JUDITH GOODE - MAKING IT WORK
Judith Goode went to Bard College and majored in Languages and Literature. She was named John Bard Scholar in her sophomore year. She received a Fulbright Scholarship to Italy and a full fellowship to the Iowa Writers Workshop. Her short stories have been published in numerous literary magazines. Goode was born and raised in New York City, and lives in Saugerties NY.
Making It Work
Her vision of a small but powerful company guided Lenore Taylor-Bart in the founding of LTB Incorporated. She situated it in Westminster, Colorado, just forty minutes from her one big client, Bell Labs in Denver, Colorado. She hired her staff by picking and choosing from the personnel files given to her by friends of friends in telecommunications companies’ Human Resources departments in the Denver-Boulder area. The technical writers she picked to interview were often casualties of Bell Labs’ big layoff in the late nineteen-eighties. They were writers who typically knew their telecommunications. Her choices were based on the recommendations of supervisors in the Technical Publications departments at the telecom companies from which she had the personnel files. It was nineteen ninety-two.
Lenore and her husband Jay and their son Lance lived in Boulder, Colorado, so it was an easy thirty-minute drive to the LTB office in Westminster. Jay was a commercial artist and Lance, at twelve, was a child with behavioral problems. The three of them saw a therapist on Saturdays and Lance saw the therapist by himself during the week after school. Lenore was a permissive parent; Jay less so. Lenore sometimes let Lance roam around the office, disturbing the writers at their work. Lenore didn’t notice this and no one said anything.
Lenore was a high energy person and her company reflected this. There was always an air of excitement in the big room where they worked. The office was in an historic house with a garden in the back. There was a fireplace in the room where they worked. Lenore was a handsome woman of forty-five, although quite overweight. She made no attempt to lose the weight, however. Her husband Jay was tall—a big man. Lance still had his baby fat and his hands were always sticky from eating candy bars.
When LTB’s contact at Bell Labs came to the office to meet with Lenore, there was a flurry of activity to make sure that all the documents were ready for Roberta to take back to the Labs with her. LTB had a history of missing deadlines because of Lenore’s tendency to take on too much for her client. She expected more from her staff than they were able to give. LTB also had a complex quality process, which slowed down the production of documents. But quality was what they were known for at the Labs and it was in large measure why the Labs contracted out their work to LTB. Despite the quality process, LTB produced their documents quickly by comparison to other consultants to telecom companies. LTB was at the top of the list of consultants to Bell Labs—and with good reason. They had a stellar reputation.
Sometimes the staff had to work late to finish the documents in time to meet the deadline. It was not uncommon for most of the writers and the editor to be at the office until three in the morning. At times like these, there was a real esprit de corps among the staff. All except Ginny, that is. Ginny was LTB’s one technical person, although she was a terrible writer. But Lenore needed her as a SME (subject matter expert). Otherwise they would be on the phone to the Labs to get answers for their technical questions. This would be bad for their reputation.
Ginny thought she could do no wrong. She was superior and often rude, especially to the tech editor who was responsible for cleaning up Ginny’s mess of a document. Ginny didn’t take well to the editing of her work. She refused Madelyn’s’s request for a conference when there were problems with her document and just scrawled “No!” on the document and threw it on Madelyn’s desk. Madelyn was as diplomatic as anyone could be and yet Ginny was rude and uncooperative. It was a constant worry of Lenore’s how to handle Ginny without alienating their SME and upsetting the rest of the staff. Jane, Lenore’s friend and longtime employee, said Lenore should fire Ginny, that she was more trouble than she was worth. Jane didn’t mince her words: she was up front and fearless about her views. She was also usually right and Lenore knew it. Jane was friends with Madelyn and Ginny’s rudeness particularly bothered Jane because Madelyn was sensitive and had exquisite manners. She was not about to confront Ginny.
Another person whom Ginny rubbed the wrong way was Alicia. She was outspoken and didn’t tolerate bad behavior. Jane and Alicia disliked each other when they first joined the company but as they got to know each other they became the best of friends. Alicia too urged Lenore to fire Ginny. Lenore dragged her feet on this issue, hoping she could find another SME to replace Ginny. From a business perspective firing their SME without replacing her would be prohibitive.
