Bridge Over Troubled Waters

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – H.D. Thoreau, Walden

John X. has colitis. His moments of desperation come and go. In between, they lie low with silent slithering like snakes in the grass, waiting for his circumstances to be at their most inconvenient before striking. They do not strike quietly.

The colitis doesn’t affect his work, but it does make his working more difficult. It is almost inevitable that if John is expected at a meeting, he will be indisposed and unavailable at the appointed hour. I am sympathetic to John because I have a child who suffers the same affliction.

It is an odd thing that his colleagues are unaware of his plight, only of its various manifestations. Unkindly, when John is under siege, they say with a snicker that he is “in his office”.

Kyle C., our regional manager for the Northeast, was traveling with John. They were on a bridge in rush hour – trapped, in other words – when John felt a cramp coming on. He quietly – almost serenely – asked Kyle if he was up for some excitement. Kyle knew of John’s issues and immediately went into panic mode.

“Don’t even think about it!” he said sternly.

“I am trying not to”, came the reply.

“I mean it!” insisted Kyle, half expecting his admonition to have some effect on the outcome.

They were on a bridge in rush hour… when John felt a cramp coming on.

John, his stomach gurgling, issued a quiet “Uh, oh. This is not good”. He smiled weakly.

Time passed and traffic moved with excruciating slowness. They were still only half way across the bridge – too close for comfort, too far from relief. They could see no ready solution to their plight… it’s not like there was a rest stop or an off-ramp available.

Well, to quote a Spanish proverb, it’s not the same to talk of bulls as to be in the bullring. Kyle was filled with sympathy and dread in equal measure.

“You will NOT do anything bad in my car, do you hear?” It was more a pleading than a proclamation.

Traffic inched along. A crush of vehicles going nowhere quickly, at least one small drama taking place in its midst.

Like every drama, there is an ending, a denouement, so to speak. But the ending here is, all things said and done, not important. However our story turned out, the thing of it is that it took place at all. And that, to our deepest regrets, it will almost certainly happen again.

Cereal Killer

“Parsley is gharsley.” – Ogden Nash

Food is a recurring theme in the Small Office. Being at the top of the food chain likely means that you are going for breakfast. Food for thought would be the snacks they give out at brainstorming sessions.

Anyway, I was travelling with our CEO and resident gastronome, the Man from Glad. We met up with Bull Terrier and our regional manager for the Northeast, Kyle C., for breakfast.

I ordered first. Just a light breakfast: Chorizo Eggs Benedict comprising a poached egg, chorizo, roasted red peppers, Peppadew peppers, mozzarella and Hollandaise sauce, all on an English muffin, accompanied by home fries and applesauce.

Our more disciplined and clearly less voracious leader ordered a bowl of cereal. Bull Terrier followed with a muffin and Kyle C. a fruit cup.

What, I wondered, merited their uniformly critical gazes?

When the food came, the three looked at me like they were going to lay me out on a platter and stuff an apple in my mouth. What, I wondered, merited their uniformly critical gazes. After all, why eat prunes when the peaches are ripe, right?

Our steadfast CEO scooped up a spoonful of Honey Nut Cheerios with crispy oat flakes. Oats were apparently wild on this blustery morning. Bull Terrier picked at an oatmeal muffin stuffed uncomfortably with dates, cranberries and pecans. Kyle C.’s fruit cup was mostly melon.

I dove headfirst into my Benedictine delight, careful not to get any of the Hollandaise sauce on my suit. I would have artfully framed all that tsk-tsking and moral indignation as little more than jealousy, but my mouth was full.

If I am to be accused of anything, let it be that I have manners.

Otel California

You can count on our discriminating and well-dressed CEO, the Man from Glad, to always go first class. In this, his character and wallet are fully aligned. This does not mean he is a spendthrift. On the contrary, he exercises restraint in most things. But he recognizes the lifetime value of elegant things and does not confuse self-restraint with self-denial. All that said, he is scary cheap when it comes to hotel lodgings.

I can recall one evening driving to our hotel with our Yankee Clipper and then host, Kyle C., at the wheel. He knows his territory and where it is safe to room and board when travelling. So we get close to this roach motel along a dirt road and I notice Kyle slowing down. The entrance is up a bit of a hill, but Kyle stops short, puts the gears in Park and idles for a moment. Our keen-eyed leader asked Kyle why he is not driving up to the door. Without hesitation, our maritime guide responds, “because I don’t want my hubcaps stolen”.

A loose shutter thwacked against the faded clapboard.

Fast forward to last Friday. We are scouting a place to stay overnight and we approach a shabby looking building with a neon sign flashing OTEL. Bzzzt. Bzzzt. The word flashes on and off. Bzzzt. Like an electronic bug zapper. The wind picked up and a loose shutter thwacked against the faded clapboard siding. I looked at our otherwise prudent and protective CEO, terror-stricken.

“This place is straight out of Psycho!” I cried out.

“Oh come now,” he said calmly. “It is close to where we want to be. And as long as the sheets are clean, we should be good.”

“The sheets are clean because they change them every hour!”

After much cowering on my part – I insisted that it was Norman Bates staring at us from behind ratty second floor curtains – he finally relented and we made our way to more reasonable accommodations.

Fortune may well favor the bold, but for Friday anyway, I was more than happy to park my poor and not so sorry soul somewhere else.


Kyle C. is a no-nonsense Yankee clipper who grew up in a small fishing village in northern Maine. He laughs easily, is hospitable in the way of small town folk and way too sensitive. He can be, by his own assessment, rude and ignorant, especially when he feels wronged. But he is honest and has a big heart – for this reason above all, customers up north love him to bits.

Kyle was helping man a booth at a trade show in Boston. He wasn’t feeling well and, at the advice of colleagues, left the venue and went to a nearby hospital. It became pretty clear that the clam chowder he had at lunch had become unsettled. He thought at the time that it tasted a bit sour, but figured there was sour cream or something of the sort in the mix. He was wrong.

His stomach was now churning, his lunch, breakfast, dinner the night before, perhaps one from a week ago when he was in Milwaukee, were returning to the scene of the crime.

He thought at the time that it tasted a bit sour.

Well he pitched and he spewed and he cast out the chyme and the chyle of his innards along with, he was certain, whole chunks of his thorax. His bowels disgorged all the evils in the world in a chum like sauce. He groaned and he grimaced at the sight of his soiled gown.

And then, as he looked up, to his horror and dismay, in walked one of the dealers he knew. And then another. One by one. Then two by two, like his room was Noah’s Ark. Word had spread at the show that Kyle had fallen ill. Well they loved him to bits after all and they all felt the need to offer their support and best wishes for a speedy recovery. In person.

Kyle covered his face with a pillow, groaned again, then pulling the pillow away began to laugh. He laughed in the way of small town folk.