“FIVE SEASONS IN MALIBU” (SHORT STORY)

Philip Morris is in rehab again.

All he wants to do is get back home and get back to work. All he needs is one breathtaking idea.

“Five Seasons in Malibu” is a prescient advertising short story about being blindsided by ambition, about being addicted to success.

Will Philip see what he wants to see?

Or what he needs to see?

Rated NC-17 / 4,000 words / 16 minutes of revelatory reading pleasure

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The only people who care about advertising are the people who work in advertising.’ George Parker 

STEFANO BOSCUTTI

FIVE SEASONS IN MALIBU

Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti
All Rights Reserved

1. PACIFIC OCEAN - SUNSET

Sounds of frothy waves lapping and drawing across sand, rippling back into the fold.

On the distant horizon a blazing California sun is about to slip away. A coral sky washes over the clouds and the ocean.

Pull back to reveal the edges of the horizon bend and bow as the sun sinks lower. Pull back further to show what looks like God’s thumbprint over the reddening sky. Further still to see an etched Ray-Ban logo.

The sun disappears, taking the day with it.

‘Fuuuck!’

Pull back to show PHILIP MORRIS, 50s, staring out to the horizon through mirrored Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, arms folded, pissed. He looks like Robert Redford on the set of “Three Days of the Condor”. Same tussled hair, far more expensive denim shirt.

Philip is standing on the balcony of his suite at the Five Seasons in Malibu luxury drug rehabilitation facility. It’s the closest suite to the ocean, only steps to the sand.

He doesn’t want to be up on the hill with the other guests, with the eight pools, with the multiple dining options, with the gyms and meditation rooms.

He wants to be here, close to the water, close to the horizon. He wants to see the green flash of the setting sun.

But in all the days he’s been there, he hasn’t seen it once.

2. LUXURY REHAB GARDENS - DAY

DR BURWIN, 40s, sits with Philip, surrounded by lush palms and ferns. Philip is wearing his mirrored Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses.

‘Philip, I’ve worked in a lot of clinics and centers and private practice and I’ve got to say the staff here are so cohesive, so together.’

‘Dr. Burwin, you should be in advertising.’

‘Wherever you are on your recovery journey, Philip, there’s mutual respect, a wonderful team effort. We’re all here for you.’

Philip waits for the line about being open to miracles. But then decides to ask a question instead.

‘Are you a real doctor?’

‘What do you think, Philip?’

‘I’m not entirely certain because apparently I have trouble distinguishing reality. Hence my question.’

Dr Burwin smiles.

‘Do you think you have trouble distinguishing reality, Philip?’

Philip smiles.

It’s an odd questions given his job is to create reality. As the senior creative director at the Heroine advertising agency his job is to take one version of reality and convert it into another, replace old perceptions with new perceptions. All he does is distinguish reality.

‘Do you know how many days you’ve been here?’

‘More than nine, less than ninety.’

‘You know why you’re here, don’t you, Philip?’

Philip cocks his head. Dr Burwin continues.

‘You tried to kill yourself in your agency boardroom.’

‘I was trying to make a point.’

‘You were trying to leap out of a window from the top floor of a Manhattan office block.’

‘It was a presentation. I told the client if they didn’t run the new campaign, I’d jump out of the window.’

‘Your boss, Simon Ross, tackled you to the floor.’

3. LUXURY REHAB BEACH - AFTERNOON

Philip walks barefoot on the sand. Wearing his mirrored sunglasses. Light wind drifts by. Up on the hill, near one of the pools, someone waves down at him.

Philip knows why he’s here. Yes, there’s the jumping out the window issue. But that’s not why he’s here.

Yes, there’s the Xanadine addiction. Seriously, who isn’t addicted to Xanadine - Eli-Pfizer’s blockbuster anti-anxiety and opioid drug. But that’s not really why he’s here.

Philip is at the Five Seasons in Malibu because if he doesn’t successfully complete a 90-day treatment, his advertising agency can’t get professional indemnity insurance. 

And without professional indemnity insurance there are no clients, no business, no nothing. It all goes to hell. Including his stake.

All the other agencies and jackals will come for the accounts. Especially the newer, hungrier firms like René + Girard, Yes Yes Yes, Copy & Co, Champaign.

