Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Enterprise - 37

Brett returned to work quietly, unceremoniously, in a newly invented role: Special Projects Director. In the morning he’d drift into the office ghost-like, with the slightest shuffle of his bad foot. He’d exit periodically, looking down, pulling out a Marlboro. There was no more bluster, no more shouting, no more strumming of the guitar. He labored in isolation, on a spinoff product that was to offer users their own configurable, interactive avatars. It seemed dubious. Everyone was a bit embarrassed for him, as though he’d been chastened, emasculated. Tom, his best friend and erstwhile bandmate, was officially named his replacement. I wondered how Tom felt.

It was crowded in the office. We had grown, both here and out west. Vague new people were brought around for introductions before disappearing to their cubicles. Marketing people. Database administrators. An IT specialist named Jared was hired, finally allowing Peter to focus full-time on his domain.

One morning, Derek was holding court on a chair at the head of my cubicle row. He wore penny loafers with no socks, a blazer over a white T-shirt. He never did seem to do much. He imagined himself a visionary. An ideas man. He was fond of PowerPoint. One day he gave me a presentation to revise. It was some sort of appeal for strategic partnerships. One slide had the following words across the top:

Intracto Is Vetted By Top Brands

The rest of it contained the full-color logos of a bewildering assemblage of big-name companies: Vivendi Universal, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Continental Airlines, Hewlett Packard, Coca-Cola, Viacom, ETrade and Frito-Lay. Their whimsical arrangement on the page produced a dizzying, non-sequitur effect, suggestive of a high school girl’s locker festooned with words cut out from magazines. I asked Derek what these brands had to do with us. He shrugged and smiled.

Today Derek was telling a rambling, elliptical tale about bringing a polo mallet wrapped in plain brown paper and twine to a friend who lived in Spanish Harlem. He clapped and laughed, rocking back and forth in his chair.

“So they’re all sitting on their stoops, whatever. They’re all like, look at this guy! I’m a little nervous, like, what am I gonna do? So I open up my trunk and I, I...” He slapped his knee, hard, as though to beat back his own hysterics. “I... take out the polo mallet! And it’s wrapped in brown paper, and it looks like this!”

He leaned back and made like he was pointing a shotgun at the ceiling. He held the pose as long as he could before dissolving again in shuddering, quaking mirth.

“Can you? Can you imagine?” he gasped. “Can you fucking imagine what a polo mallet wrapped in butcher paper looks like to someone on the street?!” He convulsed and hissed with laughter. Everyone else laughed, too. We had to.

I considered what it was, exactly, about guys like this. I could never be a guy like this, I thought. I could never tell a group of people a story that made me laugh so hard that tears were pouring down my face. And there he was doing it. He didn’t care. He was perfectly serene. I envied him for his unselfconsciousness. What might it even feel like to be such a person?

Derek’s story finally coasted to a stop and we returned to our monitors to find an e-mail from Neil. It read as follows:

Dear Fellow Intractos,

You’ve always known me as a straight-up, put-up-or-shut-up type of guy, so I’ll be candid here and will try not to waste your time. Certain external circumstances—this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to any of you—have put us in the position where we have to make some decisions that we had hoped we wouldn’t have to make.

We continue to anticipate an increasingly dynamic technology landscape in which our Product is positioned to be among the most disruptive, transforming and ultimately impactful innovations. The vision is clear. Sadly, our enthusiasm for ramping up resources has outpaced market realities.

The long and the short of it is this: I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the input and energy and commitment that each and every one of you have poured into our beloved Product. While some of you will be embarking today on different life paths, and some will remain to see our dream fully realized, know that we are not making any comment on the quality of your work nor the depth of your devotion.

Beginning at 2:30 pm, Dennis and I will meet with you individually to discuss your futures or lack thereof. I caution you all to be respectful of each other in this difficult time.