Negotiations, or Cusper & Abby’s Wild Ride

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Cusper Lynn

“One of the basic rules of the motivational speaker narrative is that the crisis you are sharing with your audience be well and truly behind you. Or, failing that, that you are sharing with your audience a unique solution to the crisis that is working to place it there . . . . It was clear to me that we were nowhere near that point.” Cusper Lynn

The Occidental Ape

by Cusper Lynn

Note: Readers new to this saga should read Installments One and Two: https://weeklyhubris.com/into-the-heart-of-evil/ and https://weeklyhubris.com/lancing-the-boil-the-saga-of-abby-the-formerly-wealthy-mormon-chapter-two/.

Cusper Lynn

SARASOTA Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—11/05/2012—One of the basic rules of the motivational speaker narrative is that the crisis you are sharing with your audience be well and truly behind you. Or, failing that, that you are sharing with your audience a unique solution to the crisis that is working to place it there.

Shifting through the pile of legal notices on my kitchen table while eating my breakfast, it was clear to me that we (Abby and I) were nowhere near that point. The correspondence, which I had for purposes of simplicity assigned to two piles, were impending legal actions. I could, were I so inclined, organize them by degrees of urgency, corresponding dollar amounts, or levels of complexity. But as I have said, I had sorted them into two piles, his and mine.

Mine were the usual reminders that the Balboa subdivision, where my former home was located, was seeking association fees, penalties, legal costs and other unspecified expenses in connection with that house, and there was of course a very nice note from my ex-wife’s attorney regarding other exciting and interesting misadventures in jurisprudence that were to come.

His, Abby Norman, the “Formerly” Wealth Mormon’s, was the larger pile and included a class action lawsuit by his former students; foreclosure notices for properties throughout the United States and Canada; and seizure of accounts by banks, creditors and federal agencies. There also appeared to be an investigation of his former company’s CFO—who, by all indications, had left the country with Abby’s wife after raiding the company’s offshore account—and Abby was being invited to offer his insights on this matter with the Federal Prosecutors office in Tampa. Which is to say, he had been served with a subpoena.

I preferred reading Abby’s mail; it put mine in perspective.

I finished my breakfast, washed my dishes and placed them in the drying rack by the sink. I mention this because it is normally while washing dishes that some of my best ideas come to me. Unfortunately, this was not the case on this particular morning. So I picked up the two piles of documents, my car keys, and set out for the office. My car, a silver Saturn Ion whose mercurial disposition would occasionally leave me sputtering and cursing when trying to park it (it often simply refused to relinquish my car keys) on this day surprised me. It would not start.

Twenty minutes spent turning the key, to no noticeable effect, led me to conclude that the car was throwing a tantrum. It had lost a hubcap when I drove through some standing water on the road a few days earlier. The hubcap was not just thrown clear, it was torn by the force of the water, leaving bits of plastic clinging to the lugs. Walking around the car, I could see its point of view. It did not just have a naked wheel rim, it had one fringed with bits of its former rim. This was, I supposed, the human equivalent of wearing shoes without soles or ass-less shorts, what was left behind only serving to remind the party of how much had been lost. I decided to reason with it.

A heartfelt promise to replace the missing hubcap as soon as I got in my first check resulted in a “click, click, click” when I turned the ignition. This was progress. A long discussion about the idea of replacing all of its hubcaps with new ones resulted in the check engine light turning on a steady red and a “click, CLICK, click, whrrrrrrrrrrrr.” It seemed to me that the car was holding out; there was some negotiation point I was missing. I was about to discuss some routine maintenance—an oil change, new filters or other acts of appeasement that might cause it to start—when it occurred to me that I did not know where my wallet was.

In times of duress, the memory plays tricks on you and the sequences of events become disordered in your mind. So I did what anyone would do under the circumstances. I got out of the car, patted my pockets, looked around the car, on the sidewalk and then found my way back to the car. After a brief but frantic search I found that the wallet had slid from my pocket in between the driver’s seat and the center console. A mad thought occurred to me—perhaps my car had done this on purpose. Perhaps it had fished my wallet from my pocket and was going through it while we were negotiating. Perhaps it had, after reviewing the contents of my wallet, determined that not only could I not afford the fabulously expensive repairs, long delayed and well over due, that it needed, but I could not even offer the humble requests it was asking for by way of hubcap, oil change and air filter. I hoped I was wrong. I put the key back in the ignition. Turned it. Nothing. Damn, I had been right.

What I did next I confess was an act of violence as regards a sentient car.

I opened the hood, accessed the fuse and relay panel, and systematically dismantled its brain. A stunned but compliant car started immediately. I felt horrible about it later but, for the time being, the car was working and I needed to get on the road.

Arriving at my office, the car gave me my keys without complaint. Whether this was an act of appeasement or simply mentally impairment I do not know, nor did I much care. Because when I arrived I found a very expensive, brand new sports car parked in my space. Being by nature an optimist, I was not aggravated by this but, instead, hopeful that a new, wealthy and cash-paying client might be waiting for me in the lobby.

