The Streets

On any given day on any given street in any given town in America, you are likely to find a man wandering around, muttering to himself. His attire may at first shock you. I mean, sure, we’ve all thought about wearing a stained, second-hand dinner jacket with our sweat pants, perhaps tucking them into the tops of our hole-ridden hiking boots that are being kept together with twist ties from the produce department of the local grocery store. But seeing this brave man actually put wings to this plan makes you realize what a questionable fashion statement that really is. He comes up to you and asks you for a spare buck. And perhaps you give him one, if for no other reason than the simple fact that it’s worth a dollar to you to have someone else try out (and fail with) your own hangover-induced, Saturday morning fashion runway faux pas.

But I don’t really want to talk to you today about bad fashion. I don’t want to talk about hangovers or even dreams. I kind of want to talk about those twist ties littering the floors of the produce aisle; but I probably won’t. No, instead what I would like to talk to you about is that guy. That strange, scruffy man that is always lurking just around the corner of whatever store you decided to go to today.

Somewhere between the moment where you hear the sound of his throaty baritone voice (emitting a hearty greeting, instantly recognizing you as a “buddy” or a “sir”, or perhaps a “ma’am” or a “miss”) and then again when your brain tries to determine the origins of the strange smells that suddenly greet your olfactory nerves, you realize that there is someone suddenly next to you, engaging you as a confidante in immediate and friendly dialogue. You wonder who this person is and why he is standing so close to you.

You wonder about his story, where he came from, who he is. You wonder where he got that jacket, and didn’t you use to have one of those before the wife threatened to give it away to Goodwill? You wonder if this guy is in a local band (just a guess, but perhaps a good one). Do they rock? (Oh pardon, I meant to say, “And do they Rawwwkkkk??!!!”) You wonder if he’s noticed you staring at him all this time while these many and random thoughts have country line-danced through your head (and badly, I might add). And yet, all this wondering only magnifies the mystery. You are now utterly and deeply captivated by this man. He is fascinating, isn’t he? He piques your curiosity, does he not? I should say he is, and that he certainly does.

You see, the reason why this man compels you so thoroughly, is because that’s his job. He works for us, and that’s what we’ve trained him to do. Wait, perhaps I should back up just a little bit and explain that in more detail…

Perhaps you’ve noticed a disturbing trend as you channel-surf through your local cable channel offerings. You will find a show, notice its splendid use of product placement throughout the episode, and then in between segments you will be mesmerized by the varied and colorful advertisements that help to reinforce those same product placements that you saw only moments before. But then you stop and wince at the thought that you, a captive TV viewer, are being subjected to so many constant commercials, and you decide that you’ll think about it more as you hop into your new SUV to go grab some Wendy’s fast food, complete with a nice cold Pepsi-cola.

Let me explain this phenomenon to you. It’s something that we in the biz like to call marketing. Every time you see something in a commercial or on a show, it reinforces the stature and the brand identity of that product. And you, being the brain-dead, pathetic consumer you are (and really, I mean no offense, but let’s face it, you’re about as sharp as a sponge) accept these subliminal impressions as part of the normal course of your day. You are continually being molded and guided by these fancy marketers, brandishing about their cheap wares that are sneakily dressed up in sleek, Technicolor moving pictures in rich, quadraphonic sound. So I hate to be the one to break all of this to you (the fact that you are forever being cattle-prodded and horse-led), but this is all part of the point that I’m trying to make about the weird, muttering old guys on the street who smell like they’ve been eating nothing but Vienna sausages for three weeks straight. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Being the superior beings that they are, marketers are finally getting wise to the fact that eventually their luck with the shameless promoting of their products is going to wear off. Even ordinary people, as stupid and sheep-like as they are, will eventually catch on that these humorous commercials are not just there to entertain them. No, they’re there to dupe them into buying more products that they neither want nor need. So, when the day comes that that does indeed happen, marketers are already formulating their backup plan. And what is this backup plan that will take the place of television, radio, print ads, internet pop-up boxes, and highway billboards? Well, I think you know by now what it is. It’s the old guys on the street.

The idea isn’t exactly a new one. It’s been going on for several years under the term of grassroots marketing. The theory is that since people don’t trust marketers (the drooling, glassy-eyed masses have at least figured out that much), they might instead take some buying cues from their friends and neighbors. Instead of seeing some guy on TV drinking a rich, refreshing SlimFast nutrition shake, you will instead see the guy that changes your oil downing one of these, straight out of the ice cooler, with a delicate twinkle of sunlight reflecting off of the piece of ice that is slowly dripping down the side of the can. After taking an enjoyable and prolonged swig of the sweetness within, you will see him eye the can lovingly, let out a little sigh of satisfaction and say “Ahhhh, Refreshing!” Refreshing, indeed. But this won’t just work for the miracle drink that is SlimFast (now with a bolder, richer, more chocolately finish!) No sir, you will soon be seeing these sorts of real-life impressions with lots of products: kleenex, dental floss, car wax, vinyl siding, edible underwear… The list could go on, but I think you get the idea.

The only problem with this bold scheme of grassroots marketing is that these people, these everyday, run-of-the-mill people, are not overly dependable. Especially your friends, they’re the worst. So to really harness the power of this new multi-tiered marketing endeavor, product placement specialists will need dependable bodies to sit around and use this stuff. People that will think nothing at all of wandering around in public, constantly displaying the latest in snack treat technology. These people will be out there, hitting the streets. Lots of people. A veritable army of… well… mumbling old guys.

Just think about the effectiveness of this revolutionary new way of advertising. You go to the electronics store, or the downtown post office. Who is the one group of people still friendly enough to acknowledge your existence? Who is the one group of people that you can always depend on being there, through gloom or shine, through morning or rush-hour, through protest or parade? I think you see where I’m going with this. This… this whole…

What does this have to do with me? A man with a dream of a website that contains khaki-colored pages? Well, there are many uses for this army. Sure, I don’t really make anything “per se” (which, of course, is Latin for “of quality”), but I am trying to run this website. And websites ain’t cheap, my compadres (actually, they kind of are, but just play along). They cost bucks and spare change. And lots of them. So I have taken the bold step of mobilizing this ready and willing army of “guys with questionable fashion sense” to do my fund-raising for me. Hey, every little bit counts. The next time you see one of these guys on the street and he staggers up to you and begins telling you a story about how he just needs a couple of bucks because he’s stuck in town until his bus leaves on Sunday, and he just needs a little bit of food money until then… well, ok, it’s sort of a lie. But it’s a much more believable story than the truth, which is that he’s canvassing money for a website with a book about a guy named Lewis.

Come on, reach into your heart, and then into your pockets, for some spare change. And get used to them, because you’re going to be seeing a lot more of them in the years to come.