Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shooting the Moon

Meteor scatter and moon bounce are radio terms, although they sometimes pop up in other contexts.

Vance Lindstrom was not dissatisfied with his job - or with the quality of the work he did - in the advertising department of DietTronics Corporation, a manufacturer of weight-loss products. But he was disappointed that in his twelve years with the firm he had not written a phrase or slogan that had swept the nation and fell easily and often from the lips of people everywhere. There was no "Where's the beef?" or "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz" on his resume. Even his efforts to stand out from the Vance in accounting, and the Vance in R&D, and the Vance in shipping, and the Vance in legal, and the Vance in human resources by calling himself "Ad-Vance" never caught on.

Then one morning, Mr. Jennings, the advertising director, called Vance into his office. He was concerned, he said, because Vance wasn't generating ideas the way he used to. Vance protested, telling Mr. Jennings that he had made significant contributions to three projects last week.

"That was last week," Jennings said.

"But it's only quarter to ten on Monday morning."

"No excuse," Jennings said. "Now, Vance, I see you ran in a marathon over the weekend. How did you do?"

"I was eleventh in my age group."

"You coach your son's Little League team, don't you? Is the team any good?"

"The kids are having fun and playing hard," Vance said.

"What place are they in?"


"Somebody told me, Vance, you entered the Chili Cook-Off at the county fair."

"I did," Vance said. "I got honorable mention."

"Vance," a very serious Mr. Jennings said, "you're eleventh in your age group as a marathoner, in fifth place as a Little League coach, honorable mention as a chili chef, and you haven't had a usable advertising idea in an hour and a half this morning. Do you know what we call it when that happens to someone like you who was once a bright light coursing across the advertising sky?"

"No, I don't think I do."

"We call it meteor scatter. And it's not a good thing," Jennings said. "The bright light becomes a host of faint flickers. And we can't use a slew of barely visible glows here at DietTronics. I suggest you reassemble your scattered meteor."

The day got even longer after Vance left work and found himself in the midst of a huge traffic jam. While he waited impatiently and listened to a ranter rant on the radio, Vance noticed the teenagers in the car next to his. They got rambunctious as time went on, and finally one of them put his rump against the window and lowered his pants.

By the time traffic was moving again, Vance's advertising brainstorm had taken shape. In the "before" segment, a woman of great bulk, wearing the most unflattering pair of skin-tight slacks imaginable, bends over. Her seven-year-old son is a few feet behind her with a popgun that shoots ping-pong balls. He fires: the ball hits his mother's backside and falls listlessly to the floor. In the "after" segment, the woman has been transformed by a regimen of DietTronic products, and in her new pair of seemingly sprayed-on pants, she is slim and alluring. This time when she bends over and the boy shoots the popgun, the ball springs off her shapely and firm posterior, whizzes by the boy's ear and knocks a glass off the dining room table.

The next morning, Vance presented the idea to Mr. Jennings, who loved it. After several months of hard work, the ads based on his idea appeared on TV. In a trice, they were the hottest commercials on television, and everyone was quoting them.

Vance was the toast of the advertising world. But none of the honors pleased him as much as his experience one Saturday in the local bookstore. Standing at the magazine rack, he notice two young men of college age looking through a magazine and commenting on the pictures.

"Wow! Put that chick on home plate and shoot ping-pong balls off her butt; you'd get a home run every time," one of them said. "We're talking some serious moon bounce here."

"Moon bounce," Vance said to himself. "You're standing five feet from the guy who coined the term."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fair Warning

According to news reports, officials in Alabama were aghast that so many people blithely ignored the tornado warnings issued on television, radio and the Internet during the recent spate of storms in the state. Part of the problem might be that weather warnings have lost their punch. Turn on Jeopardy any night of the week, and sometime before Alex congratulates the day's winner, Mark Johnson, Channel 5's crack meteorologist, will almost certainly elbow his way into the proceedings. And when he does, he will issue dire warnings of some imminent weather catastrophe. Although, judging from his demeanor, the more immediate threat is that he will be incontinent before returning the audience to the regularly scheduled programming.

But some people do hang on to every word that drops from the weatherman's mouth. Take Donna, for instance, a former colleague at the Ashtabula County Board of Developmental Disabilities. To be fair, for most of the year Donna's interest in the weather was in the normal range. "Hot enough for you?" she'd ask; or "Nice day, isn't it;" or "Does anyone know if it's supposed to rain tomorrow?" And at lunchtime, she stuck to the usual topics: what she had done the night before, what she was planning for the weekend, her kids' most recent accomplishments, how much work she had done that morning, how little work a co-worker not in the room had done, some uncomplimentary thoughts on the latest administrative directive and a slew of slanderous remarks about her ex.

But one day, usually around the middle of November, she forgot those things - completely, utterly, totally forgot about them for the next four months. There was no fading out of the old topics. It was as if Donna had gathered all the clutter in her mind, shoved it in a closet and slammed the door. All this happened on the day Donna walked into the lunchroom and said, "Snow day tomorrow." From that moment until St. Patrick's Day and perhaps beyond, Donna was a walking winter-weather advisory.

During the long, dark winter, our lunchtime conversations were dominated by the meteorological malarkey Donna had absorbed the night before.

"They showed it on radar. It is a huge storm," she'd say. "And it's all coming right over the lake. I'm predicting a foot-and-a-half, and if the winds are right, we could get two feet, easy. It you've got stuff here you might need at home, you better take it with you tonight, because we're not going to be here the rest of the week."

The next morning, it was obvious to even the untrained eye that the "storm of the century" had come disguised as scattered flurries. Any thought that Donna might have been humbled by the experience was dashed the moment she sat down to lunch.

"It was the jet stream," she'd say by way of explanation. "It veered south, and the storm missed us. But did you see the news this morning? Akron got clobbered.

Donna devoted the next few moments relating the tribulations faced by those in the areas where snow did fall: traffic jams, school closures, power outages and snow shovelers suffering heart attacks. After the recap, Donna would smile and say:

"Friday is going to be a snow day, I guarantee it. There's clipper on the way, and we're right in its path."

We all went to work Friday, of course. And the always optimistic Donna spent lunchtime assuring us another storm was brewing and that we would have a snow day on Monday just as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, which it did Monday in a beautiful, blue, cloudless sky.

Donna wasn't always wrong; three or four times each winter we'd have a snow day, just as she predicted. But one day in late March or early April, Donna would sit down to lunch and start bragging on her kids, complaining about the price of gas and talking about her plans for a garden. That's when we knew winter had run its course.

To Bed, Perchance to Sleep

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