Sunday, January 2, 2011

At long last... my entire NaNoWriMo novel!

The cover of my unreadable novel.

Hey, kids!

Remember way back in November when I spent the entire month working on my NaNoWriMo book? In case you don't remember, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The basic idea is to write an entire 50,000-word novel in 30 days, starting November 1. This was my first year attempting NaNo, and I'm proud to say I made it across the finish line.

Well, anyway, if you were curious how my book turned out, you can read the finished novel, Perforated, right here in this very blog.

ADVANCE WARNING: This novel is in no way "good" or "readable." NaNoWriMo is much more about typing than real writing. You should know in advance that the narrator is a very nasty fellow indeed, so the book contains a fair share of politically incorrect language and profanity as well. Also, absolutely no editing has been done to the text. Enjoy!

The entire text of the novel is included below. Just remember, I warned you.

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P E R F O R A T E D

a novel by Joe Blevins




PUBLISHER'S FOREWORD



You will forgive an old publisher for writing a longer than usual foreword to a new book, but I feel that this is a very special case and requires a bit more explanation than usual. The manuscript you are about to read, you see, is truly one of the most unusual of its kind, if it can indeed be said to have a kind. During a distinguished career in the publishing industry which has spanned more than five decades and has garnered seemingly every award the “industry” can possibly dole out, I have not come across anything even remotely like it, and not only because of its singularly bizarre origin. Perforated is, in short, the work of madman – and a famous madman, at that. But you knew that when you bought it. You have likely heard some version, however true or untrue, of the infamous Sheldon Reimart case in the newspapers, on the Internet, or on television. If you have not heard about it (possibly because you are some sort of hermit, in which case I welcome you back to the world), I shall reprise it for you presently.


Up until 2009 (not so long ago), Dr. Sheldon Reimart, DDS (born May 12, 1969 in Cleveland) was a mild mannered dentist living in the peaceful suburbs of picturesque Braverman, Ohio. By all accounts an even tempered, responsible, and thoroughly unremarkable man, Sheldon married his high school sweetheart, Debbie, and they had three sons together (names withheld by request) as Sheldon built up a thriving dental practice. It was a prosperous and comfortable, if boring, life he created for himself. Sheldon jogged. He did crossword puzzles. He was a Rotarian. Despite these various interests, the man himself had so little personality as to be virtually invisible. We must ask ourselves now: did anyone ever really "see” or "hear” this man? Certainly, he had friends, neighbors, patients, employees, etc. But no one, as is obvious to us in hindsight (that flawless rear view mirror of ours), truly knew Sheldon Reimart or what truly bizarre tendencies lay dormant in the warped and diseased mind of this seemingly harmless Midwestern dentist. Even Sheldon's wife Debbie, seemingly as “close” to him as any other human being could have been, now admits that she was blindsided by his total personality change and his alarming, remarkable metamorphosis into one of the most hideously memorable psychopaths of our time, a man whose deeds shocked even today's jaded thrill junkies. But was it truly a personality change, a transformation of Jekyll into Hyde? Or did this man's true nature lie dormant within him for decades only to bubble up to the surface in adulthood, when it could be suppressed no longer? These are questions I will leave to you to ponder.


The whole tragic saga all began in the spring of last year. Dr. Reimart, an avid television watcher, seemed to be paying an inordinate amount of attention to the TV commercials of one particular sponsor, Thirsty Lad, a downmarket brand of low cost paper towels. In particular, Reimart was fixated upon the company's animated mascot and spokesman, a chubby, cherubic, and cheerful little boy named Thurston "Thirsty” Lad, whose modus operandi usually involved magically appearing in someone's home whenever there was an unfortunate spill and then helping the homeowners clean it up "in a jiffy.” The ads themselves were nothing special or in any way unusual. The company had been using the animated mascot character both in its commercials and on its packaging since the mid 1950s without noticeable incident. As far as these things can be measured, Thirsty Lad's Q rating ranked well below those of such "superstar” advertising mascots as Tony the Tiger and Ronald McDonald and even below such "B” listers as the Hamburger Helper glove and the Nasonex bee. In short, there was no obvious – or even hidden – reason for Dr. Reimart to become obsessed with the character, the TV spots, or the product. They were just paper towel commercials with a little fat cartoon boy in them. They were nothing special and certainly not fraught with any hidden subtext.


But, as we all know, Reimart did become obsessed with Thirsty Lad. At first, this fixation manifested itself in little ways that would not raise too many eyebrows. Dr. Reimart, for instance, brought up the commercials in conversation more often than would be considered "normal,” which is to say more than once or twice in an entire lifetime, if that. Gradually,  however (and Mrs. Reimart has not clarified the exact timetable for us, perhaps because she is unable or in some way unwilling), the ads became Dr. Reimart's ONLY topic of conversation. For him, all roads led not to Rome but to Thirsty Lad brand paper towels. He thus became the living embodiment of Winston Churchill's definition of a fanatic: someone who won't change his mind and won't change the subject. He would harangue friends, relatives, casual acquaintances, and complete strangers alike with long, scarily detailed diatribes about the "meanings” of the commercials. He would also wonder aloud about what Thirsty Lad's  “private life” was like between commercials. Dr. Reimart wanted to know what  this boy was doing when he wasn't suddenly appearing as a towel bearing deus ex machina in the homes of spill prone suburbanites. It was all he could talk about.


What we do know is that Dr. Reimart studied these commercials with the fervor of a newly minted religious convert. He watched the thirty and sixty second spots over and over, often pausing and rewinding them and watching in slow motion in order to study various minute details of the commercials. As any wife would in this situation, Debbie became very worried when her husband began sending away for tapes and DVDs of vintage TV commercials in the hopes of finding other Thirsty Lad spots, which he claimed he needed for important "research” purposes. However, as that cruel mistress we call fate would have it, not even the daunting resources of the Internet could completely sate Reimart's boundless appetite for all things Thirsty Lad. The ad campaign had apparently not inspired much nostalgia in others over the years, so there were no fan sites, forums, blogs, or message boards devoted to the bland, forgettable character nor to the product he so enthusiastically hawked. After all, Thirsty Lad was only a mid sized manufacturer of paper towel, not even available in all regions of the country, and did not seriously expect to compete with such industry heavy hitters as Brawny and Bounty. Thirsty Lad maintained a token presence on the web, as all companies must these days, and Reimart pored over the company's rather perfunctory promotional site for hours at a time. In addition, he was buying the actual Thirsty Lad paper towels in great quantities and storing them in the basement of his attractive, two story home. When Debbie confronted Sheldon about why he needed so many paper towels, he would become angry and change the subject, saying that his wife could never possibly comprehend the importance of his "work.”


As you may have anticipated, Mrs. Reimart naturally fretted over her husband's alarming, new found personality quirks. When Sheldon began canceling his dental appointments and staying home from work for days at a time to work on his ill defined "project,” Debbie demanded that he seek professional help. After much pleading and cajoling on Debbie's part, Reimart finally agreed to his wife's plan and made an appointment with a professional therapist in mid July of 2009. At first, things seemed to be going well. Reimart attended thrice weekly sessions with a reputable licensed counselor and appeared to be making ample progress. The dentist returned to working his regular hours (or so Debbie thought) and seemingly curtailed his worrisome paper towel related endeavors. "Normalcy,” it would seem, had been restored. Debbie was relieved. After months of worry and doubt, she finally had her husband back. 


But as we now know, this seeming return to normality and the ever reliable status quo was in fact only the merest of facades, a mask Sheldon reluctantly donned for the sake of expediency. Reimart's madness was actually reaching unprecedented heights at this point. Instead of returning to work as he said he would, Reimart was actually spending his days in an apartment he was renting across town. It was in that apartment where he wrote the following, ghastly "autobiography” which you are about to read. By this point, you see, Reimart began to believe he really WAS the little cartoon spokeschild on the paper towel package. He began playing the role of Thirsty Lad, painstakingly mimicking the character's squeaky voice, mannerisms, and even wardrobe and physical appearance. He even gained wait in order to more closely resemble the endearingly plump cartoon character. At first, Reimart did this "play acting” only in the privacy of his rented room, but soon he apparently felt he had to venture out into the world and greet what he thought was his adoring public. A mascot without a public, after all, is nothing.


Obviously, there was a serious disconnect between Reimart's expectations and the reality he encountered. The public's reaction to this man was not delight but rather horror and revulsion. Much like the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or: The Modern Prometheus, Reimart could not comprehend why he was being rejected by the world when all he wanted to love and be loved. And unfortunately, like the monster, Reimart's confusion and pain soon festered into a homicidal rage and a an unquenchable desire for revenge. Those of you who have read Shelley's book will recall that the monster sought retribution against his creator, the misguided scientist Victor Frankenstein, and took out his hostility on Victor's family and friends. Reimart, too, became obsessed with his perceived "creators,” i.e. the upper management of the Thirsty Lad Company, and his plans for vengeance centered around these innocent, unfortunate individuals and their relatives. Out of respect to the families of these victims, I will refrain from rehashing the grim and grisly details of Reimart's subsequent crime spree, including the tragic, unspeakable acts of violence he visited upon Thirsty Lad CEO Roger Morley and his family. For those of you with morbid imaginations and an appetite for the grotesque, the ugliest details of the Reimart case have been written up in any number of blood soaked "true crime” books. For that reason, there is no sense in me discussing them now. As a publisher, I am not so much interested in the horror of these tragic and brutal acts as I am in the lives which were affected by them, including above all Reimart's own. That's why this particular book has such a powerful hold on me, even after I've read it at least a half dozen times.


As I said, Reimart was writing this book in his cheap rented room in Braverman during his most prolific era of homicidal mania. Once police located this now infamous room and made a thorough inventory of its contents, the existence of the Thirsty Lad "autobiography” became widely known to the public and was the source of much media speculation and many water cooler conversations as well. The public, understandably, wanted to know what was in this infamous book. What had the madman been working on so diligently during these grim and grisly months, an era which would be forever etched into the history of American crime? Publication of the manuscript was now a foregone conclusion, and the only matter to be settled was the rather delicate one of money. Obviously, Reimart himself could not and should not profit from the book's publication. But, really, shouldn't someone profit from it? After all, there was certainly money to be made here, but who amongst the interested parties deserved it? Reimart's wife? His children? The victims? The Thirsty Lad company itself? This was a very delicate and tricky situation. As you might imagine, a  fierce legal battle as to the book's ownership soon occurred and was fought not only in the courts of law but also in that much larger court of public opinion. Perforated, the title Reimart himself bestowed upon the work, became the single most controversial piece of literature of our time. Moving slowly but surely as it always does, the American legal system eventually granted "custody” of the book to a consortium representing the families of Reimart's victims. That is where I, James Newton Minnow, the head of Pembroke Publishing, Ltd. enter the story.


I will remind you that my publishing career has spanned a very distinguished half decade. I am, after all, the man behind the success of such well known books as Who Says I Can't?, The Ice Floes of Norway, and The Lost Art of Scrimshaw.  But now I was getting ready to profit from the deranged scribblings of one of the greatest monsters of our age. How could I do this and still live with myself? Was Perforated really worthy of the venerable Pembroke seal of approval? After many days of transcendental meditation and a hastily scheduled "vision quest” in Nepal, I have decided that it is. The Reimart/Thirsty Lad case is not a pretty story, but it's a tale which nevertheless must need be told. Let the bluehairs squawk, but I feel Perforated is a singular artifact which definitely deserves to be not only read but studied, both now and in the years and decades to come. One shudders to think of the bizarre and truly awful circumstances of its composition. Try to imagine it if you can, gentle reader. The original manuscript,  I will not refrain from telling you, was badly stained with various bodily fluids – mainly blood, of course, but all the other ones you are probably imagining as well. In addition, Reimart kept various, unspeakable "souvenirs” from his victims all around him as we wrote these dreadful pages. He apparently even kept writing as "usual” when he was holding a young Filipino man hostage on the room with him. These facts are rendered all the more amazing when you consider that Reimart was leading a double life at this point. He would return home to Debbie and the kids at his "usual” time each weekday, looking exactly as he was supposed to. Which is to say, dressed as a dentist and not covered in blood or other unpleasant fluids. Curiously, the "book” was indeed written on an Underwood typewriter, a fact to which he alludes in the text. That is one of the few instances when Perforated aligns with the actual, factual world that you and I inhabit. Otherwise, it can only be considered a work of pure, sick fantasy.


(I feel at this juncture, I must make a parenthetical note about this first commercially available edition of Perforated. To the extent that it was possible to do so, we at Pembroke have tried to remain very true to Sheldon Reimart's infamous, original typewritten manuscript. This is, after all, an artifact of no small cultural significance. However, please know that our editors have made minor, almost unnoticeable corrections and alterations to the text for the purposes of readability. Mr. Reimart made occasional use of underlining, for instance, in order to bestow particular emphasis upon certain words and phrases – especially, it seems when he was in the midst of an “artistic” frenzy. In these instances, we have opted to merely italicize this particular text, which we feel captures Reimart's passion without cluttering up the page too much. Besides this, a few tasteful tweaks of the spelling, grammar and syntax have been made throughout the book, always in the service of you, our valued reader and customer. After all, we at Pembroke know that the reader is forever installed on the throne as King... or Queen as the case may be, and we are but humble jesters, serving at your indulgence. Therefore, we must respectfully submit to you, Sire, that certain passages of Reimart's manuscript presented us with rather daunting challenges. As his mind deteriorated, the former dentist became less and less conventional in his writing methods. It took great ingenuity, creativity, and even some detective work to piece together the pages found in Reimart's rented room and assemble them into a “coherent” book. Simply and bluntly put, the author of Perforated was a complete, howling lunatic whose unstable mind was rapidly deteriorating into a substance resembling tapioca pudding as this book was being written. Neatness and clarity were not always paramount in this man's list of priorities. Therefore, whenever it is deemed necessary, I will briefly and tastefully interrupt the book to dutifully inform you of the various idiosyncrasies in Reimart's manuscript which forced the indefatigable Pembroke editors – indeed it took a staff of 12, some of whom are still recovering from the “harrowing” process -- to intercede on your behalf and wield the dreaded editorial sword. I suppose that the philosophers and historians of the world will have to debate whether these necessary but regrettable intercessions somehow “change” the book or render it “impure” or “less pure” somehow, but we here  at Pembroke firmly believe that the vast majority of the reading public will be grateful for what we've done to make this book at least halfway presentable. Believe you me, reader, it didn't happen by magic!  And though we naturally anticipate your sincere gratitude for this labor intensive service, we must remind you that this has already been factored into the cost of the product. The surcharge is thanks enough. I suppose things could have been worse. After all, Reimart typed this book. He didn't write it in feces on the bedroom wall. Thank heaven for small favors, eh?)


Mr. Reimart is in protective custody now, of course, and the doctors who know best about these things tell us that since his arrest and ensuing confinement in an institution, the erstwhile dentist has lapsed into a near catatonic, uncommunicative state. The almost vegetative Reimart has granted no interviews, least of all to the press, and likely never will. He was in no condition, obviously, to stand trial, so perhaps we will never gain any true insight into his warped, twisted, topsy turvy mind or what led him to do the sickening, shocking, unforgivable things he did. What we do have, however, is this one of a kind book – written, as I have indicated, at the height (or should I say depth) of his terrible, crippling neurosis. Before you even begin upon the path of Perforated, you must understand that "Sheldon Reimart” was gone by this point. By the time he wrote these words, the delusional author truly believed himself to be the Thirsty Lad character, however ridiculous that might seem to us. The "dentist” was now merely a role he was playing for the benefit of others, namely his family and neighbors, so that they would not become suspicious and stumble onto his other life. The cartoon mascot, he truly felt, was his "real” self. He really was Thirsty Lad. Why else would he have written this stunningly detailed and completely fanciful account of the fictional character's "life” and do so in the most intimate possibly way, by penning a totally invented autobiography? These are the questions which you will have to confront as you make your way through the work. I will warn you in advance that any resemblance between Reimart's words and the historical record, especially in regards to the history and development of the paper towel business, is but mere coincidence. Oh, there are a few times throughout the book when Reimart "gets it right,” so to speak, but we must remember that even a stopped watch is correct twice a day. No, reader, for all of its claims to be an autobiography, Perforated is best described as a work of fever dream fiction. Yes, the book is classified as fictional even though its author strongly felt he was scrupulously recording the unvarnished truth. How do we account for such a discrepancy? Such are the mysteries of the human soul.


And may God have mercy upon your soul, reader, for you are about to descend into the innermost circle of one man's private hell. The weak of heart are advised to turn back, lest they be swallowed up by the howling vortex that is this book. (I don't really believe that will dissuade anyone, but I had to try.) I will leave you now to continue on your own, and I wish you the best of luck.


JAMES NEWTON MINNOW,
Editor in Chief, Pembroke Publishing
Boston, 2010



PREFACE BY THE AUTHOR


This is my story. All mine. One hundred percent. That's the first thing I want you to know. I realize that when a lot of these washed up Hollywood big shots finally"pen” their memoirs – a process typically involving no actual pen, I might add – they turn the job over to some underpaid "ghostwriter,” an anonymous hack who cobbles together some half remembered anecdotes, slaps a coat of stylistic paint on 'em and calls the finished product a "book” so the weasels in at the publishing house can ship it out to Waldenbooks and Borders locations across the country. But not here! Not this time. No, sir. I want you to know that Perforated is all me, Thurston J. "Thirsty” Lad, proud spokesman for Thirsty Lad brand paper towels since the Eisenhower era. You've seen me in television commercials for years, and now I've written a book. Yes, I personally wrote every damnable word of this magnum opus here, and I've got the calluses on my fingers  to prove it. 

You know, I still work on an Underwood. That's a typewriter, junior, in case you didn't know. Yeah, even in 2009 – well into the age of the computer, I'm slumped over an actual typewriter, doing things the old fashioned way. The thing's an antique and unreliable as hell, kind of like my John Thomas (more about that little rascal later), and I'll be damned if I know how to get ribbons for the outmoded and temperamental contraption. Fortunately, I have a personal assistant who handles that stuff for me. Rodrigo, you're the best, and I want you to know that. I couldn't get through a day without you. Now bring me a highball and make it snappy! Haw, haw. Just kidding. (Note: I'm not kidding, Rodrigo. Bring me that highball in the next five minutes or you're fired. Chop chop!)

As the great actor Robert Shaw said in Jaws, "You all know me. You know how I earn a living.” That's a sensational movie, by the way. If you've never seen it before or haven't seen it in a while, do go ahead and check it out from your local video store or library. You will not be disappointed. But, anyway, back to me. So how do I earn a living? Well, I'm a mascot – an advertising mascot, to be precise, not to be confused with the sporting ones, who are a different breed altogether. There, I said it. I'll say it again. "Mascot.” It's not a dirty word. I mean, it used to be in this business. Mascots would never cop to being what they were, so they'd invent phony baloney titles for themselves like "marketing representative” or "product advocate.” They were embarrassed of the dreaded M word. Hell, I was embarrassed by it, at least I was for many years of my life. Let's face it – we're characters created by advertising agencies to help sell products. Plain and simple, that's what we do. We don't put out fires. We don't teach your kids their multiplication tables. We're not out there curing cancer. We're salesmen. Some of us (like me) are cartoons, while others are puppets, but we're all pushing products or services in one way or another. And keep in mind, we were, each of us, created to sell just one product. Our fates are inextricably tied to the products for which we were created. If you're a mascot who was created to sell a certain brand of shoes, let's say, and that brand goes down the tubes, you're basically screwed. Maybe that's not the nicest word, but it's not always a nice business. Once your product is gone, what's there for a mascot to do? If you're very lucky, you might get a job at a local level, hawking some similar product at in store appearances or on street corners, maybe handing out fliers. That kind of shit is the best you can expect to get. And I'm not putting down local mascots. I know they bust their ass just like I do. Hey, there are local mascots in cities and towns, promoting everything from theme parks to oil changes places all across these great United States and I say, more power to 'em. Of course, they never receive the kind of perks we national mascots get, but by the same token, they don't have to put up with half the crappola that we do. And as you'll soon find out in these pages, I've been through enough crappola to back up the entire New York City Sewer System. And when I speak of the NYC sewers, I know of which I speak because for a while in the 1980s I made my home there. In fact, I still get Christmas cards from some of the CHUD's I met down there.

As you can guess, there have been some up times in my life and a lot of down times, too, and there were some times when I was so down that I didn't know what "up” was anymore. Did you ever see one of those shipping crates with the arrow labeled "This Side Up” and you can't help but notice the arrow is facing the wrong way because some dumb ass set it down wrong? That was me for many years. I won't skimp on the nasty, sordid, unpleasant little details in the writing of this book, I promise you. You're going to get all the filth and sleaze and grime you can handle, and then some. You'll be with me for every betrayal, every heartache, every failure, every sexual harassment lawsuit from the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. The Thirsty Lad story is not always a pretty one, and I'm not going to gussy it up to protect you from the truth. We're all grown ups, aren't we? You've got some teeth in your head, so I'll give you some details to chew on. You can handle it. I trust you. 

I honestly don't know why most celebrity autobiographies are filled with lies. Don't people already get their recommended daily allowance of Hollywood bullshit without shoveling more on to the pile? Seriously, if you want pleasant and convenient lies, you can always read my press statements. My agent will be happy to send them to you. But I'm guessing you bought this book because you wanted the unvarnished truth as only I could tell it. That's what you paid the money for, am I right? You've seen me in commercials and on billboards and in print ads – and, hopefully, on the shelves of your local supermarket – for decades now, and you want to know what secrets I've got squirreled away after all these years in a high profile, very public job. Am I right? Again, I'm going to be upfront with you. There's some damnably lurid stuff in these pages. You'll more than get your money's worth. But while I've got your attention and your cash, I'm also going to treat you to some of my personal philosophy of life, too. Are you surprised by that? You didn't think Thirsty Lad "had” a philosophy of life? What, you didn't think we mascots thought about stuff like that? You may have thought our minds were focused solely on the product, day and night. Well, then, I've got just two words for you, and one of 'em is bull. You can guess the other one. We mascots are people, just like you. Well, maybe we're not "just like” you, but we mascots are nevertheless much more human than you may realize, even those of us who look like animals. I could tell you some things about Tony the Tiger, for instance, or the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee which would give you some startling insight into how fallible, how vulnerable, how complex, how truly human they are. The point I'm trying to make here is that we mascots have feelings, emotions, urges, pains, pleasures, obsessions, the whole kit 'n' caboodle. Would you listen to me? Expressions like "the whole kit 'n' caboodle” make me sound like I just magically "beamed in” to the Twenty First Century from some other bygone era of American history. And in some ways I actually have. What can I say? I'm an anachronism. When it comes right down to it, I truly am a product of the 1950s. As good old Polonius so wisely put it in Hamlet, "To thine own self be true.” So go ahead and call me a relic, a dusty antique from America's storied past. I can handle it. I never claimed to be trendy. In fact, nostalgia has been my meal ticket for decades now.

But, still, the more skeptical among you might well be asking, "Why a book, Thirsty Lad? And why now?” So, smarty pants, let me tell you why I wrote this book. 

Of course, the financial compensation was nice, but I'd been meaning to write a book of my own for years, even if I had to self publish it. Words are in my blood. You'd never guess this from my television work, but I've always been quite the avid reader. And, no, not just of Penthouse Forum, though I have been a fan of that publication for many years and have even sent in a number of my own contributions to it (anonymously, natch, though scrupulously accurate). You have to understand that there's a lot of downtime in the television biz. A one minute commercial might take all day to film. There's just a lot of bewildering technical stuff involved – the lighting and the cameras and all the electrical cable going every which a way – so a mascot's life is basically a never ending series of "hurry up and wait.” As long as I live and as many times as it's been explained to me, I'll never understand why I have to be out of bed at five in the morning, just so I can spend 95% of my day sitting on my ass in one of those canvas backed director's chairs in a sound stage, waiting for the crew to set up a shot. But that's the reality of my business, the profession for which I was quite literally created. 

There are pitfalls to every job. You just have to learn how  to deal with them. My way of coping with all the downtime on the set has always to read. Reading passes the time, yes, but it also nourishes the soul, if I may be allowed to make such a grand and pretentious statement. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I have a voracious appetite for the printed page. I read everything – novels, magazines, newspapers, even cookbooks! One of the perks of being a quote unquote "celebrity” is that I get to meet other quote unquote "celebrities” at awards ceremonies, parties, charity events, etc. It's standard procedure in show business, the old "meet 'n' greet.” After a while, it gets to be old hat for the most part. I'm not impressed by any of the empty headed pop stars or self centered movie stars I encounter these days. To be blunt with you, I've met (and yes, reader, bedded) so many pretty young "starlets” that they've all blended into one generic bimbo in my mind. But writers still fascinate me to this very day. Whenever I'm introduced to novelists or journalists – not celebrity journalists, I mean, but the real kind – I always try to pull them aside and start a more in depth conversation, maybe ask them something they've never been asked before. Those conversations often turn out to be highly interesting and worthwhile and a few have blossomed into friendships. Those of you who stick with me through this book will be treated to my many booze fueled misadventures with a Mr. J.D. Salinger. You'll have heard of him, I presume. Patience, anxious reader, patience. All in good time. The upshot of this is that my lifelong love affair with books has instilled within me the desire to write one of my own. If that book has to be a celebrity tell all memoir, so be it. I'll take what I can get. You write what you know, and what I know is me. So that's what I'm writing.

But why am I writing this book now? Why not 10 years ago or 10 years from now? Well, reader, I won't mince words with you. The reason Perforated is coming out now is because that's how the publishing industry works. It's business, plain and simple. You fine book buyers of the world deserve a straight answer, and that's as straight as I can tell it. The publishing industry has been after me to write an autobiography for years, especially since my comeback, but we were never able to come to terms (read: money!) until very recently. They had a hole in their release schedule. I had some time set aside where I wouldn't be working on other projects. It all just came together. The planets aligned, as they say.

Fortunately, I have an agent, Jerry Champus, who arranges all these kinds of deals for me. He was my Sherpa guide through the often harsh and unfamiliar world of publishing contracts. Not to get too gooey and sentimental, but I'm proud to call this man my best friend. Jerry, if you're reading – and I know damned well you are – you're my shining star, and  I can't smile without you. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we're gonna go through it together, even though I did catch you banging my third wife that one time in Santa Monica. But that's all water under the proverbial bridge. I mean, I'm sure I've banged a few of his wives and girlfriends, too, over the years. These things will happen among men, but you don't end a friendship because of it. It's like the kids are saying these days, "Bros before hos.” I like that because it's true, and because it rhymes and is easy to remember. Anyway, I probably could have convinced Jerry to write this book for me, and he would've done it... for no more than his usual ten percent, mind you! That's the kind of guy he is. Sweethearts don't come much sweeter than good ol' Jer. And yet, when it comes to the clinch and it's time to negotiate the sticky little details of a contract, I'm telling you, this guy is Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, and Napoleon all wrapped into one. Without him, there wouldn't even be a Thirsty Lad, let alone this book you're holding. 

That is, of course if you're actually even holding an honest to goodness book. Who knows what's going on anymore in these crazy, technologically advanced times of ours? You might find this funny, but I don't keep up with the modern technology. I really don't. It's not that I don't have the money or even the time. I just don't have the patience for it. Sure, I have a "Twitter,” whatever the hell that is, but Rodrigo writes that shit for me. Sorry to be telling tales out of school, but you bought my book, so I figured you're entitled to the unvarnished truth. True story: the company insists I have some kind of "online presence.” The suits tell me I have to have a Face Space and a My Book and the whole schmear. I've been in the paper towel business over 50 years, and these young snot nosed punks are telling me how to move the merchandise? Jeez Louise! I was selling paper towels when they were shoving carrots up their noses in day care.

