I Am Among the Many Called
There always seems to be something else to do. There is the work at hand. Perhaps you have a challenging project in your shop at the moment. You tell yourself that mounting Mrs. Weaverbird’s Standard Poodle is your focus. You should put everything else aside and concentrate only on that. But a small voice keeps nagging at you, saying, “If you don’t do something to promote your services, there will be no more Mrs. Weaverbirds in your future, and no more Standard Poodles, either.” Learn to listen to the voices you hear in your head. They may come from some part of your brain where wisdom resides.
Creative Self-Promotion for Taxidermists
I WAS ASSIDUOUSLY TRYING to think of promotional schemes for my business, Memoirs While You Wait, but it wasn’t going well. You know how it is when you put your mind to the solution of a problem. As often as not, your mind refuses to be put, or at any rate to stay put. It may allow itself to be put, but in a bit it has strayed from the place or problem to which it was supposed to have stayed put and has begun to wonder what you’ll be having for lunch. When I find my mind disobeying orders like that, I ask myself what Balzac would have done, and I get up and go to the delicatessen for “the Big Coffee,” which, in the breezy idiom Albertine and I playfully affect when we are alone, means a large container of coffee from the delicatessen a block and a half away, no other.
I got my coffee, and on the return trip I stopped at the bank of mailboxes in our building to pick up our mail. You never know when the wizards of Serendip are going to send you a good idea in the mail. In this case, the good idea was distributed throughout the mail, it was all over the mail, it was the mail, and apparently all the mail. The mail that filled the box was advertising. I was going through it in a desultory manner when — bingo! The fistful of mail all but screamed at me, “Direct mail, you dolt!” Of course. I could market Memoirs While You Wait with a clever and compelling direct-mail campaign. I would study the pieces that I held in my hand, gifts from the masters of the genre, sent to me absolutely free, and I would profit from them instead of dropping them unread into the trash as I normally did.
What was in this treasure trove? Oh, you know. This and that. I was bored by the time I got through three of them. None of them was compelling enough to convince me to buy or give, and I am ordinarily more susceptible than most to the seductive call of advertising. What is it Albertine calls me — “credulous rube” — or is it “gullible bumpkin”? Both, to tell the truth. Of the two, I think I prefer “gullible bumpkin.” It comes off the tongue nicely. Assessing the samples of direct-mail advertising while I made my way up the stairs, I decided to abandon the idea while it was still young. The simple truth was that it wouldn’t work. If the Institute of ’Pataphysics hadn’t succeeded through their lavish mailing in convincing me to donate to their building fund, how could a necessarily far more modest package from me ever convince anyone to employ me to assist in the writing of, or undertake the entire ghostwriting of, a memoir? I might just as well stand on a street corner and hand out fliers while chanting “Memoirs — memoirs written while you wait — your story told by you — or your story told by me — whichever you like,” which Albertine has absolutely forbidden me to do.
The final letter, however, really was compelling. (I lie. This letter wasn’t the final one. Placing it last in the telling, though it was third in the browsing, seemed to me more dramatic. So I have.) The envelope was printed in a clever attention-grabbing way. It bore the single word SUMMONS cunningly made to appear as if it had been stamped on the envelope by hand. The letter came, if the return address could be believed, from the office of the Under Secretary of the Department of Juror Selection and Notification of the Department of Justice of the State of New York.
“Al,” I said, entering the apartment, and I meant to follow that with “what do you make of this?” but she came tripping forward and threw herself into my arms, scattering the mail.
“I got a gig!” she cried.
“Good for you!” I said, swinging her round in a circle. “Good for us! What is it?”
“It’s a retirement party.”
“It’s a job.”
“That it is.”
“I answered an ad. The head of the cardiac catheter lab at Carl Shurz Hospital is retiring, and the staff is throwing him a party.”
“Five of them are going to sing old pop, rock, and country songs, but they don’t trust themselves to sing a capella, so they hired me to carry them over the rough spots.”
“You’re good at that.”
“They call themselves the Five Statins.”
“The Five Statins?”
“Atorva, Lova, Simva, Prava, and Fluva.”
“Just off the boat from the old country, I take it.”
“Theirs is a heartwarming story — ”
“My heart is ready. Warm it.”
