This is a story about a past employer of mine. It’s a funny story in a politically incorrect way, so if you take offense easily you probably shouldn’t read this. Names have been changed to protect, well…me.
The corporate bigwigs were in town for the annual ‘pat on the back, the company’s doing great’ New Year’s bullshit they fed us every year. “Happy Holidays! Here’s your free turkey…Oh, and, by the way, we’re changing insurance companies on you.” In other words, it was that time of year when you and your co-workers found out what benefits you’d be losing next year.
All of us, around four hundred, walked into the lobby. It was a large, open space with a curved staircase rising to the second floor executive suites. Everyone filed in and quickly found a place to stand. Their expressions differed mainly according to age. The grayer the hair; the more pronounced was the look of cynical resignation. I took my seat along with the rest of my team and waited.
Our second in command stood up. “Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us today…” Blah, blah, blah… “I’d like to introduce our president, who flew in especially for today’s meeting.” Then ‘the suit’ stood and took the mic. He was the kind of man who rarely, if ever, thought about the present or past, focusing almost exclusively on the future, studying his target and planning his next strategic move. He appeared entirely devoid of personality.
The speech droned on the way it was planned: Positive remarks about the company and how important all of us are to the organization. The usual accolades were handed out to the leadership teams…of course; it came as no surprise to them because they’d planned it. What they’d call the awards, who’d get which ones…based on what project? It all needed to seem legitimate; earned, to justify their end-of-year bonuses.
After a brief mention about the company stock the speech ended. The president thanked everyone for their time and said, “Now, where’s Dan?”
“Dan:” The General Manager of our division and the person holding our financial lives in his hands. He’d made a name for himself in sales early in his career and climbed the ladder to a prominent position in an international corporation before his fiftieth birthday. And, he wasn’t just a successful businessman…he was also accomplished in his personal life, having overcome losing a leg in a high school boating accident.
However, he’d also picked up the less desirable characteristics of his elevated social class. One could say he was a self-absorbed individual. An example: At a time when the company was conducting regular layoffs he made sure he got his box seats at the coliseum into the yearly budget. Another story…He was part of a group of co-workers trying to lose weight and every Monday they’d weigh in on a scale in the sales manager’s office. One morning “Sheila” was conducting a job interview when Dan burst in, mumbled the obligatory “Morning,” then immediately went to work unstrapping his artificial leg. He slapped the large, plastic and metal contraption down on the table between the sales manager and the poor, dumbstruck applicant, hopped over to the scale in the corner…the whole time babbling away to no one in particular…and weighed himself. When he was done he strapped his leg back on and walked out.
Like I said…totally disconnected to what was going on around him.
However, that is not what this story is about. Back to the company-wide meeting…
With a big, sweeping gesture towards the stairs, Mr. President said, “And now I’ll turn it over to Dan.” The crowd’s attention swung obediently towards the man responsible for their continued success, who happened to be about halfway down the stairs by now. Dan raised his arm in acknowledgement just as an ominous chink, chink was heard from his artificial leg. His hand clamped down on the banister, gripping it in his fake tanned fist just before he disappeared behind the banister wall.
Thump, thump, thump! We all knew what was happening and none of us could look away.
He slid down a few stairs before coming to a stop with one last, loud thump on the mid-point landing. Then just as suddenly as he had disappeared, he popped back up like Leslie Nielsen in a Police Squad sketch. His usually perfectly coiffed hair was askew and the collar of his golf shirt was pushed to the side. As he regained his composure his face began deepening to a striking scarlet color. In one conjoined motion, the rest of us went from staring at the spectacle on the stairs to a deep visual study of our feet. No one dared share a glance for fear of the shrieks of joyous contempt threatening to burst forth.
The meeting went on without a reference to the awkward moment. He made it downstairs and after a moment of recovery he delivered his prepared lines. I noticed that our president’s expression remained unchanged…he must be dead inside at this point in his career.
There’s no great moral discourse meant to come from this moment other than…
Nature has a way of equalizing us all.