To speak the truth is a nice thing to have in one's pocket but to have people embrace what you say as the truth is better still. Standing in front of a podium with several hundred paying customers staring at you with both open pockets and rapt attention is to speak from the position of absolute truth: what I say it is. People seek truth the easy way; by people telling them what to think and what to say and there are people who are more than happy to take your money and spin difficult and complex issues into ten second sound bites. A great man said, "Just because ideas are held tenacious doesn't mean that they are worthy" and a smarter man said, "I will tell you the truth for one hundred dollars but that does not allow any time for your stupid questions."
Adam Hetfield was a lazy individual fueled only by paths of least resistance and the ideas of others. Throughout his academic career, he cut and pasted himself from one class to another with no interest in original thought or unique insight. Everything he said, had been said before and everything he thought had come from someplace other than his brain. A fan of recency and shallow reasoning, Adam avoided thinking about all things and only reacted to questions; initiating conversation to him as a lose/lose proposition. He wanted to either re-use quotes of smarter people or parrot back some tired old idea to an audience and if successful, embrace it as his own. Being original sucked; one might as well just use what works, why take the chance?
Adam wandered out of college exactly as he came in: rudderless, bored and without a clue why he went in. He left clutching a Bachelor's degree in something (he honestly had no idea) and stumbled through a series of job interviews with complete lack of preparation or interest in what they were selling or servicing or whatever the people were doing. He had to get a job because he had graduated and everyone else was leaving to new adventures so his choices were simple: find some graduate school with fairly low standards or jump into the real world with absolutely expectations. He landed a job with a large company that was in the middle of a frantic hiring peak; their acquisition of their number one competition forced everyone to bolster their staffs with cheap, young exempt employees with the hopes that the acquisition actually made money. Adam barely remembers the interviews but he remembered he was on time, clean, demonstrated good listening skills and gave great phone. Within two weeks, he was sporting a headset in a training class parroting out of established training scripts. When he had realized that he was not responsible for any unique thoughts and everything he said came from a canned script, he knew he was just where he wanted to be....in the middle.
As an new employee, Adam became exposed to generic training resources: vague on-line training classes which allowed the viewer to gain internal training credits by passing a generic on-line training assessment to document their successful attendance of some topic. It took Adam one class to realize that all he had to do was to pass the test to prove (definition of "prove" is used loosely here) that he was now proficient (definition of "proficient" is used extremely loosely here) in that particular subject matter. As a result, Adam would fast forward through a variety of subjects and pass the tests thanks to some patience, persistence and a forgiving testing rubric. His success through the on-line courses got the attention of the internal training department who (incorrectly) assumed he was some savant by demonstrating his impressive appetite for learning.
After a few months, he transferred to the training department where is on-line and remote training chops grew to legendary levels which brought him to the attention of the on-line vendor. Adam Hetfield was the auto-didactic on-line version of the smartest man in the world: part Srinivasa Ramanujan, part Superman and part Tadao Ando, the company had to have him work for them as the embodiment of all things second hand. His ability to fly through on-line curriculum combined with his talent to instantly learn (definition of "learn" is used....oh, you got it now) made his a force to be reckoned with by all who crossed his path. He felt it was not going to be in his best interest to explain that he learned nothing with these modules but rather demonstrated his understanding of the content through brute force and a thick skin.
After a few short years and aided by legitimate technology advances, Adam was the living embodiment of the new world of enlightened learning. As the point person for the training company, he would go to conferences and trade shows and paint the picture of ongoing education bordering on the edge of magic and osmosis. Adam learned not to over-promise or over-state anything but rather make general and enthusiastic comments and let the sheep-like listeners connect the dots all by themselves. He did not train anyone (nor did the company say they did so) but he allowed those who wished to train themselves the opportunity to do so. By applying conversational mathematics to those type of statements, it was clear that the points and counterpoints crossed each other out only to leave the listener with the hope that they heard what they wanted to hear (sorry legal system....you can't help here) and whatever they did hear, it was easy to do so (step right up and develop your own flavor of truth) with a dormant enthusiasm which appeared to have been recently awakened.
"Who wants to learn?" shouted Adam with a dark suit and a subtly obvious head microphone.
The crowd has been waiting awhile and Adam's show at this educational conference was one of the featured attractions. "We do!" shouted the crowd, "We do!"
"Great," said Adam. "Education is important?"
"Is learning a shared responsibility?" (the lawyers always made him say that one but he usually buried it after the lead)
" Who wants to struggle at learning?"
"Who wants to use technology as a tool for learning?"
"Who wants to learn something?"
"So do I," said Adam as he walked to a podium to begin the sales pitch because this was now a done deal.
