Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life. Rowena Moves Closer, Part 12

Rowena Gets Upgraded

Fiction by S. D. Youngren



Rowena sat back down at her desk and checked her telephone for messages. “Hello,” said Terese's voice. “I guess you're taking a late lunch or something. Well, it turns out I'm having dinner at my mom's on Thursday, so can you make it tomorrow night instead? Call me at home; I think I've used up my quota of personal calls for today. Maybe the whole week.” She paused slightly. “Talk to you later.”

Rowena sighed. Tomorrow night was fine with her, but she and Terese had tried to get together for—

“Did you hear?” Lorraine broke into her thoughts. “Mr. Rorschach and Mr. Schmed are going to be at the presentation tomorrow.”

“No,” Rowena said, “I hadn't heard.”

“Mr. Rorschach and Mr. Schmed?” asked Marjorie. “Wow.”

“I know,” Lorraine said. She shifted her weight to lean on Rowena's desk.

“Think if I get a new haircut and a really slinky dress they'll give me a raise?” Marjorie asked.

“Marjorie!” Rowena said. “You're sounding like my sister!”

Marjorie was not disturbed. “It worked for Annabelle.”

“Oh, God.” Berna, passing through, rolled her eyes dramatically. “Let me guess. You're talking about another soap opera, aren't you?”

“You leave my soaps alone. As a matter of fact—”

“Yes?”

“As a matter of fact, I was talking about the same one as last time. Another Life to Live.”

“You do sound like my sister,” Rowena said. “Lorraine, watch out.” She grabbed her paper clip cup just in time, moved it farther from Lorraine's corner of her desk.

“Have you guys heard?” Sara asked, coming up. “Mr. Rorschach and Mr. Schmed are going to be at the presentation.”

“Old news,” said Marjorie, and yawned extravagantly.

“Well, I think it's exciting,” Lorraine said.

“They say they're going to change everything around,” said Sara. She too leaned against Rowena's desk—right next to the newly-shifted paper clips. Rowena picked them up again and set them right in front of herself. “I don't know that I can get used to another system.”

“They say it's supposed to be easier,” Lorraine offered.

“The easiest system,” said Sara, “is the one I already know how to use. Follow me?”

“That's what MaryBeth said.”

“Marjorie—I'm not kidding—”

“I'm sure if Mr. Rorschach and Mr. Schmed think it'll be good for the company, it'll be good for us,” Lorraine said.

“What planet have you been living on?” Berna asked. “‘Planet of the Perfect Bosses?’ There's a science fiction epic for you.”

“Are you insulting our employers?”

“I'm just saying I'm reserving judgment until I see the thing.”

“Well, I'm looking forward to it,” Jim said, from out of nowhere. “It probably is better than our current system. And it'll get us out of the office for a day, and we'll get to see Mr. Rorschach and Mr. Schmed.”

Rowena picked a paper clip out of her cup. Mr. Rorschach and Mr. Schmed.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena, on her coffee break, dialed Terese's home number. “Hi, it's me,” she told the answering machine. “Tomorrow night will be fine. I've got that presentation thing at work tomorrow, so don't bother calling me there. I'll check my machine at home before I leave for your place, so if you have to cancel, leave me a message.” She hung up, then called Sammy.

“The saga continues,” she said.

Sammy was amused. “Hi,” he said. “What's up?”

“Terese canceled Thursday, so if you're still free then . . .”

“For you, I'm free,” Sammy said. “You spoke to her?”

“I got her answering machine. This makes two times for her and two for me. This round.”

“You're keeping score.”

“Phone tag. You know. Next time I'm just going to say, ‘You're It,’ and hang up.” Sammy laughed. “Anyway, I told her I'm going over tomorrow night, provided this secret or whatever it is can wait that long. And assuming I survive this meeting-thing at work.”

“There, there.”

“I should have said not at work, since it's at a hotel. But it's hardly a vacation.”

“Who knows?” Sammy said. “Maybe the ‘elegant surroundings’ will mellow Eloise out.”

“Mellow Eloise out.” Rowena turned this over in her mind.

