Sandy and I drove up north to Cape Cod, location of our annual vacation since we were in college together.  I’d never been there before I met Sandy, being a died-in-the-wool Jersey Shore guy, but as soon as I saw the private beaches on Cape Cod Bay, I was hooked.  It was the most relaxing place in the world to me (still is), a place I could go and enjoy my family and get away from everything.

We drove up early on Saturday morning and arrived there in time to get sandwiches from the Box Lunch, my favorite place to eat on the Cape.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and so we rushed out to the beach as quickly as possible, quickly discovering that our baby monitor had a range that extended from the house to the beach.  This enabled us to spend most of Saturday and Sunday glued to the beach, especially during nap times, and by Sunday night I felt almost human, almost relaxed.

Monday morning, though my cellphone rang.  It was Danny.

“We have a problem,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“The packaging uses an American flag.  Fred heard that it’s against the law to use an American flag for sales purposes.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said.  But I didn’t really know that was ridiculous, and I started to panic immediately.

Our new product line was entirely made in the US, which was a key selling feature and critical advantage over our competitors, who brought most of their product in from Asia.  In the wireless industry in 1996, that made a huge difference in quality.  To leverage that advantage, we plastered the American flag all over our packaging as well as all our company literature – catalogs, brochures, everything.

It was tastefully done – very arty, in fact, and it looked fantastic.  It was also all printed and ready to go, so the idea that there might be something wrong with it was, to me, a nightmare.

“He wants to talk to you,” Danny said.

“Okay,” I said, holding.  Two or three minutes went by, and then I heard Fred pick up the phone.

“How much money did we spend on all this shit?” he asked.

“What shit?”

“All this shit we have to throw away!” he was already yelling.

“Look,” I said.  “We don’t have to throw anything away.  I will dig into it, and I’ll let you know what the deal is.”

“You’d better look into it,” he said.  “This could be a major problem.”

I was frantic.  What the hell did I know?

I immediately got on the phone with our company lawyer, and explained the problem to him.  What I needed him to do was find out if there actually was some law that prohibited companies from using images of the American flag to sell their product.  And the lawyer said he’d get back to me.

Which he did.  On Wednesday.

So I spent two days freaking out, leaving him messages, and taking frantic phone calls from Fred.  Fred wasn’t happy that I was “letting” the lawyer take his time, and the lawyer wasn’t calling me back, regardless of how many times I called and left him messages.

I spent virtually all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday sitting up at the house, pacing back and forth on the deck, taking phone calls from the home office and trying to find some legal precedent for using the American flag on packaging.

Wednesday afternoon, Sandy and I actually went to a store and looked for items on shelves with American flags in the packaging, and found a ton.

“It can’t be illegal if all these companies are doing it,” she said.

Wednesday afternoon, the lawyer called me back and told me that it was illegal to use the American flag in packaging, but we were in the clear because our packaging didn’t actually use the flag – it used red, white, and blue.  It used a few stars and some stripes, but wasn’t an actual, intact flag – it just implied a flag.

Implying a flag, evidently, wasn’t illegal.

The whole thing sounded like a crock of shit to me, so I demanded a written explanation from the lawyer, which he wasn’t too keen to provide.  I insisted, again and again, and he finally relented.

Then I called Fred.  He didn’t believe it, either.  “I’ve got a good mind to scrap this whole thing,” he said.

It was Thursday, and all I wanted to do was leave Cape Cod and go home.  It was the most stressful vacation I’d ever had.  All I could think of was Fred, plotting and scheming and changing my packaging, preparing my termination paperwork, and doing who knows what else while I was gone.

At the same time, I also wanted my product line completed.  My old boss at my old job had said “You’ll never last two weeks in this business without me.”  And without him, with the inability to utilize any of my old vendors, and in the face of this manic new boss, I completely built a brand-new product line: comprehensive, under a new brand, with all new collateral materials, new packaging, a new ad campaign, a marketing team and a nationwide sales force – all before my 27th birthday.  I was proud of myself, and I wanted to see the whole thing through.

I tried to relax on the beach as much as I could. I tried to do all the vacationy things that we always did at the Cape (which, generally, consisted of relaxing on the beach and eating sandwiches and not much else – and fifteen years later, that’s still what we do).  We went for long walks on the beach, we played with the baby, we took long naps.

It sucked.  I wanted to go home.  I just didn’t have it in me to relax.

I was, essentially, freaking out.

~ by Al on November 17, 2009.

2 Responses to “vacation.”

  1. this is really a very sad story

  2. Sorry. I’m happy now. 🙂

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