The Pink Pony Strikes Again!

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Pink Pony II

The drive from Birmingham to Lansing is pretty much a straight shot up I-96, much to the dismay of towns like Howell, Fowlerville, and Williamston.  The new Interstate bypassed them all.  The Flying Coffin’s throbbing 6 cylinder, 255 cu. in. engine, mastered by its Powerglide automatic transmission, was ready to be unleashed.  To be on the safe side, I took the small plastic statue of St. Christopher my mother had given me out of the glovebox and placed it on the dash.  

I don’t recall much of the drive up to the MSU ad department.  The green, Mid-Michigan countryside seemed to turn into a blur of green and blue, supported by the thumping of the outside air rushing through my open windows.  I pulled into the parking lot at 4:58 PM.  I had driven 87 miles in 48 minutes!! Running up the stairs, I realized that traveling at almost the speed of light had made the interior temperature of the car go up to about  475 degrees.  I was soaking wet!  If the Campbell-Ewald recruiter mentioned anything about it, I would cleverly tell him that I had gone swimming and happened to wear the wrong “suit.”  I was pretty sure that ad guys appreciated a rapier-sharp wit.

I was ushered into a small conference room where the recruiter greeted me.  He began by telling me something that I already knew.  He had asked our department chairman for the names of five grad students he might like to interview.  Then he told me something I didn’t know.  He was visiting a total of five Big 10 schools and interviewing five at each school.  From this pool of  25 young men (yes, I know…but there weren’t very many women ad majors way back then) Campbell-Ewald was going to choose five to be admitted to their management training program. Hmmmm.  I had a one in five chance.  I knew that I needed something to make him remember me among the sea of eager white faces he would be meeting.  As he looked down to shuffle through his papers, I slowly took out the golden ticket I had just received from Ted Teegarden.  I looked at the contacts he gave me, not recognizing any of them.  We started the usual interview “Dance of Ennui, ” where we talked about our pasts and what brought us into advertising.  I thought this was a good time to use the golden ticket.  I told the recruiter about my buddies, Gail Smith, Bunkie Knudsen, Jack Morrisey, Ted Mecke, amd John Delorean.  Again, hmmmmm.  That didn’t seem to phase him, or else he knew that I was lying.  Then he commented on my last name.  “Are you related to the Mayor of Detroit?”  I told him that, indeed, I was.  He was my dad’s younger brother and my godfather.  His face lit up. “So you’re a Westsider,” he said, referring to the fact that I grew up on the west side of Woodward Ave.  “So am I!”  We found out that we’d grown up only a few miles from each other, gone to the same hamburger joints, went to the same movie theaters, and had endured the agony of buying back-to-school clothes at the same Federals.

He asked on what street I lived.  I told him that it was Prairie, a few houses north of Grand River Ave.  A big smile grew on his face.  My dad used to own a bar on that corner.  “The Pink Pony!” I exclaimed.  He said, ‘Yes!” I said, “I know it well!”  He said, “What a coincidence!”  I said, “I know!”  I did know the Pink Pony very well.  It was only about 200 yards from our front door, and featured the biggest TV I had ever seen.  Most Saturday and Sunday evenings my mom would say, “Tom, can you go get your father?  Dinner’s ready.”  I would trot down the street and timidly stick my head in the door that opened to a dark cavern filled with smoke and the smell of stale beer.  Men’s voices would try to out shout each other as they argued over who was a better Detroit Tiger, the new kid named Al Kaline, or the legendary Charlie Gehringer.  “Dad! You have to come home now.  Dinner’s ready.”  My dad would immediately emerge from the darkness and hold my hand as we walked home.

The Campbell-Ewald recruiter and I talked and reminisced for over 90 minutes…much to the chagrin of his next interview. As I left, he winked and said, “We’ll be in touch.”  I learned something that afternoon.  Sometimes you have to break away from the pro-forma “Dance of Ennui” and engage the schmooze gear to really know someone.

Next:  Manchild In The Promised Land

“Sir, Your Mother Wants You To Call Home.”

