For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations (2015)
• Saturday, October 11
The following Saturday was relatively peaceful. In fact, it’s the most relaxing weekend my family has had since I took my new job. With Halloween a few weeks away, Paige insisted that we take the whole family out to the pumpkin patch.
It was a chilly Saturday morning, so we were exhausted just bundling up the kids and getting them in the car. When we arrived at the nearby farm, Paige and I laughed uncontrollably at Parker, who looked like a giant, angry sausage stuffed into his blue parka. She couldn’t resist taking pictures while Grant orbited us in excitement, taking pictures with his own camera.
Afterward, we went to a local microbrewery, enjoying lunch on the patio in the warm afternoon sun.
“I’m so glad we could do this,” Paige says. “It’s really nice. You seem less stressed lately. I can really tell things are getting better.”
She’s right. It felt like we had turned a corner at work somehow. Just like how I wasn’t wasting as much time fighting my ancient laptop, it seemed like my team was spending more and more of our time doing productive work and less and less firefighting.
Although I know getting a new laptop has absolutely nothing to do with our organizational performance, getting rid of that old clunker was like getting rid of a thousand-pound anchor that someone had tied around my neck while I was swimming across the ocean.
We’re still grappling with gradually melting the project freeze. I’m guessing that we’ll probably be able to unfreeze twenty-five percent of all the projects, along with a bunch of other new projects designed to further elevate Brent.
There were still so many uncertainties. But unlike before, our challenges feel within our ability to understand and conquer. Our goals finally seem achievable. I no longer feel like I am always on my heels, with more and more people piling on, trying to push me over.
With the business agreeing, with the exception of Sarah, on what the priorities are, my job actually seems fair. It feels like we have the initiative and are attacking the problem, instead of the other way around.
I like it.
I look up to see Paige smiling back at me and then yell out in panic as I see Parker knocking over her glass of beer.
The rest of the afternoon passes too quickly, but it’s one of the best days I’ve had all year.
Later that evening, Paige is curled up with me on the couch. We’re watching the Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider. The kids have gone to sleep, and this is the first time we’ve actually watched a movie together in months.
I laugh uncontrollably watching the main character, “the Preacher” played by Eastwood, methodically pick off the gang of nine evil deputies. Paige looks at me with amused disapproval.
“What exactly is so funny about this?” she asks.
This makes me laugh harder. When another deputy gets shot in the background, I say, “Look at that! You know what’s going to happen, but the marshal just stands there in the middle of the street, watching the carnage! Look at the way the wind rustles through his coat! And his gun isn’t even drawn! I love it!”
“I’ll never understand you,” Paige says, shaking her head with a smile.
Just then, my cell phone rings. I instinctively reach for it.
Holy crap. It’s John. No one has seen or heard from him since that audit meeting, over two weeks ago. We’re pretty sure he hasn’t been fired, but no one knows more than that. I’ve been meaning to check the local hospitals to make sure he’s not convalescing alone somewhere.
As much as I want to talk with him, I don’t want to leave Paige and the movie. I look at the clock, and see that there’s probably only fifteen more minutes until the end. Not wanting to miss the final gunfight, I mute the phone. I’ll call him back when the movie is over.
A couple of seconds later, my phone rings again, and I again hit the mute button.
My phone rings again. For the third time, I mute the phone, but quickly send him a text message: Grt hearing from u. Can’t talk right now. Will call u in 20m.
Unbelievably, my phone buzzes again, so I turn the ringer off, putting my phone underneath some cushions on the couch.
Paige asks, “Who keeps calling?”
When I say, “John,” she rolls her eyes, and we watch the remaining ten minutes of the movie.
“I can’t believe I haven’t seen that movie until tonight!” I say, giving Paige a squeeze. “That was such a great idea, darling!”
“It’s been a great day. It’s so nice having a normal life again,” she says, returning my hug, and then with a smile, she gets up, taking the empty beer bottles with her.
I agree. I pick up my phone, my heart skipping a beat when I see “15 missed calls.”
Suddenly afraid that I may have missed something truly disastrous, I quickly look to see who called. Every call was from John. I call him immediately.
“Billy, so good to hear your voice again—my friend—my dear, dear old—dear ol’ friend,” he slurs. Good Lord. He’s completely drunk.
