Thursday, September 23, 2010


Sal was one of those advertising creative directors they had back in the day. He was a real working class kind of guy, if you met him on the street you wouldn’t be able to tell if he made pizzas, worked for the Department of Sanitation, or was a big New York Creative director at an ad agency, which is what he was. And he was a good one, too. He had a great creative sense, a love for the business, and a gregarious, jovial personality that made him a favorite of clients. He taught classes two nights a week down at The School of Visual Arts and was great to work for, particularly if you were kind of green in the business. He knew how to critique work and articulate why it was good, or why it wasn’t, and he always made sure to build you up so you’d want to do better the next time.

My partner, Brandy and I where always jazzed when we got an assignment with Sal. He loved good work, and saw something special in us, although we were practically just starting out. We would often shoot the breeze with him for 20 minutes or so after showing him storyboards of TV commercials we would dream up, he was always fun to be around. Respectful of us girls, generous with praise, he was like Santa Claus if he had a Brooklyn accent, a black beard, and wore 50/50 blend busting-at-the-seams shirts in lieu of the red and white suit.

He had a wife and a couple of kids that he kept photos of in Lucite frames on a sideboard where he also kept some of his awards that he’d won over the years at the agency. Besides teaching, we heard he had a modeling agency on the side, he had this friend, Lenny, who was his partner in the business. Lenny was a hack photographer, Sal would “call in a favor” and get Lenny to shoot product shots for clients that had limited financial resources. Lenny lacked any subtleties when it came to still photography, shooting cans of shaving cream on overly glossy black plastic with God rays behind it, but the clients couldn’t seem to tell the difference between he and the top dollar guys who had lofts on 23rd street and did deodorant shoots to support their art gallery level work which never paid the bills.

Sal was the brains of the modeling agency, we heard he scouted the talent, and Lenny was ready with his bag of tricks, a couple of SLRs, a range of lenses, and various back drop scenes like tropical islands or posh 5th Avenue apartments.

Brandy and I were moving to offices across the hall from Sal, we were his star team, and worked closely with him on a toy account. We were told the inside offices were an upgrade, which you could tell by counting the numbers of ceiling tiles that made up your space. If you counted and increase of 4 or more tiles, you were on the fast track. If you counted less tiles, it was time to look for a job. Between the two of us, we had an increase of 10 tiles so were figured we were on fire, and we partly had Sal to thank for that.

With Sal just across the hall, we started to notice a lot of activity between the hours of 12 and 3 in the afternoons. There was a steady stream of pretty girls, “pretty” in a cheap way you could say, but thin with long hair, and if they wore less make up and shopped less at the big discount stores next to Grand Central Station and maybe invested in facials to offset the breakouts from the dime store makeup – they might really have something. Scuttlebutt had it that Sal and Lenny’s Modeling Agency had no actual storefront, and no actual name, the bricks and mortar of it was Sal’s office that faced the 40th side of the agency. Girls would come and go between 12 and 3, and sometimes later, Lenny was usually there to help with the talent. The girl, usually in the 15-16 year-old age range would walk in, we’d hear Sal tell them to close the door behind them, then around 3 the activity would cease. After wrestling with the temperamental metal Venetian blinds behind his desk, the afternoon sun would flood in and Sal would ask us to wait while he ran to bring back a sandwich from the corner Italian deli. Brandy and I would wait patiently, we were always excited to show him work, we loved our jobs, the account we were on. If everything went right we would be on a plane to L.A. to shoot our first TV commercial.

As time went on we noticed that Sal was becoming less and less available to us, his modeling agency hours were taking up most of the afternoon, sometimes up until 5, at which point Sal’s portly wife and equally well-fed kids would come to visit after taking in a movie or a show – the four of them leaving together to grab the train out to Long Island.

One afternoon we had a big client meeting the next day, and hadn’t been able to get any time with Sal, he had postponed twice with us already, it was nerve wracking – if the creative director didn’t like the ideas you put in front of them you’d be back to square one and have to start from scratch. At this point we had less than 24 hours before we had to get on a train to our clients, and Sal was already 20 minutes late for our 3 o’clock. His door was closed, we had seen a young girl go in there with a portfolio around 2:15, per usual, Sal had asked her to close the door. Soon, it was 3:45, if we didn’t get in there soon we were surely in for an all-nighter with even the simplest revisions. We listened at the door, no voices could be heard, just a quiet sound, “ka-poo. ka-poo, ka-poo.” White flashes of light were coming from the space under the door - it was now 4 o’clock. After making sure nobody was coming down the corridor, Brandy got down on her hands and knees with her face pressed against the carpet to get a visual. “Oh My Fucking God, Claud,” she got up, dusting off her seersucker squirts. “There are two BARE FEET - right there,” she said pointing down towards the bottom of the door.

“This is fucking baaad,” she said, gaining momentum, “I’m goin’ in,” I shrugged an OK, I was glad that she was the one volunteering to bust Sal in the middle of his “meeting’.

BANG BANG BANG, Brandy pounded on the door. It was silent. The ka-poo’s went silent, we heard some scurrying, the flashing light under the door went dark. BANG BANG BANG, Brandy wasn’t relenting. Sal opened the door a crack, he appeared to be alone there with Larry who was awkwardly leaning against the air conditioning unit trying to appear nonchalant. “What is going on, Sal – we have a meeting tomorrow,” she pushed against the door - which was a formidable opponent wedged against Sal’s rock hard belly. And then we saw it through the cracked open door, it was there on Sal’s sofa, a small flesh colored bra, dingy and well-worn but neatly folded on the arm of the agency-issued love seat. We didn’t see a third party anywhere, just Sal’s sweaty face through the door crack, and his photographer/accomplis who now appeared to be seeking creative inspiration by leafing through an awards book annual. The bare naked feet and the young girl attached to them were apparently hiding in the corner, there behind Sal’s half cracked open door.

“This is fucked,” Brandy said as we backed into her office to discuss next steps. “I don’t know about you, but this is unacceptable,” she was going to march straight up to the creative director’s office, a woman who practically invented girl-power – she was just about the only female in the place at that level, and she ruled the roost. I, of course followed in Brandy’s huff although I could have just gone shopping instead - but we were a team, after all. I didn’t want to steal her thunder, the bare feet, the bra, and the BANG BANG BANG – she had bragging rights to this whistle blow if it went the right way, but I had to at least be in the room. It was like a great creative idea, everyone claims credit who happened to be standing in the room at the time when the guy first said it. Plus, it was hard to get an audience with the big lady creative director, but unauthorized photography shoots of under aged naked girls on agency premises? Chances are she would wave us right in.

Breathless, Brandy described the events that transpired around 3PM, she didn’t embellish, she didn’t have to – the naked facts spoke for themselves. “I see,” the lady creative director cocked her head slightly, not tipping her hand, “thanks for stopping by,” her nod seemed to show us the door.

By the time we got back to our floor, Sal’s door was shut again, it appeared he had left for the night, Larry was long gone for sure. The next day the account people called to tell us the client meeting had been postponed until the next week. It was 11 AM, Sal was nowhere in sight, he was usually one of the first ones there in the morning, but 12 PM, 2 PM, 3 PM came, the usual business hours of the modeling agency came and went; we never saw Sal again.

We heard his School of Visual Arts classes were still going strong, his students recommending him to all their friends. Rumor in the halls had it that he and Larry were going to make a go of it, they’d rented out an office in a strip mall a couple towns away from his house on Long Island; on-the-cheap product photography for clients on a budget and a class-act modeling agency for young girls with big dreams.

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