How I Got to Madison Avenue. And beyond.

As with life, this blog is developing and changing. It began with a lot of stories that occurred on my career path from Albany to Madison Avenue and back.

There were some similarities to the AMC series "Mad Men," and then I went even farther back in time with a somewhat fictionalized version of growing up in Troy's Little Italy.

And now, a new development. As my free lance advertising and marketing career winds down, I'm becoming more interested in the theatre arts that my father and his 3 brothers helped instill in me as I grew up.

As a result, I've volunteered to help promote the Theatre Institute at Sage, and now, to continue a long-interrupted desire to be behind the proscenium, I've joined the newly formed Troy Civic Theatre, and was actually fortunate enough to appear in their first production.

So, I hope you'll enjoy the new stories that will develop from this latest turn.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pretty Women

Even when they leave you and vanish they somehow can still remain there with you

Even when they leave

They still are there.

(Sondheim, Sweeney Todd)

Women are the real magic of the world. I've always been influenced by women – grandmothers, mother, aunts, cousins, wives, daughters. When I wasn't listening to my mother play Chopin, I observed her reading – a different book every month. Women were the real heads of Italian households, men were the figureheads.

And although I'm grateful for the many lessons learned from those women of the family – this isn't about them.

In my chosen field of work, there have always been pretty women. Whether advertising attracts them because of its closeness to show business, or whether it's a completely subjective opinion is for others to figure out. I just know that I'm susceptible to their magic, so these stories all include – or center around – women.


Sexy Vibe, Bad Move

She was the girl who showed up before the end of the marriage. Her name was Andrea McCabe. She had that face that Italian boys like me found fascinating – that of an Irish Catholic virgin. I've thought about that attraction – it's so common among my peers, often resulting in Italian boys marrying “outside” – choosing Irish girls over Italian ones. I think I found the cause: nuns.

Think about it. If you're an Italian boy being taught by nuns in habits, what do you see of these authority figures? Their faces. All the rest is mystery. But in your neighborhood, you see Italian girls and women all the time – and if there is anything unknown about them, it certainly isn't much.

My first steady girlfriend was Irish – Mary Kay Myers from Lansingburgh – the northern part of Troy, a world away from Little Italy in the south. But her family forbade her to see me when then found out I was Italian.

My family was using the name “Visk,” having had it changed from Visco, they said, by the school system. Later, in my forties, I changed my name back to my grandfathers' names – LaPosta Visco – in a rush of ethnic pride.

And besides, I always thought “Visk” sounded like a cat sneezing.

So, in the late 60's, with all that behind me, and an unhappy marriage getting worse by the minute, I'm finding ways to not go home after work.

One of the events I told my wife I had to attend was an Art Director's dinner given by local printers. I was the only copywriter there, but my art director, Nunzio, was a good friend and let me tag along. Afterward, he and some of the printers, also avoiding going home, stopped at a restaurant and bar along the Troy Schenectady Road called the Jamaica Inn.

It was one of those horseshoe bars, with a giant lava lamp in the center, and black light that makes white shirts glow purple. Of course, none of us were wearing white shirts.

We took the only two seats left, in the far corner, against the wall. Around a sunken dance floor, where a guitarist/folk singer was performing some Lennon/McCartney tunes, there were some tables, but only one was occupied, by a couple. The young girl – the only woman in the place, actually – seemed strangely out of place.

She wore a blouse and flared jeans, and her date was an Ivy League type. I couldn't see them too well, having to look across most of the horseshoe bar and into the opposite corner of the darkened room.

I sat their quietly, my mind putting the sensuous pattern of the lava lamp together with the music. I didn't pay much attention to the girl and her date, until about an hour later, when some raucous laughter caught my ear. Three of the guys at the bar had joined the couple at their table, and they were taking turns dancing with her.

That's pretty weird,” I said to Nunzio. He agreed, and we wondered what kind of a dullard her date must be.

Another hour went by. Nunzio and the guy on his right were discussing typefaces or something, and I was on the fringe of the conversation.

Suddenly, I was aware of the girl in the corner. She seemed to pop up out of her chair, and as she started walking, I knew she was coming to me.

As she came up to the bar and started passing behind the men lined up there, one by one their heads turned, and their eyes followed her.

I was hit by a wave of panic. I was cornered.

Everything seemed to stop except this girl walking toward him. I could feel everybody watching me, as I turned just in time to see her stop in front of me.

She looked into me and said, “Hi. My name is Andrea.”

I stupidly waited for more, until I looked in her eyes and realized how incredibly difficult it had been for her to get this far. I gave her a cautious smile and said, “Hello. My name is Frank.”

She took a breath. “I had to come over and talk to you. I was getting these fantastic vibrations from you.”

I didn't know I was sending any vibrations, and I said so.

She moved her head in the direction of her date. “I told him you were an old friend and I had to come over and say hello.”

Well, I'm glad you did, Andrea.”

Are you?” She sighed. “Oh, I'm so glad. I really do want to talk to you.”

I asked her if she could stay, if I could buy her a drink, or what? She said she really had to get back to her date. I finally asked for her phone number, gave her a pen and a business card for her to write it down.

Should I put my name on here, too?”

'No, I'll remember. Andrea. I'll call you soon.”

You will? Really? Good. Thank you.”

She went back to her table, and I was the object of admiration. Remember, it's 40 years ago, and this was not the norm.

