Into the Light

© 2018 by Tom Sparough

Into the Light

It is true that I am the youngest branch manager at Your Trust Savings and Loan. This was not an honor. It was a set up for failure.

Perhaps they promoted me to branch manager simply because I wasn’t paying attention. Stories of unexplained open drawers meant nothing to me.

Our savings and loan has six locations. My branch is the oldest, but smallest. I have two employees. Three, if I count the janitorial service.

After I became manager, I did notice something strange with the curtains one day. They were swaying like they were being blown by the wind. I remember being puzzled as it occurred to me that the window was permanently locked. I looked around and noticed that there was no air conditioning vent in the area.

Standing next to the curtain, watching it billow in and out, I wondered what could be doing this. There didn’t seem to be any airflow around it. I brought my hand to the curtain and held it.

The curtain stopped moving for a moment. Then I felt a tremendous tug as the whole curtain shot upward, ripping it from my hand. I took a step backwards and nearly fell down. The curtain began to once again gently flow back and forth.

About a week later, just after I had locked all the doors at closing, I came into my office and noticed that every drawer in my desk had been opened. I was alone. I had just been in my office. How could the drawers have been opened?

I walked through the office and checked behind the counter. I tugged on the back door. I saw nothing unusual, but then I spotted the two front doors, which I had just locked, were now wide open.

Although they were designed to always swing shut, the doors were staying open. I walked over to them and closed them. Pulling out my keys, I relocked them. I double-checked to make sure they were indeed locked.

I didn’t call the police. What could I say? “I locked the doors and then they were open. The drawers in my desk were pulled out.”

That night cleaning up after my dinner I had an epiphany. The stories were true. There was a ghost at my branch.

The fact that one of the previous branch managers had been locked in the vault and died, up until this point had seemed an unfortunate accident.

Then I remembered another branch manager had broken his arm and ankle on a nasty fall down the steps into the basement. He was not merely clumsy.

I was the manager of a haunted savings and loan. My stomach churned. I hadn’t learned about this in business school.

The bank was quiet for a week. Just as my hopes were up one afternoon, I heard a noise coming from my office. It was a metallic sound, like a rolling metal dish. I went into the office and found my coat rack rolling on the middle of the floor.

“That’s my ghost,” I said and went back to my business.

Another quiet week went by and then at closing time we were having trouble reconciling accounts. One stack of bills was $20 short. My teller rechecked one of the other stacks that had already been double checked, but found it to be $20 over. So we put the $20 with the short stack and double-checked that it was right, but it was now $20 over.

We rechecked the other stack and it was $20 under. So once again we made the adjustment. My teller left. Just after she was gone, I saw, and this is true, I really saw it happen, one of the $20 bills was sliding across the counter, going from one stack to the other.

Then those two stacks, each with $500 in them began to spread out on the counter. The bills began to rise up into the air and then fall down onto the counter. I lurched at the falling bills and stuffed them into a bag. I put the bag into one of the locked drawers, and got out of that place.

I was shivering. After I started up my car, I had trouble putting it into gear. My nerves were shot. I was crying. I was worried that this ghost was in the car with me.

I managed to get home. That Friday night I drifted in and out of a restless, fearful sleep. On Saturday I gradually relaxed. I had been doing some reading on ghosts, and I increased my research and a plan formed in my mind. I was going to need to go into the office basement.

Sunday afternoon I opened up the back door and went into my branch. The building was 115 years old. How many stories were there about the very threshold I was walking through?

I opened the door to the basement where we kept our archives. I walked down the wooden stairs confident I was doing the right thing.

Yet, I was overcome with the eerie feeling that I was now in the very place that my ghost lurked. I pulled out the big book of newspaper clippings and began to look through them. This was a book that contained every article that mentioned our branch in the first 100 years of its existence.

I was searching for information about someone who had died at our bank, someone who was now haunting our branch.

After two hours of searching, I shivered when I read the following story:

“Robert Cole was found frozen to death yesterday morning. His body was found in the alley behind the savings and loan.

“It was an ironic death for the once prosperous farmer to die on the back steps of the bank. Years ago he had claimed to have brought in more $3,900 on the day of the infamous bank run, the day that the savings and loan managed to stay open, while the other banks in town went bankrupt.

“Cole had said that he had given his money to the manager Sven Johanson, who died from a heart attack that very night. According to Cole, his money was the reason Johanson was able to keep the bank open. Cole said that because he and Johanson were friends, and because of the turmoil that day, he never got a receipt.

“When the next branch manager refused to believe Cole’s story, Cole lost his farm in bankruptcy. Since then, he had been homeless. Cole will be buried in the paupers’ field.”

I may not be the smartest branch manager, but I did see the light here.

My mouth was dry as I finished reading this story. I felt his presence. I wanted to help him. I wanted to release and apologize to Robert Cole. I knew from my research that this was a reason why people became ghosts. They had unfinished business.

As a manager, I could take care of this.

“Mr. Cole,” I said to the empty basement, “I know you are here. You scare me. You have frightened me. But I now believe you are the one who has been wronged.“

I felt a cool sensation cross my hand, then wrap around my throat. I put my hand to my throat. I could feel nothing but the coolness.

“Mr. Cole, please accept my apology on behalf of all the past managers who have violated your trust.”

My throat. The coldness. My throat was being squeezed. I could scarcely talk. I could scarcely breathe.

“Please accept this apology, and I will take this story, and I will get a plaque, and I will put the story on the plaque. There will be a heading that says…”

I was losing consciousness. No breath.

“The heading will say,” I muttered, “The True Story of the Man who Saved our Branch.”

I fell to the floor. I couldn’t talk, but I thought, “I will do this. I will honor you. Our business is done. You may go. You must go. Leave me. Visiting hours are over.”

The light began to flicker. It rose in intensity.

I saw a figure of mist move away from me and immediately I could breathe again.

I gasped for air. “I promise not to forget you. This branch manager will honor you. I thank you.”

The misty figure was directly under the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The mist was going upwards to the bulb. The light pulsed brighter and brighter. I could no longer look at it.

There was an explosion. BOOM. The light disappeared. I was engulfed in dark. I couldn’t see a thing, and in that blindness, I became aware of the silence of the room. There was a calm that came over me. I lay on the ground for a moment taking it all in and then made my way up the stairs and out of the basement.

I walked into the light of my branch office. That very Sunday night, I ordered the plaque to honor Mr. Cole.

 

Reflection

Implement best practices of others.

When we come across a problem that we haven’t experienced, we can try to handle it all on our own, but it is wise to find out what others have done to rectify similar situations. We do well to learn from those who have come before us.

What were the strategies this young manager used to correct his problem?

When have you addressed a problem successfully by following in another’s footsteps?

Deadbeats

© 2018 by Tom Sparough

Deadbeats

Sue Their Ass Legal Associates seemed like a great firm. I was thrilled to get a job in their physical evidence department.

My team sorted through the various documents, reports and notes that were not in electronic form. I became the seventh member of a group affectionately known as the Deadbeats.

The Deadbeats got their name because they almost never seemed busy. The thing was, they got their work done very quickly. After that, they could do anything they wanted.

On my second day there, our team received about 10 boxes of medical files. We were to read through them, tab and highlight key sections, and write a series of summaries. They gave me about 300 pages.

