by Blake Dawson* <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From the Preface to Chapter 1:
If you like to read this kind of story but are concerned about possible legal implications, work to change the law! If you don’t, why are you here?
*Blake Dawson is the person the otherwise anonymous author would be if “trading places” became magically possible.
It was quickly evident that that little exercise in marketing ourselves had been very productive well beyond the confines of the Forsyth account. The one saving grace was that most of the work we do has a reasonable cycle time, but the ratio of time spent on proposals for new work to the time spent on actual jobs rose sharply, even while we had gained the services of a couple of affordable, reliable and reasonably talented sub-contractors who were useful for a lot of the reasonably routine stuff that are part of even the most creative jobs.
Meanwhile, one thing my ever active mind had been able to achieve over my several months of one on one Friday nights at Walshie’s was to get him to open up a bit about the kinds of things he had accumulated responsibilities for at his work. By the end of cricket I had extracted more of his life history than I could stay interested in, and there was only so much to say about the history and politics of Under 14s, the club and the local Association. And I think deep down that he even realised his work had become reasonably interesting and challenging, although he certainly did not expect even this Under 14 cricketer to find it so and he had cultivated an image around cricket that his paid employment was just a means to an end—giving him the resources he needed to be able to put his energies into cricket. His employers appeared on the outside to be a very staid, traditional organisation, providing services that had been essential to the general community and which looked like staying essential for the long haul. As such, even in the ’nineties, they appeared less pressured by the eternal quest for productivity that drove others to work extreme hours and continually reinvent their organisations. But, in reality, that had been achieved because they had some senior management that had always stayed one step ahead of the game. They had long identified what were the key performance indicators, how to use them in conjunction with an ongoing low-trauma process of internal review and reform, and how to present reports that made it indisputable that both their performance and their ongoing rate of improvement was consistently at ‘world’s best’ levels. Walshie himself was primarily involved not just in monitoring and presenting their performance indicators but also in their ongoing search for new and improved performance indicators. He also had to work at the interface between masses of crude information that was readily handled by computers and the need to extract the intelligence buried in that information and communicate it to many people who could not be bothered with details, and, at the same time, to feed back to the computer analysts as to areas in which automatic processing could be extended ‘down stream’.
I had sufficiently absorbed the idea of key indicators to try to apply it to how our own little family business was progressing and convinced mum that we should at least have a weekly accounting of what people had spent their time on, not so much to reconcile billings but to monitor how much unbilled time was needed to keep the place running. And what rapidly became obvious was that the proportion of our hours spent on chasing new business had grown, not at the expense of billed hours, but at the expense of a bunch of tasks that we had loosely grouped as ‘administration’. When it was just mum and two or three part-timers, most of this administration was something that mum just did. But it suddenly looked blindingly obvious that we needed at least a part time administration person forthwith, and we even joked about a semi-retired Walshie being our role model for the job we had in mind. Not only did he know more about administration than we could ever envisage needing, but he had also shown through his meticulous cricket work that he was happy to also look after the little details.
I turned up at Walshie’s for another Friday night thinking that it was getting close to the time to start discussing the up coming season and the smouldering issue of whether I would play in Under 14s or Under 16s. I let myself in and could not help but notice a single letter sitting on the dining table that was always kept meticulously clear of such things and set ready for a formal meal that I was certain it had never hosted. So I read it and became more and more excited. Without thinking of looking for Walshie to even say hello, I just grabbed the phone and rang mum: “Hey, mum, I’ve got the greatest news. We’ve got our administrator.” I explained that Walshie had been made redundant and was getting a “pretty decent” payout and would be finishing up in a fortnight. She naturally wanted to speak to him and I said I would see if I could find him and turned around to see him standing behind me, having obviously heard at least the last part of my conversation, so I just handed him the phone without noticing that he was anything but his usual self. He mumbled some thanks and that he needed some time to think and that he would ring her back when he could, none of which I really took in. “Wow. Congratulations. Welcome aboard.” I extended my hand knowing the only thing he would accept was a formal handshake when I would have loved to give him at least a big non-erotic hug. But it was only when he did not respond to my extended hand that I looked into his glazed eyes and even more gaunt than normal face and was hit by the realisation that his threatened tears would not be the kind of happy tears I felt so close to myself, and for a long moment we just stared and tried to at least move half a step in the directions of the others’ feelings.
