The Size Curse – Novel by Steve Grogan – September 22, 2008

the size curse

Steve Grogan is an ongoing contributor to Writer to Writers. He has published several short stories on the site, which can be found on the main page under the heading “Steve Grogan’s Fiction.” He has had several poems and short stories published over the years, some of which are available on Amazon. (See the announcement at the end of this post.)

He is the writer and creator of the ongoing, zombie, post-apocalyptic, Romero-meets-Dungeons-and-Dragons webcomic REDemption. Alternatively, Steve describes the comic by saying, “It is to zombie fiction what KILL BILL was to kung fu movies: everything I love about the genre housed under one roof and mixed with my voice.”

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September 22, 2008

Value Scripts was located at 10 Airport Parkway in Latham. This road consisted of a string of office buildings that all looked the same. I thought it was somewhat ironic that the building looked so mundane, and inside it I’d be doing mundane work. That is the kind of irony that you see only in the real world. I don’t think any amount of Hollywood scriptwriters could ever come up with something like that.

You needed a Sonitrol security card to get into the building, which of course I did not possess. I could see a secretary through the glass double doors. She reached to her right and pressed a button on an intercom, and I heard her through a speaker to the right of the double doors.

“Can I help you?” she said in a raspy, three-pack-a-day voice.

“I’m a new temp. I’m supposed to speak with Maria Harbor,” I said.

A second later I heard a barely audible click as she opened the door for me. By the time I got in and took a seat, she was on the phone with Maria. I saw the secretary’s nametag: Paula Smith.

Paula hung up the phone and said, “Maria will be right up.”

I replied with a nod. Paula went back to her work, and that was how we sat, contained in that bubble of uncomfortable silence, until Maria showed up to get me. She looked to be in her mid-thirties. She had dirty blond, Farah Fawcett-style hair and huge brown puppy dog eyes.

“Hello, I’m Maria,” she said, shaking my hand. “First I want to show you where you’ll be working and go over your job duties. Then we’ll go on a quick tour of the building, so you can learn about the other departments. Sound good?”

“Sounds like a normal first day,” I replied.

She smiled and led me deeper into the building. We entered a long, noisy room. This was where the mail clerks and data entry people worked. It turned out the high volume was caused by the machine that opened the mail. I saw people listening to music in some cubicles. Maria told me I’d be on QC for a while (quality control), meaning I’d have 100% of my work scrutinized. Once they took me off that, then I could bring in a radio too. My cubicle turned out to be far away from the mail machines, right next to a window. A view of outside, I thought, thank God for small favors.

After showing me my desk, Maria went through the mailroom basics. The mail arrived twice throughout the day. Then it got opened and sorted. These mail pieces were mostly insurance claim forms like HCFA-500s and UB-92s, although you would see other kinds of forms too. From that point the next step was to scan the claims into the computer system. If the computer couldn’t read the entire form, then it got kicked over to the data entry people. They looked over the form and keyed in whatever information the computer couldn’t decipher. With everything corrected, the claim was then sent out on to the floor where a claims processor could handle it.

Then Maria gave me a quick tour of the entire Value Scripts facility. There were two cafeterias located at either end of the building. In between were various departments. The first one we saw was the claims department, which was broken down into several “teams.” Then there was eligibility, customer service, coordination of benefits (COB), and human resources. She also showed me where the executives had their offices, but they were in a meeting so I didn’t meet any of them.

Upon arriving back at the mailroom, Maria led me over to a computer near her desk. I saw several blue lines of varying length stretching across the screen. Next to them were abbreviations that I didn’t understand. Also, I noticed there were numbers at the end of each line like 46, 23, 237, and so on.

“These are our work queues,” Maria said. “The blue lines and numbers show how much work is in each queue. When you come in, or when you come back from break and lunch, come over to the computer and see where the most work is.”

“Sounds easy enough,” I commented.

“Yeah, it’s not bad. Now let’s get you set up on your computer so I can show you how to do the work,” she said.

So we did just that. Maria guided me through logging on to the computer and then the work queues. When the first program opened, all I saw were a bunch of zeroes and ones going down the middle of the screen.

“What’s all that?” I asked.

“That’s information from the fields the computer couldn’t recognize,” Maria said. “Just type what you see.”

Jesus Christ, I thought. Ones and zeroes? That’s all I had to type all day, without even the benefit of being able to listen to some tunes while I sat through this mind-numbing crap? And Maria said I might be on QC for three to four weeks. All I could think was: this is going to be the longest three to four weeks of my life!

