Hi, I’m Merrell, size 8.5, brown, and I get high. I’ll never forget clinging to the volcano’s precipice and looking down on the dark fog that masked the world. It was then I realized this is what I was made for. But I wasn’t always like this. I was clean when Kelley found me on that REI shelf. Then we started to experiment. The first time, we only made it a couple miles before her lungs gave out. But pretty soon, we were trippin’ every weekend. It was like she was determined to get me high. In the end, she wore me down.

Hi, I’m Merrell, size 8.5, brown, and I get high. I’ll never forget clinging to the volcano’s precipice and looking down on the dark fog that masked the world. It was then I realized this is what I was made for. But I wasn’t always like this. I was clean when Kelley found me on that REI shelf. Then we started to experiment. The first time, we only made it a couple miles before her lungs gave out. But pretty soon, we were trippin’ every weekend. It was like she was determined to get me high. In the end, she wore me down.

Huggies was widely criticized in 2013 for their debut of TweetPee, a sensor that detects when your baby’s diaper needs changing and sends you a tweet to let you know. The app, meant to increase sales and brand loyalty, backfired.

Problem: Ogilvy tried to fill an unnecessary need instead of tying the product back to the brand.

Solution: Position TweetPee as a nod to the brand. Huggies diapers are so absorbent that you can’t even tell when your baby is wet. So, they created a sensor to help you out. By positioning TweetPee in this way, it takes the accusatory tone out of the message and highlights a benefit of the brand.

 It won't hurt you like almond butter did. It doesn't have the nuts.

It won't hurt you like almond butter did. It doesn't have the nuts.

 A sign I wrote for advertising agency, Madison and Main

A sign I wrote for advertising agency, Madison and Main

American Exposition

            The World’s Fair: I couldn’t imagine a better title. People came from all over to amuse themselves and to be amazed. They came to be entertained by amazing sights and sounds. But they will grow bored and leave. One day the Fair will end. It will disappear leaving nothing but a mess in an empty field for the town it took over. It does no good.

The Fair’s visitors are expecting a city rebuilt into something beautiful. These people crave hope. They want to know that they are not alone in the world’s elite, that their yearly charity contributions are not a waste, and that their politicians are doing as they are told. They crave hope for a brighter America even if they have to turn a blind eye in order to see the perfection they envision. Give them what they want.

            The truth is we have given them false hope. It is all a scheme created by some Paris educated architects who managed to fool the world by designing a Fair, one which mocks the city with its beauty and invention. Far from the visitor’s view is a filthy, pathetic Chicago.

It is a Chicago where my younger brother is forced to work in a factory at the age of eight. For ten hours he is faced with the possibility that a piece of his shirt will get stuck in one of the machines, pulling him in and grinding his live body. Most families around here bear the same hardships. Even if they don’t need the money, there’s no one to watch over the children during the day. Baby Billy, as we called him, a six year old and the youngest of seven children, lived just a block away from us. One day, the smoke of the city filled his little lungs and the coughing only ended last Friday when he passed on the stoop of his mother’s place. A single woman, she could not afford any different for him. She did not find out until hours later upon coming home when a neighbor told her he had already been taken away so as to not cause more filth in the streets. Disease comes like a kidnapper. Only, instead of lurking in dark corners, it comes out in broad daylight with no shame for the lives it takes. Every day the fumes of smoke, rotting animal flesh, and feces fill the streets. There is no room to live. Everything is so tight. It’s a nightmare.

We live in a tenement just four blocks away from the Fair. Outside, rusty nails stick out from the two by fours holding it together. Every day someone gets a splinter from the broken wood. Clothes lines drape between the living quarters and are tied to decks that would collapse under the weight of anything more than a small child. The windows are surrounded by chipped paint and weeds climb the walls, digging into the jagged wood. I walk into our home on cracked cement. Inside, the floors are unlevel and take some getting used to. My parents sleep on a cot in the single bedroom, and my brother, James, and I share the couch in the main room. Across from the couch is a small shower and toilet in direct eye line of the front door. The kitchen can only comfortably fit one person to do the cooking which is usually Mother. She washes tonight’s dishes in the sink surrounded by mold. This is also where we brush our teeth.

Mother is tired. You can see age in her face. Though she is only in her thirties (I’m not sure of her actual age), she looks like a grandmother to me. She lets her worries overtake her. No attention is paid to her appearance. As a result, her clothes are always tattered and torn (not that we could afford better clothes for her) and her strawberry blonde hair unkempt. Looking at her, it is easy to forget my own appearance. I try and look after the younger boys in the neighborhood as a male role model since their fathers are always either working or sleeping. Always, I question why they run from me when I approach them in a friendly way. Then, I scratch my head and feel the white flecks fall from the black curls onto my shoulders. It has been too long since Mother took the kitchen scissors to my hair. If only my chest hair, would grow that much. Father says that I will have a full mane there within the year. I stare at the dirt underneath my chewed fingernails, and open my blistered, dry lips to scrape the goo off my teeth. James works with our father at the button factory. The two of them walk to work in the dark every morning at 5:30. Their eyes have become permanent slits from working in the dark, dusty factory all day and only seeing the outdoors in the dark early morning or the late night. It’s quite sad for they share the prettiest blue eyes you’ve ever seen. Mother says my green eyes mean that I’m clever and so I will amount to great things as well as get into heaps of trouble.

            We should be begging other countries for help and bringing attention to our desperate living situations. But our nation is too proud. Instead, we act as though we are as magnificent as Paris or London. We build great buildings all in white that can be seen from miles away. The streets are swept and dreams are sold to the highest bidders. People from all over are invited to see a beautiful America. What they do not know is that just beneath this beautiful America, is a wretched one. This is nothing more than a show of arrogant pride. It is a cloak over a dying corpse.

