Buzzed: Another outtake from DVM’s upcoming novel, Give a Little to Get a Lot

Note: this excerpt contains mature language and mature content.

The next day, I received Platinum at work.

Platinum was a slick local monthly that salivated over the trendy, the glamorous, the expensive, and the really expensive.  A year earlier, I’d directed a commercial for that magazine starring Jasmine Gregg, a dark-haired, nineteen-year-old fashion model they’d insisted I use due to her next-big-thing buzz.

More like the buzz of a venomous insect—she treated everyone like crap during the shoot, including me.  “I swear I’ll walk off this set if I don’t get a fucking Perrier right now!” she yelled at me at one point.   I personally got her a fucking Perrier.  “About fucking time,” she said in way of thanks.

Hey, I needed the money, as unbelievable as that may sound.

I shot the entire commercial at Frequent Zoom in black-and-white against a black backdrop.  In the finished product, Ms. Gregg wore a tiny, shiny, grayish-white dress I’d made even shinier due to the magic of digital enhancement.  As some drippy piano track played, a track the magazine had also insisted I use, she walked slowly and haughtily through a featureless black void while multiple exposures of her various anatomical parts—especially her lips, legs, and breasts—swirled around and formed actual swirls.  “Nothing shines like Platinum,” she said in close-up at the end.  That was her only line.  She’d needed nine takes to get it right.

After the shoot, I asked her to have dinner with me, because she had a stupendous body: one positive that can erase a trillion negatives.  “Sorry, I only date humans,” she replied with mock sympathy.  Then she walked out of the studio while simultaneously flipping me off and staring at something on her cell-phone screen.  Weeks later, she got drunk at a party, went home with Clete, and slept with him, or so he would tell me in explicit detail.  I believed him, due to his utterly sincere face.

At least Platinum liked my work well enough to give me a free subscription.  I would have preferred they hire me again, but I took what I could get.  I deserved something extra for putting up with her.

Anyway, the new issue had arrived, and guess who appeared on the front cover.  For this, her first Platinum cover, Ms. Gregg looked especially haughty in a leopard-print tube top and black leather pants.  Inside, an eight-page photo spread called “JASMINE GREGG: Point State Punk” showed her looking just as haughty wearing other punk ensembles in Point State Park, located at the Point: that area downtown where the Allegheny and the Monongahela join to form the Ohio, or where the Ohio splits apart or divorces or whatever to form those other two rivers.  All of her outfits, torn stockings included, must have cost far more than I earned during a good month, though the epic blockbuster inside my shorts distracted me from indulging in any class-warlike jealousy as I sat at my desk.

After fast-forwarding the blockbuster to its conclusion and washing my hands, I leafed through the rest of the magazine, which contained articles such as “Diamonds for Dummies,” “Lawrenceville’s Hip Vegan Elite,” and “The Girls of XS: Extreme Shorecop Get Their South Side On!”

Copyright © 2015 by David V. Matthews

 

Flash fiction (a hundred words or fewer) #1: MTV and the Ache of Adolescent Loneliness

As a teenager, I’d ride the subway at rush hour just to lunge into shapely young women from behind.  I thought my black topcoat hid my response, so to speak.  “Sorry,” I’d tell them.  They’d smile at me nervously.  God knows how I never got beaten up or arrested.  After getting home, I’d race to my bedroom and finish myself off, then sing along in a goofy, sarcastic voice to the lame MTV videos on my portable set.  Today, on my Internet dating profile, I call myself “a pioneer in the land of kink.”  Time can imbue anything with nostalgia.

© 2014 David V. Matthews

Nick Morrison: an outtake (written yesterday) from my upcoming novel, Give a Little to Get a Lot

She hadn’t wanted to admit she’d been careless enough to marry the local concert promoter Nick Morrison.

He would purchase the ownership rights—usually pretty cheaply—to some semi-famous musical group from the Fifties or Sixties that couldn’t perform anymore due to age and/or mutual animosity. Then he would create a younger knockoff of that group and send his impersonators out on tour with a slight name change: the New Wombats, Johnny Sparkle Jr. and the Sparkletones, Clawspace 2.0. Several of his new groups had even appeared on those oldies concert shows that the local public-television station, WQED channel 13, churned out for constant broadcast, five or six minutes at a time between pledge breaks.

