Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Joe Schmurlo Incident

In the late 80’s I got a job as a graphic artist for a company called BJ Designs which was located in Malibu. The company operated from a house on Pacific Coast Highway right across the street from the beach and Alice’s Restaurant. It was really an idyllic situation in an idyllic location. In the beginning it was just me and one other artist named Bill. We got along great and became very good friends. He was often amazed at how far the sickness went in my sense of humor and I loved how he kept me laughing with jokes about dismemberment, birth defects and other tasteless fodder that I so enjoy. He was a very talented artist who used a lot of humor in his work; he treated me like his little sister. We happily toiled in a small bedroom of the house that had been turned into an art department with an ocean view. The only access to our little world was a sliding glass door and Bill made sure he had a spot at the window for the view. He wasn’t as concerned about seeing the ocean as he was seeing anyone coming towards our office. He had been the only artist and he had the gig worked out to his satisfaction. The company had no idea what it took to make the designs that he churned out and the less they knew, the less they could ask of him. I tried my best to keep things as lazy as they had been and certainly didn’t want to ruin his cushy deal by demonstrating how productive an artist actually could be. Try as I might, you can’t halt progress; the company was doing well and expanding and I was just the beginning of hiring new artists. Soon we would have an actual art department, and in time, a couple of go getters would ruin everything and set new standards for our performance. For now things were still sweet but the first step of progress was at hand: we needed a Stat camera.

A stat camera is a camera that is at least the size of a refrigerator, you can’t just pick one up at the store; and so a salesman came to our little home by the sea. His name was Joe Schmurlo; he was a nice enough man. He showed us photos of different models and their dimensions and electrical requirements and we pretended to know what he was talking about. We hemmed and hawed and tried to ask questions that made it seem as if we knew what to ask. Eventually we chose two models for our boss to consider using the highly scientific “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo” process of selection. He left behind brochures and his business card and a couple of price estimates on letterhead stationary. He remarked many times about how lucky we were to be working with this wonderful view and the great smell of sea air. We could never have imagined an argument against such an obvious fact. It was as though we had stolen the world. Churning out work at a snail’s pace in this great location made the whole situation like a paid vacation.
“Poor guy” Bill mused as he disappeared from our view. “He’s probably getting back into a hot car and spending the rest of the afternoon stuck in traffic on the freeway.”
“Yeah, that must suck.” I gloated, feeling kind of guilty.
“And it must really suck to work for a company that makes you put your picture on your business cards.”
“What?” I looked at Bill who was holding up the business card next to his face. Yes indeed, there was the man’s picture and underneath it said “Joe Schmurlo” Bill mockingly smiled the same smile. This struck us as funny. We thought it was very odd that he had his picture on his card we wondered if his company made him do it or if it was his own queer idea. In later years it became common for real estate brokers and such to put their faces on their business cards but back then this was weird. It was weird enough that we had to do something about it.
This was before computers and Photoshop or we would never have gotten any work done. We would have done nothing but mess around making each other laugh. We only had a Xerox machine that enlarged and reduced and we had type that we set by hand. I think our fun began with Bill just taking this picture of Joe, blowing it up to an uncomfortably large size and hanging it on a wall in our office. His name underneath made it funnier. People would ask “Who is that?” We’d say “It’s Joe Schmurlo, can’t you read?” And if someone dared to ask who Joe Schmurlo was we would just roll our eyes and tell them that it was too difficult to explain, "Either you know the man and his work or you don't."
Bill and I were both big fans of wacky packages so some fake products were in order. Since Old Joe had commented on “the great sea air” at our office, I made a fake box of “Joe Schmurlo’s Sea Snacks” “taste the ocean in every crunchy bite”  of course I put his photo on the label and altered it a bit to give him a bigger smile and crumbs on his face. The next morning I arrived to find the perfect snack companion: a bottle of “Joe Schmurlo’s Sea Swill” Ah, Bill had taken an empty Pepsi bottle, filled it with some fairly vile gutter water and slapped the home made label on it. He left it on my desk.

