It's too late in the day to be noon, I think, as lunch is wheeled into the conference room.
I refuse to acknowledge the sandwiches and the pasta salad behind me, mere distractions from the task at hand, for he's just turned a bright shade of red, his disdain now hatred. I'm keeping it even, neutral and modulated, but all the while my eyes bore into his face, something only he can see.
I glance down to find the next item on my list, giving him a brief respite. "Item 22," I begin, looking up in time to see his eyes bulge even more. He'd been looking at the lunch when I jerked him back to me. His eyes bulge naturally, so it's surprising to see even more white space surrounding them. How much further can his lids retreat before his eyeballs pop onto the smoothly polished marble conference table? I imagine they'd roll about for a while but never waver from my unyielding stare.
As I calmly lay out item 22, my eyes never leaving his, he actually begins to squirm. Is his tie too tight? Or is his chair too loose? No, he's a fish on a line and I'm reeling him in. But I feel no pity, for he did this to himself, this man who wrenched me away from my family on a Sunday afternoon, who forced me to fight traffic to the airport and wait in that endless TSA line only to be squeezed into a middle seat in a completely full cattle car, who booked me into that noisy shoebox of a hotel room where I fell sleep just before my wake up call for his early meeting in his drab and windowless conference room which he thought would be the perfect stage for him to show me a thing or two while showing me up in front of all of these people.
He lets out a huge sigh, a desperate plea to the table, a prehistoric non-verbal hominidic sign meaning something like "can you believe this guy?" His eyes dart up and down the table but are inexorably drawn back to mine. No one says anything. No one even sighs with him. I continue discussing item 22, never pausing, my eyes where they've been all morning, on him. It's just us two, all alone, in this crowded conference room.
He's getting redder, squirming there. He raises both hands, as if to ward me off, opens his mouth and interrupts. He has to interrupt. What else could he do? I never pause, so he must barge in, which he does, raising his voice to break through my monotone.
It must be intoxicating to drown me out. He's excited, I can tell, for although I've stopped speaking, his voice gets louder, not softer, filling the conference room with his angry words. We're all staring at him now. Even his people.
He's feeling good, hitting his stride, as he yells and gesticulates and vents a morning's worth of pent-up steam. I sit wordlessly, my hands carefully folded on the conference table, leaning forward with a small smile on the corners of my mouth, as if someone else is the target of his wrath, as if I'm enjoying the show.
I don't mean to smile, but while losing control just now he said the words I've been waiting for all morning. I repeat them back to him, once while he yells and then again after he'd stops. He stares at me, mouth open, eyes bulging. I stare back, my small smile growing into a full-fledged grin. And that's when he threw the book at me.
You've no doubt heard that phrase before -- "he threw the book at me" -- but you cannot appreciate its meaning until a red-faced man with bulging eyes throws a thick perfect-bound presentation book at your head. He held it like a frisbee, spine towards me, and then utilized a side arm motion with a lateral flick of the wrist to impart a level-spin to the book as he launched it, the spine-first positioning keeping the book closed in flight, its pages tightly bound together by the force of his fling, thereby avoiding the wildly splaying pages that would have surely impeded its velocity and sent it off-course. His expertly-flung word-filled missile now zooms across the table while I, without thinking, drop into bullet time and raise my right hand to protect my eyes, his apparent target. Just as my hand reaches eye-level, the spinning book makes contact with my palm, my fingers close reflexively around it but it's already fallen onto the table.
Our pit bulls, sitting silently at the other end of the table, spring to life, growling at him and his pit bulls, who then spring to life, although with a little less life than ours, stunned, as we all are, by their man's egregious breach and flagrant flouting of the Standard Rules of Engagement embodied in the International Conference Room Code.
Meanwhile I sit there, thumbing through his book, oblivious to the donnybrook until, at the first moment of silence, I look up and ask him "which page?" He flips me off and storms out the room.
Lunch was delicious.