Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday
By Debbie Graber, recommended by The Unnamed Press
AN INTRODUCTION BY CATE DICHARRY
Have you ever read a story so incisive and specific it feels like your own twisted life is right there, splayed out on the page? You know the feeling: like you might throw up a little bit because the details are so perfectly gnarled and recognizable? You’re reading along thinking, Yep, I’ve imagined making that exact prank call to a colleague in that exact fake British accent and I have imagined getting fired for it. And then, a few pages later, Oh yeah, I’ve been there, buddy, hate-pooping on my boss’s desk, ha ha ha.
This is the resonant, hysterical experience of reading Debbie Graber’s fiction. I felt it six years ago when I first encountered her work through a terrific, inventive story, the true and sober tale of Dumbo, the orphaned Disney elephant. I felt it again when I readKevin Kramer Starts on Monday.
Here’s the thing: Graber is a master of finely-wrought satire.
This is not a small thing. The great challenge of successful satire is riding a super-fine evaluative line without descending into the ridiculous or the contemptuous. Even good satire shimmers only when it hovers just barely over the far side of reality. Too far and you have caricature. Not far enough and you have woe. Debbie Graber possesses the essential gift of a true satirist: precision. And, oh man, does she bestow it upon us, her readers, in her forthcoming debut collection.
Graber’s dominion is the workplace, and she navigates with care and rigor; she never lays it on too thick, never loses sight of the absurd, and never wavers from excoriation. The titular story is a ruthless, hilarious critique of corporate decision-making, and nonsensical professional language and culture — all punctuated with desktop defecation, a defunct band named the “Butt Gerbils,” and trenchant, playful humor. But Graber wisely comes to her material sideways by using, in this case, a trick of narrative perspective — the results of a corporate survey — to create distance from her critique. She is able, therefore, to make the derisive feel objective. This isn’t snark you’re reading. It isn’t cynicism. It is analysis. Fucking hilarious analysis.
In the end, Graber’s work is as unpredictable as her punch lines: it is warm. Her commentary is considered, never cruel. Even the subjects of her condemnation have lives and reasons and flaws, all revealed alongside unsparing examination. They are not forgiven, but they are human.
And so let it be recommended, nay, let it be urged: read Debbie Graber, and be delighted, and a little bit wicked, for it.
Author of The Fine Art of F*cking Up, published by The Unnamed Press.
Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday
by Debbie Graber
Kevin Kramer starts his new job on Monday. The executive team counts down the minutes to his arrival. The executive team is made up of four white men, one woman, and one man who claims to be a “Pacific Islander” on tax forms, but everyone knows he’s Armenian.
Kevin Kramer is exactly what the Products Profit Center needs in a senior vice president. He was groomed in corporate. According to Kevin Kramer’s impressive résumé, he worked previously for Procter and Gamble, Hewlett-Packard, and Mrs. Fields. According to the transcripts from his breakfast interviews, Kevin Kramer lives and breathes corporate.
Kevin Kramer speaks in a low baritone, softly but with authority. He talks about concepts like “tonnage” and “low-hanging fruit.” Even though 85 percent of the executives surveyed had no idea what Kevin Kramer was talking about, 100 percent of them fell in love with Kevin Kramer from his first interview.
Kevin Kramer is a pro. He always maintains eye contact. His handshake is firm, but not too firm. His hands are supple and moisture-free. One executive, after shaking Kevin Kramer’s hand, thought his fingers felt a bit rough. It turned out that Kevin Kramer played bass for years with his band, the Butt Gerbils. When they couldn’t get any gigs, they changed their name to Punkster. That executive later fantasized about Kevin Kramer playing “Stairway to Heaven” onstage with Robert Plant. She thought about Kevin Kramer touching her with his rough, bass-hardened fingertips, and she came harder than she had in months.
Kevin Kramer says, “Leaders aren’t afraid to hurt people’s feelings in the best interests of the company. Leaders have no problems dispensing justice swiftly. Leaders never lose sleep at night. I sleep like a baby.” This is why Kevin Kramer starts on Monday.
