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Not a Braincell to Waste by John Szamosi
published in Volume 5, Issue 1 on March 1st, 1998

"Then you put a stop-cock on the glass tube and turn it upside down thirty times," Dr. Lin explained an important test method to his technician, Jerry.

"What's the next step?" asked Jerry.

"Nothing," said Dr. Lin. "That's it. A very simple procedure."

The technician nodded; it was a no-brainer just like the other tests.

Jerry was an uncomplicated guy with above-average intelligence. It did not take him long to develop a distaste for the primitive tests technicians were doing all day. One sunny morning, he announced, "I want to go back to school to get a degree."

Dr. Lin was surprised. "What for? You are a very good technician, Jerry, that school stuff will only confuse you."

"This testing ain't my cup of tea," explained Jerry.

Dr. Lin gazed at his assistant. What the hell does he really want?

"Yesterday I mentioned the school thing to Mr. Peters," Jerry added. Mr. Peters was the director of Research and Development.

Dr. Lin jumped inside his office, slammed the door behind him, picked up the phone and dialed Mr. Peters's direct line.

"Of course, I know about it," said the director. "Jerry was here yesterday, we were talking about all kinds of things."

Dr. Lin shook the receiver in the air. What the hell's all kinds of things? Then he waved his hand. Who gives a shit, Peters is small potatoes.

"Seems like a good idea," Mr. Peters went on. "Jerry goes back to college, he'll get his degree taking evening classes. Nothing wrong with that."

"What for?" asked Dr. Lin.

Mr. Peters continued, "Yesterday I also called Personnel. Turns out, before he joined us Jerry'd accumulated quite a number of credits already."

"So what?" asked Dr. Lin.

"Good news, I mean," said Mr. Peters. "It's like killing two birds with one stone. Jerry’s been close to a college degree anyway, and we'll get a technically more versatile employee. Two birds, one stone, I'm telling you."

"Two birds," repeated Dr. Lin.

"You agree," said Mr. Peters.

Dr. Lin took a deep breath. "He won't become a better technician just because he takes a few calculus and art classes."

"Of course not. Jerry wants to be promoted to junior scientist guaranteed by a college degree. That's company policy."

Dr. Lin hung up the receiver.

Jerry enjoyed going to school. In lunch time he did his homework before he took the first bite from his sandwich. He liked to talk about what he learned in his classes; history, psychology, science. Jerry was becoming smarter every day.

The other technicians were envious, and kept bugging him, "Are you sure the company's paying for this?"

He rushed to Personnel. There they quickly alleviated his concerns: "Jerry, as long as you maintain a C average or better, we pick up the tab for your tuition and all necessary school supplies."

Jerry began studying even harder. Now he had a book with him on the bench all day long. While reading, he generally messed up the procedures.

One rainy afternoon, Dr. Lin stopped by the lab. "Jerry, you seem to pay less and less attention to your work."

Jerry looked up from his history book. "Dr. Lin, d’you know what the Yankee soldiers told Ulysses Grant, after he became the commander of the Union Army?"

"No, and I don't give a shit!"

"They said, 'You have yet to meet Bobby Lee.' That's what they said."

"Uhm?" Dr. Lin shook his head. "What's that got to do with the work we're doing here? The work we're getting paid for." He stopped for air, then continued louder, "Come to think of it, you're not doing any real work here, Jerry! You just keep screwing up!"

Jerry nodded. "The historical comment's got nothing to do with the standard operating procedures we follow in the lab, I agree."

"Then what are you blabbering about?"

"It's interesting, though," Jerry insisted. "I mean what the soldiers said to General Grant."

Dr. Lin stormed out of the lab.

A semester later Dr. Lin demanded to talk with Mr. Peters.

"We’ve got a fly in the ointment," Dr. Lin began. "A large dead fly, I might add. Jerry's going to school in evenings, the company’s supporting him, that's fine with me, I always liked the idea. But during the day he is a technician assigned to me, and he has to do what I tell him to."

"He doesn't?" asked the director.

"No, he doesn't do shit," asserted Dr. Lin. "Last week I gave him eighteen experimental products to evaluate. He tested only seven of them, used only the instrumental methods--I suspect because he could read his books while running the machines. On the top of it all, he did every procedure only once."

"It does sound like a serious matter," said Mr. Peters. "I'm gonna talk to him right away. This is the kind of situation that’s got to be tackled early enough before it gets... you know... irreversibly..."

