Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Spoiler: Part 14: Haslop

Name: Peter J. Haslop. Position: President, Global H.R., ConRon International. Age: 42. Height: 6’2”. Weight: 185. Color eyes: Blue. Color hair: Dark brown. Born: Stockholm, Sweden, 1964. Married to Martha Jorgensen, 36, American of Swedish descent. Hobbies: Tennis, skiing.

Ya. I could do a Swedish accent. And my blue eyes and light skin allowed me to pass for a Scandinavian.

It certainly wouldn’t be hard to convince my new colleagues that I was at least as authentic as the Swedish bikini team. It was possible – though not likely – that one or two had seen a Bergman movie. Possibly a couple of the older guys might have in their mind moldy images of Sweden as a land of promiscuous, nude-bathing goddesses.

But even the Harvard and Wharton types would be lucky if they could find Sweden on a map. Their generation – American Meathead – were obsessed with making money. Swedish. Turkish. Vulcan. All the same to them.

Lutefisk for everyone!

I looked over the rest of my “dossier.” Peter’s educational and professional background, a bunch of newspaper clippings of articles either about Haslop or in which he was quoted.

I started to worry when I saw the photos of him – he had a high forehead, a small mouth and teeth like a large rodent. I didn’t resemble him in the slightest. When I brought this up to Paula, she waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry. He’s been in Indonesia since ninety-eight. Nobody reads the company newsletters, and no one here has seen him in years. Trust me, it’s not a problem.”

I started researching Haslop, or my version of him, anyway. I called the Swedish Embassy and Consulate repeatedly, asking to speak to as many people as possible and tape recording their replies so that I could study their English accents.

I Googled generic background information from Swedish tourist sites. Stuff like this:

At first, you may find Swedes a bit difficult to get to know. They may seem distant and reserved. But they can also make loyal friends once you get to know them.


Swedes generally like hobbies and activities and pursuing them together with others is probably the easiest way to meet and get to know new people. If invited to someone's home it is customary to take off your shoes, especially in winter. This custom is upheld more strictly in smaller towns and rural areas. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, it may be a good idea to ask. It is also customary to be on time when invited to a dinner party. Eight o'clock means eight o'clock.

Reserved. Hobbies (tennis, skiing), remove shoes in winter, be punctual.

C-SPAN helped, too. Meetings of the U.N. and the IMF. I started to pattern my Haslop after the tweedy bureaucrats who were the “stars” of those programs.

I bought that Brioni suit (Paula put it on the ConRon tab) and had my hair lightened by a colorist at a local salon called the Hair Corps – their sign read: “the Few, the Brave, the Fabulous!” – I decided to test him in a comedy club. The hook? He would be bland, stiff and completely unfunny. I called up Lenny but he was still pissed at me for “blowing” the bar mitzvah gig and refused to book me anywhere. So I trudged down to Rivington Street, to an open mic at a new club called the House of Blue Laughs.

I’d read that the audience was hip and supportive, and that the club favored acts that were too cool to care about the audience reaction.

Once I got there I told the M.C. to introduce me as “Peter Haslop, president of global human resources for ConRon, Inc.”

The acts that went on before me:

• A young nerd who told jokes while he showed a series of video clips of his colleagues at a search engine company that he’d recorded with a “cubicle-cam.” The audience broke up at the grainy, funhouse images, and at the running gag: “It’s on the server!”

• A young, redheaded woman related the daily humiliations she experienced as a temp. They included an incident when her boss demanded she pay back five dollars for dry cleaning trousers on which she had accidentally spilled some ketchup – in an email with the subject line “Ketchup Pants.”

• A group who performed a sketch about a bickering husband and wife that included only set-ups followed by the words, “generic punchline.”

These performers had come to the same conclusion I had – that mass-produced nightclub comedy – let’s call it industrial comedy, if you will – was dead. But what they put in its place was not only not funny and pretentious as all get-out.

Of course, the scruffy, goateed audience loved them.

Finally, the M.C. called my name. I introduced myself as a corporate bureaucrat who had been told that he’d been invited to address a think tank forum on the globalized workforce. I got a few laughs, and I could tell they were with me. I read from a “policy statement” that I presented at a meeting of the World Trade Organization. It said that the workforce of the entire nation of Latvia would be turned into American slaves. More laughs. I pretended not to understand why an important global think-tank was being held in a Lower East Side dive. They loved it.

I decided to ask for questions from the audience.

Young Woman: Why are you pretending that this is like, some sort of think tank when it’s obviously a comedy club? (Was she serious? Or was she putting on my put-on?)

Me: Well, that is what my government told me. Also, I am from Sweden and am not familiar with your American customs. Perhaps think-tanks are more informal here. Perhaps you can serve Bud Lite.

Drunk Young Woman Pretending to Be Sober: Franz Ferdinand Rules!

Me: Yes, you are correct. He ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (I had learned this watching the History Channel.)

Drunk Young Woman Pretending to Be Sober: Huh? Anyway, they rock. (Her friends, who think she is making them look un-cool, pull her down.)

Art Student-Looking Guy (tall, gangly, goateed, paisley vest): O.K., you’re from Sweden, right?

Me: Ya.

Art Student-Looking Guy: Well, what’s the gross national product of Sweden?

Me: The gross national product? That would be meatballs.

Big laugh.

Me: Have you ever seen them? I mean, that is ... how you say? Gross.

Loud applause. Unfortunately, my time was up. But I’d proved that I could pass as a Swedish bureaucrat. And I got laughs.

I was ready to cast Haslop to the suits at ConRon.

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