Write In Peace Act II by John Martin Note: Not to leave anyone in mid air, the other installments appear on my authorsden site.
In the last installment I mentioned the “Writer’s Habit”. It’s one of the key elements of this long story. So for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, let me define it in stark terms. Writing can quickly become a habit, just like smoking, alcohol or drugs. Poe, Dickens, Robbins,King, and all of the writers that you have ever read were stricken with the affliction. I call it an affliction, because it’s an obsession that must be fed at all costs. Once you have it, it materializes as a mysterious little voice in your head. A voice that constantly beckons you to write. The prescribed treatment is to simply set aside an hour or two each day and write something, anything. Setting a writing schedule for yourself will usually keep it in check. However,there are those times when the demon takes over and one loses control. Sometimes,that little voice drags you out of a deep sleep at two in the morning. The next thing you know, you’re down loading your mind through a pen, or a keyboard, until the rising sun calls you back from the abyss. Then, of course, there are those lost weekends. Those are the times when sunrises and sunsets have no voice, and are but silent passing strangers. There you sit, purging your soul in a deluge of words that flood the paper or screen before your eyes. Writing and rewriting, as your fingers dance upon the keys, or grasp your pen as it skates across the page. Day after day you sit, lost in maddening binge of creativity, where food, sleep, and the clock have no meaning. Is it a destructive vice, or merely a self sacrificial effort to create a beautiful thing? Who can say for sure? But the fact is, writing can be extremely addictive. With that said, I’ll go on with my story.
It was 1969 and there I was in the midst of a group of word junkies. I use that term in the fondest sense, for these were some of the best writer’s in the world at the time. These talented men were my friends, and mentors. They were all in their early or late forties. Most of them were vice presidents of the firm, and all of them former newspaper and magazine writers and editors. They were the financial writers of the day, and their resumes included, AP, UPI, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes, Barons, the cream of the financial press. I was twenty three and still a little wet behind the ears where business was concerned. However, these noble gentlemen took me in like a grown young son standing on the second or third step on the staircase of life.
Businesses and brokerage houses would come to us with financial news. These were stock offerings, executive appointments, dividends, acquisitions, feature stories, and even obituaries. It was my colleagues’ job to take these stories, write or rewrite them into a form suitable for publication. They would take a complex forty page stock offering prospectus and rewrite it into one page news release that could easily be understood by tenth grade high school students. As I had mentioned, part of my job was to proof read the final versions of those releases with their authors. In fact, simplifying complex subjects was one of my first real lessons in writing. Danny McNamara was my professor for that lesson.
Danny was 68 years old at the time, and the former transportation editor of the Wall Street Journal. He directly handled the news releases for the prestigious firms of Lehman Brothers, Smith Barney and Kuhn Loeb. In addition, he wrote the releases for the complex billion dollar bond offerings for the 13 Federal Banks. There were at least two or three of those mega bond offerings a week. The stories of course had to be written up, put on the wire services, and hard copy had to be on the desks of daily press within an hour of the release. So that should give you the idea of the magnitude of the man’s talent and abilities. He was also a wise and beautiful man, with a heart of gold. In fact, all of the young ladies in the office were in love with him and affectionately called him, Mr. Mac.
I had taken to doing a little financial writing myself, on the side, so to speak. I had written a three page “Private Placement Circular” for a friend of mine. It was an effort to raise start up capitol for a new business. Naturally, I was extremely proud of the sophisticated labyrinth of financial genus that I had so masterfully created on paper. So one day after one of those proof reading sessions, I asked Danny to review it.
Being a true friend, Danny carefully gave me that writing lesson without bursting my little egotistical bubble. First he told me it was a very good effort that showed an enormous amount of creativity and financial where with all. Then in his kindly manner, he asked, “Could I make a suggestion though, John?” His comments were more than welcomed, so I replied, “Sure Dan, by all means.” “What you have done here, John, is to very accurately present a complex subject in extremely detailed terms. For someone who is very astute in depths of finance, after some study, this is very explicit and understandable. However, it kind of reads like a legal document to me, which it is, in a sense. Now I could be wrong, and this is just my opinion, but I always felt that a very good writer is able to take a complex subject and write about it in highly technical terms that very sophisticated readers can appreciate and understand. However, a really great writer is able to take to a very complex subject and write about it simple terms that everyone can understand. So I always ask myself when I am writing something like this, “Am I writing this for myself, to impress people with my brilliance, or am I writing this for the public, so they can easily understand it?”