The executive team cheers when they see Kevin Kramer drive his navy-blue BMW into the parking lot Monday morning. One executive says, “Let the hammer fall. Godspeed.”
This executive never washes his hands after visiting the men’s room. He also refuses to say thank you when someone holds the door to the patio open for him, unless that person is another executive or that sexy Indian girl in software.
When Kevin Kramer starts on Monday, he parks in his own parking space, with his name in bold on a placard. No one else in the company has ever had their own personally designated parking space, not even the CEO. Eighty percent of employees surveyed complained about the lack of parking. Kevin Kramer realizes that many in the company will be angered by this change to the parking space policy.
But Kevin Kramer refused to take the position of senior vice president unless he could be assured of his own parking space, and the executives agreed to his demand, provided that they too would receive their own parking spaces. The executives also tabled the plan to build a new parking garage for everyone else until 2020.
On Monday, HR sends out an e-mail explaining the new parking space policy. So as not to single out Kevin Kramer, the e-mail mentions the others who are important enough to get their own spaces. One executive says, “It’s about fucking time!”
This executive used the word fuck as much as possible, because he liked to think of himself as Tony Soprano, if Tony Soprano had been born in St. Louis and became a CPA.
Kevin Kramer has been hired to put new corporate efficiencies into place. Kevin Kramer makes these efficiencies up during meetings. He does his best work under pressure.
Kevin Kramer starts on Monday because the executives decided the company needed a paradigm shift. The CEO Jon Goldfarb had become too involved with everyday operations. He was a nice guy, but an egghead. He was socially awkward with clients at hockey games and other events that were supposed to be fun, not painful.
According to a survey, 72 percent of clients characterized Jon Goldfarb as “annoying.” One client wrote on the comment section of the survey, “Can someone please teach Jon Goldfarb the fundamentals of baseball so he can stop quoting actuarial tables when the bases are loaded in the bottom of the ninth?”
The executives also decided that Jon Goldfarb was too big of a softie to get rid of dead weight, and as a result, unproductive employees had been hanging on to their jobs for years. These employees did zero work while gobbling up health benefits and overtime and accumulated paid time off. The executives hoped that the new senior vice president would fire the employees doing their jobs poorly. The executives also wanted the senior vice president to bring a hipper vibe to the company, making it more “relevant” and “twenty-first century,” which 56 percent of surveyed clients indicated were desirable traits for their payroll company to have.
Kevin Kramer is a tough negotiator. He told Jon Goldfarb during his breakfast interview, “Your company is in the toilet. The competition wants to bury you, and while you waver trying to make a decision, they will hire me. And then I will bury you.”
Jon Goldfarb sipped his coffee and pushed his eggs around his plate. He personally found Kevin Kramer to be kind of an asshole, but he had read the survey that indicated 100 percent of the executives believed he was “the guy,” so he offered him the job. This is why Kevin Kramer gets whatever he desires.
Kevin Kramer’s office is new. Architects were hired to build his new office out of a corner office and a neighboring file room. The burliest members of the facilities department were offered overtime to spend a weekend moving the files out of the file room. When a few smaller employees complained that they were being discriminated against due to their size, HR arranged for everyone in facilities to receive Subway coupons. That shut everyone up.
Kevin Kramer is introduced around the Products Profit Center on Monday morning. He meets Judy, a hefty woman with white hair who is in charge of user acceptance testing. Judy has been an employee at the company for twenty years. Her passion is not user acceptance testing, but “Judy’s Corner,” a column in the company newsletter. “Judy’s Corner” is filled with employee anecdotes and upbeat sayings that allude to Jesus Christ.
It is company policy that all religions are tolerated, even religions that 79 percent of surveyed employees considered “weird.” Because of this and because of all the new employees in software development recently outsourced from a company in India, Judy has been told to steer clear of Jesus in her column. She sometimes reprints Family Circus cartoons when she’s out of ideas.
