96-Wake Up Call

Back when Lena and I lived in Gainesville, she worked for a couple of years at a magazine aimed primarily at Greeks on campus. (Fraternity and Sorority members) The magazine, owned by young man named Bill, (himself a college student) was a rag, but the folks who worked there could be fun, so by and large she enjoyed her job.

The idea behind the mag was essentially to get the sororities and fraternities to pay for it, in exchange for giant pictures of greeks getting plastered at any number of social functions. As you flipped through the pages, it read like a who’s who of up and coming young alcoholics, each consumed in a game of one-upsmanship to see who would be voted “Most Likely to Drown in Their Own Vomit.”

The only thing worse than reading about them was meeting them in person. Perhaps these people grew up into responsible, decent folks, and perhaps they didn’t. I can say that this breeding ground for the business leaders of tomorrow has gifted me with piercing insight as to how corporate America has gone so horribly off the rails.

For his own part Bill seemed relatively unaffected. It wasn’t that he was not part of that world — he was. It was just that he had other things on his mind. If I were forced to come up with a single word to sum up Bill it would be “skinflint.” He was someone who would “squeeze a nickel until the buffalo shit” as my wife would put it. Anything for a buck, all’s fair in love and war but mostly in business. That was ol’ Bill.

One day Lena was approached independently of her job at the magazine by a fraternity member. They had some kind of small publication they wanted to put out and they needed design help. Lena quoted her standard freelance rate (which was about four times her hourly rate at the magazine) and the deal was struck. She began work on the booklet.

A day or two later the frat dude called on the phone telling Lena to stop work. He had it seemed, found someone else to do the work much more cheaply. The other person claimed he knew Lena, and could get the job done every bit as well, at half the cost. Since this was before we learned about contracts, all Lena could do was say okay and hand over the partially finished files.

The next morning Bill came to Lena with a new job for her to do. It was, of course, the fraternity publication that had just gotten pulled from her. Bill had discovered that Lena was doing it, asked about the price, and then swiped the job out from under her. Worse yet, he now expected her to do it for him at her standard hourly rate, which he would then sell back to the fraternity at a profit for himself. Lena excused herself and called me on the phone. I drove over to pick her up and take her to lunch so we could discuss the situation.

The first place we tried was closed so we doubled back and headed towards a place on the other side of campus. It was still raining slightly out after a huge downpour that had gone on for hours. As we were driving by the Taco Bell beside the office building the magazine operated out of, we saw Bill… walking right behind the most enormous pool of rainwater you could ever have hoped for.

Lena pointed and simply said, “Do it.”

Without thinking I swerved the car and accelerated into the small pond raising a wall of water twice the height of our car. We had just enough time to see Bill turn, as if in slow motion, one knee raising up into the air as if to protect him, one hand fluttering to his horrified face, and the umbrella, useless back up over his head against the flying river attacking from below. The water slammed him backwards, staggering against the window of the Taco Bell. Lena and I began laughing uncontrollably and I nearly wrecked the car three times before we got to the restaurant.

Our whole time there we were completely overcome with giggles and laughter. We kept trying to discuss the rather more dire implications of having just lost Lena her job, but it was no use. Eventually we gave up and returned to the office to face the music.

As we entered, Bill was nowhere to be seen, but everyone else in the office was grinning ear to ear. Lena and I were still laughing like loons, but since we were here to get her fired we were trying to gain a little composure. We asked why everyone was grinning and were told that “we would just have to let him tell the story” and we got escorted across the hall into Bill’s office. Behind his desk sat Bill, yakking to a client on the phone in nothing but a towel. He put down the phone and with a wild grin of his own, asked if anyone had told us the story yet. We said no and I asked if it had anything to do with his clothes. Bill launched into his yarn.

Seems he had just left the office for a bite to eat at the Taco Bell. It was still sprinkling outside so he had taken one of the female employee’s umbrellas — a small, frilly flower patterned one, but the only one available. As he was walking in front of the restaurant he noticed an extremely cute girl at a table in the window smiling at him. Apparently she thought he looked a trifle silly with the umbrella. So Bill had tried his best to own the situation, flashing her a “cool” look and twirling the umbrella over his head.

As he was doing this a gigantic semi-truck barreled past, throwing up so much water it nearly knocked him from his feet, and completely soaking him to the skin. He could not have been more wet if he had spent twenty minutes in the shower in an underwater house getting blasted by firehoses. When he looked up, the girl in the window had literally fallen from her chair in hysterics. People were starting to come over, thinking something might have been wrong.

Dejected, Bill had turned around and gone back to the office, where he stripped, wrapped himself in a towel, and sent a secretary to take his clothes to be dried — and to get him some lunch.

Bill told us this story with gusto and abandon, mistaking our laughter for appreciation of his comedic abilities, and very obviously enjoying himself. Lena asked if he had actually spotted the truck, and he said that he had only gotten a glimpse as it appeared out of nowhere and violated him, but that it was huge.

Eventually we did address the issue of the fraternity booklet, and when Lena threatened to leave Bill capitulated and called the guy on the phone, telling him he had decided not to take the job. The frat guy never called Lena back — I think they ended up forcing some underclassman to do the work for free — but Lena didn’t mind. She had already balanced the scales, even if no one else knew it.

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