Wednesday, March 30, 2016

'A Big Idea' -- a short story

Author Harry M. Zubkoff
When I first discovered Harrys fictional stories, I told you there were dozens. Since then, heres what kept happening: I’d pick up a story, begin to read it, and realize I’d read it before – but with a different title. It turns out he wrote two or three versions of most of his stories. In the case of the story below, he had begun a fourth version dated Feb. 2, 1997and filed it on his computer. For this blog, I chose his third version, apparently from the early 90s, when he lived in Silver Spring, MD. The first, by the way, looks quite old, likely from the 1940s. With each version, Harry changed details and scenarios.

Times were tough. I’d been looking for a full-time job ever since I left the Army six months ago. I’d had my fill of flying helicopters in the Gulf War and did not want to do that anymore. It’s not that I didn’t like flying; it’s just that military life requires the kind of total commitment that I was not prepared to make. Something like getting married, I suspect, another commitment I was not prepared to make. Maybe someday, but not yet.

Anyway, evenings and weekends I’d been waiting on tables at Louie’s Place, while waiting for some responses to resumes I’d sent out. Waiting tables paid the rent and kept food on the table, but it was not exactly the lifetime career I wanted, either. So I was getting kind of desperate when I saw this ad in the Sunday paper; it looked like the perfect job for me.

Universal Advertising Agency, Inc. wants someone with the four “I’s” – INITIATIVE, IMAGINATION, INGENUITY AND IDEAS. Apply in person at the U.A.A. Bldg., Monday morning at 8:00 A.M.

So the following morning I took more care than usual in fixing my hair, which I’d allowed to grow almost shoulder length since I’d put away my uniform. I wore my navy blue blazer, with matching gray skirt and white silk blouse, put on the quietly colorful silk scarf, and hurried on over to the U.A.A. Building downtown to report for work. Well, about a hundred other people also showed up, and it struck me that quite a few of them were my age, in their mid-to-late twenties. Some of them looked to me like they had served at least one hitch in the Army, too, and maybe had also seen some action in Desert Storm.

One man, in particular, caught my eye. He had dark brown hair and grey-green eyes, the kind of eyes I wish I had, the kind of “how deep is the ocean” eyes that Irving Berlin must have had in mind when he wrote that marvelous love song. This man had an air of cool competence about him that set him apart, or maybe it was just his eyes that excited me. I was wondering if he, too, had fought in the Persian Gulf War, when a guy who looked like a retired Colonel, or maybe a drill sergeant, rounded us all up and put us in a little conference room about the size of the grand ballroom at the Hilton. B.B. (read Big Boss) Peckham himself addressed us. His picture had been in the papers often enough, a handsome former professional football player who had not yet gone to fat like some of them do after they stop playing. He had invested a big part of his multi-million dollar salary in U.A.A. and had made it into one of the most prestigious public relations firms in the country. Which goes to show that football players can be as brilliant in business as they are on the playing field. Some of them, anyway.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he spoke in a mellow baritone voice, “I won’t waste words. What we do here is produce and sell IDEAS. IDEAS, ladies and gentlemen, which provide the advertising lubricant that turns the wheels of progress.” He stopped to let the idea of IDEAS sink in a while before he continued. “I am prepared,” he went on, “to pay fifty thousand dollars a year as starting salary, with generous bonuses from time to time depending on performance, to the person or persons who qualify. In order to qualify, you must earn a thousand dollars as quickly as you can, hopefully in one week, certainly not more than two. Now wait,” he raised his hand to quiet a rising murmur, “hear me out. These are my rules. You start with nothing. No drawing money out of your savings; no gambling, no begging, borrowing, stealing, or accepting gifts. No investments in stocks and making a killing. Nothing illegal. No dangerous experiments. No pawning, mortgaging or selling personal possessions. You must prove that you earned the money, every dime of it, legitimately.

Now then, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you to display initiative, ingenuity and imagination. These are the attributes I stress to start with, though there are others, equally important, on which you will be judged, as well.” He tapped his forehead with his index finger. “The IDEAS are in here, ladies and gentlemen,” he continued, “all you have to do is bring them out. Those of you who wish to participate should fill out an employment application and leave it with my secretary before you go. Then, if you make any progress toward our goal, report to me personally a week from today. At that time I will evaluate your progress and decide how or whether to proceed. That is all, ladies and gentlemen. Good day and good luck.”

Well, most of the people were groaning or swearing as they left the room, but at least a dozen or more of us, including the guy with the g-g eyes, just stood there looking at each other and thinking. The way I figured, what did I have to lose by trying? And anyway, maybe I could make a thousand bucks and get the job, too.

By the time I got home, I had a dozen ways figured out, but, just to be on the safe side, I bought a morning newspaper to look at the want ads and send out some more resumes. When you stop to think of it there are probably dozens of ways to make a thousand bucks and still stay within B.B. Peckham’s rules. For example, you could make some lucrative real estate deals that could net you more than a thousand in commissions, but it usually takes a long time to set them up, and besides, you need a real estate license to do it. Or you could be a bounty hunter and catch a criminal with a big reward on his head. You may not need a license to do that, but chances are good that you could get hurt. Or you could recover stolen jewelry or other merchandise for an insurance company and get a substantial fee as a reward. Or write a book like “Primary Colors” and make a million or more in royalties; or write a story, or a poem, or a screenplay, or a song or something and sell your creation to a publisher who could market it. Or act in a movie or on television if you were a famous personality.

Then there are dozens of promotion schemes. Bring a dance band to town and hire a hall and sell tickets. Or promote a play, or a bridge tournament, or a tennis match, or anything you could charge admission for; but you need to know the right people to do those things. Or you could sell lottery tickets or raffle tickets for a new car or something. Or you could go into the multi-level mail-order business; I’ve heard you could make $50,000 to $100,000 doing that over a two- or three-month period, though I’ve also heard that it may not be legal. The trouble is, all those things require an investment and all of them take time, and I did not have a lot of time or enough capital to invest, and besides, investments were against the rules. Sure, I could always find an oil well in my back yard, but I live in an apartment and don’t have a back yard. Or I could sell my eye to a rich blind man, or my kidney to a rich diabetic, or my whole body to an institution or my soul to the devil, for that matter, but all those things were against the rules, too.

In short, I just couldn’t think of a get-rich-quick scheme that would net me a thousand bucks in just one or two weeks. I didn’t sleep for two days thinking about it; I couldn’t think of anything else. I walked around in a kind of a daze, trying to dream up an IDEA. My friends all thought I was in love. Maybe I was, subconsciously, because I kept seeing a vision of that fellow with the g-g eyes in my mind, though I hadn’t spoken a word to him and didn’t even know his name.

On the third day, a small idea that had been growing in the back of my mind suddenly blossomed out and energized me. I had a car that was worth maybe six or seven thousand dollars. If I could sell it for ten thousand, which was obviously far more than I could reasonably expect to get for it, that would represent a legitimate profit. Of course, the only way to get that much for it would be to raffle it off; get a thousand people to buy raffle tickets at ten dollars each and you’ve got ten thousand dollars. I knew it was against the rules to sell my car, but what about a friend’s car? Or anyone else’s car? Or, to stretch my small idea even further, suppose I got one of the automobile dealers in the area to donate a car for a charitable purpose, say the proceeds to go to the neighborhood Senior Citizen Center that was desperately short of funds? And then, to carry the idea even further, suppose I got my boss, Louie, to agree to sell chances on the car to all the customers who came in for drinks and dinner every night, say for an additional five bucks a chance or three for ten bucks added on to their bills?

Well, actually, Louie liked the idea. With me working there, he said, he was rapidly becoming a senior citizen himself. Anyway, with his input, and his influence on the car dealer, we put the whole thing into effect with an insert in the dinner menu in time for the weekend crowd. Sunday night, when we counted the total take for the weekend, we had almost $2,000, which was still a far cry from our goal. We needed $8,000 for the dealer, $1,000 below his cost, he swore, which represented his contribution to the cause. Anything over that would go to the Senior Citizen Center. I was supposed to get ten percent of the total take, which represented the administrative expenses involved in setting up the raffle, printing the tickets, publicizing it, setting up a bank account, getting the charity tax-exempt number, keeping track of all transactions, setting up the books and the accounting system, and, in short, taking care of the myriad details involved in running the whole enterprise, including paying myself.

Theoretically, therefore, if we really raised ten thousand dollars, I would get one thousand and the S.C.C. would get one thousand. My actual expenses, however, would run about two hundred or so, not counting the time I would spend on it, so my net would be somewhat less than the thousand I needed. But the gross was what counted toward my qualifying for the job, not the net.

Monday morning I reported to the U.A.A. Building, hoping I’d be the only one to show up. I was wrong. There were ten others, out of the original hundred or more who had shown up the week before. An older fellow whom I hadn’t noticed the week before seemed to be smiling a lot, as though he already had the job. Grey-green eyes was there, too, and on closer inspection his hair had a sort of reddish sheen to it. He was not exactly handsome; his nose looked like it had been broken once, though not badly, but he had a strong chin and lines of character around his eyes and his mouth that marked him as someone special. It seemed to me that he was looking me over, too, but what he saw was not nearly so special – just an average girl, dark brown hair, light brown eyes, five foot six without shoes, maybe a head shorter than he, 120 pounds reasonably well distributed in all the right places, maybe fifty-some pounds lighter than he, with the kind of face that is adequate enough for me but does not cause men to turn and whistle when I pass by. My father thinks I’m beautiful, but I suspect that he’s not entirely objective. Each of us, eleven by my count, four men and seven women, was ushered into B.B.’s private office one at a time. We all took between two and three minutes to brief him on our progress. Then we were all called in together.

“I congratulate all of you,” he said, steepling his fingers and looking at the ceiling. “The fact that you are here means that you have developed some IDEAS and are on the way to meeting my initial requirements.” He aimed his eyes at each of us. “Unfortunately,” he continued, “none of you has yet earned a thousand dollars. On the other hand, a few of you seem to have some very promising IDEAS, so I am inclined to give you one more week. Six of you are still in the running; I will read their names. Those whom I do not name have been eliminated. Mind you,” he added, “you should not be discouraged just because I have not endorsed your IDEAS. It’s simply that I do not believe they are viable for this Agency, but I wish you luck as you seek employment elsewhere. Now then,” he glanced at the sheet of paper in his hand, “the following people should report to me a week from today if …” he hesitated, cleared his throat, then went on, “if, that is, you mean to pursue this opportunity and if, that is, you continue to meet my requirements. They are Miss Daniels, Miss Konagher, Miss Santiago, Miss Walker, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Marker. You six,” he spread his hands, “please remain here a moment. The rest of you, those whose names I have not called, may go.”

