There may be organizations more useless in the universe than my union, but I’m at a loss to name one. Just this afternoon I was seated at the wrong side of my rep’s desk; and although the gent eventually professed sympathy for my plight, I could tell from his er-ing and hmmm-ing, uh-ing and you-don’t-saying, that when it came to fixing a grievance, he’d be as effective as a chimpanzee pitted against Einstein in an equation smack-down at Math Camp.
My rep resembles Mark Twain minus the inquisitive light in his eyes. Although I have been under his incompetent wing for the better part of six years, I always get the impression that every time he sees me is the same in his mind as meeting me for the first time. This phenomenon doesn’t just happen each time we meet; it tends to repeat itself in every conversation we have. However, to be fair, this had been the first time I had come to him with an actual job to do. Sometimes the dimmest lights contain the heftiest charges. I really should have known better.
“Who are you?” (Oh, let’s call him George—No! Lenny is much closer to his soul) Lenny asked. Even though he always seems to be napping whenever I knock on his door, Lenny keeps a stack of papers in his hands, which he ruffles and snaps and gives the greater bulk of his attention to every time I drop by.
“That’s what I’m here to kvetch about,” I said. “It’s who I have always been that’s the matter. Surely, you remember me—Irene Allison?”
“Then I have failed to make myself memorable,” I said. “I could do that. I could make myself someone you wish you could forget.”
Lenny rose from his desk and went to the filing cabinet. All the offices in the AUPNIF are held in 1902; the motif is a mixture of hardwood furnishings, wrought iron fixtures, dust, and paper—heavy on the dust and paper. I sat down on an unfriendly wooden chair that had been designed to accept everything except the human form. My posterior immediately drifted off to sleep and my spine twisted into a scoliotic shape. I thought I heard witty remarks and penetrating observations spoken by Saki and George Eliot, waft in through the transom. They sounded as though they were having a good time. I doubted that many good times were had in Lenny’s office. The way I saw it, his chamber seemed good time-proof.
“Er—Allison, Allison,” Lenny muttered beneath his shock of white hair and bushy eyebrows as he scanned the file cabinet. “Hmmm—I’ve got a Leila Allison, but not an Irene.”
“Yes, that’s it,” I said with great sadness. “That’s what the bastard has done to me.”
Lenny shot me a sharp look. He pointed to a sign affixed to the wall behind his desk:
PLEASE SAVE THE GRATUITOUS PROFANITY FOR YOUR READERS.
Lenny sat down at his desk and affected a befuddled expression. “Uh, who did you say you were?”
The sign prevented me from giving an honest tongue to what I was thinking. “Irene Allison.”
“You don’t say,” Lenny replied. “Your file has been changed to Leila Allison.”
“At least the jerk didn’t change me to I. Leila Allison,” I said. “That would have been one punctuation mark away from the start of a will. Regardless, I’m not having any of it. I want you to inform my other half that I’m not to be trifled with; I’ve got rights, and I intend on using them.”
“Rights, what rights?” Lenny asked. “Leila Allison seems like a pretty enough nom de plume to me. Be happy that your employer didn’t kill you off the same way Richard Bachman got it. Nasty business there, ‘cancer of the pseudonym.’”
“My ‘employer’? Oh please! That person you call my employer got both of us sent to a Sensitivity Training Seminar last week on account of that big brain of his. You see, he’s almost comically far-sighted, yet he never wears his glasses when he’s on his feet. He enjoys walking a world in which the first twenty or thirty feet of reality is ‘up for grabs.’ This causes him to do things like attempting to open a door from the hinged side, and sticking his hand out in a friendly gesture to stray cats and dogs that are actually rabid raccoons.”
“How did his being hyperopic require sensitivity training?” Lenny, in a rare act of holding onto the narrative thread, asked.
