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Clarence Carter. Poor Man’s Pullman. 1930.
The seats of the train car were very, very green. He hated them. Not for aesthetic reasons: green was a fine color; but for what they represented: the second-class car. She had insisted on it and all of his cajoling and grumbling and protesting could not change her mind. And she had not demanded the second-class car from a want of money or even trying to economize. No, she had wanted it so she could look out the window, at the scenery, undisturbed. In first class, she had said, where they usually rode, there was the requisite socializing, food and beverage service, ambient snobbishness – and it all detracted from the beauty of the passing landscapes. In second class, however, they could enjoy each other’s company, and the scenery, away from the social circles and wandering eyes.
But that was exactly what he wanted – social circles, and to be seen, seen in first-class, by first-class passengers. It was not even so much for himself but for his business. As a salesman – ‘representative’ – of a renowned jeweler, he was expected to project a certain aura of affluence – he must never look like he needed or even particularly wanted to affect a sale. After all, the jewelry sold itself.
Yes, quite, his fiancée had agreed. “So why do we need to sit for hours with those phony women and their ignorant husbands?”
He shook his head, thinking that women, despite all of their advantages and shrewdness, did not really understand business and salesmanship. If those ‘phony’ ladies saw him in second-class, he explained, they would never buy from him again. And then, he reminded his fiancée, they really would need to sit in second-class.
“So what?” she replied.
They bickered and debated, he using every iota of his persuasiveness gained from years of artfully closing difficult sales with extraordinarily fussy connoisseurs – yet his fiancée would not budge. The best she would do was offer that he sit in first-class and she in second-class for the journey. She would not be angry. But she herself wanted passing trees and hills, and that was that. “No, no,” he answered bitterly. “That’s even worse. They’ll be too many questions about why we’re not together.”
It was maddening to him. Why did her fanciful desire to look at grass and dirt trump the very real and material need for him to present a certain image to his clients? Why?
In the end he acceded and bought two second-class tickets. With any luck, he reasoned, he would avoid being seen, although it rankled him that a journey perfect for cultivating sales would now be wasted time. “You’re costing me important clients, you know,” he muttered, handing her the second-class ticket and dragging her away from the cashier.
She grinned and waggled her ring finger. “Be careful, dear, or you’ll cost yourself this client. The deal hasn’t quite closed yet…”
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
THE FATHER, THE MOTHER, & THE SON (JACOB)
The ACTION takes place over one evening.
The TIME is the present.
The interior of a kitchen in a middle-class home. Dusk. The MOTHER and the FATHER are seated at the kitchen, under a low-hanging lamp. The décor is cultured but sterile, as is their clothing. Both parents are hunched over and reading from a short stack of loose-leaf papers. They are silent, with expressions of intense scrutiny.
(Gesturing toward the papers and then reclining back, shaking his head)
He’s eight years old already. He should be writing better than this.
He’s trying, dear. He’s made a lot of progress since last year.
Private tutoring … all that time we’ve spent with him at night … this is the best he can do?
Maybe he has a learning disability.
He doesn’t have any disability. He’s just not trying hard enough. (Points to papers) Look, the structure is good … the prose is fluid … it’s just not there yet.
What’s he doing right now?
I think he’s in the den.
Come here! Now!
While waiting, FATHER and MOTHER talk, silent, referring to the papers; frowning and making notes with a red pen.
After a moment, JACOB enters, dressed in jeans and a solid blue t-shirt. He is a normal-looking eight year-old boy, perhaps on the scrawny side, but not sickly.
We want to talk to you about this story. Come here. (JACOB approaches kitchen table and sits down.) Now, look. You have a story about a boy and his pet alligator going to the mall and then the alligator eating people in the food court. That’s clever, Jacob – even ironic, in a way. I’ll give you that. But clever isn’t enough. Clever wears off quickly. Do you understand that?
But I just wanted to –
(Reaches out and puts his hand over JACOB’s mouth)
Jacob, no. Remember what we told you? Writers don’t explain their intentions. A good story just is. It exists on its own terms. OK?
(Brushes JACOB’s hair from his eyes and speaks gently)
What you have, honey, is a premise, a situation. Now you need to go deeper. Ask yourself: who are these characters? Who is this boy? Who is this alligator? What do they want from life and what’s blocking their way? The more you know these things, the more your premise will turn into a story. Do you see what we mean, honey?
Yeah, I guess.
But, son, fleshing out characters doesn’t mean just concocting a backstory. Anyone can do that. You have to feel your characters. They have to grow inside you, live inside you, feel more real to you than the “real” world. That’s how you connect with a character.
And while we’re talking about feeling a story, sweetie, remember that you need to use all of your senses. Not just your eyes. What does the food court sound like? What does it smell like? Readers want to know these things.
But you can’t just write, “The food court smelled good.” That’s telling. You have to show. You have to make the reader smell exactly what the food court smells like. OK?
Now, come on, Jacob. You’re getting too old be told this over and over. This should come naturally by now.
You’ll get it, sweetie. You just have to keep at it.
JACOB nods sulkily.
Now I want you to go upstairs and re-draft the story, and don’t come down until you’ve finished.
But I was in the middle of a movie.
FATHER begins to speak out angrily, but MOTHER interjects.
Oh, sweetie, remember your priorities. First finish your story, and then you can watch TV.
Well, what about dinner?
(Holds up papers)
After you’ve written this story properly.
Jacob, if you want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now go.
Writers. They all think it’s enough to be clever. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let that happen to him.
Dear, he is only eight.
Psh! You’re never too young to learn how to do things the right way. Wasn’t Mozart composing when he was five?
Maybe I should just bring him a little snack. He needs to eat.
Oh, come on. He’s not going to starve to death missing one meal. It’s good for artists to stay a little hungry. (MOTHER starts to speak but FATHER holds up his hand to silence her. ) When he’s accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, he’ll thank us.
MOTHER smiles dreamily.
The LIGHTS FADE and the stage is dark for five seconds. Then the LIGHTS RISE to the same scene at the kitchen table. It is no longer dusk but nighttime. The MOTHER and the FATHER are reading from books that look like classics.
After a moment, JACOB enters from STAGE RIGHT. He is bleary-eyed and holding a stack of papers.
(Lays papers on the table)
Can I have something to eat now?
That depends. (Points to the empty chair at the head of the table) Sit down.
JACOB sits down. FATHER and MOTHER scoot their chairs close to each other, side-by-side, and begin reading. The LIGHTS DIM momentarily.
It’s better, Jacob, but it’s still lacking something.
You’re close, sweetie. But you have to dig deeper. Your stories have to reflect your unique perspective and your experiences in the world. They have to connect to your heart. Then the words have meaning, and import.
What your mother means, Jacob, is that your story has to say something about our world.
MOTHER leans toward FATHER and whispers in his ear.
(To MOTHER) Right. (Snaps fingers) That’s just it. (To JACOB) What the story’s lacking, son, is a sense of the zeitgeist.
The zeitgeist, sweetie. It’s a German word for the “spirit of the times.” Good literature is like a cultural document. It tells future generations what it was like to live in a certain era.
But it’s just a story about a boy and an alligator!
That doesn’t matter. It’s not what the content is, Jacob – it’s what you do with it. The greatest novels are about the simplest things. Now, do you want to be read hundreds of years from now, or do you want to be an obscure hack?
You guess what?
I want to be read hundreds of years from now.
Honey, just think deeply and compassionately about the world around you, absorb its energy, and infuse that into your story.
But not too explicitly. You’re not writing an essay. The zeitgeist has to be a ubiquitous, but subtle presence in the story, just like in real life. Do you understand?
I know it sounds hard, honey, but you can do it. Meditation and solitude will help you.
Your mother’s right.
FATHER rises and crosses LEFT to a door, and opens it. He points to JACOB, and then points toward the darkness through the door.
Now, you go down to the basement and revise this draft. You won’t be distracted down there.
(A little startled)
Writers need discipline if they’re going to accomplish anything. We’re not raising a quitter.
FATHER gets a stack of blank sheets of paper from a nearby shelf and holds it out to JACOB.
JACOB looks over at his mother.
You go ahead and revise your story, sweetie. We’ll be waiting right here to read it.
(Takes the papers timidly and starts walking toward the basement doorway)
But I’m hungry!
Well, so is your alligator. Now use that feeling for your story. That’s what we mean by connecting to a character.
JACOB looks silently at his parents for a moment.
Go to it, son.
JACOB walks downstairs, his footsteps receding into the basement. FATHER closes the door behind him and locks it with an audible click.
FATHER returns to the table and sits down next to MOTHER.
I think he’ll get it this time. It’s OK. All writers have to revise.
But do you think we’re being too hard on him, dear?
