"What happened?" I asked, as I guided him to a table and ordered us coffee.
Looking slightly desperate, he ran his hands through his thinning hair -- slick no more, I noticed -- then grabbed my hand and held it tightly, as if afraid I would vanish.
"You remember the good old days?" he asked plaintively. I nodded, trying to gently shake my hand off."I was the best of the best, and you know it. I had clients eating out of my hands. One hour with me and they were shaking in their shoes, wondering how they ever got along without me. One disdainful treatment from me, and other consultants would slink out the door never to be seen again." I nodded.
"Remember that DBA dude? Had been there for years, knew everything and everyone. Worked 24x7 if needed. Great attitude. Well, one month of my special treatment and he was looking for another client." I nodded.
"I'd thrust project plans and deliverables down clients' throats that I knew they could never execute -- and they were begging me to be back six months thereafter. I'd turn one client executive against another in a matter of minutes, both thinking I'm on their side and vying desperately for my services." I nodded.
"I billed rates beyond most consultants' wildest expectations, and charged travel expenses that clients didn't know existed. Remember that prestigious consulting firm I worked for? I had them thinking I was the best thing since Time & Expenses Billing." I nodded, massaging the side of my aching neck.
These were indisputable facts. I tell you, the man was the nearest thing I and others came to worshipping with bowed heads; to be with him was to be in the presence of Greatness! But -- what happened? What unholy confluence of events, what unfriendly turn of a card had reduced this demigod from imperial to impecunious, impervious to imploring? I gazed at him in rapt attention, even as I again tried to gently get my hand out his feverish grip.
He gulped hard, grabbed my hand harder, then turned his head and quickly wiped a tear with a corner of my cuff.
"Did you see 'Liar, Liar' with Jim Carrey?" I nodded, slightly concerned. Had his mind began to wander? Was this the sad end? "That's what happened to me."
"No!" -- I took in a sharp breath, aghast, "was it... was it the Curse of the Consultant?" I shuddered. Even the staunchest of consultants quaked in their pressed pants in fear of The Curse.
"Yes," his eyes moistened, and he tried to wipe them with another corner of the cuff as I again tried to gently retrieve my hand and sleeve.
"One day I looked into the eyes of my client, and found I couldn't lie again. I could only be forthright and honest." His voice dropped to a pained whisper. "I could only act in my client's best interest." I gasped, shocked to the core. I'd heard about the Curse of the Consultant, but had never witnessed the full force of it.
"What happened?" Palpable fear robbed my voice of its baritone, leaving behind only a sound like air escaping a balloon. I felt sweat upon my brow, and wiped it with my other sleeve.
"What happened??? I reduced my rates to decent levels. I stopped inflating my expenses. I was gentle and understanding with my fellow consultants and contractors. I gave only the most honest advice in each client discussion. I became committed to truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." Things were beginning to spin around me. "Then I did the most unimaginable thing possible -- I spent an hour advising the client over the phone and did not even charge her! I thought it was only a good consultant's duty!" Nothing but the truth? Good consultant's duty? Was the man mad? How low could he go?
Telling the tale was clearly taking a toll on him -- my shirt-sleeve was beginning to get very wet.
"Then, things began to fall apart at home. My income fell to hoi polloi levels. I had to switch my cool imported coupes for sedate domestic sedans. You remember my Trophy Wife? Well, turned out that she was in fact looking on me as a Trophy Husband -- and when the going got rough, she kicked me out. 'You, a trophy?' her very words, 'I prefer atrophy.' The last sight I had of my daughter was in bed surrounded by her two hundred and fifty seven Barbie dolls, one for each client I suckered -- I mean served. Clutching the nearest twenty nine dolls, she blurted 'How could you, Daddee?' with wounded and accusing eyes."
He took a deep breath. "Then the worst thing possible happened." He gazed at me dolefully. "I went to pat my faithful dog -- and even the dog bit me!" -- and he burst into tears. I patted the old chap on his shoulders, hastily extricated my dripping sleeve that was now being pulled in the direction of his nose, and discreetly called for the check.
"Don't worry, things will get better, you'll see," I murmured encouragingly, checking my phone for messages; "by the way, what was that client's name and phone number again?"The other day I ran into an old Consulting mentor of mine. Smooth, superior and self-assured, the man was Consulting Personified. But now gone were the suit and smirk, replace by sneakers, stubble and a sullen look. Could it be The Curse of the Consultant?