At my father's retirement dinner held in a banquet room, the CEO stood up and proudly counted off Dad's achievements. Dad worked military defense with some of the smartest minds in aerospace engineering.
"For over 30 years, Art Stone created more than 300 patents from a computerized back-scratching device to the concept and schematics for the Space Shuttle landing grid. He was also integral to the development of the B2 Bomber plane as well as various other technological tools used in military defense and corporate America." In the audience, the engineers and their spouses nodded their heads in recognition. "Ever since he came on board, his very first patent generated at least $23MM of revenue per annum."
That didn't wow anyone in the crowd. My father made a ton of money for Eaton Corp.'s subsidiary via his 300 patents. I believe that's the only way he kept his job.
Dad was a natural slacker. He only went to work at dawn to do his New York Times crossword puzzle in ink and to avoid contending with us kids. Once completed, he read the newspaper, ate his second breakfast and then kibbitzed with everyone in the office who sauntered in around nine. Dad usually spent the entire morning bullshitting and cracking jokes (from his former days as a sit-com writer), sneaking a few chicken ones in.
My father used to make chicken jokes to the point where everyone at work wanted to strangle him. Or perhaps wring his neck. His chicken jokes were so pervasive, my mother sewed a family crest of a chicken onto a flag. Not to mention the chicken plates and statues that adorned the open kitchen which clashed with his American eagle memorabilia and Mom's paint by numbers nudes on the living and dining room walls.
Afterwards, he went to lunch. Then, he did a round of kibbitzing during the afternoon. Admittedly, he goofed off for days at a time.
Because you can't force genius. When he finally sat down at his desk, he created shit years ahead of his time. The company can excuse a slacker when the slacker can produce in minutes a patent that would give an ROI of millions annually year after year.
Dad was the world's foremost authority in lightening, of all things. In addition, he was the #1 troubleshooter when things went wrong. In the middle of the night, he was flown all over the country.
The most famous case was when my father was flown to an undisclosed location to a room crowded with computers, scientists, military and government officials. The man in charge said, "This is our major computer. It stopped working. We checked all over, we rebooted, we rewired. It just won't work."
My dad looked at it and then poked around. After several minutes, he said, "There's only one way we can fix it." He hauled off and gave it a giant smack to the side. Several hundred people shrieked in horror. In seconds, the computer rebooted and turned on. It worked perfectly.
The man in charge shook his hand. "Art, you're a genius!"
Gives you a clue as to what really goes on behind the scenes, right?
When I started B-School at night, one of my classmates, a guy in his early 30's pulled me aside after a lecture. "I overheard your last name. Are you related to THE Art Stone?"
"Yeah. That's my dad. How do you know him?"
"I don't know him. I'm an engineer and heard about him; he's quite famous in his field. Actually, a legend."
What the CEO didn't recount that evening was the ultimate classic office story which gives you a further sneak peek into what goes on amongst first-class aerospace engineers:
On his birthday, my father came home early from work with a strange look on his face.
My mother asked, "Is everything okay?"
"Oh boy," he groaned, "they gave me a dead chicken."
"A dead chicken?" repeated my mother. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"After lunch, everyone in my department gathered around me. One guy shoved into the room a giant box with a large red bow on top. They sang, Happy Birthday and I opened it up to see a dead chicken inside."
"Why in the world would they give you a dead chicken?" asked my mother, curious.
Dad, downcast, shook his head once and sighed. "I've no idea. It must mean something." Despite the wonderful birthday meal my mother prepared, he sat at the dinner table in a funk. "This has to be the worst birthday ever."
His office colleagues thought it a hoot to give him a symbolic live chicken as a birthday gift. The prior evening, after my father left the office, they snuck one in past the security guards. How? To this day, we've no fucking clue. Then, they attempted to put it in the gift box. That must've been something to witness because chickens, unlike dogs, don't cooperate well. I can only imagine this team of scientists and engineers running around an office chasing a chicken into a box. Something to which they briefly alluded.
Unfortunately, none of these Einsteins thought to put holes in the box because the idea that the chicken might die of suffocation never entered their heads. Mind you, these are the same people who create schematics for NASA, the space shuttle and MIR.
Makes you wonder, right?
Before the evening was over, the CEO got back on the podium to make a toast. "Art, we're gonna miss your chicken jokes. But, most of all, we're really gonna miss you, Santa, for your 30 years of community service."
"Santa?" rang through the banquet room. Looks of puzzlement etched on people's faces. Recognizing the stir in the audience, the CEO clarified, "C'mon. Tell me, no one knew that Art has been the company's Santa for over 30 years? Hell, he watched the kids in this community grow up to become parents and grandparents."
That knocked everyone's socks off. For who knew that Santa was Jewish?
Here's to you, Dad!