Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – February 28-29, 2004
My Most Embarrassing Moments 2 & 3
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – February 28-29, 2004 – The year 2004 was a leap year so there was a story for February 29 – so I’m publishing both stories today. One easily follows the other – so enjoy my most embarrassing moments 2 and 3!
My Most Embarrassing Moments 2
Fast forward a few years from when I was 24. I moved from Kitchener to Toronto, left the fashion business and was working for a small advertising company in the downtown core. I had wanted to move from retail into direct selling, but with no track record of ‘achieving quota’ – I’d had a very difficult time making the transition. I finally got a break (sort of) and was hired by a small firm to sell advertising specialties to large corporations. I was to work on 100% commission. I had no advance, no benefits and no car allowance, but to make up for these somewhat trivial omissions, I was given my very own desk, a telephone and a new, never used copy of The Yellow Pages. It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected, so I spent my first morning in my new career, looking at my thumbs and wondering how I was going to pay my bills.
I went out to lunch by myself and sat munching on a tuna sandwich in a little family-owned deli. I wondered if I could be happy standing behind a counter, making light lunches for strangers. I decided only if I owned the deli and had a piece of the action. That didn’t seem like an imminent possibility, as I’d just been hired to peddle pens and fridge magnets to people desperately in need of a place to affix a corporate logo. Day one at work – two o’clock in the afternoon and I was depressed. I went back to my office. I spent the afternoon with The Yellow Pages, writing out the names and phone numbers of fifty large companies I thought might want to talk to me about their corporate pen requirements. Bright and early the next morning I started calling the presidents of these companies. I discovered that many presidents were in their offices and didn’t appear to be very busy. A lot of them took my calls and were happy to chat. They, in turn, referred me to the person in charge of useless paraphernalia, and by the end of the day I had an appointment booked for the following afternoon. What next? Panic!
What on earth would I say? What would I take with me? I had to show up with more than a pen in my pocket. I had a lovely new black leather hard-sided briefcase with brass corners and a combination lock. I desperately wanted to look professional and to come across like a business woman. A friend had given me a book about dressing for success and I treated it like a bible. After all I was in the corporate world! I smile now when I think back to my behaviour in those days. I was so earnest. I wanted to do well, to be taken seriously, to be perceived as successful. I spent all afternoon preparing a folder about my company (there appeared to be a dearth of information available) perhaps that’s why it was a two room office. By the end of the day I was ready. I had samples of pens, pencils, rulers, note pads, calendars, fridge magnets and engraved staple removers. I had 20 catalogues. I had an order pad. I had a business card. I had a navy blue suit, black pumps and my black briefcase. I was a woman on the move. I was a success story just waiting to happen.
I’d read in my dress for success book that a business woman never carried a purse with her. Her personal items were to be kept in a corner of her briefcase, allowing one hand to be free at all times to open doors and gesture to things of interest. She should walk smartly into her meeting, shake hands firmly with her host, wait to be offered a seat, straighten her skirt, cross her legs, take command of the meeting and proceed with the business at hand. I have no recollection of the name of the company where I had this ground breaking meeting. The man’s name was Pierre. He was a vice-president of marketing and he was very short. I’m 5’6″ bare foot and in my smart three inch black pumps I towered over him like an Amazon. I wondered momentarily how I could make myself appear shorter. I was very nervous.
He showed me into his office where there were a lot of pictures of him shaking hands with important people. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize any of them. I remembered my sales course, and the importance of creating rapport. I looked desperately around the room for telltale signs of his successes, or anything that might offer a clue to his personal interests. Nothing but his tiny overcoat on a hanger behind the door. He indicated a seat and offered coffee. I smiled and declined. I was all business. Then I noticed his desk. It was massive and his chair was on an elevated platform behind it.
He sat down. I opened my briefcase and picked up my presentation folder. It was designed to be shown to someone sitting beside me not to a person who was seven feet away, on the other side of a shiny desk the size of Noah’s ark. I reached across his desk and tried, unsuccessfully, to point out the pictures of different pens to him. At the same time I was trying to discuss the relative benefits of nib sizes. Some executives might prefer the fine tip while others, who had to sign a lot of documents might be more comfortable with the medium tip, which provided more ink and consequently a smoother signature flow. I was blithering like an idiot.
He listened politely. An hour passed and we hadn’t even finished with pens. There were still pencils, rulers, mugs, hats, magnets and trophies to go. I was hopeless. I kept trying to reach across the desk. He couldn’t see the catalogues. I wanted to toss the pen samples over to him and say, “So buddy how many of the little babies do you want”? I was bombing. I had nothing to lose, so finally in exasperation I stood up, walked across the room, picked up a little side chair and plunked it down beside him on his side of the desk. I think he was a little nonplussed, but he had the good grace to let me finish my presentation.
At the end of my diatribe I told him I would follow-up with him in a week. It was time to go. I had memorized the steps. I knew the drill. Return my papers to my briefcase which is now open on my knees, snap it smartly shut, stand up, shake hands firmly and make direct eye contact. I was going great guns. My briefcase was securely in hand. I turned to go. If you recall, I mentioned earlier that my briefcase had a combination lock. I had no idea how to use it properly so I’d left all the numbers at zero. Apparently this was a mistake. As I turned to go the top of my briefcase flew open and all its contents tumbled out on the floor at my feet.
I dropped to my hands and knees, as did Pierre, and together we scrambled around under his enormous desk retrieving pens, pencils, catalogues, rulers, my compact, a little miniature trophy sample, lipstick, car keys, wallet and because a “professional business woman should always be prepared for any eventuality” – my Tampax, which had rolled over beside his chair platform. He picked it up gingerly and handed it to me. As I went to grab it my fingers caught the end of it and it flew up in the air. Pierre caught it and gallantly dropped it into my briefcase. I put both arms around my briefcase, held it tightly to my chest, forgot to shake hands or deliver my one-two knock ’em dead closing line and backed out of his office.
