That’s Bob Sherman, the man responsible for hiring me into my first real job on Madison Avenue, thus becoming the father of what would turn out to be a madcap, decades long career.
As the colorful and decidedly ballsy president of WNYC during the 70s-early 80s, he was responsible for hiring a couple of others too. Notably Don Imus and Howard Stern. But that’s another story.
When I met Bob he had made a half-step away from the media business to enter the (by comparison) slightly tamer advertising business, forming a partnership with his friend Jerry Della Femina.
It was 1985ish and I was working as the Jr Writer/only writer for a small subsidiary of Della Femina, Travisano. It was a sort of Mom & Pop housed in the corner of one of the three skyscraper floors occupied by the larger agency. I had met Bob on a few occasions, doing work for his clients “on loan” from my formal masters. It was lunchtime, after-hours work, but because it was Bob I loved it. Barely north of 20 and full of piss and powdered energy, it felt like being pulled from the minors, if only for a few hours, a few assignments at a time.
One day I arrived at the office to find I had been fired. Seems the son of Pop (partner at Mom & Pop) had lost his copywriter job at Leo Burnett in Chicago. But never fear. Pop had a job for him in New York. Mine.
[Factually, I didn’t have this information at the moment, it would only come later that day]
Stepping into the elevator, still numb from the shock and toting my handful of personal items in my biker bag, there was Bob.
"You look like somebody shot your dog."
"I just got fired."
The big, like, baseball-mitt-big finger of this former military policeman pressed into my sternum.
"You go have a drink, have lots of drinks, but have your ass in my office by 5 o’clock."
And there I was, calmed but unconsoled by alcohol, at the assigned time. Bob smiled the smile that was his trademark; equal parts angel and The Dancing Devil Himself.
"What do you want your title to be?"
"What do you want on your business card, kid? You’re hired. I found out what that schmuck pulled and no, not a chance. I’ve been looking for a way to poach you for months, anyway."
We settled on Associate Creative Director. Not as impressive as the full-on Creative Director title Bob wanted for me, but I felt it more credible as someone who had started the day as a “junior” writer. And I didn’t then, wouldn’t ever, have Bob’s undiluted brand of chutzpah.
He’d come into my office “to see what you’ve got.” We’d present the tissues and thumbnails. Bob would make a pained face then dip in to my wastebasket to find the crumpled remnants of the more insane ideas I didn’t have the nuts to show him. He’d flatten them out on my desk.
"This one! Why’d you throw THIS one away? We’re selling this one."
And we would. More honestly…
Then one day, out of nowhere (where I’ve since learned everything comes from) the man, not yet 50, told me he was retiring. Walking away from the Rolex Row of the New York ad agency world to run a little radio station in Buttfuck. Because that’s what he wanted to do.
He paused thoughtfully, his face taking on a zen, almost beatific aspect as he calmly drew a breath and said…
“Bosha, sooner or later, you’ll get tired of smiling at assholes.”
The last time I spoke with Bob was in 2009 or ‘10. We had kept up a spotty correspondence at best since parting company in the mid 90s.
But tonight, for reasons it took this writing to understand, I couldn’t get him off my mind. His number is still in my phone, however just calling seemed pushy. I’d hit the web first, maybe say hi on LinkedIN or something.
A couple keystrokes and I found him.
Bob Sherman had passed away in August of 2011.
Happy Fathers Day, Bob.
You taught me that bad guys shouldn’t win, titles don’t matter and good ideas don’t belong in the garbage.
And you’ll never, ever have to smile at another asshole.