This is the third installment of five in a shortish fiction thing I drafted five years ago.**********************
Parts One and Two are below.
Parts One and Two are below.
For the Third Day of the Diet, You Eat Only Fruits and Vegetables.
I get out of bed after only hitting alarm once because I remember that today is a solid food day! I’m overjoyed. Rush to kitchen and gobble three bananas. I’m convinced bananas are the most glorious food on the planet…until I see an apple in the fruit bowl and eat it immediately. Perhaps apples are just as good as bananas. Hmm. Engage in deep, pre-coffee musings on the comparative gloriousness of apples versus bananas until my evil mind reminds self of gloriousness of pancakes. Not that I’ve the time or ingredients or energy to actually make pancakes.
Spend morning shower wondering if I need to enhance my culinary skills.
Look over day’s agenda and remember with some dismay that today is the Christmas catalog marketing meeting. It starts at 10 and will be endless.
First of all, there’s no reason for me, the HR director, to be involved in actual catalog sales or production at all. But Jerry likes all director-level people to be present at these things so we are familiar with what the company does. As if we otherwise aren’t.
Our catalog, Grandma Goodson’s Goodie Bag, has been around for over fifty years, steadfastly delivering novelty gifts to American families. Our best-selling summer items are our custom-designed floral-print, one-size-fits-most house dresses (this year to be offered with matching floral flip-flops). Other best-sellers include decorative light-switch plates, the barking frog motion detector, the “I’d Rather Be…” t-shirt series, and anything NASCAR. But Christmas is when we really make a killing. Nothing says Goodson’s like festive ornaments, decorative plaques, and things that light up and play songs (think Incredible Singing Wreath). Thus, planning must begin early, despite the company’s obvious lack of holiday spirit in May.
Problem is, Jerry has no sense of humor. Goodson’s may be a household name, but one can only take selling revving NASCAR clocks so seriously. Essentially, the entire company is one big joke, and Jerry doesn’t get it. Neither do some of my colleagues, but that’s because they have far less transferable skills. Most of us take our jobs with a grain of salt—because we’re good at what we do, and could be doing it anywhere, but we’re here… essentially working for the whoopee cushion of Corporate America.
Anyway, the meeting today is where buyers show us, item by item, what will be offered in the Christmas catalog. So not only is there little point in my being there, but the Christmas catalog is huge, which means the meeting will go on and on and on and on. Plus Amy won’t be there, so there’ll be no one to make faces at when humorless buyers drag out this year’s versions of blinking-light nativity scenes.
The conference room is exceptionally large and comfortable, and has great big windows overlooking the Bay. So the windows are pleasant, but also a glaring reminder that it’s definitely not Christmastime. The room is also equipped with many necessary outlets, and Gail has provided dozens of extension cords.
The meeting’s starting with the basics. The first buyer is Paul, who’s been around forever and dresses like a tired high school history teacher. Paul does all the standard, bread-and-butter items year-round, and is responsible for our Christmas staples.
Paul is standing in the front of the room beside a table a huge, red cardboard box. He pulls the first item out of the box, places it on the table, and plugs it in. Item number one is a polyresin tabletop mini-tree with multi-colored lights.
“See, here, it’s different from last year’s trees—a big improvement. Last year the music was activated by a button on the electrical cord. We have learned that customers don’t like this feature. Many people try and hide cords behind tables or under table runners. Ooh and I have a terrific table runner coming up. Anyway, this year we’ve spoken to our supplier and you can now activate the music—” Paul pauses for effect and demonstration. He pushes down on the yellow star atop the tree and, naturally, Oh Christmas Tree starts playing. “By pressing on the tree itself. The best part is—” Paul pushes down on an ornament that isn’t lit, and Oh Christmas Tree stops and Deck the Halls starts. “We have more songs to choose from, all over the tree.” Paul is visibly pleased.
Anna, a copywriter, stops scribbling madly to ask, “How many songs in all? Which ones?”
Paul smiles. “Five in all. The two you’ve heard plus Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and…” Paul turns the tree upside down to look at the label that has all the song titles. “And Sleigh Bells Ring.”
The room “ahhs” a collective approval.
“I don’t think it’s called Sleigh Bells Ring” says Anna.
Everyone looks at her. I catch Reed rolling his eyes.
“I mean, isn’t it called Winter Wonderland?”
Paul looks concerned. “I…I don’t know…are there two songs with sleigh bells ringing?”
Valerie from customer service starts singing, “Sleigh bells ring, are ya’ listenin? In the lane, snow is glistenin. Da da da da daaa, da da da da daaa, walking in a winter wonderland.”
Heated discussion ensues.
“Yeah, see? It’s Winter Wonderland,” says Anna.
“Definitely,” says Valerie.
“Then what’s Sleigh Bells Ring?” asks Paul.
“Those are words from the song,” says Anna.
“Which song?” asks Jerry, obviously trying to take the lead and solve the problem.
