Eddie assumed that it would be an ordinary day, and at first it seemed that it would be. Eddie got up on the right side of the bed—he usually avoided the left side, he wasn’t sure why, but he had noticed the pattern. Patterns and consistency were important, he knew, because they reduced unnecessary effort and eliminated confusion and indecision. Keeping his toothpaste and mouthwash in the same location on the bathroom counter, eating the same cereal for breakfast, the cereal that was always on the same shelf in the pantry, with the milk that was always on the lower shelf on the inside of the door of the refrigerator, all of that avoided wasting time making decisions and looking for things. He realized that he hadn’t noticed which leg he normally put into his pants first, only remembering that he once tried to put both legs in at the same time, a method that he knew would have been more efficient. He tried sitting on the bathroom counter as he simultaneously raised both legs and lifted his trousers. It proved too difficult to retain his balance as he performed the motions that had seemed so effortless and rapid in his mental image of the attempt. Maybe the idea wasn’t reasonable. That fact was disappointing.
Efficiency was important, he remarked to the person in his mirror. That person was of average height, relatively slim, with an oval face framed by dark brown hair with just a touch of gray streaks above the ears. His dark brown eyes and straight-line lips portrayed a stance of critical appraisal. The image appeared older than he had only a few years earlier, and that also disappointed Eddie. Aging is also inefficient, Eddie recognized, and was suddenly struck by the impression that this particular insight was important, perhaps even revolutionary. Like many other forms of inefficiency, aging was inefficient in two ways. It was, first, a waste of new and youthful resources, the people and objects that were deteriorating and becoming less—less effective, less attractive, less useful, less important. And second, aging forced everyone to expend other resources in an attempt to counter its effects. We exercise to avoid declining muscle strength, we apply creams to smooth aging and drying skin and add on ointments to reduce pain, we endure surgical procedures to get rid of wrinkles and flabby skin and failing knees and hips. All of this could be avoided if we could simply halt the aging process. Eddie resolved to do that, to start immediately. He took another good long look at the image in the mirror. From now on it should not change, althought he dicided he wouldn’t expend any extra effort to make that happen.
As he pulled his car out of the garage his GPS system indicated a slow-down caused by a waterline break on Fifth Avenue. He decided to use his predetermined alternate route going north on Third instead. The slight alteration would add about a tenth of a mile and almost a minute to his commute, assuming that there wouldn’t be a great deal of additional traffic caused by other people avoiding the Fifth Avenue delays. Such variations, too, were inefficient. Unfortunately Eddie had no influence in city government; otherwise he could require the Public Works Department to begin a more proactive strategy that would identify potential problem areas in advance so they could schedule repairs on the weekends and holidays to avoid inefficient inconveniences during the weekday commutes. As he approached the parking lot for Camdex Strategies, his place of work, his primary concern was that the morning’s slight delay would have allowed someone else to take his usual parking location. He was relieved to see that that hadn’t happened. He always tried to arrive and clock in half an hour earlier than most anyone else, both to avoid the heavier commute rush and to ensure access to this slot. Parking in the same position every day eliminated the inefficiency of trying to remember and locate his car at the end of the workday. He tried to do something similar in the large lots at the supermarket and the shopping center and the airport. He obviously couldn’t take the same parking space in those locations, but he did leave his car in the same row every time.
There was another aspect of going to the supermarket that Eddie also tried to control, but that could at times be particularly annoying. He always went to the same store every time because it helped him get in and out as efficiently as possible; he generally knew where all of the items on his list could be found. The trouble was that every month or so the store rearranged the shelves. Most often it was simply changing the position of specific items on their aisles, so, for example, after their efforts he had to scan virtually the entire cereal section to find his Sugar-coated Cornpuffs. At other times, though, they moved entire categories, transferring the peanut butter and jam from aisle 12 to aisle 2 opposite the produce section. Eddie knew that they did this to force customers to browse aisles that they normally would not have entered, in effect wasting a great deal of employee time shifting entire shelves around for the sole purpose of making shopping less efficient. At those times his initial impulse was always to boycott, to start shopping at another store, but the thought of switching to an entirely new marketing and organizational system, with a giant floor full of unfamiliar aisles and signs and brand names, always stopped him. Again, if only he worked as a district manager for his chosen store he could easily and quickly avoid this insanity.
