The secret to success is to not let other people “mess up your block.” Or at least that’s what Laurent Christ thinks, in this satiric novel disguised as a self-help book. Laurent has pursued self-improvement to its logical conclusion – he reinvents himself with a brand-new name and history. He drops a hundred pounds, shaves his head and goes on the road as a management consultant, providing advice to corporations around the county. Everywhere he goes, comic disaster follows as companies follow his glib counsel. But failure is not going to stop him as follows the path laid out by his mentor, Esalen McGillicuddy. One man and a story – that’s all you need to make it in America. As a management expert, he’s inevitably drawn to Washington, DC. But even he is appalled by the incompetent bureaucracy he finds in the city. Maybe he’s been wrong about everything. Maybe you need more than a catchphrase to find success in this country. Laurent tells the sprawling story of his life in Don’t Mess Up My Block, a literary novel that examines the American faith in gurus and easy solutions. It’s a dark satire that is reminiscent of Catch-22 and Absurdistan. The author, Joe Flood, has a gift for the comic and a biting sense of the absurd. And with more than dozen years in DC, he’s had a front-row seat on the disasters of the past decade. Don’t Mess Up My Block satirizes self-help books and our dysfunctional body politic.
Chapter One: A Street Corner Epiphany
All business success rests on something labeled a sale, which at least momentarily weds companyand customer.
LATE ONE NIGHT, I GOT LOST. It is on these unexpected journeys that you sometimes encounter the greatest discoveries. I certainly did.
Was it the 97 Pinch Mountain cabernet? Or perhaps the postprandial mojitos we imbibed at Marquez? It had been a client dinner that had gone long, after a day of business process reinvention. My client (an elderly CEO I cannot name) was garrulous, as many of them are, and wanted to talk and theorize after spending the day planningthe next great reorganization of his Fortune 500 company.
I didn’t mind. Despite my hard-won business education and two decades of experience in strategic consulting, my role is often that of handholder, gently guidingdecision-makers down the right path.
Besides, I could bill for it. My hourly rate had steadily increased over the pastfew years, as I moved from one successful client engagement to the next (many of which are described in these modest pages). While I had not quite reached the rariﬁedair of my mentor, Esalen McGillicudy, I was on a slow, but steady, trajectory upwards. As my stomach digested more than a thousand dollars worth of Kobe beef, little did Isuspect that the events following the dinner would lead me to my predestined success.
Close to midnight, we broke up, the taste of rum and mint still fresh in mymouth. A black limo glided up and ferried my client away. I declined his offer of a ride; the night was warm and I wanted to walk off some of the alcohol.
One downside of my chosen profession is the necessity of travel to cities aroundthe country and around the world. After so much time in hired cars and ﬁve-star hotels, you start to confuse hotels, restaurants, spas. That great Thai fusion place – was thatNew York or Paris? Is the Four Seasons Scottsdale the one with the waterfall in the lobby? Did I sleep with the Hyatt concierge in LA or Sao Paolo?
I had driven here, I remembered. This was Washington, DC. I had parked myMiata on K Street. Find my vehicle and I could cross the river to my luxury condo in Virginia.
I set off south, I believed. The car parkers outside Marquez watched me with idle, Salvadoran curiosity.
Washington has lettered streets – F, G, H – and numbered ones – 17th, 18th, 19th. Itis how the Washingtonians orient themselves and a pattern I had learned. Yet, after a couple of blocks, I found myself on curious, little angle of an avenue called Vermont.
Seemingly off the grid, the block was lined with glass-fronted ofﬁce buildings, all of which were dark. Cars idled by in a curious pattern, stopping and starting despite the absence of trafﬁc.
I paused. Which way was K Street?
A voice called out, husky and deep. Her tone was low, sexy and I didn’t catch the words the ﬁrst time. She repeated the offer for me.
“Need some company?”
She was beautiful, standing nearly six-feet tall in pink heels. Tight silk shortsgripped her narrow hips. A tube top held in her bounty.
“I said, do you need some company? You look like you need some.”
The accent was on the “some” as she stepped forward, a friendly hand reachingout for my arm. She smelled like perfume and vodka.
In my position, one frequently has to ﬁnesse unexpected offers of female companionship. The director of a Swedish multinational once begged me to head up hismarketing department, offering me an Ikea-furnished home and the blonde staffer of my choosing. I politely declined, citing the needs of an imaginary family.
“Mister, you know you want it.” Her lips glistened in the darkness, like overripe apples.
I am far from averse to the pleasures of female ﬂesh but, let’s just say, I prefer something more appropriate for a man of my status.
“Sorry,” I said, the model of politeness. “I must decline.”
“Yes. But if you could point me in the direction of K Street.”
She turned her back on me and what a ﬁne back it was.
I stood in place, unsure which direction I should go in. A car idled past the curb, its occupant lost in shadow. After a moment, it pulled away.
What an incongruent scene this must be, I thought. The stunning hooker and me, the business consultant, in a Burberry jacket and Italian loafers.
“What the fuck?” the hooker asked, watching the Prius accelerate into the distance. “You still here?”
“If you could give me directions.”
“I ain’t giving you directions. Get lost.”
“That’s the problem.”
A minivan with suburban plates pulled up. Seeing me, it drove off.
The hooker turned on me. Fiercely, she shouted in frustration, “You’re messingup my block!”
I staggered back, metaphorically. I was fucking up her block. Of course! Mypresence was costing her money. I was scaring away customers and denying her income. I was negatively impacting her business, without being aware of it until she brusquely told me.
A ﬂash of insight illuminated me, like Paul on the road to Damascus. I strode off in a direction that turned out to be K Street. Yet, I hardly slept at all, possessed by the power of a simple idea:
DON’T MESS UP MY BLOCK
In business, and in life, we all struggle to achieve success. Yet, we all must deal with obstacles to empowerment – these are the people or situations that are messing upyour block.
What’s fucking up your block? This book will teach you how to identify the things that are messing up your block and keeping you from your true potential.
And what do you do when you identify these things? Like the hooker of Vermont Avenue, you must banish the people, patterns and situations that are messingup your block. This little book will teach you how.
Copyright© Joe Flood. All rights reserved.