You have seen them, the entourages. They appear whenever a VIP shows up. Entourage comes from the French word “entourer”, which means to surround. Synonyms would be things like “a following,” “a staff,” “an escort.” Also, “strap hangers,” “boot lickers,” and the ever-popular “minion.”
Entourages exist to make the VIP’s visit pleasant and informative, from the VIP’s perspective. They are considered career-enhancers (if the tour went well) or career-preservers (if the tour went badly – proximity allows for quick finger-pointing at someone who isn’t there) from the perspective of those who are in the “following.” It’s a win-win for all concerned.
But there are limits. I was in an entourage a few years back, proud to be counted among the crowd following an Admiral around as he went on an inspection tour. We all hovered close enough to hear what he was saying, but far enough back so he could not ask us any questions. Others – the more daring of the bunch – hovered dangerously close to his heels. If he would have suddenly stopped we would have piled into him like the Keystone Kops.
He didn’t stop, but he did something we had not planned for. He went to the bathroom.
A couple of the followers – those who had ventured too close – went right in behind him. The rest of us stopped short, confused and leaderless like a colony of ants who has lost its queen. We could only imagine the horrors of our minions-in-arms on the other side of that door when they realized where they were and what they had done.
They were in entourage purgatory, stuck somewhere between heaven and hell, and closer to the latter. What does one say at a time like that? Do you hold a conversation? Turn around and uncomfortably adjust your uniform? You couldn’t pretend to look at emails on your cellphone because they hadn’t been invented yet.
I don’t know what happened, but eventually the Admiral emerged, refreshed and relaxed. Those who followed him in came out too, flushed and humiliated. Alas, they had forgotten the golden rule of strap hanger membership:
There is no “we” in entourage.