Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 37 - Bad Days and Good Days at Work

          More pain. Yuck. I’m getting tired of this. I went back to the urologist today. He found some infection and prescribed Cipro. That’s the antibiotic that was all over the news during the anthrax scare several years ago—poor schmucks opening letters at their offices, and getting dusted with weaponized anthrax. Some people have worse days at work than others.
Other than the infection everything looked pretty good. The doctor was pretty proud of himself for getting rid of all my stones with lithotripsies. Apparently lithotripsy isn’t the generally accepted treatment regimen for 14 large kidney stones distributed throughout both kidneys. I don’t know at this point whether or not I wish I had known that before we started. Now I don’t know if the doctor is way smarter than your average urologist or just way luckier. Either way I guess it worked out okay for me—except for the pain and suffering of course. The pain and suffering is making me less of a fan of the doctor’s than I might otherwise be.
          Winding up our appointment with a big grin he said to me, “You know if they’d showed me a picture of your kidneys during my board exams and asked me what I thought should be done, and I’d said ‘lithotripsy’ they would have sent me home to study the text books some more. They would have told to come back and try again later.”
          Some people have better days at work than others.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 36 - Trading Catatonia with the IRS

          I had lots of discomfort and lots of blood in my urine today. Thank God for the spanking new bottle of hydrocodone. Kelly Ripa was looking spectacular this morning, but not so good that I didn’t get up and go take a nap in the middle of the show. It takes a little medication for me to get interested in Kelly, but just a little too much and I’m right off her again. There’s a delicate balance involved.
In my wooly youth there was an underground comic I used to enjoy about a bunch of inveterate stoners called “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.” At some point they developed a kind of life maxim that was repeated frequently in the comic and eventually became a cult mantra for the times: “Dope gets you through times of no money better than money gets you through times of no dope.” Leaving aside the relative truth or fallacy of that particular statement, there is often a relationship between dissimilar objects like dope and money or hydrocodone and Kelly Ripa or drudgery and leisure that needs to be maintained within a narrow range of ratios in order to work at an acceptable level of satisfaction. Now that I’m out of work and having to take medication to moderate my various pains, I’m finding a lot of my ratios are getting out of whack. Hopefully something will happen soon to reestablish some semblance of order and balance.
I owe the IRS a million three?? I guess it could be worse.
I lost ten times that much in my trading account in the last 20 minutes.

          My reveries today went back to Henry and all the abuse and injustice associated with working for him. In spite of his affronts to good manners and decency he was always interesting, especially when considered next to the anal bozos I have worked for since. Henry was a megalomaniacal sociopath, but he was always direct and unapologetic about it. For this reason he was almost entirely predictable. For instance when he stiffed my wife on the $30,000 real estate commission I knew he was going to do it and warned my wife to get a written contract before she set out to sell his house.
“He promised,” she said, and so he did. In the end though, when he betrayed her trust, broke his promise, and cheated her out of her livelihood, it was just ‘bidness.’ It was entirely within the norm of Henry behavior not only to stiff her on the commission, but to be surprised and a little hurt when she got angry about it.
          When Henry said he loved me the day I almost killed him, I have no doubt that he believed it. Henry had no idea what love is, but, to the extent that he was capable of experiencing emotions and affixing labels to them, however bizarre to the rest of us mortals, what he felt for me and my wife was genuine affection. Now that we are not associated with him on a daily basis, he will not ever think of us again unless there is some immediate benefit available to him in the reaching out. When such a situation presents itself to him however, we will be the first people he thinks of. That’s about as much as one can hope for from Henry.
           Henry used to delight in telling people I was the only person on the planet that he trusted enough to grant power of attorney over all his affairs. That he had not actually done so did not trouble him very much, or me either for that matter. He had given me power of attorney over his income tax issues, and probably that was close enough to ‘all his affairs’ for Henry as tax matters occupied a large percentage of his psychic energy. Henry was one of those people who would rather lose a thousand dollars of real money to real crooks than give up a hundred dollars to the IRS. Fortunately for him I was able to pull his fat out of the fire several times when it came to his taxes.
Henry never really appreciated what I actually did for him, but he did appreciate what he thought I did for him, which was keep him from having to pay any taxes. I didn’t really have much to do with that happy state of affairs. The real reason Henry didn’t have to pay any taxes was that he never made any money. He was an appallingly bad businessman—completely clueless in the intricacies of managing his assets to generate profits and positive cash flow. He was however a master of leverage, and what he managed to do was build a huge and precariously balanced house of cards on credit. He was always one deal away from disaster, and he took us all to live with him on the bloody edge of the precipice.
          What I actually did for Henry was not nearly so exciting, but was, at times at least, immensely satisfying. One such occasion had to do with an IRS audit. No one likes to get audited—especially Henry. He was so completely and naturally larcenous at heart that he couldn’t imagine getting through an audit unscathed. In addition to that, he did not trust the IRS or any of the agents in its employ to deal fairly with him—not since he had admitted to a female agent (long before I met him) that he was knocking down cash, and she had the brass to bring him up on charges.
          The real irony in that particular incident was that Henry had admitted to the impropriety, not out of contrition or even because he thought that he was about to be found out, but rather because he believed that the female agent would be so impressed with his resourcefulness and temerity that she would consent to sleep with him. He did it to get laid, but instead he got screwed. That at least was Henry’s take on it. I would love to talk to the agent and hear what she has to say about it. I imagine that it is, for her, a tale that grows larger and sweeter with each telling.
          So when Henry got the notice that he was going to be audited again he rushed down to my office, threw the envelope on my desk, and told me to handle it. Henry did not want to confront or be confronted by anyone from IRS. He just wanted me to make the whole thing go away.
          The auditor turned out to be another woman. I’d dealt with a number of auditors in various capacities at that point in my career. I thought that I was batting a thousand with them. That is most of the audits I’d been involved in had resulted in a ‘no change’ finding, meaning no additional tax due, and those that had not, amounted to not more that a few dollars each—essentially the same result. My opinion of the process and of the agents involved was this: an audit is meant to be fair, and the auditors who conduct them are just regular people trying to do a difficult and tedious job in which they are usually regarded with fear and loathing. Always I had treated the agents and auditors with whom I dealt with consideration and respect. They had done the same with me.
          This new auditor however seemed to be cut from different cloth. She was as unattractive and disagreeable a person as I had ever had to deal with. She was not just unfriendly. She was imperious. She was beyond the reach of such charm as I had managed to develop to that point in my life. She would not be led. She would not be cajoled. She would not be persuaded by reason, logic, or even by beautiful reports. She was a plodder, so I let her plod.
          It took forever. She examined every aspect of our business for the previous three years. She looked at payroll records, bank records, financial statements, invoices, receipts, notices and minutes of the board of directors. If it was on a piece of paper she looked at it. She said not one word about any of it—not to me at any rate. I assumed that she had found nothing to discuss. I knew that our returns were true and complete and supported by the underlying books and records. I knew we were clean as a whistle because it was my job to make sure that we were. That was the only way I was going to keep Henry out of jail, and keeping him out of jail, if you will remember, had been his sole mandate to me.
          Still the agent plodded on, and I began to suspect that she was hiding out with us. She either didn’t want to go back to the office or she didn’t want to start the audit they had scheduled next for her, so she was going to drag our audit out until they reassigned her next job. I couldn’t imagine why else she was taking so long to conduct what should have been a routine examination.
          It took six weeks to get my answer. After an absence of several days the auditor called to tell me she had finished a draft of the final audit report, and wanted to review it with me. We made an appointment for the following day. She showed up in her usual grumpy mood and started off our meeting by telling me that her final additional assessment of tax was going to be $1.3 million. I pretended not to be alarmed, which was actually pretty easy because all of my synapses and all of my vital organs had shut down the second she mentioned $1.3 million. It is an easy matter not to register surprise when you are catatonic.
          She gave me a copy of her report. My immediate plan was to hide in a closet until after closing time, and then to get into my car and drive to Argentina. I didn’t know if the U.S. had an extradition treaty with Argentina or not. It was not a fully developed plan. I looked at the paper she had handed me. It was an IRS form, a fill in the blanks form with spaces for the essential findings, the applicable code sections, the amount of the related assessment, and so forth. I needed to get Henry to sign it to finalize the outcome. The entries on the form were made by hand in a tightly crabbed block print so tiny I needed a magnifying glass to read most of it. I looked at the assessment. $1.3 million is a huge number—maybe not to the investment bankers and Wall Street traders who are largely responsible for our current financial crisis, but then, to Henry and me at any rate, it was an astronomical sum. Henry was going to have a stroke.
I looked at the reason for the assessment. The auditor had asserted that Henry had taken deductions for losses in excess of his basis. I stopped and read that part again. I knew that was wrong. I sat down and waited for my vital organs to reboot. It took several minutes.
          I had set Henry’s company up as what is known as an S Corporation. An S Corporation is a special kind of corporation that is taxed as if it were a partnership. That means that instead of the corporation paying any income tax, the corporation’s income and losses are passed through to the stockholders and reported on their individual tax returns. Henry’s corporation had only spun losses, so Henry, the sole stockholder, had deducted the company’s loss each year from his other income to arrive at the adjusted gross income on his Form 1040. When I say that Henry deducted the losses, I mean of course that I did it for him when I prepared his annual returns.
Now there is a limit to the amount of losses that a stockholder in an S Corporation may take, and that limit is the amount of money the stockholder has actually invested in the company. This is called his basis. The basis is adjusted upwards for any profits passed through to the stockholder and downwards for any distributions of cash or property taken out of the company by the stockholder. The loss deductions taken by the stockholder in total may not exceed the stockholder’s adjusted basis. This sounds complicated but it is actually very simple. It is also something that I took a great deal of care to calculate correctly each year. I knew that the auditor was wrong.
          I went down to the office she was using, and asked to see her calculation of the adjusted basis. As soon as she showed it to me I knew what she had done. She had started with the adjusted basis at the end of the period under audit—a number from which the distributions Henry had taken had already been deducted. Then she deducted the total of all the distributions that Henry had taken. She had in effect reduced his basis twice by his distributions. Her math was wrong. I tried to put on a considered and avuncular air. This is hard to do when your ego is turning cartwheels as if you had just checkmated Bobby Fischer or stripped a basketball from LeBron James. Still, as gently as possible under the circumstances, I pointed out the error in calculation to the auditor.
She didn’t register any surprise or alarm. I suspect that this was because all her vital organs had just shut down. I knew just how she felt. She’d walked in there with a $1.3 million assessment under her belt. She thought she was going to be a big hero back at the office. She thought that she was taking down a big player who’d already copped to a felony evasion charge. Her career was made one minute, and then, thanks to me, in the next minute—not so much.
She sat looking at the offending calculation for about 30 seconds, after which she uttered a single word: “Oh.” Then she packed all her work papers and schedules into her valise and left. I got a ‘no change’ notice the following week. Henry thought that was just as it should be, and he was right.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 35 - Made in the Shades