Sorry for the outburst. I get carried away when I start talking about this stuff. It's just that I prefer dealing with people in person. I always have. Frankly, I'm suspicious of all the new machines we have these days. People say they're making our lives easier, but to me they're just getting in our way, gumming up the works. You can't beat direct, one on one contact. That's what I say. There's no replacement for looking a man dead square in the eyes, shaking his hand, tossing back a few martinis together over lunch, before you ask him if he's interested in maybe swapping wives for a night. To do that over a computer just seems tacky and impersonal. Where's the warmth, I ask you? While we're at it, a phone will always just be a phone to me. I don't need my phone to take pictures, play music, or keep me entertained. I have cameras, a hi fi, and a harem of Russian mail order brides for that. I think we're demanding altogether too much from our phones these days. And were asking too much from our television sets, too. TV is just something you have on in the background so there are no awkward silences during an orgy. You shouldn't base your life around it. And I say this as a man who has spent a great deal of his existence on the boob tube. Don't get me wrong. I'm eternally grateful to the glass teat. I wouldn't be here without it, and I mean that as literally as possible. But it makes me sad when I see people just park themselves in front of the television for hours at a time, stuffing Cheetos down their gullets and staring glassy eyed at some dumb detective show that's like a million other dumb detective shows. Take it from me, reader. You occasionally have to leave your little cocoon, your little nest, your little hive, if you want to lead a worthwhile life! Get out there and mix it up! Punch a cop. Impregnate your own parole officer. Live your life! That's what I did. You think the suits are paying me seven figures to write about my experiences watching Wheel of Fortune from my Barcalounger? Think again. Caveat emptor, I say! Seize the day! Mush, you huskies! 

Not that this little opus of mine should be in any way considered a "how to” manual for living your life, not in any way, shape, or form. Perforated is better seen as a cautionary tale than as a guidebook. As the following chapters will prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, I am in serious contention for the title of Greatest Living Jackass of All Time, North American Division. You know the broad outlines from the tabloids: the arrests, the divorces, the stints in rehab. Some of what you've read bears at least a passing resemblance to the truth, at least the dry, statistical, factual truth. I say "factual truth,” as if there could be any other kind. But there is, you know! The journalists and gossip mongers, they just know some of the notes, but they don't know the music. It's like if somebody handed you some sheet music and said, "This is Beethoven.” Like hell, that's Beethoven! Neither are the musicians themselves, the instruments, the conductor, or for that matter the moldering remains of Ludwig himself. Beethoven only exists, somehow, in the air when his music is played. The hair on the back of your neck that stands at attention during the Moonlight Sonata, that's Beethoven. 

Am I comparing myself, a "mere” paper towel mascot, to Beethoven? Yes, I am. Is that vain? Well, that's for history to judge. Let me tell you, you don't get anywhere in this business we call show without at least two essential qualities: an inflated self opinion and the stubbornness of a mule. You have to have those two things, or you'll never survive the hurricane of shit you're sure to encounter as you make your way through life. People are going to tell you that you don't have what it takes. Then, people are going to call you names. People are going to mock you. They're going to degrade you. And even if you make it through all those obstacles, the naysayers aren't ever going to relent. Up until your dying day, they're going to throw some awfully nasty words at you – words like "has been,” "washed up,” "yesterday's news,” and a few more that don't bear repeating in polite company. In short, they're going to try to take you down any way they can, any time they can. Advertising is a tough business, and it's definitely not for sissies. I wouldn't have lasted two seconds in the biz if I hadn't been able to draw on that deep, deep well of self regard. I'm my own hero. Call me arrogant. Call me an egotist. You can even call me a shithead. Go ahead! I can take it. I've been called worse... and by people way more important than you. Let me tell you something: once the Pope of Rome goes upside your head with his little bejeweled pope scepter during a private audience at the Vatican (yes, reader, it really happened!), there's very little else that will faze you. After that, everything's gravy.

I sincerely hope this book is a wild ride for you, reader. I'm going to take you everywhere I've been, space permitting – from the ritziest penthouse right down to the most squalid gutter and back up again. And you know what? I'm going to name names. I don't care. What else can they do to me at this point? I've got lawyers. Good ones, at that. But better yet, I've got the ultimate ace up my sleeve: The Truth. Truth is what God loves to hear, so I'm confident that the Big Guy is fully on my side... even though I'm pretty damned sure He disapproves of much of what I've done in my fifty plus years on this crazy blue marble we call the Planet Earth. I guess I'll find all that out when my number comes up and it's time to pay the final toll on the highway of life. That's a journey that each man, woman, and corporate mascot must eventually make, and the worst part of it is, we have to make it alone. No one can help you at that point. No time left to soak up any remaining spills, buster. I don't care how absorbent you are. You're at the checkout line of life in that great Supermarket in the Sky, and St. Peter's calling for a price check. When that happens, I wish you the best of luck. Wish me luck, too. As you'll soon see, I'll need all the luck I can get. I have a lot to atone for.

But that's all in the future, my dear reader and trusted pal. Right now, I have a story I want to tell you, and I'm just raring to go. I hope you are, too. Either way, it's off to the races.


Giddy up.


THIRSTY LAD
Los Angeles
August 2010



CHAPTER ONE: BEFORE THE BEGINNING


Mr. Thompson: 
Well, Mr. Bernstein, you were with Mr. Kane from the beginning.

Mr. Bernstein: 
From before the beginning, young fellow.
And now it's after the end.
CITIZEN KANE (1940)


I hope you won't tune out here, especially you youngsters, if I don't immediately get to "the good stuff,” but I thought it was necessary to begin this book with a little history lesson. Don't worry. I'll try to make this as painless as possible. And who knows? You might even learn a thing or three. Either way, it's crucial that I begin before the beginning, so to speak. We'll never understand where we're going until we know where we've been. Can we all agree on that? All of our destinies were shaped by those who came before us, from the mightiest king to the noblest peasant. It helps to consider your life as merely one link in an infinite chain. Think for a moment about your house, your family, your job, and your possessions. All of these are the end products of thousands and thousands of years of history: wars, migrations, technology, science, civilization. To a certain extent, we're in control of our own destinies. At least we think we are when we reach the age of consent. We certainly like to feel that we are in the driver's seat, so to speak. But so much of what we are comes from the past, over which we have no control. You wouldn't be here without your parents, just as I would not have been here without the company that created me. And none of those people would have been here without their own ancestors. And those ancestors wouldn't have been there without dozens of other people. And so on and so on. You can trace it all back to Adam and Eve if you care to. It's mind boggling and humbling at the same time. Since my own existence is so closely tied to one particular industry, I think it's only right and natural that I should discuss that particular industry before delving into my own place within it. So strap on your galoshes, kids, we're about to go wading into those murky waters called The Past.

The paper towel industry as we know it started in 1931 with Philadelphia's legendary Scott Paper Company, whose name even then was synonymous with the manufacturing of toilet paper. So how did this corporate behemoth come to diversify its product offerings? Well, like many cataclysmic events in history, especially business history, the genesis of paper towel began with an accident, an almost meaningless and arbitrary event which turned out to have a greater significance than any of the principals involved could have possibly predicted. According to industry folklore, a plant foreman named Horace Grimble came into work one morning miserably hung over, went to usual perch in one of the building's catwalks, and immediately fell into a profound sleep. Meanwhile, of course, the production of Scott brand toilet paper continued as usual, even though Grimble wasn't awake to check the necessary calibrations on the factory's huge, monstrous toilet paper machines as he should have done, nor was he on hand to perform even the most rudimentary of quality checks on the finished product. The workers, almost all of them recent immigrants who would not have dared to speak up even if they knew the language, pressed on with their labors as Grimble dozed. When the negligent foreman finally did arise from his boozy slumber at 3:00 in the afternoon, he found to his horror that the entire day's output was absolutely unusable. It was far too thick to be used as toilet paper and therefore worthless as far as the Scott company was concerned. He stopped the line as soon as he could, but of course it was far too late. All that could be done at that point was damage control. The faulty toilet paper was not packaged and shipped yet, but there were reams and reams of it already made, far too many to simply ignore. This was a costly mistake indeed.

The employment outlook being especially bleak in those days, poor Grimble must have felt like a condemned man trudging towards the electric chair as he was "called on the carpet” to the office of the company's intimidating president, CEO, and chairman of the board, the great Eustis C. Scott III himself, the direct descendent of the man who'd founded the company 60 years previously. Now, I had the rare opportunity to actually meet Eustis the Third toward the end of his life at some kind of paper towel convention down in Sarasota, and I can tell you from personal experience that he was he was a terribly imposing figure even then – rather tall and quite round, with a big red, jowly face framed by shaggy muttonchops. His waistline was planetary, his manner aristocratic, and his language coarse but effective. He didn't say anything twice if he didn't have to, and he almost never had to. We used to call businessmen "captains of industry,” and it was because of men like Eustis. He wore triple breasted suits, accentuated by gold watch chains and diamond tie pins, and he was never seen in public without his trademark monocle, top hat, and ever present cigar.

We can only imagine the primal terror Horace Grimble must have felt when he shakily entered Eustis Scott's office on that fateful day and saw the great man himself sitting behind his mammoth oak desk, upon which sat a stack of the faulty toilet paper, like Exhibit A in a murder trial. This was the smoking gun, if you will. To his credit, Grimble was prepared to accept his punishment as he walked toward Scott's desk. As you might expect of a man whose time was extremely valuable, Eustis did not waste time with pleasantries. Instead, as history tells us, the plutocrat launch into a profanity laden tirade in which he called into question not only Grimble's competence as a foreman but also his intelligence, his worth as a human being, and even his sexual abilities. Now, you must understand that Eustis Scott III was a highly demonstrative man, given to grand gestures and highly emotional speeches. It only makes sense that during his tirade, he emphasized a few of the more pertinent talking points by pounding his fist emphatically onto the desk. Grimble could not help notice that, by doing so, his boss was in imminent danger of upsetting a carafe of red wine which was also housed on that very desk. This would have been a most unfortunate catastrophe, as the carafe was located perilously close to some very vital contracts Scott was due to sign that day. Even as Scott read Horace the proverbial riot act, the foreman's gaze darted back and forth between the carafe and those all important contracts. Before long, Eustis noticed that Horace was seemingly not paying attention to the dressing down which was at hand. Now, of course, Eustis Scott III was not a man accustomed to being ignored, so this apparent act of insubordination proved intolerable to the hot tempered titan.

"DAMN IT, BOY!” yelled Scott. "YOU PAY ATTENTION WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU!” 

He drove this last point home by pounding on the desk harder than he ever had before, totally oblivious to the danger he was creating. This fateful gesture on Scott's part proved to be the breaking point. The already wobbly carafe now toppled and seemed to be in imminent danger of spilling its deep crimson contents onto Eustis Scott's desk, rendering the crucial contracts illegible in the process. But this, as you might have guessed, is where the story takes a turn for the miraculous and Horace Grimble becomes something of a hero. Springing quickly into action, Grimble soon uprighted the errant carafe and stopped the progression of the spilled wine with the nearest item at hand – you guessed it, that infamous faulty toilet paper. What neither Grimble nor Scott could have anticipated, though, is just how well the "useless” product absorbed the spill. The prototypical paper towel instantly arrested the progress of the wine, stopping it well before it reached those delicate contracts. For a moment, silence rang out in the room as both men paused to absorb, if you will, the significance of what had just happened. But one the truth had "soaked in,” so to speak, Eustis Scott was ecstatic at the discovery.

"DAMN IT, BOY!” he exclaimed. "YOU'RE A GENIUS! WE'LL MAKE MILLIONS! MILLIONS!!! This stuff is like a towel you never have to wash! Why didn't I think of this before? It's an actual paper towel. In fact, that's what we'll call 'em. Scott's Paper Towels! They'll put me on the five cent piece for this!”

Although the great man's ambition to be on the nickel did not come to pass, his prediction about making further millions from this new product proved very accurate indeed. Rather than firing Horace Grimble, the grateful Eustis Scott made him Vice President of the company and immediately threw the full weight of the Scott fortune behind the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of this new so called "paper towel.” Tragically, Grimble was unable to keep his drinking under control and died of cirrhosis of the liver in a Baltimore flophouse in 1939, his only companion a scabrous prostitute named "Linty.” But the product he inadvertently created made a hit with the general public, and it brought even greater bounty to the already overstuffed coffers of the Scott Paper Company.

From here, the marketing genius of Eustis Scott III takes over. The idea of marketing a disposable, one time use towel would have been daunting for any lesser businessman in those days. Think about it for a moment – this was 1931! Unless you were snoozing during your U.S. History classes back in high school, you will realize that the launch of Scott's Paper Towels occurred at the very height of the Great Depression. The stock market had crashed a mere two years earlier, and the country's economic outlook was beyond bleak. Unemployment was rampant. People were scrounging through garbage cans in hopes of finding an apple core with some apple still left on it, dignity be damned. In those days, you'd probably kill your own mother for a single boiled turnip, even if you hated boiled turnips and loved your mother. Nobody had anything. People were sleeping 15, maybe 20 to a bed in 1931, which makes you wonder how those poor, bedeviled bastards ever got around to reproducing themselves back then. From this man's vantage point, at least, having Granny and Grampy's withered, liver spotted bodies in bed with you, sardine can style, would act as a most effective form of birth control. Don't you agree? The bottom line is that never before or since in our country's history has the average American so prized every last wheat back penny in his jealously guarded piggy bank.

So what, the impatient among you might well be asking? So this -- Marketing genius that he was, Eustis Scott III managed to convince Average Joe Tightwad, Plain Jane Pinchpenny, and every other benighted member of  the budget conscious American buying public to spend their hard earned cashola on, let's face it, one of the most decadent and wasteful inventions of the Twentieth Century has ever given us. Think about the pure mechanics of paper towel for just a moment, please,dear reader. You use the damned thing only once and then just toss it out in the garbage like a dead uncle you didn't much like. It's pure madness, especially when there's a Depression on. In the 1930s, American life was all about thrift, thrift, thrift, and here the Scott Paper Company managed to somehow teach the American housewife to ignore every dollar stretching instinct in her Depression ravaged body and buy something she was just going to throw away. Now that's what I call horse sense.

I want to offer the more sensitive readers out there a brief aside at this juncture. You'll notice that in the last paragraph, I said that Scott had to persuade "the American housewife” to buy his newfangled product. I'm not trying to be sexist with this statement, honestly. I'm anything but a chauvinist, and may the Good Lord damn your miserable hide for even suggesting such a thing, you hectoring harpy, you strength sapping succubus! Ahem. I got carried away there. You will forgive me this transgression. But let's be honest, you and I. To this very day, it is the ladies who primarily buy the groceries in this country, including the paper towel. Therefore, women have always been my core constituency, to borrow a possibly objectionable term from the political sphere. This is a key point to consider, because women are the whole reason I was invented in the first place. If men bought the bulk of the paper towel, I never would have been brought into existence. My employers and paymasters felt (wisely, as it turned out) that more women would choose their brand of paper towel – a towel which, in truth, is not distinguishable from a dozen other brands in any meaningful way –  over the hated competitors if the product were made more "personal” somehow. If there were, say, an idealized version of the archetypal "cute little boy” on the packaging and in the advertisements, womenfolk's natural maternal instincts would kick in and they'd make a purchase. Voila! Enter yours truly, the eternal rosy cheeked ten year old boy. But I'm getting way ahead of myself. We were talking about Mr. Scott's dilemma.

The Scott Company had to convince the dull witted dopes... uh, I mean informed consumers of America to buy their cockamamie new "paper towel” product when most of them could barely afford to pay the rent or purchase the rye flour needed to make thin gruel for their suppers. Selling disposable towels would seem to be a most daunting marketing challenge indeed, but you must remember that the company had already done this sort of thing before with toilet paper. Yes, cherished reader, as implausible as this may sound, our old friend "TP” was not always a household staple as it is now, when we so casually take it for granted. Before the Twentieth Century and its attendant, sweeping changes to the consumerist American lifestyle, the idea of using "special” paper for the purpose of sanitizing one's own nooks and  crannies would have seemed ludicrously fanciful, if not outright decadent. It's true that "self sanitation leaflets” had been available as pricey amenities at some of New York's finest hotels and five star restaurants starting in the 1850s, but the idea had never ventured far beyond the city limits. After all, as far as the average American was concerned, newspapers and mail order catalogs had long served that particular purpose with honor and distinction since time immemorial. Those in the more rural or possibly less literary regions of the country, I've been told, were even using old corn cobs instead of paper. Why change now? But the Scott Company was bound and determined to change all that. And change it they did! How? Through marketing, of course! The Scott company had been founded by enterprising brothers Eustis and Elias Scott back in the 1860s to manufacture and market butcher's paper and thrived in this arena for decades, but by the turn of the century, the reins of the enterprise had been handed over to Eustis' bold and brassy son, Eustis, Jr., and it was his determination and salesmanship that made the Scott Company a pioneer in the toilet paper game. 

Junior, as he was called by friends and enemies alike, was truly the Barnum of the Bathroom. His first step was to organize lavish parades in many large cities across the country to introduce his new "miracle” product, e.g. "bathroom paper” which now came available in small, easily portable rolls with perforations separating the individual sheets. The perforations were Eustis Scott, Jr.'s own personal touch, and he felt it was the gimmick that would finally make the product appealing to average Americans. The man's confidence in his product was reflected in the lavishness of the parades he staged in its honor. Elephants, marching bands, acrobats, and clowns, all bearing the familiar and inescapable Scott logo, would gallivant proudly through the streets of Boston, Detroit, Cincinnati, and other communities to announce the Dawning of a New Day, a glorious hygienic renaissance supposedly being brought about by the Scott Paper Company. "A new era of cleanliness, comfort, and convenience has arrived!” was the campaign's optimistic and omnipresent slogan. In each city, crowds would gather by the thousands to witness the amazing spectacle. Junior himself would act as Grand Marshall of such parades and would actually toss free rolls of his product to bystanders. It was a risky move, but it paid off handsomely. Within the year, toilet paper was a fixture of at least forty percent of American households, and that figure would reach ninety percent within the decade. And all this in a country where, just a half century previously, the mere mention of a "water closet” or "comfort station” in public was punishable by flogging, and the idea of marketing such a product would have been impossible.

Junior's son, Eustis III, would not face such imposing obstacles when it came time to introduce Scott's Paper Towel thirty years later. The success of toilet paper proved that Americans would readily purchase disposable paper in perforated sheets. But this time, instead of being confined to "the smallest room in the house,” the Scott Paper Company would have the run of the place, from kitchen to bedroom, drawing room to sitting room, parlor to root cellar. And this time, the company would have an easy way of reaching virtually every American household – the radio! Yes, by 1931, America's love affair with the air waves was in full swing. Depressions, as you might imagine, can get quite depressing, so the battered and bruised American public suckled at the transistor teat for comfort during these dark times. Each night, our downtrodden ancestors would huddle around their radios, seeking a few precious minutes of escape from the harsh world of bread lines, hobo riots, and unchecked Hooverism. Especially popular were light comedy programs such as That's Our Melnick, The Dust Bowl Kids, and the king of them all, "Bootstrap” McGulligan, the saga of a lovable but violent young immigrant lad who regularly got into fist fights during the course of his normal day. Bootstrap's unforgettable catch phrase, "I'll poonch ye'z inna moosh!” was on the lips of everyone from six to sixty in those days. So when it came time to advertise paper towels on the radio, Eustis III knew exactly where he wanted his spots to be heard. It wasn't long before "Bootstrap” was declaring, "If ye'z doon't buy Scootz pepper tawllz, I'll poonch ye'z inna moosh!” Though the character's exaggerated accent seemingly made the slogan all but impossible to understand, the public proved its devotion to the popular character and dutifully bought the sponsor's product in droves.

It wasn't long before America permanently acquired the paper towel habit. Just as Eustis III had hoped, the nation's housewives and other assorted slobs were hopelessly and incurably addicted once they discovered the many household uses for the product, from straining beet juice to soaking up blood in bar fights. It was an addiction the country would never break and has not yet broken. Still today, do you know who uses the most paper towel – by far – of any nation in the civilized world? That's right, my friend. It's the good old United States of America. It's estimated we use 83 billion tons of paper towel per year, necessitating the clear cutting of an acre of Brazilian rain forest every second of every day. I don't know how those statistics affect you, reader, but they make me proud to be an American. Of course, I am naturally biased because of my profession, but I have long been of the opinion that the American flag should be printed on paper towel. It would be the same pattern, the stars and stripes, but on paper towel instead whatever synthetic nylon they're using these days. Now before you start squabbling, hear me out on this. You paid good money for this book, after all, so you should at least listen to the reasoning behind my "crackpot” opinions. Think of the advantages of the paper towel flag!. At the end of each day, you would simply take down the disposable, one time use, "Sani-Flag,” dispose of it properly, and replace it with a new one the next day. No muss, no fuss. This is unpatriotic, you say? It's a desecration of one of our nation's most sacred emblems, you say? Well, I say, "Bull roar!” Nothing could be more American than a disposable flag! We're the country that gave the world the idea of "planned obsolescence,” junk food, convenience stores, instant this, disposable that. I should know this better than anyone, because I owe my livelihood to this crucial component of the American way of life. Throwing stuff away is what made us #1! I try not to say this too loudly among the Hollywood weasels I'm forced to deal with as part of my job, but I personally feel that recycling is a Communist plot. It's contrary to the very essence of the American way of life. Just the sight of that little triangle logo with the three arrows makes me nauseous.

As you may have guessed, I'm no environmentalist. In fact, if Al Gore were here right now, the first thing I'd probably do is kick him right square in the tender vittles, that smug, college boy liberal. I hate hippies and do gooder types, and I wouldn't dream of preaching to you. If you want preaching, I advise you to go to church. And if you want to "send a message,” I suggest you try Western Union. Confession time – I didn't actually come up with that "Western Union” line. I think it's from from some old Billy Wilder movie, or maybe some comedian said it once on the Sullivan Show. How the hell should I know? I'm not some goddamned encyclopedia. The point I really want to make is that  I'm not telling you all these things about paper towel because I want to put it down. Why should I put it down? I'd be putting myself down in the process. I'm simply telling you these things because (1) they're true and (2) my own origin story depends on it. You can't tell the Superman story without mentioning the planet Krypton, and you can't tell the Thirsty Lad story without getting to the heart and soul of the paper towel industry. Every material possession I have ever acquired in this world and every cent I have ever earned comes from paper towel. So it is with a clear conscience that I admit that the entire paper towel industry is based on the fact that Americans are lazy slobs who don't want to be bothered with any extra laundry than is absolutely necessary. Believe me, I can sympathize. I'm as messy as the next person, probably even messier. Ich bin ein slob. And from that perspective, thank the Good Lord Above for paper towels. Right? Who's there for you when you find a daddy long legs crawling across the bathroom floor? Who helps you out when knock over an entire glass of pomegranate juice? Who rushes to your aid when it's time to clean out the cobwebs from the bomb shelter in the back yard? I'll tell you who – Sweet Lady Paper Towel! I've been married, let's see now, at least six times, but none of those "ladies” have ever been as good to me as she has. She's a companion to the clumsy, an aide to the incompetent, a friend to the frazzled. To deny Sweet Lady Paper Towel is, in a way, to deny ourselves as Americans. We are paper towel people, and if we ever stop being paper towel people, you can just about close the book on this country. The day the last paper towel manufacturer goes out of business is the day we pull the plug on America. I hope I never live to see it. I was about to say, "Viva paper towel,” but I didn't want to accidentally sneak in a plug for a rival brand. Which brings me to the next point.

Beyond its fixation on all things disposable and convenient, American business is marked by at least one more undeniable trait: fierce and cutthroat competition. (What, you thought I was going to say "innovation?” Ha! You're reading the wrong book, pal. You want Thomas Edison's autobiography two aisles over. I'm not an inventor, I'm a salesman.) Once a company has success with a product or an idea, you can bet that it's only a matter of time before the other greedy little pigs in the barnyard get a whiff of it and start sticking their big, fat snouts in the trough. But no matter how big that trough might be, there's only so much slop to go around, and that means that some little piggy is always going to go hungry. As some of the sharper among you may already have intuited, Scott's extraordinary success with his remarkable disposable towels did not go unnoticed by the rest of the paper and wood pulp processing industry, and before you can say "rhubarb pie” to your Aunt Suzie, there were imitators sniffing around Eustis Scott's trough. Buddy, were there ever imitators! It's the one of the oldest stories in business history. You see the cycle repeat itself each year.  Somebody gets a good idea, and right away there are seven or eight other guys with their hands out saying, "Me, too! Me, too! Gimme, gimme, gimme!” instead of thinking up something of their own. Oh, Scott tried to fight 'em in court for a while, but it was like trying to get toothpaste to go back into the tube. You just can't do it, son, so you might as well not even try. Let the floodgates open! Release the Kraken, as they say these days! (You know, I actually saw that new Clash of  the Titans picture not too long ago. Not terrible, but Sam Worthington is no Harry Hamlin, if you ask me. Still, I wish we'd managed to get some kind of product placement in that thing.)

So anyway, like I was saying, all these paper towel copycats started springing up by the end of the decade. Most of them didn't last long. You probably don't remember Top Ace, Big Soak, Carruthers, Swanky, or Samson's Spill Catchers. (Maybe your grandmother does. Or great grandmother, by this point. Boy howdy, time sure does fly.) They were the first pretenders to the throne to crawl their way out of the muck and mire to suckle at the teat of Sweet Lady Paper Towel. Is that a mixed metaphor? Well, so is your face!! Ha ha ha ha ha!

This was all before I was "born,” you must understand. I wasn't there to witness any of these events first hand. But after a half century plus in a particular industry, you tend to learn that industry inside and out if you're even halfway intelligent, and that includes the history of the product you're shilling for. Forgive me if I'm dwelling too much on this stuff to suit you (hold your horses, Tonto... the dirty stuff is coming soon enough), but it fascinates the holy hell out of me. Still to this day, I like to hear the hard boiled old timers – very few of them left alive these days, sad to say – swap stories about those wild and woolly early days of Big Paper Towel. That was when the paper towel industry was a real man's game. Nowadays, it's all run by these namby pamby business school majors with their fancy haircuts and tight, shiny suits. Hell, a lot of the executives these days are even women! Can you beat that with a stick, brother? Broads in business – I never thought I'd see the day. I mean, sure we had secretaries and gals to do the typing back when I started, but that was about the extent of it. Like I said before, I'm no chauvinist I love women. I've certainly married enough of them, I'll tell you that much for free. But I remain convinced that America started going right down the tubes when Big Business stopped being a boys club. Honest Injun! I'm not ashamed to say it. I have no shame. I am a cartoon character, for the love of all that is decent and holy! Nowadays, it's all Power Point presentations, market research, focus groups, and fancy charts. In my not so humble opinion, business has been sweetened up too much just so that women could freely participate in it and not get squashed like bugs. To put it succinctly (something you may have noticed I'm not too good at), American business has been castrated by the American female. Snip, snip! There goes the American way of life, gentlemen. Say goodbye to it. Too bad, so sad. Today, you have to attend asinine sexual harassment seminars every time you attend a board meeting with your ding dong hanging out (an occurrence that would not have raised so much as an eyebrow in the 1950s, I can assure you), and the women dress in a manner slightly less sexy than your average Carmelite nun on a mission trip to Papua, New Guinea. How is this an improvement? It's no wonder the Great American Male is a thing of the past, an outmoded trinket of days gone by, an endangered species, an exhibit in the natural history museum. We've had our respective manhoods snipped off, wrapped in plastic, and sold back to us for the low, low price of $19.95.


