The legend of Alex

The legend of Alex

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Now that I'm 40 and officially an old man, it's with much regret that I acknowledge the future of the earth is no longer in my hands.

For the world, as we all know, belongs to the young.

And while I may be a lot of things, young is definitely not one them.

Truth is, you can't pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV and not hear a story about a young person doing something great. 

Something wise beyond their years. 

Something to offer us all hope and encouragement for the future.

This…is not one of those stories.

Last week I was in Washington D.C. The purpose of the trip was to show people some ideas for some new television commercials we've been working on to get some feedback before we actually film the commercials.

This is how it works:

We all sit behind a one way mirror and eat like pigs while we listen to people talk about what they like and don't like about the commercial ideas they're looking at.

If they like our ideas, we think they're all really smart and funny and cute. 

If they hate our ideas, we think they're all trailer trash, they just got laid off from their second shift job at the glue gun factory, and, if given the chance, they would use all three Lifelines on the $100 question.

This particular client we were in Washington with sells back-to-school products -- binders, notebooks, etc. Which means the people we were going to listen to were kids.

Or really, really, really slow adults.

We had three groups of kids scheduled to come in and rip our stuff apart. 

I have to tell you, there's no better feeling on earth than working really hard on something and then having a 12 year old look at it and say, "Hey, that sucks."

That's OK, sonny boy. One day you'll be bald and have bad knees and you'll be blowing out a torch on your birthday cake just like me. 

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

There was the typical array of kids in every group. The priss-ass girls. The jocks. The lost souls. 

And then there was Alex.

I can describe Alex in two words:

Jeff Spicoli. 

Alex had sloppy blonde hair. He was wearing khaki shorts, a black t-shirt and open-toed sandals. 

Alex sat down and immediately placed his disinterested head on the table like only the vibrant youth of America can.

Just to warm everybody up, the moderator for the group had everyone say their name, what their favorite TV show was, and what their favorite commercial was.

When it was Alex's turn to talk, he didn't really talk. It was more of a cross between a glorified mumble and a record slowed down from a 45 to a 33. 

Alex said, "My…name…is Alex…I…like…the…Simpsons. I…really…don't…like…any…commercials… because…they're…y'know…um…I…don't…know…they're…just…weird."

The moderator said, "You think all commercials are weird, Alex?"

"Y-e-a-h," said Alex. "W-e-e-e-e-i-r-r-r-r-r-r-d."

We then showed the group four commercial ideas. Everyone had to talk about what they liked, what they didn't like, what the message was, what they were trying to sell. 

This is what Alex said about the first commercial idea:

"I…don't…like…it. It's w-e-e-e-e-i-r-r-r-r-r-r-d."

This is what Alex said about the second commercial idea:

"I…don't…like…it. It's w-e-e-e-e-i-r-r-r-r-r-r-d."

This is what Alex said about the third commercial idea:

"I…don't…like…it. It's w-e-e-e-e-i-r-r-r-r-r-r-d."

This is what Alex said about the fourth commercial idea:


The moderator asked him why he liked it.

"I don't know. Because it's w-e-e-e-e-i-r-r-r-r-r-r-d."

The moderator then asked the kids what they could do to make the commercial ideas better.

This is Alex's suggestion for the first one:


This is Alex's suggestion for the second one:


This is Alex's suggestion for the third one:


This is Alex's suggestion for the fourth one:

"I…like…it. But…it…would…be…better…with...the…Simpsons."

As the conversation got into more detail about advertising, Alex kinda lost interest in talking about the commercials, and decided he'd rather focus his energy on other things.

Like picking things off of his body.

With a room full of 10 people, plus another dozen people behind a one-way mirror as his audience, Alex put on a virtuoso performance of self-grooming and maintenance.

First, he started on his legs. He picked. He probed. He squeezed. He was looking for anything and everything to dig at that would fit between two fingers.

I can't begin to tell you how little Alex cared that there were other people around. 

Alex was focused. And nothing -- and no one -- was going to stop him.

When he was done with his legs, Alex bit his fingernails for a while. Then he moved on to his arms. 

As we all know, it takes a lot of skill and dexterity to squeeze a pimple on your arm because you're only limited to the use of your opposite hand, plus you have to do that whole reach around thing.

Not Alex, however. He performed with such a level of skill and manipulation that I found myself in awe of his mastery.

At this point, mind you, not a single person on our side of the mirror was paying any attention to anything any of the other kids were saying.

This was Alex's world. And we were all just lucky to be in it.

Eventually, after the legs…after the fingers…after the arms…it was time for Alex to seek out new, uncharted waters. 

We all waited with breathless anticipation.

Would he? Could he?

Yessssss! The toes! He went to the toes! 

Thank God! Nothing makes my day like a good old-fashioned foot picking.

Alex lifted his foot onto his chair and started searching for something…anything to dissect. 

Within seconds, Alex found his special purpose in life. 

His big toenail.

He dug into that toenail with a passion and fury that most people reserve for far less meaningless endeavors. Like work. 

Finally, after what seemed like hours, Alex held his hand aloft.

While most people would find it repulsive that someone was holding their big toenail in their hand, I couldn't help but be impressed with how Alex so lovingly admired his trophy.

Truth be told, it was a badge of honor for a job well done. 

Of course, there was now only one thing left to do with his cherished prize.

He was going to eat it.

We were all mesmerized as he drew it close to his mouth. Quiet screams of "No way!" echoed through the room.

At the last minute, however, he pulled his hand away and gently placed it on the table in front of him.

We wondered what was next. Perhaps the Might Alex would add this to his already formidable collection at home. 

Instead, Alex picked up his pencil and rolled it over his big toenail like he was spreading dough.

Then he picked it up again and without hesitation, popped it in his mouth like it was a peanut.

A peanut that had been sitting on his sweaty foot.

We all sat in stunned silence.

Well, actually we all screamed "Noooooo!" Then we all sat in stunned silence.

Soon after, the kids all left. I watched Alex exit the room with his finger wedged up his nose.

While the rest of our group talked about many of the things the kids had said, I found myself thinking about the future.

I wondered about the hope and the promise of a new day.

I wondered about living the great American dream.

But mostly, I wondered what Alex's parents were thinking when they bought him open-toed sandals.

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