/’skAn/ : a loosely coiled length of yarn or thread wound on a reel

The Juggler #2

More work on The Juggler, this time even less complete than the last entry. But, hopefully there'll be more here soon.

Like the prof had promised, we put on a lot of shows over the next few weeks. It was like we were a little circus, performing at lunches and dinners for old big wigs and sharp young guys, all with a lot of money to burn.

The old guys were the best, and the easiest to sell. Each and every one of them believed that he was the proverbial aged canine. One of them even came right out with it - "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," he'd said between bites of steak. It was uncanny. But, it just took fifteen minutes to stream a little bit of me into their skulls and five minutes of flawless borrowed talent experienced firsthand. They all signed on the dotted line and handed over their checkbooks.

The younger guys were more of a challenge, though. I don't know what it was, but a lot of them seemed just too cynical to wow straight off the bat. A few of them saw right through the patter to the flaws in what we were selling.

We couldn't hide that there were still bugs in the system: The playback didn't always take. And sometimes, when it did take, it didn't last long at all. In a few other cases, there were some side effects. Nothing too horrible, though: The prof himself had picked up a few bad habits from my own recordings. He was smoking two packs a day for awhile there; he just started doing it one day while he was refreshing his juggling skills. He also kept stealing Jody's coffee mug when he gave origami demos. She hated that.

But, the prof had a beefier spiel for the smart guys. He stepped up the million-dollar words, swamped them with journals and bibliographies, showed off presentations worked up by a few of his grad student converts with mission statements and goals and schedules. He was already a few steps ahead to take on objections and had a plan for every wrinkle in the product. He had spreadsheets and budgets and financial projections.

And, it didn't hurt that we'd picked up recordings from a champion golfer a few weeks after we started. Those playbacks were great freebies to give out along with branded balls and tees.

Through all of it, though, I was there. I made the cold calls, shook the hands, kicked off all the meetings. I sold the story. I was the barker calling them into the tent, the ringleader directing the circus. The professor was just too dry, and he knew it - his hard facts and clarity helped seal and cement the deals, but I drove the drama.

I'd never done any job like this before, but I really got into it. I'm an entertainer, after all, and I worked the marks. I got to know just enough about our patron candidates to get a sense for their little insecurities, their little foibles and tiny fantasies. We had a few shows that we totally botched, but for the most part I managed to get their eyes lit up by the end - and usually just enough to keep them awake through the professor's time on stage.

I guess it felt like I'd found my calling. I'd always been laid back about absolutely everything, but this stuff got under my skin. I stayed up late, got up early, smoked 3 packs a day, and drank 2 pots of coffee before noon.

Before long, we had promises of money coming in, followed soon by some pretty sizable chunks of actual money. After a couple of months spent running the road show, we were ready to open up shop and start working on building something for real.

We picked up stakes at the lab and leased a little loft just off campus, overlooking the main drag. Michael, the basketball wizard, gets credit for that - he took over the facilities work and knew a guy who got us a sweet deal. Meanwhile Jody, the origami girl, turned out to be a genius with computers and got us all set up with workstations, networking, and phones. The kung fu guy, though - he flaked on us once it started looking like work. But, I thought he was an asshole anyway, so good riddance.

Things just kept moving faster as word got out about what we had. It got to the point that I stopped needing to chase people down, and started needing to fend people off. We also started pulling in whackos of all sizes and shapes. Luckily the prof had gotten patents filed years before on a lot of our key technologies, which helped the lawyers and I bounce the sue-happy bozos trying to claim we'd stolen their ideas. And beyond the legal sharks circling, there was a constant background noise of religious nuts, random paranoids, and job seekers.

To this day, I'm not entirely sure how I did it, but I developed a knack for flipping every potential train wreck into positive PR spin. I made sure we never took ourselves seriously in public, kept things fun. The doc made sure our results spoke for themselves - and when things occasionally went buggy, it was a whole lot easier to deal when we'd set a precedent for laughing at ourselves.

In fact, I even managed to launch a branding campaign for us that went totally gonzo with the carnival and circus theme.


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