Synopsis: This is a short story that has been floating around my head since my college days. At the time, I noticed there was a particular game going around my fraternity where brothers would embarrass and ridicule each other using a certain fizzy, sugary, alcoholic beverage. While most would probably dismiss this game as just the latest frat house antics, I often wondered if there was more than met the eye. I found it very suspicious, for example, that a demographic who would otherwise have absolutely no interest in said sugary alcoholic beverage was suddenly buying packs of it for the sake of this new game. Could it be that this game was more than a passing bro fad? What if it was actually the product of some sneaky and clever marketing ploy by the makers of the drink, and the rest of us were too dumb to see it?
Thus emerged my story, “Frosting”, wherein I imagine what the board room meeting to devise such a ploy might have looked like. The story follows the Vice President of a failing beer company somewhere in middle America. After 30 years of business struggles and competition from the craft breweries springing up all across the country, he believes his company has reached a crucial juncture. He is now deeply fearful that the entire business and all of its old traditions could be facing an imminent end. But these dire circumstances also make him a man with little left to lose, and he believes he has come up with an idea crazy enough to stake his career on. He will have one chance to convince the senior executives that it is the only way to save the company.
By Marshall Geck
The breathing exercises weren’t working that day.
It was hard to inhale deeply or count to twenty with the wind cutting my face. The pain from my rapidly-numbing fingers didn’t help either. It was simply too cold to concentrate, let alone to calm down. I opened my eyes, exhaled a puff of frozen air, and kicked a snowball down the sidewalk.
It wasn’t really even a snowball. Just a filthy frozen dirt clod.
The city I walked through was so much like that snowball it made me sick. Surely at one point the snow was clean and blindingly white. But now, as with all the snowbanks on the sidewalk, it was covered in gravel, slush, and exhaust. Reduced to a pile of shit, simply because it didn’t move. Similarly, the boarded-up windows and abandoned buildings I passed were once glimmering symbols of enterprise. Now they were a smear of filth on the American landscape because the businesses that built them were all too convinced of their own immortality. Complacency is poison for business, and so too was it for my city.
In retrospect, how it all got to this point is vivid and clear. When one of the local bars started serving pints of the craft brew stuff, the executives of Smerton Brewing Company simply gawked in amusement: “A novelty beer! Well, isn’t that something?”
Little did we know that while all those “novelty beers” were spreading from bar to bar, we were too busy bickering with the unions and brewing up the same tasteless, factory-produced crap to realize the threat.
As I said, in retrospect it is all clear memory, but that still doesn’t stop me from endlessly reflecting on where the time went and how we went wrong. The part that frustrates me the most is that, while the market was changing and our sales were dropping, I was persuading the company to stay the course. I can’t possibly count the number of times I argued something like: “We have one of the most recognizable and positively-regarded beer brands in the industry. Why kill that by doing something different? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Our slogan, “Stand with Smerton Trophy”, usually featured an American farmer toasting our iconic trophy-shaped beer can to old glory while the sun set red over a corn field. The advertisements resembled old war-time posters that conjured blue-collar patriotism, the kind that our mid-aged, working-class clientele found irresistible. Never mind that the only time Smerton ever actually won a trophy for best beer was over eighty years ago and just about anything was better than the piss water people used drink back then. No, that ancient accomplishment—which would never happen again—made Smerton part of a tradition. By drinking Smerton, the customer was choosing a time-tested product that reminded them of simpler days.
Or so that was the marketing logic I had reinforced for years. And truth be told, it worked. People did stand with Smerton. People all across America stood with Smerton for eighty fine years. Indeed, the president of the company and proud heir of the family business, Bob Smerton, wasn’t exaggerating when he said that even the entire city stood with Smerton. The brewery and its related industries provided by far the greatest source of economic activity in the region for a long time.
And yet, that exact same glorious history was incredibly effective at blinding us from the truth; the truth that even though people respected our brand, they still preferred the new craft brew stuff.
