A SHORT LONG DAY AT ZABUNDY, INC.
By Cully Perlman
It started with buttons. Blue ones.
Call to Actions with a white font, no gradient.
The client’s doorbell to prospect cash.
“We’d like them right-aligned, just above the marquee, but of course, we’d like the flexibility to reposition it according to our seasonal requirements.”
Of course. Who wouldn’t? And while we’re at it, why not make it blink like a string of Christmas lights?
“Well,” Tom says, “We’ll need to discuss this with our creative team, but we’d advise against it. For one, the out of the box component has it at the bottom of the page, where it makes the most sense. It’s where users naturally go for CTAs.”
Tom Smith is our SVP and Group Director. Tom Smith is his real name. His name irks the shit out of me. May as well be John Doe.
“I don’t know,” says Jeff, the client. “We like how it looks top right. But you’re the experts. What does best practices say?”
“Best practices recommends bottom of the page.”
“All right, we’ll go with what you say. But please, yes, let’s have your creative team mock it up anyway. The executives are pretty particular to where—what did you call it, CTAs?—are located.”
“Yes, CTAs. Call to Actions.”
“Okay. Thanks. We’ll wait for your email with the new creative.”
I hang up the conference line.
“Okay,” says Tom. “Get Bill to mock it up. CC me.”
“Roger,” I say.
When Tom steps out I want to stab myself in the eyes with all of the blue and black Zabundy ballpoints, which also happen to glow in the dark, and are leftovers from tradeshows pre-rebranding the company (we were Zed Marketing, but once we full-throttled into web design and Microsoft products to exploit said industries, Zabundy we became). All of this during my first week.
So today, my lunch hour is all about buttons. 12:00 p.m. – 12:31 p.m., the one oasis in my 10-to-14 hour day, spent on the color and placement of buttons on a web page. But when you have large clients with large billable rates, that’s what you do.
31 min. phone call x hourly rate ($150 for PM)
+ 31 min. phone call x hourly rate ($175 for SVP)
= a lot of money for 31 minutes.
That’s how it works and that’s how we get paid, and if they pay, why not?
I email our ACD, Bill, who we call Squirt, and then immediately walk over to his desk, which is covered in slicks and cool space pictures from a face soap project he is working on for another PM, and sit in one of the two chairs across from him. “Got it? Or do I need to splain?”
Squirt’s office is a retro comic-book-revenge-of-the-nerd magic kingdomville. He has action figures (not dolls—don’t ever call them dolls) all lined up on two bookshelves, posters of sci-fi movies, collectables of who knows what in little glass cases. Lots of Pez dispensers, which never have actual Pez in them, which I wouldn’t mind eating half the time I walk in there.
“They want a blue CTA with white font.”
“What font style?”
I lean over his desk to snatch a peanut butter cup from inside a Star Wars helmet, which makes Squirt uncomfortable but he doesn’t say anything. He just looks back at his screen.
“Do we have their style guide?”
“I’ll need that first, otherwise I’m just wasting my time.”
“Okay. I’ll ask them for the style guide. Anything else?”
“How long’s it going to take you?”
“No. Solving world peace.” Squirt gives me a blank stare, which really, truly, is a blank stare. “Yes, Squirt. “The button.”
“Depends on when I get the style guide.”
“And please stop calling me Squirt. That isn’t my name.”
“No problem, Sq---. Sorry. Got it.”
I thought we were close.
Back through the cardkey door, down the hallway, stop for a drink from the water fountain, another cardkey door and back to my desk where I start typing an email to the client.
Subject: “Style Guide.”
The door to my office swings open, no knock. “That button done yet?” Tom’s having a slow day, or he’s just showing he’s on top of it, that he hasn’t forgotten the button, he hasn’t forgotten anything since his head popped out from between his mother’s frail legs. I don’t know if they were frail, but it’s what I like to imagine. Tom makes Wite-Out look tanned.
“Not yet, emailing the client right now. We need the style guide.”
“We have the style guide, Julio. Don’t ask him for it.”
“Where is it?”
“Where everything else is. On the FTP.”