Oh, he’ll be fine. (Picks up his book) Artists thrive on adversity.
MOTHER sighs, but nods. She picks up her book and they both resume reading, as the LIGHTS FADE and THE CURTAIN FALLS.
Courtesy of Ekon
She was very Jewish and very single and very tired of being fixed up by her friends with men who were also very Jewish and very single and who were very nice and very successful and very doting but who could not see her eyebrows. Her eyebrows. Full and thick but not bushy; dark, and on a perfect diagonal converging from her temples toward but not touching the tiny birthmark just above the bridge of her nose. Her eyebrows. She had other very fine physical features: smooth skin the color of a chai tea latte, curves throughout, a small, sensual mouth, a well-shaped nose especially compared with many of her friends, wide brown eyes, long curly locks – but no matter. Her eyebrows were the keystone and she knew it and she wanted a man to know it as well. “You didn’t give him a chance,” Rachel would tell her after another short-lived relationship. “There’s no such thing as Mr. Perfect!” Sarah would cry. “You’re thirty years old!” Ilana would remind her in exasperation. But no matter. Those very nice and very Jewish men could not see her eyebrows. And she knew it.
So she bought a trendy portable computer with a camera built into the small screen so she could take a photo of herself and finally enter the fray of online dating and look for a man who could see her eyebrows. And the very first photo she took of herself made her freeze. She had been fiddling with her keyboard when it had snapped the photo – in fact she did not even realize the photo had been taken until it appeared on the screen – but still the photo made her freeze and sent a delicious shiver up the back of her head. Her eyes were cast downward and looked somewhat sleepy in the photo (she had been looking for what button to click) and the photo was only of the top three-quarters of her face, cutting out her mouth and chin. But still the photo made her freeze because of the expression it had captured: pensive and introverted and enigmatic and sad sexy and beautiful. Right in the exact center of the frame was the tiny birthmark and flaring out from the birthmark were her eyebrows. Yes. It could be said that the picture was of her eyebrows and so even though it had been an accident of the trendy portable computer, it could well be said that the picture was perfect.
Of all her appealing features, why the eyebrows? Why did she consider them to be her best and most defining feature? Here is why: they required no maintenance, no upkeep, no tinkering, no fronting. The rest of her body was not quite like that. Her figure: exercise and portion control. Her smooth skin: soaps and creams and upper-lip waxing. Her long curly locks: shampoos and endless conditioning formulas. But from whatever lucky strike of nature her eyebrows just were. She had never plucked a single hair from them and yet they did not become bushy or grow even by one tiny thread over her tiny birthmark above the bridge of her well-formed nose. Her eyebrows. They just were, and they were perfect and they were her, more her than any other part of her. And never before had they been seen as clearly and lovingly as by the miniature camera in the screen of her trendy portable computer. Her eyebrows.
She was a little ashamed of how enamored she became with the photograph. It was vain, vain, vain – but she could not stop looking at it, could not stop looking at her sad sexy expression, and could not stop pondering herself, her life over the last thirty years since she and her eyebrows had come into existence. She thought of her office job at the university, her regimented life, her years that revolved around Jewish holidays, and most of all the very nice and very doting and very stable and very Jewish men she had dated – and none of it seemed worthy of her eyebrows. And so enamored was she of the photograph that it, and she, remained unpublished in the fray of online dating.
The photo had been taken on Sunday evening and that week was a week unlike all other weeks. That week she lived in the service of her eyebrows. She stopped at a secondhand clothing shop and bought some shirts and a jacket that were not quite her normal style but matched her eyebrows. And she bought a knit cap, a large puffy beret that looked like the cap of a mushroom. She was very Jewish and usually kept her head covered, so the beret was not a silly purchase, but when she donned it and looked in the mirror and saw how well it framed her face and drew attention towards her eyebrows she was most certainly not thinking of being very Jewish and keeping her head covered. That week she also did not answer any of Sarah, Rachel or Ilana’s calls. She passed up a singles happy hour event that she would normally attend and spent that evening and others that week reading and watching films and walking in the city, and of course looking at the photograph which by now she barely let out of her sight. She would also pose herself at her mirror, trying to recreate the exact expression as in the photograph. Introverted. Pensive. Sad sexy. She tried to recreate the expression because she felt that if she could wield it at will in the right place – which was not a Jewish happy hour or a Shabbat dinner or a Sunday service event at a soup kitchen – then she could simply sit with her sad sexy expression and she would meet a man who could see her eyebrows. A man who was not a very nice and very stable and very Jewish man who saw her smooth skin and fertile hips and large breasts and graduate degree and good family and good values but could not see her eyebrows. —But no matter how much she posed and practiced she could not quite recreate the expression in the picture taken by the trendy portable computer. And so she lived her life that week a little differently and she would wonder sometimes if the best plastic surgeon in the world could affix that expression onto her face permanently.
Then it was Friday and the work day had ended and even though she had a glut of messages on her phone about Shabbat dinner and synagogue she put on her beret, took herself out to a Japanese dinner, and sat at the sushi bar eating vegetarian sushi and waiting for a man who could see her eyebrows. But when she had finished her dinner she was still alone so she left the restaurant but instead of walking to her synagogue she went to a nearby bohemian café and sat herself down at a small circle-shaped table by the window and read the free city weekly and looked for other events and places where she could pose.
But halfway through the paper she suddenly felt the distinct feeling of being looked at. Her man! Her man who could see her eyebrows. Finally! She readied her sad sexy pose and looked out the window – and saw Sarah, Rachel and Ilana, her very Jewish girlfriends who were en route to the synagogue and had paused to stare, to stare and wonder and disapprove of her being in a secular café on Shabbat and wearing different clothes and a beret and having not returned their calls and not dating a very nice and very Jewish man who could not see her eyebrows. The group of girls looked in the window and they pursed their lips and furrowed their brows and then Ilana looked in at her and raised her eyebrows and laughed and shook her head, not in condemnation but in open mockery.
Then the three girls continued walking and she sat numbly in the café looking at her herbal tea and the city weekly and her trendy portable computer and the photograph and her eyebrows. Her eyebrows. Full and thick but not bushy; dark, and on a perfect diagonal converging from her temples toward but not touching the tiny birthmark just above the bridge of her nose. Her eyebrows. —But no one would ever see them and suddenly she realized that even if someone did see them it would still not be enough. He would not appreciate them fully, reverently, worshipfully, the way they were meant to be appreciated. Like the trendy portable computer had appreciated them. Her eyebrows.
She inhaled deeply, bit her lip against a quiet sob, and then deleted the photograph. Her eyebrows. And then with another stifled sob she deleted the photograph, again, irrevocably. Her eyebrows. Then she went home to change her clothing and go to synagogue.
It was his right side, as always. It felt like his shoulder to the small of his back had been pulled like the string of a hooded sweatshirt and now his muscles were knotty, taut, scrunched-up and lopsided. This happened once in a while, mysteriously. But why? Well, again: mysteriously. It was not as though his bed, pillow or sleeping position had changed. But every so often he awoke in pain and he would lay and ponder what had caused it. Had he slept fitfully and strained a muscle? But it seemed like he had slumbered soundly, as he generally did. Had he wrenched himself lifting something? Not that he could recall. Too much exercise? Or not enough? Was he dehydrated? Too much time at his desk? Mattress too hard? Or too soft? But it was impossible to know and futile to try to know. Any one or any combination of dozens of potential things could be causing the recurring pain. Maddening.
Sometimes stretching exercises and ibuprofen would help enough for him to get through the days until the pain went away on its own, which it usually did within a week. If it was especially bad he would go to his doctor, who would prescribe a muscle relaxer and a painkiller, and that was usually that.
And so it went. But today, when he awoke in pain, he remembered a magazine article he had glanced at last week about alternative medicine therapies like acupuncture effectively treating muscle pain. Well, why not? So he called around and got an appointment with an acupuncturist and when he went in to her office he was soothed by her serene demeanor.
She examined him thoroughly, feeling his pulse and staring at his tongue for a long while, though she did not touch his back, shoulder, or neck. “I can give you some short-term relief from the muscle pain, but I want to tell you something.”
“Mild, mysterious bodily pain is usually – not always – but usually, a reflection of soul deficiencies,” she continued, speaking in firm but gentle tone. “The tension and stiffness is your soul reminding you that something needs attention, and it won’t go away for good until you give it that attention. In fact, deep down, you want the pain to keep coming back, so you don’t ignore your soul – which some people call your ‘intuition.’”
O.K. Fair enough. He might not have ever deduced that himself, but he had enough consciousness to see some value in her words.
“But aren’t I giving it attention by coming to see you?”
“It’s a start. But you’re still just giving the pain attention,” she answered. “In medical terms, you’re treating the symptom, not the illness.”
