Blowfish: A Private Life in Public Relations – Episode XII: Food Fight
Blowfish: A serialized business noir by Steve Lundin
Episode XII: “Food Fight “
Recap: Jack Vance, the colorful CEO of Blowfish Communications, has been hired to engineer the launch of VGlobe a new online video network. The cornerstone of his launch campaign is Some Will Die, a reality weight loss program engineered to render all contestants dead. Vance’s former employee and new nemesis, Tom Agness, has enlisted the aid of former Georgia congressman “Gekko” Potlatch’s Pot Party, a lobbying organization for unregulated food, in a gambit to sabotage “Some Will Die.”
- Episode I here
- Episode II here
- Episode III here
- Episode IV here
- Episode V here
- Episode VI here
- Episode VII here
- Episode VIII here
- Episode IX here
- Episode X here
- Episode XI here
Milwaukee, WI: Humboldt Park Bandshell
Vance’s phone always rang at the most inopportune of moments – only this time it was the ancient “burner” smartphone he kept in his pocket, not the one he had implanted in his head. That meant a call from someone in one of his ‘off the grid’ compartments. He turned away from his staff, who were gathered at the corner of the curtained grandstand; the last thing he wanted was to be associated with primitive technology in a semi-public setting.
“Chloe – I wanted to see if you were OK. Ready for that drink now….Mr. Vance.”
“Got a taste for beer? We’re in Milwaukee.”
“Yuck – you nosedive in the social register just flying over that place. I’m in Buenos Aires, and damn proud of it.”
“We’re launching ‘Some Will Die’ auditions today Chloe, I’ve got to get back to work. How about Rockford, IL on Wednesday?”
“Getting worse Jack, I’ll be in Caracas.”
“San Jose – Costa Rica, not California.”
“Weekend in Lakeland, Florida?”
“I can’t see leaving Puerto Vallarta for that. Trying to hit the unsightlist cities in the U.S. Jack? “
“Just the unsightliest people, the cities are gravy. Let’s talk later Chloe – maybe we can meet halfway in some less homely place, like Mission, Texas?”
“Call me when you’re off the road Jack, I don’t have a Wal-Mart wardrobe to dust off for this rendezvous.” Click.
Vance didn’t need the distraction; he had enough on his plate. The tray liner campaign his staff had arranged with McDonald’s, Arby’s, the Colonel’s Five Guys and Dunkin Donuts had turned out over 1000 applicants for the 10 coveted spaces allotted to Milwaukee. He peeked out from around the curtain on the stage and surveyed the crowd of rotund Mill-Villins, swaying like one, large multi-colored blob of jello on an asphalt plate.
Vlad was warming up on the sidelines, with Naomi attending to his needs. He was wearing a new “Some Will Die” hoodie (with the logo that Vance himself had designed, a bloody fork with two crossed barbells), his famous Propper combat pants and boots and a Soviet Special forces cap. The program they had scripted would become the template for the tour. Vlad was shifting back and forth, staying warm on this 45 degree January morning.
“Let’s go over it again.”
“We know the drill executive. Just like army.”
Vance was insistent. “Amuse me Vlad, what are we doing here today?”
“I announce the show, I draw 30 names. I interview 30 people on stage, we do a few exercises, votes come in and I announce winners. We leave.”
“Excellent.” Vance turned to Naomi. “How many people we think are watching us?”
Naomi stabbed at the flexible screen draped over her tanned knee.
“Probably a couple of million unique addresses through our gateway.“
“Not bad for not advertising. Screw those social networks. Never underestimate the power of gab marketing. And paper. Nobody uses paper anymore. Pity.” Vance had nixed all the traditional marketing vehicles for getting the word out about the auditions; he didn’t like the social networks when they were on the rise and took every opportunity to sell against them. Besides, with his current VGlobe percentage deal any advertising would have come out of his pocket.
He had taken the message directly the his target demographic: the program had been announced exclusively on tray liners and napkins at the fattest food restaurants he could find in each targeted city. His access portal had a simple sign up form and he was exclusively airing a broadcast of the auditions with a voting feature. Word had gotten out without any tweeting or social networks from FaceBook to F**kBook; he had counted on fat people using their mouths, not their fingers to tout the fact that being overweight had finally paid off.
One by one Berber called out names and the stage slowly swelled with applicants, who heaved one portly leg over another to huff and puff up the three short steps to potential fame and fortune. The only criteria for entry into this competition was a lust for the limelight, dash of greed and ability to tip the scales at 350 pounds. Within 15 minutes Berber was standing in front of three tons of hopeful flesh; he called the first applicant to the front of the stage, into the circle of light. Vance felt his anus tighten; this was where the show really began. Berber had specified an assortment of exercise equipment; it was stacked around like a gaggle of toasters and microwaves around a game show. He was going to conduct “individualized” testing before any en masse group activities.
An eager looking young man wearing a Kevin Smith-esque sleeveless Milwaukee Bucks jersey, Billabong shorts with legs wide enough to park two Austin Mini’s side by side and unlaced vintage Nike Air Jordan’s bounded up to Berber’s side. He was 5’2”, carried all of his weight in his belly and legs and had already sweated through his outfit. Berber regarded Homer’s thick, drippy extended hand and snapped on a blue latex glove before shaking it. The audience applauded.
“You want to die Mr. Gillespie?” Vance felt his legs growing weak. He instinctively felt through his suit for his flask, then remembered that he had intentionally left it in the hotel. Jesus, what was he thinking. He looked over at Naomi and out at the several paramedics next to the stage.
“No sir Mr. Berber. I want to lose 150 pounds and live on an island with a movie star!” Berber slapped his back.
