Throughout any professional life, there will always be the wrong thing said, the unchecked fly and other awkward incidents in the workplace. While most of these moments will be laughed off, others will require a scrub brush and a gallon of bathroom disinfectant to remove the memory from our brains. And still, they’ll be laughed off. Confused? Read on…
More than a decade ago, I received a call from a big downtown company. Big with a capital B, in 96-point boldface, offering the opportunity to submit a proposal for one of their coveted projects. Was I interested in being among the select few to present? Duh!
My proposal and presentation were ready to go Monday afternoon and on Tuesday, I donned the outfit – the one in my closet that’s saved for those important presentations… the one I know makes me look confident and significant. Both the weather and my hair cooperated, traffic was minimal, and I found a kick-ass parking spot five blocks from my destination. It felt serendipitous: I was marinating in these wondrous omens!
Arriving right on time, I was escorted to the walnut-paneled, twenty-first-floor conference room and greeted by the three engineering managers who would select the lucky winner of this work, not to mention the healthy purse being awarded for it. With only 20 minutes’ time, I jumped straight in.
It was one of those magical days, so few of which occur, when everything just clicked and the stars aligned for me. I was moving along at a good pace, they were asking questions, two were taking notes and everyone was making good eye contact. Heck, one of them was actually smiling… this was pure syzygy! And somewhere between slides 9 and 11, the receptionist stepped in to announce that the final candidate would not be keeping his appointment right after me. So given the extra twenty minutes, those nerdy little engineers asked if I’d stay to coffee and cover more details. My confidence quickly morphed into giddiness: this project was MINE, I could taste it! The coffee was being poured and – because the pace had relaxed a bit – one of those managers started telling a joke…
It’s at this point in my story I typically pause and explain that I am a whore with my laughter. I give it away too easily. I am often the only one laughing in a crowd of people gazing back at me with those what-the-hell-is-she-laughing-at-because-it-really-wasn’t-that-damned-funny expressions. It comes easily to me, this laughing thing. This is hardly a fault… but it can lead to some embarrassing moments. So…
The joke this manager told in that walnut-paneled, twenty-first-floor conference room was very funny – at least to me. While everyone else merely chuckled out of courtesy, my easy laughter combined with my giddiness and things got out of hand. Before you knew it, I was really laughing. Loud laughing. Belly laughing. Laughing so hard that I actually farted. Did you get that? I FARTED. Loudly.
All heads turned to me, amazed. I turned to stone.
Within a microsecond, I explored a short list of options. I couldn’t blame the chair, since it wasn’t leather. I couldn’t pass the blame, since no one was close enough to make this a possibility. It was unmistakably a fart, that had unmistakably emanated from me. So with no other choice remaining, I did what any confident, significant, professional woman would do in that situation: I laughed even harder. And louder. Tears in my eyes laughing. Doubled over, my tummy hurts laughing. Making snorting sounds laughing. All while those nerdy little engineering managers stared back at me, clearly (and understandably) affronted.
Finally, I heard a voice of reason somewhere in the back of my brain shout SNAP OUT OF IT! In an instant I sobered up, stopped laughing, sat up and wiped the flood of tears from my eyes. About to offer an apology, one of those managers cut me off with a proposal-related question. Okay, I thought… if you’re going to ignore that I just made an ass of myself then, by golly, so will I! We continued along in denial, discussing my presentation for another ten minutes until my time was up and I was escorted down to the lobby.
En route back to my kick-ass parking spot, I meandered through several shops to soothe my mortified ego. Not that it helped much: while adjusting the rear-view mirror to back out of the lot 50 minutes later, I discovered that I’d smeared midnight-black mascara all over myself while wiping my laughter-tear-stained face. And then walked five blocks. Visiting every store along the whole, damned way.
My perfect day, my magical presentation, my long-awaited, much-needed, imaginary tropical vacation… gone. Savagely wrenched from me by a joke. Okay, a fart and tiger stripes. And while only three people knew of the fart, half of Boston had seen my stripes. I drove home and spent the next several hours blotting out the memory of my day via margaritas. The next day, I went back to work and slowly started to forget. After a few days, everything seemed fine again.
Until four weeks later, when I got a call from one of those nerdy engineering managers, to announce that I’d been awarded the contract. Are you freaking kidding me??!
Although initially stunned, I quickly put the fart behind me (pardon the pun) and moved forward with the project. For six weeks, I worked with their team to complete the work and sincerely enjoyed myself in the process. On the seventh week, I returned to the walnut-paneled, twenty-first-floor conference room, the scene of my crime, for a closing meeting. When it broke up, I was escorted to the lobby by David, the least nerdy of the three managers.
“You know,” I informed him during the elevator ride down, “I was really amazed that I received this contract.”
David never minced words. “Because of the fart?”
My mouth went dry. “YES,” was all I could muster.
“Well, then… would it surprise you to know that you got the contract because of the fart?”
I all but choked.
David explained. “After our meeting with you, we all took off for management meetings across the country. When we returned to the office a few weeks later, we needed to move quickly with a decision on this contract. But no one could really remember everyone who presented. Then Tom said, ‘what about that chick who farted?’ So we awarded you the contract.”
It’s since been twelve years. The embarrassment’s long gone; only the humor remains. These days, I’m often asked to tell what is now commonly referred to as Susie’s Fart Story. Where it was once a mortifying tale, it’s now fun to share as it nearly always provokes hearty laughter. Honestly, I still laugh at it myself.
Luckily, though, I don’t fart.