Smugglers' Inn started as a theme restaurant in Blaine, Minnesota and has become, if not a legitimate advertising agency, then a viable agency alternative with two dedicated ad employees, Carol Henderson, art director and Jarl Olsen, copywriter. Read the whole saga in these posts or click the pirate to follow the entertaining tweets of our dishwasher, Pongo. Who may or may not be an orangutan.!/PongoTryHard

Friday, December 16, 2016

And whose leprechaun are you? (Smug's on Drugs, part 2)

“¡Ahi esta! El ladrón de mi galletas.”

The woman in the aqua-blue housekeeping uniform was maybe four-feet-eleven and about as wide.  I’d put her age at over 40, but anything more specific would be a guess; she was simply moving too fast.  After bursting into our rented conference room and pointing a stubby, accusatory finger at one of my team members, she elbowed aside an Armani-clad product manager from Glaxo Smith Kline who, along with three other representatives from that company, had convened at the Minnehaha Conference room of the Nicollet Island Inn that Saturday morning to be convinced that Smugglers’ Inn was, indeed, capable of handling all domestic marketing needs for Glaxo’s new happy pill, Flumoxidol. (Street name: fluffies).

“Estas galletas no son para ustedes.  Tienes que comprar galletas.   Alguien pagó por ellos,” the housekeeper said, and leaned her stout body over the tasteful, pickled pine conference room table in order to grasp the only thing that had impressed our potential clients fifteen minutes into SI Powerpoint presentation #3. This being a platter of the Nicollet Island Inn’s justifiably famous, made-on-site chocolate chip cookies.

“Ustedes no comprar los galletas.”

Seeing chocolate being taken away, one of the Glaxo clients, an attractive woman with short, steel-grey hair, snatched a cookie from the disappearing platter.  It was an automatic response, like a fish striking at a lure or how you or I might grab one more bacon-wrapped shrimp from a passing waiter’s tray as we were hustled into a banquet hall at the commencement of an awards dinner.


The steel-haired woman was speechless.  We were speechless.  The maid wasn’t speechless, but what she was saying was in such rapid Norteno-Mexican Spanish that Ricky Ricardo, speaking from some lost episode of “I Love Lucy” would have had to just hold out his upturned palms in a gesture of surrender, shrug and say, “Don’ look ah ME.  I’m from Coo-ba!”

This maid had slapped our client’s hand.  Slapped it hard, like a mother reprimanding a child attempting to filch a coin from the collection plate.  The steel-haired woman stared at her hand.  The rest of us stared at the maid.  The maid turned away so as to prevent any eye contact.

“Sorry,” the maid said in English.  She set the platter of cookies down on the carpeted floor of the Minnehaha Room and slipped out, head down.

We apologized to our clients.  What else could we do?  Clearly, the meeting was terminated.  The Flumoxidol account would go to some agency who could make through a presentation without having their snacks being repossessed or their guest’s hands being slapped by foreigners in teal uniforms.  Smugglers’ Inn, the world’s only restaurant/ad agency, would need to go back to being just being Smugglers’ Inn, the restaurant for a while.  We still owed vendors $4,000 from our last foray into marketing consultancy, but that’s what credit cards are for.  We would fight another day.

Carol, my co-creative director at Smugglers’ Inn, actually gave a pretty funny impromptu speech in which she quoted Harry Truman, her favorite president.  The third member of our team, Smuggler’s Inn’s Irish Bartender, Scotty, bowed like a bad stage actor and said something like he’d be playing the room all week.  Lame, but with Scotty’s brogue, it was passable charming.  For my part, I acknowledged everyone in the room by name and made a show of taking a bite out of one of the cookies just to lighten the mood.  But it was over.  We packed up quickly and were almost out the door when someone spoke.

“We are not done here.”

It was the Armani suit man.  The leader.  The Alpha.
Carol and I exchanged looks.  Were we still in this thing?  We did have five minutes left of our presentation, SI Powerpoint #3.

