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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

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I’ve never lived anywhere else but the city of Chicago. Save for college, I’ve resided here my entire life. Not the suburbs, mind you: Chi-ca-go. Even now, raising three little girls.

So, here’s the ultimate non sequitur: Why in hell to do I own two horses? Three guesses, three answers: Camille, Colette & Lily.

While all my daughters ride, Camille is the prodigy. Honestly, I do not know where she got the DNA, having lived most of her young life in a doorman building on Walton Street next to the Drake Hotel. There are horses there; they pull shivering tourists around Water Tower Place and up Michigan Avenue: servile beasts, indifferent as prostitutes.

As fate would have it, Camille’s best friend at school comes from a southern family –a family with many dollars and horses to spend them on. They keep their ponies on ranches in Michigan and Montana. Nice, right? Well, they’re nice people. They might even be considered gentry. And that’s where Camille got the notion she could actually OWN a horse as opposed to just ride them on vacations and such.

My horses (Coco & Yours Truly) are kept in a barn 35 miles from our home in Chicago. Hawthorn Hills by Lake Zurich. For the record, their upkeep is larger than my current mortgage, and then some. Each of these ponies cost as much as a new Honda Civic, fully loaded.

Also for the record, like a lot of people, I am currently “between jobs.” Unlike them, however, I own…TWO FREAKING HORSES.

Today I found out one of them is gimpy and requires an MRI. What’s that gonna cost me? In addition, I’m being told (maybe sold is the better word) that Camille needs to upgrade to what they call a “green pony.” Fitting moniker, given that it will cost twice as much as the last one.

That’s my dilemma as I sit in a suburban Starbucks a couple miles from the barn. Do I burn money we don’t have on yet another pony or do I say no and teach my daughters about life’s rough patches?

I know these are high-class problems -I’m blessed to have them- but they’ve drowned me today, like the relentless rain outside. It just won’t stop. Yet, I also know tomorrow the sun will come out. Maybe I’ll even get a job along with that new pony.


Mean girls stink!

Strong enough for a man but made for a woman was Secret antiperspirant’s slogan for decades before its patriarchal bent finally rendered the line obsolete. From Leo Burnett, the tag served its mistress well, managing the tricky position of being both for ladies as well as for removing odors.

Thankfully, women are no longer secretive about desiring strength and power. On the contrary, empowered women are fashionable, sexy and ubiquitous. Frankly, the most masculine heroes in Hollywood right now are women. They kick hornet’s nests, vampire butts and anything else that gets in their way. You’ve come a long way baby!

But there’s a dark side to the fairer sex, usually manifesting itself during adolescence. Call it girl on girl meanness. While boys fight with their fists teen girls have a passion for mental cruelty. Humiliating a rival, creating awful rumors about the new girl, degrading the less attractive… these are very real problems and, with social media, are only getting worse. As the father of three little girls I am in complete denial.

But Secret isn’t. Again from Leo Burnett (with IMC2), the deodorant brand launched a provocative new campaign using girl power for good and not evil. Appropriately called “meanstinks,” the campaign uses social and mass media to convince young ladies to refrain from inter-gender hating and, moreover, to try a little kindness. A print ad shows graffiti on a high school girl’s locker. The Headline: Caitlin, your face looks like a pretty flower. The copy: Be nice behind someone’s back. Do it at Facebook.com/meanstinks. In addition to being a good message, the ad itself is pretty sweet… maybe even awards show sweet. Facebook (often employed by teens to spread hate) is used for just the opposite reason: spreading goodwill among ‘friends.’

Even if “meanstinks” only turns around a few haters, it’s still a brilliant move – for womankind and for Secret. When fretful moms see what the brand is doing they cannot help but have a positive reaction, reinforcing the brand’s hard earned equity with them. If young women begin their relationship with Secret by virtue of this campaign that’s good for them… and the brand.

For more on this campaign, a post from one of its creators: leslieshaffer.com

I’m a bit unclear on how Burnett and IMC2 collaborated. If anyone knows the particulars please inform the blog.