The summer months turned Andrew’s world hazy and the sun filtering through his window caused him to sweat, despite the central air. Sticky heat was the reality of summer, a reality that didn’t mesh well with pressed suits and silk ties. Andrew didn’t enjoy dressing up, but for his demo on Thursday he coupled his faded pants with an old sports jacket that might have matched, if it were the ‘70s. Both were soaked by the end of the day. It was no use fighting summer.
As soon as he got home every day at 5:30, he peeled off his damp clothes and got into his biking gear: the spandex uniform that revealed his expanding gut, and reminded himself sadly of his younger, more youthful days. He’d bike around the park, once, maybe twice on the good days, dodging old folks, teenagers who held hands pretending love for all to see, and joggers wearing minimal tight-fitting clothing, just to show how fit they were. Then he’d call it quits. He was no longer able to keep up the furious pace he had in college. Working at the office was wearing Andrew down, those long hours whiling away filing reports, forwarding his findings up along the chain of power until it reached someone who could make use of it and take credit for his work. There wasn’t any time for healthy eating. The bin in his cubicle was stuffed with tightly balled up Burger King wrappers, both in an effort to maximize the space and to minimize the guilt he felt about his regular fare. No wonder he heaved a sigh of relief when he finally stepped out of his biking gear at the end of a short, sweaty ride. He was simply happy to breathe again.
In many ways, the riding seemed to represent Andrew’s journey in life. There was constant work to get up the hills and then the few seconds of fleeting freefall, most of the enjoyment lost over avoiding pedestrians. He swallowed many bugs despite his coughing protest, reminiscent of his lost pride in the face of job security. Just like his rides, he seemed to be going in circles in life. He couldn’t figure out why he was there at all.
The next day at work brought unexpected change. He could tell something was different the minute he walked in the door. He rode the elevator to the third floor, trying to figure out what it was that had struck him so. Had the receptionist just smiled at him? She never smiled, just wrinkled her nose from behind the Stephen King novels she read. Andrew shook his head in disbelief. The elevator stopped at his floor, but before he could do his usual invisible shuffle toward his cubicle, he was apprehended. It was the energetic new manager, Ray, walking over to him with a warm smile. He put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder, greeting him by name and guiding him gently to the conference room. “We’re having a meeting with all the personnel. Pop quiz!” he quipped. Andrew thought that was childish so he ignored it. Inside the conference room they were all seated, all the co-workers Andrew had scrupulously avoided for the last two years. They were a pretty boring lot overall, and Andrew preferred the company of his college friends, although he hadn’t been in touch with any of them for some time now.
“I know you’re all wondering why I gathered you here today,” Ray began, remaining on his feet at the center of the table. Andrew saw some of the others’ faces darken. They thought Ray was corny too. “It seems that we’ve taken a bit of a dip in sales, and our customer satisfaction surveys reveal that they aren’t getting the product they thought we were selling.” Ray was still smiling, but Andrew was trying to see if it was really a smirk. He couldn’t tell.
“Summer is upon us, and that can mean a great decrease in numbers, if we continue to follow the old patterns.” He clicked the projector, and a graph showed a significant decrease in sales and company stocks over the months of June, July, August. Andrew almost stifled a yawn. What else did they expect? Summer months were always bad for business.
“Summer months don’t have to be bad for business,” Ray continued, as if he had read Andrew’s mind. “The market is still there, same as the rest of the year. The research shows that the decline isn’t stemming from a lack of consumer interest, but from corporate disinterest.” Ray paused, his voice lingering over the room. Andrew was listening intently. Ray was right; Andrew had done the research himself. He just hadn’t thought about it in these specific terms before.
“What this means,” said Ray slowly, deliberately, “is that we can reverse the process. We can make summer the most significant time of the year. Sales will rise. We will turn the market around!” Ray’s eyes were bright, looking at each of them excitedly. Andrew shifted uncomfortably. Most of his coworkers were studying the carpet or picking their fingernails. “I fought for an increase of budget for our division,” said Ray, oblivious, “and it was granted. I spoke to Mr. Plinkett himself.” The CEO? That got everyone’s attention. “All we need is a bit of enthusiasm, and I guarantee you things will change. Bonuses will be given accordingly. This is more than just a company. This is a family.”
There was a silence in the room as people heard Ray, really took in his words. He really believed what he was saying, and for the first time, Andrew tried to see this job as more than a jail sentence. Then one of the old timers said, “What are you willing to change?” Ray smiled even wider in response; Andrew knew he had won some points. The company veteran (his name was Bill, Andrew found out later) wanted to see people actually interact. “I’m tired of actively ignoring people,” he said, then immediately went red. Andrew had never said a word to him before. One by one, people voiced their complaints, and Ray took notes. Andrew, for his part, only mentioned the fast food he endured, and was now habitually eating. He looked at the floor when he said it, but Ray took him seriously. Work was canceled for the day. Instead of research and editing divisions, they were divided into groups that brainstormed on yellow legal pads, trying to determine the best conditions for productive work.
Andrew went home oddly satisfied that day, biking four even laps around the lake. The next few days were a whirlwind of activity. Andrew found others waiting there even as he got to work a half hour early. There was a certain intensity in the air, an energy that made him want to do something big, something ambitious. He couldn’t place the feeling. The biggest change was of course the cubicles, which had been removed entirely. People were sitting together, heads close and whispering like conspirators. Each group was assigned its niche in sales and customer service, and they offered ideas that completely revolutionized the way the company had been handled. Andrew worked for the first time with a guy named Stan, who it turned out, could calculate trends in competitors’ pricing with remarkable efficiency. They swapped their work specialties like old friends; in fact, they’d been in neighboring cubicles for two years. And of course, sales soared.
Over the last month of work, of what was supposed to be summer, Andrew found doing himself enjoying work more and more. He invested serious effort, and did tasks he hadn’t been motivated to do before. He thought of his coworkers less by titles and more by their first names. Amanda had solved his fast food crisis by bringing in home-cooked meals. Ray saw to it that she was paid for her time. There was genuine laughter and a feeling of camaraderie Andrew had never experienced at work before. He invited Bill and Stan for a bike ride one evening, and to his surprise, they accepted. Soon half his floor had joined for the evening ride, including Ray, who was a decent rider and accepted Andrew as the group leader with humility. Andrew had found what he was missing. To his pleasant surprise, he couldn’t identify with a sense of emptiness anymore. Andrew had found a family.