Story by: Jackey Reuben, Illustrations by: Chantal de Broglio
This is a short satire by a MeCCSA member about marketing in a University.
There is always darkness before the dawn – wherever we might be. Do we have to continually re-enact the trauma, and was it this that was echoed, along with clip-clop of nine inch onyx stilettos, resounding across the university quadrangle?
Wendy Patten, a rat out of a trap, lap-top and buttocks clenched struggles to make it to the doors, as the few remaining students observe. In the smoked glass admiring her designer frames and her lime green spanking suit her raven bobbing hair shimmers. Wendy’s smile speaks petty larcenist, to some, her dress that of a human being perhaps, or human doing or consuming, of one who wants to look older than they are, to be more grown up. And why would this be; are we so afraid to admit who we are, or anything about ourselves, you are what you is?
The old guard were vociferously outspoken in their views concerning promotion of people before their time, given they shot off to greener pastures before you could say REF. Whatever happened to loyalty, and how come she’s now Head of everything, having only gained her doctorate in virtual learning two years previously, so the muttering went. She’s not even thirty, by golly.
‘How deluded can you be? She can’t even walk in those,’ giggles Cindy, the wicked tattoo of a Japanese geisha on her right forearm dancing, as Cindy continues twiddling the stud in her chin.
‘It’s like she deliberately wants to look as if she’s about to fall over. The other day she had her skirt tucked into her knickers. She didn’t even notice.’
‘She’d been up to something,’ Josh, a big pasty nu-metal lad, grins with the realistic ambition of being the next Jim Jarmusch.
Outside, Dr Wendy Patten Jr., Head of the History of Futures Past, at The Prymart University of the North South, fumbles for the key to her serial-killer-red convertible.
A scrunched up essay on Baudrillard and 30 Rock she should have returned two years ago, two Tampons, four semi-crushed Marlborough Gold smokes, a forty-nine cents lighter, thirty eight warm Tic-Tacs, orange and lime, a well-thumbed copy of How to Kick Ass, Not Lick Ass by Wayne H, Fryer PhD Dwayne State University, a fake Gucci watch, a squashed up oatmeal bar, and a half-burnt copy of After Theory.
Everything and anything…. But no damn keys.
Christ on a unicycle, with a spinning bowtie that squirts three euro vodka!
‘Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks.’
A tsunami of horror and awareness washes over her. Too much theory, that must be it, eating into her brain, stealing her real authentic memory, made from media fragments, and tumble weed. In practice, theory comes after practice, in theory, theory before practice.
She, of course, knew she’d end up doing it in practice with John Agnew, after hearing him say of one course leaflet the immortal line:
‘Does it make you moist?’ As if this was the ultimate compliment to one of his juniors who’d designed it.
Apart from the degree title, often misspelt, the A4 leaflet for one of her programmes had three words on it, two misquotes from students nobody had ever taught, and three large pictures of people eating decaying sandwiches, as if this was an advertisement for an apocalyptic resort. The effort had cost over fifteen grand but it was worth it, clearly, worth it just to hear that phrase, in particular ‘moist’, and to know they were moving into fast food.
‘Does it make you moist?’
Shouldn’t that be the line to any endeavour in practice or theory?
After making the beast with two backs, she’d conjured patterns on his bald head with her talons, alchemic signs predicting the apocalypse, like a marketing tool, the appropriate word, for some new film about demons or vampires. Concurrently, she’d thought she wouldn’t have to see him again until the next faculty meeting, when they would both be thinking of higher things, such as how to manipulate targets, placing customers as units on the conveyor belt, but now there was this key situation.
‘You idiot, Wendy, you stupid idiot, you always lose things, you retard, because you are a total loser, a zero, a failure, a nightmare, a complete and utter, bleep.’
Despite the tapes, the books, and all the mantras she meditated on, replaying them a thousand times as a motivational guru had suggested, she wasn’t getting away from self-chastisement, and was seldom aware that she was remonstrating herself out-loud.
‘Everything alright, Wendy, sorry, Dr Patten?’ a giant security guard, an ex-student of hers who’d wanted to be a policeman, purrs.
She smiles, condescendingly, at the guard and shakes her head from side to side, as if he should be ashamed for asking. So now what? Dear sweet Brian has the only spare set, OMG. They’ve been married three months and he’s changed already, got more comfortably and lazy; changed for better or for worse she wasn’t sure. While you had to change to stay the same she felt they were going nowhere.
