It was now December, 1971. The top television shows were All in the Family and Marcus Welby, MD. I managed to do my time in Traffic, Print Production, and Art Buying without pissing anyone off. I was finding that this training program was an invaluable way to learn the business. That’s why so many other Detroit agencies didn’t have management training programs. They’d let Campbell-Ewald go to the time and expense of training us, then, when we were done, they’d pick us off the vine. Still, I got the feeling that when there was a dirty job to do, the first thought was “have the trainees do it.”
I was called to report to the VP of Personnel’s office right away. Oh no! What now? On the way there, I ran into Chuck Seibert, another of the trainees. He was on his way to the same meeting. He was as clueless as I was. We entered the Director’s office and were asked to be seated across from his desk. Standing behind him was a woman who, as far as any of us knew, was the Assistant Director of Personnel for Female Stuff. This was not a good sign. The Director began, “Gentlemen, as you know, tomorrow night is the Campbell-Ewald Christmas Party. The entire agency will be there…including the secretaries. There will be open bars, and probably a lot of drinking going on.” Where was he going with this? “Tom and Chuck, you are both single account men (back then were there any account women?) and we are asking you to, um, err, uh…. Marge, why don’t you take over here?” The ADOPFFS stepped from behind her desk, uncrossed her arms, and began. “Gentlemen, the women at this agency are not used to nice things. Even now they are discussing with each other what they are going to wear. As soon as it’s 5:00 tomorrow, they will all race to the ladies’ rooms to change and spend an hour or so doing their hair and applying make-up.” Now I was completely bewildered. “These women,” she continued, “are not used to nice parties and this may be the only open bar they will experience all year. Many of them will get extremely drunk…and amourous. Many of them are only in advertising to find a rich husband (who also gets free cars!) and live off of him. We cannot have them ruining any of our married men’s lives because the man was seduced in a moment of weakness. That’s where you two come in. If you any see behaviours that appear to be headed for sex, we want one of you to step in.”
“And do what?” I asked. I wasn’t going to carry a bucket of cold water around all night. “You are to remind the gentleman that he is married, and escort the lady away.” “What if she’s still hot to trot?” Chuck asked delicately. Marge flinched for a second, then dropped the bomb. You two aren’t married. We don’t care what you do with the secretaries.” My open mouth was rapidly filling with dust and cigarette smoke. “You want us to do what?” I asked. The Director jumped back in. “Tom, you’ll be doing everyone a great favor by defusing any volatile sexual situations. We can’t afford to have any of our men hurt by a slight indiscretion with someone from the office.” Ahh, I thought. I get it. It’s OK for these guys to have off-campus affairs, just not one with a co-worker. Hmmm, I think someone’s been sued before. We were dismissed. On the way back to our offices, Chuck turned to me with a huge grin and said, “Man, do you know what this means? Personnel has just given us Get Out Of Jail cards for the Christmas Party. We have company issued licenses to shag the secretaries!” He really didn’t say shag. I just used it because it was nicer than the word he actually used.
The next day dawned crisp and cold. I was hoping that the cold air would quell any misplaced ardor that evening. Just to be on the safe side, I wore my best underwear. The clock ticked inexorably toward 5:00 PM. And, as Marge had predicted, at 5:01 there was a small stampede toward the ladies rooms. The party was scheduled to begin at 6:30 PM across the street in the Grand Ballroom of the St. Regis Hotel. By 6:31 it was standing room only at each of the five bar stations. By 7:15, the first person has passed out after getting sick on a statue of Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac. By 8:05, I saw my first challenge. Tom Turner, another trainee, was pinned against the wall by a secretary in his group. She was leaning into him so hard that her drink was spilling on the front of his suit. Tom and his wife, Carol, were from North Carolina and as nice, and charming as could be. The terrified look on Tom’s face told me that he was trapped. The young lady was wearing a fetching crushed velour, forest green mini dress. I knew she was wearing underpants because the dress didn’t go down far enough to cover them. Tom had been a Navy pilot in Vietnam. And, as military people are want to do, Tom quickly fell into the argot of acronyms and euphemisms for what he did. “What did you do in Vietnam, Mr. Turner?” she cooed. “Well, Lindy Lou, I was a tail hooker (a pilot who lands jet planes on carrier decks) in the Navy.” “Ooooooh,”she squealed, “would you hook my tail tonight?” True to his gentlemanly constitution, Tom said, “Oh no, a tail hooker is a guy who drops the hook down on the back of his jet fighter, hoping it grabs one of the cables on the carrier deck in order to keep his 31 ton aircraft, that’s moving at about 250 MPH, from plummeting off the end of the deck.” Her face went blank, but she was relentless. “Do you want to get out of here and go see my apartment?” “Hey Tom,” I called out. “There’s someone over here I want you to meet.” I explained to him what I was doing, then went back to find Lindy Lou. She had already been picked up by a guy from Research, who had heard the entire tail hooker story. The two of them were making tracks for the door and a sweaty assignation somewhere in a small apartment in Troy. Oh well, the research guy was single, so it was OK.
The party rolled downhill from here. When one secretary from media decided it was time for a Southern Comfort fueled striptease, she climbed up on a table and started her routine, ironically, to the stirring lyrics of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again, Naturally. There was no way, literally or figuratively, I was going to touch this one. “Marge, we’ve got a problem over at Table 8.” There were no more major problems. Probably because our married “account men” knew that they were being watched. Not by me, but by executive management. I had been put in charge of keeping the expendable ones at bay. As this party was winding down, another one was taking on a life of its own. One of the Associate Media Directors was a part-owner in a seedy bar on the Detroit Riverfront called The Sewer. The party was moving there! If The Sewer sounds familiar, it should, as the original venue for singer/writer Rodriguez, the subject of the award-winning movie Searching for Sugar Man.
At The Sewer, the party got weirder, the pheromones were flying, the drinks were flowing, reverse peristalsis was sent outside, the bar regulars were upset, one of the secretaries had passed out on the pool table, so we just played eight ball around her. I was OFF DUTY!
Next: I Am Plucked From The Slough Of Despond