***

            When the building process for the Fair began, my father had been teaching me about a revolution in France a long time ago. He said that his father had lived there and left it to take a boat all the way across the ocean to get here. Its people came from the cracks of the city to take it back for themselves. They gathered together. They had a voice. They made things better by showing how bad things are.

            The revolution my father told me about made a lot of sense. I decided this is what we need to do if we want to change our lives and the lives of our neighbors for the better. And what better way to expose the truth to the world than through the World’s Fair?  I secretly gathered all my friends and youths of the slum to plan our own American Exposition.

            “And where are we supposed to get all that blood?” said one boy.

            “Yeah! We ain’t murderers!” said another. 

            “I’ve thought that through as well. We’ll take it from the barbers around town. They have no use for it,” I said.

***

            I was fired from work last week. I came in late due to one of these meetings. Mr. McGregory never liked me anyways. I was a good worker, but he always said that my pride got in the way. “Your daddy shoulda taught you discipline, lad. Never gonna survive this world without knowing your place. That the kind a thing that get lads punished as men,” he said.

My father doesn’t know yet. I’ve started begging so that I can bring some money home in replacement of my wages. I make more than my job gave me, and now I have time to make these plans, but the beatings from the police require me to make up stories to explain my bruises. It’s getting harder to keep this secret. I’ve never lied to my father before.

***

            “I’ll help get everything set up, but I’m not going to be one of the main guys. I can’t get caught. My parents don’t make enough money without me,” said one boy.

            “Your parents won’t need the money when these other countries see how bad it is here. They’ll make things better. They may even reward us for our bravery. Your parents will thank you, and you’ll have pride that you were a big part of this exposition. If you don’t give it you’re all, then you are a traitor to this country just like the guys that built the Fair,” I said.

            Everyone did their part.

            Our plan was evolving successfully. I was able to secure an escape route through my buddies that served as greeters to the world’s elite. They’d hold the gates wide open for us. We’d be free of the chaos while keeping those who need to see it the most inside.

***

            I will remember this day, October 9, 1893, as the day that changed everything. The world will know our names, they will see Chicago for what it really is, and help WILL come. We will finally show that we will not be passive like our parents by relying on prayer and democratic nonsense. It is our duty to our families and neighbors that we take charge and have a purpose.

            I walk into a disgusting show of wealth. The Fair is in full swing. Inventors are parading around their toys and trinkets for a shiny penny instead of putting it to good use. Musicians have taken music away from the ghetto in which they were born and given it to the richly dressed men with fat ears. Paintings are created for squinty-eyed women who can’t even see the world beyond this place. All beauty is sucked into this abyss without a cause.

            I have never seen so many people. They would die if they were to cross over two blocks. I must look a starved wolf in comparison. I bathed so long ago I can’t remember which causes my oily hair to stick out in all directions with tiny white flecks at each root. My bones pierce through my body as if they are trying to escape, and my teeth are jagged from that fight the other day. Maybe I’m all the sight they need. No, they wouldn’t believe that there are so many of us looking so wild and unkempt. My masculinity is cut when a beautiful young woman looks at me with pity as she tosses me a coin.

            They must think of me as a lone being with no one nearby for comfort. What they do not see are my friends at each alleyway, on each roof, and at every doorway in all the buildings. I am surrounded by people that share every thought and feeling with me. We will work together in perfect rhythm like the beat of a heart. I am not alone. But these people will feel how alone they truly are very shortly.

            Never in my life did I think a noise like that could come from my body. It was as if it had built up my entire life and finally escaped. It was the scream that set off an American Exposition.

            It all happened at once. Hundreds of boys in stolen clothing had been hiding throughout the walkways. Imagine the astonishment when the trained working boys go wild. Torn newspapers by the thousands thrown up into the clean air. Every garbage can in the area is knocked over. A disgusting scent takes over. Inventions and displays are broken and scattered in pieces in so many places that it would be impossible to figure out which piece belongs to what. The area suddenly experiences a vibration of noise. The boys are banging on pans taken from their homes. The visitors cover their ears with all the racket. Lastly, blood from the barber shops is poured over every building. It is the blood of the people of Chicago. This is home. It took only a few minutes to complete our exposition.

            The whole world is hearing us. We have a voice. We have a voice ringing from the blood splattered clean, white walls. We have a voice crunching and clinking along the trash covered cobblestone streets swept the week before. Our voice is in the screams of the innocent and the footsteps of the chaos. America is wretched, and the world knows.

***

            Many of my friends were arrested in the chaos. We had designated a place to meet after the exposition, but they never showed. I wasn’t there to see the policeman take them away but our community is close, and so I was told by my mother’s friends when I returned home. They are worried that they will never get out of jail. They’re family can’t afford the price placed on their release. After the world has seen our purpose, they will be freed. I am sure of it.

***

The rest of us now serve as representatives of an anonymous group dedicated to helping Americans who live in these terrible conditions but have lost their voice. We reach out to foreigners to inform their governments of the tragedy hidden in America. There’s not any foreigners left now. They say our exhibition frightened them. We look to the people to begin a revolution, but they do not want to be associated with us. And now, the American government has made living conditions even worse. It’s as though they are punishing the people. No money is coming in because the countries we were reaching out to see us as having nothing to offer.

            Our wretchedness has been seen. Our voices have been heard. I only wonder what America would be like if we had kept quiet and unseen.