Closure by Evoking the White Album

To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub


When Juliet Vinagreti met Jack Daulphine for the very first time, she was as drunk as a skunk. They were casual colleagues but they had never had a formal conversation until the evening when Juliet was roaring drunk, Jack was late for the evening party and circumstances collided. And these circumstances, which Juliet had blamed for her current state, had established that it was the end of the second day (of five) and Juliet had endured enough anguish and decided to knock back a few drinks to dull the pain of sitting in a room for two straight days with three more to go.

Juliet, Jack and approximately fifty co-workers had just begun a long and demanding re-certification course demanded by their company's largest customer. The large customer, currently under indictment by both the Canadian and U.S. governments, had forced almost every manager to go through an expensive and mind-numbing internal quality training seminar. The training, while straight-forward at first blush, was developed internally and was full of internal exception handling and sacred cows. By mid-morning of day one, the fifty plus managers had already abandoned their provided legal pads and binders of material, and just hoped to hang on for the five day course without spearing their eyes out with the convenient cheap pen which was provided by the hotel and replacing the now-speared eyes with the even cheaper hard candy sitting in the little bowls, also provided by the hotel. The course was facilitated by the company's training entourage and consisted of a rote, slide by slide reading of the material. The speakers ranged from an audio spectrum, starting with congested monotone and moving to high-pitched ignorance. The group had been told to give their complete attention to the presenters and tasks such as Internet surfing and Blackberry™ usage was discouraged but within two hours, laptops were up and the distinct sound of keyboard clicks blissfully mixed in with the speaker's dull and full text reading of each PowerPoint™ slide. They were the fifth of fifteen groups to undergo this training and it had appeared the curriculum was not becoming more elegant for the presenters with four complete sessions already under their collective belts but rather falling into a galvanized death march accompanied by a cadence of synapse destroying words spoken by a confederacy of dunces in bright blazers.

The company was not concerned with content retention or enlightenment; all they needed was credible proof of attendance by all managers. Senior management felt it was necessary to cancel vacations, long-scheduled client appointments and other prior commitments in order to achieve complete participation shown by attendance manifests. "The only thing that matters," said the main presenter, "is that precision is not important, but the effort must be directionally correct." This comment hung out over the large room of professionals; the comment was without hyperbole or company jargon as it lay in the middle of the room like a big turd. A few folks made eye contact with each other and put their heads back down; they would keep the discussion going via non-company sponsored chat applications because this was not the room to provide honest or documented feedback. The brutal truth was that no one cared about wisdom or learning; class attendance was the collectively understood as the ultimate and only goal. When dealing with compliance issues, the opportunity to freelance a presentation is not an option because the burden is on the company to present the legally approved content with no filter whatsoever. Or in other words, it was going to be a long, long week.

The first day ended a few moments earlier than expected and the attendees showed obvious appreciation. Much like a scheduled beating which was concluded a few wallops earlier than initially estimated, the victims were grateful of their collective lot and gathered up their treasures and made it out the door as soon as possible. The last piece of theater was the packing away of the large company binder. These days, thanks to printing costs and the rise of electronic documents, expensive and heavy binders were viewed as a thing of the past. Today, a URL would be given out and the folks would be expected to follow along via an Internet browser. The complicated binder, with many chapter inserts and full color pictures, let everyone know that the costs were not a concern, nor was the quality because many new pages were handed out over the week with instructions "to remove page 213 and replace it with pages 213a through 213c." Since the room was secure, the option of leaving the material in the room caused the sound of fifty binders hitting the breakout tables with a coordinated sound of percussive relief. with the only looming issue was how to travel back with this awkwardly heavy binder which will never be opened again.

It was also communicated to the group that no demonstration of proficiency would be a part of the presentation and no tests would be offered or completed. The organizers' goal was to show people sat in front of them and the idea of proving or documenting their collective understanding was not a priority. "To get important closure," said some generic presenter in the middle of day two, "is to show that you had attended the presentation, we assume you are harvesting the important points by yourself." The presenter then lowered his little toady head began to read verbatim the next page as his audio-visual counterpart cum wingman advanced to the next screen, one painful PowerPoint™slide at a time. Each time the slide would appear, the crowd would either sigh if it was word intensive or inhale excitedly if it consisted of only a few words or a large clumsy and childish graphic. Every hour of so, the presenter would use the word closure and the crowd would collectively perk up with the hope that some closure would actually occur but each time, they were disappointed. The main presenter said several times, ""Closure is a word which means many things to many people but in this presentation, it means we need to keep moving." After the fifth time, it was burned into the collective memory of the group and continued to cause mental havoc each time the word "closure" was used. The only remaining discretion for the group was to quickly scan the slide count as the next presenter prepared to move into slide show mode but that died quickly when slide counts were shown to be the several hundred which further broke whatever spirit remaining.