“That’s the spirit! That’s what we want to see too! Now – let’s see what you can do.” He regarded his play set for a moment then picked up a 25 lb. kettle ball.
“We try some simple swinging.” Berber demonstrated a perfect, between the legs Swing. It was graceful, elegant and powerful, as if he was directing a video for Men’s Health. He called out the muscle groups involved, the proper number for a set and extolled the benefits of a rigorous workout with this simple weight. Then he handed it to Homer. The fat man immediately dropped into a crouch, pulled down by the weight. He recovered and began swinging; Berber moved behind him and watched his form, ready to kick his ass for motivation.
“Faster…higher…let the ball do the work.”
Gillespie was beginning to get into it and an approving murmur, like a collective burp, rippled through the crowd. The fat man smiled, feeling in control of something besides a fork for the first time in his life. On cue the ‘Laverne and Shirley’ theme came up and Gillespie began churning, developing a muscular rhythmic flow to his exercise. Sweat flew off his body and he crouched down then exploded back up to the crescendo of the song’s chorus “Always…always,” losing his slippery grip on the weight’s coated metal handle. The kettle ball arched over the barricade and plowed, like a wayward red cannonball, into the first row of the audience. Gillespie flew backwards into Berber, knocking the big Russian across the stage.
The tightly packed group in the front row could barely breathe; much less make way for the inert flying bomb. It careened directly into the stomach of one Eva Brownowsky’s of Mequon, who promptly vomited the two pound bag of Cheetos, three Big Macs and the Double Super Gulp 7/11 Jolt cola she had consumed on the way down to the show, all over herself and those surrounding her. The police and paramedics shoved the audience aside with nightsticks as they pushed through the sea of fat to the prone woman. Vance grabbed Gould by the arm.
“Are we protected on this?”
“Everyone here signed a waiver; we’re bulletproof.”
Naomi flagged him.
“We just jumped up 250,000.”
The paramedics placed Ms. Brownowsky’s vomit splattered frame on a reinforced cot; she gave a weak thumbs up as they wheeled her away. Berber regained his composure onstage and helped Homer to his feet. The fat young man stammered.
“Gee…I’m sorry.” Berber’s natural abilities as a showman drew him up; he seemed to grow in stature, commanding the audience’s attention away from the momentary tragedy.
“She alright! Homer, we salute you…and you, Ms…” he paused, waiting for the woman’s name to be whispered into his ear through his headset. “Eva Brownowsky of Mequon!” He paused again. “Ms. Brownowsky has been automatically entered as Milwaukee’s first official ‘Some Will Die’ contestant!” The crowd roared with applause and Vance looked over at Naomi.
“We just went over another 500,000 in the past thirty seconds. I think they like Jack.”
New York City: Drab and Associates offices
Tom Agness was crouched in the furthest stall from the door in the Men’s room. He whispered into the shortwave transceiver that Potlatch had given him.
“Food Man this is Rook. Food Man, this is Rook. Do you read me Food Man?”
He waited an agonizing 30 seconds before receiving a response.
“Rook, you’re off schedule.”
“Emergency, Food Man. I am sending you a file. We must meet. We need to mobilize and act.”
“Clarify Rook, what is happening?”
“I’m sending you a file Food Man. We need to meet immediately. “
Agness pulled an old burner Smartphone from his pocket; it was another trick he had learned from Jack. In a “me too, catch up” world no one used old technology anymore, like disposable phones. He sent a compressed video file of today’s ‘Some Will Die’ audition through the Pot Party’s dated web portal, with an attention: Mr. Potlatch in the subject header.
“Read your email Food Man. Let’s meet in the Park tomorrow. Over and out.”
It had been a week since he had met with Potlatch and Vance had not been idle. ‘Some Will Die’ was no longer a secret. The Superbowl was only two weeks away, which didn’t give Agness much time to organize the Pot Party’s assault on the program. He felt the pressure from Drab, who was increasingly questioning Agness’ value or ability to deliver on his promises. Agness rose and exited the stall, hearing his phone ring. As he left the men’s room Patty Labrea, the head of HR, intercepted him. This wasn’t a good sign.
“Mr. Drab would like to see you.” She had a paper file tucked under her arm, another bad sign. They entered Drab’s office together and she shut the door, remaining standing while Agness took a seat in front of Drab’s desk.
Drab enjoyed making people wait. He was wearing his customary uniform of a shapeless starched white button down shirt, geometric patterned tie from the Museum of Modern Art’s gift shop and dark pinstriped Men’s Warehouse slacks. The matching jacket hung behind his door. He wrapped up typing on his vintage KayPro computer, priding himself on his ability to communicate in DOS, and regarded Agness.
As if choreographed, and with Drab everything was plotted and schemed, the window monitor filled with video of the morning’s ‘Some Will Die’ audition.
“Mr. Agness, my data expert tells me that by his calculation more than five million people watched this primitive one hour program. I would call that a successful showing for content that had absolutely no advance advertising beyond printed napkins.”
“And tray liners. There were tray liners too.”
“We spend millions on advertising to get 10,000 responses. Vance prints shit on toilet paper gets millions. I thought you had a plan to nip this in the bud. All I see is success- on the wrong end of the equation!” Drab stood up at his desk. Agness felt the room start to swirl; he didn’t know if he was having a panic attack or a stroke. He tried to steady his vision by fixating on a tiny shiny spot on Drab’s bald, Elmer Fuddish forehead.
“You have ten seconds to give me one good reason WHY I SHOULDN’T FIRE YOU ON THE SPOT!”
TO BE CONTINUED. Next Week: When the fat hits the flame