Fish Out of Water

In the '80s as an ad exec, she felt a little out of her league. But now in her 60s she's a star player.

by Elizabeth Titus • Member { View Profile }

Call me stupid, but who knew?

The Jets — the football team, not the street gang — have their own flight crew.

You might wonder why I stumbled upon this useful information, via Google, which is increasingly how I know what I know. The Jets Flight Crew are cheerleaders. Duh.

I am a freelance writer, which means that occasionally, I get a call to do some work. I take what I can get. I’m not stupid. So when the call came to write copy for the Super Bowl Host Committee, I was ecstatic. How did they ever find me, I wondered. After all, I am 62 years old, a widow, living in Connecticut. And I confess: I have never been to an NFL game. Or, come to think of it, any kind of football game, at least, since the 1960s. After my daughter’s high-school boyfriend suffered his fourth or fifth or tenth concussion on the football field, I said to myself, enough. Enough with football! Then his mother called me one day, from her book agent’s office, where she was hammering out a deal for a book on sports-related concussions in kids, to ask if I could pick up the dear boy at school because he was having dizzy spells, and I said, this is it!

“Mom,” my daughter said, “I told you his mother is a whack job!”

“Yes, my darling,” I said, “but really, I mean REALLY, she called me to pick him up — from her book agent’s?”

The mother of the football player has a history of transforming her kid’s ailments into books, not exactly best-sellers, but the first one, about raising an allergic kid, seemed to do well and serve a useful purpose.

I took a class on humor writing at the Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute last summer with Dan Zevin, a.k.a. Minivan Dan. It was hilarious, LOL funny. Plus, he is a really, really nice guy. His latest book is Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad (Scribner). He, his wife and their two kids left hipster Brooklyn and moved to Minivan Land in Westchester County. I related, since I had left the Upper West Side of Manhattan after 20 years and moved to Connecticut, land of Suburbans and Range Rovers, which took some getting used to. Dan told the class that one of the most successful comic hooks is “fish out of water,” providing endless possibilities, daily.

I have been a fish out of water for most of my life. I taught high-school English in Philadelphia until I was 30, when it finally hit me that I could not live on $9,000 a year. So I took a big risk (and so did they) and went to Wharton for an MBA, where I studied amidst chemical engineers and investment bankers who knew their calculus. What they did not know was how to write a coherent paragraph, and this is where I stepped in, taking on that role in our endless case study team projects. A perfect solution.

Then I hit Madison Avenue in the 1980s, ready to become a powerhouse ad executive in my corporate suit, bow-tie, and Ferragamo pumps. I landed at a great agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, and had a wonderful few years there. To this day, I stay connected to some DDB people. But there was a serious problem. I never watched TV (and still don’t) or set foot in a supermarket. My brand was Clairol, which relied on share of shelf and coupons. So I had my retired dad down in Ft. Myers, Florida check out the aisles at his local Publix supermarket and cut out coupons from those horrible FSIs — free-standing inserts — and keep me current on the marketplace.

But the truth came out during a client meeting where we were discussing celebrity spokespeople. Clairol’s chief rival then was L’Oreal, and they had Meredith Baxter Birney pitching their Preference brand of haircolor, a source of constant anxiety for the Clairol folks. Who could be Clairol’s Meredith Baxter Birney? When she cooed into the camera about not caring if she paid more, because “I’m worth it,” who could resist?

Clairol had its star, Linda Evans of “Dynasty” fame, and its tagline, “Be the best you’ve ever been,” but she was not Meredith.

Somehow, the names of the Osmonds — yes, Donnie and Marie — came up, and I said that I thought they had divorced.

“Earth to Elizabeth,” my boss said, trying to turn the situation around.

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