Originally published on One For One Thousand
People used to tell me I was a good writer. I worked on some flashy accounts in my 30s. But being able to write isn’t much use to a copywriter since a Twitter feed became an acceptable body of work. I took this freelance job because, well, they offered it to me. No one has done that in a while.
I know they saw my portfolio because the thing I paid a 19-year-old to add to my website told me so—one new view from a mobile device lasting two and a half minutes. My face gets hot just thinking about it. A recently promoted creative director scrolls through my life’s work at a stoplight on the way home from the office at 3am. He watches my commercial for Pennzoil and doesn’t laugh. Why would he? His dad still takes his car to get the oil changed for him. Fucking millennials.
Cruising from level to level, every parking spot in the garage is the size of a portal leading into John Malkovich’s brain. Do this many compact cars even exist in America? I park my 8-seater like a complete jerk and hustle to the elevator. I catch my reflection in the stainless steel doors. Is a 40-year-old woman wearing high tops hip or hilarious? A young man appears next to me wearing the kind of suit that looks too small but isn’t. He wants me to see his socks, right?
I walk into the office and look around. There are no cubicles, just rows of desks topped with shiny technology. I pause at the receptionist’s desk. Her age and outfit appear to be violating all sorts of labor laws.
“Welcome to Pop, how can I help you?”
“I’m Margaret Kay, the freelance writer you called.”
“Totally. Welcome. We’re swamped so I’m so glad we found someone who is available.”
Unfolding from behind the desk like a newborn foal, she leads me through the office.
“Great timing because they just kicked off a Gogo.com brainstorm.”
We arrive at a conference room where a vertical garden covers the entirety of one wall. Everything smells like parsley.
“Hey team! This is Margaret. She’s the writer helping us out.”
Their heads bob up from various screens, they mumble hello, and their heads drop back down. I sit and open my thick, white MacBook. A handsome guy wearing a tank top is leading the meeting. He looks at me and suddenly the light above me feels twice as fluorescent as all the others.
“Did they email you a brief?”
I nod and pull a piece of paper out of my laptop case. Everyone seems confused by its tangibility.
“Any questions before we get started?” asks Tank Top.
“Am I right that the gist of the campaign is, Gogo.com is the new and better Amazon.com?”
He smiles and I forget about my crow’s feet.
“You’ve got it.”
Then a young woman, broadcasting mixed messages with her neck tattoos and Nancy Reagan-esque tweed suit, speaks up.
“Well, we can’t say Amazon.”
“That makes sense because they’re a competitor,” I reply agreeably. “So it’s more like, Gogo.com is the new and better place to shop online.”
Now Chubby Ex-Frat Boy has something to add.
“We can’t say ‘new’ because the site launched over six months ago.”
“I think ‘better’ is off limits, too,” says Tattoo Nancy. “We can’t back up that claim.”
“So where are these ads going to run?” I ask, scanning the brief.
All of a sudden Tank Top addresses me like I’m a dementia patient.
“At Pop, we don’t create advertising. We create stories.”
“I see. Where are we going to share these stories? Facebook? Times Square?”
Chubby Ex-Frat Boy seems bored by me.
“The campaign is running exclusively on Snapchat,” he says.
“Isn’t that the one that disappears after 30 seconds?”
“10,” Tattoo Nancy says without looking up.
I stare at the garden wall and wonder if they would let me take home some herbs. Bon Appétit has a recipe for parsley risotto I really want to try.
“What if we show a guy surfing on a credit card and in the waves we see things he might buy, like a bike helmet…an electric razor…that kind of thing?” says Tank Top.
This gets Tattoo Nancy going.
“Yeah, and maybe it ends with a line like, ‘Deals that won’t wipe you out,’” she adds.
So puns are acceptable again. That makes sense considering how kids these days seem to be fascinated by the 1980s. I manage to be both too old and too young for this crowd.
Tank Top jumps up, grabs a dry erase marker, and plants in front of the whiteboard. He starts scrawling the surfer idea.
“That’s good, that’s good. What else?”
Chubby Ex-Frat Boy sets down his array of devices.
“Maybe there’s a cheerleader—a hot cheerleader—and she’s jumping around with this sign that says, ‘Shop for your team at Gogo.com!’”
And just like that, another gem on the whiteboard. I start sweating. I need to contribute something, that’s what I’m here for. Yesterday, I spent the entire day cleaning out our garage and now, like some sort of miracle, both of our cars can fit inside. I should start a garage-organizing business. I clear my throat.
“What if there’s a cute puppy—like a golden retriever—and he’s tearing up a shoe. We hear a woman’s voice over say, ‘Come, Gogo, come!’ Then a line comes up: ‘Great deals on shoes and more at Gogo.com.’”
“We could do a series of them starring Gogo the dog and he’s always chewing on something different that you can buy at Gogo.com.”
Silence and then…Tank Top starts writing.
“I love it,” he says. “That kind of story has share value.”
Are those like stock options? I decide not to ask.
“Cool,” I say coolly.
An hour later, I get back in my car. They asked me to come back for another brainstorm tomorrow. When I pull up to the parking garage attendant, I realize I forgot to get my ticket validated by Bambi the receptionist. The woman in the booth tells me it’s going to be $30. That’s how much I charge per hour, so basically I was never here. I hand over the money and stare at the attendant. She looks to be about my age, with long, thin hair and spotty teeth. A book called Love at Sea is sitting open across her broad lap. I realize I’m jealous. I wonder how much she makes an hour?
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal