This is an excerpt from a failed novel of mine last year. Nevertheless, there were a few parts that I think turned out pretty good. This is Chapter 2.
When you’re watching TV, you are practically guaranteed to run into one of those As Seen of TV commercials. Those commercials that seems to go on and on and on about a useless “miracle product” that absolutely no one needs. A blanket with sleeves, a pen that magnetically attaches to a necklace, the Clapper.
Well, you might be surprised to learn that people actually buy those pieces of crap.
It may also be a surprise that all of those products are developed, marketed and sold by one single company; the aptly named As Seen on TV.
“As Seen on TV, Customer Relations, how may I help you ?… So you want to return the Product? May I ask the name of the Product?… Oh, sir, I’m sorry but it is company policy that we cannot allow for returns on this Product, it says that on the packaging… We cannot accept returns for the Easy Wipe Toilet Paper Holder for health code reaso-… No, I apologize but we cannot accept returns for that particular Product even if it broke in half after its first use… We may be able to give you a new Product, or possibly a refund, I will happily transfer you to the manager… Have a nice day.”
It takes a certain type of person to actually order the crap As Seen of TV sells, but it takes a person of several magnitudes of “certain” to actually call Customer Relations of the Company. In short, those people who call in are very rarely “normal” by standard definitions of the word.
As Billy Drolek transfers the Easy Wipe Guy to his manager, he finds that he is beginning to space out and gives his palm a good stab with a pencil to snap himself out of it. He looks at his hand to see a graphite period in the middle of his hand and decides to scribble in a second period and a parenthesis to form a smiley face.
Billy has been working in the Customer Relations Division for two years, he was 23 years old. CRD only contains two employees, Billy himself and his manager, Mr. Shomster. Really Mr. Shomster could to the entire job himself, (they honestly don’t get a whole lot of complaints, as most people would just as easily throw the stuff away) but he just can’t stand the types of people who call in to complain about the crap products they sell. Right now, He is in his office in the middle of his third game of Minesweeper of the day, more than a little annoyed at the fact he has to talk to one of them.
The cubicle Billy occupies is in the middle of a veritable gray sea of cubicles. He’s always wondered why everything in office buildings have to be gray, even the carpet. He supposes that it’s because gray is so uninteresting that it keeps people from staring at the walls or the floor so they can do some work. Yet that doesn’t make a whole lot of since because As Seen on TV is more than fine with letting it’s employees decorate their cubicle with pictures, posters and knick-knacks.
Compared to other people Billy keeps his cubicle relatively knick-knack free. He has a few quotes he likes that he’s printed off and tacked onto the wall in front of his computer. He is partial to quotes from Marcus Aurelius’ The Meditations. Billy pulls up a game of solitaire and (rather ironically) reads quote 3:12 to himself:
If you do the job in a principled way, with diligence, energy and patience,
if you keep yourself free of distractions…
The other noticeable thing in Billy’s cubicle is a calendar he keeps on the wall to the right of the computer. It’s a calendar of American authors and each month a new person is featured, showing a picture of that author and a complete bibliography of their works. (One problem for the makers of the calender was that that definitely needed to feature Thomas Pynchon, but they could not find a picture of the damn guy. So the month of March just features a big Question Mark and his bibliography. It made Billy chuckle a bit)
What Billy likes to do is try to read through as much of the bibliography as he can before the month is out. It’s the middle of June and Billy is looking at a wild haired guy and has been trying to power through his copy of Infinite Jest. Underneath the picture and on the square for today is written “ Dr. Dobreski, 6-7 pm.” This is written in for every Tuesday and Thursday on the calendar, up through December/Hemingway. Today is Tusday, by the way.
He was just getting started on his game of solitaire when the guy who works in the cubicle in front of his computer stood up and turned to Billy. “Hey man, are you up for McDonnell’s after work tonight?”
Billy kept focusing on the card game at hand. “Nate, we go over this all the time, I’ve got my shrink appointment tonight. I can make it there around seven thirty tonight.”
