The Man in Black

November 20, 2017

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You are in the basement of a church, with twenty or so other people seated around an extended horizontal folding table. The usual cross-section, many have nothing in common except for a desire to stop drinking. A lot of them brought coffees from the neighborhood Starbucks. The meeting is nearly over.

Dallas is a thirty-something woman with black hair laced with purple. Wrapped around her left bicep is a tattoo of barbed wire. The tough exterior belies her fragility. Dallas is a newcomer, five long-ass days and longer nights under her belt. She is finishing her share.

“Now that I’m not drinking, my friends don’t want anything to do with me.” She looks around the room. “But what kind of friends are those, right?”

People nod. They’ve all had to say goodbye to their drinking buddies. It comes with the territory, this new life. Dallas continues.

“Anyway, they can go fuck themselves. My daughter’s the only other person that matters to me. I’m doing the deal. I’m doing it!” She taps the Big Book resolutely. “That’s all I got.”

‘Thank you, Dallas!’ the room chimes. It’s a good way to end the meeting. A newcomer with grit.

The first time you saw Dallas, at the loft, you didn’t think she’d get 24 hours. Yet, here she was. The secretary rings her bell then reads from the script:

“As there are only a few minutes left in the meeting it is now time to ask if anyone has a burning desire.”

No hands go up.

“Come on, people. This is the time and this is the place!”

A man raises his hand. His black shirt and pants contrast with his pale skin. He has on sunglasses, which if this weren’t AA might seem peculiar. But not here. The second part of the program’s name is Anonymous. He clears his throat.

“I have a burning desire.”

“Excellent!” The secretary responds. “The man in black has the floor!”

The joke garners a few chuckles from the group. Why not? It’s Friday. We are not a glum lot is a popular phrase from the Big Book.

The man in black reaches into the gym bag sitting in front of him and pulls out two liters of Dewar’s White Label. One at a time he places each bottle on the table.

“What I desire is for each you to have a drink.”

A gasp fills the room but the man in black pays it no mind. He begins arranging large sized Dixie cups into a neat row on the table. He opens a bottle and carefully begins pouring the scotch into a cup, then another. The smell permeates the room.

The secretary rises. Though stunned like everyone else, somebody has to do something. This is her meeting.

“Excuse me, sir,” she says. Her voice quavers. “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing? This is a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Raising an eyebrow, the man in black merely smiles. He could be tending bar.

“Well, I’ve already told you, Mam. I want you all to have a drink with me.” With that said, he slides a full cup to the woman sitting directly across from him. “Starting with you, sweetheart! You look like you could use a pop. I hope you like it neat.”

April, a frail creature no more than 18 years old, looks at the drink and the man with terror. She can’t speak. She is literally shaking.

“I…I…”

The man frowns. “What’s wrong, darling? Scotch not your drink of choice? Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. I was the same way at your age.”

April whispers. “Please. If I have another drink I… I’ll… I’ll die.”

In the room, shock has turned to anger. A few men push their chairs back. Enough is enough. They rise.

Undaunted, the man in black continues looking directly at April. He casually pulls a large handgun from his bag and points it at her face. Inches separate the barrel from her nose.

Everyone freezes.

“No, no, no darling, you’ve got it all wrong.” He says, clucking at her, twitching the gun. “If you don’t have another drink then you’ll die.”

He looks at the standing men. With his free hand he indicates for them to sit. When they do he returns his attention to the young woman.

“Now drink up, darling. It’s damn near closing time.”

With a shaking hand, April lifts the cup to her mouth and sips. It is her first taste of alcohol in almost a year. She grimaces. The man cocks the gun.

“All of it.”

When she is finished she places the empty vessel down in front of her. Two tears collapse from her eyes, the mascara making them look like black rivulets. She sobs quietly.

“Like riding a bicycle, right?”

A couple chairs down from the gunman, an addict named Roberto can no longer hold his tongue. “Please, sir, I beg of you-

The man in black wheels around and points the gun at Roberto. His voice remains calm, sickeningly so.

“Don’t worry, Senor. There’s plenty to go around. Matter of fact, you can drink straight from the bottle. We don’t mind.”

He slides the jug of scotch to Roberto. It stops alongside of his Big Book.

“I…I… can’t drink this!”

