Saturday, May 29, 2010

The New Guy

“I smell coffee,” Lucinda said. She sniffed at the air as she entered the phone room. Kalo and John followed her and all three telemarketers moved slowly. They were already late and found no reason to rush. Lucinda’s legs lumbered with her weight and her heels scraped the carpet.
“I hate the taste of coffee but I love the smell,” she rattled on, “and they kept trying to serve me coffee at breakfast but I just wanted my sausage and eggs. Oh, that sausage was so good. My Atkins diet says that I can eat all the sausage I want so I had a double order. I just have to watch my carbs.”
When Kalo noticed the man dressed in a shirt and tie she immediately went to his cubicle.
“Who are you?” Kalo asked.
He held up his index finger and smiled politely as he continued taking the phone pledge.
“He must be the new guy, Kalo,” Lucinda said. She pulled out the padded chair from her cubicle. “Now don’t start flirting.”
“I don’t flirt!”
“You flirt with anything in pants,” John joked with her. He was the last to get to his workspace and carried a cup of coffee with him. As he lowered his pudgy, pot-bellied body to the folding chair the metal groaned with the weight.
All three telemarketers were obese but Lucinda was the biggest. She ate hot pork skins from a plastic bag and sipped a diet cola. She arranged these items at her small cubicle and lowered her rotund bottom into the large padded chair.
“Looks hot,” Kalo said. She sat down at the cubicle next to Lucinda.
“Are you talking about the new guy?”
“No, the pork skins. But I do like a man in a tie.”
“You just like men,” John said as he drank some coffee.
John completely ignored the fact that the new guy was busy writing down information from the pledge. “You make this coffee? It’s strong! But I like it.”
“Thanks,” the new guy said to John. He hung up the phone and immediately went to the tally board.
David wrote down another hash mark beside his name. He already had three pledges for the Children’s Foundation Jail-Bail fundraiser.
“You must be David,” Kalo said as she read his name from the board. She walked to the board and stood as close to him as she could without touching him.
She was coy and pointed at her name listed on the sales board, “I’m Kalo.” She indicated his score with a painted finger nail. “You’ve been busy.”
“I’ve been here since eight-thirty. Three pledges in forty-five minutes. Is that good?”
“Too good,” Lucinda said as she munched on a fried pork skin. “You got to pace yourself, like you’re at a buffet. Sylvia used to ask for twelve pledges per shift, but we straightened her out.”
“But aren’t the pledges what you’re paid to do?” David asked.
“Paid?” Lucinda bellowed. Her large lungs could shout with very little effort. “They pay us peanuts.”
“Ten dollars an hour,” the new guy reminded her.
“Right. Because it’s part time. Twenty-seven hours a week—can’t even buy new underwear with that—or a decent lunch. Hey! Gloria! Where’s Gloria? We need to order lunch.”
“Hi,” Kalo said. She was still standing by David.
“Hi.” David smiled at her and asked, “Have you been here long?”
“About a month.”
“No, it’s been longer than that,” Lucinda interrupted. “It’s been two months.”
“A month and a half.”
“Hello, I’m John.” John stuck out his big hand to David but remained seated.
“David Davidson,” he shook John’s hand firmly.
“Ha!” Lucinda laughed, “your parents named you twice! Want some pork skins?”
“No thanks.”
“How come you’re wearing a tie?” Kalo asked. She touched his tie with her fingertips. “It’s nice.”
“Because it’s his first day!” Lucinda shouted from her chair. “You don’t have to impress nobody around here.”
John put two marks beside his name.
“Sand bagger!” Lucinda screamed at him.
“I got them this morning.”
“I didn’t hear you on the phone,” Kalo said suspiciously.
“You were too busy making eyes at David,” John said.
“I wasn’t! I was just introducing myself.”
“Did you really just get two?” David asked.
“Sure,” John grinned. “Now I’m only one behind you but,” he turned to Lucinda, “two in front of you.”
“Sand bagger!”
“Really,” Kalo agreed.
“Well girls,” John said as he went back to his station, “we’ll see who wins today.”
“I beat you yesterday! I got eight before lunch,” Lucinda said. Her stomach groaned and she looked toward the hallway and called out, “Gloria? Where is Gloria? Kalo what do you want for lunch?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s get something from Beefboy’s Deli. I like a big Greek salad.”
“I’d just like a big Greek,” Kalo tried to be sultry.