He nodded slowly. “But how do I give my soul attention?”
“By answering hard questions with absolute honesty,” she replied, as easily as if he had asked two plus two. “Let’s get started with the treatment, and maybe I can help you along.”
He removed all his clothing except his boxer shorts and lay down on his stomach, his head resting on a tilted circular cushion with a hole that allowed him to stare down from her table at the carpeted floor.
He had heard that acupuncture didn’t hurt but was still expecting some pain when the needles entered him. But after she told him that the first three needles had been inserted, he realized that what he had heard was true.
“Would you like me to ask you some questions?” she asked.
“Sure, go ahead. Do I answer right now?”
She laughed softly, lowering her voice until he heard just a wispy purr in his ear. “No, I just want you take them in and see what you feel. You don’t have to say a word.”
He nodded his assent and she began.
Needle. “Are you happy with your contribution to the universe?” Needle. “Are you being generous to the people in your life and to yourself?” Needle. “Are you giving your deepest talents and desires enough space and time?” Needle. “Are you protecting your soul from getting dulled and bogged down in earthly existence?” Needle. “Are you stifling yourself for societal approval?” Needle. “Are you living in the moment, or postponing it?” Needle. “Are you practicing healthy self-discipline or unhealthy self-denial?” Needle. “Are you forging your own path fearlessly, or are you timidly waiting for permission?” Needle. “Are you using your strengths in the service of your vision?” Needle. “Are you being the you that you really want to be?”
Once all the needles were in place, she told him to lay and relax for a little while. She dimmed the lights, turned on some soothing music, and left the room. When she returned and removed the needles, he stood up and felt that the muscle pain was decreased, though not completely gone.
“Feels better,” he said softly.
“For now,” she nodded. “But answer those questions. Honestly. When your muscles feel twisted and tight, you’re probably wrenching away from the truth.”
He nodded, paid her, and left the office in a slow hurry. The questions. He might rather her have driven railroad spikes into his body than ask him those questions. Those questions that did need answering but could never really be answered.
The next day he made an appointment with his regular doctor and received two prescriptions. These he took to his pharmacist, had them filled, and stashed the bottles in his medicine cabinet. For next time.
She, Kate, wore green pants and had a puppy on her lap as she sat on the stoop of her 12th Street house. Or: not her house, but the battered, tattered building where she rented a cheap room with her pup. The puppy was a German Shepherd: not a mix but purebred and very attractive. Against his (Deacon’s) black face was a brown patch like a beard and two angry brown eyebrows – angry-looking, of course; Deacon was gentle and loving – but Kate rather liked that even as a pup Deacon looked fierce and stout and protective of her. She had taken some flak from her friends and roommates about Deacon: with all the poor abandoned dogs in shelters, how could she have bought a new dog from a breeder? Especially since in so many other aspects of her life Kate was somewhat militant: environmentalism, consumerism, politics and activist causes … but here she had bought a purebred puppy.
And how she loved him, Deacon. Oh how she loved him. Already her meager wages from the thrift-shop and occasional house-sitting jobs barely supported her, but now she made further sacrifices: she had been wearing these same green army-style pants for months. No more poster-board or markers. Her hair was back to its original brown. She had accidentally let her tongue piercing seal up and did not have it re-pierced. But, oh, how she doted on Deacon. Only the healthiest organic dog food, handsome collars, extra vet visits … she loved this pup. She was twenty-eight years old, and she wore heavy black boots.
Two feet of snow had fallen yesterday and now today everyone in the neighborhood was out and about with shovels, snow-blowers, brooms, salt, sleds – the usual. George woke a little later than usual, kept in bed by the cold, and he peered out the window at the white that covered his front yard, except for the front walk, which was neatly shoveled already. It was the same with the driveway: clean and black and shimmering from the melting of the last crumbs of snow.
Not that it was so crucial to have his driveway cleared. He did not have anywhere to go and did not even have a car. But at least the driveway would be clear for when his granddaughter came tomorrow with groceries and a new batch of used mystery books (25¢ at the local library) and her husband’s discarded sports and news magazines. He sighed. He could drive, damn it – but then he had bumped the hydrant. He could shop for himself, damn it – but then he could not believe the prices and had left the store with nothing. But he could, damn it.
George stepped outside onto his porch and shivered in the cold. A moment later Adam, his neighbor, trudged by, pushing a snow-blower along the already-cleared sidewalk. “Hi, George!” Adam called out. “Good one, right?”
“I would have shoveled,” George replied.
“No, no! You don’t want to hurt yourself.” Adam stopped walking and sniffed loudly. “Besides, what I paid for this thing, I ought to get some use from it. Last year it hardly snowed.”
“Well, let me pay you for the work.”
Adam sniffled again and laughed loudly. “You’re crazy, George. Now go inside and stay warm. You have enough food and everything? I can send Sue over with some things.”
“No, no,” George waved off. “I’m full up.” He thanked Adam for clearing his walk – thanked him grudgingly – and then George went inside and closed the door. “I could’ve shoveled, damn it,” he muttered, shuffling back to the den. He switched on the television set, first to a football game, then an old war movie, but nothing interested him. He might as well get some fresh air and walk down to the pond, as though it was a normal Sunday.
The pond was adjacent to the old library building, now used for an occasional meeting-house, or for small craft fairs. He liked it when it was the actual library, because he could walk there to browse and read and not have to wait for his granddaughter to bring 25¢ mystery books.
As George veered away from the main road, he saw that the pond was frozen over and frosted with a thick coat of snow. No one else was at the pond, and the short path to his favored bench had not been cleared. After a few lumbering steps, he nearly tumbled over, and he stopped, looking at the nearby bench, and how close it was. Yet like this the snow was too much for him and his legs, his legs that were three-quarters of a century old – but still only half as old as the old library building, which was still standing stoutly and still could be serving as the library.
George looked at the bench for a few moments, and then turned around to make the short walk back to his house. And on his way out again with his old shovel he checked to make sure Adam was not outside, but then George scolded himself for that and heaved off back toward the pond.
The first few shovelfuls were satisfying, but he quickly tired and felt his knuckles stiffening. “Damn it,” he told himself. “It’s not thirty feet. Come on.”
His shoveling was not especially proficient: the edges of the path looked like the teeth of a saw – but he huffed along, resting after every toss of snow; his personal pathway narrowing as his scoops became shorter and shallower. But he was making headway. He was, damn it, he and his 75-year-old legs.
By the time he reached his bench George was nearly crawling through the two feet of snow. His heart was gasping and his lungs felt like they were packed with ice. But he made it to his bench. His bench, which now looked as though it had been upholstered with a two-foot-thick sparkling white cushion.
He readied the shovel to clear the snow from the bench, but – damn it, he could not lift the blade past his waist. “Damn it, I could have shoveled this,” George panted, and then he lay down on the soft white cushion and rested.
Sachsenhausen Memorial & Museum
There is no more barbed wire. There are no more crumbling walls. No more ARBEIT MACHT FREI. No more excavated death chambers.
Now there is a new housing complex. (Instead of barracks.) Now there is a playground. (Instead of guard-towers.) And now there is freshly-planted grass and flowerbeds.
Of course: there is a very tasteful memorial plaque, designed and produced at tremendous expense by world-renowned artists. A tasteful memorial plaque, prominently located and inspected daily for any signs of defacement or disrepair. Sachsenhausen 2050. The homes were sold at reduced prices. Which had to be reduced again. And yet again. And most are still empty. The playground equipment is pristine.
So it is expected that in the coming days the chancellor will announce, with deepest apologies and sensitivities, that:
The homeowners will be relocated at government expense and the housing complex removed. The barracks, the guard-towers, and ARBEIT MACHT FREI will be returned to their rightful places. The death chambers will be re-constructed and the walls rebuilt. And the barbed wire will be replaced.
Sidney Goodman. Figures in a landscape, 1972-73.
The mother and the father had come to sit outside and watch her sit and bounce on a big red vinyl ball with a handle on the top. All week, every day, every minute, she had chattered about the ball, a birthday gift from her aunt: how much fun it was to bounce; how good she was at bouncing; how she never toppled over, never broke her rhythm; how she could bounce forward, backward, even sideways!
But now, once her parents were settled into their lawn chairs, she sat motionless and forlorn on the big red ball, staring down at the crunchy grass. “Well, do it already,” her father grunted out. “Game’s coming on.” Her mother sat stoically, patiently, far away from the father.
But she had never felt less like bouncing. It had been stupid, she realized, to drag her parents out to watch her. They had no real interest in watching her bounce. They had only come because they had to, being her parents; and she knew they had mostly come just to shut her up already about the ball. They were grown-ups, with grown-up cares, grown-up conversations and grown-up fights; and not interested in big bouncing balls. And one day she, too, would be a grown-up, and not care about bouncing balls.
