Friday, May 28, 2010

Day 171 - Crosswords and Oaters


We’ve been here a little over a month now, and we’ve gotten into a routine in the evenings that seems to work for everyone. I may be crazy within a few weeks, but until then this is how it’s going to go. I serve dinner at 5:30. We have to call it supper or a lot of confusion ensues. Dinner is lunch. Breakfast is breakfast. Supper is served on TV trays while we watch the news. News has to be the local NBC affiliate. CBS, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox are no good. We watch the news until 7:00 so we see an hour of local and a half hour of national news. There seems to be a lot of overlap, but when you’re as forgetful as Nelson it doesn’t matter so much.
At 7:00 we switch over to Wheel of Fortune followed by Jeopardy at 7:30. Nelson has watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy every night as long as I’ve known him. Sometime between 7:00 and 8:00 Anne stops by on her way home from work. If I’ve made a big enough dinner she will take some home for herself and her husband. She visits with Nelson for a while. When she leaves, Nelson walks her to the door. After she’s gone my wife generally goes back to work in the office.
At 8:00 I find a movie on the Western channel for Nelson and I to watch. These usually run to 9:30 or 10:00. After the movie Nelson goes to bed. If the movie runs long Nelson goes to bed anyway if he’s tired. If he goes to bed before the movie is over I have to watch the rest of it and give him a detailed account of the ending over breakfast the following morning. So for four and a half to five hours every night I’m tied up watching TV with Nelson or on his behalf. If I try to do something else he calls me every five minutes or so to see when I’m coming back. If I tell him I’d rather do something else he gets upset because he thinks I don’t like him. It’s way easier just to watch the TV.
When the movie is over I do the dishes. Sometimes I’ll do the dishes during Wheel or Jeopardy. During Anne’s visit is generally a good time to do this, but if for some reason her visit is short or delayed, I then have to watch the game shows and supply the answers (in the form of a question of course for Jeopardy) before the contestants do. Nelson loves when I do this. He thinks I am brilliant.
Nelson is also impressed when I knock off a crossword puzzle in 15 or twenty minutes. He loves crossword puzzles himself, so we have this in common. He brags to everyone who will listen that I do them in ink. I keep telling him that I use a pen because I can’t see the pencil marks, but he prefers to believe that using a pen is a sign of supreme and well-placed confidence. It’s nice to have someone who thinks that I am smart. Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to have the people I work for think that I am as smart as Nelson does. I think that would go a long way to making the workday more palatable.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day 164 - Conspiracy Theories

          The job boards are bleak for the Treasure Coast area. I should have thought to check before we moved, not that it would have made a difference under the circumstances. We still would have come here because we’re needed. Still it would have been good to know how bad things are here. This is a depressed area. St. Lucie and Martin Counties have unemployment rates that are 40 to 50 percent higher than the rest of the state. There don’t seem to be any jobs listed around here at my level and damn few even at entry level. My thought had been to only look for work in this area so we can stay here as long as we’re needed. I might have to rethink that.
          We switched out the cable service when we got here so that my wife and I could have high speed internet service for our computers. Nelson had a satellite system, and we changed to a cable provider that also offers fiber optic internet service. They finally got the last of it hooked up today. It’s been a struggle with a series of contractors to get the cable run, buried, hooked up, and programmed. Apparently all those things have to be done by different people. Lean they are not.
Nelson’s been grousing through the whole process. He hates change. The new remote is giving him fits. None of the buttons are in the same location they were on his old remote. He doesn’t remember that he has a new device in his hand until he’s already pressed a button according to its placement on the old one. Then, when he gets an unexpected result, he gets peevish. I spend a lot of time listening to him cuss at Mother Angelica because he accidently got to EWTN and can’t figure out how to get back to the Western Channel.
          He was adamant about the Western Channel. He’s been talking about it all week. He likes his western movies, and he needs to see one every night or his day is incomplete.

* * * * *

          As I work through my career history in accounting it becomes increasingly obvious to me that I have spent a great deal of time working for fools, charlatans, thieves, and scalawags who seemed bent on bringing me low. Even so I have always been able to exert a certain amount of influence over my circumstances, and there as always been a certain amount of leverage involved in knowing, because of my familiarity with the books and records, where all the bodies were buried.
          You could argue (as I’m sure the guys who fired me would) that I had a hand in my own undoing at my last company. I wasn’t what they hoped I would be, although, to be fair to myself, what they hoped I would be changed over time as evidenced by two years of positive performance reviews leading up to getting fired. But even had I been what they were hoping for at the end, I don’t think the outcome for me would have been very different. My real problem, I think, was expressing aloud my opinion that our CFO was too prone to knee-jerk hysterics, and that our corporate accounting manager was an anal-retentive myopic who couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
          Of course all that is water over the dam at this point. My current problem is not that I lost a job, but that I can’t get a new one because 1) there aren’t any jobs to speak of in the area where I have chosen to reside, and 2) there aren’t very many jobs anyplace else.
When I first lost my job, I thought I would get another in fairly short order. I had a pretty good résumé, a stable work history, and a boatload of experience. When I lost my last job, the result of a wholesale reduction in force to reduce overhead pursuant to a pre-packaged bankruptcy plan, I found a better job in just a few months. I had the sincere hope that things would not be materially different this time. As the global economy crumbles around me however, I am being forced to give up the notion that I will get a job quickly and easily. My hope for another job depends on an economic recovery more than it depends on my acumen, credentials, and persistence. To make matters worse, the hope of an economic recovery seems to grow more remote every day.
I honestly don’t know how we got into this fix. I’m not sure anyone else does either. There are lots of opinions being floated in the financial media, but not very much of it makes sense to me. As an accountant I want to be able to make the numbers work. I want to be able to follow and quantify the logic. I can’t.
Many analysts are blaming the sub-prime mortgage debacle—too many bad loans made to borrowers who did not adequately demonstrate their ability to repay. The sup-prime problem has been with us for over a year now, and everyone is talking as if we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. If we’ve known about the problem for over a year, how is it that the smartest kids on the block—the MBAs and analytical wizards on Wall Street, graduates of the finest institutions of higher learning in the country who are knocking down salaries and bonuses that the rest of us can only dream of—weren’t able to foresee the collapse and mitigate its effect?
How is it that, of the total of all mortgages outstanding, the percentage that is actually at risk of default is sufficient to tank the entire global economy. How is it that a relative handful of bad loans—bundled and securitized with good loans, rated investment grade by respected rating agencies, discounted to accommodate a historically reasonable rate of default, collateralized by real estate, guaranteed with sophisticated derivative contracts, and purchased and held by the very investment banking institutions that had a hand in their creation and so should have clearly understood the inherent risks—how is it that those loans were sufficient to cause the complete collapse of some of the largest banks in the world?
None of it makes any sense to me. I don’t think we’re being told the truth about any of it. We’re being spoon fed bits and pieces that seem to make sense in and of themselves, but they don’t add up to a coherent and believable whole. We’re not getting the whole picture. We’re getting a cubist Picaso. It may be art and it may be genius and it may be distracting, but no way in hell does it look like what it purports to represent.
The guys responsible for this ‘art’ have taken the rest of us to the cleaners. They took huge profits in their firms and huge bonuses personally while they built a house of cards that collapsed on the rest of us. After the collapse they took bailout money to make themselves whole again while the rest of us are left wondering how we (and our children) will pay the bill.
I’m not looking for a grand conspiracy behind all this. My personal feeling is that the captains of Wall Street are just another enclave of venal, self-serving, socially inbred fools, charlatans, thieves, and scalawags. The only real difference between them and the bottom-feeders it has been my misfortune to work for is that the Wall Street bozos play with much bigger numbers.
Others of my acquaintance do see a grand conspiracy here, whether real or imagined. I’ll grant them that their theories are at least as logical as mine. My theory depends on a confluence of coincidence, a perfect storm as it were of events and circumstances that worked together to undermine the foundations of our economic systems. The conspiracy theories depend only on the collusion of a small band of bad actors who already know each other, who work in the same industry, came from the same schools, and reside in the same geographical area. A grand conspiracy is much easier to orchestrate in this instance than an unfortunate confluence of coincidence.
I’ve already mentioned my brother-in-law who believes that there is an effort afoot by the extremely privileged to eliminate the middle classes. I find it hard to believe that this is a coordinated enterprise with and agenda and regular meetings, but, whether or not there exists an actual conspiracy, it grows increasingly difficult to argue that the middle classes are not at risk of disappearing.
Another conspiracy theory has been advanced by author, Sara McIntosh, in her novel, Shell Games. McIntosh is a former accounting consultant and forensic auditor in Chicago who sold her successful business to indulge her love of writing. Shell Games is a laudable first effort. She calls it a financial thriller, and, unlikely as it may seem to those whose eyes glaze over at the mention of accounting issues, she makes good on her promise by delivering a sexy page-turner.
The premise of Shell Games is that the current financial collapse is the result of a large-scale and exactingly orchestrated fraud that has been effectively covered up by the sudden availability of TARP funds. Of course there is more to it than that, and I won’t spoil the plot by revealing it here. Suffice to say that McIntosh has worked out a cogent explanation for the gaps in logic that I have found in the explanations being offered up by our government and by the financial media. Who is to say that McIntosh hasn’t hit on the real deal?
What sets her novel apart from other novels featuring large-scale financial fraud is the author’s intimate knowledge of the details of searching for accounting anomalies in huge volumes of transaction data. It takes an unusual and focused mentality to get a thrill from the discovery of emerging patterns in financial records, but there is perhaps greater skill involved in being able to convey that thrill to the uninitiated. The excitement of accounting is not something easily conveyed to an audience that has largely been persuaded that accountants are a uniformly boring bunch of socially inept slugs. McIntosh is anything but, and her book may do much to dispel the myth. If my TV producer friend, Wendy, had found Sara McIntosh all those years ago when she was looking for ‘interesting’ accountants, she may have been able to come up with a show.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 157 - Settling In

          Life with my father-in-law, Nelson, is going to be a challenge. I knew this going in. I hope I’m up to it. Nelson is 89 years old and has a host of medical issues. Principal among these is Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s is not pretty. My dad had it and it finally killed him in 1993.
Most of us are familiar with the tremors and the mincing little steps associated with the disease, but many of us—myself included—are surprised to learn that it also causes depression and paranoia. It tied my dad up into knots. He was bed-ridden for the last two years of his life. I never noticed paranoia or depression in him, but I didn’t spend very much time with him after he got sick. I lived too far away and was too busy trying to carve a future out of my association with Henry at the time.
Nelson is a different story. He’s got paranoia to spare. He thinks all his doctors hate him and that they are deliberately trying to torture him. This doesn’t prevent him from saying ugly things to them whenever the opportunity presents itself. Then, when he’s had time to reflect on what he said, he’s convinced that the doctor he was ugly to hates him even more. In Nelson’s mind every test, every pill, every bit of unpleasantness associated with his diagnoses and treatments are the result of the assorted doctors he has offended exacting their revenge on his ancient body.
          He sees a lot of doctors on a regular basis. There’s his regular doctor, a DO, who is managing the Parkinson’s. Then there’s a neurologist to assist in the Parkinson’s care, a urologist for his enlarged prostate, a cardiologist for his hypertension and congestive heart failure, an ophthalmologist who looks after his eyes since he had cataract surgery, a dermatologist, and the folks who made his last set of dentures that he refuses to wear because they don’t fit.
He also has a collection of nurses, therapists and caregivers who come by daily or weekly to help him re-stabilize after his last hospital visit. A visiting nurse comes by twice a week to draw blood and update his charts. A physical therapist comes twice a week to work on his strength and endurance issues. An occupational therapist comes by once a week to work on his balance and help him maintain essential skills for dressing himself etc. A caregiver comes 4 days a week to do his laundry, make his bed, clean his bathroom, iron his clothes, and feed him lunch. My sister-in-law, Anne, comes every Thursday to take him to his many appointments. She also stops by every night to see how he’s doing, and if he needs anything.
All this activity keeps him pretty busy, and generally speaking, mad as hell. He hates the physical therapist. He likes the occupational therapist and the nurse well enough because they are pleasant and attractive, but if they dare suggest anything new—anything he’s not already familiar with and already on the schedule—he doesn’t hesitate to go off on them. He doesn’t trust the caregiver. He loves Anne who has been taking care of him non-stop for years, but he will whine and cuss and heap abuse on her for the duration of every trip to a doctor’s office or lab or x-ray. Anne is a saint.
My wife and I are here to take some of the load off Anne. We’ll make sure he gets breakfast and dinner, do the grocery shopping, take him out during the week if he needs or wants to go somewhere, manage his many medications, and generally see to the things that are not being done now. In exchange we get a place to live rent free.
Nelson also intends to buy all the groceries, although I plan to split those with him. Between my wife's income and my unemployment checks we can surely afford to pay for our own food. I’ll do the cooking because I have been and I’m good at it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 150 - Welcome to Paradise. That Will Be $232.59.