Ralph and Don were the two male employees at LTB. Ralph always took Ginny’s side and the two were buddies. Don was neutral about the SME problem. He typically arrived in the morning and sat down at his computer. He liked to get going on his work right away, regardless of any intrigue in the office. Lenore appreciated Don for his professionalism. She knew she could depend on all of her staff but especially Don because he didn’t get involved in personnel problems.
Lenore often went out to lunch wiith Jane, Alicia, and Madelyn or some other combination of employees. Lenore was delightful company. She had a musical laugh and laughed often. Jane viewed the world with irony. Alicia and Madelyn were sophisticated big city women, Alicia from Chicago and Madelyn from New York. Jane had a long-term boyfriend on the western slope, Alicia was recovering from a failed marriage, and Madelyn was single after a bad breakup.
One afternoon Roberta came in with an unhappy face. One of the developers at the Labs had found a technical error in a DTB document. Lenore immediately traced the document to Ginny. But she knew that Madelyn would have queried it in her editing. It turned out that that document had bypassed Madelyn and hadn’t been edited. How did it get out the door? Lenore pacified Roberta and promised that DTB would correct the error and return it to the Labs post haste. When Roberta left, Lenore called Ginny and Madelyn to the conference room across the hall. Both looked at the document.
“I never saw this before,” Madelyn said. “But if I’m reading it right, according to the comment in the margin from the developer, I think the convoluted prose obscures the meaning. So it’s not actually an error.”
“Ginny, why didn’t this document go to Madelyn for editing?” Lenore said.
“I looked for her but she wasn’t here,” Ginny said.
“…It must have been the day I had to leave early because of a doctor’s appointment,” Madelyn said.
“Well, I had a deadline to meet,” Ginny said, defensively.
“Ginny, why didn’t you give it to me so I could messenger it to Madelyn at home?”
“I didn’t think it was such a big deal.”
“It was a big deal,” Lenore said, “We angered the client. It’s a black mark against us—a serious flaw in our process…let me stress this: every document must go through our editor. There are no exceptions to this rule—”
“—Okay, I get it!” Ginny said. She stood up and left the room.
Lenore just sat shaking her head.
“I’m sorry this happened, Lenore.”
“Madelyn, it’s not your problem. I just have to think about it and make a decision…. Let’s go back to the other room.”
By the end of the day, Lenore knew what she had to do. She had to hire another SME. She called Roberta and told her that they had solved the problem but that she needed to hire another SME. Did Roberta know of anyone?
“I do. There’s a developer at the Labs who writes beautifully and would like to use his talent. Here’s his info….”
Lenore called Justin right away and offered him a job. He accepted it. In two weeks DTB had a writer-SME. Lenore fired Ginny. Everyone except Don was relieved. Don didn’t care. But Ralph, Ginny’s buddy, resigned in protest. No one missed him.
Justin turned out to be a gift. Not only was he an excellent writer but his technical acumen came right from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: Bell Labs. He was gracious about answering questions from other writers and explained concepts clearly and rationally. Lenore was delighted. She called Roberta to thank her. Justin was also a goodlooking man, divorced, with no children. Everybody liked him. One day when Madelyn was sitting on the back steps for her smoke break, Justin came out to join her. Madelyn asked him if he’d like a cigarette and he said no, he had stopped smoking. He just came out for a breath of fresh air.
They chatted about books and movies. Both were readers and viewers. Justin asked if Madelyn would like to go to a movie some time. She said she would. Did he know what was playing in the Boulder movie theaters? He said no but he would find out. He took his cell phone out of his pocket and googled.
“’Hiroshima, Mon Amour.’ Have you seen it?” he said. “There’s also….” And he listed several other mvoies that neither of them was interested in.
“Of course, but I’d like to see it again,” Madelyn said.
“How about tonight?”
“Sure. It’s Friday today, right?”
“Right,” he said. “It’s on at seven…dinner after?”
“That would be nice,” Madelyn said, getting up. Justin followed her inside.
“Email me your address and I’ll pick you up at six forty-five.”
“Done,” she said
The movie was heartbreaking as Madelyn remembered it. Justin said he was moved. They talked about it over dinner at the one of the better restaurants in Boulder where Madelyn l ived. Justin lived in Denver. They talked about movies, since both were avid movie goers. They also talked about Lenore and LTB.
“Do you prefer writing to develping?” Madelyn said.
“For now. I needed a change of pace and a change of venue. I like working at a small company. It feels less corporate—”
“—Although LTB is technically a corporation—”
“—But a small one…and Lenore is inspiring,” Justin said.