No, the only places in which he could improve efficiency were in his home and at work. In the former case, of course, he was the sole occupant and had full control. He had his rooms and his closet and his filing cabinet organized and standardized in the most efficient manner. He minimized the colors of his suits and shirts and ties so that pretty much everything matched, reducing his options in favor of avoiding the necessity of deciding which specific tie to wear with which specific shirt, and which shirt to go with which suit. Everything was solid tones of gray and blue, inherently compatible. All his work shoes were black lace-up oxfords. He never altered his outfit for casual Friday—he had considered simply leaving off the tie for the day, but that also seemed like yet another unnecessary decision. On weekends he wore casual light gray chinos and a polo shirt, even when he planned to work in the yard.
Eddie knew that his standardization of clothing choices was a source of amusement among his co-workers. They kidded him about it and they probably joked about it behind his back. He didn’t care. He had tried explaining his theory to three of them, the ones he thought might be most receptive to it, but he’d noticed no effect. So he had decided to ignore questions of personal options to concentrate on improving the efficiency of company operations. This particular morning offered another opportunity in that his division was holding another of their regularly scheduled biweekly staff meetings, and he had two memos ready to hand out describing changes in daily procedures that would reduce redundant or superfluous actions. He was a bit disappointed that as meeting memos go, this was slightly below his average, which, he guessed, would probably be somewhere between three and four. He had kept copies of all of them, of course, and maintained a list of the memo topics and the dates on which he’d introduced them, but felt it was unnecessary to keep a running total or calculate an average. Sometimes he thought he should have included, on that list, some kind of notation about which proposals had been implemented, but he hadn’t managed to add that information. Part of the reason for that was that nobody had ever told him that his ideas had been used. He suspected that many of his suggestions had been adopted, but only after being modified and after a delay and without recognizing his contribution, subterfuges undoubtedly employed to allow others to take credit for his input. Any complaints or questions that Eddie had brought up about such diversions, or indeed any of his follow-up requests for information about his memos, had been given the same treatment as his suggestions about wardrobe options, so he had mostly given up asking.
When Eddie arrived at the room where the day’s meeting was being held he first reviewed the agenda. Normally there was an entry for “Staff Input”, which was understood to be time set aside for comments that had not been pre-scheduled—a category that always included Eddie’s memos. This time that entry had not been included. After the reading of the minutes of the past meeting, which he noted did not mention the four memos he had provided at that event, he held up his stack of new memos and asked, “Is there an input segment today? I have a couple of suggestions here.” Roger Carlson, the department manager, replied that because of time constraints there would not be any open-ended input period this time. After momentarily freezing in place, then glancing at the faces around the table, Eddie began passing out the copies of his memos while telling everyone how important they were. He then told everyone to look at the first memo as he began describing it. To his surprise, all of the people at the table left their copies on the table and directed their attention toward Roger. He stopped talking in mid-sentence.
“Thank you, Eddie. Have a seat, please,” Roger said in a flat, matter-of-fact tone. “I think we’ll begin with the first agenda item.” Eddie tossed the remaining memos into the middle of the table and walked out. That afternoon he offered his resignation, and it was accepted.
As he drove home from Camdex for the last time, Eddie reviewed the narrative he would use from then on to describe the reason he had left his job, if anyone asked. It was obvious, after all, that his manager, Mr. Carlson, had become increasingly threatened by Eddie’s managerial suggestions and had decided to force Eddie out before somebody noticed and promoted him into Carlson’s job; before somebody realized that Carlson’s best ideas were really Eddie’s. It was unfair, but it was, after all, Camdex’s loss, not his. Someday they would recognize how incompetent Roger Carlson was, but it would be too late.