T H E__S E R V I C E__I N D U S T R Y:
(Note: As with all episodes of The Service Industry, this story is based on fact, with a certain amount of filling in -- creative reconstruction, if you will -- done in order to make the reading fun for you, the home reader. As always, the core of the story was witnessed last year and described on tape by a McSweeney's affiliate who was, at the time, quite close to the action. The tape was then brought to an AP sociology class at Lyndon Baines Johnson College Prep High School in Rantoul, Illinois. The students there took the information and, using a narrative corpse technique, imagined the scene. They had fun; they hope you will, too. Enjoy!)
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It is April, and the offices of Man: The Magazine for Men are buzzing in that particular way the offices of Man: The Magazine for Men buzz -- that is, very, very quietly. Amid all the activity -- chastened activity -- two editorial assistants, or assistant editors, or assistant editorial associates, One and Two, confer in the conference room, which is oval. The walls of the conference room are plastic, and are lit from behind, giving the room the look of a futuristic sort of conference room. A conference room of the future.
Yet no matter how futuristic the setting, it cannot disguise the fact that One and Two have on their hands an old-fashioned problem.
"So there aren't any good ones?" says One.
"No, it's not that," says Two.
"What, are they all negative?" says One.
"No, it's not that either."
"What is it then?"
"Well... there just aren't any."
"What do you mean?"
"There. Aren't. Any."
"There aren't any at all?"
"Well, there's a few."
"Like how many?"
"It's pretty bad."
"C'mon, how many?"
"Four? Four what? Four thousand?"
"Four? We got only four letters last month? Four?"
"And two were from prisoners."
"Good penmanship, though. Both of them, wonderful line, beautiful curves--"
"Wait. You're saying that last month we printed a million and a half copies of Man, sent about six hundred thousand to subscribers, put three-quarters of a million on the newsstand..."
"And you're saying that-"
"Wait. Are we doing the thing where the author conveys all the background or offstage information in dialogue form? Like, 'You say you're at the train station? That you're leaving me? That you're fed up with me and all the attention I pay to the Laotian housekeeper' -- that sort of thing, for the benefit of the viewing audience?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Fine. Go on."
"So the magazine was read by, looked at -- at the very least glanced at -- by something like three-quarters of a million people..."
"That we spent millions of dollars on overhead and staff and production and publicity and printing and shipping..."
"That, all told, hundreds of people worked on it in one capacity or another, hundreds of thousands of hours were spent, writers and photographers flung all over the country and world..."
"And that after all that labor and money and inspiration and effort, only four people felt compelled to say anythi -- we really only got four letters?"
"Yeah. And one was from my mom."
"What’d she say?"
"She liked the piece where we outed the actor who might be gay. She hates gay guys."
"Especially when they don’t tell us that they're gay."
"That's the worst, when we know they're gay -- when they kinda seem gay, and the roles they play make 'em all suspicious-like, but they still won’t admit it."
"Yeah, that's so annoying."
"But that's gay guys for you."
"Yep. Gay guys. All sneaky-like."
"Anyway. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I gotta put the page together this week, and I've only got one usable letter."
"Any left over from last month?"
"Two. Already using them. I still need three more."
"What about the month before?"
"Using one of those, too. And one from August."
"August of 1992."
"Jesus. So what are you going to do? Do you have any other relatives that read the magazine?"
"No, just Mom."
"You could always write the letters your--"
"No, no, I don’t think so."
"It's an option, you know."
"I know, I just would feel funny..."
"It's weird, you know? We run all this amazing stuff-"
"Like about how we want women to start wearing them pointy bras again..."
"And those sexy garter belts..."
"Yeah, and about what kinda famous women we like to watch on TV..."
"And how to deal with having a stupid loudmouth wife who's a big pain in the ass..."
"Yeah, and what a hassle it is having this wife, who's such a pain in the ass, and is, uh, loud and everything..."
"Yeah, and how much we want a violent death for that chick with the lips from 'Melrose Place'..."
"Yeah, and how much we wish we could shoot Jenny McCarthy with a custom-hand-tooled shotgun made in England ($1140.00)..."
"And how women are so hard to talk to..."
"And how we wish the girl would come onto us, just once..."
"Yeah. After all that, what do we get?"
"Silence like... like... a monk."
"Yeah, like one of those monks that doesn't talk."
"So what're you going to do?"
"Well, there's another idea floating around."
"To just kill the page. That's what John wants to do."
"Jesus. Kill the whole letters section? And put what in its place?"
"Apparently, James needs more room for that thing about buttons."
"What thing about buttons?"
"Well, he's spent the last month or so putting together this thing about buttons -- like, which buttons to buy, how much the best buttons cost, where to buy the best buttons..."
"And he needs more space?"
"Yeah, right now it's at six pages, and he says he needs at least eight to do it right."
"Is it good?"
"Is what good?"
"The buttons spread."
"Yeah, it's pretty good."
"I could see that. He's pretty plugged in."
"I mean, people like buttons. Men like buttons."
"Especially men. And you know who reads Man: the Magazine for Men?"
"I knew that. Right. Men!"
"And you know what?"
"We got some real nice pictures."
"Of the buttons?"
"Yeah. Real nice."
"Do they look shiny?"
"Say, do we tell people how much the buttons cost?"
"We sure do."
"And where to buy the buttons?"
"Duh. We even print 1-800 numbers, right under the buttons."
"Right under the buttons?"
"Right. Under. The buttons."
"And they're shiny, right?"
"The buttons. In the pictures. They're shiny?"
OTHER McSWEENEY'S STORIES:
The Service Industry (In no particular order):
The Service Industry, Part Two The Chronicles of Man: The Magazine for Men. Episode VIII: The Discovery of a New World.
The Service Industry, Part One The Story of Fanfare: The In-FlightMagazine of the Gulfstream Jet Set. Episode IV: Office Politics.
The Service Industry, Part Three The History of Her: The Magazine for Her. Episode VII: Monsters.
The Service Industry, Part Two The Chronicles of Man: The Magazine for Men. Episode IV: The Guttenberg Bible.
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Television By Brad Kloza
Recent Headlines Explained A Service to McSweeney's Readers, Part Two
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