Maurice and the Iron Matron
There is NO SEX in this story. If you were looking for sex, please don't vote on the lack of it.
This is my holiday story - more a holiday preparation story, really. It was written quickly. Mistakes in alphabet (you'll see when you read it) probably aren't mistakes, unless they are.
I don't hit you over the head with the humor. I left it fairly subtle, I want to tug a smile from your face while keeping you entertained.
I hope you enjoy. Merry Christmas (or time off from work, if that's more appropriate), and Happy New Year!
One time, back in 2003, I had to go to Poland for work. Don't get me wrong, I was excited as all hell, having never traveled internationally for work, and I was really, really looking forward to it.
I worked for a large communications-infrastructure vendor at the time, and I was going to oversee the first round of off-shoring. Yeah, it meant American jobs were going away, but the division I worked for was huge, overbloated, and a fair target for downsizing. I was young(er) and anxious to earn my spurs.
I had to go with Robert, a failed Project Manager type, who was cerebral to the extreme, but clueless as hell about personal interaction. Robert was a balding, 6-foot-three redhead, and he gave the impression he could bend spoons with his will alone — at thirty feet. Robert was something of a clothes-horse, liking expensive silk shirts and designer slacks, always with a stylish hat and jacket or overcoat. He figured he'd learn Polish quickly, since he knew Russian. Robert was destined to embarrass the hell out of me this trip, but hey ... he at least could be understood by the Polish. It was probably a shame that the Polish, only a decade free of Communism, hated the sound of Russian, a language that to them sounded like it was spoken by a backwards peasant.
With us also was Paul, a young — and I mean really young, like 24 years old — dude who had actually been there before, and had found a cab driver to keep. Paul was newly wed, and an upcoming young star in the test group for this division we were in. Paul was young, and of Turkish descent, living in Chicago all his life. He was physically small, but wiry-tough, and had visible scars from his street-youth upbringing.
And then, there was Maurice. Maurice had come to our company from the world's largest long-distance operator. When the Government broke them up he changed industries, only one step ahead of the axe-man when he jumped. Within our large company, his career had been one long ablation, a continuous shedding of responsibility, and not by his choice. At first, he'd been the test manager for a large test group in our Satellite Communications group, and to his surprise, had been universally hated. When most of us were moved to Terrestrial Communications, Maurice managed to keep control of a core of the younger engineers who hadn't had the savvy or the connections to get transferred away from his truly-awful management style. Each time the company reorganized after that had seen more of his headcount plead to anyone they could to get out of his group, and Maurice absolutely hated that this happened to him.
That his misfortune was his fault could never have occurred to him.
You see, Maurice was Lebanese, from Beirut, and back in the bad days of the Early Seventies, he'd had his ankle and knee damaged by a mortar shell — he was used to facing adversity. When it healed, his leg was more-or-less fused solid. Maurice was Catholic, and thus was driven from Beirut back in the day. Montreal was where the French-speaking Lebanese went, and Catholics were the majority. Years later, when he'd finally made it to Montreal, it'd been far too late to surgically repair his damaged leg.
Maurice was stubborn, though, and had left Montreal, had managed a gas station in Tennessee, of all places, for a while. I guess he perfected his management technique there. Anyway, he'd returned to marry an Arab princess in Montreal, and, Maurice could not allow himself to fail in her eyes.
The merest thought of being diminished in her eyes would have killed Maurice. She was his queen, his angel, his status symbol, and as long as he maintained her in an ever-increasing standard of living, his manhood was sacrosanct. Losing responsibility at every turn killed Maurice, and he depended on status — but telling his wife what was happening to his career could never be allowed — he would have stepped in front of a train, first.
Too bad he kept losing people from his team, though, huh? That was Maurice. I guess he saw this trip as expiation on two levels — a chance to get more resources that reported to him, and a chance to do some shopping, shopping for high-quality display goods that he could give his wife for Christmas.
Display goods? Yeah, things that showed Maurice's wealth, things his pretty wife could serve tea in, so that she never need know that he wasn't doing all that great in his career. The other wives would tell their husbands, and the husbands would gnash their teeth and bemoan the fact that Maurice was a better provider than they were.
