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Short Story About Persuasion

Steve and Terry went way back to High School. They called themselves the “Mixos” because they were into music and they liked to mix in with weird parties and people they didn’t know. Terry got the term mixo from the famous mixolydian scale – a major chord with a flat 7th note for funk. Both played in their local Pentacostal church band.

Terry knew the distortions on his guitar to hypnotize and push minds into the goopy vortex of religion. The church band had 15 people in it when the marimba player wasn’t in the hospital volunteering. The choir had 100 people in it. The congregations had about 900 people each: one in the morning, one at night.

The congregations’ sermon pastor, out of thirty full-time pastors, was a handsome, charismatic, charming leader. When Terry brought his Jewish friend Alex to Church one time, Alex said afterward that the sermon pastor reminded him of a politician on steroids. And sermon pastor Mike was very charming. His Powerpoint slides for his sermon were very easy to digest. He had what Alex noted was a postmodern knack for being part of popular culture and knocking it down at the same time.

Pastor Mike was a believer and a skeptic at once; who always came back to believing. He said, “Now I don’t know too much about any of this stuff, and my wife says I should do more homework; but God’s love is eternal – and kids in the audience are like “What’s a turtle?” am I right parents? – And I learned in Divinity School that’s called agape; so if you’re going through any problems in your life, God’s got this huge unconditional love ready for you at any time,” and so on; so that it really was beyond belief. Hell, you already believed in God, wanted to believe in God; the only difference was here you had this handsome self-proclaimed average Joe telling you aspects of your belief.

On the next day at school, Alex made fun of Terry in front of gorgeous Sandra Ngwapuda, who was athiest, about Terry’s overzealous church. Terry slowed down and stopped smiling. He blinked once or twice. Then he gave a smug, shallow believer’s smile and said, “I don’t see it that way.”

That Saturday, Alex called and Terry didn’t answer. Terry’s mom answered, smiling a broad, sick believer’s smile. She said Terry was praying for Alex and couldn’t hang out that night. She said Terry should probably focus on his school work from then on. She said, “Don’t worry Alex, the Bible says all that’s broken can be fixed.” She hung up. Alex said, “Jesus,” to himself. Alex thought Terry was mad at him and Terry’s mom was referring to their friendship. He had no idea she was talking about his Judaism.

That night, Terry was indeed in his room, but only sort of praying. He was listening to his Mp3 player of his favorite band, “Small Voice,” which of course was a reference to the “still, small voice,” of God speaking in spirit to Elijah when Elijah was starving himself in a cave in Canaan, later Israel. Small Voice’s song was on repeat on Terry’s Mp3 player. The song was called, “Beam me up to God.” It went verse, chorus, verse, chorus. The chorus lyrics were repetitive.

 

Verse: Lord I need your help in this

Your Grace is great, I confess

 

Chorus: So beam me up to God!

(Background Choir) Beam me up to God!

Yeah beam me up to God!

(Background Choir) Beam me up to God!

(Repeat 8x)

 

There was some weird effect on the guitar that made it surge and slurp. The keyboards oozed and convulsed. The cymbals on the drumset bashed a hypnotic wash.

So when Terry made his college applications, he was sure to choose the local state school two hours away, in order to please his parents. It was nice that his friend Steve was going, too. They could go to The Holy Retribution Church near the University every weekend. They both tried out for this Church’s band, but didn’t make the cut. At college, Steve and Terry quickly developed a hearty clique of believers who had also grown up in the Church and its apparatus. There were camps and clubs; picnics, mentors, and campfire singalongs.

In this group, one day at lunch at the University’s cafeteria, they met Melinda. She was a very small, skinny woman with a beautiful face. She had beautiful platinum blonde hair and dressed in the day’s most fashionable hipster clothing. She had a small, twinkling nose ring. She was one of them, and could speak the jargon of Church youth. She was even part of Campus Cross-Talk, one of the biggest college student Christian groups in the country, let alone at their school. In conversation at lunch one day, Terry, Steve, and Melinda realized they all went to the Holy Retribution Church together, and so they resolved to meet each other there.

The second time they met Melinda at Church, she invited Terry and Steve out at a local chain restaurant called Brain’s. Over some jalapeño poppers, Melinda introduced Scott and Beygan to Terry and Steve.

“So you guys are pretty cool about Christ right?” said Scott. Terry and Steve nodded. “That’s awesome,” said Scott.

“And you’re completely faithful?” said Scott. Terry and Steve nodded. “That’s awesome, too!” said Scott, laughing.

“What do you guys do?” asked Terry.

“We’re in distribution,” said Beygan, knowingly. “What if we gave you the opportunity not just to own your own business, but to grow your business? You could sell to your parents, and your friends at college,” Beygan.

“Well what are you guys talking about?” asked Terry.

“Let me show you our brochure,” said Scott.

