I'm in a retail space -- a budget discount chain like Rose's, somewhere in the toy section. Several sections of shelving have been taken away, replaced by wooden pews. I'm in a middle one. Behind and in front of me are mid-level corporate and professional functionaries -- think of a Chamber of Commerce type of meeting. An international delegation is visiting among the pews of the discount department store, among the toys.
I'm supposed to give a report. In part, I'm drawing from a local business news weekly's article. I'm supposed to describe some consumer polling data. But I'm having real trouble pulling data out, being clear. I'm stumbling over words. There are agonizingly long pauses. People are getting more and more frustrated. It's all I can do to press on, but this is a self-made disaster.
I start reading favorable/unfavorables about the idea of trade with certain foreign countries. I'm still having trouble. The numbers are hideous -- something between eight and 20 percent favorable for one -- though they're different every time I look at the paragraph. The head of state of one of these countries is in the pews. He has an outburst. He's gravely insulted. He storms out. A break is called.
I'm seriously embarrassed. I ask the older woman next to me -- slightly dour and distant, 50s, overweightish, with some sort of accent -- whether she should give the report for me when we come back. She agrees tartly.
I hear the head of state ranting as he comes back through a double hinged metal door with a rounded-corner rectangular window about what an insult it is to be hearing information about his country this way. "It's like they're trying to brand us, to turn us into a brand!" His country is more than poll numbers! He's shaken, maybe a little humiliated.
I've got to apologize to this guy. I was only doing my job, albeit badly, but I was doing the talking when he got upset. I get out of my pew, and slowly, awkwardly move through the scattered crowd.
He's sitting in the floor next to a plastic wading pool which has been turned into a sandbox. There are a couple of children there, younger than my son. He's trying to have a conversation with them. He wants to make himself feel better. He wants to connect with these kids playing in a sandbox in the middle of the toy aisles alongside the pews in a cheap retail store where an international trade report is being given.
He's wearing some kind of turban or crown. He's bearded, with slightly pale skin. His sari-clad wife is hovering around him like an attachÃ©, concerned for him but businesslike. He's wearing shirt sleeves and shorts and sneakers. He's in some kind of half-carapace thing that reminds me of an old toy suit of armor you'd place around an action figure. The legs of this -- thing -- he's wearing extend beyond his own sneakers. He has crutches.
I try to get around the cluttered people and children near him. "Your Excellency?" I bow. He struggles to his feet. "I don't know the procedure, the protocol, the title. I understand that I insulted you. I'm very sorry..."
"No, no, it's all right," he says. It's not. He tries to pretend that his honor is not besmirched, that he's not wounded or scared about how his country is being labeled by the world. If he admitted that I hurt him it would be further humiliation.
And I wake up.
Had to have been the Kung Pao Chicken Egg Roll.