Thursday, June 11, 2009

War Stories

I’m getting more war stories from readers. Some are very businesslike, and I respond to those in a serious manner, but a few are humorous and I think you will enjoy reading one of these every now and then. Here’s something from Diane, who has a practice in New York (facts are slightly altered to protect the client’s identify).

“For several months I have been cultivating a gentleman who owns a large automotive body repair and painting shop and he recently invited me to meet him at his office and discuss the possibility of using my services.

It turned out to be a large facility, with at least twenty cars being worked on. His office is on the second floor and overlooks the shop below. His wife was also there. She majored in accounting and has been acting as his in-house bookkeeper and tax preparer since the business was started in the mid-‘70s. I was told she wanted to step down from that role and that’s why they wanted to talk with me.

Surprisingly, the office has birds. Lots of birds. Parrots, macaws and a host of others whose names I had never heard before. Big, small, blue, yellow, red and more. A few were in cages, others were on perches and some were free to roam about the room. They weren’t noisy, but it was disconcerting to have this sense out of the corner of my eye that there was constant movement all around us.

Things went well for awhile and then, without looking, I reached down into my briefcase I’d placed next to my chair. Instead of the folder I sought my hand wrapped around a warm, feathered and suddenly highly agitated trespasser. I screamed and the bird screeched. This set the rest of them off and for a few seconds every other bird in the office was squawking at the top of its lungs. Then, as though a secret command had been issued, all the birds went back to whatever it is they were doing as though nothing had happened.

Whatever sense of professional competence I’d been projecting had evaporated. My heart was jumping out of my chest and for a moment I thought I was hyperventilating. The owners apologized for the ruckus, but didn’t seem all that surprised. I got the impression that this wasn’t a particularly unusual occurrence.

We got back to business and things seemed almost normal. Except, of course, for the 20 or more sets of beady eyes I now imagined were watching my every movement. Was this going to evolve into something out of Hitchcock’s “The Birds?” What would my family think? “Accountant pecked to death!” Film at 11.

I heard movement behind me and correctly surmised a bird had landed on the top of the back of my chair. I was determined not to lose my composure and pressed on. The owner and his wife glanced at each other and I could tell she was suppressing a smile. The reason became clear a moment later when the bird latched on to my left earring. Struggling mightily to not completely lose it, I slowly reached up with the intent to gently push the bird away. It repaid my concern for its welfare by drawing blood on my index finger. Now angry, I snapped my head around to face my tormentor, who quickly flew away before I could punch its little lights out.

The owner and his wife were laughing hysterically. After we all recovered our composure and I had stopped the bleeding with a Kleenex, he apologized and inquired if this meant I wasn’t interested in becoming their accountant. I hesitated because I really was thinking about whether or not I wanted to. The wife, who was still chuckling, broke the silence by wondering if it might help if we scheduled any future meetings at my office.

That worked for me.

My feedback is that the business development method works well. I don’t suppose you could provide an update explaining how to avoid situations like this in the future? No, I didn’t think so.”

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