Huh? Where was I? I must have blacked out for a minute there. When you have ingested (and yes, reader, injected) as many loathsome intoxicants into your system as I have, there is a certain amount of damage which can never be undone by medical professionals, no matter how good they are at their jobs. Oh, you can go to rehab, and they can clean plenty of the junk out of your system, but some of your brain is gone for good. You know that song, the one that goes, "Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye?” That's me, I'm truly sorry to report. I haven't had anything stronger than a Dr. Pepper in five years (doctor's orders, the joy killing bastard!), and still I'll occasionally have wild, very vivid flashbacks and hallucinations. When I get to the part of this book about my "lost weekend” – an era which, despite its misleading name, actually encompassed several years – I'll tell you about the time the Trix Rabbit and I took turns injecting irradiated bull semen into the frontal lobes of our brains. I'm 99% sure that incident screwed me up in ways which still affect me today But once again, I'm getting way the hell ahead of myself.


I think before I had my little "mental brownout” (that's what my personal live-in physician, Dr. Morris Castlebuam, and I have agreed to call them), I was telling you about the rough and tumble early days of the paper towel biz. Man, I wish I'd been around back then. Don't get me wrong. I've had plenty of adventures of my own, but I still can't help but wonder how I would have fared back then, when giants like Dale Banderchuck and Tony "Griggs” McElhenny roamed the earth. It must have been something other than else. You see, with so many brands of towel on the market, competition was fierce. Fierce? Hell, it was downright deadly. There are numerous unsolved murder cases still moldering in the police file cabinets today which can be traced to the great paper towel wars of the 1930s and the 1940s. Then as now, grocery stores and supermarkets only have a limited amount of shelf space they can give to paper towels. And then as now, the American consumer only has a certain amount of income he – or more likely she – is going to spend on paper towels. What does that add up to? Dog eat dog. Kill or be killed. Eat or get eaten. Let's say you ran the Ajax Paper Towel Company, and your closest competitor made some kind of sweetheart deal with a union which allowed him to cut his prices by 30%, severely eating into your market share. Well, you might send a couple of guys around to the home of your rival's CEO, and what do you know? He mysteriously goes "missing,” and a couple of days his big, fat wife gets a package in the mail containing a vital piece of his anatomy. In case you're a little slow on the uptake, I'm referring to the wang. The CEO would never be seen or heard from again, of course, but at least good old Wifey would have something to remember him by. Maybe she could have the thing bronzed if she so desired.


And then there were the spies! Oh, yes, naïve reader, the paper towel companies would routinely spy on their competitors. It was standard operation procedure back in the 1930s. You could not really do business without it, even though spying was a dangerous business. If you were caught spying, well, let's just say that you would be envious of the guy from the last paragraph who was merely emasculated and killed. Things were that ugly. Everyone knew that being a paper towel spy was essentially a kamikaze mission. You were well paid, naturally, but you didn't seriously expect to last long. The smart ones made their money quickly and got out, sometimes moving down to Old Mexico and living under an assumed name. Who knows? Maybe some of those bastards are still down there, for all I know. Anyway, the rest are probably in the East River, but I wouldn't bother looking for them.


Why all this intrigue and cloak and dagger foolishness? Well, back when the industry was in its infancy (trying saying that five times fast, pilgrim), there were new developments in paper towel technology – sometimes practical, other times just  aesthetic -- being made seemingly every week by the various and sundry scientists, engineers, artists, and various craftsmen employed by each manufacturer. Before the space program came along, junior, all the brightest Ivy League graduates in this country wanted to work in the paper towel field. That seems like an eon ago, but millions now living can still recall the industry's Golden Age. What is absolutely crucial for you, the modern day reader, to remember is that each major leap forward in towels would be announced with a grand advertising campaign by the company that “discovered” it. And then, that brand would be the veritable cock of the walk, gathering all the attention and most of the sales until something bigger and better came along. Maybe it might be a pretty new pattern. Maybe it might be some improvement in liquid absorption. But the big brain boys were always toiling away, working at making the product better, and the American public was anxiously awaiting each new chapter in the saga. The only thing I can even sort of compare it to is the “Cola Wars” between Coke and Pepsi in the 1980s, but that's like comparing a bar room brawl to World War II, with the cola wars being the bar room brawl in that particular analogy. There's just no comparison in terms of scale. But one thing that IS similar between the two is that some consumers were FIERCELY loyal to their brands. If you were a dyed in the wool Big Soak fan, for example, you would not tolerate any back sassing from a Scott Towel fan and vice versa. Fights would break out in the streets over these things. Friendships ended. Families were torn apart.  


But, even more so than now, the majority of the public were fickle. They could be swayed by the latest hype, just as one popular singing idol might be at the top of the charts one week only to find himself displaced the very next by a close rival. The public always wants to believe that the grass is always greener somewhere else, and they're willing to spend money in pursuit of that goal. It is no surprise, then, to find that the two most commonly used words in advertising are “new” and “improved.” Now I can't prove this, but I think the phrase “new and improved” actually originated during the paper towel wars. In a way, a lot of modern marketing techniques were perfected during this era. The ugly truth of it is, paper towel is paper towel. The actual product, despite the millions of words and billions of dollars worth of hype, has not really changed substantially in seventy years. You can take that as gospel, brother, because I've been there.


I wonder sometimes if I am lingering too long on these long gone days of the business and whether you younger readers will even care. But as I said at the very outset, this is my book. If you want to write it another way, well, have at it. It's a free country, last I checked.



CHAPTER TWO: THE ALPACA DREAM


In the spirit of “doing it my way” (and I'll see you in H-E double toothpicks some day, Frank Sinatra) I have decided that, during the composition of these memoirs, I will share any particularly interesting dreams I may have with you, the readers. I do this for several reasons. First of all, many of you fine, upstanding members of the great unwashed public out there probably do not know that we advertising mascots do, in fact, dream. We do. it's the God's honest truth. Scout's uncle. Bob's your honor. Secondly, once you know that we dream, you may be wondering what we dream about. My description of said dreams may well give you insight into the mascot mindset. And thirdly, I'm getting paid by the word, and "dream journal” entries tend to fill up pages, all while giving you armchair Freudians something to gnaw on in the process. So it's win win, as far as I'm concerned. Are we good? Yeah, I thought we were.


So here's the alpaca dream.


A great crisis, possibly weather related, possibly geopolitical, I was not 100% sure about that – is on its way, and everybody knows it. The end of the world seems fairly likely, but for the time being, business is continuing more or less as usual. The world is trying to carry on the best it can, you understand, but civilization is starting to fray at the edges. Businesses are starting to close. Some people have started to looting or just wandering the streets aimlessly. For the most part, though, folks are just going through the motions of their typical routines. But here's the thing – the animals are spooked. Dogs, cats, cows, they're all acting funny. They're wandering away from their homes, seeking shelter in places where they normally wouldn't be found. It's like they've gone senile and have started wandering off, kind of like confused old people staggering away from the rest home.


All of what I've described to you is taking place in the background of the dream. I'm not even sure how I know all of it. I just know it. The dream is about the alpacas. See, normally, alpacas live in South America or someplace like that, but the vaguely defined "crisis” has spooked them into wandering all the way up north to the United States. And what's weird is, they're heading directly for the cities! New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, they become infested with alpacas. I think my dream took place in Chicago or Detroit, but we heard it was going on in other cities, too. Now, I know two things about alpacas, jack and shit, and this of course affects the dream. I don't know how the damned things really behave. To me they're like a cross between a sheep and a giraffe, with those shaggy coats and longish necks of theirs, so that's how they behaved in my dream. Anyway, they're basically gentle creatures, and at first people aren't too freaked out about them. But eventually, it gets to be too much. I mean, they're blocking traffic, eating people's lunches. They're taking over the city. Something has to be done.


That's where I come in. As the dream starts, I'm on a school bus with a bunch of my old classmates from Mascot School (yes, we have schools... much more about that later). We're being taken to this industrial type building in an unnamed city (again, probably Chicago or Detroit, judging from the weather), and we know we're going there to work on some solution to the alpaca problem. As we approach the building, we see that the neighborhood is pretty dismal. Not crime ridden really, but just one of those sections of town where the buildings are meant to be practical, not pleasing to the eye. There's a lot of squat looking, four and five story office building and factories. There's a few stores around, and they're all discount jewelry wholesalers. It's like the cheap jewelry district.  Like I said, pretty dismal. So we're taken into the building, and we walk up several flights of stairs. Along the way, we see factory employees assembling something at big long tables. The walls are those ones made out of big cinder blocks, with light yellow paint. You've seen it a million times in schools, hospitals, places like that. Again, it's been built to be functional, not attractive. The place is already depressing the holy living crap out of me and I'm starting to get a bad feeling about the whole deal, but to make it even worse there's this guy on the second floor playing an electric organ, and his music is being piped throughout the building on the public address system. And get this... he's playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Yeah, that's right, the standard "scary” music from a hundred cartoons. Why he's doing this, I haven't the faintest or foggiest of ideas. But the sum total is that the workers look miserable. They're just glum, dead eyed, jumpsuit wearing drones working under harsh industrial lighting in an ugly ass yellow building. And now we're there, and we're clearly interlopers.


So the upshot – yes, reader, the blessed and much anticipated upshot – of all this is, we're brought into a small, wood paneled office, and this nerdy little bald guy with a nasal voice starts giving us some orientation about why we're there. But one of my classmates, Chip, is goofing off. He has this little battery powered toy airplane, and he's flying it around the room. The little bald guy confiscates Chip's airplane and sends him out of the room, and that's the last we see of Chip. But the rest of us stay behind, and the little bossy guy is handing out these informational packets and droning on in a very bureaucratic way about goals and mission statements and target objectives and suddenly I realize why we've been brought there. We're going to be issued weapons and then sent out into the streets to start killing those nice, fuzzy muzzy alpacas. Execution style. Pistol to the back of the head.


Aha, you say! Suddenly, the dream is getting interesting, no? Sadly, I woke up at that point, so there's no more to tell. Back to...





CHAPTER THREE: IN WHICH THE NOVICE AUTHOR REBELS AGAINST LITERARY TRADITION




And God said unto the Israelites, “Let the word go forth that all books shall be divided into chapters for the convenience of the average dumb fuck with the attention span of a meal worm. So shall it be written. So shall it be done. And praise my holy ass while you're at it.”



You know what, God? No! No, indeed!


That's right. Thirsty Lad is saying a big, fat "NO!” to all the grand old literary traditions, including chopping up a perfectly good book into chapters. In fact, fuck chapters! (I'm sorry if there are any fragile ladies out there who may have been offended by that last sentence, but this is something I'm passionate about.) I'm too big for chapters. I'm a star, baby. A big, fat, ferschlugginer star of more than 5000 television commercials! And you know what that means? It means I can write my own ticket in this town, baby. Maybe other writers are content to play by the rules and divide their books into nice, neat, little pre wrapped slices of literary cheese for your convenience. BUT NOT ME! I'm throwing off the shackles of oppression! I'm the rogue elephant who snapped his tether and killed a coolie. Yeah,you heard me right. Thirsty Lad is through playing by The Man's rules! I've done that shit my whole life – sucking up to the dopes in their fancy three piece suits, always ready with the “Yes, sir” and “No, ma'am” at a moment's notice -- and I'm just plain sick of it. It's time I started following my own rules.


“Rules,” he says. HA! What a stupid, stupid word! I can't think of a dumber one in our language. Maybe "likable" or "boogaloo."


You know what, gentle reader? There really ARE no rules! Not in life, not in art, not anywhere. And especially not in literature. You can quote me on that, junior. Carve it in stone if you'd like. Oh, sure, we all pretend that there are these strict guidelines governing things because chaos terrifies us and we long to impose order on absolutely everything around us. Nothingness scares us. The void scares us. That's why we're so afraid of the dark, I think. But if you would just open your eyes for once and see the world as it really is, you would soon realize that there aren't any absolute guidelines. The rules are just illusions. What about “the law,” you say? “Ha,” says I. The law is nothing but a glorified prostitute who is willing to cozy up to whoever is in power at any given time. It's really all about money and power – who has it and who does not. I should know this better than anyone, because I work in an industry – advertising – which freely makes up the so called rules and them teaches them to the public. The old “rabbit in the hat” or “lady sawed in two” tricks? These don't impress me, sister. Not now, not ever. I was BORN on the other side of the looking glass. Things like that tend to change the way you look at things.


Now all of this might sound cynical. But there are things I believe in. Like art, for example. Yes, as corny as this might sound, I believe in art.  And this book you're holding... well, call me a pretentious phony if you must but I firmly believe that this is a work of art, baby, with a capital A. The first job of any civilized society should be to grant absolute freedom to its true artists, for they are the ones who lead us all to a more promising tomorrow. It's not the bureaucrats. It's not the money men. It's the artists. And writing is maybe the highest art form of them all, at least in my opinion. But somehow, instead of being treated like the King he is, the writer is treated like a slave. He is shackled to the rules of English grammar, syntax, and spelling. In short, he is chained up in that most dreary of dungeons that we call Literary Tradition.


As a writer, I should be allowed the same freedoms as artists in any other medium. I've had it up to HERE with beginnings, middles, and endings. I've had it up to HERE with grammar and paragraphs and all that middle school garbage taught by blue haired old biddies. Fuck it! I'm not doing it anymore! From here on out, Thirsty Lad plays by his OWN rules. We're not in school anymore. Life is not homework, for fuck's sake! I'm coloring outside the lines! Are you with me, reader?


I SAID, “ARE YOU WITH ME READER?”


Come on, you little pansy. Yeah, you! The schmuck reading this book! Are you with me? You are? Good! Very, very good indeed!!! Then shout out loud! I don't care where the hell you are – at home, on a bus, in a library. God gave you a voice... SO USE IT!


ARE YOU WITH ME?


I CAN'T HEAR YOU! ONE MORE TIME!!!! ARE YOU WITH ME?!?


GREAT! THAT'S ABSO FUCKING LUTELY GREAT!!!!!!!


Now we are getting somewhere. I feel like we've made a breakthrough, you and I. Together, reader, we have smashed through the thick concrete prison walls that have encased both author and reader for centuries! Look around you, reader! Smell the fresh air! We're out of Shawshank, baby. FREEDOM!!!!!!!! Breathe in. Breath out. Ahhhhhhh! Doesn't that feel nice. That's the free man's air your breathing now. None of that stale, reconstituted prison air for you. Not anymore, man. That's all in the past. "The future looks bright ahead.” You know who said that, don't you? Well, I'll give you a clue: ELVIS ARON PRESLEY, the one and only King of Rock and Roll! THAT'S WHO! AMERICA! FREEDOM OF SPEECH! ABRAHAM FUCKING LINCOLN HAS FREED THE GODDAMNED SLAVES!!!! That's what I'm talking about!


Anything is possible from this point on, reader.


This is a tremendous moment in the history of Western literature. Maybe if this book sells well enough (and God knows, I have enough alimony payments to make each month), Perforated will be seen as the start of a movement. It will be the beginning of a "new” literature! Think of it! We may have just made history! I get a little dizzy just thinking about it. Writers of future generations will thank me for setting them free once and for all. Imagine it – now you can walk up to your old high school grammar teacher and give her the finger!


Hold on a second, reader. I have to catch my breath. That little speech just took some of the wind out of me. You go on ahead. I'll catch up.





CHAPTER FOUR: RITCHIE RED RANDALL


So, anyway, before I went off on that insane but (believe me) necessary rant, I was talking about those crazy early days of the paper towel business, before I came on the scene. Trusted reader, because I treasure you so dearly, I will not bullshit you. You would not want me to, I hope, and I respect you too much. Honestly, I do. What I am about to tell you is the God's honest truth, and may He send a lightning bolt straight up my poop chute if I'm telling you a fib. (And you know, He'd take me up on that offer. He's that kind of guy. Have you read the Book of Job lately? The man is a complete lunatic.) The paper towel executives of the 1930s and 1940s must have had superhuman powers, brother. I am not kidding! They really must have! That is the only way I can imagine them doing all the crazy, seemingly impossible things I've heard about them doing.


I understand your hesitance and your skepticism. You want me to provide you with an example, am I right? Of course you do! We don't live in an age of Faith anymore. That's the problem. We live in the bloody age of bloody reason. And bloody reason demands bloody evidence. As Fran Drescher once so succinctly put it (in the movie This is Spinal Tap): “Money talks and bullshit walks.” Fran, you don't even know how right you were when you said that.


Am I right or am I right or am I right? (Sorry. I somehow slipped into Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day mode for a second there. Man, I am just full of movie references today. I don't know what's gotten into me. Maybe it's because I've been sick lately and have watched a lot of movies when I should be working on this goddamned book instead.)


Okay, Mr. Skeptic, you want an example of how awesome the old school paper towel men really were? Oh, I'll give you an example, all right. Just you wait, little missy!


In 1937, Big Soak came out with this line of paper towel to have those little perforation lines demarcating individual paper towels. Now, if you were even half way paying attention during the previous chapter, you know that the Scott Paper Company were the ones to bring perforated toilet paper to the world. But when it came time to market paper towel, they didn't bother to perforate it. At least, not at first they didn't. And that's because Eustis Scott III knew how much expense that perforation added to the cost of toilet paper, so he was bound and determined to avoid perforating paper towel if he could help it. A penny saved was a penny earned. Benjamin Franklin said that, and it's still true to this day.


“Oh, let the morons just tear it for themselves,” Eustis reportedly said about the perforation issue during an early paper towel marketing bull session with his most trusted advisors. “I can't be their mommy and daddy and do every last little thing for them. They should be kissing my ass for the convenience of the thing as it is! I'm improving their miserable little lives, you know!”


For the slower students among you, I should probably explain that perforations are those little dotted lines in a roll of paper towel or toilet paper that allow you to easily tear it into nice individual sheets. At least theoretically they do. If it's a well made product, the perforations will work like a charm. One gentle tug, and you'll neatly tear off a nice square sheet. But if the product is shabby, the perforation lines are there mostly for show. You have to remember that iin the world of American marketing, it is the illusion of convenience and functionality that matters, not the reality. Marketing is still primarily emotional. Think about that the next time you are at the grocery store.


You probably take those perforation lines in paper towel for granted, but they have not always been there. It's true, mister! You may once have heard that expression, "This is the greatest thing since sliced bread,” haven't you? Well, I hope you intuited from that expression that bread didn't always come conveniently sliced in advance for us either. Before sliced bread was a grocery store perennial, you the consumer had to slice it your own damned self. No shit. With a knife and everything! And, as you can well imagine, millions of klutzy American housewives lost their fingers (and sometimes the rings that went with them) slicing bread to make sandwiches for their ugly families. It very nearly breaks my cartoon heart into tiny little pieces when I  think about that kind of thing happening to you clods out there. Thank goodness Madison Avenue wizards came along to save you dizzy dames from yourselves!


So what does this “sliced bread” business have to do with paper towels? Well, nothing. And by "nothing,” I mean "everything.” And by “everything,” I mean Ritchie Red Randall. Say that name with some respect, you snotty nosed little punk! Ritchie Red Randall made his bones in the 1930s as the President of Big Soak Paper Towels. That was before my time, you see. But later on, when he was in his autumn years, he jumped ship from Big Soak and came to work for our company as a consultant. That is how I finally got to know him. Even when he was in his eighties, he was one imposing son of a bastard, but if you got to know him, you could not help but admire and, yes, even love him. Ritchie Red (that's what everyone called him; he would slap you silly if you called him “Mr. Randall”)  was certainly a memorable character. He was seven feet tall if he was an inch, and he had a voice like an avalanche and shoulders like the Grand Coulee Dam. He drank cheap, smelly, rot gut whiskey out of a big Thermos he carried around with him wherever he went, and I never once saw the great man without a hash pipe in his mouth. For a man of his enormous size, he was surprisingly nimble and light on his feet. He loved to sneak up on people and surprise them. When he did, he would slap you on the back, hard, and it would feel like you had been hit by a runaway train. But you were grateful just to be in his presence. Still to this day, I miss good old Ritchie Red. I remember that sometimes after work, he and I would go to a nearby brothel together and pay the women there the grand sum of $50 for the privilege of riding them around the room like thoroughbreds. After a while, we even started racing them! (Brother, you would never get away with something like that today. Thanks a heap, Gloria Steinem!) Ritchie Red even had a custom leather saddle especially made for that purpose. He called it “going horsing.” I felt bad for the gals he rode. He was a big fat son of a dung heap. He must have weighed 500 pounds easily.

“Hey, Sporto,” he would occasionally say to me. (Ritchie called everyone “Sporto” because he refused to learn anyone else's name.  He said it was a waste of perfectly good brain power.) “You wanna go horsing with me after work?”


“Sure as shooting,” I would reply. And off we would go. Jesus, those were some fun times. Reader, as much as I cherish you and take delight in your glorious company, I would trade every last one of you for the opportunity to “go horsing” one more time with Ritchie Red. You are not fit to lick that man's wingtips, I can assure you.


Like I said, it was Ritchie Red who forced the issue of perforation in the paper towel industry. Eustis Scott III was the first out of the gate, of course, but Big Soak was one of the very first copycats on the scene, and they were probably the single toughest competitor that Scott Paper ever had. That's why they outlasted all the other pretenders. It took a man like Ritchie to navigate those choppy waters. At first, he tried to undercut Eustis in the most obvious way possible – price. “Hit 'em right in the bread basket,” so to speak. Eustis tried to ignore this young upstart for as long as he could, but eventually he had to get down in the trenches and fight dirty. Well, as you can guess, a price war soon ensued between Scott and Big Soak, usually a penny at a time (pennies were worth more then), but occasionally one of the combatants would get bold and drop his price by a whole nickel, causing a run on the market in the process. But the fundamental laws of economics tell us that this kind of thing can only last so long before the whole enterprise becomes unprofitable for everyone involved. So eventually Eustis and Ritchie Red rented out Ebbets Field for a day and had a little summit meeting, during which they decided to knock off the price war for the common good. And peace reigned for a little while in Big Paper Towel.


But all of this just left Ritchie back at Square Numero Uno. If he couldn't beat the Scott Company in the  price game, he'd have to come up with a way to beat him in the innovation game instead. So one day, he was pondering just how he was going to accomplish this task, and he decided to make himself a sandwich. Up until the day he died, you have to realize, Ritchie Red Randall never went a single day without a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. And even though he was a wealthy and respected man, Ritchie insisted on making each one of those sandwiches himself. Years of cutthroat competition made him paranoid, I guess, but he never trusted his food preparation to strangers. He wouldn't even go to restaurants. I guess he thought someone would try to poison him if he let his guard down. Considering the corporate climate of those early days of the paper towel wars, you can see that Ritchie had plenty of good reasons to be suspicious. Anyway, this sandwich habit of his gave him the inspiration he needed. Bread was sliced in advance for us, so why shouldn't paper towel be that way, too? The technology for perforating toilet paper already existed by then, so Ritchie just sent one of his spies to the Scott plant to see how it was done and make some sketches of the necessary equipment.


And just a few short weeks later, Big Soak – and not Scott Towel – became the first brand of perforated paper towel on the market in these United States. And, as you can guess, the move proved an immediate success with the predictably fickle American consumers. Eustis was furious, not just because he'd been spied on and bested in the arena of business, but because he had essentially been caught with his pants around his ankles. This was the first time Eustis Scott III had been beaten to the punch, so to speak, and he was not happy about it. As was typical of the time, Scott's first retaliation was of a violent nature. A large wooden crate was delivered to Ritchie Red's office. Once opened, it revealed the last mortal remains of notorious corporate spy (and widely known Big Soak covert operative) Wembley “Stokes” Pontoon, neatly cut up into nice even pieces. You would think such a thing would have Ritchie Red polluting his drawers and retreating to his Mommy, but you're looking at these events with modern eyes, which is to say all wrong. These bloody revenge killings, although certainly unpleasant, were just part of doing business in America back then. You got used to it. Nothing to get too worked up about. You just rolled up your sleeves and tried harder.


Advertising history records that Ritchie Red Randall certainly did not retreat from Eustis Scott III. Far from it, he actually advanced... and boldly! As we have established, Scott Towel was the #1 sponsor of the #1 show on the radio, Bootstrap McGulligan. But Bootstrap had been on the air for several years by this point, and his pugilistic, heavily accented antics were starting to become ever so slightly predictable and stale. The show's ratings were still high, of course, but they were on the wane. The public's fancy now turned to a new hit program, Rowena, the Sexiest Chimp in the Coast Guard. Ritchie Red knew that if he could land a sponsorship deal on the Rowena show, the future of Big Soak would look bright indeed. But it wasn't going to come cheap. You'll never get anywhere in business if you're not a gambler, and Ritchie knew this instinctively. He bet everything he had on that sexy talking monkey, and it paid off in spades. The Big Soak Super Show Featuring Rowena, as the program was now duly rechristened, became a national sensation. More than ever, the Scott company was looking tired and off its game as its market share plummeted down to earth like a piper cub whose pilot had died in the middle of a flight.


Humbled by these events, Eustis begrudgingly had to add perforations to Scott Towel. He also killed that chimp, in case you were interested. You would have, too, if you'd been in his position. And don't give me that “I'm a dues paying member of the ASPCA” crap, either, because I don't buy it for a second, bucko. Don't ever judge a man until you have walked a mile in moccasins, tenderfoot. This was not mere commerce, gentle reader. This was war!


And speaking of war...





CHAPTER 5: DUBYA DUBYA TWO AND ITS EFFECT ON THE PAPER TOWEL INDUSTRY


This is going to be a short chapter, compadres, because it has next to nothing to do with the Thirsty Lad story, at least not directly. But  I'm including this bit in the book anyway, because the story of Big Paper Towel is at its very core an American saga of the Twentieth Century, and therefore you can't really avoid talking about the Second World War. That would be like writing a sex manual and not including a chapter about fisting. Plain and simple, it's slipshod craftsmanship. And I, for one, will not stand for such a thing. No, sir. Not on my watch.


So how did World War the Deuce affect the paper towel business, you might be asking? Well, how does an attack by marauding cannibals affect a small child's birthday party? That's right. It stops that party dead in its tracks. And that's what WWII did to my eternal bride, Sweet Lady Paper Towel. It dragged her into a filthy back alley, covered her mouth with duct tape, and went to town on her, Flatbush style. You Flatbushers from way back will know what I'm talking about, and it ain't pretty, junior. It ain't pretty by a long shot.


What was I talking about? World War 2, that's right. I have to keep looking up at the top of the page to see what chapter this is. Anyway, the paper towel industry was chugging along like a well oiled love machine for the entirety of the 1930s, America's most messed up decade by a long shot. In fact, Big Paper Towel became America's third largest industry, bested only by matches and hats. See, because back then everybody smoked and wore a hat. God, I wish both of those things were still true, but they aren't. What a sorry time it is to be alive. I feel badly for the youngsters of today who may never know the joy of accidentally setting your fedora on fire while trying to light your Lucky Strike. Ah, memories. If memories were gold, well, I'd be a rich man today. Wait, I am a rich man today. What am I talking about? My life is pretty damned good as it is. Why am I complaining all the time? It's just human nature, I guess. The human mind – you can't beat it with a stick, governor. Well, I guess you could, but you wouldn't want to. Not for long anyway. That's for sure.


Anyway, back to our little story. Despite the various ups and downs it experienced in its all out war with Big Soak, the Scott company remained at or near the top of the heap of the industry it single handedly created. Like I've been telling you, various imitators and copycats sprang up during this time, but most of them couldn't hack it for the long term. And the company that eventually brought me to life was not even a twinkle in its daddy's eye back then. Rowdyism and gangsterism were the twin orders of the day with a heap of murder slaw on the side. While America went starving and Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered them his so called “New Deal,” the titans of industry like Eustis Scott III and Ritchie Red Randall lived like royalty, truly the ruling class of the New World. I'm sure if they had their way, things would have continued as normal for the rest of time.


