As of this moment I am practicing the letter. Sitting alone at my kitchen table, tonight, ten-thirty, I am practicing how to write the perfect letter with my brand new Bic ball-point pen and stolen company stationery. The problem is that there are so many ways to write this particular letter. In fact, I am licking my chops at all the perfect ways that I can write this letter to my boss, Timothy Billings. Timothy Billings, who just yesterday I caught in the act! Timothy Billings, who is now in the palm of my hand. Timothy Billings, who I never did like just even a little bit as a human being, let alone as the boss of me.
Dear Mr. Billings,
It is amazing to me that you should be my boss and I your employee, because really it turns out you are so incredibly stupid, because all the time you are really such a stupid moron. Timothy, today, which is Monday, when I walked into the office not more than one minute late and watched you check your fancy gold watch at me, which of course you wanted me to see you doing, today after you checked your fancy watch when I asked you how was your weekend, and you said, “Relaxing,” like you had some kind of monopoly on the goddamn word, I couldn’t help but laugh. You probably wondered why I laughed, laughed and then just walked away. Well the answer is that you are nothing but a liar, because I happen to know for a fact that your weekend wasn’t relaxing at all. No, not at all relaxing if I understand the meaning of the word, and I think I do.
Yes, Ms. Wilford, it is important that I see Mr. Billings right this minute for your fucking information, and I want to speak with you a little later, too, if you don’t mind.
This is how the letter will begin, probably. That is if I send him a letter at all. Maybe what I should do is Xerox a copy of the photos, yes, I said photos, the line of four wallet-sized, photo booth photos that I so treasure at this particular time, and just send that, the Xerox, no letter or anything, just a copy of the photos. Photos of Timothy Billings and his little smart-ass secretary, Donna Wilford. Oh, Donna Wilford, how I have waited for this moment! How I have waited for the opportunity to have you here between a rock and a hard place. After two years now of every day waiting outside Timothy’s office and watching you twiddle your thumbs, watching you play with rubber bands and paper clips, watching you purposefully avoid any eye contact with me like I wasn’t worthy even of a single glance. Like someone as supposedly pretty like you shouldn’t even waste a single glance on someone as supposedly ugly as me. Well, I say to you tonight, Donna, that the tables have turned, not that I mean you are still not as pretty as ever, in fact I’d say you’re as beautiful as I’ve ever seen you, but not for the reason you might think. You see, Donna, right this moment I am looking at a photo of your naked breast. Not bad, Donna, really not bad at all, except that I am also looking at Timothy Billings’s hands all over your chest, pulling your blousy blouse away from and exposing your left breast. Strangely, I do not see a bra. I am checking again, and still I don’t see a bra on you, which strikes me as odd considering that many times in the office I made a mental note about the outline of your bra underneath those silky blouses you wear, and also that you are a woman, as is plainly evident in the picture in front of me, with rather large breasts that might require the kind of support of said bra. So I ask you, Donna, why no bra? What am I to make of this Ms. Wilford? What is Mrs. Billings supposed to make of this?
Yes, Ms. Wilford, it is important that I see Mr. Billings right this minute for your fucking information, and I want to speak with you a little later, too, if you don’t mind. Maybe you and I could discuss what it is I want to talk to you about over a nice little dinner.
Dear Mr. Billings,
As I said before, that you are anybody’s boss is a real crack up. That you are married is a hoot. That a married man would take his pretty little secretary in broad daylight into the Woolworth’s on Fourteenth Street, all the while his arm wrapped around her shoulders, all the while whispering some dirty little secret into her ear, and waltz right into the photo booth without first checking to see if anyone from the company might be buying pens and envelopes on his day off is just about the most absurd thing I have ever heard. In fact if somebody were to tell me that their boss, or that their husband actually acted that way I might have to tell them they were lying to me. But do you know what? Do you know what is even dumber than that? Do you know that the dumbness doesn’t stop there, but even gets so much more intense? Mr. Billings and Ms. Wilford do I have your attention? I’ll tell you then. Such out loud laughing and kicking of the orange curtain out into the aisle like a couple of junior high school kids, and me there watching, only a few yards away. Me realizing right then that you were both drunk, not just a little bit tipsy, but full-fledged drunk. Drunk on a Sunday, no later than four in the afternoon, and me standing there watching with my manila envelopes and my twenty-five Bic ball-point pens.
Flash, one photo. Then you were not laughing, then everything inside of the orange curtain fell somewhat still. Flash, another photo, then some readjusting. Flash, flash. Me being me, I knew four photos to a session, so I retreated back behind another aisle, but kept an eye on you two none the less.
Dear Mrs. Billings,
I think I should ask you to sit down before I say what it is I have to say.
Dear Mrs. Billings,
I don’t know how to put this. Well, you see, it’s about your husband, my boss, Mr. Billings. Mrs. Billings, maybe you’d better just have a look at these pictures.
The sight of you taking Ms. Wilford by the hand and leading her past the luncheonette, stumbling drunkenly down the aisle, sloppily drunk, away from the photo booth, filled me with such a mixture of emotions.