So – this was what it was like to be old, she thought, finally forcing herself to bounce, though just as half-heartedly as her parents watched.
It was an outdoor sketch session with a life model on the muggiest day of the year. Classical radio and glugs of wine-pouring hung in the humid air but the louder sound was the bebop of the mosquito war. Claps, stomps and constant curses plus the steady hiss of a citronella torch versus the silent attackers. So tiny, so wispy & cosmically inconsequential – and yet so cosmically irritating and irksome. But what can be done? As the old painter said: “You know what doesn’t help? Talking about it.” And that is irritatingly true. So enough on the mosquitoes and onto the model. Nayla.
She wore nothing except for a few adornments: a plastic beaded necklace, a couple of rubber bracelets, tattoos, and a braided yellow cord around her waist. Nayla. She was a daycare worker who spent occasional Sunday afternoons as a model for an artist collective in West Philadelphia. The money was nothing much, but it helped with the bills, and it was fascinating to see the sketches of herself: to see herself as these artists saw her. It made her wonder: why wasn’t she an artist? How did the universe pick these people to be able to take up a pen and paper and create a likeness of her? And why had it not picked her?
Well—she was a model. Without models – if everyone was an artist – well, the artists would just sit around sketching air. She knew this, and had always accepted it – until today, this moist, muggy, mosquito-riddled Sunday. After six, seven, eight and then NINE distinct bites in less than ten minutes … that was it. Done. No more, she announced. The artists pressed her and reminded her that this was her job, a paid job, and she was expected to model, mosquitoes or not. No matter, she said firmly: she would refund their money. Besides, why didn’t one of them serve as the model? Why didn’t one of them strip down and lay their body bare to the mosquito brigades? That person could earn $36 and she, Nayla the model, would sit and draw the artist.
To her surprise the proposition was rather well received. It would be an artistic experiment. So a young watercolorist named Rick volunteered to model and Nayla sat herself down on a metal patio chair and took up a pen and paper.
He was a competent model and the other artists soon began painting and drawing in earnest. Nayla sat still, looking and wondering: why? To what purpose? Why did these people spend their time drawing naked people? To what purpose? For her to model: well, that was a job. She was earning money, and anyhow she had never thought much of any deep metaphysical purpose of modeling. It was just something she did to earn a few extra dollars and mingle with the art scene. But now, being on the other side of the canvas – something about it seemed … futile.
She pondered some more. Perhaps the artists saw her work as futile, tending to whiny babies and snotty toddlers all day. Yet for her it was nurturing and fulfilling and often greatly amusing. There were trying moments, to be sure, but on the whole she felt she was contributing to creating a better world. But here, sketching a naked man? It seemed like a waste of time. Lines, forms, shading, the correct curve of a muscle – who cared?
After a few minutes Nayla put down the pad and pen. Did they still want to sketch her? Yes. In fact she could pose with Rick. So off with her clothes and back to a pose – and the mosquitoes. When the artists finished, she collected her money and left. Well. Artists were—artists. And models were—models. She did not need to draw. But they, the artists, like her toddler charges at the daycare, needed her. It was not really so complicated, she thought later that night, as she doctored up her mosquito bites, gave herself a few final, futile scratches, and then settled in for sleep.
Her name was Jeanine and it was her birthday. And for the first time ever, she had gotten a birthday card from her grandparents. Along with the canned material, the handwritten message, in the slanty script of an old hand, said: “Jeanine: We love you sweetheart. Mom-Mom & Grandfather.”
But the card was not really from her grandparents. Her grandfather had been dead for a decade, and since then her grandmother had never given her a single gift or card, for any occasion. “A waste of money,” she had croaked out; “and a birthday isn’t anything special. Everyone has one.” The only thing her grandmother had given her over the past decade was advice to marry rich.
And in fact the card – this card she had spotted resting on top of a recycling bin – was not really addressed to her. The granddaughter was named “Jamie,” or perhaps “Jane”; but the shaky script made it look as though it could say “Jeanine.” So she could imagine it was a birthday card from her grandparents, for her – for her, and not for the other granddaughter – the granddaughter who was a sweetheart; who was loved; and whose birthday was not like everyone else’s.
The Quiet Car (NEW!)
No cell calls. Texting done on vibrate. Music low so others cannot hear. Conversations short and conducted in a whisper. These were the rules of the Quiet Car. And every day was a struggle for Diane. Every day was a struggle because these rules were simple and reasonable and yet every day at least one person decided that the rules did not apply to them and disturbed the entire Quiet Car.
Sometimes the conductors enforced the rules, but most times they did not. There was one conductor who announced the rules, loudly and firmly, just the way they were supposed to be announced, and when she was on one of his trains, she sat expectantly, waiting for, and then basking in his announcement.
At first Diane said nothing to the offenders and simply sat and stewed and tried to focus on her reading. But soon she could not stand to be passive in the face of this discourtesy and so she began confronting the offenders, glaring sternly at them and emphatically pointing to the posted rules of the Quiet Car: No cell calls. Texting done on vibrate. Music low so others cannot hear. Conversations short and in a whisper. These were the rules.
Most of the time the infractions stemmed from ignorance and her vigilante efforts were effective. But every day was a struggle for Diane because of the uncertainty that every passenger of the Quiet Car would abide the posted rules. Some days she even considered switching cars and sitting in a non-Quiet Car. Perhaps it would be easier to handle a glut of permitted noise than occasional forbidden noise. But when she tried this and caught an earful of senseless squawking and tinny music leakage, she fled back to the Quiet Car and sat anxiously waiting for someone to break the rules.
So every day was a struggle for Diane, prisoner of the Quiet Car and its reasonable rules, and of her own frugality and eco-conscience that would not allow her to drive to work and pollute the air with the fumes and noise of her disgust for the people that disturbed the Quiet Car.
But here is something to know about Diane. She hated rules – or, that is, unreasonable ones. No stealing, murder, rape, driving 80mph in a school zone? Fine. No trying on bathing suits without underwear? Acceptable. But let a park ranger tell her that unleashed dogs were forbidden and she went into a frenzied revolt against the State. No sunglasses in banks? “I’m closing my account.” Shoes off and no shampoo to get on an airplane? “I hate this country.”
Of course to Diane there was no discrepancy between this hatred of silly rules and her wholehearted embrace of the Quiet Car rules. After all: passengers were not forced to sit in the Quiet Car. There were two other cars with plenty of seats and no rules. But people chose to sit in the Quiet Car and then break the posted rules which were reasonable.
And so every day was a struggle for Diane, who sat on the train anxiously and fantasized about a martinet conductor roaming the Quiet Car with a bullwhip.
Then came the Friday. She had a new novel to read. Her music was soft and non-disruptive. For six stops all was fine. Then: One ring. Two rings. Three.
A few passengers glared, but the conversation continued.
“Excuse me,” Diane said, firmly, walking down the aisle and leaning close down to the offender. “This is the Quiet Car. You can’t use that.” She pointed emphatically at the posted rules. The offender rolled his eyes and nodded wearily; Diane began returning to her seat; and he ended the conversation.
Already the ride was ruined, but she tried to resume her reading.
Then: one ring. And an answer and greeting.
These were the rules of the Quiet Car: No cell calls. Texting done on vibrate. Music low so others cannot hear. Conversations short and in a whisper. These were the rules and Diane stomped back to the offender.
“What don’t you understand about no cell phones?”
And he waved her off and continued talking.
She would not say that she acted unconsciously, or that she “blacked out,” or any of those excuses people made to justify violent acts, but it did seem that without really feeling herself, she grabbed the phone out of his hand, folded it the wrong way until the “crack” came, and then threw both halves across the car. “THIS IS THE QUIET CAR!” she screamed.
All the passengers turned to stare. Then came the coffee. It was hot but not scalding, and it missed her face, mostly getting her shirt and some of her neck. Then she did black out and the last thing she remembered with any lucidity was how soft the offender’s hair felt between her fingers.
The Transit Police. She had always questioned their purpose. Every day was a struggle. “Look.” The officer put a paper in front of her with a line for her signature. “If you don’t press charges for the coffee, he won’t press charges for the phone. We’re also banning you from Regional Rail travel. You can appeal in twelve months if you show certification from an anger management class.”
These were the rules of the Quiet Car: No cell phones. Texting done on vibrate. Music low so others cannot hear. Conversations short and conducted in a whisper. These were the rules.
“It was the Quiet Car,” Diane said, quietly, signing the paper. Her neck felt tender and itchy.
So she began driving to work and pumping pollution and noise into the air, and it was depressing and horrible and all the discourteous drivers made her stew and honk and tremble with rage. Every day was a struggle – and then she happened to catch a small news item in the paper. QUIET CAR RAIL PROGRAM SUSPENDED AFTER PASSENGER ALTERCATION.