But then, that crybaby spoilsport Adolf “My Momma Didn't Love Me Enough” Hitler had to go and ruin the party – just like our marauding cannibal friends from a few paragraphs ago – by invading Poland in 1939. World War II had officially started, and at first, America sensibly said, “No thanks, fellas. I'll sit this one out if you don't mind. I'm still pooped from World War I.” But well, you know what happened after that. What's that? You don't? Golly Moses, don't they teach you kids anything in school these days? I swear, where are my tax dollars going? What happened, you dope, is that the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, so then America had no choice but to enter the war. From there on out, it was a foregone conclusion who was going to win the Big One. I mean, in addition to good old fashioned American gumption, we had the ultimate ace up our sleeves – that's right, mister, I'm talking about the Bomb. And I don't mean The Horn Blows at Midnight neither. (Sorry, Mr. Benny, wherever you are, but I couldn't help myself.) I'm referring to the Atomic Bomb, another great and useful invention of the Twentieth Century. If Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo had a nickel's worth of sense between them (and they clearly didn't, those yobbos), they would have surrendered immediately, given up their political aspirations, and come to Hollywood, USA... where the real money is. They probably could have found plenty of work in World War 2 pictures. But wait a minute. Without those guys (the REAL three stooges, if you ask me), we wouldn't have had any need for World War 2 pictures. I guess that's a riddle for the historians to unravel. Life ain't nothing but a funny, funny riddle. Thank god I'm a cartoon boy.


Anyway, not everybody could be sent overseas to teach those Axis rat finks a well deserved lesson in good manners. No, somebody had to stay behind to mind the store here at home. But even that wasn't good enough for Mr. Roosevelt. No, sir. He fixed it so that the people on the home front would feel like they were playing a part in  the drama, too. So he had Americans rationing their groceries and giving up sugar, nylon, rubber, metal and other things that make life worth living. The official story was that these things were needed for “the war effort.” Now how much of this is hot air, I will not speculate. But the gist of it is that all luxuries and non essential items were immediately 86'd. And, yes, that included our good friend, paper towel. The official line was that paper products were crucial to the administrative functions of the Allied Forces – memos, files, reports, and whatnot. Privately, according to many in his inner circle of confidants and hangers on, Eustis Scott joked that Uncle Sam needed all the wood pulp he could get because that's what he was feeding his soldiers. That kind of remark was typical of the man, from what I understand. Anyway, Eustis served honorably in WW2. Ritchie Red, too. They proved just as good at killing as they did at making a killing. It's all instinct. Either you got it or you don't. And they had it in spades, brother.


Meanwhile, though, the big paper towel factories more or less went silent in 1941 and lay dormant, like Dracula in his crypt, until VJ day in 1945 after we'd vaporized Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Only the biggest of the big paper towel manufacturers reemerged after the war. The smaller fish in the pond never did come back. Carruthers? Gone. Dandy Dirk? Finished. Tightwad Towels? History. It was the hearty survivors who would come back, raring to go, in '45. And it is with them that we must now concern ourselves, my dear readers and trusted pals. And onward shall we go, you and I.






CHAPTER 6: SWEET LADY PAPER TOWEL HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE!


With the war over and the Great (actually pretty lousy) Depression finally licked once and for all, America was ready to let the good times roll, in a manner of speaking. American servicemen returned home to these United States, and they wanted a taste of the good life... which meant moving out to suburbia, buying a little plot of land, building a cozy little house there and raising up a family. All of which is great for the paper towel industry because the American dream requires paper towels and plenty of it. The returning Gis came home to their wives and children, and all they wanted was a little normalcy. Well, a lot of normalcy actually. They wanted things to be as neat and orderly as humanly possible. You can hardly blame them. Those boys had their fill of unpleasantness in Europe and the Pacific theater. Incidentally, why in God's holy hell do they call it a “theater,” anyway? I mean, after all, it's not like they were putting on a production of Under the Yum Yum Tree out there. The bottom line is, postwar America was all about making things shiny and neat and nice. And that's where Sweet Lady Paper Towel comes in. You catch my drift, right?


But here's the thing. You remember the great Paper Towel Wars of the 1930s when Capone style gangsterism was the order of the day in the one use towel industry and human life was as cheap as the towel itself and every bit as disposable as well. It was a fun time, and it gave rise to some real legends. But you will remember that I also talk about how American business has been neutered over the years? I guess now that I think about it, it all started going downhill after World War II. I think our mistake as a nation was that we wanted so badly for things to be “nice” that we went too far and ended up losing our collective cojones in the process. It's a damned shame. In fact, I think I'll shed a tear like that Indian in the littering commercial... you know, the public service announcement with Iron Eyes Cody. Which brings me to the next chapter.


(Sorry this pivotal chapter was so short compared to the others in this book, but I just got bored with it, and when Thirsty Lad gets bored with something he crumples it up and throws it in the ever reliable round file. So sue me. On second thought, don't sue me. Please! If you are truly curious about what life in America was like immediately after the second World War, check out a phonograph record called “The Reconversion Blues” by the great Louis Jordan and his Timpani Five. Louis and the boys tell the story much better than I can. He makes all the points I wanted to make with this part of the book, and his version has a good beat and you can dance to it. That's right, even you clueless white folks with no innate sense of rhythm.)






CHAPTER 7: MY ADVENTURES IN PSA LAND


Hey, while I'm on the subject of public service announcements and Mr. Iron Eyes Cody (God rest his soul if he's dead, which I'm 99% sure he is), this is as good a time as any to talk about the series of PSAs that I did back in the 1970s. I know we're not anywhere near the '70s part of the book yet, but we're  seven chapters into this crazy book already and I haven't even been BORN yet in this time line. Maybe we'll NEVER get there! That would be a first – an autobiography in which the author never gets around to telling his own life story because he gets so distracted with other bullshit. I guess I have some things to learn about writing a book. (“No kidding,” I hear you saying. Smart asses.) Maybe I just need an editor. Better yet, I need a fifth of bourbon. Ha ha, just kidding. I gave all that up when I was ordered to by a team of doctors. In a lot of ways, I'm happier now that I'm sober. But I sure did have some fun with my old pal Al K. Hill, along with Nick O. Teen and Mary Wanna. Of all those great old pals of mine, Al is the one I miss the most to this day. There's a darned good reason why alcohol is called “Liquid courage.” You try getting up on stage at a stockholder meeting sober sometime. It isn't pretty, my laddie, I can assure you of that.


So anyway those public service announcements I was telling you about were ALSO about littering. Except, instead of being anti littering like the Iron Eyes Cody ones, I was doing ads in FAVOR of littering. Now I'm sure that will sound crazy to you, but you have to remember that people in the 1970s did a lot of drugs. Ha ha. Just kidding again. No, seriously, folks, there was a very sound reason for me to ads in FAVOR of littering. You see, that Iron Eyes Cody commercial came out, and it was a national sensation. People everywhere were catching “crying Indian” fever. The kids even started dressing up like him for Halloween and everything. But more importantly, the ad got its message out all too well. Seemingly overnight, people simply stopped littering. They did! They actually stopped throwing their garbage on the ground or the street or in the ocean and started disposing of it responsibly. Now, you're probably thinking that this is great news. Aren't you? A world free of litterbugs seems like a mighty tempting proposition, doesn't it? But tell that to the ushers, the custodians, the janitors, the sanitation men, in short the cleaner uppers of this great nation. Suddenly, they found themselves fast becoming irrelevant and unnecessary. For them – and in a larger sense, for everyone in America – it was a potential disaster of Titanic proportions. If all these people were put out of work, well, you can not even imagine in your wildest dreams the vast, yawning sinkhole that would be created right in the middle of the fragile American economy. We would have become annexed by the Soviet Union in no time flat, and we would all be drinking vodka and wearing furry hats today like a bunch of loyal party members. Do you want to drink vodka and wear a furry hat, comrade? Wait, don't answer that. Anyway, you'll have to take my word on this. Things were bad and about to get a whole lot worse for our country. Something had to be done... and the quicker the better.


And guess who stepped up to the plate and said, “Have no fear! I'll handle this!” Yeah, that's right. It was me, good old Thirsty Lad, the slob's best friend and king of the litterbugs! The only way to save America herself was to convince people to go back to littering.  


To my eternal credit, I wrote and directed the initial commercial as well as starring in it. I got the Custodians Union to put up half the money, while my good pal Jimmy Caan (you know, Sonny Corleone from The Godfather) put up the other half. People talk a lot about Jimmy, but when the chips are down, he's one amigo you can always count on, which is more than I can say for 99.9% of the rotten bums in this god forsaken town we call Hollywood. The budget for that first, iconic spot was something like $75,000 – chicken feed today, of course, but a sizable amount back when we did it. The plot was very simple, since the whole thing only ran a minute. For the purposes of this story, it helps if you have seen the original ad. I'll describe it for you. An Indian is paddling a canoe down a polluted river past factories belching out foul looking smoke. There's garbage in the water and more garbage on the ground when the Injun finally comes ashore. So the Indian – and you've gotta understand, they have him dressed up like Tonto from The Lone Ranger with the fringe on his clothes and the feathers on his head and the whole bit  – starts walking toward the highway, which is packed with those ugly cars that they used to make back then.  (They could not have gotten away with this ad in the 1950s, when cars looked great. Thanks, Detroit, for dropping the ball on that one!)


“Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this land,” says the narrator, very grim and serious. “And some people don't.” Meaning the rest of us bums, I guess.


At that point, a passing motorist carelessly throws some garbage – I could never tell what it was supposed to be, maybe some fast food or something – out the window of a moving car, and it literally lands at the feet of this Tonto looking Indian guy and splatters all over the damned place . And the camera pans up from the Indian's feet to show his face, and there's a single tear rolling down his cheek.


“People start pollution,” said the narrator. “People can stop it.” Bam. End of commercial. Now, admit it, doesn't that start working on your guilt, especially if you're white? (We all know what The White Man did to The Red Man back in the olden days, right?) How could I possibly compete with that? By fighting fire with fire, that's how.


Our commercial was filmed in a high school instead of a river, but we essentially tried to keep it shot for shot the same as the original and even had our music guy, Jerry Valentine, whip up some copycat background music (close enough the original to be recognizable but not too close to be plagiarism, if you get my meaning) so people would understand the point we were trying to make right away and the message was absolutely unmistakable. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but people are dumb. And I'm not talking a little slow on the uptake either. I mean, they're rock stupid. People are so stunning dumb, in my experience, that you more or less have to treat them like dogs, which is what we tend to do in the advertising . I'm sorry to have to put it to you good readers so bluntly, but it's true. The American viewing public has no attention span and no memory and only a dim flicker of comprehension in their poorly evolved brains. They're like Cocker spaniels or any other flea bitten mutt you would find in a pet shop. You have to show them as clearly as possible what you want them to do or they just don't get it. I saw a quote recently somewhere, wish I could remember where I saw it (sorry), but it was: “Subtlety is what people tend to miss.” And that's about as true an assessment of the situation as I've ever heard it put.


Now, I'm sure you have played the game called “fetch” with a dog before, right? And if so, you will doubtlessly remember that there was nothing “subtle” about the game what so ever. You probably said to the dog, right before throwing the ball, something witty and clever like: “See this? See the ball! That's right! Now go get it! Get the ball! Good boy!” What the hell do you think advertising is all about, anyway? It's the same game of fetch you play with Fido in the back yard. “See this? See the nice consumer product? That's right! Now go get it! Get the consumer product! Good consumer!” That's what we were trying to do with our public service announcement. In a way, it's what I have been doing all my life. Playing fetch is my career. Hell, it's my calling.


So our commercial had a janitor – played, brilliantly I might add, by yours truly – sweeping up the halls of a typical American high school. We shot it so that the broom I was holding was kind of like the oar that Iron Eyes Cody had in his commercial. But here's the twist – the place he is supposed to be cleaning is already spotless! I mean, you could eat off the floors at this school, if you're the type who gets his jollies by eating off the floor! But the important thing is that there's nothing for our poor janitor friend to do. That's when our OWN deep voiced narrator chimes in.


“Some people,” he says, sounding like an Old Testament prophet in a Cecil B. DeMille picture, “have a deep and abiding respect for the custodial profession in this country.”


At this point, a teenaged kid wads up a piece of paper and it looks like he's going to just toss it on the ground. But he thinks better of it and carefully deposits the paper in a big plastic trash basket instead.


“And some people don't,” says our narrator. Incidentally, we got James Earl Jones for that part – cheap, too. This was long before Star Wars. He was a buddy of mine, so he did it for scale. James is one hell of a nice guy. He's black in real life, did you know that? Yes, readers, Darth Vader himself is as black as the costume he wears. It's a funny old world, isn't it?


After the high school kid throws away his trash, we cut to me, and of course there is a single, dramatic tear rolling down my famous face. I could not and still can not cry on command, so this “crying” effect was achieved with Glycerin. That was a luxury, let me tell you! In the old days, if you were supposed to cry on camera and could not for whatever reason “get it up” on your own, there was likely something painful being done to your person just out of camera range. Ouch! And ouch again! Thank Christ for Glycerin, is what I say!


Anyway, after “the money shot” of the crying janitor getting all weepy because he's obsolete, the commercial ends with James Earl Jones reading the final tag line of the ad, “People stopped littering. They can start again.” Catchy, huh? I'm awfully proud of that line, since I wrote it myself. And the ad, I am not too humble to admit, worked like gangbusters.  People went back to littering, more than ever in some cases, and the demand for custodians soared like the mighty eagle. Dances With Dust Mop bring-um much wampum home to squaw in teepee.


Like the Jerry Reed song says, when you're hot, you're hot. We knew we were on a roll with that commercial, so we made another one right away. This time, we set our sights on that other great enemy of litter (and by extension, the American economy), Woodsy the Owl. You remember those awful, annoying commercials of his. “In the city or in the woods, help keep America looking good. Hoot hoot!” and “Give a hoot, don't pollute.” Damn, I hate to talk smack about another mascot because I know how brutal the biz can be, but I will not even hesitate to tell you I hated Woodsy the Owl. He was such a goody goody in the commercials, but he was a completely different owl when he was not in front of the infamous monster with the one glass eye, by which I mean the television camera. You would not like the “real” Woodsy. No one did.


I suppose that this would not be a “tell all” book if I didn't really tell all, so I guess I will have to tell you about my experiences and complicated history with Woodsy. Mascotting* is a pretty insular business, especially at the national level. Yes, we do generally all know each other. I have never gone so far as to marry a mascot – there aren't too many female ones that I can think of off the top of my head, for one thing – but we do tend to socialize among our own kind. We have our own cocktail parties, Christmas parties, picnics in the summer, and things like that. Every year, a few of us go to Vegas and tear that town a new one. We tend to stick together. I don't know why other than it's a tradition. Mascots are very insular. If you are not one of us, you are always going to be on the outside, looking in. I think that was at the heart of all of my divorces.


Keep in mind, though, that friendships between us mascots tend to happen ONLY when one mascot is not in direct competition with another mascot in the same industry. There are so many in the breakfast cereal business, for instance, and those guys generally do NOT get along so well. It's so complex even I don't know all the in's and out's of it. But I'll try to give you the basic gist of what I know. The two main cereal manufacturers with mascots are Kellogg's and General Mills, though there are a few who work for Purina and the other companies. Now, by and large, the Kellogg's people stick with their own kind, while the General Mills people stick with their kind, and never the twain shall meet. But it's not even as simple as that. It's not like one group is the Capulets and the other is the Montagues (or the Hatfields and the  McCoys if you prefer), because there are definitely rivalries within each of those two company. Notice how you never see Tony the Tiger (a right wing homophobic macho he-man type) chilling out with Snap, Crackle and Pop (each one gay as a French horn). Meanwhile, the Trix Rabbit (a paranoid, often violent coke addict) won't even be in the same room with the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee (sanctimonious pothead). They just don't get along well together. I tend to get along with all these guys. I'm a good mixer.


(* In case you were curious, “mascot” can be used as a noun or a verb. I'm not sure what Mr. Noah Webster would have to say on the subject, but it is standard procedure for those of us lucky enough to make it in the biz for any measurable amount of time. Let me conjugate the verb “To mascot” for you. I mascot. You mascot. He mascots. For your further edification, I will now use it in a typical sentence: “We've been mascotting for 20 years.” Truth be told, when it's just us in a room, we tend to shorten it down just to “scot.” Like we might say, “Tony stopped 'scotting a few years ago. He couldn't hack it anymore. Now he's a tennis pro down in Boca Raton.”)


The cereal business aside, mascots tend to be pretty cool with one another. We all know how difficult the business can be as well as this town in general. No one understands a mascot better than another mascot. I have been lucky enough to be one of the only major paper towel mascots to last more than a few commercials. Really, my only competition is what's his face from Brawny, the lumberjack looking fellow with the mustache and the plaid shirt. You will think I am being catty, talking about him so dismissively this way, but honestly I have only met the man once or twice in all these decades, and I have not even seen him since the redesign they gave him a few years back. He was very cold and distant for the most part. We might have shook hands. That's about it. There were some nasty rumors going around that the makeover was NOT just a standard redesign but that the original guy had died and had to be replaced entirely. But I am not interested in spreading rumors, gossip, and innuendo. This is a work of Art with a capital A, remember? The God's Honest Truth has been my guiding light throughout the creation of this book. I would not have it any other way, and neither would you. That is why I am limiting myself to things I either saw first hand or heard from reputable sources. No fats, no filler, and NO idle gossip. That's the Thirsty Lad promise to you, the reader. See if you can get a better deal from any other book in the book store. Can you? No. No, you can't. That's why Perforated is worth every penny you paid for it, assuming you didn't steal it or (worse yet) check it out from a library, you cheap bastard. Also, while I'm on this subject, if you actually paid for this book in quarters.... well, you and I probably would not get along so well, if you catch my drift. Think of the poor cashier. Think of the poor customers waiting impatiently in line behind you. What the hell were you thinking? God, people like you make me so mad I could just spit.


Okay, Thirsty. You're getting a little too worked up here. Rise above it. Be the bigger man. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ahhhh.


Where were we? We were discussing Woodsy the Owl and what a complete jerk off he was...and probably still is, for all I know. Is that being a little harsh? Hey, the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. And from the past behavior that I personally witnessed with my two oversized cartoon eyes, Woodsy is a bigger jackass even than me. And that is truly saying something, pilgrim, since by my own reckoning I should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for asinine behavior. I first met Woodsy in 1972, only about 2 years after he had been introduced. I had been around for about 20 years by that point, so I was an old pro in the game and maybe wary of the young turks who thought they knew it all. In other words, guys just like Woodsy. A few of us mascots  – me, Speedy Alka Seltzer, Poppin Fresh, Lucky – were backstage at the Grammys, doing lines of coke off the chest of the Swiss Miss (you know, the little lady from the hot cocoa packets), when in strolls Woodsy, big as life. He was just getting popular back then, and he had the swell head something awful. It happens to everybody in the business, but it happened worse to him. He had the worse case of it I had ever seen in my professional life. Woodsy and the singer/songwriter Carly Simon were going out back then, if you can picture that. What they did in the bedroom is beyond me. Poor Carly was beat up pretty badly that night, and I knew exactly who had done it.  I didn't have to guess, because he proceeded to smack her around several times right in front of us.


“Hey,” said Lucky the Lucky Charms leprechaun. “Keep your damned wings off her, you big feathery freak!.”


“Or what?” challenged Woodsy.


“Or I'll give you a bunch of fives,” retorted Lucky. Typical Irishman that he was, Lucky did most of his thinking with his fists, but he had a heart as big as his body was small. He then started screaming like a banshee and just charged directly at Woodsy with everything he had.


Woody just laughed arrogantly at the bold little bowler hatted “mick” (which is not at all an offensive term, I hasten to point out, and used with all due affection – hell, he frequently used it himself!) and pushed him aside like a schoolyard bully tossing aside a nerdy underclassman. Now Woodsy is a hell of a big guy – about seven feet tall, if you can picture that. I am not such a tall drink of water myself. You see, readers, I was designed to be four feet tall, and that is how tall I have remained. Oh, I've gone through a few nips and tucks over the years – no huge redesigns or total makeovers like some mascots get, mind you – but I have never gotten any taller than I was when I was “born” in the 1950s. The powers that be decided that I would be more appealing to housewives if I remained little, so little have I remained. That is the way of one's life in the mascot biz. You rise and fall by what the public thinks. Do I regret it? Oh, sure. Sometimes. I mean, because I look like a little kid, sometimes people TREAT me like a little kid. And that's not always the best thing, especially where the ladies are concerned. I mean, you don't want the fine looking honeys to think that you have the equipment, the libido, and the sexual prowess of a ten year old boy. You want them to think you're a full grown man. Because that's what I am, baby. A man. One hundred percent prime beef. Aw, yeah. And generally, once women spend some time with me, they realize that I'm not like the character I play on TV. But some will not even give me my well earned day in court just because of the way I look. I guess it's a two sided coin, though. I have gotten plenty of tail over the years, and I owe every last scrap of my romantic success to my fame. If I were just some ordinary slob and not Thirsty Lad, the famous Hollywood TV star, I wonder how many of those busty starlets and horny debutantes and lust crazed heiresses would have shared my bed. I am guessing a number between zero and one.


But I seem to have gotten off track yet again. You have to keep me on my toes, reader, so that I don't just go off rambling about every little tangent that comes into my feeble brain. My ex wives will all tell you that I don't listen and I can't seem to concentrate on anything for too long a time. But it's not exactly like that. My brain is like a buzzing bee, even to this day. I can't keep it from flying from one flower to the next. So these aren't tangents. They're flowers.


I was talking about Woodsy the Owl, that nasty son of a dumpling from the “give a hoot! Don't Pollute” commercials. Again, to recap: it's the 1972 Grammy awards. I was backstage with some of my mascot buddies, and our happy revelries that fine night were being spoiled by Woodsy and the domestic abuse he was then visiting upon his current girlfriend, Carly Simon. Carly was really big that year. In fact, she was still clutching her statuette for Best New Artist when he knocked her to the ground with those freakish wing arms of his. Lucky the Leprechaun tried to stop him, as I say, but the Immutable Laws of Physics were not on the side of our plucky Irish companion that night, him being about two feet tall – even shorter than me! As I said, there were a few other guys with me that night, mainly Reddy Killowatt (I don't know if you remember him but he was a legend in the game), Poppin Fresh (the Pillsbury dough boy)  and Speedy Alka Seltzer (of “plop plop fizz fizz” fame). There may have been some more with us that night, but I forget. The mind is not as sharp today as it once was. Some of the details of life have been lost in the ether of history. Huh, that's a nice little metaphor if I do say so myself. And plus, I was high as a kite that night, as I was for pretty much that entire decade.


Did I already mention that we were doing lines of the purest Brazilian cocaine (the expensive stuff!) off the chest of the Swiss Miss gal that night? Well, if I didn't, I am mentioning it now, not because I am bragging but because it is true. Now, I know what you're thinking, you enlightened politically correct all around good person you.  You are probably thinking, “Thirsty, that doesn't sound like very enlightened behavior. You are talking trash about Woodsy, but you sound like a typical male chauvinist pig your own damned self!” Now, it is true that I will not likely be receiving any awards from the National Organization for Women any time soon, but there is a vast amount of difference between what we were doing and what Woodsy was into. First off, the Swiss Miss girl was a freak (in the sexual sense, not genetically because in that department she was flawless) who was completely into what was happening and what was being done to her. It was consensual, is what I am trying to convey. And secondly, we were not into any kind of violence or abuse of women. It just wasn't part of what we did. Maybe I am a relic of the old school, but that goes against the code of honor for a gentleman in my book.  Carly certainly didn't seem to be enjoying it. No, sir. Not in the least was she into the rough stuff. In fact, she was crying her eyes out, bawling like a damned baby. And if there's one thing I just can't stand to see (or to hear, for that matter) it's a grown woman crying.


So after Lucky got his little Irish ass handed to him, the other mascots – who were already pretty bleary – just kind of staggered away, the cowards, though I can not say that I blamed them too much. I mean, I was plenty steamed about their desertion at the time, but I forgave them when I had a chance to spend some time alone and analyze what had really happened. And what happened was that none of those little guys wanted to fight that giant owl. That was the long and short of it. Needless to say, I was the only one left standing. Carly was curled up in the fetal position in the corner. That's when Woodsy set those big owlish goo goo eyes of his on my special lady friend for the evening, the aforementioned Swiss Miss. Now Missy, as we called her in those days, was lying on her back the buffet table when Woodsy approached. He had a wicked look in his eyes, and God knows what he was planning to do to her. I knew I had to do something to prevent this from happening. I could not live with myself otherwise. Now I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I am capable of learning a thing or two when necessary. And I had learned from Lucky's previous failure that an unarmed direct attack was the worst possible strategy in this situation. The owl simply had the height and weight advantage on me. So I decided that a little strategy was just what the doctor had ordered. I spied with my little eye a bottle of Dom Perignon on a room service type tray in the corner – you know, one of those wheeled carts like you see in hotels sometimes. Quick as you please, I jumped on the cart and grabbed the bottle of Dom. Carefully aiming the bottle at my hated rival, the oversized environmentalist owl, I popped the cork right at him. Lady Luck must have been with me that crazy night, because not only did the cork hit him square in the noggin (not too much of a miracle since his cranium was the size of my whole body) just as I had hoped it would, but the champagne proceeded to spray right in his face, temporarily blinding him. I took advantage of this momentary weakness and broke the bottle over his big, fat head. Well, that did it. David had once again taken down Goliath. The mighty owl fell to the floor and was out like the proverbial light. I wonder if tiny little human beings danced around his big bird head as he landed.  (Ha ha! Get it? Oh, you're no fun.) I picked Carly up from the floor, threw a robe to Missy, and I put them both in cabs and sent them home. Weirdly enough, I never really heard from either of those two ladies again. I don't know what I expected, maybe a little gratitude for saving their asses from a giant owl, but what I got was a big fat goose egg. Zilch. Like nothing, daddy-o. Sure, I saw Missy at professional engagements from time to time. You really can't avoid other mascots and still be active in the industry. But I can't say we ever said more than “hello” to each other after that. Polite but distant, if you get my meaning. Does it ruin my story to say that this peeved me a little? Should a real hero not expect any reward, not even thanks, for his good deed? I don't know. Again, that's one for the philosophers in the audience to figure out. I can only tell you how it felt from my perspective. And from my perspective, it stank like yesterday's halibut. Carly, I can forgive. It was a hugely embarrassing moment on what should have been her big night. And it's not like we were buddies before then. Hell, we had never even met. I can completely understand why she would pretend like the whole, ugly incident never happened. She has my total forgiveness. But Missy, honey, I'm still mad about this. Maybe I'm no hero, but that is how I feel about the situation.


You might be wondering at this point what happened to our our big feathery “friend” (and I put “friend” in those little sarcastic quotes so that you won't actually think that scumbag and I are pals), Woodsy? Well, you can guess that the publicists hushed the whole thing up. It never made the papers, which is probably best for all concerned – even me.... especially me! I was doing at least one illegal thing (doing drugs) and one arguably immoral thing (debasing the Swiss Miss mascot) that night, so it's not like I could call the police and report him. Besides, I have always felt that to get real justice you have to take care of things yourself. The “law” is for the regular people of the world, the ones like yourself. But we in the entertainment industry have our own sort of justice and our own sort of law. In short, we don't get mad, we get even. Well, we get both. First mad, then even. I mean, you're not likely to want to get even with somebody if you're not a little mad at them first.