At the end of the day, I was on page 207 and the rest of the Deadbeats were playing poker. Somehow they had finished the rest of the 10 boxes.

“How did you do it?” I asked. “How did you get through that much material accurately and quickly?”

Jose, Susan, Jeff, Yolanda, Kiefer, and Sam looked at me at the same time. It was both comical and creepy. They started to laugh.

Kiefer said, “We have super human skills.”

Susan said, “Do you want to be one of us?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“All you have to do,” said Susan, “is a short flight, a tiny swallow, or take the big plunge.”

“What does that mean?”

They laughed again. I still had 100 pages to go, and they were playing cards. And now they were laughing at me.

Susan said, “There will be plenty of chances to join us, but for now just get your work done the old fashioned way, by the sweat of your brow!”

I finished my 300 pages and the summary statements a little bit before noon the next day. The Deadbeats were headed out to lunch.

Jose invited me to join the group. “Come on big fella, come celebrate with us?”

My lunch was in the refrigerator. “No, I am going to stay in the office this time. I already have my lunch here.”

“Party pooper, party pooper,” Yolanda sang out.

They got in the elevator at 11:55 and didn’t get back to the office until 3:20. They clearly had been drinking.

Jeff put his arm around me. “All work and no play make Gavin a very dull boy. Next time you got to come out with us, dude.” He rubbed the top of my head with his knuckles.

I had been reading a series of briefs that had been sent to our work group. We had work to do, but they said it could wait until tomorrow morning.

“We will do it in the morning, and since it will be Friday we will have a dart tournament in the afternoon,” Jeff said.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “They have just delivered 20 boxes to us.”

“Holy crap,” said Yolanda. “We better get started right away or we will have to work all weekend.”

They burst into laughter. Kiefer turned on the TV, and they began to watch “Judge Judy.”

Susan looked at me watching them. She walked over to me. “Why don’t you just pick a box and get started? Don’t worry about us. You’ll see. It will all get done in the morning.

I worked until 7 p.m. that night. It was a 12-hour day for me, and four of those hours were time and a half. The rest of my team had left at 4:30. “Shhh,” they said in unison as they left.

They were done with the 19 boxes before lunch. I was barely into my box. I imagined that they didn’t read anything. I didn’t know what they did; yet I did know that they were known as the most efficient and careful readers of the whole firm. I had asked to be part of this team. I loved to read and was great at analysis, but I was clearly missing something here.

That night I worked until 10 p.m. The Deadbeats had left at 4:45 after a raucous afternoon of dart playing and beer pong.

I heard laughter coming into our office at about 9:50 that Friday night. I looked around and it seemed to be coming from outside. I walked over to the big window, and I saw lots of motion going through the air, like birds, or drones, or something.

I stood looking out that 8th floor window with my jaw open wide enough to swallow a baseball. I knew what I was seeing, but I wouldn’t let myself admit it. The Deadbeats were flying through the air, laughing and passing by the window. They were a ghostly grey and as they flew by they had a contrail that stretched out and then recoiled into them.

As I looked out in awe and panic, Susan flew to the window and hovered in the air staring at me. Her hair was being blown every which way. She winked at me and flew off with the others.

I had no doubt I was hallucinating. I called it a night.

On Monday, as I was working through my box, Susan asked me, “So, how was your weekend?”

“It was good, very restful. I had worked late Friday night and needed some down time.”

“My weekend was crazy fun. It must seem strange to you how the rest of us ‘fly’ through our work.”

The way she said “fly” gave me a chill. She was telling me with a smile that I hadn’t been hallucinating.

“Would you like to learn to ‘fly’ through your work the way we do?” she asked.

“What would I have to do?”

“Just take a short flight. Then you will be one of us.”

“What do you mean a short flight?”

“You know,” said Susan, “like, from the 8th floor to the ground.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. “I’m good. I’m just gonna keep working here.”

“Suit yourself. But it is quick and easy, and takes away all of your burdens.”

Kiefer looked at me, raised his eyebrows and simultaneously put both thumbs up.

The next morning at 8 a.m. the Deadbeats were sitting around the circular table sipping their cappuccinos. I must admit that I have a weak spot for that wonderful mix of steamed milk and dark coffee, especially with a bit of flavoring in it.

Jose said, “Isn’t this killer stuff?” He took a heaping spoonful of what appeared to be powdered chocolate and mixed it into his drink.

The Deadbeats passed the canister and spoon around the table, each taking a towering spoonful. Yolanda sprinkled the powder onto her drink. She brought the cup, which was steaming in the office air, up to her nose. “I live for this,” she said.

I had my own caramel latté. I had joined them at the round table. Jeff handed me the canister. “Try some. Seriously, it is to die for.”

I took the spoon and the canister in my hand. I turned the metal canister around and saw the words “rat poison” written on it. Everyone stared at me.

“Why does it say rat poison?”

“You know,” said Sam, “We don’t want to have any rats in the group.” More laughing, or was it cackling?

“I think I’ll pass.”

“Come on,” continued Sam, “just one spoonful and take a tiny swallow.”

“What is it really?”

Susan smiled, “It’s really good.”

They were all looking at me, encouraging me with their hands, nodding their heads up and down.

Awkward as it was, I put the canister down on the table. I got up and said, “Oh rats, I better get back to work.” I walked out of the conference room.

Later that morning I opened the door to the janitorial closet. I had spilt my drink on my desk and wanted to clean it off with a rag. I pulled the chain to turn on the light and scanned the room for a clean rag. My gaze went up to the shelves above the work counter.

On the second row I saw a canister that looked like the one this morning. It said rat poison on it. There were some mousetraps next to it. Not seeing a rag, I turned around to leave, and there was Susan in the doorway.

She had such a big smile. “What are you up to? You bad boy!”

“Oh, nothing. I was just looking for a rag.”

“Would you like to spend some time in the closet? I would be happy to join you?”

I had some stirrings. Susan was more than attractive. She took a step closer to me. I could feel the heat from her breath.
She reached past me and took the canister off the shelf. “Let’s try a little of this, and then do a little of that.” She took her index finger, brought it to her lips and then licked tip of her finger with her tongue.

I closed my eyes for a moment. She pushed her body next to mine. I backed up to the counter. She moved with me.

Susan unscrewed the cap, dipped her finger into the canister and put it in her mouth. She pressed her lips together, “Mmm, so good.”

She dipped her finger in again and brought it to my mouth. “Go ahead, have a little swallow. We have to have this before we can get to that.” She smiled and brought her lips together with a kiss.

I looked at her finger covered in powder. It wasn’t chocolate, but it couldn’t really be rat poison. This was some crazy joke. I wanted to be with Susan. It felt like she wanted to be with me, yet it also felt like I was being played.

“Not so fast,” I said. “You know I am on a diet. And my landlord is going to kill me if I don’t pay my rent. I better get back to work.”

“Naughty, naughty landlord,” said Susan as I left the room.

It was Wednesday, again I had been working and the Deadbeats were out for an extended lunch. When they came back, they were laughing and shouting. They came into the workroom.

“Guess what we learned how to do?” said Yolanda.

“It’s dangerous,” said Sam.

“So you won’t like it.” Said Jeff.

“But we got you one anyway,” said Kiefer.

“Please try it. Have some fun,” said Susan.

Jose pulled out seven letter openers out of a wooden box. “These aren’t actual swords, but they still work.” Jose passed one of the letter openers to everybody but me.

