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"Come on, people," Efrat says, tapping nervously on the conference-room table with a set of perfectly manicured acrylic nails. "Think 'colors.'"
Next to her is a laptop hooked up to a projector that is playing a Power-Point slide-show on a portable screen behind her. "Let's go," she adds, squinting and pressing her glossed lips together harshly. "If we lose this client, there will be serious consequences."
Shmulik looks up from his doodling, surprised by his own mixed feelings. On the one hand, the reason he promoted Efrat to Director of Operations recently was because of her obsessive dedication to quality and deadlines, as well as her cut-throat ambition and perfect legs.
On the other hand, he is experiencing a slight surge of annoyance at her hutzpa. Threatening to fire members of the staff is a privilege he reserves for himself alone. It has also become a bad habit of late. All due to the mega-project being dangled, a la Tantalus, just beyond his reach. A project he has decided will determine his future.
Over the past few years, it has been dawning on Shmulik that the agency he created two decades ago would no longer be able to rest on its laurels. Not with every schnook with a diploma in design or marketing going into the advertising business. Offices like his, he realized, were becoming a lot less exclusive. Which, for Shmulik, meant having to exert much more effort for his profits. Or losing out to the competition.
To regain his edge, he needed a gimmick. Efrat, he believed, would be the right person to provide it. That she was the one who introduced him to Vladimir didn't hurt.
Yet, the question of her ability to meet the company's current challenge of securing Vladimir's multi-million-dollar campaign to "sell" Israel abroad has been keeping Shmulik awake for several nights. Having observed her behavior since her move up the ladder, he was beginning to wonder whether his choice hadn't been as dubious as the reputation of the Russian oligarch funding the "Hollywood-style hasbara happening" - to take place in three world capitals simultaneously on Independence Day - that the agency is so desperate to handle.
Also causing him to toss and turn is his growing inclination to leave slogan-land for good.
EFRAT ASSURED Shmulik that she knew how to land the account. She did not mention that doing so might involve seducing Vladimir. Instead, she told him of her plans to utilize the color-wheel.
"The color-wheel?" Shmulik asked, with customary skepticism.
"Yes," Efrat answered, with equal arrogance. "It's the purest form of subliminal message there is."
"Go on," Shmulik said.
"You know, like the United Colors of Benetton," Efrat said, understanding that she'd do well to speed up her pitch before Shmulik lost interest. "You make Israel a consensual concept, a rainbow, a 'We are the World' type of image."
"Sounds pretty trite in a kitschy sort of way," Shmulik said, though not with his usual conviction.
"That's the beauty of it, don't you see?" Efrat practically screamed. "It's a whole commercial globalization thing we could get going here - just think of the marketing possibilities, the tee-shirts, the trinkets, computer games, the works!"
"Vladimir's trying to further Zionism," Shmulik said, trying to prevent himself from being persuaded, "not sell Zippo lighters."
"Vladimir's going to kiss your feet," Efrat said, remembering how excited she'd gotten when he'd kissed hers. "Trust me."
WHILE EFRAT goes into high slave-driver gear, Shmulik resumes scribbling with one of his many Mont Blanc pens - a passion he cultivated during his fierce climb to a place he once coveted. One he has come to loathe.
From her position at the head of the room, Efrat has a direct view of her boss, who is seated at the opposite end of the table. Between them, on either side of the 10-meter mass of lacquered mahogany, are a dozen very young - very attractive - men and women who constitute the firm's "creative department."
These are the graphic artists and copywriters who work together to "generate ideas": the really good ones harboring fantasies of wowing their way into Shmulik's good graces; the more mediocre among them dreaming of surpassing him by miles - the miles separating Tel Aviv from New York.
"OK, give me red," Efrat announces, as pictures of different objects appear on the screen in succession. "Let's go, people, connotations..."
"Communism," someone yells.
"Blood," someone else chimes in.
"Love," Efrat spits out, glancing furtively in Shmulik's direction, to make sure he is sufficiently impressed. Seeing him fervently writing, she thinks he is taking notes on the brilliance of her method.
"Green," she says, with a surge of ego-inspired energy.
"Envy," another of the crew contributes.
"The environment," Efrat enunciates each syllable.
Shmulik stifles a yawn brought on by daydreaming and lack of sleep. The squiggles and swirls he has drawn on the print-out in front of him (an inter-office memo was one of the first "new procedures around here" Efrat insisted on when she became part of management) - coupled with the strobe-like flashing of photos and eager-to-please cacophony - is making him light-headed.
"Green" at the gills, he thinks, but does not say aloud.
"Pink," Efrat continues her barrage.
"Homosexuality," a chorus of voices rings out simultaneously, mimicking Efrat's staccato.
"Gay pride," Efrat corrects, self-satisfaction intact.
"What about orange?" Shmulik asks suddenly, in spite of himself. He imagines homeless Gush Katif evacuees migrating en masse to Madison Square Garden to sing "We are the World" with Madonna the Kabbala queen, and Michael Jackson the pedophile.
"We should probably steer away from controversial colors," Efrat says before the others have a chance to speak.
"'Controversial colors' like blue and white, you mean?" Shmulik asks, only now noticing that what he has been drawing is the Knesset sitting on top of a sinking map of the state of Israel.
"How about this for our logo?" he asks, holding up the piece of paper for all to see.
"Are you ill?" Efrat asks ambiguously.
"Actually," Shmulik answers, crumpling up the former memo and tossing it in the direction of the waste-basket, "I'm retiring."
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