Word Up

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story about corporate and personal branding.

Submitted: July 10, 2009

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Submitted: July 10, 2009

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“Word Up”

A short story by Cameron Chapman

Marty Ryland originally heard mention of it back on his first day as a summer intern at one of the largest advertising firms in Canada.

Marty, then a fresh faced kid, straight out of marketing 101, was waiting for the elevator in a grand marble lobby. His mind filled with thoughts of the kind of excessive corporate spending that sets “Calgreedians” apart from everyone in his little hometown in central Alberta. “Flush with money” he thought when two suits pulled up behind him looking like mannequins in a Holt Renfrew display window. His ears burned with curiosity, what do these rich Calgary types talk about when they’re not spending money? Or is it spending money that they talk about? “I can’t believe that d-bag is going to the mind-share-auction”, one suit whispers to the other. Holt Renfrew indeed. “Who’s going?” “Barry.” “No! Barry? Are you kidding me? Whose cock’s been in his mouth?” Ok Marty, you’re not in high school anymore, or even university for that matter, these are adults now. MEN. Employed adult men, rich adult men, with mortgages and wives (and mistresses no doubt). They can use that kind of language. They could speak however they wanted as far as Marty was concerned. “He’s such a vagy little cocksucker, I can’t even imagine the type of word he’ll come back with?” The words, Marty recognized, it was the arrangement that threw him off. “And it’s not like we have some small no-name client depending on us this year either”, the suit continued in a hushed tone. “If he fucks it up that could be the end of our involvement in the mind-share-auction all together.” “Mind-share-auction?” Marty wondered. “And if we lose the auction, we’re finished, disconnected, forever.” “Disaster, no shit! we’d be fucked.” “We’d be fucked.” “We’d be fucked.” They quip back and forth. Marty still hated hearing ”fucks” get tossed about so casually. “There’s women here, and kids for that matter”, he thought, still counting himself as a kid.

BING… The elevator arrived, jarring Marty’s ears back into his own head. Terror sweat, ‘first day of work at a new job sweat’ beaded beneath his wrinkled suit as he scanned the numbered buttons looking for the eleventh floor. It’s already been pressed! Retract your hand Marty! Quick, don’t look like an idiot in front of the rich people. He slides his hand back to his side and wipes the sweat off on his crumpled pant leg. All thoughts of the conversation between the two Holt mannequins virtually erased from his mind. His hearing usurped by the beating of his own heart.

Nearly four years later. Marty, now Martin, a full time employee at the slightly smaller firm, ‘Hamilton-Monreau Corporate Branding Inc.’, sits quietly in his cubicle office. It’s a corner cubicle office though; I mean, don’t worry about Martin. He’s got his new car, (he didn’t get the leather seats but it still smells new and that’s all that matters). He’s got his nice silk ties and his iPhone, so he can check his emails on the go, (not that he ever wanders too far from his computer in the first place). He’s not rich yet but he definitely looks more like a mannequin than a Marty. “Martin… Psst.” Comes a voice from the next cubicle. “Martin”, A head pops up belonging to Martin’s co-worker, a tiresome bore named Gregory Rodríguez, or “G-Rod”, as he likes to introduce himself, (a misdirected attempt at seeming interesting). “What’s up G-Rod?” Martin cringes a bit inside, every time he has to say it. “You comin’ to the Halo-Kegger?” “The what?” “The Halo-Kegger! Tex-Box party! My place, this Friday night! Word!” “I dunno…” “What!?! Don’t be gay, don’t be gay, don’t be gay.” He repeats, until the words lose all meaning. “I think I have to work this weekend, Jason said something about flying out this Monday, overseas or something.” “Whatever fag.” He disappears back down out of sight before very suddenly re-emerging with a jolt of urgency. “Wait a minute. Monday. Overseas? Are you going to the mind-share-auction!?!” “The what?” G-Rod probes him for more information. “Oh my god! You are! You lucky little bitch. I knew you were his favourite! What’s the word? Who are you bidding for?”

For the second time in four years Martin found himself furrow-browed, sputtering the phrase “mind-share-auction?” and even to him something about it all seemed vaguely familiar. Almost to the extent where he found it necessary to wipe the terror sweat from his upper lip and reach out for the button to the eleventh floor. It reminded him of the Pavlovian way his junior high locker combination rattles through his brain every time he sidles up to a urinal. Don’t ask him why but it does. Quick, Martin! Deflect the questions, you know nothing about the anything, which in this case, is the truth. “I – I don’t know…”, he spits out before turning back to his work.

