Monday, December 31, 2012

Yelling to an Empty Room Full of People

This could be any meeting room in America. Based on true events.

Before the regularly scheduled meeting even began, it was clear no one wanted to be there.

 Audience members sat grim-faced and talked quietly. A reporter flipped his pen in his fingers and checked Twitter on his phone. A board member sat with clearly gritted teeth behind a closed mouth.

A man in a power wheelchair spoke some angry, vindictive words at the board member who had the misfortune and poor judgment to arrive early to his seat at the table.

After the peeved resident wheeled back to his corner next to a filing cabinet along the wall, the board member sat, red-faced from an emotion at the corner of apprehension and anxiety, staring out at the blank wall behind the audience.

Eventually, the other board members arrived in the plain, square room just minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, appropriately on time but late enough to avoid the ire of the restless audience filling half the chairs in the room.

As one board member sat next to the other who was already seated and stating, he murmured something about "some asshole."

The consternation came to a head just less than two minutes after the meeting started.

A man who was likely born in the 1930s, if that late, and weighed just a few more pounds as he was years old stood up when his name was called from the agenda, flicked some papers, and began.

The gentleman began by quoting from the state's constitution, something 9th grade history teachers would love in an essay but clues elected officials that they'd better start shifting in their seats a little because if they wait for the speech to end, they're going to get that pins-and-needles feeling in their ass.

Before he was a full minute into his treatise against municipal management and government, the man fired his first big gun.

"This action constitutes a fascist form of government."

In his pad, the reporter scrawled, "Fascists?"

Already, the board members checked out, staring straight ahead or into the table before them. This was a regular and they knew him well, as did most of the audience, it seemed.

Impressively, the gentleman paraphrased a Ralph Nader quote from a televised book-signing.

He then loudly cited an article in the local newspaper.

The reporter held his breath.

The gentleman read the article's title, holding it in his hand, then announced the date, indicating the article was from more than a few years ago.

The reporter breathed out quietly.

Throwing out names attached to the municipality and the company he was railing against, the gentleman spoke at a metered but slightly unpolished pace. He was no telecaster reading from a teleprompter, but he also wasn't a high school student struggling through a report in front of class.

At first it went unnoticed by most, but the gentlemen suddenly switched over to referring to himself in the third person.

"Plaintiff (X) will not relent," he said determinedly as he recounted a court case involving him and the company in question.

The board was unable to look at the man for more than a few seconds at a time, possibly from disdain but more likely from the shared embarrassment most seemed to feel as his speech, which became harder and harder to follow, churned through the 13 minute mark.

 The man who had earlier spoken heatedly with the board member from his wheelchair now stared at the blue and red speckled carpet, twiddling his thumbs.

The reading gentleman offered up a sheet from one of the court cases. He brought physical copies of everything he referenced.

"I won't read this," he said.

"Thank you," a man said in a tone above a whisper from the audience.

The older gentlemen continued past the 19th minute. Standing at the back of the room, he was out of the eyeline of most in the audience who were all perfectly content not to turn and look at him, but when he suddenly, unexpectedly paused, one person peered over their shoulder to see if he was alright.

"This case has been won by Plaintiff (X)!"

He was alright.

After declaring another public official to be "an accessory to the crime," the man turned his attention to the state courts, which he accused of intimidation.

By now, it's difficult to tell whether he actually won his case or if he's outlining why he should have won the case.

The board's chairwoman has her eyes closed. She isn't asleep. It's more as if she's trying to rid her eyes of the little colored spots that are the result of seeing a camera's flash go off.

"Now we get to the nitty gritty...." the gentleman declared 25 minutes in.

Two of the supervisors look up momentarily from their work at boring holes in the table with their eyes.

"This is nothing more than a cover-up..."

The man's speech is very hard to follow now, even if there'd been a stenographer's notes to read through, without a handbook of the state's judges and statutes, as well as detailed minutes of the municipality's meetings for the last five years or so.

If his speech has a clear point, which many in the room decided long ago that it didn't, he's lost everyone because they're not familiar enough with his references. It's like watching "Family Guy" with someone born in the 1880s.

"My conclusions..."

"Oh dear God," someone, maybe the man who thanked the man earlier for not reading one of his pages of evidence, said.

A woman in the very front row tapped her metal watchband against the chair in an irregular rhythm. She paused for a few seconds to look for something in her purse before letting it drop heavily onto the chair.

After again going to the fascist well and referencing Benito Mussolini, the man told someone, it was really unclear who, "The choice is yours."

Although this sounds like a conclusion, the man has more to say.

Again, he has some evidence, this one he wants to read. He starts, then suddenly stops.

"Nope, that's the wrong one..." he says before digging through his paperwork.

He speaks for another eight or nine minutes.For the last 20 minutes of the speech, people began whispering quietly to friends or playing with whatever trinkets they can, whether its a wedding ring or a phone.

After several more sentences that sound like conclusions, he actually wraps up.

"I have nothing more to say."

Without really skipping a beat, the board dives into its next agenda item. 36 minutes have passed since the man began speaking.

It's hard to tell if he watched too "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" too much or fancied himself a Watergate-style whistleblower.

But after 36 minutes of our collective lives were gone, no one considered for a second what he'd said. Granted, what the man said came out as mostly conspiracy theory with tangential, at-best, proof. But it was hard to tell which was more troubling: that the man had such concerns and poured so much of his life into an interminable rambling speech on some ill-defined problem or that not a single person there seemed willing to take him seriously before he even began to speak.

It really could've been any meeting room in America.

No comments:

Post a Comment