Storyline - 24: Greener Grass (Madison Avenue Reaches out to Pastures New)
Strictly for the birds...
"Harry, did you get the Sourdough Bakery account?"
"Tell me! Did you?" Harry Kerry held the cellphone away from his head, eardrums nearly bursting as his boss shouted into the phone at his end.
"I did, Paul! We've got it, the media, billboards, colour supplements in the NYT - the works! Bloom really went for my spiel, I can barely believe it myself!".
"The works, eh? We'll talk about it over a drink!" Paul N. Tice laughed into his phone. It was an eerie sort of laugh, no mirth in it. In fact it sounded more like Lurch the butler in the Addams Family, or someone who'd planned on doing away with his boss. "I'll bring Phil with me, Harry. Meet us at the bar on the corner across the avenue from the agency. See you there in an hour -"
The phone went dead. Harry shrugged. It would take him more than that to get back to Madison from where he stood across the road from the bakery. A smell of bread and cake filled the air, even as he left the diner with his takeaway coffee. He'd be lucky to get to the Avenue even in ninety minutes. Didn't Paul realise how far away the bakery was from the city?
Meanwhile Paul busied himself inviting the 'beautiful people' from the agency to prop up the bar with him. There was that redhead accounts secretary, Mandy Sugarman. She only ever drank mineral water laced with white wine. How was Paul to get her interested in the Parisian etchings in his studio apartment? Phil, bruiser that he might have been only ever drank Martini cocktails - hardly the football pro he looked! - and media salesman Harvey Hammond, the Budweiser king, sported a beer belly to be proud of and kept patting it fondly. It was his 'baby' ever since he landed their account. Even though the Backfire Agency 'stole' it in a sales coup that made the front page of the adman's paper, 'Campaign'.
They needed a big account at Pullem & Teezem Inc to fill the books and the baker, Bloom, Horowitz & Sons fitted the bill. The agency would be up to their ears in cream cheese bagels for months, but that didn't matter. The girls in the typing pool would see to polishing them off.
Jasper Jermayne, the new boy from Yale would see how a big account was landed and processed through stages, like the whale Moby Dick. He was a bit green still, but he'd soon pick it up. He was a sharp dresser with a goatee beard and a Masters in the classics that would pull the artistic types - male or female.
Paul held the door open as they all trooped out of the office, security saluted as they stood silently watching, lusting after Mandy. She'd have felt honoured. After all she was in her late forties and dressed to impress with stilettos and thigh-high minis that almost bared her backside when she descended the stone steps to street level... And that was before she bent down or sat demurely on a bar stool! What was it the mail boy aid behind his hand, "mutton dressed as lamb"? Phil leered behind her and gave a meek smile when she turned to look back whilst the light told them "Don't Walk".
Don't walk, don't talk, don't drink, don't get laid... He put that out of his mind for now. Mutton dressed as lamb, eh? Now there's a challenge. The lust settled on thoughts of a tall glass of the cold amber liquid for now. Ever since he saw Paul Hogan pull Linda whatsername in the Australian outback, he thought there was a chance for him and Mandy. After all, Paul Hogan wouldn't advertise Fosters if he thought it sucked... would he. Paul wondered why they didn't get the Fosters account for the Eastern Seaboard instead of crusty bagels. It's all down to the chase. Think of bagels, he told himself. Think of bagels and calm down!.
Where Mad Men Make Money
Paul ushered them across the Avenue like a shepherd with his flock. It was how he saw himself in the public eye, 'the genial uncle' figure.
He lusted after Mandy as well, although she was a decade older than him. And she was spoken for by an ex-football pro.
Phil laughed out aloud as he entered the bar and saw the bus boy, the Italian - Luigi, was it? - who shook the cylinder shaped mixer,
"You've got me taped boy!"
The bus boy winked at Mandy as she drifted past on her way to the last bar stool. She perched, showing off the 'designer cleavage' she'd paid for a few months earlier. Another proud 'owner' and client of the uptown Carver Clinic. It'd done its work, after all.
"Harry not here yet?" Paul asked another of the bar staff. A shake of the head gave him the green light to show off his knowledge of the new client, "Best bagels in the whole of New York State!"
