As Death Toll Climbs, Middle Managers See Ray of Hope

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  Ray Sylvan has been assistant manager at Bay State Auto Parts for nearly a decade, and he’s proud of the extra steps he takes to do his job right.  “When this coronavirus thing hit, we were the first to use antiseptic wipes on all the spark plugs we sold,” he says, his forehead furrowed like the fields plowed by yeomen farmers in what was once an agricultural suburb of Boston.  “I’m proud to say we haven’t had a single distributor cap that’s been hospitalized as a result of our commitment to our customers’  health.”

Your car’s health is Ray’s top priority.


But Ray has one blind spot in his otherwise-encompassing “we’re all in this together” attitude.  “I would never wish this painful disease on anyone, believe me,” he says with an expression of grave concern, “but if a guy who’s nearly 63 were to die and a position happened to open up with a better choice of shifts, higher pay, and a few extra vacation days, I would owe it to myself and my family to take it.”

“If your tappets are too tight, this will loosen ’em right up.”


Sylvan is, in occupational parlance, a “middle-manager,” a transitional phase between a normal hourly employee and America’s  business elites, and like many who occupy this netherworld between apparent success and ignominious failure he has long chafed at the persistent refusal of his immediate superior, Bob Chlemski, to die or retire.  “He gets all the perks,” Sylvan says evenly, although his eyes narrow to grim little slits as he does so.  “He doesn’t work Friday nights or weekends, and he’s got that Home Depot above-ground pool in his backyard so I KNOW he’s makin’ the big bucks.”


Those like Sylvan who feel trapped by demographics have found new hope for the future in the coronavirus, which disproportionately picks off its victims in chronological order, with the eldest going first.  “I’ve been here five years and I know more about the whale hole than she does,” says Don Urquart, assistant manager at the Moby Dick Miniature Golf Course a half-mile up State Route 9 as he nods his head discreetly in the direction of a zaftig woman re-stocking pencils and scorecards in the starter’s booth.  The object of his scorn is Debbie Warnke, a 60-something divorcee who is dating the owner and thus shot past Urquart on the “org chart” when she was hired last summer.  “She’s a smoker and has high body mass index,” Urquart notes grimly, “so I’m hoping that her days are numbered–I mean that she doesn’t fall victim to this tragic disease.”

“Flossing that thing is no picnic!”

Around the intersection of Routes 9 and 27 Cyndi Timmons finds her role as assistant deli manager at Schwegman’s Groceries sharply circumscribed these days, as all items must be sold in pre-packaged form, tightly wrapped in plastic to avoid contamination by the COVID-19 virus.  “It’s taken all the creativity out of my job,” she says as she tucks a wisp of her brown hair into an unattractive sanitary cap.  “I was miserable before, but at least I could interact on a personal level with people who said they wanted 1.16 pounds of the roast beef, not 1.25.”

Cyndi:  “How much longer do I have to wait?”


But she’s committed to her chosen profession, having spent many nights in continuing education classes learning the proper way to scoop ham salad into little containers, among other specialized techniques that “come with the territory,” as she waits deli manager Bob Gambini to retire or become victim of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.  “I just wish I knew when it was all going to pay off for me,” she says as she re-arranges parsley around a display of cold cuts.  “I’m not getting any younger, and every day he walks in here alive and well, with absolutely no consideration of my feelings.”

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One thought on “As Death Toll Climbs, Middle Managers See Ray of Hope”

  1. At age 65, I am inconsiderate enough to continue to live, thus preventing younger library workers from claiming my wonderful job. And now that everyone is staying home there is so little traffic on local roads, the odds of my being hit by a bus and freeing up a great library job are even slimmer than they used to be.

    I feel very sorry for everybody who would love my job and isn’t going to get it.

    But not sorry enough to leave my house and risk catching this thing.

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