The Inaugural Ball – Part 1

During this past spring semester, I took a course on science fiction with Dr. John Lewis as part of my MLS studies at SMU. The majority of the course consisted of reading and taking part in critical discussion of several classic works of SF. However, we were also given the option to write story fragments as part of the course. Here is one of my first forays into the SF genre, as edited for my final project in the class.

I briskly walked down the hall as I was instructed by my supervisor. The buzz of the florescent lights rising and falling as I passed each cluster of them. I had only worked at Colgate-Palmolive for six months, and the CEO had for some reason wanted to summon me to his office at the top of 300 Park Avenue. I was curious as to why he would be interested in a mid-level marketing mule with four days left in his probationary period. I entered the elevator and turned to the ancient doorman in the corner. I asked to be sent to Mr. Powell’s office.

The doorman gingerly selected the top floor button with his gloved hand, looked up to me, and gave a toothy grin.

“Good news, I hope!” the old man said as he resumed his perch on his worn stool.

“I have no idea.” I replied, fidgeting with the cuffs of my shirt.

“I wouldn’t worry, mister. Mister Powell seldom calls people up there for the bad things. He comes down to you, for that. Nope, wouldn’t worry at all.”

Somehow my possibly centenarian friend’s advice didn’t make me feel any better as the elevator lifted us to the top. He gave me a nudge and a wink as I exited. As the doors rattled shut I turned to view the lobby of Mr. Powell’s office. The lobby was in an international style to mimic the Seagram building, with a tiny desk near the window where the receptionist sat and quickly typed on her computer. She looked up at me while still typing away.

“Good morning, Mr. Duncan.” She said as she saved her file and rose to greet me. She ended up being about a full foot taller than I with arresting green eyes and short-cropped dark hair. “I’m Lauren. Lauren Meuller. Chief Operating Officer.”

I felt like my hand was about to freeze within her grasp as we shook hands. She wasn’t a receptionist after all. I knew she had looked familiar. She was in my latest issue of Architectural Digest in front of her newest summer home in the Hamptons. They said that she also recently made several purchases of thoroughbred race horses so her friends could bet trifectas at Saratoga without having to bet on another owner’s horse.

“Nice to meet you.” Was all I could muster out. I could almost feel the sweat bubbling up through my forehead.

“I’m glad you could make it. Let’s head in to see Mr. Powell, shall we?” she said as she handed me a pleather portfolio with the Colgate-Palmoive logo embossed onto its cover. I considered opening it, but decided against it at the moment.

Lauren led me towards two enormous glass doors placed into the middle of an even more enormous glass wall. The glass was frosted with an eerie gray tint. It almost seemed to move. Lauren pressed a small button on one of the door’s bronze handles and the gray swirling tint disappeared, exposing the CEO’s lair.

It was just as sparsely furnished as the lobby, with only a basic, yet gargantuan desk with steel legs and a dark mahogany top. A small computer graced one corner of the desk, and the opposite corner had a box of Irish Spring soap on it. It was the box I had just designed. The Eames chair behind the desk slowly turned around to reveal Mr. Cromwell Powell, the CEO of Colgate-Palmolive. He was in his mid-fifites at the time, with just a hint of grey at his temples. His suit was perfectly tailored and he was fiddling with a Blackwing pencil in his hand.

“Darrin!” he exclaimed as he rose to shake my clammy hand. “It’s great to meet you. I’ve loved the work you’ve done so far.” He made a quick glance at the Irish Spring box.

“Why, thank you, sir. I’m glad you like it.” I was really worried now. There’s no possible way I was sent up to the CEO’s office to be complemented on my improvement of a damned soap box. He gestured his hand to another Eames chair which I sat in. Lauren sat in another chair to the side, near the computer. She adjusted the display and began typing.

“Yes, you’ve been quite impressive these past six months. I’ll be the first to say that there will be no hesitation is retaining you after your probationary period is up.” Powell said as he began to scribble on a Speed Stick branded notepad with his freshly sharpened Blackwing. “I’ve made it a point that you will now report to me. Directly.”

At that moment, it felt as if the Eames chair was swelling and swallowing me up.

“Yes, Darrin, you’re going to be the most important man on God’s green Earth.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Powell, but I’m not sure I understand.” I replied.

“I don’t expect you to, son. But we understand. We’ve got the ‘big datas’ all on you.” He said waving his hands in a way I took as a means to describe how he didn’t really understand the big datas he was talking about. “Yes, indeed. You’re low risk, look presentable, and the datas and such have you far up above the rest.”

