The International Writers Magazine: Office Fiction

The Pringle Method 
Martin Green

irst of all, I’m a writer, and a sci-fi writer at that, so you know I’m 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 they’d starve.   So I have a day job, writing copy in the marketing department of a small paper goods company. 

I’ve 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 wasn’t 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.   “she’s pretty scary.”
“Maybe I should update my resume,” said Mary Hale, the other copywriter.
“Let’s give her some time,” I said.   “She can’t be that bad.”   This showed how little I knew.
My first shock came when I was given back an ad I’d 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 Courtney’s office.
“You’ve 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 I’ve always written the napkin ads this way.”
  “And that’s why we’re in trouble.   You’d better be prepared to change your style if you want to stay around here.   One more thing; I don’t want to see you writing your own stuff while you’re 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?    We’d 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.   “She’s completely changed my ad.”
Samantha, who was standing behind her desk, said, “I’m sorry, Warren, but that’s her decision.   Now, I’m 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 “Don’t forget she’s the boss,” observed Frank.   It was clear they’d decided whose side they’d 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 I’d 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 Courtney’s 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 you’ve been moping around the last few weeks.   You’ll have to talk to my uncle.”
“Your uncle?”
“Yes, Claude Pringle.”
 “His name is Claude?”
 “Yes, his mother was a great admirer of that English actor, Claude Raines.”
  “I know Claude Rains.  I’ve 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.   He’s semi-retired now.   He’s a consultant.”
 “How come I haven’t met him before?”
  “He used to work overseas a lot, but now he’s back here.   I’ll call him right now.”

Ellen’s 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.   I’d expected to meet him in an office or at his home, but he’d 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.   It’s an excellent opportunity for observing people.   He moved over and said, “Sit down.   Now, what’s 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 doesn’t seem too bad.   From what you’ve said, she’s a bulldozer, comes straight at you.   Nothing sly or devious about her; they’re the worst kind.   Act as if they’re your best friend, then knife you in the back.   I suppose she’s upset you and you’ve acted accordingly.”
 “If you mean, does she make me mad, yes.”
  “And you’ve gone over her head to her boss and have gotten nowhere.”
  “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 you’ll do just the opposite.”
“What do you mean?”
"The next time you see her, you’ll 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.”
  “You’ll tell her that her changes are provocative.   You’ve never seen it that way before.   You’ll thank her.”
  “But her changes are terrible.”
  “But you’ll tell her they’re brilliant.”
  “Wait a minute.   This is like some kind of ju-jitsu.   Turning the enemy’s attacks against her.”
  “You’re catching on, Warren.”
  “But what will it accomplish?”
  “Just try it and you’ll see.”
     He stood up, dusted the pigeon feed off his hands, put his papers under one arm and walked over to another bench, where I’d 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, “You’re looking well today.”   She stopped and looked at me, her mouth open.   “I like that pin you’re wearing.”
She stared at me for a minute, then said, “Okay, I get it.   It won’t do any good to suck up to me.”
  “Oh, I wouldn’t think of it.   I know you’re too smart for that.”
 A few days later I was in Courtney’s office with another ad of mine, which of course she’d almost completely rewritten.   “I like the changes you’ve made,” I told her.   “I think I see what you’re getting at.   'Buy our toilet paper if you know what’s good for you.'”
  “Well, I’m glad you’re getting it.   It’s about time.”
 I noticed a picture on her desk.   It was of a dog, a bulldog, of course.”
  “Is that yours?”  I asked.   “He’s very handsome.”
  “She.   Her name is Gladys.”
  “Well, she’s very handsome.”
 I thought she flushed slightly.   “Thanks,” she said.
 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.   He’s not very far.   Come on, I’ll 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 office.  
“Sit down, Warren.”   I wondered what she wanted.
“Do you think I’m doing a good job here?”
Huh?   What was this all about?   “I think you’re doing your best,” I said.
“I know people think I’m too tough.   It’s only because I want to be perfect.”
 “That’s hard to do.”
“Yes.   Some people resent it.”   Somehow she’d come out from behind her desk and stood over me.   “You don’t think I’m completely terrible, do you.” 
 She had her arms around me.   The sleeves of her woolen suit were scratchy.   “Uh, I’m 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 I’d filled him in, he said.   “I’m 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 don’t think I can do that.”
“Then just sit tight.   I think this will all work out soon.”
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,”  I said.
  “Yes.   And then there was that incident of last evening?   You’ll forget all about that, won’t you?”
  “I’d like to.”
When I returned to my desk, Frank and Mary came over and congratulated me for helping get rid of Courtney.    They’d changed sides pretty quickly.
Next weekend I met Uncle Pringle in the park again and brought him up to date.”
“A successful resolution.”   His cell phone rang.   “Yes.   How are you Condi?   I understand; those French can be very irritating.   I’ll fly to Washington tonight and see you tomorrow morning.”
“That wasn’t …”  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 he’d spoken to the last time came rushing up.   “You were right,” he said to Uncle Pringle.   “We’re getting married next month.”

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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