"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Feb 27, 2019

Understanding Cohen

Michael Cohen is currently on TV trying to save his skin.  I pity him for some reasons, condemn him for others, and watched the proceedings until I felt nauseous.  I recognize men like Cohen from time served in Manhattan during the 1980's and 90's; relevant to understanding people like Cohen and, more importantly, our President. 

I challenge anyone to dispute that during that time the corporate path to fame and glory frequently bypassed moral and ethical considerations, and hardly anyone batted an eye.  This was the then-World of Donald Trump, and Cohen, and Giuliani.  Watch James Garner's terrific performance in Barbarians at the Gate.

Backstory:  After WWII, my Father attended art school and eventually opened his own graphic design firm in NYC. I left Europe, military life and my second husband in the mid-80's, but gave the excuse that Dad was ill and needed help with his business.  Two weeks later Mom and Sis picked me up at JFK.  

“Where’s Dad?”

“Oh, he has a bit of a cold.”


Dad’s cold turned out to be terminal cancer throughout his body.  My parents weren’t well-off and Dad’s business was a one-man operation so there wasn’t anyone to work on his current accounts, and bills were due both at work and home.  I’d earned some spending money working for him during summers in high school, so I offered to help. For two days I assisted my usually-steady Father around the city for client meetings, but that was all he could manage.  He never went in to his office again.


I finished some artwork, sent out others and contacted his clients, all of who were very sorry to hear about Dad’s illness, but life in advertising must go on.  As they came to express their condolences and take back proprietary artwork, I was terrified Dad would have no business to return to; but as it turned out that wasn’t an issue. Dad was gone six weeks after I returned home.


There wasn’t much inheritance and Mom needed money, so I continued to live with her while Sis and I began temping in Manhattan.  It was clerical work but salaries and opportunities were much better in the city than in suburbia. All I’d known since 18 was life in the military as a Dependent-Wife and Sis had primarily been a housewife and mother. Suddenly there we were amidst all the glitz and glamour of New York City, and it was spellbinding.  The headlines at the time:  Best Sex I Ever Had, courtesy of Marla Maples.  Trump was reveling in the spotlight.

After a number of boring assignments I landed and remained at a Point of Purchase (POP) display and marketing firm on 10th Avenue, midtown.  Anyone familiar with the neighborhood knows it to be sleazy, at least it was at the time.  Sis, on the other hand, worked on Park Avenue.  We’d compare stories over bagels and coffee each morning after our hour-long commute before heading in opposite directions, but tiny-hands-down, my stories Trumped hers in repulsivity, my new word.


I began as an Administrative Assistant, a fancy title for a secretary with a degree (thanks to night school).   I worked for three smooth-talking salesmen who pitched ideas to Fortune 500 companies until, just like the proverbial Mail-room story, hard work and two weeks’ notice finally broke my glass ceiling. (Photos taken by company photographer.)

I became an intern in the Purchasing/Production department and eventually managed multi-million dollar projects around the world. Work was always at fever-pitch, since deadlines are everything when new products are introduced by the likes of Sara Lee or Schering-Plough.  The business was stressful, highly competitive and lucrative.


At the Dunking Booth
It seemed as if everyone was anxious to grab the tiger’s tail and make a fortune, FAST, along with Wall Street.  Personally, I was happy to splurge at Macy's any time I wanted.  In my company we all knew both owners were barnyard animals and many of the standard practices of our company would not have passed muster outside the Tri-State area, but as long as we kept getting raises and bonuses, the Rest Don’t Matter, the underlying doctrine.


Our office parties were pretty wild, too.  There wasn’t much food but the liquor was plentiful.  A Presidential-themed birthday party for one of the owners, complete with Hail to the Chief, was nauseating until the booze kicked in.  Execs with a C or an O in their title joked whether or not they c/should run for office, as Cohen claimed today.  He’s not lying there.  The mentality was dumb; certainly egotistical; and not uncommon.

But hey, it was the 80’s.  I was single, in my ‘30’s with a decent salary, traveling and having a good-old time.  Whatever the owners were doing unethically, if not illegally, wasn’t my concern.  What happened to those undocumented factory workers who were canned prior to government inspections?  Not my department.

Know what people are reacting to in this photo? Me being soundly smacked on the butt as the Conga-line danced by.  Startled and mortified, I almost choked on a mouthful at the buffet table but what could I say against that Department head that wouldn’t spoil the party, not to mention jeopardize my job? Still, my choice, I kept working there.

X-rated cakes, ordered every year for both owner’s birthdays and shared by all.  They were embarrassing to behold but I have a sweet tooth; so I learned to wait until enough people had taken slices so you couldn’t tell what it was anymore.  One Halloween, the head of the Sports department hung a poster outside his office of himself, naked, holding a pumpkin in front of his privates.  After all the tittering upstairs I had to go take a good look myself and sure enough, it was heinous.  I stared at the life size image in uncharacteristic cowboy boots, wondering if he intentionally meant for the pumpkin not to hide all the pubes, ewwwww.

“I am not leaving because of any sexual harassment.”  I handed the company-typed resignation letter back to secretary Pam, who rolled her eyes.  We remembered the young receptionist when she first arrived:  pretty and animated like the others; but once she’d caught the owner’s eye it wasn’t long before she was hooked on hard drugs and not so pretty anymore.  She vanished suddenly, along with a $10,000 payment for services rendered.

I can’t make this stuff up.  Early on, one of those salesmen asked me to take an envelope down to the street, wait outside the building for a courier and exchange the unmarked envelope for a package. I walked out of his office a bit dazed by the request but ready to go, until I remembered the gossip that M. was the Office-Dealer.  I returned the envelope and politely refused, which I was afraid would put me in the dog house, but he just asked another flunky.  I doubt M. would have taken the fall if I’d been caught, and my excuse to the Police would have sounded pretty incredulous for my stupidity, but it was the truth.

I eventually landed a window office (with a view of the Empire State Building), but I was getting tired of that particular rat-race and accepted a one-year assignment to Rotterdam, which led me to Tino.  I left the company shortly after returning from Holland, but kept in touch with my immediate supervisor, who I credit entirely for handing me the hammer which smashed that glass ceiling.


The company went bankrupt some years later and my former inmates have scattered to companies throughout the country, taking along their own outrageous stories.  If a Special Counsel approached me asking about different incidents during that time, I’d probably sound lame like Cohen.  That doesn’t mean to say I think he’s right; or truthful; or justified...it was simply the times...

Talk about lame.  Maybe Cohen has changed.  I don't think anyone would dispute his genuine anguish over the welfare of and harm he's caused his family, but mostly I think he's sorry he was caught.  As for our President?

Time to take out the trash.  Wouldn't you agree?

1 comment:

  1. Wow! FABULOUS post!!! I am in awe of your honesty and the way you made it so very relevant to yesterday's hearing. You should probably find a place to submit this very thought-provoking article. Some of the young people today do not realize that the 80's really were quite different and that responses that are 'reprehensible' or unacceptable now were commonplace back then. Bravo!

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