[ Author's Note: For as long as I can think, I've always been intrigued by the idea of an intentional gain story, but have never found any reasonably plausible story-line or format that I could relate to and develop convincingly. Now in December, the European Court in Luxembourg came to a landmark ruling which is seriously expected to have a significant impact on EU labor legislation. It served as inspiration ..... ] Energetic Expansions I. „Mynheer Bartholomon …. this way please, “ the glossy haired blonde receptionist didn’t lead him into the small meeting room he had been last time, but across the broad lobby to a spacious street front office with an alcove and historic French windows to the floor. “Seat yourself. Dr. van der Vaals will come to you immediately.” So far he had only felt uncomfortable, now the sensation turned into a form of dread. The young labor law specialist he had talked to had seemed down to earth and fine for the mess he had gotten himself into. He wondered how bad it might truly be what it meant that one of the senior partners wanted to see him. After several minutes the door opened and a woman maybe in her early fifties entered, in a skirt suit but with ballerina flats and unruly curly hair a convincing mixture of professional and motherly. “Mr. Bartholomon – I’m Sylvia van der Vaals, I specialize in all EU labor legislation related cases. Since this might apply to you, we’ve decided that I take on your case. I’ve read through your documentation and would like to go through it step by step to make sure I understood all the details, would that be okay?” Her English was an impeccable as with most Dutch professionals. “Yes, of course.” Sylvia van der Vaals settled behind her desk briskly, put on her reading glasses and opened a folder. “So – you’re Alexander Bartholomon, US citizen, have been working in the European office of the American energy company FuturePowers located here in The Hague for 2 years?” “Umm… yes …. more or less. I’m American – but I work here as a Greek citizen.” “How’s that? I mean – it’s not that unusual for US citizens nowadays who have some claim to an EU citizenship to take it on; simply to make things easier with work permits and the like. But in this case details are important. Are you married to a Greek?” “No … I’m single. My grandmother is Greek, was born in Greece, so I was eligible after being baptized orthodox.” He shuddered briefly as he remembered that ceremony, in a drafty church during a cold New York November with a nice young priest from the Greek Orthodox Church of North America chanting unintelligible things. Standing in swimming shorts and a short night-shirt in a basin full of water, his faced rubbed down with olive oil – very high on his list of most ridiculous moments in his life. At least he didn’t have to change his first name since Alexander was as Greek as it could get. “Did you do this explicitly to get this job with FuturePowers?” “Actually I did. They had messed up something with previous work permits for US citizens – somehow had too many registered in one office to comply with some sort of regulation. I only got the chance to get the job because I was able to work here as an EU citizen without needing a work visa. So I went through the procedure. The job was originally offered to two much more senior colleagues. The company wanted someone from the US to do the project acquisition on the EU market truly from a US perspective.” He saw her checking items in her files, but crossing out others and writing down notes. “Your experience so far had been only in the US? College, university, work? Focus on energy?” “Yes sort of. I have a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a M.S. in Engineering Economics. After grad school I worked for 3 years for a company that made power generators, then I moved on to FuturePowers. I had been working there for 2.5 years when this offer came up. I wanted to internationalize my career, renewable energies are big here in Europe – it sounded interesting, professionally and also as a personal experience.” “Sounds convincing. Now to the details of your transfer here – this is important. You had an unlimited contract with FuturePowers in the US? They paid for your relocation?” “I had a normal contract in the US. The difference between limited and unlimited isn’t that important. Employees in the US don’t garner that much in extra protection against being laid off simply by having longer term contracts.” He sighed – this is where the mess started he had gotten himself in. “FuturePowers paid for my relocation and everything. I got a 2 year US contract for the work I still do today, project acquisition, here in the Netherlands. With the written guarantee to either be able to return to my job in the US – or get a successive contract here in the Netherlands with a promotion.” “So far so good – then what happened?” “A little over a year ago, there was a change in our main shareholder in the US mother company. Many of the employees got new contracts. I got a Dutch contract, an English translation of the same, was told that it matched my former US contract – only that I would be promoted to Head of the EU project development department in 1 year,” swallowing hard and staring at the floor. She let him pause for a moment before asking: “And two weeks ago?” “Two weeks ago the new US CEO was here. Together with our European Director Thomas Ross we had a talk. They told me I wouldn’t get promoted, I didn’t match their profile any more. I was too technical, not entrepreneurial enough, too little policy orientation. I couldn’t convey the lean, modern, innovative image of the renewable energy industry as FuturePowers wants to,” quoting the words left an indescribably bitter taste in his mouth. Looking up, he saw true sympathy in Mrs. Van der Vaals eyes. “Four days later I found that envelope, unmarked, with the copies of the e-mail correspondence between several board members, senior managers and HR about my case. It spurred my to have my Dutch contract re-translated into English – to find out it was a limited contract for 36 months, now ending in 20. The return guarantee to the US is no longer applicable.” Closing his eyes, he took another deep breath and then blurted. “And my promotion was given to Polly Harding, who has half a year in work experience, but a M.A. in International Relations focusing on renewable energies in non-traditional banana growing countries.” “You’re not serious,” she giggled. “Renewable energy in non-traditional banana growing countries?” “Yes - I am. Exactly that was the topic of her master’s thesis. I was exaggerating a bit – the actual masters program is titled International Relations in Renewable Energies with Developing Economies. Maybe I’m biased, but until she came I didn’t necessarily see that as a necessary head start to do EU energy markets,” he could tell he sounded cynical. Polly’s appearance had gotten to him. Not getting his promotion would’ve been sufferable if it had been for someone who was in any respect more qualified than he was. But Polly had almost no previous professional experience, no technical expertise at all – and not even other useful assets like an EU citizenship or the ability to switch languages mid-sentence like Alex did. She wasn’t even a real looker –short with the required tiny figure, yet her features where bunched up with pointed nose and chin giving her a mousy look. Stunning was only her hair – a hair model worthy hazelnut mane, always superbly coiffed. “Sorry, I’m being unprofessional. It’s getting to me.” “I understand. Some of these new masters programs have an incredibly specific focus – I have my doubts too whether they can be considered a serious academic qualification,” she smiled at him warmly. “So this Polly has this degree in renewable energies without an EU or G8 focus, and limited professional experience. What about her other skills? Languages? Connections?” “She even has a US contract as a US citizen. Language skills as non-existent as mine – many Americans suck at that. Previously she worked on a project in Indonesia – so I see no contacts or so here in Europe.” “I see. Still, not being granted a promotion for whatever office political reasons is a common phenomenon. There is not all that much we can do about it, since in a small office like yours the normal hierarchy and seniority rules are difficult to apply. But that is not your actual problem. It is that you’ve been misled into accepting a limited Dutch work contract that expires in 20 months leaving you unemployed then, with no return option to the US. In theory, it of course would be possible for you to expect to get an unlimited follow-up contract then, since the work evaluations and project success you have documented so far speak in your favor. This email correspondence leaked to you makes it seem extremely unlikely that they will keep you. Does that sum up the situation?” He nodded wearily. “Do you have any idea who might have leaked the emails to you and with which intentions? Do you have any good friends or supporters on the board level or with HR?” Ever since he had found that envelope in his home mail box, he had been brooding as to who could have fed it to him. The ‘CC’s’ of the correspondence had been carefully deleted, so he couldn’t be sure – but he had a gut hunch it had to be Alex, who did HR for their office. She was friendly to everyone and would be one to have access to this, even though he couldn’t really see why she would do such a thing, except her occasionally voiced general skepticism to the shifts in business policy. “I don’t really know. I have a suspicion, yet no supportive evidence.” “Have you tried to speak to this person?” “No, absolutely no. That’s impossible,” cringing at the idea of having to open up to cool aloof Alex – and maybe being totally wrong about it. “Hmmh..,” Mrs. Van der Vaals scribbled something, before scrutinizing him over her reading glasses. “I must admit from reading these emails, I expected you to be a totally different person. Apart from the fact that these comments in the mails are unprofessional – like ‘the professional future of our industry is not with fat engineers’ or ‘nobody who can’t handle his own energy intake can advocate energy efficiency’ – I have trouble seeing their point. I honestly assumed you to be much heavier.” He gulped and felt his cheeks grow very hot. This was the part of the conversation he hated most. The last thing he wanted to discuss with anyone, let alone any woman, was his weight. “If you forgive me for asking, what is your height and weight?” “Umm … about 6’1”, 1.85 meters … and …. and … right now about 110 kilograms…” he muttered looking under himself. At the end of his diet it had been 108, but that had been before Christmas vacation. “Okay … BMI 32 … that’s on the edge of the so-called obese category,” she fiddled with her calculator. “Looking