The five who had not been named seemed more relieved than disappointed as they left. I was absurdly happy to see g-g eyes among those of us who stayed. B.B. waved a hand at us, taking us all in with his eyes. “Each of you seems to have a promising IDEA,” he said, “but it remains to be seen if you can bring it to fruition. If you can, I will expect you here next Monday morning. Until then, I wish you luck.”

Well, it was a discouraging week for me. From Monday night through Sunday night we collected only two thousand dollars more, giving us four thousand in all. While it seemed pretty certain that we would reach our goal in the next few weeks, since more and more of our patrons liked the idea and many of them bought three chances for ten bucks added to their bills, it was a case of too little too late. The only bright note was that word about our raffle was getting around on the restaurant circuit and a couple of Louie’s friendly competitors came in to talk to him about setting up similar arrangements. He referred them to me, which caused another small IDEA to start germinating in my mind. On the strength of it, I reported to U.A.A. Monday morning, even though I had not fully met B.B.’s requirements and expected to be rejected.

Only three of us showed up this time; g-g eyes, the older man and myself. We were escorted in to B.B.’s office together and seated in comfortable chairs in front of his billiard-table size desk.

“Since you are here,” B.B. said, eyeing each of us in turn, “I assume that you have met our requirements. So, why don’t each of you tell the rest of us exactly how you did it, beginning with you, Mr. Edwards?” That was the older guy, and I was beginning to feel as if I shouldn’t have come after all. I looked around to make sure where the exit was.

Edwards stood up, a small smile on his face. “Mr. Peckham,” he said, “the problem was elementary.” I could have socked him. “There are so many television shows that give away money and prizes that really, it was quite simple. I obtained passes for several such shows and made myself conspicuous enough to be selected as a participant. The rest was easy. I merely answered some childish questions or behaved foolishly, depending upon the program, and succeeded quite well. In fact, so far I have won twelve hundred dollars in cash and some nine hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise.” He looked at us, his smile broadening into a full-fledged smirk. “You know,” he added, “I never realized it before, but you could probably make a comfortable living just by taking advantage of all the offers available on television. In fact,” he went on with a quick glance at g-g eyes and me, “I mean to try doing just that. I’ve had an offer to appear on two shows and I plan to pursue a few others where the prospects of winning big money seem very promising. And,” he hesitated, his smile appearing a bit strained, “since I will be doing some traveling in preparing for these shows, I regret that I will be unable to accept a job here at this time.”

By the time he’d finished talking I was ready to duck out without being seen. B.B. was clearing his throat.

“Ahem,” he said. “Most ingenious. It takes a lively wit and a healthy imagination, Mr. Edwards, to do as well as you have done. But, since you are no longer interested in my offer, you may leave now with my congratulations and my thanks. And now,” his eyes shifting to the other man after Mr. Edwards left, “shall we hear from you, Mr. Marker?”

So that was his name, I thought, Mr. Marker. “My approach to the problem was somewhat different,” Marker remained seated, speaking in a low, husky voice. Good speaker, I thought, poised and self-confident. “I believe your desire was to have us earn a thousand dollars by selling an idea or a service of some kind,” he went on. “There are probably a great many good IDEAS floating around out there with no one interested in implementing them. And there are probably many more that are only being partially implemented, with an unlimited potential for further development. For example, no matter how many photographers there are in town, you have to book one six or eight months in advance to cover a wedding or an anniversary party or whatever. If you put an ad in the paper, you’d get a dozen calls a day to take pictures at special celebrations. I know because I put a note up on my supermarket bulletin board and got a dozen calls in just two days. Anyway, with today’s cameras and current photographic technology, you don’t have to be an expert to take good pictures. Anyone can do it. There are other things, such as party planning, which has become a profitable business for lots of people, or transferring old home movies to video tape. Anyone can do it with the kind of equipment that’s available today and the demand is so great that anyone can quickly get more orders than he could process in a year.”

I noticed, as he spoke, that B.B. was as captivated as I, not only by what he was saying, but by the way he said it, by his voice and his manner of speaking. A remarkable man, I thought, and if I were B.B. I’d hire him in a flash. “Anyway,” he went on looking directly at B.B., “the problem for me was to take an old but good IDEA and develop it to the point where it could be profitable for me – or at least profitable enough to meet your requirements. As it happens, a couple who lives in the same apartment building as I had a problem with planning a 50th anniversary party for her parents. They, both of them, were simply too busy, with their jobs and three small children, and could not make all the necessary calls in time to hire a photographer. Well, I have a good camera and a good camcorder and, as I said, with today’s technology you don’t have to be a true professional photographer. So I agreed to photograph the affair for them. Without going into all the details, I wound up with a profit of almost $300. In addition, I have signed contracts for two weddings and another 50th anniversary party, which will keep me busy for three of the next six weekends, with advance down-payments amounting to $750.” He paused for a moment, glancing quickly at me sitting next to him before turning his eyes back to B.B., as though to assess the impact of his words on us and awaiting some reaction before proceeding.

“Very commendable, yes, indeed, very commendable,” B.B. murmured. “And now,” he turned to me, “it’s your turn, Miss Daniels.”

I was stuck. “I really don’t belong here,” I said. “I didn’t earn a thousand dollars, not even a nickel, and …” I got up to go, “… I have to leave now to go look for a job.”

“Why, then, did you come at all?” he asked.

“Well, sir,” I responded, “I had an IDEA, just a little IDEA. My IDEA was that no one else would earn a thousand bucks, either, and that I’d be the only one to show up, so naturally, you’d hire me. After all, you need someone and while I didn’t meet your requirements, not exactly, anyway, wellll … I need a job and I’m willing to work.” He didn’t say anything, just looked at me for a long moment. So did Mr. Marker, and it seemed to me that those grey-green eyes were glowing with – what? Sympathy? Pity? Scorn?

“I see,” he said, finally. “But what do you mean exactly when you say ‘not exactly’?”

“What I meant,” I said, “was that I have not yet earned a thousand dollars, although I’m on the way. It may take another few weeks, but it will happen.”

“Why don’t you tell us about it?” he said.

So I did, and while I was talking, explaining about the raffle, another IDEA occurred to me. It just lit up like a light bulb in my mind full blown, so to speak, and I presented it off the top of my head as though it had been carefully prepared in advance. “If I were representing U.A.A.,” I said, “I could go out and organize a few dozen restaurants, who knows, maybe half the restaurants in town, to participate in a joint raffle for all kinds of charitable purposes. And, with this Agency as a sponsor, so to speak, we could put out the kind of appropriate advertising and publicity that would generate a great deal of public interest and guarantee a lot of ticket sales. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised, with the kind of volume we could generate, that we’d be able to raffle off a car a week, maybe even two a week. And I’ll bet every automobile dealer in town would be knocking on our door, anxious to contribute cars to the charitable cause of the week. We wouldn’t have to go looking for them. They’d come to us. And the restaurants, too, would come knocking at our door, to say nothing of all the bars and night clubs. Even the charities would come to us with proposals for fund-raising projects.” I paused to take a deep breath. B.B. was looking at me, a broad smile on his face, and when I looked at Marker, sitting next to me, those grey-green eyes were positively glowing again. With what? Admiration? Astonishment? Approval?

“Miss Daniel,” I was so engrossed in those deep-ocean-grey-green eyes that it took a few seconds before it registered on me that B.B. was speaking. “As I mentioned when I spoke to you last week,” he said, “there are other important qualities that I look for in my employees. One of them is what I like to think of as perseverance – the strength of will to keep on trying, not to give up, even when the odds seems to be against you. You must be familiar with the old adage that genius is one tenth inspiration and nine tenths perspiration? That’s what I mean by perseverance, and that, Miss Daniel, is what I like about you. You did not give up simply because you did not fully meet my requirements. You kept trying. I like that and I want you to come and work for me. Your first assignment will be to follow up on the proposal you just made, and you will have all the resources of this Agency at your disposal.”

He shifted his gaze to look directly at Marker. “Mr. Marker,” he said, “you obviously fulfilled my requirement to earn a thousand dollars. The question is, can you relate your efforts to this Agency? Can you see a role for this Agency in the business you have entered upon, in the same way that Miss Daniels outlined with respect to her efforts?”

“To be honest,” Marker responded, “I hadn’t really thought about it until Miss Daniels started talking about her ‘small’ IDEA.” His grey-green eyes flickered toward me and back to B.B. again. “It sounded like a big IDEA to me,” he said, “and she started me thinking,” he added, “and yes, I can see this Agency setting up a separate unit to photograph special events, such as anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, and so forth.”

That started me thinking. “Yes, indeed,” I chimed in. “I can see this Agency setting up a whole separate division, an organization to plan and make all the arrangements such as catering, photographing, videotaping, etcetera, etcetera; in short, to do everything necessary for a celebration of almost any occasion. Take all the work out of party planning for the sponsor, so to speak. Enjoy yourself, folks, and leave the party to us.”

“Another attribute I insist upon,” said B.B., “is enthusiasm, and you, Miss Daniels have an abundance of that. Perhaps some of it will rub off on Mr. Marker as you work together on these projects. I would like you both to report for work in my Creative Department, shall we say next Monday morning?”

I don’t know how his secretary knew we were finished, but at that moment she came in and escorted us to the outer office. We stood there looking at each other for a moment.

“I’m Roger,” he said simply.

“I’m Rita,” I replied.

“R and R,” he mused. “Goes well together, don’t you think?” Those grey-green eyes were glowing again, but I couldn’t read anything into them at all – not yet, anyway.


Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

‘The Seventh Suggestion’ -- a flirty newsroom story

Author Harry M. Zubkoff
In earlier posts on this blog, weve seen some of Harrys fictional stories, long saved and never published. The story I posted last week is a little different -- its an advice article that offers 10 tips for submitting ads to a newspaper -- and it complements the fiction below. 

