“I’ve been depressed and immobile for months, so nauseated by the quantity of fingers and toes I supervise. How do you think it feels to lay awake adding them up, the weight of the number pressing me into my mattress, suffocating me? When you manage employees, each problem is multiplied for its impact to the collective firm. Twenty wrinkled extremities per person. Nine-hundred employees. Eighteen thousand writhing skin sacks crammed with bone and blood, all my responsibility. Twenty per person? Why? Tell me. Why?”
The vice presidents gathered in the executive conference room stare into the table.
“Tell me why each of our employees needs twenty fingers and toes.”
“Justify the number. Every expense must be justified.”
“I don’t consider fingers and toes–“
“Pack your things. I need employees who solve problems, not ones who increase confusion and perpetuate inefficiencies.”
“Yes. Greg. Go.”
“Sir, I believe we’re all in agreement that some aspects of our work are out of our control, including–“
“Just because we’ve done it this way in the past is no excuse to continue. We have to rein this in before it becomes a bigger problem.”
“Rein it in?”
“Do you not understand how sad I am?”
On a folding chair in the corner of the room, I keep my mouth shut and take notes. A summer intern plucked from obscurity to observe. The president does not know I exist. I should stay in my lane, keep my head down. But I was raised to do the right thing.
“If you’d permit me, sir, I’d like to speak on behalf of your employees.”
He narrows his eyes, but allows me to continue.
“I agree that eighteen thousand digits is a condemnable figure. All those fingers and toes burden the staff not only physically, but mentally as well, as each item is one more obligation to inventory and clean and maintain. We should start with an assumption that employees need zero fingers and toes, and then permit each one as required for the needs of the business. The staff you’ve assembled in this room are faithless cowards addicted to the muck that clogs the machine. I believe adaptability is one of the many incredible traits of the human species. I am confident that we can maintain productivity with a 50% reduction. When we eliminate every other digit, efficiency will dip briefly during an adjustment period, but within weeks we will be back to where we were.”
The VPs seethe. They leer, grit their teeth.
But the president points at me. His dour face shatters and he erupts with laughter, gasps in air like they’re his first breaths. “To meet a man who understands…” he says, his big chest quaking. “You’ve saved me from the depths.”
From a cabinet he withdraws a steel cigar cutter. I walk to his side and take it from him, vowing to simply do my job; to act on what’s best for the business. In the men’s restroom I find a dirty blue bucket and bring it to the conference table, where the VPs moan and wail and hit me in my side and my neck and my mouth, but my righteousness is stronger and I subdue them long enough to get every other finger and toe through the gory snipper. I reduce total digit count by half, filling the bucket until it’s good and heavy.
The boss sends me to each regional branch — first class flights, hotel suites — to stalk the floors with my bucket and tool, cauterizing wounds with my sister’s hot iron hair straightener. The employees tell each other about me. They hide and they hit me. They strike me with keyboards and lamps. They try to choke me, to electrocute me. But in the end, I get them all. A monitor crack to the back of the skull is painless when one knows his convictions are pure.
Over and over, I fill my bucket. At the end of August, revenue’s dipped just 4% while fingers and toes are down by 50.
I return to campus and add those statistics to my résumé, typing one key at a time with my cost-effective claws.