Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 80 - An Offer as Psychic Capital

          I have to say that the Triond thing is not working. The martini article looked like it was going to take off, but fizzled after the initial spurt of activity generated by posting the link on my Facebook wall. I don’t have a place other than Facebook from which to generate traffic, and traffic is key. I have a couple of other recipes that I am going to put up to see if that might be the way to go. I’m a pretty fair cook. Maybe I can get a rep for recipes, maybe not. There are a lot of cooks on the Internet. It would be hard to stand out from the crowd. I’d need a distinguishing handle. Middle aged white guy who likes to cook occasionally is probably not going to cut it. It would be nice to make a little money online. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
          The last few weeks of my job with Quilnutz ended up being one of the most satisfying periods in my entire employment history. I was lured away. It started with a phone call from a recruiter. I’ve had dozens, maybe hundreds, just like it before and since. They always start out as a fishing expedition. “This is so-and-so from such-and-such executive recruiters. We’re looking for a controller with manufacturing experience in a custom build environment. Do you know anyone who might be interested?”
This time I did know someone who might be interested—me. I was sick and tired of daily struggle with Fische and with Ivan. It had become obvious to me that we were never going to be allowed to perform up to the levels required to earn our stock. My paid up future had been denied by Ivan and his henchmen. They were apparently happy to lose their shirts to guarantee that Henry, Mike, and I never got a dime for our company. Without that hope, there was no reason for me to stay and put up with the abuse. I had no desire to accumulate data and file reports on my own undoing. At that point I would have been surprised if division survived more than another six months. Quilnutz had ruined our business, ruined its own investment, and ruined the future I thought I had. It was time to get gone, so I did.
          The recruiter’s client was in Alabama. Let’s call them Albatross. They were looking for a replacement controller for their yacht segment as the current controller was retiring. I was very familiar with Albatross. Henry had been an Albatross dealer, and a very successful one, before I went to work for him. Albatross had been in business for 75 years and in the boat business since the early sixties. It was a reliable and respected firm with an established customer base. It had just been sold to a UK based holding company. Post merger Albatross had $600 million in cash in the bank. Things there looked very good indeed.
          I had a phone interview with their Alabama controller and their HR director that I thought went very well. Apparently they did as well because the very next day they invited me down to Alabama for a face-to-face. I flew down on Sunday night for a Monday interview. The Alabama controller met me for breakfast. Their only reservation about me was my association with Henry. Seems they had parted company on a sour note over Henry’s troubles with the IRS. There had been other allegations at the time—all groundless as it turned out—but they made the folks at Albatross nervous anyway. They wanted to make sure that I hadn’t been involved. That problem was easy enough to lay to rest, and they were happy as they could be to entertain me after that. I met a good bit of the accounting staff as well as the vice president in charge of production, the head engineer, the boat controller I was replacing, and the CFO. I dazzled them all, and in several weeks time I had an offer I couldn’t refuse.
          Having an offer is a wonderful thing. It is almost as good as having kiss-my-ass money. I’d spent a lot of time trying to accumulate the latter—an amount so substantial that you can look a work associated antagonist right in the eye at the slightest provocation and say “kiss my ass,” secure in the knowledge that, although they will not in fact kiss your ass, they are powerless to conjure up any misery for you. I wanted to enjoy it as long as I could. An offer takes the sting out of every bad thing in the workplace. The only problem with an offer is that you can’t hold it in reserve for an extended period of time like you can kiss-my-ass money. An offer has a limited life, usually not more than a few days. I took a few days to negotiate a better deal with Albatross. I got a little more money and delayed the date they wanted me to start by a few weeks. Then I accepted.
          I figured I had a few days at any rate to enjoy myself at Quilnutz before I had to tell them I was leaving. I wanted to play my offer like a poker hand, throwing it down at the last possible moment to the everlasting surprise of whoever thought they had the advantage over me at the time. I hoped that it would be Fische. Fische would be the best, but Ivan would be pretty good. It didn’t work out that way. I didn’t get to have a big show of bravado and unsportsmanlike gloating. No dancing in the end zone. No real drama. What I got was better.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 77 - Sermons

It’s been another day with nothing to do but reminisce on past jobs. Future jobs are for the moment impossible to contemplate except for the notion, proved by a preponderance of anecdotal evidence, that they are likely to be more of the same and to require the forbearance of fools.
It’s not easy for someone who generally thinks that he is smarter than most to exist in an environment where the people who control his day-to-day involvement in the implementation of his own future think they are smarter than him. Yet this is the condition under which many of us toil. Some of us would be correct in thinking we are smarter than most, while most of us would, by definition, be wrong. Right or wrong however, your capacity to achieve either greatness or mayhem depends on the conviction with which you cling to the notion that you know better than everyone else. 
Fische and Alicia continued to make my life difficult at Quilnutz. I had good intelligence on their activities, but I could not manage them. They were capable, when they got a really novel idea, of acting on it in swift, decisive, and surprising ways. I could usually get my guard up, but I could never get ahead of them. The one thing that worked best in my favor is that they also thought they were smarter than everyone else. If some of their machinations had not been so comical I might have been persuaded to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Once Fische came to town with a retinue of clingers-on from Florida that included the head designer. He brought her to get our design department to start turning out interiors that looked more like the Florida boats. (Some of our Arkansas workers naturally thought this was so that it would then be more credible for the Florida facility to re-badge our boats as theirs.) Anyway Fische decided to take the design department out for lunch with the Florida designer to help foster teamwork and cooperation. He wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to spend some time with Alicia though so he included her in the lunch invitation. He wanted to cover up his ongoing association with her even though by this time it was pretty much common knowledge in the plant. To cement the subterfuge he got one of our designers to extend the invitation to Alicia for him.
“Go up to accounting and ask that cost accountant—what’s her name?—if she’d like to join us for lunch,” he said.
He said it with a straight face. The designer did not have a straight face when she came into my office to tell me what he’d said.
“Who does he think he’s fooling?” she asked.
“Everyone,” was the only reply I could think of.
I had occasion shortly after that to lecture Alicia on the harm she was doing the company by carrying on with Fische. Alicia was forever going on about how there was too much divisiveness in the Arkansas workforce, and that they needed to swallow their misplaced pride and do things the Quilnutz (meaning the Florida) way. This made it obvious to the local masses that she had taken sides in the issue—and the wrong side at that. I didn’t think I could persuade her to adjust her loyalties westward, but I knew she had left me an opening to appeal to her avowed interest in the ‘big picture’—the good of the company as a whole.
We were discussing the difficulties we were having in hiring qualified help for the plant floor. I told her that I thought that it was at least partially her fault. She wanted to know how I could possibly think that.
“We live in the middle of the Bible Belt,” I told her, and that much was true and obvious even to Alicia. There was a Baptist church on every corner of town and every other intersection in the county.
“Your affair with Fische has given the company a reputation,” I said. “I hear about it in town. Employees have left here because of it. The folks who attend all these churches around here talk about it. They think we are a hotbed of loose morals and infidelity. Otherwise qualified employees do not even apply here even though we offer good benefits and competitive wages because they don’t want to be tainted in the community.”
“What affair are you talking about?” she asked.
“Do you really think I’m that stupid?”
She sat back in her chair, and I never heard another denial from her. I don’t know if that was the beginning of the end for Fische or not. I’d like to think that I got him cut off with a few well timed and supremely lucid sentences, but that’s just because I wanted to be the author of his unhappiness. Far more likely is that Alicia had already discovered herself mired in the sticky morass of Fische’s neediness, and was actively looking for ways to extricate herself.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 76 - A Short Discourse on Creativity