“Yes, she’s a firebrand….. The SME we had before you rubbed everyone the wrong way except her sidekick,” Madelyn said.
“So I heard.”
After dinner they took a stroll around downtown Boulder and the outside mall. It was a pleasant May evening and the trees were just leafing out. Justin said he was thinking about moving to Boulder—that is, if he stayed at LTB. He was basically trying it out.
“So you might go back to the Labs?” Madelyn said.
“I hope you don’t. it’s great having you at LTB.”
Justin drove her home and kissed her on the door step. It was a wonderful kiss.
“Come in,” Madelyn said.
Inside, more kissing, more of everything else, and bed. The sex was terrific. Justin stayed the night. In the morning they showered together and he made breakfast. He said he loved her thoughtful view of things and most of all her long hair. Madelyn was small and slight; Justin was tall and thin. They shared politics and literature. Justin said he thought the renovation she’d done on the old house was perfect. Sunlight flooded in the kitchen windows and outside lilac and tulips and other early flowers were blooming. Madelyn’s cat jumped in his lap.
“She doesn’t do that with everyone. Just a chosen few. And you’re one of them,” Madelyn said.
“That’s because she knows that I’m an animal person,” Justin said.
Justin called her on Sunday to see how she was. Madelyn told him that she had a great time with him. Likewise, he said. On Monday at LTB everything looked different to her. She and Justin exchanged glances that told a story. At lunchtime he joined her on the back step where she was sitting smoking a cigarette.
“What’re you doing tonight?” he said.
“Come for dinner,” Madelyn said.
“I’d love to.”
It was a long day. Madelyn was editing a difficult and poorly written document from one of LTB’s outside freelancers. She spoke to Lenore about it and said she didn’t think they should use this freelancer again. Lenore asked if it was technically correct. Madelyn said it was but she would ask Justin for his review anyway.
“Good plan. But I’ll take her off the list going forward,” Lenore said.
When Madelyn showed the document to Justin he said it was okay technically.
“But I see you had to use a lot of red ink on it,” he said. And then, in a low voice, “Your perfume is driving me crazy.”
“Sorry. I’ll try to stay away from you at work.”
“No, don’t. I like it….”
When Justin came in the door that evening he picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. He undressed her slowly and then himself. The sex was again terrific.
“I hope I haven’t ruined your dinner by delaying it,” he said.
“No, it’s the kind of thing that can sit,” Madelyn said. “Would you like a glass of wine?”
They sat under the grape arbor drinking their wine. It was a balmy evening.
“…I trust we’re not breaking any rules at LTB by seeing each other,” Justin said.
“Not that I know of…Lenore’s pretty relaxed about things like this,” Madelyn said.
Over dinner they talked about the political situation in Washington and found that they agreed on just about everything. Then they talked about Lenore’s use of freelancers for LTB documents.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. They’re isolated from us and don’t have the benefit of technical oversight,” Justin said.
“I think it’s because she has too much work for the staff to handle.”
“Then she should hire more staff.”
“Tell Lenore what you’ve just told me, Madelyn said. “She should hear this from you…she respects you and your insights,” Madelyn said. “…But I want to know more about your life—for example, can you talk about why your marriage didn’t work? Or do you not like talking about it?”
“No, I’m fine talking about it…We were very young and didn’t know much about relationships for one. And two the sex was never good. My wife had a lot of inhibitions. She saw a shrink but it didn’t really help. She was afraid to let go—which is what it’s all about,” Justin said.
“That’s a shame…did you have a committed relationship after your marriage?” Madelyn said.
“No, not really. I never met the right person—until you came along.”
“Am I the right person?”
“For me, yes…so far…. Now you go.”
“I’ve had one committed relationship and I was devastated when he broke it off. I never understood why,” Madelyn said. “Except I think he was afraid of getting in too deep.”
“And were you?” Justin said.
“Were we what?”
“Getting in too deep.”
“For him, yes. For me, no,” Madelyn said.
“…There’s no such thing as ‘getting in too deep’ in a good relationship, is there?” Justin said.
“Not to me there isn’t. Depth is what you want as you get closer to someone.”
“Exactly…. Dinner was delicious, by the way. Did you cook or your housekeeper?”
“I cooked. She’s off today.”
Justin began putting the dishes on the tray Madelyn had used to bring dinner out. He carried the tray to the back door, which Madelyn held open for him.
