It’s Always Personal

I’m smoking a thirteen-dollar Maduro in an expensive cigar store in a rich town. Normally I don’t spend so much on pricey smokes but I like this place. And they have leather chairs you can sink into and forget your troubles until the last ash falls.

“I can’t believe that guy fucked me,” the old man sitting next to me says. “I can’t believe how he fucked me.”

I look up from my book. The man’s not talking to me. He’s talking to a casually dressed guy sitting on the other side of the room. And when I say casual I mean he’s dressed down in duds that cost more than I make in a month. Hell, the wristwatch peeking out from under his grey cashmere sweater is greater than my net worth.

“Unbelievable,” he says. “That’s not right.”

“And I’ve been friends with his father for years. The least he could’ve done was call me.”

“You’re right.”

“But he never did,” the old man says. “Even if he called me with some bullshit that would have been better than nothing.”

“Sorry,” the man across the room says, running his fingers though his sandy hair. “I feel for you.”

“And you know what the son said to me? He said, ‘Don’t take it personally. It’s only business.’”

I dog ear my paperback and listen to the men talk. I’m not a regular patron but they know who I am. And even though I’m the poorest guy in the room they don’t seem to hold it against me.

“Figures,” the sandy haired guy says. “Someone on the Street once told me that cash always came before friendship.”

“Listen,” the old man says, “I’ve always tried to get myself the best deal. But I never deliberately went out of my way to screw some one.” Judging from the elderly gent’s expensive topcoat and Italian shoes he probably got himself a boatload of good deals over the years.

“Shame about his old man,” his friend says. “That’s gotta hurt.”

“A guy I’ve known almost forty years. That’s all gone now. Finished.”

The old man takes a long draw on his cigar and blows a wistful cloud towards the ceiling. I watch as the tumbling smoke gets sucked up into the air filter and dies. “Don’t take it personally?” he says to no one in particular. “What is that?”

“It’s always personal,” I say.

“Huh?” the old man says, shifting his cool blue eyes onto me.

“I’ve been fired several times,” I say. “And I’ve fired people. It was always personal. That’s because business is between people and everything between people is personal.”

“You’re right!” the sandy haired man almost shouts. “When I got fired or laid off it was personal. When some one screwed me on a deal it was personal. You can’t tell me it isn’t.”

“And yet,” I say, “These very same guys will tell you, ‘Business is all about relationships.’ You can’t have it both ways.”

The sandy haired man falls silent while old man continues puffing on his cigar. In the back of the store the compressor in the vending machine switches on with a labored thump. I take a pull on my Maduro and let the smoke fly to its doom.

The sandy haired man breaks the quiet. “A guy I once knew told me that cash always comes before friendship. How can people be like that?”

“That’s no way to live,” the old man says. “Materialism is the root of all sadness.”

“You’re right,” the sandy haired man says. “It is.”

I would usually be amused by wealthy people saying such a thing – but I’ve learned the rich can have wisdom too. Sometimes when they’ve finished their climb to the top they discover the summit isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

After a while the old man says goodbye and walks out the door, resignation lacquering his face like nicotine. The sandy haired man soon follows him and I’m alone with my book at last. As my cigar dwindles down to a stub I read about a violent man traveling down lonely roads in search of one last good kiss. I’ve read the book before. He’ll never find it. I know that hurts because a girl once ran me off the same road. When I wrecked myself she said it wasn’t personal either. She didn’t know what she was saying. Probably never will.

It’s always personal.

20 thoughts on “It’s Always Personal”

  1. Carole says:

    Great post. Reminds me of the scene in the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie, You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks tries to defend his big business actions while Meg Ryan exclaims, It’s always personal! I love that scene.

  2. jimster says:

    once again steve, you knock it outa da park!
    i never know which direction your writing is going these days, but i do know that i enjoy every word. thanks for expanding your horizons.

  3. George says:

    Nice. Thank you for writing.

  4. Geoff says:

    In my opinion your best post yet! Very insightful.

