tagRomanceThe Corporate Ladder

The Corporate Ladder


As Joel pushed her out the door not that long after he had brought her home, he realized he wasn't even sure what her name was. Mindy? Cindy? Linda? Fuck. How pathetic. One more in a long line of trashy little sluts and one night stand bar pick-ups. He was almost glad he hadn't had the opportunity to see her in full light.

With her over sprayed hair plastered down and the excessive makeup smeared all over her face, even in the dim light she had been...what exactly? He'd known as soon as his arms went around her that she had a few too many rolls of fat in all the wrong places. Stubby little legs...a fat ass...questionable oral hygiene...a pussy that had the lingering odor of stale piss. His dick was still sore after the pathetic teeth-laden blow job she had attempted. When he finally had fucked her, she had just laid there. He'd better check carefully for crabs.

He'd had his "beer goggles on" as he did most nights of the week. He had fallen into an all too familiar routine. He didn't love nor hate his job. It was his first real job following college, grad school and the military. He chuckled as he thought about the amazing line of bullshit the corporate recruiter had fed him. "Industry leader," "progressive, state of the art technology." The company facility they had shown him when they had been recruiting him was all of that. The place they had sent him for his first "entry-level" management position was something else.

Joel was a few years older than his two peers at the plant; he'd stuck around his alma mater for an MBA with a double major and then owed Uncle Sam four years in return for his ROTC scholarship. Bobby and Fred were twenty four and twenty-five respectively; Joel was the old man at twenty-nine. The company was paying him a little more in view of his MBA and service time. In the pecking order his job title was senior to theirs. He was the assistant plant manager while they had titles which were a little more nebulous.

If there was a certified smelly arm pit in the country, this was it. Situated about as far North in the U.S. as you could be without being in Canada, it was a decrepit, aged, dirty, dying old town which hadn't even gotten around to upgrading its "ESSO" signs at the gas station he often stopped at. It had one fast food restaurant. Past that there wasn't a decent place to eat and these folks had no concept of a decent cup of coffee. He'd often drive across the border and enjoy an absurdly cheap and relatively decent lobster dinner at a little dive.

The climate was brutal; the sun didn't shine for at least nine months of the year. The mounds of snow didn't melt until well into the month of May. The long winters were numbingly cold and the wind was relentless. During the absurdly short "summer," huge horse flies came out of nowhere and seemed impervious to any repellant other than the 80% DEET that could only be procured on the Canadian side.

It wasn't close to ski country---not that he skied. The only agricultural production seemed to be potatoes. Cheaper---and better---potatoes were coming in from across the border. In a futile fit of protest the potato farmers dumped massive piles of spuds near the border crossings. The town seemed to lack the funds or know how to dispose of them. As soon as the temperature got above freezing the potatoes began to rot and stink.

It was obvious that the EPA had never been here; what industry existed was ancient and polluting. A pungent gray haze hung over everything until the stiff winter breezes blew it somewhere else. The water out of the tap tasted of sulfur and iron. His car was coated with a thick black soot that attacked the paint and seemed impervious to anything short of Comet or Ajax.

His apartment was equally old, dated and crappy; it had been the best he could find or afford and he hated every inch of it. It was neither well-insulated nor adequately weatherproofed. Heat was often intermittent and electrical brown outs were common fare in the winter.

The only place to meet women was at the only motel in town, an equally decrepit Holiday Inn. Local girls would mingle with school teachers who would come across the border to dance to the marginal house band and explore the potential for male companionship.

The first night a friend from work had taken him there, he quickly realized that it would take at least a pitcher a night of overly sweet, flat, shitty draft beer before any of the women appeared remotely attractive. Evidently the better looking girls didn't need to take a job in this little hell hole or its equally depressing sister town just across the border.

Soon after arriving, he read in the local paper that his new home town had the highest suicide rate in the state---and the nation. Crime was another issue; no one had much to steal. Violent crime usually came down to a couple of terminally depressed drunks going after each other with knives, lead pipes or ball bats. Driving after dark could be hazardous; the critically understaffed local constabulary had long since given up enforcing DUI statutes.

