Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Management Skills

If we get five, six hundred thousand more layoffs each month between now and July, we're gonna be lookin at some big-time block parties like we ain't had since I was a Jaundiced Youth back in Sixty-seven, the year Newark and Plainfield went up in flames. Race back then, money now. Effin politicians can turn Xanadu into a tent city, dump the waste into Berry's Creek. Forgetfulness is a blessing cause you can go on about your business as if the March of Progress was a fact of life.

People forget the city in the seventies, the feral dogs, the piled up trash, the broken subway cars, the loonies pissin into storefronts on Fifth Avenue. The hypos in Madison Square, the hundreds of homeless in the 42nd Street subway tunnel. Shoot, I got mugged twice in two weeks at the last stop on the No. 1 and it was a long walk up the hill without a wallet or a watch. You learned how to travel light back then.

No more. I put on a couple too many layers of fat in the office, sittin and waitin for those little columns of figures to line up on my computer: TW, LW, Pct +/-, MTD, YTD, and so on. In descending order. Fifty lines per page. When they lined up nice and proper, I printed 'em out. Everybody else around me printed 'em out too. Then the assistants made extra copies. Then we went into a meeting and sat and stared at 'em. They almost always looked the same. One inch margins right and left. Sometimes there was a problem with the toner and you couldn't read one row. Maybe that row was important. Maybe not. We learned to live with it. We stared for a long time in silence. Then, as if comin out of a coma, everyone around the table looked up at each other and slowly started reading the numbers out loud. We did this every week. Meantime, the fat kept multiplyin under my belt.

When I was startin out, Quist would tell me, "Hey poot, remember, you can't manage what you can't measure." Toward the end, I thought to myself, thirty years in the biz and measurin is all I do. We kept poppin that thermometer in the patient wonderin to ourselves, hey, when're the white coats gonna show? I knew I had it comin, I had my fat years.

Readin the thermometer, that special middle management skill. You can be sure I ain't gonna advertise it on my resume. Must be half the poor souls out on the street can do the same thing. Trouble is, what else is there? Times like these you start thinkin about health care or HVAC repair. You look at those ads on the NJ Transit bus in a new way. Sweet Lou had it right when he said to me the other day, "At a certain age, a man should be able to do what he wants to, if he can afford it. I'm lucky. But it's not so easy for you."

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