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The International Writers Magazine: Memo

Satisfaction Guaranteed
Richard Radford

Sunset hit the parking lot outside Globe-Mart, splashing neon light across the acres of SUVs and minivans packed into tight rows. The shrill cries of the seagulls wheeling overhead mixed together with the wails of the people, mammoth families pushing mammoth shopping carts bulging with consumer goods. Occasionally one of the gulls would swoop down on its prey, a half eaten pile of nachos, or a partially decomposed fruit pie.

Jeremiah Brown sat on the bench that had large cartoon flowers and blades of grass decorating the backrest. He smoked his pipe listening to the hum of the soda machines and gazing out across what used to be the Connecticut River valley. The whole landscape was so alien to his memory, the cement, the garbage, herds of people rattling around with oversized shopping carts. What particularly caught his attention was the burning sky. There was something unnatural about it; it was much too bright, more like a marquee than anything else. The clouds were orange, and a yellow hue was cast across the ground making it look jaundiced.

"Sixty-four years," he thought, "and I have never seen a fouler sunset."
He sighed and tapped out his pipe into the ashtray, and began to put it into his breast pocket, but stopped. Pulling out his pocket watch, he saw that he still had forty minutes until he could return to work. The "Golden Years" contract he had been forced to sign stipulated that every shift four hours or longer required a one-hour break. He had explained to his supervisor, Mr. Simon, that an hour break was unnecessary, he was in perfectly good health, but Simon just gave him a politician’s smile and explained it was necessary. The soda machines’ subdued humming became audible to Jeremiah, burrowed into his thoughts and distracted him. He began to repack his pipe.

Years earlier he and Annie frequently picnicked almost right where he was sitting. What was now the Globe-mart complex had been a grassy hill surrounded by miles of woods. Over time the trees had been clear-cut for expansion, and the land had been leveled for strip malls. Pine Ridge had been strip-mined and now loomed over the valley looking like an extinct volcano.

Annie would pack a basket with cucumber sandwiches, cold baked beans, a thermos of coffee, and a blanket for them to lie on. Jeremiah would put his head on her lap, watching the birds swoop down on fish in the river. She would run her fingers through his hair and sing to him quietly. They would make love there when it got darker and cooler, and he would run his fingers through the cool blades of grass, content to be with his resplendent wife glowing in the dusk.

Here, thirty years later, the raucous seagulls ruled the land. They had followed the Connecticut sixty miles inland, becoming permanent residents and living off garbage in the town dump and parking lots. He couldn’t stand their shrieks, they sounded too human.
"Ah! Hey!" one screeched inches from his ear. He jumped, startled at the noise. He saw in fact it was a human cry; a small child with a dirty face was standing on the bench next to him.
"Hey!" she screamed again, and pointed down. Her mother came up to her and lunged forward, lifting her by one arm.
"Goddammit, Jody, you dropped your friggin’ dinner!"
The woman twisted her face at Jeremiah, then stormed off towards the cars. Jeremiah looked down. A container of nachos had been dumped next to his feet. A glob of orange cheese had splashed onto him and now ran down his pant leg. He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed at the cheese, which had already begun to congeal.

Annie had faced no better under the stony gaze of Time. They hadn’t gone on a picnic in twenty years. In fact she rarely left the house, opting instead to watch The Weather Channel all day. It didn’t bother Jeremiah, though he sometimes got worried when she would speak to him as if she was the television, reiterating generic factoids to a general audience.
"If you have fair skin and work outside, you should wear a hat or put sunscreen on this afternoon," she had said to him as he left for work.

Every Thursday she and a group of her friends would go to the old K-mart. The old women shunned Globe-mart. They held the idea that K-mart was the last of the town’s old stores, even though it had only been there for fifteen years; when it had been built most of the smaller merchants went out of business. Globe-mart had been constructed in a place where the battle to preserve their small-town had long been over. The only differences between the two department stores, as far a Jeremiah was concerned, was Globe-mart was newer, cleaner, and cheaper. It seemed ridiculous to him, this quasi-nostalgia that drove them to pick one over the other; since there was nothing left of their hometown they were forced to create some sort of familiarity. It was better than them coming into Globe-mart though, he thought, otherwise he’d be forced to greet them and offer them a shopping cart.

Jeremiah was no fool; he knew his job was not that important. It beat retirement though, which he had tried. When Forrester’s Hardware went out of business and he was out of a job, Annie convinced him to stop working.
"Why not enjoy all that life has to offer?" she had said.
He attempted to revive their old garden in the backyard. In years past they had grown flowers of all kinds, tiger lilies, roses, pansies, and fruit and vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, rhubarb. He tilled the soil, added fertilizer, and the weather was decent, yet none of the plants would make it. It was as if they had been poisoned. He talked to Bill, his neighbor, about his problems.
"It’s the rain," Bill said, looking grimly towards the sky. "You need to get some of this kind of fertilizer. It’s got some stuff in it to counteract the chemical imbalance."

The next year Jeremiah begrudgingly bought some of the chemically treated fertilizer, and in it the packets of genetically engineered seeds. In time everything came to fruition, and looked identical in every way to the pictures on the front of the packets, though the flowers smelled like the chemicals in the fertilizer, and the vegetables smelled and tasted like nothing once cut open, so the rest were left to rot on the vine, and the garden was given back to nature again.

Shortly after this he began desperately searching for a job. Most of the businesses in town at that point were convenience stores and fast food restaurants that were apprehensive about hiring an older person. The assistant manager at the Pizza Hut advised him to check out Globe-Mart.
"They got a great program for olds," he had said.

And so he joined the Golden Years program. His supervisor was an uptight, balding, pink-faced man who was always shouting and clutching marketing reports. Jeremiah felt bad for him, and had tried to treat him with respect, something that was obviously missing from Mr. Simon’s life.

