Selling Like Hotcakes

I wonder why they don't say "Selling Like Pancakes..."

It was her day as a gainfully employed professional. The formal schooling behind her, Miranda arrived to work earlier than the entire company. Blue suited and completely puckered, she tried all the doors and reluctantly drove to a nearby coffee shop to wait for the first arrivers. She was always someone who over-prepared for every eventuality and this case was no exception.

She had requested upon accepting the position with the company, a copy of the employee handbook so she could familiarize herself with the inner workings of the company prior to her first day of formal employment.  She began re-reading the booklet again but continually looked up at the front of the building in order to gauge the eventual employee traffic and thus, an opportunity to gain entrance.

Her briefcase included several of her favorite pens, a thesaurus and the Merriam-Webster Rhyming Dictionary. She never went anywhere without that book and it was obviously worn from the countless paging-throughs as she resolved some grammatical harmonization to her satisfaction. Her briefcase also included a thick three-ring binder of her work to date. It started with her first byline, albeit minuscule, and was up-to-date with her last work from college. This manual represented her entire life’s work and she felt it was well on its way to become an impressive first volume of her no doubt numerous published works of the future. This first job was going to be a wonderful step to a powerful and creative future; just because she was the owner’s daughter, she did not see that little fact as an issue.

Finally, after two full refills, she noticed some activity at the building. She rarely drank coffee and the combination of the caffeine and adrenaline was powerful to the point of feeling of being pushed along as she walked. She had been to the facility countless times before but this was the first time as a formal employee. The building was fairly modern and well laid out but Miranda saw significant opportunity to make change and that blank canvas of opportunity added another layer of momentum as she walked in the door and headed for the Human Resources department.

When she arrived there, she was not surprised to find it unoccupied. She was undaunted and wandered over to the Marketing area that she felt was going to be placed. After a few minutes, she was thrilled to find her cubicle, complete with nameplate, computer and working telephone, all waiting patiently for her skillful touches.  She placed her legacy documentation on the shelf next to her desk and took the next fifteen minutes to organize her work area. As usual, she felt ahead of the game and was raring to go on her creative marketing career.

Her father had founded a marketing agency decades earlier when a good idea and a graphic artist assured you a good chance at delivering an ad campaign. He was smart enough to hire good people, overpay them, and stay out of their way. He was the first to admit that he had minimal, at best, creative skills but he more than made up for that with general organizational moxie and understanding the difference between a good idea and someone who felt they were creative all day, every day.

In fact, he consistently shocked several marketing and advertising audiences when he was called to speak on some appropriate subject. The shock did not come from him disparaging the creative function but by his emphasizing that good ideas combined with strong follow-through were far more effective that brainstorming and continual internal self-promotion geared towards some innocuous and hard-to-quantify ability to identify one internal genius.

“Good ideas are a dime a dozen,” said Jacob Billings. “But a good idea with some hard work behind it, with apologies to Keats, is a joy forever.”

The creative folks would raise their eyebrows; it was obvious that Jacob was not one of them but his successful and the praises of his employees mitigated the whispers of the alleged dilettantes. His agency enjoyed both consistent growth and unheard of loyalty from his customers. Agency work was high turnover with frantic peaked valleys of both success failure but his company never seemed to mirror that type of anguish so through association, most people momentarily viewed him as a management visionary and then went on with their lives.

The company grew nicely and his daughter, Miranda, began coming to work with her father on the occasional weekend. She loved the office supplies and would take over an abandoned office and happily play office for as long as necessary. During one of the weekly fantasies, she found a huge Merriam-Webster Rhyming Dictionary. When opened, she was mesmerized with the countless number of rhyming opportunities within the covers. As a young girl, she was just learning about synonyms and homonyms but she had already equated rhyming with elegant writing styles. She ran to her father’s office and begged him to allow her to keep the magic book; the book that had everything one needed to know to write well. Of course, like all fathers, he automatically agreed to her request for the present and she rode home that afternoon with the book wrapped up with both arms. She felt that she was on her way to literary stardom and the book was the key to her success.

