Friday, June 13, 2014

Dance For Me

By Bettyann Moore

Panic was starting to set in as Lynne Gould erased the last brainstorming ideas from the chalkboard. If the Silverman-Gould Agency didn’t come up with a blockbuster ad campaign for Cheesy Pizza Noodles, she – and the rest of the team – could find themselves in the unemployment line. She put the chalk back in the tray, resisted the urge to wipe her hands on her black slacks and faced the group.

“What’s up, people?” she said. “We’re getting down to the wire here and we’ve got nothing.”

No one on the small team met her eyes. Ben Young scribbled on a legal pad. Barb Poston had a compact open and was re-applying mascara. Sylvie Brown was methodically crushing the contents of a bag of Cheesy Pizza Noodles into powder on the conference room table by using a pencil as a rolling pin. Half a dozen bags of the product lay open on the table. 

Lynne sighed. It was a good thing that she didn’t allow cell phones in the room during brainstorming sessions; she had a feeling that everyone would be texting like a group of high schoolers – herself included. She glanced at her watch. It was already past six o’clock.

Without looking up, Ben cleared his throat, something he did whenever he wanted to say something.

“Yes, Ben?” Lynne said, hoping he had an idea.

“It might help,” he said slowly, “if the product didn’t taste like sawdust and smell like ass.”

Sylvie and Barb chuckled, but Lynne wanted to cry. Ben was right, but at this point, the agency couldn’t afford to be picky. As it was, the chance to woo Snackmaster Foods, Inc. was a bone thrown to her partner by one of his former frat mates who sat on the food company’s board of directors. Snackmaster’s CEO, Robert Fairchild III, would much prefer to stay with his in-house marketing team, even if they hadn’t had a good idea in 30 years. They were the ones, after all, who’d come up with the name Cheesy Pizza Noodles in the first place.

Just then, Jon Silverman breezed in, saving Lynne the effort of chastising Ben. He was dressed in evening wear, his tie knotted perfectly beneath his square, fashionably bristled chin. He looked around in surprise.

“You’re all still here?” he asked. “Lynne, you’re overworking this crew. It’s Friday night! Time for fun, not work.” He strolled to the table, grabbed a Cheesy Noodle and popped it into his mouth. He actually looked like he enjoyed it.

Lynne fumed while Ben, Barb and Sylvie swiveled their heads from one partner to the other. Lynne was their supervisor, but Jon was part-owner of the company. As the CFO and Schmoozer-In-Chief, though, he had little understanding of the creative process. That was up to Lynne. Nonetheless, he was right, but she wished he hadn’t said anything in front of the others.

“Okay, okay, I know when I’m outnumbered,” she said. “Go home, enjoy the weekend, but I want each of you to take home a bag of Cheesy Noodles with you.” Everyone groaned. “Just for inspiration,” Lynne added. “Robert Fairchild and his gang will be here next Friday, remember, and we have to wow his socks off.”

The creative team scurried out the door, leaving the partners alone.

“Jon, you’re the CFO. You of all people should know how important it is to land this account.” Lynne tried not to sound peeved, but it didn’t work. It didn’t help that he was all dressed up, in designer clothes no less, and probably going out with some socialite. Lynne looked down at her own dowdy beige blouse and black slacks; she’d managed to get chalk dust all over the pants.

“I have faith in you and the others,” Jon said, ignoring her tone. “You work too hard. Maybe a little fun would loosen the creative spirit. What are you doing this weekend?”

The question surprised her, but Lynne knew he was just asking out of curiosity, not out of some desire to spend time outside the office with her.

“Booked solid all weekend,” she lied. “A couple of parties, a luncheon. The usual.” She made a show of looking at her watch. “Wow,” she said. “I better get home and get cleaned up! You look like you have somewhere to be, too.” She nodded at his outfit.

“Actually, I was …” Jon began, then looked at his watch, too. “Man, it is late,” he said. “I’d better see if I can flag a cab. Have a great weekend!” He breezed out the door, but not before grabbing a fistful of Cheesy Noodles. A second later, he popped his head back into the room.

“By the way,” he said, “you might want to, um, do a little dusting on your, um ...” he nodded toward Lynne’s backside, then disappeared again.

Mortified, Lynne craned her neck to see the back of her pants, checking one side, then the other. She had managed to put two perfect chalky hand prints on her butt.

The subway ride home was uneventful, always a good thing. A surly man wearing a camouflage cap emblazoned with a sequined crucifix had sat down next to her, but he kept to himself. Lynne was too tired to even think about making dinner, so she was glad when her neighbor, Judy, waved at her from her front stoop and invited her over to eat with her and her husband. Lynne loved spending time with Judy and Porter Welch. The older couple, married for 40 years, gave her hope for the world. She changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and pulled out a bottle of Riesling from her fridge before heading next door.

