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The Blinking Red Light | PART 2 While on the job, the chance for full-time work crumbles.
By Dave Franco - April 29, 2014

READ PART ONE OF THE BLINKING RED LIGHT HERE.

The day the freelance job was to start was going to be a Friday, just two days away. On Thursday night, I borrowed a friend’s car and drove it to visit another friend in Warwick, New York—about an hour’s drive upstate. The entire time, I felt lighter than air. I couldn’t get the smile off my face.

When I returned to Manhattan late that night, I parked along a street in a nearby neighborhood. The following morning, I was up early with my plan laid out clearly in my mind: I was to walk to the neighborhood where the car was, return it to my friend, and then take the subway down to 47th and Second Avenue where I would meet Mike Silver at Grey Advertising for the first day of my two-week job. I couldn’t wait to get there.

Arriving at the corner that Friday morning, I saw nothing that looked remotely similar to the car that I had driven the night before. I ran to other corners of the neighborhood thinking—hoping that perhaps I had forgotten which corner I had parked.

As I ran back to the original corner, a weathered old man, who was sweeping that very sidewalk, seemed to notice the panic on my face. “Park?” he said, with a thick European accent, pointing right to where I thought my car should be.

“Yes!” I said, exasperated.
He shook his head. “No good.”

I looked again at the parking sign nearby. I had misread it. I had parked on the wrong side of the road for that particular morning. The car had been towed.

My heart shook. I stomped around in circles, throwing my arms and fists. I ran up a hill to my house, confessed my stupidity to Nicole and then, sweating profusely, dialed the number of the girl who’s car it was, praying that she would say, “No worries, just get it to me whenever.”

“I’m in a wedding in Connecticut tomorrow,” she said. “ I have to have my car!”

I couldn’t believe what I had done. On the most important first-day of any job I’ve ever had, I was going to have to miss it.

I couldn’t believe what I had done. On the most important first-day of any job I’ve ever had, I was going to have to miss it. It takes an entire day to get your car released from the NYPD. It involves buses, subways, walking, $187, impound lots and guard dogs. Go through it once, and more than likely, you will sell your car.

I said goodbye to Nicole who was barely able to offer me a smile as I ran out the door. I felt like the biggest heel of all time.

I arrived at the 37th floor of the Marine Midland Bank building on Second Avenue, drenched. It was the end of June, and at 9AM it was already 80 degrees. The forecast was for 89 degrees, which as any Manhattanite will tell you, is about 107. I sat in the lobby and prayed like I have never prayed before. I had to keep this job even though I was about to walk out on the first day.

Mike Silver stepped out of the elevators. I sheepishly walked up and offered my clammy hand. “I’m Dave Franco. May I have a word with you?”
“Sure,” he said.
“I know it is my first day, and I won’t try to give you any details of my emergency because I’m sure you’ve got better things to do with your time, but all I can say is, I have an emergency. I can’t be here today.” I held my breath and cringed inside.

He looked at me quizzically. “Well,” he said. “I guess an emergency is an emergency. Come back on Monday?”

I ran out of there feeling like the chances of me keeping that job had just been cut in half. When it comes to making first impressions, I had just made the worst one imaginable.

By the end of the day, I had gotten the car to its owner, but had put a huge dent in the possibility that I would win a fulltime position. The entire weekend I frantically tried to psych myself up that I was going to be the best writer in the entire agency in order earn that job. It was my only hope.

On Wednesday of that week I was to show Mike Silver ideas for print ads. I felt good about the work and walked into his office with confidence. He hated everything I showed him.

I walked out of there stunned. It wasn’t even as if he thought there were ideas that I should flesh out—something to salvage. “Start again,” he said.

I rode the A train home that night with the distant stare and shaking head of a person lost in disbelief. This can’t be how it is supposed to go, I kept thinking to myself.

We only had ten days left for me to get it right. What had I just done to my family?

I walked in the door and could barely face Nicole. “It didn’t go well,” I blurted out to try to stave off her excited welcome. My three-year-old son came running up to me with a glad-to-see-you-daddy smile and laugh. I hugged him to keep from having to look him in the face. We only had ten days left for me to get it right. What had I just done to my family?

As I was leaving the next morning, Nicole reminded me that she had an appointment to talk to an apartment broker whom she had convinced that even though I didn’t have a fulltime job, we were worth his time. When we said goodbye, we both knew that fear was once again, working overtime.

