Home > In the Black > In the Black: 1965 (Part 1) — Wanda W. Willet Excerpt

In the Black: 1965 (Part 1) — Wanda W. Willet Excerpt

In the Black 1965 - Pt 1

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Wanda W. Willet was a bony, emaciated woman of forty-five who prided herself on her trim figure, yet had, before she left, stirred scarecrows to unionize for job protection in the small farming community from which she hailed. Her entire face came to a point at the end of her nose, giving her a rodent-esque countenance. Her skin was pulled back painfully taut over her cheek bones and her lips were so pursed and puckered that her mouth resembled another, less pleasant bodily orifice. She had a habit of sticking pencils into the nest of hair on top of her head and forgetting about them that added to the illusion that her hairdo had actually been assembled by a pair of mating magpies.

Wanda W. Willet was born and raised in a town called Digby in Finikie County, Kansas, which was so far off of U.S. 283 that the only road through town was a hardened artery of dirt that to this day is unnamed and unnumbered. She was the only child of a farm implement sales and service man, who was quite popular in Finikie County, and his weary, wind-blown wife. Wanda W. Willet’s upbringing was an intensely uneventful one, reaching its zenith when she graduated with a degree in Education from the Kansas State University Extension Center in the relative metropolis of Hays, Kansas. Much to her parents dismay, she scurried right on back to Digby and moved right back into the same upstairs bedroom that had always been hers the day after she received her diploma. She eventually took over Miss Pyles’ position as school teacher after Miss Pyles had been discovered dead in her home three weeks after she had died. It seemed that none of her students were motivated enough to report her as missing and she was discovered fallen over a stack of class essays, stiff as a board, by the Finikie County Fuller Brush Sales Man.

Wanda W. Willet taught kindergarten, elementary grades, junior high school and senior high school, all in a one-room, red-brick school house just west of Digby proper. Her students were the nepotistic farm hands of the rugged individuals who tilled the high plains of southern Finikie County. Wanda W. Willet found complete fulfillment teaching in a school that had no principals, no other teachers, no Parent Teachers Association and especially no football and basketball coaches who ineptly tried to teach driver’s education and typing classes — that had no marching band, no drama club, no chess club, no biology club — that had no proms, no homecomings, no sock hops and no cheerleaders to counsel about teenage pregnancies Teaching school in Digby was a pure, unadulterated experience of education, unfettered by an extra-curricular nonsense that would require Wanda W. Willet to interact with another human being on a purely social level. There was only the school board made up of three farmers named Joe who met once a year at Joe Number Three’s farm house during the winter when farm duties were at a lull. Sometime during their judicious consumption of alcoholic beverages and the endless hands of five card draw poker, nothing wild, Wanda W. Willet was given a four and one-half percent pay increase if the past year’s crop yields had been good or a two and one-half percent increase if the moisture content was high or the test weights had been low.

All went well for a dozen years or so until that fateful October in 1957 when the Russians played with the thermostat connected to the Cold War by launching Sputnik I into orbit. The farmers all knew, of course, that this was a malicious communist plot aimed specifically at them to ruin their crops of newly planted winter wheat by some kind of insidious manipulation of the weather from outer space. Co-incidently, it was also in that very same October of 1957 that the son of Joe Number Two on the school board, Joe Number Two, Junior, came home with a reading assignment of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, who was widely mistaken not only in Digby, but all of Finikie County, for Leon Trotsky, and suddenly the collusionary threat of the Red Menace was right there in their own north forties, just like good old Senator Joe “Tail Gunner” McCarthey had tried to warn them. With her own father voicing the loudest denunciations — sales of plows and discs had fallen off dramatically in 1957 — “Red Army Colonel” Wanda W. Willetski was forced to leave Digby. She went to Kansas City, Missouri, and there, Y.T., Sr. recognized the vast, untapped potential of her fascist, dictatorial talents acquired over the twelve years spent in the one-room, red-brick school house.

“My door is always open for you to come to me with your problems and suggestions,” Y.T., Sr. would tell his workers during impromptu speeches made on the Machine Shop floor or in the course of informal discussions held with the key punch operators in the Accounting Department. Of course, it was Wanda W. Willet’s task to see that not one of them ever passed over the threshold to Y.T., Sr.’s office, and in this task, her well-honed perversion of the Socratic method served her well.

“Ex-excuse m-me, Miss W-Willet,” murmured Horace Cooley, supervisor of the Drafting Department, where Y.T., Sr. had most recently been giving impromptu speeches. Horace Cooley was a tall, frail man whose posture had been irrevocably curved by twenty years bent over a drafting board. He wore thick, frameless glasses. His hands shook visibly as if he were afflicted with palsy. He was so soft-spoken that he had not once called attention to any of the occasional shortages in his paycheck that had occurred over the past twenty years. For Horace Cooley to have left the Drafting Department and to have presented himself before Mr. Erp’s secretary required that he draw upon reservoirs of courage that were unimaginable even to himself in his wildest dreams. “Ex-excuse me, b-but I would like to s-speak to M-Mr. Erp, please.”

Slowly and deliberately, Wanda W. Willet looked up from her desk. Years of inhaling chalk dust had made her voice hoarse and scratchy like the old seventy-eight RPM victrola records she sang along with in her apartment, making a sustained conversation with her impossible for anyone with normal hearing. “Of course. And you would have an appointment, would you not?” she asked, as always with full knowledge that the petitioner did not.

“A-A-Appointment?” Horace Cooley stuttered, unnerved at first by Wanda W. Willet’s appearance and then even more so by the tone of her voice.

