Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Enterprise - 25 - What Goes Through Your Mind?

"What goes through your mind?" howled biz dev Lisa from the middle of the floor. She was brandishing the day's New York Times high above her head. "What goes through your mind?!"

We looked up at her mutely, hands prone over our keyboards.

"What goes through your mind when you get off the elevator?" She gazed around at us lividly. "When you get off the elevator every damn morning and you step over the goddamned newspaper without picking it up?!"

Had I ever even seen it, at the threshold? And if I had, what did I think? I searched my conscience. Vaguely, I remembered noticing it once. If I was at all tempted to pick it up it was covetously – that shameful, queasy feeling you get when you see something of value unattended. The infantile impulse to take. But not me. I'm a civilized man. I know the line between what's mine and what's not mine. That's not my news. I tiptoed around it as if it were a sleeping baby. And never gave it another thought. Eventually, it now occurred to me, I no longer saw it at all.

"Well think next time!" Lisa demanded, and released the Times so it fell flat on the floor with a thwap! She paused briefly, hands akimbo, then brusquely turned away with a sigh of disgust. The paper remained there, conspicuous, accusatory, for the remainder of the day, the guileless smile of the newly installed George W. Bush somehow serving as a reproach.

This was the day of our first Christmas party, for which an entire Mexican restaurant had been rented for the evening. David had recommended the place. He knew someone who ran it, or owned it, or tended bar. Something.

"Did I tell you guys about the mango margaritas?" he asked from his partition.

"Yes," answered Steve.

"You have to try the mango margaritas."

Sam was in the office for the occasion. I spotted him sitting crosslegged on the floor between Julie and Lisa. A few others had gathered around him, some sitting on desks, some leaning on cubicle walls. They listened intently, nodding, laughing when they were meant to laugh, looking down at him with veneration.

"I think we can take on the big providers!" Sam proclaimed. "We are in possession of a media property. We can take on the Disneys, we can take on the AOLs. Don't think we can't!"

Nods all around.

"Content consumption is changing," he continued. "We're the leading edge. I'm telling you." He peered over his glasses and fixed his audience with a pointed stare. "And you are the team that's going to make it happen!"

A flurry of self-conscious giggles rippled through the gallery.

"I'm not kidding. Don't sell yourselves short! You're the ones. You're the ones right here, right now. This time – now – belongs to you!"

The impromptu lecture ended with more nods, smiles and coos of agreement. Finally everyone returned to their desks and Sam continued to wander the room, joking, backslapping, dropping to a knee for an earnest interaction with this or that employee. He only ever entered his office to put on his coat to leave.

We walked to the restaurant in loose groups reflecting a combination of team affiliation, desk proximity and other, vaguer kinship. When the cold air struck outside it suddenly seemed inappropriate, unprofessional even, to discuss work. Jokes were made. Our language drifted further into the vernacular, sometimes the profane. We were intoxicated ahead of our inebriation.

In the warm glow of the restaurant, decorated by Christmas lights and tinsel, everyone looked different. There was something open, unprotected, in their faces.

The expense of a DJ had not been spared for the occasion. He worked his turntables diligently, holding one side of his headphones to his ear, and selected deliberately from crates containing hundreds upon hundreds of records. He had the sober bearing of someone who worked in life-or-death; an anaesthesiologist, an airline pilot. Boom! Bap! Boom! Bap! went the music. Some swayed shyly on the periphery of the floor. Only Neil and his wife danced, a bit imperiously, and awkwardly, adapting a North Jersey two-step to the hip hop. From the speakers, a command alternated with a warning: Shake ya ass! But watch yaself!

People drank, and laughed, and, red-faced, shouted into each other's ears above the din. Is this who they all really were? Or were they now somebody else?

Sam called everyone to the bar for a toast. He raised his glass and saluted us all for our efforts, assuring us that success and its glorious rewards were well within reach. He toasted the West Coast team in absentia. And then he remembered something else he had to say, something more important yet.

"One other thing. Can I make sure I have everyone's attention? Everyone?"

The room quieted down.

"I want to make sure we celebrate the incredibly hard work of Brett Morgan. He gave so much to bring us where we are today."

I turned to Tom and whispered, "Is he dead?"

"No, no," Tom replied quickly.

"Brett, wherever you are right now," Sam continued, gazing at an arbitrary point on the pressed-tin ceiling as though he'd located Brett's astral body, "know that we are thinking of you."

"Is he locked up in a mental home?" I asked Tom.

"No, no, no."

"Then what?"

Tom made that grimace I would come to know so well. "He's taking a little time off."

"Cheers, Brett. Get well," Sam concluded solemnly, and we all raised our glasses, in silence this time, and drank again.