Saturday, August 11, 2012
Anna hustled off to the registration table, leaned across a stack of agendas, and whispered in Sandrina’s ear.
“Sandrina, you remember that really flirtatious friend of yours, the one that plays for both teams?”
“What are you up to, amiga?”
“Bring her. I don’t care what you have to do, just make sure she gets here by dinner. Better, give her free admission.”
Sandrina looked up, puzzled. “But she’s a writer!”
“I don’t give a damn if she’s a truck driver! Just make sure she’s here, OK? She should see whomever is at the information table and get me unless I’m onstage. You’re the best.” With that, Anna puckered her lips and blew Sandrina a kiss. Sandrina wondered if this was a loaded gesture. Surely Anna didn’t need flirtation from a woman in a big room full of salesmen!
Anna turned away to make sure that the last few standees in the registration line were being cared for, and then headed off to the podium. Her father Ernesto Garcia, Señor Lopez the importer, and Augustinho Verano, the Brazilian expat whose fleet of route drivers studied Ernesto’s chapters and Anna’s verses in breakfast seminars, were already in their seats at the head table. Of Anna’s friends and fellow thespians, only Sandrina remained at the back of the hall. Anna stepped to the microphone, lifted a manila folder out of the podium shelf, opened it, and opened the convention.
“Good morning, and welcome to Crear Para Creer, the second in what is shaping up as an annual series of events dedicated to your clients, your prospects, and your employees. Everything that you will learn today comes from the practical application of one idea. You can only increase your sales if you are in relationship with your client. Last year, when we addressed a much smaller assembly, primarily of route salesmen and delivery truck drivers, we learned that your customers are more than people who buy your products – they are your Clients, with a capital C. For some of you, the time spent eating emergency breakfast was the opening of the event. I was pleased to see so many pods flowing to the table. What I have to say to you in line is, “Padrisimo!” To those of you in your seats who arrived early, let me see by a show of hands how many of you exchanged five or more business cards? Three or more? One? Now, everyone who is sitting next to someone whose hand is not up, make a new relationship in the next five minutes. Go!”
The buzz started out slowly, like a nervous rookery of penguins awaiting the hatching of their young. Then slowly, the fits and starts of the shifting of conversation evened out, as random processes are wont to do. Just when it seemed like the conversation would ebb of its own accord, Anna strided away from the podium, which her classmate Antonio (no one called him Tonto anymore except Anna) approached. Antonio had doffed his business attire for a black unitard, a tie, and the white face makeup of a pantomime. The young man who had a habit of being in the wrong place and saying just the wrong thing found that he was most talented at being everywhere and saying nothing. Wordless, Antonio performed the famous mime’s shelf trick next to the podium. Then he took two monstrously impactful strides toward the audience which advanced him no more than a foot, but had the effect of silencing the audience in mid sentence. Antonio then performed the illusion of straining every muscle in his rippled body to move the podium a few inches. Out danced a ballerina from the preparatory school en pointe, who pirouetted and then disappeared behind Tonto’s imposing physique. A pink leotard-clad leg emerged on the young mime’s left, between him and the podium. With no apparent effort, the slipper attached to that leotard swept the large man off his feet. Antonio caught himself on his left hand in push-up position, but rendered the impression of a forcible takedown by slapping the stage with his right. On the beat, the pixie rose en pointe again. And again with no apparent effort, she pushed the podium off the stage.
Antonio, the ballerina, and an actress in business attire moved microphones and props into place while remaining in character throughout. Antonio nearly brought the house to a roar when he picked up a mic stand and played it as a bass guitar. When all the props were out, the ballerina pirouetted once more, landing in a split, and Antonio, leaping over the girl, caught a thrown microphone and landed in a matching split.
What happened next went beyond Anna’s wildest fantasy. Antonio and the ballerina remained in their split for a beat as the characters for the first skit tried to take their places. Nice intro, yes? Ernesto would chide Anna later for creating an opening act that neither she, nor he, nor Lopez, nor Vicente Fox could have followed up. Two hundred fifty salespeople, route drivers, and businessmen turned into soccer fanatics. They defined this as a show-stopper, and when Anna realized this, she practically hurled the rest of the company onstage into an impromptu curtain call, grabbed and flicked on a microphone, tapped the mime and dancer, and called out,
“Señore, señore, te presento a Ustedes la compania Personas Desordenatas!”
Even Arqueo, a regular at the opera house, probably missed the fact that Anna started out as if this were La Scala and not the Hotel Colonial. Antonio and the girl took repeated bows to a standing ovation that even the most emotionante in the audience must have been astonished to be giving.
