Teams of Many Men

Nelson James Dunford

     Whither is thy beloved gone, O  thou fairest among women? Whither is thy beloved
     turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.   -- The Song of Solomon 6:1

     From my office window, I can see seven insulated cables.  One group of four has a couplet parallel to the ground and a few inches apart, the other pair above and below these on the plane centered between the first two, all  passing black against the sky.  A little to the right of center within the frame of my window there is a square of translucent insulating material.  It hangs with one corner to the ground, one to the sky; the third and fourth point away from and towards the building. Each of the four strands passes through a corner of the square which keeps them from rubbing when wind blows them or when ice coats them. The uppermost of the quartet is very fine, less than an inch in diameter, while the other three are as stout as steel piping. 
      Several feet below the four, one massive cable as big around as a clenched fist passes against a backdrop of the tops of the trees that stand across the road. This cable is positioned just at the tops of the trunks level of the tallest trees so that I can see only sprays of twigs above it before the sky starts.  The big cable has more sag than the group of four.
      The last two cables have the most sag of all. They hang about a yard below the big one. The upper of the two is as fine a strand as the one at the very top, while its partner is the thickness of the other three in the sky.  These bottom -most lines are only two or three inches apart;  every foot or foot-and-a-half along their lengths an almost invisible wire connects them as though the thicker one were suspended from the thinner one. From my window, I can see neither of the utility poles between which the cables are strung.
     When I was a child, I had a book that explained the principles of electricity.  It was illustrated with cartoons.  Particles of electricity were represented by stick figures whose bodies, arms, and legs were jagged like lightening bolts and whose heads were shaped like light bulbs. These critters ran back and forth inside the wires that were laid out on the pages. The racers were feverishly busy.  By looking long and hard at the wires outside my window, I have learned to pierce the black swaddling clothes of the lines that I may watch the little men at work.  I am glad that I have a lazy job and need not toil as they do.
      I am the purchasing officer for a small machine-tool company.  My secretary does most of my paperwork for me.  Gladys has been with me for fifteen years.  She knows the procedures of our company as well or better than I do.  I trust her implicitly to handle anything that comes up when I am not available. 
      Gladys was an attractive youngster when she came to me.   I was younger then and had thoughts about her; but ours was a business relationship, and I kept it nothing more than that.  Now that I am an old man and Gladys is middle aged, I seldom muse inappropriately about her.
     I work hardest when a salesman calls and I must listen to his pitch.  It takes a damn good presenter to keep my mind from wandering. I try hard to understand what each salesman has to offer; my company pays me to buy wisely.   A rep who keeps my mind off the electric men for half an hour has a better chance of selling me than one who doesn’t. At least that’s what I would have said until last week. 
     Wednesday last, Hammond Harvey dropped by.  He is marketing a new concept in filing.  On his visit, Hammond used my wires to sell me. 
      Gladys brought Hammond Harvey’s card in to me at seventeen minutes after ten.  (I make notes on my desk calendar of the exact times salesmen arrive.  If one keeps my mind off the wires for his whole stay, the length of the presentation is an excellent measure of his product’s value).   I told Gladys to show Hammond in. 
     Hammond Harvey has a permanent grin chiseled into his face. He settled himself across the desk from me and got down to brass tacks. He launched a thoroughly masterminded pitch complete with fliers, booklets, and samples.  He had hardly spoken three words before he had me busily tightroping back and forth along my wires.   About quarter to eleven, he caught my ear anew. 
     “What’s that?” I asked.
     “I was saying that it’s sometimes hard for a businessman to grasp the implications of a radically new concept.”
     "What about the wires?”
      “I was saying that you get a first inkling that’s not much thicker than the little wire up at the top.”
     “Or the one next to the bottom?”  I pursued the topic.
     “You’re entirely right, sir.  As you think about my proposition, your understanding grows until it’s pretty nearly as big around as the middle wires.”
     “ Yes?”
     “What I’m here for is to show you all of the possibilities.   I want you to have at your fingertips as many of the factors involved in our system as there must be strands of copper crammed into the biggest cable out there.”
      Hammond Harvey talked some more, and I listened . When he left, he had an order in his attache case.  Undoubtedly Hammond patted himself on the back for having used a technique discussed at training conferences.  “Gentlemen,” the sales manager of Hammond Harvey’s company had probably said more than once, “Pay close attention to the prospect’s mood.  If his mind seems to wander, pin down what it is he is thinking about.  If you ferret that out, and use it, you will close the sale.”
      Hammond Harvey was welcome to his self-pride. He will never know that I bought from him not because he showed interest in my wires, but because he gave me a new insight into their meaning.  He brought the runners into my office and made them part of me.  The creatures with jagged bodies and bulbous heads now course through my blood vessels and my nerve fibers.  Their energy is mine and I am ready to scale cliffs I once thought were insurmountable.
     I called Gladys into my office.  “Those wires,” I said, “are like a man’s feeling for a woman.   At first, he has stirrings not much larger around than the two babies.  For years, I did not pay attention to these stirrings.  Now that Hammond Harvey has pointed them out to me, I have begun a program to make them grow.   Already, I have swollen almost to the middle size.  Gladys, if you’ll only help me, I may soon equal the girth and solitary strength of the big cable.”
      She cast a puzzled look my way.  Rather than ruin a good start, I let her go to her desk to think about the wires herself.  The little men kept charging through me and I kept growing.  I hoped Gladys would understand before I burst without her.  She did not mention my speech again that afternoon, but I hoped she would sleep with the idea I had planted and become full of understanding.
     That was what I had hoped when I went to bed.  My feelings for Gladys were at the smallest-wire level.  I strung my hopes across the city to Gladys’ house.  As my wire stretched from pole to pole, I realized that it was not thick enough to carry all the charged particles I meant to send.  I let it swell slowly as I continued to string.  When my hopes were attached to the pole just outside  Gladys’ house, and were about to leap the gap to her building, a gust dropped the strand to the street.  It lay  across a track, and a bell-dinging car hurtled towards it.
     The sharp front edges of the trolley’s forewheels had just sliced the insulation when I awoke.  I fetched a bandage to mend the break.  It was then that I realized that I had best wait Hammond Harvey’s next call to learn more.
     Monday the next week, I sent an urgent summons to Hammond. He arrived promptly and said he hoped I was satisfied with my purchase.  “Certainly, certainly,”  I answered.  “It’s about the wires I called you.”
     “About the wires?”
     “You put me on the wrong track, Mr . Harvey.  I almost lost mine altogether. One big one hasn’t the strength of smaller ones bound together.”
     "I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
     “I want to use both our wires, tied together.”
     “What wires?”
     “These wires,” I said, rising so as to show him my own that was swollen to middle size.  “Now give me yours and I’ll fasten them together with this twine.”
     Hammond Harvey backed away from me.
     “Mr . Harvey!”  I shouted. “It’s Gladys we’re after.   Modern science has brought light and power to the darkest jungle, but it has taken teams of many men to effect this penetration.  You and I as a team can bring love to Gladys.”
     Hammond Harvey swung the door open and rushed out.  Before Gladys had a chance to peek in at me, I sat down so that she could not see my intentions.
     Hammond’s departure left things with Gladys at a standstill.  I hope, though, to persuade another to join me.  Looking out the window, I am reminded that four together have the least sag.  I had best look for three friends.

Fiction Archives

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