          Absolutely nothing is going on in the job search. This waiting is even more boring than working in accounting if you can imagine that. Accountants, since they are thought by the general populace to be boring, are also thought to have a high tolerance for boredom. I think mine is quite low. Maybe that’s why I’m unemployed.
          When I first started out in public accounting back in the seventies I had a neighbor in my apartment complex named Wendy who was co-producer of a local PBS TV show. She had a lot of latitude from station management about what to put on her show, but the show was meant to feature items of local interest. One day she got the idea to do a series of shows on interesting accountants. She led me to believe that she got the idea from me, as she believed I was interesting, at least in the sense that I didn’t remind her of a stereotypical CPA. In retrospect I’m not sure what she meant by that exactly, but at the time I thought I understood it perfectly. I was also just narcissistic enough to want to be on TV representing interesting people everywhere.
          Wendy’s plan was to locate a representative sample of CPAs within the local accounting offices, and to either interview them about or, even better, film them actively pursuing interesting pastimes. She told me she was hoping to get some thrilling footage of CPAs jumping out of airplanes, riding motorcycles, racing cars, sailing, and so on. This actually represented quite a departure from whatever it was that she found fascinating in me, because I didn’t do any of these things. The most interesting thing I did at the time was to make and fly kites. I doubt that very many other people would have found that in the least bit captivating, and I’m sure that it wouldn’t have made for a very compelling documentary television piece.
We made an appointment for Wendy to come by my place with a camera man to do an interview. Maybe she thought that scintillating conversation made for good television. Truth be known I didn’t do scintillating either. I didn’t have any idea what kind of questions she was going to ask, but I was excited to get the chance to look competent and engaging, and I was sure that I would acquit myself well. The time for the interview came and went with no Wendy. She didn’t show. I called her a couple of days later to ask what had happened.
          “I couldn’t find any interesting accountants,” she said. “I guess the stereotype is true.”
          “What about me?” I asked.
          “You’re not enough to make a show,” she said.
          It didn’t break my heart. I took what she said at face value. I was happy to think that she had pinned the concept on my low boredom quotient, and that I really was toiling away in a profession that had no other souls worthy of a conversation on television. When I think back on this incident nearly 30 years later I have a few questions for Wendy that I wish I had thought to ask when I had the chance:
  • What on earth had made her think I was interesting?
  • If she was really looking for the kinds of pursuits that made for marketable cinematography like sky diving and automobile racing what did she think was going to happen in my apartment?
  • Did she really think that things like motorcycle riding and sailing made otherwise boring individuals exciting to know?
Maybe Wendy had actually figured out then what it took me several more years to learn, and that is that guys (and girls) who sky dive, ride motorcycles, race cars, sail boats (or yachts) or any of dozens of other risky and exhilarating activities are just as boring if not more so than the guys and girls who sit around their entertainment centers eating chips and salsa and watching American Idol reruns. The only thing that sets them apart is the increased likelihood that they will die a spectacular death while engaged in the pursuit that interests them, and thus spare the rest of us another interminable account over yet another chardonnay about what an exciting ride or race or jump or beat to windward they had last week-end. Tax code is only marginally duller.
I have looked at the question of my own interestingness many, many times since Wendy’s failure to execute on her high concept. I doubt that I was ever interesting in the sense that Wendy was looking for, and that is perhaps the real reason she didn’t show up and she didn’t do her show. By some other standard however—a standard that I admittedly don’t understand any better than I understand Wendy’s—I may be too interesting, by which I mean creative and smart. I say this because people have told me so and, because they have told me so, I’ve had to consider that not only might it be true but it might also be the reason that my career seems to have stalled about ten years ago and not managed to reboot itself.
Henry’s daughter once told me that she thought I was brilliant but that I had no street smarts. By street smarts she meant an abiding mistrust of my fellow man. Henry and his entire family always think everyone is out to take advantage of them because they are out to take advantage of everybody who will let them. They were busy taking advantage of me when Henry’s daughter gave me the little ‘street smarts’ lecture, which may have been her attempt to give me a heads up at the time—she thinking I was too smart to figure it out for myself and feeling sorry for me.
Alicia once told me that I was too smart for my own good. I don’t remember the context any more. It’s been too long. I don’t think she was giving me a heads up. Henry’s daughter may have been capable of feeling sorry for me, but I do not believe that Alicia was. I told her that there was no such thing as being too smart any more than there was such a thing as being too rich or too good looking. I said this without any apology for the paraphrasing or credit to Wallis Simpson for the original quote ("A woman can never be too rich or too thin.") which I’m sure has lost some of its original panache in this age of eating disorders. It is the only time that Alicia ever looked at me with anything that remotely approached respect. Neither the look nor the respect was very long lived.
A wag once told me that businesses don’t like a lot of creativity in their accountants. That much I know is true, and I know it’s true because I think of myself as a creative person. I started out in college majoring in English. I wrote poetry, short stories, started more novels than I can count. I gave up on it as a profession because it’s really hard. Garrison Keillor once said if you can write a coherent short story you are smarter than almost all the executives in corporate America. I suspect that that is true. Even before I managed to put my first coherent short story down on paper I knew that I was smarter than every corporate executive I had ever met. I’m sure they all see it differently. Corporate executives are not easily cowed by smart guys. Corporate executives are the kind of people who move in closer to the infield when a smart guy comes up to bat. If they ever have to then watch a grand-slam-home-run ball sail over their heads, they are secure in the knowledge that it was a fluke and will never, ever in a million years happen again.
          Andy Fastow, the CFO of Enron, was a creative accountant. His problem was that he was creative in accounting rather than in writing compelling fiction or poetry or painting water colors. He designed and built the house of cards that came tumbling down around everyone’s ears and created a whole new era of burdensome regulations in the financial accounting community. Andy Fastow is in prison. He was the first to go. Ken Lay died to stay out. Jeffry Skilling, one of The Smartest Guys in the Room according to the 2003 book of that name by Fortune Magazine reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, tried to stay out of prison by maintaining among other things that he was too dumb to understand what Fastow was doing. (Dick Fuld, former CEO of Lehman Brothers, appears to be trying the same defense with respect to Lehman's accounting for Repo 105 transactions undertaken to manage the balance sheet before Lehman's ultimate collapse.) None of those guys can write a good short story, although you would be hard pressed to argue that they were not creative.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 75 - The Brief Shining Moment that was Camelot...Only Better

