The Leans


Have you ever tried to get passed someone in tight quarters, and that person leaned left when you leaned right, and then they leaned right when you leaned right? Those who have know all about The Leans.  

This story isn’t about The Leans so much as it grand exits, or grand moments in life. We all want to have moments in life. We love remembering, and we want to be remembered. Some of the times, we dress our moments up to try to make them more memorable. When my work associate announced to me that he was leaving the company, it was obvious he wanted to be memorable. He tried to accomplish that with a grand exit, and he might have accomplished it if it weren’t for a mean case of the leans.

“This is it,” Andrew Parizek said crouching down beside my desk. I was listening to music in my earbuds, so I didn’t see, hear, or sense his approach. By the time he said that, Andrew was so close he startled me. He was a close talker, but he narrowed his normally uncomfortable distance until I could smell the cool ranch Doritos he had for lunch. “My final farewell to you, my friend,” he added. “I’m leaving the company. I’m on my way out the door.”

“Oh shoot,” I said to a co-worker whom I considered a close associate. I don’t know how he would characterize our years-long association, but when we had a go-between, we spoke every day. When that third party changed jobs, I thought the my relationship with Andrew was over. Yet, Andrew kept coming over to my desk to talk about the stupid stuff people talk about. “It was great working with you buddy,” I told him.

This “Final Farewell” had been in various stages for about two weeks. Two weeks prior, we discussed his departure at his going away party. One week later, he and I discussed his imminent departure in greater detail, and we also discussed his future at length. We shared brief discussions about the people we knew and the good times we shared. We also talked about how we would miss the little things we both did to brighten the other’s otherwise boring days. We didn’t hug at the end of those discussions, but we engaged in heartfelt, hearty handshakes that expressed how we felt about one another.

I thought that those final farewells were the final farewells, but his presence at my desk informed me that those notions were premature. “It won’t be the same around here without you,” I said, as I had in the other farewells, but I felt compelled to add original material to this one. I don’t remember what I added, but it involved some sentimental junk that I didn’t mean. I was being nice, and I was trying to make Andrew feel important in my life. I liked the guy, but we weren’t what anyone would call close.

“Are you excited about this move?” I asked him, and when he told me why he was excited, and how excited he was, I said, “I’m jealous.” I wasn’t jealous, as Andrew was moving onto a career that I didn’t want to do, but it seemed like a fitting sentiment to add to this final version of our final farewell. “You’ll succeed,” I said, “because you’re a nice guy and a hard worker.” I meant that. “Are you a little scared about the prospect of leaving the comfy confines our company? I know it’s what you want to do, and all that, but you’re venturing out into an unknown world where the prospect of failure is greater.” He said yes to all of the above. Then he launched.

He spelled out for me, in explicit detail, this new venture of his life. He did so with magnificence and aplomb. He was also magnanimous. He spoke about how he thought that I was delightful, and the type who would succeed, and that if I stuck to it, all my dreams would come true. It was as sappy and weird as you imagine. I hid my revulsion for his word choices. He tried to be multisyllabic, and he used as many –ly words as he had in his vocabulary to instill a sense of timeless profundity to this final version of his “Final Farewell”. If it were a speech, it might have caused some emotional reactions. The audience might have been applauding at the end, some may have cried, and others may have even stood to applaud. The over the top farewell was one that often elicits such near-compulsory emotion. Andrew lit up in moments where ‘dreams can come true’ lines poured out of him. When the line “If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone” brought him to crescendo, I might have reached for a handkerchief if I had what they call emotions.

It was so over-the-top brilliant, coupled with subtle attempts at self-deprecating humor, that I wondered if Andrew plagiarized the material he prepared for this from one of the soldiers’ “going to war” letters that Ken Burns compiled for his The Civil War documentary. If it wasn’t, I felt safe in my assumption that Andrew practiced and rehearsed this speech that day, before a mirror. Whatever the case was, I felt compelled to inform him that I thought this version of the final farewell was an “Experience for anyone lucky enough to hear it,” “Your best, final farewell since final farewell number two,” and a “Tour de Force!” I didn’t say any of this, but I felt Andrew Parizek choreographed his speech in a manner that warranted such superlatives.

We were fellow office workers who chatted almost every day for years. We got along on those levels, so receiving an invitation to his going away party wasn’t a big surprise. When I arrived and Andrew offered me relatively little attention compared to his closer friends, it didn’t wound me. I thought he offered me as much attention as our association warranted.

