“Finish this project on time, Baweler, or I’ll have your head.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Fistula,” I said.

“Have you hired an extra engineer like I told you?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“That’s money the company is bleeding, on your head if you’re late.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mr. Fistula moved off down the hall. I lapsed back into my office. Snuck a little pick-me-up out of the bottom drawer.

Flixie poked her head in.

“The new man is here,” she said.

I told her to send him in.

“Dilbert?” I said, when he entered.

He nodded and started to sit down in the chair I keep empty in front of my desk.

“Don’t sit,” I said. “You won’t be staying. Flixie will show you to your assigned work area. You understand the schedule? Our deadline? Why you’re here?”

He opened his mouth to reply. I held up my hand.

“A simple nod will suffice,” I said.

He nodded. Flixie would put him at the desk of a loser I had just fired, back next to the men’s restroom.

I made a motion of dismissal.

It seems to me now, thinking back, that he stood there just a moment too long, as if he were thinking, or perhaps considering a reply, or some other sign of rebellion. It seems to me now that I should have fired him on the spot. But I’m a softy. That’s my little weakness.

He turned and left my office.

I spent the day variously napping, working out in the executive gym, and chewing out recalcitrant engineers. Our project was on track.

At the end of the day, I told Flixie she could come have a drink and dinner with me. She gave me that big Flixie smile of gratefulness.

The week went on like that, but with one disturbing difference at the end of it. On Friday, I again told Flixie she could spend the evening with me, but this time she made a moue.

“I can’t come, Mr. Baweler,” she said. “I’ve got to show Dilbert the town.”

“Dilbert?” I said. “You’re going out with Dilbert? He’s only an engineer, and a new one at that.”

“He seems real smart, Sir. He seems like a real comer.”

“But I’m your boss,” I said.

Her brow darkened.

“All right, all right,” I said. “Show him the town if you like.”

She gave me that Flixie smile. This time, however, there were no drinks and dinner behind it, or anything else that would be fun. Not for me at least.

It dawned on me then and there that this Dilbert fellow was already, after only one week, destroying our group morale. He had to go. Yet, when I asked around, it seemed that a timely completion of our project depended upon him. To hear the other engineers tell it, he was carrying them all on his back.

It seemed that I must let him stay for the moment.

“Flixie,” I said, “I don’t get it. I gave you that seat by the window. I gave you a raise. I see to it that you don’t have to do anything all day. All I ask in return is your friendship, if you know what I mean and I think you do.”

“You have my friendship,” she said, giving me a hug in my office with the door closed.

“Not here,” I said. “I don’t want your friendship here. I want your friendship tonight.”

That was not to be, however, not with Mr. Special around. A hug during the day, yes; her friendship during the night, no. She must minister to Lord Dilbert. I began constructing the trail of paperwork that I would soon use to dispatch him from our midst.

“I’m hearing good things about your project,” Mr. Fistula said to me.

“We’re on track, Mr. Fistula,” I said. “We’re committed, we’re dedicated, we’re producing.”

“What about this new man, Dilbert? I hear great things about him, too.” Mr. Fistula didn’t sound happy about it. “Are we going to have to keep him on the payroll going forward?”

I shook my head and pulled a long face. It wasn’t hard.

“I don’t know,” I said with a doubtful tone in my voice. “We may be making progress in spite of him, not because of him. He may be the fox in the hen house. He may be the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“I see,” Mr. Fistula said. “You’re…”

“…documenting my concerns? Yes. The trail will be there if and when needed. No fear.”

“Good. The man is an added expense that we don’t need. In addition, there are rumors that he is fraternizing with his co-workers. I won’t tolerate that. It’ll be your head if we’re pouring money down the toilet for no good reason and if outsiders are stealing our hens and sheep, as you would put it.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Fistula.”

I called Dilbert into my office that afternoon. A paper trail by itself is not enough to scoot somebody out the door without risking legal repercussions. So many of the lumpen are litigious these days. Bump into a needlessly careless pedestrian with your car and the next thing you know, the fellow is suing you from his hospital bed.

Termination action, when the time is right, requires that you have dialoged with the worker, warned him, warned him again, worked with him to straighten him out, created a plan for him, etc., etc. I’ve found that reading the riot act to the fellow a time or two is sufficient to cover all this.

When Dilbert came in, he eyed the chair in front of my desk. I gave my head the most minute back-and-forth no-no move. He remained on his feet.

“How’s it going, Dilbert?” I said. I pushed my chair back so that I could put my feet up on my desk.