          Nothing is happening on the boards today, and I’ll bet nothing significant happens until January. Everyone is worn out from worrying about the economy. They’re all hunkered down and trying not to draw attention to themselves. There won’t be Christmas parties this year for a lot of us. For the rest there are sure to be more chicken drumettes and soft drinks and a lot less lobster rolls and champagne.
It’s a busy time anyway, sure to be made more so by the anxiety induced need to appear busy with the daily essentials of work and still get all the personal holiday exigencies dealt with as well. It’s probably actually a good time to be unemployed. It will take a lot of the pressure off, and no one is going to expect me to be spending a lot of money on them either.
          I managed to get off the oxycodone while I still have some left. For a while there I didn’t think that was going to happen. When I tried to just quit—usually the best way—I found I had a lot of difficulty getting to sleep. It took me about three fitful nights to get through it, but now I’m not having any trouble at all. I do have strange dreams though. That’s kind of a new thing for me. Last night I had two—not weird really, but hard to fathom where they came from. In one I was riding around my home town in Ohio on a bright yellow motorcycle. I have no idea where I was going or what I was doing with a motorcycle. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle, and apart from some adolescent yearnings, long since discarded, I have no real desire to. It seemed quite natural in the dream.
          The other dream had to do with playing baseball. I was at the plate, wielding a green bat. I was determined to get a hit, but went down swinging. For some reason the last strike was a big disappointment to me. I woke up at that point vaguely disturbed that I hadn’t been able to get a piece of the ball. I had taken a huge cut at it. I really wanted to knock it out of the park. I don’t know where that one came from either. I’ve never been particularly athletic. I’ve never enjoyed team sports. I was pretty bad at baseball and softball as a kid. In retrospect it was probably an eye hand coordination problem resulting from pretty severe myopia. I never thought to make excuses when I was a kid though. I just thought I sucked…except for one brief magical moment when I didn’t.
          It was the last day of school for my eighth grade classmates and me, a sunny day in mid May. The air was warm and redolent with the long promise of summer. A softball game had been arranged for the lunch recess break—eighth grade versus seventh, a tradition I suppose. I never played much so I was unaware of how the game came to be. The reality was there was a game every day. It was softball in the early fall and spring, basketball otherwise. This one didn’t seem any more special than any other except for the convergence of two unusual conditions.
          Since we were playing one class against another, the eighth grade class was going to be short a man if I didn’t play. In other words I had to play. The other thing was that the girls came down to watch the game. That meant that Connie Staugler was going to see whatever embarrassment I managed to bring upon myself. Normally that would have given me pause I suppose, but it was the last day of school so, surprisingly, I managed not to dwell too much on the potential downside.
          We played until we ran out of time. I don’t remember how many innings we got in—probably not more than five. I managed not to make a fool of myself through the first four. I played right field. Thankfully nothing came my way. That’s why they put me there. It was good asset management. My first at bat I flied out to center. I got a good piece of the ball so it wasn’t embarrassing, just typical. We were down one run by the bottom of what was going to be the last inning. It got pretty exciting from there.
          I didn’t figure on getting up, but sports events usually aren’t determined by what I figure. After five batters we had three men on and two outs. I was up. There was no one in my class who would have wished it so. I figure most of them were thinking they were watching their chance at snatching a victory evaporate before their eyes. Still they were for the most part gracious. It was the last day of school. Everyone was feeling expansive. My classmates made no derogatory remarks. The seventh grade outfield moved in closer though, and I found that a little disparaging. In fact it kind of pissed me off. I picked a big bat. The bat belonged to a kid in my class named Herb. He was a big kid. I don’t know where he got the bat, but it was the biggest one I had ever seen—certainly way too big for me, but I liked the feel of it.
I used to shag a lot of fly balls in my neighborhood. Kids would spread out at one end of our yard. I would stand at the other and knock towering flies and sizzling liners to them. I was good at it. I could hit a ball a country mile. I had a good swing, good rhythm. The rhythm is what made it work for me. The rhythm told me where the ball was going to be—information I was not easily able to discern through my thick glasses. I was never able to translate that ability to hitting a pitched ball, not even a slow-pitch softball, because the rhythm and placement were determined by the pitcher. With a pitched ball I had to rely on my eyesight, a decided disadvantage no matter how beautiful my swing.
I got a lot of advice when I dragged Herb’s big stick up to the plate. Mostly the advice centered on the idea that I ought to get a smaller bat. When it became obvious that I was committed to the big bat, they started telling me I needed to choke up on it. ‘You’ll never get that tree limb around on the ball,’ they said. I was not swayed. I liked the big, heavy bat. It felt like respect in my hands. I wasn’t about to choke up on it either. I knew I could get it around. I just didn’t know if I could get it on the ball.
          I took a called strike on the first pitch. No one ever swung at the first pitch in grade school. I guess it was some kind of prideful thing among the players. I knew the rule, knew I had to do it to be cool. It seemed like a waste of a good fat pitch to stand there and let it pass, but that’s what I did. I took the bat off my shoulder and held it across the plate right where I wanted the next pitch. The next two weren’t anywhere near there—one high and away, one bounced in front of the plate. The count stood at two and one. The next one came in flat right at shoulder level. I stepped into it and whipped that bat around hard as I could. I got a lot of wrist into it at the bottom of the swing—another advantage of rhythm. I knew how to leverage that monster stick into formidable bat speed. It made a whoosh sound as it came around. It moved a lot of air, but it was too heavy to get up to where the ball was. Two and two, the count. The next pitch came inside. I really wanted it. I stepped cross-wise to open up my swing and hefted the bat off my shoulder, but decided at the last second to pass. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere if I’d hit it. It would have been a ground ball down the third base line, and a force out before the runner on third could score. I didn’t really think all that through at the time. I didn’t know enough to think like that. I just knew I wanted to connect. I didn’t even really care about a hit. I wanted to feel that ‘whump’ when ball meets too much wood, that split second in time where everything stops and all the kinetic energy in the world is concentrated right there in your hands, and it all uncoils from there and goes sailing away. I wanted that, so I waited.
          The next pitch was perfect. I had no right to expect that. No one does, but every once in a while the wonder of what you don’t deserve gets delivered to you as if by angels. The ball peaked halfway between the mound and the plate. I knew it was a good one. I shifted my weight onto my back leg to slide my front leg forward into the swing. I bumped the bat up out of the crook of my elbow and started to pull it around. The pitch cut the outside half of the plate, falling at about a forty degree angle across the strike zone. When it got to the level of my waist it was met with more wood than it had ever encountered in its life in elementary school sport. The ‘whump’ I had been hoping for resounded across the playground. The center fielder who had pulled in because he didn’t think I could hit it far enough to get where he was watched the ball sail over his head, past where he would have positioned himself for someone he thought could hit, past the edge of the grassy field where we played, and over the paved basketball courts. The ball bounced once on the tarmac and glanced off the school building—an automatic home run—officially out of the park. I trotted round the bases behind the other three runners.
          When I cruised over home plate amongst the general jubilation of the eighth grade class, Connie Staugler was standing there with the other girls. There were ten of them, but I only noticed her. I only ever noticed her. She had a pretty nice smile working—congratulatory, admiring, beatific. At the time it was the best smile I had ever seen.
“You should play more often,” she said.
I don’t remember what I said. Something stupid I imagine. I do know this. Eighth grade geeks are not supposed to have moments like this. Eighth grade geeks are supposed to continue to fail miserably at all life’s challenges except the academic ones. They are supposed to end up embittered, anti-social, and culturally inept so that all their focus and energy goes into achieving technical success and amassing great wealth which they then use to buy golden moments such as the one I just had. Whenever I think that one day I will drive back to my home town in my brand spanking new Aston Martin DB9 and wearing a $1,200 suit, I remember. I already had my moment, and I’m not going to get another one. My life reached its zenith on the last day of eighth grade and it’s been all downhill from there. This is why I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to get another job. This is why I can picture myself living in a refrigerator box with all my stuff in a stolen grocery cart without sinking into a profound and suicidal depression. I may already have had my moment...but it was excellent.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 72 - Idea of a Lifetime...or Not