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Grad PhotoI was out!! Michigan State University had unleashed another starry-eyed graduate into the world. My graduate advisor had suggested that I might want to stay on and enter the newly-developed doctoral program.  I figured that I already had enough book learnin’ to land a job and start getting free cars.  In any case I knew, in my mind at least, that I had been assured a job from the father of my summer campers. All that was left was to put together something called a resume and buy a suit that didn’t smell of repo man sweat. The time had come to enter the intoxicating world of advertising.  I wanted to set up an appointment to follow my instructions to “look me up when you graduate, Tom.” My mentor’s name was Ted Teegarden, and he worked for McManus, John & Adams in Birmingham, MI.  They handled the Pontiac account.  I wrote requesting an appointment with him.  I also wanted to give the agency time to set up my new office and order my new Pontiac.  Several days later I received a reply.  His secretary wrote, “Mr. Teegarden would be delighted to see you next Wednesday, at 9 AM.”  I was in!!!! I was living in Lansing, MI.  My house was 87.4 miles from Birmingham. The day of the meeting I got up at 5:00 AM, and left an hour later.  I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t late for my first day at work.  It was June of 1971 in Michigan.  The last of the winter snow had melted the day before, and this glorious day now presented us with bad-haircut-689 degrees and 410% humidity.  My college car, which I lovingly referred to as The Flying Coffin, had no a/c.  I made the drive down with the windows open, the wind blowing through the car.  My neatly Aqua Netted hair now made me eerily resemble Phyllis Diller…on a good day.  I pulled into the McManus, John & Adams lot at 7:30 AM.  This gave me time to take care of three things: run across the street to the Sunoco station to use their restroom; while in there, use paper towels to try and dry the raging rapids that used to be my armpits; and to wet my hands and try to mold my hair back into something that at least approximated roadkill.  It was now Showtime!!! I presented myself at the reception desk.  A few minutes later, Ted Teegarden came out to greet me.  We went back to his huge corner office. Yes, I thought, this will be great.  He told me about the agency, what it did for Pontiac.  He asked questions of me.  “What motivates you?” “Why car advertising?” “What are your goals?”  Great questions, but why was he asking them when I should be looking at my new office?  We toured the agency.  We ate lunch in the executive dining room…yes, an executive dining room.  He spent the entire day with me, telling me things I would have never learned from a book.  Then came the cold dose of reality question: “Well, Tom, where else are you interviewing?” What! What? Wait!  I had no answer.  I didn’t know anyone at any other car ad agency.  Ted then opened his desk drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper that was the Holy Grail of heavy-breather agency and car company contacts in Detroit.  “Tom,” he said, “here’s a list of some people I know. I’ve contacted each of them.  Use my name to get in for an interview.” That day he had given me something better than a job, he gave me insight into the career I had chosen, and he had given me a golden ticket to find a job.  Ted Teegarden was a great mentor.  He displayed a kindness and caring attitude toward people that is becoming increasingly difficult to find these days.  He had spent an entire day escorting this gawky ad tyro around.  I thought the day couldn’t get any better.  Just then, Ted’s secretary walked in and looked at me.  “Sir, your mother wants you to call home.”  Ted jumped up and offered me the chair at his desk.  “Here, use my phone.  I’ll leave and give you some privacy.”  It was now 4:00 PM.  I called home. Mom answered.  “I’m glad you called, dear.  A recruiter from some place called Campbell-Ewald asked the ad department chairman for a list of five graduate students he should interview while he’s on campus.  You’re one of the five.”  I almost wept with joy.  Armed with my new contact list, I knew that I’d ace the interview.  “This is great news, Mom.  When is my interview?”  “Well, dear,” she said, “I’m afraid it’s at 5:00 today. That’s only 55 minutes from now and you’re in sr_screenshot_29Birmingham. Should I call and tell them that you can’t make it?”  “Nooooo, Mom.  I’m on my way!”  I ran past Ted and thanked him profusely for taking up an entire day for me.  I sprinted to the parking lot and fired up The Flying Coffin. It was now 4:10 PM and I was 87.4 miles from my chance for a free car. I would not miss this interview. Go Speedracer, Go!!!

