June 10, 2012

Finding Hope: The District Meetings Nobody Wants to Go to

So here's a brief (okay, lets change that to long) bit or chapter from Finding Hope, the book I mentioned before. And again, I know this is NOT what you are supposed to do because it's not revised and such to be perfect or turned in to a publisher but hey, I have a baby to attend to and we're just informal here on my site, right. That gives me a pass, for now.

There are two funny things to the following story: everyone has gone to work seminars and meetings where they drag on forever and this is partially a true story for me. I went to an informational work seminar a long time ago and a coworker actually wrapped some of the left-over food from the buffet table in tin foil and put it in her purse. She even yelled over, "Do you want some tin foil to wrap some food up?" She was a good person but it was pretty funny. See, I don't even have to invent these situations, it just happens. And then you embellish it a little and away we go, it's fiction after all, right? That's life, comedy is happening all the time - if you look around.

Finding Hope
The Sales Meeting from Hell

The hotel on 5th and Main Street was home to trade shows, expensive weddings, and monthly District wide sales meetings for the management team at Harcourt Investments. Those managers that is, who couldn't finagle an excuse to get out of them. Motivate Your Team For Record Sales, Learn How to Get the Most Out of Your Employees the memos stated, initiatives which all sounded great to the vice presidents and CFOs as long as they could send someone else to get the information.

Attendance was mandatory, participation non-existent. It was the dreaded first Monday of the month and Hope and Gina sat down on the white banquet chairs as far away from the podium where the monthly presenter What the F*** Chuck? (so named by the seminar attendees since nobody knew what he was talking about) was about to give another speech from the company sales handbook he wrote: Fifteen Ways to Get the Most from Your Sales Team: Lessons from a Superstar Seller.

“Why do we get stuck going to these sales meetings each month?” Gina said taking her pen and drawing mustaches on Chuck's picture in the sales brochure. “There, he looks better,” she said holding it up for Hope to see.

“You should have been an artist,” Hope said sarcastically.

“Huh,” she held out the brochure to see how it looked, “I didn’t realize I was that good?”

“I was joking. Don’t get your hopes up." Hope turned back to her own sales brochure and started writing down her TO DO list in the margins.

Gina sighed and watched the presenter for two minutes and then turned to Hope. “You do know, Mr. Harcourt sends us to these seminars each month because we’re women. He is a prime example of a man who thinks women are supposed to do all of the unpleasant work. I bet his wife just loves him in the bedroom.”

“Gina,” Hope shushed her. She looked around knowing many of the people at the seminar knew Mr. Harcourt.

“All I’m saying," Gina continued, "these monthly sales seminars and sales initiatives and sales targets bore me to death. I’d rather be in the office with that twit Corbin than sit here all day looking at pie charts.”

“Do you think I like sitting here?” Hope said. “No, but sometimes we have to do what is required because it’s our job. So stop complaining.”

“Personally,” Gina said going back to her doodling, “I think half of the business meetings that employees have to go to are crap and a waste of time. The managers spout off about time management and then send us to meetings that go on forever and ever and ever . . .”

“Shh,” Hope said again. “Gina, just listen and be quiet.”

“Why should I? You’re not listening." Gina pointed to Hope's brochure. “You’re writing down your grocery list and what you’re going to eat this week for your diet.”

 “No, I’m not,” Hope ignored her.

“Yes, you are,” Gina said loudly, “its right there,” she pointed. “See, you’re eating a chicken breast with broccoli on Tuesday.”

“Fine,” Hope said putting her brochure into her purse, “Now we’ll both listen to the stupid sales presentation.” They turned to see what Chuck Peterson, Executive Sales Manager for the U.S. Division, was saying while he stood on the podium looking over everyone.

“Furthermore,” Chuck took his silver extension pen and pointed to the pie chart on the screen behind him, “The statistical evidence shows that 15% of our investment group will go for the sales acquisition in Denver. Therefore, if we project a fairly accurate picture, the profits could bring back a highly equitable sum. Once we computerize the S.P.F.S, for those of you who are unfamiliar with their work acronyms it stands for Sales Projection and Forecast Spreadsheet,” he smiled, “the output will be in the 25% to 30% range. Please turn to page 76 and consult diagram F on the page. As you can see, the pie chart shows a larger yield in just a matter of one year. Now if you turn back to page 30 in your sales handbook…”

“Oh lord, kill me now,” Hope said putting her head in her hands and sighing.