Kevin Kramer says, “It’s a pleasure to meet the famous Judy.” He was given the latest issue of the newsletter at his breakfast interview. He read it while taking a dump that Monday morning at home.
Judy beams, saying, “Kevin, I want to include a personal story from you for the ‘Corner’ this month,” to which Kevin Kramer replies, “I’d be happy to.” But later that Monday, Judy receives an e-mail from HR, telling her that unless she takes the early retirement package offered her, she risks losing all her benefits. By the end of the day, she is gone.
Forty-seven percent of employees surveyed thought the company newsletter was “pointless.” Thirty-six percent thought it was “heartwarming,” “a great way to stay abreast of employee happenings,” and “the only way to find out if any retired employees had died.”
The executive team had plans to revamp the newsletter into an interactive website, but they never got to that item on the agenda during their offsite planning session at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Getting rid of Judy is just another reason the executives are happy to see Kevin Kramer in his new corner office, standing on his eight-hundred-dollar Aeron chair.
After Kevin Kramer starts on Monday, the old guard starts to get nervous. The old guard are those employees who, when surveyed, thought it was okay to wear their pajamas to work. Some of the new guard will also be nervous, but only those who had gotten comfortable wearing shower shoes to work. The new guard figures that the old guard will have to go first, before Kevin Kramer sets his sights on them. But Kevin Kramer is unpredictable. For example, while he did away with the company newsletter, he inexplicably kept the interdepartmental potlucks going for a time. He even contributed a crockpot of chili that he claimed came from a family recipe.
If any of the employees who chowed down on Kevin Kramer’s chili thought it tasted off, or maybe that it smelled like dog food, they will never tell each other, let alone Kevin Kramer. No one will ever tell Kevin Kramer the truth, and no one knows this better than Kevin Kramer himself.
For a few months, Kevin Kramer does little work. He observes the Products Profit Center’s workflow. He attends meetings but says nothing. He spends most of the time looking out his office window, watching the employees smoke in the courtyard or slurp their 7-Eleven Slurpees.
He wanders the floor of the call center, and, hiding behind the potted ficus trees, listens to the representatives answer client calls. He refuses invitations to lunch from other executives, which makes them squirm. He spends hours in the break room, buying up all the strawberry Pop-Tarts.
He chats with Doc, the security guard, about Doc’s years in the Marine Corps. Kevin Kramer doesn’t understand a word of what Doc says, because no one understands a word of what Doc says. In that regard, Kevin Kramer is no different from anyone else in the company.
Finally, Kevin Kramer devises a plan. He doesn’t create a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint presentation. He doesn’t tell Jon Goldfarb, even though Jon Goldfarb has been asking for a status report for weeks. This type of behavior solidifies Jon Goldfarb’s opinion that Kevin Kramer is a big douchebag. But Kevin Kramer’s survey numbers have been rising every week since he started, so Jon Goldfarb keeps his mouth shut.
At this point, Kevin Kramer hires an assistant. It is Kevin Kramer’s practice to watch his workload pile up until it appears he will never be able to get on track. Then he hires an assistant whom he has already chosen in his mind. Kevin Kramer calls Debi Baker in human resources to let her know whom he has decided on.
“Kevin, the way it works around here is that HR hires all new employees. We need to interview candidates and see résumés,” Debi says.
“Debi, you have intimate knowledge of my new assistant, because you will be my new assistant,” Kevin Kramer says.
Debi pauses and finally says, “Kevin, I’m not an assistant; I’ve been in human resources for twenty-five years, so . . .”
“Do you accept your new position as my assistant, or will you leave the company of your own volition?” Kevin Kramer says, munching on a Twizzler.
Debi says nothing.
Kevin Kramer waits on the line, listening to Debi wheeze. Debi mentioned during Kevin Kramer’s employee orientation that she has terrible asthma that acts up when she’s stressed out. Asthma was the only thing Debi talked about during the new-employee orientation. She told the new employees, “Just read the handbook to learn about your benefits. It’s the standard crap you’ve seen a thousand times.”
“Okay,” she says finally. Then she hangs up.
Kevin Kramer estimates that Debi will last five weeks as his assistant. Kevin Kramer is always right about these things. As he suspects, she is a terrible assistant. Kevin enjoys asking her to stay late to research special paint that can turn his office walls into giant white boards. He makes Debi come in at six in the morning to answer support calls from international clients. He offers her services to whatever area of the Products Profit Center is short-staffed during the workday, and then asks her to do his work after six or on weekends.
Kevin Kramer listens to Debi wheeze in her cubicle, listens to her weep, until HR informs him that she has gone out on stress leave. Then he replaces her with Jenna, a support representative from the call center. Jenna seems eager to move up in the company. She has a golden tan and wears short skirts. Kevin Kramer noticed her right away during one of his secret excursions to the call center, her headset slightly askew on her head due to a clump of hair extensions.
Kevin Kramer has a thin, pretty wife and two adorable children with wide-set eyes just like him. But like any executive groomed in corporate, he does not mind a little eye candy around the office. He does not mind an office flirtation and, if the situation calls for it, a quickie on his antique desk.
The first quarterly meeting where Kevin Kramer is in attendance is a happening. He is treated like a rock star. The executives surround him, hoping to get into his good graces by complimenting his Brooks Brothers shirt. Most lower-tier employees are too shy to approach him, but a few brave or stupid ones try unsuccessfully to chat him up before one of the executives shoos them away. Jenna is one of the few who is allowed to approach Kevin Kramer at the meeting.
Forty-eight percent of employees surveyed called the quarterly meetings “thinly veiled attempts to spin lousy performance numbers into gold.” One person commented, “One would find more truth in a North Korean radio broadcast.” Twenty-four percent wrote that they “wished there were more variety in the breakfast offerings, including some gluten-free options.”
Kevin Kramer samples the muffins and the low-pulp orange juice, and sits in the front row. Many significant issues are discussed during the meeting, such as client survey results and the company’s plan to rearrange the lobby furniture. Kevin Kramer’s mind wanders to Jenna’s firm ass. He doesn’t pay attention in the meeting, because once his plan is implemented, all client survey results will be shredded. Also, to increase sagging revenues, the lobby will be rented out to an H&R Block franchise, and it will bring in its own furniture.
One executive presenting at the meeting says, “Our company employs some of the smartest people I’ve ever known. And we’ve just gotten ten IQ points smarter with the addition of Kevin Kramer!”
Everyone applauds, and Kevin Kramer is jolted out of his reverie. He realizes that people are clapping for him. He stands up and waves. Afterward, every other executive makes a point to say how smart everyone in the Products Profit Center is, even though 100 percent of the executives surveyed indicated that “trained chimps could do a better job than most of the employees.”
Kevin Kramer was born in Skokie, Illinois, to educator parents. Kevin’s mother remembers Kevin helping her load the dishwasher every night after dinner. Kevin’s father remembers that Kevin had an avid interest in marine biology when he was a kid.
Kevin Kramer was a decent student, but did not distinguish himself in any way. He applied to the University of Michigan and Northwestern and was rejected by both.
After two semesters at Oakton Community College, he was able to transfer to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he dropped out after his junior year. Kevin’s parents, when surveyed, cited that he “seemed to lag socially behind the other students.”
Kevin Kramer’s résumé lists his alma maters as Northwestern University for undergrad and the University of Michigan for his MBA.
Kevin Kramer puts his efficiencies into place slowly. Initially, every other garbage can disappears from the Products Profit Center floor. Employees are told that they must share garbage cans with their neighbors. A few grumble, but most accept the change without incident.
Then employees realize the fluorescent overhead lights seem dimmer than they used to be. Under Kevin Kramer’s cost-cutting plan, every other lightbulb is taken out of the fixtures. Some employees with astigmatism complain, and a few get doctors’ notes and go out on stress leave.
When Kevin Kramer started working in the corporate world years ago, he was paunchy and always seemed to be sweating. But after carefully studying the executives he worked under, Kevin Kramer wised up. He hired a personal trainer and got his teeth whitened and started smiling more, so that his sweatiness seemed less gross. It’s gotten to the point now where no one even notices the sweat circles under the armpits of Kevin Kramer’s faintly checkered Brooks Brothers shirts. People instead are fixated on his poker face, looking for signs. Since a meeting during second quarter that 45 percent of the attendees found “worthwhile, for once,” only to learn two hours later that they had all been terminated, no one knows what to make of anything that Kevin Kramer says. They only know to fear him, which is exactly what Kevin Kramer depends on.
Kevin Kramer demands information on a constant basis. He makes managers compile data on customer complaints into five spreadsheets separated out by product and complaint, only to demand the same information in a graph format and also as a PowerPoint. He halts all development of software, telling the executives, “We’re not in the business of software development; we’re in the business of people development.” He contracts with an expensive life coach to help oversee the department, and then fires her after a week.
Kevin Kramer personally writes phone scripts for the call center representatives to use when speaking to clients. The scripts begin, “Thank you for calling Entertainment Solutions. We’re people who get it!” He demands that managers write up any representative who does not stick to the script. He fires several representatives who, while sticking to the script, do not comply with his new “no shower shoes at work” edict.
Kevin Kramer demands new budgets from each department that must be 30 percent lower than the old budgets. Kevin Kramer will never look at all the information painstakingly collected and delivered to him on schedule. He asks Jenna to shred every document on his desk. He enjoys watching Jenna, wearing a fitted pantsuit, bending over the shredder, feeding in each piece of paper one by one.
Kevin takes Jenna to lunch for her performance review. During the meal, Jenna peppers him with questions:
“So how did you get started in business?” she asks. “What advice can you give to a young go-getter like me?”
Kevin Kramer orders a glass of Zinfandel. He tells Jenna that he got his first job at a commercial real estate company in downtown Chicago. He started watching the executives, and figured out quickly it was the way he wanted his career path to go. He neglects to tell Jenna that most of the executives he studied did nothing except take meetings, go to lunches, and play golf. After a while, Kevin Kramer began to sell a lot of commercial real estate to start-up companies — companies that had no real product but lots of money due to the dot-com boom. Kevin Kramer was savvy enough to know that he needed to get out quickly if he wanted to make a huge profit.
After a few more glasses of wine, Kevin Kramer tells Jenna that he lived with his parents for a long time, into his late twenties, because he was saving his money. He never wanted to have a starter home, or car, or wife. Kevin Kramer wanted only the best for himself, so he waited, patiently, honing his business acumen. Even though Kevin Kramer is a little drunk, he knew better than to tell Jenna that he owed much of his success in business to teeth-whitening treatments.
After several hours, Jenna tells Kevin that she has to go home to feed her cat.
“I’ll let you drive back to the office,” he says, throwing her the keys to his Beemer.
Kevin Kramer wants to hold Jenna’s hand while she drives, but he can’t figure out the best way to position himself.
“Thank you for lunch,” Jenna says after pulling into his space. “It was neat hearing all your stories.” Then she hops out before Kevin Kramer can attempt to kiss her.
Kevin realizes that he didn’t give Jenna any feedback on her job performance. When he is surveyed, he calls her “a flawless worker” and says that she makes “everything seem effortless.”
Kevin Kramer sends out an e-mail to everyone in the Products Profit Center, explaining that for the financial health of the company, the department is to be reorganized. He makes everyone change cubicles twice in a two-week period, citing “productivity principles” and “agile business units.” He dismantles the break room and turns it into a storage area, saying, “A new and improved Zen break room will be built by fourth quarter, or whenever the funds become available.” He merges the software developers with the IT department, claiming, “They all do the same thing anyway.”
Kevin Kramer has facilities change the toilet paper in the restrooms to cheaper one-ply sheets. These sheets emit a thin layer of toilet paper dust as sheets are pulled off the roll. The employee suggestion box is flooded with complaints about the toilet paper, but Kevin Kramer isn’t concerned. This kind of reaction is to be expected from employees who realize on a subconscious level they are about to be purged.