I made it back to my car and collapsed on the seat. I wanted to kill myself. I couldn’t even sell a pen. It was day three of my professional selling career and I was a loser. I drove back downtown to my office, heaved my shiny new briefcase onto my desk and slumped into my chair.
I had a dentist’s appointment the following morning , so I didn’t make it into my office until after ten-thirty. There was a congratulatory note on my desk from my boss. Pierre’s secretary had called in an order for a thousand pens. I had arrived! I worked for that little advertising company for a year, and in that time, I did a lot business with Pierre’s company. Wherever you are today Pierre – thank you from the bottom of my heart! Little did I know it at the time, but my success at this job was to propel me forward in my business career, and bring me closer to the third, and quite possibly most embarrassing moment in life!
February 29, 2004
My Most Embarrassing Moments – 3
I’m not sure why, but my most embarrassing moments tend to be associated with the lower half of my body, and this one is no exception. Fortunately I’ve always had a self-deprecating, fully charged sense of humour and the ability to laugh at myself. I left off my last story with Pierre, in chivalrous fashion, dropping my Tampax into my shiny, new black briefcase. Over the next year, I worked my little heart out in the specialty advertising business and then left to pursue my dream of working in the ‘really big’ corporate world. The company I went to work for had been a client of mine when I was with the specialty firm and I was hired to join their sales force. I was one of about twenty sales representatives, and was eager to make my mark. I worked in end user sales for about a year. Then I moved into the dealer program, where I sold our products to the dealer, who eventually re-sold them to the end user. I really enjoyed the dealer program and I had opportunities to be involved in aspects of the business that had not been open to me in the direct sales force. One of these avenues was training some of the sales representative from other companies, who also sold our products. This brings me to the third most embarrassing moment of my life.
I’ve already mentioned my dress for success book and my biblical-like devotion to its dogma. Well, the ‘real’ corporate world was the perfect place for me – Little Miss Prim & Proper! Perfect little suits and shoes, a nice conservative haircut – briefcase with colour-coded file folders always at the ready. I was determined to do a good job. Even though I was shaking on the inside, my exterior packaging was as sharp as the sting of a whip.
Just imagine how excited I was to discover that I’d been ‘selected’ to present two seminars. One on magnetic tape and the other on computer paper. My audience was a group of sales representatives from another company. Twenty-five men and one token woman were my audience. My material was well researched and prepared. I’d driven our secretaries crazy making overheads, my pointer was ready and my delivery was razor sharp. I was poised for greatness. Day one was a resounding success. Question period was filled with pointed, intelligent questions. I rhymed off the answer with ease. Magnetic tape had never seemed so enticing, data storage and retrieval was an art form. I was on cloud nine!
The next morning, for reasons known only to an unknown, unseen power, I abandoned my traditional business suit and replaced it with a turquoise blue linen-polyester (so it didn’t wrinkle) blend ensemble. The jacket was a waist length peplum style and the skirt was a below the knee relaxed A-line with great flow and movement. The fabric was soft and feminine. I was dressed to kill – a veritable business goddess – untouchable and unstoppable. I skipped out the door to my car and arrived at the office well ahead of schedule. My hand outs were in a neat stack at the front of the room and the overhead projector was humming. I was set to go. Coffee and muffins were available outside the door and my group was starting to arrive.
For some unknown reason I was born with a bladder the size of a thimble. I’d finished a cup of coffee as I prepared for the seminar and decided it would be prudent to visit the ‘ladies’ before the meeting started. I popped into the washroom and did my business, applied a quick touch of lipstick and marched into the seminar room. The door to the room was at the opposite end to the podium and overhead screen, and I spoke to a few of the attendees as I walked up the side of the room. When I reached the front of the room I reached up to lower the film screen and then turned around to face my twenty-five men and one woman! I gave a hearty hello and explained that I would cover a lot of information in the first half of the morning then welcome questions and comments after the break.
Diane – my token woman – was sitting at the front of the room and she fluttered her hand to try and get my attention. I was not to be dissuaded from the task at hand and reassured her that I would address questions after the break. I opened the presentation folder and suggested that everyone start at the top of page one. I noticed that some of the men were looking at each other and a couple of them were snickering. Diane was again trying to get my attention. One of the men at the back of the room couldn’t suppress his laughter and he broke out in a huge guffaw. Diane stood up, grabbed my arm and dragged my down the room and out the door. She pushed me down the hall and into the washroom, and said, “Look in the mirror”. I glanced at my reflection. I seemed to be in fine form. She said, “Turn around and look again”. I did as I was directed and glanced back over my shoulder.
To my ever-lasting horror, my skirt was tucked neatly up into the back of my pantyhose and my well-rounded bottom was exposed for all to see. How could this have happened to a business goddess? I was mortified. To make matters worse, this was at a time when women were loathe to have nasty, telltale panty lines showing under their clothing, so many pantyhose manufacturers were making their products with a cotton gusset; making it unnecessary for women to wear panties. I knew this because I’d read it in some article in Glamour ot Cosmopolitan. So it wasn’t just my bottom that was exposed, it was my au natural buns, contained by only a sheer covering of natural toned nylon.
I had to go back into that room and teach the course. Periodically someone would snicker and then the whole room would erupt in laughter. I was bent but not broken, humiliated, not dead. This still stands as my most embarrassing moment. In spite of it all I finished the seminar. I have to admit, had I been in attendance that day, I’d have been laughing with the best of them!