Larceny or Lunacy
Doug Markham thumbed through the sales printouts with the skill of a weaver. "Territory 6 looks good . . . Territory 7's doing great . . . look out Territory 8, you've knocked them out of town!" he exclaimed. Then he turned to Territory 9. "Whoa, mama, have we gone to sleep here?" Sales were nearly zero for the month.
Kashra Rushdi was in charge of Territory 9. Doug leaned back in his chair and tapped his pencil rhythmically on the armrest. He mulled over Kashra's history during the past few months. Doug had been working with Kashra each month attempting to identify problems and giving him tips to improve sales. Obviously, his periodic phone calls and gentle nudging weren't doing the trick. Lately, it even seemed as though Kashra was trying to dodge his phone calls.
It didn't make sense to Doug. Doug had a reputation for being an effective sales manager whose ability to train staff had won him a number of awards. Although their product was highly technical, Kashra was bright and well educated. Plus, with his Middle Eastern background, Kashra should be kicking sales through the ceiling, since his assigned territory catered to Middle Easterners. Doug just couldn't understand why sales continued to plummet.
"Maybe I need to shoot some life into him," Doug said to himself. "I'll go out and ride with him for a day or two and see if I can motivate him." This time when he dialed Kashra on his car phone, Doug finally connected.
"Kashra, this is Doug. Which parkway am I catching you on?" he asked.
"Actually, I'm stopped at a light on Main," Kashra replied.
"Listen, I've just gone over last month's sales report for your territory, and I think we need to get together," Doug suggested. "I'll drive up the coast and catch you on Tuesday."
"Oh, you don't have to take the trouble," Kashra said. "I'm doing just fine. I'm loaded with appointments for the next two weeks."
"That reminds me," Doug said, "I haven't received your call reports in three weeks."
"Really? I don't understand," Kashra said. "I send them every week. Maybe there's a problem with the mail."
"Well, how about faxing the copies to me?"
"The copies . . . ?" Kashra stumbled.
"Yes, you know, the call reports are in multiple pages. You keep copies for yourself, don't you? You need them for tax purposes, I would suppose," Doug reminded him.
"Oh, yes, yes, of course," Kashra said. "I'll fax you the copies when I get home."
"But I still want to come up and spend some time with you," Doug persisted. "I'm glad you're so busy. I think it would be good for us to catch up on things."
"This really isn't a good week. I have relatives visiting," Kashra responded.
"Well, I'm only going to be with you during your scheduled appointments. I promise I won't keep you out in the evenings," Doug assured him. "I'll be up on Tuesday and meet you at the district office at 7:30 a.m.–unless, of course, you have an appointment scheduled sooner than that," Doug joked.
Kashra realized that Doug was not going to take no for an answer and agreed to meet him Tuesday. When Doug arrived at the office, he waited until 8 a.m. for Kashra.
"Oh, sorry I'm late, Doug. I felt a little queasy this morning, so I got a slow start," Kashra apologized.
"Gee, that's too bad. I hope you're feeling better, Kashra. Would you like me to drive?" Doug offered sincerely.
"Oh, no. I'll be okay," Kashra said weakly. "I took an antacid."
The two of them got into Kashra's car and pulled out of the parking lot and onto Main Street. They were in the middle of discussing one of Kashra's prospects when suddenly Kashra slumped over the steering wheel and the car began to veer into the next lane of traffic.
Startled, Doug grabbed the steering wheel, turning it to the right while pushing Kashra's lifeless body back into his seat, and quickly pulled the car back into position. Then he kicked Kashra's feet out of the way to reach the brake. Eventually, Doug maneuvered the car to the berm, eased it to a stop, and turned off the ignition. He tapped Kashra lightly and asked him if he was okay, but got no response. Terrified, Doug called 911 from the car phone for an ambulance. The emergency squad arrived within four minutes.
As the paramedics approached the car, Kashra suddenly bolted upright. "I really didn't want you to be here," he blurted out. "I'm very anxious about this, so I thought if I pretended to have a heart attack you would leave me alone."
Doug was speechless and stared at Kashra incredulously. His thoughts were interrupted by a paramedic tapping on the car window. Although Doug was still shaken by the highway episode as well as confused by Kashra's untimely confession, Doug informed the paramedics that Kashra had somehow miraculously revived. The paramedics checked Kashra's vitals, asked key questions, and then departed as quickly as they arrived.
Doug regained his composure and looked squarely at Kashra. "Kashra, I am here to help you, not to hurt you. That is my job. Do you understand that?"
Kashra nodded in weak acknowledgment. They spent the next several hours over coffee, where Doug used all his knowledge and training to help Kashra reduce his anxiety about Doug's visit. He suggested that Kashra cancel the remainder of his appointments and go home and relax for the rest of the afternoon. Kashra agreed to try again the next day.
The next morning began much like the first, with Kashra arriving a half-hour late for his appointment with Doug. Doug couldn't believe that Kashra continued this passive-aggressive behavior but tried to remain patient. Again, they began their journey on Main Street. This time they entered a ramp that accessed a toll bridge. There were four lanes for the toll gate, and Kashra chose the gate farthest to the left. Once Kashra paid the toll, he got a wild look on his face, turned the wheel to the right, and began to accelerate the car. He sped recklessly across all lanes of traffic and aimed directly for the guard rail. "Are you crazy?! You're going to drive us right off the bridge!" Doug shouted, and wrestled the wheel from Kashra.
Doug reached his foot to the brake, but couldn't slow the car down quickly enough to avoid smashing head-on into the railing. Both men were jolted forward from the impact. Doug threw the gear into park, ripped the keys out of the ignition, tore off his seat belt, and leaped out of the car. He stood on the walkway and breathlessly balanced himself against the guard rail. Finally, he summoned the courage to look down, and took a big gulp as he stared at the water 80 feet below.
Still breathless and dazed, Doug stared at Kashra who remained transfixed behind the wheel. The police sirens interrupted Doug's thoughts. Doug told them he was Kashra's boss and that Kashra was feeling exceptionally pressured by his visit, which may have contributed to his irrational behavior. While they questioned Kashra, Doug noticed that the impact of the collision had caused the trunk to pop open. To find out what Doug found, read part 2
Excerpted from Sex, Laws, & Stereotypes, by N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.©