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15 Apr 98

The End of My Speechwriting Career

The End of My Speechwriting Career

The elevator opened to a squat pot six feet around, filled with sunflowers and orchids. Scattered through the white office, hydrangeas and roses stood vigil in ceramic pots, pimples against the bare walls.

Normally, I'd rationalize. I'd say, "well, business is business. The board of directors will meet here this week. There's a big pitch coming. Maybe you need flowers to make real profits." But screw the excuses. We don't need a gratuitous garden. We need patch cords for the computers, and a VCR and TV to watch corporate videos for our clients. We need more employees. We need strategy and sense of connection to the company.

One of the people involved for the floral debacle explained, "This is New York. You need to impress clients. They look for plants and art." I actually like the art. Big abstract canvases. But I would rather provide the clients with a product, with service, and with our time and consideration, before I provide them with hydrangeas.

As I sat and frothed, the phone rang. "Hey, Paul. Banker 2 here."

"Oh, hi, Banker 2." I knew what was coming.

"Look, Paul, it's not that it's bad writing. But listen, you've written sexy ad copy, not a speech. You've put all this story in here, where I need numbers. I can't give this speech. It's not going to work."

I wanted to say, "I know this, I knew this when you cornered me in that room and howled on about 'building financial community.' I can't crack 30 years of banking jargon in twenty minutes."

I wanted to say, "Please, just let it end, here. Don't keep me on the phone for a half hour dissecting what I did wrong. You asked for a miracle and I didn't deliver. I'm not going to beg for a second chance at the impossible."

I wanted to say, "If you ask for my notes, I'm going to fax you all sixty pages of them, so you can try to figure out what you were saying. Because, in regards to what you said during those five hours, I'm as out of it as a Klansmen in Crown Heights."

But instead, I said, "I'm sorry to hear that. Is there anyway I can make it better?" And a half hour later, we'd reached the conclusion that, sure, I was a talented young fellow, but no natural to the world of finance, and he'd better just write it all himself. And yes, I told him, I'd be happy to type up some notes and send them over.

The day took on a pall of failure. I moped, working at other tasks until eight. And then I the hell out of this day's entry.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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