Friday, March 25, 2011

The rural south in 1949: Four strangers on a road trip in a strange land.

The rural south in 1949:  Four strangers on a road trip in a strange land.
©Joel Baumwoll

As a kid, some of my most memorable experiences happened on family trips.  This was one of the few times that I saw our family as a little team, united and together in an alien world of strange people and different cultures.  There we were, my old man and mother, kid brother and me, in our old Plymouth, navigating through unfamiliar towns and roads, eating in places like Hot Shoppes and Howard Johnsons that we would never see around home.

Running board pride 1946

 “Taking a trip” meant hitting the road. This called for a fair amount of planning.  My old man would call “Triple A” (we never called it A.A.A.)  and, in a few weeks, a fat envelope would arrive.  We would gather ‘round as he would open it and spread the contents on the kitchen table. The table was covered with brochures, flyers, coupons, maps, and the main event, the Triptik.

A Tripik was a fat book, in ring binders, that was created especially for our trip.  The first page even had my old man’s name printed in the title.  It said “Triptik Created for Harold Baumwoll.  Itinerary: Rockaway, New Jersey to Williamsburg, Virginia.”

Historical-p7

This was “our” trip, and each page contained information about where to stay, where to eat, what to see. This ingenious book divided our trip into small segments called strip maps.  The master map and each page showed a route highlighted by a bright red line drawn over the local, state or federal highways.

The old man was deadly serious about following these maps, and the job fell to my mother to navigate through confusing intersections, unexpected detours, and unexpected deviations.  “What terrible road signs they have in Maryland” my old man would complain, over and over, as we searched for confirmation that we were on the right track.

My mother would pack a basket of sandwiches and a jug of “bug juice” for the day’s drive.  Lunch was always a roadside picnic.  For some reason, tuna salad sandwiches were incredibly delicious eaten at a worn picnic table in some dusty pull-off.  The roads were full of these “rest spots” in the days before franchise hamburger joints took over.  They usually  offered a rusty charcoal grill on a post, a wire trash can and a smelly toilet.  But they always seemed to be picturesque places with shade and the beauty of wildflowers and hornets.

Harold, Joel, Gene, Lake Hopatcong 1947
As we drove on toward our goal, and evening approached, we’d begin to look for a place to sleep.  Before Holiday Inns, our preferences ran to “tourist cabins” rather than motels.  The requirements were a large AAA logo and a “vacancy” sign. The AAA sign meant that we would have a clean and safe night’s sleep, even if we had to pay a bit more.   Typically, these places were set just of the road in a large enclosed piece of property, often bordered by a wood picket fence.  The fancier places had low red brick walls, decorated with pots of flowers.

014_MHS_1950s_Tourist_Cabins

The property was dotted with a row or two of small wooden cabins, some large, with screened porches, and others with a simple screen door and one window facing the road.  The “deluxe”cabins were like small houses, with two bedrooms and a rickety set of wood chairs in front.  These were “extra” and my parents rarely sprung for such luxury.  Our cabin usually had a double bed, one single bed and a folding cot.  My kid brother got the folder.

The intimacy of these sleeping arrangements produced some odd conflicts and a lot of giggling.  The occasional fart or burp would occasion howls of laughter from me and my brother and shouts of “shaddup” from my old man.  Every now and then, the usual fraternal conflict would erupt into bouts of whining, pinching and crying, and these could escalate into full fledged violence.

Sometimes my old man, angry that his cherished sleep was being disturbed (“I have to drive all day tomorrow,”) would lash out with a slap or a punch, much to the chagrin of my mother, and an atmosphere of fear would seep into the fun and adventure.

Breakfasts on the road were wonderful meals.  Sometimes a country breakfast place would be close by the tourist cabins, and we’d pack up the car and head for them.  On other occasions, we’d ask the manager for a recommendation, and he’s send us to some special place that featured the “best” pancakes, or “biggest breakfasts” in the country.  If we were near a larger town or city in the south, we’d pull into a Hot Shoppe.  These were an early chain of breakfast restaurants that served generous portions and bottomless cups of coffee.


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I remember fondly those stacks of buckwheat cakes, drowning in maple syrup and butter with slices of bacon or country sausage.  These were like Sunday breakfast, during the week.  How special they felt.

Fortified, we’d pile into the Plymouth, by now blazing hot and itchy.  Out would come the TripTik, and our voyage would resume.

