“It’s nice to see a man looking like a complete piece of meat for a product endorsement,” said Rhonda from the Heidi Salon in the Merchandise Mart. She and her colleagues Monica and Patty were taking a little Monday-afternoon diet Coke break in the lobby.

Actually, it was a big diet Coke break. It was the real thing. Lucky Vanous was sitting at a red-clothed table on top of a platform signing autographed pictures of himself. He’s the guy in the diet Coke commercial, the construction worker who takes off his shirt and drinks diet Coke while the working women watch him from their office window. He’s going around the country meeting thousands of women who wish he’d drink a few diet Cokes under their window.

“This is so much better than when Julius LaRosa threw pictures of himself off the balcony at the Chicago Theatre 30 years ago,” said one woman, going back in time.

“We get a lot of screamers,” said Bart the security guard, who escorts Lucky in the various cities he visits. “They scream ‘Take it off’–but of course it doesn’t happen. Once he took his jacket off and he got a rise out of the crowd.”

“He’s darling,” said Monica.

“He’s gorgeous,” said Patty.

“He’s married,” said Rhonda.

All three ogled their autographed photos. And then they went back to work.

Bart handed Lucky a breath mint.

They came, women of all kinds, one by one, some carrying infants, to meet him. Chin, chest, or midriff resting against the table, head forward, eyes down, the women greeted him with big, entranced demure grins on their faces.

This is the kind of stuff they said:

“You’re not stuck on yourself– like Fabio.”

“Give me your picture. My husband’s in construction, and I want to show him what a construction guy should look like.”

“How do you work on your tan?” (Little by little.)

“What nationality are you?” (Czech.)

“I’m attracted to you because you’re brave enough to be in a commercial like that.”

“I love your commercial. How is your hand holding up?”

“Do you have a brother?” (A mortgage broker in San Diego.)

“Sign it to ‘Dirty Dottie’–and I just love your chest.”

“Hi, I’m so nervous–but I love you.” (Lucky tapped the ring on his left hand.)

“You sure are handsome.”

“Were you ever a ‘real’ construction worker?” (In college.)

“Your lips are dry.”

A lone man stood in line and finally got to Lucky. “I felt awkward so I told the people in charge, ‘It’s for my wife’–but they all cracked up; they know I’m not married. It’s great that your 15 minutes are happening. A video! A calendar! Movie deals! And you don’t have an attitude at all.”

Other men weren’t as bold. Or as interested. One little boy stood on the sidelines waiting while his mother and little sister got their pictures autographed. Men from the offices upstairs wandered by with Starbucks cups and frozen yogurt, wondering what all the commotion was about.

“The men come up to me and ask who it is,” said Bart. “Once I tell them, boom! It snaps! Of course, that’s not true with the ladies. They know exactly who he is without asking.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Linda Matlow–Pix Int’l..