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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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up in a warehouse. So here's what we need to do," I say. "Ralph, I want you to make us a list of all the overdue orders. Have them ranked in priority ranging from the most days overdue to the least days overdue. How soon can you have that for us?"

"Well, that in itself won't take very long," he says. "The prob- lem is we've got the monthlies to run."

I shake my head. "Nothing is more important to us right now than making the bottlenecks more productive. We need that list as soon as possible, because once you've got it, I want you to work with Stacey and her people in inventory control-find out what parts still have to be processed by either of the bottlenecks to complete those orders."

I turn to Stacey.

"After you know which parts are missing, get together with Bob and schedule the bottlenecks to start working on the parts for the latest order first, the next latest, and so on."

"What about the parts that don't go through either one of the bottlenecks?" asks Bob.

"I'm not going to worry about those at the moment," I tell him. "Let's work on the assumption that anything not needing to go through a bottleneck is either waiting in front of assembly already, or will be by the time the bottleneck parts arrive."

Bob nods.

"Everybody got it?" I ask. "Nothing else takes priority over this. We don't have time to take a step back and do some kind of headquarters number where everyone takes six months to think about it. We know what we have to do. Let's get it done."

That evening, I'm driving along the Interstate. Around sun- set, I'm looking around at the rooftops of suburban houses to either side of the highway. A sign goes by which says I'm two miles from the exit to Forest Grove. Julie's parents live in Forest Grove. I take that exit.

Neither the Barnetts nor Julie know I'm coming. I told my mother not to tell the kids. I simply hopped in the car after work and headed down here. I've had enough of this hide-and-seek game she's playing.

From a four-lane highway, I turn onto a smooth blacktop street which winds through a quiet neighborhood. It's a nice neighborhood. The homes are unquestionably expensive and the lawns without exception are immaculate. The streets are lined

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with trees just getting the new leaves of spring. They are brilliant green in the golden setting sun.

I see the house halfway down the street. It's the two-story brick colonial painted white. It has shutters. The shutters are made of aluminum and have no hinges; they are non-functional but traditional. This is where Julie grew up.

I park the Mazda by the curb in front of the house. I look up the driveway, and sure enough, there is Julie's Accord in front of the garage.

Before I have reached the front door, it opens. Ada Barnett is standing behind the screen. I see her hand reach down and click the screen door lock as I approach.

"Hello," I say.

"I told you she doesn't want to talk to you," says Ada.

"Will you just ask her please?" I ask. "She is my wife."

"If you want to talk to Julie, you can do it through her law- yer," says Ada.

She starts to close the door.

I say, "Ada, I am not leaving until I talk to your daughter."

"If you don't leave, I will call the police to have you removed from our property," says Ada Barnett.

"Then I will wait in my car," I say. "You don't own the street."

The door closes. I walk across the lawn and over the side- walk, and get in the Mazda. I sit there and stare at the house. Every so often, I notice the curtains move behind the window glass of the Barnett house. After about forty five minutes, the sun has set and I'm seriously wondering how long I can sit here when the front door opens again.

Julie walks out. She's wearing jeans and sneakers and a sweater. The jeans and sneakers make her look young. She re- minds me of a teenager meeting a boyfriend her parents disap- prove of. She comes across the lawn and I get out of the car. When she's about ten feet away she stops, as if she's worried about getting too close, where I might grab her, pull her into the car, and drive like the wind to my tent in the desert or something. We look each other over. I slide my hands into my pockets.

For openers, I say, "So... how have you been?"

"If you want to know the truth," she says, "I've been rotten. How have you been?"

"Worried about you."

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She glances away. I slap the roof of the Mazda.

"Let's go for a ride," I say.

"No, I can't," she says.

"How about a walk then?" I ask.

"Alex, just tell me what you want, okay?" she says.

"I want to know why you're doing this!"

"Because I don't know if I want to be married to you any- more," she says. "Isn't that obvious?"

"Okay, can't we talk about it?"

She says nothing.

"Come on," I say. "Let's take that walk-just once around the block. Unless you want to give the neighbors lots to talk about."

Julie looks around at the houses and realizes we're a specta- cle. Awkwardly, she steps toward me. I hold out my hand. She doesn't take it, but we turn together and begin a stroll down the sidewalk. I wave to the Barnett house and note the flurry of a curtain. Julie and I walk a hundred feet or so in the twilight before we say anything. At last I break the silence.

"Look, I'm sorry about what happened that weekend," I tell her. "But what else could I do? Davey expected me-"

"It wasn't because you went on the hike with Davey," she says. "That was just the last straw. All of a sudden, I just couldn't stand it anymore. I had to get away."

"Julie, why didn't you at least let me know where you were?"

"Listen," she says. "I went away from you so I could be alone."

Hesitantly, I ask, "So... do you want a divorce?"

"I don't know yet," she says.

"Well, when will you know?"

"Al, this has been a very mixed up time for me," she says. "I don't know what to do. I can't decide anything. My mother tells me one thing. My father tells me something else. My friends tell me something else. Everyone except me knows what I should do."

"You went off to be by yourself to make a decision that's joing to affect both of us as well as our kids. And you're listening:o everyone except the three other people whose lives are going;o be screwed up if you don't come back," I say.

"This is something I need to figure out on my own, away Tom the pressures of you three."

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"All I'm suggesting is that we talk about what's bothering you."

She sighs in exasperation and says, "Al, we've been over it a million times already!"

"Okay, look, just tell me this: are you having an affair?"

Julie stops. We have reached the corner.

She says coldly, "I think I've gone far enough with you."

I stand there for a moment as she turns and heads back toward her parents' house. I catch up with her.

I say, "Well? Are you or aren't you?"

"Of course I'm not having an affair!" she yells. "Do you think I'd be staying with my parents if I were having an affair?"

A man who is walking his dog turns and stares at us. Julie and I stride past him in stiff silence.

I whisper to Julie, "I just had to know... that's all."

"If you think I'd leave my children just to go have a fling with some stranger, you have no understanding of who I am,'' she says.

I feel as if she'd slapped my face.

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