Jeff switched between Power Point slides with an expert hand. Next slide. Next slide. Flawless.
He pitched his voice at the speakerphone to his right.
“And those are the specs on the Singe, our disruptive toaster oven. Our materials and engineering are better, as I think I demonstrated, and the unit cost is lower, as you can see here. So that’s all I have, by way of information. And of course, most of you have seen these details before this meeting. If you don’t mind me being direct . . .”
“The ball’s in our court, Jeff,” a voice on the other line said. Jeff recognized it as belonging to Meredith, an upper-level executive with the massive retail chain Bullseye. Getting the Singe into a store with national distribution would be a leap toward stability for Jeff’s fledgling operation. Jeff’s stomach was like an Oyamel fir tree in Mexico during winter—full of migrating Monarch butterflies.
“I think we have the information we need to make a decision,” Meredith continued. “Can you give us a minute to toss some things around here? Do you mind if I put you on hold for a minute or two?”
“If that works for you guys, sounds great to me,” Jeff said.
“Okay. We’ll be back with you in a minute.” Hold music lurched on.
Jeff bit his lip, and tapped his fist on the desk. He kept himself under control. He knew that the deal wasn’t done yet. But he felt good. His dad had been sure that the market didn’t need another toaster oven. Well, we’ll see about that, Jeff thought. He grimaced. The thought seemed rote and insubstantial. He wanted to take action in the world and externalize a feeling of triumph. He got out of his chair. He prepared to do a big fist pump. He envisioned some of the best fist pumps he’d ever seen. He thought of Macaulay Culkin as Kevin in Home Alone. He clenched his hand. He thought of Joshua Jackson as Charlie in The Mighty Ducks. He unclenched his hand. The memory of those first-rate fist pumps discouraged him. He couldn’t equal them. Why was he trying?
Then he saw a package of almonds on his desk. He’d have a couple almonds. A couple of celebratory almonds. He shook a few loose from the package. He thought about tossing one in the air. What? Was he going to suddenly become the cool guy who can catch almonds in his mouth? He placed the almonds in his mouth very carefully. He started munching the almonds, and felt a deep satisfaction.
At that moment, the hold music turned off with a click. Meredith’s voice came through.
“Jeff?” it said.
Jeff struggled to swallow the almonds. As he did, the silence extended.
“Jeff,” Meredith said, “are you there?”
“Yesh,” Jeff said, through the almonds.
There was a pause on the other end.
“Are you okay?” Meredith said.
“Yeah,” Jeff said, finally swallowing. “You just caught me in a mouthful of almonds.”
There was a long pause on the other end.
“Almonds, Jeff?” Meredith said. “And you feel like we caught you, huh?”
“Um. Yeah. I had a couple of almonds while you were all talking and everything.”
“Did you know that we were coming back?” Meredith’s voice had had frozen over and the chill crawled up Jeff’s back.
“I would have hoped that you realized,” she continued, ”that you were only going to be on hold a couple minutes? I said that, I’m pretty sure.”
“You did, Meredith,” said Tony, another executive at Bullseye. “I heard you.”
“Sorry about the almonds,” Jeff said.
“I’m sorry, but I asked a question,” Meredith said. “Did you know we were coming back?”
“Yes,” Jeff said. He found swallowing hard again, even without almonds.
“And you still decided to go ahead and have a mouthful of almonds? You couldn’t wait?” Meredith’s voice was growing more intense without getting louder.
Jeff cleared his throat.
“Well, I wanted to enjoy a couple almonds . . .” Jeff trailed off.
Meredith sighed loudly.
“This is an issue. You could have just waited for your almonds. We think your proposal looks solid. We think the partnership works on paper. But frankly, this whole almond thing is a flag on the play. Does everyone else feel the same way?”
An enthusiastic room full of people exhaled their agreement. They all felt that the almond thing was an issue.
“I definitely think it’s an issue, Meredith,” said Tony, slightly after everyone else.
“We’re looking for high quality folks in our business partners. We’re looking for virtue and character. And we’re looking for impeccable conference call etiquette. Our founder, Sam Plainton, suffered irreversible kidney damage because of his proud refusal to end a call early in order to urinate. Many of the execs here have distended bladders for the same reason. It’s part of our company culture. And the fact that you can’t control yourself around almonds is . . . I guess . . . alarm bells are ringing. Everyone else feels the same way, right?”
Everyone on Meredith’s end of the call gave hearty assent.
“Ding, ding, ding,” said Tony. “I can for sure hear alarm bells, Meredith.”
“So we’ll have to table this thing for now,” Meredith said. “If we’re still interested, we’ll get in touch next quarter.”
“Hold on,” Jeff said.
“Bye, Jeff,” the group on the other end of the call said.
“Bye,” Jeff said.
He stood there for a little while. He took the package of almonds off his desk and placed it in the trash.
He looked around. This was extremely disappointing. He’d hoped that big orders from Bullseye would mean they could start paying down some of their debt. He felt defeated.
They were right. He didn’t have the self-control necessary to just avoid the almonds for a few minutes more. If only he had the confidence to fist pump. That would have prevented this whole mess.
Standing in the middle of his office, Jeff clenched his fist. He narrowed his eyes. He stood there. He unclenched his fist.
Maybe tomorrow, he thought.