Thursday, October 20, 2016

#ThrowbackThursday: The Power of Music

I’ve posted before about the power of books and music to not just transport us and teach us but to save us. It’s in part why I write. And while I don’t write music, or even play an instrument (barring an unfortunate pre-adolescent attempt to learn to play the trombone), I do hear a certain series of sounds, a rhythm as I write my words.

But back to music. I heard a song on the radio the other day that reminded me of the power of music. So for Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d share the song and how it saved me.
The song was “Groove me Bay.” The version I heard the other day on NPR was the original by King Floyd (1971). But the one that saved me was the later remake by Fern Kinney.

The song gave me hope, and while hope is not a strategy it is sometimes all we have. And it was definitely all I had then. Let’s look at the lyrics that were most meaningful to me.

You’ve become a sweet taste in my mouth, now
And I want to be your spouse.

Yep I wanted to get married. And gay as I was, I only ever dreamed of marrying a man. I believed one day, somehow, I would. Those lyrics reminded me of that determination and kept me believing.

So that we can live happily in a great big ol’ roomy house

Yep, we’d get married and adopt some kids and a dog and move to Connecticut to a big old farmhouse like Lucy Ricardo’s in Westport.

We don’t need no company
No other man, no other girl
Can enter into our world not as long as you groove me baby

And finally a promise of safety—at a time when I needed desperately to believe I’d one day be safe, and loved. Even if coming out, falling in love with another boy, caused the world to fall away from us, we’d still have each other and we would keep each other safe.

And now, some three decades after I first heard Fern Kinney sing “Groove me, Baby” I can look back at that time and remember the hope the song gave that boy who grew up to be me. And I can look at the man that boy became, the man who married one of the best men he knows, and bought a big ol’ roomy house…

Awww sookie, sookie now

Friday, October 14, 2016

He Decided That He Had To Move Away From Homophobic Household

"There’s always a way out and it’s really up to you. You can’t just wait around and wait for things to get better, you really have to take action and that’s what I did. I took action, I left home, and moved to America, which is halfway around the world to just really become myself." 

Keep reading.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

In Your Lips: A Poem by Jose Rafael Prieto

the poet himself
In honor of National Poetry Day I thought I'd share this poem by my friend and fellow writer (and poet) Jose Rafael Prieto.

“In Your Lips”

In your lips,
I search
for the freshness
of rain.

Your beauty,
damp with desire
and ever-present, is
born anew,
pleasing me
now and now and now,

Your love is calm
and majestic.

Whereas Divine
is Law and my physics,
you and your love
are my event horizon.

Copyright © 2015  Jose Rafael Prieto 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Corporatorium: Happy, Happy, Happy (Episode 14)

The Global Director of HR’s webcast was scheduled for 9 AM EST which meant I actually needed to be in the office on time.  I arrived in the office, with two minutes to spare, to witness Ivy skipping down the hall and trilling, “I’m happy, happy, happy!”  TWO and the other two Cerberus stared after her in dismay.

“Look,” Ivy called over her shoulder, “I’m exhibiting brand behavior!”

“Do you suppose she’s gone off her meds?” Barbara the first asked with concern.

“Either that or she’s taken an overdose,” Diana answered.

It was a widely held supposition within our department that Ivy was on some sort of prescription mood altering drug.  The supposition was held despite an overwhelming absence of hard evidence.  Still, we clung to our collective belief much as one clings to the supposition that one’s overweight coworker must eat ravenously despite the fact that one has never seen her or him consume more calories than those contained in the occasional sip of conspicuously diet coke.

Learning that TWO had decided we would each dial in separately from our individual workstations, I went to my cell pretending not to see the Cerberus, led by the still skipping Ivy, filing into her office and closing her door.


As promised, the call was hosted by our Director of Global Human Resources.  It was a mystery how he—a man so remote, so lacking in basic human warmth, that one wit was prompted to declare, “He has all the warmth of Formica!”—could become the director of human resources.  Then again if you regarded people, employees, fellow human beings, as “resources,” scarcely more or less important than coal or gas, which, once mined, refined and manipulated to satisfy some human need, was easily replaced when depleted or forgotten when no longer necessary.

“In the global HR transformation space, winning organizations are rethinking their talent management and rewards programs,” he began.  “We’re no different.  It is our intent to become a destination for top performers.