So now let's jump forward a few years. My pro littering commercial has been a smashing success, and we already have a sequel in mind. Okay, have you got that scene set in your mind? Great. Now we can continue with the story. As you probably remember from the beginning of this kooky chapter, the first ad set its sights on Iron Eyes Cody. But for the next one, we wanted to take down the big guy himself – Woodsy. In case you have forgotten – and I would not blame you for doing so, because the owl is no longer the ubiquitous public figure he was back in the 1970s – Woodsy's typical schtick was to go around reminding people, kids mainly, not to pollute. Woodsy used to work outside. All of his commercials were shot in parks and places like that. Now, obviously, we could not really use Woodsy in our version. There would be lawsuits galore, and let me tell you, I know from first hand experience that those are no fun. They are expensive and time consuming, and they just make you wish we all lived a lawless and totally anarchic post apocalyptic hell zone where might makes right and “please” and “thank you” are uttered only by sissies and little girls. Well, sometimes I feel like that anyway. But I don't live in that world. I live in this world – your world, our world – so I have to watch my little cartoon ass twenty four, seven. So we fudged it a little. Our version of friend Woodsy was a big brown woodchuck named Woodley. We actually got Ted Cassidy – you know, the freakishly tall butler, Lurch, from “The Addams Family” – to dress up as Woodley and play that part for us, though we had Paul Frees dub the voice in later. Woodley was big and brown just like Woody, and he wore the same kind of outfit, meaning the green overalls and the little green Robin Hood cap. But he was a  woodchuck and not an owl, so there was no threat of legal action on anyone's part. Our behinds were covered, so to speak.


Rather than describe the commercial to you based on my faulty memory, I am just going to include the entire script that I wrote for it. Yes, I still have the script among my personal effects. You would not guess it just to look at me, but I am something of a hoarder or pack rat. I save a lot of useless crap that I should have thrown out in the garbage many many years ago. What can I say? I am a sentimental old fluff at heart. Or maybe just a lazy bum. But occasionally, this tendency of mine pays off. When I knew I was going to write this book, for example, the very first thing I did was to go into the venerable “Thirsty Lad archives,” which is to say the attic of my spacious and lovely Malibu home. And the garage. And the basement. And the crawl space. And the shed out back. And the other shed next to it. And the file cabinets – there are maybe half a dozen of them – I keep in the room designated as my “office.” You may scoff, but the “archival dig” process really helped. It brought back a lot of memories and offered proof that all the things that happened to me really did happen to me. It was not all a dream. There was physical evidence to support it. I was like the archaeologist of my own life. I felt like what's his face, the British guy, when he found the tomb of King Tut. Oh, you know the guy I mean. I probably have it written down here somewhere... if only I could find it among all this clutter! So there are downsides to being a pack rat, too.

But anyway, here is the script I wrote for the commercial. I do so hope you enjoy it and find it a fascinating and worthwhile read. If not, screw you!


EXTERIOR. PARK. DAY.


It is a beautiful, warm summer day. A group of CHILDREN representing VARIOUS ETHNIC GROUPS are gathered around a PICNIC TABLE in a public park with wide open fields of green grass. Among their ranks are a CHUBBY WHITE BOY with chocolate stains all over his face, a TOKEN BLACK KID in a yellow and green baseball uniform, a REGULAR WHITE BOY, an adorable LITTLE RED HAIRED GIRL WITH PIGTAILS, and (budget permitting) an ASIAN KID IN A WHEELCHAIR.


As the commercial begins, the children are making veritable pigs of themselves, gorging themselves on the food that is spread out on the table – hamburgers, french fries, potato chips, hot dogs, etc. They are drinking soft drinks out of cans and bottles. A few few away from them is virtually empty TRASH BASKET. As you can guess, these kids are generating a whole lot ofgarbage – empty cans, dirty plates and napkins, etc. But they are throwing it on the ground all around them, and exactly none of it is actually making it to the trash can. There is litter everywhere.


NOTE TO DIRECTOR: Please NO paper towel! If the FCC finds out there is paper towel in this ad, they will nail my ass to the wall faster than you can say “conflict of interest.” Napkins and Kleenex, however, are perfectly fine and, in fact, encouraged. Thank you


The kids are ad libbing various small talk, laughing and chattering among themselves the way kids will do, not giving two damns about the state of the world around them.


Suddenly, a VOICE is heard from off screen, interrupting the picnic.




VOICE
Hey, kids!  What's going on?



The kids look up from their feast, wide eyed with amazement. They gasp at what they see.




GIRL WITH PIGTAILS
(pointing)
It's Woodley Woodchuck!



Our antagonist, WOODLEY WOODCHUCK, now enters. He is a giant woodchuck in overalls and a very stupid looking hat with a feather in it. He speaks in a very cartoony “goofy” voice. He is awful and you should not like him.




WOODLEY
(drawing his words out, like a goddamn moron)
Thaaaaaaaaat's right!


REGULAR WHITE BOY
(clearly a little afraid)
Wha... what are you doing here, Woodley?


WOODLEY
I'm here to spread the word about keeping our parks and forests clean as a whistle.



He punctuates this last remark by taking a COACH'S WHISTLE out of his pocket and tweeting on it for several seconds. The noise is shrill and disturbing. The children wince and cover their ears.




FAT KID
(sobbing)
Why is this happening to us? Why?!?


WOODLEY
Because you kids haven't been paying attention to what I've
been saying all these years! I mean, just look at this place!
It's filthy! You have made this place into a pigsty with
all this littering! And now you will pay for your crimes.


Woodley raises his giant paws in a menacing fashion and advances toward the children in a threatening manner. The crippled Asian kid (budget permitting) starts praying in some Far Eastern language. Just as it seems like all hope is lost, ANOTHER VOICE is heard from off screen.





ANOTHER VOICE
Hold it right there!



The children all look up in surprise and delight at something out of camera range. Woodley also turns to look at whatever it is.




THE CHILDREN AND WOODLEY
(in unison)
Thirsty Lad!



I, THIRSTY LAD, now enter. I am wearing a superhero outfit – cape, boots, unitard, the works. There is a crest reading “TL” on my chest. Also, I am wielding a fearsome LOUISVILLE SLUGGER with a nail through it.




THIRSTY LAD
That's right, children. And you needn't worry about this
Communist subversive bothering you any longer with
his freedom hating propaganda.




I raise the mighty bat, poised to strike my hated foe. He cowers at my feet, trembling.



WOODLEY
(weeping pathetically)
Please! Kill the children if you must, but spare my life!!!





DISSOLVE TO:

EXTERIOR. PARK. DUSK


The children and I are now gathered around the lifeless corpse of Woodley Woodchuck. We have lit him on fire and are ROASTING MARSHMALLOWS over the flames. There are big black X's over his eyes, indicating death.





FAT KID
You sure saved our bacon that time, Thirsty Lad!


TOKEN BLACK KID
Right on!



All laugh.




THIRSTY LAD
No problem, Rusty! Anything to promote free thinking and
individual rights! Remember...





Seemingly from nowhere, I produce an ACOUSTIC GUITAR. Music fades in.





THIRSTY LAD AND THE CHILDREN
(singing)
In a park or a restaurant...
Throw your trash anywhere you want!
The choice has always been up to you...
Don't let hippies tell you what to do!


JAMES EARL JONES
(voice over)
This message has been brought to you the American Council to
Promote Littering and by Mr. James Earl Jones



As we are fading to black...



REGULAR WHITE BOY
Should we douse the fire twice and stir the
ashes when we're done here, Thirsty Lad?


THIRSTY LAD
I wouldn't bother.


THE END




And... scene. (Just so you know, the budget for the final finished version of the commercial did not allow for us to hire a real Asian kid in a real wheelchair, so I wound up playing that role myself. We swiped the wheelchair from the set of Ironsides with Raymond Burr. Now it can be told! Me so solly!)


Wasn't that a terrific commercial? I was very proud of it. We won the Emmy, the Cleo, and the Tony Award for that spot. It played for years and years on television, always to rapturous applause. When I heard that children were actually going to their local parks specifically in order to litter, well, I could not have been more proud of my accomplishments. Now, some of the nattering nabobs of negativism -- I speak now, gentle reader, of those cantankerous cranks of the world who are never satisfied with anything in their own lives and therefore feel that they must take our their frustrations on the real movers and shakers like me -- will say that this ad also is to blame for a series of forest fires and a dramatic increase in violence committed against both woodchucks and owls. But you know why they say these things? Because they are jealous, that's why! Jealousy is the cause of it all, you mark my words. They can't beat me and they can't join me, so what else is there to do but knock me? I have a little success, so the failures of the world resent me. It's really sad, people. The good news is, I do not let things like this get to me while I am sober. If I had turned tail at the first hint of backlash, I would have given up my high profile career many decades ago instead of being the public face of the fifteenth most popular paper towel in America. (And we are as high as #7 or #8 in some of the southern states. There are some places in the country, reader, where I can not even relieve myself in public without being hassled by adoring fans.)


Although I got into public service announcements mainly to get revenge against my accursed archenemies, I also like to feel that the humanitarian work I did during those years was my way of giving back for all the success I have had. Do I deserve sainthood for these acts of selflessness and pure human goodness? Probably, yes, I do. And will I add a clause to my will stating that my descendents are legally required to petition the Vatican until I am canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic faith? Yes, I will probably do that in all likelihood as well. But at the end of the day, it's all about the children. That's the real reason I did those commercials.


You might be wondering, what did happen to those kids who appeared in that iconic commercial with me? Well, believe it or not, I still hear from them occasionally. Mainly through court documents, of course, but still it's nice to keep in touch any way we can. I thought I would give you a little update on where those kids are today:


KIP DICKERS (regular white boy) was one of the top TV sitcom stars of the 1970s and early 1980s, with roles on such shows as Bustin' My Chops!, Whose Hand Is That? and Oh No! It's Bonkers!, not to mention the perennial holiday favorite made for TV movie, Jimmy McGuillicuddy and the Fantabulous Electrified Santa Claus Machine with Abe Vidgoda and the Solid Gold Dancers. Kip's cocaine habit kept him out of the sequel, sadly, but he did go on to turn his cocaine addiction into a highly successful heroin addiction. With a little luck and determination, Kip's bloated corpse should be discovered in a reservoir or gas station lavatory any day now. Best of luck, Kipper! I know you can do it.


TOMMY O'DONAGAN (Rusty, the fat kid) Everybody's favorite in the original commercial, next to me of course. Tommy fell under the spell of one of those wacky religious cults shortly after the commercial brought him international fame and the love of millions. The poor kid just could not deal with his new found stardom, and I guess he felt that those nut cases could help him with that spiritual mumbo jumbo of theirs. He traveled to Nepal in order to study at the feet of the famous Yogi Abubu and, later, the Swami Riva. Last I heard, Tommy had changed his name to Pupu Platter and was selling incense on the streets somewhere in Oregon. Depending on your definition, his life could be seen as a complete failure or an almost complete failure.


CHARLOTTE PEPPER (girl with pigtails) Died in Vietnam. Not in the Vietnam War, though, because that had ended years earlier. No, she went there with a tour group on vacation a few years back, got a hold of some tainted Mi Quang flavored milkshakes at the Ho Chi Minh City Burger King and thought she could fly. Supposedly, they're still finding pieces of her in the parking lot of the local Holiday Inn. The poor little gal never had a chance. I really don't like to talk publicly about Charlotte. (You were too pure for this world!) I did, however, agree to play the role of ME in the highly acclaimed TV movie, Fly Like an Eagle: The Charlotte Pepper Story, which aired extensively and exclusively on the Lifetime Network. I thought that Lindsay Wagner did a great job of playing the role of Charlotte. Lindsay, honey, if you ever want to work with me again, you have my number. Seriously, give me a jingle. We'll talk.


SCOOTS BALENTOOT (the token black kid) To tell you the truth, I don't really know what happened to that kid. I don't even know his actual name. It was something like “Scoots Balentoot,” but I would not testify to that in court. It is very likely that his first name might have been Skipper or Scotty, It was definitely something with a “ska” sound at the beginning. I do remember that much. The last name escapes me completely. I said “Balentoot” because that was the name of an imaginary dog I had for a few years in the 1990s. For all I know, his last name was Smith or Jones or Smith or Brown. Who knows? So Scooter Smith Jones Brown Whatever, if you are out there and this book somehow reaches you, get in touch. (Through my many lawyers, preferably.) And once again, I would like to extend an invitation (among other things) to Ms. Lindsay Wagner, the hottest little pimento in this business we call show. Lindsay, please call. (You don't need to bother with the lawyers.)


You might be wondering what Woodsy the Owl's reaction to the ad was? Publicly he didn't have one. I'm sure his lawyers and handlers and various yes men told him not to make any kind of official statement about the competing ad. You see, if he had commented on what we were doing, that would have legitimized us in some way, and he did not want to give us that satisfaction. But I think it is safe to say that we handily won that particular battle. And ultimately, we won the war, too. Today, there is more littering and garbage than ever in this country, and I like to feel that I played a big part in that. And I would like to remind you that I am still very much in the public eye, still filming new commercials after all these years. Of course, I don't do the public service announcements anymore because the pay (i.e. nothing) stinks, and I have bills and alimony and child support and who knows what all else. Meanwhile, Woodsy's public profile has tapered off to almost nothing these days. Oh, he's still a figurehead of the conservation movement, but let's be honest here. When was the last time you saw that big, brown, feathery freak on TV. I'm guessing you can't even remember the last time. He lives these days much like Charles Foster Kane – locked away in his own personal Xanadu, brooding over the past, surrounding by the useless trinkets he has acquired over these many years, but profoundly alone and sad. In my weaker moments, I almost pity that big dumb bastard. He's really been his own worst enemy all these years. He has no one to blame but himself for his isolation and downward career spiral. But then I remember those disastrous 1972 Grammys, and the hate starts building up in me all over again. End of sympathy.





CHAPTER 8: SMOKEY THE BEAR AND A FUNNY LITTLE RIDDLE NAMED ME


Now, some of you might be asking if I ran into that OTHER big name from the public service announcement game, Smokey the Bear. The answer to that question is yes, though my encounters with Smokey (or simply “Smoke” as he likes to be called) have occurred almost entirely within the professional sphere, so to speak. No, Virginia, we are not best buddies or anything like that. But I have seen enough of this famous bear to make an impression on me and to make a few snap judgments about him. And that's what I'm going to give you, because as far as I know, Perforated is the first book ever to be written by one of us mascots. It is your very first glimpse into the mysterious inner sanctum of our profession, and I would like to think of myself as your humble tour guide. And what kind of tour guide would I be if I showed you around the place and didn't even introduce you to one of our most famous residents? Let us be blunt about these things. I know that Smokey the Bear is a bigger star than I am. I don't hesitate to admit that in print. I mean, depending upon your personal point of view, I have either a “massive ego” or a “healthy self image.” But even us egotists know our limits, or at least the smart ones do. Therefore, if I talk to you about Smokey you will know that it is from a position of respect. You cannot argue with the kind of success that Smokey has had in his career. I have no choice but to look up to him. After all, he is so much taller than I am. Boom boom! Thank you, thank you. I'm here all week, folks! Remember to tip your waitress. Try the veal!


But seriously, folks, my first encounter with Smokey the Bear was back in 1971 at the Concert  For Bangladesh with George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and just about anyone who was anyone in the world of rock. I'm talking Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Badfinger... everybody! I was playing bass with a country rock group called Avocado Sunset back in those days, and we were scheduled to perform at the afternoon show. The concert was being held at New York City's famous Madison Square Garden, and when I stepped onto that stage I knew that I had truly made it in show business. It is every performer's dream to one day play “the Garden,” and that afternoon I made my dream come true. In case you were not there or were there and do not remember because you were puffing the old wacky tobacky (or “loco smoke-oh” if you prefer) that day, I will generously remind you  there were afternoon and evening shows – with separate admission -- and guess who was taking our plum spot in the slightly more prestigious evening show? That's right. Mr. Smokey the Bear himself. I told you he was a bigger star than I was, and I guess George Harrison felt that there was only room for one mascot act per concert. Two might be pushing it. Anyway, during the rehearsals, Smokey and Ravi Shankar were working out this extra long, maybe twenty minute version of the “Smokey the Bear” theme song with Indian instrumentation – sitars, tablas, that stuff. That was the style of the day, you must understand. But from what I could see, it was clear that Smokey was no musician. I mean, that bear had no pitch, no rhythm, nothing. After one particularly errant note emerged from the ursine entertainer, I could not help but laugh. Well, my brothers and only friends, Smokey shot me a look that could very easily have sent me to that Big Checkout Lane in the Sky. I mean, he was steamed something awful. But I could not help myself. As god is my witness, he was stinking up the joint. He should have been thanking me for my forthrightness and honesty, not to mention bravery. I only soiled myself three times that day.


“Thirsty,” you are no doubt saying to yourself at this point, “you have some nerve criticizing Smokey the bear's musical talent when you are hardly a music legend yourself. Who died and named you Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of all a sudden.”


Let me head you off at the pass, little partner. I have never claimed to be any kind of musical prodigy. Music was just a hobby for me, I will now readily admit. It was an ego trip, a way to get chicks. In retrospect, I suppose I was just a day tripper. I was a Sunday driver, yeah. But it didn't take me “soooooooooo long to find out” that the music game is even dirtier than the advertising game, and I don't mean the kind of dirt you can clean up with paper towel either. Avocado Sunset put out only one self titled album on A&M Records, and even that was a personal favor from Herb Alpert, whom I had saved from choking one night at the Trocadero. (Long story. Maybe I will get to it later, maybe not. Depends which way the wind blows.)  The record never sold, except in Norway, and the band just sort of dissolved. We never even broke up, really. We just stopped getting together or answering each other's phone calls. It was like a pastime that I lost interest in, the way other people lose interest in decoupage or ham radio. It was a phase. I was never “in it to win it,” as the pundits say. So I am hardly a “music legend,” you are right. BUT – and this is a big but – I still contend that I know my way around a tune, enough so that I do not embarrass myself in public when it comes time to sing “Happy Birthday to You” or “For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.” So I know of which I speak when I contend that Smokey the Bear had no more business being on that stage that an elephant has on a unicycle. How do you like these analogies, folks? I got a million of 'em!


(Side note: the lyrics of “For He's a Jolly Good Fellow” have confused me for years. I always thought the line was, “For he's a jolly good fellow... It's nobody's candy night.” I was singing it wrong for years. Finally, it was Barbara Streisand – I get to call her “Babs” – who told me that it was “Which nobody can deny.” I must admit, Babs' version makes more sense. But enough of this.)


Anyway, apart from the rehearsals, Smokey and I did not really interact with each other before, during, or after the Concert for Bangladesh. The only real item of note was that ONE look he gave me... but what a look! And you have to understand, he's a huge bear. He could tear you part like you were made out of tissue paper. (I bet you thought I was going to say “paper towel,” but I don't have a one track mind. One ply maybe. Haw haw.) You must keep in mind, though, that Smokey was a mascot through and through. He was created by an advertising agency, just like I was, and therefore had more in common with human beings than he did with other, actual bears – you know the kind that do their duty in the woods. He walks and talks like a man, wears dungarees and a hat, lives in a co-op in Brooklyn, etc. That gets at the strange duplicity of the animal mascot. They are neither animal nor human. I think that they are more torn than us humanoid mascots. You know, until I sat down to write this book, I never really thought about it in those terms. But in retrospect, it all seems pretty clear to me that animal mascots – at least the ones that I have known – tend to have major psychological issues. I mean, I am no choir boy myself, but I have been able to “keep it together,” so to speak, much better than Woodsy or Smokey or Tony or any of them. Wow. I think I have just made a psychological breakthrough here.


Like I said, that Bangladesh concert was my first professional encounter with the famous bear, and I think it should be clear that we did not exactly hit it off brilliantly on that particular occasion. But as these things happen, our professional paths would cross from time to time at celebrity golf tournaments, award ceremonies, charity events and things like that. We might say one or two words to another, but that was it. In all these cases, I found Smokey to be a consummate professional. He came in, did what he had to do (no more and no less) and got the hell out of there. That was how he conducted himself. He could be friendly and gregarious when he needed to be – like if he were being interviewed or was signing an autograph for a young fan (the kids loved him) – but he switched it off pretty damned quickly when he was not “performing.” It was like there was a light switch inside his brain. Click. Now he's on. Click. Now he's off. In that respect, he's not so different from a lot of people in this town. I guess that's one way of dealing with the ups and downs of the profession – just isolate yourself from it all emotionally. Keep telling yourself, “This isn't me. It's just my job.” So that way, when people talk about you (like I am doing to him now), it doesn't affect you as much. Or at least you can pretend that it doesn't affect you. On some level, the barbs do get to you. That's why alcohol and drugs are so damned popular in this town. I mean, what the hell else can you do? I will say this for Smokey (I don't know him well enough to call him “Smoke” and it seems silly to call him “Mr. The Bear”): he has done a masterful job of keeping himself out of the tabloids. Think about the last time you saw him on the cover of the Enquirer or squabbling with the paparazzi on TMZ. You can't think of it, can you? Because it never happens. I wish I knew his secret for staying out of the public eye. I really do, because there seems to be an entire cottage industry built around capturing me during my worst, unguarded moments. I admire that about Smokey tremendously. His famously low profile gives him an air of class and mystery I'm not sure he would deserve otherwise. (Am I being catty again? Even if I am, a cat is no match for a bear. I think we can all agree on that.)


You know what? I am going to do the paparazzi a favor and spill the beans about the one sort of scandalous thing I can remember about Smokey the Bear. I said at the outset of this chapter that MOST of my encounters with the famous bear occurred within the professional sphere. And that is true. But there was ONE night when I saw Smokey on a night that neither of us were working.  I swear to God that this is true, and if Smokey himself disputes any bit of it, then that is is his prerogative. This was back in the early 1980s, and I was in Monte Carlo for one reason and one reason only : to gamble. Why shouldn't I say it? It's the truth, and that's what God loves to hear. Before you lecture me, I will remind you that I am a proud member of Gambler's Anonymous, along with Alcoholic's Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Bicycle Seat Sniffers Anonymous. I have been down a long, scary road with Lady Luck – who has been a much harsher mistress to me than Sweet Lady Paper Towel – but I am proud to say I have the situation well under control these days. Not so true when I took my desperate gambling junket to Monte Carlo, though. In those days, I was the sorriest gambling junkie you ever did see. There wasn't a wager I would turn down in those days.


A little background first, though, impatient reader. Since I spent most of the 1970s partying heartily with lowlifes and degenerates (a lifestyle which I am not knocking – it was one hell of a lot of fun!) and sniffing anything in powdered form up my little cartoon schnoz through rolled up hundred dollar bills which I would then use as toilet paper, it's no surprise that at the beginning of that wacky new decade called the 1980s, I was on the verge of being broke. It might have been “morning in America” for Ronald Reagan – the washed up actor then newly minted as our Commander in Chief (what a country!) – but for your lovable narrator, good ol' Thirsty Lad, it was like a permanent, inky black midnight every single damned day. Friends weren't returning my calls anymore. Offers were drying up. Hell, even my toenails hurt in those days. And when even your toenails turn traitor on you, buddy, you know it's just about time to throw in the old proverbial towel, if you catch my drift and I believe that you do. I was a wreck. My bank accounts were drained. I had sold off a lot of my possessions – cars, pieces of art, jewelry, stuff like that... basically the stupid crap you buy when you have more money than you know what to do with. My assets were just about sucked dry. It was like trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. Get me? But thanks to my own massive paranoia, I did have some cash stored away for a rainy day in various places. And I got an idea how to take some of that money and “invest” it one day during an informal lunch with one of my last supposed “friends” in the entertainment industry, Mr. Ronny Howard. (I know, I know... he's “Ron” the director now, but he'll always be little Ronny to me no matter how old he gets.) Ronny told me he had a surefire system for winning at baccarat, and if I'd give him $500, he would teach it to me. Well, I didn't know baccarat from Adam's off ox, but there was this unmistakable note of conviction in Ronny's voice which told me, “This guy knows what the hell he's talking about, Thirsty. You had better listen to what he has to say.” In those days, I always carried several thousand dollars in cash on me at all times, and I had swigged about seven or eight Whiskey Sours by that point in the afternoon, so my defenses were down. I gave Ronny the $500, and he started telling me all his baccarat secrets. (I would share them with you if I could, reader, but you will soon see why this is impossible.) After little Ronny was done with his lesson, I asked him what I should do next, and he said that I should gather up all the cash I could scrounge up and get my sorry ass (yes, Virginia, he used the word “ass” in our conversation) on a plane to Monaco. (That's where Monte Carlo is, Einstein, in case you didn't know.) “And the sooner the better!” Ronny said, pounding his fist on the bar for emphasis. So that's what I did, folks. Now, reader, you must understand that my brains were essentially scrambled eggs at that point in my life – delicious with ketchup but not exactly brimming with great ideas. I didn't know up from down or right from left. There was no way I could clearly think through a situation like this. And, besides, this advice had come straight from the mouth of TV's loveable Opie Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show. Within 24 hours of that fateful lunch, I was on a plane headed for  Monte Carlo i(flying coach, sadly – how I had fallen!) with a briefcase containing about $10,000, which was pretty much what my life savings had dwindled to by then. I don't think I could even have conceived of eating, I was so nervous. I was too chicken shit to take any drugs with me on the flight, so I was going through the cold turkey experience for about half a dozen different narcotics, up to and including Norwegian diet pills. I was shaking like a can of paint in one of those paint can shaking machines they have at hardware stores sometimes. You know those machines? Well, that was me, buster, and you had better believe it. I was such a mess.


Reader, I apologize. I have completely let this anecdote get away from me. I was supposed to tell you about Smokey the Bear, and I haven't even mentioned that big furry bastard in the last 800 words. You want to hear about him, and instead it's been all “me me me.” Well, it's like this: we're getting to our mutual friend Smokey, I promise you. Keep your jockstrap on, kemo sabe. Anyhow, I was a complete wreck by the time I got to Monte Carlo, and worse yet, I had completely forgotten everything Ronny Howard had told me about the game of baccarat. My first act upon landing was not to fetch my luggage from the baggage retrieval, because I had not brought any luggage with me, apart from the briefcase with the ten thou. (Thank God I had the foresight to handcuff that thing to my wrist!) Instead of “packing” like any normal individual would do under the circumstances, I just threw on the one tuxedo I had in my closet – a sequin encrusted number I had worn as a panelist on The Gong Show  several years earlier -- and wore it there on the plane. Seriously, does that sound like a well thought out plan to you? If it does, you need professional help, because from my perspective it sounds crazy as all hell. I can't even imagine how ridiculous I must have looked to other people then. I didn't even bother getting a hotel room. I was not there in Monte Carlo to sleep, after all; I was there to turn my $10,000 into... well, more than $10,000. Maybe $12,000. But by the time I landed in Monaco,  my stupidly conceived schemes had been thrown into a cocked hat. Old Man Reality had hit me right square in the puss with his patented eighty proof hay maker, and I was reeling from the blow.


Reader, I feel that you and I can trust each other by this point, so I'm going to admit to you that I simply broke down right there in the Monte Carlo airport. I didn't faint. I didn't black out. No, I just laid down very slowly and carefully on the floor of the place, one of those big open waiting areas, and arranged myself so that I was flat on my back, looking up at the ceiling with my arms and legs extended, as if I were making snow angels on the carpet. (P.S. If you have never made snow angels in a pile of pure Brazilian cocaine, then you have not truly lived. It is truly one of life's most beautiful experiences.) Believe me when I tell you that I thought that this was “it” for me. This was the end of the road for  Sweet Lady Paper Towel's beloved son.  Rest in peace, Thirsty Lad. I honestly felt like I was dying at that moment, even though I obviously wasn't. But at the time, I truly felt like the end for Thirsty Lad had come in an airport lounge half a world away from home. Weirdly, though, this was not a moment of panic for me. No, it wasn't a scary moment at all. I mean, yes, I had been panicked up until that moment, but all of that faded away right then. It was more like a feeling of great relief washed over me. I felt a great sensation of peace and contentment all over my small, round cartoon body. It felt warm and nourishing. No more money problems. No more health problems. No more drug problems. No more career problems. It helped that there was this great skylight right above me, and it was a beautiful day with Jolly Old Mr. Sun shining right down on me. I looked down, and the rays of sunshine were reflected beautifully by the sequins on my tuxedo. It was such a beautiful sight that I actually started to cry. This was the happiest I had felt in years... or maybe ever. Had I accidentally reached nirvana? Had this been a spiritual journey or “vision quest” in disguise? If so, maybe Ronny Howard had been my savior all along. I was now ready for death or whatever that grand old man, The Universe, had in store for me.


