. A manager's dog | London Progressive Journal
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A manager's dog

Tue 7th Feb 2012

‘I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;
Pray, tell me sir, whose dog are you?'
( Alexander Pope, Epigram Engraved on the Collar
of a Dog which I gave to his Royal Highness)

I

He calls me Fido, which in Latin means
I am faithful. Faithful is what
he wants me to be, above all;
(had he named me Rocky or Fuse
I would have known that he prized,
in the first instance, massive strength,
in the second, explosive aggression).
He has thoroughly trained me.
I sit, fetch, wait, walk, find, stand guard,
watch, hold, come to heel,
and all at a word.
Work in the building goes on;
at the top, the directors
with windows that catch the light
from the ends of the earth;
at the bottom, men covered in grease.
We’re in the middle, for now.
He has plans, an agenda.
Some of its steps are open, some secret.
I do whatever he wants.
I do it at once, as he orders.
Faithful is what I am.

II

I’m a dog without pedigree.
None of my Grand-dogs made Cruft’s.
My Grand-bitches had no breeding
so both parents were, as you would say, Mongrel.
Somewhere, there’s a hunting gene,
somewhere else, though I say it, the light
of intelligence shines even more brightly
than that of most dogs.
The coat’s long, but not shaggy;
the skin’s firm, but not thick.
I can go on for days with less sleep
than a gnat on the wing. My voice
mostly is rough, my language
blunt, straight to the point.
I can bark for England.
I’m a Complete Dog. That’s to say,
a full-blooded dog, a dog in possession
of all he was born with.
The dog’s bollocks are mine.
That’s me.
I’m one of those dogs.
That’s the dog I am.

III

All week, it’s been Fetch, Fetch, Fetch.
From the machine sheds downstairs I brought him
assortments of samples, working models
– cogged grinders, smoke engines, cylinders,
boxes of steel nails; from the paint shops
alongside, cones, canisters, blocks of acrylic.
Men fondled my ears with their grease-green hands,
girls pulled my wet nose to their laps.
I brought back what was wanted.
I was not deflected.
From the levels above
I brought schedules, maps, summonses,
briefs, fiats, performance charts, targets.
I carried them down in my jaws
wrapped up in long cardboard tubes.
He sat at his desk, poring
over all I had brought him.
He made notes in a ledger
he keeps with him at all times,
sent messages from his laptop, which has
a picture of me as its wallpaper.


IV

At night, I’m on watch.
he works late, most days, and at weekends
builds up time-off-in-lieu entitlements
which he never takes.
Can’t afford to, he says.
Sometimes, we go out together
to afterwork meetings, focus groups.
When he goes home, I stay here.
I lie out of the light, alert
to the sounds of the glass-filtered street.
Cleaners come, sanitise, vanish,
blue nightguards patrol.
Darkness falls, or has fallen.
Sometimes I see the moon
trace her arcs through the windowpane;
keeping perfectly still,
I can see the moon moving.
Between three and five in the morning
comes the dog-watch. Later comes dawn.
On the wall, in a frame, is the text
of our corporate mission. It reads 'To provide more'.
It does not say of what.
I think a lot about this. I gnaw it
as I might gnaw a bone.
He’s in the office by seven. All’s well.
We go out, have breakfast together.


V

He’s read all the Great Books
of Management Theory, from Sun Tzu
to Peters, The Book of Five Rings
to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,
which he works hard to put into practice.
He has Drucker by heart, knows Hofstede,
Trompenaars, Terkel, and skimreads
the lightweights as fashion’s winds
spin them past managers’ desks.
All carry his marginal notes,
highlightings, underlinings, the sure marks
of a mind wanting improvement
almost as much as advancement.
One text above all he returns to
in the late hours when lamplight spills
its bright zone of focus and concentration
onto his desk top, and all over
the city people are going home.
It’s a spine-broken paperback copy
of Machiavelli, thoroughly dog-eared.
He reads me occasional snippets,
then sighs, and takes me out walking.

