There is an old adage that says: “Some men are born to greatness, other men have greatness thrust upon them.” There is an advertising industry corollary to that: “Some men are born to party, other men have parties thrust upon them.”Apparently, I’ve been told, I was both parts of the corollary. The reasons why have been lost in the mists of time, but the folks at FCB thought I knew how to throw a great party. And I proved them true. But not without some damage to my mental stability. It all began when the birthday of one of our account team was several days off. The prevailing custom was to find out what kind of cuisine the celebrant wanted for lunch. We’d find an appropriate restaurant, and the luncheon would be “expensed” away. Back in those days, we had “employee morale” budgets. They could have also been called “employee morals” budgets, but I digress. The birthday girl said that she’d like to try Chinese for lunch. I spoke up and forever changed the course of my life. I knew of a great Szechuan place nearby. I was told, “Make it happen.” The next day I went on an “exploratory” lunch to Règǒu, a nifty local Szechuan place. I told them that I wanted to set up a luncheon for twelve people. That got their attention. They streamed out a parade of delectable dishes. I ordered one of each. I didn’t care, we were talking expense account here. The staff said that they would make the lunch “extra special” for us. They did. We arrived en masse and were blown away by the presentation that greeted us. The food and service were wonderful. It was a truly wonderful three-hour lunch. Little did I know that the pu-pu platter of my destiny had been set. “Tom, you’ve got a knack for this. From know on you are in charge of all entertainment”
The genie had been let out of the bottle! I had become the Sol Hurok of FCB. Each birthday lunch was like staging the Olympics. My birthday is March 1st. I was eagerly waiting to see who would take over and plan my birthday lunch. No surprise, I was told that I would plan my own birthday lunch. To add insult to injury, our new EVP’s birthday was March 5th. The executive decision was made to combine our birthday lunches. This was done not so much for financial reasons, as for appearances. The Mazda Account Group was rapidly gaining a reputation (totally undeserved) at the agency as a group of partiers. It wouldn’t look good to have the group gone all afternoon twice in four days. Additionally, as the EVP outranked me, he got to choose the restaurant for our combined birthdays. No problem. I employed another old adage: “Living well is the best revenge.” I suggested to him that it might be fun to make the trek from FCB out to Marrakesh in Studio City. Great Moroccan food, and we could lie down while we ate. He agreed. Of course, I had to make the “exploratory” trip. We would eat like kings, or rather, khalifas. One of the secretaries mentioned that there would be a “surprise” during the lunch. As long as it wasn’t my credit card being declined, I was fine with it. We had gorged ourselves on couscous, hummus, lamb, bastilla, and harira, and were about to start our third round of camel spit shooters, when the music started. Two of the secretaries had slipped away, changed, and come to the table as belly dancers. then the party really began, much to the chagrin at the people sitting near us. The tacit agreement between all of us was that Personnel was never to hear about this. Most of us drove straight home after lunch.
Management decided that I was ready for the big time…at least as far as being the agency’s Perle Mesta. The 1980 National Automobile Dealers’ Association was coming up. Five days of non-stop feasting, drinking, partying, and estate planning seminars. Even though it was a dealer convention, the manufacturers came to entertain their dealers and get yelled at by them at the “Make Meetings.” FCB was going to throw the mother of all dinner parties for our Mazda clients. I was only given one directive, “Make it special.” There were going to be twenty of us. The dinner was set for a Thursday night during the NADA convention, this year in Las Vegas.
I called the event planning company putting on the huge Mazda Dealer Reception the next night to ask for some suggestions for our dinner. The place had to be quiet, excellent, classy, private, off of The Strip, and would bill me as I knew that the tab on this would melt my credit card. Without any hesitation, she said, “David’s.” David’s was a swanky restaurant that looked like a colonial-styled funeral home from the South. It was about five miles west of The Strip on W. Sahara Rd. Lots of gold and marble, and Roman statues. I met with their banquet manager to develop a menu. Premium-brand liquor served by lovely Roman toga-clad goddesses during the cocktail reception. Lobster rolls and caviar to snack on. For dinner, we would have Caesar salad, crab bisque, sorbet, beef Wellington, and baked Alaska. All of it washed down with gallons of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. For after dinner, we had cheese plates and cognac…with some fine cigars. After we were sated, our Mazda clients staggered out in groups, until there was just myself and Denny Remsing. The maitre’d gave me the check. With the mandatory 20% gratuity, the bill came to $5882.98. Denny said, “Can you cover that, because my card won’t.” I told him not to worry, as I had arranged for a direct bill to FCB. I signed the tab, attached my business card, and left for an evening of NADA debauchery.
The following morning I received a frantic call from my office. David, himself, had called and was looking for me. I was to call him immediately. Uh-oh. I called the restaurant and asked for David. He was livid. “You walked out on a $6000 tab. I want you to get you ass over her right now and give me my money. Nobody runs out on me!” I figured that David wasn’t in the mood for any type of customer service lessons. I told him that I had arranged for them to bill FCB. He said he knew nothing of it. He wanted to know what hotel I was in. Fortunately, I had the brains to not tell him. I told him that I would call our office and have them expedite a check to him. He wanted his money now. I called the office. They said they couldn’t send a check without the dinner bill. I called and left a message for David, telling him that the check would be cut on Monday, when I got back. I found out that David called my office many times that day, demanding to know where I was staying. The office didn’t rat me out. I kept a low profile for the rest of the weekend, not dancing on tables, getting kicked out of bars, or starting fights in parking lots. On Monday, I got to the office early and had the check processed. While it was being signed, David called. “I’ve sent a couple of fellows over to you office to pick up my money.” I peaked down the staircase and saw two guys in trench coats who looked like Clemenza and Tessio. Our bookkeeper ran the check down to them. They left. I exhaled.
Two weeks later, our controller called to tell me that the check to David hadn’t been cashed. I called the restaurant to discover that I had reached a number that was “no longer in service.” I called my event planning friend who gave me the news. David’s Restaurant had mysteriously burned to the ground the Wednesday after we had given them the check. On top of that, nobody knew what had happened to David. He had apparently vanished. Just goes to show you, you don’t mess with the T.C.!!!!
Next: More Fine Dining
My personal dust bin of time is really deep. I’ve forgotten almost all of these moments. I really enjoy re-living them through your writings. Keep them coming. You doing ok?