          Today was lithotripsy number three. It was as successful as the other two. The urologist broke up all the stones in my left kidney, and left another stint in my left ureter. We scheduled a follow up visit for Friday. My wife drove me home.
          It was a bright fall morning. The air was balmy and fresh. The colors were clean and intense. We stopped for lunch at an expensive bistro in the high-dollar shopping district. We paid too much for tasteless flatbreads and snotty service. I excused the taste because I’m on drugs. I excused the service because the waitress was pretty. I forgot my sunglasses when we left, but didn’t discover it until we got home. I did not excuse myself.
I loved those sunglasses. They were the first fashionable sunglasses I ever owned. I had them for two years. I got them right after I had cataract surgery on both eyes. That surgery entailed replacing my cloudy natural lenses with new plastic ones. The new lenses were not just clear. They were calibrated to correct the acute nearsightedness that had plagued me since I was a child. I still need glasses to read because the plastic lenses, being less flexible than natural lenses, do not focus over a range of distances from near to far. The new lenses focus from about 3 feet to infinity, so I no longer require glasses for anything but reading. I can drive, swim, walk, bike and otherwise navigate my world without the thick, heavy, and gawkish lenses I had to wear nearly my whole life.
This is unbelievably liberating as anyone who has been a slave to eyeglasses for any length of time will attest. The absolute best part of this for me is that now I can wear cool shades. After nearly 60 years of clip-ons and flip-ups I can finally look as mysterious and intimidating as that prison guard in Cool Hand Luke. I probably own twenty pairs of sunglasses by now—making up for lost time I guess. The pair I just lost were the first shades I bought after going overnight from 20/400 to 20/20 vision. They remain my favorites for that reason, no matter who is wearing them now—unless of course the pretty waitress kept them to augment her tip. She doesn’t need any help from my sunglasses to look mysterious and intimidating. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 34 - Clothes Make the Man

          I’ve always been something of a dandy—not a fully realized one as that requires considerably more disposable income than I’ve ever been able to muster—but I do appreciate and wear nice clothes to the extent practical. I like to think that I’ve got a good eye for color and texture, and I’m not afraid to take a fashion risk. I was the first of all my friends to adopt and abandon bell bottom trousers, Nehru jackets, double breasted suits, pleated pants, suspenders, cowboy boots, black tee-shirts with a sports jacket, two-tone shirts, jewel-tone dress shirts, Hawaiian shirts, and a raft of others over the years. I came by this condition honestly. My dad liked to dress up as well, and had a collection of ties that I covet to this day. His dad, my grandfather, was a tailor by trade and was always immaculately turned out.
          It is with considerable excitement then that I set out to get myself a new suit. It is with considerable chagrin that I realize that I am going to have to spend more money than I am comfortable spending to dress myself in a fashion equal to my aspirations. Not having that kind of cash, I’m going to have to compromise. That means a trip to a discount clothier. Not so bad really, but under the circumstances I’d rather be able to deck myself out smartly—to look as successful as I think I need to feel to get the job I think I ought to have.

