Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Smell of Cinnamon Toast Part 2

The Conference Room

I gather that the folks from United Way were none too happy to be evicted from the conference room judging by the empty Krispy Kreme donut boxes, half-empty coffee cups and lipstick-stained napkins that were scattered over (and under) the tables and counters. They had also stacked all the chairs in the back of the room for some reason. It was a mess - just the right setting for the meeting we were about to have.

Simone and Brenda were busy stuffing the papers and cups left on the front table into a green garbage bag while Jules in pricey pin-striped suit and shiny loafers read from a manilla folder sitting on a chair he had rescued from the pile in the back. Jules was probably close to sixty but he looked younger and fitter than most of the 30-somethings who make up the bulk of our newsroom these days.

Simone deputized a couple of stragglers, handing them the garbage bag and gesturing toward the other tables. A couple of us started moving the chairs from the back to around the tables so we'd have some places to sit. Most people stood around the perimeter of the room leaning on the counters and against the windows.

Jules kept looking at his watch but made no move to start the meeting. Simone fidgeted. Brenda came back into the room with a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of Windex. Simone grabbed the Windex and went from table to table spraying the surfaces while Brenda handed the people sitting near them wads of paper towels. Everybody thought that this was some kind of weird contest and soon the tables were being wiped with a fervor you don't usually see from a group of people who pride themselves on the slovenliness of the workspaces.

The clock at the front of the room showed 4:15 and people were starting to get antsy. Bill obviously remembered something he forgot to do and made a move toward the door. A look from Simone stopped him cold. Seconds later the sound of hurried heels on the hallway tiles brought everyone to attention.

Two lawyer-looking types, followed by their couture-clad former-beauty-queen assistant entered the room. The lawyers smiled at us like they were the guests of honor at a political rally. They handed the couture-clad assistant their coats and shook hands with Jules who introduced them to Simone. The taller of the two who, I swear, was the spitting image of Stanley Tucci stepped to the fore.

"Good afternoon," he said effusively "I'm sure this day has been quite upsetting for you but I'm here to assure you that as far as we're concerned nothing major is going to change - life will go on with very few interruptions and most of you will keep your jobs if you choose to stay...and we hope you will." He paused to let this sink in.

Everybody looked at each other and then at Simone who was trying her best to smile like the lawyers but it was obvious that she was as confused as the rest of us.

"Please, allow me to introduce myself. I'm Brad Whitston. Those of you who report on business might recognize my colleague, Jack Alpert (we didn't). We're attorneys representing Aalaxis America. Let me be the first to welcome all of you to the Aalaxis Media family," he beamed. He undoubtedly sensed our suspicion but his smile never wavered for a second. He turned to his colleague. "Jack," he said "the first thing they teach you in journalism school is never trust a smiling attorney." Jack laughed and some of us did too. Most of the younger males -- their eyes locked on the couture-clad assistant who sat in rapt attention in the seat valiently offered by Jules -- hadn't heard a word he said.

Coming soon. The Other Shoe


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