The qualities he thought were his greatest strengths — a stubborn adherence to principle, an eager willingness to help others, a natural curiosity about people and the world — plus his years of education and experience, were also his greatest liabilities. While they made it possible for him to easily fit into new situations — Wortman, it was said, made others feel as if he were always there — they also blinded him to possible evil. It’s not that he doubted its existence. He confronted it numerous times in his life. However, he had a knack of talking his way out of danger. When a carjacker put a knife to his throat, a combination of stubbornness and non-stop bargaining led to a compromise. The thief ran off with Wortman’s cash and his car keys. He tossed the keys into the bushes as he bounded around the corner and disappeared. This ability to deflect evil caused him to overestimate his power to persuade and to ignore social cues that indicated possible danger. As a result, the Snake’s behaviors were not seen as red flags but as veiled pleas for help.
Two months after being hired, the Snake presented Wortman with new copy for the company’s redesigned website. Wortman spent three days reading, and rereading it, trying to extract meaning out of the tangled jargon. He decided that reviewing it with the Snake, going line by line and asking questions, would help to make clear what his writing did not. Wortman started with two of the more confusing sentences.
“Brands have the capability of communicating product offerings, culture, value, and benefits through multi-channeled user experiences. Why limit these experiences to the platforms that they are delivered on?”
‘Let’s take this apart,’ Wortman suggested. ‘Tell me what you mean by “multi-channeled user experiences.”’
Wortman kept pushing for an explanation, telling him that he can help rewrite the copy but he must first understand it. The Snake bristled at the thought of having to explain anything.
“Nobody understands what I do.”
‘Nobody’ included Sharp Dresser and the Jock. When they would stop at his cubicle and ask what he was working on, instead of providing a clear explanation, the Snake bombarded them with jargon, making them feel foolish. ‘Who the fuck does he think signs his paychecks,’ Sharp Dresser often said to Wortman during many of their closed-door meetings. Wortman defended the Snake, arguing that he brought something of value to the company though, he had to admit, he couldn’t clearly articulate it. Part of the problem was that Wortman and the Snake were different personalities. Wortman tackled problems by dissection, close examination, and study. He instituted weekly meetings so that the development team could discuss upcoming work and potential bottlenecks that needed to be addressed. Working with Mad Scientist and Delegator, they developed task outlines that helped assure that nothing would be overlooked when handling complex, multi-step projects. If Wortman was like a deep-sea diver, delving further and further into a project, the Snake was a water skimmer. He flitted about the surface, grabbed bits and pieces of other people’s ideas, and presented them as his own. If someone provided a novel solution during a weekly meeting, he’d grab ownership of it by emphatically stating, “That’s what I was saying.”
During the course of a month, Wortman rewrote the copy, reviewing each section with the Snake, explaining the reasoning behind the changes. He assumed these explanations would help make the Snake a better writer. He assumed this was information that the Snake wanted.
He was wrong.
St. Patrick’s Day was an opportunity for the Snake to prove his worth. One of the company’s largest clients needed a social marketing campaign that would attract new follower’s to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The goal, as with all marketing campaigns, was to increase awareness that can be converted into sales. Wortman walked into the Snake’s cubicle to check on the progress.
‘I love the concept. One problem. It’s St. Paddy, not St. Patty. Patty is short for Patricia.’
“What does it matter?,” the Snake said.
‘Are you kidding me? The patron saint of Ireland was a man. It matters, and you don’t know who will be seeing the ad. If someone Irish sees the ad and calls the store yelling, the client will come after us.’
The Snake did an online search to prove that both spellings were correct.
‘That doesn’t mean they are right,’ Wortman said. ‘Anyone with a finger and an asshole can post whatever they want on the internet.’
“I put a lot of work into it. I’m not changing it. I have other projects to work on.”
Wortman didn’t care. Every project has to be done right. He stared at the Snake, hesitated, and then went for the sucker punch.
‘Does it matter if I call you a Negro, a Black, or an African-American?’
The Snake was angry.
“Why did you have to bring in race?”
‘I thought it didn’t matter. They mean the same thing, don’t they?,’ Wortman replied.
The Snake relented. He changed the spelling. But Wortman didn’t want acquiescence. He wanted the Snake to understand that words are important. He apologized for bring in race. It seemed the only way to drive home the point.
During what must have been a weak moment, the Snake confessed that he did not write the copy for the website. He lifted it from another company’s website, rearranging sentences and phrases in an attempt to hide its origin.
‘They could have sued us for stealing their copy,’ Wortman said.
The Snake did not respond.