            There’s been a lot written and said about how to dress for an interview, a job, success. Most of it has been less than helpful in the situations in which I’ve found myself over the course of my career. What’s written and popularized in the press pertains to, as a rule, big firms in big cities. My experience has been with small firms in small cities, and in these places anything too fashionable is viewed with a certain amount of suspicion.
          A company in Alabama was a case in point. When I started there all the men in the finance department were required to wear ties. Jackets were optional, but a dress shirt and a necktie were the uniform of the day. The CFO at the time was an older gentleman, always impeccably dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and silk tie. The dress rule was his, and though there was some grousing from the good old boys, there was no real dissention. When the old gentleman CFO retired and the company brought in a younger, hipper, more assertive, and less gentlemanly replacement, the first thing to go was the necktie rule. A collective sigh of relief went up as the ties came off and the dress shirts were replaced with a diverse collection of colorful knits and short sleeves. Comfort was the new order of things, and given the Alabama propensity for 100 degree days from July into September not a minute too soon.
          I myself relished the new freedom. I spent a lot of time on the plant floor, and I felt that my effectiveness there was improved once I no longer had to worry about the possibility of ruining my ‘good’ clothes. Nothing spoils your day like getting machine oil on a $40 silk tie. Things went along swimmingly for a while, but gradually my internal sartorial discipline began to flag. This is perhaps because my waistline was expanding at an alarming rate, and the expense of accommodating it with ever larger clothing was getting to be a burden on the household budget. Rather than limit my intake of calories I opted for the less restrained but wholly more satisfying approach of buying cheaper clothes.
          So one day I found myself on the way to a meeting with executive management in the company of my boss, the division vice president—he resplendent in pressed wool slacks and a stunning sports jacket and me in a fleece sweater, brogans, and extremely commodious jeans. My boss took the opportunity to comment on my deteriorating mode of dress.
          “You know,” he said, “whenever someone asks me who is the baggy-pants clown that I’m always hanging out with, I have to tell them ‘That’s no clown. That’s my controller.’”
          I didn’t say anything at that point because, let’s face it, there was nothing I could say that would reflect well on my character. I could have advanced the arguments my children used on me when they were teenagers trying to get out of the house dressed as street toughs—‘It’s not how you dress that’s important; it’s what kind of person you are inside.’ As adults and parents we all understand that not only is that statement irrefutably true, it is utter bullshit. Why? For the simple reason that the world does not work that way. The world works on appearances. The world cares little for substance and character, nor has it since Machiavelli published The Prince in 1513. It is important to cultivate the appearance of character and virtue in the world, but if you want to prosper you need to stop short of actually possessing character and virtue. If it were otherwise accountants would flourish while politicians and salesmen would toil in oblivion.
          My boss went on, “If you would dress professionally you might be surprised to find that you are taken more seriously. You might even find that there is a place for you over in the corporate finance office. You’ve certainly got the talent. You just need to look the part.”
          Well there it was in plain language—Machiavellian principles fully realized in the less princely world of corporate America. You’re not going anywhere on talent and intelligence, not until you look the part. Appearance trumps ability…almost every time. The famous baseball player, Ted Williams, once said “I’ve found that you don’t need to wear a necktie if you can hit.” I wouldn’t say that this is the exception that proves the rule. The statement sounds remarkably similar to the arguments of my children. The only thing it proves to me is that baseball is not nearly the consummate metaphor for life that we would like it to be. It is a game played by boys who have never liked to wear ties. The workplace may like to talk about baseball around the water cooler or in the break room over coffee, but it is not an environment in which boys thrive who will not put on a tie and pretend to be grown-ups.
          I know when to take a suggestion. That night I went shopping on the way home from work. I stocked up on dress shirts, tailored slacks, and conservative neckties. Next day I showed up at work decked out in my splendid new duds. The reaction of my peers was less than comforting. Most thought that I must have scheduled a job interview. It occurred to me that if that’s what the executive management team thought, I probably wouldn’t be getting the kind of attention to which my boss had alluded. More likely I would be viewed with suspicion so long as I continued to overdress for my station. I was suddenly trapped between second and third, and baseball had become a more appropriate metaphor than I imagined just a paragraph ago.
          There is another apt Ted Williams quote: “God gets you to the plate, but once you’re there you’re on your own.”
          On my own I decided to keep wearing my new professional attire. If new clothes weren’t going to get me promoted, at least they seemed to be getting me noticed. If I wasn’t going to be taken seriously, at least I could keep them guessing. In the end I got the axe and the knit shirt boys got to stay. Sometimes it’s just hard to draw pertinent conclusions.
          An interview suit ought to be dark blue, either solid or in a muted pattern or stripe. In a pinch you may substitute black or dark grey. The shirt should be white. The tie should be striped. Everything I’ve read on the various job boards is in pretty specific agreement on these points. I don’t own a blue suit because I don’t look that good in blue. I do own a black suit, but I haven’t been able to button the jacket or the trousers for at least two years. This is the beginning of the compromises I am going to have to make.
          I don’t want to buy a blue suit because I don’t like blue suits. I don’t want to buy a black suit because I already own a black suit, and, like most overweight people, I live with the fantasy that one day I will begin to exercise and eat sensibly and lose the few pounds required to get back into my old clothes again. What I want to buy is a brown suit. I like brown. I’ve read that it is the new black. I think I know what that means, but I’m not sure that it was meant to apply to me. Because I like brown I’m going to apply it to me anyway.
          Job hunt gurus like blue because it is a sincere color. Wear blue and you come across as solid, substantial, sober, thoughtful, and mature. I’m not sure what brown says. No one has anything to say about brown because they’re all on the blue bandwagon. I think brown is sincere as well. I think brown is at least as sincere as blue—maybe more so, and here’s why. Every politician I’ve ever seen was wearing a blue, black or grey suit. Every stockbroker, banker, and insurance executive I’ve ever seen was wearing a blue, black or grey suit. Every lawyer I’ve ever seen was wearing a blue, black or grey suit. Now it’s just possible that in some utopian state of existence some of those politicians, stockbrokers, bankers, insurance executives, and lawyers may in fact be sincere, but the odds are certainly against it. Yet, owing to the blue, black or dark grey suits, all these charlatans appear to be sincere. There has to be a better litmus test for sincerity than the color of one’s suit if every scheming sneak thief bastard in the world is using his suit to proclaim his ethical worthiness.
I like brown. I think it is sincere, but even if it is not, at least it doesn’t proclaim sneak thief trying to look sincere or scam artist trying to disarm you with the appearance of inner merit. When I read over these last sentences and allow the full implications of what I think and what I’ve said to register, I begin to think that I may never get another job.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 33 - The Search Begins in Earnest

          At last the fever’s gone. The pain’s gone. I feel better than I have in ages. I went to the doctor today for blood work, urinalysis, and x-rays in preparation for Wednesday’s procedure. All the nurses and technicians were happy to see me. A place this friendly almost makes you want to stay sick forever.
          It’s time to start thinking seriously about getting a job now. I’ve updated my résumé and all the various information on the job boards relating to my experience, salary requirements, addresses, skills, etc. I’ve initiated automated job searches in several categories so that I will get updated lists of available jobs each morning. I’ve already started applying to jobs, but I haven’t really made a full time effort of it yet. I have, after all, been still working—up until Friday anyway. Now is the time to step up the effort. I’ll still be hampered somewhat by the continuing medical procedures to bust up the gravel in my kidneys, but I will have more time to devote to the search than I’ve had up until now.
          I also need to buy a new suit for any interviews I might get. I’ve put on enough extra pounds since I last had to dress for business that none of my suits fit anymore. I suppose I could try to lose some weight, but what if I get an interview right away? Better to get a new suit now and be ready.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day 32 - Closing a Chapter

