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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/

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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“I’m going to tell you a true story, okay?” Colette is looking at her phone but you know she is listening. You are driving her to rehearsal. She has a big part in Les Miserables. She plays the grown-up version of Cosette. (Colette playing Cosette. How’s that for kismet?) Though you saw the movie a while ago you don’t really remember the story. Victor Hugo is not your thing. Being a musical and being a lead, Colette must sing and she has been practicing a lot. You’ve heard her belting out lyrics from her room, in the shower, on the trampoline in the backyard, which she pretended was a stage. You can’t tell if she’s good or merely loud but her enthusiasm is amazing. Many members from your family are coming in to see her perform. There will be hundreds of other people as well. The tickets cost money and this is a real show. Up until yesterday Colette has been psyched. Then one of her “friends” disrespected her online, insulting her skills and some other shit you’re not sure. Usually a brick, Colette was wounded by it. Your wife told you this much. And you can see it now in your daughter’s sullen demeanor. So you have a story…

“Before you were born,” you begin. “Back when I was coming up at Leo Burnett in Chicago I was preparing for a huge presentation. It was my idea. I wrote all the copy. And I had the show to go with it. I’d been practicing for weeks. What I was going to say. How I was going to say it. I had the shit down.” Colette looks up when you curse. Good. “Anyway, the night before I’m rehearsing my presentation in front of the team. And when I’m done the head account person –the guy who deals with the client- he shits all over my work. All of a sudden he doesn’t like the creative. He’s not happy with it… or me. I’m dumbfounded. Like where’d this shit come from?” Traffic on the 101 is heavy but that’s fine. It allows you to look at your daughter. “The guy says to me, in front of everybody, if you present that work tomorrow it will be Armageddon.”

“The end of the world?” Colette asks. “What did you do?” One of Colette’s most beautiful features her eyes, big and blue, and they are wide open staring at you.

You laugh. “I told him I would make some changes. That I’d do a bunch of things he wanted and not do a bunch of things he didn’t.”

“That really sucks,” your daughter says.

“It would,” you say. “Had I listened to him. “The next day I delivered my presentation just as I’d planned it. My work. My way. And I fucking killed it. When I was done the clients actually applauded.”

“Really?” She’s serious, you can tell. You have her full attention. And something more.

“Story’s not over,” you say. “The meeting ends. My campaign’s a huge hit, right? Everybody’s shaking hands, patting each other on the back. So, I walk over to the account guy who’d dissed my work the night before. He thinks I’m going to shake his hand. I look him right in the eyes, and I say, ‘Welcome to Armageddon, asshole.’ And walk away.” You change lanes swiftly, almost missing the exit.

“Wow, that’s a great story, dad,” Colette says. “It’s all true?”

“Every bit, sweetheart.” At the red light, you look at Colette full on. She is the sassy one. The middle child. The daughter that gives your wife the most trouble. You choose your words. “If people are disrespecting you or your work, you don’t have to change.” The light turns green and you move the car forward. “All you have to be is… devastating. Redemption like that, there’s no sweeter feeling.”

In the parking lot, Colette thanks you again for driving her to practice. You’re not a hugging family but you can see it in her eyes. The fierceness is back. You watch her march toward the theater. The entire world’s a stage and you’ve given an important player some badass direction.

Author’s note: This is an excerpt from a book I’m writing, my fourth. If you like it let me know. Available for freelance as well: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com

And by the way, Colette was devastating.

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Colette et Cosette