Why Small Biz Saturday Needs a Marketing Makeover

Every year, especially around Christmas, we see stickers pop up everywhere that say: “Support local art! Buy handmade!” They look something like this:

It’s an ad campaign that (as far as I know) no real agency came up with or takes credit for. And with good reason–it sucks. It’s a weak mantra that means well, but politely darts off to be a wallflower around a punch bowl at the party. Artists, you’re being too passive. I know you’re sick of hawking your wares, but collectively this is the best we can do?

And when I really think about it, it’s cute, I guess, but completely ineffective. Obviously, people are not going to burn the comfort of consistency (not to mention, convenience) that mass-produced gifts give us. The corporate glean is too strong, the branding too shiny. How does one compete? Surely a sticker isn’t going to change a mind that easily. Even if you take all of your stickers and friends with stickers and line them all up together, nope, it will never, ever, have the new car smell of an Apple store. I don’t care how hip your city is (“Keep Austin Weird”, I’m looking at you).

“You’re never too poor for an original!” or “I buy local art as a life imperative.” or “Buying local is more than a sticker.” or “Starving artists over The Walton Family” or “The curtains don’t match the drapes because everything is original.” I think some hyperbole could really mix things up. Hyperbole is the anti-irony. “Shop local” is too meh, too 1950’s, too easy. For me, the solution lies somewhere between humor, inflicting a better guilt trip (call my mom, she knows how it’s done), or pure absurdity. Your weak little “support this cause” isn’t polarizing enough. It needs to be polarizing, but not political. I get it, we’re taking back our cities, we’re reclaiming all that is good and American. But for a second, can we take off the rose colored glasses of nostalgia? Just say no to nostalgia. Say yes to the ideals, and those ideals are dreaming big and being passionate the small things. Think small first. Or micro thinking, maybe micro thinking isn’t the same as narrow thinking.

Artists: steal notes from the corporations’ books. Be industrious. Be productive. Make so much stuff that you never have time to stop thinking about the stuff that you’re making. When you’re exhausted from making stuff, then rest but immediately go back to making it. The heavy branding will really come later, but don’t expect a sticker and weak guilt trip to bolster sales.

Cheez Whiz

There is some kind of blues band playing on the radio. We laugh. “They must be the Cheez-Whiz of blues bands.” I say. 

Brrng. Brrng. Brrng. The car door is reminding you not to forget to shut the door.

“What do you want?”
“I want a bag of Lay’s. And if they don’t have that, a bag of those ruffled chips. And a fountain soda. And a bottled water.”
“This isn’t tapas. This is 7-eleven.”

You return a hero with Lay’s, soda, and water. We return to driving and in a little while we are winding our way down an underground parking garage. Everything explodes into a flurry of people, uneven bricks, and metal street covers.

You keep walking a few feet behind me. I am leading the way. I overhear some construction workers checking out a woman ahead of me. No catcalls, just a “Boy, she looked good for her age. She looked older, too, huh?” My ears are knowingly alerting me of the fact I should be offended. I dismiss it. They aren’t yelling it. They are talking amongst themselves. I am the eavesdropper here and it just so happens that the thought police are off duty. “Boy, I’m a bad feminist,” I think to myself.

A few dropped phone calls and jaywalked blocks later we head back to the garage.

There is something about the way an empty elevator will bring you peace in a city. It’s not that you don’t like the people, of course you like the people, why else would you be in a city. But what makes it special are those little savored moments of solitude and those you can only catch in elevators, sometimes buses if you’re lucky.

Rolling Around 2

This is a [now ongoing] collection of quotes or thoughts I plan on working into the larger story of my family. These aren’t in any order either:

I used to believe that individuality was a value unique to my family. Now I realize, it’s a uniquely American value. And I guess that makes us not-so-unique Americans. People say that the U.S. is a melting pot. “What a great melting pot America is,” we hear over and over again.The problem with this is we forget the “melting” part of the pot and think of only the ingredients; Italian, German, African American, et. al. What we fail to see is how we manage to all come together again. It’s the final stew–that’s what makes America great. And that stew simmers on the belief of very lofty ideals: things like equality, justice, tolerance, freedom and happiness. It’s the fact that we’re more alike than we’re different, that’s what we keep forgetting. We keep harping on the differences. This is the immigrant’s tale that we so easily lose in just a generation or two. This is my grandfather’s story. This is your story, too.

The two women were seated at a table in the dining room. “You know, I know we’ve had our differences, Elaine,” Wendy said, reaching in with an elegant arm extended. Elaine looked ahead, unbothered. She fingered the cheese and grapes on her plate some more for a moment of time. “I wanted to tell her that it was too late,” she said.