“Winter Wonderland,” say Anna and Valerie in unison.
“But isn’t there a sleigh bells song?” asks Jerry.
“There is a sleigh bells song, but I don’t think it’s this one, and I don’t think it’s called Sleigh Bells Ring,” says Anna.
“Then what is the sleigh bells song called?” asks Paul.
“I’m not sure,” says Anna.
“I think you mean Sleigh Bells,” pipes in Josh, our newest buyer. “We used to play it in band.”
“I’ve never heard of Sleigh Bells,” says Anna.
“Yes you have, you know, the Sleigh Bells song,” says Joe.
“Wait, you had a band that played Sleigh Bells?” asks Joe, the other copywriter, incredulously. “What kind of band plays Sleigh Bells?”
“My high school concert band. We played it every year,” Josh said, perhaps a little sheepishly.
“You were in a concert band? What instrument did you play?” asks Joe.
“I was in the band, I played flute,” adds Valerie.
There is a round of “me too”s, and the meeting is officially off-track, as there is murmured talk of who played what and for how many years and in what chair. I realize that we’re still on the first product and that the meeting is quite possibly going to last until actual Christmas arrives.
“Okay everybody, we need to really focus. Tell you what, though. We’ll have lunch in today, and you can all pick up this discussion then. Now, let’s get some clarity around this issue,” says Jerry, very seriously. “What song does our tree play?”
“Winter Wonderland,” answer Anna, Valerie, and Joe.
“Are you sure? Then what does Sleigh Bells sound like?” asks Paul, obviously confused and defensive. Paul does not handle anything that resembles criticism well.
“There is no song called Sleigh Bells, I’m sure of it,” says Anna.
Joe fields this. “Okay, well, we know for sure there is no song called Sleigh Bells Ring. The song that the tree plays is definitely called Winter Wonderland. There is a song called something like Sleigh Bells, but that isn’t what the tree plays. Right?” Joe is asking Anna, having given up on Paul as the authority.
“Right,” says Anna. “But how does the sleigh bells song go then?”
Joe hesitates only briefly before starting in, “Doot do do doot doot dooooo, doot do do doot doot doooo…”
There is a collective “ohhhh” as everyone recognizes it.
“Yeah, and the horse neighs in it,” adds Joe.
A look of understanding comes across Anna’s face. “Sleigh RIDE! It’s called Sleigh Ride,” she says, triumphantly.
“I thought we agreed that the tree plays Winter Wonderland?” asks Paul.
“It does. The song Joe was singing is called Sleigh Ride.”
Paul looks at Anna with great concern.
“Don’t worry, I’m all set with a write-up,” says Anna.
“Great. I’ll let the manufacturer know and they can change the label on the bottom of the tree. Okay then, moving on,” Paul says, and reaches into the box, trying to regain composure.
“Great. Okay then,” Paul repeats, as “great, okay then” is his usual filler phrase. “This year we have a really superb light-up baby Jesus that is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. As you’ll note, it’s much brighter than older models, and can conveniently be used in place of overhead lighting.” He pauses to plug it in, and we are all nearly blinded.
“Whoa! Now, isn’t that something!?!?” exclaims Jerry.
Yes. It’s something alright.
By the time Paul is finished, the conference table is aglow with various bright and blinking baubles. Paul’s display gets a round of applause, and everyone helps Paul unplug and re-box.
Cynthia takes the floor next, and seems overly eager to do so, even for her. Cynthia and Paul have been at Goodson’s for about the same amount of time, and if Paul plays the part of a tired high school history teacher, Cynthia runs the high school glee club. She’s ruddy faced and jovial, and actually wears bows in her hair.
“Hi everyone, glad you’re all here. Of course, I have to say for you newcomers, this is just my favorite meeting all year. Really festive, really fun, and also really very important. Now, I’m sure that rumor mill must have been turning, and it’s true—”
For a funny little office, Goodson’s has a fair amount of good gossip. Sadly, the rumor mill rarely concerns itself with Cynthia, much less with the Christmas catalog.
“—I do have a stunning announcement to make. So why don’t I get right to it? Okay! As you know, we’ve had great success with our America the Beautiful products and layout that we’ve been running since…well, since…” and Cynthia’s voice gets very quiet. She whispers, “since 9-11.” Then perks right up again. “Anyway! I am so excited to announce, this year, Goodson’s will be providing—some might even say rewarding—our customers with the total. American. Christmas. Experience!”
Following the stunning news, Cynthia looked beside herself. Jerry looked equally pleased. Reed looked nauseous.
I personally tend to think theming an already themed holiday is a bit over-the-top, even for us. But I’m just in HR, what do I know.
I’m going to shoot myself. The half-hour lunch break seems like three American Christmas catalogs ago. I didn’t even get to leave the building because of Jerry springing for a catered lunch. Figures—free lunch and all I could eat was wilty salad with no dressing.
