by Walter Plotz
My Lovely Wife, My heart moves faster when you are near . . .
Love, some customer who just wasted $4.95.
That was the first card I wrote. I still can’t believe they printed it. It was 1987. My nametag said Alan Haxby, Assistant Greetings Technician. Despite only working at the Happy Bear Greeting Card Company for two years, I was the senior writer on the greetings staff. Happy Bear had such a high turnover rate, permanent nametags weren’t issued until two months of employment; most rookies didn’t even last one.
Happy Bear’s motto was “Touch Someone Today”—no kidding. They had it written everywhere, even inside the envelope building where crackheads and work-release pedophiles packed boxes of folded paper for minimum wage.
The bigwigs upstairs constantly littered our mailboxes with memos saying how important it was to stay innovative and competitive in today’s growing market. Sure we had what were called “classics,” perennial cards with one-size-fits-all greetings like “Congratulations Graduate!” or “To Someone Special: Happy Birthday!” But they always wanted new cards to hit the market. Cards with fancy new letterings and fonts, cards with brand new greetings, cards attached to teddy bears, cards that played songs when opened, 3-D cards with layered paperboard.
“Huh, what’s up Will?”
“Is it safe?” Will whispered. He stood on his tip-toes to look over the cubicle walls, in case someone was within earshot.
“I don’t think anyone’s around,” I said.
“I got that new design for A.B. Just wanted you to okay it.”
“It’s in my car—I’ll give it to you at lunch break.” Will worked in the graphic design department. “See ya later, I gotta go touch someone,” he said.
It began as a joke; I was already sickened by my second Valentine’s Day on the job. Working on modifications of the classic Wishing You the Best greeting, in frustration I wrote Wishing You the Best Body-Bag Money Can Buy and drew a crude headstone underneath. It was a stupid joke to me, something to get me through the day, but then Will saw it on my desk. “Hey, that’s pretty good, Alan,” he had said. “You know, they really should sell cards like this.”
That was the origin of Angry Bear, an unofficial subsidiary of Happy Bear I accidentally started last March. It was too risky to say Angry Bear out loud, so we said A.B. instead. Will and I were the first on board, which isn’t too surprising. We were friends long before working there; in fact I helped him get his job with Happy Bear, rescuing him from working double-shifts at Burger King to pay off his student loans. He started to work on a secret portfolio of different Angry Bear graphics to use, some of which looked like the stuff he was always drawing in his high school notebooks instead of taking notes. I knew he had an eye to create any design we would need.
To make A.B. work, Will and I needed to round up personnel from key departments of Happy Bear. There were so many jaded people stomping around, slamming doors, and kicking the flimsy cubicle walls, that we had a four-person team by the end of the week. I had met one guy named Gary in the cafeteria—he complained about working there every time I sat next to him. I wasn’t shocked when he agreed to help.
We recruited Gary in printing and packaging and his brother Tony in the paper department. Happy Bear had recently switched to a new supplier with a stronger, heavier paper. Tony had access to the old, thinner paper, a whole room full with forgotten dusty stacks of it. He could also set the knives on one of the machines to cut at a sharper angle than normal. Tony assured us that a sharper, thinner cut on our cards made paper-cuts more likely. Our cards had bite.
Angry Bear printed its first batch of cards two weeks later. We ran my body-bag card as well as a new one. On the cover: a guy sleeping in a spacious bed with an empty spot of ruffled sheets next to him. It read, “The bed was too empty without you here…” The inside opened to a picture of the bed with a naked couple under the sheets. “…so I filled it with her.” The female looked like Will’s ex-girlfriend from high school.
Gary found an outgoing order to a nearby stationary store. He wrote FREE SAMPLES on the two boxes and threw them on the truck with the Happy Bear order while I distracted the driver by endlessly ranting about last Sunday’s Giants game. We never printed Angry Bear anywhere, not on the boxes, not on the back of the cards. The only reason I liked coming to work anymore was bundled in those precious boxes. It felt like a ton of sweat was dripping off my body until that truck finally drove away.
