Following on the heels of last week’s post, here’s another quick story from my time on the Chapman University account. File this one under If You’re Hearing Things, Keep it To Yourself.
As you may recall, we had one main day-to-day client. Great guy. When we did ads for the different schools within Chapman, he would set up input meetings with the department heads, and accompany us.
This particular time, we met with the dean of the English department to do ads for their creative writing program, and I was looking forward to that. Figured it would be a lot of fun. And it was, but I don’t remember what the campaign was, and that’s not really the point of this post. Oh wait, I remember.
We did a series of ads featuring shopping lists, but the ordinary items were followed by imaginative descriptions. For example, the item would be “eggs” followed by “with yolks as golden as the sunset over the Mediterranean.” Together, all the descriptions on the list told a story. And the headline said something relevant to the story, like if the list told a story about a princess locked in a tower, the headline would say, “Is there a writer in you trying to escape?” Something like that.
So anyway. We’re in the input meeting, and the dean is talking, and everything is good, then I suddenly start hearing this really high frequency sound. It’s a steady whine or hum, at a really high pitch. Like a TV or a radio or some other piece of electronic equipment. Like feedback, but not as loud.
It starts and goes for maybe five seconds, then stops. I surreptitiously look around the room at the air conditioning or whatever else I think it might have been.
It starts up again and goes for longer, then stops again. Then it starts up again and doesn’t stop. Meanwhile, the dean keeps talking as if nothing is wrong, but it is freakin’ loud and really annoying.
It starts driving me nuts. I’m looking around the room more obviously now, not worrying about if I’m being subtle or not. I’m trying to listen to the dean at the same time, of course, but I have to find out what’s causing that noise.
As I’m looking, I glance at everyone else and no one seems to be hearing it. They’re just sitting there calmly, listening and taking notes. No one else is looking around the room, no one is looking at anyone else quizzically, no one is looking up so I can make eye contact with them and mentally transmit a “what the hell is that noise” message.
I can’t believe I’m the only one hearing it. Is there something wrong with my ears? Have I been chosen to receive this special message on behalf of the human race, at a frequency only I can hear?
Finally, I can’t take it anymore. I have to say something. I interrupt the dean and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t concentrate on what you’re saying. Does anyone else hear that noise? I think I’m getting messages from Mars or something.”
At that point, several things happened simultaneously.
First, my partners looked at me with horrified and shocked expressions, as if I had just asked the dean if I could borrow his toothbrush to scratch my feet or something. My mental reaction to them was me thinking, “What? What?”
Second, the dean stopped talking and quickly reached a hand up to the side of his head.
And third, our day-to-day client said to me as quickly and as diplomatically as he could, “Uh, I think that’s his hearing aid.”
Whaaat? I never knew hearing aids did that. Apparently the battery was running low, so it started emitting that high-frequency pitch. But come on, how did he not hear that? It was so loud.
Of course I felt terrible for embarrassing the dean. All I could say was “Oh, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
He turned his hearing aid off and we continued the meeting, but afterward, I asked one of my partners if she had known what that was at the time. She said she wasn’t sure, but figured it was something like that.
Of course, she stayed quiet about it. So did everyone else. They’re what you call “polite.”
But not me. I spoke up. I’m what you call “a jerk.”
I’m kidding, of course. If I had known what it was, or even suspected something like that, I wouldn’t have said anything. I wouldn’t knowingly embarrass anyone like that.
That should make you feel good, though. If we’re ever hanging out together and you have something in your teeth, I’ll let you know.
Isn’t it good to have people who will speak up in this world?