I’m stretched out on my simulated leather recliner a few nights ago, the first half hour of the Cops marathon complete. I’m spent. I’m a top-tier cultural anthropologist, but I have been bested by information overload, overwhelmed by too much insight into the real America, Trump’s America.
During the previous hour, I studied a car chase in which the suspect is cornered beneath a loading dock by a German Shepherd, and claims he led authorities on a high-speed chase because he was “looking for mom.” On his shoulder is a faded tattoo of a blond mermaid clutching the twin lightning bolts of the SS in one hand, a winged phallus in the other. The enraged canine gnaws on the perp’s shin for a minute or two before the doof admits he was trying to purchase crack for a trio of hookers who are waiting for him at a by-the-hour motel. To my great surprise, and satisfaction, a member of the vice squad employs the term, “polyamory.” The American community college system is doing exemplary work.
This segued to a segment in which a portly gal, clad in a Megadeath T shirt and poignantly saggy sweatpants, is nabbed in the cab of a pickup truck in the company of an Indonesian gentleman who swears he was giving the tattered valkyrie, “a ride to 7-Eleven.” He is missing his pants, and his pride. The officers tase him. Members of the San Antonio PD know the gal by name, and offer Bernice a lift to a nearby tavern where she can spend the rest of the evening slumped on a battered stool at the end of the bar, bawling whenever “Achy Breaky Heart” plays on the sound system.
Then, I analyzed commercials, the beacons of a vibrant economy: Dodge Rams, intensely colored refreshments, personal injury attorneys barking about injustices suffered by accident victims and riches on the horizon, lures touting low-cost ways to purchase a mobile home and, finally, an ad for Perfectile AZ, the pitch urging potential consumers to ask their doctor, “about the advantages of Perfectile AZ” — Madison Avenue shorthand for, “get a prescription for this shit, even though it’s grossly overpriced, and might be totally ineffective.”
Not only should you consult your physician when considering this drug, notes the ad, but in accord with legal requirements set by the FDA, you must be apprised of the possible consequences.
The side effects are detailed in rapid-fire order, delivered by a meth-addled announcer, his pace extra-terrestrial fast, information surging from his lips like a pyroclastic flow from a major eruption, his words incomprehensible to all but NSA computers, chipmunks, and fellow amphetamine addicts.
The ad itself, however, is soothing: a late middle-age gentleman, his wife, and their grandchildren are at a park, on an incredibly sunny day. Does it get this bright out of doors? I spend most of my waking hours in a basement, so the level of illumination stuns me. I know it’s broadcast in HD, but the picture is so crisp and brilliant I wonder if I’m teetering on the edge of yet another acid flashback. They come and go without warning, you know.
The kids in the ad are ecstatic, jacked to the tits on high fructose corn syrup. Grandpa smiles; grandma clutches grandpa’s hand, and gazes into his eyes as if to say, “I’m so glad I married you, that we saved some money, and we’re still here, together.” The coosome twosome is African American, and prosperous in a way that is sure to antagonize duplex-dwelling rednecks in Trump America — people who can’t afford Perfectile AZ. (not yet available in generic form to Medicaid recipients).
The announcer chatters about the satisfactions afforded by Perfectile AZ as the couple saunters, hand in hand, in a world where black folks have money and medical care, and underemployed Trumpsters are bitter, resentful, and want to take back everything that they never had.
Then, the hyperdrive voice-over kicks in: Perfectile AZ — use only while under daily medical supervision if you have problems related to cathartic vascolemia, skeletal multi-linear distortion, dementia praecox, melted heart valve syndrome, cable television news-induced depression, peppery vapors, or repeated, debilitating strokes. Do not take when consuming alcohol, tobacco, water, carbohydrates, animal fats, cotton candy, or rabbit glands. Contraindications may include: oily discharge, flectomelitis, carnal phlegmata, loss of digits, rational distortion, vestigial tail, urethral scarring, partial diambotose, oily discharge, loss of rectal ambition, and/or death. (Since the light-speed monologue is nearly impossible to decipher, this is the best I can do.)
The voice-over lasts all of two seconds.
Well, I think: As much as I would like to stroll along a lakeshore with a gorgeous, late middle-age woman, on our way to a subdued, brief, and barely lubricated coupling in a mid-grade hotel room, I am not ready for a bout with partial diambotose. Who would be? I can only imagine what full-blown diambatose is like, though it’s probably safe to assume it’s worse than a flashback.
