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Monday, June 12, 2006

SOME PEOPLE FALL ASLEEP IN MEETINGS

Ten years ago I worked with an unfit middleaged man from New Jersey named Barry. Barry was nice and funny and obese and probably very smart although I'm just guessing that he was smart since his duties at the firm never involved me directly. The closest we ever came to working together was when we would both attend the large bimonthly staff meetings.

Oh, yes. And Barry was a NyQuil addict. Well, if not an addict then a casual user. Whenever you would walk by his cubicle, there in the overhead cabinet would sit a bottle of the infamous blue elixir. And it wasn't as if he just kept it on hand in case he needed it to combat the sudden onslaught of cold or flulike symptoms. You could see that its position would change throughout the week. A keen observer could even see that the amount of liquid in the bottle would vary, implicating Barry in the use if not abuse of the medication.

The staff meetings were routine. Twenty or so of us would pack ourselves into an often underventilated conference room. One by one, group leaders would recount recent developments and predict future ones. Accuracy varied. Usually only a fraction of what transpired related to my daily life so I learned to employ certain techniques to help pass the time. The standard technique involved simple observation of my coworkers, none of whom I would soon learn were as entertaining as Barry.

The meeting would start and Barry would take out a pad of legal paper, pop the top of a ball point pen and hunch over the table with his head bent straight down as if he were showing everyone how much his hair was thinning. By assuming that position, most in the room were unable to actually make eye contact with him. It looked like he was taking notes. Sometimes he would place one hand on his brow as if he were shielding the bright fluorescent light from reflecting too brightly off the yellow pad, further obstructing everyone's view of his eyes. The other hand held the pen, its tip resting directly on the paper.

Not long into the meeting, sometimes ten minutes, sometimes two, the fun would start. Barry's body would enter that space where mind and body battle it out for control over the situation. The body wants to sleep. The mind fears the consequence of giving into the body's wishes. The two forces rock back and forth in a rhythm:
Falling asleep...
falling...falling...
slumping...slumping...
deeper...deeper...almost there...
NO! AWAKE!

Falling asleep...
falling...falling...
slumping...slumping...
deeper...deeper...almost there...
NO! AWAKE!
Each time his mind would jerk his body back into consciousness, Barry would assume anew his pseudo-notetaking posture, perhaps even scribbling a word or two before the urge to sleep would slowly return and his hand would glide across the paper, dragging the pen tip with it eventually falling off the edge of the pad like a brakeless car off the side of a cliff.
NO! AWAKE!
Sometimes, realizing that he was seriously in danger of falling right out of his chair onto the Scotchgarded carpet, Barry would just get up in the middle of the meeting and leave without excuse or explanation. Usually, though, the cycle would continue for the entirety of the meeting. After adjournment, Barry would stand up, tear the page from his pad and drop it in the small wastebasket in the corner of the conference room.

I came to look forward to those staff meetings purely to watch Barry. In fact, watching Barry's bimonthly battle to stay awake became routine for me the way parents casually watch their toddlers swing on a swingset while talking to their friends about their favorite reality show, paying just enough attention to make sure nothing out of the ordinary happens. I could follow the meeting's discussion while keeping an eye on my sleepy collegue. Eventually, I started secretly retrieving Barry's disgarded "notes." I collected them for a while and even hung a few choice examples over my desk. It was like some weird abstract folk art, a list of random words that trailed off into sometimes jagged sometimes swoopy paths.

Here's one.





keywords

1 Comments:

At 6/12/2006 8:19 PM, DasGort said...

I love your stories.

When telling stories it's often helpful to glorify the details a little to make it seem more glamorous or interesting, but that picture seemed to embody the guy. It was hilarious.

Very nice.

 

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