"You say", Phil didn't believe what anyone told him. He had to see for himself, had to get the model to show enthusiasm for a product he viewed with distaste. He didn't like bagels himself. "Too dense", he dismissed them when colleagues told him to help himself in the breakfast bar. 'Kaiser rolls', as someone called them, were more to his taste. Yet Mandy was a sucker for bagels, the bulge over her belt line showed. Salmon bagels she could stuff on all day if left alone. The girls in the typing pool usually got to them first when they came in. One day it would really show, the mail boys joked, just as it did with their supervisor Eugenia Bigalow. With her passion for for cream cheese and anchovies she could melt icebergs, they laughed.
Mandy was on her third mineral water and wine when Harry showed through the street door. He dodged halfway down the block for a copy of the latest 'Campaign' from the news stand before coming back and entering the bar.
"My main man!" Paul boomed. "Were you on the moon when I called you?"
"Something like that", Harry beamed as he looked up from reading the headlines. Ogilvy & Mather and BBD&O had been chasing the bakery boss Matthias Bloom for his signature. The next issue would see him on the front page together with Paul. "You didn't know the bakery was upstate?"
"How far?" Paul emptied his glass and reached for his wallet.
"Between here and White Plains", Harry sighed and turned to the bus boy to give him the thumbs up when a tall, slim beer glass was held up. "It was as much as I could do to get through traffic in ninety minutes".
Paul's thoughts were elsewhere now, Harry saw. Phil's face lit up,
"I can see it now". He had a hand over his brow like someone looking into the far distance, like a seeress in one of the monochrome epics Hollywood knocked out in the early days.
"Say", Paul grinned, back again. He winked knowingly at Mandy, still perched on her high stool like a brooding hen, showing half her lower anatomy.
"A Roman soldier in ancient Jerusalem spears a bagel on a street seller's barrow and licks his chops at the sight of the filling oozing out!"
"Are you sure you've got that right?" Paul looked askance at Harry beside him. "What's that got to do with a bakery in New York State?"
"It's the classical angle", Phil scoffed at Paul's lack of vision.
"People expect to see the likes of you and me stop off at the local store for a bag of bagels, not a Cecil B. de Mille production", Paul smirked.
Harry tried to keep his mirth to himself but gave up when the new boy Jasper leaned back laughing on his bar stool and fell to the floor. Mandy was less than happy that his beer splashed on her lap. On trying to get down from the stool she split the seam of her mini and gave the bu boy an eyeful.
Paul ambled to the men's room past Mandy and patted her bare left shoulder, felt her hand push his away as she smiled back at him, shaking her head and pursing her coral coloured lips. It was a "look, don't touch' smile that lingered for as long as he stared back. As he opened the door and struggled past an overweight ad executive she put on a disgusted look and took up her glass to swill down the taste.
Back in the Board Room in the early evening Bruce Godleigh, the President listened long and hard to what Phil outlined for the campaign. Exasperated, he stopped Stein in mid-flow to ask,
"What in God's name have bagels got in common with Romans anywhere?"
"It's the classical angle", Phil tried to talk the old man over, as he had earlier with Paul.
"What does Bloom want? Godleigh turned to Harry. "How does he see his campaign? Did he make any suggestions?"
"Bloom said he'd leave it to our good taste", Harry answered, avoiding Phil's triumphal look.
"Our good taste", Godleigh repeated the last three words. "You heard that, Stein? Our good taste".
"Call him", Phil urged Harry. "See what he says".
"Oh well", Godleigh waved Phil away. "If he goes quiet you'll know it fell flat. Mandy will you take a letter?"
He took a long look at her as she stood from her desk, pulled down the short skirt and walked, gazelle-like to where they sat around the glass-topped coffee table. She stood, pad in hand, a bored look on her face.
"Sit down, Mandy. Take the weight off your feet", Godleigh told her, indicating the low chair opposite. She knew why he wanted her to sit there. It was written all over his face in capital letters:'Schmuck', She gave him a tired smile and stayed on her feet as Godleigh dictated, then strode gazelle-like back to her desk on her killer heels. Her desk had a teak front that betrayed nothing of what was behind.
When the Board met next morning Godleigh asked Harry what the baker Bloom reckoned to Phil's notion.
"He went quiet as you said, sir", Harry winked at Paul sat beside him at the other side of the long table. "I thought maybe he'd had a stroke or something like that. He told me he'd think it over. Half an hour later he called me back. He thought the idea hilarious. He said if Roman soldiers liked his bagels, why should he argue?"
Harry sensed Paul turn quiet - very quiet. Phil had trouble containing himself. he leapt out of his chair as he cried out,
"Yahoo - God loves us!"
