I was weathering a Category 1 hangover the day my big fat Vice President dropped by the office and found me asleep at my desk. He’d come to personally deliver my Christmas bonus (a twenty-dollar bill stapled to a battery-operated Rudolph necktie) and to spread some holiday cheer to the few remaining insurance salesmen who hadn’t already quit to pursue more lucrative door-to-door opportunities. To this day, I can’t figure out why the fat man just didn’t pull my plug right there on the spot.
“Wake up Slick,” he said between clenched teeth. “Tiz the season of our discontent. You got a punch bowl around here?”
I didn’t answer, unsure if I could even open my mouth without hurling. My girlfriend had given me the boot a few days earlier and I’d been on a 24/7 gin-soaked tear ever since.
“No? Then put on your new necktie, get your sorry ass over to K-Mart, and buy one,” he said. He then ripped the crisp twenty from the blinking fabric, crumpled up it in his hammy fist, and bounced it off my forehead. “There, you can use your Christmas bonus to pay for it.”
I should have resigned right then and there but instead, I kept my head, splitting as it was, and did as I was told. I was the lowest ranked sales manager in the worst selling region in the country and it was only a matter of time before everyone…including the idiot standing before me…went down in corporate flames. You see, I may be a lot of messed-up things, but quitter isn’t one of them. Especially when Unemployment Benefits are at stake. So I got in my car and dashed to K-Mart, necktie flashing all along the way.
Twenty minutes later I found myself hovering in Housewares, neck sweating, head pounding, hangover slightly downgraded to tropical storm status, when a short, plump Elderly Woman approached me with a fistful of coupons. Alvin and those irritating chipmunks were singing that insidious song over the PA system.
“I want to file a complaint,” the Woman said. “You don’t have the Sunbeam Foot Soaker in stock. And it was in the paper.”
“Yeah, well . . . I don’t work here.” I said.
“You’re not the manager?” She asked.
“Um, I am a manager,” I said. “Just not here.”
“But…you’re wearing that necktie,” she replied.
“Yes, but this is also an Italian suit,” I snapped back. “You need to go find somebody with a smock … and a name tag.”
“Well, either way,” she said, “you don’t seem to be very good at what you do. And if I may add … you smell like hooch and stale cigarettes. Perhaps you should find another ‘line of work’ where they let you drink on the job.
Now you can call me a drunk all you want, but I’d rather receive a partridge in a pear tree, every day for a year, from someone I don’t truly love, than be called a quitter. Give me the boot, pull my plug, watch me crash and burn. Whatever. But Like I already said, I’m not quitting anything.
I gathered my composure before replying:
“I’m sorry you feel that way, ma’am. Now… if you’ll please excuse me…”
“Well, I’m sorry too,” she said. “But that lady over there said to ask you. And that you were a manager.”
I looked over and saw another short, plump woman, in a burka, glaring at me, dark eyes focused on my blinking neckwear.
“Okay, I said. “I’m pretty sure that lady over there doesn’t speak English.”
“I speaka better English than you,” the Burka Lady yelled back across the aisle. “I speaka five languages. How many you speaka, Mister necktie?”
“Yeah?” asked the Elderly Woman. “How many languages you speaka?” And although I’ve never actually seen a Turtle Dove, I‘ve heard they can be nasty if provoked. And at that moment, I’m pretty sure I was flanked by two of them.
Suddenly, a blue light special began whirling above our heads. Something inaudible was announced over the PA system, interrupting the drone of chipmunk falsetto. I froze as a wave of shoppers scurried in our direction. Something about steak knives in Aisle 13…The Elderly Woman was now tugging on my coat sleeve.
“Someone has to be responsible,” she said. “It was advertised in the paper!”
“Yeah, I get it. But for the last time…. I. Don’t. Work. Here.”
“She deserves a raina check!” the Burka Lady shouted. “Itsa false advertising if you don’t. Itsa Bait and Switch!”
“Yes. It’s a Bait and Switch!” the Elderly Woman repeated.
“Bait and Switch!” Somebody yelled from the mob. “Bait and Switch! Bait and Switch!” they All chanted. I felt like I was being French Hen pecked to death in Big Box Hell.
Just then, TAMMY LYNN, a cashier in a red smock from Electronics, approached me to ask if she could please take her cigarette break. I fired her on the spot. Told her to turn in her smock and her nametag. And that H.R. would be mailing her last check within 60 days.
“Who the F*#% is H.R?” she asked, as I turned and walked out of the store — without a punch bowl.
I pulled off my necktie and tossed it, still blinking, into one of the shopping carts scattered like stray sheep across the parking lot, and headed to the liquor store where at least everybody knew me for what I really was. And instead of a fruity delicious holiday punch that afternoon at the office, we all drank shots of Gordon’s Gin out of coffee mugs until we couldn’t walk.
Toward the end of that still hazy day I recall my Vice President putting a beefy arm around my neck and pulling me close enough to catch a whiff of his boozy breath and cheap aftershave.
“Nice suit, Slick…, he said; slurring, tugging on the lapel of my knock-off Armani double-breasted blazer, twirling the shiny material with his fingertips. “Nice suit … but … it has three too many buttons. You’re an insurance professional, not a mob boss … capeesh?”
I would later declare in a notarized deposition that it was the hooch, and not me, who called the Fat Bastard a fat bastard and took the first swing, but it didn’t really matter. By New Years Eve, my former boss was selling used Fords in Indiana and I was placed on triple dog-dare probation with the company. They asked me to “quit” of course, several times in fact–but I refused. Instead, Human Resources sent me off packing for 28 days at Hazelton. And this was before it was considered cool to take a holiday vacay at Rehab. But . . . that was then.
These days? Well these days I’m selling timeshares in Mexico and could care less about what strangers think of me, or which shirt goes with what stupid tie, or whether some fat corporate type is going to come along and pull my plug. These days, I wear my skin like a loose garment (without neckwear) and play along if a person mistakes me for someone, or something I am not.
Why just the other day I was wearing a sombrero, doing Jello-shots with the Spring Break senoritas at the Cabo Wabo Tiki bar, when a tourist approached me and asked for my autograph. Said she loved my work in “Taxi” and all those “Romancing the Stone” movies with Michael Douglas and Kathleen WhatsHerName. And that I actually looked shorter in person, if such a thing is even possible. I just bit my tongue and played along, signed her little book – although frankly, I don’t see the resemblance between me and Danny D.
But like I said, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t start buying me drinks before noon and we’ll be Kool and the Gang. You see, my new health insurance sucks and won’t cover yet another 28 days in Detox. And besides …as they say, rehab is for “quitters.” Capeesh?