Fixed Prices

After the conclusion of the treaty with Germany, a big cloth producer from Berlin called his oldest and most loyal clerk and told him:"The Treaty with Romania was ratified. Mr. Madger1 was quick. We must resume immediately our relations with the Romanian merchants.""You called me to tell me this?""Yes," answered the producer. "We decided to send you to Romania. You will go straight to Bucharest."The clerk hurried to take his hat and a tram."Not so fast," said the employer. "Pack your bags, hug your family, and then you go.""I thought I had to go right away," uttered the clerk."You will be guided by two unique principles," continued the director. "Fixed prices, and a very reliable clientele. Credit: ninety days.""Right. Got it."The day of his departure, the director saw Johann Weber to the station with a view to encouraging his persevering in every possible way, with every honor deemed appropriate for a future conqueror. When the engine had given the whistle, and the train had come alive, the director, waving from the platform, raised two fingers one more time as a final reminder of the two principles. And Johann Weber, stretching out of the window of the car, his hands cupped at his mouth, replied he had got it: fixed prices and reliability.The length of the trip bored Weber who wanted to start doing business right away. He was about to get off at Predeal but he saw no shop."I'll get off further on," Weber said to himself in German, and indeed he got off at Ploiesti, where he visited a few stores.The owner of the firm The Golden Canteen was very pleased with Weber's samples. The calico with vivid patterns vied splendidly with the red flowers on the green background of the cretonne and the yellow, brown and lilac melton in fifteen different nuances."We'll place an order of one hundred thousand Rentenmark," said the owner."Perfekt!" replied Weber and he jotted down the details of the order in his notebook with two perforated pages and a fixed one, and two carbon sheets, also putting the number and the letters inscribed on the white circles of the samples."But don't forget this," the merchant added. "As to the fixed price we use to get a 10 percent discount."Weber's pen stopped in mid air. His eyes bulged out, in unpleasant surprise."No discount…But if you insist, I'll have to chuck the whole order. Until the last moment when got up on the train my employer kept on repeating to me his motto: fixed prices and reliability. You are reliable. But you don't use fixed prices. I am sorry…""Dear Mr. Weber, send a cable to the factory and ask if here is a possibly for a ten percent discount.""No use, dear sir, no use. Ein Wort ist ein Mann," said Weber. "A German has only one word.""Still, I would be delighted if you could send a cable. You have already wasted this day. By tonight we'll have the answer.""To humor you," replied Johann Weber, "I will send a cable. Just to make you see it's useless."Cable reply: "Taking into account that we are dealing with The Golden Canteen we admit to a ten percent discount.""What did I say?" uttered the merchant."You were terribly lucky," answered the salesman, who then left for Buzau right away.At Buzau, the equally cut and symmetrically arranged pieces of cloth in all those beautiful albums delighted the owner of the store The Buzau Louvre, who placed an order of two hundred thousands Rentenmark."I have to draw your attention," the merchant added less politely, "to the fact that for all our orders we get a twenty percent discount.""Twenty percent?" Weber asked in amazement. "It's impossible." And his pen dropped back into the notebook."You cable the factory, mister, and ask them. What does a cable cost, after all?""No! No! This is not possible… Twenty per cent…?!"
Still, Weber send an outraged cable to Berlin.Cable reply: "Taking into account that we are dealing with The Buzau Louvre we accept the twenty percent discount."From Buzau, Weber went to Focsani where he received a three hundred thousand Rentenmark order but the merchant asked for a thirty percent discount. Outrage, cable, reply: "Taking into account the fact that…etc, we accept…" The orders augmented by one hundred thousand Rentenmark from town to town and so did the discount. When he got to Bucharest, a big gross firm placed an order of six hundred thousand Rentenmark and asked for a sixty percent discount. This really got Johann Weber's goat but eventually he received the same cable reply: "Taking into account the importance of the company we accept…"Pause.Romanian grilled mititei sausages, stews, cabbage and meat, all ferociously devoured, got Johann Weber so nauseous that he had to keep to his hotel bed. Feeling weaker and weaker, he sent a cable to the factory. Cable reply: "Director will be there immediately." Indeed the director arrived and was flabbergasted to see a sick man who no longer resembled the Johann Weber of two weeks before, other than in the matter of the hat in the rack. The director summoned three doctors who together consulted the patient."Our client," the doctors said, "will live two more hours."The director, who was not educated to keep his feelings in check, shot his mouth naively:"Mr. Johann Weber, you have two more hours…You were an excellent clerk. For twenty-five years you have faithfully served our old industry. Tell me your last wish and I'll fulfill it…You have kids, a family…"Johann Weber seemed to be meditating."Whatever your wish, say it. What do you want?"Johann Weber, after having given a great deal of thought, said:"You know what I'd like, Herr Direktor? I'd like to know, before I die, what are our latest prices."
1 Virgil Madgearu, Romanian economist, sociologist, and politician, murdered by the Iron Guard.

by Tudor Arghezi (1880-1967)