During fifth grade, Miranda was given an assignment that allowed her to fully flex her newfound wisdom. The class was charged with composing a poem, using any existing poem as a meter sample that captured their Thanksgiving holiday. With Christmas just around the corner, she ripped off the entire meter of the “Twas the Night Before Christmas” chestnut and with the help of her rhyming dictionary, scored an “A+” and was bitten with the bug of literary superiority. She was particularly proud of rhyming “gravy” with “Navy” and “get-together” with “nether.”

In the parlance of a Vegas backstage, she absolutely killed. Not only did she receive an excellent grade, the piece had legs. It was trotted out at both the family holiday parties to rave reviews. As Miranda sat there and basked in complete adulation, she was urbane wit personified (or as urbane as she could be for being ten years old). Once the holiday was over, she took her paper and had it laminated and placed in newly-received portfolio; she was gong to be a journalistic voice for her generation and luckily, she had found the formula that was going to carry her to new heights of creativity and worship.

As the years went on, her rhyming dictionary continued to be used with similar projects in school. Although she would admit that her reliance on “’Twas the Night before Christmas’” was at times becoming repetitive, she would argue that her success with the poem rose above any earthly criticism. She heard a few grumblings by her seventh grade year, when many of her classmates had endured several variations of her signature style, but she shrugged them off as small-minded types that were historically guilty of an obvious but resentful awareness of the literary advantage enjoyed by her ability to spin words into a literal goldmine of creativity. At times she grew frustrated with her audience; their inability to recognize her brilliance but she quickly forgave them due to their charming ignorance.

The frustration with her audience peaked twice in her high school career; once as a cub reporter for the school paper and once as a senior, attempting to take the seemingly simple course of “Advanced Composition.” After submitting her first paper dealing with the dangers of Thermal Pollution, she was surprised that the teacher requested a face-to-face meeting to discuss her paper.

“He likely wants to congratulate me in person, “ thought Miranda. “He probably didn’t want to make the other kids feel inferior.”

The meeting occurred right after school. Miranda arrived promptly to the classroom and he motioned her to sit down. She sat down in front of her teacher as he was not making eye contact, as it appeared he was re-reading her paper and trying to broach the subject. As he continued to re-read it, she broke the silence.

“Yes, Mr. Fitzke?,” said Miranda. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, Miranda. I read your paper on Thermal Pollution and your style of writing caused me to have you come in and see me.”

Miranda smiled. The adulations were about to begin so she got comfortable in the chair and turned slightly towards him. Compliments were far easier to accept when you took them directly in the face.

“Yes?” Miranda to her teacher; she began to lean it to accept the compliment.

“This has got to be the goofiest thing I have ever read in my life and that is saying something. I have been a teacher in a public school for thirty years but making a poem out of a research paper is bizarre.”

Miranda stopped listening after the first statement. His words were exploding inside her head and all further listening was shut down. His obviously lack of appreciation for true literary genius was comically apparent to Miranda but his unwillingness to embrace her writing style did trouble her a bit. She knew that many writers suffered due to the public’s inability to accept their brilliance but she still needed to get a good grade.

“What do you mean? I did my research, cited my sources and produced a twenty-page paper on an approved topic. What is bizarre about that?”

“What makes it bizarre is that you wrote it as a poem; based on the meter and structure of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.’


“Miranda: listen to me. You have two days to re-write this in a standard format. I don’t want a poem. I don’t want a limerick. I want a grown-up research paper.”

He got up, filled up his briefcase with a pile of papers and walked out. Miranda still sat there and the silence of the classroom added what she hoped was her first moment of melancholy. The silence of the classroom was eventually interrupted by the sound of a janitor in the next room sweeping up; his push broom was making subtle but consistent noises on the baseboards as he completed the room’s standard maintenance tasks. His broom made contact with a metal baseboard and the sound ricocheted through the hallway and into the quiet room where Miranda was sitting in a daze. The sound woke her up and she trudged out with the classroom with her completely misunderstood masterwork in her hand. She needed to comply with the teacher’s borderline-fascist request but her complicity was not going to be confused with compliance: she was a creative journalist and momentary oppression was not going to dissuade her from her vision.

