When I was a kid--32 or 30--I went to work for the 1980s
Agency of the Decade, Ally & Gargano.
Unfortunately, I began when their salad days were over.
In 1990. I was young then, and the halls were lined with
trophies and gentlemen in their 50s who were the lions of
Down in one corner was Hall of Famer, Amil Gargano.
Down in another was Hall of Famer, Mike Tesch. Along
the hallways were offices inhabited by a who's who of
1980s awards annuals. Barry Greenspan who wrote the
great Michelin tire work at DDB. George Euringer, who
did brilliant work for Saab. Tom Wolsey who was coming
off winning gold in every show you can think of for Karastan
I worked directly for a corner office called Ed Butler who was
probably 30 years older than I.
Ed was a great writer. By his own calculus and photographic
advertising memory, while at DDB he wrote the 21st best VW ad
ever written. While at Backer Spielvogel, some of the funniest
Miller Lite ads.
Ed loved the way I wrote, and about six months into our time
together, he said, "you don't have to show me copy any more;
I trust you."
Here's where the story gets to be about aging.
I was born fast and Ed was born slow. We shared the writing
duties on a financial account. For about a year, Ed would write
about half the ads and I would write the other half. My goal was
to work so that no one knew which were Ed's and which were mine.
I wanted to be as good as he because I respected him.
Then, things started shifting around. The client began to like my speed more than Ed's cantankerousness. After 18 months, I was writing three out of every five ads. By the end our second year together, three out of every four.
I began resenting Ed.
He made a lot more money than I did.
He had three windows and I had one.
If there were TV spots, they were his.
I was doing more work but playing second fiddle.
As time went on, the agency kept taking on water. Prelude to sinking entirely.
Eventually, "management," a term you can only, in advertising ever use loosely, decided I was "the future."
I was 33 and they promoted me to Senior Vice President, Creative Group Head.
And they fired Ed.
They fired Ed because I was a dick.
Or because he was old.
I lived that.
It's like, I think, being a survivor in a car-accident where your girlfriend dies.
It should have been me. You carry guilt around.
I had lunch with him at a Greek diner across from his apartment
near the office. I couldn't make eye contact and stared into my turkey burger deluxe.
About a week after, I found out Ed had cancer.
I saw him fairly often. He'd drop by the office to shoot the shit,
or I'd see him in the bagel shop nearby. Each time I saw him he
seemed ten pounds thinner. Like he was prepping for the role
as a prisoner on the Bataan Death March.
Ed died about a year after he was fired.
Of course, I wasn't to blame.
But, I had done something wrong just the same. I didn't understand Ed. What he had done. How he had helped me. How good he was. And all he had accomplished.
I did what people do sometimes.
Not out of meanness or spite or evil. Out of ignorance, or speed, or the desire to be a big cheese.
Old people have always been the other.
They're in the way of young people who want to get where they are.
As Willy Loman said in Death of a Salesman, "You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away—a man is not a piece of fruit!"
That's what ageism does.
It treats people like pieces of fruit.
I did it.
We all do.
We eat the orange. We throw the peel away.
I'm sorry, Ed.