the user pool - Chapter 6. Weekly Staff
Fessler’s Weekly Staff meeting occurred once a month.
There was nothing Fessler hated more than his own weekly staff meeting. Mainly because he hated his staff. He always invited me to the meeting because he liked me and didn’t trust Mulhausen. Every time I walked into the meeting, Mulhausen began to tremble. He always assumed it was yet another attempt to usurp his authority. And while it was Fessler who invited me, Mulhausen behaved as though I had invited myself. Mulhausen hated the fact that Fessler despised him but adored me.
In Weekly Staff, Fessler spoke most of the time so that nobody else could speak. He hated hearing anyone else on his staff speak, especially if they were trying to express an opinion. He tolerated his own opinion being reiterated by someone else, but he still preferred to reiterate his own opinion himself. Mulhausen always tried to express his own opinion, which is why Fessler hated him the most. I always tried to reiterate Fessler's opinion, which is why he liked me the most.
Apart from me and Mulhausen, those who attended Weekly Staff once a month were Possa, Dinton, and Kugler. Fessler did not invite Fernandez because he felt the meeting was already at capacity. However, once Smithee joined the team, Fessler extended the invitation to him also despite the capacity issue and even though he continued to withhold his invitation to Fernandez. Capacity never actually became a problem since Smithee never attended Weekly Staff. This is also probably the same reason Fessler favored Smithee so adamantly while both Mulhausen and Fernandez fiercely despised him.
Possa was the VP of Infrastructure and had no opinion about any matter, so he always agreed with everyone. He also agreed with any disagreement, just to be consistent. He was a tall, behemoth man who tended to wear plaid long-sleeve shirts, jeans, and beige Timberlands as if prepared to go chop wood at a moment’s notice. A pair of nondescript wireframe glasses were always perched on his slender nose peppered with pinkish-orange freckles, complimenting the red hair he called auburn.
Kuglar was the VP of Financial Systems, which at the time was Oracle. And although the division had just spent 30 million to replace the Dunn and Bradstreet Financial system with Oracle Financials, Corporate had determined that the entire Company and all its divisions needed to move to SAP. Kuglar was the only woman on Fessler’s direct team and had dizzying conviction about all things philosophical and unprovable. While Possa never had an opinion, Kuglar had opinions only regarding things nobody understood, nor that needed to be understood, nor that had anything to do with any topic being discussed. She was a fiery, buxom, non-orthodox Jew from Manhattan who dressed as manly as decorum would permit and persistently gnawed on a stick of gum with a sturdy, formidable square jaw.
Dinton also never attended Weekly Staff, for a reason much less realistic than Smithee’s reason for never attending. He was the VP of Data. Dinton had less to do than anyone but did not know how to effectively pretend to be doing something critical, so he always appeared to be doing nothing important. And although all the other executives were also doing nothing important, they all knew how to appear to be doing something critical. Dinton finally resolved this problem by never showing up to any meeting so that he always appeared to be too busy doing something more important. On the day Mulhausen shot the CIO in Weekly Staff, nobody had seen Dinton for months.
This became a problem for Fashingbauer who wanted to quit his job but didn’t know how. He was an SQL DBA who reported to Dinton, but since nobody could find Dinton, least of all his own staff, Fashingbauer could not submit his resignation.
Fashingbauer spoke to HR about the situation, but Triplet, the VP of HR, said her hands were tied. According to HR policy, for a resignation to be valid, you had to submit the signed resignation to your direct supervisor. Fashingbauer could not submit the signed resignation to Dinton because he could not find Dinton. He left voicemail messages and sent email messages, but he did not receive any response. He even sent him a meeting request to meet so that he could deliver his signed resignation, but the meeting was rejected.
The meeting was not rejected by Dinton, but by his assistant Beth who had been instructed by Dinton to reject every meeting proposal he got. Dinton did not want to meet with anyone because if he appeared to have time to meet with someone, it also appeared that he didn’t have anything else to do. So, he always kept his calendar completely free so that he could tell everyone that he was always completely booked.
That’s why Fashingbauer couldn’t quit his job. He decided the only way out was to get fired. He stopped working all together. He never refused work. He gladly accepted the work and then always never started the work. This was particularly upsetting to Mulhausen because our department had projects that were dependent on the work Fashingbauer was supposed to be completing but never did. This was particularly gratifying to me because I could never finish a project Fashingbauer was working on, because he would never do his part. Whenever I needed a DBA on a project, I always requested Fashingbauer. The more he tried to get fired by not doing his job, the less likely I’d get fired for not doing mine.
Mulhausen went to HR to complain about Fashingbauer and try to get him fired. Unfortunately, according to HR policy, Fashingbauer's direct supervisor was the only person who could fire him. So, unless Mulhausen could find Dinton, Fashingbauer couldn’t be fired. The day Mulhausen shot the CIO in Weekly Staff, Fashingbauer was still working at the Company, neither fired nor resigned, but most certainly not doing any work.
