The Dress Code

The Dress Code
By Ricky

Not another predictable story about crossdressing because of a stupid Dress Code! Well, this one's a bit different.


Mike wheeled the car into the parking space outside the dirty, non-descript building that was his place of employment. Without thinking he slid into a too small parking space, the only kind that were available in the too small lot, and slid the lever into park.

Mike had seen it all before, after 40 plus years in the business he was used to the up and down cycles. This one had all the earmarks of the company going under: gradual loss of customers as technology changed and the company didn't, inept, distant management and cutbacks in benefits. The company had abandoned research on new products a few years ago as profits waned but at the same time they raised prices and lost more customers. Yes, he'd been through it before, several times.

To make matters worse, one of his personal indicators of doom had just been fulfilled: he was eligible for 3 weeks vacation this year. Every time he had been with a company long enough to qualify for that extra week of vacation the company restructured or reorganized or just plain went under, leaving him to draw unemployment for a while until he found the next job.

The problem was this time he was 63 years old and wanted to make it a couple more years to retirement without changing jobs again. As usual the universe paid not the slightest attention to his wishes. He unlocked the door, flipped on the lights and fired up his computer. He was usually the first one in, he liked having an hour actually concentrate on something for more than 10 minutes at a time. Besides, he enjoyed the quiet of the place before anyone else got there.

His computer popped up Outlook to annoy him with e-mail when it fired up. The only good thing he could say about the company E-mail is that it did filter all the Viagra ads and mortgage offers pretty efficiently. Who would want to buy pharmaceuticals from someone who can't even spell?

A couple of tech bulletins, a safety advisory, some sales crap from places that demanded he register with them before they let him see the stuff he wanted to see on their web sites and another memo from the main office. Big deal. One of the good things about this job was he was working in a small office of a big company. That meant and he got the decent benefits and pay that came from a multinational but didn't usually have to put up with the bullshit that came with working in the home office. He would rather read a memo and hit the delete key than sleep through another damn meeting where such inane information was passed on to the employees.

He read the technical stuff and saved the memo for last. It was a doosey.


TO: ALL EMPLOYEES

FROM: HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT

SUBJECT: DRESS CODE
In an effort to present a professional appearance to our customers and improve the Company's image the following dress code has been adopted for all employees in departments which interact with suppliers, customers or the general public. Effective immediately, all such employees shall wear a suit and tie, businesslike blouse and skirt or dresses with hemlines at knee level or lower. Blue jeans, T-shirts and other casual clothing are not acceptable. No running shoes will be allowed, business footwear with socks or stockings are required.

We ask your cooperation in adhering to this policy for the good of the Company. Failure to comply will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.


Great! That was the death rattle of this company. Just fantastic! In his years in the corporate world he had seen it many times: the mismanagers who ran a company in it's death throes will invariably ordain that employees start to wear ties (for "professional appearance") instead of fixing the systemic problems that were killing the company. He was going to have to take those 3 weeks of vacation soon; the company wouldn't be around more than a few more months!

Mike looked down at the T-shirt and jeans that adorned his tall, skinny body, flipped back his long hair, scratched his graying goatee and muttered "Well, one out of three ain't bad." as he retied his black oxford shoes. Mike had sworn off suits and ties 30 years ago, donating his only suit to charity and using the ties from his closet as a makeshift rope to hold an old sofa to his VW Rabbit while helping a friend move. There was no way in hell he was going to wear a tie again.

Eccentric? A kind word, Mike personally preferred curmudgeon. He got a positive joy out of doing the unexpected, taking the road less traveled and just plain being different. Really, people made so many silly assumptions that were ripe for bursting, and Mike was the man with a pin in hand.

He was soon absorbed in SolidWorks, creating a new machine from only the electrons in the computer and the creativity in his brain; putting the company's nonsense from his mind. He waved a distracted "hello" as Mark and Kevin occupied their cubicles and began their workday. He spared a bit more attention as Bianca came in, for the simple reason she was far more decorative than Mark or Kevin.

"Jesus H Christ on a crutch! What the hell are those assholes thinking?"

Ah yes, Kevin had just read the memo. Mike hit the save button and rose to look above the cubical walls.

"Morning, Kevin. You know you shouldn't read E-mail from corporate before you have at least two cups of coffee."

"Screw the coffee! When are those idiots going to wake up and smell the coffee? Dress code! The place is sinking into a swamp and they want us to dress up while we get sucked into the mire!"

"Well, I've always told you this place sucked, Kev."

As this exchange was going on, Carol, the receptionist, came in for coffee. She was wearing a red leather mini that came nowhere near her knee, a white blouse that plunged somewhere near her navel and bright red platform shoes.

"How nice to see you're in a cheerful mood this morning, Mike. You guys look like you've been sucking on lemons. There are better things in this world to suck on, you know."

"Yeah, but my wife won't let me." Kevin responded. He handed Carol a copy of the memo. "Read it and weep, woman."

She took the paper and quickly scanned it.

"It's my fault. Yesterday I asked if the idiots in the home office could be any dumber. I should have known that I wouldn't like the answer."

"So what are you going to do about it? Mark asked. "You're out of uniform."

"If I thought it would do any good I'd strip buck naked and work that way, but I'd never get anything done with you drooling on my desk all day long, Kevin. I'll be damned if I'm going to go home and change so let them fire me. What about you, Mike?"

"I'll tell you in a couple of hours. I have to make a phone call first."

"Going to call your mommy or your lawyer? she teased.

"My accountant." Mike answered and returned to his desk.

***

Precisely at 10:00 AM Mike lifted the phone and punched in the number of his accountant.

"Hey Mel, how am I doing?" Mike asked when Mel picked up the phone.

"Huh?"

"Mel, Mel, Mel! People are going to lose faith in an accountant that answers their questions with a 'Huh'. You're supposed to be on top of everything."

"Mike?" came a plaintive query.

"Well, that beats 'Huh'. Yeah, it's Mike. I want to think about retirement, Mel. So how am I doing with my portfolio?"

"Pretty good, I suppose. I haven't looked in a while but you had a pile of money the last time I reviewed your account."

"The answers are getting better and better. Could you maybe put some numbers in the same sentence as 'pretty good'?"

"Yeah, let me call up your account." There followed several seconds of keyboard noises and grunts until Mel said "Yeah, here it is. Jeez – all my clients should be single engineers with no kids and no expensive bad habits. You could retire today and not spend it all unless you do something remarkably stupid with the money."

"Mel, my friend, you have just made me a happy man. I just might be about to do something remarkably stupid, but not with my money. You keep that pile growing for me, you hear?"

"Of course, Mike. You really going to retire?"

"Either that or get myself fired for being a literalist. Everybody knows us engineering nerds have no grasp of social interaction."

He hung up the phone and returned to his computer, but he had a hard time concentrating on the work. Too many ideas floating around in his head.

***

"Hey Mike! Take a break, already!" Bianca called.

How did it get to be lunchtime so soon? Mike took his eyes from the screen and joined the others in the lunchroom. Naturally the talk was about the new Dress Code. Sam the salesman was grinning smugly, as a salesman he already complied with the code as a matter of course. People expected a salesman to wear a suit and Sam had a streak of vanity that let him appreciate formal clothes.

The rest of the group were not so pleased, especially when Jeff, the regional manager, informed them that a delegation from the Company would be visiting in a few weeks to inspect the operation of their office.

"I guess that gives us a couple of weeks to get used to it, people. I hate to be a prig, but we're all going to have to comply with the damned Dress Code if we want to keep our jobs."

"You're absolutely right, Jeff." replied Mike." I'm going to have to follow the Dress Code to the letter. I wouldn't do otherwise. After all, the wise men who ordain policy for the Company would not take it lightly if I thwarted their masterful plans."

"Mike," drawled Jeff, "I get the feeling you have something in mind that I really don't want to know about. Reagan called it 'plausible deniability', I call it 'self preservation'. Please don't tell me anything more about your plans."

"Ignorance is bliss, Jeff. So be it. You shall remain blissful and ignorant until such time as the sky falls in."

