My wife and I flew into Atlanta.
We were told we had a driver waiting for us by Mackie Wallace who, no shit, signed out on the bottom of our travel itinerary email with Executive Chief of Staff, and so we entered the baggage claim expecting a dude in a white and black suit, holding a paper sign. Instead, we saw pink.
At first, it scared the shit out of me—is this the same guy from the premiere? I stared at him, saw his sign (Mr and Mrss Baumann, misspellings as is), and really tried to figure out if it was the same guy. No. They both had a rough air, kind of dirty. But this gentleman had recently shaven, was a bit shorter. And he looked four thousand times more nervous. He stuttered out a hello, and escorted us outside to the temporary parking. I noticed the guy was wearing leather loafers with a hole near his right big toe when Aviva said, “Whoa.” A white on white on white Bentley—white paint, white leather interior, white rims. I like cars, but I felt totally inadequate for this sort of coach, especially considering that I am not Prince.
We had a night in our hotel before tomorrow AM’s meeting. The hotel will remain nameless—they hosted the world premiere of Gone with the Wind in 1939. The place was rough, like a legless Holiday Inn. In a coma. Everyone working there appeared to be in a corporate-comfort laced purgatory. We slept, or tried to sleep. A few working girls were working very hard in the adjacent room. I protectively listened for any sound of unwanted violence.
The offices of LaBar Partners Limited seemed weird right away. Nice, but vacant. As if they’d just moved in, or didn’t work there at all. For reasons I won’t disclose now, I’ll omit a few details and instead use certain ambiguous cultural tropes to describe Pontius’s office: Death Star. Command Center. The Bridge. Porsche in a high-rise. (There was a new Porsche Carrera in Pontius’s office—on the 40somethingth floor).
I apologize for the seemingly Lynchian-strobe-light-effect impressions, but it’s all sort of blended by now. Walking into the meeting, though, I quickly learned that I had been ambushed into employment and expected to pitch.
There was little choice but to go along. Pontius laid out my role in his introduction to the client, a moribund looking man spilling out of an Eames boardroom chair with a whiff of the Midwestern about his suit. (Was it the navy pleats? I don’t know.)
“Kenny B. is our VP of Strategic Entertainment Brand Alliance team in Los Angeles,” Pontius said. “He is connected to the very biggest names in Hollywood, of course.”
The client was the CMO of some conglomerate that made pet food and chocolate bars. Though the PowerPoint was a jargonbomb, it seemed LaBar Partners Limited had promised a “deep dive into the marketspace of potential pet/owner fast-food establishments and potentially congruent celebrity endorsement alignments.”
Pontius jabbered, pitching me softball questions where a little improv covered my utter bafflement at the schlock firing out of his mouth. Mostly I was asked to agree.
In the end, it seemed a tentative agreement had been reached with the client in the mid-six-figure range.
After the client left, Pontius ordered in four soggy sacks of Chick-fil-A.
Now he pitched me. If I stayed on as the VP of SEBA—I felt like a dog, a fine Alaskan breed—I would be paid and paid well. I’d also be associated with the firm, which held “considerable influence among senior executives in a wide range of Fortune 100 companies.” At this point, the scheme felt too deep to signal the internal candid camera alarms. I’d be paid to sit and look pretty. And more importantly, I’d be able to observe this incredibly weird and obviously toxic world of corporate deadspeak. I would be on the front line in the war against actual ideas.
I smiled and shook his hand (still slippery from the buttered buns). I’d never read Faust, but I remember thinking at that moment: man, fuck that guy.
The conclusion on October 10th…