Tuesday, May 27, 2008


In The Shawshank Redemption, the main character, Andy, rails against the prison Warden for showing no concern over the tale of Tommy, a fellow inmate, which could free Andy and prove his innocence. However, the Warden sees Tommy's tale as a threat. Andy is too valuable in prison: he fraudulently runs the prison's accounting system to the personal benefit of the Warden.

As cold as a predator's eye, the Warden refuses to help set Andy free. Repulsed, Andy asks, "How can you be so obtuse?" The Warden is supposed to be a God-fearing man! Upon his wall hangs a plaque with a stitched "verse" (not found in the Bible) that says, "His judgment cometh; and that right soon." The Warden is a businessman, and keeping Andy in prison is good for the continued accounting fraud, and good for the Warden's pocketbook. As a result of Andy's piercing question, the Warden throws him into solitary confinement. He also has Tommy killed. With him dies his freeing story, and hope of redemption is put to death.

"Obtuse" is a word I had not heard used without reference to triangles before seeing this film. However, I did have use for this word while working at HFC/Beneficial.

On May 3, my 2nd daughter Nylah Renee is born. We have a terrible scare after her birth. The doctors at the hospital detect a bacteria in the blood cord called Strep B. Strep B is a serious infection that kills babies. We are on edge while a blood sample is taken from Nylah and submitted to a culture for 36 long hours. The doctors even call the Center for Disease Control. We are very, very worried. I take an extra day off work because I need to help bring food and clothing to the hospital for my wife. Taking extra days off of work is not vouchsafed with graciousness and open blessing at HFC/Beneficial. Time away from work is time away from the phones. The phones are the sine qua non (without which, there is nothing) at HFC/Beneficial.

My dad's girlfriend is peppering me with questions about whether Monica has fed Nylah today? and whether or not Monica has eaten and has fresh clothes? and don't forget Brynne needs a bath tonight--her hair's a mess, and make sure the bassinet is ready. Do you have it down from storage yet? Brynne's bath should be at 8pm no later. We're taking her to church tomorrow and she needs to look good. How's the baby?

I just finish praying with my pastor for the Lord to have mercy on our baby. I'm tired. I just finish driving from my house to the hospital, then to my dad's to check on Brynne. Then it's back to my house, prep food, get clothes and go back to the hospital.

I answered her questions with "Yeah" staring off into the bright afternoon sky. More peppering. Flustered and tired, I put up my hand via a stiffarm right in her face. "Cathy, stop. Thank-you but no. I know you just want to help, but I don't need this right now!" The next day--my birthday, my dad visits me and says he needs to talk to me about something. "No one pushes my girlfriend," he says. "Ever." "What do you mean, 'pushed'?" I ask. "You mean I physically pushed her, or I was too forceful with my words?" "She says you pushed her." Push a person? Push a woman? Push a woman in her golden years? Push someone dating my dad? A fever flows over my head. My brain swims in a frenetic confusion. I feel dizzy. I stammer, put my hands to my head and try to maintain balance. I search for the right words to vindicate myself. Happy birthday.

Finally I show up to work after a few days off. I no longer have to run errands to and fro; my wife and baby are home--both healthy. No strep B in the baby. So I'm at work and don't have to worry about my family or run errands all day. My dad believes me. But, here I am at work....

Lots of calling people: current customers, cold calls, credit card affiliates, on-line applications. Anyone who can benefit from a refinance of their mortgage. This is the business we're in: refinance with cash out. It's not a bank. People don't call us--we call them. As my fellow co-worker Marcel says, "People don't knock down our doors for our rates and fees!"

Get on the phones. Make some dials. Get some apps. Stop talking and get on the phones. If you need a break, go to the back room and don't disturb your fellow coworkers who are getting on the phones and getting apps. No talking. Just make some dials. Eh! I said no talking!

Not long after a brief, morning meeting revealing lists of corporate rule changes, rate, fee and qualification adjustments for potential customers and cleaning off the birthday confetti on my desk, it's time to make some dials. I had explained my full situation to my manager to appease any misgivings about taking an extra (precious) day off. My baby's life had suspended in mid-air, just as Monica and I floated in nervous, agnostic limbo. With his back to me, peering at our monthly numbers on the board, Manager Justin addresses me flatly, "Chris. Happy Birthday. Congratulations on having a kid. Let's get on the phones and get some apps."

That's obtuse.


Jonathan Erdman said...

I love how the system reduces us to machines. Fascinating.

The system of capitalism and some of the corporations that implement it in America blur the difference between human and mechanical intelligence. In fairness, though, there are many "human" corporations.

Sorry you had to go through this, but it is fascinating to read about it.

How's it been to try to get back in touch with your human element?

chris van allsburg said...

Well, it is still a bit of a journey. I think mostly, I have been focusing on the concept of calling. And, I have tried to figure out what I can best do to make this world a better place. With today's economy, and my schooling of choice, this isn't an easy road. Also, I stuck myself in a geographical locale (Grand Haven), so my options were very limited. I think maybe this move to NC may cause me to break out a bit. Although, I certainly will miss "the easy life" of my home town with all the parks, quiet neighborhoods, friends, family and Lake Michigan. Sigh.