No parents want their child to be known throughout life as a Typing School Dropout. In a small town, the stigma can be unbearable. So, much to my horror, my mother and father informed me that I was going to be enrolled in a special night class for teenage entrepreneurs, where I would learn the magic secrets of how to run a successful business.
“I don’t want to run a business,” I told my father. I wanted to spend my Monday evenings drawing and painting, just like I’d been doing every other Monday night, not going to another stupid class. Typing School had hardened my heart against commercial training.
“You’re going whether you like it or not,” said my father. He handed me a piece of paper with information on the first Young Achievers meeting. It appeared that my life would come screeching to a halt the following Monday at 7:00PM.
I stormed up the stairs to my room, screaming behind me, “You’re trying to make a fool out of me. You’re ruining my life. I’ll never forgive you for this.”
“Good,” said my father. Then he had the nerve to laugh at me. I slammed the door to my room three times just to let him know that I didn’t find his little schemes amusing at all. I could still hear him laughing at me, all the way down in the kitchen. Rude.
Unlike Typing School, I decided that I was not going to embark on this particular venture alone. The next morning at school, I recruited my friend Nancy to join the Young Achievers group with me. Although she exhibited absolutely no interest in learning about business, or much of anything else, she was the only person I knew who was allowed to wander the streets at night without supervision. She may not have come from the greatest home, but a special mixture of questionable genetics and subpar hygiene had given her the precious gift of a massive tumbleweed of bright red hair that rarely felt the tug of a brush. She also had a significant overbite and loved to chew huge wads of Bazooka bubble gum with her mouth hanging wide open. Business partners like that are hard to come by.
My parents had bought me a nice new outfit so I would make a good first impression as I ventured into this strange new world of commerce. Nancy and I met up at the corner of Main Street on the first Monday night of September. It was unseasonably cold, and the wind was howling between the towering rows of one and two-story buildings that formed the majestic downtown skyline. As we walked down the street, Nancy was forced to stop several times to wrestle with the tufts of hair that the wind had blown into her mouth and embedded into the huge ball of bubble gum clenched between her front teeth. By the time we reached the bank building, there were several long strings of spit laden pink chewing gum hanging from her hair on both sides of her face.
I knew that we only had one chance to make a good first impression.
We were doomed.
A smiling middle-aged woman with a clipboard greeted us at the door of the bank building. She checked our names off her list and directed us to go up the stairs to the second floor. I hit the stairs running, hoping I could put some distance between myself and Nancy, but she refused to let go of my sleeve, and we stumbled through the door of the waiting area as a team.
There were several plastic lawn chairs lining the walls of the waiting room. The lady with the clipboard informed us that we would be called in momentarily for our interviews with the volunteer businessmen who would be leading our Young Achievers group. Then she looked at Nancy and said, “What is that in your hair, honey?”
“They’re the new barrettes that all the girls are wearing now,” I blurted out before Nancy could open her mouth and say something un-businesslike. “She loves fashion. She brought those back from her trip to Paris this summer.”
The woman glanced from Nancy’s oversized Army surplus jacket down to the dirty toes poking out of her flip-flops and shook her head. Then she walked into the interview room and closed the door. Nancy proceeded to blow a huge bubble with the wad of gum in her mouth and snorted.
“This is so stupid,” she said, as the bubble popped in her face.
While Nancy was occupied pulling the chewing gum off her eyelashes, I took the opportunity to look around the room and size up the competition. There were three teenage boys in the corner wearing identical plaid shirts and brown dress pants with razor-sharp creases. Each one of them was busy scribbling notes on a legal pad with a Flair pen. I couldn’t tell if they were triplets or reform school inmates out on a work release. Rounding out the group was a dazed looking girl in what looked to be one of her mother’s party dresses from the 1950s. I caught her staring at me a few times, but every time I looked her way, she would jerk back in her chair and cover her eyes with her hands. Finally, I’d had enough.
“What are you looking at?” I yelled across the room.
“You’re a liar!” screamed Party Girl. The Triplets stopped scribbling and eagerly leaned forward in their seats, ready for a primetime Girl Fight. “Those are not barrettes. Your friend has a bunch of gum hanging from her hair. Anyone can see that. And she’s not even dressed up. This class is for people who want to be in business. She should just go home.”
I glanced over at Nancy, figuring she would say something in her own defense, but she had fallen asleep in her chair. There were now strings of bubble gum attached to her eyebrows as well as her hair. She was also drooling slightly, but seemed happy enough. Just as I was preparing to elbow her awake, the door to the inner sanctum flew open and we were called in for our interviews.
