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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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/

If Silicon Valley is a Game of Thrones (if?) you could make a case for Cisco being its Westeros. After all, the tech giant has been an anchor player in the Valley long before Apple, Facebook and Google. You can also make a good case for Cisco being most responsible for the so-called Internet of Things. Which is exactly what GoT star, Peter Dinklage attempts to do in this latest manifesto from Cisco.

Dinklage was one of the first breakout stars in HBO’s masterpiece and helped GoT become the global phenomena that it is. His amazing portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, the once ‘Lord of Tits and Wine’ to Hand of the Queen of Dragons, has deservedly won him legions of fans as well as two Emmy Awards.

Alas, he cannot save this commercial from its longwinded self. Not by walking and talking. After a minute or so I was done. I knew where the film was going and did not want to tag along. Three minutes is an eternity. Maybe if people started throwing food at him like in the show. Or better yet, if he were joined by the Mountain at film’s end, having a couple pints at the pub.

They say great actors can make reading the phone book sound good. Well, guess what? Phone books were killed by the IoT and technology jargon ain’t Shakespeare. Confession. I’ve written manifestos like these and have worked the same clichés, turned the same phrases. It’s hard not to. There is no “King’s English” for much of this stuff.

Yet, there is one thing that would have improved this film. Simple fix. They should have made it, um, shorter.

For copy cut with Valarian steel and creative direction that will bend your knees: Steffanwork/wordpress

Special note: Looking for a Lit agent or similar to discuss unusual and dynamic project. Message me.

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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.

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One develops habits as a copywriter. For instance, I need to see what words look like in a layout to truly assess them properly. The art directors were right: a block of copy is a visual. It needs to look right. Losing a word or two in order to accommodate the visual is not compromise; it’s part of creating good copy. Seeing your words in a layout provides concrete proof that what you’ve written is right. The perfect paragraph on Word is almost never correct in situation.

This habit did not change with new technology. If anything it became more pronounced. Now I can see finished looking ads before they are produced. Ancient history, I know. It’s been years since anyone relied on marker comps to sell an ad. We all want to see the baby before its born.

Where it gets interesting for me is in other forms of writing, like this blog. While I write these words in Word, and edit the hell out of them in Word, I’ve really only created a first draft. The true test comes when I create a “new post.” Then I see the paragraphs as you would see them. Suddenly their flaws become manifest, almost like an allergic reaction. Lose this sentence. Change that word. Move the photograph down a peg. Why these things were never apparent on a white screen is a mystery to me.

Perhaps it is also a curse. Many bloggers crank out content because new content is the key to new readers. Like in a MASH unit, they sow up stories and send them to the front. The sentences bleed adverbs and are pockmarked with dot-dot-dots, suggesting the writer had no time to tie up the paragraph or suture a proper segue.

I can’t work that way. Whether it reflects in my writing or not (and it may not), I treat each story as if it will be graded by a writing professor. It’s a habit I got into a long time ago.

See what my writing can do for you: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/