Friday, May 21, 2010

Alpha Dogs and Pomeranians

There was a heavy male scent in the air that was making the hackles on the back of Rex's neck stand up.  It was redolent of sweat, aggression and a touch of desperation, testosterone and the faint metallic whiff of dogs pissing on fire hydrants, delineating territory, territory that wasn't theirs to mark.

The bitches in the vicinity were feigning interest in grooming, licking their paws, preening, sniffing each others ears and making soft snuffling noises to each other.  They knew better than to get involved, the risk of getting nipped in the process, maybe losing a piece of their ear, and for what?  To best some dog whose entire feeling of self-worth was based upon the outcome of a brief skirmish with a bunch of other dogs: loud barking, staring each other down, ritualistic humping.  The girls were above all that, wisely, although it might mean they were staring up at an invisible career ceiling.

Rex felt a growl coming up in the back of his throat.  He wasn't looking at the vain, hyperactive Schnauzer who was aggravating him, but he was monitoring him closely -- he bore watching, unpredictable little shit that he was.  Rex felt the nearly uncontrollable need to walk up behind him, lift his leg and wet him down -- but there was a bit too much of that going on in this boardroom filled with representatives from client and agency offices around the world.

Rex and his client sat silently, both leaning back, waiting.  Waiting for the opportunity that they'd make happen.  The unspoken agreement between them was that this was Rex's turf and his meeting.  The Schnauzer, mistakenly, thought it was his -- after all, he'd called the meeting.  He'd learn.  He was younger and, in experience terms (where you live and learn or you don't live long), had half of Rex's years fighting in the pit.  The Schnauzer's ego, however, filled the room.

Rex stretched out in his chair, fingers linked above and behind his head, his feet extended out under the table in front of him into the circle of tables, examining the ceiling tiles.  A couple of women from the Durban office were watching him, smiling and tittering to each other.  He didn't notice.  His colleague from the media department did and she fixed them with a stare that cut off their staring and tittering.  Territory was being marked out among the bitches in the room as well, it turned out.

The Schnauzer stood and cleared his throat.  The chatter died out.

What had transpired was that the Schnauzer and his client, a sullen looking, shaggy German Shepherd who contributed little vocally outside of whispered commiserations with the Schnauzer, had bungled a commercial shoot that was being paid for out of an international financial pool and were now trying to justify getting everyone in the room to pony-up to pay for their mistake.  They hadn't accepted blame, however, it was being positioned as an "add-on," a second shoot to improve upon the first, to contribute additional material to the "film clip library."  No one was buying it (well, Rex wasn't sure about the South African girls...).

"So, we revisited the numbers, talked to the production company and there's really nothing we can do to lower the cost of the second shoot, everyone is going to have to contribute their 'fair share'."

Unwittingly the Schnauzer had just sealed his fate.  He'd used the trigger word: "fair".  If there was anything that pushed Rex's buttons, it was aggressive people who ran roughshod over other's needs, feelings, or toes.  "Un-fairness" made Rex see red.  His head cocked and dipped slightly.

A series of grunts of derision, barks of protest and howls of disbelief went round the circle of tables like a wave in a football stadium....until it reached Rex.  There was a moment of quiet as he leaned well forward across the table on his elbows, his hands clasped in front of him, his cheek resting on them as he stared at the Schnauzer who was standing, fingertips on the table, a smug look of determination on his face as he looked back and forth at the assembled crowd, fancying himself quite the Ring Master.

All eyes went to Rex.  He continued to stare at the Schnauzer, his jaw set.  Then, "So what you're telling us is that we bought a Volkswagon, but now that we're taking delivery, you're telling us we have to pay for a Mercedes to get the Volkswagon?"

"Spare me your analogies" barked the Schnauzer.

Rex rose to his feet, his chair scraping back.  The room went deathly quiet and his client's knee shifted under the table to press against Rex's leg.  Rex met his eye.  Like two pack members circling a deer they had cut from the herd there was an instant of silent understanding and decision-taking.  The client's non-committal stare, and his knee, went back to where they'd been.

"Spare all of us your bile-inducing, bald-faced bullshit, Mr. Regional Co-Ordinator," (the way he spat out the title made it sound like a role one level below Walmart greeter), "You'll get your re-shoot money to fix this unmitigated fuck-up, but every mistake comes at a price.  Honest admissions of guilt can cut that price... Come on, Pawel," he said to his client and the two of them strode out of the room, meeting a few approving looks from colleagues while many attendees looked confused, unsure whether the meeting had come to a conclusion or not.


Rex and his client were sitting on a nearby patio, a local watering hole, safe in the knowledge that the Schnauzer/Shepherd team would be sufficiently chastized to not show up.  The international group started drifting in, greetings exchanged, a few of the males sharing a silent high-five with Rex and his client, alpha dogs celebrating the successful clarification of the professional hierarchy in their extended pack.

The South African women burst onto the scene, the prettier one managed to have miraculously changed out of her business suit and into a flimsy, low-cut summer dress between the office and bar.  They scampered over to Rex like little Pomeranians zeroing in on a bag of doggie treats, yapping, darting in and out round him as they tried to work out if they should evidence outright interest, or feign coyness, their own obviousness oblivious to them.

Rex looked vaguely amused and annoyed, sweeping one hand into the air and waving it behind his head as though to keep a couple of flying gnats at bay.  He was trying to converse with one of the European reps, missing several words in the rising cacophony as the group grew.  His media colleague swept in and ran interference, engaging the other two women with a polite question about whether they liked their hotel rooms, and what their husbands back home were doing in their absence.

One thing was certain, Rex was a lone wolf who wasn’t about to be lonely...

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