Variations on clouds.
Abigail’s recruiter follows through on his promise to set up a meeting between Abigail and his other client, Gloria Savage. After making sure both are okay with the idea, he texts each one the other’s number. Abigail wrestles with the decision to call or wait to hear from Gloria. She lets a day pass before deciding to take the initiative herself, but just as she starts to dial Gloria’s number, a call comes in from Gloria.
“Gloria? Hi, I was calling you. Yes. I just keyed in your area code.”
They talk for about twenty minutes, mainly comparing likes, dislikes, and entertainment preferences, and discussing where they should meet. They learn that they live reasonably close to one another, Abigail in John’s Creek, and Gloria in Norcross. At length, Gloria proposes meeting for coffee after work at Cafe Intermezzo on Ashford Dunwoody Road, where they’ll have numerous options for dinner if they don’t fill up on pastries.
That night, while helping Alyssa tend to Leah Naomi, Abigail brings up a sensitive topic.
“How would you feel about me having guests over?” she asks Alyssa.
“You should consider this your home. If you want to bring someone over, we’ll accommodate them.”
Abigail hesitates a moment. “What if that someone wants to spend the night?”
Alyssa smiles. “Ah. Of course.” She considers her answer. “Your room is at the end of the hall, and I’m pretty sure you’d be conscientious of the noise level.”
Abigail laughs. “I’d do the best I could.”
“Just let us know someone’s here so there aren’t any awkward encounters.”
A day or so later, Abigail heads over to meet Gloria. As she’s walking in, she looks up and comes to a stop. Standing a few feet in front of her, also stopped and staring, is the woman she recognizes from the photo Robert sent her.
“Yes. You must be Abigail.”
They shake hands and remark on the coincidence of them arriving at the exact same time despite their different modes of travel.
“I usually plan to arrive a little early,” Gloria says.
“Tell me about it. The traffic is terrible over here. That’s why I took the train.”
They enter and find an out of the way table. Abigail immediately feels comfortable around Gloria.
“The desserts here are excellent,” Gloria says. “You spring for coffee and I’ll get the dessert since it was my idea.”
They check out the desserts and decide what they want. Back at the table, Abigail says, “What do you do for Allied?”
“I’m a nurse in one of their clinics — my first job since graduation.”
“Where’d you go to school?”
“GSU, School of Nursing.”
“My mother’s a nurse. Very challenging profession.”
“It is, but very rewarding.”
“What do they have you doing over at Bickering Plummet?”
“I conduct genetic research for their pharmaceutical division.”
“Cutting edge work. That’s pretty challenging as well.”
As the date goes on, they find themselves getting along very well.
“I’d really love to continue this evening someplace less public,” Gloria says.
“I was just thinking the same thing. How far is your place from here?”
“I’d rather not go there. I’m currently living with my family until I get some of my debts paid off.”
“You haven’t told them?”
“Oh, I have. They’re just not very good with privacy.”
Abigail thinks about it.
“The couple I’m living with are pretty cool. But there’s a baby.”
“You’re not sleeping in the nursery are you?”
“No. The baby actually sleeps in the room with her parents.”
They settle their bill and head out to Gloria’s car. Once inside, they look at one another and, on a whim, Abigail leans in to kiss Gloria. They end up making out for several minutes.
“Wow,” Abigail says. “I have never acted like that before.”
“Yeah, me neither. How far is it to your place?”
“John’s Creek, just off Peachtree Parkway.”
“Good. I know a short cut that should get us around traffic.”
When they arrive at the Caine residence, they find Alyssa and Tim entertaining friends, who’ve come to see the baby, out by the pool. Abigail introduces Gloria.
“You’re welcome to join us,” Alyssa says.
“I think we’re going to head upstairs for a little while,” Abigail says. “She really wants to see my room.”
“Well, then, have fun,” Alyssa says with a wink.
A little over an hour later, they rejoin the group outside. They’re holding hands and are very affectionate toward one another.
“I guess she likes your room,” Alyssa whispers to Abigail at one point.
“Definitely,” Abigail replies.
The following morning, Abigail wakes up beside Gloria, who appears to still be asleep. She rolls over to watch her.
Gloria opens her eyes.
“Morning. Did I wake you?”
“No. I was just lying here with my eyes closed. Remind me again, when did we meet?”
“Yeah, I know. I think this fulfills all the qualifications for a whirlwind romance.”
“Robert wasn’t kidding when he says he does his research.” She rolls over to face Abigail. They kiss. “So, we’re together. It’s Saturday. What do you want to do?”
