24# A moody mantis

DAY - Dawson Creek, BC, Canada - EXT
  • You survived?

  • Kind of…

  • What happened?

  • I got fired.

  • WHAT!??

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 weeks, and quit on the second. Rick blamed it on the company. Ten years went by, and he never processed that failure. Rick found a tree-planting contract and convinced Manu, his flat mate, to join him. They crammed their camping gear in Rick’s old Golf and headed to the West coast.

The reforestation company assigned Rick to the veterans' camp, while Manu went with the rookies. New forestry regulations applied to both veterans and rookies. Trees have to be planted under specific instructions, or they would be “failures”. The veterans had a quality meeting, and the rookies, a week of training. The rookies recruitment process ended with a quality inspection. To make the cut, rookies had to meet their quotas. Manu planted lots of trees, but they were too low, too shallow, and too crooked. His trees did not meet the specs. Manu did not make the cut.

Fired as a tree planter, Manu found a job as the assistant chef for the veteran camp. He 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 had the last word. She fired six rookies out of ten in that first week. They called her “Janice the mantis”.

Rick was anxious. He lied during the interview and was hired as a vet; a vet with two weeks of planting. He knew Janice would bust him; Manu also knew, and he enjoyed torturing him. He would creep out behind him and whisper “Janice the mantis. Janice the mantis…She’ll fuck you over a dead branch and eat you alive”. Rick swallowed his fear with difficulty. Like a prisoner on death row, Rick waited, helpless.

Janice showed up at the vet camp on a rainy Saturday morning. She was a petite, blond woman with a high-pitched voice. She presented the new specs during the general meeting. Janice spoke slowly, letting each words sink in with precision. The long silences made her audience uncomfortable. Janice would start her inspection work on Monday. 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 cards and drinking games. “Flip cup” was their favorite. It’s a race where players line up on both sides of a table with a cup of alcohol in front of them. Each player drinks his cup and flips it on the table before the next player does the same. The game goes on until the last player flips his or her cup, or runs out of alcohol. They played flip cups on Saturday night, until they ran out of alcohol.

The next day, the storm intensified. Rick, Manu, and a few brave souls found refuge in the big tent. They huddled around the wood stove, played board games, and smoked joints all afternoon. In the evening, a handful remained. The vibe was chill and cozy…until Janice stormed in.

“ATTENTION EVERYONE! WE’RE PLAYING FLIP CUP!”, she shouted. She was so wasted she had to lean on her colleagues to stay standing. Janice swayed and pointed as her coworkers moved the tables inside the tent. They pushed everything aside and arranged one long row of dining tables with ten plastic cups on them. Nobody was in the mood to play, but Janice summoned them one by one. Out of fear or politeness, six planters lined up around the table. Janice, the mistress of ceremonies, filled their cups, and the game began.

In the corner, behind the wood stove, Manu was the only person not playing. As a kitchen employee, Janice had no authority over him. He clapped, leaned back, and watched the show from the corner. Janice’s team, drunk already, did not flip a single cup. They got obliterated in two minutes. When she lost, Janice screamed, “TWO OUT OF THREE!!!”. Nobody answered, except Manu who clapped and repeated, “TWO OUT OF THREE!”. Rick cursed and Manu laughed.

They ended up playing a second game, and Janice’s team lost again. “THREE OUT OF FIVE!!!”, she shouted, desperate for a win. No one answered her. Her grip over them was loosening, so she filled their cups again. One player stepped away when Janice roared, “I SAID…THREE…OUT…OF…FIVE!”.

Everyone was looking down. The situation was uncomfortable for all, but nobody uttered a word. After a long silence, a planter retorted, “Fuck it! I’m going to bed!”, and he flung his cup at Rick. In a reflex, Rick slapped the cup back. The first cup invited a second, and chaos ensued. Red plastic cups were flying in the air, spraying whisky and adrenaline around. Janice jumped on the table and raged, “DA FUCK YA DOING! IT TOOK US 48 MINUTES TO SET UP THE GAME! THREE OUT OF FIVE!!! PICK UP YOUR CUP!”.

Janice scanned each face around her. Nobody knew if she was serious or joking. Then, Manu picked up a cup from the ground and threw it at the table. Rick’s eyes widened with horror. The cup flew in slow motion and hit Janice on the back of the head. She turned around like an angry beast, leapt off the table and tackled Manu midair. Both hit the ground with a loud bang.

Surprised and high, Manu could not stop laughing. He shouted, “Janice the mantis”, as he pushed her off his face. “YOU PIECE OF SHIT”, she raged, reaching for his throat. Two guys seized her by the shoulders and lifted her off Manu. She gave him one last kick in the ribs as they dragged her out the tent. The remaining crowd cleaned up the mess and attended to Manu. Lying in the dirt, Manu was holding his ribs, laughing.

The next morning, the reforestation company held an emergency meeting. They set a new policy where in staff and planters do not mix and resumed work as usual. The company had their best season. Manu finished the season, and Janice the mantis was never seen at that company again.

Rick did not get fired.

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