          There was nothing worth getting excited about on the job boards today—a recurring theme. I didn’t even try applying. I’m excited about the martini article. I posted a link to in on my FaceBook account and got 17 hits. Seems people are way more interested in drinking than they are in poetry, even silly poetry. Again, it’s a way different world than it used to be. People used to indulge in a little culture of an evening, and baser pursuits were pursued later and behind locked doors. Now it’s slam down a bunch of cocktails, mate, then play video games into the night. Oh well, maybe my martini recipes will add a little refinement back into the mix. Or maybe I should consider an article or a series of articles on how to date strippers. I wouldn’t know anything about it of course, but I’ll bet a hell of a lot of recruiters with ADHD would manage to focus long enough to read them. This is beginning to sound like a breakthrough idea as I write it down. I’m going to have to think on this some more.
          I had a breakthrough idea once when I was still working in public accounting. I thought I was going to be rich. There was a moment of complete clarity when all the parts came together. I realized that I had the resources to  pull it off, that it would work, and that, most importantly, people were going to send me money.
          This happened in the mid eighties. The IRS had just issued a new regulation that required everyone who was taking a deduction for business use of an automobile to keep a contemporaneous log of that use. That meant that taxpayers were supposed to accumulate the business mileage and expenses on their automobiles as they were incurred, that is daily, rather than making some kind of estimate at the end of the year. Like most IRS regulations, this one was in response to perceived abuses.
In addition to the log, taxpayers were also required to attest, in writing, that they had complied with the regulation, and to provide this written and signed attestation to their professional tax preparers. That meant that every CPA and every H&R Block office and every other tax preparer was going to have to get a log book and a signed statement from every one of their clients who wanted to take a deduction for business use of an automobile. The clerical burden of just this one provision of the tax regulations was going to be astronomical. Whole forests were going to be laid waste to create the paper.  
          I knew several things for certain as soon as I read the new rule:
  • Almost no one was going to comply with the letter of the rule—at least not at first
  • Almost all of the written attestations were going to be bald-faced lies
  • In order to get taxpayers to comply at all, the contemporaneous log was going to have to be extremely easy to use and keep track of
  • Somewhere in the midst of this burdensome regulation was an opportunity to make some serious money
My idea then was this. Some smart cookie—me—should print easy to use log books that accumulated mileage and auto expenses by day, week, month and year. The log books should include the attestation statement with a signature line at the end of the book. A plain English explanation of the regulation should appear at the beginning of the book. And the idea that tied all these things together into a marketable flash of brilliance: the log books needed to be sold to individual CPA firms whose names and addresses would be emblazoned on the covers. The CPA firms would distribute the books to their clients as promotional gifts. Regulation met, signed, sealed and delivered, and the cost of compliance turned into a marketing tool for my fellow professionals.
Several interesting things happened on the way to realizing my dream. The execution of the idea actually went pretty smoothly. I designed my own log book. I did the layout in a spreadsheet. I wrote the appropriate verbiage. I bought a list of Florida CPA firms, having decided to start with Florida and expand from there. I found a printer willing and able to take on the job in small lots. I set up a company, rented a mailbox, mailed out a flyer, and waited for the money to come pouring in.
It didn’t pour right away. It trickled at first, but it did come in and it was encouraging as hell to a fledgling entrepreneur. Every day I went to the mail box and there were checks in it. It was exciting. Then two things showed up in the mail box that took some of the joy out of the enterprise. The first was from a lawyer representing someone in Michigan claiming that I had infringed on their copyright. This was not really a big deal because they were only claiming that I had used their name on my log book and that their rights predated mine. I had taken every step I knew to prevent this from happening, but I guess you can’t cover every base. I had paid to register my copyright, and sent a sample book along with the fee. I had done a name search to determine that no one else was using that particular name and nothing had come up. But there it was in the letter. I didn’t have the wherewithal to fight it, so I changed the name. The only real problem was that I had a lot of flyers out with the infringing name, but I decided not to worry about that. I’d just fly right from that point forward and hope for the best.
The other disturbing thing that showed up in my mail box was my flyer with someone else’s name on it. I mean they had taken my flyer, word-for-word, and by extension my idea, put their name and address on it and sent it to all the CPA firms in Florida. The word-for-word part is what upset me the most. I fully expected someone else to try to capitalize on my idea. I knew it was a great idea, and there was really nothing about it to keep people from copying it. What I hoped was that I would get out there first with a product so good that it would be difficult for anyone else to catch up. Well this guy, whoever he was, didn’t bring one new idea to the table. He didn’t even try to change up the advertising. Word-for-word! Talk about a lazy thief. I mean really. The only thing that kept me from going ballistic and hunting this guy down was that he had decided for some reason to charge twice as much as I was for the books. He wasn’t just lazy. He was stupid. So I quit worrying about him as well.
The orders started to pick up, the bank balance started to grow. I was feeling pretty smug about this time, and then the bottom fell out. I don’t know if you can anticipate this kind of thing or not. You’d have to be pretty pessimistic to count on something like this happening. There are all kinds of contingencies and all kinds of things that can go wrong, but for your whole business plan, the very premise of the model you design, tweak, stroke and stoke to evaporate overnight just doesn’t seem fair or plausible. Yet that’s exactly what happened. The IRS got so many complaints about how difficult their new regulation was that they decided to rescind it. That’s right. You heard me. The agency everyone loves to hate, the rat bastards who stay awake at night thinking up ways to make your life more miserable, decided to act nice and cancel a burdensome rule.
Maybe they had figured out as I had that the regulation was not going to raise the level of compliance with the code governing automobile deductions. It was only going to raise the level of detail contained in the documents supporting the deductions. The level of fraud was going to stay the same. The number of trees killed to substantiate that level of fraud was the only thing likely to change.
My budding business died in a matter of days. The orders stopped. The mail box was empty. The bank balance went to pay for some books we had printed on spec. I didn’t lose money thankfully, but I didn’t make any either, and I never got over the feeling that I had been cheated out of a really promising future.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 71 - The Perfect Martini

