Wolves at the Open House

I stepped off the elevator and into the client offices for their open house. I walked to the conference room, set up with snacks, and got my little name badge sticker along with a smile and a welcome.

I wasn’t sure that I should be there. I’ve never been an adept socializer. But the client was a highly important one for me. Yet… something I’d eaten, or perhaps some nerves, but something, had given birth to what seemed like a litter of puppies in my stomach. They were whimpering and squirming away. But the firm was prominent. I was honored by the invitation, and I resolved to ignore the annoying little gnawings for a while.

I drifted through the reception area, the halls, the offices, chatting with people I knew, exchanging insincere smiles with the ones I didn’t. It was a lovely soiree. I was extended some rich hors d’oeuvres, some coffee, even some beer, all of which promised an evening of ramped-up distress, so I politely declined the offerings and confined myself to a clear soft drink.

The tummy puppies, though, despite the lack of nourishment, were thriving. They were getting contentious in their little den, snarling and snapping and scratching at the walls, ever more earnest in their attempts to get out.

I was starting to consider a graceful withdrawal from the party when one of the lead partners saw me, came over, pumped my hand enthusiastically, and started a friendly interrogation on business, family, travels, community – a seemingly endless stream of topics of apparently mutual interest.  I was as trapped as the growing, noisome litter in my innards. He was far too important of a client to excuse myself from, and much too engaged in our exchange for me to respond with a mere façade of pleasantry.

We yammered on, and soon the litter in my gut had grown into a pack, and not a friendly, mellowed pack, either. They were filled with the energy and rage of adolescent wolves, scrabbling and biting and growling and howling furiously.  Behind my polite and seemingly earnest smile and chatter, I was miserable. I could feel my body turning tumescent under the growing pressure. I yearned for relief, but it seemed impossibly far away.

Finally, our conversation was interrupted by someone else eager for an audience with my very important friend, who turned his attention momentarily from me to this other person. In better times, I would’ve considered the other guy an interloper, but that night, he had the trappings of a messiah. I touched the partner’s arm, told him a lie about seeing him later to continue our conversation, edged away, and shuffled my painful way into the hall.

Finding an empty office, I glided slowly to a far corner where, overwhelmed with desperation, I allowed myself just the tiniest relaxation, the faintest mouse-squeak of relief. The result was as though eggs had been left out in the sun for three days, then broken, sprinkled with sulfur, and set afire. It was the kind of experience that would have a crowd on an elevator frantically jabbing at the next floor’s button and stampeding away.

It was hopeless. I strode gingerly back to the hall, every step laced with the possibility of cataclysm. The elevator in the distance offered its hope of escape.

Then, impending disaster. Heidi appeared in my field of vision. Hugging Heidi. I’m not much of a hugger myself, and Heidi was my opposite number. But there’s more. She was a big-boned lady, even perhaps a little burly, and the tightness of her hugs were calibrated to how much she cared for the other person. A casual acquaintance would receive a polite A-frame posture, and from there it graduated to dear friends who would be the subject of an embrace that leave a grizzly bear gasping and maimed.  And Heidi had expressed on a number of occasions, with memorable reinforcement, what a helpful guy and wonderful friend she considered me.

I saw this cheerful, ebullient lady in the distance between me and the elevator, and fear consumed me. I imagined her seeing me, trapping me with a shriek of welcome, flouncing to me, and wrapping me in a clinch that would be impossible to resist or endure, resulting in the world’s biggest, noisiest – and foulest – whoopie cushion, clearing out this delightful party, and perhaps ultimately requiring an environmental impact statement and possible mitigation.

I turned and made my way around through a side work area, caught between the need to hurry and the cautioning of my inner awareness not to make too-sudden movements. I worked my way through the office maze, with all the delicate steps of a ninja, albeit one with apparent advanced arthritis and on the brink of collapse. Finally, I emerged right at the men’s room door. It was close to the elevators, and on the far side of the office suites away from Heidi. Salvation. Perhaps I could even resolve my quarrel with the snarling, irascible wolf pack and return to the party.

I opened the door and peered in to the room, as elegant as a restroom could be, with its polished tile, gleaming metal stalls, mirrored fixtures. It was deserted. Fate had smiled on me after all. I closed the door behind me and went to one of the stalls, offering up a prayer of gratitude.

Well. It turned out that what was roiling inside me was not puppies at all. Not adolescent dogs. Not even a pack of dogs. Or temperamental wolves.

No, it was a moose. A big moose. A big, dying moose, wracked in terrible pain, expending its anguish at the bottom of a narrow granite canyon, the cliffs exemplified by the metal stall and tiled walls. The moose trumpeted its distress, ever louder and louder, the booming cries echoing off the confines of the stark canyon. On and on the moose bellowed, the sound incredible and filling the air, reverberating, amplifying in richness and tone and volume, expending its last agonies, until with a gurgling death-rattle, it expired altogether.

Moments later, shaken but unmistakably more comfortable, I was at the sink, washing up and looking in the mirror. My “Hello! My name is” tag caught my eye. I peeled it off, crumpled it up, and tossed it in the trash. I would be leaving soon anyway.

I walked out the door and realized my worst fears were not yet over. A small knot of people were just outside the men’s room, and talking in tones that were a mixture of shock, awe, and uncharitable giggling.Over to the side, I heard the mechanical sounds of the elevator door opening, beckoning me to its embrace.

I quickly surveyed the little crowd. No one was familiar to me. That and the open elevator door were the only straws of helpful opportunity that I had to cling on to, and so I did.

I looked at the group, and nodded and gestured back to the restroom door. “That poor guy!” I said, and as they craned and leaned reflexively to look around me towards the men’s room, I quickly walked past them and into the elevator, whose doors blessedly closed right behind me.

— Grandpa

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  1. […] both of you that this applies to), you may recognize thematic similarities between this and “Open House.” You may be thinking, C’mon, Grandpa, come up with something […]

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