Lots of people considered him a ripoff artist who peddled fake nostalgia to gullible Baby Boomers. First, fake nostalgia can offer as much satisfaction as the real thing. Second, from what I’d heard, he genuinely liked Fifties and Sixties music and wanted it to continue reaching an audience. And third, he occasionally paid the original group members residuals—not much, but better than nothing.

In short, I didn’t hate his business ethics. I hated his appearance: short, bloated, hairy, and waxy, plus he flaunted his chub by wearing tight golf shirts and tight jeans.

Copyright © 2014 by David V. Matthews

Give a Little to Get a Lot: excerpt #3 from a work-in-progress (note: contains swear words)

“You’ll love her song,” I said.

“I hope so,” Ross said.  “Otherwise, I’d have to give you an unbelievably stern look.”

He sat on a brown metal folding chair in Central Studio Number One, my only studio.  I sat on the brown metal folding chair to his left.  Both chairs had brown padded seats—luxury for everyone.  The cherry-red keytar sat on a brown metal card table in front of us.  There was no scenery, just a bare gray cinderblock wall behind the table.

He wore another expensive-looking shiny blue suit.  I wore my best green polo shirt and my best jeans.  I didn’t shine.

“You ready, Thea?” I shouted to my left.

The door to Frequent Zoom Deluxe Dressing Room Number One flew open, my only dressing room.  Nothing very deluxe about it, unless you counted the adjective “deluxe.”  After a few moments, Thea walked out.  No, she shuffled out, slowly and laboriously, staring straight ahead at her keytar.  Halfway to the card table, she stopped, panted a few times slowly and laboriously, and resumed her journey.

Her poufy gray wig had bulky, yellow plastic curlers, probably more curlers that hair.  Her giant brown glasses, larger than even her regular glasses, sat at the tip of her nose.  Her face sported a thousand pounds of makeup, including nine hundred pounds of lipstick and a few fake warts.  Her faded blue housedress sagged under the weight of her pendulous, basketball-sized fake boobs.  Her brown cardigan had several gaping moth holes.  Her beige stockings bunched up around her bloated white sneakers.  You could say she looked like a bingo drag queen.

I myself looked calm, but inside I was furious.  I hadn’t known she would come out like that.  Ross mustn’t have known, either, but I didn’t know how he felt; his face betrayed no emotion.

She strapped on her keytar and turned her gaze toward us.

“Hi, I’m Bonnie Donovic, and I have a rill important song fer yinz to hear,” she announced in a raspy old woman’s voice made worse by a thick Pittsburgh accent, the most grating regional accent ever, like a redneck cat coughing up a steel-wool hairball.

Thea cleared her throat.  She paused.  She started playing her keytar while bellowing off-key, even more off-key that she did in her apartment.

Da national debt / Of da USA / Has grown so big / It can roon our day // We gotta fix da debt / Inn ’at’s a fact / Tell them cake-eaters in Warshington / We’re ready to act // It wohn be easy / ’At’s another fact / But we’ll have so much more / When we give somethin’ back // Give a little / To git a lot / Doin’ ahr share / Now ’at’s rill hot // Give a little / To git a lot / So ahr kids’ll have / What we all got / Innay dohn even hafta redd up their rooms // Give a little / To git a lot / Give a little / To git a lot / Give a little / To git a lot

The performance ended.

“Now ’at was worth three thahsand dollars, woodin joo agree, Ross baby?” Thea asked, staying in character.

Ross baby didn’t say anything.

“Heck, I oughta git dat jest fer lookin’ so young,” she told him.  “In case you haven’t figgered it aht, I ain’t actually thirty-seven years old.  I’m actually forty-eight.  I’m darn prahd to say not too many parts of me flap arahnd in da wind.”

Ross baby didn’t say anything.

