A Vacuum

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Joshua Pecora is driven, wealthy, and an asshole. He's proud of the first two, and will soon find out the third.

Submitted: April 06, 2017

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Submitted: April 06, 2017



I consider absently the pockmarks upon the tortoise-shell temple of my Oliver Peoples spectacles; the minute gauges left by my teeth are like moon craters seen from far away, yet here I am, up close. I only chew the right temple, band of brown and browny-yellow, never sure as to why, agitated when I wear them, the scratch against my skin.

I wait for the appointment to arrive, pull at the sleeve of my dry-cleaned Herringbone plaid shirt, stroke the Windsor knot at my throat, tap a Parker pen against the grain of my desk, and look beyond the glass upon Sydney, swarming with millions of humans going about their business.

Somewhere down there amidst the network of streets is a woman withdrawing her wages from an ATM, a man buying a coat at Hugo Boss, a boy spruiking kebab, a girl whoring herself and a man begging from a mat of dirty newspaper. These little people are little as I am, but I am here, sitting in an office neither small nor large, just an office reasonably decorated and well-kept.

I sweep the strands of auburn hair from my eyes as my receptionist beckons gently through the glass divider. I stand and step around my desk to the door, open it to greet the boy-man who is behind it. He is rankling with fear, of being here, with me, and his ill-fitting pink shirt and diagonally spliced tie heave softly with vague import.

“Hello,” he says. “My name is Kevin Walker, we spoke on the phone.”

“We did,” I reply. “Come in.”

Taking my offer, the boy with his pink-on-pink attire and short straight brown hair sits at the plush leather chair before my desk. He rests on his graduate knees a laptop that is, judging by the size and marks upon the chassis, two years old. I can tell by the superfluous over-application of his designer cologne, by the inexpensive fabric of his slacks, the crude leather shoes that he would, with training, be behind my desk some years from now, when the recalcitrant vestiges of his hopeful aspirations had fallen away, were replaced by the cold thoroughness of my position. I am where he wishes to be.

I ceremoniously adjust the tacky plaque that bears my name in some kind of primal, egocentric ritual. Joshua Pecora, in bold italics, twice emphasised, twice as important as you.

“So, Kevin, what can I do for you?” I ask, not unkindly.

“Well, Mr. Pecora, I believe Media Republic can assist Westcorp in its various marketing strategies with our screen network. We expose our clients to 20 million consumers weekly throughout the centres, as I said on the phone. We can utilize your existing ads, coinciding with any plans or campaigns you might have going already, and saturate our screens at a frequency of up to twelve ad spots per hour. Consumers spend an average of one hour and fourteen minutes in our centres, potentially exposing themselves to your ads approximately fifteen times on average per visit. That’s more exposure than any other screen medium. Studies show that cut-through to consumers is…”

From his face, my eyes have wandered again to the window behind him. I sense the waver in his voice, his vocal acknowledgement of my proximal absence. His silence is frantic. The inexperience in him is contending with my aura, I am key to a multi-million dollar account, thus carrying a weight he cannot fathom, with his paltry retainer and commission structure that he at first thought was fantastic but soon learned was thievery. Should he interrupt my idle daydream? Am I considering his words? Am I lost in some ancient nothing that happened eons ago, a failed relationship perhaps, or a memory of myself as…?

The words tumble from him like an avalanche of gaucherie. “Mr. Pecora?”

“Hungry Hippos,” I reply softly, not to him. To the window, to the city below.

“Pardon?” his searching stare demands.

“Hungry Hippos,” I repeat, to him, this time, “the game.”

Beneath the nervous revelry of my aura lives a flicker of uncertainty, of distaste, in him. “Yes, I used to play it with my sister when I was younger,” he says. Younger. A grown man would say young. He notes his youth.

“Consumer is a filthy word, isn’t it?” I think aloud. I return my gaze to his. “A consumer consumes. That is the definition, I think.”

The boy stares, unsure. “I guess.”

“It is.” I move away another lock of hair, indistinct in its closeness to my eye. “Consume. At what point did a customer become a consumer? Is that all we are? Mindless hippos swallowing products? It’s all so impersonal, isn’t it? Who can eat the most? Can you?”

The confusion on him is palpable. He nods, hesitantly. “Cut-through to customers, recall, top-of-mind…” and other jargon spills into the room.

The thought is new to me, here being the place of my work, my work being what it is, what it is, is my work. I am the force that coerces to buy, to lend, to borrow. I am what makes consumers consume. I am the board, the slopes carrying the balls to the slavering mouths of those hungry, hungry, inexorably hungry hippos. My signatures on those contracts, my creative, my copy, shipping those ad spots to networks, radio stations, print presses, sending those corporate messages to the consuming masses to be gobbled. I am the influencer, the creator of false dreams and white knight of the profit and loss. It is the light in me that drives the people in their olive drab and grey suits, to take loans, default payments and invest their folios. I am profit, the bottom line.

“How much?” I interrupt.

Startled, he injects, “To come up with a price, we can negotiate frequency per hour, number of centres, exclusivity… ”

“For everything, I want it all,” I reply absently, staring pointedly at the backside of my garish name-bearing plaque.

He barely contains the shock, the joy. The commission will likely be his first. “Twelve thousand a month, fourteen if we are to have Westcorp as our only financial advertiser.”

My weekly salary. “Draw up a contract and email it to Imogen. Fourteen is fine.” I turn in my chair to my IMac, dismissive in a nebulously polite way.

The boy stands, makes to extend his hand to shake in farewell but retreats. “I will, this afternoon,” he spurts, “Thank you for your time.”

In what will be, years from now, his greatest triumph, he exits my office and through the glass I observe him talking animatedly to my supple, young assistant. She bubbles with feigned curiosity, and waves him goodbye. His boyish slouch becomes the strut of a success, and he enters the elevators, turns and beams that success out over my department. It is not returned. He is but a hawker, another link in a chain of brand exposure. If advertising were a crime, my department would be on death row.

I chew the tortoise-shell temple of my non-prescription Oliver Peoples glasses, grimace, and make a note to buy Hungry Hippos, etched somewhere between lunch with a colleague and the hopelessness of my life.

© Copyright 2018 Daniel Waugh. All rights reserved.

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