Price Increase – By John Bruce

Digital Discipline Technologies, which everyone refers to by its abbreviation DDT, has, like most such places, a company cafeteria in its world headquarters building. It’s proud of its cafeteria. It has a variety of ethnic foods, and it’s been designed to give employees little alcoves where they can eat with a sense of privacy and thereby reduce the stress they build up while working at DDT. In fact, it’s been cited as one of the factors that put DDT consistently on some list or other of the 200 best places to work.

“In these difficult economic times,” said R. Bambi Presswell, Senior Vice President for Human Resources in a recent issue of DDT’s house organ, The Digit, “we’re especially concerned at holding the line on prices in the cafeteria. We feel we’re working with our employees to maintain mutual trust and productivity in light of our recent adjustments in health and retirement benefits.”

It goes without saying that those adjustments were downward. And whatever the employees saved on the enchilada casserole entrée would definitely not offset those adjustments to health and retirement benefits.

Bob Stiles generally ate the spaghetti and meatballs entrée every Tuesday. The meatballs in fact weren’t bad. On one particular Tuesday though, something changed: the lady behind the counter ladled out sauce – thin, watery sauce – but no meatballs. “What happened?” asked Bob. “No meatballs?”

“No meatballs,” the lady replied, shaking her head.

He double-checked the menu on the wall. The price for the spaghetti without meatballs was the same as the old price for spaghetti with them. “No meatballs, but the price is the same?” he asked. The lady nodded her head.

She’d already put the spaghetti on the plate and ladled the sauce over it, and she handed it over to him. “I don’t want it,” he said. “Take it back.”

The lady shook her head again. “I’ve served it up,” she said. “You asked for it. You have to take it.”

“No way. I thought it had meatballs when I asked for it. Then I saw it didn’t have meatballs, but you’re charging the old price for meatballs.”

“You still have to take it,” the lady said. “You ordered it.”

The discussion caught the cafeteria manager’s eye, and she came over to talk to him. “You ordered the spaghetti entrée,” she said. “What’s the matter?”

“There used to be meatballs. . .”

She cut him off. “I heard what you were saying. The price is the same. There’s been no price increase. If you don’t want to take it, I’ll just get your badge number, and we’ll deduct it from your paycheck.”

With that, he had no choice. He paid the cashier, took his tray to a table, and began to eat his lunch. Before long a woman sat down across from him. “I’m Tammy from Human Resources,” she said. “Apparently there’s a problem. What happened?” She had a pen and a pad of paper with her. “Can I see your badge, by the way?” He handed it over to her, and she wrote down his name and employee number.

“The spaghetti entrée used to have meatballs with it,” he said. He pointed to the plate in front of him. “They’ve taken out the meatballs, but the price is still the same.”

“Where’s the problem?” asked Tammy. “There’s been no price increase.”

Bob tried to summon up material from the econ class he’d had years earlier. “If I used to sell four widgets for a buck, but now it’s three for a buck, there’s been a price increase.”

“Mr. Stiles,” she said talking slowly and carefully to him as though he were a child, “there’s been no price increase. That example has nothing to do with the spaghetti entrée. The price of the spaghetti entrée is still the same.”

He was going to say more, but he realized nothing he said would make any difference. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “Have a nice day.”

“Er, you have a nice day, too,” she answered, getting up. She looked warily back at him over her shoulder. Bob knew his boss was going to get a call from Tammy, something about making trouble in the cafeteria. A good boss would blow it off. On the other hand, his boss wasn’t a good boss. One encounter like that wasn’t enough for a writeup – but he’d already found a way around that. He’d save up two or three and write him up for the whole bunch.

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John Bruce recently had a short story nominated for the 2008 Pushcart Prize. His writing has appeared recently, or will appear, in Backhand Stories, Cantaraville, The Cynic Online, Dark Sky Magazine, DOGZPLOT, Eskimo Pie, Hobson’s Choice Zine, Holy Cuspidor, The Journal of Truth and Consequence, Literal Translations, Pear Noir!, Press 1, The Scruffy Dog Review, Word Riot, and Written Word. I have degrees in English from Dartmouth College and the University of Southern California.

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