“Let’s all do it together,” said Sam.

“You just watch,” Susan said to me. “We learned this from a street performer at lunch.”

The Deadbeats licked their letter openers, tilted back their heads, opened their mouths, and stuck the swords down their throats. They stretched out their arms in unison and wiggled their fingers for applause.

It was crazy impressive, and I applauded.

They pulled their swords out. “Now it’s your turn,” said Susan handing me one of the short swords.

I felt the sides of my letter opener. It was sharp, more like a knife than a letter opener. “I am not doing that.”
“Party pooper,” sang Yolanda.

“Come on,” said Susan. “Live a little.”

“If you don’t want to swallow it, try this,” said Kiefer. He pulled his shirt out of his pants and unbuttoned it. He thrust the letter opener into his exposed stomach. He partially opened his mouth and began to grunt as he moved the opener around in a rough circle. There was no blood. It must certainly have been a trick knife.

Kiefer pulled out the knife and pushed his hand into the section of his stomach that was cut in a circle. He pulled it out. His skin and entrails were in his hand. “Lunch was so good,” he said, “I have to have seconds!”

He took a bite of that tubular mass of flesh.

I nearly passed out. The Deadbeats were falling over in laughter.

“Give it a try,” said Susan. “Do the deep plunge!”

“Join us, dude,” said Kiefer.

“Say it. Don’t spray it,” I said to him. I put the letter opener down on the table. I walked in a haze toward the boss’ office. I knocked on his door.

“I need a new assignment. Can I work in the electronic forms division?”

My boss looked at me and smiled, “Why would you want to work with those little devils?”

 

Reflection

Be Your Own Person. It is important to get along with others at work, yet we do not need to conform to ways that make us overly uncomfortable. Team members must use common sense to decide for themselves what to do to fit into a company culture and simultaneously be their own person.

How was the narrator of this story being tempted to join the rest of the team? How did he show his strength to not conform?

In your work environment, what are ways that people are able to keep their independence and individuality?

Dead of Winter

© 2018 by Tom Sparough

Dead of Winter

Pablo pushed the long handle on the gray door as quietly as he could. Behind him, he could see in the middle of the warehouse, the feds were there in their black coats with handcuffs and guns. They were rounding up Juan, Miguel, and Esperanza. Pablo knew he would be next.

He slipped out the back door with barely a sound and carefully shut the door. The back of the building was being watched by a federal agent, but this particular door was obscured by a huge cluster of overgrown bushes.

It was bitter cold and 4” of snow had fallen last night. The snow had not made it to the ground under the cover of the evergreens. Pablo heard a voice, saw the agent outside of the bushes and carefully made his way to the other side of the heating exhaust vent. Steam poured out. The warmth of it was some comfort for Pablo, but this was clearly another bad day in his 33 years of existence.

About five minutes later the door he had come through opened. An agent came out, took a quick look around, called to the agent on the other side of the bushes and went back inside. Pablo watched the other agent walk around the corner of the building toward the parking lot.

Pablo was pressed up against the brick building, the steam making his body hard to see. He was holding his breath, his bald head against the bricks.

He had taken to shaving his head because so much of his hair had fallen out. Three years of constant worry can do that.
Now he had to get away. On the other side of the bushes there was a lawn, and beyond that a woods. If he could just get across the field and into the woods, he could make his way to the side road. From there he could crisscross his way the two miles to his apartment.

He crawled through the bushes to the edge of the lawn. There was no one in sight. Pablo took off running, like a soccer ball had just been kicked in front of him and he was the striker racing for the winning goal. The lawn was only 100 yards to the woods, but the snow and ice slowed him down. Plus it was hard to run in boots.
Pablo didn’t stop as he entered the woods. He ran for about two minutes, gradually going slower and slower. He kept running with his hands in his jean pockets until he finally stopped to catch his breath, and put his hands over his ears to warm them. He leaned against a huge oak tree.

He pulled up the collar of his shirt and buttoned the top button. The temperature was 17° F. His coat was back in the warehouse locker room. His breath billowed into the late afternoon air.

As he stood under the shelter of the tree, he heard a familiar voice. “You got this bro. You’ll be home before you know it. Keep going.”

The voice was from his younger brother, Juan. Together they had escaped the gangs in Honduras, traveled through Guatemala and into Mexico, and eventually New Mexico. In the desert, Juan had died from dehydration, a free man in the United States of America.

Ever since, Pablo would hear his brother’s voice, especially in times of trouble.
Pablo started walking again. There was a deep ravine. He headed down the steep slope. He lost his footing and slipped onto his back. He slid in the snow, rolled against a stump and finally came to a stop as he crashed into a fallen tree.

He lay there in the snow for a moment, groaning. He thought of his daughters, Sofia and Mariana. They were 3 and 4 years old. He thought of how they had never seen snow and a happy image came to him of their black hair flying up in the breeze as they slid through the snow. He had never held Sofia and hadn’t seen Mariana in three years. Every week he called Isabella, his wife, and talked to the kids. Every month he sent them money.

Every month he did this was another month he survived. The gang members had told him they would kill him if he didn’t pay for their protection. How could he pay money he didn’t have? He tried the only thing he could think of, and he was still alive three years later.

“Get up. You can’t lie in the snow. “

“Yeah,” Pablo said out loud. He righted himself and slowly stood up jamming his hands into his pockets. His fingers were burning. His ears were burning. And his back was freezing.

He thought he must be getting close to the road. Pablo was now at the bottom of the ravine. There was a frozen stream he needed to cross. His foot went through the ice. When he tried to pull it out, his boot got caught and then his other foot went through.

The water wasn’t deep, but it was higher than his boots. He managed to get out after a couple of seconds. He had to take off his boots to pour out the water. One of his socks came off. He rung out the water and went to put his sock back on. His foot was stuck to the ice, just enough so he needed to peel it off with his hands.

Now he was up, across the creek, heading toward the road. He didn’t actually know where the road was. He had never been in these woods, but he was fairly sure he was headed in the right direction.

“You’re doing good man! Keep it up. One step, then another. Just keep moving.” Pablo said, “Juan, I can’t feel my fingers.”

“Keep going bro. You got this.”

Pablo stopped. He saw a thicket of bushes. It had a spot where he could see a pile of leaves that didn’t have snow on them. He walked over to it. His feet were heavy. They felt like ice blocks.

“You can’t stop. Keep walking man. You are close to the road.”

Falling to his knees, Pablo got under the bushes. He tried to cover himself with leaves, but they were in frozen clumps that wouldn’t come off the ground. Lying there shivering, he closed his eyes.

“No, you don’t. Come on. It’s time to go.”

Pablo heard the voice so clearly that it felt real, like his brother was with him again.

Now he could see his brother wearing his short sleeve shirt, but clean, not like the day he was buried in it. Pablo saw Juan reach out and put his hand on his cheek. His brother was warm, like the desert was just after sunset.

Juan said, “I got you bro. You’re going to be fine. I’ll sit with you awhile so that you can rest.”

Pablo saw his brother sit down. He felt his head being lifted, and now he was resting in the lap of his brother. Pablo thought he could feel some warmth, like his brother was cupping his hands over his ears.

In this moment under the bushes with his head in the lap of his dead brother, Pablo took his last breath. Soon he would be a comforting voice for Isabella, Mariana and Sofia.

