Adventures in Business Casual
How I brought down a company using Twitter

Okay, so maybe that title is a bit of an exaggeration but I definitely didn’t help things and at least hastened its demise.

(By the way, all of the tweets in this post, which are all in “bold”, are copied from my timeline from December 7th-December 12th, 2011 from @themalonester)

Picture working for Google. Think of all of the perks like free food and video games and all of the cool stuff you hear about that continually make Google on lists of the best companies to work for.

Now picture that you get to do all of that stuff. Except when the fun activities and meals aren’t happening, your actual job is to be on an extremely small team working on a project Google is starting where they are make their own fragrance called “Nether Regions” that is supposed to be like Axe body spray for your crotch. It is your job to test the smell of athletes’ “nether regions” after working out while wearing the product.

So that’s kind of like the job I had.

It didn’t help things that my boss in this two-man team I was on was insane. Seriously. I will one day write a blog post just about him but it will be extremely long and I don’t have time for that right now. This post is about one incident that happened that brought down our small operation and what I may have done to cause it.

We had hired a sales expert to join our team. He was a veteran of the industry and had held many important positions in several large companies over his career. Somehow, through a headhunter, we brought him out of retirement to steer this ship we were on in the right direction.

My boss was one year younger than me and the new guy was twice my age. Besides the fact that my boss was insane and got along with no one, I knew that someone with the new guys’ experience was not going to have an easy time reporting to someone half his age who had no experience. To me this was going to be a fruitless experiment, but probably at least a little entertaining.

After about a month of working with us, the new guy announced that he had us a meeting in Dallas with a huge company that he used to work for. He had a lot of friends there and they agreed to meet with us. This was a big deal. This meeting could literally bring us from sales of $1,000 a year to a million dollars a year.

The meeting time and place were going to work out conveniently. We had a trade show in Austin, TX that was from Thursday to Saturday and then our meeting in Dallas was the following Monday. We would drive from Austin to Dallas on Sunday and be ready Monday morning.

Part of my job was to prepare for both of these events by shipping everything we needed to Austin and Dallas. This was actually a lot of work and took me a full week to do. Meanwhile, I was also supposed to be working on a PowerPoint presentation that we would be giving. But there were some things that needed to get done that were not. And I was afraid that we were not prepared for this meeting.

I had decided a few weeks before to write up a list of possible objections that we might get at the meeting and figure out how we might overcome them. I had sent this list in an email to my boss and the new guy and though it had been over a week, no one had commented on the list and we were leaving in two days.

My boss decided to have a meeting with us to go over the PowerPoint again….this was the fourth meeting in three days.

When we walked into the meeting, the first thing I said was, “Before we start, can we go over this list of possible objections that I sent everyone? I don’t think this is something we need to brush off. I guarantee they are going to ask us at least a couple of these questions, and right now we don’t have the answers.”

I was told in a frustrated voice that we would deal with that later…that the PowerPoint was the most important thing right now.

And with that we began a meeting that dealt almost exclusively with font size, the style of bullet points we needed and different hues of color for the background, lettering and graphics. Almost no mention was made of actual content or the fact that this thing was reaching 70 pages.

Now I am pretty passive and especially around a boss, I rarely object, and in my entire career have never raised my voice. But as we discussed whether we wanted round or squared bullet points for the third time, I finally said, “Guys, I think we have got some bigger fish to fry than this right now. We’ve got a ton of stuff that we haven’t done or even started and this stuff is pretty mundane.”

That is when I was told: “Michael, this is the most important thing we could possibly be doing right now. There will be plenty of time to do everything that needs to get done because we will stay here until it is done right. Sometimes you have to work long hours and into the early morning and this may be one of those times. We are all going to have to sacrifice.”

This from the guy that came in over an hour late every morning and had never stayed more than 10 minutes after everyone else.

“Do you really think that anyone is going to care about these tiny details in our PowerPoint?” I asked. “They’re going to be more concerned about the fact that we don’t know how to ship the product to them and we don’t know how we’re going to price it and we don’t know how we’re going to market it.” My face was getting red ….about the same shade as one of the bars from the graph on page 53 of the PowerPoint.

“We will not look professional if this presentation is not perfect and completely uniform,” he said.

“We will not look professional if we can’t answer any of their questions,” I said. At this point I was practically out of my chair.

I was then reminded that we would get to my list eventually and that maybe it was time for a break. He said we’d begin again that afternoon

Me and the new guy went back to our cubicles.

About three hours later the new guy walked by my desk. He had his jacket on and a few things under his arm.

“Well, I’ll see you later, man,” he said and shook my hand.

“All right, see you tomorrow.”

“No. I’m leaving….for good. I quit.”

I sat there with my mouth open. Before I could say anything, he said, “C’mon, you know I can’t work for that idiot any more.”

He turned to walk out and over his shoulder said, “I canceled the meeting in Dallas, by the way.”

That sent a flood of relief over me. As soon as he told me he had quit, that was the first thing I had thought about. I had already shipped a bunch of stuff there and we had two more days of PowerPoint’s to do, not counting all of the other stuff we had not even started.

And of course he would cancel the meeting. The people we were going to see were his friends… old colleagues of his. He didn’t want to be embarrassed when we walked in the door with our terrible presentation and have them think “I can’t believe he worked with those clowns.” I didn’t blame him. I mean, the only reason we got the meeting in the first place was because of him and now he was gone.

I didn’t see my boss for the next two hours…I have no idea where he was. When I finally saw him, I asked, “Do you want me to go ahead and cancel our hotels and change our flights from Dallas or have you done it?”

“Why would we do that?” he asked.

“Since the meeting in Dallas is canceled.”

“What do you mean it’s canceled?”

“He canceled it when he quit,” I said, having assumed he knew this.

“Well, there is no reason for that. I will call and tell them we still want to meet.” And with that he quickly walked back into his office.

He later told me he had to leave a message. “I guess we’ll just play it by ear,” he said.

So the next day everyone in the office was asking me what happened even though everyone knew the story. My boss was not well-liked and everyone had a story or five about the guy. It didn’t take a genius to see that he would not know how to work with someone twice his age and with so much experience.

And soon, our meeting became a running joke. Anytime someone had to take a trip with my boss, they would always come back regaling everyone with stories about some weird thing he had done. So now, here I was, about to be gone for a trade show and then an obvious disastrous meeting over six days.

“You’ve got to live tweet the next six days,” the guy who sat beside me said. This whole thing was, of course, hilarious to him because he worked for the fun company doing normal work, but got to sit ringside for all of the craziness that was my working experience. I had tweeted from the last tradeshow I had gone on and he had thought some of my comments had been funny.

“Yeah, I’ll definitely do that,” I said, knowing that there were going to be some moments I needed to share with friends on this trip.

And here we get to what may have been the downfall. The next day as I was preparing to get on the plane I started noticing emails coming to my Blackberry. It was messages telling me that new people were following me on Twitter. They were all people from work.

So I thought, “Well, this will be fun. At least four or five people back at the office will get to laugh at me for the next few days.”

Little did I know that for the next six days, my tweets were being printed out and handed around the office. Everyone…all 40 employees, read my tweets and knew all about my trip.

*******

I was extremely lucky in that I had booked the planes and had booked my boss and I on separate flights. I can’t remember how I explained this, knowing that my real explanation was that sitting by him on a plane was the weirdest, most embarrassing situation I had ever experienced and I never wanted to go through it again. (I know I said I would write a whole post later about all of the weird things about my boss but I can’t pass up on this one. When sitting by him on a plane, he would watch a movie on his iPad and would continuously rock back and forth, then rub his hands together super fast and laugh out loud, in one of the weirdest laughs ever. Like, if birds laughed, it would sound like this. People would start looking back and he was just staring down so they would look at me. But not in a “what’s that guy’s deal?” kind of way, but in a “you’re a good guy to be taking your special needs friend on a plane ride” kind of way. This is not an exaggeration. Everyone that has gone on trips with him has mentioned this experience.)

Anyway, we’re on separate planes, as I mentioned and I am reading a business magazine and then tweet the following:

Just read a great business article: they say never use PowerPoint or bullet points. I’m on my way to show a PowerPoint full of bullet points.

And then, a few minutes later:

Hope the people in this mtg. don’t read the article I just read about presentations. We’re about to break 19 out of 20 rules.

My plane arrives and I meet my boss at the rental car place. He makes a scene and then we get in the car and head to a restaurant. (It may seem like I glossed over the fact that he made a scene, but you have to just assume that no matter what situation we are in, especially if he is dealing with people in any way, he will make a scene. It’s a given.) 

When we get to the restaurant he does this thing that I have gotten use to by now from traveling with him, where he shouts out the name of the restaurant as he approaches while rubbing his hands together really fast. Like he would say, “Oh yeah, Applebee’s, baby!” It’s loud and every time people look at us. I always hope that he does it outside, because then at least there won’t be a lot of people around. But every once in a while he does it inside and then the whole restaurant stares. He does it every time we go to eat. Every. Single. Time. (Remember what I said about causing a scene. I wasn’t joking.)

After we’ve been there a short while I tweet:

Saw a guy in a restaurant blow his nose in his napkin, then throw it under the table. Unfortunately it was the guy sitting across from me

It’s already been a long day and I am very ready to get back to my hotel:

Pushing your plate away & throwing your napkin on the table is universally known as “I’m done”, right? Not “order another beer?” Right?

Social cues are not exactly this guy’s strong suit.

Now we are on day one of the trade show and I have arrived early to set up the booth. I know that however I set it up, he will change it:

There is nothing more frustrating than doing something then having someone else redo it-not making it better, just different

Like most trade shows that we have attended, barely any one comes by our booth. He is out in the aisles trying to bring people in for some of the time and the rest of the time he is just wandering. I am told that since I am the expert, I shouldn’t leave. I am used to this by now since this is the fifth trade show we’ve attended.

Before he wanders off again I ask about the meeting in Dallas, which is now just a few days away.

“They haven’t called me back yet.”

At some point I am really thirsty and ready to leave. The boss comes back with a drink in his hand. It’s a gummi bear martini. I have no idea where he got this or why he would think I would want this. But I am damn thirsty. I reluctantly start drinking it and when half way through, someone comes by and offers me a beer:

Currently drinking a Lone Star beer & a gummy bear martini. Hoping the gayness and the manliness of this combination cancel each other out

On the second day of the trade show we still have not heard from the folks in Dallas.

