Dale was unprepared for his end-of-probation evaluation, as the very definition of time had abandoned him many afligablaxibules ago.
I found him at his desk staring at a blank Word document. It had only a heading - "achievements" - that had been styled several different ways while Dale's mind stalled for time.
'Trying to list all your work accomplishments for your review?' I asked.
'What is this? Six months here consulting? Don't sweat too much; I remember when I was in your position. When I was younger I was recruited as a consultant for Dr. Pepper's Australian expansion. It was at the six month mark that I realised they were selling soda and not medicine. I had actually been calling the CEO "Doctor". They wanted to terminate me, but the only thing I'd done in those six months was overhaul their online access tools and I controlled all the passwords. They actually tried to extend my contract, before they went bankrupt.'
'No, see, that's my problem!' said Dale. 'You and every consultant I ever meet have these amazing, interesting stories about their time consulting. When I was in a permanent position I felt like nothing ever happened, and if anything did threaten to become interesting I was like a local cop forced to respect the jurisdiction of the FBI Agent Consultants who bustled in to solve everything. I feel fake being a consultant here. The only smart sounding insight I've been able to share with anyone in six months was my secret of using the hand dryer and paper towel at the same time. I want to experience something worth telling a story about.'
Miguel appeared, apparently having sensed Dale's Monday anguish.
'I was a contract worker at Apple when they were first developing the iPod.' He grinned at Dale. 'It was crazy; I didn't get home from work before midnight for months. Can I borrow your pen?'
'You stole my last pen yesterday to mix your coffee.'
'Listen,' I told Dale. 'Everyone's stories will always sound more exciting. Everything you're told will be exaggerated, the boring parts will be omitted, the details airbrushed. Miguel, weren't you a cleaner at Apple while you were at UCLA? Around the time of the first iPod, I believe.'
Miguel scowled and left.
'See?' I said. 'Everything's embellished. Plus you don't have any perspective because who sticks around to listen to the boring ones? You never hear a bad story, unless you end up bogged in small talk at an office party.'
Harold had sensed a conversation was occurring and saw this chance to join.
'We had the best office parties back when I was consulting for the CIA.' He said. 'They were splendid. I have so much I can share about them.'
'I'll save you the trouble' I told him. 'You actually worked on a shared services project for the whole of the US Federal Government. Your primary responsibility was to monitor an inbox for alerts and forward it to the appropriate team. You did this mainly from home.'
'National Security alerts?' asked Dale.
'Hardware alerts.' Harold said. 'Some agencies really needed to tune their databases. There are a few funny things about database tuning...'
'Wrong.' I interrupted. 'There's nothing funny about database tuning. Anything that occurred in relation to it would have been funny only in the context that it occurred. Face it: interesting stories in the IT industry are rare.'
'I was working IT in New York on September 11,' said Joe.
The bonfire-esque conversation was proving a beacon to Monday morning procrastinators.
'I was even supposed to be at a meeting in the World Trade Centre that morning, but there was a client demo in Jersey that my boss insisted I spend the day at.'
'That one is all true,' I admitted. 'The year was 1997.'
Joe blushed. I turned to Dale.
'You understand? None of these people have more exciting lives than you. Consultants don't either; it's just the separation and anonymity they enjoy because of their independence that gives them the freedom to exaggerate that little bit more.'
Dale nodded, taking the message to heart.
'Hey..' he asked: 'Does that mean Karl's story about how he worked 24 hour days on his nanotech start-up, and didn't sleep for nine days straight in order to finish a prototype to win venture capitalists before hostile rivals bought out his board, is also bullshit?'
'Actually,' I lowered my voice. 'Karl might be the exception to this rule. He generally needs to downplay his anecdotes just to make them sound plausible.'
Across the office Karl sat waiting in one of the smaller meeting rooms, he was reading through Dale's probation review checklist while his left hand absentmindedly moved to rub the scar above the shrapnel buried in his thigh.