We took the new company for a shake down cruise, running the visuals for a benefit concert outside the megalopolis. Irish and Littlestar worked the tech booth while I did my part by loitering importantly on the catwalk, doing double-takes back at the booth when I thought the cues were late (they weren't). Afterward we shook hands with a lot of people and passed out purple business cards. Everybody seemed to think the show looked pretty.
Irish broke down the servers and packed them away. They didn't belong to us. They were supposed to be on a flight to Hawaii. Later, Irish would drive really fast to the airport and convince customs the cases of equipment were for personal use. He arrived in time to operate the show he was actually booked on. Aloha.
Back at the office, I coughed a lot and complained about a headache and then after lunch instead of going back to work I instead put on my best suit and drove so down into downtown the streets were in perpetual shadow. Megaliths loomed on all sides. It cost me twenty dollars to park. Twenty dollars! What a world! I had to run. I forgot to remember where I parked.
Yes, and because I've lost thirty pounds or so I was swimming in my suit. As I ran I struggled to avoid an air of hip hop, clutching desperately at my belt.
This was the suit I'd changed into in the parking lot of the Boston Pizza by the highway. I tried to change inside of my car, but it is a sub-compact car and the back seat has been thoroughly childed -- I could never let my suit touch the back seat or I'd risk walking around with a lollipop on my back.
Don't let anyone ever tell you there isn't something liberating about being in your underwear in a busy Boston Pizza parking lot, smiling awkwardly at people as they drive by. It truly is an "in for a penny, in for a pound" type moment.
Meanwhile, back among the megaliths, I had to ignore the people around me in the turbolift while I groomed in its mirrored wall. Because I shaved off all my hair my head was a cinch, but I had to unzip my pants and re-stuff my Gordon Gartrell length of shirt back into discrete hiding. I had a KFC wet-nap for a final layer of polish.
Big boardroom, very sleek, like something you'd see on an Imperial star destroyer. I've already met the woman everyone is afraid of, but now I'm to meet two of the men everyone is afraid of. Even the woman everyone is afraid of is afraid of the men.
The woman everyone is afraid of is constantly orbitted by a fleet of lesser women, like fruit flies.
The fruit flies are contrary with me. They were that way last time, too. I think it is a sort of dominance display. I smile and nod. It's a very nice view, over their heads. The woman everyone is afraid of is joshing around with the Salesman, the charming snake who brought me to this party. He's the ex-partner of my boss's company. This is my current boss' client we're poaching.
One of the men everyone is afraid of called to real-time cancel his appointment with us but the other man everyone is afraid of strode into the boardroom's anteroom at the head of a little clique of colleagues and hangers on. The hangers on hung back when he slipped through the glass double doors and inside.
We all stood up, as if he were the Prophet Mohammed or something.
I used all the power of the force to remind myself to use my entire spine in its most vertical position, to keep eye contact, and to grasp hands warmly. Smile, smile, smile. You are not a socially awkward nerd, you are just some whacko freestyling creative douchebag this prince of finance wants to relate to in order to feel cool. Ready -- and, scene:
Actually, he's a pretty nice guy. He enjoyed watching rough cut animatics on my tablet because of how spock it was. I took notes with a liquid-ink pen and a pulp-paper notebook, which prompted him to ask why I didn't take notes on the tablet. This enabled me to run into a pre-loaded anecdote routine about avoiding the use of technology for purely for the sake of itself featuring a thoroughlly road-tested punchline. Mirth was achieved. The man everyone is afraid of got lines around his eyes when he laughed. Cha-ching.
Ho ho, ha ha. Everyone around the table continued chatting idly once business was concluded, because the man everyone is afraid of seemed to be enjoying the banter. But the pointlessness of it made me uncomfortable and I started doubting my ability to carry on without putting my foot in my mouth somehow, so I decided ending the meeting at that point would be okay. I stood up and thanked everyone.
I really didn't see anything wrong with that, but I did notice how the fret level of the fruit flies was peaking. Later, I would learn that the Salesman almost barfed up a lung because of the impropriety of my presumption to decide when the meeting was over. (The woman and the man everyone is afraid of didn't seem perturbed at the time, so I've chosen not to worry about it.)
Afterwards, I exhaled.
Our party took the elevator down past the street and into the dense maze of crowded underground cloisters that always remind me of Isaac Asimov's seminal novel The Caves of Steel, except with a more Blade Runneresque selection of take-out food. Apparently everyone in the financial core eats Asian things.
"Why isn't Irish returning my calls? I need to talk to him about billing."
"Irish is in Hawaii with Boss Hog, putting on a show for the Very Large Insurance Company."
I shot my cuff and checked the watch I don't have. "Right now."
The Marshmallow Producer and I compared notes and divided up who would chase which executive asshole for what. She explained that she'd had very little to contribute because she had just come straight off a flight from Dubai, running a show for a Suddenly Successful Technology Concern, and had not slept in fifty hours. I promised I'd email her my meeting notes once I'd distilled them, which confused the living shit out of her until I said that I'd "inbox her" the "deliverables." Gracefully, my pants starting to slip down. I sighed.
Later I would spend an unreasonable amount of time walking forlornly around downtown clutching my pants and searching for my car. (When I did finally find the lot it turned out to have no entrances accessible to human beings from the street, which seemed like a cruel joke to play on a street-plying human being such as myself. (In the end I was rescued and reoriented by a bellhop in a crisp crimson hat. (Bellhops are really extra helpful to people who wear suits.)))
The next day I meet the Salesman at McDonald's to help him with his computer issues. "Do you want anything?" he asks me. I shake my head. "Fuck no."
His issue turned out to be that his computer illiteracy is stunning in its totality. It is as if he has stepped out of a time machine from the seventies or eighties. The problem with the billing is that he doesn't know how to edit Excel files, or how to create PDFs from the output. Also, he doesn't understand where the files in his Dropbox are, and about whether or not they're on the public Internet for everyone to see. Finally, he is frustrated that his Wifi-only iPad won't "get signal" when he's driving around.
"Okay," I say, nodding slowly. "I can help you edit those Excel files."
Only they're not Excel files, they're done in fucking Apple Numbers, which is the Diet RC Cola of spreadsheet applications. Every familiar action does the wrong thing on purpose because Steve Jobs is a poltergeist.
"I thought it was cool to like Apple," says Salesman.
"No, not anymore. That's back when they were the underdog."
"What's it cool to like now?"
"I don't know. Vegetables and yogurt, maybe. I don't have a television."
Only -- a-ha! -- now I do have a television! Because Old Oak was all like, "I'm dying so I need to vatch telewision to pass the time," and so Littlestar and I hefted their big-ass television out of the livingroom and into his deathroom. He said, "It's too big!" I suggested he buy a cheap little flatscreen that would fit on the dresser and we'd split the cable for him, and he agreed. I was sent with his wife to Costco to pick one out, and she told me I should pick out one I would like to have myself since Old Oak had said it would be mine when he was finished. The budget was appreciable.
Two days later Old Oak scored a spot in a truly amazing privately-funded palliative hospice where he would be waited on hand and foot by a staff of nurses who wanted to be there because they personally cared about end-of-life care, in a room that looked like a hotel room instead of a hospital room: wood panelling, mini-bar, HDTV, broadband Internet, a view of trees and sky. This place has a sound-proof room with an entertainment centre for obnoxious grandkids, a full kitchen, sun room, mechanical-lift assisted bathing spa, fire places, floral scents instead of that stale medicine smell, the whole nine yards. Families are encouraged to visit at any time they want, in any numbers they want, for as long as they want. Accomodations are made for anyone who wants to sleep over.
Old Oak's complaint? They should schedule regular meals with a regular menu, rather than letting him decide what he wants and offering to make him anything he desires.
Choosing is a burden, he explained. Which I totally get. That's how I felt at Costco. It was...so...big.
So I got me a nice 1080p television with a lot of connection ports and a decent refresh rate. But since I don't have a feed for television I bought one of those little black box AppleTV dealies with money I don't have, and then marveled as it sucked media off all our other devices and displayed them in all the fidelity H.264s off the Pirate Bay have to offer.
"Holy shit -- Captain Kirk is white?"
So I'm in the twenty-first century now.