          After three full days of backbreaking work and jostling my kidneys until I piss blood, I have my stuff spread out all over the state of Florida. My wife, my dog, and I are installed in my father-in-law’s house on Florida’s Treasure Coast. I've had a day of rest. I can't say we're comfortable, but it's good at least to have it over.
          Saturday was the worst. I started Saturday with a crick in my back from sleeping on the floor in our old empty house. We packed up our few remaining things, the stuff we’d used to clean up the house and take care of our personal hygiene, and headed across the state, once again, to the storage unit. Our two sons met us there again, and our daughter came also with her two strapping teenagers. We made pretty short work of unloading the last of the things for storage, and had a little visit in the back of the truck over hamburgers.
          The burger was tasty, but not tasty enough to make up for the fact that it pulled half of my dental bridge out of my mouth. Now I have a big gap-tooth grin that makes me look, finally, like what I have become—a down-on-my-luck, unemployed, near homeless loser. When I flashed that grin for my daughter, she covered her own mouth and exclaimed, “Oh my God!” Somehow that little thing made my plight seem that much more immediate and dire. Not her fault. I looked in the mirror when I got back in the truck. The transformation in my appearance between having teeth and not having teeth is scary.  
          We pulled into my father-in-law’s driveway Saturday night with about 45 minutes left on the clock to get the truck back to U-Haul before they closed. My wife’s sister had already talked us into canceling the crew we had arranged for to unload the truck. She thought that between three sisters, my wife and the two that were already waiting for us at Nelson’s, and their three husbands we could unload the truck ourselves and save a couple of hundred dollars. She wasn’t reckoning on the several hundred extra dollars I was going to have to pay for turning the truck in a day late.
We actually got the truck unloaded in about 20 minutes, owing principally to my brother-in-law, Rich, who is younger than I and full of boundless energy to the point of annoyance. What I mean to say is that he annoyed me until I agreed to try to get the truck unloaded and returned to U-Haul by the 7:30 p.m. deadline in spite of the fact that I was bone weary and would have been happy to pay for another day’s rental just to be able to lie down and close my eyes. Of course before we could start unloading, I had to get my car off the trailer and unhitch the trailer so I could back the truck up the driveway to the garage door. Before I could do this, I had to jump start my car because the battery was as dead and listless as I was.
It was a very intense period of time for me—a fitting end to a long and frustrating day. On one side my wife’s family was lined up with good and charitable intentions to prevent me from spending more money than I had to. To do this they had to prevent me from doing what I wanted to do, which was drink a glass of wine and go to bed. Arrayed against my well-meaning in-laws, one event after another was queued up with the Devil’s own intention of making sure that, even though I wasn't going to get any rest, I wasn't going to save any money either.
          Amazingly, we got the truck back with about 3 minutes to spare. The kid in charge at U-Haul wanted to make an issue of excess mileage and the fact that we hadn’t folded the blankets before we brought the truck back. He was more than happy to show me the place where it said I had to do that in the contract. If I’d taken the time to read the contract I wouldn’t have made it back with three minutes to spare. My youngest sister-in-law, a beautiful, elegant, refined, and agreeable lady who had not just spent three days jostling her kidneys in the truck jumped into the back and started folding the blankets. I walked inside with the kid in charge to settle up. He wanted a couple of hundred more dollars. He had a lot of reasons why, but he gave up on them when I pointed out that I’d had to make two trips across the state because their truck wasn’t big enough to do the job even though they had assured me that it was. Their literature said that their biggest truck had the capacity to move a four bedroom house. I had a four bedroom house but I’d sold most of my stuff in a monster garage sale before I moved so their literature was woefully misleading. The kid in charge rolled right over. I felt pretty good after that. I like winning one on occasion.
          My last move, two and a half years ago, was just as hard but it was a more joyous occasion. Then I had a new job. I was back in Florida. I had good prospects. The only thing wrong with that move had been that I decided to do it myself to save money. I did save money, but the experience was so physically demanding that I vowed never to do it again. Now I’ve done it again, and not only that. I’ve done it in such a way that I know I’m going to have to do it yet again—at least once more.
When I get a job I’m going to have to gather up my scattered stuff from around the state and haul it to another house. It won’t be so bad if I manage to get hired by a company that will pay for relocation, but lately no one, in Florida at least, wants to pay anything for relocation. I hate thinking about it.
          At least everyone seems happy to have us here. It’s going to be cramped. My wife and I have taken over the south end of the house—two tiny bedrooms separated by a tiny bathroom. We’ve turned one of the bedrooms into an office. Our computers are set up against opposite walls.
The garage is full of our stuff that won’t fit in the house. I know from experience that we’ll go through several weeks of adjustment while we sort out what’s in the garage that needs to be in the house and what’s in the house that needs to be in the garage.
It seems as though we've always lived like this, even when our house was huge by comparison. We've never had room for a car in the garage because it’s always been full up with our extra stuff. Even though we got rid of two truck loads of extra stuff and have another two truck loads in storage three hours away from here, things haven't changed much. Our cars are sitting in the driveway where they will likely remain.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 147 - Bringing Grace and Serenity to the Oppressed

          I picked up the moving truck from U-Haul first thing this morning. The loading crew showed up at 10:00 a.m. to load the boxes and heavy furniture that we are putting in storage. Our two sons showed up with a trailer for the stuff they are taking—a bedroom suite, refrigerator, grill, table saw, pressure washer, and the big TV I have already complained about having to give up.
The plan was for me to cart all this stuff across the state in the afternoon where the boys and their friends would help unload it into the storage unit. We did this, but there was a problem that has upset the rest of the plan. The truck wouldn’t hold all the stuff we’re putting in storage. So much for a 26’ U-Haul moving a 4 bedroom house—not my 4 bedroom house—not even after I unburdened myself of a drive-way full of things at the garage sale and donated another truckload to AmVets and Goodwill.
          Tomorrow we were supposed to load the things we are taking to my father-in-law’s place and clean the house. We’ve scheduled a steamer crew to come in and do the carpets in the afternoon. Saturday we say goodbye to the neighbors, and head off to our new life. Now we’ve added about 6 hours to our Saturday itinerary because we need to make another trip across the state to the storage unit.
Hopefully we’ll be able to get all the rest of our things in one load. We’ll load the storage stuff last since it’s coming off the truck first. I think it will all fit, but if I’m wrong we’ll have to go to my father-in-law’s place, offload, and come back for the storage stuff. This will add another day—a relative disaster in my newly foreshortened perspective.
Even if it all goes in one load, averting a disaster, it’s still not going to be any fun. There’s another element to how hard all this is going to be, and that is that I am also towing my car behind the truck on a U-Haul car hauler. That means when we stop to offload at the storage unit I will have to unhitch and re-hitch the trailer—not a big issue really, but another in a long list of irritants in this whole sorry process. I need to stop dwelling on the negatives, and just assume for the sake of my sanity that everything will go on the truck tomorrow morning. Tomorrow night we’ll be sleeping on the floor. I don’t need an unresolved problem added into the mix of things keeping me sleepless.

