Search

Witches and Beatniks

Murder, jazz, and non-conformism

Love, or the Witches of Windward Circle

Buy it in Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Read the Kirkus Review

Watch the trailer!

Featured post

Brainwashing with LIES!

Yay, people are reading my paper, A Cross Theoretical Model of Persuasion!

Its code title was BRAINWASHING WITH LIES!!! Because it is a guide on how to increase the persuasiveness of a message when dealing with stubborn people that JUST DON’T GET IT. Sometimes a fictional story is the only plausible solution.

You can download it here:

https://www.academia.edu/32450091/A_Cross-Theoretical_Model_of_Persuasion

Here’s the link to the video https://youtu.be/iXln8IXIPdA

 

 

How to increase engagement using the secrets of successful vloggers

Have you heard about Bethany Mota? Bethany is part of a generation of successful video bloggers (or vloggers) who have made a successful career by, apparently, just being themselves and playing silly in front of a webcam.

Bethany was 13 years old when she created her first YouTube video in 2009, a makeup tutorial for products she had just bought from MAC and Sephora. She made her video out of boredom, trying to reduce the stress of being bullied online by a classmate, using herself as a model and her bedroom as the location. The video and the ones that followed earned her a small community of followers. Soon Bethany expanded to outfit ideas, hair tutorials, and decoration advice. Today, she has over 10 million followers on YouTube — that is one and a half million more than Lady Gaga — 10 million on Instagram — Vogue Magazine has a little under 16 — and 4 million on Twitter — Madonna has only 1.5 million.

Do these numbers make you jealous? Don’t be ashamed if they do; they are big enough to make the best brands VERY jealous. Prada’s YouTube channel has only 66 thousand followers. Chanel has only 805 thousand. It makes one wonder: how can I replicate Bethany’s success? Was it luck? Talent? What is her secret?

As much as I would love to give you a recipe with easy-to-follow steps and accurate measures for replicating Bethany’s success on social media, such thing does not exist. Thankfully, psychology and media experts like Henry Jenkins and Robert Cialdini have studied similar phenomena before, and from Petty & Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model we can learn how to strategize possible routes to engagement and persuasion. Here, I use Bethany’s success as an example to explain the experts’ recommendations to increase engagement.

To consume your content, your public has to be motivated

Easier said than done, so bear with me on this one. As I mentioned in a previous blog, motivation depends on satisfying the needs of autonomy, capability, and relatedness. In other words, to become engaged with a message such as a blog post, readers need to do so willingly, they need to be able to understand, and they need to relate to the contents of the message. Satisfying the needs of autonomy and capability when creating content to share on social media is almost a given. No one forces Bethany’s followers to watch her videos. They do so out of genuine interest. Bethany’s viewers are also plenty capable of understanding her videos: the videos are in English, they portray situations which are easy to relate to and understand, and, thanks to the affordances of mobile technology, her viewers can watch them pretty much anywhere, anytime, using a mobile device. Also, because of the affordances of social media, her viewers can find the videos without much difficulty because their close network of friends spread them each time one of them likes, upvotes, shares or comments on a video. The tricky part is then fulfilling the public’s need for relatedness. Who watches Bethany’s videos? I do not. I cannot relate. Do you? Unless you are a teenage girl or have one at home, you probably don’t either. Her audience is young girls mostly, specifically young girls that relate to what she talks about (makeup, hair, fashion) and find her advice valuable because they are interested in the same subjects. Should you run to Sephora and start creating makeup tutorials then? Nope. The lesson to be learned here is not to attempt to lure everyone but merely a few. Create content for a particular audience. Bethany sticks to subjects that are of interest to teenagers living a middle-class, sheltered lifestyle, and covers brands that she knows her followers can afford, like Forever 21 and Aéropostale.

Before you start creating content to spread on social media, figure out who your audience is. Ask yourself these questions: Who buys my product? How do they use it? What are their needs? How can I help them fulfill these needs?  If what you are trying to do is broaden your existing audience, then figure out who specifically you want to attract. The smaller your audience, the easier it will be to create content they can relate to. See it this way: Bethany fails to engage 99.87 percent of the population on this planet, now hovering close to 7.5 billion. The 0.13 percent she draws, however, can guarantee her an estimated $40,000 a month business.

The windy road is often the fastest

The central tenet of Elaboration Likelihood Model is that there are two routes to persuasion:

A central route that relies on the diligent consideration of rational arguments; as when I say that eating broccoli is good because of its anti-cancer properties, and you decide to start eating it because you can verify the validity of my statement and do not want cancer, and

A peripheral route that relies on heuristics and other mental shortcuts, as when I say: Broccoli is fun! It looks like a little tree! Celebrities love it! You wanna be healthy, huh, so why don’t you try it?

Taking the central route leads to longer lasting change and less counter-arguing, yet rational arguments are often BORING. Most times, it is easier to lead your audience through a peripheral route, and once engaged, give them the cold hard facts: Broccoli is high in fiber.

 

Increase engagement by appealing to heuristics

The first thing one notices when watching one of Bethany’s videos, like this one for Valentine’s Day is that she is quite attractive. Beautiful hair, flawless skin, big eyes. Then, that she’s also quite expressive, cheery, bouncy, and even a little childish. Bethany is quite likeable! And because she is good-looking, confident, and the video looks professionally made, we can safely guess that she knows a thing or two about making things look pretty. Finally, we notice the number of people that have watched the video. Whoa! Nine million views and counting. We have not watched much of her video, but after a few seconds, we already know that Bethany is pleasant to watch, she seems to be an expert on the subject of beauty, and over nine million viewers have endorsed her message. One can only conclude that, if beauty advice is a topic that interests us, her message is worth watching. Note that we reach this conclusion before a careful deliberation on the merits of her video, but by using heuristics, mental shortcuts based on experience and driven by emotions that we use to save time every time we need to make a decision. Any decision. As humans, we prefer to guess rather than to elaborate, because elaborating takes time. The lesson to be learned from Bethany is that for your message to successfully reach your target audience, you need to convince them first that there’s value in spending time going through your entire message. The sooner, the better, because there are zillions of other things, including cat videos, potentially more interesting than your content going around on the Internet. The Internet is a cruel, nasty place, where nobody has time for the central route. Unless your viewers are super motivated to engage in your content, appealing to heuristics, the peripheral route, is a more effective way to persuade them that your content is worth their time, at least until they have enough information to decide whether the information is relevant or not.

Good, but you don’t have time for a course on consumer psychology, do you? Cialdini mentions six basic principles of persuasion based on our use of heuristics for decision-making. Above I mentioned the three most important:

1. Liking, either the speaker or the way the message is delivered: using fancy colors, music, humor, etc. You do not have to be as gorgeous as Bethany to be liked. Being funny and relatable helps.

2. Authority, recognizing that the speaker must be an expert on the matter at hand,

3. Consensus, public validation of the message.

The other three are:

4. Reciprocity, our desire to repay people like Bethany for her valuable and funny advice with our attention, first, and maybe then with a “Like,” or by purchasing their product. Think about it, how many times did a restaurant earn your business with a free sample?

