The rhythmic ticking of the clock, the double basso whoosh of the air
conditioning, the emptiness of the office at 10pm, you could feel it
on your skin. No man should be forced to do this, certainly not me.
At 3 in the afternoon, the reports were delivered, but he could have
saved everybody the effort. He didnt need a crystal ball and he
didnt need any summaries of cash flow and revenue, lets
see ... where is that number.
Did everybody know? Or was it really his secret? His deep and dark
secret, tormenting his soul from the depths of hell.
But there were brighter days, could it really be just 22 months ago?
Nursing the project, begging and pleading, how many projections can
one man make? (he lost count at 12). And the old farts approved it!
All of that money, all of those positions. And hand picked people,
each with their individual skills, but each with that little extra
something, that little spark in their eyes. Each one understood how
special this project would be, and each wanted a chance to be on the
ground floor as they rolled out the not-so-secret weapon
that had been in product development for almost 5 years.
Ground Floor!, he said out loud, to the empty chairs and
the darkened desks. Ground Floor, he said quietly, to his
shoes and his stack of pointless reports. That picnic the first
summer, where each had brought forth to him a spouse, a family. It
was like he was supposed to bless their marriages or kiss their
babies. For Christs sake, it was just a project. But not to
them. And it was so surreal that they had all believed in him,
somehow, even though he had not asked them to do so. Sure they had
all taken a chance, but everybody, especially him, had known deep
down inside that it was a guaranteed, sure-thing, good-as-gold, proposition.
But the reports, the numbers, the little black dots staring and
dancing and pointing and laughing. Like demons, like the kids in 5th
grade, pointing and taunting. We told you so, the cruel
and heartless number dance and point. Youll never be
anything, the lines and smears roll over themselves and sing.
And you took all those people, and their families, and their
babies, and you loaded them in a boat and sunk it to the bottom of
It wasnt that bad, they all knew this was a
high-risk project, that it could go either way. And the
engineers knew when they couldnt quite deliver the elasticity,
and the floor couldnt quite keep to tolerance. But sales knew,
they knew from the second week, when the client started saying
maybe when they had spoken nothing except contracts and
cash for over a year.
Suddenly it was an untested technology and a
risk. And the mindless herd, the me-too mob
mentality appeared, just as he had predicted, but it was echoing the
fear, not lining up for product. Yes, sales knew right away, and they
nearly killed themselves with brochures and shows and visits. If he
never shook another hand, never bowed to another little Japanese
weasel, playing tough guy and squinting thru glasses designed for his
father, and asking about cost containment....
But there would be no more customer visits, no more presentations at
the hotel conference room, no more dreadful breakfasts eaten without
sleep from the night before. No there would only be explanations, and
private consultations. Each man, each woman, would have to learn what
he knew, what he had been told at the end of last quarter, that this
was the last quarter and there would be no more.
Sales knew, Johnson and Jeffries were gone 60 days ago. Thats
the difference that 10 years gives you. The new kids will do alright.
They were shaking hands and getting names, they will know who to call.
But the people on the floor. We had asked them to do so much, and
they did it and they did more. Why had he weeded so carefully. He
should have taken the rocks, the losers, but they were the ones that
stayed behind, protecting their seniority instead of
taking profit sharing. Profit! Hah!, he
shouted out loud, and then felt embarrassed, as if the empty room
would repeat what it heard. The people on the floor must suspect, he
had talked about it, talked around it, laid out the goals, and the
missed targets. But the floor had always delivered, always delivered
MORE than than were asked for. But they knew, they new this was a
start-up. But their families, their children.
And what of himself. The admins will blend right back into corporate,
not even skip a beat. Hed caught the leads and the engineers
reading the internal postings for weeks now. They knew the numbers
werent there and most had heard through the grapevine just how
big the nut was and far we were missing it by.
What about me?, he asked. With the car on the fritz and
kid needing braces and the furnace acting up and with Christmas time
coming. He gave his word. My word!, he said solemnly to
the assembled file cabinets and visitors chairs. And they sat in rapt
attention. But the room wont be silent when he goes before the
board. Sure, Gail and Todd will be sitting right there, but it will
be his mouth, his voice, his words that will sound the knell and cut
like a knife, a knife through the hearts and the lives and worlds of
people that he sought out and groomed, hand-picked and lead. Lead
them straight thru to disaster, ended in disaster. And the numbers
wont change. And wishing wont work. And Friday will
arrive, right on schedule, and he will be standing there, at that
little table with the three chairs and addressing those 20 old farts.
Where are the wolves that are supposed to thin this herd? Why did I
start, and what will I say. And what will I say when I get home tonight?
He opened the window and looked out onto the freeway, he could hear
the nighttime crickets, and see the outlines of the stand of trees
outlined by the nearly full moon. Tomorrow the sun would rise over
the parking structure, and he would call a meeting, and Todd and Gail
and he would put it together, would wrap it all up, and would close
out this chapter and start a new one.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night, this time
in a whisper, lest he wake someone. This time low and quiet, like the
prayers at a funeral. And with that said, he cranked the window
closed, and put the reports in his case, and turned off the lights,
and listened to the click click click of his shoes as he walked down
the hallway, and out into the empty parking lot, and onto the next
chapter of his life.