          There was nothing on the boards worth applying to today. I applied to two postings anyway. I just want to make something happen. I’m not going to be happy with this process until someone somewhere flies me someplace for an interview. I hate to fly, but I need that level of commitment from a prospective employer just to get comfortable with the idea that I am still a marketable commodity. All these young recruiters with ADHD who are telling me that I am marketable do not have any credibility with me. I don’t think some of them even know what marketable means.
          I posted another article with Triond. This one is a recipe for a gin martini. I love a proper gin martini. I used to drink malt scotch, and still do on occasion, but I have a friend in Oklahoma who turned me on to martinis made with Bombay gin and I’ve been hooked ever since. My friend drinks scotch in the winter, switches to martinis in the spring and back to scotch on his birthday in the fall. I did that for a while, but I don’t switch back and forth according to seasonal dictates anymore. I just stick with the martinis year round. I rarely drink more than one; never more than two. I find that anything more than two completely undoes the level of sophistication and civility imparted by just enough martinis—in my case just two. Here is the article I posted:


A philosophical guide to (and recipes for) the most sophisticated, sublime, and American of cocktails

There are probably as many perfect martini recipes as there are martini drinkers—an unusual state of affairs when you consider that the drink has only two basic ingredients. It is hard to imagine, though still true, that something so simple could have so many and such a wide range of outcomes—from heavenly to truly appalling.

Conceptually the perfect martini is a fairly static and well established thing. In execution however, perfection becomes mercurial, ethereal, elusive…impossible even. Two bartenders with the same recipe, the same utensils, and identical ingredients will invariably produce noticeably different results. I believe that a martini in the making is capable of absorbing the philosophical and cultural sensibilities of the maker, and that the flavor of the finished product is as dependent on these as it is on chemistry. For this reason it is important to make a martini with love in the heart. One should neither build nor drink a martini when one is feeling the slightest tinge of self-loathing. And neither should one ever offer a martini to someone for whom he or she does not feel the highest and purest affection.

Another important point to consider is that the modern martini has lost its cache of sophistication. It has come to be regarded as a catapult to oblivion rather than a culturally refined beverage. For the uninitiated the martini has come to symbolize the problem-drinker’s drink—a brutish concoction whose purpose is to rocket the imbiber to a whole other galaxy of reality. This appears to have started with the misguided attempts of wags and sots to humorously portray vermouth as an enemy of the “dry” martini. In a strange twist of events that have ruined the classic martini and very likely contributed to the decline of civilization, these jokes have, over time, become cocktail gospel.  You’ve no doubt heard them. Here are two:

·        Fill a glass with gin and wave the cork from a bottle of vermouth over the surface
·        Fill a glass with gin and whisper the word “vermouth” to it

Vermouth is not the enemy. In fact the martini is meant to be a marriage of gin and vermouth—a harmonious union that recognizes and celebrates the contributions of both ingredients, the enjoyment of which is greater than the sum of its parts. The gin imparts notes of juniper and pine and strength of character to the drink, while the vermouth refines and civilizes it, knocking the rough edges off the gin and producing a result that a friend of mine once described as “the best thing I ever put in my mouth.” The martini is all about sophisticated flavor, not stupefying potency. That it is ultimately capable of knocking you on your backside is a quality that adds to the drink’s mystique. It should be taken into account and respected, but not surrendered to.

The real secret to a perfect martini: don’t be afraid of the vermouth...and don’t forget the love.

Here are my two favorite recipes:

Martini with Olive

This is my usual martini as I like something a little savory—especially before dinner.

  • Fill a martini glass with cracked ice and water
  • Fill a cocktail shaker with cracked ice
  • Add 2 oz. of gin (I prefer Bombay—the lower proof white label variety as opposed to the Sapphire) and ½ to 2/3 oz. dry white vermouth. Note this is a ratio between 3 to 1 and 4 to 1.
  • Cap the shaker and shake vigorously until the cold begins to make your hand ache
  • Empty the ice water from the martini glass
  • Spoon three small or one large pimiento stuffed olive(s) into the glass
  • Strain the martini into the glass
  • Enjoy responsibly

Martini with a Twist

I love this one on special occasions. It is nuanced with sweet citrus notes, and has a clean and exceptionally refreshing finish.

  • Prepare sufficient lemon twists to garnish all the martinis you intend to make. I use a potato peeler to get paper thin slabs of peel with none of the white pith that imparts a disagreeable bitterness to the drinks. I then use a sharp paring knife to cut the slab into long thin strips—about 1/16th inch wide and as long as you can make them. This makes an elegant curl of peel in the glass, and does not overpower the drink with lemon oil. You can’t get this kind of twist at most bars, and the result is generally a ruined drink. Once I pointed out to a bartender that if I had wanted lemonade I wouldn’t have ordered a martini. He wasn’t very agreeable after that, but then neither was his martini.
  • Fill a martini glass with cracked ice and water
  • Fill a cocktail shaker with cracked ice
  • Add 2 oz. of gin (I prefer Bombay—the lower proof white label variety as opposed to the Sapphire) and ½ to 2/3 oz. dry white vermouth. Note this is a ratio between 3 to 1 and 4 to 1.
  • Cap the shaker and shake vigorously until the cold begins to make your hand ache
  • Empty the ice water from the martini glass
  • Add splash of Triple Sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier to the martini glass, swirl it around to coat the inside of the glass, and discard
  • Strain the martini into the glass
  • Garnish with a twist of lemon peel
  • Enjoy responsibly

Again, we’ll see what happens.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 70 - Excellent Written Communications Skills Only Get You So Far

