“Everybody, everybody, let’s get into it. Get stupid.”
“Get it started, get it started, get it started.”
I sipped wistfully from Chewbacca’s open head, leisurely rolling the flavor from one side of my mouth to the other. Bourbon Chocolate Truffle. Every one of those words sounded like a cool washcloth on a Las Vegas summer afternoon. Not long ago, I’d thought flavored coffee was for amateurs, the way some snooty tea enthusiasts scoff at herbal brands. My wife Nikki had brought me around. “I have twenty years of experience,” I said to my Star Wars mug. “I’m an expert in my field.” Chewbacca’s glazed ceramic eyes stared at me sympathetically.
“Mark, the next line, please.”
I sighed. In theory, working from home was supposed to be less stressful, but David’s conference calls had proven cringeworthy regardless of venue. I pressed the push-to-talk button. “Let’s get it started. Ha. Let’s get it started in here.”
“Mark, I’m not really hearing engagement,” David said, his tinny voice ringing with disappointment at the edges. “You’re a valued member of the team, but without full participation, we–“
I repeated the song lyrics with more faked enthusiasm; my boss believed that quoting the Black-Eyed Peas would “get us pumped,” whatever that meant. It was the latest technique in David’s team-building exercise regimen, which had previously included doing trust falls while blindfolded and building a miniature house out of erasers. We’d long since abandoned our attempts to dissuade him or convince him that our time was better applied elsewhere, as it only made him more insufferable. From the next room, Nikki let out a low rattling sound that could have been a chortle. “You poor man. I don’t know if I pity you or if I wish I’d recorded that.”
“I don’t even know why we’re having this meeting,” I said as David droned on. Something about ensuring the proper bandwidth for department synergy. “Millennials don’t need help deciding they want their food to be gluten-free, organic, whatever. They’re the ones buying it. The official Millennial flag would be, like, a Wi-Fi network made of avocado toast.”
She snorted. “So why the meeting?”
“He’s obsessed with courting Millennials, like everyone else in Management. ‘They just think differently. We have to understand them,’ he says. And that’s marketing gobbledygook. They’re not unicorns. They’re just people who inherited a screwed-up world and who’re doing the best they can.”
“–has been demonstrated, the client-centric value proposition inherent in our brand trajectory is very powerful. We have reduced cost, rolled out a unified point-of-sale system, and launched our new category management system.” I closed my eyes. Christine, one of our Division Managers, had an unfortunate tendency to ramble. “We’ve also expanded our marketing and media plan, and I expect to have updated metrics for you vis-a-vis by the end of the week.”
“Fascinating,” Nikki said dryly, and I imagined her with her head on the desk, defeated. “Do you ever wonder if I regret not finishing my MBA and getting stuck in meeting like this every few days? I don’t. If you were wondering.”
“Not everyone can operate their own business.”
“I know. I worked my ass off for it, and I’m pulling 50-hour weeks, but I’m still having the better afternoon,” she said, and I could hear the smile in her voice.
“Mark? How are we looking?”, David broke in.
Don’t panic. “Um, we’re…on schedule. I’ll let the PM know right away if anything changes,” I stammered, hoping that was true. David was very interested in schedules. Whatever he was talking about, it seemed like a safe play.
“Fantastic. Now, if you’ll turn to Page Three in your handouts, we’ll–
“What do you want for dinner?”, Nikki asked in a tone that informed me she would endure a trial by fire if it meant she could avoid deciding.
“Um. I know we said we were going to try and eat healthier, but I would straight up cut a fool for a few slices of deep-dish,” I said dreamily. “Preferably whoever keeps coining marketing buzzwords.”
“I hear you, but I was thinking something with sprouts.” When I didn’t reply, she quickly added “We could feel self-righteous about it. Send some tweets. Like, ‘Hey, this dinner is practically leaves. We could’ve slathered barbecue sauce all other a juicy burger, but look at how restrained and dedicated we are! Mmmmm, chlorophyll!”
“As a professional salesperson, I regret to inform you that you’ve made a terrible pitch and now I need a snack.”
I rose from my desk, my bones creaking a tad, and strode towards the kitchen. I fussed with the chip bags on top of the refrigerator. Someday, when the Universe aligned exactly with our expectations, we were going to organize the snacks, like we’d been vowing for the past three years. I poured some Fritos into a bowl and shuffled back towards my desk, stopping for a quick kiss. “Do you think anyone would notice if I got sloshed and called out disinterested for the rest of the day?”
“Your coworkers? Not a chance,” Nikki smirked. “You could nap through the rest of the week and David would give you a raise for–I don’t know, taking initiative on researching sleepy markets, or something.” She paused. “Does that sound suburban?”
“What, researching sleepy markets? Not particularly.”
“No, afternoon naps. It sounds like something you’d squeeze in between your Zumba class and checking your email at the gym.”
I crunched a Frito that looked like the Hindenburg. “Considering that Zumba class again, huh?”
She took a few chips. “Hey, did the meeting end? It’s pretty quiet in there.”
I slid my phone out of my pocket. 3:47. “No, it’s supposed to go until 4, which means it’ll be at least 4:30.”
“Are they on break or something?”
“David doesn’t take breaks. That would involve relaxing and, you know, possibly fun.” I frowned. It had been a few chatter-free minutes, and I’d been working for Bluehut long enough to know that chatter was their default setting.
I turned and froze. Petmé Amidala was lounging on my desk, sunning herself. She’d planted herself directly on top of the push-to-talk button.
They’d heard everything.
“Nikki,” I whispered. “Nikki, we need to–”
She walked in beside me, assessed, and made a noise like a startled anteater. Neither of us moved towards Petmé, who mewed happily, oblivious to our human troubles. We simply stood in the doorway and waited.
A moment later, there was an unceremonious click, and then nothing but the dial tone.
@macaronique sent me this writing prompt from @ralokt: “A private conversation leaks into Teamspeak because the cat lies down on the push-to-talk button.”
Some elements, such as Mark being forced to recite “Let’s Get It Started,” needing to construct eraser-houses as a team-building exercise , and having a boss obsessed with Millennials for nonsensical reasons, are based on my own experiences.