There were letters in everyone’s mailboxes the next Monday morning. “It has become apparent to management that unauthorized materials were mixed with a recent outgoing order. We will be monitoring all subsequent shipments and any personnel found guilty of unauthorized manipulation of any orders will be immediately terminated.” We held an emergency meeting after work in a nearby bar.
“So we all got the note,” I said, “now what?”
“I don’t like it,” Tony said, “we’re gonna get caught.”
“No we’re not,” Gary said.
“What do you mean?” Will asked.
Gary smiled. “They gave me a different note: Dear Mr. McMillan, blah, blah, blah, unauthorized materials, blah, blah, blah, you will now be monitoring all subsequent shipments and reporting any suspicious activity regarding outgoing orders.”
“They put you in charge of it? That’s perfect,” I said.
“You think one of them is gonna risk getting ink and grease on their suit everyday? They trust me with this but still don’t give me a raise…dicks.”
“So we can keep going?” Will asked.
“Yeah,” Gary answered, “but we gotta be careful. I thought about it all day. I’ll print them during the week at night after everyone’s gone. On Thursdays, when I have off, you guys will have to be down there to get them on the truck. I never see anything, I never report anything.”
The next day Will and I started a new card. Thinking of you…under my car. I asked him to make an image of a dead body with the legs sticking out from under a Cadillac. I wanted to have it printed, packed, and ready for delivery, along with the previous cards we made, by the next week.
On Thursday we were ready to go. Gary was off as planned; Will and I went down to the loading dock before the truck was scheduled to leave. There was a Happy Bear order going to a drugstore. Gary had left our two boxes waiting on top of the order; Will grabbed a marker and wrote FREE SAMPLES all over them.
“Why don’t you go get lunch,” I said, “I’ll hang around and make sure it’s alright.”
“Okay, see ya later.”
I watched the truck get loaded and waited for the driver to return from the cafeteria. After the truck left I walked down the hallway toward the elevator.
“Mr. Haxby,” a voice spoke from behind me.
“Mr. Haxby, what were you just doing by the unloading dock?”
“What?” I knew this guy was one of the administrators from the top floor. “Nothing. Smoking a cigarette in the doorway. It’s a little chilly outside.”
“Don’t lie to me Mr. Haxby. We are well aware of recent events, and now we know you are aware of them too.”
“Don’t bother, Mr. Haxby, you have five minutes to clean out your desk. Security will be waiting to see you out. You’re done here.”
That was my last day at Happy Bear. I met Will after hours in the bar as we already planned.
“I can’t believe they fired you,” Will said.
“Yeah, me neither,” I answered. “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure they think it was just me. He didn’t mention anyone else.”
“So A.B.’s finished?”
“Yeah,” I said. We raised our glasses one last time for Angry Bear.
Two weeks later, as I was eating soggy cereal, thumbing through want ads and watching “The $25,000 Pyramid” with Dick Clark, there was a knock on my door.
“Will, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“I am, kinda. They sent me to find you.”
“Happy Bear. They want you back.”
“Bullshit,” I said as he walked past me.
“No, really. They want us to make Angry Bear cards.”
I closed the door. “Stop messing with me; it’s too early.”
“That last store we shipped to must have sold out or something ‘cause the owner called the front office yesterday asking for more.” He opened the fridge and poured himself a glass of orange juice. “Get dressed; we have work to do. I already talked to Gary and Tony—they’re in. Here’s your new nametag.”
Will threw the nametag on the kitchen table. It read: Alan Haxby, Senior Management, Grumpy Bear Division.
Mr. Plotz’s biography, in his own words: At seventeen I dropped out of high school, and began reading whatever I wanted on my own, more than I ever did in school. Mostly Vonnegut or Orwellian classics, but the list kept growing, and suddenly I found myself writing as often as I was reading. Currently, I am pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English at Stony Brook University, where I have expanded my writing into the field of journalism as a Staff Writer for the Stony Brook Statesman.