“See, I told you,” Gina whispered. “You think Chuck’s boring, too.” Gina took her sales handbook and looked at the cover where Chuck’s photo was displayed. On the cover’s photograph, Chuck Peterson was sitting at an expansive oak meeting table, his trophies strategically placed in the background, while he held his gold pen up as if he was about to write some amazingly important sales letter. He smiled at the camera, his overly whitened teeth brighter than anything else on the page. Gina took her pencil and started coloring in his teeth.

“Gina, that’s defiling company property.” Hope grabbed the pencil from Gina's hand.

“Who cares,” she said putting down the 15 pound sales manual beside her chair with a thump, “Mr. Harcourt should pay us extra to go to these stupid meetings and besides,” she looked up and pointed, “Chuck, the sales geek, is way too peppy for a Monday morning.”

For the next hour, Hope looked around the room at the people in the seminar trying to find something to drone out Chuck’s monotonic voice. First, she decided to count how many people were in the room. There were 42. She then decided to count how many men had a comb over or toupee since strangely enough, it seemed like there were an overwhelming amount of them. She counted how many were wearing black suites, 30; then who was paying attention versus who was falling sleeping; and then finally, the number of men who were good looking, which, unfortunately, there were none.

“So we’ll take a 45 minute lunch break and then we’ll start again at 1:00 P.M.,” Chuck said, “After lunch we only have an hour to go. We’re going to talk about the new sales initiatives we're implementing next year. You'll be pretty excited.”

“Did I hear lunch?” Gina popped up from her five minute nap and rushed up to the buffet table where sandwiches, muffins, rolls, coffee and fruit awaited everyone.

“Thanks for waiting,” Hope called after her, but Gina had already disappeared. After Hope took her food, the two sat and ate in silence at their banquet table.

“Oh shit, here comes Norman Fiske,” Gina said ducking underneath their table.

“Gina, get up,” Hope said pulling on the back of her suit coat. “Oh hi Norman, how are you?” Hope smiled. Norman Fiske was a man who Gina despised. Hope looked at the young sales manager and shook her head. He was a hundred pounds overweight, a short 5’4 and had a tie that was way too long, half of his shirt was not tucked in and his suit jacket arms were way too long for his five foot body. He was harmless and, he was in love with Gina.

“Hi H.G., I mean Hope,” he smiled. “Forgot you changed your name. But it’s pretty, real pretty,” he said kindly.

“Thank you Norman.”

“I thought I saw Gina around here,” Norman said. “I could swear she had come back to the table after she went to get her lunch.”

 “Oh she’s here,” Hope said feeling Gina slap her knee underneath the table. “She’s just somewhere else at the moment. Try the bathrooms in the hallway. I think she went there.”

“Why did you go and tell him I was here at the conference?” Gina said trying to get up from underneath the table.

“He obviously knows you’re here. It’s not like he’s going to think it was a figment of his imagination that he saw you up at the buffet table.”

“I wish,” Gina said smoothing her skirt and sitting back down. “Man, I hope Chuck starts soon before Norman comes back.”

“Why don’t you just go out with Norman one time? You’ll make the poor guy’s day. You never know, you might like him?”

“We’re talking about Norman Fiske, Hope. Norman Fiske,” as if the name alone could explain everything. “He’s a guy who wears the same suit every month to this sales meeting; a guy who has more hair on the back of his neck than he does on his head; a guy that eats his food like he’s inhaling it.”

“Enough, I get the picture. But it might just be that the love of your life is coming in an alternative package.”

“Give me a break,” Gina said finishing her sandwich, “If that were the case, then why haven’t you given strange, stalking Arnold a chance?”

Hope didn’t speak further. The last hour of the seminar dragged on. Hope didn’t know why she had to go to these meetings each month. Every single thing Chuck said, every word, was right there in the 300 page sales manual for anyone to reference: Everything was written, rephrased, drawn in a chart and then outlined at the end of each chapter so even a person who didn’t know anything about sales figures could understand it.

