Life Above the Fifth Floor

A friend once asked, with tongue in cheek, if I had ever met a person who I thought was not a victim.  (I tend to think that people are more sinned-against than sinned.)  When asked, I thought immediately, “Yes.  They’re all above the fifth floor.”

Back in Chapter Two of my life, I was a corporate sales executive.  I called on many companies across the country, and one in particular sticks in my mind.  It was located in the downtown business district of Saint Louis, and had been a fixture in the business community for over 100 years.

I called upon them, made my case to middle management about the advantages of the computer products and services of my employer, and made the final cut in their bid process.  It was now time for me to make my case to senior management – the CIO, the COO, and their staff.

I entered their building, told the burly guard in the lobby that I had a 10:00 AM appointment with Mr. X, and the guard replied, “Oh, that’s floor six.  Please follow me, sir.”

He escorted me to the elevator hallway and stopped at an ancient elevator door of art deco brass in the back corner.  It had no up-down buttons on the wall panel, but rather a single keyhole.  The guard inserted a key, turned it, and the brass doors rumbled open.  It was a small elevator box with a green carpet.  He held the door as I stepped in, he pushed a button for me, and the doors rumbled closed.

The ride was short, and I noticed that there was only three buttons on the control panel, with the numbers 6, 7, and 8 on them.  No buttons 1 through 5, like the other elevators I had taken for weeks now.  The elevator hissed to a stop, the doors rumbled open, and I steeped into nothing that looked like a business lobby.

To my right was a well-appointed foyer with a counter that looked like the workstation of a concierge, not the desk of a receptionist.  The immaculate young woman behind it smiled brightly and asked, “Mr. McGrane?  Good morning!  Mr. X will be with you in a moment.  Can I get you some coffee?”

I sat in their waiting room, which looked more like a reading room at a gentleman’s club – paneled walls, Persian carpets on the floor, large burgundy armchairs, and coffee cup at my elbow.  A Wall Street sat neatly folded on the Queen Ann coffee table at my feet.  And it was as quiet as a reading room should be.

I knew just below me were five floors of noise, bustle, and tension as hundreds of people battled with competitors and sometimes each other to meet quotas, deadlines, and last minute demands.  The expectations from above were high in a company that had weathered 100 years of competition, and trying to maintain that growth in an economy that was failing was next to impossible.  I knew from my time spent on the five floors below that many people put in many hours to meet many growing demands from the sixth floor and above.  I could see it in the tension at the corners of their mouths and knotted across their brows.  I could hear it in their questions about my commercial package.  They hoped that my products and services could make their jobs just a bit more manageable, could make the pressure just a bit less crushing.

“Mr. McGrane?” the concierge said, “Mr. X and his associates can see you now.”

I came out of my reverie, picked up my valise, and walked down the hall to a corner conference room. It had a bank of windows to the left that looked down on the city like Olympus must look down on Greece.  The table was surrounded by older men in brilliant white dress shirts and colorful ties.  Their faces were round and baby soft, with no pinch of tension about their mouths and eyes. Their seats were upholstered. They brought nothing with them to the meeting, expecting to be served their data.  I thought, “Ah, life above the fifth floor.”

So, yes, I have met some people who were not victims.  You find them mostly above the fifth floor.

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