“You need to call them again. Tomorrow is Saturday and no one will be there. We can’t just show up on Monday. The meeting was canceled. No one will be there to meet with us.”

After several phone calls he tells me that the meeting is back on. Instead of meeting with 12 people, we will be meeting with two. He gives me what is quite possibly the most unnecessary high-five of all time.

The third day of the trade show I am on my on. The boss is “networking.”

I never want to be that guy at trade shows who is just asking for free stuff from everyone. Unfortunately I’m with that guy

Every couple of hours he comes back by the booth, arms loaded, to drop more stuff off. There is no where for it to go, because all of the space under the tables at our booths is already full. He throws it behind our backdrop, nearly causing the booth behind us to collapse. I apologize for him to these folks as he buzzes away.

An hour later the trade show is over. I pack the product away and take everything down. He gets back in time to put all of his free stuff in a box.

The next day I have the car packed and I’m waiting in the lobby. We were supposed to leave at 10am and it’s approaching 10:25:

             There is no excuse for being late constantly besides laziness and selfishness

I drive the three hours to Dallas while he sleeps. It’s a super exciting drive:

If u love terrible landscapes and scrub brush, u will love the drive from Austin to Dallas

That night in the hotel lobby we go over the presentation. I have given up asking for answers to the questions on my list. This meeting is going to be so horrible, there is no reason to even worry about it.

We wake up the next day and put on our pre-determined outfits from the night before; the boss had decided to order special dress shirts with our logo on them. We arrive in the lobby and I am wearing my dress shirt and a jacket with normal slacks. He is wearing the same thing but in a weirdly disheveled way. You know how overweight guys with big bellies wear their pants? Like the belt section, or top of the pants, goes around their belly, but then at some point the belly gets too big and the top of the pants go under the belly and the belly hangs over them. Well, he was in that weird in-between phase where he was going to soon need to wear them under the belly, but was not quite there yet. He always wore jeans and a t-shirt to work. I had never seen him in dress clothes and it was weird. The weirdest part of all was that he had undone like three or possibly even four of the top buttons on the shirt. It was wide open and there was massive chest hair poking out. Tom Selleck as Magnum, P.I. would have that this was ridiculous.

So when we get to the building they have us wait in the lobby for at least 30 minutes. I could see the secretary talking to someone in hushed tones and looking over at us and I wondered if we really were having the meeting. Had my boss just made it up and we had just showed up here?

I’m still not sure, but at some point they did let us go upstairs to the conference room. They showed me where they had put the product I had shipped them and I proceeded to unbox it and set it up while the boss set up the laptop presentation.

Two guys came into the room about twenty minutes later. They are nice and welcoming and dressed in jeans, which makes me feel a little too dressed up.

And actually these guys were so nice, that I actually started to think that maybe we had a shot; maybe this wasn’t going to be a disaster after all.

And then the presentation started and we immediately had our asses handed to us and I thought, “Oh, no, this is what I thought would happen.”

If a mtg starts with the other guy telling u your company name is terrible for 20 mins before you’ve said 1 bullet point- that’s bad, right?

They hated everything about the product, the presentation and I’m pretty sure us. They ripped apart the product and told us it was no good. They told us the packaging was terrible. They didn’t like the logo. They didn’t like the price. They didn’t like our marketing plan. (Joke was on him, we really didn’t have any marketing plan. The boss was just making things up.)

And you won’t believe it but they starting asking questions from the list of questions I had come up with! Who could have guessed? And my boss is scrambling to answer, literally making things up as he sits there.

And at some point as the guy is verbally abusing us, I look over at my boss and he is giving me the motion with his hand at his chest to me. He’s trying to tell me something…he’s moving his hand up and down across his bare, hairy chest. Finally I realize he’s telling me to take my jacket off. Seriously! The guy with protruding chest hair is telling me this. He literally had to rub his hand across his chest hair to tell me this and he doesn’t think anything is weird with that? I unzip my jacket and have to turn my head because I’m laughing. It’s like a guy with his face covered in noodles and spaghetti sauce and it’s just dripping off his face and he is looking at me and pointing at the corner of his mouth and saying, “Hey, you’ve got a little sauce right here.”

“Hey buddy, get the plank out of your own eye!” I want to scream.

So we have been in the meeting now about thirty minutes and have been told by these executives how much we suck and we are on slide #2. After they are finally done verbally abusing us, my boss goes, “So now we will continue” and he continues onto slide #3.

Hurricane Katrina thinks this presentation is a disaster

As you can imagine, these guys aren’t going to make it through 70 slides. They continue on for another five or six minutes and then say, “Look why don’t you guys fix the things we talked about and then call us sometime.”

Well, seeing as making the changes they want us to make would mean starting over from scratch and it is obvious that they just want out of there, we shake hands cordially and I am left there to box up our stuff.

That was rough. That may have gone down as one of the worst sales pitches in the history of business.

That mtg would have been less painful if the guy had just kicked me in the balls as soon as we walked in and then let me leave

We didn’t say much on the car ride to the airport. It had been a long six days. We boarded our separate flights and headed home.

I use to think that having a positive attitude could get you through any difficult situation. Unfortunately, I was wrong

********

It was on the next day at the office that I learned that everyone knew about the trip from passing around copies of my tweets. That morning several people whom I had never really spoken to came up to me and said, “That trip sounded horrible. I feel so sorry for you,” and stuff like that.

And to make an already long story short…..two days later I was told the small division I was working for was closing and I was without a job.

I had been interviewing for another job and was pretty sure I was going to get it so I wasn’t terribly worried. It could have been really bad though, but I would have been a real moron if I hadn’t been looking for a job.

So, did I bring down our company using Twitter? No. It was inevitable. Would it have lasted a little while longer? Maybe, but it didn’t need to. It was brought down at the right time. And I got the job I was interviewing for and even had a month of vacation between jobs. And I needed it.

 

Another Great Job Interview

“If you wanted, you could be in charge of our 3D glasses distribution to the gay porn industry.”

The previous statement was said to me about 10 minutes into the job interview. And up until that point I had seriously considered the position.

########

The largest 3D glasses manufacturer in the United States is located in my hometown of Memphis. I had a friend who had worked there as one of his first jobs out of college and he had helped it grow from a small company to a multi-million dollar company. But the only reason that I knew he worked there was because we had gone on a long road trip together and he had a few beers in him one night and he told me. When most people asked what he did for a living he just said, “sales” and then left it at that and if pressed further he would say “paper and cardboard products,” which was partly true, since those are the materials that make up the 3D glasses. But it wasn’t until the night he told me what he truly did that I realized why he was always so vague. Who wants to tell people they sell 3D glasses for a living? Well…..at one point I was desperate enough to want to.

I lost my job in the residential construction industry in 2009 and immediately went into complete freak out mode. I called every person I could possibly think of who had anything to do with sales, since that was what my background was in. I started with construction sales where there were absolutely no jobs and at some point I was willing to sell anything (including my soul) just to bring in some income. I called my friend at the 3D glasses place and he was no longer working there. He admitted to me that he couldn’t see himself selling 3D glasses for the rest of his life. I told him I was desperate and he said he would put in a good word for me. But apparently the economy was hurting in the 3D market as well. It seems like every movie that comes out nowadays is in 3D but not back then, and they weren’t hiring.

I landed a job about three months later in the construction industry but I was being paid nearly a third of what I had previously been making. After a year and after going through nearly all of our savings, I was desperate again. I had a job, but just barely, and I started looking at the online job boards. The first day I looked I saw an ad for the 3D company needing a salesman. I had been as desperate as I possibly could be a year before…..but was I desperate enough now to sell 3D glasses for a living? I thought about my friend lying about where he worked for over 10 years….could I really do that?

Well, I thought I would at least apply. And I received a call a couple of days later and was told to come in for an interview.

The offices were actually really nice and had the feel of a really creative advertising company. They sat me down in a conference room filled with items they had made 3D glasses for….magazines, movies, comic books, a whole bunch of stuff. You couldn’t help but be impressed with what they did here. And they obviously made a lot of money doing it.  

Two guys came in to interview me. I was told that one was the owner and one was the COO. It didn’t take long for me to figure out the dynamics here. The owner had the personality you can imagine that a guy who built a 3D glasses empire would have: imagine a carnival barker version of Richard Branson without the looks or brains but at least the business sense to make money. He talked loud and boasted louder.

While the owner talked, the COO asked me the normal interview questions and tried to play down anything the owner said that was outrageous, which was nearly every other sentence. And as I was beginning to think that there was no way I could work for this crazy guy he told me what the salary was and it was more than double what I was making. Suddenly the embarrassment of telling people I sold 3D glasses wasn’t that big of a deal. Hell, I’d just say I sold paper and cardboard for the rest of my life if I had to.

Then the owner started talking about their different divisions and how you could get creative and come up with your own market segments to try and sell product to.

“We are a marketing company more than anything else. We print company logos on glasses and sell them for promotions. Our glasses cost next to nothing and are usually given away. Our salespeople have to be smart and come up with ideas for industries to target. A perfect example is Steven. He has brought us millions of dollars in revenue in an industry none of us had thought about. Steven reached out to the gay porn community and now they’re our biggest customer.”

It was at this point that he stated the aforementioned quote and everything went downhill from there. I knew I would have a hard time telling people I sold 3D glasses. But there was no way I could tell people I was in charge of the 3D gay porn sales. I also had no desire to do any market research…I don’t want to see any kind of male genitalia, especially 3D male genitalia.

They offered me the job and when I declined they actually offered me even more money. Either they were desperate or they really thought I was the right man for the job, which is a little disturbing.

It took me another five months to find a job, and my savings account was completely depleted when I finally did. But I didn’t have to sell my soul or sell devices that made some guy’s junk look three-dimensional and I guess I could feel pretty good about that.

I’ve Been Occupied

I was recently at a business convention in Austin, Texas. For lunch I decided to go for a walk, so I left the convention center and when I saw the Capital building a few blocks away, I headed in that direction.

I was in my typical business attire of slacks, dress shirt and loafers. Not wanting to look like too much of a “convention guy”, I took off my name tag that was on a lanyard around my neck and put it in my pocket.

The reputation for Austin is that it has an amazing music scene and a very eclectic culture…I had seen enough “Keep Austin Weird” stickers to convince me of that. But now it was my fourth day in the city and so far nearly everyone I met was rude or homeless. And some were both.

