Dante and the Fantasy Patch characters get the crabs!
By Stephen Geez
Some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.
I don’t know why, but this critter won’t eat the stuff, instead preferring collards and other greens.
So imagine warm light, cool breeze, a splash of gurgling water, eight explorable square feet, one climbing ladder of latticed sticks, a thatch of tasty greens beckoning from above, and our hero methodically clawing his way upward for all he’s worth—which is normally about five bucks, free if you simply pick him up, as Taj did.
It’s a hermit crab, about the size of a jawbreaker, the landlubber version found in tropical beach-side brush. This crab and its three crabby cohorts hail from Gulfcoast Florida, having hitched back to Chicago in a sack of shells collected by the four-year-old son of my youngest producer. I normally frown on taking souvenirs from sites above water and below, these being nature’s mobile homes for myriad denizens wet or dry, but young Taj didn’t know better, so no major harm.
I help him and three other kids, all now dedicated hermit-crab owners, as they outfit a large terrarium in the day-care area of our video-production facility. Dabbing quick-clean non-toxic paint, each decorates his crab’s shell for easy identification, this despite my warning that these critters often change houses for better fit and to runway-strut the latest in chic crab style.
We provide a small plate of corn meal, little-bit fruit bites, and other crabby snacks; but for some reason the one now climbing after the greens always decides to pass when it’s offered mere iceberg.
Apparently, some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.
So we’re watching the crabs one day when my friend/client Flynn Durbett stops by with a sackful of test products designed for kid safety and/or fun learning. Flynn’s the soldier-of-fortune character first introduced in Stephen Geez’s novel Invigilator, way back before he settled down a bit and founded a company dedicated to helping people protect themselves from a dangerous world. He needs some marketing hooks, packaging, design—anything I might contribute as his agency-of-record creative director. My name is Danté Roenik, but Flynn’s been occasionally calling me “The Image Maker”—ever since I deigned to narrate Stephen Geez’s novel Fantasy Patch, the tale of my infamous tilting at pharmaceutical-conglomerate windmills. Yikes! Turns out windmills are quite willing to shred anybody who dares get in their way.
Flynn shows me a sort of child’s poncho boasting swirls of fabric stitched to hold pocketfuls of kid-stuff—tearaways for safety, elastic gathers to avoid strangle-strings—all topped by a nifty hood with sewn-in sweatband crafted such that side panels pull away to ensure full peripheral vision when young street-crossing bike-riding skater-boarders turn their heads to look both ways. Flynn has inked a distribution deal with a chain of big-box stores, a test-market roll-out in the Chicago ’burbs, but the product needs a name, a hook, and some cool images laser-screened on the front and back.
Big-eyed Taj dons the smallest in Flynn’s Santa-sack, and I’m instantly reminded of a hermit crab, the swirling shell, this spiky-haired lad peering out from under the hood, his expression that sneaky escapade-plotting look of appraisal often found on little kids and littler crabs.
I notice the real crab has reached his goal, now perched atop the ladder, contentedly munching his greens as I paint an art-deco shell design onto one of Flynn’s pullovers. The kids all want them, but each prefers to paint his or her own design.
And there’s Flynn’s hook: “KrabbShells,” pre-screened as a plain hermit shell, each including a small set of disposable fabric markers so pint-sized fashion plates can customize unique looks—or visit Flynn’s company website for ideas and templates, a safe place to share photos of their own and to admire the works of other young artists.
Next we paw through Flynn’s collection of new products. I’m intrigued by a tiny ball with a slot that reveals a mini-light and magnifying glass with tiny tweezer and gripper. They prove especially handy for examining real crabs up close and personal. We all want one.
Flynn trundles off to meet with the big-boxers. They’re lucky to be working with such a good man who values loyalty and integrity, one who looks out for others and the world we share—unless you cross him or try to hurt a friend, but that’s a longer story, actually two, both attractively priced in print or multiple ebook formats.
So KrabbShells sales rapidly climb that ladder for the big-box stores, and Flynn’s company feeds on the green, but we’re not in control of the promotion, and Flynn’s contract doesn’t confer veto power over the unacceptable: our retailer starts offering one free hermit crab with every KrabbShells sale.
I do encourage responsible pet ownership for young people to learn about caring for others. Hermit crabs aren’t endangered, and they’re certainly not dangerous, but I have a pet-store-chain client who rightly rails against such indiscriminate pet-mongering. Buy a hermit from one of her outlets and you’re not getting out the door without the proper habitat, supplies, how-to pamphlet, and a thorough conversation. Living creatures are not toy prizes; they should be entrusted only to those who truly want them and will properly care for them.
The big-box buyers dismiss Flynn’s objections, opting instead to enforce their contract in lieu of maintaining good faith between retailer and supplier. We’re all angry about this, including the kids and their chums, most of whom want to voice their outrage. After some serious hand-wringing over where to draw the line between exploiting young’ns and nurturing their burgeoning need to self-express, I do what people so often pay me a lot of green to do: I orchestrate one bodacious media spectacle, nationwide coverage, a public-relations cesspool to mire the mid-city big-box headquarters of these crass exploiters of innocent crabs.
So picture this: more than two-dozen subtly supervised teenies and tweenies dressed as hermit crabs, their hand-painted KrabbShells emblazoned with “Kidz for Krabs,” a crusading cadre marching sideways in the cutest camera-calling crabwalk you could ever imagine. These irate squeaky-voiced orators are delivering little-bit sound bites for sympathetically amused on-the-scene TV reporters, crowds gathering to gawk and chant, our urban beach awash in a growing tidal wave of righteous indignation.
In a surprising move, egregiously unprofitable for successful builders of bigger boxes, our adversaries opt out rather than address the problem, apparently preferring to retreat into their shells to avoid fostering an image of cavers-in to special-interest pressure.
So Flynn gets his product back, then re-launches with a smaller big-box that’s been angling to out-box the bigger big-boxers. Cranking up the Danté publicity machine proves a cakewalk—a crabwalk, as it were—after the impromptu kid-protest already raised awareness about the irresponsible, um, spreading of crabs.
Besides, offering free KrabbShell handhelds that open to reveal a tiny light, magnifier, and tweezer/gripper crab pincers starts piling some serious green on Flynn’s plate.
Taj’s crustaceous little friend promptly moves himself into a bigger, more stylish shell, and the young’ns all learn about making planet-friendly choices when their own careers someday find them climbing that ladder in the age-old quest for a little bit of green.
It’s a lesson fit for a sound-bite:
Some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.
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Spend time with Dante and this crew in the media-thriller novel Fantasy Patch!