Or so I thought.


Now, this was a regular functioning airport in a city which did a steady tourist business. So you can guess that the place was busy. While I'm doing my best impression of a throw rug on the floor of this place, there are people all around me – passengers and airport employees alike – all buzzing like bees in a hive, going from this place to that place with lots of point and purpose and paying no attention to me whatsoever. Under normal circumstances, that kind of thing might have bothered me (“Don't you people know who I am?”), but I was on the planet Neptune or something in my brain that day so it did not faze me one little bit. I was kind of looking at the my busy surroundings the way a small child might look at a kaleidoscope – taking delight in the colors and patterns but not trying to discern any kind of “meaning” or “sense” from it. People were generally stepping around me. A few walked over me. No one was hassling me. I have no idea how long I was lying on the floor like that. It was probably no more than 20 minutes, but it felt like several consecutive lifetimes. And honestly, that would have been cool, too. I would have been quite content to remain prone on the floor the airport staring up at the skylight until the end of time.


But my new found bliss could not last forever, and in fact it ended quite violently when I suddenly became aware of a tremendous weight bearing down on me. Get it? “Bearing” down? That's a pun, Pinocchio. Try and keep up with me here. This is an express train, not a local. Anyhow, I am sure by now that you can guess who it was, this mysterious oppressor of mine. Yes, it was Smokey the Bear himself, and he had one of those big hairy feet of his on my abdomen – or my tummy, for those of you who didn't make it to anatomy class very often. I don't know if he was placing his entire weight on me, but it sure felt like it. Pardon my french, but that bear is one heavy motherfucker. Oh, I'm going to be tossing a nickel in the swear jar tonight, but it had to be said. I mean, he was big as life. Bigger even than that! And I was so far gone that it took me a few seconds to even register the pain I was experiencing at that moment.  The old noodle took its sweet time to warm up, but then it started percolating (am I mixing my metaphors? too damned bad for you!) and the truly alarming reality of my situation came crashing down on me like a two ton order of flapjacks. There was a giant  talking bear, wearing a ranger's hat and dungarees, pressing down hard on my quite vulnerable abdominal cavity with one of his paws. And the son of a... well, no not a son of a bitch, because he's a bear. What are bear's mothers called? Mama bears? I don't know. But he was a son of one of those, and he was about to crush me like I would crush a grape with one of his obnoxious pedal extremities. The only thing between him and me at that point was a cummerbund. (I was in a tux, remember? Maybe you should be taking notes from now on, you ten o'clock scholar.)


Smokey then started to speak to me or else he had been speaking to me all along and I finally noticed, but his voice came through all echo-y for the first few minutes (or hours or years or seconds – again, I was not too cognizant of what Father Time was doing just then) and I could not discern any meaning from the big bear's words. He really does have that great, low, basso profundo voice you hear in the TV commercials. You probably thought I was going to say that in real life he speaks with a high, whiny, lisping sort of voice, but it just isn't the case, pilgrims, even though I may wish that it were. Vocally at least, what you hear is what you get with our pal Smokey. And it was that famous deep voice which was reverberating through my poor widdle head, fellow travelers. The first actual word I could make out was “hey” – not much, but it was a start. Other intelligible words soon followed, and eventually I was making out full sentences! Fancy that!


“Hey, down there,” said Smokey the Bear. (I'm a poet and I don't know it, but that really is what he said.) “You look a little lost.”


Even in my paranoid, drug addled state I could tell that this was not an offer for help. Because he is a mascot and not a “real” bear, Smokey has a much more expressive face than a bear would otherwise have. That's the way he was designed. I don't know if you have seen the documentary called Grizzly Man, and if you haven't you really should (put it on your Netflix queue with Jaws, but there's a great moment when the director Werner Herzog talks about how when you look in a grizzly bear's eyes, there's no emotion discernible there, regardless of what humans want to find. Just like the shark in Jaws, a real live bear is a remorseless eating machine – no morals, no ethics, no sympathy, nothing. But it's not that way with Smokey. He has the full range of emotions that any human would have, positive and negative. The down side to this is that, unlike an actual bear, he can be deliberately cruel when he so chooses. And it was just my bad luck that he “so chose” that day in Monte Carlo. He was smiling, but it was that kind of mocking sarcastic smile that a bully gives you before he gives you a purple nurple and steals your milk money. If you're familiar with Archie comics, you know the character named “Reggie” and that maddeningly smug facial expression he wears at almost all times That's how Smokey looked that day nearly 30 years ago. Thirty years! Imagine that. How time does fly, children.


I was very, very weak, not to mention being both dazed AND confused. I mean, I have been dazed a few times, and I have been confused many more times than that. But this time, I was both of those things... to the sixteenth power times the square root of infinity. The peaceful, easy feeling I had been experiencing (my apologies to The Eagles – a swell bunch of guys!) only a short while earlier – when I was ready for the Good Lord to swoop down from His Heaven and pick me up in His arms and take me back home – was gone with the wind, my friends. And it was not coming back. In the place of that warm squishy feeling was a newly revived sense of dread and existential despair. I bet you never thought you would encounter the phrase “existential despair” when you started to read the memoir penned by a paper towel mascot, but there you have it. That is really how I felt at that moment. Anyhow, existential dread or no existential dread, I knew I had to answer Smokey. I had to say something to him. I didn't even know if I could still talk. Maybe I had forgotten how. Maybe my voice had stopped working. But somehow I managed to stammer out a few words. (Miracle of miracles!)


“Smokey? Is that you?” I stammered out, meekly and with a distinct lack of gusto.


“Well,” Smokey then replied, “who the hell did you think it was, boy? Colonel Sanders?”


He started laughing in a cruel, mirthless, smug way that would just about have driven me to acts of violence if I'd had an ounce of strength left in my body. But I didn't. At that moment, I felt like a wad of chewed gum stuck to the bottom of someone's shoe. Not too glamorous, folks, but I never promised you glamor. No, I promised you truth... and the truth can be a real ugly customer.


When Smokey started laughing, that was when I noticed he was not alone. Uh, no, indeed. He had company – two gorgeous gals, in fact, one blonde and the other Japanese, both sporting plenty of makeup and plunging necklines. They were laughing, too, and the Japanese one tittered like a geisha and covered her mouth as she did so. The whole thing made me feel sick to my stomach because I felt so ashamed and so powerless. I felt like one of those worms you used to pin to a cutting board in science class in order to dissect it. Do you remember doing that? I could not remember the last time I had eaten, but I had sure had plenty to drink in recent memory. And those whiskey sours I had consumed were definitely planning to escape from Alcatraz in short order. The jailbreak seemed imminent. In a few seconds, if I didn't watch myself, it was going to be Vomit City. I didn't know what Smokey would do if I puked all over him, and I sure wasn't eager to find out. I knew I had to control myself.


“Wh-what do you want?” I timidly asked Smokey.


“I don't want anything,” Smokey coolly replied. “I was just walking by with my good friends, Cherise and... what's your name again, sweetie?”


“Ayumi,” said the Japanese one, tittering. (At least it sounded like “Ayumi.” I'm not too swift with names, especially foreign ones.)


“Ayumi,” Smokey continued, “and I could not help but notice that you seemed to be in some distress, Thirsty.”


This was the first time he had actually uttered my name aloud. Smokey the Bear recognized me and even knew my name. (Of course, intellectually I should have known that we had met at the Bangladesh concert all those years earlier, but that was the furthest thing from my mind!) That was like an earthquake or an avalanche in my mind. Kapow! Somehow, hearing my own name brought me a lot closer to reality than I had been previously. I don't think this was Smokey's intent, but that was the result. In his own weird way, he helped bring me back from the edge right then. And maybe I should have said something clever back to him at this moment. Maybe if you had been in my position, you would have a hilarious, witty comeback line that you could have taken out of your holster, so to speak, at a second's notice. But I did not have a great comeback at my disposal, reader and faithful companion. Not then. I was weak. I was vulnerable. Hell, I'm not afraid to say it, I was scared. Nothing made sense anymore. So instead of a flippant retort, what I said was:


“I need help.”


For a few fleeting moments, it felt like these three sincere, pathetic words of mine – my anguished plea from the morass of despair into which I had so sadly sunk – had somehow reached Smokey. The maddening smirk disappeared from his face, and both he and his “dates” (both rented, I can assume) stopped laughing. They all just looked at me with what seemed like genuine interest, as if they were now really “seeing” me for the first time. Smokey even took his foot off my stomach. I cannot even describe to you how wonderful that felt to me... except to refer you to that classic old joke about the man who would hit himself on the head with a hammer over and over just because it felt so great when he stopped. Suddenly, silence was the order of the day. It felt like the whole world had been muted at that moment. I'm sure there must have been a million other noises going on in the background at this airport, but none of it reached my years. It was dead quiet.


Well, anyway, when Smokey took his big paw off me, the ursine superstar then proceeded to calmly set it back down on the floor. I had not moved in all this time, you understand. I was still sprawled out like a starfish on the floor, completely helpless (not to mention hopeless and hapless). Smokey was still standing over me, looming like a big, brown, fuzzy Empire State Building and blocking the rays of sunshine from that skylight. He then proceeded to bend at the waist until his huge head was just a few feet away from mine. I did not know what he had in store for me, but it turned out that he was fixing to break the silence with some words of wisdom.


“Well..... DUH!”


Smokey's remark was met with gales of laughter from his two “friends” and also from himself. My head lolled over to the side, and I felt my whole body go limp at that point. I had been so worried about vomiting that I had completely forgotten about the other bodily functions. Yes, reader, now it can be told. I lost control of my bladder. At first, this was not too terribly troubling to me, if you can believe it. It just felt warm and comforting. But soon, the dampness began to spread, and a pool of my own urine started spreading across the airport floor. It was like a dam had burst. I had never let loose like that before in my life. I was well past the point of caring... at least about my own body. But I soon was reminded that I could still have an effect on others. When the foul yellow liquid came close to her high heeled shoes, Ayumi shrieked and backed away.


“HEY!” yelled Smokey, the old glibness gone in an instant.


The last thing I remember about this meeting was that he picked me up by the bow tie and tossed me into an unfortunate redcap who just happened to be walking by at that moment. You can imagine that the giant bear did not have much of a problem tossing me around like a Nerf ball. He outweighed me by something like half a ton, after all.


EDITOR'S RELUCTANT INTERJECTION: This is one of those points in the narrative where I must hesitantly intervene. I have previously stated that Sheldon Reimart's odd, delusional manuscript was created on an Underwood typewriter, an unusual and anachronistic trait alluded to in the author's own chilling preface. What I have neglected to tell you until now is that the good Dr. Reimart preferred to do his typing on onion skin paper which he apparently stole from a nearby office supply store. Police found many more unused reams of the paper in Reimart's infamous rented room. Possibly in a fit of pique, our demented author mistook this paper for the actual skin of an actual onion, for this portion of the book shows strong evidence of having been chewed on and generally gnawed the way a hound dog's soup bone might be. Our editorial staff at Pembroke have done a marvelous job of piecing together a readable version of the book in order to make the final published result understandable to you at home, but even we must own up to our limits. We are but human beings after all, dear customer, not magicians and certainly not omniscient gods with infinite filing cabinets crammed with all real and unreal knowledge. Sadly, therefore, we must admit that the rest of Chapter 8 must be considered lost and unrecoverable. This section of the book appears to continue for at least a page after the sentence ending with “half a ton, after all.” But too much has been chewed away to be salvaged, and what is left has been drooled on so extensively and profusely that the ink has smudged and the words rendered indecipherable. There are a few stray phrases we can make out here and there amidst the chaos – including the uses of such colorful colloquial expressions as “My Aunt Fanny” and “So's your old man” -- but unlike the paleontologist we simply cannot recreate the skeleton of an entire Tyrannosaurus Rex from a single metatarsal fragment, as much as we would like to do so. We offer you a thousand pardons for our human frailty and hope that you will continue with Chapter 9. If it would help to tell you that I love you, I will do it. I love you, reader, with all my heart and soul. My apologies to you and yours on this sad, strange occasion. J.N. Pembroke, Esq.





CHAPTER 9: THE RISE OF THIRSTY LAD (THE BRAND)



“What we're going to do right here is go back, way back, back into time.”
- JIMMY CASTOR, “Troglodyte”



You know what, folks? I am a pig. You heard me... your sweet, beloved Thirsty Lad is nothing but a big, fat, selfish, thoughtless pig. And you? You're even worse because you are an enabler, my friend. That's right. I'm a pig because you allow me to be a pig. It's your fault as much as it is mine. Let's us say that we're both partially to blame and then move on with our lives. I don't think you're going to get a better offer than that, so as your friend and benefactor I advise you to take it, toot sweet. No need to sign on the dotted line, hon. A handshake has always been good enough for me. Wait, did I say a handshake? I meant a hand job! Haw, haw. What did I tell you about me being a pig? I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. I keep forgetting I'm not at a Friar's Club Roast. Man, do those things get raunchy. The language is bluer than a frostbitten Smurf. I ain't lyin'!


The reason I started calling myself a “thoughtless pig” is because I have gotten many chapters into this damned book without starting from the start. That's where I should have began this tale. But I told you I was going to be breaking the rules and escaping from the shackles of literary convention throughout these humble pages, so as a result, Perforated has gone wherever my mind wanted it to go. This has been what the literary “experts” call stream of consciousness. How about that? Considering how I have spent much of my life, I should have called it stream of unconsciousness instead! What can I say? I'm incorrigible, and that's why you love me, America. Admit it. I'm all tuckered out from running through your minds all day.


Okay, enough teasing. Time to get down to cases and tell you my secret origin story. Hey, that's why I got distracted in the first place! Remember? I was trying to tell you about the tumultuous early days of the paper towel industry, and I surely bit off more than I could chew. Even I got lost in the telling, so God only knows how you poor readers fared during those chapters. Man, it feels like I wrote those a million years ago. I feel as if you and I have gone through an experience together. Maybe we should hang out sometime. Do you like playing Gnip Gnop and listening to Yes albums? (My personal favorite is Tales From Topographic Oceans, but they're all pretty sweet. Before I was legally required to “get sober,” my idea of a perfect evening was to space out with some Acapulco Gold and get really, really lost in some vintage Yes LPs.)


The gist of it is this: the paper towel industry started in the 1930s and was essentially run by gangsters, crooks, and murderers. Lots of people were killed. It was awesome – plenty of blood and guts. I tried to capture some of that feeling in my book, but I wasn't around to see it first hand so I had to rely on what I've heard from veterans of the great paper towel wars. Then World War 2 came along, and the paper towel industry shut down completely in 1941 and remained dormant until 1945. But after we won the war by bombing the holy living bejeezus out of Japan, the industry came back bigger than ever. People wanted things neat and tidy after all that tumult, and Sweet Lady Paper Towel was there to help! However, the business climate in America was not like it had been before the war. The old Al Capone ways of doing business were gone. This was a new, more orderly America, and we weren't going to stand for that kind of stuff happening anymore. Guys like Ritchie Red Randall and Eustis Scott III were dinosaurs. Oh, sure, they still served as “consultants” or sat on the board of directors, but they weren't duking it out in the trenches any longer. Those days were over and done with. Sad really. An era had ended, never to return.


But this new “safe and boring” era of paper towel made room for a Wisconsin based company called the Mid-Regional Wood Pulp Refinery Co. Ltd. (MRWPRCL) to enter the field in 1952. The paper towel biz was not too terribly crowded by then. It was dominated by Scott (the originator and still the #1 name in the game), Big Soak, and a handful of others like Brawny, Top Job, Bounty, and Hi Lite. But “the boys” were largely playing nice. No spies. No bodies being chucked in the Hudson River. Nothing cool or interesting. The most you could expect was a brief “war” of dueling coupons in the daily newspapers. Woodrow “Woody” Beerchuck, the pragmatic and sensible head of MRWPRCL noticed that the industry lacked a bottom feeder, i.e. a company putting out a low quality product at a low price, aimed at people who didn't really care that much either way. Well, nature and a dog have something in common. They both abhor a vacuum! Get it? What I mean is, the industry NEEDED a bottom feeder, and that is what “Woody” Beerchuck understood. So he set out to be that bottom feeder. Now, prior to this, MRWPRCL had been supplying industrial grade toilet paper to public schools, construction sites, and Catholic hospitals – rough stuff, too, with an almost sandpaper like consistency. Ouch! Not too gentle on the old tushie! But, in perhaps the only semi bold move of his entire dull life, Beerchuck decided he was going to take the massive amount of wood pulp he had inherited from his father's side of the family and start turning it into cheap, mass produced paper towel instead.   


All he needed now was a name for his new, inferior product! Something that suggested the absorption of water would be ideal! What to call it? What to call it?


The answer came from a highly unlikely source. Back in those days, it was common for big shot tycooons like “Woody” Beerchuck to have an “office boy,” a tyke of maybe 8 or 9 years who would run minor errands, cut the ends off cigars, and massage the temples of their Almighty Bosses. Generally, these boys would be orphans purchased outright by a company for this specific purpose. Office boys received no salary, as such, but were generally given a cot on which to sleep and some thin broth on which to subsist. Once a good office boy had reached the age of 10, he was considered “past his prime” and then generally sent to work in the coal mines (if they were lucky) or the salt mines (if they were not so lucky). Such was Eisenhower's America, folks! Don't blame me! I didn't make the rules. I'm just your humble recording secretary. Anyhow, Mr. Beerchuck's “boy” during those years was a young man whose name has been lost to time. This is not uncommon. Most tycoons went through boys at the rate of one every two or three years, so it was not really worth it to actually learn their names. “Woody” just called them all “Kid” anyway.


As I said before, it was customary to feed these boys only a single bowl of broth per day, usually of some type of goat stock. (What, you thought they were getting beef and chicken?) How they survived on that, I do not know. But apparently, whatever Beerchuck was feeding his boy was especially laden with salt, that being one of the cheapest possible ingredients of the era after the Great Salt Windfall of 1949. As a result, the boy was constantly – and I think you know where I am going with this – thirsty. He was an honest to goodness thirsty lad. Now, Beerchuck was no fool. There was no slipping him the old rubber peach, junior! Not on your life. He scrimped and saved every which way he could. A penny saved was a penny he could spend on himself, the greedy old goat... er, I mean beloved company founder. He used the boy's natural thirstiness to his own advantage. How, you ask? Well, whenever there was a spill, Mr. Beerchuck did not reach for a sheet of his own paper towel. No, sir. That would eat into the profits. He'd be skimming from the till. Nope. Instead, he would just have his thirst ravaged boy lick up whatever liquid was spilled – coffee, water, gin, fortified gin, you name it. The boy, far from finding this degrading, was thrilled because that meant he would actually have something to “drink” that day. Soon, “Woody” and everyone else in the office was referring to this unfortunate child as “the thirsty lad.”


As that fickle floozy Madame Fate would ordain it, when it came time for the parsimonious and frugal (read: cheap as hell) Woodrow Beerchuck to come up with a name for his paper towel, he took the laziest possible way out and just named it after the first thing he saw in his office – his “thirsty lad,” who was then licking some spilled coffee out of the wall to wall carpeting.  It's a lucky break for me that old Beerchuck didn't name the product after his cleaning lady, or my name might have been a girl named “Sugar Buns.” Nothing against womankind, you understand, but I am quite happy with my own plumbing, thank you very much.


So Thirsty Lad was the product's name! The word had come down from On High! Let it be carved into stone so that the peons may bow down to it! Now, whenever I am lecturing on the college campuses of this great nation, the question always comes up: Thirsty, were you modeled in any way after that original real life thirsty lad, Beerchuck's office boy? Was he the “model” for you? And I tell those college kids the same thing I am going to tell you nice people: HELL, NO. Look at me – I'm cute, round, and ever so adorable. You could just eat me up on a cracker I'm so goddamned appealing. In sharp contrast, that office boy was – in all likelihood –  ugly as hell. Most office boys were. That's why he wasn't adopted by a loving family and instead became the indentured servant of a paper towel manufacturer. Had he been cute like me, a family would have snapped him up in two shakes of a puppy dog's tail, and don't you doubt it for a minute!


No, that homely little kid just inspired the product name (inadvertently, I might add) and did nothing else of value in the Thirsty Lad saga. I never even met that snot nosed little bastard. Like I said, no one ever bothered to learn his name or take his photograph. In all probability, he only lasted a year or two at the most at MRWPRCL before being dumped into the salt mines with the rest of the lousy has beens and never wuzzes. The creation of the name “Thirsty Lad” was just a fluke, pure serendipity. Beerchuck's selection of that name was a careless and arbitrary act that turned out to be significant only in retrospect. It could have been anything – “Ficus Plant,” “Picture Frame,” “Door Knob” –  but it happened to be “Thirsty Lad.” I mean, thank God that it was or I never would have been created (though sometimes that has been just as much a curse as it has been a blessing), but the kid himself was not important other than that he existed and happened to be within Beerchuck's eyesight at the exact right second in his life. I'm so sick of being asked about that stupid kid that I could scream. Please, good people of Earth, if you ever see me on the street or attend one of my many, many public appearances, DO NOT ASK ME ABOUT THAT GODDAMNED KID! And if you see someone else ask me about that kid, do me a favor – hell, do ALL OF US a favor – and tackle that chump to the ground. I debated whether to include a mention of that office boy in this book, but I decided I had to do it. I mean, I want Perforated to be a complete record of the Thirsty Lad story, and you can't really tell it without mentioning that famous incident. But that's the extent of my interest in the matter.


In the long run, not even “Woody” Beerchuck himself is all that important in my story. He was just a mediocre businessman who aimed low and hit his target. That's all. Sure, I met the man a few times at company events, but I sensed no genius dwelling within that big, fat head of his. There is absolutely nothing special about the paper towel he produced. It was created to be a low cost, low quality product for the undiscriminating consumer, and that's what it's been for almost 60 years. No more, no less. For the real genius behind the creation of Thirsty Lad, you have to leave behind the state of Wisconsin and head East, ladies and gentlemen, to the great metropolis known as New York City. For it was there, dearest reader, that my adventures truly began. And we're not just talking about any old part of New York City either, my friends, but rather a very special thoroughfare known as Madison Avenue.


Take my hand, faithful companion, and together shall we travel to this mystical place. Are you ready? Good. Then hold on tight. Off we go...





CHAPTER 10: A SEED (of genius!) IS PLANTED


Like I told you, “Woody” Beerchuck was no genius. He was not the least bit creative. The blandly prosaic name of his company, the Mid-Regional Wood Pulp Refinery Co, Ltd. tells the tale. There was simply no spark of imagination within him, no poetry within his soul. He was a hard nosed businessman. That's all the man could ever have been. But he did have two key strengths: the ability to recognize his own limitations and a knack for delegating authority. In retrospect, these very qualities might have made him a decent, if not great, President of the United States. Unless, of course, those rumors about what he liked doing in his spare time were true. (I'm not going to spell it out for you, delicate readers, but I'll give you a few hints: Baa! Moo! Oink!) In that case, take back what I just said. We can't have the Leader of the Free World doing that in the Oval Office, now can we? Suppose the press got wind of it! It would have been front page news from Maine to California. Now, I'm not saying those rumors were true, but if they were... well, let's just say that Mr. Beerchuck possessed a third key strength. Haw, haw!


But you're letting me get off the beaten track again, reader! You promised you weren't going to let me do that anymore. We're well past the halfway point of this book, after all, and if I don't stick to the straight and narrow we're never going to hit all the checkpoints on my itinerary. Let's try to keep it together from here on out, or else I'm going to have to end up telling this story in “double time” just to cram it all in.


We were talking, you and I, about how “Woody” Beerchuck was mainly good for recognizing his own limits and then delegating responsibility to others to do what he couldn't. Now, Beerchuck knew what went into manufacturing paper towel. He and his family had been in the paper business for generations. But what Beerchuck didn't know was this strange new thing called Marketing. When you started talking about “target demographics” and “focus testing” to Woody, you might as well have been speaking Martian for all the good it was doing. He didn't know the first thing about how to make a product appealing to the customer. For one thing, as we have learned elsewhere in this book, the grocery shopping in this country was, is, and always has been done primarily by women. And women are so flighty and flaky – again, this is not a put down but just a general factual observation – that it can be impossible for men to know that they are thinking. Now, if Beerchuck had wanted to market his own brand of cigar or automobile or whiskey, that would have been different because those are masculine products bought by men in manly places like bars and car dealerships. But selling his own line of paper towels put poor old Woody squarely on the distaff side on the equation. In other words, he had to market to broads. And for that, he would have to bring in the Experts!


Now this was 1952, see – the very year General Dwight David Eisenhower first ascended to national power after his glorious victories in World War 2  -- and many of the modern forms of advertising we know and love today were already in place by then. Were you to hop in the DeLorean and travel back to that time a la Marty McFly, you could expect to see billboards, newspapers, fliers, bus ads, skywriting messages, etc. Yes, a company could market its products through all of these usual suspects, not to mention radio which (let us never forget) is where Sweet Lady Paper Towel first wormed her way into the public's heart. But it took more than heart worms to launch a new product in 1952, and Woody Beerchuck damned well knew it. You see, by then the always fickle American public had taken on a shiny new mistress and her name was Television! If you wanted your product to stand out among the competition at the supermarkets, you had to get it on the old boob tube first. This was doubly, triply, quadruply true if you were trying to sell products to women, because the average American housewife back then spent most of her day watching  programs on the TV while shoving bonbons down her gullet and ignoring the children . Stan Freberg, a crackerjack comedian turned crackerjack ad man, had a great song about this called “Tele-Vee-Shun,” which I will now quote because it so deftly sums up the mood of the day:


Hey, Mister General Public, do you realize
That we got a generation here of staring eyes?
The women never bother getting housework done.
They just sit around gawking at television!


(You tell 'em, Stan! I could not have said it any better myself.)


When it came time to launch Thirsty Lad Paper Towels onto the national scene, Woody Beerchuck entrusted his new, if hardly newfangled, product to the innovative marketing firm of Schlatter, Schlatter, and Stewpot, which had been established only a year previously. They were an up and coming firm in those days, hardly one of the Grand Old Boys of Madison Avenue. But they were on a hot streak at the time, thanks to their campaigns for Tayback Chewing Gum (“If it's not Tayback, send it all the way back!”)  and Nanny's Oat Crumbles (which introduced the mascot Nanny Oat the Nanny Goat), and since they were not nearly as well established as some other New York advertising agencies, they charged less. It was that last factor, probably more than anything, which influenced Mr. Beerchuck's decision to go with Schlatter, Schlatter, and Stewpot. I say “probably” because Woody himself has not said much on the matter. Now, of course, it seems like one of the great marriages in the history of American commerce. But I hope that you are coming to realize that history hinges on random little details just like this. Destiny is a big dartboard, my dear reader, and all the darts have been tossed by blindfolded men who were likely drunk at the time. Sometimes they hit a bull's eye. Sometimes, they accidentally hit a passing barmaid right in the medulla oblongata. Does this lack of predictability scare you? Does it comfort you? It has both effects on me, depending on my mood. Sometimes, I like to think that we are absolved of individual responsibility because history takes these capricious little side trips for silly, arbitrary reasons that we can't possibly control. And other times, it chills me to the very bone to think that, had some little detail gone the other way – say, for instance, another firm had offered Beerchuck an even lower bid than Schlatter, Schlatter, and Stewpot – I might never have existed in the first place. I suppose it depends on whether I want life to mean something or I don't. I waver on that issue, usually depending on how my day has gone. When a day has gone well, I like to think of it as a tile in a grand mosaic. When a day has gone down the crapper, I prefer to think of life as just a random assemblage of meaningless junk. Those are the days when I hope that God does not exist and that there is no afterlife. You see, reader? Thirsty Lad did not lie when h Be told you that this book was going to contain some of his own homespun philosophy. I sincerely hope that my words will be studied and meditated upon by future generations in a formalized and structured manner, though I don't see that happening within my lifetime thanks to the suffocating, narrow standards of those blue bloods who hold academia in their vice grip, damn their oily hides. Can't you give Aristotle and Socrates a rest, boys? Let someone else have a chance. Like me, for instance. What's the harm in it? Bah! Youth is wasted on the young! Religion is the opiate of the masses! Consarnit! Where's my nurse? NURSE!!!!!


