Quoting depressed comedians


We start the 9 o’clock meeting some time after 9 o’clock. I book one of the conference rooms on the north side of the building, the ninth floor, picturesque views of downtown bathed in blue: sky blue, water blue, railroad cranes and ferry boats, boxcars, sea gulls, crows…the raw collision of industry and nature, Seattle.

There’s something about meetings when it’s only guys that’s different, especially when they’re older and they’ve all made their careers in construction. There’s this guy thing, one ring out from the job site.

And for whatever reason, triggered by a reference to bird shit on the window, they all start quoting Bill Murray from Caddyshack.

And it goes around from guy to guy like a secret handshake, the comments and quotes, the Bill Murray-way he spoke like a kind of stroke victim, with his mouth slung low. It goes around from guy to guy until it ends with me and one of them says, “What’s the matter Bill, are we making you nervous?”

Which is just a bully way of saying I’m going to fuck with you now and root you out (you’re not one of us)…and so I say No, I like Bill Murray…especially the films he made after he learned how to act. (And I think about bringing up Lost in Translation, but figure that it would also be [lost in translation]), so I start the meeting instead.)

I was second on the agenda, to talk about Temporary Order Posts. Someone didn’t like the design on the temporary order post after it was installed even though it had been approved and the person who didn’t like it didn’t have decision-rights but it was a political thing now, we all knew it but wouldn’t dare say it, they didn’t like the temporary order post because it was too green, it looked “bolted-on.”

So it was my task to talk to the supplier about changing the design — how much it costs, how long it would take, the difference between powder coating and “wet painting,” vinyl wraps, drop-shipping the units to save transit time, fast-track the QA, etc.

And the details rolled off my tongue in a casual way as I sat there looking at them but I wasn’t really looking, the real ‘I’ just started floating above, watching myself talk like a puppet with someone else’s hands in its mouth: it was odd to be the me talking and the me that was watching myself talk, but it was a deep blue sky outside despite the bird stains, and I told myself to stop thinking about Bill Murray, about Robin Williams, although there was small talk about them earlier, and we all agreed it was sad, so sad…but I started the meeting anyway, and everyone agreed that was a good plan, for the temporary order post. Let’s just approve it, we can do that here, that’s the great thing about this meeting, and one of them even took a moment to acknowledge it as a Team Win, with a dramatic nod to me for leading it, and I felt good and justified, it was even worth promoting, our efforts here.

It went on. Others came in late, sat down, unlocked their devices…and there was a lot of agreement and soon, general bitching about one of the suppliers and the fact that we hadn’t gotten the UL certification from them still, WTF?

A good-sized plate of pontification now, everyone just slapping it on there, splashing around and not caring, the fun of just getting in there, getting dirty with the details when you fancy yourself a decision maker, an expert. Lead: they stitched it in our sweatshirts for that manager’s conference, that one year: Lead.

And it got so much fun I jumped in because it was quarter to the hour and we were all pissed off about the supplier and so I said, Why don’t we just use the last 15 minutes of this meeting to call them, now?

And Tobi said that was a good idea, but the rest of the room fell quiet, non-committal, a half-nod at best, still smarting about the Bill Murray thing earlier wondering, could I be trusted.

I got up to leave and they moved in to the phone and decided they would call the supplier after all, someone had the number right here, and I felt smug for just a moment, to have a good idea and smack the project around a little, to put my spunk in it and then just walk out.

It was so good that the Materials Manager asked what I thought we should do, who to order the 24 hour pylon ribbon prototype from, and I said Who can produce it fastest, we need to release this thing like now?, which was the obvious, executive thing to say and so she nodded of course, and hurried off.

And I marched downstairs with my chest out to meet the VP of a group I used to work with, the one that does employee communications, that’s often explaining things like how to ring up the pastries right, or the importance of using our outdated tracking tools, lists and systems that account for things like milk usage, markouts.

And she put it to me after some chit chat, So tell me: what do you bring to the table?, and I had to step back because I wasn’t really planning to talk in frank terms like that, even though I should have, right?

And I led with the fact that I’m a writer and I just let the words hang out there in her office, out of my mouth now, my tongue hanging there like a dog and me, with my nakedness — and I knew what would come next, the next moment that comes every time you say that, a hand reaches down to grab you by the neck and says, So…what do you write?

And I told her I’ve been keeping a blog, and I mumbled something about a novel but who has the time (Ha, ha), what with the kids and the time and the work you know, and then I started to leave my body again and watch myself mouth the words of a script I wrote (or maybe somebody else) which I didn’t really like, but I do have to smooth out the talk-track I thought later, how it felt like a coming out of sorts, which is how you start to make things real, by saying them.


Categories: inspiration

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8 replies

  1. I crooked-smiled my way all the way through this. Your writing like this — workplace jockeying — makes me almost break out in a sweat. You could make this your fictional world, very real.
    We built an arena at our school a few years back. There was a lot of planning in and around our office. I was part of the fundraising but the actual construction fell to men gathered around a conference table in another room. I could never hear words, only volume and timber, the sound of dicks swinging.
    Congratulations on coming out. Just. Like. That.


    • Hey Ross! Thanks so much for the encouraging words. I’m glad it made you smile…and the sound of dicks swinging is just that, and not pleasant. Was delighted to read your comment, thank you truly.


  2. Reblogged this on Drinking Tips for Teens and commented:
    I’ve said before that I’m a big fan of the way blogger pal Bill Pearse writes — maybe it’s our near ages, maybe it’s the way he captures the conflict between the work brain and the art brain, maybe it’s his great taste in music, maybe it’s the beard… His stream of consciousness flows steady and true and I find myself getting caught in the current, happily. Bill took a break for a while, but he’s back and he deserves more readers. I loved his post yesterday about sitting in a meeting with the alpha males — no wait! don’t go! Trust me, this is great stuff that any aspiring writer should read.


  3. Okay, this is good stuff. I took Ross’ advice and read it, and he is right. Sometimes I think that it would be good to have a bit more testosterone in the upper levels of the school where I work. Dick swinging might be preferable to women behaving like dicks. . .Count me as a follow.


    • That is so funny…women acting like dicks, who knew?! Thank you for your subscription and please allow up to 30 days for delivery. Seriously, thank you so much for the comment and stopping by. Got to love that Ross.


  4. You, perhaps unintentionally, captured the claustrophobia of corporate life. And I can’t tell you how many times since leaving that world that I have had the exact same awkward conversation with former coworkers about writing. It always feels just a little bit like lying or like I just explained a personal medical condition in detail. I would just like to say I work construction and be done with it. No one would like follow up with “what are you building?”.


  5. “Those quotations were really quite obscure. Anyone can see that he is a very well read man.”

    Barbara Pym


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