hard-boiled pumpie

I was just sitting here eating my second bag of Smartfood White Cheddar Popcorn and wishing I had a butler to walk the 20 yards from me to the Coke machine when she walked in.

She looked and smelled like Marketing, but on her it looked and smelled just fine. I'd seen her around, at the coffee cart, a glimpse of her leg disappearing into the Info Systems Dept, her eye sizing me up from across the cafeteria, darting away the second she saw me see her see me. Sometimes I wondered if she made enough money to buy clothes. The quality was there, but the quantity was Barely Dress Code, even on Casual Friday.

"I hear you're the best, Martin" she oozed. "I hear you can make two colors look like three." She glided into my cubicle like she was skating on Crisco in slo-mo — until her heel caught on my Super Jumbo Design Marker and her perfect can flew up to just the right height and distance for my computer bifocals. The tiny Hello Kitties on her panties peeked out from beneath her skirt, as if to say "I meant to do that" before crashing into my lap.

"I - I need your help!" she stammered.

"I need a coke to wash down this popcorn, Sweetheart," I told her. "See if you can make it to the Coke machine and back without losing your Hello Kitties, and we'll talk."

My name is Pumpie. I'm a graphic designer. I've got the scars to prove it. Some you can see, some... well, let's just say you gotta love this job. Like a moth loves a flame.

Her Wonder® Bread buns took turns getting smaller as she walked away, left, right, left, right...

Watching those buns reminded me of something my friend Eden once told me. "Hello Kitty is so last year!" What the hell is that supposed to mean? Every time I stand close to Eden I get high from somebody's grandmother's marijuana smoke trapped in the fabric of her thrift-store hippie clothes. And what's wrong with that? What's "this year" in panty patterns anyway? The Cleveland Show? No thanks, none for me!

Women are funny. Yeah, funny like a kneaded eraser through the heart, pushing in soft at first, then tearing and ripping slowly, bloody, messy. Not like an X-acto knife, swift and clean. More like a can of Benzine thinner poured into an IV infusion bag, slowly drip drip dripping.

Thinking about Benzine in an IV bag and the danger of smoking around such things made me want a cigarette, and that just reminded me you can't smoke a cigarette anywhere anymore. Is it any wonder a hard-boiled designer like me is drawn to Hello Kitty? The 21st century is chickified!

I was about to punch my fist through my cubicle wall and grab the guy in the next cubicle and choke him to death just to blow off some steam, when Marketing showed up with my Coke. "I picked this can out just for you," she purred. "Cold and hard."

Technically she was right. The Coke was a few degrees colder than room temp, and the micromillimeter can was hard before I bit it.

I like to drink my Coke and get it over with. Life's too short to "Enjoy a refreshing Coke." I've got it down to a science. In one swift action I tilt my head back, raise the can to my mouth, bite a hole in the bottom of the can, pop the top and shotgun it. Takes about a second. I like the way the bite-shaped shards of aluminum cut my lips and get stuck in my throat on the way down. Makes a man feel alive.

I smashed the can into my forehead and left it there. I turned to Marketing, who I assume was assuming her most seductive poses. They were pretty good. I've seen worse.

"So," I said, trying not to growl, "I hear you hear I'm the best. Now tell me who's been going around talking about me."

"I don't have all day, Mr. Pumpie," she pouted. She traced the can on my forehead with a manicured finger. "It would be easier to tell you who's NOT going around talking abou—"

I grabbed her wrist and held it fast in my vice-like Kung Fu pencil grip. "Look, Sister, let's get one thing straight. I'm a happily-married man who doesn't do happy, and when The World's Greatest Cook dies I'm marrying a certain ex-Secretary of State. Let's just keep it clean and you tell me what brings an innocent skirt like you down here to the wrong side of the building, and nobody gets hurt, see?"

Unbuttoning two more buttons of her blouse, she reached between her heaving pillows and pulled out... the Horror!

I've seen some ugly things in this hell hole. I've seen a big fat swollen Iced Hunny Bun sit in the vending machine E7 slot until it turned 15%cyan/5%magenta/30%yellow/12%black, and tiny little gnat things fluttered around inside the wrapper. I've seen a young mother's slender fingers turn to petrified branches from clutching a Wacom pen and tweaking bezier curves to earn money and feed her baby. But nothing prepared me for what came from Marketing's bosom.