Getting back to my story, this was back when Schlatter, Schlatter and Stewpot  was a relatively small company, and the firm's partners were very hands on with every project that came in. That was just what Woody Beerchuck needed – someone to hold his hand and walk him through the process of bringing a new product to market! Minnesota born twin brothers Ira and Schecter Schlatter – both certified geniuses with IQ's in the neighborhood of 150, and that's one hell of a nice neighborhood – were co-presidents at that time, and they had a staff of maybe 25 or 30 people. SS&S (can we just stick with the abbreviation from now on? writing out the whole name is killing me!) had a knack for attracting talented writers and artists and accountants to work for them in the early 1950s. This can be attributed to the fact that it was a loose, fun office environment with weekly wife swapping parties and a particularly potent variety of red wine in the drinking fountains instead of boring old water. (Damn you, water! My eternal nemesis! How I loathe thee!) I feel that I should point out that notorious racketeer Georgie Stewpot was merely a silent partner about whom the less said the better. He supposedly fronted the brothers $50,000 as start up money so that he could have a “legitimate” business through which to launder his profits from organized crime, namely numbers, prostitution, and protection. That's all. You've probably done the same thing yourself a dozen times this week alone. It ain't no skin off a dead dog's nose. But Ira and Schecter were otherwise on the up and up. No funny business or hocus pocus, just good solid marketing from two guys who knew what the hell they were doing. The industry needs 50 more just like them today. Aw, the whole world is going up in smoke!


When Woody Beerchuck came to Ira and Schecter and told them he had a new paper towel called Thirsty Lad that he needed to market in grocery stores from coast to coast, they attacked the problem like ants devouring every last scrap of flesh from the body of a dead gecko. Shy, mumbling Ira was always the idea man of the two. That's easy to remember because both “Ira” and “idea” start with an I. But talkative, super confident Schecter was the real doer of the pair, the human equivalent of the perpetual motion machine, the guy who would roll up his sleeves, light a cigarette, and get the job done, damn the torpedoes. Often, the initial spark would come from Ira but it was Schecter who would turn it into a finished concept that could be presented to a client. These two brainy siblings were like two halves of the same mind, one being the right brain and other being the left brain. I've never seen a more perfectly matched duo, and remember I was a regular on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour for an entire season! (SIDE NOTE: Good times, brother. Good times indeed. I received no salary but was “paid” by being allowed to participate in three ways with the famous couple.)


These Minnesota boys had a strange but effective ritual whenever they started a new project. All of the firm's famous successes – including the Thirsty Lad campaign – came from this ritual, so I think it merits a description in this book. The boys would go into the office they shared and lock the door, and by mutual agreement, neither of them could come out until they'd cracked the case wide open like a Brazil nut. Now, those of you who have studied the history of advertising might have heard of the brothers' famous office. In fact, when SS&S outgrew its first address and the firm moved to a larger space in Manhattan, that notorious room was dismantled piece by piece and reassembled in the Smithsonian Museum so that future generations could study it! I've heard that Ira and Schecter were so attached to that place that for years later they would sneak into the Smithsonian after hours and visit their old office. Eventually, the security staff got wise to what was happening and politely asked them to stop. For all this fuss, the room itself is deceptively simple and not exactly picturesque. Some have even called it “ugly as hell.” By design, it's an extremely plain, spartan work space. They didn't want to be distracted by anything else, so they painted the walls, ceilings, and floor the same exact shade of drab gray. I think they just used some kind of industrial grade primer for the job. The windows were plastered over as well so that no natural light could get in. The illumination in the room was provided by a single bare light bulb – an extremely bright one, though I don't know the wattage – on the ceiling. The furniture was also very basic: two wooden desks – one for each brother – facing each other. In the middle of the room, between the two desks, was a table upon which they would place whatever product they were trying to market at the time. (If the product was too big to fit on the table, a scale model would be used in its place.) I'm not sure if I'm explaining all this very well, and this is a key point, so please do bear with me. Ira's desk was on one side of the room, you see, and Schecter's desk was on the other, with the two desks positioned so that the brothers were staring direct at each other. In between them would be the small table with the product on it. Neither of the brothers would say anything at first. They would simply sit at their desks and stare, stare, STARE at the product for several hours in uninterrupted silence. Now all this might sound crazy to you, but it must have worked because this was the method by which all of the great, early SS&S ad campaigns got started. Once the preordained period of silently staring at the product was over, the brothers would begin to talk about how they were going to market it. And perhaps with one eye towards posterity, they would actually tape these conversations using one of those big old reel to reel tape recorders.


Reader, you are in for a real treat now. By special arrangement with the the Ira and Schecter Schlatter Estate, I have been authorized to include a transcript of the very conversation that the two brothers had when they were first deciding how to properly market Mr. Beerchuck's paper towel. In order to properly set the mood, you might want to turn the heat up about 10 degrees and get yourself a little bit plastered. Ira and Schecter never worked sober. No good ad man worth his Cleo awards does. But really, it's up to you. You have to decided how to live your life, because I sure as hell can't do it for you. Anyway, here's the transcript. Do me a favor and enjoy it, won't you? (And my thanks, as always, to Rodrigo for taking the time to transcribe this for me.) Oh, and one last thing before we begin: for the sake of realism, you should know that according to staffers, these cloistered conversations between Ira and Schecter were audible to any passersby because the two brothers would practically yell their words across the room during brainstorming sessions. So keep in mind that these are two hot, drunken men shouting at each other. Make your own jokes.


IRA:    
Paper... towel!


SCHECTER:   
Yes, paper towel.


IRA:    
A roll of pure, white paper towel.


SCHECTER:   
Yes! That is what this thing is!


IRA:  
But it's so much more!


SCHECTER:   
Like what, for instance?


IRA:    
It's home. It's family. It's Mother.


SCHECTER:   
Good, good. I like it. Continue.


IRA:  
It's hope for the future. It's the promise of a better tomorrow!


SCHECTER:   
It's freedom! It's everything! It's, dare I say it, America herself!


IRA:  
It's Christmas around the hearth. It's a small town baseball game.


SCHECTER:   
Mom's apple pie and a glass of milk.


IRA:  
Milk! Yes! That's it! Spilled milk!


SCHECTER:   
Who spills the milk? Mom spills the milk?


IRA:  
No, Mom doesn't spill the milk! Kid spills the milk! Mom cleans the milk!


SCHECTER:   
With our paper towel! Genius!


IRA:  
Wrong!


SCHECTER:   
Wrong?


IRA:  
Wrong. Mom doesn't have any paper towel. At least not yet she doesn't!


SCHECTER:   
Why not?


IRA:  
Because they're too fucking expensive, that's why not! Poor old mom can't afford the darned things! She's not made of money. They're on a budget!


SCHECTER:   
And that's where we come in, right?


IRA:  
Not we. He. He comes in.


SCHECTER:    
He? Who's he?


IRA:  
Thirsty Lad!


SCHECTER:   
You mean we're going to have an actual Thirsty Lad?


IRA:  
Sure! Why not! That's the name of the product. It's like Chekov's gun.


SCHECTER:   
Explain me more.


IRA:  
That Russian bastard Anton Chekhov said if you're going to bring a gun on stage, fire the damned thing. Well, if we're going to call the product “Thirsty Lad,” we had better damned well give the public an actual Thirsty Lad that they can see. He'll be in the commercials. He'll be on the wrappers, too! He'll be the face of this godforsaken product!


SCHECTER:   
Brilliant! I love it! But who is this Thirsty Lad?


IRA:  
He's a kid! A cute kid. Remember the old “Our Gang” movies?


SCHECTER:   
Alfalfa?


IRA:  
More like Spanky.


SCHECTER:   
So he's fat?


IRA:  
Pleasantly plump, let's say.  Nice and round and cute like Mickey Mouse.


SCHECTER:   
And what does he do, this Thirsty Lad?


IRA:  
He helps Mom. She's got that milk to clean up, don't forget, and no paper towel to do it.


SCHECTER:   
And that's when our boy swoops in.


IRA:  
Exactly!


SCHECTER:   
So he's Mother's little helper! He's the perfect son.


IRA:  
He's nice! He's polite!


SCHECTER:   
He's well groomed!  In short, he's everything that Mom's real children are NOT!


IRA:  
Now you're on the trolley! He's the son she WISHES she had.


SCHECTER:   
Thirsty Lad is the son EVERY mother wishes she had. That's why America's housewives are going to go gaga for him. They're going to want to adopt him.


IRA:  
That's right! They're going to want to bring this fat little bastard home with them. But they can't! He's not real! So what do they do instead?


SCHECTER:   
They buy a roll of paper towel with his face on it! And every time they tear off a sheet, they get a nice warm fuzzy feeling inside. A maternal instinct kicking in.


IRA:  
They won't just be buying a roll of paper towel....


SCHECTER:    
They'll be buying a roll of dreams! A roll of love!


IRA:  
Mom can't have the family she's always wanted. Or the house. Or the car. But she can have our paper towel.


SCHECTER:   
Bingo! So where does this kid come from?


IRA:  
Who, Thirsty Lad? You mean where's he from? I figured him as a Midwesterner. No specific regional accent or anything. What, maybe you were thinking Southern?


SCHECTER:   
Uh, no. What I want to know is – this kid, he's in the kitchen, right?


IRA:  
Right.


SCHECTER:   
Helping Mom, right?


IRA:  
Uh huh.


SCHECTER:   
So is he like some kid from the neighborhood who just wanders into people's houses?


IRA:  
Not exactly. He's more like a genie. The genie of the lamp!


SCHECTER:   
So he's magic, this kid!


IRA:  
Right! He's magic! He can just... appear!


SCHECTER:   
Now I've got it! Mom has a mess to clean up. Her real kid is a clumsy ox who spills his chocolate milk all over her nice clean linoleum, then thoughtlessly takes off to play stick ball in the street with his friends. So Mom's all alone, and worse yet she doesn't want to get one of her nice towels dirty for a spill this minor. She can't afford those fancy schmancy brands of paper towel. What's she going to do? BAM! That's when our little guy shows up. Not only is he the ideal son, but he's brought along the exact right tool for the job – low cost paper towels!


IRA:  
Thirsty Lad brand paper towels, to be exact.


SCHECTER:   
You'd be a fool not to buy them! Hell, even I would buy them! By God, Ira, I think we've got this thing licked! Let's celebrate with a highball.


IRA:  
Make it eight!


And that's as far as Rodrigo would transcribe for me, the insolent bastard. You know, if it weren't for me, he'd still be shucking chili peppers in some Venezuelan hell hole. That's gratitude for you! He keeps telling me he gets the writer's cramp something awful. But I've had him examined by a dozen different veterinarians and a board certified ophthalmologist, and none of 'em could find a damned thing wrong with him. Oh, to live in the future – the glorious, glorious future, where all our work is done for us by Mexican robots! Will I ever live to see it? Tell me, Madame Fate, you pernicious trollop! Are there Mexican robots on Thirsty Lad's horizon?


I seem to have gotten off track again, reader, but you must be used to that by now. In a way, that's part of what you paid for when you plunked down the cash for this book. I want the experience of reading Perforated to be as close as possible as the experience of actually hanging out with me for a day. Well, if you've ever wondered what that would be like, now you sort of know. Almost. I mean, if you really want the full tilt, no holds barred Thirsty Lad experience, you should really be reading this book while attending a back alley cock fight. After all, that's where I've mostly been when I was writing it. Sure, it's sometimes awkward bringing an Underwood typewriter along with me to these events, but I'm willing to make any sacrifice necessary in order to advance the cause of Art! Do you dig what I'm burying, sister?






CHAPTER 11 (why does that sound so familiar?): THE DESIGN PROCESS


Now, I don't know if you unschooled folks who exist on the outside of the advertising industry really know how it is that us mascots are created. You're on the outside looking in. I'm on the inside looking out. Well, you know what I'm going to do for you good folks? I'm going to open the curtains a bit so that you can finally get a chance to peek in at our world. Isn't that nice of me? Ain't I some kind of swell guy? Yeah, I thought so. But I'll never get the Humanitarian Award that I deserve for this, even though I'm practically the Mahatma Gandhi of the mascot world. Please, please, hold your applause. Don't cry for me, Argentina. The truth is, your money is good enough for me. That is, assuming your money is actually good. Who knows these days? You might have paid for it with funny money you made on your home computer in the basement. What a crazy world we're living in. It seems like anything is possible nowadays. Like it says in the McDonald's commercials: “Da da da da da. I'm loving it.”


Now it's true that the idea for an advertising mascot originally comes from the brain of an advertising man – basically a writer whose job it is to come up with the ideas for commercials. That's what Ira and Schecter Schlatter did. That was their job – to think up the basic concepts behind the television, print, and radio campaigns. But as with virtually any endeavor you can name in this wide, wide world of ours, the concept stage is only the first part of the process. There are several other steps after that. I don't know if you can remember being in school, but if you can you probably remember studying that chart which shows you how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly or the one showing how a bill becomes a law. There's also that famous one that shows the evolution of the homo sapien, from the monkey dragging his knuckles along the dirty ground to the modern man walking upright with that John Travolta swagger we love so well. Well, I'm telling you all of this because it's a good way to think about the birth of a mascot. You remember that conversation from the last chapter in which the two brothers came up with the basic idea for me? Think of that as the knuckle dragging monkey. And me, the finished product? I'm John Travolta in this analogy. Are you with me? Let's continue.


Now, as I mentioned previously, Ira was the idea man and Schecter was the doer. It was Schecter's job, therefore, to take what they had brainstormed and put it into writing and then assign one of their concept artists at SS&S to do some preliminary design work on the character, i.e. to make some sketches and then turn those sketches into more fleshed out drawings. Now, in this case, we all got lucky because they happened to have a very talented cartoonist on the staff at that time named Ebeneezer Van Vronk. If that names sounds even vaguely familiar to you, it's because Ebeneezer later shortened his name to simply “Eb Vronk” and went on to create the hugely popular syndicated comic strip, Boone Companions, about a sardonic talking baboon named Boone and – you guessed it – his companions (other sardonic talking animals, mainly). Poor old Eb died of dysentery in a Turkish prison twenty years ago, but his son Eb Vronk, Jr. is still turning out the old man's strip on a daily basis. And you know what? God bless him for that. It's the funny pages that keep America going through times of crisis! Everyone knows that! But, anyway, getting back to Eb the Elder. He was the one who took the typed notes from Schecter and turned them into drawings which would later be passed on to the boys in the research and development labs. In a way, Eb was as much my “father” as Ira & Schecter. Or maybe Ira & Schecter were my two Daddys (they provided the seed), while Eb was my Mommy (he provided the womb in which I gestated), and the boys in R&D were the obstetricians who brought me into the world. These things get complicated when you're the result of the work of several men.


Anyway, Eb Vronk was tasked by his employers with creating the ultimate “perfect kid,” the ideal American boy that every red blooded American woman would immediately fall in love with and want to mother. Their only real stipulation was that the “lad” himself be rather portly, because they noticed that many of the most beloved cartoon characters of the day tended to have rather round physiques. But other than that, they really didn't have much to tell old Eb. They didn't have to. He was a creative genius in his own right and well up to the task. But still, even with Eb's considerable talents, this was going to be a big assignment. How do you create the world's most appealing mascot? Eb's first thought was to go “minimalist,” as we see in the following concept sketch, perhaps the first ever visualization of the Thirsty Lad character, drawn with an eyebrow pencil on a cocktail napkin:


[PUBLISHER'S NOTE: It was apparently Dr. Reimart's plan to illustrate this section with actual “concept drawings,” as he left large gaps on the onion skin paper between the blocks of text. But instead of including any recognizable drawings, he merely made blurry smudges on the paper. There are some brown stains which we can only hope and pray are chocolate pudding. Those of you who are truly anxious to see these stains will have to make arrangements to view the original copy of Reimart's manuscript, as the “drawings” themselves proved impossible to replicate in this edition. The manuscript itself is part of the permanent collection of the Wesleyan Archives. If you wish to view it, you will have to make arrangements at least four to six months in advance. Call between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon any Monday through Friday. Ask for Doris. Thank you.  – J.N. Minnow, Esq.]
Clearly, that idea was not going to work. Eb next experimented with various ethnic identities for the character, as we shall see in the next drawing of an Eskimo Thirsty Lad:


[PUBLISHER'S NOTE: See previous editor's note. Thank you – J.N. Minnow, Esq.]


And here's Thirsty as an “injun brave,” complete with tomahawk and feathered headdress:


[Ibid.]


But eventually, Eb Vronk settled on making the Thirsty Lad character an All-American, Caucasian boy of about 10 years of age. Here is an early concept sketch of that version of the character:


[Ibid. Ibid. Get me – I'm a frog! Sorry about that. Just a little publishing humor. Won't happen again. JNM]


Eb must have been pleased with this last drawing, as he actually submitted it to Schecter Schlatter for approval. How fortunate we are that, not only has the drawing survived all these decades, but we still have the memo that Schecter wrote back to Eb regarding the “injun” design. Now that both of these men are dead and safely tucked away in the Devil's Own Hell, I think it is safe to finally reprint this important piece of Thirsty Lad history.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



CONFIDENTAL MEMO (NOT TO BREACH THESE WALLS)


To: Ebeneezer Van Vronk, lowly peasant
From: Schecter Schlatter, your God and King
Re:  Preliminary design on “Thirsty Lad” character for Woody Beerchuck
Date: November 10, 1952


What in the Sam hill is this bull twaddle, Eb? I thought you used your paper for drawing, not for
wiping your ass! I ought to horse whip you for sending me this substandard garbage. What
in the name of God's green earth were you thinking when you submitted this to me?  I can
only imagine that this is some kind of act of hostility towards me. What's the matter, Eb? Were
you not held enough as a child? Or maybe you think you're a comedian. Is that it? You think
you're a regular Red Skelton. Is that it? Oh, the gall of it! The sheer GALL of it! That is what
truly sickens me, Eb. You really thought you could get away with this, didn't you?


Oh, I am so very tired, Eb. So very, very tired. That's probably what you were counting on.
But wait! I am not quite finished yet, Mr. Van Vronk. Make no mistake. There's life in the old
boy yet! And I'm gonna keep swinging until that big umpire in the sky says, “Yer outta there!”


I don't even know where to begin telling you where you failed with this, but I have to try – for
your sake, for my sake, and for the sake of the client. You remember him? The client? Yeah,
that's right. I'm talking about the poor dope who has all his money tied up in this godforsaken
paper towel project and will go ass over teakettle in debt if this thing isn't a success.  Now, we
gave you a very simple assignment, which was to create the ideal all American boy for the
“Thirsty Lad” paper towel campaign, and you have come back to us with this hideous
monstrosity which looks like it sprang from the fertile imagination of Edgar Allan Poe or
perhaps even Hieronymus Bosch! Look, when it comes time to do the Halloween campaigns,
you can give us all the misshapen monsters that you'd like. But this is supposed to be a cute,
loveable, friendly little guy, not a hideous troll living under a bridge. Come on! I thought we
were all on the same page here. But apparently, you skipped ahead to some other chapter!


Look, Eb, you're a good guy. You're practically a brother to me. I mean, how many times have
we swapped wives in the last year alone? By the way, give my best to Myrtle. That gal is one
hell of a ride! The bottom line is that I still believe – in spite of everything – that you are the
right man for this assignment.  I think this “Thirsty Lad” campaign could be the beginning of
big things for you here at the firm. But you have to show me that you have earned my love
and my confidence. And the way to do that is to come up with a character design that doesn't
make me want to vomit every time I so much as look at it.


I cherish you. I respect you. I – and I'm not just saying this – look up to you. And that's why,
against my better judgment, am giving you a second chance. Like your namesake,
Ebeneezer Scrooge, you have a second chance in life. You have an opportunity to redeem
yourself.


I'll expect a revised “Thirsty Lad” design on my desk by tomorrow noon or you're fired.


Hugs and kisses,


SS


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




We should not read too much into Schecter Schlatter's blustery threats. They were as commonplace as they were toothless. The man was a pussycat, readers! I tell you this! Despite the fact that Schecter ended many sentences with the words “or you're fired,” the truth of the matter is that firings were rare at SS&S. Certainly, Schecter was not seriously threatening to fire Eb Vronk. This was merely the boss' way of inspiring his worker to try a little harder, to aim a little higher, to reach a little further. Schecter was merely throwing some coals onto the fire, and Eb knew this better than anyone. It was back to the drawing board, quite literally. You know, people use that expression “back to the drawing board” an awful (and I do mean awful!) lot, but in Eb's case it actually applied. Because that's what he did. Taking a cue from his bosses' initial conversation regarding the “Thirsty Lad” character, Eb spent the rest of that day and much of the  next screening the old Hal Roach Our Gang shorts from the 1930s. He also spent some time studying the children on the playground of a nearby primary school. (This was the 1950s. You could do that back then, readers.) Eventually, he felt ready to present a new design for the character to Schecter. Here, reprinted for the first time, is that revised design. I think you will agree that, in every meaningful way, it can be considered the blueprint for the Thirsty Lad we know today. (And believe me, I know how weird it is for me to be talking about myself in the third person this way. But there's really no avoiding it.)


[PUBLISHER'S NOTE: At this point in the manuscript, Dr. Reimart chose to affix a photograph of a nude Barbie doll whose eyes have been crossed out with a Sharpie. It's an extremely unsettling image, as you can well imagine, and therefore it has been omitted from this edition in the interest of good taste. I do hope you will understand. Your humble servant, J.N. Minnow, Esq.]


Schecter Schlatter must have approved of Eb's new design for the Thirsty Lad character because he paid it the ultimate compliment by taking it to his brother, Ira. This was the highest of compliments one could pay to an artist's work. After all, no idea got out of SS&S headquarters alive until Ira himself had approved it. If Ira gave it the thumbs down, straight into the round file it went. And that was that! Now, I have previousl characterized Schecter as the more hands-on of the two brilliant brothers, and this is true. He was truly the engine in the great machine we call Schecter, Schecter, and Stewpot. Nothing would have ever been accomplished without him. Meanwhile, Ira was always the more reticent of the two, the one less inclined towards direct confrontation or even direct contact with others. But Ira was also a true Merlin of marketing, a Svengali of Salesmanship, an alchemist of advertising, a prophet of the plug! He had a gift for it, a true God given talent that you couldn't learn in school. And his brother Schecter – his junior by a full six hours -- knew this and bowed to Ira's superior wisdom. Weirdly and notably, even though there are several large filing cabinets literally stuffed to the point of exploding with correspondence by Schecter, there are only a few dozen memorandums – always extremely terse – attributed to Ira. The shy brother preferred to deal only with Schecter, and their meetings were held in private. The world has been denied any direct quotes from Ira on the Thirsty Lad design by Eb Vronk, but it is clear that the shy brother must have given the thumbs up to this drawing, as this design passed swiftly to the next crucial step – research and development.






CHAPTER 12: FRANKENSTEIN, OR PROMETHEUS ON MADISON AVENUE


It was on a dreary night in November when I was actually “born.” This is the point in the narrative in which you may think you have stopped reading an autobiography, whose basis is pure fact, and have started to read a work of science fiction. But I assure you that what you are about to read is true, no matter how bizarre it may seem. Advertising mascots have been all around us for decades, but their origins remain shrouded In mystery. Think about it, dearest reader. Do YOU know where mascots come from? How do you think we came into existence? You have seen us in television commercials many times, and you may think that we are mere “cartoons” or “puppets.” But I can assure you that we are very real – as real as you yourself – and are subject to the same foibles and failings as anyone. We eat. We sleep. We love. We cry. We go to school. We get married (often to humans). We – and I hope I am not being indelicate – go to the restroom when necessary. We are, in short, very much like you. Yes, there are differences but these are far outweighed by the similarities.


Part of my incentive to write this book, apart from the almost ridiculously generous advance check I received, was to finally let the public know where advertising mascots come from. Because up until now, the story really hasn't been reported. Part of it is that the advertising industry itself has kept the truth under wraps. No, it's not because there's some terrible, ugly secret behind our existence. But I think the general feeling is that it takes away some of the mystique. I guess this is the same thinking behind the saying: A good magician never reveals his secrets. Did you know that magicians actually take the Magician's Oath and swear not to tell how their trickery is accomplished. I have half a mind to actually become a magician one of these days so I can put a stop to that nonsense. Because I believe the public has a right to know. So if you've ever been even the least bit curious about where mascots come from, then buckle your seat belt, Jocko... You're about to find out.


It's a surprisingly complicated process. Of course it starts with an idea from an advertising writer (as we have seen), and then that idea gets passed on to an artist who comes up with a design (as we have also seen). But what about after that? All you have at the end of the process I have just described is a mere two dimensional drawing, and still drawings do not walk or talk. They're fine for print campaigns, but they're close to worthless for public appearances and they do not make very compelling television stars either. A modern mascot like me has to be the face and body and voice of his product. He has to be the advance man, always throwing himself in front of the product the way a Secret Service agent will supposedly take a bullet for the President of the United States. For that assignment, you need something that can not only walk and talk on its own but can also think for itself. And for that to be accomplished, you need the helping hand of Medical Science.


I have titled this chapter “Frankenstein” because it is Mary Shelley's classic Gothic novel which has provided the unlikely seed of inspiration for the creation of advertising mascots like myself. In the lady’s famous book, a young medical student, Victor Frankenstein, develops an early fascination with learning the secrets of life itself. When he goes off to college, instead of following the sane and rational curriculum prescribed by his teachers, Victor becomes embroiled in a series of bizarre, ungodly experiments which culminate in the creation of an artificial life form: a man stitched together from body parts which have been taken from corpses. Through some vague method, Victor is able to endow his creation with eternal life. Unfortunately, Shelley's tragic scientist makes a glaring error in his work. In his zeal to complete his creation, he completely ignored aesthetics.  As a result, Frankenstein’s “monster” turned out to be extremely ugly, so hideous in fact that its very appearance arouses horror and disgust in others. Because of its extremely unpleasant appearance, the monster's every attempt to become part of human society is roundly rejected. What is there for the monster to do but wreak a horrible and violent revenge upon humanity? And thus we summarize the tragedy of the classic tale. Please note that the book itself is disappointingly vague on the details when it comes to how the monster is actually brought to life. When the novel was adapted into the famous Boris Karloff movie by Universal Pictures, the element of electricity was added. It was lightning which endowed the monster with life in James Whale’s justly renowned film adaptation, but lightning plays no role in Shelley's book, except perhaps in fleeting, incidental descriptions of the weather.
 
