Politicking & Postcards: The Worst Client Ever

My mother is running for re-election in a small town in Michigan. This will be her third term, but it’s the first time that she has competition–a filthy Democrat.

My mom is a Republican politician. That sentence makes me a little queasy, but it’s true. Her views are ideologically opposed to my own in almost every way. We do agree that coffee, dogs, old Hollywood movies, classical music, and summer thunderstorms are awesome; and that Donald Trump is an embarrassment to the country. We don’t agree on much else.

She is conservative; I am liberal. She is Christian; I’m an atheist. She’s a Republican politician; I am a tattooed, reformed drug-addicted prostitute who works in the adult industry. It’s a good thing her political aspirations aren’t grander than local or I’d be a big skeleton in her closet. Mostly, we tacitly agree not to talk religion or politics, and keep our small-talk to personal events, the weather and our dogs.

When the Michigan primary happened, I was torn over asking my mom if she was voting for Trump. I wanted to know if she wasn’t, but I didn’t want to know if she was. Curiosity got the better of me. I’m glad I asked, because Trump gave us a tiny slice of American politics on which my mom and I could commiserate. It was strange having a political conversation with my mom where we agreed.

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-11-10-35-amA few weeks ago, she broke our unspoken agreement and started talking politics–the local variety. She is concerned that the evil Democrat will win the election, taking her meager income and sense of purpose away. Secretly, I’m impressed by any Democrat who has the balls the run for office in a solid swath of red. I didn’t even know there were any Democrats in the mini-Bible belt where my parents live. In their section of northern Michigan, it’s all guns, Jesus and Republicans.

Outside of ideology, my mother and I have many things in common including our left-handedness, wide feet, messy cooking and our positive inability to ask for help. From my sister, I knew she wanted help with an election mailer. It was like pulling teeth to get her to ask me, a professional graphic designer, for design help.

She asked me to do it, then immediately set about taking it back. When I told her what I needed from her to get it done (size, text, pictures, etc.), she said, “If it’s too much trouble, don’t worry about it.” After so many minutes of her trying to get me not to do it after she asked me to do it, I wound up gently yelling at her: “I didn’t say it was too much trouble. I simply told you what I need to get it done. Do you want me to write the damn thing for you, too?!” In addition to an inability to ask for help, she also handed down her short temper.

Finally, she relented, and told me she’d work on the text and have her friend do a photo shoot. A few days later, she sent me a text with four words.momtext“Enough?” Uh, no, Mom. Four words are not enough for a two-sided political postcard. I shared that little nugget with some coworkers and friends, and we had a good laugh over a flyer with only four words on it without any other information as to what it was about.

She told me the size was 6 ¾” by 6 ¾”, which you may recognize as a square. Now, you may not know much about design, but I bet you know something about junk mail. How often do you get square junk mail? Not often, if ever, right? You can mail unusual shapes and sizes, but it costs more, so almost all mail is a standard size of the rectangular variety. The Post Office likes uniformity… something to do with sorting and stamping out creativity.

After that, I asked to speak to the printer directly, who was significantly more helpful. The real size is 7″ by 8 ½”, which you may recognize as not at all a 6 ¾” square. She didn’t even get one side right. Where did the 6 ¾” come from? Who the hell knows. The printer gave me the pertinent information, but we had already wasted a week by not having the correct size or anything to put on the postcard besides four words.

Meanwhile, things weren’t going all that well on her end either, since I had to have her redo the photo shoot. She was wearing a not very professional, loudly colored summer blouse. I told her that, since the postcard wouldn’t be going out until fall, it would be best if she wasn’t wearing something that screamed aloha. Perhaps season-neutral clothing would be best, and also, a suit coat. She is a Republican after all.

Not only was she wearing the wrong thing, but the man who took the photos sent me only five to choose from, taken in a dark room with her grimacing awkwardly or with her eyes closed. I replied to his email saying that perhaps he could try again and do some more locations–some outside, some inside, different lighting, etc. Since he only sent me five terrible pictures the first time, I said, “Don’t worry about taking too many. Send me what you have and we’ll choose the best ones.”

They redid the photo shoot with her wearing a crisp white blouse and dark suit coat. Perfect. He took my statement about not worrying about too many quite literally and sent me roughly 50 more pictures. At least a few of them were good.

Last Thursday, my mom sent me a full statement of campaign platform stuff an English teacher friend had helped her write. It wasn’t half bad. Finally, I had everything I needed to create the postcard, except any fuckin’ clue what the hell I was doing.

The closest that I’ve come to designing a political ad was an election website for the head of UTLA, the teacher’s union in Los Angeles. He won. But, I’ve never designed an honest-to-goats political anything before.

I asked a friend with experience in politicking and he said, “She’s Republican? Oh, that’s easy. Just slap an American flag behind her. ‘Publicans love Murrican flags.”

My sister watched with rapt attention as I cut my mom out from the background and drew hair so she didn’t look too helmet head. I tried an American flag background, but something about my smiling mom on an American flag made her look too used car salesman to me, so instead, I created some stars and stripes that hinted at a flag, but were not it exactly:

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-11-57-41-amWith some input from my sister, I managed to get the wording just right and sent it to my mom. We had an interminable speakerphone conversation with my sister and me at one end, and my parents and their English teacher friend at the other end, waiting for their crappy, backwoods internet to connect.

Finally, the moment came when my mom saw what I had created for her. She was dumbstruck. It hadn’t occurred to me that my mom had only ever seen my little animal doodles and had never actually seen any of my real design work. I’m not sure what she thought I would create, but apparently, the results far surpassed her expectation.

I went to the dog park after the unveiling, and while I was gone, mom called my sister and told her that she felt like she could get a decent night’s sleep for once, because the postcard was going to win her the election.

The next day, I got this text:

img_0677Awww. Alright, so maybe my mom wasn’t the worst client ever.