As published in Mansfield Readers & Writers Short Story Anthology
The man known across the Australian advertising world as the “How do you feel” guy shifted on his feet with the nervousness of a younger, less confident man. His jacket was at least an inch too tight around the middle, so he’d have to restrain himself in the event something funny happened. It wouldn’t be a good look to laugh freely and inadvertently shoot a suit button at one of the four people gazing up at him from around the boardroom table. He guesstimated he had enough laughter brewing inside to turn any button into an explosive bullet—it was a comforting thought. The two women and two men were staring at him, willing him to get on with it, whatever it was. They were all dressed in the same brand new shiny business attire, all thirty-something years old, with the same modern day listlessness in their eyes. But it was their lucky day—he was there to lighten their moods.
“Please introduce yourself, Mr?” asked a woman wearing sharp-rimmed spectacles which could have cut through aged cheddar.
“Yes, of course,” he responded with a broad smile and growing confidence. “I’ll let this video make my introduction for me.” The woman exhaled a huff of despair. Surely he understood she wanted words which saved time, because time was money in the fast-paced advertising world in which he was standing. But he didn’t understand. He pressed play on the video. Like a well-trained orchestra conductor, he stood back from the screen so everyone could view the main players. He didn’t want anyone to miss out.
A green cricket ground emerged on the fuzzy screen, followed by two cricket players dressed in white who were walking with purpose. One carried a cricket bat, and the other rubbed a cricket ball into the red-stained patch at the top of his trousers. Their messy haircuts and blatantly hairy chests advertised a simpler time when men didn’t care about pesky things like grooming.
A song started playing with the scratchy acoustics of an earlier era: “How do you feel? When you walk on the field knowing you’re the last to play?”. The bowler sprinted in to bowl. The man gazed around the room. Unsurprisingly, the audience was engrossed by the video. He’d been right to play it. The song continued: “How do you feel? When you face a new ball and a win is just five runs away?” The bowler launched the ball directly at the wicket with the finesse he was famous for. The man watched on full of pride for the bowler, for the video, for what it represented.
“Excuse me?” called out a man with slicked back hair wearing a pin-striped suit. “Can we skip the rest, please? You know how it is. Limited time and all that.”
The man thought he must have misheard him. “But we’re just getting to the best bit,” he stated. “The umpire is about to reject his appeal.”
“I know how he feels,” said the slick-haired man. “Can you please just introduce yourself? Who are you?”
The man regathered himself. He kicked the esky full of icy cold Tooheys beer cans back under the table. He tried to forget how fulfilling it would have been to have thrown a few coldies across the table at the end of the video as he’d planned to do. It never failed to rouse the rabble. He reminded himself he was the “How do you feel” guy regardless.
“Monty Summers at your service,” he stated with a bow.
“Can you tell us about yourself, please?” asked a yellow-suited woman who’d started typing notes on her computer.
“It’s Summers, like the cricket season,” he stated. “Do you want me to spell that for you?”
“No, thanks,” she responded, “I’d just like to understand who you are.”
“Well, it’s all so simple. I’m the guy who wrote those commercials,” he said pointing at the frozen screen behind him.
“And what was it a commercial for?” asked the typist with faster typing skills than were required considering Monty Summers’ pace of speech.
“What? You don’t know it?” replied a flabbergasted Monty Summers. “Shall I play it through to the end? I’m sure you’ll recognize the chorus. That was cricket legend Denis Lilee bowling, and I wrote the words to the song.”
“No thanks, Mr Lilee,” said the manic typist.
“No, I’m Mr Summers. Lilee was the bowler in the video. Are you taking the piss?” he asked with genuine concern for all their wellbeing.
“We’re just trying to establish why we should consider working with you as an advert writer, Mr Summers,” responded a rotund man with a disengaged air who’d been quiet up until that point. “We’d appreciate you humoring us.”
Monty Summers laughed out loud and lost control of his not insignificant belly for a split second. Humor them he bloody well would. Then remembered the fragile state of his buttons and peered down. Luckily, his suit jacket remained buttoned up, but two of the buttons were sitting at sharp angles which suggested they’d been tested and found wanting.
