On Tuesday Mr. Smith attended the meeting. They took out his brain, laid it out on saucers and started eating, licking their lips and savouring it in every possible way. Mr. Rabbite, Smith’s boss, prudently gave them all teaspoons. And the show began.
“Dear colleagues!” Mrs. Carrots said, “our company has a large-scale task. We’ve got a project to implement, which involves drawing some red lines. Can you take on this task?”
“Of course,” Rabbite said. He was the CEO, and he had been always ready to accept any task that a member of his staff would have to take on. However, he immediately asked: “We can do it, right?”
Mr. Ditto, Head of the Drawing Department, nodded right away:
“Yes, sure. This is Mr. Smith, he’s our best specialist in drawing red lines. We invited him here to listen to his expert opinion.”
“Nice to meet you!” Carrots said. “Well, you all know me. Let me introduce Helen — she’s our design specialist.”
Helen turned red and smiled shyly. She had just graduated from an economics college and bore exactly the same relation to design as a platypus to airship development.
“Well,” Carrots said, “we need to draw seven red lines. All of them must be strictly perpendicular, and besides some of them must be drawn in green, and some must be transparent. Do you think it’s possible?”
“No.” Smith said.
“Don’t hurry, Smith,” Ditto said. “We’ve got a task and we must solve it. You are a professional, aren’t you? Don’t let us think you are not.”
“You see,” Smith explained, “the term “red line” assumes that the line colour is red. It’s not completely impossible to draw a red line with a green colour but it’s nearly impossible…”
“Smith, so what do you mean by “impossible”?” Ditto asked.
“I’m just trying to explain the situation. There can be some people who suffer from daltonism, and for them the line colour does not matter indeed, but I’m not quite sure that all our audience are colour blind.”
“So basically it is possible if I got you right, Smith?” Carrots asked.
Smith realised that he had overdone with the visual imagery.
“OK, let’s make it simple,” he said. “The line taken by itself can be drawn in any possible colour. But in order to get a red line one must only use the red colour.”
“Smith, don’t confuse us please. You’ve just said it’s possible.”
Smith silently damned his loose tongue.
“No, sorry, you got me wrong. I just want to say that in some – quite rare – cases the line colour does not matter, but even then the line won’t be red. You know, it won’t be red! It will be green. And you need red.”
Short silence, just synapses buzzing tensely.
“And what if,” Rabbite said, inspired by a sudden idea, “we draw them in blue?”
“It won’t help,” Smith shook his head . “If we draw them in blue — we’ll have blue lines.”
Silence again. This time Smith himself broke it.
“And I don’t quite understand another thing… What did you mean when you said about the lines of “transparent colour”?”
Carrots looked at him graciously, like a kind teacher looks at a dunce.
“Well… How to explain… Smith, don’t you know what “transparent” means?”
“And I hope it’s needless to explain what “red line” is?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Great. So draw us the red lines in transparent colour.”
Smith paused to ponder the situation.
“And what should the output look like? Can you describe it please, how you see it?”
“Well… Smith!” Ditto said. “Stop it. It’s not an examination. Who’s the specialist in red lines here, you or Carrots?”
“I’m just trying to clarify the task details for myself…”
“And what’s unclear?” Rabbite entered the conversation. “You know what a red line is, don’t you?”
“And it’s also clear to you what “transparent” is?”
“Yes, of course, but…”
“So why are you asking for further explanations? Let’s not enter into an unproductive debate, Smith. We’ve got the task, and the task is precise and clear. If you have any specific questions, ask them.”
“You’re a professional,” Ditto added.
“OK,” Smith gave up. “Let’s leave the color for now. But what about the perpendicularity?..”
“Yes,” Carrots confirmed readily. “Seven lines, and all are strictly perpendicular.”
“Perpendicular to what?” Smith asked.
Carrots started looking into her papers…
“Em-m-m,” she said finally. “Well.. Sort of.. Everything. Each other. Or such as.. I don’t know… I thought you must know what perpendicular lines are,” Carrots got out of a scrape.
“Of course he does,” Ditto flapped his hands. “Aren’t we professionals?..”
“Only two lines can be perpendicular,” Smith explained patiently. “All seven can’t be perpendicular to each other at the same time. It’s school geometry.”
Carrots shook her head trying to get away from the ghost of school education she’d forgotten ages ago.
Rabbite slapped the table.
“Stop it, Smith. “School geometry, school geometry”. Let’s be polite. No snide or patronising remarks, please . Let’s communicate functionally. There are no idiots here.”
“That’s what I wanted to say,” Ditto said.
Smith took a sheet of paper.
“Well,” he said. “Let me draw it for you. Here’s a line, OK?”
“Here’s another line…” Smith said. “Is it perpendicular to the first one?”
“Yes, it’s perpendicular.”
“You see!” Carrots exclaimed happily.
“Wait a moment, that’s not everything yet. Now the third line… Is it perpendicular to the first line?..”
Thoughtful silence. Having got no answer, Smith answered himself:
“Yes, it’s perpendicular to the first line. But it doesn’t cross the second line at all. The second and the third lines are parallel.”
Silence descended. Then Carrots stood up, went around the table and came up to Smith looking over his shoulder.
“Well…” she said uncertainly. “Probably yes.”
“That’s it!” Smith exclaimed trying to affirm his success. “If we only have two lines, they can be perpendicular. But if there are more…”
“Can I have a pen?” Carrots asked.
Smith gave her the pen. Carrots cautiously drew some lines.
“What about this?”
“It’s called “triangle”. No, the lines are not perpendicular. Besides there are just three of them, not seven.”
Carrots pursed up her mouth.
“And why are they blue?” Rabbite asked suddenly.
“Yes, by the way,” Ditto supported. “I just wanted to ask it myself.”