“Yes, of course, Mr. Cooley, an appointment. You did make one, did you not?”

“B-But Mr. Er-Er-Er-Erp said . . . ” Horace Cooley trailed off, noticing for the first time that directly behind Wanda W. Willet, Y.T., Sr.’s office door was closed as it always was during the hours of eight to five.

At this point, with an exaggerated sigh of exasperation, Wanda W. Willet would always take off her white rhinestone glasses with the sharply pointed wings and let them dangle from a chain around her neck. She did just that and squinted her brown, rat-like eyes at Horace Cooley.

“Bu-But it–but, this Me-memo,” Horace Cooley stammered on bravely. “Th-This is going to s-seriously e-effect the e-efficiency of the D-D-D-Drafting D-Department. I ju-just don’t see how we w-will be able to g-get all of our wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-work done. We are behind as it is n-now.”

“And you wish to speak directly to Mr. Erp concerning this matter?”

“He s-said we could c-come to him with p-p-problems and s-s-suggestions. He said his d-door is–”

“But you have no appointment?” Wanda W. Willet turned her head and looked sideways at the trembling twig of a man before her.

“W-well n-no. But he s-said his door w-would always–”

“Mr. Cooley.” Wanda W. Willet shook her head. “Mr. Cooley, would you not suppose Mr. Erp to be quite a busy man?”

“Well, y-yes, I would suppose–”

“And just how many people would you suppose Mr. Erp has working for him here at Erp Industries, Incorporated?”

“Oh, g-gosh, I don’t know. M-Maybe three hun-or n-no, four — or –”

“Six hundred, sixty-two in this facility, which does not include the warehouse personnel in Lee’s Summit. And now, what if each and every employee here wanted to see Mr. Erp today? Hmm? How much time would you suppose he would have to speak with each and every one of them?”

Horace Cooley rolled his eyes skyward as he went through the calculations in his head to cipher the answer for Wanda W. Willet. “I-I don’t know off the t-top of my head M-Maybe, oh, a minute or–”

“If Mr. Erp worked one hour overtime in the morning and one hour overtime at night and worked straight through his lunch hour as well, he would be able to spend exactly one minute with each employee, less an average of ten seconds for each person to enter into and egress from Mr. Erp’s office, leaving a scant fifty seconds to actually conduct their meeting Now, Mr. Cooley, as Mr. Erp’s secretary, I am required to take down the minutes of all of Mr. Erp’s meetings. You have heard of taking the minutes of a meeting, have you not, Mr. Cooley?”

“Ye-yes.”

“Well, certainly in all my years, I have never taken the seconds of any meeting. Have you ever heard of such a thing Mr. Cooley?”

“Er, no, I–”

“Now, If I let you into Mr. Erp’s office for only fifty seconds, you and he could not very well have a meeting if there are no minutes for me to take, now could you Mr. Cooley?”

“I-I su-suppose not.”

“And if you do not have a meeting with Mr. Erp, then how do you suppose that you and he could have any meaningful discussion about your concerns over this particular memo and its impact on your Drafting Department?”

“If I-I d-d-didn’t–”

“And if you do not discuss this situation with Mr. Erp, then you will not have accomplished the task you set out to accomplish when you came here, which would mean that you would have to come here tomorrow and again the next day and the next and the next. Now, Mr. Cooley, if you were Mr. Erp, could you afford to spend all your days having six hundred sixty-two non-meetings which did not allow you to discuss or resolve any of the issues and challenges facing you and your loyal and trusted employees?”

“Bu-but–”

“You see, then, that if Mr. Erp spends all of his time not solving problems, Erp Industries, Incorporated, would more than likely not be the successful and profitable enterprise that it is, would it not?”

“No–I mean yes–I, er, ah,” Horace Cooley thought about all of this for a moment, rubbing his chin with his visibly shaking hand. “Very w-well, th-then, c-could I m-make an appointment to s-see–”

“Now really, Mr. Cooley.” Wanda W. Willet sighed a very loud sigh that evidenced the great magnitude of her patience. “Mr. Cooley, if Mr. Erp wanted to see you, would you not come to his office immediately?”

“Y-Yes. Of c-course I w-would.”

“So you understand, then, that Mr. Erp can see anyone of the people who work for him whenever he so desires?”

“Y-Yes, I s-suppose that–”

“Then why would Mr. Erp ever make an appointment to see any one of his employees? Would that not be redundant with the authority that is clearly within his rights to exercise?”

Horace Cooley shook his head as if to clear his thoughts.

“Thank you ever so much for coming by the office today, Mr. Cooley. It was so nice to see you again. And rest assured that we will be sure to call upon you when the need arises to discuss Mr. Erp’s Memo with you. Good day.”

Wanda W. Willet put her glasses back on and turned her attention to the work on her desk once again. It was as if Mr. Cooley had simply evaporated into thin air and no longer existed.

“Bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-” Horace Cooley stammered on in a state of highly agitated despair. He searched about the reception area for some just umpire or referee to cry foul and to penalize Wanda W. Willet for her infractions upon his sensibilities. Instead, he saw the two gentlemen sitting on either side of the door to Y.T., Sr.’s office like a matched set of bookends, identically dressed in light blue shirts, red ties, dark blue blazers and grey polyester slacks. Then he saw That Smile! It cut through him to the very core of his trembling being like the cold January wind howling outside, and just as if he were naught but a frail, brittle leaf, blew him out of the door through which he had come, right past Y.T., Jr. and all the way back to the Drafting Department where he spent the balance of the day aimlessly tracing french curves from a template, tip-toeing at the very boundary of a nervous breakdown.

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