Written today and first published here
It was the name of a product of two numbers. He peered closely at the packaging: COOL SUNLIGHT: he carefully unwrapped it. Beneath the inner layer of tissue there were a six and a seven made, judging by the smell, from coal-tar soap. He opened the next package of ‘Cool Sunlight’ and it contained two different numbers. Other identical packages had different and duplicate numbers inside them. The previous evening, he had tried using an eight in the bathroom sink, whipping up a rich face-lather that rather belied the otherwise less than promising unproductiveness of the hard soap from which the eight was manufactured.
The outer packaging was well-designed: a low sun on a lemon-tinged horizon with picture-book beams radiating geometrically from it. An inspiration of dawn in a brisk climate. Or sunset, depending on one’s mood. As an Advertising Executive of several years’ experience, he could not help trying to fathom reconciliation between the package and its contents, but he had not yet been able to mind-read the creative juices lying behind the concept.
His personal assistant sat in the desk opposite. She did not want her presence there to make things more contrived than they already were. She knew, however, she was only allowed the position in the office so as to be a gender stereotype and his sounding-board. Otherwise, his thought-process would have remained simply that – a thought-process privy only to the thought-processor.
“It’s a clever idea, do you think?” she said, meaningfully confusing a question with a statement.
“Yes, but I can’t for the life of me get why it is so clever!” His voice was pitched at such a register one could only guess he thought he was talking to himself.
“Hmmm.” She took up one of the packages for herself.
“I know what you are thinking,” he said. “It’s a gimmick so impenetrable, it’s tempting customers simply by appealing to their sense of life’s intrinsic mystery.”
“Not sure.” She adjusted the decorum of her skirt as she swung the chair round further into the window’s natural light. “I can just make out other smaller numbers on the big number. But they are so lightly indented, they would vanish after the first wash, no doubt...”
“It’s a bit like the whole concept of us discussing such a concept in the first place!” He smiled as he said this. She was a dish. He knew, however, that sounding-boards, like washboards, were not meant to be sexy, but simply practical in the skiffle noises made by them or the creamy suds generated to help shed light upon darkness.
“This product,” she said, “may be an allegory for a new purity that only mathematics can provide. A new dawn. Or a new end of day promising a new dawn of clean beginnings. A cool concept that is only cool by keeping its intentions to itself. An Adam and Eve binary system.”
She was aware that she was speaking his own words, to allow him to think of them in the first place. He, in turn, counted on her ability to feed his originality. Advertising was never straightforward. Customers were different from each other. No sales campaign would ever be wide enough. The secret was to create a combination of high and low common denominators in an attempt to optimise reactions to them as an overall pattern of desires and resistances rather than specifically targetting any one of them.
He turned away, knowing when he looked back, she would be gone, fearful of his intentions. She had done her job. Yet why had she not mentioned the fresh black marks on his face or was it an overnight growth of uncharacteristic whiskers stitched into his jowls and chin rather than having ends to cut?
Packaging, it seemed, had become the wherewithal. The product itself need not move sweetly along with the grain of the concept as long as the packaging of the product created the concept it was meant to perpetuate. She had not known he wanted to be told what he didn’t want to be told.
He swivelled his chair and idly watched the sweaty bankers outside the window in the new dawn of a new day slump in near-drunken figures-of-eight towards their exchanges. Each with a five o’clock shadow. They’d no doubt left their wives squatting beside newer more rocky banks to rub their husbands’ skid-marked smalls on washboards by the sluggish suds of sewage.
EDIT (13 Oct 08): Sequel: BY A WHISKER: HERE