Everybody’s got to start somewhere

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‘My humble Ad Biz beginnings in Kansas City’

Last night at dinner I sat next to the only other graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism in New York City. Or at least the only one I know about. (Hi, Kim!) Incidentally, that’s me at graduation from the U of Mo in the photo at the top of this post. I don’t know where Kim was. Actually, I didn’t know Kim at the time; it was a big school.

Kim and I traded a few stories about some of the professors there — Hi, Mr. Dobbins, if you’re still smoking your pipe and pontificating! — which reminded us of the old saying “Those that can, do; those who can’t, teach” and got me to thinking about my start in advertising way back when.

This is me at my Actual First Job, which was at my hometown newspaper, the Carlyle Union Banner. You can read about this in “Those Were Banner Days Indeed,” if so inclined

I touched on my first ad job last week when I wrote about the contortions some men go through to disguise their balding little noggins. (See “Hair Hacks of the Follicly-Challenged” for some crazy examples.) One of the guys I mentioned was a KC adman named Bud Bouton, who sported a style we Youngins at the agency dubbed “hair topiary.”

Bud was just one of many colorful characters I remember fondly from Barickman Advertising, where I snagged my first agency job. There was also Cleota Dack (who I called “Miss Tadack,” since I’d never heard the name “Cleota” before) and Doris with the bad wig and the art director who drove a Karmann Ghia and painted a picture of a window for my first (windowless) office. And, of course, Mr. Hoffman, my boss.

Mr. Hoffman was a Lou Grant type who kept a bottle of something brown in his desk drawer and who, when I told him I was accepting another, bigger, job in Kansas City, said not to waste my time but to go to New York. (He had been a New York City copywriter at one time.) Eventually, I took his advice. (See “Take a Letter, Miss Henry” for the story.)

Me looking all creative-directorish at the job Mr. Hoffman told me not to take

But back to my first ad job. There is something very heady about first jobs. The whole idea of putting in the work and getting paid for it. Hanging around with a bunch of equally fresh-at-their-jobs twenty-somethings is, of course, pretty heady stuff too.

Sadly, the only photographic evidence I have from my first job is this shot, taken after a promotion that scored me a real window

We Youngins hung out together. There was Larry, a Black guy who started in the mail room and graduated to copywriter. There was Tory, who lived with an ex-Radio City Rockette who could kick so high she could knock herself in the forehead. Tory’s dad worked for a paint company and named a shade after him: Tory Blue. Oh, and there was a rather scandalous girl, Dana, who wore a cape so she could bestow sexual favors in the car on the way to lunch.

Speaking of lunch, we Youngins ate together almost every day. At the health food place where the servers all lived in a yoga commune — and where Mike the Art Director liked to refer to the dessert as “monkey c*m” — or the Greek place where they served the fish with the head still on or at Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, where the guy who made your sandwich left four fingerprints in the bread because he was missing one. A finger, that is.

We also goofed around and pulled pranks. (See “Pranks for the Memories” on the joys of prank-pulling.) At Barickman, we liked to tease this one girl whose name I cannot recall — perhaps because she didn’t use her own name, but referred to herself as “BK” (“Boss’s Kid”), which she was. She was also as annoying as you probably think she was.

Oh yes, we worked too. I started by writing “donuts” for Safeway radio commercials. “Donuts” are the “holes” in the middle of an otherwise canned spot where the copy says, “Chicken breasts 89 cents a pound” or some such. I worked on Philips Petroleum, writing ads for the stuff they put in natural gas to make it smell like “gas.” And I wrote for Fleischmann’s Yeast, which is the job that took me to New York for the very first — and fateful — time.

But enough. Going down Memory Lane can be a long winding road indeed. If you’re still out there, Larry and Tory and Mike and Dana, I hope you’re enjoying lunch. And Dana? I sure hope you wisened up and ditched the cape.

New York City. May 2022

 

 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

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‘I wonder what little Harry Houdini’s answer was.’

Way back when the earth’s crust was cooling and I was a youngster, there was a show on local TV called “Texas Bruce.”

The full name was “The Wranglers’ Club with Texas Bruce.” Texas Bruce showed cartoons and did silly jokes and suchlike, and had a whole peanut gallery of kids (The Wranglers) on hand. I remember that his sign-off was “Hasta la vista, mis caballeros,” a phrase whose meaning, of course, was a mystery to us Clinton County kids. We gathered it was something like “good-bye,” since Texas Bruce would be waving while he said it.

Anyway. One of his “bits” every show was to ask the boys and girls in his studio audience what they wanted to be when they grew up.

