1/7/13

Smelly Pranks and Conclusions . . .

If you've never worked in an ad agency (and statistically speaking you probably have not), what you "know" about the industry is probably limited to movies, TV shows and general pop culture. It suffices to say that NO agency in America actually looks, feels, or behaves like anything from "What Women Want" or "Mad Men" or the shorter-lived, far-lesser-known (but I enjoyed it far more than most fictional takes on my chosen profession) "Trust Me".

A personal perspective . . . working in advertising is about being told "NO!" Your client says "no" because they don't have the money for your over-the-top-idea. The creative team says "no" because you're an account service asshole, you don't have any creative thoughts. The account service team says "no" because the creative team just insulted them. The higher-ups say "no" because an inter-agency Beer Pong tournament is not something an agency budget should carry. The interns say "no" never. Ever. That is not smart, young people. If your entire professional life is about being told no . . . you seek out the YES in life. That's why there is booze in a lot of desks and closets (I had a fully stocked, complete with refrigerator, bar in my office space), few agencies that enforce drug testing (why eat their own young?), inner-office romances (and by that I mean secret sex) abound. Late arrivals, early departures, afternoons spent on YouTube (or less-desirable sites) are common. There are kickball games, happy hours, birthday parties, potlucks, and the occasional prank. None of this is "unhealthy." It is needed for balance. It is vital for team and it is, frankly, what drew me to marketing to begin with. In broader circles they call it "work hard-play hard" - for us, it is WORKING!

I was very fortunate to work for a GREAT advertising agency. Established. Mid-sized. Young, mid-career, old. Small client. Big client. Pro bono. Full-service. Etc. etc. etc. I started as a PR guy, evolved a few times and ended as the new business guy. I worked with people that frustrated and inspired the shit out of me and I did all I could to add to the soup in terms of smarts, talent, work ethic, and fun. As "fun" goes - we liked pranks. A lot. My boy J-Hopp may be the best prankster I've ever known and colleagues Rob Carlton and Kristin Brandenburgh were not far behind. I saw some legendary awesomeness go down in my four years in "Ad Land" but none of it touched my "farewell" from my colleagues.

Some context . . . I don't do well with "change." I hate it, frankly. When I made the decision to leave the agency I kept it close to the vest (telling only my new employer and the leadership team at Associated). I was unsure of my decision emotionally (it was the right thing for my career but my heart didn't want to leave).   Deep in the throws of what to do, I - shall we say - acted out. I found a bottle of the worst-smelling "air freshener" in the history of the world (it was called Gardenia but it smelled like old lady, deceased lady, potpourri, arsenic, new car, and seared human hair) and I walked around the open-floor-plan agency and just about emptied the bottle . . . then LEFT FOR THE DAY. People went home from headaches, there was dry heaving, there were angry text messages and e-mails. There were vows of revenge. And revenge was had. About two weeks later, it was time for me to go. And go I went. I packed up my office, loaded my car, and we all went to lunch (the Friday before Labor Day weekend it was a lengthy, leisurely affair).

I should have suspected something was "up" because there was WAY too much interest in when I was actually leaving the building upon our return from lunch. I had earmarked about 30 minutes from our return (1:30ish) but I was feeling emotional and just wanted to hang out so it was about 4:15 before I actually descended the stairs one last time (as an employee). My car awaited me, in a +100 degree day and full afternoon sun, just where I left it. What was inside was NOT what I had expected.

The first thing I saw was the bag of burned (both in the microwave and with flame) microwave popcorn hanging from the rear view. "Oh shit." I mused. I opened the door (I never lock my car - ever - long story why) and found cups of spoiled milk in my cup holders. The blast of "Gardenia" flooded my nose. I opened the center console to find an opened car of sardines. There was mayonnaise in cups, cracked eggs in plastic bags, olives and other canned/jarred items along the floor board. The smell was almost overwhelming. I laughed (as did my colleagues watching from the balcony above my car) and started unloading the stinkiness. I got all I could find, got in the car and started driving to my new office. The smell was paralyzing. I have no stomach so I can not "dry heave" but my senses were so overloaded that I stopped TWICE to get out with choking fits. I arrived at my new office to unload all my stuff and found what I thought was the Crown Jewel of the prank. In the back of my car was a chub pack of ground beef that had EXPLODED in the heat sending bits of cow all over my boxes, bags, and belongings.

I left the windows, sun roof, and hatchback of the car open while setting up my new office. About 90 minutes later, I went downstairs to the car and it still smelled horrible. TRULY fantastic prank. I drove home and parked the car in the garage, windows open. The next morning my child and I were running errands (including trying to get the car professionally cleaned inside). I was startled when Ava asked "Daddy, why are their worms in your car?" I pulled over to find maggots crawling from a second exploded chub pack of beef under the passenger seat. I reached under that seat and the driver's seat to find more stinkies - 24 hours in to their dominance of the air in my car.

We were turned away from TWO car washing services. I vacuumed the car myself. Put a different air freshener in. Unloaded a bottle of Febreeze. And waited. Days went by. Weeks. The smell would lessen and lessen but not go away. I was a month in to my new job before I could avoid daily reminders of the people I left behind and how much I loved and missed them. It was six weeks later before their "farewell" to me officially wore off. My car went back to smelling like my swamp crotch and Ava's partially consumed drinks.

I was cleaning my car in June. 9 months later. I was finished with the outside and going through the interior. I reached under the driver's seat and found a box. It was full of partially eaten chicken tenders, some potato chips, and some honey mustard dipping sauce. On the box a note simply said "See ya, sucker."

See ya' indeed.

I could have been "mad" about this prank. Could have been livid. Could have considered it an insult and decided to never talk to the perpetrators again. I could have vowed and had my revenge. Instead, I loved it. It made me happy. It was a final act of good natured friendship-based torture from an agency of people that I'd grown to think of as family and who I left behind. I would have been more upset, frankly, if there was no prank. No fun. No torturous send off. That would have been far, far worse than any smell my car could carry.