Just before I went home the other night, my boss informed me that a candidate would be coming by the store to do a press event. According to Ray, it was going to be one of those meet-and-greet, mingle with “regular folk” type of affairs. He also told me that I was going to be the one behind the counter that greets the guy. I tried to beg off the assignment, but Ray quickly reiterated that this wasn’t a request, it was an order. Apparently, I was one of the few levelheaded people left in our shop, which had a turnover rate similar to McDonalds. Ray didn’t want anything going wrong, since the free publicity would be good for business. And we definitely needed the business.
So I got the guy’s name before leaving work. At home I logged onto the internet and did a little research on our Very Important Visitor. The first thing I saw was a close-up of a fifty year old guy with thick black hair going salt-and-pepper at the temples. He was standing in front of an American flag that filled the entire background while he flashed a Trust Me About This Car smile. He looked casual and relaxed in his crisply-ironed dress shirt. The missing tie was replaced by a flag pin on his lapel.
I was starting to feel skeptical as I delved into his profile. I learned that the guy 1) grew up in a wealthy suburb of Minneapolis, 2) was socially and fiscally conservative, 3) attended the same private college prep school as our last president, and 4) took over the family business a few years ago. And what was this business? Was it something dynamic and innovative, a beachhead of the new economy? Well, not exactly. The father made a fortune mass-manufacturing those styrofoam holders that you put a Big Mac in. Yup, that’s right, the same ones that modern nations are trying to ban and you only still find in Third World countries and lightly-populated parts of America.
So, the official story being sold was that this guy was a responsible, hardworking, and highly educated job-creating juggernaut. But what I saw was an inherited-wealth, golden-spoon boy who’s grown bored with churning out unrecyclable garbage made by people who probably get paid next to nothing. Which meant that our little meet-n-greet was a way to show the public that he could connect with people he had no actual connection with.
At 10:00 the next morning I was standing behind the counter when the guy arrived with his entourage and the press in tow. You could tell which ones were his handlers – they were dressed in suits and loaded down with pagers and Blackberries that they checked repeatedly. Within seconds of their arrival our small shop was filled with a chorus of mechanical chirping and ringing and serious men whispering into gadgets, as if to protect valuable secrets. Joining them were a dozen reporters holding cameras and videorecorders to document the action. One guy held a long pole that affixed to a boom mic.
The handlers moved off to the side of the room and conferred with Ray for a moment. Then one of them walked up to the counter and told me the game plan for the photo op. I listened silently and nodded my head.
Ten minutes later we were ready. The packed room grew quiet and the guy strolled up to the counter like a casual, everyday shopper. He put both hands on the glass, revealing tanned forearms below shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow. I looked at him with a smile and pretended that every shopper I encountered in this dying town wore a spotless dress shirt with an ironed collar. The guy’s eyes danced around uncomfortably and I noted a small bead of sweat on his forehead. I tried to ignore the boom mic hovering over his head as the guy looked up at the rack behind me.
“So, uh, which of these is your best seller.”
I smiled, pivoted, and pointed at the rack.
“That Winchester SX3 is very popular. Great hunting rifle. Do you hunt?”
The guy’s eyebrows shot up. I was going off plan, without warning. I was not supposed to ask questions, only answer them.
“Well, uh,” he stammered, “I’ve been so busy running a large business that, uh…”
A dead pause filled the room. The lead handler glared at me and Ray lowered his face into his hand.
“But I, uh, definitely plan to take it up soon.”
The guy’s forehead filled with sweat bubbles. He stood perfectly still for a moment, pondering his next move as his handlers shifted uncomfortably behind him, waiting for their man to regain control and move the topic away from himself. He leaned over and peered down at the weapons resting beneath the glass. A drop of sweat hit the counter just before he asked his next question.
“Which of these handguns do you think is the best.”
I reached into the case, dragged out a Luger P08, and handed it to him. He held it up for the cameras and twisted it back and forth, pretending to admire its craftsmanship.
“Definitely that one, those Germans really know how to make guns.”
I made sure to say “Germans” extra loud. I waited for the guy to retort, perhaps making a complimentary statement about the prowess of American manufacturers for the sake of the cameras. But he remained silent, fiddling with the gun.
“That,” I continued, “is the best thing we sell, by far. It’s great for blowing away immigrants.”
A loud, collective gasp filled the air. The guy stared at me as the blood drained from his face. He started to say something, but a handler stepped up, grabbed his elbow, and whispered in his ear. The handler stared at me and I smiled back before winking. Then he turned back toward the cameramen and his coworkers and said, “Oh-kay, I think we’re done here”.
The handlers formed a cocoon around their charge and pushed through the crowd like a celebrity’s entourage leaving a club after an altercation. They waved away reporters, responding to questions with stern-faced declarations of “no comment,” and marched in a tight pack toward a van parked on the sidewalk next to the highway. The group lurched into the van, fired it up, and squealed away as reporters filmed their quick escape.
Ray marched up to the counter, shaking with rage. He pounded on the counter and fired me on the spot. But I didn’t really care. It had been a fun day at work, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d enjoyed being here. Plus, I realized something as I headed toward the door. The candidate had taken the gun with him as he was hustled out of the shop. I now had a dynamite story about a shoplifting politician to post online. The fun was just beginning.
Thomas Sullivan is the author of Life In The Slow Lane, a memoir about teaching driver education for a 3rd rate, family-owned company best described as a “disorganized crime family.” For information on this title (published by Uncial Press), please visit his author website at http://thomassullivanhumor.com