Tuesday, April 27, 2010
How a Captain of Industry Manages Human Resources
The pocket doors slid open with an almost imperceptible whisper as a rumpled looking figure glided into the library, his feet dangling limply a few inches above the floor. This phenomenon, which would have been strange in other circumstances, and perhaps suggestive of a ghostly apparition, was a not uncommon sight in the inner sanctum of J. Packington Paco III, where those who had drawn the great man’s ire were frequently hauled in for a heart-to-heart chat.
The two tall and beefy men in double-breasted suits and fedoras who escorted the visitor had each latched onto an arm and were bearing him into the room in the manner of a couple of professional movers carrying a large painting of questionable taste and dubious market value. Stopping a few feet in front of a massive mahogany and gilt Empire desk, one of the escorts asked, “Where do you want we should plant him, boss?”
J.P., seated in a swivel chair behind the desk, leaned forward and clasped his hands upon the elegant blotter of hand-tooled Spanish leather. “Deposit him in that wing chair, gentlemen.”
With an upward, sweeping motion – referred to among those professionals whose jobs consist mainly of shepherding people from one place to another, generally against their will, as the “alley-oop” (derived from the French, allez, hop!) - the large men hoisted the visitor over the back of the chair and brought him down on the seat cushion with the precision of seasoned experts, provoking a small yip of surprise from their charge.
J.P. dismissed his associates and scowled at the man sitting across from him. In a tone of voice reminiscent of the late Brooklyn prosecutor Burton Turkus, confronting a member of Murder, Incorporated on the witness stand in a capital murder trial, he asked, “You are Fred Toettcher, a/k/a ‘Toucher’?”
“Yes, I am. What’s the meaning of kidnapping me off the street?”
“Kidnapping is an ugly word, Mr. Toettcher, and completely out of place in this context. You are an employee who has been summoned by his employer to explain an episode of disgraceful conduct.”
“But I don’t work for you. I work for…”
“…for radio station 98.5 in Boston; a property, you might be interested to know, that I acquired this morning.”
Toettcher’s throat made a noise like a suddenly upended gallon jug of apple cider. “You…you bought the station?”
“Correct. And as a result of that transaction, I obviously have the right to question my employees about their job performance. Now, getting down to brass tacks, it is my understanding that, in one of your recent broadcasts, you drew an analogy between Tim Tebow’s NFL draft party and a Nazi rally, based on your observation that the attendees, consisting of Mr. Tebow’s friends and family, were all Caucasian?”
“Did you trouble yourself to analyze the racial profile of any other white players’ draft party guests?”
“Well, no…*cough*…no, I didn’t, but…”
“Did you trouble yourself to analyze the racial profile of any of the black players’ draft party guests?”
“Er...no. No, I guess not.”
“There is no guesswork involved here at all, Mr. Toettcher. You saw an opportunity to inject some leftist cant into a totally inappropriate setting and you did so. Perhaps you see yourself as a kind of Keith Olbermann, another media personality who made the transition from sports commentator to political carnival barker.”
“Keith Olbermann has done a lot to create opportunities for sports broadcasters to do more meaningful work.”
A short, but loud guffaw escaped from J.P.; if a howitzer could ever be described as sounding jolly, then J.P. had just given a perfect impression of one. “Mwaha! Gad, sir, you are a character, yes, indeed. I think you will find that Olbermann has come down somewhat since the heady days of which you speak. By the way, would you like to meet him?”
Toettcher’s facial expression, which had been a mask of fear up to this point, took on a momentary look of reverence. “Do you know him?”
“He’s here now.” J.P. took a cigar from a rosewood humidor, nipped the end with a guillotine cutter and struck a match. Once the ignition process had been completed, he extinguished the match by lazily waving it back and forth a few times, then dropped it into an onyx ashtray. “In fact, he works for me.”
“How could that be? He’s under contract to MSNBC.”
“I beg your pardon. I forgot to mention that I purchased a controlling interest in MSNBC from General Electric last week. Thanks to an obscure clause in Olbermann’s employment contract, which binds him to undertake, in addition to his talk-show responsibilities, ‘such other duties as may be assigned, from time to time, by the party of the first part’ – which is, of course, me – he is now doing some odd jobs about Paco Tower.”
He barely raised his voice as he called for Spurgeon, his gentleman’s personal gentleman.