5. Consistency, our desire to stick to what we commit in public. Credo Mobile marketing strategy relies on reminding the public that they are as committed to social progress and environmental causes as their customers are. You cannot use another carrier if you truly care about the environment, can you?

6. Scarcity, as in “this offer will not last!” Scarcity appeals to our fear of losing an opportunity. Sure, by now we all know that that 30 percent discount will happen again next month — but what if it does not? Taking advantage of the now is an evolutionary advantage acquired during a time when winters were harsh and summers were relentless.

 

Tell a Story

What is stronger than Superman? A story about Superman! In the Running Late for School video, Bethany starts by telling us a story. The birds chirping let us know it’s morning time, we see her tossing and turning, then when her alarm clock goes off, she pushes it off the bed table. Oh, no, she’s going to be late! Then comes the core of her message: Running Late for school? Easy & quick hairstyles under 5 minutes. If we weren’t interested in the subject before, now we are, because by following her narrative and understanding her goal—making it on time to school and still look ravishing—we got emotionally involved. We want to know whether she will make it on time and how. Yep, Bethany’s is a simple story that won’t entice everyone, but remember the only people you need to lure are your target audience. Not every message can easily be turned into a story and stories are not always the most efficient way to deliver a message because they are not as economical as simple rhetoric — it takes Bethany a full 36 seconds of introductory narrative before she starts talking; that’s longer than most commercials. However, when motivation is low, stories are your best bet to increase engagement.

How can you create an engaging story? The recipe is simple:

Identifiable characters. Bethany uses herself. It doesn’t matter who you use, as long as you make it clear that the story is about that character.

Familiar situations that your viewer can relate to. In Bethany’s video, we easily infer it is morning time inside a teenage girl’s bedroom.

Conflict. A dismissed alarm clock. Uh-oh, she’s going to be late.

Clear goals. Making it on time to school while still looking good, as stated in the video title

Resolution. Following Bethany’s advice for Easy & quick hairstyles under 5 minutes.

Note that Bethany’s story is not about how her product saved the planet from zombies, but about how using her product, beauty advice, can save an ordinary girl from an embarrassing situation. Your story should not be about what your product does then but about how it helps people succeed or avoid failure. At ePaisa, we constantly use stories to show how our product can change merchants’ lives, like this one about a man that learned that not embracing technology can be costly.

Want to learn more about creating persuasive messages? I created this video to help communicators on choosing the shortest route to persuasion based on their audience’s motivation to engage. It’s a bit long, so watch it at your own risk 😉

— Originally written for ePaisa.com

How to avoid a social media catastrophe like the one from United

Krampus with Pagonis

Oy, oy, oy. You already know what happened with United. If you don’t, here’s a mighty complete recount of how social media made United the biggest news on the internet.

Now, we’re not here to pass judgment or to speculate on how that particular incident could have been prevented. We’re here to tell you what to do in case you or one of your employees ever make a similar mistake to avoid a social media catastrophe. Because you are on the Internet, aren’t you? If not you should — with ePaisa’s loyalty and marketing tools it’s easy.

You aren’t as big as United, so you may wonder, why should I care? Let’s start by explaining why you should care.

The actual size of your Extended Network

Even if you only have a few friends and followers, you are connected to everyone across Social Media. How come? Because those friends and followers you have also have friends and followers. And the friends and followers of your friends and followers have friends and followers too. Think of it as a railroad network. Some persons have lots of connections, like the stations at Mumbai or Delhi. Some persons have few connections, like the Tenkasi station in Tamil, or the Amritsar station, in the Punjab. Still, one can travel between Tenkasi and Amritsar by changing trains a few times. People on social media act like station hubs, connecting other people, even across platforms, every time they interact with someone else’s post. Just imagine the number of hearts you’d get if @priyankachopra with her 17.1 million followers re-tweeted one of your tweets. And because social media travels through the rail tracks of the Internet, a tweet from Tenkasi may take only seconds to travel all the way to Amritsar, instead of the two and a half days it would take to travel by train.

Going Viral

You’ve heard of videos going “viral.” Content does not go viral at random; people must spread it by interacting with it, either by sharing, liking or commenting on it. When you and a friend go down a path, and you are overcome by the scent of beautiful jasmine flowers and comment on it aloud, your friend may be the only person that hears your comment. When you post a picture of those flowers, your close network may get to learn about them too. Depending on the size of your close network (and your popularity), you may get a comment or two, but what if you post a picture of one monstrous jasmine flower devouring your friend? That may cause some more reactions, huh? For content to go viral, two things are necessary: the content should be easy to share—and pretty much everything posted on the Internet is—and the content should be relevant. Sex, food, and fear engage everyone. Then it’s all a matter of what the public cares about.

No one likes cheaters

Now, what if you post a picture of your friend doing something really, really bad, and just for fun, like burning an entire field of jasmine shrubs. Full of baby kittens. People may react to that too, right?

To increase our chances of survival, we live in societies. And to increase the chances of society to survive, we follow rules. When we follow the rules, only our close kin cares enough to give us praise. When we break a rule, strangers may step in to let us know that wasn’t cool. The bigger the sin, the more that will rise to chastise the sinner. Morality is part of what we are. As Steven Pinker puts it humans feel that “not only is it allowable to inflict pain on a person who has broken a moral rule; it is wrong not to.” And when we’re bored or feel bitter about something, taking it out on someone else feels good, doesn’t it? Tweeting about #UnitedAirlines is the modern equivalent to attending a public hanging. And because of the affordances of social media, you don’t need to put on your pants to burn the witch.

Combine our innate desire to punish the wicked with how easy it is to share content nowadays (it takes a click), and the size of our entire extended network (friends of friends of friends of friends), and you have a recipe for disaster. Remember the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion? Do something that incites the wrath of the Internet, and you will go viral, but for the wrong reasons. As of March 2017, Facebook has 1.86 billion users. As of February 2017, Twitter has 319 million active accounts. How many of them do you think didn’t hear about Cecil’s death?

So, what to do when everything goes wrong?

For a start, don’t do anything rotten. If you do, this our take:

Empower your employees.

When protocol conflicts with the fair and decent thing to do, your employees should feel confident you will trust their judgment by abandoning protocol. Train them, motivate them, and make sure they’re ready to make good decisions. The moment you hire your first employee, you lose 100 percent control on your company.

Own your mistake.

Remember that you’re dealing with the All Judgmental Internet, a monster of a million heads that hear no reasons. You did something wrong, so be ready to apologize once, apologize twice, apologize thrice and do not try to justify it by saying you were merely following standard procedures. If your procedures led you to do something morally wrong, or at least appraised by the public at large as morally wrong, then your procedures were wrong. Recognize it.

Do not blame it on someone else.