Terry and Steve eyed the pamphlet, which was babble about owning one’s own business. Steve tried to put it in his pocket, but Scott said, “Wait, that’s the only one I have.”

Terry looked at Melinda, “And you’re running your own business?” Melinda nodded a maternal, knowing, yes. She said, “These guys are a big help to me Terry.” Secretly, she was thinking, “I’m even working right now.”

Beygan and Scott went on for another twenty minutes about distribution and merchandising without saying anything really intelligible. They left Melinda to talk to the boys alone.

“These guys are cool beans right Terry? Right Steve?” said Melinda. And so Terry and Steve agreed to meet Melinda, Scott and Beygan for an informational meeting.

The convention center was converted from a closed down supermarket. There were at least five hundred people in fold-able metal chairs. Melinda said to Terry and Steve, “The speaker tonight is really super. His name is Ted Pentakwell and he was a decathlete in college at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.”

Terry said, “Did he win?” and Melinda said, “Nothing but the gold, Terry! Ted is so amazing. I’ve even had the pleasure of talking to him. He is so smart and I think you’ll like what he has to say.” A few minutes passed, and Terry looked at the 500 people seated around him. There was Steve and Melinda, and two of Melinda’s other friends. One was Roger, a bloated middle aged man with a sky blue polo and a thick mane of silver gray hair. The other was Shaquonda, a beautiful tall skinny black college student. In passing, Melinda said there was a girl who made $5000 dollars a month working part-time at school. There were all sorts of people in the 500 person audience. Terry could see the vast cross section of vague America that he knew existed statistically but never put a face, or rather a group of faces to. They were middle-aged, fat men and women, white and black, even with some Asian-americans, young people and old people. From an omniscient perspective Terry didn’t have, one would notice the crowd skewed poor and older; and such an eye would know the leaders like Melinda had asked them to come in business casual; but being who they were they all sort of fell short of this goal; wearing polo shirts, or buttoned shirts without ties. Such an omniscient eye might compassionately have seen a sort of infrared vision of Spirit; and if it did, it would have seen that this room was a searing bright pink red of love for families unseen; and a shining yellow white blood color of hope. But Terry couldn’t see that.

Then a man with gray side burns and a shiny dome went to the front of the audience, and introduced Ted Pentakwell. “This is a man I’ve had the chance to meet and he is a powerful speaker, ladies and gentlemen. He’s a private business consultant, a silver and gold metal decathlete winner; and probably most importantly a father of two beautiful children. I’m fully persuaded by what he says, ladies and gentlemen, Ted Pent! – Tak! – Well!” And the audience roared.

Ted Pentakwell wore a black suit; sports coat, slacks and shirt with the top button unbuttoned. He gripped the microphone with his left hand. He had a crew cut of ginger blonde hair. He had the smiling bashfulness and command of Bill Clinton. So when he said thanks for coming, like a struck match the audience erupted into applause.

He said, “I have a good life. I was a decathlete for the University of Alabama and I pulled some weeds and became a business consultant, but mainly I like to think of myself as average. And despite all worldly success, my greatest achievement is still my wife and kids. We met in college and we’ve been married 10 years now. We’ve been blessed with Damon and Sasha in the past few years. Sasha is 2 years old now and last week – those terrible two’s! – she took a bite out of a stick of my deoderant.” Here the audience laughed knowingly.

“We took her to the hospital and I spent two hours on the phone with my mother-in-law. And I was out with Damon going to Wal-Mart the other day, when we went to the bathroom together and saw a big man. Now I’m not saying he was a huge man, but,” here Ted leaned his head and frowned like an excellent speaker estimating, “he was pretty big; six two, 300 lbs. And my son is just learning about this stuff, so he looks over to me and says real loud, ‘Daddy, is that Goliath?” Ted pointed out and made a face of child like astonishment.

Here Terry started thinking about bacteria. Distracted, he reasoned if there were bad bacteria, there had to be good bacteria, right? You should have seen Terry’s face then, all goofy and contorted in diligent, distracted focus.

When he came to, Ted was drawing boxes on a chalkboard. “The genius of Wal-Mart is distribution. Sam Walton cut out the middle man by using his own trucks and warehouses. Think it worked? You betcha.” Ted drew arrows circumventing the middle box and toward the last box. “Cut out the middle man. That was Walton’s simple act of genius.

“Ladies and gentlemen, SkyCorp is going further. We’re using the technology of the day to put the power into your hands. Just like Facebook, we set you up with a website. You essentially run your own distribution company and we’ll connect you with the wholesale businesses. You can grow your business as large as you want to.” Ted spoke to a guy in the front row specifically, “There’s a guy in Montana making $300,000 a year, right Fabian?” Fabian said a loud yeah.

Then Ted became quiet as his speech came to a close. “Mostly you can save a few hundred dollars every week on stuff like deoderant,” he laughed and said, “and maybe I can at least get some that tastes better for my daughter.” Then he said in a dramatic, super-effective closing, “And that, ladies and gentlemen is Goliath. Find the one who brought you here. Green means go, yellow means you need to talk, red means you’re not ready. Thank you and have a blessed evening.”

