Monday, May 30, 2011

A Hand in my Gym Bag

Last week, the public relations firm Ruder Finn announced that Peter Finn, son of co-founder David Finn, is establishing his own agency under the RF corporate umbrella. From my dealings with the agency, I’m not surprised, given one of his sisters did so a few years back and his other sister is running the agency. Peter is not one of my favorite persons, in part due to a maneuver that led to a very quick start-up of a successful business.

I worked for what was then Ruder Finn & Rotman in the mid-1980s. The Ruder name is a bit misleading, since co-founder Bill Ruder, who passed away earlier this year, was out of the business by then. The Rotman name came from the merger with Chicago-based Harshe-Rotman & Druck, which was run by Morris Rotman and his son Richard. I’ve known Richard since grammar-school days, which helped land my job there. The New York and Chicago offices interact very little, mainly due to animosities between the Finns and Rotmans. In fact, the Rotmans kept me from getting axed when management demanded cuts in Chicago, despite the agency suffering from lower billings nationwide.

 My first experience with Peter Finn involved the transfer of the View-Master account from Chicago to New York. Despite running a very successful account for the then publicly owned toy company, the client wanted it moved to New York, where View-Master had an office in the Toy Building on 23rd Street. The transfer was scheduled during the Toy Fair in New York, but I ran into a huge problem: nobody from New York would return my calls regarding the account. Finally, two days before departing for New York, I called Peter Finn but was told he probably couldn’t make it into the office from Westchester because of a forecast of snow. Exasperated, I said bluntly, “Look, I’m handing you a good account, and you don’t have to sell to get it. Just get somebody there.” They did, but Finn never made an appearance to meet the CEO.

Ten years after leaving the company, I found myself back in Ruder Finn’s Chicago office, but not as an employee. The Rotmans sold out in 1987, and the Chicago office went through a series of general managers and steadily declining billings to the point it employed less than 10 professionals. My position at Golin-Harris had just been eliminated, and the person who had hired me at GH – Paul Rand – was now the general manager at Ruder Finn Chicago. In a very short tenure, he quadrupled billings and brought the place back to life. Still, the full-floor offices had so much vacant space he put a plastic sheet over the entry into the west section and told visiting clients the area was undergoing renovation. The art-conscious Finns sent their curator to check out the office (typical of their priorities), and she immediately torn down the sheet. It went back up minutes after her departure.

I rented an office at Ruder Finn for a nominal charge, working on my own accounts and helping out on RF accounts, including a large project for Standard Register. When Paul left Golin-Harris (I was still there), he suggested we eventually start our own agency. Since he is a bright guy and very entrepreneurial, I agreed, knowing it wouldn’t be immediate. About the time I arrived in late 1997. Paul told management that he was going to leave to start his own agency, not go to a competitor, and would stay on as long as needed to show the new GM the ropes. They said that given the large amount of empty office space, we should explore a joint venture. At their request, Paul sent them a business plan. Peter Finn and two other executives agreed to meet with us on a Friday in mid-January 1998 and discuss arrangements over lunch.

We knew something was amiss when after calling from the airport, it took about two hours for them to reach the office. Upon entering the conference room with a fourth mystery man, they summarily booted me out. From what I gathered, they had picked up a local attorney on the way and the fun would now begin. About an hour later, they walked into my office and said sternly, “Paul Rand has been dismissed and ordered out of the office. The computer system has been taken down and the locks have been changed.” They then told me I was he was “in trouble” and probably so too was I, then ordered me out of the office and to come back in three hours to discuss my fate. “Back in the USSR,” I thought.

Like the Golin-Harris people, Finn and his boys didn’t figure they’d be tussling with somebody with brother at a top labor law firm. Before leaving the office, I called him in Denver. First off, he told me, they would have to go through eviction proceedings to get me out of the office, since I wasn’t an employee and had cancelled checks showing their tacit approval of the rental agreement. He also told me get local counsel to sit in on the afternoon meeting. Feeling relieved, I returned two hours later and plunked myself down in my office. The RF boys suddenly got more polite when informed I’d have a lawyer present. Paul figured they had polled the Chicago clients and found all would go with us (and a third partner), which led them to play along with the joint-venture scheme until the Friday massacre.

The RF boys obviously knew they had nothing on me – they’d hinted at some kind of conspiracy bullshit – so the negotiations came down to an annual report I was writing for one of their clients. At first they told me not to tell the client that Paul was gone; since I knew they already knew, I told them I wasn’t going to be party to such charade. In addition, RF knew they needed me to finish the report or they wouldn’t get their money either, so we made a fair agreement.

To facilitate my departure that day – I would henceforth work at home – I told them they could search my things, figuring they wouldn’t want to be bothered . . . but they did. They wanted to look through all the files on my computer discs, which they had no right since I had my clients’ work on them. But the crowning touch was having the great Peter Finn search my gym bag. I’d planned on a noon basketball game but never made it. I watched him rummage through a shirt, shorts and socks before suddenly halting at the touch of an athletic supporter. I bit my tongue to keep from both laughing and making a snide remark. After retrieving my discs from the CFO, I told him, “Tony, just for the record . . . tell Peter the jock strap was clean.”