“What’s our web strategy?” Fessler asked rhetorically and then took a cautious sip from his hot, upside down, double add-shot, Carmel macchiato.
“The web has no business application,” Mulhausen boldly responded. “Unless your business is pornography.”
I was surprised by Mulhausen’s brazen delivery of what resembled rude opposition to Fessler. The CIO asked questions that he himself would answer, not for others to ponder and respond to with varying opinions. Clearly, Fessler had a web strategy he wanted to proclaim. Mulhausen knew this, but blatantly ignored protocol for reasons that became much more evident later in the meeting.
Fessler stared at Mulhausen without expression for a length of time too uncomfortable for Possa. “That’s a good point,” Possa said, hoping Fessler was somehow in agreement with the statement. Otherwise, why would he remain silent for so long?
“Are you out of your mind?” Fessler said planting his Starbucks coffee cup firmly on the conference room table while staring down Mulhausen.
“He’s batshit crazy,” Possa stated, course-correcting immediately.
“He lacks vision,” Kuglar said. “Where in the goddamn world encyclopedia does it state figs grow on bushes?”
“Figs grow on trees,” Possa said.
“That’s my point.”
“Is he out of his mind?” Fessler restated, looking directly at me.
I looked at Mulhausen. His bottom lip was quivering, and a bead of sweat bled down his brow. There was something behind his eyes I had never seen before: confidence. Certainly, it was confidence sprinkled with unqualified insecurity and angst, and notably coupled with feeble indecisiveness. But the general look was new, intensely brassy, and defiant. Almost impressive. By God, yes, Mulhausen was completely out of his mind.
“He’s not right in the head,” Possa interjected.
“He’s weaving an Oriental rug with garden sheers,” Kuglar said. “Where’s that going to get him?”
“I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Mulhausen,” Fessler said. “But you clearly have delusions of grandeur. I have no interest in misguided aspirations in my department.”
It was unclear if Fessler was upset by Mulhausen’s insolence or his opinion on web strategy.
“There’s no doubt he’s out of his mind.”
“No one asked him to take the bull by the horns.”
“You take the bull by the horns; you’d better be ready to ride.”
“What’s he got to offer? I’m rethinking this whole capacity issue. Maybe Fernandez should be here instead.”
“I agree completely.”
“He’d certainly be better than Mulhausen.”
“I don’t need contradictions in my own goddamn staff meeting. Did I ask for an opinion?”
“No, you absolutely did not.”
“Yes, I absolutely did.”
“Yes, you absolutely did ask for an opinion.”
“Did I want one?”
“Did you want one?”
“Absolutely not. When I want an opinion, I’ll say I want one and not just ask for one. How is that unclear to anyone?”
“It’s only unclear to Mulhausen.”
Mulhausen was brimming with confidence that day because he was carrying a loaded gun. Its presence alone would make him bold in front of Fessler; that was probably his only intention when he came packing that day. But the response to his impudent directness during Weekly Staff was so firmly abrasive and aggressive, he very visually reached a boiling point. And then:
“You need to be more like Smithee,” Fessler said. “Learn something from your own goddamn subordinates.”
The name was key. Nothing too generic, nothing too special, something memorable, something that would overtly mock anyone who would believe this ruse of which the few became the many and ultimately almost all were drawn into the unimaginable idea that someone in IT could be so intelligent, so decisive, so charming, so handsome, so amenable, maybe out of the pure hope and desire to exalt the unglorified, pay tribute to the unrenowned, recognize those in thankless technology jobs with a symbol rather than individual contributions that traditionally had been discarded like a necessary evil, or possibly, and more likely, out of sheer stupidity. The name, the name… Initially it was going to be Stan Winston, named after the Hollywood special effects legend who had worked on Aliens, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Pumpkinhead, the latter of which he directed and was a disaster, but his true talent was the special effects, the fake imagery we all believe is real in the movies. I also considered William Tell, the world’s greatest archer; Otto Titzling, the founder of the brassiere; Pierre Brassau, the chimpanzee artist; George P. Burdell, the ace student at Georgia Tech; or even John Doe, just to really smother their faces in it. But my final choice seemed most fitting, given our industry and our location.
I was sitting next to Fessler when Mulhausen pulled out the gun and shot him in the chest. I was wearing a brand new, pressed and lightly starched, white button-up shirt from Banana Republic and a tie I had just gotten from the Apparel Department, now both splattered with Fessler’s blood. All those cute, cuddly little Company trademarked animals on my tie suddenly frolicking around in red human goo. Mulhausen had finally reached his breaking point all right. There were many inciting and agitative events that led up to that moment, the moment Mulhausen snapped, and these were mostly events involving me. Which is probably why he turned the gun on me next.