This was when Lauren glanced away from the computer screen to me. She asked me to open the pleather portfolio. Within it was another, freshly sharpened, silver Blackwing pencil with the gold eraser holder. On the right side was a legal pad. On the left was a large bundle of papers held together by a binder clip. I unclipped the stack of papers and began to glance through them as Powell continued to ramble. It was everything. Facebook statuses, transcripts of job interviews at places I didn’t even remember, receipts for the last three cars I purchased and nearly everything else anyone could ever imagine knowing about me. I had a hard time placing my focus back on Powell without jumping out of the chair and wringing his neck.

“The people downstairs have plugged all that stuff into our mainframe or whatever they call it. It’s amazing the info you can grab with the new ‘puters these days. The numbers came out perfect.” Powell said loudly with a smile that appeared freshly whitened with the new Colgate Whitestripz.

“Sir, forgive me, but just what in the hell am I perfect for? I mean, I’ve been working on the rest of the Irish Spring line if you’d like me to show you the preliminary sketches.”

Powell burst into a hearty laugh. “No, son, go to the last page in that stack of yours.”

I flipped to the last page. It was typed on company letterhead complete with a watermark logo. It was a speech. I sped down to the bottom where it read:

It is my distinct pleasure and honor that I, Darrin Duncan, announce my candidacy for President of the United States!

“There’s a press corps down at the main entrance. You’ll be reading that in ten minutes. Don’t disappoint me, son. You’d hate to find out what happens. We’ll fill you in on the details here in a bit.”

I was then flanked by who men who appeared out of nowhere. Lauren nodded to them and they proceeded to escort me out of the office. I was all but pushed into the elevator. The old doorman wasn’t there. As the elevator doors began to slowly shut, I saw Powell sit back into his chair, kick his feet up on the desk, open the Irish Spring box, and sniffed the lime green bar of soap.

The elevator certainly seemed smaller now. Every thump of my heart seemed to make it smaller. I looked at the two men who had escorted me into this cable-propelled prison. Big, burly men with shoulders the size of the old Volkswagens you see on the History Channel. I had a feeling that their services did not come cheap, and that I’d probably be with them for the foreseeable future. They didn’t appear to want me to break the ice with any comment. I wasn’t inclined to do so.

My mind was in other places. My trembling hands worked their way through the pages and pages of my entire life until it reached the script they had handed to me. At the moment, it looked like gibberish on the page. I pulled the script out of the pleather portfolio and placed it in its front pocket so my nervous fingers could get to it easier when I would need it. Shit, why in the hell is this happening? Is it some kind of test? Does everyone at Colgate-Palmolive have to go through this? It’s a fucked-up system if it is. I rustled through my life history again as the elevator glacially crept down to the first floor. Powell said that I was clean. No problems of character or whatever. Well I sure as hell could have come up with a laundry list right there in front of him, had he given me the time.

If all this is for real, who would elect a divorced recovering addict as leader of the free world? The History of Me was in chronological order, so I flipped to where I would think those little tidbits would be located. Found the year. 2140. Fourteen years ago. I began to remember undergrad at UT Austin and the adventurous little coke habit I picked up. I went through the entire year. The following three years up until the intervention. None of it was there. Clean. Never happened. The divorce wasn’t there, either. Shit.

The elevator emitted a groan and a ding as it stopped on the lobby floor. I was lead out by my gargantuan entourage through the hallways of elevators I had walked down so many times these past six months, except for this time it was filled to the brim with people. People that looked as if they had just come in off the street. Plainclothes. T-shirts. Clapping, cheering, and staring at me with beaming smiles. A bespectacled little kid held a professionally printed sign with DUNCAN ’55 on it. There were more and more as I went down the narrow passageway cordoned off for my arrival.

If this was a test of my mettle for some kind of promotion, it better be a good one. I internally shook off my burning questions in my mind and began waving to the folks in the cavernous lobby. Shook hands even. Then we reached the podium. I looked up into what appeared to be a camera for every news outlet I could imagine. The eyes of the people; all reflecting my face back into mine. The bodyguard to my left leaned into my ear and whispered the first word I’d heard out of either one.

“When they light up, go.”

I made a gulp that I was sure everyone in the room could hear. I took a deep breath and placed my script on the podium on top of the portfolio that was covered in my hand sweat. The cameras hovered closer on their floating mounts with the operators adjusting to the instructions received over their headsets. Little bulbs atop them all lit up a brilliant red. For a brief moment I peered through them and saw the RadioShack across the street. A 95″ holodata screen – on sale for $299 – displayed my face on CNN. I looked at my script. The words somehow came together. I started talking as the crowd went silent.

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