For the next thirty minutes, Adam talked in circles about learning andeducation and the importance it serves in a growing community and aware culture. At no time did he imply the products he represented would aid in that quest nor did he use the proper name of any of the products. He was too busy cutting and pasting in inspirational quotes from a variety of sources, punctuating them with an exciting music soundtrack and kept the momentum moving at a high, frenetic level. By the time the pitch was finished, people literally rushed the stage and side booths for the chance to purchase the products but Adam never said these products would do anything for the amped-up audience member; he allowed the spectators to make those connections individually and he just remained on the sidelines, careful not to block the sight lines to the impressive and colorful stacks of computer-generated learning aids. Any transcript of his speech would should a speaker who did not promise or imply anything about the quality or effectiveness of the products he was or was not representing. In fact, as the scam grew strong financial momentum, transcripts were created and covert recordings were made of his pitch but it was obvious they didn't have a leg, legal or otherwise, to stand on as Adam never said anything which was not true. The problem was that while he said nothing damning or did nothing damning, the psychological lines he drew between his products and the passive belief within each listener to satisfy their internal wishes were straight and true and how he said his well-prepared lines made every woman wish they were with him and every man wish they were him.
After the pitch, Adam sat in a small green room off the stage decompressing. Whether the message was vague and vacuous or insightful and inspiring, it did take a lot out of him to remain focused for the duration of the time on stage. As he slipped off his shoes and hung up his suit coat, there was a knock on the door.
"Come in" said Adam. He had just taken a sip of water so his voice was a bit deeper than usual.
In walked a serious looking woman, wearing dark colors from head to toe, like a corporate ninja with a strong fashion sense. The monochromatic nature of her overall look was unique enough for Adam to pause to take it all in. He stared at her politely but had still stared but it didn't seem to register with her because she moved in towards him and began to speak.
"I think what you do is fantastic."
"I mean, the content is immaterial; I am speaking of your ability to talk about things we want to hear and in a manner that it feels great to hear it."
"Thank you again," said Adam. He was well aware of his skills and was sincerely chuffed that someone had seen the beauty of the entire presentation."
"I think you can make millions of dollars and I think, with the help of someone like me, we both can make many more millions of dollars."
Adam was interested; this gig was adequate but he was getting tired of the small rooms, travel and the questionable connections between these products and the health and welfare of the somewhat desperate customers. He would rather find something that made good money but didn't hit the heartstrings of someone who was in true need of medical (both physical and psychological) attention. Adam was more interested in tapping into the greed of people, that would be fun.
"And how would we do that?" asked Adam.
"Greed, lack of curiosity and desire for no accountability" said the woman. "That is the promised land....the three major puzzle pieces of the worst within the human condition."
"How so? I have no argument with the topic but how do I fit in?"
"You will be the Sensei Mack Daddy of some great message. I want to be part of it."
"Okay, what are the next steps?"
"If you agree, I will be back in touch in about thirty days. In the meantime, keep doing what you are doing and think about how you make the jump that goes right for the greed gene."
She stuck out her hand, "Do we have a deal?"
Adam said, "Yes. I look forward to our next meeting."
Thirty days passed quickly; Adam was on the road for a majority of the time and the mysterious woman's visage and general message faded from his recent thoughts but once in awhile, when faced with the need for efficiency, direction and an overarching ligature to keep himself on point. His message was good but it was too broad and too easily mis-applied by the larger, less wealthy masses of people who were seeking a better way. He enjoyed the crowds but he felt his message would resonate far better in smaller, more affluent groups if the goal was the same. And when dealing with people, the goal is always the same: more money, less work, more profit and less stress. His daydream was broken by the chirp of his private cellphone: it was her.
"It has been thirty days," said a monochromatic voice that also displayed a hint of excitement. The image and memory of her confidence were not that fair from his general musings but the voice snapped him back to the first meeting. It was clear he was going to the face and the engine of this scam while she was going to be the person behind the person; clearing the decks and doing whatever needful tasks that crossed their collective paths.
"I agree, it has been thirty days. I remain curious about your plan but wanted to let you know I am still committed to whatever the plan is going to be."
"Great, that is all I needed to hear. I will see you this weekend in Cleveland. I see you have a few gigs scheduled through the week so the weekend should be wide open to lay out my thoughts."
"Agreed. I will see you soon."
Adam headed to Cleveland and as usual, knocked it out of the park. Relying on his stage patter than had been honed over hundreds of previous shows, he held the audience in his hands; combining unique streams of thought, excitement, hope and desire into an emotional lovefest for the products and services. During his shows, he realized that Ms.Monochromatic was right: it was time to get some of this action. As an employee, he was just a salesperson with a base salary and a very small percentage of the profits of his pitches. When dealing with profits, games can be played with supporting expenses and late payments so even while enjoying significant sales, the company made sure his bonuses were fairly inconsequential. As he unplugged his headset and handed it to the technician, he headed to his dressing room and was not surprised to see her standing there. Again in an impressive ensemble of dark, mute tones, she smiled and said, "You killed again."
"Well, you are right. It is time to shift gears and make some money."
"You said a lot of smart things today, but that sentence was the smartest. Let's go in, I want to show you what I have come up with to make us both happy."
He waved her in and shut the door.
It is fascinating what you see when you are not looking for anything in particular.
Back to Short Stories