“The feisty granny look is big this year,” I blurted.  “Actually, it’s always been big.  Feisty granny characters always do well in advertising.  They have the reputation of always telling the truth.”

Ross looked interested.

“Cute girls may provide eye-candy, but feisty grannies provide mind-candy, and you need plenty of mind-candy if you want to convince hipsters we need to reduce the debt,” I told him.  “Plus even the most cynical hipsters love their grandmothers.  We all love our grandmothers.  Put that love in your ad, and you’ll score big.  You said it yourself—the best ads hit you right here.”  I tapped my heart with my right index finger.

“You pay attention to what I say?” he asked.  “I don’t pay attention to what I say.”

Good—a humorous remark.

“And Thea’s, or should I say Bonnie’s, rather unique voice would make your ad stand out from the other ten trillion ads on the Net,” I said.

“I suppose,” Ross said.

“But hey, I provide more than one menu option.  It would take Thea just a few minutes to transform herself back into a nerd, then sing the song again for—”

“No, that’s all right.”

“You sure?”

“You heard da man,” Thea said.  “He loves feisty grannies.  Ain’t dat right, Ross baby?”

Ross sort of grinned.

“I knew it!  No one kin resist my charm!”

A long pause ensued.

“So,” I said to Ross, “when will—”

“Taffy helped write my song,” Thea said.

“Really?” Ross asked.

“Uh-huh.  Da song woulda sucked withaht his valuable input, excuse da language.”

“Aw, you flatter me,” I said, “but you know darn well I contributed just one line.  You wrote everything else.  You’re the main reason the song turned out the way it did.  Only you could have given that performance.”

“Can’t argue wit’ dat.”

“And Ross?  Could I tell you a secret?”

“Um, sure,” he answered.

“Well, Thea had come up with the feisty granny idea.”

“You tattletale,” she said with a smile.

“Yeah, sorry.  I know you wanted me to have sole credit because you’re such a nice person, but the whole world deserves to know about your wonderful creative ability.”  I looked at Ross.  “I told her you supported the nerd idea, and that I supported it too, but Thea, she couldn’t explain it; she simply thought a granny could promote debt reduction better—and not just any granny, but a feisty one.  Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized she had a point.  Sometimes inspiration strikes from the most unexpected sources.”  I looked at Thea.  “You’ve always supported our free-market system, and thanks to you contributions here today, you’ll make it even stronger.  Good work.”

“Thanks.  Hope I dohn git a huge head from all dat praise.  I’ll hafta buy an extra-extra-extra-extra-extra-extra large Stillers cap.”

Ross laughed.

“Well, tell you what—if you give the same performance in the finished product as you did here, you’ll be able to afford that cap, because I’ll pay you the three thousand,” he told her.

“You serious?” I asked.

“Of course.  And I won’t even take the extra money out of your fee!”

“Well, isn’t that good news for both of us!” Thea exclaimed in her normal, non-Yinzer voice.

I laughed.  I don’t know why.

“So anyway,” Ross said, “before we can start shooting, you two have to sign some papers.  I know, I know, but my legal department insists.  They like to feel needed over there.  I’ll have the papers e-mailed to you by the end of the day.  Print them out, sign them, and mail them back to me as soon as possible.  We can’t let another minute go by without letting the young folks know their actions right now can lead to a brighter, more solvent future.”

He said goodbye to us and departed.

Thea still wore her costume and still had her keytar strapped around her neck.

“Not a bad guy for a one-percenter,” she said.  “You can hardly notice his pointy tail.”

“Fuck you,” I said angrily, the first time I’d ever said that to her.

“Excuse me, bro?”  She sounded surprised.

“Fuck you, and fuck your extreme makeover.”

“What extreme makeover?”

“Cut the crap.  If you didn’t want to appear in this video, you should have told me in the first place.  But no, you had to pull that stupid shit and almost ruin me.  Was that your intention, to ruin me?”

“No!  I would never want to do that.  I want to help you succeed.”

“Oh yeah?  Then why’d you turn into an old bag?”

