Come to think of it, our office was getting along just fine until Randall arrived. He showed up several months after that unpleasant business with Leslie in Accounting, the departure of whom seemed to signal a new era of peace among our cubicles. Our Tuesday happy hours were happy once more; our casual Fridays at long last truly casual. I won’t go so far as to say we were a family, but the camaraderie was back—even Cornelius in HR began attending our regular Chili’s lunch break. But then…Randall.
He had braces on his teeth—braces! He arrived wearing corduroys, and a floral tie that was painfully out of season—this was October—which we took collective note of. Corduroys, we could see the look on Beth in Reception’s face, and we had to agree, Who dresses him? His mother? As if to confirm our suspicions of his classlessness, he insisted on making a speech to mark his hiring, breaking basic office protocol. He grabbed the chair from Doug, our sales rep’s, desk without asking him first, dragging it along the linoleum floor rather than lifting it, so that it made a pitchy and intolerable screech, not to mention the scuff marks it left. Gus, the janitor, rolled his eyes at us and we rolled ours back.
“Hi, hello,” he said, standing on the chair. “O Captain, my Captain,” he said in reference to where he was standing, and barked HA! at his own joke. “But seriously folks,” he said, “I’m Randall and I’ll be your waiter this evening. HA! I guess I’ll be sitting…there,” he pointed to a corner desk next to Griffin in Customer Service, who in turn threw his coat around the empty chair to which Randall referred. Randall did not notice this, or if he did he didn’t take the cue. “Can’t wait to become part of the crew here. I’m sure we’ll all become amigos. ASAP”—and naturally he didn’t say ay-ess-ay-pee, he said ASAP, as though it were a word which, coupled with the cultural appropriation of “amigos,” made us all want to puke.
The odor did not become apparent until the end of the week, his first Casual Friday among us. Well-versed in office dress codes, the rest of us were tasteful: DeeDee in her jeans and blouse, Phil in a polo and khakis, Doug in a button-down but no tie. We refrained from commenting on each other’s attire, per management’s orders. But Randall extended the concept of Casual Friday beyond its sartorial implications and spent the day loudly chewing mini-Mounds bars and picking the remains from his braces, throwing the wrappers on his desk, violating at least six company aesthetic guidelines. Worse, he wore, and we thought we were imagining it, sandals with a sock on one foot and no sock on the other. No one asked why, but he announced anyway, “I have the funkiest case of athlete’s foot—and I’m not even much of an athlete!” We kept working. “HA!” he barked and kicked his sandal off so he could rub the offending foot with his bare hand!
“Please put your shoes back on,” said Griffin who, to his misfortune, hadn’t been able to dissuade Randall from taking the adjacent desk.
“That’s not very casual of you!” Randall said, but none of us could respond because by this point the smell had wafted our way in a blanket; if this were a cartoon there would have been green stink lines permeating from his feet into our noses. We did what we could—we turned the box fan on, we plugged in Glade scents, we lit candles—to no avail. At five we filed our anonymous complaints with Bill, our office manager. Of Randall, Bill remarked, “He’s a hell of an accountant, though.” But we held our ground and went home for the weekend, and by Monday a memo was sent disbanding Casual Friday indefinitely.
Randall spent the next weeks making the rounds to our desks. He had a knack for waiting until one of us was in a particular groove, deep in an assignment, and at that exact moment plunking himself down on our desks! and saying things like “Hey Boy-o, how’s the weekend looking?” He once went so far as to knock Beth’s stapler right off of her desk while telling her how much he liked her sweater, and we were all offended on her behalf at this breach in the Company Handbook. Nice sweater? we thought. Section Seven, Article D, we all grimaced at each other disapprovingly.