“The project is on track, if that’s what you mean,” he said.

“Yes, development has been purring along,” I said. “Exceeding expectations.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” the know-it-all said. “The thing was a complete mess. I’ve been putting in sixteen-hour days, adding hacks to every module, trying to rationalize enough of the spaghetti code in there to allow the program to run for more than a minute without crashing.”

“Whatever,” I said. “As long as it works and you’re finished on the appointed day.”

“Listen,” Dilbert said. “Do you know what a shade-tree mechanic is?”

“What? I guess so.”

“You’re out in the country driving around. Your car develops a problem. You pull into the yard in front of a farmhouse. You’re thinking that you’ll have to call a tow truck and that it will cost you a fortune. A fellow – the farmer – is working on a tractor or pickup over in the shade of a tree. He’s used to maintaining all his farming vehicles. He offers to take a look under your hood.

“Having examined your car, the farmer tells you that he can make a fix to the engine that will get you to the next town. Once there, you’ll need to head right to a garage and let a certified mechanic repair do a real repair. If you don’t, the vehicle will break down again, and this time, you’ll be in real trouble. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”

“Sure,” I said. “You’re the farmer.”

“That’s right,” he said.

I sent him on his way. His arrogant attitude infuriated me. I was the one managing the project, not him. I sat fuming. Pulling up his file on my desktop, I entered the information about him hacking the code instead of using authorized, professional structures, and about his unauthorized overtime hours. I didn’t want to cause Flixie any problems, so I named a different secretary in my notes while detailing Dilbert’s unethical and illegitimate amorous activities. Not being sure what he was up to with Flixie, exactly, I just put in what I would have done in his place.

I missed Flixie’s ministrations. Dilbert was such a nerdy bore, such a geeky dork. Always with the questions, the reasons, the questions about my reasons, the questions about my questions, the reasons about my… You get the idea.

I could only wait. Bide my time.

We finished our project on the appointed day, just as Dilbert promised we would, and I immediately called him in and fired him. Then I found Flixie and invited her over to my place for the evening.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Baweler,” she said. “I’m going out with Mr. Fistula tonight. He says he’ll move me up to his floor, to a desk with a view of the river. My duties will remain unchanged.”

“What? He can’t do that!”

“The other thing is, when Dilbert was leaving, he told me to tell you that he isn’t only the farmer in the countryside, he’s also the certified mechanic in the town, whatever that means.”

I ran after Dilbert as fast as I could, but I wasn’t fast enough to catch him.

5 Responses

  1. I’ve worked in Dilbert/cubicle land. Once a boss (small company owner) ordered me to hire an assistant (an unmarried pregnant female engineer). He told her she could work at home while she was caring for the baby after it was born. He liked the idea because he paid her half of what she was worth. I was not too happy about the whole deal, but once she started working, she was doing fine. Then he told me to fire her for some bogus ignorant reason. I said, “Her work is fine. I have no reason to fire her. You fire her.” A couple of months later, he fired me (ostensibly for other reasons than not firing her). A couple of months further on I found out that he had promoted her to my position (after trying to get me to fire her). Eventually, someone else who worked for him told me, “He eventually fires everyone who works for him, unless they quit first.” From that job, I learned to quit before I got fired. (Almost all the bosses I worked for were crazy. But then most bosses are crazy. That’s why Dilbert is such a truthful cartoon.

  2. I have no argument. I’ve had 17 jobs before I retired, but I am still married to my first wife. I figure being married turned out to be my lifetime career. Our motto is, “We are both too weird for anyone else to put up with; we might as well stay together.” Actually, her strategy is once she decides she likes a product (such as type of cheese or type of laundry soap she tends to stick with it unless some dreadful flaw shows up, so I try to limit the number of dreadful flaws I exhibit).

    True story. After we retired and moved onto five acres of woods on an island, I told my wife, “Now that we don’t have to go anywhere, you can kill me and bury me in the woods and nobody will notice.”

    She replied, “I am not strong enough to dig a deep enough grave in this hard soil.”

    Then one day, she decided to reroute the water line running from our basement to our vegetable garden. She said to me, “The plumber is given me a price on changing the water lines. I told him to save money, I will have you dig the new trench for the water line.” [It needed to be about five feet deep for various reasons.]

    So there I was standing in a trench five feet deep that I had dug. I asked myself, “What is wrong with this picture?” But then my wife came by and said, “That looks good. The plumber will put in the pipes tomorrow and then you can fill all the dirt in.”

    So here we are. Different kinds of jobs and different kinds of bosses. You never know.

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