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December 03, 2004

The Vector

In August or September of 2002 I got fired for the second or third time in my life. I'm that kind of asshole, but I didn't realize how close I was back then.

If things go as I plan, I'm going to serve up a cold dish of revenge. I have a couple people in mind. I have to make sure they know what a drag they were on my life. You see, the lesson I learned in interdependency was that, anybody who doesn't mind to see you fail is, by definition, your enemy. I didn't understand that - I thought that people had to dislike you and consciously plot against you. But in fact, all people have to do is know you, and ignore or discount those who actually do plot against you. These are those who won't let you know that the truck is about to hit you. They want to see a crash, and it doesn't matter to them that it's you. It doesn't matter how many episodes of Seinfeld you have discussed over lunch at the food court, they are your enemy nonetheless. It's a scary prospect for a guy like me, with thousands of names in my Outlook, only a half dozen which know what the DC stands for in the middle of my name.

That's ok.

The difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives know the truck is always coming. They're looking for ways to escape - to get away clean. The liberals are trying to set up traffic lights and warning signs so that nobody gets hit. That's why liberals are so attracted to despair. They know the feeling, while trying to be nobody's enemy, of watching a fellow human splattered. Writings of despair could be shared by liberals and conservatives. Perhaps it is the proper nexus. It was despair that changed me.

I turned Republican when I realized that catastrophe is inevitable, and the only salvation is becoming larger than life, and pre-emptively thrashing your enemies. Capitalism is a great medium for this agenda. If you don't become larger than life, then you are stuck at the mezzanine of despair, of knowing that life is a giant highway and the trucks never stop running people down. The liberal never seeks to become the truck. Instead, they endlessly warn the weak and bury the dead. It's a state of mind I cannot abide. Despair cannot be my byline. I want to be sensitive, I cannot be jaded. Burying bodies, praying for the trucks to stop, coming up with new schemes and watching them all fail... I don't have the patience for that. That's a job for Monroe.

I didn't know back then how close I was to being the mower rather than the mowee. I didn't give myself enough credit. I didn't think that I could make the leap, instead I was prepared to climb the slope one step at a time, like everybody else - like the food court lunch crowd who watched me get fired. And I realized when it happened that there was nothing they could do about it. They weren't bosses, they were employees just like me. They were just like opinions and assholes. They were commodity people with brains for hire.

So when I read about what Stalin did, I knew that my turn was inevitable.

It's not difficult to be reconciled to death. All you have to do is wander enough weary streets, and you're sure to find some population of humanity who bear greater burdens than yourself. It's easy in Houston, or wherever you might be. There are always rats self-medicating in the maze, but the problem stays. I'm a human, you say to yourself. We're all going to die, you say to yourself. Sooner or later we're going to get hit by that truck, you say to yourself. I'll just try to watch my back, you say to yourself. And then you start envying your children's naivete instead of teaching them how to win. You start putting limits on your expectations and you bog yourself down into a waking oblivion. It's easy. Everybody does it. You're doing it right now.

I think there's a difference between humility and reconciliation to death. I'm not sure I can spell it out. I'll have to wait until I get to the other side of success - that success that has the feel of inevitability to me right now. When I see the six figures cash in the bank, I'll let you know. Because then I'll hope that I'm humble but not reconciled to death. I asked my partner, the man who told me that in 5 years we'll all have mansions in Hawaii what could go wrong with our plan. He said that we could get sick or die.

The vector of my life is changing. I'm now in Chapter Ten. I realized that all those trucks are going somewhere and that I was at cross purposes. Instead of being a sheep and hoping for a good shepherd to get me across the road safely, I should have been hiking back to the garage and finding out how to build my own truck. All those trucks are going somewhere, even if I go in the opposite direction, it's better to be a driver than a pedestrian. And all this time I was an asshole pedestrian describing the trucks to all the other pedestrians. I'm surprised nobody pushed me in front of one. Maybe they did, there are lots of free hands in the crosswalk.

Have you ever been in the crowd and somebody moos as a joke? That shit's not funny. Get out. That joker is your enemy.

And through circumstance, me looking in the right direction, me running at the right speed, I've been able to grab ahold of a passing streetcar. I went back to the garage and built my own truck, this business, this corporation, this creation designed to limit my liability, to allow me to cruise the highways of commerce and to use banks instead of letting banks use me. It's my new vehicle. Yeah, I was pushed. I was that kind of asshole. An arrogant sumbitch who acted like he really knew something.

I am meeting the kind of people who tell me they will never be employees again. They've been on the other side and their head has just gotten too big. They've come to know bosses and owners and realized they could do it too. I convinced myself a long time, but I half-stepped. I admit it. I also got blindsided by the Feds, well actually I saw that truck coming - I just thought it would wing me. I remember walking around downtown Atlanta in 1995 in a new sweater on a Thursday. I was a contractor, self-employed with a few thousand in the bank. And suddenly I realized I had all the time in the world to do anything I wanted. I could hang out in the library at the Atlanta University Center and pester the librarian about Malcolm X. I could hang out in the barbershop on Sweet Auburn. I could check out the bars on the Bankhead Highway. I was free.

But I didn't prepare myself for big problems. I was straddling the fence. I wasn't corporate and going after the money and big business. I was independent and living large. I was happy being affluent, I wasn't trying to be rich. All I had to do was take care of two or three customers and I was chillin' in six figure incomeland. A nice place to be for a man with two babies and a Nissan. So when the offer to be an employee raised its head, I figured that was cool, too. As long as I got bonuses and stock options and an expense account, it would be cool. You can't complain about that, not until 2001.

