Breaking (Bread With) Amish

It starts on a Monday, and there is no mercy for six more days. Every year, at the end of January, comes the day when I pile into a van with a gaggle of my coworkers and head to the heart of the Ozarks for my company’s annual convention, armed with a week’s worth of underwear and muttering a fervent prayer for survival (and for a cooperative gastrointestinal system, because not only do corporate employees double up in hotel rooms, but our roommates are chosen FOR us—which means there’s always the possibility that I’ll get a roommate with whom the last thing I want to share is what my bowels are up to).

It’s a BIIIIIIIIIIIG production put on by a small staff (and a small production company), so it’s a 90-hour work week1 that runs from 8 am on Monday (when we hit the road to get there) thru about 2 pm on Sunday, which is when we arrive home, exhausted to the point of hallucination, collapse gratefully onto our partners and kids and dogs and sofas and piles of dirty Ozark-scented laundry, and try like hell to stop dreaming about people in bonnets.

Oh, didn’t I mention? The majority of our sales force consists of people of the Amish and Mennonite faiths. So the whole shindig is a sea of bonnets, suspenders, bowl cuts, and beards. Different communities, of course, so the attire varies—and there comes a point in the week when you’re starting to get so tired that you find yourself trying to decide which attire you’d rather wear. For example, I find myself partial to these bonnets:





. . . over these:





. . . and definitely over this look:






On the other hand, I have discovered that the latter headwear is often worn by women who have a little more latitude in their sartorial options; for example, this year, one such woman rocked a (long, loose-cut) green glitter dress, a cute cardigan, low heels, and light makeup to the big-deal formal banquet that wraps up the whole event. On the other hand, the women who get what in my opinion is the best headwear usually have the least-flattering dresses and shoes. So I wonder: can one mix and match? Because I would want to mix and match. Like maybe a long jean skirt (like some of the women wear) with a more “old school” bonnet . . .  SEE what I mean? You’re not careful, you can lose yourself in these kinds of thoughts.

And in the babies. Ohhhh, the babies with their little bonnets and rounded collars and little pink cheeks! So stinkin’ cute. But I digress.

Point is, it’s a long, hard, crazy week, and every year, there is (emphasis on the capital S) Something.

The first year I went, I grabbed an Amish man’s b’doobies2.

The second year I went, I captured a butt-load of conference attendee testimonials on video (a job I hated with the fire of a thousand fart-lighting Satans; contrary to what most people believe about me, I’m an introvert, dammit, and the worst thing you can do to someone like me (besides POOFing me into a set of conjoined octuplets) is force me to spend an entire week chasing down people who would rather eat glass than talk on camera (WHICH I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND) and trying to coax them into recording a video about why they love our company) . . .

. . . and over half of them wound up being unusable for one reason or another.

This year . . . nothing happened. Well, OK—that’s not to say that everything went perfectly; the first general session of the conference was a skin-of-our-teeth adventure in dancing disaster backstage3 (although nobody on the flip side of the stage seemed any the wiser), and the Friday night entertainment was a ventriloquist who apparently didn’t catch on to the caliber of his audience, and started telling some, er . . questionable jokes (meanwhile, there I was backstage, sitting right next to Howdy-Dirty’s wife, and hoping like hell that I had suddenly and miraculously developed a convincing poker face, or that she had suddenly and miraculously been stricken blind and deaf, because I’m pretty sure I gasped and clutched my pearls a couple of times).

And then there was the culminating event—a fancy-schmancy awards banquet that lasts four hours and parades more coin across the stage than Flava Flav rockin’ his priciest grill. Usually, corporate employees have a designated table at the event (some of us, anyway; others elect to ditch the hose and heels in favor of jeans and sweats and spend the evening packing everything up for the move back home); this year, however, because of a dramatic increase in conference attendance, the employee table was forfeited at the last minute, and we were told we’d have to just mingle amongst the conference guests and find seats where we could.

What resulted from this occurrence will forever go down in my personal history as One of Those Moments When Dammit, I Should Have Followed My Instincts. Oh, it won’t be alone in that particular kitty, that moment. Pretty much every damn day I have such a moment. But the moment that I (after learning that employees would have to share tables with conference guests) eschewed my original plan to just eat my dinner backstage with the production guys in favor of banding together with a handful of my coworkers and trying to find seats together amongst the conference attendees is not one I’m likely to forget, because Y’ALL. We wound up at a table with a man who had such shocking body odor it was damn near visible. As we all sat there blinking in the funk fog and trying to make polite conversation with our table mates for the evening (without opening our mouths too wide for fear we’d get a taste of that business), the coworker next to me fought valiantly to hold down her lunch. Eventually, I found saving grace in the fact that I was due backstage just as dessert was being served—I grabbed my plate of exotic chocolate debauchery and hightailed it away from the Stanky Stud as fast as my four-inch heels could carry me.

And, finally, there was my roommate, who spent the week slowly dying in her hotel bed. On the drive to the convention, she and I were both complaining of sore throats. Because she had not been sick at all during the previous two years (for which she credits a daily regimen of apple cider vinegar shots), she tried in vain to convince herself that she was not *really* sick; instead, she explained, her obsessive worry about getting sick had caused her psyche to create symptoms of illness. But sick? No. Not her.

