the museum of americana

a literary review

The Memo—Fiction by Natalie Higdon

It all started with a note to clean up our desks.
 

     Attn: URGENT

     To: ALL

     The CEO will be visiting our floor next week. It is of utmost importance

      that we project a tidy and un-slovenly appearance.
 

The replies started immediately.

“What does this mean?!”

“Why is the CEO visiting now? Seems SUSPICIOUS.”

“Do I have to hide my plants??? They’ll die without light!!”

The exact date was unclear, which only added to everyone’s sense of urgency. Trash cans were upended into the shred box, cans of soup deposited on the break room table, and teddy bears wearing tiny sweatshirts emblazoned with the company logo shoved into the backs of file cabinets. The receptionist’s candy jars were removed.

A second memo was sent asking all employees to take any contraband items home. This email specifically mentioned space heaters, which pushed Eileen over the edge. 

“How can I work with cold feet?” she muttered while wrapping the cord around her under-desk heater and hiding it in the empty space between the back of her cubicle and the window.

Eileen used this opportunity to finally exact revenge on perceived refrigerator infractions. The next morning, everyone arrived to find the break room counters covered in thermoses and puffy lunch bags that had been extracted from the fridge. A note was taped to the freezer door.

 

     ATTENTION!

     Insulated lunch bags take up room AND do NOT need to be 

     refrigerated. That is WHY they are insulated. 

 
The only item left in the refrigerator was a half-used packet of Wendy’s Pomegranate Ranch salad dressing.

“I don’t even think Wendy’s has that salad dressing anymore,” Bill said as he stirred his coffee with a plastic fork and stared at the empty shelves. The tiny red coffee stirrers had been removed months earlier as part of the company’s “Save the Planet” initiative.

“Didn’t someone have breast milk in there?” Janet asked while checking the freezer to ensure the safety of her Atkins Turkey & Gravy meals.

“That poor baby,” Bill said, shaking his head.

Janet was asked to remove her aromatherapy diffuser.

“Why?” she asked, her voice cracking slightly. “Is it bothering someone?”

“No, but it could,” Eileen said. “42% of people are chemically sensitive to fragrances. Our CEO could be one of them.”

“Where did you get that statistic from?” Janet asked.

Eileen said nothing and continued to walk down the hallway, rubbing a Magic Eraser against imperceptible marks on the wall.

Tony, the VP of Product Development, called an urgent meeting. Attendance was mandatory. He sat at the head of a long table, his eyes closed.

“I don’t know… if you all understand… how important this is,” he said slowly. He opened his eyes. “The CEO has never visited our department before.” 

“Tony, can I ask you a quick question?” Bill said, raising his hand.

“Not now, Bill.” Tony loosened his tie and released an exaggerated sigh. “We have to get this man a gift,” he said. “You wouldn’t visit the Queen with empty pockets, would you?” Tony looked around the room. “Would you?” he shouted, banging his fist against the table.

The room resounded with a smattering of “No’s” and “I guess not’s.”

“What do we know about him?” Tony asked. “What does he like?”

Bill raised his hand again.

“I said not now, Bill!” Tony shouted.

Bill stammered. “I… I was just going to say, I was behind him in the deli downstairs yesterday.”

“And…?” Tony asked, suddenly perking up. 

“He, um, he ordered a hot dog,” Bill said.

Tony stared back at him, expressionless.

“Yeah, uh, he even made a comment, something like “Oh boy, I sure do love hot dogs.”

The room was silent for a moment.

“Damn it Bill, that is phenomenal,” Tony said. He massaged his temples in slow circles for a few moments. 

The recessed lighting made the beige walls look ominously dark. Tony looked at the neon motivational poster someone had tacked to the wall in a half-hearted attempt to decorate: on it, a tiny orange kitten wearing a bowtie was quoted as saying, “What you believe, you can achieve.”

“I’ve got it!,” he said. “Let’s give him a hot dog maker.”

“Like at the gas station?” Alison asked. Alison was a new manager on the fast track to becoming senior manager in the next 8-10 years.

