The following is a short Christmas play. Written in five staves, the play teaches a “what comes around … goes around” lesson to a wayward boss who discovers the true meaning of Christmas one strange, magical night. With apologies to Charles Dickens …
Kluulas (department manager at an accounting firm)
Farley (Kluulas’s conscience)
Alfie (one of Kluulas’s employees)
Simon (accounting firm’s CEO)
Holly Marie (a supervisor)
Mr. Jacobson (a furniture store proprietor)
PauliAnna (a waitress at Bonefish Grill)
Tina Timms (a Starbucks barista)
(Kluulas’s 11tth-floor office at Doubleday and Doubleday Accountants, three days before Christmas. It’s 4:30 p.m., daylight is fading and sleet is ticking at the window 138 feet above the half-empty parking lot).
Email to all Doubleday and Doubleday department heads: As some of you may know, Doubleday and Doubleday is experiencing some financial difficulty. To that end, we are trimming the overall budget for the coming year. We ask each department manager to comply by finding something in his or her department to eliminate to reduce expenditures. Thank you.
Kluulas (in an email exchange with Simon): Simon, I think I found a solution for my department. I will eliminate one job. The way I see it, we can sacrifice one job, to save a whole bunch of other jobs here at Doubleday and Doubleday. I will terminate Alfie. I can spread his work around and I’m certain he’ll land on his feet somewhere else. I’ll pull him in first thing tomorrow and break the news.
Simon: Tread lightly here. Sometimes these things have a way to come back to haunt you.
(In the breakroom. Holly Marie is rustling in the fridge, retrieving a covered dish of something left over from the office holiday potluck. She’s got her coat on and is leaving for the day. She won’t return to work until after Christmas.)
Holly Marie: Have a nice holiday if I don’t see you, Kluulas.
Kluulas: Hey, you too, Holly. Uhhhh-let me ask you something. You know Alfie. What do you think of him?
Holly Marie: He seems like a hard worker to me. Any problems?
Kluulas: Uh ... nah. Happy holidays, Holly.
(Kluulas eyes a Snickers bar in the vending machine. He feeds a clothy dollar into the slot. It accepts it on the first try. His reflection in the glass looks strange; its features are ghastly and seem to have a life of their own. Perhaps the glass is a bit wavy and the machine is shaking. The face he doesn’t recognize as his is fading in and out in front of the peanut butter crackers and Cup-a-Soups.)
Kluulas (timidly to the reflection): Who … who are you?
Farley: I am Farley. Your conscience. I don’t look like you because I don’t act like you and I don’t think like you. Look at you, Kluulas. Come closer and lock eyes with mine. You’re heartless and cold. Your compassion for your employees is abysmal. You choose to take the easy way out of a problem at the expense of someone else’s livelihood. Alfie needs his job. He did nothing wrong. Shame on you.
Kluulas: Go away, frightful apparition! I wish to be haunted no more! I sought only a Snickers bar and now you threaten me and stare me down with those stark, accusing eyes.
Farley: I am just the beginning. You will be visited by three spirits tonight: The ghost of your jobs past; the ghost of your job present; and the ghost of your job yet to come. Expect the first ghost any time soon …
(The specter fades like huff of breath on a mirror and Kluulas is left dumbfounded. The crackers and soup appear unfazed by what just happened in the break room. The glass is smooth. No warps.)
Kluulas (out loud to himself): I don’t think I’m getting enough sleep.
(He presses A3 and a Snickers bar falls with a thump, and a quarter tinkles in the coin return. But before he can grab his candy or his change, he finds himself floating out the 11th-floor window, 138 feet above the only car left in the parking lot—his. An icy spirit guides him skyward, through the sleet and into the night. Its hand, long and spindly, is surprisingly warm.)
Kluulas: Who are you and where are you taking me? Do not harm me, I beg of you.
First Spirit: I am the ghost of your jobs past, and we are heading to Jacobson & Sons Furniture, where you held your first job many years ago as a floor salesman, specializing in sofas and love seats.
Kluulas: Oh, spirit, I wish not to visit my past. It frightens me. You frighten me.
First Spirit: You must see how you once were: kind, helpful, appreciative, loving. It’s the only way you can begin to redeem yourself.
(Kluulas finds himself inside of Jacobson & Sons and sees a gangly, young salesman with an out-of-date necktie and wrinkled white shirt. The salesman is surrounded by several other employees.)
Kluulas: Spirit, I fear that is I, with the ugly tie and wrinkled shirt. But what are they doing to me?
First Spirit: Those are your co-workers. They are giving you sales pointers and a pep talk. They care about you. They want you to succeed at selling sofas and love seats. Mr. Jacobson fosters a culture of teamwork. He too cares about you and all his employees. Listen, he’s calling you into his office right now.
Kluulas: What for, spirit? Is he about to fire me?
First Spirit: No. Come let us walk through the wall into his office and observe.
Kluulas: He’s handing me an envelope and a heavy, droopy bag. Am I losing my job?
Mr. Jacobson: Merry Christmas, Kluulas.
First Spirit: No. In the envelope is your bonus check. In the bag is a Christmas goose for you and your family to enjoy.
Kluulas: A Christmas goose?
First Spirit: Yes. They didn’t have gift cards then.
