International Writers Magazine: Office Fiction
of all, Im a writer, and a sci-fi writer at that, so you
know Im not very adept in the real world.
A few of my books have been published, but if my wife and kids
(yes, even sci-fi writers acquire them) had to exist on my royalties
theyd starve. So I have a day job, writing copy
in the marketing department of a small paper goods company.
Ive been doing
this for five years and had felt quite comfortable in my job.
My supervisors liked my work. I had no desire to become
a supervisor myself so I stayed out of office politics.
Our marketing director Samantha Syms liked having a real writer
on her staff and, as the job wasnt too demanding, I even had time
to do a little of my own work on company time.
All of this changed when my old boss left and was replaced by a young
woman named Courtney Jimson. Courtney Jimson was 29,
had an MBA and was clearly destined for success in the business world.
She had a determined chin, a tight mouth, blazing blue eyes and frizzy
red hair. She favored wooly red suits. In her
first meeting with her staff (I was one of three) she made it clear
that she intended to shake up our little department, whose work she
said had gotten stale, and would demand nothing less than perfection
from now on.
Wow! said Frank Abbott, one of my fellow copywriters, after
the meeting. shes pretty scary.
Maybe I should update my resume, said Mary Hale, the other
Lets give her some time, I said. She
cant be that bad. This showed how little I knew.
My first shock came when I was given back an ad Id written for
our paper napkins. I was used to having some changes made;
after all, I realized that our objective was more sales and sometimes
my copy tended to stray from this. But Courtney had re-written
the entire ad, which was unprecedented. I was mad as hell
and intended to let her know about it. I stormed into Courtneys
Youve changed my entire ad, I said.
Yes, she said, looking up.
What was wrong with it?
It had no punch. It made our napkins sound cute
and endearing, but so what. Our customers need a reason
to buy our brand. We have to make them think our napkins
can mop up anything, including our competition.
But Ive always written the napkin ads this way.
And thats why were in trouble.
Youd better be prepared to change your style if you want to stay
around here. One more thing; I dont want to see you
writing your own stuff while youre on company time.
A lot of things are going to change.
What? Was this woman, ten years
younger than me and on the job less than a week, threatening to fire
me? Wed see about that. I turned
and went out, slamming the door, and went immediately to the office
of Samantha Syms.
Look at this, I said, shoving my scrawled-over copy, under
her nose. Shes completely changed my ad.
Samantha, who was standing behind her desk, said, Im sorry,
Warren, but thats her decision. Now, Im late
for a meeting.
I watched her go, thunderstruck. I went back into the outer
office and showed the ad to my co-workers, Mary and Frank, but they
were unsympathetic. She has some pretty good ideas,
said Mary, and Dont forget shes the boss, observed
Frank. It was clear theyd decided whose side theyd
better be on.
This was the start of a miserable month. Courtney changed
everything that I wrote. Not only that, she instituted a
new dress code. Instead of dressing casually, in a comfortable
shirt and sweater as Id done for years, I now had to wear a dress
shirt and a tie. When I complained about this to Frank,
he said, I kind of like dressing up for the office.
Makes me feel more professional. I felt that I was
under Courtneys constant scrutiny; one false move and it would
give her an excuse to fire me. And I needed the job.
I tried to keep my office problems out of my home life but inevitably,
after a day in which Courtney had given me another dressing down, I
told everything to my wife Ellen. You poor dear,
she said. No wonder youve been moping around
the last few weeks. Youll have to talk to my uncle.
Yes, Claude Pringle.
His name is Claude?
Yes, his mother was a great admirer of that English actor,
I know Claude Rains. Ive seen him in a couple
of old sci-fi movies. But how can he help me?
He knows a lot about handling people?
Oh. Where does he work?
He used to work for some government agency, I think.
Hes semi-retired now. Hes a consultant.
How come I havent met him before?
He used to work overseas a lot, but now hes back
here. Ill call him right now.
Ellens uncle, when I met him, actually reminded me a little bit
of Claude Raines. He was a small man,
with neat hands and feet, and white hair. Id expected
to meet him in an office or at his home, but hed commanded me
to meet him in a little park near the center of our city.
When I arrived, he was seated on a bench, looking at some papers and
feeding a group of pigeons.
Ah, there you are, Warren, he said. I
like to work here in the park. Its an excellent opportunity
for observing people. He moved over and said, Sit
down. Now, whats this trouble of yours?
I told him of all the events that had occurred since Courtney
Jimson had become my boss.
I see. Well, that doesnt seem too bad.
From what youve said, shes a bulldozer, comes straight at
you. Nothing sly or devious about her; theyre the
worst kind. Act as if theyre your best friend, then
knife you in the back. I suppose shes upset you and
youve acted accordingly.