“As you know, we have formed a decentralized Center of Excellence model for our business processes and client engagements around thought leadership, best practices and innovation in strategic talent management and new economy leadership.  Our Excellence model follows a multi-pronged strategy focused on maximizing the effectiveness of our top performers. Redefining our performance model, leveraging technology, innovative sourcing and reorganizing processes and roles will be the keys to our success.” 

Xavier Jiménez @Madame X
Translation, please.

Nigel Gale @MannequinMan
We’re screwing you to make money.  Again.

“Already the Center of Excellence model is contributing directly to shareholder value,” he continued.

Nigel Gale @MannequinMan
Translation: executive bonuses.

“As our CEO informed you yesterday, it is our intent to build a culture where every team member exceeds expectations every time in every encounter.”

Now this was, of course, impossible since if everyone always exceeded expectations in every action, it would be a clear indication to leadership that expectations were set too low and would have to be calibrated higher.

“To do this successfully, to encode excellence into our DNA, requires us to change our performance model and rewards program to ensure we inspire our team members to exceed expectations, every time and in every endeavor—and reward that behavior.  Thus, we are making some changes.  Effective immediately, increases in pay will no longer be tied to cost of living or length of service or even overall company performance but will be pinned exclusively to individual performance.  Any team member scoring ‘meets expectations’ or below in any given year will be ineligible to receive an increase in that year.  You must score ‘exceeds expectations’ at least 4 quarters in a row to receive an increase.  To be eligible for promotion you must score at least an ‘exceeds expectations’ 8 quarters in a row.”

TWO gasped audibly.  “That’s four reviews a year!”Clearly she was still having problems with her mute button. 

TWO could barely get through annual performance evaluations.  Besides being conflict-averse, she was also too disinterested in us to know what we did or how well we did it so, most often, under the guise of ‘self-evaluation’ we were required to write our own performance evaluations.  If you were smart, you approached your self-evaluation as if it were an essay entitled “Here’s Why You Should Not Only Not Fire Me But Give Me A Raise.”

I knew further that TWO would be enormously displeased by this new insistence that everyone should be an “exceeds expectations” because this was at odds with her stubbornly held and oft-voiced opinion that “No one is a five (the numerical rating associated with the ‘exceeds expectation’ rating).  No one is perfect.”

I couldn’t tell if this new performance appraisal model was better or worse than the current Forced Ranking Appraisal system, aka the infamous and much hated Bell Curve popularized by GE’s own Devil, Jack Welch.  Under the system managers ranked their direct reports from best to worst using a 5-digit scoring code, 1 being the worst, 5 being the best, and applied the rankings to a bell curve which would be used to determine pay as well as who would be fired.

But, I did know that everyone would see this as another cost-cutting measure.  The Corporation would save money since obviously under the exceed expectations model no one would qualify for a raise.  Ever.  Lizzie Borden was big on cutting costs—from laying off employees to cutting back on paper consumption. One of her first executive decisions had involved the suspension of the distribution of paper pay stubs or even paper paychecks.  If you expected to be paid, you had to sign up for direct deposit.

If you wanted hard-copy of your pay stub you could bloody print well it out yourself.  Preferably from home.  Using your own ink and paper.  Thus, the employee pay site was only accessible from outside the Corporation, i.e. from home.  When questioned about this IT cited the dreaded but irrefutable “irreconcilable firewall issues.”  This move had reportedly saved the corporation $300,000 annually. 

Lizzie Borden had proven once that you could, indeed, get blood from a stone and clearly she was hell-bent on proving it again.

“Furthermore—and this is great news for everyone on this call—we are launching a new reward program designed to reward you for excelling in your role.  Called the Best in Show program it singles out and rewards the highest performers—”

Xavier Jiménez @Madame X
For what?  Random acts of violence launched by disgruntled under-performers?

Brooklyn Sudano @Brooklyn NY
Best in Show?  Are we dogs now?

Nigel Gale @MannequinMan

“We are so pleased with this reward program that our Talent Acquisition and Management Group is looking to package it and market it to our clients,” he added triumphantly.  He paused fully five minutes to let this news sink in. 

Xavier Jiménez @Madame X
Houston, we have a problem!

Brooklyn Sudano @Brooklyn NY
The thinking behind this problem is so $@#% up that I doubt the problem can be solved.

Nigel, quoting Abbey Hoffman of the Chicago Seven, brought the conversation to an unexpected close.

