In The Gallery of The Screaming Man

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Cusper Lynn

“If I stopped for every person who was foaming at the mouth in the state of Florida I would never get more than a quarter of a mile from my house and I would never be able to get my grocery shopping done.” Cusper Lynn

The Occidental Ape

By Cusper Lynn

Cusper Lynn

SARASOTA Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—12/10/2012—Flush with cash, I had allowed myself an evening of debauchery that involved a visit to a junk yard for new hubcaps, an oil change, and the purchase of a beaded seat cover for my badly deteriorating driver’s seat.

Despite these heady and extravagant expenditures and the ensuing sense of elation and stupor that follows such outrageous activities, I found I could not sleep. The dawn’s first rays found me sitting in my dining room reviewing my night’s work.

My mission of transforming a drug and alcohol addled, washed up, broke, multiply sued and potentially criminal defendant motivational speaker was not going well.

In the world of information and motivational marketing, the rule of product sales is very simple: solve a big problem that people will pay big money for. If people want wealth, show them how to grab the tools of production. If people want sex, show them how to become attractive and nearly tolerable human beings. If people want health, sell them equipment they can hide under their beds, pills they can forget to take and inedible food replacement products. From there, of course, come the books, videos, software programs and applications that they never find the time to read, watch or use.

The problem I was running into was that the current audience was obsessed with the internet and cell phone apps. Every connection I still had, every guru I knew, had a long list of people who were willing to pay big money to solve internet rankings problems and provide fast and dirty techniques for cranking out more useless cell phone and tablet apps. Abby Norman, the formerly wealthy Mormon, was not the poster child for cutting edge technology. What was left to me was the older and well-worn self-help end of the market. I had, after a night of reading, drafting and editing copy, come up with the tag line: “One Weird Trick for Clearing Debt.”

It was hardly original, but very little in the world of ad copy is. You cannot do what I do unless you understand the history of marketing and the history of the outrageous proposition. With Abby, what I had in abundance was bad debt, bad choices and a nearly insurmountable amount of liability. To make this interesting, to make this profitable, to make this something people would come to see, I needed to figure out how to make it sizzle. After all, the public may love you or hate you, but they will always come out to watch you burn. So, with the “One Weird Trick for Clearing Debt” ad line, I had written half a dozen scripts.

With the small windfall of the extorted payment from Matt Tomlinson—of “Tomlinson M, the M is for Marketing Magic” fame—I had enough money to pay Gene Jeremiah Fulsome to produce a series of marketing videos. Not that Gene required paying. The failed documentary maker, who enjoyed the distinction of having restraining orders against him by members of Ken Burns’ production team, was all too willing to work for free. After having been unceremoniously evicted from a motel bar in Nokomis, Gene had taken up residence in my office and could be found sleeping on my reception room couch. The money I was going to pay him would not be enough to allow him to find another temporary residence, but I was hopeful it would at least allow him to purchase some basic items for personal hygiene so that Heather would stop complaining of the odor in the office when she arrived.

Reaching for my phone to call Gene, I found that it was buzzing violently. Incoming calls are, these days, rarely good things. So when I picked up the phone and found the caller ID listed as “Private Number” I assumed the worst.

“Hello?” I answered neutrally, not identifying myself, my whereabouts or my relationship to the phone.

“I’ve got you your first meeting,” the voice growled.

To my utter amazement, it was not a debt collector, a lawyer or, as I was inclined to suspect, the bank calling to tell me Matt’s check had bounced. It was Matt, himself, and he had actually followed my instructions.

“Wonderful,” I said sincerely. “Who’s it with?”

“Branden B. Brantford,” Matt said sullenly.

“The mystic?” I said dubiously, as I scrambled for a pen.

“Spiritual Transformationalist,” Matt corrected grumpily. “And he has a very, very, very large list.”

This was undoubtedly true and was exactly the sort of market we needed for Abby’s re-launch.

“Where and when?” I asked, pen now poised above paper.

“11:30 at the Gallery in the Clearman Commons Mall,” Matt said, and hung up.

I made my phone calls to Gene and Abby, forwarded the scripts so they could start producing the new marketing spots, and then I prepared for my meeting with Branden B. Brantford.

I arrived at the Clearman Commons Mall a little before eleven. Florida, and more particularly Sarasota, Florida, takes the view that economic recovery is best expressed by new construction. That there are three other malls of similar size, relatively recent construction, and with nearly identical flagship stores within five miles of the Clearman Commons Mall does not matter. The goal of growth in Florida is to raze every square foot of arable land and place it safely under asphalt and concrete.

For the local press, the city council, and the state of Florida, this new Megamall meant construction jobs (unsustainable), retail jobs (underpaid and without benefits), and new tax revenues. For Frank “Slim” Simons, who was pictured in the local paper smiling and shaking hands with members of the city council whom he was currently suing to further expand this project, it was just another mall and another few million dollars in revenue for his construction firm.

