“The Man in the Gorilla Suit” (2000 words)

evolution Art: © bigfatnapoleon

The man in the gorilla suit never misses Fridays. At least we believe it’s a man, and we think it’s a suit. He sometimes comes other days of the week too, though never Mondays.

The man in the gorilla suit never comes Mondays.

Kevon, the packing lead, finds the man in the gorilla suit annoying. Kevon says the man, or at least the suit, stinks. I say we all get a little ripe by shift’s end. I do admit to having taken Migs, as we call the man in the gorilla suit, aside and spraying him with Dove Body Mist once or twice, but Kevon shouldn’t complain; Migs packs a lot of orders for him.

Migs doesn’t spend as much time in my area. Squeezing through merchandise stacks to pick orders is a cumbersome task for a man in a gorilla suit. My pickers like Migs, but he slows us down when we’re trying to get batches of last-minute orders filled, which always seems the case Friday night. Migs still helps my line though, tidying up and what-not, when he can.

I’m the picking lead. My name is Loretta. I’m standing at the head of my lines, ripping orders, shoving totes down steel rollers. The rollers ring, echoing through canyons of racks.

From this spot I have a clear view to Kevon’s area. Industrial bags bloated with Styrofoam peanuts float above his packing stations. Packers load boxes with merchandise and fill them out with the peanuts. Then they tape the boxes and attach packing slips. Migs is doing that now, and he’s a sight. Packing peanuts are stuck all over his fur. Kevon has plenty of packers tonight: two per station. Kevon glides around his area now, checking that his people have boxes, tape, whatever they need. His arms and legs, as always, are constant motion. No matter what he does, he always reminds me of a outfielder racing to get under a fly ball and pull it back from the fence.

I pick up my walkie-talkie. Kevon’s not far away, but the rollers, and the plastic totes crashing into each other, are too loud to shout above.

¿Qué quieres?” answers Kevon. Many packers come from Latin America; Kevon has picked up Spanish, which we aren’t supposed use, per company policy, but he doesn’t care. He just wants orders out the door, and sometimes he forgets who he’s talking to. I do understand some Spanish phrases. My maiden name was Rincón, after all, though I never went back to my maiden name.

I envy Kevon’s bilingualism, though it would make no difference in my job. Order pickers, immigrant or native-born, all speak English. Here, on second shift, many are community-college kids, in class by day and studying who-knows-when. New temps are assigned to pick or pack based on a reading test. It doesn’t matter how well or poorly a potential temp reads in general, just how well he or she tests compared to others applying the same day. If we need four new pickers and five new packers, then the top four scorers become pickers.

“Give me somebody,” I radio to Kevon.

“Can’t spare anyone.”

“You have Migs. We’re backed up. Give me Dante. Or Noi.”

“No way. You can take Albert if you want.”

Albert was seventy. My pickers would trample poor Albert.

Carol then,” I say, hoping to split the difference. Carol is neither fast nor slow.

“Done. Never radio me again.” Kevon breaks off and disappears behind some stacks. He radios back a moment later. “Lorrrretta?”


“You still love me, right?”

I roll my eyes. “Yes, of course, Kevon.”

“Dante’s coming over.”

That’s Kevon: first he says he won’t help you, can’t help you, and then he helps you.

Kevon had been a community-college kid once. He had started for me as a picker … six years ago? He was twenty-three then. I know because he’s thirty years younger than me (my birthday’s coming up Monday) and we celebrated Kevon’s twenty-ninth with cake last Friday. Migs broke everyone up by getting frosting mooshed all over his snout. Kevon had almost smiled.

Once he got the lead job, Kevon quit college. He started six-sigma certification here, which would have gotten him into management, but the classes bored him. He would rather fret, strutting up and down the lines night after night. Didn’t he want more? Didn’t he fear getting trapped?

Dante comes over. “Did you see Migsy?” he asks, grabbing some order sheets. “Got peanut all over him!”

I smile. It is funny, but nevertheless I have an urge to go pick Styrofoam bits off the man in the gorilla suit.

Over the next hour, we catch up. I shut down one line so half my crew can go to lunch. It’s dinner time, but they call it lunch here, no matter the shift.

The packers near Migs are also scheduled for first lunch. Kevon goes too. One of us stays on the floor at all times, so he and I switch off. After the packers leave, Migs looks up, right, then left, to discover he’s alone. His great shoulders sag.

Noticing me, he jumps, then lopes over. Finding a broom he circles me, sweeping the concrete. “Thank you, Migs,” I say, “but there’s nothing to sweep.” He looks at the clean floor and scratches his head. “Rrruh!” he grunts, then puts the broom away. He looks at a stack of empty totes, then places his hands on it. “Rruh?”

The stacks are getting low. “Yes,” I say. “You may go collect the empties from the other side.”

He scampers away. He comes back twenty-five minutes later, as the first group returns from lunch. He’s pushing a dozen tote stacks before him, each stack six-feet high.

“Migs, we’ll never use that many!”

He shrugs and goes back to packing.

At the same moment, Kevon comes toward me for the hand-off. He passes Migs, giving him a dirty look. Migs shields his head with one arm, then scurries away in a pretense of fear.

