Natalie was the general manager of the store for the majority of the time I was employed with Mahjong.
She was in her late 30's, and a fixture at the company. By every single account she'd slept her way to the GM position, and had apparently slept high enough that she was virtually unfire-able. Which seems like a solid way to run a business. Natalie was like bubblegum that you chewed, fucked, and then never got out of your pubes.
As manager, Natalie's bonus structure incentivized behaviors like obsessively regulating stock, rationing hours to drivers and insiders with an eyedropper, and coming down with a hellwhip on people she didn't feel were being productive. This mind-numbing lack of knowledge of organizational psychology fell into one of two categories:
Hilarious when it happened to someone else.
Awful when it happened to you.
The best part of Natalie's managing style was that she was constantly, constantly in the office. Her judgment of your productivity depended entirely on the 20 minutes she was out of it. My favorite example of this was the time Jeremy, in an effort to show me how easily impressed she was, said, "Watch this."
When Natalie walked out of the office, Jeremy picked up a broom, spread his legs shoulder-length apart, and stood stock still holding the broom hamfistedly a foot above the floor, staring straight ahead with a glassy look in his eyes.
She jumped upon seeing him with broom in hand. "That's the initiative I like see Jeremy! He's getting extra hours next week!" She moved to the schedule and magnanimously scribbled in a 4 hour shift for him. Beaming with pride, perhaps a tear glistening in her eye, she returned to the office.
Jeremy had not moved a single hair the entire time. When she was firmly in the office, he tossed the broom aside, picked up an order, and left to deliver it.
There will be many stories to come about Natalie and her reign as head shill for Mahjong. But evidence exists, if you'll believe it, that she once felt emotions, perhaps even love.
And I will tell you the story of the precise moment I believe that that ceased to be true.
Natalie was a cat-lover. A cat calendar was the sole personal touch that adorned the office (her son merited neither a picture nor keeping him in house past 15). It was pleasant to know there was something she loved outside of Mahjong. Humanizing.
She once had a cat, a kitten really, which she'd stolen from a pair of friends. The pair had gotten the kitten addicted to cocaine as a lark, we're talking really fucked up stuff. Not cool people. So Natalie stole the kitten and over the course of the next few weeks, weaned it off the coke. She bought smaller and smaller amounts until it was well again, and grew to love the kitten.
Fast forward another month or so, the cat was sick, so she rushed to the vet, leaving it overnight. The next day, the vet told her the kitten had feline AIDS, and that the best option would be to put it down. It was then that she got the call from her supervisor, the Area Manager, Lena (she has lots of stories in the future!). Natalie was needed immediately.
She protested. The last of her humanity gave her the strength to cry out, she was about to send off a beloved friend.
But Lena said if she wasn't there within 20 minutes she wouldn't have a job. Natalie sighed, and this is the moment we freeze frame on, this sigh. This sigh is the noise of capital eroding the human soul. No screams or whimpers or howls, just a sigh. It's the soul escaping, and the next noise you hear is the crinkling of the skin, as it is now simply a husk. This was the very second Natalie lost her spirit and became the Mahjong zealot.