This Casablanca-style parting was just way beyond protocol as far as I was concerned though. Once I got past the idea that it didn’t matter that Andrew already said goodbye to me a couple times, I politely listened to his spiel as if for the first time. We exchanged email addresses so we could keep updated on each other’s lives. I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I thought it was a nice sentiment. He then concluded with another note about how he was nervous about his future, but he was just as excited by it.

By the time he began to step away, he was all but yelling good wishes to me. 

My mouth wasn’t open, but the display did set me back a pace. Then it happened …

Andrew Parizek entered into a wicked case of the leans with my desk neighbor, as she entered into the aisle he was exiting. He leaned left to get past her, she leaned left, and when he leaned to the right, she leaned right. Before they finally made it past one another, they performed four separate and distinct leans.

If Andrew was extracting himself from a casual conversation, and exiting the aisle in a routine manner, he might have been able to avoid the spectacle that ended up occurring between these two. If he felt no need to execute a departure to be earmarked in the annals of time for those “who were there” to witness his ride into the sunset, I suspect he would’ve been the gentleman he always was and stepped aside to allow my female desk neighbor to pass. At worst, the two of them may have engaged in two leans, if it wasn’t Andrew’s hope that this “The Final Farewell” include women waving handkerchiefs and someone, somewhere saying, “You know what, there goes one hell of a good feller.” I assume that Andrew pictured the rest of us as side characters in his exit, left behind to chronicle the attributes of the main character of this “The Final Farewell” scene.

I don’t keep a ledger on such things, but I do believe that the Andrew Parizek v. desk neighbor case of the leans was the most intense I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve seen a number of severe cases in my day, and I’ve ever been a party to a few, but I don’t think I witnessed four separate and distinct leans prior to that day.

The one thing we know about the public humiliation that results from a case of leans is that no one gets out alive. Most people try to find some way to quell the embarrassment, but I’ve witnessed some get angry. “Get out of my way!” they shout, in an unsuccessful attempt to direct the humiliation sure to follow to the other party. I saw one person grab the other person by the shoulders and gently usher them right, so they could pass left. I’ve seen some giggle at their own foolishness, and I’ve seen some try to change the subject as quick as they can. None of it works. No one gets out alive.

The one exception to the rule I heard about involved a nondescript, middle-aged, restaurant hostess named Susan. She fell prey to three separate and distinct leans with another co-worker. She was able maintain a modicum of dignity following the episode, and she did it with three simple words: “Shall we dance?”

The witnesses to this event said she said it in the second of what would be a reported, and corroborated, three leans. Susan said it in the midst of what should have been her humiliation. The witnesses of this episode would later swear that she said those three words with a glint in her eye. The glint was faint, they would report, and it was a little insecure, but the observers suggested that they thought Susan knew exactly what she was doing.

What she was doing is subject to interpretation, of course, as this woman named Susan maintained a degree of humility that prevented her from addressing the full import of her purported casual salvo against future ridicule. Those who witnessed Susan issue this phrase swore that Susan knew that by saying this she would be setting the rest of us free from the ridicule that follows such an episode.

We can only assume that Susan suffered similar ridicule for much of her life, and that it bothered her so much that she sought to put an end to it. If that wasn’t the case, it might have had something to do with Susan’s hope that the line “Shall we dance” might provide a remedy to future sufferers. Her hope, we can only guess, was that the witnesses of this episode would spread the word to put an end to this scale of human suffering. Whatever the case was, this unassuming restaurant hostess provided those who were lucky enough to be there that day, and those who later heard about it, a shield against public scorn that we would use the rest of our lives. We might not have carried it off with the grace Susan did that day, but we would always think of her, and silently thank her, for freeing us from this ever-present spectacle in our lives.

Had Andrew Parizek learned of this antidote prior to his case of the leans, it might have spared him the humiliation. I doubted it at the time, and I still do, for I considered Susan’s humorous quip an antidote to two, and in her case three, separate and distinct leans, but I wasn’t sure that even her ingenious response could shield someone from the public fallout of four.

Four separate and distinct leans were so unprecedented, to my mind, that I doubt there is a sufficient antidote. Couple that with the fact with the Gone with the Wind-style, dramatic exit that Andrew hoped to execute preceding it, and I doubt that any clever quip would’ve permitted him to save face. His only recourse was to walk away and just hope that witnesses would forget it soon after it happened.

