Monday, 7th October
YET ANOTHER QUESTION from the bloke who thinks he’s so witty. If he had only shown up at the beginning of my presentation, he would not have to make such a moron of himself. The cute AIX admin is clearly embarrassed for his colleague. It’s a shame this is not a court room where I could simply say, “I object! Asked and answered! Hearsay!” Instead, I act as if the question were fresh to this audience and briefly go through the same arguments I presented a bunch of slides ago.
Why is it that these guys in the back row always make it their business to take me on? I’ve sat through a couple of training sessions given by my male colleagues, and they don’t seem to get the same sort of treatment. For now, their minds are fixed, unwilling to break the pattern: there must be something fishy about her; she can’t possibly know what she’s talking about. Oh, but I do like to be challenged – maybe not for all the right reasons, but I do. Don’t let the high heels fool you. I’ll run as fast as any of you. And when you are at the brink of exhaustion, and about to drop dead on your bony knees, I’ll still keep going. That is if I don’t trip on the Ethernet cables that spread out from the network switches like bindweed roots. Wireless internet access would have been nice, along with the extinction of laptops that don’t support it, but you cannot have everything.
A quiet man in a green sweater clearly craves a cigarette. I suppose I could wrap up. My laptop battery will soon be out in any case and I’ll have to switch to the spare one. Something I wouldn’t have to worry about in a proper lab. Most auditoriums are designed for lectures or straightforward presentations, not for hands-on training requiring a demo network.
The guys head out for a smoke, the green sweater man leading the pack, while I search for a vending machine. I get myself a cappuccino that has never seen real coffee or milk, grateful I don’t have to waste a lira for it. More than the caffeine fix, I need the coffee to warm my fingers through the thin plastic cup.
I guess I’m not the only one who chose a complimentary coffee instead of a fag. The cute AIX admin goes for a hot chocolate. There’s a brave choice. A grown man, who does not smoke, drinks hot chocolate – and, dear God, wears orthopaedic loafers. Maybe he is the kind that transforms into something completely different when he steps out of the office – a rave maniac or a wizard on a snowboard. How long would it take from Milan to the Alps? Not terribly long I suspect. That could be it, clearly something involving physical activity, given the nice body. It would certainly give a rational explanation for the loafers. He does not want to wreck his feet.
“The coffee here is not that great. The rumour has it it’s toxic. I’m Alex…” he introduces himself, while I’m about to sip my cappuccino that is still extremely hot. Alex what? Stalker? That can’t be it. What kind of a family would have a surname like Stalker? I nod slightly, smile for a greeting and make another attempt to sip my drink. I’ll have to remember to check my lists for his real name, or I might call him Stalker by accident.
“So, you have been doing this consulting, travelling, a long time?” he asks innocently. Please, I could have let the loafers go, but I would’ve expected him to know better than to ask me something so lame. It’s always one of the three: “How did you end up in such a technical job?” “How long have you worked as a consultant?” and of course the all-time classic, “What is a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“A few years,” I find myself saying before I even consider anything else. Shoot, now there is a lame answer.
“It seems like you still like the work. In there you were enthusiastic, even though you must talk about the same issues every week in different places.”
“It has its moments. I guess what makes it interesting is that no two trainings ever turn out the same,” I lie, and I hate myself for another dull answer. If I keep this going, I’ll have to hit the bottom of the lame pool fairly soon.
He begins to walk slowly back to the auditorium. “I’m not that fond of flying around anymore,” he says. I follow him and struggle not to spill the coffee, as he continues, “I’m trying to cut back on the travelling as much as possible. On this trip, I managed to squeeze in some major server hardware updates in our office in Rome so I don’t have to make another trip to Italy this year.”
Is this his idea of how to impress a woman? “So you don’t work here then?” I let slip out. This must be it. I’ve hit the bottom for sure. If I was so keen on getting this information why couldn’t I have just said, “So, you are not part of the Unix admin team here?” Or then again, maybe it’s better to go with the uncomplicated version. Small talk should be renamed lame talk.
The green sweater man and his noisy groupies fill the corridor, and we get squashed as they flood back to the auditorium. I miss most of the words (great, I’ve forgotten his first name already) that Mr Stalker says. I have to revert to thinking of him as the cute AIX admin, or else I’ll get stuck with Stalker and might not be able to shake it off. Judging from how the conversation has been going so far, I probably did not miss much. In any case, I think I got the most interesting ingredient of his reply: Blackheath. I’ve been there a couple of times, never sober though, as can be expected whenever my old college buddy Paul is around. Taking the drunken factor of our expeditions into consideration, I’m sceptical whether there is anything I could share with the cute AIX admin after the second half of my presentation is over.
Let’s see. Once, Paul and I had a grand idea, as one often has after the pubs close, and ordered extra spicy Singapore noodles in this tiny oriental takeaway place. Usually you have to specifically ask for it or else there is only a hint of chilli if you are lucky. Maybe the chef had just immigrated and the extra spicy was still measured according to Asian standards. I don’t know, but I swear I have never in my life eaten, or more precisely nibbled, such spicy food, not even in Singapore. It burned on its way down and even more so on its way up. Not a terribly amusing story, besides I’m not entirely sure this was in Blackheath. It could have been any number of places in London. I’m fairly certain that amidst the suburban bliss there is a vast field in Blackheath where most of the victims of the plague are buried. And I’m dead certain it was in Blackheath where I mistook a fox that ran across Paul’s backyard for a cat. I think it goes without saying that I have to come up with something else to break free from the idle chatter.
I’m quite pleased with the rest of the training. Though I have to admit that I did rush a bit with the database back-up section as I came up with a next-to-perfect lameness killer line. For these guys the only relevant information is the exact repository names they will look up from the manual anyway. No harm done.
I quickly gather all my stuff together so I will be ready to leave when people are finished with their feedback forms. Usually it takes only a couple of minutes, but I should have guessed that the green sweater man who hardly spoke before has plenty to say in writing. Soon everyone else has left except for the diligent critic and the cute AIX admin – Alex, to be precise.
Alex is clearly done with his form and doesn’t want to linger around any longer. He starts to pack up, taking his time. First his laptop, then he neatly wraps all the cables, stuffs them into his bag and slides in the handouts last. He walks up to my desk and hands me the form, even though there is a pile of them right in front of him.
“It was interesting,” he says, in a very formal and polite manner.
“Thank you,” I reply, and continue, just to keep him from leaving, “I hope this makes the implementation phase easier. If you have any questions you can always contact our support.”
Alex smiles, and before I know it he’s gone, leaving me with the green sweater man who seems to be in no hurry to finish even though he is the last one. Please put the pen down. The seconds drag on slowly like a year on Jupiter, until there is no chance I’d catch up with Alex. It better be constructive feedback and not just carefully polished dots and commas.
Updated on October 27th, 2012
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