Episode the Seventeenth: Little Dot and the Spiffyware Empire

By: Mr. E. S. Stranger

Having eliminated all of her unneeded things, Dot and her friends felt they could breathe again. Dot felt energetic; she wanted a project. She considered getting back into gardening, but a glance outside changed her mind. It was summer. The sun ferociously poured its wrath upon the land, and all life that dared endure its gaze withered. She would stay within the cool air-conditioned bubble of the house for a couple more months.

She tried all of her old interests, but nothing quite captured her attention. She reflected, while simultaneously winning a game of Monopoly, working a puzzle, and watching TV, that she needed a change.

She was looking through her to-do lists when inspiration struck. She had been meaning to acquire some new things her for her house for a while but didn’t have the time or the energy; now she had both. She still had her lists and old catalogs. Her companions watched with nervous anticipation as she pulled out her materials and set up her workstation, chart paper and all. When everything was set, she sat down at her computer and began to browse.

It quickly occurred to her that she’d get through ads a lot more quickly with help. Soon enough, Funny Bunny, Toona, and her frog were flipping through her collection of catalogs looking for ideas while she browsed the Internet.

“That looks like a very comfy couch,” Toona said from his place on the floor. He turned the page. “Oh, and that’s a comfy-looking chair. And that’s a cozy-looking daybed. That’s a comfy-looking sofa.”

Toona went on for a while, admiring all the furniture on which he might relax. Funny Bunny went over to see what Toona had found and dozed off resting against the bear’s fur while dreaming of soft chairs, beds, and couches. Frog piped up, then.

“What kind of shower curtains were you thinking of getting? Will they have other frogs? Exotic landscapes? Snakes? There won’t be snakes, right? I don’t really get along with snakes. Ducks are fine.”

Little Dot sighed. She wasn’t accomplishing anything. As she was about to close everything up and give up on this activity, an ad for Spiffyware caught her eye. She clicked on it. Her eyes brightened.

“This is it,” she said. “My next project. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.”

Funny Bunny stirred. “Do what?”

Dot turned around and paused briefly for dramatic effect. “I’m going to sell Spiffyware.”

Her friends were quiet for a moment. Funny Bunny raised his arm.

“Yes, Funny Bunny?” Dot asked.

Funny Bunny lowered his arm. “What do you need us to do?”

“I’ll need you all to attend my first party.”

“Oh” Funny Bunny said. Then he raised his arm again.

Dot nodded. “Yes, Funny Bunny?”

“What party?”

“My Spiffyware party. It’ll be fun. First I have to become a Spiffyware counselor. Then I buy a bunch of Spiffyware to show and a bunch of other party supplies, and you come and take a look at everything, and if you like something, you can purchase it.”

“Oh..ok,” Funny Bunny responded, and then his arm went up one more time.

“Yes, Funny Bunny?” said Little Dot.

“Umm…so, what if I have no money?”

“Well, I think you still have your retainer for legal services for D&Z, but don’t worry in any case. We’ll figure it out. Ok, let’s get started.”

Toona spoke, then, slowly. “Hmm? What? I think I dozed off for a bit there. What just happened?”

“We’re going to a party!” Funny Bunny replied.

“Oh. Cool,” Toona said, and he started to drift off again.

Dot turned back to her computer. “I’ll send out invites after I finish the online paperwork.”

Her friends waited expectantly at first, but when it became apparent the forms might take a while, they went about their business. Later that day, Dot stood up from her chair, beaming.

“Ok, everyone,” she said. Toona and Funny Bunny stopped their game of rock-paper-scissors, which had become contentious as neither could form any of those shapes, and Frog and Jimi paused their game of chess. “Ok,” Dot repeated. “I’m a Spiffyware counselor. I just sent you all e-vites for the party. It’s in a couple weeks.”

Toona heard a series of beeps nearby, and then suddenly Funny Bunny was tapping the screen of a phone about as big as him. Funny Bunny did one last tap with a flourish.

“Responded,” Funny Bunny said.

“Where’d you get that?” Toona asked.