Please excuse all the interruptions, Mr. Billings. Oh, I am so sorry for keeping you waiting! No longer, not even for a second, will I keep you waiting. Let me continue now, with no further ado, the writing of your own personal letter. Now, Mr. Billings, if it was me, and I’ve just finished a steamy photo session like that, I’m going to wait around for the pictures to pop out of the slot. Me, I’m not going to move as much as an inch away from the slot. In fact, if there are other people around, which there were, I’m going to get so close that the other people won’t be able to peek at the freshly popped-out photos before I snatch them from the slot and walk out of the store. Mr. Billings, that is how a normal person goes about retrieving their photos. In fact, I’d say that that’s how ninety-nine percent of the educated people of the world would go about retrieving their photos. So maybe you can answer me when I ask you why it is that you think it’s going to take the whole five minutes for them to be developed when it clearly says on the machine three to five minutes developing time? Because I heard you say to Ms. Wilford, “Takes five minutes,” like you actually knew what it was you were talking about. Five minutes is the maximum, Mr. Billings. Three to five does not mean five, it means three to five. Five they are saying just to be safe, just so the customer won’t get bent out of shape when three minutes rolls around and the photos haven’t shot out into the slot. It certainly does not mean five minutes only, five minutes absolutely. Mr. Billings, you are one of those people who refuses to read the directions, aren’t you?
The sight of you taking Ms. Wilford by the hand and leading her past the luncheonette, stumbling drunkenly down the aisle, sloppily drunk, away from the photo booth, filled me with such a mixture of emotions. Disgust, first of all, at such a pathetic display. Do you remember once saying to me, “Is this how you represent the company?” because I managed to tell what most people considered a few funny jokes. Well now I put it back to you, Mr. Billings. Now I put it right back to you. But then just as quickly as the disgust rose inside of me it was replaced by overwhelming joy.
I checked my watch, Mr. Billings, just like you check your thousand dollar watch in the mornings when I am not so much as a minute late, your one thousand and six hundred and fifty dollar watch, because I did check the price once, Mr. Billings, don’t think that I didn’t check the price once when I happened to be at Macy’s browsing one Sunday afternoon. The way I see it, Mr. Billings, your watch can’t be all that special if just anybody, like me, some nobody like myself could just walk into a Macy’s and pick one up. Sure, it may be expensive, but I will tell you one thing, that that watch is not altogether unique, not by any means. So to continue, I started the stopwatch function on my own ten dollar, bought right off the street for your information, digital watch, and then I peered out into the aisle to see you walking leisurely, absent-mindedly, towards the back of the store, stopping here and there along the way. At one minute and twenty seconds you picked up a pair of polyester panties and handed them to Ms. Wilford. Oh boy, you both got a good laugh out of that one, didn’t you? What a funny guy you are! Polyester panties, right? Pretty tacky, right Mr. Billings? Can you imagine? I have never heard such a funny thing before as polyester. Who would ever wear such things? Certainly not Donna Wilford, not Donna Silk-Queen Wilford, no indeed. One minute and forty-two seconds, Mr. Billings, and you’re still strolling farther and farther away from me, still laughing about the panties. It is killing me that still you’re walking away from the photo booth. It is like I just can’t believe my eyes.
I remember things, Ms. Wilford. You could say I have a memory like an elephant. For example, I remember:
“Ms. Wilford, I would like to see Mr. Billings.”
“Is he expecting you?” you said without even bothering to stop filing your nails.
“No he is not,”
“You can’t go in without an appointment. He’s a very busy man.”
“And so am I, Ms. Wilford. As busy as a bee.”
“I’m sorry, no appointment, no admittance.”
How many times have I had to put up with “no appointment, no admittance?” Hundreds. And hundreds of “you know the rules.” How I hate “you know the rules.”
At the two minute mark on my stopwatch I am thinking to myself “you know the rules,” Mr. Billings. I am thinking new rules. I am thinking that I will make Ms. Perfect Nails my new secretary.
Two minutes forty-three seconds, Mr. Billings, you glanced back, craned your neck and saw that the slot was still empty. Then you continued, picking up a couple of badminton rackets, swatting away at imaginary birdies. I took the opportunity to move out into the open, my back to the both of you, and made a pass by the machine, but the receiving slot was empty, then I turned right up the stationery aisle, circled and made another attempt.
Dear Mr. Billings,
Let me try and describe the moment when I realized I had you in the palm of my hand. Me, walking down the now vacant aisle, my leather-soled shoes clicking away a solitary rhythm, and there in front of me as I turned the corner, freshly shot from the slot, waited the curved strip of four photos which would forever change my life. With a deep breath I composed myself, and in one fluid motion swept past and snatched the beautiful little things from their holder. Out the door and onto Fourteenth Street, immersing myself in the anonymous sea of people out for a walk on a Sunday afternoon.
Timothy, may I call you Timothy? This morning I truly enjoyed watching your face twist into a grimace when I asked you, “How was your weekend?” When I kept pressing you for details all day long on what you did, on where you went, all in that phony at work voice which I normally so despise. “You didn’t do anything special, Mr. Billings?”
“No,” you said. “Why? Should I have?”
“Oh no, no, no. Just curious. I thought I remembered you telling me you had a big weekend coming up,”
“Why would I tell you that?”
“You probably didn’t.”
All day long, Mr. Billings, giving me the sideways glances. Like I was up to something. Did you perhaps see my back when I walked out of the Woolworth’s? Or were you too drunk to even tell it was me? Probably you didn’t notice at all. Probably you stood in front of that machine for a half an hour, and then contacted a clerk. Probably, knowing you, you tried to get your money back.
My kitchen table is now filled with drafts of the letter. It is filled with drafts of plans of letters, and drafts of straight out plans that do not involve letters. Unlike Mr. Billings I will act carefully, thoughtfully. I will take my time and savor each step of the way. I will take photographs of the photographs and have them enlarged. Perhaps I should tape them to my refrigerator door. Perhaps I will wallpaper my bathroom with them. It is killing me how many things I could do.
Dear Mr. Billings,
Where shall I begin? You being my boss and all I should probably ask your advice. Timothy, what would you do if you were in my shoes?