The days to follow were identical to Wednesday, where everything I wrote met with rejection from Mike. I had been a copywriter a long time. I knew how to do my job. I had made a living doing this for ten years. What sense did it make that I couldn’t get anything past him? It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was no longer writing from a clear mind, but a state of panic. It was like trying to call forth delicately crafted ideas with a freight train speeding through your mind.

Over the weekend, I spent hours curled up in the shower calling out to God and wringing my hands in failure. Week one had been a disaster. I had taken a risk that two weeks freelance could turn into a job—and now it was crumbling beneath my feet.

On the following Tuesday, Mike asked me to write some copy for an existing print ad. All he needed were two paragraphs. Short but meaningful and smart copy is my specialty. This would be my chance to shine.

When I turned in the copy to Mike, he read it, then looked at me as if to say, You have to be kidding.

I ran back to my office and began to question everything about myself. I finally sat down to type as it was mine alone to get this copy right, and Mike would be calling me soon for the revision. A half an hour later, I had just finished putting on the finishing touches to the copy when Mike showed up at my door. “Got it?” he asked curtly.

“Sure, take a look,” I replied, my heart beating out of my chest.
He read it. “Move over,” he said, with disgust. And so there I sat, with my boss sitting next to me typing out my copy—doing my work for me because I couldn’t do it myself.

That’s it, I thought, feeling lower than at any point in my career—in my life. It’s over now.

At home, Nicole and I tried to talk about contingency plans, but neither of us had the strength to wrap our minds around it. We were beyond our wits end by the whole ordeal. This was completely God’s to mend now. We were out of money. We were out of time. And we were out of answers. If God wanted us to be on the streets with a three-year-old and an infant, there must be a reason.

Thursday late afternoon would be my last chance to impress Mike. I was to present TV ads to him for one of the agency’s more important clients. I walked into his office with three storyboards that even I didn’t like that much.

He liked them less than I did.

That night, we gathered around, held hands and we prayed for our future—the boy who trusted his parents, the mom filled with hope for her unborn baby and son, and the guy who let them all down. The job was a goner, our grand gamble had not paid off, and now there was nothing between us and homelessness. There was no going back to California. Nicole was way too far along in her pregnancy for flying and we didn’t have enough money to buy a car to get us across country. I felt such guilt as I watched her close her eyes and sweetly ask the Lord for His favor in the low light of our living room. I had never felt so helpless.

The end had come. On the other side of this conversation was the process of leaving our apartment for the streets.

On July 15, 1998, I walked into the Marine Midland Bank building and took the elevators to the 37th floor for the last time. When I arrived, the receptionist told me that Mike wanted the entire floor of creatives to come into his office for a quick meeting. About 20 of us piled into Mike’s window office to hear him give everyone a tongue lashing over some administrative procedural matter that nobody had made any effort to follow. He was miffed. After about 10 minutes, he dismissed us.

“Franco,” he said as I was filing out of the office with the rest. “I want you to stay for a minute.”
The end had come. On the other side of this conversation was the process of leaving our apartment for the streets.
I thought to myself. Here it goes.
“And close the door,” Mike said.
Close the door, I repeated in my mind. I think every firing starts by closing a door.

I took a deep breath, shut the door and turned around to find Mike standing by his desk. “Franco,” he said, holding out his hand. “I want you to be a part of my team.”
I just looked at him for a moment, as if waiting to come to. Suddenly the blinking red light of my phone machine flashed through my mind. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I want you to be a part of my team.”

Tears began welling up in my eyes. I raised my hand slowly to his and swallowed hard. I could think of only one thing to say. As the muscles in my face struggled to show that I was not about to lose it, “It’s my birthday today,” barely came out of my mouth.

“Well, happy birthday,” he said cheerfully as we shook hands. I said nothing. I wasn’t sure it was really happening. I just stared at him with my eyes about to overflow. Talk about an awkward moment.

I ran down the hall and into my office. I wanted to shout. I wanted to laugh. I didn’t know what to do—so I hugged my computer.
“Thank you, God! Thank you, God!” I whisper yelled.

When I got home, Nicole also had good news. The apartment broker had found us an apartment even though we had no permanent income to show. Nicole and I did our second jumping crash-hug.

When God did come bursting into our lives to save the day, He didn’t come smashing through the ceiling. He did it by way of a phone machine. Now, whenever I am filled with doubt, I remember the blinking red light. It means God has no need for such things as logic in order to do His Will, and he can even use an anemic faith. He doesn’t even really need my trust—He is in the miracle business after all.

And He never forgets His children.