To set the mood ... imagine its 1962. You’re relaxing with a fresh cup of coffee and a magazine story hot-off-the-press. 

Saturday, June 20
She placed her bag on the chest-high counter that separated the editorial office from the small reception area and took a deep breath in an effort to stay calm. Her eyes took in the jumble of envelopes and crumpled papers strewn on the floor before settling on the battered desk and its occupant.

He was sitting, head down, deeply engrossed in reading something, obviously unaware of her presence.

“Excuse me,” she said. No reaction. She raised her voice and repeated, “Excuse me,” so loudly that she startled herself. Now settle down, she told herself sternly, watch your temper. Then he raised his eyes, the bluest pair of eyes she had ever seen.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

The eyes shocked her. Electric blue, she mused, remembering what the women had told her. Now I know what they mean, she thought, staring at the eyes, almost hypnotized. A girl could get lost in those eyes.

“Can I help you?” he repeated.

She felt the color rising to her cheeks at her thoughts.

“Are you the editor,” she said abruptly, “Mr. Palmer?”

“That’s me.”

“That is I,” she corrected automatically. The eyes continued to regard her, but the question in them was replaced by speculation.

“I’m a teacher,” she added, uncertain how to proceed and uncomfortably aware of the disconcerting effect of his eyes.

“I never would have suspected,” he said dryly.

“Mr. Palmer,” she felt her temper rising again, “I'd like to know why you won't give the PTA any publicity about our Independence Day activities. It's only two weeks away and you haven't run a word about it in the Overview.”

“Oh, that,” he nodded thoughtfully. “Well, I’ve been waiting for someone to send me some information on it. Are you by any chance in charge of publicity for it, Miss ... ?”

“Armstead,” she replied shortly. “It’s Mrs. Armstead. Yes, I am.”

“Well, Mrs. Armstead, did you expect me to write your publicity for you?” He was an infuriating man, she decided.

“Mr. Palmer,” her eyes flashed ominously but her voice was dangerously quiet, “I personally delivered a story here. And,” with increasing force, “in time to meet last week’s deadline, too.” His eyes seemed to be boring holes in her. “And stop looking at me like that,” she ordered.

“Well, I never saw it,” he snapped, startled by the sudden vehemence. “When did you bring it and who did you give it to?”

“I brought it by on Wednesday night,” she replied. “There was nobody here, so I dropped it through the mail slot in your door.”

He looked pointedly at the stacks of papers on his desk and on the floor around it. “Maybe it’s still here,” he suggested. “Would you recognize it?”

With a withering look, she came through the swing-door at the end of the counter and started sorting the papers on his desk. The smell of freshly brewed coffee came from a pot burbling away on a hot-plate in the corner, and she saw, out of the corner of her eyes, that he had poured himself a cup.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” he asked.

“Eureka,” she exclaimed, waving an envelope in the air. “Yes, I would like some,” She handed him the story and took the proffered cup. After the first sip she made a face.

“What you need around here,” she said, “is someone to take care of the mail and make you some decent coffee.”

“All offers cheerfully accepted,” his smile was almost boyish.

“Now that you have the story,” she continued, “can we expect some publicity in next Thursday’s paper?” Her anger was gone, disarmed by his smile.

“I don’t know. I’ll have to look at it first. Meanwhile, did I hear you offer to help out?”

“Well, if it’s bribery you’re after,” her own smile was infectious, “okay.” She looked around. “I’ll clean up a little.”

“Then it’s a deal,” abruptly he turned away. “I’ll be in the back in case anyone wants me,” he said over his shoulder before he disappeared through the doorway into the printing plant.

She looked after him, puzzled, searching for a clue to his abrupt withdrawal, then shrugged resignedly as she felt the wedding band on her finger. Through the Venetian blinds she could see the town’s Main Street outside. It was 9:30 and the stores would not open until 10:00; the street would not fill up with traffic and shoppers until noon or later. It’s a good time to work, she reflected as she began sorting the mail. Through the open door she heard the chatter of the wire service teletypes spitting out yellow sheets of news stories, punctuated by occasional bursts of clatter from a typewriter. It was almost two hours before he came out, holding a sheaf of freshly typed papers. She was seated at his desk, lost in thought. The office was swept and tidy, with a small stack of papers on one corner of the desk and a somewhat larger stack next to it. The coffee pot glistened and the aroma of fresh coffee was enticing. He went over and poured a cup. The movement startled her.

When he faced her she laid a hand on the smaller stack of papers. “These,” she said, “you’ll want to do something about. These,” moving her hand to the larger stack, “you may want to look at. The rest I threw out.”

He looked at her, but said nothing. After a moment she went on. “You certainly get a lot of nonsense in the mail, don’t you?”

Her faint smile didn’t quite come off.

“Yes.” This time, the silence lasted longer.

“What’s your first name?” she asked suddenly.

“Perry,” he answered.

“Perry,” she tried it. “Is that short for something? Percival?”

“Pericles,” he said, and in answer to her upraised eyebrows, “my father was a Greek scholar.”

This time her smile was genuine, though it faded when he spoke. “Isn’t there someone waiting for you?” he asked quietly. “A husband, maybe?”

She drew a deep breath, dropped her eyes, and exhaled slowly. Then she raised her eyes to his. “I’m a widow, Perry,” she said simply. “My husband died four years ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said automatically. He glanced at her hand, motionless on the stack of papers, and at her ring. Her eyes followed his.

“I know I should take it off,” she said, “and one of these days I will. It’s just that – I don’t know – it didn’t seem to matter …”

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Elizabeth. Most of my friends call me Liz.”

“Liz,” he rolled it around his tongue. “I’m not sure,” he grinned, “if it fits you, exactly. What else do they call you?”

“Well,” she admitted, “my maiden name is Deering, and when I was a little girl, the kids used to call me Deedee.”

“That’s not bad,” he approved. “In fact, I like it. Deedee it is, Dee for short. Okay?”

“Okay,” she smiled, eyes aglow.

“Now then,” he continued, “how would you like to work for me?”

“Me?” she looked surprised. “Doing what?”

“Oh,” he spread his hands, “just about everything, I guess. Running the office, keeping the books, billing the advertisers, taking care of correspondence, screening the mail, and so forth. Sort of a gal Friday.”

“But I have a job. I’m a teacher.”

“Well, school’s over, isn’t it? You’re on summer vacation, aren’t you?” Before she could answer, he glanced at his watch. “Look, I haven’t had breakfast this morning. Would you like to join me for some ham and eggs, or something?”

She hesitated only a second. “Well, maybe a donut.”

“Come on.” He took her elbow as she rose and led her out.

* * *

She came in Monday morning, cleaned the office, made coffee, sorted the mail and even typed some stories, which he had edited, before passing them to Old Art, who operated the linotype machine. She also met the four full-time and dozen part-time reporters and advertising salesmen who gathered the news and discussed slants, angles, treatments and facts with Perry. The problems connected with the publication of a weekly newspaper in a city of 30,000 were a revelation to her.

The first thing she noted was the enormous amount of editing Perry did. The material submitted by the reporters was ruthlessly trimmed, but the material which came in unsolicited, the dozens of stories about local events turned in by publicity chairmen of all kinds of organizations had to be rewritten completely to meet Perry’s high standards. The national and international news pouring off the teletypes received similar treatment. After the first two days she regarded Perry with something akin to awe, admiring the facility with which he wrote and the deft sureness of his editing.

* * *

Wednesday, June 24
On Wednesday he took her to lunch for the third consecutive day. “This is your third day,” he said while they were eating. “Have you learned anything?”

“Oh, yes,” she smiled. “I’ve learned that putting out a paper is a lot of work.”

“And what else?”

“Well, that there are a lot of people on your back trying to get free publicity for their favorite causes.”

“And what else?”

“You know,” she said, “I’ve been toying with an idea. Why don’t you run an article someday advising all those – us – publicity chairmen, on how to go about getting their organizations publicized in the paper?”

“They don’t need any encouragement,” he said wryly, and then, noting her crestfallen expression, went on slowly. “Now, don’t get me wrong. I happen to be a great believer in local organizations. Next to the churches and the schools, community organizations are the greatest force for good in our society. As a matter of fact, I believe that our success as a democracy in this country is due, in large part, to our ability to get things done through community organizations at the local level, with people acting voluntarily.” Her eyes widened as he warmed up to the subject. “What’s more,” he went on, “every one of the 10,000-odd weekly newspapers in America depends to a great extent on the news which these groups generate, and I’m aware that our readers want to see this news in the paper.” He broke off suddenly. “Hey, do I sound like I’m writing an editorial?”

“Maybe a little, but go on, I’m fascinated. If you believe all this, why is it so hard to get our news in the paper?”

“Well,” he shrugged, “you have to understand some of our problems. One of our troubles is that we don’t have unlimited space, you know, so we have to be pretty selective. Every week I have to make some decisions on what to leave out as well as on what to print, and those decisions often depend on what kind of material I get from publicity chairmen.”

“I know, so wouldn’t it be a big help to you if their stories came in neatly typed instead of scribbled on old envelopes?”

“Say,” he said, “that’s a wonderful idea. I’m glad I thought of it.” They both laughed. “Why don’t you try writing it?” he added.

“Oh, I couldn’t.”

“Sure you could. At least, you could work up a draft and maybe I could add some ideas and polish it up a little.”

“Well, okay,” she agreed, reluctantly, “I’ll try.”

* * *

When the paper came out the following afternoon, there was a huge front-page spread on the Independence Day plans, describing all the events that would take place, from the parade in the morning to the picnic in the afternoon to the fireworks in the early evening and the dance afterwards. The combined PTA organization, which was sponsoring the daylong festivities, was mentioned prominently, and the Independence Day Publicity Chairman, Elizabeth Deering Armstead, was quoted liberally.

* * *

Wednesday, July 1
Mrs. Marcia Rockingham thrust her impressive bosom forward and rapped the gavel peremptorily. “Ladies,” she announced, “the meeting will come to order. As you know, this will be the last meeting before the 4th of July. Now let’s review everything tonight and make sure that nothing goes wrong.” When the buzz of assent died away, she continued. “I want to pay a special compliment to Liz Armstead for the excellent publicity we’ve received in the Overview. I don’t know what her secret is, or how she did it, but she must have hypnotized that good-looking Perry Palmer, or something, because we never got such good treatment in the paper before.”

