Because in advertising years I am approximately the age of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, a lot of people contact me and ask me for help getting into the business. (Rather than stopping one in three, I seem to be stopped by one in three.)
Many of these people—especially the very young ones who have never worked in an office before and paid bills and had to deal with the crazy every day capriciousness and pressures of work itself—have no idea what advertising is really like.
Even if they grew up with their old-man in the business like I did, or went to ad school, or interned for nine different agencies, you never really know until you’re staring down the barrel of a crushing deadline, navigating through a steeplechase of contradictory directions, and trying to do it all on no rest for virtually no reward, what life is really like.
About once every six months or so, whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my melancholies get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to read Joseph Heller’s “Something Happened,” as soon as I can.
Heller burst on the literary scene with “Catch 22,” in 1961. Thirteen years later he published his second novel. (There was a time when work took time.)
I remember in my late teens reading the lines below.
They scared the crap out of me. Even if I was too young to understand them, I knew from seeing my old man almost die two times from heart attacks and being Willie Loman-ed to the curb by his 50th birthday, how horrific and how true they were.
You’ve got to read Heller now and again.
If for no other reason than to scare yourself into trying to think straight and trying to keep the humdrum banality of life safely in perspective.
It doesn’t always work. But sometimes it helps.
"I get the willies when I see closed doors. Even at work, where I am doing so well now, the sight of a closed door is sometimes enough to make me dread that something horrible is happening behind it, something that is going to affect me adversely; if I am tired and dejected from a night of lies or booze or sex or just plain nerves and insomnia, I can almost smell the disaster mounting invisibly and flooding out toward me through the frosted glass panes. My hands may perspire, and my voice may come out strange. I wonder why. Something must have happened to me sometime."
"When friends, relatives, and business acquaintances are stricken with heart attacks now, I never call the hospital or hospital room to find out how they are, because there's always the danger I might find out they are dead. I try not to talk to their wives and children until I've first checked with somebody else who has talked to them and can give me the assurance I want that everything is no worse than before."
"Something did happen to me somewhere that robbed me of confidence and courage and left me with a fear of discovery and change and a positive dread of everything unknown that may occur. I dislike anything unexpected."