HEAD SPINNING FROM REMNANTS OF ALCOHOL consumed the previous night. Having stayed at Club Asia until last call. It was the first time she remembered closing out a club in recent history. Before departure, Mag finalized arrangements to meet Monica at 11 a.m. Her bedside clock glowed the time… 9 a.m.
In the adjacent room, shrilling sounds from the television blared and she stared at the ceiling. Having no desire to keep her appointment, she surmised… I could stay in bed forever. Why can’t I do that?
Watching television, Drew sat in the living area. Its volume piercing Mag’s skull like tiny drills. She cursed him internally for waking her with noise and Drew noticed her movement, “You must’ve had a really good time last night.” Mag rolled over, sliding her bed sheet and blanket aside. Sitting on the edge of the bed she massaged her fingertips against the sides of her head, attempting to jump-start her foggy brain. Drew focused on the television, “You came home after 2 a.m. Making all kinds of noise and bumping into stuff. Plus, you didn’t answer my text messages and you threw your clothes all over the floor.”
He pointed toward the hallway entrance, “Why’d you leave your shoes and socks in the hall and empty your purse on the floor?”
Struggling to process Drew’s description of events, Mag wondered… why’d I leave my what in the where? Looking at the floor next to the bed, scattered clothes lay inside out… I don’t remember doing that. Glancing toward the apartment entrance, items strewn across the hardwood floor. Her makeup kit. Car keys. A tube of hand lotion and sunglasses… why is my purse dumped out? Recalling events from last night uncovered… blanks. She remembered catching an ODIS ride at the club and arriving at her building. But… what happened after that?
Seemingly, Pavlov’s instincts gave passage through the front entrance. Floating her upstairs by angel’s wings, through the apartment door. Laying her in bed on a cloud. But based on the morning aftermath… maybe things didn’t happen so smoothly?
Fearing she’d neglected to pay for her ride home she picked up her phone, noticing four messages from Drew last night. All of them asking, ‘Where are you?’ It was the first time she’d seen them.
Swiping past the texts, she verified her ODIS transaction… yes. I did pay!
A sharp pain prodded her thigh. Glancing down, a purple bruise shined on her leg. Feeling more discomfort, she trailed her fingers toward another bruise. Rear of the same leg… what are these from? Grazing fingers over both discolorations, words slid from her lips like slugs.
“I… I don’t remember walking in the apartment last night.”
Drew stood and walked toward the bathroom, “I wish I could say the same. I remember you waking me up. Bumping into furniture like a blind person.” He waved his arm across the floor, “Can you clean up your mess now?”
“Yeah. Gimme a minute.”
“You need to take Popper out too. I took care of him last night. And there are dishes in the kitchen waiting to be cleaned by you.”
“I just got up! Gimme a minute.”
Drew turned, facing her, “You’re the one who decided to stay out late last night, drinking. Not me! That’s why you don’t remember anything. God! Do you even know how dangerous that is!?”
“Fine! I’ll clean up. But I’m getting coffee first.”
SHE TEXTED MONICA AT 10 A.M. and verified time and location for their meet-up, then caught an ODIS to the ‘Java Juice café’ in Hayes Valley. Exiting her ride, sunlight rejuvenated Mag’s senses. Joggers and dog walkers traversed the sidewalk, enjoying the cloudless day. Approaching the café; groups of coffee connoisseurs occupied its interior, overflowing on all exterior tables. Everyone engaged in energetic conversation.
Upon entry Monica waved, coffee cup in hand as Mag approached the counter. She purchased a latte before sitting across from her co-worker and absorbed Monica’s appearance… she looks the same as any workday. Black leggings. Knee-high boots. Light sequin halter top beneath a mid-length brown leather jacket. Berating her own appearance, Mag chagrined since she grabbed random clothes from her closet floor. Praying they were clean. Beige yoga pants. White jog top. Gray fitted sport jacket. A black baseball cap topped her ensemble, muffling ragged hair. After exchanging pleasantries, they sat in silence, uncomfortably. Until Monica broke the ice,
“So? Did you have fun last night?”
