I’ve been summoned to the C suite by the head of marketing.
“Olsen, I got a hot prospect banging down the door, a Mr. Goddeaux, eager for Working Model Consultants to weigh in on his operation. I can’t spare anybody else so how about we see if we can get some leverage out of that marketing degree of yours.”
“Even worse. To be honest I’m not one hundred percent sure what his angle is. Dig around a bit and see what you can find out. Maybe you’ll luck out and upsell some of our consulting services. No need to do a deep dive, but make sure to be crystal clear on deliverables, what’s possible and what ain’t. We’re gonna need his buy-in. Are we clear? I’m giving you $20 to buy yourself a hot dog and a jump on the next train to Valhalla. Don’t turn this into an expense account boondoggle! Remember: I’m taking a chance on you here.”
In the Field
Hours later, formalities over, it’s time to dig into particulars. Can’t be postponed any longer.
Mr. Goddeaux, by the way, is not the imposing figure I had imagined. He’s slight of build, with a rather wistful demeanor, and probably only a bit taller than Michelangelo. Not imposing at all, though I do feel a ripple of fear when he gets himself worked up. Still, the boss entrusted this assignment to me . . . .
Our potential client’s fixing me with his strange tawny eyes so like my cat’s. I’ve got to come away with a clear picture of his enterprise. I clear my throat and get as far as “May I ask . . .?” But my bewilderment cannot be contained, and in spite of myself, I blurt out, “What were you thinking?” Now I’ve done it! “No offense intended,” I quickly add.
Mr. G. squeezes his eyes shut for a few seconds to think, then reopens them. The color, I swear, has morphed to blue-green. “Honestly? I don’t know exactly. That was quite a while ago.” he permits himself a little laugh. At my expense.
“Sir, if it were just one creation of yours that got out of hand, I’d be like, “’Of course, that’s to be expected.’”
“You’re not going to lay a whole guilt trip on me, are you? If you are, I’ll be packing up my stuff and I warn you, you’ll not hear from me again. Ever. I’ll turn my back on the whole lot of you.” He’s shaking his fist at me.
“No, no, no, we don’t want that,” I stutter. That definitely would not do. I’d be relegated to the mailroom. For eternity. “Excuse me. I’m just a clumsy intern. This is my first real assignment and I’m honored—”
He’s visibly making an effort to calm down. “Look. Did you never stare at a blank page, a keyboard, a dance floor awaiting its troupe of little feet? Haven’t you ever experienced the thrill of creating a thing that wasn’t there before?
I swallow. “Sure, I guess. But let’s not get off track.” It’s so easy to lose control with these voluble types. I need to rein him in quickly. Have him see the virtue of streamlining his operation, perhaps outsourcing some of the product.
He’s still talking. “At times the urge cannot be controlled, you see.”
“But surely you—”
“Not always. Or maybe closer to the truth. . .
Ah, here goes, “What?”
I go for my handkerchief and swipe at the sweat beading on my brow. This assignment is proving to be a bit beyond my pay grade. I’ve barely mastered the terminology. If Mr. G. comes up for air, maybe I can guilt him on his questionable track record, or its utter lack of cost effectiveness. Or I can ask about the accelerated rate of attrition. So many species dying out, habitats disappearing, languages lost forever, climates redefining themselves. Whole areas scheduled to be underwater in our lifetimes! Can I make him see he needs Working Model Consultants to do a soup-to-nuts review, examine his raison d’etre, cut down on impulsive moves?
Or—damn! What am I doing here? The boss should at least have picked a Wharton grad. My only work experience: assisting the town vet in the summer. Could it be Sales doesn’t realize who we’re dealing with here? The important thing is not to panic.
“As I was saying,” trumpets Goddeaux.
“So sorry to offend!” It’s up to me now. I’ll try to work harder at establishing rapport. If I’m not too late. He’s certainly noticed my distraction.
He reaches over and slams shut my laptop before suggesting, “Let’s get down to basics. What examples are you prepared to throw at me?”
Well here I feel on more secure ground. On the train ride over, I collected samples—or rather, Siri did—of his many wasteful endeavors, ideas that simply have never panned out, ones that don’t justify in any way the effort that has been lavished on them over the millennia, frivolous forays, novelty for the sake of novelty. My peers may shut me down, pointing to his successes, but I know the big brass at Working Model Consultants pride themselves on studying the total picture.
I fold up my handkerchief and stuff it back in my suit jacket pocket. Without my computer, I have to rely on memory. “I’m going to do a bit of a deep dive, review with you some examples, moments in time where your talents could have been better deployed. If I may?”
Goddeaux rests his massive head on one hand. “Go ahead. Make my day!”
“Ha. That’s cute.” Proof I’m making headway in the rapport department? “Mating rituals we understand. We see the need for them, but up to a point. Dancing mockingbirds? Spotted box fish spawning together, male seahorses—”
A smile crosses his lips.