One journey I recall took us to Alexandria Virginia.  Our destination was Colonial Williamsburg, a newly built “historic village” complete with farms, blacksmiths, old country kitchens and people dressed in costumes of the revolutionary war era.  My mother was a colonial furniture freak, and it was she who had picked this exotic destination.

In the 1940s, the days before super highways, the journey took us through small towns and rural areas dotted with barns, cows and cabins.  Occasionally we’d drive through a very poor part of town, invariably inhabited by “negroes.”



I recall being shocked at the primitive houses, unpaved streets and threadbare look of the people who stared at us from wooden porches as we drove by.  I was too young to understand what I was seeing, but it made a big impression.




As did the signs over restrooms and drinking fountains in public placed for “colored” or “white only.”  This was Jim Crow south in the 1940s, and it felt like a strange land to an eight year old kid from the Bronx.


My mother often let it slip that there were not too many Jews in this part of the country, and people were not likely to be all that friendly to us.  That puzzled me, but it also made me feel even more like a stranger in a strange land.   I was on high alert for danger.  But it never came.
 
The billboards and road signs were fascinating.  A family favorite were the Burma Shave signs, small poems divided into six wooden posts, each read aloud in a chorus by my brother and I as we drove by them. The last being the word "Burma Shave" sung in a deep basso profundo.

Burma Shave sign 1940
Burma Shave sign 1948

“That was a good one,” or “Not so hot” was the commentary that followed each one.  We’d speed along, alert for the next  one, which would come in five or six miles. Burma Shave supplied us with countless hours of amusement as we drive on through dusty and hot rural landscapes.

Rural advertising on the sides of barns was another fascinating feature of these rural drives.  Bull Durham was a big brand then.

Bull Durham sign

The roadside show was as interesting to me as any tourist site.  It spoke to me of a world I had never seen, and gave me a sense that there were people who lived differently than we did.  To a kid used to the sameness of the 1940s Bronx block where I lived, this was true adventure.

Nowhere in the Bronx had I seen seen religious signs displayed with such aggression.   It seemed that people down there wanted to save my soul.  It took me a few years before I figured out what it was that Jesus saves.


Ads for chewing tobacco were about as prevalent as signs for our salvation.


It was during one of these trips that we went through an experience that became legendary in our family.  It started when we were motoring through rural Virginia and left the job of finding a place to sleep a bit late.  As we drove past one “no vacancy” sign after another, a sense of worry began to creep into the air.  It had not occurred to my father that Colonial Williamsburg was a popular tourist destination, and the supply of economical AAA-endorsed motels and tourist cabins was clearly less than the demand during this spring holiday.

The folks decided to settle for a non-AAA endorsed place, but to no avail.  As the sun set and a scary darkness fell around this alien territory, the prospect of sleeping in the car did not seem too far-fetched.  My brother and I sat quietly in the back, listening to my mom, ragging the old man for not stopping earlier at the place she spotted with a vacancy sign.  He was getting steamed, and had the brilliant idea to head for the tourist information center in this god forsaken village.

The guy who manned this outpost was just on his way out the door as we drove up, shining our headlights on him.  After hearing our plight, he made a few phone calls and told us to follow him.  His name, I remember clearly, was Major Quick, and he wore a wide brimmed hat.

“See,” my old man says to my mother, “Major Quick is gonna take care of us.”  And off we go, racing at breakneck speeds down dark country roads.  My mother wasn't having any of it.  My mother, no doubt remembering her childhood experience escaping Cossak pogroms in Moldova, being at the mercy of thugs who ran the boats over the river to Romania, said “how do you know he’s not going to take us to a dark place and rob us?”

“Oh c’mon,” my father said, “where is your spirit of adventure?”  That was the first time I ever heard my old man talk about a spirit of adventure.  He was trying to pull his fat out of the fire for leaving his family up the creek without a bed in the dark of the Virginia night.
After an interminable ride, Quick’s car pulls up in front of a neat house, with a gray haired women waiting at the door.  “That’s Mrs. Jenkins,” says Quick.  Her son is in the army and she takes in roomers for a night or two. She agreed to put you folks up.”

So in we go, refugees from the Bronx, probably the first New Yorkers and the only Jews Mrs. Jenkins had ever seen.  “That’ll be $5 for the night and I expect you’ll be gone first thing in the morning,” she instructed us, eyeing my brother and I with a practiced look of a schoolteacher who knew trouble when she saw it.

