POST-OP WEEKS 114 & 115
The way I heard it:
My older sister met her husband during a vacation to Miami she took with her girlfriends in the late 60s. She knew him about eight days, the story goes, when she knew he was the man for her. She flew back home, as scheduled, told her roommate, friends, and family (us) to cram what they could into her car, drive it down to her and dump the rest anywhere they wanted to. Then she flew back down to Miami and married him.
She was 24, 25. He was 30-something, 33, maybe.
My mom told my sister’s roommate she “gave them a year, at the most” on the tape I made of their phone conversation. They’ve been married something like 40 years now!
My sister’s new husband grew up in Virginia. He used to say that he didn’t get along with his father (or maybe it was a step-father, I don’t remember) so when he was 16, he dropped out of high school, lied about his age, and joined the Army. This always gave him a prejudice against the college educated. I’d always hear him complaining about the customers he had to deal with who thought they were smarter than he was, etc.
I thought he was married once before, then ended up working at a hotel (motel?) in Key Biscayne. My parents said he was a “towel boy” but I don’t know for sure what he did there. He’s a tall guy, 6’ 4” or so, he used to look a lot like Elvis. They lived in a trailer that I thought was cool when we went to visit once. He used to swim in the ocean every morning for his exercise like other people run. He let us punch him in the stomach and sit on his stomach without flinching.
They lived in Florida for a little bit then something coaxed them up here. Maybe it was the offer of a job because, like everyone else (but me), he went to work at my dad’s factory. I’m pretty sure they stayed with us while they looked for a house--- maybe that’s what drove them to buy the place with the dead lady ooze in the living room. It was about seven blocks away on the other side of our suburb from us. No one falls far from the tree in my family!
Older Brother-in-Law (B-in-L #1), of course, idolized my other brother-in-law (B-in-L #2). I never understood that, because B-in-L #1 was an okay guy, I’m pretty sure he had a backbone of his own but he’d get all giddy around B-in-L #2. The three of us took a scuba diving class together some time during my freshman year in college. It was night school. I did pretty well, class-wise. I always thought it was the fact that I was currently in school. B-in-L #1 struggled with the class part. We were all okay in the swimming part--- I would’ve though B-in-L #1 was certified by then because he was from Florida, but who knows.
B-in-L #1 had a dog, a German Sheppard that he trained better than any dog I had ever seen. He trained her to go in this 20 x 3 foot strip of sand in the backyard--- even if he took her with him jogging, she’d sniff and all that, but then run to the back when they got home to use the strip. I used to “dog sit” for them when they went on vacation because besides my older sister and her husband, I was the only person the dog didn’t try and attack! She liked me for some reason. Go figure.
Everything was going fine until B-in-L #1 and my dad had “a falling out” that I always heard was about him telling dad how to run his business. (looking back on how well Frank ran his own businesses, my dad probably should’ve just given him the keys to the place) They didn’t speak to each other for years and years. We spoke with them. They spoke with us. But not dad and my brother-in-law. Every once in a while, my mom would talk dad into making nice and he’d try and connect but B-in-L #1 would snub him. Then the feud would start all over again. Some time would pass and my sister would get her husband to come over and make nice and dad would snub him and start the feud some more.
I got embarrassed a few times when we’d go out to dinner with B-in-L #1. He’d be the guy most likely to return food or file a complaint with the chef. He’d make it a point to tell the waitress that the reason she wasn’t getting a bigger tip was that he thought the service was sub-par. Or he’d wave a big bill in front of a bartender when we came in and tell him to “make sure to take care of us…” He always said he did this kind of thing because he used to work for tips in the service industry so he knew what good service was, blah, blah, blah. But, it seemed to me he was acting like the snooty people he used to hate so much. (I used to work for tips, too, so I always over-tip now, especially if I’m on an expense account! I’m nice to waiters and cabbies because I know how sucky those jobs can be…)
My brother-in-law’s family came from Virginia to visit one summer: his mom, dad (step dad?), sister, and I think a brother (or maybe it was his sister’s boyfriend?). They didn’t stay long, at least not with us. They came over for an afternoon. It was awkward, lots of long silences. At one point his mother commented on how fast we Yankees talked. I was probably 13 or 14, so I still hadn’t had my growth spurt; I was still only 5’ 1” or so. B-in-L #1’s sister, I thought, was cute, but she was much taller than me. I remember I couldn’t stop looking at her. She was the same age as me but she was this full-grown woman. And I’m like this little “thing.” I kind of knew it, too, so I didn’t talk to her much.
One of my brother-in-law’s friends owned a drapery business so he got a job there. The friend would sell the drapes to people around the area and B-in-L #1 installed them. Eventually the friend sold the business to my brother-in-law so he went around the area selling drapes to people.
