"They're called booth babes," I said, angrily, looking at both Adler brothers, CEO and CFO of Adler Electronics, my place of employment. "And even if this wasn't completely degrading, I'm well over ten years past my expiration date."
"Look, Megan," Tommy, the thin, balding older brother said, "you know our inventory as well as anyone here. And don't sell yourself short, you can still turn heads."
My college education flashed before me; honors student, MBA, and a 2-line entry in "Prominent American Women in Accounting (2003 edition)". And yet these two fifty-something teenagers expected me to put on a piece of fabric so thin as to only vaguely qualify as clothing and spend an afternoon making small talk with leering strangers?
But to the Adler Brothers, the National Association of Small Electronic Equipment Manufacturers trade show was the high point of the year. It was a chance to show off their line of products; all small, black metal boxes with knobs, switches, LCD readouts, and jacks (be they USB, quarter-inch, banana plugs, or simple pin connectors). All this meant something to engineers. As for me, I knew far more about them than I cared to.
Bobby Adler, my direct supervisor, looked at me with a scornful look on his face. "You're our ace in the hole," he said, a little desperation in his voice. "We could be like every one, simply hiring some air-headed models, as we have done in the past. But there are questions that can't be memorized off a crib-sheet. We feel having an attractive woman there who can answer questions and also talk tech would be to our advantage."
"It's so sexist," I complained.
"Seventy percent of CEOs in this business are males," Bobby continued. "Ninety-three percent of this industry's Purchasing Managers are male."
"But," I said, vainly trying to comment.
Bobby ignored me. "In 1997 the Association tried doing the show without booth babes. Attendance was down forty percent, and our sales didn't even recoup booth fees. In 2006 they tried having women in business attire. If I remember correctly, that was the year you broke your foot and took time off. Anyway attendance was still down, and our sales were far below expectations."
"It may be unfair," Tommy added, "but business is business, and if boobs sell boxes, I say more boobs."
Bobby looked at me and shook his head. "And we need to sell more boxes. Either that or start cutting jobs."
Intimidation, perhaps, but effective. I could feel my head being placed on the chopping block. Bobby could train a less-qualified staffer to do my job for less money. The balance sheet might reflect the cheapened intangibles like professionalism and attention to detail, but not the cause and effect.
"Who would be working the booth with me?" I asked, dejected but accepting my fate.
"Ah," Tommy said, smiling, "there you get to pick. Either Bambi or Thumper."
Bambi Jablonski was a doe-eyed twenty-two year old, hired more for reminding Bobby Adler of the blonde he once had a high school crush on than any conceivable skill set. She fit her name perfectly; timid, awkward, a look of amazed confusion when presented with a difficult question. While I lacked her pencil-thin waist, I was more than one cup size larger than she was.
Joyce Thurman, recently nicknamed "Thumper", was Bambi's supervisor. Her skills consisted mainly of losing important files, berating her meek underling, and reminding Tommy Adler that his wife had a violent temper and that his almost monthly trips to Vegas were not entirely professional. She was a mean spirited bitch, not some cheerful bunny.
Of course, Thumper would look far worse in the attire the Adlers had selected than I would. I briefly considered choosing her for that reason alone. Then I realized even I did not want to see those gelatinous thighs in tightly-woven sausage casings.
Bambi seemed thrilled to be chosen, perhaps glad to get a few hours away from her inept, implacable supervisor. Our outfits consisted of opaque (at least that's what the package said) long-sleeved body stockings, hers white and mine black. We were to provide the matching boots to be worn with them (the Adlers were firm believers that all women had a sizable collection of slutware). Okay, I had the boots, but my collection would have disappointed.
We decided to meet the next morning at the shop and change there. As we entered the restroom, I noticed Bambi staring at her body stocking, clearly confused.
"What do I wear under this?" she asked, gazing at the article more often worn as underwear.
I did bring a thong, but had been debating the same question all morning. Something about her confusion brought out my evil side. "Why, nothing, of course," I said, pretending to be surprised by the question. "We are using our bodies to sell boxes, after all."
She was quiet for a moment. "Doesn't that kinda make us sex workers?" she asked, starting to unbutton her blouse.
I wanted to say that it did and we could both sue the Adlers for sexual harassment. I could add the fact that I was twice this girl's age, far too old for such foolishness. Yet again, the long-buried coquettishness that led to so many youthful indiscretions was again reappearing, overriding my anger.
"In a way," I said, smiling, sweetly. "Have a problem with that?"
The headlights returned. "I let my boyfriend take pictures of me," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "But this is different; I didn't have to sit in a booth and shake his hand."
Oh, the thoughts that went unsaid there.
She was quiet as she nervously undressed. Then standing there naked, holding out her white bodystocking she looked at me. "I'm glad you chose me to go with you," she said, a childlike innocence to her voice.
