Walking Boss Cooper scythed me at the loading dock. She’d set up a blind and waited until the large “agricultural investment order” I’d charged to the company arrived and forced me out of my secret sanctum. Renfield had warned me that “the WBC” was prowling the campus for two suckers to present Orientation to the “fresh fishes” that day, as well as a butt to fill an opening at the Neverending Crisis. Although it was most definitely a day for streaming Hulu in a utility closet, necessity led me to venture onto the open tundra.
The WBC happens as hella now as Alien. I winced and sighed when her wholesome yet evil visage reflected in my ipad. I’d just finished haggling with two dock brutes. For ten bags of “fun-sized” candy bars (various brands, also charged to the company) I had secured safe temporary storage for a dozen bales of alfalfa, a case of asparagus tips, an indeterminate supply of cabbages, kales, greens, lettuces and such–in addition to an immense stock of various dry and canned goods already in the pantry.
“Jesus H., Farmer Gwen,” I said. “I oughta’ tie a bell around your neck.”
“Hello, Farmer Leila–you’ve a choice,” The WBC said, smiling (I’ll give the WBC this much, her smile is a killer). “Either rat out Farmer Renfield’s location–”
“Never!” I said. “I ain’t no rat bus thower-underer.”
“As I was saying,” she continued, “either rat her out and you guys present Orientation to the newbies, or you and you only will spend eternity at the Neverending Crisis.”
On our way to the auditorium Renfield stopped various co-workers and demanded that they look at the bus tracks on her back.
“I don’t feel bad, not one little bit,” I said. “You’d have done the same.”
“No, rat bus thrower-underer,” Renfield said with a sinister grin, “I’d have gone free after buying off the WBC and volunteering you for the Neverending Crisis.”
“So, that makes you some kind of saint in comparison?” I said. “Holy frogshit. Looky yonder. The WBC just shanghaied Smooch to the Neverending Crisis.”
Ahead, the ever-smiling WBC led “Smooch” down the hall toward the infected boil on the buttocks of reality known as the Neverending Crisis. I would have felt sorry for Smooch if he wasn’t an invertebrate non-farmer as well as an obsequious butt kisser–which made him a perfect fit for the Neverending Crisis.
To underscore the general consensus of Smooch, Renfield went all high school and created a series of loud, wet kissy-kissy smacking sounds. WBC glanced our way, intensified her smile and went all high school by casually touching her chin with her middle finger. She then gleefully herded Smooch to his just damnation.
“How mature was that?” Renfield asked.
“I was thinking the same thing.”
“Fuckstix,” I sighed when we arrived at the auditorium. Until that point I had successfully supported a fantasy in which the event had been cancelled due to a meteor strike. Sigh, only in fantasyland. Alas, I knew that on the other side of the door sat a half dozen reasonably clean college graduates, who were both greedy and dumb enough to sign seven-year personal service contracts with the Smiling Face of Darkness.
“Let’s slip into the viewing blind,” Renfield said.
Every meeting room and office at the Smiling Face of Darkness is accompanied by a viewing blind. Most, such as the ludicrously named “auditorium” in which Orientation takes place, are decidedly low tech–table, chairs, open vent to let in the noise and a two-way mirror. Others are as sophisticated as something out of M-5. You see, Our Founder (His Himness), CEO, wildlife terrorist and perennial Wacko Party candidate for political office is as paranoid as Stalin; he thinks that everyone is out to get him–which is true, but he has forgotten that “everyone” includes the ambitious toadies whose advice and snitchings he relies on.
The first thing I did when we slipped into the blind (you always slip into blinds, like the wind), was close the vent. The genius who’d designed it had overlooked the bald fact that sound travels both ways.
Upon sizing up the six dopes on the other side of the mirror, Renfield got downright philosophical:
“How wonderful to gaze into the face of a child and tell the little jackoff that there’s no such thing as Santa, and that his DNA owes more to the Fed-Ex guy than daddy. A little light goes out in the eye… Poof…Some call it the extinguishment of the soul… I love being a soul extinguisher, Farmer Leila, God help me I do.”
My phone rang. “Maybe it’s the Pope,” I said. “Maybe you’re just one crushed soul away from canonization.”
Renfield adjusted her halo and beamed angelically.
But it wasn’t the Pope. It was the WBC. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, rat bastard…”
“Can’t lay smack like that on the Vatican,” Renfield said. “It could cost you your 401K to get into Heaven.”
“We are at Orientation,” I said to the WBC. “Just sizing up the fishes through the blind. A couple look like they might rate as farmers, the others seem to have realized that they’ve made a terrible mistake. Got one useless twat smacking a wad of juicy fruit as though it were a fucking cud.”