          I applied to 5 jobs today through Indeed, although all of them were on CareerBuilder seems to have the most and the best listings. I joined a pay site called The Ladders that specializes in jobs that pay over $100,000 per year. It cost $30 to get a basic membership that gives me access to their jobs and the content of the articles they put up. They are great at promoting themselves. That is to say that they are really good at making themselves sound really good which is why I parted with the thirty bucks. Now we’ll see if they can actually deliver. Like all the rest of the sites they allow you to search their postings by job title, key word, and geographical location. I still want to stay in Florida so I turned that filter on. I wouldn’t mind going back to Arkansas, but anywhere else I’d just be biding my time until I could get back to Florida. It’s expensive and hot, but it suits me somehow. Besides I have a lot of family in Florida including my children and grandchildren. Living here just cuts down on the travel required at holidays and family gatherings.
          I check my Triond account about every hour. So far 2 people have read my article. It’s nice to know that someone did, but since it only pays a penny for every 7-10 people who click through I’m certainly not going to be buying an Aston Martin with the proceeds. The trick of course is to have a lot of articles up. It’s best if they’re all related and on a topic that you have some expertise in and credentials for that’s also of general interest to a lot of people. Even then you have to work at driving traffic to the articles through the judicious and creative use of blogs and social networking sites. This may be harder than it looks. I’ll have to post some more articles on different topics and see what people are actually interested in reading.
Digitally disadvantaged as I am I realize that I’m going to have to amp up my online presence if I’m going to get anything cooking with writing. I’m going join FaceBook and create a blog. I’m already on LinkedIn, but that’s a network for professional connections. It’s supposed to be useful for getting a job, but I’m not seeing anyone beating my doors down just yet to offer me a cushy position. Like anything else on line it requires constant attention and tweaking until you’ve reached a critical mass of contacts. It also requires a combination of constant activity on the message boards, publishing, and cross-linking all your activities to establish some kind of professional credibility.
There is one other problem with all this digital networking. I have to keep my writing activities segregated from my accounting activities. The silly poem I put up yesterday on Triond is fairly innocuous, but my other writings—I have a number of short stories and a novel in progress—tend to be a little more outré shall we say, a little more earthy. Now I’m not talking about anything offensive, but it is different from what most business managers would expect of their accountants. The novel for instance features what is generally known as a gentlemen’s club and several exotic dancers, a crime boss, a priest having a crisis of faith, and a ponzi-scheme operator. What board of directors would care to have their financial matters in the hands of an accountant who knows enough about such things to make a compelling story out of them when they are able to choose from among a slew of candidates who have not a creative bone in their body? No, no one on LinkedIn must ever be able to connect the dots to anything I might write and post on line—at least not until I get something published and start banking fat royalty checks.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 69 - Seeking a More Poetic Existence

          There seem to be a lot of jobs in health care—more than in any other single segment of the economy. I think that I might like to break out of the manufacturing niche and get into health care. The money would be comparable. The benefits would probably be better. The working conditions would almost certainly be an improvement. And of course we have already discussed my attraction for nurses. My one hope would be that I would be surrounded by smarter people. This is not to suggest that smart people do not work in the manufacturing sector, but only that they tend not to be in charge.
I actually started my accounting career with a health care provider—a kidney dialysis facility in Tampa. That was years ago, however, and things have changed a lot since. Now every accounting job I see listed in the health sector requires at least five years experience with a primary care provider. Unless a little good fortune comes my way I might just be stuck doing what I’ve been doing or doing nothing at all.
Periodically I have flights of entrepreneurial fancy. The last time I gave in to one of these I bought a small florist shop, moved it, merged it with a much larger plant and garden center, and promptly lost my shirt. Failing in a spectacular fashion builds character and also a considerable immunity against further flights of fancy. So far at least I have been able to resist the temptation to further entrepreneurial exploits. It doesn’t hurt that some eighteen years later I am still in hock to an assortment of credit card companies for more than $60 thousand—the price of refusing to file bankruptcy, and a nut that I do not seem to be able to crack in spite of earning a respectable salary.
Still there is allure in the prospect of not having to work for fools and charlatans. I’ve really had enough of that, and were it not for my astronomical credit card debt I would be looking for an opportunity to be my own fool and charlatan once again. Actually I am looking, but my search is constrained.
What I need is an opportunity that doesn’t require any initial capital outlay. This means my product has to be virtually free to produce. There can be no requirement for facilities, equipment, production workers, or materials inputs. Advertising will have to be direct and viral. Distribution will have to be on an as-ordered basis, orders pre-paid. As I’m sure you realize, we’re talking the Internet.
We’re also talking about writing. Writing is virtually free to produce. All you need is an idea to get started. Everyone already owns all the other necessaries to getting the idea into or onto something that someone else can read. All that’s required then is a mechanism for monetizing the process. If you look you will see that the Internet is rife with places where you can publish articles on practically any subject and get paid based on the number of people who either read the article or, more commonly, click through from the article to a place where they actually buy something. I signed up today for one of those. I even published an article. Not an article really but a funny poem about diet and exercise. Here it is in its entirety.


If we could all decide our fate, and name our time of death and date,
Most all of us would check out late, and queue en-masse at Heaven’s gate—
Arriving at the same damn time, procrastinators in a line,
Who’d put off dying long’s we could, but just the same in coffin’s wood
Would all be lying stiff as boards awaiting judgment from our lords.

Though this is what we’d all prefer, yet most believe we must defer
To higher powers this life length choice. Sing halleluiah! Let’s rejoice!
But some there are that what they think’s our span of life’s not writ in ink,
But penciled on our page of fate—a mere suggestion to abate—
Just change the pattern’s warp and weft to raise the sum of days we’ve left.

The starting point is what to eat. The fare is spare and short on meat.
Less sweet desserts, less this and that, a pan-caloric tit for tat
Less fat or carbs—just take your pick. What works for some makes others sick.
More fibrous greens, organic fruit, whole-kernel grains, and tofu suit
The longer, leaner lifetime mess (though much of it be flavorless.)

Then what’s required is discipline and going placidly within—
A regimen of proper diet, avoiding all excess and riot,
Restraint in all save exercise (in working out we’ll agonize.)
For fitness is the way to stay about a longer time than they
That shirks their time inside the gym, and journey fat through thick and thin.

Hard work and sweat must now align to gobble up great gobs of time—
Running, rowing, dance aerobic, pumping iron, and skipping ropic,
Swimming climbing, step and stretching, jogging to the point of retching—
Till weary rapture of corpuscle coursing through sore, aching muscle
Signals that this hard persistence barely lengthened our existence.

Then free from guilt but full of pain we pause to calculate our gain,
And find when appetite’s denied that all life’s fruits are froze and dried,
And though we may have added years, they’ll have to be reviewed through tears.
Oh, we can choose long life to live, knowing we’ve but one to give,
But racking life out to its limit sadly leaves scant living in it.