How am I supposed to manage all this American Christmas with nothing but salad? I’m cranky and tired, and really getting sick of red, white, and blue ribbon. Going on four hours now of patriotic tree skirts, patriotic cookie tins, patriotic Christmas sweaters, patriotic snow globes.
Patriotic Christmas tree toilet paper.
Cynthia has finally finished, and frankly, looks exhausted. As does everyone else.
There’s one buyer still to go, but I expect this part of the meeting will be brief since it always is. Goodson’s does not tend to devote much of its Christmas catalog to Hanukkah, probably because there are too few popularized Hanukkah songs to go around. Really, how many products can play the dreidel song?
Josh is bringing a box about twice the size as last year’s to the front of the room. I have a bad feeling about this. I’m hoping against hope and common decency that Hanukkah products have not gone the way of our American Christmas Experience.
4: 49 p.m.
At least red, white, and blue go nicely with blue and silver.
Ahhh. Happy to be home and not in a meeting, even if my dinner of fruits is lacking compared to the prospect of cereal and milk and coffee in the morning.
Wonder if the diet has been a success. Sitting on my bed, staring at my nemesis-dress hanging from my closet door, I’m not sure if I should try it on now, or just leave it for tomorrow. If the diet has been successful, the dress will fit better than ever and I’ll be ecstatic, and that will make my night. If the diet has failed, I’ll spend the entire night cursing and kicking things and dreading tomorrow.
Maybe the diet needs a full three days and nights to work anyway. Obviously the diet was developed by peoples who have a better understanding of nutrition and digestion than I do, so it’s probably best not to meddle. Yes, I’ll wait till tomorrow to see the results.
I suppose I could just weigh myself, but I’ve not owned a scale since the grapefruit diet.
While I’m in my bedroom, I decide I should probably go through a mental wedding checklist. Little black purse? Check. Pair of black nylons? Check. Back-up pair of black nylons? Check—though I know that my pantyhose will only run if I’m not carrying a back-up pair.
Hmm. Not sure about shoes yet. Or underwear. Or hairstyle. But I have plenty of time to work everything out tomorrow. First I’ll sleep in, which I know my body needs. Then I’ll enjoy a real breakfast. Then I’ll have my manicure fixed properly at non-scary salon across the street. Thankfully, the wedding’s not till two. That gives me plenty of time to pamper myself.
Go online. I’ve received 32 new messages on my personal, home e-mail account since yesterday (I didn’t have time to check at the office). Once I get through deleting myriad offers of penis enlargements, instant credit approvals, home loans, and mysterious winnings from my "dearest friend" in Nairobi, my inbox is empty.
I check the digital cable movie listings and am happy to see that Dead Poets Society is on at 10:30 p.m. May as well stay up to watch it. Suppose I’ll stay online and surf till then as I’ve nothing better to do. God, I have no social life whatsoever.
Really getting tired of the damn pop-up ads for online personals accusing me of having no social life whatsoever.
Fine. I’ll place a personal ad online. Will show them.
I know I’m an interesting person—despite my own mother’s opinions—so how am I supposed to fill this out and not sound like a complete loser?
Do people even have hobbies anymore? What, like stamp collecting? I don’t collect anything. I don’t do anything. Maybe should take up rock climbing. Or scuba diving. No, I’m not taking something up just to fill out a damn personal ad.
Let’s try and be serious.
Hobbies: reading, watching movies, having drinks with friends.
Hmm, wonder if that’s refreshingly honest or if it says, “My hobbies are anything that lets me escape from the sad reality that is my life.”
Hobbies is a dumb category.
Upload photo? My my, the moment of truth. Filling out a dumb form is one thing. Putting a whole picture of myself up, that’s another. But I suppose it’s a good idea, and only fair. I certainly wouldn’t go out with a guy without seeing his photo first.
Not that I have photos of myself on my computer. Maybe I could use the company picnic photos that Joe put up on his website…
How do you get a photo from a website? Is there a rule about what kind of picture to use? The one good shot of my face doesn’t show my body, but the one that shows my body is unflattering.
Maybe I should get a digital camera.
Photo file too large? It’s just my head! How do you make it smaller? Do I have photo editing software on my computer? Christ, this is complicated. There can’t actually be millions of people out there who’ve done this. Pop-up ads probably lie a lot.
Thank god, my ad is done. That was certainly a humbling and excruciating process. I did manage to fix the photo file size, but now the photo is very fuzzy and sort of makes my hair look detached from my head. Wonder if that matters.
So I guess I just relax now and wait for the love of my life to find me. Or at least a date for next weekend. Or even just for pop-up ads to stop badgering me into submission.
As for tonight, I have my cats, Dead Poets Society, and an orange.
I was definitely in the mood for sappy movie. I cried even harder than usual. Maybe it was just a weird diet-induced hormonal imbalance. Suppose I could also be a bit sad about the ex. Or about going to another formal event alone. Or about spending an hour writing an Internet personal ad.
Or maybe it was just simply about the patriotic Christmas tree toilet paper. We all have our limits.