Nigel Gale @MannequinManThere is no problem so big, nor so complex, that it can't be solved with a suitable application of strategically-placed high explosives.

This is the final episode of Season One.

Missed Episode 13, We Are Happy? Read it here.

Read the entire series from the beginning here.

Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin

The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.

Feel free to comment on this story, or share your own experiences in Corporate America below. Also, connect with me on Twitter & Facebook

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Corporatorium: We Are Happy (Episode 13)

“Churl! You—are—late!” Terry announced as I stepped off the elevator.

Now you may have noticed by now that I am almost always late.  Normally any statement of the obvious does not warrant my attention, but coming from Terry who was too keen, too creatively sarcastic to use the obvious as a conversational gambit, I turned around and raised an eyebrow.  “For?”

“The Lizzie Borden webcast?” he stated more question than answer, raising an eyebrow to match mine.

“Shit! Why aren’t you on it?”

He pointed to the discreet earplug jammed into his head and mouthed, “I am.  Your battleaxes are logged in from the conference room.” Then he shouted at my hastily retreating back, “It’s just starting.  Technical difficulties, you know, caused a delay.”  I could feel the eye roll.

I pushed into the room and no one looked up, damning testimony to the accepted fact of my habitual lateness.  Lizzie Borden’s voice boomed from the speakerphone.  Nigel pushed a chair out for me.  The Cerberus looked at me, disapproval at the ready, then looked at TWO for guidance.  As she was studiously ignoring my late entrance, they did likewise and folded up their collective frowns, though I’m sure somewhere another black mark was entered on my permanent record

“We are pleased to inform you that The Corporation is rolling out a new brand campaign,” Lizzie Borden began.  “As you probably know, a Brand is a distinctive identity that differentiates a relevant, enduring and credible promise of value associated with an organization and indicates the source of that promise. The promise must, of course, be tangible and predictably manifested in an organization’s business behavior and, ultimately, in its client relationships and services.

“What you may not know, is that a successful brand can enhance the perception of value of that organization’s product or services.  In fact, studies show that a brand name can command a premium of up to 19 percent over a  less well-known or respected brand.  That directly translates into a 19% increase in revenue!

“Our brand is what will define us and what will be our differentiator in the marketplace.  The core essence of our brand consists of consistently exhibiting to our clients a set of behaviors, what we’re calling our ‘brand behaviors’.”

Pressing the mute button, TWO asked incredulously, “So there’s going to be a new brand except instead of a new logo or a color our brand is going to be a set of behaviors?”

“Well, that’s just stupid! Why can’t they just change our logo?” Ivy blurted.

“A logo,” Diana, sighing, intoned, “Is not a brand

TWO glared at her.

“I’m just saying…”

My first encounter with “branding” had occurred years earlier when I worked at a well-established “white shoe” law firm whose name was well known but whose image was a bit outdated, much like the attorneys themselves. The firm had a tendency to refer to itself as, well…”the firm,” which I found both affected and annoying. In an effort to reinvent the firm, from a marketing perspective, it was decided that the brand would be “spit-polished.” The lynchpin of the new brand was a color, which would come to be known as “Firm Blue.”

Firm Blue.  The lead on the creative team, an aging but still buxom, still blonde, bombshell in the Marilyn Monroe mold, had convinced the managing partners, a trio of aging but still vital, respected but degenerate, lotharios, that this particular shade of “blue” had been shown in focus groups to lead to a perception of “higher value.”  Thus ,using that color would allow the firm to charge more for its services, while clients would be left with the feeling that whatever the cost, “it was worth it.”  A win-win for everyone.  Well except me who had the poor judgment to point out that “firm blue” wasn’t actually blue.

I was told in no uncertain terms that firm blue was indeed blue.  “Well surely,” I countered. “It’s the gayest of blues.  In fact, it’s a blue so gay it’s lavender.”  And that is how I found myself working in the Corporatorium.  I saw my time here less as time spent in hell than as time spent in purgatory until I could repent or be forgiven for pointing out the emperor was not so smartly dressed as he thought but was in fact quite naked and really my dear if he was going to debut that new look don’t you think he might have hit the gym the teeniest bit harder in preparation?

Remembering all of this now, I kept my own council about our new brand.

Resignedly, TWO unmuted the call as Lizzie Borden, picking up steam, continued, “Our brand behaviors are as follows: We are happy—we meet our clients with a smile and a positive attitude assuring them by our quiet confidence of a positive outcome.”

