Something in the Water

Contributor: Eric Suhem

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“Howard, get me some water!” ordered Manager #5 to one of his subordinates, as the management team of Acme MegaCorp gathered in the conference room to explore ideas designed to improve employee productivity and morale. “I suggest we add a mood-enhancing substance to the company’s drinking water. A number of drugs have been very effective in experiments on dogs, cats and pigs,” said Manager #5, staring moodily into his coffee mug. The management team approved the proposal for altered tap water.

Two days later, Howard was called into his manager’s office. “Howard, we’d like you to be the point man for a new company-wide high-profile project. In fact, you’ll be our guinea pig,” said Manager #5, handing him a plastic cup of enhanced water. “Now drink this, and give me a report later.”

“Yes, sir!” said Howard, grateful to be chosen for an important project. He’d always been a good team player. Maybe now it would pay off.

Back at his desk, arranging memos and paper clips into a geometric order that felt pleasing, Howard had a vision of a large guinea pig, sitting in the chair across from him, pounding its paw on the desk, “Let’s close the deal now, H.B.! And I won’t take ‘No’ for an answer!” The guinea pig threw its head back and laughed, pulling a scythe out from under the table.

Wielding the scythe given to him by the guinea pig, Howard went to the lobby and sliced up various artificial plants and topiary efforts, hacking rhythmically as a secretary looked on in horror. Later that day, Manager #5 called him into his office. “Howard, we need to discuss your behavior, upper management has taken an interest in your cutting of the welcoming area’s greenery,” said Manager #5, starting right in on an assessment of Howard’s workplace conduct, using the word ‘failure’ 12 times, Howard’s smile brightening each time he heard the word.

“I think it’s great!” said Howard in a good mood after drinking the enhanced water.

“Look Howard, we’re going to install a training wheel in your cubicle. “It will help you work off that energy in less destructive ways. You know, like a hamster or a guinea pig,” said Manager #5.

As the days went by, the drugged water increased Howard’s productivity and morale, which pleased the management team. Howard exercised vigorously on his little wheel, and some of the secretaries walked by his cubicle to feed him shredded lettuce.

One morning in his cubicle, Howard found the large guinea pig sitting in his chair. “Howard, we have to talk,” whispered the guinea pig, beckoning Howard to have a seat on the training wheel. “Howard, you don’t like this job, do you? It’s demeaning and humiliating. You’ve played by the rules for your entire career, and look where it’s gotten you.”

Sitting on the training wheel, chewing shredded lettuce from his little bowl that was adorned with pictures of rodents at play, Howard felt something open up in his imagination. He’d always felt trapped in his job, and he hadn’t been able to visualize himself doing anything else. But staring at the guinea pig, ideas began to flow: maybe he could join an organization that cares for and protects guinea pigs….maybe he could start a business building guinea pig cages…maybe become a chef that cooks guinea pigs in Cusco, Peru, near Machu Picchu. He wasn’t sure if it was due to the water, but for the first time he felt free, aware of options he hadn’t realized.

Howard went to his manager’s office to resign, bringing the scythe with him.

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Eric Suhem lives in the orange hallway.
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