“Ask her if she has heard anything about my pending sainthood.”
“Can’t ask her a sonofabitchin’ thing,” I said. “She hung up.”
“Let’s get this over with,” Renfield said, approaching the door. “Thanks to you I’ve a busy afternoon ahead. Gotta scout out a new secret location.”
“Try the daycare. No one will think to look for you there.”
Without introducing ourselves we blew into the room and began talking. A few hands went up here and there, but after a while their owners realized that all they were doing was airing their pits.
“Good news!” I shouted. “No need to take notes. There’s only one question to answer at the end of this orientation. Your answer will determine the quality of your future here at the Smiling Face of Darkness.”
“Are you a farmer?” Renfield joined in. “That’s the question. And it ain’t a metaphorical one, either.”
“That’s right,” I said. “Farmers do not wind up praying for death while contributing to the Neverending Crisis…”
Renfield and I had done this gig plenty over time, and we had discovered that the best way to maintain confused silence amongst the fishes was to work our schtick like tag team wrestlers.
It keeps people off balance; yet the trick (aka, “Shitty Cop/Shittier Cop”) has a short shelf life. Renfield was right about the dimming of the inner light; people harden pretty quickly at the Smiling Face of Darkness. Two weeks employment here weighs the same as twenty years any place else.
“You guys need to know about The Neverending Crisis–there’s always a Neverending Crisis,” I said. “ The latest version of it began last year when our boss, the Fearless Fecal-skull, discovered a pygmy goat in his trophy room and another of the same persuasion atop his desk eating his autographed picture of that King of the Assholes, Ted Nugent.”
“The Sultan of Twat went ballistic,” Renfield added.
“Yes indeedy,” I continued. “Security swarmed in like the Green Berets, but the goats in question had already left the premises. To date, nobody except Bungalow Bill-doe has seen goats in the building.”
Renfield then slowed down the pace of our presentation, lowered her voice and began to pace in front of the stunned newbies as though she were Atticus Finch.
“The Torpid Toolbox immediately went on a Twitter rampage,” she said, slowly shaking her head in disgusted bemusement. “He vowed to purge the company of what was an obvious ‘liberal goat conspiracy.’ He was committed to finding and ‘punishing the intruders’ and mounting their heads on the wall of his trophy room along with those of species who weren’t endangered until people like the Jaundiced Juggalow came along. ”
I drew a deep breath and said: “Perhaps you guys remember the media shitstorm that gathered soon after someone, who may or may not be in this room, hacked into the Devoted Dorkface’s Twitter and Instagram and posted a hella obviously photoshopped pic featuring the heads of baby goats, orcas, chipmunks, kittens, puppies and bunnies all mounted in the Surreal Skidmark’s office–along with those of the wild beasts that he had actually murdered.”
“That’s right, Farmer Leila,” Renfield said. “And like the grand opening of a new wing in Hell, a fresh Neverending Crisis task force was formed to look into the safe capture and expulsion of the goats from company property in response to the ASPCA and Greenpeace staging a sit-in. As Farmer Leila said, there’s always a Neverending Crisis; and, just as always, the task force is getting nothing done as slowly as possible–except in the field of soul extinguishing. To get the feel of being assigned to the Neverending Crisis, imagine just sitting there from age twenty-two to retirement and dreaming wistfully of sweet sweet death.”
Although it was my turn to rant, I was still recovering from the sixty word sentence I had spoken earlier. So, I pointed at a raised hand that belonged to a chick who looked like Reese Witherspoon. My instincts told me that she was Farmer material and would be a good soldier for the Cause.
“Ummm, why goats? Ummm, where are they now? Are they okay?” asked the chick.
Renfield fielded the inquiry. “Someone, or maybe two someones in this room, had hit on an awesomenistic idea for Earth Day last year. ‘Let’s rent goats. We’ll give ‘em free run of the building and the grounds. It will be the green way to remove litter and mow the grounds.’ As it goes with awesomenistic ideas, mother alcohol was involved in its formation.”
“Unfortunately,” I said, “the someones in question were too liquified to understand the data stating that there would be a sizable uptick in goatshit commeasurate with the devoured trash and grass.”
“That was only one of the someones,” Renfield said, glaring at me. “A someone who is a known bus thower-underer. The other someone, a leader in the field of soul extinguishing, had understood the facts and acted anyway. But neither someone had foreseen the goat rental business going under. This caused both someones to hire all the suddenly unemployed goats as full time employees of Whiling Case and Harkness.”