“What’s the FTP address?”
“Are you seriously asking me what the FTP address is?”
“Is that a strange question?”
“Considering you’ve been on the project for a while now, yeah, I’d say so.”
I’ve been on the project for a week. “I didn’t even know we had an FTP for this client.”
“We have FTP’s for all our clients.”
“Good to know.”
“I’ll email you the link.” Tom walks out.
In-house, Tom has a short fuse because, and probably correctly so in a lot of situations, he is surrounded by people with a lot less passion for the industry than he has. People who don’t go to every local Saturday tech conference; who aren’t on a trillion software email lists; who don’t go to the free networking powwows every third Thursday to mine for opportunities. But from what I’ve seen so far of Tom in my month at Zabundy, he’s all buck teeth in front of clients. He laughs like a black and white character from a 1950s television show, knee slaps and aw shucks’s and golly-gee-willikers’s.
I haven’t known him long, but I know I can start counting, and so I do. Ten, nine, eight…and four seconds later:
There, alone on a digital canvas of white space, is the FTP link with credentials. But not the full path, because that’s too much to ask, too much of a courtesy to the peon that is me—so I have to cut and paste rather than click. The coup de grâce though, the dick move, cc’ing my boss—who I have never met, have spoken to only once when I interviewed on a WebEx with other executives—to show I don’t know what the FTP address is, or that he’s had to waste his precious SVP time—non-billable time—showing me the ropes.
I go to the FTP. The FTP has three hundred files, nine of which are labeled with the client’s name, i.e., Porter Inc. 1, Porter Inc. 2, Porter Inc. 3, etc. Within each file lives another dozen—for Creative, for Development, Archived; files with numbers like 1.455-2, files with acronyms like ATG, PPL, YRY, files that look like IP addresses there are so many numbers. So the obvious thing to do, the easiest (but at Zabundy a sure sign of absolute laziness), is to email Tom right back, say, Hey, Tom, SVP man, which of the four thousand files with the same name has the Style Guide? Just asking, because I don’t want to spend half my day double clicking to the center of the earth.
That not being an option, I open Porter Inc. 1, Porter Inc. 2, Porter Inc. 1.455.64.739-2, digging through Zabundy history. Five minutes in and two instant messages pop up, Merna and Jack, in dire—dire— need of something, they’re both onsite at client HQ’s, and they’re both in the throes of their own separate fire drills.
Jack: Mallard Inc.’s server crashed. Who can we get on this right now?
Merna: Fifty percent of TG Financial’s site is erroring out. Help. PLEASE!!!
Me: Shit ass, they’re both screwed, because anyone who could help is either on vacation or at lunch; Merna and Jack are working during lunch hours and on top of that they’re fixing someone else’s fire drills. I have no options. I tell them what any PM would tell client services employees who are onsite with the client:
To Jack: Okay. I’m on it. Submitting a ticket right now. No promises, but I’ll walk over to IT and push for someone to jump on it.
To Merna: They won’t let us in their environment. If they let us in, we can probably address the situation, or at least troubleshoot it.
My phone rings and it’s Merna. “Okay, so if I’m hearing you correctly, it’s client-side. Good. Let me ask.”
I hear what sounds like muffled voices, then Merna’s voice, then someone else’s (a guy who sounds like he’d be friends with Tom), then Merna, then the guy.
“Okay, they’ll send over some files, but unfortunately it’s just not possible to get into their environment.”
“Of course,” I say. “And the files, you know as well as I do, are going to be too large. So. Do they have an FTP?”
Merna, whispering: “You’re killing me, Jose.”
Me, whispering: “I’m not. They are.”
Merna, to the client: “Do you have an FTP we can use to transfer the files? It’ll be the quickest way to remedy the issue.”
Merna, to me: “Okay. Working on it. I’ll email you.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
After hanging up with Merna I return to Jack and it strikes me, for the third time that week, that Jack never says “Inc.” Jack always—always—says “incorporated,” like he’s looking for someone to say, Why the hell do you say incorporated? Who says incorporated? What the fuck is that, dude? In-cor-por-a-ted?
