Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Knees and the Man.

About 30 years ago I was working at a once-great-agency that was dying.

The air had seeped out of the tires and there was virtually nothing left. Nothing except a few people not strong enough to unbend what greed had bent.

Somehow though we got into the finals of a pitch for the business of Mercedes-Benz, North America. 

In the pitch was Scali--who had done three decades of great work for Volvo--and then lost it due to allegations of running a fake ad, McCaffrey McCall, the 15-year incumbent. An agency I forget. And benighted Ally & Gargano, the agency I worked at. We were eight-years into a steep 10-year slide, which ended when the place went belly-up.

My partner Mike and I were asked to work on the pitch. Mike was 15 years my senior and had been at Ally when it was great. There was another senior team, I'll call them Harvey and Charlie. Internally, we were competing to see whose work would represent the agency. 

It was as pretty as a bar brawl.

Mike and I worked every weekend for about ten weeks in a row. I probably did more storyboards in those ten weeks than I had done in the previous ten years. More print ads, too. 

At one point, the internal politics got so fraught, I ripped a tissued storyboard off the wall, crumbled it up and threw it at Mal, the Chief Creative Officer. 

He was better at politics than he was at chief, creative or officer.

A spot the entire senior-level of the agency had stood up and applauded a week earlier had been under assault by Harvey and Charlie and Mal was playing at their end of the table and had put three thumbs on the negatory scale.

I ripped the commercial down and said, "You want it dead? Here, it's dead." I threw it at him across the $15,000 conference room table that Gwathmey and Siegel had chosen when they designed the offices.

I think I might have left for the night at that point. My partner shaking in his loafers more than I was shaking in my sneakers.

The next morning, Mal was in my room. He apologized. Mike and I had carried the day and we would be leading the pitch and in a week we would be presenting to 125 Teutons representing the client.

There's that side of me. 

The don't-fuck-me side.

Maybe that's the only side some people care to see. Because I'm old, tall, and I have a deep voice. I'm also nominally white, at least sometimes when the white overawes the Jew part. It suits people to assume I am powerful, fearless and terrible, like Ivan the Terrible--not awful but powerful.

I just got a note from a friend to that effect. We've met in person only once. But we talk about every other month. I suppose I come across--because of my size and age--as a sort of Jewish Tamerlane. Riding the steppes and intimidating as I scourge.

There's another side too. 

As there is with most people.

Before the Mercedes-Benz presentation, I bought a new suit. A grey glen-plaid, I believe by Hugo Boss, and very subtle. Boss made those impeccable uniforms the Nazis looked so resplendent in. Ike looked great in his Einsenhower jacket. But if world-domination was determined by sartorial elan, you'd be reading this in German now. I figured the suit would be at home with Mercedes.

I bought the suit at Barney's, which was a fancy store before they were private-equity'd out of business. Before Amerika was private-equity'd out of business.

In those days, I was a 42 Long.

But the suit I bought was a 46 Long.

The tailor tried to get me to come down two sizes, but I said "No. Take it in. But leave it loose in the legs."

He didn't understand. He didn't ask. He did what I wanted.

The suit fit.

Except the pants were baggy in the legs. Chaplin baggy.

I didn't want anyone to see my knees shaking when I presented.

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