“Sorry I couldn’t return your calls right away. I was out with Paige,” I say, feeling guilty at my slight mistruth.
“No problem. Look, I just wanted to see you one—one lasht time before I left—be leaving,” he says.
“Leaving? What do you mean ‘leaving’? Where are you going?” I say with alarm, wondering how long he’s been drinking. Maybe I should have called back sooner. I suddenly visualize him on the other end of the phone with an open bottle of sleeping pills in his hand, already half-empty.
I hear him laugh, maybe a bit hysterically. “Don’t worry, Billy. I’m not going to kill myself. Haven’t had enough to drink—yet. Har-har! I just wanted to see you before I left town tonight. Let me buy you one last drink.”
“Uh, can’t this wait until tomorrow? It’s almost midnight,” I say, slightly relieved.
He tells me that he’ll be long gone by tomorrow and convinces me to join him at the Hammerhead Saloon downtown.
When I pull into the parking lot, I immediately spot John’s Volvo station wagon. Hitched behind his car is a U-Haul trailer, and there’s a pile of empty beer cans right outside the driver’s side door.
I find him in a booth at the back of the crowded bar, and it’s obvious he’s been here all day. He doesn’t seem to have bathed or changed his clothes since I last saw him. His hair is greasy and wildly askew as if he just woke up, his face is covered in stubble, and there are food stains on his shirt. His keys and wallet have been tossed carelessly next to the salt and pepper shakers.
John urgently waves over a waitress, taking a moment to rehearse his words, but still slurring as he says, “I’d like two double scotches, neat, for me and my friend here. And those yummy nachos… Please.”
She looks over at me questioningly, obviously having already served him plenty. I nod, but say quietly, “Let’s start with two cups of coffee, please. I’ll take care of him.” As I say it, I reach over and take his keys off the table.
For a moment, she looks dubious but gives me a small smile and walks away.
“Dude, you look like shit,” I say candidly.
“Thanks, pal. So do you,” he replies, before bursting out laughing.
“Nice. Where the hell have you been? Everyone has been looking for you,” I say.
“I’ve been at home,” he says, grabbing some popcorn from our table. “I’ve been mostly reading and watching TV. Whoa, there is some crazy shit on TV these days. Crazy! But then I started thinking it’s time for me to move on, so I spent most of today packing. I just wanted to ask you one little question before I left.”
“You mentioned that on the phone,” I say, as the waitress arrives with two cups of coffee and the nachos. John looks with confusion at the mugs on the table, so I say, “Don’t worry. Our drinks are on the way.”
When I get him to take a sip of coffee, he asks, “Just tell me straight. Is it really true that I haven’t done anything of value for you? In all the three years that we’ve worked together, I’ve never, ever been helpful?”
I take a deep breath, trying to decide what to tell him. A friend told me years ago, “To tell the truth is an act of love. To withhold the truth is an act of hate. Or worse, apathy.”
I had laughed at those words at the time, but over the years, I’ve realized that having people give you honest feedback is a rare gift. Looking across at John, even though he looks like a completely broken man, I wonder whether the right thing to do is to just let him off easy and tell him what he wants to hear.
Finally, I say, “Look, John. You’re a good guy, and I know your heart is in the right place, but up until you helped hide us from the PCI auditors during the Phoenix meltdown, I would have said no. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but…I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t feeding you a line of bullshit.”
Amazingly, John looks even more crestfallen than before. “Where’s that goddamned scotch?” he yells out. Turning back to look at me, he says, “Are you serious? After three whole goddamned years of working together, you’re telling me that I haven’t helped you, not even in the slightest bit?”
“Well, for most of those years, I was in charge of the midrange group, which you didn’t get too involved with,” I explain calmly. “We found our own security guidance on the web. When we did interact, you just tried to dump a bunch of work on me. Look, I care about security, and we always look for risks to our systems and data, but we’re always up to our eyeballs in urgent work, trying to keep our heads above water. And in my new role, I’m just trying to help the company survive.”
John says, “But don’t you see, that’s what I’m trying to do, too! I’m just trying to help you and the business survive!”
I reply, “I know. But, in my world, I’m responsible for keeping all our services up and running, and deploying new services like Phoenix. Security had to take a backseat. Trust me, I’m well aware of the risks of bad security, and I know it would be a career-ending move to have a large-scale security breach on my watch.”
