Monday, April 18, 2005

half a dozen of one - six of the other

Half a dozen of one, six of the other.
“Have you ever heard that phrase?”
Of course I’d heard that. They teach it to you in Corporate America Linguistics, Part II.
In Part I they teach: in regards to, regarding, re: (short for regarding and best when used in e-mails), at the end of the day, for all intensive purposes (that’s a good one), and, from a ____ standpoint. (That’s a fill in the blank one that will earn you big points).
They all work. But that new one about six of one, half a dozen of the other - that one really says it all. It truly captures what you’re trying to say. In other words, you’re fucked either way.
“Eric? You there?”
“Oh yes, yes. I have heard that. You know, like when…”
Then we both finished my sentence together, Dave’s voice trailing a word or two behind mine in that blah, blah, blah fashion. Like he was trying to read my mind or pulling that irritating shit I used to do to my sister when we were kids, copying every word that came out of her mouth.
“So e-mail me the completed spreadsheet this afternoon, the sooner the better. It’s time to go get ‘em!”
“You got it Dave,” I said. “Talk to you soon.”
My boss was not a hard-ass. If anything he was just a typical manager concerned with the bottom line. We’re here to make money, so let’s do it, he would say. He was to the point and wanted you to be there with him. He would use sports analogies to drive that point home: “full court press, straight arm, a winning team.”
That’s what I had been on the past year and a half – the winning team. And Dave was my coach. He had been sort of a father to me; inviting me to client dinners that most management didn’t attend, pushing more work on me than my counterparts, and wanting me to go for the gusto. I was a little slave of sorts, who smiled and showed up everyday, like a good, team player.
Then one day it hit me. I’m a producer. I am “in demand.” I’m really showing these people that I’m a dynamo. And likewise, they are pushing me. They see that I can get the job done, and accordingly, they push more on my plate, wanting me to take more bites, digest faster, and then shit out a masterpiece.
About the same time, I realized that what I produced could not be considered a masterpiece. Since when is an Excel spreadsheet a masterpiece?
And at that time, I checked out. Out of that call, out of the job, out of everything. I was lost in numbers and business jargon. I didn’t want to be a 29 year old junior salesman with visions of commission. I wanted to stop pitching “WIIFM” to clients and start asking myself those five questions.
“What’s in it for me?” I asked.
“Para ti, papi. Any ting you want.”
Monica was about 5’7” and had nothing but legs. She couldn’t have been more than 17, but in Tijuana, she was a working girl so age did not matter. She had bottom lines, too.
“Let’s sit over here and have a drink,” I said.
We moved into a dark corner in Pussycats – one TJ’s seediest men’s clubs on Revolución. The mesero brought over a bucket of icy Dos Equis posing as full size beers, but instead they too were junior salesmen.
Monica rocked back and forth to the beat, looking around the room. She then went right for the goal and put her hand in my crotch.
“Buenos Dias,” she smiled. In the black light, her teeth were despicable. If they were going anywhere near me, it was not my mouth. I had developed some standards over the years, and I made it a point to exercise them in men’s clubs, especially in Mexico.
I smiled back at Monica and nodded my head. Before long, she was on the job and I was taking in the rest of what the den of sin had to offer.
I relaxed somewhat, but I could not stop thinking about what Dave had said on the Friday morning conference call. Half a dozen of one, six of the other.
You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, right? Was that what he meant? You’re screwed either way?
“Qué?” Monica popped up for a moment. “Todo bien?”
I faded out of Pussycats and into the Mexican night air. I was looking for something else. A place to go. An escape valve that would shoot me further into Mexico where I had a beach front villa, with eggs and cerveza in the fridge, and Simon and Garfunkel haunting the high ceilings and hallways. There was no place to hide, especially from the job.
It wasn’t a bad job, until we skimmed the surface of “what do you really want to do,” and “As an employer, the worst thing is hiring someone who doesn’t even want to stay in that field. Someone who is using the job as a stepping stone to something totally different.”
“Well Dave, you know what I want. I want what you have: wife, kids, company car, expense account. I could see myself doing what you do in a few years.”
It was all a lie. I knew that I didn’t want that. Dave certainly didn’t know that. What he did know was that I was his protégé, his UCLA grad that came to Corporate America highly recommended, English degree or not.
What he also didn’t know was that I was a wandering soul who really just wanted to trot the globe and tell stories, meeting lonely companions along the way, sharing my stories and telling theirs. I was just a tree hugging hippie in business casual.
“You just have to remember Eric, you can have it all, but at the same time, you can’t have it all. You have to work, but then you don’t have to work. You have to play the game. You have to pay your dues and kiss a little ass to get the prize. Eyes on the prize, Eric,” he said.
“You work here or you flip burgers. Either way, you’re going to work. You know, it’s half a dozen of one, six of the other.
I’ve got to get that damn phrase out of my skull.
I walked over to one of those TelMex phone booths and pushed in an old card that I had from my last Mexican adventure.
After a couple of rings, Dave’s phone went to voice mail.
Dave, I said, it’s Eric. I’ve been doing some thinking and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want what you have. Hell, I don’t even know what I want. I just know that right now I’m not cut out for the job that you’ve cut out for me. Look, I’m just a dreamer trapped in an over achiever’s body. You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve decided to leave the company. I’m going to take up residence in Mexico. I don’t know. I think I’m just going to work as a bartender or something. It’s been great working for you and the team. We are a great team. I hope you understand.
I put the phone down, and then smiled to myself. I can’t believe I just quit my job over the phone in Mexico.
I awoke with the same grin and I think I might have been laughing.
“Qué?” she asked, smiling back at me. “What’s funny?”
I held my señorita in my arms, not Monica, but a Mexicana I met months later in Cabo.
“It’s that dream again,” I told her. “You know, where I asked for half a dozen of one, and got six of the other.”
She shook her head, not knowing what I meant, but smiled just the same.
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