(an excerpt from How To Sell [Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009])
I was leaving the customer’s bathroom, still rubbing the cocaine from the bottom of my nose with the side of my hand, when Mr. Popper caught me by the arm.
“Billy,” he said. “Come on up here for a minute. Come on up to my office. We need to have a little talk.”
They must have a hidden camera in there, I thought. He’s been watching me on a monitor in his office on a hidden camera. I had masturbated in that bathroom, too, and I was worried about that as well. That was humiliating. I hoped he wouldn’t make me watch the tape. But I was going to be fired. Jim told me to be especially careful about drugs around Mr. Popper and Sylvia.
“They are not hypocritical people,” Jim had said. “They aren’t Bible-beaters or anything like that. But they hate drugs. One time they did a big drug testing and they fired five or six people over it. They couldn’t fire everybody who tested positive or they would have had to find a whole new staff. David and I tested positive, of course, and the Watchman, and a bunch of other people. They looked past it. But we all had to promise very solemnly to quit, and watch some videos about the dangers of narcotics. They even made us sign a contract. They brought in a couple of speakers from AA. It was a really big deal. We had to read some of those damn AA comic books at our regular sales meeting. ‘Take them home,’ Popper said. ‘Commit them to memory.’ Comic books. You remember the ones. The same damn ones Mom and Bob used to bring home from their AA meetings. I’m just saying, because you?re new, be cautious.” So I knew I was fired. But it did not sound like they were the type to press charges.
Popper sat down at his desk. The banks of video monitors were flickering on his credenza beside him, and there were more behind him. I tried not to look at them. I wondered which one had caught me.
“I don’t know if you like to drink or not, Billy. I am not much of a drinking man myself. But I will take a glass of good scotch from time to time. Have you ever tried a good single malt scotch? I go over to Scotland once or twice a year with a couple of buddies of mine, good old boys from the construction business here in town, and we play a little golf, go fishing for those big salmon they have up there and hit the distilleries. They put you up in a castle. Here, you should try a glass. I drink it neat, but for your first taste you might want some ice and a splash of soda.”
Mr. Popper stood so I stood too. He laughed.
“Sit down, son! Relax! Boy you Canadians come nervous. Your brother’s almost as jumpy as you are. You’re not thinking you’re in some kind of trouble, are you? You been up to something you don’t want me to know about?” He smiled. The way he smiled, like we were in on the secret together, made me think maybe he didn’t know about the cocaine after all, or that if he knew he didn’t mind. I sat back down.
He poured the drinks at the bar on the other side of his office. It was a built in bar, made mostly of brass and beveled glass, and I had polished and cleaned it before, always while Mr. Popper was working in his office and on the phone. I stocked it, too, with ice cream and diet sodas. Mr. Popper ate two or three pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream a day. All different flavors, though his favorite was strawberry.
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