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A Visit From the Goon Squad

“Selling the General” =
Carroll Gardens/Dec 2005

Where: Brooklyn Bread, on Court Street, where I drank strong café lattes and ate egg-and-cheese sandwiches after dropping off my older son at school. There was a wiseguy feeling to that neighborhood that I enjoyed, being a devotee of The Sopranos — a show I often heard discussed, with discerning enthusiasm, at Brooklyn Bread.

Music: David Gray, “Please Forgive Me”

Why: This may be the only story I’ve written in direct response to a newspaper article, but I don’t remember the original article; only that it sparked the thought of a publicist getting hired to rehabilitate the reputation of a genocidal dictator. I wanted badly to be included in an anthology called This Is Not Chick Lit, which was coming out the following summer. I’d been laboring for a while (in a health food café in Brooklyn Heights, near my younger son’s preschool) over a story called “After the Fact,” about an unidentified investigative squad that examines and catalogs artifacts from the daily lives of people who have just died — this had seemed like a fantastic idea when I first came up with it, but I couldn’t make it work. In desperation — the Chick Lit deadline was approaching — I hauled out my publicist/dictator idea, switched cafes, and wrote in a focused frenzy. It wasn’t until after I’d finished “Selling the General” that I realized that the faded movie star (originally named Pia) was of course Kitty Jackson, from “Forty-Minute Lunch.”


Dolly’s first big idea was the hat. She picked teal blue, fuzzy, with flaps that came down over the general’s large dried-apricot ears. The ears were unsightly, Dolly thought, and best covered up.

When she saw the general’s picture in the Times a few days later, she almost choked on her poached egg: he looked like a baby, a big sick baby with a giant mustache and a double chin. The headline couldn’t have been worse:


Dolly bolted to her feet in her dingy kitchen and turned in a frantic circle, spilling tea on her bathrobe. She looked wildly at the general’s picture. And then she realized: the ties. They hadn’t cut off the ties under the hat as she’d instructed, and a big fuzzy bow under the general’s double chin was disastrous. Dolly ran barefoot into her office/bedroom and began plowing through fax pages, trying to unearth the most recent sequence of numbers she was supposed to call to reach Arc, the general’s human relations captain. The general moved a lot to avoid assassination, but Arc was meticulous about faxing Dolly their updated contact information. These faxes usually came at around 3:00 a.m., waking Dolly and sometimes her daughter, Lulu. Dolly never mentioned the disruption; the general and his team were under the impression that she was the top publicist in New York, a woman whose fax machine would be in a corner office with a panoramic view of New York City (as indeed it had been for many years), not ten inches away from the foldout sofa where she slept. Dolly could only attribute their misapprehension to some dated article that had drifted their way from Vanity Fair or InStyle or People, where Dolly had been written about and profiled under her then moniker: La Doll.