Swagazine Seven
19 Years, by Zeylan

     It doesn't take much to fix a laptop computer, if you know how, and if you have the time and energy, and I suppose the experience helps a bit. Maybe even some training. I had all of those things, but my company still wouldn't let me fix them. Something about the warranty, I was not an authorized technician and I would void the warranty if I opened them up. So when our laptop computers broke down we were required to call the manufacturer for "on-site" service, which meant that some guy with less experience and energy would come out to the office and fix them for us. I fixed all the desktop computers, the servers, the printers, everything else, but I wasn't allowed to mess with the innards of the delicate laptops.
     That's why we had to deal with Wangsung Tech. They were contracted by our laptop manufacturers to come out and fix broken laptops and replace parts and whatever else. Usually they'd send out Bill Jensen, a pretty nice guy, punctual and all that. Always called ahead and was very fast with the job.
     So it was a Friday afternoon and I was expecting Bill to be coming by to fix the keyboard on Leo Karkofsky's laptop (he'd spilled what he said was "milk" on the K, J and I keys, but I thought it looked more like a Karkofsky emission than any kind of dairy product). Usually Bill called ahead to say he was on his way, what time to expect him, and so forth. By 4:00 there was no call and I was starting to get ready to go home, which meant I had already packed my briefcase and was browsing around the Internet pornography sites, waiting for the last hour to pass.
     The phone rang and I answered it.
     "Jake Trout."
     "Hi, Mr. Trout. This is Fred Sullivan from Wangsung Tech. I'm here to fix a keyboard on a Longitude X41 but I can't find your office. I'm in the lobby and there's no receptionist here and I'm sorry I'm late."
     "Okay. I'm in office 8, across the parking lot from where you are."
     "See you in a minute," he said and hung up.
     I got up from my desk, walked across the office and opened the door to make myself easier to find. I saw a tall guy coming my way, walking quickly and muttering to himself. He had a clipboard in his left hand and a cigarette in his right, Italian shoes on his feet, glasses on his face, the Santa Barbara heat hanging on his shoulders and impatience ticking along with his stride. He was in his late 40's, balding, with a thin moustache and frantic eyes.
     "Sorry I'm late," he said again as he arrived. "I went to the other building and was wandering around for 20 minutes before I realized I was in the wrong place."
     "That's okay, I wasn't in a hurry."
     "You don't understand," he said rapidly, "I've never done that before, never gone to the wrong place or been late, it's not normal for me, I don't normally come out here and you have three buildings in this town and they're all hard to find, this is not like me to be so late and I should have called…"
     "Dude, it's okay, I don't mind."
     He dropped his cigarette into the ash can outside the door and stepped into my office.
     "It's not like me to be so late," he began again, "but my mind is kind of all over the place today." He produced a white rag from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead, then put the rag back into his pocket. I always hate it when people do that -- they blow their nose or sneeze or wipe off some fluid from somewhere, always into a rag that goes back into their pocket. Then they want to shake my hand or something. Why don't they just spit on me directly and get it over with? Well, at least this guy hadn't tried to shake my hand yet.
     "Anyway," I said, "the laptop is in the user's office. It's at the end of the complex. I'll take you to it and you can fix it in there."
     I locked my office and led him down the building towards the far end and Leo Karkofsky's office. He spoke excitedly as we walked, his words striking at me with a strange immediacy.
     "I'm always on time, always, except for today. My mind's not in the right place, I guess. You see, this is my last call for Wangsung. After 19 years, they've decided to lay me off."
     "No shit? That's rough."
     "Well, that's Wangsung for you. I'm not going to say anything negative about them, I decided that already, but you should know the company that's providing your service. I shouldn't even be here… they told me, they said 'Sullivan,' they said 'Sully, you'll stay on until the end of September,' and yet it's halfway through November and here I am. Bill goes on vacation and they ask me to fill in for him, like I've got nothing better to do, which I don't now. This is my last call for Wangsung. The last call of the last day of the last week of the last year of my career with Wangsung. After 19 years of dedicated service, it's okay, they won't have me to kick around any more."