Oh, hell, where was I? Yeah, it was a long flight. We got to O'Hare in Chicago, and it was dark, mid-December, and the snow was falling, lightly. LOT Polish airlines had had major weather in Warsaw that morning, and the flight from Warsawa was going to be late, we were told. About thirteen hours late.
Robert, the experienced and oh-so-superior world traveler, had us get in line with Air France, and, I will admit, mere hours later, we were in the Air France L'Affairs (Business) Lounge, drinking Fischer D'Alsace (decent ale) and eating hazelnuts, waiting for our Business Class 777 seats to take us to Paris Orly, where we'd hook back up with LOT Polish to take us to Krakow.
"God," I said, "it sucks that we don't have visas for the Czech Republic."
"Why," asked Robert, world traveler. "Czech beer?"
"Yeah," I said, distracted for a moment. Pilsner Urquell and Budvar were made in Czech, in Pilzn, and I'd loved to have gone. "But my Mother-in-Law likes that white pottery with the blue dots..."
"Really?" Maurice sat up, his hooked beak of a nose quivering, the planes of his Arabic face looking soulful, his dark eyes showing some animation.
"Yeah," I said, "I guess I'd like to get some Christmas ornaments. But it's too bad ... I think Bohemian crystal's probably a little out of reach for this trip."
Maurice didn't say anything, but his nose still twitched.
Robert dominated the conversation for a while, while we waited for Paul, and then the plane, trying to show his superior French skills off to me.
It was a long flight. Lots of wine, crackers, cheese, nuts, and pâté, I remember that much. Oh, and some Cognac, and ... yeah, it was Air France. Business Class. Nice.
I finally slept, I think I was too stuffed and inebriated to stay awake, and I woke up hot, out of sorts, and in Paris. We had to change terminals, for intra-Europe flights ... Those busses were loud, cold, and smelled of Diesel. I'll remember the Rasta dude fighting with the African Prince (Kenyan, I think), sparring verbally in English, the whole shuttle ride from one terminal to another. All I remember of Orly itself was how absolutely dirty the outside of the airport structures were — even if it were winter, it was dingy.
I wanted to sleep on the bus, but ... it wasn't happening.
A few hours later, having negotiated the vast expanse of the Connections D'Europe terminal (heckifiknow what it's really called, probably something glamorous, like "Terminal D"), we were sitting next to a ragtag collection of ... ragged people, a few business men, one or two high-society Parisiennes, and the honest working people of Europe. All ready to ... eventually ... fly to Krakow. All that was missing were suitcases held together with rope, and a little less high-quality makeup, and it could have been the airport in Scranton. Except, of course, for the Gendarmes with the Fabrique-Nationale 5.56mm Paratrooper II automatic weapons. You just don't see that in the US, or at least not outside of New York or Boston.
They just didn't seem like they wanted to talk shop, or discuss suppressing-fire techniques with me, you know?
Ah, that flight ended, too, and we were in Krakow, at the Robert Paul II airport. Let me tell you, the Polish Border Guard (or whatever the hell they're called) still had their Communist-era woolen uniforms (they were warm, I guess) and the hats with the red band ... and they spoke not at all when they took your passport, and swiped it through the barcode reader. I got one who looked up at me that first visit, and he smiled this chilling little smile, a compression of the lips, really, and I felt my answering smile waver a little. I got through without being handcuffed or worse.
Once through the swinging doors, I felt like I'd stepped into Eastern Europe — a riot of a crowd, in darkly-wrapped layers of clothing, greeted us, anxiously searching for their loved one to return. Old faces, male faces behind bushy moustaches and beards, women's faces craggy and aged from care, young and smooth faces, hopefully looking for their brother, or cousin, or whomever, a wall of people behind the double-stainless-steel-bar fence, all looking at me, wondering who the rich, sleek American was.
I found the cab driver easily enough, in the middle of the crowd, right in front of the swinging frosted-glass doors, that parted to reveal the crowd kept at bay five meters from the doors, that parted to reveal the cabbie — silvery grey hair, flattish on top, not too wide of shoulder, but well-fed. Sleek, like us.
.... There is more of this story ...