Every day was a struggle.
It happened on a Friday. The town awoke and all the dogs were dead. All of the cats, lizards, goldfish, hamsters and parakeets were alive and well, but like Egypt’s first-born, all of the dogs had simply perished, their bodies restful and quiet; unscarred and seemingly unharmed, but nonetheless dead.
There was the predictable outbreak of anguish over the loss of family pets; but when word spread that it was every dog, the mournful cries changed into a hushed fear and scramble for answers. The Board of Health tested the carcasses for a contagion; all families that had owned a dog were temporarily quarantined even though no human symptoms were reported; but after frantic testing and re-testing, nothing was isolated in the dogs that remotely explained the abrupt deaths. All of the dogs, the Examiner stated, had simply died, peacefully and apparently painlessly. There was simply no other scientific or medical explanation.
The townspeople accepted this, or at least forced themselves to, having no other choice. They buried the dogs, told their children about Doggie Heaven, and then went on with their lives and their work. For the most part no one spoke about the incident in public. A few times someone suggested the town import a new crop of dogs from elsewhere, but not knowing if the same mass death would happen, and not wanting to risk widespread disappointment and heartbreak, life in the town remained dogless.
A year passed. Then, again on a Friday, it came. A dog. A medium-sized, mixed-breed, affable dog loped into the town; from where, no one knew. He was without collar or tags and did not appear to be trained or housebroken. The Board of Health took the dog into custody and watched over him for a week, during which time he seemed the picture of health and friskiness. A town meeting was convened and it was agreed that no one would own the dog directly, since it would be impossible to fairly determine who would get that privilege, and so the dog—named “Buddy” for lack of a better idea—would become the town dog, set up in a centrally-located doghouse and given free run. A volunteer list and a posted schedule would determine who would handle feedings and washings.
So it went. And while the volunteer rotation worked at first, problems emerged. The dog had a penchant for barking at every passing squirrel, or when he was hungry because the volunteer was late for feeding-time, or just for the joy of barking; and now after a year of a barkless life, the new noise irritated the townspeople. There was also the matter of dog excrement, which was sometimes picked up, sometimes not, and thus sometimes found itself on the bottom of a citizen’s shoe. Not to mention the dog’s constant begging for food and attention, or to be played with, which, after the novelty wore off, became tiresome to the busy adults, who, during the dogless year, had found new pursuits and endeavors with the time afforded by no longer having round-the-clock responsibility for helpless animals.
A private meeting was held among the more influential citizens. Perhaps one family could claim full ownership of the dog? But again the difficulty of choosing and the inevitable squabbling it would cause was seen as problematic. More training for the dog? Removal of the bark box?
But all of these ideas were just bandying about the deeper point. A year, relatively speaking, is not a very long time. But it is long enough, and after the initial trauma of the canine extinction had passed, the townspeople had adapted to a dogless life and had grown to enjoy it: the peace, the cleanliness, the extra time. So by the end of the meeting a decision was made, and a week later, the town awoke to find Buddy dead, apparently of the same natural and mysterious causes that had killed all the town’s dogs a year ago.
The Examiner made a grave announcement that there was no choice but to decree that henceforth no dogs would be allowed in the town.
The citizens took this news soberly, dismantled the doghouse, reminded their children of Doggie Heaven, and once again went on with their lives, peacefully and productively. The only change was a rotating shift of volunteers to monitor the town borders, and protect against any other affable, loping dogs.
Twenty sacks at $20 per sack = $400 = rent + utilities = 20 sacks at $20 per sack to move in 30 days, every 30 days, to keep a roof over his head and the lights on = usually not a problem at all. But this month had been slow. It was August 23rd and only nine sacks had been sold. The reason? A combination of things: summer vacations, a slumping economy, more competition. Whatever it was, though, it was becoming a problem. Eleven sacks to move in eight days or fiscal insolvency loomed.
What made it difficult was that his marketing was strictly “pull”: people came to him, organically, and that was how he liked it. He would mention the service he provided to an interested lead, and more often than not a fair trade was made, amiably and cleanly. It had worked like this for years and it had provided the revenue he needed to cover overhead—that is, rent and utilities for his room in the craggy artist house—with a built-in margin to allow him free use of the inventory. His food costs and other expenses were covered by the odd jobs he worked: flower delivery, house painting, a guitar lesson here and there—but the bulk of his revenue came from the twenty sacks at $20 per sack, each month.
The other benefit of his marketing strategy was that he was largely immune from any regulatory bodies or compliance officers, since his business activity over the last four years, amounting to sixty sacks moved per quarter to trusted regular customers, was not likely to draw any attention or penalties. But now with the recession and summer vacation pinching into his business model, and the odd-job market dried-up as well, it seemed it would be necessary to expand his marketing reach and broaden his customer base. Of course this was not the first time he had considered ramping up operations, since there was a demand for the service, and there was a profit to be made—but this profit came with increased risk. It was simple math. What he was doing was, technically, officially, and in the eyes of the regulatory bodies, unsanctioned, and thus the more customers he had, the more people knew of his activities, and the greater chance of being audited. It was simple math.
Three days passed and zero sacks moved. It was now August 26th. He did get a call that night, from a customer, and with some reluctance, he said the price was $25. His costs had risen, he explained apologetically, although the customer seemed unfazed by the $5 uptick. Eight sacks to go—plus a $5 cushion which might be needed for food for a few days.
The next day, Friday, was better. Three sacks at $25 per = $75. This time he simply quoted $25 as the price and again the customers accepted it. This new revenue structure also meant that seven sacks sold, rather than nine, would meet his break-even point. And if he did still sell his twenty sacks, that would be an additional $45—a small fortune to him. He could finally get some new guitar strings, maybe even a new strap to replace his duct-taped monstrosity.
On Saturday he went to a house concert and subtly advertised his services. By the end of the night he had moved four sacks—9, then, so far this month, and besides, he had already met his overhead. Very good.
He left the party and walked toward his house. On his way he saw a group of teens outside a pizza joint. One sack left. Twenty-five dollars of pure profit—actually, he could get $30 from them. So he approached and advertised his wares, tactfully, and within minutes the trade was made and the profit secured. Very good. Until—he saw the blue and red flashing in his peripheral vision and looked back; looked back to see one of his newly-acquired customers being held by a regulatory officer, and then squarely pointing at him: him and his profitable enterprise.
Mek, Inc. Announces Filing of Registration Statement for IPO
Yardley, PA – Friday, Jan. 8, 2010 – Mek, Inc. announced today the filing of a registration statement for the initial public offering of its common stock. All of the securities in the proposed IPO are being offered by Mek.
Mek, Inc. is a provider of fictional writing, offering titles in various formats and lengths.
Investcorp and Alpha Capital Partners LLC are acting as managers of the proposed offering. When available, copies of the written prospectus relating to the proposed offering may be obtained from Investcorp LLC, 85 Broad Street, New York, NY 10004.
A registration statement relating to these securities has been filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission but has not yet become effective. These securities may not be sold nor may offers to buy be accepted prior to the time the registration statement becomes effective. This press release shall not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy nor shall there be any sale of these securities in any state in which such offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful prior to registration or qualification under the securities laws of any such state.
SOURCE: Mek, Inc.
Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit - one sentence, one paragraph and one page at a time.
Here are the principles of how we live that every day:
Our business is a way of welcoming our customers into our world. When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers – even if just for a few moments. It starts with the promise of a well-crafted story, but our work goes far beyond that. It’s really about human connection.
Our culture is centered on the concepts of freedom and generosity – treating employees as talented people who want to make a difference and should be trusted to do so. We hire exceptional people who are great at what they do and we give them the freedom to practice their craft without endless debates or nitpicking. We allow the process to advance on its own terms, rather than controlling, rushing or forcing it.
Rules Annoy Us
Rules creep into most companies as they try to prevent mistakes and delays. But rules also inhibit creativity and entrepreneurship, leading to a lack of innovation. Over time this drives a company to being less fun and less successful.
Instead of adding rules as we grow, our solution is to increase talent density faster than we increase business complexity. Great people make great judgment calls and few errors, despite ambiguity.
We believe in freedom and responsibility, not rules. No soul-sapping policy manuals for us. For example, our vacation policy is “take some.” We work and rest at our own paces.
We have found that by avoiding rules we can better attract the creative mavericks that drive innovation, and our business is all about innovation. We are mitigating the big risk technology companies face (obsolescence), by taking on small risks (running without rules).
Our one absolute rule, however, is integrity, artistic and otherwise.
Lots of organizations have lofty value statements, but sometimes they are not reflective of what the organization actually values. At Mek we value – and reward – the following eight behaviors.
