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Spiral | Chapter 1

qb

He had the arm of a cannon and the temper of a rattlesnake. At least that’s what the scouting report said of the Senior USC signal-caller. There was no denying the talent of the young quarterback, but there was also no question that when he became rattled, he was worthless.

The score was 21-10, USC on top of ASU, as he walked toward the sidelines of the biggest game of his career. He had just thrown his first interception of the game, and he was visibly frustrated. Both arms flailed as he reached his offensive coordinator on the sideline. Then his right hand outstretched pointing toward the offensive lineman who missed the blitzing safety seamlessly swung upward to rip the helmet from his head to yank it upwards and, ultimately, crush it towards the ground. The helmet survived, but his poise didn’t.

“You saw it. You saw it. Okay? Next time, change the play and make the defense get on its fucking heels, okay?” The offensive coordinator pleaded sternly, knowing the tornado of frustration that Fitzy was presently dealing with. He knew well that his words were falling on deaf ears. There was nothing that he could do, so far as his abilities afforded, to stop Fitzy Cormac from throwing his second interception just moments later.

“And on a three play, 45-yard drive, Arizona State has pulled within four points of the Trojans.” That’s what Fitzy would have heard, had he been watching the game from his dorm room. That’s what all of his friends and family were hearing as he trembled with anger, understanding an utter meltdown was imminent. It was 21-17 when he took the field again, with only 4:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Fitzy, along with everyone else in Sundevil Stadium, knew that the amount of time that was left on the scoreboard was an eternity. Indeed, any great football fan knows that a score can happen at any moment. And any better football fan knows that playing “safe” football, a system in which you run it three times in a row in order to waste the other team’s timeouts or run time off the clock is among the most surefire ways to lose a ballgame on the gridiron.

“Carson Leotis returns the ball to the Trojan 27 yard line with four minutes and twelve seconds left to play.”

You want to win the Pac 12 Championship, right? If that’s what you want, then you’ve got to keep the ball out of the Skum Devils’ hands. They’ve got all the momentum. They’ve got it. And if you want it, you’ve got to quiet this crowd. You’ve got to hit Carson on 15 yard out. Then you’ve got to hit Kelvin down the sidelines to get into Sun Devil territory. Then they’ll shut the fuck up. Then they’ll quiet. Then they’ll shove that fucking pitchfork up their asses. Maybe we’ll even get egged on the way out. I love seeing that fucking Trojan bus covered in eggs. That’s how you know you’ve done your job. God I want to see the look on those fucking Sun Devil faces. You think they ever sodomize their team with those pitchforks when they lose? Sure they do. That’s what they’re for, right? Someone’s going to hell at the end of the night, and if I have any fucking Christing say about it, it’s gonna be those God damned Sun Devils and their bullshit fans.

Fitzy gathered his team at the 22-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium, five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The clock was stopped at 4:12, until they ran their next play. He looked at the ten men who surrounded him. Exhausted. Hopeful. Dead.

“Gut 22, on two,” he paused. “Ready? Break.” They all pitched in on the “Break.”

Fitzy walked to the line with absolutely no faith in the play that his offensive coordinator called. He wanted to gun. He wanted to unleash the poison that he had just swallowed on his last throw. He wanted to purify his arm, his statistics and his game with a single sling. But that wasn’t the play that he was given.

His offensive line spread before him, large and protective and looming, but weary. His two receivers spread wide, and his fullback and halfback stood behind him in an offset I formation. The Arizona State defense was pulsing. They were feeling the momentum swing from the last interception which led to a touchdown. They were jumping and swaying and talking and pivoting and rioting and antagonizing and, in the eyes of Fitzy, they were humiliating him. For Fitzy, the USC Trojans were the elite of not only their division, but what the NCAA represented. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t won a national championship in a decade. To him, USC was college football. And for a team like ASU to challenge USC was absolutely absurd. Peasants and kings. There was no comparison.