Much of the decline started with Bob, my boss for the last decade. Bob was nowhere near as enterprising or creative as the company’s founders. What he lacked in intelligence and business knowledge, however, he made up for with charisma and a bluntness that many found refreshing. Since the day he took over for his deceased father, he was the face of the Smerton empire; proudly promoting his family’s legacy at parties and beer festivals across the country. So long as he could do this job well, it mattered little to most in the company that he was a stubborn, pig-headed brute. It mattered little, that is, so long as I was there to make all the important decisions.
This was an easy job for many years. In most cases, Bob would trust my decisions about our marketing and business strategies, no questions asked.
Until the day arrived when we needed to do something different.
When we started competing with the craft beers and our sales began to dramatically decline, even I had to admit that staying the course was unsustainable. But trying to persuade Bob that we needed to diversify our product line and change a business model that had worked for nearly a century was like an affront to his entire being. Convincing him that we needed to close entire factories or risk severe losses certainly wasn’t much easier. Even when I did manage to get through to him, sometimes the change was too little too late. That my latest product idea—“Smerton Frost”—had fallen flat in terms of sales was proof of this to me. By the time we finally put the wheels in place to deploy the product, several competitors had already launched their own lines of sweet and fizzy alcoholic drinks aimed at capturing the young women’s drink market.
But what was most troubling about Bob’s stubbornness is that, because I was always the bearer of bad news and the one pushing him to change, he began to associate all of the company’s misfortunes with me. Worse, Bob was certainly not the type to have any qualms about shooting the messenger.
I found this terrifying. The mere thought of having to find new work at my age—and in the current economy—sent shivers down my spine stronger than any Midwestern winter chill ever could. The kids still had several years of college left, and retirement was at least another decade away. It had actually gotten so bad in the past few months that for the first time in my life, I feared going to work. Every day on my commute, I felt a painful dread that Bob would suddenly decide that he had had enough with me. At times, I could barely look at him without my heart plummeting into a pool of panic and resentment. Then, on the commute home, I would exhale in relief, elated having survived another day, only play out the horrible drama all over again when I woke up the next morning.
This was no way for a man to live. If the end of my career at Smerton was truly near, I thought it far better to see it out on my own terms. I decided it was high time for something completely new. Something bold, something daring, something to prove that this buffalo nickel was still worth a thirty-year investment by the company. After months of research, ethnographic studies, and target-audience receptivity tests, I had come up with an idea crazy enough to stake my job on. And I was ready for my presentation about it to be either my last hurrah or my saving grace at Smerton.
My first challenge of the day, however, was counting to twenty without losing my nerve.
After taking some long frigid breathes and slowing down my pace, I began to feel my entire body go numb. Like a dead man walking, I stared vacantly and walked in slow steps through the revolving glass door and into the shining modern lobby of Smerton Tower. Patty, the receptionist, eyed me curiously when she didn’t receive her customary morning greeting. My eyes wandered away from her instead, briefly contemplating how the same black leather couches and marble statues I had passed by for years could appear so different to me when my mind was so absorbed with apprehension. I walked into the elevator, pressed the button, and stared at the steel door the whole way up.
When I reached the 10th floor, my trance was replaced by a flurry of second thoughts. My mind ran wild with doubt as I moved through the hall of cubicles and into the warmth of my office. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, after all? Maybe I would have been better off spending these past few months polishing up my resume and contacting some headhunters? What if someone found my idea offensive? What if they all just think I’ve lost my mind?
Not that any of this senseless worrying would get me anywhere. I was on at 9:30 AM, and the town hall clock tower outside my office window said it was 9:15. Fifteen minutes beforehand was not the time to let toxic thoughts take over.
“Get a grip. You’ve done your work, you know your stuff, and you’ve set the stage,” I thought to myself. “You’re as ready as you’ll ever be.”