“Yeah. I did. But my brain is slow this morning. I don’t normally stay out so late. Not anymore.”
“Me neither. But… you only live once, right? Yolo! We gotta do crazy stuff like that every once in a while. It’s the only thing keeping us from becoming our parents.”
Mag chuckled, “Yeah.”
Looking at her coffee cup, Monica cradled it between her hands. Finger tapping the rim. She stared into Mag’s eyes, “You know. What you were telling me last night? I completely understand.” Grabbing a wooden stirrer. She swirled it in her cup as Mag noticed her manicured nails. Painted snow white at the base. Blending gradually to ruby red tips. Monica’ gaze burned, “It’s hard to stay confident all the time and keep self-doubt from holding us back. I think it’s especially hard in corporate America. But it’s not impossible.” She sipped coffee, bracing the cup under her chin. Elbows, pivoted on the table, “Like at ADKAR? Everyone knows there aren’t many black folks working there. Right?”
Mag’s eyes darted away. Down to the right as Monica recognized her uneasiness, “Sorry. My intention isn’t to make you feel uncomfortable. And I’m not looking to debate the reasons why an uneven ratio exists. But for the sake of argument, I think we both can agree. It’s clearly the case. There’s only a handful of African Americans working at our company.”
Mag nodded, contemplating… maybe I’ve seen ten? Or eleven total, out of hundreds, or thousands of employees? Monica slowed her words, “With that understanding. I’ll use myself as an example. Okay?”
“I know some people at work think I’m pushy, arrogant, and loud. So they choose to stereotype me as an angry black woman.”
“I don’t think that.” The words flew from Mag’s lips instinctively. And she recanted them… I don’t think you’re an angry black woman. But you are pushy, arrogant, and loud.
Monica shook her head, “No. I didn’t say you. I said some people.” She leaned back, spreading her palms on the table, “I know what people think. And I don’t care. As women. It’s our responsibility to do two things. Number one, recognize what we want in life. Number two, take it. It’s not a black or white thing. But to achieve these goals, we’re often required to be pushy. Arrogant. And loud. We can’t be concerned with the labels people stick on us. Because… let’s be honest. People label assertive women. That’s what they do. And that’s their problem. Not ours. Truth is. If we’re afraid to do whatever it takes to get what we want? Someone else will do it for us. And they’ll step over us on the way.” She pointed at herself, “I’ve seen it happen.” Extending her hand to Mag, “You’ve seen it too.”
EIGHT WEEKS AGO. IN A MEETING AT ADKAR. Monica presented a new method for communicating inter-departmental monthly status reports. A process she’d refined for three weeks. After her presentation, the team engaged in questions and answers when Rebecca recognized a flaw in Monica’s process. Pinpointing a more efficient method to share metrics with the Filipino division. Something Monica overlooked. The group discussed Rebecca’s observation and agreed. Her revision added value to the process. However, seemingly threatened. Monica smooth talked the situation to her advantage.
Crucifying Rebecca’s proposed change. Introducing multiple what-if scenarios. Each having little relevance to the issue at hand.
Afterward, she re-cycled Rebecca’s improvement, taking creative ownership in the process. Demonstrating the same detriment she just described to Mag.
Monica stepped over Rebecca to get what she wanted.
Mag speculated… yeah, I’ve seen someone do it. I’ve seen you do it. But now wasn’t the appropriate time for honesty. She nodded as Monica placed her cup on the table, stirring its contents. “That’s what I was talking about last night. I don’t like regretting things I could have done better. As women. We have to encourage positive interactions around us and take advantage of them to get what we want.” Mag sighed, “How do you do that?”
“You mean, how do I encourage interactions?”
“Yes.” Monica leaned back. Eyes glancing up in thought, she placed her elbows on the table and leaning forward. Resting one hand on top of the other, inches from her chin, “Have you ever heard of a company called Excitement Incorporated?”
