Tuesday, October 7, 2008

customer appreciation ][ short story ][

"There's something to be said for dining alone. There is only so much of another person's company one can take before one is driven to distraction. And when someone is dining with others as often as I, it becomes a singular luxury to simply ... have silence, for a while.

"Of course, make no mistake. I love the company of others as much as the next fellow. But there are some things that simply cannot be replaced, and the joy of being able to have individual, secret thoughts is too much to pass up.

"Then again, talking is what I do. I provide a service with this, my art. With this, my voice. With this, my words. Conversation, perhaps. Ahem. Regardless, what I'm saying is that as a Fifth Level Conversationalist my words are my pride... a great source of pride. And if the price is right ... no, no, no. Um ... hrm, let's see here. And that skill could bring a unique and excellent flavour to any gathering ... party ... social event. Social event that would benefit from my services."

There was the sound of a knock and the man set down the flute of wine he had been staring at as he cast a glance towards the door. He turned back to the empty table, and the device upon it.

"Excuse me, I am taking several appointments today. I'll continue this when I return."

The man, thin and slender and good-looking, rose and made his way to the door. He wore a suit, even in his own home. When he answered the door he did so with all the practiced grace of a professional, and invited his guest to come and sit in the living room. The guest was a middle-aged man, with a sagging gut and a well-worn sweatshirt.

"I .. uh, hope I'm not bothering you," the guest said as he sat down heavily in the middle of the couch.

"No, of course not," said the Conversationalist as he sat down. "My name is ———————, who am I speaking to?"

"Oh, yes, um ... I'm Jeff. Jeff Katz. I'm here to .. uh, well, you see, the office is having a party and there are these two girls and..."

The Conversationalist nodded as if he understood. "And you wish to have a companion with you so that you can approach them both with the safety of equal numbers."

"Um, yes, something like that. You see, they're so close, and I know I could maybe have a chance with one of them but the other, she just keeps getting in the way. So if you could, would you... y'know, show up?"

"I'd be delighted." The Conversationalist handed Jeff a business card. "You have a home computer, do you not? Of course. Well, on my website there is a list of services offered, and for this I'll charge you only for 'one time dating services.'"

"How much is that?"

"Nothing extravagant," the Conversationalist said. "I'll enchant your lovely lady's companion, you can make your move, and I'll express a distinct lack of interest in pursuing the matter further. Perhaps I could be a buddy from college, in for a single night, pulled along because you had to attend. You do have to attend, don't you?"

"Well, no, not really, but..." A light went on behind Jeff's wide eyes. "Oh. Oh! Um ... yes, of course. I have to attend. I'm an assistant to the regional manager. I couldn't not show up."

"Very well then. Enter the code on the bottom of this card so I know we spoke in person, and I'll call you to finalize the details within a day." The Conversationalist stood up. "Now I hate to be rude, but I was finishing dinner and I have another appointment in ten minutes."

"Oh, sure." Jeff stood up and quickly headed towards the door. "Um... I'll see you around then, I guess. Uh, talk to you later." And Jeff noisily let himself out.

The Conversationalist made his way back to the table and picked up the glass of wine.

"Mr. Katz shows a remarkable lack of tact, as you no doubt were able to pick up. That is not his fault, of course. A man of his caliber simply has no training in the finer arts of relating to other people. But I make no excuses. Good for him, that he can get through life so blind and helpless. I'm glad for him.

"You may scoff, but I do indeed feel glad for him. Without him, people in my line of work wouldn't exist. His ineptitude is my livelihood. I can only commend his show of good taste in coming to me. Now, let's see here."

"Oh, look at that. He's potentialy customer 500. But then, a Mrs. Summerfield is supposed to show up and since she isn't late, perhaps she's more likely to be around to seal the deal. If she goes first, then she will most undoubtedly be 500. And we all know what 500 customers means.

"It just goes to show Mr. Katz that he shouldn't be late to his engagements. He didn't even apologize for being over thirty minutes late. The brute."

There was a pause and the Conversationalist finished his drink. He set the glass upon the table and slowly turned to face the empty room.

"Four hundred and ninety-nine people. That's how many people I've helped. What a milestone! Five hundred people could be a small town. And I went into each and every one of their lives. I took what was deficient, and I fixed it. When there was a need, I filled it. Those that required training received it. Those that just needed a shining point in their party were the proud hosts of dazzled guests. Single women needing respectable dates were suddenly the favorite daughter.

"All this, and for such a low price. I deal with the fumbling and desperate in society. The struggling and unfortunate. The unenlightened and the low-witted. All these people rest comfortable in their ignorance, and I do nothing when not asked.

"But now comes Mrs. Summerfield. A woman who's already tried haggling my prices over the phone. And I know what she wants. I've heard of her. She's a customer referral. The Women's Society at Unity Church is having a soiree, and I'm something of a constant. They pass me around, each one bringing me as if I had never been there. And then I listen to the same tired stories, the same long-winded conversations. A bunch of old hags sitting around tea, with only one man to share among them. I am the Eye of a Better Life.

"Yes, Mrs. Summerfield. Who will of course demand the same 'Dinner Companion' package that I gave to Miss Beaumont because she was suffering with her bills. Too bad Mrs. Summerfield isn't suffering. No, she's just cheap, with her carefully squirrelled away money from too many dead husbands and her worn down shoes.

"Five hundred warm bodies. Can you imagine? So many people, lacking so fundamental a thing. And me, the beacon of hope in their lives. One out of five hundred. That's hardly too much to ask, is it? I don't think so. I really don't. And if it is, I must confess that I don't care.

"Yes, Mrs. Summerfield will do nicely. Poor Mr. Katz is young, even if he is stupid. In time, maybe he would come around. Maybe I'll work my charms on him, being the 499th person. A special case, given the top attention possible as I head around the bend towards that magical four digits.

"Not Mrs. Summerfield. Too old. Too fragile. Yes, too fragile. All this moist weather has been hard on her, is what the gossip says. Hacking coughs. Sleepless nights. She is easily the oldest, the matriarch with an iron fist. It would be nothing. No major thing.

"Yes, a very small thing indeed.

"Who is she to deny taking the suffering? I have given so many meaningless smiles to people who needed them. The empty spaces and long nights full of my struggles. So unappreciated. By now I'm so good at my job, rarely do they think I did anything at all. Which is the best compliment, I suppose, but ... it's so hard to make a living by doing 'nothing.'

"That's all right. My fees are modest and my manner quiet. I will continue. I will endure. And exact my price when the time comes.

"Oh! Do I hear the door? Then the time has come. The time has come, for a single moment, to be selfish. Who could blame me, just once, for being discourteous? Nobody is that much of a saint. The Pope himself couldn't get through dinner 500 times without once offending someone. And I am no religious figure. I am only a man, like any other...

"Mrs. Summerfield! Of course you can let yourself in! I wanted to extend my congratulations. You are officially my five hundredth customer!

"Just wait until you see what I have in store for you!"


Sarah decided to write a short story on a whim. I believe that it was originally for a contest which I talked her down from. Whatever you wanted, under 1500 words. And here is mine, in its third (and shortest, if you believe it) iteration.

The inspiration for this comes out of my own life, and my continued efforts to try to quantify every aspect of my relationships with people (typically joking). Though, of course, I would rather be rude than tolerant. And thank god, after seeing where infinite patience gets you.

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