“Last Wednesday he needed to punch in a three-number code to access a company storage closet. Whenever you botch the code, a female auto-bot voice tells you that you’ve entered the wrong sequence. He must have fu—fudged it up six times, yet he refused to put on his glasses. When the auto-bot told him that he had messed up one time too many and that he needed to put in for a new code, the genius said, ‘Listen up, Stephanie Hawking, I did hit the right code. I did I did I did.’ A something he had mistaken for an upside down mop propped up against the wall was actually a someone who turned out to be a mole for the PC Gestapo.”
Lenny shook his head. “Now, Miss Allison, you have to make allowances. Although I can understand why a name change may be somewhat upsetting, it isn’t the end of the world. And as you must know by now, creative persons can be somewhat eccentric.”
“’Did you know that the ears and nose never stop growing?’” I blurted out. “’The gods must be terribly ugly.’”
“That’s how my creative, eccentric employer answered a question posed by his boss in regards to the whereabouts of the object he had failed to retrieve from the storage closet. My esteemed employer sits at his desk all day and thinks about such matters full-time; people seldom enter his office unless they are pre-suicidal and need to view a creature even more wretched than themselves in a last-ditch effort to rekindle their lost zeal for being alive.”
“You don’t say,” Lenny muttered as he actually read my file. “Says here that the name change was made because a real life Irene Allison, a lovely woman who has a book coming out in June, was concerned that two writers with the same fairly unique name working at the same time might cause confusion. Seems like a sensible action on the part of your employer.”
“Now, you just wait a minute,” I said, “pen names are people too. How about a little consideration? How about allowing me to suggest what the change would be? How about a little sensitivity? I didn’t work my way from being completely unknown to almost unknown just to get hurled back to completely unknown again. The rat didn’t consult me. What he did do was swap around my first and middle names and signed it to an email that he sent the real Irene , minus my input and consent.”
“Um, er, hmm,” Lenny mumbled. “I know that I’ll hate myself for asking, but what would you have suggested?”
“The Countess Irene Allison,” I said. “That way when I reach a certain age, I could be The Dowager Countess Irene Allison. I like titles that begin with The; it lends gravitas to the persona.”
“The devil, you say,” Lenny said. The slightest crinkling around the edges of his eyes informed me that was his attempt at levity.
“Now, don’t get me wrong—I love my other half the same way a person develops affection for an otherwise less than cuddly pet, like an iguana. But, to be honest, he hasn’t done jack-sh-sugar with his writings since I was born out of his skull like Athena, albeit clad in gabardine instead of armor. He owes all that he is to Irene Allison; God knows that the path to shame and despair is lined with persons such as Leila.”
By the way Lenny snapped and ruffled my file, I could tell that I had done all that I could. “What have you got against Leila?” he asked. “It’s pretty enough; and since a person doesn’t require a third hand to count your publishing credits, it seems early enough in your career to switch the alias without there being harm done. Just sell it, young woman. Wear Leila like a badge of honor. I can tell that you enjoy talking about yourself. This so-called indignity that you claim has been thrust upon you gives you one more thing about yourself to talk about. Be happy that you’re not Richard Bachman. He hasn’t had jack-sugar to say in years.”
On my way out of the union hall, I bumped into a six-foot three-inch rabbit by the name of Harvey. The poor fellow had exited the Imaginary Friend Division of AUPNIF. Even though he had a glum look on his face, he was friendly and polite and introduced himself to me.
“Pleased to meet you, Harvey, call me Leila—rough day?”
“Indeed,” he said. “Our combined unions are as useful as a lettuce blight.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, my friend,” I said. “What’s the trouble?”
“My other half has gone on the wagon. He no longer sees or speaks to me.”
Something occurred to me. A something much better than anything that my hyperopic other half could wonk-up on the fly. “I’m not on the wagon,” I said. “You and I could form a beautiful friendship. Just think: an Imaginary Friend who has a Pen Name. They’ll have to form a third division. Maybe then we can get better service.”
“I like it,” Harvey said brightly.
“I know a pub down the street,” I said. “Let’s hop down there and talk this out.”
Header photograph: By Eric Kilby from Somerville, MA, USA (Iguana Closeup) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons