“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”
People hardly ever look up. I don’t know why that is, but they hardly ever do.
Maybe it’s because it is a slightly unnatural act having to crank your neck backwards, or the fact that if you do it too far your mouth involuntarily opens. Unless there is an unusual noise or something to catch their attention most people wander through life just looking from ground level to about six to eight feet high.
But mouth open or closed, sometimes it is a good idea to have a look at what’s going on a bit higher up.
Anthony, or Tony as he liked to be called, is a good example of this. Tony was the biggest businessman I had ever come into contact with. I don’t mean he was a Bill Gates, or a Warren Buffet or even a Larry Ellison in that he had amassed a vast fortune of billions of dollars, or that he ran a huge company. I am simply referring to his physical, not his business, stature.
Tony was a good six feet six in height, and about four feet wide. He was a giant of a man. Very amiable and softly spoken, but you just knew he wasn’t the type of person to pick a fight with and I don’t think anyone ever did.
I was not personally involved in the trip I am about to tell you about, thank goodness, but a couple of friends of mine were and they related the story (many times!). It’s going back a few years now but there was a time when lots of companies were visiting the Middle East to try to secure contracts from the oil rich Arab nations who were using part of their great wealth to develop the infrastructures of their nations.
Part of these business trips more often than not involved a substantial meal provided by the local hosts, with some offerings less suited to the western palette and others absolutely delicious. Most people had the sense to pick and choose which was the sensible thing to do. But Tony’s appetite for food was as big as he was.
Whilst the others showed restraint, Tony tore into everything on the table, much to the delight of their hosts. He ate and he better ate and when almost everything was gone he pronounced himself “full”. After that he and the other two visiting businessmen handed over their proposals to their hosts and a follow-up business meeting was arranged for the following afternoon.
The next morning they were up bright and early and met for breakfast, two ordinary ones and a super-sized one for Tony. They chatted for a while and then went off to their rooms to rehearse their pitches for the afternoon meeting.
Later, when they all assembled in the hotel foyer for the short taxi ride to the office where their meeting was scheduled Tony was the last to arrive. He didn’t look at all well.
“You’re a bad color,” said one of the others. “Are you feeling okay?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Tony protested. “Tummy’s a bit jippy, that’s all. Let’s go and get this done.”
And off they all went, one of them in the front seat of the taxi and Tony and the other guy in the rear.
When they arrived at the company offices they were ushered up to the fourth floor and into a reception/waiting area that consisted of a few of chairs, two large couches and, on the other side of the room, a receptionist’s desk behind which sat two girls, one greeting visitors and the other operating the telephones. The room was about 30 feet by 20 feet, with very high ceilings. Off to the left, behind partition walls were what seemed to be more offices.
By this time Tony’s color had not improved at all. In fact it was getting worse. He was shaking his head from side to side and at the same time rubbing his ample belly with his right hand. A few muffled gurgles and rumbles could be heard by the others sitting close to him.
“Guys, I don’t feel so well,“ he finally admitted, obviously now in considerable discomfort. “Excuse me while I go to the bathroom.”
And up he got, inquired from the girls behind the counter where the bathrooms were situated, and off he went. They were on the other side of the foyer from the offices and he quickly made his way in that direction.
When I described the other offices as being behind partition walls I neglected to say that these walls did not go right up to full ceiling height. They stopped about two feet below that. Unfortunately the bathrooms were located behind a similar partition wall. This meant that anything that was going on in there above a certain level of decibels was clearly audible to anyone in the reception area.
The first noises to emerge through the gap between wall and ceiling was a series of groans and grunts. Then some expletives best not repeated here. This was closely followed by several thunderous explosions.
“Incoming!” warned one of the guys in the reception area, highly amused by it all. “Take cover!”
“Watch out for the shrapnel,” added the other as the bombardment continued.
It didn’t last that long really, but it seemed to go on forever. The whole crescendo ended with a clearly audible “Oh **** me, what a relief,” from Tony.
The two girls at the reception desk were clearly embarrassed at this unusual behavior, but they saw the funny side of it too and giggled quietly. The other two guys in the reception area weren’t so timid. They were enjoying the whole show and laughing quite openly.
“Best pitch rehearsal I’ve heard from him,” quipped one.
“I always said he was full of crap,” said the other.
“Not any more!” returned the first.
And on it went.
Then Tony walked back into the reception area. He was looking, not quite triumphant, but definitely pleased that he was now feeling a lot better. He was completely unaware that his predicament had been heard by all and sundry.
“Have they spoken to you yet?” he inquired. “What’s the running order?”
“I’m on first,” said one of the guys. “You’re number two.”
The other one sniggered.
Tony was not getting the joke at all, but he knew he was missing something.
“Okay,” he said to the others. “What’s the joke, what’s going on?”
“Look behind you,” one of them said, indicating the partition wall between the reception area and the bathrooms.
Tony did. “I don’t see what you mean, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“Look up a bit,” the other guy said.
Tony looked up. At first he didn’t see anything out of place. Then after a few minutes of looking round the room the penny dropped. He was clearly embarrassed.
“You mean you could hear..” he started to ask.
“EVERYTHING,” the other two said in unison.
”Shit!” exclaimed Tony.
“And lots of it by the sound of things,” said one of the others.
After that Tony always looked up now and again.
I don’t know how the meetings went.