“OK!” I said, a smile breaking out across my face.  Carol and I started to take our positions at the table while Scotty hurried to re-connect the MacBook Pro containing SI Powerpoint #3.  “I think we were just getting to the good part,” I continued.  “I’m pretty sure that one else is will bring you ideas like these.”

Armani Man waved his hand in unambiguous dismissal.  What?  Now he didn’t want to hear us?  I was confused.

“Of course, we can just talk you through the high points,” I said, looking for help from my compatriots, who also seemed lost. “If you prefer to skip the dog and pony show.”

“I need YOU to get that woman back in here.  That maid.”

“Why?  She left the cookies,”  said Scotty.  I thought it was a funny line.

“I don’t give a shit what language she does it in, but SHE is going to apologize to HER.”  Armani Suit indicated the Steel-haired woman, who did not like this plan.

“Kyle, really.  Let it go.  Please...”

Armani Man held up his hand, silencing his underling.

“No one strikes one of my employees.  No one.  What happened here was unacceptable.  It wan an insult to our company and to me, personally, as the senior representative.”

I re-stated our earlier apology.  The woman whose hand had gotten slapped tried to talk sense to her boss.

“Kyle, the woman said she was sorry.”

“Jesus! We have the cookies,” Scotty repeated.  He was grinning, but I could tell that this prick was getting his Irish up.  With his own legal status murky, no doubt our bartender had sympathy for this fellow immigrant, whose only sin was to take her crap job too seriously.

Alpha Kyle didn’t blink. “And when the maid comes back,” he said, “I want the manager with her.”

The Steel-Grey haired lady protested even more strenuously.  The other two bodies from Glaxo said nothing.  Just like they had said nothing during our presentation.

“Kyle,” I said, affecting a contrite tone that I wasn’t feeling.  “I have to acknowledge responsibility.  I thought you’d like this place, but it’s pretty clear that they weren’t at their best.  Frankly, neither were we and we’re sorry about that.  We know that Flumoxidol is an important product for your company and for the people who would benefit from...”

“Get...the maid.”

Carol started to talk.  No doubt, she would have smoothed things over and possibly even left the door open for another run at a Glaxo product, (with a different brand manager), but Scotty cut her off.

“I did it.  My fault.  Blame me.”

“Scotty...(Don’t say fookin’.  Please don’t say...)”

“I stole the fookin’ cookies!”

Armani Man flinched as if someone had spritzed his face with water.

“There.  I admit culpability.  I looked in the other conference room and I saw that they had this massive stack of chocolate chippies smelling like heaven and then when I got to OUR conference room--no cookies.  Just some bottled water in a salad bowl with ice.  Horrible presentation.  I assumed that someone just forgot our cookies, so I took theirs.  Kind of like, if there’s no pepper shaker at your table you get up and nick one from a table no one’s sittin’ at.  I didn’t tell these guys,” Scotty indicated Carol and me. “I didn’t tell these guys because, well, I didn’t think much of it, you know?”

“That doesn’t change the fact that one of my employees was ASSAULTED today in this room.”

“Oh, fer fook’s sake, Kyle.  You can’t be fookin’ serious.  It was a mistake.  Human beings make them.  Obviously, it was this woman’s responsibility to put cookies in yon conference room and she didn’t want to get blamed for a cock-up.  Not enough she’s probably scared off her tits that she is about to lose her job.  Not enough she apologized.  Not for you. No, YOU need to shame her in front of her manager.  Are you a sadist, Kyle?  You like seeing women humiliated?  Fair enough. Everyone’s got their little kinks.”

Scotty continued talking and no, it did not get any better. He eventually allowed Carol to lead him out of the conference room by his arm, but not before he’d offered to pull our would-be client’s pants down and “bugger you like a proper choir boy”.

The ride home was quiet.  Workmen were stringing lights on the Nicollet Bridge prior to the evening’s “Holidazzle” parade.  Two of them were a good 40 feet off the ground on these bizarre-looking scissor lifts.

“You wouldn’t get me up on one of those,” I said.

“Oh, they don’t move,” Carol said.  “Not hardly at all.  They adjust for any wind with GPS.  I talked to the guy whose company manufactures them.  They’re the shit, as far as industrial lifts go.”