"Mike, don't do anything rash!"

"I got a cream that will take care of the rash, boss."

"Yeah, but if you get your ass fired you'll lose your health coverage. That cream could get mighty expensive. Besides, I don't want to lose a good engineer."

"Never fear, Jeffrey."

"Good grief! You wouldn't really wear a tie, would you?" Bianca stared incredulously at Mike.

"Did I say anything about ties? I simply said I would comply with the letter of the new dress code."

"Be afraid." intoned Sam. "Be very, very afraid!".

***

His cell phone made chirpy sounds in Mike's ear while at the other end Diane's cell happily sang 'I Enjoy Being a Girl'. Pausing just long enough to check the caller ID she pushed the little green button.

"Mikey darling! It's so good to hear from you. I was beginning to think you had deleted me from your buddies file."

"Diane, would I do such a thing?"

"Certainly, just one thoughtless press and poor Diane is consigned to electronic oblivion."

"Not forever, Diane. I can always knock on your door and beg for your number again."

"Not done at all, darling! Instant communication is the order of the new age. Electronic companionship is the essence of society! Actual bodies in the same room? How gauche!"

"I'm an engineer, Diane. Gauche is a required course before they give you a degree."

"What they call 'education' these days is simply scandalous."

"Speaking of education, I need to be educated, which is why I called. I need a mentor"

"Little old me a mentor? Darling, what could I possibly teach to an old reprobate such as yourself?"

"Well, I'm thinking about taking up a new pastime – crossdressing."

"Darling boy, I am not a crossdresser! I transitioned years ago and am a 'new woman' or whatever the current buzzword is. My outie has become an innie, and don't you forget it! Besides – crossdressing isn't a hobby, it's a necessity for sanity among the enlightened of the lesser gender."

"I stand corrected, Diane. However, at one point in your long and outrageous life you were a crossdresser. I simply hope you can cast your mind back that far and remember some tricks of the trade to help me."

"Watch it, buster! I resent your ageist implications."

"What, that you're an old fart? Of course you're an old fart, or is there some feminine form of the term I am unaware of?"

"Such cruelty! You wound me, Michael! So what do you want me to do?"

"Just let me read you a memo I got this morning." Mike read the memo over the phone. "I intend to invoke the ghost of Mark Twain and lie by telling the truth badly. I need your help so I can follow the letter of the memo whilst sticking it to the idiots who run the Company."

"How delicious! I would be honored to be your mentor. I've never had the opportunity to transform a man before."

"Don't go overboard here, Diane. I'm not asking to be transformed. Well, at least not too suddenly. The idea is to slowly and carefully see just how far I can go before someone in the home office waves the white flag and surrenders."

"Such a challenge! Read me that memo again, darling."

He did.

"Some wonk must be trying in his own pitifully ignorant way to avoid gender discrimination by leaving out the words 'men' and 'women'. That gives us plenty of rope to hang you with, darling."

"I always enjoy hanging out with you, Diane."

"Together or separately, as Mr. Franklin once observed. So will it be a blouse and skirt or a dress, Michael?"

"Why is it when you start calling me Michael I get the uneasy feeling you're upset with me?"

"Because I'm usually upset with you when I call you Michael. Just because you're about to make a public mockery of every crossdresser on the planet shouldn't bother me in the least, since it's for a good cause. By the way, what is your middle name? I suspect I'm going to need it before this little scenario plays itself out."

"It died with my mother. She used it so often she wore it out."

"Why am I not surprised? You haven't answered me, Michael darling."

"Blouse and skirt, I guess."

"This is not an occasion for guesswork, Michael. Proper fashion requires some time and effort be put into it."

"How much effort are we talking?"

"Hours and hours of shopping, darling! We are starting your wardrobe from nothing. Less than nothing from the way you dress currently, I dare say."

"Diane, I'm going to get my ass fired for this stunt, I don't need a complete wardrobe for the few days it's going to take!"

"You never can tell, darling. You might just like it."

"When pigs fly, Diane."

"I did have roast pork on my last flight to the coast. It could happen, darling. Give me half an hour to do my face and meet me at the apartment. We're going shopping."

"OK."

"More enthusiasm, darling. You have to get used to shopping if you want to crossdress."

***

In the ensuing thirty minutes Mike had a goodly number of second thoughts. Not to mention third and fourth and fifth thoughts. Hmmm… maybe a fifth was in order before he got started. Nah, too much trouble. Besides, he'd need all his wits about him to cope with Diane's sharp tongue.

Diane. Over the years he had met quite an assortment of people. In his not so secret life outside of work Mike felt a compulsion to write poetry and tell stories. Perhaps it was spending his days with the logic of machines and the illogic of their operators that caused the words to bubble up in his brain and demand to be put down on paper. However, once the words were committed to paper they refused to stay there. That's why Mike had found himself in front of a small crowd of people at a local art gallery one evening long ago, reading from his work.

Stage fright had warred with the need to share his words that evening long ago. He somehow found the strength to read the words, eyes downcast and trying to ignore the half a dozen people who were listening. The applause caught him by surprise. The rush of being applauded was a high like no other; as he had tried quite a few ways of getting high so he did have a standard of comparison. From that day foreword he had become a fixture in the local arts scene.

His fellow travelers in the poetry racket were an ill assorted bunch, all united in their love for the magic and power of well crafted words. One evening almost thirty years ago a very nervous, middle aged, slightly balding man had taken the stage in obvious discomfort and read one of the most powerful pieces of poetry Mike had heard in a long, long time. The poem, couched in references to Christ's prayers before his crucifixion, was an appeal to God to lift the burden of manhood from a suffering soul.

Not a subject brought up lightly or often. The room was filled with a stunned silence for long moments when the man finished, then heartfelt with applause. Mike took one look at the face of the person he would come to know as Dan and knew immediately what the man was feeling after allowing his private words to become public, having had the experience himself. Dan was hooked just like he had been.

The world of poetry, like most of the arts, had more than the usual percentage of gays and lesbians involved so Mike counted several of them as friends, but Dan was the first transsexual that Mike had met. Over the next several years Mike watched Dan become Diane, commiserated with her as the roadblocks and difficulties blocked her path and laughed and celebrated with her as they were overcome. He had accompanied her to the clinic for her surgery and done what he could while she recovered. He had been there when Diane met her children for the first time as her real self. He even found himself Best Man to the Bride when Diane had married Wally. (Mike had carefully avoided asking how they handled the marriage license, so don't bother asking.)

Their friendship survived the transition intact. Truth be told, Mike admired the guts and discipline it took to achieve her goal in the face of societal disapproval and financial hardship. He wasn't sure he could have done it if he were in her position. More than once Mike had faced his own difficulties by drawing inspiration from Diane's example. When he had read the memo this morning his first thought was how much Dan would have appreciated receiving it, which led directly to his crazy plan to stick it to the home office.

Crazy for sure, Mike had never had the slightest urge to be anything other than what he was, even when Diane needled him about trying on a bra to see how good it would feel or facetiously urged him to be her Maid of Honor rather than her Best Man. What goes around comes around, or in the Biblical allusion of Dan's first public cry for help, Mike had cast his bread upon the waters and now it was coming back to him when he needed it.

Mike unfolded his long frame from his Cooper Mini when it came to rest in Diane's driveway. There was no need to ring the bell because the front door opened before he had made the last step to the porch.

"Michael!" she greeted him. "Is this the look you are going for, darling?"

She had on a dark blue, knee length skirt with a barely noticeable herringbone pattern, a white blouse with a hint of lace and matching blazer. A bright red scarf was tied around her neck, providing a touch of color. She wore a short gray wig (Dan had solved the problem of male pattern baldness without resorting to a combover) and gold fobs jangled around her wrist as she gave Mike a quick hug. All together, she looked the well turned out woman in her seventies that she was.

"I think I'll pass on the high heels, if you don't mind, my head is too near the clouds as it is. Anyway, I don't want to look good, I want to look ridiculous while complying with company policy."

