Johnny America




Illustration of two credit cards

“Does your moth­er know what you do for a living?”

Gi­na had been out last night. She and Pi­geon danced their brains out at Sur­face 21, which meant hours of what Pi­geon called mar­ti­ni in­fu­sions. At work, Gina’s brain and body were shaky. So she wasn’t sure she heard the ques­tion right and blew past it, stay­ing on script.

Script 2B, in­tend­ed for the ones you kept on the line but were not quite co­op­er­at­ing, or not yet co­op­er­at­ing. Some of her work-mates kept print-outs of the scripts thumb-tacked to the walls of their cu­bi­cles. Gi­na didn’t need any prim­ing. She knew them all by heart, which now that she thought about it was a strange way of putting it. Heart did not come in­to the work.

“Mr. Dixon, as a mem­ber in ex­cel­lent stand­ing of our Pre­ferred As­so­ciates Club, I know how you val­ue your time, and I want you to know that we val­ue it, too.”

She stopped for breath, and to fo­cus. That was mar­ti­ni blow­back. No big­gie, it was al­ways like this. Some­thing had been tak­en out of her. It would come back.

God damn it, she missed what the old fart said. The shoes the shoes the amaz­ing blue Per­ru­gios on sale for fifty per­cent off if she ap­plied for their cred­it card. Those shoes were tap danc­ing on the screen of her phone, which peeked at her dis­creet­ly from her purse, left open for mo­ments like this one when she ab­solute­ly had to think about some­thing that wasn’t the script.

She did not need an­oth­er cred­it card. An­oth­er cred­it card would be an­oth­er mis­take, it was that simple.

Pi­geon was a cool name for a per­son who didn’t know who she want­ed to be, or what. Left all kinds of doors open, which al­so was cool. Pi­geon was hot.

“Old school,” the man was saying.

Am­brose Dixon was 66 years of age, ac­cord­ing to the tar­get pro­file da­ta Gi­na was us­ing. He had paid off his mort­gage. What the fuck kind of name was Ambrose?

“It’s on­ly be­cause I’m old school that I’m not hang­ing up on you, Miss— is it Miss or Ms. Peruggio?”

Nah, he didn’t re­al­ly say Pe­rug­gio, that was her mar­ti­ni-in­fused brain.

“Gi­na In­fan­ti­no. I’m not married.”

You weren’t sup­posed to give up per­son­al stuff like that, but she had learned that some­times it was use­ful in es­tab­lish­ing trust, and Bill wasn’t go­ing to ar­gue with re­sults. Not to say that her su­per­vi­sor wasn’t an ass­hole be­cause he was.

A thought crossed Gina’s mind. Dan­ger­ous ter­ri­to­ry, that. The thought was a ques­tion: was she still drunk? No. Maybe. Sort of. It didn’t matter.

All around her, in neigh­bor­ing cu­bi­cles, men and women with mediocre cred­it rat­ings were say­ing ex­act­ly the things they were sup­posed to say, in the or­der they were sup­posed to say them. Stay­ing on script, it was called. Some­day, it would be re­al­ly nice not to have to work in a cube farm.

Back to the script.

“I’m sure you and Mrs. Dixon would love our An­chors Aweigh get­away pack­age. It’s customizable.”

“Mrs. Dixon is de­ceased. We lost Mar­jorie three years ago.”

Gi­na scrib­bled a note. They were sup­posed to up­date the tar­get data­base if they turned up mis­takes, or new in­for­ma­tion, as long as what they learned fit one of the fields. Gi­na knew those fields re­al­ly well, every last one of them.

“I’m sor­ry for your loss, Mr. Dixon.”

In a way, she was. Specif­i­cal­ly what way, she was un­able to say. Not now, when her sen­tences kept scrambling.

She plunged.

“I bet you haven’t tak­en a va­ca­tion once in those three years.”

Si­lence on the line then, but he did not hang up.

“We have a get­away pack­age de­signed for ma­ture in­di­vid­u­als,” she said care­ful­ly. “It’s for peo­ple who share sim­i­lar life ex­pe­ri­ence, and a sim­i­lar lifestyle.”

“You mean sin­gles with a cer­tain in­come level.”

“Well, yes, I guess I do.”

“I’m not a sin­gle, I’m a wid­ow­er. Lis­ten, Ms. In­fan­ti­no, I’m go­ing to hang up now.”


Wait? That wasn’t in the script. Blame Sur­face 21, or the mar­ti­nis. Not Pi­geon. Noth­ing go­ing on in Gi­na was Pigeon’s fault.

Dixon said, “I un­der­stand that your com­pa­ny gives you a script, and you have to fol­low it. That’s how all of this works.”

It’s not my com­pa­ny, is what Gi­na thought, I’m mere­ly one of their flesh-bots. What she said was, “The rea­son for the script is to make sure we cov­er all the nec­es­sary information.”

“No, it’s not.”

“What do you mean?”

“The rea­son for the script is mar­ket re­search. It’s what you peo­ple think will be ef­fec­tive. Just out of cu­rios­i­ty, where do you work?”

“We op­er­ate out of Cincin­nati. Why?”