“To protect my identity.   I did want to appear in this ad ’cause I do need the money.  But even if I did want to sell out, I—”

“People don’t sell out anymore.  They buy in.”

“Tuh-may-toe, tuh-maw-toe.  Anyway, even if I did want to whore myself, I didn’t want to associate the Thea brand with those right-wing bastards.  I still had some pride.  So I thought things would go a lot easier if I created a brand extension.  The Bonnie brand.  She’s my polar opposite, my dark half, the half that makes money.”

“Or she’s a smug, annoying political statement, like how no one could support debt reduction or austerity or whatever except for dumb old ladies.  You almost ruined me because you couldn’t resist telling Ross his economic philosophy sucked.”

“Well, it does, but as I said, I didn’t ruin you.”

“You almost did!  I know you don’t care about your future, but would it fucking kill you to care about mine?  Geez, I don’t even know if I want to work with you now.”

“Chill out, Taff.  You’re such a drama queen.  Of course I care about your future and about mine, too.  That’s why I transformed myself into Bonnie Donovic, to make sure our futures are successful.  You know darn well she has that certain something that appeals to the young viewer demographic, as you would put it in your sophisticated advertising terminology.  Ross loved her, that’s most important.”

“Or maybe he felt sorry for me, because you’d made a fool of yourself.”

“What difference does it make?  You’ll direct this video, and I’ll star in it.”

“Hooray.”

“Look, I’m sorry if my surprise performance upset you.  I know I should have clued you in beforehand, but frankly, if I had done that, it would have switched on my rational mind, and I would have lost the nerve to audition.  Then we would have lost the chance to become even more famous.”

 

We did the video at her place, with Thea in her Bonnie Donovic persona, complete with cherry-red keytar.  I used my vintage gear, namely a Nu-View NV-500 VHS camcorder, the height of Reagan-era technology: a boxy black behemoth I’d bought on eBay for way, way too much, but nostalgia doesn’t come cheap.

Hanging on the wall behind her to her left was a gold-colored, plastic bald eagle maybe a foot in diameter.  His wings were outstretched, and his head was bent down between his legs, apparently to nuzzle his junk.  She’d bought him for five bucks at a suburban garage sale years earlier—probably the right price, since he looked in good shape.  She’d named him Quincy.

I shot them handheld to make it seem even more like the pseudo home video Ross had wanted, keeping the camerawork just steady enough to prevent seasickness.  No crew, only me.  She nailed her performance in one take—if anything, her singing and keytar playing had more energy, and her faux Pittsburgh accent sounded even more grating.

 

That night at Frequent Zoom, I downloaded the analogue video into my digital computer.  No widescreen—I kept the picture in its original Eighties 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  I adjusted the color to make it look a little faded.  I added the pictorial fuzziness that VHS tapes develop after constant playing.  I included jenkins.com at the end, white letters on a black background.  Below that, in smaller letters, I put COPYRIGHT © 2013 THE JENKINS INSTITUTE.

Voilà: sixty seconds of sheer perfection.

I e-mailed the video to Ross.

Copyright © 2014 by David V. Matthews

Give a Little to Get a Lot: excerpt #2 from a work-in-progress

Please see the previous posting for excerpt #1.

“Five hundred, huh?” Thea asked.

“Not bad for a minute’s work,” I said.

Thea was the nerdiest female musician I knew.  Actually the only nerdy female musician I knew.  We sat at a table in the Guessed Room coffeehouse on the North Side.  She wore a different pair of large, squarish black glasses.  Her white T-shirt had the word DAYDREAM on it in black-outlined letters printed across an oval that had an orange sunrise or sunset in it, with each letter containing little, black-outlined clouds.  Her grayish-green skirt had a crinkly, pink lace hem that brushed her knees.  Her pale-green cardigan had a swirling-leaf design on the front with what looked like actual fake pearls in the leaves.  Her purple hi-top sneakers matched the new highlights in her hair.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Well, for starters, five hundred bucks?  I could earn more holding a yard sale, if I could find a yard.”

“But this is your first digital PSA.  We all have to start somewhere.”