All because one client might not run one campaign. It’s not easy being an enfant terrible at Philip’s age, but what choice does he have?

The Marlboro account is his agency’s biggest. Both in billings and prestige. Philip had famously brought the Marlboro brand (and the rest of the industry) kicking and screaming back into relevance.

Everyone in the industry was hung up on tobacco and smoking. But that’s not why people bought cigarettes. Philip didn’t need any planner to tell him that people bought cigarettes for the kick of nicotine, for the rush of adrenaline, for the dopamine flooding the pleasure and motivation centers of the brain.

The industry was hung up on ecigarettes and smokeless cigarettes and vapes and all manner of nonsense. Juuls that mixed nicotine with sugary flavors had become absurdly popular until they were outlawed. Every year the FDC - the government agency formed from the merger of the FDA and the CDC - reduces the allowable levels of nicotine in tobacco to lessen its addictive pull and reduce smoking-related illnesses. All the great brand people had gone, replaced by armies of scared lawyers.

It was Philip’s idea to drop the tobacco and relaunch Marlboro as a gum. Twenty nicotine pellets in a foil strip, one strip in every packet. Because there was no smoking-related illnesses, there was no need for a block health warning on the front or images of cancer-riddled lungs and tongues and toes.

Philip’s packet faithfully reproduced Frank Gianninoto’s distinctive red and white 1955 flip-top box design. Because the foil strip was only a tenth of the width of twenty cigarettes, ten times more packets could be stored on retail shelves. Slashing distribution costs and exploding profits.

For the advertising campaigns, Philip used the original gritty Marlboro Man series by the Leo Burnett agency featuring real cowboys in picturesque wild terrains. Visual artists simply airbrushed out the cigarettes. It was brilliant.

It also turned around the brand’s fortunes overnight. Within months it had more than ninety percent share of a market that was growing faster than any category on earth. It was a miracle.

Philip has been through all the highs and lows and highs. He isn’t about to quit now. He was going to fade away and write his memoirs.

If that means a three-month stint at the Five Seasons in Malibu, so be it. If that means sixty-eight one-on-one sessions with every variety of therapist, that’s cool.

Say what you will about Five Seasons in Malibu, but the organic hummus is the best he’s ever tasted.

And the view is to die for.

4. LUXURY REHAB ART THERAPY ROOM - LATE AFTERNOON

Philip wanders into the open room. It’s flooded with sunlight.

Blank canvasses are stacked against one wall. It smells faintly of ammonia. Sounds of distant waves.

ADRIANA FONTNA, 40s, is at an easel, painting, engrossed.

‘Do you ever take off those sunglasses?’

Philip shakes his head and thinks of seven things to say back, all of which sound like pick-up lines. He says something else instead.

‘They’re Ray-Bans.’

‘I know.’

‘Designed in 1936 by US Army Air Corps Colonel John A. Macready for pilots to cut back the glare of blue and white skies .’

‘The original had green lenses to ban ultraviolet and infrared rays of light. Hence the name.’

‘Pilots could fly into the sun.’

‘Is that what you like to do?’

It’s a good question. Adriana keeps painting without lifting her eyes off the canvas.

‘Please don’t ask me what I’m painting? Or how many days I’ve been here?’

‘Tried to make a break for it yet?’

‘Twice. Didn’t even make it to the front gates. You?’

‘Working on an escape plan.’

5. LUXURY REHAB FOYER - SUNSET

Philip picks up a folio-sized brochure for Five Seasons in Malibu from the glass coffee table.

Large format, full color, expensively bound, heavy paper. It’s the only one there. Flicking through the pages there’s details of the Spanish-influenced architecture, the multi-tiered terraces, the yoga on the beach, the crystalline pools, the individualized experience, the nutritional expertise, the holistic modalities, the family inclusion, the twelve-person treatment teams.

The focus of treatment at Five Seasons in Malibu is structured around Seasonal Atmospheric Addictive Disorder (SAAD), a physiological disorder characterized by seasonal patterns of addiction, usually in the fall to winter period. With waning sunlight and rising anxiety, depression and social withdrawal, this time of the year is seen as the fifth season.

With its endless summer, Malibu is the perfect locale for rehabilitation facilities. Long days and shining nights draw in addicts from across the country and around the world. Some facilities are booked out years in advance.

