Thursday, April 17, 2008

interstate motel


Bill and I were driving the company’s Town-Car towards Albany NY from our main office in Fort Lee NJ. Despite the adverse weather conditions - the high winds, the poor visibility and the soaking wet road - we were in good humor. We had been invited to the board meeting at the Hilton as honorary guests to speak about our sales strategy.

Bill and I, Vice Presidents of Sales and Marketing, had succeeded in the last year in doubling the production and increasing sales revenue by 40%, a significant achievement after five years of stagnant business. Our success was primarily due to our teamwork, an obscene word in the world of individuals out for themselves.

We did not like the corporate atmosphere, nor did we like our colleagues, but we did our job well.
We made many enemies. They called us scornfully ‘the team’, or ‘the couple’. The other Vice Presidents were jealous and hated us. The C.E.O., Fredric Hamilton Cornelius Junior the Third, came under a lot of pressure to break up our alliance and reduce our power and influence. The rumors were the Board would vote to promote us to a position abroad, thus keeping us away from headquarters. We did not know whether to be joyful or upset, but we were pleased with the fat Christmas bonus promised us. We did not think about the future. Our immediate goal was to succeed in our presentation. We planned to show our successes were not an accident; we had no thoughts of being nice to our fellow vice presidents. But first we had to get to the Hilton.
After an hour of slow driving, we hit a traffic tie-up. The radio informed us that a multi-car accident on the New York state throughway had jammed it completely. We inched forward covering about a mile in two hours until we reached an exit which we took. We cruised along an endless street with many motels, all advertising 'No Vacancies.' The last motel on the street, just before the re-entry to the highway, and across the street from a state police station, had a single vacancy.

It was a typical interstate motel with its musty smell, flimsy plastic cups, and two squares of soap the size and thickness of an “After Eight” chocolate wafer. The towels were transparent, and slightly larger than a washrag.

“If anyone hears about this it’s the end of our career,” said Bill.
“We won't use the company credit card. We'll pay in cash,” said I.
“Agreed,” said he.

We slept well. The next morning at 07:45, we were ready to move. We had on our fancy, dark, one-thousand-dollar suits. We looked out of place in this crummy motel. We could only joke about our misfortune.

“We did not meet the Members of the Board,” I said “did not share a drink with them, and had to settle for a Big Mack for dinner,” I said it a bit loud Bill was in the bathroom finishing adjusting his tie.

As we were talking, our next-door neighbor started banging on the wall and screaming: “Stop that noise and be quiet you schmuks. ” He continued with more words of which I was not sure I knew the spelling.

“This man is calling us names,” said Bill.
“He must be crazy,” I said.
“We have to teach him a lesson,” said Bill. “No one, who stays in a dump like this may talk to me without permission.”
“Maybe we should give him a flat tire,” I said in an undertone.
“A very good idea, but unfortunately, illegal.”
“It’s almost eight. The people who spent the night must already be gone. This is not a Club Med resort. He should be in a strait-jacket.”
We were about to retaliate with advice to the man to go multiply with his mother when we heard him getting into the shower.

“Let’s play a little game,” I said. “The showers, ours and his, have a common wall and that gives me an idea.”
Bill looked at me expectantly.
“On my command,” I said to Bill, “you open the cold water tap to the maximum. When the idiot adjusts the water to a comfortable temperature, then I'll signal you to close the tap and open the hot. While you do it with the sink taps, I will do it with the shower. We'll have to put our ears on the wall, as the noise of the running water will prevent us from hearing his shouts when he freezes. We’ll repeat the cycle as many times as we please, or as long as he stays in the shower.”
After the second crescendo of yells, the man started abusing the world. The noise more than disturbed our peaceful stay in the motel, so we informed the person behind the wall, at the top of our lungs and accompanied with vigorous bangs on the wall, that we were not amused. “Watch your language, idiot. This is a respectable motel.”

We stopped banging when we heard the man screaming on the phone. The man’s debate with the hotel manager was about the shower. He yelled at the manager for five minutes non-stop before hanging up.

It was the right time for Bill to telephone the manager: “Look sir," he said in an offended tone, "it’s none of my business, but I think the man in room 16 has gone berserk. He is yelling and screaming and I believe he is breaking the furniture.”

Since our college days, we had not had so much fun.
Two and a half minutes later, we heard the siren from across the street. We took our bags and started to move towards our car.

Two officers came out of the patrol car both with their hands on their holsters. One moved close to the door, while the other called through a megaphone: “You, in room 16, come out with your hands up.”

A bare-footed man, bold, about sixty years old, came out wearing a white tee shirt barely covering his belly and blue striped underpants revealing thin white legs.
He held his hand up and trembled violently. The scene was grotesque.
“Place your hands on the wall and spread your legs wide.”

While the man turned slowly to the wall, he looked at us. with that short but very meaningful look we realizes, We were staring incredulously into the wigless face of Fredric Hamilton Cornelius Junior the Third, Chairman of the Board and active C.E.O. Bill and I felt like garden slugs sprinkled with salt, slowly shrinking and disappearing into a puddle of ooze.
The officer prepared to frisk Cornelius Jr. Without turning to us, he said brusquely: “You, with the fancy suits, get in your car and buzz off.”

The other officer went into the room with the owner of the motel and returned very quickly.
“Do you want to press charges?” asked the officer.

“No, no, nothing happened, no charges,” said the motel owner.
Cornelius Jr. was now escorted into the room. We started the engine and drove away. The air smelled of ‘disaster’. Our future seemed very murky.

At the entrance to the conference room, Cornelius’ secretary approached us and said: “Mr. Cornelius had to attend an unexpected affair and will be late. The Board meeting has been rescheduled. You will not be giving your presentation. The banquet is now only for Board members and their spouses and a few members of the press. Your names have been removed from the list.”

We were not surprised!
“Let’s go home before they confiscate our car,” I said to Bill.
“Do you think he knows we did the water trick?"
“So in two weeks at the end of the year party, everybody will get an envelope. Ours will be with pink slips.”
“You can bet on it.”

“Let's resign first thing in the morning. It will stop any activity against us. We’ll tell him we decided, after a lot of thinking, to found our own consulting company. We will tell him what a pleasure it was working for him.” .…
The next morning we stepped into Cornelius office with our letters in hand. Cornelius opened them and read them expressionless.

“Next time you practice ‘teamwork’, make sure to document it with a photo,” said Cornelius.
We looked at each other baffled by what he meant. “You see,” he continued with his sphinx-like expression, had you shown me a photo of me in my striped under pants, imagine how you could have persuaded me to keep you here forever.”

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