Nate Krulman is Billy’s drinking buddy and McDonnell’s and his best friend (and for that matter, pretty much his only friend, really). Nate was hired at As Seen on TV around the same time as Billy, but while Billy was hired for Customer Relations, they hired Nate for the Product Development Division. It amuses them both that the stuff that Nate makes in PDD is directly responsible for all the weirdos that give Billy his job.
The phone next to Billy’s computer started to ring, further interrupting his exciting game of solitaire, he looked up to Nate, “I gotta take this, we’ll talk later.”
He sat back down and said to Billy, “I hope it’s not one of mine.”
“As Seen on TV, Customer Relations, how may I help you?…Okay, so The Clapper is defective? Is it not working?… Can I ask what you mean by ‘works too well?’…No, you see it’s activated by things that sound like claps, not only and specifically claps. If you don’t want it to turn on and off, you need to flip the switch off…Ma’am, As Seen on TV is not responsible if the sounds of your marital relations is causing the lights to turn on and off, and causing you to become a joke in your neighborhood. You just need to turn it off before you have marital rela-… I would be happy to transfer you to our manager. Have a nice day, ma’am!”
He hung up the phone and both Billy and Nate began to laugh.
Billy went on to play solitaire for the next three hours.
The office of Dr. Dobreski, PhD is located about five blocks away from the office complex of As Seen on TV, putting it about fifteen blocks away from Billy’s small, one bedroom apartment. The office is almost stereotypical for a psychologist. Dr. Dobreski has that weird chair that people in his profession are seemed required to have. Billy prefers to chose the option of sitting up right in the normal chair next to the weird bed-chair. Dr. Dobreski sits in his desk chair, pulled in front of the desk. The Doctor believes that his patients cannot connect with him if he is behind the desk.
Billy is currently avoiding direct eye contact and is reading the titles of the books on the shelves behind Dr. Dobreski. “I wrote my first entry last night.”
“Did you? And do you think it helped to put your immediate thoughts about it down on paper?”
As far as he can tell, the only books are on psychology, but that makes sense, he guesses. “I suppose, I mean, I don’t think I really ever actively tried to think about the daydreams. I always try to forget everything about them. I brought my notebook with me, did you want to read my entry?”
“If you have to ask me to read it, then I don’t want to read it.”
Billy now looks at The Doctor. He appears to be in his mid forties, and has a fondness for red sweater vests. He always keeps his notes down on his lap, but Billy thinks that might be The Doctor hiding his gut. Also, he always wears reading glasses and has what is normally called a bit of a“Jewfro.” “Uh…I’m not really sure I know what you mean.”
“Everything we talk about or do at our sessions are all up to you. You don’t need to ask me anything. You know that. I think the fact that you needed to know if I want to read the entry means you don’t think it’s too important. If you do think it’s important, you will never need to ask. So…do you think it’s important that I read that entry?”
“No, I really suppose not.”
“Okay then, and Billy, just remember that you never need to ask. Have you had an Incident since you wrote this entry?”
“No, but that was only last night.”
“Interesting, I wish we could talk about this more, but we’ve run out of time. I just want to end with one thing that I want you to think about: perhaps the reasons that these Incidents keep happening is that they are trying to tell you something. Maybe if you keep writing it out you will see something. This is just a thought, nothing definitive of course.”
“I’ll make sure to keep writing down all my daydreams, thank you Dr. Dobreski.”
Billy then got up and walked out of the office and into the waiting room. There was a young woman sitting there, completely entranced in one of the magazines that The Doctor subscribes to for his waiting patients. She must be knew, Billy has been going to Dr. Dobreski every Tuesday and Thursday for six months. Either that or she switch to new days or something.
He couldn’t get a very good look at her, every time he tried her eyes would dart to his and Billy would instinctively look towards something else. She was around Billy’s age, it looked like. And she had wavy reddish blondish hair. The young woman looked up and smiled. Billy, now embarrassed only managed a slight nod in her general direction before walking out of the waiting room and sighing.
Billy then proceeded to walk the twelve blocks from The Doctor’s to meet with Nate and knock a few back at McDonnell’s.