A question nags at me as I teeter to the kitchen to assemble a snack: who came up with the name “Perfectile AZ?” Who wrote that ad?
When I return to the recliner, the Cops marathon resumes. Officers from the Tucson police department tase a derelict into a coma, then tase a python that has emerged from a toilet in the men’s room at a popular Greek restaurant. They inadvertently tase a patron seated in an adjacent stall, a wad of soiled toilet paper clutched in his hand as he foams from the mouth, and pitches forward to spasm on the cracked tile in front of the stool.
While I watch, I snack on a microwaved blend of Velveeta, pepperoni, creamed corn, and kale chips, and I think about the Perfectile AZ ad. It hits me. This is what I’m meant to do: create prescription drug names, and write TV ads for the products. I’m going to be rich! After so many false starts in a too-long life, I’ve found my role.
It’s a perfect fit: I’m qualified on the word front (I was a professional journalist, after all). I also have extensive experience with drugs, several of them legal. My drug credentials are well established; anyone seeking confirmation of my background can discover it in the files at several doctors’ offices and hospitals (I will gladly remove the HIPPA handcuffs), and in records stored at courthouses, police departments, and DAs’ offices located across this great nation of ours. Reference to the Freedom of Information Act should make the records easy to obtain.
If I mine the mother lode of my past, concentrate my attention on prescription drugs, and do a bit of research in the PDR, I will be ready to embark on my new career. So, I get to work, and spend half of the next day with part of my nose to a motionless grindstone.
I devise a formula: amp up trade name quality to a sparkly level, then script emotionally meaningful ads that grip potential consumers in such a way that they max out their credit cards in order to purchase drugs. Exaggeration and the illusion of novelty will come in handy, and if anyone can exaggerate things … its me!
My formula will result in products and ads that counter a dismal trend. Most prescription drugs have boring names, the equivalents of Pinto, Focus, Outback, and Dart in the auto world. I check the shelves at the store, and Google “best pharmaceutical drug names.” What do I find? Nexium, Advair Diskus, Lipitor, Plavix, Abilify, and the like. It’s enough to put me to sleep. I will change this.
The quality of most of the TV ads mirrors the boring character of brand names: gruel served up by simpering geeks in the employ of a hugely profitable, but artistically timid industry. This must end.
I dig deeper with my research, and a few of the names I discover improve in quality: Cisplatin, Idebenone, Pancuronium, Vinblastine. Obviously, the guys and gals who created these names have experienced Code Blue visits to the ER, and an occasional buzz from a defib paddle. My kind of folks. But, I can do better.
I further outline my strategy: start with a strong first syllable or two, (those with a branching nucleus seem to work best, but there is a grace to the use of short vowels in a nucleus, if they are skillfully employed), then forge ahead to fame and fortune. Perfect work for me, a lover of nuclei, a word wizard, my kit filled with vowels.
The idea factory is open for business! Big Pharma, I’m heading your way, so get ready for even more obscene profits. Consider me your newest and best ally in your campaign to medicate the entire world. At a price!
My dip in the drug language pond yields inspiration. I’m prone to inspiration since I’m trashed on gin, five whiffs of Purple Kush from the vape, and a dropper full of an odd and powerful tincture prepared by my friend, Joe. I fire up the stream-of-consciousness production line, and primo products tumble into the bin.
For a first shot at it, these are beauties, are they not?
There would have been more, but I black out.
I awaken at 4 a.m. with a severe cramp in my left hamstring, and after I scream and sweat for a half hour, I am ready to click back into a creative groove. First, I make a mental note: hydrate, Karl, hydrate.
It’s dark; the bedroom smells like a Humane Society kennel, my pillow is wet. What better ground in which to plant the seed of genius?
Crampofade Early AM.
Clear the decks: the century’s greatest Ad Man is coming aboard.
I have a role model and, were he alive, he’d be proud.
When I was a teen jerk-off, I was forced to attend prep school after an abbreviated and disgraceful tenure at Denver’s South High School. Trapped in the private sector, I was then required to manipulate a full Windsor in a pretentious regimental tie, and read books. One day, I scanned a couple chapters in David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man.”
The experience took place during what the powers-that-be at that prison of privilege called “study hall.” Inmates were forced to endure the embrace of literature after the lunch hour, as we waited for the awful sludge served by pinched matrons to descend in our adolescent digestive tracts.
