A huge bowl was full of candy message hearts there for the taking.
She was beginning to detest the color pink. Every time new people came in to introduce
themselves, they said, "Oh, we heard you were the cotton candy girl with the pink office."
Mandy began to think that a cotton candy machine would be rolled in any minute.
Then she would be responsible for the afternoon sugar fix, which, based on what she had
seen so far, came like clockwork every after- noon at three on the dot.
Every day featured a different treat. One day cookies, the next ice cream or brownies. It
reminded her of the Good Humor man and all the kids running down the street chasing the ice
cream truck. A bell would ring at precisely three p.m., and the nameless circus music would
begin to play, announcing the arrival of the day's snack. Every cubicle would empty immediately
as each worker made his or her way to the break room.
Today Gary showed up at her door. "Hey, come on, let's take a break."
Gary was the manager of the company Web site. His office was two doors down, and he had
been showing her the ropes ever since that first day in the cafeteria. His office was painted a pale
blue with a lion on each wall. Mandy figured he must have said he liked the lion tamer best
during his interview. He seemed like a regular guy, and so far Mandy liked the way he made her
feel at home. Not like Larry Adams, who was beginning to make her skin crawl with the funny
grin he always got on his face when he saw her.
"Sure. What do you think is on the menu today?"
"Let's go walk around the parking lot. Don't get into that habit or you will end up being
Lulu Junior."
"Who's Lulu Junior?"
"That's who you'll be if you get in the chow line every afternoon around here. You haven't
met Lulu yet?"
"No, I'm still trying to get my head around the organization chart. I've only been here a few
weeks, you know."
"Lulu is the executive vice president of entertainment and food sales. I don't want to give you
any preconceived ideas about her, but let's just say she doesn't need a hoop to fill out her clown
costume." "Gary, when exactly will I be required to wear that clown costume that, supposedly, I
am going to look so cute in?"
"You'll see." Gary paused. "I can't tell you, Mandy. It's kind of a rite of passage around
here." Then he rolled his eyes at her. "But honestly, none of us really know. I've only worn mine
trick-or- treating with my kids. Add it to your list of Big Top brain teasers that need to be
"Oh God, what have I gotten myself into?" She was again having regrets about taking this
job. It just kept getting weirder.
"Don't worry about it. It's not that bad around here. Lulu is having her town hall meeting
tomorrow, so you'll get to meet her then."
The walk around the parking lot was refreshing. It made her feel good to know she had
made some friends at Big Top. Gary seemed like a sensible and stable family man. He talked
often about his wife and children, but they always remained nameless. Mandy didn't feel she
knew him well enough yet to ask if anyone had a name. It was as if he was trying to keep them
all to himself. "My wife said this and my wife did that." Her name was "my wife" in every
conversation Mandy had with him.
Mandy headed back to her pink office to try to finish her first training document on every
kind of balloon known to man. The training book was five hundred pages long since there were
so many different products, all with a different purpose. Who knew? She became engrossed in
reading about balloons.
"Mandy!" She looked up to find Larry at her door. "Tomorrow morning, nine o'clock in the
meeting room. Lulu is having her monthly meeting." That creepy grin was on his face again. "It's
a whole- day affair, so clear your calendar." And just like that he was gone.
The next morning Mandy found Gary and they went to the meeting together. She had
stopped at Violet's office first, but it was dark
"Where's Violet today? Doesn't she have to go to the meeting?" "Violet won't be in today.
She always calls in sick on Lulu's meeting day. It's an excuse for her to go out and party and try to
pick up men in the middle of the week. She thinks she might find someone new at the bar scene
if she mixes up the nights out."
"That may be the only sane thing I've heard about this place. Calling in sick for no reason at
all. Happens everywhere."
They found two empty seats at the back of the room. "It's not good to sit too close," Gary
whispered to her.
The room gradually filled up. The door opened again, and in came an enormous woman
dressed in a red- and white-striped pantsuit. Her orange hair was styled in a Marge Simpsonlike beehive. Her red hoop earrings, which were probably six inches in diameter, lay flat on her
shoulders, since she had no neck. No such thing as a dangle earring for this woman.
"Lulu?" Mandy mouthed the name to Gary. He shook his head up and down.
"Attention! Attention everyone. Let's get started."
Lulu had the voice of a child, high pitched and squeaky. Again Mandy was startled by the
sound coming from this enormous woman. "We have much to cover today. We will have a coffee
break at ten and lunch will be served promptly at noon. I'm having a very special menu prepared
for you today that I'm sure you will all enjoy. And something extra special will be served for the
three o'clock snack." She suddenly got a look on her face like a kid in a candy store. She clapped
her hands together in excitement and smacked her lips.
"Ooooh! It will be so yummy! But I can't tell you what it is. It's a surprise! Now, how do we
start all of our meetings?" Everyone reached for their kazoo and blew.
Lulu flipped on the projector and started talking. Soon the high- pitched voice began to
grate on Mandy's nerves. She nudged Gary. "How do you stand this?"
"Aah, secret weapon." He pointed to his ear. Bright green foam earplugs. Then Gary
motioned for her to look down the row. Every- one was napping happily, eyes open and ears
"Why didn't you warn me?" Mandy frowned.
"Remember those initiation rites I told you about?"
Mandy sighed and sank down into her chair. She really was interested in what made this
company tick. So many mysteries she felt she needed to solve. Even from where she sat, trying
to read everything that was crammed onto the one and only PowerPoint slide was next to
impossible. "Doesn't she know it's a presentation, not a dissertation?" Maybe the slide would
change after the snack break.
Mandy glanced at the clock. Five minutes until ten. "Oh, thank God," she thought.
"It's a little before ten," Lulu chirped. "Let's take our potty break early so we have plenty of
time to enjoy our coffee and doughnuts. Let's be back in our seats at 10:15."
The stampede began. Mandy became trapped in the chaos. She saw Lulu heading toward
her out of the corner of her eye. The prison stripes got closer and closer, and finally a plump
hand was outstretched right in f ront of her.
"You must be Mandy. I'm Lulu. It's so nice to have you on board."
Mandy shook her hand, which was as limp as a wet dishrag. "Thank you. I‘m glad to be
here. It has been such an interesting presentation so far. I'm really learning a lot." She tried to act
as if she were telling the truth.
"I'm so glad, my dear. Come, come, let's get something to eat before my little piglets scarf it
all up." She grabbed Mandy's hand and led her to the table
"Come on, eat up. This all looks so good and you, Mandy, are sooooo skinny." Well, at least
she didn't say cute.