We dream of a world where fiction reflects the visual variety of life itself and is deliverable any time and anywhere. We dream of a world where consumers can easily find fiction they will love, and their enjoyment of literature grows.
We have much work to do: our multi-media format is still in its infancy; we are constantly improving our logistics system which conveys thousands of experiences to our customers; we’re still only a USA company; and our online capabilities have improved greatly but are just beginning. In short, we have so much to create that we always need to nurture and expand our incredible talent.
Finally, our mission statement reflects the hopes and intentions of Mek. It does not always portray the way that things actually are so much as the way we would like things to be. It is our dissatisfaction with the current reality, when compared with what is possible, that spurs us toward excellence and toward creating a better person, company, and world. When Mek fails to measure up to its stated mission, as it inevitably will at times, we should not despair. Rather let us take up the challenge together to bring our reality closer to our vision. The future we will experience tomorrow is created one step at a time today.
Mek, Inc. IPO Skyrockets
March 24, 2010
Silencing any doubts about its chances on the public market, Mek Inc. ended the day 19 pages richer as its long-awaited initial public offering soared 30 percent above its opening price.
Propelled by demand that pushed the day’s early estimations to 22 pages, the trailblazing company appeared to be heading toward a record day of 24 pages before slowing down to close at 19, which was still 30 percent higher than the 15-page target goal set by underwriters just the night before.
Even that pre-IPO price had been raised twice before the market opened. Initially, it had been set for a 12-to-14 range, then got bumped up to 14-to-16 before the company’s investment bankers settled on the 18-page estimate for first-day trading.
The IPO raised about 4,000 words for Mek, giving the company a market value of about 150,000 words.
Mek is leading an IPO resurgence that has reclaimed the market in the last two weeks. Some analysts say this new wave could drive more filings for fiction IPOs and prompt those companies that have already registered to move forward with their launch. Peter Richardson, an IPO analyst with Security Data, said fiction IPOs in the same price range have averaged first-day gains of 27 percent since the early 1990s.
Mek’s plans to go public have been watched closely in the arts and literature industries as a barometer of market interest. The company has also hinted at its intentions to be a pioneer in multi-media fiction.
Despite the volatility of the market, particularly that surrounding fiction stocks, “There is probably an expectation surrounding Mek’s IPO. Debut fiction products are doing quite well, and Mek just might be able to piggyback on that popularity,” Richardson said.
The IPO filing counters concerns of brick-and-mortar bookstores Barnes & Noble and Borders, which have repeatedly stated the financial risk involved with promoting unknown authors and experimental fiction.
Mek reported net revenues of 44 pages for the quarter ending December 31. The company said its average daily words written have grown to 1,200 in December 2009, and that fiction accounts for more than 40 percent of words.
Mek, Inc. (MEK)
Q1 2010 Earnings Call Transcript
April 22, 2010 11:00 am ET
Mek – Chairman & CEO
Edward Higginbotham – Goldman Sachs
Sean Hickey – Alpha Capital Partners
Matthew Schachter – Touchpoint Research
Eric Magee – BR&C Capital Markets
Good morning. Welcome to Mek Inc.’s 2010 Quarter One earnings conference call. Today's call is being recorded. At the conclusion of the announcement, a question-and-answer session will be conducted.
I would like to remind you that this call is covered by the Safe Harbor disclosure contained in Mek's public documents and is a property of Mek. It is not for rebroadcast or use by any other party without the prior written consent of Mek.
At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Mr. Mek, Chief Executive Officer of Mek, Inc. Please go ahead, sir.
Good morning everyone, and welcome to Mek’s inaugural conference call. We’ll be releasing our official earnings report either later today or tomorrow, so I’ll hold off for now on specific numbers.
Our IPO was extremely strong and garnered a tremendous amount of capital to help the company move forward and expand, so that’s a great start. But it’s also a significant change for our company. As you know, our original vision came from our sense of independence and our commitment to transcending “business as usual.” So naturally there was some concern as to how taking the company public would affect the way we operate. As they say, once you go public, it’s no longer voluntary. There’s a lot of truth to that. For Mek to be successful, we have to stay relaxed and have fun, because if we start to feel like the project is a burden or drudgery, I think we’re going to run into problems and see our value start to drop.
To that end, our Chief Operating Officer recently implemented a couple of policy changes to keep our creative staff in the right frame of mind. First, we’ve replaced the word “work” with the word “plork” in all of our company documents – plork, of course, being a mix of play and work. It’s a minor change, but I think we’re already seeing the benefits of our staff being aware that we want them to have fun – productive fun, of course, but fun. Second, we’ve launched what we call the 15-percent rule, which gives all of our creative staff the freedom to use 15 percent of their time to explore whatever projects they want, no matter how wild they are or how they turn out. This not only has a rejuvenating effect on our staff, but also gives us a competitive advantage in retention of talent. And who knows, maybe the 15-percent rule will bring in some marketable product ideas.
At the end of the day, our goal is to retain the operational independence of private company while building value for all of our stakeholders. And this takes courage. Giving up total authority over our business, making decisions by committee, disclosing information, being subjected to stockholder scrutiny and market expectations – we weren’t sure how those practices would affect our business model. It’s one thing to be accountable only to ourselves, but it’s quite another to hold fast to our values in the face of investor scrutiny. But I’m optimistic about Mek’s ability to thrive as a public company. There might be an adjustment period, but as long as our investors are patient with the process and stay focused on the long-term value of the company, I think we’ll all profit.
In closing, I want to reiterate something about our company that’s become a mantra around the office. We are not afraid. We are not afraid of the market, or the stock ticker, or our investors. We are committed to creating a product that will delight our customers, and throughout that process there will be mistakes and delays and uncertainty. And that’s O.K. We have to embrace everything as part of a process, a process that’s bigger than all of us, and let it take us wherever it wants us to go. And if we do that, I think we’re going to see a very good next quarter, and beyond.
I’d like to thank all of our Mek associates for their passionate commitment, and now open it up for questions.
Thank you. (Operator instructions) Our first question comes from Sean Hickey of Alpha Capital Partners. Your line is open.
Sean Hickey – Alpha Capital Partners
Good morning, everyone. Mek, could you refresh us on the timeline of the project and when you’ll be releasing a detailed business plan?
Hi Sean. Thanks for the question. You know, we’re not really thinking about timelines. We’re just focusing on taking things one day at a time and having fun, and I think if we do that then the project will settle into its own structure and rhythm and take just the right amount of time it needs. The less we worry about timetables or quotas, the more we’ll be able to focus on our core product development.
Sean Hickey – Alpha Capital Partners
But you have to have some idea of how the work –
Sean Hickey – Alpha Capital Partners
Um, yes. The plork. But as investors, what assurance do we have that your product will be completed on schedule and on budget?
I don’t think this business is really about assurances or certainty, Sean. It’s about playing and experimenting and seeing how the project naturally unfolds. Obviously, Mek is a strong company and I have utmost confidence in our future. But there are no guarantees about anything. That’s not only a fact of business but a fact of life. So let’s move on from the question of schedules and deadlines.
O.K. Our next question will come from Matt Schachter of Touchpoint Research. Your line is open.
Matt Schachter – Touchpoint Research
Hi everyone. Mek, the company’s productivity was down a lot in March, compared to the previous quarter. What are you doing to improve efficiency over the next quarter? Do you plan on any reduction in the workforce during idle periods?
Matt, thanks. I understand that many of our investors were uneasy about Mek’s rate of production in March. We were working at an incredible pace during our launch, so it’s natural that our creative staff needed some time to recharge. Another thing to keep in mind is that there has to be input for output. R&D is essential for our success, and that takes time. So what might look like low production during any given period is really just a part of the process, and I’m not worried at all about that.
As for reducing our staff, I don’t see that happening. We’ve invested significant time and resources in training our staff, and releasing them just because we’re in a quiet phase of the project would constrain our ability to compete and expand down the line. I also think our staff is going to do its best work when they’re relaxed and comfortable, so I’d rather not introduce anxiety into them by threats of layoffs. And I think the returns on this business model will be fantastic.
Matt Schachter – Touchpoint Research
OK, one other question. I just heard about this today, but can you give us any more information on your CFO’s resignation? How soon do you expect to find a replacement?
That’s true, Matt – Friday will be Tom’s last day at Mek. It was a mutual decision to part ways based on differences in management style. The good news is that I don’t believe that this will have any negative impact on the company. In fact, our data suggests that our output suffers when we’re counting it or setting explicit benchmarks. So as for replacing him, I’m not sure that the investment in a CFO position is the best use of our resources. That’s about all I can say at the moment, but I’ll keep everyone posted. Thanks for the question.
Our next question will come from Edward Higginbotham of Goldman Sachs. Your line is open.
