First Chapter - Paddy & the Snooty Girl
Paddy was one of those chaps who were not good at anything. Met him first at high school where we had shared a desk, lunch and books. He was a 50-55 percenter in all subjects in spite of the persistent efforts of his optimistic parents who wanted a doctor in the family. Good idea, no doubt, saves medical bills and so forth, but aspiring tongue-inspectors require a massive memory while poor Paddy had none. Not total amnesia, but frightfully close to it. God knows how he even got his fifty percent. Cheated, most probably.
If he had had a talent he must have kept it well-hidden. He didn't enter debating contests, stayed clear of the annual drawing and painting competition, and shunned the school's variety programmes where he would have been forced to take part in a play or skit: Paddy was just a face in the class photograph. No sports, either. He wielded a half-hearted hockey stick. Never touched a ball, that stick, only tripped other people up or got tangled with other sticks on the field. But one skill he managed to acquire over the years: he could talk his way into the heart of any member of the softer sex.
I met him again, recently, twenty-four and taller, and handsome. Handsome! He looked like a movie star! I had given the distinguished looking gentleman leaning against the sports model a second look when I realized that that was no gentleman, but an old classmate. I tried to escape before it was too late, but it was too late.
"Hey, Pots!" he said and bounded up to my bike, the ‘Pots' bringing back the smell of broken chalks and smelly toilets to me along with a number of assorted memories of my heydays. No one had called me ‘Pots' for ages. I had had a largish nose in my teens, a proboscis that had grown faster than other organs of my bony frame and earned me the alias of ‘Potato nose', shortened by lazier jailmates to ‘Pots.' Mercifully.
"What's up, Doc?" I said, subjecting myself to his high-perfumed hug, "Whatchew doin'?"
"Me, bar inspector and beach tester. You?"
"Ad agency. Accounts."
"Hey, Good show, man! Lotsa trips, lotsa girls, potsa money, yeah?" he asked, clapping me on the back heartily.
"No, not account exe, Pads," I said, rubbing my back, "Accountant. Adding figures, tally . . ."
"But still eyeing some trademark gal, eh, hey? Checking out those figures, too?"
"What trademark girl?"
"Trademark gals, Potty. Those young trainees in ponytails and jeans who learn copyrights and stuff." I sighed.
"They are copywriters, idiot. And we don't have young writers in ponytails and jeans; we have one not-so-young bearded copywriter with a ponytail and one earring."
"I can't stand here yakking; got work to do," I said sternly, "I have to hand over a brief to a freelance designer whom I'm meeting in that there restaurant."
"What size?" he asked, chuckling, but I didn't follow his lousy joke.
"Mind if I come with you?" he asked, clutching my left cuff.
"Yes, I do." But he wrapped his arm around mine like a leech, if leeches have arms, and we crossed the street to enter the restaurant like an affectionate drunk and his designated propper-up, to meet the waiting designer, Anita.
This graphic artist, Anita, was a pretty twenty who looked down her shapely nose at anyone who wasn't into a creative activity. She looked down at us, managed it though she was seated and we were not. I hated this part of the job: handing over briefs to snooty freelancers. In a small agency, accountants were supposed to double over as office boys and do all the dirty work.
"Paddy. Anita," I said formally, took a chair and heaved my bulging briefcase on to the table. Paddy sat down to complete the triangle.
"Coffee for me, Paddy," I said. For the pleasure of my company, he could at least foot the bill. He beckoned to a passing waiter and first ordered two cups of the drug for the men.
"Anything for you, Anita?" he cooed, making that sound like a prelude to sweet nothings.
"Yeah, thanks, iced coffee," said Anita with a voice to match the temperature of the ordered coffee.
"Okay, cancel one hot coffee, make it two iced and one ordinary," Paddy said, pointing to me, the ordinary recipient of the ordinary cup.
"Why couldn't you email the brief? Measles got your comps?" asked the girl, raising one bow-like brow.
"Sorry," I said taking out the papers, "Termites. They have taken over the office. We are closed for repairs today. Well, here they are." I pushed the print-outs over. Paddy leaned over to make a combined study of the papers with her, but she quelled him with a look. As dirty as it gets. I shot one at him, for good measure.
"Confidential agency matter, Paddy," I said, giving him a third dose of those looks. They just kept riochetting off his thick skin.
"Curiosity kills," Anita said, stuffing the brief into her bag, "Where's the CD?" Now what did this tiresome wretch want?
"What CD?" "You don't expect me to key in the copy, do you?" she asked, sexy lips in an outraged pout, "It's about 500 words!"
This drew a guffaw from the amused Paddy.
"Here's the floppy I saved it in," I said, handing over my only copy of the stuff.
"Dinosaurs still walk the earth," she said, looking at the floppy with dramatic wonder. Didn't follow what she said, but it sounded like some insult. Must call it quits before I die of high bp. Leave the mad agency biz and work in some respectable joint where I don't get to meet freelancers. The coffee arrived, and I wished I had asked for a cold one like my companions. It was a sweaty day for a hot drink with a rude female and a clinging ghost of my boyhood.
"Cheers" said Paddy, heartily crashing his cup into mine. Biz over, the modern girl turned to my funny friend.
"I'm sorry I forgot your name, but what do you do?" Anita asked him, dipping into her drink.
"I do oils. Sometimes pastels," he said, eyes closed, fingers drawing swirls in the air in artistic accompaniment. "I love doing beaches." This caused a minor miracle to occur. An invisible sponge wiped the snootiness off the girl's face; delight and respect took its place. She stared at him like a tourist at the Taj Mahal. What she thought was an ugly duckling turned out to be the swan of the month. Paddy now opened his eyes and raised the glass once more to his gifted lips.