“They’re local?” I asked Carol.

“Their corporate office is here. They assemble them in Hayward, Wisconsin.  My brother with the cement business was one of their first customers.”

Someone in the car, I forget who, said that it would be fun to see a bunch of these things move like synchronized swimmers and then we were talking about shooting them at night with neon so that they made trails and could you have an app that let you demo one remotely?  If this things moved to music, what music would be they move to?

And so it begins.  Again.

This concludes the last Smug’s entry for the very odd year of 2016.  Prince is gone.  Bowie is gone.  We’re still on the merry-go-round and, presumably, so are you. (Prince? If you can read this, we are STILL your biggest fans.) From all of your friends at Smugglers’ Inn both real and imaginary, merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukkah.  Feliz Navidad.  Please check back for our annual New Year’s Eve post-mortem sometime after the first.  Until then, we shall be in the bar.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Smug's on drugs.

This is our Thanksgiving story.  Sorry.s
“Wugga-mugga! By the tits of Saint Agatha, I’m trollied! Bandersnatch! Rostrum, nostrum, Bostrum...MEIN FUEHRER, DER LEIBENSTRAUBEN IST BURNINGK!”

Carol held up a fist to bump; these were the first intelligible words that the human-shaped lump in the back seat had uttered in well over an hour.  Carol, my co-manager and co-creative director at Smugglers’ Inn, had had the inspired idea to hit Starbuck’s drive-through before giving in to temptation and dumping Bucket Boy outside the E.R. of Coon Rapids General and retreating.

“Shy of a syringe of Haldol,” Carol stated, ”caffeine is the best thing you can give someone who is experiencing a psychotic reaction to anti-psychotic drug.” 

I resisted the temptation to say, “And you outta know!”  The truth was, all three of us had ingested the same drug earlier in the evening.  While I wasn’t an incoherent, incontinent mess with pupils like pinwheels, neither was I the happy clam that my day manager seemed to be.  As I took a hand off the steering wheel to bump fists with Carol, the 4-runner veered across the center line, eliciting a long “HONK!” from a passing Chevy Tahoe that I had not even seen.

“Jesus!” I said.

“Wept!” said the lump in the back seat.

“The coffee is working,” proclaimed Carol. “See?”

I didn’t.  I re-occupied the right lane and dropped the 4-runner’s speed to a stately 48 MPH.  I was going nowhere and in no hurry to get there.

Are you following along, reader?  I’m afraid that if I back up far enough to give you a complete accounting of the events that led to me driving about on a school night with our day manager and a hallucinating Irish national with no legal status, you would simply stop reading.  Besides, I am drowsy (a common side-effect of Flumoxatal).  Suffice it to say, America’s favorite restaurant-cum-ad agency had taken it in the shorts when we’d lost our only paying client, the 2017 St. Paul Winter Para-olympic games.  Some philanthropist from Aspen had dashed the city of St. Paul’s hopes of hosting the competition, along with our hopes of ever getting paid.  The Saint Paul Winter para-olympic committee disbanded, leaving Smugglers’ Inn, the agency of record, on the hook for a video shoot and miscellaneous expenses amounting to four grand.  Which Smugglers’ Inn did not have.  Suggestions, anyone?

“Pharma is the new dot-com,” had declared my co-manager, Carol, (who really is crazy and doesn’t just play a crazy person on TV). Carol felt that it was high time Smugglers’ Inn snagged one of these fat ethical drug accounts and didn’t she have just the drug?

“Fludoxipole?” I was reluctant to pitch any piece of business before I could pronounce it.

“Flu-mox-ah-TALL,” Carol corrected.  “Or “Fluffies”. 

I don’t know how Carol got us into the Flumoxatal pitch without even submitting a statement of capabilities to Glaxo Smith Kline, Flumoxatal’s manufacturer.  She is on a first-name basis with a surprising number of business heavies, a benefit from years of volunteering at PGA golf events. 

“We’re pitching in 9 days,” Carol had informed me this morning. “We’re going 2nd.”  We would be pitching against two pharma agencies.  Their names were not being disclosed to us, but it was safe to assume each was an in-house agency for Glaxo, who have the reputation of being dicks about conflicts of interest.