“With double dressing.”
“A Greek undressing.”
“Are you girls talking about food or sex?” John asked.
“Both!” Kalo laughed.
“Right, both,” Lucinda grumbled. “But I don’t remember much about sex. That Spaniard takes me and then rolls off me like a pig and goes to sleep.”
David looked at the huge woman. Her legs were squeezed into jeans and a roll of fat hung over her belt, if she were wearing a belt, he could not see it. Her breast lay flat on her big round belly and her flabby arms continued to shove food into her mouth as she licked her thick fingers. He could not imagine anyone on top of her and having sex.
“What are you looking at?” Lucinda asked him gruffly.
“Nothing,” David answered. “Well, good to meet all of you.”
“David, take off that tie,” Lucinda ordered him.
Kalo smiled at David and said, “I like it.”
“You like anything in pants,” Lucinda said.
“Not true!”
“You’re just a flirt.”
“I don’t flirt with John.”
“John don’t count. He’s just a fat hog like us.”
“I’m not as fat as you,” Kalo reminded her and took one of the pork skins from Lucinda’s desk.
“You’re not as old as me. You’re only nineteen with one kid. I’m thirty with three kids. You’ll be as fat as me in ten years. When you’re as old as me you’ll—”
“That would be eleven years,” John corrected her math, “and probably more.”
“Shut up! Sand bagger! You’re just trying to show off ‘cause of the new guy.”
“I’m kicking your big ass today.”
“So everyone did pretty good yesterday,” David said reading the board. “Lucinda had eight, John had seven and Kalo had—“
“I only worked in the afternoon but I got four.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll do better today.”
“You remind me of an actor,” Kalo frowned as she tried to remember who David resembled, “but I don’t remember his name.”
“Here we go,” Lucinda spoke with her mouth full of pork skins. “Damn these are hot!”
“Shut up! He does look like an actor.”
“Get a new line,” Lucinda said. She made a sputtering noise with her bulbous lips.
“He hasn’t heard it,” John chuckled. He began to tap a phone number onto the keypad.
“Shut up, both of you!” Kalo turned to David and asked, “They are so mean to me, are you going to be mean to me?”
“I’m not here to be mean to anyone.”
“Sit down, Kalo,” Lucinda commanded as if Kalo was a little girl. “Give the new guy a break.”
“I’m David.”
“All right, David the new guy. I don’t want to see any more pledges from you this morning until we catch up.”
“Why not?” David asked.
“Because! We don’t want to work that hard. God these are hot,” she spoke into the diet cola can and washed down the pork skin. She wiped her mouth with the back of her thick hand. “Phew! I wish I’d never bought the hot ones.”
“Then don’t eat them,” David suggested with a shrug.
“I can’t stop. Hey!” Lucinda said loudly, “Are you starting with me?”
“Starting?” David asked.
“Right. Starting. Don’t start with me. I know I’m fat. But I’ve lost ten pounds and I’m on the Atkins diet and I can eat these and still lose weight.”
“I was only saying--”
“I know what you were saying,” she interrupted.
“If they are too hot don’t eat them.” David said. After a moment he added, “Or eat something else.”
“You are starting with me. You’re saying I can’t stop eating.”
“You can’t,” Kalo spoke with her back to Lucinda.
“I know I have a problem but I’m working on it. What are you doing about your problem, Kalo?”
“I diet.”
“I guess we should get back on the phones,” David said. He looked over his list and picked up the phone.
“Relax! You got three.” Lucinda raised her voice again as she pointed to the board, “You trying to impress them? Don’t bother. They don’t care. Sylvia got a promotion for doing nothing. We did all the work and she took all the credit.”
“I thought our goal was twelve,” David said.
“Hey, let me put you straight. We don’t have to do that many. They’ll keep us around anyway. Who are they going to get to do this? So relax. Get a couple more and call it a day.”
David looked at her beautiful face stuck on top of the baggy turgidity. If she lost a hundred pounds she might be attractive. He turned back to his phone list.
“Don’t give him a hard time,” Kalo whined, “he’s nice.”
“I’m not giving anyone a hard time except you. Here, have a pork skin.” Lucinda held out the bag to Kalo.
“No, they’re too hot.”
“No they’re not.”
“Then why are you breathing funny?” Kalo asked.
“Gloria!” Lucinda screamed and David put a finger in his ear to try and hear the person on the phone. “Are you here? We have to order lunch soon or it won’t get delivered by noon! Where is she?”
