A man starts to ponder in a vast, depressing silence like this. Pondering he admittedly should have done some time ago but never got around to. He thinks about the 401K that vanished when they axed the division, the meager stock options he never bought into, the low pay, the endless overtime he was never compensated for, the few good working years he has left. And then he thinks of the soft, beautiful face of his forty-year old Thai wife and the gorgeous blue eyes of his four-year-old daughter and the awful rusty clockworks of the brain start to churn in whole new direction.
I take a long, quiet walk through the empty cubicle farm and open the door to the manufacturing area. When the layoff email notice came out, people just dropped their soldering irons on the ground and walked right out, leaving behind jumbled piles of circuit boards on their steel workbenches and black scorch marks on the gray linoleum floor.
Three thousand people gone in an instant. Everybody but me. The parent company kept me to watch the building and answer support calls because breaking the lease and the service contracts were, in their words, cost prohibitive.
What was I to do? Tell them to fire me too? That if everybody goes, I go too?
I’m on the bad side of fifty (not that there is a good side) and I look it too: thread-thin silver hair, thick coke-bottle glasses, and bright-white dentures. They just knew there wasn’t a chance I’d say no.
As I stand there overlooking this vast horde of useless 1G circuitry written off by the company, a cog clicks into place in my head and the whole mechanism starts to churn in a new direction.
It’s a hell of a thing to scam a company you’ve worked for longer than you can remember. The company you grew up in, got married in, had your first kid in. The company you thought you would one day retire in.
A hell of a thing.
I slide the guts of the locator into its silver cigar-shaped container and twist the top to turn it on. I was humming Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I realized. I was happy. Happier than I’d been in a long time working here. I guess when you make your mind up and it’s the right thing to do, then everything just clicks.
The old CRT monitor on the steel workbench shows a little green dot blinking in the center of a map of Los Angeles.
That was 100, full-functioning 1G locators, built by me in just under a week. I packed them into a box, dropped in a couple-dozen operation manuals, and sellotaped the lid shut.
The thing with advanced technologies are that countries like India, Pakistan, Thailand, and so on, can’t afford to upgrade their cell towers every time some bright engineer comes up with 2G, or 3G, or 4G.
In fine, legible handwriting, I write the address and name of my wife’s brother, Akara, in Bangkok.
Akara works for the Thai government, which, after the coup, is having a hell of a time keeping tabs on its police cars, street sweepers, and so on. Basically, everything not nailed down is getting ripped off.
Our units may not have all the fancy features of today’s locators, but they do have a damn low price and that hits the Thai government right in its sweet spot.
This enterprise may have not been a “viable concern” for my company, but for me working it alone with the parts already paid for, it certainly is.
My cut is 20 bucks a locator. If I push it, I can build 100 or so a week, so that’s an extra 2,000 bucks a week, 8,000 a month, 96,000 a year. With two years left on the service contracts, which is when I’ll be fired, I can potentially make 192,000 bucks on top of my regular wage.
No wonder I’m humming.
I’m heads down building a locator when movement catches my eye. Looking up, I see Mr. Warner, the ex-president of the ex-division, standing at the front of the room.
I blink a couple times to make sure he’s real. Unfortunately he doesn’t disappear.
He’s wearing a dark blue three-piece suit and is trim and young and has slicked back hair and real teeth, which are stark white and perfect. If there is ever an argument that God didn’t create man equally, it is him. Educated in Wharton, playboy bunny girlfriend, wealthy family, and on and on his LinkedIn profile goes.
He’s shouting something, hands cupped to either side of his perfect mouth, but I can’t hear him over the radio. I switch it off.
“Gordon! What are you doing?” He asks.