"Maybe he likes bagels as much as the Romans!" Paul sounded choked. "I don't believe this is happening".
Phil was cock-a-hoop, almost didn't hear when Godleigh asked how soon he'd have the roughs to show Bloom.
"A day, maybe a day-and-a-half at most", Phil laughed.
"That soon?" Paul paled. He'd hoped Phil would say longer, to let Bloom cool off the idea. This would be a disaster, he knew. Gut feelings are never wrong. They're the adman's insurance policy. He tried to imagine Mandy in a skimpy outfit to bolster his ego, ready and willing him on, but it didn't click somehow. He'd have to stick with grim reality. This was threatening to turn into farce..
On every New York street corner a Roman soldier beamed down at the public, a richly filled bagel speared and almost in his mouth.
"It was Bloom's own idea and that's the truth!" Godleigh's modesty didn't wash, but in the electric atmosphere of a new and unusual campaign idea it didn't seem to matter.
The media went mad, the public emptied the supermarket bakery shelves weekly in the first months and sales soared like the Empire State Building. The happy Roman soldier became a byword on TV and in the papers. The male model chosen for the campaign had more work on his hands than Tom Cruise. He'd been hired through the agency for a month and still had engagements six weeks, two months and more later to do different sequences. And Phil I. Stein was a household name, a centrefold figure in 'Campaign', eclipsing the half column on the front page that told how Harry Kerry won the account.
Godleigh was interviewed on a prime-time TV talk show along with Kirsty Ally and Alan Alda. He came to be known as the agency president who set the ball rolling - and Paul still wore the same hang-dog expression, even when the champagne flowed and he was hailed account executive of the year. Yes, Paul N. Tice was promoted to a seat on the Board, where he was safely away from Phil and his creative team.
"Every dog has his day", Paul tried to reassure himself and clung tightly to his dog-in-the-manger outlook. He'd come in use to rein in the agency's high spenders, but not Phil. Even when his salary was bumped up and he was well off enough to rent the Long Island apartment his wife Babs craved, Paul felt he could comfortably look disaster in the face.
Mandy? She caught Godleigh's eye and they were wed within the year; her intended comforted himself with the payoff and went back to Seattle. Needless to say she wore longer skirts, or trousers, much to Godleigh's relief. "Happiness is next to Godleigh-ness", she cooed into her mineral water and clicked her tongue as she looked along Long Island beside Babs from the panorama window.
And Harry went from strength to strength. He sells for Ogilvy & Mather now. The thought of Romans spearing bagels still brings a smile to his face, but he hasn't brought Bloom round to moving his account to O&M.
"Phil Stein has my vote of confidence", Bloom said at the launch of his 'Greek bagels' with Feta fillings. The Roman soldier would soon have to work like a Trojan!
"They shall not pass - at least not until they've bought Blooms' bagels!"
A bit of background
Way back in the mists of time, just after the Goths sacked Rome the first time, I used to work in and around Fleet Street - The Evening Standard, Daily Express, The Times and The Telegraph. Latterly at The Telegraph, whilst still in Fleet Street (1980-86) I was involved with advertising accounts queries and collecting data from daily billing sheets for a survey of agency spending (per newspaper rep). There were hundreds of agencies in the London area alone from the high and mighty such as Ogilvy & Mather, Batton Bartton Durstine & Osborne and Saatchi & Saatchi to smaller offshoots that might have re-formed in subsequent decades. It was all grist to the mill and a world to itself, with a language of its own. I started in newspapers at the Nottingham Post at the age of 22 and graduated to the big time in Fleet Street. When I was elbowed out by virtue of Conrad Black's expansion into Australian newspapers I was a six months short of 50. In a way I was relieved, as the workload had ballooned, with less staff to do more work. Everything's completely different in the papers, and - surprise, surprise - there's only one newspaper company, Thompson, with an office in the Fleet Street area and that's a Scottish outfit*. Accountants took over the Telegraph building and the rest, number crunchers. In 1986 The Telegraph moved to South Quay on the Isle of Dogs, London E14 before moving again to the 11th-14th floors of the Canada Tower, Canary Wharf a year or so later. They subsequently moved again to a new office in Victoria, London SW1 (not far from Buck House, more popularly known as the Queen's London residence).
*They've gone as well since this piece was written. All there is now on Fleet Street is a plethora of accounting companies who've taken over the newspaper premises, plus the same pubs and other businesses (tourist draws).
© 2017 Alan R Lancaster