The Occidental Ape
By Cusper Lynn
SARASOTA Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—2/4/2013—“You promised him WHAT!?!” Matt Tomlinson bellowed.
“You heard me,” I said calmly. “Fifty-fifty on all initial sales, and sixty-forty on secondary product sales on all conversions.”
“Jesus, Cusper! For half of his primary list!” Matt barked.
“No, all of his primary list and half of his second list,” I said.
There was a silence. “He let you into his second list?” Matt asked, clearly shocked by this information.
“Yes, he’s giving us all of his primary and half of the second client list,” I stated.
“Those people all have spent over 3k with him, minimum,” Matt said, awe coloring his voice.
“Yes,” I agreed.
In the motivational and personality marketing industry, there are always lists to be found, pools of customers who, through previous purchases, have shown themselves to be a receptive audience—not to say suckers—for new ideas.
Branden B. Brantford’s first-level list was a desirable target for what we were trying to do. His second-level list comprised, as Matt had observed, greater-than-average spenders. Brantford’s third list, the one he never shared, was estimated to be made up of people who’d spent no less than 50 thousand dollars with him.
“What else did you promise him?” Matt asked, having done the mental math and realized there had to be some other catch.
“He gets to use the bum wash video of Abby Norman,” I said.
“And?” Matt asked, expectantly.
“And what?” I asked, peevishly. Matt Tomlinson, like so many in the industry, whined about costs he did not have to bear on products he did not have to create.
“There has to be something else.” Matt growled.
“Yes, well, Abby is going to do one of Branden’s clearing programs.” I added, casually.
“How the hell are you going to get Abby to do that?!?” Matt asked, horrified at the prospect.
“That’s the least of my current problems,” I observed, as I slowed momentarily to negotiate a turn onto Stickney Point.
“Jesus, Cusper! You know Abby! He’d rather die than admit to getting help from another speaker,” Matt said.
“If those terms are offered, he‘ll be surprised how quickly I accept them,” I snapped.
“What’re you going on about?!?”
“Abby is on a bender. In Siesta Village. With a video camera,” I summarized.
“Crap! What are you going to do?” Matt asked.
“Best-case scenario: Abby is arrested, resists arrest, and is beaten to a pulp. Then, I can drop this whole project like a bad habit and look for a safe job in narco-trafficking or the fast food industry.
“Worst case, he makes several indecent suggestions to under-aged women, is punched out by an outraged father, and I’m stuck trying to spin this as a ‘Set-Back on the Road to Recovery.’”
“You came up with that?” Matt asked.
“With what?” I asked. My phone was beeping. It was Gene Fulsome calling me from Siesta Village.
“That title: ‘Set-Back on the Road to Recovery.’ It’s catchy. I like it,” Matt said.
“Yes, I came up with it. All my damn titles sound like buddy films for Bing Crosby and Bob Hope,” I snapped.
Christ, Matt was easily 15 years older than I, but seemed devoid of any knowledge of popular culture.
“Matt, I have to bounce. Gene’s calling me, hopefully with news of Abby’s whereabouts,” I said.
“Let me know as soon as you hear anything,” Matt instructed, as if he were currently managing the situation.
“I’ll call you as soon as I know where your business partner is,” I answered venomously.
The remark had the desired result. Matt hung up.
“What’ve you found out?” I demanded as soon as I switched to Gene’s call.
“Abby went back to The Daiquiri Deck . . .” Gene said slowly.
“. . . he made some suggestions to the waitresses,” Gene muttered.
“Gene, I am going to get a pair of pliers and start pulling digits off you if you don’t get to the point PDQ and ASAP!”
“What?” Gene, still quite drunk from his morning bar crawl with Abby Norman, the Formerly Wealthy Mormon, had already lost the thread of the conversation and was clearly immune to threats of violence.
“Gene, I need you to focus,” I said calmly.
“Digits?” Gene asked fuzzily.
“Is Abby still at The Daiquiri Deck?” I asked, with forebearance.
“No,” Gene said slowly.
“Do we know where he went?”
“When the manager told him to leave the place, he asked where he could get some beads.”
“No . . .”
“. . . and the man told him about this store across the street . . .” Gene continued.
“No, no, no,” I repeated.
“So, I went there and they told me he had been there a few minutes before me,” Gene said, not at all deterred by my entries to the gods that this not be happening.
“Did he find the beads?” I said calmly.
“Yes, yes he did. Bought an entire case of them,” Gene said, with exaggerated pride.
“Did you learn anything else?” I asked.
“Learn?” Gene said. Then, there was a long pause.
In the intervening silence, it occurred to me I had phrased my question badly. Some besotted portion of Gene’s brain was seeking some sort of moral insight from the day’s activities. I rephrased the question.
“Did they say where he went?”
“Oh,” Gene said. “They said he left with some people who offered him a ride to the beach.”
“OK,” I said, taking in this information. “Gene, you stay where you are, in case he comes back your way. I’m going to look for him at the beach.”
“What beach?” Gene asked.
