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Chicago, 1972. I was at the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency for an interview for a copywriter’s job. I had been working in Detroit in that capacity, was let go along with a score of others one day. Cutbacks, was, I believe, the term they used. I’d sent my portfolio of ads to Burnett, and they told me to come to Chicago, and they’d see. Leo Burnett was huge, and famous, and one of the few ad agencies outside of New York that retained big clients. So, to Chicago I went.
I remember very little of this encounter except one moment that has stayed in amber.
I was talking with a mid- or low-level man at the end of a long day of interviews. He was extolling the virtues of Leo Burnett and its eponymous founder. Ad agencies often have a cult of personality about their long-gone founders, displaying them proudly like preserved communist leaders in rotundas. I still hoped I might get the job. (I did not.) So, I had a frozen smile on my face, and I kept nodding at everything he said like a bobble-head doll.
The man was in the middle of praising the agency when he looked over my shoulder and stopped talking.
I turned and saw another man approaching us. He was tall, easily six feet, and likely two or three inches taller. He was perhaps in his fifties. He looked tired. Weary is probably the more precise word. He had an overcoat slung over his shoulder that he grasped with one hand. With the other, he carried a briefcase. Much later, when I thought about all this, he made me think of Willy Lowman. He had that same tired, weight-of-the-world-on-his-shoulders look as the main character from Death of a Salesman.
The man walked slowly toward us. My interviewer said,
I don’t remember the name.
The man said goodnight back. He didn’t pause. He continued down the hall, walking away from us.
“Do you know who that was?” my interviewer asked.
“That man created…the Jolly Green Giant.”
I looked down the hall, and, just in time, I saw the man, coat slung over his shoulder, slowly turn a corner, and then disappear.