The “call” came four days later. I was being summoned to “meet some people” at the Campbell-Ewald offices in the General Motors Building in Detroit. The building, designed by Alfred Kahn, and opened in 1923, was at that time the largest office building in the world. I had been to the GM building before as a child. Where children in New York City might go with their parents to see the Statue of Liberty, we would go to the GM Building’s incredible lobby to see the new models, and visit the “Technology of Tomorrow” exhibit. Two of the displays would entrance me for hours. One was a rapidly spinning machine that looked something like a camshaft. You could flick a switch and a strobe light would go on, seemingly freezing the spinning device. You could see how high rpm’s took its toll on metal parts. That sure made me want to drive fast. My other favorite display was very simple. There were two holes in a wall about twenty-four inches from each other. A ball bearing would roll out of the hole on the left, drop about eighteen inches to where it hit a beveled block of metal that bounced the ball into a 45 degree arc back toward a spinning hoop. The ball would arc toward the hoop, timed to pass through it perfectly, arc back down to another beveled block of metal that would bounce the ball straight back up, where it would disappear into the second hole.At any given time, there were four balls in the air. I would stand there watching in dumbstruck amazement until I would realized that my drool was starting to pool on the floor!
But today, I was to put away the things of a child. The Flying Coffin flew me to Detroit, I found a nearby parking lot, and was entering the building when I realized that I had locked my keys in the car! I ran back to the attendant who assured me that I had nothing to worry about. I returned to the Cathedral of Capitalism.
Campbell-Ewald, most of it, was located on the fourth floor. When I got off of the elevator, my senses were immediately struck by three things: my nose sensed the mustiness of gravitas, my eyes saw a lot of marble, my ears could detect no noise. Were they closed today? I followed the signs that led to the Personnel Department. Dear reader, you’ll have to remember that this was 1971 BHR…Before Human Resources. I entered, introduced myself, and was asked to have a seat. Several minutes later the receptionist’s intercom buzzed, instructing me to enter the Sanctum Sanctorum. It would be almost another thirteen years before John Williams would introduce his Olympic fanfare, but I could already hear the kettle drums and heraldic trumpets playing in my head. The office, the size of a racquetball court, was panelled in dark wood. Harry Parker, Vice President of Personnel rose from his desk to greet me. “Good morning, Tom, would you like some coffee?” He could have been asking me if I wanted some heroin, or vodka, or a sharp stick rammed up my nose. I didn’t care. I gushed, “Yes, thank you!”
We started the Dance of Ennui. I had a hunch this guy’s dad didn’t own a bar. Harry explained to me how the the training program would work. The five pauci electi would be cycled through the different departments of the agency, spending a month or two in each. If, after a year, no department expressed an interest in retaining one of the trainees, that person would be bound and gagged and drop kicked into the Detroit River. Harry explained that the salaries for all of the trainees were coming out of his budget. After this pep talk, the recruiter was called in to give me a tour of the agency. I said “Hello” to approximately 287 people. After the tour I was dropped back at Personnel reception and asked to wait. About ten minutes later I was summoned back into Harry Parker’s office. Mr. Pink Pony was also there.
“Tom, ” Harry began, “we’d like to thank you for taking the time to see us today.” Nooooooooooooo! They don’t like me. “As you know, there are 25 men trying to get only five jobs.” Nooooooooo! Maybe I can my Sears repo job back. “We really enjoyed meeting you today.” Noooooooo! I think I saw a bar around the corner. “That’s why we’d like to welcome you to the Campbell-Ewald Training Program.” Nooo…Wait!!! Yessssssssssss!! Right then, I was very happy that I was wearing a dark blue suit.
“We’re prepared to offer you an annual salary of $9400.” Be still my heart. That was an obscene amount of money!! “If you work out after 90 days, we’ll bump you up to $11,200.” The room started to spin. Sphincter don’t fail me now. “Is that acceptable, Tom?” By the puzzled looks on their faces I think my answer came out of my mouth as, “Yerrrg.” We all shook hands. A secretary magically appeared with a Campbell-Ewald New Employee Handbook full of paperwork for me to complete. “Can you start next week?” Mr. Pink Pony asked. “I can start right now, if you want me to,” I blurted. They both laughed. “Ha-ha. What a kidder.”
I attempted to maintain some sense of composure as I was escorted back to the elevators. The composure broke as the elevator doors opened in the lobby. I ran to the nearest lobby payphone to call my parents. They were almost as excited as I was. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t hear my dad in the background say, “Well, that’s one launched.” I called my girlfriend. Her happiness for me was tempered by her concern that I was now going to be living almost 90 miles away.
Oh no!! My keys were still locked in my car. I ran back to the parking lot, where I was met by the attendant who handed me my keys. “How did you get them out of my locked car?” “It’s my job,” he cryptically smiled and said. Claude Brown wrote a novel in the 60’s, and even though I was light years from his experience, I felt like “A Manchild In the Promised Land.”
Next: Into The Belly Of The Beast