Now that I've gotten a promotion, it's time for me to leave Potatoware. Spud may think that he's The Man, but he's never met Free Agent Man.
Here's what happened. I was already testing work-weary-positive. At the office, I was running an email deficit of about 150 messages. My voice-mail box was set on "chronically full." Spud was trying to motivate me by putting me on every dead-end project that he could dream up.When I ran out of business cards, he refused to let me reorder. Once he pretended to confuse me with the Xerox repairman. Another time, he did confuse me with the Xerox repairman. PotatoWare no longer had appeal; I was fried to a crisp. I knew that I had to move on. The question was, How?
I decided to try a liquid lunch at the Low Life Lounge. The TV over the bar is stuck on one of those dreadful audience-participation shows. This afternoon, there's a talking head on the tube — a big talking head. It's that guy with a head the size of a horse and teeth big enough to bite a dinosaur in half, and he's saying, "Make it your mantra: Jobs may come and jobs may go, but my career belongs to me!"
I'm standing at the bar, and I hear a voice say, "Yeah, buddy, it's just like freakin' hay fever. Ragweed may come and ragweed may go, but the watery eyes are all mine!" Then I realize that I've become the psycho at the bar who talks back to the TV!
At the other end of the bar is a guy with a $100 haircut, a 10-days-in-the-Caribbean suntan, and a cell-phone that rings with the sound of money. Everything about this dude says "success on my own terms."
"I like your manifesto," he says breezily.
"You like my manifesto?" I ask with a leer. "You can't handle my manifesto: Do nothing — the rest will follow! Make that 'the rest home will follow!' "
"Intriguing," he says. "I like the way you think."
"Oh no!" I splutter, wagging my finger in front of my face until I poke myself in the nose. "You're not going to offer me a job, are you?"
"No. But there are . . . opportunities."
"No opportunities. You're one of those free-agent dudes. You guys are all full of it. I'm not intriguing. I'm drunk. The next thing you're going to do is say something idiotic like 'Knowledge is intuition' or 'Realism is the new pessimism' or 'Resistance is futile.' "
"That's straight from 'Star Trek.' I'd never say that."
"Sorry I've been shouting," I say. "Totally uncalled for. Tell me, what is it that you do? For all I know, you have a real profession."
"I go where people need me."
"Only Batman and consultants talk like that! Next you'll tell me that what I want is a chance to develop myself more fully. That I should have no loyalty other than to my own priceless blend of experience, creativity, and chutzpah. That I am the future, and that a paycheck is beneath contempt — for I am destined for greatness."
A small crowd gathers around Free Agent Man and me. "This is insane," I say, fishing in my pocket for one of those please-mistake-me-for-real-currency $20 bills. I throw it on the table and beat cheeks outta there. Behind me, I hear someone say, "Insanity is the new sanity."
I know exactly what to do. In a heartbeat, I run up five flights of stairs to PotatoWare World Headquarters and push my way into Spud's office. "Spud, man," I say, "my paycheck is beneath contempt. I have no loyalty other than to Batman! The future is a priceless blend of chutzpah and Orange Pekoe tea. Resistance is futile!"
"So," says Spud, "I take it you're declaring yourself a free agent? Good. Don't let the door hit you on the ass, man." I've decided to call myself Unconditionally Released Man.
This is episode 13 in "Working Behind Enemy Lines," the Spy's continuing adventures in the new world of work.
A version of this article appeared in the April 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.