Blocked in his career at The Myriad Corporation, and betrayed by his wife Yvette, aspiring novelist Rodger Davies tries to reclaim both his life and his fiction.
Asking for a Raise
On the second day after learning about his impending divorce, Rodger decided to ask for a promotion or at least a raise, which would almost invariably mean going into management at this point in his career.
He knew it was a long shot.
He tried to approach the situation like a soldier, marching confidently into his manager’s office as if he were in full control of the situation. His immediate manager, Charlie Laether, was hunched over his desk. Charlie was often in a dither which, when paired with his last name, suggested a combination that Rodger chose to keep to himself.
Outside Charlie’s window were the branches of an old oak.
“Rodger!” Charlie looked up—finally—from papers that required his review.
Rodger made a point of making eye contact. “Charlie, I came to talk about my career at The Myriad.”
There it was. The proverbial cat was already out of its bag.
Charlie frowned as if he’d observed a bug crawling across his desk, but said nothing.
Rodger realized that it was now up to him to try to explain himself.
“I feel that it’s time to move ahead and try new work. I’ve been writing speeches for more than three years. It’s been a great way to get to know the executives and their priorities, but I feel like I’m ready for more. I’ve been thinking about it a great deal, and I would like to try management.”
“Management!” Charlie had never spoken in one-word exclamations before. Why was he doing it now?
“That’s right,” Rodger enunciated the words as clearly as he could. “Management. I would like to manage my own department. That’s my next goal. As I’ve defined it.”
“Well, if you’re going to be a manager, you’ve got to manage something. Tell me—who or what is it that you want to manage? Department of what, exactly?”
Charlie’s gray, normally watery, eyes remained both clear and impenetrable, a rare accomplishment for him. His abrupt tone made it harder, but even more important, for Rodger to generate self-confidence.
“It isn’t so much a matter of what type of work group. Although it might make sense to give me a department of, say, fledgling speechwriters. But I wouldn’t turn up my nose at digital bulletins. Really, I’d take anything in corporate communications to show that I can do the job.”
“You’d take bulletins?”
“To be a manager?”
“Why?” Charlie smiled as if he were pleased with himself for going out of his way to be stubborn.
“Because I think I’d be a good manager.”
Nonetheless, they both knew that management was the only route to money, promotions and a real career at The Myriad.
“I mean, it’s a separate talent, as I’m sure you’d agree. Managing people is a thing in itself and I think I would be good at that thing.” This last sentence, Rodger realized, could have been better phrased.
“Tell me. What contributions have you made to the corporation to justify such a move?” This was not a good question for one’s own manager to have to ask.
Rodger thought for a moment. Oddly enough, it was the one question he hadn’t come prepared to answer. His work was good. Everyone agreed on that much. Even several quasi-illiterates liked his speeches.
So why did he even have to think of an answer now?
“Over the years, I’ve generated a few ideas that have helped the business.” Rodger had never claimed these as his own before, even though it was in fact the case.
“What ideas?” Charlie was suddenly quite interested.
“I wrote up a lot of scenarios about corporate restructuring two years ago that helped The Myriad adjust to a wide range of new business opportunities.”
“You wrote them in, but they were Ned Hanzel’s ideas. They were his scenarios!”
“Actually, I made them up.”
This was true. Rodger had created seven new cross-organizational focal areas in a first draft that lived to see the light of day without many re-writes. He had all but named the players.
Charlie looked glum. “In that case, you weren’t doing your job. That was Ned Hanzel’s job, not yours.”
“Ned reviewed it. And of course he refined it. But they were my scenarios.
It’s just that it made sense when I was writing out the section about what we had to do—to fill it in. We had invest to change. This was how we had to invest to change. I already knew most of the people pretty well, and what they were good at. So I did my best to fill in the blanks.”
In reliving this, Rodger realized he was treading on thin ice. While what he was doing was good for the company, it probably did violate The Myriad’s ethic of role-based, corporate professionalism.
“What was your other good idea? You said you had two.”
Charlie managed to flex his double chin, turning a fatty sack into something resembling a rooster with a thyroid condition.
“Six months ago, we did the campaign about creating a total package for the home. That was also my idea. Now maybe it wasn’t a good one, but that’s what we decided to do in the end.” Rodger remembered that the total package included a mixture of select furniture, wardrobe choices and bathroom cosmetics. It created a kind of “vanity-to-comfort” perfect storm that intrigued even the more sophisticated buyers.
Although Rodger wasn’t terribly proud of the notion being his own, it did seem worthy of note that his idea turned out to be highly profitable.
“You just wrote that into the speech, too?” Charlie asked the question like a policeman proceeding with his interrogation.
“That’s right. We needed a theme. I put it in as a straw man idea. But then it stayed. Ned Hanzel used it as his own.”
“Do I detect a little jealousy here?”