     "This is the office," I said, and we entered. Leo wasn't around, he was probably in a meeting somewhere. His Longitude X41 was on the desk.
     "Do you mind fixing it here?" I asked.
     "No, this is fine."
     I sat in Leo's chair and Sullivan sat in the chair on the other side of the desk. He picked up the laptop and turned it over, examined the bottom and turned it back over again, swung the cover open and looked at the keyboard. He closed it again and turned it over. He stared at the bottom.
     "19 years," he said, then reached into his jacket and fumbled around for a bit, produced a screwdriver. Stared at the bottom of the laptop.
     What was the deal with this guy? I pointed to the screw holes on the bottom, near the plastic feet. "The screws are there, and there."
     "I know, I know." He turned the laptop over, then over again. Very slowly he began to remove one of the screws, letting it fall onto the desk. He removed the next one. Then he just sat there, staring at the laptop. He turned it over again.
     "Am I making you nervous?" I asked. The truth was that HE was making ME nervous.
     "No, I'm fine." He turned the laptop over again and removed the last screw. "I haven't done one of these models in a while. After 19 years on the job you see a lot of these things, and they're all different." He opened the cover and looked at the keyboard. Then he began pulling at the sides of the case, first the left side, then the front, then the right. Nothing moved. He turned it over, tried pulling at it from the bottom. Then again from the top.
     "Calm down, Sully," he said, setting the laptop down on the desk. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Calm down, Sully," he said again, "you can do it. You can do it. Longitude X41. Longitude X41. Think." He opened his eyes and looked at the black machine on the desk. "Longitude X41. Visualize it." He picked it up and turned it over and over.
     "You've worked on these before?" I asked.
     "Oh, yes, sure. I'm sorry, my mind is just kind of scattered right now."
     "It's okay, I understand."
     "I mean, after 19 years they can just let the axe fall, just like that. Know what they gave us for Christmas last year? Everyone in the company got shot glasses with the company logo on them. I remember those glasses. Marketing had been giving them away to our customers as a promotion. We got the leftovers. Can you believe that? Wangsung shot glasses. What the hell am I supposed to do with those? I don't mean to say anything about Wangsung, that's not what I mean at all, I just think you should know about the company that's servicing you."
     "Yeah, of course."
     He was tugging at the keyboard, trying to pry it out of the case. "It's not like I can't handle it. I know loss. I can deal with it. My wife, she developed a lump. Then she died of cancer, left me with a 3-month-old baby. Then her mother died. So I'm alone, raising a kid. 19 years with a company and they think I don't know loss, I won't make it? I know loss."
     One of the keys popped off the keyboard and bounced across the desk.
     Sullivan slammed his fist down on the desk.
     At this point I was feeling a bit uncomfortable.
     He began fumbling with his clipboard, tearing at the attached pages, until he came to a stapled manual. It was a repair manual for the Longitude X41. With an angry tug it came loose.
     He whipped the pages back, one after the next, and stopped on the next to the last page. He studied it for a moment, then looked at the laptop. Then he began the ritual of turning the laptop over and over again.
     "They think they can get along with me, fine. Let them try. I don't care. I'm not even planning on looking for a job any time soon. Not until after the first of the year. I'll just spend Christmas at home, take the time as a vacation. Sit on my severance pay. Get drunk on their 'generous separation package' and watch football. REALLY DRUNK. Get some whiskey, some dirty movies, stay home. Drink the whiskey out of a Wangsung shot glass. Merry Christmas. Ho fucking ho. I can get a job later, there's no hurry. I have a whole 19 years of experience under my belt."
     He was now tugging at the palm-rest, just below the keyboard, trying to pry it up. A bead of sweat crawled down his forehead, passed the summit and rested in his eyebrow.
     Outside the window, a bird tugged at a candy bar wrapper. The wind was dancing with the trees, a slow dance. A single cloud marched east.