It was easy for her to deconstruct her epic poem into a more traditional, and far less enlightened research paper. She was not mad at Mr. Fitzke for his ignorance; her feelings towards him bordered on pity. Similar to that of a retarded adult that could not master a simple mental task like reading bus schedule or assembling a standard ballpoint pen. It was his inability to see her expert skills of manipulating words and meter without compromising either. Her consistent choice of the Christmas poem might have made her slightly vulnerable but she would not acquiesce to that theory too early. Other than the editor of the student newspaper who behaved in a similar manner when Miranda had submitted her second article for publication, no others were dense enough to impede her journey towards journalistic self-actualization.

Miranda took a part-time job in her father’s advertising firm as soon as she turned sixteen. Although her responsibilities were to support any request that fell on her ears, she continually imposed herself (and her ideas) on marketing campaigns. Two of the four conference rooms were immediately adjacent to her cubicle and she felt compelled to attend meetings due to her belief that she represented the creative nexus that all good ideas must pass through for final polishing. Her father always welcomed her into meetings that he was attending but she found it strange how many meetings were re-scheduled for times when she was in school or on errands.

She constantly submitted unsolicited ideas to project teams: a parody of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” announcing a new restaurant fell on deaf ears and her idea of incorporating the apparel descriptions of the poem “And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap” into a back to school strategy for the local department store chain also died a lonely death as an idea quickly proposed and universally shot down with great prejudice. The groups started evolving into far stealthier versions of their former selves: meeting in bars, in unannounced conference rooms and rarely would any two members of a project team be seen talking together. Miranda’s persistence had forced most of the project teams underground.

Things were far more relaxed when Miranda wasn’t around; teams moved far faster than usual to complete their deliverables before she arrived back the office. The tension increased significantly when she was preparing for graduation from college. Thanks to family ties and significant contributions by anonymous donors, Miranda was going to be graduating with honors with a degree in Marketing. Her fixation with the Christmas poem diminished slightly when she began introducing other chestnuts to her repertoire. The meter may have been altered but thanks to adulations received fifteen years ago, she doggedly remained loyal to her one and only idea: poem parodies or as she referred to them as “sonnetology.”

Her place in the family business was assured because she was not only the apple of her talented father’s eye; she was the sole beneficiary of his company. Her mother had divorced her father long before he made something out of himself and her departure, at all levels, made Miranda the winner of the lucky sperm sweepstakes. Her father knew her constant reliance on sonnetology was a bit cloying but she was his only progeny and thus, incapable of doing no wrong.

The morning of her first day at work began to become busier as more of her official co-workers arrived at the office. The entire company knew about her official joining of the firm and there were many congratulatory emails awaiting her when she opened up her email account for the first time. None of the emails implied arranging a lunch date or an exploratory one on one interview but Miranda was nonplussed nonetheless; she was finally a creative professional and her impact on the creative aspects of marketing was going to begin that day.

She opened her desk and found her business cards awaiting her. The card said “Miranda Billings, Associate Creative Manager” with email addresses, direct dial phone numbers and several other ways to contact her. She was pleased that all the administrative details appeared to be finished so she could concentrate on creating something for someone else. Miranda placed the rhyming dictionary in the middle of her desk and scanned her schedule for meetings. Other than an obligatory meeting with Human Resources to review her benefits and start up her payroll, there was nothing on her schedule for the week.

She called her father.

“Why, Miranda. I see you are calling me from your office.”

“Yes, Daddy. I have a question.”


“Where are all my meetings? I thought I would be in meetings, coming up with new ideas, as soon as possible.”

“Slow down, Miranda. You are part of a team. You can talk to the Creative Director and find out what is on the docket but keep your expectations manageable.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

Miranda emailed the Director, asking him to inform her on upcoming assignments. Hopefully, he would respond quickly so they could start collaborating on new product launches or advertising strategy. She began to sketch out some ideas for known projects around the office and by lunchtime, Miranda’s notepad was filled with variations on her Christmas theme. People loved her ideas, whether they knew it or not, and she had a million of them.

