Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You Don't Know Jack

Twenty-five years ago, I worked for a 5'4" Sicilian, with an excellent hairpiece, whose name was Jack. He looked like a miniature Sylvester Stallone. For three years he was my creative director at JWT, a large ad agency in Chicago. During that time, he divorced his wife of many years, traded in his VW for two Ferraris, and moved a baby grand piano into his office so he could play Rachmaninoff in the afternoons.
          Along with the daily laughter and music that accompanied our sometimes pressurized work, he would regale me and my art director partner with tales of his late night exploits with women. To my chagrin, many of them worked in the office. Needless to say, I often had a hard time keeping a straight face in meetings, when the presenter was someone whose bedroom behavior had been described in excruciating detail earlier that morning. Legally, he knew he shouldn't be sharing his tales of tail to the captive audience that worked for him, but he'd just apologize and continue. Over time, despite his sexist habits, we became surprisingly good friends and colleagues. But our eventual, and some say, inevitable, falling out was so explosive that, except for one notable occasion, we have not spoken in twenty years.
           The falling out began with his promotion to executive creative director. With his new power, I watched him turn into a megalomaniacal little martinet. Around that same time, an article had been written about the recent testosterone shift in the agency.
           So I penned a note to him that said, "Jack, I just read about the new, more macho, JWT. Can I borrow your dick?" And signed my name.
           I heard it was the talk of the senior vice presidents' meeting. I was a mere vice president and not included. He saw me in the hall wanted to know if I had been writing the other notes he'd received. Apparently a lot of people weren't happy with him. "No," I said, "Just this one. And I sign all mine." But I'm sure he didn't believe me.
          The last straw came when I made what some people have said was one of my best presentations ever for a beer campaign to save an account. He ripped it to shreds. After the meeting, one of the account people took me aside and said, "That was a great campaign. What does he have against you?" We'll never know. I stopped speaking to him.
          I left the agency in a cloud of dust, but I ran into him and the former Bulls cheerleader/secretary he married about two years later. Both of them were genuinely pleased to see me, exclaiming, "Hey, Judy!!" but they were stopped in their tracks by the look of death on my face. We had an awkward moment as I introduced them to a friend of mine, since it was obvious I was not happy to see them.
          As they walked away, Jack turned around and said, "It was good to see you."
          I replied, "I wish I could say the same."
          I haven't seen him or spoken to him since.
          Since we still have mutual friends, I have continued to ask about him, to find out what he's been doing. He ended up in Michigan, outside Kalamazoo, raising a daughter, teaching sculpture and doing commissions.
          Earlier in January an email went out to people close to him. I got it secondhand, forwarded from someone who knew we had been friends once. His wife was writing to tell people he had been in a car accident the day after Christmas and died of his injuries on January 3rd.
          Someone who remained friends with Jack, even though Jack had fired him, went to the services and sent me pictures of two pieces of his outdoor sculpture. Jack was a great art director, an accomplished pianist, an artist, interior designer, landscaper, anything with his hands. Looks like he was a good sculptor, too. Of course, I would have ragged him about the thighs on the one babe, or the clothing on the other. "What's with the drapes?" Because it was always tough love with us. The kind of kidding that leaves a mark. The kind we used to do to each other about everything, since there was probably more than we wanted to acknowledge between us.
           I emailed back a thank you for the pictures and asked if it had been a freak accident or something.
           "Jack being Jack, was in his Mustang and decided to drag race a 19 year old kid. He lost control of the car and hit a tree."
           You complete asshole. I bet you weren't wearing a seatbelt either.
           You'd think he'd be over that stuff at 71! Yes, you read that right. He was 71.
           But I refuse to remember him for that stupidity.  What comes to mind is a remark he made years ago, long after everything went bad between us. He was having a drink with my former art director, reminiscing about the good old days and what fun we all had working together. I heard he took a deep breath, exhaled, and said, "I miss the laughter."
           Me too, Jack. Me too.



cb said...

Wow. Just, wow. I remember him, too. The Italian Stallion. Good stuff, Judy.


Jayne Martin said...

I had no idea who this guy was, but you really brought him (back to) life for me.

It's tough to work in a boys' club.