Especially not the victim. Within one day, the United CEO was blaming the victim. That is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline! Do not blame it on villainous employees, either, even if it was ultimately their fault. From the viewer’s eyes, it is your company who is at fault. Ultimately, what employees do on company time is your company’s responsibility. On the public’s eye, if your employees do something wrong it is because you did not supervise them or train them correctly. Settle things internally, but as the leader, you must publicly own blame.

Remind the public that you are more than a faceless brand.

As a company, you are a community. You are more than a “heartless” CEO and a bunch of “greedy shareholders.” You are the company’s employees. You are the company’s vendors. Show those faces! Remind the public that your mistake hurts your team too. In other words, appeal to people’s sense of compassion by reminding them that by attacking your brand they are attacking real people. Do not try to become a martyr, just show some real faces with whom the public can empathize. Remember the Domino’s Pizza scandal when a couple of troubled employees pretended to taint customers’ orders with unsanitary tricks? Domino’s CEO jumped to defend the brand and accuse the employees as disgusting. That helped, but it took months to restore the public’s trust in the brand. Had Domino’s shown how those two troublemakers hurt the owner and employees of the franchise affected, maybe the public would have shown more sympathy to the brand.

Think coldly but be empathic.

If you are too upset to deal with the public, then don’t. Have someone less emotionally affected draft all communications, but make sure that this person empathizes with who the public recognizes as the victim.

Offer a solution.

If you cannot offer a solution right away, state that you are working on one. Don’t take too long! It’s better to overcompensate a disgruntled client than to lose all future ones. United Airlines stock took a big hit in the aftermath of the scandal. The price of its shares will probably go up again, but could your business take a similar hit?

— Originally written for ePaisa.com – enabling commerce

Oy vey, I finished my Master’s in Media Psychology

Persuasion

Here’s the link to the video https://youtu.be/iXln8IXIPdA

Here’s a link the PDF A cross-Theoretical Model of Persuasion – Carlos Allende Final Capstone for those of you interested on reading the whole paper or checking references.

How to motivate your employees using gamification principles

Relatedness 

How to motivate your employees using gamification principles

You’ve heard about the perks that employees have at those hyper-funded new startups: Guitar Hero hour, yoga room, video game room, unlimited coffee, unlimited beer, free lunches on Friday. You would love to offer the same, but —can you afford it? Unless among your investors is a Saudi prince, probably not. And do all those perks really keep employees motivated? I recently toured one of those startups with a friend. “Nobody ever uses the yoga room,” she told me. “And on free lunch Fridays, most of the food goes to waste because we’re so sick of seeing each other – most of us go out to eat somewhere else.”

According to a recent study by Dale Carnegie Training Global Leadership (2016) that considered 14 countries, including India and the US, only 22 percent of full-time employees plan to stay in their current jobs for the long term. 16 percent are currently looking for a new job, and 29 percent intend to start looking for a new job. Considering how expensive, painful, and tiring it is to hire and train new employees, those aren’t good numbers! The same study explains what’s best to keep employees happy: sincere appreciation and praise, effective leadership, and reliable leaders, leaders that seem honest with others and themselves. For employees that always see their employers as reliable, job satisfaction grew to over 80 percent.

“What nonsense is this!” You’ll say, “I have to be nice? I pay my employees to do their work. I don’t have to explain my actions, and if they don’t like it, there’s a long line of others that would love to have a job!”

Well, if money is what drives you, there is an important reason why you want to keep your employees motivated other than reducing hiring and training costs: increased productivity. A highly motivated employee performs better.

Should you invest in a PlayStation, then? That’s not exactly what I meant by gamification principles. Gamification is not turning things into a game, but using elements of games use to increase engagement. What many successful  games do is apply the principles of self-determination theory. Let’s put some psychology on this. You already know you have to be nice (which is cheap) but let’s explain why, so you will be more motivated.

 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

According to the Self-Determination Theory, people are intrinsically motivated to perform a task when the task is inherently pleasant. We play games because we derive pleasure from the activity. How do you feel every time you pass a level on Candy Crush Saga? You feel good! It’s the dopamine working inside your brain. The tougher the level, the better you feel. You may not have done a victory dance when you passed the first level, but didn’t you do one when you passed level 45? Now, how do you feel when you have to do chores? Take out the trash, drive through heavy traffic—you don’t dance much, do you? You are extrinsically motivated when the motivation to perform a task comes not from the pleasure the task will bring you but from a separate outcome: you take the trash out to keep your house clean; you drive because you need to get to work, and you work because you want to get paid.

Your employees are extrinsically motivated. If they were intrinsically motivated, they’d work for free! You cannot transform extrinsic motivations into intrinsic motivations unless the separate outcome (reward) becomes the task.  Most times that’s impossible, but you can make the separate outcome more attractive: free beer, free coffee, yoga room, higher pay… or apply some dirt-cheap psychology to convert external regulations, the separate outcome, into integrated regulations, regulations that we follow not only because they lead to a reward but because we have made them part of our concept of self.

Self-Determination theory also says that motivation increases as we satisfy the needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These are psychological needs we all have the urge to satisfy, just like the need for food and shelter. We want to control our own decisions. We want to feel capable. We want to belong. We’re not walking machines, we’re social animals!

 

How can you make your employees feel more autonomous?

Stop micro-managing. Train your employees properly on how to do their work instead. Give them responsibility. You do not have time to train them? You have less time to hire constantly. Explain to your employees what’s expected of them, give them the tools to do it, and then let them run free. Let them make decisions. That’s how you learn to play video games! A short basic tutorial, you jump with button A, you run with button B, the mushroom-looking guys are the bad guys, and then you’re free to run through the hills and rescue the princess. You’ll spend some time exploring the world, and your employees will spend some time exploring what they can do with the newly earned responsibility and maybe making mistakes. That’s alright. Of course, in video games, you have unlimited lives (you can always restart when you die), and you don’t find the first boss till the end of the third level, but video games also start easy. Give your new employees only the autonomy you both feel comfortable with. As they get more experienced, give them more. Then some more.

“But training is expensive!” you’ll say. Then use tools that are both empowering and easy to use, like ePaisa point of sale. 

 

How can you make your employees feel more competent?

By letting them know they’re doing a good job – just like in video games. Every time you grab a coin in Mario Bros, you hear a little ca-ching! Every time you defeat an enemy, you gain points. Every time you finish a level, you hear this catchy song. Video games constantly let you know that you’re doing a good job and rewarding your efforts with cheap praise. Our response? We become addicted. We spend HOURS trying to defeat the boss so we can hear a silly song and get a message saying, “Thank you Mario, but our princess is in another castle!” and then continue playing for another hour or so. Same with a job: a little praise here and there works wonders. Why? Because when we verify that our efforts are paying off, we feel happy. And happiness makes us release dopamine, to which we’re all hooked. Likewise, when something prevents us from achieving that goal, we feel angry. And when the goal is no longer attainable, we feel sad. That’s the function of emotions, to indicate our progress towards a goal, and serve as directives for behavior on how to achieve that goal. Emotions fade with time though. If something is too easy, you may feel happy at first but then bored. Boredom is an emotion that indicates that a goal is no longer attractive. What do you do when video games get too easy? You stop playing. What does a video game need to do to keep you hooked? Get increasingly difficult, not so difficult that you cannot pass the level, just difficult enough to keep you interested. Same applies to a job: Praise your employees, so they know they’re progressing, but keep them challenged, so they stay interested. If the job is too difficult, they’ll quit. If the job is to easy, they’ll get bored.