“Company-provided. For my employment with D&Z.”

Toona looked over at Dot. “Why don’t I have one?”

There was another series of tones, then, and when Toona looked, Funny Bunny had another phone out. “Hey,” said Toona, “is that a different phone?”

“My second one,” Funny Bunny replied. “For personal use. Also company-provided.”

“I wish I had a phone,” Toona lamented.

“Don’t worry,” Funny Bunny reassured him. “After a while, I’m sure they’ll give you another one. Your first one, I mean.”

Frog called out. “Hey, do I have to bring anything?”

“Nope,” Dot said. “Just think about what Spiffyware can do for you.”

“Oh…ok,” Frog replied, and he started trying to imagine uses for Spiffyware.

“Ok,” Dot said, “that’s it, everyone. Thanks for your help. See you at the party. I need to order supplies, now, and make preparations. This room needs cleaned.”

Jimi took that as his cue to leave. Dot threw herself into preparations for the party: cleaning her room, ordering supplies, planning the presentation, rehearsing her sales pitch, gathering foodstuffs to entertain and to showcase her merchandise with, and decorating. Frog helped some with the decorating.

When her samples arrived, Dot tore the boxes open with excitement and set to removing the contents, oohing and aahing at each colorful piece. Her eyes shone with glee. Her companions gathered around the pile of supplies, trying to take it all in and make sense of it all.

“So…” Funny Bunny began, “what’s that?”

“What’s what?” Dot replied.

“Whatever you want to tell me about.”

“You’ll see at the party,” said Little Dot. “Don’t worry.”

Her frog looked around. “Can we have the party now?”

“No, silly. It’s scheduled for two days from now. These things have to be scheduled in advance.”

“Oh. They do?”

“Absolutely. You can’t expect your guests to just drop everything and come at a moment’s notice.”

“Oh,” said Frog, looking around at the others standing there. “I guess that makes sense.”

“Ok,” Dot said, looking at her friends, “who wants to help me organize and catalog these?”

“That’s my cue,” Jimi said, walking out. The others stayed and ended up helping her, though they had no idea what they were doing and needed constant instructions from Dot. At long last they succeeded in sorting, counting, and recording all of the various pieces. They were all tired that night.

The day of the party, Dot was full of excitement. Her eyes were especially bright, and she bustled quickly about. Toona and Funny Bunny got dizzy watching her. When everything was set up, Dot stopped, glanced at the clock, and looked nervously back and forth between her friends and the door.

“Hmm,” she mused. “We have a logistical problem. I’m supposed to greet you at the door. Do you suppose you could go out really quickly and then ring the doorbell?”

“Um…I’m allergic to the outdoors,” Toona reminded her.

“You won’t be out there long. I just want the full experience.”

“Ok,” Toona replied, and he and the others went outside. Dot closed the door. Through it she heard some discussion about how to ring the bell, which included something about standing on Toona’s head; then there were some muffled sounds of physical effort followed by more whispers and a sneeze; then there was a tiny tap at the door.

“I’ll get it!” Zoyla shouted from Dot’s room, and in a flash the buck-toothed fairy was there at the door, opening it to find Toona, Funny Bunny, and Frog all there, looking tired.

Toona gazed at the threshold and up at Dot. “Can we come inside now?”

“Come on in,” answered Dot. “Glad you could make it. Zoyla, when did you get here? Why didn’t you come to the door?”

“But I did—oh, you mean from outside,” Zoyla replied. “Just a moment.”

Zoyla went out, shutting the door behind her. The doorbell rang. Dot opened it, and Zoyla was standing there, smiling.

“Hey!” Zoyla said. “Thanks for inviting me. Oh, what a lovely home you have!”

She walked in. Dot shut the door. The others were all waiting for her.

“Alright, let’s get started,” she said. “Everything’s in my room.”

She led them through the house back to her room. Zoyla looked around at all the piles of Spiffyware lying here and there.

“Oh,” Zoyla said, appearing confused. “Is this the day we’re clearing out our junk? I thought we already did that.”