“I’m hungry,” whined my kid brother.  “Me too,” I chimed in.  “There’s a café about fifteen minutes down the road, but you’ll have to hurry. They close in twenty minutes.”  “And get back here before 9, cause I want to lock up.”

Off we go, roaring down the lane to a roadside hamburger joint that looked like an gas station with a café attached.

Gasstation40sballard

A tankfull of Texaco and a couple of hamburgers later, we roar back to our haven  and tuck into our clean soft beds.


Ahhh…safe and sound, thanks to Major Quick.  That night lived on in our memories as the time when my mother discovered her spirit of adventure, and Major Quick became a family legend.

I've since driven through countrysides in France, Italy, Greece, Spain and China.  But nothing has replaced the excitement I felt during those times when we ventured forth as a family, into strange lands, guided only by our TripTik and my old man’s intrepid confidence in Triple A.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: How I invented the SUV from Israel (almost).

True stories of a real Mad Man:  How I invented the SUV from Israel (almost). ©Joel Baumwoll


As a result of one of the twists and turns that life puts in your path I almost became competition for General Motors.  Well, maybe not quite.  This strange journey began in 1986 with a call from a friend who invited me to join him at lunch in a week’s time with Yaacov Meridor, the Minister of Economic Development from Israel.

My friend knew that I had left the agency business three years previous to start a consulting company that specialized in new product development.  He said that Meridor was interested in increasing Israel’s export trade with the US, and that if I had any ideas for products from Israel that would sell here, I should talk to him about them.

Meridor was a distinguished name in Israel.  Yaakov, now in his seventies, was one of the founders of the Irgun, a so-called terrorist group that fought the British and the arabs in the early days of Israel’s creation. Menachem Begin was his protogé.  Their most notable act was blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which housed the British high command.  

I looked forward to our lunch.

Joining the pair at the Polo Lounge on Central Park South, I looked at the card that Meridor handed me.  It said simply "Yaakov Meridor, Chairman of Companies. " Earlier that day I had racked my brain for ideas for products that Israel might import to the US.

After introductions, Sandy Frank, my friend, set the stage for me.  I began;  “Well Mr. Meridor, I’ve tried to come up with ideas for products that Americans will think are really good because they come from Israel. What I mean is that the image that Americans have of Israel should make them think, ’well that must be a good product.’  For example, Americans have a good image of France when it comes to food and fashion.  They think highly of mechanical products that come from Germany.  Now, I think most Americans associate three things with Israel:  Jews, fruits and war.  

The first two things don’t get us anywhere, but the third --war--does.”

Meridor listened patiently to my rather audacious line of reasoning.  I recalled his Irgun past, and hurried to get to the point.



“I think that Americans are beginning to like rough and ready cars-like the Jeep.  The Jeeps came from a WWII army vehicle that was surplussed and sold to civilians.  In recent years, it has gained popularity with people who like its counter-luxury image.  It has a sort of anti-snob snob appeal.  I think if we could get a version of an Israeli Jeep to sell here it would appeal to some people.  Americans see the Israeli military as the most effective and toughest fighting force in the world. If we could get a genuine IDF (Israeli Defense Force) vehicle and modify it a little for civilian use, I think it could establish a place for Israel in the biggest market in the US.”

Meridor sat quietly for a moment and said, “that’s a big operation, to go into the car making business.  I don’t know if it is possible.  I’ll think about it.”

Lunch ended and I heard no more from Meridor for six months.

I thought I had laid an egg, and so be it.  You can’t win them all.

Then my secretary came in saying that a “Mr. Meridor was on the phone from Israel.  “I found the car!” he said excitedly, and told me to expect a package of photos and information in a few days.

The package arrived and revealed a large, rugged vehicle about the size and shape of the Hummer (of course there was no such thing back then in 1987). It was called the “Command Car” and was produced by a company called AIL (Automotive Industrial Limited) from Nazareth.  The IDF used it in much the same way as the US Army used large versions of the Jeep.  It sometimes carried mounted machine guns and was “proof against mines.”  It could climb steep rocky hills like a mountain goat and plow through desert sands. The engine and transmission were US made, from GM or Chrysler, so they were compatible with US parts, a real plus.



We could get the car delivered here for about $14,000.  I figured we could sell it for about $30,000, so there was enough margin for distributors to make good money.  AIL was willing to give us 180 days to pay without interest.  It was a sweet deal.

