Friday, January 5, 2007

The Beginning Of Our Tale

Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.
---H.L. Mencken

It was a cloudless sky that dawned upon the mighty cliffs of Zenith National Park. The golden morning rays revealed an awesome majesty of crimson, orange and buff on the stark walls of towering sandstone.

In the campground below a large raven squawked as a pair of German men tossed it a Twinkie from behind their rented motor home. The children watching from inside the vehicle squealed with delight as the large black bird tore into the golden sponge cake with vigor and wild abandon.

Generators began to sputter awake. The familiar sound of the Today Show and the gentle smell of canned coffee permeated the air, as a briskly swirling canyon breeze wafted through fluttering cottonwoods.

The elderly campground host began his inspection tour of the loops. Wheeling his Cushman electric pickup through the slumbering nylon tent city, he sensed the beauty of the morning and was grateful to be where he was. The staccato clatter of radio traffic sputtered forth loudly from his walkie-talkie causing the awakening campers to look in his direction as he passed slowly by.

Zenith National Park was coming alive but the real fun was just getting underway at the Administrative Headquarters a few miles down the road. It is here that we more properly begin our tale.

Say It Ain't So

Ted Sanders, the Assistant Chief Naturalist, could hardly make his hands keep still as he and Bob Priestly, his boss the Chief Naturalist, slowly trundled along the dreary carpeted hallway. He had not foreseen the negative reaction and potentially career-impacting rebuke he had received so soon upon returning from two weeks of Design Element Training at the Harper's Ferry Center near Washington, DC.

His mind again revisited yesterday's closed-door meeting with Chief Priestly and the sharp voice of his superior raging to him that, “The erosion of inter-divisional partnership opportunities can have a calamitous effect on the entire structure of the park work team!”

Ted could only sit and stare back in utter disbelief. His defense had been half-hearted and shallow with that old coot Bob buying none of it. Ted had been totally unprepared for this sudden assault. “If only I’d had an inkling that this was coming I could’ve easily mounted a more credible defense”, he angrily pondered.

Who was going behind his back to Bob? The possibilities were endless.

Silently he prayed that nobody would try to chat with him in the hall this morning. At this moment in time he was heeling his master obediently, and it would be such a shame to cut short a question someone might ask him concerning his recent work on roadside exhibits or sustainable forms of energy efficient architecture. He imagined such a conversation in his mind, “Why yes Stan, the design element training I just completed gives this park a cutting edge skill. Unique in the whole region really.”

Looking up from the floor a nervous titter escaped from his mouth as Ted Sanders suddenly saw Superintendent Stan Nobright nodding faint recognition towards him on his way to the men's lavatory.

Making a sharp left they descended a set of stairs. Alma Matthews, a maintenance worker, absently sprayed a heavy mist of cleaning solution into the air as she languidly shined the steel handrail. The strong astringent smell of ammonia invigorated Ted for the first time all morning.

Chief Naturalist Priestly dreaded all of this interaction very much. Each hour that passed in these airless quarters made his last remaining year before retirement seem like a gaping infinity of mind numbing tedium. This business with Sanders was not pretty or edifying. “Why can’t he just learn to stay away from anything that’s got to do with other human beings?”, he disgustedly brooded.

Looking at Sanders again he no longer felt pity for him. Chief Priestly knew this deficiency of character in Ted was linked to a deep down stubborn meanness. His arrogance, originally a mask for self-doubt and inner failings, had gradually hardened into something ugly and misanthropic. It was not coming off without radical possibly fatal surgery. “I’m no miracle worker,” Bob glumly surmised, “what else can I say or do short of putting him on a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan)?”

Ted glanced back at his boss, “Does he actually think that I respect or care about HIS interpretation of official WASO (Washington Administrative Support Office) sanctioned printing protocol or HIS familiarity with the details of font and design element consistency?”

Adjusting his wire rim glasses he sized up Bob Priestly from the side and silently sneered “What exactly does HE know about Harper's Ferry design elements?”

It hardly seemed fair that his judgment was even being called into question in such a trivial matter and now he was being marched down the hall to grovel before some GS/5 first-year nobody. In his estimation this was going way too far!

“I do not deserve these indignities and blots upon my legacy” he bitterly reflected while looking down at a worn and pale tan carpet.

For a moment Ted flashed back to the previous day, when he had been the guest of honor at the town library, reading aloud to all the boys and girls. How long ago it all now seemed. It was Dr. Suess’s birthday and Ted had been asked by the Superintendent to do this very important outreach with the nearby gateway community.

“I do not like them in a box.

I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”

These giddy memories of the children laughing at his witty recital made his hands begin to flutter and shake uncontrollably again. He stumbled slightly towards Bob, who turned and fired a sharp scowl at his nerve-wracked underling. Sanders struggled to calm his jittery fingers and contorted face by biting down hard on his lead pen and pretending to go over some imaginary notes. How he dreaded telling anyone he was wrong and sincerely sorry, especially someone so much lower down on the government service pay scale. This all seemed like a terrible ambush following a string of triumphs. This was surely no way to build a legacy.

The Interpretive Chief cleared his throat and rapped lightly on the door of the Backcountry office. Andy Hale glanced up from his desk and shot back a look of pure disdain towards them both. "Come on in" he said disinterestedly.

Andy Hale, Backcountry Supervisor, began to arrange some chairs and clear the room for this, hopefully, very short meeting. He stared at this sorry pair of geeks as they took their seats in the middle of the room. Andy wondered again, for the thousandth time that morning, "what in the hell am I actually doing here?”

Bob began, “Andy, I’ve brought Ted down to apologize and make good on the action items that you and I outlined in our informal discussion yesterday.”

Andy suddenly sensed blood. He perked up just a little. Oh how he despised Sanders. This might actually be good.

Sanders said nothing while Chief Priestly did the talking for them both. “I discussed with Ted the importance of inter-divisional cooperation, and the need for integrated approaches in problem solving. He’s in full agreement with all of our suggested guidelines for future divisional interaction."

Sanders figured the longer he let his boss speak the less he would probably have to say when his time finally came to grovel. Lightly drumming his fingers he stared vacantly at a spiraling screen saver, awaiting his ultimate humiliation quietly. He might not even have to apologize verbally. That would certainly be a bonus in a morning, that was so far, quite devoid of them.

Andy smiled; politely watching Sanders play the humble ventriloquist dummy sitting on his bosses lap waiting to say his regurgitated lines. This spectacle was one Andy wished he could have recorded, to relish again and again. He thought, “This isn’t going to be such a crappy day after all.”

3 comments:

the haunted hiker said...

Brilliant Beamis. Keep it up.

Ranger X said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ranger Bob said...

Hey.. thanks for visiting my blog. I had not known of yours till now- looks really interesting. I'll post a link tomorrow, after I get finished catching up on your entries!