By Leon Kortenkamp
Mr. Dirkson shuffles by the cubicles, mumbling, “Yes, indeed,” under his breath every few steps. It is his usual mid-morning rounder; he will make another in the mid-afternoon. “Yes, indeed,” is his current repeated affirmation of choice. I remember some time back it was, “Well, all right.”
He wears dark glasses and keeps the overhead lights dimmed. It has to do with bright lights and headaches. I seldom see anyone leave his or her cubicle to address him on his passage. If it happens, he pauses and gives his attention to the greeting or inquiry, but availability is not his intention as he passes among the cubicles; he delegates all that to Ms. Qureshi, his office manager.
Some of the new hires make jokes: “Mr. Dirkson, can I have a 50% raise?” Looking down and shuffling, one of them answers, “Yes, indeed.” The jokes are not mean-spirited; they are just workplace humor, but I find them offensive just the same, and do what I can to stop them.
I’ve been with the company long enough to know some of the backstory. Mr. Dirkson’s repeated, seemingly mindless, affirmations are not addressed to the employees. They are personal reflections on the reality that something in his life is working out. Incantations to counter an undertow of pervasive dark memories of a house fire, a funeral with one large coffin and three small ones, and months in the burn ward with his sole surviving daughter, the whole time blaming himself for being away on a sales trip.
This morning, he stops for a moment outside my cubicle. Noticing, I greet him. He smiles, and says, “Brewer, take a look at this,” as he holds out a newspaper clipping. The headline reads: “Cindy Dirkson Takes First Place in Swim Meet” and features her, still partially scarred, smiling face.
I study the clipping. Handing it back to Mr. Dirkson, I say, “Well, all right! Please extend my congratulations to Cindy. Will you do that, sir?”
He smiles; a tear appears below his dark glasses and courses down his cheek. With a series of polite nods, each punctuated with “Yes indeed,” he turns and continues his rounds.