Ralph Walderson Goes Corporate
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It was a dark and stormy night, much like tonight, when Ralph’s bastard child informed him that tomorrow was Career Day. Ralph, as the child’s only surviving1 parent, would be required to come in and tell the class what he did for a living. Desperate for the school board’s forgiveness after the debacle at the last PTA meeting, Ralph wished nothing more than to knock the socks off of a third-grade class with a well prepared and informative presentation about his career.

Unfortunately, Ralph found himself between careers at the moment. He had been working as a dancer at Fugly’s Uggo Bar and Nightclub, but had been let go for stealing the hearts of the patrons.2 Never a quitter, Ralph hoped instead to distract the attendees from the fact that he was unemployed with his famous showmanship, winning smile, and third nipple.

Dawn stretched her rosy fingers over the shattered bottles that surrounded the trailer park as Ralph put the finishing touches on his dance routine. Ralph had been a natural performer since he was a child. His parents had enrolled him in tap lessons at “Ricky Flatfoot’s School of Dance and Down-Home Cooking.” Every night for years, Mr. and Mrs. Walderson would throw firecrackers at Ralph’s feet and sing, “dance little tappy boy; twinkle us back home. You’re our little tappy boy; tap a hardy jig” while Ralph wept. He hoped to channel some of that energy into his presentation.

Ralph stuffed the copious amounts of visual aids, sound equipment, and animal companions into his 1979 Chevy Chevette and prepared to head to the elementary school. Ralph’s child was notably absent from the vehicle. In light of the inevitable, he had elected to slip away in the chaos of the morning and find a fire station where he could abandon himself.

The presentation went as well as Ralph could have hoped. The wild raccoon he had smuggled into the school had driven almost everyone out of the room, providing him ample space to attempt cartwheels. From the hallway outside, a businessman observed the spectacle in quiet awe. He was attending career day as part of a child support arrangement, but his daughter had fled in the chaos. Rather than tending to her animal bites, he approached Ralph with a job offer.

His company was in need of a PR stunt to distract from the recent news that the company made use of child labor in its lithium mines. The public had grown accustomed to the usual charity donations and social justice grandstanding, and a boycott loomed over the horizon. The Board of Directors needed something so ludicrous, so absurdly impractical, that the American people would forget all about their horrendous human rights violations. They decided they would launch someone into space. That would be enough to make people forget.

Ralph seemed just the man for the job. He made the pitch:

“Say kid, I like the cut of your jib. How’d you like to be a hero? A star? The main character?”

How could Ralph resist? The businessman gave him a firm handshake and a crisp fifty-dollar bill. Within the hour, Ralph found himself smushed into the economy class seats on a Delta flight to LaGuardia.

The change in scenery was welcome. There was no room for someone like Ralph in a small town. He was too conspicuous among the manicured lawns, painted fences, and happy faces. For most families, his presence alone was cause to call the police. Suburban prejudice against the poor and ugly was constantly reinforced by Ralph’s home invasions, always in search of fried bologna or loose opioids. Ralph began to fear that, as long as there were people nearby, he would always be hated. Luckily, Ralph now found himself surrounded not by people but by the corporate elite.

It was a sticky day when Ralph arrived in the office, made only stickier by Ralph’s unwashed hands. At first, the employees had assumed that he was a new janitor. It soon became clear, however, that Ralph created exponentially more filth than he’d ever cleaned. He oozed foulness. Any bathroom he used became instantly and irrevocably dysfunctional. Any furniture he sat on became so severely stained that it had to be reupholstered or discarded.

There was little time to get acclimated. Ralph had been allotted two weeks to train for his launch, and there was no room for dilly dally. His regimen consisted of sitting in an office chair while an intern spun him. To prepare for the possibility of meteor showers, another intern pelted him with aquarium gravel. 102 hours of spinning and several dozen liters of vomit later, Ralph felt he was ready.

Ralph was not ready. To his shock, initial g-force from takeoff far exceeded what the intern had been capable of producing on an office chair. Two weeks had been allotted for the construction of the shuttle, and the vessel seemed as ill-prepared as Ralph himself. The entire cabin shook, and Ralph gripped the metal bar in front of him, the only safety measure provided. His strength failed him, as he had eaten nothing but aquarium gravel for weeks, and he was thrown to the back of the cabin and knocked unconscious. When he awoke, the shuttle had entered orbit, and he felt the weightlessness of space.

Ralph moved about the shuttle truly free for the first time in his life. There were no longer any warrants for his arrest, restraining orders, alimony payments, bond officers, or IRS agents haunting him. He basked in the moment until a voice cracked over the radio, a reminder of his responsibilities. His superiors had prepared a speech for him to deliver, nationally televised and broadcasted to every home in America. In the chaos of launch, the papers containing the speech had been scattered across the cabin. Ralph did his best to collect them. He prepared the broadcast, and began reading from the jumbled pile of paper:

“Hello. From the dear folks here at FuckCorp, we just want to say: Whoops! We used a little child labor in a mine. Happens to the best of us, right? Don’t worry! We might keep doing it, but we promise you won’t hear about it. We’re making a commitment to you, to kill any journalists who publish our wrongdoings. Again, from the bottom of our hearts: Whoops!”

The eyes of the nation were upon him. His message reached the ears of Americans young and old, who collectively heaved a sigh of relief. They were tired of pretending to care about atrocities in other parts of the world. The nightmare was over, and they could go back to watching football and pretending things were ok.

Ralph wasn’t finished. All of America was watching, and he had one last statement to make, his final obligation to his employer. He donned his corporate-issued space suit, covered head-to-toe with logos and sympathetic messages to the oppressed people of the world to show the company really cared. Ralph cracked the hatch, tethered to nothing in particular, and began his spacewalk.

He floated, teetering on the brink between all he had known and all he could never know. There was something familiar in the cold expanse of space, always watching but never caring, cold and distant yet omnipresent, unavoidable. He basked in the infinite majesty of the rolling, endless abyss, a perfect void teeming with existence, and Ralph understood why men have always worshipped the sky.

The moment passed. The majesty that had so captivated Ralph an instant earlier sucked the life from his poorly crafted suit and tossed him adrift, back into nothing. He listed aimlessly through the infinite, smeared with perfectly crafted PR slogans, until the end of time.

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