I sat down at my desk and purposelessly shuffled through my note cards. A clamor of chuckles made me look up. A group of my colleagues in black business suits was outside my office walking towards the conference room, sipping coffee mugs and exchanging morning trivialities along the way. I stared at them blankly and continued to shuffle my note cards.
Until I saw Bob’s big round figure trailing the group.
He caught my eye and stopped momentarily. Lowering his glasses, he smirked and then raised his coffee mug to me. It was a morning “cheers” not unlike the thousands that came before it. Except this time it seemed to say “Last chance, or it’s your ass, old friend”.
I raised a mug back at him to return the gesture, and waited until he had passed completely before I sprinted out the door and into the bathroom.
A few stomach contortions later ended with only dry heaves into the sink. I clasped the counter with sweaty palms, and lifted my leaden head until I was facing myself in the mirror. My big brown eyes were wide with dread, and once-black-now-peppered hair drooped limply over my forehead.
In that moment, I looked more unlike myself than ever before. In fact, the fear on my face looked so silly and cartoonish that I actually let out a hysterical laugh.
What kind of Vice President breaks down like a college intern before a big presentation? Forget what happens in that conference room, I was far more of a leader than Bob would ever be.
Did the PR folks rush to Bob when The Times wrote that exposé about Smerton cutting corners on hygiene at its facilities after some old man found rat shit at the bottom of his bottle? No, they ran to me because I could play damage control like no one else. “Emergency opposition research!” I commanded, and it was done. We promptly launched a smear campaign against the old bastard to make him look like a crazy meth addict with zero credibility. And who did the accountants turn to when they needed to streamline the company? It sure as hell wasn’t Bob. They knew no one could trim the fat like me. I fired off some pink slips and had that balance sheet back in the black in no time. Bob might own the company on paper, but there was no denying that I was the reason it had survived this long.
I smiled at this thought and wiped the dry-heave spit off my mustache.
My confidence once again intact, I re-parted my hair and straightened my tie. A few more deep breaths and I exited the bathroom.
When I arrived in the conference room, my colleagues were already assembled around the table chatting with one another. Looking outside the window panes, which formed the outer wall of the room, I could see the sun beginning to break through the grey clouds that were hovering over the city and the river.
I would take any good omen I could get.
Bob sat at the head of the long conference table, stroking his bald spot and fiddling with his suspenders. I felt his penetrating eyes follow me as I walked over to the projector at the opposite side of the room and uploaded my slides.
When the first slide appeared on the projector screen, I wasted no time in launching into my presentation, knowing that every second I delayed would cause me to become more nervous.
“Good morning everyone, I would like to get started,” I began.
My colleagues ended their conversations almost instantly and turned their full attention to me. Bob folded his hands on his gut, leaned back in his chair, and watched intently from the opposite side of the table.
“Thank you. I hope you are all keeping warm. I swear the weather today is colder than Bob was to those beer judges who mistook him for the mascot of Humpty Dumpty Brewing Company at the state fair last summer.”
Everyone laughed, including Bob. Now I was rolling.
“Okay, so this meeting, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is to discuss some of our recent problems with sales. After that, I’m going to present to you a bold idea for how we can turn those trends around, make Smerton Frost a profitable product, and get Smerton Brewing Company back on its feet again.“
I advanced to the next slide, which was full of beer sales graphs and financial forecasts that would make most businessmen gasp.
“As most of you know, sales of our flagship beer, Smerton Trophy, have been steadily declining for years. The reasons for this are many, but changing consumer preferences and increasing competition from craft breweries are most to blame. However, I will argue that we must continue to produce this product even if it comes at a loss. I say this because Smerton Trophy is central to our company identity. It is the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Smerton. To eliminate such a time-tested and recognizable product would be suicide for the Smerton brand. The real profits, therefore, must come from other product lines that use the familiar Smerton label to their advantage. That’s where Smerton Frost was supposed to come into play.”
I advanced the slides again to show more sales trends that were nearly indistinguishable from the harrowing ones that came before.