          Gary and I finished up the closing early today. I showed Gary where all the reports reside on the computer and how to access and update them. We even reconciled the borrowing base and submitted that to corporate three days early. I left at lunch time, happy to be shed of the place at last.
I’m anxious to get on with my life now. The last few weeks, winding down an already closed chapter, have been like wasted time to me. If I hadn’t been sick and drugged most of the time it would have been even more frustrating than it was. I shook Bill’s hand on my way out. It seemed like a mature thing to do at the time, but I didn’t feel any more mature for having done it. I wonder how Bill felt about it. We’ve actually been through quite a bit together in the relatively short time we’ve been associated. I thought we had a pretty good rapport right up until the end, when Bill decided to reveal his truer nature. I wonder if he really will miss me, or, in his alternative universe, if he’s told Threasher that he’d like to snatch me out of my car at a stop light and beat the crap out of me.
          My physical condition has improved modestly throughout the week. My fever is all but gone, and the pain is bearable without medication. I’ve got another lithotripsy next week—hopefully the last one. By the end of the month I should be feeling great and ready to tackle the job hunt with the energy it requires. At that point I’ll only have three months of severance left. It seems like plenty, but the economy is tanking all around me. Every day the news is full of economic woes of mind-boggling proportion. That can’t bode well for my prospects.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 31 - Toiling Away, but Adding no Value

          Today was like yesterday only more so. Gary waxed eloquent about how much he appreciated my coming in to help him wade through the closing process. It’s not like anything he’s ever seen before. I knew it wouldn’t be. It’s not like anything anyone’s ever seen before. What we deal with, what I had to deal with, is a joke among accounting systems. IT sales people used to call me up several times a month to try to sell me a new system. All those software and systems decisions were made at our corporate headquarters in Kentucky, but I always liked to talk to the sales people to see what was available and dream about how nice it would be if I could actually buy it and if it actually worked as advertized. They would always ask what apps we were using. When I would tell them, they had never heard of it. That tells you something about how antiquated and obscure our systems were.
Everything we had and everything we did related to our accounting systems was the direct result of someone trying to get by as cheaply as possible. I’ve seen a lot of this over the course of 30 years. Everybody wants to get by on the cheap when it comes to functions that are seen as non-essential or non value added. Accounting often gets short changed…and systems as well. It wasn’t until some smart software developers figured out a way to bundle the sales function into enterprise software that companies started really parting with huge money for their IT solutions. When it was just accounting they couldn’t care less. The systems lag brought on by cheapness really gets telling when companies with suddenly heightened expectations like ours start trying to get 21st century results out of 20th century software. I had just got out of this situation—although not by choice. Gary was now in the thick of the struggle.
Henry, my old boss, the one I would’a, could’a, should’a killed, was like that too when it came to accounting and accountants. He even thought the engineers were a useless lot. He once said to me, “Engineers and accountants—all they ever do is fiddlefrick around.” He was building custom, luxury watercraft that sold from $400,000 to over a million dollars apiece, and he tried to skimp on the engineering. Then he was surprised when his boats kept catching on fire.
I’m still feeling awful, but not getting any worse. I should probably go to the doctor, but I’ve got stuff to do and, like I said, I’m not getting any worse. Three more days and we’ll have the closing in the bag. I’ll be done with work for a while. I can quit thinking about and worrying about the place that cut me adrift because they needed someone to blame for their own inadequacies. I wonder if anyone even cares that I’m doing the honorable thing here by staying around to make sure Gary doesn’t miss a beat taking over my job. Probably not—certainly not Fritz who’s probably busy congratulating himself that Gary didn’t bolt like the other guy. I wonder if he knows how pissed off Gary is about having to do a physical inventory at the end of the month. Apparently Fritz forgot to tell Gary that fascinating little detail about his new job. It turns out that Gary hates inventories almost as much as I do. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 30 - Agony and Ivory

          The closing has to be done by Friday at the latest. Gary wants to beat the deadline. I’ve helped not at all so far. I knew I needed to go in today no matter how bad I felt. My fever was down to 99 and change. I was trying to manage it by alternating acetaminophen and aspirin. I took some hydrocodone to work with me in case the pain got unbearable. I figured If I had to take it I would get my wife to come and pick me up rather than drive home stoned.
          Gary had made good progress in my absence. Helen was a big help in this regard. She and the accounts receivable girl finished the sales schedule, so Gary was ready for me to show him how to lay in the costs of the units sold.
The system breaks costs out into standard and actual labor, overhead, and materials components. We have to go get those costs out of the system and load them into a spreadsheet. We have to do this because there are a lot of other components to cost that the system does not track on a per unit basis. We end up with a spreadsheet that is about 100 columns wide, where each line contains every aspect of the sale, delivery, commission, costs and cost variances, fees, advertizing components, and titling for an individual unit sold. It is hopelessly convoluted and totally ridiculous—not because we have to accumulate all that information, but rather because we have to do it manually.
My predecessor used to key all this data into a spreadsheet by hand. He could key this stuff faster than anyone I have ever seen. He could key a table of numbers faster than my wife can type which is about 110 words per minute. Still I was able to knock about two days off his best closing time because I wasn’t about to key anything I didn’t have to. I found a way to copy and paste back and forth between the spreadsheets and the system to speed up data queries and data entry. It’s still convoluted as hell, but the typing is practically eliminated. Not only that; the potential for making errors in the midst of all that furious typing is reduced to almost nil. This is my real utility to Gary, and the longer we were working at it the more he began, finally, to appreciate that I have come to help him.
By lunchtime my temperature had started edging up again and the pain was raging in my back. It felt like I had been stabbed in the spine with an elephant tusk. I was sweating, and I felt like hell, but I was also turning rapidly into Gary’s best friend in the whole world, which sort of made up for the discomfort. I decided to take a serious pill so I could at least be civil in the afternoon. In half an hour I was too loopy to be of much use, but by then we had got the schedule mostly whipped. Gary finished it easily while I watched. By the time we were finished, the pill had started to wear off and I was able to drive home in relative safety.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 29 - Ninja Accounting: assassination by the numbers

          Still sick. My temperature hit 103. I sipped ice water and popped hydrocodone, which has acetaminophen so it helped with the fever. Gary was not too happy with me, but I didn’t care very much at this point. I was still having flashbacks to former jobs. I don’t know why they all seem unpleasant looking back. I seem to remember enjoying work.


