Tuesday, October 30, 2018

50? Damn, that's old.

I went to a party last week.

I don't go to a lot of parties. Particularly when the World Series is in full swing. And especially when the party is a semi-black tie affair and my only good blazer is now a few sizes too tight in the chest because I've been lifting everyday and can now bench my own weight. Nearly.

But this was no normal soire. Somehow my name was added to an exclusive list of invitees. And so I raided the medicine cabinet, put on my dancing shoes and suited up.

And I'm glad I did.

The party was a celebration of the birthday of Jay Chiat, the 50th anniversary of Chiat/Day -- the agency he founded-- and the formal retirement of Lee Clow, the agency's spiritual leader, my former boss and unlikely friend.

I met Jay once. In the Men's Room at the old building on 340 Main Street. We shook wet hands at the sink and I told him how happy I was to have joined the company just a week ago. (Note: I have a Groucho Marx attitude towards organizations or clubs, but Chiat/Day is the notable exception.)

My second encounter was a little more ominous.

The agency had just installed an e-mail system, Quickmail. And naturally we were all in awe of this incredible technology. Not only could we send instant electronic messages to each other, the messages could also include pictures!

My friend in the NY office immediately sent me a picture of an incredibly endowed woman in a bikini. And being a natural born wiseass I replied, "Check out those fun bags." Or something to that politically incorrect effect. Only, I managed to hit the wrong button and replied all, forwarding my juvenile response to every employee in the organization.

Seconds later, I received a Quickmail from Sharon, Jay's assistant, "Jay wants to see you. Call me."

I called.
I apologized.
I begged.
And I received that rarest of Chiat/Day commodities, a second chance.

Had it gone the other way, the entire vector of my career could have veered off course and right now I could be involved in some pyramid marketing scheme for Peruvian vitamins or mobile pet grooming franchises.

At the party, I had a chance to reconnect with old colleagues...er colleagues...none of us like to be called old. I also got the opportunity to meet and shake hands with the luminaries of our business. The original creatives that made Chiat, Chiat.

Not only was that an honor but it was also a pleasure, considering so many of them told me how much they enjoyed my work. To the point where Gerry Graf said, "that ABC campaign made me mad. Mad because I wish I had done it."

Keep your money and your fame and your fancy vacation homes on perfectly groomed Aruba golf courses, if there's one thing writers want, it's to make other writers jealous.

When I came to California, I knew I was going to be a writer. I thought it would television or movies. And I did a little of that. But I fell into advertising. And I fell under the spell of Lee Clow. I had seen him speak at some seminar and knew I wanted to work for him at Chiat/Day.

It only took me 10 years to make that happen.

So when it did, I vowed to make the most of it. I bought into the creedo. I made it my mission (minus the whole late nights and weekend crap, I'm going home to watch Jeopardy.) And I made it my goal to do the kind of work Lee loved.

There were hits and quite a few misses. But not long ago I got a call from Lee's assistant Kristen. She said he wanted me to come in and work on a pet project for him. He specifically asked for me.

Kristen added, "Lee said get Rich on this. He always makes me laugh."

I'll take that.

Although it would've been so much funnier if he had called me Brian.


Cameron Day (Cam#1 of Two-headed Cam) said...

You in an ill-fitting suit. So sorry I missed it. Good read, per usual. And just for the record, the ABC outdoor is right up there with The Economist in my books for best writing ever. I remember how jealous I was when Heppinstall wrote the Derweinerschniztel outdoor board, "Vegetarians Can Eat The Bun". When Belefant wrote the, "You're passing what no one in Baja could." ooh for Nissan. When Stenton wrote, "In Germany, there are No Getaway Cars. for Porsche. I feel the same way about damn near everything you write, but hospital room all-type for ABC, that one killed me. So, so smart. I didn't speak to you for years after that one. Thanks for doing what you do.

Rich Siegel said...

Thanks for the kind words. At the risk of popping your balloon, the hospital line came from Raymond Hwang or Michael Collado. But I wrote many of the others. And approved the ones that made it out the door. In any case, very kind of you. thanks.