“How much are you earning for this video?  A lot more than five hundred, I’ll bet.”

“Let’s just say my amount’s commensurate with my experience.  I’ve directed PSAs for years.  I know how to brainwash the masses.  And anyway, I know you can use the money, whatever the amount.  Everyone can use a little money, dagnabbit.”

“Yeah, but here’s my other problem: I’d feel unclean working for a bunch of right-wing Republicans.”

“The institute is bipartisan.”

“Well, technically.  Some Democrats belong to it, but it’s controlled by right-wing Republicans.  You know who founded it?”

“No.”

“Dwight Jenkins, a local right-wing zillionaire.  He made his fortune exploiting the less fortunate by running payday-loan centers in poor neighborhoods, among other shady activities.”

“Where’d you hear this?”

“I read it in YoPittsburgh Weekly.”

“Such a reputable source.  Did you read that before going to the she-male escort ads?”

“Taf-fee!”

“All right, all right, sorry for the she-male phobia or whatever, but you have to admit, The New York Times doesn’t print ads like that.”

“So?  That doesn’t mean it tells the truth about everything, either.  And why are we talking about those ads, anyway?  Oh, yeah—you wanted to draw attention away from the fact that your compadre works for a rich scumbag who wants to impose austerity measures on this country under the guise of debt reduction.”

“Austerity measures?”

“You know, slashing government spending and raising taxes.  Countries such as Britain, Ireland, Spain, and Greece have done this, and they’ve had the same results: galloping inflation, high unemployment, and increased poverty.  A government needs to spend money in order to stimulate its economy, to bring in increased tax revenues to pay off its debt.  Not that the one-percent cares.  Financial markets love it when we save money by screwing the ninety-nine percent one-hundred percent of the time.”

“That Occupy crap’s so Two-Thousand-and-Eleven,” I said in a bored voice.

“Yeah, time to move onto the next fad, right?” Thea asked.  “Income inequality is so boring.”

My income inequality is so boring.  I really need this project, Thea.  I’m barely hanging on by my fingernails, and they’re not even manicured.  And you’re not doing any better.  Do you even have healthcare?  Maybe if you get lucky, you’ll be able to afford half an aspirin after you start panhandling a few years from now.”

“What makes you think I haven’t started panhandling already?”

“ ’Cause you obviously still shop at the best thrift stores.  It takes money to look like a homeless new-wave librarian.”

Thea laughed her usual pantomime laugh, her face going through the motions but the sound on mute.  However, this time I could sense I’d pissed her off a little.  Time to soothe her hurt widdle feelings.

“I don’t want you to go broke,” I said.  “Take care of yourself first, Thea.  You can save the ninety-nine percent from capitalist oppression another time, like during your lunch break or something.”

Thea sipped her coffee.

“Or you don’t have to keep the money the right-wingers pay you,” I added.  “You can donate it to some progressive cause.  Or you can buy a vial of Lady Gaga’s sweat.  Whatever you like.”

Thea sipped her coffee again.

“Tell Ross I want a thousand dollars,” she said.

“A thousand?”

“No, tell him I want two thousand, and if he doesn’t agree to that, bargain him down to one.  I know he has a bottomless budget.  Why would his one-percenter bosses skimp on promoting their toxic agenda?  And anyway, he’s your friend, and friends stick up for each other.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Attaboy.”

“By the way, he had wanted someone much younger than you, so I told him you were around my age.”

Thea stared at me.

“Hey, any number’s around any other number if you use a wide enough range,” I said.

“Thanks for the math lesson,” she said a little icily.

“Aw, come on, Thea.  I massaged the facts because I wanted you to star in this video.”

“How flattering, I guess.  But he’ll find out my real age sooner or later.”

“Hopefully later, after you’ve dazzled him with your keytar wizardry.  You do plan to play the keytar in this video, right?”

Thea grinned her crooked grin.

Two days later, I sat on the edge of the unmade futon in her combination bedroom, living room, kitchen, and recording studio.  She’d written her song already; I’d asked to preview and critique it before she played it for Ross.  She stood before me, a cherry-red keytar slung around her neck.