There’s only one option. Buffing up her hair, mouth dry, she takes six long draws on an old smoke, love sucks true love swallows, and Hitler stomps back in preparing to confront John, not her maker, not yet anyway.
Friday afternoon, the graveyard slot, most of the offices dead. A couple of secretaries sit in the main marketing office, chatting about which bars they are going to. John’s office appears alarmingly barren, so lacking in fecundity, every cookie stolen from the cookie jar.
‘Ah, Wendy, come back for seconds, have you?’ crows John, grabbing her by the arm in the corridor that separates his office from the secretaries, thrusting her against the wall as if on drugs.
‘I read in a novel that T.S. Eliot is an anagram for toilet.’
‘Great, so this means what to you? That anything can turn to shit?’
‘I suspect you’ve come for this, haven’t you?’
John isn’t tall, but as he dangles her car key in front of her, just out of reach, despite her stilettos, she isn’t going to perform for him like a dancing dog.
Earlier, she’d been with a third year class, ridiculing Lacan’s patriarchal approach which claimed language came about as an attempt to escape the mother. But, if it was nonsense, then who then was the real monster that constructed everything?
‘Just give me the bloody key, John. I haven’t got time for your stupid games. We’ve had our fun. You’re having fun all the time, mashing up our courses. Now I need to get out of here, seriously, to beat the traffic. If I’m late Brian will get suspicious, and you know he’s got a gun cupboard.’
‘Don’t threaten me bumpkin. Now, here’s the thing, dear. I’m keeping these keys and tonight, Wendy my saucy-mare, you’re coming with me to a party where you’re going to throw these keys into a giant ashtray, an enormous dish that was left to me by the jazz legend Monty Sunshine, and we’re going to see what music happens. Get the picture?’
He sounded like he was in some Mike Leigh play.
‘I’m going out to dinner with friends from Australia, and we can’t let them down.’
‘That’s a shame, because the alternative is I tell your old man what we’ve been up to for the past six months and your other shenanigans with various other men, women and beasts. Now, you wouldn’t want that, Wendy?’ and with this, he thrusts her harder against the wall, sweat from his bald head splashing on her, unholy water.
There wasn’t really any explanation for her behaviour. She’s at the party with John’s mates, having her keys randomly picked out of a giant ashtray. This is just too much.
‘And what about you, John, what would your wife and four kids think if they knew what kind of a shit you were, T.S. Eliot or not.’
‘Don’t worry about little old me. I love East Coker, the place and the poem. Michaela left me three months ago. I’m well over her, and I’m a free agent. I still see the kids, whenever I like, and she’s not going to rip me off with the divorce. In fact, I feel better than ever, duck.’
He holds all the cards. She’ll go to the party, enter a sweaty room with Barry White giving it some on the stereo, and find Brian making love with a woman half his age, or a man, or beast, expecting her to join in, or applaud. Or have it broadcast around the world, just to materialise an identity. Was that what everyman was looking for, some kind of approval from the mother figure? Grow up!
‘There is one alternative,’ John mutters, moving a handkerchief over his drenched scalp.
‘One thing you can do for me, so we can forget all this nonsense, and move on in an appropriate adult way.’
Wendy tries to throw a look back, as she spies the same security guard watching them through the glass, his puzzled amused face saying it all.
‘I’m going for the Pro-Vice Chancellor’s vacancy next month, and I want you to back me, all the way, not just on paper but every chance you get.’
Wendy isn’t exactly surprised. Things had been heading this way for some time, marketing the be all and end all. Research had ceased to matter, as had the standard of the education or the facilities, and the type of students they attracted. All that did matter was selling the right image, so John was the perfect man for the job. But she didn’t feel like telling him the truth.
‘I can see why you’d think you might be in with a chance, but get real John, you think you can rule the place and they’ll let you?’
‘The amount of dirt I have on everyone, they’ll have to.’
‘Are you saying you’ve slept with everyone?’
‘I hope they were awake at the time. Anyway, no it’s not all about me sleeping with people; it’s far deeper than that.’
Reaching the mansion didn’t take long, with a drive way lined with trees almost as enormous as giant redwoods. In one room a woman in a Silvio Berlusconi mask jumps up and down on a man in a wolf mask, while both sing opera. Wendy slams the door.