* * * * *

          I kept in daily contact with Dennis and Eddie in the weeks after I was fired. We also met a couple of times a week for happy hour and dinner to update one another on our respective job searches. Conditions continued to deteriorate at Albatross in spite of the hopeful future that was supposed to result from the bankruptcy and reorganization.
          I had actually had a conversation with Rod about this eventuality before he let me go. He was sharing his expansive outlook on things immediately after the bankruptcy. He told me that we should be able to get the production lines back up to speed, at least on one shift, within a matter of days. As soon as the additional capital infusion that had been agreed to by the stockholder banks came through, he reasoned, the vendors would release their holds on our materials and we would be back in business.
          I told him that was folly. He didn’t like it much, but I couldn’t let him erect a set of unreasonable expectations for which, eventually, he was going to hold me accountable. First of all, the promised capital infusion had not been funded. It was already late, and there was mounting evidence that, even though they had agreed to the deal in court before a federal judge, the banks were having second thoughts about doing what surely looked to their directors like sending good money after bad.
          Secondly, even when the funds did arrive, the vendors weren’t going to start shipping us materials overnight. We had forced some of the vendors into circumstances not unlike our own. They had reduced their work forces, stretched their suppliers, cancelled orders, shut down production lines, and generally adjusted their business to accommodate our failures. Many of them—not all, but a number sufficient to impact our resurrection—were going to take weeks and months to ramp back up and get our orders back into their production queues. Even in the best case scenario it was going to take months for us to get back to the production levels we were at before our fall from grace.
          There was also going to be the problem of trust. Vendors that had us on COD weren’t going to go back to extending us credit just because we had reorganized. We’d reorganized before. They had heard our song and seen our dance already. They would not be impressed easily with a new routine that featured the same old soft-shoe.
This would be especially true when you considered that the promised but lagging capital infusion would only address 75 percent of our past due payables. We were not, in my estimation, going to get our lines up to speed until we had our vendor obligations current, and we were not likely to get our vendor obligations current until we had our lines up to speed along with sufficient customer orders to absorb that level of production. We were, in other words, between the proverbial rock and hard place, and our lives were not going to get any easier just because we had given tens of millions of dollars to our lawyers and consultants.
This was reality as I saw it, and I saw it clearly because I had been dealing with the toxic fallout of our meltdown and its effects on our vendors for months. I knew first hand what we had put them through and how they felt about it. Rod and the executive management team, because they had been too important or too pre-occupied to deal with those issues when we were spiraling into the dirt, now had no clue what kind of trouble we faced as we tried to dig ourselves out of the hole we had augered.
It was not going to be easy, it was not going to be pretty, and I’ll be damned if Rod didn’t look at me like I was an idiot for saying so. Oh well, now that he’d fired me, he’d just have to figure out how to deal with it himself. I often wonder if it ever occurred to him how much he’d screwed himself by screwing me. Probably not. I don’t think he was that familiar with the concepts of cause and effect.
The day after I was fired, I had my wife take my picture in my best suit. I had decided to insert this picture in my résumé. I thought it would help the résumé stand out from the rest of the pile on the desk of a potential employer. I also thought it would help overcome any initial reservations an employer might have about hiring an old codger like me.
I was 57 at the time. Owing to a fortuitous dip in the gene pool I looked a good bit younger. This is principally because I inherited a lush head of hair from my mother, one that has resisted the thinning and graying that so often accompany a man’s survival into his fifties.
I thought a good picture might at least prevent someone reviewing my many years of experience and seeing the dates of my credentials from doing the math and conjuring up the vision of an ashen and stooped old man in absorbent underwear hobbling around on a walker. I needed a picture of a vigorous, dynamic, and accomplished man ready to climb over a stack of vanquished competitors and claim the prize of the job being offered. Somehow my wife delivered this picture in spite of the more obvious shortcomings of her subject. It became and remains the best picture ever taken of me, and its destiny was to drive Rod out of his mind.
Once she had a good shot, my wife loaded the digital image into her computer and made some improvements. Principal among these was to eliminate the optical aberration around my eyes caused by the thick lenses of my glasses. This was always a problem for me that vanity would not let me get past. I no longer have this problem, not since I had cataract surgery that gave me 20/20 vision, but before that my usual solution to the problem was to avoid having my picture taken. As this picture was my idea, that wasn’t a workable solution. Fortunately my wife by this time had developed a facility for photo-manipulation, and she made short work of the parallax distortion.
Satisfied, and maybe even a little smug about the improvement to my visage, she decided to add a golden halo above my head. “Just to leave no doubt about what a good man you are,” she told me. Have I mentioned how much I love this woman?
Naturally I thought this was great fun and well worth sharing so I told Dennis and Eddie about it at the first opportunity. They wanted to see it. My wife sent Dennis a copy via e-mail. He shared it with Eddie. Eddie was so inspired by the picture that he blew it up to an 11 by 17 inch print, which he then taped, surreptitiously of course, to the window of my old office with the caption “The Legend Lives On.”
Evidently it created quite a stir in the office for the hour or so it remained until Rod arrived on the scene and ripped it down in a rage. Honestly I don’t know what upset him so about it. I like to think that, had I been him, I would have thought it was pretty funny to see a picture of me with a halo taped to the door of my office like I had passed on. I would have thought it was something to lighten the tension occasioned by letting me go, and help those who were upset about my leaving to get past it. Rod’s not wired like me though, so he pitched a fit.
He called another meeting to get to the bottom of the blatant affront to office propriety. I guess he thought the guilty party would come forward and take whatever punishment he thought appropriate. No one did, of course, and I still chuckle when I imagine Dennis and Eddie sitting in that room biting their lips to keep from laughing out loud at Rod’s ineffectual little tirade.
Rod’s next step was to launch an investigation into the event. He enlisted the IT department to scan the incoming e-mails looking for any direction or files that might have come from me. There were some of course, but the offending missive, the one Rod was most interested in, had got to Dennis by a circuitous route.
I suspect that IT was fully aware of this and whatever other communication may have passed between Dennis, Eddie, and me, but they never gave it up to Rod so the investigation fizzled out like a damp fuse. This is when I got the bright idea that Rod needed some more exposure to my still considerable influence over his department. I became like the saint my wife had pictured—larger, more powerful, and better loved after my passing than I had been in life.
I printed scores of pictures onto 4 by 6 inch sheets of magnetic photo stock and delivered them to selected friends and admirers at Albatross for further distribution. I explained what had happened to those who did not already know. Not one soul was reluctant to oblige. In a matter of days my picture was plastered on filing cabinets in offices and cubicles all over the company.
Since these were items of personal décor allowed to Albatross employees under guidelines established in the employee manual, there was nothing Rod could do about it. I took immense pleasure imagining his blood pressure soar and anger throbbing in his temple every time he went into someone’s office to assert his authority only to be confronted by my picture beaming beatifically across the room, conferring grace and serenity on everyone but him.
Some of those pictures still hang I’m told, although Rod is long gone. Sometimes when I’m depressed or frustrated by my circumstances and need a lift in spirits, I think how wonderful it would be to find out where Rod is now and send some magnetic placards with my picture on them for his ill-used and hard oppressed subjects to display. Hell, unless Rod’s management style has mellowed by a considerable degree, I could probably sell them based on the apoplexy they would be likely to inspire in Rod. I wouldn’t though. Grace and serenity are best bestowed free of charge.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 143 - The Courage for Hard Choices

