Happy New Year, and may you see many vegetable people in 2012

I was just glancing through “Old Friend from Far Away,” thinking it’s been a while since I just wrote randomly from a writing prompt.  I stopped on a page titled “Radish.”  The first paragraph opens:

“This is a wish. When you are writing about a radish, that you and the radish meet face to face. That you stay specific, present, and direct and through your true intention the radish becomes RADISH. You instantaneously summon the particular and also give life to the essence of that buried root plucked up red and edible.”

It’s good advice, I think, as I’m typing it out now, but that’s not what came to mind when I began to read.  I got distracted by memories of vegetable people.  I went through an odd phase a long time ago, when I couldn’t help but compare people to vegetables.  Visually, I mean.  One night, I was sitting at IHOP with my roommate and best friend, and someone walked in and I said, “Doesn’t that woman look like broccoli?”  My friend worked hard not to spit out his coffee, but in the end, he agreed that she looked surprisingly like a stalk of broccoli.  I can’t picture her anymore or I’d describe it for you better.  You might think people don’t really look a lot like vegetables, and maybe you’re right.  But, I challenge you to give it some thought.  You may not always see a vegetable when you look at a person, but you will be surprised how often you do, if you just think about it.  Leave your mind open to the fact that people can resemble, or at the very least, remind you of, vegetables.  Or other foods, if you need a broader target.

In the next few days, you might find yourself noticing that someone with a mottled complexion makes you think of frozen mixed vegetables, or someone that stands stiffly brings to mind a carrot.  Perhaps a balding man reminds you of a peeled onion, or someone else with spiky hair makes you think of the root end of a green onion.  The point is, allowing yourself the extra space to think about random things like this might make you smile just a little more frequently, and we could all stand to do that.  My New Year’s resolution is to see more vegetable people this year.

I haven’t given it a lot of thought until this minute, but if I had to classify a few of the characters I’ve introduced you to here, I’d say this.  My partner most resembles a stalk of celery (she’ll probably want to smack me for this comparison, but I mean no harm).  Barefoot boss – he’s a fingerling potato.  Gopher-man, hmm, I’ll have to come back to him – a cabbage, maybe.  Long Back Guy, an unripened Fresno chili.  The Guatemalan, a pineapple.  Cat Power, a roma tomato. Grass-phobia girl, a crimini mushroom.  Me, I probably look sort of like an eggplant.  Happy New Year!

Cat Power

I have a friend who is crazy for bacon.  I know.  Who’s not?  But my friend’s obsession is extreme (most of them are, like her grass phobia) – so, my partner once took a picture of a package of bacon using my iPhone and associated that image with my friend.  When she calls, I see crispy fried bacon.  All good. She called today, which prompted me to remember another case of iPhone hijacking, but some back story is required.

I’ve written before about the fact that I worked for a marketing agency. The place had trouble with turnover. Someone recently did an official count of how many people were hired and left in the past couple of years. The company averages about 20 employees, but 32 people have come and gone in less than 3 years. Amazing, I know. Anyway, a few years ago, the President of our company hired a person who we were told was a whiz-bang expert at Client Service, which is sort of the holy grail function in a marketing agency, and a role that had gone unfilled for a long time. This guy was awesome, we were told. He had years and years of experience and had started and sold multiple companies, one of which turned into a pretty major player in the digital marketing space. He was going to be our savior, especially since there was a guy that worked in Client Service that all of us in Production secretly wanted to kill. Well, it wasn’t even that much of a secret, actually. This guy made our lives more miserable than a vegetarian eating liver and onions would be.

A few months in, none of us could see the whiz-bang in our new SVP. We didn’t get it. We didn’t get him. He was very Texas, and we were very San Francisco. He liked to talk, but he didn’t understand what we did and he didn’t like to do any actual work.  He was very polite, and the evil and small New Yorker he inherited was meaner than Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. Our “savior” was ineffective, forgetful, and entirely unable to exert any control over The Devil. So, we began to ignore him and go on about our frustrating work. One week a handful of us were in Las Vegas for some client that had a display at a big tech conference. Between courses at a late and luxurious dinner, the big boss checked his email and just stared at his phone – so we all followed suit. Below is the exchange we found in our inboxes, names removed for the sake of privacy:

Email 1
From: Evil New Yorker with Anger Management Issues
To: Entire Staff
Subject: Stuck in Charlotte

Sorry for the mass email, but my quick-in-quick-out has turned into a nightmare. I’m stuck spending the night in Charlotte. My brick is dead and my cell is about to croak. Supposedly flying back to NYC in the morning, so hopefully I’ll be settled by the time you all read this, but if anyone’s looking for me, now you know.

