Who's Coming With Me?

by David Vengel

Who's Coming with me?

Surge soda is manufactured in Newark New Jersey. One 16oz can of Surge soda has 65 grams of sugar and 80 milligrams of caffeine. In three to four sentences of copy, I need to tell a specific demographic that when you crack open a can of Surge, you are going to feel a cool rush of energy and have a wonderful time with beautiful people. My instructions are to insert five specific words into the copy: natural, clean, refreshing, healthy, and essential (which will refer to nutritional aspects of the drink). These key words known as power words have been statistically proven to stick in people's brains and produce results. Nothing sells itself anymore. It's about coding and recoding the public. I am also to insert the phrase better-for-you-energy that my team has already used in several ads. This phrase works well because is gives the appearance that Surge soda brand is an expert on what you need. Surge soda is available wherever soft drinks are sold. In this health conscious society we want Americans to reach for Surge because it associates with health and nature, as well as the exclusive party that other energy drinks associate with. The copy will be packed full of "you" and "your" because the ad is for you, it's what you believe.

I am staring at my computer screen and thinking about this, overcome with emptiness, when Mr. McAlister walks in dressed sharply as usual in a dark navy blue double breasted pinstripe suit. He's a large man, tall, barrel-chested, black hair slicked back. He exchanges words with Gary and Cassandra. He walks past the muffins without so much as a glance and on his way out stops and I can feel him behind me.

"Ethan, how's the Surge ad coming along?"

"It's good... um... just working on it, you know." I say trying to smile.

"Great... great" he says looking preoccupied.

You don't need to stand here Mr. McAlister, I'm thinking. We don't need to talk. He looks back down at me, really wanting to tell me something. I have his attention. If I have anything to say to Mr. McAlister this would be the time.

"Ethan would you install Adobe Acrobat Reader... it wasn't installed properly and it just really needs to be done today."

"That's no problem." I say, curving the edges of my mouth upwards. And I'm thinking; Why me? What program has ever been installed correctly? And since when am I good at this type of stuff?

"That's great Ethan" he says looking off. "Do you have time today to make some returns?"

I swallow. "... Return some things?" I say slowly, thinking about looking through my planner, my eyes shifting side to side, realizing that this would be useless. "Ya... sure" I say snapping out of my gaze, sounding as assertive and genuine as I can.

"Good man Ethan" he says, putting his hand on my left shoulder which I sort of turn and glance at, surprised.

Mr. McAlester drops an envelope on my desk. "Everything to be returned is in the supply cabinet".

I look in the envelopes, nervous. They're full of receipts. "O.K Mr. McAllister, I got it!" I yell over his shoulder as he walks out.

I'm walking to the bathroom and Dora is vacuuming the hallway. Dora is cute, small, with black hair in a pony tail, very feminine... which I like. She is friendly and she always smiles at me. I heard Mark Fines, the CEO of Caltech actually married his cleaning lady. I sort of have to step over the chord so I don't trip and Dora immediately runs over. "I am so sorry" she says in a tiny Mexican accent. "You don't have to be sorry." I say. She smiles like she doesn't understand. I pause, looking into her eyes. "DORA, YOU DO NOT, HAVE " TO " BE "SORRY". She looks embarrassed. It makes me sick the way Dora acts like less of a person than I am, than anyone in the office; just thankful to have her job and to love Jesus. I want her to know that she's more, or if she is just putting on an act for the man, to know that I'm not one on THEM. I shouldn't have gotten so angry... or whatever, but I can't help it, something's coming over me and when I close my eyes the blackness spins. I want to sit down which I do in my swivel chair at my desk.

Thinking is bad when you do what I do, I mean thinking about life is bad... Thoughts you wake up to in the morning. Thoughts that keep you up at night. If you bring these thoughts into the work place only bad things can happen.

The time in 5th grade I fell of my skateboard in front of the 6th graders. Finishing the Surge ad by next Tuesday. Fried foods. Will I live any kind of meaningful life? Why the fuck would Ann marry me? Ann's father is an Asshole. If there is no point, and I don't think there is, then why do I worry? There are no true explorers anymore. Return office supplies. Install Adobe Acrobat Whatever on Mr. McAlister's computer. If you graft the numbers of any system patterns emerge; therefore there are patterns, everywhere in nature. I'm going somewhere after work... but where?

I am feeling weird, everything is moving slowly and I'm trying to get a grip on things. The screen shakes, heat rushes through my veins like needles and I am hit with a wave of nausea like I'm in a plane dropping from the sky or waking in a burning home. All the discernment from sleepless nights to waking up in depression emerges at once and I am unable to subdue these emotions as my adrenalin keeps building. I am now standing and ready, ready for something. I am quickly overcome with an ecstasy, a calmness that can only appear in the short moments after violently vomiting. Somehow the time feels right and my mouth opens and three questions emanate in what turns out to be the introduction of a short speech full of rhetoric I didn't know I had.