The executives are also not concerned. After all, Kevin Kramer had done wonders for the other companies listed on his impressive résumé. It was just a matter of time until his unorthodox magic worked. One executive said, “Kramer is either a genius or a madman. Either way, when he leaves, I’m taking his chair.”
This executive later received an e-mail from Kevin Kramer with nothing in it except for a photo of Kim Kardashian and the words “Isn’t she your cousin?”
During this period, the suggestion box is dismantled. An e-mail goes out to employees, saying to forward all suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only a few employees are foolish enough to send their suggestions, and soon afterward they are reassigned to part-time status. Kevin Kramer is certain these are the employees whom the executives, when surveyed, called “dumber than dirt.”
Kevin Kramer likes to work as late as he can into the evening. He often misses dinner with his family, and spends hours online shopping for presents for his wife to make up for never being home. He pauses on the engagement ring section of the Tiffany website. He sometimes watches Jenna working diligently at her desk, and wonders what she would say if presented with a three-carat solitaire engagement ring in a Tiffany-blue box. He imagines her eyes widening, and can envision her jumping up and down with excitement. He can practically see the tears running down her soft, young, tanned face, smearing her perfectly applied Maybelline mascara.
Occasionally, Kevin Kramer will look at online photos of narwhals, the rare unicorn whales he remembers reading about as a child.
People have begun parking illegally in Kevin Kramer’s parking space. Initially, HR sent out e-mails telling employees to move their cars, but they went unheeded. Kevin Kramer started calling the towing company himself to remove the offending vehicles.
Kevin Kramer hires expensive consultants as “usability experts.” He explains to the executives that before any of the company’s software goes out to the marketplace, it will have to pass muster with the usability experts. Some in the executive team argue that all the software is by definition supposed to be usable, but because they fear Kevin Kramer’s wrath, they back down. Kevin Kramer hires his neighbor Karl, an unemployed soap opera actor, and Karl’s brother-in-law Jay to be the usability experts. Kevin Kramer broached the subject to Karl at a neighborhood Fourth of July party.
“How much are you paying?” Karl asked.
“I don’t know, like two hundred dollars an hour? That seems right to me,” said Kevin.
“Can my brother-in-law Jay get in on the action? He’s not too popular with my sister lately since she found out he’s been spending seven hundred dollars a month on porn sites.”
“Sure, the more the merrier,” Kevin said, taking a swig of his Miller Lite. Kevin Kramer only drinks light beer when he drinks beer at all.
By the end of the third quarter, Jon Goldfarb is unhappy with the Products Profit Center’s performance. Seventy-five percent of clients surveyed indicated that customer service has gone downhill, and 80 percent say that they planned on using a competitor in the next twelve months. He meets Kevin Kramer over steaks to discuss the situation.
“As much as we can’t stand our employees and, for that matter, our clients, it is our job to take care of them,” Jon Goldfarb says. “It’s nothing personal; it’s business.”
“People need to learn to take care of themselves,” Kevin Kramer says. “It’s our job to take care of the company. We can’t be enablers.”
“But we’re a service company,” Jon Goldfarb says.
“We need to take care of the company, in spite of the service,” Kevin Kramer says, taking a bite of his porterhouse.
Kevin Kramer realizes that his time at the company is drawing to a close. His ideas have gone mostly unappreciated. His cost-cutting measures, while having worked a little, have created poor morale among the employees. The walls of the Products Profit Center are banged up, given that employees have moved desks a number of times. Someone spray-painted a pentagram on Kevin Kramer’s parking space placard.
Kevin Kramer decides it’s time for a game changer. He gathers all the managers into the conference room and demands that each one of them give an extemporaneous two-minute speech on why they should be allowed to keep their jobs. A few break down in tears. More than one asks what “extemporaneous” means. Some beg for Kevin Kramer not to fire them, citing family problems and undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Several walk out in disgust and tender their resignations. Overnight, someone spray-paints the word pussy on the desks of those former employees. Thirty-two percent suspect it is Kevin Kramer, but 43 percent think that Kevin Kramer put one of the usability experts up to it.