Many tasks at work are either difficult or tedious and therefore boring, which reduces motivation. How can you easily increase your employees’ competence? Give them ePaisa! Okay, yes, this is an infomercial but you’re getting lots of good advice and ePaisa does increase competence, by making tedious tasks, like controlling inventory or keeping detailed records of sales easy, so your employees can do more! Keep reading.

 

How can you make your employees satisfy their need of relatedness?

Let me be cynical about it: humans are effing gullible. The one person we love the most in this world is our own self, that’s why we need constant affirmation. It isn’t just vanity but an evolutionary advantage: we prefer those that are nice and complimentary to us because being surrounded by that kind of people increases our chances of survival. Friends will fight with you against enemies. Friends will feed you in the case of need and keep an eye on your stuff and protect it from thieves. It works both ways, when you feel that you are part of a team, you fight for your friends and you protect their resources. Before being rational, we’re social animals, don’t forget that! Your employees need to know they’re part of a team. They need to know that you are all working together for a common goal. Not to make you rich, but to make everyone working for the company live richer lives. They need to be proud of their team. They need to feel that work is like family. That’s why video games always start with a clear inclusive mission: rescue our princess. Help us defeat tyranny. You are our only hope.

Tricks to increase relatedness? An all-expenses-paid bonding seminar to Hawaii, which will drive you out of budget… Or just the occasional “How do you do?” to let know your employees they are important to you. Spend some time explaining to your employees what you’re doing and why their work is important. Let them know that even if they feel as if they were the smallest crew in the big machinery, that little screw is important. In games, you play with your team. You may not be able to choose who is in your team or which team you join, but it’s your team, and you’re loyal to that team simply because it is your team. Again, this is an evolutionary advantage: we have a tendency to prefer those that are close to us, because being close knit increases our chances of survival.

One final advice, for the shy: What if it’s not in your nature to be “nice,” to give praise, and make everyone feel welcome? What if you’re too “results-oriented” and just cannot praise those needy millennials for everything little thing they do? You got a box behind the ear every time you did something wrong, that’s how you learned! Well, if you cannot be nice, hire someone that can. I used to work in this office with a very negative vibe. Everyone in the sales team was always angry and tired. Productivity was very low. Then this girl came who wasn’t the brightest, or the fastest, and needed help constantly because she didn’t know too well how to use a computer; But boy, was she kind and joyful. She improved everyone’s mood because she always had a kind word and made everyone feel useful. She made that office a pleasant place to be and taught us how to be nice to each other. The result? Productivity grew. A lot.

— This post was originally written for the ePaisa.com blog

 

 

Unemployment Reflections

So, I’m unemployed, yay!

I’m actively looking for a day job, writing my capstone (dissertation) and editing my new novel: COFFEE, SHOPPING, MURDER, LOVE, a dark comedy about angry gays killing people. This morning I reached this, which I wrote a few months ago. How à propos!

Read it with a deep Southern accent!

[Charlie, who recently lost his job too, laments his situation]

I wish I could help Jignesh [his lover, who started a money laundering business]. Well, I better help, I’m all smeared into this murder catastrophe [two bodies, so far]. I need to find a new job, that would be a proper way to help, wouldn’t it? But I’m so depressed, so incredibly down by this perilous situation that I spend the whole day on Facebook and visiting porn sites. I only check Craigslist for the personal listings… God, the things one reads there. Let’s have a party in pantyhose… It’s rather unsettling.

I entertain some time cleaning. Dusting the shelves, fluffing the cushions. I start a mental list of the changes we need to do in our home. We could use a new dining table… And I think this house needs to be tented. The wood in the window frames is all rotten, and I haven’t had the bravery to check yet, but I bet the attic is vermin infested.

Dear God, I know he’s an infidel, and a sinner, and that the whole thing is illegal, but please help Jignesh succeed in his business endeavors and send us the miracle we need to get rid of those bodies. Touch Mike’s heart so he gets a bonus this month. And the next too. And the next too, and so forth, at least until I find a job and can take care of my own expenses… What could I do that doesn’t involve any actual effort, I wonder, scrolling down on my Tumblr newsfeed… Oy, nice peaches…

To think of all those lazy people on disability and me in the most complete wretchedness, depending on a man I’m not attracted to. I can’t even enjoy wasting time on the internet without feeling a lump form in my throat. The government should send me a monthly stipend to compensate me for all my suffering. I had a rough childhood. Discriminated. Prosecuted. Forced to leave my paternal home and move to Southern California to escape a reactionary life on a hyper-caloric diet, and once here, never discovered. I am too pretty. Too meek. Too sensible… Matteo has a forty percent sale. Would it be too extravagant to purchase new sheets, considering my dire circumstances?

Changing Hearts, One Meme at a Time

 

If a friend asked you to photocopy the photo of a man someone told her is a murderer and then distribute it among all your friends and acquaintances with the specific purpose of ruining that man’s reputation, you probably wouldn’t say yes, would you? Even if your friend offered to release you of most of the burden by paying for the photocopies and distributing them herself using your contact list, the fear of committing slander would prevent you from spreading what may not be but a malicious rumor. And yet, we spread unconfirmed claims among the members of our social network all the time, whenever we share a meme without confirming first whether the information it contains is correct: Roma stealing babies, corrupt politicians, presumed rapists and pedophiles of a certain ethnicity, selfish celebrities. We call attention on reprehensible attitudes basing our judgment not on concrete evidence and logical arguments, but in one evocative image and a few stirring words.

The present paper attempts to explain what makes us agree with the content of a meme and persuades us to share it in the absence of strong evidence to justify its claims.

A meme’s potential to convince individuals of the veracity of its content and worthiness to be shared relies on its simplicity, the viewers’ ability to understand the concepts portrayed within the meme, transportation, the viewers’ attitude, and the viewers’ perceived norms towards such concepts. Viewer’s attitude can be changed by appealing to emotion.

An internet meme is an image, usually accompanied by text, that is copied and spread rapidly through the internet (Oxford Dictionary). Memes tend to be humorous. Some are innocuous like the “I has feet” lizard (Rahimi, Pinterest), but some are inflammatory, like this one from the British National Party (BNP) implying that the refugees taken by Germany are a threat to the UK (BNP Facebook post, 2015).

