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In Pursuit of Alice
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It had been years since my employer, CallCenterInc., had sent me to a conference, or a meeting, or anything outside the office. But they had room for one more person on the team and in spite of my past indiscretions, the supervisor asked me if I wanted to fly up to Oakland this coming weekend.

“I’d be honored, sir,” I said.

“Now no monkey business, or we’ll put you back on the phones,” he said.

There had been, shall we say, an incident several years ago at another conference, where I’d caused quite a stir in the women’s restroom at a German restaurant. How was I supposed to know what Manner and Frauen meant?

“Don’t worry, boss,” I said. “My monkey business days are behind me.”

It was the third annual “Every Interaction is a Conversation; Every Conversation is an Interaction” Telemarketing Conference, and I was pumped. I’d worked for CCI for fifteen years, ten in the basement doing cold call solicitations then five years upstairs in lower management in CPNA, the Department of Cellular Phone Number Authentication.

And now, after the flight from Burbank — damn those Bloody Marys on Southwest are tasty — I was sitting at the bar in the M-Club Lounge at the Marriott hotel in downtown Oakland, a whimsical yet manly place, festooned with plastic ferns and local sports teams paraphernalia.

To my delight, two fellow CCI conference attendees sat down at a table several feet away from me. I turned my back hoping they wouldn’t notice me. That would have spoiled everything. Of course I knew them — Alice and Susanne, both glorious creatures half my age who worked just down the hall from my cubicle. They sat in full view, wearing spring outfits that I’d never seen before. I hunched over the bar, and watched them in the mirror. I was so glad I came.

Alice and Susanne. I savored their names. Alice was in Public Relations, a world about which I could only imagine. Some days her Carolina giggle wafted over the cubicle walls like a southern breeze. And the quiet, dry Susanne from Accounts Payable, who stood by the elevator to go home at exactly 4:55 every day, putting on fresh lipstick. Oh yes, I had noticed them both.

Their hips squirmed in their seats and they had that relaxed, slightly anticipatory look people get when they have just arrived in a new place. Alice was drinking something tall and frothy. Of course she was. When you go to a new place, you should experiment, right? Splurge a little, sample the local specialties. The drink went with her flared, pleated skirt, and her summery straw purse. Susanne, on the other hand, was swirling her swizzle stick in a gin and tonic. How conventional. She wasn’t even trying. Two demerits for Susanne.

But I was excited.

Except for a couple at another table at the other side of the room, we had the whole place to ourselves. I checked emails and messages. There was a text about a let’s-get-acquainted-reception with the Director of Callback Analysis in half an hour and a reminder that our “team” would meet tomorrow at breakfast to go over the agenda. Golly gee that sounds like fun…not
Through the mirror, I could see the two angels talking, and they were close enough for me to hear most of what they said without me staring directly at them. I pretended to watch the soundless basketball game on the television set in the corner.

After a few words I realized Alice was talking about her boyfriend. Was this perfect? I’m telling you, I couldn’t have set it up better if I tried. As she started talking, I lined up my phone and hit the “record” button. I couldn’t help it; I am a camera, a chronicler of life, a keeper of the light, a bon vivant, a tour de force, a nomme de guerre, a pate de fois gras… I live for truth.

(part of a larger piece)

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