Monday, June 13, 2011

He Has a Way with Words
original draft 1997

I struggle to get the look on my face just right. It's not a a friendly face when I am not smiling. I don't want to seem closed minded or judgmental but the only alternative, sucking-up, isn't possible. I fidget, rest my chin in my hand, try to appear attentive. The speaker is repetitive and never makes eye contact. After a string of these meetings his ideas are not new and I am thankful to at last be numb. The others around the conference table display a mixture of boredom and distance. We avoid each other's glances.

At today's session we have visitors, representatives from a vendor of standardized testing materials.  Occasionally I risk looking at our guests and notice they are uncomfortable too. I am relieved.  My numbness is punctured every so often by the sting of a word or phrase.  He describes the old trustees, those holding the minority opinion on our board, as dissidents. Says he wants to close doors of objection. Defines history as a subset of a broader context, the study of Western Civilization. Names geography, western civilization and economics as the three most important subjects to test.

I am reminded of colorforms. Recently I bought them for the birthday of my friend's daughter, and in my imagination his fine gray wool suit changes to a uniform, complete with a cap.  In this vision, he is not lecturing, but barking orders.  Those sharp words, which have torn my blanket of numbness, float in the air. Dissidents. I see each letter materializing before my eyes, hanging there, animated.

He pushes the sales reps and data analysts to promise to meet his ridiculous deadline. They are hesitant, but don't want to lose such a large account. I can see the argument playing itself out in their heads. "Thousands of students to test!" on the one hand; "our professional reputation!" on the other. "I don't care if it's sloppy," he tells them, waving. The words dancing before my eyes evaporate because there is a new tear in my blanket.  Instead I see a door, and me sticking my foot in it as it closes.

He has to leave before we do and the atmosphere in the room breaks just a little. The test vendors ask us if we have any questions. "You wouldn't do that, would you?" I want to know.  "What?" says the woman across the table from me. "Make a sloppy test?" "No." She vigorously shakes her head. The others nod in agreement. The door disappears and I settle back under my blanket.

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