There is rarely if ever a good reason to prolong the inevitable so I was pleased to finally receive my summons to the Vice President’s office. An exit interview was something I had polished over the years, learning that unless a company was in its infancy there was no use wasting anyone’s time explaining the true reason for your leaving. If there was even a spark of interest in saving a good employee at the expense of the bottom line, the changes would have occurred long ago. For different, but equally selfish reasons, employers and employees allow a mutually bad relationship to linger too long. In cases of divorce the judge simply declares irreconcilable differences, but without the benefit of an impartial ruling body, it always reminds me of a bad ending to a knife fight. My solution: man-up, accept the blade of the other against your throat, agree to count to three, and it’s finished. Counting in unison squelches any lingering doubt that one party is more or less responsible than the other.
No sooner did I arrive, he slammed down the receiver of his phone and bolted past me, leaving a cloud of mumbled obscenities floating in the room. The simplicity of the moment was grand, no longer was I obligated to share in the frustration or take sides in daily pissing matches not of my own making. Some time ago I had given up the prospect of making any substantial difference here, and pushing the door to and uttering inaudibly, “Good luck with that”, teetered on the precipice of caring too much. It felt exceedingly good to sit in one of the cheap visitor chairs because in precisely two hours I would be just that.
Roughly fifteen minutes passed before I questioned his return. It was part of the executive game, a subliminal message that corporately speaking you were a bottom-rung dweller and undeserving his best effort. He took his plays directly from some Universal Corporate Behavior Manual with the following buried in a mission statement gone awry; “Deferring meetings indefinitely and showing up late is acceptable behavior if you carry a smart phone that blinks like a light house on Cape Hatteras during hurricane season.” To me, it was inconsiderate and rude behavior, something all good mothers warned against. I could only assume he awoke each morning aspiring to become everything I hoped to avoid in life.
During the past year the dysfunction at this organization had morphed ten times over, his office a direct reflection of a ship steaming toward a jagged reef. His desk calendar looked like a panel of Egyptian hieroglyphics, where indiscernible scribbles outweighed printer’s ink three to one. Adjacent sat two laptops, an obscure reference to his importance that I found particularly amusing. The all-seeing eye in the corner of the room was blind, the hard drive on the computer responsible for closed-circuit monitoring had crashed months earlier and was deemed too expensive for repair. The backup of the corporate e-mail database had been failing going on six months now, and twenty-three emails stating so had been ineffective in producing any substantive actions to rectify it. If this was not the birthplace of hypocrisy it was undeniably a finishing school for it. His sales force peddled the statistics every day, grim numbers for companies with no business continuity plan with regards to data losses too great to consider. Reluctantly I acknowledged some burdens are simply too heavy to carry with a single set of hands, but in one hour and forty-five minutes and counting, the albatross hanging around my neck belonged to another.
Eventually he returned and disappointingly his part of our final discourse came directly from a canned document. Monotonous words flowing from an expressionless face allowed my mind to drift to some random point in time before the corporate machine had commandeered another minion.
The image of a young boy walking along a dirt road was as clear and vivid as life itself. A corridor of trees lined the path on either side, barren branches and long shadows indicated late winter and the approach of dusk. His shoulders were slumped and his course uncertain as he lingered at one side before moving to the other. He was obviously distraught, his attention divided between the dark forest and glances toward a setting sun. Leaning deep into the shadows his calls to a lost friend echoed back at him and the lack of response produced an eerie sense of indescribable loss that resonated deep within me. Only when he dropped to his knees and began to sob in elongated bursts did I see his face for the very first time, shocked to identify him as miniature version of me.
I had been mistaken all along, never considering the man who sat across from me a fellow victim of circumstance. In postal terms, perhaps he was a drop-shipped package, wrapped in plain brown paper, lacking a return address. Maybe the past several years were only a miserable prelude to what I might say to him in the scant two minutes that remained.
“Stop, with the nonsense!” I blurted out.
His eyes grew wide, but he said nothing as I swept the collection of vendor awards over the edge of his desk and into the trash can.
“Reach in the bottom drawer and pull out the dusty picture of your wife and children. I want to know where you daughter intends to go to college. How your boy felt when he saw the baseball clear the fence in the county tournament? I want to know where you and the Mrs. plan on retiring once you finally realize this job…..any job, is nothing more than a pit-stop on a grandiose but very finite journey called life.”