by Mike O’Mary
I used to work at a company where people were very conscious of job levels. After a big meeting of top company managers, one of my coworkers approached me: “Hey, Mike,” he said. “I didn’t know you were a nine.” Before I could inform him that I was not a nine, he continued in a hushed tone: “A bunch of us nines are getting together after work for pizza and beer tomorrow. Don’t tell any sevens or eights.” Then he hurried off.
I suppose most companies have some internal method of ranking various job classifications. At that particular company, you climbed the ladder from level one to level two to three, on up. It was sort of like Donkey Kong. How high can you get?
I don’t know how far the numbering system went, but reaching level nine held special significance. They didn’t give you a key to the executive washroom or anything like that. (That would have been silly–especially since there was already an armed guard at the washroom entrance and you had to show two picture I.D.s to get in. I showed my library card and prom picture.) But being a level nine did have its advantages. For one thing, it meant you got to go to big meetings of top company managers. You also got an assigned parking space, a slightly larger cubicle and a free annual physical. I think being a nine also meant that you are allowed to use the two-ply toilet paper. And, of course, nines were allowed to punch sevens at will.
I didn’t get a chance to tell my coworker that I was not a nine. I was at the big meeting of top company managers because it was part of my job to report to other employees what happened at such meetings. I was on hand to listen and learn–and to change the light bulb in the slide projector if necessary.
Obviously, my coworker had taken my presence at the big meeting to mean that I, too, had a reserved parking place and an unchafed bum. Apparently, I could have passed myself off as a nine if I had really wanted to. At least nobody tried to hit me at the meeting. But I decided not to push my luck, so I skipped the pizza and beer that night. Besides, I had some fives to beat up.
Mike O’Mary is founding dreamer of Dream of Things, an independent book publisher currently accepting creative nonfiction stories for anthologies on 15 topics, including an anthology titled “Cubicle Stories: Life in the Modern Workplace.”