I figured we could sell maybe 1500 to 2,000 of them the first year, based on novelty value alone.  Macho men like Stalone and Gibson would buy it to enhance their movie images.  Publicity would be easy to get.  We jokingly said we would make Uzis an option.  Forty five to sixty million dollars was not a bad gross for two guys in a sublet office on Madison Avenue.  Visions of sugarplums danced in my head.

I decided to go to Israel for a test drive.  We were met at the King David Hotel by Ron Arieli, the manager of AIL.  He drove us to their offices in Nazareth.  I was feeling very biblical.

There we were introduced to Joe Boxenbaum, the owner of AIL and one of the wealthiest men in Israel.  He controlled the dealerships for practically all the Japanese cars in the country.  He was a small man near eighty, sitting in a small office.  As I walked in, I was struck by the walls around us.  They were covered with Chagall paintings.  Boxenbaum saw my interest and explained that he was a friend of Chagall's.  To prove it, he pointed to a painting behind his desk, a portrait of Boxenbaum, his family and Chagall!  Boxenbaum had made a deal with Henry Ford II in 1972 to assemble and sell Ford trucks in Israel.  I imagined Ford had met with Boxenbaum in this very office.

Heady stuff!

After a brief discussion, Arieli took us out for a test drive, straight up a mountain, over rocks, tree branches and deep holes.  At the top, we turned around.  I felt like a kid in a roller coaster, just before it takes the big plunge.  Arieli walked the car down the steep slope, one wheel at a time, "like a mountain goat" he said.  I was imagining the commercial we would make for this beast.  Stallone would certainly want one.

The Command car was rather primitive inside, but not to worry, said Arieli.  There was enough margin in the sale to fix it up with nice seats and leather interior. AIL was interested!

Next item on the agenda was to get dealerships to carry the thing.

New York, Florida and LA were the prime targets.  I set up a lunch meeting with Meridor and one of the Potamkins.  They were the reigning Cadillac dealers in New York and Florida.  Perfect.

Seated at a choice table in “21” (Potamkin’s call), surrounded by high powered, rich people talking deals, Meridor, my then partner, Pete Tannen and I awaited Alan Potamkin.  John Kluge, the multi-media billionaire sat nearby lunching with Victor Potamkin, the patriarch of Potamkin Cadillac.  Alan arrived and with little prelude began to tell us how much money his company grossed, how many cars it sold, that they were GM’s #1 Cadillac dealer...etc.

I fidgeted uncomfortably, thinking of the illustrious, powerful and dangerous credentials of the older man from Israel who sat quietly listening to this chest thumping speech.  Potamkin finished, and before I could say a word, Meridor said, “Yes, well I am a man of not inconsiderable note in my own country.  Now let’s talk about business.”  I’m not sure Potamkin knew he had been put down in the most artful way I had ever seen.

Our discussion ranged over the plans we had made and the opportunity we saw with this vehicle.  Then Potamkin asked, “What are you going to do about insurance?”

Insurance?  What did he mean?  “Liability insurance,” he explained.  If someone rolls over in your car, who will they sue?  Not some company in Israel.  Not me.  You.”

We discovered that insurance companies didn’t welcome two guys from Madison Avenue who wanted an umbrella liability policy on an Israeli military vehicle they planned to sell to a bunch of testosterone charged men who wanted to demonstrate their power.

In the next ten years, the macho SUV became the rage with American car buyers.  Even Hummer got into the act.  But the IDF Command Car never made to our shores.

And as Shakespeare wrote, for want of a nail a shoe was lost, and  for want of a shoe a horse was lost...you know the rest.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: How I met Henry Ford.

True Stories of a real Mad Man: How I met Henry Ford. ©Joel Baumwoll




Ray Ablondi, advertising manager of Ford was known to reject any creative work presented to him the first time around.  These meetings were always scheduled for 8 o'clock on Monday mornings at the client's headquarters in a dreary midwestern steel town.

I always suspected that Ablondi got no small pleasure from making the agency team leave the comfort of home and hearth on Sunday afternoons in order to be at the client's office at dawn's early light on Monday.

This, I came to realize, was all part of Ablondi's subtle game of keeping the agency on the defensive at all times. He was a very insecure man.

Another ploy was the formation of client executives at the meetings. Though Ray had the authority and responsibility to approve all ad campaigns, he would invariably invite at least ten lesser executives from various departments under his wing to attend these presentations. 