Reflection

Where undue hardship exists, we are better people when we work for reform, when we add our voice against unjust practices, when we speak out for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Why did Pablo come to the United States?

What injustice have I seen in my workplace? How have I worked for change?

Gift Box

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Gift Box

Nancy had saved the gift boxes until the office holiday party. Each of the six boxes was impeccably wrapped in sparkling paper.

The staff gathered in the conference room. When everyone had a coffee, tea, or eggnog, she distributed the presents to each person. “These are from Buzz. Don’t open yours until I read the note from him.”

It was an emotional moment since Buzz, the office manager for the last 12 years, had passed away last summer. His was a quick death, diagnosed in June, dead in August. Yet he had enough time to put final plans in place, and this was one of them.

Nancy read the note out loud. “My dear friends, and I always did consider you friends before employees, I want to give you a little something of what you have given to me. When you open your box, please know that I appreciated everything you did for our team. My best wishes to each of you. Sincerely, Buzz.”

“You may now open your boxes,” Nancy added.

The boxes were all about the size of a fist. They could have held candy, or jewelry, or a small woodcarving, but they all had the same thing in them.

Steve was the first to get his open. He laughed out loud, smiled, and looked around the room as if to see his old boss laughing with him, as they had done on so many occasions.

Sherry opened the paper carefully, not tearing any part of it. She opened the small lid of the box and looked inside. Tears filled her eyes and her mind was flooded with a thousand affirmations her boss had given her.

Jose ripped the paper apart and yanked the lid off. He held the box up to eye level peering inside. He closed his eyes and mouthed the words “thank you” into the air. His mind raced with the implications of what it meant. Once again he was brainstorming with his old boss.

Tony carefully opened his gift, looked inside, and put the box back on the boardroom table. He crossed his arms across his chest and muttered loud enough for everyone to hear, “You cheapskate.”

Of course, Buzz was in the room, at least in spirit. He was full to the brim with joy as he watched the gifts being opened, even if he was shaking his head at Tony’s comment.

Jasmine opened her gift, folded up the wrapping paper, looked inside, thought for a moment and took out a handful of throat lozenges from her jacket pocket and put them in the box. She remembered how Buzz had once said to her, “Everything and everyone has a place.”

After everyone else had finished, Nancy tore off the paper and opened her box. She saw that it was empty, just like all the rest had been.

It brought a smile to her face. She remembered all the times her boss had said, “Every situation is what you make of it.” He had wrapped each of these gifts with care. His personal touch was evident. She felt his reassuring presence in the empty box, and everywhere.

Never one to linger, Buzz departed knowing that each person had chosen what to receive from the gift. As he used to say, “What you give is what you get.”

Reflection

It is often said that what you look for is what you find. When some people see nothing, others see countless possibilities.

What did each person get from his or her gift in this story?

What are you looking to give to others?

Mr. Baitenswitch

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Mr. Baitenswitch

“Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

“My name is George Baitenswitch.”

“Well, good afternoon Mr. Baitenswitch. How may I assist you?” As Brendan said these words, he wondered if this man was a heavy smoker. How else do you get a gravelly voice like that?

“Call me George.”

“Absolutely, George, how may I help you?

“My life is over, and I am very unhappy.”

Brendan realized this was joke. Lots of callers had an odd sense of humor. He smiled. “George, my friend you called the right guy. I specialize in making people happy. I am going to do everything I can to resolve your issue. Now what seems to be the trouble?

“The problem is I’ve got no life left. I am forever in the dark.”

“Let me put it this way, George, what product are you calling in about today?”
“I am calling in to get a new life. You are my life line.”

“George, I appreciate your call and wish you all the best, but I am afraid you have called the wrong number. This is Amazing Products customer service. I can only help you with product information.”

“Your product is the reason that I am miserable, why I am stuck in the dark.”

“Mr. Baitenswitch, which product are you referring to?”

Do you want the product ID number or its name?”

“Either is fine.”

“Then I’ll give you both, you little weasel.”

Either is fine, and there is no need for name calling. I am here to help you.”

“You have already told me you can’t help me. That you care nothing about me.”

“Please, just give me the product information.”

“One, Seven, three, Alpha, Seven, Bravo, Two. The Ever Light.”

“Thank you. I’m pulling that up. I see the item is discontinued, but maybe I can still help. What seems to be the issue with your Ever Light flashlight?

“It doesn’t work?”

“Say a bit more about that. What exactly is the problem?”

“The problem is I am talking to an idiot who doesn’t care about me or my flashlight.”

“Mr. Baitenswitch I really am trying to help. Did you drop the flashlight?”
“How would I do that?”

“Perhaps you bumped into some furniture and it slipped out of your hand?”
“There is no furniture here so it couldn’t have slipped out of my hand. You have a lifetime guarantee, don’t you?”

“We do have a lifetime guarantee. And the lifetime of this flashlight is five years.”

“No, son, a lifetime is forever.”

“When did you purchase it?”

“It was given to me as a present seven years ago.”

“That is remarkable, isn’t it? Seven years of dependable life. I am sure it is disappointing, but it functioned as designed. We have a new line of flashlights if you would like to purchase a replacement.”

“No, I want this one to work, because I am stuck in here. All I have is a phone and a flashlight, and the flashlight doesn’t work, and it’s your fault, you piece of scum. Did you get that message, Brendan?”

“Loud and clear, sir. And I thank you for your call. I truly hope things improve for you.”

Brendan disconnected the line, pulled off his headset and stood up. He walked to the break room. He opened the refrigerator and stared in. The cool air felt good. He cheeks were flushed. He grabbed an apple.

“How’s it going little guy?”

Brendan looked at Rachel and took a bite of the apple. He shook his head, chewed, swallowed and said, “I just had a certifiable nut job call in.”

“He got to you?

“No, but I have to say I hate this job, at least with calls like that one.”

“My advice is as you’re listening, picture a tranquil beach. Don’t let anything someone says get to you. Anger will take you away if it gets hold of you.”

“Really Rachel? Is that what you do?”

“No, I pretend I am on a trampoline, and everything bounces off me.”

Back at his desk, Brendan put on his headset. A call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence.

“Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence.

“Hello, are you there. I can’t seem to hear you. Can you hear me?” Brendan disconnected the call.

Another call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence.

“Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence, no wait, soft, raspy breathing. Brendan listened carefully. He could clearly hear breathing. “Hello, are you there? This is customer service.”

No response. Brendan disconnected the call. He hit speed dial one. “Hey Bob, I have had a couple of calls in a row that I couldn’t hear anyone. I wanted to make sure that there isn’t a problem on my end. Can you give me a test call?”

A call came in. “Brendan, can you hear me?”

“Yeah, Bob. Thanks.”

“Thank you, Brendan. I appreciate you following our protocol.”

Another call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

Silence.

“Hello?”

Brendan heard a wheezing breath. A voice he recognized said, “Hellll-o.”

It was the gravely voice of Mr. Baitenswitch. Brendan thought about disconnecting immediately, but stayed on the line. With 17 call reps how the hell did he get this guy twice?

“Brendan, I need something from you.”

“What’s that sir?”

“I told you to call me George. I’m your friend.”

“Yes, of course you are. George, how can I help?”

“I want you to step into my shoes for a minute.”

