Three Corner Rule by Ralph Hollingsworth
At sixteen, Kevin knew that if you wanted to exchange a torn 10 dollar bill at the bank, you had to see the number 10 on three corners of the bill. If you only had two corners, you were out of luck. It was common knowledge in the world in which he was raised, a world where two drunks would think of schemes like ripping a ten dollar bill in half, each then trying their luck at spending their half or trading it in for a new bill. Every bartender on the west side of Rockford knew the three corner rule.
I was fifteen and lived in a deteriorating neighborhood. No teenager had a car. My world was busses and walking and when my friend Brad, who lived in a nicer suburb, turned sixteen and got his license and his first car, an inherited ten-speed Motebecane. Brad’s house was nine miles away and when I rode the bike home one afternoon, no one would believe it. “You rode nine miles? You’re crazy.”
I rode that bike just to ride and didn’t use it for transportation. If I wanted to ride it to the mall or school, I would have had to lock it. I didn’t have a lock and I couldn’t afford a lock. When I climbed on that bike, I was just going for a ride.
Kevin was seventeen and had his license, but didn’t have a car. He was from the poorest family on the block. Too poor for a car, way too poor to be seen on a bike. Kevin walked. He lived with his mom and her husband, both drunks. He became my foster brother after his mother tried to commit suicide with a quart of whisky and a bottle of sleeping pills. Kevin found her and the note and ran to our house to call an ambulance. They didn’t have a phone.
My mother was mentally ill and suffered from periodic bouts of severe depression. Even so, she knew that Kevin needed a family and offered him ours. My dad worked as a truck driver for a commercial laundry service. He worked long days and unloaded four-hundred pound bails of linen from the back of his truck. Sometimes he would be so sore when he came home at night, he would walk down the hallway to his bedroom holding onto the wall. Kevin would say, “My dad used to do that. But only because he was drunk.” My dad didn’t drink.
I rode my bike a lot during those days. T-shirt and cut-off jeans and an old pair of Pumas. I rode on the side of the road and on sidewalks. Across the Whitman Street bridge over the Rock River to the park where I could ride fast on the downhill curves of the park road, leaning as hard as I could into the corners. A park district cop once told me I was speeding. Nobody wore helmets.
Kevin was a bully. He and I used to fight. He had the kind of genes that gave him a ripped body with six-pack abs and zero body fat. I could only defend myself. Once, I managed to get him in a scissor-hold with my legs. He couldn’t breathe and was going to pass out. He begged me to stop and said he was going to die. “Then die then,” I said.
My mom had to go into the hospital again and the State said Kevin had to go to another foster home. This time it would be a real foster home with four other foster kids. Kevin met his girlfriend there. My dad got him a job at the laundry and Kevin married his girlfriend. He was eighteen, she was seventeen.
Brad’s mom didn’t like me riding a bike that she paid a lot of money for. She wanted me to buy it, but I couldn’t, so I had to give it back. I left it leaning against the wall in the corner of their garage. I had a feeling nobody would ever ride it again. I walked the nine miles home.
© 2003 Ralph Hollingsworth
All Rights Reserved
Ralph is event/experiential creative director at Euro RSCG, Chicago.
Flash 1981 by Desmond LaVelle
From his upcoming book, Thirteen Cats LaVelle and How They Met Their Unfortunate Demises
Vietnamese was David’s first language but in the second grade he was reading English at a fifth grade level. What he lacked in coolness he made up for in smarts. I sought out his friendship as my friendship with Ricky and the rest of the thugs had gone south, culminating in a rock fight in the alley. David seemed like he would make a relaxing and relatively nonviolent friend.
After school, we would walk to the 7-11, buy Whatchamacallit bars and go to his house to play. Each time we went there I would be reminded of why David was so smart. His parents, God only knows their names, could only speak one word of English. And that word was room. Room where we put our coats when we arrived at David’s house. His mother would lean down and scream room! I would then calmly put my coat in David’s room.
It occurred to me, by way of my mother, that David ran all the family’s affairs. He likely negotiated the price of their house and the purchase of the light blue Ford Pinto in the driveway. My mother also told me that if I ever took a ride in the Ford Pinto I would be in trouble as their gas tanks had a tendency to explode. I fault David for this careless purchase. He really should have known better.
