Working (In Search of a Calling: Walter Lundquist)
He's fifty; a commercial artist, designer. "I deplore the whole idea of commercialism. I find it degrading."
I was a kid in 1942 when I got out of art school. I wanted to make a lot of money and become famous. In five years I'll own the world. I'll be in New York driving a Cadillac and owning my own plane. I want gold cuff links and babes and the big house in the country. The whole bit. The American Dream. (Laughs.) That beautiful, ugly, vicious dream that we all, in some way, have. I wanted to be a key man in the industry. Over the years I realized there isn't any key man--that every man, every human is a commodity to be exploited. And destroyed and cast aside. For thirty years I've been a commercial hack.
The problem isn't the work itself. Does it have a real meaning or is it a piece of commercial pap? The question gets down to who the hell pays for it. Okay. You want a living, you want to eat. Say you're a bookkeeper. Are you counting something of human value or are you counting for the Syndicate or the Pentagon? Are you a bookkeeper counting dead bodies or children at school? What kind of an individual are you? Do you feel you're something because you create a cute commercial spot that sells a product that has no human value? Is it all purely style? Is there no content?
I had my own organization, fifteen people. "Let's go out and do a job for the client. Yes, sir. Let's lick his boots." Who's the man with the checkbook? What does he want from you? Now you take nice things and make them into some dumb package. Some plastic thing which is not biodegradable, which will not decompose, which fills the society where you want to scream, "We're drowning in plastics!"
You think of the advertiser and his influence on our sexual climate. Vaginal sprays are now on the market. Why is a woman spraying her vagina? Because she's tastier? Who's going down there sniffing? You see two your girls on TV talking about a date. One tells the other she's using a vaginal spray. Why doesn't her girlfriend to it? God! What a cunt-lapping society we've become!
I wanted to be at the drawing board, creative, doing something I believed in. But I became a pimp. I didn't start drinking until I was thirty. I surprised myself. I found I could outdrink any of my clients. They got drunk and I didn't. What an absurd way to live! To make money because you could booze it up and cater to someone else's frailty. His need for a boot licker's comradeship, listening to his cheap jokes at some expensive bar. I got the work all right, but it made me sick. I couldn't stand it.
We had a client who was providing additives to meats and food preparations. My job was to make it into a trade publication ad. I'm sitting at these meetings with the president of the company and the sales manager. We're out to provide a service to the meat packers so they can cheat government analysts who are going to inspect the sausages. They don't see it as cheating. I say, "Why are we doing this ad for mustard?" They say, "Mustard acts as a binder." It holds together the globules of fat the client is putting in. So we make a living selling mustard because the guy wants to put fat instead of meat protein in there. So the public's been cheated and these sons of bitches are out there playing golf...
We were doing a beautiful job for a big brewer. They'd just bought a new brewery and found out the beer was too nutritious. It had a lot of food value. They did market research and found out that psychologically inadequate young men consumed beer as a way of competing with one another--the kids in college. "Can you drink fourteen bottles of beer while I drink fourteen bottles of beer?" How many can you drink before you puke? The beer that sells the best is the weakest and the thinnest and doesn't fight you. The first thing they did was to take the richness out of it. They got it down to alcohol and water.
My role was to create a fun-filled image, an exciting boy-girl gaiety in the competitive market of light beer. "Light beer"--that's the ad phrase for the watered and thin beer. So the schmucky kid thinks he's a stud fighting for the babe by consuming all that alcohol.
You begin to say, "What the fuck am I doing? I'm sitting here destroying my country." The feeling gets stronger and stronger and suddenly your father dies.
The turning point in my life was the death of my father. It was a funny thing. Here you're watching a beautiful guy with white hair lying in his bed, dying of a heart attack. You hear him ramble and wander and talk about his life: "I was never anything. I didn't do a job even in raising my children. I didn't mean anything..." You watch death. Then you say, "Wait a minute. What's going on with him is going to hit me. What am I doing between now and my death? If you take actuarial tables of insurance companies, I'm running on borrowed time." You begin to assess yourself and that's a shock. I didn't come up smelling like a rose. "Am I going to go on forever being a goddamn pimp? What's the alternative? Is there another way of earning a living?"
I had a client who was my best friend. I'd know him twenty years. We'd been sitting together talking casually. I was telling him my feelings. He was shocked. "For Chrissake," he says, "you're my enemy. From now on I'm never going to deal with you again." I haven't seen this poor guy in four years.
At this moment I have a job on the drawing board that's pretty good. This one client has some degree of conscience. It's an ecology poster for children, given away as a premium. It's a beautiful thing to hand on the wall, acquanting a child with the cycle of life. I'm working on two film strips for education. One's on Luther Burbank and the other's on Franz Boas. But--little dough.
Now fifty percent of my time is taken up with antiwar work. Of course, nobody pays for this kind of message. The big problem I'm facing is how to support my family. I'm straddling two worlds and I'm trying to move over into the sane one. But I can't make a living out of it.
I have a very small office. As soon as I come in, the phone starts ringing. All free jobs. Usually my paying jobs get done later. (Laughs.) They're the ones I take home with me. My family watches TV and I sit down beside them and work through the evening to turn out the paying job, so I can get my bread and spend the rest of the day doing what I think is important. I put in a sixteen-hour day. It's a crazy cycle. It's been a trying experience for my wife. She thinks I'm psychologically sick. She goes one way and I go the other. My kids pay a terrible penalty for me...
I'm struggling to survive. I'm running out of funds. I may have to pimp again for survival's sake. But I'll not give up the sane work. I'm scurrying about. If it doesn't work, I may do somewhat what young people do and drop out. I'll stop existing in this society. I'll work on a road crew. I'll cut lumber or whatever the hell it'll be. But I'll never again play the full-time lying dishonest role I've done most of my life.
Once you wake up the human animal you can't put it back to sleep again. I guess I'm pretty schizophrenic. Obviously all the schizophrenics are not locked up in asylums. (Laughs.)