"Put that away," I heard a steady, firm voice say, as my mind screamed "MAKE IT STOP BAD BAD! MUST BE NIGHTMARE, MUST WAKE UP!!!" Cold sweat formed a mighty glacier on the back of my neck as that steady, firm voice said "Now. Put it away now." I realized the voice was coming from me. Even under enormous mental trauma, my body is a machine, a problem-solving unrelent-o-matic.

As I saw the repugnant thing slide back from whence it came I was reminded of a surinam toad backing into a litter of day-old puppies. How could something so disgusting exist in the same universe as something so cuddly, never mind in the same barely-fastened blouse? Why did I get up that morning? I couldn't seem to get a good grip on the floor. "Where did you get that?" I asked.

My head started to clear and my sense of color and dimension was returning. I could hear Marketing's voice through a cloud. I knew the answer, even before she said it, even before I asked, even before that— that THING offended every atom of every shred of my soul.

"Promo. Promo worked it up."

(2 days go by)

It's true I'm a bad mofo who eats nails for breakfast. If we're out of railroad spikes. And I'm going to finish telling you about that Marketing/Promo thing.

Like I said, I'm a badass designer, and that's a fact. But when I try to write about that Promo mock-up I get cold and nauseous, and I think this must be what a dame feels like when she has morning sickness, if Hitler knocked her up.

I'll get over it. Just give me another day or two. I'm a trainload of dynamite, I ain't a nucular bomb!

(2 more days go by)

It was ugly. You're just going to have to take my word for it. I can't talk about it.

Everything Promo does is ugly. That's an understatement. You know the cellar under the understatement? You know the hole in the corner of the cellar where the water collects if there's a problem, and the sump pump pumps it out? You know the petrified dinosaur turd in the mud under that hole? You know the muddier mud, under that turd?

To say that saying the monstrosity lurking in Marketing's bosom was that low of an understatement would be heaping undeserved praise upon it. Even by Promo substandards, that thing was the reddest-headest of the blackest of step-sheep.

"It's our Bold New Image for the Business-to-Business Inter-Intra-Sales & Strategy Campaign Conference! The BBIISSC!" Marketing looked frantic. Her eyes of liquid black chrome grew larger. LARGER! Trembling, she whispered "I think it's sabotage! You've got to—UKK" I cut her off with a swift chop to her uvula. "SH!" I shushed. "Smell that?"

Little clouds of rainbow unicorn prostitute smell had been billowing about the cubicle ever since Marketing showed up.

They tell them not to wear that stuff down there, but they all wear it. Tell Billy Mays not to yell. I mean before he died. Tell Billy Mays not to yell, see how that works out for you. Same thing. Tell Marketing not to wear perfume? It's like Nancy Reagan telling kids to Just Say No!

Other Designers whip out their nosegays and go into a swoon whenever perfume or Spra-Mount or an uncapped ballpoint pen is within shouting distance. Buncha sissies. I say "Bring it on!" I love a challenge and what does not kill me only makes me stronger. My nosehairs, my olfactory cortex, my mucus membrane - every part of me is just as pumped and stoked as my fingers of fury or my deadline-defying iron buttocks.

I detected a hint of something slightly less feminine in the air. Not at all masculine, but not entirely 100% Strawberry Slutcake. As if their pimp had brushed his fingers through the mane of one of the rainbow unicorn prostitutes before he opened the gate and sent them out into the world. I detected it through the fog, advancing toward me, lingering, starting to fade—

As if constructed of atomic gears and pistons powered by the energy of the Big Bang, I sprang to action. I grabbed Marketing's shoulders, forced her to her knees, leapt up onto her shoulders so I could see over the cubicle wall just in time to see the man's leg disappear through the doorway and out of the department. Using Marketing's youthful torqued body as my springboard, I was over the cubicle wall and across the room faster than you can say "It's a bird! It's a plane! It's PUMPIE!!!"

Dammit! He was gone

Only an instantaneous time-negative teleportater could have delivered me back to my cubicle faster than my own two legs.

Marketing lay on the floor, unable to breathe, gasping and flailing. Her skin had turned 33% cyan / 40% magenta / 8% yellow. No black. Just like a skirt to panic and collapse in a crisis, but damned if she didn't look sexy kicking and clawing at the neutral gray cubicle walls. A woman can add such color and flair to a tiny gray cubicle. A girl like that— SMACKO! I slapped myself so hard my face fell off. "Get ahold of yourself, man! You're happily married!"