“She’s going to be late,” David said as he hung up the phone.
“How do you know?” Lucinda asked.
“She called into the office.”
“Why would she tell you?”
“I answered the phone.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“It was ringing.”
“It don’t ring back here.”
“I was at the receptionist desk.”
“Why didn’t Janet answer?”
“She was in the restroom.”
“Janet has a bladder problem,” Kalo told David. “I think they should move the phone into the toilet for her.”
“So what’s with Gloria?” Lucinda asked.
“Her little girl had a seizure.”
“How sad,” Kalo added.
John stood up and went to the board and put a third mark beside his name.
“Damn you! Why don’t you add those two you sand bagged back onto yesterday’s total!”
“Then I beat you yesterday.”
“No you didn’t.”
“And I’ll beat you today.”
“Shut up!”
“Can you hold it down?” David held his palm over the phone, “I’m trying to talk here.”
Lucinda glared at him and blew out a breath to try and cool her tongue. She immediately ate another spicy pork skin and drank a swig of diet cola. When David finished the call he put a fourth mark on the board.
“You don’t get it do you?” Lucinda scolded him.
“Sylvia told me the goal was twelve.”
“Well, Sylvia ain’t here. We never did twelve. It was too hard.”
“I don’t see why. I have four and it’s not even ten in the morning.”
“I don’t care what you got.”
“And could you lower your voice. People on the phone can hear you shouting.”
“You’re saying I’m a big mouth?”
“I’m saying you could lower your voice.”
“You don’t tell me what to do. I’ve been in this phone room longer than anyone. And I’ll still be around after you quit. People like you don’t work out.”
“What do you mean?”
“With your shirt and tie. Come on. You’re doing this while you’re looking for a better job. Unless you can’t find a job.”
“I’ve done all right.”
“You have? Then why’d you end up in a place like this Maybe there’s something we don’t know about you. Some secret. You been in jail or something.”
“What then?”
“I’m from Philadelphia.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“I just moved here.”
“You moved here for this job? That doesn’t make sense. Something’s not right.”
“B four!” John exclaimed, “I’m going for a bingo!”
“Get out!” Kalo said, and immediately picked up the phone receiver.
“Damn it, John!” Lucinda complained. “I give up this morning, but I’m going to kick your ass this afternoon.”
“You’re not going to make any calls?” David asked.
“You don’t worry about it. New guy.”
“Right, David,” she snarled at him. “You just stop making calls so we can catch up.”
“How can you catch up if you don’t make any calls?” David asked.
“You’re a smart ass, ain’t you. I don’t like a smart ass.”
“I’m not here to be liked,” David stated in an intimidating tone.
“You stay out of my way,” Lucinda fired back.
“That would be a challenge,” John said.
“Shut up, John!” Lucinda saw Gloria in the hallway and called to her, “Hey, Gloria! How’s your girl?”
“She’s stable,” Gloria spoke from the hallway, “thanks for asking.”
“Get in here! We have to order lunch.”
“Why don’t you start making calls?” David asked her.
“Why don’t you kiss my fat ass?”
“Lucinda,” Gloria said as she entered the phone room, “where you thinking of ordering—“
Gloria stopped speaking when she saw David.
“Mister Davidson,” Gloria gasped, “I thought you’d be in your office.”
“Office?” Lucinda asked.
“I wanted to check out the phone room first.” David rose from his seat at the cubicle.
“Why you calling him Mister? He’s just a loser like us.”
“Lucinda, Mister Davidson is Sylvia’s replacement.”
“Get out,” Kalo said. She started randomly punching the keypad on her phone to look busy.
John began to snicker.
“That’s right, Lucinda. I’m the new guy. And I wanted to find out why pledges were low in this office.” He looked directly at her, “Now I think I see the problem.”
“I do better than anyone around here.”
“I’d like to see you in my office, Lucinda,” David tersely instructed her.
He left the phone room with Gloria following behind him.
“Gloria! Why didn’t you tell us?” Lucinda asked.
Gloria shrugged her shoulders.
“You screwed up this time,” John smirked.
“I didn’t screw up! He should have introduced himself instead of spying on us. He’s just a sneaky spy.”
Her voice was carrying through the walls and she shouted loudly, “I don’t need this job!”
“Apparently not,” David said as he stuck his head back into the phone room. “I want to see you now. Before lunch.”

