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The Marketing Messiahs.

By: David Wildsmith.

“Well it’s a beautiful view?”
Tony imagined Phil’s head imploding and his stupid, redundant, stupid face ceasing to exist for ever and felt just slightly better about being stuck thirty metres above the toppled ladder. “How is the freeway, a dead grass median strip and you a great view?” Tony wanted to be angrier, he’d had a bad week, he hated working with Phil and his decision to wear woolly Explorer socks in the middle of summer was starting to make his feet sweaty and itchy. He desperately wanted to unleash his frustrations on Phil in some kind of Hitler at the Reichstag, blind rage tirade, but he knew his concerns lay elsewhere. Tonight he needed to change a habit of a lifetime and get to his girlfriend’s family dinner on time. “This is ridiculous. Why?” he desperately searched for reason behind Phil’s clumsiness when he saw a grimace cross Phil’s face, “Yes?”
“I left the work bag down in the truck.” Phil bit his lip.
“With the…”
“…phone, yeah.”

Tony and Phil were Advertising Fixers and they were stuck. In a nowhere suburb, on the side of a piece of nowhere freeway, suspended on a gantry thirty metres in the air they were nowhere near getting down. The massive advertising hoarding glared white in the late afternoon sun as Tony, then Phil, sat down and looked at the ladder far below. “They should invent them slidy things like in American movies.” Phil illustrated the sliding with his hands. “Fire escape ladders?”
“How about inventing colleagues who aren’t clumsy fuckers and remember to carry the work phone?”
“Ease up, it was an accident.”
“Yeah, sorry mate. But y’know I’ve had a shit of a week…” Tony pushed back his cap and rubbed his forehead.
“It’s always Susan or Susan’s family.”
“I’m her brother, Tony.”
“Yeah, but you’re…” Tony gritted his teeth to avoid telling the truth, “…like a mate.”
“Yup. Cheers, Tone. You know when I’m having a bad week I go to the dentist.”
“Why on Earth?”
“It makes everything else seem so good, so easy.”
“You might just be right.” Tony looked up at the freeway traffic whilst Phil slowly nodded his head the way he imagined clever people might when musing intelligent somethings.

“Why wouldn’t they stop and help?” Tony gestured towards the incessant trickle of cars that streamed passed them. “They can see us, I mean it’s an advertising board, they’re supposed to see us.”
“Do you ever look at these things once they’re up? I mean, it’s work isn’t it? I don’t, never have.” Phil, realising that he was enjoying having a mate’s moment with his future brother-in law, took the opportunity to try and bond a little.
“I look at other jobs to see if they’ve done ‘em well. Nice lines y’know. Like that one over there for the apartment complex. Not one of ours, not a bad job.”
“Jesus, how much floor space ‘they offering?”
“That’s the phone number, Phil.”

An hour and half flew by for Phil. For Tony, it passed with all the thrills of repetitively listening to his girlfriend’s ‘Best of Eurovision’ CD. He shifted his weight with discomfort, the metal grating, slowly heating in the scorching sun, pressed up into his buttocks. He imagined each cheek looking like a waffle and sighed with growing resignation. It seemed like every few minutes he would check his watch and see the deadline for meeting with Susan drawing closer. The flow of ignorant car drivers continued to meander by in the same way that Phil’s vacuous thoughts wandered through their conversation.
“We need to get off of here, Phil. You’re forehead’s going beetroot and we’re not going to make that dinner.”
“Well we’ve tried waving…”
“Got a few beeps of the horn.”
“…what else is there? Light a fire?”
“We’d be dead, Phil!”
“Get naked, that’s bound to get attention.”
“Maybe not the right kind of attention, ‘Gay Brother’s-In Law arrested for public indecency’.” Tony framed out the words with his hands as if they were appearing on a newspaper headline.
“Spray ‘HELP’ onto the sign?”
“Got spray paint?”
“I’ve a got a pen. If we scribbled big…” Phil stopped as he saw Tony slowly shaking his head. “We could rip ‘HELP’ into the sign?” Tony stopped shaking his head.
“Without the ladder we couldn’t reach very high, though…”
“You could stand on my shoulders.” Tony’s eyes widened with fear. “I could stand on your shoulders, that’s a pretty tall ‘HELP’ I could rip.”
“Why not? Let’s do it”

