‘Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.’
– Zig Ziglar
‘They put up a poster saying we earn more than you, we’re working for the clampdown.’
– The Clash
I turn down the radio in my car – talk radio – some crappy awful phone-in show providing a platform for the permanently incensed, middle-aged, middle-class, pork-based white man to share his righteous views, dressing it up as ‘debate’ for my amusement and I insert a CD album (yes my car is that old), London Calling by the Clash.
I chew the last remaining bite of my egg McMuffin, stuffing the greasy wrapper in to the cup holder and, as I pull in to the carpark of MiComm HQ – my place of work, I skip to track 9 ‘Clampdown’ and turn the volume way up.
‘Taking off his turban they said is this man a Jew? They’re working for the clampdown.’ Joe Strummer spits out the lyrics with classic punk vitriol over a pounding backbeat. I sing along, through mouthfuls of egg.
I’ve turned it up in the hope that someone (preferably female) will hear the track blaring out of my crummy VW and they’ll think that I, Steven Douglas Anderson, am pretty fucking rock and roll (compared to most Regional Telephony Systems Sales Representatives, that is).
Wow, she will think, Steven is like, way alternative and shit.
Unfortunately there’s no one around to hear The Clash as (for once) I’m actually quite early. So I just park up, then spend a few moments regarding myself in the rear view mirror. My face begins to melt, my features shift and blur until I’m just staring at two enormous black holes in a formless pink shape. My mouth is a gaping maw leading to a pit of eternal nothingness. Just a typical Monday morning! I chuckle to myself. ‘Right that’s enough of that’ I say out loud, clapping my hands together. Then I straighten my tie and psyche myself up for another day of corporate Hell.
I am a field-based sales representative. Which means I’m supposed to spend my time in face to face client meetings – driving core efficiencies through understanding key business issues and effective stakeholder engagement. In reality I spend most of my time in motorway service stations or at home (pretending to work) wanking furiously like some deranged zoo animal.
Which is why today I have been summoned for a meeting with my boss Kieron Knox to review my quarterly sales figures which are, by anyone’s standards, absolutely shit.
I could very well be getting sacked today but I’m not going down without a fight and like any consistently below-par sales professional, I’ve got my excuses prepped and ready to go:-
- Unreasonable and unachievable sales targets based on correlation to previous sales figures for MiComm telephony systems sold over last 24 months.
- Lack of marketing investments and initiatives leading to stagnation within an already saturated marketplace.
- No man born with a living soul should be working for the clampdown.
I’m supposed to use a keycard to enter the building but I’ve forgotten it so I push every button on an intercom by the front door simultaneously and Shannon, our receptionist, lets me in.
‘Morning Steven.’ she says in her smily voice. ‘Bit early for you isn’t it?’
Shannon is just so unbearably pretty. In three weeks she’s leaving to go backpacking round Australia. I don’t think she’ll be coming back.
‘Yeah.’ I say with a casual laugh, ‘I shit the bed again.’
Urgh. She doesn’t get the ‘joke’ I am trying to make. Just crinkles her nose and looks visibly uncomfortable. I take a moment to rain down an apocalyptic loathing upon myself, then I notice what’s on her desk.
‘Oh my God who put that there?’
Sitting on the reception desk is a toy – a My Little Pony. Turquoise, with rainbow coloured mane and tail. Actually reminds me of Shannon a bit.
‘Richard Burke. Told me not to move it, says he’s got more anyway and he’s putting them everywhere.’
‘Big Rich. I’m not surprised.’
Richard Burke – top performing salesperson and psychotic office bully, has placed the My Little Pony there as a joke, a cruel one which I and everyone else know is aimed at Benjamin Storey, a shy awkward kid who works in the customer service department.
Young Benji recently let slip some very odd and slightly disturbing information on a drunken team night out. Benjamin is in to something called ‘Clopping’, a particularly niche and confusing fetish which involves getting turned on by pornographic depictions of My Little Ponies. ‘Cloppers’ or ‘Bronies’ as they’re also known like to create their own material and circulate it online. Unfortunately some of Benjamin’s ‘work’ has now been seen by pretty much all of MiComm’s staff.
Obviously, his life is over.