I am from the South and am use to the hospitality. Texas is not the South, despite it’s proximity to other Southern states and its proliferation of cowboy boots.

Anyway, as I walked to the capital I could hear some strange music and what sounded like chanting that was getting louder as I came closer. At some point I turned a corner and saw what was making all of the noise. A group of about 50 people were walking near the capitol building. One had a trumpet and another had a drum while the rest were chanting.

I used to be really into “jam band” music and if I had never heard of the “Occupy” movement I would have thought there was a Widespread Panic concert somewhere near. But that was more than 10 years ago. Now I was wearing thin dress socks with little designs on them.

As I approached the street across from the Capitol, I came to a cross walk with a “Don’t Walk” sign while traffic passed in front of me. On the other side of the street, across four lanes of traffic, the Occupy folks stood, also waiting on their turn to walk. The trumpet blared, the drummer pounded and the chanters belted out, “When the government is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When the school system is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

There were many variations along these lines.

But the problem was that it was 1:30 on a Tuesday. The only person anywhere within hearing distance was me. Every person that these people wanted to reach was at their job. Working.  Paying….taxes.

So I stood there and looked across the street while 50 people stared at me and protested…me. I was their sole audience. Every eye was on me and I could feel their anger. I felt like I might be attacked when I crossed the street. We would meet in the middle of the road and I would be knocked to the ground and beaten with the hard sole of my dress shoe. The “Walk” light seemed it was taking forever, but at the same time I wasn’t sure I wanted it to change.

I looked around to see if there would be any witnesses when these hippies kicked my ass for making money and contributing to the problem or being “the man” or whatever it was that they were mad about. But there was literally no one around…to hear their chants or to hear my cries for help.

The light changed and I walked across the street, careful to keep my distance. They still stared me down as we passed each other, but I tried to stare straight ahead. I couldn’t help but notice the woman with the Patagonia down jacket (MSRP: $300) or the guy with the Mountain Hardwear performance fleece (MSRP: $200…$450 if it comes with the outer shell jacket with sealed seams.)

I made it across safely and quickly realized how ridiculous I was. I turned back to watch the group walk down the empty streets of downtown Austin. Their chants were soon heard by the aforementioned rude homeless guys who looked very similar to these folks but without the designer duds or Phish t-shirts (but with admittedly more of a “urine smell’ going on). They also seemed to have a look of disdain on their face as if it say, “you guys sleep out in the open in front of the Capitol and the cops leave you alone. When I do it, I get poked with a night stick and told to ‘keep moving’.”

I passed their camp and was surprised to see some of the latest in backpacking tents. Guys thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail would have been jealous of some of these 4-season, ultra-lightweight, brand new pieces of gear from their local outdoors store.

I had heard about Occupy Wall Street and the protests around the country. In my hometown of Memphis they would sometimes show our Occupy protesters on the news but it was really just like four guys with neck tattoos and two pitiful signs. This was my first time to see what the movement was all about. So far, I was not impressed. My history books and texts book in school gave me a picture of protesters as the lone Chinese guy in Tianammen Square, holding a briefcase and facing down a tank. Or I picture the large group of African-American men in black suits and hats holding “I AM A MAN” signs. Or the students in neck ties sitting at the lunch counter while young white men screamed in their face and dumped milkshakes on them.

I saw these images again recently at the Civil Rights Museum and couldn’t help but think about the Occupy movement. Would there be a museum one day to teach young people about their plight? Would it be filled with pictures of white guys with dreadlocks kicking a hacky sack or selling grilled cheese or sitting in a drum circle?

I doubt it.

But, damn, that would be pretty funny.

My amazing job interviewing skills

I’ve had a lot of job interviews over the years. Most of them are boring and uneventful. But some are so bizarre they deserve to be told. Here are the short versions of some of these stories:

I was 28 and had been out of high school for 10 years. The guy that was interviewing me was reading his questions off of a sheet of paper that he had obviously gotten from some human resources web site somewhere.  But at some point I think he got off script. After only a couple of minutes into the interview he asked me what sports I played in high school.

I told him I played soccer.

He then asked me: why did you choose soccer?  What position did I play? Why did I choose that position? What did I learn from soccer that has helped me throughout my career? What leadership skills did I learn from playing soccer? What skills will I bring with me to the job that I gained from playing soccer?

The truth was that I sucked at soccer, sat on the bench most of the time and I quit my senior year so I could spend more time making out with my girlfriend.

Knowing that the job was selling insurance and that this line of questioning made absolutely no sense, I began to write down his questions on my paper just so that I would remember to tell people later.

##########################

I wanted  to make some extra money over the holidays so I applied for a job working in the “hub” at FedEx. Unlike any interview I had done before, me and about 30 other people were moved from room to room like cattle. They would tell us about the job, then we all gave urine for a drug test, then we’d go to another room and be told about other aspects of the job.

I was already feeling like a piece of meat when they led us into a room that was full of testing stations where we were to lift these bars that were supposed to act as boxes and they were hooked up to computers that told how much strength we had. There was a lady at each station who took notes. It was really easy and as a man of 24, I had no problems. Then I got to this one exercise where I had to have kind of a weird stance and lift the bar. As I began to lift it, I kind of lost my balance. When I went to start again, the woman said, “that’s enough. You can leave.”

But I could tell by the computer screen that I didn’t lift it above the appropriate amount.

“Sorry, I just lost my footing, let me try again.”

The woman wouldn’t look at me. She just said, “Next.”

“Ma’am, if you’ll just give me another shot….”

“Next,” she interrupted.

The grandmother after me got it on the first try.

##########

I once met a guy at his office at 7:00 and he unlocked the doors to his building and we were the first people there. He led me to a room where he said, “we show everyone who is interviewing with us this short film that should explain all the history of the company as well as the products that we sell.”

With that, I sat in my chair in this rather large room and watched a 20-minute film. When it was over, the film turned off and I was left in the dark.

It got really quiet.

No one came to get me.

Was this a test? How much of an independent thinker is this guy? Will he leave the room on his own or just sit there in the dark all day until someone gets him?

After 10 minutes, I realized the guy had forgotten me. I left the room and was walking down the halls of this completely empty building. I finally saw a light on at the end of the hallway. I walked to it and there was the guy who had turned on the movie.

He looked surprised and said, “I hope you didn’t think I forgot you.”

He then explained to me about how great the job was and that one of the greatest benefits of this door-to-door security camera selling position was that they gave you a Scion xB car with a giant logo wrap on it.

I hate feigning excitement. When I said, “that sounds pretty cool”, a little part of me died inside.

#########

I try my hardest not to lie in an interview. Like anyone, I may stretch the truth a little or maybe exaggerate but I’m not going to downright lie.

And that’s why I didn’t get a job selling reflective tape.

A headhunter had contacted me about a job and like most headhunters they don’t tell you the name of the company or exactly what they do on the first interview with you. They just tell you the basics. And all he told me was that the pay and benefits were good and this company was ranked as one of the highest ranked companies in the country for employee satisfaction. Everything sounded pretty great. So he passed my info on to the company and they set up a meeting in Chicago. Well, I love Chicago and I was looking forward to seeing my cousin, who lives there so I agreed to go. Finally after all the arrangements had been made the headhunter told me the name of the company and said that all they did was make and sell reflective tape. And my job would be to sell it. Nothing else.  Just…reflective tape.

And if I do say so myself, I am pretty good at interviews; mainly just because I have had a lot of practice. But at the end of this interview, when I had pretty much nailed it, the guy point blank asked me, “So does this sound like something you could see yourself doing and could get excited about?”

At this point a three to four sentence answer was expected and would have been appropriate. Instead I said, “Sure.”

I could not bring myself to elaborate.

The good thing about headhunters is that they give you feedback at the end of the interviews.

“They said you did pretty good. But they said you didn’t sound excited enough about the possibility of actually working there.”

“It’s hard to get excited about selling reflective tape.”

“But you knew that’s what the job was about when you took the interview.”

“I don’t think it really hit me until the guy asked me point blank.”

The headhunter didn’t say anything. He had put his neck on the line recommending me to his clients. They spent about $1,300 on my travel expenses.

“So do you have any other opportunities you might know about? “ I asked him.

“I’ll let you know.”

That was the last time I ever heard from him.

######################

I once told a guy in an interview the same line that I hold told many times before: that I had previously worked in a company where nepotism posed a big problem and for that reason I didn’t work for my Dad, even though it would have been a great job in a field I had a lot of experience in.

So after getting the job, imagine my surprise when after two weeks I asked the guy, “So how did you hear about this company?” and the guy said, “Well, my Dad is one of the owners.”

Awesome.

######################

If we as a society know one universal truth it is that seeing people trip and fall in public is pretty funny. And unless it’s a super old person that may have broken their hip, the only appropriate response is to laugh.

So when I went to meet with these two guys and after shaking my hand one of them tripped….how am I not supposed to laugh at that?

The guy shook my hand and then in an elaborate pratfall worthy of a slapstick comedy, he tripped over his bag, knocked his coffee over and his laptop fell off the table.

But all of this happened while my back was slightly turned while talking to another guy. So when I sat down, I just kind of acted like I didn’t see it….possibly I was trying to save the guy some embarrassment.

But stifling laughter was nearly impossible. I mean I should have gotten a pass for that, right?

#########################

Once, in an interview I told a guy about how I had been to a trade show in Las Vegas the year before in the same industry that they were in.

“Does your company have a booth at that trade show?”  I asked, assuming the answer was yes, because they were a really large company and somewhat of a leader in their market.

“Well, if the trade show is in Las Vegas we’re not going to be there. We wouldn’t have anything to do with an event in Las Vegas because it is against our beliefs. You see, our company executives are all devout Amish.”

I did not see that coming.

##########################

I’d like to say that those are all of the stories, but unfortunately I have more. And I have a feeling I’ll be experiencing more of these in the future.

Warehouse: No songs but stories

(The title of this blog is my version of the name of a great Husker Du album. Also, this post is very long. Only read if you are really bored.)

At a few different times early in my career, I worked at a warehouse that was owned by the father of a friend if mine. He owned a few different warehouses, all located in the most crime-ridden areas of Memphis. It was hard to find good employees, even though many had been screened from a temporary staffing agency that specialized in manual labor-type jobs. So anytime they could hire someone, especially a college kid like me who was on his summer break, they jumped at the chance.

