Billy Ray

It’s late Friday afternoon. I wheel into a VISITOR’S parking slot, grab the portfolio and dash inside. It’s a brass and glass corporate castle and the faithful are already tiptoeing through the lush lobby and out the door. I find Billy Ray sandwiched between stacks of research reports in his cluttered office on the fourth floor. Billy Ray is my client and my friend, several years older than me. I like Billy Ray. He’s honest and straightforward and smart as a whip with an under grad in Marketing and a law degree from a snooty Ivy League college. Billy Ray is old and Billy Ray is new. The ringtone on his iPhone is Jimmy Durante’s theme song, Inka Dinka Doo.

“It’s 4:00 a.m. and you’ve got a plane to catch and you don’t want to wake the wife,” he says. “Your socks are either dark blue or black and they’re all in a pile in your drawer and it’s too dark to tell which is which. There are 18 black socks and 24 blue socks in the drawer. How many socks do you have to pull out before you’re sure you have a match?”

I guess 12.

“Nope,” he says. “Three. Think about it.”

I’m here to show him the dealer campaign. Its purpose is to build traffic with immediate incentives to buy now, and I feel good about it. It ties into the image campaign, but speaks the dealer’s language and I know its Billy Ray who’ll have to stand up in front of 500 of these guys and sell it. I’ve gone over it with a fine tooth comb. The mechanics are solid and the creative (the chrome as Billy Ray calls it) shines. I present it to him as I always do—across his desk mounted to art boards. He nods, he says hmmmm, he nods some more. “Let’s do it,” he says. “Nice work. Want a Coke?”

Billy Ray is the only client I’ve ever had who asked me if I needed some money up front—Let me know. Don’t get strung out—and from that moment his work came first and it is always the very best of which I’m capable. I’ll gladly do whatever it takes to help him out in a jam, working nights, weekends and holidays, if necessary– and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know he dabbles in photography and clay sculpture. I know his son is a dentist in Cleveland. He knows I have two grown kids and that my wife plays the harp. He also knows that his work is very important to me. And he teases me about my car.

“Ad Age says a car is a badge. And yet, you rumble into our fine executive parking lot in a beat-up Buick Century.”

“Ah, the Buick,” I counter. “That’s actually my stunt car, a mere prop employed to create the illusion of low overhead and popular pricing.”

He hands me a short stack of marketing research papers and asks me to take it home and see if I can make some sense of it. We set a meeting for Wednesday morning, exchange a salute and I leave. Traffic’s at a crawl and I flip the radio on and listen to Clark Howard explain the ins and outs of credit card management to an earnest young fellow from Snellville.

The setting winter sun plays off the glass towers along the perimeter, and I think of friends and acquaintances in other places and other lives. But joy exists only in the present tense. The tapestry becomes intricate if we allow it, and I feel lucky today, here in the Buick, heading home.

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