by: Frederick Foote
A Nation divided, demonstrated by a workplace at odds…
The door to my boss’s office is open. I rap on the door frame to get his attention as I step into his unnaturally neat, organized, and tastefully decorated government office. He gazes upward momentarily and motions for me to close the door.
I close the door and slide into his comfortable overstuffed leather chair. As always, I admire the Persian Tree of Life rug covering the room’s drab linoleum floor.
“Hey, Roger, you look a little flushed. Are you okay? What’s up? What do you need?”
Roger Kinkaid, my boss for the last three years and my friend for over twenty-five years. gives me a quick, tense smile. “Levi, how’s the master contract development going? Are we on schedule? Are the vendors helpful or a hindrance…“
“Whoa Rog, slow your roll. I sent you a status update this morning. We’re well ahead of schedule. What’s going on here?”
I lean back in my chair and study my blond, boyish looking friend. At forty-five he could pass for a decade younger. He gives me a sheepish smile.
“Levi, I have been distracted and I…Levi, is there a rumor going around that I voted for Trump? Are the staff saying that?”
I turn my gaze to look at a print of Jasper Johns’ Three Flags on the wall behind Roger. I admire the rough three-dimensional quality of the picture. I let him fiddle with his pen for a moment.
“Roger, did you vote for Trump?”
“Levi, that’s not the point. Since the election, tensions have been running high in the Division, hell, throughout the whole Department. Your Contracting Unit is all minorities and women. I would hate for one of your units to be the epicenter of these disruptive behaviors. Our voting records should not and will not become a workplace issue.”
“Roger, you didn’t answer my question.”
“And I’m not going to. You need to put a stop to this rumor mongering immediately.”
“Wait a minute. Hold on a second. First off, I haven’t confirmed that there are any rumors in my shop about you at all. Secondly, if this is a Division-wide or Department-wide issue, why are you coming to me? Why aren’t you sending out a Department-wide directive? Finally, you’re the only one I know bringing up voting for Trump as a workplace issue.”
“Come on Levi, let’s be honest with each other. I have heard talk in the elevators, the cafeteria, in the breakroom. It’s, apparently, the only topic of discussion.”
I spring to my feet and look down at my ruddy boss. “The election has been the workplace topic for nine months at least. Everybody knows that. But, you’re now saying talking about the election’s a problem. Why? Why now?”
Roger’s stand and points his finger at my chest. “Because people are so angry now that Trump won! We need to come together and give him a chance. He deserves that. Every president does.”
“You mean like the chance the Republicans and Tea Party gave Obama? I never heard you make that plea in the eight years of Republican non-cooperation with our black president. Where was your concern then?”
“In your people of color unit I have seen, ‘Not my president!’ buttons and…“
“’People of color unit?’ What the hell are you talking about?”
“You know that’s the only unit like that in the Department. The only unit with no whites. It’s…it’s a ghetto.”
I step away from Roger’s desk and try to control my breathing and my temper. “Hey, you need to check yourself now! Your ninety-nine percent white Department is the real ghetto here. You need to be looking at that shit.”
“No, I don’t. The issue is your employees disrupting the work…“
“Okay. Okay, stop right there. Right now. My Contract Unit has had the same race, ethnic, and gender composition for the last eighteen months. It was never a problem. We need to step back from this. Okay?”
Roger holds up his hands in mock surrender. “You’re right. Since the election, things have changed…people are frightened, frustrated, angry. We need to all calm down, take a deep breath. It’s just politics, right?”
I don’t answer as I back out of his office.
In my cluttered office space, I have printouts, manuals, procurement and contracting books and materials covering my desk, chairs, filing cabinets and tumbling out of my bookcases.
I study the Robert Colesett, George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware, painting that hangs above my desk. It always brings a smile to my face and a chuckle to my lips. After yesterday’s little confrontation with Roger, I did some checking around in my Contract Unit. I discovered that there was indeed talk of both Roger and the Director being closeted Trump supporters.
That surprised the hell out of me about Roger. Roger and I met as freshman sociology students at UC Davis. He and I, and later our families, have been friends and shared many, many key events and common concerns over the years. Roger and I were both active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and were both outraged about the Rodney King beating. I know I have changed over time, but not that damn much. How could I have missed the changes in Roger? We’ll do lunch today and smooth it over. We’ve had disagreements before. We always work it out. Was I sleepwalking the past twenty-five years? Naw. No way.
I step into Roger’s office as he completes a phone call. “Where to? Club Four-Two-Two sounds about right. We haven’t been there in a while.”
“Levi, close the door, and please take a seat.”
“What? What’s going on?”
I ease into my favorite chair.
“That was the Director. Someone keyed her car yesterday in the parking lot.”
“So what? What does that have to do with lunch?”
Roger stares at me for a moment. “She believes that it was done because she’s a Trump supporter. She also believes that it was done by a Department employee.”
“Roger, did she report it to the Police? Did she see the culprit? And, again, what does it have to do with our lunch?”
Roger stands and, unnecessarily, adjusts the Johns painting. He turns and sits on the edge of his desk. “The Director thinks, and I agree, that we need to reorganize your Contract Unit…“
“What the fuck Roger? What does the Director care about one little five analyst shop in a Department of four thousand plus employees? She doesn’t even know that Unit exists. Unless, unless…you, you have been telling her about the Unit. Why? Why would you do that?”
“Levi, the Unit stands out like a sore thumb. It is or could be a hotbed of, of disloyalty to the new administration and, and it is a form of segregation.”
I’m shaking my head in disbelief. “Roger, do you hear yourself? That’s nonsense. That’s crazy, racist bullshit. You know it is.”
Roger’s leaps to his feet, red-faced, and sweating. “We’re doing it to forestall possible problems. It will protect the Unit’s employees from being the objects of suspicion and concern. They’ll all keep their levels, titles, and pay. And…“
“Levi, listen, listen…you’ll get two new units to supervise. We’ll promote you to a Manager III. You deserve it. It’ll be…“
I walk out the door before I punch my former friend in the mouth. I turn back to Roger. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Roger crosses to me with a placating smile. “It’s a done deal. Human Resources will get the paperwork to you tomorrow. For both the personnel reassignments and your promotion. This’ll work out, Levi.” He pats me on the back as I turn to leave.
As I move away, Roger grabs my arm and whispers in my ear. “Levi, the Director would appreciate any information you give her on who keyed her car, okay?”
I turn on Roger so suddenly and aggressively I see the flash of fear in the eyes of a stranger. I don’t punch him or curse him. I just get a good close up look at the enemy. I wonder how long this war will last and if it’ll change anything at all.