So here we were, ready to start a company, sooner rather than later. We each bought laptops over the weekend (the third partner was coerced into staying at RF) and borrowed office space in the same building from the marketing firm designing the annual report I was writing. Within two years, the agency grew to 50 people; an office in Austin, Texas; and billing of $4.5 million. Doing well is the best revenge.

The pettiness didn’t stop there. Bea, the RF Chicago receptionist dating back to the Harshe-Rotman days, retired in early 1998, and several alums – including Paul and me – were invited via telephone to her farewell party. About a week later, the inviter, a veteran staff member who was a colleague there back in the mid-‘80s, called and started the conversation with a very embarrassed “I’m sorry, this wasn’t my idea but they’re making me do this.” Management had demanded the guest list, then told her to un-invite certain people. So pardon me if I don’t send Peter Finn a potted plant or work of art for this new office, although an old athletic supporter just might be appropriate.

Friday, May 20, 2011

An Unbreakable Record

My one baseball game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium resulted in witnessing a record that probably will never be broken. I met the record holder years later but had forgotten about his dubious distinction.

County Stadium

Periodically, Major League Baseball tells the umpires to strictly enforce the rules governing balks. The year 1963 was one of them. Balks can be called on a number of infractions, some obvious, others not so obvious. The umps thus cracked down on the more subtle forms. On May 4, 1963, my father, brother and I traveled to Milwaukee for the Braves-Cubs game. We had excellent grandstand seats but rain began falling early in the game, causing a delay and a move to shelter. Making our way to the press box, Jim Enright, a reporter for the Chicago American and one of my father’s clients, found an empty room for us, directly behind the plate. We remained there for the rest of the game.

The starting pitchers were Bob Shaw for the Braves and Glen Hobbie for the Cubs. Shaw, the White Sox pitcher who defeated Sandy Koufax, 1-0, in game 5 of the 1959 World Series, pitched for Kansas City for part of 1961 before being traded to the Braves during the off-season. The Cubs’ potent line-up included Lou Brock, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, while the Braves featured Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews.

Bob Shaw, 1959
The game was tied 1-1 when things got interesting in the top of the 3rd inning. Al Barlick, who umpired from 1940-1971 and would be elected to the Hall of Fame, was behind the plate. He and his crew called three balks on Shaw in the inning, for which he remains tied for the MLB record. They called two more on him until he was ejected for arguing the calls with one out in the 5th inning. The Cubs scored five runs in the inning on the way to an almost four-hour, 7-5 win and an eventual series sweep. The hitting star oddly enough was backup catcher Merritt Ranew, who went 3 for 4 with two RBI.

1963 Topps Card

Only 8,524 fans witnessed the record five balks on the overcast Saturday afternoon. Other records set were most balks by a team in one game – 6 – and most balks in a game by both teams – 7 – as Paul Toth of the Cubs and Denny Lemaster of the Braves each added one. The commissioner quietly told the umpires to ease up after this fiasco.

Evidently, MLB forgot this lesson in 1988, when balks were called strictly again after a rule change in the definition of a "complete stop." Three pitchers were called for four balks in a game, including Bobby Witt of Texas and Rick Honeycutt of Oakland on successive April days. Oakland and Montreal set the records for balks in each league that season, with 76 and 41, respectively. The rule was changed back after the season ended. Doing the math, we’re due for another crackdown in 2013.

Bob Shaw would end his career with the Cubs in 1967, with a record of 108-98. I met Shaw before the White Sox played the Dodgers in the Turn Back the Clock Game in 2005, commemorating the Dodgers’ first trip to Chicago’s South Side since the 1959 World Series. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember about his record until my brother reminded me after hearing I’d chatted up Shaw. I’m reasonably sure of being the only one at the ballpark that night who had seen him balk five times 42 years earlier. He probably would have gotten a kick out hearing that.

Bob Shaw, 2005

Saturday, May 14, 2011

To Ring or Not to Ring

Recently a few columns and Web posts have discussed whether or not a man should wear a wedding ring. I’ve never worn one, having made my definitive decision two months after our wedding.

Like some men have noted, I’m not much interested in jewelry. That includes necklaces, rings or wrist adornments other than watches. Trying to be a non-traditionalist and the fact my father didn’t wear one, I decided against a wedding ring 38 years ago.

My father wore a ring, which he received in 1932 for his religious school confirmation. The silver ring has his initials in gold and a small diamond that came from a stickpin his father received for being the president of South Side Hebrew Congregation. It contained no engraving in the inside. He wore it on his right hand. I don’t know why he didn’t have a wedding ring.