John’s given her a Marilyn Monroe mask, which is weird as she’d always liked Marilyn, and has been reading her poetry that had just been published that week. He’s also hands her a snippet of a poem by Paul Muldoon, ‘her hand on her breast, like some other strange beast that had yet to enter the language.’ What exactly did that mean? Lacan had argued that desire could never been fulfilled, even with the possession of language, which of course pre-existed the child. Desire was not determined by the self but by the other that is language, so we are not in control. With the theory she was fine, but here she was out of her depth.
‘John, I have to go, I can’t handle this, I feel sick,’ finding John having a crafty smoke on the patio.
‘Just wait a minute, there’s something I need to show you.’
John pulls Wendy inside and upstairs. She isn’t in the mood for anything now, and hopes he isn’t expecting anything, and is about to tell him so, when the door falls open, and there it is.
‘What do you think?’
‘It’s, well, it’s kind of…,’ for once, she is lost for words.
‘Don’t tell me. Kind of awesome, I know.’
‘You really think this is going to work?’
‘Of course I do.’
Tied up in the corner of the room is a human being, a real human being, what looks like a man, with –
‘Tell me how I am functioning, call 0208 2963597’, written on his forehead.
‘It’s like the signs on vehicles. It makes people more accountable. You know those signs on trucks have actually saved lives. You get the picture now don’t you? This is why I’m going to be there, at the top. No more boring professors getting away with doing absolutely zero in the classroom, just churning out their same notes from thirty years ago. It’s all about responsibility. The governors will love it. They’ll think it should be written into everyone’s contract that they agree to this, and it’s perfect for staff development, reviews and management.’
‘What about the students? Are you going to get them to have something similar?’
‘They’re being judged all the time, so no, we don’t need to bother with them.’
She was out of there.
Her key now safely in her hand she switches out the landing light, happy to hear Brian’s heavy breathing. Who was he dreaming about? He never told her about his dreams, so maybe he never had any. Although there was one he had told her about almost a year ago: he had dreamt he was in the House of Commons, and whatever people said it didn’t matter, things had been decided anyway, like the conscious mind doing battle when the game was already won.
‘We need to embed the blueprint, and then cascade this down,’ she begins, with the words ‘flag it up’ on the tip of her tongue, ‘let me drill down into this.’
The Dean was somewhere else, going global, banging the drum.
‘There’s something else that needs flagging up,’ chips in Nigel, before Wendy has a chance to get it out, a particularly annoying colleague with a look on his face of a permanently contracting sphincter.
‘Go ahead,’ agrees Wendy as Chair, tapping her university pen rapidly on the table, remembering that time as a kid when they put Smarties tubes on the pet cat Charlie to make him walk like a robot.
‘You are so full of shit,’ shouts Nigel.
For a moment Wendy imagines she is dreaming, the one where she is driving and is holding the steering wheel, but she becomes separated from the main vehicle, until it goes out of sight, and she can’t see where to steer.
‘What was that, I am so full of what?’
‘Shit. What is it with this embedding, blueprint, cascading, drilling down, and all that I mean, where do you get all this from, the idiot’s guide to management, corporate crap?’
At this moment, initials to the ultimate acronym come to her like an epiphany – KEY.
She leaves the room, moon walking backwards, a resurrected Michael Jackson. The large screen in the university is playing a series of snippets from the party she’s been to.
This time she has her key. She is no longer moist. She gets in her car and drives what she thinks is blindly. But whatever Freud, Lacan and other may say the unconscious mind, being always one step of the conscious guides her, pulls her like a blue rope hanging from an oak. By the time she gets to entrance she is so exhausted she sleeps in her car, unable to face anyone, mobile off.
When she awakes the crepuscular light is caressing her face, and she knows she is free, free from everything, including herself. She’s at the entrance to the Neolithic cave, a portal to a primitive world, where acronyms now are of no use. She’d heard someone say that the first PowerPoint was a cave painting to attract a mate, but she put this thought to one side.
Inside the cave would there be large advertisements for her courses, promises of higher salaries for potential students in years to come, once you had the correct qualifications, had the same thoughts, bought into it all? Could you plunge deep within the earth and surface full of knowledge, enlightened, ready to take the world forward with you?
Time to enter this dark zone – she’s been waiting for this all her life. Throwing her stilettos in the hedge, she removes all her clothes, slowly, carefully, stripping her skin. If she was once a man, or a machine, the orginary phenotype, why should we care or comment or want to establish or recognise difference? She digs a deep hole, the earth feeling good beneath her nails, and buries the key, KEY, along with the photograph on her driving licence. She scuttles within the deep silence of the cave not looking back, not ever again.