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The Adventures of Tar-man
      by John Rose

[Tar-man Index]

Episode Six

"Yes, sir. I call it the inverted pyramid management scheme." Shelby Russell was absently picking lint off of his sock, trying to avoid the glare of his Chief Executive Officer, Marvin "Hal" Ruddy.

"OK, Russell, suppose you explain to me this brilliant scheme of yours. I have time."

Shelby felt nervous, not knowing how much, if anything had been revealed about him to the man seated behind the desk. Obviously some budding corporate sleuth had hacked his way into Shelby's personal computer files and read the piece on alternative economic solutions.

Perhaps, he reflected, "disenfranchised" had been a too-obvious password. Next time it would be next week's winning lottery combination. Only someone with the luck to match thirteen out of thirty numbers would be able to break in and read his innermost thoughts and reflections. There was no being too careful in this type of environment. He cleared his throat.

"Well, sir, I confess that I'm not certain you'd be that interested. After all, I don't really--"

"Oh, I'm interested all right, Russell. I've had reports about you before that made me curious about your, shall we say, affiliations. Perhaps this will be illuminating."

Shelby bristled through his discomfort. "Sir, I don't think I've ever shown any disloyalty toward the company."

Marvin Ruddy leaned back, waving his enormous hand impatiently.

"That isn't what I mean, Russell. Disloyalty can be entirely psychological. You don't necessarily have to have a plan to blow up my office to be a threat to the stability of the company. Still, if you've risen this far, someone--many people, in fact--must think highly of you. You may consider this meeting confidential, if it's any consolation to you. But I want to know what kinds of ideas you have."

It wasn't any consolation, and Shelby shrugged miserably. Confidential or not, who was left to conceal anything from? He had known this day would come eventually, but he needed this job. He was an idealist, but an unenthusiastic martyr. Nevertheless, he could see the logic in martyring oneself to a great idea, in theory. He resigned himself to the inevitable.

"Well, sir, Mr. Ruddy, I got to thinking that at the production level of the company there doesn't seem to be much to make the workers want to work. I tried to imagine some scenario in which their work would be its own reward, so to speak. I know everyone gets paid and all, but it seems to me like money is sort of, um, losing some of its value as currency." He blushed.

"Really," said Ruddy brusquely. "Maybe we should dispense with your salary, then." He wondered, briefly, how many CEOs in the city had ever been seated across from someone who was questioning the value of money. He thought he might need a long lunch today. Maybe if Jeanne happened to be home, he could--

"--tolerance, sir." He had missed something. Sounded like an apology. Well-timed, he thought ironically.

"I thought," said Shelby, "that surely there was some way to make the workers feel less like hamsters on the wheel of industry and more like the wheel itself, less like pawns and more like bishops, less like--" he halted lamely--"well, sir, less like Sisyphus and more like God."

Ruddy regarded him coldly.

"Sisyphus, sir, was a mythological character, a mortal condemned by the gods to roll a stone up a hill but to never quite reach the top without it rolling back down again, and so on for all eternity."

"I'm an educated man, too, Russell," said Hal Ruddy. He wasn't. He had never heard of Sisyphus.

"Yes, sir. Shall I continue?"

"If absolutely necessary, please do." He lit a cigar and watched Russell through the smoke. It was going to be a long morning.

"Take me, for example, sir. I'm a second assistant manager to the manager of the branch managers. I know what my job description says, and that's what I do, more or less, but I sometimes wonder if some parts of the chain couldn't be, well, eliminated. Though actually my idea doesn't necessarily involve a consolidation so much as a--well, an inversion."

"Perhaps," said Ruddy, "we could more expediently reach the point of this discussion if we took me for an example."

Russell looked worried. He could feel the sweat beading under his collar. He had not expected to have to confront this particular aspect of the idea right off the bat, but it was certainly true that the plan was best expressed from the top down. Unaccountably, he had a quick fantasy of cliff-diving in Hawaii, a place he had never visited.

"Um, certainly, sir, that seems sensible. He cleared his throat. The fantasy changed to a picture of him choking on his own tongue. "The idea, and remember that I was really only joking, was that the president of a given company has, in some ways, the least desirable job." That was a good start. It played off his feelings of long-suffering superiority. He really did need to be careful, though.

"He controls the ways in which money is moved around, an abstract proposition at best, and he is presumably the supervisor of those directly below him, the vice presidents. He occupies the point on the chain-of-command which is the very furthest distance from the actual product. Now I'm assuming, for the sake of this argument, that the creation of something, anything really, is the most fulfilling prospect in a man's life."

"Fine, fine, get to the point, for God's sake," snarled Ruddy.

"Well, sir, under these conditions it seemed to me like the least desirable job should go to the most junior member of the company, and, um, so forth."

"So you're suggesting that my salary should go to the coffee boy." He wasn't getting it.

No, sir, more that the coffee boy's salary accompany your job. Though, more accurately, it would be the salary of the newest hire on the assembly line which was paid to the president, and vice-versa. And, of course, the assembly line itself doesn't fit my idea in the first place, because it avoids any one act of individual creativity for the sake of speed of production. As things stand now, I'm afraid nobody in the company actually has a desirable job, though of course the line workers are only a step away, whereas you, sir--" He trailed off, seeing the look on Ruddy's face.

"Am I to understand," asked Ruddy slowly, "that you advocate a system in which the position of president is considered entry-level?"

"Yes, sir, that's it exactly!" said Russell, encouraged by his understanding to show an enthusiasm which could do him nothing but harm.

"And management is so undesirable and dispensable that it is to be relegated to the individuals with no experience or credentials whatsoever?"

"Well, they would have to be trained, like they are now, only it would be the managers below, rather than above, who trained them. The middle managers would retain their positions in the hierarchy, only they would begin to strive toward a different objective, if you see what I mean. Down instead of up."

"Down instead of up."

"Yes, sir." Shelby wasn't sure the explanation had gone as well as he had hoped. When he warmed to a subject, he sometimes forgot to notice how people reacted to what he was saying.

"Would time also run backwards?"

"No, sir, of course not!" Russell examined him closely now to see whether he might be joking. He wasn't smiling.

There came a knock at the door. The two men regarded one another, the one with a sullen hostility, the other nervously expectant. There was no way either of them cold know that the knock came from Tar-Man, happening in from another story entirely, a Deus ex Petroleum to save the life, if not the career, of Shelby Russell.

"Did you hear something?" snarled Ruddy.

"No, sir," responded Russell, as meekly as possible.

Tar-man went away.



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