“Before we do anything, I think we should experience this drug for ourselves.  Dr. Pants was good enough to provide some samples.”  As Carol said this, she was shaking out two pills each for herself and me and one for Scotty.  Scotty’s real name is Ian.  He hails from Derry, in Ireland, but countless customers had remarked that that Ian sounds like Scotty from Star Trek and at Smugglers’ Inn, the customer is always right.  Scotty came to us by way of an Irish seating hostess who had worked at Smuggler’s Inn for about an hour and a half in 2015.  Scotty’s third name is Lazy MF and while the man is barely passable as a bartender, he is one world-class liar.  Carol and I thought we might employ Scotty’s blarney-spewing skills in our upcoming presentation, where the two of us would feel constrained to exaggerating our experience and not craft case histories out of whole cloth.  It was a gamble. 

“Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of sheep and other animals!  Jaysuz, I need to find a bog.”

“Was that from a movie?”  asked Carol, talking over some nonsensical chittering from the back seat that, upon reflection, might have been Irish.

“James Joyce.”  I’d recognized the first line of the 2nd Chapter of Ulysses. “Not the part about finding a bog.”

“What does it mean?”

“It means Scotty isn’t going to piss himself in my backseat twice.”

“Dr. Pants says that only one in eight subjects has a negative reaction to Fluffies,” Carol announced. “That compares to one in four for Thorazine.”

Again, more good news.  After the summer we’d had, I was counting every blessing.  Not only had our advertising division lost its only paying client, but Smugglers’ Inn, the restaurant, had been under-performing.  July and August saw some of the most dismal table counts in our 40-year history.  What hurt more, though, was losing our popular dishwasher and marketing strategist, Pongo.  Pongo had failed to return after leaving to assist with earthquake relief in his native Sumatra.  His ticket had been subsidized with donations from our entire staff and we were, frankly, expecting to get something for our money in the form of regular reports from the field.  After one email sent from a kiosk in the Jakarta airport to say he had arrived, though, Pongo had gone black. 

“Crap,”  I said.

“What’s crap?”

“We could really use Pongo on this.” 

Carol sighed. “He really relates to people in pain. Do you know if he’s coming back? ”

I didn’t.  And I don’t.  Is Pongo even alive?  Might he return in time to save our asses on this pitch?  How long can we keep putting off the creditors?  Will baking soda remove the smell of urine from car upholstery? Questions.

“Safeway,” Carol said, pointing out the window. “They’ve got restrooms. Should we...?”

“--For fook’s sake, pull in, will you?” came a voice from the back seat.  “What was in that pill Carol?  I feel like I’ve downed three pints of lager, absent the feeling good part.”

“The Spirolactone in Flumoxatol is a diuretic.”

“SO love when you talk dirty, Carlotta.  Scoot up to the front, will you?  Time is of the essence.”

“Scotty’s back!”  I announced. “He’s gone through the Flumoxatol worm hole and come out the other side with all atoms re-aligned flush-left.”  Being around Scotty has the effect of making me try and make my own speech as colorful as an Irishman’s.  As you see, I only embarrass myself. 

“Yes, well, “back” might be a BIT of an an overstatement.  Help me find the door handle, will you, beautiful?”

I threw the car in “park” and Carol walked around to open Scotty’s door.  Scotty got to his feet, exposing the wet patch on his Khaki pants.  He steadied himself, like a man on the deck of a ship.

“You going to be OK?” Carol said, putting a hand on Scotty’s back.

“Actually, I’m a bit rocky.  Would you mind coming in and aiming for me?”

“Go!” Carol shouted, pointing to Safeway’s automatic doors. (Carol points a lot).  Scotty sprinted into the store on sure legs, a broad grin on his face.

“Asshole!” Carol said.  But she was smiling. 

Scotty came out several minutes later toting a six-pack of Heinekin.  If he had tried to clean up in the bathroom, it didn’t show.

“Right, then!  Flumoxidol.  I think our tagline should be, “Never, never mix this shit with Ketamine.”