“Hear, hear,” someone shouted.

“Would you like to comment, Liz?” asked Mrs. Rockingham.

She rose, slightly embarrassed, but noting the genuine interest in the faces around her, went forward. “There really is no secret,” she explained. “I just went to work for Mr. Palmer, and I’ve sort of been learning about the newspaper business. As a matter of fact,” she added, “I’ve written an article, which I think will be published tomorrow, telling the publicity chairmen of other organizations how to get more of their publicity into the paper.”

“Wonderful,” several of them exclaimed.

“Tell me,” someone said, “is that Palmer as nice as he looks? Is he a wolf or is he a sheep? Have you got him eating out of your hand?”

“Girls, please,” she held up her hand to quiet the hubbub. “Mr. Palmer is a hardworking, competent, charming man,” she said, “and as for me hypnotizing him, I’m afraid it’s the other way around.” She resumed her seat, aware of the thoughtful, appraising looks following her.

* * *

She had left the finished article on his desk just before she went home at six o’clock, but he saved it till after he had read and edited all the other copy. Then he looked it over carefully, surprised and pleased by the way she had handled the material. Embodied in the article was a list of six suggestions on how to get publicity into the paper:

  1. Type stories double-space, using only one side of each sheet of paper, and leave out all adjectives.
  2. Learn the difference between news and advertising. Then buy advertising space for ads, and put only news in the stories you want published free.
  3. Stress the unusual aspects of your story to distinguish them from the normal facts of who, what, where and why. Put in some background, which the editor may or may not use, but which may just wind up in a good feature.
  4. The deadline for news is the latest possible time for stories to be accepted – but the earlier the better. Stories turned in a week ahead or even a day ahead of the deadline are more likely to be used.
  5. Give the newspaper follow-up stories after the publicized event; frequently, the follow-up report is more newsworthy than the prior publicity.
  6. Turn-about is fair play, so publicize the newspaper at your meetings and affairs, and invite the paper to all affairs you want it to publicize.

Reading over the list, he smiled at the memories the suggestions evoked. If heeded, they would certainly make his job easier. He put a heading on it and marked it for a 2-column box on the editorial page, and put her byline on it. Then, hesitantly, he scrawled an editor’s note at the bottom with his blue editor’s pencil:

      7. “If none of these work, try marrying the editor!” and signed his initials, P.P. He placed it neatly on her typewriter, where she would see it in the morning.

But she did not go to the office that Thursday. Her statement at the meeting the night before had brought her face-to-face with a stunning fact. She was in love with him. It had happened so quickly, and so insidiously, that she was not fully aware of it, nor fully prepared for it. She needed time to think.

He missed her, but it was publishing day, and in the weekly mad scramble to get the paper out he forgot about the article. One of the regular reporters saw it on her typewriter, noted that it had been edited and marked for print, and passed it along to linotype. Old Art, who had seen everything, shrugged as he knocked it out on the linotype. The proofreader duly corrected errors in the copy without regard for meaning or sense, and the press-man put the forms on, concerned only with space, position, and fit. So it was not until Thursday evening, after the paper had been printed and the circulation boys were well started on their delivery routes, that Perry finally saw it in black and white. He tried at once to call her, but no one answered phone.

* * * 

Saturday, July 4
She looked at herself in the mirror and noted the new sparkle in her eyes. Then, thoughtfully, she removed the wedding band from her finger and placed it gently in her jewel box. For a heart-clutching moment she felt an infinite sense of loss; and then, her quickening pulse reflected a growing sense of anticipation.

The day’s activities went off without a hitch, from the parade in the morning, through the carnival atmosphere in the afternoon, to the fireworks at the lake-shore in the evening. Now, culminating the successful day, the high-school auditorium had an overflow crowd at the dance and, with a reporter and a photographer covering the affair, Perry was there to enjoy himself.

* * *

There was a roll of drums, the crowd gradually hushed as Mrs. Rockingham majestically approached the bandstand and paused at the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” her rich voice filled the huge auditorium, “on behalf of the combined PTA organizations of Overton, I want to welcome all of you to this affair, which climaxes the most marvelous Fourth of July we ever had.” The applause was thunderous, but after a moment, she raised her hand and continued. “I want to thank everyone who participated in making today’s activities so successful. The list of names is simply too long to mention, but all of them will be in the newspaper next Thursday. I do want to make special mention though,” she paused and looked around, “ ... in accordance with the list of suggestions which we all read in the Overview,” there was a roar of approval, “of the newspaper, which gave us such wonderful publicity and which did so much to make this day so successful.” This time the applause almost raised the ceiling and it took repeated rolls of the drums to quiet the crowd. “And now,” she finally resumed, “in honor of Liz Armstead and Perry Palmer, who are the beneficiaries of the seventh suggestion,” another mighty roar of approval, “we dedicate the next dance to them.”

The laughter and applause drowned out the first few bars of music as he made his way toward the bandstand. He saw her near the microphone, her shapely figure accentuated by her evening gown, deep in conversation with several women. They fell silent when he approached.

“Good evening, ladies,” he said.

“Good evening, Mr. Palmer,” they chorused.

“Hello, Deedee,” he said.

“Hello, Perry.”

“I want to explain …” he started and hesitated.

“Yes?” softly.

“… about that article,” he continued. “What I mean is …”

“Dear, dear,” said Mrs. Rockingham, “our editor is speechless.”

He managed a smile. “What I mean,” he repeated firmly, “is that I love you, DeeDee. Will you marry me?”

She smiled radiantly. “Shall we dance?” she raised her arms and he came into them. It was a perfect Fourth of July.


Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Harry's advice on getting your news in the paper

I was ready to post another of Harry’s fictional stories when I found the article below in his files. It appears to be the nonfiction story on which he based the fiction. He wrote it when he was editor of the Greenbelt, MD, News Review, a volunteer position, in the 1950s and early ‘60s. To get his points across on how to submit ads to a newspaper – a dry subject, right? – he entertains us with anecdotes and humor.

By the way, if we changed a few examples, Harry’s advice could apply to news media today. Next week I’ll post the fictional story I mentioned, the companion piece, so to speak, to this article.

Photos of Harry in 1962 with Greenbelt News Review staff: In photos above, he’s standing at the mic, and at far right with previous editors; below, he’s seated second from right.

How To Get Your News Into The Newspapers  
‘In Ten Easy Lessons

Harry attached the above caption and bio
Yesterday I got a frantic phone call from a near hysterical woman. “Why,” she demanded, her voice quavering, “didn’t you print a story about our club picnic last week? Now all the girls are mad at me, and it’s all your fault.”

“What club?” I said brightly. “What picnic?”

“Why, the Women of the Town Club, of course,” she gasped. “I sent you a note.”

“A note,” I said. “I didn’t get any note.”

“But I wrote it,” she almost screamed, “and I slipped it under your office door myself.”

“When?” I asked automatically, searching my memory for any trace of a note.

“Last Saturday night,” she went on accusingly. “We were just coming home from a party, my husband and I, and we were passing your office when I thought of it and – and, so I wrote it down and slipped it under your door.”

Now I understood. “What did you write it on?” I said.

She thought a moment. Then, “The back of an envelope,” she answered.

“Well, I didn’t find it,” I said helplessly.

How could I explain? Each week I receive two or three hundred pieces of mail. When the wastebaskets overflow, empty envelopes pile up on the floor. Envelopes these days come in all colors and sizes, and you can find representative samples on my office floor almost any time. Most of them have notes scribbled on them, too. Anything slipped under the office door, especially an old envelope, is immediately lost forever. So there you are! No matter what I said, this particular woman would always remember that I had failed to print her story. It would take me three months to get back on friendly terms with her, and even longer to convince her club members that I hadn’t been discriminating against them. Even then, some of them would always remember that I had failed to print a story about their picnic.

There are over 10,000 weekly newspapers in the country, and this problem is no doubt common to all of them. Multiply it by the tens of thousands of clubs and organizations to which we Americans belong and the uncommon pleasure we take in seeing accounts of our activities in print, and you begin to understand why editors get ulcers.

In desperation, I feel impelled to offer a few hundred words of advice to the publicity chairmen of all these groups. But first, let’s define our terms. After all, what is publicity? For that matter, what is news? The editor has to decide, of course, but it would help tremendously if publicity chairmen would also consider these questions.

Take a typical example. The Coffee-Break Club decides to hold a money-making dance. In order to be successful, it must be publicized. So the publicity chairman scribbles a note (doesn’t anybody own a typewriter?), “From 9 to 12 P.M., music by Charlie Baton and his Batoneers, admission $2.50 a couple.” Then he wonders why it never gets printed, and sometimes he even gets mad at the paper. The editor, meanwhile, finds that admission is limited to members and friends, and that out of a total population of 10,000 or more, perhaps 200 will attend. If he prints anything at all, it will be a one- or two-line item saying that the Coffee-Breakers are dancing Saturday at the Armory. Then he mutters under his breath about free publicity.

What was wrong? Well, properly speaking, the item was really an advertisement, not a news story. If it had been submitted as an ad it would, naturally, have been printed. Lesson Number One:  Separate advertising from news; then advertise.

Advertising is a legitimate expense connected with any money-raising effort, and it will insure that you get some publicity, if not all you want. Most editors will not publish prices in news stories anyway, so save that for the ad. Ballyhoo your affair in other ways, too. Lesson Number Two:  Use all possible media.

Put posters in store windows, get a sound-truck out in the streets, put a telephone squad to work, get handbills printed and distributed (any editor will gladly arrange this), get the radio and TV disc jockeys who blanket your area to mention your affair, send representatives to talk to other organizations, mail invitations, etc. Every little bit helps, so make a big noise. This may cost a little money but not as much as you think, and besides, like they say, you have to spend money to make money. Lesson Number Three:  Spend a little money.

The best and most lasting kind of publicity, however, is a news story in the paper. So talk to the editor about the news value of your affair. He wants to print news, he’s looking for news, so he’s half convinced already. Just sell him on the other half. How? By hanging your news story on a gimmick. A dance by itself is hardly news, but a dance to raise money to distribute free polio shots is news, or a dance commemorating a significant date or occasion is news. So – Lesson Number Four:  Look behind the bare facts for the news, or “find the gimmick.”