Irish calls from Hawaii. He broached the subject of our jumping ship to Boss Hog but Boss Hog railroaded right over him to talk about himself. Since we know from experience Boss Hog doesn't pay attention to anything that doesn't threaten him personally, Irish solicits my leave to turn up the heat a bit. "How much can I tell him?" he asked me.
"I trust your judgement, man. Tell him enough to get him startled."
My step-father wants to know why give so much notice at all? I explain it's because there are too many balls in the air to assure information security. If Boss Hog is going to find out we're up to something, I want him to find out on my terms, and with my chosen framing. We don't want him finding us out by accident and risk a damaging interpretation of events taking hold. (We want to go on collecting paycheques until the last possible moment, because our business plan is vague.)
I sterilize the computers at work of anything remotely incriminating, erase all backups and then rebuild them from the present. The coast is clear should Boss Hog's reaction be overly reactive.
"Oh, I got his attention all right," reports Irish.
"How much did you have to tell him?"
"We've resigned, effective end of fiscal," says Irish. "We'll gladly help him transition to a new team."
"Oh, wow," I say. And then -- because what else can you do? -- I shout, "Geronimo!"
I call the Vice President of Getting Shit Done. I break the news. She cries a little. Nice lady. "When are you quitting?" I ask her. "I need a few more months," she says, and then explains certain special financial obligations she's currently entertaining in her family. I say, "I see."
Irish and Boss Hog return from Hawaii. The next day at the office is scheduled a visit with a very important visitor whom it has been impressed upon us we are working hard to impress. I believe this is a decisive performance, because Boss Hog will be wondering how points my weathervane. Mr. Important Visitor arrives and Irish and I are called in to show our work and explain our technique.
We lavish love on the company. We explain that our good work is supported by the solid and strategic superstructure supplied by Boss Hog's creative discussion documents and kept on course by his guiding vision. Mr. Important Visitor is suitably impressed.
We leave the mandatorium. "How did that go?" asks Bollywood Producer.
"My mouth tastes like anus."
I go home. I do that a lot lately. Being in the office bums me out so I've just not been coming in too often for the last while, and when I do come in I tend to leave before too long. Daily commuting sucks. I'm done with it. Once you feel that in your heart there's no turning back. I like to get on the road before tea time and take only the back roads so the people on the freeway can try to manslaughter each other without me getting in the way. Besides, my sub-compact's radio is busted and when I drive on the freeway I can't hear my telephone's tinny little speakers.
The Vice President of Getting Shit Done goes home, too. "Fuck it," she says after she's not invited to the meeting to impress the impressive visitor. From the car she sends Irish a quick email: "Sorry I missed you. Wanted to talk to you after I got Cheeseburger Brown's call yesterday."
At precisely that moment, Boss Hog abruptly leaves the mandatorium and comes into the studio. "Where's Brown?"
"He left," says Irish. "I'm not sure if it was maybe something at the death hospice?"
"Did Brown call the Vice President of Getting Shit Done yesterday?"
"Say, I don't know. I mean, I called him after I spoke to you but I don't know who he might after spoken to after our call."
"You know? Because this is business. It's private. He shouldn't be discussing it with her."
Irish texts me. He uses the wrong phone again. This is because we both have two phones that look identical: one issued by the company and then the actual phones we use for our own business interests. Irish always gets his phones confused. "I never know which one is ringing!" he complains.
"Why don't you give them different rings?"
"Shut up, that's why."
In the morning I get an email from Boss Hog. He wants to see me first thing. He wants to discuss what I've discussed with the Vice President of Getting Shit Done. I am not nervous, like I sometimes am when I've pissed him off enough that he's willing to face me. I'm jazzed. This is going to give me an opportunity to frame the whole discussion if I'm able to seize the initiative up front.
As I drive in I wonder how to do that. How do effective people do things? Lord of the Rings knows I don't know. While thinking about this I drive half way through an intersection nearly destroying several lives including my own.
People shake their fists at me. I drive on to the office. Jetliners roar overhead. I don't want to slow down or I might get stuck in a fit of worrying so I walk right into Boss Hog's office. "You have a moment now?"
He looks tired. He waves me deeper inside. I close the door.
After rehearsing everything over in my mind a dozen times over the last hour I have arrived ready with my strategy to disarm him and own the conversation from the start.
"Come here," I tell him, walking past the guest's chair and around to his side of the desk.