“Nice keytar,” I said.  “Where’d you get it?”

“On eBay,” she replied.

“For how much?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Just curious.  How much did it cost?”

“I could afford it, don’t worry.”

Years earlier, I had asked how things were going in her marriage.  “Just fine, don’t worry,” she’d said in the same soothing tone.

She had obviously paid way too much for that instrument.  No wonder she had such precarious finances.  No wonder she lived in a dinky apartment on the Slopes, the vertiginous hills overlooking the South Side, the hip Pittsburgh neighborhood known for its tattoo places, bars, and tattooed drunks.

She started fiddling with the buttons on her keytar’s imitation guitar neck.

“By the way, I saw something interesting this morning on the YoPittsburgh blog,” she said.  “Greece’s unemployment rate has hit twenty-six-point-eight percent, the highest in Europe.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Spain’s unemployment rate is only twenty-six-point-six percent.”

“Uh-huh.”

Thea looked at me.  She frowned.

“This song could help devastate America’s economy,” she said.

“Well, we won’t know till you start singing, now, will we?” I asked.

She glared at me.  Then she started playing a brisk march, her fingers bouncing on the keytar’s keyboard.  After a few seconds, she started singing in the off-key, sweet, adorable, girlish way Ross had wanted, tentatively at first, then with more confidence as the song progressed:

The national debt / Of the USA / Has grown so big / It can ruin our day // We gotta fix the debt / And that’s a fact / Tell Washington / We’re ready to act // It won’t be easy / That’s another fact / But we’ll have so much more / When we give something back // Give up a little / To get a lot / Doing our share / Now that’s real hot // Give up a little / To get a lot / So our kids’ll have / What we all got // Give up a little / To get a lot / Give up a little / To get a lot / Give up a little / To get a lot

Her performance ended.

“Wow, Thea,” I said as I clapped with enthusiasm.

“Thanks,” she said.

“What a great song.  It conveys its message almost perfectly.”

“Almost?”

“Um…in the chorus, could you change ‘Give up a little’ to ‘Give a little’?  Giving up something has negative connotations.  Plus ‘Give up a little’ also sounds like you’re telling people to submit to defeat.”

She looked down at her keytar for a moment.

“All right, I’ll change that line,” she said.

“Don’t be so glum,” I said.  “Change it to ‘Give a little,’ and the video will go viral for sure.”

“Right.  Have you talked with Ross about my two grand?”

 

“Sorry, but no,” Ross had told me over beers the previous night at an upscale bar in downtown Pittsburgh.

“She said she’d also accept a thousand,” I’d said.

“Well, she’ll have to accept it from someone else.  Tell her I definitely can’t go over five hundred, ’cause my budget’s tighter than my fine, fine ass.”

“You mean your cheap, cheap ass.  Come on, she deserves more money.”

“Are you banging her?”

“No!  She’s a friend, and I want to help her out.”

“Hmm.”  He ran his fingers up and down the side of his beer mug.  “All right, I’ll pay her fifteen-hundred more.  I’ll just pay you fifteen-hundred less.”

 

“Yeah, I talked with him last night,” I told Thea.  “He said he’ll get back to you.”

“Meaning he said no,” she said.

“Meaning he’ll get back to you.  You should have a more positive attitude.”

More massaging of the facts—he would get back to her when he paid her that chump-change amount, five hundred dollars.  At least he’d paid for my beers.

Copyright © 2014 by David V. Matthews

Give a Little to Get a Lot: an excerpt from a work-in-progress

“I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but I found your Gangnam Sty ad, well, rather inspirational,” Ross told me.

“Inspirational?  I really haven’t heard that one before,” I said.

“Well, it was.  Don’t get me wrong, the ad was funny, but the pigs, well, they had more to offer than just humor.  I loved their enthusiasm, their lack of self-consciousness, their utter belief in their talent.  They wouldn’t let anything stop them from expressing themselves.  Well, I myself hadn’t danced in years, but watching those pigs on my computer at work inspired me so much that I downloaded the original Gangnam Style song, cranked the volume up to eleven-point-five, and busted a move right there in my office, the door wide open, not caring if anyone saw me.”