To come back to this scribbling business for a minute, if it’s at all possible, type your story (double or tipple space), and get as much news into it as you can. Most weekly newspapers do not have enough manpower to assign reporters to cover your organization’s activities. As publicity chairman, that’s your job, and with a little effort you’ll find yourself digging up facts faster than a small boy finds worms. Whose idea was the dance? Who’s on the working committees arranging it? How old is the organization sponsoring it? Lesson Number Five:  Put all the information you think of into a story, including background. Let the editor cut (and editors are happiest when cutting stories) because he would much rather cut down a story than dig up enough information write a new one.

Then there’s the matter of deadlines. Every newspaper has a deadline for copy. It may be flexible, perhaps, but not for you. If an editor accepts a story after the deadline it’s because in his opinion it’s important. Publicity almost never rates. Remember, the deadline is the latest time you can submit your copy – not the earliest. The later your publicity comes in, the less chance it has of being printed. The earlier the better, and very often the early unimportant (comparatively) story gets preference over the late important (ditto) story. Lesson Number Six:  Get your story in as long before the deadline as possible.

Lest you misunderstand, let me make it clear that I believe the news or organizations and their activities play an important part in weekly newspapers, if for no other reason than that this kind of activity occupies the spare time of almost all their readers. Next to churches and schools, community organizations are one of the greatest forces for good in our everyday human relationships. Just the other day I read in the paper that several foreign observers attribute our success as a democracy to our ability to get things done through community organizations acting on the local level on a voluntary basis. Most weekly editors lend great emphasis to reporting this news, but publicity is something else again.

You don’t have to be a great writer to report a few facts. (You can’t hardly find them kind no more, anyhow.) But you do have to be somewhat objective. Some of the publicity material we editors get across our desks is on the verge of being sickening. For example, why is everyone always “cordially invited to attend?” Why can’t they just be invited? Why are dances always “lovely” and picnics always “fun for all”? In short, write your stories objectively, forget all the clich├ęs and the editors won’t be quite so prone to file them in the wastebasket. Lesson Number Seven:  Leave out the adjectives.

A word of caution. Not all publicity material can possibly get printed. Even the large daily papers don’t have enough space to do that, and weekly papers are severely limited space-wise. Each week I have to make a decision as to whose stories to leave out, and several factors influence that decision – which story came in earliest, which had most news value, which were accompanied by paid advertising, which were nicely typewritten, etc. Also, whom could I afford to antagonize? Certain it is that each week some organization will be unhappy, so you should do everything possible to insure that it’s not yours. How? In addition to all the other things I’ve mentioned, and probably most important, is persistence. Send your stories in every week, or as often as you can. Swallow your disappointment if it doesn’t get printed and write another one. One man sent me a story about his club’s activities each week for nine weeks. None of them were printed. The tenth week he quit, bitter because he thought the paper was prejudiced. He was the most surprised guy in the world when a big front-page story appeared that tenth week, and it gave his prestige (and his organization) a tremendous lift. What he didn’t know was that it took all nine weeks of accumulating his stories to get enough information for a big feature. So, Lesson Number Eight:  Keep those stories rolling. In the end it will pay off.

Then there’s the matter of follow-up. This is my pet peeve, and a lot of editors feel the same way. Organizations will knock themselves out to get publicity into the newspaper on their annual fund-raising affairs. (They always want the front page, too.) But after it’s all over, there’s not a peep out of them. The editor asks how they made out, and suddenly he’s prying into secrets. Everybody clams up. Then they wonder why he won’t give them any free publicity the next time. This is frustrating to editors and unfair to newspapers. The editor has printed the publicity because he knows his readers are interested. He likewise has a right to print the results, because he knows his readers are equally interested, if not more so. If there is a good reason for not printing such results, talk it over with him. He’s usually reasonable. Try to understand his point of view. Above all, don’t try to keep secrets from him. If he tries, he can eventually find out anyway. Better to tell him in the first place and keep him on your side. Lesson Number Nine:  Follow up on stories and don’t keep secrets.

Another thing that annoys me is this question of credits. The paper has publicized the dinner-banquet for three weeks straight, and that’s a lot of free publicity, which has certainly contributed greatly to the success of the affair. Comes the big night, the chairman gets up and delivers a speech of thanks to everyone who worked on the affair and to all those who even remotely helped. But does he mention the paper? Hah! Two days later he calls to find out why his name was spelled wrong. I tell you, friend, publicity is a two-way street, with you at one end, the newspaper at the other, and everybody else in the middle. Oh yes, newspapers like publicity, too, and every plug from you helps increase our circulation and our reader interest, which in turn helps you, too. Forget this not. Lesson Number Ten:  Plug the paper publicly every chance you get.

One thing more. This may come out sounding facetious, but I really mean it seriously. A friendly editor is a … a … friendly editor. You know that. Everybody knows that. So whenever you have an affair of any kind -- dance, party, picnic, dinner, or even meeting -- invite him (cordially). And don’t make him pay admission prices, either. Word the invitation in such a way that he can send a reporter if he can’t go himself. More than that, invite him to your business meetings, let him get acquainted with your problems. Editors are a curious (inquisitive) breed by nature and they like nothing better than to learn all about what’s going on around them. Take advantage of his curiosity (feed his ego). This may not pay off in more publicity, but at least you’ll make friends with the editors, and most of them are nice guys. I know that!

Do these things and I predict success for you as publicity chairman of your organization. You may even get reelected next year, or are you planning to run for president, too?

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman
Apparently Harrys advice article won the Idea of the Week in a national newspaper (The Publishers’ Auxiliary) for publishers of community newspapers, Jan. 26, 1963. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

'Love and Baseball' -- a short story

Author Harry Zubkoff
The following story is the only one I found in Harrys files with a double byline. Evidently he wrote it with a friend or colleague named Lloyd Harrington. The address at the top of each typewritten page is Harrys, where he lived in his hometown Buffalo, N.Y., until 1949.

It feels almost eerie to discover stories my dad wrote at age 20-something, in the 1940s, when a man whistling at a girl
was normal and accepted behavior. As Ive learned in the past year, his fictions through the 1960s reflect stereotypes of women; that was life then. And yet, as far back as 1964, I had a sense my dad promoted equality. Thats the year he cheered my run for 6th-grade class president, coaching me as I stood on a stool and practiced my campaign speech. 

As for this blog, I considered not posting Harry’s stories that flaunt old-school attitudes. Now, however, I think it
s cool to share all of his stories from so long ago, never published or widely shared. As my more recent speech-writing coach says: It’s about memories, it’s about history, it’s about life.

At the end of our first day in the tiny Texas-Mexico border town of El Grande, I had two problems. One was selling advertising for the baseball park. Two was trying to arrange an unfair distribution of the merchandise accounts between Harry and myself.

The second morning I looked up from my breakfast in the hotel restaurant and saw my third problem. Her name was Lupita.

What a doll! What a dish! For a minute I was blinded, positively blinded. I had been conquered by beautiful waitresses before, but never anything like this. I wish I could say that she felt the same way, but the truth is, her only interest was in whether I wanted a second cup of coffee.

“Harry,” I demanded of my campaign partner, “did you see that?”

“Did I see what,” said Harry, his nose buried in yesterday’s newspaper.

“Jumpin’ Jupiter man, the girl, our waitress.”

Leisurely he turned, the bald spot on his head reflecting the Texas sun flooding through the windows on our right.

“Very nice,” he remarked, and turned back to his ham and eggs.

Understatement was one of Harry’s characteristics, but this time he had overdone it. I thought maybe he was blind, at first, but I changed my mind when he calmly dropped a nickel beside the quarter tip I left on the table.

“After all, Lloyd,” he said, “don’t you think thirty cents is a big enough tip on a dollar check?”

I bought an expensive hand-painted tie that day and wore it with my best suit that night, but of course, it was Lupe’s night off. So I wore them both the next morning for breakfast, plus a white carnation from the flower shop in the lobby, and was irritated when Harry showed up in a pair of Army slacks and a sport shirt.

Ordinarily I have no trouble expressing myself, especially to pretty girls, but when Lupe took our orders I was almost tongue-tied, so I just smiled and let Harry order for me.

“Coffee, ham and eggs,” said Harry, shooting a quick glance at me, “for both of us. And a thermometer for my friend.” Wise guy!

Lupe’s answering smile made my hands shake, but it wasn’t until two hours later that I realized she had smiled at Harry. Can you imagine anyone smiling at him when I’m around? Not that I’m a Clark Gable or anything, but I don’t look like something that belongs under a microscope, either, and I have got all my hair.

Increasing the size of my tips during the next few days gave me no satisfaction except that I was able to absorb them on my expense account. Harry gained the only benefit from this frustrating investment on my part. He stopped tipping altogether, but aside from this token recognition, he completely ignored my infatuation for the lovely Lupita.

He was all business. A baseball advertising campaign is a tricky thing, and this was Harry’s first. He was doing well, too, but then he’s a pretty good guy, even if he does look like a little weasel. We had divided up all the business establishments in town, aside from the merchandise accounts, and we were hitting all of them to buy advertising space, either on the fences or in the scorecard. On top of that, we were attending meetings of local organizations, like the Business Men’s League and the Lion’s Club and the Chamber of Commerce, and we were catching workouts of the ball team, writing articles for the paper and making speeches over the radio. We were building up goodwill and selling advertising like mad, and I was trying to keep Harry as busy as possible so that maybe he would forget the merchandise accounts, but no soap. He’s almost as shrewd as I.

In case you’re wondering, the advertising for a baseball park is usually carried out in conjunction with the refreshment concession. The wholesalers who supply the refreshments to the concessionaire are the merchandise accounts. They include the bakery which supplies buns for hots and hamburgs, the people who supply frankfurters and hamburg patties, the candy distributors, the cigarette and soft-drink distributors, the novelty distributors, etc., etc. All those people have a special interest in a baseball park because they make money out of it. They are the gravy accounts for advertising, and they can usually be persuaded to spend more money on baseball advertising than other businesses. Naturally, I wanted to keep as many of those merchandise accounts for myself as possible. After all, I was managing the campaign – on commission.

