FedEx vs. Kinko's
by Brian Hurley
We had no idea how much things had changed until Ben Sisto led us back to the break room for some horrible news. Ben Sisto said, "Bebop and Rocksteady are gone."
Eric Thursby said, "How can they just be gone?"
Jason Queenan said, "Christ. This is worse than when they paved over the climbing tree to make room for the bigger sign."
Ben Sisto said, "It's worse than losing my doctor because he wasn't covered by the HMO."
Eric Thursby said, "It's worse than our new uniforms."
Jason Queenan said, "Are you still complaining about the uniforms? They're a billion times better than the old uniforms. I like the stretchy fabric. And the wider pockets on my apron."
Eric Thursby said, "They make me look like I need to work out."
Jason Queenan said, "You do need to work out, asshole. You look like a girl with those tits. Your tits are bigger than Marigold's. You need a good ass kicking. I'm gonna have Faroukh kick your ass. Hey, Faroukh! Why don't you come back here and kick this guy's ass?"
Eric Thursby said, "Faroukh knows I pay good money for his weed. He's not going to rough up his best customer. Isn't that right, Faroukh?"
Faroukh loaded a ream of 40 lb. white bond paper into a Canon 4400Si photocopier. Then he looked over his shoulder and flipped us off. A customer walked up to the cash register. Faroukh was the only person on the production floor. He crumpled a sheet that had been stuck in the side tray and walked over to be of assistance.
Jason Queenan said, "Fucking mute motherfucker."
Ben Sisto said, "Anyway, it's my lunch break and I can't microwave this ham and avocado sandwich. Which I brought especially from home. Because I'm trying to cut back on having ice cream and pretzels for lunch."
Eric Thursby said, "Why would you want to microwave a ham and avocado sandwich? The avocado is going to melt and run down the sides."
Jason Queenan said, "Where the fuck are Bebop and Rocksteady?"
Ben Sisto said, "That's exactly what I'm trying to tell you. They're gone."
A quick search of the break room showed us that Ben Sisto was right. The microwave had been yanked from its place on the counter. A rectangle of dust marked the place where it had stood for as long as any of us had worked here at Kinko's. Gone, also, was the blue cooler that we kept our lunches in. Although we rarely had ice for the cooler, unless Marigold was feeling generous and bought some, we still believed that certain cooling properties were inherent to the device, and it was best to leave our food inside until our lunch break. The missing microwave was adorned with a sticker of Bebop, an evil rhinoceros from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the cooler was graced with a similar image of his warthog accomplice, Rocksteady. The fact that the stickers were as old as the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was evidence of how long the cooler and microwave had been around.
We also noticed a stylish metal-and-plastic device with a translucent blue lid. It lay on the counter like something Eric Thursby might have picked up at one of his deejaying gigs, claiming that it was a brand new machine, imported from Japan, that burned DVDs in mere seconds. Affixed to the gizmo was a typewritten note on FedEx Kinko's letterhead.
We read the note aloud.
"To all associates. The microwave has been removed from the premises. Our maintenance contract with the manufacturer expired six years ago, and it was no longer covered under the warranty. It will be replaced by a brand new George Foreman Grill. The heating surface is ribbed so that excess oil will run off and be collected in the tray below. This should be a significant upgrade in the quality of our food. Not to mention what we're able to cook. I hope we will all remember to scrub the Grill clean after each use. A handy scraper has been provided for this purpose. Also, the cooler has been removed and will be replaced with a mini-fridge. The mini-fridge is still on order. For the time being you can use the mini-fridge in my office to store your lunches. But you probably don't have anything that needs to be cold, since the old cooler never had ice, anyway. Keep up the great work! Don't forget to clean the grease from the tray! Sincerely, Rick."
Jason Queenan said, "Bite me."
We agreed to pool our money to buy another microwave and a blue picnic cooler. This way things would go back to normal. We didn't really need another cooler. But certain things are a quality of life issue. You can't just change at a moment's notice.