His boss at work, the plant manager, was a very decent guy who, rumor had it, was being punished for some earlier indiscretion. He was actually very sharp, mentored well and seemed to give a shit. Joel was a bright kid with decidedly blue collar roots. He wasn't afraid of hard work; he worked longer hours than he probably needed to. Hell, what else did he have to do? Hopefully hard work, good results and long hours would get him out of this shit hole sooner rather than later.

The plant employees worked with a grim determination that seemed to indicate that they had accepted their lot in life. It was almost as if they believed God had put them here for a purpose---possibly as punishment for some unknown sins---and they had to make the best of it. They were in purgatory; if it was the last stop before hell, hard work might get them a seat slightly away from the inferno. If there was a chance for redemption, hard work and a good attitude might be the tickets to salvation.

The local stores were almost a throwback to the late forties and early fifties; they always ran out of things. If you didn't like the brand of sliced cheese on the shelf, tough luck...it was the only one they carried. One mustard, one catsup and one kind of relish.

Unfortunately the women who worked at the factory were well illuminated by the harsh, yellow, flickering florescent lighting. All of their flaws and shortcomings were well displayed. He wouldn't have let a single one of them in his bed; if any of them had crawled in of their own volition, you're damn right he would have kicked them out. Three pitchers of bad beer wouldn't have changed his perspective.

Each morning he and his two counterparts would proceed on arrival to the plant manager's office---more an open bay overlooking the shop floor---for a quick pep talk and any special marching orders. Today was no exception. There were never any new marching orders and the pep talked had lost any vestige of effectiveness. Joel couldn't remember the boss ever closing his office door. He didn't even remember it having a door but evidently it did because the plant manager closed it, asked them all to sit down and seemed less talkative than usual.

"Gents, let's keep this under our hats until it's official and more details are forthcoming. No use beating around the bush; this plant is being closed. It's been decided that investment in newly mandated work place safety requirements just doesn't make sense. New technology says the work we do here can be done at lower cost with fewer people someplace else. For the record you three are not going to be let go; HR will find new positions for you at other locations. I on the other hand will be exploring opportunities outside the corporation. An HR representative will be in town this afternoon to chat with each of you. Those conversations will be held off-site to avoid alarming the work force. Any questions?"

Joel spoke up first. "I guess it isn't a surprise. Our machinery is antique and, in spite of diligent and quality conscious workers, things break down all the time and it kills productivity. I know I join Bobby and Fred in saying it has been an honor to work for you. You've been a good boss, you care about the employees and the plant and you've worked overtime to mentor us. I've learned more about the business of manufacturing from you in the last year and a half than I ever did in college. This is probably out of line, but what the hell did you do---and who did you do it to---to get screwed over like this, Simon? It just doesn't seem right."

Simon laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. "For the record I didn't sleep with the boss's wife---heaven forbid. You guys have frankly been the best three entry level hires I've had the pleasure of working with; you deserve to know. I'm talking way out of school here."

Simon paused to sip his black coffee and continued. "Every company has a few people that play the good old boy system for all it's worth, seldom put in an honest day's work and repeatedly take credit for other people's efforts. Some get caught but one or two just seem to keep getting promoted. I've never been part of the good old boy network. I don't do dinners, cigars, Single Malt or late night brandy sniffing---I have a family. I hate golf.

"A few years ago in a fit of conscience, I tried to expose one of those pricks in question; I lost. My numbers had always been stellar; I'd put my performance reviews up against anyone in the company. I knew more about plant operations than anyone at my level or any other level for that matter. The 'gentleman' in question wanted to fire me. Cooler heads prevailed so I was exiled---here. Unfortunately the 'gentleman' in question has continued to be promoted...this time he got his way.