 

Next:  The Pink Pony Strikes Again!

Oh My God, He’s Got A Gun!

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While I labored to prepare myself for the career that would provide me with a free car every year, I realized that I would need a job right now to help pay for tuition and to finance my burgeoning attack on my liver.  My sainted mother worked in the credit department at the local K1711Sears store, but was leaving to pursue a career in nursing.  She more than casually mentioned to the department manager that her favorite son, Tom, was looking for a job while he attended MSU.  During my interview, I realized that I desperately wanted this job.  Other than two managers, I would be the only male in a twenty person department.  And the work wasn’t too hard, either.  Help fill out credit applications at the counter, figure new payments on time-payment contracts, and deal with angry salesmen and customers when their Sears credit card was declined. And, at $1.65 an hour, I was able to make some easy money while searching for the future Mrs. Cavanagh in this credit commune.

This all changed for me three months into my bliss.  Because I was over six feet tall, and gave off the erroneous impression that I could lift heavy things, I was “promoted” to  outside field collector…the Sears term for repo man.  My pay jumped to $1.75 an hour, and I was given a mileage allowance.  No more working with mini-skirts and go-go boots.  My new boss was an affable giant of a man who played college football while at Jackson Federal Penitentiary.  There was one other “outside collector.”  He was monosyllabic in his speech and the backs of his knuckles were skinned.  This was going to be fun!

It was now Fall of 1970.  It was the time, as Gordon Lightfoot so correctly put it, …”when the gales of November came slashin’.”  This was that special time of the year in mid-Michigan when everything outside appeared in only two colors, gray and black.  This made driving the backwoods of Michigan, on your way to repossess a lawnmower, that much more cosmic.  For those of you who have never done it, being a repo man, the physical embodiment of someone’s bad fortune, sucks out your soul. A few examples of what made me study harder and graduate as soon as I could…

My boss and I had to repo a washer and dryer.  The customer had decided he didn’t want to pay for them because he didn’t “want them any more.”  This would be what we called a “hostile repo.”  When we got there, the customer curtly told us that the appliances were in the basement and we had to go through the side door to access the basement.  Once we entered through the side door, there was another door that led to the basement stairs.  There were ten steps that led to a landing, where the stairs turned 90 degrees and continued for another eight steps down to the basement floor.  We propped open the basement door and began.  The dryer, being lighter was the first to go.  My boss had me go first, pulling it up the stairs.  He was below, lifting and pushing.  When we had grunted and groaned our way to the top, theWasher basement door suddenly closed behind me, trapping me between the door and the dryer.  I could hear the customer on the other side laughing. My urgent pleas to open the door went unanswered.  I told my boss to brace himself while I released one hand to grab for the door knob behind me.  I was able to open the door and quickly grab the dryer.  We got it to the trailer and went back for the much heavier washer.  I folded a piece of paper to make a doorstop, to prevent the door from mysteriously closing again.  Once again, we huffed and puffed our way to the top of the stairs.  And, once again, the door slammed behind me.  My boss was livid.  “Tom, count to three and let go of the washing machine.”  “I can’t,” I objected.  “You’ll be crushed.”  “Trust me on this,” was his reply.  I started my count…One…Two…Thr   It was then that my boss let go of the washing machine, grabbed the bannister, and swung underneath it out onto the basement floor eight feet below. The washing machine began its death roll tumbling down the first portion of the steps, dials and hoses flying off.  It hit the wall at the turn of the landing going about 85 mph, leaving a washing machine-size hole in the sheetrock as it ricocheted down toward its doom.  It was airborne for the last eight feet before hitting his furnace and exploding into hundreds of pieces.  My boss got up, dusted himself off, and said to the shocked and dismayed customer as we left, “Sir, I’ve decide to let you keep the washer.”

