The Shameless Affiliate: Episode 1
The morning stretches up and out, above the bustling downtown intersection. The birds are happiest on days like these– you can hear them, as they join the usual street level songs.
The sun too, as big as the whole sky it seems. And so clear– a perfect backdrop for scenic sidewalk routes. More new faces in this part of town today, naturally on that account– more heads darting about, wondering how the world is somehow different here.
“Are you ready for the coming storm?”
Things are always different downtown though. Especially in this town, the locals will always tell you… especially on days like these.
“You talkin’ Biblically, Mister, or have you lost your damn marbles?”
“Ho! Ha! Ha!” The strange man laughs from deep down in his belly. “No, my friend, neither of those and nothing so epic… but well played!”
It still seems out of the ordinary that someone would be standing at this intersection in a trench coat under a large, open umbrella– with a second one closed in his other hand, and transparent rubber covers buttoned up over his shoes– on one of the nicest mornings in recent times. Maybe the most temperate, most lovely morning ever!
He can hear the laughter, and the names people call him on their way by… some aren’t bad. A small, tight-knit banditry of chickadees is playing in a young linden tree overhead– their black caps dart to and fro among the small, yellow flowers.
“But really, what’s with the umbrellas?” a woman asks.
“They’re not boots, but overshoes– as they fit over any shoe you happen to be wearing.” he explains. “Waterproof, slip-resistant shoe covers. Only $13.90 a pair on Amazon.”
“But to answer the much bigger question… well… how should I put this…”
A few more people stop when they see everyone curiously leaning in to hear whatever profound thing Rain Man is about to say. He waits patiently for a bus to come and go.
“Well, it’s going to rain.” he says simply.
Silence. The man nods as he looks over the crowd.
“That’s it?” someone is heard asking, from among the disappointed moans and groans. Many of them shield their eyes as they squint up at the pristine sky– just to make sure– and then back at Umbrella Man with funny, befuddled faces.
“Yes indeed! A substantial amount of precipitation is being forecast– two or three miserable days worth– and it starts dropping on Friday.”
Lots of blinking, and several blank stares… the crowd is speechless.
“Today is only Monday,” he continues, “so there is still time to get properly equipped.”
“For… the rain…” a young man up front patronizes.
“… in, like… four days?”
“Hmm…” He shifts his feet, scratches his head, and pretends to be calculating large sums of numbers on his fingers. “Is that enough time?!”
Everyone laughs, including the Weather Man.
“I appreciate your humor– it’s sharp,” he says. “But time is a fickle, fiddling thing… it’ll catch up and storm past us before we know it. Staying dry may be at the bottom of your to-do list, I realize, but these little things can represent our preparedness in life to tick off the much graver, more important boxes.”
“But I can buy an umbrella anytime I need one,” a new challenger– a young lady up front– motions to the shops and department stores that surround the intersection.
“No, of course!” he laughs. “Yes, I’m aware that you can stumble into one of a few nearby retailers: the lower-end, discount spots with umbrellas that will take a half hour to dry, if they even make it through a driving rain in one piece; and the higher-end shops, with much better canopies that still may or may not be worth the novelty price tag.”
“You would think to yourself, ‘$75 for an umbrella?!’… and the answer is often ‘YES’ in the brutal brick-and-mortar world.” But these umbrellas right here,” he says, as he hands his closed walking stick umbrella to a young boy up front and pulls a compact travel-sized variety out of one of his front pockets, “are among the very best– and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg!”
A taxi cab pulls up to the curb beside them, and an older couple slips into the back seat. Another small group of people breaks off from the audience, and walks over to a café two doors down.
“I already have an umbrella,” a stern-faced woman steps forward, “and it works just fine.”
“Does it?” he asks. “Well, you may also argue that your Toyota Camry does a comparably damn fine job… but I’ll pick my Acura TLX any day of the w–”
He stops himself, closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath.
