Bill Taylor met Alan at Mullaley’s on First Avenue. Mullaley’s was one of those original Irish bars that managed to keep its anonymity. The floors were white, turn-of-the-century bathroom tiles. Old beer posters decorated the oak walls—not the faux posters decorators were putting up in single’s saloons uptown. This was the real thing. But it was a dim colorless place; a place full of promises, envies, and regret.
Rory, the bartender, moved from one end of the bar to another, flipping taps, splashing glasses, sliding a cloth across the shiny wood, then placing a coaster in front of his customers. Alan noticed the illuminated containers of green limes, lemon peels, and maraschino cherries beside the vodka bottles.
“Hey Alan, sorry I’m late.”
Bill Taylor took off his suit coat and draped it over the back of the wooden bar chair and sat down.
“Glad you could make it. As you can see, I couldn’t wait to order. What’ll you have?”
“Scotch on the rocks.” Rory overheard and nodded.
“I can’t believe all this Alan, it blew my mind when I heard.”
“You and me both, chum.”
“What can you tell me? You know I’ll do what I can.”
Rory placed an old-fashioned glass on a cardboard coaster and centered it in front of Bill.
Time had flown unnaturally fast over the week or so since Alan had marched into the Presidents office with his secret about the Wholesome Soup Account. He had fled in confusion to the country that evening, wondering all weekend why Wally Hendricks might be returning to Dunaway months after taking a creative job at Baker and Dodge. But then all was made clear on Monday afternoon in the Account Management conference room. To Alan, the events underway resulted from backroom deal making beyond anything he had imagined. This was not the advertising business of his early days when an agency was named for the men at the top. Or was it?
Alan described the series of events to Bill and explained how, at the Monday meeting, Bob Howe had introduced the new creative leadership: Tom Hartley would head the Creative Department and Wally would lead a new group—including a few people brought over from Baker. Lou was out—he hadn’t come to the office that day. Alan had huddled with his group the rest of the afternoon—doing his best to keep them from criticizing the agency’s decision. He told them to wait-and-see, keep their heads, while the whole time his head had wanted to explode. Alan himself had been left with a choice: lose his place, his relevance in the agency, or leave. All week he had worked on his resume.
Alan ordered another cold beer and a second scotch for Bill. “It is just business, Alan,” Bill said, attempting to commiserate. Alan listened and knew he meant well, but Alan couldn’t absorb Bill’s words, so he switched the topic.
“So, how’s the old lady, Bill?”
“A little pissed off right now, Alan.”
Bill’s family went to Stockbridge in the summer. From Memorial Day to mid-September he wandered around a nine-room apartment in the enormous block-long building on 94th Street and Park whose entrance was a sweeping courtyard with a full circle drive for taxis and private cars.
During the year the Taylor’s frequently entertained, their apartment perfectly decorated à la Town & Country. (Bill’s wife’s father was a millionaire who belonged to the New York Yacht Club.) Yet for three and a half months in the summer, the apartment became a Bachelor Officer’s Quarters, with one bachelor officer, one maid, and a cook.
“Frankly, I’d have preferred your hassle to the one I’m in now.” Bill looked at his drink.
“Oh no, this sounds bad.”
“Yeah I came back from a business trip in Europe and like an ass went straight through from Boston to Stockbridge.”
“What’s wrong with that? Christ, it beats going through JFK and all the hassle of driving upstate.”
“Anyway, Angela is royally pissed.”
“All because you flew direct through Boston?”
“It’s not that. I had my bag with me with all my dirty clothes. She opened it to sort out the things to be laundered and dry cleaned.”
“You left something in the bag you shouldn’t have?” Alan put his mug back on the coaster. One swallow. Half a mug.
“Worse. A pair of pajamas.” Bill was shaking his head, staring empty-eyed out the door onto 1st Avenue.
“Uh Oh. Something on the pajamas?” This felt like twenty questions.
Bill nodded without looking at Alan.
“Why in God’s name do you still wear pajamas?” Alan cringed at himself for saying this aloud. “Sorry, go on.”
“I always do when I travel abroad.” Bill often sounded like William F. Buckley.
“So what’s the story? The pajamas smell of perfume. You spill something on them? What?”
“Oh my God, not…” Alan started to chuckle while Bill explained in detail.
“Alan. This isn’t a funny matter. I mean Angela is all set to hang those clothes from the terrace with a note saying ‘get in touch with my lawyer.’”
“Jesus, man. But that’s ridiculous. You were in Europe, not 52nd Street. You’re probably hammered in your Paris Hotel with some chick. You probably don’t remember it anyway.”
“Unfortunately, I remember it vividly.” His brow arched.
“Well, I don’t mean to pry, but hasn’t Angela ever done it like that?”
Alan was surprised at this. Angela Taylor had a cat-like quality Alan found interesting. He imagined she would have had some very unusual moves.
“I have tried a lot of those sexology things. I tried getting her to read that one by the man and woman doctors.”
“I don’t think they’re medical doctors, are they?”
“I’m serious Alan, Angela is furious and hurt. I don’t know what the hell to do.”
“Only thing to do, Bill. Show her you love her. Take her someplace. Take time off if you have to. Listen to her, then show her you love her.”
Alan smiled and picked up his mug of beer and finished it. Rory, sensing it was time for round three, was hovering nearby and quickly moved in and took their glasses.
“That’s it Rory, my friend. Just the check. Got to find our way to the subway uptown.”
They paid the bill.
“You know what to do Bill. You just said it.” Alan continued. He tried not to sound too much like a newspaper column. “Tell her you’re sorry but be straight with her. Tell her that, as a grown-up man with a lot of basic instincts and drives and curiosity, you think there’s more to sex than what you just said. The lying on top bit.”
“You think it’s that simple.”
“It’s all you got going for you so far.”
“Well,” Bill said in his best Groton accent, “I’ll give it a go.”
They picked up their blazers and shook hands.
“Call me if you are serious about looking at other agencies, Alan. I’ll write you a letter about the awards. I know you don’t need it—you have miles of credits—but I am happy to help.”
“Thanks, buddy. I hope I didn’t keep you out too late. Call her and tell her you are coming to Stockbridge tomorrow night.”
Alan turned from his friend to walk the few blocks to the subway. The booze and the talking hadn’t helped him the way he had hoped. Bill’s story had only heightened his own dread: he also had a phone call to make. What would he say to Liddie? Bill at least had Angela. Would Liddie ever understand?
© Lisa Anderson 2015