I hitched my wagon to Silicon Valley, but not quite high enough. I wanted to be a top dog professional in Silicon Valley, and that was good enough. I watched the venture capitalists and Stanford Mafia with disbelief. They can't really be so apathetic about the soul of the industry, so I thought. But they sold us all out. I got fired by an economy that failed to recognize the brilliance of us six-figure professionals. I was in a different class of sheep and got run over by a bigger truck, and I took it personally. Funny. Jimmy L offered me a gig with his company near the top, but I stuck to my specialty. I was going to transform the world with the technology I had mastered, but I didn't realize that 'the world' could decide not to listen when the markets soured. I had convinced myself that the world needed products, but the world just needed money, including the world which was my division in my company. The spigot shut and I was walking the streets.

The answer to the question is undeniably this: It is always better to be the king of a small hill, than a prince at a higher elevation. That's because there are always things that princes don't know, but kings must know it all. I could be wrong. But I'll keep my little corporate castle all the same.

Now I'm going international. I've got to keep my eye on more balls. I've got multiple governments, cultures, legal systems and currencies to watch. The fish are getting bigger, and there is a new class of dangers and opportunities. I'm going beyond America. I'm sure to learn new lessons, some the hard way. But this time I know what kind of asshole I am; boss / owner asshole. Asshole LLP. Stay tuned.

Posted by mbowen at December 3, 2004 12:32 PM

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In the Truck or Under It from American Digest
I confess I'm not quite sure what Cobb is driving or driving at in The Vector but I have to admit I like reading the whole thing. Excerpt:The difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives know the truck is always coming. They're l... [Read More]

Tracked on December 3, 2004 06:10 PM

Cobb is right... from ISOU
And it scares the shit out of me when I read something on Homies blog that makes me realize how much we have in common. The justification for conservative leanings is bullshit. As is the generalizations about liberalism... But the... [Read More]

Tracked on December 4, 2004 12:08 AM

Own your role from Mememomi
Cobb, deep in the fog of life has a moment of clarity. [Read More]

Tracked on December 4, 2004 07:33 PM

In the Truck or Under It from AMERICAN DIGEST
I confess I'm not quite sure what Cobb is driving or driving at in The Vector but I have to admit I like reading the whole thing. Excerpt:The difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives know the truck is always coming. They're l... [Read More]

Tracked on December 7, 2004 09:23 AM


Is it really about bein an asshole, Cobb? Don't forget about that EQ thing. And then there's that annoying and persistent Peter Principle to dodge.

There's a lot of nasty ground to cover, Bilbo Cobb, on your way to that distant mountaintop. May your scrotum swell to make beach balls jealous. All power to you. We're behind you all the way.

Posted by: memer at December 3, 2004 02:17 PM

Cobb, I feel so sorry for you. Your enemies hounding your poor existance, and no you aren't paranoid at all, are you?

I've never had the time to waste getting even; hitting the throttle and leaving them covered in dust is about the most damage I've ever done to my ex-colleagues.

Put some distance between you & your "enemies", Cobb, and fugiddaboutit. It's not worth the entropy.

Posted by: True_Liberal at December 3, 2004 06:44 PM

Well that's the tough question isn't it? Do you care enough about people to tell them when they are wrong or when they are right? Should you? Or do you just go on about your life and never bother with people who head in a different direction?

I have this thing about recovery - getting to know other songs by the bands whose songs I recall from the past; finding friends I haven't seen for 15 years. I've come to realize that there aren't any other people out there. What did Prince say? All the love there is is the love you make.

I spent a lot of time in my life looking for something I called 'The Noble Arena', where the manners your parents taught you really made a difference. I gave up looking for it, although I sometimes like to believe I am seeing it when I watch 'The West Wing' on television.

I'm not looking for real revenge, so much as I am finding usefulness in the warrior's ethos. 'Ghost Dog' comes to mind, being ready. 'Being an asshole' is not accepting the whole cynical world of Dilbert, but actually explaining the consequences of pointy haired boss behavior. It means you have to have no respect for people's sleepwalking. It means you are actually more responsible.

I'm saying a whole lot of things here, the emphasis gets skewed in the reading, I think.

Posted by: Cobb at December 3, 2004 08:01 PM

You know, I take you second paragraph as justification for my continued distrust of the Republican Party. But everything else in there I could have said. I had my ephiphany almost 10 years ago.

Posted by: P6 at December 4, 2004 11:27 AM

I don't know why, Cobb, but this post is inspiring. Time to get to work.

Posted by: brian at December 4, 2004 06:10 PM

Re: Revenge

There is an old Japanese saying that goes if you sit by the river long enough, you'll eventually see the bodies of your enemies floating by.

Folks who have done you some dirt are nine times out of ten also doing dirt to other people too. It eventually catches up with them sooner or later. A few months ago I had the pleasure of watching the body of a university president I once worked for float by me. He was not only publicly fired but members of the university's board of trustees allowed themselves to be quoted by name when they told the press that he was a liar and a cheat. He may get a similar position somewhere else in the country but I know him well enough to know that he feels humiliated. Eleven years ago he tried to engineer my dismissal through a completely bogus evaluation system but the school's own attorney told this guy that he couldn't defend the evaluation in court. I left the job months later at my own volition. He and his crowd weren't worth my time.

Keep this in mind too: No act of revenge that you initiate will ever quite compensate for or erase the pain of the initial act of spite directed at you. You will feel so much better when someone else plays the role of the avenging angel. Just maintain your position because the flood is going to come.

Posted by: ptcruiser100 at December 4, 2004 07:50 PM