The Vanishing Mediator

Having fun on the internet.

first sight

DTX, a story of the Machine of Death by Chris/0

“You’re just a hopelessly romantic idiot, Eric.”

And this treatment from a friend. Terry slammed back another shot of Goldschläger and wiped his mouth with the back of his tie before continuing.

“What you need to do– Are you paying attention? What you need to do is just get out there and grab what you want. Literally. Go to a club, find a hottie in spaghetti straps, and grab… anything, really. Are you going to drink that?”

He pointed to the shot he’d set in front of me earlier.

“Uh, no,” I said. “My boss frowns on liquid lunchbreaks.”

“Yeah, well, your boss is probably on one of his own right now. Or his boss is. When you report to nobody…”

Terry drained the second shot.

you can basically do whatever you want. How’s that job going, anyway? Didn’t you win an award or something?”

“Would you believe that winning an award turns out to suck? Expectations are through the roof, and P&G haven’t come back since. Funny thing: Companies with award-winning soap packaging don’t want to change it that often. They just unified the line and –”

He interrupted me. “Unified? What?”

“They took my design and applied it to all of their soaps. Antibacterial, scentless, the kind with the scrubby… ball-things… What’re those called?”

“Hell if I know. I don’t use the stuff. Doesn’t that cost them, though?”

“Only a little. We just changed the colors, made the words a little different, and added exclamation points.”

“No, no! You have to charge big for that kind of thing! You had them right where you wanted them. Sales were probably through the roof, and they must have wanted that growth everywhere.”

I shrugged. “I don’t set prices.”

“You should. Or someone with sense should. First rule of marketing: People’s perceptions change based on price. Hang on, example time.”

“You really don’t have to –”

But Terry had already ordered two more shots. When they arrived, he slid one in front of me. The other, he raised up to eye level.

“Now, pretend this is vodka.”

“But it’s Goldschläger. That’s schnapps.”

“No, it’s Grey Goose. Use your imagination.”

“I can see the gold flakes.”

“Imagination!”

“Why didn’t you just order shots of vodka?”

“Because nobody with money drinks shots of vodka. Play along, geez.”

Terry cleared his throat and started again.

“Now, this vodka cost me a certain amount of money. Let’s say, two billion dollars. That’s top-quality vodka. Purified spring water and Parisian wheat probably went into its manufacture.”

“So?”

“Exactly. It doesn’t matter what goes into vodka. By definition, it’s colorless, odorless, and flavorless. The only thing that makes it better is better filtering. Cheers.”

The transubstantiated vodka disappeared down Terry’s throat, and the shot glass joined its brethren upside-down on the edge of the bar.

I surreptitiously slid my shot glass closer to him.

“That explains why my soap expenses have gone up so much over the last year.”

“Yeah, what they’re doing is limiting access. Perceived supply decreases, actual demand increases.”

I thought for a moment, and said, “Make people think they’re buying a privilege, not a product.”

“Catchy! I like the alliteration. That artist brain of yours comes up with a gem every once in a while, I have to admit. Can I steal that?”

“It’s not stealing if I give it to you.”

Terry pulled a Moleskine notebook from a pocket of his suit and wrote in it.

“Great. That, I can use. I’m not big on presents, though. Let’s make it a proper transaction.”

He shook the Moleskine and something flat and glossy fell out, which he pushed toward me. A business card. It read “modMatching”, in that intercaps style that the internet had made so popular.

“Mod… Matching?” I asked.

“It’s a matchmaking service. One of my latest investments. I think you’d do well with them. Heck, you were the model for several of the use cases I had them walk me through during due diligence. A lonely, single art designer living in the heart of Boston. Reasonably attractive, but his relationships seem never to last more than a week or so.”

“I’m reasonably attractive, am I?”

“I exaggerated a little. But I also de-exaggerated that your relationships don’t last because you date shrieking harpies. At least, I think I did.”

“OK, sure. But what’s the ‘mod’ stand for?”

“It’s doesn’t matter. It’s marketing. Model, modern, modular, moderate… Maybe not ‘moderate’; this service is not cheap.”

“Dating services feel like desperation to me. I’m not sure the kind of person I’m looking for –”

“Eric, did we not just have this discussion? I said it’s not cheap. Just the fact that we charge is enough to make most people think that it’s for the elite. And the people who already consider themselves elite jump at the chance to prove it. Tell you what. Give me your shot and I’ll make it an even better deal.”

After only a slight gesture of acceptance from me, Terry drained another shot. He snatched the card out of my hand and scribbled on its back.

“There,” he said. “Show them this card, and you won’t even have to pay. Just see Dr. Qawi – I wrote his name so you won’t forget.”

The back of the card looked like a rough draft of a Jackson Pollack painting. Then again, if anyone could read lousy handwriting, it would be a doctor.

Underneath the ballpoint pen ink, though, was a slogan from the original printing. I couldn’t quite make it out at first, but when I tipped the card so that it caught the light better, its gloss reflected back legibly.

Then you’re meant to be together.

Meant to be together. Big words, coming from a business card.

But right then, at that moment, they must have been the words I wanted… or needed.

“So, what do you think?” Terry asked impatiently.

“Well, I think I want to throttle whoever designed this. You have to manually kern Gill Sans; it doesn’t work right on computers. Poorly optimized metrics.”

“You are just talking gobbledygook at me. You know that, right?”

“I think I’ll give it a try anyway.”

An alarm on Terry’s cell phone went off. He slapped at his breast pocket to make it stop.

“Great! You caved right on schedule, so it is time for me to go. I have to convince people to give me money so I can spend it. You can go back to… soap packaging or whatever.”

“I’m working on potato chips now, actually.”

Or whatever,” Terry repeated. He surveyed the bar as he pulled out his wallet. “Five shots, huh? I had one before you got here, so… That’s three for me and two for you, right?”