As an aside, David had somehow developed an affinity for the Oak Ridge Boys. Posters of the Band lined his room and he knew each of their names and what parts they sang. I had always assumed that the bearded man had the really deep voice and sang all the low parts by virtue of the fact that he had a beard. But it was actually bass vocalist Neal Fox, the somewhat slight and vaguely gay looking man, who did the famous giddy up a oom papa a oom papa mow mow part in “Elvira.” It was David who provided this clarity.
The room was David’s bastion of the western world in a house that should have otherwise been in Saigon. Clothing hung in the kitchen and pots bubbling on the range produced a strange smell reminiscent of chicken stock and the inside of a hat. His mother and father would bounce their funny talk off one another and David would occasionally contribute to the chatter. His little sister sat on the floor in a diaper eating various Vietnamese num-nums that were neither meat nor vegetable. The house was a mess of which David was king.
After my father had so violently taken Jagluan to a farm where he would play in a giant, green field with bunch of other kittens, Flash came to live with us. Little is known about where Flash came from and his tenure in our family was brief. In fact, the only evidence of his existence is a Polaroid with FLASH written in marker on the bottom white border of the photograph. Motion lines coming from the letters indicated speed. Flash was black and white and skinny but I don’t remember him being particularly fast.
On the rare occasions that David and I would play at my house, we would play with Flash. Toys were expensive but cats barely cost a thing. We would toss things at him and he would react. This is a game that went on for hours. David’s affinity for Flash rivaled the Oak Ridge Boys. More and more, he would ask to come to my house after school to toss things in the direction of the cat.
My father had gotten a job doing custom framing at a small gallery owned by an old Jewish couple that had escaped Nazi Germany and were still hiding in Sioux City. They had proposed the idea of opening a gallery at a mall in Sioux Falls and making my father a partner. He accepted and our family would leave the house on Morningside Avenue to move to South Dakota. The prospect of moving was exciting, except the apartment complex we would be living in didn’t allow animals. Flash would have to stay behind.
Before we left, David and his mother stopped by to say their final farewells and negotiate the trade. Actually, it was David who did most of the talking. The deal was as follows: One F-14 Tomcat Model Airplane (unassembled) for one black and white skinny, object-chasing cat.
That was the last time I would ever see David. I never called him once I got to Sioux Falls to talk about the Oak Ridge Boys or check in on Flash. I sometimes wonder how Flash fit into that family dynamic. A traditional Vietnamese household hardly seems like a prosperous environment for a pet cat. For his sake, I hope he stayed in the room and out of the boiling pots. (fin)
Desmond LaVelle is an advertising writer and Creative Director who has worked at Leo Burnett and Element 79, both in Chicago. Currently, he is at Draft FCB in San Francisco.
Another chapter from his book is featured below…
from the upcoming book by Desmond LaVelle:
Thirteen Cats LaVelle and How They Met Their Unfortunate Demises
On the farm, animals rarely die a natural death. This not only applies to livestock and other animals harvested for their meat. The same holds true for pets. The treachery of farm life is often too much for a curious cat or a dog that wanders too far from the house. Danger hides behind every grassy corner: wild animals, a thrashing combine, harsh weather, strange diseases, speeding cars, a cow’s hoof and even other pets.
My parents weren’t farmers but they rented a house that sat on a working farm in Northern Iowa. The owner of the farm, a man named Bill, would tend to such things as slopping the pigs, hosing them down and making the corn for people to pop and eventually eat while watching Jaws, Star Wars, The Sting and other box office hits of the era.
I was getting up there in my third year of life when Packerman joined our family. He had the distinct honor of being our first family pet. He was an adult cat with light and slightly yellowish long hair. People often say that good cats are like dogs. Packerman was a good cat. But aside from following you around and responding to verbal commands, he was nothing like a dog. He still did all the regular cat things like kill mice, chase shadows and stare at things that weren’t there.
It was at this time of my life that I was spending a lot of time in bars. Being in their very early twenties, my parents still had a lot of party left in them. And as poor hippies they couldn’t dream of having the money for a babysitter. So they would often go to the hole in the wall bars of Emmetsberg and Graettinger with their toddler in tow, a common practice in small town life. While my parents exchanged pitchers with the local folk I would keep myself busy by drawing on cocktail napkins, lighting matches and sleeping in booths. On one occasion I was nowhere to be found at the end of the evening. What had happened was that I had slipped off the naugahyde booth and on to the floor. I was to be found slumbering amidst peanut shells.
