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August 29, 2013 | Fiction

Vincent Peppers Explains A Conference Call

Shane Jones

Vincent Peppers Explains A Conference Call photo

Good evening. I just ate eggs. Breakfast for dinner, is what Robin called it. Is there such a thing as dinner for breakfast? I’m sure some jabony has fired-up a cheeseburger and fries at 8 a.m., and hey, why not. You only live once, and I’ve read how clocks are just inventions for us to feel structure in what is a chaotic world. So there’s no difference between breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because it’s all one structure-less space we’re floating around in. Kind of bleak but comforting. 

Eggs are in my top five, maybe three, breakfast foods, with bacon and French toast. It’s difficult to make an exceptional scrambled egg because your brain thinks it’s simple. Then you get confident and mess the whole thing up – dry the eggs out, over salt, maybe an eggshell stuck between your teeth. A lot can go wrong with eggs. And if you think about it, cooking eggs is a lot like living life.  

My marriage was an adventure, but it’s not something I’d want to tell everyone. It wouldn’t make a good movie because the dialog would become a trickle, and the last forty-five minutes would be silence. God, I can see it now, Robin and I standing in the kitchen, not talking, two sausage links sadly frying in a pan, a sentimental narrator voicing my internal dialog: Please, don’t leave, I can do better, sure we’ve been married for years, but I can become someone better. 

I’ve been thinking about a conference call. Let me tell you about it.

A conference call is when everyone lives in different places but you call a number and suddenly you’re on the phone together. It’s amazing and awful. When I’m on a conference call I imagine what everyone else is doing. Is the running water executive-assistant Michelle in the tub having a bubble bath, shaving a raised leg? Is lobbyist Steve – I forget his last name – doing that move where his hand is in his pants pocket, adjusting his balls by swirling two fingers? How many of us walk through our home on our cell phone and surprise ourselves in the mirror because we have identity issues? 

This particular conference call, the one I’m thinking about now, had thirty people on it. How the phone’s fibers can stand such terrible voices I’ll never understand. 

Typically, four or five people do all the talking on a conference call. And it’s never the smartest people. If you want to be taken seriously on a conference call you need to talk over everyone else. You need volume. The louder you are the more powerful you are. Shout, “GOOD MORNING,” when you get into work and you’ll see what I mean. If done correctly and with enough force, you can take the rest of the day off. 

On this call, six people were fighting about what Councilmen to go after. Who should be labeled a Hit. This lasted about an hour, and like any human being, I couldn’t pay attention any longer. So, I clipped my toenails with the phone wedged between my head and shoulder. I heard noise, but it sounded like whappa whappa, coughs, sneezes, whispers to someone entering a room, keyboards clicking, heavy sighs, beards itched against a receiver. I don’t remember how long I wasn’t paying attention, but my mind woke when someone spoke my name. 

“Sorry, repeat that,” I said in my professional work voice. 

Imagine thirty separate laughs coming at once through a single hole and into your ear. I wanted to die. Picture your wife saying she doesn’t love you and you know it’s your fault. 

I put the clippers back into the medicine cabinet. When I closed the door, I was looking in the mirror. 

“Peppers,” said my boss. “Tell me. What’s your opinion on what we were just discussing?”

Certain events and images you remember forever. Every person has, probably, like, ten open slots to fill and then you die and the slots flicker around your eyes. What would I see? Pastrami sandwiches, computers, Councilmen’s fat blurry faces, Robin slamming a bedroom door, and myself, standing at the bathroom mirror on a fucking conference call. 

“A-hem,” went my boss. 

I’m not sure why, but what I did, was laugh. Not laughing at the conference call, but how I appeared in the mirror and the idea I participated in something called a conference call with a bunch of people who only had one thing in common – they were paid to be on the line. We didn’t want this. No human being would put up with something so absurd. No one felt anything good from a conference call. We were being paid for a job and we were doing it and that gave it some strange and terrible meaning. My face looked like a rotisserie chicken. 

I don’t think I cried on the conference call, thinking about Robin. My eyes were just watery. I couldn’t stop looking at myself. I appeared old and sad. I wondered what the ten-year old me would have thought if he saw me on a conference call. I imagined my shins being kicked.

“Everything will work out,” I said into the phone.  

“What?” said my boss, followed by laughter scattered across the city. 

I don’t think I was thinking about Robin.  

“I’m on it,” I said.

My boss sneezed. “Um, elaborate?” 

I put my mouth an inch from the mirror and spoke into the phone, “Going forward on this project I will implement synergy to achieve positive results, good night.”

Total silence. 

Every motion performed by a man in a suit is tethered to consumption. 

“Thank you,” said my boss. “Whew. Thought we lost you there for a second, Vincent. Great work. Everyone hear Vincent?” 

My breath created an egg shaped fog on the mirror. I wrote my initials on the shell, and over my initials, a question mark. The bathroom tile was cold on my bare feet. I felt empty. 

“Good night,” I said into the phone again, my voice near a whisper, and hung up. 

When businessmen look in the sky they see conference calls. 

I want adventure. 

My heart needs someone to love because it’s disintegrating.

So sappy!

So sentimental. 

Robin, Robin, Robin, Ro-bin, Rob-in, Roooooobin, Robin.

My stomach hurts. 

Messed my eggs up.

image: Andromeda Veach


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