Even though I’m hurting I don’t want to act like a guy who just got dumped. Living in the gentrified ghetto of Harlem with a mortgage and bills to pay I can’t afford to turn into that dirty unshaven brother because my woman left me. By the end of the month the bank would be foreclosing on my condo and realtors would be posting ads for it. Besides, work will take my mind off Colleen-
I think about what she told me this morning watching the silver E train race into the station in the opposite direction. I guess over the past five years we were going in different directions. Changing into different people. The polished businesswoman I know today is nothing like the frumpy Goth I wanted to marry-
I crack a smile thinking about happier times as the subway doors close. The forced grin eases tension inside me as the train bolts into the Rockefeller Center station. I get off the train, march up the stairs, and through the turnstile. On my way to the 50th Street exit I rush through the mezzanine of underground shops outside the subway station. I’d stop off for a donut myself, but I just want to be alone in my office for a couple of minutes.
My watch reads 8:45; I’ll be able to have that moment alone if I move quickly. I hurry up the stairs and turn the corner of 50th Street to enter the Rockefeller Center office tower. I twirl through the polished brass revolving door and dart through the lobby over to the elevator bank servicing floors 2-18. When the elevator opens on the tenth floor I find my assistant Carla standing in front of the reception desk shaking nervously. I wonder what has her rattled so badly.
“What’s going on Carla? Somebody do something to you?”
Carla’s eyes fall to the floor. “Eric wants you to go directly to his office.”
Carla somberly shuffles back to her desk. Whatever her problem is I’ll talk to her about it when I get out of this meeting. I turn left and walk down a long Berber carpeted corridor then turn the corner. At the end of the hall is a tall ash colored wooden door with the name Eric Tuttleson, Vice President inscribed on a brass plaque. I open the door and the short wavy haired mocha colored man in the Birdseye business suit turns away from the picture windows he’s staring out of to greet me with a scowl. I smile at him hoping to break the tension swirling around the room.
“You wanted to see me?” I ask.
“Yes. I did John.” Eric snarls. “Have a seat.”
Hearing the twangy nasal sound of his voice makes me uneasy. He’s knocked it up a few octaves to make himself sound White. Eric peers down contemptuously at me as I ease into the smooth black leather office chair in front of his glass-topped desk. When my brown eyes lock into his green contacts I hear the anger in his voice.
“John, I’m going to be frank with you. I never really liked your work.”
So he’s not a fan of my work. He should be a fan of results. I have a long track record of successful product launches. I’ll stand behind everything I’ve done here.
“I don’t understand why you’re displeased.” I reply. “Since I’ve become Director of Marketing a year ago the public has a better awareness of our products than in the history of the company.”
“Your “thang” is not what I want representing this company.” Eric mocks. “Now you’re an excellent worker, but your vision for Sunrise’s future is not in tandem with mine. I need people on my team who can see things the way I do.”
“I see us making a lot more money than we did five years ago.”
“Productivity isn’t the issue here John.” Eric continues. “In order for an individual to grow in a corporate culture they must have values similar to those of the group. After reviewing your resume and background it’s clear you’re not going to fit in with the members of the overall Sunrise senior management team.”
Listening to his arrogant comments it seems who I am rubs him the wrong way. Since I’m just a common Negro to him and not one of those Blacks with a high-class pedigree I’m not supposed to be working in this kind of job. In his Sunrise Foods, senior management jobs are only for those Blacks who have the honor of tracing their bloodline back to their slave masters. My bad for working hard and getting promoted on the merits.
“My resume and background were quite impressive when I was hired five years ago.”
“For someone working in an entry level position.” Eric dismisses. “However, Sunrise Foods needs a creative visionary with a more refined background to supervise our marketing department. My ideal candidate would be someone whose experiences have enabled them to gain an expanded perspective of the world. An individual with a degree from a top university who worked at an internship with a major corporation. This more well-rounded individual would be more suited to the task of running our department than someone of your limited experiences.”
By using big words and jargon he thinks I won’t know he’s just insulted me. Normally I wouldn’t say anything and just walk out of the room. But this Tom has pissed me off in his pitiful attempt to patronize me. I’ll show him how smart I really am.
I get up out of my seat and put on a friendly smile. “Basically I have too much bass in my voice.”
“I don’t know what you’re insinuating-” Eric says backing away.
“I’m not insinuating anything. You said I was too “ghetto” to be a manager here.”
“I never said that-”
“You implied it.”
Eric gets nervous. Called on his game the worm shows his true colors. “In my professional opinion it was a mistake for the lower level managers to promote a person with your background to this junior executive position. Now I’ve had a substantial severance package directly deposited to your account-”
“Wait-You’re firing me?”
“I just don’t see a place for you here at Sunrise Foods John. I can’t send you back to market research.”
“You don’t want me telling the masses about your paper bag test.”
“I don’t know what you’re insinuating John. Your employment here is at will. I can terminate you at any time for any reason.”
Figures the craven elitist would use company policy to cover his actions. The coward probably researched this down to the last letter of human resource law so he could have every legal justification for firing me. It seems that this old proud Black owned company isn’t as Pro-Black or as self-aware as it purports itself to be.
“I guess I have two weeks notice.”
“Actually, I’d like you out of the building as soon as possible. I’m sorry you wasted so much time in your professional career with us.”
Eric hits a button on his intercom. The door opens abruptly and two burly security guards storm the room. I guess they’re here to restrain me in case I decide to get violent like all those thugz he sees in the gangsta rap videos. The only person embarrassing himself will be Eric Tuttleson. I’m not giving him the satisfaction.
“I’m sorry I wasted my time with you too.”
“Guys, could you please escort Mr. Haynes out of the building.” Eric requests cheerfully. “Thanks a lot.”
Oh, I’m John in private and Mr. Haynes in front of company. He’s lucky I’m a Christian or I’d curse him out. Carla nervously shuffles into the office with a white cardboard box containing my belongings. I can tell by the disgusted look on her face she didn’t want any part of this.
“I’m sorry John.” Carla says.
“Don’t be.” I say giving her a smile.
As I take the box from her, the chocolate colored brother to the left of me gestures for a canister on his belt. “Brother you ain’t got to reach for the pepper spray.” I tell him. “It ain’t going down like that.”
The guard pulls his hand away from the canister and I’m escorted down the corridor to the elevator bank. My heart pounds in my chest as I check the contents of my box. Joe Fixit Hulk action figure, Egyptian Queens calendar, post it notes, Vanessa Williams CD, Luther Vandross CD, Whitney Houston CD, Broken Batman mug I use as a pencil cup, Hudson College coffee mug, my winter gloves, stapler, legal pads, Rolodex, framed photos of Colleen and me, ten framed achievement awards that hung in my office. Carla did a good job of packing all my personal effects. Everything is all here.
One of the guards hits the down button and the officers follow me into the car. I take deep breaths to calm myself until the elevator opens in the lobby. It’s not until I twirl through the brass revolving door and walk out onto the sidewalk that they turn around and head back to their posts.
I keep my eyes down on the contents of my box as I turn the corner. I need to get down to Tiffany’s and get my money back from Colleen’s engagement ring-
Thankfully the tall red-suited stranger doesn’t appear upset by my violation of his personal space. I’m about to apologize, but the warm smile on the burly Black man’s face tells me there’s no love lost.
“I’m sorry.” I say.
“That’s all right brother.” The smooth voiced stranger says. “You have a good day.”
When the stranger turns and walks down Sixth Avenue, I continue walking up towards Fifth Avenue. The faster I get this refund, the faster I can get started on my job hunt.