[Satire] | New Directions, by Debbie Graber | Harper's Magazine

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New Directions



According to law enforcement, mass disappearances are not uncommon.


There is a matter of some importance that the executives would like to share with you. As leaders of a company that was voted one of the 500 most transparent companies in the San Fernando Valley (Westways Magazine, September 2009), we pride ourselves on addressing any type of situation.

As most of you know, the software department has been busy prepping for the first-quarter release of MPM 3.0, the newest iteration of Production Solutions’ continuing quest for better payroll-processing software. MPM 3.0 will be a game-changer, providing our clients with sleeker ways to process payroll than ever before.

But when Vice President of Products Mary Margaret Spencer went down to the second floor last Friday for her regular meeting with our programmers, she found the department empty. She checked the kitchen and the patio, then asked Martin from Facilities to check the restrooms on each floor. No software personnel were on the premises. Vice President Spencer says that she didn’t find this altogether strange, given that the developers sometimes keep odd hours. She was, however, “weirded out” by the silence, so she sent what she describes as a “forceful” email to Product Manager Jim Smalley.

That email went unanswered, and at three o’clock she went back down to Software with a “full head of steam” and again found no one. This time the lights, which are on a motion detector, were out, indicating that no one had been there in six hours.

Since that time, HR has made contact with the family of each software-department member. It seems everyone left for work on Friday, but they have not been heard from since.

We are investigating this phenomenon to the very best of our abilities. The sheriff’s department has been alerted, as has the FBI. This is not, we stress, an emergency. According to law enforcement, mass disappearances are not uncommon. Often one person will decide to take the day off and others will follow suit, in “senior ditch day” fashion. We trust in our officials and believe they are doing all they can to locate the missing software department. We will continue to give you updates as they become available.


Some of you may have heard that the clothes the software-department members were wearing at the time of their mass disappearance were found in the dumpster near the Facilities shed across the street. This is unsubstantiated. No clothes were found in or around the dumpster. In fact, Bob Ferrara’s nebulizer was still running when the department was discovered to be missing, so we can only assume the team left in a great hurry, with no time to strip. As soon as we have any new information regarding the software department, we will alert you.


From “Kidnapping Ants and Their Slaves” (Harper’s Magazine, October 1903)

From “Kidnapping Ants and Their Slaves” (Harper’s Magazine, October 1903)

Some of you have expressed concern about the absence of several members of the accounting staff. Do not worry. They have all been located at their homes, where they are suffering from pinkeye, courtesy of Doris McClellan’s daughter, Amy. In response, the executive team is considering cancelling Bring Your Daughter to Work Day.

If your coworkers are out of the office, do not immediately assume the worst. Unless you are told otherwise, coworker absences are due to illness, paid time off, stress leave, or something equally nonthreatening.

Please note that the search continues for the software department, and that the executive team realizes that, since we are primarily a software company, we cannot function without a software department. We are meeting about this every day.


A new email address has been created for questions regarding the software-department situation. Please email [email protected] Do not ask HR or the executives for updates, as we are extremely busy. Thank you for your cooperation.


Production Solutions is going through a challenging time, and we appreciate your efforts to remain calm. Some of you have managed to complete your work in a timely and error-free manner. A shout out to Rachel Kaiser, in particular, who answered more calls this month than anyone else in Tech Support — over 300 calls! Congratulations, Rachel! A gift will be on its way, pending management approval.

Others, however, have not been as successful at regulating their anxiety. Please note that emailing the software-questions address several times a day with speculative “leads” will not rectify the situation any faster. Nor, for that matter, will hounding your managers about when MPM 3.0 is going to be released. It is also unhelpful to hit the Ignore button on your phone, leaving your fellow tech-support representatives to answer your calls. (Congratulations again, Rachel.)

And let it be said, too, that neither kicking over the soda machine in the break room nor spray-painting a pentagram on the wall is the optimal way to handle stress. Instead, consider these options: Talk to your co-workers about the latest sport scores during your state-mandated fifteen-minute break. Take a yoga class before or after work. Remove your headset and take deep breaths at your desk.

We must continue to act in the best interests of our clients and the company. Thank you for your attention.


In answer to a frequently asked question, our HMO does not currently cover yoga classes. It also does not cover chiropractic or acupuncture. We will bring these items up with our insurance provider during negotiations next year.


It is imperative that we not let our competitors or any news outlets learn of our current challenges. To that end, a legal agreement is up on the intranet, which you must sign electronically as of 5 P.M. today. It is vital that all employees sign the waiver. Once you have done so, a Starbucks gift card will be distributed to you by your manager. The only way to obtain the card is to sign the waiver. If you have any questions about the waiver, the software department, or anything else related to this obstacle to our company’s success, please direct them to [email protected]


It has been brought to our attention that Starbucks is not accepting some of your gift cards. This was an oversight. New gift cards will be distributed to those who have complained and whose electronic-waiver signatures have been verified. Please do not email the software-questions queue with theories about the lack of funds on the Starbucks cards, and do not listen to anyone who tries to convince you that Starbucks has something to do with the disappearance of the software department.