I start submitting a ticket - open up IE9, go to our network, type my username, my password, click enter, and nada. Zilch. So I do it again. And I get nothing, again. Only it’s a slower lack of progress this time around, the little circular progress indicator going round and round, like it’s trying, it wants me to get in but it just can’t crack the code. So I go to plan B to make sure I’m not speed typing my way into aggravation, i.e., I type slower, stare at the actual keys, make sure I’m not fat-fingering anything. And when I do, that’s when the devil pops onto my screen, morphs into the words “Your account has been disabled. Please see your administrator.” This isn’t good. Our administrator, Ray, is a moody son of a bitch who everyone is afraid of. Ray smokes cigarettes he hand rolls. Ray hides in his office behind ancient towers of hard drives and pretty much anything computer related that existed before Zabundy was Zed Marketing. And Ray, because he has the largest office, the only one without windows, gets taken advantage of by the seniors who use his office as their closet, as their dumping ground for marketing swag like glass coasters with the Zabundy logo, USB drives, calendars and odd-shaped highlighters, and then your typical office detritus: broken desk chairs, broken desks, outdated collateral, kitchen supplies, you name it—all without asking. His office is where more important offices go to die.
And Ray, he seems to give the FU right back to everyone by refusing to say a word unless he has to. The thing is, though, is that Ray is good at what he does. And in this business, that’s usually good enough to not get canned.
I walk in. Ray doesn’t look up. I knock. Ray doesn’t look up. I clear my throat, say, “Hey, Ray. I got a few issues going on that we need to get resolved ASAP. Merna and Jack are on-site and shit is not going well for them.”
Ray does not look up. Ray keeps typing whatever he was typing when I walked in. Miraculously, he speaks, which impresses me because any time Ray speaks people listen. “ASAP is a word that should be banned from the work environment,” he says. “It means absolutely nothing to me. It means nothing in general. It’s undefined and thus useless.”
“How about now, Ray?”
“Now is an impossibility given the lack of a defined problem. You haven’t told me what’s wrong. I haven’t received a ticket. Without a ticket I have nothing to go by. The ticket is the catalyst.”
“That’s the thing. I can’t submit tickets. I’m locked out.”
Ray switches screens, keeps typing. Then he says, “You’re not locked out anymore.”
“Please submit a ticket.”
“Got it.” Inside, I’m thinking, Fuck You, Ray. You’re a douche and life is what you make of it. It’s not my fault, so don’t take it out on me.
I exit Ray’s office, go down a hall, keycard back into mine and already hear my phone ringing.
“Tell me this is fixed,” says Jack. “The client is going batshit.”
“Getting there. Had some technical issues, I’m submitting the ticket now.”
“Like I said, we had some issues here as well. But I’m on it. I just spoke to Ray.”
“Okay. Email me as soon as we’re good.”
“Roger. Gotta go, Jack. Merna is on the other line.”
“Tell me something good.”
“Not funny right now, Jose.”
“TGIF should be working in a few.” It’s a lie, but she doesn’t know that. Since I can submit tickets now, that’s all she needs to know.
“What’s a few?”
“I submitted a ticket. There’s only one ahead of yours that’s high priority.”
“Higher priority than a client staring at me wondering why we’re erroring out?”
“Okay. Whatever. Text me when we can retry.”
“Will do.” I hang up. I click submit on Merna’s ticket. Off it goes into cyberspace, or intranet space, or wherever. We have too many networks.
With my CTA on the way, it’s time to hit the men’s room for a quick break, some peace and quiet, cool tile, automatic air freshener insta-puffing into the air every sixty seconds, and maybe a session or two of the new version of Angry Birds. I click CTRL ALT DELETE, lock the laptop, push the roll-a-chair back and head down the quiet, carpeted hallway, praying whoever just keycarded their way in isn’t coming to see me.
But of course, they’re coming to see me.
“Hey, guy. We need to pull you into a sales op,” says Rich, our ECSD. “Just for an hour.”
“Give me five? Gotta hit the head.”
“Make it three and we got a deal.”
