John Abbott
By Stanley Bing
August 7, 1995

I’ve got a few messages for you. While you were out, Bob Gerber called. The format incompatibility that’s been blocking your e-mail transmissions of graphical spreadsheet material to corporate headquarters cannot be resolved without a complete software rewrite or revision of firmware systemwide. He doesn’t know why. Network protocols just get ginchy that way now and then. Sure, it’s amenable to solution at some point. He’ll be out until Friday at a personal development seminar at the Day’s Inn in Morgantown, West Virginia. Will be unreachable there but will get in touch if possible.

Of course he’ll be unreachable there. These seminars are run by outsourced former sensitivity trainers from EST who don’t let you escape from the rented room until you get IT. In this case, IT means information transformation, but that’s not important now. Not being able to transmit graphical spreadsheet data to Toledo…that’s bad. Martin is expecting that material. Martin gets the material he expects, or…let’s not think about it.

While you were out, Mr. Lazenby from the chairman’s office called. It seems the graphical spreadsheet material you’re generating is required by Martin no later than 8 a.m. tomorrow. Don’t bother to call back. Somewhere an enormous door slams with a resonant ka-chung! Eight a.m. is too early for an overnight pouch with a diskette in it. The electronic solution must work. And yet it does not. And there’s no potential alternative fall guy here. It’s you, Bud.

Got to focus. Got to generate problem-solving behavior. Got to sit down and stare into space for a couple of minutes.

And it was such a nice lunch, too. Stepped out for a long, lazy one with Walt, didn’t you? Don’t usually drink at lunch, do you? But in this case you made an exception, right? Celebrating the end of the week with your boss? Who could fault you? Martinis, weren’t they? After milk and orange juice, God’s beverage. Tall, perspiring towers of Tanqueray in perfect inverse cones on long, delicate stems. Lots and lots of salty olives. Later, little medallions of veal with vegetables so tiny and firm they must have been grown by dwarves on loan from Michael Eisner…a complete feeling of well-being subsequently produced. Sauntered back to the office with a roasty, toasty Macunudo between your teeth. Pretty much what business is all about. You’re a player at the top of your game!

“Messages, Sally?” you inquire as you blow by her cubicle on the way to a quiet couple of hours searching for excellence at your desk, followed by some discreet management-by-walking-around toward 4 p.m., a possible brief pursuit of WOW at 5:40, then on the train at 6:08. Now, instead…this.

“Oh, yes,” says Sally in an obnoxiously voluble twitter, “quite a few!” She hands over a loaf of them. Suddenly you’re no longer out, are you, Sparky? But in a very real sense, you’re not yet in, either. You are at the fine interstitial mesh between the two, perhaps the most critical juncture in the business universe. How you perform in the next 90 minutes will shape your world. So straighten up. Every challenge is an opportunity, is it not?

While you were out, Mazerowski called back. Not surprising. The guy works in Los Angeles, so naturally he would do that L.A. thing. Before 9:30 a.m. his time, he’s out and about. At about 10, he begins to return his calls from New York–a no-fail way to make sure that nobody he’s phoning on the right coast will be at his or her desk. When we get in from being out, he’s off to an early lunch, and when he’s back, we’ve gone for the day. As an evasion tactic, it’s crude but effective. And to a certain extent, it’s his right. The ability to impose “in-ness” and “out-ness” on one’s own schedule may be the functional definition of freedom within organizational constraints. On the other hand, one retains the privilege of being “out” only when one is occasionally “in.” Something must be done.

What else? A couple of quick ones. Four separate vendors left lunchtime bulletins requesting appointments, once again reinforcing their common desire to offer personalized solutions to your corporate design needs. You don’t have any. One is the friend of the chairman’s daughter.

Your vet returned your call. Mauser has an ear infection, which, while not uncommon among cocker spaniels, is still very difficult to eradicate. If not treated immediately, it could produce the need for enormously expensive ear surgery.

Your children called. It’s URGENT. They’re worried about the dog.