“Ketamine?”  Carol’s eyes widened.  “What’s Ketamine.”

“Driver, onward,” said Scotty, cracking a beer. “For the night is young.”

“And full of terrors,” Carol added.

The night was young, but all the sweaty-palmed terror had gone out of it, along with any fun.  I drove (slowly) to a nearby park where Scotty could drink himself sober without me losing my license.  Carol and I tossed out a few marketing ideas for Flumoxidol, while Scotty shouted, “Brilliant!” and “Fooking genius!” to everything.  It was no good, though.  The lingering effect of the drug was to make the world seem slowed-down and non-threatening.  This may be what you want in an anti-psychotic, but I was missing my writing companions, ego, paranoia and fear of failure.  We had experienced the client’s product.  That, and the three of us sitting through “Fifty Shades Darker” at the Coon Rapids Cinemart would have to stand for the evening’s achievements.  Actually, Scotty did have one inspired marketing idea, which was to parter with the studios who make chick flicks. 

“You have a fookin’ big bin of fluffies next to the 3-D glasses and a sign that reads:  Men, we realize that you will be quite bored for the next 120 minutes, so here is a free sample of Flumoxidil by Glaxo somebody or other to make the time go and by the by, if she asks, tell her you liked the part where they made love in the rain the best.  And fer fook’s sake don’t say “screwed”.”

I can’t speak for Carol, but I, for one, am looking forward to nine days from now.  How could these clients not go with us over some no-rep pharma shop?  We are Smugglers’ Inn, America’s restaurant/ad agency.  We are gonzo marketers.  We have a liquor license.

Yes, Carol and I will wow ‘em with Power-point presentation #3 (our best) while Scotty charms one and all with his color commentary.  Should things go irretrievably pear-shaped, we’ll whip out a chart showing how we propose to expand Flumoxidol’s market share using a pre-existing network of drug dealers, bikers and corrupt DEA agents.   Maybe we'll smoke up some Flumoxidol right there, just to prove that it can be done.  I’m tired now, like I said.  Happy Thanksgiving, Dr. Pants, wherever you are. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thanks for nothing, Satan.

The new dishwasher.
There were twelve of them.  My eyes looked up and down the rows and picked out the ones I would kill first. 

“You disrespect Trump, you disrespect yourself?”

“If you like it, put a ring of missiles on it?”

“Minnesota, uber alles?”
If I was not holding the worst headlines of all time in my hands, I was holding some of the strangest.

“I did like you said,” offered the impossibly violet, impossibly large eyes belonging to the author of the above headlines.  “The pop song thing, I mean.  I don’t know if the Dead Kennedy’s are pop…”

“They’re not.”

“…but everyone has heard “California, Uber Alles”—even in Zagreb.” 

Earlier, I had told Miss Big Eyes that writing attention-getting headlines was dead simple. “If ever you get stuck,” I’d said,” just start tweaking lines from pop songs—it works every time.”

Now, I was eating my words.  They did not taste good.

“The first eight are the strongest, Marev,” I said. “Give them to Kat to lay out.” 

The girl flashed an impossibly white, eighteen-year-old smile and thanked me profusely.

I should have said, “Spell-check them first,” but the headlines were already out of my hand and being conveyed to the hostess desk where Kat, Smuggler’s Inn’s seating hostess and graphic designer, was cleaning coffee cup rings left by the last person to do dining room seating, which was me.  In the scheme of things, what did it matter that “Communist” was spelled with one M and “Clinton” was spelled “Clington”? I just needed this job out of the house. $850. My god.

Normally, I am not so lax in my duties as a guardian of Smugglers’ Inn’s creative product.  I honestly believe that advertising and jazz are the only important American art forms and that of the two, advertising is the harder to get right. I might have told Marev, the young woman with the eyes, that she shouldn’t expect to become a great copywriter overnight. I had originally hired the 18-year-old Croatian immigrant to wash dishes, but when she’d discovered that, in addition to being a struggling restaurant, Smugglers’ Inn is a struggling ad agency, Marev had pestered me relentlessly.