“I spent a long week­end there once. This was years ago. I re­mem­ber it snowed hard, and I got lost down­town. They record all your calls, don’t they?”

“For train­ing pur­pos­es, and for qual­i­ty control.”

Al­so, she did not add, just in case Bill felt like mess­ing with her. Mess­ing with her was his idea of a great day at the office.

The kick­er was, Gi­na was good at her job. Damn good. Some­times man­age­ment used her calls to train new hires. Lis­ten up, peo­ple. This is how it’s done. She was a top-tier performer. 

Speak­ing of per­for­mance, here was an­oth­er ques­tion: how come she could not bring down what she owed on the plas­tic be­low $14,000? Shoes were not the whole an­swer, they couldn’t be.

“If anybody’s lis­ten­ing,” said Am­brose Dixon, “I want them to know that peo­ple like me — I be­lieve there are lots of us around the coun­try — are turned off when some­one reads from a script over the tele­phone. If they want us to buy their va­ca­tion trips, they might con­sid­er al­low­ing the em­ploy­ees to have a reg­u­lar hu­man conversation.”

Was he dar­ing her? Nah. He was just be­ing him­self, an old guy who’d lost his wife and owned his home free and clear. No cred­it card debt for Mr. Am­brose Dixon, that was for sure.

“What did you say about my mother?”

“I’m sor­ry?”

“Be­fore. When we first start­ed talk­ing. You said some­thing about my mother.”

“Does she know what you do for a living?”

Now was the time to get back on script.

“I’d like to send you some lit­er­a­ture in the mail,” she told Dixon. “I think you’ll find it in­ter­est­ing, and hope­ful­ly a lit­tle ex­cit­ing, too. Let me just be sure we have your cor­rect address.”

She read the ad­dress that was on her screen.

Am­brose. The name was grow­ing on her.

“Shake­speare? Charles Dickens?”


“You said you were send­ing me literature.”

She def­i­nite­ly had a headache. It was def­i­nite­ly not go­ing away. She felt an in­tense long­ing to be some­body else, in an­oth­er place. We could die in Cincin­nati, that was one thing she re­mem­bered Pi­geon say­ing last night.

There was some­thing about the si­lence on the line when Am­brose stopped talk­ing. Mys­te­ri­ous was the word that came to Gi­na, but she was not en­tire­ly sure what she meant by it.

It was time to end the call. No­body who knew this job would es­ti­mate the chances of sell­ing Am­brose any of their prod­ucts above three per­cent. That was what top-tier per­form­ers learned ear­ly on. If the cus­tomer wasn’t buy­ing, you weren’t sell­ing. Move on. Every minute you spent not sell­ing was a minute robbed from your next prospect, who might be gold­en. Be­sides, if Bill hap­pened to be lis­ten­ing in — he did that fair­ly of­ten, some­times just for grins — he would be sali­vat­ing at the chance to rip her a new one.

It was not like she planned to stay with the com­pa­ny for­ev­er. The day she paid off her cred­it card debt she was out of there.

Fuck it.

“My moth­er thinks I do graph­ic design.”

“Of course,” said Ambrose.

It was not an in­sult. There was a hint of sym­pa­thy in the words. Not too much, not too little.

“No­body knows what I do for a liv­ing,” she ad­mit­ted to him. “Not my fam­i­ly, not even my friends.”

Pi­geon knew, of course, but what was the point of blurt­ing that out? Any­way Pi­geon had her own strange gig. She gave Brazil­ian wax jobs to rich ladies at a su­per ex­pen­sive spa. She be­lieved her­self to be an artist, and who was Gi­na to say she wasn’t? If women had had their pussies shaved back in the day, in the Old World, maybe Michelan­ge­lo would have been in­to it.

“I think we ought to hang up now,” said Ambrose.


“If they’re tap­ing this con­ver­sa­tion, it’s not go­ing to do you any good, is it?”


He was gone. Why in the world that would bring tears to her eyes, she had no frig­ging clue.

Be­cause he was the su­per­vi­sor, Bill had an of­fice with a door he could close and open and then close again to suit his man­age­r­i­al pur­pos­es. He had this thing he did, ex­act­ly like what you saw on cop shows, where the cap­tain stepped out in­to a room bustling with de­tec­tives and uni­formed po­lice­men and sketchy crim­i­nals, called somebody’s name in a hard voice, and then, “My of­fice. Now.”

Gina’s cu­bi­cle faced away from Bill’s of­fice — a mixed bless­ing — but when Am­brose hung up some­how she knew her su­per­vi­sor was open­ing his door, he was stand­ing in the thresh­old, he was open­ing his mouth to say it.

“In­fan­ti­no. My of­fice. Now.”

“Be there in a ‘sec,” she called back.

First, a quick text to Pi­geon. Promise me we won’t die in Cincin­nati. Then she wrote a few quick sen­tences on a piece of note pa­per. It was not re­al­ly a script, but it would work like one when she had her con­ver­sa­tion with Bill. When that was over, how­ev­er it came out, she was or­der­ing the blue Peruggios.

Filed under Fiction on January 5th, 2024

Care to Share?

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.