The next half an hour saw the creation of what Phil promised was his best attempt at ripping the word “HELP” into the old advertising sheets on the hoarding. Only briefly did work stop when Tony asked Phil to take off his gravel encrusted work boots before standing on his shoulders again. This was shortly followed by Tony asking Phil to put his work boots back on. Phil, it became known, was having a similar experience in the heat with his own woolly socks. And with a hammy sock rubbing up against each of Tony’s ears, he’d quickly imagined dropping a shoulder and launching Phil to a grisly, unfortunate accident.
“It’s like we’re castaways, Tone.” Phil declared admiring his ripped message. “I think I’ll be cast out of the family, the dinner is starting now.” Tony looked up from his watch at Phil’s masterpiece, “The ‘L’ is huge.” “It just kept ripping and I thought the bigger the better.” Turning to face the freeway, Tony reflected on their work, “I’d have thought someone would have stopped to help before we’d finish.” “I still think getting naked would draw attention?” Phil was promptly ignored as Tony’s anxieties got the better of him. “Look at ‘em. No one cares, they’ve all just got to be somewhere where they were eight hours ago. What about us, we should be at your folk’s house, selfish bastards.” Tony turned to address the traffic, “My girlfriend’s family thinks I’m unreliable and it’s not my fault! SOMEBODY GET US DOWN!” Tony screamed at the deaf, mechanical colony that continued to trail past them. “What are you needing son?” A feint voice shocked the duo into excitement.

“It’s an old fucker” Phil pointed to where an elderly gentleman was standing looking up at them from a pathway, an umbrella resting over his shoulder keeping the heat off his back.
“Pardon me?”
“Ignore him, he’s an idiot.” Tony palmed away Phil as insignificant, “We need the ladder propping back up so we can get down.”
“Why have you torn an image of the Lord into the poster?”
“Did you fabricate those tears?” The elderly man pointed upwards, seemingly quite impressed.
“The idiot did. It says, ‘HELP’”
“No. I can’t say that it does. That’s our saviour Jesus Christ.”
“That’s our saviour, the word ‘HELP’. Can you put the ladder back up?”
“I’m sorry son, not with my shoulders. You know that really is an extraordinary depiction.”
“Tell him to get our phone.” Phil prompted.
“Could you go to the car and get our work phone then…please?” Tony yelled down from the gantry with as much politeness as one can yell.
“Aren’t you boys hot out here, you need to keep up your liquids.” The man walked over to the van, stopping once to inspect a bottle cap in the grass in case it was potentially small change before starting to rummage through a bag on the passenger seat.
“Your Picture mag’s not in there is it?” Tony darted a concerned stare at Phil.
“You bought it.”
“Because you asked.” Tony looked back at the man who was head and shoulders inside the van, “’Jesus man’ over there will have a coronary if he finds porn in the van.”
“Is this it?” The man held the phone aloft.

“Yeah, yeah!” Tony stood with excitement and relief, “Now call work for us, it’s in the address book under…”
“How would I turn it on? The buttons are rather small.”
Tony’s speech slowed as though he was talking to a deaf tourist about astrophysics, “Press the green button and then zero, four, zero…”
“It’s not working.”
“Is it on?”
Phil sat back down, “Great, saved by a fat fingered blind fucker.”
“I’m not deaf, Sonny.” Phil scratched the back of his head and looked like a boy outside the headmaster’s office while Tony persevered, “Just dial the number zero…”
“No. I’m getting the eight and nine.” The man held the phone at arms length, his head cocked, as though trying to focus on the screen, “I think someone’s calling?”
“Answer it, answer it.”
“Hello? … I think I hung it up. Machine says ‘Susan’ on the screen.”
“Impossible.” Tony sighed as he pushed his cap back and was about to sit back down when he noticed that two cars had pulled over to the side of the freeway. A man and a woman had started to walk briskly towards them.
“Yes, come and help, please. Phil, get up.”

