An Old Friend
I was at a downtown watering spot, waiting to meet my lady to go to dinner, when I ran into an old acquaintance, E. Wilmington Worrell. I almost went to work for him at Worrell, Hanson, and Associates a long time ago, at but I was young and easily impressed by shallow stuff then, so I went with another agency instead. I'd like to think I would know better now.
We hailed each other, and he sat down at my postage-stamp-sized table. "Long time, Jack," he said, as we shook hands.
I was pleased to see him. E. W was a good guy and would have been a good boss. If I'd gone to work for him, who knows, I might still be working fat, dumb and happy in his shop. And who knows what else might have happened with, well, with other things. As it was, I went to work at the crappy place. And that had ultimately led to me going out to try the big world with a small agency. And that had ultimately led me to a whole bundle of betrayal and grief.
I'm Jack Merriam, by the way. I once owned that small ad agency with my quondam best friend and business associate, Vince Bacus.
After a few minutes of chit-chat, E. W. asked, "So, Jack, I haven't been keeping up with the trade. I had that heart thing three years, and, well, I just stay out of the pressure cooker now. Sid Hanson runs things now. I'm semi-retired."
"Oh?" I said. "So what brings you here, semi-business or semi-pleasure?"
E.W. chuckled into his glass. Straight OJ, by the looks of it.
"Still the kidder, Jack. That's good. A sense of humor is always good. Helps you through the tough times."
I raised my glass to that.
"Semi-pleasure, I'd say, I was just out visiting my grandkids," he said. "Now, I'm just killing time between planes. I have a flight out to go to my semi-retirement place, only my plane doesn't leave for another eight hours. I'd rather be sitting downtown than in an airport bar. I don't run into old friends at the airport, either, like now."
"Mind if I visit with you for a while, Jack?"
"Not at all, E.W.; it'd be my pleasure. I'm just waiting for my..."
Just then my cell phone went off, and I excused myself. "Jack, here.
"You have to WHAT? Damn!
"No, I just wish you'd tell that crappy boss of yours to give you more help," I said with a chuckle.
"So, what about dinner? How long will it take to get the ... Three hours max? That's not too bad. Tell your slave-driving boss I'll kick his ass next time I see him
"You do? Ok. I don't know how long the kitchen at Rocco's stays open, but we'll find something.
"Call me when you see the end in sight. Or, if you just want to pop over, I'll be at The Irish Pub. I'm just chatting with an old friend. You may have to pour me into a cab by then, but I'll wait for dinner.
"Ok, love you too. Looking forward ... See you whenever."
I turned to my old friend and said, "Looks like I'm free to catch up on old times with you, E. W."
"Great. I go by Eddie now, Jack."
He took a sip and eyed me. "Last I heard, you and Vince were ready to tear up the town.
Now you're where?
"It's a long story, E ... uh, Eddie. Kind of an ear-bender."
"Like I said, I've got time," he said. "I love a good story."
= = = = =
MERRIAM AND BACUS
We were equal partners, Vinnie and I. Our strengths complemented each other and diminished our weaknesses.
I was the idea man and the writer. I was also the pitchman who sold the ad campaigns.
I wrote the scenarios and scripts and copy, but Vince was the one who brought them to life. He wasn't much in the way of big picture imagination, but he caught on to my ideas better than almost anyone I've ever worked with. Once we were on the same page, his eye for graphics and insistence on getting everything to look just right on the page or the screen meshed very well with my perfectionist's eye for words. I might not know exactly what I want to see, but when Vince put it together, I knew it was right.
We worked together for six years, the first two in that crappy agency that will remain nameless, and then four years at Merriam and Bacus Advertising.
Merriam and Bacus, that was US! It was our baby. We got to where we were doing all right, and had a decent and growing rep in the business. Sometimes we'd even get discreetly called in by the big boys to critique their struggling projects, and they paid us well for our advice. We were doctors for sick campaigns.
We'd met at that crappy agency, two junior staffers thrown together to try to rescue a very poorly conceived ad campaign. That place gave scant service to their smaller clients.