“. . . the only beach a drunken Mormon with beads, a video camera and a death wish would go to: Siesta Beach,” I said.
“You don’t think he’d go to the beach over here?” Gene asked.
By logic, any beach that required a ride would not be the one at Siesta Village. But then it occurred to me that Gene could do with some sun stroke.
“Sure, you go ahead and check that one out,” I said, ending the call.
Of Florida’s numerous beaches, Siesta, is ranked number one nationally. What this means for the Chamber of Commerce is much more than bragging rights: it’s a calling card for an international marketing campaign.
For me, what this meant was that I had a god-awful mess on my hands. Siesta Beach is not a locals’ beach, where Abby would stick out a mile. This is a beach where lean, hard bodies go to tan, swim, para-surf and play volleyball, and families on vacation go to make sand castles. It’s where the elderly are slightly less prevalent than at other beaches, and it’s also home to a virulent strain of drum circles that tend to break out over the weekend.
So it might seem that finding a bloated, drunken man of advancing years, with very little sense of personal space and an even less self-awareness, wielding a video camera and bearing beads, would be relatively easy. Except for one thing. Siesta Beach is also the Number One US beach-destination for visiting Germans. So . . . this was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack.
The drive to the beach from the mall took a little over 20 minutes. Finding a parking space took nearly an hour. Stepping from the badly overheating silver Saturn Ion onto the nearly molten asphalt, I took a long deep breath: coal tar, sea spray, palm lotion and the fetid stench of rotting garbage filled my lungs. This was Siesta beach, and my badly beaten-up car, my acutely developed sense of cynicism, and my brown dress shoes were absurdly out of place on this little slice of paradise.
With a deep sense of resignation, I blew out a lungful of fetid air and, with it, my anger toward Abby and Gene. This was all, when it came down to it, my own fault. If you leave two chimps alone with a gun and the safety off, there is a predictable outcome. Gene and Abby with a video camera and no supervision amounted to the same thing, really. The fact that Abby was on the wrong side of 60, rebuilding a shattered career and life, and Gene purported to be some sort of documentary film maker was just so much noise: I had left the chimps alone with the gun and I was going to be the one who had to scrape brains off the wall.
Walking out onto the beach, my brown dress shoes sinking into the sand, I was greeted by the usual late-afternoon vista ofa well-manicured beach sprinkled with towels, tents and umbrellas. I stared out at the predictable collection half-clad homo sapiens with very little hope of finding a foothold in my search for Abby. Then, just a few feet from where I stood, an incoming volleyball buried itself, spraying sand in my face.
“A little help!?” called out a muscle-bound twenty-something.
I picked up the ball, spat sand, and sorely wished I had a gun. I sent the ball high into the air with a causal underhand serve, and heard a woman call back, “Thanks!”
I turned to see, among the male players, three hard-bodied women on the near side court.
“You’re welcome,” I called back.
The players ignored me and continued to play.
I paused for a moment; considered my situation; considered the question. “What would Abby do?” I thought, and walked straight over to the volleyball players. The three women played a hard set and buried the ball in the other side’s court before I gathered up the nerve to interrupt.
“Pardon me, but I was wondering if you’d seen an older man, with a camera, come by here recently,” I said, as casually as I could manage.
“You mean old and pervy?” one of the young women asked.
“Yes, old and pervy,” I concurred.
“Like you?” the second young woman asked.
“Older and pervier,”I said, the sand seeping over the tops of my dress shoes. “Oh, and very drunk. And with a video camera . . .”
“There are tons of those,” the third woman said, gesturing towards a cluster of German tourists sunning themselves nearby.
“. . . and, with beads,” I added.
“You mean Mad Abby’s Video Fun Time?” one of the young men said.
Oh, sweet gods eternal and infernal.
“Yes, quite probably,” I agreed.
“He was over here throwing beads about two hours ago,” said another young man, who then retrieved a handful from among a pile of shirts and towels.
“Are you the dude with the releases?” the first young man asked. “He said we were going to need to sign those if we want to be in the video.”
“Yes, well, we’ll be getting the paperwork down to you in just a little while,” I said. “Part of the production team is still over in the village finishing up with this morning’s production. You wouldn’t happen to know which way he went?” I said, thinking of how many bags I should put Abby in, and where, around the state of Florida I would leave each one.
“I can show you,” the first young woman said, and came trotting off the court.
We walked in silence through the cluster of German tourists, who were wearing red banana hammocks and who clicked pictures of the young woman as we passed.
“He went this way,” she said, motioning along the shore front.
Looking up the beach, I could see evidence of Abby’s passage based upon bead-clad women running in and out of the surf. “I can probably find him myself from here,” I offered, hoping to be left alone to consider my revenge on Abby for just his current misadventure.
“Um,” she hesitated. She had something on her mind.
“Look . . .” I paused, not knowing the young woman’s name.
“Melady. M-E-L-A-D-Y,” she offered.
“Melady. Don’t worry about the video. I’ll make sure he doesn’t use the footage he shot over there. Nobody will ever know about it.”
