26 October 2012 @ 10:34 pm
Title: People Skills
Fandom: Parks and Recreation
Characters/Pairings: Chris and Ben friendship. With a dash of Jen Barkley and a dash of April.
Rating: PG
Word count: ~1700
Summary: Alternate take on Soda Tax: Ben remembers how to not be an idiot.
Notes: Happy birthday, [livejournal.com profile] stillscape! Hope you're having a literally fantastic day! This is based on how you said Soda Tax should have gone. Massive thanks to [livejournal.com profile] whimsical_irony and [livejournal.com profile] stars_inthe_sky for the lightning-fast beta!

People Skills

"Uh. Hey Jen. Listen—having a problem with some of the interns. I'm thinking of making some changes."

"Okay, Ben, sounds great." Jen sounds absent-minded. Ben is sure his boss, over in Ohio, is juggling five things at once, as usual. There is nothing for it. He is going to have to say it straight-out or she is going to ream his ass for wasting her time. 

"So I will look for new ones then. If that's cool. I mean, they're interns, right? They're totally replaceable…"

"Oooh, no no no. That can't happen. They're all family of DC bigwigs."

"Uh what—"

"Yeah, Ellis is Murray's nephew, Nathaniel is somehow related to Donald Rumsfeld, but don't ask me—I can't remember how. Brittany's dad is my dentist. And Ben Bernanke's. So— Oh, hold on a sec." Jen pauses and then Ben can hear her yelling, "Yeah. No. Just a minute. I'll be right with you, Congressman!" 

When she addresses Ben again it is in quick, clipped words, and with a tone of finality in her voice, "Ben, listen, I'm gonna have to go here, so you better figure something out with the interns. I don't know—scare them into submission. Apply some people skills. You can do that right? Great. Talk to you later."

And the line goes dead. Ben slowly puts down the phone. April is still standing in his office, watching him. 

"So, can I tell them they're all fired?" she asks with undisguised glee. 

"No!" Ben shouts. "I mean, no. Don't do that. We're— I mean, I'm going to have to figure something else out …"  He props his forehead in his hands. His head is spinning. All these kids, so unwilling to make an effort, and they're all so unbelievably, intimidatingly well-connected… 

"People skills," Ben mutters, more to himself than anyone else. There's a sinking sensation in his stomach. 

"I don't have any kind of people skills!" he exclaims after a while, throwing up his hands in desperation. 

"Well, yeah, you're a huge dork. Obviously."

"Thanks, April. That's exactly what I need to hear right now."

April just looks at him, pointedly. He feels like she is looking right through him, like she is expecting him to know what to do here, but he can't even think straight, his mind is reeling, and that unwavering, penetrating gaze is not at all helping him get his thoughts in order—

"Mh. Wonder how you even survived all these years," April says finally, moving to go. "It defies logic, practically." 

The door swings shut behind her and it hits him. How did he survive all these years? It wasn't his people skills, that's for sure. His people skills translated to people wanting him dead, for god's sake. But there was someone—an annoyingly hyper-cheerful someone whose attitude made Ben roll his eyes at least half a dozen times a day, every day, for twelve years, but it also kept him out of trouble more times than he can count, with innumerable civil servants in 40-odd towns in Indiana … 

Ben is surprised, when he picks up the phone, that he still knows Chris's number by heart. People don't remember phone numbers these days, but he and Chris go back so far that Ben has called him countless times, from all different kinds of phones. Once, Ben remembers, he had to call Chris by collect call from a phone booth in the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall just outside New Amsterdam. Ben had been standing there, quivering in the November air, because two rogue city hall employees had thought kidnapping him, making him strip down to his underpants, and leaving him standing like that in the empty parking lot in the middle of the night was an appropriate punishment for the smug auditor who had gotten them laid off. When Ben called him, Chris rushed over there. He brought Ben clothes, gave him a hug and a pat on the back, bought him dinner, and then left the connecting door between their motel rooms open that night without commenting on it or making Ben ask for it. Ben had thought nothing could restore his faith in humanity after spending half an hour in the middle of nowhere trembling with fear and cold and humiliation. But, somehow, Chris had been a really big help that night. It wasn't just what he did either. It was how he seemed to know just what Ben needed right then, and the ease with which he was able to treat Ben's wounded ego … 

People skills, Ben thinks, as he hears Chris's phone ringing at the other end of line. That's what he needs right now. 