“Go on. How would that help?”

“Because you are a whiny little punk who has no idea what I am going through.”

“I am going to have to end this call.”

“Don’t you dare end this call. I am stuck in this coffin with nothing but a phone and a flashlight, and the flashlight doesn’t work. I need you to fix this.”

Brendan was speechless. He hit disconnect. He pounded his chest with his right hand. He spread his legs apart and stretched out his feet. He looked at the ceiling.

Another call. He hesitated to connect. He laughed to himself, and connected. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”

“You know my name. Come see things from my side. Come experience eternal darkness while you have the Ever Light in your hand, the hand that has never dropped the light.”

“Sir, I don’t know how you are calling me, but I am going to have to ask you to stop this. It is not funny. I can’t help you. Have a good day.” He disconnected.
Ten seconds later a call coming in…Brendan looked at the light that signaled the call. He didn’t answer.

That low gravely voice came into his earphone anyway. “You’ve got no spine. You don’t help people. You manipulate them. You abuse them. You leave them hopeless and in the dark.”

“Get off this fricking line.” Brendan was in a rage. “I am not listening to you. You’re a pathetic sicko. I hope you end your miserable life. You deserve to be dead. I wish I could see you, see you in all your pain, you cigarette smoking idiot!” Brendan was smashing his fist against his desk.

As he was screaming he lost touch with where he was. It felt as if he was being sucked away from the call center into the phone line. He was somehow in the phone line, darkness, speed, anger, whipping along.

Rachel looked over at Brendan. He looked to be in convulsions. Then he calmed down suddenly. He opened his hand and looked at it. He took off his headphones. He was smiling. He took a long slow breath. He stood up.

Rachel stood up. She looked at him. “I guess someone is getting assertive. I think we will be hearing that call in our weekly meeting! Brendan you really lost it. I thought you were going break your desk the way you were hitting it.”

“You know,” he said in a much lower voice than usual, “call me George.”

In the sudden darkness, Brendan could not see anything. He opened and closed his eyes. There was no difference. He lifted his arms and they hit against some kind of padded roof. He was stuck in place. In one hand was something that felt like a phone. In the other was cylinder, a plastic tube with a switch. He pushed the switch. Nothing happened.

Reflection

Those of us who are front line employees who work directly with customers need special training in how to maintain our cool when things get heated. It is not easy when someone is angry to not become angry yourself. Nothing good comes from loosing your temper on a service call.

What happened in this story? Where did Brendan end up?

What helps you to keep your calm when others are heated up around you?

Down the Stairs

 © 2017 by Tom Sparough

Down the Stairs

Cool Concepts was an ad agency that had moved into its new office about a month ago. They had a six-month lease with an option to buy.

The place was great, except for the rats, or whatever they were.

On the first Friday of every month, the entire staff went out to lunch together.

This time, though, Melinda wasn’t feeling well, and so she stayed at the office as everyone else left. When the last person went through the front door, the place was suddenly silent, and she realized it was the first time she was alone in the building.

It was a 140-year-old storefront. None of the staff had actually seen a rat. But there were two vacant apartments above the storefront.

Two weeks ago a guy moved into one of them. He didn’t even make it through the whole night. Something had attacked him, and his face and arms had vicious cuts in them. Melinda had heard him say, “I swear it wasn’t a rat.”

She went into the kitchen area. It was February and dreary. She turned on the little space heater. She wished she had worn pants today. Her legs were cold.

As she turned on the electric kettle, the space heater and the lights all went dead. “Damn,” she thought, the circuit must be blown. She knew exactly where the circuit breaker was located. It was in the creepy basement.

The basement door was a trapdoor in the floor of the hallway. Melinda pulled the ancient metal handle and propped the door up next to the wall.

She peered into the darkness below. The light switch for the basement was located at the pillar at the bottom stair. She grabbed the flashlight that was attached to the bottom of the basement door. She turned it on. A strong beam emanated from its glass lens.

She stepped down onto the first step. She counted the steps…10, 11, 12, 13. She thought to herself, “who makes a staircase with 13 stairs?”

At the 6th step down a spider web caught her face. She hated that feeling. She wiped it off trying to free herself from the sticky threads.  She continued down the basement steps.

She flicked the switch for the light. Nothing happened.

Melinda shined the flashlight around the basement. The walls were made of stacked limestone, filled with cracks that were perfect for spiders and anything that needed a nest in a dark room. The floor was made of stone, as well, but because of the flooding over the years, the sediment that lay on top of the stone made it a dirt floor. It was littered with nails, yellow newspapers, and a coil of wire.

She walked quickly across the basement to get to the door of the room with the electric panel.

As she put her hand on the moist doorknob, she was overcome by the smell of the basement. It brought her back to the woods at her parents’ home. There was a stump in those woods that had this smell. The smell was of things rotting underground.

She wondered what was rotting in this basement.

She opened the door. It was a stone room, a chamber really. Shining the light on the panel, she stepped towards it. With a slight creek the door behind her shut. She stepped back to it and pushed it open. Again the door creaked shut. Melinda went back to the panel.

The door of the circuit breaker was already open. With the beam of the flashlight she searched the little glass bubbles until she saw the one that had turned red. She placed her hand on the black lever and pulled it down and then up.

At just that instant her flashlight fell from her hands.

She was suddenly engulfed in blackness.

She bent down and put her hand on the slimy ground, hoping that she would touch the flashlight. The mush of the cold floor gave her a chill. She didn’t feel the flashlight and began to move her hand about the floor searching for it.

She felt something brush by her face. She screamed, which was tremendously loud in the small stone room, and that sound scared her, so she screamed again.

“Stay calm, stay calm. Find the flashlight.”

She felt something touching her legs. She screamed again and fell onto her backside.

A stinging pain on top of her hand, then another on her forearm, she was being attacked. She let out a series of sobs and backed herself across the floor into a corner. She felt spider webs. She put her hands over her face. The backs of her hands were being bitten. She shook them around her head, but felt nothing.

This was clearly not a rat.

Cowering in the corner, something flashed through her mind, a sign she had seen in Colorado, what to do if attacked by a wild animal—fight back.

Melinda, let out a scream, a mixture of fear and adrenaline. She began to punch and kick the air.

Then she thought, “I have nails, too.” She bared her nails and began to slice her fingers through the room.

A scene from The Wizard of OZ flashed through her mind. Water had killed the wicked witch. She began to spit into the air. She felt her stomach being scratched. She spit, slashed and screamed.

Guiding herself across the room, pressing up against the uneven stonewall, moving through the cobwebs, Melinda made it to the door. It swung open and she fell through.

She righted herself and ran towards the stairwell. She flipped the light switch on, and the basement was ablaze with florescent light. She saw nothing alive in the room.

She was bleeding on her arms and legs. She was covered in the slime of the floor and spider webs were in her hair and on her clothes.

Up the steps, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

On her ankle, a tug and a bite.

Eight, nine, ten.

It pulled her back. She fell onto her knees.

Nine, eight, seven.

She flipped over and sat on the step and screamed, “Let go!” She kicked, punched in the air, and started back up the steps.

Eight, nine, ten, eleven, Twelve.

One more slash at her foot.

She kicked like a mule and rose up out of the basement. She slammed the trap door shut.

She raced to the front door and went outside. She stood outside the building in the cold. She was bleeding, crying, but very much alive.

