The Shining

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” – Thomas Paine

Our fastidious and at times persnickety CEO, the Man from Glad, has office furniture that can only be described as luxurious. And, perhaps, buxom. His desk is massive, more or less the size of Iowa. The wood is solid colonial cherry. Everything about the desk is high end, including the four corner English dovetailed drawers, with heavy-duty full extension soft closing ball bearing glides and triple ply drawer bottoms. The surface is polished to a brilliant luster. It is the finish that catches the eye, glowing eerily at sunset, scintillating in the light of day. A small notepad and fountain pen provide the only breaks to an impressive, if somewhat bleak, expanse.

At 7:12 a.m. on a quiet Monday morning, Miss Pigeon, with an inflated sense of self-importance that comes from being the executive assistant to the CEO, opened the door to her boss’ office to put the mail on his desk. A high pitch shriek tore from the room, shredding the empty calm and echoing down the executive suite corridors. Miss Pigeon stood froze in place, stupefied, uncomprehending, entirely unnerved. She tried to form words, but only gurgling sounds emerged from her throat. Then she slumped to the floor.

A high pitched shriek tore from the room.

Someone had keyed that pristine desktop. Or perhaps skated across it, performing several figure 8s and at least one triple lutz. It was a disaster. Who would do such a thing? I am generally loath to tamper with perfection. Here someone obliterated it. Whatever the motivation, it was laced with pure meanness. I could see no way that the desk could be saved.

When one must, one can. Someone apparently and appropriately dialed 911 and a team of specially trained surgeons appeared promptly. They worked their magic behind closed doors, a strange humming making its way through the walls. We could only imagine what sorcery would be required to restore the desktop to its former splendor. But restore it they did. And splendid it was again.

There is a Spanish proverb that goes: from a fallen tree, we make kindling. Give Ms. Pigeon credit. That was not going to happen under her watch.

Maternal Instincts

Sam is a troglodyte who works in the Corporate Development group. He has strongly held views of women that I would have imagined most of his kind discarded once they left the cave.

Sam refused for years to hire women of childbearing age on the assumption that, sooner or later, they’d get pregnant – something they might do, say, out of spite.

A short enough while ago, he needed to hire a business analyst. He was warned not to impose his anachronous criteria for employee selection on the process. And so it was that, despite his disinclination and much to his discomfort, Sam hired a younger woman. Surprisingly, to him anyway, she seemed to be working out. He taught her well and, within just a few months, she became a trusted lieutenant. Until, that is, she announced that she was pregnant. And had been the whole time. And thanks for taking the time to train her because now she can use her new skills to get a better paying job elsewhere when she rejoins the job market. It was all too much to bear.

Despite his inclination and much to his discomfort, Sam hired a younger woman.

In his subsequent rant, Sam said something akin to the knuckle-dragging Harold Ryan in Kurt Vonnegut’s play, Wanda June. Ryan famously opined that educating a beautiful woman is like pouring honey into a fine Swiss watch; everything stops.

It’s a good thing Sam doesn’t live in Canada, where moose and leftists share common ground and where women can go on maternity leave for up to a year and be guaranteed a job at an equal level and at equal pay when they return. If they return, that is. You might go into a holding pattern in anticipation of their return only to be informed two weeks before that they found a job elsewhere.

To be silent is not necessarily to be persuaded, of course, but Sam did eventually let it go.

Last I heard, though, he had a new… uh… more mature analyst.


“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.

Right from the Gecko

Gilles came to see me in my office, a look of consternation on his face. He is a Parisian who speaks English with a strong accent. He can’t pronounce his Ts, so he says things like “I’ll see you Thoosday.”

He asked me if I could help him with a language issue he’s been having. I told him to sit in the comfortable leather chair I keep for just such occasions.

As he tells it, he has heard people use the expression “from the get go”, which doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. Or maybe, the expression is “from the gecko”. But that makes even less sense. So, he asked me, which is it?

I’ll see you Thoosday.

To believe with certainty, it has been said, one must begin with doubting. Well, then, Gilles must have been very certain indeed. One colleague explained carefully why this was this but another assured him, as a friend, that this was that. A third said both were fine but meant very different things. Well enough was enough. He knew that he could count on me to clear this up once and for all.

Now geckos are endearing sorts – for lizards anyway. They chirp, they change colors, and they can reproduce without copulation. They also have adhesive toe pads. And they lick their eyes to keep them clean, which is important indeed for nocturnal creatures that eat mosquitos. So pretty much anything from the gecko is cool, right? Geico figured that out long ago. And now so will Gilles.

I looked directly into that Gallic face and said with an air of solemnity that enough is seldom enough and that he should have known this from the gecko.

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.