“Listen, I shouldn’t be so presumptuous about your umbrella or the ones available at these fine establishments.” he humbly admits and looks around. “My emotions can sometimes get the best of me… I apologize.”
“I just know that the average umbrellas, hanging right now in coat closets all across this nation, were impulse buys with little to no forethought applied. They are potentially unfit for the work ahead– for the buckets and buckets of heavy rain, the strong wind.”
“I also know,” he continues, as he snaps open the small umbrella he had pulled from his pocket, “that the vast majority of you can’t tell me anything about your umbrella– those of you that even own one– nor would you care to.”
“So I submit to you, here and now, that it’s a safer bet to start fresh with a tool that will do the job right, an umbrella built to weather the storms. And you should understand why too.”
He holds the open compact umbrella up above his own, and tilts it back so everyone can see the underside. “Do you see under there?” he asks. The crowd inches closer to get a better view.
“Reinforced fibreglass ribs and frame– for optimal strength and flex– and an electrostatic steel shaft,” he announces, lifting it back upright. “And it has a vented double canopy allowing air to flow through, drastically increasing wind resistance!”
He closes the black compact umbrella as quickly as he had opened it, with just the push of a button. “The price? $24.99, with a lifetime replacement warranty.” He slips it back into his trench coat pocket.
“This style of umbrella is my absolute favourite, I must admit,” he smiles, and motions for the boy to give him back the other umbrella, “because it’s a walking stick. The strong, studded tip allows you to tap it on the ground as you walk… and it fares well in an impromtu sword fight!” He advances and lunges at a nearby fire hydrant.
“En garde!” The kids laugh.
“But seriously,” he turns back to the spectators, “this here is a top notch umbrella. It has a fibreglass frame and eight super strong fibreglass ribs. The huge canopy is made from a high-quality waterproof fabric, and the hook handle is a beautiful piece of solid wood.”
A few agreeable awes and murmurs circulate through the audience.
“So can I buy one then?” someone asks.
“Yeah, me too!” an older man off to the side yells.
“No,” the Canopy King says quickly. “I mean yes, but… you can’t buy one of these. What do I look like, a curbside umbrella salesman?” He wipes at the front of his jacket, as if he had just said something filthy.
“Umm… yes,” a studious lady replies. The crowd nods almost unanimously.
“Yeah, you really do,” a small child in the front row gives her two cents. Her older sister is tugging on her shirt, telling her that school is starting in five minutes.
“Ho! No!” He taps the tip of the black umbrella on the concrete. “No, that won’t do at all.” He then leans it up against a newspaper box and reaches into the inside pocket of his coat as he rattles off a quick introduction.
“I’m not a salesman, per se– but an affiliate. Oliver Jay!” He hands out a few stacks of business cards to the people closest to him.
“Wow! You don’t say.” A young man up front finishes the jingle sarcastically. A few chirps and chuckles from the crowd. “Did you write that yourself? Is that, like, your tagline or something?”
“Yes, I did,” Oliver says slowly, unscathed. “It’s something I’ve been working on– trying some ideas out. But you’re right… I’ll shelf that bit for now. I have much better stuff!” He stands tall, and stabs his hand back into his trench coat pocket.
“Are you interested in a gorgeous women’s Seiko watch?” he asks, holding it out in his left hand. “It really is a timekeeping specimen: a classic, gold-tone solar piece with a sleek yet noticeable sophistication.”
“No,” he smiles, “but that’s not a bad pitch.”
“Thank you, my good man!” He smiles and slips the watch back into his jacket. He pulls a handful of rubber bracelets out of the same pocket. “Four pack of motivational wristbands perhaps?” he asks. “$9.99.”
“No,” the young man shakes his head.
“Here… take one of mine, no strings attached. And here is the link.” He holds out a stack of business cards, and a black band with an Oscar Wilde quote: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”. The young man takes it and rolls his eyes.