“I’m taking marketing at CR Junior (Coon Rapids Junior College) and it is my dream to become an artistic director of a major advertising agency,” I recall Marev telling me. I recall this because there is no such position as “artistic director” in an ad agency, but I didn’t want to correct her.  She might stop looking at me with those Keane-painting eyes.

As it happens, a local car dealer and Donald Trump supporter had come to Smugglers’ Inn about helping the billionaire developer carry the critical Spring Lake Park/Coon Rapids non-meth-using voting block. The dealer had a brilliant plan: take down all the Hillary and Bernie signs and replace them with signs for the Donald.
I forget why I didn’t just show him the door. OK, it was because of Marev and my promise to help her build a portfolio.

My thinking was that, for a modest fee, we could design a few posters, run them off on our new copier and paste them on the plywood barriers at the numerous construction sites in the area where the car dealer was bound to see them. Marev wasn’t the only one who needed to hone her copywriting skills. In this digital age, it had been a while since Smugglers’ Inn had done a poster campaign. I was wondering if we still had the juice. Anyway, this was political advertising.  Whatever we did that wasn’t just a slogan and a flag motif was guaranteed to stand out.

Our prospective client owned two dealerships that I knew about, so I felt comfortable asking him for $10,000, thinking that he would balk at this figure and we would end up with $5000 to 7,500. Our out-of-pocket would be limited to ink and paper, plus maybe a day for Kat to design the posters.  Jorge and his kitchen guys would post the things after hours for an extra $100.  They didn’t care if the messages were for a guy who wanted to send them back to Ciudad Juarez.  Money is apolitical.

As it turned out, the car dealer was expecting to spend $500, all in. I talked him up to $850.  Note to young people: when Satan calls wanting to buy your young soul, think twice before saying no.  If, years later, you should change your mind, Satan will not return your calls. You will then have to sell your hi-mileage soul on the open market for a price considerably less than world domination or marriage to the movie star of your choice. Like, maybe, eight-fifty, cash.

I was picturing how Marev might look with her giant eyes and devil horns and OK, a pointy tail, when a voice startled me from my reverie.

“Yo, Heisenberg!” Kat shouted. “Your bag man was here.”

“How come you’re not out front?” I asked our seating hostess. It was still 15 minutes until we were open, but I had to be a dick; I was the manager.

Kat smirked, but did not move. “Just tell me: are you blackmailing someone or selling leftover Vikaden from your shoulder surgery? Inquiring minds want to know.”

“Kat, what the hell are you on about?”

“This skeever in sunglasses just asked for you and when Kenny (the bartender) told him we were closed, he dropped a bag of money on the bar and said to give it to you. Who are you blackmailing? Anyone we know?”

“What did the guy look like?”

Kat shrugged. “Like a guy. He had dark glasses.”

“My age? Older?”  The Car King was in his 60’s.

“Not THAT old. He was, maybe, 45. He was here, like, six seconds. Come on! Count the money.”

So I did, right there on the bar.   Kenny, Marev, Kat and Jorge, the cook, watched as I sorted the bills by denomination before adding them up.  They were all small bills, like what the car dealer probably had in petty cash.

“Eight hundred and fifty dollars,” I said. “All there.”

Jorge whistled appreciatively.

“More than I’ve seen in one place,” Kat said.

“We can close for the night,” said Kenny.  By now, I had explained the nature of the payment to everyone a couple of times. 

“Is there...always so much money in advertising?” said a tiny voice.

Marev’s big eyes had gotten even bigger. She might have been an exotic, nocturnal marsupial eyeing a juicy katydid as she gazed at the piles of singles, fives, tens and twenties. I felt instantly uncomfortable. $850 represents a month’s rent for any of these people. For Marev, a dishwasher, it was a month’s salary. And I had disparaged it as paltry.

“Marev!” I nearly shouted, “For crying out loud, you look like you’ve never seen drug money before. We cook meth in the back. How else do you think the lights on? Kenny, keep the machine gun ready. I’m not expecting a hit, but you know we’re always vulnerable after a drop.”

