Poster: Hank @ Fri Jul 24, 2009 11:25 pm
“Names and Naming”
On a brilliant, natural morning in the spring, Hape Shapley set down his enormous green coffee cup, languidly browsed his email, and checked his calendar. Today’s regimen of tasks, uncharacteristically, held one that promised a glimmer of amusement.
The job at hand was to successfully woo the franchisee of three Sports Authority retail establishments; this sort of thing was totally usual. The spark of fun flickered behind the name of Hape’s quarry : Danny U. Dracula. Well, Hape thought, I’ve closed deals with bloodsuckers before. At least Danny’s upfront about it.
Hape pulled his Toyota into the parking lot and parked in the barely-crooked fashion that he had subconsciously perfected. The sky was a Martian azure as he stepped out to survey the terrain and push the button on his keyless lock device until it beeped. The Sports Authority location where he was to meet Dracula was in a cement vega of a high-falutin’ strip mall, and Hape could feel the heat that the structural columns radiated as he passed them. The cruelly-designed parking lot was brimful of Infinitis, Land Rovers, and other symbols of middle-class prosperity, though, so Hape felt that this meeting would not be a complete waste.
Now, Hape thought, what sort of guy calls himself Danny U. Dracula? As he strode businesslike toward the gargantuan glass doors, he boiled the probabilities down to three, ranked by likelihood:
1) This man is some stripe of mutant jock-goth goofball with enough money, charisma, or brutality to maintain a business
2) This man is a normal and successful person of Eastern European extraction. Hape wondered what the accent would sound like –Romanian? Czech? He struggled to hear the sounds in his head. He chased away invading images of Gary Oldman in purple shades only to have them replaced by a shaveling Klaus Kinski. Presumably, such a fellow would be aware of the strangeness of his name and use some kind of alterative pronunciation to keep the chuckles at bay.
3) This man is called Dulraca, or Drakler, or perhaps Gacula, and Hape’s assistant Kim Deely had puckishly typoed the name.
It was ten-thirty-four by Hape’s Timex when he first grasped the hand of Danny U. Dracula. The walk across the store had given Hape just enough time to develop a wrenching curiosity regarding the man’s name. Had he thought it through, however, he would have realized that the instant camaraderie of modern business etiquette had made moot this question.
“Danny? Hape. Pleased to meet you; how you doing?”
“Great to meet you, Hape –- wanna have a look around?”
No! First of all, Hape had been inside three dozen Sports Authorities within the past two years – he didn’t need to have a look around. Second, what about the name? The name! Now that the initial confrontation had been completed, would there even be another opportunity to speak Danny’s last name? Dracula, for his part, did not seem likely to volunteer. Now, so far, the evidence was pointing to possibility number 3), as Danny had zero sartorial matches for “goth” and no discernable accent, and features that looked more Gallic than anything. Hape had little hope now but to make Danny sign the contract compelling him to buy 670 total units from Head’s putatively-groundbreaking “FlexTelligence E” product line plus the full apparel complement. Then, he could at least see the name properly spelled out and, if he could muster the pluck, Hape would inquire about it should it turn out to be the real vampiric deal.
As Danny led Hape around the store, Hape noticed that as usual, most of the store’s patrons looked like they hadn’t played sports in quite a while. It seemed to be a nearly universal phenomenon : these big athletic chains attract dilettantes who will buy the most costly gear and have it gather dust in their closet, or, in the case of high-tech clothing, will wear it to any occasion save that for which it was designed. Folks who are serious about a sport, Hape found, would usually seek out a small specialty store like Runner’s Galaxy or Lacrosse Barn, where the employees tended to give something resembling a hoot about the sport in question, and the owner was often on premises. Hape himself looked to Advantage when he needed to get himself re-shod (which, for a notorious toe-dragger like him, was at least six times yearly). However, it was much better for Hape to sell to the bigger chains like Sports Authority, as the corporate buyers tended to be less discriminating (they only cared about the bottom line, not about a somewhat negative performance review they’d read online) and the customers at the stores were much more likely to buy high-end items with frequency – it was a known fact that Escalade-pushing neophytes buy the most expensive gear possible, with the hope that it’ll improve their play and give them something to talk about with their buddies (“What stick you got there, Bill?... Oh, the Frightanium 6? I heard that’s a real cannon – let me give it a whack?”).