“I said ‘maybe,’” Sammy told her.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena was surprised to find, on walking into the meeting-room at the hotel, that most of her coworkers had already arrived. She did not wonder long at the reason for this; the table was loaded with food and beverages. Rowena helped herself to a muffin and a cup of tea, and looked about for a place to sit.

“Rowena! Over here!” It was Berna.

“No, over here!” called Leslie Campbell. Rowena went and sat next to Berna.

“What're you doing?” Leslie yelled. He got up, came over, and spent several minutes trying to get Sara, who sat on Rowena's other side, to trade places with him.

“Dream on, Romeo,” Sara said. “It wouldn't do you any good anyway. Go back where you were.”

“What's the matter with you people?” Leslie whined. He went away.

“Thanks, Sara,” Rowena said. She picked up the folder in front of her, leafed through it. “What is this stuff?”

“ZIPPY Office,” Berna said. Rowena understood why Berna had, a couple of minutes ago, threatened to unzip Leslie's head. “A new era in office management.”

“I barely got used to the old one,” Sara complained.

“Frankly, I think most of our problems they can't help us with. Like that one there.” Berna nodded towards Leslie.

“This'll be great,” said Lorraine, dropping into the seat on Sara's other side. “You'll see.”

“Where's Mr. Schmed?” Sara asked suddenly. “And Mr. Rorschach?”

“You know how these important types are. They're never on time for anything.”

“Good morning, fellow employees of Rorschach & Schmed.” It was Eloise, up at the front of the room. “Thank you for coming to our little meeting.” Little meeting, indeed, Rowena thought; the entire company seemed to be present . . . except for Mr. Schmed and, she presumed, the legendary Mr. Rorschach, whom she had never seen. “I'm afraid Mr. Rorschach was not able to attend after all, but he wishes everyone a nice day.” Eloise consulted her notepad; she always used the big yellow legal kind. “You may have heard we are going to be switching over to a new system, called ZIPPY Office. I expect everyone to embrace ZIPPY Office, and to continue to do their very best for Rorschach & Schmed.” She glanced briefly in Leslie Campbell's direction. “Now I would like to introduce Annette. Annette is from ZIPPYCo, and she will tell you everything you need to know about the many advantages and uses of ZIPPY Office. Annette?”

And Eloise moved aside to turn the meeting over to a very perky young woman; a small woman with a big smile. “Hello, everybody,” the young woman said. “I'm Annette, and I'm ZIPPY.”

Berna gave a partially-stifled snort. Rowena supposed that sitting next to her for this presentation would be a little problematic, even if she did agree with most of what Berna said. “And today,” Annette continued, “I'm going to show you how you can be ZIPPY, too.”

“That's what she thinks,” Sara muttered.

“Dream on, Titania,” Berna said. She and Sara looked at each other and giggled. Rowena began to feel just a little sorry for Annette.

“Where would we be today if nothing ever changed, nothing ever improved?” Annette wanted to know. “What if we were still living in caves? What if we'd never learned about fire? What if we didn't have VCRs?” Rowena found herself looking, briefly, over Annette's head. “Think of how all those things improve your life. Now there's ZIPPY Office to improve your work life. Pretty soon you'll find yourself wondering how you ever got along without it!”

And she actually began to sing. She sang a chorus of “Getting Better All the Time,” charging dutifully through the first line and then inviting Rowena and her coworkers to sing along. Nobody moved. Annette finished singing and beamed at everyone, just as if she hadn't noticed their lack of enthusiasm—a lack of enthusiasm, Rowena thought, that bordered in most cases on downright sullenness.

“I must say, she's making work look pretty good,” Berna muttered. “Not ZIPPY Office; just work.

As the presentation went on Rowena pitied Annette more and more, despite what she was doing to them all. Nobody wanted to sing; nobody wanted to answer Annette's ZIPPY questions; nobody wanted to even move. Through all this, she soldiered on, cheerful and perky—at least on the outside. Rowena couldn't help feeling that nobody should have to go through all this—as audience member or presenter.

“Now,” Annette went on, “let's all play a game.”

“Excuse me,” said Steve. “I—uh—well, I've been looking through this folder, and none of this stuff has anything to do with my job. Do I still have to do this?”

If it wasn't anything to do with Steve's job, it probably wasn't anything to do with Rowena's, either. She opened the brochure, keeping alert for Annette's reply.