‘Poor kid.’ I say to Shannon, feeling genuine pity for Benjamin.
‘I know.’ She replies, doing an adorable sad face. ‘As long as you’re not hurting anyone then who cares how you get your kicks?’
God I love you Shannon. Marry me and let’s move to Australia together even though I don’t do well in the heat and I can’t surf and I’m scared of spiders.
‘See ya later.’ I say as I slope upstairs to my desk.
I walk past Rich Burke, hunched over a spreadsheet like he’s Trump inputting the nuclear codes. He sees me and looks up.
‘Did you see it?’
‘Yeah I saw it.’
‘Got loads more – putting them everywhere. Fucking pervy little weirdo.’
‘You got your meeting with Knoxy today haven’t you?’
‘Hope you put your padded underpants on mate ‘cos you’re in for a spanking I heard. Knoxy’s gonna wear you like a glove.’
Richard laughs a terrible, sadistic laugh. It echoes round my head as I boot up my laptop and bring up my quarterly sales figures.
Unachievable sales targets, no marketing budget, unachievable sales targets, no marketing budget. In these days of evil Presidentes, working for the clampdown.
I know how Benjamin Storey must be feeling. Actually I’ve no idea but I have an approximation. When I first started at MiComm I was asked to introduce myself to everyone and (horrifyingly) to tell them an ‘interesting fact about myself.’
Foolishly, I told everyone that I used to be in a band. A band called Furious Dad who once put out an EP via a small independent record label and briefly supported Catfish and the Bottlemen on tour. I thought that everyone would be mildly impressed, sort of like, ‘Oh hey that’s cool, I play bass if you ever want to jam?’
They all thought it was absolutely hilarious. As if the concept of music, and of small groups of people playing it together was every bit as alien to them as clopping.
The whole sales team rushed straight to the nearest PC and googled my band. They played a track off our EP entitled ‘Disappointing Avocado.’
‘Disappointing Avocado, the kind you never want to eat / Disappointing Avocado, the colour, of your mother’s, bathroom suite / In the 1970’s…’
I sung it in a kind of Morrissey-esque drawl. It was meant to be slightly ironic, off-kilter.
They all laughed as if it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard but the thing was; they clearly didn’t think they were laughing at me. They thought they were laughing with me because they just assumed that I thought it was hilarious too.
They were convinced that at that point in my life, five years after the break-up of my band and having landed a sweet new sales job at MiComm, that I could look back at Furious Dad through 20/20 hindsight and see the funny side, see just how much of a joke we were, like someone looking at a photo of themselves wearing a shell-suit in the 90’s. Only they didn’t realise that I loved that shell-suit more than anything else in the world and still do. That shell-suit, was who I was.
After that I learned to keep my head down, to assimilate. There’s just one tiny part of me left that secretly hopes someone hears The Clash blasting out of my VW, if only for a second. That is as rock and roll as I’m ever going to get.
‘Mr Anderson.’ Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick that’s Knoxy! He’s crept up behind me like some sort of horrible ninja. He always says my name in the voice of Agent Smith from The Matrix, as though it’s a recent cultural reference like ‘How you doin’?’or ‘Wassssuuuup!’
I laugh. A high, startled laugh. I always do whenever he does the Agent Smith voice, it’s fucking hardwired in to me like some demented Pavlovian response mechanism.
‘Good morning Kieron.’ I say like it’s the 18th century and I’m working on his fucking plantation.
Kieron Knox – Mr. MiComm. Destroyed every sales record in existence before being promoted to Sales Manager and then Director of Sales and Marketing. Shaved head, thick-rimmed glasses, navy blue suit with club stripe tie, done up in an offensively large double Windsor knot. I am literally trembling before him.
‘And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death.’
‘You start wearing blue and brown and working for the clampdown.’
‘Are you ready for a chat mate?’ Knoxy asks. In the same way a man might ask, ‘Are you ready to have your spleen removed violently through your ears?’
‘Yes I think so.’
‘Good, I’ve booked a meeting room. You fancy a coffee?’ He means that he wants me to make him a coffee.
‘Sure, I’ll just nip to the kitchen and meet you down there. What would you like?’
‘Just a black coffee please mate. No milk.’