Monday night, De Haag airport. Jason and Martin collect their baggage off the carousel. “It’s the biggest corporate branding event of the year.” Jason finally reveals. “And what is it?” “It’s Lawyers, CEOs, Strategists. It’s like the super bowl of marketing… Do you like football?” “Not really.” “Then picture the biggest thing you can think of.” “World War Two?” “Exactly.” Jason seems surprised but I suppose he shouldn’t be. Martin did graduate at the top of his class after all. He’s always been the clever one. Even way back when he was still ‘Marty’ he was always clever. “It’s like the World War Two of marketing.” Jason whispers in Martin’s ear careful so as not to be overheard. “Except this time, the Jews win”.

Martin stares out the window of the taxi as it glides with genteel grace through the busy Dutch streets, “I could sell this place”, he thinks to himself. “It’s clean, commercial, very European” (which wasn’t much of a stretch seeing as how he was in Europe). His marketing tuned mind reeled with excitement “Yeah, the kids on the west coast would eat this place up.” And just as a perfect idea for a cross marketing plan races through his mind, where iPods and Nike runners meet bicycles and tulips, Jason rattles him with the news of the day.

“World-tech is looking a word. Something short and concise, simple but beautiful to name their new personal digital media device.” This is the first piece of real information Martin’s heard since he boarded the plane in what seems like days ago. “That’s our client? World-tech? When did we sign World-tech?” “No” Jason snaps back, “World-tech’s the enemy.” “The Third Reich.” Martin’s mind always operates at it’s best when using analogies or marketing jargon.

Martin catches a glimpse of their cute little Dutch taxi in the reflection off a glass building. “It’s like a car commercial”, he thinks. “I could sell this car back in Canada”. “Are you listening to me?” Jason snaps. No, would be the correct response but instead, “Oh, yeah”.

“Champagne?” Martin hears the familiar hum of excitement that courses through his body whenever he feels like he’s “made it”. “Yes, thank you” Martin responds to the lanky cocktail hostess in the short black skirt, as he snatches the flute from her slender grip. He’s done well at fancy parties in the past, but he’s clearly never been to anything this important, this large scale, this expensive before in his life. Actually few have or ever will. Jason leans over and pokes Martin in the ribs. \"That's Bill Brigstein, he's a legend. Back in the 70's he bought 'Kafkaesque'\"

\"Really? For who?\"

“Sears, I think.\"

\"Wow.\"

\"You should've been here a few years ago when Ford and Gillette got into it over 'Fusion'... Eventually they drove the price too high for either of them to afford, so they had to spilt it.\"

\"Crazy\"

\"No shit.\" RING! The warning bell goes off and the crowd shuffles to their seats.

An Auctioneer steps up to the podium, a striking Dutch man with graying temples. Martin half expects him to shout “Save your money”, like the guy in the ING commercials. “Good afternoon, we’ll start the bidding at one million dollars for our first word, modicum”.

“Silver foxes are so in vogue”, Martin thought as several paddles flip up in the air and the bidding war is on. “Ubiquitous”, “Xenon”, “Vibrilux”, “Force-Infusion”, “Denizen”, “Sway”, “Virtu”, “Aestival”, “Acumen”, “Comity”, “Tyro”, Martin himself, felt tyronic at times, sitting in this room of veteran linguistical whigs. “Whig”, is the next word. “Melee”, “Raucous”, Then suddenly, “Daedal” catches the attention of the shiny black suits representing World-Tech. Jason shoots into action. Two million. Three million. Five. Ten. Twenty. Twenty-Five! The World-Tech cronies are fretting as Jason calmly swats away bid after bid until finally at Thirty-Seven million dollars, the dust settles and they back down, dejected. The gavel strikes, victory!

Martin leans over to him and whispers, “Did you just spend thirty-seven million dollars of our client’s money on the word, Daedal?” “I did”, Jason answers, one part astonished, two parts terrified. “What could they possibly want with the Daedal? Jason whispers, “They don’t want it. They just don’t want World-tech to have it.”

At one point early in his career, Martin, then still Marty, had applied over at World-Tech. He even had a series of interviews with their HR people before eventually being past over in favour of a young, (at the time) reigning beauty queen named Holly McFalon, who in all fairness was far more qualified. Martin and Holly were even in school together for a year before she left to attend a better school and sleep with, let’s just say, better men.