  5. Karen says:

    I just watched “You’ve Got Mail” this past weekend too and your post reminded me of Meg Ryan. She states that when you say it’s nothing personal, all you really mean is that it’s not personal to YOU. But really it is always personal for someone…

    Thanks for making me think about this again.

  6. Mike says:

    Is the book he mentions James Crumley’s “The Last Good Kiss”?

  7. Kim says:

    I absolutely love the poetry and imagery of this line. “After a while the old man says goodbye and walks out the door, resignation lacquering his face like nicotine.” It’s gorgeous. Thank you.

  8. Kane says:

    I just started reading your stories. I love
    this entry; a little thoughtful, a little sad. Wonder what happens to the old man.


  9. The Restaurant Manager says:

    Great post! I could agree more: It’s always personal.

  10. Diego says:

    Once again, a thought provoking post.

  11. Fantastagirl says:

    It’s always personal, it’s not about the budget, or who has seniority, it’s personal.
    Those who say otherwise, lie.

  12. expat divorce says:

    This reminded me of You’ve Got Mail too!! I couldn’t agree ith you more,I also think it should be personal. Business should be carried out with morals in place.

  13. Bob Dobbs says:

    There are a few people who can say “It’s just business, nothing personal” and mean it. They’re sociopaths, or functional psychotics, or whatever they call them these days. That’s because _nothing_ in their lives is personal. They are monsters. I’ve known two.

    But they are the few exceptions. The rest are just selfish people looking for a justification to treat other people badly. They are be the first to be outraged when the “just business” line was tried on them. And the business world is full of them.

    Everything is personal: business, government, even war. The corporations and bureaucrats try to diffuse responsibility so that no one person can be blamed for the wrongs done by their organizations. But of course that simply means that _everyone_ in the organization is responsible, by their passive cooperation. They don’t want to hear that, of course.

    Since I’m done talking about me — excellent post.

  14. Melanie says:

    It seems to me like the poorest people are more often the happiest. I watched a documentary on netflix about it. You don’t have much to worry about it you have nothing to lose.
    I like your blog style. Very nice. 🙂

  15. Benny Pendentes says:

    There’s a book called “Hope for the flowers” that has a scene with a caterpillar-pillar. The caterpillars are all climbing over each other to reach “the top”, not knowing why or what is up there. One fights his way up and finally reaches the top of the pillar, having stepped on everyone on his way up. He sees that there is nothing there, and despairingly says so. The other caterpillars at the top say “what do you mean there’s nothing up here? *We’re* up here, that’s what’s up here.”

    (btw I came here following a link in my old defunct blog, that linked to your first site. Now I see you’ve got some books out and this site appears to be top notch. Well-played, sir.)

  16. Adrian from Victoria, Canada says:

    Wow. That is an amazing post. So true, and so close to the heart. You, sir, are a most talented storyteller.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    its my bro`s fault!!do not blame me!!

  18. Jeffrey says:

    Nice post. Great writing. I have been trying to make this same point (not as eloquently) my entire life. Every time someone hides behind the “It’s not personal” bull shlagin’, I tell them that IT IS PERSONAL. “I am a person” you ignorant fool. No matter how gently or eloquently I make my argument, I am always looked at as if I have three heads or am speaking Tagalog. Nice to hear another has a very, very similar point of view

  19. Aleicia says:

    I just finished your book, Waiter Rant, LOVED IT. It made me laugh so hard. I thought the end of my days were on the way for me if I did not find another job other than bartending. Glad I am not the only one that has to deal with customers saying “I am friends with the owner”, I usually say, REALLY, THEN IF YOU ARE SUCH GOOD FRIENDS WITH HIM THEN YOU SHOULD KNOW HE DON’T COME IN ON SUNDAY NIGHTS”. They shut up real quick. Its funny. Love your work, Keep writing.

  20. vancouver photographer says:

    Beautifully written post. So clear and sharp and unexpectedly kind.

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