As they showed blitz to the strong side where the ASU middle linebacker Anthony Selez, 6’5” sophomore from Fresno was lining up, Fitzy couldn’t help but feel that he had the years of football prestige on his side. He could have changed the play at the line, as the play clock still showed 12 seconds. But rather, he felt that the Gods of football would prevail to show ASU who was, indeed, the true champion of the Pac 12.

“Captain! Red 77. Red 77. Watch Mike, watch Mike! Captain!” Fitzy shouted. The football hit his right hand placed under the haunches of the center. Then it all rang loose. The Phoenician and Trojan earth vibrated and pulsed as the stadium rose and puffed and silenced itself. The sky blacked and fell to the Earth, blocking out everything in existence beyond the five feet in front of his face. The coats and jerseys and shirts and skins all froze and gasped. The field trembled before itself in anticipation. Noise froze and the hummed and then, when the brief, ominous lull ended, it all blasted at the top of its lungs before a movement even occurred. The world of football stood in trance as the violence and carnage sat waiting.

Fitzy received the snap from the center and immediately turned to his right. The fullback passed him with eyes toward the blitzing middle linebacker. The fullback dove toward the linebacker’s waist and missed as he spun around him. Fitzy placed the ball directly into the breadbasket of his tailback, who immediately bounced right to avoid the blitzing safety. Barely shaken, the tailback gathered himself to steam back toward the gap which seemed open between the guard and the tackle. As he bounced in that direction, the middle linebacker rolled off of the fullback who should have been guiding his way and smashed him, jarring his helmet nearly off and knocking his chinstrap completely loose.

“Quincy Jones for a two yard loss on the play! Trojans second and 12 from the USC 25.” Sun Devil Stadium roared as the clock ticked away. The momentum swelled, along with Fitzy’s frustration.

The USC offensive coordinator signaled to Fitzy for the next play, as he sent in a tight end to swap with a wide receiver. Before he even received the play, he knew that his coach was calling another run. Most likely the same one as before. He was furious. Had he not been the Heisman candidate since Week 1? Had he not played every snap since his sophomore year? Had he not led the Trojans to a near perfect record this year and a Rose Bowl Championship last year? Put the fucking game in my hands, coach!

The call came in, and he knew it before he referenced the play chart on his wrist band. Deuces Power I 22 Gut. That meant a double tight end, where the weak side tight end would motion to the strong side and add extra blocking power to the coma-inducing run play. He called the play in the huddle forcefully, but without much gusto. The team felt it.

They walked toward the line as time ticked off the clock. As they approached, the game clock was down to 3:41. As the play had been called, there were tight ends on either side, with only one wide receiver, Carson, who lined up on the left. They were on the right hash mark as Fitzy began his cadence.

“Red 12! Captain. Captain.” As he said his first captain, the tight end on the right side of the offensive line stepped back from the line of scrimmage, then motioned rightward, behind the quarterback, then just in front of the fullback. Then, just before he reached the other tight end, Fitzy shouted, “Captain!”

The stadium quaked and rocked again. There was a large, inarticulate groan, as if a building were about to topple over. It was not a sound, but a feeling. Yet, there was a silence that was more powerful, emotional, painful and exuberant than anything that a fan could experience. The turf on the field floor seemed to sense and recoil from the animosity that was about to endure. There was blood in the air, even more than had been spilled on the field, as if a ferocious blend of despotism and reprisal was about to occur. And perhaps the last characters to experience it were the ones who would live it.

Fitzy received the ball in his hand from the center yet again, just a split second after the tight end passed behind him. As he turned to his right, the fullback grazed his shoulder, with an eye for the yet again blitzing middle linebacker. This time, the fullback annihilated the blitzing backer, knocking him directly to his back and creating a pile in the middle of the field. The motioning tight end, on the right side of the line blasted the blitzing nickel corner out of play. The tailback found the hole, bouncing around the tackle and shooting upfield.

If we get this first down, we can probably control the rest of the game. Then we can fuck those fucking quacks out of Oregon. The fucking Ducks. Who gives a fuck about those fucking Ducks. Nice uniforms, you fucking, self-righteous, Nike-blowing pieces of shit.