“Oh, how nice,” Judy said when she saw the bottle. “Looks to me like you could use a glass or two of this. Hard week?”

“Not the best week, that’s for sure,” Lynne said. “It’s like everyone’s creative juices have dried up, and at the worst possible time.” The two women sat side-by-side in the living room, sipping wine while Porter drank his in the kitchen where he was preparing dinner. Lynne told Judy about the Cheesy Pizza Noodle account and how important it was for Silverman-Gould to land it.

“It’s probably just a dry spell,” Judy assured her, patting her hand. “Maybe you’re just trying too hard because it’s so important. Relax, have fun, and maybe something will hit you when you least expect it.”

“Funny, that’s pretty much what Jon said, too,” Lynne said, suddenly and unreasonably feeling a bit ganged-up on.

“Hmmm, the mysterious Jon,” Judy teased. “Are we ever going to meet him? You’ve been in business together for, what, five years now?”

Despite herself, Lynne blushed. “It’s not like we’re social friends, Judy. We’re business partners. Tell you what: if we land this account, we’ll hold a huge party and you and Porter will be invited.”

“Deal,” Judy said, pouring another glass of wine for each of them. “So, any dating prospects on the horizon? Anyone you’re seeing … or want to see?” Judy quite enjoyed the latitude she had as a senior citizen. She could be nosy and pushy and get away with it. Not that she ever needed that excuse.

Uncomfortable with the juxtaposition of “dating” and “Jon,” Lynne changed the subject.

“How did you and Porter meet, anyway?” she asked. “What’s your secret for such a long and happy marriage?”

Judy smiled. Instead of answering, she called out: “Porter dear, could you come in here, please?”

Porter came in, dish towel in hand, wearing a chef’s apron.

“You rang?” he asked.

“Dance for me, Porter,” Judy said.

Without pause, Porter flung the towel over his shoulder and started doing an elegant soft shoe. Then he switched to a two-step, pausing in front of his wife to gather her in his arms. Wide-eyed, Lynne watched as the two went from the two-step to the tango to a waltz with amazing grace. They ended with a flourish, Judy bent backwards in her husband’s embrace.

“Thank you, my love,” Judy said, kissing him on the cheek.

“Always, my dear one,” he answered, then scooted off to the kitchen.

“Wow.” Lynne said. “I never thought Porter ...”

Judy gazed toward the kitchen and sighed.

“That’s how he got me, and how he keeps me,” she said. “I was with a couple of friends at a college mixer. My friends were off dancing with every boy who came along and I was trying not to look like a wallflower.

“Suddenly, this beanpole topped by a shock of yellow hair was standing in front of me. He did this crazy little dance right there, all by himself, without a shred of embarrassment, then held out his hand to me. I was already half in love with him by the time we started to dance together. By the end of the song, I was hooked.”

“What a great story, Judy,” Lynne said.
“It is, isn’t it?” Judy replied. “Take it from me, any man who will dance at the drop of the hat is a man to hang onto.”

From the kitchen, Porter bellowed, “Come and get it!”

“Oh, it also helps if he loves to cook,” Judy added as the two women headed in to eat.

After an excellent meal and much laughter, Lynne went back to her apartment. As she put the key into the lock, she felt the germ of an idea nibbling at her mind. By the time she went to bed that night, it was a full-blown campaign. She just needed to call in a few favors to get it accomplished by Friday.

“Lynne’s such a nice girl,” Porter said as he and Judy got ready for bed that night. “But she seems so sad and lonely.”

“That’s because she hasn’t found someone who will dance for her, but she will” Judy said. “I told her how you and I met,” she added.

“Did you tell her your romanticized version, or the true one about how both my feet had fallen asleep and I was trying to wake them up before I fell flat on my face and reached out toward you to steady myself?”

Judy’s eyes twinkled. “Which one do you think?”

“You’re incorrigible, my dear,” Porter said, reaching for her hand for a little dance.

The videographer was easy; Lynne had promoted his work so much that he was always in demand. He owed her big time. Sophie was a whiz at graphics, so Lynne put her to work on the print ads. Ben and Barb were busy working on a new craft beer account, small but promising. Still, they would play a role during Friday’s presentation. The choreographer was a bit more difficult. True, Lynne had introduced her to her current girlfriend, but the relationship was waning. Lynne had to secure a much coveted reservation at the hottest restaurant in town before she agreed to help out. The manager at Lynne’s own neighborhood grocery store had a crush on her and readily agreed to using the shop for the shoot. Lynne even enlisted Judy and Porter’s help.