[The weird thing was: B-in-L #1, as far as I remember hearing, is colorblind. I used to imagine him helping some housewife decorate her living room, trying to figure out what color drapes go with her new sofa and B-in-L #1’s like: “I think this lovely dark gray goes very well with your new light gray sofa.” Okay, I’m sure he looked at the names of the swatches in the book, but still, how does he know what crimson actually looks like compared to rose? It’s like deaf people watching TV with the closed captions on and it says “gunshot” or “birds chirping.” If they’ve been deaf since birth, do they know what that sounds like, really? What’s their frame of reference?]
So suddenly my brother-in-law was in the decorating business. He teamed up with carpeting guys and other decorators and made a whole system out of it. He worked that up to a pretty lucrative venture, then sold it, I think. Because he moved back to Florida, I know, so he must’ve sold it. I thought it was St Petersburg or Tampa… They started a decorating business there. This time he teamed up with my sister and together they’d decorate condos that rich New Yorkers owned but only visited once in a while. These people didn’t have the time (but they had the money) to pick everything out for themselves so they’d hire them and they’d get EVERYthing--- from curtains to furniture to tablecloths to place settings to the candles on the table ---everything! Smart…
He sold that business after a while, too, and got into the asphalt business…
[See, my brother-in-law liked to start businesses. That was his business, starting businesses. He’d come into an area, see what they didn’t have, what they sorely needed, and he’d do that, whatever it was. He didn’t care, really. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. Like the asphalt business…]
He saw that the people of South Central Florida were building roads but they were shipping their asphalt from miles away to build them. So he started a factory, I guess. Except that it needed a furnace and there was the EPA to worry about. To make money, he’d burn medical waste at night, when no one could see the smoke he was spewing out. He got out of that business fairly quickly and bought some sandwich shops--- they might’ve even been Subways. That only went so far, or maybe they moved. Because:
They moved to Ocala, which is in central Florida, sort of close to Disney World. That’s horse country and they bought a place with a little stable and some land. They were going to breed miniature horses and did. But then after my sister sold a couple to a carnival guy, she realized their life was going to be walking counterclockwise in a circle with a kid on their backs 10 hours a day, so she made my brother-in-law buy them back from the guy and she stopped breeding them.
My brother-in-law scoped out the area. Horse country. It’s where the famous and the not so famous lived and bred horses and prize-winning cattle. George Steinbrenner had a place, I think. Horse breeding was more than a business though, to these people, it was a way of life. They had big events, where they showed them off. They’d travel for miles, carting their horses and all their stuff just for a day to one of these shows. Frank saw that what these rich people needed for their precious horses were custom trailers! So he started a custom horse trailer making company. That business did very, very well for them. He just recently sold it but he’s staying on as a consultant. I don’t know if he plans to start some other business; he’s close to 70, if not 70 already, and he had a stent put in because he was having the same heart symptoms I was. Maybe he’ll finally take it easy.
POST-OP WEEKS 116 & 117
One day the HR Lady at my old ad agency called me down to her office. She was a nice enough woman if she was on your side, with a hint of a southern accent. As my mother-in-law used to say: “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.” She was the one who gave me the news the day I was laid off.
About 3 years before that, she was sitting behind her big desk with her assistant/underling across from her on the regular person side. They were in charge of hiring new people into the agency, placing them where they were needed, but they were also in charge of shuffling personnel within the company. I had been without a partner for a while at that point, which is not a good thing, it left you vulnerable, so I was down there to talk to her about my predicament.
Looking back on my time at this agency I realize that in order to “survive” there, a person needed a “sponsor,” “protection,” a “political overlord.” As much as my creative director and her boss were instrumental in getting me seen by the higher ups, looking back, I was pretty much hired by the CEO at the time. It was the CEO who leaned over the big marble table after the meeting where I presented the recommended beer campaign as a temp and said (I swear) “You don’t work here?” And I said, “No, I don’t.” And then he added: “Would you like to?”
So you think I would’ve realized that I was right then and there bathed in the glow of the CEO’s aura, living within his shield of influence. Of course, I’m an idiot; I didn’t realize it so I never took advantage of it. Anybody even slightly aware of inter-office politics would’ve known this my ticket. Take it and run with it! But not me.
Ah, but by the time I was sitting in the HR Lady’s office, across her big desk, the CEO was on his way out. No one knew it yet, maybe he did, it was voluntary. He was on his way to selling this privately-held business icon to the French and walking away with millions and millions of dollars… So my mentor, safety net, super secret protective cloak I didn’t know I had was about to be no more…
So in June of 1999, a year after Charlie was born, I had an appointment to show the HR Lady my portfolio! I already had a job; I had been there for 5 years already, made lots of ads, made lots of clients happy, lots of money for the agency. But now I was having my interview. Again, like an idiot, I didn’t realize how odd and foreboding that was. (Actually, I didn’t put the whole thing together until right this very minute while I’m typing this!)
