Nibbling Around The Edges

I am sitting on a freaking ampersand!

Tony Osservanza was driving home from a long day at the office. An extremely intelligent and hard-working man, Tony had enjoyed many successes in his life while keeping very humble as luxury continued to surround him in all conceivable ways. Sometimes when he was alone in his custom-made automobile, wearing his custom-made suits, he would think back on his upbringing and marvel and wonder how lucky he had become. He was wealthy beyond his wildest dreams and only a few short years earlier, he was the poorest person in the poorest family within his awareness. One could quibble on the extent of his poverty and the resulting hardships from that proverty but suffice it to say Tony was one poor-ass child.

Tony started out joining the Army immediately out of high school because he saw it as the only way he could continue his education. His family was an unfortunate combination of being fantastically poor and extremely fertile. Both his parents worked long hours at menial jobs while the older children were responsible for picking up odd jobs even when responsible for watching all the younger children. By the time he was sixteen, Tony had learned the importance of family, hard work, education and as such, demonstrated wisdom beyond his years. This wisdom was born of circumstances outside his control so he rarely took these issues personally; he realized early on in life that no creature comforts from new clothes, new car or a bed would appear out of the air, he had to do it himself.

As a result, he knew he was going to have to take care of himself early on: he knew his family truly loved him but it was impossible to expect any support, other than moral, because with thirteen children, the law of large numbers showed him the brutal reality of doing this by himself. Compounding this, he grew up in a tough neighborhood and while many of his friends were choosing lives of crime, he was in no position to judge their decisions. Their families were in similar shape and people had to do what people had to do and he felt everyone had to make their own choices, regardless of outside opinion. What Tony did was to enlist in the service as soon as he could and left for basic training two days after graduation. He had directed the paymaster to send all his checks directly to his mother and never looked back. During his off hours, he studied for upcoming proficiency tests and when weekend leave opportunities came his way, he would sell the pass for impressive amounts of money; which also was sent home to his family.

Tony, hardened by full-time school, two part-time jobs and nine brothers, breezed through basic training and quickly caught the eyes of the drill instructors. Basic training was just that: the first stage of general preparation to contribute in some way to the service unit and it was abundantly clear to quickly realize there was nothing he couldn't do. A natural leader with a fiercely effective desire to get ahead, Tony was named the squad leader and once basic training had concluded, he finally had a long list of options in front of him. In High School, Tony was an adequate student but had never shined so when he realized he was finally ready to pick and choose, he also realized he needed some advice.

He took the initiative to request a meeting with his drill instructor to discuss the options in detail. He had some options in front of him but did not want to get too far ahead of himself. He was focused on outshing and outworking every other recruit on the base and did not want to lose focus. Once that success was eventually established, only then did he correctly assumed his services would be requested by others and he wanted to make the best decision for himself and the service. The Drill Instructor enjoyed Tony's company and also respected his work ethic so he accepted the unconvention meeting request.

"Thanks for seeing me, Sir. I wish to ask you for some advice."

"What do you want to know?" asked Master Sargeant Hanley.

"I want to know how to be a success. I want to support both my family, my country and my education..and in that order"

"Is there anything that you will not tolerate?"

"Wasting my time or my money for no reason."

" Is there anything you don't want to do?"

"I do not want to work with food or the French."

"Could you kill your enemy?"

"In a perfect world, yes. However, if given a choice, I would rather have someone else do it but since I have earned an Expert qualification, I can do it but I have no illusions of such a motivation but if a choice was available, I would rather have someone else do it. If I had to do it, I would without any internal discussion but the whole idea of choice isn't germain to your question so I will give you a reluctant'yes.'"

"Well, you have been an outstanding recruit. You scored higher than anyone I have seen in fifteen years and you have several options to choose. Given what you have told me and what I have observed, I would recommend a non-combat career and the most applicable to the outside world would be Logistics. You will be exposed to cutting-edge technology and will have your pick of many private jobs once you leave the service. Not many people know or care about it but you need it to get things to where they need to be. And, you will likely not get shot."

Tony thanked him and made his decision to apply for the The Army Logistics Management College at Fort Lee, Virginia. Thanks to his recommendations and demonstrated skills, he received acceptence to the college before he completed basic training. He began his formal training and showed such an aptitude for the art and science of Logistics that he quickly was transitioned into an officer's training program and was fast-tracked within the college. The college was anomaly within the bureaucratic Army: established in 1953, it evolved from a simple quartermaster mentality of one to show and ten to go to a state-of-the-art scientific methods focusing on advanced programs in logistical science, decision/risk analysis, lean manufacturing, operations/management science, and acquisition management. Needless to say, Tony was immediately identifed as a logistical &wuml;underkind and was quickly promoted and placed directly in the front vanguard of several critical missions which generated successful and impressive results. Lauded in the same breath as logistical legend Ken Runge, Tony saw his career take off into the logistical stratosphere thanks to his pursuit of efficient delivery of materials, a hatred for waste and a love of elegant logic.

