a.m., signaling to me that it was time for rub-a-dub-dub, one man in a tub. By the end of my first month, for the first time in my life—no mean feat considering my ex-wife (towards the end I’d taken to playing at full volume Jimi Hendrix’s Hey, Joe, the song that asks the musical question “where you going with that gun in your hand?”)—I’d been ready to commit murder.
I soon began referring to this Bozo as Bathman. The name was accompanied by an image of a caped crusader clad in black latex, with soap scum around his ankles.
The plumbing sang in a high falsetto as Bathman shut off the water, and a moment later I heard him slip-squeak into his porcelain tub. I imagined pasty-white blubbery skin and wondered if his tub, too, might have stretch marks. I closed my eyes and began to drift off…
The bright light outside my bedroom window brought me instantly awake: a circular white spotlight against the night sky with a black “W” embossed within its halo. The Commissioner was summoning The Wordsmith. Someone needed my services.
I bounded out of bed and adjusted my tights made tighter still by a nearly full bladder. “No time,” I told myself and threw my cape over my left shoulder and dashed out the door and down the two flights of stairs that lead to the parking lot. Sliding behind the wheel of the Wordmobile, I flipped the ignition switch and the engine roared to life. I threw it into drive and picked up the Wordphone as I sped around the corner on two wheels and headed east. A moment later the Commissioner picked up.
“Wordsmith,” I heard him say. “We’ve got a situation at a client site.
“What is it?” I said doggedly. My heart was racing with expectation. Last night I’d been summoned to lop the “s” off a series of pro formas, one of those funny little words who’s plural is the same as its singular. The night before someone had relied on Spellchecker and I had been called in to slash all the hyphens from multiple appearances of inter-dependencies and bi-weeklies. God, I love my job.
“One of our consultants has been submitting status reports to a client without first submitting them to you to work your magic.”
“Damn,” I breathed. “How many?”
It looked like I’d be pulling an all-nighter. “What’s the excuse?”
“She said the CEO never reads them.”
“The CEO resigned. The new one wants to see the documentation for everything we’ve done on this project. The three documents are waiting for you on your office e-mail.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll copy you on the final versions.” I broke the connection.
Moments later I squealed to a halt next to the unmanned booth outside the parking lot. I palmed the green disk that prints the ticket, pulled the ticket from its slot, and waited for the gate to lift. I stuffed the ticket into my tights so I wouldn’t forget it.
I raced across the street and stooped at the door so the scanner could read the big red “W” scrawled in script across the black backdrop that was my costume. A moment later I heard the lock click open. I raced to the elevator and pounded the Up button. The door sighed open and I leaped inside and pushed the button for the fourth floor.
Consultants, I thought to myself as I waited impatiently to reach my destination. I couldn’t think of another business where a client is happy to pay someone they didn’t call to tell them something they already know.
The elevator door parted down the middle (I felt like Moses standing on the bank of the Red Sea), and I dashed down the hall to my cubicle. I put on a pot of coffee while I waited for my PC to boot up.
The files were there, as the Commissioner had said. I downloaded the first one. I groaned. It was a mess. It would need a tremendous amount of reformatting to bring it to standard, and from the Executive Summary I could tell that whoever had written it had probably had someone else write their college dissertation.
I took a sip from my coffee mug and—
Awoke with a start from the sound of water draining from the tub upstairs.
“Just a dream,” I sighed with marked disappointment.
I settled my head back onto the pillow and into my own very mundane life. I closed my eyes determined to get some sleep. Tomorrow was Saturday and I didn’t have anything major planned. But I knew Bathman had a big day in store for him.
I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my ears to muffle the sound of the draining water…
And the alternate ending:
I took a sip from my coffee mug and —
Six a.m. and the plumbing in my closet that was my alarm clock went off: Bathman was determined to start the day off with a clean slate. Yesterday’s HIPAA Impact Analysis had had its impact on me. I rolled into a sitting position and launched myself into action. Without bothering with slippers, I raced into the bathroom.
If it’s clean he wants to be, I can help with that, I thought as I reached for the toilet bowl brush that stood in its plastic receptacle in the corner behind the toilet.
I was in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, but I didn’t care. I needed to make sure I got to Bathman before he hit the water. I bounded up the stairs and pounded on the door with my brush raised, prepared to do battle.
A moment later the door swung in and I stood there, with water trickling down my upraised arm, unable to say a word. In the few months I’d lived here my febrile imagination had created for me an icon I was certain reality could only fail to match. And so before me stood the figure I had not dared to imagine.
“Uh,” I stammered, at a loss, for the first time in a long time, for words. I looked away from the dark eyes that stared at me, down at dainty feet with nails painted red.
“Yes?” came a sultry voice that sounded to me, as my blood pressure fell, as far away as last night’s dream.
My eyes moved slowly up from those two delicately formed feet to take in two dangerously curved legs that disappeared beneath the hemline, about six inches above the knees, of a tiny robe cinched tight at a narrow waist, to linger a moment on the proud swelling of two rather large but not too large breasts that the tiny robe Bathman… um, Bathwoman, wore couldn’t conceal.
What I’d envisioned as pasty white skin akin to something that might crawl out from under some rock was instead a medium shade of Mediterranean bronze, well irrigated not from repeated bathings, but instead, or so I imagined, from recurring application of skin lotion, rich in aloe and vitamin E.
“Can I help you?” the sultry voice asked.
A few minutes later, armed with a pint of Vanish, I padded back down to my own apartment. Yesterday’s HIPAA Impact Analysis was forgotten. And as I vigorously brushed a bowl that didn’t need brushing, I heard my neighbor slip-squeak into her bathtub and cursed myself for not asking her opinion on use of the ellipsis as a licentious literary device…