Circa 1990 – There are a few moments in our lives when we reflect with regret while wondering what life would be like if we had a do-over. The Peabody Hotel, in Memphis, TN, is one of those places where a mulligan would have been nice. Sigh!
The Peabody is a historic hotel, always in the top ten of someone’s best hotels to stay. In 2015, I took the family there because it’s cool. And, of course, I wanted to get a few ribs from Central BBQ. The customers snaked their way out the door and into the parking lot. I’m talking about Central BBQ, not the Peabody. So good. I can still smell them ribs.
Back to the Peabody
I was there for a manager’s meeting with Alcoa. Shortly after them buying out our little plant, they promoted me. I know you’re impressed, but I was the only employee; what could they do?
Hollywood was also there, filming The Firm, with Tom Cruise. I did not see him or the other stars. Of course, I was only “secretly” looking for them since I was a fundamentalist. We disdain movies. Ironically, we were in New Orleans this summer, and they were filming the third edition of Bill and Ted. I have not seen that series, but we did stand in the street for several hours, watching them shoot while trying to catch a glimpse of Keanu Reeves.
The niche of the Peabody is the duck walk that they have twice a day. The ducks stay in the “Penthouse,” which are cages on the roof. Every morning a guy in a tux comes down the elevator with the ducks, and they walk the red carpet to the pool in the middle of the hotel lobby. Onlookers gather on both sides of the carpet with cameras ready. In the afternoon, they do it all over again, as the ducks go back to their penthouse.
All the managers came for a national meeting, perhaps a couple hundred men and women. We toured the Memphis recycling facility and a processing plant. Those events were the okay parts of this three-day meeting. The rest of it, I would love to forget, but it’s etched, as they say.
In This Corner, the Self-Righteous
My agony had little to do with the trip, the people, or the work. It was all about me; it was my fault. As a fundamentalist with a pinch of self-righteousness, mixed with a splash of anger, let’s just say it was a recipe for disaster.
To put it plainly, I refused to fit in. I could not have been more self-righteous, arrogant, stubborn, or angry. I had standards that nobody in my company believed or practiced. My peers were living an expected debauchery.
Wives were flirting with men and husbands doing the same. The alcohol was flowing, and the jokes were perverse. In one of the plenary meetings, they showed an org chart that had “God” under the title, CEO. It was supposed to be a joke, as the room was bursting with laughter. I was burning inside and was at my self-righteous limit.
At one point, I went to my room after dinner, took out my giant-sized KJV Bible, Authorized Version, laid it on the floor, and started praying. I was begging the Lord to convert my pagan friends and give me the grace to play nice. He did neither. Perhaps it was because God did not come for the righteous, but sinners. My self-righteousness was red-lining that week.
It’s Feedback Time
As I was waiting in the lobby for the ride to the airport, I listened to the player piano. I also started a “Luther-Esque” styled diatribe to zip off to headquarters upon arriving back in Greenville. Rather than mixing it up with the lower echelon, I sent this letter to the President of Alcoa in Pittsburg. This President later had a cabinet position with one of our US Presidents. Boom!
It was a mean-spirited, scathing, angry, self-righteous indictment of the company, the people in the company, and my utter disgust with their attitudes and behavior. I said something about lewd women and shameless men. It was the low-point of my career.
This “low point” was not because of their sin but because of mine. I was totally out of step with reality, my culture, expectations of pagans, and a sound methodology on reaching my culture. I couldn’t have been more arrogant. (Okay, maybe I could be more arrogant, but my soul can’t bear to think about it.) But they were wrong, and I was right; it was so clear to me.
Of course, they were behaving according to their worldview. My mistake was expecting my colleagues to be as “holy” as I was, which is quite the feat without regeneration. Yep, I was winning friends and influencing people.
The President called my boss, a super-nice guy. He was a black fellow, and though he was perplexed, he did say I had a rhythmic, colorful, and compelling writing style. It reminded him of Jesse Jackson, and I kid you not. He was prophetic. Who knew that I would make a living as a writer. It just would not be with Alcoa Corporation.
The upper-brass began to strategize how to fire me. In January 1993, they shut down the plant. I was a stellar employee, with the second-highest-ranking plant in the system. After the Peabody debacle, the black marks started piling up on my record.
When the ignorant pokes the bear, there’s nothing left to do but ask how the bear wants his meal.