“Anyway, he says to me, Ian, you are one of the brightest account guys to ever work at this agency, but until you learn to dress like a gentleman, your career here is washed-up.
Where do you buy those clothes? God, in that get-up I wouldn’t send you to talk with the American Dairymen’s Association—and those clodhoppers work knee-deep in cow shit all day!”
We crack up in unison. Ian howls, displaying his nicotine-stained teeth.
“So what in the world did you do, Ian?” one of the guests asks.
“I hotfooted it to the nearest Brooks Brothers, told those guys that my career was in their hands. Well, I tell you, in no time those haberdashers had me looking like that fellow—what’s his name?—in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.”
Everyone nods and smiles and conjures up whatever image Ian’s simile triggers in their minds.
“Gregory Peck,” I say.
Ian turns to me with those feral eyes—I have committed a no-no by interrupting the rhythm of his story.
“What did you say?”
“I said that The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit was played by Gregory Peck.”
“I see . . . well, is there anything else you’d care to add?”
“Well, the movie was based on a novel written in 1955 by a guy named Sloan Wilson. It was an expose of a man, the Peck character, trying desperately to break out of the mindless conformity of the business world after WWII. It became a best seller.”
“Is that all, Mr. Stallworth?”
“It was beautifully written.”
Ian gives me a look that would freeze the heart of a mastodon. I back off sheepishly.
“Sorry to interrupt your story, Mr. McDonald. The book and the movie are my all time favorites. I really would like to hear the end of your story.”
Ian flashes a patriarchal smile. Just the right amount of obeisance from me.
“So anyway, I walk back into J. Walter Thompson the next day, and it was as though the Red Sea had parted at my feet.”
Everyone, especially me—lifetime subscriber to Gentleman’s Quarterly—knows what he means.
“In no time I became the youngest account supervisor in the history of that ad agency on the Ford Motor Company account—a cornerstone account since 1943. My career skyrocketed.”
Gregory stands next to Ian and puts his arm around his partner’s shoulder. Ian winces slightly and stands up straighter. His eyes go stony.
“When Ian came south to open this agency, the local ad community turned a cold shoulder. Most saw him as just another carpetbagger come to town.”
Ian nods his head and smirks, reliving some of those early rebuffs in his mind’s eye and forgiving not one of them.
“That’s right, and we’ve had 25 straight years of uninterrupted growth. Which is a hell of a lot better than any of these local yokels can boast.”