This room was obviously an unused storage area for the bank. There were three battered desks that looked like they dated to the Civil War era, a few broken filing cabinets, and several piles of flattened boxes. Three men sat behind the desks. The first was a nerdy looking guy with a receding hairline who cringed when Party Girl was led to his station. The second was a pleasant-looking older man in a dark business suit. He had a neat sheaf of papers and a calculator on his desk. He got the Triplets. The third advisor was leaning back in his chair with his feet propped up on the desk. He was reading a magazine. Every two or three seconds, he would jut out his lower lip and blow a puff of air into a ridiculous ginger moustache that looked like it had been transplanted from a tabby cat’s ass. This was where I was directed. Apparently Nancy was still unconscious in the waiting area.
I sat down. My advisor was pretty engrossed in the magazine. I didn’t have the greatest view of the cover because his shoes were blocking my line of sight, but I was pretty sure it was a copy of Playboy. When he didn’t acknowledge my presence after a minute or so, I coughed loudly to get his attention. He shot up in his chair, his legs tangling together as he struggled to get his feet back under the desk. “Somebody must have left this filthy thing here by mistake,” he sputtered. “Probably the janitor. I’ll make sure I report this to the authorities. He needs to get fired for having this kind of stuff around kids.” He quickly shoved the magazine into his briefcase.
“It’s a good thing you’re here to put it back where it came from,” I said.
“Never mind the formalities,” he said. “I’m Bill. Who are you?”
Before I could answer, he jerked his thumb towards the other advisors and said, “You’re lucky you got me instead of one of those guys. I really know how to talk to people. I just have this natural ability to relate to young people, especially young girls. Look at that guy over there in the suit. Who would want to talk to him? He tries to act like he’s so successful because he’s wearing a suit, but that doesn’t fool me. I know he’s a loser.” Bill pulled up his polo shirt and scratched at his stomach. “And that other guy? His name is Joel. He’s afraid of women. Just look at him. He can’t even talk at all.”
I glanced at the other two desks. The Triplets were clustered around the man in the suit, furiously taking notes and punching numbers into the calculator. Party Girl and Joel were both sitting with their arms folded across their chests, avoiding eye contact.
“I want you to think of me as one of the kids,” said Bill. “I’m supposed to be here to advise you on how to run a business, but that doesn’t mean I’m some old guy. I’m wearing jeans, see?” Bill jumped up and tugged at the pockets of his pants, pulling them down far enough that a flabby crescent of hairy flesh peeked out from beneath his polo shirt. I turned my head away, unwilling to process what I was seeing. Bill continued to blabber on, but I had stopped listening. Finally, he ran around the desk, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Hey! Do you have five bucks?”
“Can you give me five dollars? It’s for…..ummmm…..the company fee.”
At that moment, Nancy staggered through the door. There was a deep groove on the part of her face that had been pressed up against the arm of the lawn chair. Somewhere along the line, she had lost her coat and one of her flip-flops. She was waving frantically at me.
“I think I have to go home now,” I said, jumping out of my chair. “My father needs me to help him kill some squirrels in the back yard.” I figured I would put it out there right away that I was an experienced killer. Just in case.
“But we’re ready for orientation now,” whined Bill. “I need the entire team here. I get to do the speech. Don’t forget about that five dollars, either.”
He directed me and Nancy to pull chairs to the center of the room. The Triplets and Party Girl wandered over and sat down, along with the advisor in the business suit. Joel slunk over to the water fountain at the side of the room and turned his face to the wall.
Bill bounded to the front of the room, dragging one of the filing cabinets with him to use as a makeshift podium. “Hi, gang,” he screamed. “I know we haven’t met before, but I’m Bill. I was chosen for this position because I’m a highly successful businessman with a great personality. I’ve taught this class one time before in another state, and even though I can’t really explain what happened there or why we had to leave town so fast, I want to let you know that everyone just thought I was one of the kids.” As Bill spoke, he was clearly developing a major case of happy feet. His jeans began to slowly slide down his hips, revealing a progressive expanse of some very cheerful underpants.
Joel glanced over from his station by the water fountain and suddenly charged across the room. He grabbed the back of Bill’s pants and gave them a savage upward tug. Bill’s eyes bulged out slightly.
“What company did you say you worked for?” hissed Joel.
“Never mind that,” said Bill. He turned his attention back to the kids. “This is Joel. I know you won’t like Joel. Nobody likes Joel.”
Joel stalked back to the water fountain and gave it a sharp kick.
“Be careful around Joel, kids,” cautioned Bill. “I think he has some anger issues. He’s really not fit to be with a group of youngsters. Thank God I’m here to keep an eye on things.”
