The Airing of Grievances

Mr. Gerald Isaac Stiller
1927-2020

When you’re a young go-getter who thinks he knows a lot more than he actually does, the world is your oyster. As a 28-year-old, I was running the secondary research department at a pretty big advertising agency and loving life. Every now and again, a piece of information I stumbled upon would help win a large pitch or help a friend look good in front of a client. 

Knowing just about everyone in the building was a bonus, I got a genuine thrill out of hearing someone say they needed something and being able to connect them with a person who could help. 

Even the evangelical, golden-haired agency founder knew who I was and would call on me when everyone else was stuck or busy. 

In 2005, knowledge had already become a measurable commoddity.   Large research companies like Gartner, FindSVP and Forrester were charging king’s ransoms for the latest competitive information in almost every field. Hoovers was charging an arm and a leg just to find out who the competitors were. And agencies were more than happy to pay these fees and pass the ‘savings’ onto the client. 

That same year, the powers that be decided to send two people in our department to NYC for the big Forrester conference. 

New York City! For business! I was going on a business trip to New York City. I was going to wear slacks! 

The other guy they sent, I remember now, reminded me of Avon Barksdale’s lawyer in The Wire. Can’t remember his name, nice enough guy, not super social. 

We stayed in separate hotels, that dude – in the Marriott where the conference was. Me, in a satin-covered converted hostel with lots of cheap statues and at least three guys that, years later, could be found drenched in Axe body spray. But hey, I was in NYC! On business! Like a businessman!

First order of said business, pay for the hotel. I didn’t own a credit card and didn’t have $1,100 in my bank account. I didn’t have $100 in my bank account. Advertising was fun but they were pretty damn great at promoting you by title only, leaving the bare-boned remains of client retainers and $1M bonuses for my more senior coworkers. My favorite ladies back in Austin, Karen and Carol, took care of the hotel registration and off I went to do some more business. Keep in mind, though I was 28, my brain – outside of the world of research – was approximately 15.

In 2005, the keynote speaker at the event was NFL Commissioner, Paul Tagliabue. Other speakers included marketing and IT bigwigs from major tech companies. My job was to make sure our clients were at the forefront of the technologies that would be discussed throughout the conference.

It was the last night, Paul Tagliabue had just spoken, the conference was over and I felt good about my notes. A group of younger folk from SF I’d been hanging out with invited me to the Forrester after party. I was going to skip it but they said it would be free booze and that got my attention. My less than $100 wasn’t going to go far anywhere else, after all.

Off we went. 

I’m remembering it as “China Grove,” the very cool rooftop bar near Time Square – where, I was told, the cast of Saturday Night Live had their afterparties. Sure enough, the booze was free, so my new friends and I grabbed a deluxe booth on the promenade deck, overlooking the main floor. 

Outdoor lights were strung to outline the main floor of about 30 tables on a large dance floor, the slightly raised platform surrounding said floor contained big, comfortable Rat Pack-style booths.

Not three tables away was Commissioner Tagliabue. And, reportedly, his childhood friend, Jerry Stiller. 

Did this person have the Internet in her pocket? No. How did she know Tagliabue and Stiller were old friends? She didn’t, but we were young and facts weren’t super important. 

Two or seven whiskeys in, at least three of us thought it would be intelligent and fun to start secretly shouting “Serenity Now!” then look around like some other table had done it. After a while, Stiller’s head would stick out and look directly at us. Three-four more times, his eyes were on me. I didn’t want to play anymore. 

Why had we decided to pick on Jerry Stiller, by no means the most famous person in the room? Because you could hear him from the sidewalk, five stories below. NASA could hear him from the Hubble. No one on the loud-ass rooftop, filled with 150 people could hear anything but him. It was insane. 

After a while, we stopped our nonsense and got into peppered conversations amongst ourselves. Jerry Stiller stood, made his way up the stairs and toward the exit, didn’t break stride, turned his head my way, his index finger directed to my chest from four feet away and said, “Fucker! (Fuckuh)” loudly, of course and made his way out. 

The bar erupted with raucous laughter.

Did I deserve it any more than anyone else at the table? Probably. Did he deserve it because he was literally distracting everyone on the roof with his accidentally arresting, normal speaking voice? Hell yes. 

I had told the much longer version of this to everyone who would listen for years. The Seinfeld fans tend to enjoy it more than most. Some doubted me, but I was used to that. Those who had traveled with me did not doubt me and often asked me to tell this story at gatherings. 

Two of those people went to a Mets game with me in 2010. 

The morning before the game, our group stumbled over to a bagel shop that used to exist just south of Zabar’s on the UWS. Out we came with delicious, toasted bagels, schmears and juices. Twenty feet away Jerry Stiller, Zabar’s bags in hand, hailed a cab. 

I looked at my buddy and said, “That’s Jerry Stiller.” 

I made a b-line toward him and, as his ass hit the seat, yelled “Fucker! (Fuckuh)” into the cab. He acted like this happened to him six times a day, every day and the door shut and the taxi left. 

RIP Sir.