The “geeter stick”

October 25, 2017

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The “geeter stick”

Coach Grapera has the class doing laps, twenty-five, no stopping. He marks time with a sawed off pool cue, hitting the cold, white tiles with its tip. Whack! Whack! Whack!

And you can’t make it. Maybe the water’s too warm, the chlorine too strong. Maybe you’re just too fat. You slow down, trying not to take in water. Your arms burn and so do your eyes. You grab the side of the pool. Just in time, because now you are choking. You hated gym class in general, sucked at most sports, if rope climbing and dodge ball counted as sports. But pool days were the worst. You had to swim naked, a barbaric rule from when Lane Tech was only for boys. Questioning it was futile, only bringing criticism. You were a sissy if you complained.

Whack! You feel the stick on your knuckles. “Come on, Fatso,” you hear Grapera yell. “Move your ass!” You will your ass to move, pushing off from the ledge. You paw the water, floundering forward. Whack! The stick catches your right butt cheek and part of your lower back. The pain is tremendous. It feels like a shark has bitten you. Whack! This time Grapera hits your shoulder. Struggling to tread water, you shout at the coach. “Jesus Christ! Why won’t leave me alone!” Your words reverberate off the walls.

Nobody is swimming anymore. You are aware of some thirty boys standing or treading water. Their eyes go from you to him. The water ripples to a calm. Nobody says shit.

“Get out of the water,” Grapera commands. “Now!”

And so you get out of the water, slowly, until you are standing naked and dripping at the pool’s edge. You begin to shiver. Like a newborn kangaroo, your minuscule prick crawls up into your large belly. You’d just seen the movie about Australia in science. So had your classmates. Embarrassed is not the word. You are scared. Petrified. Grapera tenses his grip around the pool cue. You think he is going to hit you again. He points instead.

“That way.”

You walk along the side of the pool, tempted to cover your genitals, but afraid that doing so will only make you look more like a girl. You reach the front of the diving board, where you stop. It is cold and your naked body won’t stop shaking. Coach Grapera seems to be feeding on your fear, turning it into something worse. He looks furious.

“Now get on the board.”

You climb the metal steps. In the gym, Grapera has an assistant, a buxom Polish girl named Yolanda. How she gets out of class to serve him is yet another bafflement. At least she is not allowed here.

“Walk to the end.” He wiggles the pool cue, impatiently.

The diving board feels like sandpaper on your feet. Your chubby thighs rub together. Your dick, a peanut, jiggles in the cold. If Grapera plans on hitting you again it will be now, because you are running out of diving board.

He remains silent, flipping his cue from one hand to the other.

You are at the end of the plank, toes curled around its edge. Like crocodiles, the others stare at your flesh. You hadn’t fully noticed them until now, they being so quiet and you being so frightened. Why is he doing this to me, you wonder? He’s grinning. And so are the crocodiles.

“Extend your arms on both sides, all the way out.”

You lift your arms, stretching them as far as you can. You wish they were wings, so you could fly away.

“Keep them there!” Grapera calls it his “geeter stick” and it stings your flank like an angry wasp. The pain explodes up your arm and down your side. “You will stay like that for the rest of the period,” he says. Raising his voice: “Maybe put some muscle on those arms so that you can actually swim!”

The laughter begins. At first only a murmur. It grows and echoes in the blue-green cavern. It is the most awful sound. And you can only stand there, your arms out, already burning. Naked.

“You look pretty sad, little hen. Doesn’t he class?”

He’s making fun of your name. Now you are a girl. “Look at her,” he tells the class. “This is what giving up looks like.”

The laughter is worse than his stick. You begin to cry, unable to hold back. Mercifully, the clock on the wall indicates only a few more minutes remain until the bell rings, ending this. Yet you still must contend with the locker room, the wet towels, and the jeers. Once a familiar humiliation, today will be even worse.

Reflecting back on that day is difficult. It took years before you acknowledged it to anyone. But that doesn’t make the memory any less vivid. On the contrary, you still smell the chlorine. You see yourself up on that plank, arms outstretched, like Christ on the cross. He had done much to provoke his attackers. What was your sin?

*            *            *

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

I look forward to hearing from you!

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Back when I first started out as a copywriter for the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago, I had been on the job only a few months when a new copywriter was hired into our creative group. Tom Coleman came to us from a small agency in Washington DC, along with his art director partner Bob Wyatt.

Tom and Bob would go on to create wonderful award-winning work for Dewar’s White Label, among other campaigns. One of my all time favorites from his “oeuvre” was this print ad, convincing young men to try Dewar’s even though research suggested most new drinkers hated the taste of scotch. Freaking genius.

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Tom had a strong personality with a biting wit. He also possessed fashion sense way beyond most young men and, frankly, just about everyone else in Chicago. (Except for maybe our boss, Ted Bell but that’s another story.) Tom regularly came to work in a suit and, if not that, always donning a jacket. Unless he was hung over or ill, he always wore a tie, usually a bow tie, and never a clip on. He cherished his weathered Cordovan loafers from Brooks Brothers. His shirts were monogrammed.

Needless to say, we road him hard for his sartorial streak. But like Dewars, Tom “never varied.” He knew he was ahead of the game and certainly beyond us slobs. Despite our wardrobe differences, Tom and I became good friends. He tried to get me to dress like an adult but unless we were presenting to a client, I dressed for comfort not success. Truth be told, even my “fancy” clothes were pretty lame. Especially compared with Tom’s.

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Tom Coleman, towering over the shallow end…

I’m writing this not to reminisce but because Coleman (as we often called him) has a fabulous and fun new book that just came out, detailing the greatest fashion missteps of otherwise smart and stylish people. It’s called, I Actually Wore This: Clothes We Can’t Believe We Bought. In it a bunch of genuinely cool people (some famous, some not) talk about the single most embarrassing article of clothing in their closet: why and where they acquired the garment and a fun anecdote about it. Each person is marvelously photographed in said item(!) by Jerome Jakubiec. As Tom wrote in his inscription to us: “It won’t change your life but it may liven up your coffee table.”

It’s a hoot, hard to stop reading and gawking at. Obviously, Tom’s “concept” is titillating tapping into our voyeuristic tendencies. But it’s more than that. There’s something intimate and warmly human about the book. With a handful of words and a portrait, you really get to know these people. How they could buy, let alone wear, these things is actually a far bigger question that it first might seem. We discover the ego’s power and the trouble (albeit harmless here) that it can get us into.

Tom once told me he was a “collector of people.” In I Actually Wore This we see the fruits of his labor. Coleman’s book is available on Amazon and likely the chicest coffee tables.

Though my wardrobe is still suspect, I write copy fashionably well: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/