Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘Holland

puppet1For nearly all of my working life, I was seriously at the mercy of other people. And what wasn’t at the mercy of other people was, to an absurd degree, subject to luck (fate?).

Yes, I taught English as a Foreign Language for a couple of years, and in the classroom I had at least some control over the students. Not much, but some. But then I went into the business world, where any shred of control evaporated faster than the net worth of my retirement fund over the past six months.

Most of my career was spent in sales and sales support for large, multi-national computer services deals. We’re talking about contracts worth $100 million and up. The largest topped out in the billions. These types of deals often take two or more years to develop, and if it looks as though there is a chance that a deal will close, the lead members of the sales team will be dedicated full time.

But deals like this have an extremely low win rate. There are an infinite number of things that must all go right, and if any one of them goes wrong, two years of work go down the drain.

The Dutch shipping executive whom you’ve spent two years selling your deal to can’t convince his bosses? Pack your bags and fly to Zurich. Your client champion at the Swiss chocolate manufacturer just got fired? Lose a turn and move to Helsinki. The exchange rate of the Hungarian forint goes up against the Finnmark, and you’re bidding your Budapest solution center? Kiss your deal with the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer goodbye and fly to Turin. You were stupid enough to waste your time trying to sell to the Italian automobile manufacturer and you aren’t selling for IBM? Shame on you for being such a doofus. But there’s a deal in Germany that’s hot. You forgot to sell the deal to the janitor in the factory in Cologne? You’re not very good at this, are you? Maybe you should try opening up a Haagen Dasz franchise.

Every one of those things, and dozens of others like them, actually happened to me. OK, the one about the janitor I made up, but the principle is valid. There was always somebody or something that could kill my deal unexpectedly. Over 30 years, I figure that I closed about 10% of the deals I started. Of course, I didn’t spend two years on every deal. Lots of them went away much quicker. But even if the average was, say, a year, the math is still pretty discouraging. 30 year career, 10% hit rate, 1 year per – that’s 30 deals worked on, of which 27 disappeared into the ether. And that’s thousands of pages of great work done late at night that had to be fed into the shredder before I moved to the next opportunity. Discouraging? Hell, yes!

Why would companies employ me for 30 years with a win-rate like that? Because the profit on one successful billion dollar contract is enough to cover all the expenses for the lost deals and still pay for the corporate big shots’ fleet of private jets. That’s why.

The team working on the larger deals would be 200 people or more. I was reasonably high in the hierarchy, but there were still always lots of people above me. You know that expression about s*%$ rolling downhill? Just call me Mr. Brownface.

On one huge contract, I was responsible for writing the executive summary for the proposal. By the time that document was submitted, we were on Version 236d! The final days of writing that proposal were like the car-washing scene from “Cool Hand Luke.”

Boss 1: “Put a comma in here.”

Me: “Puttin’ it in here, Boss.”

Boss 2: “We don’t need this comma.”

Me: “Takin’ it out here, Boss.”

Boss 1: “I thought I told you to put a comma here.”

Me: “Puttin’ it back in, Boss.”

Boss 2: “What’s that comma doing in the Warden’s document?”

Me: “Takin’ it out here, Boss.”

Are you getting the point? I was definitely NOT IN CHARGE.

Finally, I decided to quit it all and start doing something where I am in

Deus Ex Machina

Don as a deity, controlling the scene

complete control. As a playwright, I’m like the deity who’s suspended from the contraption in the corner of the stage in a Greek play. I’ve got a character who’s a 90 years old man and he’s decided he’s going to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world? But that doesn’t work for the play? Poof! He’s a 17 year old girl, and he (she) is pregnant. What a feeling of POWER!

So after all those years of being a flea on the great stallion of life, I am finally

Large And In Charge

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to go mail off copies of my new book, Ups & Downs to a hundred reviewers. Maybe one of them will actually read it. Then, I’m going to send copies of my latest play, “Shakespeare Incorporated” to 75 theaters. My hit rate on those is about 1%.

