Saturday, March 13, 2010


It was pretty much love at first site when I first saw Mel. She was in account management at the ad agency where I worked, and she showed up in my doorway to brief me on the creative assignment, all tall, thick blond streaked hair, pretty, brainiac glasses. Most of the young guys in account management had a certain earnest seriousness about them during briefs – I was one of the “creatives”, the ones that came up with the work that were considered the wild monkeys that had to be tamed. The account managers were there to rein us in, but not Mel. She was fun, had a let’s “get away with hell” glee; let’s give the creatives a ridiculously long time table in which to come up with brilliant work, wrench the money from the client’s hands, let’s do the edgy creative that wins awards and gets noticed and makes most account people piss their pants. And, heck, let’s drink in the car ride over on the way to the client meeting. Short of the car ride drinking, Mel was serious on all those fronts and I immediately liked her for it.

We were working on a campaign for The Mayor’s Commission for Domestic Violence ¬– it was an opportunity to do some award winning work and Mel was just as excited as my creative partner and I. She was our biggest fan and didn’t blink when we showed her dangerous work. One ad we proposed featured a hard-core street gang, scars, gold teeth, prison tats, the works. Mel didn’t flinch. “Will these be actual gang members, or will we cast actors,” she was already going over the logistics in her head, going on the assumption that we would push this through with Rudy Giuliani, our client. “Oh, real gang members, definitely,” I nodded. We had a range of great work to present down at City Hall. My partner and I had a great chemistry, and this kind of assignment was a dream come true. You could do great work, make a difference in people’s lives, and maybe even present work directly to The Mayor of New York City.

Presentation day came, Mel called us a big black car, she never fooled around like other account drones who would make you run around midtown in the rain in hopes of hailing a yellow cab just to save the agency a couple of bucks. She insisted on hauling the large black portfolio that was filled with huge blow-ups of the day’s work. I got tingles seeing her handle it like it was nothing, in spite of her full-on femininity, she had a chemistry of strength and capability that was verging on masculine which I found to be incredibly enticing.

Off we headed downtown to City Hall. We entered one of the impressive buildings down there, it turn out not to be the actual City Hall building, but it had marble floors, 300 foot ceilings, and a vast wide staircase with carved wooden railings on either side. We climbed and climbed until we arrived at the room where the meeting would take place. A small, youngish blond woman/serf escorted us into a small anti-chamber, the area couldn’t have been more than 12 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. She gestured towards the only piece of furniture in a room, a small office store conference room table, there was also a lonely easel to prop things up on should you require it. Before us were immense, aged, dark oak sliding doors shut tight. Together, if you laid them flat they were larger than the room where the four of us were gathered. My creative partner and I started to pull the ads from our black portfolio, as the blond serf whispered instructions to Mel, the only one of us that looked business legit. She explained that The Mayor was sitting on the other side of the massive wooden doors. We would not speak directly or present to The Mayor, or have discussions about the work after he made his decision; it would be immediate and final. We would present only to the young woman, she would then go behind the curtain to The Great Oz and relay our presentation, and we should wait for his ruling. It was different from any client meeting I had ever attended. I had chit-chatted with CEO’s of major corporations, presented to them, made funny jokes. There would be none of that down here at Giuliani’s City Hall.

So Mel did her introduction of the work, reviewing the creative brief, and handed the presentation over to us so that we could present to the unsmiling late 20-something. We had three options, all were compelling, possibly award winning; including the ad with the gang members, the insight behind it was based on research we had read: if you’re raising your child in a violent family, they might end up seeking another family: the violent street gangs of greater New York. The Mayor’s Commission For Domestic Violence was a task force that upped the city’s response to Domestic Violence complaints, enforced strict laws against offenders, and provided shelters to women and families transitioning out of violent homes. It was a great initiative, Giuliani was notoriously tough on crime, some people argued he was a fascist, but who could argue being tough on wife beaters and child abusers. Our ads would appear in subway cars and bus shelters across the city. We took the unblinking serf through the 3 ads we had – she took no notes, apparently committing our sell jobs to memory.

We stacked the three foam core mounted ads and slid them across the table to her, she took them without comment or expression, slid open one of the heavy wooden doors and slipped through the slight opening to the other side where Giuliani waited.

Not two minutes later, the heavy doors opened a crack, the woman/serf slid back through to relay The Mayor’s reaction. “Mayor Giuliani would like you to know that he thinks the work is excellent. We will move forward with these two, and although he likes it, the gang advertisement might be offensive to certain parties.” Fair enough, I thought. I wasn’t surprised about The Mayor killing the gang ad. I think I partially game up with it so I could hob-nob with fringe characters. We still had two great ads that we would be producing. Promptly excused, we made our way silently down the cold marble staircases, out into the rain, and in to the waiting black car service that miraculously was waiting for us right on time. Mel was always seamless in her execution of everything.