Last night, before turning the lights out,
he spoke to me confidentially.
'To be successful,' he said,
'a manager needs only two things – a nail
for his rival’s coffin and a stepladder
to take him upstairs when the lifts fail.'
I looked up at him, licked his hand.
I didn’t suppose he’d revealed
his true thoughts on the subject.

VI

What is there that doesn’t change
in the pursuit of More?
The environment’s global, and somewhere
your rivals have found ways of working
that are faster, more cost-effective,
more customer focused, that’s to say, smarter.
Technologies, systems, resources
fray at the edges; over the years
patched and mended, they turn to rags
while your go-ahead rivals already
wear, and market, new fabrics. Dogs
and wise managers know this, and that
the sabre-toothed organization shares
the fate of the tiger. Since employees
are the outfit’s dearest resource, and also
the one most likely to ossify, what better way
is there to become more competitive
than by natural wastage and herd-culling?
Add to this, multitasking, and the leaner
firm is at the same time fitter. Rivals, thus,
frozen in time, are left standing.
To these orthodox thoughts, my manager
adds this observation. 'As all cats, Fido,
are grey in the dark, so all businesses
in the competitive climate will aim
to be leaner and fitter. Success
comes only to those that are ruthless.'
I watch him for hours, without blinking.

VII

All week I spent prowling
the sheds, looking for Weak Ones.
Already, he said, he had names;
what he wanted was confirmation
or the opposite, based on gut feeling,
another expression for sixth sense,
or a dog’s smell for what’s right.
So I nosed around men
covered in grease, keen to distinguish
those for whom grease is cosmetic
from those for whom it’s a concomitant
of productive work, trailed women
through the solvent-sweet paintshops
looking for workers with hands
smelling too much of laundry, earlobes
unflecked by paint smudges.
I herded them into a great pen
with a wicket at one end,
drove them through one at a time
to go head to head with the others.
He sat among the selectors,
grim-faced, full of solicitude.
They praised him, when it was over,
for his resilience, his capacity
to make hard decisions.
They had him ear-marked for greatness.
They said he had far to go.

VIII

'Nothing’s given,' he said, as we moved
into our new office six floors up
from the spites and grudges of old times;
he’s having it redesigned
in line with the streamlined thinking
of the re-formed (not the reformed) organisation.
One wall will be painted blood-red, another
papered with silk fabric depicting
roosts of exotic birds; his wall-length window
bordered with harrateen curtains has prospects
that stretch to the western horizon.
I took him to mean that our structures,
like those of all organisations, were merely
directors’ accessories, fit to be
stretched and moulded according
to plasticine habits of childhood.
Perhaps too there was an overtone
of regret, elegiac lament even,
for the vanished illusion of permanence,
the employee’s comfort-blanket
shredded for ever in these new days.
He might also have been alluding
to the Law of Reciprocal Benefit
discovered in recent years (formerly
guessed at in the guise of quid pro quo
and heard in the vernacular 'You scratch
my back and I’ll scratch yours') signalling
charity’s death-throes and the flaws
so long undetected in the old fallacy
of Doing Something for Nothing.It was
in accordance with this New Law that he had,
in return for advancement, undertaken
new roles, gathered together in what
he calls an Enhanced Portfolio.
He’s learning new tricks.

IX

In the new age, I have additional
roles, and a new collar.
It is made of camelskin, cut
from an animal slaughtered on purpose
for the production of collars.
The skin lay for a year
on the thigh of an olive-skinned virgin
who kneaded it daily.
It fits my neck, soft as wax.
My leash is a single, unbelievably
long strand of silk, gossamer fine,
along which I can feel every pulse
from the nerves of his fingers.
I stand guard in his doorway,
his gatekeeper, admitting, excluding,
detaining, his minder, 24/7.
I know all who call by their smell,
which I do not forget.

