Song Of The Day 8/4/2015: Bryan Adams – “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?"

Week of Lies – Hugh Hyerlaw was inconsolable, which meant that Monday’s usual shoot-around was going to be closer in spirit to an actual shooting.

The PX–433 had shipped with a defect Myers’ group hadn’t caught. Some jackoff in Provo left a single digit off his recall order, which meant a warehouse amount of perfectly fine SS–337’s was about to be yanked from hundreds of unknowing families in the Mountain Time Zone while those with defective SS-3378's were still going to have a choking hazard in their homes. The TS–74’s budget was overrun and Fenster’s group had misfiled the receipts. Hyerlaw’s temples were as taut as Tootsie Rolls. The conference room practically felt the bile in his liver rise to above sea level.

“Goddamn hell goddamn hell crap crap goddamn piss hell!” he spat. “If we can’t get our collective craniums out of our gluteus maximi, I have no idea what I’m going to tell that bean-counting schlub who’s already cut everyone’s payroll into bite-sized chunks! I need answers! I need solutions! I need written declarations of malice and spite that have been notarized by a strip mall jeweler! Who among you have anything to say about what’s going on?”

Hackford from Product Engineering was in tatters. Smalley from Development heaved lava breath into a brown bag. Nesbitt from Research tapped his foot whilst improvising a prayer to ten deities whose existence he formerly challenged, and Friedman from Operations simply spat into a Dixie cup. The other ten middle managers in the room knew better than to look like they were responsible for anything. Hyerlaw’s conniptions were tremors not to be misjudged, and this one was close to busting the seismograph.

Hackford, perhaps unwisely, stuttered first. “Sir,“ he volunteered, ”all of these minor accidents can be explained by a few unforeseen factors and…"

Nothing here goes unforeseen! Nothing is unexplained! There is absolutely nothing in this business that should be an unknown quantity or a distant impossibility! Are there cracks in the manufacturing line? Are there disruptions in the assembly line? Does the janitor have an meth problem? Does the parking attendant have anything less than 20/20 vision and can he use a taser? Has the secretary in Accounting ever undergone electroshock therapy? Does she emit sparks without warning? Can she start fires if she felt like it? Don’t you tell me for one second that you have overlooked all potential liabilities! That’s exactly why you’re all here! What are you? A bunch of lemonade sellers?”

Smalley managed a squeak. “Sir, in regard to the XM–2046, we made a requisition for some new panels and they were…"

Hyerlaw ninja-kicked the overhead projector onto the floor. Smalley recoiled. “Don’t talk to me about the XM–2046! If you piddly nibs had done just one of my proven steps to union-busting that I sent around we wouldn’t be talking about the XM–2046! I forbid you from using any of those letters and numerals in any combination!"

Nesbitt wiped his forehead with his necktie. “Sir, may I… may I add that…"

“No! You can’t add! Nobody here can add! I don’t see how you losers can count the total number of ends on a Q-Tip! I’ve got an entire wing of this building that thinks flash cards are mystical documents from the Druids that aren’t meant to be understood by mortals! If you jerkwads could add… I would be so happy! I would be compliant and yielding! Roses would come out of my goddamn heels as I walked through the plant and people would want to touch my aura! I’d be so pleasant and peaceful you’d want to bust Deepak Chopra across the jaw for being such a shit-disturber! You placemats!"

Friedman pushed air over the stone in his throat. “Sir, please, may I take this moment to assure you that… we all appreciate your… concern over these inadequacies… and… within the guidelines of headquarters, of course… we’ve been… making real efforts to…”

Hyerlaw threw his commuter mug at the feet of his intern. “No, you may not! You don’t appreciate anything! You’ve made no efforts whatsoever! I know you putzes want to feel inspired and appreciated like those company retreats tried to tell me but I have no interest in giving you a soft place to crash! I want you slimy little schoolgirls to get the hell out of my sight! Go to your desks or your stations or your lily pads or whatever the hell you’re using for a placeholder and do some goddamn work! I want you tools to work so hard you breathe methane out of your noses! I don’t want excuses! I don’t want explanations! I don’t want apologies! I want results! Now get the hell outta here and fix everything! Now, I said!”

The room stood up, stiff and eager to slip out of the war room. Hyerlaw stood up and jammed his open palm to the men in the front row.

“Hackford! Smalley! Nesbitt! Friedman! Not you guys! You stay right here!”

The four shared an ominous clamp in their chests. Hackford knew what Hyerlaw wanted. It was about the moisture sensors on the GLG–820. They’d failed the field tests in Fort Worth and he had to come up with an explanation. Smalley knew what was up too. The blueprint for the MM–882 contained a clerical error that left it one inch too short; now the boys in Billings were over by a half million and late by a month. Nesbitt had to answer for the incomplete results from the Tuscaloosa samples that stalled repairs on the XTC–2500 and left the Knoxville plant dormant for almost two weeks. Friedman knew he’d have to answer about the family of bats that got into the rafters of the MF–69LS plant near Galt, where their excrement had diluted the adhesive and caused considerable damage to all sorts of raw materials.