Rich pats me on the back, squeezes my bicep with his creepy sales guy bicep squeeze. “Conference Room 2.”
“Which one’s 2? Lakeland?”
“I don’t know what Lakeland is. 2 is by the copiers.”
I nod. I understand why Bill has an issue with being called Squirt; my name isn’t Guy, and it isn’t Julio. Rich speed walks ahead of me in his khakis and blue polo, the soles of his over-worn loafers staring back at me.
I race to the restroom, take care of what I have to take care of. I stare at my phone not for birds catapulted into bloated pigs, but watching seconds, counting down minutes. At two minutes thirty I’m out and on my way to Conference Room 2. I wave to Sheri, our receptionist, who has this thing with tight sweaters and wool skirts and necklaces, like she’s a full on copy of the well-endowed secretary on Mad Men. Nice enough, but a little clueless. If it wasn’t for every geek at Zabundy dreaming of Sheri smoking cigarettes and drinking martinis with them in the evenings as they walk around in their smoking jackets, she’d probably already be searching for a temp job somewhere else; she has a pretty impressive inability to do anything secretarialish.
I walk into Lakeland, Conference Room 2, and Rich introduces me to VPs of this and that. All men, and all of them named John or Bob or Roy. Every one of them is from the Midwest—Boring, Iowa; Sit on My Ass, Indiana; Upper Snooze, Michigan. The Johns and Bobs and Roys all have burned skin, painfully red, off-putting as a case of rosacea on an overweight infant.
Roy or Bob says, “Was just telling Rich here that we got fried in Jamaica during our annual retreat. Forgive the tomato faces.”
“Didn’t notice, I say.”
“Anyway,” says Rich, “here’s that background material we reviewed last week.” He hands me a stack of printed PowerPoint slides, some RFP revisions, documentation that looks like it came from one of our competitors. Rich gives me a look knowing I haven’t seen any of this. Play along.
“Great,” I say. “Let’s get started.”
Everyone turns to the screen, but Rich is having problems getting the projector to turn on and after one minute he’s already perspiring. “Sorry,” he says. “Not sure what’s going on. It was working right before you all showed up.”
After another minute, Roy or Bob or John says, “While you’re figuring that out, I’m going to the men’s room.” Bob and John or Roy start digging into the sandwiches and chips sitting on a corner table, and I hone in on the chocolate chip cookies, which look like they’re from some fancy bakery. I grab a cookie and a Styrofoam cup of black coffee, sit back down, and watch Rich’s polo darken with sweat. After another minute I tell him I’ll go get the tech, who is Ray, which is not really what I want to do.
“Ray,” I say. “Rich is having a problem with the projector in Lakeland.”
“What’s Lakeland?” He doesn’t look up.
“Conference Room 2.”
Ray gets up, and I follow him back to Conference Room 2. I’ve never seen Ray so quick on his feet for technical support. Apparently Ray has Rich high on his Zabundy VIP list. Ray reboots the computer, hits a few push buttons on the tiny projector control, and Rich’s PowerPoint pops up on the screen. But none of the VPs, not Roy or John or Bob is in the room. Through the window we see them smoking cigarettes outside. One of the Roys looks like he’s chewing. He pulls his lip out and spits into the bushes. We see them pacing around the 6x6 designated smoking area, hitting on a couple of the women who work across the way. A Bob or maybe it’s a Roy is shaking his head. A Roy or John is checking his Blackberry.
“Fuck me,” says Rich.
“I’ll pass,” I say.
Ray looks at Rich with a What Do You Need Me To Do look, but doesn’t say anything. Rich thanks Ray, says, I think we’re good, and nods. Ray hesitates before leaving and the awkwardness reminds me of a kid on prom night waiting for a goodnight kiss.
Sheri peeks her head in, raises her eyebrows like I’m supposed to know what she wants. “Merna and Jack are looking for you,” she says. “They’re on three and four.”
I hit line three. “Merna?”
“No, it’s Jack. Listen, we’re still not up. This looks bad, man.”
“Sorry. I’m in a meeting. Can you ping Ray?”