FedEx was in the process of buying out Kinko's, which meant a lot of changes in our daily routine. It also meant a small raise in our next paycheck. Which we agreed to set aside for the purchase of a new Bebop and Rocksteady. They already took away our climbing tree. They gave us new uniforms with purple stripes and breathable mesh beneath the armpits. The changed our health plan. They changed the store layout. They changed the forms we had to fill out to request overtime pay. They fired our manager and gave us Rick Winsome. They did all of this without our permission, and they expected us to just go along.
At some point you have to make a stand.
Eric Thursby said we could name the new microwave and cooler Kobe and Shaq, which would be more in keeping with the times. Or Justin and Timbaland. Or Butch and Sundance. Or Cheney and Satan. Or Paris and Britney, etc.
Rick Winsome said, "Listen up, everybody. The new FedEx drop boxes are going really well. We're moving over three hundred packages a week. And our copy jobs haven't been affected. In fact, we're doing even better at meeting our copy deadlines and getting those big projects off the table. This afternoon I got a call from one of our corporate clients. She wanted to offer her personal thanks. So great job, everybody. I'm proud of you."
Rick Winsome had replaced the original Kinko's manager--Gian "the Brute" Abruzzi, a short, dark-skinned Italian of such blistering solicitude that he once paid a customer to shut up and go away. We kind of liked the Brute. He gave us shit for all the right reasons. But Rick Winsome was a different animal. Blond and Aryan, he came from the FedEx corporate office, where he used to manage the old shipping routes. He could still name the routing numbers and country codes off the top of his head.
Standing next to Rick was a gorgeous, six-foot blond named Kim Napier, whom we all called the Valkyrie behind her back, because we dreamed of her bringing us up to heaven on a steel-clad horse with a bloody war-sword in hand. She had a fitness center body and a long neck the color of a gently toasted marshmallow. Kim Napier was the best part of the FedEx Kinko's merger so far: a goddess who walked among us. None of us ever talked to her. She and Rick were somehow hardwired to the corporate office, so that even their smallest gestures--like the way they affixed their nametags high above their breast pockets, almost to the collar--seemed to reflect the will and ambition of our global executives.
Rick Winsome said, "Starting next week there will be new slips for International Priority shipments. These will need to be entered along with the standard Airway Bill and copied to the main hard drive. I can't stress how important the copying is. We need a separate record of all our shipments to send to the district office each month, until they get up and running with the FedEx tracking software. But I know you guys will come through for me. So thank you. Everything else has been great around here. Stocks are up!"
At these informal Monday meetings, some of us believed that Rick was cleverly taking away our right to complain. Rick warned us about all the changes so far in advance that we barely had time to understand what it was that we should be complaining about. We almost respected him as an adversary because he was so daring with his preemptive strikes. How were we supposed to know what kind of pain in the ass the new slips for International Priority shipments would be? But as soon as we found out, it would be impossible to complain, because Rick had already thanked us in advance.
Other things changed without any warning. Like the traditional free breakfast on Monday mornings. We still had donuts and milk and orange juice--but no more coffee. Some of us had always refused to drink the coffee, because we were addicted to the stronger stuff from Starbucks, so there was always coffee going to waste. In exchange for no coffee, Rick had started buying us better orange juice (Tropicana brand, with no pulp) and two kinds of milk (skim and 2%). But was the smooth orange juice worth the absence of free coffee on the break room counter? We couldn't decide. Some of us depended on those free Monday breakfasts. We came back for a cold cup at four in the afternoon.
All these changes were messing with our heads.
Rick Winsome said, "Also. I'm afraid there is sad news. Faroukh was let go."
Marigold said, "You're kidding me."
Jason Queenan said, "Oh yeah. Where is that guy?"
Rick Winsome said, "We had to let him go, Jason. He's not coming back. Kim and I cleared out his locker over the weekend. It seems Faroukh was printing his own materials on company time. He deliberately abused his access to the photocopiers. He used company resources for his own gain. Which is tantamount to stealing from us."
We stopped eating for a moment.