“These are supplies,” Dot said. “Didn’t you read the invite?”

“I mostly just saw the word ‘party.’ Supplies for what?”

“I’m selling Spiffyware!” Dot said, beaming.

Zoyla’s eyes went wide. “Oh! I’ve been trying to break into that market for a while. I’ve tried everything—hostile takeover, flooding the market with cheap generics, spreading rumors, manipulating politics in other countries where their factories are located—but nothing’s worked so far. And they’re not interested in becoming a subsidiary of D&Z Enterprises. How dd you break into their circle?”

“I applied online.”

“Oh. I guess that might work. So what happens now?”

“Well,” Dot started, looking around at all the stuff, “I show you some products, we eat some food, and if you like something, you buy it through me.”

Zoyla nodded slowly. “Huh. Ok, let’s try it.”

“Alright!” Dot said, and the party began. She demonstrated the latest line, from the ranch dressing bottle to the peanut butter spreader to the cantaloupe keeper—all, of course, in shades of off-magenta and urban jungle green, the official Spiffyware colors of the season. She impressed Frog with the fly keeper and Zoyla with an infinitely capacious tote bag that also sealed tight, had heating and cooling options, and could make suggestions about what its user might need from it.

“They really have thought of everything,” Zoyla said. “But what’s the cost?”

Dot got out the price sheet and showed it to Zoyla. “That’s if you buy it by itself.”

Zoyla’s eyes widened. “I’m not sure anybody needs anything that badly. And what’s with the color scheme? I thought they offered everything in royal purple.”

“You’re way behind the times,” Dot said. “Purple was discontinued two whole weeks ago. I can reduce the price for you, though. You get a discount if you sign up to be a Spiffyware counselor under me.”

“Uh…what kind of a discount?”

“Twenty-five percent.”

“I see. And what would that entail?”

“Being a counselor? You’d have to apply, and we’ll go ahead and schedule your first party.”

“So I’ve got to throw one of these?”

“It’s how you make money as a counselor,” Dot replied, “and it’s part of the process of becoming one. Just give it a try. It’s fun.”

“Ok, if you say so,” Zoyla said. “I do like the anvil case, too.”

“Why not just put your anvil in your bag?” Dot asked.

Zoyla stared at her gape-mouthed. “You really don’t get anvil dropping at all, do you?”

“No, I guess I don’t.”

“It’s okay. I don’t understand wanting to sell this stuff, but you seem into it. Sign me up.”

“Yes!” Dot said, and she got the paperwork. Zoyla ordered the tote, the anvil case, and a few other things she hadn’t realized she needed, and she signed up to become a Spiffyware counselor.

“Ok,” said Zoyla, “I guess I need to invite people to my party.”

She got out her phone and tapped the screen for a bit. They all heard a series of chimes emanating from near Funny Bunny, and then suddenly he had three phones in front of him.

“Hey,” said Toona, “where’d the third phone come from?”

“It came in the mail,” Funny Bunny said. “It’s the newest model. Probably my next upgrade.”

“Didn’t it say who it was for?” Toona asked.

“Umm…I think I discarded that part,” Funny Bunny answered. “It makes sense, though. Ever since there was a better phone, I’ve needed an upgrade.”

“I wish I had a phone,” Toona lamented.

“Don’t worry,” said Funny Bunny. “I’m sure the company will send you one.”

“I sure hope so,” Toona said.

“Ok,” Zoyla said. “It’s all set. So…regarding party supplies…do I have to have samples?”

“Of course,” Dot replied. “What else will you show your guests?”

“I see. Can I borrow your samples?”

Dot shook her head. “You need different samples. Your party isn’t for a couple of weeks. They’ll be on the new colors by then.”

“Huh,” Zoyla said. “So, people really do this, huh? Like lost of people?”

“Oh, yes. Spiffyware has counselors all over.”

“Huh. I need to look into their marketing. I’m not sure I’m making enough money off of my workforce. I’ve been paying them this whole time. Ok, samples. I’ll give it a shot this once. What else?”

“Food to help you demonstrate how awesome your product is,” Dot replied.