The beach city has more rehabilitation centers and retreats per square mile than anywhere else on earth. Signs around the city still proclaim “21 Miles of Scenic Beauty”. It used to be 27 miles until developers carved out and rezoned all the private beaches.

Philip isn’t even sure how he got here from Manhattan. He presumes Johnny Wayland arranged it. Johnny is the fixer at the agency. Every agency has one. They’re the guy - it’s always a guy - who makes problems disappear.

Philip doesn’t remember arriving at Five Seasons in Malibu. Doesn’t remember being admitted. Doesn’t remember detoxing which must have happened because his Xanadine addiction had kept rising and rising, clambering higher and higher. He’d been popping the 70mg pills like candy.

Philip looks around the foyer. There are large paintings on the walls. Bright, splashy abstracts. Probably painted by guests who never called clients or patients, never monetized or stigmatized.

There’s no entrance door, which Philip finds odd. How do guests enter and leave? How do family members come and go?

No devices of any kind are allowed. Not even a watch. Not even a vitamin pill. And of course all licit and illicit drugs and alcohol are banned. Philip had never been a big drinker. If a client was getting sloshed, then he would join. More out of camaraderie than enjoyment. Pills and powders had always been his potion.

Philip looks back at the brochure. On the page is a photo of the foyer he’s standing in. The paintings are different but the view of the setting sun from the floor-to-ceiling plate glass window is almost identical.

His reflection on the glass is faint as the sun slips below the horizon. It’s gone in the blink of an eye.

He doesn’t see the flash of green.

6. LUXURY REHAB SUITE - MORNING

Philip is in his suite, haphazardly painting a canvas and planning his escape. He’s wearing bathers, a loose shirt and his mirrored sunglasses. Worn paperback books are scattered everywhere.

So far he’s avoided the art room and all group activities. Five Seasons in Malibu doesn’t force guests to participate in group therapy. It prides itself on a more individual focus, a more singular locus.

Philip frowns at what he’s painted. According to the Five Seasons in Malibu, art therapy taps into the creative parts of yourself through artistic expression. The therapeutic benefits include the capacity to express yourself in more depth than talk therapy, release stress and tension, and heal emotional trauma. Philip felt none of them.

Creative expression? He’d been doing it his whole life. He’d been one of the youngest creative directors in the industry. For him it was less about style and more about substance. About how to shift culture, shift markets.

His creative expression had become tied to commerce. Ideas for the sake of ideas had given way to selling for the sake of selling. Products, services, organizations, institutions, charities, governments. Everything needed to be sold, everything needed to be turned into money.

What he wouldn’t give for a Xanadine now.

7. LUXURY REHAB POOL - LATE MORNING

Large pool umbrellas flutter in a light breeze.

Philip lies back on a cushioned teak lounge chaise by the biggest pool in the facility. Barefoot, bathers, unbuttoned shirt, mirrored sunglasses. Reading a well-thumbed paperback of “The Stranger” by Albert Camus.

Adriana is floating on her back in the glinting water, wearing a black one-piece. Reaching back and drawing her arms and fingers through the water.

‘Not coming in?’

Philip answers without looking up from his book.

‘I don’t swim in chlorinated water.’

‘Toxins?’

‘Free radicals too. Cell damage, scarring in the circulatory system, breathing problems. There’s a list.’

‘I’m sure it’s very long.’

Philip closes his book and looks over. Adriana continues.

‘You can see the irony of an addict worrying about their health, right?’

‘I’m sure the preferred nomenclature is guest.’

‘I’m Adriana, and I’m an addict.’

‘I’m Philip, and I’m a senior creative director.’

‘Of course you are.’

Philip sits up and swings his feet onto the stone surface.

‘Adriana, I’m sure you’re more than just an addict.’

‘We’re all addicts. If we’re lucky, we get to decide what we’re addicted to. We get to choose how we’re addicted. We get to rule our addictions. If we’re unlucky, our addictions rule us.’

‘Which therapist told you that?’

‘I’m pretty sure it was me.’

Philip stands up, picks up his book and heads to the art room.

‘Lucky you.’

8. LUXURY REHAB ART ROOM - LATER

Philip works furiously on a new canvas, painting a poem.

Snatches of words and letters reflected on his mirrored sunglasses.