Halloween was no better and we should have expected as much. Cornelius in particular, being our HR rep, told us later he’d been dreading it. Beth brings in a bowl of candy each year and the company allows us a little mischievous fun in adding a costumed flair to our business attire. DeeDee wore cat ears and painted whiskers on, Phil wore Groucho Marx glasses with accompanying nose and mustache, Doug put on a Dracula cape with his suit. It was pleasant except for Randall, who showed up earlier than everyone else as usual, wearing an extremely offensive Native American headdress. He looked at us expectantly, as though he’d been up all night anticipating the raucous applause he’d receive in response to this gross violation of basic codes of conduct. He then took out a bag of mini-Mounds bars and went to each of our desks with them. “I brought these for everyone to share!” he said as he placed a handful on each person’s stuff. “I loved these when I was a kid. My mom used to get them for me when she knew I was having a crummy day. Whenever I felt lonely, or a friend didn’t show up when we were supposed to hang out—she’d be right there with a Mounds bar. Like love in a plastic wrapper!” He repeated this irritating anecdote at each of our desks, though none of us ate the candy. Everybody knows Mounds are the worst of all the candy bars and we found the choice insulting. He ate the ones that were left over at his desk, chewing with his mouth open the whole time.
It helped that we had a temporary escape, a sort-of hideout, that we could use as our oasis. Management had put in a ping-pong table for team-building and office morale a year before Randall’s hiring. It was well-hidden, in a vacant office on the floor below ours, to limit play on company time, we supposed. Because it was our responsibility to give him the tour, and because there weren’t exactly volunteers lining up to orient him, Randall was oblivious to our many gatherings down there, though of course we could only go two-by-two. Griffin and Doug would take a quick break for a game and kvetch to each other, ping How do you stand sitting next to him, pong How do any of us stand it, ping Bill says he’s quite an efficient accountant, pong It’s his personality, ping They should test that first before deciding who’s allowed to be efficient, pong Exactly—it’s a question of teamwork, ping I don’t know why—
At that moment Randall walked in looking confused. He leaned back out and checked the number on the door as though he’d arrived at a party and gotten the house wrong. “I thought this was the little boys’ room!” which is what he always called it, much to our chagrin. “The upstairs one is clogged,” and because he’s the one who had clogged it that morning, he barked, “HA!” Griffin and Doug agreed that they didn’t care whether he’d heard them.
Cornelius, in an effort of patience HR reps countrywide must be gifted with from birth to avoid the embolisms otherwise inevitable, told us that our best bet was a continuation of our office routine. Keep the hive humming, etc. The assumption here was that the routine we established prior to Randall’s arrival did not by definition include him, and therefore he’d get the hint. To our credit, we did try. Twice a month, DeeDee assisted Beth in replacing the water cooler, which emptied out like clockwork every two weeks per our allotted company coffee breaks. The week prior to Thanksgiving, right on time, DeeDee and Beth struggled the tank in as the rest of us kept our eyes on our screens (this was none of our task, after all). Before they could even get halfway, Randall dropped the mini-Mounds bar he was devouring, hopped up from his desk, and shouted, in a butchered Mrs. Doubtfire impression, “Help is on the way, dear!” They refused his help but could only resist so much with their hands occupied under the tank. “Don’t be silly, ladies, I insist!” he said, lifting from the bottom. The tank’s balance tipped with the little waves inside, splashing water all over the carpet, and by the time they got it to the cooler it was half-empty. “I see it as half-full—HA!” shouted Randall.
To “make it up to” us, he said—though laughably there were so many transgressions by this point that we did not know for which he was attempting to atone—he invited us to a bar fifteen miles from our office building on Thanksgiving Eve: his hometown bar, he told us. “The whole class goes every year when they come home for the holiday,” he explained. “I’d love to show off my new friends!” We did not RSVP. How little consideration must a person have, we wondered, to invite colleagues to a personal social gathering, let alone one involving a bar full of townies reminiscing about experiences from a school we did not attend? Noting the dearth of RSVPs as the date approached, Randall needlessly announced, “If you can’t make it then, my Thanksgiving’s free, too—I make a hell of a Thankstini!” through braces filled with chocolate and coconut.