Sans further ado, I snatched up my Super Jumbo Design Marker and ripped off the cap. I inhaled deeply, drawing in 97% of the available air from the department and causing several co-workers to faint. Placing my Super Jumbo Design Marker to my lips like an Amazon blowgun, I exhaled mightily, blowing the metal bottom, the toxic black contents of the tube and the massive felt tip through the skull of the Assistant Art Director and her monitor. Call it a mercy killing. That PowerPoint presentation she was designing was killing her slowly anyway. I just ended her suffering.

I took the now-hollow Jumbo Marker tube and forced it down Marketing's throat, thus opening her trachea and allowing her to breathe. "Ank you," she said. "Ank you 'o mutt! Youh 'o 'twoh an kyeh-wuh. I cou-uh kihh you!"

I carefully slid the Jumbo Marker tube back out of her throat, so she could open and close her mouth and stop jabbering like an idiot. "How's that?" I asked, being ever the gentleman and concerned for a lady's comfort. "Are you breathing okay now?"

She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me, the intoxicating bouquet of toluene and xylene coaxing us both to the floor, to paradise, to that little place up under my desk where nobody can see unless they actually walk inside my cubicle and bend over.

I grabbed her neck and extracted her lips from mine with a sonic THWOK. "Okay, Sweetheart, talk," I demanded. "Whose feet were those flying out of here 45 seconds ago?"

"I don't know! I don't know!" she wailed. "What kind of shoes?"

"Wha - wh -" I sputtered. "NICE shoes! Pretty-boy shoes! I think they were black. Maybe dark brown, something dark..."

Let me interrupt myself and explain something to anyone who thinks designers notice shoes. Down here in the trenches we don't have time to follow fashion. "Shoes" are those things you put on your feet when it's cold or you have to go out of the house. You wear them until they won't stay on any more, or they leak when it rains. Then you throw them away and you have to pay money to buy another pair. It's a distraction and time-wasting pain in the keester, like a colonoscopy, but like a colonoscopy, it's just one of those things besides designing / illustrating that you have to do.

A light went off in my head. A sudden realization, an epiphany. Nice shoes. YES! They were NICE shoes!

"Who was he? No more games, Milton Bradley!" It was time to introduce Miss Marketing to Mr. Bad Cop. "Only a ninnyboy from your side of the building would waste his scratch on those foot flowers. What are the odds that two of you petunias would sprout down here in the onion patch right next to each other, at the same time? Just what are you trying to pull off here?"

She pulled off her blouse.

I was just reaching into my cabinet drawer for a Sexual Harassment Complaint Form when she produced the document she had sewn inside her blouse. "Put that back on, Sweetheart," I told her as I read the doc. "It doesn't cover you up very well, but it's trying harder than that ribbon of a bra!"

She looked so helpless and vulnerable there in her “too sexy? / sexy enough?” worksuit / mantrap.

I know it’s tough for a dumb kid like her, trying to pay the rent and keep her wheels on the road. Running up against stone walls like me who’ve felt a soft vine cling to us, flattered ourselves that we deserve something pretty hanging off of us, clinging to us, only to realize her little tendrils are secreting a sticky resin that adheres to almost any substrate, in this case the cement that holds our rocks together and keeps us from crumbling to the ground in a lumpy pile. Clustered adventitious roots form in pairs on either side of her vascular bundle at the 2nd to 3rd internodes of her young stems. After emergence through the cortex and epidermis, her root hairs stick together forming the tiny microscopic adhesive pads that cling to a guy between his rocks and dissolve his cement. If you know what I mean. It ain’t like she wants to destroy the guy. It’s just what happens. She falls for the guy. Too much. One minute the guy’s standing tall and proud with a beautiful foliage draped across his massive flat chest, and the next minute he’s a pile of rocks crushing a poor girl underneath him with stars in her eyes fading to blackest black frozen ultimate death.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was feeling bad for this poor little chippy who was obviously caught up in a sausage grinder with no emergency exit. The lines I read between the lines of her smuggled document told me all I needed to know.

“Uh, look, uh, Marketing” I began, trying to stop myself. My old man’s words were pounding on the back door of my skull. My old man, the hard-boiledest hard-boiled designer this old world has ever seen, or ever will see, if it’s lucky. My old man, who once pulled three all-nighters in one afternoon, was kicking down the back door of my skull, shouting at me “Don’t do it, boy!"