"But Michael, all the more reason to be stylish. If you dress with flair that is one less thing your employers have to complain about. You don't want to give them any excuses, do you?"

"Well…"

"Trust me, darling, I know. When you're different you have to be very sure you get all the details right or some ignorant lout will make a Federal case out of it."

"That's just what I want to do, Diane. I will comply strictly with the dress code and get my ass fired for wearing a skirt, then sue the bastards for gender discrimination. I don't expect to win. Hell, I don't expect to even come close, I just want to stick it to the officious, ignorant fools that have run the company into the ground."

"So, Dame Quixote, is it?"

"Damn straight. Let's hop into my donkey and go a few rounds with a windmill."

***

Mike wheeled the car into the parking space outside the dirty, non-descript building that was his place of employment. Without thinking he slid into a too small parking space and slid the lever into park. This time he hesitated before opening the door and getting out. The whole Dress Code thing had seemed a lark when he was planning it, but in the dreary, overcast morning light it was a lot harder to face the world in a skirt than he had anticipated. At least the parking lot was empty this early in the morning.

Mike settled at his desk and started working, trying to ignore the bulk of the padded panties on his butt. He had tried to fight the padding but the skirt kept falling down his non-existent hips without something to hold it up. He soon forget what he was wearing as he concentrated on his work.

"So Mike, did you find a proper tie for the good of the Company? I have ten bucks with Tito in the shop riding on your answer, it better be the one I want."

Mike jumped as Kevin asked his question. Time to face the music. Just remember the first time you got up on stage, he told himself, this can't be any worse.

"Tie? Why would I be wearing a tie?" he asked in an innocent tone.

"Mike! Do the words 'Dress Code' strike a chord within your little gray cells?"

"I do believe I've heard the words before, Kevin. Why do you ask?"

"I'm just a little curious. If you're wearing a tie that can only be taken as a sign that the apocalypse is nigh and I want to get right with my maker. Besides, I won't have to pay off Tito for loosing the bet."

"Relax, my friend. Go forth and sin some more. You still have time to repent, at least as far as I know.

"Aw shucks, I was figuring that I could use this suit when they lay me out. If I wait too long I'll probably drip barbeque sauce on it and they'll have to close the coffin."

"What were the exact terms of your bet, anyway."

"That you would ignore the dress code and come in without a tie."

"Then you both have a tie and I don't. Neither one of you won that particular bet.

"Nice threads, Kev!" Bianca had come in.

"You sure do clean up right pretty, Ma'am!" responded Kevin.

"I shall ignore the implication that I was previously unclean and take that as a compliment. Why is Mike still hiding behind the walls?"

"It seems he forgot his tie this morning."

"I did no such thing, my esteemed colleagues. As has been true of my august person for the past few decades, I simply have no need to wear a tie. Now or in the future."

"Does anyone besides me sense an inconsistency in this conversation? The Dress Code requires you to wear a suit and tie. Thus, if you are complying with the Dress Code you are wearing a tie. Since you say you are not wearing a tie then you are not complying with the dress code. Logically consistent, right?"

"Didn't they teach you about GIGO in engineering school, Kevin?" Mike's voice floated over the cubicle wall. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Your postulates are flawed. Thus, while your statements are logically constructed and consistent they nonetheless lead to a false conclusion. I am not wearing a tie and I am in compliance with the dress code."

"Huh?"

"You sound like my accountant."

Mike rose and came out of his cubicle, whereupon the entire engineering department came to a screeching halt at the sight of Mike in a white blouse and ankle length blue skirt.

"Jesus H Christ on a crutch!" Kevin repeated his comment of the previous day.

"Good Lord, Mike!" Bianca cried. "How could you wear those shoes with that skirt?"

"I'm in compliance with the Dress Code, so what's the problem?" He had to work hard to keep the grin off his face.

"The fashion police will bust in here and take you away, that's the problem! They're going to have to send a whole damn SWAT team to cope with you. One does NOT wear combat boots with a skirt.

"Hey – they're good boots and very comfortable!"

"So what? They don't go with the outfit. You and I are going shopping at lunch, my friend."

Mike had forgotten Bianca's obsession with shoes. Her computer wallpaper was repeating pattern of fashion shoes and her screen saver had various pairs of boots tracking across the screen.

"Like hell we are!" Mike blurted.

"Like hell we aren't! You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny, but Auntie Bianca can make it better. Lunchtime, Honey!"

"Bianca, I'm old enough to be your father, so how could you be my Auntie?"

"Grandfather, but who's counting. You old farts need a kindly Auntie to teach them how to dress like a proper lady."

"I never intended, nor do I ever intend, to become a proper anything, let alone a lady."

"I could have sworn I had a mentor that looked a whole lot like you who once told me if a job is worth doing it's worth doing right."

"You assume that complying with the Dress Code is worth doing. Like I said earlier – GIGO."

"You're close! A pair of Gogo boots might be just the thing to set off that outfit, Mike."

***

Not much work got done that morning, every time things started to settle down someone else got the word and had to come in to see Mike in a skirt. Mike's reputation as an odd duck (after all, he was a poet!) didn't exactly prepare his coworkers for his stunt, but they had come to expect some interesting things when he got an idea into his head. The only relief he had from the constant kidding was the fact that Jeff was out of the office for the day. He would face that problem tomorrow.

When the lunch bell went off Bianca appeared at Mike's desk and dragged him away protesting mightily. When they returned, Carol sounded the alarm as Bianca's car pulled into the parking space so just about everyone was waiting at the front door to see Mike in his new knee high, spike heeled leather boots negotiate the few stairs at the entrance. The heels were still a problem, as evidenced by his rather shaky walk, but he managed a little spin to raise the hem of his skirt to show off the boots. A couple of wolf whistles rewarded him.

Who says the only place you get applauded is when you're up on stage? Bianca's suggestions seemed to meet with broad approval.

"Mikey, honey," Bianca pleaded, "Promise me you'll lose the leg hair so you can show off your other pair tomorrow."

"Yeah! Take it off, Mike. Take it all off!" came a cry from the back of the crowd.

"You should hope!" Mike growled. "Doesn't anybody have a job to do in this place?"

***

When Mike got back home that evening he put the shopping bags from his lunchtime adventure on the kitchen table. The first thing he did was to drop his skirt on the floor and change into his comfortable old T-shirt, blue jeans and sandals. Even though he lived alone, Mike was a meticulous guy. He quickly hung the skirt in the closet and put his blouse into the hamper in his bedroom. He flipped on the stereo and listened to NPR while preparing dinner.

The day hadn't gone too badly, but he was rather disappointed that everyone seemed to appreciate the joke. He had rather been hoping for a scandalized reaction or two. That's the problem with working with good people, they are too damn flexible. He cleaned the dishes and put his new shoes on the rack in the bedroom closet.

What to do with the razor Bianca had insisted he buy? Venus, it said on the package. Well, 'Men are from Mars and women…'. He guessed it wasn't a bad name. Did he really want to shave his legs? Diane had been scathing in her comments about hairy legs and skirts and now Bianca had added her opinion. Seemed like he was in the minority on this one. Well, maybe it would get a better reaction tomorrow.

Mike soon found out that shaving your legs was not as easy as it seemed. After five minutes he had only a small patch cleared and the razor kept clogging. He had never been a hairy man, but he had enough hair to make it a long, slow job to remove it. Eventually he found that by holding the hand shower at the right angle it washed away the hair fast enough to make shaving easier. Stepping from the shower, Mike toweled off and was amazed at the feeling of his bare legs. They tingled, and not just because he had been soaking in hot water for the last hour. Just then the phone rang.

"Michael Darling, how did your first day in drag go?"

"Hi Diane. The day interesting, shall we say."

"Details, darling. I want all the gory details!"

"Well, I have a pair of high heel boots to wear now."

"Michael, you didn't go shopping without me, did you? How quickly they forget their mentor!"

"I had a mentor, Diane. I'm going to have to introduce you to Bianca sometime. She's as young as you seem to think you are but has her act together. She was scandalized by my boots and skirt."