My copy of Tropic of Cancer had been confiscated by the headmaster, so I strong-armed Ogilvy’s paperback from a timid sophomore seated next to me. As the “masters” prowled the hall, their weak, pale paws clenched in the smalls of their misshapen backs, I positioned the book in front of my face, and pretended to be engrossed, all the while imagining what lurked beneath the tartan plaid skirt of a comely lass attending the girl’s school down the lane. A mental vision was carefully constructed to boost my reverie: the vixen’s long, blond hair flew behind her as she scampered across a grassy expanse, squealing and laughing, skirt fluttering behind her, field hockey stick clutched in manicured hand, saddle shoes a blur, her tantalizing form backlit to emphasize its classical proportions, her special areas moist from exertion.
The sophomore was punished for his lack of reading material.
Reverie over, I found myself studying the text, trapped by Ogilvy’s wisdom, enamored of his guile. This guy knew how to make money and, as I was all-too aware, one needs money to buy fuel for the Austin Healey. Little did I know the lasting influence the masterwork would have on me — that 50-plus years later I would re-hash its lessons, and make haste to the PR pantheon.
Like Ogilvy, I am tough-minded, methodical, driven. Like Ogilvy, I like gin. I can’t lose.
With new and enticing brand names in hand, it is time to work on scripts, and compose lists of contraindications for a tweaker to spew in voice-overs.
For a drug ad to be affective, it must relay something more than a snappy trade name: it must also include elements in addition to insanely sunny beaches, high chroma landscapes, rich residential interiors, joyous and healthy actors. Furthermore, an affective ad can’t repeat warnings of familiar disasters when it comes to possible complications; if people are exposed to common problems too many times, they might realize the dangers are real, and begin to question whether they should purchase the drug. Ogilvy would not approve. I resolve to discard any and all shopworn side effects.
Right off, however, I realize I cannot do away with “oily discharge.” This is more than a description of a noxious condition; this is poetry.
My method for creating new and workable descriptions of maladies: research familiar contraindications, and Google synonyms. Then, incorporate the synonyms in the end-of-ad monologue.
For example: why trouble someone by revealing that Ejactopro can precipitate a heart attack in sufferers of advanced arteriosclerosis? For crying out loud, a guy wants to get a hard-on, so why put a turd in the punchbowl, knowing an Ejactopro-fueled event could be his last party?
Here’s my draft outline for the Ejactopro ad. See if it works as well for you as it does for me.
Ad opens with a wide shot. The day is so bright, the sun must be exploding. Camera does a slow pan across the lawn at the Restful Acres Assisted Living Complex, then zooms in, and tracks up a walkway that leads between carefully manicured grassy plots to the Commons Area. It is as if we are following a ghost.
We enter the linoleum-kissed space. Residents are celebrating Big Jim’s 97th birthday. Big Jim weighs less than a hundred pounds, and can’t remember anything that happened after 1952. He looks great, though, perched in his wheelchair at the end of a long Formica table, a conical party hat set at a jaunty angle atop his skeletal dome, his WWII Good Conduct medal pinned to his shirt.
Big Jim shouts something about Harry Truman and the landing at Anzio while party guests warble a disjointed version of “Happy Birthday.” An attendant blows out the candles on Big Jim’s store-bought sheet cake as the birthday boy loses consciousness. The lettering on the cake reads: “Happy birtday, Big Jin. Thank your for you seviche.”
Quick cut to Sid, a widower and retired cufflink salesman. Sid is dressed in his snappy one-piece, teal speedsuit coveralls, and he hovers next to the “hors d’ouevres” table, packing away as many of the Ritz Cracker and processed cheese canapés as he can before the dietician runs him off. Sid moves to the punch bowl and who is standing there, empty cup in her speckled hand, but Irene, widow and notorious Restful Acres nymphomaniac. As Sid reaches for a paper cup, Irene touches his hand with hers, then grips it, fixing Sid with an unfocused, come-hither gaze as she delivers a nod of her head indicating that Sid should follow her to a love nest in Building 4. Sid’s blood pressure spikes as he gulps down a dose of Hawaiian Punch, and he makes tracks.
