My lovely wife Rothann has told me on several occasions that I tend to speak too harshly to people, especially to other men. She may be right.
When I arrived at church last Sunday, Deacon Todd Flaherty, whose 16 year-old son Conner had just started working a summer job for me, welcomed me into the House of the Lord with “Good job, Clark! Keep on chewing him out! He needs it! Great job!” And then he patted me on the back.
Responding to the puzzled look on my face, Deacon Todd continued. He explained that when his son had come home from his first day on the job, Conner had reported that “Mr. Clark” got just as red-faced, when he got mad, as his dad did. To be clear, I was not even aware that I had been “mad,” nor that I had chewed anyone out, at any time, during the previous week. I do vaguely remember walking into a room where construction was going on to find four guys, including Conner, discussing what to do next. I simply offered the quartet what I felt was proper and necessary supervision.
“Let’s get moving in here! There’s too much standing around going on! Find something to do!”
Frankly, I dispute the assertion that THAT exchange is “getting chewed out.” But, upon further reflection, maybe my tone was harsh, and maybe my face did get red. Maybe I even said a little more than I was willing to put between those quotation marks a couple sentences prior to this one.
Man, I hate it when Rothann’s right.
Ted Trollinger and I have worked together for 18 years. He’s the head of engineering at my company, Quail Ridge, and he’s a lifetime Baldwyn native, just like me. I describe Ted and me as “working together” for this reason: even though Ted has actually worked FOR me for 18 years, that fact could never be discerned from observing our every-day, working relationship. He routinely says things to me like:
“When are you actually going to do some work around here?”
“The design you came up with wasn’t going to work … but I fixed it.”
“Those drawings you just released to manufacturing … Wrong!”
Ted’s typical line of off-the-cuff commentary – confrontational but delivered nonchalantly, as if in passing – almost always lures me into debate. He compels me to defend myself. And perhaps, on occasion, I do use statements that some might consider “harsh.”
MY design would not work, but HE fixed it! Ted just has the knack, a gift really, for putting me on the defensive as only the lovely Rothann herself is otherwise capable of doing. But my beautiful and talented spouse need not worry about any harshness directed towards our longtime engineering manager. Franklin Theodore Trollinger can MORE than hold his own in ANY argument. Which makes the story I’m about to tell even sweeter for me.
A decade ago, Ted and I were in some back-and-forth dispute across his desk, a design disagreement. He contended he was right and I was wrong, and I came back at him again and again with the opposite point of view. The volume of the conversation rose, and we struggled on until finally we reached an unbreakable impasse. Ted smugly leaned back in his chair and took a long sip of coffee, all the while staring me right in my red face. That’s when I saw the opportunity and changed the game.
“And don’t you be drinking out of my coffee cup either!” I said, knowing something Ted didn’t.
“This is not your coffee cup!”
“Yes. It is.”
Ted glared at me. “Why do you say it’s YOUR coffee cup?”
“Because it’s got my name on it.”
My side of the cup, a gift received on some long-forgotten sales call, was clearly, BOLDLY labeled “CLARK RICHEY.” Ted slowly turned the mug around and stared at it for a long, long time. Finally, he choked out, “Well … I guess it is your cup.”
THAT is my proudest moment in the history of Quail Ridge Engineering!
Ted smiled, I smiled, and then we said a few more harsh things to each other about whatever we had originally been arguing about.
“You can use my cup, but just make the drawing the way I said,” I jabbed, victory in hand.
“Yeah … right,” Ted replied harshly, unvanquished.