A business meeting

(Translated from this blog: Alex Aka JJ LJ. Originally, this story was published by Alex in Russian. The translation is mine, sorry for any inaccuracies. Suggestions for improvements are very appreciated.)

Smith attended the meeting on Tuesday. There, he himself and his brain both died a slow and painful death, brought onto them by the other attendees, with Smith’s manager Lehare as leading murderer.

“Gentlemen,” said mrs. Redroot, “Our organization is facing a major challenge. We’re dealing with a project, for which we must depict several red lines. Are you willing to take on this assignment?”

“Of course”, Lehare said. As the company’s CEO  he was always willing to take on problems that would be solved by someone else of the team. However, he instantly clarified: “We can do that, can’t we?”

The manager of the drawing department, Greyskin, quickly nodded: “Yes, definitely. This is Smith, our best specialist on the drawing of red lines. We’ve invited him to this meeting for exactly this reason, to hear his competent opinion on the subject.”

“Nice to meet you,” mrs. Redroot threw him a smile.  “Well, you all know me. And this is Lily, our company’s specialist in the area of design.” Lily blushed and smiled self-consciously. She just obtained her economics degree and knew about as much of design as a platypus knows of the design of airships.

“In short,” Mrs. Redroot continued, “we must draw seven straight red lines. They must all be strictly perpendicular. Furthermore, some of them must be green and some transparent. What do you think, would that be realistic?”

“No,” Smith answered instantly.

“Now wait a minute, Smith, let’s not rush things,” Greyskin tried to slow him down. “We are presented with a challenge and this challenge must be resolved. You’re a professional, right Smith? Please, don’t give us any reason to doubt your professionalism.”

“You see,” Smith explained, “the term ‘red line’ implies that the color of the line is red. Drawing a red line with a green color is.. well not exactly impossible, but very nearly impossible…”

“Smith, now what do you mean by impossible?”

“I’m just describing the situation. It’s possible that for colorblind people, the color of the line will not make any difference. However, I strongly doubt the whole audience of your project will consist of such people.”

“So, if I understood you correctly, basically it is possible, right Smith?” Mrs. Redroot asked him.

Smith realized that he had spoken too figurative. “Let’s make this simple,” he said. “A line as such can be drawn in any color whatsoever. But in order for the line to be red, it must be drawn in the color red.”

“Smith, please don’t confuse us. You just said it was possible.”

Smith silently cursed his own talkativeness. “No, sorry, I didn’t make myself clear. I just tried to explain that in some situations, the color of the line will not matter. However, the line still won’t be red. Do you understand? It won’t be red. It will be green. And you need a red one.”

In the short silence that followed, the room was filled with a quiet but intense buzz of synapses.

“But what if…” Lehare said, stricken by a new idea, “what if we draw them in blue?”

Smith shook his head: “that still won’t do. If you will draw them in blue, you will get blue lines.”

Another silence, this time interrupted by Smith himself.

“Also, I didn’t understand… what did you mean when you were talking about transparent lines?”

Mrs. Redroot looked at him indulgently, as if she was a good teacher and he a slow student.

“Hmm, now how can I explain this? You know what transparent is, right?”

“I do.”

“And hopefully I don’t have to explain you about what a red line is?”

“No, you don’t.”

“Well then. Please, draw us red lines with transparent color.”

Smith was quiet for a second, thinking through the situation.

“And what should the result look like? Can you please describe that? The way you see it?

“Come on Smith,” Greyskin said, “let’s not do this. We’re not in kindergarten, are we? Who is the specialist on red lines, Mrs. Redroot or you?”

“I’m just trying to clarify the targets of the assignment.”

“I don’t understand what’s so unclear”, Lehare interrupts. “You know what a red line is, don’t you?”

“Yes, but…”

“And it’s also clear what ‘transparent’ is?”

“Naturally, but…”

“What is it that you don’t understand then? Smith, let’s keep this constructive. You have an assignment. This assignment is perfectly clear. If you have any specific questions, then you should ask them.”

“You are a professional, after all”, Greyskin added.

“Allright,” Smith surrendered, “never mind the color. But there’s also something about the straight lines being perpendicular?”