My grandmother and father at his wedding,
Sept. 3, 1946

Barely two months after our wedding, my father was rushed to St. Anne’s Hospital from his office after suffering a heart attack. Upon arriving after a 45-minute drive from the suburbs, I was informed he had passed away (“A Sudden Death in the Family,” December 2010). Shortly thereafter, John Weil, his partner’s son who had accompanied him in the ambulance, gave me an envelope with his personal effects. I immediately emptied the contents on to a table, a decision quickly regretted, for I should have waited to compose myself and prepare for the inevitable reaction. The larger objects tumbled out first – wallet, eyeglasses and probably keys – followed by his ring. The ring, however, didn’t simply drop on the table but rather rolled away at a rather rapid pace. It was still rolling when I slapped my hand down and scooped it up.

The Ring

Because he never took it off, the ring in my hand conveyed the blunt reality that he was dead. Despite contemplating this likely outcome during the drive, holding the ring sent a shock through my system. Instinctively, I put it on the fourth finger on my left hand (it was too small to get on my ring finger). With my limited knowledge of jewelry, I didn’t know the ring could be sized, which was done the following week. I’ve worn it ever since. A second fracture of my left ring finger (luckily I wasn’t wearing the ring either time or it would have been cut off in an emergency room) a few years ago caused me to wear the ring on my right hand for some time until the swelling subsided. 

Marisa and I, Florida, 1983

 Early on, I considered purchasing a wedding band. As silly as it may sound, I thought it would diminish the significance of this most valuable possession. Other than memories, I have only a pair of his cufflinks, formal stud set, 80-year-old Underwood typewriter and a handkerchief with his embroidered signature. The ring’s religious significance also seemingly transcends it being a gift for a 15-year-old boy and a keepsake for a not-so-devout son. I would wear only one ring, and this was it.

Union Prayer Book, presented by South Shore Temple on
my father's confirmation, June 12, 1932
My father wore the ring for almost 41 years; I've worn it for more than 38 years. This often causes me to think about many things, most notably the fragility of life. One such issue is not the one brought up in all of the discussions; you'll just have to trust me on that.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Room for the Night

My first hotel stay in Philadelphia was totally unplanned and memorable, to say the least.

The journey to the Hotel Adelphia began, oddly enough, in Boston. My brother’s girl friend attended college in the area, and occasionally I trekked up from eastern Pennsylvania to spend a weekend. She would find dates for me, which is how I met the wonderful Connie (we reconnected via Facebook 42 years later). During a spring trip, one of her friends introduced us to two friends visiting from Philadelphia, one of them a tall and very pretty Temple University student.

Although not particularly aggressive, I nonetheless tried something totally out of character. Inquiries found her name – Randy – and phone number and the fact that she remembered who I was and would be amenable to a date. Back then, long-distance phone calls were a big deal, especially since we freshman weren’t allowed telephones in the dorm rooms. I filled my pocket with change and called from a booth in the University Center. The conversation went well, and we arranged to meet in Philadelphia two weekends later. I neglected one important detail: to find a place to stay in a men’s dorm that night, which I’d done each time in Boston.

We spent a very pleasant spring evening together. Another couple – the guy was a year ahead of me at Lehigh – joined us. We saw “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and dined near Rittenhouse Square, which I would revisit for the first time last summer. We parted ways at her dorm, after which the guy drove to his parents’ house in the suburbs without asking my plans. So here I was, a white kid in a sport coat and tie, on North Broad Street around midnight. Frugal as I was (and still am), I opted to take a bus downtown, sleep in the bus terminal and take the 6 a.m. Penn Stage bus back to Bethlehem. 

Rittenhouse Square, 2010

A bus finally arrived in approximately 20 minutes. After the door opened, the woman next to me began screaming at the bus driver about her perceived long wait, telling him somebody had been mugged in the interim. Great, I thought, but now being on the bus negated that worry. Unfortunately, I forgot the location of the bus terminal after getting off at City Hall. The City Hall courtyard was deserted as I cut through south to Chestnut Street, passing only a lone black GI, who looked at me like I was nuts. At 13th Street, I spotted the Hotel Adelphia and figured this had better be my accommodation for the night.

Hotel Adelphia

My anxiety increased when while checking in, two women came out of the bar in identical dresses and tipsily informed the deskman they’d just been up to one of their rooms and found a man in the bed. House rules required a bellman to take me to the room (I didn’t tip him because I didn’t have any luggage), which was stiflingly hot. After opening a window, my next stop was the bathroom – or what I thought was the bathroom. The light revealed only a sink and shower in the tiny room. You can guess the rest.

I slept well enough to make the 8 a.m. bus back to school. The 60-mile trip didn't end fast enough.  I transferred to college in Boston the following year, so I never called, wrote or otherwise communicated with Randy again. Her Facebook page is gone (she seems to have led a good life with a nice Jewish boy from Penn), so I can't send her the link to this post. The Hotel Adelphia is now the Adelphia House, a rental apartment building.  Reviewers give it low marks; why am I not surprised?

Adelphia House