A silly thing surely with, hopefully, some entertainment value. We’ll see what happens.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 68 - Betrayal

          I fired off another eight résumés today complete with tailored cover letters. I think it’s cool how the job boards make the process easy once you’re properly set up. On the flip side, they make it easy for everyone so it’s harder and harder to stand out, especially in the midst of the huge crowd of folks now looking for work.
          Things weren’t nearly so easy for a job seeker when I began to feel that I’d reached the end of my rope at Quilnutz. Back then everything was still intensely manual and cumbersome, and I was working so hard and under such duress that I just didn’t have the energy to look for a better situation. I was pretty much on my own. Ivan had fired Henry over an alleged breach of fiscal rectitude that was both smaller and less obvious than Ivan’s own trespasses. With Henry gone, Ivan shipped Mike off to Florida, and I suddenly found myself fighting battles on multiple fronts without allies. It was a bleak time.
          Henry’s undoing was interesting in a way. He was sucker punched by the one person who should have had his back. That was his supposed mistress, let’s call her Penny. I don’t know if Henry and Penny were engaged in an affair or not. Most everyone thought they were, including Henry’s daughter and probably, eventually at least, his wife. Penny certainly acted as if they were because she took every opportunity to throw her weight around as if it were Henry’s own—so much so that everyone came to take her excesses at face value. I confronted Henry about it once. I told him it didn’t matter to me one way or the other, but it sure was creating problems among the troops and he ought to consider cooling his jets. “When would I ever find time to screw that broad?” is what he said to me. I never brought it up again.
          Penny had been a payroll clerk in the company that Henry bought out of bankruptcy. When they shut their doors, she found herself relegated back to housewife status in rural Arkansas—not a happy circumstance for a woman with Penny’s aspirations. When Henry sent me out to Arkansas to get the plant ready to open again she was one of the first in line to get her job back. I made her an offer that I thought was fair based on the prevailing rates for clerical help, and Henry promptly cut it in half. She was happy to get that. I thought she must be just that desperate to get out of the house. I didn’t know that she was an expert practitioner of the dark arts, and that just getting her foot in the door was the moral equivalent to her of securing a fingernail paring or a lock of hair.
          We weren’t even open before Penny was promoted out of the payroll clerk position to become Henry’s personal assistant. The rest of her days with us, and subsequently with Quilnutz, were spent solidifying and fortifying her position. With Henry’s company that meant hanging onto Henry’s coattails, whatever that took. All her considerable power was derived from Henry and wielded in his name. At first Henry’s wife was a champion of Penny’s ascendancy. They were great chums. They went everywhere and did everything together—when Penny wasn’t busy ministering to Henry’s needs that is. As Penny’s hold on Henry increased, his wife began to fade into the background. Some of the newer customers even thought that Penny was the wife.
          Henry’s wife, let’s call her Pam, took most of this in stride. She’d been with Henry a long time and weathered all his storms and put up with all his shenanigans. She was content it seemed to let Penny play on center stage because she knew that whatever else may happen Henry owed her for her past loyalty and even a witch like Penny wasn’t going to upset that dynamic. She did have a breaking point though, and I was there to witness when she reached it.
          A crowd of us were out to dinner one night—Henry holding court in his usual flamboyant style. His wife was there, Penny, me, my wife, several other couples, most of them customers. When desert was served Penny began loading bites of chocolate cake from her plate onto her fork and feeding them into Henry’s mouth. It was a shockingly personal and intimate display—completely inappropriate in that or any other context. Jaws dropped all around the table. Glances were exchanged.
Henry’s wife’s usually placid and softly smiling face turned to granite. Her eyes glowed like mica fire-screens. You could see the flames licking up the inside of her skull. She was never the same after. Two years later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s had a mastectomy and been through three courses of radiation and chemotherapy already with another to come. I’m sure that she is dying, although no one will say that. I think it was that chocolate cake that killed her.
After Quilnutz bought us out and Henry’s star began to fade, Penny suddenly needed to hitch her wagon someplace else. With Ivan showing no interest in women at all and Fische rooting around in Alicia’s garden, Penny had to get creative. The first thing she had to do was disassociate herself from Henry. At least she’d have a chance on her own. Still attached to his hip she would be consumed in the flameout. At some point it must have occurred to her that if she could be the author of Henry’s undoing she would not only disassociate from Henry but demonstrate her loyalty to Quilnutz and to Ivan in the bargain. Once she’d figured that out she dipped Henry directly into the grease and danced around the sizzle.
It was as thorough and awesome a betrayal as I have ever seen. It eclipses anything that’s ever been done to me and I’ve been the victim of some doozies. What was alleged was that Henry was getting some money directly from customers on deals he was booking for Quilnutz at shows—knocking down cash, always one of his favorite tricks. Trouble was he’d already been warned about it and he knew Ivan was watching him like a hawk. I would have thought that he’d be more careful, but then Henry was always happiest when he was cheating someone. The more Ivan pressed him the more likely Henry was to cave in to his instincts. Cheating Ivan under Ivan’s nose would have been an altogether irresistible proposition to Henry. The mere suggestion that he try it would have been entrapment to his greedy soul.
I don’t know what part Penny had to play in all this. I know that she bore witness against him, and that was enough to undo Henry and cement her position at Quilnutz. Whether she urged Henry to do it, whether she made the whole thing up and Henry was actually innocent, I couldn’t say. Either is possible, but in all probability neither would have been necessary. In the grand scheme of things what happened to Henry was just Karma. For the rest of us life went on. The difference for me was that I was out of players who shared my interests and my fortunes. I was alone in a dark and scary place.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 67 - Different Lyrics, Same Tune

          It was another slow Monday on the job boards. It occurs to me that things are going to continue to slow down anyway as we get closer to the holidays. It’s likely to be January before I see any significant pick-up in listings—not even then if the economy stays in this death spiral. Maybe I ought to be stocking up on canned goods and camping supplies.
          We took Bud to the vet today. The tumor on his shoulder is noticeably larger. It’s only been a few weeks so there’s no question that the cancer is progressing rapidly. Bud seems to like hanging out with me more and more. He will stand next to me while I watch television and rest his head in my lap. Somehow this seems to give him comfort. I hope so anyway. It is sad to see him failing when he has so much heart left for living.
          I was losing heart at an accelerating pace at Quilnutz. Every success, every overcoming of an obstacle was answered by a new challenge. Nothing came easy, and every difficult thing was made even more so by the chicanery, bullying, and bone-headed decisions of corporate management.
          When I thought I had the Fische/Alicia conspiracy contained, Ivan started giving me fits. He decided at one point that we had overvalued our used trade-in inventory in the sale. He assigned new values to the remaining stock, and told me to adjust the units on the books accordingly. I knew they had been fairly appraised at the time of the sale, but I also realized that they had declined in value somewhat since the sale. I knew that Ivan wasn’t going to have any of that. Logic was not a path to appeasement for Ivan. I took the adjustment—another significant loss to be charged against the earn-out and against the possibility of my ever cashing out. It was like being mugged in slow motion. There was nothing I could do about it but watch. Ivan was holding the gun, and anything I said would just get me shot.
          The boat that I took the biggest adjustment on, some $40,000 write down in value, Ivan moved to Florida. He sold it there several weeks later and made an $80,000 gross profit on it. I guess our original appraisal values weren’t so far off the mark after all. The rat bastard never agreed to let me reverse the adjustment against the earn-out. He knew what he was doing from the start, and he was not ashamed to flash his avarice in my face and line his pockets at my expense. I guess it was ‘just bidness’. Different lyrics. Same tune.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 64 - More Philandering, More Fallout