“We’re locked and loaded, boss.”

“And Kat, if you smell DEA, press the panic button and hold ‘em off for 15 seconds. That’s all we need to blow the lab.”

“Aye, aye, Cap’n Heisenberg!”

“Hopefully, we’ll get through the week without losing any more guys,”  I said.  “Jorge?  It’s time Marev got a pistole.  Hook her up.”

“Sure ‘ting, boss! (to Marev) Girly, ‘cho wanna Glock 9 or a 44 Mag Clint Eastwood special?”

I scampered with the cash that would go toward addressing two of the two more egregious violations the last health inspector had cited us for. It was a dirty trick to play on the newbie, but I sensed Marev was screwing up her courage to ask for some of the $850. Her fellow employees would keep the gag running until we were open for business and by then,  Marev’s moment would have passed.

In the end, it was just simpler to create an elaborate farce involving a criminal enterprise than to explain why a creative need to work for free when the agency employing him or her was getting paid. Has ANYONE satisfactorily explained working on spec?

My mind recalled the weirdest of those headlines that I had just approved. “All you need is love.  And Mexico will pay for the wall!” I smiled. That one was going to drive the Car King right around the bend. Well, ya gets what ya pays for, pal. 

$850! What kind of a restaurant-advertising agency did he take us for?


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Snowboarding on your hands is harder than it sounds.

“I am quite sure this is not a good idea,” I remember thinking as the last plastic cinch strap was clicked around my right elbow.  I had never put my arm in a vice and cranked to see how much force was required to break bones, but I am guessing these custom bindings were within 20 or so foot-pounds-per-inch of snapping my radius and ulna like breadsticks.

“If you’re going to run into anything or your arms get torqued, just bail,” said Jesse, the owner of this unusual bit of kit. “Your CG is super low--you can’t get hurt.”

 “Roger! Can’t get hurt. CG.”
 Normally, I speak in complete sentences, but we had spent the previous five hours shooting snowboarder, Jesse Hokanson, ripping up the half pipe at Buck Hill in 12-degree weather and my tongue and lips were functioning on reserve power.  Jesse was one of our featured athletes, one of our para-olympians.  The 19-year-old looked a bit like John Kennedy, Junior.  Except that he was alive.  And he had no legs.  He had lost them to cancer.  Or was he born without them?  It matters not. What does matter is that Jesse mistook my faked interest in his custom snowboard for real interest and now I was obliged to try the unnatural tool out.  Jesse had suggested I rest my knees on my elbows, apparently mistaking me for a troupe member of Cirque du Soleil.  I gripped the handholds that were inside the arm binders and raised my knees off of the deck so that I was essentially balancing on my knuckles, something I found more than a little painful.  This might be the shortest ride in history.

I looked over at our videographer for encouragement. He drew a gloved finger across his throat.  I reminded myself that he was our seating hostess’ cousin and I had to be nice to him since he wasn’t getting paid.

“Make it to the bottom and I’ll buy you a beer!” Jesse said.

“You’re not old enough,” I said.  But it came out, “Yieeeeeha!”  I was moving. 
  It is common, when facing imminent death, to be treated to the spectacle of seeing one’s entire life pass before one’s eyes.  I must have retained some hope of survival, because I was getting the Cliff Notes version of the last three months.  Here I was, mopping up barf in the men’s’ at Smugglers’ Inn and trying to recall when we were a busy branding agency in addition to a restaurant serving surf ‘n turf in Blaine, Minnesota. I watched myself saying farewell to Pongo, our ginger-haired former dishwasher turned marketing strategist.  Crying in the storeroom.  Now, a happy image—Carol, the day manager, and myself being briefed about a re-branding assignment from client The American Humane Society, a return client.  How we smiled!