At the hotel bar, the crowd grew larger each night as a majority of their work faux assignments were getting done during the day's presentation. People began to realize commiserating with their colleagues was the only appropriate use of their off time and the bar became denser and denser with familiar faces, all sharing the same topics of work, the seminar and work. But tonight, Tuesday, the option of not going to the bar had been obliterated by the sheer, collective boredom-based frustration of collective brain pain. Juliet was drinking steadily and was concentrating on her drink experience and didn't notice Jack until his voice broke her own concentration and she turned away from her same sex companion to see where the noise originated.

"I would like a bourbon, please" said Jack. His voice was unwavering but calm and courteous with a distinct priority put on the words 'bourbon' and 'please.' The bartender nodded and began pouring. He had recognized on the first night this was not a crowd seeking a lot of non-drinking related chit-chat; he had evolved into an efficient drink-dispensing machine because no one wanted to talk...they wanted to drink. The faster and heavier he poured his drinks, the more significant were the tips so he switched into ninja bartender mode to great success. While the bar was being comped through a variety of drink tickets, tips came to him if he did his job the way they wanted it to be done: quickly.

Juliet looked over and smiled out of common courtesy. They had somewhat recognized each other from the training and actually had a few eye to eye connections during the day. It was not flirtatious but more a desire to check whether or not each other was crazy. He returned her glance, smiled shook her hand and said, "Closure is a word which means many things to many people but it all honesty, it means someone has to stop talking." They both laughed but the comment was not formally directed at her but it appeared he needed to verbalize the thought immediately and her ears were the closest ones to fill with his opinion. Juliet was polite, nodded and smiled waiting for the next line but it didn't come right away. Jack was in the same state of the others: mentally exhausted and suffering a non-physical manifestation of bleeding ears. Just as she was going to respond with something witty, a loud commotion occurred nearby which forced her to look around and when her head swiveled back, he was gone. She didn't know if he had just been engaged in a full-on debate about some important subject and needed a drink or whether he had enough of the stupid seminar and the banal speakers and had to say something to someone. She didn't know that Jack Daulphine shared the same dislike of excessive talking but his disappearing act was an interruption to her normal instinct of personal over analysis.

Jack did not disappear because of Julia; while he enjoyed general banter, he chafed at people who wanted to act intelligent but had no depth or confidence and he was obligated to return to one of those conversations. These people would quickly shift any allegiances depending on some current trend; drop names of authors which they pretended they read (they didn't), hung around bookstores giving the impression that they were well-read (they weren't), went to restaurants and acted as if they had been eating this newly publicized cuisine for years to be perceived as gourmands (they had not achieved that title) but desperately wanted to thought of as confident and together. But in reality, were neurotic and shallow, frightened little animals not wishing to be discovered as dilettantes. He empathized with others when they compared failed relationships and he cautioned, when asked, many of their approaches as they dealt with people but he was rarely asked. Some people need to get a trickle of communication and get used to it firs but in this crowd, relationships were based on an individual to over-communicate and 'active listen' their colleagues and co-workers into submission. Jack knew those kind of full-on communication interactions will leave one exhausted and unwilling to bring it to the next level in fear of some fire hose-level of communication coming unseen around the corner. He never implied this is/was/will be a preferred style, just an internal FYI from someone who finally had recovered from a relationship which didn't stop emitting communication until months after it was over.

Juliet was very similar but in a far prettier package. Juliet was almost too pretty to be a middle-manager as her beauty actually got in the way of most of her relationships, both personal and business. Most people could not filter out her beauty and it made for long days when their constant qualifying statements and downward glances made general conversations long and winding. She had never experienced overt harassment and she never had a boss that gave her the creeps in thought, word or deed. She was always comfortable in work surroundings but she had no idea how her beauty intimidated her colleagues; she was easily the prettiest woman anyone had seen in a year but people, through years of harassment training had successfully pushed those observations so deep within their psyches that any confirmation of her beauty would be smothered by the many stratas of political correctness and quiet envy. What added to her beauty was the almost complete internal unawareness of how striking she was to the common person. She felt that she was pleasant looking and made an effort to look presentable but the combination of stunning physical qualities, her engaging personality and the unawareness of the combination made her a rare combination of physical perfection all wrapped up in a cool fusion of class.

