Updated: February 5, 2012 8:08AM
Unlike you, I’ve been across the 14th floor sky bridge that connects the two towers of the Wrigley Building. This past summer, thanks to the kindness of Andy Pharaoh at the William Wrigley Co. And just to show you that no act of kindness goes unpunished — and to illustrate the constant, get-a-hand-and-go-for-the-elbow nature of journalism — I mentioned to Andy, “Of course, what I’d really like to do is see how you guys manufacture chewing gum.”
Oh no, he said, that would be impossible.
Why? I persisted. The product’s 100 years old. It’s chewing gum. There’s no secret recipe. It can’t be proprietary at this point.
No, he said. “But the way we wrap it is.”
The seed of another interesting column, splattering uselessly against the wall of corporate America, a moment that returned to make me cringe anew when I read that all the 30 second ad spots at the Super Bowl have sold for a whopping $3.5 million apiece.
At times, it seems that half of any big company is desperately grabbing for publicity while the other half, with equal fervor, frantically tries to keep itself under wraps.
Government isn’t like this. The FBI will invite you to its HQ and show off weapons in the gun vault. Rahm Emanuel will waltz you around his office, pointing out cool stuff on his walls. Wanna tour the Israeli Knesset? C’mon in, and stop by an air force base, too.
But Tootsie Roll? Forget about it. They make them in Chicago you know -- actually, you probably don’t know, because the place is like North Korea. Or Kraft Foods — you can talk with Irene Rosenfeld all you want (which, in my case, was once; let’s just say that people do not become CEOs by tossing off trenchant observations). But witness the complex process that puts dry noodles and powdered cheese into boxes? It’s a secret.
Nor do you have to be a corporation to dwell in a shell. When Wacker Drive was shut down for reconstruction, the fences surrounding it had a kelly green wrap, the name “Midwest Fence” and a phone number. “Now there’s a business you just don’t see ballyhooed in the press,” thought I, and called the number. And called. And called. Eventually, I got a person, whom I called and called some more. There’s a lawsuit, he finally said, a disgruntled employee.
“Don’t tell me!” I said. “I dont want to know about irked employees. I only want the dynamics of the chain link fence industry.”
No matter. Though, to be fair, none of the other fence companies I called would cooperate either. Maybe the mob controls them.
Or maybe they just don’t want to be in the newspaper. Hard as that is for me to fathom, since being in the paper is my core value. If you’re not in the newspaper you might as well be dead. But many don’t agree — despite all the social media, some, particularly corporate sorts, are terrified to be in the news, frightened of the loss of control, unsure of what they’ll see in that mirror.
Or the problem could be me; but don’t be led astray by my ascerbic personality here. I can be warm butter when setting up a story.
You should have heard me on the phone to this Indian bakery on Devon Avenue. Niceness itself. One of my nieces insisted I go. “The tea!” she enthused. It was indeed wonderful tea — milky and spicy and piping hot. And the sweets. A heaven’s worth of oddly flavored — to me — brightly colored and unusually shaped desserts: Red Bombay halwa. Pink bardam barfi. Pistachio green katli.
This called for a full blown journalistic investigation. I consulted the Mahabharata — a sacred Hindu text — for dessert references. I huddled with the food editor, urging a celebration, splashed across the Food Section. A beginner’s guide to Indian sweets!
She agreed. In joy, I phoned the bakery to deliver the good news (I can be so dense in this regard). And phoned. Working my way up the ladder of uncomprehending clerks, to the owner himself, or rather the co-owner.
“I’ll have to talk to my brother,” he said, bleakly. They’ve been talking a long time. The next step is to just show up, but I’m worried I might lose control, grab him by his shirt collar and drag him across the counter hissing, “Don’t make me beg, baker man.”
Still, if you’re a patron, lining up for the tea, why not put in a good word for me? “Hey Salim, call the guy back. What’s wrong with you? You can’t buy that kind of publicity.”
Or give it away, some days.