Over the phone, I could hear long, spindly legs tapping a hardwood table, like fingers drumming.
“WEB Advertising and Media, this is Char speaking,” came the voice on the other end.
“Hello, hi, um, I’m calling to ask for a quote,” I began, my voice thin, embarrassed by the cause of my phone anxiety. I had dialed the right number; I just knew I was talking to a spider.
Char’s voice remained smooth and assured. “Alright, yes, and what is your intended project?”
“Well, I work at a marble countertop company, and I was wondering if you had any openings left at the County Fair for ads like you did awhile back? Like ‘SOME PIG’ and such? We were thinking, like, a huge web that twinkles in the sunshine that says ‘SOME COUNTERTOPS’ with our phone number underneath, on a main walking path within the fair? And maybe a nearby web that says ‘HUMBLE’?”
I hear a pause on the other end, and a shuffling of papers punctuated by several more leg clicks. “Ah, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we don’t do PR via literal web anymore, aha,” she laughed uncomfortably. “If you’d like, we have a lot of trained media spiders who would be able to help you set up a website or some billboards along the interstate, or we can connect you to some sparrows to help your brand come up with some clever tweets,” she offered.
“Um, can I call you back?” I asked, regretting calling in the first place.
“Absolutely,” Char replied, “We’re open ‘til five.”
I set the huge plastic office phone down, untangling its spiral cord, and made a break for the water cooler. As the blue plastic jug let out a moan of air bubbles, I tapped my toes uncomfortably. I was new to the company, the young publicist fresh out of college, and despite the supposed “social media savvy” that came with my status as the token millennial in the office, I had no idea how to market our tiny local brand’s handcrafted marble countertops effectively. No one in their right mind would click “like” on our business’s Facebook page, and what would a flock of adorable hired birds even tweet about? Sure, I’d submitted an ad to the dying local newspaper, but I wished local businesses could still make it on good old word of mouth—doing your best without needing to flaunt it. HUMBLE.
Crushing the cup in my hand, I returned to my desk, sat down, and dialed up the county fair, booking a booth in the vendor area, not asking for my boss’s approval for use of the company card or the fact that I’d be borrowing a countertop for the weekend. “Good thing you’re calling now,” said the farmer’s-drawl voice on the other end, “We’re almost all booked up.”
On the morning of the first day of the fair, I woke up before the crack of dawn, drove to the countertop store, unlocking it with my personal key, and set several boxes of our brochures and business cards on the passenger seat of my car. Then, I picked up our smallest marble counter, one that looked like moonstone tinged with streaks of clay-red, lugging it out to my trunk. I had to stop and take several breaks on the pitifully short walk out of the building, resting the countertop’s corner carefully on the toe of my sneaker so as not to chip or wear at the marble.
Once at the fair, I discovered my booth was between the one at which the local clinic was giving out free sunblock and lip balm and the one where the local pop radio station was giving out free bumper stickers. I placed my countertop carefully on the surface of the provided folding-leg table, and laid out our company brochures and business cards on top. As the fair opened and I unwrapped the first of two PB&Js swathed in napkins that I’d wedged into my handbag, my breakfast PB&J, I was excited to see a steady flow of people approaching down the vendors’ lane. To my dismay, though, it seemed most people were making a circuit directly from the free lip balm to the free bumper sticker, avoiding eye contact as they passed me by as if this granted them absolution for not stopping. A tiny blonde girl walked up to my countertop, stood on her toes and craned her neck, and said, “Is anything free here?” and fortunately was ushered away by her mother before I had time to answer.
In the heat of the day, almost noon, an elderly man in a trucker cap approached my table. I’d rolled up the sleeves of my blouse and was fanning myself with an unfolded brochure, perspiration sticking to my neck like condensed water droplets on the outside of a drinking glass.
“Hello, miss,” he said, voice hoarse, “you’re here with the countertop store on West 33rd?”
“Why yes, I am,” I said, more flattered than I would have been if he’d told me I was the long-lost princess of Wales.
“My wife and I were thinking of re-doing our countertops, and giving you guys a call. You aren’t, by any chance, giving out a discount coupon today, are you?”
I plummeted from heat exhaustion into internal anguish. Trying to maintain a level calm, I chuckled and said, “Aha, nope, just here spreading the good word. Would you like my card?” The man took the slip from my hand politely and walked away.
A discount! How could I not have thought of that? I stomped a foot beneath the table. This was the age of immediacy! The age of the Internet! People wanted something now, something to indicate that they were special! I thought about printing out coupons to distribute on Sunday, the second day of the fair, but it was Saturday afternoon, my boss was at his cabin, and I didn’t want to make any financial moves without his approval. After an afternoon of letting a few people touch my countertop and make “ooh”—types of comments before politely declining my cards and fliers, I packed up and went home for the night, flicking a few bugs off the spotless marble before leaving.
The next morning, I made no effort to make it to the fair early. I rolled out of bed without an alarm, whipped up coffee and waffles, and headed to the fairgrounds at midmorning in my old cross-country shorts. As I approached the vendor aisle, I saw flocks of people approaching, tufts of cotton candy and free keychains falling everywhere. Droves were crowding around, I craned my neck. . . My booth!
I hurried over to see that, hanging across the front of the tent, over the countertop like a banner, was the word CRAFTSMANSHIP in shining white spiderweb thread, still glistening with dew, with the web surrounding the empty letters woven at eccentric angles that looked like marble. Fairgoers were whipping out their cell phones to snap pictures, directing their kids in front of the table for a photo-op, turning around backwards for a quick selfie. I tried to keep my smile in-check and make the whole setup look planned as I took my place behind the counter. “Good morning, everyone,” I said, voice almost booming, “is anyone interested in a quality-crafted countertop?”
That night, I made my first post on the company Facebook page, uploading a photo of the fair booth, complete with countertop and web-banner, dew twinkling in the sunshine. On Monday at work, I asked my boss, and he said that we could definitely offer a ten-percent discount to customers who brought in their own photos with the web, or had posted them to their social media outlet of choice.
I didn’t know if it was Char who had made the banner. That night, I got home from work and dumped the sandwich crumbs from the bottom of my handbag underneath the spiderweb in my garage. Maybe spiders like sandwiches, I thought. I really didn’t know.