“But, as you can see, it hasn’t been as successful as we would have liked. Why is that? Because we were slow to deploy the product and because the target market became saturated before we could take advantage. By the time Smerton Frost reached the shelves, there were at least five well-recognized competitor brands of sweet and fizzy alcoholic beverages targeting twenty-and-thirty-something-year-old women.”
“Or maybe it was just a bad idea all around,” Bob interjected, “did you ever consider that explanation?”
I ignored the interruption and pushed on before anyone could react.
“Nevertheless, there are good reasons why we would not want to change course right now. We have already invested a large amount of time and money into the branding and capital required to make Smerton Frost. To reverse course or redirect resources into new products could lead to even greater losses at this point. Moreover, the product itself is not critically flawed. The problem is our target market was exploited by competitors while we were still reacting to the evolving trends. What we need to do is redirect Smerton Frost to a more promising market, one that has not yet been so extensively exploited.”
“And what market would that be, exactly?” Bob interrupted once more.
“I’m getting to it,” I said, this time with less patience, “There is a particular demographic that consumes more alcohol per capita than any other group—outside of alcoholics, of course. Research suggests that this demographic can spend up to ten percent of their lives ‘blacked out’ and nearly a third of their lives hung over. They practically make a sport of consuming large quantities of alcohol in single, peer-pressured settings. What’s more, this group doesn’t have a clue how to spend money responsibly and is extremely prone to impulse buying. And yet, despite all these facts, this is a market that is remarkably under-exploited, both by us and our competitors.”
My colleagues were leaning their grey heads forward as I said all of this. I took my time before advancing to the next slide.
“I’m talking, of course, about ‘bros’.”
The revealing slide showed a photo of young men in various-colored polo shirts, sunglasses, and backwards baseball caps; all striking a pose in front of a Southern-style house with tall white pillars and three giant Greek letters on the roof.
There was pin-drop silence and puzzled looks all around.
“What are ‘bros’?” one of my colleagues finally asked, “You mean ‘brothers’?”
“No, this is a very distinct demographic,” I exhaled and replied, “These are meat-headed, collar-popping, chest-bumping, testosterone-fueled young men who love competition, relish womanizing, and positively live for parties. They will take up almost any excuse to drink and turn any occasion into a drinking event; be it tailgating, weddings, birthdays, holidays, graduations, you name it. They will drink during the morning, during the day, and at night. And during one of their all-day drinking events, which they call ‘benders’, even a small group of bros can easily consume a keg or two. In short, this demographic is a gold mine just waiting to be exploited.”
“You’re basically talking about college fraternity boys? We can’t market to frat boys,” Bob griped with his hand outstretched, “Most of those kids are under the drinking age. Do you have any idea how much trouble we would get into if we started marketing to under-aged kids?”
A few of my colleagues adjusted their hearing aids and started whispering to each other. I swallowed and continued.
“Yes, and that is exactly why this marketing campaign won’t be like other campaigns. You’re right, it would certainly be bad PR to be seen marketing to this group. But the beauty of what I’m about to propose to you is that we won’t be seen as marketing to them, even though we really are. What I’m proposing is a marketing stunt that is highly coordinated, but on the surface will appear to be nothing more than a wacky trend stemming from the crazy imaginations of bros. You could call it guerilla marketing, or a ‘viral campaign’, if you will.”
One of my colleagues raised his stubby hand.
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t imagine a group of college frat boys getting excited about a fizzy, sugar-water drink that is usually marketed towards women. Even with some stealthy marketing stunts, I think getting them to like this product would be an uphill battle.”
“You’re getting ahead of me,” I smiled, switching to a slide filled with bro opinion polls, “and you’re absolutely right. Bros don’t like Smerton Frost. In fact, they hate Smerton Frost, perhaps because it is exactly the type of drink that has been so extensively marketed to women. Research shows that a central aspect of bro culture is ostentatious masculinity. Bros will go to great lengths to appear macho, especially in peer-pressured settings. A bro wouldn’t be caught dead drinking a Smerton Frost, lest he appear feminine and suffer the belittlement from the other bros. But, far from locking us out of this market, I believe we can actually use this to our advantage. In fact, I have come up a marketing ploy that will not only attract this lucrative demographic to our product but, by my calculations, could actually generate so many sales that it would singly-handedly get Smerton Brewing Company back in the black again. And what’s more, it would do all of this without drastically changing business course or sacrificing what we’ve already invested in Smerton Frost.”