Hape wasn’t really listening to Danny as the latter prattled on about which lines had been moving for him, overall foot traffic versus sales volume, the primacy of his location, and other banal details. Hape was instead looking at the girls in the store, taking inventory of the local stock. Hape had decided a few days ago that he was going to seek for himself a steady girlfriend.
Danny managed to snap Hape out of his lecherous reverie with a brisk
“Hey! You hungry? Let’s go over to Hattie’s and get down to brass tacks.”
Hape hated that expression, but he was indeed hungry. Hattie’s was a standard-issue 1950s-themed diner, awash in chrome and tufted vinyl. The two padded over there, sweating slightly in the morning sun.
Settled into a cavernous booth, Hape perused the sticky menu. Standard fare : burgers, shakes…. He came across a club sandwich that sounded good, and decided to order it sans fries. The placed their order with the perky, tattooed waitron and descended to the alloy fasteners.
“Hape, I gotta be straight with you. The Head stuff just isn’t moving like it used to. Last cycle, the Wilson product was outselling you guys almost two to one.”
“That’s interesting; nationally, we’re seeing the reverse trend,” Hape fibbed. “Think that display placement could be a factor?” Hape was already thrashing in the waves. Maybe this guy was in fact a vampire.
“You’re joking, right? Your stuff is right in there with everybody else’s. I think that what we’re really looking at is that Wilson has better endorsements, better graphics, and better advertising. It seems to me that since Agassi retired, you guys have been , ah, scrambling to connect with the consumer.”
“I don’t know if that’s true,” Hape hemmed (he’d had to filed this question before, but for some reason felt a lot of pressure now). “What about the Rotundi endorsement? Greaper? Sarkozi? These guys are huge with the kids. And the new stuff we’re gonna give you…”
“And look at what’s happening with Babolat and Yonex – they’re both strong in the consumer market now, not like years ago. It’s not just between you, Wilson, and Prince anymore. The kids are seeing that big guys play these funny rackets, and they’ll pay for that. And there’s something else.”
“What’s that?” Hape hated it when these goons did their homework.
“You’re not supposed to know this, but Nike is going to make a big push into tennis hardware next quarter. I’ve seen the product. It’s good. And they’re going to get Greaper away from you guys.”
This sounded like rubbish to Hape. “We’ll see about that. We’ve known about their goals for months – they haven’t got a candle to hold against our technology, racket-wise. Maybe in clothing, which is traditionally more their domain.”
“Maybe. But if they do to tennis like they did to golf, some people are going to get squeezed out. They have R+D up the wazoo, and enough ad sense to really exploit the brand…”
“Well, Head will worry about Nike when something really starts happening – right now, it’s all vapor, and like I said, our new stuff is going to blow everybody else away. Look at what we’ve got going on.”
Hape cracked open his portfolio to reveal a sleek laptop, which he opened to Danny’s dismay and started the presentation. This was his ace in the hole. He’d helped put this thing together, and it not only briskly revealed the technological superiority of the FlexTelligence E line, but broke the news that Head had bought no less than three super-high-profile endorsers away from rivals : Gil Fisher, Ainsley Chong, and the apparently unbeatable Ricky Phil Stiller. Stiller was widely expected to sweep the Grand Slam this year on the strength of his terrifying serve and shrewdly evil baseline play. It was commonly speculated that his endorsement of the “Claymore” model racket had been the only thing keeping the Prince corporation alive.
