Sunday, July 20, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Nine: Demented Honeybee

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Scootie was no easily fazed, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure the greeting kisses of Virginia Mendheart. Perhaps the problem was background. From an impoverished childhood in Altoona, Pennsylvania to director of the Prologue Life Insurance Company, Virginia had run the gamut of greetings: the hearty backslap, the awkward half-wave of the pre-feminist, male-female introduction, and the firm handshake of the business world. No she was stuck between the cheek-to-cheek air kiss of high society and the lip-on-lip Eurosmack of the artsy elite.
Thus, once a week, Scootie would approach her like a linebacker trying to guess run or pass. Sometimes he would go for the cheek, only to have Virginia kiss him in the ear. Other times, he went for the lips, and she would step back, pursing her lips as though she had bitten into a lemon.
He was happy, then, when Juliana arrived first, in a linen shirt vest and palazzo pants. He was happy, too, that they had dropped their initial, uncomfortable flirtations and settled into a friendly working relationship.
“Good morning, Scootie. Virginia will be a little late. Any coffee in here?”
“Coffee is everywhere at Fetzle. There on that concrete monstrosity in the corner.”
“Geez! How did they get that thing in here?”            

 “The Hallis High football team.”
“Really?” She sipped too quickly and had to let the coffee cool on her tongue. “Is it that valuable?”
“Turn-of-the-century. Taken from an original at Versailles. We wanted nothing but human hands on it.”
“Gracious!” Juliana sat in a wicker chair and laid folders across the table like playing cards.
“Juliana,” said Scootie. “I’ve been meaning to ask you. When Virginia greets people, is it better to...”
“Virginia! You’re here. Marvelous!”
Virginia burst through the door in a black lace blouse, black pants and a yellow-and-black checked blazer. She looked like a demented honeybee. Juliana rose to meet her with the half-hug and air kiss.

“Darling, how are you?” asked Virginia. “I love that outfit, so... Saudia Arabia. Hi, Scootie.”
Scootie rose to greet Virginia just as Juliana had, but was greeted by two extended hands. What next?
“Scootie, don’t waltz with me, dear. Give me a kiss.”
Scootie placed a light smack on her lips and retreated to his chair.
“These young men!” she said to Juliana. “So difficult to train.”
Juliana gave Scootie an appraising look, as though she had just discovered him there. “Yes, you do.”
Scootie was anxious to get down to business. He pulled a stack of papers from his briefcase and passed them out.
“Well,” said Juliana. “What goodies are these?”
“Our Stephen Swan marketing strategy,” he answered. “Or at least, my best guess. We’ve never done anything like this before, but fortunately I had some help from your friend Kathleen in San Francisco. I’ve got all the specifics on these papers, but if you want I can run down the major themes.
“Mostly this: with a name like Stephen’s, nothing too fancy is needed. I’ve covered the locals with the Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz dailies, extended it to Monterey with a classical radio station, and I’m hitting the Bay Area in general with an ad in the Chronicle pink section.”
“What about the freebies?” asked Virginia. “Tell us about the freebies.”
“Articles from the papers are a cinch – local boy makes good, etc. The Chron might be a push, because they get big names every week. But I’d bet on San Jose.”
“Good,” said Juliana. “What about radio and TV?”
“That’s a little tougher. We won’t have access to Mister Swan till pretty late in the game, so interviews might be a problem. We should, however, get a few PSAs from our regular radio stations...”
“PSAs?” asked Virginia.
“Public Service Announcements.”
“I’m also working on spots at the cable stations, and we might get coverage from KKOW in Salinas, but I’m not sure about the big stations over the hill. Not enough in the way of visuals.”
“Could we get one of them to use excerpts from Stephen’s films?” asked Juliana.
“That’s a good angle,” said Scootie. “Maybe that classic movie host from KKPT. In any case, for specifics, you can see the dates and airtimes on page...”
Virginia slapped both hands on the table. “Giveaways!”
“Giveaways?” said Scootie.
“Yes!” said Virginia. “My nephew runs a theater in San Carlos, and he gives tickets to radio stations so they can do on-air giveaways.”
Scootie smelled trouble. “Well, yes... I do that with some of the regular stuff here at Fetzle. But for a fundraiser? You’ve got people paying a hundred dollars for these tickets. What would they think if they found out we were giving out freebies?”
Virginia’s eyes shrank back to normal size. “Oh. Well... it was a good thought.”
“Yes, it was,” said Scootie, but he could see the gears still clicking away in her head.
The meeting ran another hour. Virginia headed off for a meeting in Pacifica, leaving Juliana gazing out the solarium windows as Scootie finished his notes. Afterward, he walked her out the front of the mansion.
“Don’t you usually hike down that back trail of yours?”
“Not today,” she replied. “I’m meeting Scott for dinner in The City.”
“Special occasion?”
“Nope. My husband is in a generous mood lately.”
“Ah.” They descended the front steps and crossed to her car in the employee parking lot.
“By the way,” said Juliana. “Stephen’s agent wrote to say that... This is a little hard to explain. Apparently, Mr. Swan has developed certain eccentricities that require the presence of a calm, capable backstage assistant. I immediately thought of you.”
“I’m honored,” said Scootie. “Did he give you any particulars as to these... eccentricities?”
“Not a one,” said Juliana, biting her lip. “I hope it’s nothing involving malt liguor and chainsaws. But I’m sure you can handle it. I’d bet you could handle just about anything.”
Scootie laughed. “Now that you mention it, there is one thing. How the hell does one go about greeting Virginia? She throws a new trick every time I see her.”
“Ah,” said Juliana, smiling. “That is tricky.” She placed her hands on his shoulder and nudged him into position. “I’ll be Virginia. First off, I’ll pretend to be vaguely British.”
“You’ve noticed that, too.”
“Quite. Now, it’s a very subtle thing, but it’s all in the face and hands. If I come at you like this, with my arms in front of me, palms facing in, with a gleeful, friendly expression, give me a gentle hug – no squeezing – and kiss the air somewhere near my cheek. Oh, and be sure to commit to the left or right – otherwise we might lose teeth.” She approached him as described, and he placed a kiss one inch from her left cheek.
“Lovely,” said Juliana. “Now I will come at you, arms forward – but this time, palms facing up – fingers curled slightly inward, and on my face I will wear a look of sultry determination, like Blanche Dubois on a bad hair day. In this case, you should take my hands, hold them for one beat (as we say in the theater), then kiss me, firmly yet briefly, on the lips. And remember, it’s not that I want to be desired, it’s more that I want to be found acceptable of kissing. It’s an older-female thing.”
Juliana backed up a step, setting herself into the appropriate posture, then made her approach. Scootie followed her instructions, not quite processing the action until their lips were detached, and Juliana was still holding his hands.
“Well,” she said. “Perhaps not so long on the kiss.”

Photo by MJV

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