“Oh brother!” Ivy said, disgustedly, too loudly.

TWO slapped a finger to her lips and stabbed at the mute button.

Chagrined, Ivy  clapped her palm over her mouth.  The other two Cerberus shook their heads in dismay.  “Tsk. Tsk.”

“We are good stewards,” Lizzie Borden continued blithely, “We treat our clients as we treat ourselves.  Our clients’ problems and challenges become our problems and challenges.  We are as careful with our clients’ money as we are with our own.

“We are committed—We provide clients with creative and responsive solutions that meet their unique needs. We’re committed to delivering services and solutions that will best ensure their success.

“We have a passion for excellence—we strive to exceed client expectations one hundred percent of the time.”

She stopped abruptly, and then collecting herself, continued. “Our new brand is just the public manifestation of our intent to build a culture through which we will adopt and internalize these behaviors so they become the bedrock of our corporation’s future state!”

Diana, Nigel and I were a bit dazed at this point because we’d recently gone through a bruising global rebranding with a major client whose parent company was far removed—both in distance, being located in Switzerland, and in reality, obviously inhabiting the alternate universe their brand seemed to portray—from their U.S.-based subsidiary. 

A stunningly ill-conceived brand, the brand palette consisted of the colors red, black and a yellowish-green so that everything we produced for them looked like a wound. The brand-approved photo library consisted of “people in motion” meaning the photos were all blurred as if the photographer hadn’t known how to focus.  And every person was blonde, impossibly tall and thin doing what only blonde, impossibly tall, thin people did –skiing, playing cricket, lunching at cafes at the foot of impossibly photogenic snow-capped mountains with other blonde, impossibly tall and thin people.  The fact that these photos were not at all representative of the actual employee population bothered no one but us and the company’s U.S.-based HR department.

Clearly, our own leadership team was not at all disturbed by the fact that none of these brand behaviors were currently exhibited, nor were they likely to be convincingly exhibited any time soon.

“Originally, our director of global HR was going to co-host this webcast but we have decided to schedule a separate webcast for tomorrow during which he will explain how our new performance enhancement methodology will support and reinforce our new brand going forward.  This affects every employee so please make every effort to attend.   Thank you for your time today.”

As usual no questions were allowed and she rang off at which point all eyes turned to TWO who shrugged, uttered a singular, “Indeed,” and rose to her feet.  The Cerberus quickly rose as well and forming a phalanx they left the room.

Missed Episode 12, The Brett Factor? Read it here.

Read the entire series from the beginning here.

Final Episode of Season One, Wednesday, August 24.

Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin

The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.

Feel free to comment on this story, or share your own experiences in Corporate America below. Also, connect with me on Twitter & Facebook

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Corporatorium: The Brett Factor (Episode 12)

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the flashing blue of the Jabber message window. I felt—like the cold hand of death grasping your shoulder—rather than saw the dreaded name.

Brett Buttler: Are you there?
Theus Jones: I’m here
Brett Buttler: Did you get my email?
Theus jones: No.
Brett Buttler: I sent it last night at 10.
Theus Jones: I was offline.
Brett Buttler: Offline?
Theus Jones: Did you need something?
Brett Buttler: Read my email. Set up a call for 9:30. Ping me with the call-in info.
Theus Jones: ‘K

Ten minutes later I’d read his emails—the first of which contained few words and little information and the second of which contained many more words and no information—assembled my team: Nigel, Diana, and Barbara the first whom I’d gotten out of bed—and dialed into the conference call where we waited fifteen minutes for Brett to join.

“How can he be late for his own call?” Barbara the first asked.  We could hear her fixing herbal tea in the background.

“It’s a power thing.”

“Yeah he probably read about it in The Petty Tyrant’s Guidebook,” she grumbled; we could hear her furiously stirring her tea.

“Brett...has joined the call,” the disembodied English-accented voice announced.

Ciao. Ciao!” 

“Tweet! Tweet!” Nigel grumbled.

“Sorry?  What was that?” Brett boomed. “Is everyone on?”

“Yes,” I said. Everyone started to say good morning as if to prove they were indeed present. Brett cut them off barking, “Okay!  Listen up people!  I’m in Washington DC.  I’ve been invited to a prospective client meeting with our colleagues in Talent Acquisition and Management. We have a huge communication opportunity. We need to win this one—”

“No,” Nigel mouthed.  “He needs to win this one.  It’s been six months and he hasn’t sold anything.”

