Selling the General
Dolly’s first big idea was the hat. She picked teal blue, fuzzy, with flaps that came down over the general’s large dried-apricot ears. The ears were unsightly, Dolly thought, and best covered up.
When she saw the general’s picture in the Times a few days later, she almost choked on her poached egg: he looked like a baby, a big sick baby with a giant mustache and a double chin. The headline couldn’t have been worse:
GENERAL B.’s ODD HEADGEAR SPURS CANCER RUMORS
LOCAL UNREST GROWS
Dolly bolted to her feet in her dingy kitchen and turned in a frantic circle, spilling tea on her bathrobe. She looked wildly at the general’s picture. And then she realized: the ties. They
hadn’t cut off the ties under the hat as she’d instructed, and a big fuzzy bow under the general’s double chin was disastrous. Dolly ran barefoot into her office/bedroom and began plowing through fax pages, trying to unearth the most recent sequence of numbers she was supposed to call to reach Arc, the general’s human relations captain. The general moved a lot to avoid assassination, but Arc was meticulous about faxing Dolly their updated contact information. These faxes usually came at around 3.00 a.m., waking Dolly and sometimes her daughter, Lulu. Dolly never mentioned the disruption; the general and his team were under the impression that she was the top publicist in New York, a woman whose fax machine would be in a corner office with a panoramic view of New York City (as indeed it had been
for many years), not ten inches away from the foldout sofa where she slept. Dolly could only attribute their misapprehension to some dated article that had drifted their way from Vanity Fair or InStyle or People, where Dolly had been written about and profiled under her then moniker: La Doll.
The first call from the general’s camp had come just in time; Dolly had hocked her last piece of jewelry. She was copyediting textbooks until 2.00 a.m., sleeping until five, and then providing polite phone chitchat to aspiring English speakers in Tokyo until it was time to wake Lulu and fix her breakfast. And all of that wasn’t nearly enough to keep Lulu in Miss Rutgers’ School for Girls. Often Dolly’s three allotted hours of sleep were spent in spasms of worry at the thought of the next monstrous tuition bill.
And then Arc had called. The general wanted an exclusive retainer. He wanted rehabilitation, American sympathy, an end to the CIA’s assassination attempts. If Qaddafi could do it, why not he? Dolly wondered seriously if overwork and lack of sleep were making her hallucinate, but she named a price. Arc began taking down her banking information. ‘The general presumed your fee would be higher,’ he said, and if Dolly had been able to speak at that moment she would have said, That’s my weekly retainer, hombre, not my monthly, or Hey, I haven’t given you the formula that lets you calculate the actual price, or That’s just for the two-week trial period when I decide whether I want to work with you. But Dolly couldn’t speak. She was weeping.
When the first installment appeared in her bank account, Dolly’s relief was so immense that it almost obliterated the tiny anxious muttering voice inside her: Your client is a genocidal dictator. Dolly had worked with shitheads before, God knew; if she didn’t take this job someone else would snap it up; being a publicist is about not judging your clients – these excuses were lined up in formation, ready for deployment should that small dissident voice pluck up its courage to speak with any volume. But lately, Dolly couldn’t even hear it.
Now, as she scuttled over her frayed Persian rug looking for the general’s most recent numbers, the phone rang. It was 6:00 a.m. Dolly lunged, praying Lulu’s sleep wouldn’t be disturbed.