But I should have known better than to try to pull the wool over Harry’s eyes. The fifth morning at breakfast, he put down his paper, looked through me for a while, and said, “What about the merchandise accounts?” just like that.

I’d been half expecting and half dreading that question, so I wasn’t completely unprepared, just a little shocked.

“Well,” I said, “there are fourteen of them here. What about them?”

“How many do I get?” asked Harry. He didn’t believe in beating around the bush.

“To tell the truth,” I said, “I’ve been thinking about that. You know, Harry, merchandise accounts require a sort of special handling, a different approach. Your selling technique has to be adapted to each one of them, and I don’t think you have enough experience yet to properly sell them as much advertising as they could be persuaded to buy.” There was some truth in what I was saying, but not much. “Anyway, I was going to suggest that you come along and watch me sell the first ten or twelve, and then you take the last couple yourself.”

He was just opening his mouth to say something, something bitter, no doubt, when Lupe brought our coffee. Believe me, I was even happier than usual at seeing her. The timing was perfect.

“Lupita, light of my life,” I smiled at her, “here is a little gift I bring you, a little treasure from Old Mexico, which, by the way, took me three hours to find something nice enough for someone as lovely as you, so won’t you take it with all my love?” All this, mind you, on one breath, like a wounded puppy. I tell you I had it, but bad.

The gift was a beautiful little hand-made silver sombrero pin, which I’d picked up across the border in Mexico the night before, for eight bucks. Lupe picked it up and examined it.

“Very nice,” she said, turning on that dazzling smile of hers, “but Lupe cannot accept.”

“Why not?” I said, “please Lupe, I bought it just for you and I do want you to have it, really. Why can’t you take it?”

“It would not be right,” she said, “Lupe cannot accept.”

“But, Lupe,” I protested.

“Let’s see that thing,” said Harry, stretching out his hand.

Lupe dropped the sombrero in his hand and he studied it for a minute, while Lupe stood there, looking so beautiful and desirable in her silky white blouse and brightly colored skirt that I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

“Want to sell it?” said Harry. “I’ll give you what you paid for it.”

“No,” I said crossly, “I bought it for Lupe.”

“But she doesn’t want it,” said Harry, “and you can’t force it on her. Come on, now, why not let me buy it from you? I’ll send it to my wife.”

“I’m sure your wife would like it,” Lupe broke in, “it’s very pretty.”

“Okay, okay,” I threw up my hands in disgust, “you win. Send it to your wife with my compliments.”

Harry grunted and lit a cigarette and Lupe smiled and walked away. I watched her skirt swinging around her tanned legs and was just getting started on an interesting train of thought when Harry spoke again.

“That dame’s got you doing cartwheels,” he said. “Why don’t you take her out some night instead of mooning at her over your meals every day?”

“Take her out?” I almost shouted, “Take her out? What the blue blazes do you think I’ve been trying to do ever since we landed here? Why I’ve tried every trick in the book to get a date with her, and for all she cares I might just as well be a thousand miles away.”

“What’s the matter,” said Harry, “too much local competition?”

It was true that there was plenty of competition. In addition to all the local boys who were after the fair Lupita, she had half the fellows on the baseball team hanging around whenever they could find the time in their crowded training schedule. And, though I hate to admit it, they were mostly younger and better looking than me, too. I consoled myself with the thought that they didn’t seem to be getting to first base, either.

“It’s not that,” I said, a little calmer, “competition never bothered me. It’s just that Lupe is one gal who can’t be dated.”

“Well, now, I wouldn’t say that,” Harry leaned back and blew a stream of smoke at me.

“Oh no?” I growled. “Listen, wise guy, if you think it’s so easy, why don’t you get a date with her?”

“I hadn’t considered it, but it’s an interesting thought. You think I can’t?” he shot at me.

“I’ll bet anything you say you can’t,” I shot back at him, and could have bit my tongue off afterwards, because a huge grin lit his face.

“Like the merchandise accounts, maybe?”

I should have counted to ten, but I didn’t. Instead I tried to salvage what I could. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the desperate feeling that I was being outmaneuvered, that I was bound to lose.

“You date that gal,” I said, “and we’ll split the merchandise accounts fifty-fifty.”

Even then I had underestimated him.

“And let it ride that way,” he spit smoke at me, “for the rest of the towns on our itinerary?”

What could I do? We have five more towns in the league, and all those accounts represented a pretty bundle of potential advertising money, but I agreed. I hated to, but I did.

Well, the first thing Harry did was dash off a little note on one of the paper napkins on the table, and on top of it he placed a fifty-cent tip. Not a fifty-cent coin, or two quarters, or five dimes, but fifty pennies. The rat! It was just as though he had come prepared.

That night when he got back to the hotel he had a big package in his arms, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. He just smiled and got all dressed up and drifted out, package and all. I ate dinner with the rest of the poor Romeos on the ball team, and we all made eyes at Lupe, as usual, and as usual, she disappeared right after the dinner hour. So I went to a movie, and afterwards bought a mystery magazine and took it upstairs to my room, and fell asleep reading it.

The following week, which was our second and last week in El Grande, went the same way. I knew Harry was spending his evenings with Lupe, because he told me so, and he wouldn’t lie about it. But that’s all he told me, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get him to tell me how he’d managed it.

I was beginning to work up a terrific inferiority complex, and it didn’t help much when we totaled up our business on Friday and I discovered that he had sold $3,300 worth of advertising to my $2,900.

“Harry,” I told him that night before he went out, “when the boss sees these reports he’ll do one of two things. He’ll either try to find out what’s wrong with me or he’ll recommend a raise for you. It depends on what I tell him.”

“I’d been meaning to speak to you about that, Lloyd,” said Harry. “Do you think I deserve a raise?” Short and to the point, as always. That’s Harry.

“Yes,” I said, “but I won’t recommend it unless you tell me the secret of your success with Lupe.”

“Okay,” he grinned, “tomorrow, on the plane.”

Our last day in El Grande, and I hated the thought of leaving, even though I knew I’d be back during the summer to check on things. Somehow, I was afraid I would never get to hold Lupe in my arms and tell her how much I adored her.

I had a goodbye speech all ready for her at breakfast, but she wasn’t there. It wasn’t her regular day off.

“Harry,” I said, “where do you suppose Lupe is this morning? I wanted to say goodbye to her.”

“Oh,” said Harry through a mouthful of eggs, “she’ll be at the airport to see us off.”

He didn’t pay any attention, while I tore out a handful of hair. The little weasel!

She was waiting for us at the airport, and with her was a woman who looked young enough to be her sister, but could be no one but her mother. They both kissed Harry, on the cheek, I noticed, and then he introduced me.

“This is my friend, Lloyd,” he said to Lupe’s mother, “who is burning with a thirst which only your lovely daughter can quench.”

For a minute I didn’t realize what he was saying, and when it did sink in, he and Lupe’s mother were off in a corner somewhere and Lupe was standing in front of me blushing and looking like an angel with black hair.

I forgot my speech. I took her in my arms and kissed her.

“Lupe,” I whispered, “Lupe, I adore you.” It was like a dream.

“I know,” she said tenderly.

“I’ll be back in June,” I said, and kissed her again.

I was still in a daze twenty minutes later on the plane while Harry was explaining.

“The note was for her mother,” he was saying. “I bought a pressure cooker and went over to her house and showed her mother how to make chili-con-carne, northern style. After that we got along swell. She even gave me some home-canned peppers to send to my wife.”

Can you tie that? Him showing her how to make chili?

Suddenly a belated thought stiffened me.

“The sombrero,” I glared at him. “She was wearing it.”

“Yeah,” said Harry calmly, “I gave it to her with your compliments. I don’t know why, but that gal’s nuts about you.”

He buried his nose in my mystery magazine and I sank back into my dream.

What a guy!

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

'The System Approach' -- a short story

Author Harry M. Zubkoff
A setting in the following story brought me back some 55 years to the North Parking lot at the Pentagon. I remember going to work with my dad, and walking, and walking, and walking from his space in the lot, far from the building entrance. (By the time I grew up, he parked in the VIP lot close to the entrance.) I’ll bet most of you will relate to a timeless problem in Harry’s story – how to approach someone for a date. You’ll also pick up on vintage details, like a secretary taking shorthand and bringing coffee, which, of course, help us define when he wrote it. I suspect he based the military-related scenarios on historical truth as well.

“I wish I’d spent more time chasing girls when I was younger,” Terry reflected ruefully. “Then maybe I’d have some ideas on how to approach her.”

“Listen to the old man,” Andy chuckled. “Why don’t you just ask her for a date?”

“I can’t do that,” Terry objected. “She’d probably call a cop.”

“Are you kidding?” Any snorted. “Why, the prettiest music to a girl’s ears is hearing some good-looking young bachelor like you ask her for a date.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Terry muttered automatically, his eyes riveted on the row of doors. “Now shut-up, here she comes.”

They focused their attention as she came through the door on the left, closest to the bench on which they were sitting. Terry made a move to stand, but Andy’s hand on his arm held him back. “Down boy,” he murmured in Terry’s ear. “I got to admit,” he added, “she’s a real doll.” As she walked down the ramp, not only the two men, but a hundred other pairs of eyes in the area followed her every move. Terry’s eyes were fixed on hers as she approached to within arm’s length. They were a deep blue-green, and he felt as though he could drown in them. She seemed to be looking through him, lost in thought, but at the last moment they met his squarely for a fleeting instant and the faintest hint of a smile appeared on her perfectly shaped lips. Then she passed by, and their heads swiveled to follow appreciatively the movement of her retreating hips as she walked gracefully up the ramp and out of the building.

“I repeat, kid,” Andy said, “why don’t you just ask her for a date?”

“No,” Terry declared firmly. “She’s got too much class for so crude an approach. I have to figure out something original. Now come on, let’s go.”

“A genius,” Andy muttered as they rose to walk to the parking lot, “he’s a genius, and geniuses can never do anything the simple way. They have to complicate everything.”

Terry squirmed, remembering the article in the newspaper two weeks ago which had described him as the “young genius” who had just been hired to do an analysis of strategic weapons requirements for the Pentagon. Genius my foot, he fumed inwardly, I’m already stuck on an insoluble problem. In fact, two of them, he thought – one for the office and one for myself – her!