Andrew Parizek was an “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” fella. Everyone I knew liked him. He was a likable guy, but no one I knew liked him so much that they would hang out with him, or consider him a best friend. He was one of those guys who was always there but never the focus of the room. Andrew Parizek wasn’t the type of guy we will remember, and perhaps that’s all he wanted when he delivered so many final farewells to so many people that he accidentally said goodbye to the same people more than twice. I don’t know how much preparation he put into his final farewells, but I’m sure he did it so that he could let each of us know how important we were to him to have the sentiment returned. This is not to suggest that Andrew’s actions were intended to be self-serving, but everyone wants those around them to remember that we were here. It is possible that had Andrew escaped unencumbered by my desk neighbor, his final farewell might have had the lasting effect on me he hoped for, but the lasting memory I now have of him consists of him shucking and jiving with my desk neighbor, trying to get past her for a dramatic ride off into the sunset.

Money: A Love Story


“I spent most of my life making money for someone else,” Eduard Pennington said. “It wasn’t just one day, one week, or even one year, but at some point I realized I wasn’t just wasting my talent, I was wasting time. I enjoyed my time at the corporation, and they treated me better than they should have, but I wasn’t getting younger. I just got tired of doing it for someone else, and through a series of painfully slow, very boring investment platforms, I eventually had the money to do it for myself.”

Some people feel the passion when they hear tales of romance. I get the same charge hearing someone passionately talk about making money. I might be lonely in this corner of the world, but when I hear anyone talk about how they made theirs, I’m not the least bit envious. I’m inspired.  

Eduard Pennington is, was, and always will be a regular schmo. There was probably nothing fancy about his clothes or his car when he was a middle class employee, and nothing changed after he became the multi-millionaire next door. When we speak to him, we notice the confidence of a life well-lived, but we don’t hear the smug arrogance those of us who grew up on cartoons might suspect from such a character. Eduard Pennington is, as depicted in the 2010 book, The Millionaire Next Door.  

“When we look back on our lives, we remember the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Eduard said. “The years I spent working for myself were the highlights. It was so stressful, in the beginning, that it affected my health, and the idea that I made such an idiotic mistake leaving the comfy confines of the corporate world to do this kept me up many a night. I also worked so many hours, getting my business off the ground, that it took a toll on my relationships with my wife and my kids. I still regret missing out on some vital parts of their youth, but other than that, those were the best years of my life.”

Money is not the root of all evil. It is neither good or evil. It is contained wholly within the specimen on which it acts. We define it, and it defines us. If we are bad guys, the pursuit of money can make us worse. If we are good guys, the pursuit can make us better. In its finest form, money is a byproduct of human ingenuity, hard work, and entrepreneurial risk-taking.

“You can get rich working for money, my dad once told me,“ Ed said, “but you can get stinking I-hate-you wealthy when your money starts working for you. Money is power,” Ed added to his dad’s saying, “and power buys you freedom, and that freedom permits you to do what you want to do.”

In the middle of the decade Ed spent working for himself, his company eventually turned a profit. He began delegating most of the authority, and some of the work, to his employees as the profits increased. He trusted them to run the company the way he saw fit, but the resultant free time did not suit Eduard Pennington. He grew anxious and itchy, and in the the process of trying to find something more productive to do he “almost accidentally” developed a device (pre cell phone era) to help make the work of his employees easier. He did it for the money. He did it for the profit, and he did it so well that his company’s profit margin began to dwarf that of his nearest competitors’. After years of pounding them, the competition came-a-knocking. Eduard quickly patented the device, and he shared everything about it with them. He then permitted them to pour through his accounting books to determine the ins and outs of how he was beating them. They waked away believing the difference was this device, and they bought it. Then, their competitors bought it, and so on and so forth, until the device took off. It wasn’t long after the competition incorporated the device into their business that they couldn’t imagine how they got along without it.  

“Word got around, and they came-a-knocking,” Eduard said of a number of entrepreneurs who walked into with bountiful checks in hand. “They knocked loud and hard. I couldn’t believe the numbers they were writing down. I should’ve seen the bidding war that ensued, everyone said I should’ve seen it, but I didn’t. I was wholly unprepared. The problem for me was, they didn’t just want the device. They wanted my whole company. My company, my little baby, and the thing I built from a little granular idea was now a number. It was a gigantic number, for me, back then, but it was still just a number.

“I hated them for putting me through this, and I loved them at the same time,” Eduard continued. “Ten years into this company, and I never wanted to do anything else. My plan had been to see this company to its bitter end, my end, my retirement, or whatever came first. If I told you the number they wrote down, you might consider it an easy decision, but this was my whole life, my routine, and my identity that they wanted to buy. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I just couldn’t imagine, in my wildest dreams, ever turning down the kind of money they were offering.

“I took a month of long-sweaty nights mulling over the plusses and minuses of selling my company. They thought I was playing a card. They thought I was being strategically patient. I wasn’t. I was making sure giving up what I spent ten years building, was the right decision. I hired corporate analysts to project the growth of the company ten years, twenty years out, and I paid advisors, lawyers. I even contacted other owners in my industry to see what they thought.

