“Mr. Roberts,” May sung, “Buzz asked me to send you in. It’s those doors, just around the way.”
“Thank you May.”
The doors opened into a very large conference room fitted with a tremendous and frighteningly well-polished mahogany table in the center. A crush of stiff, empty chairs surrounded the table. At the opposite side of the room a single door opened and through it came two large men in dark suits.
“Welcome Sir, how was the flight?” exclaimed the larger of the two, his bulk pushing chairs, air and a small telephone table into a wake behind him.
“Oh, it was just fine,” I replied.
“Please, I’m Buzz Baker and this is my partner, Bob.”
“Bob Higgins! It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Buzz and Bob both shook my hand furiously. Their eyes were wide and friendly but it was evident that they were fans of the communal coffee service.
“Need a refill there?” Buzz asked and without waiting for my reply leaned over the conference table and hit a button on the speakerphone intercom.
“May! Get George to fill us up a pot and get it in here!” He hit the button again before there was a response. Then he hit it a third time. “And May! See if he can find a little something… You hungry?” he eyed me, “…to put on a tray!”
As Buzz leaned over the table I notice that the hair on the nape of his neck was incongruous with the hair around his ears and sideburns. I couldn’t take a good look because Bob was beside me. I turned to Bob.
“It’s a beautiful space.” I said, trying to fill the moment. “How do you keep everything in this place so clean? So polished?” I said, jokingly.
Bob looked at me blankly. “We sell polish… polish is one of the things we sell…”
I should have known that. I mean, I really should have known that. I tried to think of a cute response but I looked at Bob and when he suddenly cracked a smile, I noticed that the hair above his forehead didn’t move a speck.
Buzz and Bob were both wearing rugs. Decent rugs, it seemed, but rugs all the same.
When you attend a meeting one of the cardinal rules is this: don’t get stuck in your own head. But no one ever told me about getting stuck in a rut of toupees.
Buzz got on the line again. He barked orders into the speaker. He needed all the files, all the plans and the paperwork for our meeting. He hadn’t put it all together and apologized sincerely, saying that business was booming and there was simply not enough time for anything. We spent a few minutes discussing the pleasantries of small town life and I did my best to get a quiet handle on the nuances of the wigs they both wore: First Rudy, now Buzz and Bob. I didn’t like this hair-thing at all. It made me very uncomfortable.
A brief moment of salvation came with a knock on the glass doors followed by a young man with a service cart loaded with two large pots of coffee, creamers, sweeteners, cups, saucers and two full trays of pastries served over sugar doilies, wrapped in clear cellophane and tied at the tops with red ribbon.
“Just set it down here on the table George!” commanded Buzz.
George approached with the cart and began to set the works down on the conference table. George was tall, awkward, and probably about twenty-five, dressed in clothes that his father must have given him for his first real job off the farm. He said hello to me as he leaned in for a spot to place the pastries. As he did I noticed with horror that he too was wearing a wig. It looked very similar to the job that Rudy had. I wheeled back a few inches and clipped Bob’s toe. I let out a short, incoherent yelp, a little lip fluster.
“Geezebus!” but I quickly added, “Let me help you with that!!” and I grabbed the tray.
“Don’t bother the man, George!” snipped Buzz, interrupting another intercom order.
As George finished up, I apologized to Bob for running over his toe and groped awkwardly after anything in the pastry dish. The single door at the end of the room opened again with two more men behind it. They stepped into the room, each carrying folders and other documents. Buzz waved them in.
“Willie, Chuck, just set those things down here and pull up a chair,” ordered Bob.
Willie and Chuck, both in suits and both wearing ragged toupees, sat down across from the three of us who were already working on the pastries.
“These boys keep our house in order!” said Buzz as he plugged away at the intercom.
“Glad to meet you!” they exclaimed simultaneously.
“We’re just about ready here,” said Buzz to Bob. “Just waiting for the lower management to arrive. I figure he’d might as well meet the crew!”
Willie and Chuck had opened folders between them and were comparing notes on something or another in preparation for our meeting. Their hairpieces were a better quality than George’s but less sporty than Buzz and Bob’s. But it didn’t matter: as they sat there whispering to one another the two piles of hair got caught in a static array. I watched with a cream puff stuck in my mouth as their toupees came to life and tussled like Godzilla and Mothra atop each man’s head. I began to sweat.
Then I had a terrible thought, but it was too late to even bring it around in my mind.
The glass doors opened again and five more men in suits entered the room. They were of varying shape and size; all seemed quite cheery and friendly with one another. The group was busy chatting and barely acknowledged our presence until they casually pulled up to the table.
“Gentlemen!” declared Buzz. “I’d like to introduce you to our New York affiliate, Mr. Roberts!”
I lifted another cream puff.
A subtle flash-calm came over the room. It was a short moment, a lapse; that necessary point of adjustment where ears give a moment to surrounding sounds, a primal acuity that allows us to refine our spatial bearing; a page turned against a finger, one throat clearing, a door in the hallway opening or perhaps, closing, the quick sound of a spring flexing under a chair, someone swallowing. Then it was over.
During that quick moment I had scanned the heads of each additional man. There was no doubt about it; I had to rethink the sweets and the coffee. Something, apparently, was causing an epidemic of baldness followed by a subsequent and horrendous lean toward bad toupees. I removed the cream puff from my mouth and grabbed a napkin. It could be the food. It might be the air, but it could be the food.
One thing was certain: A room full of men wearing various degrees of despicable toupees had surrounded me.
Buzz began the meeting, a review on what was going on locally and nationally with the company and whom the major and minor players were; typical rag-tag twitter as an excuse for a meeting.
“You’ll find this all very interesting…” noted Buzz, “More coffee?”
“No thanks, Buzz. I got the jitters already.”
Buzz begun to pass the coffee pot around. The team filled up.
“Now wait! Damn it… do we need the projector in here for this?” Buzz bellowed.
That’s when the terrible thought I’d had a moment earlier began trickling through my brain once again. Projector? Film? Camera? I began to sweat.
This was all some sort of a hoax, that’s what it came down to. One of those hidden camera television hoaxes set up by someone in my firm…
end of part 2