The first time I worked there, it was with another college buddy of mine that lived in Memphis named Hart. We were noticeably out of place the first day we showed up to work in our SUVs while the other twenty-five employees walked there from their homes or from the bus stop nearby. We were the youngest workers and also the whitest. We knew how out of place we were, but both of us being fairly outgoing, we tried to make friends with everyone there. We were generally accepted, despite our obvious differences, because we just tried to act like everyone else.

The first warehouse we were at was where we kept all of the shoes we received from Just For Feet. Before the company went bankrupt, Just For Feet would send us hundreds of pallets a week, full of three different brands of tennis shoes. In the group I was in, it was our job to sort and repackage the shoes.

This would mean hours of tedious work for each person. In my station we taped boxes. That’s all we did. All day.

There were three other guys with me and they would always try to include me in conversations. But honestly, I had no idea what these guys were saying. This is not a racist statement and shouldn’t be seen as controversial in any way. It was a simple fact. These guys could understand each other, but I never had any idea what they were saying. If they ever said something to me that I assumed was some sort of question, I’d just say, “Yeah,” which sometimes solicited laughter and made me hope I hadn’t just admitted something really stupid.

The snippets of conversation I did catch were only about two things: basketball and prison. Apparently, many of these guys had been to prison and talking about mutual friends and the conditions and whatever was a totally normal conversation for them. On the other hand, it was not for me.

I began to watch basketball at night so that I would have something to talk to the guys about the next day. I thought about watching “Oz” so I would have more to talk about, but I decided against that.

On one occasion Hart came up to me and said, “Look what I found.”

It was a Reebok box with a pair of old shoes in it.

“We’ve got to find who has on the new ones.”

Well, as you can imagine, this wasn’t very hard. After five minutes of walking around we saw a guy wearing a brand new gleaming pair of white Reeboks.

Our manager called the police and told me to go work beside the guy. I was to not let him out of my sight.

I was shadowing him for about twenty minutes at the back of the warehouse, when I saw two police officers walk up. I slowly and inconspicuously walked further away. When a police officer got close to the man, he put one of his hands in his pocket quickly and both of the police officers tackled him to the ground.

They were down behind some boxes and I was on my toes trying to watch the action when one officer said, “He’s got a gun.”

I ducked down behind my row of boxes. It wasn’t until I heard them click the handcuffs that I stood up. I watched as they hauled the guy off and within ten minutes we were all back to work.

At the end of the day Hart and I were talking about what had happened and our manager overheard us and laughed at our naïveté. This may have been our first taste of crime but it wasn’t his.

“Last month we had someone up on the roof trying to fix a leak and somebody in the projects across the street started shooting at him. When the police came, they were shot at too. I’ve been held up ten times since working here. Any time I work late, I know it’s going to happen.”

“So what do you do,” I asked.

He pulled out a pistol from his back pocket. “I just wave this around.”

Yeah, Hart and I were a little out of our element.

#####

There was one guy that Hart and I really got along with. He was a smart guy and he admitted that he had made some mistakes. He never finished high school and he had been in jail for a few years. But now his life was together. He would read his Bible everyday during lunch and would pass out Biblical tracts to some of the other guys.

Hart and I carpooled to the warehouse everyday and many times we would give this guy a ride to the bus on our way home.

One day we didn’t see him when it was time to go, so we left without him. About a hundred yards from the warehouse we saw him walking down the street carrying a large garbage bag over his shoulder, completely full, like a caricature of  a ghetto Santa Clause. We rolled down the window.

“You want a ride?” Hart asked.

“No, I’m good,” he said.

“What are you carrying?” Hart asked.

“Nothing,” he said.

I guess we weren’t comfortable enough with the guy to really ask any more questions.

We mentioned it to our manager the next day and it didn’t take him long to figure out what was happening. They had put this guy in a back section of the warehouse and he had found an open window. He was throwing shoes out all day and then gathering them after work.

When the manager approached him about it, he denied it like crazy. He called the manager racist.

“I’m black!” the manager said.

It didn’t matter.

He was let go because there was no proof. We soon learned that he wasn’t the only guy that had been doing this. Apparently more than five guys were doing it. They were just a little smarter about their retrieval system, coming back late at night instead of right in front of everybody.

######

After a month, with only about a month and a half left until we had to go back to college, Hart and I were made managers. Our tenure of a month was longer than most anyone there. The turnover was really strange. There were a couple of old guys, who were both referred to as “Pops” who had been there over 30 years. These guys made the same amount of money as us. Then there were these guys from the staffing agency who would sometimes last as little as one hour.

I saw a guy from a staffing agency be told he was going to be unloading boxes by hand inside a trailer. He walked inside the trailer, saw how hot it was inside and he said, “Ah, no. Hell, no,” and walked out.

When they made us managers, they moved Hart to another warehouse down the street. Just For Feet had sent us about 50 trailers more than they said they were going to and we were busting at the seams with tennis shoes. Hart had to go take care of all of the over shipments and I was put in charge of twenty-five men. They were all older than me and at 19 years old I felt like an idiot telling them what to do.

Part of my responsibilities was operating the elevator in the five-story old building that we worked in. It was a weird job but was honestly a little tricky. The elevator worked with a hand crank and I had to know exactly how to maneuver it so that the elevator went to the right floor, but also lined up so there wasn’t a big step up to the floor or a drop off.

Many of the guys that would see the elevator for the first time would say, “Man, I’m not getting on that thing,” and honestly it was a little old and scary looking, especially considering that we were loading it with pallets full of boxes. But it never did break down.

Being an elevator operator was sort of a weird job, but someone had to do it. I also was in charge of telling the guys which floors to go to. If I didn’t visit a floor for a while, when I got there the elevator doors would open and I would see guys just sitting down smoking. One time there were five guys just sitting and talking. Here I am, a 19-year old college kid about to reprimand a room full of middle-aged black guys, many of whom had been in prison recently. Before I could even say anything they stood up, threw their cigarette butts on the ground while looking at me with disgust and went back to work.

Another part of my job was that intermittedly throughout the day I had to go to the top floor and kill pigeons. With a bat.

That last detail was something I left off my resume a few years later when I started looking for a real job.

One day when Hart and I were working at the same warehouse again, he said, “Hey I need to show you something.” He led me to the back corner of one of the floors where there was a giant barrel that someone had written “Malone’s Mom” on with an arrow pointing to the lid. I opened it and found it completely full of pornographic magazines. No one knew how it got there or where it came from. It was my job to get rid of it.

Once again, another thing to leave off the resume.

#####

I mentioned that this warehouse was owned by my friend’s Dad. Well my friend, Dave, was home from school that summer as well, but not being dumb like me and Hart had gotten a job somewhere normal for the summer. Anyway, one day he came to the warehouse, just to say “hello” to us and to eat lunch.

Later that day when I was covered in sweat and the warehouse grime that accumulates all over your face and hands when you are in an old warehouse, I once again had to reprimand some guys who weren’t doing anything. I had been stacking boxes for hours with no help when I found these guys sitting in the back, one guy even asleep.

“Man, the only reason you got this job is because your friends with the owner’s son,” the guy said to me.

He said it as if this was a prized internship at the White House where I only got the job because of my political connections and well-heeled upbringing.

Most of the guys were cool with Hart and I but every once in a while there was some guy that had this type of attitude about us. That people saw us as privileged was something we never could figure out, but we knew there were some unspoken differences and we chose not to discuss it. Hart and I bought ice and Gatorade for everyone at least a couple of times a week and even bought a bunch of pizzas for everyone’s lunch once but we were never going to fit in and eventually stopped trying.

######

That summer was crazy. It was hard work and we saw a part of Memphis and a part of a culture that we knew nothing about. I left there thinking it was the last time I would ever set foot in another warehouse again. But a few years later after graduating I was right back there again.

I graduated in December of 2001, just a few months after September 11th. The job market was terrible and I couldn’t find a job in my field of public relations. I asked Dave’s Dad if I could work there until I found a permanent job and he quickly said I could.

This time I was at a different warehouse. (When Just For Feet started closing they started sending more and more trucks to the warehouse but then went bankrupt and couldn’t pay any of their bills. That warehouse was now empty and they were looking for something else to put there.) This new warehouse was full of hair care products. There were about 15 people and our only job was to walk around with a pallet on a pallet jack and fill it with the correct products off of the sheet we were each given. Then our manager would go over them and make sure we did it correctly.

I was shown what to do on my first day by a guy named Darrell. It was a very easy job and I obviously got the hang of it quickly.

“You know, Steve the manager wants someone to be his assistant manager,” Darrell told me while we were working. “I’ve been here six months and I think he’s going to give the job to me.”

A few hours later during our first break, Steve called me over and said he wanted me to be the assistant manager.

Now even I had to admit this seemed like special treatment. He explained that it just meant I would be checking the pallets when everyone was through and that his boss (Dave’s Dad) told him to have me do this.

So after the break, when Steve told everyone that I was the assistant manager, I couldn’t even look at Darrell. And for the few months that I worked there he never would really talk to me again.

Now this warehouse was not heated in any way and it was really cold, especially by the dock doors where I was stationed. I spent all day with a clipboard counting the boxes that everyone pulled. There was a mistake in nearly every pallet and I couldn’t figure out how to make this easier for everyone. Steve and I would rack our brains and try and come up with ways but it came down to the simple fact that no one cared. And since no one cared and we couldn’t make them care, I just kept busy making them re-do everything.

At the end of the day, we would have probably 100 pallets all lined up. Truckers would start coming in around 2:00 to load the pallets on to their trucks. Their job was to wrap each pallet with plastic wrap so nothing could tip over and then someone would put the load into the truck with a forklift. By 5:00, everything was off the floor, the trucks were gone and we were going home.

There were three different truck lines that would come and usually it was the same three truckers that came every time. Two of the guys wore uniforms with their company logos. These guys worked hard and wrapped their pallets as fast as they could and would spend over an hour just eating or reading the newspaper. The other trucker apparently didn’t have to wear a uniform and he would always come in dressed like a business man. While my business attire consisted of sweat pants with jeans over them, a sweatshirt covered by a down jacket and a wool cap, this guy would wear suit pants with dress shoes and a really nice sweater. He had jewelry that he prominently displayed like a long necklace and a bracelet on each wrist. Nearly every finger had a gold ring.

Unlike the other guys, this trucker took his long, sweet time wrapping the pallets. He was careful not to get his clothes dirty and always somehow managed to look like he was going to church, no matter how much work he had just done. At some point, he asked me if I minded wrapping the pallets for him.

“I tell you what, young man,” he said, “I’ll give you $20 a day to wrap all of the pallets.”

I had enough down time between checking that I did this for him.

He would tell me about all of the other business ventures he had. Some days he would bring in a box full of fake designer purses and the employees would buy them all up. Some days he had makeup. One day he brought in five boxes of lingerie.

He also did custom paint jobs for cars. He brought in his portfolio one day and this guy was really talented. He had pages of pictures of car hoods and trunks were he had painted what he called “Tributes.” I never knew such a thing existed, but he had probably fifty pictures of pictures of young men with an inscription above their head that usually said “R.I.P” and the dates of their lives.

I was maybe a few years removed from the last time I had worked in the ghetto, but seeing this reminded me how different things were from my recent college days.

For some reason, my friend the entrepreneur was replaced one day by an older, quiet man named Randy. From what I gathered, this was his new route and he had been with the company for over twenty years. He was a nice guy and one of the main things I remembered about him was that he always wore really nice Cowboy boots. The other guys would make fun of him. “Hey, you some kind of black Cowboy?” they’d tease but he didn’t care, he wore them every day.

After Randy had been coming around about a month, he came in one day with tennis shoes. I asked him about his boots and he said they were dirty.

Well, toward the end of the day, one of our new guys was loading a pallet on to the truck. We were supposed to all have fork lift licenses but no one really did. It wasn’t exactly brain surgery. And this new guy had caught on pretty quick.

Anyway, as he was backing out of the truck he noticed Randy standing really close to him in the fork lift. (You should be able to see where this is going.) The new guy said Randy grimaced before the thing even ran over his foot.

“Oh, man, you got me,” Randy said as he winced away in pain. He limped over to a chair to sit down and called the manager over. “I hope you have insurance because I am in some pain.”

I had been standing there when it happened and could vouch for the new guy. He started to explain to me what happened and I knew it wasn’t his fault.

Honestly, I’m not sure how we calmed him down or what really happened, but Randy was back the next day in his Cowboy boots. Now he was even more quiet than before and I got the feeling that whatever he planned on happening didn’t work out for him.    

It was only a week later that Randy tried again. This time it was a lot more serious.

It was the end of the day and our employees had left about 10 minutes before. I was in the office with the manager, doing some paperwork. There were two truck drivers outside getting into their trucks. One was a young white Fed Ex driver named Chris that was about my age who we saw twice a week and the other driver was Randy.

As I sat there finishing up my paperwork, we heard a loud pounding on the door leading outside.

“Let me in! Let me in, it’s Chris!” Chris was screaming. He was banging as hard as he possibly could.

I opened the door and he ran in, grabbed the door out of my hands and slammed it as hard as he could. He was really shaken up. He could barely speak to us from being so out of breath and so upset. When he finally calmed down a little he began to speak.

“Three guys came up to me and asked where Randy was,” Chris said. “one of them had a gun in his hand and he pointed it at me when he spoke. I pointed over to Randy getting into his truck and they left me. Then I ran as fast as I could to the door. I just knew they were going to shoot me.”

Me and Steve just looked at each other. Soon the door started being pounded again. We froze. But a voice said, “It’s me, Randy.”

We had a security camera that was pointed at the door and we looked at the small screen on Steve’s desk and could see he was alone. We opened it and Randy walked in.

“Man, they took my money!” he said. “I can’t believe it!”

Steve said, “I’m calling the police,” and ran to the phone on his desk.

“No, don’t call any police,” Randy said.

Steve ignored him and called to say someone had been mugged at our warehouse.

“Why did you call the police?” Randy asked.

“Because someone was robbed on our property, I had to,” Steve replied. “Why would you not want us to?”

Steve didn’t answer. He just walked away, pacing back and forth. As upset as he seemed, Chris was still more shaken up.

“How much did they take?” I asked Randy.

He came closer to me, so Steve in the office could hear as well.

“They took $15,000,” Randy said.

We all looked at him.

“What!” we all said.

“Why did you have that much money on you?” Steve asked.

“I just got back from Tunica. I won all of that money.”

The funny is that Randy had mentioned earlier in the day that he had spent the weekend at Tunica and had won big. I think he even mentioned coming straight to work.

So here are the possibilities: someone overheard him say this and called their buddies to come mug him. Or, he made the whole thing up, even elaborately had these guys scare the crap out of Chris with a gun. Or, he really was mugged, but it was nowhere near $15,000. Obviously, something wasn’t right. For one thing, why didn’t he want the police involved? And why hadn’t he taken the money to the bank?

The police came and he gave them the same story he told us. They gave him the same look we gave him. I wasn’t able to sit in on the whole discussion, and just like my last story with Randy, I don’t know how it ended. We never saw him again. He was just one more weird guy to come in and out of our lives at the warehouse.

######

During this time I was working at the warehouse, I was going on job interviews with public relations agencies. I would change from my layers and layers of clothes and into a suit and then come back to work.

After about four months I got the job I wanted. I worked for the largest public relations agency in Tennessee. It was exactly what I had been planning on and the reason I had worked at five different internships during college.

I hated nearly every second of it.

I hated it so much that the day I quit, I didn’t tell my wife and I had no other job lined up. I had been there almost a year and didn’t want to reach that milestone and feel like I wasted an entire year of my life.

Even though what I was doing was stupid, I didn’t want to sound stupid when I quit to my boss so I came up with the excuse that I was going to run a Quizno’s franchise. My cousin had entertained the idea of doing this at one point and it was the only thing I could come up with on the spot and that’s what I said.

My office was so small that every phone conversation could be heard by everyone in the office, so it wasn’t until that afternoon on the way home that I was able to call my wife and tell her I quit. She was supportive and agreed with me that it wasn’t the smartest move ever. But I called Dave at the warehouse, knowing they always needed someone. Luckily for me, they had me back again.

At this point I have to say how grateful I was for Dave and his father. This was the third time they employed me when I needed something, and this time they really got me out of a potential major problem. I had a spouse and a mortgage and without their help, I’m not sure what I would have done.

I started out doing some normal meaningless tasks. It was my job to count inventory and I spent many days walking around with a clipboard and counting electrical fuses. It wasn’t fun, but it was better that the public relations job where I spent all day in a tiny cubical, reading local newspapers and cutting clips.

Despite the fact that I had spent four years of college studying and preparing for my career, I suddenly found myself at a manual labor job and not trying to do anything else. I wasn’t actively looking for another job or trying to figure out “where everything went wrong”. While my friends were working at their finance jobs in high-rise buildings downtown, I was driving a forklift and throwing boxes around.

Luckily for me, I didn’t have a lot of time to contemplate what I was going to do because Dave’s father asked me if I wanted a permanent job; not a counting fuses job but a project manager job and to help with marketing. He even offered me a salary.

And I was glad to do it. I was a little disappointed that the cast of strange characters that I worked in the warehouse with would change when I moved into the office setting, but it really just changed into a whole new set of characters.

I worked between two people that completely defied their stereotype. One guy, named Carlos was a Marine. Not exactly the guy from Full Metal Jacket though. He was our IT guy and he was kind of a tubby, soft-spoken guy. I wouldn’t have known he was a Marine if he hadn’t shown me pictures of himself in uniform.

I worked closely with him and got to know him very well. He was really into playing role-playing games. He would talk about them all the time and talked about these figurines that he painted and sold online. He made quite a bit of money from it, but I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. Once, he invited me and my wife over for dinner with him and his wife. When I was there he showed me his figurine collection. It was absolutely amazing. He had these tiny characters, made of some type of ceramic that were half the size of a typical chess piece. They were so intricately painted, it looked like some of it had been painted with a single horse hair or something.

It was obviously some type of geeky past time, but I had to admit this guy was extremely talented and must have had more patience than anyone in the world.

Then the other guy at work that I worked closely with was Thomas. He was the meanest guy I had ever met. He was no more than 5’ 4” tall and had all of the signs of the “short man syndrome.” He had thinning red hair and was surprisingly well built. When I think of him I immediately picture Danny Bonaduce.

He would yell at everyone and wasn’t scared of anyone. And some of these guys in the warehouse were rough characters that had been in prison but Thomas could care less. I’d practically hide if I saw the guy coming.

I never saw the guy when he wasn’t angry and that’s especially true one time when he had a friend come up to the office to see him. He led the guy out to his car and they seemed to be in a big argument. It was kind of strange to see, someone arguing with his buddy like that, until I mentioned it to one of the lady’s in the office and they said (while using their fingers in the air as quotation marks) that the guy in the parking lot was his “roommate”.

Apparently, Thomas was a closeted gay man that used every thing in his power to keep that fact to himself. But after they mentioned it, the argument did look more like a lover’s spat then a disagreement with a buddy.

I spent much of my time in the office, sitting on the computer. The quiet of the office was hard to get use to compared to the loudness of the warehouse just a hundred feet away from me. But my quietness was interrupted constantly, every 30 seconds, by the hacking cough of the overweight lady in the cubicle next to me. It sounded so bad. I asked Carlos about it and he said nothing helped, not water or cough drops or medicine. “You get used to it,” he said. But I never did. It was constant and painful. I felt kinda bad for her. I say “kinda” because she spent every smoke break outside sucking down cigarettes like they would soon be outlawed.

As a project manager, I had to go out to the warehouse many times throughout the day to check on how the operation was working and to check on the employees. As I mentioned, there were times in the past where I would catch guys sleeping or stealing, so I always had to be visible. But there was one guy that I never had to worry about.

He was an older white guy, probably close to 60 years old. He kept to himself and had a really good attitude. He worked hard and never made mistakes. He dressed for this kind of work, just like everyone else, but the way he carried himself, you could tell he wasn’t use to it.

After I had been there a while I suggested that we give this guy some type of managerial position. I was told that they had tried before and he wouldn’t take it. He wanted to stay where he was and just do his job.

This intrigued me and I tried to figure out more about his situation. The more questions I asked, the more I was told to just drop it. One day, Carlos finally told me what he knew.

“I don’t know the whole story and I’m not sure if anyone really knows, but apparently about two years ago he was a State Representative in Arkansas,” Carlos told me. “He got in some type of trouble and had to resign. Apparently he was so embarrassed he didn’t want to be seen in the spotlight anymore so he started working here.”

It was such a weird story. But the more I learned of people, the more strange back stories I got. One guy who was sixty-years old and had worked at the company for five years, just left one day without saying a word. Apparently the police had come by the day before about a break-in at one of the offices. We didn’t think he had done it, but this was the second time the police had come around that week and some people said that he was always hiding somewhere in the back anytime the police came.

I became friends with one of the managers who would tell me stories of living in California and making a ton of money. He told me about the kinds of cars he had and the big houses. And I knew this guy well enough to know he wouldn’t lie about this kind of thing. But there was one glowing irregularity…what was he doing at this warehouse, probably making $10 an hour?

“Man, sometimes things just happen in life and it doesn’t go your way.”

That’s all he said. This was a guy that would talk to me all the time about all kinds of things. But that was as far as he got about his background.

One of the things that the owner would do around Christmas time was to give all of the employees products from the battery company that we did warehousing for. Each person would get a box full of flashlights, batteries and toys.

A few days after Christmas I heard one of the guys telling another guy that he gave his box to a prostitute for payment.

There are things about the ghetto I never could relate to. I tried. Dave and his father always tried, but things were just more different that you can ever imagine.

At one point, things got really busy and the third shift, from midnight to 8 am was really falling behind. They asked me and Dave to work the third shift one week. We were to do our normal jobs at our cubicles and then take turns going and checking on the warehouse.

I had never worked that kind of shift before and it was terrible. I absolutely could not stay awake. If I sat at my desk, I would immediately start nodding off. Coffee didn’t help and I just felt almost sick. At one point after finding myself nodding off for the hundredth time, I was determined to stay awake, so I got to my feet and starting pacing. At one point I went over to see how Dave was holding up.

I went to his desk and found him laid out on the floor, using his coat as a pillow; fast asleep and drooling.

Dave is now in charge of human relations and he says the caliber of employee has gotten much better. They sold some of the warehouses in the worst part of town and opened up a nicer one. They don’t use staffing services anymore and Dave screens everyone himself.

A few years ago, I was laid off and I called Dave and without me asking he said I could come work there. Luckily, I didn’t have to. I hope I never have to work at the warehouse again. But I know it’s there if I need it, which is actually a big burden off my back.

The time I spent there taught me a ton about work ethic, race relations, poverty, the inner city and so much more. If I had never worked there I would have probably never been told, “Checking accounts are for rich people,” which someone told me when I asked why they cashed their check at the liquor store. And I would have never learned the proper way to make chitterlings or eaten at a place that served chitterlings and been laughed at by everyone there when I saw the menu and asked, “What are ‘chitterlings’” instead of pronouncing it “chitlins”. My time at the warehouse was like being at high school…I learned a lot, but damn, I don’t ever want to go back again.

The Crazy Night I Just Had

This is not my typical story involving some business casual situation, but I just had to get this story out there because it was one of the strangest evenings I have ever had. I am writing this at midnight, after the events, while they are fresh on my mind. Also, I am on a business trip, so all of this kind of counts.

(Also, after reading this whole thing, I realize now that in my stream of consciousness style of writing I used, I sound like an excited teenage girl at times. It’s too late at night for me to fix it. Enjoy.)

So, I am in Los Angeles and spent the whole day driving around Southern California. I knew I wanted to go to the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) Theatre to see some comedy tonight, so I got a hotel in Hollywood, on Sunset Blvd., close to the theatre.

After quickly taking my stuff to my room, I changed out of my normal “business casual” attire and put on a Memphis Tigers t-shirt, instead of a dress shirt and went back out. I wanted to head to Amoeba Music first, because it is one of the largest music stores in the country. As I was sitting at a red light, I look to my right, and there is DJ Paul from Three 6 Mafia. Well, like any good Memphian knows, this guy is a big deal. Besides having a Grammy for “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”, he also had his own TV show with Adventures in Hollyhood and appeared in Jackass Part 2. I rolled down my window and pointed at my shirt and said, “Hey, man I’m from Memphis.”

DJ Paul started walking up to the car and said, “Cool, man what are you doing here?”

I said, “I’m on a business trip.”

Then I looked to see the light had changed and all I could think to say was, “We love you in Memphis” and he said, “I love you too man.”

How cool was that?

Then I go to the music store, which is awesome and get a Pixies t-shirt and a brand new Hold Steady CD for a grand total of $7.

So I go to the UCB and the line is already stretching way down the block. The show doesn’t start for 30 more minutes but I can tell it’s going to be packed. I park and then put my name on the “stand by” list since I don’t have tickets already and I’m the 25th person on the list. There’s no way I’m getting in. The UCB is a great place to see improv comedy in a very intimate setting of only 95 seats. Tonight was Comedy Death Ray which means a bunch of varied acts will be on stage.

I’ve been to the UCB before about four months ago and while I was standing in the “stand by” line a guy came up and asked if there were any singles and when I said “me” he let me buy his extra ticket. Well, the exact same thing happened this time. It’s only $5 to get in, and all I had was a twenty and the guy told me not to worry about it.

We sat in the middle row and we had no idea what to expect.

The hosts for the night were the improv group from TV, called “The Whitest Guys You Know.” They did a couple of sketches and then introduced Nikki Glaser. I recognized her from the documentary “I Am Comic” and she was really funny. Then they announce the next comic is Nick Swardson. Well, everyone goes crazy. The guy is in a bunch of movies right now, besides having his own TV show and he is still my favorite character on Reno 911 as the rollerblading gay dude.

So the next guest was a girl that I recognized but couldn’t figure out. They announced that she was on the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. But then she told a joke I recognized from her stand up special on Comedy Central and I remember how funny I thought she was when I saw it and how offensive my wife thought she was. Anyway, she was great.

Then, they announce Chris Hardwick. Chris has one of the most popular podcasts of all time and also is on a bunch of TV shows. But the coolest thing about him is that he grew up in Memphis and his Dad is Billy Hardwick, the professional bowler that the bowling alley chains are named after.

So, at this point, we are all thinking, this is crazy to have such big names like Nick Swardson and Chris Hardwick, I wonder who could be next. It ended up being some girl who I recognized but I can’t remember her name. She was pretty funny.

I began to think that the show was almost over and then they come out and announce the next guest is….Sarah Silverman. The whole place goes crazy and everyone is looking at each other like, “holy crap!” I mean you would pay lots of money to see her in some big theater and here she is trying out new material in this little club.

As I am watching her and being amazed, my phone vibrates in my pocket. I pick it up and look at what my wife has texted me. Before the show she told me that they were having tornado warnings back in Memphis. Well her text simply reads, “Me and the boys are in the closet.”

Then my phone battery dies.

So, I’m sitting there trying to figure out what to do. I have to call but can’t. And I don’t want to leave because who knows what will happen next at this crazy show. So, I go out into the lobby and explain to a girl out there about the text and she lets me borrow her phone. I call Stacey and they are already back in bed and she tells me to call her in the morning.

Craziness.

So I get back to my seat and Sarah Silverman is finishing up.

So when the announcer come out we are assuming that he is telling us it’s over, but instead he says, “And next…Aziz Ansari.”

The place goes crazy. Aziz is literally selling out huge theatres like Bill Cosby or Robin Williams right now and here he comes on stage.

About two months ago I was walking down Broadway in New York City and saw Aziz walking towards me. I felt like I had to say something. I went up and said, “Aziz?” and then, of course, realized how racist I was going to feel if it wasn’t him, just another Indian dude and he got on to me about it. But he said “Hi” and I couldn’t think of what to say so I just said, “You’re funny, I follow you on Twitter.”

He said, “thanks” and walked away and I felt like an idiot. But that was the best I could do. So how crazy is it, that here I am on the other side of the country, two months later and there he is again.

So, he’s hilarious and as he tries out his new material, it’s all really good and honestly made the people before him seem not as funny.

Finally, he comes off stage and they announce that it’s over. Well, as I am walking out, Aziz is walking right in front of me. He ends up walking out the door and down the sidewalk, talking to some girl. I knew I had to say something, so I said, “Hey I just wanted to tell you that you were really funny tonight and that I met you a couple of months ago and all I could think to say was that I followed you on Twitter and I’m really embarrassed by how lame that sounded.”

He shook my hand and said, “No big deal. Glad you liked the show.”

And then he walked with the girl into the restaurant I was going to eat at. Well, it was 11:00 and I had not had dinner and was starving but I didn’t want to seem like a stalker so I didn’t follow him in. Instead I just kind of stood at the door, then walked to my car, got an In- N- Out Burger and came to my hotel. Then just as I was getting out of my car, I saw a guy that obviously sucked at parking scrape his car fender right down the side of a Mercedes.

Then I ate my burger and started typing.

 

Good Intentions Are Sometimes Stupid

I once worked for a small company and for an owner that wanted to sell his business to me one day. That was the intent when I first started there, so much of my hard work and passion that went into my job was because I knew that one day it would be mine. Also, for this reason, I tried to keep my expenses to a minimum, especially when I traveled. That’s how I got started going to nice hotels…and sleeping in the parking lot.

At the time, my idea was simple. I was only going to be gone 1-2 nights at a time and a shower wasn’t probably that necessary. And I had spent my teenage years and college years camping nearly every weekend, so not sleeping in a formal “bed” was not that big of a deal to me. I found that the best place to go where there would be other cars parked overnight, so I wouldn’t be bothered with, would be a hotel. I had a SUV and I would just fold down the seats and sleep in the back. Occasionally, if the weather was nice, I would bring a tent, find a state park, and sleep at a campground. I figured this kind of business travel was more fun anyway and kept me from getting “soft”.

After a few years of working for this company I decided I no longer wanted to buy the business and I moved on to another job. This next job required me to travel a lot. And as a new employee I wanted to make an impression that I wasn’t going to be someone who would rack up a large expense report. Plus, during the interview process, I had mentioned that I had slept in my SUV on business trips to help show how dedicated I was, so I couldn’t go around staying in luxury hotels after saying that.

So, anyway, all of that back story to explain how I ended up at the shadiest hotel I’ve ever been to.