Wandering along the length of one of its newly opened wings I was looking for any signs that this mall was at all different, architecturally or commercially, from its competitors. The major distinction I noted was that in the other malls the “For Lease” signs were posted in spaces formerly occupied by small business and regional commercial chains. At Clearman Commons, the “For Lease” signs were in freshly built units awaiting new occupants to shoulder the outrageous lease costs and associated fees. There is nothing like time spent in a well-reasoned commercial enterprise to help one develop an appetite for lunch. So, at 20 past eleven, I arrived at the Gallery of the Clearman Commons Mall.

In the Gallery at the Clearman Commons—an area I should call a food court for the sake of simplicity —I was confronted by the usual assortment of food options . . . and one very angry man.

“I hate my life!” the man shouted.

Looking about for someone to whom the remark might have been directed, I found only crowds of shoppers wandering off to find what food was on offer at the various vendors encircling the gallery.

“My relationships are deeply dissatisfying!” the man added to his complaints.

As he seemed to have strong opinions on life, I considered asking him where not to eat in the Gallery, when I saw a thin man, dressed in black, at the far end of the food court.

“My girlfriend finds sex with me unfulfilling!” the man roared at a passing shopper who scurried away.

I decided to seek opinions on dining options elsewhere, and made my way to the far end of the food court where the man in black sat.

“I find it hard to sustain an erection,” I heard the man yell behind me, “and even then I ejaculate prematurely!”

This was the last distinct rant I could hear from the angry man before I was enfolded in the general din of the shoppers in the food court. They were taking little notice of Mr. Angry.

“Cusper Lynn,” the man in black said, looking up from a stack of cards that were resting on the table.

“Branden B. Brantford,” I answered.

He nodded, and extended a black leather gloved hand to motion me to the seat opposite him.

Sitting down I realized that Branden B. Brantford, dressed in black, with extremely pale skin and shockingly black hair, looked remarkably like a young Johnny Cash, though possibly more slightly built.

“Matt tells me you want my list,” Brantford said, flipping over a card.

“Yes, and your marketing support as a joint venture partner,” I responded.

The card staring up at me was The Hanged Man. I recognized the deck as being the Tarot de Marseille.

“Interesting,” he said, laying a card across The Hanged Man.

“How interesting?” I asked, peevishly, as I saw he had laid a Nine of Rods across The Hanged Man.

“Mr. Lynn, what do you know about me?” Brantford asked in an airy and enigmatic tone.

Aside from the fact that he was a middle-aged poseur who dressed in black and affected an Aleister Crowley ethos? “You are a bestselling author, internationally renowned speaker, and a consultant,” I said instead.

“Mr. Lynn, while those accolades are true, they are not what you meant,” Brantford smiled.

“You are,” I said with all the honesty I could muster and remain part of polite society, “the man who has valuable lists of clients that I need. You are the person who has influence over those clients.”

“But do you know what I am famous for?” He turned over another card.

Besides pissing me off with card tricks, I thought, as I noted he had placed The Devil to the right of The Hanged Man. “I believe,” I said instead, “it was a three day rant you had outside your former employer’s headquarters.”

“That is correct, Mr. Lynn. That day, when the rage of being passed over for promotion, when the loathing of my life so welled up in me that it spewed forth, I finally had my revelation,” he said, turning over another card.

“That when you have a golden parachute you can speak your mind?” I asked, noting that the card he set to the left was The Queen of Cups.

“Very good, Mr. Lynn. We are approaching honesty,” Brantford said, and placed The Judgment card above and to the right of The Devil.

“Brantford, if you have a standard Bicycle deck, I can play a fairly mean hand of Euchre, but we will need two more and if you are going to draw tarot, you need me to shuffle them. And if you are going to waste my time with mystic, cryptic crap you can take a flying leap,” I said, preparing to get up.

“What happened when I did the three-day rant?” Brantford asked.

“Initially, nothing. Security required you to stand at least 50 feet away from the premises,” I answered without thinking.

Brantford turned over The Ace of Rods and placed it below the below The Judgment card. “And then?”

“On the second day, the people in the street ignored you or mistook you for a beggar and tried to force change on you,” I said, aggravated with myself for still being there.

“Then what happened on the third day,” Brantford asked, fingering the pile of cards.

“On the third day, the news crews came out and covered it, you were arrested and Baker acted,” I said.

“On the third day, everything changed, Mr. Lynn. I had poured out my rage, my conflict and my fears. I was finally who and what I was meant to be. I achieved clarity,” Brantford said, his fingers still stroking the remaining cards on the pile.

