1: Me, Me, Me
i have a dream
I want to be famous. Really famous.
I want to be so famous that movie stars hang out with me and talk about what a bummer their lives are. I want to beat up photographers who catch me in hotel lobbies with Winona Ryder. I want to be implicated in vicious rumors about Drew Barrymore’s sex parties. And, finally, I want to be pronounced DOA in a small, tired LA hospital after doing speedballs with Matt Damon.
I want it all. I want the American dream.
I realized a long time ago that the best way to get famous in this country is to become an actor. Unfortunately, I’m a terrible actor. I’m not even a mediocre actor, which rules out a second attractive path: marrying an actress (they inbreed, so you can’t marry one unless you are one). For a while I thought about becoming a rock and roll star, but for that you either have to be immensely talented or have sex with a studio executive, and somehow I just couldn’t foresee either of those little scenarios in my immediate future.
So that really leaves just one option: to be very young, very cool and very, very rich. The great thing about this particular path to fame, Oprah and line-jumping at nightclubs is that it’s open to everyone. They say anyone can make it in this country, and it’s true: you can make it all the way to the top and a vacuous, drink-slurred lunch with Madonna. All you have to do is find something you’re good enough at to make a million dollars, and find it before you’re 25.
When I think about how simple it all is, I can’t understand why kids my age are so pessimistic.
why you should be a millionaire
I read somewhere that the average adult has three million-dollar ideas per year. Three ideas a year that could make you a millionaire. I guess some people have more of these ideas and some people less, but it’s reasonably safe to assume that even the most idiotic of us has to score at least one big idea during our lifetimes.
So everybody’s got ideas. Ideas are cheap. What’s unique is the conviction to follow through: to work at it until it pays off. That’s what separates the person who thinks: I wonder why they can’t just make shampoo and conditioner in one? from the one who thinks: Now should I get the Mercedes, or another BMW?
Three million-dollar ideas per year. For a long time, I couldn’t get this out of my head. And there was always the chance I could have an above average idea, because they’ve got to be out there, too. The ten million dollar ideas. The fifty million dollar ideas.
The billion dollar ideas.
The interesting part of my life starts at ten past two in the morning of January 7th. At ten past two on January 7th, I am 23 years and six minutes old. I am just contemplating how similar this feeling is to being, say, 22 years and six minutes old, when it happens. I get an idea.
“Oh, shit,” I say. “Oh, shit.” I get up and hunt around my room for paper and a pen, can’t find either, and eventually raid the bedroom of the guy I share my apartment with. I scribble on the paper and get a beer from the fridge and by the time I’m 23 years and four hours old, I’ve worked out how I’m going to make a million dollars.
now hold on there smart guy
Okay. So how do I know this idea is so good?
a little explanation
When I was in my senior year of High School, the counselor said, “Now, Michael, about college...”
“Yeah?” I was distracted at the time by cheerleading practice outside his window. Or maybe I was just inattentive and daydreaming of cheerleaders. Not sure. “I’m doing pre-law.”
This was my plan. I’d had it for years, and I was pretty proud of it, too. I mean, just having a plan was a big deal. When people (like my parents) asked, “And what are you going to do after high school?” I could say, “Pre-law,” and they’d smile and raise their eyebrows and nod. It was much better than my previous answer, a shrug, which tended to attract frowns and comments about youth unemployment rates.
“Yes,” the counselor said, and cleared his throat. Outside the window, or inside my mind, cute girls twirled red and white pom-poms. “I think it’s time we looked at something... more realistic.”
I blinked. “More..?”
“Let’s be honest, Michael,” he said gently. He didn’t have a particularly gentle face—it was kind of bitter and jaded—and the effort he made to twist it into something sympathetic was a little scary. “You don’t have the grades for it, do you?”
“Well,” I said, “maybe not, but...” And I stopped. Because there was no but. I didn’t have the grades. My plan, perfect until this moment, was missing this small but crucial step: good grades. “Shit,” I said.