          The landlady came back today offering to reduce our rent until I get another job. This was a very nice gesture, and it’s just like her to do something like that. Unfortunately she can’t lower it enough to make any difference to me once my severance runs out. This is kind of a bummer because I would really like to keep living here. It has been great.
          My wife actually found this place shortly after I started work at my last job. She found the listing online and called the landlady to get the particulars on the house and directions to it from my office. I went to see it over my lunch hour. It was exactly what we were looking for—a nice big split plan with an open kitchen and family room, high ceilings, and a pool. It was situated on a cul-de-sac so traffic was minimal. It was also in a golf course community, but not adjacent to any of the holes. To me that meant things would stay green and manicured, but also that I wasn’t going to be getting a lot of errant golf balls crashing through my windows. The landlady lives right across the street.
          The longer we live here the more we like it. The neighbors are great. They are an interesting mix of ages, professions, and acculturation, and they all get along with one another. Almost every holiday we have a block party in the cul-de-sac. Everyone brings a dish. We drag a fire pit into the street, ring it with lawn chairs, wire up some music, and talk and drink wine into the night. There is nothing not to like.
          There was plenty not to like at the new Quilnutz—the one defined now by Alicia and her boyfriend, Fische. Fische was in love. Alicia was not. Fische was calling Alicia dozens of times a day. He called during the day, and he called into the night, leaving voice mails…lots of them. He wasn’t leaving mentoring messages either. They didn’t deal with the intricacies of costs or allocation of overhead or the problems associated with pricing custom contracted products. No, these messages were intensely personal. Fische was in love. Fische had been transformed from the consummate swordsman bragging around the water cooler to the lovesick puppy. Gone was the self-assured, foul-mouthed ex-marine on the make. That guy had been replaced by a whiney, insecure, self-flagellating, and epic putz.
          I can only speculate what might have happened to effect this transformation. It was obvious from some of the things that Fische said that he and Alicia had slept together at least once, although not so obvious whether or not they had actually consummated their relationship. It became obvious over time that the relationship was not progressing according to Fische’s expectations. He wanted more from Alicia than he was getting, and he wasn’t talking about sex either. He was talking about affection.
          The sheer volume of the messages was troubling. Three, four, five times a night, sometimes even more. He called after work. He called before dinner. He called after dinner. He called between planes. He called before bed. He called in the middle of the night when he got up to piss. How many times can you call someone and leave a message without seeming desperate, no matter what you’re saying. What Fische was saying only raised the level of desperation into the realm of the pathetic.     
          My personal favorite message was a long, whimpering soliloquy on unrequited love. Fische could be quite philosophical when he put his mind to it. I guess he meant to be instructive. It was as if he thought if he explained it just so, if he made it perfectly logical and easy to follow, that Alicia would finally see the light and love him back the same way he loved her. It’s hard to say. Anyway he went on at length on how love could not exist for long unless it was returned. Eventually a one-sided love would wither and die, but if that love were returned it would flourish and grow stronger and reflect back the returned love and the two loves together would become some magical, noble force that would sustain them forever. “Love must return,” he kept saying over and over and over. “Love must return.” It would have made a great country and western song if it rhymed, but it didn’t so it wouldn’t. It’s been ten years now since I heard it and it still makes me chuckle. It was so perfectly, magnificently maudlin. Whatever else I may think of Fische, I’ll always be thankful for that wonderful little bit of entertainment.
          Of course it wasn’t all love and flowers with Fische and Alicia. Occasionally Fische would get down to business. I can only speculate in this regard as well, but I think the business that Fische got down to was the real reason that Alicia was even party to this relationship. The reason I think this is that, in large measure, the business had to do with me. It seems that Alicia had designs on my job. I don’t know if she came up with that notion on her own or if Fische came up with it and presented it to her fully formed as a kind of inducement to her continuing and intensifying their affair. Whichever way it played out, the two of them were trying to orchestrate an accounting coup of sorts to bring me low and get me fired. With me out of the way they thought Alicia could just step up and take over.
          The only problem they had, although I’m not sure either one of them realized this at the time, was that there were only two people in the company who thought Alicia was even capable of doing the job she already had. Those two people were Alicia and me. I don’t count Fische as knowing because I don’t think he had any idea. It didn’t really matter to him. For him it wasn’t about Alicia getting my job. It was about Alicia thinking she could get my job if she kept feeding his need to be loved.
Fische had no clue what accounting entailed. He probably thought it was akin to his job, executive administration. You put in your hours. You sling some hash. When things go wrong you jump up and down and yell real loud about how nobody in this goddam company has any sense of urgency.
          If Fische and Alicia managed somehow to get rid of me they would then have to convince the grunts at corporate finance that Alicia had the chops to do my job. That wasn’t very likely because I was continually having to sell those same grunts on the idea that eventually she would make a cost accountant. I thought she was already doing a fine job in spite of the fact that most of her time was taken up either salving Fische’s precious ego or plotting against me. The corporate finance grunts thought she was too pretty to be any good. They were all Midwest farm boys at heart. They’d never seen a pretty woman who could add two and two and consistently come up with an answer of four without using ears of corn to hold her place while she thought it through.
          When I’d first hired Alicia, I sent her résumé up to corporate as a courtesy. I figured it was my department, my call. I’d already made the offer. The CFO called right away and started second guessing me. He wasn’t sure she had the experience we needed. He wasn’t comfortable with the fact that she’d been selling real estate for two years. He was going to send one of his analysts down for the next month end closing to make sure she knew what she was doing. I was a little miffed, but I wasn’t really concerned. I knew she’d do all right.
          I already knew the guy they were going to send. He was a kid—a nice fellow and smart as a whip, but a kid. He was either going to be tongue tied and clumsy around Alicia or she was going to have no effect on him whatsoever. I was actually betting on no effect whatsoever. There seemed to be a lot of sexual disinterest going around amongst the boys from corporate. Too much corn and pork in their diet perhaps. Fische made up for the lot of them, but then Fische wasn’t actually from the Midwest. He was from California—apparently a whole different thing.
          I got the strangest reaction when I told Alicia that the guy was coming though. She asked me if I wanted her to wear a short skirt while he was there to keep him distracted. I couldn’t believe she’d asked that. I couldn’t believe she thought that was an appropriate thing to do. I couldn’t believe she was willing to do it. I couldn’t believe she thought I’d say yes. “Good Lord, no,” is what I said. It might have been a pleasant diversion to see her in a short skirt, but I knew I was not prepared for the chaos that would ensue. Some things are just not worth the trade off.