It’s not making any sense. It’s just a jumble of half-broken words only he can see, clumsy lines and ragged thoughts. He keeps painting.

He keeps thinking about escaping. Flying back to the agency in Manhattan, leaping back to his old life. Dancing back into the fray. Pitching every which way. Making a little history.

Old habits are hard to break. The older, the harder. All those pitches, all those campaigns, all those awards, all those addictions. All those ideas and now this. Empty. Spent. Scratching at a canvas. Stuck on the other side of the country, trapped in a sun-blessed purgatory. Three thousand miles from Manhattan, a million miles from paradise.

He puts the brush down and decides to go for a walk.

Decides to clear his mind.

9. LUXURY REHAB BEACH - AFTERNOON

Philip walks along the water’s edge, thinking about how he’d let everyone down.

Sunlight gleams over the surface of his mirrored sunglasses. Sounds of crashing waves and swirling sea.

One broken relationship after another, one lost account after another, one let down after another. The realization that he’d become a liability, an old man without hope. And old man without any new ideas.

But why was that a problem? Most of the industry was bereft of ideas. Sure there were a handful of new advertising agencies pushing new ideas. But even they were getting bought up behind the scenes. Agency groups were forming and growing again. And the larger any agency became, the duller the work they produced. Enthusiasm and daring gave way to systems and profit margins.

There’s only a handful of people on the beach, mainly tourists. Of course there’s security staff from Five Seasons in Malibu at either end of the beach. Maybe he could swim out to sea to escape, but he knew they’d drag him back.

An Indian family was up ahead, their young son playing in the water. The mother was calling him to come in. The young boy was laughing, splashing out deeper and deeper.

Philip thinks about the advertising agency he wants to start. He had a name - The Orphanage. And a simple guiding philosophy - only hire people whose parents were dead, whose families were estranged. His agency would become their family, their love.

No going home for the holidays, no family dramas to attend to, no familial rites and rituals. Being an orphan had its market advantages.

The mother’s screams snatch his attention. She’s screaming for help because her son is being dragged out to sea.

‘He cannot swim! He cannot!’

The father is running, stumbling to the security staff. The son is flaying in the deep water, disappearing under the waves.

Philip dashes into the water, pulling himself forward, Surging, diving under the waves. Propelling himself towards the drowning boy.

He lifts his head above the water to catch his breath. Looks around, heart pumping. People are rushing towards the screaming mother on the shore. He cannot see the boy.

He pulls his body under the water, turns and kicks to go deeper. Spots the outreached arm of the sinking boy. Kicks and kicks and reaches out to grab his hand and pull both of them to the surface, to the light. Lifts the boy’s head out of the water.

The boy coughs, splutters. Eyes flutter as he gulps air. Philip can feel his tiny heart pumping in double time, blood coursing under his skin.

Philip holds his head against his own chest and strokes back to shore. The mother splashes into the water and plucks her son away. The father looks at Philip with shocked gratitude. Lost for words.

Water trickles down Philip’s mirrored sunglasses like tears.

Philip is panting, dazed.

10. LUXURY REHAB GARDENS - LATE AFTERNOON

Philip has showered and dressed. His hair is still wet, slicked back. His mirrored sunglasses gleam.

Dr Burwin smiles.

‘That was a remarkable thing you did, Philip. Saving a boy’s life.’

‘Was it part of the therapy?’

Dr Burwin gently shakes her head.

‘Impressive as that would be, no.’

Dr Burwin changes the subject.

‘Have you thought more about why you’re here?’

‘It really wasn’t a suicide attempt, Dr Burwin. If I wanted to jump out that window, I would’ve jumped.’

‘Why would you have wanted to do that, Philip?’

Philip smiles tightly.

‘I’d rather not talk about it.’

‘But that’s why I’m here. So you can talk about it. So I can listen.’

Philip wants to tell her that he’s terrified that his creativity has left him, that his reason for being has evaporated, that he let his agency down. Let everyone down.

But he doesn’t. He’s too afraid.

12. LUXURY REHAB SUITE - EVENING

There’s a small envelope slipped half under the door to Philip’s suite.

Philip squats down, adjusts his sunglasses, pulls out the envelope, stands and opens the door. Steps inside as the doors closes quietly behind him.

