Paying Dues

Six months into my freshman year at Syracuse University, I knew I was in trouble. Upstate New York, in the dead of winter, provided its own set of challenges, but living in an 'all guys' dorm where partying was the norm, only exasperated my concern. Don't get me wrong, it was a trip, but was it the one I was supposed to be on? It was too easy to do well without even trying. Completing assignments the night before, skipping classes, and yet still making Dean's List, only meant I wasn’t just wasted all the time, I was in fact wasting my time.

"Send to Mike" was handwritten on the Post-It note adhered to the announcement torn from the advertising section of the Wall Street Journal. My father wanted me to know that Mr. Kay was starting his own ad agency with Lois Korey, another executive from Needham Worldwide, who also happened to be a very experienced copywriter. Together, in the classic pairing of Art Director & Copywriter, they were forming Korey, Kay & Partners as a boutique creative agency and breaking away from Madison Avenue to do so. It had been a few years since we last saw each other, but I took the opportunity to write him a letter to congratulate him on his big move, give him a brief update on what I was up to, and then, to ask for a possible summer internship. Although their first office was in The Empire State Building, which in itself is like giving the middle finger to the agency behemoth they left behind, by the time I heard back from Mr. Kay, they had relocated to an Eastside classic brownstone on 75th Street. He offered me an unpaid internship for the summer, and I gladly accepted the opportunity to be as close to the action as possible.

The office was on the second floor of a townhouse in an otherwise residential neighborhood, that just so happened to have The Whitney Museum around the corner and Central Park down the street. The living room was reception, Allen and Lois had desks in the dining room, and my drawing table was set up in the laundry room. I felt right at home. My responsibilities included doing everything I was asked to do. Painting Allen's desk, changing lightbulbs, watering plants, driving Susan home to New Jersey, getting breakfast, getting lunch, getting dinner, getting anything I could get my hands on. Allen taught me to do storyboards for television 'spots,' to draw simple characters for layouts, proper typography, and what it was to be 'in the business.' One of the biggest cheap thrills of the summer was when they were pitching new business and my name appeared on the agency's roster as Art Director. It didn't matter that I wasn't qualified by any means, it meant, to me, that I was.


  • Brain

    Brewster Ten. The only dormitory floor which substituted its harsh white fluorescent lights for warm yellow mood lighting. I’m thinking that, along with of course other things, fostered one’s creativity.

  • Petervan

    I really love this one, Mikel!

  • Michael Katz

    Sounds like a fun time in NYC.

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