“Ok. Food. Samples. Two weeks. Venue…how does here sound?”

“Um…ok,” Dot said. “Why not your place?”

“My place has been having existential crises lately. This place is more certain. Anyway, lots to do. Gotta run.”

Then she was gone.

Dot waited with excitement for Zoyla’s party. Her friends waited with a little less excitement. When the day finally came, Dot counted the minutes until Zoyla’s arrival.

When the time came, the doorbell rang, and Dot and the others rushed to the door. Dot opened the door to see no one standing there, but she thought she heard footsteps and went outside. The door closed behind her. As soon as she turned around, it opened again, and Zoyla was standing there.

“Welcome!” Zoyla said. “Come on in! You’re right on time!”

Dot walked in, still dazed. “Um…hi…”

“I’ve just finished setting up,” Zoyla said, and sure enough, when they got to Dot’s room, Dot saw the Spiffyware neatly arranged. “Let’s get started, shall we? Let’s start with the combination blender and thermos.”

She presented her samples, then, and food was served. Dot was excited to try the new peanut-butter-and-celery holder and intrigued by the baby asparagus peeler. Frog considered the humidity preservers, and Toona and Funny Bunny were tempted by some flexible-plastic flasks that they imagined might be like small waterbeds when filled. Zoyla herself elected to keep the dust jacket jacket because, as she explained, the dust jackets on her books tended to get a little dusty.

Once everything was done, all the order forms filled out, the results tallied, and so on, Zoyla turned to Dot. “Ok, now what?”

“Now,” said Dot, “you turn in the order forms.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“Well…” Dot began, and she paused to gaze around the room. She frowned a little. “Well…I think normally you’d try to schedule the next party. Each guest probably knows a few other people, so you see if they’d be willing to invite those people and host a party with you as the counselor.”

Toona spoke. “I know a few people.”

“Me, too,” said Funny Bunny.

“Me, too,” said the frog.

Dot looked around the room. “Does anyone here know anyone that isn’t in this room and doesn’t live in this house?”

“Oh, no,” said Toona, and the others shook their heads as well.

“Ok,” said Zoyla. “So, wait for the merchandise. Ok. What do I do with the other samples?”

“Umm…” Dot began, and she stopped. “I guess keep them. I’m sure they’ll come in handy.”

“You never know,” Zoyla said. She put everything into her bag and left.

Several days went by, and it seemed Dot’s Spiffyware career had stalled; she simply didn’t know enough people to sell to. Zoyla refused to provide leads from the D&Z database on the grounds that doing so would only help the competition. Dot’s enthusiasm waned, and then she gave up entirely.

Several weeks after Zoyla’s party, Dot realized, while sorting her receipts, that none of the Spiffyware she had ordered from Zoyla had arrived. Once Dot explained to the others what they had ordered and why it was important to them, they joined her in annoyance. Dot called Zoyla to ask what had happened.

“It’s been six weeks,” Dot said. “They should have sent everything to you by now.”

“It’s been at least that long for me, too,” said Zoyla, “and none of it has come. Why don’t we ask them where the orders are?”

“Ok. Do you want me to call them, then?”

Zoyla paused. “Where are they based, again?”

“Somewhere in Delaware. Why?”

“Let’s go,” said Zoyla from right next to her. “My plane’s ready for takeoff.”

“What, right outside?”

Zoyla looked around the room. “Good point. More space out there. Come on!”

She ran, and Dot followed her through the house and the front door. Zoyla put her jet on the street and climbed inside. Dot climbed in next to her.

“Why do we have to go there ourselves?” Dot asked.

Zoyla looked at her in disbelief. “It’s Delaware,” she said, and the plane zipped into the air. In minutes they were right over Spiffyware headquarters. “Here we are,” she said. “Somewhere, Delaware.” She landed the plane and hopped out.

They walked up to the front door and oohed in appreciation. The door was perfectly sealed. Little tabs high up admitted air to allow employees to breathe.

“Oh,” Zoyla said, and she reached into her bag. “We’ll need these.” She pulled out some orange badges on lanyards.