"Chris Traeger!" 

Ben can practically hear the exclamation mark after the name. He grins. Some things never change.

"Um, hey Chris. It's me. It's Ben." 

"Ben Wyatt! It is so good to talk to you! What's up? How's Washington?"

"Oh, it's great. Pretty great. For the most part. Hey, and … and what's new with you, man?"

"Things are going phenomenally great. I am helping Andy train for the police academy entrance exam — and—he is deplorably out of shape and overweight. I can't wait to see what I can do in three months to whip him into shape. It is—literally—going to be one of my greatest accomplishments."

"Good luck with that."

"Thanks. So." Chris must have stuck the phone between his ear and shoulder because Ben hears him clapping his hands. "What can I do for you, Ben?"

"Uh, actually, I was wondering if I could ask your advice on something." 

"Of course. Ben! There is literally nothing in the world that would make me happier than being able to help you. Shoot!"

"Haha, okay, well, um, the thing is, I have these interns—a whole bunch of interns, not just April. And I mean, I—" Ben curses himself for stumbling over his words like he always does. How does Chris manage to remain so well-spoken at all times? "Well, basically, they're just slacking off. Need to be reminded five times before they get anything done and then they … ahem … they play these pranks. On me."

"I see." 

"Because, well, they're all from these incredibly important, influential families, so there's no end to their feeling entitled, I guess, and I just—" 

His voice has risen to a high pitch. Ben stops and forces himself to take a deep breath. 

"It's just …," he continues. "They're not what you'd expect them to be. At all. And I'm not sure how to handle—"

"They're not motivated, Ben."

"Yes. That's it!"

"Well, you need to get them motivated. That is—literally—the most important thing. What have you been doing?" 

"I—uh. I guess I … remind them of their assignments. But they need everything spelled out to them, they won't use the correct fonts, Chris—" 

"Ben—I hear you, and I understand you. You are frustrated because you expected working on a national campaign would be enough to motivate these interns to do good work. But that is obviously not the case."

"Uhu. Yes. That sounds right."

"I think you have to remember, any job is only interesting as long as you enjoy doing it and feel your contributions are being valued."


"So, for example, are you stressing how important each and every one of their contributions is in achieving your ultimate goal of winning the election?"


"Start there. Make them feel that they should be proud of their accomplishments. Let them know how proud you are of them when they get something right."

"All right, yeah, I suppose I could do that."

"And above all, keep a firm hand on them. Rules are rules. Let them know what you expect and stick to it. Act surprised when something isn't done on time, rather than like you didn't expect it to get done anyway. Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being."

"That … that makes a surprising amount of sense, actually. Thanks, Chris. Really."

"Anytime. So happy I could help!"

"Glad to hear you're doing well, by the way." 

"All the better for hearing from you, buddy! Listen, I have got to run. Literally to go running with Andy. But feel free to call me anytime. Let me know how things go!" 

"I will. Thanks."

"And give my love to Jen!" 


But Chris has hung up already. Ben stares blankly at the phone after that last non-sequitur. Finally, he shakes his head and resolves to ask Chris what he meant by that next time. 


And then Ben goes and talks to the interns. It's weird at first, because he feels like he is sounding like Chris — just without the excessive pointing or the blinding smile. But it does work. More assignments get done quicker. Even April starts handing things in on time—not without snark, but Ben can live with that as long as she's pulling her weight. And, somehow, making everyone feel like they are part of a team, like they are pulling together to achieve something important, makes the interns' impressive family backgrounds matter less. Ben soon forgets that Jen and Ben Bernanke share the same dentist. He doesn't feel a wave of queasiness anymore every time he talks to Nate, who is somehow connected to Donald Rumsfeld. And when he finally meets Congressman Murray, Ben is suddenly decidedly less impressed with the fact that Ellis is this man's nephew. 

Chris, for his part, succeeds in motivating Andy. When he hears Andy talking about how much he loves April, he smiles, because he loves them both as well. Chris loves April and Andy and Ben—and everyone and the whole entire world. And he knows they love him too, because they are his friends. Chris is high on a wave of positive energy after talking to Ben for the first time in months; he is pretty sure he could run a marathon right then and there. He may not have found the love of his life just yet, but what does that matter right now? It is, after all, so good to have friends. 

( Read comments )
Post a comment in response:
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.