“Yes”, Mrs. Redroot gladly confirmed, “seven straight lines, all of them strictly perpendicular.”

“Perpendicular to what?” Smith asked, trying to clarify his task.

Mrs. Redroot looked through her papers.

“Ehmm…” she finally said… “Well… to everything. To each other. Or what… I don’t know, I thought you knew what perpendicular lines are perpendicular to?” she retorted.

“Of course he knows!” said Greyskin “Are we professionals or are we not?”

“Two straight lines may be perpendicular”, Smith patiently explained. “Seven lines cannot be perpendicular to each other. That’s geometry. Sixth grade.”

Mrs. Redroot shook her head, trying to get rid of the old ghost of her middle school education.

 Lehare slammed his fist on the table: “Smith, let’s try to avoid this ‘sixth grade, sixth grade’. Let’s keep this civil. Let’s not make suggestions or even insult each other. Let’s maintain a constructive dialogue. The people gathered here are not a bunch of idiots, are they?”

“I agree”, Greyskin said.

 Smith took out a piece of paper.

 “All right then,” he said. “Let me draw this out for you. This is a line, right?”

Mrs. Redroot nodded in agreement.

“Let’s draw another one,” said Smith. “Is it perpendicular to the first one?”

“well…”

“Yes, it is perpendicular.”

“Well, you see?” Mrs. Redroot exclaimed happily.

“Wait, there is more. Now we draw a third line. It is perpendicular to the first line?”

A silence followed, the other attendees deeply in thought. Smith then answered his own question:

“Yes, it is perpendicular with the first line. However, it does not cross the second line, it’s parallel to it.”

Another silence. Then, Mrs. Redroot rose and walked around the table to view Smith’s work from behind his shoulder.

“Well…” she said, “yes, I suppose.”

“That’s exactly the problem,” Smith quickly said, trying to maintain the achieved success. “As long as there are two straight lines, they can be perpendicular. But when there are more…”

“Can I try please?” Mrs. Redroot asked.

Smith handed her over the pen. Mrs. Redroot cautiously drew several lines. “And what about this?”

Smith sighed. “This is called a triangle. No, these are not perpendicular lines. Plus, there are three, not seven.”

Mrs. Redroot looked disgruntled.

“But why are they blue?”, Lehare asked suddenly.

Greyskin supported this question: “Yes, that’s what I wanted to ask as well.”

Smith blinked a couple of times, staring at the drawing. “My pen is blue,” he said in the end. “I just tried to show you…”

“Well, maybe that’s the problem?”, Lehare quickly interrupted him, with the air of someone who just solved a major problem and is anxious to share his solution with others before he forgets it. “Your lines are blue. Draw them in red, and let’s see what happens then.”

“I don’t have a red pen on me”, Smith admitted. “But I can certainly…”

“Why didn’t you prepare then?” Greyskin reproached him. “You knew we had a meeting, didn’t you?”

“I can tell you with absolute certainty,” Smith desperately stated, “that in red the result will be exactly the same.”

“But you said yourself, I have written it down right here, that in order to get red lines, one must draw them in red.”, Greyskin retorted. “And you drew them in blue. What does this look like to you, red?”

“That’s true actually, I asked you about blue lines. Do you remember what you answered me?” Lehare asked.

Smith got suddenly saved by Lily, who was studying his drawing with interest.

“I think I understand”, she said. “You’re not talking about color now, are you? You’re talking about this perp.. per… perpensomething?”

“The perpendicularity of the lines, exactly.” Smith looked at her gratefully. “It’s in no way related to their color.”

“You got me totally confused”, says Lehare looking from one attendee to the other. “What is it that we have a problem with? The color or the perpendicularity?”

Mrs. Redroot made strange sounds and shook her head. She’d also lost it.

“I don’t get it”, said Lehare watching his hands. “We have an assignment. The only thing we need is seven straight red lines. I’d understand if we would need twenty! But we only need seven. Our customers want seven perpendicular lines. Right?”

Mrs. Redroot nodded.