The tailback cut through the hole with daylight and with speed. There was a first down and more ahead of him. His ankle was caught by a reaching cornerback, who went relatively unblocked by a receiver who didn’t really care too much for blocking. After all, his draft choice and signing bonus really had very little to do with how well he held up cornerbacks on ISO plays.

“Quincy Jones for seven yards. Third and five at USC 32.” The stadium was noticeably quieter now. It was still loud, to be sure. But after the seven yard carry, there was uncertainty in the air. Minus the Trojan signal-caller. Fitzy was sure that this was the time to strike. This was the time to finish it. This was the time to rest the future of one of the league’s most prominent teams on the back of its star, of its Heisman.

The call came in from the sidelines. Fitzy’s eyes widened as his frustration grew. He saw red and heard nothing. The call was Deuces Power I 22 Gut, the same play they had just run. He couldn’t believe that his coach had suddenly become such a coward. The term “coward” wouldn’t even do it justice.

He fucked his girlfriend that night. She lay naked in the sheets, saying nothing. It wasn’t in an unfamiliar bed at a stranger’s house throwing a party for the USC win. It wasn’t in the bathroom stall of a bar where they had encountered many times before on a brief respite from a beer-chugging party in his honor. It was alone and quiet in a hotel room where silence was the only character that accompanied. She lay pristine, glistening in the light of the bad-news television with the sheets over her. Her dark hair spread across the pillowcase as she feared to speak. Through the sheets, her breasts poked at just the right angle of a young woman who ignited the lust of a promising young quarterback. Her nipples lifted the sheets just beyond her breasts and shaded the color just enough to know that they were still erect, yet her face told a story of questioning and fear. ESPN was on.

“Cormac lost everything in a single throw. I just, I just don’t believe it!” The pundits were alive and in an ecstasy that only comes with the toppling of a champion.

The score scrolled below the talking heads who continued to seek answers to the questions that Fitzy’s arm and brain had aroused. 24-21. ASU upsets USC to move on to the Pac 12 Championship.

Fitzy sat at the edge of the bed in his boxer-briefs. He sat still and quiet in an animalistic and uncomprehending state of disbelief. He had sought answers in the garden of his girlfriend. Those answers were always waiting as his solution to any conundrum. He sought those answers from many angles and directions. He felt her deeper than he ever had before. Yet he only found release, not redemption. She was beautiful and giving. But that didn’t change the fact that what he sought couldn’t be found in her supple breasts, red lips or exhaustive and enduring stamina. It was only a distraction this time.

She sat upward in the bed, the sheets falling from her torso, breasts exposed, and began rubbing his shoulders. “This isn’t helping,” she whispered. “Turn it off, babe.”

He sat motionless and unreactive to her touch and sound. His eyes were like a stage after a great band had finished its set. There was history but no life, no living. His body was as exposed as his soul, his confidence. His second interception had led to his worst fear, which wasn’t the loss. He had lost faith in the gods of football. And that meant everything to him. From the moment he grasped a football until the minute that his pass found an ASU cornerback for a championship-stealing interception. He thought they stood behind him. He thought there was a hierarchy to the game that made him invincible in those final moments. To which he tried to become a god of his own upon his girlfriend. And at the end of that night, he had no godsmanship to show for anything.

To her advances he didn’t react. But what was a faux-god to do? He fucked her again and went to sleep. He was as low and as alone as he would ever be in college. A god of football had fallen from high. But the NFL still awaited, even if his draft choice had dropped to the second round. He would make more sense of it in the morning. And somehow, he slept like a child.

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My Kevin | Chapter 3

I mentioned Ernest Hemingway in the last chapter by no coincidence. He is my favorite author. And every day I try to write most like he does with the full understanding that I will never be able to pull the emotional power and masculine stamina that he does into one line or paragraph. Yet, this classical writer may have been the first way that I ever connected with my uncle Kevin, truly. That is, of course, with exception to the times that he allowed my best friend Spencer and I to punch him in the stomach when we were in third grade.