In 1948, Klaus Von Meier, a German scientist living in America (and who, incidentally, claimed he was “on vacation” in Buenos Aires from 1939 to 1945) decided to make Shelley’s Frankenstein a reality. After carefully analyzing the corpses of humanely executed criminals, Klaus came up with an invention he called “new flesh,” a perfect simulacrum of actual human flesh. Incredibly, Klaus had managed to replicate the work of the Lord God Almighty. Bones, blood, muscle – there was nothing he could not create in his lab. He even managed to create a working brain, virtually indistinguishable from a human brain. But all of these individual elements are, of course, useless without that indefinable spark we call “life.” For this, Von Meier merely turned to the famous Universal film for inspiration. If lighting worked for Colin Clive, it should work for him as well. Amazingly, this turned out to be true! Lightning indeed animated his “new flesh.” Beaming with pride, the German expatriate unveiled his first living, breathing artificial man, which he dubbed “Hector,” to the press that year. Unlike Victor Frankenstein’s tragically ugly creature though, Von Meier’s man was bland and nearly featureless in appearance, the kind of rudimentary version of the human figure that an unschooled would-be artist might shape out of clay. But the thing could see, talk, answer questions, etc. It was, as you can imagine, an instant sensation in the press! News of this “Second Creation” spread like herpes throughout the world, carried along by radio, newspapers, and even a newfangled invention called the television. Naturally, there was controversy. Philosophers and clergymen alike debated the “rightness” or “wrongness” of Von Meier’s experiments and the “meaning” of these events in the larger cosmic sense. Was this the next stage of Evolution? Would man become obsolete? Should we just give in as well. Politicians and businessmen weighed in as well on the potentially troublesome morals and ethics of all this. But more importantly, people debated how best to put Von Meier’s creation to the best possible use for the good of all humanity. Originally, it was thought that these artificial men might be used as soldiers instead of real human beings, but this idea eventually was discarded after the topic was hashed out in the court of public opinion and various pundits were allowed to share their thoughts on the matter. The soldier idea was deemed ludicrous. After all, the experts pointed out, if there weren’t any actual casualties in these conflicts and no “real” blood was spilled, the wars themselves would lose all significance and would be reduced to the level of hollow mockery. Most nations, including the good old USA, base their national identities around war. War is the natural work of humans, and no scientific breakthrough was going to change that. No, this wasn’t the way. It was similarly decided that using the artificial men as policemen, prostitutes, or janitors -- or any other potentially dangerous or unpleasant profession -- would take away jobs, which were already precious enough as it was, from actual humans. For a while, it seemed that Von Meier’s invention, miraculous and remarkable as it was, might just be forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. What a shame that would have been! What a false step for humanity!
 
It was an American entrepreneur, not a scientist, politician, or clergyman, who finally came up with a good, practical use for Von Meier’s artificial men. Hiram Honeycutt, proprietor of Utah’s famed Honeycutt Brand Honey, thought it might be “pretty darned swell” if he could have a walking, talking honey bear to act as a sort of shill for his familiar product. And of course, he thought that Klaus Von Meier might be just the man to make his dreams a reality. By this time, Von Meier was on the verge of bankruptcy. His experiments had cost, as you might guess, many thousands of dollars, and he had yet to find a practical use for his artificial men. He was working in a Cleveland bathhouse in an undetermined capacity when he got the fateful call from Hiram Honeycutt. Hiram asked whether this “new flesh” could be molded into any possible shape the buyer wanted. Von Meier answered that indeed it could. And that was just the beginning. While these artificial men have all the needs of regular men – i.e. the need to eat, breathe, drink, sleep, defecate, urinate, fornicate, etc. – the new flesh was much more durable than the old fashioned kind. An artificial man could be kept alive indefinitely with very little wear and tear. And their brains were so remarkably malleable that they could be “programmed” however one might wish. Well, I need hardly tell you that the Honeycutt Honey Bear was a smash success. Honey sales skyrocketed, and businessmen everywhere took notice. Before you can say “your mother sews socks that smell,” the old pen and ink mascots were passé. Every company had to have a “new flesh” mascot. Von Meier soon became wealthy from his invention, which he had the foresight to patent, and the technology became commonplace. Every advertising agency now had to have a “mad scientist” type chemistry lab, usually located in the basement. Because the term “mad scientist” still has a negative connotation in our language, these labs were usually referred to as the “research and development department.” It’s all about euphemisms in the advertising biz, sweetheart, and don’t you forget it.
 
Fast forward to November 1952. By this time, “living” mascots were the industry norm. When the “Thirsty Lad” project came to Schecter, Schecter, and Stewpot, it was a foregone conclusion that the agency was going to present Woody Beerchuck with a Honeycutt style mascot. To give you an analogy, it’s sort of like how popular and, therefore, omnipresent 3D movies are today. You should know by this point that mascots could be any size, shape, temperament, or color that the client wanted. A blue giraffe with a comical Southern accent? You got it, mister! A shapeless gray blob with eyes, nose, and a mouth? Coming right up, sir! Now, you might think that the sky was the limit and that advertisers went crazy coming up with off the wall living characters. But it’s not so. Sure, a few companies went overboard and came up with surreal creations, but the public rejected these and gravitated to the more blandly conceived characters that vaguely resembled the people and animals they already knew. That’s part of the reason I’m so popular. I’m the eternal 10 year old, all American boy that you might find in any small town across this great country, except that I’m rendered in a very cartoony, exaggerated style. My eyes are oversized. My torso is ridiculously round. My legs are comically stubby. “Et cetera. Et cetera Et cetera,” as the King of Siam used to say.
 
As for my “birth,” I am afraid there is not much to tell. It was a fairly typical mascot creation for the time. Eb Vronk’s design for me was given to the boys in R&D. They had plenty of the “new flesh” on hand in their labs, of course. It was just a matter of molding it into the desired shape and then bringing it to life with electricity. I have to be honest with you folks. I am not a scientist. I never had any aptitude for that in school. Entertaining was my calling from the beginning. Now apart from Hedy Lamarr, I can’t think of too many people who crossed over between science and entertaining. Well, there’s Bill Nye the Science Guy, but he’s more like the exception that proves the rule. What I’m saying is that your either hardwired for the one thing or the other thing. I don’t know how I even got on this science kick. I guess it was because I wanted you to know how mascots like me are created and where we come from, because the truth of it is kind of hushed up by not only the advertising industry but also all the individual clients we represent. We’re supposed to be fun, happy, joyful, magical characters, so nobody wants to think about how our origins are in a test tube in some lab in New Jersey. It’s not an ugly truth. It’s just truth, but it’s not a romantic truth. It’s not a “cute” truth. It’s just a cold blooded, scientific truth. If that doesn’t satisfy you, well then you can just go straight to hell because I don’t have use for you. Not a bit of use! You’re dead to me, and you should just stop reading this book right now because it’s too good for you! Yeah, that’s what I said, you swine! You think I’m afraid of you! I may only be four feet tall or so, but I’ve banged a hell of a lot of women and knocked some sense into plenty of guys over the years. So when I have something to say, you had best listen up. You talk too much, junior. You bother me. Go peddle your papers somewhere else. Bah humbug!
 
Okay, okay, we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. Well, not the wrong foot because we didn’t just meet. But you know what I mean. You have to forgive me, reader. Sometimes I can be a real prickeroo. I don’t mean to be. It’s just in my nature. I can’t help it. I know that’s no excuse, but I offer it to you as a reason for my often unpredictable and unpleasant behavior. There’s a difference between an “excuse” and a reason. There are causes and there are effects. You see it everywhere you look in this world. Do you know what I mean, jellybean?  Some days are diamonds and others are pearls. I don’t know what this is supposed to mean, but it’s a phrase which has kept me going during even the toughest times. God, the pressure of writing my autobiography is getting to me. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines! They’re crashing down all around me! I feel like I should be in a bomb shelter. Or maybe my editors should be in a bomb shelter in case this book BOMBS when it comes out. Too bad for them that I already spent my advance check. On what I’m not tellin’ ya. Look at me, being all coy.
 
All right, enough foolishness! It’s time to get down to business and get this fershlugginer book back on track. You have questions. I’m supposed to have the answers. So that’s how I think we’ll handle the next chapter. We’ll get systematic about these things. What do you say? You feel like getting systematic with me? After all, this is the Information Age. Time to plug up your nose holes and dive in, Pedro.
 







CHAPTER 13: IN WHICH THIRSTY LAD ANSWERS YOUR FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


Q: What is your name?


A: My full name is Thurston J. Ladd, officially, but I go by Thirsty Lad.


Q: What does the “J.” stand for?

A: Nothing. I guess it could stand for whatever you’d like. I’m partial to John, because that was my favorite Beatle.


Q: When were you born?


A: Late November of 1952.


Q: Where were born?


A: New York City, baby.


Q: But where in New York City?


A: Madison Avenue. At an advertising agency called Schecter, Schecter, and Stewpot. (Hereafter, SS&S)


Q: Who came up with you?


A: Well, a paper towel manufacturer named Woody Beerchuck had the name “Thirsty Lad” for his brand of paper towel, and he passed that on to the good people at SS&S. It was the Schlatter Brothers, Ira and Shechter, who really came up with the idea that I should be a fat little 10 year old boy. Then they gave that idea to an artist named Eb Vronk, who designed me.


Q: And after that?


A: After that is a lot of science that I don’t quite understand. SS&S had scientists bring me to life, Frankenstein style.


Q: Do you know the name of the scientists?


A: No. That stuff was kept purely confidential, and the names have been lost to time.


Q: What do you remember about your creation process?


A: Not much. It’s all kind of a blur, obviously.


Q: What are you, scientifically speaking?


A: I am an advertising mascot. We are artificially created life forms brought into this world to sell various
consumer products. Some of us are animals, usually talking ones. Some are objects, . Some are
humanoid. I’m a humanoid.


Q: So you’re not human exactly?


A: Hello! Have you seen me lately? My eyes are gigantic. My legs are tiny. My torso is impossibly round. No, I am not human. But I’m close.


Q: How close?


A: I sleep. I eat. I feel pain. I think. I cry. I go to the bathroom. I have sex. I have all the same organs in my body that you have in yours, except mine are artificial.


Q: Do you age?


A: Chronologically, obviously yes. But physically? No. That’s one of the big ways in which we mascots are different from humans. Once we are designed, we will maintain our basic appearance indefinitely until we are redesigned.


Q: Redesigned? What’s that mean?


A: Most mascots will go through major and minor revisions over the years, to keep the character fresh and to stay current with the times. People’s tastes change. We are essentially living artwork, so our appearances may have to be updated in order to accommodate that. Some mascots are made over so much that you can hardly recognize them. Some are just tweaked.


Q: And you?


A: Just tweaked, thanks.


Q: What’s that process like?


A: It depends on how major the renovation is. You have to think of it as the mascot version of plastic surgery. There’s major plastic surgery and minor plastic surgery. Keep that analogy in mind. I’ve just had a few gentle nips and tucks over the years. Nothing monumental.


Q: Where is it done?


A: At the advertising agency. They still have their own labs for it, though that aspect of the business doesn’t get a lot of attention.


Q: Are you immortal?


A: The answer is more or less yes. We mascots are very durable, certainly. We are built to last. But we can be injured and even killed. We can develop chemical and psychological dependencies that can harm us. We do need food and water to survive. Our lifestyles can damage our bodies, but since our bodies are artificial to begin with, the damaged parts can be fairly easily repaired or replaced if need be. Even if our bodies are totally destroyed and there is no trace of us left, we can still be reconstituted or reconstructed as long as the original blueprints and formulas for us still exist.


Q: If you are recreated in this manner, would the “new you” have the memories of the “old you”? Like say Thirsty Lad were to get blown up, and the ad men created a brand new Thirsty Lad that was just like the old one. Would the new guy inherit your thoughts?


A: No. He would think just like me, but his brain would essentially be rebooted from scratch. He would not
have my memories. My memories would have died with my old body.


Q: Is that why you’re writing this book? To preserve your memories on paper in case something should happen to your current body?


A: No, I’m writing this book for the money.


Q: Do you need money?


A: Let’s say I have expensive tastes.


Q: So mascots are, for all intents and purposes, immortal?


A: Yes, you could say so.


Q: But what if their product goes off the market? Or what if the advertiser decides he wants a new mascot or a new ad campaign? What then?


A: That is a tough subject, and I’ve been putting off writing about it. When a mascot becomes obsolete for whatever reason, he has a few options. He can go free and try to make a life on the outside. This is very difficult to do, since we were created for one very specific purpose in mind, but some have accomplished it and gone on to be artists or gas station attendants or whatever. You see them sometimes out in the world.


Q: But this is not common?


A: No.


Q: What is common?


A: What’s common is to go to “The Farm.”


Q: What’s “The Farm”?


A: The Farm is basically a big rest home for obsolete mascots. The advertising industry created it back in the 1960s at the request of the US Government. I need to specify, this only is for American mascots. I don’t know how it goes in foreign countries. But here, if you are no longer needed or wanted as a mascot and you do not feel that you can make it on your own, you can turn yourself in and be transferred to “The Farm” at no cost.


Q: Where do you turn yourself in?


A: Well, if the ad agency that created you is still in business, they'll fill out the necessary paperwork. But any post office, police station, or library – really, any government building – should be able to handle it. You fill out a few forms, and they tell you when they're going to pick you up.


Q: They pick you up? How?


A: It's basically a panel truck or van. Sort of like a UPS van. It comes around to your house, you get in the back, and they drive you away.


Q: To the Farm?


A: Yes. Supposedly.


Q: Why do you say “supposedly”?


A: Because personally I feel that there is no “Farm.”


Q: And why do you feel that way?


A: I've never seen it. No one knows where it is. The government keeps the location top secret. They say it's to protect the mascots because there is still a lot of anti mascot prejudice out there.


Q: Is there prejudice?

A: Maybe 50 years ago but not now.


Q; So if they aren't going to The Farm, what happens to them?


A: I think they're destroyed.


Q: Destroyed how?


A: Taken out to a remote location and dipped in a chemical which dissolves them.


Q: Like the dip from Roger Rabbit?


A: Exactly.


Q: Is this widely known within the mascot world?


A: Yes, it is. I don't know any mascot who seriously believes in the existence of The Farm. Only humans believe it.


Q: So the mascots who sign up for The Farm know they're going to die?


A: Yes.


Q: Then why do they do it?


A: Because they're tired of living forever. They've had enough. They want out, and they want to put the responsibility in other people's hands. A mascot will rarely if ever take his or her own life.


Q: Why not?


A: Public appearance. Our whole lives are about image. About putting up the best possible front to the public. We're salesmen. Just like Willy Loman, we get by on a handshake and a shoeshine.


Q: But didn't Willy Loman kill himself?


A: Okay, maybe that was a bad example. But you have to understand that we're in a business that's all about cheerful lies. We live for the false front. Even more than those products, we're selling OURSELVES. So even at the end, it would be unthinkable for a mascot to shoot himself or hang himself. We just don't do it. It's anathema to us. We'd rather go along with the comforting fiction of The Farm, even though we all know what it really means to go there.


Q: Have you known anybody who went there?


A: Oh, yes. Quite a few. Cookie Crumbles, Mr. No Stick Pan, Rockin' Rodney Radish. All good friends of mine. All now dead, I presume. This is depressing. Change the subject.


Q: Okay, let's talk about your early career then. You were “born,” so to speak in 1952, right?


A: Yes.


Q: When a mascot is born, is he complete and ready to go? Or is there training involved?


A: That's two questions, but I'll try to answer both of them. This is going to be a longish answer, so try not to get those panties of yours in a bunch, Sister Bertrille. The “creation” process for a mascot is very different than that for a human. Think of it as something akin to programming a computer. The finished mascot has to be able to walk and talk and basically do whatever is necessary to perform properly in a television commercial. Again, I'm no scientist, so I don't know how it's all accomplished. But when a mascot is “born,” he's already a functioning, thinking creature – unless of course he's been designed to be a baby. Baby mascots are rare. The famous ones are more or less born as adults. But pretty much all we know when we are born is what the boys in the science labs have programmed into our heads in advance. We have a predetermined personality and an innate love of the product for which we've been designed – or at least knowledge of it. Sometimes, like the roaches in the Raid commercials or the termites in the Terminex ads, mascots are created to despise and fear their own products. That's rare, too, and it's a crappy life. Those guys never last long. A few years and BOOM! They beg to be sent to the Farm. But anyway, apart from that preprogrammed stuff in our brains, we mascots are blank slates. We don't know any more about the world than human babies would know. In other words, bupkis. So we do go to school. I mean, it's not a real school like human kids go to. It's just for mascots, and it's more like those “on set” schools you see child actors attending. Your classmates are talking gorillas talking broccoli stalks, talking flatware, etc. It's freaky. I won't deny it.  But as for appearing in commercials for your own product, you can do that right out of the lab. I was “born” in November of 1952 and I was appearing in Thirsty Lad commercials as early as December, just in time for Christmas.


Q: What were those early days like?


A: Exciting. I was still very new and very enthusiastic about the product then. It was all I knew, so naturally I was excited about it. The commercials were live then, so you had to get them right on the first take. That was never a problem for me. The first ads we did were on The Donnie Doogan Show, which you've probably never heard of, but it was a big hit at the time.


Q: Were the early commercials a hit?


A: I wouldn't be here today if they hadn't been. A mascot pretty much has to make his impact within the first six months, or it's off to the Farm he goes.


Q: How did you, or your company, start to realize that the commercials were a success?


A: Well, of course, the number one thing they look for is a rise in sales. Or if a product is new, of course, they're looking for strong initial sales. But even then, the Big Boys want to know: is it the product itself or is it the commercials that they people are really responding to? What helps is if the company starts getting fan letters and other correspondence specifically addressed to the mascot. Then they know that it's the mascot that's making an impact with the general viewing public. If you're a mascot, you had better hope you start getting fan mail. Because if not, you are extremely disposable.


Q: And you started getting fan mail right away?


A: Oh, yes. Right away. Within days of the first commercial airing, in fact. So they made another one and put me in it. And then another and then another. Then they started sending me around to do PA's – that's personal appearances in showbiz talk. Autograph signings, auto shows, supermarket openings, that kind of stuff. By the next year, 1953, kids were dressing up like Thirsty Lad for Halloween. Those were the salad days, the halcyon days. It's like that for a lot of mascots. The first couple of years is when you make a huge impact on the public, and then it settles down. If you're unlucky, it means your career is over. If you're lucky, like me, it means that you're settling in for a nice, long steady career that will last for decades. It starts out with a Matterhorn type peak, but it then levels out to a nice even plateau. That's mostly where I've been within the industry. Now, where I got especially lucky is that the company that manufactures the paper towels actually renamed itself Thirsty Lad in 1955 to better identify itself within the marketplace. Their original name was that ungodly Mid-Regional Wood Pulp Whatever that Beerchuck came up with. But he knew who the cash cow was and changed the name of the whole company to Thirsty Lad. So for the last 45 years, the company has basically had my name tattooed on its big fat ass. Good luck getting rid of me, pigs!


Q: But haven't you had major, major problems over the years?


A: Yes, sir. A shit ton, as they say. Drugs, divorces, arrests. But I think that stuff is all behind me now. I finally “cleaned up my act.” Get it? Cleaned up? Because I'm a paper towel mascot! Har de har har!


Q: People aren't interested in your redemption, you arrogant, conceited son of a biscuit eating bulldog! They want DIRT. D-I-R-T! They want sex and scandal and humiliation and disgrace!


A: That's not a question.


Q: Fuck you!


A: That's not a question, either.  And might I say, you're not treating me like the star I am. I deserve some respect, whippersnapper!


Q: Okay, Mr. Big Shot Hollywood Star, here's a question for you: when did you lose your virginity?


A: Well, that's a little personal, if you'll forgive me for saying so. But you want the dirty stuff, so that's what you'll get. You ought to have your mind washed out with soap after this. I lost my virginity in 1960.


Q: 1960? But you were 8 years old! How could that be?


A: You must have asparagus for brains! I wasn't born at the age of zero. I was born at the age of 10.


Q: What? That makes no sense.


A: Legally speaking, a mascot's age is determined by his preprogrammed age from when he was created. If a mascot is designed to be a baby, well then his age at birth would be zero. But I started out as a ten year old boy. And physically, that's what I've remained. But mentally and emotionally, I started at 10 and grew up from there. And that's what counts. By the summer of 1960, I was already 17. Get it?


Q: Not really, but we'll have to continue. Who was your first?


A: A script girl named Fifi Devereaux. Cute little thing. We made it between takes of a Thirsty Lad commercial.


Q: So Fifi was a human woman?


A: Yeah. I have no sexual interest in other mascots generally. I mean, Swiss Miss and the St. Pauli Girl aside. I mean, M&M's tried to promote that green M&M lady as some kind of sex goddess, but whatever she was selling I wasn't buying. No, sir. I like human women. And I've had plenty, let me tell you. Fifi was just the start.


Q: Do mascots have human rights?


A: We're not human, so by definition we cannot have human rights. But we do have SOME rights. I can vote. I can own property. I can marry and divorce, both of which I've done many times. However, I ultimately am the property of the Thirsty Lad company. They call the shots and have veto power which they rarely exercise but could if they wanted to. They could even  have me sent to the Farm if they so desired. Luckily they haven't, though I'm sure they thought about it many times, especially during the 1970s and early 1980s when I was living like a wild man. Anyway, when a company or product goes bust, legally the mascot gets his freedom. But because we're only designed to sell that one product, freedom is usually no good for us.


Q: So you're a slave?


A: Yes. I've come to live with it. It's not the kind of slavery like you read about in history books. I've never been chained up or whipped or anything. No one's forcing me to pick cotton or anything like that. This is a sensitive issue. It's making my head hurt. My head... it hurts so much... Excuse me. I must leave you now.


Q: Where are you going.


A: To the Farm.


PUBLISHER'S INTERJECTION: Hello, readers. I fear that I must make my presence felt once more in this edition of Perforated. The question and answer session you just read were the last pages that Dr. Sheldon Reimart, DDS wrote as the “character” of Thirsty Lad. When he wrote this book, he was so profoundly in character that he had utterly suppressed his own, true personality and was living as the buffoonish mascot. However, Dr. Reimart must have had some moments of clarity in which his “old” personality bubbled back up to the surface of his brain. One is tempted to compare him to Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, except for that fact that Reimart was “Hyde” (or Thirsty Lad) roughly 99% of the time. But it was during that all too brief 1% of his life when he reverted to his true human self that he composed the following letter to his wife, which was found alongside the papers which constitute this manuscript. After considerable debate here at Pembroke, we have deigned to include this very intimate letter written by a very troubled man. We hope that its inclusion here will help you, the reader, to reach a fuller and richer understanding of this bizarre and tragic tale. I remain your humble servant, J. Newton Minnow, Esq.





My dearest Debbie,


I scarcely know where to begin this letter, and I don't know whether I will have the courage to ever mail it to you. It is difficult to know what is real and what isn't these days. But either way, I must write these words to you. I have been away, Debbie. Very far away. This all feels like it has been a terrible, terrible dream. I am hoping it really has been a dream. If this has all been real, then I am going to be in some very serious legal troubles. You will want to start comparison shopping for lawyers now. Ha! Just a little humor to liven up what might otherwise be a very grim letter. Okay, back to being serious. Debbie, I am in terrible trouble, worse than I have ever been in my entire life. I don't think that this kind of thing can be covered up forever, and soon the whole terrible truth of what I have done will come out.  But I want you to know something, Debbie. I have not done any of this. I am innocent. You know me. You must believe me, even if no one else ever does. I am still Sheldon, the man you married. Sheldon would not do this. Sheldon is a gentle man, a decent man, a loving husband and father and a top quality painless dentist. Then who is to blame for these ghastly deeds? It is HIM, Debbie. It's Thirsty Lad. He just takes over, Debbie. I realize that this all sounds completely crazy, but it is true. He invades my whole body. I'm nothing more than the puppet. He's the puppet master. He always has been. He got into our house through the television. I should have covered my ears, but I didn't and he got into my brain that way. And now, Debbie, he lives there permanently. And he's the most evil human being on the planet. He's just so mean and violent and vicious and selfish. He pretends to be all cute and innocent in those TV commercials, but it's just an act. Don't believe it. Underneath that pudgy exterior beats the heart of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo all rolled into one. He took over my body, and I'm a healthy, average, full grown American male. Think what he can do to women and children and pets. He won't stop with me, Debbie. Oh no, he won't. You can bet your boots that I am just the beginning. I don't even know what he does through me when he's in control. I'm not even really awake for any of it. It's like he's holding my head underwater. I only get to come up for air for a few minutes now and then. And even that is becoming more and more rare. I notice that he has been writing a book. There are pages and pages filled with typing. It looks to be some kind of autobiography or something. I can't really make any sense of it. But I'm guessing it's evil. Everything he does is evil. He's like a giant paper towel, soaking up all the goodness and light in the world, then wringing it out into the sink of despair where it goes down the plumbing of malevolence into the sewer of insanity.


He will return very soon. Maybe the next time he comes, it will be forever and ever and ever and that will be the end of poor old Sheldon Reimart. It will just be “Thirsty Lad” from then on out. I don't suppose that it much matters at this point. The fat little bastard has already ruined my life. There's no way that I won't end up in a prison or an institution to pay for his crimes. But I want you to do something for me, Debbie. I want you to remember me as I was. Maybe I was not terribly exciting. Maybe I didn't have the best sense of humor. Maybe I wasn't a dynamo in the bedroom. I don't know where I'm going with this, but promise me – PROMISE ME – you will remember the Sheldon you once knew. Thirsty Lad is a monster, and God willing, he will eventually pay for his crimes. But I am not he, and he is not... me? I? The grammar gets a little confusing at this point, but you know what I mean. Society will have to punish my body, but my mind will be long gone. There's barely enough left of me to write this letter.


Before I'm gone for good, I want to tell you about a dream I had. It was one of the last good dreams I had before “HE” took over my mind. I don't even get to dream my own dreams anymore. Did you know that? I have to dream his evil, awful dreams. But before all this nastiness started, Debbie, you remember that night you baked your famous pecan pie for me? I don't know if I told you at the time how much I appreciated it, even though pecan pie is terrible for your teeth. But that very night, I'd had quite a bit of that pie and it made me sleepy, and I went to sleep that night feeling very contented and warm. And the dream was so comforting! I wanted to share it with you because there will be some very disturbing and cold days, months, and years ahead of both of us. Well, you mainly. I'll be gone, except I'll leave my body behind. But, anyway, that dream: in it, I was a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. And they had sent me to interview Ike & Tina Turner. I think Ike is dead in real life, but he was still alive in this dream of mine. And crazily enough, he and Tina had put aside their differences and gotten remarried in their golden years. They were living somewhere down south on a little farm they'd started. And the whole dream was sort of sepia colored like those early scenes from The Wizard of Oz. Maybe it was supposed to be Kansas. I don't know. And so I went down there to talk to them, and it was just all sort of pleasant. They showed me around the place, which was very humble, and the mood was just so peaceful. They invited me to dinner, and I don't remember what they served, but it was very good as well. And then, Debbie, you know what happened? They went outside and sat out on the patio. It was a warm night, but not too warm, and the sun was setting. And Ike got out this old acoustic guitar, and he and Tina started singing “Proud Mary” just to me. I can't think of anything more beautiful than that.


I love you, Debbie. Whatever else happens, you once had a husband who loved you.  Never forget that.


Love,


Sheldon

PUBLISHER'S FINAL INTERJECTION: Does it spoil the mood if I were to tell you this letter was written in crayon on paper towel? Well, it was. Live with it. JNM, Esq.







T H E E N D


SPECIAL NOTE TO READERS: 
If you read this entire novel and can prove it, I'd love to send you a prize. Just e-mail me at josephablevins at gmail.com with a one paragraph summary of the novel. Explain the basic plot of Perforated, right up to the end, and describe the main characters. If you'd like, you can even give your overall impression of the novel. If I am satisfied that you have indeed read Perforated all the way through, I will happily send you some DVDs from my personal collection. I'm willing to mail to anywhere in the United States. This is for real. I am 100% serious.

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