Kluulas: I’m moved, spirit. And to think Mr. Jacobson finds it in his heart to take care of his employees despite the fact that the store is going out of business.
First Spirit: You mean the sign? He puts that out every once in a while when business is slow.
(As mysteriously as Kluulas found himself in Jacobson & Sons furniture store, he finds himself back in the break room in front of the vending machine. The candy bar and the quarter still waiting to be retrieved.)
(Kluulas lets out a heavy breath, his head and shoulders wet from the nighttime sleet. Indeed he had been a spectral traveler, a sojourner into the placid bowels of his past. No sooner does Kluulas gather his thoughts (but not his candy or quarter) than he is out into the night again, cutting through sleet now mixing with snow. He is led by a featureless phantom whose hand is calloused and clammy.)
Kluulas: Who are you and where do you lead me?
Second Spirit: I am the ghost of your job present, and we’re heading to Bonefish Grill where your co-workers are gathered for holiday cheer.
Kluulas: Spirit, I wish not to go there. My bosom pangs with shame for the deed I conjure. I cannot face Alfie, Holly Marie or Simon now. Besides, the line to get in to the restaurant is long.
Second Spirit: We need not stand in line. Neither your co-workers nor the Bonefish Grill staff can see you, but you can see and hear them. There is much for you to learn. Come. The night wanes.
(Kluulas and the phantom are standing by several tables bumped together to accommodate two dozen employees of Doubleday and Doubleday. A waitress is tempting them with food and drink.)
PauliAnna: Our specials tonight are Maryland Blue Crab, lobster-stuffed shrimp in a lemon caper butter sauce and wood-grilled swordfish … all platters come with a choice of vegetable, baked potato, salad or soup …
Second Spirit: See, your co-workers are flush with Christmas spirit. Something you lack.
Simon (raising his stemware): To us. The team at Doubleday and Doubleday. To a wonderful year and another yet to come. Bless all of you. You, too, PauliAnna.
PauliAnna: Merry Christmas! I’ll be back with the dessert cart.
Kluulas: Why am I not with them, spirit? Am I not part of the team? Do I not have Christmas cheer?
Second Spirit: You can, if you so choose. Goodness is a choice.
(With that, Kluulas snaps back to the vending machine. His reflection is his. The Snickers bar and quarter are still there. The phantom is gone but his words linger: “Goodness is a choice.”)
Kluulas: Goodness is a …
(Kluulas can’t finish the thought. His body is jerked back into the night air as if he’s suspended in the liquid of a vigorously shaken snow globe. He rises high above Doubleday and Doubleday, his hand caught in a frozen vice grip of a skeleton shrouded in a robe that is such a deep purple, it might as well be black. The demon takes the pair above the clouds and snowflakes into a gloomy stillness where Kluulas’s breath comes out and hangs like a storm cloud. The sky is gun-barrel blue, a few stars twinkle, and Doubleday and Doubleday is a mere point of light below. Kluulas’s car can’t be seen.)
Third Spirit: Repent!
Kluulas: Oh spirit, what lies ahead? Where are you taking me? I fear I’m doomed!
Third Spirit: We are going to Simon’s office. The end is nigh.
(Kluulas and the spirit drop into Simon’s office as abruptly as the Snickers bar did in the machine.)
Kluulas: Oh spirit, tell me Simon does not see me, just as my co-corkers in Bonefish Grill could not.
Third Spirit: Simon summoned you. He awaits.
Simon: Kluulas, we’re going to have to let you go. We just can’t fit you into the budget. Sometimes the cuts can feel cruel. Business is business.
Kluulas: Nooooo! Spirit, take me away. I cannot bear to watch my fate. I will be good. It’s my choice. I choose to have Christmas spirit! I will spare Alfie’s job. Oh Spirit, please! I need another chance!
(Kluulas opens his eyes and finds himself near the vending machine. He feels different. Rejuvenated. A man with another chance. He grabs the Snickers bar and runs to Alfie’s mail box and slips it in. The quarter he leaves as a gift to the next vending machine user. He runs out of Doubleday and Doubleday and kicks up puffs of fresh fallen snow in the street. The Starbucks down the block is still open.)
Tina Timms: Hello, Mr. Kluulas. Your usual venti, black?
Kluulas: No, Tina. Make it a Christmas Blend Espresso Roast with velvety-steamed whole milk infused with cinnamon, ginger and cloves-venti. Top it with whipped cream. Sweeten it up. In fact, coffees for everyone. Sweeten everything!
(Kluulas pays for all the coffees for all the patrons in Starbucks and fills Tina’s tip cup with crumpled bills—ones, fives, tens, twenties. To the brim.)
Kluulas, shouting out to everyone in the streets: God bless all of you!
(PauliAnna is fresh off her shift at Bonefish Grill and is heading for Starbucks.)
PauliAnna: Merry Christmas, Kluulas. God bless you!
And so as Tina Timms observes: God bless us. Every one!
-- THE END --
Cal Butera is the editor of Business Management Daily’s Office Manager Today, Manager’s Legal Bulletin, Managing People at Work and Communication Briefings newsletters. He has been with Business Management Daily since 2007 and worked 22 years for midsize daily newspapers as sports writer, news reporter, layout and design editor, copy editor and city editor.