Note: This post is \one of three installments from my novel, Grand Tally, which is available at local bookstores and on Amazon. The idea for the novel came from a writer for People Magazine who told me that a major U.S. mapmaker had issued an atlas minus one of the western states. The novel is my take on the insanity of contemporary America. It’s characters include FBI agents, the Montana militia, a charismatic Christian cult headed west to meet the Rapture, egomaniacal network news reporters, two New York celebrity nitwits, and assorted rednecks.
The heir to Grand Tally has no interest in the family mapmaking business, and the board appoints two Harvard MBAs to head the firm. Thanks to their business acumen, Grand Tally, “the world’s foremost mapmaker,” is now run by accountants.
Inside Grand Tally offices on the seventy-fifth floor of a New York skyscraper, Jovina Rates, assistant accountant, sat at her desk examining the proof sheets of Grand Tally’s new world atlas, its first in fifteen years. In a move designed to increase sales, Tally had combined its U.S. Road Atlas with its Student World Atlas. Newspapers and magazines were anticipating review copies.
The board of accountants, which had supervised the making of the atlas, had decided at the outset that the map would have 120 pages, no more or less. Ms. Rates was looking at the last page of the proof sheets for the atlas. Something was wrong, and she began to feel very sick. Her stomach began twisting itself into knots.
“Mr. Potts!” she called to a balding gentleman seated at a desk nearby. “What is it?” Mr. Potts wanted to know.
“What’s wrong?” insisted Mr. Potts.
“Please look. Come here.”
Not very pleased at leaving his sandwich, Mr. Potts pushed back his chair, stood up and ambled over to Ms. Rates, who was jamming her left forefinger repeatedly onto the top left corner of the last page.
“What?” asked an irritated Potts.
“The number! The number!”
“What about the number?”
“Look!” she gasped in horror.
“For gawd’s sake what?” insisted Potts.
“It’s number one hundred twenty-two!” she rasped.
“It’s a hundred twenty-two,” Potts repeated emotionlessly.
“Yes! and the book’s only supposed to have one hundred twenty pages.”
Ms. Rates slumped back in her chair.
Mr. Potts bent forward, turned the page over and said, “Did it ever dawn on you that this might be an error? Did you check the other numbers?”
“Yes,” Ms. Rates answered quietly.
Mr. Potts began turning pages quickly, checking the numbers, moving from the last page to the first. The closer he got to the front of the book, the more agitated he became. At page one he decided that he must have missed a number and went from beginning to end, slowly. “A hundred twenty-two pages,” he murmured when finished.
“Somebody’s going to get sacked,” Ms. Rates guessed.
“Not me,” Potts assured her, “I didn’t design it.”
The two nervously notified their supervisor, who checked the book and called Henry Mason the vice-president for marketing, who checked it and called a meeting of his staff, which included Ms. Rates and Mr. Potts.
Mr. Mason and his staff discussed the problem, and as Mr. Mason said, “If there is one thing we have to base our decision on, it is the fact that the board of accountants made clear that this atlas is to have no more than one hundred twenty pages. Two pages have to go.”
The staff looked at one another.
“The question is,” said Mr. Mason, “which two.”
Waiting for a decision from their leader, the staff looked at Mr. Mason.
“Well?” Mason asked. “What’s your recommendation?” He scanned the frightened faces. ”Ms. Duncan?”
Ms. Duncan’s eyes moved back and forth as she glanced at her colleagues.
“Yes?” Mason asked reasonably.
“I—I don’t know.”
“Who,” Mason asked, “has the leadership to make a suggestion?” He paused. “Remember, everyone’s job is on the line.”
“Why don’t we combine some of the countries?” someone suggested.
“Good thinking,” Mason said.
But it was decided that that would prove impracticable. So many pages would have to be shifted that the cost overrun would be enormous. And that, Mason knew, would get them all fired.
“What about removing some country?” someone suggested.
“Good God,” someone else said, “can you imagine what that might mean for foreign sales? Besides, the world is so internationally oriented now that plenty of people would notice and we’d lose all credibility.”
The group reluctantly agreed with this analysis.
“That pretty much leaves the United States,” someone observed.
The logic of the suggestion was noted.
“So we cut out one or two of the states,” Ms. Rates said.
“How do the rest of you feel about that?” asked Mason.
“I don’t like it, but what choice do we have?” someone asked.
There was a murmur of agreement.
“How many of you agree with that?” Mason asked. “Let’s see a show of hands.”
Everyone looked at one another. A few began tentatively raising their hands, at which others began raising theirs. Soon everyone’s hand was in the air.
“All right,” Mason said. “We’ve reached a consensus. Now we need to decide which one or ones.”
“Well,” said Ms. Rates, “it’s got to be unpopulated, whichever it is.”
“Yup,” someone said.
“One of the western states,” a voice added.
Most of Grand Tally’s employees had never been west of Pennsylvania, and despite the fact that they published a map of every state in the union, had no idea of what any of them looked like, let alone anything about their population or manufacturing or agricultural base. Moreover, they did not care. They were, to the core, hardline New Yorkers.
“South Dakota,” someone suggested.
“What’s that?” someone else joked.
“South Dakota’s got Mount Rushmore,” Mr. Mason said. “Too many dweebs driving out there to see the carved heads. Can’t do it.”
“North Dakota then,” someone offered. “Possibility,” Mason said.
“No one lives there,” Rates added.
“How about Wyoming?”
“Look for a western state that covers two pages.”
Five employees scanned the pages of the proofs.
“We said no to South Dakota.”
“I’d say Montana.”
“Sounds good to me,” someone said.
“It’s unpopulated, no one knows anything about it, no one cares.”
“Let’s take a vote,” said Mr. Mason. “All in favor of eliminating Montana, raise their hands.”
Everyone raised a hand. And so it was decided that Montana would be eliminated from the forthcoming Grand Tally U.S. & World Atlas.
“I’ve got one question,” said Mr. Potts. “Do we tell Mr. Driggs?”
“I’ll send a memo to Mr. Driggs telling him that we made an adjustment,” said Mr.Mason.
That memo did not state that anything had been omitted, merely that two excess pages had been cut. Nor did it mention that in a moment of panic Mr. Mason, supported by a number of sub-accountants, had ordered the U.S. map redrawn to omit Montana. Mr. Driggs did not ask what had been cut. And that was that.
Two months later the Grand Tally U.S. & World Atlas was selling in every gas station across the United States.
Grand Tally is available from your local bookstore and on Amazon (print and ebook). Don’t be the last on your block to own a copy.