I am very big on mentoring. Learning at the hands of masters imparts something no textbook, seminar or dubious online course willl EVER truly teach. At every opportunity I applied for internships in college. Learning on-the-job gave me insight that was beyond compare.
Early on, I was fortunate to have two: Connie Timmons, in elementary school….Loren Myer, from 9th grade through my Senior Year, and beyond.
My last year, 6th grade, at Lincoln Elementary was presided over by Constance Timmons, and I thank the Gods she was sent to encourage me. It wasn’t as much how she negotiated a clearcut curriculum, but it was her energy and her style — some might call it eccentric — that I found madcap and unexpected. Quick to anger when it came to classroom foolishness — her admonitions could topple a brick chimney — she slid just as easily into soliloquies about theater, literature, the art of cursive writing, table manners or party attire. By example, I saw that one could carve out an identity that did not precisely conform to the prim standards of a small, stifling community. And she was young, so young, when I reflect on it, probably also finding her way in academia. She became friends with my mother and family and it’s a relationship that has endured 45 years. She inspired me then, and now, as she negotiated widowhood with grace and humor.
Loren was the groovy high school English teacher with long blonde-ish hair (it covered his ears and shirt collar) who recognized my writing ability and observatiional skills and took action. He knew I didn’t belong in a conventional classroom and so arranged for me to have private study time — in the library, or in private rooms probably intended for detention, in which I kept a daily journal and filed book reports on ANYTHING I chose to read, which included: ‘The Exorcist, ‘ Roots’, The Fan Club’, ‘Summer of ‘42’ and ‘Zelda’. He championed my writing and thought I had “what it takes”. He never spoke to me as a teenager, but as a fully-formed adult, which i was not, but I appreciated his confidence in me. Our friendship post-high school has spanned the decades. I met his fiancee, then wife, Dee, as erudite, witty and warm as he, and I have watched them raise three children to adulthood. Being assigned to his class was a gift. I began to practice my craftsmanship and I had an advocate.
With good fortune inevitably comes bad. Some are dead; some should be.
Mary Lou Goar: a useless, embittered divorceee who fuled her fury about life’s injustices upon her students. Everyone knew her realtor husband had left her for a much-younger woman, that she subsequently suffered a nervous collapse, that her return to teaching was tenuous. She favored pantsuits that appeared homemade, had a slight palsy and was cursed with a horse-like face that could not even be charitably be described as handsome. I never quite knew what her qualifications were, since the administration slid her around from the English department into History, then into our high school’s so-called Journalism courses, where she also governed the student newspaper. She is a textbook example of why tenure is a cruel joke of the educational system; her scant knowledge was rewarded with eternal opportunity to rob and or dishearten generations. She didn’t stand by the paper’s editors, often running to the schools principal — hinmself a poker-faced bully who later died at the hands of his put-upon wife — with columns or opinions she thought controversial and would plunge her into trouble or controversy. When she died, I literally applauded.
Art Levin, who was head of the Journalism department at Butler University during my attendance, 1979-1983. An arrogant, pock-marked windbag who closed his office door when the blonde Thetas of campus came to “visit”, he’s the poster child for the #MeToo movement. His credentials seemed to be based upon a short-lived position with ‘Stars and Stripes’ when in the military; none of us could ever discern much more about his actual resume as a working journalist, much less one employed to educate others. His classes were insufferable, his commentary cruel and his stewardship of the ‘Collegian’, our campus weekly newspaper, was a litany of no-shows, lest they disturb his Monday night carousing. I learned absolutely nothing from him that a $29.95 text wouldn’t have imparted, with far less bullying. So it is puzzling that one of his most devoted “older, returning Mom” students — the ones who always raised their hands when the class was essentially over to ask one more irritating question and took copiosu notes — turned out to be my first employer:
The woman was editor of ‘Indianpolis Monthly’ for way, way too long. In assigning feature stories to her editorial staff, which included me, she was more keen on currying favor with Indianapolis elite than actual profiles. She desperately wanted to move in a better social circle and the magazine, she seemed to think, could be her margic carpet into the private suites and salons and outdoor cocktail parties. This was the Indianapolis she wanted to reign in, not the one regular folks paid bills and raised kids in. Her monthly column was a me me me confessional about her sons and her lawyer husband that, while occasionally entertaining — she could turn a nifty phrase — rang as self-absorbed, yet also tinged with low self-esteem based upon some of her physical characteristics. She manipulated the position to elevate herself and had little regard for her correspondents, often rewriting what they submitted to be more favorable and charitable to her friends or people she wanted to know. I learned some very bad habits in aiming for the lowest common denominator — glib, smug, self-referential filler, which ironically served me well as I entered the 7 circles of Hell a/k/a advertising.
Marty Lave: my chief employer in the arena of advertising, an utter pig with the Ernest Borgnine smile who recounted his poor Brooklyn upbringinge as motivation to be as nasty as possible. He asked vendors to falsify invoices so he could squeeze more from billing than the traditional 15%; he paid shockingly less than the local standard to incoming employees and wondered why attrition was so high and why every employee was on an inevitable “learning curve”; he openly belittled his wispy, nasal wife, a half-assed fill-in secretary with a wedge cut whom he called “Cookie”; he watched competitors’ commercials and stole complete dialogue and thematics shamelessly; he requested that I procure a particular actress, used in a commercial, for the hot-to-trot President of our biggest client, a vocational school based in New Jersey (which I refused to do); he advised I and the other partner to not hire “fat people, because they’re hard on furniture and call in sick a lot…or Indians, because they are a drunken people…or blacks, because they steal”. This, from a Jewish man who bemoaned the prejudices hurled against him. Why did I stay? I wanted, if I could, to better the lives of employees, and I did. When he refused to dole out raises, I gave them extra vacation time. I defied him at every turn. When he one year inexplicably forbade a Christmas tree or the purchase of decor for the lobby, I went out and bought what I called a Hanukkah bush and the staff made ornaments. Yet I wasn’t always so heroic or altruistic. I sat silently as he sexually belittled Agency females, openly asking “when are you going to a hotel with me?” Someone should have said this was unacceptable. And it should have been me. Time passed and I basically outlasted everyone by blithely ignoring most of his demands, arguing furiously, screaming until my face reddened, walking out, staging sick-ins…because someone who pushes as hard as he did only understands being shoved back. His whining half-apologies were always inevitable and I would leave them on the answering machine so my partner Greg could hear his wheedling, “Bubeleh, things got outta hand, let’s put it behind us, you come back in tomorrow and we start over, okay?” I also, with great glee, got every dime I asked for upon every review. A Google search indicates he still living. I am grateful I have never had to cross paths with him again.
This blog entry reads like a settling of scores. Maybe it is. But with every hero comes villains. In every plot, victory is balanced with defeat. Everyone has the misfortune of being placed under the gresy thumb of someone who is clearly inadequate. You learn from everything, and the lesson today, and ongoing, is that you learn as much from the morally bankrupt as you take from the most bountiful buffet. What I learned from them all was what NOT to be and, for that, I am thankful. I have never been one to forgive and forget, I do not suffer fools gladly and I believe that, when you burn a bridge, you need to fill that fucking river with ash.