Disingenuous, morally bankrupt poseurs intent on romanticizing self-destructive behavior in order to justify their slothful, exploitative behavior are certainly not uncommon; but, they are especially well represented in the anonymous church basements of my fellowship. The fortunate ones are slapped into submission and eventually develop the ability to tell, and face, the truth. Until that happens, one must endure the likes of Ned Stillwater, who we meet in this excerpt from my irreverent romp through the murky waters of dipsomania, Washed Up.
Ned Stillwater had stuck with the program in order to save his job. Handsome and very intelligent, Ned’s sole success had been marrying well. Danielle, “Danni,” was not only beautiful, sweet, and thoroughly charming, she was wealthy beyond all reason. Danni’s father was Cedric Styckney, commonly called CS. A tough-minded Yank, he’d learned early on that fortunes aren’t made in glamorous ways. The president of Peerless Porta-Potty, Pierre Paolo Passolini, had told a young CS what his strategy was. “Find yourself somethin’ that nobody likes but everyone’s got to have.” For Cedric it had been the wing nut: glamourless, lowly, ubiquitous. Deceptively simple in design and execution, this masterpiece of engineering delivers its torque from the wings to the thread, enormously improving the process of assembly and repair. No knuckle-busting, no loose fits. He knew it was a parity product and he had no desire to improve it. What made him a legend in the industry was doing it better, doing it cheaper, and doing it much more often. CS sold his wing nuts by the boxcar and freighter, and he sold them to everyone. His competitors revered and despised him. Their attempts to displace him were futile. They couldn’t undercut his prices or crack his distribution channels.
Joining the firm was a logical step, but Ned wasn’t made for business. He imagined himself a brilliant artiste. Part Dylan Thomas, drank himself to death, part Ernest Hemingway, ate a gun, part Chet Baker, dropped from a window. As some people idolize athletes, Ned worshipped tragic heroes. So when CS set him up as vice president in charge of all their sales and marketing, nobody’s interests were served. It wasn’t long at all before his colleagues were convinced that he wasn’t just merely inept; his incompetence was almost mythic. CS was completely humiliated. He tried his level best to get him on board but teaching him the rudiments of business was like teaching a parrot fish to mambo. Even if you could, why would you want to? The relationship between them degraded from bad to worse to shut-the-fuck-up. Ned began to drink pathologically, which didn’t help his work performance; not that it could have been helped. After years of tracking down truckloads of wing nuts in Newark, Newton, and Newport ordered by clients in New Delhi, CS gave Ned an ultimatum: Give up the booze and get into AA or get your ass out of the business. Ned, who rarely took the hard way out of anything, went along with the plan.
Convinced that CS had planted spies in the groups, Ned attended meetings regularly and had indeed given up booze. His on-the-job performance was still appalling, but it was getting better. Deprived of the one thing that linked him to his heroes, being an alcoholic, Ned began developing a victim mentality. Considering he lived like a lord and didn’t lift a finger to deserve it, this attitude was something less than gracious.
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