“There’s a theme to the playlist: ‘Your Cheating Heart,’ ‘Heart Breaker,’ ‘Hearts Made of Stone’ . . .”
“Got it,” I said.
“‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’? ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’? ‘My Heart Skips a Beat Whenever I Read the Word Summons on an Envelope Addressed to Me’?”
“I don’t know that last one.”
I bent to pick up the mail. I handed her the letter marked SUMMONS and said, “What do you make of this?”
She took one look at it and said, “You’ve been called for jury duty.”
I opened it. She was right.
ON THE MORNING when I had been summoned to appear at the courthouse I found, after I got out of the shower and dressed, that Albertine had prepared a package for me.
“I tried to get all of this into one case, but it didn’t fit,” she said. “So, you’ve got the black briefcase and this canvas bag from the Museum of American Slogans.”
“I’m going to look like a dork.”
“Does that matter?”
“I guess not.”
“In the outside pocket of the briefcase, you’ve got a subway map. I’ve marked the best route in red. I also jotted the route on this little card that you can slip into your wallet or just carry in your pocket. It won’t be as obvious as unfolding the whole map.”
“Al, I’ve been living in this city for nearly five years. I think I can — ”
“Oh, I know that you can find your way home — if you don’t get distracted — but you are so easily distracted.”
“If you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, use the map.”
“You’ve also got a notebook . . . a camera . . . your little microcassette recorder . . . a container of hummus and some pita . . . an apple . . . a bottle of seltzer . . . a bag of low-fat pretzel nuggets . . . don’t go buying hot dogs on the street . . .”
“Creative Self-Promotion for Taxidermists?”
“Did you put the book in? I thought I might get some ideas, some ways to find work, promote the business, bring home the bacon.”
“Okay. I’ll get it.” She did, and she slipped it into the briefcase. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, I think so,” I said, wondering whether to tell her now what I felt it was my duty to tell her sooner or later, or wait until the evening, when she had a martini in her.
“But?” she asked with an eyebrow elevated.
“There is a but in the room. I hear it scuttling along the baseboards.”
“There is something, my darling. I — uh — I’m not going to be reporting for jury duty alone.”
“You’re never alone. You’re a memoirist.”
“Yes — well — this is not my favorite company. Matt and Bert are back.”
“Matthew and BW?”
“Yes. They’ve been on my mind more and more for the past few days.”
“I thought you seemed more than usually distracted.”
“I think I’m going to have to find out what BW is up to. Matthew, too, but it’s BW I’m particularly curious about.”
“That’s going to mean a lot of sex, isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“Should I go shopping for gear of some kind while you’re out?” she asked, with a sparkling eye and a winning smile.
“No, no, no,” I said, as if I didn’t want to trouble her. “You recall that Thoreau counseled against any undertaking that required the purchase of new clothes.”
“Did that include shoes?”
“I suppose it did.”
“It couldn’t have. New shoes are the oxygen of the soul.”
“Thoreau said that?”
“I said that.”
“What I mean is, if we can take this seriously for a moment — ”
“Peter, I know what you mean, and I hope you don’t intend to take it all that seriously.”
“I just mean — ”
“You mean that you intend to have BW bedding a lot of women, probably girls, too.”
“That is what I mean, and — ”
“ — and that will require your bedding a matching set of women — ”
“Well — ”
“ — in your imagination.”
“Just make sure that you do not allow the inhabitants of your imagination to invade your real life.”
“They frown on that down at the courthouse.”
“It’s a just-the-facts kind of place.”
“And don’t let Matthew and BW annoy you.” She hugged me, kissed me, and whispered in my ear, “Do you hear me in there, gentlemen? Don’t mess with my honey’s mind. He’s given you room to roam in this head of his, but don’t abuse his hospitality. I want him coming back to me tonight, not either of you two.”
I TOOK THE ROUTE that Albertine had recommended and arrived at the City Hall stop well in advance of the specified assembly time. The way to the courthouse lay to my right as I emerged from the subway —
“We’re early,” said BW. “Let’s spend some time sitting on a bench in the park across the street and watching the women on their way to work.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” cautioned Matthew. “I think we’d better get to the courthouse, find the Jury Assembly Room, and report in.”
“We have time to kill.”
“One of the things I learned in elementary school was that it is not a good idea to upset the teacher on the first day.”
“He does have a point there,” BW conceded.
“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s go.”