Edward Higginbotham – Goldman Sachs
Mek, what about plans for your product release? What can we expect in regard to Mek’s market share?
Well, Ed, the quick answer is that we can’t really expect anything at this point. Market issues are not really our priority right now, so I don’t want them to distract us from our plork. Now, that being said, of course Mek wants to connect with as many consumers as we can. But the truth is that the best way to connect with our consumers is not to try to guess what they want. That’s why I’d rather not invest resources into market research. Basically, we have to forget about everything except having fun and being uninhibited. If we do that, I think we’re going to come up with a product that resonates with our customers.
Edward Higginbotham – Goldman Sachs
O.K., well, putting that aside for now, I also want to ask about your use of multiple media forms. I can appreciate wanting to be a pioneer, but there’s a good amount of data that says that companies that get away from their central strength end up losing market share and diluting brand value. So my question is do you really think that Mek will profit from this diversification? Do you have any data to support it?
That’s a good question, Ed, thanks. I understand where you’re coming from and I don’t plan to take the company in directions that aren’t in line with our talents. But successful companies adapt to today’s multimedia world, and that is what Mek intends to do. The key point for everyone to understand about the evolution of our strategy is that it will allow consumers to discover the story though various distribution channels. We have an exceptional creative team, so I want them to use whatever media forms will help them accomplish their goals. So yes, I do think that the finished product is going to look different than our original schematics, but I think we should let it play out for a quarter and see where we go.
Let’s move to the next question.
O.K. Our next –
This will be our last question, operator.
O.K. Our last question will come from Eric Magee of BR&C Capital Markets. Your line is open.
Eric Magee – BR&C Capital Markets
Hi, Mek. I don’t want to end the call on a sour note, but I feel like I should bring up the issue of the Board of Directors. There’s obviously been some friction between the board and your management team, so I’m wondering what the source of this is and how it will be corrected.
That’s fine, Eric, I’m glad you brought it up. As I mentioned earlier, when we decided to take Mek public, there was a lot of concern about creative freedom and retaining control over the project. I think these concerns are valid and I did my best to convince everyone that we have a good board that doesn’t intend on sacrificing Mek’s long-term value for quick gains. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, if there’s one thing that’s absolutely integral to Mek’s success, it’s confidence and freedom. We have to leave the day-to-day plork in the hands of our creative staff and let them do it however they want to do it. And if that can happen, I think the board will end up being very pleased with the returns on their investment. That said, Eric, I’m planning on meeting with our directors next week, and hopefully we can hash some of these things out and come to a compromise.
Finally, operator, and for everyone on the call, as I look back on the last quarter, I’m very confident that we’re going to look back on this as an exciting time that’s given us an excellent opportunity to build Mek’s foundation and improve our competitive position. We have a bright future ahead of us.
Thank you all very much for taking the time to chat with us today.
This concludes today’s teleconference. You may now disconnect.
After strong IPO, Mek shares tumble
Tuesday, April 6 2010
NEW YORK – Shares of fiction provider Mek Inc. fell sharply Tuesday, after the company released a Q1 earnings call transcript that Henry Doblett, an influential analyst at Merrill Lynch, has described as “vague, eccentric, and contrary to commonly-accepted business practices.” Doblett also stated that the market was likely to be disappointed with Mek’s quarterly report based on “very aggressive expectations.”
The terse call transcript suggests divergent perspectives between Mek executives, investors, and underwriters, regarding the company’s current operating procedures and growth model. Mek’s investors have also complained about the company’s disclosure policies, which its investors say are not in line with standards for publicly-traded companies.
The stock slipped another two pages and was hovering just above zero as the market day closed. The NYSE has informed the company that its average market cap has fallen below 7,500 words over a 30-day trading period. It has 45 calendar days to submit a plan for bringing its value back up within 18 months. Throughout March, the company’s productivity and page flow has nearly halted, although Mek has explained that this is part of the company’s strategic plan.
Mek, Inc. Intends to Voluntarily Delist from NYSE and Deregister with SEC
New York, May 3 / PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Mek today announced its intention to voluntarily delist from the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) and to voluntarily deregister with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). As a result, Mek intends to file a Form 25 with the NYSE during the second quarter of 2010 to effect the delisting. The delisting will be effective ten days after this filing. Following the effectiveness of the delisting from the NYSE, Mek intends to file a Form 15F with the SEC to deregister and terminate its reporting obligations under the Exchange Act.
The move comes as little surprise. The company received a warning from the NYSE last month, when its market cap dropped below the 7,500-word barrier over a consecutive 30-trading-day period as of 3 March 2010. This condition exposed Mek securities to the NYSE’s suspension and delisting procedures.
Mek’s eponymous CEO stated that, “The company has derived a number of important benefits from its NYSE listing. Trading volumes and liquidity on the NYSE, however, have not developed to the level we had hoped for when we initially listed, and the company has not developed sufficient liquidity to be attractive for most traditional investors who prefer shorter-term gains. Therefore, after considering all the pros and cons very carefully, we came to the conclusion that reverting to a private company is the right move for the company at this stage in its evolution. The burdens of maintaining our listing and registration, as well as being subject to the whims of the market and the influence of our shareholders, seem disproportionate to the benefits we derive.”
A spokesperson for Mek has stated that the company’s decision to delist from the NYSE and deregister with the SEC does not call into question in any way the company’s business model or creative vision for fiction delivery systems.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFORMATION AND CAUTIONARY STATEMENTS CONCERNING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
Certain statements contained herein are forward-looking statements including, but not limited to, statements that are predictions of or indicate future events, trends, plans or objectives. Undue reliance should not be placed on such statements because, by their nature, they are subject to known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Please refer to MEK’s Annual Report on Form 20-F and MEK’s Document of Reference for the year ended December 31, 2009, for a description of certain important factors, risks and uncertainties that may affect MEK’s business. In particular, please refer to the section “Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements" in MEK’s Annual Report on Form 20-F. MEK undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any of these forward-looking statements, whether to reflect new information, future events or circumstances or otherwise.
Edvard Munch. From Maridalen. 1881.
He was sitting on a suitcase by the side of the road. But it was not a road that was traveled much, especially by vehicles. And he was not hitchhiking. He was simply sitting on his suitcase, which, incidentally, was filled with blank notebooks, loose-leaf pages, and pens, on the side of the road that was not really a road but a pathway between the few homes in the hills and the tiny town at the foot of those hills.
This was Boris. Everyone – which meant only a few dozen people, anyway – knew of him, and they pitied his parents, who lived in one of the houses in the hills and supported Boris and gave him a place to live and food and shelter and clothing, so he could fill his suitcase with blank pages and sit on it on the side of the road. “Working,” he called it, and his parents had long stopped arguing. They merely replaced his drab black coats, his coarse brown pants, and his soft felt hat when they became too tattered, and left him alone.
Was he insane? Mentally disabled? Playing some sort of severe prank? No one knew. His parents by now had given up hope that Boris might change or recover. From time to time, his mother would look out the window and watch him sit on his suitcase and she would weep and try to convince herself that that man was not really her son; that her son was working in the city with a wife and two children, and the man sitting on the suitcase was just a hallucination. Of course this was ineffective and made her hate herself. And by now his father simply refused to speak to or of Boris.
Then one day a young woman dressed in a black skirt, a red blouse and white kerchief walked down the road and saw Boris. She was a visiting cousin of one of Boris’s neighbors and had never seen him before.
“What are you doing?” she asked, as though she had been told about Boris and wanted to see for herself.
For a long minute he did not even glance up at the young woman. “I’m working,” he finally said.
“What kind of work?”
Boris blinked rapidly and pushed some dirt around with his shoe. “I’m working,” he answered. “I’m working.”
“Are you crazy?”
Boris suddenly stood up, showing his height and heft. The young woman looked frightened and backed away, but Boris only unclasped his suitcase, took out a yellowed, blank leaf of paper and set it down gently on the ground. “I’m working,” he said again, shuffling a few steps down the road and then sitting back down on his suitcase. She persisted, continuing to ask him sneering, jeering questions – when suddenly Boris’s mother appeared on the road and took the young woman firmly by the crook of her arm.
“Excuse me, young lady, what are you doing?”
“I’m just talking to him,” the visitor replied. “Do you know him?”
“I’m his mother.”
“Oh.” The young woman shrugged and jerked her head toward Boris. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing’s wrong with him,” the mother snapped. “He’s working. Leave him alone.”
“What’s he working on?”
“That’s not your business,” Boris’s mother retorted, stepping between her son and the young woman. “I said, he’s working, so leave him be.”
The young woman shrugged again, rolled her eyes, and then continued walking toward the town.
Boris looked up at his mother. “I’m working.”
