“Yes, Mr. Holstrom. Yes, I realize that this is unacceptable. I’m going to rectify the situation right- Rectify. It means to make right. Yes, I’m sure it doesn’t mean that. Yes, I’ll get right on it. All right, thanks.”
I hang up the phone, and rub my temples. This is the third time Johnson’s fucked me over. I open the drawer in my desk by my right knee, pull out a bottle of scotch and a glass. I hate firing people. I pour, drink. Johnson’s office is down the hall, about ten yards from mine. His office is only about eight by ten, but then again, he’s only worked here for six months. It took me three years to get a decent sized office.
When I enter the room, Johnson is sitting with his feet on his desk, leaning back in his swivel chair, holding a paperback at arm’s length over his face. I clear my throat. Johnson looks at me without moving his head.
“Hey,” he says, “What’s up?”
“We need to talk,” I say, pulling from my pocket the folded up flyer Mr. Hostrom faxed to me. “It’s serious.”
Johnson swings his legs off the desk, and sits up straight, tossing the book behind him. It hits the wall and some pages fall out. I lay the flyer flat on the desk in front of him. “Can you tell me what this is?” I say.
Johnson looks it over, then says, “It’s the promotional flyer I designed for Mattress Mart’s sale.”
“And do you see why Mr. Holstrom might be upset with it?”
Johnson strokes his chin for a moment. “No.”
“Well, I see several. Let’s start with the big bright red letters across the top.”
“What about them.”
I can’t tell if Johnson is messing with me, so I give him the benefit of the doubt. “You don’t see it?”
“Mattress-Side Sale. In big red, inexplicably dripping letters, it says Mattress-Side Sale.”
Johnson shrugs as if he has no idea what I mean.
He shrugs. “Coincidence.”
“Coincidence! How could it be coincidence! What the fuck does Mattress-side even mean.”
“It means ‘the act of murdering one’s own mother.’”
“I know that!”
“Then why’d you ask?”
I take a few deep breaths. “I mean, why did you name the sale the Mattress-Side Sale.”
“Because we have the best mattresses this side of the Mississippi.” He says. “I promise, any homophones are coincidental.”
“See, I have a hard time believing that.” I point to the image beneath the title, “Could you explain this?”
Johnson looks it over. “I think the meaning is quite clear.”
“So do I, which is precisely the problem.”
The image is a line drawing of a large number of young men and middle aged women in a mattress store, all of them brandishing weapons of some kind. Beneath that is the line: Everyone and their mother is going Psycho for our low, low prices.
“Do you seriously expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with matricide?”
“It has everything to do with mattress-side. That’s the name of the sale.”
The son of a bitch is grinning now. “Enough,” I say.
He shrugs. “Fine,” he says. “The pun is intentional. I thought he’d like it.”
“Why would he possibly like it?”
“You’ve seen the commercials, always talking about prices so low that he’s got to be insane and all that. What says crazy better than matricide?”
I look him over carefully, trying to determine whether he’s still pulling my leg. “Not that kind of crazy. He’s quirky uncle crazy, not dress up like a clown and rip out your sternum crazy.”
Johnson shrugs. “My mistake,” he says. “I’ll do better next time.”
I brace myself, take a deep breath. “There won’t be a next time. You’re fired.”
He looks at me, actually serious for the first time so far. “What! Because I made one mistake!”
“This is hardly the first mistake.”
“Name one other. I dare you!”
“That Chef Spyro’s Gyro shop. You remember that one?”
Johnson crosses his arms over his chest. “What about it?”
“‘Chef Spyro will fill your mouth with his hot meat.’ And the picture was a close-up of Spyro winking.”
Johnson snorts in derision. “So it happened one other time. Big deal.”
“And Bragler’s Pharmacy. The ad just said, ‘Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.’”
“It got people’s attention.”
“It got the police department’s attention.”
“Police are people.”
“That’s not the point!”
I take several deep breaths. “The point is, you’re fired. That’s it.”
I stand up and start to leave, but Johnson runs around the desk and grabs my shoulder. “Let me show you what I’ve got,” he says, clearly desperate. “If you don’t like it, I’ll go.”
“Fine,” I say.
An easel with a giant pad of sketch paper is leaned against the wall. Johnson spreads its legs, and prepares to flip over the page. “It’s for Rico’s Italian diner.” He flips over the page.
There’s are two meatballs next to each other, and a cannoli dangling below them. The tagline says, “You’ll love our big meaty balls.”
Johnson is smiling self-consciously. I look at the ad again, then back to Johnson. I turn around and start walking. “You’re fired.” I call out over my shoulder.