The first step is always the hardest.
Jarrell had asked around and nobody had any local sources of rubber, or more specifically, (liquid) latex rubber.
Jarrell was able to find tool-and-die men by the score. He found controls engineers and electricians, millwrights and precision operators. What he could not find was rubber.
Jarrell had walked away from his high-octane job seven months ago. Actually, he had been fired and black-balled. Since then, he had been licking his wounds and sulking. If he had stayed with Ashley would still be sulking. Meeting Melody had been life changing. He was ready to move on.
Now was the time to get back onto the horse. The corporation he had left had talent and expertise stacked like cord-wood. It was time to make a few calls and see if any of them would give him the time of day. If he could just get their attention, maybe they could give him a few names and he could hand-over-hand his way to the people who could set him up with what he needed.
The first person he tried was the third boss he had as an intern, Phil Gross. Phil was a study in contradictions: immensely fat he read lady’s romance novels at lunch and was as masculine as a bag of hammers. He was also as sharp as a tack. Phil would be a good first-read of how the wind was blowing.
“Hey, Jarrell. How is it going?” Phil trumpeted into the phone when he picked up. Nothing halfhearted or surreptitious in his greeting. “Whatchya been doing with yourself?”
Jarrell struggled to frame what had happened to him. A huge part of Jarrell's difficulty is that he really didn't know what HAD happened to him. How do you create a coherent narrative when there are huge, gaping holes in the story line?
“No, I mean after that. I heard HR dropped the ax on you” Phil said. “It happens to the best people.” Phil assured him.
Whether Phil could sense that Jarrell was coughing up a hairball talking about his exit from the company or Phil not being interested in the details didn’t matter. Jarrell would much rather be talking about his new project.
“Can you talk? I mean, do you have time?” Jarrell asked.
“I got nothing but time, buddy. Haven’t you been reading the news. The company is in reorganization. Only a few divisions are running and unless things turn around in a few weeks, my guess is that we will liquidate.” Phil said.
“I was laid off two months ago and am looking for work. So if you have anything going on, I would love to hear about it” Phil said.
That was the last thing Jarrell expected to hear. Phil was in the company’s “core business”, one that in normal times printed a steady 8%-to-12% return on revenue.
“I know this sounds weird” Jarrell said “but I am starting a pilot project making condoms.”
“Why condoms?” Phil asked.
Jarrell warmed to his 15 second, elevator pitch.
“At 600 condoms to the pound, I can take a liter of rubber latex and turn it into $1200 of salable product. Condoms are a consumable product, one-and-done. People will always need condoms. Especially when they cannot afford to raise kids or when antibiotics to cure STDs are not available. The economy crashes and the demand for condoms goes up.”
“Ok, kid you sold me” Phil said. “How can I help?”
Phil used to play bridge with a couple of analytical chemists from the corporate lab. One of them knew a top-notch rubber guy…..
Another contact Jarrell had with the company had a friend...who had a friend….who had a friend who knew somebody who flew down to south Texas for business on a regular basis. The friend of a friend of a friend didn’t fly commercial. He flew his own plane.
And that is how Jarrell found himself parking the neighbor's VW Jetta in front of the property somewhere near Battle Creek, Michigan.
Jarrell pulled a folding chair out of the back, a basket and a sign. The sign said
I NEED TO TALK TO THE BOSS in four-inch tall letters.
Jarrell propped up the sign so it was readily visible to the security camera closest to the gate.
The property was not what Jarrell expected. It was brushy and overgrown with brambles and multiflora rose; abandoned campers and mildewed, fiberglass fishing boats strewn about.
Jarrell pulled a tube of sunblock out of the basket and liberally applied it to his face and ears. Then he pulled out a thermos and poured a cup of coffee. Sitting down, behind the Jetta, Jarrell pulled out a legal pad and started fleshing out the Gantt chart for the Condom Project.
An hour later, Jarrell heard the putt-putt-putt of ATV coming down the drive.