at you though, you’re totally normal. Like one of many men who like their beer and a hearty dinner with dessert, and it shows a little. Discriminating against that would mean losing 40% of the entire workforce at one stroke. You’re not working as a model or professional athlete, so the weight you have is completely irrelevant. Have you been much heavier while working here at FuturePowers?” Another awful dissection of his weakness, he sighed. “The first year I was here, I went a bit overboard with tasting new things, indulging myself. So I got up to about 125 kilograms. But I dieted last year and got back down to this weight now.” “Good … you showed responsibility and commitment in dieting. Have you always been heavier, is it your phenotype?” He nodded again, shaking his head. “Unfortunately yes. I always have been the tubby guy, really have to watch what I eat, keep my appetite under control.” “Ever had any health problems with regards to your weight?” “No – never. I’ve always been active, played college football. I’m the only fat guy in my family. No health problems far and wide – knock on wood. All my grandparents are still alive and well, except my grandfather who was killed in the Civil War.” There was a lull in their conversation as she sorted her papers before looking at him openly with clear concern in her gaze. “I’ll be honest – your case is quite a conundrum. Any possible angle of leverage is undone one way or the other. First I had thought we might be able to retract the Dutch contract because you had a work permit hinging on your US contract. But as an EU citizen that doesn’t apply to you. Second – 36 months is the legal maximum for a limited contract in Dutch labor law. Since you had a US contract before, it isn’t really possible to construct that yours is a non admissible limited follow up contract. Third – what might have been an option is to nail down FuturePowers on the fact that they made you sign a contract in a language you don’t fully understand and didn’t offer a certified translation. Yet there is a deadline for making such claims and we’re past that. In addition, you would’ve had better chances making those claims if you were low skilled. As an academically trained professional, it’s presumed you can look after yourself and take care of your own interests.” Smarting under her critically raised eyebrows, he groaned quietly: “Yeah .. I know I’ve behaved like a stupid, trusting idiot…. it’s all my own fault.” He had been kicking himself in the ass ever since he found out the extent of his gullibility. Alex had offered several times to go through the Dutch contract with him, check everything but he had shunned her, too annoyed by his own linguistic inferiority to her. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Not being watchful enough regarding the content of work contracts is very common, even among lawyers. When different country legal systems come into play it’s even more complicated. From my experience mainly people who do finance and managers who hold actual professional liability really do their homework as far as contractual safeguards go. Maybe because they’re most familiar with risk analysis.” “I know everything about grid risk analysis …” “That isn’t much help in this case. There was a fourth option I had considered, that of weight discrimination. But you’re way too thin for that.” “I’m too thin? That’s the first time anybody has ever said that to me. Is there legislation here protecting against fat discrimination?” “There’s a brand new ruling from the European Court in Luxemburg. It states that being very overweight equates to a form of disability that in result offers employees special protection against being laid off. It’s a first ruling based on a Danish case – but there will be more to come to come up with a more exact definition. Since people are getting heavier, companies will certainly be forced to offer more protection and assistance to these employees, less discrimination and harassment. But it doesn’t apply in your case. Your weight plays no role in your professional performance and not liking it is an opinion not discrimination. It’s like firing people on the grounds that they have big feet. You’d have to gain another about 50 kilograms for the ruling to apply. Even though these emails and the way the company double-crossed you would make an excellent case.” She gave him a crooked smile but her eyes were glittering. “Are you honestly saying that if I weighed 160 kilograms that we’d have a chance of suing FuturePowers?” he laughed because it sounded like a joke. “Hypothetically speaking – if you were to get that heavy in the 20 months until the end of your contract, we would most certainly be able to successfully sue for an unlimited contract for you, probably even some damages. Or at least a very sizable financial compensation package of minimum 3-4 years’ salary along with your relocation to the US being paid.” “Seriously?” he couldn’t believe his ears. “As said, that is a total hypothetical since gaining so much weight isn’t a measure to be considered.” She grinned at him ruefully. “Even though my fingers are itching to bring such a case before the European Court. Controversial cases, paving the way for more modern interpretations of the EU labor code, adapting it to real life employment challenges is something we love doing.” Looking down at his currently relatively small belly and not too broad thighs, he couldn’t