The dust particles greet one another, familiar faces, in the crystalline sun beam of Vic’s studio. There is a patchy wooden chair covered in blue vinyl, his work bench, seated by the window.

“Don’t you believe in twisted beauty?” Michele asks, earnestly. Of course, she already knows the answer.

“Dad had another woman out on the boat last weekend. He put her panties up on the mast, like it was a port of call.” she says. “A port of call, hey-oh!” she laughs back.

He found cancer ate away at him the same way success had. Cancer and success may have been the same thing, like old friends shaking hands and mouthing goodbyes as the bar’s closing lights flick on.

Before I explain how we left, I should probably explain why. Funny how falling in love feels different every time, but when you examine the process from far away you see the same patterns. It’s the only thing that feels consistently different but looks consistently the same.

“How could dad let us down?” she sighed over the phone. He was a mechanic. And mechanics couldn’t fix abstract things like thoughts.

His withdrawal from the situation was not unusual, but his distance only appeared as emotional vitriol and exasperated things.

The Boulder Four

where you came// where you go

And in your Christmas eyes
There are things dropped back
Bagged luck
Avert, avert: a Samson situation
Abort, abort: a devious diversion

You were waiting in the wings
When reality became wax melting
Mixing with lemony carcasses and honey
Thirty groomsmen and three hundred foxes
Are not enough to tear into your world

Under red lights
She says “my long hair is my power”
And feeding thoughts like weeping children
Remains a sun and shield

Who knew that you were meant
To be devoured by another Lion of God

Rolling around

“Commitment. That’s what matters.” It’s marriage for about half the population and the other half it’s professional.

I came to know my grandmother in the same way most of them remember her.

The thing about crazy is that it creates a divide unlike any other. It’s that “us” and “them” mentality and it’s the same as anything else.

You are thinking about something about the eight columns of relationships. Parent-child. Teacher-student. You are bending eastern philosophies with your own Western wide-eyed and weary processing of the planet.

“Black sheep” the family calls her.

“Art is the only thing” he explains. Self-expression is the highest form of humanity.

I am a meteorite crashing into your life. I will burn little Vesperian holes into your dark matter. It is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. And I don’t know how I know this, but I know I’m going to marry you some day.

Safety Tape (Draft 1)

For over a decade, I’ve been driving over the same streets, which is almost as long as I’ve known you. I’ve had two cars, four car accidents, and three tickets since I’ve known you, too.

I’m sitting in a 1930’s Sears catalog Dutch house in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania (formally, Bessemer) thinking about you. “I think he loved me at his capacity,” Stephanie is saying to me. Emphasis on the word capacity. By he, she means, Ben. By Ben, I mean her ex-boyfriend. Ben, yes, the love of her life for a good chunk of her early mumblings on this great land. She is seated on her green couch, the same couch that we moved in the August heat from B1 to K1. I used to feel so sad leaving her. All those times I drove south to Charleston and walked around Queen Street with Adam (head in the air the whole time, just staring at everything) and zipping in and out of galleries, always left me to deal with the consequences of a long, lonely drive home. I will just think about it and sort that shit out on the drive home. I will be seated on a couch somewhere staring out of a window on the cusp of the next great thought that let’s me escape this. I’ve heard it said before that an old friend is like a mirror into your own existence. This works, except that makes it sound more cliché and almost more poetic than I want it to sound. I want it to read like this: the way an old friend is like a fun-house mirror into your own life, with scrambled egg arms and simultaneously discernible features (“Those look like legs?”). This visit to Pennsylvania was different. I didn’t feel as sad as I normally do when I was leaving.

Stephanie and I are the eavesdroppers of this world. We break all of the sounds apart and make new ones for ourselves. We are late to everything. Our lateness is velvet, of the Lisa Frank variety. Adam calls us fashionably late but “fashionably late” is a laughable understatement of the finesse we possess within the category of lateness.

In fact, on this last visit, we were running late to the airport known as the LBE (formally, Latrobe). You’ve probably heard of it. Those letters, I’m sure, must render the same sparkly imagery that “LAX” conjures up for people. Anyway, Stephanie and I were driving to this airport. My flight was leaving in roughly two hours and we were about an hour and twenty minutes away. The tolls kept stopping us and we kept right on joking about fantasies of speeding through the EZ pass lane with the rustbelt Sheriffs flying after us in their old Crown Vic’s. Instead, we dropped our quarters into the cash lanes and got sucked back into the lull of tiny little acceleration vibrations from the car. I DJ’ed Damien Jurado songs and put on make-up. I tucked my hair under my beanie a little tighter than usual.