Sweet Jesus how has it come to this? Taking orders from a man who feels the need to caveat a request for a black coffee. Does he think I’m too stupid to make it? I’ve been to University for Jesus’s sake. Maybe I should just get a job as a rent boy and be done with it? It’s basically the same as what I do now and at least I’d have an easier time looking myself in the face every morning.
I make two coffees and take them in to a small, windowless office where Knoxy sits at a desk with his laptop and leather-bound notebook. Ready to interrogate me and ruthlessly dissect my failures one by one.
‘Have a seat mate.’ I immediately obey. I would’ve jumped on to his lap if he’d told me to. ‘Now I just want to go over your performance for this quarter, obviously we’re still quite a way below where we need to be.’
‘Well, the thing is…’ I feebly reply, ‘I’ve been thinking and well…I feel that my targets are quite high and with no marketing budget they don’t really correlate to what…’
‘Let me just stop you there mate.’
‘Because what I’m hearing is The Tiger.’
What fresh hell? ‘I’m sorry?’
‘The Tiger. The Tiger is everything that you’re afraid of, everything stopping you from reaching your full potential, achieving your goals. Look, your targets are your targets, I can’t change those.’ He definitely could. ‘And never mind what Marketing are up to either.’ You are literally the head of marketing. ‘This is about you and how you’re going to tame that Tiger.’
‘Ok.’ Is all I can think of to say. I was not expecting this. ‘I mean…I suppose it is the Tiger, but then again, maybe there are some other external factors…’
‘It’s the Tiger.’
‘Yes. I see that now.’ That’s it, he’s broken me. For the wages of sin is death…
‘Good boy. Now look, I know you’re struggling, maybe that’s my fault for not giving you enough of my time so from now on I want you in the office, early, every day with me. You and I are going to cold-call our fucking nuts off ok? Just sit down with a fucking phone book and call and call and call until we’ve gone through the whole fucking thing and then you know what? We’re gonna start again.’ Kill me now. ‘Then you’re gonna smash your sales targets out the park next quarter and I’ll take the whole team out for beers. Fuck it, I’ll even take you to the strip club and you can see some tits for the first time in your life how does that sound?’
It sounds like a terrible waking nightmare from which there can be no escape. ‘It sounds….great.’
‘Good lad. We’ll start today. Get back up to your desk I’ll see you there in 15.’
I do as I am told. As I walk out of the room and back up the stairs to my desk, I feel like a death row prisoner whose execution has been cancelled at the last minute. Only now I have to go back to my cell, for the next 30 years.
Knoxy is certain I will comply because (and he knows this) deep down, I want to please him.
‘You grow up and you calm down and start working for the clampdown.’
I slump down in my seat. Consider going to the kitchen and making another coffee. Or going to sit in a toilet cubicle and cry for an hour.
As I bring up my inbox I see an email from Shannon with the subject line, ‘Clopping – NSFW’. It’s a link to Benjamin Storey’s Tumblr page and the content is…staggering.
The images, on face value, are pretty horrifying. It’s not just that it’s weird to see My Little Ponies engaged in all manner of sex acts with freakishly oversized genitalia and sex toys. It’s also the infantilised nature of the whole thing which is deeply unsettling. Benjamin is a bit of a perve, that is for sure. Certainly a fucking idiot for mentioning this to anyone in the first place but, as I stare at the brightly coloured sexual cartoon content on the screen before me, I can see that he’s put a great deal of time, effort and thought in to these. The very fact that they even exist demonstrates that he has a passion, a compulsion even, to create them and to actually share them with other internet-based misfits who are all probably crippled by loneliness in the real world but who, for all I know, get a tiny bit of solace from something which they all enjoy together. The fucking band of weirdos.
I find it difficult to tear my eyes away from what I’m seeing.
He’s definitely captured something. I’m not quite sure what it is.
But it’s something.
Rick White is a writer of fiction and poetry from Manchester, UK whose work has previously appeared in Storgy, Cabinet of Heed, Ghost City Review and Back Patio Press among others. Rick lives with his wife Sarah and dog Harry and currently occupies third place in the hierarchy. Rick is currently working on his first novel and appreciates your support during this difficult time.
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Photo by Sayaka Sawanaguchi
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