Johnny America


At the Office, from the Book of Misunderstandings


After the meet­ing dur­ing which A., an elec­tri­cal engi­neer, pre­sent­ed her detailed plan for the company’s next ini­tia­tive, she over­heard a prod­uct man­ag­er, B., in the cor­ri­dor ridi­cul­ing a pro­pos­al and assumed he was derid­ing hers where­as, in fact, it was a hare-brained notion the indus­tri­al chemist C. had come up with over drinks the night before, and which, of course, had not been men­tioned at the meet­ing. B. thought A.’s inno­v­a­tive idea remark­ably good, but he did not speak up dur­ing the meet­ing because he was unqual­i­fied to assess its tech­ni­cal aspects but still more because he was attract­ed to A. and did not wish to appear to be ingra­ti­at­ing himself.

When they ran into each oth­er in the cafe­te­ria the next day, and B. began to com­pli­ment her, A. thought he was mock­ing her and gave him short shrift. After that, when­ev­er B. addressed her, A. either pre­tend­ed not hear him or replied curt­ly. Mean­while, A. took every oppor­tu­ni­ty to den­i­grate B. to their col­leagues. When he was told what A. was say­ing to oth­ers about him— such things are sure to make the rounds — B. was tak­en aback but reluc­tant­ly con­clud­ed that A. had con­ceived an antipa­thy for him; and, because the pre­sen­ta­tion which he had found so admirable had won her the ear of the high­er-ups, she was in a posi­tion to do him harm, per­haps even get him dis­missed. B. resolved to take mea­sures to pro­tect himself.

In this way, a gen­uine enmi­ty grew up between A. and B. who, but for an unfor­tu­nate mis­ap­pre­hen­sion, might, giv­en that they were both young, unat­tached, and good-look­ing, have dis­cov­ered that they were fond of Asian cui­sine, ski­ing, large dogs, Russ­ian nov­els, and French cabaret music; they could have start­ed dat­ing, become a cou­ple, might have mar­ried, had chil­dren, sup­port­ed one anoth­er in their careers, faced the vicis­si­tudes of life togeth­er, and lived con­tent­ed­ly togeth­er for decades. Instead, their ani­mos­i­ty grew to such a degree that they not only dis­par­aged one anoth­er but recruit­ed allies, estab­lish­ing fac­tions, and gen­er­at­ed so much dis­cord in the firm that, notwith­stand­ing their excel­lent qual­i­ties, wor­thy con­tri­bu­tions, and promis­ing futures, their work and that of oth­ers suf­fered and, for the sake of ami­ty and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, man­age­ment final­ly deter­mined that the best thing would be to let them both go.

Filed under Fiction on December 16th, 2022

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