Bob stared at me with his eyebrow on the high, while the rest of my colleagues listened on the edges of their seats for the second time of the day. I cleared my throat, even though it didn’t need to be cleared.
“So, without further ado, gentlemen, I give you ‘Bros Frosting Bros’.”
I switched to the next slide, and allowed the picture to sink in. Many turned their heads to the side. Some squinted at the screen. Others adjusted their glasses. The bafflement was suffocating.
“I don’t even know what to think about this,” Bob shrugged and threw his hands in the air, “What is even happening in that picture?”
“What you are actually seeing here is a marketing stunt,” I explained, “As you will observe, there are two bros in this picture; one in a red polo, and another in a blue polo. The bro in the red polo is standing, while the bro in the blue polo is down on his knee rapidly drinking a Smerton Frost. The bro in the red polo, you see, has presented a Smerton Frost to the bro in the blue polo, who, having received the product as a surprise, is thus forced to get on his knee and finish the entire bottle at once. This is all much to his embarrassment. You will notice all the other bros in the background pointing and laughing at his misfortune. Having succeeded in catching him off guard with a Smerton Frost, the bro in the red polo can thus be said to have ‘Frosted’ the bro in the blue polo, hence the stunt name ‘Bros Frosting Bros’. Now, under normal circumstances, such a bizarre scene would never happen because, as I mentioned, bros are repulsed by Smerton Frost. Moreover, they would certainly never get down into such a submissive position in front of another bro. But, the beauty of this demographic is that, when something is seen a popular prank, a meme, or a game by which one bro can humiliate and assert his dominance over the other, almost anything becomes possible. This stunt takes advantage of yet another defining characteristic of bro culture: their fierce competitiveness. Any type of game that allows them to feel superior over others and reap social validation is irresistible for bros. And of course, with any exceedingly macho culture comes homophobia. The act of one bro getting down on his knees while the other bro stands looks very much like…well, you know.”
Several wrinkled mouths around the table dropped at this comment.
“And so you can see, every element of this marketing-stunt-disguised-as-a-game is designed to ensure that the loser receives the ultimate insult according to bro culture, while the winner reaps proportionate rewards by the same cultural rules.”
Another of my colleagues raised his hand.
“I don’t get it. How exactly is this a game? If that, uh, ‘bro’ in the blue polo was afraid of being handed a Smerton Frost and having to chug it on his knees, wouldn’t he just avoid the red one? That doesn’t sound like much of a game to me.”
“Good point. That’s why there is another layer of complexity to this stunt which I haven’t explained yet,” I continued, “Under the rules of the ‘Bros Frosting Bros’ game, a bro need not always fall to his knees once presented with a Smerton Frost. There is a way to block the move and turn the humiliation on your opponent. Let’s imagine that the scene on this slide had not yet taken place. And, let’s also imagine that, this time around, the bro in the blue polo happens to have a Smerton Frost in his pocket. According to the rules of the game, if the bro in the blue polo can show that he has his own Smerton Frost on him when the bro in the red polo presents him with the product, then the roles are reversed. In other words, it is now the bro in the red polo that would be forced to fall to his knees and endure the humiliation. What results from such rules is a constant state of paranoia by which bros try to outwit each other using our product. There is much laughter and social rewards to be gained by ‘frosting’ your bro, but it only makes sense to do so if you suspect that your target does not also have a Smerton Frost on him. Herein lays the game. Take note that the defensive position in this game essentially calls for a bro to have a Smerton Frost on him at all times in order to avoid humiliation. Can you imagine the sales boost we could get if every bro in America had a Smerton Frost on him at all times?”