“Are you gonna be a fuddy-duddy?” Annette demanded. “'Cause if you are, you'll have to wear a Fuddy-Duddy Hat!”

“I . . . I just thought . . . I mean, it doesn't look like this stuff—”

“We have a Fuddy-Duddy!” Annette cried. She took a conical cardboard hat from a box on the floor, and advanced with it to Steve's place at the table. He tried half-heartedly to protest, and she popped the hat onto his head. FUDDY-DUDDY, said the hat, colorfully. Berna whistled under her breath. Rowena flipped through the brochure. With luck she would look dutiful, and not like another Fuddy-Duddy.

“I hope nobody else is going to be a Fuddy-Duddy,” Annette said, “but I've got lots and lots of hats, just in case.”

And she smiled, a very perky smile. She should have looked, Rowena thought, very nearly sinister.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“Okay!” Annette said, from under a newly-donned purple fright wig. “So what's different about me?”

Nobody spoke. The atmosphere in the meeting-room had deteriorated, and was continuing to deteriorate. Rowena kept waiting for the presentation to end, Sara kept peeking at her watch, and Berna threatened, under her breath, to “snap” if this went on much longer.

“Anybody?” Annette asked, still cheery. No one moved. Everybody tried not to look at everybody else. “You!” Annette cried, pointing at Marjorie. “What's different about me?”

Marjorie cringed dully in her seat. It took her a moment to answer. “You put a wig on,” she said, without inflection.

“Right! And so what do we do now?” Everyone sat stonily, doubtless hoping (with one exception) that Annette was still talking to Marjorie.

“We sing the ZIPPY Difference Song! Everybody join in!” She began to sing, all by herself of course. She sounded to Rowena like a kindergarten teacher. Rowena looked down and pretended to study the lyric sheet Annette had given her.

“The ZIPPY ZIPPY ZIPPY ZIPPY Difference!
For a ZIPPY ZIPPY ZIPPY work day!”

“All right! Now tell me what's different.” She turned away again and when she turned back she had added a big red clown nose to the fright wig. Nobody laughed.

“What's different?” she asked. “Any volunteers?” She waited just a little too long for comfort. “Nobody?”

“You put on a false nose.” Rowena turned, startled, to see everybody else turning too; the speaker was Eloise. Eloise, who even before the entire room was staring at her sat red-faced and looking even tenser than usual.

“Right!” squealed Annette, as if nothing strange were going on. “A false nose! So let's all sing the ZIPPY Difference Song!”

All of us,” Eloise put in, pointedly. She made a grimace Rowena took to be a forced smile; evidently Eloise had decided to help Annette out, either from sympathy or dedication to her job. She lived, after all, for Rorschach & Schmed. She and Annette launched into the ZIPPY Difference Song, Eloise glaring around the room to see that everybody joined in.

Apparently everybody did.

“If I hadn't seen it,” Berna muttered at the song's conclusion, “I wouldn't have believed it.”

“Mmmm.” Rowena was afraid to move her mouth, except on command. She wondered whether this really was intended to be fun, or whether somebody was having a very elaborate and perhaps rather expensive joke.

Annette clapped her hands, delighted. “Very good!” she said. “Now it's your turn!” Rowena looked at her, warily, as Annette went on to explain that they were to divide into pairs, that each partner would turn away from the other, change his or her appearance in some way, and then turn back again. “And if your partner says you've guessed correctly what's different about him or her, you yell out, ‘ZIPPEE!’”

“ZIPPEE!” yelled Eloise, frantically. Berna muttered something Rowena didn't catch.

“Change is nothing to be afraid of,” Annette said. “Change can be the best thing that ever happened to you! And it can be fun!

“Now, let's start finding Differences.”

“You my partner, Rowena?” Berna asked. “I hope?”

“Sure.” Rowena took a last look at the brochure, then closed it. Steve had been right; ZIPPY Office had nothing to do with his job, or Rowena's—or Berna's, either.

“Okay!” said Annette. “Let's get started! Everybody stand up.” She made “up-up” motions with her hands. “Even the Fuddy-Duddy! C'mon!”