Kevin Kramer receives this message on his voice mail: “Hi Kevin Kramer! You’re a wanker!” Kevin Kramer will have a sneaking suspicion that it is his former assistant Debi, faking a British accent.
One morning, Kevin Kramer arrives early to work to find that someone left a poop on his desk. Twenty-eight percent of employees surveyed believed that the person, whomever it was, squatted on Kevin Kramer’s desk and pooped, while 35 percent believed the person brought the poop in from a separate location.
HR sends out a memo to remaining employees, requesting that they please refrain from pooping on Kevin Kramer’s desk. They will have to send out a subsequent e-mail a few days later, requesting that employees refrain from pooping on Kevin Kramer’s Beemer.
Jon Goldfarb takes an extended leave of absence, leaving Kevin Kramer to deal with day-to-day company operations. By this time, Kevin Kramer has let go of most of the Products Profit Center staff and has not hired any new people. He turns on his computer only to surf the Internet for gifts for his family. He realizes his son will turn eleven soon, eleven being the age that Kevin Kramer’s parents bought him his first Time Life book about marine mammals.
Kevin Kramer wonders what would have happened if he had followed his first love. Would he be a captain on a research boat, jetting out to the warm waters of Baja, California, to study humpback whales? Would he be saving the endangered right whales found in the Atlantic and off the coast of Australia? Kevin Kramer refrains from asking himself why he has so much compassion for marine life and none for his colleagues.
Kevin Kramer quietly contacts corporate headhunters, letting them know he is looking for a new job. He lines up a few breakfast interviews for after the holidays. Kevin tells his wife he’s thinking about leaving the company, but that she shouldn’t worry. He will find something within a matter of weeks, as he always does. Kevin then uncharacteristically spends an hour playing Barbies with his daughter, saying in a high-pitched Barbie voice, “I hope Ken asks me to the prom!”
Kevin Kramer’s wife watches her husband and daughter playing together. She hopes the children won’t be too upset when they leave Kevin Kramer home while they visit her parents in Florida for the holidays. Kevin Kramer said he had too much work to do and needed to stay in town this year. Every year, Kevin Kramer says he needs to stay in town due to too much work. His son surprises him this year by saying, “Have a nice Christmas, Dad,” before he can even tell the kids the news.
The day before Christmas Eve, Jenna tells Kevin Kramer that she’d like a word with him. She sits on the edge of his antique desk and tells him she’s leaving the company.
“My boyfriend and I are moving to Portland,” she says. “It’s a lot more relaxed in Portland; the people are cooler and not so judgmental.”
“I didn’t know you had a boyfriend,” Kevin Kramer says. “You only mentioned a cat.”
“I really liked working for you,” Jenna says. “If you don’t mind me saying so, a lot of people here thought you were an idiot, but I think you’re an expert in business. Business is a freak show, right? You do whatever you need to do in order to survive. It’s like evolution — survival of the fittest.”
“It can be,” Kevin Kramer says.
“I’m sure you will make this company great, eventually, maybe,” Jenna says. “I can’t wait to apply the principles I’ve learned here. I bet I’ll be a big success in Portland.”
“I’m sure you’ll knock ’em dead,” Kevin Kramer says.
Jenna slides off the desk and retires to her cubicle. After she leaves for the night, Kevin Kramer walks aimlessly through the empty Products Profit Center. The ficus trees have been dead for a while, as everyone in facilities was let go and no one else bothered to water the plants.
Kevin Kramer wonders for not the first time in his long, esteemed career if he could grow fins out of his hands and feet, and sprout a tail. He would drive his BMW to the beach and shimmy his way into the cold water. Only then could he imagine his best life, frolicking in the waves off the Pacific coast — careless, happy, and free.