When we finally got to the airport, I could see all two of the LBE’s gates. My plane was half the size of the airport and looked like some white monstrosity ready to engulf the whole building. It’s still parked. I have time. My heart was panicking. “We should walk a little faster to get inside,” I tell Stephanie. “I’ll wait until you take off, don’t worry,” she says to me, waving her hand. Of course, a family of four—complete with little babies with underdeveloped motor skills—managed to jump ahead of me in line. These little babies and their terrible motor skills were crawling all over the velvet ropes and making weird noises. Stephanie is standing behind me, behind the velvet ropes. Despite the babies, I managed to tip-toe enough to get a clerk’s attention. I explain that I am checking in to my flight which will be leaving in thirty or forty minutes. “I’m sorry your plane has already left,” the clerk says to me. I turn around and look back at Stephanie, all wide-eyed and horrified. “It couldn’t have left. I just saw it parked at the gate still,” I pleaded. She rolls her eyes and says “Well, our company policy clearly states to arrive at least two hours before your flight.” “Two hours?! TWO HOURS? I have gotten through Myrtle Beach’s airport, which is twice the size, in easily thirty minutes.” I catch myself being rude so I change my tone to something pleasant and nice. “Haven’t you ever been late to something before?” I ask her, earnestly. Stephanie has already started walking off. She grabs an airport security guard and some TSA agents and begins the sob story.

We are pulling out names from our mental rolodex of fame. This would work in most scenarios, only our rolodex is not that impressive. I can tell by Stephanie’s sighs and quick twitches that she is preparing to perform something she considers to be southern gentile, but actually seems more debutante in action. “I am from the Liesen family, you know, Lisen’s Pizza, and we had a funeral this week and we did not know that Latrobe was so far away…” she is kind of telling the truth. I follow her lead. She is laying on the southern accent a little thicker than I can. “I work with the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Committee and I worked with many of the resorts to coordinate with airlines, including yours, on flight patterns to Myrtle Beach.” I garbled all of that out in one fantastic sentence. Is this what happens when girls from the south are brought to strange parts of the United States, like Penguin Country?

I boarded the plane. We narrowly escaped our own desertion by selling the fantasy. Replaying the last hour or so in my head, I forgive the little babies bumbling around in front of me in line earlier. It took me a few weeks to internalize but I realize I wasn’t as sad leaving her because I know that our rythms and sounds bounce back to the same note sometimes. Clink. Clink. We make our own sounds, even if that sound is cacophony to the rest of the world, it’s music to us. I started giggling to myself in a room full of strangers thinking about Stephanie, my best friend, throwing a fit to get me on the plane (take all the pizza away, that will put them in check). See? Fun-house mirror.

I’ve had four jobs since I’ve known you. You called me once when you were in Louisana and I answered it at the exact same time as I was pulling into my parking spot. I only heard your voicemail. I was going to wait tables at a restaurant that’s since closed. I was late to work that day.

When I finally got ahold of you this past year, (I mean in the new year, after Christmas) I was pulling into a parking spot to catch up with some friends. Instead, I stayed outside in my car to talk to you. I was late to dinner that night.

The flirtation is supposed to be the crescendo–the apex, the turning point, the whatever–in classical music, right? I broke my phone and booked a flight to Pennsylvania. After the crescendo, the notes slowly dissolve into silence (if you didn’t know that already, but I think that’s what usually happens).

In my head it all plays out with a vanilla envelope. I will clip all these leaky pages together using a clip from the law firm I now work at. And then these pages will materialize into something, like a music box or a broken clock, in my hands. The invisible grinding sound of paper on paper will make a small buzz that you will decipher and it will be much like a song that only you can play. The hot, white LED burning up all my rods and cones (formally, MacBook) will finally have a justification for all it’s stupid, stupid. It’s all pretty resplendent, isn’t it?

I know that there are hard divides between reality and fantasy. I know that dichotomies exist because our brains are too tiny to comprehend anything other than the yins and yangs of this world. What I know the best, is the way you choose both. You get to keep on choosing, but I can’t be late to work or dinner anymore.

I don’t know what it means to love someone at a certain capacity because I was always taught that love was bottomless and eternal and timeless. Mostly I just don’t know. Mostly I am just here to learn.

So I’m back to driving in the same city. Yesterday, on my way home, I passed two pieces of construction safety tape, some kind of convulsing orange color, caught up like a piece of trash in the trees and leaves. The tape had both tails mangled on the same electric line. It won’t be long before time or rain or some passerby finds the proper home for these pieces. How out of place, some stranger thinks, or this belongs here, another passerby thinks. Before you know it, the fluorescent orange pair gets rehoused and the sublime is parked again. Sometimes, I think that this is the way it really is between you and me.