“Yes,” Tony said, his eyes glistening. “It will be the greatest gift he has ever received. Way better than that pen those yokels in audit gave him.”

“I think that was a Montblanc,” Eileen said. 

“I’m going to put some heat on this,” Alison said, unable to contain her excitement. “I’ll form a Target Action Group this afternoon and we’ll dive right into research, cost analysis, choice finalization, and ordering by EOD.”

Bill rolled his eyes. He had frequently expressed his annoyance at Alison’s continued use of terms like “EOD” “TBD” and most of all “SQI,” which he was adamant she had made up. 

Janet hesitantly raised her hand. 

“Yes, Janet,” Tony said, pointing at her. “Do you want to volunteer for the TAG or do you have any ketchup or mustard suggestions?”

“I’ll add relish to the top of our list of KPIs,” Alison said, making a note in her day planner.

“Uh, no,” Janet said. “I was just going to remind everyone about Dip Day tomorrow.”

Tony blinked his eyes at her as if he had been temporarily blinded.

“Janet. We do not have time for Dip Day,” Tony said. “We’re going to have to cancel it this year.”

Shocked gasps filled the room.

“Cancel it?” Janet asked. “It’s a tradition! We always have Dip Day on the third Thursday before Lent.”

“I’ve already bought the onions for my French onion dip!” Eileen said. “I rescheduled my physical therapy appointment so I could sweat them tonight. Do you know how long it takes to sweat that many onions?” Eileen made a gesture with her hands that indicated several hundred pounds of onions.

“Oh geez, I forgot to ask my wife to make dip,” Bill said.

“At least you have a wife!” Eileen yelled. “Some of us have to make our own dip!”

“Fine, fine!” Tony shouted. “You can have your little ‘dip party’ tomorrow…as long as everyone agrees to stay late and clean up.”

“The CEO isn’t coming until next week!” Eileen said.

“Exactly!” Tony said. “We have to ensure that there isn’t a single errant corn kernel or chip crumb—or glob of whatever cream-cheesed concoction I’m sure you are all planning on making—for him to step on or spot underneath a table.”

Eileen folded her arms. “I really don’t see why he would be looking under tables,” she muttered.

“It’s settled then!” Tony said.

As everyone filed out of the conference room, Alison shouted after them. “Please keep an eye on your inbox for your TAG assignments. We need to narrow down our choice of hot dogs ASAP. I just did a quick search and there are hundreds of meat filling and casing options to choose from!”

Janet whispered to Eileen, “I wish she would avoid the term ‘meat filling.’”

“This place is really going downhill,” Eileen said, tossing her styrofoam cup into the trash. 

The next morning, Eileen hugged a 10-qt. slow cooker to her chest as she rode the elevator up to the 10th floor. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead. As the elevator stopped at floors 4, 6 and 7, she grew increasingly worried that her onion dip was starting to curdle.

When she finally got to work, the break room looked like a post-apocalyptic Williams Sonoma, overrun with pots and bowls, corn chips and crackers. She deposited her appliance next to the sink, and eyed the lone loaf of white bread that Barry from accounting consistently brought to every potluck, regardless of theme.

It was only 9:15 a.m., but employees were already piling steaming mounds of dip and chips onto styrofoam plates. Bill stared down at a chopped amalgam of green apples, Butterfinger bars and Miracle Whip. 

“This place is really going downhill,” he said, shaking his head and stirring his coffee with a plastic knife.

Eileen had just plugged in her slow cooker and was stirring her onion dip as if she were manning a hand-cranked generator attached to a hospital when Alison rushed in, panting and gripping the break room door frame with white knuckles. Alison drew deep breaths as her eyes widened and darted around the room. Bill gulped; she reminded him of a coyote he’d seen on a nature program once, viciously protecting its young.

“He’s here!” Alison said. 

Bill put another scoopful of Buffalo chicken dip into his mouth and chewed slowly.

“I said, the CEO is here!” Alison yelled.

When no one moved, Alison charged forward, yanking Eileen’s slow cooker out of the wall socket and hurtling it into the trash can. Eileen let out a blood-curdling scream so loud that Bill had to quickly adjust his hearing aid. 

