It was to have been a day of celebration, but something was terribly wrong. As Marcy tugged open the heavy double doors of the ad agency, a warm gust of stale garlic and bacon struck her in the face. Confetti lay in the entryway. Beside the deserted reception desk, empty champagne bottles protruded from the wastebasket, their rumps insolently turned toward her.
The conference room—"Glass House" they called it—was a shocking mess. Marcy glanced in from the corner of her eye, then stopped short to stare. She bit her lower lip. The long, polished cherrywood table was crowded with smudged glasses and empty liquor bottles—gin, scotch, wine, and those designer potions with names like hair conditioner. Somebody had spelled out ‘fuk me’ with swizzle sticks. Puddles reflected the sky outside. Hors d’oeuvres platters sat on the chairs, stale sushi, desiccated cheese wedges; cocktail wieners bulged obscenely from bread rolls, fat congealed around their folds. A greasy pizza box gaped. There is nothing, thought Marcy, more used up than an old pizza box.
They had thrown the Big Bash without her! Even as the realization dawned, part of Marcy wanted to start cleaning up, like the dutiful midwestern home-ec student she had been. But her other self, the anxious, perennial outsider, the eighth-grader who had prayed to God for party invitations that never arrived—that Marcy writhed on the sharp thorns of rejection. Twenty years gone, and nothing had changed!
Had anyone mentioned a party yesterday as she closed down her computer and hit the road? No. She, the senior copywriter, linchpin of the agency, had been purposely, premeditatedly excluded from the celebration of the Ataxia Software account that she had helped win!
Marcy recalled herself hydroplaning north last night on Highway One in pelting rain, brakes mushy on her old Ford Fairmont. And all the while, this party had been taking shape, coming to life like a succubus. Of course they had no reason to conceal it now. All this garbage, this rancid affront had been left for her.
Well, she would deny them the satisfaction of seeing her pain. She must be stoic. With anguished effort, Marcy composed her features as Eric, that puppy of a graphic designer, slithered through the heavy door and stood beside her, peeking in at the mess.
"Morning, Marcy," he winced, rolling his eyes. "Our bad."
Why, you talentless, creepy little sycophantic pissant, Marcy thought. "Oh, I’ve seen worse." She smiled tremulously. "I hope everyone got home okay." Her faux concern provoked a shrug and a shaken head.
"Me too." Eric seemed to want to say more, but Marcy turned away briskly, grabbed the pizza carton, and tried to shove it into the trash. The overflowing can rejected it, and the carton slid onto the floor, releasing a leathery hunk of cold pizza upside down on the carpet. The warped crust reminded Marcy of a manta ray.
"Oh don’t bother with that," said Eric. "The janitors’ll be here."
…a dish best eaten cold, thought Marcy, looking at the pizza. Revenge. Who had said that, Richelieu? She walked unsteadily to her desk. On her chair was a folder of busy work that somebody had not been too inebriated to plop there. Coils of purple crepe paper dripped onto the folder from the chair back. Atop her computer was more crepe paper, and her keyboard was littered with little colored paper dots. She turned the keyboard upside down and shook it. The dots pattered out and fell into her shoes.
So this is how it feels to be superseded, Marcy thought, passed over, phased out. It was physical pain dispersed throughout her very pores and molecules—a primal, atavistic dread of exclusion that must hearken back to the australopithecine band, hooting and posturing in the cracked mud of the Olduvai Gorge. Poor Uk-Uk with her 800 cc brain case had felt the same bottom drop out of her world, abandoned to the hyenas over some inadvertent violation of primate protocol.
But wasn’t she inflating this simple oversight, this party, beyond its true significance? Hadn’t she herself dashed out at five o’clock last night, as she did every night, to pick up Allison at day care, precluding herself from after-hours socializing? They probably didn’t bother telling her because they were so sure she could not stay. Of course she could have called Larry and had him pick up Allison. But perhaps they thought that would cause waves in her custody arrangement, so to spare her….no, that was a tissue of rationalization.
At least, Marcy calculated, they hadn’t fired her. No, and she must not give them an excuse by storming out. Steady on, she thought, you can’t control what they do, you can only control what you do about it. Or was it how you feel about it? Or was it you can’t control how you feel about it, but only how you feel about what you do about it? And here came Eric again, probably wanting to rub it in a little more. But no.
"Can you write some copy about this vest for the Summit winterwear catalog?" he said, shoving under Marcy’s nose a tiny photo of a gray vest that reached new levels of nondescript. "A snippet." He held his fingers an inch apart.