According to the Reasoned Action Theory (RAT), volitional behavior, or intention, is a function of four determinants: “one’s attitude toward the behavior in question, one’s injunctive norm, one’s descriptive norm, and perceived behavioral control” (O’Keefe, 2015; p. 99). Based on this model we can express a meme’s power to persuade viewers about the veracity of its content and worthiness to be shared as a function of the viewers’ ability to both understand its message and share it (the perceived behavioral control in the RAT model); the viewers’ attitude towards the subject portrayed within the message, and the viewers’ perceived norms, i.e. the public’s opinion.

Since the viewers’ ability to understand a meme and the perceived capability to share it are conditions sine qua non to change intention, we explain their effect first.

We have a natural need for cognition (O’Keefe, 2015). That’s why we spend hours at a time following the thoughts of strangers in Twitter and browsing our friends’ posts in Facebook. Yet “we have very little attentional capacity,” (Ware, 2010; Kindle Location 192) and tend to avoid high elaboration, in order to save time and energy (Ware, 2010), especially when the matter has little relevance to us, as the elaboration likelihood model predicts (O’Keefe, 2015). Now, because most memes consist of only one image and one or two lines of text, they require a minuscule effort to process. We may not be willing to invest our time reading or listening to arguments that attempt to convince us that Obama is a terrible president, especially when we think he’s not, but reading a meme with a similar argument not only is easy but almost unavoidable when it appears in our news feed. Reading a meme is a bottom-up process in the sense that we get tuned to interpret it (Ramsøy, 2014). Avoiding it requires a conscious effort. Its distinct image pops out “because of automatic mechanisms operating prior to the action of attention” (Ware, 2010; Kindle Locations 680-681) resulting from the parallel processing within the visual areas of the brain, leading us next to read the accompanying text, then to decide whether we agree or not with its message, and if we do, whether to share it or not. Because of the affordances of social media (see Ellison, Steinfeld, Lampe & Vitak, 2011), the perceived capability to share is almost a given: it takes one click

Seeing a meme is also a top-down process, though, in the sense that we are drawn to read memes based on our previous experience with other memes: many are just fun to read and it is the promise to have a good laugh that makes us pay attention.

Simplicity is not enough, however, for a meme to successfully convey its message and persuade us to spread it. The concepts implied must be understood, and because memes are by definition, very brief, this understanding depends heavily on our semantic memory, our “general knowledge about the world, concepts, language, and so on” (Eysenck & Keane 2010; p. 255). A Scumbag Steve meme (See Samjowen, 2011) brings to mind a cascade of semantic concepts: millennials, men that wear jewelry, fur, and designer clothes; the naiveté implied by rosy cheeks and a slightly opened mouth, etc. Separate, all these concepts have different meanings. Brought together they imply arrogance, stupidity, self-centeredness, and conceit. Memes combine narratives and rhetoric: They use emotion and the cultural heritage of the audience as persuasive tools (Weida & Stolley, 2013). An evocative image has the power to transport us, if only for a fraction of a second, especially when we’re bored and looking to be entertained (Green & Brock, 2000) as it is often the case while using social media, and transportation can lead to a change of beliefs (Green & Brock. 2002).

Which bring us to the next determinant, attitude. Once the message is interpreted, viewers’ decide whether they agree with it. Memes do not contain strong arguments. The emotions aroused are the evidence that support their claims. While agreement with a meme’s message can be affected by transportation, mostly it depends on the viewer’s previous attitude towards the subject. According to the summative model of attitude, attitude is a function of the strength with which an individual holds a series of beliefs about a subject and his evaluation of these beliefs (O’Keefe, 2015). A meme that calls to punish presumed rapists and pedophiles, like this one (BNP Facebook post, 2014) is so blatantly racist that it may cause reasonable doubt about its veracity, but at first glance, due to transportation and in the absence of deep elaboration, the decision on whether to agree to it will depend on whether the viewer assigns a heavier weight to his rejection of rape or the need to be politically correct, since the ultimate message is one of discrimination.

Using a simpler example, a person with a positive attitude towards President Obama will most likely disagree with a meme that shows Robert Downey Jr. rolling his eyes and the accompanying text “my face, every time Obama starts talking” (Memegenerator.net) and probably will not share it, unless intended as a joke, or to raise awareness on the matter. Now, what if this same person, let’s call her Claudia, has a somewhat neutral attitude towards Obama but a positive attitude towards the actor, and the actor’s opinion weighs more in her decision than any beliefs she may hold about the President? Claudia may conclude that if Robert Downey Jr. feels that way about President Obama’s talking, Obama is probably a bore, and she may decide to share the meme. In this case, an injunctive norm, the belief that Robert Downey Jr. dislikes Obama, together with transportation, have a persuasive effect on Claudia’s decision. Granted, her belief is assumed as true due solely to heuristics: Claudia does not know the actor, but it’s in a meme, and in her experience, memes tend to contain the true, so that must be the actor’s opinion.

How could she arrive at that conclusion? Facebook shows us first the posts from those who we explicitly mark as “show first,” and from those with whom we interact the most (Bereznak, 2014). Because we tend to connect in social media with those that are akin to us (Johnson, Zhang, Bichard, & Seltzer, 2011), the memes we get to see in our news feed come, most likely, from individuals that share our attitudes. The weight we assign to our closest friends’ opinions acts then as an injunctive norm, impelling us to agree with what they share. Likewise, the fact that a meme or a series of memes expressing similar concepts seem to be everywhere, acts as a descriptive norm. In other words, consensus has a weight in the decision whether to accept the content of a meme as true.

The decision whether to share or not a meme, relies on whether we agree with its content or, at least, find it relevant enough to be shared. To persuade a viewer of the veracity of their content and worthiness to be shared, memes rely on the viewers’ ability to understand their message, which is a function of the viewers’ semantic memory, previous attitudes, emotions aroused by inducing transportation, as well as other heuristics such as consensus and credibility, and internet and social media affordances, that make them incredibly easy to spread.

 

References:

Bereznak, A. (2014, June 30). How Does Facebook Decide What Shows Up in Your News Feed, Anyway? Retrieved February 18, 2016, from https://www.yahoo.com/tech/how-does-facebook-decide-what-shows-up-in-your-news-90375237489.html

British National Party. (2015, September 13). Let’s get Britain Out of the EU! (Facebook Post). Retrieved February 18, 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/OfficialBritishNationalParty/photos/pb.71523830069.-2207520000.1455825408./10153614247940070/?type=3

British National Party. (2014, September 10). More than 1,400 young British girls. Retrieved February 18, 2016, from https://www.facebook.com/OfficialBritishNationalParty/photos/pb.71523830069.-2207520000.1455829039./10152703897090070/?type=3

Ellison, N., Lampe, C., Steinfeld, C., & Vitak, J. (2011). With a Little Help From My Friends: How Social Network Sites Affect Social Capital Processes. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), A networked self: Identity, community and culture on social network sites. New York: Routledge.

Eysenck, M., & Keane, M. (2010). In Cognitive psychology: A student’s handbook (6th ed.). Hove, Eng.: Psychology Press.

Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 701-721.

Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2002). In the Mind’s Eye: Transportation-Imagery Model of Narrative Persuasion. In M. C. Green, J. J. Strange & T. C. Brock (Eds.), Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations (pp. 315-342). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Johnson, T., Zhang, W., Bichard, S., & Seltzer, T. (2011). United We Stand? Online Social Network Sites and Civic Engagement. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), A networked self: Identity, community and culture on social network sites. New York: Routledge.

Memegenerator.net. (n.d.). My face every time Obama starts talking. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from http://cdn.meme.am/instances/65869316.jpg

O’Keefe, D. (2015). Persuasion: theory and research. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Rahimi, S. (sharer). Animal cuteness. In Pinterest website. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/165718461262104868/

Ramsøy, T. (2014). Introduction to neuromarketing & consumer neuroscience. Neurons Inc ApS. Kindle Edition.

Samjowen. (2011). Scumbag Steve. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/scumbag-steve

Stevenson, A., & Lindberg, C. A. (2010). New Oxford American dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Apple Widget

Ware, C (2010). Visual thinking: for design (Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive Technologies). Elsevier Science. Kindle Edition.

Weida, S., & Stolley, K. (2013, March 1). Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion. Retrieved November 16, 2015, from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/04/

Forest of Fortune, by Jim Ruland

Forest of Fortune isn’t an ordinary novel. More than a narrative, it is a trip to the lives of others, three tortured souls whose paths never really cross but have in common one place, the Thunderclap Casino.

fof-cover-small-194x300

This is a very manly book. Ruland doesn’t care about adorning his characters with any likable features; the stench of vice, poverty, self-centeredness and low self-esteem is present on every page, yet you come to love that same stench because Ruland draws his characters in a way that it is impossible not to feel for them. My personal favorite was Pemberton—maybe a gender bias. At the beginning of the book, we follow him through a binge of alcohol and cocaine, visiting characters who, for those living in Los Angeles, will sound a little too familiar. There’s always a Kiki around. After such a night, you cannot stop reading. Pemberton is ending his own life yet you can’t help but enjoy with the same desperation as he does every shot and every line the author invites you to have with him. Others will empathize more with Alice, drowned in sadness, and Lupita, having a good time but guilted by what she sees as selfishness. All and all, you may think you have nothing in common with these three people, still, you will connect with them as if they were your best friends.

I couldn’t decide at first whether I liked the ending or not so I had to read it a second time. I decided I loved it. It was appropriate, if too soon—I wanted more. I definitely loved the trip all throughout precisely because it takes you nowhere. Now, to be one hundred percent honest, Ramona could have been edited out, you can’t reach the same level of empathy with her, still, I’m looking forward to Ruland’s next work of fiction.

After reading this book, the four words he uses to describe himself on his website, “writer, sailor, punk, rat,” make you nod and say: “yeah!” with a big smile.

You can read more about the Jim Ruland’s book here

 

Coffee, Shopping, Murder, Love

This is what I’m currently working on. It needs no introduction but just in case you don’t get satire, a kind warning: it’s satire.

#SantaMonica #LGBT #gayboys #comedy #whiteprivilege #maleprivilege #writing #comedy #LosAngeles

2. Shopping

“Never felt better,” the old man says. Then he laughs, and so does the young man he’s talking to.

Never better? I think, studying my shocked reflection in front of a full length mirror inside the men’s locker room at the Equinox. I turn to the old man. He must be at least five-hundred years old. He looks like a fucked up version of Charlton Heston. He probably had better days before. “How old are you, sweetie?” I feel compelled to ask, yet, I’m afraid of how out of place my high-pitched and utterly nasal voice with a thick Southern drawl will sound. Therefore, I don’t.

I never talk much at the gym. I know, this is California. No one will punch you for sounding too effeminate, au contraire, you may be asked for a campaign donation, but one has dark memories from his early childhood, and my voice is, in any case, truly annoying. You would find it funny if I were a middle-aged Jewish woman from Brooklyn, but I’m a rather short, thirty-seven-year-old white homosexual from Leitchfield, Kentucky. Yep, that’s me, Charlie. I have dark bags under my eyes, I check in the mirror. Dark like the conscience of Lord Vader after he destroyed his beloved daughter’s adoptive planet.

I zip up my bag and as I hasten out of the locker room, I hear the old man brag one more time about his good constitution. That’s one of the dangers of lurking inside the locker room for too long in hopes of catching a glimpse of a hot guy’s penis. One gets to hear the weirdest conversations.

What a lovely day for a stroll in downtown Santa Monica, I see, through the front windows. The morning fog has burnt off. Too bad I have to be back at work in less than twenty minutes. Too bad I can’t really afford this stupid yuppie gym, I wave good-bye to Jackie, the receptionist, but I wouldn’t want to attend a gym for poor people. In any case, I press the walk button to cross the street, I’m on a mission. One does not show up to a first date wearing old clothes. Twenty minutes might be more than sufficient.

I love the Third Street Promenade. I hardly find the hordes of European tourists ignoring the non-smoking signs obnoxious. I embrace them. They’re a reminder of the wonderful world I live in, during the daytime, in prosperous, well-to-do Santa Monica. Nights I live in West Adams. It’s not such a bad place to live. It’s in transition. I haven’t heard a shooting since May, and no, I don’t regret having spent my nana’s meager inheritance on the downpayment for a house there five years ago. Yes, I cannot afford the mortgage, but I remain positive. The great recession is over, Obama will serve a second term—cross my fingers—and one day soon my property will go up in value. No one wanted to buy here in the 1980s, and now, just look around you. Pleasure your eyes at all those fabulous dinosaur sculptures, the bright stores, and the restaurants… One glorious day West Adams Boulevard will have a Barnes & Noble too, across from Banana Republic, across from Restoration Hardware Baby & Child, next to a Club Monaco, and I’ll be able to remove the bars from the windows.

My nimble feet take me to the Santa Monica Place mall in no time. Why? I cannot tell. These stores are off-limits. Ted Baker especially, and yet… Sweet Southern Baby Jesus, my heart stops. That jacket in the front window is downright absolutely and utterly fantastic. Purple velvet. That’s a dare. Why, with my pink and ivory skin tone? How expensive could it be? Probably a lot, but what’s a man to do when he has a need for purple?

I stick my nose to the glass. I bet it smells of freshly baked blueberry and lavender pie. Should I pop in and check the tag? I close my eyes. If I had that jacket, I’d be the envy of the entire planet. Short, blond, fit homosexual changes the rules of what it means to dress well in Southern California, would read the cover of Details, and you will find me grinning inside, sat on a high chair in the manner of a young debutant, dressed to impress in my purple jacket.