That lesson came from a man, who for over 40 years had successfully chronicled the history of the stock market on a daily basis. So to this day it’s still the first question I ask myself when I begin to write. I learned a lot more about the fundamentals of writing there, too. Simple things, such as, where news people are concerned, “Old News Is No News.”, quote Gil Baker, and for feature stories, “The More You Write, The Better You Write.”, quote Joe Duome. That last quote of course means, the more often you write, the better you write. Then again, quote Ed Fallon, “Double space is the editor’s taste.” (Always double space your work, so editors have room to write in comments and changes.) I learned the basics there all right, but I really didn’t have the full blown habit yet. More or less, I just had my occasional binges from time to time.
I also learned an important lesson in integrity while I was there. That lesson began when we moved from our five story building at 131 Cedar Street to 61 Broadway. The move was to make way for the World Trade Center buildings. My new office was 20 by 40 foot room, with a desk for me, and three desks for my small staff. Then there was a long table against the wall that we used to set up the distribution of the news releases. Of course, there were also the news tickers, mimeo and teletype machines. The “News Department” itself was right outside my door. It was a large open space with ten desks, surrounded by seven offices with 4x6 plexi glass windows facing out unto the “floor.” Danny had one those offices, and the others were occupied by my other good friends. They were the vice president-writers, who like Danny, handled our largest accounts. The guys on the floor were “staff” writers and they handled the everyday “spot” stories. However, you couldn’t tell a staff writer from a VP, even with a score card. They were all down to earth and very talented people. There was also one big office in the corner, without a plexi-glass window. That was Gil Busch’s office, Senior Executive Vice President, Director of the Public Relations Division, and member of the Board.
Gil was the boss all right, and like everyone else, I reported directly to him. He was extremely interesting man, a full bird colonel in the marine reserves, a former mayor of Hillsdale, New Jersey, and the former financial editor of UPI. He was in his mid fifties, large in stature, and powerful in presence. His intimidating demeanor also came with thunderous dominating voice to match. In fact, next to him, LOU GRANT looked like TED BAXTER. I guess you could say he came across as kind of a big bully. However, that was a false impression, Gil was really a decent man of enormous integrity. He’s the one who taught me the value of that word.
That lesson was given in many parts. It began with an explanation of our “NEWS RELEASE” stationery. The stationery was just a plain white 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. At the very top was our firm’s name and address in simple black type face. Just below that, on the right hand side, was a printed line that read “FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONTACT: In this blank state, it really didn’t express any value at all. However, when words were printed upon it, those words suddenly became scripture where the financial press was concerned. That was because Gil Busch was ultimately responsible for what was printed on it, and his reputation for truth and accuracy was beyond reproach. That all played out when our stories arrived two minutes before press time, and there was no time left to pick up the phone to check facts. Every newspaper person in the country knew that you could run one of our stories verbatim. That of course was why all of those large companies and institutions came to us in the first place.
The next part of the lesson began when John Gunther (no, not that John Guenther) came to me with a release for one of his clients, Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company. Many of our clients also had their own news release stationery, and Gil could care less who’s name went into the contact line on that. But in this instance, John wanted the story on our release paper. There wasn’t a problem with that, until it came to contact line. In this particular story it was the name and phone number of “Joe Smoe,” some Panhandle Eastern executive. So I quickly questioned it, “Shouldn’t your name and number be on the contact line, Mr. Gunther?” John replied, “In this instance it’s all right. They want to be contacted directly .” Being that John was a vice president, I mistakenly assumed that he could okay it, and started to run off the story. Now the standard procedure was, after the first couple of copies came off of the mimeo, one of my staff would immediately go about “spiking” it on every desk within the office. Of course, Gil had one of those spikes on the corner of his desk, too. It only took a minute or two before Gil, with the release in hand, made a loud and sudden appearance in my office. “Young man, he thundered, Can I speak with you for a minute?” He was standing right by that long table, and I quickly replied, “Sure, Mr. Busch.” When I got up and walked over to him , he immediately slammed his copy of the release on the table and roared, “What in the “HECK” is this suppose to be?” I glanced at the news release as he removed his hand, and replied, “I’m sorry, what’s wrong?” Gil thundered again, “Who in the “HECK” is Joe Smoe? I don’t remember hiring anybody named Joe Smoe!” Figuring that Mr. Gunther could explain the circumstances satisfactorily, I replied, “He’s a vice president with Panhandle Eastern. Mr. Gunther, said it was all right to put his name as the contact.” Gil’s face reddened, and once more he shook the earth with a bellowing roar, “Who do you work for? Me or Mr. Gunther?” “Why you of course, Mr. Busch.” Then he gave me a forced smiled and said, “Good, I’m glad you got that part right. Now listen very carefully, young man. I make the policy around here! Not Frank..