The genesis of the Packerman’s name leads me back to my time spent on the floor of that bar. It could have been derived from one of two things. The first is the fact that my father was somewhat of a Green Bay Packers fan and enjoyed watching the games there. The other is that these bars were frequented by workers from the nearby meat packing facility. Like the football team, these people were called “Packers.” “Packer” was a word tossed around a lot between the grownups. Packerman could have been three-and-a-half-year-old’s twist on a familiar phrase.
The cat’s name wasn’t inspired by Pac-Man as this was long before the advent of video games.
Whatever the story, Packerman recognized his unfortunate name and came running when you called it. He would follow me around the farm as I went about daily child duties. During the day, my father taught art at the local high school while my mother gardened and set out poison for the rodents. Packerman and I would patrol the perimeter of the house and then make our way to the pigpen where I would stand on an overturned canoe and stretch my tiny hand over the fence to feed the pigs crabgrass and foxtails. They devoured just about anything I put in front of them. And there’s no doubt they would have devoured me had they grabbed hold of my arm and dragged my body over the fence. My hope was that Packerman would have gone for help like Lassie. But like I said, cats are not dogs even if they know their name. It’s likely he would have just watched them eat me.
And so was our routine. Dad taught, mom gardened and poisoned, I fed the pigs and Bill farmed the land. Our beautiful symbiosis was drastically disrupted when our Uncle Duke came to visit with his two dogs: Phobos and Demos. In astronomy, Phoebos and Demos are the twin moons of Mars, named for the horses that pulled the Roman God of the same name. If I had to guess, the dogs were named for the horses as Uncle Duke didn’t care much for astronomy.
The only thing separating Phobos and Demos from wild dogs was a pair of frayed, tagless collars. They were the kind of animals that would eat shit and each other if the opportunities were presented. Understandably, my mother refused to let them inside the house as they had no business being indoors. I feared for Packerman’s safety as well as my own. Our daily patrols were reduced to gazing out the window. The pigs would no longer come to the fence for their feedings as they were constantly being chased by the dogs and had become spooked.
Uncle Duke was young and somewhat transient. His visit evolved into an extended stay until one day he announced his departure. It wasn’t until he was gone did we discover he had no intention of taking Phobos and Demos with him. The dogs stayed and continue to terrorize the farm.
One incident in particular serves as an example of just how horrible Phobos and Demos were. During one of their routine pig chasings, one fleeing hog had become stuck in a half open gate leaving his backside exposed to the dogs. They feasted on its entrails by way of its asshole. The pig squealed as Phobos and Demos made their way closer to its vital organs. Bill arrived on the scene too late and there was nothing that could be done to save the hog. It was sent to slaughter early and Bill threatened to shoot the dogs. I doubt my parents protested very much. But for whatever reason, Bill spared them.
My grandparents lived in the nearby town of Algona. On occasion we would visit them for the weekend, leaving Packerman in the house with a pile of food and the toilet seats up. Just before one such weekend, Packerman was nowhere to be found. We searched the house from top to bottom and finally deduced that he had probably snuck outside. We called his name until it was time to leave but he didn’t come running. We left.
I cried for an hour at the thought of Packerman spending the weekend outdoors with Phobos and Demos. I imagined him meeting a similar demise to that of the hog in the gate. My parents assured me he would be okay and told me that cats could hide in places where dogs couldn’t find them – like in trees or under cars. I had a hard time accepting this but immediately forgot about Packerman’s plight at the first offer of ice cream.
Upon our return from Algona we found Packerman dead on the back porch. Surprisingly, it was not at the hands of Phobos and Demos. His uncompromised body lay curled up by the back door. It looked as though he was sleeping but his body was cold and lifeless to the touch. Luckily the dogs had not found the body.
We buried him by the garden and speculated that he had found and ate the poison intended for the rodents. Packerman was a loyal cat but nobody ever accused him of being very smart.
That summer, my dad was offered a job teaching art at the high school in Lakeview. This required us to move from the rented house on the farm. My mother called Uncle Duke and asked him to come reclaim his animals. Fall came but Duke never did. We packed our belongings and moved to Lakeview leaving Bill, Phobos and Demos behind.
Months later, Bill told my father he saw the frozen carcass of a dog in the ditch just off the highway. Our theory of what happened is that with the onset of winter, food became scarce. Phobos, being the larger of the two, killed and ate Demos. But the flesh of his brother wasn’t enough to sustain him through the harsh Iowa winter. Starving and freezing in that ditch, there was probably a moment where Phobos repented for all the horrible things he had done as the cold air eased him into his dark, eternal sleep.