Tony continued his impressive rise through the logistical groups throughout the service and just prior to his re-enlistment, he was approached by several civilian contractors; all offering him jobs with fantastic salaries with large signing bonuses. Tony had gladly allowed the service to pay for anything he needed but the amounts of money being thrown around were so impressive and so massive, he finally agreed to join an industry-leader and quietly mustered out of the service with only good memories and a rock-solid reputation. He continued to send money home but there was so much of it, he did decide to give himself a few creature comforts as well.

After a few years of hard work and innovations, Tony became a millionaire thanks to well-timed stock options and a small company which was off the growth charts. He was a visionary and thanks to a few patents and technical breakthroughs due to his persistence and drive, Tony could finally relax about sending money to his family. He had arranged college educations for all his nieces and nephews, paid for many starter houses for first-tier relatives, moved his mother and father into a gated community near many of their grandchildren and finally could relax. He had helped enough and it was time for him to get married, have his own brood of children and to enjoy his money without guilt or obligation.

Tony met a talented beautiful woman through his business contacts and after a whirlwind romance, she moved in with him in his downtown loft. It was furnished in manner befitting a younger, single man who worked too much. Minimalist furniture with expensive personal electronics, vast open spaces with blank walls, a stunning kitchen primarily outfitted with beer and condiments and a huge king-sized bed stuck in the middle of a large bedroom which overlooked the city skyline. The woman, Ann Mills-Ritz, opened the cupboard and found one bowl (with spoon already in the bowl), one plate, one glass and a few other utensils and realized this was going to be her calling: to make Tony Osservanza grow up. She had hypenated her name early in her career to add a certain caché and to her disappointment, no one had asked her about it. She had a great fabricated backstory all ready to go but as the years went on, she archived the story to the deep recesses of her brain with the only surviving related memory was the story's greatness but she really didn't remember much less about it. Lucky for her, Tony never asked so she was safe.

Over the next few months, Ann efficiently moved in with one personal item at a time until she had established a beachhead in the second bedroom. Undaunted with her success, she decided to implement the next phase of her plan but initiating the need for some redecorating. She wanted to make her presence known and she wanted to change the decor to something more to her tastes. She wasn't sure how her plan was going to take shape but she didn't want to stay in this limbo period too long. It was time for her to mark her space. She also was proud of her strategic harvesting of a lot of his extra cash: Tony left wads of cash in drawers, pockets and books and she felt compelled to take most of it for yet-to-be determined household expenses. He obviously had no idea what he was doing with the money because he would have said something or wrote it down somewhere.

"Tony...honey. Can you come in here?" called Ann.

"What do you want, Ann?" called back Tony with a pleasant tone. He didn't like to be summoned with no specific reason so, as such, was asking for more detail. He made a conscious effort to keep his tone positive and upbeat but would have much preferred her to walk fifteen feet and address him as an adult. He wasn't completely sold on Ann as a potential wife but felt she was a good gal down deep. Furthermore, he had no interest in starting any type of foolish spat so early in the relationship so he got up and walked over with no clue what was in store for him. While he was not going to start an argument, he also hated being summonded with just a request with dripped of vague and existing authority.

"I want you to come here. I want to show you some things." She kept her request as vague as possible in a somewhat subtle way to begin to apply more-than-subtle control on her newest project.

Tony walked into the room and saw dozens of swatches and approximately a dozen roller-wide lines of paint on one of the white walls of the second bedroom. Ever counting pennies, Tony said, "What is this going to cost?"

"I don't know. I just ordered it up. Joel, my decorator came over here with the paint...which can't be that much."

Tony saw one dozen cans of paint, each retailing (by his estimate) at about sixty dollars per can and wondered why the decorator didn't at least purchase sample pint or at worst, quart cans, especially since half of the colors appeared identical at first brush. The waste made him crazy and while he remained calm, he filed this thought away for the near future.

