Mixed Message

We were in yet another interminable meeting of indeterminate value. This is a chronic condition in the Small Office – indeed, this is one of its defining characteristics – but this condition is becoming increasingly acute as summer approaches.

After a couple of hours, General Ledger, our CFO with the SETI satellite dish ears, called for a much welcomed bio break.

Cowboy Bob was, as always, relaxed and resplendent in slightly more casual attire than most everyone else, his stockman style boots perfect for the long day ahead. He is easily bored and prone, in such circumstances, to become mischievous.

General Ledger went to relieve the pressure building up in his tiny bladder. He left his cell phone on the table. Cowboy Bob reached over and picked up the phone. He tapped on the TEXT icon and then began typing. A short message to some unknown destination. He waited to click the SEND button until the second General Ledger re-entered the room. A click and the phone was set down quickly, to be as it was with no one the wiser.

General Ledger was blissfully unaware of the unfolding drama.

At noon, as our buffet lunch was being set up, our perfectly punctual CEO, the Man from Glad, entered the conference room, having been invited to attend the afternoon session. He waited his turn in line like everyone else, and then took those mean little party sandwiches to the table, along with little cheddar cheese squares, red grapes, and a small bottle of Perrier. Before he dug into this bridge ladies fare, he checked his phone for messages.

There were several, including one text, recently “sent” by General Ledger. It was a brief acknowledgment of the Man from Glad’s superior leadership skills and heartfelt gratitude for his being such a swell person. It was a short but syrupy suck-up. Our somewhat disconcerted leader raised an eyebrow and scanned the room. General Ledger was blissfully unaware of the unfolding drama and greedily gummed the pasty spreads that filled those horrid white bread triangles. His capacious outer ears did him little good now. The Man from Glad checked his phone again, shook his head and began to eat his lunch.

Cowboy Bob, cool as an autumn morning, never looked up.

This all reminds me of a line from Idries Shah, the writer and publisher of Sufi spirituality: “A certain person may have… a wonderful presence; I do not know. What I do know is that he has a perfectly delightful absence.”


“Nothing is often a good thing to do and always a good thing to say.” – Will Durant

“Before you say anything, count to 10 and then don’t say it.” – My mother

One of our important customers made a request that I considered a non-starter. As it happened, this request turned into a saga with a most inauspicious start and an uncertain end.

Duncan L., their VP responsible for purchasing and logistics, has worked with the Small Office for many years and has known me for at least half of them. Our relationship is cordial, stopping at the level of mutual respect.

Duncan looks a bit like Clark Gable would have looked if he were less good looking. He is humorous in the deadpan way of Steven Wright and would be as funny if Steven Wright were actually less funny. In short, he has a lot going for him if your expectations were slightly reduced.

I received an email from Cowboy Bob who was forwarding a query from Duncan. Apparently, one of his company’s competitors had a promotional special that month and Duncan was looking for support to match the promotion. But specials are built into each customer’s purchasing agreement and there was a lot of room in the deal Duncan had to work with to easily match this promotion if he so desired. Which he shouldn’t because the special wasn’t interesting enough to be impactful anyway.

My organs… began to shut down.

I was having a tough day and was in no mood for the verbal sparring that I could imagine Cowboy Bob had to endure in what is always a back and forth when Duncan is on the case. I decided to get right to the point and typed a curt NFW. Which, of course, merely stood for Not Financially Workable. Or, equally, No Funds Warranted. Or, perhaps, Newcastle Fashion Week… which is surely on the top of someone’s social calendar. I then clicked the SEND button, satisfied with the content and brevity of the response.

In the very instant my finger touched the SEND key I realized, to my horror, that I did not just REPLY but that I replied TO ALL. Duncan and all his colleagues who he had copied would have received it too. My heart stopped beating. I felt dizzy as the blood drained from my head. My organs – starting with the liver – began to shut down. My thoughts then went to Poor Cowboy Bob who, I could imagine, was now quaking right down to his Limited Edition Cognac Caiman boots.

Now you don’t need a Nobelpreise Fuer Wirtschaftswiss to figure out how Duncan responded when he received my reply. Apparently it was circulated widely, then printed out and posted on the bulletin board in the company’s main conference room. I was told it was now being used as a dartboard.

The first rule of holes is that when you are in one, you stop digging. I decided the best approach was to lay low in the firm belief that this too shall pass. I went dark. And just like that, I had No Further Worries.

Short Story

We were planning a trip to Atlanta to visit a certain large retailer headquartered there. We argued about flying Delta, which touts itself as the world’s most trusted airline but can be primarily trusted to delay your departure, divert your flight, and somehow lose your luggage on the way. (To be fair, I prefer even Delta to Northwest, but that’s another story.)