They slowly sank bank into their chairs, faces looking down, hearing the quick and darkly merry shuffles of the middle managers headed towards the exit. Hyerlaw kept the door open, jaw clenched, brow angled and dangerous, pits stained by the 10 o’clock swamps of a short fuse, eyes refusing to meet the refugees, not from shame or shyness but from disgust and contempt. As the last pocket protector crossed the plane of the threshold Hyerlaw slammed the door and let the weight of the sudden silence hang in the fluorescent limbo.

Hyerlaw stood for a moment, his back still turned to them. Smalley and Nesbitt swapped furtive looks. Friedman, unable to move during Hyerlaw’s tirade, moved his head up in anticipation of a bigger blow. It was the most choking quietude any of them remembered having, and it took no less than thirty seconds for Hackford to dare disrupt it.

“Hugh,” Hackford carefully began. “This hasn’t been the easiest… it’s been a terrifically hard quarter for everyone… I know we haven’t been the same since… it’s been a challenge for us since… I mean, I don’t know if you… want to have an open session right now, but… look, we all know the stress you’ve… we’ve all seen it, you know? And… I don’t want to make it…”

The back of Hyerlaw’s hand shot up. Hackford clipped himself and shut his lips tightly.

Hyerlaw turned slowly around. His grayed, balding head came into discreet view, his bumpy and ruddy face showing a bright pink, his eyes and mouth seeming to agree in their downturns. He lowered his hand. The four subjects turned to him, their looks of terror replaced by sudden, brotherly concern. Completing his turn to face them, Hyerlaw finally spoke, barely registering above a whisper.

“I have something to ask you,” he said, lacking all rage.

They sat a pregnant heartbeat more in silence. Hackford opened his mouth, then hung it open as he thought better than to break the spell.

Finally, Hyerlaw said, “Have you… any of you… have you ever really loved a woman?

It was a miracle of physics that no one’s expression changed. All sat with the same expectation they’d had before he uttered the question, now tinged with astringent disbelief.

“Um…” Hackford started, “Hugh… what was that?”

Hyerlaw seemed to come to the present. “A woman, Hackford,” he said in fatherly velvet. “Have you ever really… loved… a woman?”

They wanted to quiz each other’s faces but none dared break his gaze.

“Mr. Hyerlaw,” the forceless Nesbitt said, “is this about the malfunction in Duluth? ’Cause honest, we were just a camshaft away from –”

Hyerlaw shook his head, then grabbed his train. “No, Nesbitt! This isn’t about that! It’s a very simple question – yet underwritten by layers, subdermal connectors, the elusiveness that slips through our hands even as our fingers feel the grip! But it’s an answer we know we can provide, even as the question perplexes us: Have you ever really loved a woman?

Smalley replaced his pen in his lapel pocket, figuring this was not a note-taking scenario. “Mr. Hyerlaw," he asked, "do you mean… like, do I love my mother?”

Hyerlaw shook his head. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

“My sister, then? I’ve got a sister in Baltim–”

Hyerlaw was agitated, but not angry. “No, Smalley! Not your sister!” He began to walk a fragile arc around the head of the room. “I speak of an easily shared, yet still secret experience! Its code alters and bends from soul to soul! Revealed in the language of the cumulus, that which can be perceived but not set in stone! The love that passes between hustled breaths in rivulets of electrons, the love that maps itself in curves and crevasses across her body! The question we cannot understand, yet answer ably and loudly! I ask again: have you ever really loved a woman?

Friedman feebly raised his hand. “Do pets count?”

Hyerlaw turned to Friedman. “Pets? What do you mean ‘do pets count’?”

“Well, I have this female pug named Helga – at least I think she’s female – and the other day when I was reaching to get something from the cupboard she –”

“I see, I see,” Hyerlaw said, holding up his hand. “For the sake of this little detour, no, pets do not count.”

“Oh.” Friedman hung his head sheepishly.

“Hugh, I’m afraid I still don’t follow,” Hackford said.

“Well, I’m sure it’s not that hard. Have you ever, you know, flitted away on wings of fantasy at the sight of a particular woman, festooned your thought bubbles in emeralds and rubies, carried yourself away on the distant notes of an ode to love? Shit like that?”

“Wait a minute!” Nesbitt interrupted. “So, there’s this new girl in Accounts Payable, named Enid.”

Hyerlaw turned to Nesbitt, his face suddenly rife with happy expectation. “Yes? Yes? Go on, Nesbitt!”

“Well… so, the other day, we were near the copy machine,” Nesbitt continued. “And I felt something.”

“Indeed! Yes!”

