April 06, 2004

The secret life of the infrequent meeter

I am an undomesticated animal in the pet store of business. No matter where I turn, I leek urine on the carpets, track in mud, and when they're not looking, I've got my eye on the beef-basted chew toys better known as free notepads and pencils.

Once I lived in conference rooms. Half-day here, hour there, full-day here and there. I remembered, yesterday, sitting in a four-hour meeting, swiveling in my corner chair, the comfy black leather kind that I couldn't resist leaning back in, folding my hands behind my head, thinking gee, long time since I've done that, drifting, feeling important. I remembered what it was like.

Once upon a time, I was a frequent meeter.

Smells of old meeting rooms come back in waves, the new-paint scent of the barely-occupied corridor on the 22nd floor, slippery cold welcoming my elbows on the laminated wood conference tables.

Coming to from my reverie, I notice seven black leather portfolios competing around the table, and me with my spiral-bound $1.29 Walmart notebook, college-ruled at least, which I flip through during the introductions to find a page without Barbie stickers lining the bottom. That little girl of ours can't keep her hands off a notebook.

The expert meeters write down the date and topic of the meeting. They have to do that because they go to a lot of these things. I doodle some geometric shapes instead, and then start scanning the faces. I guess at how many are married, decide one is definitely in an open marriage, I wonder where their kids are today, who watches porn and who doesn't.

This, of course, is not what I'm here to accomplish. But I'm finding that I've forgotten to keep my attention span in shape this last year, and whenever I'm around a group of people, I hyperlink off into places better left static. I've developed new habits as a worker in the knowledge age, and putting me inside four cramped walls is one of the worst ways to keep me focused.

The habits of the frequent meeters are so different from my own habits now.

We take notes on the same things, the frequent meeters and I, but my cadence is different; I'm already in an MSWord window in my head. I'm thinking in analogies and metaphors. I write down what I need to know; they write down a lot they don't need to know.

Frequent Meeters are used to working lunches, and they remember to put their trash in the nicely branded boxes the caterer uses to pack the sandwiches, chips, pasta salad and cookies. I notice, later in the day, that I used my lunch napkin to blow my nose and all my unused condiment packets are littering my personal table space. My mustard nudges my table neighbor's portfolio.

When frequent meeters finish a meeting, you know it. There's no real cue, but time for them is in-built, and each begins rumbling and stacking papers, reaching down for a briefcase, shifting posture, sighs, laughter. The icing on the cake: portfolios slap shut.

Like me, I think, they're glad it's over.

On the way home, I call RageBoy. I say, "I forgot about the cookies, man. You know--meeting cookies? They are big fucking cookies with those chunks inside them, all rippley. They were so good! I had two."

The frequent meeters, they don't remember the cookies.