Jason glanced surreptitiously into the burnished brass of the elevator wall as the lift rose to the top floor. His golden image reflected the carefully chosen tie and the hand-tailored suit on the form he toned every morning at 4:30 in his private gym. His execs stood behind him respectfully, silently. Other than a carefully chosen joke on first meeting each day, they would not speak until he did.
It was only a couple of weeks until Christmas, but the next task was to approve the cleverly crafted ads that would launch their next big campaign. Jason was confident they would be excellent. His staff was well-paid, well-benefited (it made good business sense for staff to be happy) and extremely competent. So everything was all tickety-boo as his grandmother used to say.
Now where did that come from? His Nana had been dead for at least twenty-five years. But unbidden, underscored by the tasteful Christmas instrumentals cranked out by the elevator, he remembered her flour-powdered sweater as she taught him to bake cookies – and the scent of her, sweet and chocolate.
The elevator slid to its stop, and Jason exited through the golden doors. From somewhere came a snatch of the holiday carol, “Peace on Earth, Good will towards men…”
A flick of his eyebrow, and Donna murmured, “I’ll look after it…”
She separated herself from the pack and a moment later the non-PC music cut off, mid-lyric.
His grandmother used to blast Christmas music, Jason remembered. Maybe in his office, alone, he could play it softly. His grandmother had stated acerbically that it wasn’t much of a gentleman, or a Christian either, who put their own preferences ahead of the comfort of others.
In the conference room, the ad team presented the top choices for the new campaign. There would be eight TV promos – each carefully crafted to their target audiences. Two of them showed a white, nuclear family ecstatically using their product. Two more showed another, similar family in public, also extolling their product. One showed two white friends practically having an orgasm while they talked about it. There were two more ads, virtually identical, using only black actors.
Jason was bored silly. His highly disciplined mind seemed to have uncharacteristically fixated on peace on earth and his Nana’s cookies. A nearly forgotten memory surged up – going with her once to a charitable mission to add their cookies to the bare bones Christmas dinner being prepared for the poor.
There had been Christmas music then too.
He had a sudden, vivid memory of a thin, dark-mustached man with ragged clothes and an accent so thick his words were unintelligible. He had smelled of something pungent and nasty.
Jason relived that jolt of terror as the man bore down on him. Different. Terrible… his feeling of something dark and horribly alien coming too close, threatening him.
The smell, the dark bobbing head…his Nana not noticing…”Tank, tank oo,” the man growled again and again.
Thanks…thank you, adult Jason suddenly interpreted. And his grandmother had smiled at the terrifying man, while Jason hid behind her.
Jason looked again at the playing ads.
“What do you think, sir?” His advertising VP asked confidently.
“Where are they?” Jason demanded. “Where are the differences?”
He remembered a little boy, terrified because everything he had seen before had been the same. He remembered the nightmares of the shabby, dark man who had only tried to say thank you for a kindness.
He stood up. “Different,” he told the execs. “I want all the differences celebrated. Our company’s customers aren’t a single flavor and they don’t have a single look. Make it happen.”
As he walked back to his office, the rebel in the crowd was replaying, “Peace on Earth, Good will towards men.”
And Jason was sure he could smell the sweetness of his grandmother’s cookies once again.