Young Marty sits anxiously across the lunch table from the ever so stunning Ms. McFalon. Again the terror sweat creeps down the back of his neck. Holly swirls a fork in her low-carb-pasta. “Marketing all comes down to the elements. Well, it’s like… Your girlfriend, do you have a girlfriend?” Marty’s never wanted to lie more in his life. “Yes.” That was your chance Marty! (The moment still haunts him to this day). “Yeah, it’s like… What is it about her that you love? Like, what are the elements”. She’s a lot smarter than she tends to sound. Most people think of it as a protective measure. Of course, back then, girls were still afraid of sounding too smart. Luckily for Holly, those days are well over. “Umm, I dunno…” Marty stumbles out, still furious at himself for the obvious lapse in his dishonest pursuit of intercourse. “I guess… I like her glasses and her bangs.” He continues, “and her dirty, dirty mouth.” Holly is pleasantly surprised by Marty’s sudden hint of personality. He has those from time to time you know. “Oh! She has… She, um, she wears glasses?” “Yeah. Cool ones.” Marty makes frames on his face out of his fingers and thumbs and they share a laugh. In later years it’s moments like this he’ll miss about being young and flirting with young girls. In fact, it’s this precise moment that he’ll wrongfully cite as the beginning of the end for his chances at a truly happy relationship.

“Well I better get back to work, thanks for lunch, it was great running into you.” That was the last time Marty saw Holly. In fact, “Yeah. Hey good luck in your interview, I hear World-Tech is great!” was the last thing he ever said to her.

That is, until tonight’s swanky After Party, thousands of miles away from any haunting university awkwardness or sullen Albertan Townies with nothing to lose but their self-respect. And, of all places, in the first place Martin’s been where there were actually enough beautiful people around that his mind finally stopped fixating on the sexual misfires of his past.

He was having fun, he felt alive, he had forgotten all about her. Then: “Marty!” “Holly?” “Marty!?” Jason was unaware of Martin’s past life as a Marty. Holly, in all her glory, cuts like a sunbeam through the crowd of banking types and lawyers to give Martin a gigantical hug. “What’re you doing here?” She asks. “I’m uh, bidding on a… What are you doing here? Are you still at World-Tech?” “No, no that was a million years ago. No, I have my own little start up, my husband and I.” Jason buts in. “It can’t be too little, if you’re here.” “No I guess not.” She admits sheepishly from behind her empty champagne flute. “Did you need another drink?” Martin can be charming when he wants to be. (Unless he’s just hoping to get her drunk.)

“Yeah sure, let’s.” She waves him over to the bar.

Wait a tick! Did she say “Husband”! Did Martin hear that? Or did he just choose to block that out? Because there is no ignoring what that would’ve done to his heart.

Though oddly enough, he seems okay strolling through the crowd with the love of his life. He mustn’t have heard her. Most likely he was probably still in shock from the sight of her.

“So, did I hear you say you had a husband?” He inquires calmly. So he did hear!

“Yeah, two years. He was my boss actually, at World-Tech.” “Ooo, classy.” Is Martin’s lighthearted response. “Thanks.” They lock smiles for, perhaps a moment too long. In Martin’s mind he’s back in that Italian diner making glasses with his fingers. “No, that’s great news.” “Thanks”.

Remarkably, the conversation goes on like this for a while. Each party bouncing niceties back and forth off each other, smiling, laughing, the occasional forearm touch. Martin met her Husband. He seemed nice enough, tall with a British accent. “Perfect in a James Bond sort of way”, Martin thought to himself. Eventually they said their goodbyes and parted ways. They exchanged business cards as part of the ritual, despite the fact they were both well aware that they’ll never make contact again. Martin went back to the party and actually managed to enjoy himself. Jason even proved to be a fine tour guide as the party spilled out into the Dutch nightlife. There were beautiful, shallow, women of which Martin had no interest in and plenty of booze he managed to drink, if only to deaden the sound of the pounding electronic music and for the first time since Martin became Martin, he was really, truly happy.

The entire flight home Martin remained overtly aware of one fact, which he now knew to be true: “Clearly, I haven’t ‘made it’. I’m no hero, I didn’t save the day. I’m not the big superstar, new hot-shot protégé that’s going to bring the corporate world to its knees with my radical ideas and unbridled vision... I didn’t even get the girl.“

BING! “Please fasten your seatbelt. We’re approaching some rough air ahead.”

“It’s only a word.” He whispers to himself. “What’s that?” Jason answers from the middle of what Martin thought was a long alcohol induced sleep. “Oh. I just said… it’s only a word.” “Daedal?” “Yeah.” Jason smacks his morning mouth phlegm away and rolls over to face Martin. “A thirty-seven million dollar word… I wonder what it means.” He yawns. Martin just knows like he’s always known “It means, ingenious, complex in design or function, intricate or artistic.” Jason’s eyes half open. It’s the not the first time Martin has surprised him on this trip. “Who was that super hot girl who came running up and hugged you at the party?” Martin laughs inside his heart, he’s never been more proud to say, “She’s just a girl I went to school with.”

The End


© Copyright 2019 Cameron Chapman. All rights reserved.

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