“—I need this team to deliver a solution that will blow them away.  The decision makers will be at this afternoon’s meeting.  The decision team is led by—.”  And here he dropped a name that was one of those names you thought you should recognize but didn’t quite.

“Who?” Diana, the most courageous of us, asked.

“The Vice President’s son,” he snapped exasperated.

The Vice President.  A man rumored to have died during the previous administration but whose death did not prevent him and the still-living President from campaigning and winning re-election. Death also did not prevent him from making the occasional appalling statement or sitting on the boards of some of the largest companies in America and making policy decisions in their best interests. And he remained influential enough to get his son appointed to a high visibility position within an obscure governmental agency. Just imagine the damage he could have wrought if he still walked among the living.

“The opportunity is around recruiting but I want to provide them with an electronic communication solution.  I’m scheduled to meet with them today at 12:30.”

“Today, at 12:30? But that’s three hours from now.” Barbara the first, the very voice of reason pointed out.


“How are we supposed to come up with a solution in less than three hours?” I asked, even though I should have known better.

“I don’t know!  And I don’t care but you are the solutions guy so I will expect you and this team to figure this out.  You have your team now get to work.  Diana, I’ll need you to come up with two design concepts—they should be edgy and sophisticated and of course adaptable to electronic media.  Nigel, you’ll act as Theus’ deputy doing whatever he needs you to.  Barbara?”

“Yes?” she said softly, while her Harvard degree fairly shouted: “Go away!  You have no power here.”

“Um,” Brett began, sounding less cocky, almost unsure of himself. “I’m…I’m not sure we need you right now.  Maybe later.  After we win this.”

“Okay.” And she promptly dropped off the call. 

“Barbara...has left the call,” the same disembodied English-accented voice informed us.

“Diana I will email you my PowerPoint presentation—I’ll need you to create a couple of slides on the solution that I can speak to.  Theus ping me in an hour with a status report. Ciao. Ciao.”  

“Tweet. Tweet,” Nigel chirruped softly, but louder than the first time, a sure sign he was stressed.


“So let me get this straight,” Diana began.  “You want me—”

“—Not me. Brett—”

“—Okay. Brett wants me to come up with a design concept for a solution you haven’t created yet, for a client I haven’t met who works for an organization no one understands.  Is that correct?”


“That’s impossible,” she spat making me jump.

“Nothing is impossible,” I said.

Diana glared at me.

“Theus is right,” Nigel murmured.  We both turned to look at him. “Look,” he continued in his usual near whisper, “Brett isn’t interested in what’s possible he just wants us to deliver…something spectacular.”

“But that’s impossible.”

“No, it’s not,” I insisted. “Just stop thinking in terms of possibility.”


“Suspend reason,” Nigel said. “Look we have a dead vice president who campaigned and won re-election even after he had gone quite cold.  Do you think that would have happened if the administration allowed reason to enter into their thought process?” 

“Nigel has a point—” I began.

“Besides, remember our mantra,” Nigel continued picking up steam. He began to whisper it and we joined in on cue:

“We the willing, led by the unknowing are attempting to do the impossible for the ungrateful.  We have done so much for so long with so little we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

“So what have you got?” Diana asked me.

“Okay soooo…we have a mysterious agency that needs to recruit employees and Brett wants an all-
electronic solution, right?  So to kick off the campaign we’ll create print ads—maybe billboards that tell you to text a word, for example “info” to a phone number and then you receive a link and a personalized password which lets you into a micro site.  Now this site starts off with a promotional video.  Then you come to a short game.  The game will be designed to measure for the presence of certain competencies.  We’ll capture that info on the backend and use that to send back a text message directing the prospective employee to another site.  Where they’re sent will be based on their score.  The further they get in the process the more info we’ll reveal through videos and animated presentations and such.”  I ran out of steam.

Nigel whistled.  “Can we really do that?”

I shrugged.  “Okay, let’s get started.  I’ll call our IT guys and the games guy.  Nige, I’ll need you to work on pricing.  Call our video guy and tell him what we have in mind.  Diana, you work on your concept and get your pricing to Nigel. Okay.  Anything else?”

Nigel looked embarrassed. 

“What’s up?”

“Look, I was really hoping to leave at noon today.  I found a perfect Chanel suit on eBay and it’s being delivered today.  I can’t wait to see it on Crystal.  I know the other girls will be jealous so I’ll have to change their clothes as well and maybe do their hair...”