"As well she should be, darling. I told you those clodhoppers were all wrong for your outfit, but would you listen?"

"I was listening, Diane. I just didn't give a damn. Everybody seems to forget the whole idea of this masquerade is to get fired. My co-workers seem to think it's a great joke and are bending over backwards to help out. Damn you and your diversity training, Diane. It's working too well!"

"Poor baby! The next time an ignorant lout gives me a hard time I'll send him over to apply for a job at your place."

"We have enough ignorant louts already, Diane. We call them Managers."

"Far nicer than what I call them, darling."

"I shaved my legs, Diane."

"Do tell. Quite a feeling, isn't it?"

"I hadn't any idea. It does feel almost indecent, darling."

"Michael, you are a lousy mimic. If I still have my lessons in how to develop a feminine voice around, you should borrow them."

"You're too kind. I'm going to bed, Diane."

"Sleep tight, Darling. Might one ask if you have a proper nightgown?"

"Pajamas, old friend. My normal, regular pajamas."

"How plebian, Michael. Good night, my insane friend."

Putting on his pajamas, Mike was constantly aware of how the fabric felt as it brushed his legs. Not one to hide from the truth, Mike even admitted it felt pretty good. He hadn't been expecting that, but he was happy to accept it as a bonus. Sleep came late that night.

***

The next morning was rather cool. Mike decided that the charcoal gray skirted suit with a pale blue blouse would be appropriate for the day, even if the blazer was uncomfortably close to a suit coat for his taste. His fashion sense had developed to the point where he realized the flamboyant boots wouldn't work with the more formal outfit so he wore his new flats. With socks - he still had a way to go yet.

To his surprise, Bianca was waiting when he arrived.

"I knew it!" she accused.

"Knew what?" Mike responded.

"I knew you wouldn't wear pantyhose today. Michael, this is your conscience speaking: In a business environment you wear hose with a skirt. You can wear socks if you're on a picnic, but in the office you wear tights or pantyhose. You have cute legs so show them off, fella."

"I don't have any pantyhose."

"You should have listened to me when I told you that you'd need them yesterday when you bought the shoes." She fished into her purse and pulled out a crumpled package. "Here, my gift to you. Put these on and lose the socks."

"Yes, Mother."

"And don't you forget it! I intend to see you do this right if you're going to make fools out of the home office. You don't give them any excuse to bust you, you hear?"

"Yes, Mother."

"Good. Now get in there and change.

***

About mid morning the phone on Mike's desk started ringing. He picked it up.

"This is Mike."

"Well. if it isn't the nonconformist himself. Get your ass over to my office, Mike."

It looked like the boss had returned. Mike just smiled at the attempts at humor that were thrown his way as he made his way across the building. He was much too busy appreciating how the hem of his skirt felt on his shaved legs as he walked.

"Morning, Jeff." Mike offered as he entered the office.

"I should have known they couldn't all be lying to me. You are a grade A, number one asshole, Mike."

"I love you too, Jeff."

"Mike, you read the memo. Men have to wear a suit and tie. You've had your fun, so go home and change, OK?"

"Nope. Read the memo again, Jeff. Nowhere in it will you find a reference to gender of any kind. I am in compliance with the Dress Code and you have no cause for complaint."

"You are a grade A, number one asshole, Mike."

"But I have cute legs. If Bianca says so it must be true."

"So that's how you want to play it. Very well, you are technically correct. I have officially reminded you of the Company Dress Code and you have officially responded. Go back to work Mike."

"Sure thing, Jeff."

"Oh – one more thing."

"Yeah?"

"You do have nice legs, Mike."

***

"Hello?"

"Tell me, darling, are you still employed?"

Diane, of course.

"I still slave for wages, just as always, Diane."

"Such a shame."

"Tell me about it. I work with a bunch of people that are so nice you can't shock them just by wearing a skirt."

"Darling, nobody's been shocked by a man in a skirt since the Paul Winter Consort. You're decades behind the times."

"Well, I'm considering my next step. I shall escalate until someone gets mad enough to fire my sorry ass."

"Perhaps showing your sorry ass would be enough. I think have a transparent skirt somewhere around here that no one my age should be wearing."

"I want to get fired, not arrested for indecent exposure."

"That would probably get you fired, though."

Thanks. Got any other helpful suggestions?"

"Certainly. This one's cheap, too. Paint your fingers and toes and wear sandals tomorrow."

"Hmmm... That might work if I had some nail polish."

"Dear boy, there's a drugstore a block from you house. Be a big spender and go buy a bottle. What are we wearing tomorrow?"

"I don't know what you intend to do, but I think that red, two piece thing you made me buy."

"Good. Remember to use a color on your nails that matches the outfit. I don't suppose you have red sandals?"

"Not unless I paint them with nail polish."

"Darling, you're approaching this like a man."

"That's the whole idea, 'darling'. Reductio ad absurdum, as the Romans say.

"Perhaps, but wouldn't Increase-o to absurdum be more appropriate given your plans to escalate?"

"Ouch!"

"Gender dysphoria can be painful, my friend."

"So can slaughtering the language. I'm going to go buy some nail polish."

"Have fun, darling. Do keep me informed.”

***

It's funny how quickly the odd becomes commonplace. By the end of the week no one even gave Mike a second glance. Mike was pissed, this was not going according to plan at all. Even painted toes with sandals hadn't worked. Only one thing to do.

"Michael, how goes the corporate fashion war?"

"Diane, I keep offering to do battle but they just laugh!"

"You poor thing!"

"It's time to escalate. What comes next?"

"Jewelry, darling. Bling-bling in the common parlance, I believe. Tastefully done, of course."

"Bling is supposed to be ostentatious, not tasteful. Remember, 'businesslike' is the order of the day.

"I should know better than to try to speak about modern culture. I'm an hopelessly archaic old fossil."

"But remarkably well preserved. I get the feeling we're going shopping again."

"You're learning, darling. We'll make a woman out of you yet."

"Fat chance! Maybe I should just retire and be done with it."

"And miss all the fun, darling? I'm enjoying this hugely."

"So is everyone else. That's the problem."

"There, there, dear. Things will get better. I can't wait to see you with long, dangly earrings."

"No way!"

"You're making this difficult, Michael. I suppose you're going to complain about having your ears pierced."

"What!?"

"You have to have pierced ears if you want to wear fashionable jewelry. Clipons are for old ladies."

"I'm old! I'm Old and creaking and querulous and…"

"Shut up, Michael. I'll pick you up in half an hour. Be ready, darling."

***

By the end of the second week Mike had gotten used to shaving his legs. He picked up several pairs of stockings and grinned every time he saw them hanging on the shower rod after he hand washed them.

Several people lost money as the days passed and Mike continued to wear skirts and dresses. There were only two people left in Tito's pool who had bet he would go longer than two weeks before he gave up. Naturally, Tito started a pool on how high his hemlines would go, but Mike stuck strictly to the below the knee edict. Besides, he liked how a long skirt felt while he walked. The only problem was when it got caught in the wheels of his computer chair. Maybe that's why he didn't give up even if all his co-workers steadfastly refused to be scandalized by his singular form of protest.

"General Diane, this is Private Mike with a report from the front. The enemy still refuses to fight. What do I do next?

"My, I thought your little foray into crossdressing was rather public, what's this private business?

"General, this is War! I need a new battle plan!"

Then it's time to bring out the big guns, Michael. And please, let's drop the silly military metaphors. It isn't ladylike."

"Neither am I."

"Perhaps that's the problem, Michael. You are still a man in a dress and everyone knows it. The incremental approach doesn't seem to be working, darling."

"I'm afraid you're right, Diane."

"You're a little old for it, but it's time for you to experience the right of passage that every woman must go through."

"And what would that be?" Mike asked with some trepidation.

"Your first bra, of course. I think you're a might too large for the usual training bra, but we'll make do, darling!"

"Not a chance, Diane. I'll retire first!"