“OK, I’ll humor you,” Monty Summers replied. “It’s an advert for Tooheys, and it’s arguably the most culturally significant advert in Australian history. Some would say it represents the heart of Australian culture. Surely you all know this already?”
“Tooheys, the beer?” asked the typist.
“Yes, the bloody beer,” replied an angry Monty Summers. Who didn’t know what Tooheys was? He was starting to suspect these people were from another planet—one he didn’t want to visit.
“Here’s a question for you, Mr Summers,” said the sharp-spectacled woman. “When was that advert made?”
“When Australia ruled the cricketing world: 1979,” stated a proud Monty Summers. “Lilee was a legend. The Tooheys’ adverts cemented his position in Australian folklore.”
“So, that’s forty-three years ago,” continued the sharp-spectacled woman. “You must have been a young man when you wrote it?”
“I was only twenty-five at the time,” responded Monty Summers as he stood a little taller. He wondered if the women in the audience had noticed his arms still had muscle tone. He flexed for their benefit. As he did, his entire upper body erupted into more simultaneous rigidity than he was prepared for—like a bodybuilder in the winning photo shot. However, Monty Summers wasn’t a bodybuilder. He was a sixty-eight-year-old man with uncontrollable man boobs. He was also in need of work. He tried to compensate for the abrupt upper body gyrations by relaxing back into a more natural posture. But his efforts were redundant. He breathed out his frustration, and the sharp-angled buttons decided that was their moment to launch. They both shot out into the air in front of Monty Summers, before crash-landing onto the boardroom table with louder clinks than he would have guessed possible. Sweat dripped off Monty Summers’ forehead as he wished himself anywhere but there. The two men and two women stared at the stationery buttons as though they were idiotic gate-crashers at an exclusive party for intellectuals. Monty Summers also stared at the rogue buttons which had gone and stolen his show.
“How do you think Australia has changed since you wrote that advert?” interjected the typist with growing urgency.
“Well, for starters, the Australian cricket team doesn’t have the same number of dead-set legends in it these days,” replied Monty Summers with a reflective nod.“I meant in terms of the big picture,” added the typist who’d stopped typing because Monty Summers wasn’t making type-worthy comments and probably never had. “You know, things like national identity, the wellbeing of indigenous Australians, the relationship between the sexes, toxic masculinity, and what’s considered appropriate.”
“Oh,” responded Monty Summers with less enthusiasm. “Well, I suppose there have been a few changes. I certainly watch what I say around the ladies more than I used to.”
The rotund disengaged man suddenly stood up, suddenly engaged. He marched up to the front of the room where Monty Summers had previously been the only one standing. He was at least six foot six. Monty Summers wished he’d sit back down and stop making him feel so bloody short. But the tall rotund man didn’t sit back down. Instead, he pushed a whiteboard in front of the projector screen as though he was the teacher and everyone else were students. Monty Summers didn’t know whether to remain standing like a teacher’s aide, or to sit down like a clueless student. He hovered without purpose.
“Mr Summers,” said the tall rotund man as he stood even taller, pulled out a whiteboard pen from inside his jacket, and drew two perfect circles on the whiteboard, “these two circles represent Australia in 1979 and in 2022. We’re interested by how much the heart of Australian culture, as you referred to, has changed in those forty-three years.”
Monty Summers sensed the conversation was heading in a direction he didn’t want it to. Sitting down was fast becoming his best option, his only option, so he sat down in the nearest spare seat. He wished himself invisible.
“Let’s start with 1979 Australian culture,” continued the tall rotund man with a tall rotund voice. “What are the best words we can use to describe it, gang?”
“Free!” exclaimed Monty Summers without meaning to voice the first opinion.
“Boozy,” added the yellow-suited woman.
“Hear! Hear!” interjected Monty Summers.
“Chauvinistic,” stated the typist as she typed out the word for extra emphasis.
