The meeting had just started and already Carl was on a roll. 'That's exactly why,' he said, pausing to take a long pull from his bottled water, 'we need to follow this up next month.'
He screwed the blue-plastic cap into place with a sharp twist. His sure-handed bottle business left no doubt that Carl knew what he was talking about. And that he was thirsty. Decisively thirsty. He smacked the bottle down on the conference table, kicked back into his chair, and folded his arms across his chest.
I glanced around the room. Damn. Linda was thirsty, too. She was working on a bottle of Deja Blue. And over in the corner Ed was knocking back his own bottle of Clear Springs. I realized I was the only one at the meeting unprepared to hydrate as we did the heavy work of project planning.
Maybe I'm not working hard enough, I thought. I'm not thirsty at all. In fact, I was confident I could go the whole rest of the afternoon without so much as a sip. The meeting adjourned. Everybody clutched their water for the grueling 30-foot hike down the hall to their offices.
Wanting to fit into the aqua culture, I made a mental note to pick up a case on my way home. In the meantime, I soothed myself with the knowledge of the two water fountains on our floor ' not to mention the dual sinks in the men's room in case I became anhydrous from the punishing demands of keyboarding.
Thing is, water bottles at work do more than just quench thirst. Some people deploy their water bottle in the physical act of persuasion, as though it has super power. Like a light saber or something.
Take Carl, who swooshed away with his bottle as he directed: 'She better get a call on that right after this meeting!' To which I thought: Don't point that thing at me!
Other co-workers are meek about their water bottling. Instead of fiddling with the cap or waving and hammering home points with the bottle, they hide behind their bottle like a high school student afraid of being called on in French class. I sometimes wish I packed a bottle for this purpose, especially when Carl draws the light saber.
Of course, it used to be that people showed up to meetings with coffee. A long time ago, people toted white Styrofoam cups, pulled from a stainless steel canister in the break room down the hall. I picture my dad, back in the day, reaching out with one of those cups and plunking it down on the table next to a cup with a big, pink lipstick smudge on the rim. These cups went the way of the conference-room ashtray.
More recently came shiny metal, missile-shaped coffee cups that would break your metatarsal if you dropped them on your foot. Unlike my dad's work coffee, this brew is purchased on the way to the office at a store with blonde wood floors.
But hot coffee has its problems. You can't slosh, point, and slam the cup home the way you can with a good water bottle. And coffee spills, brown rings on the desk top, are so 1983.
And so we have water bottles. I haven't yet taken the step of loading a 12-pack into my pod. I admit that I do keep an empty Evian close at hand, a refugee bottle handed to me at a meeting. I fill it up at the water fountain when nobody's looking, because I don't want to appear gauche to my co-workers.
It reminds me of how we used to show up at high school parties holding cans of impossible-to-find Coors filled earlier with Stroh's.
In the end, water bottles in the workplace are more than just water bottles. They're the white collar visual equivalent of a hard hat. They say 'Buddy, I'm on the clock. Locked and loaded. In mid-flight, equipped to go the distance, ready to kick some corporate ass.'
Once I remember to get to the store, I'll drink to that.