Smith blinked several times looking at the sketch.
“My pen is blue,” he said at last. “I just wanted to show…”
“Maybe that’s the problem?” Rabbite interrupted him impatiently, like a man who just understood a complex concept and was eager to share his knowledge while he hadn’t lost the idea. “Your lines are blue. Draw the red ones, and let’s see what happens.”
“It will be exactly the same,” Smith said certainly.
“Well, why the same?” Rabbite said. “How do you know it if you haven’t even tried it? Draw them in red and let us see.”
“I haven’t got a red pen,” Smith admitted. “But I am quite sure…”
“You haven’t prepared for the meeting,” Ditto said in a reproachful voice. “You knew about the meeting in advance…”
“I am quite sure about it,” Smith said desperately, “it will be exactly the same with red lines.”
“You just told us,” Ditto retorted, “that the red lines must be drawn in red colour. Here, I even wrote it down for myself. And now you’re drawing them with a blue pen. Are these red lines?”
“Yes, by the way,” Rabbite remarked, “I asked you about the blue colour. And what did you say?”
Suddenly Helen rescued Smith. She had been looking at his sketch from her place with great interest.
“It seems to me, I understand you, ” she said. “You are not talking about the colour, right? It’s just about that, how do you call it? Per-per-what?”
“Yes, perpendicularity of lines,” Smith responded thankfully. “It’s not concerned with the line colours at all.”
“Wait, I’m completely confused now,” Rabbite said, looking at one meeting participant after another. “So what is our problem? Colour or perpendicularity?”
Carrots emitted bewildered sounds and shook her head. She was confused as well.
“Both of them,” Smith said softly.
“I don’t understand any of this,” Rabbite said staring at his locked fingers. “We have a task here. We just need seven red lines. If there were twenty of them, I would understand the difficulty, but we need just seven. It’s that simple. Our customer wants seven perpendicular lines. Am I right?”
“And Ditto can’t see any problems either,” Rabbite said. “Is it true, Ditto?.. That’s it. So what prevents us from accomplishing the task?”
“Geometry,” Smith said with a sigh.
“Well, just ignore it, it’s that simple!” Carrots said.
Smith kept silence, trying to compose his mind. His brain was bearing colourful metaphors which could get out the surrealism of the situation to the group, but being transformed into words they all began with a “Fuck!” which was an inappropriate word for a business meeting.
Having got no answer, Rabbite pronounced:
“Smith, just say it in one word — can you do it or not? I understand you are a narrowly focused specialist and can’t see the big picture. Is it so difficult to draw seven lines? We’ve been discussing some bullshit for two hours already, and still can’t find a solution.”
“Oh yes,” Ditto said. “You are only criticising and saying “Impossible! Impossible!”. You’d better suggest your own solution. Criticism is for assholes, pardon me, and you are a professional!”
Smith gasped exhaustedly:
“OK. I can draw two red lines which are guaranteed to be perpendicular, and all the other in transparent colour. They’ll be transparent, no one will see them, but I’ll draw them. Does that suit you?”
“Does that suit us?” Carrots turned to Helen. “Yes, that suits us.”
“But at least two of them in green colour,” added Helen. “And one more question, if you don’t mind?”
“Yes,” Smith said wearily.
“Can you draw one line kitten-shaped?”
Smith was silent for a couple of seconds and then asked:
“Well, in the form of a kitten. Just a small kitten. Our customers love animals. It would be great…”
“No,” said Smith.
“Well, of course I can draw a cat for you. I am not an artist but I can try. But it won’t be a line. It will be a cat. Cats and lines are different things.”
“A kitten,” Carrots clarified. “Not a cat, just a kitten, small, cute. Cats, they are…”
“Doesn’t matter,” Smith shook his head.
“No way?..” Helen asked disappointedly.
“Smith, could you hear her out?” Rabbite said angrily. “You haven’t let her finish and are already saying “No!”. ”
“I’ve caught the idea,” Smith said looking down at the table. “It’s impossible to draw a kitten-shaped line.. ”
“That’s OK, no worries,” Helen allowed. “And what about a bird?”
Smith silently looked at her, and Helen understood everything.
“That’s OK, no worries then,” she repeated.
Rabbite slapped the table…
“So what’s the outcome? What are we going to do?”
“Seven red lines,” Carrots said. “Two in red, two in green, and all the rest in transparent. OK? Did I get it right?”
“Yes,” Ditto confirmed before Smith could open his mouth.
Rabbite nodded satisfied.
“That’s great… Is that it, colleagues?.. Break up?.. Any other questions?..”
“Oh,” Helen remembered. “We’ve got a red balloon! Can you inflate it?”
“Yes, by the way,” Carrots said. “Let’s discuss it now and not have to meet again.”
“Smith,” Rabbite turned to Smith, “can we do that?”
“And how does the balloon relate to me?” asked Smith in surprise.
“It’s red,” Helen explained.
Smith kept silent feeling stupid, just tips of his fingers were trembling.
“Smith?” Rabbite asked angrily. “So can you do it or not? It’s so simple.”
“Well,” Smith said cautiously, “basically I can do that of course, but…”
“OK,” Rabbite nodded. “Go to their place and inflate it. We’ll cover the expenses if need.”
“Can we do it tomorrow?” Carrots asked.
“Of course,” Rabbite said. “I can’t see any problems here… Well, is that all?.. Great. Very productive work. Thank you all and goodbye!”
Smith blinked several times to get back to the real world, then stood up and slowly headed off towards the door. Helen caught him up just near the door.
“Can I ask you?” Helen said turning red. “When you inflate the balloon… Can you inflate it kitten-shaped?..”
“I can do everything,” he said. “I can do absolutely everything. I am a professional.”