“What you experienced,” I said, truly aggravated by his performance, “was a course of treatment involving Benzodiazepine.”

“Tomatoe, tomato,” Brantford shrugged. “I achieved clarity. The first day, I was an annoyance, but people thought they understood why I was screaming. The second day, they ignored me because they could no longer understand why I was still screaming. On the third day, they put me in for treatment and observation, because my screaming made them wonder why they weren’t screaming.”

“And on that note . . .” I said rising from my seat.

“You saw the angry man when you came into the gallery,” Brantford observed.

I stopped. “Yes.”

“Did he seem sane to you?”

“Sane? I try not to judge the world in those terms,” I hedged.

“An adult male is standing at the far end of the gallery screaming the most appalling things at the top of his lungs and you don’t judge it?” Brantford asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“Ever since the Reagan administration they have been cutting federal funding for the mentally ill,” I snapped.

“And yet you didn’t stop to help him?” Brantford asked.

“If I stopped for every person who was foaming at the mouth in the state of Florida I would never get more than a quarter of a mile from my house and I would never be able to get my grocery shopping done,” I retorted.

“But what would you have society do for him?” Brantford challenged me.

“Do for him? Based on the current trajectory of health care in America? Give him a blue tooth earpiece and tell everyone he is some sort of corporate CEO,” I said sarcastically.

“But Mr. Lynn, he is a corporate CEO of one of the most prestigious and successful corporations in the world,” Brantford said and turned over the last card.

I looked down at the final card. Damn. The Tower.

“Mr. Lynn, I have three lists. One list I never share; that gentleman over there is on that list. I have a second list that I rarely share. That list is my second tier of clients. Then, I have a third list that I do share and license out in joint ventures. For that list I charge twenty thousand dollars,” Branden B. Brantford explained.

“Ah,” I said, recognizing that I was well out of my depth in terms of price and the subject of this conversation.

“However,” he said, placing a staying hand on my wrist, “I am willing to make a deal.”

I relaxed. “What sort of deal?”

“Mr. Lynn, you have something I want,” Brantford said ominously.

“And that would be?” I asked, wondering if I was about to be presented with a contract for my soul.

“In the video you did, Mr. Norman shouted something essential, something so true that it made the world take note,” Brantford said solemnly.

“Bullshit! I’m broke and broken!!” I hazarded.

“Exactly, Mr. Lynn. It was as though you had taken him to the clearing level of my program!” Brantford enthused. “I want that footage! If I can have that footage and a testimonial from Abby Norman for my clearing process, I will give you access to my list for half of all gross sales made.”

I considered the proposition. I had no legal authority over Abby or Matt. On the other hand, I could provisionally commit him to the agreement.

“How about this? You get the rights to the footage, the testimonial, and you get Abby to go through your clearing process, and we get access to both of your lists. The split is 60/40 for the first thousand units and 70/30 for everything after that,” I countered.

Brantford considered this. “Half of my second list, 50/50 on all initial sales, and 60/40 on secondary product sales on all conversions.”

It was a tough position. It meant giving up a percentage of the back-end sales on the more expensive products. But the second list was presumably a group that had already spent larger amounts of money before and would be willing to do it again for the right sales proposition. On the upside, I had got us into the second list and all it cost was committing Abby to some mystic metaphysical spiritual cleansing.

“I’ll have it written up, get the necessary signatures on our side, and send it on over for you,” I agreed.

“Very good.” Brantford smiled broadly.

“Question: what sort of clearing is it?” I asked, looking over at the CEO who was still yelling at passing shoppers.

“It is a multistep process that clears the internal blockages we have as to who and what we are,” Brantford answered.

“So you get a lot of CEOs, do you?”

“While I can’t share specifics, you would be surprised the amount of conflict that torments the captains of industry. That gentlemen over there laid off 15,000 employee and sent 7,000 jobs overseas to Indonesia,” Brantford observed.

“So your clearing process helps him avoid doing things like that, does it?” I asked, absolutely certain I would not like Brantford’s answer.

“My process helps clear the individual of unproductive, unnecessary conflicts that are intrinsic to contradictory views of mortality and duty,” Brantford said. “His guilt and loathing arise from moral precepts that are not consistent with his life’s mission. To be racked with guilt over the unemployed in this country or those who will be injured and killed in Indonesia by unsafe work environments has no productive benefit. The only reason he clings to those issues is because he has not resolved other conflicts.”

“So, not a poster boy for the success of the clearing process?” I suggested.

“On the contrary, he is much improved. He shuttered three production plants in the United States last week and sent the work to China. He said it gave him the soundest night’s sleep he’s had in decades,” Brantford explained.

“Ah,” I said rising from my seat. The vision of an entirely amoral Abby Norman loomed large.

