For the last 40 years, as I labored within the badly painted halls of various agencies, 13 of them in total spread over four holding companies and 97 bone-saws, I always was squeezed into a box.
I remember back in the early 80s, during my first agency job, a raft of senior people darkened my door and said, "George, we have an emergency." Even though I was still wet behind the ears all those senior people came to me with their emergency.
When they left I took a breath. I looked at the notes I took from our meeting. I considered what it was they asked me to do.
I spun over to my IBM Selectric.
And I typed.
This can't be right, I murmured to myself. This doesn't seem like an emergency.
I unrolled what I had typed. And I typed a bit more.
In a short while--the cleaning crew was just about through making their nightly noise--I was done.
I made a Xerox or two of what I had typed. And left a copy on the desk of each of those aforementioned senior people.
By nine the next morning, I was at my desk. In short, order that raft of senior people darkened again my door.
"George, how did you do it? These are great. These are award-winning."
I didn't tell anyone, until now, that they took me 32 minutes.
That example is my career in sum.
No matter where I toiled I always got the fuzzy end of the lollipop. The shit other people couldn't do.
I've always been funny. But I was never allowed to be funny. Funny isn't something top-five banks usually want. Or giant technology companies. Or crashing airplane manufacturers.
Emergencies don't like funny.
And I get emergencies.
But the demand for unraveling Gordian client knots is strong. So that's how I earned my daily bread and my hourly abuse.
I remember about a decade ago being at a wedding and sitting across from one of the biggest names in the business--the writer of tons of really funny spots. We introduced ourselves and I said, "I work on brands like _____ and _____."
"Oh, you're in real advertising," he said.
More recently after I was fired at 4:15 in the afternoon, an ex-colleague--a financial guy, believe it or not-- sent me a note:
"They should have kept you for the work; you did more than an army. That's why I said it was penny wise and pound foolish. Everyone on _ _ _ had you as the go-to person; especially for the tough ones. I think I mentioned to you, when I heard you were let go, that really signaled to me that they were not only cutting into the bone, but removing the backbone as well."
I'm out on my own now.
Somedays I feel like I'm surfacing after a long and somewhat harrowing scuba dive. I'm breathing again. And not in danger.
I'm still doing a lot of that Gordian knot untying. I've made a living wrestling advertising demons to the ground.
But along the way, I'm becoming reacquainted with my sense of humor, my long-suppressed sense of humor.
I've spend 40 years or so telling people I'm not funny. Sooner or later some client will call me and inadvertently ask for something funny. I'll be paralyzed for a bit. It's been a while.
But I'll figure it out.