concrete wall in form of a keyhole“I think we have everybody here. Let’s get started with our check-in word. Please give your check-in words in order so Jerry can transcribe on the whiteboard,” said moderator Madelyn.

“Cat.” The first response is accompanied by laughter from the speaker.

“Interesting,” said Madelyn, “let’s continue.”




“The youth vote is in,” said Madelyn. “Next.”


“Ready.” Pause. “Did I get it?” asked Glen from Tampa.

“Let’s remember what we discussed at the last meeting, there is no “safe” word. Just a barometer of how you’re feeling as we get started with today’s meeting. Next.”

“Feel caffeinated.”

“While technically that’s two words and we limit it to one since we don’t have that much room on the white board and clearly Jerry can’t write that fast… Actually, why don’t we take away feel. Enjoy your coffee. Jerry, can you try spelling that again? Unfortunately, the white board doesn’t have spell check, but it does have an eraser. Caffeinated, double up on the f’s. That a boy. Speaking of coffee, is someone on the line in a coffee shop pressed up against an espresso machine?”

“Nashville here.”

“Right.” Silence. “Proceed Nashville.”

“The printers at our office are enhanced so they sound steam driven. It’s one of the purchase options, like the fake V8 engine sounds for muscle cars. To client visitors it sounds like we’re running a sweat shop, minus all the negative connotations, of course.”

“Nice touch. I like that. Next.”


“Sorry, passes aren’t allowed.”

“Will you confront me like last time?”

“What did you say?”


“You are disappointed before we even start? OK, I see it on the whiteboard from the last meeting. The letters in angry red.”

“All we did was read from two memos we all had in front of us.” Another location chimed in, “Why do we even do this?”

“To get conversation going.”

“What conversation? It’s a waste of time,” said Indianapolis.

“Haven’t I referred you to the website? It’s good to question and also good for me to put an end to this line of inquiry so we can move along with the meeting. Check out and they will send you to more links explaining why starting with a check-in word is an essential component of running a good meeting. Jerry change today’s ‘disappointed’ from red marker to our uniform sunny yellow. You can leave the bull’s eye dot as part of the exclamation point.”

“So defensive,” someone muttered.

Madelyn ignored the mutterings. “Okay, in this meeting we were going to read hand outs, but since our check-in word has dragged on with so much narrative, you can read them yourselves. I have another meeting to run, so let’s just do our check-out words, so we can compare and contrast.”



“Okay Lara, City of Miami; stay next to your phone after this call is over so we can talk.”

“I thought you wanted honesty.”

“Speak honestly minus the negativity. We have a white board and how does it look to my boss when it’s cross-stitched with bull’s eyes topped by exclamation points? Next.”


“Let’s quickly look at what has changed. Can’t help but notice y’all are just saying the opposite of your check-in word. That’s not what we want. Ready-done. Caffeinated-decaffeinated. Casper, Wyoming, did you use the same words as last time?”
“Yes. I just had my coffee before the check-in today and yesterday. I thought our word was supposed to be more a spur of the moment thing?”
“It’s fine, but feel free to change-up. You can use more than one word. What do you see? Jerry, focus the camera on today’s white board. Any themes jump out at you? Who are we individually and collectively? Do a collective of positives stamp out a person’s negative contribution?”

“Better not,” said Indianapolis.

“I think so,” said Madelyn. “Jerry cross-out disappointed. Better yet just erase it and it will be like it never besmirched our board. Hearing others attitudes may pull you out of your own unhealthy slide and focus on the good that others are attempting in this company. Time to celebrate a successful check-in and check-out. Now on your own. I have a meeting to run.”


paul picPaul Handley’s fiction has appeared in Gargoyle Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Gone Lawn, mojo, Ostrich Review and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. His cartoons are in Hobart and Forge.