Jack hangs up.
I hit line four. I’m still on speaker. “Merna?”
“I’m on a call. Please use another line.” It’s Oren, Zabundy’s CEO.
“Nice,” says Rich. We watch John and Bob and Roy light more cigarettes. Rich shakes his head. “Meet me back here in five, okay?”
I head back to Ray’s office to check in on Merna and Jack’s issues. Ray isn’t there. The light is off and his computer has been shut down and it looks like he’s split for the day. I knock on Arwan’s door. Arwan is QA, and only a junior QA at that. I ask him about Ray.
“Ray. The guy that sits right here. In this office.”
“Oh. I thought his name was Gene.”
“Why’d you think that?”
“Because Thomas calls him Gene.” Thomas is Arwan’s office buddy, which has to drive one of them crazy, because their desks face each other, and staring at anything, much less another person, for 10+ hours a day would drive anyone crazy.
“No. His name is Ray. I’m not sure why Thomas calls him Gene. Maybe it’s a nickname.”
“Listen,” says Arwan. “I’m glad you stopped by. I’m testing the JTB site and have some questions.”
“I’m not on JTB.”
Arwan points to his screen. “You’re the PM.”
“What? Since when?”
“I don’t know. TFS doesn’t tell me that. I just get notifications, and in the PM field, you’re the PM.”
I look at Arwan’s screen. Sure enough, my name is in the PM field.
“I don’t know anything about it. Who’s the director on the project?”
Arwan looks back at the screen. “No clue. There’s no director in the Director field.”
Arwan stares blankly. I feel Rich’s creepy sales guy bicep grip on me. “You forget our meeting?”
“Shit. Sorry. Okay, let’s do this.” I look at Arwan. “Let me check with Tom. Maybe he attached my name to the project. I don’t know.”
“Thank you,” says Arwan. “Because I have some questions, and I’m already sixteen hours behind the project plan schedule.”
Back in the room the rosacea club members look like lions after a kill, shades of red on their cheeks, bloated stomachs, all of them ready for naps. “Let’s get this thing going, fellas. We have a plane to catch in two hours and change, and Roy here drives like an old lady.” Bob or John says this while looking at his gold watch longer, I think, than anyone really needs to look at a watch to figure what time it is.
“Absolutely,” says Rich. “Let me skip to slide nine.” Rich clicks the mouse nine times rather than scrolling down and selecting Slide Nine from the left hand side of the deck.
“This,” says Roy, “is the first comp we’d like to show you. I’m sure you’ll agree with our UX team that the design is clean, the messaging precise, and all of TU’s brand elements are rendered in a sleek, elegant fashion.”
Roy or Bob says, “Rich, we’re not fancy east coasters. We’re simple. Whatever you just said about UX and comp or whatever, that’s gobbledygook to us.”
A couple of the Roys and Johns laugh. “A comp is what you’re looking at,” one of them says. “It’s the picture.”
“That’s right,” says Rich. “It’s a mockup of what the real site will look like.”
“Okay. Got it. You may proceed.” Somehow, this is funny to everyone.
Rich clicks the mouse, moves on to the next slide. “This,” he says, “takes the brand to the next level. It’s a slight veering away from the first concept, and your logo has been updated a little, so there’s that, but in terms of meshing with the industrial nature of your business, it’s a little more…rugged, I suppose, is the best way to put it.”
I look at the Roys and Bobs and Johns. One of the Roys or Johns is nodding off. The others seem bored. A Johns Blackberry buzzes and he looks at it, excuses himself, and walks out.
A Roy (I’m sure it’s a Roy) leans in to either a Bob or a John and says, in a not-so-conspicuous way, “Can’t your nephew build the damned site?”
Rich pretends not to hear it. “This next one,” he says, “is my personal favorite. It’s got a little bit of everything, but it breaks away from the traditional space you normally see in web sites.”