Well, we salvaged something out of it and made a little money for our bosses. We also realized that we worked together really well.
Vince had gotten married to a very lovely lady named Veronica just before he came aboard.
I had married Carole two years before that, back before I even knew Vince. His wife Ronnie and my Carole hit it off great when we first got together socially; they became about as close as Vince and me. Maybe closer.
They were both great wives and sweethearts and much too good-looking for two ordinary plugs like me and Vince. On that, Vince and I agreed.
Carole was a slender honey blond; Ronnie had jet-black hair, and they were both well-put together foxy ladies, indeed. In heels, Carole came up to eye level with me. Petite little Ronnie might make it up to my chin in very high stilettos.
Vince is a great big beefy guy, 6 feet plus. He looks like a pro linebacker gone to seed, but he's much too gentle a man to do anything like play contact sports.
Me, I'm about 5' 9", weigh about 165 pounds, and actually did play a little college football. I was the little guy they'd put out there to run fly patterns and return kicks. I got the snot kicked out of me week in and week out, but I gave as good as I got, and the half scholarship I got helped me get through school. I was on my own after high school.
Carole, and I, and Vince and Ronnie, were practically inseparable. The Gang of Four, we called ourselves. We liked each other's company in and out of work so much that we went in halfsies on a mountain lakefront property and built a nice cabin there. We co- owned a boat, too, a real sweet cabin cruiser. I've never seen one as big as ours up on any of the lakes up there, but hey, it was for four people, right?
On the fateful day when everything turned to shit, the four of us were going to enjoy an end-of-Summer weekend together at our lake hideaway, but I hit a snag. We were supposed to make a big presentation of an ad campaign to Babcock & Sons next Thursday, but THIS Thursday night, old Orville Babcock called and said he had to go to Europe next week. If we wanted to try to get the Babcock account, we'd have to make our pitch Friday, the next day. He's kind of a prickly old coot, and we really didn't have a high percentage shot at the account, but it was worth the risk.
But the schedule crunch sucked. We had the package fairly well laid out, but there were some finishing touches that we thought we'd take care of and polish up during the first part of next week. So we pulled an all-nighter and Vince came through as usual with all the graphics.
Friday morning his part was done, and we agreed that he and Ronnie would take Carole up to the lake as planned. I would go to Babcock and endure their glacial pace of meet and greet to give the pitch. If I were lucky, I'd get done by five or six PM. After a two- hour drive up to the lake, I'd be there in time for us to go out to the new buffet over at a nearby resort.
= = = = =
Old Orville liked to do things nice and slow. I'd call it glacial. There would have to be a long morning tour of the plant, "To learn how we do things here at Babcock." Then a leisurely lunch, "To get to know the cut of each other's jib." Then finally a lengthy afternoon presentation of the firm's goals, followed by Orville's dissatisfaction with their current sales campaign.
I knew pretty much what his gripes were. The campaign was from a big agency that wouldn't put the time and effort into a small-to-middling account like Babcock. Sounded familiar.
After all that, I would be up front and center. It would probably be no sooner than three PM or so. I would make a detailed hour-long pitch, slides by Vince, to address their complaints as we envisioned them. Then there was sure to be a lengthy Q &A session to satisfy everyone that we knew what we were doing. That would be an hour or more. All this for a long shot at what would be our biggest billing client ever.
But we thought it was worth trying.
When I got there, it was Murphy's Law day. The worst-laid plans, etc., etc.
The local area got hit with a substation power failure, and everything was down, no power, no work, no A/C, no nothing inside. We couldn't tour a darkened plant with no functioning air conditioning. There would be no leisurely lunch except from a local pizza place that delivered. There could be no slide presentation in a powerless conference room.
So Orville led us out to a little campus picnic area. There was no power for slides and nothing to project them on, which cancelled out much of Vince's great work. Still, I had hard color copies of the slides, enough for maybe half of the major attendees. I told them they would have to share.
I had lemons thus far, so I decided to try for long-shot lemonade. Instead of general conversation to kill time, I started grilling Orville and his people about what they wanted to project in their ads.
.... There is more of this story ...