          I almost killed a boss once. Let’s call him Henry. Henry had just gotten out of the hospital from a quadruple bypass. Before his heart attack he was a three pack a day smoker and a 12 cup a day coffee drinker. He used to hit the Dewar’s White Label pretty hard too, but he had mostly given that up to keep the peace with his wife. He was notorious for knocking down cash from his business—that is he would pocket a chunk of money from each transaction and keep it for himself. He used to do this on his own, but the IRS caught up with him, and he had to plead out to a felony tax evasion charge. That was before I met him. When he hired me he told me that my job was to keep him out of jail. I understood this to mean keeping him honest. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
          Henry still knocked down cash, but I recorded it as a loan to him from the company. If he didn’t pay it back it would become income to him or it would reduce his basis in his company. Either way it would end up having adverse tax consequences for him. None of these niceties disturbed Henry as long as he thought he was getting away with something. I was keeping him honest without him knowing it.
          Henry was a natural born salesman. He could sell anything. He had customers lined up to deal with him. There was something magical about it that I never understood. He was not gracious or charming or smooth. In fact he was usually the exact opposite of those, but somehow he exuded a brand of charisma that made people want to make him happy. The best way to do that was to buy something from him, especially if you managed to let Henry at least think he had the upper hand in the deal.
          While Henry was in the hospital the company was deprived of his charisma and sales fell off. Cash flow began to be a problem. I realized two things. We had deliveries coming up on which the customers had made substantial deposits. Henry had taken the deposits and banked them for himself. When we made the deliveries we were going to have to credit the customers for their deposits even though the company didn’t have the money. Henry had it. The bookkeeping would be honest, but we wouldn’t be getting sufficient cash from the transactions to fuel operations. And since we weren’t booking new sales we weren’t taking in any deposits on future deliveries. We were facing a cash crunch of disastrous proportions.
          To help weather the storm, I developed a comprehensive schedule of our cash position—our expected inflows and outflows. With this schedule we knew what we could pay and when, and when we were going to run out of money. I took this schedule to Henry at his home when he got out of the hospital. I pointed out to him the position we were in. I told him that in order to keep the company afloat he was going to have to pony up some of the cash from the deposits he had pocketed.
          Several hours later the Vice President and General Manager, a good friend of mine—let’s call him Mike—told me that he had talked to Henry on the phone and that Henry had said my cash flow schedule wasn’t “fit to wipe his ass with.” I was used to abuse from Henry at this point. He was forever abrasive and insensitive when things didn’t go his way. The magnitude of this particular calumny however was more than I could stand, especially under the circumstances where I had been trying to hold things together in his absence—an exercise that wouldn’t have been nearly so difficult if Henry didn’t have a larcenous heart. I don’t think that I have ever been angrier at work. I quit on the spot.
          We were having an open house at the time. It was an annual event where somewhere around 250 customers would show up for three days of seminars, entertainment, and meals, get tours of the plant and put their hands on our new product offerings. I was supposed to tend bar that evening at a catered steak dinner. I told Mike that I’d be back to pour drinks, but that was it. I packed up the personal stuff in my office and went home.
          When I returned at 6:00 to set up the open bar, Henry was roaming the hallways looking for me. I knew he would be.
          “There’s that boy I been looking for,” I heard him booming down the hall.
          He was in the Mike’s office. He came out into the hall and swept me in. He was expansive, full to bursting with good will and affection. He bowed his massive head and spread his hands like a penitent. He would have looked at home in sack cloth and ashes although I doubt he could have pried himself out of his Gucci loafers.
          “There’s my boy,” he said, a little quieter, trying to suffuse his tone with humility.
          “What’s the matter,” I asked, “did you run out of toilet paper.”
          He clutched his hands to his chest like I had wounded him grievously. He always liked a lot of histrionics. You couldn’t call him a drama queen. He was a great shaggy hulk of a man, craggy and gruff. He was a drama bear.
          “You know I never said such a thing,” he said.
          “I’m sure that you did,” I said. “It sounds just like you. Don’t stand there and expect me to believe that Mike made the whole thing up.”
          “Well I never meant it. We’ve been friends for a long time now. I love you like a brother. You love me too. I know you do.”
          “You are not my friend. You never have been. You’re too full up with self interest and greed to love anyone. All you’ve got to offer is a lot of abuse and broken promises. The only reason you ever got close to anyone was to take advantage or them or cheat them out of something.”
          “That’s not fair,” Henry was really laying on the aggrieved act now. “Name one time.”
          “For starters how about that $30,000 real estate commission you stiffed my wife for?” I said. I knew I had him there.
          “You can’t still be mad about that! That was 6 months ago. It’s high time you let that go. It didn’t mean nothing personal. I still love you, and Mazie too. It was just bidness.”
          That was his favorite excuse for some particularly sleazy bit of chicanery. He’d used it several times with me when I was trying to get him to be more honest than his nature generally allowed. “It’s just bidness” meant there’s money involved so any lack of propriety is completely excusable. When he said it this time, I decided he needed a real dressing down. I took a couple of strides and got right up in his face. He’s a lot bigger than me. I mean a lot. He’s a good 8 inches taller and 125 pounds heavier than I am. I was shouting right up his nose.
I started recounting every slight, every petty cheat, conniving trick, scam, broken promise, bald faced lie, and betrayal he ever committed. Not really every one, just the ones I knew about, but even those were legion. I never stopped for air. I never gave him a space to jump in and defend himself. I doubt if I have ever been as formidable. He had nowhere to go, and he needed to go somewhere desperately. He needed at least to sit down. The onslaught was too much for his heart in its weakened condition. Just standing there listening to me recount his failings as a human being was undoing him in a major way. His stitched up aorta was failing under the pressure. He went grey and pallid. He began to weave on his feet. His eyes were glassy. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead and alongside his bulbous and vein tracked nose. He was about to go down.
          I thought to myself at that point that if I kept at him he was going to die, that if I didn’t let up and he had to stand there until he fell over that I would be responsible for his death. I knew in that instant that I could kill him just by yelling. I liked the feeling that gave me. It was very empowering. I’d never felt quite like that in my entire life. I’d been taking abuse, swallowing injustice, putting up with crap my whole career, and now I could make up for a lot of it—not all of it, but a lot—in a few minutes of lethal venting. I really wanted to.
In the end I couldn’t keep after him. I’m an accountant, not an assassin. I couldn’t have blood on my hands, no matter how much the bastard might deserve to die. I’ve never been in sales where absolutes are only momentary and ethical considerations are only considered in relativistic ways. Accountants are supposed to live at the moral center of the business world. We are the conscience, the soul, a force for truth and justice in the world of business. That’s why I got into accounting in the first place. God knows I hated math and numbers my whole life. I became an accountant because accountants tell the truth. It’s their job—except of course for the ones who lie, but that’s a whole other story.
           So I let Henry live. His health improved over time, and he returned to a semblance of his former self. That he went on to screw people, me included, in myriads of creative ways, that his return to 'bidness as usual' was more complete than his return to physical health...well that was just my own damn fault. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 28 - Roll Me Over...

