Monday, May 30, 2016

Simon Woodford: The Conference Day Three, The Curse, and Abe

Yesterday was an incredibly busy day where I discovered the Inn's "curse," namely that it transforms people who stay there into the appearance of the person who had visited before. If I weren't living proof, I would never believe it, but I guess looking at this blog I've got years and years of people backing me up. Frickin' crazy. And fantastic, like I didn't have enough to worry about this weekend???

My plan for the day was to track down Abe Fowler at the last day of the conference and take another swing at getting his business. It was all I could think of overnight until I woke up and noticed... something's different. Namely, my 6'1 male frame has shrunk down into a 5'7 female one. A skinny chick with shoulder-length blonde hair and a pretty face. Really pretty - bright blue eyes, cute little button nose and full pouty lips... she looks like a little bunny rabbit, seriously. Except the problem is she's me. I'm her. Whatever. I'm in this body and I don't like it, but right then I just couldn't care.

Because of my little interaction the day before, I figured I had to at least check on Headscarf Girl next door, because she might know something about it. Not that I thought she was responsible or anything, but I'm feeling pretty aggro and I decided I'd go take it out on her if possible, or at least see if she's in the same boat. So I throw on my swim trunks - they feel like they belong to a basketball player compared to this body but it's the only thing I can tighten enough to fit over my slim little hips - and wrap my upper body in a towel, and knock insistently on her door. And the person who answers is... not who I was expecting.

It's another girl. A little shorter than me and a little curvier (in all the right places, I notice) with one of those cool-girl trendy sideswipe undercut hairdos with a pink (well, fuchsia I later learned) slice of hair brushed over the side of her face. And she gives me this look like she recognizes me, and maybe she's been expecting me but is also surprised to see me?

That stops me a moment but I go on. "Hi... My name's Simon Woodford, I've been staying in the room next door... Do you have any idea... what's going on?"

She sighed. "Yes... come in." I asked if she was the girl with the headscarf, and she said yes... her real name is Treena Savoy, not Nazim Khan, but she had to spend 9 months as an Arab girl after staying here last year. This weekend she had returned because her body was "in limbo" all winter while the Inn was closed.

And me? I now appeared to be her roommate, Joy Kershaw. She huffed about the fact that Joy hadn't made it back from her time as "Brian," as they had lost touch over the course of the year. That explained the side-eye I got when I arrived.

Soon we were joined by another young woman, a black girl. This was Cerise, who had been the "cougar" I described earlier, and was the only other "returning" visitor from last September (so I was right about them being vacation friends...) They start talking about what they're going to tell the poor folks who have also been transformed, and I'm politely following along, taking it all in and squirming in my seat (because I can feel my new, um, gear under me...) when my brain decides it's had enough and that I've got more important things to do. Curse be damned, I have my conference.

I know, that seems totally irrelevant at this point, but I figure there will be time to sort out all this transformation mumbo jumbo later, but if I don't produce some results for Aldine, it's my ass - or I guess whoever winds up with my ass. So forgetting what I look like, all my brain can think of is, "How do I land that Texas account??" I mean, why not? If anything, this is a blessing in disguise. Abe has already seen Simon and dismissed him. Maybe Joy would have better luck.

Of course, they look at me like I've just grown a second head (or, y'know, tits,) but they're willing to help. I don't have shit to wear since Joy was going to return and bring her own clothes, but I'm kind of close in size to Cerise's cougar body, so they hook me up. They go through her clothes for ages, thinking "What about this, does this go with that?" And I'm just thinking, "Give me something that fits and let's go!" How hard can it be??

Is it weird walking around in some strange woman's clothes? You bet your ass. Not to mention I looked all frumpy and middle-aged. Anyone looking at me would be able to tell Joy did not look like she was wearing her own clothes at all, in clunky ill-fitting shoes, beige slacks, a floral top and a blue blazer with shoulderpads... the handful of women I had seen at the conference were all dressed to impress. I was dressed like I was dropping the kids off at Sunday School. But it would have to do. I was going to run right out with my hair all messy, but Cerise stopped me and said that if I was going to do this, I would have to do it right, so she did a quick bun which... the oddness of having your hair pulled back behind your head aside (and long enough to do so) helped give me one less thing to worry about. (I asked, why not a ponytail, and she said those were for laundry day and the gym. Ok...) I grabbed my shoulderbag, which later caused me all sorts of neck pain, and ran to my car. Ugh. Having to adjust the seat and the mirrors was just another reminder that I was now small and dainty...