“Why do we need to do anything?”
“I dread when we start learning all the horrible things from each other’s past that will come between us.”
“Have you been picking up men at rest stops and murdering them?”
“Would that be a problem?”
Gloria shrugs. “Depends on the men, I guess. For my part, I promise I don’t moonlight as a stripper named Glory.”
“Too bad. You’d probably make a fortune in tips. Get those loans paid off quicker.”
“Okay, at some point, we can head over to my place and you can meet the family. If that doesn’t scare you off, it must be love.”
“Sure. Later I’ll introduce you to Neil and Genevieve. But we don’t have to do anything right away, do we?”
She leans back and Gloria puts her head on Abigail’s shoulder. “Not at all.”
After much discussion, they come to an agreement that if they’re still together in three months, they’ll start looking for an apartment together.
The office where Abigail will be working is in Chamblee, but for her initial orientation phase, she’s stationed at the main office downtown for several days, until all her paperwork goes through. There, she takes all the required coursework, ethics, time charging, security awareness, and other topics, all designed to insure she’s acknowledged every rule and regulation and can begin her employment well informed. Since she’s still relatively new to town, it’s also recommended she sit in on the Atlanta newcomers orientation, which tells new hires how to navigate the city along with places of interest to check out. Leah has already supplied her with a similar list, which, she stated, are all the generic tourist spots which show up in every guide to the city and which should mostly be avoided.
On her first day with Bickering Plummet, Abigail learns of the odd reputation of its president, who everyone refers to as Mr. Bickering. It is said that those who address him otherwise run the risk of being “busted back to a banana” which is a common threat of his, with no explanation as to what that means. When she came to process in, while waiting for her supervisor to usher her into the restricted areas, Abigail noted an older gentleman seated in the lobby, just sort of hanging out. When she made eye contact with him, he gave her a friendly smile and nodded, with a pleasant, “Good morning.” She later learns that this is Mr. Bickering, who frequently hangs out in the lobby watching people come and go, until such time as he’s needed upstairs and someone goes to fetch him. Once she knows who he is, she sees him quite a bit, wandering around the floors, seemingly deep in thought. Sometimes, over the intercom, she’ll hear an announcement, “If anyone knows the whereabouts of Mr. Bickering, please call the front office.”
This afternoon, Genevieve is driving Abigail home so she can visit Alyssa, Tim, and the new baby. Abigail is expecting Genevieve around five, and she plans to be in the lobby in time to intercept her cousin to limit the time Genevieve spends at Bickering.
Around four-fifteen, her phone rings.
“Abigail Worthy, you have a visitor in the lobby.”
“A young woman who says she’s your cousin.”
“Genevieve? She’s not supposed to be here yet.”
Abigail hangs up and gathers her belongings, then hurries to the lobby to find her worst fears realized; Genevieve is seated, talking to Mr. Bickering. They appear to be having a nice conversation.
“When I was your age, I was working at Six Flags,” Mr. Bickering is saying as Abigail walks up. “I worked Rides.”
“That must have been fun,” Genevieve says.
“No, not really. I didn’t get along with anyone on the crew. They never let me operate the rides, just cleanup.” He notices Abigail. “Oh, hello, you must be Abby.”
He rises and offers his hand.
“Yes. Mr. Bickering. I am.”
“So nice to put a name with a face.” He indicates Genevieve. “I’ve been having a lovely chat with your cousin.”
“I see that. What are you talking about?”
“Mr. Bickering was telling me about some of the places he’s worked.”
“Oh yes,” he says. “Mostly my employment history is somewhat boring — various family endeavors — but once, I struck out on my own and worked at Six Flags.”
“Interesting,” Abigail says.
“I was so surprised when Genevieve walked in. I haven’t seen her since she gave that remarkable speech at her school in Seattle.”
“You remember that?” Abigail asks.
“Oh, indeed. It was one of the best student presentations I’ve heard.”
“I’ve never understood why you liked it so much,” Genevieve says. “I really trashed your company. All your handlers were totally pissed off.”
“Young lady, nothing you said in that essay was untrue. Your talk was well-researched, well-prepared, well-written, and very well delivered. It took a lot of courage to stand on that stage and give that speech especially with me sitting right behind you. I hear a lot of student speeches that sound like they were written with faculty advisers reading over their shoulders, but you spoke your mind, and I was very impressed.”
“Thanks,” Genevieve says. She looks at Abigail. “Would you mind taking a picture of us, Abby?” She looks back to Mr. Bickering. “I’d sort of like to make up for the one I took at school.”
