This week turned into yet another bad message week for me. It started so well, too. Yesterday, at a brief unscheduled appearance at the local Zip Mart, I initially demonstrated remarkable calm and poise in the face of a barrage of tough questioning from the cashier, who apparently needed to know, right then and there, if I wanted anything else. Did I want anything else? No, I did not. I only wanted gasoline. The morning’s message was gasoline for the car. So far I was on message.

But I paused so that I could carefully frame an answer to her pointed rhetorical barb, and then I wavered ever so slightly and, in that unguarded moment, in that brief second of hesitation and indecision, I lost valuable ground and allowed myself to get knocked hopelessly off my message.

The last month has seen me bedeviled by many similar incidents. The conventional wisdom about me holds that I cannot sustain even one more small distraction. With only so many days of potential message remaining, it stood to reason that I desperately needed to enjoy a string of strong message days. I needed my messages to penetrate. I needed to get my messages out, in clear, uncensored, unmediated, and unedited packets. All of which should begin to explain what a severe miscalculation I made in the Zip Mart when I authorized the purchase of a twenty-ounce soda. The additional expenditure, though seemingly small, required that I add a new budget line and forced the revision of certain already rosy projections for fiscal year 2000. Before I knew what was happening, I was trying to remember if I needed to buy milk, juice, a newspaper. I looked each of the aisles up and down. What else did the Zip Mart have available for one such as myself? The Slim Jims looked good, and Slim Jims had nothing whatsoever to do with my message. I consigned myself to the eclipsing of the day’s theme. Another day of message lost for a guy who could ill afford it.

Then today I woke up with one purpose in mind. I intended to focus all my efforts and strengths on the acquisition of a shoppers’ club card at the local grocery store. My message could not have been sharper: I possess the ability, the experience, and sufficient gravitas to earn membership into the shoppers’ club. Certain advance intelligence and research indicated that the courtesy counter, at the grocery store, offered an ideal and photogenic setting for me to get my message across to the people who needed to hear it most.

But when I arrived, the man holding down the courtesy department asked me, “What do you need there, boss?” I had not anticipated this form of direct address, this “boss.” No amount of training and practice and stagecraft had prepared me to respond in this bizarre situation. His choice of words, though seemingly inconsequential, caught me off-guard and rendered me speechless. Once more, I failed to communicate my chosen message.

Under pressure, I folded repeatedly. Under scrutiny, my confidence withered. Meanwhile even my most finely-honed messages were lost amid the veritable hailstorm of more assiduously crafted and well-targeted messages. The people around me were simply running highly insulated, carefully managed lives, lives better designed to keep them always on message. I probably would have done well to emulate their better examples, but did I do so at the expense of my character? The sense of myself as an individual different from them? As my life skidded onto unexpected ground, as I stepped reluctantly on my message of the day, as I took the high risk of not sticking to my script, I imperiled the integrity of the message.

I have drifted so far off message already.

I got my phone bill in the mail. I had a question about what appeared to be improper charges. Before me an entirely new message took shape. Forget the gaffe over gasoline. Forget my now infamous and widely ridiculed shoppers’ club debacle. Ten-foot-high stacks of telephone books spelled out my new message. The setting: on the telephone, conducting business. The message: I am well-suited to getting the job done on the telephone, where I will redeem certain highly publicized humiliations.

I rolled up my sleeves. They looked better that way. I began to dial. An operator greeted me. Everything seemed fine.

Then the operator asked, “How can I personally provide you with excellent customer service today?”

This incessant questioning. Does the scrutiny never end? My last chance to regain some of the ground I lost earlier in life, and instead I am dealt another setback, a further blow. I receive the brunt of another blistering attack. I get another bruising in the court of public opinion. Tragically, I am off message once again.