Friday, December 31, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: A Man Undermined

Paul Sawyer, real name Saul Sauerberg, pushed through the door and walked deliberately to Gerome’s desk. He put up his hands sideways like a field goal post. The gesture probably meant something else to him.

“I assume you’ve seen the piece,” Paul said through the uprights.

“I assume everyone on this floor has seen it.” Gerome folded his gnarled, brown hands. “I got it as an e-mail attachment, and I barely know how to open those.”

Paul got to pacing, shutting the door like an afterthought on his circuit between the window and his managing editor’s wall of plaques. He paced like this before shows. It was how he warmed up. “I assume you’ve seen it because you summoned me here. But I would have come anyway. I was on my way here when you were calling to have me come in. You were the first person who came to mind when I read the piece.”

“I’d think of the writer. If a pretty lady didn’t like me as succinctly as she didn’t like you, I’d think about her before any wrinkly black men. Now I want you to verify this for me. Is she right? Did you use methamphetamines last year, while under contract?”

“The gall. The bile. The various mythical juices this woman must possess to quote me out of context, and try to paint me as some junky riding a corporate account.” He broke his pacing to wave four fingers and a thumb. “I will have you know that at least five of the quotes in this piece are entirely fabricated.”

“Was the one about meth entirely fabricated?”

The pacing resumed. “She wanted an angle. I mean, why interview a sports journalist? Newsmakers make bad stories. It’s incestuous. It’s masturbatory. I only did it because Kendal said it’d draw more attention. Get me out there, get new eyes. Eyes always help. But it’s clear she only asked so that she could claim things about me. Unsubstantiated things that could damage my career if people in this company take them out of context.”

“You’re saying you used meth out of context?”

“I’m saying that she did not take a single sentence from my mouth and put it where it belonged, and I’m frankly insulted that this company would believe this borderline hearsay, this transparent case of libel, before even consulting me.”

“I’m sorry. Were you expecting the network heads to meet you in my office?” Gerome put a palm on his desk, as though affirming it was tangible and not an illusion. “I am consulting you. You’re facing me and we’re exchanging words in our shared language. What I think is our shared language.”

“This company should have more faith in me. I could have jumped two years ago. I could have jumped last year. I could have gone to NBC Sports. I could be Keith Olbermann right now. But I stuck with the girl who brought me to the dance. Do you know I’ll have been here five years this March?”

“Five years.” Gerome shook his head. “If it’s relevant, I’ve given twenty-three and I have no idea when my anniversary is. I say ‘if it’s relevant’ because I’m older and I know in your position it looks like I’ve had more years to hand out to corporations. But I’d like you to answer if you smoked pot.”

“I know you’ve worked here twenty-three years. Look at those awards.” Paul tapped one, and the noise it made disturbed him. He only gestured to the others. “You’ve earned them all for this company. I respect that, I respect the work. That’s why I’m coming to you.”

“You’re coming to me because I summoned you, and possibly because I can fire you.”

“Out of admiration for all your work in journalistic integrity. Because reason matters to you. Reason, ethics and journalistic integrity. You’re not going to let someone oust me from a position I put my heart into just so she can get more hits on her blog. You, of everyone in this building, will understand a man undermined.”

“Paul, in 1996 I was aggressively addicted to cocaine.”

Paul stopped pacing.

“I spent more than your current salary on it, and twice did lines of it off the backside of a Forbes 400 CEO. If you want to narrow it down, it was one of the female CEOs. My wife and children have forgiven me and I’ve undergone treatment in secret, but I actually still crave to this day, in the adjacent century. It took someone very powerful and patient to save my life. I’m telling you this because you’re making me crave it right now. Also because I think if I tell you this, you will answer me: at any time during your contract with the company we both work for but do not value more than the livelihood of a good man, did you use illicit substances?”

Paul sat. He smoothed out his pants aggressively. At some point the creases had gone uneven and needed pinching.


“Okay. Now we can talk.”


  1. Excellent job this week, John. I love his rant and talking in circles. It felt real, like I was a fly on the wall.

    There were so many great lines in this one:
    "The various mythical juices this woman must possess to quote me out of context"

    "I could be Keith Olbermann right now"

    And my favorite:
    "You're saying you used meth out of context?" <--- This is one of the funniest lines of 2010.

    big smiley face

  2. The dialogue worked and the whole meth thing was very nice. I agree with Dani on that one.

    The admission at the end really was unexpected for me, but I liked it. There was compassion in it.

    Subtle religious overtones. Salvation, Saul now named Paul. Did Jesus just do coke and I missed it?