Alas, I’m poor. Poorer than Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. Regardless of what the movie writers wanted you to believe, fashion wasn’t made for poor people. I’m twenty-two thousand dollars in credit card debt, still five years away from paying off my student loans, twenty-five years away from paying off my underwater mortgage, and in a dead-end job working as a sales representative at a call center. I don’t need to see the price of that jacket. What I need is to go back to work and… Oy, it isn’t velvet. It’s actually wool. At least five hundred, if not a thousand dollars… Maybe they will put it on sale next week. I saw once these shoes at Cole Haan at the Westfield in Century City for two-hundred and twenty-eight dollars, from five hundred and seventy-two… Did I buy them? No, I drove all the way to Off-Broadway, in hopes of finding them there for twelve ninety-nine. I didn’t, of course. And because I was too embarrassed to leave empty-handed, I bought a pair of Skechers instead.

I start walking. Dressing up in that purple jacket would be like wearing Cendrillon’s gold and silver dress to the ball. I’d be the handsomest man, and the prince would choose me, wouldn’t he? If only the birds flew down from the sky to make me a purple trousseau. Imagine me, singing and dancing covered in vermin—seagulls and crows, mice, and opossums, quarreling in a rush to make me the best-dressed man in all of Los Angeles. I’d be like the little cockroach Martina, from the Cuban tale, who put on some makeup and stepped out to sweep the front of her house. Before she knew, she got a husband. That jacket would for sure earn me a husband, wouldn’t it? Any husband, I wouldn’t be as picky as cockroach Martina. A dog or a cat would do. He wouldn’t even need to be handsome. He would only need to be alive… Oy, that’s a lovely long-sleeve denim shirt, I stop at Eton. If it’s under a hundred, I’ll buy it. Even if it means I’ll have to nourish out of grass seeds for a week.

I enter the store. “I’m only browsing,” I announce to the first employee that catches my eye. You’re welcome to offer me an employee discount, though, I add telepathically.

Smile, always smile, Charlie, and never forget to… Shoot, here she comes. I never feel more insignificant than when I shop.

“Take me straight to the sales rack,” I demand.

Not much in here… This one costs only a hundred and seventy-five. If I wanted to rock the look of the fat detective from The Wire, I’d buy it.

C’est la vie, Martina, I laugh, on my way out. Oublie le chien et le chat. Tu vas épouser le souris.

You better get used to me dropping phrases in the language of Voltaire and Diderot. I spent a whole year in France in my early twenties, and I do my Duolingo religiously every morning, après mon café-au-lait, assis sur la cuvette. It is not vulgar if you say it in French.

Oy, I’m already five minutes late. I better hurry. My life isn’t too bad, is it? I may be broke, and I may be wasting my English major working at a call center for ten dollars an hour plus commissions, but right now I’m window-shopping in downtown Santa Monica. That’s a far ride from Leitchfield, Kentucky, n’est-ce pas? Think of the poor gays in Uganda, getting killed and not because they chose to wear white shoes after Labor Day. They probably can’t even go window shopping at all. Well, they must have shops too in Africa. Assuming they don’t is racist, but probably they don’t have many options, do they? Probably all they have is Old Navy.

I may not be able to afford Ted Baker, but at least I have options. I have Nordstrom Rack. I have Marshall’s. I have plenty of reasons to be happy and live a productive life.

Breathe in, Charlie. Fill your lungs with the manly smell coming from the Abercrombie and Fitch store. Delight yourself in the visuals: Women from the midwest wearing spiky hairdo’s as if it was 1990s all over again. College students dressed in sweatpants. Man buns. Man buns everywhere. Saudi brides… Under their abayas, they’re all wearing Dior. I need to befriend one.

Oh, crap. It’s now ten after. I’ll just go super fast to the GAP.

At the GAP, I run my fingers over the clothes from the discount section… This is a handsome jeans jacket, mighty light and classic. How much is it? A hundred and twenty-nine. Fuck me, I cannot even afford the GAP… Now, could that gentleman over there notice how good I look in it and offer to buy it for me? Perchance. How old is he? Fifty-five? Sixty? He has the shabby surfer look of a west-sider with a two-to-three-hundred-thousand-a-year income. His wife looks amazing in those yoga pants… When he crosses eyes with me, I’ll be ready to smile… There you go. He nodded back. That’s a good sign.

Oh, I know, I shouldn’t be thinking of trapping rich men when I have a date tomorrow, but how else will I get the money to buy clothes? I’m totally broke. I need to come up with $900 by the end of the month to pay my mortgage because my stupid roommate left without paying his share of the rent. And If I don’t find a new roommate soon, I’ll have to come up with the entire amount for the next month too.

That jackass. He left three months of unpaid cable bills too.

“But Charlie,” he cried. “I need Showtime!”

“Kurt,” I remember I said in my calmer voice, the one I reserve for rational conversations with highly emotional people, “we can order Nurse Jackie DVDs through Netflix.”

“But the mail takes too long! And they don’t have the latest season!”

Well, probably the one who cried for Nurse Jackie DVDs was me. Kurt is quite manly, he’d never cry. He probably burped his response to my hysterical claims that we couldn’t afford to continue paying for cable, then blew out some air forcing me to smell what he had eaten for breakfast.

I shouldn’t have given him back his deposit. I shouldn’t have fallen in love with his perfectly round straight ass either. The tattoos on his big, bulging arms and the mustache were a clear sign that he wasn’t honest. When I asked him what he did for a living, and Kurt said that he worked the register at the Wienerschnitzel in Ladera Heights, I also shouldn’t have replied: “You do? How intriguing!”

No, I shouldn’t have opened the doors of my fabulous two-bedroom, 950 square feet craftsman in West Adams to that half-black, half-Japanese, one hundred percent stud jughead.

“I don’t have AC,” I remember I said during the interview, six months ago. “Will that be a problem?”

I had to be honest about that. You cannot begin what promises to be a long and steady relationship with a man you’re dying to give a blowjob with lies, can you?

“When it gets too hot, I just strip to my underwear and open the windows” Kurt replied.

My, the vision of this racially ambiguous young man in his tighty whities opening the fridge on a hot summer day, then inserting his hand to scratch his left butt cheek, turn around and say, “we’re out of beer, Charlie,” crossed my mind like the vision of a flying saucer saving humanity must have crossed Ron Hubbard’s. The vision of Kurt lying on the couch watching TV, his boxers rolled up on his strong legs well beyond decency, his hairy chest, the musky scent of his manly armpits filling up the room; the vision of Kurt swiping left and right photos of chicks on Tinder while reaching inside his basketball shorts to stretch his penis… I didn’t interview anyone else. I immediately deleted the ad from Craigslist, forgot about Kurt’s credit check application, and begged the Lord that he would have enough money to pay a deposit or at least let me see him naked from time to time.

It took him two months to pay his half-month deposit, and in half a year, not even once I had the chance to see that jerk in his underwear, barely a couple of times shirtless. He never washed a dish. He never cleaned the bathroom. He ate my food, drank my booze, and used all my beauty products. He’s twenty-eight and straight, for God’s sake. Why in the world would he want to use my La Mer rejuvenating crème?

Many a night I spent pressing a pillow against my ears while he had sex with those stiletto-wearing white girls he picked up at the clubs in Hollywood.

And the one time I brought home a trick, he dared to judge me.