To be honest, it turned out that not all the work was as boring as that first example. Maria showed me another queue where the computer went through the entire HCFA-500 form field by field, looking for information that it couldn’t identify. Still not rocket science, but a hell of a lot better than typing ones and zeroes all day! Even though Maria had told me it was my responsibility to look at the work and see where I should log in, there were times when she would come by and tell me which queue she wanted me to work. Fortunately, she usually had me in the queue that looked at the entire HCFA form.

In a few weeks, my speed and accuracy were good enough to meet Value Scripts’ data entry standards, so I was given the green light to bring in music. This came along just at the right time because, temp-to-hire or not, I was ready to desert that damn job. It was so overwhelmingly boring that I couldn’t even focus on the big picture, which was getting hired on to their payroll so I could transfer to the IT department. The Buddha said life is suffering, but it shouldn’t have to be as bad as data entry at Value Scripts.

As time went on, something else struck me as unappealing about the job. When I first got there, everyone was so friendly. Literally every employee in the data entry department engaged me in conversation. However, after a while that just stopped. And I don’t mean it gradually tapered off. It just stopped. As far as I could tell, there was no rhyme or reason to it. I went in to work as the same person I was the day before. The only difference was no one talked to me.

Not long after that I learned people were gossiping about me. It was astounding how much these people enjoyed talking about someone they hardly knew, making all kinds of wild and whacky assumptions. First the talk was about my personality, but soon it turned to my work habits. I started to hear how I took excessive breaks, surfed the Internet all day, and so on.

When I became aware of these rumors, there was just one question that entered my mind: am I still in high school? The answer seemed to be a resounding yes, so, much like I had done in high school, I began to voluntarily isolate myself from everyone around me. I became more focused and excelled at my work. This pleased my supervisors while simultaneously spurring on the rumor mill. By this point, the latest gossip going around was because I was gay, and the reason why I withdrew was I didn’t want anyone to realize it and “out” me before I was ready to do it myself. It got so bad that I contemplated quitting and going full-time at Price Chopper, even though the pay there couldn’t possibly help me reach the goals I had in mind.

The hope for the IT position was the only thing that kept me holding on. However, after a while that just wasn’t enough. I was starting to hate the entire company of Value Scripts. I got the feeling that no matter what position I worked there, I would still hate my job. It became obvious to me that I needed to do some research. Look at what similar companies paid their IT people. If Value Scripts paid better than those other places, it’d be worth toughing it out. If I found anywhere that paid substantially better, then I was out the door, with a string of gossip chasing after me.

My research revealed that the salary wasn’t much better at Value Scripts, but it was comparable to what other companies in the area paid. On top of that, Value Scripts had one perk that no other company seemed to: their IT department had the option of working from home. That was what made me decide to stick around. Good pay, and the possibility of someday not having to work side by side with these assholes? Count me in!

Three months came and went. Maria informed me that Value Scripts wanted to hire me. I accepted. Not long after that, I applied for the IT department. Their manager, a warm and friendly gentleman named Rick Scofield, scooped me right up, calling me an untapped resource. He was upset to hear I’d been wasting away in the mailroom.

“I can’t imagine how awful it was for a bright guy like you to be typing ones and zeroes all damn day,” he said.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s exactly what I thought the entire time I was in there, but I didn’t want to say anything bad about them. After all, they helped me get my foot in the door. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”

“I like your attitude,” Rick said with a smile.

I had suffered through three months in the mailroom before I could get the IT job. However, I couldn’t escape the land of gossip just yet because it turned out I would have to wait another three months before I could work from home. This news didn’t upset me too much, for three reasons. First, I had the job I wanted. Second, I was in a much smaller department. Third, the department was all men, so the gossip factor was nil. (I don’t mean to generalize, but usually men will confront you with a problem instead of talk behind your back.) Of course, not hearing gossip in my new department didn’t mean it wasn’t still going on in the old one. That was all right though because I’d escaped them. They could waste their lives talking bad about me all they wanted; I wasn’t going to spend any time thinking about them. They were history to me.

During this time, I busied myself researching the best place to buy a car. I found a dealership called Real Wheels located on the Columbia Turnpike in Nassau. I had to give them a down payment, which was one third of the vehicle’s cost.  After that there were two payment options: $50 every week or $100 every two weeks.  Getting a car without needing to take out a loan seemed like a damn sweet deal to me, so I went there the first chance I got.

My dream car wasn’t difficult to find. They had an ’87 jet black Camaro with only 50,000 miles on it for $4,000. I was drawn to it, as if the car had been singing my name. Within an hour I had completed the purchase. The owner of Real Wheels told me they went to DMV themselves to register the car and get the plates. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think you could ever have a sweeter car-buying experience. Naturally I needed to make a couple phone calls to get the car insured, but other than that I was on my way to reaching one of my goals.