Miranda ate alone at the next-door restaurant; everyone was busy so she didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to entertain the bosses’ daughter. She brought her notepad with her and continued to list idea after idea on products small and large. She knew she was creating another archive of sure-fire ideas that could be used sometime in the future; she had cracked the creative code and wasn’t going to tempt fate by deviating too far afield from the magic formula.

The afternoon went by quickly and she left her first day exhausted. Being creative for a living is far harder than being creative when the muse hits. She walked out of the building and went home and put her feet up. She was too tired to eat and her head was hot from ten hours of forced concentration.

The phone rang; it was her best friend, Nancy.

“Hi, Nancy, the day was great but tiring. I have to pace myself in order not to impact my idea-making muscles in my brain.”

“I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

“Oh, I don’t know if there is officially but I know I have something like that and it needs some rest.”

“I don’t blame you,” said Nancy. They had been best friends for many years and Nancy was usually the one Miranda bounced her idea off of. Nancy always loved her poems and sonnetology strategy. In fact, she originally encouraged Miranda to take the basic idea of a famous poem and continue to exploit it but even she had her limits. Nancy had encouraged Miranda to take a good, hard look at “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Miranda had dutifully looked at it but the meter and pacing made the parody options more challenging for her abilities. Also, not many people knew the poem so the parodistic elements of the poem may be diminished slightly.

The call ended due to Nancy’s equally hectic schedule but they both made an attempt at stating that a lunch date was a top priority. Miranda pushed her well-intentioned paperwork to the side and fell fast asleep, still in her blue suit.

Several hours later, she woke up with her mouth open and completely rumpled. It took all her energy to change for bed, wash her face and drop her clothes into the hamper. The pace of her new job completely exhausted her and she secretly did not know if she would be up for the blistering pace she had set for herself on day two. As she fell asleep, her mind was racing with dozens of new ideas, all relying heavily on her one, good idea but she was too tired to pat herself on the back.

The chirping alarm awoke her from a deep sleep and her muscles were aching from yesterday’s activities. She gathered up her briefcase and left home with minimal make up and wearing far more comfortable apparel and shoe choices. She got to work and slumped down at her desk to review her emails and meeting requests. Miranda was surprised that no one accepted her meeting requests and that her schedule was embarrassingly wide open. She had yet another day to be alone; coming up with ideas and concepts, which was going to be a challenge because she felt her real strength was to critique other’s ideas instead of coming up with any of her own.

Undaunted, she took the long way to the coffee machine and made a point of peering into all the open offices and saying “good morning.” It was surprising how many people seemed to be on the phone as she grew near. There was numerous, hearty waves of silent greetings from all her potential collaborators but no offers to sit and chat were forthcoming. As she walked back to her desk, she was to the conclusion that being a creative visionary was going to be lonely but luckily, she came to the realization early enough in her career to not be discouraged.

As she fished her rhyming dictionary out of her bag, she got settled in her seat and began her creative process. If people were not going to seek her out, she would start stockpiling good ideas and wait for them to come crawling. Deep inside of herself, she realized that it was going to be sweet vindication but she felt ashamed because she had so much to offer the creative gods while others slogged through their assignments using only the finite set of wits they inherited.

“It is so lonely being gifted,” thought Miranda.

I don't think I ever had hotcakes; I have had pancakes, cake that is hot and griddle cakes but no hotcakes. I would like hotcakes, as most people would, but I am curious why the preposition/idiom/metaphor has been around as long as it has without delivering on the actual flavor and assumed wonderfulness of warm, syrupy cakes.

However, the idiom suffers from its inability to really have the legs to translate well in many non-traditional situations  and runs the risk of having to be explained. As all good snappy terms, it has to hold its own without a lot of effort. God bless the honest person in a world full of dishonesty and ulterior motive.

 I have recently returned from my second around the world sabbatical and still have not discovered any remote cousin of the hotcake. In fact, my continued failure asking the locals about 'hotcakes' has forced me to abandon that pursuit and concentrate my energies on learning local swear words as I amuse my new friends while ordering drinks and arguing issues ranging from Australian Rules Football subtleties to how to make a decent roux. 

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