One week later my art director, Mel, and I were downtown, in a Chelsea photographer’s studio shooting the work. Mel and I took the opportunity to get to know each other better while I let my art director partner bond with the photographer. She had just broken up with her English finance guy boyfriend. Rather, she had caught him fucking a stripper that he now claimed was his soul mate. She emptied the apartment of her toothbrush, change of clothes, novels (for Mel was an avid reader), and left the keys on the kitchen table, but not before she trashed the place, smashing some electronic equipment to bits against the parquet floors. God, I loved this shit. I never knew a woman that pulled stuff like that, I always walked away quietly post break up, never having the balls to destroy property. Besides, I thought that only white-trash chicks pulled that crap, but Mel, in spite of the fact that she was worldly, had gone to the best private schools, didn’t hesitate to leave a trail of broken glass picture frames, food processors, and VCRs upon exiting. That same afternoon, she confided in me that her brother had been found dead by a river somewhere in Ohio, where she was raised. It was near a small bridge that he and his high school friends frequented. The details around his death were unclear. Was it suicide? Had someone pushed him? Had he stumbled and fell? Mel didn’t know. A mysterious letter had arrived at the family home, addressed to her parents, the contents of the letter kept a secret to her to this day. She was an emotionally layered female, brilliant, funny, and apparently sometimes violent. I wanted her to be my bestie.

I invited her out to my place in Brooklyn. We took the F train out from our office in midtown, I could feel a strong attraction growing on my end, it was undenaibly sexual. I remember gazing over to her in the crowded train, we were grinning at some observation only the two of us would have found funny, I was horrified that she would see my yearnings and be scared off. When you start to feel love for someone it shows on your face. I had seen that transition in the faces of boyfriends when they go from liking you to loving you deeply. I could feel that change in myself, God, I prayed, she wouldn’t notice.

We started to hang out weeknight evenings in my top floor apartment that was sparsely furnished. It was much larger than my studio apartment I left downstairs. We would set up two chairs, line candles up along the window, and gaze out on the Verrazano Bridge view before us. Mel was passionate about everything, particularly white wine, cigarettes, and blocks of cheese. She wasn’t picky – a cheap bottle of Pinot Grigio would do it, and any block of orange cheese would do. We would sit there drinking until the wine was gone, sometimes starting a second bottle, even on a school night. It was like a teenage slumber party, only with wine and a lot more cigarettes. I was really falling for her. Her deadpan sense of humor, delivering the statement that you’re not quite sure how she meant it, then punctuating it with a huge grin. Mel was awesome. When I finally saw her tiny apartment it was littered with thick dusty novels, more clothes on the floor than in the closet. She made the best roast chicken ever, and served it with a side of Stove Top Stuffing, perfectly timed to be served hot at the same time. I was a goner.
So I immediately decided to set her up with one of my male friends.

She started dating Michael, a guy from the agency I had worked with who was smart, read books, and was funny as heck. He was going through a painful divorce, and I had a feeling they would hit it off, which they did. They started spending weekends together at his house in Connecticut, which was just down the hill from the house I grew up in. The romance was in full bloom, my matchmaking skills validated once again, they made each other laugh, found each other intellectually stimulating, and were having great sex. It was all very painful to hear. Mel was now coming over to my place only one night a week, with her carry bag of cheap wine, half a block of cheese, and stories of her great weekends with Michael. Did I think it would last? What did I think of his ex-wife? Had she gone away for good? His house was so cute, they had taken a lovely ride up into the woods, they had sex on Sunday afternoons before he would take her to the train station.
Uhggg, this stuff made me jealous and sad, but like my “in love” face on the subway, she didn’t seem to notice.

We lost touch. Mel had some nutter friends that I didn’t take to. One was sort of in and out of a bad coke habit and an abusive marriage, I didn’t really roll with those sort of chicks. She and Michael had split up, she eventually left the agency, moved to California, we had lost touch.

Just last year I got a call from Mel, I was surprised that she still had my number, people change cell phones so often these days, and old friends often get edited out in the transition. We didn’t skip a beat, the chemistry was still rock solid, but my crush miraculously gone. And now we speak on the phone almost everyday, peeing ourselves with laughter as we did back in the days of wine and cheddar. We play therapist to each other, take turns listening to the quandaries du jour. We both have a penchant for diagnosing the mental health illnesses of men we’ve dated according to the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health)’s website: Narcissist, Sociopath, Borderline Personality, Bipolar Personality 1 or 2, Abusive, or just plain selfish. We muse on where we might one day retire, me sometimes longing that it will be in the same place. Michael, the man I set her up with said we had the same exact voice on the phone, I found that interesting, like kind of a fated soul mate thing. I love Mel, I sometimes get mad at her in ways that I usually reserve only for men. It’s hard to define my feelings, it’s nowhere to be found on the NIMH website or any other. It’s not sexual, it’s more than BFF, it’s ineffable and wondrous, and I imagine it’s forever.


  1. I love it Claud, and will call you in 5! By the way, I have a photo from the gang shoot, I need to dig 'er out.

  2. Hahaa... yeah, I realized when I mid writing this that we shot all the ads BEFORE we visited The Mayor, and yep, we had the gang shoot. I remember one of the "boys" cornering me in the elevator trying to freak me out. It's where I honed my dangerous men skills!! Thems was good times!

  3. By the way, I'm honored to be the first post after Claud Yawns and your commitment thereafter to source more boring content.