This post is the continuation of a previous post titled, “In which I start to tell a story, but then have to tell another story first“. In that post I said that the next story starts on Hallowe’en, but it actually started one week earlier. It was the denouement that occurred on Hallowe’en.
It was seven days before Hallowe’en. One of my duties at the weekly magazine I worked for was sorting through tear-sheets sent in by our regular advertising clients. If there were no changes, the client would put a check-mark on it. If the ad was to be altered, the client would fill in a Change Form to explain the alterations and (sometimes) scrawl them on the tear-sheet.
As usual, I was working with Mike (real name). We’d become friends a couple of years earlier, after discovering a mutual attraction for Calistra Flokhart. (Don’t judge.) Generally Mike was a pretty up-beat guy, but that day he was feeling a bit depressed.
As we sorted, one ad struck me as unintentionally funny. It was for a car dealership, and while I won’t reveal the make of the car, I will say that it has the same name as a particularly arrogant Japanese-Canadian activist.
The ad consisted of a close-up of a woman’s face. She had her eyes wide open, and her mouth in an “O” shape — apparently to express a state of almost apoplectic shock brought about by the remarkably reasonable prices being offered. I, however, imagined another cause for her surprise and, to cheer Mike up, wrote a speech balloon on the ad, showed it to him, and was rewarded with a chuckle.
Then we went back to work.
Of course, I should have immediately scratched it out, but — I forgot. That’s all. I just forgot.
As I later learned, the ad made its way to the display department. The manager examined it, possibly thought there was something odd about the change or not, but passed it along to the Photoshop artists. The Photoshop artists may also have wondered about the change, but carried on and added the speech balloon just as I’d written it. From there, the ad went to a final copy editor, who might have briefly considered the whole thing to be a joke, but assumed it had already been vetted, and so approved it for print.
During this whole process, not only did no one put any importance upon the lack of a Change Form, but neither did anyone think to check with the person whose name was on the envelope. Me.
The magazine was published a week later, on Hallowe’en.
That day, I came in for my afternoon shift, did the whole “Jekyll and Hyde” bit (mentioned in my earlier post), ate some of the candies that had been placed around the offices, and complimented my co-workers on their costumes.
And then my immediate boss, looking as though she were in shock, asked me to go with her to the publisher’s office.
The publisher opened a copy of that week’s magazine, which had been in distribution for a full day by that point, and showed me my special ad.
I have to say, the design department had done a nice job on the speech balloon.
Apparently, however, the client felt otherwise and had phoned the publisher to express disapproval. So disapproving was the client, in fact, that he insisted the publisher give him free ads for several months, and fire the bonehead responsible. It was, he said, an overt act of “ad vandalism.”
The bonehead was out the door an hour later.
Now I admit I screwed up. But what annoyed me was that nobody would believe I hadn’t done it on purpose. Following the April Fool’s memo, I could understand their scepticism, but my alteration had never been meant to see the light of day. I am proud of my practical jokes, and follow very strict rules concerning them. The first is that the victims must find them as funny as everyone else, and the second is that they cannot do any harm.
It offended my pride to have everyone thinking I’d done it on purpose.
On the other hand, combined with my April Fool’s memo, it also made me a company-wide hero (except to the publisher).
I was approached a dozen times before leaving the building by employees who had snatched up copies of the magazine and were offering me money to sign the ad (generally $20). Over the next few weeks I heard from Mike that you could hardly walk through the place without running across at least one copy of my ad hanging on a wall, a door, or posted to a bulletin board. It even gained a certain degree of inter-publication notoriety when a friend of mine, an editor for a trade magazine, got a signed copy for his office.
All this was nice, but with the loss of my job, it looked like we would also lose our apartment. And because I’d been fired “for justifiable cause,” I didn’t qualify for Unemployment Insurance.
In desperation I went to the UI office anyway, made an appointment to speak to one of the representatives, showed her the ad, and explained what had happened.
When she stopped laughing, she agreed to give me benefits, but on one condition — I give her a signed copy of the ad.
So I did.
All in all, it worked out for the best. If I’d not been fired from that job I would never have ended up in my puzzling, and vaguely surreal, career as an English prof.
So if, by chance, you ever see a full-page ad for a car company that has the same name as a brilliant 20th century Zen master, and if the ad features a woman with her eyes open, her mouth in an almost perfect O-shape, and a speech balloon with the words, “I really should have gone for the optional brakes” — that’s my doing.
And I’ll sign it for $20.
I do still have a copy somewhere, and part of the reason for the delay of this post is that I’ve been hoping to run across it. So far no luck. As we pack to move, however, I’m going to keep an eye out for it, and if I run across it, will post it here.