There was mumbling, nods, and chin stroking around the table as they comprehended my logic. Another colleague weighed in:
“It seems like a very creative game, but isn’t all of this a little degrading to the product? I mean, the whole idea is based on people trying to humiliate each other by making them drink a Smerton Frost. Doesn’t that kind of fly in the face of everything that marketing is supposed to do for a product?”
I took a deep breath.
“Again, the beauty of my proposal is that we are not directly degrading the product ourselves. If this stunt is deployed correctly, it will appear as though Smerton Brewing Company had nothing to do with it. Instead, it will appear to be just another crazy trend of these college kids with too much time on their hands. What’s more, we can continue marketing the product to women while this all goes on, as initially envisioned. I guarantee you that most women will care little about what bros think about Smerton Frost. Hell, then again, some of them might even join in the game!”
Several chuckled. Bob was not one of them.
“Okay, but how exactly do we pull this off in practice?” someone asked, “It’s fun to think about as an idea, but how on earth would you get these young men to start playing this game? Especially when they hate our product, as you already said.”
“Well, first and foremost, it is absolutely essential that this not be seen as a marketing ploy,” I responded, “If that happens, the jig is up. A group of people who value ego over everything else cannot be made to feel that they are being played for fools or doing someone else’s bidding. Instead, what we need to do is hire some young men to infiltrate bro parties and perform the stunt themselves. These undercover contractors can then convince bystanders that the game they just witnessed is all the rage. As more bros become familiar with the rules, it will have a snowball effect. The game will spread from party to party, campus to campus, state to state, until before you know it, bros are frosting bros all across the country.”
There were nods and glances that seemed to say “a-ha” all around.
“And so there you have it. To summarize: the viral marketing game, ‘Bros Frosting Bros’, takes our new product and directs it towards a lucrative, under-exploited demographic, one that many who sell sweet and fizzy adult beverages probably never thought possible of penetrating. By cleverly taking advantage of their mass consumption of alcohol, their love of competition, and their susceptibility to peer pressure, we can break into the bro market and completely resurrect our sales for Smerton Frost. All of this while keeping our current investments in place and saving the money it would cost to change course or develop new products. Never underestimate the power of creative marketing, gentlemen, it might just be what saves this company. Thank you for your attention.”
Everyone hesitated for a moment. Then, one by one, they began clapping. Some enthusiastically, others not so much. As the applause died down, yet another awkward silence filled the room.
“Well, what do we think?” I broke the silence. When no one responded, I pointed towards a colleague. “Al, what do you think?”
Al shifted in his chair and cleared his throat.
“I have to say that this idea is extremely…unconventional, though well thought-out. And somewhat funny, too.”
Several looked at each other with nods and protruding bottom lips.
“Well, I don’t think it’s so funny,” Bob snorted, “Let me get this straight, you want us to risk this company’s reputation by advertising to an illegal age group that doesn’t like Smerton Frost to begin with, and then waste our resources on an underground marketing campaign that is, frankly, very silly and has no guarantee of catching on to a degree that would actually boost sales? I’m skeptical, very skeptical.”
Sweat was building on my brow as he said all of this. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they all could have seen my heart throbbing through my suit jacket.
“The idea is robust in theory,” I managed to retort, “It is innovative and different, yes, but isn’t the reason that Smerton Brewing Company is in trouble today because we have failed to be innovative and different? This could be our chance to turn everything around.”
Bob grunted. “Daring as it might be, I still find all this quite bizarre. I mean, who in their right mind would ever actually do such a thing?”
I hesitated and sighed until my lungs were empty. I had hoped that it would not have come to this. But now I could not see any way out. It was time to deploy Plan B. All or nothing. Now or never. And I needed to do it fast, as every single heart-pounding moment I let slip by diminished my courage exponentially.
“Well,” I whispered after a long pause, “for one, all of you in this room would do it. In fact, you’ve all just been frosted, right now.”