          After a week of organizing, packing and pricing we had our garage sale yesterday. It was quite a success and actually a lot of fun, as such things go. All the neighbors took it as an occasion to stop by and commiserate about our leaving. They also bought up a lot of our stuff, although I suspect that at least some of their purchases were motivated by charity rather than bargain seeking.
          I sold some notable things that I have been carrying around with me for years, and the fact that they are irretrievably gone makes me nostalgic for them. One was a saber and scabbard that I'd had since my days as a cadet at a high school military academy. I always felt that it was something I had earned since it was part of my uniform paraphernalia as an officer in the corps of cadets. It was also an unusual thing to posses this day and age, and one that could usually be counted upon to initiate an interesting conversation whenever I got it out of the closet for company.
          I also sold a dark brown leather trench coat. I bought it in my late twenties, so I’d had it for over 30 years. It was too small for me for at least twenty of those years, but like a lot of people spreading inexorably through middle age I clung to the notion that one day I would get my disciplinarian on and lose weight. Yesterday I finally forced myself to give up that notion and embrace reality. I sold it to my neighbor, Rich. I made him put it on, and told him how good he looked in it. He did in fact look fabulous. It is a stunning garment. The women of the neighborhood helped me make this pitch by oohing and aahing appreciatively. It wasn’t a stretch for them. Rich looked that good in my trench coat. He gave me $35 for it. It cost me $425 all those years ago. I’ve worn it maybe 15 times in my life. I should take a $390 lesson from this. Like the old saw says, when life hands you lemons, you've got to make some lemonade.  

* * * * *

          The end came pretty fast for me at Albatross after the consultants finished up all their analysis and scheming and got down to business. They led us through a prepackaged bankruptcy. That means the bankruptcy plan was approved by our creditors before it was presented to the bankruptcy court. This cuts out the interminable back and forth that serves mainly to enrich the lawyers. The lawyers got plenty enriched anyway, but we were in and out of the federal bankruptcy court in 38 hours—a record at that time for a ‘pre-pac’, and one that for all I know still stands.
          A major part of the plan called for eliminating an additional $15 million of overhead. That imposing number included my position, although I didn’t know it at the time. I suspected it when Jed Boome stopped talking to me whenever we passed each other in the hallways. This sudden curtailment of pleasantries is an excellent indicator that your employment status is about to change for the worse. You can’t really call it a leading indicator because what it indicates has already happened. You just don’t know it yet. In my case it took about three weeks, but thanks to Jed I knew it was coming.
          It’s sad when you think about it. Executives of troubled companies like to think that they have the courage to make hard decisions about individuals and groups of employees for the greater good of the company as a whole. What they often don’t have the courage for is looking you in the eye or taking any kind of responsibility on a personal level for the hardships they create. Jed’s inability to even say hello to me in a hallway is an excellent example of this. Jed’s bone-headed decision regarding the option price optimization cost the company about $35 million in lost revenues. You could argue, and I will, that were it not for that costly error in judgment we would not have had to reorganize, we would not have had to carve out $15 million in overhead, and several dozen hardworking and productive employees, me included, would still be working there. This explains why Jed couldn’t look me in the eye, but it doesn’t do anything to explain his self-congratulatory posturing about the hard decisions.
          When Rod came into my office and asked me if I had time to go down to HR with him I knew the time had come. I said as much to Rod as he stood in my doorway looking uncomfortable.
          “So today’s the day, is it?” I said, mustering as much bravado as I could manage.
          Rod just nodded. I’m not sure in retrospect that he even knew what I was talking about. He was busy trying to make it seem like a routine meeting to discuss personnel issues. Maybe he did know I was onto him, but he didn’t have the acting chops to improvise from that point. He tried to continue with the charade.
          He dropped me at the door of the HR director’s office and waited outside. Inside it was quick and perfunctory. I got 3 months severance, but that was the extent of any largesse from the company I’d been giving 14 hours a day to for as long as I could remember. Back outside Rod was waiting to escort me back up to my office to get my coat and car keys. They didn’t want me taking my personal effects home just then. They wanted me to come back over the week-end to get them, when no one else would be there to mark my passing. I guess they thought it would be disruptive otherwise. Turns out they were right.
          Ringcomme was waiting outside Rod’s office to talk to him when we got back upstairs. Rod couldn’t abandon me to talk to Ringcomme, but he really couldn’t tell Ringcomme what was going on either. Ringcomme, proud owner of an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, did not understand Rod’s refusal to see him right then. He got a little insistent. Rod’s discomfort grew exponentially. I have an underdeveloped sense of entitlement so I decided to help him out.
          “He can’t talk to you, Jimmy,” I said. “He’s in the middle of firing me. Right now he has to walk me out the door to make sure I don’t cause a scene or steal something.”
          Ringcomme was crestfallen, not because I was leaving, but because he couldn’t get his problem resolved right away. He didn’t know what to do or say. He just stood there looking stupid.
          I got my coat and keys from my office. I noticed that my laptop was gone. It had been open and running on the top of my desk. The power cord was still there, still plugged in. I knew that someone from IT had been dispatched to get the laptop while I was downstairs getting the axe. Later I found out it had been the department manager, my friend with the Christmas ties. It’s usually one of the tech support guys when they do something like this. I guess they were afraid that a tech guy would have spilled the beans. I thought they seemed inordinately determined to keep my firing quiet. As it turns out Rod wanted to personally control the likely fallout. He thought there would be an impact on morale, and he was right.
          My wife was shocked and dismayed to see me home early. She knew what it meant. I’d been laying the groundwork for weeks.
          The phone started to light up almost as soon as I got home. Word had spread once Rod got me out of the building. Some folks had seen it happening. Ringcomme probably felt no need to keep it a secret. Some had been in earshot when I told Rincomme why Rod couldn’t give him the time he was so desperate to get. Everyone wanted to know how I was taking it. There were a lot of crying women involved. I found I was giving more comfort that I was getting. The calls continued the rest of the day, except for one brief period that probably coincided with Rod's big meeting.
          He called the whole department together to announce that he had let me go. I don’t know what all he had planned to say, but apparently he didn’t get very far. Eddie Sharpe asked him in front of everybody if he had lost his mind. Rod tried to make the case that everyone needed to make a sacrifice to accommodate the new reorganization plan, it was a difficult choice to make, everyone was going to have to pull together and get past their personal feelings—stuff of that ilk. I don’t think anybody was buying it. I know I wouldn’t have. For one thing, I don’t think it took him three seconds to decide who to give up to the cost cutting consultants. I think he knew all along he was going to get rid of me at the first opportunity. All the rest of it was just about getting people to go back to work. What they did, most of them, when they got back to their desks, was call me.
          I met Eddie and Dennis for drinks that evening. They were livid. Eddie had already called a recruiter and put his résumé in play. Dennis had been getting calls from an old colleague who had a position he wanted Dennis to take. Dennis had been putting the guy off because he actually liked the setup at Albatross. What he liked was me. He called the guy after Rod’s meeting and told him he was ready to reconsider.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Day 134 - Day of Infamy