Jack had disappeared to finish a dangling conversation with a co-worker but had every intention of returning to the back as soon as possible to have an extended conversation with the beautiful woman with a great sense of humor. He had used that line several times that night and she was the only responded with an understanding laugh; his use of satire was a personal choice and not many people appreciated satire wrapped in sarcasm. The brief intellectual momentum glimmered before disappearing thanks to Jack's social obligation and he wanted it back. Jack has always attracted confident types who bludgeoned him with conversation dripping in recency and keyword searches and that illusion of intelligence was painful to endure. Jack's energy attracted many individuals who felt they were outstanding communicators and ground him down with aggressive paraphrasing and painful active listening; they wanted to communicate him to death and if it wasn't for his ability to elegantly end the wrong relationship before it got out hand, they would have succeeded. He just wanted people to shut up once in awhile.

On a parallel path, Juliet had to deflect the artificially confident alpha males which were drawn to the bright light of her beauty; they didn't often take 'no' for an answer because they equated her beauty to their own perception of their style. In a similar world to Jack, Juliet had to patiently dispose of a litany of extremely handsome and successful men because they lacked natural intelligence and oozed a flawed confidence based on their proximity to her beauty. She knew she was attractive (but not as good looking as she really was) but never used it to her advantage. She never could forgive people who used her own beauty as their accessory of success and intelligence and many of her potential boyfriends couldn't get past her beauty and made numerous attempts to become her equal. The fatal flaw with their cloying selfishness was their own desire to supplement their existing personality with a never-ending diatribe of never ending definitions and conversational yammering acting as the defense of their own harmless limitations. She just wanted people to shut up once in awhile.

Jack returned with his drink half-full, intending to strike up more of a conversation with Juliet but he didn't know her name or how he would broach the subject. Again, Juliet had her focus on her drink and did not see Jack sit down next to her. She had almost three days of her life stolen for no reason and combining that reality with the non-glamor component of travel made for a fairly sound and pointed mood. The only thing that perked her up was the mini-banter with the good-looking guy who had left as fast as he arrived. She was tired of being a grown-up, tired of being an accountant and tired of things in her life that made no sense - which was most things. The bar was facing the main gathering area so there was many things to observe; the general mingling, the entrances and exits and the room suddenly got brighter when she heard his voice again.

"Now, where were we?"

Juliet had no idea but was smiling broadly when she turned towards him. As Jack saw her again, he was a bit disappointed with his lame intro line but as he looked at her, it was all he had. At that moment, he had nothing except a grinning facial expression and a desire to do anything other than read PowerPoints. He figured he would come in honest and see what happened.

"I kept singing 'I'm So Tired' by the Beatles today. As the slides kept coming, I continued singing the song to myself."

"Did your neighbors hear you?"

"At times, when I had allowed my internal dialogue a few moments of volume, I think someone may have caught a few syllables."

"Do you know all the words?"

"I didn't when I started but I do now. I have downloaded the lyrics, translated them into numerous languages and have replaced words in the lyrics with others to see if they make me laugh."

"Any winners?"

"No, but there is some potential. It gives me things to do."

"Ah, the little things."

Jack paused. She was beautiful and seemed to be enjoying his company but it was apparent that she was already drunk. She wasn't embarrassing in her responses but there was a slight glassiness to her eyes and she appeared to be more relaxed that most people. He wanted to pursue the conversation further but knew that he wanted to see her sober and equally engaged with him before he would attempt any type of formal flirtation.

"I wish I had thought of mind-singing something from the White Album," said Juliet.

Jack was impressed. She knew where the song originated and appeared to get his joke. He had always been funny and refused to dumb down any of his jokes or monologues to get more people to laugh.

"Feel free, there are plenty of choices."

"I might just do that. However, I need to stop drinking before I do something stupid, say something stupid or demonstrate some likely stupid behavior."

Jack didn't argue or re-assure her that she was a long way from legal limits; he nodded and gave her the impression that he generally agreed with her strategy.  He was very interested in talking to her further but wanted it to be sober, over breakfast and with time on his hands. This was no bullet point chit chat, this had to be real.

Juliet excused herself but did decide leave him with a forearm squeeze. As she carefully stood up from the stool, she made appropriate and direct eye contact and said, "It was nice talking to you. Have a good evening."

Jack, on his best behavior as well, said, "You as well. I also enjoying talking to you."

Not satisfied with the current state of the discussion, Juliet grabbed his forearm and squeezed with impressive compression and concluded the night with a pleasant, "You as well." The forearm squeeze got Jack's attention; it was nice and strong and for the first time in almost three days, he hoped he got the right message.

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