“What are the goats’ names who broke into the um, the Hedonistic Hemorrhoid’s office?” the Reese Witherspoon look-alike asked. This confirmed her inner Farmer. The girl was ready for harvest.
“Roy and Roydeen,” I said.
My phone alerted me to an incoming text. It was our mole at the loading dock. I nodded at Renfield. She pointed at the Reese Witherspoon type and said, “Follow me.” People, prospective Farmers and otherwise, are usually in an unnatural hurry to leave Orientation; Renfield didn’t need to tell the chick twice. Together, they fled the auditorium like souls passing through a crack in hell.
I was born with a birth defect: I have only one type of smile: Maniacal. It’s a strange circumstance, much like the decision to use two colons in the same sentence. At no time in my life has a friendly smile ever crossed my face. It’s the sort of smile you see in the face of a jibber-jabbering loon who has been discovered with a bloody dagger in her hand.
“Decision time,” I said, sending my only smile to the five remaining newbies. I found myself wishing I had a riding crop. People respect people who smile maniacally and carry riding crops.
For some reason my charges shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.
I stood silently, still smiling malevolently, still wishing I had a riding crop, for, maybe, thirty seconds before speaking. “You, you, you, and especially you,” I said at last, pointing my air riding crop in turn at a hip hop wannabe white boy, some dude who reminded me of Smooch, a woman who had struggled to stay awake and the fuckstick chewing gum-smacker of indeterminate gender. “Go away. Now. Personnel has already emailed your Monday instructions.”
I have yet to meet a Smiling Face of Darkness employee who needs to be told to go away twice.
“Alone at last,” I said to the sole survivor, my lunatic grin in full bloom. “I know what you’re thinking…You’re thinking ‘Why me? How come I don’t get to go away like the others except for that Legally Blond-looking chick in the pink sweater?’ And don’t play dumb with me dude either, I know that you know about the pink sweater.”
The guy left behind nodded sheepishly. He was a sweet enough looking boy, in an anemic Johnny Depp sort of way–strategically emaciated and mostly eyes beneath a toss of dark hair that appeared to have a mind of its own.
“We normally don’t assign names until a year or so goes by,” I said. “I’d say ‘nothing personal’ about that, but it would be a goddamn lie.” I glanced at his name tag, dropped my cross-purpose smile and extended my hand. “Pleased to meetcha, Jim. But from here on get used to Farmer Jim.”
I guided Farmer Jim to the secret elevator.
On our way down I chatted him up. I am not much for desultory chit-chat, but it’s a long ride down in the secret elevator and you can stare at your shoes for only so long.
“So, Farmer Jim, do you normally take secret elevators with strange women?”
“Ahhhh, I see. It’s all clear to me now. You’ll go on any old elevator with a strange woman but draw the line at a secret elevator.”
The elevator stopped. A robotic voice demanded the password. “E-I-E-I-O,” said I. Then for the next minute or so my life resembled that toilet in Trainspotting.
“Cancel that command,” Farmer Jim said. “UPFFIC override; codeword Saint Renfield.”
This story had been going as scripted until Farmer Jim pissed in the jacuzzi. As a pen-name and a reluctant member of the Union of Pen-names, Imaginary Friends and Fictional Characters (UPIFFC), my stories (like the one you are currently reading and unlikely to comment on) aren’t written, but are shot like movies, with a cast composed of my own Fictional Characters (FC’s) playing various roles. Union rules stipulate that I must first offer all parts in new productions to the characters I had created prior to the Union expansion and subsequent inclusion of FC’s a few years back, before I can create new characters. This stupid bylaw (which applies to pen-names, only) has strained my relationship with the Union. Nowadays our interactions are like those of a renegade film director and the bean counters in the production office. Dirty tricks and various forms of passive-aggressive thuggery rule the day. And, sometimes, underemployed FC’s, like, for instance, well, Farmer Jim, can be coerced into performing one pettifogging bit of Union business or another, just for something to do.
I pounded my fists on the door, which is an excellent way to summon rage. “You’d better tell me what this is all about before I locate my right shoe on the other side of your tonsils, Farmer Jim,” I said as reasonably as such a thing can be said.
“I am a loyal FC,” Farmer Jim stated, somewhat nervously because that smile of mine was taking shape in my face. “But I am also a Union member and being such it has fallen to me to bring your attention to a grievance submitted by a Union sister.”
Although my serial killer smile still shone, I nonchalantly extracted my ipad from my jacket pocket, opened this file and began to write. That definitely caught Farmer Jim’s attention, but I waved at it as though it were nothing. “Tell me, comrade, does the twisted Union sister of whom you speak have a name?”
