Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Keep in touch"

Wednesday, September 6, 2006, 1:30pm
Steve's office

Dom agrees that the biggest hurdle between him and my job is his personal life. He has to reassure Dan that he's calmed down, but he can't be too obvious about it; otherwise it will look like he is merely saying what Dan wants to hear.

"When we talk to Dan, I'll handle it," Dom says.

At first, I thought Dan was agreeing to the phone interview as a courtesy, and that he had no intention of considering Dom for the job. But to my surprise, he pulled in three heavy hitters, including the CFO and the VP of HR, for the call.

On the call, I speak as little as possible, letting Dom take the lead, just as he would if he were in charge. Naturally, he answers every question effortlessly, having been with this company for years, and having worked closely with me on every major project I've been involved with. It's going as well as I could have expected.

"Dom," Dan says, "You do realize why Steve is leaving this job, don't you?"


"And you do realize that this is an extremely labor-intensive job, and will be for the foreseeable future?"

"Yes, I do."

"You might not have much of a... personal life. I need to hear how you feel about that."

This is it--the key question of the interview. If he answers this correctly, I think he'll get an offer. They'd be crazy not to offer it to Dom: There'd be no recruiter to pay for, no lengthy hiring process, no long "onboarding" period for him to get acclimated.

"Actually, I have a girlfriend now. We see each other a lot, but we don't go out much. I spend most nights at home lately."

Of course, he's full of shit. Dom doesn't have a girlfriend, at least not that he's told me about, and though he's usually on time for work, he does have the occasional 10:00am raccoon-eyed roll-in.

The line goes dead silent. This is a startling revelation for anyone familiar with Dom; it's like Diddy announcing plans to sell off his bling-bling and join the Hare Krishnas.

"A girlfriend?" Fran, the CFO, manages, finally.


"She's not an employee, is she?" Dan says, to uproarious laughter. Guess Lila wasn't as much of a secret as I thought she was.

"No, she's a physical therapist," Dom says. He had a lie ready. The man is one hell of a bullshitter.

The conversation runs long, which to me is a good sign: Why would they bother if they weren't serious about him?

Yes, I want this for Dom. Despite a rocky beginning, we work well together. He's the most qualified person I know for the position, and he's done his time with the company, even moved clear across the country for what was technically not a promotion.

"We'll try to make a decision by the end of the week," Dan says. Another good sign. If they were considering outside candidates, the process would take a lot longer than three days. I think he's got it.

"Physical therapist?" I say, after we hang up, and we laugh hysterically.


Friday, September 8, 2006
Steve's office

Dan Johnson is here, which is yet another good sign. He wouldn't come all this way to turn Dom down.

"Steve, I have some bad news for you," Dan says. Dom and I exchange white-faced looks.

"W-what's that?"

"You just lost your parking spot. Dom, congratulations. You're the new district manager!"

Friday, September 29, 2006
Steve's office

My desk is empty; my phone is silent. All I hear is the steady whisper of air from the heat vent in the ceiling. The vent is directly over my head; I always meant to have it moved, but never got around to it. There are a lot of things like that.

With all the silence, I have time to think, about how it used to be, back when I liked, no loved, my job, when I sometimes spent 12 or 14 hours at my desk, getting up only to use the bathroom, when I worked weekends straight through and woke up from a dead sleep to add to my to-do list. I didn't resent the work then; I thrived on it. It reminded me that I had a purpose. That purpose is Dom's now.

Did I make a mistake? Did I commit "career suicide", as Dan called it? Was I wasting my talent?

Now that the pressure is off, I wonder if I could have made it, if I could have somehow dealt with the stress until things calmed down again. But in the end, I take a deep breath, and all I feel is relief.

"It was nice working with you," my coworkers say, awkwardly running their fingers over my doorhandle. It was "We'll miss you, Steve," and "Thanks for helping me," and "be sure to keep in touch."

But I won't keep in touch, and neither will they. They will get preoccupied with other things, and grow closer with the new boss, and my time here will fade to a distant memory. Dom will do my job, and if he leaves, someone else will take over, and the world won't come to an end. Employees will come, and they will go, like a subway train that never has the exact same group of people on it twice. I made friends here, but most were friendships of convenience; once physically separated, we'll forget each other. That's not a bad thing; just the way it is.

But I'll miss my job.

This is the company where I grew into a true professional, where I learned what a 10-K and an IPO was. I learned budgets, forecasting, and G/L accounting. From now on, I'll be able to say, "Having worked for a Fortune 500 company, I..."

"Steve?" Bonnie says. "I just want you to know it's been a pleasure working with you. You always took care of me. I appreciate that. I want to--" she pauses, looking down at the floor. "I wish you the best of luck." She hands me a small, gift-wrapped box--two tins of rasperry Altoids and a box of Chai tea, my favorites. Funny how silly things like that make me want to cry.

"Are you taking off early?" Lila says, standing in my doorway. It's around 3:30.

"Hey!" I exclaim, leaping from my chair to hug her. "I was wondering if you were going to stop by."

"We're gonna keep in touch, right?" she says, casting her huge eyes up at me. How can I say no to that?

"Definitely. Let's really stay in touch," I say. "Everyone says it, but let's really do it."

"You better," she says. "Call me this weekend, maybe we'll go on a double date."


"I'm really happy here. Thanks for getting me my job back, Steve."

I want to say something profound, something that you would read in a book or see in a movie. I want to dazzle her, or amaze her, or make her cry. But I can't think of anything.

"You totally earned it. You're a great employee, and you have a great future here."



"Are you gonna be okay at your new job? I mean, will you like it?"

"Yeah, definitely!"


"Dom, I won't see you Monday," I say. I'm standing in his doorway, watching as he shuffles three pages of reports and clutches the phone between his shoulder and ear, and it occurs to me that this is exactly how I always looked to him.

"I, wait, Bruce, can you hold on just a second?" he says into the phone, smiling up at me.

"It's okay, Dom, you don't have to," I laugh.

"You sure? I wanted to walk out with you."

"I know the way."

"Well, listen, I--"

"It was a lot of fun," I say. "Just... keep in touch. Okay?"

"I will."

No, he probably won't. And neither will I.