"Why?" I asked, watching as she slid her leg into the fine-mesh tube.
"Mrs Thurman keeps telling me that if things don't improve, I'll be the first one fired. I'm hoping if I do a good job today, that won't happen."
There was no way Thumper could know that, she was simply trying to intimidate this girl. Suddenly I was more angry at the cruel bitch the Alders hired than at the brothers themselves.
While it took Bambi longer to undress than to slip into the bodystocking, the opposite was true in my case. I could only muse at possible reasons for that.
Yet something strange was happening. I still felt I was being exploited, but there was something strangely satisfying about the assignment. It now felt more like I was playing some bizarre sort of role-playing game. Not quite a superhero, but at least I did have a trusty if clueless sidekick. Yes, the prim, cautious lady-accountant was about to become a booth babe.
We decided that Bambi, being more tolerant of rush hour traffic, would drive there and I would drive back. We also decided to take her subcompact, easier to fit in tight parking spaces than my SUV.
As we stepped out into the parking lot, I noticed what could only be described as "wide-eyed excitement" on Bambi's face. Her innocence was amusing.
I usually preferred to do the driving, feeling awkwardly submissive as passenger. But behind the wheel, people often show different sides to their personalities, and I did enjoy this sort of people-watching. Bambi was much more aggressive and talkative while driving; although more to the other cars than to me. At work she never swore. On the road, her language became much more colorful.
"Where'd you learn to drive, motherfucker?" she screamed at a minivan that cut us off, "At a rodeo?"
I was mystified by her choice of possible driving schools, but I guess it made sense to her. She was actually a very good driver. As we neared downtown, she admitted worrying about being pulled over by the cops dressed in this way.
"I took dance in college," I said, reassuringly. "Went out dressed like this all the time."
"Even without," she began to ask.
"Even without," I replied, nodding my head.
"This is the first time for me," she said, giggling nervously.
"Even with your boyfriend?"
She sighed. "Ex-boyfriend," she said, her pained expression suggesting the breakup had been recent. "He wanted me to get a boob job. When I refused he walked out."
She was lucky, I thought. I knew too many women who married their Mister Right, had kids, and were divorced by forty, having been traded in for a newer model. That was almost my story too, but there were no kids and I was the one who walked.
We arrived at the convention center and found a parking spot. I looked at the crude layout diagram Bobby Adler had given me and had a rough idea where our booth was located. As we stepped from the car, Bambi almost immediately got lost, and I wound up leading her by the hand.
She looked cautiously at me as we proceeded. "What if people get the wrong idea?" she asked nervously. "Two women dressed like we are holding hands?"
I laughed. "We'll probably sell more boxes," I replied. Maybe I was too jaded, never caring what strangers thought. Her naïve worries were refreshing.
"It's just that I had a bit of a fling with my college roommate," she said, breathlessly. "It's been four years, and I still don't know what I think about it. Have you?"
"Nope," I said, in all honesty. But holding her hand, I was suddenly reminded of something that happened to me in college. I always thought my friend Beth's come-ons were done in jest. Now I wasn't so sure.
We came to the stack of folding stainless steel furniture and corrugated cardboard boxes filled with paperwork and demonstration model equipment. Bambi set up the chairs and tables while I read through the paperwork.
She was a very attractive young woman, I had to had to admit, though more in a cute way than out-and-out gorgeous. And she was more substantial than I had previously given her credit for. Had I been in the mood to re-evaluate my sexuality, I might have given her a second thought. But I was too surprised by something I saw in the large mirror, in the booth across from ours. Sure, my body was no longer had the youthful trim it once did, but all the pieces still fit nicely.
Bobby Adler, eternal horny adolescent, was right. I was just surprised the head I turned was my own.
Then came the flood of faces, questions, product demonstrations, leering glances, and a few orders. I was amused the way most eyes focused on my breasts while for Bambi, you could tell guys were straining their necks to try to get a peek at the spot where her legs met.
There were guys with camera phones, asking if they could take pictures of the products, which the Adlers had okayed. Their camera angles fooled nobody, and I was sure far more pictures were being taken of Bambi and myself than of the boxes.
While Bambi couldn't handle the technical questions, she was much more comfortable making small talk than I had ever been. Overall we made a very good team, selling over fifteen thousand dollars worth of Adler Brothers' products, a new company record.
There would be no layoffs; in fact we were told to expect a nice holiday bonus. Thumper's intimidation tactics would no longer work, and she soon started looking for another job. My issues with my nearly-middle aged body had been resolved nicely, and I looked forward to opening long-locked doors to my psyche. I also found a true, if most unlikely friend in Bambi.
Not bad for a day's worth of humiliation.
-- Dan Mulhollen