Bill pointed to the advisor in the business suit. “This is the other advisor,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you his name, because you’ll probably never remember it.” The third advisor smiled pleasantly and waved at the kids.
Nancy leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Did you see his underwear?”
“I think everyone saw his underwear,” I said.
“They looked like girl’s underpants. And were those Smurfs on them?”
“Yes,” I said. “He’s one of the kids, remember?”
Bill reached into his pocket and pulled out a triangular block of wood. “This is what we’re going to be making and selling for our business this year,” he crowed ecstatically. “Everyone needs one of these!”
“We’re making wooden triangles?” said Party Girl in disbelief. “How much are they?”
“Ten dollars,” said Bill.
“Who’s going to pay ten dollars for a little piece of wood?” I said.
“Your parents, of course,” said Bill. “But these aren’t just ordinary wooden triangles. This is the hottest new game in town. I invented it myself.” Bill scurried over to his desk, returning with a drill and a handful of golf tees. Joel had wandered back over to the front of the room and reached out his hand to help Bill.
“Joel is not allowed to use power tools,” lectured Bill. “I’m not sure he’s stable enough. He might decide to drill a hole right in the middle of one of your foreheads.”
“That’s not true,” said Joel. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I think I’m going to call Young Achievers and report you when we’re done with this meeting.”
Bill ignored him and pointed at one of the triplets. “You there. Come up here so I can teach you how to make one of these puppies.” All three boys got up and trooped to the front of the room.
“I see you travel as a pack,” said Bill, plugging in the drill. “Now here’s what you need to do. Give me your pen.” Bill placed the wooden triangle on top of the filing cabinet and randomly marked several dots on the top with one of the Flair pens. “All you have to do is hold onto the triangle with your hand and drill holes into it where I marked it.”
“Wait a minute,” screamed Joel. “That’s not even safe. You can’t hold that little piece of wood with your hand and go at it with a high-powered drill. What if the drill slips? It could go right into someone’s fingers.”
“Of course it’s safe,” sneered Bill. “I invented this, remember? Now watch carefully, kids. I’ll do the first one, and before you know it we’ll be cranking these out by the thousands!”
Bill positioned the wooden triangle between his left thumb and index finger and started the drill. There must have been a knot in the wood at the spot where Bill attacked it with the drill. The wooden triangle was suddenly airborne, hurtling towards the window, while the drill bit carved a deep groove into the top of the filing cabinet. The edge of the wooden triangle hit the window just as the drill stopped, shattering the glass.
“Oh my God,” wailed Joel. “I can’t believe this is happening. I work in this bank. I had to sign a contract to use this room. I’m going to lose my job over this. You’re an idiot.”
“Accidents happen, Joel,” said Bill. “But that’s no excuse for insubordination. You need to get yourself under control. You’re setting a bad example for the staff.”
“You’re not my boss,” shrieked Joel. “I don’t even know who you are or why anyone would put you in charge in the first place.” Joel stalked off to the side of the room and gave the water fountain another savage kick.
The advisor in the business suit had left the room after the window shattered and had just returned with a C-clamp in his hand. “You might want to try clamping the wood down before you drill it,” he suggested mildly. “I just happened to have this in my car.”
“Well aren’t you just special, Mr. Suity Suit Man,” taunted Bill. “What else do you have in your car? I have lots of great stuff in my car too, like…”
The bank’s janitor was standing over by the water fountain with Joel. His face was very red. I couldn’t hear exactly what he was saying over Bill’s incessant yammering, but I could pretty much guess by the way he was pointing toward the window and the filing cabinet. The janitor shook his fist at Joel and stormed off down the stairs.
Joel ran across the room and gave Bill a push. “We have to leave. Right now,” he snarled. “And I don’t think we’re going to be able to use this room anymore. This is all your fault. And they’ll probably make me pay for the damage you did.”
“Hey kids,” shouted Bill. “Joel got us kicked out of here. I told you he was out of control. But that’s okay. We need a bigger factory anyway. We’re gonna be famous. Production starts next Monday at seven sharp.”
We all followed Bill down the stairs.
“What happened to your shoe?” I asked Nancy.
“I dunno,” she said. “It got lost somewhere. Doesn’t matter. But I’m gonna be a businessman. I can buy another one.” Nancy loped off down the street with the typical polished grace of the single-shoed young professional.
My father was waiting for me in the car in front of the bank building. He asked me how the meeting went. Before I could answer, Bill came running over to the side of the car, waving his arms. He was holding a sign that said “Remember the $5!!”
“What does that sign mean?” asked my father suspiciously.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said. “Just give me five bucks and let’s go home.”
It was the least he could do for a future titan of industry.