One thing I did not wear was a bra. They could not supply one small enough to fit over Joy's modest bust, so I went without. The last thing I needed was some tight straightjacket thing irritating me sensitive new skin, and besides, feeling them bounce around under there - ever so slightly - wasn't too bad.

After successfully negotiating my way in to the conference without photo ID, I searched the floor for Abe (not too many people are looking to crash trade shows.) Obviously he wouldn't recognize me, but that was hopefully to my advantage. Any intimidation factor I felt while walking the floor as this petite female disappeared once I started mentally preparing m pitch, which I was sure this time I could nail. Abe was hard to miss - at 6'5 he had already towered over me in my natural look. I shadowed him a while, losing myself in the crowd, really noticing how small I had become. I felt like I was disappearing, but I knew I didn't have the luxury of giving in. I was about to make my big move when... woosh. Some jerk spilled his coffee on my top.

I screeched at him, "Watch it asshole!" - Usually I'm more tactful than that but today I just wasn't up to it - And he responded, "You watch it, crazy bitch!" That made me hot under the collar.

I went to the restroom to settle down. That was my next strange feeling... crossing the threshold to the Ladies' and nobody batting an eye. If I can be honest, it was surreal... public restroom, no urinals, extra stalls... a little shelf for purses and whatnot. A lot of my experience that day was defined by "Close but not quite what I'm used to." I took the opportunity to sit on the toilet seat lid, catch my breath, and count to ten before splashing some water on my face in the sink.

I was a mess. My face was puffy, I had noticeable blemishes that make-up probably would have hidden. The top was not salvageable, so I made a command decision just to chuck it in my bag and button my blazer all the way up. Now I was basically topless. If the button on that jacket failed, it was hello world.

The other women passed me by and I could hear them audibly scoffing at the hot mess staring at herself in the mirror, and tried to ignore their opinions. But they had a point. I didn't look like, or feel like, I belonged. But Simon Woodford isn't a quitter, and I wasn't gonna skulk away in defeat. This was still manageable.

I saw a woman at the next mirror over applying some lipstick. I took a chance and asked if I could borrow some, and she said sure. Then she took a look at me and asked if there was anything else I needed. I gave a smile, "Whatever you've got... a new wardrobe if possible, my... um, bags got lost and these are loaners. And now my top is soaked in coffee"

"Yeah honey, I can tell," she smirked back. "But I think you can work it. Here." She dug some stuff out of her purse... lipstick, foundation, mascara, and eyebrow pencil. I asked if she minded lending a hand, since I "don't normally" wear makeup. She was happy to oblige and I was honestly a little touched.

We chatted a bit, and she asked a few questions about myself... I gave short, mostly truthful answers and turned them around on her in case we had a chance to network. It was the first time I had said my new name out loud, which came out in a weird stammer, like I was guessing: "S'J...oy. Kershaw? Aldine Solutions." Her name was Mary, and she was selling office supplies... nothing much I could do with that but you never know. It was a friendly conversation while I was receiving this 5-minute makeover. I definitely never expected myself to be the recipient of the beauty treatment, but the whole time I'm thinking Eyes on the prize, worry about freaking out later.

Once that was settled I felt like a new man... woman... person. I strode out onto the conference floor with a bit of confidence and found Abe in a circle of men all laughing it up. I was about to barge right in, but I felt like I'd be overpowered. Better to wait for a moment, and finally like 20 minutes later I had my opening when Abe broke off to hit the Men's room.

I met him on the way out. "Abe Fowler right? TexWest Energy?"