His eyes widen. He starts a question but it never gets anywhere.
I gesture at him to get up. He stands up. As I draw him into a hug he startles but then settles. I clap him on the back mannishly and let him go before his discomfort spikes too high.
I take my seat and sip my water. He sits down into his chair. He's disarmed.
"Listen," I start, leaning forward in a friendly way. "Let me tell you how I see all this..."
Rehearing so much was a good idea because I don't have to expend brainwidth to choosing words. These resources can instead be reallocated to grokking the mammal's changing expressions. If I focus real hard these pinches of pulls of features can give me clues about what's going on in there.
It is by far the best performance of my life.
I want to convince this philistine prig asshole gutless dumbass metrosexual goatfucker to pay me while I quit, and to to continue giving me paying work once I'm gone, and to like doing it.
And, somehow, I do.
That was how I wanted it to go when I went for steaks with Red Green and he challenged me to convince him I was funny on the spot, but instead I just stammered and got caught up thinking about his beard. That was how I wanted it go to when I had a bit-part in my own play, but instead on each and every night of the performance I flubbed the only line I'd written for myself.
I drive to the chicken wings place where the manager is sweet on us. Irish is waiting with a round of pints. "Ooh, hold on," he says, "I'll order you two of your own."
I tell him that somehow, so far, the outcome bears high fidelity to our projected best case scenario. Boss Hog has recognized that for the time being he has no choice but to be cooperative and positive. I saw that scare in his eyes personally, like a little negative thrill. He knows it would cost him more to fire us, and that even if he did fire us he'd be stuck with a summer full of shows with no staff that knew how he liked things.
"He will still make a grab to control the situation," says Irish. "He hates being a passenger."
Irish is right. Boss Hog is a veteran manipulator and user. We are going to have to offer him phony leeway in which he can feel like the driver. But how?
"What did you say about talking to the VP of GSD?"
"I told him that he's a very private guy, and that I'm not knocking that but it isn't my way. I'm frank. I told him I really couldn't reckon a way that I could not tell one of my closest colleagues for over seven years who's building the roster for upcoming shows that I'm leaving. I suggested that maybe I just wasn't clever enough to keep lies straight, obliging me to stick with the truth. Secrets, after all, are a kind of lie."
"What did he say?"
"I don't know. I thanked him and left. I think that's just what I'm doing from now on, as a matter of policy. When people seem on the verge of talking nonsense to me I'm going to hug them, thank them, and leave the room. Game, point, match."
The manager made sure the waitresses seated new customers away from us so Irish and I could have a teleconference with Salesman and the skyscraper people, which I thought was very sweet, especially since she always scolds me for walking on the seats (it's hard to get in and out of booths, otherwise).
I use the telephone Boss Hog pays for as a modem and check my mail. My negotiations with the man who will be our first client to actually pay us have concluded. "What did you get?" asks Irish, signalling for another pint.
"He can pay us two thousand now," I tell him, "plus fifteen when we reach Alderaan."
Irish tilts his head and scratches at his shaggy hair. He says, "What?"
I pour some of my beer into his empty stein and we toast.
Irish tells me he's secured something-something thousand more in an interest-free start up loan. I think: forget Boss Hog, forget the Salesman, too -- we might really be able to do this on our own. At least now we can buy computers and legitimate software licenses and pay the accountant.
I book four more jobs, and start soliciting a new network of freelancers online. Applications pour in from several continents. Lack of language skills is the first and easiest cut. Now I've got a bazillion demo reels to watch so my clone army can do all the tedious shit I don't wanna.
(Can you send pounds in the mail? If so, pounds of what?)
Old Oak expired. The hospice people were very gracious. I explained to my children non-goth applications for black clothing when they came along to deal with the body. We talked about why corpses are so pale, and where the blood pools when gravity gets the only say. Missus Oak rang a bell ceremonially as we formed a shuffling parade escorting the gurney out of the hospice and to the open trunk of an idling SUV.
"Do we get to see it burn?" asked Mr. Six.
"Nope. It happens inside a furnace, and the furnace has no windows."
"That's what they did to a guy in Avatar."
Littlestar nodded. "When I was a kid I always wanted to see the burning, too."
Things end, things begin, and then I sit down and have some gin.
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