The springs chirped as I reclined on the pleather chair. Across piles of paperwork I saw the sharp creases of his tailored suit. Modern frames amplified dull gray eyes, a moussed confection atop his unlined, close shaved face. Another in a parade of Ivied sales reps passing through my office , trying too hard to convince me of the value of products which they themselves won’t buy. He wants me to believe in him, manicured fingers flung out to embrace the sales sermon he sings, as if I were a supplicant, my shabby office a poor substitute for where he’d prayed he’d be by now.
“Standardly, we provide…”
“Wait, did you say standardly? That’s not a word.”
“Yes it is,” he argues. “It’s an adjective.”
“Or an adverb. I’m not questioning its use, but its existence as a word.”
“I use it all the time.”
“Then you are always wrong – where did you go to school?”
“Princeton” as if I couldn’t guess.
“And prep school?” I asked as if there were any doubt here either.
“Lakeside.” Then I recognized the Bill Gates’ glasses.
“Well, you father wasted a lot of money if you feign erudition with fake words.”
I swear he sneered, making me conscious again of the public/private divide and his sense of entitlement that even allowed for language manipulation.
I did not go to prep school, though I had been marked for distinction at an early age. I’m still not sure if my parents were relieved or disappointed at my dissipating precocity. They couldn’t have afforded it anyway, so sent me away from my reading to go outside and fail at sports.
My father went to prep school, but only to mark time, since he’d skipped some grades. He was also precocious – but also not at sports.
None of this was on my mind as I stared at this poseur, but I’m sure it was written on my face.
I shouted to my aged assistant in the next room, no scholar she but still curating the King’s English, to see if she had ever heard the word “standardly.”
“Not a word,” she shot back.
He was angry now, color rising above his rep tie, not used to having to answer to the great unwashed who would dare to denigrate his breeding by denying a part of his vocabulary.
“It’s a word,” he insisted.
“Let’s go see.”
Neither my father nor I went to Princeton, though we both applied. Instead, we went to one of the “alt-Ivys” that actually flunked out scions of the well bred and well heeled. This didn’t keep “the Preppies” from trying to impose social rank as a matter of meaning while we demeaned their middling academic efforts. They would recognize and welcome the kindred spirit seated across the divide of my desk.
I got up and beckoned him to follow as I went out the front door and took him to the adjoining business, where I knew they proudly displayed two volumes of Webster. They looked up as I, clad in T-shirt, shorts and sandals, followed by my natty foil, went to the dictionary, opened it, and failed to find hope for his redemption.
“It’s not in here – maybe I know something you don’t.”
He looked for himself, of course, blinked and walked out.
All my family before me was in sales, despite other aspirations. It’s less a battle of wits than navigating a connection and keeping the other side interested. It helps if you are genuinely interested in them. Such an attitude would preclude the inane type of discussion in which I had just engaged. Why, I wondered, was he in sales when it’s evident he feels contempt for those on whom he calls, knowing he was son bound for the family business.
No matter. I never saw him again. I heard he failed to rise through company ranks then returned to Seattle, presumably freer to inflict his haughty gaze and alternate language on
those more inclined to trust perception over proof.
Standardly, I have held his successors to similar standards, though they’d rather phone than see me, the word having finally gotten out.