By: Marvel Goose
“Thank God you are here! You have got to help me win this contest!” shouted Monique, the store manager.
It was right after Thanksgiving and I was calling on my radio advertising clients collecting their new advertising copy for the week. There was no one else in the store but myself and Monique. That’s not her real name. In fact, my pseudomym is the only real name in this entire story.
“What contest?” I said in trepidation. Working for a radio station, I was often creating and executing contests which required one to be scrupulously honest or go to the clink for fraud. I was not about to rig any contests.
“They’re having a Home for the Holidays contest over at WBBQ. I have got to win this contest. My mother’s heart disease is getting worse and this could be the final Christmas before she dies. I will never forgive myself if I don’t get home this year for Christmas, but Maine is so far away. I can’t afford to fly. Have you seen what Delta is charging for tickets? It would take Fifteen Hundred Dollars for Rob and me to fly home. I don’t have fifteen hundred dollars for tickets! That’s why I have to win this contest!”
I did not tell Monique that I-95 will get anyone to Maine that wants to go there in about 22 hours — if you wear a diaper and have enough sandwiches and coffee on the front seat. Monique is not the kind of person who does discomfort well.
“Aren’t you going to take the kids, too?”
“Those ungrateful little @&#^%. I’ve been worried sick about this and they had the nerve to complain about it. Complained about me being upset! I told them that they will be lucky to get a stinking thing for Christmas. I have a good enough mind to take all their money and use it on tickets to go home and see my mom. And I told them that, too. Serves them right”
She sucked in her breath and latched on to me, eye to eye. “I’ve been working on this letter all morning and it’s terrible. YOU are such a good writer. Write me something that will win this contest! You can do it, I know you can!”
Now I was in a bad spot. This jabbering woman was wanting to me ghost write her entry into a contest being held by one of my competitors. Not only that, but I knew everyone on the staff and several could be counted as friends. Screwing with another radio station’s contest is just inviting trouble and screwing over your friends is a good way not to have any. I told Monique that.
“I spend thousands and thousand of dollars on advertising with you! The least you could do is help me! I might not ever see my mother again! Please, please you have to do this”
She kept at it like this for a while and, I hate to say, I gave in. It was either that or listen to her blame me for her troubles over the next several weeks. Crazy people rule the world because of enablers like me.
I sat down at a typewriter in another office and stared at it. My Lord, this was a writing problem. I have this woman who is oozing ugly, repellent, self-pity. I have to turn her, a woman who threatened to take away Christmas from her kids, into an object of sympathy. I sat there feeling sorry myself and her kids when the key fell into my lap.
I began typing in a white heat.
I am writing about the Home for the Holidays Contest that you are having. I am not writing for myself. I am doing this for my Mom. She has been very upset about my grandmother who lives up in Maine.
My grandmother’s name is Nanny. She has been sick a lot this year. Mom really wants to go to Maine to visit her. She is afraid that this will be our last chance to see Nanny at Christmas.
Maine is very far away and it costs a lot of money to get there. Mom says we don’t have enough to pay for it. My brother and I offered to give up our presents this year. They could use that money to help pay for the trip. Mom said no and for us not to worry about it. I could tell that we upset her. We didn’t mean to. We just wanted to help.
I heard about this contest on the radio today and asked her if I could write you. She said yes.
Please pick my letter to be the winner. We really need to take my Mom Home for the Holidays. This would be the best Christmas present you could ever give to anyone.
I looked at this thing that had sprung out of the typewriter. My God, what had I done?
I took it up front and held it out in front of me so that none of the evil could slip off the paper and on to my shoes. She lunged for the cheap copier paper. She didn’t read it as much as just devour it. She started crying.
“I could see her doing this. My sweet girl could have written this. Oh I feel so bad now for being so mean to her last night. I told her I was going to take away Christmas. I am a terrible mother.” She paused and read it over again. “This letter is perfect! PERFECT! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!”.
I made sure to keep the desk between me and her. There was enough drama already without my being hugged for writing the biggest, fattest, lie I had ever written.
“Now you can not tell a soul that I wrote this,” I warned. “Not a soul. I will get in terrible trouble if you do. Take this letter home and have Hannah write it up in her hand writing. She can change around the wording to be more like hers, but warn her not to add any begging or anything piteous. It is an old actor’s trick. The less she cries — the more the audience will.”
So Monique took the letter home and Hannah read it and she cried, too. Hannah, like a lot of us, is a sucker for being noble when it doesn’t cost anything. She wrote it in her cute little girl curlicue hand writing and only changed a word or two. They put the letter in the mail that night.