She sighed. “I know, dear. I know.” Then she went back to the house to prepare his lunch.
Courtesy of Philadelphia's Magic Gardens
He was 73 years old and all his life he had worked doggedly to make a profitable living as a cobbler. All his life he had scrabbled – and now at the age of 73 he was suddenly in high demand and had more work than he could handle. The source of the new work was not a mystery: the bad economy, the credit crunch, the recession: scores and hundreds and even millions of people cutting back and paring down and making do and waiting to buy: shoes, for example. In fact, at the beginning of the recession, a national newspaper had printed a list of frugal living tips and very high on that list was shoe repair. “If you can repair shoes for $20, or buy a new pair for $100, of course it’s better to spend $20, especially if money is tight.” A local paper had picked up this thread, writing an article on shoe repair and quoting one of the cobbler’s customers: “Yakov has taken care of shoes of mine that are fifteen years old that still look brand-new and because of Yakov, that’s the reason they’re that way.”
Yakov. He was 73 years old and business was booming. Hours and hours he spent hunched over his work table, his glasses on and his long, coarse hair flared out like wings from the sides of his head, cobbling, cobbling, cobbling. In fact over the past three months he had made more profit than he had over the nine months before. This was good, of course: he was a cobbler and he deserved to be paid for his work – and it was no small thing to be in a booming business while the rest of the world sputtered and puttered. But he was tired. He was 73 years old and if not for the recession he would likely have retired and gone to live in North Carolina with his brother. But then came the recession and the glut of work.
Besides, what a shame, he sometimes felt. What a shame that over fifty years of accumulated skill and experience should retire. Because it was not vanity for him to say that he was a master cobbler by now. He was not the only master cobbler, perhaps not even the best – but nonetheless he was a master, and he had earned that title. So in a way this recession and the resulting bumper crop were his long-awaited reward for five decades of sitting hunched over soles, tongues, straps, laces, heels, and all the rest. Fifty years of watching his business get whittled down by cheaper and cheaper shoes that were not worth repairing or maintaining; and new generations of men and women who did not even know that shoe repair even existed… But he had come to peace with this and even had come to savor the looks of delight when first-time customers saw what he could do to repair or revive and even rebuild their shoes. But—he was tired. He was 73. And the orders and customers would not stop. He had considered taking on an employee but it seemed that it would be impossible to find someone who would honor the standards and reputation of his shop, so he continued alone, as he had for fifty years. And every time he heard a news report about the recession still not improving, or being expected to worsen before improving, he sighed and stretched out his fingers, and thought of his overstuffed cash register. It was funny, he thought to himself one day as he closed his shop for the evening – the world had passed him by, had nearly made him obsolete, but now it had rushed a little too much, had broke down, and now was banging on his door for repairs. Well. Finally. But now he was 73, with one foot in a goldmine and the other in the grave.
When he woke up that following Wednesday Yakov had decided this would be his last week as a cobbler. He was 73 and he was tired. For a moment he winced at all the money he would be surrendering, but then he thought of his brother’s house in North Carolina. He opened the shop as usual and his first order of business was to hang a notice that he was no longer accepting new work. He would finish the jobs in his queue and then close the shop. But he had hardly finished hanging the sign when his bell jangled and a youngish man burst into the shop like a piece of shrapnel. He was exceedingly well-dressed and his face was hard and angular. The face of a man who did not get beaten down by a credit crunch or a recession. The knot of his necktie was a perfectly plump triangle; the tip of his black leather belt like an arrowhead; the break of his gray pants utterly perfect. He was not there to pick up a completed order; Yakov was certain he had never seen him before; and besides, he was carrying a plastic bag which clearly contained shoes. Yakov looked at him and even with 73 years of life experience tucked into the wrinkles of his face and woven into his unruly eyebrows, he was slightly intimidated by the customer.
The youngish man removed the shoes from the plastic bag and plunked them down on the counter. “I need these refurbished, as quickly as possible.”
Yakov smiled. Of course. He recognized the excellent Italian workmanship and even after the apparent years of use, how fundamentally sturdy the pair was. And he saw exactly what needed to be done. Exactly: before he had even blinked he saw the entire job, every step and stitch. It would be a good job, too, much better than repairing the shoddy plastic things people usually brought to him. But--
“I’m sorry, but I’m not accepting new work,” the cobbler replied. “Didn’t you see the sign?”
The customer looked at him with an expression equal parts amused and unfazed. Hard and angular. The sort of man who was not affected by signs and refusals and retirements. “As of when?”
“Just today, in fact.”
“Well, you can do one more job, then,” the customer pressed. “I know you’re the best around here, and I don’t trust these shoes with anyone else.”
“Thank you, sir, but—”
“Look,” the customer interrupted. “How much would you usually charge for this job?”
The cobbler told him the standard price.
“Fine. I’ll pay double that.”
Yakov turned away from the counter and looked over at a grizzled, decrepit dollar bill taped against the wall. The first dollar of profit he had made from cobbling. And something pierced him – or, not merely something – the arrowhead of the customer’s belt pierced the cobbler, pierced through his wizened skin, his 73 years of life, his tired eyes; and still the arrowhead kept sailing, for 48 years, back to when Yakov was twenty-five, and he too was hard and angular, the sort of man not affected by signs, refusals, or retirements. The sort of man who wanted to be paid well for his work, paid as much as he could possibly get from the world that was trying to rush past him. The sort of man who had planned to launch a nationwide chain of shoe-repair shops and be a millionaire, perhaps the very first millionaire cobbler. The sort of man who would see this recession and credit crunch as a golden opportunity, not a tiring nuisance and a prompt to retire.
But then his wife had died in a carbon monoxide poisoning accident in a hotel while traveling to scout out real estate for a second shop. She had been just as ambitious as him and had waited to have children so she could help him build his business. And then she had died, and with no wife or children, Yakov’s hard, angular ambition deflated like a pricked balloon. He had not remarried and he had slid into a rut of the humble, solitary cobbler, earning a livable profit but not much more.
Yet now this pushy, aggressive customer and the tip of his black leather belt had pierced him straight through to his old ambitions. So he was 73? Well—so what. He was going to die anyway. Why retire? Why slow down? Why not speed up? Like a student scribbling to finish an exam as the clock ticked down. Why not. This was his golden opportunity. His 73 years were not a dwindling hourglass. They were a starting point and a letter of reference.
Yakov turned back to the customer and picked up the handsome shoes. “Triple, then,” the cobbler said, and wrote out his most profitable work ticket ever.
He did not launch his nationwide chain of shoe-repair shops. It was not to his profit, anyway, at this point, given the initial outlay and how long it would take to recoup the investment. But what Yakov did do was to raise his prices: not obscenely but substantially; and when this did not decrease his business he also added optional surcharges for expedited and even overnight service, the latter demanding a staggering surcharge which, amazingly, a few customers agreed to pay. Although when the youngish businessman returned for the Italian shoes, Yakov charged him only the standard fee. “I decided not to retire,” the cobbler explained. “So the surcharge doesn’t apply to you. But be sure to tell your friends and colleagues about me.”
Yakov also took out advertisements in the newspapers, which brought him even more business. He was now working at least twelve hours a day and sleeping for only four, until finally he hired an assistant, who was competent – but not much more than that. It pained him, Yakov, for a short while, to allow this sacrifice in quality in his shop, but he delegated the simpler jobs to this assistant, so his qualms were minimal and were mostly soothed when he saw how much quicker he could get orders completed and the increase in total revenue, even with the assistant’s salary. Finally. Finally he was not only a master but a wealthy master, profiting enormously from the economic downturn, which seemed to show no signs of abating. And Yakov further boosted his profits by negotiating harder than he ever had with his suppliers, pointing to the state of the economy and his long history as a valuable customer to receive new discounts and deals.
As for the money he was making – well, it was money. He did not really spend any of it. He still wore his ancient, gauzy shirts, and his crooked old eyeglasses. He would have given some to his brother in North Carolina, but the latter had plenty of his own from successful real estate investments. Besides, all Yakov really wanted was to see his bank account rise and inch closer to a million, even though the number was still preposterously far away. But still it was inching fast and getting closer. So he simply continued to work and work and work, earning the type of profits he had lusted for forty-eight years ago, when he had dreamed of lavishing his wife and children with gifts and comforts.
He knew he could not last another year at this pace. He did know this and the one thing he kept in mind was that he wanted to make sure that when he did die the store would not pass on to his assistant. Better to have it closed down and demolished. But other than that Yakov simply kept working, working, working, literally killing himself for profits, and he smiled often. He would not be a millionaire cobbler. But now after forty-eight years of mourning and settling, he was back on track, living as he should be living, living by the mantra he chanted at twenty-five: he would be a millionaire—or die trying.