The presentation video was fast-paced, well-produced, and hard-hitting, saving the Stiller endorsement for last and introducing a flashy new model co-designed with Stiller – the “Big Brain”. That epithet was one commonly applied to Stiller early in his career, when his primary method of winning matches was making fools out of aggressive opponents by exploiting their positions with his surgical shots from the baseline. Since, he had developed a high-velocity first service to match his better opponents, but the name stuck. Hape could never shake a vague unease with this title and Head’s adoption thereof, however – he felt that it was mildly anti-Jewish. There were plenty of cerebral players out there – wasn’t this sobriquet a way to shove Stiller into that old “Jews are smart but lack brawn” box?
Danny, who generally loathed presentations, found himself quite engaged by this one, and the news of new endorsements softened his heart a bit toward Head. Hape, who was watching Dracula’s face like a poker player throughout the presentation, began to notice the details of Danny’s appearance. His close-cropped blond hair amplified his ruddy complexion to an almost alarming degree, and his left ear had no lobe to speak of. The faint shininess of skin around his neck suggested corrected scarring and made Hape suspect that Danny had been in a bad auto or industrial accident. His white Ping golf shirt was pressed, but had a small red stain on the left shoulder blade that Hape surmised Danny had missed, given the meticulous condition of Danny’s Nikes and the impeccably creased pleated khakis he sported. Hape imagined how the stain might have gotten there unnoticed : did the offspring of Dracula sneak up with a Crayola marker? Unintentional dribble of Kool-Aid from a hoisted toddler’s lip? Shirt taken from irregular stock? Hape realized with a twinge of regret that he would never know the answer.
In the end, Hape’s presentation won Danny over. After some price haggling (Hape, as was his wont, budged only two percent, saying that “cost is through the roof on carbon fiber”), it was agreed that Danny’s Sports Authorities would carry the presented Head product, minus most of the apparel, which Hape conceded after Danny showed him a spreadsheet indicating that 70% of the previous year’s line had been sold at clearance prices due to lack of demand. Hape printed out the contract that they had edited together on Hape’s computer, and Danny signed it. Danny had made no correction to his name before printing. Hape had to know :
“Thanks, Danny; we really appreciate it. How’s your last name pronounced?”
Danny fixed Hape with the look that women give to people who ask if they’re pregnant when they’re not :
“It’s ‘Dracula.’ Like the vampire.”
And that was that. Hape could tell that he had best ask no more.
Hape had teetered a little during his encounter with Dracula, and he knew it. That kind of psychological stutter is the kind that breaks deals. Danny had really clocked Hape with no problem, and here was Hape, driving down the road tormenting himself with the mysteries of Dracula. As Hape dwelled on the meeting, his thirst for details took a firmer hold. What was the deal with the earlobe? The stained shirt? How much of that -
-= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
When Hape was twenty-three, he quit his marketing internship at Scoop Systems to go explore the rough-cut northern towns of Arizona and see if there was any significant tennis-industry jobs out there. The hot buzz of Cake City had grown wearisome to Hape during his last few months of school and he wanted to know whether the vague romantic notions of the reduced-instruction West might be reflected in these parts of his home state.
He checked his bank balance ($3,089.04), packed his rackets along several days’ worth of casual and athletic clothes along with his one good suit into his fairly beat-up Rav4, and motored on up the I-10 toward Flagstaff. He had scoped out a few likely targets and identified some worthless backwaters to be avoided. He’d start in Prescott and work his way up toward Payson until he either found something worth doing or gave up.
In Cottonwood, he found a small quasi-resort hotel with a tennis court on premises. He decided to check it out. It turned out that the hotel didn’t have a tennis pro and was considering bringing one on. Hape knew in his heart that he was far from pro material, but a deep geographical prejudice planted in his mind the idea that these faux-cowpokes might not be able to tell the difference. In a spurt of risk, he offered his services, and the recreation director, a trim blonde called Amy Grumman, agreed. The pay negotiated was meager, but this was a chance for Hape to see how far his knowledge and bravado could take him.
Hape needed to find lodging.