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November 24, 2008

Peanut Butter and Jelly for Lunch With the Client


The prospective client agreed to a meeting. That was the good news. He wanted to do it over lunch. That was the bad news. On this, Lacey and I wholeheartedly agreed.


Few things are worse than business lunches. Anesthesia-free amputations probably come close, although an efficient cutting implement would at least end the pain more quickly. The problem with business lunches is that they ruin lunch. What is supposed to be a time to step away from business mode instead becomes an occasion forcing us into hyper-business mode.


There are clients sitting there! They’re in ties. They’re using their cloth napkins with just the right level of pressure to the lower lip. If I were to do something entirely harmless like, say, put my elbows on the table, the whole deal would collapse.


The fact that I have to pay for this ruination of my lunch hour is actually far down on my list of complaints. It’s the ruination itself to which I object.


But having clients, earning money, staying in business – it’s all important stuff, so we do the lunch. Lacey and I sit next to each other at a round table, joined by four business-suit types from the prospective client. The restaurant serves choice steaks, seafood and pasta dishes. You can get a baked potato or rice as a side. They bring fresh-baked bread for you to munch on while you wait for your food – and munch crudely is exactly what I would do if the suit-and-tie brigade were not glaring at me.


Lacey studies the menu intensely. It’s obvious that she’s having trouble finding something she actually wants to order.


“D.F.,” she whispers to me, “why do they put ‘Market Price’ for the lobster?”


“Because it gives them the flexibility to pull a price out of their butts after you’ve already ordered it,” I reply. “Sort of like the way we’re pricing this proposal.”


But she didn’t hear my clever little wisecrack. Something had caught her eye. She was mesmerized.


“What?” I asked (still whispering, and sure that was going over fabulously with the prospect). “Did they put a picture of Hugh Laurie on there somewhere?”


“D.F., look!” she exclaimed, pointing to the lower right-hand corner of the menu. She was pointing to an item under “Children’s Fare” – specifically, peanut butter and jelly.


“Wow, check it out,” I said. “The next time I decide to bring little T.F. here for a business lunch, he can get that.”


“No, you dope,” she said. “I want it. That sounds fantastic.”


Peanut butter and jelly? From the kids’ menu? I wasn’t even sure they allowed that, although Lacey could pass for 12 even though she is actually 35. I could claim she is my daughter. It wouldn’t be the first time someone thought so. But I had no more time to contemplate this. The server arrived to take our orders. And you know they ask the women first.


“I’d like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Lacey announced without the slightest hint of self-consciousness.


The server eyed her suspiciously, then peered over at me.


“She’s getting so grown up,” I said. “Ordering for herself and everything.”


“Would you like the chocolate milk with that?” the server asked her.


“Absolutely!” she said, her face beaming.


I took a peek over at the prospect. The three subordinate suits looked slightly horrified, but they were waiting to see what their boss would do.


“Peanut butter and jelly,” he said, musing. “Interesting choice. What exactly did you say your job is with D.F.’s company?”


“I tell him how to run the company because he has no idea,” Lacey said.


He looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and grinned, as if to say, “Whaddaya gonna do?”


“Say,” the prospect said to the server, “how’s the hot dog and fries?”


“Very tender today,” said the server. “Do you want ketchup with that?”


“Do I!” he proclaimed.


The rest of the crew ordered hamburgers, and was very disappointed to learn that the high-brow downtown restaurant doesn’t serve milkshakes.


Me? I just munched the bread. As Lacey knew well, we’d be passing a Chicken Coop on the way back to the office, and with the money I was suddenly saving, an eight-piece bag would still leave me cash-flush.


We didn’t actually get the account. They clearly thought we were idiots. But it was the best business lunch I ever had.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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