Thousands of corporations existed in the Bay Area. Hundreds opened and closed each year and Mag wondered… what does some random company have to do with anything?
“No. I haven’t.”
“I’m not sure how long they’ve been around. But, they provide a service designed mainly for women. Their service helps ladies…” She paused, and her head and eyes glanced down to the right. “What’s the best way to say it?” Looking at Mag, her eyes brightened as if the perfect description came to mind, “Basically, they help women keep their edge.”
Mag’s expression puzzled, “Huh?”
“How bout this… Have you ever gone out someplace? Like maybe the grocery store, or to get gas? And had some random, good looking guy engage you in conversation?” Mag pondered… why is this important?
“Maybe you’re in the grocery store and some guy asks if you’ve ever tried the organic kale? Or you’re at the gas station and some guy asks your opinion about the car you’re driving? Then he talks to you and the conversation is exciting?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“Do you remember the last time it happened to you?”
“The last time some random guy approached me at the supermarket or gas station?”
“Not just one of those places. It could happen anywhere. Maybe, while you’re walking your dog. Or riding the shuttle.”
“I don’t know.”
“I need you to try and remember. Take your time.”
Mag’s eyes shifted down in thought… no one randomly approaches me.
Then she remembered…
A few weeks ago, walking home from the shuttle. An Asian-American guy she’d never met approached her from behind. Seemingly out of breath, he tapped her shoulder, panting. Having run across the street after witnessing Mag’s aura, his inner voice summoned him to throw caution to the wind and greet her.
She wasn’t interested in anything more than conversation with the guy, but the interaction made her feel desired, especially. For the remainder of the day, floating in flattery… it was a nice feeling. Monica monitored her, allowing time to recall, “Do you remember a specific moment?”
“You don’t have to give me details. But after the interaction, how did you feel?” Blushing. Mag’s eyes widened, shifting side-to-side. “I felt pretty good, I…”
“That feeling!” Monica snatched the emotion from Mag’s consciousness and her finger trapped it against the tabletop, “The feeling you remember right now?” She waved her hand over it, “That’s precisely what Excitement Incorporated does.” Sitting silently, Mag perplexed, “How can a corporation make me feel flattered?”
“They’re a service provider.” Monica leaned forward, entering personal space. “Listen to me carefully because I’ll f’n murder you if you tell anyone this. But I use them.”
Leaning back, Mag re-established her comfort zone. “How?”
“I describe the engagements I wanna have. Then they follow my instructions by arranging interactions based on my specifications.”
“So… They’re like a dating service?”
“No. Absolutely not. They’re an interaction service. They set up impromptu interactions based on my requirements.” Pressing her finger on the tabletop, she spoke slowly, “Same as the interaction you just recalled. Some good looking guy approaches me and sparks conversation. If I don’t feel like chatting with him, I can brush him off. But since the interactions are something I want, I usually engage. Then afterward, I leave feeling good about myself. It’s the same emotion you remembered having a minute ago. I know, it sounds weird and it’s hard to explain. But believe me, it works.
They leaned back and sipped coffee in silence as Mag pieced Monica’s explanation together. Determining, heads-or-tails… it makes sense. But I’d never do it.
“I don’t work for them,” Monica spoke calmly. “I don’t get a discount or anything if you decide to use their service. But based on what you told me last night. They might have something you wanna check out. Worst case scenario, you visit them and lose thirty minutes of your time, right?”
“I guess so.”
From her bag, she retrieved a business card, “Here. This is the representative I spoke with. She’s really nice. Not pushy or anything.”
Mag accepted it without reading it, then stuffed it into her bag. Minutes later, she arranged an ODIS ride home and hopped inside. Reaching into her bag, she retrieved the card and its plum colored face displayed the company name centered in bold white print… “EXCITEMENT.” The lower right displayed contact information for a Senior Engagement Consultant, Summer Lindquist. To the left, the company’s address… 275 Market Street, San Francisco CA.
Flipping it over, she saw…