Lum: Spooning the clients | AspenTimes.com

Lum: Spooning the clients

Su Lum
Slumming

There is a card game called Spoons, which is kind of like musical chairs except that instead of one seat too few, there is one spoon too few. The person left without a chair or a spoon loses.

Spoons is a fast game — the first player to get the right combination of cards grabs one of the spoons in the middle (if there are eight players, there will be seven spoons) and then everybody else grabs them, and there’s always a Beetlebaum dozing at the wheel, shocked to have been spooned.

We played a variation of that game in the advertising department of The Aspen Times. This was in the olden days when we were a weekly paper and the department consisted of three or four people. We worked entirely on commission, which we split at the end of each month rather than having individual territories or accounts.

We were pretty good about sharing the work, which was intense but enjoyable in an atmosphere of extreme camaraderie.

Alas, as with every line of work involving human beings, there were a few advertisers who could curdle your blood just by walking in the door. I will name no names, but they included the people who always demanded special placement even though they came in at the last minute and refused to pay the premium, the advertisers tottering in with a wheelbarrow full of papers written in what looked like Sanskrit (this was before computers of any vintage were in use) and, especially, the nasty tempered ones who were generally pissed off at the world. Most of our customers were delightful, but a few of them were humdingers.

Thus began the ad department’s version of the game of spoons.

It worked like this: An ad rep would spot, with her eagle eye (we were all females then — not by intentional design), a nasty customer coming down the sidewalk headed for the Times.

This was the funky old Times building overlooking Main Street, not the revamped Mother Lode that houses the staff’s present, cramped, quasi-cubicle quarters.

The ad rep would then push back her chair, head out of the office and — over her shoulder in a soft, low voice — say, “Spoons.”

Pandemonium. Spoons! Shit!

Whoever hadn’t been quick enough to dive after the original spooner was stuck with the awful client — she had been spooned, and the clients themselves became known as spoons.

Linnea Riley came to the ad department in the mid-’80s. Not a hair out of place or a voice raised in anger or curse, Linnea was a pearl among swine, but she caught on to the spoon game right away.

She created a hanging sculpture of spoons, which hung from the ceiling of the ad office for years. Topped by a gigantic ladle, the art piece widened into a spray of spoons of all sizes: silver spoons, wooden spoons, measuring spoons, plastic spoons and, at the very bottom, a tiny coke spoon.

The idea was that instead of announcing, “Spoons,” you could just rattle the sculpture and escape. Or you could rattle it if an ad rep was having trouble with a client at the counter as an indication of commiseration.

If the exchange between client and rep got really entertaining, we would casually lay a soup spoon on the counter’s shelf, hoping that the rep would lose her composure.

Time passed, the department grew, each rep (“account executive” nowadays) had individual client lists and the humor had been pretty much sucked out of the place by the time I retired, but it was great fun while it lasted.

Su Lum is a longtime local who really did like almost all of the advertisers. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at su@rof.net.


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