Walshie was not given to swearing in any of the many contexts I have seen him in, but his opening word was definitely a swear word and not a proposition: “Bugger you Blake. My world finally ends with another step down the path of been on since ... well you know what since ... then you walk in and demand to resurrect me. I was finally at complete peace for a few hours ... but you are young and could not possibly understand.” He was completely wrong on the last bit. I may not have instantly understood, but with it thrown in my face, I could readily see that he was capable of taking his “out of the blue” sacking as an act of ultimate betrayal by persons to whom he had been completely loyal, and the final act in the tragedy that he had long seen himself living.
So I told him he was wrong about my understanding, and that I wished more than ever that he had not constructed so many unnecessary barriers because I needed to give him a comforting hug almost as much as he needed to receive it and I would have been delighted to progress to a therapeutic back massage, but seeing as he had maintained those barriers, I would have to rely on alternative methods. Walshie’s, let me be honest, conservative demeanour was so pervasive that all those who are not truly linguistically impaired maintain a civil tongue in his presence. “You really are a complete fucking idiot. Did you actually read their letter? Or are you so hooked on your shit that you cannot see past a fucking long dead daughter who must be looking down and laughing at what an idiot her once and still totally naive old man has become. Did you read it? Or are you too dumb? If I ever got a letter half as good as that, I would get it enlarged and framed and hang it in my hallway for the world to see. They tell you you have done such a good fucking job that they are going to give you today as much money as you would finish up with if you hung around for another seven years, so that they can create the openings to bring in and develop your replacements. Yes, plural, replacements, or didn’t you read that bit either. Bring them in and get them started during the window in which they can rely on the systems you have built keeping them on track. So they give you all your money, and the greatest gift anybody can give ... all your time ... all your time to do what you, yes you, Oliver Walsh, not them, not anybody else, but what you want to do with it. And you know the only problem you’ve got ... beyond your permanent need to unfuck your screwed emotions ... the only real problem is this smart arse brat of a kid who wants his mother’s business to steal twenty of thirty hours a week of your time before you get a chance to even find out what you might do with it. So fuck you. I’ll even walk out and go home right now if that is what you want. But I would much rather stay and help you find your life after death so I can pinch a chunk of it ... because I just happen to believe that you are still a lot better man than you might ever be able to admit to yourself.”
I’m sure I had said what I had to well before my stream of abuse finally dried up. Once he was sure I had actually stopped, he picked up the phone: “Elaine, yes it’s Oliver. ... Well, he has not exactly given me time to think, but he has convinced me that it might be best for me to commit some of my time to something productive before I fall into the habit of wasting it all. ... We have a couple of weeks to sort out details. ... I still have some peace to make at this end.” “There is only one way you can make peace with me,” I stepped right up to him as he put the handset down and held my arms out and around him without contacting. He finally crossed that boundary and we just stood there hugging and crying our eyes out until the phone rang.
Walshie only managed monosyllable responses for most of the conversation until finally asking: “Would you mind if I brought a friend?” “We’ve been invited out to dinner, so we had better freshen up.” We did, and on the way he explained that, no, it was not my mother being impatient, but was actually his boss from the job he was leaving who had realised that in spite of their best efforts with the letter that Walshie might not have taken it in the way that it had been intended, and so wanted to make it more personal. His boss had suggested the best restaurant in our area to avoid Walshie having to travel far, and the boss brought his own surprise visitor, Walshie’s long retired former boss from Melbourne who had encouraged his move to Sydney in the first place. Once I had been introduced as the son of his prospective next boss, any question as to how the decision had been communicated and Walshie’s misdirected reaction were left unmentioned, and we amply filled in the whole evening talking about bits of our lives that were far away from the things any of us already knew about each other.