I suppose there’s a guy like McCleary in every office.
Now I’m not a hard man to get along with and it usually takes quite a bit more than overly bright remarks from the office boy to bother me. But try as I might, I could never get along with McCleary. To be as disliked as he was, you have to work at it.
What kind of guy was he? Well, if you came down to the office one day proud as Punch because of something little Johnny or Josephine had said, it was a sure cinch that McCleary would horn in with something his little Louie had spouted off that morning. At any rate, when McCleary got through, you felt like taking Johnny to the doctor to find out what made him subnormal.
Or maybe you happened to buy a new Super-eight that week and were bragging about the mileage, the terrific pickup, and how quickly she responded to the wheel. Leave it to McCleary to give a quick run-down on his own car that would make you feel like selling yours for junk at the nearest scrap heap.
Well, you see what I mean.
But by far the worst of it was when vacation time rolled around. You could forgive a guy for topping you about how brainy his kids are, and you might even find it in your heart to forget the terrific bargain he drove to work in. But vacation time was when he’d really get on your nerves. You could pack the wife and kids in Old Reliable and roll out to the lake for your two weeks in August. You might even break the bank and spend the two weeks at a poor man’s Sun Valley. But no matter where you went, when you came back, you’d have to sit in silence and listen to McCleary’s account of his Vacation in the Adirondacks, or his Tramp in the Canadian Wilds, or maybe even the Old French Quarter.
The trouble was he always had the photographs, the ticket stubs, and the souvenirs to prove it. Where he got the money, I’ll never know. Sometimes I’d tell the wife about it and she’d sniff and wonder what kind of shabby house they lived in that they could afford all the other things. I never looked him up myself. Tell you the truth, I was afraid I’d find the McClearys lived on Park Avenue.
Now you look forward to a vacation all year, but particularly during the latter part of July, when, what with the heat and the stuffy office, you begin to feel like a half-done hotdog at a barbecue. I was feeling even worse than usual as I was faced with spending my two weeks in my own backyard, most of my vacation dough having gone to pay the doctor. The only thing I minded was having McCleary find out about it and seeing that phony look of sympathy roll across his fat face while he rambled on about the vacation he was going to have.
It was lunch time and we had just finished talking about the latest on television and what was wrong with the Administration and who’d win the pennant when Bob Young brought up the subject of vacations. It turned out he was due for a trip to the Ozarks and Donley was going after wall-eye pike in northern Wisconsin. I could sense McCleary prick up his ears clear across the room.
“How about you, Bill?” Donley asked me. “Got any plans?”
I winked heavily and jerked a thumb warningly toward McCleary, making sure McCleary couldn’t see the gesture.
“My vacation is really going to be out of the world this time,” I said. “Me and the wife are going to Mars. Dry, you know. Even better than Arizona for her sinus.”
Even with the wink they were caught off guard for a minute.
“Mars?” Donley said feebly, edging his chair away. “Yeah, sure. Great place. Never been there myself, though.”
Young just gaped, then grinned as he caught on. “I understand it’s a wonderful spot,” he chipped in.
I casually peeled a hard-boiled egg the wife had packed in my lunch bucket and leaned back in my swivel chair. “It’s really swell,” I said dreamily, but loud enough so McCleary couldn’t help but overhear. “Drifting down the Grand Canal at evening, the sun a faint golden disk behind the crystal towers of Marsport...” I let my voice drift into a long sigh and reached for Donley’s sack of grapes.
About this time McCleary had gnawed his way through a big pastrami sandwich and waddled over. He stood there expectantly, but we carefully ignored him.
“Always wanted to go myself,” Donley said in the same tone of voice he would have used to say he’d like to go to California someday. “Pretty expensive, though, isn’t it?”
“Expensive?” I raised a studiedly surprised eyebrow. “Oh, I suppose a little, but it’s worth it. The wife and I got a roomette on the Princess of Mars for $139.50. That’s one way, of course.”
“Mars!” Young sighed wistfully.
There was a moment of silence, with all three of us paying silent tribute to the ultimate in vacations. McCleary slowly masticated a leaf of lettuce, his initial look of suspicion giving way to half-belief.
“Let’s hear some more about it,” Young said enthusiastically, suddenly recovering from his reverie.
“Oh, there isn’t much more,” I said indifferently. “We plan to stay at the Redsands hotel in Marsport--American plan. Take in Marsport, with maybe a side trip to Crystallite. If we have time we might even take a waterway cruise to the North Pole...”
I broke off and dug Donley in the ribs.
“Man, you never fished until you have a Martian flying fish at the end of the line!” I grabbed a ruler off the desk and began using it as an imaginary rod and reel. “Talk about fight ... oh, sorry, Mac.” My ruler had amputated part of a floppy lettuce leaf that hung from McCleary’s sandwich.
I settled down in my chair again and started paying attention to my lunch. “Nothing like it,” I added between mouthfuls of liverwurst.
“How about entertainment?” Young winked slyly.
“Well, you know--the wife will be along,” I said. “But some of the places near the Grand Canal--and those Martian Mist Maidens! Brother, if I was unattached...”
“There ain’t any life on Mars,” McCleary said, suspicious again.
All three of us looked at him in shocked silence.
“He says there’s no life on Mars!” Donley repeated.
“You ever been there, McCleary?” I asked sarcastically.
“No, but just the same...”
“All right,” I cut in, “then you don’t know whether there is or isn’t. So kindly reserve your opinion until you know a little about the subject under discussion.”
I turned back to Donley and Young.
“Really a wonderful place for your health. Dry, thin air, nice and cool at night. And beautiful! From Marsport you can see low-slung mountains in the distance, dunes of soft, red sand stretching out to them. If I were you, Bob, I’d forget all about the Ozarks and sign up on the rocket.”
“There ain’t any rockets going to Mars,” McCleary said obstinately.
“Isn’t,” I corrected. “I mean, there is. Besides, McCleary, just because you never heard of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”