“Um, yes, but that’s not germane to the grievance–”
“‘Germane’? The only germane I know was in the Jackson Five. And he ain’t one of my FC’s,” I said. “For shits and giggles, please tell me what Renfield is bitching about this time.”
“Yesterday,” he went on, somewhat nervously, “one of your lead FC’s reported a plot convolution to the Union. She–um, he or she brought along a copy of the script for this particular production. She, um–he or she–’’
“Call ‘she–um, he or she’ rat bastard Renfield from here on, Farmer Jim,” I said, not looking up from my ipad. “Unless you’d like me to alter my description of you in the script to, um, something less pleasing to the eye.”
“All right. As you wish. Miss Renfield…”
“All of it, Farmer Jimmy boy, all of it, please.”
“Fine. Rat bastard Renfield pointed out that beginning in the second act on to her exit from the scene, the dialogue that you and she had spoken at Orientation seemed to have been spoken by the same person, not two different persons. Same syntax, same attitude, same, as um, rat bastard Renfield put it, ‘lead balloon sense of humor.’ She said that she had spoken to you about it, but you were drunk and abusive. She said that you quoted Betty White from Lake Placid: ‘If I had a dick, I’d tell you to suck it.’”
“That’s extremely interesting, Farmer Jim,” I said, glancing up from my ipad, still smiling. “And, why yes, I did say that to her. But she must’ve neglected to mention that that had happened after she went diva on me and said something like ‘Eat my shit then shit my shit and eat it again and repeat it all to infinity. That way you’ll never be done eating my shit.’ You see, pal, that’s how we communicate.”
“I see,” he said, with eyes that didn’t seem to have seen anything. “How do you respond to her complaint?”
“Glad you asked,” I said, and I read aloud what I had just written on my ipad:
“Farmer Jim was a nice enough kind of guy; that’s what everyone said at the funeral. If the elevator had opened in a timely manner, the micro-meteor shed by planet Zatox would have landed harmlessly at the bottom of the shaft instead of burying itself in Farmer Jim’s nice enough cerebral cortex.”
“The meteor has just rounded Mars and will be here any second, Farmer Jim,” I said. “There’s still enough time for me to delete this addition, thus still leaving open the possibility of a happy ending, which will include happy news for you and the chick in the pink sweater. So, you remember the password?”
“Override code Saint Renfield. Replace with E.I.E.I.O.,” Farmer Jim said in a big hurry. And the doors slid open.
“You have chosen wisely, sir,” I said, deleting the Zatoxian meteor.
“What kept you guys?” Renfield asked all innocent like, standing at the door.
“You got some balls,” I said. “If they weren’t symbolic, I’d punt them to your larynx.”
“Oh my God!” Farmer Jim gasped, no less than seven pygmy goat kids rushed him from various angles.
The Reese Witherspoon type, from here, Farmer Alice, who was clad in a plastic smock, rushed over and excitedly fitted Jim in the same, then she handed him an immense false udder full of the sweet stuff, as such is seen by pygmy goat kids. There was a teat for all and the little fiends hit them hard.
“Isn’t this great?” Farmer Alice said to Jim.
“Yes, yes, um–yes, I guess it is,” he said. “B-but what is all this?”
“Welcome to the Farm, Farmer Jim,” I said.
No matter how often I go to the Farm, I’m always impressed with it. The Farm proves what can happen when human beings work together in pursuit of a common goal. Although it lies nearly two hundred feet below the parking garage, the farm is as cheerful as Munchkin land; we’ve even a properly moving sun made out of Klieg lights, which goes east to west in the “sky” and rises and sets behind distant “mountains.” We Farmers volunteer a minimum of an hour a day to the Farm’s upkeep. Hell indirectly, the Goopy Gonad is responsible for one of the finest pygmy goat sanctuaries in the Solar System.
“When Goats-R-Us keeled over,” Farmer Alice explained to Farmer Jim, “Farmers Leila and Renfield took in seven fertile and willing nanny goats and one extremely horny billy goat. The billy is named Roy and the baby mamas are Roydeen, Royetta, Roynestine, Royala, Roybarbra, Royella and Royorbisette. And there’s going to be a contest to name the kids. Each of the seven winners [aka, the first seven entrants, who’ll be vetted to hell and back] will ‘win’ a baby goat.”
WBC came round with employee door badges for the kids. She successfully exchanged We Don’t Talk About This Upstairs glances with Farmers Jim and Alice.
“Good,” Renfield said, “this’ll make it easier to take them out for a walk.”
“Sounds like something I’d say, Farmer Renfield,” I said.
“Saint Renfield,” she said, adjusting her halo.
“Our Lady of the Extinguished Soul,” I said, smiling my smile.