A quest to gain approval bears surprising results
“You need to get your ducks in a row.”
So said my boss as he turned away in dismissal. I left his office, wondering whether I would ever gain his approval. These humiliating visits to “the carpet” happened all too frequently and it seemed that, however I improved, the man was never satisfied.
And now I had a problem with ducks, according to him. Maybe this was the secret I had been missing all along. It was ridiculous but his statement was quite clear: I needed to line up my ducks in a row.
This was not going to be easy. For a start, I had no ducks. To get ducks in a row, you had to have some ducks. One duck would not suffice, obviously, and two seemed dubious. You could draw any line you wanted between two ducks - an arc, a squiggle, anything. It had to be three at least to make the row undeniable.
All I needed now was a few ducks. I visited a duck farm to find out prices and, very quickly, it became clear that I could not afford three full grown ducks. It would have to be day-old ducklings.
The farmer explained that day-olds were sold in batches of one hundred. He was very reluctant to sell me fewer than that but we haggled for a while and, eventually, I became the satisfied owner of six fluffy and noisy little ducklings. The farmer presented them in what looked like a pizza box with holes in it. I headed for home.
In those days I was still living with my parents and, after some discussion, it was agreed that I could keep the ducks in their basement. I bought a heat lamp to keep them warm, a bale of hay for the floor and some duck food from the pet shop. In what I figured was good practice for lining things up, I fenced off an area of the basement with a wall of boxes and junk. A cake tin filled with water and my duck nursery was complete.
My childhood reading of Konrad Lorenz now proved useful. According to the wise Konrad, the ducklings would become “imprinted’ with me as their mother and this proved to be true. They would follow me everywhere in a long line - as long as I kept moving. When I stopped, the group would descend into chaos, with each duckling wandering off on a mission of its own.
No matter what I did, I could not stop this annoying tendency towards anarchy. The ducks were growing, too, and it wasn’t long before I had the inconvenience of a line of waddling birds tailing me wherever I went. My mother began to complain about the mess deposited behind me as I moved about the house.
It had dawned on me as well that the idea of taking the ducks to work was not a good one. Visions of my ducks milling around me as I stood on the boss’ carpet yet again made that a no brainer.
The ducks were returned to the farmer and I had another think.
It was on a visit to my grandmother that revelation came to me. Her apartment was typical of a matriarch’s of the era, overdecorated and cluttered but padded and comfortable in its furnishings. As I flopped down into an overstuffed armchair in the living room, epiphany struck. On the wall facing me there flew, in a perfect straight line and decreasing in size from front to rear, three china ducks.
I remembered noticing the same arrangement of china ducks in every household of my grandmother’s generation. This, surely, was the object of my boss’ instruction to me: get your ducks in a row just as my grandmother has done.
In the excitement of my new understanding, I became quite persuasive and the old lady agreed to lend me the ducks - as long as I returned them undamaged. We found a small cardboard box and filled it with the ducks and some old newspaper. Once more, I headed for home.
The next day, the ducks accompanied me into the workplace, together with a hammer and some nails. Arriving early, I was able to hammer the nails into a wall of my office without being interrupted. A few moments more and the ducks were flying in an impeccable line behind my desk. I stood and admired them for a while, then took my seat and awaited the inevitable reactions of approval that must follow.
Things did not work out quite like that.
After my secretary came in and seemed to be stifling a giggle fit, a stream of visitors dropped in on me. Their reactions varied from smiles and shaking heads to open guffaws. I realised that I had miscalculated somehow. Before I could take down the ducks, however, the boss arrived and stood staring at them. I shrunk down in my chair at the coming storm.
When it came, it was not what I expected.
A wry smile spread across the boss’ face. “I see you’ve taken our little chat to heart,” he said. “You have a sense of humour after all, it seems. I had almost given up hope of you getting the point but the ducks have saved you. Well done, my boy, well done.”
It was the turning point in my career. At last I was able to relax and be myself. Everyone took my literalism for humour and I became known as the office wit. I have a lot to thank ducks for.
Word Count: 930