"And let the corporate dickheads win? I'm ashamed of you, Michael!"

"Well…."

The silence went on for quite a while.

"Diane?"

"Yes, Michael?"

"What's it like to wear a bra?"

"I think the word might be 'satisfying' Michael."

"Interesting…"

"Michael, with me it wasn't so much about the clothes as what they mean. You know I have always felt I was really a woman, even if I couldn't accept it or let myself realize it for so many years. Wearing a bra is a part of being what I am. Besides, what with getting older I need the support these days; my breasts drooping."

"But it's not just wearing a bra, Michael. The question is whether you want to make a commitment to do it right, not just continue the burlesque we've been playing. I can tell you from personal experience that transitioning on the job is a sure fire way to become unemployed."

"I remember, Diane."

"And I remember that you were there for me when it happened. You were one of the reasons I kept going. Without you there I might not have made it, you know."

"Thank you, Diane. Your friendship means a lot to me as well."

"Let's not get maudlin, dear boy. Just how far do you want to go in your little protest?"

"This has gone a lot farther than I thought it would already, Diane. I don't know if I can do it. I'm not like you, I don't have any desire to be a woman. The clothes are just clothes to me."

"Which is actually a good thing. You can be objective about your decision."

"Right! I learned long ago that I can't be objective about what's going on in my own brain. "

"Dum de dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum, de-dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum, If I only had a brain…" Diane sang. "With your physique you should have no trouble getting a job as a scarecrow, even if you don't have a brain."

"You are so comforting, old friend. Seriously, I'm not sure it's worth the effort to 'do it right' as you say. I'm not sure I could do it right in the first place."

"It does take a lot of effort, dear boy."

"I remember. It took you a long time to be convincing, if you don't mind me saying so."

"I wince at the memory, Michael. I had no idea what I was getting into, even though I absolutely needed to do it. In your case, can you stand the embarrassment long enough to achieve your objective. Getting fired is a lot easier than creating a whole new life, you know."

"Getting fired means I'll have to create a whole new life anyway. OK, old friend, let's do it."

"Congratulations, Michelle. You'll knock them dead!"

One thing, Diane. Tell me that learning how to do makeup is easier than learning to tie a tie."

"I won't lie to you, Michelle. You will look like a mess for quite a while until you get it right. I think you ought to stay with me and Wally until you can do it on your own. I'm an old woman, I don't want to get up early enough to come over to your place and get you ready for work."

"Diane, You'll never be an old woman, not ever."

***

Mike - pardon me, Michelle - spent an incredibly busy weekend, but you've read the details before. The ritual shave, the trip to the mall for ear piercing, stocking up on unmentionables – which were mentioned far too often and in far too much detail. Then there was the trip to the beauty shop for hair styling, botched makeup and walking lessons. There was also the ritual lightening of the wallet, something not usually mentioned in these stories. Mike and Michelle were separated by a sea of cash; by the end of the process he wondered if retirement wasn't a simpler and cheaper way to keep a noose from around his neck.

He wasn't too far into the procedure when he realized the noose had migrated a few inches down his body. After a few minutes in a bra he was wondering how long it would take to cut his body in two. When the forms (they cost how much?!) went into the cups his balance was subtly off and they were heavy! It was completely mystifying why Dan had wanted so badly to experience this full time.

His emotions ran up and down almost as if he were taking hormones and Diane had to call on her vast reserves of patience. Wally was enormously amused by the whole process. Monday morning found both Diane and Michelle short on sleep and apprehensive.

"Well, you're as ready as you're going to be, Michelle." mused Diane.

"Your tone is less than reassuring, old friend."

"Perhaps I was overconfident in what we could accomplish in a weekend."

"Now you tell me!"

"Just stay at your desk as much as you can and think feminine. Perhaps your friend Bianca will be able to do any emergency repairs that become necessary."

"You make it sound like taking my car in for service. Do I have to have my oil changed every three thousand miles, too?"

"If you use enough powder to set it your makeup won't be oily. Just keep your hands off your face!"

"If I can keep them off your neck I can keep them off my face. Just tell me that this is going to work. Please?"

"Of course it will work. If it were within my power I'd fire your right here and now. I still think you would look better if you wore the waist cincher, darling."

"Diane, the entire reason for this travesty is that I don't want to wear a tie. I'm not sure that wearing a bra is any better than a tie, so why in heaven's name would you think I'd wear a corset?"

"Beauty, darling. We must suffer for true beauty."

"Bullshit. The day I'm beautiful is the day the world ends."

It's time to leave – break a leg, Michelle."

"Good thing I still have health insurance – at least until the boss sees me."

***

Michelle felt a sense of profound relief when he made it to her desk unseen. He knew it wouldn't last – couldn't last – but it did give him some time to compose himself. She had until the first question came up or whenever Bianca sat in her chair across the aisle. Good lord! Did he just think of himself as 'she'? What had he gotten into?

Routine helped. Find someplace to put her purse, turn on the computer, arrange the papers on the desk, read the E-mail. Michelle's laughter rang out loud and long when he got to the latest Corporate memo.


TO: ALL EMPLOYEES

FROM: HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT

SUBJECT: REVISED DRESS CODE

In an effort to present a professional appearance to our customers and improve the Company's image the following revised dress code has been adopted for all employees in departments which interact with suppliers, customers or the general public. Effective immediately, all such employees shall wear a suit and tie, businesslike blouse and skirt or dresses with hemlines at knee level or lower.

Professional appearance requires that a brassiere and slip/camisole be worn under blouses or dresses. Overly provocative clothing is prohibited. Blue jeans, T-shirts and other casual clothing are not acceptable. No running shoes will be allowed, business footwear with socks or stockings are required.

We ask your cooperation in adhering to this policy for the good of the Company. Failure to comply will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination


Michelle knew at once that he must have a genuine female counterpart doing her best to thwart the dress code somewhere at corporate. Such messages invariably originated when one person found a way to abuse the system. He hoped his male colleagues had gotten an eyeful before the wheels had ground out the correction to policy.

He could hear activity in the shop, so he picked up the phone and made a call.

"Tito? --- I got twenty bucks says I can predict the first words out of Kevin's mouth when he comes in the engineering office this morning. You want to cover it? --- You're on. The words will be 'Jesus H Christ on a crutch!' --- See you in ten minutes. --- Oh, and Tito, bring a sawbuck with you."

He hung up with a smile. Maybe it was going to be worth it after all, he mused.

"Are you presentable this morning, Mike?"

Bianca had arrived.

"Michelle, if you please, Bianca. I think that for rush job I came out quite well this morning. What do you think?"

She stood up and gave Bianca a curtsy. (OK, she had been practicing, but it did kind of bring home the new image.)

"Mike?"

"Michelle."

You can't be serious!" Are you trying to get fired?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. I thought you knew that."

"You are insane!"

"Quite probably, but in complete compliance with the New and Revised Dress Code. Check your E-mail while I get some coffee."

Kevin would be here any minute. Michelle went up to the coffee maker near the doorway so she was sure Kevin would see her as soon as he entered the engineering office.

Her? Just live with it, Mike. Don't try to analyze it.

Footsteps coming down the hall. Tito had arrived and sat off to one side in a guest chair, ready to witness the results of the bet. He didn't seem to realize who was at the coffee machine. Just as well, he was going to have to go through the 'surprise-surprise' routine enough times this morning. More footsteps, unmistakably Kevin's this time. Michelle turned and faced the door so he was in Kevin's direct line of vision. There was a period of silence while Kevin's mind processed what he was seeing.

"What the fuck! You are a complete and total asshole, you asshole."

The light dawned on Tito at that moment, but he simply said "Pay up, Mike. You lose."

"Jesus H Christ on a crutch. What are you trying to do to us?"

"Too late!", smirked Tito. "The bet was for the first words out of his mouth."

"Let me get my purse, Tito." Michelle answered.

"Your purse? Jesus H…"

"Oh shut up, Kevin.", scolded Bianca. "You're repeating yourself. Besides, you need to read the latest Corporate memo before you say anything else. I hope you appreciate how much effort Michelle here is putting onto keeping up with the Dress Code."