In the lobby of my Gulf Gate office I was, however, greeted only by Sheila Marksen, the receptionist. Actually, using “greeted” would constitute a gross abuse of that verb. Sheila, who continued to be a stellar example of why you never hire friends, family or, in her case, a friend’s family member, was on her cell phone, arguing with her boyfriend.

This is an attitude in which she may be found Monday through Thursday, from 9:30 a.m. (our office opens at 9) until 11 a.m. (we take lunch at noon). On weekdays after 3 p.m., you may find her playing games on that same phone (assuming she returns from lunch at all) and, on most Fridays, you might find her at a bar in Siesta Village (with her boyfriend) as she has mysterious illnesses that require her to miss work and absorb a great deal of rum, coconut butter and sun. Sheila is reliably unreliable.

“Do I have a client?” I asked, optimism persisting, all evidence to the contrary.

“In your office,” she grunted, returning to her phone.

“A complete and almost intelligible answer! Will wonders never cease?” I commented.

Sheila gave me an indulgent eye roll, but otherwise made no other acknowledgement of my managerial praise for her unstinting commitment to quality customer service. I passed, en route from this mutual admiration society, to fashioning a number of plausible explanations for my late arrival, the shabbiness of my office, the rudeness of my staff and the general disarray of my life. Opening my door with winning words poised upon my lips . . . I found I needn’t have bothered.

Behind my desk, sitting in my chair, was a distinguished looking man with silver white hair, that swept back dramatically at the temples, a high arched brow, and a smile that I had come to loathe.

“Abby, what are you doing here?” I asked, avoiding the matter of his sitting in my seat at my desk.

“I had something important I wanted to discuss with you,” he said leaning forward and steepling his fingers.

I noted a gold Rolex on his wrist that I had not seen before and I was fairly confident that the suit he was wearing—a slightly shiny, double breasted silver affair, with white shirt and a tie that looked like a Gustav Klimt background—was one I had not seen when we were inventorying his wardrobe.

“And what would that be?” I asked, as I began to understand the nature of the situation.

“The money,” he said gravely.

“And what money,” I asked gamely, “would that be?”

“The money I’ve earned doing the plugs, the appearances, and every little hole and dive you’ve taken me to,” he said solemnly.

According to my mental tally, there was the sports car, the watch, and the new suit. I fully expected to see the new shoes in a moment. Abby Norman, The Formerly Wealthy Mormon, had made a name for himself in a number of areas as a speaker and business author. Zero Point Negotiations had been just one of his bestselling books and the book workshop was sold out six months in advance at over $2,000 dollars a head for a half-day session. Impressive numbers, particularly when you consider that the book had been published over 20 years earlier. Following his own rules, he was wearing his power suit, had taken the power seat, and arranged the ambush so that he could set the terms. Inwardly, I sighed.

“Where, Abby, exactly is this money to which you lay claim to be found?” I said, folding the two piles of legal notices—his and mine—into one large pile.

“You can’t tell me that sales haven’t increased for my books, products and programs since we began this campaign,” he said chuckling and giving me a knowing nod.

I reached into the pile of notices.

“If, as you suggest, our three weeks of efforts have revived sales for your products, then presumably the money would be going from your publishers into the accounts that have been seized by your creditors,” I said, dropping that notice on the table.

He looked at the paper impassively.

“Or, perhaps, one of your production companies, not otherwise bankrupted by your CFO, is sending deposits to your accounts for products that had not been selling for the previous twelve months. Oh, wait a minute, those are being seized by the federal governments of the United States and Canada,” I added, dropping those notices on the desk.

“So, you’re telling me . . . .” He remained calm.

“. . . that you have not generated any revenue whatsoever at this point. You are, frankly, broke. In fact, you are so far broke, that in some parallel reality, where wealth is measured in negative numbers, you may well be the wealthiest man in history,” I said and dropped the entire pile on the desk.

Abby stared at it for a moment and then got up from the desk. Yes, there were new shoes.

“What about that scuzzball attorney? Aren’t we getting something from him?” Abby demanded, as I reclaimed my own desk and chair.

I slid the pile of papers into an empty desk drawer before he could see that some of the legal notices had my name on them.

“If you mean the attorney who is defending your Siesta Key property from foreclosure and who helped free up enough of your personal accounts for you to be able to get the lights and the water back on, no. He, like me, is working for free. His only compensation is that he gets to use this defense for promotional purposes,” I said, realizing for the first time the admission I had made regarding my role in all of this.

“So, he’s riding my coattails, then,” Abby said huffily, sitting in one of the two chairs on the opposite side of my desk.

My car was a wreck, my office staff was offensive, my life was in shambles and I was working for free for this unappreciative shmuck. I was seriously considering revisiting any thoughts of being a motivational speaker.

“Abby, you have no coattails to ride,” I said, a bit more harshly than I’d intended.

Abby didn’t seem to notice.

“Then, how are we going to get paid?” he finally asked.

I sighed, this time aloud.

