Powerpoint prison

August 24, 2007, 2:51 PM UTC


I was talking to my friend Mortimer. I’m not saying he’s a nice guy. He’s not. That’s why he’s been in prison since he told a few lies to the SEC and they put him away. He’s what you’d call a white-collar criminal. He’s reprehensible, no doubt about it. But I don’t think that’s a reason to have tortured him.

He got out just a couple of weeks ago and went on a huge bender. I caught him in mid-flight, and I don’t mind telling you, the guy was a complete wreck.

“Bing,” he says, and one of his eyes is kind of milky and tipped to the right.

“What happened to you, man?” I ask him. We’re sitting at the bar at the Ritz-Carlton in New York. It’s the only place I know of in the world that serves a $1000 drink. I don’t care how luxurious it’s supposed to be. It’s an abomination. But that’s another story. I buy the next round. He’s drinking Black. Doubles.

“I never knew how bad it was going to be,” he says, chasing a devastating shot with a beer. I see his other eye is wobbly, rotating here and there, not really focusing. I feel bad for him.

“What happened to you, dude?” I reiterate. I didn’t know if I wanted to hear. I was thinking hot pokers. Soap in the shower. No cable.

“Every day,” he says. “Powerpoint.”

“I don’t really get you,” I tell him. But I do. Oh Lord, I do.

“We get up in the morning,” he says, with an awe that comes of great suffering remembered. “We have to read the Wall Street Journal from cover to cover. Even the editorial page.”

I shudder, but I keep it to myself. This isn’t about my pain.

“Then, you know,” he says, “it starts.” He drains his massive tumbler of alcohol in one draught and looks at me. I get it. I order another for him. By that time, I’m drinking coffee, and I’m thinking we’re going to need an ambulette to get him back to the Parker-Meridian, and that’s only three blocks away. “They get us into a big room together, all us business guys… and they turn out all the lights…”

I don’t know if I want to hear about this. Like, when I was a kid I used to close my eyes when they tortured or killed animals in Walt Disney movies. I haven’t really changed.

“Come on, Mort,” I say. “What.”

“They made us watch Powerpoint presentations,” he says.


“All day,” he says.

“No.” I was shocked. This was too much to think about, even for me. Not since the ’80s had I heard of anything that even came close.

“And… if we started to fall asleep, they, well…” He couldn’t go on.

“What did they do, Mort?” I was starting to get angry.

“They ostracized us,” he said. And he started to weep. I gestured to the waiter for another drink for him and one for me as well. I needed it now.

“How,” I finally choked out, after we were both fully beveraged.

“Aw,” he said, and a bubble of snot pathetically blossomed from his nose. “They would say, ‘Look! Mort is falling asleep during the presentation!’ and then everybody would have a laugh and you’d feel like frickin’ killing yourself.”

“Every day?” I felt like throwing up.

“In the mornings, they did budget presentations. In the afternoon, after catered sandwiches that had no condiments, they did long-term, three- to five-year plans. That was the worst.”

After that, I don’t remember much. Mortimer and I hit a couple of other spots and then, at dawn, we found ourselves outside his hotel. He seemed reluctant to part.

“So, Mort,” I said. “Now you can move on, right?”

“The thing is,” he said, and it was the voice of a man whose soul had died but whose body was condemned to go on, “I miss it.”

I looked at him, too horrified to speak.

“I need them,” he said, and he raised his face to me, a face with empty eyes from which all hope had fled. “Now that I’m out, I don’t know what to do without them. I dream of them. I walk around and see bullets and sub-bullets, headlines and graphical elements, bubble charts and area graphs. And then I wake up, and realize that none of that is available to me now that I’m out. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do.”

I let him go then, and went my way as well. But that face has stayed with me, become, in a way, a burden to me.

So yesterday I made some calls. Thank God I have some friends at McKinsey. They’ll know what to do with him, I think, at least for the next few years or so. After that, who knows? With his passion and background I can’t think of a strategic planning department that wouldn’t snap him up in a New York minute. I figure it’s the least I can do. I hope, when my time comes, somebody will do the same for me, you know?

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