          This morning I felt like hell. The pain was back. I had a fever. I stayed in bed and popped pills all day. I didn’t even get up to watch Kelly Ripa. I just didn’t have the energy to tolerate a lot of morning venue nonsense for a dose of Kelly's high spirits. It seems life is always giving you trade offs. Sometimes they’re just not worth it.
          In my fitful, drug induced sleep I had one bad dream after another. I never have bad dreams. I have weird dreams sometimes, but never bad ones. I don’t pretend to know the purpose of dreams. Maybe they’re just another one of life’s little trade offs—stuff you deal with in your sleep to balance out stuff you didn’t deal with when you were awake. Like I say, I don’t know. All I know is that, now that I don’t have to go to work any more, I dreamt about being at work. I dreamt about the job I just left, the job before that, and the job before that, all the way back to when I used to work for my dad. All the disagreeable crap that ever happened to me at work came flooding back in serial form like bad daytime TV—only there was no scantily clad window dressing and no Kelly Ripa.

This truck is the approximate age and size of the truck that I wrecked. You'll have to imagine it with an open top covered by a red tarp, oxidized paint, bald tires, cracked windshield, wired down hood, and a lot of rust and dirt. Put that all together in your mind, and you'll get the idea.

          One such dream was a graphic replay of a real event. It had to do with driving a 1952 Ford straight body bulk feed truck, something that I did for my dad in 1965 when I was 17 years old. I drove it because nobody else who worked for Dad would get in it. It wasn’t safe. The windshield was cracked. The hood was held down by a piece of baling wire wrapped around the radiator grill. The two front tires were worn down to the cord. The whole rig was so poorly balanced that with a full load the driver had to exercise extraordinary caution when easing out the clutch in first gear to avoid lifting the front wheels off the ground. Dad paid me $4.00 an hour to drive this truck around three counties delivering feed to ten flocks of ranged turkeys. Why Mom let him do this is a mystery to me to this day. I can only guess that she had no idea how dangerous it was.
          Dad was a country veterinarian with an entrepreneurial heart. He longed to build a thriving business, to become a captain of industry, and eventually to pass on a financial empire to his sons. He started with a fertilizer business—a pole shed with a mixing tank and some applicator equipment to side dress corn. Then he added another facility down the road and next to a railroad siding to mix and bag dry fertilizer. He hired managers to run the plant while he continued his veterinary practice.
While he was still trying to get traction in the fertilizer business he decided to branch out into poultry. I guess he figured if anyone understood animal husbandry it should be a vet. He bought a grain elevator in another town to store and mix feed grains for turkeys. He bought about 100,000 hatchlings and paid to have them raised to pullets in brooder houses and then transferred to contract ranges to mature to packing age and weight. My brother and I ranged 10,000 birds in two flocks on 40 rented acres, and I drove the truck to feed all the birds. By any stretch in our little town it was a big operation. He certainly had a lot of money tied up in it, and he lost it all in pretty short order. I helped. I wrecked the truck.
I don’t think in all fairness you could call it my fault. Dad did, but then he had a lot at stake so I understand his frustration and his need to find someone to blame. The truck wandered all over the road. There was the balance problem I already mentioned, and the treadless tires didn’t help matters any. The tie rods were loose, the steering gear nearly shot, the suspension was overtaxed, under-designed, and older than dirt. If we had lived in a populous area I would have been involved in a serious accident the first day I drove off the lot in that death-trap. As it was it only took 6 weeks.
I was driving down a one lane country road with a full load on my way to feeding our remotest flock. It was early August and the air was laden with ragweed pollen and other caustic allergens that had my nose running and my eyes watering. I was popping over the counter allergy medication like candy oblivious to the warnings (if indeed there were any warnings in 1965) not to operate heavy machinery as ‘use of this product may cause drowsiness’. It didn’t have any effect on the allergies, so why should I think it might put me to sleep?
The truck drifted to the right and the right front wheel got onto the dirt berm that bordered the drainage ditch. The berm broke under the weight of the truck, and the wheel dug sideways into the ditch. I jerked the steering wheel to the left to keep the truck from plowing headlong across the ditch. The wheel popped up onto the roadway and bit into the pavement, finding just enough traction to fling the truck into a broadslide. I jerked the steering wheel back to the right, overcorrecting the skid into another broadslide in the opposite direction. The truck slewed back and forth like a big, lumbering boat and finally settled into an irretrievable slide into the left side ditch where the wheels dug in and flipped the truck over one complete revolution. The truck came to a rest right-side-up about ten yards into a wheat field.
I took an inventory. My glasses were missing. There were wires down across the roof and hood, but because I didn’t have my glasses I couldn’t tell if they were power lines or phone lines. I kicked the door open hoping to avoid being electrocuted, climbed out of the truck, and made my dazed way back to the road. I looked to my right and saw a farmhouse near enough to walk to and hopefully use a phone. I looked to the left and there was a car coming. In six weeks of driving this road I had never seen another vehicle on it. Even more amazing, the car was the county sheriff’s cruiser. More amazing still, the county sheriff drove right by me as if I weren’t standing there in front of a wrecked truck and downed power lines. I wondered if he couldn’t see me because I was dead. I waved my arms at his back window. He stopped and backed the cruiser up to where I was standing on the road. Okay then. I decided that I probably wasn’t dead.
He rolled his window down. “What’s the problem, son?” he asked.
“I think I just rolled that truck over,” I said.
We both looked over at the truck. Dust was still rolling across the field from the mishap. Six tons of turkey feed lay in a neat pile atop a red tarp in the middle of the ditch. The truck looked pretty much just as it had when I first climbed into it that morning. The only sign of something amiss was the downed lines.
“God A’mighty, son,” the sheriff said. “I seen the truck and a cloud a dust. I thought you was combinin’ wheat.”
The sheriff took a report. We determined that the downed lines belonged to the telephone company so I climbed back into the truck and retrieved my glasses. The sheriff radioed his office, and his office called Dad’s manager at the grain elevator. About 20 minutes later the manager showed up with a crew and a trailer and they started shoveling the feed off the tarp. I watched. No one had much to say. The sheriff left, and someone gave me a ride home.
I had a skinned knuckle and a stiff neck. I occurred to me for the second time in my life—the first being after I had got myself crossways with an electric arc welder—that I was lucky to be alive. I took a shower, changed clothes, and sank into an easy chair in our living room with a book. I didn’t read the book. I just stared into space. I don’t remember what I thought. I think maybe I thought that I should occupy my mind with weighty issues of life and death, good and evil, judgment and redemption. Nothing like that came to mind—at least not in such a way that I can remember it 42 years later. I was still in the chair when Dad came home.    
          “What happened?” he asked.
          “The berm broke,” I said. “I rolled the truck over in a wheat field.”
          “That’s going to cost me a thousand dollars,” he said, and walked off.
          That was my first indication that the lives of managers are different from the lives of workers, and that no matter what other connections may exist the two are rarely if ever truly in sync.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 27 - Conference Call: a meeting with eye rolling

          Technically, yesterday was my last day at work. My benefits have terminated, although the severance payments will now begin and continue through the end of January. I haven’t done a closing with Gary yet, and I missed some days because of the lithotripsy, so I am going to continue to work through the end of the closing process. Gary seemed happy to hear this. Now that I am dealing with him I don’t talk to Bill very much anymore. That suits me fine.
          We began today pulling dated reports from the subsidiary records to support the closing balances. Once this is done, there is not much else to do closing wise until Helen and the accounts receivable girl finish up the sales reports. This sometimes takes a week because they have to drag sales information out of the field reps to properly record the vehicles delivered. There are things to do but they’re not burdensome. I’ll let Gary do them and help him out if he gets lost. That’s the way I like to learn. It seems to suit Gary as well.