"Show you some of my stuff anytime," he said, eyes twin searchlights playing over her face, "Do you also paint?" This in an eager whisper, inches from her awed face. He had somehow managed to inch his chair closer to hers, when nobody was looking. I didn't know anything about his painting skills; I used to help him with diagrams at school; he was hopeless even in fingerpainting at crafts class, but now I was watching an old master at work. At this rate, he would have her eating out of his hand in minutes, I thought. Minutes later, I was proved right. He had ordered some chocolate cake and was popping chunks of it past the painted lips. The cynical designer had gone, leaving behind a giggling substitute. I decided to detach myself from this revolting scene. A chap can take only so much. I rose, but the pair didn't bat an eyelash in my direction.
I sped the old bike down the beach road, getting some fresh air on my way to the agency. Had to check how the termite-killers were getting on before I signed off for the crazy day.
A week after that I had to entertain a client, or account, as we ad-guys call them, at the bar of the hotel in which the chap had taken temporary residence. My instructions were to keep him entertained till Tolstoy, our client-service man brought the hastily done ads over. The big boss called me over to his den for parting instructions.
"The artwork isn't finished yet, it'll take an hour or more. You keep him in fluids till Tolly brings the presentation over."
"Sure, Boss." The termite fellows had used a foul smelling pesticide for their operations, a smell that threatened to stay in office for eternity, and this had forced members of the staff to go about their work with hankies over their noses. The boss gave me instructions through a mask of red and yellow checks. Mine was a decent white with a green stripe. Our crazy agency had taken on the looks of a gangster's den, thanks to termites.
"See that he doesn't suspect a thing," said the sinister gangleader, "I told him everything was finished but Tolly was not in station and had to get back. Now, finish your coffee and pop off." Our masked office-boy entered, and placed two plastic cups before us. I raised the lower half of my mask with my left hand as I drank from the cup in my right. Very inconvenient, it let the poisonous air in and the beverage seemed to taste of pesticide. As the boss was busy fiddling with his laptop, he didn't see me pour half my coffee into his cup. I rose, crushed my cup, shot it into his bin and left the room. I wanted to see how the rest of the hoodlums were doing.
"Hi, Tolly," I said, finding Tolstoy in his cubicle hiding behind a red mask with white spots, "Spotted you, ha, ha!"
"Hi!" he said, rising, "Let's go to the verandah. Less pollution." The verandah was our smoking zone, and Tolly promptly produced a pack. We proceeded to contribute our mite to air pollution. The verandah being open to the winds, we let down our masks, which lay like bandanas around our throats, a la boys of the Wild West.
"Is Arty busy at it?" I asked, referring to our temperamental art director. "No, you know how he is. Says he can work in Hell but not in a stinking sewage. Seems he can't give off his best in a mask. He mails scanned scribbles from his sweet smelling house and the boys finish it here."
"How's it going?"
"Honestly, dunno," he said, inhaling deep from the firestick, "You keep the old expletive entertained till I get there. We are counting on your people skills, if any."
"I joined here to be a decent accountant. Not to sing and expletive dance in an expletive bar," I shouted, shooting short bursts of smoke into his face like an angry dragon.
"Now, now. Don't make a song and dance about it," said Tolly, "Take it easy." He blew a smoke ring and added with the air of a Socrates, "Life's like that."
"Tholly Sir!" A hoodlum ran up to us waving feverish fins.
"What is it?" asked Tolly throwing the smoking butt down and grinding it beneath his iron heel, "What's up?" The eyes above the blue cotton widened in which emotion, I didn't know, not being able to see the mouth which usually completes the picture.
"Powersh goh," said the masked stranger. This was thick cotton, folded in four.
"Remove the expletive hanky, man!" said Tolly, "Can't hear an expletive thing!" The newcomer pu lled down the blue purdah, enabling me to drink in the distinguished features of the one and only Paddy.
"Power's gone," said Paddy, like one announcing the end of the world.
"Thank God for UPSes," said Tolly.
"The UPS doesn't work, Sir," said Paddy adding an unnecessary "Sorry." It was the end of the world. Spouting well-chosen expletives, Tolly dashed off to the comp room.
"Hey, old chum," said Paddy with a villainous grin, "We meet again."
"What are you doing here?" This was funny. My life though not exactly a happy one, was so far free from pests from the past. After ages, up pops Paddy and then does an encore in a week. This was not only funny, but ominous.
"All for Anita's sake, man. I had to get some arty employment fast. Told Anita I lost your office number and got it. Then applied here and got a job. You are speaking to Paddy the graphic-artist trainee."
"You simply applied and got yourself a job here?" I asked, remembering how I had to wait for a month before they decided to honour me with the accountant post.
"Your artists refused to work in this potty, Potty," he said, waving a hand in the direction of the comp room, where the ac retained the original intensity of the odour.
"Tolly took me on ‘cos he was shorthanded." The shorthanded sufferer came charging out towards me.
"You have to go to the hotel now, quick," he said, "Please."
"Fine," I said picking up my briefcase, "Bye. Bye, Paddy."
"Bye, Potty," said the unthinking troublemaker.
"Potty?" asked the reception girl as I passed the front door. Glancing back through the glass, I saw an informal group forming around Paddy who seemed ready to explain the origin of the cursed name and entertain my easily amused colleagues with stories of my juvenile years. Now my past would be an open jokebook.