Early morning weekend meeting. A low buzz of murmuring in the air, the caffeine just starting to kick in as we jolt ourselves to life as the door opens and the Big Guy fills the room.
It's a crisis we'll be a having, another delay to explain. This time it's someone else's fault, so I sit back, frozen in composed passivity, easy to overlook as I prepare myself for a good ol' fashioned scream 'n' ream.
The Big Guy pulls a folded paper from his pocket. He smooths it out on the table, starts reading from the top. A prepared rant. Boy is he pissed. So mad he won't trust himself to riff. Date. Fact. Date. Fact. He drones on and on, his litany of horrors neutered by his leaden style. I wonder what Olivier would have done with this material. No doubt he'd have us all wimpering by now. Instead the Big Guy has anesthetized us.
It's a full house and getting fuller, late arrivals slinking in, their entry announced by the door, its pneumatic slow-shut device gently easing the door closed until, six inches from its goal, it gives up and slams the door into the jamb.
The Big Guy looks up from his script after the sixth slam and, in his best snarl, informs us that we are not to touch that fucking door!, then he looks down and returns to his recitation.
Five minutes later he's done. That wasn't so bad. He asks a question, he gets an answer, he asks another, he gets another. This is going well. Productive, even. I relax just as the Big Guy turns to me, defensively burrowed into my chair at the other end of the table, and asks me a question. A question about last year's delay, the delay that we did have something to do with. A loaded question packed with enough powder to blast me to pieces in front of this suddenly hostile crowd. He doesn't wait for my answer, he's finally found the part he was born to play that day, and he's not going to let my answer take it away, so he leans forward and begins to flay.
I assume my best punching bag posture, absorbing his verbal blows without flinching, resisting the urge to avert my eyes from his wrath, focusing instead on the trajectories traced by the tiny bits of spittle shooting from his raging lips.
I sense the shock in the room, the potent mixture joy and fear: joy that someone else is the target of the scream 'n' ream and fear that you'll be next.
Now I should point out at this point that it wasn't my fault. In fact, until a few weeks ago I had nothing to do with this project. I'm just a stress-eater, a hot seat sitter, the guy who shows up when it blows up. No responsibility or authority, I'm armed only with bland assurances and a power tie, getting by with a nod of the head, an earnest expression and a determination to take it like a Stoic.
Where were we? Ah, yes, the rant. The Big Guy conveys his unhappiness in a few well-chosen words, and at least a thousand ill-chosen words, dramatically building to a crescendo as he stands up, gestures at the door and orders me to leave. Grateful for this unexpected Get Out of Jail Free card, I gather up my sheaf of untouched papers and, steering well clear of the Big Guy at the head of table, make it out in one piece, my freedom punctuated with a satisfying bang as the door slams into the jamb.
A flunky escorts me out, all friendly and familiar, his soothing words intended to salve my supposedly-singed psyche. He doesn't realize I'm a professional. Even so, I'm dizzy, the tension constricting the blood flow to my brain when it isn't pounding my cranial walls with a repetitively dull throb. I stop, reach down for the Advil in my attache and realize I left the attache in the room.
The flunky refuses to retrieve it. "The Big Guy ordered us not to touch the door! You'll have to wait until the meeting's over." Nothing doing. I'm a professional. I don't sit and wait where I'm not wanted. It's the weekend and I'm not going to waste it cooling my heels in a well-appointed lobby. Besides, after you've been on the receiving end of a spleen venting, how much worse could it get? It's liberating, in a way.
I hand the flunky my papers, freeing both hands in case the Big Guy tries his haymaker on me. Before the flunky objects, I open the door and survey the room. I see the Big Guy's back hunched over another of his scripted rants, so I saunter into the room all casual-like as every head turns to follow me, no doubt hoping I've come for revenge, a revenge that will have the incidental effect of saving them from the Big Guy's wrath. But no, I head for the attache and, in one fluid motion, I grab it, spin and head for the open door, the Big Guy just now noticing me as my purposeful but studiously unhurried gait takes me through the doorway without pause, the flunky eases the door shut and we hear this loud crack! I turn and see coffee dripping off the flunky's balding head, dark splotches on his shirt, and I realize how close I came to receiving the Big Guy's parting gift.
As I drive home, my nerves shot, my head pounding, my cramped muscles unable to release the residual tension, it occurs to me that I've exceeded my recommended daily allowance of stress, probably my recommended lifetime allowance too. I'm getting too old for this.