Lisa worked in advertising.
Big, commercial advertising.
She was a music producer for Ogilvy & Mather WW, in midtown Manhattan.
And, she’d been my college housemate.
I can remember the accounts. Winter Olympics. Huggies Disposable Diapers. And, the piece de resistance: Folger’s Coffee…..the first, serial ad in anybody’s memory, complete with installments which brought a sweet couple together forever ( everybody hoped.) Hardly a word ever spoken. Just that knock on the door; a lot of deep, eye gazing; and, the music, underscoring the whole story.
Lisa was always quiet around people. Like, silent. Applied music/flute morphing into a degree in sound, she was an aural learner, storing endless loops of tunes and calling them to mind in an instant. Rising to rank after assisting Faith, who retired to open a B&B in Santa Fe, her working girl day began with meetings. The video would either already be complete, or clients sat at table describing what they envisioned. Within minutes, Lisa would have several ideas, heading to the agency library to pull four or five reels for their perusal. One chosen, the edit would begin.
She performed all this grandly important work in the name of international (they had offices in London and LA, as well) product presentation. And I, her loyal housemate all those years prior, wondered with admiration and pride. There would never be a TV ad, from that point until the big layoff after her David was born, that didn’t pique my attention and respect.
Last week, CNN was drumming along in the background as I finished the pre-holiday preparations. These days, what with the new pause and rewind options provided by cable, I was wont to mute and FF when the commercials kicked in.
But, this one caught me.
A certain, familiar insurance company having dispensed with its inane gecko for the holidays, the goofy lizard had been displaced by two humanoids. Seated shoulder to back on a laminate floor, faux [ electrically flickering ] fireplace behind, equally faux brass poke and stoke set alongside, laminate paneling, the gushing couple faced camera holding drinks. The only notable feature of the man being his Persian blue contac lenses, the woman by contrast was bedecked: polyester ski sweater over a starched, button down shirt, outsized faux coral hoop earrings, haircut overgrown just enough to have required large rollers for shape, jeans and, just as the camera pulled back – knee high, faux leather, heeled boots.
Their only dialogue byte to pull me out of my stream of subconscious was a reference to “starring in a real commercial”. Might it have been the angle of her jaw, or the artificial lilt in her voice? I stared, momentarily, at her face. Suddenly, it all came together.
Perhaps I’d taken one too many cheap flight connections from Detroit to parts east. Maybe fussed just a bit too much getting strapped onto my seat in coach. But, somebody was watching. Somebody who’d replaced one of Lisa’s coworkers in video all those years ago. I didn’t have to take any bait, from GEICO or anybody else. Somebody, as I stood in the shoot waiting for my orange ductape labeled Travelocity carry on, saw me and said: “Ope. There she is. There’s our girl.”
Cheese is a favorite of mine. I like them all. Brie; Havarti; Colby Jack; Muenster; Feta; Goat; New York Sharp. If you need cheese, or cheesy, just call me. I’ll be sitting by the phone, branded, waiting for the role of your lifetime.
c 1/1/19 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, somebody who looks exactly like the person she isn’t, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting original material.
It takes all kinds.
And, I’m glad to say so.
What if we were all reticent and deferential? In America, we’d be stuck on a street corner, bowing and gesturing for the other to cross. Crowds would form. Traffic would stall. Chaos to commerce. Only the strong would survive. Finally, one lone person, likely among the shortest, would push through the throng and head across the road, shaking his or her head in disbelief at the inefficiency of it all. That would be the Italian.
For every proponent of tolerance, acceptance, and the next festival in celebration of diversity there’s an old Dago who sits, reading the paper and chuckling. Somebody brings him a sandwich. Talking with his mouth full, he’ll tell you what for. He knows. He’s Italian. We always do.
For the final decade of my twenty five in public education, I worked at an elementary school at the cusp of the county line. Demographically, there were few Italians living over there. True to their history in our town, the surviving generations were still maintaining their family homes closer to the center of the west side. I remember being told by my then very blonde and fair skinned boss that I was “a bit harsh.”
Nobody at the other school, over in Little Italy, would have called me by that moniker. Everybody who worked there or ran that building told it like it was. There was a happy extroversion in that climate. And, the faculty was the most cohesive social group in the entire city. I will never forget the night of my first all school program; there had to have been seven teachers there, all helping run herd, and they’d all organized entirely unsolicited by me. They were led by one woman. She was Italian.
For just under three years, I had a mother in law. She thought Italy was a third world country, and “loved my brown eyed grand children just as much as my blue eyed grandchildren.” Everybody tries, some more than others. But, we’re all different, it’s always easier to stay the way we are, and inherent bias is unavoidable. But, when you cross the line, the Italian will tell you so.
Well, back when civilization was trying to evolve beyond barbarism, there was a people who, though their motive was to establish power, were adept at assessing a situation, identifying its obstacles, and spending intelligent energy and willpower developing a solution. To expand their influence, roads were developed and constructed, the kind which could be traveled beyond the dusty sandal and walking stick. In fact, entire transport systems were created which ultimately established connections, yielding an increase in trade and cultural exchange. Prior to this, there were kings and their extended families, and land owners, and slaves, and the poor – the latter, in droves. These expanding road systems enabled pockets of civilization to become independent and self governing, by virtue of their access to resources which existed, well, down the road. These pockets became known as cities.
Yes. The very structure of workable American society is framed by transit routes and cities. And, we have the Romans, from Italy, to thank for it; their drive to achieve a dominating empire left behind what we now call infrastructure.
Oh, and the next time you look at something beautiful that did not occur in nature, take a moment. Be they paintings, sculpture, even cathedrals, much of the world’s most magnificent works of art were created by Italians. Inlaid tile. Stained glass. Frescoes. Even before Michelangelo and DaVinci, there were artisans. These swarthy, well oiled, slightly hairy brutes did their part to decorate the entire, known world. They frosted the cake.
Yes. Every human frailty eventually makes itself known. There is weakness, right along side strength. Nothing lasts forever, not empires, not even life. But, for every moment constrained by decorum, there will be an emergent crisis. Let’s be ready to thank the personality which steps up. That will, eight times out of ten, be the Italian.
From us, you will get candor. We’ll smile at you in public if you deserve it, and reprimand you in kind. You’ll always know where you stand, with us. We are as proud of our heritage as you are of yours, and we know one more thing. We know the value of preserving that history. We are a part of the greatest generation, in this country we call home, and you can call us by our name. It’s pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled.
© 12/22/18 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name is pronounced “Skan – ZILL – o”, and appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.