Missives to corporate America

A consumer correspondent challenges SmithKline Beecham to start a Paxil softball league, wants Target-sponsored sunsets and confesses a desire for Gap mannequins.



Kenneth Cleaver
September 29, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

August 29, 2000

Consumer Affairs
SmithKline Beecham
100 Beecham Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15205

Dear SmithKline Beecham:

I enjoy your drug Paxil very much. While I occasionally hanker for the tart, fruity flavor of a Flintstones vitamin, I infinitely prefer the alleviation from desperate rumination your product offers. Despite the thousands of Americans who regularly take antidepressants, considerable stigma still surrounds their use.

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The unspoken sentiment regarding antidepressants is that there is something wrong with the user. Failure to achieve happiness, or even a sustainable satisfaction with life, is anathema to a culture so passionate about success in both the personal and professional arenas. In an effort to provide succor and community to Paxil users, I think it would be great to organize social activities. My initial thought, I will confess, is a selfish one as it coincides with my favorite recreational activity: softball!

There might be enough Paxil users in certain areas to form a league. However, interdrug play will be inevitable with friendly rivalries between the Paxil Panthers and the Prozac Pirates. I would recommend playing 10 to a team, an extra outfielder or "short fielder," plus the traditional nine defensive positions. Slow pitch and five balls to walk will encourage everyone to hit. Recreational softball should never be a pitchers' duel.

I would be delighted to organize a team and would very much like it if you could provide me with a list of other users to contact. I don't think it imposing to ask SmithKline Beecham to defray uniform and equipment costs. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Sincerely,
Kenneth H. Cleaver

SmithKline Beecham responds:

August 14, 2000

Kenneth H. Cleaver
P.O. Box 810
Bedford, NY 10506

Dear Mr. Cleaver:

Breaking down the stigma on anxiety disorders is a challenge we face each day. We agree that it is a formidable task to change societal beliefs that anxiety disorders are not diseases of the individual psyche but rather clear, definable medical conditions. Society's need to blame the sufferer is intolerable and must change.

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We are pleased to hear that Paxil has helped you to feel better about yourself and gain control of your life, so much so that you are able to live confidently with your condition and be involved in activities with friends and strangers. You are one of the many survivors who can help society understand that anxiety is indeed a true medical illness.

We admire and acknowledge you for your commitment to helping raise awareness of anxiety disorders and your creativity in your proposal. Unfortunately, we must decline your request for assistance in building an antidepressant softball league. While we cannot provide you with a shirt, I thought you might like a sample of some Paxil promotional items.

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We wish you many "home runs" in every and all games you play. As a final note, if you would be interested in sharing your story with others to help accelerate the acceptance by society of people with mental illness please contact Holly White at (212) 598-2845.

Warmest regards, Barry Brand
Product Director, Paxil

September 1, 2000

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Mr. Bob Ulrich, CEO
Target Stores
33 South 6th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55440

Dear Mr. Ulrich:

I was delighted to learn that Target contributed to the restoration of the Washington Monument. The monument is oft derided by sophomoric intellectuals as a phallic paean to American colonialism. I believe our country, with its myriad of caverns, caves and canyons, affords enough sexual iconography to satisfy both genders.

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While in Maine last summer, several friends made a trip to the highest point in Acadia National Park to view the sunset. To my surprise, there were nearly a hundred sunset fans assembled with beach chairs and snacks. I didn't realize sunsets still had a following. While most public events, outdoor concerts, parades, etc. are underwritten or directly sponsored by a corporation, I thought this situation ripe with opportunity.

Target might research sunset viewing locales throughout the United States and during the summer months, set up beach chairs and serve light refreshments -- all conveniently available at Target stores. This practice might be met with initial shock, orchestrated outrage and cynicism, but over time, the benefits will be incalculable. Instead of associating sunsets with the majestic beauty of nature, inspirational self-improvement greeting cards and quasi-spiritual epiphanies, people will associate sunsets with Target stores and products. The ubiquity of sunsets translates to millions of dollars in free publicity and advertising.

You owe me big time.

Sincerely,
Kenneth H. Cleaver

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Target responds:

September 13, 2000

Mr. Kenneth H. Cleaver
P.O. Box 810
Bedford, NY 10506

Dear Mr. Cleaver:

Thank you for sharing your comments regarding community relations programs with us. Mr. Bob Ulrich, Chairman and CEO -- Target Corporation, has received your idea and asked me to respond. On behalf of Mr. Ulrich and Target, I would like to thank you for taking the time to share your idea.

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Without comments and suggestions, we wouldn't know what our guests like about our stores or would like to see implemented in the future. While I cannot guarantee that your suggestion regarding a "sunset club" will be implemented, I will share your idea with our Community Relations team.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your idea. We value your business and hope you will continue to shop at Target.

Sincerely,
Kevin Kaye
Target Executive Office

July 17, 2000

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Gap Inc.
900 Cherry Avenue
San Bruno, CA 94066

Dear Gap Inc.:

Several years ago, mine eyes beheld the glory of three window mannequins displayed in your outpost on Wilshire Boulevard. Whether it was the nostalgic loneliness of a New Yorker trapped in an L.A. autumn, smog ingestion or indigestion, I just can't say. But what transpired over the course of several weeks will forever remain a landmark chapter in my romantic annals.

Devoid of appendages and outfitted in provocative skirts and tight sweaters, this abstracted female plastic provided me a safe environment for emotional intimacy. For this, I cannot thank you enough. For three glorious weeks, I spent every available moment with my headless harem. I was mistaken for a shoplifter, a drug addict and an executive producer. I did not care; I was in love.

Many consider my behavior perverse and indicative of misogynist sexual deviance. I can assure you that our relations were far from licentious. Some use training wheels to learn to ride a bike; I use mannequins to love. When seven torsos in fleece replaced Clair, Amy and Artemesia, the loss was harrowing. Since then, I've been involved with the Liz Claiborne window at Bloomingdale's, but it's clearly a rebound thing. We just haven't admitted it yet.

I am fermenting in the heart-stomping misery of limbo, praying I might reestablish contact with my former loves. Please deliver me to a place called hope.

Yours truly,
Kenneth H. Cleaver

The Gap sympathizes:

July 20, 2000

Mr. Kenneth H. Cleaver
P.O. Box 810
Bedford, NY 10506

Dear Mr. Cleaver:

Thank you for your letter. The structures we use for display in our stores now, although abbreviated, are much easier for the staff to handle in composing and arranging clothing displays.

While it's unlikely that we'll bring back the earlier mannequins you admired, we sympathize with your disappointment about their departure, and thank you for checking with us.

Sincerely,
Christie Allair
Corporate Communications


Kenneth Cleaver

Kenneth Cleaver is campaigning to rename the eggplant. His work appears in several alternative weeklies including the Hartford Advocate. He is a native of Bedford, N.Y.

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