I shrug my shoulders. “I’m making the best possible decisions given my knowledge of the risks. I just don’t think that all the stuff you wanted me to do would have helped the business as much as all the other things on my plate.
“Come on,” I continue, “Does it bother you deep down that the business got through the SOX-404 audit without you? Does that make you question the importance and validity of your recommendations?”
John just stares back at me.
As if on cue, our waitress arrives with the two scotches. John picks his up, and finishes it in one gulp. “Another round, please.”
When she looks at me, I shake my head and mouth the words, “Check, please? And call a cab?”
She nods and disappears. I take a sip of my scotch and look back at John. His head is now lolling backward and he’s muttering something. By now, he’s completely unintelligible.
I feel sorry for him.
I take his wallet off the table.
“Hey!” he says.
“Our waitress is tipping out, and I’ve got to pay her, but, I forgot my wallet at home,” I say.
He laughs at me, looking at me blearily. “No problem, old pal. I’ll get this one. I always get them, don’t I?”
“Thanks,” I say, and grab his driver’s license. I wave over the waitress and point to his home address.
Returning John’s wallet, I pull out my own and pay.
I help John up and pour him into the cab, making sure his wallet and keys are back in his pocket. Not wanting John to deal with the cabbie, I pay the cabbie, too.
Watching him leave, and then looking at his station wagon and U-Haul full of only a fraction of his worldly belongings, I just shake my head. I head back to my car, wondering when I’m going to see him next.
The next day, I call John a couple of times on his cell phone, but he never answers. I finally leave him a voicemail telling him that I hoped he got home okay, where his car was, and to give me a ring if he needs anything.
The rumor mill is abuzz. There’s talk that he was hospitalized, arrested, abducted by aliens, or locked up in a mental institution.
I’m not sure how these rumors were starting, as I didn’t tell anyone about my late-night meeting with him, nor was I ever going to.
I’m just finishing up putting Grant to bed on Monday night when I get a text message from John. I quickly read it: Thanks for the lift home the other day. Been thinking. I told Dick that u’ll be joining our 8am mtg tomorrow. Should be interesting.
What meeting with Dick?
I stare at my phone. On the one hand, John is alive and seems able to work. That’s good.
On the other hand, John is now talking about meeting with Dick, the second most powerful executive in the company, tomorrow morning, potentially in some mentally unbalanced state and has already broadcast that I’m his coconspirator.
That’s not so good. I quickly tap out my reply to him: Good hearing from u. Hope you’re doing ok? What is Dick meeting about? May not be able to make it.
He responds immediately: I’ve been arrogant. Realized yest that I don’t actually know much about Dick. Must change that. Together.
Worried that John may be completely off his rocker, I immediately call him. He answers on the first ring, sounding oddly cheery. I hear him say, “Good evening, Bill. Thanks again for Saturday night. What’s up?”
“What exactly are you up to, John?” I say. “What’s this meeting tomorrow with Dick about, and why are you dragging me into it?”
He replies, “I spent most of yesterday in bed, since I could barely get myself to the bathroom and back. My head felt like it was a lemon smashed by a brick. What drinks were you buying me that night?”
He doesn’t wait for me to answer before continuing, “I kept thinking about our last conversation at the bar. I realized that if I haven’t done anything useful for you, who I should have the most in common with, then it stands to reason that I haven’t been useful to almost everyone else, who I have nothing in common with.
“That’s got to change,” he says adamantly.
I bite my tongue, wanting to hear John out before I recommend that he cancel tomorrow’s meeting.
He continues, “I kept thinking about what Erik said, that he’d be ready to talk to me when Dick says he wants me around.”
“Uh, I don’t think a quick thirty-minute ‘getting to know you’ meeting is going to get you there,” I say, seriously skeptical.
He responds with complete calm, “Wouldn’t you agree, like so many things in life, that we must always start by at least gaining an understanding of the person we’re dealing with? What could go wrong? I just want to learn more about his job.”
In my head, I immediately envision John asking or saying something stupid, completely pissing Dick off, and Dick firing him on the spot, and then firing me, too, just to eliminate the contagion.
Yet I find myself saying, “Okay, I’ll be there.”