After pondering the question, “how does one really know they exist?” René Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I wonder what he would have made of the little known and seldom seen executive, Milo Quaife, an executive at a place I used to work and the perpetual example I use, where someone else might use John Doe.
If you stuff creative and intelligent people in cramped quarters, it brings out the weird in people. Some will use faux fireplace Christmas ornaments to transform their offices into a cardboard and construction paper scene from a painting Norman Rockwell might have done after a night of huffing paint. Others would encourage coworkers to scrawl graffiti outside their office door and then label them simply “deep thoughts.”
I used to work in a velvet sweatshop, a term one of my coworkers coined to describe the writing gristmill to which I was interred briefly as I worked off some diabolical past-life karma. The place was a pressure cooker with one or more of the twenty-some people facing outrageous deadlines agreed to by eager-to-please salesmen and presided over by a maniacal owner so crazy that he made The Joker seem stable by comparison.
The mixture of high-strung project managers, idiosyncratic workers and high pressure produced a very surreal need to blow off steam, and blow off steam we did, from the Haiku Hut to the dubiously named "naked hour." The Haiku Hut, merely a large poster board where coworkers could hang their Haiku, was inspired by my failing grade in creative writing class because I refused to write the assigned haiku on the grounds that I was neither Japanese nor poet. The point was moot, beyond discussion, no matter the threats hurled at me by the frustrated brute who learned too late in life that teaching high school English is its own kind of hell. I guess she had her own dose of nasty karma ladled into the soup bowl that was her life. I guess we all do. "Naked hour” is what my office partner named the 60 minutes of quiet time he needed to do his work, during which our office door remained closed and locked.
It was an odd convergence of people who behaved odder still, but perhaps the strangest act in this corporate circus was Milo Quaife. Milo was ostensibly an executive, one who would write lengthy circumlocutions, mysterious memos usually chastising someone for not completing heavily bureaucratic procedures seemingly known only to him.
Milo’s office was on the sixth floor of our two-story office building where apparently all major decisions were made. Milo never seemed to make the office gatherings, always sending his regrets that pressing matters elsewhere kept him away.
People treasured the notorious memos from Milo (who, by the way, contributed a haiku to the Haiku Hut), some keeping large files or binders filled with them. If you were to walk into a room, chances were good that someone would say, “You just missed Milo.”
The only one who seemed to interact personally with Milo was John, one of the true “Madmen” who had long since sold his share of an agency he helped found and worked at the company as elder statesman and liaison to Milo. To suggest that Milo was merely the creation of a bored genius of a writer was to understate Milo’s permeation of the culture. Milo had a desk with an inbox and an official company mailbox where he received mail from the outside world (apparently someone put Milo’s name on every business junk mail list there was). Milo had an inexplicable email account and was listed on the intercompany phone directory.
Milo’s official title was never definitively determined -- I remember one of his missives being signed Executive Vice President of Employee Exactitude, but this appellation was widely disputed.
When a founder retires.
Coincidentally, Milo retired about the same time that John did. John told me the entire origin and story behind the story of Milo. It’s interesting, but I prefer to leave those who knew Milo wondering. For my part, Milo will live on as my eternal illustrative example -- far fewer angry Milo Quaifes will write me slobbering hate mail than if I use the name Joe Jones. God bless you Milo Quaife, wherever you are.
Was Milo real? He thought, but did he exist? I am sure of it. I dismiss the naysayers and affirm that in the hearts and souls of men, yes Santa there is a Virginia.