Getting ahead in business, Jayson had been told many times, meant thinking fast and seizing opportunities. So when he, a lowly IT support techie, spied the Company’s President stepping into an elevator that had just swished open on the lobby level, he started to run. He slid his right hand between the fast-closing doors, waking the red eye of the sensor and impelling the doors to reopen, despite the obvious disapproval written on the round face of the Company President.
Elevators were the great equalizers in the business world. These metal boxes riding the spine of skyscrapers were the only common space that everyone in the corporation shared. The muckety mucks in their fancy suits and ties may have their own executive bathrooms and separate spaces to eat their lunch, but when it came to the elevator ride to their fancy offices, they rode second-class along with the assistant accountants and junior recruiters.
Because elevators were common ground, most everyone with any ambition at all–and Jayson had plenty–had an Elevator Speech, which is a one-minute pitch on how he or she would improve the company. Some people memorized them, others wrote them on index cards and slip them in their jacket pockets each day for just such an opportunity as Jayson had now. His Elevator Speech was committed to memory, of course. Jayson had heard that careers were made or broken on the success of just one Elevator Speech.
The Company President, in his worsted wool suit and Italian leather shoes, had a round face that was slowly becoming more pinched as the smell of Jayson’s free-range chicken burrito filled the closed space. He felt slightly nauseous and wanted nothing more than to be in his private bathroom on the executive floor.
Jayson cleared his throat. “I’m Jayson Price,” he started out confidently. “I work in the IT support department.”
The Company President turned and unhooded his flinty grey eyes at Jayson. “Excuse me,” he said, his eyes trained on the digital read-out of the floors. He pressed his lips together in a straight, bloodless line. He wondered for the thousandth time if it was Satan himself who invented this silly Elevator Speech idea. Why can I not simply ride an elevator in peace? Why can’t someone ever just talk to me about the weather?
Jayson clicked his jaw open to start his spiel on building an online knowledge database when he heard a high-pitched squeal, something like a cat trying to free its paw might make. But there were no cats in this metal and glass cage they were riding in. When after a few uncomfortable seconds, the squeal morphed into a hoot, Jayson determined the sound was almost certainly coming from the Company President’s nether regions. In fact, he could see the back flap of his fine wool sport coat actually billowing out like a flag at half mast.
The Company President ignored Jayson and the sound with a focus that rivaled that of a surgeon or champion chess player. He continued to gaze at the ever-rising numbers on the display as though they were stock prices ticking upward. The squeal-hoot gave way to a series of puff-puff-puffs, and with that came the thick smell of sulfide and rotting vegetables.
Jayson blinked and tried to breathe through his mouth. The elevator stopped a few floors short of the penthouse, and two Vice Presidents in suits just like the Company President’s strode on with big smiles and loud voices talking about important deals.
The doors shut and both Vice Presidents became viscerally aware of the Smell. They exchanged looks of embarrassment mixed with humor. One ducked his head down pretending to look at his phone and the other made like he was scratching his nose when he was really covering it with his hand.
Seize the opportunity, Jayson thought. He was ready, not with his Elevator Speech, but with something better. Much better. He would do the Company President a favor he would remember.
“Sorry about the smell,” Jayson said. “Answering the call of the wild burrito.” He held up the lunch container as evidence.
The Vice Presidents snickered. “Dude, you got to get that under control,” one said. “It’s poison.”
The elevator reached the penthouse and the Vice Presidents stood like twin pillars on either side of the door waiting for the Company President to exit.
“Welcome to fresh air,” one said. The Company President nodded gravely and strode past them on the plush carpet that was just one of the ways the penthouse floor was different from where worker bees like Jayson resided.
A few hours later, the Company President’s manicured blond assistant ventured into the tech support bull pen and clip-clopped to his desk on black stilettos. She dropped an envelope on his desk and with the faintest of smiles turned and left.
The thick creamy paper felt like wealth and success and power. Jayson used scissors to open the envelope so as not to destroy the embossing on the back of the flap that spelled out the Company President’s name in a Gothic font. Inside, he found a plastic gift card for the Mexican fast food chain where he’d picked up his lunch today, along with a note.
“Best elevator speech ever,” was all it said.
more by LYNN LIPINSKI
photograph by Peshkova