PLAYING THE GAME: ‘78 was more than a year…

Bob Baker
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Bob Baker is a creative resource in Marblehead whose memoir-in-progress is “Outlucking Gatsby: From Greenwich to The Green Light.”

That expression for “a little bit of everything” — “everything but the kitchen sink.”

The year 1978 was a little of everything for me… including four kitchen sinks. More about the sinks when I get into the significant events that made ’78 for me a little of dis, some of dat, a kick in the butt here, some ice cream there, divided by 3.141617.  

By way of background for the first event, it helps to know that I’d gone out on my own as Baker Advertising in Marblehead in 1974 after 10 years in Boston advertising, during which I’d been creative director of a couple of top agencies and won some significant awards. Saying that will still cost me $1.59 for a small regular at Dunkin, but to people in the trade, it’s standalone meaningful.

Which is why the phone rang in my office at Graves upper yard one October morning in 1975: “Bob, this is Steve Haesche. I live here in Marblehead, and I’m an art director with Jim Mullen who’s got his agency Superfine Productions here. We know about you and like your work, and Jim would like to buy you lunch at the BYC and see if maybe you could help make us known to some people in Boston advertising.”

I had lunch with Steve and Jim and liked them from the get go. Long story short, I set about making some phone calls — and on a parallel track developed a fun friendship with subsequently christened Mullen Advertising located in Beverly Farms.

That’s the background for the “event” that kicked off 1978 for me. A Jan. 6 letter containing a hilarious “press release” Jim had written, headlined: “Mullen Advertising names Baker Advertising its ad agency of record.” One of the funniest lines: “There’s always been something divine about Bob Baker’s work. He even looks a little like Buddha.”

The thing in retrospect that makes that piece of paper so meaningful now is that, in a matter of heartbeats in cosmic terms, Mullen Advertising grew by leaps and bounds and is now a multinational agency (MullenLowe) with $450 million in annual billings. Jim reportedly took himself a retirement allowance of well more than $1,000 in 1999.

The next “event” was the fabled Blizzard of ’78, which blitzed us to the tune of 28 inches in early February. Marblehead was adrift in Winter Wonderland. We trundled our way along, rosy-cheeked pullers of sleds with laugh-giddy kids and whatever groceries first showed the light of Penni’s or Osborne’s. Happy were the bellies that first upped to the first-opened bar which — surprise, surprise — was Maddie’s.

My thumbs-up/thumbs-down event occurred Memorial Day weekend. The thumbs up was the Saturday-Sunday road trip in my trusty International Scout Roger I took with 13-year old good guy Rich and 9 year-old joy bubble Kate. Our destination was Freedom, Maine —

I with an eye to scoping out a family summer getaway place.

We did the scoping and hamburgering and laughing and silly joking and making up storying and more laughing and then getting home on Memorial Day — to my wife, Nancy, telling the kids to go out in the backyard with Grampa and and Nana who were surprisingly there from Newton, and Nancy — looking back on it now, I ache for what she had to do — telling me in the living room that the divorce we both knew was inevitable (we were on East-West life-goal tracks almost from Day One) was in fact underway. Per her lawyer’s instruction, I had two weeks to be out of the house.

As awful as it was at the time, it was the best thing for two good people who were just plain wrong for each other — and good for the kids as well.

But you couldn’t tell me that then — when, 10 days later, I left sink No. 1 of my home at 31 Orne to move into Cotten Morgan’s spare bedroom on Overlook Road’s sink No. 2, and then the very next day had to move across the street to Lane Parker’s spare bedroom at sink No. 3 because No. 2’s landlady told Cotten his lease only allowed him to occupy the No. 2 sinkdom. The blessed sink No. 4 turned itself on for me when I found the studio apartment facing down the harbor in that sturdy barracks-type building on the way up to Fort Sewall.

The next event was a thing of human radiance. I’m exiting the White Hen convenience store one morning right after I got The Word, and advertising client Ken Linn, who owns The Village Decorator home furnishings store, can’t help notice my face is in a slump.

When I woebegonely tell him my woebegone tale of woe, he rests his hand on my shoulder, looks me in my pathetic eyes and says: Wherever you wind up, you’ve got it all furnished, Bob. By me, Bob. Don’t even think about it, Bob. It’s all taken care of, you understand, Bob? Do you?”

Moisture brimmed my eyes with my “thank you, Ken.”

Sparing you the infinite detail, my Fort Sewall place was furnished — daybed, dining table, chairs, drapes of my choice, waste baskets, cooking ware, stainless, etc. etc. — within days of my occupancy.

To top it off, Ken invited me to his son’s bar mitzvah. I had a ball. Inasmuch as I’m Catholic and have a direct pipeline to Pope Francis, I’m — with apology to Ken for the delay — taking this belated opportunity to initiate his candidacy for sainthood.

The next event was a composite related to my fourth anniversary of going out in business on my own. One was a spectacularly illustrated and designed gem of a Baker Advertising Fourth Annual Report.

I told the incredibly geniused Susan Chandler I wanted my fourth annual report the size of a business card. That she did: business card opens to two-fold spanned atop its 10 1/2-inch extent on one side by Susan’s magnificent pen-and-ink of one side of Marblehead Harbor and, on the flip side of the piece, the other side of Marblehead Harbor. Without allusion to anything specific, I ended my comments on the year thanking friends for “being there when it counts.”

The other event related to my fourth anniversary in business was the Saturday night party in November held in my happily funky Our Gang Clubhouse-like office at Graves upper yard decorated with ads and memorabilia from my less-than-usual life.

An hour into the rippling-with-laughter shebang, good buddy Killer Kane and attractive blonde date sidle in.

With a mischievous grin, Killer proffers me an elongated red tissue-wrapped object.

“Happy fourth, Bobby,” he says in his basso profundo growl.

I strip the tissue. It’s a foot-long standard-issue, guy-holding-laurel-wreath-on-high athletic trophy. The plaque on the base reads “19  GREAT RACE — 69 — CANOE 2ND.”

I look at Killer with a wise-ass grin on my face and say, “Hey, Kil, that’s great. Thank you. But Kil, I don’t settle for second in anything, doncha know … heh heh.”

He looks at me with tongue-in-cheek grin.

“Bobby, doncha remember? One of the rules of the Great Race is if you finish in any category first, you have to have cheated … so there is no first-place trophy … second is first!”

That Great Race trophy is one of the prize possessions on one of the Ted’s Root Beer soda crates on the soda-crated-with-funky-nostalgia wall of my current Our Gang Clubhouse residence.

(Killer was one of the founders of the legendary Great Race, a massive wacky race/party-athon from Watertown to Marblehead begun in 1967, which lasted for about 20 years. There’s a terrific article on the Great Race — and Killer — in the June 23, 1975, issue of Sports Illustrated.)

The go-out event in this year of infinite surprise: I matched eyes and smiles with Musique at the ad club Christmas party at the Copley Plaza in Boston in December — 1979 would turn out to be a very good year.

Bob Baker is Baker Advertising in Marblehead, specializing in branding and good humor.

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