The art of a dark mess

A Note to the Reader:

Some of the more astute among you will have noticed a falling-off of late in the ALLDERBLOB’s resolve. Fact is, our last entry was more a sneeze, or a hiccup, than a post.

And the entry before that, well…

The entry before that was pulled from the dustbin of history in a somewhat patchy attempt to post something, anything, to satisfy our eager readers (hi, mom!) after a week-long silence. Some of you may have noticed its odd phrasing, its second-person-singular object, and, if you followed the link, the fact that it was written about a month earlier.


Our man Blobby has not been his old self, that’s clear. In fact, something’s happened to him. Something’s changed. His usual robust prose stylings have turned greenish, his “pong” less severe.

We caught up with Blobby at his usual spot, the front table at Toronto’s Only Café. He was nursing his usual two-hour cup of black coffee, still redolent of cinamon. As we watched, he stabbed his pen at the paper in front of him, and we wondered if this was it: was this the lob we’d been waiting for?

But no, it was only the day’s “sudoku” puzzle, from the back page of the “Metro” commuter paper. Metro’s is among the easiest of sudoku puzzles around, and comes with a gauge of your relative success: “genius” level is taking 12 minutes to complete the puzzle, or about six stops on the subway.

Blobby looked wan, hardly his usual pudgy self, and when we sat down he gritted his teeth and scratched another number into one of the boxes. When for a moment he looked up, his gaze seemed distant, his eyes watery and cloudy.

Blobby. Blobby Blobby Blobby. Blobby, we hardly knew ye. What is wrong? What is up? GM, that genetically-modified car company, is failing. Fo(u)rd is recallng automobiles and laying off thousands. The lobs are succeeding. Car culture is choking. Newspapers are posting hypocritical editorials against cigarette smoking, terrorism, AIDS (or both) and handguns, while passing over the commonplace symbols of car hegemony that spread like split beavers across the centrefold. There’s grist for the dark satanic mills of the ALLDERBLOB at every turn, yet you remain silent. Tell us, dear Blobby, what has happened? What have you seen?

When Blobby speaks though, it’s only to say “Dang. Thirteen minutes. Still only sub-genius. Dang.”

Blobby, we say again. What is it. What happened, there by the lake?

But Blobby is silent. He drinks at his tepid coffee. And studies the wall opposite: a portrait of Yoko Ono, her eyes shut. Rebrandt van Rijn as a young man. A giant snow phallus, ringed by Humber College revellers, circa 1987.

We wait. The sunlight shifts across the floor, now catching Senor Blobby’s yellowish toenails. He wears leather sandals that need mending.

When Blobby speaks, it’s as if he’s not used his voice in a while. It cracks, and breaks, more than a whisper but not quite full voice. He says, “I was out of town last week.”

This we know. But we only nod, and say nothing. Sometimes it’s better to wait.

“I was at the cottage of the in-laws. The ex-in-laws. It’s complicated. Don’t ask me to explain.”

We know a few pieces of this story, of course.

“A cousin by marriage, what’s that? Then there’s the divorce. And it’s not even the cousin, but her husband. Degrees of separation, but I’m implicated, somehow. I was there.

“I don’t know the guy. A nice guy. I was to their wedding, in New York City. Years ago. He works in advertising. He makes television commercials.”

A shudder passes through us, despite the hot Toronto day. Blobby maintains his steady gaze at Yoko, and his voice, when it re-emerges, stays level, hypnotic.

“A nice guy. A real sweetheart, you know?”

What the hell, we’re thinking, but we say nothing. We let Blobby tell his story.

“Yeah, we had a glass of wine together the last evening I was there. The cousin’s husband and I, that is. Down by the lake. Just the two of us.

“They’d been landscaping the granite rock of the shield, making paved terraces and walls. We sat off to the side, I on a tall rock, up high. I was pinned to the rock by the light that spilled from the cottage. He sat lower down, more comfortably, on the wall facing me.

“His name? I’d rather not say. It would be smarter not to say. There would be trouble. Call him Truck.

