Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The man with the carmine red mind.

          Fletchie was my first ad agency copy chief. His real name was Douglas Fletchmore, but to the writers, Fletchie seemed more appropriate.  He lived by day in a small office furnished sparingly. His desk, two hard chairs, a glass filled with red pencils, and an ash tray for visitors. No other sign of human life.

          Hover by his door and he'd say one of two things. Either "not now" or "what've you got?" If it was the first, you'd come back in three hours. If it was the second, you'd plunk yourself down and show him what you've written. When it came to grabbing a red pencil, he was the quickest draw in town. He'd look at my hard-wrought ad writing, rolling his red pencil thoughtfully between his fingers.

        "Good," Fletchie would say, "Good." Then he would dive in. "But what if we just did this." He would proceed to cross out my headline and write in one of his own. "You did a nice job," he would say, "but if we change that, we'll have to change the next sentence." Red pencil, new sentence. And so on, until my copy looked like it was bleeding to death. Which it was.

        When the surgery was over, Fletchie would hand me back my copy. "Good job, Harvey, get it typed." I never knew whether that meant job security or a death sentence, but I was glad to get out of there and show everybody so they'd feel sorry for me.

         I asked my friend Dennis about the situation. Dennis said, "He does the same thing to me. I just type words on paper. Doesn't matter what they are. They're red-pencilled to oblivion anyway."

         Having a boss is never easy. Fletchie was always very gentle and calm. When I quit the agency to go somewhere else, I got a call from Fletchie a year later. He asked me to come back, for a nice raise. But I still shiver when anyone --- colleague or client --- picks up a red pencil. Once I told Dennis I wished Fletchie would do that with Hemingway.

        Hemingway would tell him what he could do with that red pencil.


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