THE MEETING – “And so if there is no more business tonight….” The president of our homeowners association is trying to wrap up our annual meeting. “I have a question,” says McWindy. “If garbage pickup was moved to Tuesday, we could put Monday’s garbage out, right?” The Guy in a Ski Mask notes that if pickup was moved to Wednesday, we could put out Tuesday’s garbage as well. I’m comatose. This is my first meeting of our homeowner’s association, having just moved here from my old digs in Running Rats Acres. This is a neighborhood of townhouses for folks who don’t want to mess with yards anymore, Golden Years Ghetto, and I am just now meeting some of my neighbors. Good, because no one ventures outside on these blocks. They all must be under the Federal Witness Protection Program or are old Nazi war criminals hiding out from the Mossad. One house, honestly, has no address, no numbers, no name. Can you have an unlisted house?
In “The “Manchurian Candidate,” (the movie, not the current administration) Laurence Harvey says, “My dear girl, have you ever noticed that the human race is divided into two distinct and irreconcilable groups: those that walk into rooms and automatically turn television sets on, and those that walk into rooms automatically turn television sets off.” (As a side note, Angela Lansbury played Harvey’s mother although she was actually only three years older than him.) There are also two other distinct groups: those who like meetings and those who don’t. I fall into the latter category. Meetings are generally a waste of time, or at least the results could be summarized on a teabag. You spend an hour at your place of work in a meeting deciding whether the fireworks crates should be marked “flammable” or “inflammable.” You return to your workplace loading Turbo Bombs and a co-worker asks what happened, and you explain, “We decided to mark the crates. ‘This side up.’ Got a light?”
Once I was asked to sit on the board of a conservation group, which sounded like an odd request for a journalist whose feedstock is trees, but I went to the meeting where two very nice retired men and I did something for three hours, of which 45 minutes was spent on the employee’s salary, yes, salary, singular, because we had exactly one employee, who sat at the table discussing her pay. That was my last meeting with that organization. I had to get back to clear-cutting.
Every meeting has someone who likes his 15 minutes of fame, or at least the spotlight, and talks forever. At a newspaper I worked for, every Tuesday at 3 p.m. we had an executive meeting. (They needed me if the coffee ran low.) At a daily newspaper, 3 o’clock in the afternoon is panic time, when everyone in the news department is running around madly trying to figure out whether to lead with a good car wreck or the outbreak of World War III. But the rest of the executives have lots of time between the three-martini lunch and happy hour. One time a vice president in charge of wet papers on the curb told us, in detail, about his recent trip to Europe, everything but a slide show and the T-shirt he brought home for his grandson. I kept looking at my watch and wondering if the car wreck was really that bloody. When I ran our own meetings with the newspaper’s editorial board deciding how to slant our stories to reward our friends and punish our enemies, I would begin with: “Well, if that’s all we have to discuss….” No one ever objected.
If you can’t sleep and get tired of counting warthogs, turn on CSPAN and watch Congress members discussing Bill 304-J, the Subsidy for Farmers Who Can’t Grow Anything. The members drone on and on, although committees are where all the real work is done in Congress. Remember that the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of committees, even though it was drawn up by one. Columnist George Will, last of the sane conservatives and an ardent baseball fan, observed: “Football combines two of the worst things in American life. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” Of course, sometimes they go together. The result of a committee meeting can be odd. The saying is, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” The strangest committee meeting in recent times was the first gathering of the Trump cabinet when each member, sitting at a long, oval table as the press looked on, proclaimed their love and pride in working for Donald Trump. The only minion not to praise the lord was Defense Secretary and former Marine Gen. James Mattis, who spoke of how proud he was to lead our armed forces. Mattis eventually got fired, but then so did most of the others sitting at the table.
Who actually likes to sit in meetings? People who have nothing better to do or want to get away from their office. How often have you called someone and the secretary says, “She’s in a meeting.” That excuse has saved many a business person, or member of Congress, from talking to an irate customer or constituent. They like to sit there and pontificate and debate meaningless matters. Or maybe it’s the one time in the workweek they get to be with the CEO and laugh at his jokes. Indeed, that meeting is the high point of their week – or maybe not. “Wormsworth, how are things down at the loading dock? Got those crates shipped to the Usually Safe Fireworks Company? I heard you had a problem.” “Yes, we had a little setback. Can you hear me through these bandages?”
My homeowners’ meeting drags on. I make a motion: Instead of moving our garbage pickup to Wednesday, on Tuesday nights we move it across the alley to Acme Hog Rendering Plant. It passes unanimously.
Ashby moves to email@example.com