“What do you think they’re going to do with all of that left-over food?” Gina said eyeing the buffet table.

“How should I know?” Hope said not interested.

“I mean, that’s a lot of food over there. They bought those sandwiches from CafĂ© Venue. I love their food.”

“It’s just food Gina. Besides, we’re on a diet, remember?”

“But they shouldn’t throw it away, its wasting money. Not to mention all of those poor kids in Africa who don't get any food.”

“If you want another sandwich Gina, just get one.”

“No, I don’t want one right now.”

“Then stop talking about it,” Hope said turning back to Chuck’s presentation. She was now counting how many bricks were behind him on the wall. This had to be the most boring presentation since they started having to attend them a year ago.

“I’m just saying,” Gina continued, “they would have put those sandwiches in the refrigerator by now if they were going to save them.”

Hope turned to look at her. “Do you have an obsession with food, Gina? Are you going mental on me?”

“No, of course not,” she turned to face Hope, “I just think it’s bad to waste food, that’s all.”

“So in conclusion,” Chuck said ending his Power Point presentation, “we can see that the estimates for sales program will increase not only the companies profits but your clients’ profits as well. And no matter how you look at it . . .”

“Lord, here we go again with Chuck’s closing line,” Hope sighed.

“A good business is a profitable business,” Chuck drew his hands up, did a 1, 2 as if he was shooting two pistols in a gun fight, winked his left eye and then smiled widely, showing his fluorescent white teeth.

“He’s such a weenie when he does this at the end of his speeches,” Gina said watching him.

“What can I say he probably wanted to be John Wayne as a kid. Now let’s go before the traffic gets bad.” Hope gathered her purse and books.

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

Hope watched Gina go over to the buffet table with her purse. Slowly, Gina looked around and after seeing nobody present, she grabbed a napkin and wrapped up one of the salami sandwiches and put it in her purse. After taking one more glance around, she hurriedly stuffed in two bananas, an apple and a few rolls.

“I don’t believe this,” Hope said surveying her from across the room. She went up behind Gina and whispered, “What do you have a bottomless purse? What the hell are you doing?”

“Hope, they’re going to throw away this food. So what if I take a little for later? You know what the bible says about free food.”

“I know, I know, we’ve been down that road before. It’s in another translation. Just load up the food in your purse and let’s go. One would think we don’t pay you enough for as many times as you go for the free stuff. But I know your salary, Gina,” Hope said, “and while it may not be enough to afford a mansion, you certainly can afford any food you could possibly want. It’s not like you’re one of those starving African children you mentioned just a minute ago.”

“So what, their black, I’m black. It’s a brother sister type thing. You wouldn’t know anything about it. You white people never ban together, it’s all about your differences,” she said wrapping up another roll to put in her purse, “You have every kind of white person in the world. This guy is a hillbilly from Kentucky, that guy is a lawyer from New York, this woman is a Mormon from Idaho, that woman is a prostitute from L.A. and all of them are white but none of them would stick up for one another.”

“Okay Rosa Parks. You’re going into your equal rights speeches again and frankly, I have no idea what on earth that has to do with buffet food.”

“I’m just saying, free food is free food and whether it’s a skinny girl in Ethiopia wanting it or a chubby one is San Francisco, we’re all entitled to some extra helpings once in awhile.”

“Then finish getting your food and hurry up. It’s embarrassing.” Hope went back to her seat and sat down. Hope could just imagine Gina’s $300 dollar purse smelling like salami and fruit. She saw the employees of the building, who were standing by the door, looking at Gina, saying things to one another as they watched her stuffing food down her purse like a clown with a bottomless bag.

Gina came over to where Hope was sitting. “Hey Hope, do you want some tin foil?”

“Where did you get tin foil?”

“I asked the Marketing Director over there.” Gina pointed and waved.

Hope looked across the room toward the buffet where two business women, holding clipboards and dressed in elegant business suits, were looking at them. Hope tried to hide her face with her seminar handbook.

“What’s the problem?” Gina said wrapping up the remainder of the roll she didn’t eat in tin foil. “What?”

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