It has further been brought to our attention that some employees do not drink coffee. Per their requests, we are looking into using Costco gift cards in the future. Please note: Starbucks gift cards cannot be redeemed at Costco.


Many of you have inquired as to why new software developers have not been hired during such a crucial time. Please know that the HR department has been working tirelessly to hire temporary workers. Although we reside in the software-development capital of the nation, finding new staff has proved trickier than you might expect. Despite our efforts to keep the software department’s disappearance out of the public eye, news has trickled out to our competitors and to news outlets, making it challenging to attract top talent. We are investigating this security breach to the best of our abilities.


We are pleased to announce a partnership with a firm in Vientiane, Laos, that will send over temporary programmers. The firm promises that their workers will “power up” quickly, get the work done, then “power down” and leave the country immediately. These temporary employees will not drain our 401(k) plan, nor will they be given spot raises, bonuses, or Starbucks gift cards. They will also not be allowed to park their rental cars in the parking lot until we can have the missing software department’s vehicles towed.

The Laotians will arrive next week, and we’re thrilled to have them continue the software department’s work creating user-friendly software that offers real-world solutions. We’d appreciate it if you would make the effort to introduce yourselves. As managers of one of the 50 most-engaged companies in California (Westways Magazine, June 2011), we trust that you will welcome the outsourced workers with open arms. Instead of using your break to go across the street for a Big Gulp, why not take a quick trip to the second floor and extend a friendly greeting? Incidentally, “Sa bai di mu pheuon” means “Hello friend” in Lao.


We have created a list of FAQs regarding the team arriving from Laos:

1. What is Laos?

Laos is a country in Southeast Asia. For more information, please consult www.wikipedia.org/Laos.

2. When you say that the Laotian team will “power up,” does this mean that they are robots?


3. Is Production Solutions paying for the team’s meals and housing?

Production Solutions will pay them a housing stipend. The team has also been issued Costco gift cards.

4. Will the Laotian team receive health benefits?

Health insurance for the new team is being covered by the outsourcing firm. We believe their co-pay for the urgent-care clinic on Hollywood Way is $10.

5. Will any current employees be terminated?

All Production Solutions employees are classified as “at will,” meaning they can be terminated at any time. Please refer to pages IV 3.2–3.6 in your employee handbook for more information about what it means to be an “at will” employee.

6. How long will the Laotian team stay?

In the event that the software department resurfaces, the Laotian team will remain until the FBI closes its investigation, then will “power down” and leave. If the software department fails to resurface, the team will stay on until the new release date for MPM 3.0, which is the last day of the third quarter. The executives have been meeting about the missed first deadline for the release of MPM 3.0 with our clients, who have been extremely understanding about the circumstances.


It has been brought to our attention that a sign reading FOR AMERICANS ONLY has been hung next to the urinals in the first-floor men’s room. It was neither placed there by Facilities nor authorized by management, and has been taken down. Please note: posting unauthorized placards in a public building is a misdemeanor in the State of California. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted.


Although the temporary software developers were expected to begin work this morning, they have not yet arrived. We do not know the reason for this delay. But do not worry: the welcome potluck is still on. Please enjoy Luz Endoso’s famous pansit noodles and many other goodies in the second-floor conference room.


The Laotian team’s absence is still under investigation. In answer to a frequently asked question, the Laotian overseas firm is not, we repeat not, a front for terrorist activities. We have consulted with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and in no way do they believe that our building has been targeted for a terrorist attack. Production Solutions has asked Robert, Doc, and the other security guards to be extra vigilant, just in case.

We ask also that you stop emailing the software-questions queue, as it is full.


We have been informed by the firm in Vientiane that the Laotian software team decided to reject our offer. Please do not blame them for their choice. In business, it’s never personal. Many factors went into their decision. We will continue our search for new software developers to help us grow our business and build our dreams.


Please do not speculate as to why the team from Laos rejected our offer. It would not be our concern if they decided to “power up” with Entertainment Options instead of us, and anyway this rumor is unconfirmed. Please do not spend time worrying about things that are out of your control. Concentrate instead on doing the best job you can. Help a client by answering your phone instead of letting it go to voicemail. Brush up on knowledge-base articles about previous versions of our software. If you need to, stretch quietly at your desk. Thank you in advance.


In answer to a frequently asked question, yes, Mike Heno took visiting executives from the Laotian firm to a Los Angeles Kings game. It is part of Mike’s job as an HR manager to entertain people who can help us solve our staffing issues. Mike was as surprised as anyone that the firm rejected our offer at the last minute. The Laotians reportedly enjoyed the game, and one of them even purchased a foam finger. The executive team has every confidence in Mike and the rest of the HR group.

Please do not email Mike directly, as he has gone on leave.


Please do not email the executive team with questions about the deposit paid to the Laotian company. We are working hard to secure the return of those monies, as well as the Costco gift cards that were sent as a retainer.


