Upon Receiving the Award for Excellence in Marketing

Friends . . . colleagues . . . My Esteemed et cetera:
As we all know, I am not worth the price of the felt that
is glued to the base of this year’s award, appropriately titled,
‘Rise to the Challenge VI.’ But I will always remember the words of
my good friend Martin J. Moorlin, a figurehead of this department
for many years who, as some of you may recall, was the recipient of
‘Rise to the Challenge II’ in a year that featured some very stiff
competition. He said these words to me: ‘Richard,’ he said, ‘you
must not work five days, but six. And the sixth day’ —
this is important now — ‘the sixth day must be a
Sunday.

That’s good advice for anyone.

(Pause.)

Friends, I’d first like to address the topics of Fear and
Confusion. There was once a flow chart in Conference Room B. On it
were the names of all those working on the Sani-Flush account. At
one point, someone — some jokester — slipped into the
room and drew a sequence of arrows and stars on the flow chart.
Arrows leading from one name to another. Arrows leading up, or
down, or off into nothingness. Some names were starred. Some names
were double-starred. The more I studied this chart, the more it
seemed to me that the stars and arrows suggested coded decisions by
a malevolent executive. And as people walked in, sat down to lunch
and saw their names, the effect was galvanic. Reese Carter, an
ex-jock with impressive reserves of arrogance, was himself
immobilized with fear and contempt. On the flow chart, his name?
No stars. He had no arrows. He thought he was
being fired. I found him later in the john. He was clipping his
toenails. When I casually asked him about the Gopher game the night
before, he just looked at me and laughed, with equal parts
bitterness and mania.

(Pause.)

Mysterious symbols. Runes and incantations. It occurs to me,
friends, we don’t talk enough about magic in our profession.

(Pause.)

And speaking of. I once worked with a man who confessed this
story to me. He woke every morning at 4 and performed the following
ritual: He crawled out of bed, careful not to wake his wife,
crossed the bedroom into the walk-in closet, shut the door behind
him and there, in total darkness, knelt down as if in the act of
prayer. As his eyes adjusted to the pitch darkness of the closet,
certain objects began to take on shape and grow distinct. He could
see his belts — the rack holding his myriad belts. He could see
his row of pressed trousers, hanging. He could see the martial
arrangement of his shoes. And he began, he told me, to become very
excited. And when he could stand it no longer — when he could
envision the day unfolding before him, what he would wear, the
coffee he would drink, all the things he would say into the phone,
the various memos he would write, and how lucky he was to work for
the corporation — he would thrust his fist before him and speak a
single affirmation in the darkness: ‘Yes!’

(Pause.)

How many of you love your job? How many of you begin the morning
in a closet?

We all should.

(Pause.)

And what does marketing have to teach us? I have no idea. But
what I do know is that in the late ’70s — and some of you may know
this — a certain type of contact lens was developed for chickens.
Its purpose? Not to improve the eyesight of chickens, but to
distort that eyesight so they would not peck each other to death,
as is common among such brutal fowl. But chicken contacts did not
ever sell case one. Because the intended consumers for this
product, the farmers, were afraid. Of being mocked. By other
farmers.

(Pause.)

Someone once told me: Know your Market. (Pause.) I have
no idea what this means. I’m sorry. It’s here; it’s on my notes.
It’s even underlined. (Pause.) I’m sorry. I have no idea
what this means.

(Pause.)

I have in my hand two thank-yous I’d like to read. First off,
I’d like to thank the power of deadpan speech, which has served me
well in many business situations. It was by the pool of the San
Jose/Milpitas Hilton that I joined a cocktail conversation that
made no sense whatsoever. It was my impression, however, that the
operative rule was that we — an assorted collection of men in
casual pants holding drinks — that we not mean what we
said. A heavy kind of irony was at work, an irony so layered and
cryptic that no one, I felt, could discern the most rudimentary
subject of our speech. In my practiced deadpan, I made only sounds
of affirmation, which reflected well on my character.

I said, ‘That’s good.’

I said, ‘That’s decent.’

I said, ‘That’s decent.’

(Pause.)

Secondly, I’d like to thank Martin Moorlin, who was an abiding
force of something. He was a constant shadow. He worked Sundays.
Let’s live the legacy.

(Pause.)

Now I know there are those of you out there who believe I am
unfit to stand before you and receive this award. Those of you who
say, ‘Richard Howinger? Come on. . . . The man is a
piece of shit.’

And you may very well be right.

I haven’t been proud of everything I’ve done. And in my college
days, mind you, I dated only girls who seemed to be on the verge of
a mournful and heart-rending life crisis. I’ve been an exploiter at
times. But that’s neither here nor there, and I’ll save that story
for another day.

(Pause.)

‘Excellence in Marketing’? — I’ll say. And in lieu of
a proper conclusion, let me talk abut my emotions: I feel a
kinship . . . a generational warmth type thing . . . very
pleased — a torch passingvery pleased,
very happy, I think that about wraps it up.

I look forward, of course, to ‘Rise to the Challenge VII,’ and
all the years to come.

In the future.

Which will doubtlessly be as good as the years that came.

In the past.

(Pause.)

Thank you.

(Pause.)

Thank you. And good night.

Reprinted from Croonenbergh’s Fly (Spring/ Summer
2002), which has ceased publication.

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