“We’re going to monetize you through the website. We’re going to do teleconferences,” I explained.

This plan was optimistic on several fronts. The first being that I could actually get Abby to do the online teleconferences. The next immediate challenge was whether I could get any of Abby’s peers to help promote the teleconferences.

“Why don’t we do a platform event, like Orlando?” Abby asked, thoughtfully.

Abby, who in his heyday could sell over a quarter of a million dollars from the platform still had not quite come to terms with his changed circumstances.

“Not enough time and absolutely no resources for the build-up,” I explained.

“So what are they going to pay for these teleconferences?” Abby asked peevishly.

“The first ones? Nothing, zero, nada. Actually, we have to come up with some incentives for them to even attend. Free product, books, some sort of value proposition,” I said, now steepling my fingers.

“Why not just what is going to be on the free call?” Abby asked, perplexed.

“Abby, you have to get this: we are beyond free with the internet now. You have to pay to get their eyes and you have to make it worthwhile every step of the way.”

“I have always delivered value,” Abby said, a tad defensively.

“Yes, you have, and I’m counting on you continuing that,” I answered smoothly.

“Fine, how long will the teleconferences be?” Abby asked, petulantly.

“An hour and a half.”

“What? An hour and a half?!?” he protested.

“That is pretty standard nowadays,” I said, nodding my head.

“So what are we selling? A five-thousand-dollar workshop, my books, my videos? What?” Abby growled.

“You don’t own any of the books, workshops or videos that you produced in the past and . . .” I added before that little message had time to sink in, “. . . the product we will be selling will cost $7.”

“What . . . ?!” Abby blustered, nearly incandescent.

“Abby,” I said, holding out a calming palm toward him, “this is a complete rebuild. We have to get a feeder started, develop your lists and get a whole new line of product together. I am doing everything I can, going into the public domain for materials, spinning your circumstances, and plotting out a three-product tier system; 7, 77 and 567. Let’s get that far first, before we start worrying about five-thousand-dollar products, OK?

The red left Abby’s face and he began to, once again, look nearly human and almost humble.

“I want to write another book,” he finally said.

“I have no problem with that,” I answered, and considered how to tactfully get him out of my office.

“. . . on relationships,” he said.

“Get started on it,” I smiled.

“I want it to be one of the products we promote,” he said with finality.

I am broke, my car is a wreck, my office is in a shambles, my life is in the toilet and I am working for this idiot . . . for free? Hmmm, perhaps I could do this without him.

“Abby . . .” I began.

“I feel strongly about this,” he said, dropping his voice.

“Good, then let’s build your feeder pattern first, get the other products in line, and then you can build your relationship line,” I offered.

“I want the book to be a bestseller!” he snapped.

A book on relationships by a guy who had an army of ex-wives. Given the number of convicted federal felons who have written bestsellers on ethics and morality, it wasn’t such a stretch.

“Tell you what. Let’s bundle it into our value proposition, if you can get it done in time.” I paused for effect. “But none of this will mean anything if we can’t get some of your friends to help us build the feeder pattern.”

“Um . . .” Abby said, now clearly sheepish about an admission that he did not want to make.

“This had to do with some of your old friends, some who have big email lists we could tap?” I asked optimistically.

“Sort of . . .” he said, now twisting his hands together in his lap.

“Perhaps . . .”

“Cusper, when I thought you were holding out on me, I made a few calls,” he said in a rush.

“And?” I asked, not at all liking where this was going.

At that moment, the door to my office opened and in strode Matt Tomlinson—of “Tomlinson M, the M is for Marketing Magic” fame.

“Cusper, Abby told me about the money and I am taking over,” he announced.

Sheila had once again provided me peerless service and it appeared that Matt Tomlinson might well be my prayed for solution to the Abby Norman problem.

Note: image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbcurio/.

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About Cusper Lynn

Cusper Lynn, whose accumulation of alphabetic suffixes makes formal introductions nearly impossible, is the CEO of Hell Bent Press, and a prolific blogger/author, who self-identifies—primarily, these days—as a “consultant.” A mega-cigar-smoking Midwesterner-become-Floridian, Lynn has also worked in radio (as a DJ), banking, bookselling and community theater (do not, hold that against him), and has produced a punk album (you may hold that against him), four children, and a novel titled Facebook Ate My Marriage (www.facebookatemymarriage.com; www.cusperlynn.com; www.hellbentpress.com ). Lynn says he was, in the second grade, “bitten by the writing bug,” which he traces back to “the accidental discovery that a well written essay could, if properly slanted, decrease the beatings meted out in the dark ages of public school education.” He adds: “The other two useful things I would take away from those long-ago classrooms would be the ability to touch type and a clear understanding that the world was aggressively disinterested in my wellbeing.” Subsequent success as a physician and an advisor with an uncanny ability to provide information and intellectual succor of all sorts to patients and clients of all stripes have somewhat softened Lynn’s stance, as evidenced by his literate, thoughtful writing in The Occidental Ape.
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