Obvious Adams – Chapter 2

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The next six years of Adams’s life no one knows much about but he, and of these years he has little to say. When the grocery store was sold out he took what little money he had been able to save up and went to New York, where he worked by day in a public market and went to night school in the evenings.

Then one day something happened. Near the end of his final year at night school the principal arranged for a series of vocational talks for the benefit of the older students. The first of the talks was by James B. Oswald, president of the famous Oswald Advertising Agency. In those days Oswald was in his prime, and he was a most interesting and instructive talker, with a way of fitting his message to the needs of his hearers—which was probably why he was successful as an advertising man.

Young Oliver Adams sat spellbound throughout the talk. It was his first vision of the big world of business, and it seemed to him that Oswald was about the most wonderful man he ever had met—for he actually did meet and shake hands with him after the lecture.

On the way home he thought over what Mr. Oswald had told of the advertising business. As he prepared for bed in his little third-floor rear he thought over the man Oswald and decided that he must be a fine man. As he pulled the blanket up over him and nestled down into the pillows he decided that he would like to work in the advertising business. And as he slipped off to sleep he assured himself that he would like to work for such a man as James B. Oswald.

The next morning when he awoke the last two thoughts had become united: He would like to work in the advertising business—for James B. Oswald. The natural thing to do then—to Oliver Adams, at least—was to go and tell that gentleman.

Though the idea frightened him a little, it never occurred to him for a minute but that he should do just that. And so at two o’clock that afternoon he asked for two hours off at the market, that being the quiet time of day, and, after carefully blacking his shoes and brushing his clothes, started out for the big office-building which housed the Oswald Advertising Agency.

Mr. Oswald was busy, he was informed by the girl in the reception hall who had telephoned his name in to the big man.
Oliver thought a minute. “Tell him I can wait an hour and ten minutes.”
The girl looked surprised, for people were not in the habit of sending such messages to the big chief. But there was something in the simple directness of the lad that seemed to make the message a perfectly natural one.
Rather to her own surprise, she repeated the message to the president precisely as she had received it.

“He will see you in about twenty minutes,” she announced.

Of the interview itself James Oswald used to delight to tell:

“In walked young Adams, as serious as a deacon. I didn’t recognize him as one of the young men I had met the night before until he introduced himself and mentioned our meeting. Then he went on to say that he had thought the matter over and had decided that he wanted to get into the advertising business and that he wanted to work for me, and so here he was.

“I looked him over. He was a very ordinary-looking boy, it seemed to me, rather stolid, not especially bright in appearance. Then I asked him some questions to see how quick-witted he was. He answered them all readily enough, but his answers weren’t particularly clever. I liked him well enough, but he seemed to lack alertness—that little up-and-comingness that is necessary in advertising. And so finally I told him, in as kindly a way as possible, that I didn’t think he was cut out for an advertising man and that I was very sorry, but I couldn’t give him a position, and a lot more fatherly advice. It was really a choice little speech, firm but gentle.

“He took it all nicely enough. But instead of begging me to give him a chance, he thanked me for the interview and said, as he got up to go: ‘ Well, Mr. Oswald, I have decided that I want to get into the advertising business and that I want to work for you, and I thought the obvious thing to do was to come and tell you so. You don’t seem to think I could make good and so I will have to set out to find some way to prove it to you. I don’t know just how I can do it, but I’ll call on you again when I have found out. Thank you for your time. Good-by. And he was gone before I could say a word.

“Well, I was set back considerably ! All my little speech had been lost entirely. He didn’t even entertain my verdict! I sat for five minutes thinking about it. I was rather irritated to be thus turned down by a boy, so civilly but so very definitely. All the rest of the afternoon I felt decidedly chagrined.

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John