In the kitchen he put the tray on the counter, turned around, and kissed her. “Let’s go to bed,” he said.
“Yes, let’s,” Madelyn said.
They undressed each other quickly upstairs: both were ready. As before, sex was terrific. Madelyn felt fully satisfied when they finished. So did Justin. They lay in each others’ arms for quite a while, talking.
“We’re lucky,” Madelyn said.
“Because this is working.”
“Right…. I think you should move to Boulder.”
“I think I will. Can you help me look at houses?”
At DTB Madelyn and Justin were having a hard time not touching each other and maintaining a professional distance, especially since Justin’s desk was right behind Madelyn’s. Lenore was perceptive and had figured out that they were together. She didn’t say anything to them or any one else. People who gossiped had linked their names. Otherwise, nobody knew.
DTB was having another Bell Labs-related crisis. Once again a writer failed to send her document to Madelyn because she was past her deadline. And again a poorly written sentence had resulted in a technical error. Roberta was livid. DTB was on thin ice and Lenore was worried. The writer had also missed Justin’s review, which typically came after editing and the consequent revision by the writer.
Lenore called a writers’ meeting. She said at the meeting that it was the writer’s job to have their document edited and, once corrected, sent to Justin for his review. Writers who failed to do this would be put on probation, as was the writer who just missed these two steps. This was not a preference—it was a requirement and could not be taken more seriously. It was a grim meeting. The situation with their client was dire.
“Pay attention!” Lenore said.
Lenore met with Roberta and told her that she was enforcing two steps in the writer’s process and would prevent errors from cropping up again. Roberta was somewat pacified. The relationship with the Labs calmed down and so did Lenore. Still, she dispatched Justin to the Labs to speak with Roberta’s boss and reassure him that DTB had the situation under control. Justin told Madelyn when he came in the evening that some feathers had been ruffled at the Labs but that the whole thing had blown over. So Madelyn should relax and forget about it: DTB was not in danger of being fired.
“Good because if we lose the Labs we lose DTB. Lenore should really cultivate some new clients, don’t you think?” Madelyn said.
“I totally agree and I don’t understand why such a savvy businesswoman like Lenore hasn’t done so,” Justin said. “It’s suicidal. What if the Labs has a business crisis and cuts back on expenses? What if the Labs decides to relocate the unit in Denver? Anything could happen and DTB could be left in the lurch.”
“…I don’t always understand Lenore. Maybe she has a fatal flaw in her thinking and doesn’t realize these possibilities. Could that be?”
“I guess so…but it seems unlikely, given that she’s gotten this far in business,” Justin said.
They were again having dinner under the grape arbor.
“What about HP and Anheuser Busch? Why not approach companies like that on the Front Range?” Madelyn said
“Maybe she tried and had no luck…not all big companies use outside contractors,” Justin said.
“True. But those are only two of a raft of companies on the Front Range.”
“You should talk to her and see if she’ll tell you what her strategy is—” Justin said.
“—No, I think you should talk to her. You’re more senior than I and she idolizes you, Justin.”
“I don’t know about any ranking system…but I will talk to her. Maybe being from the Labs gives me some clout, if that’s what you mean.”
“Yes,” Madelyn said. “It definitely does.”
The next day at DTB Justin asked Lenore if she would have lunch with him and Madelyn and Lenore said yes, she’d be delighted to. Madelyn was surprised to be included but remembered that Justin was always fair.
“I’ve known Roberta for years and she encouraged me to start DTB,” Lenore said over lunch. “Once I founded the company I saw that we would be kind of a satellite to the Labs and that other clients would be unwelcome competition. As Madelyn knows, I worked for the Labs myself in New Jersey so it was a natural fit between the Labs and DTB.”
“Lenore, what Madelyn and I are concerned about is what if the Labs drops LTB?”
“…Well, then we would go under,” Lenore said.
“But there’s no safety net this way whereas if you had other clients…” Madelyn said.
“I see your point and I’ve thought about it…I’ll scout around and if I find something I’ll consider changing my business plan…by the way, you two are a couple, aren’t you?” Lenore said.
Justin and Madelyn laughed. “We are,” he said.
“…I hope you don’t mind, Lenore,” Madelyn said.
“Not at all. You’re a cute pair!”