While you were out, Loomis the lobbying lawyer called from Washington. Senator Monguse is trying to retire his campaign debt. Given his support of certain pending legislation, he’s sure the company would want to be present at the gala rubber-chicken festival celebrating the great man’s fabulosity. Of course, corporate money cannot be brought to bear here. But couldn’t you see your way clear to coughing up some dough of your own? Say…a grand? Come on, pal! The Newtster is going to be there! It’ll be a blast! You have until five o’clock to answer.

While you were out, Trattoria del Pretensio called. You did indeed leave your corporate card in the bar last night. You can pick it up from Titeau anytime after ten o’clock tonight. Except you’re not going to be in the city then. And you need your card for a breakfast with Barbeaux tomorrow morning, first thing.

While you were out, Mort from corporate accounting called. You still owe him a number of receipts from expenses accrued on this very same corporate card during the past several months. These are original restaurant receipts we’re talking about, not copies of the statement. Without these receipts, and some indication of the purpose of the business entertainment involved, it will be impossible to process your expense report, resulting in the suspension of your corporate credit card, which cannot be replaced. By the way, several of these expenses exceed corporate guidelines. This includes your taxi from the airport, which should not have cost more than $12.50 (the amount necessary to convey a thrifty manager from the USAir terminal in Topeka to the branch office there), as well as your room in New York (far exceeding the $89 norm) and the lunch you bought for Nervish, Wheedly, and Berm when they spent the day in from headquarters looking over your ethics documentation. The expenditure of $149 for a display of tuna fish, fruit, pasta salad, and chocolate chip cookies is incomprehensible to Toledo, even if the sandwiches were on baguettes and the cookies were grotesquely oversize. Please provide some explanation by 5 p.m. today, after which time any unjustified expense issues will be considered ample cause for the generation of a full-scale audit.

No! Good heavens. What a bummer.

While you were out, Arnold Nofziger, from Whinem Shinem & McGillicuddy, called. Remember Chuck, the assistant whose job was eliminated last year in the latest office rightsizing? He’s suing you for gender discrimination. Claims that every support person at your work location is female, and the fact that he wasn’t counted against him. Would you care to reply within the next 48 hours? Or would you like to see this matter prosecuted in the media?

Oh, and finally, while you were out, Mr. Vreeland from Moody’s called. Something about the rating on your long-term debt.

And that’s about it. That’s all that happened while you were at lunch getting discreetly, responsibly, and quietly braised in the broth of good feeling that attends any good career day at its best.

So what are you going to do? Now that you’re in, I mean.

At 3:48, you call Rob Werblin to find out if, as you heard, he’s going to Toledo for the meeting at which Martin will be showing these spreadsheets. Turns out he is. Can he take a couple of packages with him when he goes? Turns out he can. At 4:03, you walk the material over to him. Talk for a while. Head back in time to gently place three of the four vendor calls in the leatherette garbage receptacle and reply to the chairman’s daughter’s friend. Would she care to come in tomorrow morning to discuss the current corporate environment and possible needs in her arena? Turns out she would. At 4:19, it’s time to drop by Barber in accounting. He’s Mort’s boss, with whom you are friendly. You agree that you’re an irresponsible slug who finds it difficult to hold and keep documentation. You agree to be better in the future, seriously. For his part, Barber agrees that Mort, while a great pro, is a bit too assiduous about things in general. Let’s have lunch! See ya later. Back at your office, you write a check for $100 to Loomis, send a messenger to get your stupid credit card, call the kids and leave a message on their machine, and sit back. The rest can wait. Yeah, it’s huge and formidable and ugly and scary. But you don’t need to worry about it now. It will all be just as horrifying and disgusting tomorrow.

And it’s almost time to be out again.

Except for one thing. At 5:23, you talk to Mazerowski’s office in L.A. He’s not in, of course, but posing as his college friend, you get his home phone number. It’s easy. They’re so trusting back there. Tomorrow morning, at about 8:30 your time, you’ll call him at home. The boy may think he’s out, but face it, in this life you’re never as out as you think you are, and you’re always potentially in. Pain in the neck? Certainly. Cause for concern? Not at all. In or out, everything is manageable.

As long as you pick up your messages.

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