Some people are born to curmudgeonhood (curmudgeonness? curmudgeonity?), some people achieve curmudgeonhood, and some have curmudgeonhood thrust upon them.  While it now all seems to have come so easily, I suppose I’ve worked hard to achieve my current position atop the Curmudgeon Pantheon.

When I was a kid, way back in the middle of the last century, I guess I kind of enjoyed the “Holiday Season.”   I remember first being profoundly annoyed at all things Christmas in my second year at Haverford College.  I lived in a suite with 3 other guys, and one of them, Ned, took out a tape of Christmas carols and started playing it a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.

What’s so bad about that, I can hear you asking.  Everybody starts playing  Christmas carols (and putting up Christmas lights, and ringing bells at you outside of stores,  and sending you letters asking for money, . . .) around Thanksgiving.  But Ned had a single, 60 minute tape of Christmas carols, and he played it continuously, over and over again, more or less around the clock.

How many times can you be expected to listen to Gene Autrey singing “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer” before you start to lose it?  So after the first few days, I very politely suggested to Ned that he take his f*^%ing tape and shove it up his f*^%ing a^%#.   (As you can see, I’ve always been a patient person, sensitive to the feelings of others.)

Ned was, and I’m sure still is, one of the world’s professional sweet guys, and patiently explained to me that Christmas carols are something deep and meaningful that he grew up with, and not being a Christian, I just couldn’t understand.  I got no support from my other two roommates, one of whom had disappeared into the library in early September and didn’t emerge until graduation 3 years later, and the other of whom was another professional sweet guy who had grown up with Christmas carols, and why couldn’t I understand just how important it was for both of them, anyway?

The tape continued to play 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, and by the time school closed for the holidays, I’m not sure whether I was closer to suicide or homicide.  But I was certainly relieved that my ordeal was over.  Right!  On our return to school in January, out came the tape again, and Ned played every waking hour for another two weeks.  He was just so sorry to see the Christmas season end, he  had to listen to those wonderful, nostalgic songs another 3,000 times!  Even then, he couldn’t bear to stop cold-turkey, but tailed off gradually, playing the damn thing off and on until Easter.

Is it any wonder I’ve never been the same since?  Believe me, the steps were deceptively small and easy to take from carol-terror to decoration-angst to “You know what you can do with your ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ you red-suited weirdo!”

Sinterklaas.  Looks different from the other red-suited dude, doesnt he?

Sinterklaas. Looks different from the other red-suited dude, doesn't he?

As you may know by now, I left the U.S. in 1974 and didn’t return for good until 2004.  During those 30 years, my mania was mostly dormant.  Christmas celebrations just weren’t all that big in Iran or Israel.   And Western Europeans take a much less overt, less time-consuming  approach to the holidays.   In Holland,  preparations start about December 4th, and the whole thing is over on the 6th, the day after Sinterklaas comes riding through from Spain on his white horse.  That’s right, there’s nothing universal about celebrating the 25th.  In the U.K., nearly nobody puts up Christmas lights.  You see a few decorations in the stores for about a week, and on Boxing Day, the 26th, everything mercifully disappears.

But after I moved to Colorado in 2004, all that anxiety came rushing back.  Two weeks before Thanksgiving that first year, my new favorite radio station — a country music station, for crying out loud — started playing Christmas carols 24/7.   A week later, 11 of the 13 houses in my cul-de-sac put up Christmas lights, and didn’t take them down until mid January.

Fortunately, I seem to be getting over my little problem.  Last January, I even volunteered to help my next door neighbor take her lights down.

“Here, you shouldn’t be doing that alone.  Let me get it for you.  Oh, that’s too bad, I seem to have broken that string.  And there, I’ve broken another.  I’m so sorry.  How clumsy of me to step on those bulbs like that.  I’ll just get those strands now.  Oops!”

Heh, heh.  Sometimes, it’s all worth it.