To: Stanley Gladwell, Director of Employee Relations
From: Madeleine Alquist
Re: The Bathroom Troll
Your secretary asked me to provide you with an account of the Bathroom Troll and how it has affected my job performance. Firstly, I would like to point out that in all my twenty-seven years at Welles National Trust, I never received anything but outstanding reviews from everyone I ever worked with. And that includes the former Head of Variable Life and Annuity. Now after all this time, my new boss Walter Parfomak is threatening to fire me for “erratic behavior”. Well, let me tell you, something in Denmark stinks to high heaven, and it’s not me.
It all started seven days ago when I walked into the ladies’ room. It was about 10:30 in the morning and I had just completed twenty-five sets of spreadsheets for Mr. Parfomak to take to his quarterly reserves meeting.
When I stepped into the room I immediately noticed one of the tiles was missing from the drop ceiling. I looked around and didn’t see it anywhere, so I wasn’t sure if it had fallen or if someone was up there working. When I looked up into the hole, all I could see was black empty space. “Hello?” I called. No one answered me, so I went ahead and — pardon my French — did my business. I have to say it felt pretty uncomfortable sitting there underneath that hole. It felt like something was watching me.
I called Building Services to report the missing tile. Stella, the dispatcher, told me I could go ahead and make a repair request, but since our floor was scheduled for renovations at the end of the month, she said I had a snowball’s chance in Palm Beach of getting it fixed. I mentioned the situation to Mr. Parfomak when he returned from his meeting, and he told me to get my head out of the toilet and pay more attention to my job. That’s typical of Mr. Parfomak. Since he joined the company two months ago, his comments and corrections have always been snide and sarcastic.
Later the same day, I saw my co-worker Agnes walking back to her desk from the direction of the ladies’ room. I asked her what she thought of the hole in the ceiling. Agnes said it was pretty creepy, and joked that a pervert could stick a video camera up there and we’d never know it. I told her, “That’s not funny. I’ve seen crazier stories on the six o’clock news.” Little did I know that Agnes and Mr. Parfomak were already in cahoots, plotting my demise.
The next day I worked all morning on a memo for Mr. Parfomak. I had to go like crazy, but he was over my shoulder every five seconds asking, “Are you done yet?” Finally I couldn’t hold it any longer. I made a mad dash to the ladies’. There I was, seated on the commode, when I looked up at the hole and saw a red blinking light. It hadn’t been there the day before. I remembered what Agnes said about the video camera and jumped up in a panic.
I ran out, grabbed Agnes and brought her back to the ladies’. But like it always happens, you see something strange and as soon as you try to show it to somebody, it disappears. “Maybe you were looking at your computer screen too long,” Agnes said. “Your eyes are playing tricks on you.” “No,” I told her. “I know what I saw.”
At lunchtime I ran down to Duane Reade and bought a cheap flashlight. When I shone it up into the hole, all I could see were some wires and piping. I wondered for a hot New York second if maybe Agnes was right. Maybe I was seeing things. That’s when Hildegard, another girl who works on our floor, walked in. She gave me a strange look and said, “Lose something?”
“Yeah, my mind,” I joked. But she didn’t smile. She just gave me the evil eye as she walked into a stall. What, she never saw someone with a flashlight in the ladies’ before? I figured as long I was there, I may as well go. I put the flashlight on the edge of the sink and went into one of the stalls. I hadn’t even sat down when I looked up and saw the blinking red light. “There, do you see that?” I yelled.
I ran out to grab the flashlight and knocked it onto the floor. When it hit the tile, the batteries rolled in all directions. One of them ended up at Hildegard’s feet. By the time she came out the stall, the light had stopped blinking once again. She handed me the battery, washed up as fast as she could and ran out of the room. Even though she didn’t see the light, I knew for sure it wasn’t a figment of my imagination. What I didn’t know was that someone was controlling it – making it go on and off, to try and make me look like a Brazil nut!
Later, I saw Agnes and Hildegard walking toward the kitchen together, laughing as they glanced in my direction. Is it any wonder I found it difficult to concentrate on my work? I was so embarrassed and stressed out that I sent an e-mail to the wrong distribution group. It caused a mild inconvenience but Mr. Parfomak blew it up into a full-scale hullabaloo. That’s it, I thought. Until the renovations are finished, I’m using the ladies room on the 16th floor.
Unfortunately, all the upset was taking its toll on my digestive parts, i.e., I got the runs. I had no choice but to use the ladies’ on our floor. The next time I went in, I didn’t see the blinking light. Instead, I heard a noise. It sounded like the scurrying of tiny feet. Oh great, I thought. Mice! But then it occurred to me, if there were mice, Building Services would have to put traps up there and plug the hole.
Feeling a little better about the situation, I pulled up my pantyhose. Then as I reached for the latch, I heard something crash onto the floor just outside the stall. This was no mouse. I heard the loud scratching of its claws as it ran to the corner. I was picturing a giant sewer rat. I didn’t know what to do. Bend down and look? Hop onto the toilet seat? Run like a screaming banshee to the door?
I choice option three. But when I grabbed the door handle it wouldn’t turn. I pulled and pulled — it wouldn’t budge. Then I heard the little monster’s feet running behind the toilets, toward the stall closest to me. I pounded on the door and hollered, “Help! Let me out! There’s something in here!”
The overhead fluorescent lights went out and something furry brushed against the back of my heel. My heart stopped. When it started again, it was beating so fast, I thought it would burst from my chest. I slammed both hands against the door and screamed.
