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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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"Julie, I'm sorry," I tell her. "That kind of thing sometimes happens, and I just needed to make sure of what's going on."

She slows her walk. I put my hand on her shoulder. She brushes it off.

"Al, I've been unhappy for a long time," she says. "And I'll tell you something: I feel guilty about it. I feel as though I don't have a right to be unhappy. I just know I am."

With irritation, I see we're back in front of her parents' house. The walk was too short. Ada is standing in plain view at the window. Julie and I stop. I lean against the rear fender of the Mazda.

"Why don't you pack your things and come home with me," I suggest, but she's shaking her head before I've even finished the sentence.

"No, I'm not ready to do that," she says.

"Okay, look," I say. "The choice is this: You stay away and we get a divorce. Or we get back together and struggle to make the marriage work. The longer you stay away, the more we're going to drift apart from each other and toward a divorce. And if we get a divorce, you know what's going to happen. We've seen it hap- pen over and over to our friends. Do you really want that? Come on, come home. I promise we can make it better."

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She shakes her head. "I can't, Al. I've heard too many prom- ises before."

I say, "Then you want a divorce?"

Julie says, "I told you, I don't know!"

"Okay," I say finally. "I can't make up your mind for you. Maybe it is your decision. All I can say is I want you back. I'm sure that's what the kids want too. Give me a call when you know what you want."

"That was exactly what I planned to do, Al."

I get into the Mazda and start the engine. Rolling down the window, I look up at her as she stands on the sidewalk next to the car.

"You know, I do happen to love you," I tell her.

This finally melts her. She comes to the car and leans down. Reaching through the window, I take her hand for a moment. She kisses me. Then without a word she stands up and walks away; halfway across the lawn, she breaks into a run. I watch her until she's disappeared through the door. Then I shake my head, put the car into gear, and drive away.

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I'm home by ten o'clock that night . Depressed, but home . Rummaging through the refrigerator, I attempt to find dinner, but have to settle for cold spaghetti and some leftover peas. Wash- ing it down with some leftover vodka, I dine in dejection.

I'm wondering while I'm eating what I'm going to do if Julie doesn't come back. If I don't have a wife, do I start to date women again? Where would I meet them? I have a sudden vision of myself standing in the bar of the Bearington Holiday Inn, attempting to be sexy while asking strange females, "What's your sign?"

Is that my fate? My God. And anyway, do lines like that even work these days? Did they ever?

I must know somebody to go out with.

For a while, I sit there thinking of all the available women I know. Who would go out with me? Whom would I want to go out with? It doesn't take long to exhaust the list. Then one woman comes to mind. Getting up from my chair, I go to the phone and spend about five minutes staring at it.

Should I?

Nervously, I dial the number. I hang up before it rings. I stare at the phone some more. Oh, what the hell! All she can do is say no, right? I dial the number again. It rings about ten times before anyone answers.

"Hello." It's her father.

"May I speak to Julie please."

Pause. "Just a minute."

The moments pass.

"Hello?" says Julie.

"Hi, it's me."

"Al?"

I say, "Yeah, listen, I know it's late, but I just want to ask you something."

"If it has to do with getting a divorce or coming home-"

"No, no, no," I tell her. "I was just wondering if while you're making up your mind, there would be any harm in us seeing each other once in a while."

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She says, "Well... I guess not."

"Good. What are you doing Saturday night?" I ask.

There is a moment of silence as the smile forms on her face.

Amused, she asks, "Are you asking me for a date?"

"Yes, I am."

Long pause.

I say, "So would you like to go out with me?"

"Yes, I'd like that a lot," she says finally.

"Great. How about I see you at 7:30?"

"I'll be ready," she says.

The next morning in the conference room, we've got the two supervisors of the bottlenecks with us. By "us," I mean Stacey, Bob, Ralph and me. Ted Spencer is the supervisor responsible for the heat-treat furnaces. He's an older guy with hair that looks like steel wool and a body like a steel file. We've got him and Mario DeMonte, supervisor of the machining center with the NCX-10. Mario is as old as Ted, but plumper.

Stacey and Ralph both have red eyes. Before we sat down, they told me about the work that went into this morning's meet- ing.

Getting the list of overdue orders was easy. The computer listed them and sorted them according to lateness. Nothing to it, didn't even take a minute. But then they had to go over the bills of material for each of the orders and find out which parts are done by the bottlenecks. And they had to establish whether there was inventory to make those parts. That took most of the night.

We all have our own photocopies of a hand-written list Ralph has had prepared. Listed in the print-out is a grand total of sixty seven records, our total backlog of overdue orders. They have been sorted from most-days-past-due to least-days. The worst one, at the top of the list, is an order that is fifty eight days beyond the delivery date promised by marketing. The best are one day late; there are three of those orders.

"We did some checking," says Ralph. "And about ninety per- cent of the current overdues have parts that flow through one or both of the bottleneck operations. Of those, about eighty five per- cent are held up at assembly because we're waiting for those parts to arrive before we can build and ship."

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"So it's obvious those parts get first priority," I explain to the two supervisors.

Then Ralph says, "We went ahead and made a list for both heat-treat and the NCX-10 as to which parts they each have to process and in what order-again, the same sequence of latest order to least late. In a day or two we can generate the list by computer and stop burning the midnight oil."

"Fantastic, Ralph. I think both you and Stacey have done a super job," I tell him. Then I turn to Ted and Mario. "Now, all you gentlemen have to do is have your foremen start at the top of the list and work their way down."

"That sounds easy enough," says Ted. "I think we can han- dle that."

"You know, we may have to go track some of these down," says Mario.

"So you'll have to do some digging through the inventory," says Stacey. "What's the problem?"

Mario frowns and says, "No problem. You just want us to do what's on this list, right?"

"Yep, it's that simple," I say. "I don't want to see either of you working on something not on that list. If the expediters give you any problem, tell them to come see me. And be sure you stick to the sequence we've given you."

Ted and Mario both nod.

I turn to Stacey and say, "You do understand how important it is for the expediters not to interfere with this priority list, don't you?"

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