We gave him a wide berth in an attempt to avoid conversation in those weeks. He continued to bombard us with his mindless anecdotes. For his birthday he brought in, to no one’s surprise, more of those mini-Mounds bars, repeating ad nauseum the story about his mother’s cure for loneliness: “Love in a plastic wrapper!” We did our best to avoid him, but our office listserv was of course not immune. Everyone with a company email is on it, naturally, though we reserved it, as per standard decorum, for office memoranda: a Subway-sponsored 5K Fun Run; the new letterhead font we were all required to now use; the mandate to add our preferred pronouns after our email signatures. And what do you think Randall would send us? Invitations to his open-mic standup show. Links to tasteless, crass YouTube videos, often laced with profanity.
It became too much to bear at Christmas, when Beth accidentally mentioned, on a thread including Randall, our office Chili’s lunch—a daily event we’d managed, miraculously by that point, to keep Randall from discovering. Randall sent a reply asking, “Just tell me where and when and I’m there!” though no one had invited him. Beth, being the resourceful little bee that she is, sent him the location of the Chili’s on Route 4, rather than the one on Route 17 at which we all normally convene.
Her ruse worked. Randall did not attend our lunch the following day, and we used the opportunity to call a spade a spade. Over an Awesome Blossom, in a Chili’s festooned with tinsel and lights, we made our cases. “Should we tell Bill?” DeeDee asked. “I’m pretty sure he’s taking my pencils,” said Griffin. “It’s a question of teamwork,” said Doug. “Yes, why can’t he be more like one of us?” Beth pointed out. “Should we tell Bill?” Deedee asked. “I’ve thrown out more Mounds bars than I care to mention,” said Phil. “Love in a plastic wrapper!” we all said in unison, in our best Randallese. It was very funny. But there was business at hand. “Should we tell Bill?” DeeDee repeated. “What’s he done that Bill can address?” Phil asked, to which Doug replied, after a moment of hesitation, “We don’t like him!”
“I don’t know that being annoying is a fireable offense,” I suggested, because for a moment I felt we might be going too far. I thought back to the unpleasantness with Leslie in Accounting. I pictured Randall at his sad one-person table at the Route 4 Chili’s where he no doubt sat at this very moment.
At this point we all turned to Cornelius, who’d brought the HR manual in anticipation of just this conversation. “I have a plan,” he said, and we returned to the office equipped with an attack.
Except that upon our return an hour later there was no Randall to complain about. His desk had been cleared out and Bill was shaking his hand, thanking him for his good work. He’d returned from his solitary lunch having apparently and finally realized what we’d all been trying to tell him for months, and quit.
Randall worked from home those final two weeks and the office was back to its post-Leslie, pre-Randall peace. Everyone seemed to agree that things were better this way: office-appropriate, pleasant, considerably less annoying. Casual Friday came back. When we joked, it met the standards of office decorum. Nary an uncouth word was spoken, and: it was…boring.
When Randall came back for his final paycheck, it was the day of the office Holiday Party, so called as to keep in accordance with company statutes on secularity. Though Randall, being Randall, came wearing a Santa hat, oblivious to cultural office sensitivities. We found ourselves perking up at the oversight, an oversight that, we only now realized, had nothing to do with manners and everything to do with Randall’s ignorance of the appropriate behavior, the correctness, of our office. As Beth had said, he was not one of us, but we started to wonder whether that was such a bad thing.
He had a large bag of mini-Mounds in Christmas wrapping—love in a plastic wrapper, to use his mother’s phrase. On his way out, he noticed one on Beth’s desk, at Reception, one of the many he’d delivered over his short time here that had gone uneaten. He looked at it sadly, like a friend he’d lost touch with. He picked it up and put the full bag down.
“These are here, if anyone wants one,” was all he said by way of a goodbye.
Ted McLoof teaches fiction at the University of Arizona. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Minnesota Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, DIAGRAM, Kenyon Review, Louisville Review, Juked, Los Angeles Review, Juxtaprose, and elsewhere. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award. His debut collection, ANHEDONIA, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.