“Tad … Tad, really. No … don’t cry.”
Snow in July. Northern lights. A total solar eclipse. These are things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Oh sure, they existed. Snow in July could theoretically happen. I just never thought I’d see it. I also never thought I’d see my metro-sexual boss cry. This was actually closer to a genuine sighting of the Easter Bunny. I didn’t know if I should cry with him or laugh. Actually, I was too stunned to do much of anything but gawk with a slightly bug-eyed, slack-jawed stare. Something had to be done. Now. Something decisive. Take charge, I told myself.
I crossed the room to hand him a tissue. It was a Puffs brand. With lotion.
I’d been the assistant marketing director for almost two years now, and for the last month or so acting marketing director of a 1.2 million square-foot retail property we were not allowed to call a shopping center. Never mind that was exactly what people did when they came through the doors. They shopped. But back to Tad’s tears and my general state of confused unease. He had just told me that my position as assistant marketing director was being eliminated.
“I am so sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” he snuffled in a delicate yet somehow still manly manner, then picked up a damp, limp piece of paper from his desk. A fat tear plopped onto the space it had just occupied. Tad inhaled a deep, shaky breath and began to read aloud from the sheet in a stilted voice. “We … uh, that is … um, I … regret to inform you …”
September 12, 2001 was the date for our property’s first official event, a pre-grand opening luncheon for more than two hundred people who were considered celebrities of the retail world. It never happened. Instead, the morning before, various groups of employees huddled around perfect-picture televisions in offices and conference rooms watching a widescreen nightmare unfold. Over the hum of disbelieving voices, punctuated by an occasional sob, the assistant vice-president of marketing services for developing domestic properties shrieked, “This property is fucked!” Her semi-hysterical outburst was not attributed to the morning’s tragedy but rather to the fact that the company had sunk millions into a property whose future seemed to be doomed. It was an omen of things to come.
“We want you to stay on for another ninety days.”
Tad was waiting for a response. When I continued to give him the stereotypical raised-eyebrow, blank stare, he kept talking as though he were making a sales pitch for bifocals to a blind man.
“Of course, you’ll be given an increase in your severance package should you decide to stay for the additional period of time … ”
The Blues Come to Georgia was the title of an aptly named CD album to be celebrated at a release party onsite. Blind Willie, an older man with an ebony complexion who performed on the album and at an impromptu performance, wore dark shades, a light brown, felt fedora, a bright orange suit, and an electric blue shirt with a key lime green tie. Like Lot’s wife turning back towards Sodom and Gomorrah, it was damn near impossible to look away. However, his wardrobe was not so much the problem that evening as was the fact that Mr. Willie was making several apparent attempts to throw himself into the mosh pit, wriggling and writhing before the stage. Did the property insurance cover intentional acts of insanity?
Back in my office, I called the troops: Deirdre, one of my best friends and former boss at the property, then my mom and sister. The only person who wasn’t surprised was Deirdre. She had resigned a month ago. We both knew this was coming. We just didn’t know it would be this soon.
“So, are you okay?” She asked, voice sweet with concern. And wait a minute—sarcasm?
“Yeah,” I replied in a slow, cautious tone. “I guess I’m okay.”
“Do I need to come up there and kick somebody’s multi-ethnic ass? Relieve some tension?”
After a split second pause, we both started to giggle. She knew me well.
Intentional acts of bigotry were not tolerated. On a different night, during a different concert event, tempers flared when the bass guitar player was told to remove the rebel flag sticker from his instrument. The edict came from Tad, a self-described Hispanic Jew. He stood calmly with his hands in his pockets next to assistant property manager—blue-eyed, blond haired Charles Bandam, who could pass for the perfect Aryan. The two top dogs of our management team who, during normal circumstances, were like little boys on a playground at recess stood side-by-side, unflinching in their resolve as they held a steely-eyed staring contest with the bass player. No crass reminders of Ol’ Dixie would be present here tonight. Unassuming, all-around nice guys, they were ready to kick some redneck ass on principle alone. The bass player surrendered his instrument bearing the offensive sticker but tension remained. Ironically, Tension was also the name of the band.
I closed the door to my office and sat down at my desk to think. I imagined languorous mornings of sleeping until seven; drinking coffee with Meredith, Matt, Al and Ann; luxurious afternoons spent catching up on my reading. Just last week, I’d lit a candle to meditate and asked the universe to change my situation at work—fewer hours at the office and more time at home. In true tradition of being careful, what you ask for I had indeed now received fewer hours at the office and would soon be spending more time at home.
Somehow though, I wasn’t sad. Quite the contrary. I leaned back in my chair, put my feet on the desk, locked my hands behind my head, and smiled at the ceiling. Maybe I’d have time to write that book after all.