“Trees that communicate? Warn their brethren that pests are attacking their flanks? Noddy birds bowing their heads? Birds of paradise cleaning house and dancing while flashing their wares? The whole seahorse switcheroo for heaven’s sake?!”
“Watch it!” He bellows.
My heart is pounding. Luckily, I don’t see a thunderbolt nearby.
“Are you finished, son?”
I rush ahead. “Well, what about the dances of the yellow-eyed penguin, the Laysan albatross, the sharp tailed grebe, and what’s with male sea otters drowning their mates?!”
“Your point is? I should never have given any of you the ability to vocalize. Not too late to take it away, is it?” He’s chuckling. Alarm must be written all over my face.
Deep breath. Must change direction.
“Mr. Goddeaux, allow me to show you a short PowerPoint presentation I put together. He does not interfere when I reopen my laptop. “What you did with the Japanese puffer fish just blew my mind. I’d call that sculpture even though it’s happening beneath the sea and the fish’s whole body acts as sculptor. The symmetry! Precision! Dedication to task! That alone. . .that alone. . .”
He slaps the conference table with one large meaty hand and leans forward. “I should mention that of late I’ve been taken with other projects which show a more promising outcome. The thought has occurred to me to abandon this project. It’s been a while. Some of the more dramatic elements strike me as a bit tiresome, if you want to know the truth. I crave a change of venue.”
“Do you mean elements like killing and war, death and disease, lying and cheating—”
“Precisely! I’m into more expressive work, something like what I started here long long ago.” His face takes on a dreamy look. “That ark was a thing of beauty. You should have seen it. A new start for you guys and for me. A clean slate. All the animals filing in, in formation, proud to embrace their fate, make a contribution, sign on to our endeavor.” Goddeaux sighs with pleasure. “What I mean to say is as I’ve matured I’ve realized I’m more an artist at work than an arbiter of human destiny.”
“Oh. . .” Is he kidding me?
“My nature, you see? To create. Something pleasing to the eye.”
“Not our eyes, sir. Not always.”
“Quite right. Pleasing to myself. Why should I worry about you and the direction you’re headed?”
“We are one of your creations. . .”
“And most assuredly not my favorites.”
“Oh. I didn’t suspect. . .”
“Well, that’s how it is. Now you know.”
Have I misunderstood? I turn desperate for approval. “True, you gave the sculpting ability to a mere fish. Are we even. . . special in your eyes?”
“That music you played on your recorder when you were six? Do you still treasure that tune above all others?”
“Listen, poor fellow, let me explain about artists. Have you known many?”
“Not sure. The old lady in Graphic Arts I guess.”
“Well, by and large, they’re not the nicest people. Do you understand?”
“I think so. I’ve heard rumors she steals coworkers’ lunches. ”
“Don’t go losing your heart or your money or your life over one. An artist, I mean. They serve a purpose, don’t they? Bring beauty to your world. That’s all you can ask of them. Or of me.” He glances up at the heavens and peers down at the ground before saying, “Enjoy what you have been allotted, my man. Questioning, complaints, feedback not wanted. Forget climate surveys. Go back to your firm and spread the word. Figure out how to get the word out. You guys are known for your marketing abilities. This I command you!”
The table we’ve been sitting around disappears. We find ourselves in a garden, sitting side by side on an old wooden bench, surrounded by bushes. There’s a smell of burnt wood in the air.
I attempt to salvage the situation. “I’m to tell Working Model Consultants you wash your hands of us?”
Goddeaux considers what I’ve said. “That’s a bit gut-wrenching, but, I suppose, an accurate way to express the reality.” He pulls himself up to his full height, and placing his hands on my shoulders, he gives me a little shake which I feel in every cell of my body. “No hard feelings?”
“Er—One more question. Just let me get some more paper out of my briefcase,” I add as I reach down to unlock it. It’s nowhere in sight. By the time I look up, he’s no longer in sight. Geez! Did I tick him off? How am I going to deliver this news to those grey-haired dinosaurs at the firm? Their prime directive is to be on the cutting edge. We need to work this new outlook into our company credo. But wait, I’m just kidding myself. I’ll surely be ostracized, called a traitor, fabricator, blasphemer.
I rest my head in my hands, mumbling. “I’m an introvert, I’m nowhere near the fast track; no way can I be your mouthpiece. Hey, have you thought what this will do to your brand?”
NO ONE IS LISTENING
Oh God. The odds of my pulling this off are nil. I have no street cred at the office. I’ll be fired on the spot. However, I realize Mr. G. won’t stop me from enjoying his creations in the time I have left. He’ll be too preoccupied.
What I’m going to require is a total reboot. Hand in my resignation pronto. I owe WMC no loyalty. I’ll hit the folks up for another loan and head off to . . . the rainforest. Look for a gig photographing and cataloguing the newly-discovered species found there, investigate the claims of miraculous cures offered by tree bark, and figure out how to make a lateral move to National Geographic. Take it all in while I still can.
Because if I let this guy get under my skin, I’m done for.
I wonder—Am I entitled to severance pay?