The difference between a meeting and a conference call. 
Of course video-conferencing just ruins all the fun! 

          There was one interesting development today. When I say interesting I mean the kind of thing that had me muttering profanities under my breath, and yelling them at the top of my lungs after I got into my car and started driving home.
          Bill invited me to a meeting to discuss the status of the perpetual inventory project, specifically the progress or lack thereof that has been made in implementing a sound, viable cycle count program. Some history is in order.
          One of New Ron’s projects was supposed to be orchestrating a company wide implementation of a perpetual inventory system. Fritz wanted to make it a priority because first, the auditors had suggested it would be a good idea, and second, it was a good idea. Fritz wanted to start with my division because ostensibly we had the least robust inventory system as evidenced by repeated significant write downs following our periodic physical inventories. New Ron contracted with a consulting group to come in, review our systems, and give us a conversion plan. The consulting firm left us with a report that contained a list of steps we needed to take in the approximate order that we needed to take them.
          New Ron sat on the report for weeks. Fritz kept calling him asking for a timeline for completion. New Ron kept telling me Fritz wanted a timeline, but there was no way to give him one. I suggested that all he needed to do was take the consultants’ report, assign the listed steps to appropriate individuals, and put dates next to the items. Still he didn’t do it.
          “Fritz is going to fire me if I don’t give him a timeline,” he said to me one day.
          “Give him a timeline,” I said.
          “I can’t give him a timeline.”
          “Sure you can. Just do like I told you. Take the consultants’ list. Assign names and dates.”
          “I don’t know,” he said. “I already told Fritz that this ought to come from Bill.”
          I thought that New Ron was right—not that the timeline ought to come from Bill, but that he was going to get fired. This was especially true if he was going to try to hand the whole thing off to Bill. Fritz had made it obvious that he wanted New Ron to do it. Next thing I knew Fritz had got onto Bill about it. Bill didn’t let any grass grow under his feet. About five minutes after Fritz talked to him he had called a meeting. He invited all the department heads to discuss the project. At the meeting Bill said that we had to get this perpetual inventory system going as soon as possible, but he didn’t know how to do it. Neither did he think that anyone else knew how to do it. He said that everybody needed to come back the next day with some ideas.
I already had an idea so I ran with it. I took the consultants’ list from their report, entered it into a spreadsheet, put a name and a date next to each item, and printed it out. It took about half an hour. I showed up at Bill’s meeting with stapled and collated timelines to distribute. Bill was ecstatic. He called Fritz from the meeting. He told Fritz that we had this timeline complete with task assignments and dates and that we would have the perpetual system implemented in 6 months. Fritz was ecstatic as well.
After the meeting Bill told me he had originally thought that the inventory implementation was going to be a bust because no one knew what to do, but now that I had come up with the fabulous timeline he was suddenly feeling really good about this project. He was feeling especially good because now Fritz was feeling good. Everything was good. Well maybe New Ron was not so good, but I had given him plenty of opportunity to be a hero. He wouldn’t listen to good advice.
We started having meetings once a week to track our progress against the timeline. We hired the consultants to come back and help with the software changes and data conversions we needed in order to make the system work. Bill ran the first couple of meetings, but gradually I took over. New Ron came to the meetings, but he didn’t have a lot to contribute. In a couple of months Fritz let him go—told him they had decided to go in another direction. My star seemed to be ascending. Ascending that is until we got to the cycle count process.
Cycle counts are critical to a perpetual inventory system. In a periodic inventory system (the opposite of a perpetual system) you take a complete physical inventory—wall-to-wall—at least once a year, and adjust the inventory balance in the financial records to the amount that you counted. In a perpetual inventory system you count everything at least once a year, but you do it piecemeal. You count the high value and critical items more than once a year. You do a few items every day. Every day you compare the counts of those items to the balance in your inventory records. If the amounts are different you investigate to find out why. Usually it is that you are using more or less of that item than your bills of material say you are supposed to use. If this is the case you then need to determine whether the operators are using the wrong amounts or the bills are specifying the wrong amounts. Either could be the case. You either fix the bills or retrain the operators depending. If you don’t do this, and do it effectively, you might as well not have a perpetual system because it’s not giving you any more accurate results than you would get with a periodic system.
The problem is that doing cycle counts requires dedicated resources. That is you have to have people permanently assigned to do cycle counts, and they have to be smart enough to do the investigative work and fix the problems on an ongoing basis. The trade off in terms of costs is that while you are paying a few people throughout the year to do cycle counts, you don’t have to shut the whole plant down for the day or two that it takes to do a complete physical count and pay everyone to count rather than to build the product that makes you money. That and you have better control over your inventory spending throughout the year. A perpetual inventory system is a good thing—a better thing than a periodic inventory system—but it does cost money to implement. It does add to cost at the outset, and some of the eventual savings are not immediately quantifiable.
This became my problem. Management was all for a perpetual inventory system until they found out we were going to have to hire some cycle counters. That little tidbit threw a monkey wrench into the works. My star stopped ascending. My star had the brakes put on. I wasn’t anybody’s fair haired boy anymore. Suddenly I was that dumb ‘sumbitch’ that wanted to hire more indirect overhead. This just reinforced something I already knew, but had neither the time nor the energy to put into practice in the circumstances at hand. It’s not enough to do your job and manage an extra project. Your also have to manage management’s expectations along the way. You cannot depend on them to know what needs to be done, or why, on their own. If you don’t do this you will be tossed overboard at the first sign of trouble. Think of it as the first rule of seamanship—keep one hand for the ship, and one hand for yourself. If you don’t make an effort to protect yourself, you’re not going to be of any use to the ship.
I had to fight for every cycle counter I got, and that turned out to be too few and some of them not bright enough to do the job. We launched the new system without a viable cycle count process in place, and as a direct result the system effectively crashed and burned. Guess who had to fade the heat? That is correct. New Don got fired for not doing the inventory project. I got blamed for doing it badly. It wasn’t the proximal cause of my dismissal, but it had to figure heavily.
That brings me back to the present day and the meeting that Bill asked me to attend. I had already been fired. I had washed my hands of the inventory fiasco. I had enough stuff to worry about without agonizing over the inventory. That was someone else’s problem now. Still Bill wanted me to contribute as I saw fit. He must have thought I might know something useful.
All the current cycle counters at the meeting as well as the remnant of the implementation team. The IT guys were on the line via conference call as was Fritz who as it turned out was running the meeting. Apparently Fritz didn’t know that I was there because about the first thing he said was we wouldn’t be in this terrible fix if only we’d had a strong individual in charge of the project. Then he chuckled at his own insight. The sound he made was an embarrassed choke. It was the kind of sound a pimply sophomore might make just after he has called someone ‘gay’ only to realize that they are not insulted by the term.
I looked across the table at the head of the engineering department. He rolled his eyes because he knew what an affront to good sense and sensibility Fritz’s observation had been. He could see how offended I was. I thought of all the clever things I could have said to Fritz just then, but the thing I really wanted to do defied the laws of physics. What I most wanted to do was stick my hand through the phone all the way to Kentucky, grab Fritz by the throat, and drag him back out at my end. I wanted to see the look on his face. I wanted to rearrange the look on his face…a lot. I did not see fit to make any contributions to the discussion. When the meeting was over I got in my car and drove home. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 26 - The Long and Short of It