We understand that you are feeling stressed, and we appreciate that you are weathering the storm as well as can be expected. But we must request that you please, per the confidentiality agreement that 58 percent of you have signed, refrain from discussing the missing software department with outside parties, whether they are family, friends, or news outlets. Having crews from local stations, CNN, and Fox News perpetually parked outside the main entrance is bad for business. Already, many of our clients are refusing to send staff to pick up payroll checks, for fear their employees will disappear.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said so famously, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” It turns out that he was right. Try to not be afraid. It rubs off on others. Now is the time for all of us to pull together and continue to wow our clients in the face of adversity. The best thing you can do is to excel at your job.

Please note: we are still planning to hold midyear reviews.


We would like to take a minute to acknowledge the suggestions we’ve received from you all over a frankly difficult few months. Here are a few of your many “out of the box” ideas for new directions in which to take the company:

1. Turn the building into a daycare center. Use employees (nicer employees) as caregivers.

2. Repurpose the building as a Banana Republic outlet. Offer employees 40 percent discounts.

3. Transition the business into a soy-candle producer called Sea Whispers. Offer employees 40 percent discounts.

4. Convert the building into a jai-alai fronton. Use employees to run concession stands and larger employees (Doc, Robert, and Cookie) as security.

While the executive team appreciates your suggestions, we remain committed to our current business model. Thank you for understanding.


Because we value your creative spirit, the executive team is excited to announce a new slogan contest. While we’re very fond of our current slogan — “Production Solutions: WOW!” — we believe our valued employees can do even better. Email your ideas to [email protected] Winners will receive tickets for a raffle to win a 7-Eleven gift card and some lottery scratch cards.


We have to discuss a sensitive situation with you. As some of you know, Mary Margaret Spencer, who we have long esteemed for her perfect attendance record, has been out of the office since Monday. Rest assured, Mary Margaret is not missing. When you see her next, you will notice that she is wearing a wig. This is because she has been diagnosed with stress-related alopecia. She is under the care of our HMO’s doctors and will hopefully regrow her hair in time. Please try not to ask her too many questions, as this will worsen her alopecia. Please note also that this occurrence, while unfortunate, is completely unrelated to the disappearance of the software department. The FBI is diligently following every lead.


Due to this year’s challenges, it is unlikely that anyone will receive a merit raise following the next performance-review period.


For those of you who have inquired, the executive team has not had time to judge the slogan contest. We have been extremely busy dealing with various local, state, and federal investigations, not to mention the loss of most of our business. For those who sent nasty emails regarding our unresponsiveness, shame on you. We have hardly slept the last several months. We would ask that you show a bit more courtesy. Or perhaps you were born in a barn? You know who you are.


Some of you have heard that Project Manager Jim Smalley appeared to his wife in a dream. He was dressed like a Boy Scout, and was selling boxes of Trail’s End popcorn door to door. When his wife asked him where he was and what had happened to him, he smiled and said, “Support our troops.” Then she woke up.

To this end, please support our troops for all of their efforts by purchasing Trail’s End caramel corn from Doris McClellan’s son Travis, who will be in the office on Thursday. Do it for the software department, wherever they may be. Please note that Travis will be carrying only $20 in change.


Due to managerial leaves of absence, emails to [email protected] will no longer be read. For answers to your questions, please refer to the new FAQ list below:

1. Is the disappearance of the software department still a mystery?


2. Why have new software developers not been hired?

This is proprietary information.

3. What will happen to the company’s long-term profitability in the wake of the software team’s disappearance?

This is also proprietary information.

4. Third quarter has come and gone. What happened to the hard release date for MPM 3.0?

Again, proprietary.

5. Was the software-questions email queue shut down because it was a portal to another dimension?

Improbable. Also, proprietary.

6. Where is my manager?

Many managers have taken paid stress leave. Others are not returning emails or phone calls. Try to exercise patience with the managers who remain.

7. Will Production Solutions be in existence for the long haul?

Who of us is in existence for the long haul?

8. Why did Facilities remove all the ficus trees in the lobby?

The ficus trees were not performing to the best of their abilities.

If you have additional questions, please write them down for next year’s town hall meeting, which has yet to be scheduled.

[email protected] — Out of office auto-reply:

If you are reading this email, congratulations. You have braved much insecurity. Since most of the Facilities department has defected to Entertainment Options, even getting into the elevators these days requires great courage. Please join us in the second-floor conference room at three o’clock. We wish to gather all remaining Production Solutions employees and commend you for your loyalty. Neither cake nor coffee will be served.

While we no longer have the funds to pay for gift cards, bonuses, or salaries, there is something to be said for togetherness. If any of you would like to say a few words, tell a joke, or sing a song, even a sad one such as “Danny Boy,” you will be welcome to do so. We no longer care if you can carry a tune. It was wrong of us to snicker at James Lalange’s karaoke version of “Purple Rain” at last year’s holiday party. It’s the small cruelties that add up, in the end.

If you want, we can reminisce about the old days. Remember Luz Endoso’s world-famous pansit noodles? The semi-annual bingo tournaments? The comforting hum of Bob Ferrara’s nebulizer?

On second thought, let’s not talk about those things anymore. Let’s talk about something else.

’s stories have appeared in the literary journals Zyzzyva, Hobart, and Word Riot, among others. She holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside, and recently completed a story collection.

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