The Pink Pony Strikes Again!


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

“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:


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!”