“Sure,” Abigail says and takes out her phone.
Genevieve and Mr. Bickering pose with their arms around one another and with big smiles.
“Please send me a copy as well,” Mr. Bickering says.
“I will, just as soon as I’m set up on email,” Abigail replies.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’m supposed to be in a meeting now.”
Genevieve watches as he boards the elevator. “How can such a sweet man be in charge of such a rotten company?”
“Seriously, Genni, a lot of what Bickering does is very beneficial.”
“Yeah, that’s what I hear. A lot of it isn’t.”
Abigail says, “Even though you’re early, I’m ready.”
She and Genevieve head out to the parking lot.
As apprehensive as Abigail is about working for Bickering Plummet, she’s even more so about telling Genevieve. Cataloging corporate wrongs is a favorite pastime of her cousin’s, none more so than Bickering. During a career day at one of her schools in Seattle, Genevieve was asked to present an essay about Bickering Plummet to honor their president, Clayton Bickering, who was visiting to award them with a grant. Genevieve wrote a scathing exposé denouncing Bickering’s questionable activities in Latin America which she concluded by singing a Brazilian protest song in Portuguese with her fist raised in solidarity. Most of the company’s representatives were fuming and ready to withdraw the grant they were awarding the school as well as having Genevieve questioned by the FBI.
The only person who wasn’t phased by it was Mr. Bickering, who smiled cheerfully throughout the presentation then gave her a standing ovation and congratulated Genevieve on her “fine speech”. He was so genuinely pleased with her effort, he asked for a copy, then offered to increase the grant amount on the spot. A few weeks later, Genevieve received a package containing lots of Bickering company merchandise, including coffee cups and a T-shirt, from Mr. Bickering himself, with a nice, handwritten note again praising her speech. His response was so positive, she actually felt bad for deliberately looking glum in the photo she took with him while shaking his hand before the presentation.
Needless to say, Genevieve is very disappointed to learn Abigail has “gone over to the dark side” and snubs Abigail for twenty-four hours, until Leah insists she invite Abigail to dinner. For her part, Leah is not at all supportive of Genevieve’s attitude toward Bickering.
“Rosie may have encouraged you to take stands on issues but I don’t want you stirring up trouble with Bickering Plummet,” Leah tells Genevieve when Abigail joins them for dinner. “I partner with them rather frequently.”
“You do? They’re a global defense contractor. Why would they need to outsource security?”
“The government is required to follow every fair hiring regulation it imposes on employers,” she explains. “A corporation like Bickering often needs to work with a small, minority, or woman-owned business to go after certain government contracts. With my company, they’re two for three — three for three if I tell them I’m Jewish. I win the contract and hire a few of their workers, or I’ll subcontract when they need expertise in a given field.”
“I never pictured you as a corporate drudge.”
“That is not what this is. When I’m the primary, I have the final say on all work. You don’t understand how things work in the real world.”
“Corporate America is like a massive social network. Who you know is almost as important as what you know. It can take years of knocking on doors and shaking hands to establish a reputation. Once you’ve got it, you guard it with your life because when you lose someone’s trust, you rarely win it back.”
“I can see how that would be problematic,” Genevieve says.
“How did you get in with Bickering?” Abigail asks.
Leah chuckles. “I hacked their system.”
Genevieve leans forward. “No you didn’t.”
Leah puts up her right hand. “I certainly did. In fact, I hacked every corporation in Atlanta and prepared a dossier on each to show them what I found.”
“Weren’t they angry?” Abigail says.
“Angry, but most were damned impressed as well. Some of the CEOs complained to my father about what I’d done. After chewing me out, Dad told me he advised them to hire me.”
“I’d like to poke around in Bickering’s files. No telling how many skeletons are lurking there.”
Leah gives Genevieve a frustrated sigh.
“All you see is this monolithic corporation. Do you have any idea how many people would be out of work if Bickering closed its doors? Tens of thousands in the Atlanta market alone. Hundreds of thousands nationwide, and an astronomical number if you include their overseas ventures. In some countries, they’re the major source of revenue for a given community.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“Apparently not.” Leah turns to Abigail. “What are things like in your division, Abby?”
“The head of my division is a black woman. That’s kind of unusual in corporate America.”
“Would that be Lisa Summers?” Leah asks.
“Yes, that’s her. Do you know Lisa?”
“We’ve met. She was project manager on some contracts I did with Bickering when I was fixing their security flaws a few years after they merged with Cairo. I heard she’d been promoted to management. About time.”
