A friend has told me that some of my stories sound fictional. “That’s just too good to be true,” she will say, and honestly, I can’t deny it. They do sound too good to be true. That’s what makes them worth telling again.
Take the time when, years ago, my angry voice mail was broadcast over the PA to my entire company. That alone could make it sound unbelievable. What made it more unbelievable was that it was loaded with f-bombs, one after another, each one directed at a different colleague. There were about 300 employees in that company. I don’t think I missed one.
The specifics of that day make it even better. I was visiting our major client, installing the latest version of our software that felt like little more than vaporware at the time. The client was furious. I was shuttling between the systems room and the editorial floor, watching every feature blow up, one after the other.
So I left the client, drove to the nearest pay phone (this was before cell phones). I poured quarters into the phone, dialed my boss. When he didn’t pick up, I just let loose. If my memory is correct, my tirade lasted for five minutes. I hung up and drove the three hours home.
Meanwhile, back in headquarters, my boss returned to his desk. By his telling, he only had to hear the first few words of my message to know what was up. He was in a day-long meeting with the senior management of that very client. They were ready to bail. We would lose the contract, maybe even be sued, if the ship couldn’t be righted. So he hit a few buttons on the phone, thinking he was transferring it to another one of the managers on our team.
He hit the wrong buttons. The message went to the PA system.
As he told the story later, there was no mistaking my voice. I have a deep voice, nasal to my ears, but he considered it quite distinctive. He also knew that everyone else knew my voice–every employee and everyone from the client. After panicking for a minute and hitting every button he could think of, he realized that maybe not all was lost. The clients were sitting in our executive meeting room. They PA didn’t work there. He took a few deep breaths and returned to the room.
Meanwhile, downstairs, the technical director from the client was in our smoking room. The PA did reach there. A friend and colleague, Dan, was in the smoking room as well. Dan was a veteran of the first Iraq war. Nothing got past him, so when he heard the start of the voice message he knew what was what. He stood up and he started singing, “New York, New York.”
I understand he sang it pretty well and he kept singing until the message was over. The client finished her cigarette and went back to the meeting.
The client never got word of it. The fallout had more to do with me insulting and denigrating every one of my colleagues. However I was well liked and everyone knew the pressure I was under. The software did suck then. I was in an impossible situation of driving three hours down and three hours back every week to install a new version of the software that didn’t work.
My boss, for his part, decided to fall on his sword. He went into our CEO’s office, told the story, and he was ready to resign but our CEO burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. Crisis averted.
Back to my friend who didn’t believe the story.
We traveled together recently to New York City. On the train back, who should be in our car but my old boss. I introduced them and asked him to the story. He told it with relish. He’s a great storyteller anyway, but he really loved this one. Almost 25 years have passed and he still told it in all its detail, reminding me of things I had since forgotten. I was vindicated.
In the workshop at Ferry Beach, our long-time facilitator Jim Ellefson offers a prompt I have long enjoyed: tell a tall tale. Wikipedia helpfully explains that “a tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual.” I especially like the second element, “some stories such as these are exaggerations of actual events.” I love tall tales and I write them. This one, though, happens to be true. My old boss will even tell you so.