John arrived to work the next morning like he always did. He wore gray slacks and a navy blazer, neither fitted. He parked his old Toyota Camry in his numbered spot and walked from the garage into the office. First he went to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee from the instant brewer. One of the things he told himself he would do when he retired would be to buy himself a nice coffee maker and keep a budget that allowed him to buy African coffee from a free trade supplier. As it was he couldn't pass up free coffee nor the convenience of having it made for him.
John said his good mornings and settled down in his cube to read his new assignments and look over his edited ones. John looked over the papers in front of him before checking his email in habit. His first email made his heart skip a jump. It was from his boss who wanted to see him in his office right away. John didn't like this news because he and his boss hadn't ever got along but the relationship was worsening and there is no way his boss wanted to congradulate John for a job well done.
John almost got up right then but another email caught his eye. It was titled "Be Nice". John's heart skipped two jumps as he remembered the note left on his car. He clicked to read the body of the email and all it said was, Be nice. He didn't have time to think about this targetting of what could very well be either a stalker or spam or a joke from a friend who was pranking him. John took a deep breathe and walked to his boss' office.
His boss sat in his big chair with his black dress shoes on his desk while he talked on the phone. John knocked on the door which was slightly open. His boss looked through the crack.
"Just a minute, John."
He wrapped up his conversation in a hushed tone, put down the phone and his legs, and asked John to come in while keeping his seat. John sat down across the desk while his boss looked at him for a few seconds before speaking.
"John, your articles have been sloppy lately, you know we think that, but now they are turning into sloppy opinion pieces. We aren't paying you to write poorly and we sure as hell aren't paying you to write opinion pieces."
The conversation of sloppy writing had come up once before. John was asked to cover a press conference about a cheating Congressman and misquoted an aide. At least that is what the aide said, and the paper took the aide's word and rescinded the quote and made an apology. That was strike one against John and since then his boss had handled him like a hot frying pan.
"Do you know how many writers want to write for us right now? It isn't like a journalist is hard to find when every paper in America is laying off half their workforce.
His boss leaned forward and continued, "Honestly John, you are one of the worst writers at the paper and I don't know if we should keep you. You misquoted an aide in an important report and then you decided to write about your love and worship for guns....I just don't know if we should keep you."
His boss reclined, and John tilted his head to its right and sneered. The first thought that came to mind was to belittle his boss; tell him how bad the paper stunk under the boss' guidence.
"What story will you run today?" John wanted to say. "What article will you choose over mine? Another article about cute cats on the internet? Or one about the local who was in the running for the Miss America pagent?"
John wanted to point out in the paper's desperation to sell copies it had become a hybrid of sensational news stories and a tabloid. Never did the paper question the ongoing wars, or overt gun control. No, they would print a picture of troops in Afghanistan, remind everyone the US was still there, and then give an article outlining what type of flowers would be used at the President's ball that evening. And this was a national newspaper! This was the hope of the media. Cats and flowers.
But there was something in the back of John's head telling him not to give the boss another excuse to fire him.
"Be nice," he thought.
"I'm sorry. I'll do better from now on."
John's boss winced. He seemed upset by John's apology.
"I'm taking you off of government and I'm pairing you with Cindy. You will report with her from now on."
"You can go....and John, remember, you are at the end of your rope."
John stood up and left. He felt half humiliated that he couldn't express himself and half relieved that the meeting was over.
"Cindy. Great. I am paired with the reported that runs the cute cats on the internet pieces."