  3. Very nicely done John. I really liked Gerome's calm, cool command.

  4. Oh, I just wanted to smack that guy - doesn't it just drive you crazy when people talk in circles? When he leaves sportscasting he has a career in politics.
    I'm with Danielle on all her points - very funny lines, very smooth, and well done.

  5. Nice one John, I love the way this guy will use many words without actually answering the direct question, and the sharp humour gave me a few giggles.

  6. Great story! The dialog really sang, and it read like a real conversation; how many people finding themselves in trouble will talk in circles like him? And that last line proves this one is just the prologue, at least for them.

  7. Such realistic dialogue John, it makes me wonder if You weren't a fly on the wall here. I love how you make us loathe Paul, yet somehow feel sorry for him too, (or maybe that's just me). :)

    Great work!

  8. I loved the way the guy was dancing around the truth, trying to use every trick to avoid facing up to it. Very true to life.

  9. Loved Paul's boss ... wise man, not fooled by Paul's logorrhea for one second. Some great, sharp writing here. Good stuff.

  10. Happy New Years to you all!

    Danni, so "I could be Keith Olbermann right now" cracked you up? That's a victory all in itself. Glad I got away with my egregious 848 words.

    Julio, after I realized he'd changed his name, the opportunity to use Paul/Saul was too tempting. I'm a sucker for puns and references.

    Harry, one hopes he doesn't have to exercise it like this too often.

    Cathy, did you want to smack Paul in the end?

    Steve, Eric, Deanna and Tony, I've never had a conversation about meth, but I've certainly had to live Gerome's side of things in rant-versations a lot. They control the dialogue and refuse to acknowledge what it's about. It gets very annoying. Glad I could touch it for you folks (and not force you to live it).

    Janet, he's definitely my favorite character that I've written in a while. Thanks!

  11. Loved the way he kept trying to shift the conversation. Not sure I would have had his boss's patience in dealing with him, even if I was trying to help. (I have a low tolerance for bullshit LOL) Good job :)

  12. Agree with Dani. Dialogue is brilliant.

  13. Enjoyed the conflict that is thick through this dialogue. Enjoyed how it morphed from Meth to pot; and how Paul's concerns different from his editor's.

  14. Very well written John. I liked your use of Paul/Saul and also the similar sounding surnames.
    His attempts to deflect the question were typical and annoying! I think we've all come across someone like that at some point.

    Good voices, very apt!

    (Happy New Year!)

  15. Gerome is the type of boss we all need: one who's been there, who understands and has touch of grace. A well-written piece, Jon.

  16. I love the fact that he rambles on in order to avoid answering the question, and only the confession can shock him into some kind of sense. Very well-written.

  17. Seleste, I think any of our nerves can get frayed. Gerome's level of patience is pretty rare in or out of fiction.

    David and Aidan, thank you both! Glad the conflict worked for you.

    Sudan, the surname switch comes from Jews I've actually known who changed to sound less Jewish but retained a similarity to the original name for themselves. Glad his annoying voice didn't turn you off entirely.

    Stephen, thank you kindly for the feedback. I'd also be a little more comfortable answering to Gerome.

  18. Harding hit dialogue. Feels very real.

  19. I definitely got the reference to changing ones name to sound less Jewish, especially in show biz. That really worked for me right off the bat.

    I agree, after broadcasting he should run for office. Dialogue spoken like a true politician. You pulled this off perfectly. And oh, that craving...

  20. You got this guy's voice just right John. Each reply an attempt to distract by appealing to his boss's vanity. It was clear to me (and to Gerome, I'm sure) that by the second avoidance, what the answer must be. The rest was the dance. And what a skilled dance it was. Great work my friend.

    BTW, I appreciate the honesty of your commend on my latest. I threw it out before it was ready because I was feeling so fridayflash tardy. Cheers mate.

  21. I like the way you highlight that people in trouble rarely remember that anyone else might have done the same things at some point. It's like children not believing their parents ever had(have) a life of sin. I felt that I was in the office, pacing and talking, talking. Good stuff John.

  22. You are really a master at writing dialog, John. I love the way this guy was essentially trying to shadowbox around the truth. Some nice dodges and weaves until the ending.

  23. Great conversation between the characters. Very true to life. A great read.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  24. Intense. Gerome is such a cool character, and I was actually proud of Paul when he finally owned up at the end. "the company we both work for but do not value more than the livelihood of a good man" is a fantastically gentle slap in the face to bring Paul to his senses, and I loved the last two lines.


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