The Once and Future Sales Associate—Karen Uffelman

Arthur believed that his name gave him a certain advantage when meeting new people.  There were generally positive association with his name – King Arthur and all that.  There was the dumb kids cartoon mouse and the questionable Dudley Moore movie, but Arthur thought of those in the any-publicity-is-good-publicity category, and if he could just make people think of King Arthur, those other namesakes would make him seem attractively familiar but not less royal.

Arthur’s main strategy to increase subconscious connections between himself, the awkward teenager, and Arthur, the mythical king, was to subtly introduce words into conversation that would lead the listener to think of King Arthur.  “Round” and “table” were good ones, never said together because he didn’t want to be too obvious.  “I prefer tables to be round, don’t you?” he might ask.  Robin, hood, Camelot, Guinevere, Excalibur (that was really hard to work in naturally) peppered his speech.   “My sister has a pet robin that she calls Guinevere,” he once told an old woman sitting next to him on a bus.  He didn’t have a sister, of course, but the old woman didn’t know that, and she seemed to take the idea of having a pet robin in stride.  He thought she looked at him approvingly when he said his name was Arthur, but after the story about his sister’s pet, she positively beamed.  And then she offered him a tic-tac.  People don’t just randomly offer strangers tic-tacs.  Clearly, his King Arthur word magic was working.

He was pretty sure that this same ploy would help him land his first job.  It was a sales associate position at a fancy-pants toy store in a fancy-pants part of town.  He prepared carefully for his interview, ironing his shirt and wearing the red velvet blazer he’d found at Goodwill.  It was a woman’s jacket, Arthur knew from the label, but his mother claimed you could tell without seeing the label because the buttons were on the wrong side for a man’s coat.  Arthur decided to wear it anyway, as he was pretty sure his mother was the only person in the world who would know that kind of trivia, and the blazer made him feel, well, kind of royal.  “You look ridiculous!” she yelled after him as he left their apartment.

Despite his careful dressing, the interview had definitely been going the wrong way.  Down the drain, in fact.  The store owner had noticed “Proficient in conversational German” on the “other skills” line of his application and started jabbering away like she was Nina Hagen or something.  Arthur nodded his head several times, to show that he was following along, but then it became clear that she was asking him a question and he had no idea what that question might be.  He struggled to think of a single phrase from his sophomore German class, but came up empty-handed.

The store owner (who had asked him to call her Rabbit at the start of the interview, “everybody does!”) switched back to English and asked him exactly what he meant by “proficient” and “conversational.”  “I’m really nervous,” he pleaded, “I’m the top student in my German class, though, swear to God.”  She nodded.  “Alright.  We get a lot of international tourists in this store, so your German could come in handy.  It’s really the only reason I decided to interview you, so let’s try again.”  Then she asked him the German word for doll.  He had no idea.  Toys?  Nope.  Rainbow?  Couldn’t think of it.  Rabbit yawned behind her hand (she may have been rolling her eyes too, he couldn’t quite tell) and looked at the clock.  Her yawn made him want to do the same, he was usually napping this time of the day, but he pulled it together for a hail Mary.

“My German is a little rusty, but I know loads about Camelot and Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table and I promise you, if you hire me, I will double the sales of all of your castle lego sets and knight costumes and Medieval role playing games.  I’d be just awesome at it, don’t you think?”

“Hmmm.  Arthur, is it?” She murmured, scanning his application.  She seemed to have forgotten his name during their short interview.

“That’s right.  Arthur.  Arthur Blakely.  I live round the corner from the Herlin Building, which is easy to remember because it rhymes with Merlyn.   I like to fish.  I’m a fisher.  A really good one.  Practically a fisher king.  My sister has a pet robin named Guinevere.  Sometimes we have to put a hood on it or it sings all night.  My favorite painting is The Lady of Shalott.  I have a reproduction hanging in my bedroom.  I think it’s kind of the holy grail of Pre-Raphaelite art.”

Rabbit looked confused, but not as bored or disappointed as she had earlier.

“Those toy swords over there look medieval, are they modeled on Excalibur?” his voice kept getting higher as he picked up steam, breaking, even, in silly croaking sounds, but he was pretty sure he was gaining ground.

Rabbit held up her hand.  “I’ll give you a two week trial period.  I’ve written in my notes here that you’ve promised to double our sales for castle and knight stuff.”

“Thank you, Ms. Rabbit, that’s so chilvarous.”

She squinted at him.  “Puppe.  Spielsachen.  Regenbogen.  I want you to learn those words and the German names for all of the other items we carry in the store.  Sie verstehen, yo?”

Arthur nodded vaguely, hoping he wasn’t agreeing to work for free.

“And one more thing, Art.”

“It’s Arthur, not Art.”

“Okay, ARTHUR.  That woman’s blazer isn’t going to cut it here.  Find something else before your first day.”

Blood rose to Arthur’s cheeks, but he didn’t really care.  He had landed his first job, thanks to careful leveraging of his awesome name.

The Saxon attack had come on strong, but he parried and was victorious.

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About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on February 7, 2012, in Fiction. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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