"I care for you guys; you need to know who I'm talking about and avoid getting on his bad side like the plague. His name is Brett Davidson; he is now the Senior VP of manufacturing East and will probably head up all plant operations within the next two years. Be careful and feel free to tell him what a useless piece of shit I was if he ever asks." With those final words, it was obvious that the meeting was over.

The non-union plant foreman sidled up to Joe at his earliest opportunity.

"They're closing the plant, aren't they, Joel?"

"Mike, you know damn well that if I had that information I couldn't share it. We both know it's an antiquated facility in which the corporation has invested almost nothing in years. We've had this chat before over one too many pitchers of cheap beer. We all agreed that the day would come when they pulled the plug. I am not intimating that such a decision had been made but everyone in this building knows this facility is long in the tooth and on its last legs."

"Why did Simon close the door? He never does that."


Mike and Joel had a very good working relationship. His maturity, time in the military and blue collar parents had helped make Joel more acceptable than the typical bright eyed and bushy tailed new college grad. Mike Bowman was the glue that kept the whole mess together. He had to believe that the company would find a place for Mike. He would discover that afternoon how naïve he was.

The meetings with the HR representative were held in a small, dingy conference room at the Holiday Inn. Joel was schedule last; he didn't see any particular significance in that fact.

He arrived early and took a seat outside the conference room. Ten minutes before his appointment Bobby came out of the room following his HR session. He was smiling.

"What's the scoop, Bobby?" Joel at that point had more concern for his employees and his foreman than Bobby probably did. He was disappointed that Bobby had garnered no information on that front. The discussion had focused only on Bobby's future.

"I'm moving to Hotlanta! Assistant Plant Manager in a brand new, state of the art, non-union plant just south of the city."

"Did you talk to Fred?"

"Yep! He's going to San Antonio with a promotion---same deal."

"That's great, Bobby. I'm happy for both of you." The two men shook hands; the younger one almost skipped down the motel corridor.

Joel had a few minutes to ruminate before his scheduled appointment. He'd never been a suck-up. He'd come close to straying over the line of uninvited openness on one or more occasions over the years but his hard work and top performance had always given him some license for candor. He was pretty sure he knew what was going to happen to all of the non-exempt employees: just what had happened to Simon only worse. There were no other jobs in this shit hole town. Few if any of them had the money to pull up stakes and move. He doubted they would receive anything beyond token assistance from the corporation---certainly not travel or relocation funds.

Somehow he sensed that Simon would come out okay; he'd move. He was a pretty frugal guy and hopefully had some savings. He'd receive severance based on company policy that would give him money coming in for as long as it usually took for someone at his level to find a new job.

Joel had no intention of burning bridges or telling anyone to fuck off...but he wasn't going to duck the issue of his people and their future. He knew nothing he said would have any impact but at least he'd be on the record. Regardless of Simon's advice, Joel wasn't going to sell his boss down the river...at least not to the personnel puke on the other side of the door. He was beginning to wonder if he still cared if he had a job with this company; he had no family, no debts and moderate savings. The door next to him opened and he wasn't remotely prepared for what or who he saw.

The HR representative was female---young female, his age or possible a couple of years younger. She was pretty...no, she was better than pretty. Her smile was warm, inviting...friendly. She was tall---certainly five seven in stocking feet maybe a hair more. Without appearing to gawk, that was about all he had time to take in before she extended her hand and introduced herself.

"Hi, Joel., I'm Melissa...Melissa Stanton. It's a pleasure to meet you; come on in."

She preceded him and he had a chance to quickly appraise the back view. Nice legs...a soft swell to her hips...a hint of expensive perfume...an Audrey neck. She indicated which chair he should take, picked up a file from a table nearby and descended into the chair beside him. Nice blouse...pretty skirt...shimmering hair...a small but quite adequate bust line. Ah, he thought to himself. This is how you get the young entry level managers off their game--- send up a pretty one.