“Why, Kevon?” I ask.

“I don’t care for visual humor.”

“What’s the harm?”

“Have a good lunch,” says Kevon. “There’s cupcakes.”

I go into the break room and stand in line to microwave my stuffed peppers. I used to make my own, but it’s too much trouble for one, so I bring Stouffer’s now. They taste fine.

What’s left of the cupcakes Kevin mentioned lie in long caterer’s boxes. The cupcakes have orange, yellow, or lime-colored smiley-faces on them. I ask the crew if it’s someone’s birthday or anniversary, but no one seems to know where the cupcakes came from. They look good but I don’t take one. I want to make sure everyone gets a chance. After microwaving my lunch I go into the offices. Kevon and I are allowed to eat in the managers’ offices, empty at this hour, so we can read our email. I mostly get newsletters and departmental cc’s, but I have to check in case there’s something important. They sometimes forget us.

I scroll through my inbox as I eat. There’s one announcing inventory control classes on site, free, beginning next month. Though Kevon is already cc’d, I forward it to him. Maybe if I pester him enough he will take advantage. Twenty-nine seems young, but it isn’t.

I delete until white appears at the bottom of the window. The last email surprises me:

From: Peg Strange, Human Resources

To: Department Heads, Managers, Supervisors

Cc: Leads

Subject: Animal-costumed individual on shop floor.

Due to insurance concerns, OSHA regulations, union contract negotiations, Department of Homeland Security -issued guidelines, and in compliance with company policy, the individual wearing an animal (gorilla) costume is not allowed on the order fulfillment floor during regular business hours (or after business hours) or elsewhere on the premises during or after business hours. This includes the parking lot.

This is not new policy, but clarifies existing policy.

The individual is not an employee or sub-contractor. The individual does not have I.D. and has never been explicitly granted access to our staff and premises. No one remembers how or when this individual first appeared. We do not know who this individual is, where this individual comes from, nor where this individual vanishes, like a specter, into the night.

We realize this individual has become a beloved figure in our workplace; therefore this clarification will not take effect until second shift ends tonight. Please take a moment to stop by and wish the individual in the animal costume well. There will be cupcakes in the break room :)

Peg Strange, Vice President, Human Resources.

I print the email, take the page from the tray, and fold it over. Then I leave the office, and call Kevon on the walkie-talkie.

“—¿Qué qui—”

“Meet me in the front,” I say.

Kevon must have caught something in my voice, because he trots toward me, brow tight. “What?” he asks.

I shove the email, planting it in the center of his chest.

He looks at me, stunned. He unfolds it and reads. Without blinking he says, “Loretta, I didn’t do this.”

“Migs annoys you. You always say so.”

“Everybody annoys me, but I wouldn’t complain to …” Looking again at the email, he laughs. “… Peg Strange in Human Resources. I don’t even know people upstairs.”

I snatch the paper. “You should know people upstairs! Do you want to be on the floor all your life? You should have reported Migs. He’s against policy. You might as well have got something for it. You’re acting stupid! Stupid!”

“Hey, hey!” says Kevon. “That’s enough!”

I realize I’m hitting him on the arm with the email.

Then we’re both stunned; we hear a deep harsh, “RRRuh!”

Migs is standing close. All work on the floor has stopped. The crew is staring, open-mouthed, as we fight.

Migs waddles closer.

When he reaches us, he takes my hand and Kevon’s, clasping them together between his paws. He shakes them once, twice. Then he twists his head left and right. He looks at me. “Rruh!”

“All right.” I say. “We won’t fight.”

He turns to Kevon. “Rrruh!”

Kevon nods.

Satisfied, the man in the gorilla suit exhales. He turns to the shop floor, regards the people, the lines, the stacks of totes. Then he turns to me, looks at the paper still in my hand, and shrugs.

“You already know?” I ask.

He nods.

I straighten myself.

The man in the gorilla suit sets his arms akimbo and looks at his feet. He scratches his head. He nods again, this time to himself. “Rrruh,” he says, and turns toward the nearest door. I want to grab him, pull him back, we have hours before the shift ends, but he moves away from me with such noble resolve that I stop myself. He deserves dignity in his departure.

He reaches the door and opens it. It should be armed, but the alarm doesn’t go off. Someone must have forgotten.

He steps outside, the door falls shut, and he is gone.

The pickers and packers whisper amongst themselves. They don’t realize what has happened yet. Kevon claps once, sharply. Not smiling, he yells. “Get the lines moving!”

Orders have backed up. We have fallen behind, but work resumes, and soon the ringing of steel rollers crushes the silence. I put the email away.

Before returning to my place I go to the exit to set the alarm. I peek out into the parking lot. It’s dark. Migs is nowhere, though, reasonably, he couldn’t have gotten far.

Alarm set, I return to the line. My pickers send questioning gazes. After we catch up I’ll explain. I’ll try to do a better job than the email did. We have other things we can look forward to. The weekend’s coming. Then on Monday there will be birthday cake.

The man in the gorilla suit never came Mondays anyway.