Friday dawned foggy and cold, but didn’t dampen Lynne’s mood. When Jon walked in with Robert Fairchild III and Snackmaster’s entire marketing department, Lynne was ready for them. She didn’t expect a positive response from the marketers; all she had to do was convince one man to use Silverman-Gould.

The conference room was set up like a small theatre, with the conference table pushed to the front of the room to serve as a stand for a projection screen. Once everyone was settled into their chairs, Lynne nodded and the room went black.

A small ceiling spotlight snapped on, illuminating two children (Barb’s 1- and 4-year-old sons) who sat on the floor, a bag of Cheesy Pizza Noodles in the younger child’s hands. Lynne crossed her fingers; anything could go wrong when children were involved. She sighed with relief when the toddler reached into the bag and offered his brother a Cheesy Noodle. The older boy took it, ate it, then grinned. He did a little dance, all arms and legs and bobbing head. Lynne was thrilled when his brother started to mimic his movements. A voice (Ben’s) came out of the darkness: “Cheesy Pizza Noodles. They make you want to dance.”

The light snapped off and another snapped on across the room. All heads swiveled that way.

This time, two teenaged girls were lying on the floor facing each other. Their elbows were propped up on large pillows and they’re texting. A bag of Cheesy Pizza Noodles is between them. One of them reached into the bag and popped a noodle into her mouth. Slowly, she set down her phone and rose, then began to pirouette. The other girl, still texting, absent-mindedly ate a snack, then jumped to her feet and started busting some moves. Again the voice came out of the darkness: “Cheesy Pizza Noodles. They make you want to dance.”

The light went out and another went on in the middle of the room. The backs of two easy chairs are illuminated. An older couple (Judy and Porter) are sitting in the chairs, a bowl of Cheesy Pizza Noodles between them on a small table. With the video screen before them, it looks as if they’re watching a movie. At the same time, they reached into the bowl for a noodle. They eat. Their heads swivel away from the screen towards each other. The man rose and held his hand out to the woman. They danced a slow waltz. The voice again: “Cheesy Pizza Noodles. They make you want to dance.”

They dance out of the spotlight and the video began on the screen. Shoppers pushed carts through a grocery store. Before a large endcap display of Cheesy Pizza Noodles, stood a table full of free product samples. One by one, the customers took the samples. Pop music swelled over the speakers and before too long, the aisles are full of well-choreographed dancing people. At this point, Lynne hopes that Robert Fairchild hasn’t lived his life under a rock and knows a flash-mob when he sees it. The music stopped and the shoppers headed to the endcap to snatch up bags of Cheesy Pizza Noodles. Across the bottom of the screen reads: Cheesy Pizza Noodles. They make you want to dance.

Lynne’s stomach has butterflies as the lights went up in the room. From her position at the projector, she saw Fairchild rise. Then she heard him clap, at first quietly and slowly, then with enthusiasm. Reluctantly it seemed, his team rose as well, clapping along with their boss. Even Jon has joined them. Soon, everyone in the room is looking at her and clapping. Lynne beamed and took a small bow.

“I’m glad you liked the presentation, Mr. Fairchild,” she said, going down the aisle to shake the man’s hand. She handed him a presentation folder of print ads that echo the campaign theme. “Of course,” she added, “the vignettes will be filmed professionally, but I liked the immediacy of the live performances for the presentation.”

“Marvelous, simply marvelous, Ms. Gould,” Fairchild said, leafing through the booklet. He looked at Jon, who grinned broadly. “I guess you’re the money man, Silverman. Let’s go to your office and take a look at a contract, shall we?”

While Jon tended to business, the part that Lynne abhors, she accepted kudos from her staff and friends. Before long, she’s left alone to put the room to rights and enjoy reliving the morning in her mind. It went much better than she ever thought possible. As she returned the large table back to its position in the center of the room by pushing it slowly across the carpet, Jon came in, still beaming.

“All locked in,” he said, helping her with the table. “Three years with an option for three more. I think you’ll like the price, too. Nice work, Lynne.”

With the table back where it belonged, Lynne hopped up on it and swung her feet, feeling pretty proud of herself.

“Why, thank you, Mr. Silverman,” she said. “I owe a lot to Porter and Judy, though. They were the inspiration.”

“Then you and I should take them out for dinner at the very least, don’t you think? Maybe out dancing? You, Ms. Gould, make me want to dance.”

Surprised, Lynne smiled, then began to smirk.

“Prove it,” she said. “Dance for me, Jon.”

And he did.

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