It was many, many W-2 forms ago that I had a job as a production artist at an advertising agency. It wasn’t much of a job, and neither was the pay. But I met perhaps the most interesting people in my field.
Most of these people worked in the copyediting department. One was a beautiful lady (both inside and out) who moved on to be a television star and an entrepreneur. Another was the suave gallant from South America who made project management seem unusually sexy and oh so continental. And there was that hilarious gay kid who was a wonderful foil to the charming Charlestonian gay kid.
But the one co-worker who become my muse was Don, the head copy editor. I thought I hated my job more than anyone in the world–that is, until I met this professional wordsmith.
It was a dark and stormy day at the agency, and I was busy making yet another round of frivolous design corrections from a client. As I waited for the massive file to save, an unearthly reverberation rolled from the other end of the dimly lit room. Curious, I looked over the top of my cube toward the noise, not unlike a meercat peering from its hole.
At the other end of the long aisle that traversed the creative department, from a distant cubicle, a bald head crested like a small resurgent dome. Without warning, an angry man emerged from the cubicle with the ferocity of a super-volcanic caldera. He disgorged a hot flowing jet of suphurous epithets that would have made a geologist gasp and clutch his epizoan pearls.
This calderic man waved a fist-full of paper in the air, apparently displeased at the words printed upon them. He bellowed the name of the suave South American, demanding a swift retribution soaked in blood.
Apparently, the agency’s client, a large retail chain who will not be named here, insisted on using their own horrifically mangled copy instead of the succinct and elegant prose that the lead copyeditor had composed. As his paper waving continued, he called into question both the intelligence and the parentage of the client.
With the swiftness of an overly-attentive butler, the suave South American appeared. In his usual debonair style, he assured his colleague that he would talk to the client and bring back a suitable compromise to this most grievous misunderstanding.
The Vesuvian man halted his lava flow of expletives. He cooled, giving a dubious snort and disappeared back into his cubicle. Now was the volcanic winter of his discontent.
As I enjoyed the dramatic collapse of this magma chamber before me, I was awash with inspired amusement. With the ebullience of Gene Belcher, I thought to myself, “I like this man!”
I got to know this passionate copy editor they called Don. He was one witty son-of-a-gun. We bonded over our repulsion of the agency’s clients and our love of photography. We commiserated over the futility of making good work for a client, only to have them completely FUBAR every aspect of the job. Don was truly a mensch’s mensch.
It was this very Don who was my inspiration for Don Gerund, Proofreading Inspector. I shared my idea with the real-life Don, and it was the one magical time I saw the perpetual scowl leave his face. He did everything he could to encourage me to commit the tale to paper, but at that time, the only effort I put into it were some notes and outlines.
Years later, I stumbled across my notes while searching through some drawers for a red clown nose (please, don’t ask). With a smile, I meandered through the pages, coming to the conclusion that now may be just the right time to craft this silly noir parody.
So, please, enjoy the hardboiled mishaps of Don Gerund, P.I. (Proofreading Investigator) in a series of tales I will call The Chicago-Style Overcoat.
Ahh, if only Don could see me now….