The camera follows Sid to his room. He scurries to the bathroom, opens the medicine cabinet, takes out a bottle of Ejactopro, succeeds with some difficulty in removing the childproof cap, wolfs down one of the tabs, checks his “adult” underwear for signs of leakage, and heads for Irene’s room, smiling, and whistling a Frankie Laine tune from the 50s as he attempts to keep his balance. The hallway is incredibly well lit. As Sid disappears in a blinding glow at the end of the passage, we hear the high-octane voice-over, listing possible nasty reactions to Sid’s wonder drug. One of the side effects of Ejactopro is oily discharge; another is the previously mentioned heart attack. In fact, there is a 75-percent risk of a fatal cardiac event for someone of Sid’s age.
Once again: Why ruin the party?
Instead of “heart attack,” how about “Beriberi Heart?” If not something this flowery, why not good-old “apoplexy?” It’s an archaic term; no one born after the Spanish American War knows what it means.
I’m on a roll: I snarf down a dropper full of Joe’s juice, and script a second ad.
Let’s say someone suffers a major intestinal blockage following ingestion of too much industrial-grade mac and cheese at Golden Corral. Who hasn’t has that happen a few times?
Evacusure to the rescue!
Wide aerial shot: As the camera zooms in, we watch a gal clad in a bowling shirt and Capri pants stagger from the front door of the local Golden Corral, clawing at her grossly distended lower abdomen. It is an incredibly bright day. The sun must be exploding.
As the camera zooms in for a close-up, we see that our star is sweating profusely, struggling to take rapid, shallow breaths, her face turning a color a script note identifies as “amethyst.” The stricken gourmande falls to her knees, screams in pain, then slumps into the fetal position. She’s in trouble; people mill around her prostrate form like ants around a Slurpee spill. Her husband panics, waving a half-eaten spare rib in the air, and yelling, “Someone call 911!”
But, wait: can it be? Is that a stagecoach careening into the parking lot, the rustic carriage pulled by six charging steeds? Is the coach driven by a whip-wielding, lab coat-clad physician?
The doctor leaps from his seat to the pavement before the coach comes to a full stop — a daring move for a university-educated, sedentary, white man. He pulls down the goofy silver disc he wears on a band around his head, and positions it in front of his eye as he vigorously palpates the stricken woman’s nether region. The patient screams, the doc smiles, the husband weeps as he pulls two barbecue sauce-stained toddlers to his chest.
Our present-day Asclepius (who looks like a young Tom Selleck) reaches into his doctor’s bag of miracles, and pulls out a tub of Evacusure. Three tablespoons of the powder are dissolved in a glass of Kool-Aid (“garnet” in color, according to a script note) and, after several gulps of the elixir, and a hurried trip to the Golden Corral ladies’ room, a relieved and much slimmer victim hugs Tom Jr., her husband, and her soiled spawn. It is so bright as the camera pulls back for a wide shot that it is hard to make out images on the screen as the meth addict begins his spiel.
Aside from oily discharge, the possible side effects of a dose of Evacusure include suicide, a condition known as “snake skin,” delusions of grandeur, loss of the ability to walk (I will call this “bipedal interruption”), unexplainable registration in the Republican Party, and rapid, fatal, renal failure. To avoid alarming potential Evacusure consumers, I’ll recast the terminal renal condition as “electrolyte maintenance imbalance,” and I’ll add a caveat: “Do not take Evacusure without first securing a viable kidney donor. Consult your attorney for details.” It’ll flash past so quickly, viewers won’t notice.
Damn, this is easy!
I’m breezing along in what is clearly the perfect occupation for me. As a result, it’s time for a break, a couple G and Ts (triples, please), a smidge of a favorite kush (to relax my strained trapezii), perhaps another dropper of Joe’s tincture. Maybe two.
I’ll be busy from now on, but I’ll find time to continue my cultural studies. I might turn up information I can use in my work.
There’s several new episodes of Alaska State Troopers on the tube tonight, followed by two hours of Roller Derby Classics, featuring highlights from the career of the legendary Joanie Weston, of the Bay Area Bombers. Joanie aroused me when, as a 12-year-old youngster newly aware of his erotic inclinations, I watched her on a Muntz black and white console, demolishing frail, fem opponents, and hurling their limp bodies over the rail. Joanie has the same erotic effect on me today — perhaps even greater, considering she’s dead.
I’ll chow down on a major load of mac and cheese, kick back on the recliner, click on the flat screen, put on my dark glasses, and take notes whenever I see a drug commercial.
Then, it’ll be time to turn in.
After I down a fistful of Crampofade PM.
And put on a double Depends.
Oily discharge, you know. Can’t be too careful.