Her mom showed a copy around to all her friends and, with each telling, she and her daughter began to believe their own story. Her friends were amazed at the maturity that the 12 year old Hannah had shown and they cried over her being so brave to have written the radio station like that.
Christmas is a very hellish time in the radio business. You write commercials and you produce commercials and then you write and produce some more. You wonder if there are any more rabbits in that magic hat that you reach into every day for a new, fresh idea. An idea that will work for your client and that they will like.
Combine the stress of sales with the stress of creating and the stress of begging clients to pay their bill from last month so you can have Christmas this month and you have the reason why there are so many young people in radio. All the old ones… die.
So, it is not surprising that I forgot about that letter. I had not even thought of it for days until I was snatched out of sleep one morning by a phone call from Monique.
“We won! We won! Oh my God, they just read her letter on the air! We are all flying to Maine. Oh My God. Oh My God. You have given me the best present a person has ever given me. The very best. You are the most wonderful friend in the world and if you EVER tell ANYONE you wrote it I will kill you. I will murder you. You hear me? Not a WORD!”
Man, that turned ugly quick. I seem to remember telling HER not to tell anyone.
I laid in bed in complete shock. I had queered another radio station’s contest. Part of me was astonished and delighted over having authored a winning letter. The other half of me was ashamed that I had lent my good talents to such a low enterprise.
I went into work that morning and didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to because all my co-workers were saying plenty. My client just won a major contest at a competitor. Her child is only 12. Did I have anything to do with this?
I denied it.
“Are you sure? She sounds mature for her age”.
I denied it more than three times. I grabbed some copy and ran to a production studio supposedly to make more commercials, but really, to hide.
When I come out, there was much more poodah. The poodah is what all the girls at the office call gossip.
According to the poodah, the owner of WBBQ had put in the fix on his own contest. He had a letter from HIS client and that client had promised a fat 12 month advertising contract to make sure that HIS was the winning letter.
The staff of the radio station were outraged. Here they had this letter from this darling little twelve year old girl that made them cry every time they read it and the boss had put the fix on. She was so brave and so mature for her age and it was terrible, horrible that their boss was going to give it to a client in some dirty, underhanded deal.
They complained and plotted and schemed and when the time came, they broke into the owner’s office that morning and stole Hannah’s letter from his desk. They read it on the air and awarded the prize to the darling little girl and her mom.
It was done. Nothing could make it come back. The prize was awarded and it was glorious! Que the singing angels! Deck the Halls with Boughs of Folly!
When he finally woke up, late, as usual, the boss was livid and threatening to fire them all. A major, crooked, client was very hacked because he’d promised his family a nice Christmas trip and now would have to pay for it with his own after-tax dollars — of which he had plenty.
It was a very ugly scene at WBBQ. Screaming, shouting, recriminations, door slamming, and people avoiding the halls. They were having the worst Christmas ever. I was the one who had delivered it or, at least, midwifed it: along with the corrupt owner and the crooked client and a wonderful, brave little girl who had conned them all.
My co-workers thought it was wickedly delightful and were jealous of the sales person who had the horrid crooked client on her list. She could count on him giving her — The Budget. They were looking forward to more firings and resignations as each one meant another client’s ad dollars would be ready to go to someone else — preferably, hopefully, with them. Ho! Ho! Ho! Let’s go out for drinks to celebrate!
I just kept my mouth shut. If word got out, an entire sleigh full of people would have a Merry, Merry Christmas as they roasted my chestnuts over an open funeral pyre.
It was 20 years ago today, roughly. The statute of limitations for heaving stink bombs into a competitor’s radio station having run out, I feel safe to share this heart-warming story of Christmas betrayals past. Radio is a nomadic business and most of the crew that broke down the door that morning do not live in Valdosta anymore. In other words, they can’t lay their hands about my neck very easily.
They should be very proud of the truly noble thing they did that early morning. I wish I could say the same about my part, but I can’t.
The staff of WBBQ walked out in January when the commission checks for Christmas sales were cashed. From the receptionist to the sales people to the DJ’s they all walked out the door without warning. Only the computers were left behind to run things.
The radio station owner had to go hire an entire new staff and he never again had such a talented group working for him. The radio ad sales sharks moved in and ate his list of clients alive. It was the rough justice of the radio world.
Hannah, Monique, Rob, Brother Bill, and Nanny had the most wonderful Christmas ever. I don’t think they ever told Nanny this story.
But I just told you. If you wish, you can have a Merry, Merry Christmas roasting my chestnuts in the open readers forum below. I certainly deserve it.
A Merry Christmas to you all!!! and a radio-contest free New Year….
This post, btw, has been submitted to the Christmas Carnival over at Humor Bloggers.com. All the Christmas humor starts on December 19.