          One week to the garage sale. Two weeks to moving day. I’ve scheduled two crews to help us load and unload the truck. We’ll take one load to the storage facility near our son’s house and a second with us to my father-in-law’s place on the East Coast. We’ve also arranged to distribute, temporarily at least, some of our extra bedroom furniture and appliances to the kids and grandkids. This will include a newish 42 inch LCD TV, which I’m not too happy about but what else can I do. There’s only so much space available, and it’s obvious that I’m not going to be able to keep everything I want.
         The Biblical parable about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven comes to mind. I’ve been told that the phrase ‘eye of the needle’ actually refers to a small gate in one of the walls of Jerusalem. The gate was small enough that camels laden with goods from trading caravans had to be unloaded in order the get through it. Knowing this takes some of the onus off becoming rich. It’s not as impossible as shoving a camel through the eye of a sewing needle for rich people to get into heaven, but they’re obviously not going to get through unless they unload their stuff first. It’s a you-can’t-take-it-with-you thing as opposed to a you-can’t-be-saved kind of thing. Good news for all the prosperity preachers out there. Of course, now that I think about it, the prosperity preachers just might be the source of this more relaxed and altogether kinder interpretation.
          Either way you cut it, I’m going to have to off-load a substantial amount of my possessions in order to enter the paradise of Southeast Florida. The irony is that I’m not even rich by any stretch of the imagination—in fact I’m soon to be quite poor—whereas, presumably, the rich traders in the Bible got to reload their camels on the other side of the gate.
* * * * *
          The consultants we had at Albatross were experts in bankruptcy reorganizations and dissolutions. They had earned huge fees from the then still fresh collapse of Enron. I won’t argue that these fees aren’t justified, although sometimes the amounts seem exorbitant. The fees, in any event, have to be approved by the judge presiding over the bankruptcy, so one should be able to assume that they are fair and reasonable in the circumstances. Still if you are an unsecured creditor getting pennies for every dollar owed you, or a loyal employee whose pension plan has turned to dust, it has to be painful to see millions of dollars flying out the door and into the coffers of the consultants whose very purpose is to feed at the trough of your troubles.
          Of course the consultants weren’t the only ones enriching themselves in the midst of our travails. Executive management had a hand in there too, as did, to my everlasting amazement, the new chairman of the board.
          The new chairman was a decorated Knight of the Realm—an honest to goodness ‘Sir’ who had achieved some notoriety in the UK for the successful conclusion to a sticky hostage negotiation back when radical fundamentalist Muslims first raised their turbaned heads. Since that time he had enjoyed some further success resuscitating both public and private enterprises that were failing in spectacular fashion. He had been appointed chairman by the board, which was comprised mainly of representatives from the consortium of banks and creditors that now owned us. He came to the U.S. to receive reports and issue orders for one day each month, and for this he received the princely sum of $25,000 per day plus expenses. Did I mention that he was a complete idiot?
          He was a small man with a high squeak of a voice. When he got excited, which was often, people in immediate ear-shot would cringe and wince as if someone were scraping their fingernails on a chalkboard. He made no sense whatsoever that I ever heard, but he certainly did not lack for confidence in himself or abject disdain for everyone around him.
          There was one company among the ownership group that was not a bank. It was a large and well known European manufacturing concern, very successful, with a substantial penetration into U.S. markets. They had fronted many millions of dollars to our former UK parent to conclude its initial purchase of Albatross. They now held about 30% of our stock. They had a significant presence on our board owing principally to their actual experience in manufacturing operations. They did not have enough seats however to prevent the banks from installing Lord McSqueak as chairman. That they were not thrilled by this choice was made abundantly clear by their near constant eye rolling and sideways glances at board meetings when His Lordship was holding forth with his customary high pitched exuberance.
          At one point management and the consultants tried to persuade this company to buy up the rest of Albatross from the banks. This probably would have been a pretty good deal for us. We would have had an ownership that actually understood what needed to be done, and they surely would have sent the chairman packing back to the UK with his last $25,000 check and a fare-thee-well. It didn’t happen though. They just bailed right before the end. They walked away from their considerable investment without a whimper or even looking back. They’d had enough.
          In the midst of our cash flow difficulties, in a surprise move that seemed calculated to make them seem as venal and self-serving as possible, executive management decided to take retention bonuses. They didn’t say anything about it. They just did it. Apparently they thought they could keep it quiet, but it is awfully hard to hide a handful of checks totaling nearly a million dollars from a payables section that is struggling daily to pay complaining vendors a few thousand bucks here and there. News of the bonuses spread like waters from a burst dam through the finance section. Everyone knew about it before the ink was dry on the checks.
          Rod was furious that the news had leaked. He wanted to blame Eddie. I don’t know why he wanted to blame Eddie specifically. Maybe he overheard Eddie discussing it with someone. Eddie was in a position to know about the checks of course because he was helping Dennis and me monitor our expenditures. His knowledge of systems and report generation was extremely helpful to our efforts in this regard. At any rate Rod’s reaction to the leaking of the news was to pitch a fit and basically forbid anyone from discussing the matter at all. I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish. I mean, seriously, that ship had sailed.
          Rod came into my office and shut the door—always a bad sign. He wanted to know if I had heard anything about some bonuses. I had. He wanted to know where I had heard it. I told him the checks were on the list of disbursements for the day. They were in the system. It was my job to know what we were paying. He wanted to know if Eddie had brought them to my attention. He had not.
I should point out here that Rod was on the list of people getting a bonus. His take was $35,000. I had my own opinion about the bonuses in general and Rod’s in particular, but I wasn’t about to say anything. Rod was placated somewhat by my answers to his queries, but he still seemed hell-bent on being angry at someone. I suggested that if they wanted to keep the bonuses quiet they should have considered paying them out of another account, one that wasn’t being scrutinized by the whole accounting department on a minute-by-minute basis because of our crippling cash shortfalls. I did not point out that those shortfalls were now exacerbated by these unconscionable bonuses.
At that point Rod felt compelled to explain the logic of the bonuses to me. They had apparently been agreed to in the last reorganization. Their purpose had been to retain the executive talent, then newly hired and seen as essential to our future success, through that reorganization when there was a substantial likelihood that the company would collapse, and executive talent being what it is, that is whorishly self-interested, would be naturally motivated to seek another street on which to peddle their affections. They were R-E-T-E-N-T-I-O-N bonuses, Rod explained to me, slowly and with emphasis so that I would be sure to understand, and they were a contractual obligation that had to be paid within 18 months of their inception. The 18 months was up that particular week, so the bonus checks had to be written in spite of our pitiful cash position. There was no choice.
Personally I thought there was quite a bit of choice available. The executives on the list, all of whom were still there, could have elected to forego or delay those bonuses. If the obligation was to them, and they had negotiated it in the first place, they could certainly change the terms. That would have been the prudent and altruistic thing to do in the circumstances. That’s what most of the long term loyalists at Albatross would have done. That’s what I would have done, but then I wasn’t an executive on the list and that pesky altruism perhaps explains why.
Only a little while later, after the bankruptcy we eventually filed and the reorganization plan that provided for me losing my job, it occurred to me that the 18 month deadline for payment of those bonuses notwithstanding, the real reason for the unfortunate timing of those bonuses was to get them discharged well in advance of any statutory look-backs that were apt to be applied by the federal bankruptcy court. Management lined their pockets to the detriment of the continuing operations of the company in time to ensure that they wouldn’t be forced to give them back by some do-gooder judge. Naturally this is pure speculation on my part. No one in management would ever admit to such a scheme, but really...come on.
More than anything else that happened at Albatross this one event sums up for me the failure of management to faithfully discharge their responsibilities to the company they were supposed to be running. They took an unconscionable bonus at a time they could not have calculated better to injure their charge. They did it, either through ignorance or arrogance, in such a way as to rub everyone else’s face in the offal. And they got angry that anyone would construe their actions as less than honorable.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day 133 - Concrete Finality

