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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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/

 

Do you know where you’re going to?

That’s the signature line from the Theme from Mahogany by Diana Ross. A lovely number, back in the day it was a sensation. But that line. Well, as tuneful at it is it also happens to be wrong. As a sentence it’s grammatically incorrect. Ask any 7th grader. it ends in –or should I say ends with- a preposition. Spell check will tell you the same thing. That “to” is tacked on. Technically, the line should be, “Do you know where you’re going?”

However, the correct line would also be the wrong line. Without that tiny,”incorrect” word the song may very well have failed. Theme from Mahogany might not have even happened.

Which got me to thinking about copywriting. How many times have we also used poor writing (grammatically speaking) to deliver stunning creative results?

“Think Different” anyone?

It’s what we do. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Good copy takes poetic license with the written word. And sometimes that means ending a sentence with a preposition. Or starting one with one. Or repeating words like “one” to make a point. To stand out. To shine. That’s the same reason I just used two phrases as complete sentences, even though spell check implored me not to. And look at that. There’s “to” at the end of another sentence. For that matter there’s “that.”

I realize all this may seem quaint in the age of social media and texting. Never before has the written word taken so much abuse. Brutal spelling, abbreviations and the like have manhandled the world’s languages into grotesque shorthand.

But that is how people choose to communicate. We like it. And for the most part, any and all marketing communications must adjust accordingly or risk dying off like big words and good manners.

For superb copy, creative direction and the purposeful misuse of prepositions : https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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Crazy good…

For the past few days, even longer, I have been working on a manifesto for one of our clients. Actually, I’ve been working on two. Even more actually, I’ve been working on manifestos for 25 years, since becoming a copywriter.

Nothing suits me more. Like many a creative soul, I am by nature a show off. And this is the way I can do it. I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.

Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto or mantra or anthem is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject matter, aka the brand.

Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Recall Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.

The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.

At least the good ones do.

Alas, we’ve all heard or, God forbid, written our share of shitty ones. They can be purple or redundant or both. They get long pretty damn fast. They turn into cheesy rip-o-matics. Yet, in a weird way, even the bad ones sound pretty good. They are like pizza that way.

Why?

Because we slave over them. Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family. None of that. These are the best neighborhoods in Adland. No trespassing!

May I write one for you? https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

mlk-in-jail

When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.

On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 87th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html