And weren’t the parents pissed.
If I’d been fooling myself, I’d been fooling them worse. They were already picking me out a dorm at Harvard and talking about Stanford as a “backup”. It was a little difficult for them when I broke the news that I was going to need a backup for my backup.
When the only school that would have me was Cal State, they moved to Iowa. I’m still not sure if that was coincidence.
I majored in marketing because I was late for registration.
I mean, suddenly I was in college, I was in a dorm and I was surrounded by college girls. There was a lot on my mind. Now, sure, there were upperclassmen and faculty advisors dedicated to making sure that freshmen like me didn’t miss registration, but it wasn’t hard to ditch them in favor of more horizon-broadening pursuits. My biggest mistake was hooking up with a guy who had just transferred from Texas and was pre-enrolled: I forgot all about registration. I was scheduled between 10 a.m. and 11, and I turned up at four the following Thursday.
I was lucky anyone was still there, because by then enrollments had officially closed. When I tapped on the glass door, my choice of two first-year electives was reduced to three sad little tables: Programming in Visual Basic, Masculinity in the New Millennium and Introductory Marketing.
Masculinity in the New Millennium was actually kind of interesting.
But Marketing was unbelievable.
mktg: a definition
Marketing (or mktg, which is what you write when you’re taking lecture notes at 200 words per minute) is the biggest industry in the world, and it’s invisible. It’s the planet’s largest religion, but the billions who worship it don’t know it. It’s vast, insidious and completely corrupt.
Marketing is like LA. It’s like a gorgeous, brainless model in LA. A gorgeous, brainless model on cocaine having sex drinking Perrier in LA. That’s the best way I know how to describe it.
mktg case study #1: mktg perfume
Triple your price. This gives customers the impression of great quality. Helps profits, too.
welcome to reality
The first principle of marketing (okay, it’s not the first, but it doesn’t sound nearly as cool to say it’s the third) is this: perception is reality. You see, a long time ago, some academic came up with the idea that reality doesn’t actually exist. Or at least, if it does, no one can agree what it is. Because of perception.
Perception is the filter through which we view the world, and most of the time it’s a handy thing to have: it generalizes the world so we can deduce that a man who wears an Armani suit is rich, or that a man who wears an Armani suit and keeps saying, “Isn’t this some Armani suit,” is a rich asshole. But perception is a faulty mechanism. Perception is unreliable and easily distracted, subject to a thousand miscues and misinformation... like marketing. If anyone found a way to actually distinguish perception from reality, the entire marketing industry would crumble into the sea overnight.
(Incidentally, this wouldn’t be a good thing. The economy of every Western country would implode. Some of the biggest companies on the planet would never sell another product. The air would be thick with executives leaping out of windows and landing on BMWs.)
I ended up taking as many marketing classes as I could, and actually graduated from Cal State Summa Cum Laude. If I’d just finished pre-law, I’d have settled into earnest conversation with the top law firms of the country, bandying about six-figure salaries, 90-hour weeks and 20-year career plans. Law seems very structured like that.
But marketing hates systems. Which is nice, in an idealistic, free-spirited sort of way, but it makes it a pain in the ass to get a job. To get a good job in marketing, you need to market yourself.
My name is Scat.
I used to be Michael George Holloway, but I had no chance of getting into marketing with a name like that. My potential employers, with names like Fysh, Siimon and Onion Spoons, didn’t even think I was making an effort. The least I could do was echo their creative genius by choosing a wacky, zany, top-of-mind name myself.
For a while, I seriously toyed with the idea of calling myself Mr. Pretentious. But when sanity prevailed, I chose Scat. It sounded kind of fast-track.
So, armed with my new name, I was ready to hit the major corporations for a job. I was ready for the work week, tailored suits, corporate golf days, pension plans, Friday night drinks, frequent flyer programs and conservative values. I’d take it all.
But then I get my idea.