A short story about thing we are all too familiar with, jobs and idiots.
The pain involved in watching him work is almost physical. The awkward way he approaches any problem is tragically comical. And the problems, they are myriad. A situation that barely registers on the radar of most floor workers will debilitate Frank for an hour. He has a mandatory “cooling off period” in which he attempts to regain his clumsy and stuttering rhythm. Most everybody on the day shift has accepted him and his idiosyncrasies, and evolved to work around him, rather than against him.
How he has managed to gain so much seniority over so many other employees was beyond Jay. Since being promoted from the line, Jay has watched Frank continue to demonstrate a profound ineptitude for his job. His production score is at the bottom by a large margin, his safety number is consistently negative, and when a job calls for multiple operators at the same station he is the source of much frustration. But at the same time, the rest of floor 4 treats him like an inevitability, “the sun will come up tomorrow” and “Frank will screw it all up” are the same sentiment.
“Why does the whole floor act like Frank isn’t here?”
Scott looked up from the monitor on his desk, tracking numbers continued to scroll by and histograms fluctuated up and down, going unnoticed as he looked at Jay.
“What?” he asked, his attention obviously elsewhere.
“Frank. Why do the others just ignore him and his tantrums?” Jay looked out of the big observation window and watched Frank pulling futilely at a parts bin with the wheel brake applied. “He is having a meltdown right now because that cart won’t move, and the brake is on.” Jay shook his head in disbelief. “People just keep on working, not stopping to help, or to show him. The whole line gets backed up and they all just wait for one of us to go and set Frank to right again.” His frustration was pouring out, and Scott was leaning back in his chair, listening, but not hearing. He had heard it before, and supposed he would hear it again. “Every time I bring it up to Tinsley he just laughs and says “That’s Frank”, like it’s his kid or something.”
“Look Jay, Frank is…”
“Bull!” He cut Scott of in mid-sentence. “You do it too!” Jay was pacing back and forth in the small office, having to swerve around the wastebasket at Scott’s desk. “What is it with that guy?” The numbers for the floor would go up by about 30% on the day shift if he was not on it.” He stopped in front of Scott’s desk, leaned over, put his fists down, stared into his eyes, and waited for an answer. The smirk Scott had on his face told Jay that whatever answer he got would be another line of crap.
“Jay, Frank has been here for 33 years.” Scott said, standing, forcing Jay to be on equal stature. “His productivity is low, and his safety number is the worst in the company.” He moved around the desk, reaching out to put a hand on Jay’s shoulder. “He has not missed one day of work in all of those 33 years. He has had probably a million scrapes, scratches, bruises, and welts, but not one type 2 incident.”
“But..” Jay started and was immediately pushed into silence by Scott’s continuing speech.
“Frank is the counterweight.” He gripped Jay’s shoulder with more strength that he would have guessed that Scott possessed. “Without him the line would always run smoothly. Production would go up, and then the production minimums would follow.” He added a little shake for emphasis. “Then every person on this floor would have to work that much harder for the same amount of pay.”
He released Jay, and sat down in his chair, clasped his hands behind his head and reclined. “We,” he emphasized the word we, “need Frank. What would we have to manage if Frank was gone?”
Jay tried to absorb all he had said. He looked at Scott, agape and shocked as he swept his arm out in an arc in front of the big window, as if he was revealing the production floor to him for the first time, and with a grand flair of a showman. “Without Frank, we are just the white shirts behind the glass.”
“I refuse to believe that that moron is the lynchpin that holds the floor together.” Jay stomped to the window and saw Frank just now realizing that the wheel brake was on the whole time. The next three stations were stopped, waiting on parts.
“Surely Tinsley would rather production go up!” Jay said. “Why does he pretend it’s not happening?
“Jay,” Scott said, grinning, “where did you start at on the line?”
“Station 6.” He answered, remembering his first few weeks on the floor.
“Right behind Frank.”
“That’s right.” Jay thought about how frustrating it was to be so far ahead that he had to stop and wait for Frank to catch up. “I took your place on 6, right?”
“Yep. I moved in here when Tinsley got the up to the front office. I took his place and you took mine. On 6. Where Tinsley started. Behind Frank.” He smiled warmly at Jay as realization dawned on his face. “Whoever is on 6, behind Frank, has the most astronomical production numbers. When the computer program analyzes the numbers, it does not register station 7 being so slow that it causes the bottleneck. A glitch in the code shows 6 as being so fast the rest of the line can’t keep up.”
“Scott, who wrote that code?” he asked.
“Hurst.” He replied.
“VP of North American Operations Hurst?”
“Yep.” Scott walked over to stand by Jay at the window. Together they watched Frank fumble some parts over the side of the bin, spilling them on the line and stopping it while he picked them up. The whole time station 6 was stacking parts.
“Who is that kid on 6?” Jay asked. “He looks like he has a lot of potential.”
“Sure does!” Scott replied. “We will have to keep an eye on him.”
Jay stood in silence for a moment before asking, “Where did Hurst start?”
Scott clapped Jay on the back and laughed.
“On 6, right behind Frank.”