          U-Haul claims that a 4 bedroom house will fit into their 26 foot ‘super mover’ truck. I’m pretty sure that isn’t true, at least in my case, because it took me two trucks to move my 3 bedroom house into my 4 bedroom house. And then, after we were moved in, we had to buy more furniture to fill the left over empty rooms. Even so, I am only renting one truck this time because I fully intend to sell and give away a lot of my stuff before we move—hopefully enough of it to get the remainder into one truck for one trip. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
* * * * *
          Conditions started to deteriorate at Albatross after Betty Boop flew the coop. Many, many formerly cheerful staffers started feeling anxious and defeated, and with good reason. It was no secret that another substantial reduction in force was in the offing. Sales were shrinking as distributors and customers left over quality issues. Managing cash flow was a constant struggle.
Almost all of my time was now devoted to mollifying disgruntled suppliers who would not ship us product until we paid down our overdue accounts. Every day was a juggling act: whom to pay and how much, whom to beg, lie to, or ignore.
All the calls came to me. Rod made it clear that he was too important to be dealing with such matters. The clerks were too busy and too overwrought to deal with the calls effectively. Eddie was demonstrably too abrasive. That left slow walkin’, smooth talkin’ me to single-handedly keep the production lines moving through a carefully orchestrated medley of cajolery, assurances, promises, and deceits.
I did a masterful job of it too. Even Ringcomme complimented me for my success at keeping materials flowing without any money. Rod and Quentin were more reticent, but they did stay largely out of my hair, which I took to be tacit approval of my methods and abilities. Of course it could be that they were merely fearful that they would somehow be sucked into the gaping, dark maw of vendor troubles. I preferred to think of them as approving rather than fearful. At that point I would have grasped at anything to keep my sodden spirits afloat.
(An interesting aside: being able to deal effectively with irate vendors is an unusual, useful, and at times crucial skill. It is not one, however, that is likely to land a candidate on a short list of potential hires. Why? Because no hiring company in its right mind wants to admit that it has or is likely to develop a need for this skill, and no candidate who possesses it, as it is customarily developed under extreme duress, ever wants to take a job where he or she will have to use it again. It is, therefore, a skill that is just not discussed in polite company.)
After several months of this I was near collapse. I hadn’t seen the sun in a long time. I came into the office at 5:30 and didn’t leave until well after dark. I did my reports and analysis work before and after business hours. From 8:00 to 5:00 I was on the phone, fielding one call after another in a Herculean attempt to hold things together. The stress was unbelievable. My health, both mental and physical, began to suffer. I was on the verge of collapse.
That’s when Rod decided that we needed to hire an accounting manager. He put this on me too, like I didn’t have enough to do. It would have been nice if he was trying to get me some help, trying to take some of the pressure off so I could be more effective, but I think his real goal was to replace me. He wanted me to solicit, interview, and select someone to take over my job so he could get rid of me. He didn’t tell me this of course. What he told me is that I needed to be doing less work and more management. He envisioned my ultimate role, or so he said, as purely supervisory—much like his.
I settled on a candidate we’ll call Dennis Lustre, who came with pretty good experience and excellent references, although he had not been working in accounting for a number of years. Dennis was just a few years younger than me, divorced with grown children, very personable and eager. I liked him immediately although I worried that his penchant for gab was going to be problematic. The man loved to talk.
It took forever to get Dennis hired, principally because I couldn’t get Rod or Quentin to give me a firm decision. I wasn’t going to be fooled again into making an offer that I later had to rescind because those two bozos wanted to indulge their timidity at my expense. Three full weeks after I had decided on Dennis I got a signed personnel requisition from Quentin—the requisite documentary proof that I was not a rogue operator. Marjorie delivered it.
In spite of Rod’s vision for the new office dynamic, the one that had me adopting a purely supervisory role and Dennis assuming my accounting functions, I had a different idea. We weren’t ready for Rod’s vision. We had way too much other crap going on to try to settle into anything resembling planned functionality.
For one thing we had two sets of consultants working full time in two large conference rooms to upset whatever internal vision we tried to implement. The consultants worked for our owners, who consisted, since our last reorganization, the one that had resulted in the untimely demise of our former UK based parent, of a consortium of banks and creditors. The consortium could agree on nothing except that there needed to be some wholesale changes to return us to profitability, and that, apparently, they needed to pay exorbitant sums of money to a bunch of slick New York consultants to decide exactly what changes needed to be made. That they were using the very money we could have been paying to our vendors didn’t seem to bother anyone but me.
I determined to put Dennis in charge of the payables section, and to let him start fielding some of the irate vendor calls—this in spite of the fact that Rod wanted him to put together a book of monthly account reconciliations for the auditors and to start writing a policies and procedures manual. Neither of those things made a lot of sense to me under the circumstances. Dennis didn’t know anything about our accounts or our systems. He would have taken forever to learn enough to do account reconciliations. On the other hand, given his gift for conversation, Dennis should be a natural at the cajolery and subterfuge we were practicing on our suppliers.
As far as the policies and procedures were concerned, Quentin and Rod’s collective ability to render effective decisions on simple matters like hiring an accountant didn’t bode well for publishing a manual within the decade. By the time they were ready to issue a policies and procedures manual the consultants would have so changed the organization of our business as to render the manual obsolete and useless.
Dennis was in fact a natural at dealing with the vendors. He was also sensitive and charming enough to resurrect the flagging morale in the payables section. Of course, as far as the AP clerks were concerned, even Attila the Hun would have been a huge improvement over the management style of Eddie Sharpe.
          All of this lifted a huge burden off my shoulders, and I was able, finally, to drive past the several bridge abutments on the way to and from work without dreaming wistfully of switching off the air bags in my car and swerving into a concrete finality. Meanwhile, of course, the consultants were plodding on to another kind of finality—one that would take the bridge abutments out of play forever.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 132 - Betty Boop and the Witch Queen