Rowena stood and turned towards Berna. “Okay, partner,” she said. She ignored Leslie Campbell's voice, insistently calling her name, and likewise Annette's, asking him why he didn't pair up with somebody next to him.

Campbell,” snarled Eloise, tightly.

“Nothing different there,” Berna said.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena was glad when Annette announced lunchtime. She undid her last “difference”—she'd moved her watch to her other wrist—and followed with her eyes as several hotel employees filed in with sandwiches and salads.

“About time,” Berna muttered.

“Hey, Rowena.” It was Leslie Campbell, a good deal too close. “Come here.”

“Sorry,” Rowena said.

“Berna,” said Leslie. “Sara. Excuse us.”

“Can't you take a hint?” Berna demanded.

Leslie sidled up, closer. “Rowena,” he said, his voice lowered. “Have any plans for lunch?”

“Yeah,” Rowena said. “I'm gonna eat.”

“She's giving us a whole hour,” Leslie said.

“So? I won't end up going hungry.”

“Rowena. This is a hotel.

So?” She glared at him. He didn't seem to notice.

“So they've got . . . hotel rooms. We could, um . . . while we're here . . .”

No,” said Rowena. “We could not.

“Oh, come on.

“Leslie, what is the matter with you? I am not interested. I have a boyfriend. And besides, I am not interested.”

“Come on. Give me a break.”

“Give me a break,” Rowena said.

“But—”

“What makes you think I want to mess with somebody who doesn't even care whether I want to mess with him or not?” Rowena demanded. Not very quietly. People turned to look. “Besides,” she added, in a somewhat lower tone, “you're a Fuddy-Duddy.”

Leslie looked at her, uncertain, apparently, whether she was serious. One hand went up to the hat Annette had put on him for not wanting to pair up with Jim, then hesitantly came back down.

“Leslie,” said Berna, with remarkable gravity, “why don't you just slink away as if you think you have some dignity?” He glared at her, opened his mouth, then closed it and followed her advice.

“C'mon,” said Berna to Rowena. “Lunchtime.” They each took a plate and, after eyeing the offerings a moment, made their choices.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“Hi, I'm Boris, head of IS. I'll be putting Zippy Office on your computers.” And Boris from IS, who hadn't bothered to come up to the front of the room, sat back down.

“Boris?” asked Annette sweetly. “Don't you have anything else to say? About ZIPPY Office?” This last appeared to be a prompt.

Boris only shrugged. “Like what?”

“Like, how much more productive everybody's gonna be, and how much fun they'll all have with ZIPPY Office . . .”

Boris gave another shrug. “Depends on if it's any good,” he said. Beside Rowena, Berna made a small strangled sound, as if she were trying not to laugh. Rowena noticed Eloise glaring in their direction.

“You okay, Berna?” she asked solicitously. Berna nodded and sat up straighter. She and Rowena dutifully directed their attention to the front of the room, where Annette was taking another Fuddy-Duddy hat out of her box and advancing on Boris.

“Don't you dare,” Boris said. Annette faltered, then retreated to her box and replaced the hat. Berna made another choking noise and Sara whistled under her breath.

“You happen to know if Boris has a girlfriend or anything?” she asked. Rowena shook her head. Berna said nothing. “Berna?”

“I don't think I've ever spoken to anybody from IS,” Berna said.

“Um, I have a question? For Boris?”

“What's your name and department?” asked Annette, evidently pleased to be getting back into control.

“Fred, from Marketing. Are you gonna put this thing—”

“ZIPPY Office,” prompted Annette.

“Yeah, well, are you gonna put it on the network, or on our individual computers?”

“Dunno,” Boris said. He gave Annette a look that was decidedly challenging. Annette cleared her throat.

“Well!” she said. “Let me give the meeting back to our next team member, Eloise!”

A low rumble went around the room; a very soft groan, magnified many times. Eloise came to the front.

“Thank you, Annette,” she said, and addressed the assemblage. “I am Eloise, Mr. Schmed's Personal Secretary. Mr. Schmed was so looking forward to this little meeting, but unfortunately he is not able to come.” She paused; waiting, Rowena suspected, for everyone to express disappointment. As usual when Eloise was facing them, everyone tried to express nothing. Even Berna—sort of.