Drops of orange juice dribbled down our chins.
Rick Winsome said, "It's not the content of what Faroukh was printing that bothers me."
We all imagined Faroukh and porn. Counterfeit dollar bills. Enormous posters advertising his various marijuana deals around town. Faroukh could have been running an entire criminal operation from the back of our Kinko's. Was Rick going to call the police? The feds might be involved. For all we knew, Faroukh might have been printing Islamic manifestos and getting ready to lead the faithful in a bloody jihad.
Rick Winsome said, "What bothers me is the principle. Faroukh was visiting web sites--forums, message boards, whatever--that disparaged our company and invited the good employees of FedEx Kinko's to quit. Or start a protest. Or something." Rick sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Faroukh was a confused young man. He became swept up in a cowardly effort to undermine the authority of this company. Back at the corporate office we have known about these underground agitators for some time. They're ex-employees and disgruntled workers who didn't find what they were looking for in the FedEx family. And that is sad. I thought you all should know the truth. I had to let Faroukh go. We will miss his presence. But we will not miss his lack of dedication."
Even though Ben Sisto was the only one who smoked cigarettes, we all took cigarette breaks. It wasn't fair to give the cancer barons a five-minute break every two hours, unless you also gave the good, non-toxic citizens a break, too. Ben Sisto smoked Marlboro Reds out behind the store, where the climbing tree used to be, while Jason Queenan rode in tight circles on a custom-made bicycle with broad, Harley-Davidson handlebars and a camouflage pattern on the chassis, and Eric Thursby spent his precious five minutes listening to an iPod with only one ear. He saved the other ear for conversations. We all suspected that Rick was going to find a way to crack down our liberal interpretation of the term "cigarette break." Some of us considered sharing drags of Ben Sisto's disgusting smoke sticks, just to develop a cover story. Which wouldn't be so bad, forming a long-term nicotine habit, as long as it pulled us away from the production floor every now and then.
So we all freaked out when someone busted through the back door and barged in on our cigarette break. But it wasn't our manager, storming outside to wreck our precious moments of peace. It was Kim Napier. With her flowing blond hair and those perfectly sculpted shoulders that we knew--we just knew--were smooth and opalescent and dying to be slathered in our saliva, she went right up to Ben Sisto and asked for a cigarette.
Ben Sisto said, "I didn't know you smoked."
Kim Napier said, "Haven't since I was on the field hockey team in high school."
Which surprised us, because we had always figured Kim for a sorority girl, or the president of a business-oriented fraternity, or a hardworking student who moonlighted under the name Apple Pie Dream Machine at a top-of-the-line strip club. She was on edge. Rushing a cigarette into the moist crevasse between her red lips, she stood absolutely still and puffed.
Ben Sisto said, "So what's wrong?"
Kim Napier said, "You guys are sweet for asking. But I can't tell you."
Eric Thursby said, "We swear to keep it a secret."
Kim Napier said, "Seriously. This is work-related, and I don't discuss work-related issues when I'm...you know. At work."
Ben Sisto said, "Officially, we're on break."
Jason Queenan said, "I'm sure you'll feel better after you get this off your chest."
And we all looked briefly at her chest.
Then we all experienced a long moment of silence where some of us contemplated how fast these cigarette breaks seemed to be over, and some of us kicked the pedals of our custom-made bicycles so they spun around really fast, and some of us watched as Ben and Kim traded obscure smoke signals with their cigarettes. Normally it's hard for a bunch of people to stand around and do nothing together, but for co-workers it's second nature.
Kim Napier said, "Well. You have to swear not to tell anyone else. Because I will kill you if you say anything. It wasn't Faroukh who printed those message boards and blog pages about FedEx and Kinko's. It was me."
Ben Sisto said, "Really?"
Jason Queenan said, "Oh, fuck me."
Eric Thursby said, "Wait a second. You're going to confess, right?"
