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Friday, December 16, 2005

Bar

I worked for a different company, four years ago. I was a Regional Manager in Development, meaning that I was responsible for four to nine stores at any given time, as well as my own. We had a meeting in Vegas in February for all store managers and up. I traveled with Carl, my supervisor, and eight store managers. I had hired and trained most of these managers, and they knew me fairly well. They knew that I was a "work hard, play hard" kind of guy. They just didn't know to what extreme. They had never really seen me in action. It's not that I played some role just for them, but I was guarded and careful of what impressions they were getting of me. They were my employees. I needed them to respect me. That was going well until our second night in Vegas.

The setting: New York, New York. A Dueling Piano bar. 12:30AM.

I'm there with Carl and the eight managers. Everyone's having a great time. We're singing along to every song, dancing with random strangers, but keeping the group close together. One woman with whom I'm dancing lifts my shirt up a bit and rubs her belly against mine. Nothing serious, just dancing. Carl witnesses the event and comments on my abs. (I should mention that I'm not exactly "ripped", but am in good shape.) His thought process somehow leads him to wonder who would make a better stripper, him or me. Now, I'm by no means modest. In fact, I'm a bit of an exhibitionist. Not to the point that I walk around flashing people, but close. Carl wants to have a stripping contest right there in New York, New York. Knowing that he's shit-faced and would regret the decision, I politely demur. I, too, would regret it if we had a stripping contest in front of eight people who thought of me as a strict professional. Carl calls me a chicken-shit. I bring the request to the attention of a bartender. The bartender apparently hasn't had a lot of requests like this one, so he hands it off to his manager. The manager tells me to bring my request to the musicians, as one would a song, and they'll get to it. He wants the bar to clear out a bit more before they allow anything that risque.

I return to where Carl was being held up by the bar table and explain to him that it'll be a while. He buys me a beer. All of the managers, intrigued by what is about to go down, buy me beer. Somewhere after 1:30AM and eight or nine beers later, one of the piano players beckons for Carl and I to come up to the pianos. We go. The female pianist tells the crowd what is about to go on. The music starts.

Unsure of how much I should be removing, I watch Carl and follow his lead. I am acutely aware that the eight managers are dumbfounded as we start dancing. Having a bit of experience at stripping (nothing professional, I assure you), I'm comfortable doing my thing. I am getting a couple of women in the crowd involved, and have removed my shirt as I look over my shoulder to see that Carl is up on a table unzipping his pants. I'm way behind, at least as far as clothing removal goes. I can't have that. In a flash, the pants come off. Two ladies who have been following me around putting dollar bills in my pants collect the money that has fallen out, mostly donated by them, and stuff it back into my underwear. They then encourage me to remove the silk boxer-briefs. Their encouragement is not verbal. It's physical.

Underwear now down to my ankles, the music stops. I pull up my shorts and am looking for my pants when a security guard jogs over to me. Apparently I took it too far. As I'm being led out of the bar to the cheers of most of the crowd, I see Carl being redressed by one of my managers as they're following me out the door.

The security guard tells me that he doesn't want any trouble. I just need to leave. A guy in the bar had complained that, on top of my nakedness, I was hitting on his girlfriend whilst naked. Apparently that was where the line was crossed, I guess. No charges pressed, just leave and don't come back right away. Like this year.

I'm going into the next bar when my group catches up to me. They insist that it'd be a good idea to head back to the hotel, since Carl's dance ended with him falling down over a chair and not having the strength to get back up. I concur and we head back. Two of the managers are holding Carl up, while the other six give me a play-by-play of everything that had happened. The two women managers seemed to be impressed with my pole-dancing skills. Even the guys appreciated the grind that I had done with the redhead (I was still mostly clothed at that point, I think).

But something had changed. I was their buddy now. They spoke to me as a peer, not their supervisor. The dancing and stripping was not something that they would have dared do and were surprised that I would. They had never seen me even drink more than one beer prior to tonight. Then I've got my clothes strewn about a bar, exposing myself to all of them, as well as a hundred or so other people. What must they be thinking?

The next afternoon was an awards banquet. As I walked from our table to the stage to accept my award, I thought about how my employees' impression of me had changed overnight, how they now thought of me as a real person, like them, not the stuffed suit that they had come to know. That wall that I had built up is gone. The boundaries nullified.

When I went back to work the next week, I stopped wearing suits when I visited the stores. Khakis and Polo shirts. But that's not why they treated me differently. The managers now knew that I had another side, a side with which they could personally relate. They liked that. I learned a lot more about my managers after that because they were comfortable opening up to me.

We're all fallible. None of us are perfect, no matter what face we try to wear. And not having to be perfect feels good, doesn't it?

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