So glad Dude Man did not grow up to be a snake charmer. Tho he is a charmer

The TV station was in St. Louis, which was then — and still is — a very Catholic town. How Catholic? Well, when “Hair” played St. Louis, they had to cut the nude scene.

So. Texas Bruce would be going down the rows of Cub Scout-outfitted boys and Brownie-dressed girls asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” To which they’d answer, “A nun.” “A priest.” “A nun. “A priest.” “A priest.” “A nun.” Honestly, I’d say at least 70% of every audience answered “priest” or “nun.” Which led one to worry about population trends for the greater metropolitan St. Louis area.

What does this have to do with Harry Houdini? Well. I used to work on the Kimberly-Clark account at Ogilvy. In fact, I’ve written about this before in a rather amusing piece titled “Hoohah Time is Story Time.” In that story I mention, among other things, that on client trips to Appleton, Wisconsin (KC’s headquarters), we Ogilvyites would stay at the Paper Valley Hotel. (There was no valley anywhere near, but they did make paper there.)

Speaking of Kimberly-Clark, Huggies had a campaign with babies acting out future careers. Here’s The Child as a magician. Which she sort of is

The Paper Valley was one of those hotels where they put little paper tent thingies everywhere: one to tell you to reuse your towels, one with the TV channels on it, one to tell you not to smoke, and so on. (I guess, being a paper-making town, the hotel got a deal on these.) And there was one with famous Appletonians. No kidding. There are famous people from Appleton. Edna Ferber. Willem Defoe (really!). And my fave, Harry Houdini.

Houdini was such an Appletonian that he claimed to have been born in Appleton when he was really born in Hungary. Appleton Street was renamed in his honor, and there was a Houdini Historic Center I’ve been to because Ogilvy hosted one of their Christmas parties there for the Kimberly-Clark clients. (Since then they’ve changed the museum name, maybe because they’ve added some exhibits on Senator Joe McCarthy. Who was also an Appleton boy.)

God forbid you should ask little Teddy what he wanted to be when he grew up. Other than a U of Washington Husky, that is

Side note: I always wondered why we hosted the KC Christmas parties in Appleton instead of New York City. Maybe the clients didn’t like to travel? Or maybe they just didn’t like to travel to New York. I distinctly remember one rare occasion when a KC client came to New York for a meeting and asked if we could have “breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

But back to those Paper Valley business trips. I would sometimes gaze at the Harry Houdini paper tent thingie and muse about what would happen if Texas Bruce asked little Harry, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Would he answer, “I’d like to be bound with chains and dropped to the bottom of a river”?

Grown-up Harry realizes his childhood dream

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t say “a priest.” But that’s probably because his father was a rabbi.

New York City. May 2022

 

Doing the math

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‘When the twenty-year deck will do just fine’

A couple of months ago I celebrated a large, rather alarming birthday. (See “Skirting the Issue” for festive details.)

How large? How alarming? Well, when people assure me that I am still “middle-aged,” I say, “Middle Aged, huh? Sure. If I’m planning to live to 140.

Doing it up big on my Big Birthday. That’s The Child, who is now bigger than me. Partly because I’m shrinking

Nah. Let’s face it. I’m old. Even if I didn’t have that big number staring me in the face I’d realize it.

Because I’ve started doing the math.

Here’s what I mean. When we needed to replace our deck — it was splintering, it had holes in it, it sort of “sproinged” when you walked on it — we consulted with the Deck Builder Guy, who gave us two estimates. One was for a deck that would last thirty years; the other (cheaper) alternative would last twenty.

Dude Man and I didn’t even have to consult with each other. We both did the math, then looked at Deck Guy and said, “The twenty-year deck will do just fine.” Because, of course, by the time we’re 90, a deteriorating deck will be the least of our problems. And probably somebody else’s problem at that.

The new deck, juxtaposed with a corner of the house, which is being gnawed on by squirrels. Guess the siding’s next. *sigh*

The thing that really makes one’s head spin, math-wise, is that this is the second time we’ve replaced that deck. (Kind of makes you go into “joke mode.” You know: “How old was she? She was so old, she’d replaced her twenty-year deck twice.

The Child with her Whitmore Grampa on the Original Deck. The one before our first twenty-year deck

Another time one “does the math” is with trees. I once did a commercial for a cholesterol drug that had this older couple planting a tree. (Interesting trivia: Older Man was played by none other than Rance Howard, who was Ron Howard’s dad and who was often given cameo roles in Ron’s films. He was the guy who delivered mangoes to John Candy’s character in Splash, for instance.)