“No.” And this was true. ‘Jealousy’ wasn’t quite the right word. At the time, Roger’s main reaction was gratitude for not having to do another rewrite. Although, in retrospect he realized that perhaps he should have made more of an effort to document his unique contributions.
“It seems to me that you still may have a lot to learn about working together in a team.” Charlie looked grim.
“I guess we can all learn to be better at teamwork.” Rodger felt a sick feeling collecting in his stomach.
“Do you think I’m good at management?” Charlie’s lips took on an enlarged, almost infant-like fascination.
The first words that ran through Rodger’s head were: “No. Your brain is a merry-go-round of clichés.” But instead, Rodger made himself say, “Yes, Charlie, of course you have shown yourself to be a good manager.”
It was a duplicitous statement. Charlie might have demonstrated good management once or twice given hundreds of opportunities.
But even if that were literally true, Rodger found this act of acquiescence painful. He wondered—is this what having a job was all about? This kind of subservience?
“Well then,” Charlie murmured with the hush of Mount Rushmore between his teeth. “Listen to me! You are an intelligent man, Rodger. You are probably even more intelligent than I am. But at least right now in your career, I don’t think that management is in the cards. You need to become a little more seasoned first. You still need to get a better intuitive grasp of our company’s style.”
By now Charlie was leaning forward over his desk like an athlete warming up, insofar as warming up and seeming athletic was possible for a pudgy, middle-aged man who spent most of his weekends watching sports on TV.
“I’ve done my best.” Rodger felt his throat contracting.
“But you could do better.” Charlie’s lip curled upwards.
“Anyway, I’m not brand new!”
“No, you’re not!” Charlie’s expression remained hard.
“I’ve been with this company for nearly ten years. If I’m as intelligent as you say, don’t you think I’d have a good grasp of our company’s style by now?” Rodger felt his face turning red. He realized that he had just nailed the lid of premature professional burial onto his coffin.
Charlie leaned back with building confidence. His visceral, bureaucratic alarm had become transformed into an effusive, cat-like complacence. “You should have caught on by now, but you didn’t! Maybe that should tell you something, Rodger. You should ask yourself why no one has so far offered you this special kind of opportunity. If you really are interested in management, maybe it’s time to pay more attention to what’s going on around you. You have to learn to pick up more of the signals.”
Charlie smiled. He had succeeded in stretching his abilities for self-expression to new heights.
“So, you think I’m not paying attention?”
“To the signals, Rodger. Listen to the signals!” Charlie touched his tie as if that might be one of the signals Rodger should learn to interpret.
“Can you think of any specifics?”
This question perplexed Charlie Laether so much that he stopped playing with his tie and raised his chin.
“No! No specifics exactly. Not at this time. I wasn’t prepared with a list, as you can imagine. Can’t you think of any? Of anything you might have done differently if you’d paid more attention to the signals?”
Rodger knew that winning the discussion was out of the question. That getting a promotion into management had long since dropped into the dust.
“No. I can’t think of anything.” The words fell mechanically from his lips.
For a moment Charlie was stung. But within that same moment, he made a clear decision to pass his suffering on to the man standing before him.
“That’s the point, isn’t it Rodger? If you’d paid attention, you’d know. You’d know! Wouldn’t you?”
Charlie tensed up in his chair. His seeming victory was apparently less than he would have liked.
“Not maybe!” Charlie’s face became even redder. “You would know. You would! And you wouldn’t be standing here guessing when we both have so much real work to do.”
Hearing this, Rodger launched into a reflexive counterattack.
Even before he spoke, he knew it was wrong.
He knew it would be like reciting an embarrassingly personal dream to a crowd of strangers in the middle of Grand Central Station. But he decided to go ahead with it anyway in the spirit of someone who has nothing to lose.
“I guess that I can’t entirely disagree. It’s my impression that, in some mysterious way, I’ve never been one hundred percent with the program stylistically. The Myriad Corporation has its own ways of doing things and it seems that Rodger Davies must have his own manner of working. But in my view these differences are merely superficial, not matters of substance or efficiency. At best they’re inbred habits of mind the way some old ladies make certain assumptions when they play bridge that have nothing to do with the game. Maybe the angle of my tie isn’t quite right. Or the patina of my shoes. Or maybe I used a phrase from time to time that wouldn’t normally be heard in the cafeteria.
“I admit that in the matter of style I haven’t exactly meshed in the way everyone might like. But my speeches have been successful. Effective. And I believe that in this country, and in this company, we are entitled to our own personal styles. That our democracy is founded on the right to individual difference. And that when it comes to getting the job done, I’m as good as—if not better than—anyone else!”
Charlie thought about this. But not long and not happily. His eyes were bursting with indignant fires that sought to clear the room by reducing the intruder to ashes.
“But what is your job, Rodger? Isn’t style a big part of it? You’re a speechwriter. It’s part of your job to make your client happy—with the style of the words you write and with the style of the clothes you wear. Think about it! Style is important! And by the way, in the future you should be more careful not to express any bigotry about old ladies here at the office.”