Rewind to four years ago. I was living with my parents in Bellevue, Nebraska. A college graduate. A Bachelor in Fine Arts. A Creative Writing major. And I was writing for a living. Writing copy for online furniture catalogs. The upside was that I worked from home. The downside was that I worked from home.
I started out "gangbusters," as Murray, my temp agent, would tell me the day he let me go. That first week, Murray assigned me 90 wicker furniture copyblocks, 50 words per block, two bucks apiece. And at the end of two 24-hour days, after a truly disgusting number of Monster Energy Drinks, I had written all 90 of them. Some kind of wicker furniture catalog copywriting record, apparently. Murray clapped me on the back and spoke floridly of pay raises, full-time employment, health insurance, etc., etc., etc.
The following week, he entrusted me with lawnchairs. It took me twice as long to write half as much, but I managed to beat deadline. So Murray bumped me up to the big time: chaiselounges.com. Furniture for people I will never ever rub elbows with. Furniture that costs more than cars, but won't get you anywhere. And I, of all people, had to write the copy. Having never once lounged upon a chaise lounge in my entire life, I had to write as though I had not only chaise lounged, but regularly experienced multiple chaise lounging orgasms. I had to sell Made in Cambodia avant garde chaise lounges to the chaise lounging American masses. One-hundred words, two bucks per copyblock, a couple mil worth of merchandise up for grabs.
You can find my writing everywhere on the internet, only it's not credited to me or anyone else. The author is this anonymous, ghostly voice with a kind of disembodied wit. That's me. The Chevy Chaise Lounge is "perfect for a nap after a long day of caddying." I wrote that. That was me. Google "Chevy Chaise Lounge" and there I am. In the original draft, I included a number of Fletch references that didn't make the cut. "Our Chevy Chaise Lounge will make you feel like a hundred bucks." I wrote that, too. But it's not exactly the sort of quip you want to make when promoting an item that is supposed to make you feel like $2,999 US, no more no less.
Then there was the Aja Chaise Lounge, named after the Steely Dan album, or so I assumed. You can find the Aja Chaise online, though it is a bit harder to track down because nobody bought it. Steely Dan fans don't buy chaise lounges. They buy heroin. That and the damned thing is the color of expired poultry.
"Kick those 'Deacon Blues' with a soothing afternoon nap upon our Aja Chaise Lounge," I wrote. "Now you're 'Home At Last.'" I wrote that. "The Aja Chaise Lounge has you 'pegged.'" I wrote that, too. And they paid me money to write it. None of my bosses caught the Steely Dan references, nor did they complain that the copy was total nonsense. You'd think one thing or the other would've come to somebody's attention. But they published it anyway and my half-ass copy has since spread across the internet like some kind of transspermatozoon STD. Two dollars worth of hypercaffeinated copywriting from a disillusioned 24 year-old, and now Italian duchesses are running my copy through Google Translate, trying to decide whether the Chevy Chaise Lounge will get along with the Rodney Dangerfield Ottoman.
The more I wrote, the more my face sagged, the more I needed caffeine. I established a rapport with the Starbucks drive-thru baristas. They told me I looked like Chris Martin. You know, from Coldplay. They asked what I did for a living and I told them that I was a writer. They fluttered their eyelashes and asked what I wrote about and I told them chaise lounges, mostly. Must be exhausting, they said, twirling their hair extensions, caffeinated off their asses. You have no idea, I told them.
Good news. I just found the Infanta Chaise Lounge. So I can pinpoint the exact moment when I snapped.
Fit for a king or queen, our Infanta Chaise lends regal fashion to any room. Styled in modern swirls, curves, and embellishments, this lovely lounge just goes to show that you don't have to be traditional to be comfortable. The Infanta is structured around a strong metal frame and a cozy red velvet fabric surface that you'll have to feel to believe. Resting on three sturdy bun feet and trimmed with stylish buttons, this lively lounge is sure to be the subject of conversation at your next wine tasting. Available as shown.
Bun feet? Stylish buttons? I could be writing about a Japanese empress. You don't have to be traditional to be comfortable. Well said, Petit. At your next wine tasting? I have never been to a wine tasting. The only tastings I'm familiar with involve someone's girlfriend puking in the bathroom for three hours and at least two complete strangers doing the wild thang on your bed. Where did the words come from? Nowhere. Where did they go? Everywhere, it seems. I can write as much as I want on this blog. Only my copy will survive me. It will outlast me and anything of substance that I write. My senile traveling anecdotes will be ignored by my grandchildren, but my chaise lounge descriptions will live on. Long after Steely Dan's vinyl LPs have melted to the sea. Long after Chevy Chase has balded to death. Music, films, writing - these are fads, but chaise lounges are forever. Chaise lounges are a basic human right. The pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of lounge.
The chaise lounge copy was the turning point for me. The next week, Murray demoted me to inflatable beach furniture. I'd like to say I abandoned copywriting for artistic reasons, but it wasn't that at all. I just couldn't write anymore. Every copyblock turned into a Rorschach test. Item RK-56925B - what do you see? I see a chair. Item LP-24491X - what do you see? I see a bed. Item XB-014554L - what do you see? I don't even know what that is anymore. I went catatonic. I had nothing to say. Everything was the same to me. A chair is a chair is a chair, a bed is a bed is a bed, an ottoman is an ottoman is an ... My brain had turned to wicker. Murray would give me 90 copyblocks and I'd finish 45. He'd give me 40 and I'd finish ten. He'd give me ten and I'd finish one.
And that's how it ended. I showed up a week after deadline with one copyblock hot off the laser printer. I handed it to Murray and apologized. This was all I could do, I said. One copyblock? he asked. One fucking copyblock? One fucking copyblock, I said. Why? he asked. I don't know why, I said.
Murray invited me outside for a cigarette, but I didn't smoke at the time, so he smoked and I watched him smoke and I listened.
"I'm going to be really nice and let you go. I'm not going to fire you," he said. Then he shook his head and laughed. "But I don't understand it! You started out gangbusters! What happened back there, man?"
"I don't know," I said. "I'm beginning to think I'm a writer and not a copywriter."
"Yeah, I get that a lot. Look," he said, "just don't let me find you working the Starbucks drive-thru, alright?"
Murray gave me a fistpound, then he stamped out his cigarette and went back upstairs. It was February in Omaha and it was cold and I was without a coat, so I sprinted across Harney Street. It took me a long time to find my car. A month later, I was in Poland.