Monday, March 5, 2018

Playing by the Rules A short-short story about success


Decker had become a millionaire largely because he played by The Rules.

Yes, he could have a fancy car but it must look understated—silver Lexus, not red Corvette. His clothes need look inconspicuously expensive, for example, the tiny black-and-white word “Facconable” on the shirt, not the bright green Izod alligator.

Decker was tired at the end of his venture capitalist workday but The Rules deem visible fatigue (or any emotion other than mild pleasantness) unacceptable. So he took a deep breath, struggled out of his car, and turned his game demeanor back on for his second shift: the one at the club’s bar.

That demeanor was well practiced—Of course, shoulders back, head slightly above 90 degrees to look confident but not pompous. No matter how tired you are, you must stride, not trudge, but not so fast that you seem hurried. As the old commercial said, “Never let them see you sweat.” Inside the bar, the stride must give way to a confident amble, but certainly not the padding of an insecure wannabe. He had tried out dozens of smiles in front of the mirror until he settled on the one that appeared most natural and brought out the best in his facial features. And Decker practiced it until it was firmly in muscle memory and could be summoned on command.

On seeing his fellow denizens at the bar or in the clubby chairs, Decker nodded with that crafted smile, varying it just enough to avoid it appearing pasted. At this point he could have approached them without paying the price of seeming too anxious but he preferred to slow his amble and slide to the bar, hoping someone would ask him to join them. The Rule is that the power resides in the recipient of the request, not in the requester.

Decker wouldn’t even call the bartender even though she looking in the other direction and wasn’t busy. Decker waited until she saw him. Thus, when she finally did, she might feel the need to apologize, whereupon Decker would graciously say, “Not a problem,” all of which conveys to any onlookers that Decker was a gracious good egg. “I’d like a Beefeater Martini, please.” The right drink, the right gin.

So, as usual, Decker had laid his foundation properly and as a result, before even his drinky-poo had arrived, Bill Oliver a fellow venture capitalist sidled up. All clubby types had read How to Win Friends and Influence People or one of its myriad derivatives, and they knew to not talk business too quickly. So although they had not the slightest interest in each other’s family, hobbies, and other innocuities, that was the requisite discussion for the first five minutes. Decker kept a list of the names of even casual acquaintances’ spouse and kids’ and their core interests, so he could toss off,  for example, “Bill, I recall last time we spoke, you mentioned you were hoping Bradley would be getting into Choate. Any luck?” Decker would not, of course, say, “I recall you were trying to pull strings to get Bradley into Choate.” That would violate The Rule against willfulness.

Decker and Bill were in the middle of their pre-deal dance when Decker’s phone rang. “Would you excuse me a moment? It’s my boss.”

Decker ambled to a quiet spot and listened: “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, Decker, but I wanted to let you know as soon the decision had been made. Decker, we’ve decided to go in a different direction.”

Decker couldn’t maintain his The Rules demeanor: “What do you mean, a different direction?! I’ve been an above-average performer. What is this about? . . .What do you mean you’re looking for someone with a fresher approach? Are you firing me because I’m an older white male? No, you wouldn’t admit that.”

Decker then realized that his show of emotion could hurt the reference he’d get and perhaps his severance. So he mustered as much restraint as he could. “James, I am sorry. Thank you for letting me know.”

Decker couldn’t muster an amble. He plodded back to Bill and simply said, “I need to go. We’ll continue this next time.” (Of course, Decker knew there might well not be a next time but The Rules prohibit such candor ...unless it’s expedient.)

He drove home and told his wife who said all the right things, including telling him to “Feel free to take a week or so off to regain your bearings.” (Internally, with him being the primary breadwinner supporting a lifestyle, including two kids in private school, she was nervous: “He’s 50 and has only soft skills. Will he get a job without our having to dip into savings?”

But she never imagined what he ended up doing. Yes, he took a week to think about it all but his conclusion was unexpected—utterly: Decker entered an ashram and renounced all his worldly goods. I won’t regale you with all the details. I’ll merely let you know that when he did it, she divorced him. Oh, and I should tell you that he went onto the Berkeley campus with $100,000 in $100 bills, flung them all into the air and enjoyed the “anti-materialistic” Berkeley students swarming, diving, fighting for as many bills as they could grab.

After three months of meditating, chanting, and eating locally grown, sustainable organic vegetables over fair-traded brown rice, Decker was bored. Then one day, as he was padding around the ashram, (In an ashram, padding is The Rule), he noticed an unused utility room that faced a busy street. He got permission to open a bookstore and cafe there called The Town Hall Meeting Cafe. On the cafe’s website, anyone could sign up to lead a one-hour discussion on any topic. Also, there were read-alouds for children, teens, adults, and seniors. Such events attracted a good number of customers who stayed a long time and thus often bought food and drink and occasionally, with the good will acquired, bought a book, even though they could use Amazon to peruse a far bigger selection at a far lower price. Decker ended up only netting $15 an hour but was much happier than as a venture capitalist.

His wife used part of the divorce settlement to get an MBA and then got hired by Decker’s former employer.

I read this short-short story on YouTube.

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