March 30: “Cialis” by Dave Housley

Happy Wednesday from Story366! This is the third day of AWP/Short Short Week, and we’re moving right along. I have to go register at the Convention Center later, plus set up the Moon City Press table, but for now, I’m enjoying brunch at Factor’s Famous Deli on Pico Boulevard, pastrami on rye and something called a “horn,” a bready thing with sesame seeds on it that’s part bagel, part toast, and all new to me.

For me, AWP is about books, about meeting friends, about connecting to people with like interests and skills, sharing ideas, celebrating accomplishments, and having some drinks. It’s also about, food, though, trying the local cuisine, having something different than I get at home. I don’t think LA is specifically know for its food—the stereotype is that it’s all yogurt and granola, with fresh fruits and vegetables, and that they ruin pizza by making it healthy, i.e., not pizza. I haven’t had any yogurt or granola (which, ironically, is what I eat every morning in Missouri), but the gas station by my hotel has an entire aisle of healthy snacks, silly-expensive bags of nuts and dried fruits and things like that, right across from the candy and Ding Dongs and other fattening shit they sell everywhere. For dinner last night, I popped into a vegan kosher Thai place, and the food was fresh and delicious, the first time I’ve ever had soy chicken, which I’m pretty sure is just soy, shaped like chopped chicken, and maybe inspected by a real, healthy, happy chicken, too, one living a safe, full life. I’ll probably spend the next three days eating food from the Convention Center commissary, so it’s best I get out now. I hope for an In-and-Out Burger before I go, and yes, I’ll even try a yogurt pizza with granola crust. If you have suggestions on where to get what, let me know in the Comments section.

One thing I don’t see along Pico Boulevard here are chain restaurants, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and the like. I saw a lot of that on my way from the airport, and maybe I’m not walking far enough down the street. But everything seems to be independently owned, and pretty old, and I like that. Pico Boulevard could be Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, with less hot dog and gyro joints and more palm trees—so, really not like Lincoln Avenue at all. In any case, the lack of chain businesses is kinda tied the book I read for today, Commercial Fiction by Dave Housley, out in 2013 from Outpost19. In this book, Housley offers eighteen stories, all four-five pages long, that fictionalize well known TV commercials, making the people/actors/market test subjects in those commercials into characters, complete with histories, personalities, and conflicts. It’s the perfect type of project for a small press book of shorts, a concept that can be explored, played out, and enjoyed without demanding too much of a commitment from the writer or the reader, never allowing it to outstay its welcome. I knew that when I did my Chicago Stories: It’s a neat project, and one or two at a time in a lit mag work really well, then a thin collection of them is perfect; it’s not like I was going to do that for three hundred pages. I love Commercial Fiction, a wonderful little book by a writer and editor I respect very much.

The stories that work that best in Commercial Fiction are the ones based on commercials that I recognized. That was true for about half the stories, and of course, for the other half, it was easy to go to YouTube and watch them there. The stories are titled by the product, and scanning the Table of Contents, you’ll find everything from “Cialis” to “KFC” to “Super Bowl.” It’s easy to picture Housley sitting in his living room, flipping through channels, watching Wahlbergers or whatever, and inspiration striking: “Hey, I wonder what that person in this Canada Dry ad is thinking right now? What do they dream? Who do they love? What do they fear? What kind of car does he drive?” The problem this project overcomes is that the people in commercials are so one-dimensional, but only because they have to be, were created to be. Knowing that the woman in the Toyota ads also likes to knit, was an orphan, and has an unmanageable foot fetish doesn’t come up in the casting call, the script, or during the shoot, and only the most method of actors would walk onto the set and think their motivation went beyond, “Boy, I’d really like to drive this Toyota.” That’s where Housley and this project comes in. Again, great idea.

Today I’m featuring the lead story, “Cialis,” a commercial I’ve see quite a bit because I watch a lot of late-night TV, when I watch TV at all, and late night is when all the dick pill ads show up (that, and during sports, which I also watch). It was a tough choice between “Cialis” and “Wrangler,” which expands on the ad where Brett Favre plays football with a bunch of handsome guys, all of them in jeans. The point of that ad is, the jeans are so comfortable, even a rugged guy like Brett Favre can feel comfortable playing football in them. They can just be guys, laugh as they tackle each other, run plays, and score the touchdown tossed by the football (and dick pic) legend. The story there is, one of the non-Favre guys is getting ready to going out to toss the pigskin with Brett, and his wife just keeps asking him, basically, “In jeans?” The guy seems oblivious—those jeans are so goddamn comfortable—but she inquires again, “Do you really play football?” I laughed. Oh, and I hate Brett Favre.

“Cialis” is just one level more fun, though. It’s the ad where the attractive middle-aged couples do all sorts of activities, all kinds of cutesy couple things, that lead up to sex. They go for walks on the beach. They have picnics. They stroll through galleries. The couple that Housley focuses on, though, is the couple in the his-and-her porcelain bathtubs, the ones out on the deck of the resort, the couple side by side, just taking a bath, in separate tubs, out on the balcony, overlooking nature as they drink wine, stare into each other’s eyes, and prune. It looks romantic, and relaxing, sure, but Housley, via the woman in the ad, deconstructs. While the man is getting into the spirit of the occasion—and waiting for the pill to kick in—she’s busy asking logistics. Why’d they put the tubs on the balcony? Can people see them taking their baths, all naked and stuff? How did they get the hot water out there, as the tubs aren’t hooked up to any plumbing? Most of all, wouldn’t it be more romantic to be in the same tub? The man takes a “Waddaya mean?” attitude, excited to be nude, with this pretty lady, and having his first boner since Sheena Easton was popular. The woman, though, she’s the voice of reason, like the wife in the Wrangler ad. She, really Housley, reveals the thing about ads that ad makers hope we forget: This is an ad, not reality, and no one, anywhere, is as into products as the actors in ads. Ads are a part of the world, why we get to watch TV, a large part of the economy, but that doesn’t mean we should stop paying attention, forget someone’s just trying to sell us something.

Housley is the editor of Barrelhouse and the author two other books of stories, Ryan Secrest Is Famous and If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home. I’m sure to run into him at the conference this week, which is great, as Dave’s a nice guy, awesomely cool, and is one of the great literary citizens, working as a writer, editor, and teacher, tirelessly promoting what we do. Commerical Fiction is a great read, a lot of fun, something you should pick up. And if you see Dave at the Barrelhouse table, get his book and please mention this blog post—he’ll give you 10 percent off an autograph, a $25 value!

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2 thoughts on “March 30: “Cialis” by Dave Housley

  1. Pingback: March 31: “Thank You” by Amelia Gray – Story366

  2. Pingback: July 7: “Bugout” by Jon Trobaugh – Story366

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