He peered down me and furrowed his brow, like he couldn't quite decide what I was supposed to be. I guess I couldn't either, but at least he seemed intrigued enough by how much skin I was showing. His eyes seemed to land on the area just above my chest.

"That's right," he said in his southern drawl, "And who might you be?" The way he said it had this biting sense of condescension that prickled the back of my neck but I fought through it.

I said my new name with more confidence than when I had met Mary. "Joy... Kershaw, Aldis Solutions. I believe one of my colleagues spoke to you yesterday about your supply needs."

"I seem to recall a reedy feller who thought he was real slick."

Again I secretly bristled, but I had to free myself of my ego. "Yeah," I said self-deprecatingly, "He can be a real cocky son of a gun," I said with a smirk, trying to imitate his speech patterns to butter him up.

"Son of a bitch is more like it," he guffawed, "I checked around and the prices he offered were way above what some of the local vendors can promise."

He was bluffing. I'd researched the local vendors. I knew their rates. Lower, but not much lower than ours.

I had to think quick, but luckily my mouth seems to know better than my brain sometimes, because it had a plan, "What if I told you I could waive some service charges for you for your first year, and offer a bulk order discount of 25%, way lower than our usual rate?"

He smiled, "Now why didn't your friend say as much?" Because he hadn't thought of it, and wasn't sure he was able to pull it off. "I'm still a trifle nervous about getting into bed with you folks..." he said, looking me up and down, "But if you're on the up and up I could see us forming a relationship."

The way he looked at me made me feel like a meal on a plate to him. But the sale was everything: "We would love that," I said, only afterward realizing that that wording probably implied more than I meant.

"I'm not signing anything just yet," he said, "And it's real crowded in here. What do you say you and me meet up for dinner tonight at 8?"

For a second I was silent, my breath caught in my throat. I'd had dinner with clients and potential clients hundreds of times, but I knew the guy meant something... else. It had totally escaped my imagination that if I left the Inn that morning I might be propositioned, even though I know women in this line often get that treatment. And I had no idea how they deal with it.

"Thaaaat... would be nice..." I said, my reluctance clearly audible in my voice, "But I'm afraid I've got an early flight back to Cleveland right after we wrap up here." To salvage it, I blamed outside forces, "The stupid airline lost my luggage and I really can't stay any longer. I hope you understand?"

"Uh huh," he said, losing interest. I handed him our information packet and a contract to bring back to his people in Texas. He left me with a really vague "We'll see." He asked for a card and I said I didn't have one - again my "bags" were lost - but Simon did, and "he" could put Abe right in touch with me.

And then what? I guess we'll see.

I slunk out early, my only reason for leaving the Inn having been completed... successfully or not.

It was chaos there as everyone had awoke to find their changes. I'm sure some people got it worse than I did, I even spotted a few old-looking folks, so it sucks to be them I guess.

I just went right to my room, kicked off Cerise's cougar shoes - which had left my tender feet blistered and sore, for all my troubles - slipped off my jacket and laid face down on my bed to rest. I castigated myself for not trying harder - finding some way to convince myself to go to dinner with Abe and worrying about the repercussions of that later. But I was seriously pushing my comfort zone there and I frankly just wanted to be done for the day, as the reality of my situation set in.

I made a few good business contacts on the first few days, with some loose agreements for new business so overall I would say it was still a productive weekend. But landing TexWest would have pretty much ensured the success of Aldine on the East Coast, and I would be the responsible one. Okay, some other bozo is going to get my body and he'd get the credit and probably a promotion, but if he can keep things steady for me when I can get my body back (as Treena and Cerise assure me I can, only next fall...) I'd be set with that company for life, or at least have a nice little plus for me resume. I would hate to think I wasted that chance just because I couldn't play nice with Abe.

I mean, as Simon I've made deals like that hundreds of times and I never had to have them slobber over me at dinner. Why should Joy's life be so much harder?

The rest of the weekend was a blur. I caught up on sleep an soothed my aching feet, head, neck and back. Treena provided me some more info, which I'll share later. Right now I've got to plot my next move.

Simon... aka "Joy" for now

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