Opens the envelope and takes out a note that’s folded in half. Unfolds it. There’s only six words on it.

‘You lost us the Marlboro account.’

Shit! He should have jumped out the fucking window. It’s all his fault.

The Marlboro account represents more than half the agency billings. Losing an account of that magnitude had immediate ramifications. More than half the staff would need to be retrenched. At least half of the accounts would be raided by competing agencies. Panic would spread to the remaining accounts.

Philip may as well have poured gasoline on the agency and set it on fire.

Agencies have gone from hundreds of millions of dollars of billings to zero in a matter of days. It was the nature of the business. No one likes a loser. Credit agencies, banks and financial services, media aggregators all pull away. Contracts be damned, everyone flees.

All because of one stupid presentation.

13. LUXURY REHAB ART ROOM - NIGHT

Philip is leaning against the open doorway. No one is inside.

Discarded canvases are scattered in the low light. Adriana’s paintings aren’t there and Philip knows she’s gone.

Outside the stars feel cold.

14. LUXURY REHAB PHILIP’S SUITE - LATE NIGHT

Door swings open as Philip walks in, closes behind him.

Philip locks the door, slips in the security chain, grabs a chair and wedges it under the handle.

Glances around the room through his sunglasses. Table lamps provide the only light. He steps over to the desk and picks up his Ray-Ban sunglasses case, goes to the bathroom, switches on the lights.

Holds up the case. It’s leather. It’s vintage. It’s in pristine condition. And it cost more than the sunglasses.

It’s rare. 1950s Bausch & Lomb Genuine Made in USA Leather Case. Early Ray-Ban by Bausch & Lomb debossed logo. Aluminum casing inside is lined with green felt.

Philip unsnips the front flap, thumbs it back. Grabs a nail file and stabs it between the leather and the edge of the lined casing. Then saws all the way around until he lifts the casing free and places it on the vanity.

Rattles the leather case like a dice cup in a casino and throws the contents into the palm of his hand. It’s not dice. It’s not diamonds.

It’s ten 70mg Xanadine tablets, the strongest money can buy. They look like tiny suns in his hand. He closes his fist.

Philip looks up at his reflection, his sunglasses reflecting into infinity. He’s not sure how many days or weeks or months he’s been Xanadine free. But he knows his tolerance has fallen away. Changes to metabolite production, enzyme expression and transporter function have all reverted to normal. Ten of these tablets is more than enough to overdose.

Philip fills a glass of water from the tap. He knows what’s going to happen. Within minutes the Xanadine will dramatically lower his heart rate and blood pressure. His pupils will constrict to pinpoints as his breathing slows to respiratory arrest. His body crumbling to the floor. His last breath leaving his body. His spirit gone.

And all his problems will disappear. He’ll disappear.

Philip takes off his sunglasses, opens his hand and stares at the tablets. Takes a deep breath and looks up at his reflection. Considers the past, present and future. Everyone he’ll miss. Every story left behind. There’s no tears.

He raises his hand and downs all the tablets. Crunches and chews and swallows them all. Then takes a gulp of water.

Snaps off the bathroom lights and walks out of the bathroom and into the bedroom and falls on the bed.

Sounds of distant waves rise and fall.

15.  LUXURY REHAB PHILIP’S SUITE - SUNSET

Vivid orange sunlight splashes into the bedroom. Philip’s body lays where he fell the night before, arms to one side, head facing the glass doors that open onto the balcony that looks out to the endless sea.

Philip’s eyes flutter open and he gasps awake. The last rays of sunlight are absorbed and filtered by the atmosphere. Scattered through the air as he stares at the setting sun slides behind the horizon.

A sudden green flash fills the room, streaks and across every surface. Philip’s eyes widen in wonder. A smile spreads across his face.

And that’s when the idea to save the agency hits him.


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Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti

All Rights Reserved


No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing.

Stefano Boscutti acknowledges the trademark owners of various products referenced in this work. The publication or use of these trademarks is not authorised or sponsored by the trademark owner.

This is a work of fiction. While many of the characters portrayed here have counterparts in the life and times of various advertising executives and others, the characterisations and incidents presented are totally the products of the author’s ferocious imagination. This work is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It should not be resold or given away. Thank you for your support. (Couldn’t do it without you.)

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