February 1999
s m u g
by Joe Procopio


You only get one chance to make a final impression.

As perpetually as the execution of a grand entrance is cited as a key element in climbing ladders both societal and corporate, the importance of a graceful farewell is as often overlooked. It's essential to remember that the guy who writes the history books doesn't actually put quill to parchment until the doors are locked and the lights are extinguished. Prevalence is best exemplified by the fact that, despite an impeachment trial, Act II of the Gulf War, and the countdown to Y2K, we in the media took a day off to wave goodbye to Michael Jordan.

It's not a mistake that, like everything else he does, Jordan crafted the perfect finale. Air-Outta-Here. The three-to-six day episode was well timed, thoughtfully carried out, and completely self-serving. Jordan can now embark on his next mission in life, having to look no further than his NBA brethren to realize he made the right decision, lest he fade into social obscurity beyond his playing prime a la Magic Johnson and that ill-advised talk show.

Very few of us are going to win six NBA championships. In fact, not many more of us will achieve even a footnote in the big book of history. Unless, of course, we order the personalized edition (much like Who's Who for high school students) or crudely construct our own from myriad photo albums, local press clippings, and vanity web-sites. But I digress.

The kind of fame that Jordan generates, or for that matter, fame achieved by any limited-stranger-approval (my term: meaning feedback attained from a pre-determined pool outside of one's network from tasks designed to promote such) is that which is never truly walked away from. Put simply, famous people don't quit being famous. Ever. Instead, the endgame is brought about by the aforementioned fade to ordinary, or, for the lucky/unlucky (depending on your take) among them, the meteor-creating event of an untimely death.

The key to survival of celebrity is to stave off the inevitable for as long as possible, integrity and even dignity be damned. And since far too many of us relate the social adulation of fame with the social adulation of everyday life, we find we have come into our own with the very same advice for keeping our wheels greased.

Don't burn your bridges.
Don't piss into the wind.
Be nice to people on your way up.
Always buckle your seatbelt.

It doesn't have to be this way. In fact, it shouldn't. An exit is by nature an opportunity, and, depending on the impetus of that exit, it may be a grand opportunity. When used wisely, a spectacular finale may be a springboard for social justice, the spark of a revolution, comeuppance, or simply the closure we're seeking for never getting in that parting shot with our previous boss/lover/coach/dealer/etc. A well-planned farewell speech (or litany, as it were) may save you months, even years of costly therapy. And tipping the apple cart on your way out, and I must stress here, when thought out and done correctly, could give you just the bump in confidence you need to make your next effort an overwhelming success.

Take this job/relationship/team/crack-habit and, well, shove it.

So why don't we?

Celebrity-induced strains of career climbing aside, there is a certain responsibility that comes with a denouement. Primarily, the fact that it really is such a small world wreaks havoc with bridge burning techniques. Call it karma, kismet, CYA. If I had a nickel for every time a person has countered an introduction to me with an icy "We've met," I would be able to buy and sell them, just like I said I would in the first place. You have to call your shots and be willing to duck return fire. Ergo, like they say, don't point the gun at anything you want to keep.

At the same time, there is absolutely no reason to keep everything. Not every dismal undertaking in this life is so important that the miniscule reaping of benefits from such an act can't be dismissed. For example, despite my wise father's arguments to the contrary, I have never once needed trigonometry, my old pair of glasses, or a reference from my boss at the Ice Kreem Shak.

So go ahead. Piss into the wind sometimes.

As for being nice on the way up, this is actually sage advice. My ire rises only when I see cheeks being turned when they shouldn't. In other words, I think this adage should be rewritten. Be nice to people who are nice to you on the way up. Stick it to everyone else.

It's actually your social responsibility (there's that word again) to fight fire with fire. If you refuse, then that boss/lover/coach/dealer who treated you scandalously is only going to treat your replacement the same. So to avoid the confrontation would allow the injustice to continue.

You're actually doing society a favor by clueing in your boss as to how useless he/she is.

If you have to stick me for a point, I guess I could take my tongue out of my cheek long enough to trumpet that there is no, repeat, zero, none, no pedestal desirable enough to sacrifice your integrity and/or dignity in order to climb atop. A sense of self-worth in this age of starving supermodels, overvalued athletes, self-absorbed pop-stars, and, my favorite oxymoron, corporate heroes, is a fragile thing at best. Keep it whole at all costs. And don't let the door hit you on your way out.




in the junk drawer:

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