     "Well," I said, standing up, "I'll let you finish up here."
     Sullivan looked up sharply, as if noticing me for the first time.
     "Will you be okay here? Do you remember how to get back to my office?"
     "Oh, yes, yes. You go on back to work, I'm fine here."
     "Okay, I'll leave you to it." And then I made my retreat.
     Some time passed. I was back in my office, leaning back in my chair, staring at the ceiling. I was thinking about Sullivan.
     I had run out of there pretty fast. I had fled. The guy was making me nervous, fumbling around like that and raving like some kind of nut. I had never seen something like that, never been witness to anything like it. Didn't he know how to fix that thing? Why had Wangsung sent someone who was out of his mind? I should call and complain, I thought. I should complain, but what's the use? They had already fired him. What else could they do?
     And what was the big deal, anyway? People got laid off all the time. Hell, even I had been required to cut expenses in my division, I had seen the need to lay off a few people myself. Weren't there plenty of jobs out there? I saw ads in the paper all the time.
     There was a knock on my door. Gary came in, sat down on the little sofa against the wall. Put his feet up.
     "What's up, Jake? Any plans this weekend?"
     "Not much," I said. "No plans. Say, you shoulda been here twenty minutes ago."
     Gary leaned forward. "Really? What happened?"
     "They sent this guy over from Wangsung, some guy I'd never seen before. Here to fix Karkofsky's laptop keyboard. This guy, he shows up kind of crazy, going on about how they just fired him after 19 years."
     "No shit?"
     "Yeah, and lucky me, I get to be his last call. He's in Leo's office now, and he can't even get the case open! He's fried, man. Totally out of it."
     "Wow." Gary sat back, thought about this for a moment. "19 years is a long time."
     "I can't say I blame him. I'd be a little nuts, too."
     "Yeah, but come on, you should still be professional, even if it's your last day on the job. The guy was going on about Wangsung, how they had screwed him over. He couldn't even unscrew the laptop without reading the repair manual first."
     "He just lost his job. What do you expect?"
     "Professionalism," I said.
     "19 years is a long time."
     "You're missing the point, Gary. If today was your last day, I'd expect you to do your job until the end of the day. I'd expect you to be professional. Hold it together. You're a good technician, and you're a professional. You have an image to uphold."
     "If today was my last day, I'd be wasting time and you know it. What could you do? FIRE ME? What do I have to lose?"
     "Your integrity."
     "You're full of shit," he said with a laugh.
     "Maybe so. But you shoulda seen this guy. I thought he was going to crack. I was expecting him to go postal any minute, start shooting up the place. Just my luck, they make me his last customer, his final target."
     "I dunno," said Gary. "19 years is a long time."
     There was a knock at the door. Sullivan came in, wiping sweat from his forehead.
     "Sorry it took me so long," he said. He handed me a small box. "Here's the busted keyboard. The new one is in place. It works fine, I tested it out and it works, no problems. Everything is okay, it's okay, it's fine. I tested it. All you have to do now is sign the work order."
     He handed me the clipboard, his hand quivering, his shoulders sagging. I signed my name and handed it back.
     "Okay," he said. "Bill will be back on Monday, so it'll be business as usual. They won't have me to kick around any more. For me, this was the last call of the last day of the last week of the last year of my career with Wangsung."
     With that he was gone.
     Gary and I were left there, sitting, staring at the silent air in his wake.
     "God, that was uncomfortable," I said.
     Then Gary stood up, stretched, opened the door.
     "I dunno, man," he said. "19 years is a long time to work for one company. How long have you worked here?"
     He closed the door behind him.
     I sat in my office, in my chair, behind my desk, twiddling my pen, none of which was actually mine. I thought about that for a while. Then I got up, turned off the lights, locked the door, walked down to the garage and got in my car. It was a long drive home.

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Zeylan is a computer nerd from California. His work has been featured under various pseudonyms in all sorts of publications.


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