          Getting ready to abandon much of what I’ve worked for seems like despair. It’s only common sense, but it seems like despair. Reconcile that with your standard issue positive thinking clap-trap, and tell me what you come up with. I know. I’m not believing enough in myself and my potential. I’m not seeing the opportunities all around me. I’m fearful of bad results. I dwell on the negative, so I attract the negative. I read The Secret. I know the drill. The secret to The Secret is that you can get rich selling The Secret, or something like it, to pathetic losers like me—at least so long as they haven’t reached the point where despair seems like common sense. After that it’s too late.
* * * * *
          When Quentin moved me from the boat plant to the main plant and promised to consider me for a promotion, I hired a temp to take over the daily bookkeeping duties for the boat division. I called the temp agency we usually used, and they sent me a young woman who had a degree in accounting, but had been working as a waitress. She was anxious to get something that would utilize her education and training. She was a tall, gangly thing with wild hair and scary eyes. Her clothes were loud and vaguely inappropriate, but she talked a good game so I gave her a shot. Hiring her turned out to be one of those decisions that kept reaffirming my good judgment long after its initial utility had faded.
          We’ll call her Betty because Betty Boop was the nick-name she gave herself, and one that suited her well. She looked like Betty Boop would look if Betty Boop, the cartoon, had been tall with really big hair, or if Betty, not the cartoon, had been short with really short hair. Either way they could’ve passed for one another, and done it happily.
Betty was more than just a good accountant. She excelled at every task I gave her. She exceeded my expectations every day. When she finished her assignments, she came looking for more things to do. If I didn’t have anything else for her to work on, she would roam the halls looking for things to do for other people. She was fantastic.
          When I had first seen her, I was afraid that she wouldn’t really fit in our cliquish little enclave of South Alabama clerks. She wasn’t from the South herself. Her dress and mannerisms were foreign and exotic compared to the rest of the women in the office. The women I worked with wore slacks or quiet dresses and sensible heels. They came into the office on Monday mornings carrying pies and baked goods to share. They talked about their families. They got excited about fishing, camping, ‘Bama football, and the week-end’s events on the NASCAR circuit. They were unlike any other group of women I had ever worked with, but they were as like one another as peas in a pod. Betty—single, flashy, flirty, stiletto-heeled, and hip—stuck out like, well, Betty Boop in a crowd of matrons.
          Amazingly, everyone took to Betty right away. They all loved her like she had been born among them and raised up with them. She couldn’t have got on better with that group if she had been a barefoot, backwoods, gator-snatchin’ swamp cracker. They all came to me at one time or another to tell me how much they liked Betty and how much they enjoyed working with her. Betty somehow came into a great working environment where nearly everyone got along really well, and made it even better. I couldn’t have been happier.
          I determined to make Betty a permanent employee. The temp agency was getting a goodly percentage of the hourly amount we were paying for her services. She was still working the waitress job nights to make ends meet. She wasn’t getting any benefits to speak of. I was going to need someone in the slot where I had her if I got promoted, and I knew I could find something useful for her to do even if I didn’t. If I didn’t make her permanent, she would take the first opportunity that came along. I didn’t want to risk losing her.
I went to Quentin to clear my preference with him. He was agreeable. We even discussed what salary to offer her, and he agreed to that too. I went to Betty and made her an offer. She was ecstatic. I went to HR and initiated the paperwork. Among other things I needed Quentin to sign a personnel requisition, a slam dunk as he had already agreed to everything I’d asked.
That’s what I remembered anyway. It had only been two days. Quentin’s memory suddenly wasn’t so good. He couldn’t remember what he’d agreed to just two days before. He looked at me like I was out of my mind when I put the requisition on his desk for him to sign.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“I’m making Betty permanent,” I said. “We talked about it two days ago. You said it was okay.”
“Why are we doing this?”
“It’s on the req. We already talked about it. You agreed.”
“That doesn’t sound right.”
“I already made her an offer.”
“That’s not my problem. You should have gotten an authorization first.”
“I did,” I protested.
“Then how come this isn’t signed? This is your authorization. Clearly you don’t have it signed.”
I was stunned. There was nothing I could do at that point, short of calling him a liar, that was going to give me any satisfaction. I don’t know what happened in Quentin’s brain between the time he said okay and the time he decided I was trying to put one over on him. He never actually acknowledged our previous conversation on the matter, so I’ll never know if some synapse misfired and wiped the exchange out of his memory or if he was just denying me an honest process because something he didn’t want to own up to had changed his mind. I did speculate on this some.
It occurred to me that perhaps Marjorie wasn’t as happy with Betty as the rest of the women in the office. Marjorie might have felt a little threatened. She was prettier than Betty, and dressed a lot better, but Betty had enough presence and personality for three Marjories. Betty was a force, and it would have been natural for Marjorie to feel diminished by her proximity. Marjorie could easily have persuaded Quentin that his best interests lie in maintaining her status as queen of the realm and fairest of them all.
Another possibility was that Rod had objected when Quentin told him what I had proposed. Rod would have objected to anything that wasn’t his idea, no matter how good an idea it may have been. He would have been okay, of course, if it had been Quentin’s idea, but it wasn’t. It was mine. I wasn’t authorized good ideas in Rod’s world. Having a good idea for me would have been overstepping my bounds. Rod would have found a way to put the kibosh on any ideas that I got past Quentin. This wouldn’t have been as easy for him as squashing them before Quentin heard them, but still within Rod’s range. His insistence that everything headed to Quentin’s office be funneled through him was just Rod’s way of making his life easier. He wouldn’t have to talk Quentin out of a good idea if he killed it before it ever got into Quentin’s head. Either that or Rod could make it his own and bank the credit. I know I’m only speculating here, but, honest to God, I love office politics.
I gave Betty the bad news right away. I didn’t want her doing something celebratory like buying a new outfit or something only to find out too late that her fortunes had improved not at all. I hated telling her. I hated dashing her dreams. She had been so excited when I made her the offer, as had all the other women in the office when they heard about it. I knew I was going to have to be the goat. If I made it Quentin’s fault, there would eventually be hell to pay. Betty was disappointed, but she took it like a trooper…until the next day that is, when she gave me four days notice.