Undeterred, the man in black counters. “Sure you can, amigo. Isn’t that what got you hear – drinking this?

Roberto pleads. “But it’s been over eleven years!”

“Then you must be awful thirsty!”

Roberto stares at the bottle. He shuts his eyes. Prays? He reaches for the scotch but instead of picking it up he pushes it away, slowly, until it is just past his fingertips.

“I see,” says the man in black. “Well, how about we start you off with a shot?”

He pulls the trigger blowing a whole through Roberto’s chest. He’s dead before the blood exits his body, which it does suddenly and profusely.

“Any other requests?”

The man in black places the smoking gun on the table. He picks up one of the Dixie cups. “Cheers,” he says and downs it. “Who’s next?”

You have been sitting quietly, just a couple chairs down. You reach over and take one of the full cups of scotch. From the corner of your eye you see the man in black grinning, nodding.

“That’s right, son. If rape is inevitable you might as well enjoy it!”

He may have said that. Or you think he did. It doesn’t matter. A centimeter from your lips is alcohol! For years you’ve wondered if there was a backdoor, a way that would allow you to drink without regret. And here it is. Gunpoint! You lift the cup.

Your eyes they open. You are on your back. Breathing hard. You can smell blood and taste whiskey. But it’s so dark. And why are you in bed? Rainstorm and crickets from your iPhone. Oh. Okay. You’ve had a drinking dream. In the rooms they talk about these nightmares. They say upon awakening you are relieved none of it was real, that you are still sober. Yet “nightmare” isn’t the right word. Being able to drink with impunity. That part you liked.

 

The above is an excerpt from a book I’m writing, The Chaos Merchant.

Gods of Advertising is on hiatus so I may devote my full energy to personal writing as well as for clients. My services include copy writing, brand manifestos and creative business ideas: My portfolio

Do you have a writing project you’d like to discuss?

I look forward to hearing from you!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about “identity politics.” The whole country has. Or should I say the whole country is, because I don’t know that a lot of us are thinking at all. We have become so reactionary it is terrifying. In America, who or what you stand for has taken precedent over measured consideration, empathy, seeing an issue from both sides. There is no more happy medium. You are either one thing or the other. And, honestly, neither thing is good thing.

Be that as it may, I wonder how this impacts brands. Do consumable goods have politics? Should they? Do we attribute identities to cars and toothpaste and everything in between? Yes we do. And no we shouldn’t.

By way of example, let’s start with the obvious. The media. CNN is considered left wing, liberal and Democratic. Fox is right wing, conservative and Republican. Each of these brands wears its identity on their sleeves. Each side brands the other. Both networks are worse for it.

But what of other media? Is Twitter Alt Right because Donald trump loves using it? By extension, is the President/#notmypresident alt right because members of that group seemingly endorse him? Is Facebook liberal because Mark Zuckerberg is? You can see where I’m going with this. Attributing political identities to things is a dangerous game and we are all playing it, now more than ever.

What if all brands of pickup trucks were deemed red state and racist because they are beloved by cowboys and hunters? Those groups like guns and are white so you do the math. Conversely does that make every driver of a Prius and Tesla a liberal Antifa supporter? Sadly, it would appear so. That means if I buy a Ford Pickup I will be identified accordingly… and incorrectly.

This is nothing new. To some extent we have been judging people by their purchases for years. Brands have taken advantage of it. Chasing young people. Courting African Americans. Yet, I think in the last decade, in the age of social media, brands have been increasingly victimized by identity politics. Profiled. The CEO of a fast food franchise has overt religious beliefs, is mocked for them on Facebook or wherever, and suddenly everyone who buys a sandwich there must believe what he believes. Likewise, if a company keeps a low profile and focuses only on doing what they do are they in turn deemed unsympathetic monsters?

It goes on. And we all play a part. What is the end game? Goods and services that cater to one only identity or another? Messaging and Badging their products to appeal to one group but not another. “Welcome Liberals!” Or: “Conservatives Your Money Not Wanted Here!” That’s not a free market. Can we leave the labels for ingredients?

