Dressed in a blue suit he wore two times prior to this glorious day, once at a funeral and once at his cousin’s wedding, your new manager delivers the line like an actor with years of summer theater behind him. He sends it forth, passes it on, believing you’ve never heard it. Like it’s fresh, just born, a baby of an expression crying and taking its first breath of hospital air. The words will make all the difference in how you approach your work from now until they find you face down on your laptop.
And later, when you and your “colleagues” leave the meeting, feeling queasy, heads held high as the survivors, the phrase’s impact will be lasting, like the weekend in Vegas where you puked on the Blackjack table and you remember the staff at the Wynn telling your friends to remove you from the premises, which they have to do because you can’t do it yourself. Your only coherent thoughts being that it was neat how they hid hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades in the carpet design and that the last six Mojitos were a mistake and you’d like a do-over because you didn’t get more attractive to the cocktail waitress each time you tipped her a five dollar chip, then a ten, followed by a 25, which would have hurt had she not delivered the pain medicine each time.
You thought you were unique, as did your new boss when he used the phrase you hate the most, the one that is both confusing and depressing like some fart-house French film one of your brainiac friends with the faux Euro glasses seems to have a complete understanding of but in which you somehow got lost when the clown rode the merry-go-round for two hours then ran screaming into the rain, which is what you felt like doing, running from the movie theater into the street where you wished a large semi would barrel down at 40 mph and send you flying, separating you from your shoes. And that’s how you feel now, hearing your boss’s words. Does anyone realize you are sitting in the meeting without your shoes? Had anyone looked under the table at your socks or realized the smell comes from them because your feet were swollen from the side of beef you ate this weekend, including the charred part, which might be something you’ll regret later in life at a doctor’s office?
You wished you could go back to kindergarten when all words were newborns and clichés thrilled your parents, who were your paparazzi, who took pictures of you, or better yet video they’d show during the holidays to the family. And everyone loved the parts with the clichés and you spitting out the most mundane of them. But you were excused because you were five and everything sounded cute coming from your pie hole at that age.
But now work clichés are like acupuncture with icepicks, screaming is involved, and pain, though not in that order. And that’s the pain you feel now when he said it again and another identical icepick stuck you in the forehead. But this pain was worse because of the long string of thoughts it released from your cranium that everyday was the same and that nothing changes, and that you’ll be sitting in the same stained red office chair that doesn’t recline with its cheap sandpaper fabric and plastic frame and handles that never work when next year’s manager says the same thing and thinks it’s original, important. But it’s not. It’s the same. And you’ve heard and seen it before – in another language no less. It’s the French film and you’re doomed to watch it over and over until your eyes pop out of your head and roll down the sticky movie theater floor where one comes to rest against a gummy bear a three-year-old dropped and was told not to pick up lest he catch typhoid fever or something really bad one can only read about on the Internet by typing in “red spots and itching and slimy discharge.”
Yes, that’s what you thought about when the new manager stood there, bright smile filling the room with sunshine and happiness that he had said the correct things over the years and wrote the correct emails and made friends with the correct people and climbed the correct ladder, each rung hand over hand, never breaking a nail. All of that work and this is what he said first: “We have to do more with less.”
It’s a shame really. What about the beauty and three-dimensional quality of “thinking outside the box” or the soft-drink sounding “synergistic”? He could have coughed up one of those, the bad oyster not staying down. No, those have a positive quality to them, as if you might hear your kindergarten teacher use them “that’s not a box, that’s a rectangle, and you’re coloring outside the lines, Mr Amount To Nothing.” Now you’re upset because you were taught to color inside the lines but to think outside the box, which is as confusing as what the beer ads tell you, drink responsibly, as this is not something you’re good at, wishing now you could hoist the beer can over your head and pop the top letting its life flow down the plastic tubing of the beer bong into your waiting mouth, trying not to spill any, but failing, and drawing the jabs of your equally irresponsible buddies. The same ones that left you outside the Wynn. When you woke up the next day you spent the morning hung over cancelling all of your credit cards because someone took your wallet when you fell over sideways, landing in your vomit, exposing your back pocket to the sky, where some scumbag pretended to care and helped themselves to your plastic and family pictures. Worst of all, you had to drive back to LA at the speed limit because you had no license. Then the horror of the DMV that week, and the circles under your eyes in the picture as a memento of the trip living forever in your wallet or until someone lifted the new one you bought at Macy’s for $42 plus tax.
But as bad as it was explaining how you lost everything to your wife, it was still 100 times more fun than sitting in the large conference room without windows and blackjack tables and the sound of slot machines and the cocktail waitress who had never met anyone more charming than you than it was listening to the new manager say “do more with less.” And wondering if he really meant you when he said “less.”