Allow me to begin again by saying that my uncle Kevin is quiet. He is not quiet by judgement or contempt. My uncle Kevin is quiet by nature. By nature. What does that mean? That seems like such simple terminology. And it can be. But allow me to disavow that idealism by saying that it is not just a term that I use to describe my uncle, but a true disposition. He was true. God, yet again I pursue an adjective that can be so widely used yet so universally in vein. Truly. Idealistically. Naturally. Quiet. My uncle Kevin was quiet so that he could better understand people. Altruistically.

He stood like a man that you could always  be friends with. He was tall without being overbearing. He was red without being angry. He had dark locks that went uncombed, yet drew you in rather than pushing you away. His standard glasses were surrounded by a face that was inviting, smiling, and almost always laughing, while telling a joke or receiving one.

This is where I feel ashamed.

As I said in chapter one, I had only begun to understand the depths of my uncle. In 2011, ignorant and stupid as I was at 24 years of age, I knew nothing of my uncle. As I said in chapter one, I had just begun learning about him. But that was but a fraction of his entirety. I returned to San Diego, after living in Las Vegas, with a wife, a career, and what I understood to be something to be proud of. I also returned with a new found knowledge, or so I thought, of the classic novels of the early 20th century. And surprising, stupidly surprising to me, my uncle and I connected on something that we could truly talk about for the first time. 

I must admit that after reading two Dickens novels and one Hemingway, I felt like King Shit. God, the ignorance of a 24 year old. Granted, I will look back on this writing one day and say, “Fuck, the ignorance of a 27 year old.” But my uncle Kevin opened my eyes and discussed things with me that I truly and deeply enjoyed. It was at the coffee shop. And that was only just the beginning.

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My Kevin | Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Stuart had gone off to college and had missed his aunt Julie’s wedding to his uncle John, who Stuart did not know well but would in time come to love very much. John was someone that fit like a corkscrew into a family of beer caps, yet it somehow made everything a measure of its own accord; a respite from its own introspection. John is a man who made the family think and laugh and pause, and ultimately, change. And John deserves his own chapter, or book. But this verse is not about John.

— 

It was 2004, nearly a decade from where this story began that Stuart began to learn the things that would more deeply connect him with his uncle. He learned the meanings beyond the names of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, where he would truly begin to connect with the namesake of this dalliance. 

Indeed, as the author, I must now take into account the purpose of this prose. Most authors may wait chapters or even books before they seek the true meaning of the pages’ purpose. Yet, I understand the constraints that I have, as the author, based on the constraints that lie upon me, understanding the short length of time the namesake of this story, my uncle Kevin, may have upon this Earth. In case it had not yet been made clear, I am Stuart.

I could delve into so many details about my uncle Kevin, which would yield many pages and chapters of fun, knowledge, and peace. I could stray into the bicycle shop, where Stuart (I) had his first meetings with his quiet, introspective uncle. I could begin into stories of how lucky my grandmother was to have Kevin as a caregiver, a son, and a friend. I could delay the true meaning of the story by indulging into how important it was for Kevin to arrive at Thanksgiving, make the ham at Christmas, or ignorantly discuss football on New Years because that is what most men of our family wanted to watch, and without knowledge or understanding, uncle Kevin would be there to chat about it. 

No, I don’t think that it all must be covered now. Someday, it will indeed be recollected through a foggy, Instagram moment that will never do justice to the man that my uncle Kevin is and was. 

What needs to be said now is that my uncle Kevin lived with a purpose that most men live without. As someone who lives for a greed and lust and desire for things that, at the end of our world may seem irrelevant, my uncle Kevin was the foundation of truth and the embodiment of reason. As men and women boasted of jobs and jewels and jealousy, my uncle Kevin was always above that which was coveted. He lived a simple life full of friends and family. Forgive my alliteration. My great uncle, and in this case the term ‘great’ does not refer to his place on my family tree but the truest description of the man that I can find, was indeed a man who found happiness in the things that were afforded around him. And in turn, Kevin became that peaceful pillar in both his community and his family.

