My office was once somebody else’s bedroom. For $350 a month, I could fit a desk and a bookshelf comfortably inside. The building, once an old house, had 4 converted “offices” with two rooms upstairs and two directly below. The room down the hall had an overhead lamp in the shape of a cupcake. My ceiling had star stickers.
The job was simple. As part of a marketing campaign, I worked for a faceless, overseas company, creating online personas. My current character used sex-enhancement drugs from a business called, RiseNShine.
Before this business, I worked for a packaged vacation distributor. My Facebook character was Susan. She spoke perfect English and understood what I deemed the Condescending Validation Process. If someone from a travel group lamented about his/her layover, I immediately commented. You’re stuck at an airport in Belize? Validate. There’s no lounge? Condescend. After a few messages, they understood how “experienced” travelers moved.
Brad was my current character. I used a stock photo of a man on a boulder. All men like climbing photos. After scouring dating sites for the better part of two years, there are 3 photos men find necessary to display their manliness:
1.) The Suit Photo. This is a photo of them, most likely at a friend’s wedding, showing the public what they could look like as a corporate man. They may take the suit-photo in a restaurant bathroom, hovering their phone at just the right angle to hide any unseemly fixtures. This is similar to the apartment selfie, but to get dressed up for a photograph at home is too obvious.
2.) The Group Photo. All manly men are team players. They play sports. They join the ranks of the military or the post office or some other force that says “power in numbers”. While this photograph is useless considering nobody can actually decipher which man is the man in question, it proves a sense of competence that the bathroom selfie, can’t always accomplish.
3.) The Athletic Photo. This is usually the rock photo. Men who climb rocks (or play soccer or kayak) are outdoorsy. They are up for adventure and what’s more manly than braving the elements? This shows courage, strength and above all else, a persistent drive. It’s the drive that led me to the rock-climber photo.
Brad’s public photograph was shot in profile. He was standing, his body black from the shadows, on top of a rock. Brad’s hands rested proudly on top of his hips, as if to say: I can conquer anything.
Just below my desk, was a long, rectangular vent. When the calming sound of air conditioning stopped, it was just me and Brad. Together we tried to figure out our target audience.
“Hello,” I heard a man say. I glanced into the hallway, but saw no one. “Can I take your jacket?”
“No, I’ll keep it on.” Another, younger voice said.
“You know how we start.”
“This is stupid,” the younger voice continued. “I mean, you’re not stupid. This is stupid. You don’t know what it’s like.”
From the vent below my desk, I could feel their location. They were in the psychologist’s office downstairs.
Dr. Kanz was an older man. He looked friendly, but serious. I thought about telling him I could hear his sessions with patients, but I didn’t.
I sat at my desk, playing with images of Brad. He needed to fit into online groups like: Men in Mind and Boating. These were geared toward the most likely demographic for sexual health issues. The men were older, but not too old. They were used to being on top.
Brad validated everything. When several of the men posted photos of themselves smoking cigars, Brad was on it. Are you a private member of that marina? Brad asked, waiting for the acknowledgement that yes, indeed they were. Proud of you, Man! Brad tipped his hat to anyone.
Thursdays at 3pm, I started a new assignment: Market Research.
“Hello,” Dr. Kanz said from the vent below my desk.
“You know how we start. Whatever’s on your mind, no inhibitions.”
The younger voice sighed. “I can’t do it,” he said. “Jesus, she’s my girlfriend, not Hal Sparks. Why can’t I do it?”
“Maybe you should try what we talked about.”
“I can’t. I’d rather take Viagra”
“Just for a couple weeks. You’re not abstaining forever.”
I stopped listening. Brad wasn’t having success with the men and there were no new clicks on the website. He messaged Steve, Scott and Bob, but even though I was sure they were struggling with manhood, they didn’t appear bothered. Scott hinted he was having “trouble in that area” after Brad confided his own lackluster sex life. Still, he didn’t have the gumption to follow through.
“I use this stuff.” I linked to the site. “It’s great. Less expensive than Viagra and no doctors necessary.”
Scott wasn’t interested. He said he didn’t have a problem talking to his doctor.
On Tuesday, Dr. Kanz scheduled an unplanned session.
“You know how we begin.” The vent vibrated.
“I know.” It was the younger man’s voice. “My parents still think I’m depressed.”
“What do you think?”
“I’m still depressed. You say “just stop looking at it”, but it’s more than a habit.”
“You don’t think you need to reset to have an intimate relationship?”
“If I don’t, I’ll have to use drugs. What kind of teenager needs drugs?”
The following Monday, Brad went back to high school. He joined Facebook groups like Chess Warriors and Dungeons and Dragon Dicks. With the swap of his rock-climbing profile to a new glasses-wearing hipster pic, Brad went undercover.
“Hey,” he said cheerfully to one of his classmates.
“The fuck are you, penis breath?” Someone sent a picture of their junk.
A guy named Herman messaged almost immediately with questions regarding authenticity. “Are you working for RiseNShine?” Herman wore a public radio t-shirt in his photo. Probably a small.
“No, man.” I lied.
Despite my market research, the website had only received 4 clicks in 3 weeks.
“I’m a personal trainer.”