(the president of the firm), not John Gunther, not Ed Fallon, or anyone else in the world! I am the one who reports directly to the board of directors for this division, and no one else. So let me make that policy clear to you. Nobody, I repeat, nobody’s name goes on that contact line unless they report directly to me. There is only one person in the world that can change that policy. That person is me, and I will not change that policy for anyone, under any circumstances. Do you understand that?” “Yes, Mr. Busch.” But it didn’t end there. He immediately took me outside and reintroduced me to everyone in the office. He started with Ed Fallon’s office. Gil stuck his head in Ed’s doorway and pointed at him, “That is Ed Fallon. His name can go on our release paper!” Ed turned with a puzzled look on his face, and Gil just smiled and waved, “Hi Ed,” and then we went to the next office. He repeated the procedure with every member of the staff. When we got to John Gunther’s office, Gil added, “Don’t you go away, Mr. Gunther. I’ll be back to talk to you in a minute.” We returned to my office and Gil ended the tour with,” Have I made myself clear?’ “Yes, Mr. Busch.” “Do you have any questions, young man?” “No, Mr. Busch.” Yup, Gil certainly had a way of making himself clear all right.
The final lesson came about eight months later. Of course, it came at a time when Gil was no where to be found. When I came in at eight AM that day, the new room was really jumping. There was some guy named Mr. Malcolm, wearing a three piece suit with snake skin cowboy boots. He was running everybody in the office through the hoops. Gil Baker quickly filled me in on what was going on. The president of one our client companies, a very large computer leasing company, was about to announce that he had just purchased a prestigious brokerage house for $80,000,000.00. At the time $80,000,000.00 was actually a lot of money. But what really made it a headline story, was the fact that the president, a former IBM super salesman, was already a very hot item in the financial press.
It turned out that this Mr. Malcolm was his right hand man. The release was for ten AM that morning. John Gunther was the account executive, and Mr. Malcolm had set up temporary headquarters in his office. The activities between John, Mr. Malcolm, and the staff writers’ bounced back and forth all morning. While that was going on I set up the envelopes for the messenger deliveries and took care of the other stories for the 10 AM deadline. Then at a quarter after nine I was given the two page typewritten story to set up for the wire services. I immediately notice that Mr. Malcolm’s name was given as the contact person. But that wasn’t a problem for the wire story, because it clearly indicated that the story was being directly released by the client. However, at the same time, I had a real strong sense that things were about to get very interesting.
While I was doing what I had to do, Evelena typed up the hard copy story on stencils and proof read them with John. A few minutes later, she walked in with John, and he handled me the stencils. When I looked them over, the night mare had begun. Right there on the contact line was Mr. Malcolm’s name.
John turned to leave, and I halted him with, “Mr. Gunther, this story can’t go out like this.” He thought I was joking, so he laughed, “What are you talking about, John?” I replied, “I’m sorry, but I can’t send this out on our release paper unless your name and phone is on the contact line.” He seemed to give it a second thought, but then he replied, “That’s okay. Don’t worry about Gil. Just tell him you did it on my authority.” I quickly countered,” I’m sorry Mr. Gunther, but Gil has informed me that you do not have that authority.” He immediately snapped back, “You don’t understand. The client wants it this way, and this is the way it has to go out.” I politely shot back, “Then I’m afraid the client is going to be very disappointed, Mr. Gunther, because that just isn’t going to happen.”
John was a good friend and smart enough to know that both of us needed a minute to cool down. So he just walked out the door without further comment. Two minutes later, Ed Fallon walked in. Ed was also a very good friend and mentor. In a kind of uninvolved manner, he asked, “Say, what’s going on with you and them?” I knew that John had sent him as the voice of reason, so I explained the situation in detail. Ed, once more, in a friendly manner, replied, “Wow, you’re really in a bind aren’t you?” I just smiled “You might said that, Ed.” Then he offered his advice. “John, you know a $5,000,000.00 a year account is worth an awful lot to a business that only bills $40,000,000.00 a year. What I’d probably do in your in your position is to go with the client. I know Gil will blow up, but he’ll get over it eventually.” I smiled back, “I don’t think he’ll get over it, Ed. In fact, I know he won’t. You see, Gil feels our reputation is at risk here, and I have to agree with him. That reputation is worth a heck of lot more then five million bucks in this business.” Ed just smiled, “I was just making a suggestion, John. I guess you have to do what you think is right.”