"What are we doing here?" I say firmly. "What's the point?" I say louder. Typing halts, phones ring unanswered. "Do we do this for the paycheck, is that's what's going on?" I scan the room intensely. "Scaring good hearted, simple, decent people, in to purchases; creating germaphobes, hypochondriacs, agoraphobics, fear of our SIGNIFICANT OTHERS, OUR CHILDREN..." I look at Bethany sympathetically repeating my self in a quieter tone. "...our children"

My speech is taking form and as I talk I'm developing both a direction and an agenda. This speech is for Elyse and Kent who I know are depressed and unfulfilled, aimlessly walking around the office, purchasing snacks form the vending machine. It's for James and Gary who get a hard on for this shit, who think their ideas are so clever and walk and talk about advertising with girlfriends and dates, constantly smirking.

I feel like god when he's angry.

"We create images for clothing targeted at insecure teens... Were you popular in high school?" I say looking directly at Margret but asking everyone. I stare at Margret until she looks away, down at her feet. "...Making sweet sugary cereals seem healthier than a decent breakfast... fooling the uneducated. Convincing everyone that quick and easy is always good." I say trailing off a bit, looking up and off out the back windows.

It feels strange to hear my voice speaking all of my thoughts, my moment of clarity in front of everyone in the office. Heads nod and I feel validated enough to go on and I feel almost possessed as I do.

"But I like my things" I say in a mocking voice. "This isn't some, you don't own your things, they own you, bullshit I'm regurgitating here. This is about us and our creative energy. We live in a society that constantly needs to produce and sell to keep functioning and financing our lifestyles. It's a vicious cycle and we play a vital role. Well, informing the public is gone my friends. We twist, spin, lie, dupe, and manipulate the public..."

"... I like working here" interrupts Cassandra assertively.

"Ya" agrees Gary. "I like making ads... I enjoy advertisements in general." He thinks aloud as if realizing this for the first time. And the two of them bring my speech to an anticlimactic halt.

"If you want to make a difference, be a fucking teacher." says one of them.

I quietly scan the room for hope and find none. My passion boils down into frustration and as calmly as I can walk out of the room resisting the urge to slam something, throw a printer, punch Gary in the face, and I am already feeling foolish as I walk down three flights of stairs and out the door.

By the time I reach the street corner I am completely deflated. My anger completely subdued, reality sets in. Whether this happens too soon or too late I'm not sure. I look back at my building wishing, hoping someone will come out; tell me to come back or say that their going with me.

I walk into the sandwich shop across the street and order a curry chicken salad on rye and diet coke. I sit on a stool at the window and as I wait for my sandwich contemplate never going back. It feels romantic, life changing, and my heart briefly flutters with excitement before I quickly realize that all of my things are still in the office. Laptop, cell phone... jacket...

Somehow I am calm, relaxed. My mind, probably stunned, is empty and I just sit and stare absentmindedly out the window, unseeing the people that walk by, the rain that starts.

An Asian woman, the owner, brings me my sandwich. I smile politely and she smiles back. If Mexicans are taking jobs, I think, then Asians are taking ownership.

I don't know why I gave a speech like that... I don't know those people. In Prison you could be friends with a man for twenty years and not know of their plan to escape, the tunnel they secretly dig. Why couldn't I go out like that?

Confused by my actions and with nowhere to go, I begin to walk back in the direction of the office. The streets and cars sound wet, buildings drip. It's pouring and I feel as thought everything is in slow motion. I can call each droplet by its name; hundreds of them, thousands of them at once. Soon I reach the door and just stand there drenched, water streaming from my face, unable to enter until I feel embarrassed of my own dramatics and input the security code and push the door in taking a deep breath as I do.

I slink up the stairs, stopping, listening intently with each sound up ahead, like a deer on paved streets, deep in a neighborhood, I brace myself ready to bolt out. Suddenly, two male voices appear on the stairs one floor above me. My heart races and I tense, unable to make anything that could be considered a decision. Thoughts fill my head faster than I can process them and just before the men turn the corner I recognize one of the voices as Mr. McAllister's. I close my eyes tight and grip the railing with both hands, bracing my self.

"Hello Ethan" says Mr. McAlister.

"Ha...Hi Mr. McAlister" I stutter.

"Is it raining out there." He asks.

"Ya." I squeak. And then "Yes it is." More firmly.


And then they pass me and Mr. McAlister and Darrell from finance continue their conversation. I turn the corner, somewhat relieved, and walk up one more flight of stairs. I walk down the hall and sheepishly peak my head between the frames of the door and am startled by James who glances at me as he retrieves something from the printer. I smile awkwardly which I don't think he sees and that's all it is"a glance.

I sort of jump in behind James as not to make any kind of horribly awkward entrance and sink into my swivel chair peaking over the top and around the sides of my computer at Cassandra, at Margret, at everyone. Not a word from the lot. Gary is eating a bag of chips. This place has no soul, I think. No soul.

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