"What did I always tell you, you ding-blasted chewed-off little eraser?" he bellowed. "Women and puppies is all the same! Don’t ever name one or it’ll git inside yer heart an’ snuggle down and you’re stuck with it forever! Dog and Woman, them’s the only two names you need to know! Don’t ever ask ‘em what to call ‘em, just call ‘em Hey You! An’ if their ears is too long an’ floppy, chop some off an’ rub a little Green Salve on ‘em an’ they’ll be good as new! An’ don’t let ‘em in the house! Leave ‘em out in the yard so they can scratch their fleas an’ pee! Are you listenin’? NO NAMES, BOY!”

“Yes?” she cooed, her head tilted as if professionally posed for a subliminally sexual advertisement.

“Well,” I said, “The thing is, I don’t exactly know your name. I can’t just keep calling you Marketing because if I’m going to help you we’ll start getting confused as to the point of am I talking about you, or am I talking about the department, see? So I was just wondering if you had a name and if you’d care to spit it out now, that’s all.”

“Luste with an ‘e’,” dripped from her lips like honey from a bee’s butt. “Lots of girls spell it with an ‘i’ now, to be different from all the girls that spell it with a ‘y’. But I wanted to be different from the “i” girls, so I spell it with an ‘e’. That’s my name, Luste Bedroom,” she confided, as I realized the slightly less than feminine smell had once again returned and my rack of razor-sharp rulers, triangles and french curves was hurtling toward my head.

Razor-sharp metal objects hurtling toward my head didn't really bother me. The problem was this:
Scrunched up under my desk the way we were, there was not a whole lot of difference in the area occupied by my head vs the area occupied by the head of Luste with an 'e'. Quickly calculating the trajectory of each razor-sharp object, I deduced that eight of them would strike my head, while a full battery of fifteen missiles would fill the remaining area underneath the desk where my body and Luste's body were intertwined. Not to mention Luste's head. Six of the ersatz weapons were doomed to strike non-fleshy objects in my cubicle.

At this point you may think it noble of me to be more concerned for the safety of a Marketing Bimbo I had just met than for the future of my own head. After all, with no head there would be no me! And with no me... you don't want to think about that.

But the plain and simple fact is, I was in no danger. Over the years, as I have cut myself or been cut by dastardly machinery, my body has evolved a dozen times a dozen generations' worth of mutations. If I am cut, the area of my body where the blade entered is completely healed by the time the blade exits, and the exit wound disappears within nanoseconds.

Last week, Tuesday I think, I was so busy throwing horny intern applicants out of my cubicle, and they were coming at me so fast and furious, I tripped over one of them. As I fell toward the floor, my right arm (my drawing arm!!!) went under the paper cutter blade. My body struck the blade's handle, and the blade sliced through my arm. It's pretty hard to cut through a human bone, as you may know if you ever seen an autopsy. But I struck the handle with such Herculean force, even my own diamond-hard skeleton was no match for the descending blade.

Less than a second later, my arm was replaced, much like a lizard's tail will return, only faster. I used my fresh new arm and hand to pick up the discarded arm and use it as a club, subduing the horde of interns. I gave the arm to the last standing intern, a trophy for her stamina and perseverance. I saw it on ebay earlier this morning. She's selling it, the opportunistic bitch! Try to do them a favor and what do you get? Heartache!

So anyway, I'm laying there on the floor underneath my desk intertwined with Luste and there's all these things flying at us, see, and I'm thinking "What can I do? No matter how lightning fast I move, Luste is going to be sliced and diced before I can position my body in front of hers as a shield, or get her out from under this desk and out of Ground Zero."

Hmmm... what to do???

(to be continued...)


Rick Grimes said...

I actually did read every word of this, a few days after you posted it. (After griping for a new post, how dare I not?)
Lots of funny lines & combinations. My favorites:
"what a dame feels like when she has morning sickness, if Hitler knocked her up." And, "caught up in a sausage grinder with no emergency exit."

HemlockMan said...

That's actually not bad, Mark. You could write that hard-boiled stuff.

Christine said...

Wow, this is amazing. I rarely read anything online longer than 10 words. But you had me hooked. Now I understand why you are so quiet.

Eric Knisley said...

Best thing ever! Keep it coming.