Saturday, March 03, 2007

21. First Real Job

After college I went looking for a job. I would have wanted to teach but that would have required a master’s degree. What was popular then was to work in a bank. Alma, who soon became my girlfriend, was working in a bank and she said it might be a good idea if I can get into one too. I borrowed a couple of books in banking and pored over them for a week. I was trying to hothouse my becoming a banker through these two books. I applied for a management trainee position in the newly opened Merchants Bank. It was a disaster. I was hoping that my glibness would carry me through but this was not so. I met up with a panel that had put on a hostile mien designed to intimidate the most intrepid of applicants apparently to see how well they stood up to difficult situations. Intimidation plus not having a real understanding of what banking was all about, did me in. I couldn’t remember what I had said during the interview but I was almost sure that it was something that would not have shaken the foundations of the banking world. I was intimidated but I don’t see the connection between bravery and being a great banker. They missed their chance at having a great but cowardly financial whiz.

Still without a job six months after graduation I was feeling a bit desperate about my plight. My eldest brother, Cocoy, had a close friend, Lucky Borbon, who was the General Manager of an advertising agency. Lucky thought that my literature background might prove useful in writing copy for ads. He didn’t have any vacancy at that time but promised to call me as soon as an opening was available. I jumped at the opportunity by proposing that I be taken in without any salary with the understanding that my worth will be reviewed after a month to see if my work and my contribution to the agency would be good enough to warrant a pay.
It was a small advertising agency named Bernard that was owned by the Guevarras and the Aranetas, two of the biggest business families in Manila at that time. The office was situated in the Tanduay area, in the mezzanine of what looked like an extension of the Volkswagen assembly plant which was owned by the Guevarras. The office was really Spartan, we had wooden furniture that could have been hand me downs from the other offices. The air-conditioning units worked but emitted an incessant “kachug…kachug…kachug” that kept one awake even with the worst of hangovers. You need to keep awake anyway to throw out the water from the pail underneath the aircon unit that got filled every hour and a half.

The businesses covered by the combined empires were automotive assemblies, appliances, technical schools, the foods business, animal feeds and a few others. All the branded products in the conglomerate alliance used the ad agency to do their thematic advertising requirements as well as buy media for the group. It was a busy shop with not anyone of the bosses having time to give me a formal training. They just gave me tasks. Without briefs they asked me to write about a product, or put together a one-minute “live” commercial script for a car. On the best of days they would ask me to write headlines and body copy for print ads.

I got paid after a month’s gratis work. The General Manager, Lucky, announced that I deserved to be paid and started me off with a slightly higher than minimum wage salary. With my first half-month’s pay I bought roast chicken which I brought to my girl’s house to celebrate with the rest of her family my first paycheck. The second half-month of my salary went to a poker game. Seventy-five pesos on table stakes did not last very long. My mother couldn’t believe her ears when I asked money from her a day after payday.

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