Dirty Money

Oct 07

High School. Course title: Mass Media. It sounded cold, like a rusty steel gate. It made me think of chewing tinfoil. It just plain turned me off.

But then we were given assignments to create cool logos in colored pencil, write dialogue for clothing commercials or come up with silly journalistic headlines (Walrus Invades School; Becomes Principal!) and my little creative light was fired up. (Anyone born in the 80’s take note: there was no Internet. Yes, I swear. No Internet. Now move on.)

I sketched colorful packaging for dishwasher detergent. I drew storyboards for commercials. I wrote short spec articles about the school play. My little black and white marble notebook burst with life.

Mass Media class was Massively Fun!

Until the day our teacher dropped an unexpected, morally inexcusable bomb of information on us.

She explained that any company – let’s say a shampoo company – this shampoo company could change the shape of the shampoo bottle but not the ingredients and advertise it as “new!”

What the – ? “But the shampoo isn’t new,” I protested.  (I didn’t speak up much in class, but this seemed outrageous, even to a 15 year old.) But Teacher stood by her assertion.

“But that’s lying! Advertising is lying! I said. Teach simply shrugged, with that tilt of her head that adults would give whenever they thought you had just learned about something unfair that they had known for years and would never do anything about. It said, “Welcome to adulthood. Whiskey?”

I swore I would never, ever go into advertising.

Today I wrote this for my client, whom we’ll call “Ned”:

My name is Kelly Johnson and I’m going to show you the secret to financial freedom. I was once like you….

I wrote a whole bunch of other words for Ned. About 5,000 other words. Words that are alternately italicized, underlined and bolded for emphasis. Words like ‘change your life’ and ‘just sign up now’. Words that crawl like cockroaches up my neck and into my ear. The phrase ‘easy cash right from the comfort of your living room’ slithers under my armpit while ‘pay off all your bills and then take that dream vacation’ tucks itself between my eyelid and my eyeball. A story about Ms. Kelly Johnson-née-Ned and her fictitious twin daughters and an equally fictitious pile of bills and equally fictitious threat of eviction digs like a cold hand into my abdomen, twisting my intestines while my fingers fly guiltily upon my keyboard.

My soul sinks with dirty lies while my bank account fills with dirty money.  Chewing tinfoil.

It’s dirty to me, anyway.  No, I didn’t kill anyone to get it. I didn’t steal it. I didn’t sell heroin to kids. But I am being paid to make up lies for someone. Dirty Money.

On the other hand, I am actually working for this money – my spirit working harder than my mind, perhaps, but I’m still working.

It worked for me!  I promise: as long as you do the work, you start seeing checks in just 3 – 7 days!

My client has paid me a nice 50% deposit up front. The money is already in my account. I’ll finish the job and he’ll pay me the nice 50% balance within just 2 days!

In my defense – and to give myself the literary version of a skin-rubbed-raw cleansing shower – I’ve written for all types of clients, many of who have real products and even beneficial services to sell.  Printer companies. Art Therapy Services. Wireless providers. Authors. Flower shops. Bakeries. Universities. Recycling companies. Photographers.  Toy Makers. Clothing Designers. Event planners. Luxury Travel Agencies. Dentists. Divorce Therapists. And, my favorite, an escort.

So when Ned approached me for this work-from-home-making-easy-money-and-please make-shit-up-in-the-copy project, my head dropped so hard onto my desk, I was sure I’d get a concussion. But just like everyone else, I simply couldn’t ignore that I, too, have been hit by the lid of the toilet the economy has fallen into. I need to pay my mortgage every month. I knew this job would give me a huge black gooey Twitching Blob Barf Ball, so I set my price high to make up for the moral nausea. He agreed and that huge black gooey Twitching Blob Barf Ball lodged itself against the back of my throat, keeping me gagging while I work.

Luckily, the job itself is actually pretty easy. His direction: Look at this website and do exactly what they’ve done without, you know, totally copying their words and stuff.

Part of me wanted to call Ned out on his sales lies. I couldn’t help but ask him some tough questions. Questions are a normal part of my process; I make a huge effort to get all the information I need before writing my clients’ marketing copy. But with Ned, I asked some questions I already knew the answers to:

Just to clarify, you want me to write as if you’re a woman with kids, right? A woman with kids who was once in debt up to her ears and now makes six figures. Like the other website? (Yup.)

How many actual partners do you currently have waiting to work with your readers? (Uh…dunno.)

When we say that you’re going to teach them exactly how to make money quickly …. you know, once they pay the fee and sign up, what exactly is the product you’re selling?

Ned became frustrated with me, poor guy.  So much so, that his answer to this last question was, no joke:

I don’t know what it is!  Just write it like the other website!

I felt bad for Ned. I saw his humanity in that moment.  Someone had convinced him he could make money selling … something … and he needed cash just like I did and just like all the people who were going to read his landing page.

Imagine making a reliable income from the comfort of your own home…

Imagine making your own hours…

Imagine wearing your pajamas while you work for just a few hours a day to pay off all your bills! It worked for me!

The irony is that the real easy money-making opportunity is writing these damn landing pages about making easy money. I’m the lucky one wearing the same pair of sweatpants for four days in a row, making my own hours and getting the check at the end of the week; not the poor bastards who are reading my copy. And maybe not even Ned.  I’m not sure.

I am doing a job, dammit. I’m making an honest living. An honest living writing lies, but an honest living nonetheless.  Ned’s the one selling… something.  I’m just writing what he’s paying me to write.

The money Ned pays me in just under a week! will go to my monthly mortgage and credit card bill. And after I swallow the giant Twitching Blob Barfball, after I finish writing about Natalie and her golden opportunity, when it’s all over and the “new packaging, same ingredients” is out there, I’ll breathe just a little bit easier knowing that those major bills are taken care of.

And then, towards the end of this month, I’ll wonder where my next mortgage payment will come from. I’ll hope for an art therapist, a baker, an escort. But if Ned and Kelly and a giant gooey barf ball show up promising me easy money while working from home, I’ll have no choice but to believe them.  After all, it really has worked for me.

14 Responses to “Dirty Money”

  1. betty malicoat says:

    Wow! As you say, you are living proof of Bob's promise of something. Every human exchange we have promises something but rarely delivers what we imagine. And that's the great opportunity–how we fill in the blanks, imagining promises being fulfilled because we want to believe. I love how your writing perfectly explores the psychology and humor of this slippery process.

  2. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Thank you, Betty, for trying to turn this into a positive experience for me. Perhaps you're right; perhaps people will read his landing page and realize it can't possibly be true and then go get a job at Starbucks where at least they'll know exactly what their job entails: serving burnt coffee to people willing to buy it.

  3. auntie ra says:

    I found it humorous,blunt and honest. love your style.

  4. Jon says:

    Take it easy there, Robin. Pour a drink, sit on the couch, and watch a nice episode of Mad Men.

  5. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    One of my favorites, Bro. If only I loved my job as a copywriter as much as Peggy loves hers…but at least I don't work in an office where sexual harassment is the norm. I've got that going for me.

  6. Hope says:

    As my friend James (who's in marketing…like in for life) loves to point out, perception is reality. You're not lying Robin. You're providing people "a path to their own flawed understanding of the way the world works."

  7. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    I think I love James….

  8. Todd Chappelle says:

    Welcome to adulthood, Robin. Now where's that whiskey?

  9. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Thanks, Todd. I can't seem to find a shot glass…does that mean I'm not actually an adult yet?

  10. jody e says:

    No that means you usually drink from the bottle.

  11. Alfi says:

    This is extremely well written. Didn't you have a course that contained content on propaganda?

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