Those who know me would never mistake me for someone who lacks confidence. I am ever and always assured of the high esteem at which I hold my efforts and myself. Yes, I have exacting standards, which dizzy even the most robust peer, but I meet them almost always. I never bring my B or C game. I don’t even know what properly constitutes a B or C game. I survey all my work and am convinced that I am ascending toward, if not already ascended to, my prime years, which I am equally as convinced will be enduring.
But looks can be deceiving.
Lately I’ve had to contend with the possibility that my achievements over the past decade have been all for naught. Not one speck of my work seems to serve any good to anyone. Sure, I put in my best effort, but is it really enough? Have I misunderstood the multitude? Worse, have the multitude misunderstood me? Clearly I talk a good game, but game is all it is. I stand on this grand marble pedestal, hoping no one will notice the escalator just behind it. I look down and think long and hard of whether I should dive headfirst back down into the swirling, fetid sty where you dwell beneath me, come what may.
It is all very hopeless. Some time ago this feeling reached a marked acuteness, and with seemingly no remedy with which to sort it out on my own — short of selling my wares and joining a monastic order, anyway — I sought the counsel of my most trusted confidant.
Every now and then I would go to an office park over in Linden, a panel-walled, brown-carpeted holdover of everyone’s orthodontia-related nightmares, to get some priceless wisdom from my branding consultant, Clint Emporius. Sure, the plaque on his door read “THE SP TAC LAR JARE , FORMER MES E IZER,” and his receptionist called him “Mr. Dale,” and he seemed to respond to all three names at any given time, but doubtless people knew the Administrative Dean of Dank Memes when they saw him.
And there I found myself face to face with him not so long ago in his windowless office. To my right was a reproduction of Woodrow Wilson’s official gubernatorial portrait. To my left was a gun rack with a notably empty rung. On his desk was an ashtray not cleaned since maybe 1999. He stretched back, put his feet on the desk, snapped his suspenders, took out a cigarette, and dangled it on his lips. “You know, Chris, there are three unsolved disappearances under investigation in this town,” he said, flicking his lighter and putting it to the cigarette. “They share an important commonality.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Each of them at one time or another were in this very office. Why, I can’t remember. All I know is that each of them, in their own ways, told me not to smoke in my office. My office, Chris. The place where I do business. The place where I help people like you.” He took a long drag and stood up abruptly. “What fascist fucking state are we in where someone can tell me not to smoke? Goddammit, Chris. Sometimes I just get so angry. I lose myself. One thing leads to another and another and another and …” He trailed off getting lost in Woodrow Wilson’s eyes.
“Does that concern you?”
“What? Of course not. Maybe in an older America, sure. But this is a new America. An America that respects boundaries. Now where were we? Ah yes, your numbers.” He sat back down and took an iPad out onto his desk. He swiped at something I couldn’t see and gave me a stern look. “You have garbage numbers.”
“Yes, that’s why I made the appointment.”
“Well it bears repeating. Zero clicks? Two ‘likes’? That’s like the average of your output. This one I’m looking at isn’t even for anything you wrote; this is something from The Cut, with your worthless commentary on top. Your posts are like the spider-sprinkled icing on a strychnine-laced cake.”
“Don’t ‘hey’ me. I give you solid advice on maximizing your brand, and you blatantly disregard every piece of it. I feel used, quite frankly.”
“No you don’t; I pay you for that advice.”
“You can pay me all you like, I don’t think you’ll ever not suck at posting. Let’s go to the videotape. Your irony is barely detectable, your emoji style is incomprehensible, you have the attention span of a fruit fly, and you’re like three months behind in memes. You’re what they call a ‘smart poster.’”
“Isn’t that good?”
“No, it means you’re so concerned with your posts being smart they circle back to being dumb. About virtually nothing. They’re like sign-offs in a human resource managers’ email chain. You’re dipping your toes in the stream. Yes, it’s ice-cold. Yes, it’s brimming with needles and used diapers. But you need to take the plunge.
“What do I need to do?”
