Houston’s Best Stories

She stuck the needle in his eye. I had already turned away. As soon as the assistant had clamped the speculum to his eyelid, the eyeball protruding like a meaty oyster sitting in its half-shell waiting to be plucked from its socket, I had already seen more than I could stomach. It was speculative fiction turned speculative reality.

A speculum for the human eye.

So it’s not just for vaginas.

Tilted all the way back in the treatment chair, like he was Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 destined for the moon,  Dad chatted away nonplussed with Dr. Wang, Sandra Oh’s doppelgänger in her New Balance sneakers that matched her powder blue scrubs. He finally stopped long enough to ask her, “Are you going to let me know when you inject it?”

She chirped,” I already did!”

Ahhh, just like a good equine vet injecting a horse’s joint. It’s over before the patient realises what is happening. 

When she was done, they adjusted the chair back to the sitting position. Dad, as jolly as when we arrived, jumped up (hyperbolic), grabbed his walker, and announced, “I’m driving!” As he hobbled out of the office, Dr. Wang and her assistant looked at each other, eyes wide, until Mom and I laughed and said, “Haha, very funny!” We went out for dinner afterwards, and I couldn’t help but be mystified by Dad’s stoicism. For a crusty old crow at times, Dad can still rally in the face of pain and discomfort. After we left the office, I made a mental to remember: The older you get, the worse the solution to your problems becomes.

I’ve started another Section4 Sprint this week: Product Strategy. On the first day of class, the teaching assistant asked, “What’s a product you would enthusiastically recommend to a friend, and what do you love about it?” The slack channel quickly exploded with answers: Headspace, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Lemonade, Coinbase, TrainerRoad, Mistobox Coffee, DrinkTrade, Whimsical, Unsplash.









These are all apps—brands/platforms—as products, that my peers, and the world, use and subscribe to, on a daily basis.  Me? I’ve never heard of most of them.  I threw Apple and Toyota into the ring. This garnered no response. Crickets. I might as well have added “rotary phone” or “castor oil” to the conversation. One person did present a physical product they use everyday: “Anessa,” sunscreen that sells for $52 per 60 ml tube. 

Who are these hybrid millenials/gen z’ers with robust purse strings, and where did they come from?

I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Who really cares what others spend their money on? I’m just pointing out it’s a lot of disposable cabbage (credit, Prof G for the metaphor) for a young professional, newly-minted in the workforce, to spend on skincare. 

Despite my culture gap (I’m living the speculative fiction class I’m taking), and my aversion to assimilating multiple apps, I love this class. It took me a while to understand why I love these sprints so much, but I finally figured it out. Branding is nothing more than the fusion of storytelling, behavior economics and data analytics, all concepts I find truly fascinating. That, and I learn more about the world in which I live from my peers, who have their finger on a different pulse than I do. It opens my world to that which I do not know.

In the meantime, I’ve made a list of the apps cited to investigate at a later date. 

One of my tasks this week was to help my parents buy a new mattress to replace their old one wrecked in the flood of February. Mom heard that and said, “That sounds like something for you and your dad to do.” 


Dad and I drove down to Gallery Furniture, a Houston staple since 1981. I remembered the cheesy commercials on TV as a kid and “Mattress Mack,” the energetic owner in them. My parents brought his name up a few years ago, after Hurricane Harvey displaced more than 30,000 people.

“Did you know,” Mom said, “that Mattress Mack opened up his showroom for those now homeless, but Joel Olsteen wouldn’t open his church?? Can you believe that?”

That conversation four years ago was etched in my head as I parked the car in front of the showroom. 

Stepping indoors, there he was behind the counter, many years older, but still recognizable: Mattress Mack. At the age of 70, Mattress Mack still stands behind the counter, head down and working, reserved and humble (unlike the commercials). I asked, “Is there someone who can help us with a new mattress?”

He said, “Yup! I’ve got the best salesman. He knows everything about mattresses. Been selling them for thirty years.”

From around the corner, a man, a little hitch in his giddy-up, ambled toward us. What I noticed first about Scott was the big, starched cowboy hat covering the grey hair sticking out below it like straw in a bird’s nest. He wore the requisite Wranglers with a plaid Ariat button down shirt. Curiosity finally got the better of me.

 I asked him, “Did you used to rodeo?”

Scott smiled, but shook his head. Mattress Mack was right. He did give us the best salesman. Dad and I were in and out of the store in less than an hour, but not before discussing Mattress Mack with Scott. The two of them have been friends for 35 years. Scott waxed on about this Houston icon and what he has done over his career for the city.  In that moment, it all clicked—Why Gallery furniture has huge brand equity; Why Houstonians truly adore Mattresss Mack.

It’s because Mattress Mack truly loves them.

Sometimes good branding isn’t storytelling scripted before fruition.

Sometimes the strongest brands are stories created over a lifetime–a lifetime of business conducted with authenticity and kindness.

Proof that, sometimes, nice guys do finish first. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s