Thursday, June 16, 2016
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…”
“…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?