Ed left and two minutes later Danny walked in. He just smiled at me and said, “Ed was just telling me about the predicament you’re in. We talked it over, John, and here’s what I think we can do to help you out of this. I’ll tell Gil that me, Ed and John talked over, and I decided to sent it out that way, on my authority.” I was deeply touched that Danny and my colleagues were willing to lay down their lives for me, and I told Danny so. Then I added quite politely, “I’m afraid Danny that won’t stop Gil from firing me. All that will do is get you guys dragged across coals in the aftermath. You see, I know I’m a dead man here. Either way I go, I’m fired. But there is one redeeming factor. At least I get to choose the means of my own demise. So I’ve already decided to go out doing the right thing.”Danny knew I was right, so he offered a sympathetic smile, “Okay John. But if there’s anything you think we can do, let me know.” Then he slowly walked off shaking head, silently morning my inevitable passing.
The clock was ticking down, so I braced myself for the final assault. I didn’t have long to wait. Thirty seconds after the door closed behind Danny, it suddenly swung open again. There, in the doorway stood Mr. Malcolm, with John in tow. He instantly gave me snarling stare and growled, “Boy! What is the problem?” I calmly replied, “I’m afraid I can’t send out that story on our release paper with your name as the contact, sir. I can only send it out if John Gunther’s name is up there.” He relaxed the snarl a little and smiled, “Son! Let me explain a few things to you. I am responsible for this story. Mr. Gunther here don’t know diddley squat about it. I’m the man with all of the answers.” Once more , I replied in a calm manner, “ I understand that, and I sure Mr. Gunther will defer any questions he can not answer, directly to you.” The snarl quickly returned,“Let me explain this another way. I am the client, and my boss is paying for this, and he wants you to put my name up there.” Maintaining my cool, I replied, “I’m afraid you’re mistaken about that, sir. Your boss is paying us to do the job right, and to do that, my boss says John’s name goes up there.”
By now several of my colleagues, and just about everyone else in the office were viewing the situation. He quickly replied, “Where is your boss?” I answered, “He’s in transit and can’t be reached.” Naturally, that comment set off an explosion. First, Mr. Malcolm turned to John and growled, “Can’t you fire this dumb ‘SON OF A GUN’?” John meekly replied, “I can’t.” Then he turned to the growing audience, “Is there anybody here who can fire this dumb ’SON OF A GUN’?” Everyone around the room shook their heads no. He then quickly flew into a tirade, “What kind of screwball, blankety, blank company is this? Are you all telling me this ‘DARN’ kid is running the place?” Then he turned his attention to Evelina, “You there! Can you get this story out for me?” Evelina glanced at me, and smiled back at him, “No, Mr. Malcolm. I don’t know how to do that.” He quickly turned back me, and relaxed for a second. He took deep breath and smiled, “Okay partner! What do we have do here to get this story out.” I replied, “We can do one of two things. We can put your name on the contact line, if the story goes on your release paper.” He quickly interrupted, “Do you have our release paper?” I answered, “No.” “Well, then what’s the other thing we can do?” “We can run it on our release paper with John’s name and number as the contact.” “Then where does my name go?” “ At the bottom of the story. It simply reads, “For The Company: Mr. Malcolm plus your phone number.” He gave it a few seconds of thought while staring at his watch, then he barked, “Okay! Let’s do it then!”
I gave him a smile and said, “You got it, sir.” He relaxed and stared at me for a second, then he smiled and offered his hand, “You know partner, I was thinking you’re either the dumbest fool I’ve ever met, or one heck of a gutsy guy.” Then he added as we shook hands, “I don’t shake hands with fools, John.” After that everything ran like clock work.
We made the deadline, and wire services started to run the story while it was still being sent on the teletype. It wasn’t over yet though, and I knew it. A short while later I sitting with Gil Baker at his desk in the news room, proofing a story with him. I had been watching Mr. Malcolm and John in his office laughing and smiling as they read the published wire stories. Suddenly, I looked to my right and a gentleman sporting a crew cut walked into the news room.