As the drivers got closer they started taking photographs with their mobile phones. “What’s to see?” Tony muttered to himself before shouting, “Could you let us down, we’re stuck. There’s a ladder.”
“Did you two do this?” asked the woman with an air of incredulity in her voice.
“They said they did.” The elderly man answered for the duo, “it’s incredible isn’t it.”
“Could you let us down? My friend is badly sunburnt.” Phil and Tony both pointed at Phil’s scarlet brow in unison, “We’ve really got to be going.”
“You can’t leave? No, you mustn’t.” The woman urged, “You have to meet Father Patrick, I’ll call him.” She turned to the second driver who seemed to nod with enthusiasm at her wide eyed suggestions and they both started to eagerly make phone calls.

Tony and Phil sat on the gantry, glumly watching as car after car pulled over and the congregation grew; taking photos, smiles beaming from ear to ear, but nobody willing to help them down. The elderly man had become something of a celebrity over the last hour in the vein of somebody who might recently have discovered penicillin. Phil had discovered he was quite jealous. Whether he had meant to write the word, ‘HELP’ or create an image of Jesus, he was the unsung artist here. He strained to remember Galileo’s name and work it into a sentence about being an imprisoned genius but he caught Tony’s eye and thought better of it. Tony had the appearance of a man trying to solve a Rubik’s cube mentally; a Rubik’s cube submerged in golden syrup and with several stickers missing. For Tony, things would only get worse.

Father Patrick had arrived, much to the glee of some of the crowd. He had brought several road cases filled with photographic equipment, pamphlet’s for the upcoming church market and had kindly returned a handbag to one of the ladies before preparing to record what he was referring to as, “a miracle in our own backyard.”
“I don’t know whose backyard has that much traffic in it.” Tony sulked.
“Would you boys firstly mind standing way over to the left so I can get a clear photo?”
“What if I ripped it some more because you wouldn’t let me down?” Tony yelled down to the deaf throng below, “I’ll wreck it.”
“That’s not the spirit, Tony is it? If only you could see it from where we’re standing.”
“I’d love to, why can’t you just let us down?”
“Ok, let me get some pictures both with you boys in it and not in it before the light fades, then we’ll get you down.” Father Patrick consulted a manual on how to operate his light meter, “The Vatican is going to love this and I’ll be the one talking with them!” A thrill buzzed through the crowd,
“You know you could always Photoshop it up if the light’s not right, Father.” One of the ladies suggested,
“Is that so? Haven’t we got some fantastic tools…”
“The photo!” Tony screamed down in a poor attempt to politely hurry things along and not be a fantastic tool about it.

“That’s blasphemy son.” A new voice, a sterner voice, a familiar voice rose from the crowd. Tony squinted to make out its owner in the poor evening light,
“Dad!” Phil stood up excited, “Dad, put up the ladder.” But his Dad was only interested in berating Tony,
“…and why does my son’s head look like a haemorrhoid waiting to burst whilst you’re wearing a cap?” Tony refrained from quipping that Phil always looked that way before Phil’s Dad, or more importantly to Tony, Susan’s Dad continued, “You don’t think of others do you? I mean, where are you supposed to be right now? Is there any chance of this being an important evening for Susan? Have you thought who you might have to impress if you want to marry my daughter? Do you think this stunt is…what is this?” Susan’s Dad pointed up at the hoarding,
“That’s a lot of questions” muttered Phil. Strangely, Tony could only wonder how Phil’s sunburn could be seen from so far away in such poor light before noticing that the red skin of his forehead had indeed developed a peculiar glow in the evening light.

The woman who had called Father Patrick stood shaking her head in response to Susan’s Dad’s comments, “This can’t be a stunt, that image is amazing. That…” She gestured to the hoarding like she was holding a heavy beach ball in her hands, “is a miracle.”
“The boy is ignorant; he’s a prankster and a non-believer. He would have done this as a joke and if not for the ladder falling he’d have made his escape to the nearest pay phone and be calling the news about a spontaneous miracle, I’m sure.”
“That’s terrible.” The woman looked up at Tony with sadness in her eyes. The throng were not so forgiving and began booing and scolding the pair,
“You can spend the night up there, assholes!”
Tony turned to Phil, “This is insane?” He saw Phil’s glowing head and imagined how it almost looked halo-like. Panic rushed through his veins as he saw yet another opportunity opening up for the throng to detain them. Later, Tony would tell the police that he had felt something break deep inside and that even if just for a moment on that gantry, Tony had let sanity slip through his fingers.
“Phil,” Tony stood with the resignation of a man walking to the firing squad, “let’s get our pants off!”