I got fired.
Rick landed his first job at seventeen years old. He worked as a tree planter for a reforestation company in British Columbia, Canada. His contract was for 6 weeks. He lasted two, quit, and blamed the company for improper training. Aware that he was the one at fault, he never processed it. Ten years went by, and Rick decided to try it again. He found a tree-planting contract and convinced his flatmate Manu to join him. They crammed their camping gear in Rick’s old Golf and from Montreal, headed to the West coast.
New forestry regulations came to force, and they applied to both veterans and rookies. The trees had to be planted under specific instructions, or they would be deemed “failures”. The veterans had a quality meeting, and the rookies, a week of training. Since he applied with previous planting experience, Rick was assigned to the veterans' camp. With nothing but his smile and two hands, Manu joined the rookie crew.
The rookies training week ended with a quality inspection. If they passed it, they would continue for the rest of the season. To make the cut, rookies had to meet their quality quotas. Manu planted lots of trees, but they were too low, too shallow, or too crooked. At the end of the week, his trees did not meet the specs. Manu did not make the cut.
Fired as a tree planter, Manu's cheerful attitude got him a second chance. He landed a job in the kitchen at the veterans' camp. He spoke openly about his layoff, and confirmed the rumor: Janice, the new quality inspector, was a spec Nazi. She lived and died by government regulations, even when they defied common sense. It annoyed everyone, but Janice was the authority. Along with Manu, she fired five other rookies in that first week. They called her Janice the mantis.
Rick was anxious. He was hired as a vet; a vet with one week of planting experience. He knew Janice would bust him eventually. Manu enjoyed torturing him. He showed him videos of mantis every day, emphasizing how they locked their forelegs around their prey and ate them alive, one bite at a time. Manu would creep in and whisper to his ear, “Janice the mantis". Rick did not show it, but he was terrified. He waited with the fear of being busted growing in his gut, helpless.
Janice finally showed up at the vet camp on a rainy Saturday morning. She was a petite, blond woman with a high-pitched voice. Janice spoke slowly, letting each words sink in with a threatening precision. The long silences made her audience uncomfortable. The next Monday, Janice would be inspecting the trees the veterans planted. Any block of land under 97% accuracy would be a failure. A failed block meant that neither the planters nor the company gets paid. Nobody wanted a failed block.
A storm lashed out over the weekend, causing mud slides around the camp. Consequently, the shipment of trees was delayed by two days. Planters huddled up inside the big tent, played games, drinking, and waiting for trees to arrive. The most popular game was “Flip cup”. Flip cup is a drinking game, where two teams line up on each side of a table. The goal is to drink, flip the cup, and land it upside down on the table. The game goes on until the last player flips their cup. They played flip cups on Saturday night until they ran out of alcohol.
Sunday morning was a sad show in camp. It was cold, did not stop raining, and people did not leave their tent. Rick, Manu, and a few brave souls found refuge in the big top. They huddled around the wood stove, played board games, and smoked joints to soothe their migraine. In the evening, most planters went to bed early. The vibe was quiet and morose, until Janice stormed in.
She was wasted. Stumbling in the mud, she leaned against a table and shouted, “ATTENTION EVERYONE! WE’RE PLAYING FLIP CUP!”. Janice swayed and pointed at planters in the big top, as her three coworkers started moving the tables. Slow to move, the planters were forced out of their seat to make room for the game. They arranged one long row of tables and put ten plastic cups on them. Nobody was in the mood, but Janice left them no choice. Out of fear or politeness, six planters lined up around the table. Rick, head down, joined the planter's team.
Janice, the mistress of ceremonies, filled everyone's cup with whisky.
Behind the wood stove, Manu was the only person not playing. As a kitchen staff, Janice had no authority over him. He clapped to everything she said and leaned back to watch the show. The game lasted five minutes. Janice’s team, drunk already, did not flip a single cup. When they lost, Janice screamed, “TWO OUT OF THREE!!!”. Nobody answered, except Manu who clapped and repeated, “YEAH!!! TWO OUT OF THREE!”. Rick cursed, and Manu laughed.
Dragging their feet, they played a second game. Janice’s team lost again. “THREE OUT OF FIVE!!!”, she shouted. No one answered. Her grip over them was loosening. Janice hurried to fill their cup, but one planter stepped away from the table. Janice added in a strident, threatening tone, “I SAID…THREE…OUT…OF…FIVE!”. Silence.
The situation was uncomfortable for all, but nobody moved. Then one planter retorted, “Fuck this! I’m going to bed!”, and he flung his cup at Rick. In a reflex, Rick slapped the cup back. The cup rally invited a second one, a third one, and chaos ensued. Red plastic cups were flying in the air, spraying whisky and mudd around. Losing it, Janice climbed on the table and raged, “DA FUCK YA DOING! IT TOOK US 48 MINUTES TO SET UP THE GAME! THREE OUT OF FIVE OR YOU'RE ALL FIRED!!! PICK UP YOUR CUP, NOW!”. A heavy silence followed.
High and slow, Manu picked up a cup at his feet. Rick’s eyes widened with horror. Manu threw the cup high in the air. It flew in slow motion and hit Janice on the back of the head. She turned around, growled, and leapt towards Manu, tackling him midair. Her small body crashed against his, and both hit the ground with a loud bang.
Surprised, Manu started laughing. He yelled, “Help! The mantis is eating me!”, laughing as he pushed her off. “YOU PIECE OF SHIT”, she raged, swinging her arms at him. Two guys seized her by the shoulders and lifted her off Manu. She gave him one last kick as they dragged her out the tent. Lying in the dirt, Manu was holding his ribs, laughing.
The next morning, the boss heard about the incident and held an emergency meeting. They set a new policy separating planters and staff and resumed work when the trees arrived. The inspection was delayed for two weeks, and Janice the mantis was never seen in camp again.
Manu brushed off the incident with a joint. Rick did not get fired.