Alison continued to frantically throw bowls and platters into the trash. Others began to help out of fear, shoving chips and boxes into the nearly-empty fridge after the trash was filled up.

“We could have refrigerated the dips!” Eileen cried.

Tony suddenly appeared in the break room and everyone grew quiet. His skin was a light shade of pistachio green and his lips formed a tight thin line.

“I need everyone…” Tony said, his voice barely above a whisper and cracking slightly. 

Bill twisted the volume knob back up on his hearing aid.

“If my slow cooker is broken… I will not get a new one,” Eileen said, her fists clenched with rage. “The new ones get too hot. Too hot!”

Tony held a finger up to her face. “The last thing I need right now is for you to cause a scene so that everyone finds out I did not go to college.”

Eileen’s shoulders dropped as she knitted her brows in confusion. “Huh?”

Tony inched even closer. “Exactly,” he said.

He turned quickly and walked toward the conference room. Everyone followed. Tony sat at the front of the room, his fingertips lightly tapping the glass table as he stared fixedly on the blank wall ahead. His lips moved as he mentally rehearsed the speech he’d been writing since 2 a.m. He was especially nervous about flubbing the opening; if he did, his entire metaphor for product development and hot dog making wouldn’t make sense. 

Janet knocked quietly on the conference room door. Tony jumped up quickly, buttoning his jacket.

“Yes, please come in!” Tony shouted jovially. He turned to face the room. “Everyone, it’s my great pleasure to welcome our guest of honor, the Chief Executive Officer of our wonderful company,” Tony said, gesturing to the door. 

His face fell as he noticed Janet was standing alone, nervously wringing her hands. 

“Where is our guest?”

“He got pulled away,” Janet said. “Something about an urgent meeting in audit.” 

Alison barreled into the room, pushing a mail cart topped with a small mountain of hot dogs. Her white silk blouse was covered in dip splatter stains, while her tight ponytail had loosened in large chunks above both ears. 

“I made it!” she yelled. “I couldn’t get the hot dog vendor to deliver before 4 p.m. so I rushed down to the convenience store and bought all the hot dogs they had!”

Tony inhaled through his nose. “He’s not coming.”

Alison gasped. “What? What do you mean?”

As Alison shook her head, more hair fell out of her ponytail making her look like a rabid Lhasa Apso. Tony sniffled and looked down at the floor. Alison began to cry loudly, gasping between sobs. Bill patted her awkwardly on the shoulder.

“There, there,” Bill said. “ The CEO’s ETA was TBD. You did the best you could.” Alison wailed even louder. The rest of the employees shuffled out of the conference room. 

Eileen sprinted back to her desk and dug her heater out of the space behind her cubicle.

A few hours later, Bill walked by and glanced in the conference room.

Janet taped up a flyer on the wall behind him. It featured a cartoon tortilla chip standing on a diving board over a jalapeno-shaped bowl. “Dip party rescheduled for next Wednesday,” Janet said.

“I’ll tell my wife,” Bill said. 

Janet looked in the conference room. “What is Tony still doing in there? Is he… it looks like he’s talking to himself.”

“A lot of people say that if you like hot dogs, you don’t want to see what’s in them or how they’re made,” Tony mumbled, tears welling at the edges of his red-rimmed eyes. “I say, the opposite is true about product development. What’s ‘in’ product development? These great people in this room. That’s how our sausage…or should I say hot dog is made. And I’ll say it, right here and right now: we don’t mind who sees it.”

Bill quietly closed the door. “I’ll bring him some cold chips in an hour or so.”

Eileen rubbed her feet against her heater and softly clapped as she read the subject line of the new email in her inbox: eBay ORDER CONFIRMED: 1970s Crock Pot EXCELLENT CONDITION!!

“Just in time for Dip Day,” Eileen whispered to herself. She closed her eyes and smiled, slowly inhaling the pungent mist from Janet’s “Stress Away” aromatherapy oil. 

 

~~~

Natalie Higdon is a screenwriter, fiction writer, and award-winning playwright living in Memphis, Tennessee. You can find her on Twitter @LetsGoNatalie or nataliehigdon.com.