“Employee badges?” Dot asked.

“Yep. In the current color, too.” They put their badges on, and Zoyla spoke low. “Technically, this is corporate espionage, so be careful unless you want to get arrested.”

“What?”

“Let’s go.”

Zoyla peeled back the door and went inside. Dot followed, and Zoyla pushed the button to seal the door.

“Where do we go now? Zoyla asked.

“I don’t know. I thought you knew.”

“I’m just here because you tempted me with a visit to Delaware,” Zoyla replied. “You’re the one with the plan.”

“I’m not—look, there’s a receptionist. Let’s ask.”

“Ok, Boss,” Zoyla replied.

Dot walked up to the receptionist. “Who’s in charge of processing orders?”

“Are you new?” the receptionist asked, looking at their badges.

“Very,” said Zoyla. “And we need to speak to the order processing director type person. About orientation.”

“Orientation?” asked the receptionist.

“Yeah,” said Zoyla. “I’m pretty disoriented. Which office?”

“I’m sorry…who did you say you needed to see?”

Dot spoke up. “We’re actually just counselors. My friend here is expecting a somewhat sizable shipment, but it hasn’t arrived yet. We came by hoping we could find out why.”

“Oh,” said the receptionist. “You need to talk to our Customer Service department.

“Ok,” said Zoyla. “Where’s that person?”

The receptionist laughed. “We have a lot of representatives. You just have to call.”

“Oh,” Dot said, nodding. “Well, now that we’re here, can we talk to someone?”

“I can’t let you in. You don’t work here.”

Zoyla spoke before Dot could. “It’s fine. We understand.” She grabbed Dot’s arm and pulled her to a door at the side of the room. She swipe her orange badge at the reader, opened the door, and took Dot through. “This is much faster,” she said. “Ok…so where’s Customer Service…”

They went to the end of a short hall, rounded the corner, and stopped. Dot drew in her breath and held it for a few seconds.

“Wow…” she said, releasing it. “That’s a lot of people.”

“Eh,” said Zoyla. “I can beat this. Good intel, though. Ok, I guess we just walk up to someone…”

Zoyla went into the vast room full of people taking calls and walked up to one of the CSRs.

“Excuse me,” she said.

The CSR turned in surprise. He was on a call; he held up an index finger and kept talking. Dot and Zoyla waited patiently. When the call ended, the CSR took off his headset and turned to face them.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“Hello,” said Zoyla. “My name is Zoyla, and this is Dot. Perhaps you’ve heard of us.”

“Umm…no…”

“We have a problem,” Zoyla continued. “I’m a counselor, and I haven’t received what my customers ordered at the party I threw six weeks, two days, one hour and twenty-six minutes ago. Can you find out the problem?”

“Uh…ok…just a moment…” He turned to his computer and typed a bit. “What’s your full name?”

“Zoyla.”

“Do you have a last name, Zoyla?”

“I don’t think so,” Zoyla said, opening her bag and looking through it. “Do you need one?”

“I…well…let me just see what comes up.” He typed some more. “Ok, it looks like we only have one Zoyla. Go figure. I just need to make sure this one’s you. What did you give as your e-mail address?”

“Cut the hassle. Just give me the information,” Zoyla replied.

The CSR waited a moment. “At?” he said.

“At DandZEnterprises.com,” Zoyla said.

“That’s it,” said the CSR. “Okay, your last order…oh, I see. We tried to send it, but there was a problem with your address.”

“Can I see what you have?” Zoyla asked. “To make sure it’s correct, and all?”

“Sure,” the man said, and he moved aside so that Zoyla could look on his screen.

Zoyla studied it. “Yep, that’s right,” she said.

“Ok…well, I can see why there could be confusion. What’s this here?”

Zoyla looked where he indicated. “A wave equation. I’m sure USPS has to use lots of those.”

The CSR looked back at the screen. “The rest of it is a bizarre knock-knock joke.”

Zoyla looked annoyed. “Yes, that’s how to find my house. It’s all right there.”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t send to that address. You need to follow the standard format.”

“I manage to find my house about ninety-seven percent of the time at that address,” Zoyla said. “I don’t see what the problem is.”

Dot put a hand on her arm. “It’s ok, Zoyla. We’ll just use my address.”

Zoyla looked back and forth between them. “Fine.”

Dot gave her address to the CSR, who entered it. When they were done, the CSR looked at them both.

“So, is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Um…” Dot started, hesitating a bit. “Yes. I’m new to this. I threw one party and got some orders, and I already recruited one other person and hosted her party, but I seem to be out of leads. Everyone I know who’s even a little interested has already been to both parties and…well…they’re sort of using my money anyway. My profits are negative right now. Any ideas?”

The man thought for a bit. “Have you been to any of the conferences or events?” he asked.

“No…what are the conferences all about?”

“Well, counselors from the area get together and compare notes. They sing the Spiffyware anthem, tell Spiffyware stories, play Spiffyware games, and share ideas about selling and using Spiffyware. They cost money, but they’re well worth it in my opinion.”

“Oh, I see,” said Dot. “I don’t know. I’ve already spend a bunch of money as it is, and it doesn’t sound like I’ll get new clients this way. Anything else?”

“Well, I’m just a CSR, but I know a bit about sales. It all comes down to persistence. Get out there, spread the word…really be aggressive about it, you know? If you do it enough, some people will be interested.”

“Aggressive…” Dot said, turning the word over in her mouth. “Hmm. I don’t know. I’m starting to think maybe I’m not cut out for sales. My heart’s just not in it. I do like Spiffyware, but I think maybe that’s all I cared about as a counselor.”

“Well, it’s your decision,” the CSR said. “You don’t have to sell anything if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t know,” said Dot. “I enjoyed real estate. Destabilizing the economy and reaping the profits gave me a thrill, but I just can’t work up the will to sell Spiffyware to random strangers. Not aggressively, anyway. I don’t know. Well, thanks anyhow.”

“You’re welcome,” the CSR said.

Dot nodded. “Ok, Zoyla,” she said, turning to her friend. “Let’s go.”

Zoyla was busy snapping photos of the office. Dot grabbed her arm.

“Come on,” she said. Zoyla put the camera away. Dot turned toward the hall they had come out of and saw some security guards there. “Uh-oh,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” said Zoyla. “I have just the thing.”

She took Dot’s badge and her own, threw them into the bag, and extracted two visitor badges and two big badges that said “Auditor” on them.

“Put these on,” Zoyla said. “They won’t bother us.”

Dot did as Zoyla said. When they reached the guards, who looked nervously at them, Zoyla said, “I think we’ve seen enough here.” They walked past.

“It’s rather convenient that you had all those supplies in your bag,” Dot said.

“Oh, not at all!” replied Zoyla. “Can you imagine having all of those random items just sitting around and never knowing when, where, or why they might come in handy? It’s why I have a hard time throwing anything away.”

Dot nodded. Zoyla had a point.

Five minutes later, when they landed back at Dot’s house, Dot turned to Zoyla.

“So, what do I do?”

“What do you mean?” asked Zoyla.

“Well, you’ve got all sorts of things. You’ve got anvil dropping, your corporate empire, acquiring random things to put in your bag…it seems you manage to stay busy and know what you’re about. But what about me? What’s my thing?”

“Hmm…”Zoyla said. “How about puzzles?”

“They’re fun, but I get bored of those. What else you got?”

“Beads?” Zoyla suggested.

“No, I don’t really play with those much anymore. What else?”

“Gardening?”

“Sometimes. Not in the summer, though.”

Zoyla thought. “You’ve got ennui.”

“Yes, but I’m not satisfied with that, either,” said Dot. “I don’t know. I need to think about it.”

“Well,” said Zoyla, “now you’ve at least got Spiffyware to use while you think about it.”

“Yes,” Dot said, nodding. “True. Well, see you later, Zoyla.”

“See you later, Little Dot,” Zoyla said.

Dot went back inside.