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My Kevin

Chapter 1

It was March, 1998. He walked toward the coffee cart cautiously, slightly behind his mother’s arm. There was no fear, only insecurity. There were two things that he knew about his uncle. The first was that he loved him. The second was that he didn’t know him. Not really. He was 11 years old.

His uncle had owned a coffee cart along a side but prominent street in Ocean Beach, California (a small town outside of San Diego) since 1994. Being 11 years of age, he had no taste for coffee, nor the chatter or socialization that was involved in it. Yet he did enjoy the first thing that his uncle offered him.

“Here you go,” Kevin said.

As he smiled he handed Stuart a firm bakery item that he had never had before. Stuart unwrapped the scone which he continued to devour as Kevin handed Stuart’s mother an Italian soda.

“How much do I owe you?” Michelle said.

“Nothing,” Kevin replied.

“No-” Michelle gave pause. She began reaching for her purse.

“No,” Kevin responded with a smile that never faded, and insisted.

Stuart began to indulge in the scone which tore him away from any conversation that ensued for the next few minutes. Every bite was something new and rich and wonderful.

There was an umbrella that covered three chairs and shaded a small part of an alley as well. The coffee cart itself was humble and charming. It was a shade of San Diego. An off color that fit perfectly into the lifestyle of the locals and tourist s who might just indulge there. There was no pretension. There was purpose. But there was much, so much more than that. Just a block or so away from the ocean and the freeway, the location afforded itself its share of new and returning customers, all of which brought their own sense of obscurity and purpose to the stand. It stood remote, wandering, bewildered, charming and exact. There was fulfillment that was within the coffee cart that could never exist in a Starbucks or Seattle’s Best. And it had nothing to do with coffee. Kevin was a pillar. A fortitude. A beacon of something that was Ocean Beach. Not only in nature but in virtue. It stood for what had been and what would be. Ideally. And yet it was but an item on the menu of something much greater.

“How are you?” asked Michelle.

Kevin remaining with his smile, “Great.”

They sat down as Kevin began helping another customer. Stuart continuing into his scone as if fortifying it from the pigeons that loomed in the alley. A pair of surfers skated by, arms glistening in the morning sun. Shirtless; careless. Their twin blonde hair dangled effortlessly and swept slightly in their indigenous speed along the street, traveling the wrong way against traffic on a Saturday morning. One dropped their surf board for a split second and recovered as their skate board swerved smoothly into traffic, and then gathered back as if recovering from a bump in a wave.

Stuart heard nothing of commerce. The scone stole his attention even as surfers attempted to become flattened on the Ocean Beach streets. There was simultaneous stillness and commotion on the 9am streets of apathy. Stuart didn’t know why, but everyone else knew all very well.

The sun had began peaking just over the not-too-tall buildings surrounding Kevin’s coffee shop. It was exaggerated. Everything was to Stuart. Perhaps it was the scone and the sugar. Perhaps it was the closeness of family that he felt, which had never been extensively important before. He sat in awe of the moment. The scone was nearing completion, but he revered the situation that his mother and his uncle had granted him. There was a peacefulness, a perfection, that he had never experienced through video games or television shows. It was a purposeful peace. And at that moment he began to understand his uncle just a bit more.

“Hey!” his aunt Julie shouted as she passed a crowd of bicyclists.

Everyone’s face rose in glee to see the outstretched arms of the youngest sister. Smiles were abundant.

–End Chapter 1–

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Why Gratitude is So Important

A day can turn on a dime when your boss tells you how much they appreciate what you’ve done. Similarly, if a customer gives you positive feedback, it warms your heart. But you know what’s funny? The person who gives that gratitude gets as much out of the transaction as the person who gets it. 

There is plenty of research behind this notion, but I’d like to offer a more simplistic view. We all know the Golden Rule, right? Just in case, do unto others as you’d you’d have done to you. We all want to think that people are recognizing our efforts. So instead of waiting for it, show it. Do it and live it. Exemplify it and lead the way to a better workplace, home life and friendship. 