“Do you know her name?” asked Andy on the way out to the Pentagon’s huge North Parking lot.

“No,” said Terry. “All I know is that she comes out this way every night about five o’clock.”

Suddenly Andy stopped. “Terry, my boy,” he laid a hand on Terry’s shoulder, “I am about to arrange for you to meet your lady love and to put her in your debt, all at the same time.”

“What?” Terry looked at him, and past him, and saw her at the same time. She was standing in front of the car next to Andy’s, looking helplessly down at the most beautiful flat tire Terry had ever seen.

Andy walked up to her, unabashed. “Excuse me, Miss,” he touched his hat brim in a curiously old-fashioned gesture, “you seem to be having some trouble.”

Her eyes took him in, glanced at Terry, and came back to him, twinkling. “Yes,” she said, “I seem to have a flat tire.”

“Not only seems flat,” said Andy peering at the tire, “I believe it actually is flat. But fear not, fair lady, I happen to have with me the best portable tire-changing machine in circulation.” He grabbed Terry’s arm and pulled him forward. “This,” he added brightly, “is known as a Dr. Terrence Laughlin. It is, you will note, about six feet of pure brawn, manufactured specifically for the purpose of changing tires, and I will be happy to lend it to you. For a little while, that is. By the way,” he went on blithely, “my name is Andrews.”

“So nice to meet you,” she replied gravely. “My name is Dolores Oliver, and yes, I would welcome the loan of a Dr. Laughlin for a few minutes. How do you make it work?”

“Well,” Andy laughed, “you just …”

“Never mind,” Terry shrugged his arm loose, “Let me have the key to your trunk, Miss Oliver.

“See what I mean?” said Andy. “A regular tire-changing machine!”

But Terry was lost in the radiance of her smile and did not hear a word they said as he put the spare on. When he had finished, she turned from an animated conversation with Andy and regarded him thoughtfully.

“Thank you very much, Dr. Laughlin,” she said.

“That’s all right,” he could think of nothing to say. “You’d better have that tire looked at. I couldn’t see what caused the flat – it may have a slow leak.”

“Yes, I’ll do that. I wish I could repay you some way.”

“No need for that,” said Andy magnanimously. “Glad to do it, anytime.”

“Just the same, you were very nice to do it for me.” She calmly came up to Terry, stretched up on her toes and kissed his cheek. He felt his face burning and put an exploratory hand up to feel the spot her lips had touched.

“You’d better wipe the lipstick off,” she admonished, “before your wife sees it.”

“But I’m not married,” he replied promptly.

She said nothing more as she got into her car, but the dazzling smile she gave him was enough.

* * * * *

Dr. Frank Riordan, former professor of mathematics at MIT and a widely acclaimed authority in cybernetics and computer technology, was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Definition, a post especially created to utilize his unique talents. He was robust, though not tall, with a bulging forehead which housed an over-sized brain, and he had assembled a small group of highly talented men to help him reduce the uncertainties inherent in the military decision-making processes. Now he sat behind his paper strewn desk and regarded Dr. Terence Laughlin, the most recent, and most prized, addition to his staff.

“Terry,” he sighed, noting the tall, rugged good looks of the man standing before him. “Maybe you should have become a professional football player. You’ve certainly got the build for it. Now why on earth can’t you do a simple analysis on our strategic aircraft and missile requirements over the next five years? We’ve given you the ground rules, you have a finite range of possibilities and clearly defined limitations for your frame of reference. So what’s bugging you?”

“What’s bugging me,” said Terry moodily, “is the validity of your basic assumptions. What’s bugging me is the artificial restraints you’ve imposed on me. Hell, Chief, do you want me to think, or do you just want someone to add up a column of figures?” He walked over to the window and stared unseeing at the Washington skyline. “I can’t work at something that doesn’t feel right,” he added earnestly. “If you want me to do a job, then give me the freedom to start from scratch, to reexamine the whole program, to … to …” he searched for the right words, “to do a genuine analysis and to come up with a defensible conclusion.” He did not see the smile of satisfaction on Dr. Riordan’s face behind him, but there was no smile in the voice.

“All right,” the voice sounded irritable. “If that’s what you want, go ahead. But it means you’ll have to go out and talk to a lot of people, from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense on down. And it means you’ll be working twenty hours a day or more, if you expect to get it done on time.” He consulted the calendar on his desk. “You have exactly sixteen days,” he added, “so get moving.”

When Terry had left, he swiveled his chair around, reached for the squawk box on the table behind him and pushed the button marked Chairman, JCS.

“Hello, Bob,” he said when the voice answered, “I think he’ll be coming to see you one of these days. And listen, Bob, that boy’s got a mind like a razor. I wasn’t kidding when I said he’s a genius. The problem is to give him enough freedom to work things out for himself.”

He listened to the other’s voice for moment. Then he interrupted. “Bob,” he said, “I don’t know what answers he’ll arrive at, but this is only the beginning of his education. By the time you and I are through with him, he’ll be telling us what we need.”

* * * * *

Her voice was cool and impersonal on the phone, but it sounded like music in his ear.

“Dr. Laughlin,” she said. “I’m calling in regard to your request for an appointment with General Roberts. The Chairman can see you at 10:30 this morning.”

“Did you tell him I’d like to take about an hour of his time?” he asked.

“The Chairman can give you a half hour,” she replied firmly. Then, softening, “He has a meeting at 11:00,” she added, “so you’d better have all your questions ready.”

“Well, okay, I guess,” he was reluctant to hang up. “I’ll see you later, then.”

She opened the door to the general’s office and stuck her head in.

“Dr. Laughlin will be here at 10:30,” she said, “for a half hour. You have a luncheon meeting at the White House, scheduled to start at 11:30. You’ll be leaving here at 11:00.”

“Where’s that biography you dug up on him?” the general asked, rummaging among the papers in his in-basket. “Riordan thinks he’s the answer to our prayers. But judging by all the geniuses I’ve seen around the Pentagon, I’ve got my doubts.”

She came all the way in, the door closing silently behind her, and gently took the in-basket away from the general.

“He has a very impressive background,” she said. “Graduated from MIT at 19, Master’s Degree from Yale at 21, PhD from Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth at 23. Then he was drafted, spent a year in Vietnam and a year setting up a computerized intelligence system at the National Intelligence Agency. After he got out of the Army, he went back to MIT and designed a new computer system that got national attention. Twenty-six years old,” she mused, “and he has a national – in fact, an international – reputation as one of America’s authentic young geniuses.”

The general looked at her quizzically. “Always the perfect secretary,” he said. “Have you met him?”

“Yes,” her eyes looked inward, remembering.

“What’s he like?”

“He’s beautiful,” she said simply.

“I see,” the general said dryly. “Beautiful.” Then, seeing the color rise to her cheeks, he spoke more gently. “Dolly,” he said, “don’t tell me you’ve finally found a …”

“No,” she interrupted. “That is …” she hesitated, “he doesn’t even know I exist.”

“Are you kidding?” the general snorted. “What kind of a genius is he?”

“I guess he’s just too occupied with his work,” she shrugged her shoulders resignedly.

“Hmmm,” the general looked at her appraisingly. “We’ll have to see what we can do about that.”

* * * * *

He came in, dressed casually in sport coat and slacks and looking so handsome that her breath caught in her throat. But, despite the pounding of her heart when his incredibly gray eyes met hers, her voice was cool and reserved.

“The Chairman’s expecting you,” she said. “Go right in.”

He looked at her, wordless, for another moment before he strode in to the inner office. The general rose to shake hands, then waved him to a chair.

“Do you want to take notes?” He asked.

“No, sir,” said Terry.

“Do you mean to say that you’ll remember everything we say?”

“Yes, sir,” he was uncomfortably aware of the general’s penetrating gaze.

“Well,” the general remarked after a pause, “my memory is not that good. I’d like my secretary to sit in and take notes.” He pressed the buzzer and she came in immediately, shorthand book in hand, and took a seat beside the general’s desk.

“Dr. Laughlin, this is my secretary, Miss Oliver,” the general introduced them. “Everybody calls her Dolly,” he added.

“We’ve met,” they both spoke at the same time, then laughed self-consciously.

“Okay,” the general smiled, “fire away.”

* * * * *

Throughout the interview, while part of his mind wrestled with the general’s views on strategic requirements, he was wondering how to ask her for a date. Afterwards, sitting in his office and thinking, the inspiration struck him. At a quarter to five, just before the rush-hour exodus, he went out to the parking lot, found her car, and, feeling almost like a criminal, let the air out of her left, front tire. Then he got into his own car, just two spaces removed from hers, and waited.

She got there about five-fifteen, and he saw the look of consternation on her face when she caught her first glimpse of the flat. He got out of his car and walked over.

“Hello,” he said brightly, “I see you have a flat tire.”

“Yes,” she smiled, and his heart contracted.

“May I help you?” he asked.

“Yes.” She put the trunk key in his outstretched hand and he silently proceeded to put on the spare. All the time he was working, he was mentally rehearsing how to ask her, but when the words came out of his mouth they surprised him.

“Look,” he blurted, “would you have dinner with me?” She hesitated and he rushed on, “I mean, after all, we both have to eat, don’t we?”

“Yes,” she said.

“And why shouldn’t we eat together?”

“Yes,” she repeated.

“You mean, you will?”

“Yes,” she said once more.

“Good,” he said. “We’ll take my car, and then come back for yours after we eat. Okay?”

“Yes,” she said.

It was a dream dinner. By the time they got to the dessert, neither of them could remember the entree. They even forgot that her car was still in the Pentagon parking lot. He drove her home, a twenty-minute ride in which he drove with one hand and held her hand with the other. It was not until she opened the door of her apartment that they both remembered, and then they laughed delightedly.

“The heck with it,” she said airily. “I’ll take the bus tomorrow and pick up the car in the evening.”

Then he remembered the bulging briefcase in the back seat of his car. “I have to go do some homework,” he said sadly as they stood in her doorway.

“Oh, no,” she was stricken. “Why don’t you bring it in and do it here? I’ll make some coffee and I promise I won’t bother you. I’ll just sit and watch TV.”