"Mike, My office." The command came from the intercom speakers. "Mike, my office."

The boss had read the memo. Mike had an entourage on his journey to Jeff's office, and entourage that grew with every step.

"Hey, Jeff."

Jeff was immersed in paperwork when Michelle entered. He spoke distractedly as he tried to finish reading whatever paragraph lay before him.

"Mike, official time again. You read the new memo?"

"I'm shocked, Jeff. Of course I keep current on matters of company policy.

"Then you know…"

Jeff lapsed into stunned silence when he finally looked up to see Michelle standing in his doorway.

"Oh shit! I…"

"Now come on, Jeff. I've been acting like a proper lady for less than an hour and so far three people have started swearing in my presence. Whatever happened to decorum in the workplace?"

That demure announcement was greeted by a chorus of laughter from the assembled multitude.

"Out! Just get the fuck out of my sight. And close the door behind you, dammit!"

Michelle gently shut the door and turned to her admirers.

"I guess he didn't get his beauty rest over the weekend. C'mon Bianca, we have work to do."

***

There wasn't a chance that Michelle would get any work done that morning. Everybody in the plant found an excuse to stop at his desk to see what crazy Mike was up to. The only break he got was when hydraulic pressure demanded relief, which had its own set of problems. He was unwilling to face the ribald remarks that would accompany a trip to the men's room and not quite brave enough to enter the ladies. That meant a trip up the stairs to the exercise room. So far as Mike knew no one had ever done any particular exercise there, but years ago someone had stored an old exercise bike there and the name stuck. There was a single bathroom up there that was gender neutral. Well, if you averaged his genetics and clothing he was as gender neutral as you could get this morning.

Michelle normally ate lunch at his desk, but with the busy weekend and staying away from home he didn't have any leftovers to bring with him. He tried to go out for lunch unobtrusively, but it was not to be. The entire engineering staff accompanied him to the Puerto Rican joint a few blocks away. He was beginning to have a great deal of sympathy for the monkeys in the zoo. The boss remained incognito all morning, then left at lunch time. The afternoon was quieter, but Michelle frequently had to exercise an unwonted civility with his coworkers.

Much to his surprise and disgust, Michelle was still employed when quitting time rolled around. Just what was it going to take to lose his job for sexual discrimination? How was he going to escalate the provocation after all he had gone through?

"Why the long face, Michelle?" Diane asked when he returned to his temporary home.

"I'm still employed. Not only that, some yahoo at Corporate amended the dress code so I have to keep wearing this damned bra. Got any other brilliant ideas, old friend? Public mayhem? Mass murder? Crossing against the light?"

"My, my! Are we discouraged, Michelle?"

"I thought you said this was guaranteed to get me fired."

"It worked for me. Perhaps society has gotten more liberal than I realized since I transitioned."

"Jeez! Just what I need – enlightened management with a Dress Code! Couldn't they at least be consistent?"

"'The desire for consistency is the mark of a small mind.' as Martin Luther once remarked."

Yeah? Maybe I should nail a list of demands on the boss' door."

"Now that has possibilities. You could organize a union. Want to bet they'd find an excuse to fire you then?"

"Just what I need! Can you be ladylike when holding a picket sign?"

"Darling, thousands of mistreated women have done so."

"That's just the problem! Nobody will mistreat me!"

"Such a problem to have! Quit bitching and let's have another go at teaching you how to do makeup without looking like a clown."

"Work, work, work! I just can't seem to get out of doing more work!"

***

And so it went. Nobody, including Michelle himself, could say why he kept it up as the weeks went on. Pure cussedness, perhaps, or an unwillingness to admit he had failed. His demeanor improved with practice. With Bianca on his case during the day and Diane taking over for the night shift he became as receptive as Pavlov's dogs to their commands. Once again, in an amazingly short time the radical became the commonplace and Michelle was an accepted part of the workplace.

He, and he still mostly thought of himself as 'he', eventually mastered makeup sufficiently well to do his own and returned to his own home. At first he eagerly removed feminine clothes and makeup as soon as he got in the door, but after a while it just plain got to be too much trouble to keep changing clothes so often. Michelle spent most of the week looking forward to being his old self and come Saturday morning he slept in and decided to treat himself to breakfast out.

His first thought was how much nicer it was to just throw on some clothes and go out the door without having to shave and do makeup. He automatically picked up his purse as he went out the door, then had to come back and take the ID and money out of it and put it in his wallet. He automatically tucked the skirt he wasn't wearing as he sat in his car. He felt positively guilty eating as three egg omelet with bacon and hash browns, it just didn't seem right any more.

It was the little things that galled. He missed feeling his skirt on his legs. Now his balance was off the other way without the weight of the breast forms. Catching sight of himself in the mirror, the little sway he had so assiduously cultivated over the last couple of weeks looked weird on his male image.

"The desire for consistency is the mark of a small mind." Maybe Mike had a smaller mind than he thought. With a guilty sense of relief, Michelle went to work on Monday. Once again, Corporate had issued a dictum:


PRESS RELEASE

The XYZ corporation announces the acquisition of ABC corporation. "This move will enhance the capabilities of XYZ." Stated Frank Feelgood, Chairman of XYZ and President and CEO of the new entity, Alphabet Soup LLC. "We are looking forward to merging our infrastructure and adding value to our product base"

No significant changes are planned in the company structure at the present time.


There was a lot more, filled with words like 'synergy' and 'core strengths' and such. Of course the names have been changed to protect the guilty, but Michelle's reaction was immediate.

"Hot damn! This is practically a guarantee of getting laid off! When they say they don't intend to change anything just call up the unemployment office and order the forms."

There was a short meeting that morning where Jeff announced that the new owners would be there on Wednesday to inspect the facility. This set off the usual frenzy of cleaning that is the corporate equivalent to what happens when you have guests in your house.

"Michelle, I need to see you in my office." Jeff said as the meeting broke up.

Big surprise. As Mike he wouldn't have worried about a call to Jeff's office, but Michelle presented an obvious problem for the upcoming inspection.

"Close the door, will you?" Jeff asked. "Why is it when things get weird around here you always seem to be in the middle of it?"

"Natural talent, I suppose."

"Yeah. I know all engineers are screwballs, but you certainly have a way of rising to the top of a pack of screwballs."

Somehow silence seemed the most appropriate answer in the situation.

"OK, Michelle, I need to know who's going to be sitting at your desk on Wednesday. You've had your fun and so far you haven't done anything that caused problems for the business, so I've let it ride. I just don't want any problems with the new owners when they get here."

"Is the Dress Code still in effect?"

"You know damn well it is!"

"Then I don't see any other choice, Jeff. I don't wear ties. Period."

"Yeah, same old Mike. Please, promise me you won't do anything to get the rest of us in deep shit when they get here."

"I'll be a perfect lady in all respects, boss."

"If you aren't, I'm going to remove something that will leave you no choice. You are the most exasperating woman on the face of the earth! Jesus! Now you have me doing it. Woman – I just hope the brass that shows up doesn't look at you too closely. Go away, will you?

"Anything you want, boss." Michelle replied. "Except wearing a tie, that is."

***

"I don't see any bruises or contusions, Jeff must have been gentle." Bianca quipped when Michelle returned to her desk.

"Jeff would never strike a lady, you know that."

"I rest my case."

"So, have you been looking for a new job yet?"

"What?"

"You are a naive child, aren't you? When you see the phrase 'no changes are contemplated' in a merger announcement it means 'heads are going to roll and gore will cover the floor'. Looks like I'm going to get my wish to be fired after all, even if Jeff and all you other people are so damned accommodating and considerate."

"Such a cynic. Have you looked up the new company yet?"

"Why bother. Besides, I've been busy with Jeff giving me some not so subtle hints to behave myself."

"They don't look too bad. At least their web site looks pretty good and the investment types use words like 'maverick' and 'unique, informal management style'. The word is they bought us out because they think we're undervalued and our problems stem from inept management. At least they got that right."

"Listen to your old mentor, they may pay people top dollar to make the crap smell like roses, but it's still crap. I've been through it all before. At least I'll probably got some kind of retirement package, you'll just get a pat on the ass and a raw deal."

"You are turning into a prune faced old woman, aren't you? "

"Better than a hopelessly romantic child."

"No wonder you're a spinster. At least wait until Wednesday before you give up, won't you?"

"Spinster? There's too much spin from the big brass already."

"I ain't talking DJ here, grandma! I refuse to be a cynic, it's no fun."

"You'll learn."

***

Wednesday morning Michelle dressed with particular care. Not that she would admit it, but the 'spinster' remark had stung. While Mike had a few partners over the years, at 63 he had never found a woman who was willing to share his life. He knew he was hard to live with. He knew he was sarcastic and his humor could be too pointed for most people, but he was what he was. Perhaps it was for the best, after all how many people could handle the whole Michelle bit? Yet that was the way he was and he wasn't going to change.

Then again, Michelle had been quite a change, hadn't it? His pride and stubbornness had left him taking a good hour each morning to become Michelle just so he wouldn't have to wear a tie. When you looked at it that way it was downright crazy, yet step by step he had become Michelle. He or she or whatever wasn't going to back down now.

Since today was going to be special, Michelle would go all out, and it wasn't going to be some frumpy business outfit. Diane and Michelle had put their heads together last night and designed an ensemble that would let Michelle go out in style. Part of the evening was spent at a nail salon for a manicure and pedicure. That was why the pink strappy sandals were on her feet this morning, so that the artwork on her nails showed plainly.

For this one day she had finally given in to Diane and wore a waist cincher. It wasn't all that tight, but with the padded panties that had become his constant companion in the last few weeks it gave just enough definition to the hips to compliment the flowing, ankle length, crinkled pink skirt she wore. The new pink bra, with an obscene amount of lace, held her breast forms tightly, emphasizing the embroidery along the neckline of an off white linen blouse. Her graying hair flowed freely, occasionally concealing the rubies that dangled from the long silver chains in her ears.

The makeup had been the hardest part, she hadn't truly mastered the art quite yet, but it was looking pretty good. Not many sixty year olds looked this good, she thought to herself as she took one last look in the mirror. Reveling in the luxury of leaving late (she wanted to make a grand entrance this one time) she took time for a cup of coffee and a muffin with strawberry jam before leaving.

Arriving at work there were a couple of new cars parked there. The new people must be early risers. In Michelle's experience most corporate hacks tended to arrive mid morning, long after the worker bees had to be slaving away. With a quick check of her makeup in the rear view mirror, Michelle entered the building.

She nodded at Carol, the receptionist, who gave her a grin and a thumbs up as she passed. She couldn't have timed it better, she practically ran into Jeff and two other people as they left his office. The sudden stop caused the skirt to fly about and Jeff practically swallowed his teeth when he saw her.

Wait a minute, these guys were wearing jeans and golf shirts with a little corporate logo on the breast. What happened to the 'suits from corporate'? The two gave her an appreciative look, appreciative for a grandmotherly type anyway, as she paused before them.

"Um, this is Michelle," Jeff stammered, "our Chief Engineer here. Mike, this is Keith and Toby from the new owners. Keith is the VP of our division and Toby is in charge of corporate publicity."

"Pleased to meet you. Mike?"

She extended her hand, remembering to keep her grip ladylike, while mentally doing unpleasant things to Jeff for his slip of the tongue.

"Who's going to take a Chief Engineer named Michelle seriously? I've been Mike to everyone for years."

"Yeah," responded Jeff, "Calling her Michelle still seems strange to most of us. By the way, Mike, tell your staff that there's a company meeting at 10:00."

They made polite responses before Michelle made her way to her desk. Keith and Toby, eh? No last names? Maybe Bianca had been right about the new company being different.

"Well, well, well!" crowed Bianca as she entered the engineering office. "Old ladies aren't supposed to look so sexy, you sexy old lady."

"I don't believe it!" was Kevin's contribution.

"You've said that before. You need someone to write you some new dialog, Kev." replied Michelle. "At least it isn't Jesus H. limping along his morning."

"You really are trying to cause a riot, aren't you?"

"Who? Me?" she replied innocently. "Just following the company Dress Code. Which, by the way, Keith and Toby from the new owners are most definitely not. I'm going to be pissed if I went to all this trouble for nothing."

"Only fair, with all the people you've pissed off in your life." Bianca shot back.

"I have only begun to piss people off, my dear. Too bad my new image makes it harder to aim."

"Oh well, there goes the image. Wasn't it you who was complaining about foul language in the presence of a lady just the other day?"

"I quote Martin Luther: 'The desire for consistency is the mark of a small mind.' Words to live by, my dear."

"Well la-de-da, aren't we the erudite one this morning. I have a quote for you, mentor of mine: 'Miss Manners cannot think of a more succinct definition of a lady than someone who wants to punch another person in the nose, but doesn't.'

"Whatever your fight, don't be ladylike" - Mother Jones."

"What is this, the National Quotation Bee?" complained Kevin.

"Just a simple exchange of wisdom, a quality of which you remain blissfully unaware."

"Speaking of wisdom," interrupted Michelle, "the new owners are about to impart their wisdom to us – meeting at 10:00.

"The words 'wisdom' and 'meeting' can not be used in the same sentence." opined Kevin. "The only way to get through them is to chant my mantra: 'I'm paid by the hour… I'm paid by the hour…"."

"Well, at least we don't have to stare at your belly button while you chant."

"Hey!" enthused Michelle, "maybe wearing a halter top will finally get them to fire me."

"Forget it, Michelle, if they haven't fired you yet you're never going to get fired. At least not for your interpretation of the Dress Code."

"Gee thanks. I just love a positive attitude on the part of my fellow workers. Get to work, you wage slaves!

***

One of the reasons that Michelle held the exalted title of Chief Engineer was because she found it easy to ignore distractions and concentrate on the business at hand. Despite the upheaval in her life and worries about what would happen to the company with the new owners, she soon immersed herself in doing her job. She was comfortably enveloped in a cloud of creativity, ideas flowing effortlessly from her brain through her fingers and into the computer when she had that eldritch feeling someone was watching her.

A practiced skeptic and realist that rejected any hint of the paranormal in the way the world worked, nonetheless she felt a tingle between her shoulders that eventually dispersed her creative cloud into a fog of annoyance. Turning around she found Toby watching her work.

"I still think that SolidWorks is really just technologically updated Voodoo and anyone who can make it work ought to be shaking a stick and dancing around a giant plasma monitor displaying a bonfire. How the devil can you think in three dimensions like that?" Toby asked.

"Years of practice and burning circuit boards to propitiate the proper gods. I keep a staff of theologians on call just in case I need them, but sacrificing people that annoy me at the Altar of Technology is usually enough for day-to-day work."

"Meaning that I should get lost and let you work. I didn't mean to interrupt you, but watching things rotate on the screen still fascinates me."

"To tell you the truth, I sometimes just spin them around on the screen just because I can. It is fun to watch." Michelle admitted. "Anyway, your meeting starts in a few minutes so go ahead and distract me."

"Yeah, I used to hate meetings and now I'm giving them. There must be some god somewhere laughing at me for having sold my soul to the devil."

"Just as long as you don't pass around a collection plate I'll keep my mouth shut."

"Now there's an idea to improve the bottom line – get the employees to give us money. Somehow I don't think it would go over too big."

"About as well as most of the ideas that come out of corporate these days. Speaking of which, it appears you haven't read the memo about the Dress Code."

"Oh, I read it, then electronically assigned it to oblivion along with most of the idiotic policies of the former management. I think you'll like what we have to say at the meeting. How could such incompetent people have gotten control of what used to be a well run company?"

"Money, how else? All they thought about was the bottom line and the hell with the customers. I've seen it all before."

"So have I, Michelle. Or should I call you Mike?"

