Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Spoiler: Part 13 -- Paula the debriefer

Paula Scardino was appointed to be my “debriefer,” the person in charge of getting me up to speed on ConRon, Dave Whiteman, and everything else necessary to prepare for the gig.

“Welcome aboard,” she said, her stiff arm thrusting out of a gray suit with faint white pinstripes. I never learned her exact position, but it was clear from her no-nonsense attitude and the deferential response she got from everybody at ConRon that she was someone you didn’t mess with. Someone who reported directly to Magnum.

She was in her late 30s, and acted mannish like most women who had climbed the corporate ladder. Her voice was deep, with a trace of an Italian-American accent – not East Coast, maybe Frisco. She also reminded me – and this was awkward – of a slightly older Miranda Piles, a porn star who made a big splash in the video, “Merkle’s Boner,” that I had once asked Katlyn to watch with me with the hope it would spice up our sex life.

“Judging from the questionnaire we asked you to fill out, you don’t know much about the company.”

“No, but you know a lot about me.”

“We need to be thorough. We are a Fortune 500 company and an industry leader in derivatives and hedge funds. We have certain … formulations – ”

“Insider trading?”

“Not according to legal. Besides, the Feds would be down here faster than the EMS.”


“Now, we’re here to get you up to speed on our company and the corporate world. After all, we can’t have a VP of global personnel who doesn’t act the part.”

“I hear you. I work hard and play hard.”

“Let’s start with the look. You’re going to have to wear a suit. Not too French-faggy. Preferably charcoal. With pinstripes. Understated. And Oxfords. Except on Casual Friday.”

“What is that – a religious holiday?”

She wrinkled her nose and her thin vermillion lips drooped into a smile-frown.

“Then you can wear a dress shirt and Dockers with loafers. But always socks.”
I noticed that her hair, which was fine and sandy, was pulled back in a bun so severe it could’ve been devised by the Taliban.

“To start, here’s some literature and a CD-ROM about ConRon and what we expect from our employees. There’s also a lot of useful info about proper behavior – you can skip the sexual harassment stuff, our lawyers made us put it in. The rest you should study. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be proactive, not reactive. Just make sure you run it by me first.”

She handed me a three-inch-thick binder, titled, “ConRon: Energy Solutions for Energy Problems,” and a CD, as well as an employee handbook. I flipped through it, pretending to be fascinated. One chapter heading that caught my eye was “The Super Bowl Party: Do’s and Don’ts.”

“Super Bowl Party?”

“That’s a big bonding event for the company,” Paula said. I later discovered that ConRon turned one of its on-site gyms into a sports bar for the occasion, with a dozen gigantic flat-screen TVs, “concession” stands staffed by a high-end catering service whose waiters wore the kind of white concessionaire jackets you see on the hot-dog vendors at Yankee Stadium – and who served Beluga and high-end champagne as well as hot dogs and Bud Lite (which flowed out of the penis of an ice sculptured reproduction of Michelangelo’s “David”). There were also video games and other diversions. All employees were expected to attend, and no spouses, lovers or the like were allowed.

Some of the “do’s” included:

• No matter which team you root for, wear the ConRon logo and paraphernalia at all times.
• Make ample use of the giant foam fingers and “bad-call bricks” – chunks of foam that “fans” of either team could disgustedly toss at one of the video screens to protest a referee’s decision. (Just to be safe, the screens were hung high enough to be beyond the reach of any Styrofoam missiles.)
• Cheer hysterically and give your nearest colleagues a high-five when the ConRon TV ads – “ConRon Energy. Only the sun does it better” – came on.
• Take part in the pre-game “tailgate party” held in one of the commissaries, where the company installed several SUVs and barbecue pits, in which brontosaurus-sized racks of ribs were grilled.
• Create new energy strategies based on the ones the two head coaches devised for the game. (Huh???)
The “don’ts” included some items that struck me as bizarre at the time but which I later realized were added to address “situations” that had occurred at previous Super Bowl parties:
• Don’t throw anything – or anybody – into the barbecue pits!
• Don’t attempt to stuff a colleague into a six-foot sub.
• Don’t tackle any of your colleagues, especially from behind.
• It’s O.K. to engage in illegal Internet football betting, but don’t use your department’s discretionary cash fund.
• Don’t horde Buffalo wings or any other foodstuff in your windbreaker.

“Wow, you guys ... really know how to party."

"Work hard, play harder, work hardest -- that's our motto."

"Ah, I'll keep that in mind. And I’ll take this home and study it. What’s next?”

“You’ll be needing a new identity and a resume to match. It’s in this folder. Any questions, feel free to call me.”

“This is all very impressive. But … well, isn’t this a lot of trouble to go to for a gag?”

“You mean, isn’t this taking me away from more important duties, draining company resources? No. First, if it comes from Magnum, I clear my desk. Besides, all the employees here are psyched to be with the company. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. Makes my job easier. Nice meeting you, Mr. Haslop. We’ll be in touch.”

She stood up and stiff-armed me a handshake.

Mr. Haslop?

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