Dr. Lin rolled his eyes. "Who could’ve put it more eloquently?" He turned around and walked out of the office.

Mr. Peters called the lab. The phone was only a few feet from Jerry's desk, but somebody else had to pick it up because Jerry was reading for his psychology exam. First he waved that he was not available, but when they told him it was Mr. Peters, he dragged himself to the receiver.

"Jerry, how are you doing, how's school?"

"Great, Mr. Peters," said Jerry. "And how are you?"

"Fine, Jerry, fine."

"Anything the matter, Mr. Peters?" asked Jerry.

"Nothing, son, nothing at all. Keep up the good work, you hear?"

"Thank you, Mr. Peters." Jerry went back to his psychology book.

The director picked up the TIME: MAN OF THE YEAR mirror he had received for Christmas, and winked at his image. "Lin's an idiot," he murmured to himself. "That sonofabitch Chinaman thinks just because he’s got a Ph.D., he can hector us around."

He dialed Dr. Lin's number. "I gave Jerry a piece of my mind. I cut him up, chewed him out and beat the shit out of that dingbat."

A brief silence ensued. "I hope you didn't scare him away," said Dr. Lin. "It's hard to find technicians for the kind of salary we pay them here."

"That problem will take care of itself," said the director and began playing tic-tac-toe on his computer. "As soon as Jerry finishes school and gets his promotion, we'll raise his salary by a good twenty percent."

"How nice," said Dr. Lin and hung up.

Asshole, Mr. Peters thought, and proceeded to play computer games until six.

More and more often, Jerry called in sick, especially before exams. The company's policy was that you needed a doctor's note if you were out for two or more consecutive days. Jerry was ill for a single day every time.

Then Dr. Lin was in Mr. Peters's office again, and this time Jerry had been told to be there, too.

"Jerry keeps taking sick days," complained Dr. Lin. "It's busy season, we’ve got lots of tests to run, and the more he doesn't do, the more's left for the rest."

Mr. Peters glanced at Jerry. The technician was looking out the window. "What's on your mind, Jerry?"

"The adrenal medulla," said Jerry. "It secretes both norepinephrine and epinephrine."

"Who gives a shit!" exclaimed Dr. Lin. "We're talking about work here, like you not getting your ass to the bench any more, like you staying home one or two and occasionally three days a week. The adrenal medulla is not a subject of this conversation. It's got no importance here. None!"

"Jerry, what do you say?" Mr. Peters asked softly.

"Actually, quite important. The adrenal medulla contributes to directing the visceral accompaniments of emotion."

Mr. Peters started clapping. "Son of a bitch! You really became smart." He turned to Dr. Lin. "Did you know about the adromar motolla?"

Dr. Lin buried his face in his hands.

"You can leave now, Jerry," Mr. Peters told the technician. "Go back to the lab, do some useful stuff."

Jerry slouched away.

"Efficiency!" Mr. Peters yelled after him. "Keep in mind, Jerry, we’ve all got to be efficient. That's the only way we can beat the competition on a regular basis."

Dr. Lin brought his chair closer to the director's desk. "A totally hopeless case. He's either flipped out or decided to drive me nuts. Actually, it wouldn't even matter, if he only did some real work. All I want is a couple hundred test procedures a week out of the guy. But, practically nothing!"

The director nodded. "He's gonna get it this time, I'm telling you."

Dr. Lin got up to leave.

"By the way," Mr. Peters looked at him, "did you miss school when they were teaching about the adraman moduna?"

Dr. Lin stormed out of the office slamming the door behind himself.

Chinky bastard, Mr. Peters thought. He'd like us to believe he is a superior shit on wheels just because he’s got a Ph.D. He ain't that smart after all--the kid showed him up pretty good today.

Everything stayed the same for a year and a half. Then Personnel tightened the screw on sick days. The new rule said if you did not come to work on Monday or Friday--the most popular sick days--you still had to bring a note from your physician, since you could have been ill during the weekend. Jerry immediately made the adjustment by staying home on Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday. Before exams, he opted for his new favorite, the Tuesday-Thursday combination.

Jerry graduated with a B average. The section organized a celebration party for him, they even ordered a huge cake. Mr. Peters noted that Jerry was the third technician since 1982 who had entered the ranks of professionals in Research and Development. Dr. Lin noted that during his senior year Jerry had taken forty-eight sick days. The cake had a vanilla-frosting message on it: Jerry, congratulations for your degree and promotion! R&D.

Jerry smiled. "I am ready for the easy life."

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