”A Face-lift for your Low Functioning Similes”
Subject: “Like taking candy from a baby.”
I assembled our crack team of analysts as soon as the boss transmitted the new assignment. We can usually hammer out a simile makeover in one session as my people are some of the best in the field.
Our team consists of Kaplan, a portly and opinionated cab driver; Peggy, who used to work in human resources at a large insurance firm until they downsized; Weber, a freelance cartoonist; and myself, the sole liaison to our secretive employer.
We convened within the hour to our usual rendezvous at Starbucks and went to work. We use the free and open brainstorming method to get started. Almost immediately Peggy suggested that there was nothing wrong at all with the original simile. This evoked affirmative murmuring from around the table. “It’s a classic,” she continued, “what do they expect us to fix?”
“You know how it is, Peg,” I said . “If they knew what they wanted they’d just write it themselves.” We never knew who the client was or what they intended to do with our output.
“Might I suggest,” Kaplan said with a raised finger as he shoved half a pumpkin spice scone into his face. We waited patiently as he chewed and finally dispatched the pastry with an audible gulp. “Perhaps the client doesn’t like the fact that babies have all this candy. Sugar is not good for infants.” Or portly cab drivers for that matter. This was politely left unsaid.
Peggy nodded eagerly in agreement. “High fructose corn syrup is the devil. Candy is loaded with the stuff.”
Weber jumped in. “All the more reason to take the candy away. Perhaps they want something more high concept. The action is pretty straightforward. You have a baby with candy. You steal the candy. Conclusion? It was pretty easy.”
Peggy brightened noticeably. “It’s easy to steal from a baby because we are bigger than them and can outsmart them and overpower them, but is that the easiest thing you can think of? It would be easier to not steal from a baby.”
“As easy as doing nothing at all.” echoed Weber.
Kaplan let out a harrumph. “Too easy.”
“Yeah,” replied Weber, “there’s nothing left to call back the original. We fix similes, we don’t create new ones from whole cloth.”
“Why aren’t we into that market, anyway?” said Kaplan. “Nobody wants new similes? Seems like we could use some new ones.”
“We’ve been over this before,” I said. “Find us some clients and we’ll start knocking them out.”
“I think Peggy’s on to something though,” said Weber. “Babies aren’t total pushovers. They can scream and they can grip the candy with those tiny hands. And they have filthy diapers and germs. I’m not sure I’d want candy that’s been anywhere near a baby. The client is right, this simile is weak.”
“Like taking candy from a dead baby,” Kaplan blurted. Peggy gave him the look. The one she’d given him many times before.
“Okay, look,” he continued, “of the many types who like candy I have to say that babies are the most vulnerable to potential smash-and-grabs. Cry as they may and the diapers notwithstanding.”
“Like making babies and eating candy.” I offered.
“Noted,” said Weber, “though I’m not sure I like the shift in tone.”
“Let’s break it down,” Kaplan said. “We have three points of departure. You have the candy, the baby, and the act. We can change any two by my estimate and still have call-back to the original.”
“The baby’s got to stay,” Peggy said.
“Second,” I said, raising my hand.
“Third,” added Weber.
“Fine,” said Kaplan. “Now, what can we do to this baby that’s totally easy? What can we do that just screams effortlessness. Come on people. Get a cappuccino if you need one. Find a gear and let’s get this thing done.”
It wasn’t often that Kaplan took command like that. Everyone sat up and took note. His pastry was gone and he seemed antsy.
“Then again, you could take candy from the break room refrigerator,” I countered. “That’s completely easy.”
“Someone else’s candy?” asked Peggy.
“Well, easy if you possess no trace of a conscience,” she said.
“Are you implying…”
“Who here has, or has had, a baby? Anyone?” Kaplan asked impatiently.
Silence around the table. “Good grief we are the barren lot aren’t we?”
“I had an abortion once,” Peggy offered shyly.
“I payed for an abortion one time,” I added helpfully.
Then Weber let fly his brilliant coup de grâce. “Why don’t we just give the candy to the baby.”
Kaplan sat up straight and pointed his stubby finger at Weber. “My god. It’s perfect. Completely removes the negative connotation while retaining full call-back.”
“Like giving candy to a baby,” repeated Peggy. “That is slick.”
“Table that and let’s vote,” I said.
The motion passed 4-0 in favor. Like I said, my people are the best. It was almost as easy as, well, never mind. I formatted the report and placed it in the hollow tree trunk in the park at midnight per my standing instructions. We were positive the client would be thrilled. We’d taken a stumbling half-functional simile(1) and transformed it into an almost certainly improved simile.
1. The wanton use of similes in literature is a cautionary flag.
This was written in 2014. I think I may have submitted it to McSweeney’s at one point.