She made small talk, noting where he had attended college, commenting on his military service, speaking of her own education but quickly got down to business. Hell, it was the middle of the afternoon and the closest airport was a hundred miles away---and that only got you on a prop commuter to Boston. She didn't want to be in this crappy little town any more than he did.

"So, Joel, are you ready to take your first real step up the corporate ladder?"

"Before we do, could I ask a couple of questions---even though I think I already know the answers?"

This was not on the script but HR types were supposed to be touchy-feely so whatever floated his boat---up to a point, Melissa thought to herself.

"First, am I correct in assuming we are not planning to salvage and relocate any of the non-exempts to include the foreman and the line supervisors?"

"That would not be financially prudent, Joel. Few if any of them have the skills to work in one of our state of the art facilities."

"They're far brighter than someone who has never worked with them might think. They're loyal, hard working and have continued to turn out quality products in a stone age facility. I'm well aware that productivity has declined; the machinery is old and breaks down all too often. I'm not in any position to argue with you, Ms. Stanton. I understand corporate reality."

"I'm glad you understand."

"I also gather that they don't qualify for any real severance, job hunting expenses and the like...am I right?"

"That's correct."

"As you mentioned a moment ago, I did a stint in the military. I've worked with good NCOs---non commissioned officers...blue collar supervisors---and Mike Bowman is as good a 'first sergeant' as it gets. He's the glue that has kept things together. He's studied computers on his own time and at his own expense---even built one for himself. He does have a college degree earned in night school. He's 'old school' but very bright and has exceptional people skills. It would be a shame to lose him."

"I'll look into that, Joel...anything else?"

"Just one more thing. I've come to realize that Simon, the plant manager is very high on someone's shit list---pardon my language---and has no future within the corporation. For the record, I have learned more about business and specifically manufacturing from him than I learned in college, grad school and the military combined. He's a straight shooter and a consummate mentor. The company is losing a very good man. That's about it from my end, Ms. Stanton."

"Joel, Simon's---Mr. Carlton's---future or lack of it is well above my pay grade and out of my hands. He will receive a generous severance and outplacement assistance. If he's as good as you say he is---and I gather his numbers have always been impressive---I'm sure he will land on his feet."

The attractive brunette paused, seemingly deep in thought. "Joel, there are 226 non-exempt employees working at the plant. If it was your money, how many of them would you want to 'salvage,' as you put it?"

"I'm not as idealistic nor do I have a bleeding heart as you might think, Ms. Stanton. More than half of them are older, have no other job skills, aren't technologically sound and haven't made any real attempt to improve their skills. They work hard doing mind numbingly repetitive work. They are neither ambitious nor terribly bright. Their current relatively meager existence will decline dramatically in view of the lack of employment opportunities in the area. Many of them---along with their spouses and children---will not survive. They'll lose their homes, cars and most of what they have accumulated in life. Many will end up homeless; without healthcare, many will get sick and die in this God forsaken climate. If they'd had any sense, they would have moved away from the town of their birth decades ago."

Melissa seemed to be taking notes; Joel paused to let her catch up. He was really going to be on the record this time.

"In answer to your question, probably a third to a quarter---fifty to seventy--- are the antithesis of their older colleagues and would be worth an interview and an evaluation. Of that, maybe half---twenty five or thirty---would prove to be real assets to the company's objectives and would be highly productive employees worthy of salvaging. Of those, sadly five or ten have elderly relatives to care for who won't leave, spouses with jobs or a bond to this part of the country that they just can't break. At the end of the day, if it was my money...twenty? Not counting Mike Bowman who is a no-brainer."

Melissa Stanton completed her notes and looked up, fixing him with the most piercing set of deep blue eyes Joel had ever seen. She spoke one word.



"Send me your list of the fifty to seventy after you identify them. A team will come back up to test, interview and evaluate them. If they measure up, the company will salvage ten of them. That's the budget. I'll deal with the Mike Bowman issue. I have a room here for the night; I'd hoped to get out without staying overnight but, if it's as important as you say it is, then Mike Bowman deserves my time."

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