In fact, I was going to burn the footage, the camera, and, quite probably, Abby Norman if I ever caught up with him.
“That’s not it at all,” Melady said, looking up at me plaintively. “I would love to be in that video, but . . .”
“Um, OK,” I said, knowing that both the video and its creator were shortly going to go up in flames. “So?”
“Well . . .” Melady hesitated. “The thing is, I’m 16.”
Oh dear gods eternal and infernal!
“Yes. Well, then, clearly we can’t use that footage.”
“Really?” Melady said, pleading.
“Melady, I’m going to ask you not to tell me any more about Abby or the recording,” I said, trying to extricate myself from her and all possible claims of accomplice liability. Not only was that footage going to burn, as was Abby, but quite possibly all of us would assume a position in some sulfurous lake for all eternity.
“The thing is . . .” Melady began again, pausing for a name to address me by.
“Yes?” I said, not offering any further incriminating evidence of my identity or guilt by association.
“. . . Brenda and Debbie are 18, so it’s OK. We all go to the same high school.”
This news did nothing to improve my world view.
“But Chris thinks I’m a Junior at USF,” Melady explained.
“And Chris is?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
“The guy with all the ink,” she said, looking back toward the volleyball court, which was nearly invisible behind the sea of tanning bodies.
“Melady . . .” I began.
“He’s 23 and graduates from Ringling this semester,” she said, offering even further absolutely unwanted information.
“Melady, if we are both very, very, very lucky, he is lying about his age as well,” I said, including Chris in my ‘both.’
“I don’t . . .”
“Melady, my crew won’t be here for another hour. If you want some advice, be gone in the next 20 minutes. That way, Chris won’t see your ID, and life will go on wonderfully. If, in two years, you want to be in an Abby video, I can promise you this: wear something like what you’ve got on now, hang out on this beach, and I am certain you will get onto late-night television.”
I stalked off down the beach and Melady made her way back to the volleyball court.
As a teenage boy, I could tell you a woman’s age within one week of her birthday. When I was in my 20s, I could tell you within a year. By my 30s, I didn’t have much need of such precise information. Now, without two forms of ID and a certified birth certificate, I couldn’t tell 30 from 13. Gods, I have tax problems older than Melady!
There was no good news in any of this. Abby was indiscriminately filming and throwing beads. Was it really that simple, were women really . . . ? Oh, why even ask?
I was in Florida, on Siesta Key, on Siesta Beach, for crying out loud. My opinion of humanity was plummeting to a new, all-time low when I noticed an new trend. The beads were becoming less prevalent, and the age of those wearing them was skewing older.
Nearly a quarter of a mile down the beach, I found a cluster of women in their late 50s and early 60s wearing multiple strands of multi-hued beads and looking very pleased with themselves. Then, off in the distance, I saw a beached whale just past the edge of the surf, surrounded by a group of aid workers.
I started to run.
When I was within 20 feet, I could see that the beached whale was in fact Abby Norman, the formerly wealthy Mormon, passed out on the beach. The aid workers? A group of small children who were taking turns poking him with a stick.
I stood for a moment and considered my options. For ten bucks, I could pay the kids to bury him up to his neck and then wait for the tide to come in. The alternative? Wake him up and drag his drunk, sun-stricken and badly bloated body back to my car and then on to the office. I walked over to the group of children and reached for my wallet.
Two hours later, sweaty, sand-blasted and my dress shoes destroyed, I deposited the still living body of Abby Norman on the couch in the reception area of my Gulf Gate office. My receptionist, who continues her unbroken streak of consistency, had never returned from lunch—assuming she had shown up for work at all that day—and so I had the place to myself.
Taking the camera back to my office, I rewound the tape and pressed playback. To my relief, the volleyball girls had not flashed the camera. To my utter horror, every other woman and quite a few men up and down the beach had. With increasing age came an increasing amount of nudity. I was fast-forwarding and averting my eyes when I heard my cell phone buzz. I paused the tape. Looking at the phone, I saw that it was Gene. I looked out the window; it was nearly sunset. “Serves him right,” I muttered as I picked up. “Hello.”
“Hey, I’ve been all over the beach and there’s no sign of him,” Gene said, clearly sober and equally frightened.
I counted to ten.
“I just found him,” I lied. “I’m taking him back to the office. Can you meet me in about an hour?”
“Sure,” Gene said, relieved. “Is he OK?”
“A little bit sun-burned, definitely hung-over. But otherwise, no worse for wear. Oh, and I got the camera back.”
“Great!” Gene said.
“Yes, just great,” I answered, then hung up.
I looked at the paused screen. I rewound it. I played it back, then rewound it again.
“Oh, Jeez!” I muttered, popping the tape from camera.
I locked it in my desk drawer. This wasn’t good. This absolutely was not good!
Note: The photo montage for this column was created by Cusper Lynn, using elements derived from JAM Project/Will Coles’ piece, “Guns R Us mk II” (Sydney, Australia).