Saturday, January 26, 2019

Dragons - Chapter 2 (DRAFT)

I remember this one place. God, was it a palace. The kind of place where coffee is eight bucks a cup and no one thinks twice about it. I don’t remember where it was—when you never get out of the hotel, the city you’re in kind of drifts by the wayside.

I was there for one of those VIP shindigs we used to do. The company had clients, you see. But these clients weren’t individuals who had hired a professional services firm, or companies working with an ad agency. Our clients were non-profit organizations, and they paid us to manage them. We collected their dues, we planned their meetings, we published their journals—we did whatever it took to help them achieve the vision they had defined for themselves. And every client organization had a group of people who formed the upper crust of their leadership. A board of directors. A house of delegates. They went by different names, but they all had the same thing in common. They were all comprised of Very Important People who, when they came together on behalf of their organization, made sure it was in one of the best hotels in town. By day, they would sit around polished tables in high-backed leather chairs and make decisions, and by night, they would hold cocktails and pat each other on the back, safe in the knowledge that they were the elite and that things truly ran best when they were in charge.

This one meeting was the first one I had attended after being promoted to deputy account executive. It was just me and my boss, Mary, and about a hundred or so of these decision-makers, and it was funny the way Mary was nervous and pretended to actually take me under her wing. I knew most of the people there already, but now that I had this new role, I had to meet them all over again. Mary had to introduce me because that’s what protocol demanded, and she wanted to watch as they sized me up and decided if I was truly worthy of the honor I had been given.

The biggest fish in the pond back then was this woman named Eleanor Rumford. She was probably in her late fifties, and one of only three or four women in the leadership at that time. She was slated to chair the board of directors the following year, and had led the planning for the meeting we were attending. I had worked with her on a couple of projects prior to this. Her professional achievements had earned her the respect of her mostly male colleagues, but I found her to be meticulous in the extreme—a real micromanager who tried to control everything she was even remotely involved with. Among many other tasks she had overseen, she had hand-picked the speaker for the dinner program, and I remember her sitting triumphantly enshrined at the VIP table just below the podium as the speaker went through his busy slides and I poked absently at my New York-style cheesecake.

I was there, too, you see. For the first time I was at the VIP table—a VIP table, mind you, in a room full of a hundred VIPs—because I had been promoted and, although I was still the hired help, there was some chance I might be needed to respond to some question or run some important errand at the behest of the people who were really in charge. So it was Eleanor Rumford in her hand-tailored business suit and freshly-permed hair with her happy-go-lucky husband sitting on one side and my boss Mary Walton sitting on the other. Mary sat on Eleanor’s right and I sat on Mary’s, the chain of command clearly on display for anyone who would care to take notice.

It was near the end of the Q and A session when this guy got up—this guy with a pair of worn sneakers and tube socks poking out from beneath the raised cuffs of his dress slacks and a Pink Panther tie lying awkwardly on his round belly. He looked about as out of place as a rotten turnip on the dessert trays the banquet captains were carrying around. A whole group of people had been lined up at the floor microphone in the center of the room to ask the speaker their questions, and the speaker had methodically whittled them down one by one in what had to be the longest Q and A session I had ever been forced to sit through.

And it wasn’t just me who was getting antsy. Every VIP in the room looked like they were about to turn into pumpkins, but this guy gets up and starts to amble his way over, obviously intent on getting in one last burning question. Eleanor saw him coming, and she must have known he was trouble, because she suddenly rose to her feet and, waiting only for the barest of pauses in the on-going interchange between the speaker and the last person at the microphone, she announced in her typically parliamentary way how honored we had all been to have the speaker with us that evening. She then thanked him gratuitously, and then she led us all in a round of appreciative applause.

It was a nicely handled. Eleanor, despite her fussiness, was one of those people who could always be relied on to do what was proper in a social situation, and she knew from long experience that the most proper thing of all was to strategically avoid the most awkward of social situations altogether. But old Inspector Clouseau was not to be deterred. Although Eleanor’s calculated actions caused the woman at the microphone to take her seat and the speaker to step away from the podium, the guy in the Pink Panther tie stepped right up to the microphone and began asking his question anyway, his amplified voice carrying loudly and unfortunately subduing the growing ambient noise associated with a crowd of people finally released.

I can’t remember what the guy said or what his question was. I know it was long and rambling and more about him and his own theories than anything the speaker had said in the last two hours. It doesn’t really matter. The guy isn’t important. What’s important is how Eleanor reacted to his boorishness. Obviously unable to stop what she had viewed as an unsatisfactory outcome, Eleanor reseated herself and then not-so-quietly began tsk-tsking about the bad social graces of some, turning alternatively between her husband and Mary, and getting exactly the same kind of puckered-lip commiseration from them both.

At the time I wasn’t sure what to think. I mean, there she was, Eleanor Rumford, hard-nosed champion of her gender, a conquering hen in a room full of conquering roosters, looking exactly like a tittering matron of the Titanic, desperately appealing to her fellow peers of the realm for an explanation that could justify the appearance of this ragamuffin from steerage on their gold-plated decks—all the while oblivious to their mutual rendezvous with the iceberg.

And there was Mary—my boss, my leader, the woman who was going to teach me the ropes and whose behavior I had been told to emulate if I wanted any kind of a future in the company—kissing Eleanor’s ass and telling her that she was right, that some people had no class, that some people didn’t know when to mind their place.

Looking back on it now I can’t help but laugh. The guy was a dope, sure, but it’s not like he came in and took a dump on the vegetable crudite. He was a self-important fuck like all the other self-important fucks in the room—only with a lot less fashion sense. But he offended Eleanor Rumford, and that meant that he had offended Mary Walton, too. If I had been paying more attention I might have realized the fact that he didn’t offend me or, more importantly, that Eleanor’s offense hadn’t automatically prompted me to feign offense as well, was the first real indication that I had made a mistake accepting that promotion.

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“Dragons” is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. For more information, go here.

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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