Archive for March, 2008

Benny and the Nose Phone


They were four days in and the booth was starting to smell.

The first day had seemed fresh and exciting. They arrived Sunday night. The four of them had two hotel rooms near the airport. The expo center was downtown. The shuttle ran them in in the morning and took them back at night. They worked in shifts of two and two, eight to two and two to nine. There were restaurants downtown, but they got discounts on the food at the expo so they generally ate there. Breakfast was at the hotel, continental.

Benny had worked the second shift last night. They’d switched on Wednesday: Diego and Bill had changed places because Bill and Marissa weren’t getting along. Benny had taken a second shift to even make the schedule work out, but Bill spelled him for a lot of it because he felt sorry.

Benny had slept in that morning, until nine, had breakfast and taken the shuttle at eleven. He roamed around the expo from eleven until noon, then started thinking about lunch. He’d been excited to find a falafel stand on Monday, since it was a novel thing to have at a technology conference. Now, after four days, he was sick of it, especially since he could smell it in the booth, but compared to the alternatives (sushi, going outside) it was cheap and easy.

They hadn’t thought to bring a trash can. This wasn’t a big mistake, since they were able to use a cardboard box to hold their falafel wrappers, soda cans, napkins, unwanted flyers, and other refuse; it was easy to take the box to the trash can down at the end of their row of booths and dump it out. The problem was the smell of things like wrappers and Marissa’s orange peels that seeped into the tablecloth and the padding of the chairs. The overwhelming odorlessness of the air conditioning masked it for awhile, but over time it started to drive Benny nuts.


Benny turned around. “Oh, hey Topher, what’s up?”

Topher had walked up behind Benny as Benny was standing observing the booth from a distance, wondering whether he should approach and notify his co-workers of his presence at the expo or continue to enjoy the relative liberty of wandering unseen.

“Did Bill get here yet?”

Topher was a friend of Bill’s who worked for a venture capital firm. His firm didn’t have a booth, since it’s employees mostly roamed around scouting for hot new companies to fund, which did not seem to include Benny’s company.

“I think he was going into the city for something.”

“Oh, okay. Cool. If you see him, let him know I’ve got some stuff for him. I’ll swing by later.”

“Sure, no problem.”

Topher had the well-groomed look of someone successful, or at least Benny imagined that’s what it was. Perhaps it was just the well-groomed look of someone who didn’t have to sit in a booth that smelled like bygone falafel and tangerines. Benny felt slightly resentful; he could see Topher had already answered a call on his cellphone as he walked away, which Benny interpreted as a harbinger of more income.

Or a social life. It indicated the existence of people with a need to contact Topher. Benny, considering his purpose at the expo, found this doubly depressing, since he had not received a call on his phone for the past three days—except one from Marissa saying she’d be late—and he worked for a cellphone company. This line of thought was one from which Benny had been attempting to steer away over the past three days. It sucked.

Better, he thought, to stay positive. Ironically, at this moment, he saw Marissa waving to him from down the aisle. He walked over.

“How’s it going Benny?” she asked has he approached. “Diego, I’m just going to step out for a minute if you’re OK?” She turned and jogged off in the direction of the ladies room, which was also, Benny thought, the direction of the doors to the outside and fresh air and sunlight and new people and freedom. Except it was raining.

“How’s it going, man?” said Diego.

“Ah, not bad,” said Benny, “not bad.” It was bad, but he wasn’t going to think about it.

“Any business?” he asked Diego.

“Not really. I think most of the important people have already been through, or they show up in the afternoon. I think there was some kind of big focus group thing this morning.”

“I still haven’t seen a schedule,” said Benny. “I sorta thought they’d give them to us. Not that we have time, I guess.”

“Yeah, totally,” said Diego. “Is Bill here?”

“I think he went downtown,” said Benny. “Said he was going to pick up something for his girlfriend.” That was another reason Benny never got any calls on his cellphone…

“Oh yeah, he might’ve told me that. I can’t remember anything anymore.”

“It’s all just a big blur!” said Benny, trying to be funny. He chuckled slightly, more at the attempt than the accomplishment. He was not funny. If he were funny, he wouldn’t be here…

“Totally,” said Diego again. “Man, I’m ready to get out of here.” He stopped speaking as a middle-aged woman in a red blouse stopped and looked at the mounted poster on the corner of the booth. Benny walked slowly around and joined Diego behind the table.

“Can I help you with anything today?” Diego asked politely. The woman looked up at him.

“Oh, no—I’m just looking around,” she said.

“Please do,” said Diego. “Let me know if you have any questions or anything.”

“Okay, thank you,” she flashed the fake smile of someone trying to escape from a conversation. As she began to turn away, another woman walked up next to her.

“Did you see that?” said the woman in the red blouse, pointing to the poster on the table. The other woman—in a blue blouse—looked at the poster and laughed.

“It goes in your nose?” she said. “Really?”

“Yup,” said Diego. “It really does. It really works.”

“You’re kidding,” said blue blouse woman, looking at him for the first time. Benny was surprised to see that her expression looked genuinely intrigued.

“Nope,” said Diego. “It’s a new way to do hands-free. You can’t even feel it once you get used to it.”

“But how can you hear ?” the woman asked. “There are no earphones?”

“Sinus cavities,” said Diego. He was rephrasing his sales pitch, trying to sound real. “Your voice resonates in your sinuses when you speak. This does the same thing.”

“When you speak,” the woman said, looking confused. “But—how does it connect to your ears?”

“Through the Eustachian tubes,” said Diego, turning the poster so he could see it. “See—your ears connect into your nose through these tubes in your head. That’s why you can’t hear as well when you get a cold.”

“Wow,” said the blue blouse woman. “So it’s like having your cellphone inside your head.”

“Pretty much,” said Diego, smiling uncertainly. “Seriously—it works a lot better than it sounds.”

“Very cool,” said the woman, looking less intrigued. “Thank you very much.”

She rejoined the woman in the red blouse, who had already taken several steps away from the booth.

“People think we’re gross,” said Diego, after the women were out of earshot. Benny didn’t say anything.

“I mean seriously,” said Diego, “who would seriously go out and buy a nose phone?”

“I don’t know,” said Benny after a minute. “It sort of seems like a good idea. It does work better than it sounds.” It unnerved him to hear Diego say the same things that had been going through his own head for the past four days. He had to fight back.

“Yeah,” said Diego. “I don’t know. I guess you’re right. Maybe something will happen.”

Benny didn’t think so, so he decided to change the subject. “Where’d Marissa go?”

“Well,” said Diego, “the charitable me says to the ladies room, the uncharitable me says she went for a smoke.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Benny. That was another smell in the booth: breathmints,.

“What time is it?” Diego asked.

“Almost one,” Benny said. “You hungry?”

“I’ll grab something in a bit,” said Diego. “You on at two?”

“Yeah,” said Benny. “I’ll spell you in a bit. Just let me grab a bite to eat.”