The Conventioneer

by Jay HOLLEY
 

I notice an army of shiny new signs mounted next to the seat numbers on the Airbus to Raleigh-Durham; the universal wireless internet symbol is unmistakable. The flight attendant announces that cocktails are available for five dollars, credit card only, and that this flight’s WiFi is brought to us free by Diet Coke. This is the middle of the end, I think; now the khakis-and-polos managers in coach will be leashed to their Outlook while they fly, but at least they’ll still be allowed to ignore meeting invitations while they slumber. Technology will advance, though. I wonder whether it’ll be Microsoft, Research In Motion, or Apple who will first bring Instant Messages into dreamland, interrupting nocturnal emissions and dreams of flight.

I think of a million man-hours spent bringing us the opportunity to check our Facebook walls and Action Items while we nibble from tiny bags of honey-roasted peanuts.

§

The hotel bar is themed around a single football game from 1961. There are jerseys above the booths, and something called a “Pigskin-Tini” on the cocktail list. I sit at the bar next to a young business buck. He looks up from his newspaper and tells me, “We’re selling our souls to China.” I nod in a studied manner to indicate assent with his statement but disinterest in conversation, but he ignores or perhaps is ignorant of the etiquette; maybe he feels his observations are too urgent to hold at bay. “Nobody wants to make anything anymore,” he tells me, “nobody wants to put money where their mouth is and start producing.”

I ask him what his line is and he explains that he’s an executive sales manager for one of the major printer manufacturers. “Not that I’m just a salesman,” he tells me, “I coordinate the company’s regional managers, who deal with subordinate floor managers, who interface directly with the ground level sales producers, who actuate the actual sales streams.” I ask whether any of the printers his managers and producers sell are sourced from China and of course they all are. He asks what I do, so I tell him the truth: I’m working with a venture capitalist to start a magazine about meta-meetings. “You know,” I say, “meetings where you get together to meet about your other meetings; how effective they’ve been in delivering deliverables, how future meetings might be made more actionable, more trackable, more fun.” He nods, takes a sip from his mug, and asks whether we’ve picked out a name for the masthead. “Of course,” I tell him as I motion a numeral ‘2’ in the air, “Meetings Squared, with the two written as an exponent.” He comments that America could get back on track if there were more go-getters like us. I motion for another glass of Zinfandel.

§

The baby across the aisle is squealing again. I close my eyelids, lean against the molded plastic wall of the 737’s cabin, and imagine my loathing beading onto my skin like an electric sweat, its intensity strong enough to set haywire the basic atomic forces. I picture myself slipping through the cabin’s wall, landing momentarily on the riveted aluminum wing, then waving to my former commuter companions as the jet’s velocity carries it on toward Chicago while gravity re-routes my arrival gate earthwards. I imagine myself rotating to spy for a pond or a greenhouse or a hot air balloon to crash into — didn’t that World War I pilot survive a fall of thirty thousand feet by cushioning himself with the glass skylights of a train station? — but all I see is section after section of brown and green farmland. The squealing from across the aisle morphs into an animal wail. “Yes,” I tell the flight attendant, “yes, I would like to purchase a turkey pita sandwich with low-fat tzaziki sauce.”

§

The bartender is too hip for the tchotchkies choking the bar like mothballs; he’s making the other convention-goers uncomfortable with casual mentions of too-contemporary and too-up-and-coming bands.

“Another round?” he asks me.

I nod in affirmation and thanks. I can’t believe we’ve managed five minutes of conversation before the business mook next to me gets around to it: “You know what the problem is? China.”

§

I flip between the pages of SkyMall to compare competing doggy oases which enable dogs to urinate in the comfort of living rooms onto a patch of porous synthetic turf. One drains into a simple pan; the other, more expensive and luxurious model drains into a plastic cistern and features a self-cleaning sprinkler mechanism as an optional upgrade. I flip to another page I’ve bookmarked, to the personal putting green for execs who want to practice their stroke while they conference call, and I wonder if there’s room for an ‘innovention’ in the mash-up of the two: if businessmen might want to pee on the putting green in their office.

“Good evening,” the captain says over the all-cabin intercom, “it looks like we’ll be landing in Boston just a few minutes ahead of schedule. Sit back, buckle up, and we’ll have you on the ground in, oh, looks like just over 25 minutes.”

I’d like to urinate in my office, I think. I swipe the glass face of my phone, click past an advertisement for Diet Coke, launch a web browser, then order a pepperoni pizza and a two liter bottle of Diet Coke to meet me at the Hyatt. I consider my opinions about the promptness of pizza delivery drivers in general, of the likely traffic hindering my pizza delivery driver’s smooth travel to the hotel, consider whether it’s more likely he’s working his way through school or just making rent, decide that this driver deserves a three buck tip, select my method of payment, and raise my seat back to its full upright position.

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