“Dusk falls early this time of year, and fast. After a few minutes of chit-chat, I became aware of how the light from the cottage beyond Truck’s head cast his features into relief. He was like some knd of stone statue, something built out of the landscape, something permanent as the granite shield the cottage itself sat on.

“Flowery stuff? Maybe. If you’d been there you’d understand. After a while I had the uneasy sense it was the rock speaking, not Truck at all. The rock itself speaking through Truck.

“Nutty, right? I know. But if not for the glowing tip of his cigarette, and the occasional drift of smoke caught in the light, you’d forget a man was there: just the granite wall, speaking.

“Yeah, he smoked. Made a big deal out of it actually. I was to keep it a secret. No telling his wife. No telling the kids. Above all, not the kids. If the kids knew he smoked, he seemed to be saying, all would be lost.

“Crazy? The guy’s in advertising, remember. They trade in duplicity. Secrets from the wife and kids? What else would you expect?

“But what a nice guy. You know, out there with his furtive smokes, his entreaties for secrecy, I felt sorry for him. I couldn’t help it. And I realized, he’s a man, not a devil. You know, he’s one of the top admen in the country; he’s in the elite, and he can’t smoke a cigarette when he wants to. Has to keep it a secret. And he’s 52, grown up in a business where age 25 is the target and if you miss a beat on that crowd there’s a crowd of other admen in line for your place. Every day he gets closer to his own obsolescence in a game where obsolescence is planned by others just like himself. He’s the architect of his own doom. You’d feel for the guy too. Anyone would.

“He got to talking about TV. You know, the kids were inside, cheering the “Cinderella Man” DVD he’d got for them to watch on his laptop. Well it’s the cottage, right? All that granite, it shields the TV signals. You can’t get diddly unless you have satelite or cable.

“Other end of the island, you know, we have satelite. Truck was impressed to hear how I’d turned the TV to the wall though. No kids are gonna spend the week in the wilderness watching the idiot box, I’d proclaimed. The kids kicked up a fuss, of course, but I set them a competition: the one who complained the least, I said, would win an ice-cream cone.

“Impressed? Was Truck impressed? Yeah. But amused, too. Remember, the guy makes TV ads for a living. He lives at the dark heart of the mess. He’s an artist with nothing to say, and when he speaks, everyone hears him. To him, putting the TV to the wall only confirms its power. His power, ultimately. He got a chuckle out of it, if you want to know the truth.

“But he quit chuckling when he talked about his own kids. See, he had a dark secret to tell.

“Why tell me? I don’t know. But as I sat there in the flood of light from the cottage, hearing the rustling in the leaves from the mice and carrion beetles that scuttled in the dark beyond the granite walls, I felt exposed, open, receptive. And Truck, in contrast, was hidden, shrouded in darkness, cast in shadow by the same light that laid me open. Something about the light made Truck feel compelled to ‘confess.’ Hidden in darkness, his voice issuing from the rock before me, it was as if he wasn’t there. Only his words, floating in the breeze, and the cigarette smoke he occasionally expelled.

“I played innocent, you know. Did I speak of the ALLDERBLOB? Nah. Truck would’ve laughed, anyway. He has no time for “blobs.” He said as much: a waste of time. A waste to read, and a waste to write. A waste of energy. A sop for those who might act, to make them feel better about their inability to act. Their inability to actually effect change of any kind. Truck wouldn’t have been intimidated by the notion of the ALLDERBLOB. He would’ve laughed to hear my life’s work, my goal, my focus: the elimination of automobile advertising through the writing of ‘lobs.’

“He would’ve been polite about it, of course. A nice guy, you know? But for him, from the heart of the dark mess, advertising has nothing to fear from its attackers. In fact, it can only learn from their attacks, and be strengthened.

“Strengthened. For example, he laughed when I asked him about Adbusters. Does he fear them? Not a chance. He laughed, I tells you. He only said, ‘My god, you don’t know how far beyond harm we are from the likes of Kalle Lasn. You don’t know how we hoot about the situation.’