“But he needs to get through that last little bit if he wants to have any chance of achieving his earthly mission in this lifetime,” Brantford said, lifting the cards one by one off the table top.

“I’ll have the paper work over to you by tomorrow,” I said, ignoring the implications of Brantford’s observation.

“Mr. Lynn, there is no morality in the roles we are to play. There is only the Akashic Record and whether or not we fulfill our roles. That we do it effortlessly or with conflict is our only real choice,” Brantford said, and started to shuffle the cards again.

Walking past the angry man, the vision of Abby yelling, ranting and clearing his way to an absolute state of amorality through this process continued to fill my head. The only comforting thought was all of that would come after we were done with the re-launch and I would have cashed my checks and be well away from all of this. With a little bit of luck, I would also be well outside Abby Norman’s zone of destruction when he achieved an absolute relationship with his true self.

My phone began to buzz. The number was Gene Fulsomes’.

“What’s up, Gene? I‘m just leaving a meeting,” I snapped, happy to have somewhere to direct my frustrations and misgivings.

“Abby is missing,” Gene said, clearly in a full panic.

“Back up,” I said, stopping about ten yards from the angry man. “Tell me exactly what happened.”

“We started out shooting the ads in the office like you told us to,” Gene said.

“And?” I prompted.

“Then Abby said we should do the last three on the beach,” Gene said.

“OK.” I paused. “I can see how that would work. So what happened?”

“Well then he wanted to go to Siesta Village before we did the last three . . .” Gene trailed off.

“Let me guess. He took you to The Daiquiri Deck?” I growled.

“That was where we started,” Gene conceded.

“So, let me get this clear. The two of you did a bar crawl in Siesta village before noon?”

“Well, there were a few places . . .”

“So, what happened?!?” I cut him off.

“I went to use the bathroom and when I came back, he was gone,” Gene said in a rush.

I took a deep breath, looked over at the angry man and considered joining him.

“Did he have a gun?” I asked.

“What? No!” Gene said in surprise.

“Gene, that was an entirely reasonable question! Did he have any pills?” I barked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Gene hedged.

“OK. Good.” I found I was hyperventilating.

“But . . .” Gene squeaked.

“But me no buts! What is it?!?” I snarled.

“I think he took my video camera,” Gene said.

“When you say think, do you mean you are exercising some sort of higher function in putting together facts or are you saying you have probable cause to believe that he took it?”

“What? I’m not sure . . .” Gene said bewildered by my tirade.

I took a deep breath. This was not a productive conversation. “Why,” I asked slowly, “do you think he took it?”

“Because I asked him to watch it while I went to take a leak,” Gene said equally slowly.

“So, for the purposes of clarity, Abby Norman is drunk and presumably has your video camera?” I asked.

“That sounds about right,” Gene said, happy to find we had this common understanding.

“Does he have the van?” I asked.

“No, I still have the keys,” Gene said.

“OK, I’ll be there in 20 minutes. Start looking on the beach. Anywhere you see women in bikinis,” I instructed.

“Why?” Gene said.

“Abby Norman is drunk and at large with a video camera on Siesta Key. What do you think he is going to do with the camera?” I barked.

“Oh, yeah. He was making some comments when we were at The Daiquiri Deck about what he would do if he were 20 years younger,” Gene slurred slightly.

“Keep your cell phone on,” I said and ended the call.

It seemed I was going to be ringside at an amoral Abby Norman performance after all. For the purposes of my own clarity, I felt a strong urge to stand in the Gallery and scream at the top of my lungs for three days. But that would have to wait.

Note: The image used to illustrate this column was created by Cusper Lynn using a photo by chelzerman.

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About Cusper Lynn

Cusper Lynn, whose accumulation of alphabetic suffixes makes formal introductions nearly impossible, is the CEO of Hell Bent Press, and a prolific blogger/author, who self-identifies—primarily, these days—as a “consultant.” A mega-cigar-smoking Midwesterner-become-Floridian, Lynn has also worked in radio (as a DJ), banking, bookselling and community theater (do not, hold that against him), and has produced a punk album (you may hold that against him), four children, and a novel titled Facebook Ate My Marriage (www.facebookatemymarriage.com; www.cusperlynn.com; www.hellbentpress.com ). Lynn says he was, in the second grade, “bitten by the writing bug,” which he traces back to “the accidental discovery that a well written essay could, if properly slanted, decrease the beatings meted out in the dark ages of public school education.” He adds: “The other two useful things I would take away from those long-ago classrooms would be the ability to touch type and a clear understanding that the world was aggressively disinterested in my wellbeing.” Subsequent success as a physician and an advisor with an uncanny ability to provide information and intellectual succor of all sorts to patients and clients of all stripes have somewhat softened Lynn’s stance, as evidenced by his literate, thoughtful writing in The Occidental Ape.
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