The guy was wearing khaki slacks, white shirt and tie, blue blazer, white socks and brown loafers. He was accompanied by two other gentlemen in three piece suits. He was grinning from ear to ear, and paused for a second to view the surroundings. Then Mr. Malcolm and John waved to him from the window.
The entourage quickly made a bee line for John’s office and closed the door behind them. Through the window I could see that the fellow with the crew cut seemed to be overwhelmed with joy, as Mr. Malcolm handed him one wire story after another. Then I watched his expression instantly change and Mr. Malcolm’s face suddenly turn red. I could see that Mr. Malcolm had just handed his boss the actual release. Even Gil took note of the activities in John’s office at that point.
The guy with the crew cut kept looking over at me through the window with a contemptuous look on his face. He kept sneering at me and then turning back to growl at Mr.Malcolm. Gil and I just looked at each other, and I smiled, “Well, it was nice working with you, Gil.”
Two minutes later, they all left John’s office and walked into Danny’s. In his long career, Danny had met these people before, so it was just a friendly visit. A minute or two later, Danny walked them around the news room and made some introductions. Then he brought them over to Gil’s desk. First he introduced them to Gil, and Gil shook everyone’s hand. Then one by one he introduced them to me and I shook their hands, up until it came to the gentleman with the crew cut.
When I offered him my hand he immediately put his hands on his hips and stared down at my shoes. Then he slowly ran his eyes all the way up to mine. He just stared me in the eye and offered a disapproving sneer. Then he turned away without a word, and barked, “Come on people, I have things to do.” Both Danny and Mr. Malcolm gave me an apologetic look before walking off with him. I was finished with Gil, so I just went back to my office.
It was now eleven o’clock and the story was already a smashing success. But that “spoiled brat that didn’t get his way behavior” told me it wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot. Naturally, Mr. Busch arrived after the entourage had departed the news room. As was his usual routine, Gil’s first stop was Danny’s office to get a run down on the morning’s events. Danny started to brief him, but before he could finish, Gil exploded and stormed into my office.
He quickly thundered from the doorway, “What In The ‘HECK” Did I Tell You?’ I calmly replied, “What’s the problem, Mr. Busch?” He started to fly into a thundering tirade, and for the first ever, I raise my voice and shouted back at him, “Wait A Second! What Release Are You Talking About?” He shouted back, “Give A Copy Of That ‘DARN’ Brokerage Sale Story.” I said. “It’s the first story on the table there.” He walked over to the table and picked up a copy of the release as his mouth was widening to unleash another barrage. But the barrage didn’t come, instead everything just went silent, and he walked out the door without another word. I guess he went back to Danny’s office to let him finish the story.
Five minutes later Gil came back into my office with Danny at his side. Once more he bellowed, “Come over here, young man.” I walked over to him and he suddenly offered his hand. I shook it and he smiled, “You sir, are a man of integrity.” Then he just turned and started to walk towards the door, while Danny and I stood there in awe. When Gil reached the doorway he turned once more and smiled back at me, “And John, I apologize.” Danny was totally dumbfounded. He just turned to me with a bedazzled look on his face and said, “ I’ve known that man for over thirty years, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard him use the words “I” and “apologize” in the same sentence.”
The final lesson came when Gil demonstrated his integrity. It was around three o’clock that very same afternoon. That’s when the president of our company, and vice president of advertising came down to demand my head as peace offering for the man with the crew cut.
They walked right into Gil’s office and closed the door behind them. No one in the news room could hear what they were saying. But everyone in the office could hear exactly what Gil was saying, door or no door. The windows shook, and the doors rattled for about five minutes. When it was over Gil escorted the two gentlemen down the hallway to the elevators with, “I am glad you gentlemen were able to agree with my position and see things my way. If there is anything else I can help you with please me let know. My door is always open, gentlemen.”
In the end, the story made the headlines of The Wall Street Journal, and the front page of the New York Times. Not only that, but we didn’t lose that account either. Later, I eventually left the firm of my own accord. But that’s another story for another time.
Oh, and for those of you who are wondering what ever happened to that mean little guy with the crew cut. Well, he actually ran for President of the United States some years ago, and didn’t quite make it. Needless to say, he didn’t get my vote. To Be Continued......