Cowboy Bob, comfortable in his It’s Not a Boot, It’s an Attitude Durangos, was calf-roping poor Tom Haas who has been, on more than one occasion, the object of CB’s pranks. The ostensible plan was to take Tom to a strip club in the Buckhead area of the city. A midget stripper named Pinky was well know in certain circles to heat things up by shaking her outsized booty to the sound of thunder claps.

Truth may make the devil blush.

Tom was so enthralled by Cowboy Bob’s off-color descriptions of Pinky’s unbecoming behavior that he hardly noticed the winking and the shaking of heads around him. Bull Terrier accidentally snorted beer through his nose. (Not to worry, he has a small nose and it was no more than, say, a depth charge sized snort.)

Now I know that there used to be a pretty raucous bar scene in Buckhead, but things have become significantly more… uh… civilized. Buckhead is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods, not just in Atlanta but in all the Southeast. With its impressive mansions, exclusive boutiques and fine eateries – my favorite being the Holeman and Finch Public House – Buckhead has earned a reputation as the Beverly Hills of the East.

One never knows for sure with Cowboy Bob, but I suspect Pinky is just another urban legend and I fear Old Tom will be disappointed.

Then again, maybe not. Truth may make the devil blush but, I imagine, it will be Pinky that takes care of the rest of us.

What’s Up, Doc?

A half dozen of our senior managers were on a two-day leadership course. The topics ranged from negotiation tactics to handling troublesome employees to effective communications. One of the attendees was Cowboy Bob, resplendent in his Corral boots – the ones with the whiskey goat inlays and square toes. General Ledger, our dour CFO with the saucepan ears was also there.

We had several different instructors and group animators. Cowboy Bob had his eye on a woman named Mandy who looks suspiciously like Kate Winslet. She is high-class and high-spirited, and was clearly the object of his affection. Her outfit was conservative in theory but suggestive in practice. To be sure, Cowboy Bob was ready to practice. He is no youngster, but his broad shoulders and infectious smile easily melt away the years. Both he and Mandy were very professional but neither was above flirtation.

Her outfit was conservative in theory.

At the end of the second day, we were all handed out certificates. One by one, we were called up to the front of the room. Mandy would hand out a certificate and kiss the participant on the cheek. I could not miss the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms when it came time for my close up. Eventually, it was Cowboy Bob’s turn. Mandy called his name, but he didn’t budge. She looked around, caught his eye and smiled seductively. He still didn’t move. I leaned over slightly and said, hey Bob, what’s happening? He looked at me with helpless eyes and whispered, “I can’t get up”.

I looked down with a grin. Poor Cowboy Bob. Hoisted by his own petard.

Mad Men

Once a year, several of our top executives take the senior brass from one of our large buying group customers to a fancy restaurant to celebrate the successful conclusion of negotiations.

The host is Cowboy Bob, our Manager of Home Center Sales. Though in his late ‘60s, he is tall and handsome, with silver hair, a broad smile and a subtle drawl. He is dapper right down to his custom-made, M.L. Leddy alligator skin cowboy boots.

We arranged for limos to pick us all up at the hotel and made our way to what has to be one of the most expensive restaurants in New York. We rented out a private dining room with high ceilings and windows that overlook Madison Square Park. The room manages to be spacious and cozy at the same time, a neat trick. We had been told that the menu was clever, almost playful. From the jasmine and passion fruit soup to the Cotswold lamb to the cucumber sorbet, there was no doubt we were in for a treat.

The bottles were for sale for a mere $15,000.

Tom, the president of the buying group is a small but very persistent presence. He insisted on sitting next to our always-debonair CEO, the Man from Glad, hoping, I imagine, to absorb the stature of our chairman by osmosis. Tom is a bully. He bullies everyone and, although it would not be much of a stretch, no one is willing to stand up to him.

When we entered the restaurant, there was a wooden crate of fine wine in the lobby. Several bottles were nestled in straw. Also nestled was a handwritten note that said the bottles were for sale for a mere $15,000.

During the meal, Tom held court. To the accompaniment of a Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (which we suspected he picked not because he knew his wines but because it was the most expensive bottle on the list), Tom regaled us all with stories of his trip to Tuscany last Fall and described in excruciating detail the oceanfront house he had built practically by himself. And did we know he used our electronics throughout, thank you very much for the donation. And wasn’t that wine out in front so very special and wouldn’t it be nice as a closer to our negotiations if we bought it for him too.

The ever-circumspect Man from Glad smiled and cagily changed the subject. But, as the meal progressed and as we made our way to the dessert – pear poached with honey and acorn – it became clear that Tom was not fooling around.

In the end, as always, he got his way.

Abraham Lincoln once said that he would rather be a little nobody than an evil somebody. Tom somehow manages to be both.