Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ad Floormats & Biblical Cords

Soon after I moved to the Orlando area, I got a job at Stonebrook Advertising. I was a hardline and ad layout artist. I drew everything but fashion. Shoes, TVs, stereos, furniture, jewelry and that sort of stuff. We did work exclusively for the Belk Lindsey department store chain. My boss was Glen Stone. There was another office in Tampa which was headed by a guy named Doug Middlebrook. Doug had his own single engine plane. One time he flew us from Orlando to Daytona Beach and let me pilot it for a few minutes on the way back. My boss, Mr. Stone, turned as white as a ghost. I went up and down and left to right. It was neat. Mr. Stone was known as just that, Mr. Stone. No one ever called him by his first name. I think his wife even called him Mr. Stone. He was quite the character. For a guy who had been in the advertising business so long, you would think he would know the term 'format.' No, they were 'ad floormats.' He always wore those shiny silk suits. Quite the fancy dresser, he was. One Saturday morning, one of the employees dropped by his house for some reason. There he was, outside cutting the grass, in a white shirt and tie. He was from Kentucky and was awarded the ceremonial title of Kentucky Colonel. Another one of his quirky phrases was biblical cord instead of umbilical cord. Oh well, he was from the back hills of Kintuk.

Every morning, he would come in at 10 o'clock and make a beeline for the freezer. We could hear him cracking the ice cube tray and dumping a few in his glass. He would then go into his office and pour himself just about the cheapest vodka you could buy. That was his day. He didn't really do anything else but drink. He'd come up to me sometimes and ask if I could do a design for him. It was usually personal, like the time he wanted something for his son's flying club. They were glider pilots and I think it was for t-shirts. I came up with 'Easy Glider' or something like that. "Now, I'm not in a hurry or anything. I know you're busy, so next week or the week after is just fine with me," he would insist. It only took me one time to learn that he meant DO IT NOW! That afternoon, he asked me if I had done it yet. "No," I said. "Well, GD it, why not? I told you I wanted it!" One time. That's all it took.

Mr. Stone got into a little DUI trouble a couple of times. I remember they took his license away for 5 years. Guess who had to drive him everywhere? His wife would drop him off in the morning and pick him up later. The part I hated the most was being forced to drive him to his girlfriend's house every day at lunch. His girlfriend brought him back. Because of that, I really started to dislike the man for what he was doing to his lovely, church-going wife.

I guess the state made him go into some sort of substance abuse program. They put him on a drug called ANTABUSE . Here's where it gets tricky. Once he went on that drug, he had to give up drinking. Antabuse has some really serious side effects, like copious vomiting. I knew it wouldn't last long. Well, he did give up drinking vodka. He no longer drank at work. I never heard the clunk of ice cubes again. Instead, he would go to his girlfriend's house at lunch and drink wine, probably a rotgut varietal. As soon as she dropped him off, he would race into the bathroom and puke his guts out. I had the misfortune of sitting on the other side of the bathroom wall. I could hear everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. We won't go into that. His daily ritual went on for months. Every day he'd come back from "lunch" and rush into the bathroom. I knew it had to be bad for him, especially his heart. At 66, he was developing heart trouble that his doctor kept in check.

One morning I came in. At 9 o'clock, everyone went out for breakfast. I stayed in to answer the phones. We all took turns doing it that way. The phone rang. It was his partner in Tampa, Doug Middlebrook. He asked me, "Dave? Are you sitting down?"


"Well you need to."


"Mr. Stone passed away last night."


"What happened?"

"He and his wife retired for the evening. She went into the bathroom to take her shower and when she came out she checked in on him, but he was already gone." They had slept in separate bedrooms for years, unbeknownst to me. "It was a massive heart attack."

I was shocked, but not surprised. I had warned him of the damage he was probably doing to himself, to no avail. I had the unfortunate task of sitting everyone down when they returned to pass on the sad news. In spite of his quirks and cheating on his wife, I guess I really liked him. The funny thing is, the day he died, he didn't go to lunch and I sat in his office for hours, chatting up a storm. I was the only other male there, so he had a penchant and fondness for chewing the fat with me. I'm glad I had that final chance.

A month went by and someone had to take his place, although I'm not really all that sure why. A woman who worked there for many years was promoted to his position. He had a little cubby hole in the back of his office that no one (except me) was allowed to go into. He had his stacks of Playboy magazines and God knows what else. Another woman I worked with asked me if I'd take her in there to see what it was like. I said, sure, why not? There was an air conditioner duct that was exposed directly under the ceiling with, maybe, a half inch gap. She looked up and said, "What's that?" I told her I didn't know. I reached up and pulled out an envelope. Inside were very, very graphic Polaroids of his very, very naked girlfriend. I won't elaborate. She looked at them and gagged. I ran them out to the dumpster, tearing them up along the way. No way did that girlfriend ever want to have anyone else look at them. We went back to work and never spoke to anyone about that incident. It remained our secret.

A few weeks later, we hired a handyman to renovate the office and open up that tiny room. While the guy was in there working, he came out with another envelope. Good thing for his honesty. Inside, was $3,000. The guy's name is Steve Somerset. I'll never forget it because of his honesty and work ethic. The guy was just plain good at what he did. We called Mr. Stone's wife and told her of the windfall. She said, "You know? I'm finding all kinds of money hidden all over the house. In a sock in his dresser. Taped up on the bottom of the tray in his tool box. All kinds of weird places." I think he used this stash to buy things for his girlfriends over the years.

He's been gone for 15 years now, so I don't really feel I'm infringing on him personally by relating this story. He was cremated and there was no service of any kind, so it's not like I'm walking on his grave or anything. His wife moved far away. Besides, I think he would want people to know what alcohol can do to you if you let it take away your life.

Good ol' Mr. Stone. He sure was a quirky guy.

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