GREEN EGGS AND HAM

In April 1992, I had one foot in two worlds.

One foot was planted in the familiar lush flagship Polo Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue, a marvel of seductive, dazzling, stylish, and pricey eye-candy.  The other was a run-down office precariously hugging a cliff in on the anus-side¹ of the Lincoln Tunnel, overlooking the double helix resounding with the roar of vehicular traffic.  I dubbed that sound in my post “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS,” as the ‘soul grinder.’

The first was glamorous, but offered me little future career growth.  The second was pretty much its antithesis on both counts (except, sometimes, for the travel).

To aspire to my greatest future potential, I had to risk the crushing of my essence.

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A TALE TO EMBARASS EVEN THE FISH

Reader’s note: I was very flattered by Ned’s guest post last week.  I mean, who wouldn’t be?  I was compared to some of the greatest minds in human history like Carl Jung and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin! 

One bad hangover later, I am not sure I measure up to such greatness.  So in the interest of balance, I present to you another guest post, this one by Peter Cammann.  Peter’s articles about fishing have appeared in magazines like Field & Stream, Fly Fisherman Magazine, On the Water, Outdoor Life, and Vermont Life Magazine.  He is the author of several books, one of which, a fictional work called Slipnot!, also deals with one of my favorite topics, the vagaries of workplace environments.

Peter’s post is a work of nonfiction.

James and I have been friends for about 40 years and we’ve spent (or wasted, depending on how you view it) many fruitless hours together, fishing. One unusually warm day in November, we set out in my canoe on Apponagansett Bay in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in search of fish, any fish – given how late in the year it was. The tide was coming in and even though there was almost no wind, it took us a while to paddle out beyond the breakwater of the harbor. We found a marker buoy in the middle of the channel and I tied up to it, using the stern line to anchor us.

We’d packed along some small live crabs and our plan was to do a little lazy bottom fishing for tatoug, which are also known as blackfish. These bottom feeding fish are a lot of fun to catch, particularly in the early spring or late fall, when nothing else is really all that active. We rigged our lines with large, galvanized treble hooks, attached the crabs and lowered away.

ALL MY ROADS LEAD TO ROME

Ahhh! April flowers. The trees are budding. Boids are choiping psychotically.

Springtime, it’s often said, brings together hopes and promises. Well, why not? April’s the month of my birthday. Sometimes, when the weather is right, the trees bud and bloom in the latter part of the month, right around when I appeared at Mount Sinai Hospital, 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue some 50 (or so) years ago.

Spring in 1992 was an exceptionally golden era for me, especially at Polo Ralph Lauren, a company I never expected to end up in after leaving the family business and graduating from Business School. It was survival by wit, guile, charm, and, to speak plainly, a shitload of style. Ralph made sure of that!  And it was often a lot of effortless fun as well!

In addition to my triumph at Polo, several other things were going very well in my life in early 1992.

CUSTOMER SIZES, PART 2

When I wrote my last story, “CUSTOMER SIZES, PART 1” my first inclination was to regard my encounter with Carl as a curiosity, much in the same way as the one I had had earlier with Elton John (as featured in my story “ARRIVAL”).  Carl’s book, Cosmos, was a favorite nighttime read of mine. Pondering other places (and times) in the universe had always sent my imagination soaring.

But halfway in writing this post, I came to realize that Carl’s brief and sudden appearance in my life was much more significant. His was an unexpected voice from the outside, the beyond, on an otherwise dull and dreary night at work. An incoming message far from random chatter that nevertheless pointed the way out of my predicament.

I don’t believe that I am extraordinary or special in this way. I think messages like this bounce around us all endlessly. The trick is in recognizing and decoding the signal. It makes no difference if you do this consciously or unconsciously.  For me, I acted on it unconsciously. And only now, 27 years later, I can see the link.

And it all had to do with my flippant comment about running a regression to determine my favorite author’s true waist size. You see: the size of the customer. This is part two.

CUSTOMER SIZES, PART 1

In my post last week, “ARRIVAL,” I cherry-picked some highlights from my career as a Men’s Furnishing salesman at Polo Ralph Lauren. And I will do so again today, with a bit more gravitas.  As well as a big surprise.

First, I should set the reader’s expectations correctly. I did not have Elton John walking in everyday to buy 20 neckties. You could grow old waiting for such a celebrity to walk on by. Generally, the most common occurrence on the sales floor would be the arrival of the Japanese. They would typically stroll in, in small groups, and were looking to buy 5-10 small keepsakes for the office mates back home. So everyone learned the greeting “konichi-wa!” and, to be honest, we the salesmen and saleswomen of PRL could get, well,  excessively “Japanese” with each other.

Meaning we would “konichi-wa!” the HELL out of each other.  In place of ‘z up!  Had to mix it up, ya know?

MY FRIEND IN JERSEY

Astute readers will notice that, in the last few posts, I have been jumping back and forth from the 1980s to the 1990s and back again.  At the core of these stories is my conflicted search to reconcile my Father with the very different man in front of me.  After all, parents are our archetypes.  They are part of us.

I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I started working in the 1980s.  It was convenient to ignore or turn a blind eye to Dad’s episodic incongruent behavior, especially at first.  Back then I was young and inexperienced with no idea of what happens in offices around the world.  People can be strange sometimes and certainly this can be reflected in the workplace.

Now, in 2016, as an IT consultant, I can look back at my career.  I have worked in more than 26 companies from Polo Ralph Lauren to Heineken to AmerisourceBergen to Mitsubishi.  I have had my own desk in Ankara, Tokyo, Sydney, Prestwick, and Totowa (New Jersey).  Without a doubt, what I witnessed in Weehawken during the 1980s and 1990s was truly staggering.  And that’s leaving aside the emotional component that my bullying boss was my cherished parent!  The man who took me to the heights of the heliport, England, and exclusivity.

BUSINESS PARTNERS

The events in my last post, “TWO RABBITS, ONE DEAD,” recount the events of one bleak day in January 1995.

Everyone is entitled to a bad day once in a while.  If those events of 21 years ago had represented just one isolated blip in the story of a triumphal family saga, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal.

Sadly, it wasn’t just a one-off but was part of a frequently distressing pattern.

It didn’t start off that way, of course, when I began my career at Olcott International a different January a dozen years before that, in 1983.

As I have written in various posts like “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PARTS 1 AND 2” and “HEARTBREAKER,” Dad wanted me to join the family business even though various warning signs made me ambivalent toward the idea.  After all, you should always know who your business partners are.  If they’re your parents, you don’t need to do a background check to find out.

As an example, I can perform due diligence in my case by asking a few questions: