More About What They Think Of You

I was none too thrilled about how they saw me when I read the blurb under my photo in the high school yearbook, “Gary.  A nice guy with many friends.”  What!  A nice guy!  Fuck!  I don’t want to be known as a nice guy, I’m from fucking New Jersey, I want to be known as a mean motherfucker, and, by the way, change that stupid name, Gary, that’s not a mean motherfucker name, Mad Dog, Killer, now those are Jersey names, Killer Kott, where’s the editor of the Cranford High School yearbook, I want the whole goddamned thing reprinted.  I guess if I had to sum up my ignorance about what people thought of me, it would be described most accurately by the word oblivious.  A nice guy?  Was I?  If not, why would the yearbook staff say that about me?  “Many friends?”  Looking back, I remember Mike and Mark but not the names of enough classmates to classify as many. Yet clearly the yearbook staff saw me as a popular dude.  Oblivious.  Now that I think about it, most people seemed to say I was a nice guy back in summer camp, in my neighborhood, junior high school, senior high, college, even at work, though I have no memory of ever asking anyone what they thought of me.  When I was a child, I simply showed up at the birthday party, ate the cake, pinned the tail on the donkey.  When I was in Little League I scooped up the ground ball, grabbed it from my glove, and tossed the runner out at first base.  When I was hired by an ad agency, I entered the building, nodded hello to my co-workers, shut my office door and wrote commercials.  I don’t remember ever asking the birthday boy if he liked the present I gave him, the Little League coach if he liked my fielding, my boss if he liked anything I ever did.  I remained oblivious throughout adulthood.  My daughter Morgan, grown now and embarked on a successful career as a clinical dietician, would call me and read her annual employee review, one more glowing than the next, “A flawless worker,”  “A valued treasure.”  “Our hospital is lucky to have her.”  I had nothing to offer my daughter in response but kudos, “Amazing.”  “Staggering.”  “I never got praise like that in my life.” Morgan objected to my last assertion, “Dad, you must have had great employee reviews.  Look at all the promotions and titles you’ve had in your career.”  I set my daughter straight.  I explained to her that when I was working in the advertising business, there was no such thing of what they now call transparency. I was aware that my bosses wrote reviews and sent them upstairs somewhere, but it never crossed my mind to find out what they said about me.  My philosophy was this; if they haven’t fired me, if I survived Black Friday where scores of employees were unexpectedly let go, if I continued to collect my paycheck, that’s all I needed to know.  Yes, I received many titles from the powers-that-be, but I never once asked why.  Then one day I was promoted to Vice President/Creative Director, a rare achievement for someone so young. I was now the boss of an entire creative group, however, I’d never met anyone that was working for me. One day I called the person that hired me and asked, “Who’s Bill Doe?  What should I know about him?  Same goes for Jane Doe.  Where’s she from?”  The answer was curt, “Don’t call me.  Call the personnel department.  Ask for their files.”  I questioned, “I can read people’s files?”  “Of course you can, you’re a Vice President.” And so I spent the next few days poring over review after review, some good, some not, some embarrassing.  I returned the files to the personnel department and muttered spontaneously, “Say, do I have a file?” The personnel director laughed, “Of course you do.  It’s two inches thick.”  I asked, “Can I see it?”  “You’re a Vice President.  I’ll get it.”  The personnel director went into a drawer, removed a thick file, and handed it to me.  In an instant I went from oblivious to informed. Here’s what I told my daughter Morgan about my boss’ reviews tucked away in my two-inch file, “‘Gary is a talented copywriter but too aloof.’  ‘Gary has talent but can’t take criticism.’  ‘Gary writes well but is not a team player.’  But.  But.  But.  I never read one review about myself that didn’t have at least one but,  often two buts, sometimes three.  You, Morgan?  No buts.  Ever.  Your bosses truly love you.”  Not so for me.  According to my employee reviews, I’m not sure why they kept me around, let alone promoted me. In one review, I even got a “but” about what I wore to work. My boss, a three-piece Harvard suit, wrote, “Blue jeans.  Leather jackets.  Hair down to his shoulders.  A disgrace.” I omitted from my daughter one particularly rough review, “Gary presented to the Account Executives a new campaign he created.  Someone expressed doubts about a tag line.  Gary tore into him so viciously the Account Executive backed off and approved everything as written. After the meeting I took Gary aside, ‘Congratulations on your victory,’ then I added emphatically, ‘But from now on, put away the switchblade.”’ That was the first and last time I delved into the snakepit of what do you think about me. I returned gladly and ignorantly to my world of oblivious. When I was asked to speak at the Smithsonian Institute I never asked why.  When I was asked to write scripts for every studio in Hollywood I never asked why. Most mysteriously, I remain utterly stumped as to how I ended up in the advertisement of a red-hot New York restaurant, Madonna, Richard Gere, Joan Rivers, Ali McGraw, Carrie Fisher, Gary  Kott, Brooke Shields, Debbie Harry, Annie Leibovitz, Raquel Welch, Bianca Jagger.  How did that happen?  You’ll have to talk to the owner of the restaurant.  I never asked why.  Completely oblivious.