International Writers Magazine: Joining
the world of the Madmen
leaving us? the Colonel said.
Yes, sir, I said.
Think youre ready to be a civilian again?
No more free room and board. No more Army to take care of
Ill manage, I said.
We were in the Colonels
office. He was Ordnance Officer for the Seventh Army in
Stuttgart, Germany. Id been drafted during the Korean
War and was a corporal. For the last sixteen months Id
been more or less the Colonels secretary. We had a
curious relationship. I wouldnt say hed been
my mentor (I dont know if anyone even used the word mentor
way back then) but I knew he considered me a hopeless college kid and
he took a certain amusement in instructing me on how to survive Army
That remains to be seen, the Colonel said. He
lit a cigarette. He was a man in his forties, ruggedly built,
handsome, with jet-black hair, a square jaw and piercing blue eyes.
He used a cigarette holder, and I emulated him, not on base but when
I went on leave, although I knew that instead of looking sophisticated
and all-knowing like him I probably looked foolish puffing on my
holder. Do you have any plans? he asked..
To sleep for two weeks. Whatever our relationship,
I could say things like this to the Colonel.
And after that?
I guess Ill have to look for a job..
I hope youll remember some of the things I told you.
I remember them all. Dont be impulsive.
Weigh all my options. Regard strangers as potential enemies,
not friends. And dont be a wise-ass.
The Colonel smiled. Well, maybe youll
stand a chance after all.
The next day I shipped out, going by train from Stuttgart to Hamburg,
then boarding a troopship back to the States and my future. I stood
by the ships rail, gazing out at the blue Atlantic, waves glistening
in the sun. I didnt know it then but at times of crisis
in the future Id make a habit of looking at large bodies of water.
Perhaps subconsciously, the sight of something which had been there
long before and would be there long after put whatever problems I had
Id just been talking with a group of soldiers, New Yorkers like
myself, also on their way back to be discharged. They were
what we now call African-Africans, and they vied with each other in
their stories of the cushy jobs theyd secured in the Army;
outwitting The Man, I suppose theyd say. I wondered
what kind of future awaited them back in Harlem. As for
myself, Id return to my parents apartment in the Bronx,
commandeering my old bedroom, then, as Id told the Colonel, Id
look for a job, one, I hoped, that would enable me to move out to my
own place. The thought of wandering around the towers of
Manhattan looking for work filled me with both excitement and anxiety.
I wondered what kind of future awaited me.
The next day the weather turned stormy and we were all seasick until
we reached harbor in New York.
I was sitting in a small conference room, wearing the civilian suit
Id bought when Id returned. I was interviewing
for a job. The alumni office of my college had sent me a
slip of paper with nothing on it but a company name and a phone number
to call. When I stepped off the elevator in one of those
glass and metal buildings springing up all over midtown Manhattan Id
found myself in a large reception room with a sofa and some armchairs
and glass cases filled with plates and ceramics. Id
thought at first that maybe the company manufactured dishes. It
was only when I was being interviewed that I realized the company was
an advertising agency and that one of its clients was a major cigarette
I was on one side of a table and three men were on the other side, which
I felt was a bit excessive for someone like me interviewing for an entry-level
job. One of the three, I knew, was the Personnel man,
his name was Jerry, red-haired and freckled, barely older than I was.
Another was a chubby, harassed-looking man in his thirties, Jack Goodman,
head of the agencys research department. The third man looked
like a matinee idol, handsome, with chiseled features and lacquered
Jerry started by asking me a lot of questions as to why, as Id
been a liberal arts major, I wanted to work in advertising, implying
that I should have been going back to school to study something useful,
and what I thought I could contribute to the agency, his tone indicating
he thought it was nothing much. Remembering what the
Colonel had told me, I tried to mask my dislike of this buffoon and
answered all of his questions in an even, courteous tone.
It wasnt easy.
Jack Goodman then asked me questions about finding out who used certain
products and if I thought advertising in magazines was better than on
radio. The matinee idol was silent until the end when he
asked me how Id increase the sales of their cigarette client.
The only thing I could think of was to hand out sample packs to people,
as had been done in the Army, and which in fact was what had started
me smoking. I dont know if I was responsible
for the pretty girls whod appear on the streets of Manhattan in
the fifties, giving out cigarettes; I doubt it, as Im
sure somebody else had thought of this before. At any rate,
after I mentioned having been in the Army, they asked me questions about
where Id been stationed and what Id done and I tried to
make my job as the Colonels secretary (I didnt use the word
secretary, of course) sound as important as possible.
No one seemed too impressed and I was prepared to be dismissed, when
the matinee idol, who was smoking a cigarette, said, Well,
we should give a returning vet a chance, and so I was hired.
The matinee idol, I found out later, was Philip Mason, head account
executive for the cigarette company. I was pretty excited
about getting the job on my first interview until I went with Jerry
to the Personnel Department to fill out papers and discovered that my
salary would be $75 a week, not nearly enough for me to get my own apartment
in New York City.
The agencys research department, to which Id been assigned,
was working late. The cigarette company, whose sales had
been slipping, was going to launch a new campaign. The government
had released some reports that cigarette smoking was bad for you and
that may have been one reason for the slippage, although all the cigarette
makers vigorously denied the reports. In any case, I was
just as glad Id stopped smoking upon getting out of the Army.
Thered also been rumors that our cigarette client might be looking
for a new agency so everyone was on edge. Id learned
that such rumors were common in the advertising industry and that under
all the activity and bonding with the clients (every in our agency smoked
our companys cigarettes), ran an undercurrent of fear.