No French

By Patrick Plummer
My boss hated French. He despised France, including the French people, but he had a peculiar bias toward their language. For example, we could not take a cigarette break but we could go outside for a smoke. When dining out he would never order an entrée and called it the main course. And forget driving down a boulevard.
I suppose he thought French was trying to dominate the alphabet by using up all the vowels.
I’m certain the obsession eliminated things from his life. Champagne, crepes suzette and Audrey Tautou. I would consider the later the biggest loss. He’d never be able to admire at the actresses’ beauty.
It cramped his hiring, no one could submit a resume. Even though it doesn’t have the little accent marks in English anymore, it was poison to his mind. As his assistant, I would screen promising applicants and tell them to remove the word from the top of their work history. I advised them not to commit a gaffe and say “résumé” as they handed the document to him. Some excellent people slipped up. It is so common now to submit a you know what.
We could go to the john or the head but not the toilet. He went to lunch at a beanery and never a café.
I had learned to watch my mouth and keep my job at the beverage distribution company. A year ago I made a mistake the very first week and told him a truck was en route.
In what? He asked me the question as he put down his glasses and stared at me.
On they way, I answered.
That’s better, he advised me, never use that language around me again or you’re fired. Even if it is not French, but only sounds like it, you’re gone. Got it?
He was gauche.
I’ve lasted a year, which is longer than anyone. I learned think before I spoke. How can you not go out to lunch at restaurant? Or describe a pretty brown-haired girl as a brunette?
One day he asked about the framed picture of my fiancé on my desk.
This is a photograph of my wife to be, I said to him
Lovely woman, he said. What does she do?
I had to answer carefully because she worked as marketing director for the City Ballet.
She promotes a dance company.
He shrugged and left my office satisfied with his attempt to be my faux amis. That was a close one but I succeeded with my façade.
The day came when he was confronted with the inevitable. The visitor was the coupe de gras to his career. A short man with a hook nose came to our offices. He was dressed in a suit and carried a brown leather attache case. He intruduced himself to me as Andre Pompadeau and that he must see my boss immediately. The French accent made me smile.
Was he expecting you?
I shall meet with the both of you.
The stiff English is common with people who learned it formally. I escorted him into my boss’office. He glanced up from his desk and bluntly asked, What?
Pompadeau intruduced him self and this made my boss cringe. It got worse for him, better for me.
I am from the Nestlé Corporation.
I liked the way he said corporation, with all the nasal twang on the last syllable.
So what? My boss looked him up and down with contempt.
We have purchased your distribution company and I am present to observe.
Observe what?
Le operation.
Got to love the sound of “o-per-a-shown”.
My boss rose from his chair and leaned over his desk and asked, You mean I have to work for you?
Is this a joke? He turned to me with a hateful stare and demanded, Did you put this clown up to this?
Let me assure you, Pompadeau said, the situation is serious.
All the weird, non-essential accents drove my boss over the edge. He screamed at Pompadeau and said he’d rather quit than work for the French.
As you wish.
My ex-boss grabbed his jacket and left the office cursing the entire way down the hall and out the warehouse door.
I turned to monsieur Pampadeau, extended my hand, bowed my head in appreciation and said, Merci beaucoup.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi
By Patrick Foley Plummer

He answered her with an arrogant smile, “What a man does in adverse situations is acceptable.”
“Is that your defense?” she asked.
He studied the intense green eyes and sullen, somber face surrounded by long waves of gray hair, which she refused to cut. Kathleen remained a beauty even though she approached sixty. Age made her gorgeous.
“Am I on trial?” he asked.
“Should you be?”
She touched the button on the timer and started the free consultation.
“One hour,” he commented. “Is that all I get after what we’ve been through?”
“I have other appointments.”
“Couldn’t we talk tonight?”
“You have plans?”
“I agreed to see you for one hour. I don’t even owe you that.”
“Oh, Kathleen, your bitterness is unbecoming.”
“My bitterness is all I have left of you.”
He avoided her eyes and looked at the back of the polished Maple desk, at the lush pile carpet and at his own worn black loafers.
Kathleen had seen his head hung down before, but the hair was grayer now and the shoulders slumped unevenly. The left shoulder dropped, perhaps from some injury of which she knew nothing. Perhaps it was only age. She recalled gripping his younger and stronger shoulders while he entered her body and she immediately repelled the memory.
