(originally posted 5/19/2012)
(The scene: August of 2004 in a boardroom somewhere in Cincinnati)
Fred Wilson shifted uncomfortably in his chair. That innocent-looking vine he had so cavalierly pulled out of his zucchini patch recently had indeed turned out to be the poison ivy his wife had warned him about seeing lurking in his vegetable garden and now he had raised red welts covering his arms, stomach and left thigh. It was his thigh that held his full attention now as he tried to nonchalantly claw at it through the Comme Des Garcons pants he was wearing. Outside observers would mistake his endless shifting and adjusting as nothing more than nerves… the same fidgeting movements that those observers would recognize among almost every man and woman seated at the enormous conference table on this hot August afternoon in Cincinnati. It was not a good day to be seated at a conference table at the offices of Gillette. Rumor had it that Schick was working on a razor that had four blades. Four. Their current offering, the MACH3Turbo system, had only 3. Four would change everything. How did the world get so crazy? At one time talk of a razor that had two blades was cause for laughter. Now the street was buzzing about four. Madness.
The razor and blade industry has worldwide sales of $10 billion annually and Gillette’s Chairman was coming down for answers. He wanted those answers from Fred and his team. Right now none of that mattered though. Fred would trade it all; the power, the glamour, the money that his position at Gillette afforded him, for one handful of RhuliGel and the blissful end to this itching. For a second his mind drifted back to the early test subjects for the MACH3… the crimson rivers running down their horrified faces… the screaming… and eventually the Gillette black helicopters that were needed to “resolve” some of the litigation that resulted. Now there was talk about four blades? He could only imagine the slaughterhouse that Schick was planning to turn bathrooms across the country into. Madness.
The Chairman, a short powerfully built man of about 60, stormed into the conference room. It seemed he was fresh from mortal combat elsewhere in the building and Fred swore he could smell the fear of his colleagues drift into his nostrils in a slow, lazy dance from each armpit. “I don’t even remember this fucking guys name” Fred thought to himself as panic swept over him. The Chairman’s eyes swept back and forth over the room like prison searchlights. He said one word.
It was at this moment that Fred became aware of two things; his stomach began to itch like crazy and his assistant, Jan, began to exhibit signs of a coming panic attack. Jan was a squat girl in her early thirties with bad breath and a tendency to fold in pressure situations. He had witnessed one of her panic attacks a year prior at the company picnic when Jan was asked to decide the winner of the 3-legged race. It had been a very close finish and she had been right at the finish line. In the end the race was ruled a draw when Jan began hyperventilating and eventually stumbled and fell face-first into a large bowl of potato salad. There would be no such salad to cushion her fall here. Gripping his pen like a sword, Fred began to drag it back and forth across his midsection. Each pass brought him momentary relief followed by a quick return of the itching that seemed to grow with each passing second. Soon the sweat from his body urged the rashes on his arms to join the fun and it was all he could do not to cry out.
“Four” the Chairman repeated and his gaze finally came to rest on Fred. “Do you realize the importance that the razor division of this company has to the bottom line?” His voice began to rise. “Half! Half of what we sell is razors!”. His hands became fists and a slight string of spittle clung to the edge of his mouth. The silence in the room grew deafening. “Those filthy fuckers at Schick are coming out with a 4-blade razor and all you can do is sit here looking at me?!” he thundered. “In both manual AND battery-powered models!”. Fred’s thigh was on fire. He couldn’t help himself, his hand reached down between his legs and grabbed his thigh like a drowning man clutches at a life preserver. He squeezed and scratched and wasn’t sure if anything in his entire life had given him so much pleasure.
He heard that word bellowed out and it took him a moment to realize that the voice he heard had come from him. He rose up. “Five Mr. Chairman.”
The Chairman’s eyes grew round and he gasped slightly. Those at the table pivoted their heads as one in Fred’s direction… jaws dropping all round. Time froze and for an instant even the rashes covering Fred’s body took a timeout.
“Of course we’re going to need lubricating strips and plenty of them” Fred said as he picked up a pad of paper and started frantically doing calculations. “Perhaps on the front and back.”
Soon Jan was working feverishly on her laptop also. “The blades will have to be closer.”
“Yes” Alan in engineering added. “Much closer.”
The table suddenly came alive. Almost as one they began scribbling and sketching.
“Can it really be done?” asked The Chairman.
“You come in here and say ‘Four’ to me and expect me to just sit here and take it?” Fred turned on the old number-cruncher without mercy. “Just get the fuck out of here and tell your people that we’ll build your razor!”
The Chairman stumbled back, his eyes locked with Fred’s.
“Not only will you get five blades… but I’m going to give you a single blade on the back to trim the hair under your fucking nose you cocksucker!”
The Chairman’s hand fumbled with the doorknob helplessly.
“We’ll stick in a fucking micro-chip to regulate the voltage and blade action!” yelled Dick Hanson, a dark-skinned man with thinning hair.
“And a low-battery indicator light!” added an Asian woman who Fred had only spoken to a couple times.
“Yes! A low-battery indicator light! Go! Go and tell the investors that you bastard!” Fred barked as the Chairman disappeared into the hallway. “That’s right…. Five.” Fred said as he sunk back into his ergonomic chair. The itching was returning and Fred only now noticed that Jan was slumped face-down on the table.