“Try drinking just before and during your posting time. Set your alarm clock for 4:30 AM, but don’t go to sleep until two. Start posting from eight in the morning until eight at night. 70 percent of your posts should be replies to accounts of high school students and aging veterans. Did you stop taking your antidepressants like I told you to?”
“I haven’t been on antidepressants in five years.”
“It’s a start, I guess.”
“You told me shitposting was like falling into a bottomless pit filled with all the dead people who fell into it before you.”
“That was before your life became a shitpost. It’s time to get with the program.”
“Well … I mean … there must be a way to … to ease back into gear. Say, like, practicing on cosmic brain memes.”
“What did you say?” He stared me down more intently; his jaw clenched so tightly his cigarette nearly cut in half on his canines.
“Co — cosmic brain memes?”
He stood up and leaned at me over his desk. “No client of mine is going to do fucking cosmic brain memes. Are you trolling me with this shit? That’s like pivoting to snuff films.” He fell back into his chair, rubbing his temples and his eyeballs. “Chris.”
“Chris. Chris. Chris. Chris. Chris. What negligible providence brought you to me?” He opened his eyes and stared silently at the Wilson portrait for what seemed like hours. He got up and walked toward the portrait, puppy-eyed in expression with hands clasped. “Governor Wilson, I hate to come to you again so soon. I know I am pitiful and undeserving of your wisdom, though you give it anyway. But … I’m at the end of my rope with this leech.”
“There must be something I can do to free myself of his bite.”
“Clint, I’m right here.”
“I’ve done everything right. I’ve started a business, I provide for my family. I help people. I can’t let this roach tear that all down.”
“Is this what you do in your off time?”
“What’s that?” He moved in closer and put his ear to the painting. “You want me to do with him like those other scumbags? The ones who came in and told me how to live my life?” He ran back to his desk and started going through his drawers, in search of something I almost certainly did not want to see.
“Wait a goddamn minute. Clint, come on, don’t give up on me like that. You’re better than that. And I never complained about your bullshit smoking habit.”
Clint stood in silence and regained his composure. “You’re right, kid. I always appreciated that about you.”
“Now I think Governor Wilson has a better idea about what to do with me, if you just listen.”
He walked back over to the portrait and stared at it for a few silent seconds. “Yes. Yes of course!” He went back to his desk and faced me with a wide-eyed grin like he’d ingested the whole world’s supply of Prozac. “I didn’t think you were at that point in your life where you’re ready for this. But I think maybe it’s worth the risk.”
“Risk? What is it?”
“I’m gonna take you to see the man.”
“Okay, who is the man?”
“He’s the King of Posts.”
“It’s exactly what it means. He’s the head honcho, the big cheese, the final authority on memes, posts, threads, content. The whole enchilada.”
“But … wait, you kept saying you were like the Pope of memes or whatever it was. That was like your main selling point.”
“Yeah I am, but he’s like the Holy Roman Emperor. All the greats bare his noble seal. Krang T. Nelson, Justice Don Willett, Woke Space Jesuit, Joyce Carol Oates.”
“I know I’ve been hard on you, Chris. But know that I do it from place of love. In our time working together I’ve come to think of you like a … like a … actually like a client renting out my services. I’m not sure where I was going with that one. Anyway, I’m almost certain that this is going to be the big moment for you. The one thing that puts it all into place.”
“Yes, Chris. Really. Except we have to go right this minute.”
“But — ”
“No buts,” Clint said. He leaped from his desk to the closet at the other end of the room and started hastily rifling though it. “You’ve had all your life for that.” He hobbled back to his desk with a rolling suitcase and what looked like a bunch of crumpled items of clothing he picked up without actually having looked at them. In the middle of his frantic packing he paused and looked at me. “Before you know it you’ll be blocked by Arthur Chu.” He pressed the intercom on his phone. “Kent.”
“Yes, Mr. Dale?”
“Cancel the rest of the day. Chris and I need to make some … travel arrangements.”
“Yes, Mr. Dale.”
TO BE CONTINUED