Steve was wearing his hair slicked back and a bashful bow-tie, but trying to be cocky yet vulnerable. The main event was still fourteen minutes away according to the imposing atomic clock on the table and he was jumpy. No perilous balancing act is ever simple. He might as easily start to choke up as smile. Zeno was reminded of Don Dunphy circa 1964 announcing a fifteen rounder from ringside at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, Sonny Liston and an unnamed loser, an instant Boardwalk classic. The atmosphere backstage at the Flint Center was slightly different however, somewhat tense and quasi-subdued. But who wears a bow-tie in 1984? Oh yeah, that’s right. An amalgamated conglom of nerds was sitting up alertly in assigned seats. The bow-tie of the boss did not stand out alone. A definitive ode to joy was building up from a mere murmur. Anticipation cloyed like a pink packet of saccharine. If that was not electric, then what?
Zeno said “Spiffy bow-tie, Steve.”
“I’m trying hard to make a difference here.”
“And looking good while hard at it.”
“And to rise above.”
“Does that mean, scram?”
“I need my space.”
Assigned seating capacity at the Flint Center was 2405. Seats were filling up fast. Simulated theme music from current East Bay faves, the Pointer Sisters, declared in stylized muzak, “I’m So Excited.” A version of Prince proclaiming, “Let’s Go Crazy,” had been seriously considered by the social committee but ultimately rejected for flouting of rules. 1984 was just getting started. Rules had come this far for a reason.
Zeno had the seating chart crumpled in his pocket. His waiters had been instructed to wait for quiet if not calm before delivering a custom cupcake to each assigned seat. Then a wine spritzer. Not all cupcakes contained spiced apples with bruised cloves, but most. Zeno did not reveal he refused to bake with mushy mcintosh apples and had switched to soulful pippens. Who was going to know?
The calculating gizmo still in the bag had made it all possible by delineating known tendencies. The bag remained covered up on stage. The cupcakes were color coordinated according to a complex code. The number of cupcakes containing cannabis butter had been divided by pi. Most contained the color green. Someone asked, why? Someone said, don’t ask. Someone said, don’t tell. On a need to know basis, Zeno was not one who knew.
Zeno had previously inquired, “What if someone wants to sits next to a good friend and switches seats?”
“These are engineers. Engineers follow rules.”
“But, what if?”
“It won’t happen.”
As it turned out, events would confirm the main man was right as usual. Once he uncovered the bag, the crowd stood and cheered like beasts shedding burdens. The decibel level nearly stretched to a rowdy definition of lewdness. Backs were slapped and pinkies grabbed. After that, what could go wrong? Of course Steve knew. Woz too, probably. If anything went wrong, Zeno would be blamed.
Then Zeno turned the waiters loose with a silly grin and a wave. He read about it next morning in the Santa Cruz Mountains when his newspaper was delivered in the rain.