“Wild,” said the slick-haired man.
“And I’m going to add sports obsessed,” contributed the tall rotund man.
“They were the days, eh?” added Monty Summers with a grin.
The yellow-suited woman let out a harsh high-pitched chuckle which made it clear to all present that she was amused by Monty Summers in the most condescending of ways. The tall rotund man ignored the raucousness as he was still writing words in the left-hand circle. Monty Summers noticed he was writing in lower case letters when upper case seemed more appropriate.
“And now, gang, what are the best words to describe 2023 Australian culture?” asked the tall rotund man with growing gravity.
A heavy silence weighed upon the room as everyone racked their brains for just the right words.
“I’m sticking with free,” stated Monty Summers with less confidence than the first time he’d said it. However, the tall rotund man appeared to have misheard him as he didn’t write the word on the board.
“In transition?” asked the yellow-suited woman. The tall rotund man nodded and wrote the words on the board.
“Conciliatory,” added the slick-haired man, and the tall rotund man wrote it down.
“Healing,” stated the typist as she typed the word slowly. The tall rotund man thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and added it to the whiteboard.
“I’m going even further than that, guys,” said the tall rotund man as he added the word “lost” to the right hand circle.
Without planning to, Monty Summers jumped up out of his seat and stood to attention. The slick-haired man grabbed his phone from the table revealing to all that he thought Monty Summers may attempt to steal it from under his very nose. But Monty Summers had bigger fish to fry.
“Who are you people?” he asked. “Are you really telling me you think Australia is lost. I take offence at that and I won’t stand for it anymore.”
“What’s really upsetting to you, Mr Summers?” asked the tall rotund man as he stepped toward Monty Summers who in turn took a step away from him to avoid being hit, or even worse, being made to look small.
“Well, it’s not right, is it?” half-stated, half-asked Monty Summers. “This is the best country in the world, everyone knows that.”
The tall rotund man walked back to the whiteboard and pointed at the 1979 Australia circle.
“Mr Summers, I can see why you are so enthusiastic about 1979 Australia,” he stated as he removed the lid from the pen in preparation for some more unwelcome writing action. “And I’ve got two more words to add to that circle.” He then wrote the words “Monty Summers” in the 1979 Australia circle, before he crossed out the entire circle as though it had all been a terrible mistake in the first place.
Monty Summers marched up to the whiteboard and ripped the pen out of the tall rotund man’s hand. The larger man didn’t attempt to stop him. He even appeared ready to hand the pen over. Then, Monty Summers wrote two words in capital letters in the 2022 Australia circle: “UNGRATEFUL BASTARDS”.
The room fell silent as everyone digested Monty Summers’ awful addition to the circle. The manic typist decided his words weren’t worthy of being typed, so she typed the words “mentally unstable” instead. The tall rotund man stepped forward with purpose.
“Here’s where you’re confused, Mr Summers,” the tall rotund man stated with more kindness than everyone had expected. “The Australia you want to hold onto was an earlier version of an old country masquerading as a new country. You were no doubt a great contributor to the cultural heart of that version of this country.”
Monty Summers shuffled away from the whiteboard and sat back down. These people had a way of making him feel stupid, and he was tired of feeling stupid.
“But the country is lost, is in transition, is conciliatory, and is healing these days. And that’s exactly as it should be,” the tall man continued. “The party is over because we were only gate-crashers in the first place. Out of this cultural chasm will emerge something far more significant and meaningful than any beer song at the cricket. That won’t stop people from singing your song with you, and for you, Mr Summers. But it will mean there will also be songs to be sung about Indigenous Australians, caring for our environment, and the diverse range of cultures living here in 2023. These issues are surely bigger than getting drunk and throwing a ball around. How do you feel about that, Mr Summers?’
Monty Summers eyed up the esky full of cold Tooheys cans sitting underneath the table as he carefully considered his response. “This modern version of Australia requires a cold beer to make any sense out it. I just feel like a Tooheys or two,” he half-whispered.
Monty Summers retired hurt that very afternoon.