X

There’s one on the top floor
whose favours he’s always courted;
now he’s in reach of her.
She’s a wheeler-dealer,
here, there and everywhere
in her perfectly tailored, dark worsted
suit with a thick pinstripe,
square, padded shoulders and high heels.
No doubt she has skills
as a virtuoso violinist of concert standard,
no doubt that in ballet shoes
she crosses the stage on point
with a nymph’s grace, but her true art
is to bring others to eminence.
He’s her stalker, her wooer, pursuer,
her long-distance admirer come
into close range, her man-about-town,
her humble servant. No doubt
she has others; they chase her in droves
all over the city, wherever
the sweet smell of her bodywash
offers hope of promotion.

Close enough now to be noticed,
he sends her e-mails and rose-wreaths,
answers her questions with bullet points
as instructed, taking up no more
than one side of A4. How dearly
he’d like to meet her! How keenly
he longs for her door to swing open
and he be admitted! But she too
has her gatekeeper, haughty, dismissive,
a tall bitch called Chancy, whose white teeth
make short work of unwanted callers.
He wants me to cultivate her.
He thinks that if I can charm her
he’ll have a way in.
I’m up for adventure, up
for a bit of Chancy. Besides,
it’s my duty. It’s what he wants me to do.

XI

We began with talk – the parley
of dogs’ breath, of dogs’ banter,
our discourse, that first hour,
a grammar of huff and sniff,
a recollection of fragrance.
We circled each other
in her mistress’s anterooms,
my right paw holding her neck
in playful submission, her shoulder
pushing against my groin. Our talk,
blent with desire and longing, spilled
our thoughts into cloud; what
I once thought to bark became merely
her eyes’ glimpse of horizon; what she
in her dance let fall as suggestion
grew in my blood to thunder.
Time ran its course as the panes
of the mistress’s chamber darkened;
the thick pile of the carpet was salt
to our consensual appetites
and the cushions we drew to corners
and coiled on were silken thrones.
What we spoke of before was nothing
but promise and invitation, the slow
heat of our coupling the tender-fierce
junction of all that four legs does best.
We lay afterwards for an hour, then
she stirred, but did not lick my ear.
I left as her equal, with no talk
of a future. I thought this the way
to be sought after, later on.

XII

Dawn broke, the pale light of the sun
striking the corporate mission. He
would be here in an hour and find me
on watch as he left me – nothing
need puncture the fiction of nothing
unusual having occurred.
Time promised arrivals; the mission
glowed in its frame, and then faded;
security guards on the ground floor
let the night stand in their coffee cups
and handed their keys to Reception.
Seven came, and then eight; at nine thirty
I called to ask questions, but Chancy
would not admit me; her mistress,
already engaged in a meeting,
had daylong commitments. I busied
myself in our office, kept an eye
on the street, watched until he should come.

XIII

He talked, when he came, of Chancy’s wigged
mistress, her chestnut tresses at night
lifted off and placed on a glass head
precisely the shape of her own, of
the archive of suitors’ names she kept
in a black book that resembled his own
and the database of their favours.
Beside each, she had marked in red ink
the date of their forfeit, and he’d seen
there his own cancellation. With brush,
comb and powder she’d kept him all night
after their lovemaking hard at work
on the perruque’s sculpted coils, teasing out
each singular strand while she slept,
her beautiful bald head smooth as marble
on its anti-allergen pillow.
At dawn, she’d released him, summoned him
back to her bed to enjoy him
in his knowledge of who she was,
and then gone to work. He’d woken
at noon, his mouth full of ashes,
and now sought to regain his grip
on prosperity’s handrail. He reached,
stretched, grappled; dealt with eighty-nine
e-mails in an hour, gave directions
to half-a-dozen subordinates,
all the time at the back of his mind
expecting the call that did not come.

Day closed for business. Cash registers
flickered, and were extinguished. Night came.
I shared the anguish of all
who knew themselves stakeholders.