          I made it to work today even though I didn’t feel much better. I had an appointment with the urologist in the afternoon, so I was determined to put in an appearance to meet my replacement.
          The replacement’s name is Gary. The first thing I noticed was that he is younger and better looking than I. The women who used to work for me will, I’m sure, enjoy working for Gary more, at least provided he is not a jerk. He was quite personable and seemed genuinely concerned about the state of my health. Of course if I don’t get well in time for the closing, Wallace will have to come to help him. Gary will be screwed.
          We spent a couple of hours going over all my work files in the computer. I showed him where everything is, how it’s all organized, and what it’s all used for. He took copious notes. I showed him the previous month’s closing. While I was at the doctor’s office this afternoon, he was going to work his way through last month’s workpapers and compare them to the templates I left him. We will go over his questions tomorrow. It’s a good plan I think. It’s the way I would have gone about it if I were him. I decided that he’s a smart enough fellow.
          Two things about Gary were noteworthy to me—not because they mean anything necessarily, but I have seen them in the past and made note of them because of the individuals to which they attached. First, Gary rolls the sleeves of his shirt to the inside. That is rather than rolling up his sleeves by turning the cuffs outward, he turns the cuffs inward. This makes a neater presentation, but it also means that whatever ink stains, pencil dust, and other detritus of desk work one picks up on one's sleeves will be on the outside and therefore impossible to hide by merely rolling the sleeves back down. This practice is best left to the more fastidious among us, to those less likely to drag their sleeves through the residue of accounting toil. The second thing Gary does is wear a fat gold chain around his neck.
          I have to say before I go further that I used to do both these things. The first controller I ever met did both these things. He worked for a small hospital where I got my first accounting job fresh out of college. I didn’t work for him. I was attached to an independent treatment facility that leased space in the hospital. I was in my twenties. He was pushing fifty. He seemed to have everything going his way. He was a stylish gent—salt and pepper temples on immaculately sculpted hair, nicely coordinated clothes, a well appointed home in a fashionable neighborhood, a chocolate brown Jaguar sedan with a tan leather interior, all the trappings. I started trying to emulate him almost immediately, unfortunately without the same effect. After a while I gave it up, rolled my sleeves like a normal slob, took off the gold chains, and resigned myself to an innate lack of star quality.
          Some years later I ran into another controller who rolled his sleeves just so and wore a gold chain. He also was pushing fifty (so was I by this point) although he was not the same trim fashion plate that the first guy had been. This second fellow had developed an infatuation with a dancer at a local topless bar. He began squiring her around the area malls on week-end afternoons, buying her clothes and baubles and, eventually, a car. That he could not afford these inducements did not dissuade or even slow him down. What did slow him down was getting arrested for embezzling some sixty thousand dollars from his employer to pay for the inducements that presumably never actually induced the girl to give up any favors. Since then I have never trusted accountants who try to dress too cool or wear gold chains. Accountants ought to wear conservative suits in charcoal and navy with striped ties. If they have a taste for the fashionable that won’t be ignored, they can add cuff links and a pocket square. Anything else is just asking for trouble.
          The doctor got another x-ray and a urinalysis. He decided that the stint was causing all the pain. Not unusual, and nothing to be alarmed about. He decided that I had passed enough sand that he could take the stint out. I could do it with or without anesthesia. If I did it with, I’d have to come back tomorrow. The thought of doing it without gave me the heebie-jeebies. I shuddered just thinking about it. Unfortunately that was the only option that made any sense time-wise. I told him to take it out without anesthesia.
          I had to put the silly little hospital gown on again. Then they took me into a room I hadn’t seen before with a nurse I hadn’t met to get prepped. Prepping consisted of soaking my private parts with an antiseptic solution. This went on way longer than I would have imagined necessary, but the last time this was done I was asleep so I don’t really know.
The nurse was pleasant, plump Jamaican woman of a certain age. When she finished with the washing she covered me with a surgical drape that had a hole cut out in the center so that only my private parts are visible. She went to tell the doctor that I was ready. I was lying on a table covered up, except of course for the stuff that I would like most to be covered up, and wondering what there might be to prevent just anybody from walking in there and seeing me like that. I have to say it was very disconcerting.
The nurse came back a few minutes later to tell me that the doctor was in the middle of another procedure and that it would be a few minutes longer before he could attend to me. Through the walls I heard voices and the staccato clicking of the lithotripsy machine blasting someone else’s stones.
The nurse asked me if I was warm enough. In fact my private parts were freezing. I imagined that they had shrunk up deep into my abdominal cavity, seeking their own warmth, and that the doctor would probably have to waste 5 or 10 minutes just trying to find them before he could go in after the stint. I wasn’t sure of the best way to convey this information to the nurse. She had just had my junk in her hands, so it seemed important to me to seem calm, collected, informal and free of embarrassment without lapsing into the vulgar. I decided on a particular phraseology that I do not normally use.
“Everything except my willie,” I said. “My willie is freezing.”
The nurse chuckled at this. I thought that the term ‘willie’ must have made her think of Bill Clinton. I don’t know why I thought this, but there it was. Slick Willie—limp, cold, and slathered in Betadine solution. It was not a proud moment.  
“Unfortunately that’s the one thing I can’t do anything about,” she said.

          The doctor came in ready to go to work. He used a cystoscope to go in after the stint. I knew that I didn’t want to see it, but I looked anyway because...well how could I not? A situation such as I was in is like a plane crash or a train wreck unfolding in front of you. You can’t make yourself look away, no matter what. If the cold had not shrunk my thing beyond finding, sight of the cystoscope was sure to finish the job. It was huge. It looked lethal. It reminded me of some bio-mechanical horror from a science fiction movie, something like the monster's telescoping jaw in The Alien. I closed my eyes. They squirted some topical anesthetic and lubrication into me to ease the passage of the scope.
         “You’ll probably feel a little pulling sensation,” the doctor said.

This was exactly what I felt, provided that what he meant by ‘pulling sensation’ was that I would feel like he had run the cable from a tow truck up my poor penis, attached it to the first thing he found on the other side of my bladder, and proceeded to pull my insides out foot by foot. When I first saw the x-rays of myself with the stint in, it seemed maybe 8 inches long. It curled into a small loop in my bladder on one end, and poked down into my kidney on the other. When the doctor pulled it out however, it suddenly turned into a garden hose—one of those thick rubber hoses, a 50 footer, complete with brass fittings and a twisty nozzle. I thought the hose, the ordeal, the discomfort would never end.
“All done,” the doctor said at long last.
I thought that little phrase, ‘all done’, did a grave injustice to the singular most remarkable feat of physical prowess I have ever accomplished.