Friday, July 8, 2011

The unvarnished truth about Ashley Y.

       Ashley is a fictitious name, but there was no one like her.

       On my first real day in advertising, in Chicago, I was told I was going to share an office with a new writer who had just graduated from the University of Chicago.

       I was thrilled; someone to share this adventure with. Ashley was tall, lanky, quite beautiful and had red Cruella Deville nails. She delivered a sentence like a command from Auntie Mame. Now I knew I was in advertising.

       The office we were to share was immense. Ashley had arrived there the week before, and settled into the desk in front of the biggest window. The flowers on the desk arrived yesterday, she said, from a guy at J. Walter Thompson.

       Ashley couldn't wait to give me the inside scoop. On the creative director: "He's a sculptor. His things are massive."  On the executive art director: "Looks are deceiving." On a junior art director: "He works in pastels. Work with him and you'll get chalk all over your pants."

       Ashley and I soon found we both could get our assignments done quickly, and because our bosses were often too busy to deal with us, had a lot of time on our hands. Our office became the place where everyone hung out when they were too tired or too pissed off to think. Fortunately, we had a long green sofa and two loveseats, which either came from Goodwill or were on the way there.

      Ashley and I stocked candy, gum, and Ho-Hos from the cigar store, and invented some activities to pass the time between assignments. One we called Cliche Adjectives (death was always "untimely", the truth was always "unvarnished"). I pinned up shelf paper to record our hundreds of adjectives, and we soon needed to go into adverbs. Another game we played was trying to cast movie stars for everyone in the agency, in case Hollywood wanted to make the picture.

       I put up a sign over my desk for both of us to absorb whenever someone killed one of our ads. It said "Read a little Wordsworth." That comforted Ashley's intellectual side. So did extended vacations in Latin America. When she was gone  I was left alone in that big room staring at my pad of  blank yellow paper.

       Ashley and I were in different groups. She worked on a mattress account,  lingerie, and a salad dressing. I worked on bourbon, wine, and cereals. She wrote booklets about salad fixings, and I invented mixed drink ideas with the help of the bartender in the lounge on the first floor. Both Ashley and I  worked on trade ads and Ashley came up with a formula for writing  them: SFD=SPT. Translated: Stock, Feature, and Display (the product) for Sales, Profit, and Turnover. It worked every time.

       After a year and a half or so, the agency hired a hotshot art director "from New York", and gave him our big office. Ashley and I were moved into our own tiny offices, but it wasn't the same. We'd still go to lunch together twice a week because Ashley figured out we could see a movie a week if we took our lunch break at 11:30 on Wednesdays and 1 on Thursdays, seeing half the film each day.

       Eventually,  she got a call for a big job at a larger agency, and I left to go somewhere else a few months later. We'd still have lunch once a month, and send off our $15 checks to Stavros, the baby in Greece we supported with Dendy, another friend,  through Save the Children. Then the occasional call, the quick after-work drink...we drifted apart, mailing our checks separately to Stavros for six years.

       Ashley was my buddy through the tenderest  part of my career, and occupies a special place in my heart, by a big window. And no, she's not on Facebook or LinkedIn.


1 comment:

  1. Best entry yet, Harvey. So may questions: What did you look like then? Did you smoke in the office? Where you two the cool ones in the agency? I feel like I just read the beginning of a crime novel, where I'm introduced to the detectives. Great Stuff. You really need to post a picture of the two of you in said office.