What About Bob? He was in my face, at first. Now he's in my nightmares.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I'm sitting here and looking at this e-mail. It's a normal one--a couple of sentences, no salutation--and yet it sends a chill up and down my spine. I thought I had it managed, this situation with Rauschenberg. But it's clear I did not. Do not.

The e-mail is from my boss, but that's not the source of my...what is it? Horror? Yeah, that's it. I'm scared, seriously weirded out--a couple of miles into that vast, gray country where there are no signposts and the road leads who knows where. It occurs to me that I am not in any way armed, or particularly good at self-defense. Sure, I can punch a nose as well as the next man, but what are fists against a hidden firearm...a sharpened letter opener...a splash of acid in the face?

No, no. What am I thinking about? That's ridiculous. And yet I am thinking about it.

It began last summer. A subordinate, knowing that I am always looking for talent to replace people who flee to the Internet, put me in touch with a fellow she knew from a prior life. "He's a little intense," she said. "But he's got a very senior position at Amalgamated, which as you know is not chopped liver. He's looking to make a change. Rauschenberg, his name is. Bob. I told him to call you."

I thanked her. How could I know that her commonplace act would be my introduction to a malevolent entity that would feed upon my peace of mind and never, ever go away? Rauschenberg!

He called less than ten minutes after she and I ended our conversation. "Hi," he said, "Bob Rauschenberg." It was a crisp, deep baritone, the kind I like to hear from a guy whose jib is trimmed pretty much the same as mine. "I wonder if I could drop by and say hello."

"Sure," I said. "How about..." I looked at my calendar, which as usual was filled with a litany of stuff I had no desire to do, on into the future, day after day. I gave him a date about three weeks hence, at an hour that looked relatively unconflicted.

"Gee," he said, "that's a long way off." There was a slight hint of steel there, which I should have found inappropriate, I see that now. But hey...if I sent up a red flag every time somebody did something inappropriate in my world, I'd have 1,000 crimson banners perpetually flying. The most inappropriate people are often the biggest corporate assets.

"Yeah, Bob," I said, jocularity unperturbed. "But that's really the first date I..."

"This week would be better," he said.

I looked at the phone. What gall! But then again, I considered...it's pushy bastards who make the world go round. The guy probably read one of those books on how to get an interview. I read one once that told people to say things to prospective employers like, "I think you should see me as soon as possible. Now, which time would be best for you? Thursday at noon? Or Friday at three?" The later part of my week had a few holes in it. I put him in one of them.

An hour later I received his resume by messenger. It was three pages long. His list of accomplishments was impressive. About 90 minutes after it arrived, my phone rang, and I answered it myself.

"Bob Rauschenberg," said Bob Rauschenberg. "I just wanted to make sure you got my CV."

"Got it, Bob." I finally felt a twinge, but not a big one. The guy was in my face, but so what? I have no problem getting rid of such people when I need to...do I?

Bob arrived 15 minutes early for his meeting with me. He was not ushered in. I simply looked up, and there he was.

He gave a pretty good interview. There was nothing to recommend him one way or another. He was neither too tall nor too short, too fat nor too thin. He would cost a lot. His expertise was in different arenas from ours. He wore his hat at the wrong angle. In short, while there was nothing outstandingly wrong with him, he was not right either. So I told him there were no positions right now, that he was a fine fellow indeed, and thanks a lot.

"When should I check in with you again?" he asked.

I regarded him for a while. "Call me in three or four months, if you want to," I said. He looked grimly satisfied in some undefinable way. But why?

During the three months that followed I received five updates to Rauschenberg's resume. Also several letters acquainting me with events in the Rauschenberg universe. Each one bore a bold, handwritten message on the front of the envelope: Personal, it said. Confidential. I took to dropping them in the trash, unopened.

Three months to the day after our meeting, Bob Rauschenberg called. That would have been in November. I offered no encouragement and hung up. Two weeks later he called again. I stopped answering my own phone.

But they kept on coming, the resumes and letters. In December, I received a call from one of our offices uptown: Bob had applied for a position there and given me as a reference. I found myself waking up at three in the morning and thinking about Bob. Who was he, anyhow? Over coffee in the morning, it seemed every third news story was about somebody who went berserk and shot up an office.

The phone calls intensified.

On Jan. 2, I got a slip on my desk indicating that Bob Rauschenberg was going to continue in the new year as he had in the old one: He was holding. I picked up.

"Yes, Bob," I said, doing my level best to keep my voice flat and uninflected.

"Oh!" he blurted. It was clear he didn't expect to get me, that this call was intended not for communication but for...something else. It was to let me know he was out there and would not...give ...up.

"I just wanted to call to...wish you a happy New Year," he squeezed out.

"Happy New Year to you too, Bob."

I waited.

"Keep me in mind," he said, and hung up. It was not a request. And now comes this e-mail. "I've been in touch with this fellow from Amalgamated," it reads. "He seems to have excellent credentials, and we might consider him for some kind of senior position around here. Says you've been talking to him for a while. Rauschenberg, his name is. Comments?"

I offered a few to my boss. But I was careful what I said about Bob. You never know who you're going to end up working for in this crazy world.

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.