The lights came on just as the door opened. Mr. Parfomak was standing on the other side. “What on earth is going on in here?” he shouted. I tried to explain what happened as he walked in and inspected the room. There was nothing behind the stall door, he said. I told him the rat must have crawled into one of the toilets. “Are you sure it was a rat?” he asked as a smirk spread across his face like a creeping weed. “Maybe it was an otter.” I was not amused.
Mr. Parfomak sent me home for the rest of the day. I stayed home the following day as well. My husband, who is retired and works as a school crossing guard, told me I shouldn’t go back. Of course I went back. We may be on the verge of two fixed incomes, but I am not ready to start eating Meow Mix.
When I arrived at the office, I found Agnes sitting at my desk. She said she didn’t think I was going to be in and Mr. Parfomak had an urgent memo to get out. “How did you find out my log-in password?” I asked. Agnes clammed up and walked back to her desk. “Any sign of the bathroom rat?” I called. She just looked at me and rolled her eyes.
The pressure kept mounting. At a quarter to five, Mr. Parfomak told me there were four boxes of files in the copy room that had to be scanned for an 8:00 AM meeting. I missed the last express bus to Staten Island, but I’ve always been a team player. I stayed until the very last file was scanned. When I finally turned off the machine, I heard the sound of tiny clawed feet scurrying behind a stack of copy paper. With Pepto Bismal as my new best friend, I had managed to avoid the ladies’ room on our floor. But now the creature was inside the office!
When I got back to my desk everything was in a state of disarray. The stapler was open and all the staples spilled onto my keyboard. The little canister of paper clips had been emptied onto my mouse pad, and my Betty Boop pencil cup was turned upside down. I had been alone in the office for hours. What, was I suppose to think, the rat had done this? Or something even worse?
I went into Mr. Parfomak’s office and looked under the keyboard, where he hid his computer password. With my pulse racing, I checked his e-mails. I know it was wrong of me to do that, but when in backstabbing Rome, do as the backstabbing Romans do, I say. I soon found what I was looking for. An e-mail to Beatrice, our HR rep. It was sent three weeks ago, before any of this stuff with the ladies’ room ever started. Mr. Parfomak described how unhappy he was with my performance, and said he wanted to bring in his secretary from his former job.
Beatrice responded that all my evaluations had been excellent over the years, and terminating me now would create an adverse risk something-or-other. Why not wait until the next round of layoffs and they could offer me a package? Mr. Parfomak still wanted to bring in his old secretary and asked the million-dollar question. “What if Madeleine quits?” Well, if that isn’t a smoking gun, then I don’t know tea from China.
When I came in the next morning, I walked straight into Mr. Parfomak’s office and asked him if he was familiar with a little Ingrid Bergman movie called Gaslight. Because I sure as hell am. He stared at me with his mouth hanging open, obviously in shock that I was onto his game. “I’ve got used steno pads older than the lot of you,” I told him. “It’s gonna take more than a few spilled paper clips to force me out two years short of collecting my pension.”
Pleased as punch for having stood up for myself, I went back to my desk, all set to call your office and request an immediate transfer. That’s when I screamed so loud, they said it could be heard clear down to the corner of Wall Street and Pearl. Staring back at me from my computer screen was the most hideous, nightmarish face I’ve ever seen. And I take the Staten Island Ferry regularly.
The troll had two rows of sharp fangs protruding from swollen, bloody gums. Lips pulled back into a gruesome snarl — or was it a smile? Its beady red eyes were set close together above flaring nostrils, and atop the narrow slanted forehead was a pile of frizzy black hair. Of course his ears were pointed, like an elf, or Leonard Nemoy. But the thing that scared me the most, the reason why I screamed so loud, was because the photo on the screen had been taken with the camera inside my computer monitor. The troll had been standing on my desk!
“Bravo!” I said to Mr. Parfomak as I regained my composure. “Is this what was supposed to be running around in the dark that day you locked me in the bathroom? Are those the glowing red eyes that were peering down at me from the hole in the ceiling? Does the Bathroom Troll have a problem with Betty Boop?”
I wish I had an Academy Award handy so I could give it to Mr. Parfomak. He looked genuinely terrified as he stared at my computer screen. His voice was even shaking a little when he instructed me to go to the medical department and see the Employee Assistance Director, a/k/a, the company shrink.
I need to see her like I need a hole in the head. Instead of listening to Mr. Parfomak, I printed a screen shot for evidence and came straight to your office. Your assistant took one look at the Bathroom Troll and told me to write out a formal complaint. Please see the attached photograph as Exhibit A. It must be an action figure from some horror movie. Agnes probably picked it up from a comic store and my guess is she logged onto my computer and took the photo before I came in.
I have to give Agnes credit though. She really played her role to the hilt. When I got back to the office, I went into the ladies’ room and waited for everyone to leave for the day. I wanted to write this report for you without any disturbance. When I went to the sink to wash my hands, I had to laugh. Someone had left powder all over the counter. Running through the powder, like footprints in the show, were the tracks of tiny little troll feet. Poor Agnes and Mr.Parfomak. Clearly they have no idea the jig is up.
In addition to requesting an immediate transfer out of the department, I also formally demand than an investigation be made into Mr. Parfomak’s despicable behavior. Not only is he guilty of age discrimination, but he has created a hostile and unhealthy work environment. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a rat has been running around in the office. I think Mr. Parfomak planted it on the floor so I’d think the sound I was hearing was the Bathroom Troll. He tried to make me look crazy, and he endangered the health of everyone on this floor. I think I can hear that rat right now scurrying in the cubicle behind me.
Okay, it sounded like the rat was getting closer, so I turned my head to look. I see it at the top of the wall behind me. It’s not a rat. Oh God, it’s moving. It’s real. It’s really real. Looking right at me. Grinning. Oh God, those teeth. I can smell its breath.
oh god what do I