As she stood shivering in the cold, one thought kept going through her mind: “Don’t take the option to buy the building.”

Reflection

Fight back. All of us are called at times to fight back. It may not be in a physical sense. It could be emotional, social, or intellectual fights that we need to engage in, but at times, we all need to defend ourselves.

When we think that we don’t have the strength to meet the challenge, the strength of grit comes into play. It is a survival instinct that rests in all of us.

When did Melinda begin to fight back?

When have I had to take up a fight? What ways have I exhibited the qualities of grit?

The Founder

©2017 by Tom Sparough

The Founder

I spoke to my son in his dreams. “You slacker! Are you going to let my company fall apart? Get off your lazy butt and get back to work.”

Two weeks after the funeral, my “beloved” son went back to work. Better late than never.

The upstart moved into the boss’ room. My room! He left my desk and chair in the office, but he removed my antique lamp, my original rotary phone, and my floor-to-ceiling filing system.

As he sat in my leather chair, I spoke to him as if he could hear me. “You have no right to move anything. Follow my orders.”

He slowly pushed his hands over his ears. He cleared his throat and mumbled, “Leave me alone.”

The veil between the living and the dead is thin. He might not understand everything I say, but I know he hears me.

For 47 years, I ran The Constant Call Telemarketing Firm. For 23 of those years, we were the largest telemarketing company in the nation. My son joined the business in year 31, just as we had started our decline in market share. He was full of new ideas to bring us back to our former glory.

Gradually he got my message, “Business is not an experiment. The rules of our firm were set years ago, and those rules have led to our success. Change the rules over my dead body.”

After my death, my spirit became the voice of reason in his head. But, he was headstrong and wouldn’t listen. Within a week of taking charge, he gathered a group of nine employees into our workroom.

I named them The Inept Nine.

“As you know, I am not my father. I believe that each of you has an important role to play in helping to decide the future of Constant Call. I want to work together to ensure the growth of our company.”

While he said these pathetic words, I moved through the room speaking to the group one by one.

“He is not your boss. Remember who built this company.” I watched my words take effect. A frown came over this one’s face.

“You have nothing to say. Why would he want your help?” That one raised an eyebrow.

“You’re a loser. Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Look at this imbecile glancing around the room nervously.

Despite my efforts, The Inept Nine soon had “a change initiative to control costs and empower employees.” One of the first steps was to reduce in-person regional meetings from once a month to every six months.

I said to my son, “Fool, you know nothing. People need clear leadership. Every month the iron fist of management must be waved before their subordinate eyes!”

For years I had been fighting the winds of change. I had a proven system, and it was stupidity to mess with it. Over time, I was sure our market share would return.

My son and his team decided, “to expand modalities. Current times required current methods.” When I heard that come out of their mouths, I threw up all over their heads. I wish they could have seen that toxic air they were breathing.

Perhaps my son got wind of it. Shortly after that he had my desk and chair moved into the basement. Then, with the complete backing of The Inept Nine, he put the building up for sale.

As the memo to the full staff read, “We are streamlining our operations, ensuring job security, and moving into a state-of-the-art facility.”

I did everything I could to stop the sale of my historic building. On the day the contract was signed, the important papers went into the old-fashioned mailbox on the edge of our parking lot.

There, as twilight descended, I put my hand and arm into that box and pulled the letter forth. A gentle rain was falling, and I dropped the letter into the gutter and watched it wash down the grated drain.

So about a week later my beloved son Matthew comes to our building late at night, 11:37 p.m. I was in the basement, sitting in my chair thinking about the cancer that had eaten my body.

“I know you are here,” he shouted. “I am tired of you trying to run my life. I don’t know how you did it, but only you could have stopped that deal.”

I heard the elevator engage. A moment later the door opened and he was in the basement. He got a dolly and managed to get my desk onto it and into the elevator. Over the next two hours he removed all of my things and wheeled them into the side parking lot.

It was all there in a pile, my lamp, my chair, my filing cabinets, even my favorite coffee mug. He got a five-gallon can of kerosene out of the trunk of his car. He slathered it all over my things.

I screamed, “Don’t you dare put kerosene on my chair. Stop it. Stop it right now. Listen to me you fool.”

He shook his head as if he heard every word and whispered, “You are dead. It is my company now!”

My son left the empty kerosene can on my desk.

Pulling out a pack of matches, he struck one against the flint. The yellow flame flared in the darkness of the parking lot. He tossed it into a puddle of kerosene. Engulfed in flames, I watched my desk, my lamp, my life burn to the ground.

When the blaze was over, my son calmly said in a loud voice, “Time to move on.”

So now I have a new job. I am a consultant and help people preserve the old ways of doing business. Just call me to mind, and I’ll be with you. I am that little voice of reason that keeps you from changing with the whims of time.

 

Reflection

As the saying goes, “Everything changes, but change itself.” The balance of a successful business requires continuous improvement. As soon as we stop and think we have the perfect balance, we see it begin to slip away.

What are five things that are wrong with the narrator’s behavior?

When have you been successful with a change initiative?

 

Cold Hearted

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Cold Hearted

When I heard Julie say that it was no surprise what had happened to me, I decided to teach her a lesson. Nobody deserves to die from road rage.

It is true that I was a hot head, but I’ve cooled off. Death will do that to you.

The average worker is no different than me, Julie included, and I decided to become a teacher to point this important lesson out. My job is to help people to get along better so they don’t suffer my fate.

There is a learning curve, though, and I enjoy imparting my lessons. I admit that I’ve become a mischievous, hidden teacher, who gives daily lessons to the company employees.

Since Julie and the others often witnessed me get worked up over nothing in the company break room, I picked the perfect little cubicle right there as my teaching environment. I like my cool, dark space.

Most days, everyone comes to me, because they need something stored in my office. It feels good to be needed. One by one they come to my little classroom.

I may be nothing more than a ghost, but the president of our company comes to me and bows down as she uses my services. And everyone follows her lead.

People come and open my door and stand and peer into my cubicle. I hold them spellbound. They try to decide what they want, why they have come to me. Several days this summer, I think it was just for the cool air that poured out when my door was open.

Awhile back I got the idea to simply change the place where people left their supplies. I put the old things where the new ones were laid.

It was clearly a worthwhile teaching moment. All I did was exchange some things that had been on my shelves for six months with the things that were brought in that very day.

They shouted, “What’s this! Who has been messing with my stuff?” They looked right at me, but never suspected me. It is always someone else’s fault. So they think.

Another technique I developed was to keep my door open during the night. Therefore everything warmed up to the office-wide temperature. Many of the supplies were sensitive to this. The blower in my office tried to keep everything cool, but it couldn’t.

The next day the fun of teaching began. “This is terrible,” they screeched. “It’s gone bad overnight.” They sent in a repairman who couldn’t find anything wrong.

I took his assessment as a vote of approval. My job is to keep the difficulties coming. I am a trainer, of sorts, a self-appointed educator.

Little Miss Perfect, Julie, still has a lot to learn about relaxing and keeping things in perspective. She is one of the people with the biggest reactions to my concealed efforts.

A fingerprint in her supplies got her to bite her lip to the point of bleeding. She stormed off with fire in her eyes. How is that different than road rage?