“I’ve also noted quite a few women and minorities in key corporate positions,” Abigail continues. “Very impressive, actually.”
“Good for them,” Genevieve says. “But if I see something that’s wrong, I say something. That’s what Mom taught me.”
“And that’s fine,” Leah says, “but you’ve got to be diplomatic about it. At least learn the nuances before stirring up stuff.”
“Nuances. Got it.”
A number of interesting consequences result from Alyssa’s giving birth in the office of T. J. Bailey’s restaurant in Decatur and the first is that the owner awards the Caines and Neil free dinners for life, and since the restaurant is owned by a conglomerate, this offer extends to all their Atlanta area holdings. Neil and Sarah take full advantage of this offer, and realize significant savings on food costs by eating out all the time. Another is that the permutation of the band consisting of Genevieve, Sarah, and Freddy prove to be very popular with the patrons, garnering them an offer to become the “house” band, and earning them a reasonable stipend each time they perform. After extensive negotiations, the restaurant agrees to accept Neil and, occasionally, Abigail as part of the bargain, so long as either Sarah or Genevieve is present and that they perform together at least once a week. Of course, the happiest consequence is that Alyssa and Tim have a healthy six pound eleven ounce baby girl they name Leah Naomi, after her sister and his mother.
Abigail goes about the process of applying for medical school, under the watchful eye of Winn Hawkins. She contacts several of her professors in Portland for recommendations, plus Kyle, her former supervisor. The deadline is toward the end of the year, but because of the volume of applications received, it’s recommended applicants submit early. Her first decision is whether or not to pursue a Ph.D. with an M.D. Winn suggests that since she wants to specialize in genetics, she should pursue both and use the doctorate for something related to her specialty. She agrees.
Since she’s moved to town with no visible means of support, she decides to look for a job. Winn puts her in touch with a medical recruiter, Robert Jansen, who several of Winn’s fellow employees use. He’s a balding, heavily tanned guy with a wiry demeanor who wears horn-rimmed glasses, and is overly polite.
Abigail agrees to meet with him in the food court at Perimeter Mall, judging it to be sufficiently neutral for an initial discussion. She and Jansen meet for nearly an hour, while Robert quizzes her on her school and work background, interests, extra curricular activities, all part of building a profile to help him ascertain where she might be a good fit. From there, Robert begins offering suggestions.
“I know you’re hoping for a position with the CDC, but they don’t currently have openings in your area. You may want to consider a job in private industry until something opens up for you in the government.”
“Bickering Plummet has openings for genetic associates in their medical division as a matter of fact. The work would be very similar to what you were doing in Seattle.”
“Bickering Plummet has a medical division?”
“They acquired one with their takeover of Stratum Medical recently. If you’re interested in working at CDC, they do have contracts there.”
“I can’t say working with Bickering has been a dream of mine. My cousin might never forgive me.”
“At this point, I’d say the corporate culture is still closer to that of Stratum. Plus they offer a comprehensive benefits package.”
“I’m sure they do.”
Robert gives Abigail a long stare, as though considering something.
“Ms. Worthy, would you mind if I inquired about your dating preferences?”
“How is that relevant to finding me a job?”
“Oh, it isn’t and if you’d rather not discuss it that’s perfectly fine. It’s just that I may know someone who might be a good match for you, if you don’t normally date men.”
“Are you a recruiter or a matchmaker?”
“Is there that much difference between the two? I like getting people into the perfect situation, regardless. The young woman I have in mind shares many points of compatibility with you.”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
He takes out his phone and calls up a photo.
“That’s Gloria. I just found her a situation at Allied Health Sciences.”
Abigail looks. The photo depicts a woman around her age with dirty blonde hair wearing scrubs. Abigail finds her attractive.
“Yes, I would definitely give her a second look if I saw her on the street but how do you know —”
“Ms. Worthy, as you can see, I pride myself on getting to know my clients. Of course, I can’t share intimate details, but I can tell you you’re of a similar age, educational level, socioeconomic status, and you both work in the medical field. Plus, she’s a poet who’s performed at slams around town and she’s musical.”
“And she’s not already seeing someone?”
“I’m sure you can attest to how tricky the dating scene can be, especially if you’re looking for a long term situation.”
“With your permission, I could pass your number along or set up a meeting and you can see what develops.”
Abigail considers this.
“I don’t believe I’m about to say this, but, sure, give her my number. Now about that job with Bickering.”