One repo, however, convinced me that this was not the life for me.  One Saturday, I returned around 6 PM to turn in my paperwork.  My boss asked me if I could do one more repo if he paid me overtime.  I agreed.  The name on the worksheet was Jimmy Ray Somethingorother who had purchased merchandise for $390 from the Sporting Goods department.  The sheet didn’t describe the item, but I guessed golf clubs. Jimmy Ray lived at 43329 Darnell Rd. just outside of the small farming community of Dimondale.  I could make the run, throw the clubs in the trunk, and still get to a party I wanted to attend.  One of those wonderful storms where you can’t tell if it’s raining or sleeting had come in. By the time I got on the road, it was quite dark outside and the visibility was poor.  I made my way to Dimondale, but could not find Darnell Rd.  After an hour of driving around in circles, I stopped at a gas station to ask for help.  He told me that he thought that Darnell Rd. was the new name for “old county road 329.”  After another 45 minutes of aimless searching, I decided that the golf clubs could wait.  I drove back to the gas station to call my boss and tell him I was heading for the party. When someone at the office answered and I said, “Hello,” I was taken aback by the response.  “He’s alive, he’s alive!  Hey everyone, Tom’s OK.”  My boss got on the line. “Where are you?  Are you alright?”  Being a curious sort, I asked what was going on.  About ten minutes after I left the office, a Michigan State Police officer came to the credit counter and asked to speak to a manager.  He wanted to know if we had a street address for a Jimmy Ray Somethingorother who might be living in Dimondale.  We did.  My boss told the officer that he had sent me out to that address for a repo.  The officer asked what the merchandise might be.  My boss said that he thought it was a set of golf clubs, but that he’d go into the back and pull the sales slip.  My boss was ashen-faced when he returned and gave the sales slip to the officer, who immediately shouted out, “Oh my God, he’s got a gun!”  Jimmy Ray hadn’t purchased golf clubs.  He’d purchased a .357 magnum and 200 bullets.  Turns out old Jimmy Ray was an escapee from a prison in Kentucky.  The state trooper relayed the address and the fact that Jimmy Ray was to be considered armed and dangerous to State Police headquarters.  He also mentioned that there may be a hostage (me!!) involved.  I left for the party and Jimmy Ray shot it out with the police.  

I was only seven months away from graduation and wasn’t going to screw up getting the free cars by being a repo man any longer.  I gave my notice the next day.

Next:  “Sir, Your Mother Wants You To Call Home.”

“I got your multiple-linear regression analysis right here!”

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Lured by the siren’s song of a free car, and the glamor that came with it, I enrolled as an Advertising Major at Michigan State University.  I looked forward to taking courses on “How to Shoot a Funny TV Commercial,” “Casting Call 101,” “Bombay or Tanqueray?,” “Creative Expense Account Development,” and “An Executive’s Guide to Tipping.”

Oh the humanity!!  I could find nothing that approximated any of these courses.  My first term I had to take Journalism 101 (I lied about being able to type at 45 wpm), Botany (I needed a “science” and it was rumored that the professor “grew his own”), Econ 101 (taught by a hyper adipose professor who would strip down when it got hot, which would terrorize any coed sitting in the first row of the auditorium), Marketing 101 (taught by a professor whose book we had to buy), Accounting for Non-Accounting Majors (the first day we learned what assets and liabilities were, the next day we were studying collateralized mortgage obligations, defalcation, and high premium convertible debentures), and Advertising 101.

I went to college in the turbulent 60’s. While most college students were turning on and dropping out, practicing free love, and barricading the Student Union, I kept my eye on the prize…a career in advertising and a free car every year.  To do this, I had to take some classes which I knew would never have applicability for me after I graduated.  One of these was Statistics 804.  Yes, that was a graduate level course.  The UAW was striking the auto companies when I got my BA.  Big Three ad budgets were being cut, Detroit agencies weren’t hiring, and since Vietnam didn’t want me because of my blown-out knee, I decided to stay on for graduate school.