[Guatemalan], we need to cancel the [big alcohol brand] call in the morning.

-The Devil

Nothing big here, nothing to worry about.  Unfortunate for The Devil, but nothing that should cause the endless staring our boss was still engaged in.  BTW, “brick” is the term we used to describe the smart phones our company forced us to use due to their unwieldy size, shape, and weight.

Email 2
From: Whiz-Bang CS SVP (aka Boss of The Devil)
To: Entire Staff
Subject: Re: Stuck in Charlotte

In times like these you need a strong leader (such as myself) and:

  • something warm to drink It should be brown and from the UK; not yello
  • A place to stay the night (remember the guidelines!!)
  • and the knowledge that I will personally help you out of this mess in any way that I can– go to JD’sBBQ and have five shiner bocks, ribs and some potatoes.Take it from me, it’s better than havng a goat’s tongue wake you up in a dirt airport.
  • YOU’LL BE OK. If I can help, lend some support or whatever call me at home ((9X7X2x 3O7–1212 or cell
  • I will however be in a deep ambien trans while my wife is in NYC living the cool life.

But, you an always trust in me –I’m here for you ===^..^=== (cat power !!!)

Are you confused yet?  I have not modified a single bit of the email above other than to change the final few digits of the very weirdly formatted phone number.  I have included it here in all its glory – spaces missing, punctuation missing, letters missing, half words, and the brilliant closing emoticon-ish image of a cat with whiskers.  Eventually, our stares turned to puzzled glances at each other, and finally the big boss broke the silence.  “Hahahahahahahahahaha.  He must be drunk.”  It was not unusual for employees to be drunk – that’s a well known activity that goes with the marketing territory.  Work hard, play hard.  Or, work til you think you’re going to die, then go drown yourself in whiskey.  This was different, though.  Drinking was a group activity, so acceptable drunkenness occurred only when you were with someone else from the company.  And even then, we had standards.  Crazy drunken emails were not part of the package.

The next morning, the entire company was abuzz about the email.  We were obsessed with trying to figure out exactly what Whiz-Bang SVP meant by “cat power!!!”  The Devil had been stuck in Charlotte – was it an obscure reference to the Carolina Panthers?  One brave soul decided to ask.  He said, “When you wrote “cat power!!!”, did you mean “cat power!!!” [said in the style of an innocent high school cheerleader raising a pom-pom high in the air], or did you mean “cat power!!!” [said in the style of the Incredible Hulk]?”  Whiz-Bang SVP replied with something somewhere in the middle, so we were no closer to an answer.  We did print out copies of the email, though, and tape them on the walls around our desks to help raise our spirits on dark days.

A few weeks later, the entire company gathered in San Francisco for some meetings.  We ended one day with an exhausting scavenger hunt through Chinatown and North Beach and our significant others and friends joined us for dinner and drinks.  After we’d had a few, someone convinced my partner to go talk to Whiz-Bang SVP about “cat power.”  He adored my partner, so we all thought she’d have the best luck.  She spoke with him for some time – probably at least 15 minutes, so we were hopeful she’d come back with an answer.  All she learned was that one of the SVP’s hobbies was rescuing cats – a very particular breed of cat I can no longer remember the name of.  She’d had to use every ounce of self-control she possessed to keep a straight face throughout this lengthy discussion of lost cats, and it was all for nothing.  Perhaps he was trying to will the strength of these rescued cats to The Devil, stuck in an airport.  We still had no clear answer, and to this day, no one really knows what “cat power!!!” meant, let alone how the Whiz-Bang SVP knew what it was like to be awoken by a licking goat in a dirt airport.  He “resigned” a couple months later, so we’ll probably never know.  I do, however, still have his phone number saved in my iPhone, and were he to call me, a picture of my own sleeping cat would appear on the screen.