“Drugs Make You Laugh”
I once worked in Pharmaceutical Advertising. All I can say is I needed the money, and this was long before people had Kickstarter to support themselves with.
I started on a Monday at an agency we’ll call “Drug U.” I was sat down by my bosses, Mr. Jerry and Mr. Tom in my very own cubicle and told to search stock photo sites for images of elderly people having a good time.
“These images are to be used in drug ads that show how elderly people enjoy life thanks to drugs.” Tom instructed me.
“Heh!” I let out at that, but noticed my bosses did not find the humor in that.
“Smiles.” Jerry said stone faced. “People don’t smile much here until Friday.
Friday is Free bagel day,” Tom explained.
Thus, while my bosses sat in their respective offices with the suspicious sounds of REO Speedwagon coming from within, I searched the Internet for images of elderly people having fun. I did it with a smile too. I didn’t have to wait till Friday to smile.
I found many images of elderly people enjoying themselves. Old men planting flowers, chasing kids of their lawns and enjoying REO Speedwagon reunion concerts. At this point, I was instructed to paste said images of elderly folk into proposed advertising concept and add a glowing halo of the drug’s brand colors around their bodies to emphasize the wonderful effects of said Pharmaceutical. I don’t have to tell you how beautiful this looked.
After lunch on Monday, I was still smiling and attempting to make friends with other art directors and copy editors. It wasn’t easy, as this was long before TV shows such as Mad Men taught us all how to deal with Don Drapers or Pete Campbells. Although, now having seen Mad Men, I realize that the only character from the show I can compare to the people who worked at Drug U mostly resembled that character in season two who drank so much that he pissed him self during a meeting and they had to fire him. The only difference at Drug U was that they didn’t fire people for pissing themselves.
Tuesday, a senior person we will call, ‘Fred’ came around and took an interest in what I was doing. “That looks beautiful.” He lied as he made stabbing gestures at his eyes.
‘Ah! A real person who understands! My first real friend at my new job!’ I thought to myself with joy. He asked if I could put all the files relating to the ‘Drug that may cause anal leakage job’ in his folder as he needed to tweak the copy.
“Turns out, that drug doesn’t cause quite as much anal leakage as originally thought.” He said with a belly laugh. We both laughed and smiled! And here it was only Tuesday.
“Sure, I can do that!” I said as he high fived me with his eyes and headed to his office. ‘Perhaps he would stop by tomorrow’ I thought. ‘We could talk about how attractive women’s breasts are and seal the deal on our blossoming maybe work place friendship.’
Wednesday came and my two bosses, Mr. Jerry and Mr. Tom where in a tizzy. They moved about the office talking to everyone in hushed nervous tones like overly medicated old ladies who had found a cockroach in the egg salad. They eventually came to talk to me about my possible, maybe new friend, Fred.
“Fred! Yes, Fred,” I said with a smile, very proud about how people liked and were drawn to me. “Fred is my friend. We’ll probably have lunch together some time soon.”
“Fred no longer works here.” Mr. Jerry said. Turns out, Fred had realized that he was to be fired the day before, and took the files of every job he could get his hands on with him to what ever competing agency would hire him next.
“Yes…” My smile may have wavered a bit. “I gave him all the files he asked for. He high fived me with his trusting eyes so it all seemed very… consensual.” They looked at each other like parents who just discovered their adult son hasn’t been wearing under wear since age seven. I quickly distracted them from my failure with some truly fantastic photos I found of happy elderly couples doing super happy things in a woodsy grove with unicorns.
Thursday, I was trying to work on three urgent jobs involving greasy discharge and how to make elderly people happy about such things, when I spotted Mr. Jerry and Mr. Tom again moving about the office in another tizzy talking in hushed tones. They moved to my cubicle looking serious. “We have a serious question for you.” Jerry asked me with an intense tone that triggered a bit of greasy discharge on my end of things. “We wondered,” his pal Tom interjected, “what your favorite solo album by a former member of The Eagles was?” Apparently, the radio or the Internet had a poll and the results of said poll upended their sense of balance in this universe where the two of them obviously smoked pot for lunch.
“I haven’t worn underwear since I was seven.” I said as I lay down to take a nap in an obvious effort to get fired. But unfortunately, Thursday ended with me still hard at work spell checking dangerous drug side effects such as ‘headaches, paranoia, disinterest in living, diarrhea, and Glen Frey.
Friday, Free bagels came and everyone stampeded to the kitchen to get their favorite type. Later, when I showed up to get mine, but Mr. Jerry and Mr. Tom were in the kitchen talking about which Boston album cover had the best art. I quietly snuck back to my desk sans bagel.
Later on Friday, Mr. Tom quietly came by to tell me that he was sneaking home early. He found out that TBS was showing a James Bond marathon all weekend and he intended to take the phone off the hook, eat chips and watch every minute of it because his life was actually that shitty.
I didn’t smile much after that until Drug U eventually went under and we all moved on except my bosses who, last I heard, were trying to get tickets to an Asia reunion tour.
Years later, I’m writing and illustrating graphic novels and children’s books. I often speak to teens at high schools or libraries about my work. I tell them about jobs I’ve had in the past. I say, “I once worked in Pharmaceutical Advertising.” Their faces remain blank and unimpressed. “Pharmaceutical advertising,” I continued in an attempt to clarify and not lose their span of short attention, “is specifically about selling drugs. The place I worked created a lot of ads to show how drugs can make old people happy.” And with that, my young audience bursts out in loud and sometimes uncontrollable laughter.