Wednesday, August 04, 2004

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Have you ever tried to do something nice for someone or perhaps help them out in some way, only to have it thrown back in your face?

In my line of work, people will frequently bring me rough sketches or ideas for me to add my artistic interpretation and bring to life for them. Many times, even when a client doesn't specifically ask for a tweak, I'll make little adjustments I feel improve on the design or idea, based on my experience.

I call it my artist's conceit.

There is an actual modicum of conceit involved. I'm a professional graphic designer with well over a decade of daily, high-pressure, high-dollar design work for customers with whom you are probably familiar. You may very well have seen some of it. From credit-card companies to motorcycle manufacturers, cigar factories to Christian publications, I have a modest list of satisfied clients who like my work and my interpretation of what they want (else I don't get paid). These people have used expensive ad agencies and flatter me with their patronage and high expectations. So it's in this mindset that I evaluated a new project, freshly-plucked from a newer client's desktop inkjet printer and placed before me for what I mistakenly assume is a rework into a high-end ad for a high-end real-estate publication.

I was wrong, but not about the publication part. Long ago, my mentor and friend, Don Lokke' told me that:
"the bane of a good graphic designer is the client with strong will and bad taste."
He has been proven correct many times over the years and once again in this particular case. I had taken the original concept: black, unreadable script over a snapshot followed by black unreadable script at the bottom and produced an ad I would be proud to have in my portfolio. Concensus in the shop was equally positive. "The client would be blown away."

She wasn't. In fact, I think the client was offended that I felt her ad needed any work at all. I didn't even charge for the "upgrade." Stung, I uttered a much-used phrase around here: "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished."

My wife and I got to be on the receiving-end of that phrase just yesterday. Blubrik and The Brain offered to treat my wife and I out to eat at Abacus to celebrate my bride's upcoming birthday. This is quite a treat, considering that my wife and I rarely get to eat at a "sit-down" restaurant anymore, let alone one without a playground and a "value menu." Abacus is decidedly outside our means, and under ordinary circumstances, we'd have to take out a loan just to make an appropriate gratuity for our server.

It went something like this:
Blubrik: "What are you doing tonight?"
Me: "I don't have anything specific planned, why?"
Blubrik: "The Brain and I are having a conflict with attending Mrs.Cheese's party Saturday, and we want to take her out for her birthday. You can come too, I suppose."*
8 p.m. was the appointed hour, and I made a quick call to the Mrs., who made an impassioned call to her mother to secure babysitting for the evening. Short-notice rarely yields good results, but good fortune and a tone of desperation got the deal done.

Later, while sitting in the theatre with my 5-year-old watching Spiderman 2, my phone silently buzzes me back to reality and almost out of my skin with surprise. It's Blubrick leaving a message. During a critical scene (of course), my son's little bladder could hold no more and we raced to the bathroom to depressurize. A quick check of my voicemail yielded the following message:

"Wednesday. Let's do this on Wednesday. Sempai-san is graduating with his Master's on Saturday and we want to treat him and his wife, Saint Eunice of Constant Patience, too. Sensei [has been invited, and] wants to come as well."

I made a quick call to the Mrs. to let her know of the sudden turn of events and the need to renegotiate for babysitting. She assumed the same time as the previous invitation, and mindful that it took place on a schoolnight for our freshly-minted kindergartner, promised to pick up the boys between 10:00 and 10:30 pm.

I rolled my eyes when she told me about the pickup time. "Sweetie, we'll probably only just be starting dessert at 10:00 or 10:30," I chided. Still, eye teeth had already been pulled and deals made, so we steeled ourselves for an opulent, but very late night. Blubrik popped up on my instant messenger later that afternoon.

Blubrik: "Do you know two people who would like to come tonight? Sempai-san and Saint Eunice have had to back out because it's too late for them and we have reservations for eight at 8:30."
Me: "No one comes to mind, but you should know that the Mrs. is having some anxieties about the lateness of the reservations, herself."

There was a pause here - the sort that is as rich with meaning as it is poor on words.

: "I ... could try moving the reservations up a bit, but I don't expect much luck."
Me: "Every little bit helps."
Without any pause this time:
Blubrik: "Reservations are now for 6:00p.m."
By this time, my wife had come into the computer room to see what was going on. Her jaw fell open an onto my shoulder when she saw the last message.
She (aghast): "My mother ... I ... don't get HOME until 6:00!"
Not knowing the reactions on our end of the computer, Blubrik continued:
Blubrik: "Calling Sempai-san"
Me: "Might be too early now." (this was followed by one of those blushing-with-embarassment emoticons.) "Should have asked, really."
Blubrik was doubtless stunned by the sudden stonewalling. This was evidenced by the long pause that followed. Finally:
Blubrik: "As Sensei would now intone, 'No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.'"
Another pause, followed by, "Reservations are NOW for 6:30."
Me:"We will do everything we can to make it for that time."
And we are, truly. Thanks Blu!

I'm sure Blubrik will have something to say on this very topic, himself. It'll probably have something to do with the futility of trying to herd cats, or the way that some people just HAVE to make everything difficult.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get dressed for dinner.

*These "quotes" are approximate, based on memory or completely fabricated from my tortured persecution complex. If caught, I will deny, deny, deny ...


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