Julie and the other employees thought they were getting organized by putting nametags on their supplies. I laughed as they carefully placed their supplies on my office shelves. Once they closed the door, I went straight to work. I pulled the nametags off and switched them from one package to another.

My students had no idea they were being tested. When they found their nametags were on the wrong supplies, they accused each other of foul play. Julie whined, “Stay out of my stuff, or you’ll be sorry!”

I so enjoy teaching my lessons that sometimes I am half in my cubicle and half out. I can’t leave my workspace, but I can stretch myself. This way I get to see every reaction.

Brad, who had only been with the company three weeks, saw his nametag was on the wrong package. His eyes bulged, and he threw his stuff across the room, splattering spaghetti sauce all over the wall, and he refused to clean it up. He quit right there in the break room.

It gives new meaning to “break room.”

One day I got hold of a marker, and I changed the name of Joe to Julie. It was sloppy but effective. They are on edge over the littlest of things. Joe started screaming at Julie. He was upset to the point that he threw his back out. He fell over in pain. I fell over from laughing. I love being a teacher.

Really, people need to get a grip. It is time to learn the lesson. Little things shouldn’t make you crazy.

Nobody is going to take my job. I don’t mind the mess, the spills, and the stale items that no one will claim or discard. I like the company of the unclaimed yogurt cup on my back shelf.

One of the best things I did was to open up their liquid supplies and take a drink. Then I put the caps back on crooked.

Fireworks, I tell you, fireworks in the office when people saw a bottle with a cap that had been opened. Julie got so upset it sent her straight to the bathroom! No surprise there.

Oh, and this is too good, I unwrapped the tinfoil on Julie’s package and took one big bite. Then I put it all back together perfectly. I cannot wait until she discovers her next lesson.

I am feeding all the employees important information. If my students could hear me talk, I would say to them, “Learn my lesson about what really matters, or die trying.”

I am going to keep doing what I do. I am stuck in the cold, but I don’t mind. It matches my heart.

 

Reflection

What is the narrator’s office? In case you didn’t guess it, the answer is the company refrigerator.

We all know that little things do matter, and personal space is extremely important. If someone messes with your things in the refrigerator, it can be extremely upsetting. But, how do you keep things in perspective?

What are some of ways this character messed with stuff? How did people react? What might they have done differently?

In what ways am I affected by struggles around the refrigerator, or other common work areas? What might I do differently to not loose my cool?

Bottom Line

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Bottom Line

Cough, cough, cough. Sorry about the cough. I can’t believe I still have it. After the heart attack, and the whole floating up toward the light and looking at the medical team trying to bring me back to life, I never expected to have this cough.

I worked my whole life for the bottom line. Profit is important, and I sought it with a passion, and I don’t regret that for a second. But, I do have regrets, because there were many things I wanted to do that I simply didn’t take the time to do.

As a retired CEO, I wondered what would become my new bottom line?

Cough, cough. It wasn’t travel. It wasn’t golf. It wasn’t my car collection. Cough. All those interested me, but they weren’t the bottom line.

Helping people became my bottom line. Volunteering became my obsession. After my death, my desire to help others led me back to my corporation. I wanted to visit it again, just one last time.

I was surprised to find there were lots people like me, hanging out, hanging on, dead retirees that couldn’t leave the place. That was about a year ago. I decided I would try to help them move on and get to the next level of their life.

And help myself in the process.

I guess, in a way, each of us had a dead-end job. Cough, cough, cough. We were each stuck with our own regrets.

I met with these dead people anywhere I found them. I met Sasha up in a tree looking out at the corporate campus. I met with Harold in a janitor’s closet. Demarcus and I met on top of the factory roof. In our situation, it didn’t matter where we met.

We retirees can spot each other a long way off. We have a sense that tingles in our eyebrows when another is present.

The regrets of the people I found were never about money. In our situation, money means nothing.

The regrets were a lack of fulfillment in our jobs. It wasn’t that we weren’t good at what we did. It was that we wanted more, but we were restricted, confined, defined by an organizational flow chart of duties.

We had our roles and we did them well, but that doesn’t mean the longings deep down inside of us were met.

I set about trying to correct this, before it was too late for these dead people, before it was too late for me.

We can fly, walk through walls, pass through crowds, see in the dark, and never get hungry or tired. Cough, cough, but evidently we can still be plagued with a cough, a limp, or an unfulfilled hope.

Take Judy, for instance. She was a stand-out project manager. I found her in the human resource office sitting on the couch. In her 35 years with the corporation, she oversaw 22 multi-year, major projects. All but three of them were on schedule and within budget.

Yet, here she was feeling unfilled, slowly fading away, in danger of never seeing the light.

Her deepest desire, beyond what she had already done, was to help people get along with each other. It tore her up to remember the in-fighting that went on behind our brick walls. There were things that she had done with her teams that made sense to bring to the whole corporation. Her teams were known for getting along with each other. She had a method she wanted to share. But a busy project manager like her couldn’t jump ship for a year or two to concentrate on collegial relationship building.

We put our dead heads together and decided it wasn’t too late. We spent a month moving through the corporation, leaving guides and pamphlets so that the right people would have them on their desks. We sent out emails with jokes on them and tips on getting along with others.

Our effort wasn’t enough to change the entire corporate environment, but it was enough to comfort Judy. She let go of her regret. She accepted the promotion and moved on to a bright future.

God, that made me feel good. Cough. And my cough seemed less, like something was just removed from my chest.

I loved working with Juan, too. He had been the North Star of the marketing department. Juan had that ability to write the copy and come up with the concepts, yet he knew how to engage an internal and external team so that the whole was greater than the mere sum of the parts.

He was responsible for leaps forward in market share. Cough, cough.

I found him hovering on the ceiling in one of the product development buildings. He was looking down, longing to be part of that process. Turns out he had always wanted to help develop some of the products he marketed.

He had envisioned products that were never made, alterations that were never acted upon. He wasn’t a designer. He was a marketer. He had, cough, a brilliant career, yet unfulfilled hopes.

We did something about it. We started reading the spec sheets and watched the design process take shape. Juan had an idea, and he sketched it out and left it on the clean desk of one of the design generators.

She told everyone that she didn’t know where it came from, but she loved it, and so did her team. That new product design made it through testing. On the second day of focus group trials, the response was so positive that Juan just started floating away. His spirit was soaring.

His promotion had come through. I had to go a quarter mile up to give him a high five.
Little by little, my cough was going away. In the last year, I helped 89 retirees get the ultimate promotion. Eighty-nine, that’s how old I was.

The numbers have always been important to me. The strategies of how to make the numbers work have always excited me. I have loved it.

So why, cough, and I still feeling unfulfilled? Why can’t I let go? How do I help myself?

I am sitting in the chair of the current CEO. His grandfather clock will strike midnight soon. Then I will be 90 years old. That is far too old to be holding on to regret.

By sticking people in one set role, they get put in a box. We slide the boxes around strategically and call it job freedom, but the people are still in the box, stuck in one role with unfulfilled hopes. I have written a note, or maybe it’s a poem. I am leaving it for our CEO. Here is how it reads:

Unfulfilled dreams
Hang on forever

Find out what more
People want

Help them work
Toward desire

Guide every aspiration
Of every employee

Then the bottom line
Shines like the sun

Ahem, it feels good to get that off my chest. Not bad, for a dead guy.

I feel better. My whole face tingles into a smile.

