Not very long ago, I was underemployed and considering starting my own business. It was around then that I went out for an afternoon walk and ended up at a “franchise fair” being held in a convention center in my town. Fate brought me here, I figured. Maybe it’s my destiny to be a franchisee. And it does seem like every other business in the central business district of this town is a franchise, and they’re all still in business, unlike the mom & pop shops, which just can’t seem to compete in the new capitalist marketplace, I thought, already imagining myself at the helm of a local Subway, H&R Block, or Pittsburgh Pirates.
As if guided by a higher power, I gravitated toward a booth where I was greeted at once by both the friendliest man I’ve ever met and the most impressive floral creation. He was tall, lean, and sincere; it was white, soft, and the perfect semblance of a chicken. Even while the man was asking me questions about my education, financial liquidity, and threshold for risk absent any guarantee of success, most of my attention was being held by the magnificent “creature” on the folding table between us. “Carnations?” I asked the other man. “Cornish cross,” he corrected me. Clearly there was much I didn’t know about flower arranging, but I was eager to learn. “Made by hand?” I asked. “The hand of God, I suppose,” he said. Indeed! The craftsmanship was awe-inspiring, the attention to detail divine.
Now, I’m not too much of a man to admit that I find flowers as attractive as the next man who finds flowers attractive. And I’m not too proud to admit that I prefer making money to not making any. That night, still marveling at my memory of the flower “bird,” I fell asleep surrounded by the mandatory disclosure documents I’d brought into bed with me. I dreamt of inventing and selling at a great markup my own floral arrangements that looked like animals: dogs, cats, bears, bees, and maybe even a pig or a dragon. I’d have to hire someone who actually knew how to make those things, but I knew that those people were out there.
My stepbrother is a lawyer, so I asked him to look over the contract. We don’t really get along much of the time, owing to an unresolved childhood feud over a rare, anatomically explicit “Buck Rogers” Col. Wilma Deering action figure, but Charlie agreed to give me an hour’s worth of free document review. By the end of the week, I had the paperwork back with “Sign Here” tape flags on every third page. When I’d finished putting my autograph everywhere I had to ice my wrist. I also had to get a cashier’s check for upward of $30,000, but I had that, and more, since I’d sold certain action figures I’d been quietly holding on to for decades. I sent the contract and the check off to corporate headquarters in East Lansing, Michigan — certified mail, return receipt requested.
Even before the return receipt came back to me, my check was cashed and I got my first shipment of wholesale merchandise. It was delivered to my home, being that I hadn’t yet found a storefront to lease, but I accepted the crate and opened it enthusiastically. When I saw the contents, I got the feeling that maybe mistakes had been made. There were no flowers in the box. Not even plants that might produce flowers. No vases, either. What I found instead were cheap plastic duck decoys, cheap wooden duck calls, cheap camouflage pants, and shotgun shells of various calibers, all of which I believe I am now expected to sell, presumably to others who live in my town, which is at least 300 miles from the nearest body of water where one might find the sort of birds — fowl, I guess you’d call them — that you hunt, trap, or shoot. If that’s the sort of thing that you do. It is not the sort of thing that I do, or that I know anything about, unfortunately.
I’ve asked Charlie if there’s any way I can get out of the contract, but his hourly rate is pretty steep and I’m not entirely sure I can trust him, anyway. Really, I’m not sure I trust anybody anymore. Not even that carnation chicken. Come to think of it, he did try to peck me. More than once.