Failed TV Ideas

This a list of TV/web-series skit ideas my boyfriend and I jotted down while giggling one night. The show would tentatively be called: The Grand Stranded

  • Have kids to get more likes on Facebook. Couple seated at table, both on phones/tablets, ignoring child and uploading photos of the babies.
  • Like it? Put a filter on it (a la put a bird on it).
  • Mexican hockey. Eastbound and Down meets The Cutting Edge. The ice is always melting because it’s so hot. Zamboni is old Mexican guy with a broom. Latin American Hockey League.
  •  Mopeds. Mopeds in Myrtle Beach.
  • Civil war reenactment on the beach. Trudging through the sand. Pure wool outfits.
  • Little girl gets hermit crab. Show the journey of the hermit crab going home. Dies.
  • B-list celebrities getting VIP status in Myrtle Beach. Pauly D goes to the Magic Attic to hit on 13-20 year olds.
  • Tourist with really dated travel material tries to go to Myrtle Beach landmarks but everywhere the/she goes is no longer open or in business. Decked out with lots of tourist gear (fanny pack, giant camera, socks with sandals). Could have Jack Cayton photographs/postcards as prop.
  • A canadian relocating here. Nice in Canada but everyone is dick to the “Canuck.”
  • MTV Crib’s style video of condo. So much abandoned real estate in the area. Tacky décor throughout the condo. “But drink rings are evil.” “But that’s what mayonnaise is for.”
  • Something to make fun of the ponzi scheme of the art of relocation here in Myrtle Beach. Everyone is in real estate or advertisement or the service industry. “The Yankee Trap”
  •  Southerners as hillbillies, we all know the stereotype. Governor and Senator go to “luxury” resort in Myrtle Beach where every staff member mistakes them for a different politician. Recurrent joke of abuse of title/name confusion. Think Faulty Towers.
  • Russians on bicycles in Myrtle Beach. They all have dash cams when they come here (on bicycle).
  • A foreign exchange student coming to Coastal. Dorm life with history class. Exchange student knows more about US history than actual American students. Real life example: Parisian knowing who Nathan Hale is and no South Carolinians knowing.
  • Dating video looking like VHS of Myrtle Beach dating scene. Describe people as stereotypes. Myrtle Beach Missed Connections.
  • Barista Police (people getting punched before drinking coffee a la Lazy Sunday).

Bringing Up Baby in the Bible Belt

All of the cousins are seated together in the back seat of the car, heading to New Hope Baptist Church outside of Toccoa Falls, Georgia. My uncle honks the horn for the last of us to hop in “C’mon Leigh Anne” he is sighing out loud. It seems no matter how early we get up, there is always someone running to the van idling in the driveway.

“We should be like The Partridge Family or something” Leigh Anne says. Leigh Anne is my cousin is she is Ping the Duck for today.
“Yeeeeaah!” Brittany joins in.
“I mean we’re ALL so creative. We can paint, and sing, and draw, and make stuff really good.” Leigh Anne dreams on.
I dream with them, because it feels good, and I need us all to get started instantly.  I run the furthest with the idea. Let’s buy a bus now. How will we still go to school? Uncle Jeff and Aunt Aline can homeschool us, right? The problem with my dream is that it’s a dream.

My cousin tosses her caboodle on the floor as the van toddles down the rocky country road, arriving just in time for the start of Youth Group.

It is the summer of 2013 and I have towed my boyfriend six hours away from the coast to the end of Appalachia. My cousin is coming up from Macon with her new baby and hubby to match.

“I always, y’know, thought Mom was really creative even though she didn’t feel that way about herself. She never painted like Star or your Mom, but she always made the best food and crafts for us kids. Y’know, like makin’ stuff, like nice cakes for our birthdays and stuff?”

“Yeah?” I ask.

It was a sad epiphany. The kind of realization that comes whimpering in after the fact.

This is a moment to only be understood for a fluttering millisecond, in a way that only one mother can understand reflecting on the past motherhood of her own mother before. It’s that precise moment when a new mom rocks her infant to sleep at 3 a.m., sleep-deprived and pained, but completely full of bliss. It’s marked by the kind of passive aggressive competition that only large families breed, but feels like the kind of epiphany only life’s tragedies can deal. And it’s dealt on the singular level, when you need a full house. These are the tiny sentences I hold onto. It wasn’t until Brittany said this to me, that I understood sisterhood and motherhood, even without being a mother myself or having any sisters.

God Bless

God bless the New York Times is a prayer said by all New Yorkers, save the unsaved, before bed each night. Oh, New York Times, the false prophets of Dan Rathers and Glenn Beck fall deliriously at your door stoop arrival.

May the NYT from whom every modern, metropolitan family
in Astoria and Harlem receives its name
strengthen you with its brains in your inner being,
so that intelligence may dwell in your hearts by read;
and read …