This was my first business trip for the new company and I was in Boston. It was late and I was trying to find a hotel at about midnight, after a very long day of traveling around New England. The place I went to had an office on the outside, separated from the one-story building where the rooms were. The lobby doors were locked so I rang a doorbell. An Indian man walked out of a back room in his robe and bare feet. He opened the door for me and went back behind the desk. He had left the door open from the back room and I could clearly see a dark room, only illuminated by the glare from a TV. I could also see three guys on a couch watching the TV and another guy in a chair was staring out the door at me.

“Fifty dollars for tonight,” the man said as a way of introduction.

I nodded and took out my wallet and got out a credit card.

“You want to pay with credit card?” the man asked. “You don’t have cash?”

“No, just a card,” I replied.

“Okay,” he sighed and reluctantly took my card.

He had me sign a couple of things and then he gave me the key. It wasn’t your typical plastic card that every hotel uses…it was just like a small house key.

“I will take you to your room,” he said as he stepped from behind the counter. “It is the nicest we have. You will enjoy it.”

I thought it was highly unusual that he wanted to follow me to my room.

“No, you don’t have to follow me, I’ll be okay,” I said as I grabbed my bags from my car.

“Well, sometimes the door is a little tricky, and I know a fix.”

I walked to the door and he followed behind me, walking on the cold pavement in his bare feet. I tried the key and he was right, it didn’t want to open. I jiggled it a couple of times but then he said, “let me try.”

I left the key in the lock and stepped back. He put one hand on the key and barely turned it, but then reared his right foot back and kicked the door as hard as he could.

The door went flying open and the inside door handle slammed into the wall.

“There you go my friend. Have a good night.”

With that he walked back to his office.

I stepped inside and because of the neighborhood and the time of night, I quickly closed the door behind me. But there was a problem. Not only was it “tricky” from the outside, but it was “tricky” from the inside as well. Mainly because the door wouldn’t remain closed and there was no way to lock it. So, any other normal person would have asked for another room or just left, but it was past midnight and I just wanted to be asleep. I got a table and a chair and propped them up against the door as tight as I possibly could. There was no way someone could get in, but I’m pretty sure the fire marshall may have frowned at my setup.

At that point I began to look around the room and realized how terrible it was. It was almost impossible to tell what the original color of the carpet and bedspread were from the large stains everywhere. I threw the bedspread on the ground and just laid in bed with my clothes on. I wanted to at least try and relax for a couple of minutes before trying to sleep so I turned on the TV, but soon realized that I only had two stations. One was HBO, though, so I’ll give them that.

I gave up after five minutes and just went ahead and turned out the lights. As I sat there in the quite darkness I started hearing a rather loud dripping sound. The weird thing was that it wasn’t coming from the bathroom, but from near the window.

I turned on the light beside me and went to see what it was. The window was facing the alley behind the motel and was only a few feet tall, but high on the wall. There was an air-conditioner in the window, that touched the ceiling on top and the bottom was about 6 feet off the ground. Apparently there was a leak in the unit and it was constantly dripping onto the carpet, making a splashing sound onto a large puddle.

I figured the only way to stop it was to turn it off. When I did, it loudly sputtered and dripped about a pint of water onto the floor before coming to a halt.

I climbed back in bed fully clothed and prayed for morning.

######

I woke up after a fitful night of sleep and went into the bathroom. This was my first time in the bathroom and I shouldn’t have been surprised by the looks of it after my experience the night before. It was tiny and cramped and the small porcelain sink was barely hanging on to the wall. A few of the wall tiles were missing and the overhead light let off a very eerie glow. There is no way that a few people hadn’t overdosed or been murdered in there.

I tried to just look past it and quickly get in the shower. When I was undressed, I got the water turned on to the right degree and then stepped in to the four-foot wide shower. I quickly realized that I was standing underneath the water’s stream and was barely getting wet. At this point, I looked up and saw what the problem was. The shower faucet came out of the wall just inches from the eight-foot ceiling. It was pointing over my head and into the opposite wall. I reached up to adjust it down toward me, to discover it didn’t adjust. There was no way to change the water’s direction to actually come down on me.

I finally discovered the only way to get wet enough to actually clean myself was to stick my arms straight up in the air and let the stream of water hit my hands and then roll down my body. As you can imagine, this was more than a minor inconvenience.

When it was time to leave, I moved all of the furniture I had put in front of the door and went outside in my business casual attire. There were three guys sitting in chairs in front of their doors smoking and talking, all dressed in only their boxers and tank tops. On my way to the car I heard them laughing and when I looked back they were looking at me.

Later that afternoon, I went to downtown Boston and checked in as early as they would let me to a $160 a night Hyatt. I slipped into the one million thread count linens and fell asleep for three hours. Unfortunately, that didn’t exactly make everything better. When I woke up I felt horrible. I’m not sure what air-born pathogen I inhaled, but I was sick for four days after that.

I no longer stay at the cheapest hotels I can find. In fact, as I type this, I am sitting in a $120 a night hotel with wi-fi, 60 TV channels on a large flat-screen and a really nice fitness room. And I took a shower earlier and I didn’t even have to raise my arms straight up in the air. I guess I’ve gotten soft.

Yankees

As someone who grew up in the South, I was constantly hearing about the rudeness of “Yankees.” I had always heard they were brash, arrogant, loud, unpleasant and down right mean. I would hear from adults that you would never want to meet them or especially to become friends with them. It was a form of racism, just as strong as what you would see against gays or African-Americans.

And then as I got older, I obviously learned better. When I lived in New York during a summer between college semesters, I met plenty of Northerners and made lots of friends. Maybe there wasn’t that “Southern Hospitality”, but none of the other things I had heard were true.

##################

With my current job, I have to travel a lot, and much of my territory involves going “up North”. One of the things that I can’t get used to is all of the toll roads. I keep forgetting about them and never have enough cash.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I was in Maryland and was stopping every few miles to pay these stupid tolls. First, it was $5, then $4, then $1 and then I came to a self-service toll booth with no person to pay, just a machine to throw your money in. And this toll was only $0.25.

After paying all of these tolls, all I had left in my wallet was a $1 bill and a $20 bill. Luckily, there was a change machine. I pulled out my crisp $1 bill and put it in. The machine rejected it. I made sure I had it aligned the correct way and flattened it out even more and tried again. Nothing.

At this point I looked in the rearview mirror. Four cars were waiting behind me. I tried the bill again. And again. By the fifth time, the line behind was at least 10 cars deep. Though I hated to do it, I got my $20 bill out, knowing that I was about to get $19.75 worth of quarters.

But it didn’t matter. The $20 bill didn’t work either.

Now during this time of knowing that more and more cars are lining up behind me, my old pre-conceived notions of “Northerners” started to surface. By the fourth or fifth time I tried the $1 bill, I was expecting to hear honks or screams or something. By the time I tried the $20 bill I was sweating.

Suddenly I heard from my right side, someone yell, “Hey!”

I looked over, wondering what the foul-mouthed Yankee was about to scream at me or throw at me or whatever.

I rolled down my window and started to explain about the machine not taking my money.

A woman in a SUV opened her door and walked to my window.

“I could see you were having trouble with the machine. Here you go. Have a nice day”

She had handed me a quarter.

I waved and said “thanks” as she got back in her car.

I quickly threw the car in “Drive” and chucked in my quarter.

My years of racist upbringing had just been thrown in my face. All of my pre-conceived prejudices that I thought I had overcome, had come to the surface in a matter of a couple of minutes.

My faith in humanity was restored. Now if these Yankees can just figure out how to make roads that we don’t have to stop every 10 minutes and pay for, I’ll be happy.

Los Angeles: Beaches, Babes and Business Socks

On a recent business trip I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles. I had never been there before so I was looking forward to doing some sightseeing. As usual with my trips I always try to pack as light as possible, meaning I never bring a bag to check so everything must fit in my laptop case and my carry-on bag. So, besides my “business casual” attire, I don’t have any room for other clothes. I mention all of this to explain how I always end up getting myself into situations where I look very out of place wherever I am.

On my first chance at free time I found myself near the beach and decided to walk down the Hermosa boardwalk. It was a beautiful day and I felt like an idiot walking through the sand in loafers. I took my loafers off and my black socks and after rolling up my khakis I continued walking toward the water. Oh yeah…I looked a whole lot cooler now.

There were over 20 volleyball nets set up and nearly every one was filled with girls in bikinis playing. In the water were four surfers, riding glassy waves all the way to the shore. I’ve surfed a handful of times and felt a kinship with those guys but didn’t think that approaching them with my dress socks in my hand and trying to use words like “bro”, was going to endear me to them. Oh, and I don’t think the girls were impressed either.

I left this beach and got back in my car to look at my Atlas. Venice Beach was just a short drive a way and I knew I needed to go there. I drove down Pacific Coast Highway until I reached Venice Beach. I put my shoes back on but without my socks, which I had accidentally dropped and filled with sand back at the beach. Venice Beach is one of the most well-known beaches in the country, but mainly for the sidewalk and not for the actual beach itself.

The sidewalk at Venice Beach is one of the strangest places I have ever been and makes the occupants of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras look like Wall Street brokers. The huge weightlifters, the vast homeless, the drug dealers, the street vendors, the musicians, the artists….all combined in a one-mile stretch of pavement make an overwhelming experience. I walked the length of the sidewalk until it ended and then walked through the sand to watch “splashdown”…the sun setting in the Pacific Ocean.

The sunset was beautiful as it was reflected in the water. I strolled back to the sidewalk with a peaceful feeling and began to put my shoes back on to continue the walk to my rental car. It was then that I noticed how different this sidewalk becomes after sunset. Where it was interesting and maybe a little edgy in daylight…it was suddenly scary and uninviting. But I had no other choice. I had a one-mile walk to go in the near-darkness.

The funny homeless guys trying to get me to buy some weird paintings were no longer smiling and saying, “Peace to you, brother,” at everyone who passed. They now looked dangerous. And the Jamaican musicians with their dreadlocks and bongos who were banging away happily just an hour ago, now looked like they wanted to stab the business guy in the pressed khakis.

I quickened my walk, trying to stare straight ahead now. My feet were screaming from blisters that were quickly forming from the mixture of sweaty feet, tiny grains of sand and cheap leather.

As I continued walking I realized that no one had any idea where I was. My friends and family knew I was in Los Angeles, but no one would have guessed I was walking down the Venice Beach sidewalk at night.