If you mean, does she make me mad, yes.
And youve gone over her head to her boss and have
As a matter of fact, yes.
Well, the solution is simple. This kind of person
wants you to be angry with her. She enjoys conflict.
So youll do just the opposite.
What do you mean?
"The next time you see her, youll compliment her on something,
her looks, her dress, anything.
But I hate her. What good will that do?
It will confuse her and throw her off her guard.
Now, you say she edits everything you write.
She ruins it.
Youll tell her that her changes are provocative.
Youve never seen it that way before. Youll thank
But her changes are terrible.
But youll tell her theyre brilliant.
Wait a minute. This is like some kind of ju-jitsu.
Turning the enemys attacks against her.
Youre catching on, Warren.
But what will it accomplish?
Just try it and youll see.
He stood up, dusted the pigeon feed off his
hands, put his papers under one arm and walked over to another bench,
where Id observed a young man sitting rather glumly by himself.
He leaned over and said softly, Go after her.
Then he straightened up and we left the park.
The first time Courtney walked past my desk the next week, I said, Youre
looking well today. She stopped and looked at me,
her mouth open. I like that pin youre wearing.
She stared at me for a minute, then said, Okay, I get it.
It wont do any good to suck up to me.
Oh, I wouldnt think of it. I know youre
too smart for that.
A few days later I was in Courtneys office with another
ad of mine, which of course shed almost completely rewritten.
I like the changes youve made, I told her.
I think I see what youre getting at. 'Buy our
toilet paper if you know whats good for you.'
Well, Im glad youre getting it.
Its about time.
I noticed a picture on her desk. It was of a dog,
a bulldog, of course.
Is that yours? I asked. Hes
She. Her name is Gladys.
Well, shes very handsome.
I thought she flushed slightly. Thanks,
It went on like this for several more weeks. I may
have imagined it, but I thought I detected a slight softening toward
me. A couple of my ads even went through with only half
of my copy changed. One day I happened to ride in the same
elevator with Samantha Syms. How are you getting along
with Courtney? she asked.
Much better now. It just took me a while to
get used to her.
She looked at me questioningly but just said, Good.
Then I got a break. Courtney came into the office
carrying her bulldog. Gladys is sick, she said.
Does anyone know of a vet I can take her to?
I quickly jumped up. I do. Hes
not very far. Come on, Ill take you.
We got into my car, I drove to the vet, Gladys was taken care off (she
had an infection) and afterwards Courtney said, Thanks
I appreciated that. Gladys is special to me.
I know. We have cats. Glad to help.
Next week as I was preparing to go home Courtney called me into her
Sit down, Warren. I wondered what she wanted.
Do you think Im doing a good job here?
Huh? What was this all about? I think
youre doing your best, I said.
I know people think Im too tough. Its
only because I want to be perfect.
Thats hard to do.
Yes. Some people resent it. Somehow
shed come out from behind her desk and stood over me.
You dont think Im completely terrible, do you.
She had her arms around me. The sleeves of her woolen
suit were scratchy. Uh, Im a married man
Ahem. We both turned and looked.
Samantha Syms was standing in the doorway.
I was just leaving, I said. I got out
as quickly as I could.
When I returned home I told Ellen about the latest developments, then
I called her uncle. After Id filled him in, he said.
Im not surprised. Persons who like conflict
are sometimes basically insecure. They need someone
to validate them. Well, you have her over a barrel now.
You can threaten to sue for sexual harassment.
I dont think I can do that.
Then just sit tight. I think this will all work out
Uncle Pringle was right. The next morning Courtney was nowhere
in sight. Samantha Syms called me into her office and told
me Courtney had left the company. We were getting
complaints from our salespeople, she said. The
new ads were driving our customers away.
They were more suitable for pickup trucks or heavy machinery,
Yes. And then there was that incident of last
evening? Youll forget all about that, wont you?
Id like to.
When I returned to my desk, Frank and Mary came over and congratulated
me for helping get rid of Courtney. Theyd changed
sides pretty quickly.
Next weekend I met Uncle Pringle in the park again and brought him up
A successful resolution. His cell phone rang.
Yes. How are you Condi? I understand;
those French can be very irritating. Ill fly to Washington
tonight and see you tomorrow morning.
I began, but he put a finger
to his lips.
Come, he said. You can buy me lunch.
As we left the park, the same young man hed spoken to the last
time came rushing up. You were right, he said
to Uncle Pringle. Were getting married next
We continued on our way. You should consider writing
a story about your experience, he said to me. Almost
everyone has had a terrible boss and it would strike a chord.
You might title it, The Pringle Method.
© Martin Green December 2006
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