Everyone looked around, bewildered. One of my colleagues put his stubby hand over his eyes, obviously embarrassed for me.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Bob barked.
“Look under the table and see for yourself.”
Suspicion and concern took hold of every face in the room. Eventually, however, they all looked down and reached under the table. After feeling around for a moment, their sagging faces lit up. They had found them.
Snaps and peeling-noises erupted as each of my colleagues pulled a full bottle of Smerton Frost out from under the table, still bearing the duct-taped that had held them in place.
“You have got to be kidding me! Did you really duct tape all of these Smerton Frosts under the conference table before this presentation?” One of my colleagues blurted out, half laughing.
“It’s not funny,” I said without moving a single muscle in my face, “You will all fall on your knees and finish them right now.”
“You will fall upon your knees!”
I screamed so loud that I might have shaken the ceiling tiles. Many jumped in shock.
“You will fall upon your knees and finish that Smerton Frost now! Come on! How are we supposed to get bros excited for this campaign if we can’t even get excited about it ourselves!?”
Whatever fear and tension I felt before had now completely dissolved into an adrenaline-fueled rage. Electricity pulsed through my blood and the veins in my neck pounded as I shouted. My colleagues look around at one another; wide-eyed, frantic, and terrified by my sudden fit of passion. The panic in their eyes was palpable and invigorating to me.
“Get out of your shells! Do you want to be the men that watched this company go under or do you want to be the men who save it?! Do you want to be the ones who chose more of the same shitty marketing that we all know doesn’t work!? No! That time is over! From now on, Smerton Brewing Company will be pioneers of daring and creative marketing! And it all starts right now! You want to keep your jobs?! Then you’ll get on your knees and finish those drinks, right here, right now!”
Many looked at Bob with pleading eyes, begging him to provide some sort of direction of what to do. Bob offered no answers, as he too could only stare in shock and disbelief at what I was doing.
Finally, one of them popped the cap off his bottle, inched onto his knees, and began to drink.
“That’s it Larry!” I pointed and smiled like a madman, “At least one of you isn’t ready to leave this company for dead yet! And what about the rest of you?! Are going to let Larry do this by himself?! Willing to just let the ship sink, huh?! I can’t believe I hired you, seeing what little cojones you all have today!”
Fear gave way to stern determination as I said all of this. Bob sent many a frightful glare, daring them with his eyes to follow Larry’s lead. It was to little avail. One by one, like falling dominos, they pushed back their chairs, fell to their knees, and began rapidly chugging their Smerton Frosts. Many bottles still had duct tape strapped to them.
“That’s it! There are the bold men I hired!” I couldn’t stop myself from jumping up and down as I yelled, “Finish them! Let those Wall Street analysts who say Smerton is dead see this now! Come on gentlemen, drink!”
It was a scene that had to be seen to be believed: a Monday-morning conference room full of grey-haired businessmen on their knees—in thousand-dollar suits—pouring sugary alcoholic drinks down their throats. Eyes watered, throats pulsed, and sweat poured down their foreheads. Like loyal soldiers on the battlefield, they seemed ready to die before leaving a bottle unfinished. I threw my hands into the air like a preacher before his congregation, crying out for the invisible hand of the free market to have mercy on their pitiful souls.
Finally, gradually, the bottles went dry. The room erupted in a fit of heavy coughs as the men struggled to their feet, wiped their mouths, and slunk back into their chairs. I continued to hold my hands in the air, and as they lifted their bleary eyes to me, I sent them all a warm and approving smile.
The coughs subsided. I lowered my hands and directed my gaze towards Bob, who had been sitting back in his chair the whole time with a face of stone and his hands folded on his gut.
Then, in the softest, most controlled voice that had ever come from my lips, I said:
“Now try to tell me that no one would ever do this.”
Though Bob’s exact facial features were obscured to me from all the way on the other side of the long conference room table, I think I could make out just the slightest hint of a smile.