My day-old career as a substitute teacher ended shortly after Labor Day, when a sophomore biology student fainted during the introductory blood-typing demo, soiling her wardrobe in the process. Her underachieving but clever classmates took wild advantage, feigning panic and inciting a revolt that enveloped the campus in short order. The ensuing lockdown lasted until dark, and the school district ceased operations pending a week-long investigation of my role in the disturbance.
Criminal charges surfaced the next day at an emergency board meeting. In the presence of a pack of lawyers and concerned parents, a carefully edited videotape from the classroom camera cast in a bad light my riot-hampered efforts to treat the girl for shock. The district’s volunteer paralegal recommended termination, and a feeble security guard escorted me from the premises.
Shortly thereafter, the State mandated on-line sensitivity counseling for substitute teachers. As part of my community service, a judge ordered me to spend time facilitating these sessions to explain my misguided ways and recommend more appropriate behavior.
My probation officer applauded these efforts, not only because they were easily monitored, but also because they demonstrated remorse while preventing physical contact with the human race. Clients found my advice useful and entertaining, and the web-based counseling service issued a printer-friendly diploma certifying me as a virtual guidance counselor.
A few months after my conviction, another printer-friendly certificate named me “Counselor of the Month. My e-employer began paying me a performance-based commission. My e-supervisor suggested that I branch out a bit, handle a few of their more complex cases, which is how I met Glenn Gray.
Mr. Gray claimed to be a recent university graduate looking for direction. In his search for meaning, he had consulted a variety of non-standard resources: everything from psychics and séances to brainstorming sessions and semi-religious revivals.
The psychic had suggested a career in horoscope reading or horse breeding; Glenn hadn’t really understood her thick accent over the phone. Around the Ouija Board, a dead relative had given him an idea for a theme park idea called “Humidity Land,” which he thought might catch on in Arizona. Worried though, that life in the desert might bore him, Glenn spent several sessions discussing the merits of ranch-handing on a wild jackal farm in Nebraska while breeding ears of blue corn large enough to serve as nondenominational holiday trees.
To occupy his nights, Glenn had elaborate plans for a trendy downtown nightclub. Nearby, in a seedier, lower-rent neighborhood, he planned to renovate a condemned apartment building for use as a treatment center for overindulgent night clubbers. He described this strategy as “capturing both ends of the spectrum.” When any or all of these enterprises proved successful, he intended to write an autobiography and become a professional tax protester.
Throughout this bizarre exchange, I maintained the company line, sticking to scripted recommendations. When Glenn complimented my patient keyboard-side manner and requested to meet me in person, I politely refused, citing corporate policy and professional ethics, even after he offered me a lucrative position on his future team of rehab counselors, including a plush satellite office over the night club, “for times of crisis.”
Following my refusal, Glenn logged off abruptly and never signed in again. A few weeks later, during an on-line performance review, I learned that Glenn Gray did not exist. His persona was a plant—a “Guidance Goof”—wedged into my workload as a test of loyalty and obedience.
The trickery offended me, and though I loved the impersonal nature of my job, my time with the company ended with the completion of my probation. But before I left, I used their educational benefits to earn a printer-friendly certificate as a substance abuse counselor. Then I pitched one of Glenn’s ideas to a real on-line client, a successful venture capitalist looking for creative opportunities.
After buying a nightclub downtown, we rented a big old house a few blocks away to serve as the residential rehab center. With his money and my hard work, we captured both ends of the spectrum in less than a year and started selling franchises in other cities. A few years later, I wrote an autobiography detailing my long climb from petty criminal to successful businessman. Then I went on the road as a motivational speaker. Each presentation began the same way as the book, with a dedication to a clever sophomore biology class and Glenn Gray, the Guidance Goof.