“I talked to him about the loan and he said he’d call me back.”

I know every single detail about Fritz’s life, because he is a man without propriety. He is not a practitioner of “polite phone volume.” His intonation is the same whether he’s speaking with his boss at his desk or on his cell phone with Dr. Nathan Baldwin, who is his gastroenterologist. I wouldn’t even mind so much if his life’s minutiae were interesting—I’m a sucker for a good story. But the fact is that since his house burned to the ground and his daughter perished in the blaze, Fritz has become the most annoying coworker I’ve ever worked with.

Everything in his life is about logistics now. “Our insurance guy is staying late, so tell Amy I need the car back before tonight,” he says. The request is particularly unnerving because he’s looking directly at me when he makes it, and I feel compelled to tell Amy that Fritz needs his car. Except I don’t know an Amy, and Fritz isn’t looking at me so much as he’s staring through me. He tends to stare in my direction when he’s on the phone the way a grocery store fish stares up at you from its bed of ice.

“We talked about it last week, because the details weren’t drawn out yet.”

He’s putting me to sleep! I’m actually tempted to say something in response, just to see if it registers. If I answered aloud would it snap him out of it? It’s not wise to play games with a man whose family has undergone such tragedy, but is my suffering any less valid? So I say aloud, “If you want the car then you’re just going to have to find it yourself.” I’m looking right into his lantern eyes when I say it, and the directness is nothing less than eerie. I immediately feel shame, and my skin grows hot. What was I thinking?

Without missing a beat, Fritz says, “Fine, whatever, I’m going to go either way, so you make up your mind.” He hangs up the phone and I quickly look away. Was he talking to me? Surely not, but the notion is insistent. There is, after all, the possibility that there was no one on the other line at all—and that there never has been. I must consider that my coworker is insane.

Regardless, neither tragedy nor the resultant loss of sanity are reason enough to grant a person absolute free reign. My productivity has taken a nose dive because I can’t help but follow along as Fritz narrates the mundane details of his existence.

“Did Steve call?” Now he has his cell phone pressed to his ear, and he’s pacing. He paces a great deal more than he used to, and shows as little regard for personal space as he does for vocal modulation. I’ve seen him walk right up behind someone and stand by their chair as he talks. Fritz has become invulnerable to social grace, and no one dares to speak of it. Because the man is struggling to put his life back together one piece at a time, he can do as he pleases. At this point Fritz could rest a coffee mug on his boss’ blonde head and blow nose missiles at her kids’ crayon renderings and not receive the faintest admonishment.

If I severed the end of my pinky after receiving a particularly grievous paper cut, and then had it surgically reattached, would it be enough to allow me to spit on the conference room table during a meeting? How about if I lost the severed finger, and doctors were forced to graft on one of my toes as a replacement? Sure, I’ll bet that if I showed up to work with toe hands I could at least tell Fritz to shut the hell up and sit down with impunity. And people would thank me for it, I can tell you that. Just let tragedy strike, and then I’ll speak my piece.

Related Tales

» “Automaton” (31 of Dec, 2005)
» “Slow” (12 of Dec, 2005)
» “Privilege” (12 of Oct, 2005)

At this point Fritz could rest a coffee mug on his boss’ blonde head and blow nose missiles at her kids’ crayon renderings and not receive the faintest admonishment.