I have said my peace, and my chest feels warm. A new opportunity is opening for me. The clock is chiming. What a birthday present!

I am floating out of the CEO seat. I am drifting through the roof. My number has been called.

I am headed to the lightening storm above.

Reflection

Pay attention to dreams and cross-pollinate roles. Mixing things up, following emerging interests, and keeping things fresh can lead to amazing results.

What regrets do people who had successful careers still harbor?

What other roles in work would I like to have?

What ways could cross-pollinating roles help in an organization?

Stone Faced

© 2017 by Tom Sparough

Stone Faced

Joseph wasn’t a night watchman. He worked the day shift, but tonight he was filling in, which he did infrequently, and reluctantly.

In the dead of night, at 3:30 a.m. Joseph left his co-worker and walked into the dark of the art museum to do the rounds.

The sound of his footsteps echoed as he walked through the entrance lobby, past the ticket counter and information desk, towards the main stairwell.

He made his way to the upstairs gallery. The motion sensor switched on the lights, although only to half power. Everything was dim, and shadowy.

He came to the Native American Arts room. It was filled with vases, masks, and weavings. Joseph himself was filled with resentment and defiance, upset with having to cover this shift.

In the center of the room, there was a life-sized bison, and a bear. These were roped off to keep the visitors from trying to touch them. The bear was standing on its hind legs and towering 9 feet into the air.

The bison was positioned standing in grass, but looking to the side, like it had just spotted a threat. Joseph examined it for a moment and then did what no visitor was allowed to do. He stepped over the rope and stood next to the bison. It was so lifelike that it seemed alive. Joseph put his ear next to the nostril of the bull. It sounded like the bison was breathing. That startled him and he took a couple of steps backwards right into the bear.

Joseph let out a short scream as he realized he was leaning against the bear, its fur touching his neck. He lost his balance as he fell to his side, and hit the rope. One of its stands tumbled over making a loud clank as it hit the tile. Joseph stayed on the floor for a few seconds, his heart pounding. As he set the stand back in place he said to himself, “I really don’t like this. I really don’t like this at all. I hate walking through here at night.”

He continued his rounds, walking down the service steps and into the storage and work area, a room as big as football field with art that was crated, sheeted or boxed.

There were also worktables, where the art was cleaned and repaired. On one of these huge tables was a sheet cloaking an item about 6 inches tall. Joseph was curious. He knew it was against the rules, but he lifted the sheet to see a small statue of a smiling man carved out of stone.

He picked up the statue and examined it. He guessed he was holding something that was more than two thousand years old. Joseph looked at the ancient face. It stared back at him, but it had no eyes, just indentations where the eyes should have been. He couldn’t break his gaze.

He thought, “Put it down.” But he couldn’t. Then in his imagination his saw his own eyes set into the statue’s face. Joseph felt a pressure in his cheeks and forehead. His face was inching toward the statue. He could hear his blood pulsing through his head.

Breaking the gaze and pushing the statue to the table, Joseph quickly recovered it with the sheet and walked out of the room.

He was out of breath as he climbed the stairs back to the main floor. He was almost done with his walk.

Entering his favorite part of the museum, Joseph slowed his pace as he walked among the life-sized ancient Greek and Roman statues. He could feel his heart pounding. He knew there was nothing that was going to get him, yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t alone. He didn’t think that there were other people here, but he wondered about the artwork itself. Did it have life?

Could there still be a spirit in the bison, in the bear? How about in the crates, or the little statue?

He paused and looked at one of the masterpieces standing before him. It was a combination of two figures. One was of a man, powerfully built, but damaged. His head was missing, and his left hand was gone.

Joseph knew this was a valuable piece of art, carved out of marble by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s students. Even without the head, it was a stunning piece.

The woman, who was the other figure in the duet, was staring at the man, smiling, leaning and reaching for him. She was barely dressed with a cloth covering her. Her hair hung down below her shoulders, her head tilted.

Looking at her stirred something deep in Joseph. He felt a sense of melancholy. She was forever reaching for her lover, who had lost his head.

How did that happen? Was it damaged in the making so that he never had a head? Or did vandals some hundreds of years ago knock his head off?

Joseph reached out and touched the lady’s arm. It was cold and not exactly smooth. He thought that it would have been perfectly smooth, but it had a roughness to it.

He looked closely at her eyes. They were carved out stone, not nearly as convincing as the glass bison eyes. Yet, there was something about them that was moving, captivating, entrancing.

Joseph saw a dark spot under one of her eyes. He looked closely, and it appeared to be a tiny bead of water. Perhaps a leak from the ceiling had caused it. That was a comforting thought to him, for Joseph knew he was breaking the rules. He was touching the artwork, breathing on it, stepping on it. But now, he had found a reason why he should be so close to the artwork.

He examined the ceiling with his flashlight. There was no sign of a leak, no pipe, no stain, no drip. He shined the flashlight onto the statue. There was clearly water there.

Joseph climbed onto the pedestal housing the statues. The bead of water looked like a teardrop. He put his index finger into the droplet. He pulled it away and rubbed the water with his thumb and index finger. He brought the finger up to his own eyes and looked at the wetness glistening in the dim light. He opened his mouth and placed the tip of his finger on his tongue. It was salty.

He thought he would need to report this, yes, he definitely would. He had found water on a priceless statue. Joseph stepped off the pedestal and looked at the scene, the lovers trying to reach one another, the man deformed with no head or left hand.

Joseph’s gaze locked on the man’s wrist. He felt a pain in his own hand. He laughed quietly. “I feel your pain old fella. Wish I could have stopped the people who broke your hand and head right off. That wouldn’t have happened on my watch.”

He rotated his wrist. His hand was really hurting. He rubbed his wrist with his right hand. He let out a moan, which alarmed him. It was a sickly cry in the quiet of the night.

Now he felt a pressure in his neck. He brought his hands to his neck and chest. He tried to massage his neck, to relieve the tension. There was a force pulling on him.

Joseph tried to walk, but the pain stopped him. No breath. He couldn’t breathe.

Falling to the wooden floor, landing on his back, the pain in his hand felt like a clamp was severing it. He writhed in pain, and lay helpless on his back. As he stared at the ceiling a gruesome sight appeared. It was a hand, dripping with blood floating through the air, moving toward the statues.

His neck, his neck, it felt like it was being broken. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t breathe. But he could hear snapping and gurgling.

His gaze was elevated. He saw down the hall. He looked at the other statues so nicely laid out in a row.

His vision moved to the floor. It was as if he was in a dream. He saw a body lying on the floor. He saw blood, blood leaking from the body. The body had no head, and was missing a hand. It was wearing his clothes.

Now he could see her. She was coming into his vision. His gaze was locked upon her beautiful, stone face.

His hand was reaching for her.

The lights in the gallery went dark.

But he could see through the darkness that her expression was changing, her eyes narrowing, and her smile becoming a smirk.

It was as if she was saying, “I have you now. You’re mine, and you are not going anywhere.”

The dead of night silenced the room.

 

Reflection

Rules Are for Our Own Good

Every organization needs rules, but not every organization is good at explaining the reasons behind the rules. Some rules may seem arbitrary, and others outdated.

Healthy organizations are able to discuss and revise rules.

What rules did Joseph break in this story?

What are consequences that might happen in your organization when the rules are not followed?

What rules don’t often get followed?