I try and try but the mug will not empty its dregs into the sink. I groan and shake the thing one last time. Every one else in the office uses the “Mega Mug” from Bud’s Coffee. It’s big enough to hold an eight hour buzz.
My cubicle sits ten steps away, looking more like a pet carrier than a workplace. It leaves just enough room for me to sit. The city has more important things to pay for, like the legislators’ hookers and drunk-driving tickets.
The coffee always smells like sweaty feet; maybe the furnace’s fueled with moldy cabbage. Then again, maybe my mug is just dirty. I toss the old mug and its ever-smiling Hardee’s star into the trash can. A Mega Mug doesn’t sound half bad. I shake the thought from my head after I get a tingle downtown. I’ll ignore it for now.
I lean forward and click my mouse. I never noticed the sound of the clicking before, but it becomes annoying. It reverberates like a war drum...dadum, dadum, though it’s just kaclick, kaclick. I kaclick a folder named “Hmm.” It stores a thousand complaints and threats.
I hit the delete key. No sense bothering the boss with that mess. Who cares if a garbage man pissed on a woman’s begonias or a trashcan mysteriously caught fire in the night? Just a waste of taxpayer dollars. There’s a new strip mall needing land and the mayor has to buy out a farmer.
As the wasteful emails say goodbye, I see a shipped package stuffed in my In tray. The label reads SHIP TO: Jareth Mackey. That can’t be right. Jareth is one of the two basement dwelling janitors. I decide to take the package to its true recipient.
Near the stairwell, an employee ID card lies on the floor. These things shouldn’t be left lying around. I’ll take it to the owner and give them a talking to. I pick up the card and stick it behind a pen in my shirt pocket. I never understood why the city never put pictures of our faces on these cards. Where’s the security in that?
“What’ya want?” the toothless assistant janitor asks me as I approach the basement door. I pull my ID card from a shirt pocket and flash it at him.
“Awright” concedes the janitor.
“Jareth in?” I ask as I pass him.
“Nope, lunch. Back in thirty...maybe,” he responds.
“Thanks,” I mutter, making it across the steel-columned room. In the very back, near some shelves, sits the furnace. Its grated door emits an eerie orange glow. It smells worse up close. I set the package down on an adjacent bench. I don’t dawdle and return to the office.
I weave through the corral of cubicles, following Mary’s voice to her workspace. She’s on the phone. I lean against the open side of her cubicle and clear my throat. She looks at me with a smile and wastes no time getting off the phone.
“Hey,” she says, eyeing me.
“Howdy, whatcha up to?” I ask.
“Not much. Waiting for lunch. God, I can’t stand this place.”
“Know the feeling. I was thinking about investing in a Mega Mug. They’re easier to clean, right?”
She nods. “Uh huh. The bottom comes off so you never get any of those crappy brown stains.”
“Nice,” I say. “Listen, I was going to run to Bud’s. Want to join me? We can skip out early.”
She smiles, turning her head in thought. “Hmmm.”
“It’s a simple yes or no,” I tell her, winking.
“Oh, alright,” she says, feigning exasperation.
We get to Bud’s fifteen minutes later. It’s not crowded and we get seated immediately.
“I’ll have a turkey on rye and a Mega Mug,” I tell the waitress. She nods and smiles, and turns to Mary.
“Just a cobb salad and water.” The waitress nods and smiles again. We say our thank yous and she speeds off.
Fifteen minutes of small talk and flirting later, we have our order. The Mega Mug is indeed mega. And the coffee’s good. I’ll have to come more often.
Mary’s in high spirits. She tells me of her dream to be a teacher. She’s taking classes at a local college to get her degree. She’ll be done in a few months and hopes to quit soon.
“Will you ever quit Sanitation?” she asks me after a few moments of silence.
“I’d have to find another place that smells like feet.”
She informs me that I’m terrible. I disagree. While she continues to laugh, my cell phone rings. I answer it, hear silence, and end the call.
I lean over the table and pick Mary up off the floor. I attempt worry.
“Are you ok?” I ask her.
Her eyes are moist. “Oh...my God...what happened?”
“There’s been an explosion,” I explain.
“Oh, wow...yeah, I’m ok,” she responds.
“Good.” Bewildered and off balance, she manages to find her chair again. I walk to the front and peer out the windowless pane. The Sanitation Department building is smoldering, reduced to rubble. I hear sirens in the distance. I turn back and head to the table. The waitress looks shocked and asks me what happened.
“A building blew up.”
She replies, “Oh my god!”
“Yeah,” I say.
A smile crosses my face. I look to the Mega Mug still in my hand. “Look, can I get a refill? This is really good coffee.”