Statistics 804 was a required course. It’s like a colonoscopy; something that is awful, but you have to do it.  As with the Accounting course, the first day was a walk in the park. Figuring batting averages? No problem.  The difference between a “mean” and “a median?”  The answer was simple enough to write on my forearm if I had to.  Then came a terrifying sojourn into the dark world of Multiple Linear Regression Analysis.  Simply put, how do X and Y affect Z? Or more simply put:

Image

Well, if this was going to get me a free car, I could at least fake it.  After studying the formula as if it were the Rosetta Stone, we were assigned a term project:  Develop a thesis that can be proven by the use of multiple linear regression analysis.  During my college years I worked as a repo man for Sears.  More about that later.  My thesis would be to correlate the number of 90-day past due Sears credit card accounts (X) and the number of accounts in default (Y), to the dollar amount of uncollectible write-offs.  If I could pull this off I could pass the course, and give my results to Sears in hopes of them taking me off repo duty.

I diligently went through the credit records of the local Sears store.  I compiled mountains of scintillating data.  Now to crunch the numbers.  For those among you who may not know this, there was a time before we had high-speed computers.  To analyze the data, we had to go _FLEXO (1)to the Business School Building where we would sit for hours and punch the data onto a paper tape.  Once our tape was done, we would sign up for an appointment to “go online” with some mysterious GE computer in some unknown location.  I carefully put the roll of punch tape in the slot, pushed the button, and watched in amazement as reams of printed analysis spewed from the back of the magic box.  I was interested in only one number; the K value.  If it was less than 3.0, my thesis was valid. My eyes frantically searched for the K value.  There it was!!!  The K value for my thesis was… 29.7?  The horror. There was only one week left in the term.  And…there was only one thing left to do: Fake the data.  I knew that this skill would serve me well in the world of advertising.  After tweaking my X, and massaging my Y, I was able to get a K value of 2.9! Perfect.  I passed the course.  I didn’t learn much about multiple linear regression analysis, but I did learn how to put perfume on a pig.

I told the folks at Sears that the data findings were proprietary and couldn’t be given out. They got their revenge later.

Next:  “Oh My God, He’s Got A Gun!”

Free company cars??

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Thank you for visiting.  I should start with an explanation as to why, having lived through twelve (so far) U. S. Presidents I would want to now take a plunge into the blog pool during this era of my checkered career.  Quite honestly, I have too much time on my hands.  I’m firmly convinced that once you receive your AARP card in the mail, HR departments everywhere are alerted to the fact that incipient senescence  may make you a hiring risk.  For over 40 years my career has been advertising.  It has provided more thrills than swimming with sharks while cleaning a 400 lb tuna.  It is an industry that tries to win votes…for its clients’ products.  It has been an adventure.  Someone once said to me, “Always remember, at the end of the day we’re just trying to sell soap.”  Hence the blog’s title. These are my somewhat clouded reminiscences.  I promise not to name names…if possible.

After I decided to change majors in college, I was bouncing around looking for a course of study that would provide me with financial security for the rest of my life.  I found the answer while working as a counselor at a summer camp in Michigan.  I noticed that the father of two of the campers would drop his sons off each year in a brand new car. During the summer of my career ennui, I asked him why he always had a new car each time he drove up to the camp.  He told me that he was a management supervisor (whatever that was) at an ad agency in Detroit that handled the Pontiac account.  Each year when the new cars came out, the company gave him a car to use.

This was incredible!!!!  You had a job like Darrin Stephens AND you got a new car every year?!?!?  Sign me up!  I later learned that you could tell what year an episode of Bewitched was filmed by looking at the model year of the Chevrolet parked in the driveway.images66pontiacbonnevillecoupe  Chevy gave cars to the show each year to showcase the current models.  It was literally raining free cars.

The decision was made.  I became an advertising major at Michigan State University.  My friend on the Pontiac account told me to look him up when I graduated.  I very blithely took that as, “Tom, when you graduate, there’s a job and a FREE CAR waiting for you.”

Next:  “I got your multiple-linear regression analysis right here!”