If you identify with my writing, hit me up. I’ll do it for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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You missed.
I’m still going to work in my office on the 26th floor.
I’m still going to fly to Kansas City for Thanksgiving.
I’m still going to write advertising for my clients.
I’m still going to watch Monday Night Football regardless of who’s in the booth.
I’m still going to pray, or not pray, as I see fit.
I’m still going to own a ‘66 Mustang convertible one of these days.
I’m still going to invest in the stock market.
I’m still going to lose 10 pounds.
I’m still going to buy my daughters too many presents for Christmas.
I’m still going to live my life.
Because even though I’m still going to feel what you did for a very long time,
You missed, you sons-of-bitches.
You missed.
.
.
 (Thank you, Mike Coffin for providing artwork and always reminding me…)

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Must…Have…Tweets!

In the highly entertaining Tobe Hooper film, Life Force the human population are turned into ravenous creatures that must suck the essence of life out of other human beings every few minutes or die. Without going into plot (in this case alien invasion), the streets of London are quickly turned into a maelstrom of carnage. Half dead zombies grab onto the living, draining them. The drained then come back to “life” looking for new victims to drain. And so on.

Typically, zombies do not dwell on one meal for long. Unthinking creatures, they rip into one victim after another, leaving the dead and dying in their relentless search for fresher meat. Of course, the bitten quickly “turn” and well you know the rest.

It’s pretty scary…the stuff of nightmares. Many observers have likened the popularity of zombies in our culture to not-so-latent fears about the economy or terrorism; that these ghouls symbolize a loss of control. It also has been suggested that we see ourselves in these mindless creatures, an even scarier thought -for how quickly our appetites run amok. Neither view is wrong. As one of the remaining mortals exclaims during George Romero’s remake of his own classic film, Night of the Living Dead: “We are them.”

Perhaps sadly, it’s also a metaphor for the effect social media is having on more and more of us every day. We have become “content zombies.” No longer able to process information, we rip through new media biting and chewing and spitting out content, barely digesting any of it. Ravenously, we move on to the next. Indeed, barely chewed facts, items and stories pass through us onto the web like offal. Our constant tweets, grams and snaps are mere bits and pieces, carrying links like so many worms, each containing the shred of something devoured earlier. Or something like that.

I myself am turning. Last night I tried reading an article in a magazine. I found myself jumping over paragraphs, skipping entire chunks, gluttonous. Unsatisfied, I started another article. Then another. Within minutes I was in front of my laptop lapping up more, more and more!

Already an addictive personality, once I taste blood I cannot stop gorging. The more I feast the less I retain. A vicious cycle if ever there was one. God help me for I am a content zombie. I am legend.

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Even this is better…

How Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost to the man-thing we now have in office is a case study on screwing up. The reasons vary depending on whom you ask and how honest they wish to be. Regardless, the DNC must get their marketing right the next time. And at the tip of that spear will be a bold tagline. Like it or not, “Make America Great Again” resonated with a lot of people. The Dems need something simple and catchy that captures what they stand for. With so much access to creative talent predisposed to your party’s positions, this should be an easy fix.

Early returns suggest otherwise. Way otherwise. Take a gander at the DNC’s new slogan:

A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.

While some joked it sounds just like Papa John’s tagline, Better Ingredients, Better Pizza I’m afraid that’s the least of this slogan’s problems. At best, it reads like a line from a trade ad, a dismal piece of copy in a paragraph no one will ever read. At worst, bullet points from a strategy statement.

How can the Democrats be so tone deaf? Especially given their failure in November for essentially the same thing. Did Nancy Pelosi write this? “Better wages.” Who even uses the word wages anymore? No one under eighty, that’s who. The word is an artifact from New Deal era politics. Speaking of deals, it that the best way Democrats can assert their new platform –a better deal? Yes, we have a joker in the office but you’re not going to beat him or anyone else with a pair of 2’s.

Here’s what probably happened. They started with a valid insight: that Dems need to better reach out to the working class. Then too many people got in a room and processed too much data – a fatal flaw, I might add, of the Democrats themselves. A committee wrote this line and we can tell. Obama won two terms with “Hope & Change” not “Deals & Wages.” We can only “hope” the DNC “changes” this inept tagline or we’re all singing Hail to the Chief for President Pence.

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The slogan generator, a silly App created by bored creatives, could do better. Or better yet, give me a call. I’ll write you a theme line with Curious Strength.