Later, when the Roys and Bobs and Johns are packing up, I shake all of their hands and excuse myself so I can head back to my office. I open my email, check for any messages from Ray, hoping he’s sent an update before leaving. But I’m not surprised when there’s nothing from Ray and I’m definitely not surprised when my inbox is full of emails from Merna and Jack checking in. And Tom, of course, asking about the button a total of three times—two emails, one voicemail, which looks funny on my screen, because Lync, our phone system, translated Tom’s voicemail into an email about acid rain puddles, blood oranges, and Tiananmen castle squirrels. I save that one in my Lync folder, which I imagine one day self-publishing and posting on Amazon or the App store, my funny speech-to-text book I’m hoping will be my ticket out.
I look for an email from Squirt, but there is no email from Squirt. Not even in my Junk mail, my last refuge of hope.
“See,” Tom says, “you have to think it’s war. It’s us against them. You want to be victorious; you have to kill them with specificity. You have to be so detailed that the client gets lost in the details—or better yet, gets overly impressed by your consideration and analysis of the details. Kill them with the details. Murder them with your laser focus on the minutiae. Do that, and you’re Ronin. You’re Samurai.”
I tell Tom I’m not a war guy.
“Everyone’s a war guy. You’re in business, you’re a war guy. You live and breathe Sun Tzu—it’s in your blood. It comes out of your pores. That’s how you win in this game. That’s how you distinguish yourself. That’s how you succeed, bud.”
“Got it,” I say, because I’ll say anything to get out of the war speak. “Anyway, here’s the two options for the button.” Squirt sent the creative for the buttons over at 2:27 a.m. What he was doing up at 2:27 a.m., who knows, but the buttons look good, and after Tom says send them over I send them over, and Tom is pleased. I know he is pleased, because he replies to my email, complimenting the setup I gave for the buttons, especially my rationale for option A. “Option A,” I write, “plays off of the subheadings displayed on the interior pages. It shows consistency subtly, and accentuates the content right below it, in particular because of the leading.”
“We’ll go with option B,” replies Jeff. “Thanks.”
I write back, “Thanks, Jeff! Just so we’re on the same page before we move forward implementing all of the buttons per specification document, can you officially approve, please?”
I post the button into the TFS task, click the Resource dropdown and pick Developer, which technically assigns a developer from the list of developers working on the project to work on the button. I check the Outlook calendar, enter Tom’s name to see when we can meet after the first button is on the development site, just to go through it together, so I can stop the buttons from populating the site in case Tom has some issue with how the buttons are displaying. Once we’re up in the dev environment and it looks good, we’ll push it to the UAT environment and once it’s there Jeff will be able to see it in action for himself. But Tom is out the rest of the afternoon, or his calendar says he is out on a “Private Appointment.” It hits me that maybe I should ask him if he can be available once the first button is ready, just in case, but then Merna comes in my office and behind Merna is Sheri, both of them looking pretty spectacular. For a second my mind goes blank. I forget about the button and forget about Tom, and pretty much anything else I was supposed to be thinking about, all of it wiped from my memory.
“Thanks,” says Merna. “Everything worked out. I know you were probably busy, but I appreciate your help yesterday.”
“Anyway,” she says, “Sheri and I are hitting that Mexican place over on fourteenth, La Plancha I think it’s called, and we need someone normal to hang out with to cock block the drunk Cinco de Mayo creeps.”
“You asking me to come?”
“We’re asking you to come.”
“I don’t know. I have a lot to do. And I’m not big on Mexican.”
Sheri sits half a cheek on my desk. Her breasts are so prominent that my inclination is to look away. I push a stack of folders to one side, away from Sheri though I’m not sure why, because she isn’t in danger of knocking them over. “I bet if you ask Frank or Tom or someone they’ll go.”
Sheri rolls her eyes. “We said normal, Jose.”
“Right. Normal. Okay. Let me get back to you, huh?”
“Sure, Jose. Get back to us.” Sheri leans in, pinches my cheek. Merna is a little uncomfortable. She isn’t quite the flirt Sheri is. “Okay,” Merna says.
A few minutes later as I’m entering my fifteen-minute intervals, Tung, one of our newer off-shore development resources, pops up on IM.
“Jos. Hello. How are u?”
“Good, Tung. What’s up?”