“Even with all that, I still regretted selling it,” Ed continued. “I regretted it before I signed the documents, I regretted it after, and I regret it to this day. I don’t think I would’ve done with it what they did. Maybe I would’ve, I don’t know, but they took it to another level. God love them, they knew what they had, much more than I did, and I knew a lot, but they took it to the stratosphere. They gave me a lot for it, but if they ever decide to sell, they’ll probably get fifty times what they gave me, based on what they did.”

Eduard Pennington lived the last thirty years of his life The Millionaire Next Door. He took two extravagant vacations to celebrate the prize of his ingenuity, and he bought a verified and minted Babe Ruth-signed baseball to give his reward a tangible quality. Eduard then took care of every one of his immediate family members, in ways big and small, and he made sure they never had to struggle in life the way he did. Then, he did something revolutionary with the rest. He invested it.

“I went boring,” he said. “Boring, old blue-chip stocks with high dividends, bonds, and real estate. I have no creative investments, other than maybe the Babe Ruth baseball, and no sexy, innovative stocks are in my portfolio. My plan was to live on dividends, interest, and appreciation. My financial plan was to go so boring that you might fall asleep before I’m done telling you what I invested in, but that was my plan.”

There are a number of reasons I find Eduard Pennington’s story so beautiful, but one of them is purity. He pursued the American dream from his nook of the world, and he found it. His journey did not involve backstabbing, fraud, or deception. It involved some appreciation of his business, but that was thanks mostly to his hard work and ingenuity.

Eduard Pennington was a good man who worked his fingers to the bone, and he learned so much about his industry that he developed a revolutionary product that eventually went international. He surrounded himself with good and honest men and women based on merit, and they proved their value to his company for a decade and beyond. If you’re reading this with the notion that somewhere around right here in this article, the other shoe will drop to expose some of Eduard Pennington’s character defects, this isn’t that story.

The streamers and Hollywood would never pay one dime for Eduard’s tale, because he loved his wife and children, he didn’t cheat anyone, and he never hurt anyone. He wasn’t a bad guy, and they want bad guys, because we want bad guys. Bad guys are the angle, the promise they make in their summaries, and the selling point to get us to click on their movies. We want tears and pain from the side characters, and a ruthless bloodlust from our main character. No one wants to read a story about a man who loved his wife almost as much as he loved his mother. No one wants to read a story about a nice man who never faltered in his dream to make the most honest money he could, that’s just boring.

***

“Money is not the root of all evil,” someone far smarter than us once said. “Money provides definition. When a bad guy pursues money, it can make them worse. A good guy pursuing his dreams can become a better man in the pursuit.” The idea of money is intangible quality with no definitions of its own. We define money and money defines us.  

Once he took the money and ran, some might suspect that Ed did it all for the money. That seems so obvious to us now that it’s not even worth discussing for many of us. Yet, Eduard loved what he did, and he regretted getting out. “My friends and family said things like, you’re still a young man, and with that money you can do whatever you want,” Eduard said. “I thought that was right and logical and all that, but the truth was I didn’t want to do anything else. I still don’t, but I couldn’t turn the money down, because I didn’t want to be known as the person who turned that money down. I didn’t want people to there goes Eduard Pennington, the guy who turned down big money, and right after he did it, his business fell apart. Every industry, hell every business, goes through cycles, and it was possible that the value of my company could’ve gone down. It didn’t, but it was possible.”

Eduard Pennington did it all for the money. He worked for someone else, because they paid him. He opened his own business for the expressed purpose of making more money, and like all upstart businesses he skimped and saved during the early, desperate years. He even dipped into his nest egg to see to it that his employees were paid on time. He didn’t do this because he was a good man. He did it, “Because it was good business,” he said. “I interviewed and hired every single one of these talented men and women, and I paid them top dollar for their skills, because I knew they could make me more money. I don’t care how loyal your employees are, if they find someone who is going to pay them so much more than you, that will test their loyalties. It’s just good business to find the market for their talent and pay them more than that.

“Why else do you do anything in business?” Eduard asked when asked if he has any concerns that we might view him as a greedy capitalist. “I spent most of my life making money for others. When I went into business for myself, my goal was to make as much money as I could.

“Let me amend that slightly,” Ed said. “If you do it solely for the money, you’ll end up miserable. If you love what you do, and you’re good at it, money is more than a byproduct of all of your efforts, it’s the reward. If you’re not getting paid what’s the point?”