But also, don’t wait for or expect an outcome. Just relish in the fact that you just helped someone to have a better day, and hope that they’ll in turn do the same for someone else. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Got an opinion? Leave it in the comments!

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Advertising Thoughts, Copywriting, Marketing Thoughts, social media, Uncategorized

Why Seth Godin’s Rejection Email Was Better Than Most Acceptance Letters

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Yesterday, my application to participate in Seth Godin’s summer seminar, “The Agenda Session” was denied. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little sad, because (as a marketer who believes that the acts and voices of businesses and organizations can be used for good and profound work) Seth Godin is my hero. I wouldn’t say that I was shocked when I read my rejection email, however. Only 15 people are accepted to the session every year, a lot of people look up to Seth Godin, and my application was a bit rushed because I wanted to be among the first to apply. All that said, I kind of saw it coming. But one can always dream.

People get rejected all of the time. From jobs. From people. From colleges and universities. What’s the big deal?

What was remarkable about this rejection (yes, his rejection email was worthy of remark) was how touching it was. We’ve all read the We regret to inform you‘s and Unfortunately you were not selected‘s time and time again. And typically we stop reading after we interpret that first sentence to the full intention of the communication. Not only that, but when we receive these rejections, whether it’s in response to a college application, job application or marriage proposal, it leaves a bad taste in our mouth about the organization/person that rejected you. Maybe Microsoft said you wouldn’t be a great fit for that role, so the next computer you buy is a Mac. Maybe USC said their MBA program was full, so you start rooting for the Sun Devils. Yet Seth Godin (as he is one to do) turned the common rejection letter on its head and found a way to create a personal connection with me through a presumably negative interaction. His rejection email was more moving than most acceptance letters and phone calls that I’ve received in my 27 years on Earth. It felt personal. It felt honest. It felt like Seth had called me into his office, closed the door, and with a solemn expression told me why I wasn’t going to get that promotion. And it built in me an even deeper and more profound level of respect for Mr. Godin.

The point is that we as marketers, advertisers and communicators often miss opportunities to create a stronger connection and greater engagement in these kinds of situations. Of course, we are all wonderful at celebrating the good stuff. That’s the easy part. But if you really want to stand out, we need to consider every touch point an opportunity to win more trust and more loyalty. If brands are becoming more like people every day, then think of your brand in terms of your best friends and acquaintances. Your acquaintances love to chat with you about the good stuff, the big stuff, the Super Bowl, the raise, the wedding. But only your best friends will sit down and have an honest conversation about the layoff, the troubled marriage, the loss of a loved one, the rejection from your dream job. That’s the conversation Seth just had with me, via email. And I’m a more loyal fan than ever, now.

 

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Pride

I was going to start this thought with a question about why pride was so important. But then I realized that was ridiculous. Pride is what keeps us striving for something greater, striving for innovation, striving for an idea. So the real question is: How much does pride hold us back?

We all allow pride to hold us back. When you don’t speak up in an employee meeting with an idea that might be small (or might, just maybe, be huge), you are letting pride hold you back. When you hang out with friends or family and think your passions are not interesting enough to discuss, you are letting pride get in the way. When you’re sitting on an airplane and you notice that the person next to you is reading a magazine that you love, but you don’t start a conversation about it, you are letting pride get in the way.

Guess what? Every single person wants engagement. Every one. We want love, humor, conversation, experience and provocation. Really. We want it. But…

Sometimes (and you must understand your situation), silence is a virtue. Most of the time, however, in this modern era of siloism and digital escape, a personal, constructive and engaging conversation takes precedent over anything else that these individuals can interact with. Give your boss your thoughts, in a constructive manner. Give your family your passions, in a non-threatening way. And tell your flight mate that you love that magazine and why you think that article she is reading is really interesting. Don’t be too proud to fail. Because most of the time, it’s not that bad if you do. And some of the time, you won’t.

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