To get to the men's room from my end of the bar, I had to go across the dance floor and down a flight of stairs. Off to my left, in the darkness, was Andrea and her date. I'm embarrassed to say this, but even though I couldn't see them well, as I headed down the stairs I made a peace sign in their general direction.

Downstairs, I took my time., washed my hands thoroughly, and carefully combed my long hair and beard.

When I came back up the stairs, Andrea was sitting on my barstool, talking to Nunzio! I walked over to her, and she looked into me again.

Would you like to dance?, I asked.

She didn't answer right away. When she did, she said yes. I led her down the steps to the dance floor. We got closer and closer as we danced slower and slower. By the third number, we were practically standing still, embracing each other. Then, the music stopped and didn't start again.

Still holding her, I said, “We've got a decision to make.”


Shall we go up the stairs or out the door?”

Andrea hesitated. “Can't we go up the stairs and then go out the door?”


We went to our respective places, she came to me with a trace of a tear in her eyes, and we left together. I had never felt so cocky and so scared. I'll tell you about the rest of that evening another time. And how lovers can become friends.

A Stage full of Naked Hippies.

Manhattan - an island off the coast of America

I always felt comfortable in the big city, even as I was in awe of it. The familiarity began when I was young, when my parents would save up enough money for the four of us – parents, me and my younger sister – to spend a weekend in Manhattan.

We would take the train, then as now a beautiful ride along “the water route,” as the NY Central advertised it, down the Hudson. These days, Amtrak sneaks into the modern underground atrocity of Penn Station; in those days, when we stepped off the train from Troy, we would walk a few hundred feet through a tunnel and enter into the magnificent Grand Central Terminal, with its soaring, star-studded zodiac ceiling, magical clock and gigantic full color Kodak photograph.

We would stay at a budget west-side hotel, near but not in the famed Algonquin and steps away from the New York Times building, and go to live Broadway shows, big screen Hollywood movies at Radio City Music Hall, and even combination shows of live entertainment and a movie at theaters around Times Square!

We'd walk everywhere, me always a few steps ahead, eager to get to the next experience, my sister complaining about sore feet from the new shoes she always wore on those trips. We'd dine at the Automat, or at full service Italian restaurants around the theater district.

But now, in 1969, I was a young man, overseeing his first really important advertising assignment, having had my entire creative presentation for Dairylea milk and ice cream products accepted and approved for full blown production by a real New York production company.

Our producer chose one of the production companies that had bid on the package of spots, and he and I and the art director were on our way to the initial pre-production meeting, with storyboards and scripts and music tapes.

Just a year before, when I was still working for Phil Voss, I had been sent to “The City,” as we upstaters always called New York, to a 3-day production workshop to learn about the latest in television production techniques and equipment.

This may seem odd to the newbies in the business, but in my working lifetime, we've gone from live commercials at the beginning, followed in the 60's by black and white video tape machines as big as a commercial freezer, with two-inch wide tape that had to be spliced and taped together for editing, to one inch tape, to ¾ inch tape, to no tape at all. Anyone my age who holds an inexpensive, high definition digital video recorder in the palm of their hand today and uploads it effortlessly to, is genuinely astonished.

Anyway, I went to the Production Workshop, learned the latest techniques from engineers, cameramen, producers and lighting directors, and managed to play hookey from an evening event in order to catch a controversial new Broadway musical – “Hair.” I have to admit that it affected me personally and politically like nothing else in my life. During the play, the cast breaks "the fourth wall" and hands out small posters -- I got one of them, and made a present of it to Andrea.

I was far from a sophisticated, educated, clear-thinking person at that point. In fact, at that point in my life, I believe I was mostly in a misty, unfocused state. I had some creative ability, that was clear, but even as a married man, now with three daughters, and having my first affair, I hadn't thought clearly about life – hadn't asked any of the questions that I was now seeing asked and answered by a “tribal rock musical” that confronted war, racism and political complacency. Here I was, almost thirty, and these creative, sexy, naked people younger than me were on a stage, teaching me about life. I was never the same again.

So, a year later, my hair is longer, my focus is getting sharper, and I'm a creative director, working with a big New York production company. I was ripe for the experiences ahead. I just wasn't ready.


A real New York woman.

She seemed as exotic and fascinating as her name. She was a slim, young, very attractive and very confident young woman. Even in her twenties, she already had what professional New York women all seem to have at first glance– an air of sophistication, a self-awareness that they're operating successfully in the greatest city in the world.

While friendly and capable of the kind of sharp, humorous repartee I've always enjoyed, she let me know that producing this package of Dairylea commercials was serious business. That doesn't mean it wasn't fun.

Making commercials on this level involves the exact same elements of making a movie. Location scouting, sound stages, casting, director, producer, cameraman, makeup, equipment, catering, gaffers and grips, actors, looping, voiceovers.

Putting all these professionals together is making a company, in the original sense of the word, sharing bread together, people united in a common cause. As temporary as the company may be, intimate friendships are formed easily, some flaring up brightly for a while in the heat of passion, some lasting a lifetime, and some a combination of both.

Sevan made it clear that, although we liked each other and could joke with each other on a personal basis, that ours was a business relationship. She had a boyfriend, a young actor/director who was in the early stages of a successful career in theater and commercials. I had a wife and three daughters. And a girl friend.

But there was something between us, and it was too good not to show up. It took a few years, but it showed up.

Next time: More pretty women. And getting down to business.

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