“And Greyskin also doesn’t see the problem,” Lehare added. “Am I right, Greyskin? Well then. Why can’t you accomplish this task?”

“Geometry.” Smith sighed.

“Just ignore it and get this over with,” mrs. Redroot suggested.

Smith didn’t say a word, trying to gather his thoughts. In his mind, one by one colorful  metaphors started to appear, that would be able to show his gathered colleagues the absurdity of the situation. But unfortunately, every one of them started with the word “F*CK”, completely inappropriate in such a business meeting.

Tired of waiting for an answer, Lehare continued:

“Smith, just give me an answer: can you do it or can’t you? I realize that you’re a specific specialist, and you don’t see the overall picture. But it’s not that hard, is it? Just draw a couple of lines. We’re discussing this nonsense for two hours now and we still haven’t come to an agreement.”

“Indeed,” Greyskin agreed. “You keep on criticizing others’ solutions. ‘Impossible this, impossible that.’ Give us your solution then! Criticizing others is something every fool can do, if you’ll pardon my language. You are a professional after all!”

Tired, Smith went for a compromise: “Very well. I will draw you two red lines. They will be definitely perpendicular. I will draw the rest of the lines transparently. They will be transparent and you won’t be able to see them, but I will draw them. Will you be satisfied then?”

“Will we be?” Mrs. Redroot turned to Lily. “Yes, we will be.”

“But please, a couple of them must be green,” Lily added. “And, can I ask you one more question?”

“Yes,” Smith allowed her in a dead voice.

“Can you depict one of the straight lines as a kitten?”

Smith kept silent for several seconds, but asked then: “What?”

“A kitten. A little kitten. Our customers love pets. It would be great…”

“No.” Smith said.

“But why?”

“I could try to draw you a cat, though I’m not an artist. But it won’t be a straight line then, it will be a cat. A cat and a straight line are two different things.”

“A kitten”, clarified mrs. Redroot, “not a cat but a kitten. A small, cute…  Cats are…”

“It doesn’t matter”, Smith sighed.

“Is there absolutely no way you can do that?”, Lily looked at him disappointed

“Smith, you didn’t even let her finish. You didn’t let her finish, but you’re already saying it’s impossible,” Lehare responded in an annoyed voice.

“I got her point though.” Smith replied staring at the table. “It’s impossible to draw a straight line in the shape of a kitten.”

“All right, don’t bother then,” Lily agreed. “What about a bird?”

Smith lifted his gaze and Lily understood immediately.

“All right, don’t bother,” she repeated.

Lehare slammed his hand on the table again. “All right, so what is it that we have agreed upon?”

“Seven red lines,” Mrs. Redroot says. “Two of them red, two green ones and the others transparent. Right? Did I understand it correctly?”

“Yes”, Greyskin confirmed before Smith was able to open his mouth.

Lehare nodded satisfied: “All right, perfect then. Back to work, colleagues? Any other questions?”

“Oh!” Lily recalled. “We also have a little red balloon. Can you fill it with air for us?”

“That’s true”, mrs. Redroot agreed. “Let’s discuss this now, just to avoid having to meet a second time.”

“Smith,” Lehare turned to him again, “Can we do that?”

“But how is the balloon related to me?” Smith asked astonished.

“It’s red”, Lily simply explained.

Smith went silent, his fingertips shaking.

“Smith,” Lehare repeated his question nervously “can you do it or not? It’s a simple question.”

“Well,” Smith spoke cautiously, “In principle I can, obviously…”

“All right, go there and fill it with air for them,” Lehare nodded. “We’ll cover your travel expenses if needed.”

“Would tomorrow be okay?” Mrs. Redroot asked.

“Of course”, Lehare replied. “I don’t think we’ll encounter any problems. Well, are we done for today? Perfect! Very productive meeting. Thank you all and good bye!”

Smith blinked several times to return to reality, then he rose and slowly headed for the exit. When he had almost reached the door, Lily approached him with a blush on her cheeks.

“Can I just ask you for one more thing? When you’re going to fill this balloon with air… can you shape the balloon as a kitten?”

Smith sighed: “I can do anything. Absolutely anything. I’m a professional.”