Early in the time of balanced budgets and the remarkable rise of the NASDAQ we were given polo shirts of quality cotton with the agency's logo stitched on the left breast. The shirt was for some team event and everyone wore it out of company pride. After the event was over, it was uncommon to see anyone wearing that polo again - not because we had lost our company pride, but because it was vaguely embarrassing to be seen wearing something everyone knew had been given to you for free. After all, our portfolios were stuffed with NASDAQ offerings and if our parents had only been able to buy us outfits from Sears, we could now afford Brooks Brothers and had no need for free shirts. We gave them to the Goodwill or they languished in our drawers or we put them on to mow the lawn. A few years later,Tom Mota exhumed his company pride polo from some box of clothes under his bed. Likely he found it when the Mota chattels were being divided up by order of a judge. He wore it to work. He had worn the polo along with the rest of us on that polo-wearing day, but his life had changed dramatically since then and we thought it was an indication of where his head was at that he didn't mind being seen in a shirt most of us used to wash our cars. It really was a very handy cotton. Then Tom wore the same shirt the next day. We wondered where he was sleeping. On the third day, we were concerned about his showering. When Tom passed an entire week in the same polo, we expected it to give off an odor. But he must have been washing it, and we pictured him bare-chested at the Laundromat watching his one polo turn in the dryer, because his wife wouldn't let him return to his Naperville home.
By the end of the month, we figured out finally it had nothing to do with Tom's divorce. Thirty straight days in the same corporate polo - it was the beginning of Tom's campaign of agitation.
"You ever going to change out of it?" asked Benny.
"I love this shirt. I want to be buried in it."
"Would you take mine, at least, so you can switch off?"
"I would love that," said Tom.
So Benny gave Tom his polo, but Tom didn't use it to switch off. Instead he wore Benny's on top of his own. Two polos, one under the other. He approached the rest of us and solicited our polos as well. Jim Jackers grasped at any opportunity to ingratiate himself, and soon Tom was walking around in three polos.
"Lynn Mason's starting to ask questions," said Benny.
"Company pride," said Tom.
"But three at a time?"
"You don't know what's in my heart," said Tom, pounding his fist against the corporate logo three times. "Company pride."
Some days green was on top, some days red, some days blue. Later we found out he was the one responsible for taping the sunshine roll to the back of Joe's bookshelf. He was responsible for many things, including changing everyone's radio stations, making pornographic screensavers, and leaving his seed on the floor of the men's rooms on sixty and sixty-one.We knew he was responsible because once he was laid off, the radios went unmolested and the custodians no longer complained to management.
It was the era of take-ones and tchotchkes. The world was flush with Internet cash and we got our fair share of it. It was our position that logo design was every bit as important as product performance and distribution systems. "Wicked cool" were the words we used to describe our logo designs. "Bush league" were the words we used to describe the logo designs of other agencies - unless it was a really well-designed logo, in which case we bowed down before it,much like the ancient Mayans did their pagan gods. We, too, thought it would never end.
Copyright © 2007 by Joshua Ferris. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Little Brown and Company.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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