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Introduction: The Loitering
One smoggy day at an Applebee's nestled in the heart of California's San Gabriel Valley, not far from the world's largest Toyota dealership, several former classmates who were good friends in high school, gathered for lunch. They had attended their class reunion the night before, and were anxious to compare catty notes about how ugly and unsuccessful everyone else in school had grown up to be.
Candi, who had been one of the most popular people in class and now worked as an exotic dancer at Spearmint Rhino, said, "I never expected I would end up doing what I'm doing when I graduated high school. I guess I was filled with hopes and dreams then. I thought I was going to work my way through college and become a fully licensed Realtor. That's all changed for me now."
"Sometimes it feels like everything has changed," agreed Brent knowingly. He operated his father's highly successful car dealership at the Auto-Square, so his classmates looked at him surprised. They had no way of knowing that he regularly engaged in humiliating S&M "pony play" scenes, during which a leather-clad dominatrix rode him like a horse with a red rubber ball gag for a bridle and a tail that came straight from a Mapplethorpe exhibit. "And sometimes," he continued, "all I want is for everything to return to the way it was. I'm afraid of what change is doing to me."
Pedro mulled this over, then said, "I think no matter where you are, a change in the status quo always threatens to make matters worse."
With his thick Mexican accent, Pedro was promptly ignored. The snub offended his Latino pride to the core, and he was about to say something when he realized that it had been thirty-five years of constant slights and systematic racism, and what the hell was he going to do about it now? He fell silent again, and fumed.
"Sí, I theenk what he said," mimicked Jane.
Everyone laughed. They were all happy that Pedro was among them again. He was the group's verbal piñata, and even though everybody was laughing at him, even he had to crack a smile.
After a few drinks, the friends started relating war stories about how their own lives had careened down the tubes, often due to external changes that overwhelmed them. Most had tried various coping methods with limited success. Only one, Sandra, said she embraced change, a positive attitude she attributed to her personal relationship with the Lord Christ. The group loudly made fun of her and soon she left in a huff.
The remaining friends continued to moan about their problems, feeling sorry for themselves and the unlucky changes that had intruded into their lives.
Then Lewis, an experienced motivational speaker who had once filled the Hartford Civic Center up to the loge, looked up from his whiskey. His eyes were bloodshot from abusing cocaine all evening, and his lips were caked pink from the Pepto-Bismol tablets he had chewed in a vain attempt to keep from vomiting earlier in the morning.
He groaned loudly, then spoke, "I used to fear change. After my company started doing badly, I would insist that my assistant go into my office each morning and wave smoking sandalwood incense sticks to ward off evil spirits. Then I would close the door behind me and sit completely still and alone in my office, doing nothing, waiting for the axe to fall.
"But then," Lewis continued, "I heard the fable of 'Who Cut the Cheese?' and that has made all the difference."
"Explain?" Brent asked. He remembered the first time he went on AOL's member-created chat rooms and how that had introduced him to a world of fetishes far beyond anything the Auto-Square had ever prepared him for. Ever since then, he had hoped to hear a story that would lead him out of his vicious cycle of self-destructive sexual behavior. Perhaps, he hoped, this would be that story. "Lord knows, I need some help."
Lewis nodded appreciatively, then continued: "I used to see change as something you can either resist, or hope to God happens to work out well for all concerned. But after I heard this fable, I realized that I was wrong on both counts. Resistance is futile. And change usually ruins someone's life.
"Fortunately, no matter what negative change is occurring, you can always find someone to blame for it. You can find a patsy. And when you find this patsy, you can blame everything on him and fail upward."
At this point, Brent flushed with shame and desire. The repetition of the word "patsy" combined with the deliciously shameful connotations of being blamed for a failure proved too much for him and he excused himself from the table. Lewis paid no attention to Brent's abrupt departure, and continued with his tale:
"As soon as I heard the fable, I looked at how I had organized my work flow and, to my astonishment, I found that I had somehow set myself up to take responsibility if things went wrong. Whoa! That's a major-league screwup. I mean, I had hundreds of naive employees milling around like cows and yet, if things went wrong, I was going to take the fall. What was wrong with that picture?
"I recognized that the four characters in the tale represented four different ways that one can approach change. I immediately decided that I wanted to be the one who thrived despite, or perhaps because of, failure. I changed my attitude completely, and immediately started moving up the corporate ladder.
"As I rose to the top, leaving a trail of sacrificial co-workers behind me, I realized that my superiors would have to topple as well. Fortunately, most were more incompetent than their underlings, so it was the work of a few days to attribute their own bungling to the proper source and get them fired.
"But the president of our company was actually both intelligent and powerful. I couldn't see a way to unseat him. Then a momentous event occurred. He told me to place the company's pension funds into a stock called Cisco, the router manufacturer. By mistake, I bought Sysco, a food distributor. Over the course of the year, while Sysco proved to be a perfectly serviceable portfolio builder, Cisco went up 1,000 percent. Needless to say, the employees were calling for blood.
"I thought I was done for, but I remembered what I had learned from the fable of 'Who Cut the Cheese?' I desperately manufactured memos stating that I was worried whether I had misheard the president, and whether he was sure he didn't want to buy the router company instead.
"Amazingly, this simple blame-shifting strategy worked. The president was one of those men who believe that the buck stops here, and if there was miscommunication, then he was to blame. Fine by me. He resigned, almost certainly expecting me to resign with him. Ha! I just moved into his office instead! I became President and CEO!
"The smartest workers soon quit working for me, but those are hardly the best people to surround yourself with anyway. I was left with second-rate minds who lived in fear of losing their jobs for some error that somebody else did. It was beautiful. Never underestimate the worth of scared, white-bread employees of below-average intelligence. You can win wars with these people.
"Of course, some of my workers tried, with varying degrees of success, to blame their co-workers for various mishaps. Some even tried to blame me during the company's downturns. I, however, quickly fired these dangerous malcontents while stating publicly that by trimming the fat and downsizing "low-morale" employees, I was increasing productivity. This simple blame-shifting technique sent the stock skyrocketing, and made me a wealthy man."
"What did you say the name of your fable was again?" Candi asked.
Lewis replied: " 'Who Cut the Cheese?'"
"I think Pedro did," said Jane. "After all he's a beaner!"
All laughed at their long-suffering Mexican friend, who merely grimaced silently in acknowledgment of the crude racist barb.
Laughing, though slightly disheveled from his most recent bout of self-abuse, Brent returned from the rest room and said: "So let's hear it. Tell us the fable of 'Who Cut the Cheese?'"
Copyright © 2000 by Mason Brown