This turned into a typical competition / gift exchange between me and Bill. He left work after me in the evenings and I got to work before him in the mornings. I would aarive at work to find another new member of the fine line of Joe Schmurlo products proudly displayed on my desk. I'd be inspired and have something ready for him by the time he came in. Tiring quickly of food stuffs we moved on to sex products. There were Joe Schmurlo condoms “inner ribbing for my pleasure - to Hell with her” and Joe Scmurlo’s “Snatch Scratch” vaginal itch cream to name a couple of our top sellers. We ended up getting the camera directly from the factory and in time found something else to amuse each other with and we sort of forgot about Joe. Time marched on as did business as usual.

Then one fine morning when I was alone at work, I went down to our office and guess who’s there? That’s right, Good Ol’ Joe Schmurlo. It had been months since we’d had any fun at his expense and I’d forgotten about him. “Remember me?” He says. He stepped up to me, continuing, “I was in the area I wanted to see how the camera is working out. Can I come in?" Not thinking, I let him into the office, OOOPS! As he looks at the new camera I can see the various Joe Schmurlo products, kind of dusty and no longer prominently displayed, but definitely noticeable. Oh dear, he HAS to be seeing the various jars and boxes with his face on them. This is horrible! He’s not saying anything but he has to be seeing this. Certainly the 12” x12” mock up of an LP, “Joe Schmurlo, Songs for Lovers Only” must have caught his eye. I continued to make small talk trying to focus his attention on our fabulous ocean view.
What the heck could he possibly think? I can’t explain this! I can’t say “We didn’t mean any disrespect with this Joe Schmurlo hemorrhoid cream or lice removal tonic.” I instantly thought of that scene in “A Guide for the Married Man” where Joey Bishop's character is found by his wife, in bed with another woman. She’s yelling at him and he just keeps saying “What woman?” all the while the girl is getting dressed and eventually leaves with him denying everything and when he says “What girl?" for the last time, she actually is gone.  Yes, that is what I'll do. I'll just ignore what he's holding in his hand and say, "What bottle of douche with your face on it? I don't know what you're talking about." Deny, deny, deny! What else could I do?

Fortunately, he never mentioned anything. He left pretty quickly as he must have been embarrassed because had to have seen something. When Bill arrived, I told him what happened and he convulsed with laughter. We then took everything down, that way if Joe called our boss and said anything, we could really just deny it all.
Of course I can’t help but feel guilt. This poor man may have spent years with this haunting him; wondering what was wrong with him that made him so worthy of our ridicule.

I’m sorry Joe. Please accept my apology and consider what we did some strange artistic compliment.


JenSlaight said...

HA! Poor Joe Schmurlo! I think we all have our own "Joe Schmurlo" stories...I just have to check the 'statues of limitations' before I can post mine! LOL! you're a great writer btw! ~jen

Betty_Pipetti said...

Maybe he is on facebook now and someone who you both have mutual friends with will alert him to your story and he will know it wasnt really an intricate series of insults. Since he probably sold to lots of artists, he was probably used to that type of humor in some way? Yeah man.

Do you ever miss the days of exacto knives, adhesive, color copiers, etc? Not that you still couldnt use the old ways just for fun. I loved making things back when it wasnt so easy. I guess i should teach myself to use the photoshop elements i have and never got around to learning. Then i'd only be a decade or two behind the real whirled...

Susan said...

NO! I really don't miss graphic art at all. I miss a bit of the comraderie that usually took place in the art departments. I remember telling everyone as we cut amberlith, "This will someday seem so backward! We will do this all on computers! And when a client wants to see a different color scheme we will be able to change a color by pressing a button instead of crippling our hands and getting 'Marker Claw' from coloring overlays!"

VanessaMRR said...

OMG- that is the funniest thing I have read all day, thanks for sharing that story- really, his name had to add to the amusement!

Jenny said...

Great story Susan. But, equally great is the apology. Most wouldn't think of someone's feelings from that long ago. Also, if I worked at such an idyllic location, I would have loved going to work everday