Kim Napier said, "Hell no. Do you think I'd ruin my career over this? One person has already been fired. We don't need to lose another one. Besides, I need this job. I went to special classes for a business certificate. They're sending me to a regional conference next month. I can't just walk away from my career."
We all cringed at her use of the word career. That was a bad word around here. It was a FedEx word, referring to people who dedicated their lives to delivering a package on time, rain or snow, no matter what the cost. FedEx people were professionals. They had good business sense. Their benefits package was the envy of corporate America. One day they would all be promoted to middle management and beyond. But those of us who came from the Kinko's side didn't appreciate words like career. We didn't say them and we didn't want to hear them. We had been hired straight out of high school, or else we dropped out of college to make an hourly wage. We liked to think we had better things on our minds. Ben Sisto was the founder of an underground art collective for punk rockers. Jason Queenan was a gearhead who raced outrageous custom bicycles. Eric Thursby was known, in some circles, as a nimble-fingered maestro of the night--DJ Sugar Smack. Even Marigold, who worked the front counter, was deeply involved in the arts & crafts scene, knitting sweaters in homage to her favorite classic rock bands of all time. None of us wanted to think of our daily work as a career.
Ben Sisto said, "Why did you print them?"
Kim Napier said, "I don't know, exactly. At first it was research. When they transferred me from the corporate office, I wanted to know what I was getting into. A lot of people are upset about the way this merger is going. They're getting fired after sixteen years of service. Or they're finding out that all these new protocols don't work so well, and their customers are raising hell. Things are not going smoothly. It's all right there on the Internet. FedEx Kinko's employees in thirty different states are logging on to bitch about the latest news. At first I was doing research. And then I got worried. So I printed out the message boards and sent copies to my friends at other branches. Old friends. People who I trained with. People who might want to know that their livelihoods are in danger."
Eric Thursby said, "But we're going to be fine, right?"
Jason Queenan said, "Stocks are up!"
Kim Napier said, "But I don't know why I'm telling you this. I haven't been able to think straight all day. I keep wondering if I left any other copies lying around, and what will happen if Rick finds them before I do."
Ben Sisto said, "Faroukh was fired because of you."
Kim Napier said, "Get over it. He was entry level."
Jason Queenan said, "So are we."
Kim Napier said, "I swear to God, if you say anything. I've been to headquarters. They know me in Dallas. They're putting me on the fast track to become a branch manager. Rick will believe anything I say. And you guys will be so fucked."
We spent the last thirty seconds of our cigarette break thinking about Kim fucking us all in all sorts of ways, and coming to the conclusion that Faroukh was probably glad to be gone, because he was already make a pile of money from the weed he sold in the Best Buy parking lot across the street. He only worked at FedEx Kinko's to keep up appearances. The truth was that Faroukh would be better off than the rest of us. But it seemed unfair that he was fired, and we wanted to make it up to him.
We all vowed to remain his loyal customers.
For a couple of weeks we settled into a sort of sleepwalk, wearing familiar paths in the blue carpet with its silver studs of fallen staples. Occasionally there was a flash of light from beneath the scanner beds of a photocopier. One afternoon we saw a customer trying to shove a cardboard package into a FedEx drop box. She got her arm stuck, elbow-deep, and she had to flail around to extricate herself. It should have been a hilarious thing to watch. But we just slid down to the edge of the counter, where it was impossible for her to see us, and we said nothing.
We listened to the grind and scrape of the machines.
One thing is for sure: the Brute never would have given Faroukh the ax. He would have grabbed Faroukh around the neck and rubbed his knuckles all over Faroukh's skull. And he would have done this in front of everybody, so it was clear that Faroukh was being punished. And that's all he would have done.
Right before he left--or was forced out, whatever--the Brute delivered a speech in the conference room. Resting his elbow on an enormous Ikon 650 with a scanner bed and twenty-five external trays for sorting massive documents, the Brute said he always wanted a steady job. And for sixteen years he had one--right here. But the steadiness of it was nothing like what he imagined. The work changed every day. Something comes up, a new catastrophe, and suddenly you're forced to adapt. A customer walks through the door and you have no idea what sort of outlandish request they're going to make. You have to roll with it. Steady, but always changing. That's why the Brute loved his work.
