“Friedster, what the hell are you doing with that chicken?”
Startled, Ned Friedgen looked up to find his moon-faced boss hovering in the doorway.
“Oh. Hi, sir,” the design engineer acknowledged. “Just fiddling with the ‘Nequity’ algorithm again.”
“What’s with the blindfold,” Baron Schlumpf pressed as he eyed the fowl.
Ned’s brow wrinkled in confusion as he gnawed on a piece of vending machine jerky.
“Exactly,” Mr. Schlumpf responded, pulling up a lime green, ergonomic bean-bag chair and plopping down uninvited.
“I understand that this is your first week here,” he said over the chair’s protesting contents. “It’s only natural that you want to ease into things, feel your way around a bit before sticking your neck out.”
He chuckled at his own pun.
“I just don’t understand why-” Ned began.
“We didn’t bring you on board to play it safe,” Mr. Schlumpf continued over him. “If there is one thing we here at Umilleau.com are all about, it’s taking risks. We want you to be bold. We want you to be outlandish. We want you to be the guy that we hand-picked out of the World of Warcraft chat room for this position. We don’t want Ned Friedgen. We want the Friedster.”
Ned hung his head; a palpable air of defeat overpowering his liberally-applied Axe Body Wash as the chicken pecked at his vintage Converse All Stars.
“Ah, don’t take it so hard,” Mr. Schlumpf consoled. “You’ll get the hang of it. The most important thing to remember is that we don’t think outside the box, because there is no box. Take your wildest idea, and make it even wilder. That’s the Umilleau way.”
“There is no spoon,” Ned intoned, affecting his best Keanu Reeves impersonation before biting off another succulent hunk of jerky. He thought it might be bison, but that didn’t seem quite right.
“Take your chicken here,” Mr. Schlumpf continued. “Teasing the plumage into a rockabilly pompadour was a fine start, you just need to dial it up a notch to really take it to the next level.”
“Next level,” Ned asked.
The bird tugged at a red shoelace. Ned decided to call him Elvis.
“We don’t just want a chicken,” Mr. Schlumpf answered. “We want a blindfolded chicken.”
“Is that even legal?”
“We don’t just want a blindfolded chicken,” Mr. Schlumpf pressed on, his loose jowls threatening to consume his skinny, black tie as his excitement grew. “We want a blindfolded chicken that navigates an electrified hopscotch grid with randomly assigned corresponding numbers.”
“Oh my God!”
“Most importantly,” Mr. Schlumpf concluded. “We want it by Friday.”
“You want me to completely redesign the home evaluation metric by Friday,” Ned squealed in horror.
His boss nodded.
“We’ve had a good run with the blind donkey we have been using to select property values from a top hat,” Mr. Schlumpf confided, shifting gears.
“Are you serious,” Ned questioned. “I looked my house up on the site last night, and the value was off by a hundred thousand!”
“An all too familiar refrain,” Mr. Schlumpf admitted. “Alas, Blinky had to die.”
Ned’s hazel eyes bulged out of his head in near perfect imitation of the image of John Belushi under the word College on his grey t-shirt.
“You killed a donkey because he picked the wrong values out of a hat?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mr. Schlumpf retorted. “I’m not an ogre. We didn’t send him off to the great barn in the sky because of the ninety two percent margin of error.”
“Then why,” Ned asked, perplexed.
“Money,” Mr. Schlumpf answered. “The damn thing wanted more money.”
“So what, um … what did you do with him?”
A gleam rose in Mr. Schlumpf’s eye.
“How’s the jerky,” he asked with a wicked grin.
Horrified, Ned spat the last few strands onto the bamboo floor.
Mr. Schlumpf bowed his mostly bald head and made the sign of the cross in mock reverence.
“Couldn’t you just ship him off to the circus or something,” Ned asked, trying to wipe the oily taste from his tongue.
“And set an example for the chicken that contract holdouts are rewarded,” Mr. Schlumpf demanded. “I think not!”
Mr. Schlumpf’s eyes narrowed as he wagged a bloated finger at his underling.
“Don’t you go getting too close to the talent, kid,” Mr. Schlumpf warned. “Your predecessor made that mistake. Couldn’t handle the inevitable eventuality. That’s why it falls to you to get a new fortune-telling beast trained up before the East coast FSBO market starts crawling our site this weekend.”
“Can I ask a stupid question.” Ned ventured.
“There are no stupid questions,” Mr. Schlumpf assured him with a conspiratorial wink. “Just stupid people eager to be manipulated.”
“Why don’t we just implement a reliable analysis of a home’s true worth?”
Mr. Schlumpf erupted in wet laughter, ending in a coughing fit.
“Sure,” he croaked between spasms. “While we’re at it, we can call ourselves ‘appraisers,’ or ‘Realtors!’ Maybe catch a plane to look at each individual property we evaluate from two thousand miles away?”
“Look,” he lectured the newbie. “We are creating our own niche here. To survive online in this day and age, you can offer something reliable, or you can offer something revolutionary. We offer revolutionary.”
“Even if it doesn’t work?”
“Especially if it doesn’t work,” Mr. Schlumpf stressed. “Consumers want ‘right now’ more than they want ‘right,’ so they’ll keep coming back as long as the lie is too brazen to doubt.”
“Seems like a business model with a limited shelf life,” Ned argued, deciding he wouldn’t list this career detour when he updated his resume for Monster.
Mr. Schlumpf grudgingly nodded.
“Once the novelty wears off and the public starts looking at your service critically, investor capital dries up faster than a Danny Bonaduce comeback.”
“So you need a shiny, new gimmick,” Ned intuited. “Or a feathery one, as it were.”
They both looked at the quizzical chicken, which was now pecking at its reflection in the funhouse mirror on the exterior wall where a window should have been. Mr. Schlumpf was right. Elvis didn’t strike Ned as particularly captivating.
“How about a card-counting baboon with a purple ass,” Ned suggested at last.
“Now you’re getting it.”