Anyway. This older couple is planting a tree that’s, oh, three or four feet high, and the voiceover is talking about how this new drug could help you control cholesterol and prevent heart disease so that, basically, you could live to see the tree all grown up nice and big.

I’m kicking myself that I tossed my reel — the one with that commercial on it. But here are some trees drawn by The Child. Which will never grow old. And always will be there

(This was, of course, implied, not explicitly stated. The copy said something like, “The fruits of your labor should be yours to enjoy, even if you have high cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about new treatments available now.” The tagline was quite brilliant, if I do say so myself: “It’s your future. Be there.”)

Here in Amagansett we’re reminded of the Tree Effect daily. We have evergreen trees all over the property in various states of largeness. They are all Former Christmas Trees; some of them were originally quite tiny and fit on tabletops.

Naturally, in recent years we’ve started getting bigger ones.

But the best solution to doing the math with Christmas Trees? Doing like last year — opting out and enjoying someone else’s Christmas Tree.

Christmas in Flagstaff with The Child, her fam — and her tree

Recently The Child celebrated her (gasp) thirty-first birthday. Happy Birthday, dear Child. May you live long, enjoy many full-grown Christmas trees and replace more than two sequential decks.

Amagansett, New York. April 2022

 

 

Your face is gonna freeze that way

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‘With any luck, not quite so literally.’

I just got back from a chilly, wintry walk out here in Amagansett. It was bracing, but not brutal, since almost all of the two feet of snow we got last week has turned into sodden slush. (See my post “S’no Problem” for freezing deets.)

Another snowstorm, another snowy beach walk. This time at dusk

So, no. That’s not a picture of me looking like a human icicle at the top of this post. That’s Her Childness, taken after an evening run in nippy Saskatchewan, where she and her Hub are visiting his Fam. It was a frosty twenty degrees — below zero.

But this post isn’t about literally freezing your face. It’s about sayings you probably heard from your Mom. Real classics like the above frozen warning, given when your face is arranged in a sad frown, petulant pout or angry scowl.

It pains me even to look at this. (Good Lord! What if her face froze that way!)

And remember what your mom said when you picked up, say, a stick out in the yard and started pretending it was a sword? Yup: “Be careful or you’ll poke somebody’s eye out.” Why wasn’t it ever “…crack somebody’s ribs“? Or even “…give somebody a bad bruise“? Continue reading

The Days of Double-Knit Dad

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‘A wrinkle-free wrinkle in time’

It’s tennis time, as in the Australian Open. But no, I’m not going to write about the Novak Djokovic Affair. There’s been entirely too much chatter about that already.

Nope. I’m going to write about knits.

See, when I’m watching tennis I knit. It keeps me (relatively) calm, and also from eating junk and drinking. (Well, I guess it doesn’t really keep me from drinking.)

Yes, I can knit and drink and watch tennis — sort of all at the same time

I can look at a sweater — any sweater — and tell you which tournament it goes with.

Wimbledon 2021

But this piece isn’t about that kind of knits. This is about double knits. Which was a fabric-fueled craze back in the late sixties and early seventies. Back then (and maybe even now, for all I know) double knits were made of polyester and were used to make groovy garments like jumpsuits. These were really fashion-forward — if your idea of fashion was to look like someone on an album cover — but I remember that polyester was pretty sweltering to wear. Double knits don’t exactly breathe.

There you’d be at a dance at the American Legion, say, trying to look cool while doing the Swim and meanwhile sweating like you’re dressed in a plastic garbage bag.

Almost everyone at my first wedding was sporting double knits: Me, my Dad, my Grampa Henry (well, maybe not Grampa), Uncle Mark and Mom. First Hub too. It was a jillion degrees that day. Think about it. Then read “My Polio-Shot Marriage”

Pretty much everyone in my family back then had a double knit item or two, but my Dad was the all-around Prince of Polyester. At one point he owned double-knit suits — with top-stitching, like on the jacket in the photo at the top of this post. Also double-knit slacks and double-knit ties. “They don’t wrinkle!” he would exclaim when asked why he had so many polyester items.

I think he really just liked to be trendy and hip. Why, he even owned a pair of double-knit sneakers. Continue reading

Bed-Hopping, Seventies-Style

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‘It’s still pretty darned exhausting, if not exciting’

I woke up the other morning and, as I squinted blearily at an unfamiliar bedside view, thought to myself, “Where the heck am I?”

For a moment I was taken back to The Golden Olden Days when waking in an unfamiliar bed meant something, well, exciting had happened.