"Tony? Anyway, he took some of his valuable time to show you some options." Her tone, while quietly condenscending, was evolving towards an official attitude changing and she knew she had to reign it back to a more even level so not to annoy someone who had made his fortune dealing the known. Tony looked at the paint on the wall, the paint cans and the skills he used in his daily work bubbled to the top. He quietly but forcefully asked Ann a series of questions and it was apparent she had underestimated his interest in the project. Tony had no interest in the redecorating but had learned many years ago that everything cost money and the obvious difference between a need and a want, especially wants which were not his in the first place. The smallest container of paint used was a standard qallon and he correctly assumed each one was a custom color; multiply twelve quarts of custom color paint, two hours of a decorator's time, a few paint brushes and a hidden markup for everything else, he estimated her initiative, funded by him, just cost him sevem hundred dollars. One hundred dollars was a lot of money to anyone who had been born poor; today's bank account did not mitigate that feeling but it was too early to jump to conclusions.

Ann decided to initiate a strategic retreat; his interest in details and her interest in big picture concepts were immediately in conflict and she wanted to minimize her strategic blunder. She needed a fall guy and decided it was time to trot out her decorator and let him take the brunt of Tony's questions. While his questions were not accusatory, they were insightful and logic-based and not her collective cup of tea. She listening to Tony ask the question and even went as far as to grab a notepad and pen until the litany of questions exhaused her. She promised to arrange a meeting with the decorator and walked out of the room; leaving the multi-strips and swatch-covered bed for another time. This next time would have to be sooner than later but Tony's old-school bachelor side was paying attention at the wrong time. The decorator appeared from the living room where he was moving a few new pieces into the space for Tony's benefit. He took a few liberties, include a large, red chair which appeared to look like an Ampersand. There were other odd, uncomfortable looking pieces but Tony kept staring at the ampersand and wondering to himself what other punctuation marks would work as furniture.

What she didn't know was Tony wasn't a hard core bachelor; while his decorating taste were fairly linear ranging from mega-sized television, generally spartan rooms, a king-sized bed, bare walls and a large recliner, he always felt sooner or later he would transition into something more mainstream. However, Ann wanted to move the evolution along far faster so she decided to make the foolish move and shifted her decorator into second gear and attempted to commission an entire plan to put everything together in one, big basket. This initial work was going to cost between ten and twenty thousand dollars but Ann felt fearless. She assumed Tony would want to make her happy, was rich beyond most people's wildest dreams (not his however), had no interest and/or time to become involved and finally, he would like her showing some initiative. The contract came over via courier a few days ago, she signed it and sent it back. It was time to get moving on this relationship and there was no sense nibbling around the edges.

While she stayed hidden in the kitchen, Tony began to drill down a bit further.

"Tell me more about your plan."

The decorator tensed up a bit; this guy was not going to be impressed with his soft, vague skill set. This guy wanted to know, specifically, what the plan was going to entail and that included all the secret chats with Ann Mills-Ritz. It didn't take long for him to present the signed plan and admit to his part in the plan.

"Let's agree to rip up the contract," said Tony. "I think that would allow us to start fresh. Agreed?"

"Agreed."

The decorator agreed and as he began to tear up the contract, Tony excused himself. "I will be right back."

He found Ann Mills-Ritz in the kitchen, attempting to make coffee and sat down at the table.

"So, what do you think? Isn't he fabulous?"

"He will be fine. I will work with him to respect the original decision."

Ann was thrilled. Her plan evaded his radar, it would only be a matter of time and she would be exactly where she wanted to be: in charge.

"We got one issue," said Tony.

"What is that?" said Ann with a cloying smile.

"Us."

"What? What does that mean?"

"It means this is moving too fast and outside the issue of spending my money on something you wanted, the relationship is over."

"What? I was doing this for you own good."

"I respectfully disagree. I will leave for a few hours and when I return, I would like you and all the stuff you have been sneaking in here to be gone. Once that is accomplished, leave your key with Joel."

"Joel? You are going to work with Joel?"

"I don't agree on your methods but Joel is probably as good as anyone else and I think we will have an understanding established by the time we are done talking tonight."

"Tony, I disagree with your opinion about us."

"Okay, but that doesn't matter. I will back about six. If you need movers or anything, use some of the money you have been squirreling away, which I estimate at approximately three thousand dollars to get you and your stuff out of here."

Tony stood up, extended a calloused hand, and walked towards the door. He stopped briefly to say something to Joel and then, walked out.

Joel did not come to her aid; he was now working for Tony and did not want to confuse or conflict his new allegiance. He sat quietly working on some new sketches which he would not charge to Tony. He was going to play this new customer straight without fluff or waste.

Ann walked towards him: she was carrying a few boxes and still looked dazed. Her plan was discovered and for the first time in a long time, knew the talk and discussions were sadly over. As she packed up, she asked Joel what Tony had said to him.

"He said, 'mix all that paint together and paint the place.'"

"And what did you say to him?"

"Yes, Tony."

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