when the tailgate drops, the bullshit stops

A friend pointed out the other day that I hadn’t posted anything on my journal, but I don’t really have anything to say at the moment because I’ve been heavily in output mode (writing code and such) vs. my previous input mode (reading books, articles, having discussions, etc.) Ironically perhaps, when I’m in input mode, I feel like I have more to say on this journal because I have more half-formed thoughts and dots connecting in my mind.

But tonight, for some reason I thought of a favorite passage from one of my favorite books, A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe, and I thought I’d write it down to share with friends and to make it available to myself on the web 🙂

The context is that the book’s primary protagonist, Charlie Croker, is getting grilled in a passive-aggressive manner from some bankers to whom he owes a considerable amount of money over a bad real estate investment. His primary antagonist in this scene is Harry Zale, who works for the bank as a “workout Artiste”, i.e. he busts the balls of people like Charlie for a living.

Still standing, Harry took a deep breath, which thrust his chest out and flaunted the skull-and-crossbone suspenders even more flagrantly. Then he sat down and raised his big chin and looked down his nose once more and gave Charlie Croker another lingering stare and said:

“Okay, Mr. Croker, we’re all waiting. The floor is now open for concrete proposals for paying back money. As I said, simple we like, no assembly necessary, batteries included.”

It was probably the Artiste’s infatuation with this little metaphor of his that finally did it. Croker had been no assembly-necessary’d, batteries-include’d, why-are-we-here’d, dead-dracaena’d, coffee-burned, lectured at, and trifled with long enough. He leaned forward with his huge forearms on the table and the testosterone flowing. His shoulders and neck seemed to swell up. He thrust his own square jaw forward, and the lawyers and the accountants all hunched forward with him; and so did Peaches.

A small and ominous smile was now on Croker’s face. His voice was low, controlled, and seething: “Well now, friend. I wanna ask you sump’n. You ever been huntin’?”

Harry said nothing. He just put on a smile exactly like Croker’s.

“You ever headed out in a pickup truck early inna moaning and lissened t’all’ose’ol’ boys talking about alla birds ‘ey gon’ shoot? People, they shoot a lotta birds with their mouths onna way out to the fields … with their mouths … But comes a time when you finally got to stop the truck and pick up a gun and do sump’m with it … see … and whirr I grew up, in Baker County, theh’s a saying: ‘When the tailgate drops, the bullshit stops.'”

He eyed Harry even more intently. Harry just stared back without blinking, without altering his little smile so much as an eighth of an inch.

“An’eh’s been a certain amount a bullshit in ‘is room ‘is morning,” Croker continued, “if you don’t mind the introduction of some plain English into these proceedings. Well now the tailgate’s dropped.”

This sort of sums up my approach to getting things done at work: try to minimize talking and maximize making tangible forward progress. Often the best way to make tangible forward progress is via code.

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