Out on the bench Jeremiah pulled out a little motivational pamphlet that had been handed to him earlier that day. Simon had then gone on to explain something extremely complicated and senseless, shuffling a stack of paper around nervously. He explained condescendingly that the national sales had dropped, and the newest data had pointed to the greeters being one cause.
"They’re just not grabbing the attention of the average customer!" Simon yelled. "I want you to be more dynamic! Have more synergy! I want your every move to scream, ‘Hey! We’ve got game here at Globe-Mart!’"
"Game?" Jeremiah asked, confused. Mr. Simon handed him the pamphlet and without another word ran off to put out a fire in the Globe Cafe.
Jeremiah scanned the pamphlet. It was patronizing and it made him very sad.
"You are the key to our success!" it said. "When a customer is greeted properly, our newest research shows that a whopping 17% will buy 5% more! If you’re having trouble coming up with new ways to keep your greetings on the edge, why not mix it up a bit? Try saying, ‘If you don’t have a smile, I’ll lend you one of mine!’"

Jeremiah bit down hard on his pipe. Up to then he had tolerated his position, but now...well, one thing their marketing research didn’t show was the lack of respect, the lack of consideration the customers dumped on him. They treated as if he was a robot, no more than another infernal machine like the cash registers or the automatic doors. Annie was losing her mind, the world was dying before his eyes…and the sky! The jaundice would never leave this diseased valley. The nacho cheese that had spread out at his feet would soon cover the entire landscape! Jeremiah stood.

Charles Simon was having a bad day. Finishing his sixth cup of coffee, he pushed back from his desk. There had been two fires in the Cafe that week, in fact one that very day. It was true that he had been the sole designer of the "Gold Star" program. At first his supervisors were skeptical about mentally ill youth in charge of the cafeteria, however, as he often joked at office parties, "the resulting P.R. alone is worth their weight in gold!" This was true, as long as his supervisors didn’t find out about the accidents.

The only pet project that wasn’t going according to plan was the Golden Years program. The newest data showed that sales were down almost 2%. This was bad. Simon had come from the marketing office at the Global-Univis home office in Boston, and he knew if there was one Universal truth it was this: marketing data does not lie. All the old man had to was stand there and offer shopping carts! How difficult was that?

He had been working on a few unique ideas about how to solve the problems. If everything happened according to plan, within a year he would be a Regional Program Manager, up his salary to six digits, and move out of the God-forsaken valley he lived in. He was scribbling furiously on a legal pad. Everything would be perfect. He began to smile.
Jeremiah walked into Simon’s office.
"Sir, can we talk?"
"Mr. Brown!" Simon shouted. "Am I glad to see you!"
"I think, I just think that we need to make some changes in my role here."
"I’m glad you think so! I’ve decided to move ahead boldly! Just listen to this. Okay, we’ll get cartoon characters to hand out balloons! It will please children and delight adults! And you, Jeremiah, will be the lucky man who will spearhead the entire project!"
Jeremiah’s mouth was agape in disbelief, which Simon took to be a look of awe.
"I know! I know! Just imagine: it would be just like Disneyworld every time somebody visits the store! Disneyworld! The happiest place on earth! And you would be given the honor of being the representative of all their favorite characters! Oh, of course, there’s bugs to work out of the idea, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg, but think! Think! Cross-promotions! Mergers! A merger with Disney!" Simon began to scribble violently again on the legal pad. "This is gold, baby, pure gold! And who will be responsible? Charlie Simon...and at the bottom line, Jeremiah Brown!" Simon smiled. "Or should I call you Mickey Mouse?"
There was a long silence filled only by the scratching of Simon’s pen. Jeremiah’s eye began to twitch.
"Mr. Simon!" Jeremiah boomed.
"Hmm?" Simon said, distracted.
"You cannot, cannot treat human beings as if they’re just machines, just functions. We are not robots! We are flesh and blood!" Jeremiah stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
Simon, stunned, just stared at the rectangle of wood. After a few minutes, a smile crept over his face.
"Robots," he said quietly to the empty office. He ripped off the top sheet of the legal pad, and began a memo.

ATTN: Robert Melwood
District Manager
G.M. Dist. 14
Charles Simon
General Program Manager
Store #1042
It has come to our attention recently that the company-wide Golden Years program is no longer functioning as we had planned. The problem lies not within the nature of the customer. Data shows that 17% of customers buy 5% more product when properly greeted. Therefore we can assume the problem is within the nature of the greeter. It was thought that elderly people would be considered as figures of kindness and respect. Unfortunately they are instead anachronistic, a foul reminder of the old way of doing things.

We at Globe-Mart have tried and successfully remained cutting edge, and so I now propose that these fossils be replaced with something state of the art, something never attempted in retail before. Perhaps the transition to using animatronic cartoon characters would create plenty of cross-promo benefits (i.e. Disney?).
I am able and willing to undertake the development of this program starting immediately, and will create a national program if desired.

Charles Simon

Simon looked over what he had written and could barely contain his excitement. This was it, the pinnacle of his career. The phone suddenly buzzed.
"Yes?" Simon asked.
"Mister, Mister Simmun. Joey got his fingers in the fryer and he’s hurt bad."
In the background Simon could hear guttural bellowing.
"All right, I’ll be right there." He sighed, and dropped the memo into the out basket. It would have to wait until the morning. If things went his way he would replace those damn retards with vending machines.
© Richard Radford Jan 2008

Richard Radford is a freelance journalist and writer currently living in Boston, Massachusetts with an immense black cat. His work has appeared in various news publications throughout Vermont, and fiction has appeared on the WNRC e-zine and "Hearsay," Vermont Law School's literary journal. His hobbies include excessive reading, cooking, and avoiding a "day job."

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