Two days of meetings in our offices in New York. The clients had flown in from California, Texas, Georgia. From Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta. We needed to get their sign-off on our big strategy for their website. We had spent $400,000 just on research and planning. Our road map called for another million to execute. The creative director had asked me to present, to excite the clients about our plans. I wore my German shoes.
David is beguiled by the perfect potato chip
“Can I just say how much I love those shoes?” said Jan, a client, at the end of day one.
“Why, thank you. I got them in Germany. They were just 40 euros.”
“Well, I’ve been looking at them all day.”
“You just can’t get styles like that here, Jan.”
Still, meetings are a misery for me. Digestive social anxiety. Really, I’m just terrified I’ll become bloated and need to hold in a monumental fart while talking about persona development. My underling, Karen, also has stomach problems. She has a rare neurological disorder. The pills she takes for it make her sometimes abandon the subway to work so she can surface and find a Starbucks bathroom. Naturally, we talk a lot about our stomachs. And we’ve managed to get other colleagues to talk about theirs. Once you’ve liberated a taboo you actually liberate the stories that people have salted away. I remember after the Clinton indiscretion everybody started saying “blowjob” at work. Sidebar: Karen and I have located a good hiding place in our office should an active shooter come ’round.
Day one went without much trouble. During someone else’s presentation I announced rather loudly that I had to go to the men’s room.
“Thank you, David,” said my producer.
By day two, though, I was starting to get antsy. I had one more presentation to make. I stood in front of the video display where I made outlandish claims about our design plans.
“So, as you can see, by designing your site around helpful guidance your customers will easily be able to find the information they need when they need it.”
The bowl sat on the catering cart that was pushed into a corner by the door. I could see it from where I stood. A bowl of potato chips. Why my eyes kept drifting toward it I couldn’t say.
“That’s great, David. We’re very excited.”
I returned to my seat at the conference table, to a chair that happened to be near the catering cart where sat the vestiges of our lunch, including the enormous bowl of potato chips. There was one potato chip at the top of the pyramid and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. Every so often one encounters the perfectly formed potato chip. Golden yellow. A gentle convex curve. In perfect condition, unmolested and unbroken by fingers or other chips. This was that kind of potato chip.
I had first noticed it earlier that day when the main client, a red-headed florid-faced loudmouth by the name of Toby made a gay joke.
“Yeah, the recommendations system on Netflix is completely borked. My friend, suddenly he was getting recommendations for gay movies: musicals, et cetera. Just for some really gay stuff. And he’s like, Hey, I’m not gay. I’m not saying this was, like bad. Hahaha. But he wasn’t gay and they were recommending gay movies to him. You know? It was just come on.”
For some reason, this unfortunate monologue had made me blush. So I turned away and that was when I first saw that potato chip on the cart. I didn’t look for long, though. It was just a potato chip. But all afternoon it had beguiled me.
The meeting lurched into discussing the technology requirements. These needed to be nailed down early because the clients’ IT department was notoriously prickly, wielded much power, and nitpicked over everything. In fact, they had planned to deliver their own set of requirements.
This got under Toby’s skin because he resented the IT team’s independence.
“We have to make sure,” he said sarcastically, “we have to make sure that our project fits into their Five Year Plan.” That’s how he kept referring to IT’s lead times: as Five Year Plans.
I looked again at the potato chip. It still lay bedded at the top of its crispy brethren, untouched by breeze or hungry hands, a beach at the ocean and the sting of salt entering my nostrils.
They talked more, my colleagues and clients, about milestones, about leveraging capabilities, about feature sets. I felt trapped in my seat. Lunch had long since ended. It would have been unseemly for me to reach with my long arm to that catering cart that was just a few fingers too far.
“So when can we expect these specifications from IT?” wondered the producer.
“Oh, who knows?” returned Toby. “Who knows? The politburo hasn’t come down with their final assessment.”
Jan stood up suddenly and walked to the cart. With each step my heart sank. But all she wanted was a can of Diet Coke. My potato chip was safe.
“But listen,” said Toby, “we hear that some major personnel changes are coming to Technology. That’s what we hear.”
“Oh, really? When?”
“Don’t know. The purge hasn’t begun yet.”
“Ah, the putsch,” I said.
Could it be true? Could a potato chip really be that perfect?
“We’ll let you know when the politburo has shipped some of them off to the gulag.”
My potato chip. Oh, my potato chip.