Strange beds but no strange bedfellows. A recent Air BnB nest

I remember, a few years ago when I was still doing some freelance ad writing, riding in a car with a group of much-younger female coworkers. Somehow we got on the topic of dating, and, let me tell you, these women were shocked — shocked! — when this other ad exec (also a female of about my vintage) and I started reminiscing.

We regaled these Twenty-Somethings with tales of office parties and hot tubs and Boone’s Farm and strip poker and one-night stands and The Munchies. We spoke of dating coworkers, dating clients, dating editors, dating art directors, even (heck yeah!) dating director directors. Sometimes (gasp) at the same time. 

Me, back when I was running around a lot

Of course, things were different then. Back when the earth’s crust was still cooling and I was in my Prime Dating Years, smoking couldn’t kill you, drinking couldn’t kill you, and certainly sex couldn’t kill you. Though you might end up with a little souvenir if you weren’t careful about the sex. Continue reading

My polio-shot marriage

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‘Mommy has something she sort of forgot to tell you’

(This story was originally published in honor of my would-have-been 43rd anniversary in August of 2015. Since many of you haven’t had a chance to read it — but mainly because I’m out in the Pacific Northwest enjoying the company of my mother, daughter and my sister’s family — I’m posting it again. Think of it as a summer rerun, Lutheran Liar style. Enjoy!)

Last week I told you about how once I dated Steve Martin. Now I’m going to tell you about how once I married a guy — a guy who was not The Dude.

The Guy in question is the one pictured in the rather awkward wedding photo at the top of this post. I doubt very much that he reads my blog, but, for all intents and purposes and in this story, he’ll just be ‘The Guy’. (That rather downcast-looking young girl — the one who’s not me — is my sister Laura, she of ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’ fame.)

Why am I telling this story now? Well, tomorrow would have been my, like, zillionth wedding anniversary if indeed I had stayed married to The Guy. The other is that it’s August. Which is like Blog Siberia, except that it’s so hot. So if I embarrass anyone, including myself, the collateral damage will be relatively minor.

I was married so briefly to The Guy, and had been married for such a long time to The Dude, that I sort of forgot all about my ‘previous marriage’. Until one August about 15 years ago when The Child was getting ready for her annual visit to her grandparents in Carlyle, my home town. Continue reading

“Do we have any snacks?”

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‘If a husband says this, it means “Get me some snacks”‘

We were recently graced with a visit from The Young Couple, formerly known as The Child and The Beau.

The Young Couple share a few-days-into-marriage moment

Yes, in case you have been holed up in a blogless burrow, here’s the news: Child and Beau made the plunge on the rim of the Grand Canyon on May 1. (You can revel in the details — and drool over the gorgeous photos — in “Runaway Bride” and “Tough Act to Follow.”)

One of many cinematically-gorgeous bridal shots

It was fun having them here, and for more than just a couple of days. It gave us all a chance to get into some normal hanging-out rhythms. Like, they both were working like crazy and commandeered sections of the house for no-go zones. Unfortunately, New Son-In-Law (whom I will henceforth refer to as “The SIL”) chose the kitchen, which is already my no-go zone. Or was.

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“Never trust anyone over thirty.”

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‘Unless, perhaps, she is your own daughter’

I’ll always remember my very first Big-Time Ad Biz TV commercial. It was for Q-Tips, and was called “Still My Baby.” I didn’t even try to find it on YouTube, not just because this was ages ago, but because it was a pretty awful commercial.

It featured this mom who has a baby on a changing table and a jealous preschooler sulking alongside. To mollify the older child, she asks her to “help” by handing her a Q-tips Swab. Then Mom reassures the child (a girl, natch) by thanking her and saying, “Such a big girl. But you’re still my baby.

Here is The Child at sulky older sister age. She is not sulky, though, since she didn’t have a baby sibling to be jealous of

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“I’ve got belts older than you.”

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‘Freelance was such fun. Until it wasn’t’

As you may recall, last week I was all set to share a crabby/funny story about when I was a freelance writer — when, all of a sudden, this happened:

Needless to say, I’m still plenty excited. In fact, so excited I just can’t help treating you to another shot of the Happy Couple.

No one should be allowed to look this all-fired gorgeous on a plane, for heavens’ sakes

All in all, it was a darned exciting week, what with my umpteenth birthday, the afore-mentioned engagement, and the firing of President You-Know-Who (name rhymes with “dump”). There was some sad news, too — the death of Alex Trebeck, the beloved Jeopardy! host. Who was, of course, Canadian. (I say “of course” because I’m convinced, since The Engagement, that all the very best and very nicest men come from Canada.)

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