As promised, Armando Frias and Magdalena da Silva Hjort arrived at noon, to be oriented to the convention during a break before the first set of workshops ended. Both of César’s associates had been called in from work, but Armando had just arrived at the office when the call came in. César had more work to do with Magda; she had arrived at 7:30 and was in the process of leaving to go to her father’s produce company. César had to call Sr. da Silva and sell him on the importance to da Silva’s company that Magda get trained in relationship marketing, even though she was the bookkeeper and backup office manager. “Every one your daughter comes in contact with, is your Client, that’s capital C, Her every interaction is an opportunity to build a relationship that will benefit you for years to come.”
Anna couldn’t have said it better.
Flora Arenas entered directly from work, also, but Flora had just come from Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, the coffee shop and bakery that knew how to serve espresso drinks and pastries before anyone thought to build a franchise in a coffee-growing country selling the local favorite. Flora always brought in a manuscript in a black faux-alligator soft-sided briefcase, and before the storefront doors even closed on her Pirma earth woman sandals, the counter person would have the iced coffee with a shot of tamarindo. Flora might order a concha bun with her tamarindo, or she might go for the polverόn de cacahuete. Sometimes she would bypass the empty calories, in one case claiming to be on a diet, only to be sold on a peach tart on the grounds that the fruit was freshly picked less than an hour’s drive away (true), and therefore was a health food. Flora wrote a tourist column for El Sol de Puebla, and was published in travel publications throughout Spanish-speaking countries.
The hours between ten and 2:30 were Flora’s office hours. She would sit in a corner, scribbling about her latest trip, or that of a factitious correspondent. The latter was a true masterstroke; by maintaining contact with frequent tourists, she could write columns about places she had never visited. Better yet, she could get paid for writing these columns. She had worked for Sr. Andrez, the owner of the historically named bakery, in high school. For her first three years as a writer, she took calls on the line of the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel. She even invented the answering protocol at the enterprise (Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, hola bonjour?) which traced its name to a conflict that ended by France invading Mexico in 1838. Flora and Anna’s friend Sandrina had been close in high school, and there were whispers. Anna knew that Magda was lonely. A lesbian in a provincial capital of a Catholic country. Little contact with her mother, to whom she wasn’t out. Her father knew, but it was “the love that dare not speak its name,” as far as he was concerned. By contrast, Flora didn’t bear a burden of religion. The only sandals Flora wore were her own, and the only footsteps she took on the Via Dolorosa happened so that she could get away from Semana Santa on business. Her sexual identity could be someone else’s cross to bear.
Sandrina knew her old friend’s habits, but not her number. So this morning, the call came in on the Monsieur Remontel line, and it was only good fortune that a few of Flora’s friends had stopped by and occupied the server, so that Sr. Andrez answered. After expressing surprise, the proprietor recovered, and even recognized the voice from several years before Sandrina and Anna had become classmates at BUAP.
“Esperes, Sandrina, voy a tocarla.”
Flora’s ears stood up through the bandanna at the name of this person who had meant so much to her years ago. Flora knew not to occupy Sr. Andrez’s business line too long, so she bought the coffee for her friends, suggested the peach tarts, and told them about the invite. Really, though, this wasn’t a big deal. Not from someone who wrote a column about visiting St. Petersburg when it was still Leningrad. So at 11:15, Flora pushed off from the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, and caught a taxi to the Hotel Colonial.
Flora was wearing sandals, a batik sundress, and a bandanna around her head as a combination sweatband and fashion statement. She would have passed for casual suburbanite gringa from the ‘70’s, but for the smart tailoring she had done on the neckline and the slit she had hemmed into the skirt. In short, Flora was a native who looked like an extranjera trying to look like a native. Magda and everyone else there were dressed in some level of conservatism. The two women ran into each other – literally – at the decidedly undersized front door, which was consumed by the giant maize-colored wall facing Avenida 4. Flora had cut Magda off from the door, oblivious to the possibility that another woman could be going to the salesmen’s conference. Magda was thinking about a Neruda poem she had read on the bus to the Zocalo. When they crashed into each other, Flora looked up, smiled, and apologized. Magda grinned sheepishly, and replied,
“My boss – that is, bosses – both think that I should learn a little more about relationship marketing. My name is Magda. Magda da Silva.”
Moments later, the two women had exchanged personals, and had been ushered in to meet César and as the convention was on its first break, Anna.
Anna hugged her friend, and then remarked, “I see you know each other. You must be Flora Gutiérrez. El Sol, travel column. I read it.”
“You want to get away?”
“All I need to do that is to get my new friend César to open an office somewhere exotic, and hire me to create the marketing campaign. Come on, I think you know Sandrina . Let’s meet and I can tell you what’s up.”
The double date turned out to be a triple. Sandrina wasn’t sure about Arqueo, but he was worth a try, and beside, he was on the shy side. Shy people tend to make good listeners; they just don’t know what to do with the information. Anna and César had to restrain themselves. And Magda and Flora spent the entire meal on another planet, exploring the contours of each other’s feet under the large oak table.