to go: 1,278.97
that JoAnne is back
from vacation," says Scott the General Manager, "how about if you and I
go out to lunch today? Just the two of us?" And he gives me a
bright, happy, expectant look.
from the fact that
my lunch hour is the only
writing time I have these days (and is therefore more sacred than a new
People Magazine, Matt Lauer in a kilt and the final Tribal Council, put
together) ... aside from the fact that I'm trying to be strong and
virtuous and stick to my eating plan this week (see: last week's
Chocolate Chip Mint Oreo *extravaganza*) ...
aside from the fact
that lunch in a public place will make it tough to visit the ladies
room every 10.8 minutes (Has
Mother Nature snapped out of her coma yet?)
I just plain don't WANT
to have lunch with Scott today.
Scott is a really, really nice guy. He's so nice, in fact, you just
know he was probably voted Most Popular in his high school graduating
class. (Or "Prettiest Smile," or "Friendliest Jock," or "Most Likely To
Grow Up And Become A Really, Really Nice Guy.") Even so, I know what
he's up to. He isn't fooling me a bit, with his dimples and his You
deserve a break today demeanor.
This isn't about "treating" me or "rewarding" me or "recognizing" what
a faboo job I did while JoAnne was on vacation. The fact is that I sank
to new lows of public malfunction and personal disgrace last week,
thanks to Mother Nature, that sick, twisted bitch, plus a couple of
unscheduled computer system meltdowns.
Scott knows it.
... this lunch will
more likely be about interrogation ("Did
JoAnne actually SAY you shouldn't assign project numbers?")
or bad news ("Guess what!
decided to move your desk into the KITCHEN!")
or abject personal humiliation ("We'd
like you to be more sociable, Secra. Can we sign you up for the company
dodge ball team?") I've endured
enough of these command performance manager/employee lunches in my
lifetime to know that they're almost never a good thing. It's sort of
like being called to the assistant vice principal's office: one of you
is going to walk out of that room in tears, and it's probably NOT
going to be the assistant vice principal. I am absolutely not going to
Scott today, under any circumstances, and that's final.
beaming cutely. "I'll look forward to it!"
spend the rest of the
morning fretting about our lunch date. What
will we talk about? What will we not
talk about? What if I dribble Maybelline down the front of my yellow
linen blazer? The good news is that at least I'm able to do
my fretting in relative
peace, now that JoAnne is back in the office. She's been barricaded in
her office with the door closed for most of the morning ... emerging
now and again to refill her water bottle or dump something into the
overnight, but otherwise remaining behind closed doors. I've tried to
leave her alone and allow her time to make the switch from *Vacation
Mode* to *Oh-Shidt-My-Vacation-Is-OVER Mode* without a lot of fuss and
interruption. Still, with JoAnne onsite, at least, I can relax a little
bit. (Read this: if the server blows up again, it's HER migraine.)
appears in front
of my desk at 11:30, prompt as a second-choice Prom date. "Ready?" he
hungry!" I reply, beaming cutely.
is a sort of
"first date" awkwardness in the car as we're driving to the
restaurant. I half-expect him to ask me who my favorite teacher
is, or whether I
think we'll win the state track meet next month. Traffic, weather,
sports, local politics: we make stiff uncomfortable attempts at them
all. Halfway to Jack London Square, I'm starting to sweat behind the
ears a little. This is the thing I hate the most about these enforced
social situations: mandatory happy-doodle chit-chat. It's so damn much work.
I'm saved when we stumble onto a subject we're both critically
interested in -- the pending office move to downtown Oakland, and why
it's now being delayed until January 2003. (Basically, Armand has
vetoed every possible new office space they've presented to him.) The
momentum of our mutual interest in the topic carries us all the way to
the restaurant and out of the parking garage and into the restaurant.
next thing I know,
I'm sitting at a window table overlooking San Francisco Bay, as a
polite young waiter in a tuxedo pours me a goblet of ice water.
I'm thinking. This doesn't
to buckets of
willpower -- and a seafood-intensive lunch menu -- I don't overeat. I
skip the foccacia bread appetizer, I stick to ice water instead
my usual Pepsi, I discreetly pull the bacon (and half of the brie) off
my chicken club sandwich, I ignore my french fries altogether.
It's still more food than I am accustomed to eating in the middle of
the afternoon. I'm going to be face-down at the front desk by 3 p.m.,
drooling into my shirtsleeves ... I just know it. But at least I'm not
going to have to subsist on Calistoga and grapes for the rest of the
day, in order to make up for a big fancy-pants lunch.
chit-chat isn't quite the ordeal I thought it would be. It's not "fun,"
exactly. I would still rather be holed up in the empty CAD cubicle,
writing about bicycles and bruschetta on my trusty laptop. But if I had
a choice between lunch with Scott and a sharp stick in the eye, I
would choose lunch with Scott.
it turns out, I end
up doing most of the talking. It feels a little bit like an interview,
actually: he asks me questions, and I answer them as
articulately and evasively as possible. How did you and your
husband meet? ("We
belonged to the same social organization."
What sort of writing projects are you working on? ("I
do a lot of writing for the Internet.") I talk about
The Tots. I talk about TicTac. For a long time I talk about bike-riding
-- a nice 'safe' topic that has the added bonus of making me look like
a jockette in Scott's eyes. I have no idea how interesting any of this
stuff is to him, frankly. But at least I don't put him to sleep
his bowl of jambalaya. And a couple of times I actually make him laugh
out loud. Still, I never forget for a moment that this is a
performance. I'm aware that in spite of the groovy view and the great
food and the mostly-non-threatening conversation, I am almost certainly
being "evaluated" for signs of job dissatisfaction and/or impending
nervous collapse ... and that everything I say is likely to be
repeated, and disseminated, and eventually included in my permanent
employee file. (So I hold off on mentioning my overdue period or
bragging much about my new Diarist Award.)
drive back to The
Dirt Company, after lunch, is more subdued than the drive to the
restaurant. It's almost as though we've exhausted every available
*conversation molecule* -- plus we're both stuffed full of expensive
food -- and now we're giving each other permission to be quiet and
relax and gear up for the rest of the afternoon. (Either that, or else
I've sent him into a wide-awake-coma with my Iron Horse Trail stories.)
we get back to the
office, I thank Scott for lunch.
have to do it more often!" he
I'll always take a
free lunch!" I reply, beaming cutely.
feel a massive sense
of relief, not only because lunch wasn't the complete horror I expected
it to be ... but also because, with any luck, I've now met my quota of
command performance lunches for the next little while. I understand
that lunch with management goes with the territory. It's another one of
those obligatory things -- like the annual Christmas party, or annual
performance reviews, or ugly company T-shirts -- that you've got to
pretend to enjoy if you want to be considered a *team player.* (And if
you do actually wind up kinda/sorta enjoying
yourself, like I did today? Well ... that's just brie on your chicken
Scott goes back to
his office, I settle into my desk and check my voicemail. I have one
message, and it's from Armand. Our CEO rarely leaves me voicemail, so I
sit up and pay attention.
Sssssecra," he says, in his silky
Continental accent. "I will be
in the Oakland office to-morrow for a meeting. If the meeting iss over
in time, perhaps you and I can ssstep out and get a bite. What do
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