I could sense him drifting away.  “Okay, you can still do that.  This is due at twelve-thirty.  Let’s regroup at noon and then you can leave right after.”


Diana had done it.  Rather than fight our lack of knowledge or invent information, she’d simply chosen to embrace the unknown and build a concept around “Do you have what it takes to do what we do?”  The whole concept played off the mysterious nature of the agency and made much of the “IT” factor—that certain indefinable something, that je ne sais quoi one needed to be considered for the agency.

“I like it,” I said. I turned to Nigel. “So what does pricing look like?”

Nigel slid an excel spreadsheet towards me. Highlighted at the bottom was a sizable amount.  Looking over my shoulder, Diana whistled.  “Does that include The Brett Factor?”

Because Brett operated as a government agency—inefficient, vague, slightly hysterical and with a complete disregard for budget—The Brett Factor had been created to try to predict the inevitable cost overruns associated with Brett.  It was a simple mathematical formula under which you multiplied the cost of any project involving Brett by The Brett Factor which was equal to the number 1.6.  The factor was based on “Toiletgate,” the scandal in which it was widely reported that the Department of Defense had paid $640 for a toilet seat.  To arrive at The Brett Factor, we took the amount the DOD had paid for the toilet seat in question and divided it by the cost of a high priced Toto toilet seat at The Home Depot, thus arriving at a factor equal to 1.6.

“Okay,” Diana said briskly, “I’ll send this off to Brett.”

“Wait.” I said.  “What if we can’t actually execute on this?”

“Now? Now, you ask this?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Nigel said.

What?  Of course, it matters.”

“No.  It doesn’t,” he insisted. “Look, it’s not like they’re going to buy this.”

“Nigel’s right,” Diana ever-practical said.  “This solution is too out there, too cutting edge.  Don’t get me wrong—it’s brilliant, but it’s something that would attract all kinds of attention and the last thing this agency wants is to get noticed.”

“So you’re saying we go with it?”

They both nodded.

Theus Jones: I just emailed the presentation with speaker notes explaining the solution, and the design concept and price quote to you. 
Brett Buttler: Thank you.


One of the admin assistants had stopped at Nigel’s cell and was staring intently at a large framed photo.  “Hi,” I said.

“Hey!” She jumped.  “Who are all those women with Nigel?  What is he? A pimp?”

“Look, again,” I suggested.

She peered closer. “They’re…mannequins?” 

“Uh huh.”

She whistled. “Weird.”


“I meant weird that he would have that photo here.”

“Why? You have pictures of your ten cats.”

“Yeah, but they’re my family.”

“Well, maybe they’re his family.”
She looked at me oddly for a moment, shrugged and then walked off.  I perched on the edge of Nigel’s desk and held the photo in my hands staring at it for a long time.

Nigel Gale @Mannequin Man
depression, failure, an unexpected undertow drawing me away. my girls grab hold, sensing my inability to save myself, they will save me

Missed Episode 11, Bats? Read it here.

Read the entire series from the beginning here.

Next Episode Wednesday, August 17.

Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin

The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.

Feel free to comment on this story, or share your own experiences in Corporate America below. Also, connect with me on Twitter & Facebook

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Corporatorium: Bats (Episode 11)

As I wrestled my outsized binder down the hall, I passed Diana handing out print samples with unusual energy. “Oh, good, you’re back,” she said in her let's-get-straight-to-the-point manner. “You’re debriefing us at the production meeting. Meeting’s moved to 10. TWO’s running late.  Bats.”


I was distracted by the familiar “ping” of an incoming MOO.  Soon followed the familiar chorus of resigned sighs that seemed to whisper “What now?”

M E M O R A N D U M  O F  O P P O R T U N I T Y !

From: The Office of the CEO
           The Office of the Director, Global Human Resources
To: All Employees

A company-wide web cast has been scheduled for this Friday at 12 noon EST. 

While we realize you may have client obligations that will preclude you from attending this webcast, we strongly encourage you to make every effort to attend.  We will be announcing important changes we are implementing as we reposition our firm for increased success in the competitive global marketplace.  These changes will affect many of our processes and procedures and will impact every employee.

This important webcast will be recorded and uploaded to our employee message board so you can listen to it in its entirety at any time.
A Lotus Notes Calendar invitation with login/dial-in information will be disseminated shortly.