“Great. I have a question on dev task.”
“Nevermind. What’s your question?”
“Task 3455. Say “remove image from landing page. But which landing page? Which image? It no say and I look. I don’t know. Please advice.”
“Hold on, let me check.” I reboot TFS, type in task 3455. 3455 is a task for the JTB, which I know nothing about. “Sorry, Tung. I don’t know anything about it.”
“Please forgive. You are project manager on JTB. Is this not correct?”
“Ah, JTB. Sorry, Tung. I will have to get back to you. I just got put on that project.”
“Ah. Cool. Welcome.”
“So I put task on Hold? What I do?”
“Put on Hold for now. I’ll get back to you.”
“Please advice what task I do next.”
“Sorry, Man. Let me get back to you. I don’t know anything at all yet.”
“Hmm. Okay. You tell me later. I work on other project now until you tell me.”
When I go in search of anyone, anything, that can give me any sort of background on JTB there’s no one around. Everyone’s gone, even though their calendars show them in office. So I ask Gina, our traffic coordinator, and Gina doesn’t have a clue either.
“Who else is on the project?” I ask.
“Not sure. I know you’re on it, and a few dev guys have put time against it, but other than that, looks like whoever set up the project forgot to assign themselves.”
“So what am I supposed to do with that? I’m the PM, but I don’t know squat about the project, and no one’s told me squat about it.”
“Who’s the sales guy on it?”
“Hold on.” Gina starts typing. She says, “Let me see if I can find who originally sold this project in Atlas.”
“What the hell is Atlas?”
“It’s our sales thing. Like Salesforce, only shittier.”
“Can you send me the credentials for Atlas? It would be nice to have that.”
“You don’t have credentials for Atlas?”
“I’ve never even heard of Atlas until you just said it.”
Gina shakes her head, types a little more. “Voila,” she says. “Nasim is the sales guy attached to JTB. Just go talk to Nasim. He’ll fill you in.”
“Where does Nasim sit?”
“Next to Price.”
“Who’s Price? Sorry. I don’t know either of those guys.”
Gina scratches her chin with vigor. “In 600. The building across the way. Fourth floor. South side.”
I head over to 600, which isn’t the building across the way but the one next to the one across the way. I head up to the fourth floor, walk to the south side, and swipe my keycard, which does nothing. So I try again, and still can’t get in. I knock. And knock. And Knock. Finally a young girl, maybe twenty, with a nose ring and a strand of bright pink hair drowning in a sea of black dreads, pushes the door open. “Come on in,” she says. She turns around, disappears into a cubicle.
I find Nasim asleep, or I’m pretty sure he was asleep, because when I knock he jumps out of his chair. “Hey, Nasim. I’m Jose. I wanted to talk to you about JTB.”
“Great client,” he says. “Well, one of the stakeholders is, anyway. But he’s off the project now. Actually, I think he got canned. Anyway, what’s up?”
“It looks like I’m on JTB as the PM. But I have no clue how, why, or who put me on the project.”
“Yea. But besides that, it’s already behind, and I have no clue what the project is, who the director on it is, when anything is due, etc. Can you fill me in?”
“I can try. But I haven’t worked on that since I brought it in. Like a year ago.”
Nasim’s phone rings. He looks at it the way I imagine people looked at their phones when it rang unexpectedly between 1942 and 1945. “No one calls me,” he says. “Ever.”
“You going to pick it up?”
Nasim sits at his desk, fiddles with the headset, clicks Accept on the screen. “Hello? Uh huh. Yea. He’s here.”
Nasim passes the headset to me. I can hear Rich yelling at someone in the background. I clear my throat into the phone. “Jose,” he says. “Listen. Great job the other day. I need you to get on a plane with me. We’re headed to Iowa. Six a.m., baby. I already booked the flights. And Roy specifically requested you be there, so reschedule anything you got going on for the next two days.” Rich hangs up before I can protest, ask questions, tell him to kiss my ass, I’m not jumping on a plane, especially on such short notice.
Nasim says, “So you’re Jose?”
