Remember the whole Magnolia cupcake thing?
At some point in the waning years of the 20th century, a little bakery opened in the West Village, and apparently they made some freaking epic cupcakes. In fact, if you've currently got any sort of "upscale" cupcake concept littering crumbs on the floor of the food court at your local shopping mall, you owe a debt of gratitude to Magnolia Bakery.
Of course, as with all Great New York Things, by the time Magnolia cupcakes made cameos on Sex in the City, Saturday Night Live, and in the pages of Us Weekly, its cool had already chilled. As the Mainstream queued up to gobble their little pastel-frosted baked goods, those who arrived first to Magnolia's party had already backed away from the table.
Be that as it may, my wife still wanted her some o' them fancy New York City cupcakes, dammit! And I was tasked with securing them.
We were living in Miami at the time. Julie was seven months pregnant with our first daughter. I'd uprooted our little family from Boston just two short months earlier so I could take a job at what was then arguably the most acclaimed and innovative advertising agency in the whole wide world—Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
It was a dream opportunity—a potential career maker, for sure, but more than that, it was an identity. It was like being selected for the U.S. Advertising Olympic Team. Or maybe more like being initiated into the Advertising Hell's Angels.
CP+B was not the sort of place that hired established ad-industry rock stars. It was the sort of place that made them. Lots and lots of them. My friend Rob Strasberg, one of the most talented and awarded creative directors in the business, took great pride in the fact that CP+B was populated with creative mutts like him—people who couldn't get hired at the more storied, "elite" creative agencies, but who had found a special home with this scrappy upstart in South Florida.
Alex Bogusky, the creative heart, soul, brains and dreamy hair of the agency, had a tremendous talent for recognizing these mutts, and was forever optimizing and streamlining the structure and culture of his agency to remove every single obstacle standing in the way of the work we did.
And work we would. Harder than we'd ever worked in our lives. Harder than we ever thought we could. In return, the work we did would be some of the best of our careers.
Critics inside and outside the agency would decry CP+B as a "sweatshop," but then, it wouldn't be the first time a great creative culture had to bear that cross. And besides, dismissing these cultures as "sweatshops" just means you don't get it (not to mention, you definitely don't get the dynamics of an actual sweatshop).
By the way, I'm not insane. I completely get why you wouldn't get it. Especially if you aren't in advertising or some other business like it.
Those who do get it will understand. CP+B was an opportunity factory. One colleague summed it up nicely when he told me, "You could build yourself a whole career just picking up the little assignments people drop on the floor here." He was right. There were no piddly jobs. No dogs. Everything had the potential to be great. Everything was expected to be great. Those who do get it will understand how rare that is. Those who do get it will understand the weekends, the all-nighters, the double-all-nighters—they will understand that no sacrifice is too great to be part of something so great.
I got it. My wife, however, did not.
She did not get, for example, that child birthing classes at 4 p.m. on a Thursday were simply not gonna happen for me. Newborn care classes? Baby CPR? Prenatal yoga? "Yeah, kind of a pain in the ass, babe. I'm super slammed at work. Do I really need to be there for all that stuff?"
She didn't get my point. Not one bit.
She didn't get that when you go to the West Coast for production, there are sometimes down weekends with nothing to do. She didn't get why I couldn't come home for those weekends, even though it would mean a red-eye on Friday night, a completely delirious Saturday, and a return trip on Sunday that would positively wreck me.
She needed my support. She needed me home. And so no, she didn't get my point.
And she didn't get that when I traveled to New York for business, it was a business trip, not a cupcake-getting opportunity. She didn't get that I could not commit to stealing away, even for a single hour, in the service of a cupcake errand. She also didn't get it because it was our wedding anniversary. Our fourth. Our first we'd spend without each other. And those cupcakes were all she had asked for.
"It's work, honey. I'll try, but seriously, I can't promise."
Nope, she didn't get that. Not at all.
My wife and I have met plenty of advertising couples in our travels. Something about the demands, the pressure, the hours, the passion, the battle fatigue and the abundance of young hotties, both male and female, in our business seems to make people more prone to making out with, and eventually marrying, their colleagues.
If one spouse later bails on the business, maybe they get it. At least they were in it.
My wife wasn't. And no, she doesn't.
We met long before either of us had a career of any sort. I was an aimless college dropout and a (masterful) tender of bar who partied entirely too hard. She was an aimless hippy chick, smoking lots of weed and clerking at a little shop that sold silver jewelry.
When we finally got engaged, we had only slightly more direction in life. I was back in school, still tending bar at night, and working as a secretary. (Full disclosure: I was secretary to the aforementioned Mr. Bogusky, but that's another story.) When we got married, I was taking an ill-fated stab at law school (I quit after four months). In short, we'd struggled through plenty of challenges in our relationship. The advertising business was only the latest of them.
After all we'd been through together, my wife wasn't about to let me off the hook now. She wasn't about to let us, and the family we were building, take a pass. She wasn't about to simply lay back and "get it."
Yet here I was, my last day in New York. My flight back to Miami was that afternoon. And I still had no cupcakes.
I was working with some friends at an edit facility up on West 25th St. near Broadway. I was a very, very important person. I was a very important client, in fact, working at a big-time editorial facility on a very important project on behalf of (lest you forget) perhaps the most acclaimed and innovative ad agency in the whole, wide world.
But when I phoned Magnolia Bakery, they didn't get it, either.
They didn't deliver. I figured as much. No matter. Could they pop a half-dozen of their finest cupcakes into a pastry box? I would send a courier down. That is how playaz roll.
"No, sorry, we can't."
"We can't put our cupcakes in a box."
"You don't have boxes?"
"We do, we just can't do that."
"Still not following. You've got cupcakes. You've got boxes. Can you put six of one into one of the other?"
"You could send a courier, and he could do that himself."
I didn't understand what was going on.
"I don't want sweaty, greasy courier hands on my wife's cupcakes. Wait, did I mention these are for my wife? It's our anniversary? She's pregnant? First child? We live in Miami, but I'm here on business, and all she asked for were your Magnolia cupcakes?"
"That's nice, sir, but we still can't box them for you."
"Can't? You mean you're physically unable to place cupcakes into boxes?"
At this point, negotiations deteriorated rapidly. F-bombs were hurled. My favorite part was when I spat furiously that I would tell every living organism I knew, or would ever meet, about my abysmal Magnolia Bakery cupcake service experience!
The man scoffed. "OK, you be sure to do that." And just like that, he hung up on me. Magnolia Bakery Guy called my bluff.
I realized I'd been shouting. So did all the other people in the edit facility. I was still shaking with the remnants of my impotent rage when some of the folks who worked there approached me cautiously. Magnolia is overrated, they assured me, and gave me the name of another bakery that produced a superior cupcake product minus all the Magnolia hype.
Heartened, but still quaking with indignation (and somehow still completely oblivious to how ridiculous I was being), I called Julie.
I told her what had happened. Who did these cupcake people think they were?! How dare they treat their customers like that?! My voice was getting shrill again, and I was working up a sweat.
"Can you believe that?!" I said. "I'll be damned if I'm buying their fucking cupcakes!"
I suddenly realized I'd been going on for some time with no response from the other end of the line.