  The sound of my own involuntary scream brought me out of my reverie.  I was moving over the snow at an impossible speed.  The rational part of me knew this was a misperception was owing to the fact that I was viewing my progress from almost ground level, but I instinctively leaned back on the board in an attempt to scrub off some speed.  Instead of digging my edge into groomed snow and traveling in a graceful backside arc, my knees and all the weight of my legs pitched forward, unbalancing me.  It was only through superhuman effort that I was able to keep from eating it then and there.
   Instead, I ate it two-and-a-half seconds later when I encountered a patch of ice and the tail of my board pulled even with the nose and suddenly the world was going by sideways.  I just had time to crank my neck to look downhill when I caught an edge and face-planted.  The crusty snow came up to meet the front of the helmet that I had been talked into wearing with a loud, “CRACK!” Normally, this might be the end of my run, but in my compact pose I somersaulted twice and continued hurtling down the hill--although now my right arm was forward and my left arm was back, in reverse of how I had begun.  “Fakie”, we used to call this in the ‘80’s.
   I was not worried about running into a tree.  All trees were behind me.  The only dangerous obstacle was the nozzle of a snowmaking machine and that was well to the left of me.  As I fixated on it, I headed straight for it. 

More flashback.  Jorge III, Smug’s exterior maintenance engineer, weeping as I cut him loose, supposedly for not shoveling our loading area, but secretly to save his 10 man-hours a week.  Now, Carol and I on a conference call, talking with our American Humane client, who is leaving and, subsequently, pulling the plug on our assignment.  “Sorry about that.”  (Us too, pal.)  “But hey, my wife is on the St. Paul City Council...”  We’re listening.
   I can make out icicles hanging from the nozzle of the snow maker.  I spy a single flaccid traffic cone marking the hazard.   Some ski or a snowboard has partially flattened it.   I won’t even be the first to snuff it here.
   Where was I?  Yes, flashbacks.  I am six and riding on a pony.  I am jumping out of an airplane.  I am moving to a trailer, all my worldly possessions fitting in Karmann Ghia.  First kiss.  Dropped ice cream cone.  Green ribbon for “participation”. Now, cleaning up that barf in the men’s again.  Catching a bullhead off a dock in my pajamas.  Saint Paul City council City Council is giving us a check.  Paralympics…2017 Winter Paralympics in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Agency of record:  Smugglers’ Inn! Back in the game!
   I realize that I want to live--I HAVE to live.  With superhuman effort, I look away from the rapidly approaching snowmaker.  My body follows my eyes and my back-to-front snowboard arcs left, missing the lethal obstacle.  The terrain shifts and I feel myself slowing down.  When I arrive at the edge of a patch of powder, I DELIBERATELY fall forward.

  I am cold, I am out of breath, but I am ALIVE.  The next sensation I have is of hands rudely pulling me to an upright position.  My near-death experience has shaken me to my core.  I look up in the fading light and make out the silhouette of a man with a camera.

  “You look like Kat’s cousin,” I say to the silhouette.

  “And you look like a dork,” says the silhouette, before taking my picture.  I see my legs splayed in front of me, but no snowboard.

“Guess I don’t have to worry about buying that beer.”

  John Kennedy, Jr. is coming to help.  For some inexplicable reason, jon-jon is wading through snow up to his waist.  He propels himself on his hands quite athletically. 

  “I thought you were dead,” I say.  Right before, “Where are my arms?”

  Laughter.  John. F. Kennedy, Jr. frees my arms from the bindings and snowboard that are behind my back.  I can wiggle my fingers.  It is a good sign.
   In the lodge, they pour hot chocolate into me and slow-walk me until my brains un-scramble.  Jesse autographs a youngster’s helmet and talks to everyone.  People KNOW him. I learn that my run was 100 yards, total, and lasted less than a minute.  I was never in danger of hitting the snowmaker, which was on the blue run next to us.  There had been no obstacles on our slope because our slope was the bunny run.
   The stills and action footage of Jesse are “awesome” (not my word) and that’s all that matters.  We can now get started crafting materials to go out to potential sponsors.  My own wild ride was never documented.  (“No, really, I forgot to hit “record”).  I’ll believe this until I see it on YouTube.  New Year’s Eve was hell for our restaurant, but then,  the restaurant, but nearly always is.  Smuggler’s Inn, the ad agency, is off to a promising new year.  About time.

Happy 2016, all.
The Management
Smugglers’ Inn