Terry and Steve went back to Melinda, who was giving them a ride in her car anyway. Whatever hesitance Terry felt was completely eclipsed by Steve’s zealous ambition. When Melinda asked if they were in, Steve said totally. He said he couldn’t wait.

That night, Melinda forwarded an email where Terry and Steve could log in and give their banking information, in order to buy into the SkyCorp family.

Over the next two or three months, Terry didn’t notice that he and Steve had stopped going to Church. They had to proselytize constantly, but for SkyCorp, not religion. This was easy enough for Terry, who had an extroverted nature; and you get immune to pangs of sensitivity to rejection. They contacted these people and funneled them to Melinda.

Terry was personally surprised one morning to wake up and see his dormitory filled with third party shit. There was Roxstash whitening toothpaste, which had baking soda in it. There was Woodcrunney’s Family Deoderant, which maybe Ted Pentakwell liked. Terry’s kitchen was a zoo of third party brands; brands that anyone outside of SkyCorp wouldn’t recognize. Terry would never know his SkyCorp Club fees and the so-called money he saved never added up because SkyCorp used a confusing system of points-to-money equivalence.

Melinda became a real mentor. She met with the boys twice a week for dinner and drove them to nearby towns on weekends, so the boys could canvas and introduce people to SkyCorp.

One weekend, in the spring semester of freshmen year, Melinda told the boys they were doing something really special that weekend. They were going to help the grand vizier of SkyCorp. They woke up at 5:00AM that Saturday and by sunrise drove 2 hours to Marklay Township. Through a long sinuous driveway they arrived at a great sized mansion. Melinda lead Terry and Steve around the side of the mansion – a long walk – and there they saw a 60-foot rectangular hole of dirt starting to take form, at least four feet deep. There were at least 50 students in the ditch swinging pick axes and dirt shovels; and of course rolling away wheel barrows full of dirt. There were ten or fifteen overlords – people like Melinda – watching the students and making sure they did a good job. There was a team of three civil engineers wandering around and measuring.

Around 8:47AM a fifty-year-old with a well-trimmed brown beard and a man’s paunch, walked to the front of the ditch smoking a big, filthy cigar. He gave a brief, blunt speech thanking everyone for their time and effort. In the ditch, Terry swung a pickax to break up the hard earth, and Steve shoveled the loose dirt onto the wheelbarrow. Terry looked up from the ditch in the sunny morning background to see the beautiful Melinda sucking and huffing a cigarette. This was something he had never see her do before. She stood with her legs shoulder-width apart on the lawn above them in solid authority.

Soon, the skin of Terry’s thumbs had blistered, torn, and pussed from the friction of the pickax. By this time he realized he was logging hours of labor for the wage of free; for the payment of friendship and hope alone.

“You need to go faster,” said Melinda. “Steve, put some ass into it. You have no clue who that was. That was freaking Croyal Lexington. That was the Grand Vizier of the whole freaking region.” Melinda had worked herself into an urgent lather. She spoke life and death, super fast, and she kept saying she couldn’t understand why they didn’t go faster. They were embarrassing her, she said. She cursed them and cajoled them; and for a long time they really did go faster.

Finally, Terry said, “Melinda you have to stop.”

“Why do I have to stop Terry?” said Melinda, almost spitting the words. “Why should I have to stop?” She took a long drag from her cigarette and looked down from her ledge on the lawn. “Why do you think I have to stop?”

“Because we’re friends, Melinda,” said Terry.

“I’m not your friend Terry, I’m your boss.”

Terry couldn’t say anything to this. Terry and Steve worked until the entire team of 50 had a fifteen minute break at 11:00AM for SkyCorp 3rd party energy drinks, which were sort of like Redbull. At 1:00PM Croyal Lexington came out and thanked them for dismissal. “This pool is going to look awesome.”

Melinda, Terry, and Steve climbed into her car and had fast food hamburgers on their way back. In the car, Steve and Melinda discussed whether an herb was a vegetable. Steve: “I think they’re legumes, right?” Terry took a nap, exhausted.

Terry woke up to be dropped off at his dormitory. Melinda said, “Terry you did a great job today. I’m so proud of you.” She was back to her warm, maternal self. This was as close to a real apology as Melinda would ever get.

Terry said, “Thanks Melinda.” He smiled and waved goodbye.

Melinda tried calling dozens of times that week, but Terry never answered. Terry let his SkyCorp membership fees lapse, and he told Steve he wasn’t doing SkyCorp anymore. Even though Steve said he understood, they slowly lost touch with each other.

Cutting out the baloney meant Terry could focus on his schoolwork in college that semester, and he did. He received five A+’s that Spring.

 

 

 

 

 

About Jacob Goldbas

A philosophy blog by Jacob R. Goldbas

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