As he leaned over, the folder he was carrying opened like a cleavage, and Marcy reflexively peeked in. From a page inside exploded a luminous purple-and-chartreuse printed retro-psychedelic headline: "Thump It!" A realization hit Marcy: Why, that was the main theme for the whole Summit ExtremeGear Winterwear campaign! The concept Marcy had been waiting to be asked to create.
"Thump it?" She could not resist blurting. Eric flinched and snatched the folder away, holding it behind him as if concealing a biopsy result from a terminal patient.
"All we need right now is that vest copy," he said.
We, thought Marcy. Now they were "we." And she, Marcy, was non-we. Meanwhile she of Thump It!, Gaylinn Pratt, junior copywriter, had secretly been invited to concept the theme for their biggest client’s most important campaign. Marcy’s head swam. Soon, skiers worldwide would Thump It! At Aspen, Vail, Biarritz, Gstaad. T-shirts by the millions would Thump It! Billboards. Posters. TV commercials and celebrities; a new Everest ascent or South Pole trek would Thump It. And next year would come the follow-on campaign, Thump It Harder or Thump It More.
An article in Advertising Age would highlight the daring strategy behind Thump It. The article would focus on how smaller, fast-moving west coast agencies were seizing the creative vanguard from the ponderous behemoths of the past, the DDB Needhams and BBD&Os, brontosauruses munching their clueless cud as the mammals Thumped It.
Gaylinn Pratt would be featured in San Francisco Magazine, a worldly gamine in faded jeans, hugging her knees before a manual typewriter. Having her hair chopped short by a crusty old barber. Chatting with Clint Eastwood at a Pebble Beach charity gala. The article would be titled "Today’s adfemme–not your mother’s English major."
And Marcy the English major would write a snippet. She felt the slow burn creeping up her neck to ignite the hair follicles at her temples. Tears welled. "Not a problem," she said with a catch that Eric must have noticed, but ignored. He flapped the forbidden file bye-bye at her and turned away. A weight pressed on Marcy’s thorax. The keyboard blurred.
Hadn’t Sid himself reassured Marcy only last week that her position was solid? He had hired Gaylinn only to relieve the heroic burden that Marcy carried so well. Now Marcy could do more with her life than write copy. Why, she could begin her novel at last!
But …Thump It. What a lousy theme. Marcy thought of the bunny in Walt Disney’s Bambi. Wasn’t he Thumpit? And what about Things That Go Thump in the Night? Rhymes with Lump It, had they considered that? What kind of theme was Thump It for a high-performance adventure gear company that outfitted Everest teams to the summit? Why, the words even sounded like a fall, right down the Hillary Step, thumpit thumpit thumpit.
It was now eight-fifteen, and the agency, after its riotous debauch, remained eerily silent and deserted. Peeking out at the reception desk, Marcy saw that unanswered calls were blinking on the phone, still on auto-pilot. Here was an ethical dilemma: should she pick up the phones until Pam dragged herself in? Oh, don’t be a schnook, Marcy told herself. They didn’t tell you about the party, it’s their problem if Pam got so drunk she couldn’t make it in this morning.
Marcy’s reflection loomed translucent in the glass door, a lonely, metaphysically solitary figure, curly dark hair escaping its haphazard twist—unlike Gaylinn’s blonde Veronica Lake, sweeping her shoulders. The minute I see her, Marcy thought, I start to lumber instead of walk. Even my writing becomes obtuse and Victorian. I am the hulking shadow on the mountain—the Yeti. While Gaylinn skis effortlessly down the other side.
And now Marcy noticed that the door to Sid’s corner office was shut, but the lights were on. They must be within already, meeting early—Gaylinn, of course, and Randy Papen, the creative director, that pretentious ass with his gray hair flowing over his black turtleneck, who declared "I’m weak, weak," every time a cute teenage girl walked by. Once, Marcy had once echoed freak, freak, had he heard that? Cheap shot Marcy, never could resist doing herself in. Her own worst enemy.
Oh stop it, she told herself. You really are clinically paranoid. But the thin, bright line of light beneath Sid’s office door burned her eyes like a sliver of white-hot metal. They were in there talking about her, phasing her out, shrinking her job to a snippet, or even canning her. What a pleasure it would be to abandon her ersatz poise and just let go like a magnificent animal. Hurl inkwells, kick over wastebaskets.
