The core group at Random Productions included myself plus four other guys. And within that group, George ranked number one. We tried, but no one could touch him.
“Don’t hate me kiddos, some of us got it, and some of us don’t.” He shrugged his shoulders, bashful, like it wasn’t his fault that for three consecutive years, he’d been voted the top producer in our tri-state area. Georgie had the touch. Even when the elevator was being repaired and we had to walk up five flights, even when he gave me the news, the guy never stopped smiling.
He had a great profile and a photo that made him look like a cross between Brad Pitt and a college professor, a person you could trust, hair trimmed like a man who had an expensive barber with enough gel on top for bad boy polish. Had to hand it to him. Said he’d paid his niece, an HR recruiter, to help him find a guy who knew his way around Photoshop.
Once he got his face on, Georgie crafted a profile that put him growing up in Scotland just like James Bond, and then afterward, in Greece to explain his accent, which was actually Brazilian. He filled in the rest of the story.
Georgie (Niko online) was ready to begin a new relationship after his wife had died in a car accident ten years ago, a tidbit he’d picked up from the Princess Diana paparazzi thing. Also claimed he had an adult son studying engineering in some ivy league tower, but like I said, Georgie could play the heartstrings; if any woman on the other line had a single doubt, he made them feel guilty, described how he missed his deceased wife blowing each other kisses over a candlelit dinner. “I only want to be your best friend. Honey, it hurts that you don’t trust me.” It was amazing how women ate up that crap.
The truth was that Georgie looked nothing like Brad Pitt or a UCLA professor, more like a guy whose idea of exercise was eating bear claws, his belly was like an overlook cliff poised high above a beaded Western belt, skin breaking out from lunches of grilled sausages from the Greek grocery around the corner. Georgie had been working at Random several years before I’d joined the pack. The company was located in this guy’s apartment, convinced that a start-up could happen in a garage or on the fifth floor of a walk-up. Each of us had our own set of headphones.
Mine were baby blue, appropriate for work in a boutique agency helping love-starved women to connect with eligible men, (that would be me), a cross between a dating service and a referral group, a niche outfit where a Vegas call center sent clients to Random’s private website, and got a cut of the business.
It didn’t matter what we called ourselves.
We wore our fictions like clean pajamas. He was Niko; I was the oil rig guy. Just call me Jim.
I liked what I was doing well enough, the money and the perks, but it was different for Georgie. Always fired with enthusiasm, he brought coffee for everyone, winking over the edge of our desks and giving us the thumbs up, which always made our time pass by more quickly as we choked down cigarette smoke and gulped coffees. For him, work was a pleasure, ipso facto, the Georgie smile.
The biggest compliment we ever gave to each other was, “Almost as good as Georgie,” followed by high-fives. But after Covid, the boss closed down the office and set us up on a company line in our homes, but we still got together for Happy Hours on the pier. Otherwise, we would’ve missed hearing Georgie’s stories. In those days, he was our only source of entertainment. “Women are throwing their credit cards at my feet,” he said.
Georgie never gave away trade secrets, but advised us newer guys how to work a crowd. “You gotta wine and dine even if it is online. Say nice things about her cats, her cute dimple, but whatever you do, don’t forget to compliment her hair. Amateurs make the mistake of asking for a phone number before they say anything else. A total give-away. That’s like sniffing her butt before you share food bowls. No, my friend.” He held up a beer to a couple walking arm-in-arm along the sidewalk. “A seed takes time to cultivate.”
We clinked our glasses. “To time!”
I had been out of college for five years or so, just after a bad break-up that had sent me reeling, wandered around the job market trying to find a job when Random contacted me. I never could figure out why. Maybe they were keeping track of the number of resumes submitted within any one week, and like cream, I’d risen to the top.
Susan, my ex, always liked to complain about me, said if I had any ambition, I wouldn’t be frosting Cinnabons at the mall.
In the interview, they told me how they were opening up a new branch and needed to hire an enterprising young man like myself who enjoyed talking to women. Check, check. All I had to do was get credit card information, easy-peasy, right, which is where I pressed the pause button; however, remembering how my groceries were down to Top Ramen and dried prunes, I said yes and signed a non-disclosure agreement, overcame my scruples by thinking how I’d only do this for a few months.
It was only stop-gap. That’s what I told myself.
In the meantime, Susan began dating some jock who worked in finance. I think she was making up that shit to hurt my feelings. I wouldn’t put it past her.
But surprise, surprise. I started enjoying the job. By night, I was Jim Coultrane, a Marvel superhero who had nothing to do with the poor schmo sweating away in a studio basement apartment. I looked forward to my evening transformation, howling my song, felt myself breathe more deeply, became more confident, my hands dancing over the keyboard as I told Jim’s (my) story about traveling the world as an oil rig engineer, seeing everything from way up, from high up.
Susan was light years away.
Powerful in my deceit, a poor lonely guy who worked on a rig stationed in the middle of the Gulf, who spent nights peering out at the stars thinking of his dearly beloved, and reading books by James Michener about the South Pacific, where I hoped my honey and I could travel together when I finished my six-month stint.
