On Friday, I finished cleaning out my office. Hadn’t seen the bottom of the in-basket for many years, although it had never really held much of a stack. I had taken my share of kidding about that over the years. Other managers commented on the lack of clutter in my office, claiming that it offered evidence that I did not have much to do. I would level them with my reply. “I get paid to manage. To make the correct yes/no decision. I’m not here to do staff work. If that were the case, why would we be paying all those people in those rows of cubicles on the other side of that door. If you want to do the work of all the folks assigned to you, fine, but not me. I’m gonna sit here and read the paper until they bring me another decision to make, and when that moment comes, you can rest assured my decision will be the right one. Always has been. Always will be.”
Some of the other managers, the stupid ones, considered me arrogant or lazy, but in their hearts, they envied the fact that I could run the show without breaking a sweat, and with easy humor. They did not understand why it was that my staff had been loyal to me. They did not understand the fact that key decisions: hiring, promoting, mentoring, rewarding, getting rid of and streamlining – made less than a dozen times a year – make all the difference in the ease of one’s job. Now the rumors about who will succeed me run like electricity throughout the building. Managers who have rarely stopped by have visited me this week, pretending to say goodbye while asking about the future of my assigned parking spot in the basement garage, while coveting the view from my windows and sizing up the wall space for the photos of their pasty-faced no-necked distempered spawn.
At the end of the day, I am the last to leave. The send-off parties are over. The hugs and “remember whens” are done. I will miss my team. So competent. So able to make any task enjoyable.
I take one last look at my view of the Wretched Little City.
Twenty-five years have gone by in a flash. I think about the day I was hired. Delighted to be making $14,000 a year! Figuring I’d stick it out for six months and then leave it for something more glamorous. It’s not like I had any better offers. A degree in theology coupled with an allergic reaction to organized religion can leave you on the street. Perhaps the fact that my extra-office life was such an elaborate distraction actually helped my rise from intern to CFO. My detachment may have been viewed as level-headedness. My total disinterest in the business of my agency may have been viewed as unflappable calmness, the obvious strength of a leader. Maybe my time in the Vatican, scurrying around a pope, and making me totally unimpressed with the needs of a governor, made me seem competent and able to handle the servicing of the largest fish in this tiny pond. Perhaps it was simply the fact that I was amusing, and the only man to notice and to be unafraid to comment on someone’s new jewelry and the fact that turquoise is a color that works for her. Perhaps it was the fact that I had our largest conference room done over in rich ebony and high-backed black leather, and put the lights on five pre-set dimming patterns that I could control remotely from my office, throwing someone else’s meeting into semi-darkness whenever I felt like it. Tee-hee.
I take the elevator down to the basement and I begin to feel the headrush of freedom. This must be how it feels to end one’s time as an indentured servant. What’s the worst that can happen to me for the rest of my life? C and I will now have free health care and dental coverage forever, and a check will come in the mail monthly. Granted, taking the earliest possible retirement option vastly reduces the size of that check, but so what if I still must find work to maintain our current lifestyle? This time around, I’ll do something fun, something more creative. Something that doesn’t involve a suit and regular hours. Something more playful. Truth to tell, I’ve always watched with fascination the men who repair stucco in Florida. I think I might enjoy that. And, during the hot months, when we are in New York, I could do Venetian plastering in the apartments of the wealthy. There. The next ten years are settled.
At home, I take a moment to pick some roses before going inside. This one is called “The alchemist”. Each blossom’s color changes from a budding orange to peach to a blushing pink as it unfurls. If you don’t know this, you’d be perplexed to find flowers of so many different colors on the same bush. “Cosi va la vita mia” I think to myself with a laugh.
Inside, C has prepared a surprise to celebrate this long-awaited moment. It’s been twenty-five years since I last launched myself into uncharted waters. This time, I am not alone, and I am entirely without fear. The possibilities are exciting. This is the right decision.