Kathleen wanted the session to be finished but continued with her commitment. She asked, “Why did you come to see me?”
“I wanted to.”
“To what?”
He looked up and the sly smile appeared full of innuendo and wanting.
“Jack, if you’re not here to see me in my professional capacity, you’re wasting my time.”
“But I need your counsel.”
“You can’t afford me.”
“This hour is free.”
“Then you’d better get to the point.”
He breathed a sigh and studied her lips and wondered why she chose the amethyst shade. The lipstick contrasted with her white hair and emerald eyes. He recalled the morning after they had drunk a magnum of merlot and her lips and tongue were stained violet. He teased her about it and she laughed and stuck out her dark livid organ, which he promptly sucked.
“You’re staring,” she said.
“I was thinking about the time we…”
“Don’t remember anything,” Kathleen warned him.
“Memories are all we have left.”
“Please don’t include me in it. I have my own life now.”
“Really?” He looked around the large desk for any evidence of a relationship. “Who are you seeing?”
“Jack, I did not agree to the counseling to discuss me.”
“So you’re not seeing anyone.”
She reached her left hand toward the timer and Jack quickly held up his hand and said, “I’ll let it go.”
Kathleen’s bony and ringless fingers paused over the clock. He gestured with both hands imploring her to allow him to continue.
“I really do need your advice,” he said.
She quietly folder her hands together on the desk and waited.
“I’ve made a mistake,” Jack said unconvincingly.
She cocked her head to the side.
“Only one?” she asked and clinched her jaws. The jowls sagged slightly but were attractive to him.
“Many,” he rushed his speech. “Many, many mistakes. One after another. And one bad judgment led to another. I’m sorry it ever involved you. I know I hurt you and that is something I’ve never forgiven myself for.”
“I told you not to include me.”
“But how could I not include you. I know I’ve hurt you more than anyone.”
“We’d have to go through a long list of women to determine who you hurt the most. That would exceed your free hour.”
“Do you hate me?”
Kathleen began to grind her teeth as she muttered, “No, Jack, I don’t hate you.”
His sarcastic grin returned, “That sounds like denial.”
“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare analyze me!”
“That’s good, Kathleen. Express your anger.”
“I’m not,” she caught her breath and slowly exhaled, “angry.”
Jack examined her rigid posture, her clinched fist and her beautiful, taut lips painted purple. Directly behind her was a small table with a photograph of her parents. Beside it was a snapshot of Kathleen and a dog. The picture was framed in black metal. Jack was about to ask about her parents but presumed they were dead. He thought to ask about the pet but a third object caught his eye. It was at the back of the table on a stand. The smooth curve and pearl finish appeared just above the black frame of the pet photograph. It was almost hidden but still there.
“Perhaps it was a mistake coming to see you, Kathleen.” He stood up and looked at her surprised face and then glanced at the shell again. “I thought if we talked again you’d get over me.”
“I am most certainly over you.”
“Really?” He walked around the desk and she rose from her chair. “Then we can shake hands and I’ll go.”
Kathleen sighed, “That might be best.”
“I still upset you.”
“You have that ability.”
“Do you know why?”
Kathleen contemplated the question as he stood close to her. Jack was slightly shorter than her. His face had aged but the dark brown eyes remained youthful and captivating. He was beaming at her and it made her nervous.
“Well?” He asked her again, “Why do I upset you?”
“Too much is unresolved.”
“But I always made you emotional. Sometimes it was good.”
“That was decades ago.”
“But you continue to hold on, Kathleen.”
“I most certainly do not!”
Jack pointed toward the table.
“What?” she asked.
“Corpus Christi. I bought this sea shell for you and filled it with flowers and presented it to you in bed one morning.”
Kathleen flushed. She had kept the memento all these years.
Jack picked up the shell and held it in both hands and offered it to her. Kathleen reached out, touched the warm backs of his hands and accepted the shell again. He moved closer to her and only the mollusk separated them. He kissed her gently.
“That’s a good girl,” he whispered.
She pressed the old present to his chest and pushed him away. Kathleen reached below her desk and brought out a wastebasket. She put the shell into the garbage and clicked off the timer.
“Session over,” she said. When he moved toward her again she demanded, “Go.”
Kathleen stepped away from him. Jack left her office without another word. His silent exit relieved her. When he was gone she retrieved the pearl colored shell from the trash and returned it to the display stand on her table.

Corpus Christi

By Patrick Foley Plummer