It was November, 1976 and Carl Fleischer had a choice to make, but his options were limited. His boss at the apparel factory, John Mayweather, had been making Carl’s life a misery for months with his constant unfair criticisms, condescending tone and not infrequent verbal abuse. Carl had become Mayweather’s favorite target in a shooting gallery of spirit-broken employees.
The way Carl figured it, if he stood up to Mayweather, called his bluff and demanded to be treated with respect, one of two things could happen. Either Mayweather would back off and find someone else to pick on, or Carl would be out of a job. He figured the odds at roughly 50/50.
Mayweather had fired people before for doing nothing more than challenging his authority, the elements of which offense consisted of nothing more than suggesting that a thing might be better done in a way that was not Mayweather’s way. On the other hand, none of those people had shown much spunk or gumption. None had actually stood up, forcefully asserted themselves and given Mayweather as good as they got. In fact, all had wimped out and, once fired, had left whimpering.
Carl knew what was at stake. He had his new bride, Diane, and he was dead set on being a family man. Family men have children, and they support them. Family men don’t jeopardize their jobs, especially good paying steady jobs, just for the hell of it. They’ve got to have a compelling reason. Carl was sure his reason was compelling.
Carl knew what he had to do. There was never really a time when he didn’t know what he had to do. He knew it every miserable morning for twenty-eight years, but every day he thought of some reason why tomorrow would be a better day for taking Mayweather on.
Every day Carl bitched and moaned, mostly to himself and under his breath, and repeated over and over the things he intended to say to Mayweather tomorrow. Carl knew what he had to do.
In 2004 Carl retired from the apparel factory. Every day since, Carl has been busy taking stock of his life. Not too many things turned out the way he planned, and not too many things turned out to his liking.
His marriage deteriorated quickly, and Diane left in 1979. When he asked her why, she couldn’t give him a firm reason. She said something vague about how “you don’t act like the person I married.” Carl didn’t understand.
Suzanne, his new bride in 1981, left in ’94 for the same reason. Women, Carl thought, cannot be understood.
Carl regrets that he never had children. When he attends church services alone on Sunday mornings, he envies the other men his age whose grandchildren bring smiles to the faces of all who make up the congregation. He especially regrets it when services are over, and it’s time to go home.
When he retired, his fellow employees gave Carl a large plaque, and the company gave him a bonus check for two thousand dollars. In a special ceremony on Carl’s last day at work John Mayweather presented Carl with the check.
The check is still in the pocket of the jacket Carl wore that day. He’s never cashed it.
There are only a few things Carl really wants anymore, and two-thousand dollars won’t buy any of them.