Market Research by Dizz Tate

I hide my normality like other people might hide an oddly-shaped mole or a dictator relation. When people ask me what I do, what I’m into, I say, I work in a circus. I trapeze. I float on a stream of air. No one believes me.

You can tell, can’t you? You’ve said that lie too, or maybe that’s what you wanted your lie to be. Circuses are universally cute.

I’m just kidding. I’m actually a marine biologist showgirl. I stand on dolphin’s noses. I lift one leg like this… if I close my eyes, I can feel it all right now. The bright coldness of the pool, the elevation of a disbelieving crowd, a creature under my control.

No, I haven’t seen blackfish. I like your glasses, by the way.

This is what I really do. I’ll tell you. Come a little closer—it’s something I keep close to my chest.

Sorry, did I lick your ear? I didn’t mean to. I was just saying—here, look, listen a minute, I’m a measurer for the Average. My decisions affect everything you see. Really, I’m not lying.

You see, I like the same small things that everyone likes: butter, hot baths on a cold day, most types of soup, friendly, medium-sized dogs. I am uncomfortable with flying but not afraid of it. I am apathetic about politics. I hate parties like this. I am easily attracted by bright packaging, and deals, and good-looking people fluttering about in commercials.

You probably aren’t normal. I can tell from your jumper. It’s leaping over an edge.

I mean that admiringly.

Anyway, this is what I mean. All the companies want me. When they show me a product, a round table of white, dome-headed men will hold their breaths to wait for my verdict. I’ll purse my lips, get a real performance going, and then I’ll say, “it’s okay” or “maybe a bit much” or “it’ll work.” The key to being a successful measure of the Norm is to not like too much of anything.

Normality has always followed me around, and I never started to appreciate it until recently. You’ve got it wrong, you know, wanting to stand out. You can’t if you’re not meant to. I remember at school once, the teacher was telling us about genes, and he said, “Now who has the gene to bend their thumb right back?” “Who can wiggle their ears?” “Who can turn their tongue in a tunnel?”

And I felt my tongue go tight, so up my hand shoots, “Meh thir!” I shout. But then I look around. The whole class a sea of turned tongues. Only one girl couldn’t do it, same girl who could bend her thumb and wriggle her ears, and who had dark hair and blue eyes.

And the teacher goes, “You’re all special!” And the girl goes, “But doesn’t that defeat the purpose?” And I agreed, you know, but I wasn’t one to tempt a crowd.

My last research was today actually. In one of those buildings so tall it looks like it’s bending over. All white paint and shiny desks and square haircuts.

I do a lot of work with supermarkets. Once I had to enter a store, blindfolded, and say which section I thought was in, which section I’d like to be in. I rearranged the whole system. I put fruit and veg in the back, magazines by the freezers, and Tupperwares in the front. Sales went crazy. I am the “universal indicator solution,” or “UIS” as the techies say, in the market world. What I go for, everyone goes for. I’ve made a shitload of cash since I started, I’ll tell you.

What I did today? Well—it was sort of weird, I mean, I suppose that’s why I’m feeling a bit—

Oh, you ask a lot of questions! I didn’t mean—I mean, honestly, I didn’t think you’d be interested—

Well, okay. I walked in and it was all standard procedure.

They were measuring my response to a new supermarket commercial. There’s this man there, with this poofy hair that goes up on one side. And he gives me the whole spiel, how I’ll be in the room and I’ll just have to follow the instructions and press the buttons when they tell me to. Then he gets out the cap—to hook up to the ARG—it measures your brain pulses—your emotional responses—and he comes round to the front of me, bends his knees, and he puts both his hands on either side of my head, like this. And he looks me right in the eyes, like this. And then he’s just quiet. Looking. Like he’s looking right into my brain.

Anyway, we go into a smaller, darker room and he hooks up my hands with wires, and my whole head is covered with pads, and then he drags them all back and plugs them in to some place I can’t see. And he says we’ll get started and leaves. I’m alone in this little dark room when this big screen in front of me suddenly ignites—brightens I mean—a whole wall of light—and I feel like I’m taken with it—I don’t know where—just like I’ve woken up and I’m on the other side of a cinema screen and I’m watching all the people watch me. It was just a feeling.

I didn’t have time to focus on it because the instructions start up and first off I just have to press a button every time I see a red square. So it goes. And I’m pressing—and then a yellow triangle comes up—and I press it! That never happens. I can feel the poofy-haired man’s disappointment smoking through the walls.

Then there’s the commercial. There’s a pretty girl making toast, in pajama shorts and a tank top, and she’s calling her mum on the phone, and they both talk about how good the bread is from this supermarket. The girl sits down to eat it without a plate, nonchalantly chewing down a corner, while her mum says, “I love you,” and she says “I love you,” and the supermarket logo comes across the bottom at the same time, so I guess you’re meant to love the supermarket too. And normally I’d probably think this was quite cute, I wouldn’t love the supermarket, but I’d like it, and I’d probably want some toast.

See, the thing is though, this time, I fucking hated that supermarket. Irrationally so. I wanted to scream and get out of my chair and smash the screen.

No, of course I didn’t actually.

The commercial stopped anyway, and we were back to flashing. It was pictures of frogs, tree frogs, bulging eyes, slimy, bent over, huge throats ballooning. I just had to click the button when there was a red frog. I do them all right, but I’m stuck to my seat with fear. I am terrified of frogs, ever since my brother once pushed me into a bush and I landed with my chin on this fucker of a toad. I felt like its tongue came out and went in my eye. I don’t know if it actually did but I remember it.

So Poof comes back, and I ask, “Why frogs?”

And he says, “They’re the most neutral response animal. We measure your responses from that compared to the commercial.”

“I’m scared of frogs,” I say. I practically shout it. His fingers are long and cold and they pause for a second, taking off the cap.

“Ah shit,” he says. He takes off the cap and shakes his head. Then he looks at me again, and I imagine us in love, at our wedding, me patting down his Poof. I do this with everyone.

“Unusual,” he says, and smiles, hands me my check for a fifty and leaves. No invite for a second-round of testing.

No, that’s not the end. See, this is where it gets really weird. So I’m leaving, out of the white place, in the elevator that stinks like piss, down and out and round the corner to here, and guess what I see on the pavement? This toad. This huge, brown toad, throat swinging out like a pair of balls. And you know what I do – which isn’t like me, it’s not like me at all—I bend to my knees, and put out my hands to it, together, like this? Here, look, put your hands here. Like this. And it hops on, like it’s been waiting for me.

Why? I don’t know. I don’t know at all. But, I guess you would do, wouldn’t you? You’d take whatever offered itself up to you? Whatever held out its hands?