Although he had not been present during J.P.’s interview with Toettcher, Spurgeon, through long habituation, was attuned to his master’s voice and promptly entered the library – silently, as it were, on little cat’s feet (which were none the less feline for being shod in size 12 triple-E brogues). His sudden materialization brought forth another startled yip from Toettcher, who grasped the arms of his chair as if he’d been lolling in the seat of a fighter jet and had accidentally hit the eject button.
“Spurgeon, has Mr. Olbermann finished his morning tasks?”
“He is well underway, sir. Mr. Olbermann has finished scouring the balcony of turkey-buzzard droppings, and has just commenced feeding flies to your collection of Dionaea muscipula - or” he said, turning to Toettcher, having sensed an aura of ignorance radiating from his master’s guest – “the Venus flytrap plants, as they are, *sniff*, commonly known.”
“Excellent. Kindly ask Mr. Olbermann to come here immediately.”
A few moments later, a scruffy looking fellow decked out in a white t-shirt and denim overalls shuffled into the library. Although his prematurely white hair was in need of brushing, and he appeared not to have shaved for a few days, the man was undeniably Keith Olbermann. He smelled strongly of bleach.
“You wanted to see me, Mr. Paco?”
“Yes. Spurgeon tells me that, after some initial grousing, you seem to have buckled down to your work.”
“Well, keep it up, Olbermann. Perhaps, one day, I will be able to see my way clear to letting you ease your way back into broadcasting, maybe let you cover the occasional sports event. I understand that St. Mary’s girls’ school has an excellent field hockey team. That’s something that might be within your scope. We’ll see.”
“Yes, sir. Is that all, sir?”
“Yes, that’s all. You’re dismissed, Olbermann.”
Olbermann began to trudge back to his chores, but was abruptly halted by a command from J.P.
“Just a minute, Olbermann. Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Olbermann pivoted and faced J.P. His lips had grown taut, and there was a flash of defiance in his eyes.
J.P. smiled benevolently, as his right hand closed on the hilt of what he amusingly referred to as a letter opener, but which purists would have insisted was an Arkansas toothpick. He jabbed the point of the blade into a bundle of stapled papers lying on top of the blotter, and lifted them gently a few inches above the desk top.
“You know, Olbermann, the clause in your contract dealing with termination of employment for cause seems to have avoided the careful scrutiny of your attorneys.”
“Olbermann lowered his head. “All right, all right”, he muttered. “I’ll say it.” He took a deep breath and said, through clinched teeth, “Mr. J. Packington Paco III is the…is the…best person in the world.” He then tottered out of the room. A sob could be heard on the other side of the door.
J.P. drew on his cigar and exhaled a series of smoke rings, which broadened and wobbled in the direction of Toettcher, settling gently round his head, as if he’d been the target in a ring-toss game on the midway at the county fair.
Although the room temperature was comfortable, Toettcher was trembling violently, and his chattering teeth sounded like somebody rattling dice in a cup. With great effort, he finally managed to speak.
“Mr. Paco, I swear, I’ll never drag politics into my commentary again! Never!”
“And you will apologize to your radio audience, and to Mr Tebow, and to Mr. Tebow’s friends?”
“Without delay! I’ll even take out a half-page ad in the Boston papers publicizing my apology! At my own expense!”
“A what-sized ad, Mr. Toettcher?”
The gallon jug of apple cider tilted again. “I…I mean a full-page ad.”
J.P.frowned pensively, while Toettcher watched for any move on his boss’s part to don the black silk. It was with incalculable relief that he heard another of J.P.’s booming laughs.
“Mwaha! Well, well, well, Mr. Toettcher. We shall let bygones be bygones this time. I shan’t detain you further, inasmuch as I know you are eager to make amends.” J.P. rose from his desk, took his guest by the arm and personally walked him to the front door. “And just to strengthen you in your resolution, young man, permit me to inform you that your attorneys were even more remiss in reviewing the termination clause in your employment contract than Olbermann’s. So I exhort you to go, Mr. Toettcher, and sin no more.”
As he closed the front door, J.P. was approached by Spurgeon.
“Sir, I regret to report that Mr. Olbermann has an insufficiency of flies on hand to complete today’s feeding of the Dionaea muscipula.”
“Hmmm. Tell him to go down to the dumpster behind the seafood restaurant on the corner and round up a batch.”
“Very good, sir.”