He smiles the way kids do when they know something they aren’t supposed to know. “Nothing, man. Just heard a lot about you.”
I don’t even bother to ask, because whatever it is Nasim has heard, it’s either made up or wrong. Unless he’s heard I’m new to Zabundy and already getting screwed by the Zabundy machine of incompetence, because if that’s what he’s heard then he’s heard the truth.
Back at my desk there’s a printout of my flight, the hotel reservations, and directions to the client’s corporate office. I leave at six twenty in the morning, come back the next evening at midnight. A sticky note is affixed to the printed itinerary:
Print off all of the discovery documents and whatever you can find in the UCC, Blue Salamander, Cortales LLC, and Vicareno files. I need you to know them like the back of your hand for our 9am kickoff. You’re going to have to lead the meeting until I get there—slight emergency with another client, so wing it as best you can, hombre! I have faith in you!
I head to the main directory where all of the FTP locations are listed out and scan the files for BS or Cortales LLC, hoping, praying they’re in alphabetical order, which of course they aren’t. But I find Vicareno, gather my strength to click and begin the tedious process of folder diving for what I need when an email comes in from Jeff, no Subject, which I’m hoping is approval on the button I’m know Tom has already sent the link to without copying me.
Change of plans. Some executives that were not in our initial Discovery phase have pointed out that the designs we’ve done are actually very similar to a competitor’s site, and the colors simply do not match any of the collateral we have out there or that we’ve already got printing right now as we speak, and which we’ve invested a lot of money in as a company (read: various, INFLUENTIAL business units). Obviously this is a big detour from where we’ve been going, but I hope that your team can make the necessary adjustments, and still keep to the same timeline and launch date. We may need to have some late nights, but the framework is already in place (correct me if I’m wrong), and we’ll just need your creative team to make some tweaks. Hope that makes sense. Please see attached examples of some websites and color palettes our in-house designer has provided to guide your team. Again, thanks much. We look forward to the new creative.
Great. I start typing an email to the creative team that worked on Jeff’s site, pulling in all of the details that will make this happen in the shortest amount of time when Merna and Sheri walk in, purses at the ready, cell phones in hand, lipstick shimmering on their pouting lips. “Well?” says Merna, the dimples in her cheeks pulling every part of me towards her like a black hole. “Are you in or out, Jose?”
Sheri, yawning on purpose, I’m sure, and practically knocking Merna over with her breast-heavy cat stretch, says, “If you don’t come with us, you’ll be to blame if something happens to us at the hands of the looming geek squad.”
I can picture it perfectly, clearly, as Zabundy’s dev and QA teams, dressed in warlock and goblin and who-knows-what costumes slithering along the thinly carpeted, café latte-stained floor, Merna and Sheri in identical Princess Leia dresses, running away in slow motion, their Princess Leia buns unraveling, their puckered lips open in pseudo-frightened gasps, and me, right behind them, chased by Tung and Ray and Arwan, not talking to me and talking to me, asking me for details on their undefined tasks, blaming me for their projects falling drastically behind, an army of files with “JTB” written on them, in red ink, blinking. Blinking. Asking me if I’ve logged my time in, accounted for everything in fifteen minute intervals, no more, no less. And just as I’m about to say, sure, let me get my keys, who comes in but Ray and Oren, Oren looking especially grave, Ray picking his teeth with a toothpick, making Sheri, Merna, and even me, nervous.
“JTB,” Oren says. “Got a minute to chat, chief?”
“Sure,” I say. “Absolutely, Mr. Oren. I was just about to dive in.”
Cully Perlman's fiction and nonfiction has been published or is forthcoming in Bull Men’s Fiction, The St. Petersburg Review, Real South Magazine, Avatar Review, Creative Loafing, Connotation Press, The Good Men Project, and more. He was a 2013 semifinalist for his novel-in-progress, LOS BEAUTIFUL, as well as on the short list of finalists for the 2012 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Competition for his novel, THE LOSSES. He has been a finalist in Glimmer Train's Very Short Story Contest, won the Writer's Digest Dear Lucky Agent contest for a novel, and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train's Fiction Open.