“Hmm.  Did you dance like Kevin Bacon?”

We both laughed.

Rossiter Harrington Burke III and I had been best buds in college.  After we’d graduated in 1998, he moved to Manhattan to work at whatever job he could find at his family’s company, Burke Financial.  I stayed in Pittsburgh to start my own company, Frequent Zoom Productions.  We lost touch—not a word from him until 2013, when he sent me a brief e-mail saying he had moved back to my city a month earlier, had heard about my media empire, and now wanted us to get together as soon as possible to catch up on old times.  He also wanted to discuss an off-the-record, on the QT, and very hush-hush project he thought I’d be perfect for, just perfect, because I was a real cutie myself, ha ha ha.

Thus, we were inside my office at the Frequent Zoom headquarters on Pittsburgh’s North Side.  My office had a bare cement floor and white pasteboard walls and no windows.  I sat behind the rickety brown metal table I used as a desk.  At least I’d covered the tabletop with classy-looking, dark wood-grain Con-Tact paper.  Ross sat across from me on the brown metal folding chair with the brown padded seat, because as my guest, he deserved the utmost in luxury.

“So anyway,” he said, “you must be wondering why I moved back.”

“You have a pierogi fetish?” I asked.

“Well, that, and I have a new job, a great new job.  Of course, my old job wasn’t bad, either.  Did you know I worked for Burke for fifteen years?”

“Nope.”

“Well, I did.  I started out as an associate investment management business strategist, then rose through the ranks to become a senior investment management business strategist.  I created communications materials for the head honchos at Burke regarding the advantages and disadvantages of potential investment opportunities involving clients’ money.  I liked what I did, because I’ve always liked communicating, of course, but after fifteen years, I wanted to change things up a little.  So I started looking at job listings on the Internet.  I had no idea I’d find the perfect job here in Pittsburgh, my old stomping grounds.  I’m now the executive director of public and media relations for the Jenkins Institute.”

“Never heard of them.”

“They’re a new, local, bipartisan think-tank that wants to improve America’s long-term economic outlook by curbing deficit spending and by encouraging individual investment in the free market.”

“Sounds exciting,” I deadpanned.

“It’s a lot more exciting than you think,” he said, sounding sincere.  “I truly enjoy doing all I can to help make sure America remains an economic superpower, because future generations, well, they deserve to live an affluent lifestyle, too.  No, an even more affluent lifestyle.  I consider it a top priority to reduce, if not eliminate, the government’s tide of red ink so we can bring about the economic empowerment of young folks.”

Young folks.  We were both thirty-seven, but he still had a smooth, unlined face surrounded by a nimbus of thick, dirty-blonde hair.  His wardrobe had changed since the last time I’d seen him, though.  We used to wear jeans and rock music T-shirts in college, but now he looked very economically-empowered in his expensive-looking blue suit.  If I had known how he would dress, I would have worn something better than an Asgard Viper T-shirt, an anemic green hoodie with its hood down, and baggy jeans.  Well, I would have worn something better and shinier.  Everything about him shined, including the red-white-and-blue American flag pin attached to his lapel.  He was the first person I’d ever known who wore an American flag pin.

“So anyway, Taffy, I’d like the institute to release a digital video, our first one ever,” Ross continued.  “It would be a public-service announcement about a minute long, aimed at hip young folks, specifically teens and twentysomethings.  What I have in mind is a cute, young, nerdy girl in her late teens, early twenties, the stereotypical nerd with huge glasses and tacky clothes—the perfect girl for our target audience.  Nerds are hip right now, plus people will listen to her because she looks smart.  She would sing a song, solo, while playing an instrument, an acoustic guitar or a keyboard or something, maybe even a ukulele.  That instrument’s hip right now, too.  Anyway, in the song, she would encourage young folks to encourage their elected officials to tackle the federal deficit.  She wouldn’t offer any specific proposals, just encouragement to get involved and maybe make a few sacrifices, for the good of the country of course, before we plunge off the fiscal cliff.  And after she sings her little song, we cut to a black screen with our website address on it in white letters: jenkins.com.  And below that, in smaller letters, copyright 2013 the Jenkins Institute.”