Now… where was– oh, right! I’m an affil…”
“I’ll buy the watch,” a pretty young woman two heads back puts her hand up.
“Wonderful, ma’am! It’s $138.98… but, once again, I will not sell you this watch.” He hands her another business card. “Follow the link, and it shall be yours.”
Most of the spectators glance down now at the first card he had given them. A simple logo in the top left corner– The letter A integrated into the center of the letter S, black on white. Beside the logo, it reads:
‘Type the links
and you’ll receive
the proper care.”
with an arrow from RIGHT THERE to four links, in this case: one for each of the walking stick umbrellas, one for the travel-sized umbrella, and one for the overshoes– all handwritten. And then his info, centered at the bottom:
Oliver J. Jay (a.k.a. “The Shameless Affiliate”)
— Senior Social Demand Engineer– For Stuff
As they look at it, Oliver continues to explain.
“What I do is point people with specific needs towards the things which will best fill those needs. I find the most exceptional products in the universe, and then I broadcast their value in effective and memorable ways.”
“And do you make money somehow?” a middle-aged lady asks.
“What, do you think I’m standing out here in the inevitable pouring rain for my health?” He pauses.
One of the chickadees lands on the sidewalk just next to him. The lady watches as it looks up for a moment to survey the crowd, hops around in search of something and then flies back up into the linden blossoms.
“So yes. Yes, if you good folks are catchin’ what I’m throwing…” He tosses the umbrella up in the air and brings it effortless back down to the ground, “… and you go home and check out the links I’ve written down– as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”
A car honks its horn as it drives by. Oliver waves happily, and watches as it turns the corner.
“The Shameless Affiliate?” someone wonders out loud.
“Yeah,” he shrugs, “unfortunately that nickname stuck.”
“I wonder why,” the comedian in the front row couldn’t resist.
“Me too!” Oliver jabs dismissively, a big grin on his face. “But now I own it, so it works. And, in all seriousness, you may call me and my tactics odd– or shameless, if you so choose– but I feel absolutely no shame in affiliating myself with high-calibre products that improve people’s lives.”
“I must be on my way now, as there are other nearby towns who need me. The rain doesn’t start and stop here, as you well know. But I wish all of you the best of luck this weekend!”
The school bell rings in the distance, and the crowd disperses as if on cue… parents pulling kids along, a few teenagers staring at phones as they walk. Others, however, are chatting about umbrellas and weirdos and fancy wristwatches… passing cards back and forth.
Oliver notices a tall, dapper gentleman with a briefcase as the crowd thins. Shiny, salt and pepper hair cut short and a casual fine feel to his outfit: dark, distressed blue jeans and a grey, buttoned-down dress shirt.
“It’s getting cooler now, and you really should have a good coat.” he says. “This classic trench coat I’m wearing is a Hart Schaffner Marx piece– high-quality rain repellent fabric, lots of pockets, and it even has a removable wool collar and liner for the cooler days. Only $109.49 for this particular size and color… you should check it out!” He pulls out a card and hands it to him.
“Thank you,” the man says, as he takes the business card and tucks it in the back pocket of his jeans.
“My genuine pleasure, sir.” Oliver bows. “It would suit you beautifully.”
Alone now, again… and Oliver stays standing at the intersection for a moment, listening to the busy, buzzing morning scene– the clever names. He feels at home here– as he does everywhere.
And on the road itself, which calls now– home too, no less.
He waits patiently for a bus to come and go before crossing the street. A step up on to the sidewalk, and Oliver turns to make tracks toward the mid-morning sun. People move aside as he passes, and they look back every time to confirm: all dressed up in a navy blue trench coat, with an umbrella in both hands and rubber rain covers buttoned up over his shoes (Dockers black leather loafers, by the way… $97.50 in a Men’s 11 Medium).
Some of them shake their heads and laugh.
If only they knew what Oliver Jay knows: that the sky is falling, in a few days.