That, or Bill shot them both the minute we pulled out of the driveway.
One thing’s for certain. Neither Phobos, Demos, Packerman nor the hog was able to defy the inescapable the law of the farm: no animal ever dies of old age.
Desmond LaVelle is an advertising writer and Creative Director who has worked at Leo Burnett and Element 79, both in Chicago. Currently, he is at Draft FCB in San Francisco.
“When I invite outsides to dinner with my family, the subject of dead cats is unavoidable. Over the years, at least thirteen cats have died as a result of living with the LaVelles. Be it a curse or just bad luck, a bizarre and sometimes gruesome fate befalls any feline my family chooses to take on as a pet.
Thirteen Cats LaVelle and How They Met Their Unfortunate Demises is my attempt to chronicle these dinnertime conversations. As of now, this project is one piece of kitty nostalgia shy of being complete. “Packerman 1977-1978” is the first episode in the series.”
A Small Piece of the Journey
by David Angelo
Henry Garrison, Ananais Billups, Eddie Lopez, Bill Holmes. No, you won’t find them in any One Show or CA annual. You might, however, find them in the rank and file membership of Teamsters Local 853 Longshoreman and Warehousemen Union. These are a few of my former co-workers at the McKesson Distillery, a liquor distribution center in Union City, CA.
For eight long years, I worked the swing shift from 6:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. During the day, I attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, pursuing a BFA in advertising. Sleep was not an option. My pay? A whopping $10.15 an hour; overtime, one and a half; double time, times two (not bad for an 18-year-old). But the real plus was the benefits: full medical and dental. It was also an opportunity to chase my passion of a career in advertising.
The warehouse was industrial and huge, stocked with enough booze to get the entire state of Texas drunk for a week. In the middle of the floor stood this gigantic two-level, four-sectioned roller coaster-type conveyor system. On the top was a heavy-order case line called the “fast lane, “ where orders ranged from 20 or more cases of Stolichnaya to 50 or so half-gallon cases of Kahlua. You have to be in solid shape for this line. I tried my best to avoid it. At the other end was the “moderate case line” for smaller orders. We called it the “cushy station.” It’s where you worked if you had a hangover.
Being the lowest on seniority, I was out on the “repack bottle” line, where I pulled single-bottle orders for local liquor stores. As an initiation of sorts, I was placed next to Bill Holmes, a stubby 64-year-old teamster of 40 years who spent the better part of each work night complaining about republicans. When Reagan was first elected, Bill predicted that we were all going to war.
After listening to Bill Holmes for two years, I requested a transfer to the cushy “moderate” line. That’s where I started my career in advertising, but not without the help of a 300-pound Samoan named Eddie Lopez. He was a friend that my father met in the church choir – a man who had the lungs of Pavarotti, the strength a Russian weightlifter, and a heart of pure gold. His last job was a police officer, but unfortunately he abused the privilege with a mistake that cost him a few years behind bars. He had lived a rough life and was looking for a second chance, or in this case, a job. I gave his name to my supervisor and got him a few days working right alongside me on the moderate line. It was there that I learned more about his life, his ups and downs, and his belief system. While working, we would talk endlessly about the meaning of life, among many things. In addition to his wealth of knowledge, he was a man who possessed the strength of two men and could carry four cases of Seagrams at a time without so much as breaking a sweat. Because of this, we often finished our job two hours ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, management might have seen this increased efficiency as an opportunity to cut back a person and still finish on time. Since Ed and I were the least senior guys around, our jobs were most vulnerable. So, we made a deal: I was to do my advertising homework (layouts, etc.) for a couple of hours while Ed continued to work at his Herculean pace. At times, Ed would come back to look at my ads and, like a real creative director, would give his opinion. I remember the dock loaders would complain about my layouts on the cases. But I didn’t really care – I kept telling everyone that one day, I would be in advertising. I don’t know if they every believed me. Looking back, I don’t think they believed in life outside of that warehouse.
After two years, I was transferred to a line where I couldn’t do my homework. So I stocked the station with plenty of back issues of Adweek. Even my fellow teamsters found this to be good reading material. Before long, they were critiquing Adweek’s monthly choices of best spots (I still have those magazines to this day – it makes me smile to think that I’m in a totally different place now). At the time, I was determined to do whatever it took to get a job in advertising. In addition to school, those magazines kept the dream alive.