In other news, I was true to my promise to Stacy and was much better about keeping in touch with her. We talked just about every night. I learned she was the same age as me. (By this point I was twenty.) Unlike me she’d finished high school at the usual age and went straight to college. Stacy was attending SUNY at Albany, majoring in biology with plans to go on to pharmacy school.

It had been a while since we met at the driving class. I wondered if maybe too much time had passed, and we’d never have a shot at romance. Eventually I came up with a way to find out.

During one of our conversations, I flat out asked her, “Been on any dates lately?”

She laughed and said, “No, not really.”

“Why not?” I said.

“Isn’t it obvious? I’m holding out for you, silly,” she said.

I was stunned into silence for several reasons. I’d never heard a female talk so frankly. It also seemed inconceivable that this beautiful creature would remove dating from her life to wait for me. And that phrase “holding out” could be read in more ways than one: she could have meant holding out in terms of dating, or in terms of sex. It was even possible she meant both!

“Let me do a foolish thing here and ask you a dumb question,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Why me?” I said.

Another sweet, musical laugh. “You interest me.”

“Okay,” I said, “could you explain a little more please?”

“You actually listen instead of just waiting for your turn to talk. And you’re a nice guy,” she said, then quickly added, “but not in a bad way.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that. “You lost me. How could being nice be bad?”

“When I think of a nice guy, I think of some wimp who’d let me walk all over him, but then he would still worship the ground I walked on,” Stacy explained. “You’re nice because you’re respectful. You know how to treat a lady, but you’re also not going to take her shit or kiss her ass non-stop.”

“That’s me to a tee, baby,” I said.

Having put my fears about the passage of time to rest, I informed her that I’d finally gotten a car, so we could make arrangements to see each other now. She was pleasantly surprised by the news. We made plans to go to a coffee house in Colonie Center. I figured it would be nice to do something simple for our first outing.

After our coffee, we walked around the mall and window-shopped. This was my idea, which I suggested because I’d read somewhere if you go several places with someone in a short amount of time, it makes the person feels like they’ve known you for much longer than they have.

This trick worked. By the end of the night Stacy opened up to me as if she was a patient and I was her therapist. It was almost overwhelming, especially when she went so far as to tell me about a time when a close friend of her father’s had molested her. A lot of guys I know would have bailed on her right then, saying Stacy had too much baggage to deal with, but I hung in there. Who was I to pass judgment on her? It wasn’t like she had asked to be molested. Besides, it was nice to have someone feel like they could confide in me. After all those years of isolation another human being was sharing their deepest feelings with me without fear, and I was doing the same.

By this point Value Scripts was paying me so much that I had the ability to quit Price Chopper and still put away money for an apartment. This freed up my schedule to see Stacy more, which meant we became more serious.

She was getting antsy, unable to control herself (or her hands) even when we were in a movie theater or waiting to be seated at a restaurant. We couldn’t even get any relief by going to Stacy’s place because she lived in a dorm on SUNY’s main campus and had a roommate. There we ran the risk of being walked in on. Being that I was still a shy virgin, that idea didn’t appeal to me too much.

I didn’t tell Stacy I was a virgin. For all I knew, that little fact might freak her out. When she demanded to know why I would not have sex with her yet, I told her that I’d like our first time together to happen in a setting where no one would interrupt us and, since her roommate very rarely went home, that wasn’t going to be the case in her dorm room. She wasn’t happy about it, but she did admit I had a point, so she agreed to hold off. Once again, this beautiful young woman had decided I was worth waiting for.

I had a job I loved. A car I loved. A beautiful girlfriend that was crazy about me, and vice versa. This was the highest point of my life, and I felt like I was on top of the world. There seemed to be no limit to the good things in my life.

But it wouldn’t last forever.

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If you like what you have read and would like to purchase this serialized novel as one complete PDF, then please send $3.50 to Steve via PayPal: wcman1976@yahoo.com

Also, don’t forget to check out his other writing at the following links below:

REDemption

Steve’s Amazon Author Page

Steve’s Writer to Writers Publications

Author: Redemption Comics

Steve Grogan was born in the often-filmed city of Troy, NY. He has written in a variety of formats (novels, short stories, poems, screen and stage plays, blogs/articles) and genres (horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, drama).

Steve is also a father, a boyfriend, a musician, a fitness fanatic, and a martial artist. He has been studying Wing Chun Kung Fu since 1995, and he maintains a blog/YouTube channel that describe his training habits, epiphanies, and advancement. It also candidly discusses his stumbling blocks, such as his struggle with nutrition and mental health issues.

He is no relation to the New England Patriots quarterback from the 1980’s.

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