Maripat Robison

Maripat Robison
HEAVILY RETOUCHED PHOTO

Feb 4, 2014

The Cement Truck


One of the highlights of the geek social season is the IEEE holiday dinner. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers promised an exciting and stimulating night. The room would be packed with people, perhaps talking about reducing the carbon cost of cloud computing. In preparation,  I read an article in the association's magazine. It gave me a headache.

"It's good to have an appealing looking mate for these type of events," John observed, as we walked in the door and I removed my coat.

"Really? Is that a compliment?” I was surprised he'd noticed the effort I'd made to look less like I cleaned cat litter boxes for a living, and more like a former TV executive.

"I think it's a practical observation on the way you look tonight," he said. “You know, more like a sports car than a cement truck." John was oblivious to the offensiveness of this simile, but I was used to that.

"What kind of sports car? A Miata or a Jaguar?"

"A Miata's not really a sports car, and a Jaguar might be a little sleek for your body type."

"I think you should steer clear of talking about my body type," I suggested, hoping he would appreciate the pun.

"I thought you'd be pleased you don't look like a cement truck. Cement trucks are often under-rated," he continued.  "Did you realize the expression ‘the whole nine yards’ comes from a reference to the capacity of a cement truck?" No, I didn’t. Was he trying to tell me something?

We settled in, but I suspected I was in trouble when the president took the mike. He cleared his throat and said, "Good evening everyone. I just wanted to let you know we have a pretty full program tonight. First, I'll go over the agenda, and then we'll hear from each of the committee heads. After that, we'll give out the awards, and finally, we'll have a presentation on the history of our group. So, lets get started, could we dim the lights?" Apparently, they couldn't, which was greatly ironic.

I’m not kidding when I tell you that the first slide was titled "Agenda," and he read it line-by-line using his laser pointer to highlight each of the items he had already described when he first took the podium.  I glanced around at the sea of faces, all with rapt expressions, and then pinched myself, hard, under the table.

I don't know how many cups of coffee I drank that night, but I was more charged than an ultra high voltage transformer, and despite my buzz, my chin relentlessly sought my chest like crows diving to road kill.

Each text-crammed slide (white space, people!) was read out loud by the presenter in its entirety. I tried not to skip ahead, I really did. But I'm a fast reader, so I decided that I would augment each page with a quick count of items in the room. I inventoried people, silverware, entree types, sugar packets, ceiling tiles and bottles at the bar. I imagined how many toes there might be under each table, looking closely for canes and anything else that might indicate an amputation.

Each committee leader outlined their accomplishments. There were speeches from the award winners, endless rounds of applause, and too much lag time while the people in the back moved forward to receive their kudos. Would it never end?

When we got to the final speaker, I was acutely reminded that coffee is a diuretic. I kept waiting for a pause in the presentation, so I could get to the bathroom, but no break came. I thought, the next time he says engineer, I will go. But then, not wanting to interrupt the year-by-year recitation of member counts and dues paid that started with 1964, I resolved; as soon as he gets to 1988, I will go.  I will go when he gets to 1994. When he reaches 2005, I will go. I will go, I will go.

Finally, a glimmer of hope! The President had stepped up to the stage and looked at his watch saying, "I'm afraid we've gone over. This is fascinating though, should we continue?" No, I screamed internally, rupturing several minor veins in my nose. No! No!

I nudged John with my foot. "Why are you kicking me,” he said loudly, putting the entire table on alert. "I didn't kick you," I protested, turning the same color as my ruptured veins. "Yes you did," he insisted, "stop it, I'm trying to listen." I stood up, sure that I was going to pee right there on the floor. "Excuse me," I mumbled, and slinking out of the room, fairly galloped down the hall to the bathroom.

I'm never, ever going back, I told myself. Sitting in the ladies room, I vowed that I wouldn't endure  one more second of torture. Minutes passed, and I listened intently for a sign the party was breaking up. Twenty minutes later, there was a knock the door. It was John. "Let's go, he insisted, “I've been waiting for ten minutes. What were you doing in there? You always take so long, it's a good thing I'm patient at events like this."


And that is when I ran him over. I was a cement truck after all.