Without breaking into a complete run and avoiding all comments from my left and right like, “You got a second, man” and “Can you spare some money” I finally made it back to my car. I was sweating and nearly short of breath when I finally arrived.

My ideas of finding a cool bar to go to that night and trying to find some live music were gone. I went back to my hotel and ordered in a pizza.

The next day after my work appointments, I continued my tour of Los Angeles, spending my day in Hollywood. I drove down the Sunset Strip, through Laurel Canyon and down Mulholland Drive. Later I parked my car in the most touristy part of Hollywood and walked around Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I got tickets to see Jimmy Kimmel Live and stood in line with all of the other tourists for almost an hour to get in. I was a little overdressed for this, considering the guy in front of me had on socks with sandals and a fanny pack.

The show was great and one of my favorite bands played and even performed a mini-concert after the show was through taping.

As soon as it was over I headed to the thing I was looking forward to seeing the most while I was in Los Angeles, the UCB Theatre. The UCB (Upright Citizen’s Brigade) is a theatre for improv comedy. They usually have three shows nightly, costing no more than $5 and featuring many different up and coming comedians and actors.

The night I was there Jeff Garlin was hosting a show with Judd Apatow. The show was sold out when I got there, but there was two lines formed outside, one for people with tickets and one for people hoping to still get in. I got in the “losers” line and stood there for about 10 minutes when some guy came up and said, “are there any singles, I have an extra ticket?” I stepped forward and got in the “winners” line with him. I gave him $5 and started to get excited.

After introducing myself he asked me, “Do you have tickets for the show after this, the 11:00 show?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, the 11:00 show is from the best improv group in probably the whole country. This thing with Jeff Garlin is going to be great, but if you really want to see great improv you need to stick around for the second show. I’ve got an extra ticket if you want.”

“Sure,” I said. And soon we were walking into the theatre.

The theatre is tiny, and only fits about 90 people. My buddy who had given me the ticket sat near the front in a single seat and I found a place near the back. From this vantage point I could really grasp what I had started to expect from looking around while I was in line. Apparently the UCB is hip; like indie band hip. Everyone around me is dressed like they’re going to a Vampire Weekend concert; ironic t-shirts, black-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, Converse shoes….hipster clothes. In other words, no one is wearing pressed khakis, loafers and a dress shirt. Once again, on my second day in Los Angeles, my squareness is suddenly apparent.

But putting my own feelings of inadequacies aside, Jeff Garlin and Judd Apatow were great. Judd Apatow is probably one of the most influential and wealthy men in Hollywood and here he was in a ripped t-shirt and jeans just talking to a small room of people. It was a really unique experience and very funny.

When it was over I caught back up with my new friend. He was really gung-ho about improv comedy. As we stood in line to get back in for the next show, he told me all about the guys we were going to see and about the improv competitions. And this time when we were let in he told me he would find me a seat.

What I didn’t expect was for us to sit on the front row, in the very middle. It’s one thing to watch an improv show from the middle of the crowd where you are safe from any harassment or embarrassment, since many of these shows incorporate the audience into their act. It’s another thing to be in a position where I could be ridiculed from my seat or even worse: brought on the stage. My squareness is suddenly one of the biggest things on my mind. I realize that the performers are going to be directly in front of us and I will be sticking out of the audience, right in the middle, like a guy trying to rebel against the consumer tendencies of my peers by wearing comfortably-fitted Dockers.

As people start to file in and take their seats, I begin to get really nervous and in turn  begin to get really hot. Like…upset stomach hot.

Suddenly it occurs to me… I have got to take a dump.

That’s just the simple truth. But I realize that the show is starting and before I can even try and get up, there are four guys on stage, just feet away from me. My nervousness/anxiety/stomach problems just intensify. The show has begun now, but I have this feeling that if I get up the show will come to a halt. I am convinced that since I am right on the front row in the middle, that they will call on me from the stage. I tell myself that the only thing I can do if they call on me is to say, “Sorry, I have to take a dump.” I figure it will get a lot of laughs and no one will try and get me on stage. But walking back in would have to be super embarrassing so I am not 100% behind my plan.

After another five minutes, I decide I can’t take it anymore. As I am about to get up I feel that maybe I can just fart. So that’s what I do. I fart three times in a row. They are silent but smell so extremely bad. I feel awful for the guy that brought me in because there is no way he is not smelling this.

I’m not sure if anyone suspected me. But I felt a ton better. I relaxed and watched the show in comfort and it was absolutely hilarious.

I left Los Angeles the next day and finally felt a lot less out of place, getting on the plane with my other business casual brethren. I may not look the part of a native Californian. But I had a great time, despite how lame I looked and felt all week.

The End

Crashing a political rally

Author’s Note: I wrote this story for an older blog I once had that was associated with the award-winning, extremely popular podcast ‘Sup Cuz, that I co-hosted with my cousin. I decided to re-print it, because it had to do with being in a business casual-type awkward situation. Also, It was a lot easier than having to write something new.

About three years ago I was in Nashville for business. I have a lot of friends who live there, so whenever I go, I usually stay with them. I eat their food, dirty up their guest room, don’t make up the bed, make a mess in the bathroom, ruin any type of romantic plans the couples might have had. They love it. This one time I was staying with my buddy, Hart. (I know it’s a weird, ridiculous name, I’ve told him several times, he’s aware.)

He lives in a sort of eclectic neighborhood in Nashville, where a bunch of middle to upper-class folks live on the same street. He has a really nice, but small house and just a couple of houses away might be a million dollar home. Anyway, he called me and said, “What time are you getting off work and coming to the house?” I told him it would probably be about 5:30 and he said, “Well, my neighbor is holding a rally for Obama and Michelle Obama is going to be giving a speech. But it’s at 5:30, so don’t be late.” Well, this seemed like kind of weird situation, but Nashville is kind of a weird place and Hart is kind of a weird guy, so I said, “I’ll be there.”

I managed to get stuck in traffic on the way, but pulled into his driveway right at 5:30. I saw that two houses down was where they were obviously holding the rally. People were walking into the backyard and there were lots of Secret Service standing around. I walked over and was led to the front porch. “Can I have your name please,” the Secret Service-looking guy asked me when I got to the porch. When I told him, he started looking through a registry of some kind and said, “I don’t see your name on here.”

“Well, my buddy that I’m staying with tonight lives in that house right there,” I said, pointing to Hart’s house, “and he told me to come by and that he would be here. He must not have put my name on the list but don’t worry about it, I’ll just leave.”

As I started to back off the porch he said, “Well, just hold on a second, let me get someone.” Then he did this really cool move that I’ve only seen in movies or the West Wing, where he spoke into his wrist. Then this other, bigger guy with the sunglasses and the ear piece and everything, came over and started to look through the list too.

“Look, it’s no big deal, my friend just told me to come over and…”

“What’s your friend’s name?” the guy asked.

“Hart Knight.”

The guy flipped through some pages and said, “I don’t see a Mr. Hart Knight on here.” And he said “Hart” really weird like he was kind of making fun of it and I wanted to say, “weird name, right?” but I instead I just said, “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” But surprisingly, he said, “No problem, just sign your name here and fill out the information.”

So I began signing my name and address and he asked, “you’re not a member of the media are you?” and I told him I wasn’t. Then, as I finished signing up he asked, “Do you want to give any money to the campaign today?”

“No, I’m cool,” I said as I walked toward the backyard. He looked displeasingly at me, but didn’t say anything.

When I went through the gate I saw a backyard full of people. There was a large back porch where Michelle would be speaking from, but she had not started yet. (I guess I should refer to her as the First Lady or Mrs. President, but at the time she was simply the wife of a guy running in the primaries against a bunch of other Democratic possibilities, and she said to everyone that we could call her “Michelle”).

I walked to a spot about 15 feet from the porch, and as I began to look around, I realized that I looked extremely out of place. Every man there was in a suit and every woman was dressed very nicely. There was wine and cheese being eaten and it looked just like a really nice wedding reception. I had just come there from my job so I was wearing brown Dickies carpenter pants, and a teal green, short-sleeved “Polo”-type shirt. I was starting to think they let me in to fill the “everyman” demographic so no one could say this was some type of elitist party.

It wasn’t long before Michelle was on the porch, to the obvious delight of a lot of wealthy white folks surrounding me.

During her speech I had been looking around for Hart but couldn’t see him. There were lots of people in the back yard but not that many bearded guys like Hart, so I figured he would be easy to recognize. Then I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I looked at a text from Hart that said, “Where are you?” I texted back: “In the backyard”. As soon as I put my phone back in my pocket, a Secret Service guy came close to me and gave me a look, like I shouldn’t get out my phone again. So, as I stood there, listening to the speech and still looking for Hart, I saw this head pop up over a fence on the other side of the yard…a bearded head. Hart looked around and quickly found me, which was probably easy as I was a teal green shirt in a sea of designer suits.

As soon as our eyes met, he started pointing and laughing really hard and then I saw his head disappear. Just a few seconds later, I see his head as well as about ten other heads pop up over the fence. I can see Hart pointing me out to whoever these people are and then they all start laughing like crazy. I’m not really sure what to think at this point besides, “maybe I’m not supposed to be here.” Hart had told me to come to his neighbor’s house, but apparently he had meant the next door neighbor’s, instead of two houses down.

As the speech ends, everyone claps and for some reason, I guess because it’s Nashville and it’s weird, Emmylou Harris is suddenly on the porch hugging Michelle, and then it’s over.

So me and the rest of the white folks spill out of the back yard and I go over to the appropriate house this time. Hart is still laughing and there are about twenty people clapping for me. I soon learn from all of my new fans that the back yard was filled with important government officials, including the Governor of Tennessee and that I had snuck into a $2,000 a person fundraiser. So, the whole night people are coming up to me saying, “You’re the guy that crashed the speech! Man, that was awesome!” So I suddenly have the reputation of being someone much cooler than I am.

After that incident I remember feeling some compassion for the Salahi’s… that couple that crashed the White House State Dinner. Maybe one of their friends told them to come over for dinner and they just went to the wrong house. “Oh, you said 1601 Pennsylvania Avenue?… I could swear you said 1600. My bad.” Maybe they were let in by the same dumb Secret Service guy that I spoke to. But at least they looked like they belonged, being dressed in a tuxedo and evening gown. I’m pretty sure even I couldn’t have penetrated that operation with my carpenter pants and teal green shirt.