help shaking his head. It was grotesque that he had worked so hard to lose weight – and now was being told that he probably would be legally better off if he had put on that amount of weight on top. “What is your actual goal Mr. Bartholomon? What do you want to happen with your job?” “Well … I was hoping … yeah … just to keep my job. I like it, it’s really interesting looking into, working with all those new models for generating more renewable energy in Europe. Solar and wind generation are probably beyond their peak for various reasons…,” he could see from her expression that he was getting carried away with his technical enthusiasm. “I want to keep doing what I do now. Europe is more interesting for large scale renewables than the US is currently, so I’d like to stay a few more years. I’m not ready to go back yet …. It’s also so interesting living so close to everything here. Ideally I’d like the promotion I was promised…. And a bit of revenge maybe, some compensation for all this deceit and frustration.” “That sounds reasonable. Since you’re an EU citizen – have you thought about looking for a new job here? I can understand you don’t want to quietly accept being tricked out of your job, want compensation for that ….. But wouldn’t working for a different company, either an American or European one here also be a solution? There must be plenty of options in your field right now.” “In theory that’s possible – I have one major drawback. I only speak English. All the other guys with my qualification here on the market, the Dutch, German, French, Belgian engineers all have the huge advantage that they can work in at least one other language next to English. I dabbled a bit with French in high school and German in college – never got anywhere near fluency. I’ve tried to learn more German here with little success.” He sighed. Before coming here, he had seen himself as fabulously qualified; now he was baffled by the importance of this one soft skill. In several cases, companies he had dealt with or met at fairs or conferences had expressed interest in hiring him, but so far all had withdrawn after he had admitted to being monolingual. “Compared to a small language country here like the Netherlands, language education is neglected in Anglophone countries. It’s a known phenomenon – and on the daily working level even people in small language countries prefer having their native language, with English only coming in second.” “So what am I supposed to do now? Is there any chance of at least getting some compensation?” “I can try talking to the law firm that set up this contract, make it clear that their reputation is also at stake if they don’t interfere when employees are being handed mistranslated new contracts. But that won’t amount to much – maybe a small compensation or your relocation back to the US being paid. Since one of their lawyers is my brother-in-law, I can do this under the radar. Right now I would advise against taking official action in such a case we cannot really substantiate if you at least want to be able to fulfill your contract halfway in peace. That’s all I can offer right now.” Dazed he left the law firm not knowing what to think. He was mad at FuturePowers for having tricked him – but he was just as mad at himself for having in such blind trust taken the bait. Right now, he needed something to sustain him, so he walked to the small beer bar he liked. Lots of beer and some major consolation calories were asked for. Especially since he had learned that his diet ironically had been on the counterproductive side. Ordering a beer, he ordered the large helping of cheese croquettes with salad, munching them done joylessly with a second and third beer. The pony-tailed waitress balanced a considerable very tasty looking platter past him after he was finished. “What’s that?” he asked on her return. “Our new daily special. Cordon bleu – turkey Schnitzel stuffed with ham and cheese, with fries and broccoli.” “Yeah – bring me one.” “Ummm …. you had full portion of croquettes ….. not the starter….” “So what – I’m hungry! And another beer please!” Methodically he ate his way through the greasy platter; downing beers four to six in the process, ending with two double Jenever, the local gin, to help him digest. He hadn’t eaten or drunk so much in one sitting in ages so he was decidedly tipsy and a bit unsteady on his feet. Taking the tram home, the blue and white sign of Albert Heijn beckoned; letting him darkly become aware he needed coffee and milk, but even more some dessert right this minute. Next to a tub of peanut butter brittle ice cream, he bought three bags of those delicious little cookies. Some type of Dutch gingerbread covered in caramel and chocolate - so good. At home he collapsed on the sofa, turned on the sports channel and in semi-trance spooned down the ice-cream and two bags of cookies. The overload of sugar, grease and alcohol let him half pass out on his sofa, for he woke at 4:30 in the morning, desperate to pee, with a budding headache and the TV now showing Sumo wrestling. Laying back down on the sofa only in t-shirt and boxers with a blanket, he wondered for an instant whether he would be sick because his stomach felt so funny. So he took to rubbing the taught, achy sphere carefully, belching a few times until he only felt very full. Laying there the talk with lawyer Van der Vaals circled in his head. If he ate everyday like he had done today, he would