Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chicago, our first international move

In 1963 we went to Chicago from NY, it was our first international assignment, at least that’s what it felt like.
Being a New Yorker, even worse a Brooklynite, Chicago seemed like a foreign country.

I hade a great offer from an ex boss that I respected, he was the executive Creative Director of McCann, so Chicago couldn’t be that bad. It wasn’t.

Jeannine and I set off for the first of our many moves; most after this were really international. London, Madrid, Milan, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Mexico city, Columbia, Athens…this one.

It is hard to imagine that Chicago would seem like a foreign country, but if you are a typical New Yorker anything else is the other side of the moon.

We arrive and find a great apartment on the near north side, two blocks from the lake, tenth floor, great view, even overlooking Hugh Hefner’s mansion.

Playgirls sunned themselves on the roof, Chicago is not bad, and as a matter of fact it is starting to look great, remember this is the summer.

Topless bunnies!

Nothing like this in Brooklyn.

This is summer, unfortunately winter arrives very quickly. Windy, cold, snowy, we have that in NY, but we are called the big apple and Chicago is the windy city and it is. That wind off the lake will knock you down and it does.

First a wind story, there is a copywriter, good guy, talented…but he had a terrible comb-over, OK, you know what is coming.

He always wore a hat when he went out, his hair on one side went below his shoulder, and he made Trumps hair look natural. He meticulously protected his hair, carefully sprayed, avoided convertibles etc. but it was the windy city after all, it was inevitable.

We are on the way to a client and on Michigan Avenue looking for a cab, and it happens, hat goes down the street, I am protecting the layouts, which were acting like sails. I look up and it happened, his hair is on his shoulder and his skull is shinning, nothing, zip not a hair. I become a teenage girl and start laughing like an idiot all the way to the client. I am such a shit; I keep lifting his hair up as soon as he repositions it.

God I was a bad guy. Chicago brought out the worst in me.

The cold, and it was cold especially with that wind, and now the snow, my God it could not have been worse.

One night I come home and we need to take the car out, it is snowing freezing and icy, no garage, I am trying to put the key into a frozen lock in the door, no luck…solid ice.

 I ask our doorman if he has anything to defrost the lock, some kind of Chicago deicer. He looks at me and says, “Everybody pees on their locks.” Must be a Chicago deicer thing, I figure he is joking and I ask him again, “everybody pees on their locks, Mr. Birbil, really.” He says, very seriously.

I go out, walk the half block to my car, wind coming off the lake is freezing, and I look around to make sure I am alone.

I pee on my car door lock, the key slips in and works, I unlock my car. I look down the street and there are two other guys standing suspiciously close to their cars front door.

Chicago deicer…the doorman was right, pee on the lock, but do it fast.

We had a traffic guy that was promoted to junior account guy. I was presenting some work to the account group, we had the Peter Pan peanut butter account. I was suggesting that we use Zero Mostel as Peter Pan. I thought it was a great idea, the account group asks the new guy to comment.

Yesterday I knew him as the traffic guy, today he is supposed to comment on my work. He tears into it, putting on a show for the account group, “It will not work, it is wrong for the brand.” He goes on and on about how wrong it is. He is probably right but I couldn’t resist, I look at him and say,

“Harold, I can see my face in your fingernails.”

He had gotten a manicure for his new job and I sarcastically pointed it out and put him down. I still remember that moment 47 years ago and still cringe.

I really enjoyed Chicago, it was the start of our international life, our son was born there and we made some great friends and did some good ads.

Next was London, slightly more international than Chicago…our son was only thirty days old when we went.

Not as windy, certainly not as cold and no peeing on car locks, much stronger accents and even a foreign language.


  1. Great piece, Now that is really you, the true Greg. Funny as hell. I loved it. Thanks buddy, you made my day.

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  3. Great stories Gregg... you have someone chuckling their socks off here in London...Please keep them coming.

  4. Hi Gregg, Remember me we went to PS 80 and Mark Twain in Coney Island. Found your Blog on Coney Island Memories. Been a lot of years, I fondly remember your parents ice cream parlor. Hope all is well. I can be contacted through my website if you want to talk old times.