Consider 1972. It was a million years ago. People smoked like chimneys in meetings. Drinks, particularly Martinis (See-Throughs), were consumed with reckless abandon, and sanctioned, especially at lunch. Moustaches were not ironic. Nor were sideburns, bell bottom pants, or convertible cars with "built" blondes.
This is the world of The Advertising Man a long out-of-print novel by an advertising copywriter who, in real life, found himself at the heart of Manhattan and the advertising creative revolution, the first era of smart, funny, relevant advertising that popularized a New York sensibility to the entire country. To the entire world.
Jack Dillon, creative chief of Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), knew what he was talking about. By day, he was making those great Avis (We Try Harder) ads, by night and on the train he was writing this book. The protagonist is one James Brower, a smart, cynical member in good standing of full-blown Cheever-ville, in this case Westport, Connecticut. The New Haven line, the bar car, hippies welling the background, drunken pool parties, heart attacks, boats that barely work, this is Brower's world. He has his problems, our Brower does. He's got a new boss (the guru who founded his agency was hit by a bus!) and now this new, number-crunching, perfect teeth and toy cigarette lighter/guns is terrorizing him from above, crazy clients peddling obscure toothpaste are terrorizing him from the side, his wife, who is -- surprise! -- having an affair is terrorizing him from below. And that's just the start.
It's a bit of a slog as a read. And it's not Cheever or Updike or Yates. But a couple of chapters are as steely-eyed and penetrating as any of the above. And he writes what he knows -- and what he knows is an intimate slice of real life from a time and a place which is, actually, too readily ignored. The folks who, if not quite the parents of the hippies, were their older brothers and sisters. The silent majority? (Remember that phrase?)
Great literature? Not really. Time machine? Absolutely. And for me, that was worth the price of admission (25 cents at a library used book sale.) It's probably worth someone re-issuing. If not, look for it. Then, put on your non-ironic wide-collared shirt, your fat belt with the huge buckle, light up a Kent, and enjoy.
'Til next time... Ken Krimstein
Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.