The Horrible Burden of Being Right All the Time, Part II

There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone; in fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape, but even after admitting this there is no catharsis, my punishment continues to elude me and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself; no new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.

A great American once said that, and I had the quote bronzed and hung above my desk at City Hall so that I’d never forget why I’m here. Human Resources is a thankless and dirty business, but I’ve become pretty damn good at it.

I mean, if I didn’t have a plush municipal set-up and killer benefits, I totally wouldn’t be here—but as it is, well…a man could get used to this kind of applause, as they say. It’s not easy, of course—maintaining a thin veneer of professionalism over the seething contempt I feel toward almost every job applicant takes a Herculean amount of discipline—but I might as well be a god as far as these people are concerned. Hell, watching them jockey for position, clawing and scraping for status and validation is half the fun, you know?

It can get boring after a while, though. Humoring a menagerie of hangups from fifty stone-cold morons on the slim chance that one of them might eventually evolve into something with enough spinal fluid to function in municipal government sure sounds like fun, eh? Well, if you play your cards right, dude, it can be one of those glorious things that makes life worth living. It all comes down to how much of an asshole you want to be. Most people don’t like to admit that, but it’s true—just like any other trade secret worth keeping—because the vast majority of our fellow humans are rank amateurs at everything, including people who think they know what they’re doing.

For example, take these two geeks I had to deal with on Friday morning—computer programmers from a local firm bidding on the city’s web redevelopment project. Some dipshit from Purchasing had the brilliant idea of hiring private contractors instead of our own internal IT people, so we had to endure a lame dog-and-pony show from these guys even though we’d already decided to give the job to a Silicon Valley group (which we only did after threatening that company that they’d lose to Indian outsourcers unless the fee was cut in half).

Anyway, these two underpants gnomes from mid-town had brought their own projector and PowerPoint when submitting the RFP, and their presentation plowed through a lot of technical bullshit about “web standards” and “usability testing” and how beneficial this all could be for “government transparency,” and even cited the City Manager’s blog as something to emulate.

They played good-cop-bad-cop with me—the nice guy was about six-seven and almost giddy with enthusiasm over being able to work with what he called “an enterprise-level CMS” (whatever the fuck that meant), but any cred he tried to get was instantly vaporized by his partner. That dude was a chubby bald guy who kept insisting that “we know that your budget is 90K, but the work you’re proposing is really in the 125 to 150K range.” He reiterated this, like, three times—enough for me to finally call the punk on it.

“Hang on,” I said, “why are you being such a mental defective about the cost? The budget is what it is, okay? Why aren’t you getting that?”

“W-well…uh,” he stuttered, sweating and looking desperately to his buddy for help, “this isn’t, like, voodoo or magic or anything. We’re professionals—we’ve done many jobs like this before, and the comprehensive overhaul with intranet hookups you’re asking for requires a lot of custom programming. We’re absolutely willing to consider your budget ceiling, but—”

“Then what’s the problem?” Christ, it dragged on forever. I was already distracted by my lunch date with that intern from the mayor’s office, but I couldn’t remember her name because of the way this geek kept pleading for his pathetic little company.

“…I mean, we live in this city—we want it to succeed. We know you guys are getting eaten alive in the press for trashing the mayor’s promise to work with local businesses during the recession, and—”

“We didn’t promise anything,” I corrected him. “The media’s had it in for us ever since we didn’t cave to those stupid anti-Wal-Mart protestors back in October.” This guy had some stones, I’ll give him that—coming in here bitching about a three-month-old election that had decided an issue already written into the municipal code two years ago—but I sensed he would show his inner chickenshit sooner or later. I could tell he didn’t have what it took to survive at this level—but his towering colleague wasn’t such a pushover.

“Well, we know who your other bids are,” said the taller guy, crossing his arms. “We know how the Chamber of Commerce will react to yet another city contract taken away from local firms. We know the journalists who cover City Hall. We know every council member on the November ballot was challenged by anti-tax freaks—and we know eventually this thing will bite you in the ass.”

So at least one of them realized this meeting was only a formality, even if the blackmail lunge was crude. Fine—time was running short and I could play hardball with any computer-nerd cream-puff. Still—I had to be cool. No reason to make the janitors soak spilled blood off the curtains tonight. Never ever beat the help.

“Don’t make threats, fucko. We can revoke your business license at any time. You’re in no position to do the swaggering bull-fruit routine with me. I work in Human Resources, and to me you’re just another IT guy. In this economy, people like you are a dime a dozen, big man, so next time you bid on a job like this, I’d remember my place if I were you.”

I shut my binder and reached over to switch off their cheap-ass projector myself. “Now, if you guys don’t mind, I’ve got another meeting, so please—show yourselves out.”

They were still staring at each other when I walked out the door, no doubt shocked at how thoroughly I’d smacked them down, but I didn’t care. I’d finally remembered the intern’s name—Melanie—and hustled to meet her at the Watermark on Main. She’d said “lunch,” but I knew she really meant “drinks,” and any twenty-two-year-old blond with her looks and a jones for cocktails at noon was a woman worth knowing.

I slid into my car for the two-block drive and wondered if I could steal her away from the mayor’s office. I could use an assistant to ward off needy yokels like the two nerds I’d just nailed to the wall, and she would do the trick like gangbusters. After all, it’s so hard to find good help these days.