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I hadn’t meant to start a war, but his email was so petty and it rubbed me the wrong way. You have to understand. I think anybody in my situation would have reacted how I did. I sent the final draft of the project, and everything was good to go. I was ready to move on with it. The client was happy, everybody on my internal team thought I’d done a great job. Then Todd’s email came. He was even smug enough to send it with a High Importance tag. He said:
First of all, nice work.
But look at page 67: the graphic you placed at the left-bottom of the page, it’s a little off-center with the one on the right. Please correct and send back ASAP.
And OK, maybe it was slightly off, I’ll admit. But it was a big project, I’d worked on it for months, little mistakes like that happen but they never get noticed. Where did he get off on being so petty and pedantic? He could have fixed it himself if it was that big of a deal. Hell, typing up the email took more time than it would have for him to fix it himself. But here’s what set me off, what set The Great Petty War in motion: he copied my manager on the email. He hadn’t been on any of the emails before, but then this pedantic prick face Todd decides to rope him in as some way of tattling on me and holding me accountable.
Well, that didn’t sit right with me. The first shots had been fired. I was the victim of a needless attack, so I fought back. I responded with the corrected version, and this time I copied Todd’s manager on the email.
And what does this asshole do? He replied:
Thanks for fixing. We can’t be making mistakes like that. Let’s not make it a habit.
On this email, he copied the president of our company and our client’s entire C-Suite. The nuclear missiles had been armed. Troops were advancing inland. The war was on.
So, I immediately replied:
You got it, boss man.
And in the words ‘boss man’ I hyperlinked a definition of the word ‘pedant.’ I also copied everybody in our entire company on the email. Over four hundred people received and read that email. I had nuclear missiles, too, and they were aimed directly at Todd.
He replied with another pointless, curt comment—both of us were hellbent on getting the last word. And he copied everybody in the client’s company.
So, I fired back. I sent my troops and copied a couple other clients on the email.
Todd replied, copying all of our clients on his email.
I copied everybody I knew, friends and family and loose acquaintances, and sent my response.
Todd copied everybody he knew.
I stared at his email.
The message glared off my blue light glasses. I scrolled through all the names on the email. There were thousands of people now involved. It was between Todd and me, and I sort of felt bad for bringing others in, but it needed to be done. It was a part of The Great Petty War; it was how the game was played.
I looked online, and I found a database that let me pull every email address in the United States, and I threw them on the email chain.
Todd replied with all of North America.
Have a good weekend.
You too Todd.
With all of Europe copied on the email. I logged off for the weekend, thinking the war had ended with my final word.
Then on Monday morning I logged on and saw this fuckhead had copied all of Asia.
Hope you had a good one.
I fired back, bringing South America into the mix.
Todd pulled the big guns and brought everybody else in. Now everybody was in the fight. North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, hell, even Antarctica had some skin in the game.
The entire world watched our emails go back and forth, salvos of corporate pettiness volleyed from target to target.
Monday at 5:40, I logged off and went home. That night, I turned on the TV and every station was talking about us. Apparently, Todd and I had started quite the fuss. People were taking to the streets, proclaiming their side. Some were Team Todd, others were Team Josh. It split households and friend groups. A small newspaper in Albuquerque had dubbed it The Great Petty War, and that name stuck.
The Great Petty War kept raging the next morning. I replied, Todd replied. Nothing of substance was said. At many times, I wondered why we even kept up the war. It had been going on so long that sometimes I forgot what we were fighting about anyway. But then I’d remind myself it was about pride, it was about principle, it was about the good guy coming out on top. So, I kept the war going.
The whole world paused for The Great Petty War. There was no more fighting in Myanmar or Afghanistan or Yemen. Colombia became peaceful. Somalia dropped all their arms to watch. The entire world was invested in The Great Petty War.
World leaders and countries took sides. Kim Jong-un and North Korea sided with Team Josh. I had some compunction when I first heard this. I knew he wasn’t the best ally to have, but I figured, hey, despite everything, he at least had good judgement. So, I gladly accepted his support. The European Union disintegrated over The Great Petty War. There was too much of a divide between Team Todd and Team Josh supporters. The United States couldn’t unify for a side, either. States became factions, then cities and counties, then small militias formed for each side.
The first casualty in The Great Petty War happened on a Thursday, six days after the start of the war. Some drunk Team Todd supporter got into it with a Team Josh supporter at a bar in Delaware, and he shot and killed the guy outside. “Viva Team Todd!” he yelled, as he drove away from the scene.
Both sides took up arms, and Todd and I kept emailing. We were impervious to any of the real fighting. We had become figures—we were no longer just people. We were symbols of unity, but at the same time symbols of division. The people knew taking one of us out would be fruitless for their side. If a Team Josh supporter assassinated Todd, Todd would become a martyr, and the history books would say Team Todd came out victorious.
So, the people took to the streets and made it their battleground. They fought over Todd and me. The whole time, Todd and I sat in our cubicles, only fifteen feet away from each other. Either one of us could have walked over to the other and settled the thing in person. We’d probably just laugh about it and get a beer after work. It was petty, we both knew, and the project ended well, but the people were involved. We had to think of the people. So, we kept emailing and they kept fighting, even though Todd and I had both lost interest. The email chain had run so long, it meant nothing.
My replies devolved into emojis at one point. I sent the thumbs up, the smiley face, the OK fingers. Then Todd replied with a gif, and that really pissed off Team Josh supporters. That was a whole new weapon; it had to be in violation of some Petty War convention.
Three months after the start of The Great Petty War, Todd put in his two-week notice. He found a job somewhere else that paid 30% more. Todd and I didn’t dare disclose this to the people, though. We didn’t want them to know that their great war would end soon, that it would end so anticlimactically. Though neither of us cared, we kept the war going, for the people. Truthfully, I was happy for Todd. He’d been at the company for a while, and he deserved better. But I couldn’t let Team Josh supporters know this. In their eyes, Todd was my sworn enemy.
Todd’s final day came. On his way out, I nodded to him. He nodded back and smiled. It had been a hell of a war, and it was over now. I sent one final email to him, with the whole world copied on it. He was moving companies, he no longer had access to the email address. Team Josh had won the war. Almost a million casualties were suffered on both sides.
Things settled down after a week of no emails. A month of no emails, and fighting started up again in Myanmar and Afghanistan and Yemen. Colombia went back to war. Somalia picked up their arms. The Great Petty War was reduced to small fringe groups fighting for the cause in contained firefights. A year passed, and many had forgotten why The Great Petty War was fought in the first place; the email chain was so long, who had the time to go back through it all. Five years passed and The Great Petty War was a distant memory for most.
I ran into Todd the other day. I’ve since moved jobs, moved cities, but I ran into him when he was on a work trip. We caught up over a few drinks, and toward the end, when we were both feeling drunk and uninhibited, he confessed, “You know, I didn’t really care about that graphic alignment. I was just having a shit day, man.”
I looked into my beer and bit my lip. I took a big gulp. “Todd,” I laughed. “It was pretty douchey by you, but I definitely overreacted. I mean, the hyperlink, the emojis. Way too much, man.”
Todd slapped his hand on the bar and laughed.
“I was sick of taking so much shit there,” I said. We both laughed.
Todd grabbed my shoulder and looked at me. His eyes were glazed; he was about to say something sentimental. “Hey man,” he said, “it was a dumb little thing, but it’s over now. At least we came out of it fine.”
Riley Winchester is from Michigan. He's been nominated for some Pushcarts and he's been shortlisted in some contests, but he's never won anything.