In between, I found myself researching oil rig companies, wanted to sound authentic, put both my feet into this, felt like I was offering a genuine service to women by allowing them to live out their fantasies. I wasn’t deceiving them. Who knows? Some of them might not even be women. Georgie said he had a foolproof way to discover imposters—if he dropped a few baseball or football stats in the course of conversation, a real guy would offer his own. Couldn’t help themselves. Blew their own cover. “By their numbers, ye shall know them,” Georgie said.
I took it all in. There was no stopping me. I baited my hook.
If I was ever asked about meeting in person, I had a ready answer. “On my next month off.” I played up how long and hard the work was, 12 hours on and 12 off, told them I might have to go in for surgery after my hand got caught in a mud pump, whatever that was, or a bell nipple, which always got a giggle. I began to believe my own story—how I almost got hit on the platform by a helicopter, and moaned as I remembered the terrible incident, and how I produced 150,000 barrels of oil a day (well, not me personally), on a crane that was as tall as a skyscraper. For me it was a game I was learning to play, and said I hoped to get off the rig so we could spend more time together; I was looking to join a company that delivered food and medical supplies to the rig, and that way, we could see each other more often. The credit card stuff part was easy, told my latest fish I was going to buy discounted tickets for us to vacation in Hawaii through the oil rig company’s website but needed her credit numbers since my new cards were waiting at home in my mailbox, where “you know, I won’t be for weeks,” and just as I was explaining my plan during Happy Hour to Georgie, he raised a finger to his lips and told me to shut up.
“What?” Like I didn’t hear him the first time. I put down my drink. “You can’t do that.”
“Yes, I can.”
“That’s crazy, man. But why?”
I couldn’t believe it. Georgie had violated the two key principles we’d been taught in orientation: 1) Never get personally involved, and 2) Never reveal your true feelings, positive or negative. It seems as though my hard-boiled friend had fallen in love. “But Georgie,” I said. “You’re number one. How could you let that happen?”
He stirred his Bloody Mary and lifted his mournful eyes away from the drink’s stuffed olive.
“That’s the thing, Peter. I can’t tell you how or why. It just happened.” He mentioned Tanya, the sloe-eyed beauty who was as open and as charming as a Sesame Street Muppet.
“Grover was always my favorite,” I said.
“Grover’s a guy.”
“That doesn’t matter. Not in this case,” I said.
“Why?” Georgie asked.
“’Cause we’re talking puppets, not people.”
“She disarmed me,” Georgie said, and stared through the window staring at the water and licking his lips.
Truthfully, I couldn’t accept his story. I’d placed him on a pedestal as Random’s top gun, the guy to emulate, the guy to beat. He knew where he was going, and now, now he’d taken an AK-47, a Kalashnikov, and shot his whole act to pieces, George’s fragments scattered throughout the bar. And where did that leave me? I put my drink squarely on its white cocktail napkin. “But does she know who you are?” I asked. “Does she know what you actually look like?” I was convinced that any woman who saw Georgie in the flesh would run away screaming. I blinked for several seconds.
“You see, Pete. That’s just your problem. She accepts me for who I am.” A silence of the lambs settled around us. I looked at Georgie and wondered if I really knew who he was.
We were sitting at a table in an upscale bar located in the waterfront district, which over the last ten years had seen a transformation, warehouses had become restaurants, dive-bars, souvenir shops. We looked out on the Chesapeake Bay. In the late afternoon, sailboats tacked toward the harbor; I heard the cry of cormorants, and thought I could make out a glow, not electrical, but the bloom of algae spreading across the water. I took a swallow, and prepared myself for whatever bull Georgie was about to throw my way. He was the master, right? For a moment, I wondered what number he was running on me.
But I had to admit he looked different from our last visit, eyes less glittery from all-nighters, and his shirt without its usual stains from whatever he was eating. I almost felt happy for him. Georgie picked up a French fry, dipped it in ketchup and pointed it at me.
“You don’t believe in love,” he said. “You can’t do this job until you understand that. Otherwise, Pete, and I’m telling you this for your own good, you will always be and remain a rank rookie.” He stuffed the fry into his mouth.
“Teach me,” I blurted out, not sure I wanted to know.
Lenore’s poetry collections form a trilogy about love, loss, and being mortal: Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island (West End Press, 2012); Two Places (Kelsay Books, 2014), and The Golem (Hakodesh Word Press, 2017). Her most recent poetry chapbook is From Malls to Museums (Ethelzine, 2020). Alexandria Quarterly Press published her prize-winning flash fiction chapbook, Holding on to the Fringes of Love. She is a reader for the Mud Season Review and lives in Oakland, California with Zebra the Brave and Granola the Shy. Lenore serves as the Associate Creative Nonfiction (CNF) Editor for the Mud Season Review. Her environmental novel Pulp into Paper is forthcoming from Atmosphere Press.