Sunday, May 20, 2018

meeting across the river

I hate meetings. Meetings are stupid, non-productive and a colossal waste of time. For the most part, they serve to give office dead weight somewhere to go to justify their coming into work everyday. At my last job, meetings were a daily event for a lot of my co-workers. Topics were discussed in a series of cliches and buzzwords, most of which baffled a lot of folks in my department. Corporate jargon was bandied about in cryptic cadence, often mixing up the mysterious metaphors — like "getting your cats in a row" or "herding ducks"— making them even more confounding. My close colleagues and I would exit those grueling marathons with absolutely no clue as to what had just transpired. We were clueless as to whether we were headed in the same strategic direction as a department.

But, there was always lunch, so it wasn't a total loss.

Years ago, I worked in the advertising department of a large, national after-market auto parts supplier (you probably know which one). I was one of a dozen graphic artists whose responsibilities included the production of the company's weekly advertising circular for the Sunday newspaper. These multi-panel broadsheets consisted of hundreds of items jammed into postage stamp-sized blocks arranged in large, colorful grids that were spread over four (sometimes six) pages. Every week, it seemed, the same items were featured in the ads but their positions were rearranged like a big Rubik's Cube. Before a new ad was composed, the production department (of which I was a part) would meet with the executive advertising team, as well as the product-line buyers, to discuss what would be included in the coming week's circular. The groups would assemble in a large, paneled conference room, everyone jockeying for position at the oblong table. Department members would do their best to sit together in order to compare hastily-scribbled notes. Sometimes, due to prior commitments, late arrivals had to find a seat far from their department colleagues, forced to "wing-it" on their own. These meetings were pointless because the same items were advertised over and over and, throughout the course of the week, the decisions made in the meeting were overridden by the "powers-that-be" who couldn't remember what they decided three days earlier.

One meeting in particular, I was able to grab a seat near the Vice-President of Advertising. The actual President of Advertising, curiously, never attended these meetings. As I recall, he was rarely even seen, usually spending his days behind a closed office door at the end of a hallway. On the rare occasion when he was spotted, he was only glimpsed for a few seconds as he carried a cup of coffee back to his office, his tanning-booth skin tone harsh beneath the overhead florescent lights. His "second-in-command" — a bespectacled, lanky gentleman who, I swear to God, was stoned off his ass every second of the day — led the meetings in his superior's stead. And there I was, seated to his right, the faint smell of marijuana between us (although that could have just been the power of suggestion and reputation). I was surrounded by others from my department, all waiting with a fresh page of a legal pad and our ball-points poised at the ready. The room began to fill up with buyers and assistant buyers, along with representatives from the pricing department. Minutes before the meeting commenced, my pal Steeveedee, a copywriter from the advertising department, rushed in looking harried and scanning the room for an available chair. He spotted one  in the far corner and snaked and shuffled his way through the crowded room to get to it. The meeting began. Buyers shouted for attention and the production team asked everyone to slow down with their directions as they feverishly jotted down instructions as quickly as possible. I watched Steeveedee arrange and rearrange papers and notes in his hands, a look of deep concentration on his face. 

That's when I decided to be an asshole.

I inconspicuously withdrew my cellphone from my pocket and sent a three-word message to Steeveedee's number. I slowly and deliberately typed the fourteen-letter message and hit the "send" button.

"Go fuck yourself" it read.

In a few seconds, I watched Steeveedee fish in his pocket and extract his phone. I watched as he looked down at his phone over the tops of his glasses and pressed the buttons to retrieve his messages. I watched as his eyes darted across the tiny screen of his phone as he read my message. I watched as his cheeks puffed out and he bit his lip to stifle, what was obviously going to be, a very loud and hearty laugh. I watched as Steeveedee closed his eyes to regain his composure and then glanced around the room for — who else? — me.

And there I was — smiling and holding back a laugh myself — when his eyes finally landed on me.

I still hate meetings, but I sure liked that one.

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