XIV

Days passed, turning to weeks. Chancy’s door
opened only a fraction, and his
moments of opportunity served
only to nourish failure. Meetings
where once his authority (expert
as much as positional) rendered
his contribution essential, now
paid him lipservice only, or else
simply took place without him. Demands
from superiors were more focused
daily on mundane tasks; subordinates
failed to turn up when he summoned them,
pleading pressing engagements elsewhere.
The Clock of his Long Now reached midnight.
Then he noticed his name omitted
from minutes of meetings attended;
men with greased hands ignored him, shouted
obscenities from the machine sheds
in his hearing without inhibition.
Paintshop girls, heedless, neglectful, streaked
his suit with acrylic, and small boys
in the street launched gobbets of phlegm
at his still-shiny shoes. We wandered
about at night, as the city placed
its investments elsewhere, and banks lost
their fortunes on others’ plans. Only
that thin strand of silk kept us together.

XV

A building collapses, and hundreds
are buried in rubble, a hostage
is caged at a secret location
leaving only his plans and a few
clothes with his scent on behind him.
Dogs sift through the debris, their senses
alert to the least sign of life,
eyes, nose and ears attuned perfectly
to the pitch of human survival.
Underground tremors that will topple
the organization are picked up hours
before the first plate-glass wall splinters,
and on an otherwise unremarkable
day, the fury of dogs barking
drives people onto the streets. At the edge
of the minefield, fear petrifies
those who would cross it, but a dog finds
a safe route through the asymmetries
of plunger and tripwire, bringing them
safe to the other side. But what
dog could have foreseen the reversal
of my master’s fortunes? And what
dog skilled in disjunctive sniffing should
contrive his escape-route from ruin?
The wisdom of hindsight instructs us
that Entropy rules both the gain
and the loss of advantage. The black
book where Ambition pencils the names
of his targets and victims is one
book only of millions, and your own
name, more than once, has been set down
as the target of others. Beneath
all lies the corporate folly of
To provide more, a lexis of greed
that any dog sharing his breakfast
with strangers and strays would be shamed by.
He feeds from my bowl tonight, licking up
comfort’s crumbs with the flat of his tongue.

XVI

He stood on a ledge and the silk thread
of my barking could not restrain him.
He threw himself off with a great shout.
On the street below he burst open,
a staccato explosion of bone
that threw traffic into confusion.
Before sirens sounded, I shivered
with fear and excitement. I must
reinvent myself as New Dog, build
a new life, a new future alone.

XVII

I’ve seen Boatswain’s grave
in the gardens of Newstead Abbey,
and his master’s inscription leaves no doubt
of the friendship between them.
I’ve read too of Hachiko
who not knowing his master had died
went daily for ten years to meet
his best friend off the train,
of Schopenhauer’s poodle, Zweig’s spaniel,
the hounds and companions of great men
distinguished by canine affection.
Now’s the time while light lasts to record here
the names of ten virtuous dogs
brought from an old verser’s acquaintance
to my master’s attention – his aunt’s
mongrel, Charlie; his friend’s dogs, Pepper
and Rocky; Hexe, a dachshund bitch;
George, Toby, Crispin and Pepin, the dogs
of his teacher and teacher’s wife;
lastly, his brother and sister’s
dogs, Saskia and Shuggie, all gone
but the last, full of dignity, strength
of character, trust, sense of purpose.
What joy did they not bring to all those
they cared for, and had dealings with!
What delight was it when they welcomed
the house to its waking, or ran free
as the wind over the day’s green ground!
How well they watched and guarded, alert
to the trespasser’s footfall, the twitch
and shuffle of light that spelt danger!
Most of all, how the nudge of a wet nose
or the gleam of a bright eye brought knowledge
of true companionship and the thrill
of a pleasure consciously shared! Brooding
over the fate that befell him, I
think of all these things, and am sad.

XVIII

It may have been Chancy’s pleading, though
she never confirmed it, or more likely
her mistress’s pride that constrained me
first, to the vet’s anaesthetic, and then,
cut and stitched, to play Trophy Dog.
I’ve a new collar now, hand-crafted
from leather, shot through with steel rivets.
If I’m overweight, running to seed,
I make up for it with hard looks.
The pavement clears when the three of us
come swaggering down it. I use teeth
now, draw blood more often. If I jump
up at her waist, she cudgels me to
the ground, whips my back, my shoulders,
hurts my pride, talks to me like a dog.

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