Home > Domestic Violets(11)

Domestic Violets(11)
Matthew Norman

He sits down across from me and sets a stack of papers on my desk. It’s copy for a brochure I’ve written about one of our shitty new products. He’s celebrated my hard work by dousing it with red ink, slashing through entire paragraphs and writing suggestions in the margins. There’s nothing wrong with what I’ve written, of course. It’s actually pretty good, as far as corporate propaganda goes. He just has this compulsive need to make random changes to everything I write. He’s like Dustin Hoffman counting those matchsticks in Rain Man. He just can’t help himself.

“We need to talk about this,” he says, very seriously.

“Well, OK. Did you like it? I wrote it especially for you.”

Across the top of the first page he’s scrawled, “NO CONTRACTIONS!” in big, bold letters. To further articulate his point, he’s crossed out every contraction on the page—every “it’s” and “who’s” and “we’ve” and “you’ve.” It’s a whole new achievement in douche-baggery for him, and I’m almost impressed.

“The tone is all wrong here. It’s way too casual for the audience. This is supposed to be targeted at C-levels. CEOs. COOs. CIOs. You’re talking to them like they’re a bunch of interns. These are decision makers here, Tom . . . a sophisticated group.”

“Well, certainly. All the executives I know are wildly sophisticated. But we’re not cutting contractions, Greg. We’ve been over that. This isn’t Comp 101. Have you ever actually tried to read something without contractions? It sounds like it’s written by robots.”

“They don’t have time for casual. All they care about is WIIFM.”

I actually close my eyes here for a moment—that’s how badly this hurts me. “WIIFM” is one of those bullshit, made-up corporate acronyms, and it stands for “What’s in It for Me?” Greg uses it no fewer than ten times a day. Every time it leaves his mouth, I’m convinced that something good and pure in the world—an endangered species or perhaps a rare, exotic flower—is destroyed and Earth becomes that much more hopeless. “I’ve given them all the benefits, Greg—I’ve led with them, in fact, as I learned in copywriting school. I think these brilliant executives of yours will be able to dumb themselves down enough to figure it out . . . despite the contractions.”

The color of his face is beginning to match his burgundy tie. Greg is a tie guy, and I am a non-tie guy. This represents the rift among the males in our office—Business Casual versus Business Formal—and I’m almost certain it will eventually lead to a choreographed dance fight in the employee lounge.

“Seven out of ten people receiving this piece make more than three hundred thousand dollars a year.”

“Well, I’m happy for them, but if you wanna start tossing around arbitrary figures, then I can tell you that one out of one Tom Violets doesn’t care. We’re not cutting the contractions.”

Greg sighs deeply, counting to ten in his head. “That’s very clever, but they aren’t arbitrary figures. It’s all in the research that I provided. It’s called a customer profile.”

“Greg, there are starving children in Africa. And there’s this virus out there that actually eats human flesh. But still, you and I are sitting in my office arguing about this . . . again.”

He drops another stack of papers on my desk, ignoring my plea for social awareness. “Did you even read my messaging document?”

“No, Greg. I did not. I have never read one of your messaging documents, and I will never read one of your messaging documents. I would not, if you held a shotgun to my skull.”

As he shoots up from my chair, his eyes are alive with anger and his tie whips in a violent arc across his chest. “I can’t deal with you anymore!”

“See, Greg. I told you it’s annoying when people don’t use contractions.”

“I know you think this is all hysterical. It’s just a big joke to you, right? Ha-ha.”

I assume this is rhetorical, and so I just sit there and smile as creepily as I can.

“Well, some of us take this seriously, Tom. This brochure needs to work, because if we don’t increase our corporate sales by fifteen percent this year, we’re dead. Don’t you even understand the world around you? Do you watch the news? People are losing their jobs. But if that’s not important to you, then you just keep laughing. Just keep laughing while you still can.”

As Greg storms away, his long black cape flowing behind him, I can’t help but feel a flicker of respect. I hate to say it, but that was a nice exit line.

“Later, Greg,” I say, quietly, to my now-empty office.

There’s a little light blinking on my phone, and I can see from the caller ID that I’ve missed two calls today, one from my mother and one from my stepfather, Gary. It seems strange that they’d be calling me separately, but I’m too jazzed up from enraging Greg to be concerned.

“What was that all about?”

Katie, like a cool breeze, is standing at my door with a can of Diet Dr Pepper in her hand. It’s late in the day and she looks a little tired and her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. “He looked pissed.”

“Greg is in a permanent state of pissed, Katie. You know that.”

“Good point. But doesn’t it bother you when he yells at you like that? I hate when people yell at me.”

“You know how when Rocky gets punched over and over again by guys like Mr. T and Ivan Drago? That’s what Greg’s rage is like for me—it’s energizing.”

My Rocky reference seems to have no effect on Katie, and I wonder if this girl has even seen any of the Rocky movies. Do twenty-three-year-olds know Rocky? Perhaps I should do a focus group.

“So, where did you go today, anyway?” she asks. “I had to go to 7-Eleven by myself. You know I hate doing that. There are all those construction workers there all the time.”

“Sorry, I was out fighting crime.”

She shakes her head at me, which is something that the women in my life seem to do a lot. “Come on, let’s go smoke,” she says.

“What? I thought you were on the patch.”

She shrugs. “That’s the problem. I was on the patch. Past tense.”

I feign a disapproving look, but, in truth, as horrible as it sounds, smoking looks sexy on Katie. It’s like that brown jacket; it fits her perfectly. And so as she walks out of my office, I follow.

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