Meanwhile, InstaPrincess-cum-Insta-Drama-Queen woke up that same morning with a sore throat, and immediately commenced maudlin predictions of my imminent gloom, despair, and agony. I whined to anyone who’d listen that I was going down, and that nothing, but NOTHING (save the resurrection of Tupac) could prevent my impending death.

By two days later, however, I wasn’t feeling sick at all, and my roommate spent every day dizzy with chills and exhaustion, every night hacking up a lung (which I guess means she has six of them), and every moment looking like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in one of those Faces of Meth billboard ad campaigns. It was painful to watch, so I can only imagine how much it sucked to live through.

Despite all that, though, I have to say that this was my least traumatic convention so far. Enjoyable? That’s pushing it. In fact, despite the lack of abject trauma, this year’s convention was still enough of an ordeal to result—as they all do—in the development, deep within my soul, of profound appreciation for Pretty Bad Dad: for how well he takes care of me when I’m in physical or emotional distress; for how safe he makes me feel; for his consistent willingness to make me macaroni and cheese; for the comfort of his freckled hand flung across my shoulders in bed.

And my kid? The smell of the back of his head? His gappy little mischief grin when he farts in the bathtub? His chunky little Barney Rubble feet grazing the edge of the couch when he watches TV? Pure glory.

By the time I get back from this gig every year, I’m so in love with my little family I think I might puke if they don’t ask me to prom. And that—for the week or so that it lasts—somehow makes it all worthwhile.


1. OK, 90 hours is a slight exaggeration. On the way home from the most recent convention, my coworkers and I tallied our work hours, and discovered that each of us had actually only worked 88 hours that week.

2. Yes. That’s right. I molested a man of God.

Because it was my first experience with the company convention, my boss wanted me to get as much exposure (yuk yuk) to as many facets of the event as possible. Therefore, I was asked to assist with several breakout sessions during the conference: distribute handouts, make sure the room temperatures were adjusted properly, run like the wind to find help if the A/V equipment imploded, etc. The final breakout session for which I played flunky turned out to be standing room only, so rather than cuddle-up wallflower-style with a bunch of bearded and bowl-cut fellas (although it sounds like fun, doesn’t it?), I chose to stand outside the room and periodically peek in to make sure everything was going OK.

Which it was, until the end of breakout period drew nigh. Knowing that I would be required to hand out evaluation forms at the end of the session, I decided to go ahead and sneak back into the room for the duration. I opened the door, tiptoed into the room, and stretched my hand backwards, just behind my butt, in an effort to catch the door behind me and prevent it from slamming at my back. Within seconds, my hand cupped something soft. “Hmmmm,” I thought numbly, fully encased as I was in my scratched plexi-glass bubble of exhaustion. “That’s not a door.”

I shoved my hand further into it, still mentally adrift, yet somewhat fascinated by the mystery of what spongy surprise now rested in my palm. A tiny, fabric-encased newborn kitten? A pastry-filled pillowcase? A handkerchief full of moldy cheese curds?  By the time my cerebral capacity kicked all the way in and slapped me awake with a HOLY MOTHER OF GOD I AM TOUCHING TESTICLES, I’d say I’d been groping the globes for a good three to four seconds (which doesn’t seem like a lot, but child—get a stopwatch, time it out, and imagine YOU’RE touching a stranger’s goodies that entire time; it becomes a tragic eternity). In sheer horror, I turned, face aflame, to the elderly bearded gentleman with whom I’d just publicly shared a moment typically reserved for truck stop restrooms, and uttered a shaky, lightning-speed apology before squeezing past him back out the door, sprinting back to my hotel room (evaluation forms be damned!) and collapsing face-down onto my bed. There I remained, hiding, until it was time for the big, fancy evening banquet where, as luck would have it, out of over 100 tables in the giant banquet hall, Grab-it Gramps and I were seated at tables right next to each other. For FOUR HOURS. Talk about a tragic eternity.

3. This was my third year at the convention, but my inaugural year performing backstage functions. In years past, I have served as a stage assist for the general sessions, which basically means seeing to it that folks ascending to the stage to accept awards (and subsequently descending with gorgeous, heavy chunks of credenza candy) don’t wipe out and go pantied-ass-up on the stairs.

And I thought THAT was nerve-wracking.

But this year, it became my duty to make sure the correct PowerPoint slide appeared for the enjoyment of the crowd at precisely the right moment during each general session. I also wound up running teleprompter slides for big-wig company execs during their speeches—including one particular executive who is well-known for crippling stage fright which causes her to freak out and ping around between her talking points like the errant toothpaste cap that boings around the bathroom, laughing at you (you know it’s true) as you try desperately to catch it  before it plunks into the open toilet.

So yeah. Little more stressful.

But all in all, despite some cringe-worthy “oops” moments, the whole thing didn’t go too badly—I even got hugs of thanks from Stage Fright Sally after two of her spotlight moments onstage! And it was still better than doing those damn video testimonials again.


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