I've been friends with Claude (not his real name) since we were junior creatives together at BBDO in the late 70s. Mind you, the great old-time radio comedian Fred Allen said Batten Burton Durstein and Osborne sounded like an over-stuffed suitcase falling down a flight of stairs.
But, as you've probably guessed, I digress.
Claude and I have stayed friends for 35 years. And beyond our time together at BBDO we have worked at two other agencies together through the decades. One night at BBDO we were working late and Phil Dusenberry stopped by Claude's office. We proceded to get shit-faced with Phil. Our drunken brush with this legendary ad man.
I have to say something about Claude, he's a bit--how shall I say this--unstable. He loves good work really beyond all bounds of good sense. Even when we worked together when we were juniors, Claude would go to the mat for the "integrity of a coupon ad."
I guess about twenty years ago, Claude realized that the breaks weren't going to go his way. The great creative agencies had closed. And the few agencies that were left, at least in New York, seemed to have given up the fight.
Which brings me to last night when I dropped by Claude's junior four in the east 20s.
"I've got to show you something," he said as I entered his flat. "Grab a beer from the 'fridge and let me show you something."
We walked down a hallway in his well-art-directed apartment.
"When I realized it was lost, that you really couldn't do the kind of work you wanted to do, I woke up one morning and I suddenly knew I had just two choices."
"That's more than most people have," I replied laconically.
He ignored me and dashed forward. "I decided rather than choice one--die trying, having a coronary infarction, I decided on choice two. A quiet, insidious rebellion."
We had reached the closed door of his spare bedroom.
"So one night, before I left the office, I'm not sure where I was working at the time, I stole a stapler. I was walking out. I saw one on someone's desk, and I threw it in my backpack.
"That was it. That stapler was my recompense for the banality. For the politics. For holding company agression and greed.
"I took another stapler the next night. And the next. Yes, and then the next."
He opened the door we were standing before. It opened up into a room, a small room, probably 8'x10', that was almost completely filled up with all manner of staplers. Floor to ceiling staplers with a small path winding through them.
"I counted last week," he said. "3617 staplers. Plus the five I lifted this week. 3622."
He shut the door gingerly, lovingly.
"It's not the same as getting paid what I'm worth. Or having a pension like the holding company guys. It's not the same as being treated well. But fuck it. 3600 staplers is something."