certainly get fat, really fat, maybe to those 160 kilograms … in pounds that was …. somewhere north of 350. He eyed the Sumo wrestlers, their roles and bulges, how their flab squished and shook in the fight. Would he look like them? How would his belly feel like then? Everybody would tell him that getting so fat was a terrible idea … but for once not having to worry about his weight sounded like a highly appealing prospect. During the next days, the idea kept haunting him, leading him to deliberately eat more than he normally allowed himself here and there. He looked up the coverage of the Danish case at the European Court, noting that it matched Dr. Van der Vaals depiction. And there was quite some debating as to which practical turn and further legal consequences this ruling might have. Several unpleasant run-ins with Polly and a row with Thomas at the office about taking away the interesting new Irish wind farm project and giving it to Polly fueled his need for revenge on FuturePowers. Dr. Van der Vaals sent a note that her talk with the other law firm had brought only a meager result. FuturePowers would most likely be willing to pay his return flight to the US as well as half a shipping container for his possessions. That amounted to less than $ 3.000, so was absolutely not worth it. Until he sat across from Sylvia Van der Vaals in their second meeting, he was actually undecided what to do. Seeing her sit there, all the legal papers around her, a copy of the thick legal commentary on the EU Social Charter lying there, he knew it. He wanted to revenge himself on his scheming employer and stupid colleagues – and he wanted to help form European legal history. “So what is your plan Mr. Bartholomon? Have you re-considered and looked into new jobs?” “No – I haven’t. I actually want to discuss the hypothetical with you. What will happen if I do weigh 160 kilograms at the end of my contract?” “You’re joking! You can’t seriously want to gain that much weight! It was a hypothetical…” “So – hypothetically speaking: What would you do if I come in here 20 months from now weighing 160 kilograms and asking you to take legal action to secure me my job?” Watching her reaction was fascinating – she went from shaking her head and waving off gestures to her eyes darting back and forth in eagerness, rubbing her hands in glee and a slow grin starting to spread over her face. “It would be a beautiful case – we’d definitely win it. Young competent chubby engineer from the US working in important innovative sector comes to work here, is tricked out of his secure and legitimate work contract, is denied a promised promotion and harassed by his employer for being a little bit heavy. The situation and the uncertainty makes him so unhappy he comfort eats and gains so much weight that he no longer has good chances of finding a new job. A clear case of employer abusiveness that needs protection under the European Social Charter. You’d even have the tabloids on your side…” He took a deep breath: “Okay then, I’ll do it. So I don’t make any more mistakes, please write down exactly what I may do and what not, how I should behave in the office and what I need to document.” “That sounds like a hasty decision. You don’t really want to gain 50 kilograms…. do you?” she studied him intently. “I don’t think I’ll mind. My weight has never bothered me physically, or kept me from doing anything. Even 125 kilograms felt normal to me, I'm used to something in that range. I’ve spent all my life trying to keep my weight in check, have been really struggling. And what did I get out of it? Everybody calls me fat; either makes fun of my weight or continuously tells me to lose it. So what’s the big difference if I finally get really fat? Somehow I don’t see much of one. And if it’s the silver bullet to get back at my employer – so be it.” Their debate continued back and forth for quite a while, Dr. Van der Vaals questioning him, pointing out the risks, doubting his resolve, fearing the consequences and the more. In the end she seemed reasonably assured, especially since she couldn’t hide her eagerness to push ahead in this new legal field. “Okay, if you’re absolutely convinced, I will let you go ahead with it. I want you to monitor your health and have regular medical check-ups to see whether your health isn’t suffering too much.” “I have a brand new one from my family doctor back home – I’m doing fine.” “Then – eat nutritious and healthy food, not only junk. Go see Linda Reetsma; she’s my neighbor, a physiotherapist specializing in pregnancy care. She knows everything about how to stay healthy with an expanding body. Don’t look so peeved – that isn’t any crazier than your plan in the first place. Beware, I’ll check regularly on you to see you’re being as sensible as possible about this!” Three days later he had the appointment with Linda, who showed him back exercises, special belly massages with prescription oil, a long nutrition list, measured his feet to order insoles and more. Leaving her office he felt like a patient in line for surgery and treated himself to an apple-beignet to calm down while reading with long list of guidelines Dr. Van der Vaals hat sent him. To embark on his new life in style, he reserved a table for the specialty fish buffet on Fridays at the grand old Casino in Scheveningen, allowing himself the luxury of a real bottle of champagne to go with it. “Here’s to a happy fat life!” he toasted himself.