Friday, August 17, 2007
Corporate Communications #5: Alison
The coolest experiences I had working with computers in the corporate world all involved typesetting in one way or another. The coolest people I met in corporate America were all graphic designers. Graphic designers attempt to bring a little bit of beauty—maybe even a little art—to a world where such things are utterly alien.
And the coolest graphic designer I ever met was a young woman named Alison.
One day we both came in early because we had a brochure to put together. We spent the day working out mock-ups, getting copy from various departments and getting approvals from various managers. We still had work to do around quitting time, so we shut ourselves in Alison’s office and shared her desk, both of us working away at her computer to finalize everything. A couple of hours later we created a Postscript file and sent it over the phone line to our service bureau. Then we just sat back and enjoyed being done.
We chatted about nothing in particular and, somehow, the conversation got around to what I’d do if I won the lottery and what she’d do if she won the lottery.
I went first.
“If I won the lottery,” I said, “the first thing I’d do is buy a boat. Either a sailboat around thirty-five feet or a small power yacht, depending on how many millions I won. Then I’d spend the next few years just sailing around the world. I’d stop at Melbourne and Paris and London and New York and get court-side seats for all the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Then, after the US Open, I’d sail back to the Mediterranean. I’d get a little cottage in the south of France. Some place quiet, where I could write and read and visit that mountain by Aix that Cézanne painted all the time. The south of France is very mystical. That’s where the Holy Grail mythos really got started. According to legend—French legend, anyway—it was somewhere around Marseilles that Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalen entered Europe.”
Then it was Alison’s turn.
“If I won the lottery,” Alison said, “I’d stay here in Chicago. I’d start a charity and run it, finding ways to help underprivileged children.”
Oh, great! I thought. I don’t feel too stupid. I’m spinning this whole self-indulgent fantasy about yachts and tennis and the south of France, and she’s thinking about poor kids.
But, then, at the same time, it occurred to me that since I was totally shot down, since I couldn’t look any lower, this was really an opportunity: I could say anything. It couldn’t get any worse...
And that’s the kind of license that my mind just grabs and runs with.
I asked, “Is helping poor children really important to you?”
“Yes,” Alison said. “I think that would be an amazing feeling of satisfaction.”
I nodded. “Well, look at me,” I said. “I’m poor. I’m childish. Help me. Give me a blow job.”
Alison stood up. “That’s it,” she said. “I want you out of my office now. I mean right this second.”
She walked to the door and opened it. She stood there looking very severe, the doorknob in her hand. “Out,” she said. “Now.”
I stood up and walked to the door. In the doorway I turned around. “Good night kiss?” I asked, leaning forward.
Alison turned her face away, sharply, and put her hand against my chest as if to push me away. She put her hand against my chest as if to push me away, but she didn’t actually push.
I kept leaning forward and kissed Alison on the cheek.
Then she did push me out the door and closed it. But she didn’t slam it.
So, she kicked me out of her office, but she didn’t actually kick me. She didn’t kiss me, but she let me kiss her on the cheek. And she closed her door in my face, but she didn’t slam the door.
The corporate world imposes all manner of limitations, all manner of boundaries, on human behavior. The modern, corporate person learns to become sensitive to subtleties.