It starts friendly, ha-ha-ha small talk. They ask me, for some reason, if I like to “party,” go out drinking or something. I tell them I have but not so much anymore, not as much as I used to. I used to be crazy, I tell them, like the time I completely lost my contact lenses after getting really smashed on my 19th birthday. Then, out of nowhere, HR Lady’s assistant asks me how old I am… Now, I know they’re not supposed to ask me this. And this was an agency that valued youth almost above all else. They equate age directly to creativity at this place, that much I knew.
So I learned to be cagey. I started at this place when I was 36½. Right from the beginning, the clock was ticking. At this point, when they asked me their inappropriate question, I was 41½! So I gave them the usual response that I came up with (that I still use), I said: “I don’t say anymore…” (It says I’m older without lying. I knew lying wasn’t a good idea because one lie usually has to be followed up by another lie.)
HR Lady’s assistant kept at it: “Oh, c’mon.”
“Older than you’d think.”
Then she started guessing. HR Lady didn’t say anything; she let her minion do the dirty work. They got to the point that they were badgering me, pushing, guessing, they wouldn’t let up. I finally gave in and told them I was almost 42…
“Wow, you don’t look it,” was their only reply. Then they asked me how old my former partner was, the art director who dumped me for another writer who was a Creative Director, and I told them: 33.
The rest of the “interview” went downhill from there. They looked at my portfolio, gave some negative comments. HR Lady told I’d need to fix some things. Now, most of this was work I had done while I was at this agency. I mean, I didn’t HAVE a portfolio, not an advertising one, before I started there. These ads, for the most part, were things I either presented to their clients and were rejected or stuff that was produced and unleashed out into the world--- on TV sets, in magazines, and on websites. Somebody, somewhere in that building, liked it well enough at some point! But not the HR Lady. Not then. Not after she found out I was past my prime…
HR Lady suggested how I could change some of my work, adding: “if there’s anything we can do, just let us know.”
I said I could really use an art director partner. “Hm, no,” she said. “I don’t know anybody.”
I know exactly what happened then because I wrote it down in one of my journals a couple of hours after it did while it was fresh in my mind. (I just found it in a drawer and started reading it.) I wanted to make sure I had an account of it in case anything happened. Of course, something did happen. My ex-partner and her new partner got fired soon after the meeting and HR Lady shifted me over to a group filled with the old folks who did pharmaceutical and insurance ads.
Looking back I guess I should’ve gone to a lawyer right then and there to see what recourse I had. Instead, I sat and did nothing, or very little, for the next year and half, 2 years. Not nothing, really. I’d come to the office and work on my portfolio. I taught myself how to use Photoshop and a little bit of Quark. I re-did my book. I nosed around the rest of the agency to see if I could use my new portfolio to find a new place and a new partner. Getting a partner and a group to protect yourself sometimes “saves” you from getting fired. I looked outside, too, getting a few interviews at other agencies.
When that was done, I started writing that novel I always told myself I’d write. I’d come downtown and sit in my window office, overlooking sunrise over the Lake and write. I got a good start on it, maybe 2/3 through.
Occasionally they gave me work, too, radio spots. It seems a lot of ad copywriters don’t like to do radio, mainly because they can’t write radio. So my creative director would bring me in on the radio half of a TV thing he was doing.
I asked around the personnel department to try and find my evaluations through the years, glowing accounts of how much they liked my work, but somehow, mysteriously, they had disappeared. They were all on paper in a filing cabinet somewhere, HR Lady told me, and some file clerk probably threw them away “accidentally.”
I did a lot of nice work for our insurance client and a few things for our pharmaceutical accounts (radio again). I got an ad in the Wall Street Journal, that was nice. I even got with a partner and sold some nice print work for the investment arm of the insurance client. We were scheduled to show it the day after the Big Layoff when I got booted out with 2 or 3 hundred of my fellow employees.
I guess someone showed the work without me--- when you’re marked for death, you’re marked for death.
As she gave me her blah-blah speech across her desk, sitting next to the new CEO, the HR Lady denied ever having asked my age. Funny thing was, I only sort of brought it up, but she was very quick to deny it. They gave me a decent enough severance and fully-vested all my profit sharing even though I hadn’t quite made the mark for that, so that was something.
Then I just packed my stuff and went home.
The layoff was the agency’s attempt to go public after all its 50, 60 years of being privately held. It was all supposed to make all the VPs at the place rich. In the end, a French conglomerate bought them and only the top 4 guys got rich, my buddy the CEO was one of them. Everyone else got squat. Ce la vie!
diary continues May, 2011...