A Meeting

May 27, 2008
The human stench was all around me as I sat in the hot baking sun in the field at New York University. I cursed who ever it was who had put together this graduation. I was told that they were thinking about what a nice day it was, and that they wanted us to get some fresh air. They said this, or so it seemed they said this as my father was the one who told me about the planning committee’s decision, as if we were all house plants, that needed to be placed in the sun and rotated hourly. Though we may have very well been house plants, everyone just sat there, listening, occasionally you would get the person who listened in a continual nod, trying to make it look like he cared, but generally we just looked on.

It was now getting to be so hot that I think my fore arms were sweating, I thought only arm pits and other such places could sweet. I watched as a bead of sweat slowly trickled down from my hand and onto the metallic leg of my folding chair. “Get some fresh air”, what a joke. The real reason why we were out hear was because the main auditorium was being used at the moment to lecture the freshman of the campus, of which I was one though I was scheduled to receive this lecture tomorrow, on what to do incase there was fire or a bomb threat or a shooting, as if we didn’t know. What did they think we would do, paint ourselves with red circles and run around naked across campus if there was a shooter on the loose? And beside that point, I could see another reason why we were placed out here.

The crowd was about 350 people, kinda big I guess, but all old people; soon-to-be or already retired parents, and a few professors, as well as the occasional spouse, some of which had kids younger and antsier than me. It was a graduation of a group of about 100 people, most of them early to late 30’s, who had gotten their Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in business. I was only there because my father taught one of the major courses required to receive either of those degrees and he was going to make a very important speech that he “wanted” me to hear.

Currently there was someone whom I had met only once before, the vice-dean of the school Mr. Tyron, making a speech at the podium, though with a somewhat subdued, bored air about him. It was clear, to the watchful ear, that he didn’t want to be there, and that he was sick of appearing in the Dean’s place at all of the university’s functions. It was also clear, after another 15 or so minutes of talking, that he cared even less about the people at this ceremony, and further more, hardly even knew any of them even as casual acquaintances. He showed all this emotion as he introduced “a most esteemed and dedicated student”, a guy named Norman Smith. Apparently Mr. Smith had received a 4.00 and was to make a speech on behalf of the class. Everyone broke out in lazy clappter, the kind of awkward applause where the audience seems to be broken in two, one section hitting the first note of clapping, and the other catching their off beat.

As Norman got up to the stand, you could notice things about him right away. Though, it wasn’t as much what you noticed, as what little there was to see. He were a black tie, just dark enough to look out of place on his chest, caught between the dull grey of his suit coat and the stark whiteness of his shirt underneath. The podium eclipsed his legs, but I could imagine ironed pants that looked not so ironed and a pair of leather loafers on his feet. He had somewhat darker complexion, not from tanning, but it was a natural dark on him. His skin as well as the structure of his face made him look Oriental. He had very dark hair, which swirled like the eye of a tornado around the center of his head, where he had a growing bold spot. He looked to be about thirty. As he made his speech, he made it angrily. Not angrily, not really actually, just as if he had a bit of spite for the microphone, like he had some how gotten into a terrible fight with it before he went on stage and was hinting that he was still mad at it through hissed words. Or maybe there was no spite; maybe I was just looking for some form of emotion where there was a clear void of it. I had been to countless presentations with important people, like Tyron, who had read speeches to us, but as they read them we all knew that they didn’t care. We could tell they were reading off of cue cards, or reciting some speech they’ve been saying for the last twenty years, the same old stale jokes still receiving the same amount of polite laughter. But even those speeches had a certain sense of emotion, maybe of not wanting to be there, but you could at least feel their presence, you could tell they didn’t want to be there. Norman, however, he had nothing.

As he read I also noticed his presentations skills. He would read a line, look out towards no one in the left side of the audience, go down again for more words, come back up and look down the center, down for more words again, and then look out towards the right. He repeated ritual his entire speech; read, left, read, center, read, right. I even counted beats, and he read for exactly 8 seconds before looking up to the left, then he would read for another 4 seconds, look at the center, then go down to read for only about a second or so, and look at the right side. He did this so mechanically; you could tell he had taken a crash course on it just this past weekend, or maybe even last night. I bet if I went to his car, probably a Honda Civic from the late 90’s, I would find a copy of public speaking for dummies.

When his speech was finally over, it was about 10 minutes long and about the “overwhelming joy” he felt to receive his masters in business management, he went to the side of the stage where his mother was standing in a flowery dress. She had her long black hair, amazingly enough only slightly faded from years of aging, pulled back in a tight bun. Her face was covered with lots of make up, her eyes were outlined with a light layer of dark blue, and cheeks were artificially rosy-red, and her lips had on them a perky pink lip stick. She was happy, it seemed. When Norman approached her, only when he saw her face, did he smile. He looked happy, he looked happy, it was apparent he wasn’t but he looked happy at least. I wondered how he could just slap on emotion like that, and, thinking back to his speech, wondered if that was the only time Norman ever showed emotion?

Norman accepted his award, and left. Despite his utter lack of life, he was the only one there that seemed to catch my interest. Once he had finished, he left me there in my metal folding chair to sweet out another hour of people talking, and presenting and accepting awards. My father finally got up, to give his speech. I’d never heard it before, but could have written what I thought he was going to say that morning and it would have been near perfectly the same. When it was finally over I went to congratulate my father on his speech, to which he gave me a gracious thanks. He said he wanted me to meet someone, and to see him at the campus Starbucks in an hour. I assumed it was one of his colleges; he always introduced them to me, hoping maybe if I met enough of them, I suppose, that I might drop all my other courses and study solely business, with the aspirations of being a pot-bellied, bolding guy who’s the head of a Staples or Radio Shack by the time I’m 40.

The hour passed generally uneventfully. I walked around, ducked into buildings I could with air conditioning, but it seemed I’d only been walking for about a block now looking back on it. It was one of those days where time seemed to evaporate away, a humid, scalding hot day.

I arrived early, and then my father came in, but when I saw his guest, I jumped out of the damp weather, out of my stiff, yet sweet-soaked suit, out of the building and the whole college campus. It was Norman Smith. I thought I’d never see him again, just another face in the crowd who I unofficially got to know through my thoughts. And up close, I only noticed more. I could see his eyes, held up by saggy bags. His eyes, the way they moved, in such a sluggish manner, like they were tired. He looked as if he hadn’t slept a good night’s sleep in months. I could see him now, I knew from a bit of personal experience what that was like, going home to his three-room apartment, eating what was there and taking 2 sleeping pills; some times more, rarely less. Not even bothering to actually go his bed, though I’m sure he owned a temper-pedic mattress in an attempt to help his sleeping. He’d sit in his lazy boy chair and fall asleep in front of the ever-talking TV, still half in his suit, the clothes that he lived in constantly. His cat, probably over weight, I could tell he had one because of the fleeting light black hairs on his shoulders that were too short to be his, would come over to him, and rest on his head, directly on his bald spot, trying to save him a little dignity. When he would wake up he would get up and out of the house as quickly as he could. It wasn’t because he enjoyed his job, but because his house wasn’t anywhere he wanted to be for long amounts of time.

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