“Poor Mr. Schmed,” Berna muttered, under her breath. “The lucky stiff.”

“But he sends his regards and hopes you are all well.” Eloise flipped through her notepad, scowling. “Apparently ZIPPY Office isn't actually quite ready yet, but when it is, we'll be converting over to it. Annette tells me that their R&D department is working overtime to be sure and meet the deadline, which is, ah . . .” Eloise looked over at Annette, who only smiled brightly, and then at Boris, who shrugged disinterestedly. She referred back to her pad.

“So when we adopt ZIPPY Office, I expect you all to learn it promptly and use it happily. Any questions?” She looked carefully out at the crowd as if she thought somebody might say something. “Very well. Then let's all sing the ZIPPY Difference Song.”

And, without enthusiasm, they did.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“So then Sylvia gives us a little speech about Wonderful Opportunities and how excited Mr. Rorschach and Mr. Schmed are about all this,” Rowena told Terese later. “As if a) we're actually going to believe they think any of this is exciting, and b) we'd be committing some kind of treason if we don't get excited too. And then Annette goes into this great big spiel, on and on about how We've Already Seen That Changes Don't Have To Be Scary; Now Let's See What ZIPPY Office Can do For You and How To Use ZIPPY Office—”

“None of which, of course, had anything to do with you,” Terese said.

“None of which had anything to do with me, or at least half a dozen other people, and none of which was especially helpful to those of us it did pertain to. She must have talked for 45 minutes about how to use the stuff without actually explaining how to use the stuff—what to do to make it work. Which you would think would be the point.

“You would think.”

“So now we're all big experts on . . . well, nothing, really. Except we know what it's called, and how they're promoting it.”

“Whatever it is.”

“Whatever it's going to be.” Rowena lifted her teacup—Terese, the coffee fanatic, kept a lone but proper teacup for Rowena's visits, as a sort of joke—and took a sip. “Eloise never did calm down. Apparently she's got the idea that the future of Rorschach & Schmed hangs on everybody's acceptance of ZIPPY Office—not ZIPPY Office per se, but The New System. Anybody not showing enthusiasm was threatening to drag the whole company down.”

“That must have been rough on her,” Terese remarked, “having not only to put up with all that nonsense, but to throw herself into it.”

“Rough is not the word. If she manages to come in tomorrow, it'll be through force of will alone.” Rowena took another sip. “The terrible thing is, I have a funny feeling she doesn't like ZIPPY Office, even aside from the presentation.”

“You know,” Terese said, “I wouldn't be surprised.”

“On the bright side,” Rowena said, “I also got to see how Steve, Leslie, and Marjorie look in Fuddy-Duddy hats.”

Terese laughed. “Marjorie, too?”

“She had the temerity to ask how to use ZIPPY Office.”

Terese put down her coffee cup, hastily. “What nerve,” she said.

“For a minute I thought Leslie Campbell was going to have to wear two of them, when he tried to hit on Annette after the presentation. But she only gave him a dirty look. Which for her, I expect, was actually pretty extreme.”

“He hit on somebody besides you?” Terese asked. “There was almost Another Woman?”

“I wouldn't say ‘almost.’”

“Is he trying to make you jealous?”

“He's welcome to try, if that's what it is. Maybe somebody will punch him, eventually.”

Terese shook her head, laughing. “Well, you've survived the presentation; I guess you'll just have to survive that. The presentation is over?”

“All over,” Rowena said. “I'm free of it. With any luck, I won't have to go to any more presentations, demonstrations, indoctrinations, ruinations or defenestrations for . . . well, for quite a while.”

“Good.” Terese got to her feet. “Now wanna see my surprise?”

“Sure.” Rowena stood. “Lead the way.”

What Terese led her to was the computer, sitting innocently in the corner of the room. “See?” said Terese. “I got this new suite of applications, which . . . want a demonstration?”

“I'll get you for this,” Rowena said.

“I won't make you sing any songs,” promised Terese. “Or change your appearance. I won't pay you, either, but that's beside the point.”

“No hats?”

“No hats.”

Rowena settled herself before the monitor. “Fire away,” she said.



_____________________________/


Next Story:
Rowena Has An Accident

Rowena Moves Closer, Part 13

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