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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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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Gods of Advertising is temporarily on hiatus so I may devote my full energy tending to clients. My services include copy writing, brand manifestos and creative business ideas: Portfolio  Do you have a writing project you’d like to discuss?

In addition, I am currently seeking representation and/or publishing for literary endeavor. Any and all inquiries, please contact me at my email.

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…)