“You guys are gross.”

Coming from a guy that cleaned his buggers under the sofa, I shouldn’t have paid much attention. Still, the day he gave notice, my heart bled a little.

“Where are you moving to?” I asked, brushing a tear before he could see it.

“Hermosa. This girl I met has a pad half a block from the beach. She wants the meat, bro,” he said, grabbing his crotch. “What’s a man going to do?”

My eyes must have widened the same way as Gary Oldman’s when he saw the blood in Keanu Reeves’ razor in Dracula, for he started laughing.

Oh, I wanted the meat too. I wanted the whole pig, not just the sausage.

Kurt left me with over five hundred dollars in unpaid bills, a kit to grow marijuana using UV lamps, and a freezer that weighs a ton and occupies half the space in my garage which I bought online on a whim, because Kurt suggested once that if he and I were going to work out together, I would need to start eating better, and who had the time to cook? “You wake up at five thirty to be at the call center by seven,” he reminded me. “You’re always so tired by the time you come home, we always end up ordering pizza.” He proposed cooking our meals one week in advance and freezing them. I agreed, thinking that one thing would lead to having showers together.

“Kurt, bro, what d’you think we should have tonight, boeuf bourguignon or chicken piccata?” I imagined myself I’d say, drenched in sweat, wearing a band on my head and my new shorts from Lululemon as we walked home from the gym.

We worked out together just once, but Kurt ate most of the meals I prepared. Now he’s gone, the freezer is empty, and I still don’t know what I should wear tomorrow for my date with Jignesh.

I paid over a thousand dollars for that stupid freezer. I should be able to sell it for at least nine hundred.

That could more than pay for the purple jacket.

Screw it, I think, putting away the garments I was about to enter with into the dressing room. I refuse to live the life of a poor person. First impressions are incredibly important, and I need to give my Indian prince my mighty best.

I leave the GAP and walk back to the mall, as determined as Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman when he gets to the factory to confess his love to Debra Winger… The purple jacket is not a whim. It’s an investment. Oy, my lunch hour ended thirty minutes ago, I better hurry.

“I’m doing this in the name of love,” I’ll explain to Tunisha, my supervisor. She’s black, therefore on CP time. She’ll understand.

“How romantic!” I bet she’ll exclaim when I explain her about my date tomorrow.

“We met online,” I’ll say, pulling my headset out of my drawer, as if ready to resume work. She’ll stop me with her exquisitely manicured hand before I could make the first call, and after I compliment the color of nail polish she chose for the day, I’ll continue: “We’ve been sexting for three days. He’s Indian. He’s thirty-four. He’s tall, muscular, and incredibly attractive. He’s an accountant and, wait for this, Tunisha, wait for this: he writes too!” Here she’ll scream, and start jumping, the same way all women do under these circumstances, then she’ll swat my shoulder with those big hands of her, hopefully hard enough so I can sue the company for harassment.

It is true, my Indian prince writes. He sent me one of his novels. I couldn’t read more than two pages—not my style, I suppose—but I checked the plot in Wikipedia. I’m sure he wrote the entry, himself, it was nothing but praise. In any case, I told him that I’m looking forward to reading the rest of his work and that I admire his discipline. I certainly didn’t lie when I said that, each brick is apparently over five hundred pages. I have been working on my screenplay for the last six years, and I haven’t been able to type more than twenty pages. I normally stare at the screen for half an hour, then browse for free porn and jack off, then stare back at the screen for a little longer.

“You need a boyfriend,” my friend Lucille said, during her last intervention. “That will boost your imagination.”

“What I need is a husband,” I replied, lifting my cup of coffee with my pinkie upwards, trying to outwit her.

She forcibly agreed.

“Oh, honey,” I imagine I’ll say to my millionaire consort as I lay down on the living room couch after work—in reality, racing through the crowds at the Third Street Promenade back to Ted Baker. “I saw a fabulous jacket today. Purple. But it was too expensive and I—How did you know?” I’ll gasp when he offers me the jacket.

“I bought an extra-small too, in case the small is too big,” he’ll say, offering me a second jacket. He will get a thousand kisses as a reward… Kisses? Ha! I would rip off his clothes and mount him right there, right on our Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams button-tufted Chester couch, right after putting my new purple jackets away in the closet, so they wouldn’t wrinkle, and laying a large towel from Frette to cover the expensive couch so we wouldn’t have to clean it afterwards. We would fuck so much, my billionaire husband and I. Once every four hours, twice before breakfast on Sundays. “I love you so much, William Andrew Jignesh Vanderbilt-Rockefeller,” I’d whisper in his ear as I caress the hair on his head and feel his big pectoral muscles. “You and your black American Express. Go on, slide it down my ass crack and I’ll make those ca-ching, ca-ching sounds that make you so horny!”

Jignesh must have some weird, unpronounceable, Indian last name, of course, but I don’t know any rich Indian last names.

I finally reach the mall and pop again into Ted Baker. I fetch the jacket without checking the price then walk straight to the fitting rooms to try it on. Even for me, small is too small. Stupid English people—don’t they have cows to feed off in Britain? What do they eat? Polluted London air? I try on the medium. It fits perfectly. I look myself in the mirror. I look so handsome, I’m sure no one would care about my horrible voice anymore. I reach then for the price tag… Please, Baby Jesus, make it a dollar.

One thousand, six hundred and seventy-five, plus tax.

It would be a terrific investment, yes, I put the jacket back on the rack, and I totally deserve it, I start walking towards the door, but I better wait until I marry.

“I just wanted to know what it felt like,” I say to the employee as I exit the store. He nods politely.

Tunisha didn’t care about my date. One would think that a woman that spends as much money on her nails as she does would have a slice of empathy. She put me on overflow, meaning that I probably won’t receive any leads for the rest of the afternoon, and then gave me another warning: next time I’ll be on overflow for a whole week. Fine, I wasn’t going to reach my sales goal this month, anyway.

I spend the next hour browsing the Ted Baker site for sales.

Jignesh isn’t too handsome, I stare at his picture, but he sounds smart. He must be if he writes. There are things more important than looks in this world. For instance, money. As an accountant, he must be making eighty thousand a year as a bare minimum. I’m hoping for a hundred and fifty. Two hundred? Oh, boy, what would I do with all that money?

Sudden cheering. Yasmeen, in the cubicle next to mine just closed a $25,000 sale. Everyone rushes to congratulate her.

The girls in this office are insufferable.

I know Jignesh’s photo is not recent. He can’t fool me. I’ll add three years to his thirty-four—and then ten pounds to his weight, to be on the safe side. The important thing is that he has money. And I need a boyfriend with lots of money. I’m like a Jane Austen heroine, raised by loving parents, with a handsome countenance, good, old-fashioned manners, and a kind heart, but in every respect unable to provide for myself or actually willing to. And I don’t fancy receiving orders. Tunisha should be receiving orders from me and not the opposite. Just because she has an MBA in Finance. What happened to male privilege?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