“Sounds great.  Do you have a song already written?”

“No, I thought you could write it.  Or she could.  I’d prefer an amateur songwriter, or at least someone who can imitate one.  She should also be an amateur singer or at least imitate one, a very amateur singer, off-key but in a sweet, adorable, girlish way.  An amateur musician, too, if possible.  If she works out, I’ll pay her five hundred dollars.”

“Five hundred?”

“Hey, not bad for a minute’s work, plus you have to admit, Pittsburgh has low cost-of-living expenses.”

“True.”

“And speaking of expenses, I don’t want the video to look expensive.  Have it look like it cost a dollar ninety-nine.”

“You want it to look like a piece of crap?”

“No, no, of course not.  But I don’t want it to look slick, either—hipsters automatically distrust any media product that looks slick.  I want the video to look, well, as homemade as possible, like a home video.  Maybe you could shoot it on actual videotape with a vintage video camera for that Eighties nostalgia vibe?”

“Maybe.  I have some gear from that decade.”

“Fantastic!  Or if the gear doesn’t work, you can use computer effects to simulate that vibe.  Whatever you do, just have it look like a VHS tape that’s been played a million times.  Even viewers too young to remember VHS tapes will find the fake, cheap production values hilarious.  I want the campy and ironic angle, true, but I also want the inspirational quality that the Gangnam Sty ad had.  If that nerdy young girl can be a star, then anyone can.  But she has to have starlike qualities compared to other nerds.  The video’s success depends mostly—no, entirely—upon her.  She has to appeal to viewers right here.”  Ross pounded his heart with his fist.

Neither of us said anything for a few moments.

“I think I know the girl you want,” I told him.  “Her name’s Thea Kirshenbaum.  I’ve known her for years.  She’s done a lot of music for me.  She did the Gangnam Sty soundtrack.”

“No kidding!” Ross said.

“Uh-huh.  She’s a great singer-songwriter who can play almost any instrument.  Plus she’s the nerdiest girl in Pittsburgh.”

“Do you have a picture of her?”

“Sure.”  I rooted through the Everest-high stacks of bills, catalogues, DVDs, and other miscellanea on my desk for a few moments before finding what I wanted: a flier for a solo keytar concert Thea had given six months earlier at the Guessed Room Coffee in Lawrenceville.  I handed him the flier, and he peered intently at it.  It sported a black-and-white photo of her from the chest up in a Deaf Leper T-shirt and large, squarish black glasses.  Her shoulder-length dark hair had pink highlights that looked light gray in the photo.  She grinned her usual crooked grin.

“Hmm, not bad,” he said with pleasure.  “How old is she?”

“Twenty-five,” I said.

“Really.”

“Twenty-six?”

“Do I have to waterboard you for the correct answer, Taffy?”

“All right.  She’s around our age, but she looks as young as you do.”

“Maybe.  But I want a girl who’s actually young enough to appeal to our target audience.”

“Who cares about her age if she looks good?  Besides, we’re not talking about a supermodel here.  She’s a nerd, remember?”

“Right.  I think I should meet her first.”

“Sure, we can do that.  She can audition for you right here if you’d like.”

“Yeah, I’d like that.”  He placed the flier face-down on my desk.  “I didn’t mean to give you a hard time, Taffy, but I just need to make sure she’s the right nerd.  This is my first major project for the institute, and you get only one chance to make a great first impression.  I want this video to kick ass.”

“It will.  It’ll kick ass with a pair of steel-toed boots.”

“But we don’t want all the bruised ass to distract from the serious message about debt reduction.  Like I said, we want to inspire young folks to get involved, to take part in restoring America back to financial health.  It may sound clichéd, but young folks, well, they’re the future of this country.  I truly believe that.”

Copyright © 2013 by David V. Matthews