While the Brute was speaking, Marigold used a black Sharpie marker to decorate the bottoms of Ben's shoes. Jason had Eric in a headlock. And Faroukh was reading a book in the back corner and hogging all the donuts.
Rick Winsome said, "Kim is coming around to collect your pens."
Eric Thursby said, "What happens if I need to write something down?"
Rick Winsome said, "Your old pens have a Kinko's emblem and blue casing. But we're FedEx Kinko's now. I have a box of new pens, with the FedEx Kinko's logo and white casing. After the meeting you can pick them up in my office. Take as many pens as you want. Give some to your friends."
We emptied all the pens from our pockets, our aprons, and the nooks behind our ears. Ben Sisto kept a fistful of pens in his cargo pans, with his cigarettes. Those were gone. Marigold was using a pen to stab the clump of red hair that she wore in a tight bun. That was gone, too. Kim Napier gathered the pens in a blue plastic garbage can. We opened our fingers and watched everything drop inside.
Rick Winsome said, "There was a bit of action on the night shift, by the way. It seems our old friend Faroukh was picked up by a police car. Right out here, in the parking lot at Best Buy. They caught him in possession of an illegal substance."
Ben Sisto said, "Where is he now?"
Jason Queenan said, "No way. No way the cops will hold him."
Rick Winsome said, "All I know is Faroukh was taken down the station for questioning. And I'm glad. Faroukh was a troubled kid. This ought to give him a wake-up call. Straighten him out a bit. Show him what the limits are."
Eric Thursby said, "Did Faroukh give up the names of his associates?"
By now most of us were sweating into our breathable mesh shirts with the FedEx Kinko's emblem. But the conversation ended when we saw that Kim Napier was glaring at us, with her sculpted marble head shaking ever so slightly. If we carried this line of questioning any further, she might fly across the room on a righteous Valkyrie wind, and set upon us with rows and rows of gleaming white teeth.
A few hours later our shift ended, and we retired to the break room to hang up our aprons, change shirts, and swipe a chalky layer of deodorant on. Some of us were getting excited about the cold taste of a beer down at The Silver Fox. Others had a date with a stack of vintage records and a small green baggie at home.
Opening our lockers we found some curiously printed books--one for each of us--bound together in the standard FedEx Kinko's method. We flipped through the fat bundles of printed material, and suddenly we were staring at transcripts of online message boards; missives and manifestos that called for an end to the FedEx Kinko's merger; articles from the business section that derided our stock value; fervent testimonials from former employees whose lives were gutted when the internal hierarchy was switched; all of the public doubts and private gripes, assembled and photocopied for us.
Jason Queenan said, "Oh, shit."
Marigold walked into the break room.
We sort of panicked.
One of the books went flying into an empty locker. Jason whirled around and slammed into Eric. Ben stuffed a book behind a box of tabloid reams, where only the janitors would see it. We all sucked our breath and muttered curses.
Eric Thursby said, "This is not what it looks like."
Marigold said, "Calm down."
She wore a pink and blue sweater, which she had probably knitted by hand. Across her chest, in gold script letters it said, "As you wish. But I don't have to like it." She was coming back from the drug store, where she had picked up some Dr. Pepper and a bag of sour glow worm candies to get her through a late shift.
Marigold said, "I printed those books for you guys."
And she proceeded to empty her pockets and put on her apron. All kinds of things fell into her apron--a box cutter, a translucent plastic ruler, a pocket calculator, the Dr. Pepper and the sour glow worms, a barrette for her coiled red hair. Marigold was looking good. She had never looked better, actually.
Ben Sisto said, "Are you trying to get us in trouble?"
Marigold said, "Aren't we in trouble already?"
About the author:
Brian Hurley writes for Wonka Vision magazine and Hipster Book Club. His fiction has been published in Small Spiral Notebook and The Furnace Review. He recently finished a novel.