"Whatever, I answer to either."

"Michelle, then. A few years ago a bunch of people like that were ruining our company and once they had completely screwed it up they tried to sell it. We employees got together, bought the company and revived it. If you had told me all those years ago that I would love being a publicity flak I would have laughed in your face. It was one of those things that happened almost by accident. Someone had to tell the world that our company was back in business and it got dumped in my lap. It was that or unemployment, so I could I do?"

"The things people will do for money! I hope you got a good price for your soul when you sold it. How else could you do publicity?"

"The honest way, by telling the truth. When you have good people doing an honest job you don't have to lie about how good your company really is."

"Too bad most people haven't tried that business model. It's so crazy it just might work.'

"It IS working, my friend. And with any luck you and the rest of the people here will keep it working and make us all rich."

***

Keith And Toby stood at the door to the conference room, greeting everyone as they entered. The cynic in Michelle warred with the idea that these people might actually make things better. In the corporate world that sort of hope usually turned out to be false, there were just too many slick liars ready to do you in when it was convenient.

Once everyone was there Jeff nervously introduced Keith and Toby, even though they had done so themselves minutes before.

"OK people, first things first. None of you are going to lose you jobs. We aren't going to move them to India or China or outsource them or any of that crap. You people do good work and we intend to have you keep doing it. The idea is to diversify your customer base, being tied to one industry like you have been is a recipe for disaster when that industry falls on hard times. We intend to bring in our network of salesmen and reps to get the word out so you all keep as busy as possible.

We spent a long time studying how this company works and it didn't take a genius to figure removing a few layers of management and a few more layers of bullshit are the key to making you profitable. From now on, once you people have a project you assume responsibility for it. No more having to get thirty seven people to sign off on it from corporate before you order a new screw. Of course, that means you also have to take the heat if you screw up, but that's life."

"Look, we all screw up. It's going to happen, people. For us, the key is how well you unscrew things and how happy you make the customer. That's what we want – the customer is happy, all of you guys are happy and we make a profit. We don't intend to go for 501(c)(3) people. Profit is good and don't you forget it. If we don't make money then we all find new jobs. Enough of the sermon. Don't' worry, I'm not going to pass the collection plate either. Our business has been expanding and what you are doing here will help us expand."

"We're going to make some changes, but I think you'll like them. Things like replacing that filthy old carpet in the engineering office, upgrading the computers and getting rid of all the junk upstairs so we have room for things we really need. Oh yeah, the damnfool dress code is now history. You people are professionals and you don't need to wear a monkey suit to prove it. If you keep cranking out good product you can come to work in you skivvies for all I care. OSHA might have something to say, but we don't care as long as you're working safely."

He went on for a little while longer but Michelle wasn't listening, she was grinning from ear to ear as everyone gave a rousing cheer. While they weren't as adamant as Michelle, the rest of the people working with her hadn't liked the dress code either. Had she won? Did it matter? The Dress Code was gone, but all her efforts seemed to have been irrelevant. Who would have thought that corporate would actually acquire some intelligence?

What was it going to be like to wake up but not make up? Could it only have been a few weeks? She had missed blue jeans. She? Not any longer! Mike was back and Michelle was history! It was enough to make her want to go home and change except hat she wasn't mean enough to make Jeff have to explain the situation. In his own way he had supported her protest.

His, damn it. Not her!

"Wake up, girl!" Bianca was shaking her.

Well, her for a few more hours anyway.

"I'm awake. Just thinking deep thoughts, as befits a chief engineer."

"Does the snoring help your thought processes?"

"Of course, that's the result of the firmament shaking with the force of my brilliant ideas."

"Well, shake your booty and get back to work. The meeting's over."

"We of a mature persuasion do not 'shake our booties' unless they belong to our grandchildren. I shall, however, return to work." Michelle replied haughtily.

"Too bad you aren't wearing a tie – you could have the pleasure of dumping it in the trash now that the Dress Code is gone."

"Child, I'm going to relish removing this waist cincher far more than removing a tie. The masquerade is over!"

"Yeah. It is, isn't it?

"You sound disappointed."

"A little. You seem happier as Michelle, you know."

"Do I?"

"Sure. You haven't gone off on a tirade since Michelle came along. That's kind of nice."

"Ouch!"

"You know what I mean. You're just more mellow."

"You should have seen me in the sixties. A couple of jays and it was mellow city!"

"Now you sound like my grandma. She keeps telling me how much better it was when she was young."

"I'll clue you in, kid. It's always better when you're young. Mellow in your twenties is a choice; mellow in your sixties is necessity. Nothing works like it once did."

"Yeah, and you had to walk through six feet of snow uphill both ways to school AND home. I've heard it all before, old lady."

"And you'll hear it again. Us old farts don't remember so good. Have I ever told you about the time…"

"Yes! Whatever it is, yes!"

"Then I suppose I'll just have to set a good example and go back to work. How boring!"

***

Shortly before noon the PA system came to life with an announcement that the new management was treating everyone to lunch. Well, that was fine with Michelle, she hadn't had time to make a lunch what with the extra preparation this morning. It was a pretty good spread, pizza, wings, salad, sandwiches and such. Michelle and Bianca had just settled in when Toby came over.

"Mind if I join you ladies?"

"Not at all!" Bianca replied. "Sit down and eat before it's all gone."

"Bianca, isn't it?" She nodded. "I understand you started as an intern mentoring under Michelle. So how do you like working here?"

"It's great. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was in college. I took an introductory course in engineering just to fill my schedule and fell in love with it. I can't tell you how much Michelle has taught me. She really knows what she's doing and has a way of guiding you so you learn just how to do things right. There's nothing like watching something you've drawn actually be built and starting to work!"

"That's great. I don't want to sound patronizing, but there aren't many female engineers around. I'm a little surprised to find two in the same department, and one of them the chief engineer. That's pretty unusual."

"You don't know the half of it, Toby." thought Michelle.

Well, I've always wanted to be an engineer." replied Michelle. "The female part is pretty much a side issue as far as I'm concerned, though it does have its advantages." A look of understanding passed between Michelle and Bianca. "There sure weren't many female students in the engineering department when I was in school ("Not even me!" she thought.) but these days there are quite a few. We've had quite a few interns over the years but Bianca has a talent and enthusiasm that stands out."

"That's hard to find these days." Replied Toby.

"One of the things that concerns me most," continued Michelle, "is the age gap in engineering. We haven't been training enough technical people in America. I'm going to retire in a couple of years and there simply aren't enough good engineers around to replace me. Some of the foreign students are staying here and it helps, but the high schools haven't been turning out people with an understanding of math and science for quite a few years and colleges need students with some minimum level of skill to train. That's why I pushed to hire Bianca. We need more like her."

"Mike, you don't know how glad I am to hear you say that." Toby replied. "We are very aware of the problem and have been trying to do something about it. Did you know we have a program where our people travel to high schools, colleges and job fairs around the country to encourage students to take up the technical trades? Our business is dependant on good technical people and we just can't find enough of them. Buying companies like yours only goes so far, we need a continual supply of innovators."

"Toby, I've been singing that song for years but nobody listens."

"Well, I'm listening. I'd like to ask you two to join our recruitment team and help us do something about it. Two or three times a year you'd spend a week or so recruiting, the rest of the time you'll be here doing your usual job. We'll provide you training so you don't go into this cold, but I want you to think what a positive influence two competent women could have in your field."

Just how did she manage to stick her foot in this one? She had won! She had tried her best to insult and enrage Corporate by pretending to be a woman and now they actually wanted her to be one. In public, no less!

"That sounds like a great idea, Toby!" Bianca was enthusiastic. "I'd enjoy spending time with Michelle and telling people why I like my job."

"That's fantastic, thank you Bianca." Toby looked very pleased. "What about you, Michelle?"

What was she going to do? It was crazy. It was foolish. Michelle was over and done with, wasn't she?

They both looked at her expectantly.

Oh what the hell?

"OK, I'll do it."

After all, it was only two years until she retired. What could possibly go wrong?



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