Look Around

“This looks delicious,” I said, looking over a myriad of dishes that engulfed the tiny table.

“Thanks,” said Alicia. “I like to experiment. I hope you like it.”

“Well,” said Michael, “it will make for plenty of leftovers. Is there anything in the kitchen that you didn’t cook?”

“Don’t mind him, Steve. He thinks cereal is a well balanced meal.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Michael chimed in. “I love trying new things. And you know I love when you experiment. But seven courses is a bit much, isn’t it?”

“How often do we get company? I thought it would be nice to do a little something special.”

“A little something? You’ve got two kinds of potatoes. Why do we need two kinds of potatoes?”

“I didn’t know what Steve would like.”

I was already in the middle of placing a spoonful of red skins next to my mashed yams. “Both are fine with me, but you really didn’t have to make such a fuss.”

“See, Alicia. It’s overkill.”

“There’s no such thing as overkill when it comes to culinary pleasure,” she said as she ladled melted cheese over her broccoli, thereby ending the line of conversation.

We eased into silence as we took some time acquainting ourselves with the various flavors at our disposal. Michael smiled at Alicia who bowed her head graciously and continued eating.

“So, Michael,” I said breaking the silence, “what do you do for a living?”

“I work,” he said, shoveling another spoonful of yams into his maw. “Hard,” he added.

“He’s an accountant,” Alicia added.

Is there any suitable follow up question when someone informs you that they are an accountant? I stared at my pile of corn niblets and wondered if he counted them.

“You never told me why you’re writing about marketing,” he finally said.

“Well, I suppose because there’s more to it than meets the eye.”

“Of course there is,” he said gruffly. “Subliminal messages. They sell you a bunch of crap you don’t need and will probably kill you just so they can make windfall profits.”

“No,” I said. “I mean there’s a dimension of it that hasn’t been really examined in the books that are out there now.”

“And which dimension is that? The lying or the scheming?”

“You’ll have to forgive my husband,” Alicia said. “He was dropped on his head as a child.”

“I was no such thing!”

“Bounced then.”

“All I’m saying,” Michael countered, “is that this whole advertising culture is pure, unadulterated evil. You can take the most environmentally devastating, ethically bereft company that produces the most unhealthy product that they make with the cheapest materials and labor that they can find, and give them a gloss over to make them look as if they’re Saint Peter offering you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It’s dishonest is all I’m saying. And we buy it hook line and sinker.”

He picked up a chicken leg with his fingers and tore into it with his teeth. “Why don’t you put that in your book?”

“I just might,” I replied.

Michael’s argument struck a chord with me, partly because I’d thought the same things on more than one occasion. I could feel my heartbeat racing faster as he went on with his diatribe.  I could feel my own anger rising with his, and I had to wonder if it wasn’t spurred on by the mind meld that the aliens had done on me.

“I mean look at the world we live in now,” he continued. “You can’t even walk down the street or drive down the highway without being bombarded with advertisement. Billboards, park benches, flyers strewn all over the place. They’ve even got trucks that drive around now with rotating billboards on them. When is enough enough? Are my kids even going to know what the natural world looks like?”

I didn’t know how to respond. My gut instinct clamored to give a brazen `Hell yeah! Preach it, brother!’, but I knew that my mission didn’t exactly call for me to be an opponent of advertising. Yet the arguments that Michael was raising were things that I had dealt with myself. Or perhaps I was still dealing with them.

The sheer fact that I was feeling the same amount of anger as Michael and at least nodding internally brought light to the fact that I didn’t completely disagree him. This infuriated me even more. A few days ago I could have happily agreed with him, yet now I had somehow been shoehorned into being a proponent of all of the swill he was blustering against.

I was just about to speak, anticipating what words would escape my lips, be they retaliation or agreement, when Alicia cut me off.

“Michael, look out the window.”

Both of our gazes followed her lead.

“What do you see?”

The setting sun painted the sky with purples and oranges, creating a beautiful backdrop to the lone oak tree in their backyard.

“A tree,” Michael muttered.

“Then chill out.” She took another bite of food. “Sure, advertising is all over the place, but it’s not everywhere. Besides, I happen to know that your firm has advertisements in quite a few magazines. You’ve even got a TV spot don’t you?”

“Radio,” he said, raking his fork through is potatoes like a scolded child.

“See? Advertising may be evil, but it’s a necessary evil. How else would people know that you exist?”

As she took another bite, I still found myself at a loss for words so I followed suit with a mouthful of chicken. I noticed that just as Michael’s anger had been squelched, mine was subsiding as well.

A necessary evil, she had said. Was this what I was on a mission to defend? Even a necessary evil was still evil and I surely wanted more from my life than defending that.

“How is your book different, Steve?” she asked.

A piece of gristle kindly gave me a few extra moments to gather my thoughts as I gnawed at it. How was my book different?

“Well,” I started, “I guess part of it is like you said. How will people know that you exist? You know, the advertising aspect is about delivering a message to others that this product or service is what you have to offer. But there’s more to it…”

As my mind began to wrap around the next words to come out of my mouth, I noticed both Michael and Alicia as they brought forkfuls of food to their lips. Their arms slowed, their mouths opened, and time froze.

This is an excerpt from How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. Come back weekly for the next part or order your copy in ebook or paperback today!

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