My 11-year-old daughter asked me today to tell her a story. No big. But she wanted to know about stupid people that I’ve known and worked for. I’ve actually been pretty lucky…although I’ve worked WITH a lot of stupid people, most of the people I’ve worked for have not been stupid. Mind you, I’ve worked for people that have DONE a lot of stupid things. (And when I say “a lot” I mean, take the biggest number you can think of, double it, and then raise it by the next order of magnitude, and you’ll have an idea of how many stupid things.)
As you might expect, I’m not at a loss to regail my kid with stories about stupid things I’ve seen at work. The story that sprung to mind today is a true story. (I swear!) I’m changing the names to protect the guilty, the innocent bystanders, the quick, and the dead. So…
What seems like a lifetime ago, I worked for a guy who had a pointed stomach. Seriously. He’d herniated the muscle wall of his midriff, and his stomach (already a large part of his physical presence) became somewhat conical in shape. Think of one of Madonna’s B-52 nosecone bras, deduct one cup, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what his stomach looked like. (At one time, in a civil disobedient mood, I decided to write a book as a rip-off homage to the then hot, new book – A Hundred and One Uses for a Dead Cat, that I planned to call A Hundred and One Uses for a Pointed Stomach. Use #1: Breakdancing.)
Anyway, this guy, aside from having the world’s only pointed stomache, had a history…and what a history it was. Early in his life, he’d gotten involved in the music biz, and all the associated evils therein, specifically drugs and alcohol. One day, he awoke, and decided to get clean and sober. Unfortunately, he also had a learning disability that required him to have to repeat things at least three times, before he could remember them.
I worked for him as the Creative Director, and did a bunch of copywriting, feature story writing, and editing as well. As such, it was my lot to review his writing, and edit it. Remember that learning disability thing? When he’d write something, he’d make liberal use of quotes. And use the same quote three or four times, within the same page. I’d edit out the duplications. He’d put them back in (and yell a lot).
After a number of failed projects, he decided to turn his attention to writing a book. And not just any book. No, this was going to be his magnum opus on Christianity. You see, he believed that the only thing wrong with Christianity was organized religion. And he was determined to write a book that explained the Bible to the unwashed masses – sort of a “cut out the middleman,” where churches represent the middleman.
Keep in mind, not many theologians take up the gauntlet on this one. Few people feel that they are sufficiently learned to tackle a project this large – the Christian equivalent of writing the Unified Field Theory. For someone who hadn’t even so much as one semester of divinity school.
I tried to gently point out that there were a number of worthwhile volumes on the market, filled with insightful analysis on the meaning of the Bible. He was not to be deterred. He genuinely believed that not just some, but ALL the theology books on the market had missed the point, and he was the Only One Qualified To Explain the Bible.
I pointed out to him that the Bible (other than the King James Version) is a copyrighted work, and you just can’t quote willy-nilly from it without paying a royalty. His workaround? Paraphrase, essentially coming up with his ‘own’ translation.
I tried to edit out his liberal use (and reuse) of the same quotes, several times on each page. He refused.
Did I mention how his learning disability affected conversations? He once came to me with another of his patented “brilliant ideas.” The exchange went something like this…
“…now I want you to stop…I want you to stop what you’re doing…
“Okay. What can I do for you?”
“Okay, I want you to stop…and stop what you’re doing. And I want you to print…now pay attention now, I want you to stop everything, and print everything you’re doing on pink paper.”
“Now I want you to stop…and are you listening? I want you to print everything on pink paper…cause pink is a…now I want you to stop and listen to this, cause it’s important…cause pink is a response color.“
Well…maybe it is in San Francisco, but even after explaining the difficulties of trying to print four-color process on pink paper, he was still keen on the idea. But that was not enough. Just when I’d seemingly exhausted ways to make it better – or mock the project in such a way so that everyone would get the joke but him…my prayers were answered. He shared with me the title of the book.
Are you ready for this? Are you sitting down? Are you resting comfortably? Okay. Here goes:
The Thoughts of Jesus Christ
by __________(INSERT NAME OF BOSS)
Pause with me for a nanosecond, whilst we explore the colossal enormity of this title. Most theologians would demur, rather than presume to be able to read the mind of the Son of God. Even more outrageous, to put one’s name on such a work could be considered sacrilegious at best, insane at worst. Of course, it could have been worse, word-wise. I suppose, “Jesus Christ…What was He thinking?” would have been over the top.
With a title like that, I was all but at a loss as to how to design the dust cover. I mean, I could have spent billions of dollars in conventional weapons, but this demanded something that was sarcastic in the extreme…something that scaled the heights of Olympus in satire. Something that would at once scream “Theatre of the Absurd” while keeping the author completely in the dark.
Now I’m not a joker, a smoker, nor a a midnight toker, for that matter. Never have been, never will be. But I have seen a package of Zig-Zag cigarette papers in my time. (See illustration above.) It struck me that a product that is most closely associated with stoner culture has a mascot that would look remarkably like the popular conceptions of what Christ might have looked like. Sans the joint in his mouth, of course. And what better way to say “this book is one big joke” than to slap a slightly-modified version of the Zig-Zag logo on the dust jacket. So I did. The boss, of course, didn’t have a clue (a leitmotif that ran through most of his input during my employment there.)
The book, of course, never saw the light of day. Which is just as well. But it does make a great story, about the pointy-stomached boss and his goal of better theology through repetition.