Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Spoiler: Part 1 of a new novel

This is the first installment of my new novel, The Spoiler:

His best job
My best job ever was at the ConRon board meeting. In Houston. I walk in there with a dozen guys in Brioni suits and alligator cowboy boots. I’m wearing a Brioni suit they loaned me for the gig. Must’ve cost fifteen hundred min, diamond cufflinks and a diamond stickpin – I’m talking not bling – blang – shoes by Emilio or whatever the fuck Zegna. The mark comes in, he knows everyone on the board. He’s going around the table making refined frat boy bullshit intro smalltalk shit – “Larson, Tom, J.B., Karen” – and he sees me and fucking freezes. He nods, mutters “Hi” then subtly tries to make, like, eye signals with the others as if to say, “Who the fuck is this guy and what is he doing in the boardroom – our boardroom? – of the world’s biggest oil company?” He scans this VP and that VP, the comptroller, accounting, marketing, corporate communication, P.R. Not one of them makes eye contact.

Then they all start glad-handing me, slapping me on the back, asking about my wife and kids. The mark then gets it, takes his cue, and now it’s face-saving time, and he starts talking to me like we’re buds, like we went to high fucking school together and shared a bong out beyond the quadrangle. “Did you have a good trip in?” And I tell him, “Great. The corporate jet is awesome, dude.” And I can tell immediately that he flew on a non-corporate jet. A peon jet. From the ashen look on his face, it could’ve been a prop plane.

They start the meeting, all kinds of introductory b.s., they go over the agenda, some skirt freshens their coffee and Danish, which was like sugar-glazed cardboard, Masters of the Universe eating shit from a coffee cart, and I keep looking over and smiling at the mark, who’s pretending everything is A-O-fucking-K. And the thing drags on with all kinds of reports on world prices, new discoveries, all this petrol-speak – it was so Z-inducing, I started nodding off, like the junkies I used to watch in Tompkins Square Park.

And the mark, finally it’s his turn to speak. And he gets up and announces that he’s done a study, the result of which is that in order to bring the bottom line in line with the analysts’ earnings projections, “we” have to lay off forty-five thousand people. That’s like a fucking small town. But he’s got the charts and graphs and everybody nods and the CEO pretends to be concerned and weighing the decision, but he’s got these forty-five thousand people wriggling in his hand like Godzilla before he decides to eat them, and he pretends to agree only reluctantly and with the gravest misgivings about the P.R. blowback, but the P.R. chick – one of these flinty, only-in-America bitches who seems to have honed herself into a human stiletto – reassures him she can handle it, and everybody yeses him and they fucking applaud the mark for his totally unnecessary study that they only used to justify a decision they’d already made.

And then they introduce me. “Mr. Haslop,” – I find out later he’s this semi-retired VP who was stationed in Jakarta, went native and never attends these meetings in person. And my title is VP and chief executive, personnel. And I get up and I start with some long-winded b.s. about how the forty-five thousand may not be enough, and that we have to cut to the bone to compete with BP and EM, and that the stockholders are concerned about excessive executive compensation. You know, the natives are getting restless. And I go on, “We may have to tamp down on our bonuses” and everybody looks predictably pissed off but tries not to show it. And then I say it’s worth it to avoid problems with the institutional investors, and that this may even mean the termination of one or more senior management. And I turn to the mark and I say, “Isn’t that right, Mr. Whiteman?” That’s his name can you believe it? And he looks befuddled, stunned, and turns to the CEO, who says to him, “What do you think, Dave?” and Dave says, “Um, do you really think this is necessary?” and the CEO says, “Yes, I do.” Then I say that I have a PowerPoint presentation, and the lights go off and the screen lights up, and the computer projects the demonstration, and, well, the first slide is titled, “Should Dave Whiteman Be Terminated?” And you hear Dave’s voice just issue this pathetic gurgling moan, like a grasshopper losing an erection. And the slides come on, one after another, demonstrating in that impersonal yet dumbed-down PowerPoint manner, in just how many ways Dave deserves to get canned. He’s not pulling his weight, he’s indecisive, he waited too long to come up with the study to downsize the forty-five thousand, he’s not keeping on top of his department, there are even whispers about sexual harassment.

They gave me the raw material, but I wrote the slides myself. And the last one outlines his proposed termination agreement and severance package, and it’s pocket change, really, and this sends Dave over the edge. He starts by pretending it’s a gag and he’s in on it, but the blood has so rushed from his face he looks embalmed and his hands are shaking like he’s got Bells’ palsy and his feet are tapping like Art Blakey on speed. When his line “This is a joke, right?” falls on a room as still and quiet as a newly snowed cornfield, he starts pleading. He’s got family to support, two kids, two mortgages, his wife will leave him, it’s his second, trophy wife, although I saw a picture of her and she looks more like a bowling trophy, all stiff, gilt-edged, wax-smiling executive mate. And then the lights go on and they’ve got two beefy-looking security guards and they’re packing serious heat! And the CEO says, “Dave, I know this is a bit of a shock, but you have to go back to your hotel, these gentlemen will escort you,” and Dave says to the CEO, “Warren, you can’t be serious.” And Warren says, “Don’t call me Warren. It’s Mr. Houseman.”

By now the others can’t hold it in, and they’re howling, breaking up, while Dave is breaking down. I almost expected to burst his carotid artery, that’s how tense the guy was. And then I stand up and go over to him and rip off my tie and throw away my jacket and say to him, “Dave, you’ve been punk’d!”

And I look down and under his chair is a puddle of urine.

Was it mean? Sure. But these guys, they’re like world-class sadists. What they do to people, to the world … this was a walk in the park.

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