Five years ago I wrote a novel called THE CANDLE about my life in advertising in the 1970's. Sorta the sequel to Mad Men, except Mad Men the TV series wasn't born yet. Here's the opening.
They always lit the candle before they made love. The flame gave off a scent they couldn’t pin down although she once said it smelled like sex.
The first time they lit the candle they were in Ceylon. After dinner they were in the back garden of the head of the Colombo office, drinking duty-free brandy. The moon cast shadows across the lawn and the night was moist and warm with the perfume of jasmine. They were just sitting, listening to the cries of night birds and the buzz of the city around them. And then another sound. A high wall of tropical vines and bougainvillea began to rustle then shook wildly as something charged up through the dark leaves, over the wall and down the other side.
“Mongoose,” the head of the Colombo office explained.
The candle was in their guest room centered on a sandalwood dresser, a box of matches alongside like an invitation. So he lit it, filling the room with a scent like lions and honey, hard to define. “Mongoose,” he said, under the covers, charging up.
It was the night the head of the Colombo office showed them his shrunken head. He kept it in a hat box on top of his wardrobe. Ceylon was world famous for the incompetence of its bureaucracy, the head of the Colombo office said. They could steal from you at will and you couldn’t fire them unless ten witnesses saw the bugger with his hand in your cash drawer and were willing to testify in court. This particular thief was urging his staff to take whole weeks off. “Nothing they can do,” the bugger said. “They still have to pay you.”
But there was something you could do, according to a friend of the head of the Colombo office. The friend was an anthropologist from Berkeley, California, studying aboriginal tribes. She had been in the mountains and brought the shrunken head to dinner one night. “Put this head on the thief’s front porch and he will die in three days.”
The head was the size of a leathery grapefruit. Something like varnish was starting to peel off although the black knot of hair on the top had a healthy gloss. Its eyes and lips were sewn shut so the face looked pinched, in a rage. The head of the Colombo office thought seriously about putting the head on the thief’s front porch but couldn’t do it. So he put the head ina a hat box and left it on top of his wardrobe.
It was this same hippy anthropologist who made the candle that they found in their room. The candle was maroon, thick and tall. The scent it gave along with its flickering light didn’t remind you of flowers. It was smooth, complex and animal. They took the candle with them along with the blessings of the head of the Colombo office. And they kept the name of the hippy anthropologist who was happy to send them a replacement for what you might think was a lot of money for a candle.
In 1976 advertising mattered. Advertising gave you confidence, horsepower, whiter than white teeth, brighter than white laundry and the cigarette more doctors recommend. Advertising gave you new love, new energy, plus, for a limited time only, freedom from disdain. In 1976 advertising gave you everything you lacked.
In 1976 the chairman’s office of the world’s largest advertising agency was on the eleventh floor of the southeast corner of the Raymar Building, 410 Lexington Avenue. The old stone office tower rose 35 stories alongside Grand Central Station in New York City, its sooty rock facade as dark as a medieval donjon for horse thieves and bread snatchers.
The chairman’s office was a warm and comfortable gentlemen’s den of soft, red leather couches, bookshelves on the wall lined with old leather-bound books, a well-stocked cocktail cabinet. The chairman, William R. Ronaldson Jr., sat behind a large colonial dining table and drank his coffee from a blue and white china cup while he read the New York Times and took his first morning calls. A fine 19th century walnut grandfather clock in the corner measured time with a brass pendulum swinging patiently back and forth. Over the chairman’s shoulder, through the window and past the Chrysler building you could see a slice of the East River. From this distance its turd studded water gave off a silver sheen.