“I was hoping you’d ask!” Then, suddenly, he was kissing her. It was a most satisfactory kiss, and afterwards she gently led him inside, took his coat and seated him in the easy chair which dominated one corner of the living room. He concentrated on the reports, occasionally sipping from a cup of coffee, which she kept constantly replenished, while she curled up on a corner of the couch and watched TV. For almost three hours they exchanged not a half dozen words, though every now and then they glanced up to meet each others eyes. It was almost midnight when he put down the last report.

“You know,” he said, standing up, “you’re beautiful.”

“That’s funny,” she beamed at him, “I was just going to say the same thing about you. In fact,” she added, “I told the general this morning that …” she almost bit her tongue.

“That what?” he prompted.

“Tell me,” she said changing the subject adroitly. “How fast do you read? I was watching you for a while and you were turning those pages awfully fast.”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “it depends on what I’m reading. Some things, easy things, maybe 2,800 to 3,000 words a minute. These things,” he waved a hand at the pile of reports on the floor, “are a little tougher, maybe 1,800 to 2,000 words a minute.”

“Holy mackerel,” she gasped. “You really are a genius, aren’t you?”

He grinned down at her, then kneeled before her on the couch. “Genius enough,” he said seriously, taking her hand, “to know that you’re suddenly very important to me, and that I … well, I … want to see you again; I want to keep on seeing you.”

She leaned forward and kissed him tenderly on the lips, and then on the cheek. “I know,” she murmured in his ear, “me, too.” She moved back and looked deep into his eyes. “You’d better go now,” she said, her voice suddenly husky, “it’s getting late and you’ve got some hard days ahead.”

“Yes.”  He rose slowly to his feet. “See you tomorrow.” It was half statement, half question.

“Yes,” she said softly.

* * * * *

For the next two weeks he was as busy as Dr. Riordan had predicted. He arrived early each day and stayed late each night, and though he saw Dolly every day, they were unable to spend another evening together. Both understood, however, that when the project was over, they had some unfinished business between them. When the deadline for his final report arrived, he was almost exhausted. But he was ready.

There were just the three of them, Dr. Riordan, General Roberts and himself, in the Chairman’s office.

“You’ve got the floor, Terry,” said Dr. Riordan.

“Gentlemen,” Terry began, “I was asked to come here and take a fresh, unbiased look at our strategic requirements, unimpeded by previous positions or commitments, and then to draw up a new definition of our requirements. In order to do that, I have had to study the historic development of requirements to date, to examine the past decisions, and to establish the validity of our present positions. I am sorry to say,” he licked his lips, his mouth suddenly dry, “that you are living in a dream world,” he went on quickly, “that you are bound to a series of bad decisions and that your presently stated requirements are completely unrealistic.”

He paused, trying to gauge their reaction but unable to discern anything from the blank faces and hooded eyes. Then he plunged ahead.

“The military,” he looked at General Roberts, “have been less than honest in stating their requirements, scaling them down to what they probably thought they would be able to get. As a result, they have requested less than half the absolute minimum number of weapons this nation requires. The Secretary,” he glanced at Dr. Riordan, “has been even less honest, scaling down the military requests to about one third the absolute minimum, for reasons which I’ll talk about later. If you want to attain the necessary minimum, you will have to triple, and in some cases quadruple, your annual requests for each of the next five years. At the end of that time, you will still only be marginally secure, depending, of course, on what the potential enemies do in the interim. Now, here are the figures.”

He recited the figures, all in his head, without referring to notes, outlining his reasoning as he went along. When he had finished, he came back to his one unfinished point.

“Let’s talk about the reasons for previous decisions,” he said. “I realize that they’re political decisions, in reality made by the President and the Congress, not by you. But I was asked to make my study in a purely military context, without regard to outside factors. My point is that you should be presenting your requirements in that same context. If there are going to be political considerations, let them be imposed from without, not from within. The military should be asking for what it needs, not for what it thinks it can get.”

There was absolute silence in the room when he finished speaking. He did not resume his seat, but walked to the door and left.

* * * * *

He was waiting there when Dr. Riordan came bustling into his office, humming absently to himself, and stopped short at the sight of him.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you,” said Terry.

“Well, what do you want?”

“I don’t know. Sympathy maybe. I guess I blew it, didn’t I?”

“You did what I asked you to do. That’s all.” He was decidedly not sympathetic.

“Well, that’s it then,” Terry said abruptly. “I guess I better start looking for another job.”

“Terry,” Dr. Riordan sat down behind his desk, “a guy like you doesn’t have to look for a job. All you have to do is whisper that you’re available and the offers will start pouring in. Hell,” he snapped his fingers, “you could get a dozen offers just like that for four or five times as much as you get here. And you probably will.”

“Then I’m through here, right?”

“Well, I didn’t hire you on a long-term contract, you know. It was just for a specific job.”

“Well,” said Terry, “I guess I better go and start whispering.”

“By the way,” Riordan said, “the Chairman wants to see you.”

“Me? What for?”

“How the hell would I know what for? Maybe he wants to punch you in the nose.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll go see him now.”

When he had left, Dr. Riordan punched the Chairman’s button on the squawk box.

“Hello, Bob,” he said, “he’s on the way. And you better treat him right.”

* * * * *

She noted the fatigue lines around his eyes and the despondency of his mood, and her heart went out to him. “The Chairman’s waiting for you,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll see you later,” he went on in.

The general greeted him with a handshake and called to Dolly to bring in some coffee.

“That was quite a presentation you gave.”

“I’m sorry, General,” Terry replied, “I didn’t really mean to be so critical.”

“Oh, that’s all right. We need to be shaken up once in a while. What I want to know is how sure are you that your figures on strategic requirements are right?”

“Sure? Well, I’m sure about the figures. That’s the only thing I’m sure about.”

Dolly came in with two cups of coffee and silently left.

“You mean you’re not sure about the validity of political decisions?” the general asked, smiling slightly.

Terry grinned in return. “I don’t know, General,” he said. “I guess I got a lot to learn.”

“Hmmm,” the general sipped from his cup. “What are you going to do now?”

“Look for another job, I guess,” Terry shrugged.

“Would you consider working for me?”

“For you?” Terry was incredulous. “Doing what?”

“The same sort of thing. We still have to study our tactical requirements, our mobility requirements, our logistics requirements, and so on. You see,” he was warming up to the subject, “we’re in the same box in all these other areas as we are in the strategic area. And we have to come up with some new definitions of our requirements, arrived at in a purely military context, of course.” He chuckled. “There’s no guarantee that we’ll get what we need or even what we ask for, but at least we have to know what we need, and that’s what you did for us in the strategic area. You told us what we need, but you didn’t tell us enough because you don’t know enough.”

Terry looked at him, wonderingly.

“There’s still a bigger problem,” the general went on, “and this one’s not easy to explain. You see, we used to look upon each weapon as a complete system. An airplane, for example, with its crew and its maintenance team and its armament and its spare parts, and so forth, was all a system. Then we expanded our view to regard a whole category of weapons as a complete system. Strategic weapons, for example, including aircraft, missiles, submarines, air bases, and all the personnel involved, all together comprise one strategic system. The next step is take all the systems – strategic, tactical, logistics, and so forth – put them together and treat them as one complete defense system. When you do that,” he continued, scarcely pausing for breath, “you can adjust and juggle the various individual pieces of the system without impairing the performance of the whole. But it takes men of vision and men of absolute intellectual honesty, to be able to take such a broad view. I think you could do it.”

Terry’s mind was opening up to look at the possibilities. Of course, he thought, treat the whole works as one complete defense system. Bring all the component parts – air, sea, ground – into one coherent system with fully defined interrelationships. Beautiful.

“If you can tie it all up in one package,” the general was still talking, “you may find that you can substitute tactical for strategic capabilities in some cases, or vice-versa, and that you can meet your commitments even though you reduce your requirement in one area or another. You may even be able to get some appreciation for the political aspects of decision making – whether you agree with them or not,” he added wryly. “In any event,” he concluded, “the object is to formulate a complete defense system approach. What do you say; are you interested?”

“Interested? Yes, sir, I’m interested.”

“Good,” the general stood up. “It won’t be easy,” he warned. “Your work will be cut out for you. But it’ll at least keep you busy for a year or two. So starting right now, you’re on my payroll. Now,” he waved his hand in dismissal, “take the rest of the day off. And take Dolly with you; she’s no good to me moping around here.”

* * * * *

All the way to her apartment he was absorbed in his thoughts, his mind already ranging ahead to the problems and the possibilities he would encounter in setting up a model defense system. The idea intrigued him, stimulated him. The complete system approach, he though, takes in everything.

“Hey,” she said when they got there, “remember me? I’m the girl you came with.”

He sat down on the couch with her, still deep in thought. The complete system approach, he reflected, and suddenly the idea took on new meaning for him. Of course, he thought, the flat tire was what you might call the tactical approach, a simple maneuver, really. The dinner, now that was the strategic objective, but it really didn’t mean too much unless you had the really long-range objective in mind. And what was that? The answer was simple and natural. The ultimate and complete system approach, which rendered all other things meaningless by themselves, and meaningful when put together.

But the system approach calls for complete honesty, he told himself.

“Honey,” he said, savoring the word.

“Yes?” softly.

“Honey,” he repeated, “I have a confession to make.”

“Yes?” still softly.

“You remember that flat tire?” he said, “the second one?”


“Well, I’m afraid I did it. That is, I let the air out of it. I couldn’t think of any other way to get you in a situation where I could ask you to go out with me.”

She stirred in his arms, then turned her lips up to him and kissed him.

“That’s all right, dear,” she said, “I’m glad you did it.”



“Will you marry me?”

She pulled away from him gently and looked deep into his eyes.

“I love you, you know,” he added quietly.

“Yes,” she said. “And I love you, Terry, and I want to marry you.”

They kissed again.

“Honey,” she said.


“I have a confession to make, too.”


“Remember that flat tire, the first one, I mean?”


“Well, I did it. I let the air out of it.”

He looked at her, astonished.

“Well, I couldn’t think of any other way to meet you,” she said.

He laughed and took her in his arms again. “I love you,” he said, and kissed her once more till she was breathless. This is it, he thought, the complete system, in which everything makes sense.


Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman