Arthur sighed and sank deeper into his shabby Second-Adjunct Secretary chair.
The memo was very clear. If Arthur was to refuse promotion for the third time he would face something much graver than firing, he would be de-merited in government record. In practical terms that meant he would never be able to secure another public service job. That meant private sector, that meant competition, that meant deadlines and worries and striving. Maybe someone else would think challenge, but Arthur couldn’t see but pointless headache.
So, he thought, Arthur is to become Adjunct-Secretary. How bad can that be?
Arthur was sure that keeping his relentless mediocrity, his carefully kept track-record of doing everything right but unimpressive, his extreme normalcy, he figured it would be enough to guarantee him a comfortable burrow amidst the big machine. When a few months forward he was proven wrong by yet another promotion, he was decided.
The world sucks and the system is rotten, Arthur knew. Being top dog is just an ego-trip, shinier and full of bravado but completely meaningless. So you are President of the World. Who cares? Arthur had long figured out in the dog-eat-dog jungle the only good place to be was at the bottom, doing unimaginative work and having absolutely no impact in the world at large. If someone said this was but mediocrity writ large, Arthur would agree, albeit trying not to be too enthusiastic lest it attract unwanted attention.
He preferred not to be deliberately incompetent if he could, but enough was enough. His position now even had a Superintendent label in its description, so now was time to start making obvious mistakes. Wasting the contributor’s precious tax money away. That was no decent thing to do, but his lack of ambition was being challenged. When the next year he was further promoted to Manager of something his bad work turned into a overt campaign of unproductivity.
Arthur tried all he could to stop what the newsletters were already calling a meteoric-career. In disbelief, he turned to politics and tried to convince his superiors he was not the right man for the job, with good and bad arguments, with open remarks and implicit clues, all for naught. Some actually commented on his devious art of misdirection.
When the press began taking notice of him, Arthur had to resort to medication. His now posh office had a private bathroom, and he secretly hoped that spending most of his time there, crying depressed would sooner or latter get him some reprimands but naught. He just kept on rising.
Now it wasn’t a memo no more, it was a presidential order, full of seals and pomp, and it said Arthur was now Chief-of-Staff, for all he knew the farthest one could get without being actually elected. The Minister delivering the message made a point of telling him the President had laughed out loud when he saw Arthur’s resignation offer, and called it ballsy.
Arthur sighed and sank deeper in his bossy chair.
His despair turned everything into a grey mist, as a smashing electoral campaign almost organized itself, as the opposition admitted not really hoping to win, as approval rates broke record after record. Arthur’s feeling of powerlessness was so concrete he felt it pressing against his chest.
One last thought gave Arthur a last smear of energy,as he finally sank into his enormous President Chair. Now, at least, they can’t promote me any more.
That afternoon, all the top dogs came to his office, both opposition and position, both youngsters and old guard, both north and south. They all told Arthur he was chief, now, but that this was not enough. That they looked up to him as a model, as an inspiration. Arthur was their Saviour. Arthur was their everything.
Arthur sighed and sank deeper and deeper in his President Chair.