Friday, December 09, 2005

Willy Loman and the Downtown Train

The problem with speaking fluent subtext is, it gets really loud in meetings sometimes. And trains.


What I have noticed about meetings is: no one likes them. Everyone has them. People like to digress in meetings. Meetings are an excuse to get up and go to a different room and sit down and doodle, get nervous when it's your turn to speak, and zone out when it's someone’s else’s turn. It is also a time to watch your colleagues to see how hard everyone is trying to impress Le Grande Fromage.

I had a meeting recently with an updated Willy Loman sort of fellow—an anachronism circa 1965 in the IBM uniform—white shirt, blue suit, festive tie. The costume least likely to offend. And all of these montages started to play out—the lonely businessman crying at the foot of a prostitute's bed; the encroaching realization that the trinkets of his ordered life—the slim pleather portfolio, the briefcase with the worn handles, the useless Blackberry that he reaches for to suffocate an awkward moment—are all meaningless. His inability to classify; the inert neutrality of his stare, robbed of all sexual inquiry in literal keeping with all personnel dictums; the cheap chiseled-for-extra-glintiness wedding band—another relic from a bygone era—the clear belief that adhering to all the unwritten strictures of protocol will yield The Reward.

Watching him struggling with the exterior, the sham, the role, the costume, the suit, the plainess of right and wrong, the black and whiteness of it all, made me sad. He didn’t like looking at me. It was something about my eyes and my glasses and maybe the fact that I wasn’t playing by the rules. Maybe he could tell I could see him crying at the foot of a hooker’s bed. You know that’s not true. People like that never realize that the scam isn’t working.

The other subtext was, he wasn’t ready for this new job. He had been a company man, something must have happened, they didn’t need him anymore, here’s a new opportunity, the title sounds good! But he’s not happy. It’s not the same. Past the old heyday. A million references to “When I was at…” This is indicative of someone who feels ripped off because the groove has shifted. He had it good. He had his own well-worn path, a groove if his own and now... Now there are all the young people, the stupid underlings. The good title can’t mask that these are just laundry lists of silly to-dos.

That vacant friendly insecure misogynistic stare. The blankness of the outfit, the false gaiety of the seasonal tie. The raised eyebrows and business-perfect smile at a cocktail reception later. The loneliness and perfunctory rigidity just emanating across the room. The hollow little rituals some people feel the need to perpetuate. It must be comforting, making them believe the planets are all aligned and the correctness and the nonoffending nature of their demeanor somehow ensures that they are in synch with the larger plan of the universe.

I think I have a hard time with people who think that playing by the rules guarantees a reward. I also have a hard time with …people who are not real and who use props and symbols and stock phrases and clothes to mask the messy chaotic chicken blood spattered reality of life.

It’s sort of a simplistic approach to the world. White shirt, blue pinstripe. Like he’d taken a vacuum and sucked all the impurities and imperfections out of everything.


So I have a hard time. In meetings and on trains. It just gets too loud—all the thoughts and posturing and fake visages. It’s like having really loud schizophrenia. All the voices and my own mind racing to conclusions. The 67 year old former ballerina on the Metro last night. Stop making me wonder how beautiful you used to be. All haughty and yet defeated on the butternut squash colored Naugahyde of the Bethesda train to downtown.


Cynicism is another word for reality

Email me, you derelict wastrel

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