Uh oh! Until now, the new Leadership Team, unable to tell us what we should do, despite the millions poured into their collective purse each year, told us instead what we had done.  The Leadership team, without understanding what was wrong, had apparently now decided to take corrective action.

Nigel was standing in the doorway of Ivy, one of the Cerberus as she read the MOO. “Oh Psshaw!” she exclaimed on finishing.

Ivy was our Miss Havisham her yellowed, torn dress, the way things were under The Previous; a tattered much read procedures manual clutched firmly to her aging chest, Miss Havisham’s faded bouquet.  And like Miss Havisham, Ivy steadfastly refused to believe the world had moved on, her dream vanquished. Dedicated to what had been, she would have had the clocks stopped at the moment The Previous fell if she could.

The Previous was the leadership team who had been summarily dismissed and replaced by the current team led by Lizzie Borden and Capital B.  The current team was thus referred to as The After.

“You should come over some time,” Nigel suggested quietly. “You’d like my girls.”


Ten o’clock.

“So,” Barbara the first said delicately. “Bats?”

“Yeah, again,” TWO said resignedly.

The Cerberus gasped sympathetically.


“In one of the upstairs bathrooms.  Evidently Bruce thought the room was stuffy so he opened a window.  The screen fell out and the bats flew in. The Batman is coming this afternoon.  I left Bruce to deal with him.”  Bruce, her beleaguered husband, like gold hammered thin.

“But how awful,” Barbara the second said. “Why would bats want to fly into your house?”

“I blame Hollywood and that awful Anne Rice,” Ivy said. “After all, they were the ones who made vampires seems so glamorous. And then next thing you know they’re being received in polite society and you just knew that once that happened, it wouldn’t be long before their less desirable cousins—the bats—would be pushing themselves in where they weren’t wanted—like decent people’s bathrooms!

“Indeed,” TWO said noncommittally.

“Indeed.” repeated one of the Cerberus. 

“Yes, indeed,” one of the less original of the Cerberus said.

“So tell, us—how was the meeting?” Barbara the first suggested quietly, adroitly changing the subject.

“Yes,” TWO said picking up the cue. “How is Miss Valdosta Feed and Grain?”

The Cerberus giggled.  My mouth literally dropped open.  TWO rarely indulged in this sort of open aggression.  She was too passive-aggressive for that.  Something must have happened on the Officers call this morning.  

“Well…” I began.

“—Wait! Who?” Barbara the second asked.

“Miss Valdosta Feed and Grain,” Barbara the first repeated, “She means Savannah.”

“Oh.  Why do you call her that?”

TWO gaped at Barbara “You mean you don’t know?  I thought everyone had heard that story.  Savannah is a former beauty queen from Valdosta, Georgia.  And winner of the Miss Valdosta Feed and Grain beauty contest—”

“—three years running,” I put in.

“So can you debrief us on your meeting?  Or is that confidential?” Diana asked hoping to get us back on track so the interminable production meeting would end sometime in the current century.

Dutifully, I explained the Center of Excellence concept and the placement of “Excellerators” within each region.

“Excellerators?” Barbara the first giggled.  “Really?  That’s what they’re calling you?”

“Uh huh.”  I nodded miserably.

“Well,” said Ivy with uncharacteristic vigor, “The Previous may not have known what they were doing but clearly neither do these people!” 

The words hung in the air, a stunning betrayal of The Previous.  Scandalized, the other Cerberus tutted in disapproval. TWO’s bloodless lips drew into a thin line.  A single word: “Indeed,” issued forth with all the finality of a slammed door.

The meeting ended abruptly and TWO and the two Cerberus still in favor left the room.  The rest of us, stunned, remained, cast into the darkness for heresy, for our collective silence had been construed as complicity.

Ivy stared dully at us. She looked dazed to find herself abandoned, left alone to face a future she hadn’t seen coming.


My phone danced on the nightstand. It was after midnight. I knew, without looking, it was a tweet from Nigel, for only in the stillness of that hour did Nigel feel able to give voice to his discontent.

Nigel Gale @MannequinMan
Aging quietly, noisily. joints crackle like kindling. pubic hair coarse & fine: copper wire & silver thread. my ageless girls brittle as I

Missed Episode 10, Excelleration? Read it here.

Read the entire series from the beginning here.

Next Episode Wednesday, August 10.

Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin

The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.

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