Lenore made some calls to the telecom companies in the Denver-Boulder areas from which she had hired her staff. Two out of four showed interest and Lenore told them she would send DTB’s SME and tech editor to talk to them about the telecom documentaton company and what DTB offered. She gave DTB’s sales portfolio to Justin and Madelyn and the contact info for the companies that were interested in meeting them. Justin took one, Madelyn the other, and they made appointments for the following week. Justin and Madelyn told their contacts what their process was at DTB, beginning with the visit from the client’s representative: research, writing, editing, and SME review. They displayed the portfolio with sample documents and left a glossy brochure with the client.
Both new clients called Lenore to follow up and said they would send their representative to DTB at Lenore’s convenience. The representative would bring developer notes and be available for interview by DTB writers. Lenore sent around a memo with the news. She gave special thanks to Justin and Madelyn who did the footwork. Then she looked into hiring more staff.
On the weekend, Justin and Madelyn went house hunting for Justin in Boulder. The realtor they’d hired warned them: housing costs had gone through the roof in Boulder. It was true and the houses they saw weren’t even that nice. They looked at a half a dozen, including condos, and called it a day. As they were drinking a glass of wine under the grape arbor Madelyn said,
“Justin, why don’t you move in here with me?”
“Are you ready, I mean do you want me to?”
“I’m ready if you are.”
“Yes!” Justin said.
He leaned over the table and kissed her. So it was resolved and Sunday they moved him in. They combined some of their kitchenware and furniture and Justin put the rest in storage until they decided what to do with it. The furniture Justin brought included a slipper chair for the bedroom and a sofa for the loft. They celebrated by going out for sushi at Boulder’s sublime sushi restaurant. That night they went to bed in what was now their bedroom.
Justin and Madelyn were happy living together. They each had the right kind of energy to share a house. DTB was doing really well with the new clients and expanded staff. Lenore’s management skills were shining a bright light on the company.
Then a bombshell hit: the Labs suddenly terminated their contract with DTB. When Roberta came to give Lenore the news, she had no explanation. The decision had come down from upper management. She was sorry, she said; she had enjoyed working with DTB. It was a blow. The Labs were the major part of DTB’s income. They couldn’t survive on what the two remaining clients brought in. Toward the end of the day Lenore called everyone into the conference room. She said,
“It’s been a pleasure and a privilege working with all of you but DTB is closing its doors as of today. Thank you for all the effort you’ve put in to make DTB thrive…. Justin and Madelyn, stay on for a few minutes, please.”
Everyone left except Justin and Madelyn. Lenore offered them a deal. For the two remaining clients, Lenore would do the writing, Madelyn the editing, and Justin the tech review.
“What do you think?” Lenore said. “You would work from home and we would send the documents back and forth via email.”
“Would you keep us busy full time?” Justin said.
“Pretty close,” Lenore said. “Depending on how many hours you want to put in, you could have other clients.”
“Could we think about it and tell you tomorrow?” Madelyn said.
Once again over their evening glass of wine Justin and Marilyn discussed Lenore’s proposal. Justin said he thought he would do better by going back to the Labs. Madelyn was undecided.
“I think I’ll take it since I don’t have anything else right now…maybe you could go back to the Labs and do this on the side. It probably doesn’t take you more than an hour per document to do your tech review, right?” Madelyn said.
“While we’re hanging out here after work, you could be doing your review.”
Madelyn said she would email Lenore for both of them. The loft was already set up for work. They would just need another desk and chair for Justin.
The arrangement with Lenore worked well for about a year when Lenore began getting more clients than the three of them could handle. Lenore started up DTB again and Madelyn joined the company. Justin, however, stayed at the Labs where he was secure.
Justin and Madelyn had been living together for two years when Madelyn found out she was pregnant. They were both thirty-five. Justin knelt in front of her and held out a velveteen box, the cover open.
“Will you marry me?” he said.
He slipped the ring—a diamond in a delicate setting—on her finger. They both cried and laughed simultanously. They were married by the Justice of the Peace in the Town Hall. Lenore and a friend from the Labs were their witnesses. They had a small reception in the old hotel. The whole staff from DTB were there, plus two good friends of Madelyn’s and some of Justin’s friends from the Labs. Madelyn was having morning sickness—which was actually evening sickness because it came on at dinner time—so they kept the celebration to a minimum.
When they got home, Justin picked her up and carried her over the threshold, depositing her on the sofa. He sat down beside her and said,
“And soon we’ll be three….”
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