Throughout the 2016 campaign, we’ve heard it said that a vote for third and fourth party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, is a vote for Donald Trump. I reject this notion. In 2000, Ralph Nader was blamed for siphoning liberal voters away from Al Gore, thus costing him the election, but the reality was that the people who voted for Nader most likely would not have voted for Gore anyway, and, in most cases, wouldn’t have voted at all. The real problem with third and fourth party candidates in elections is that they bring more people to the polls, and this may be one reason why turnout is much higher during national election cycles, since that’s mainly the time such candidates are on the ballot. That’s probably why Democrats and Republicans work to discourage third and fourth party options, because the higher the turnout, the more unpredictable the overall race becomes. In 2008, for instance, candidate Barack Obama brought out record numbers of black and hispanic voters, many of whom voted in favor of Proposition 8 in California, which made same sex marriage illegal in that state — an unintended consequence for the liberals who supported Obama.
In 1992 and 1996, Ross Perot garnered enough votes to establish the Reform Party as a legitimate party at the national level. Had he truly been interested in heading a political movement for change, and not just sticking it to the Bushes and the Republicans, he had a strong foundation to build on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his motive and as a result, the only high profile candidate ever elected to office on the Reform ticket was Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, which he pretty much did on his own. The Reform Party existed as nothing more than a vehicle for Perot to run for president and invested no money in getting candidates elected to the House and Senate or to other statewide offices. By contrast, the Tea Party movement, which arose in the wake of Obama’s election, and which attracted many of the former Reform Party voters, focused on electing candidates at the state level and succeeded in permanently altering the face of the Republican Party, to the detriment of all.
Our current crop of politicians fear third and fourth parties because they would completely alter the way politics is done in Washington. They could no longer foster the illusion of bipartisanship or the “loyal” opposition and would find themselves having to morph into a parliamentary system instead. They’d have to work toward building coalitions instead of conducting useless exercises in political theater to give the appearance of opposition when, in fact, both parties serve whichever corporate interests are padding their pockets. It’s no wonder that so much effort goes into scaring the public into supporting either major party, or making the process so abhorrent to discourage dissenting voters from coming to the polls. As a result, the politicians get the system that best suits their needs, making their corporate overlords very happy.
The rise of Trump has left the two-party tyranny that controls the system in a tough position, as he’s a loose canon who’s impossible to control. One can argue that he’s the inevitable consequence of a system that relies on creating boogie men to scare the electorate away from reforming the system, which has so greatly rewarded the major parties for generations. The way the game works is, each side selects candidates the public at large has no interest in, then pits their bases against one another, with admonitions of, “We can’t let this person win the White House!” The outrage expressed by those who trumpet each new revelation about Trump isn’t designed to change the minds of his supporters, rather than affect those who are still, inexplicably, on the fence about the election. I already know the candidate for whom I’m not going to vote. No polls, debates, or shocking headlines are going to change that.
This is where Clinton’s political savvy begins to shine through. For months, we’ve been bombarded by stories about Benghazi, and emails, and the Clinton Foundation, so there’s very little else her opponents can lob at her. Trump, on the other hand, has enjoyed a rather cozy relationship with the national media, who has largely given him a pass on his racist and misogynistic rhetoric, reporting on it but not pressing him on it. Now that we are within a few weeks of the election, the Clinton campaign can unleash all its fire power against Trump at just the time it’s likely to have the most impact. We’ve already seen Trump reduced to displaying his brand of humility over inflammatory statements he’s made about women, and the real campaign is only just getting started. The irony is that Trump has as many enemies on the Republican side as on the Democratic side, making their focus denying him the White House rather than supporting Clinton.
The Democrats still need to focus on retaking Congress, though. Clinton is still not the perfect candidate, and many voters have grave reservations about her and may take advantage of their other options. The Democrats need to capitalize on the outrage people are feeling to insure that it translates into voters at the polls. Gary Johnson will most likely draw his support from disgruntled Republicans, and currently, Jill Stein isn’t polling high enough to be much of a threat to Clinton, though anything can happen in politics in the United States. The voters have consistently shown they need to be invested in the outcome, and offering them the opportunity to dislodge a few deadweight incumbents is the perfect way to accomplish this. Clinton has enough money and influence to weather most of what her opponent is liable to throw at her, barring any missteps, so the party needs to hammer away at those campaigns that promise the most gain for them. If Clinton is elected without gaining one chamber of Congress, all we can expect is four more years of the stalemate we’ve been seeing under Obama.
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These essays originated on this blog in their earliest forms, but have been revised, expanded, and, in some instances, combined in the book.
Disclaimer: No actual babies were harmed in the writing of this book.