Marcy looked at the vest and began to type her snippet. Her fingers on the keyboard looked like cocktail wieners. The tiny mirror above her desk reflected a face inflamed, swollen with suppressed pain. The corners of her eyes and mouth canted downward. The Pout, she thought, my answer to The Scream.
Marcy recalled suddenly an American girl she had once seen pitch a perfect fit in a restaurant on the French Riviera. Marcy had been backpacking across Europe with Miriam Katz, that teetotaling bore. The waiters had been pointedly ignoring all of the American students for the better part of two hours. Suddenly, from a nearby table, an empty wine bottle sailed through the air and shattered at the feet of a waiter. The girl who had hurled it was tall, beautiful, and very drunk—almost cartoonish. A long blonde ponytail protruded from the side of her head. It had taken three waiters to wrestle this Amazon outside. All the while, the girl, fearsome and fiery, continued to shout strings of admirably specific epithets into the restaurant until friends arrived and hauled her away.
"Some people have no class," said Miriam Katz, pursing her lips.
"That" said Marcy, "was class." A well-executed sundering scene would be an event to treasure. Marcy could become, for one defining moment, a magnificent, rampant animal, heedless of consequences. The moment was all, but was she equal to it? Whatever words came to her, she would shout, before the entire office. The alternative was to seethe for the rest of her life—not over the outrage, but over her own timid, craven response.
Marcy rose, smiling beatifically, a servant of destiny. She recalled vaguely that assassins were said to see themselves from the outside before their own defining moments. She shivered a little, yet her legs propelled her toward Sid’s office. Had she the sand? She stood for a moment, looked behind her, at the past, and flung open the door.
"This is a fucking travesty," she shouted in, tossing an imaginary ponytail.
The first thing she saw was Randy’s bare buttocks facing her. He was lying on his side on the floor. Spooned cozily against him lay Sid and before Sid, Gaylinn. Even at this juncture, Marcy felt a tinge of envy.
Almost in slow motion, Marcy watched the three awaken in a sort of horrified chain reaction. Then the room erupted in a mad scramble as limbs and bodies and heads tried to bolt out of sight. But there was no place to hide. Marcy, frozen with disbelief, was witnessing universal, primal panic: the hominid band ambushed by smilodon at the tarpit, sleeping Britons roused by the plundering Danes. The speakeasy flappers barreling past cigar-chomping dicks.
In less than two seconds, the world had changed. Marcy slammed the door and turned her back and braced herself against it as hard as she could, as if afraid that they would come stampeding out and flatten her. But behind the door was now only silence. She could not hear even a whisper. An unexpected sense of exhilaration and power suddenly overcame her, as if they were her prisoners. She could hold them in there forever. She wondered vaguely if she had been a sadistic prison guard in a former life. Then she left the door and walked back to her desk.
Hey Eric," Marcy grinned. He glanced up from Thump It with a little frisson of irritation, blinking rapidly.
"I’m going to get some air."
"How’s that copy coming along?"
"I’m right on it."
"By the way," Eric winked at Marcy. "Can you make some coffee on your way out? I don’t think Pam’s coming in this morning."
"Of course," said Marcy, winking back. "By the way, where’s Sid?" she asked, inquisitive as Satan.
"I think he had an early meeting at Ataxia," Eric said, shrugging, not looking up.
"And Randy and Gaylinn?"
"They were going to present some new ideas for an ad campaign."
"That must be where they are then," said Marcy. She walked past the fetid conference room and the reception desk. A lightness perfused her being, though her legs still felt a bit unsteady, as if they were only now being fully used . She pushed on the office door, and it gave way easily before her.
The Monterey Bay was clear and blue after last night’s showers, pure in its unrelenting coldness, its chilly kelp forest swaying greenly beneath in blissful unawareness of human pettiness and perversity.
She walked down the office steps and turned onto Del Monte Avenue. The sun sought her eyes, richly warming her hair, loosening her joints. Beside her, traffic seethed in comforting swishes and blatts and groans. Marcy felt protected, anointed, almost holy. The universe seemed to be listening to her at last. She cocked her head upward, and the sky was vast and infinite and inviting.
"I was left out," she spoke aloud into the crisp air. The universe nodded its curved space-time warp kindly. I was handling it, you know, Marcy added, though she knew that was not entirely true. But symmetry had been reestablished. From now on, she knew that everything, everything would be easier. She may not be able to see it yet, but the path ahead lay open.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/boroff.html]
B R A V E S O U L S R E C E I V E
Archive of Recent Activities
Area For Textual Encounter
Long-Ass List of Contributors
Last Year Today