The room in which we worked was like a big classroom, each one of us
at our own desk out in the open, except for Jack Goodman, who had his
own little office. The cigarette company wanted all sorts
of sales and advertising information. Everyone was
busy adding up figures on the big metal calculating machines we had
at that time. At the next desk, Al Zimmerman, Zee as he
was known, glanced at me and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, Is
all of this any use? I didnt know but I knew that
Jack Goodman was frantic to get everything we could dig up.
Every so often, hed dash out of his office and ask someone if
he had that data yet.
Id been working at the agency for three months. Every
weekday morning Id take the subway from the Bronx down to Grand
Central, then walk the few blocks to the office. There,
following the Colonels strictures, I tried to be friendly to everyone,
even Jerry the Personnel guy, who I knew didnt like me, but not
too friendly. I read the industrys bible, Advertising
Age, to keep up with what was going on (Advertising Age reported the
rumors that the cigarette company was looking around), listened, observed
and kept quiet. Despite the Colonels cautionary advice,
Id become friendly with Zee. Hed been
drafted also and, although a college graduate, had actually been sent
to Korea and seen some fighting there, which I thought was something
The figures I was adding were starting to swim before my eyes when I
became aware that Jack Goodman had come out of his office again and
was standing over my desk. Wheres that share-of-market
data you were supposed to get? he demanded.
I have them, I said. I gave them
to Zee to graph them. I thought thatd make them easier
for the account execs to understand. I was pretty
good with numbers: Zee was a whiz at graphics.
Oh, said Jack. Okay.
Thats a good idea. As soon as Zees through,
bring them into me.
When Jack had gone back into his office, Zee gave me the high sign.
We worked another two hours, to nine. We werent getting
paid for this overtime but theyd given us some money to pay for
dinners. I took the long subway ride back to the Bronx and
went to bed, wondering what my future in the advertising world would
be, if I had any.
Olga Simonettes apartment wasnt too long a drive from
the theater so Id splurged on a taxi. Now we were
in the back seat, doing what was known in those days as making
out. Olga was a short, dark girl, very sexy, I thought,
and professionally she was ahead of me; shed been a production
assistant (whatever that was) at a television station for two years
(those two years Id lost to the Army). Id
been given her phone number by one of my numerous aunts, all eager to
fix me up with a nice girl. This was our fifth
date. The first time Id met her for a drink after
work. The next two times Id taken her to dinner, then
it had been a movie and dinner. Wed just seen a popular
Broadway musical; the agency, which hadnt paid for overtime
work but had given us dinner money had also given some of us theater
I was feeling pretty good about the agency. The cigarette
company hadnt left us. The new ad campaign was said
to be going well and sales were picking up. Along with all
the data Id given Jack Goodman Id sent him a memo saying
Id noticed our company, which was an old and rather staid one,
wasnt doing as well with younger smokers as a few other cigarette
makers whose ads were considerably jazzier. I had no idea
if this memo had gone anywhere but once in the mens room Philip
Mason had seemed to know my name and had told me to keep up the good
work. Id just stopped myself from saluting and saying,
When we reached Olgas building I kissed her (and fondled her breasts)
outside her door. Inside, I knew, were her two roommates,
so that this was as far as I was going to go. It was very
frustrating, but, as the Colonel said, premature attacks were self-defeating,
and you should plan for the long-run battle. My plan was
to have my own place in Manhattan. Eventually, we broke
our clinch and I walked to the subway station. It was once
again back to the Bronx.
The party was in full swing. The apartment was filled with
young people, most from our agency, some friends, some people we knew,
some we didnt know at all. Zee and I had moved in
a couple of weeks before, right after my promotion and my raise in salary
to a lordly $100 a week. It was in Yorkville in Upper Manhattan,
in a tacky building; it wasnt big; it needed painting; nothing
in it worked very well, but it was all our own.
Naturally, Olga Simonette was there. Id had only two
or three drinks but this was enough to make me almost drunk.
Around midnight I managed to drag her away and into my room.
It was hurried and I was afraid that at any moment someone would barge
in but it was also good. We went back to the party and I
think she said something about my meeting her parents but I was drinking
again and wasnt paying too much attention. Shortly
after that, I must have passed out.
I woke up back in my bed. I had a blanket over me but still
felt cold. I looked at my watch. It was three
in the morning. I remembered what Olga had said.
This was the 1950s and sex hadnt yet become as casual as
eating and drinking. Meet her parents? Did our
going to bed together mean that Id more or less proposed?
I liked Olga but I certainly wasnt ready to marry her, or anyone
else. And, it suddenly came to me, I wasnt ready,
despite my promotion, to become a full-fledged adman. Did
I really want to be in a business persuading people, especially young
people like myself, to smoke cigarettes that might kill them?
Thanks to my following the Colonels precepts, my co-workers at
the agency thought I was mature and confident, knowing exactly what
I wanted. But I knew now that I hadnt the least idea
of what I wanted and had no idea of where I was going. After
all the noise of the party, the apartment seemed strangely quiet.
I shivered and drew the blanket around me. Well, tomorrow,
as the Colonel would say, Id re-consider my position and try to
think of some new strategy.
Green April 2008
It was a spring evening in San Francisco in the 1960s.
Paul Weiss had gone back to his guesthouse room after dinner, intending
to work on his resume, but the sight of his cramped room seemed to drain
all his energy
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