But it wasn’t always as adventurous. No sir-ee, these were trying times. There was a recession going on and I was very fortunate to have a job. Even my father, a truck driver from Teamster Local 70, with his 30 years of experience, had a hard time finding work. Now and then he picked up a day or two from our place loading trucks. It wasn’t a place that was void of politics. I learned how to walk a picket line, and I mastered the art of standing a nail on its head with my feet to flatten scab truck tires that tried to cross the line. (Don’t hold this against me.) Around strike periods emotions ran so high that fights would erupt over stupid things like cheating at cards or borrowing someone’s Tabasco sauce.
For the most part, work went well. Of course, I crashed a few forklifts in my time. Once, my supervisor summoned me to unload one final truck before punching out. I jumped on the lift and swiftly backed out of the docking bay. In my haste I forgot one thing – that the lift was still plugged into a two-ton battery charger. The thing came flying off the wall and landed right in front of my supervisor. Seconds later, all of the electricity in the plant shut down. Oops. Miraculously, I escaped unharmed and still employed.
Eventually I graduated from college, and after 8 long, stressful years it was time to retire my teamster card and move on to my advertising destiny. Henry Garrison, a 32-year veteran, told me as I was leaving, “Hey kid, sure you want to leave? In ten years, you’ll move up in seniority and get on the day shift. Heck, you’ll be making 15 an hour by then.” A week later, the plant closed down. Everyone there thought I had the inside track on the closure. My fellow teamsters moved on to other jobs, and I took my portfolio to New York, where I landed a job at DDB as a junior art director. It happened that my first account was Seagrams Crown Royal, and, needless to say, my creative director was endlessly impressed with my knowledge of 750-ml and 1.5-liter bottles.
Looking back, being a teamster was not just a test of character; it taught me a few valuable life lessons: (1 Don’t ever borrow a fellow teamster’s hot sauce. 2) Don’t cut open a case of tequila with the Exacto blade coming towards you. 3) Never be afraid to follow your dreams. If a forklift-crashing sleep-deprived teamster could make it in advertising, anyone can.
Except Bill Holmes, of course. My guess is that he’s retired, kicking back somewhere in Florida with a tall glass of Chivas…and still talking about Reagan.
-David Angelo is the founder, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of David & Goliath in Los Angeles.
From Gods of Advertising (July 2009)
Does the recession have a silver lining?
by Steffan Postaer
Many of us used to relish Donald Trump firing dumbstruck contestants on the Apprentice. Or Simon eviscerating some hapless warbler on American Idol. We take delight in watching the Simpson’s Montgomery Burns humiliate and then extricate his subordinates, often down a secret hole in front of his desk. Nelson, the “Ha-Ha!” bully is another Simpsonian example. There is brutal comedy in the misfortune of others. The Germans have a word for it: Schadenfreude. (To be precise, substitute the word “pleasure” for “comedy.”) Either way, it’s an unfortunate, even barbaric, part of our humanity.
And it often flourishes like mold in the hallways of Adland. If/when one agency hears of another’s misfortune we cheer. In bigger agencies, creative groups on one floor often compete and root against creative groups from another. Internet trolls constantly throw stones at wounded agencies and their people. While most aim at management, the torpedoes invariably end up hurting massive portions of the ship, not just the bridge.
I’ve written about this before. But that was before the recession. With few agencies exempt from its grave fallout, I doubt anyone is gleeful over much of anything right now, let alone another’s misfortune. That tipping point came and went. With people –good people- disappearing from our ranks it is as if a plague were let loose in adland…the whole damn country! Whereas we once morbidly watched as our comrades were marched out the door, thinking “not me, never me” now we cannot help but see ourselves in their shoes.
And yet pain like this can provide our most teachable moments. There is a silver lining. To coin another phrase: the show must go on.
Therefore, those of us who remain pick up our games. If we are good we become great. Considering the alternative, we must. We also count our blessings. We learn humility. We let go our resentments because they feel especially vulgar right now. While veins of meanness run deep on the Internet, not so much in the hallways of Adland. There is less complaining about partners and bosses. Fewer requests for money and titles. Less Me. More We. What we have (peers, clients, job) is far more important than what we don’t.
Guess what folks? It always was! But we forget. Until the pain of others reminds us. Humility. Gratitude. Fortitude. If we acquire even a little grace during these difficult times, something good has come from it.