2 x 4 Clubby1946EW1©
Gregg Owens was smiling broadly as he reached under the table and brought out the 2 X 4. As he held the polished 3 ft. hickory slab, most of the other party goers of his firm also begin smiling, most with shit-eating grins. Eyes flitted from Maude Roukema, the sexagenarian bookkeeper, to Rodney Skelton, the 19-year old office boy. Rod was not sure what was going on. In the eight months he had worked for Owens, Owens, and Owens, he had realized that many of the office activities were not exactly kosher. Not illegal or shady, just that there was a looseness in the ambiance of this office that he had not expected, and with which he was not too comfortable. This office party was a perfect example of that ambiance.
It was the Christmas party. Or should that be New Year's party. It was held annually on the Friday between Christmas and New Year's Day. Given the variety of religious beliefs of the staff of Tri-O, as the staff called the company, a Christmas party was not exactly right, but a seasonal party was, so Gertrude Owens, of the founding generation of Owens, had settled on that inter-day Friday. It also was usually the last day of the year. Except when New Years or Christmas occurred on a Friday or Saturday. Then the party was moved to the preceding Thursday, which also would be the last work day of the year. Tri-O was closed on both New Years' Eve and New Years' Day.
Like the other parties Tri-O held each month, this was a combination potluck and company sponsored affair. Any staffer who wanted to bring something could, but was not required to do so. The company paid for a catered spread which suited every taste, and the booze was also on the company. Rod had noticed that there were certain relationships between various staffers of an amorous nature ... relationships of all kinds. Black/white, white/Latino, Latino/Asian, married/married, but not to each other, young/old. He noticed that there seemed to be a special preference for older women with younger men, but since none of the relationships seemed to be exclusive ... or intense ... he thought that he may be reading into the interplay and camaraderie of co-workers something that wasn't there. But he couldn't mistaken the quite familiar way the hands of the older women moved against his body when he danced with them. And they all insisted that he dance with them!
Gregg was looking at Maude, who was beaming back at him. "Well, Maude," he smirked, "You get the 2 X 4 again."
"That's four years running, girl," Connie Morella shrieked. "Why don't you retire so I can have a go?"
Maude smiled sweetly at Connie, then advanced to the head table and took the lumber from Gregg. She looked over her co-workers as all eyes turned to Rod. Rod looked around nervously.
"Skelton," Owens barked in his official I-am-the-boss voice that Rod usually heard. "We have a tradition here at Owen, Owen and Owen. It was started by my grandmother. At the end of the year, at the company's last party for the year, the oldest woman in the firm gets to take the youngest male in the firm home. That woman is Maude, that man is you."
Rod's mouth dropped. He had never considered having sex with any of the women at the firm, the youngest of which was at least ten years his senior. Before he could respond, Tyrone Washington stepped up to his side, placing his big black hand on his shoulder, looking at their boss.
"Gregg, you still can't help being abrupt." Tyrone squeezed Rod's shoulder and looked at him. "You don't have to go home with Maude if you don't want to, Rodney. It's a tradition here, but it's not mandatory." He looked at Maude. "Maude, could you bring the stud over here."
Rodney was confused, thinking Tyrone was talking about a person. Maude walked over to the pair, carrying the 2 x 4 like a baseball bat. Reaching the two, she handed the lumber to Tyrone. Tyrone held the wood up for Rodney to see. There was a row of little brass plaques down one of the 4 inch sides of the stud, 3 inches by one inch, with a woman's name, a man's name, and a year.
Tyrone smiled at the young man. "At the top you see the name Jane Owens. That's Gregg's grandmother. When she ran this company—it was Owens, Inc. then—she took a fancy to one of the younger employees. That's his name below hers. He's moved on to other pastures, grateful for his time here. Well, she asked him to drive her home, saying she was too drunk to drive. From what I hear of her, there's not enough scotch in the world to get her that drunk."
Tyrone smiled at Gregg, who smiled back wanly. "Well, she got the young man into her condo then had her way with him. For a whole weekend. When they came into the office the following Monday, together, there were lots of smirks and gossip. When the men went out to lunch together, one of them asked if ..." Tyrone looked at the 2 x 4 closely. "Scotty had to tie a two by four to his ask to keep from falling in. Scotty flattened the guy. Well, Rodney, you know what a gossip mill this place is. Word got back to Jane about what was said and Scotty's reaction. That Friday, at close of business, Jane brought out this 2 x 4, with that first plaque. She handed it to Scotty and told him she expected him to put it to good use. She then looped her arm in his and walked toward the door. Just before leaving, she turned to the jokester and told him to clean out his desk. Then the two sauntered out. Or that's the way I've been told the story."
All the time Tyrone was talking, Maude was beaming at Rodney, the lust unmistakable in her eyes. Tyrone took the stick from her, and held it up so that the last few plaques were at Rodney's eyes.
"As you can see, the last three plaques have Maude's name on them. You see whose name is also on the last two?"
Rodney leaned forward to read the small engraving. Then he turned in shock to Tyrone. "You!"
Tyrone nodded. "Yeah, buddy. If you pass Maude up, then I'm the next youngest. And you don't have to do this. Gregg is not going to fire you, and most of us will treat you as we always had ... whether you like it or not." Tyrone chuckled at this.
Rodney looked from the lumber to Maude to Tyrone then around the room. All eyes were on him. He noticed the men's gazes were smirky, while the women's were apprehensive, but he couldn't determine why.
Tyrone squeezed his shoulder again. "Give it a try, Rod." He looked at the old woman. "I did, and I went back the next year. And I'm ready this year."
Maude looked at the tall Black man, tears of gratitude welling in her eyes. She turned back to Rodney. "If the young man finds me undesirable, I understand." She looked at Tyrone. "Looks like you're back in the saddle, Ty."
"Uh ... uh ..." Rodney stammered. All eyes were on him again. "It's ... it's not that ... I mean ... This is something I've never done before."
Maude smiled at him. "What have you not done before? Have sex with a woman old enough to be your grandmother? Have sex with a co-worker? Or have sex?"
Rodney looked down. "Uh ... uh ... all of that."
Maude smiled devilishly. "You mean ... you're a virgin?"
The room resounded with hoots, howls, chuckles and giggles as Rodney shook his head affirmatively. "Oh brother, a virgin!" "I can't believe it!" "Maude, you've got to throw him back!"
Tyrone looked at Maude. "Well?"
Maude looked at Tyrone, then Rodney. "Wait here." She turned and left, returning with both her coat and Rodney's. She laid his over the back of a chair, handing her to him, then turning her back. Rodney took the hint and held it for her. She turned to face him, picked up his coat and returned the favor. Tyrone handed the 2 x 4 to him, while Maude looped her arm in his free one. As the passed the liquor table, she grabbed an unopened bottle of champagne. She stopped just before the outer door, turned and held up the bottle with one hand, then Rodney's arm with the hand holding the 2 x 4. To the applause of their boss and co-workers, they walked out into the December night.
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