The Green Beret

In the book, there is a section devoted to occurrences at a fictional and hypothetical newspaper that I totally never used to hypothetically work at and completely made up off the top of my head. Here is another part in that series, which is not in the book, because I just wrote it like, the other day. I hope you enjoy. All of this is true, in a hypothetical kind of way, except the names and some very minor details ...

The sales team—and by sales team I mean woman with eight kids who wore sweatpants to work and sometimes brought a few of her kids in and who didn’t “sell” as much as she drove around doing personal errands—at the paper was somewhat understaffed. This, rather gloriously, resulted in a revolving door of eccentric personalities who, for reasons ranging from “not having a driver’s license” to “clashing immediately with Hank” (the same Hank who had hired them), lasted, on average, three days.

Eventually, Hank became so frustrated with the sales process that he decided to sell himself. Not his body, on the street—that would have been awful. I mean he decided to take over, with a little help from his “assistant publisher,” a woman named Michelle who did, in fact, assist Hank tirelessly in the process of getting absolutely nothing accomplished.

For the first several weeks, Hank’s sales plan involved he and Michelle spending three hours at the local diner eating and discussing the sales plan. They would later come back to the office, high off omelettes and bottomless cups of coffee, and spend the rest of the day talking to coworkers about, respectively, sports and CBS sitcoms.

But one day Hank and Michelle had a revelation. There were several ports in the area that transported working citizens into New York City via ferry. Our paper, per my job requirements, was available at these ports, in beautiful, warped newspaper stands which had collages of graffiti penises and which, during the harsh winter months, housed local wildlife. (I once attempted to remedy this blight, but encountered a bee’s nest in one stand, and got stung, and so I stopped.) This way, people could grab a copy of our paper, which they didn’t, and absorb its content on the pleasant water ride into the city. Hank and Michelle’s brilliant idea: sell advertising to the NYC businesses closest to these incoming ferries.

Indeed, why wouldn’t New York City businesses, which had literally dozens of newspapers in New York City and other outlets by which to advertise, if they chose to advertise at all because, ya’ know, they were right by the ferry in New York City, choose instead to advertise with us, a small, New Jersey, politically-based weekly newspaper a mere hop, skip, jump, and 50-minute ferry ride over the East River? It made sense.

So much sense, in fact, that Hank and Michelle returned from the diner that day with the gusto of having just formulated the plan that would save the paper from the financial abyss in which it currently resided. The following day, they would go into the city and sell.

Amazingly, they did not make any sales. When they returned from the city after yet another wasted day—albeit one in a more bustling and hip environment, so it probably didn’t feel as wasted, to them—the gusto of the previous day’s reentrance was equaled by their current frustration and anger. The reasons given for their lack of success varied, but included the city, in general, being “stupid” and “uppity,” and also a little racism was thrown in to boot, as it seemed communication with several small business owners proved difficult. Hank did a few tasteful impressions for the office, which lightened his mood a bit. Anyway, New York City’s loss. Good luck surviving, financial and social epicenter of the universe!

But before all of this happened, before Hank had grown frustrated enough with the sales effort to hop on a ferry with a donut and a dream, he had hired a woman named Janet, who was, of all the wacky people he had briefly hired on whims to sell ads, the greatest.

Janet was from a nearby town which a local radio station had recently dubbed, “the white trash capital of New Jersey,” to, as far as I deduced, no argument from loyal listeners. Not that anyone held this against her—literally half of our working staff was from this town. Nevertheless.

She was youngish. In her early 30s, it seemed, although she had a son who was like, 17, so … who knows. She had short, black spiky hair. She wore a beret. Everyday. Every single day, she wore this beret. Also, she was missing several front teeth.

She was extremely perky. This was probably what sold Hank on hiring her. I highly doubt she had a resume. If you were nice and could “yes” Hank for a sustained amount of time, he would hire you on the spot, for anything. But Janet wasn’t just traditionally perky, like Katie Couric or something. She was oddly perky. Dysfunctionally perky. She was pleasant as all heck, but you never left a conversation with her without feeling as though something wasn’t right, ya’ know, mentally. This was our new salesperson.

One day Janet walked in while Dylan and I were at the copy machine discussing fantasy baseball. Overhearing us, Janet jumped in to excitedly mention that her brother used to play Strat-O-Matic baseball (an old board game that many consider to be the forbearer of fantasy baseball). “Cool!” was our response, as we attempted to steer the conversation back to each other. But she went on to explain to us, in great detail, what Strat-O-Matic baseball was—regardless of the fact we both informed her we were familiar—and how much fun it was, and how good her brother was at it, and also: Does she still have that game somewhere? She may still have it. Do we want her to bring it in to work tomorrow? Maybe we can play it at work?! She’ll look for it later! She would call her brother if she knew where he was! He’s into drugs! We know what Strat-O-Matic is, right?

Dylan would later take advantage of Janet’s quirkiness for humorous purposes and once engaged her in a conversation about Guinness—it was St. Patrick’s Day, and Janet was wearing all green, and her beret and missing teeth finally seemed appropriate—that lasted, I think, four hours.

Janet ventured out for days alongside our one-woman sales team. She did not sell much. On the rare occasion that she was able to sell even the smallest ad, the confusion that ensued back at the office when it came to actually putting that ad together often proved insurmountable, and was, unbeknownst to us, adding to Janet’s rising stress level.

Because I worked late into Wednesday nights getting the paper out, I came in later on Thursdays. One particular Thursday, there seemed to be much commotion as I pulled into our huge, pot-hole-filled parking lot. I had been hearing sirens, and noticed flashing lights, and when I pulled up, there was an ambulance in front of our small office building and a handful of people were congregating outside. When I walked inside, paramedics were wheeling out Janet on a stretcher. Her beret remained in tact, but an oxygen mask was over her face. She had suffered, apparently, a panic attack, and was having trouble breathing.

Dylan stood in the background, wearing a look of genuine concern mixed with genuine restraint. “Godspeed, Janet,” I think I heard him whisper as they rolled her away. In my mind, I see her giving the small crowd a thumbs-up, but that may have not happened.

She was okay. In fact, most of the seasoned veterans of the office were largely skeptical as to the legitimacy of her condition. Janet, however, either due to embarrassment, recovery, or the fact that she didn't have a driver's license, never came back to work. I think she lasted the better part of two weeks, which was a new record for sales department hires, although her exit was, I believe, the most dramatic, and most costly, insurance-wise.


Anonymous said…
All true, I was there. You forgot to mention Miss Beret's uncanny resemblance to Shelly Duvall as "Olive Oil", but after a lifetime of shooting meth. - Mark