“He said, ‘I give annual seminars at the business school you know. That’s Harvard.

“ ‘Students there come from all over the world, from every nation. And I get up there and take questions from them, from the elite of the world. These kids are going to to back to run the soap factories in Jakarta, the woolen mills in Guan Jou, the truck parts plant in Mumbai.

“ ‘And I tell them there isn’t a minute of their lives that isn’t programmed anymore. You should see how their eyes open wide at that. And no, it’s not the jingles planted in their skulls. It’s not the images of plenty that fill their bellies. It’s beyond any of that.

“ ‘I tell them…’

“Here Truck’s voice grew whispery, receding into a shadow of smoke that shone in the air in front of him for a moment before it dissipated in the breeze.

“And though I listened as hard as I could, the words that followed were so hushed, so quiet that the rasp of a beetle drowned them out. The rustle of an earthworm clawing at a leaf in the darkness off the path was louder than the words then spoken by Truck.

“I leaned in though, and caught the last of it: ‘…the horror… The horror…’

“Odd? I’ll say. If we’d been ringed by heads on pikes instead of just crickets, it wouldn’v have been any creepier at that moment.

“But a moment later his voice was back to normal. It was as if nothing strange had happened: ‘You can’t make a move without making what you think are choices. I mean, you want headache medicine? You go to the drugstore. What you need? Sinus pain with post-nasal drip? Headache with fever? Headache without fever? Fever with cough? Be specific, damn it! Cough and a headache? Two bits! Need to drive heavy machinery? Headache and can’t sleep?

“ ‘We got you covered. You go to the drugstore feeling fine, you better have a headache by the time you leave: that’s our job. And the joke is….’ Again his voice has faded though.

“ ‘Yes?’ I say, leaning in again. ‘The joke?’ Truck’s profile has been illuminated for the moment in another reflective cloud of smoke.

“ ‘The dirty joke is, you think it’s you that’s choosing. You think you’re telling us your symptoms. Fact is, we’re telling you.

“ ‘You turned the TV to the wall?’ he says, after a long silence. He’s lit up another cigarette.

“ ‘Well,’ I start to explain.

“ ‘Good for you,’ he says. ‘It’s a start. But you can’t let yourself think that’s the end of it.’

“He’s turned his head so I no longer have a hint of his profile. In the dark, it’s impossible to tell if he’s looking straight at me, or back toward the cottage. He might be looking there, where his two boys, age 11 and 13, and the kids I’m minding, both age 12, are all whooping with delight at something in the movie they’ve been allowed to watch.

“ ‘No one I know in the industry,’ Truck starts to say, but stops. ‘Let me rephrase that: Not one of us who really loves our kids lets them watch TV unhindered.’

“My eyebrows are way high on my face. I can feel the muscles writing ‘incredulity’ on my forehead.

“ ‘You don’t believe me,’ he says.

“I start to answer, but he cuts me off.

“ ‘That’s okay. Don’t believe me. But believe this: we haven’t had a television in the house for four years. We got rid of ours.

“ ‘It’s the commercials, if you gotta know….’

“Truck’s voice has sunken to a whisper again. And it’s clear his dark secret, if I can put it that way, is out. There’s a quality of forced lightness to his voice as he changes the subject, asks me something about my life and my work, and soon after that, he’s standing, stretching his legs: the seminar is over.

“For me, though, nothing’s been the same since. It’s like a window opened into the soul of an advertiser. The real horror, if I can call it that, is seeing him as a fellow, a human being, a man driven by the choices he himself made–or thought he’d made, into an art of manufacturing a dark sort of consent.

“And you’re right. I’m off the game. Nothing’s the same anymore. I don’t know if I have it in me to keep up the attack.”

The mood in the café has shifted. The late afternoon crowd has begun to arrive, the music is suddenly too loud. It had been the Grateful Dead, now it’s Run DMC.

Blobby chews down the last of his coffee, stands, grimaces, places a two-dollar coin on the counter, and leaves: he has errands to run.

[To be continued? –ed.]

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