“We were talking about how expensive toner cartridges had gotten lately, and I said something like, ‘We really need to get with the times and start sending things electronically,’ and she said, ‘Yes, it’s amazing what you can do with technology these days,’ and I said ‘It sure is,’ and then she said, ‘By the way, do you know where I can get a vegan milkshake,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, there’s this natural food store in the strip mall over on Genesee Street, I think it’s run by an Indian,’ and she said, ‘Thanks,’ and I said, ‘Sure thing.’”

Hyerlaw regarded Nesbitt with some anxiety. “And?”

Nesbitt furrowed his eyes in confusion, then shook his head. “Oh, wait. That was just helpfulness. My bad.”

Hyerlaw threw up his hands. “My God,” he said, “I know this isn’t an easy subject to discuss, but don’t any of you have the slightest idea what I’m asking here? Have none of you rubes felt the organic electricity, the comforting flame? Have you not tasted the lush wine that comes forth from her lips? What kind of –”

Smalley shot up. “Wait! You’re talking about kissing?”

Hyerlaw spun around, suddenly enthused. “Yes! Yes, that’s just what I’m getting at, Smalley!”

Friedman looked up, skeptical. “Kissing? What’s that?”

Smalley turned to Friedman. “You haven’t heard about kissing? It’s when two people who like each other spit at each other in the face.”

“No, no,” Hackford interjected, cutting off a fierce glower from Hyerlaw. “They don’t spit at each other. It’s less violent than that.”

“Less violent?” Smalley asked. “What do you mean, less violent?”

“You don’t just find somebody’s face and spit on it. That’s not the proper message. It’s more subtle. It’s done with the lips.”

Smalley stared at Hackford with a light indignation. “You mean the ones on your mouth?”

Yes, the ones on your mouth, you fruitfly! I was warned about kissing in Sunday School! They showed a filmstrip about it. My brother ran from the room screaming.”

“I don’t get it,” Smalley said. “So – instead of spitting your spit at her, you actually… it’s less of a projectile, you mean?”

“Right! Right, that’s exactly it. It’s more skin-to-skin, or in this case, lip-to-lip.”

“What about tongues?”

“Could be.”

“You’re kidding!”

Hackford shrugged. “Just sayin’ what I’ve heard.”

“My God! Do none of these so-called ‘kissers’ care that they’re practically feeding someone else biohazardous liquid? You know what kind of things live in your saliva? Hell, there’s so many things in one glob of spit they practically have their own congresses. What’s to keep them from –”

“Look, Smalley, I'm not trying to defend it, I’m just explaining it. Just because I’m making a depiction of something shouldn’t mean I necessarily endorse what I’m describing.”

“Well, how do you know so much about it then? What the hell am I supposed to think? You’re sitting around describing a potential apocalypse, a flesh-eating microbe that we’re only too eager to slobber into each other’s mouths! Look at you, you’re almost giddy about it!”

“I’m not giddy! I’m explaining! I’m not generating any kind of emotional interest in this subject either way! Why in the hell do you–”

Hyerlaw slammed his hand on the desk. “Enough! All of you shut up!

Hackford and Smalley froze. Nesbitt shrunk back at the impact. Friedman stopped caressing what appeared to be an invisible dog.

“Clearly, I’ve failed!” Hyerlaw shouted. “I’m not getting anything across to you! I should have known better than to ask middle management if they knew one thing or another about love!” Hyerlaw turned sharply to the door and roughly opened it. “All of you, get out! Go back to your jobs! If I want to consult you in the future, which I won’t, I’ll send you a memo! That seems to be the only way any of you understand a goddamned thing I’m talking about!”

The four of them glanced at each other, then at Hyerlaw in undefinable reprobation, and slowly filed out in strained shuffles. He slammed the door mere centimeters away from Friedman’s heel, then slumped down in an outdated wooden chair, looking at the old, peeling, callous and decaying floor.

His commuter mug came into his view from out of nowhere. Hyerlaw saw that it was connected to a hand, which itself was connected to an arm, that in turn was attached to a kid about twenty years of age.

Hyerlaw looked at the kid. “What is this?”

“Your coffee cup,” the kid said. “You threw it at me earlier. I don’t think you knew I was there.”

“Who are you?”

“Your intern.”

Hyerlaw was befuddled. “Intern? Have you been here all this time?”

“I have to be. You’re supposed to teach me about leadership. I’ve been here since June.”

Hyerlaw scratched his head. “Oh. Really. All right. What’s your name?”

“Bryan. Bryan Adams.”

Hyerlaw got up from his chair and shook the confusion from his eyes, and then shook Bryan’s hand. “Well, well, good Mr. Adams,” he said, as the pair headed out the door. “The first rule for any effective leader: Control your emotions, boy. Nobody likes a temper tantrum.”

They headed to the cafeteria. Hyerlaw bought Bryan a ham sandwich. Benevolence is not charity, Hyerlaw thought, but decided not to say aloud.

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