They would arrange themselves behind the wide tables in descending order of importance in the corporate pecking order.  Ablondi always sat in the center.  To his right and left were two Vice Presidents.  Then came the department heads, assistant department heads and at the end of the line, a couple of trainees, whom Ray said "could bring some fresh eyes to the meeting."







Every time I saw this, I was reminded of the pictures we used to see of the grim men in heavy top coats lined up on Lenin's Tomb to watch the May Day parade of Soviet tanks and ICBMs.  The top guy always stood in the center.  Every year Kremlinologists carefully analyzed where each of the party apparachniks was placed in this line up.  Anyone who moved from close to the boss to the end of the line was expected to be absent at next years' festival of mega tonnage.

Such changes in the seating hierarchy behind the heavy tables in the football field sized conference room did not go unnoticed by the agency account supervisor.   The agency team sat in a long line at right angles to the clients' table.  For some unknown and unspoken reason, we too arranged ourselves in descending order of rank.  I was often close to end of the line, about a quarter of a mile away from the action.  I once thought of bringing a pair of opera glasses to a meeting, but thought that the humor might be unappreciated by the account director, whom we lesser beings used to call (in private) a "towel of strength."

One presentation stands out in my memory.  It followed a marathon session of days and nights working to come up with four or five knockout campaign concepts which were to be presented shortly after Thanksgiving.  Now you should know that to wind up with four or five home runs worthy of presenting to the BIG MAN, it is necessary to dream up no fewer than fifty campaign ideas. 

This prodigious process requires seven or eight teams of writers and art directors shuttling back and forth from their offices to that of the creative director carrying thick piles of foam boards on which are a drawn a collection of words and "key visuals."

Each team enters with a three-foot thick stack of foam boards and leaves with two or three under their arms for "further exploration and refinement."

The ideas that survive this exercise in creative Darwinism are then presented to the "account guys."  This rare breed of executive have the astonishing capacity to remember any and every unfavorable comment the client has ever said, or was rumored to have said, or was presumed to have thought about anything. 

They think their job is to find any hint of such unfavorable ideas, thoughts, words, pictures, melodies or people in the campaigns that "the creatives" (that's what they are called) have wrought.

Once cleansed of danger, the fruits of this toil and imagining are rendered into "story boards", packed into impossibly large black cases and flown off on Sunday to meet their fate in front of the Kremlin wall.


On this particular Monday, we presented an unusually exciting group of ideas, for we thought it was time to bring a new perspective to the client's brand; to reposition it in order to grab an ever larger share of what had become a shrinking market.  After a brief set up by the account director (the "towel"), Burt Manning, the creative director got up, moving the easel as close as possible to the client (which was difficult since a table the size of a tennis court stood between us and them). 

Manning made a stirring presentation.  It actually gave me the chills to watch him spin a collection of drawings and type-set words into a moving, soaring, inspiring set of images designed to make unsuspecting TV viewers unable to live another moment without the client's product.

As the last foam board was casually flung to the floor with a flourish, a silence descended over the room.  What would THE BIG MAN say?  Would it be Thumbs Up or, unthinkably, Thumbs Down?

All the faces at the Kremlin wall turned to the man in the center.  After what seemed like an eternity he spoke:

"Why don't you shake the tree a few more times and see what else falls down."

I was dumb struck.  Shake the tree?!!  I'd never heard anyone say that before.  What did he mean "shake the tree?"  Were we looking for coconuts.  Did he think these ideas just fell out of the sky?

The "towel" quickly jumped to his feet and pronounced that we would be back in just a week with new ideas.  Did he have a tree in his office?

Return we did.  The Kremlin wall reassembled.  Easel was placed.  I wondered if Manning could find it in him to repeat the tour de force of the previous week that the client had so unceremoniously shot down in flames.  I doubted that I could. 

What I fantasized doing was throwing a coconut cream pie right in Ablondi’s face.  But after all, this was the big leagues.  We would win the day with our brains and creativity (at least that's what we told ourselves in the locker room).

 
Manning approached the easel.  Suddenly, before he could say a word, the doors opened and six blue uniformed workmen walked in.  Their supervisor, a large burly man with a drooping mustache, pointed at the big table that stood between the Kremlin wall and the agency.  



"Mr. Ford needs these tables on the ninth floor," he said, oblivious to the goings on around him.  With that, the men began to carry the tables through the double doors.  





I watched in astonishment.  Never in my fifteen years of climbing the ladder of executive rank in the ad agency world had I seen such an exhibition of naked corporate power.  I doubt that Kruschev had ever pulled off a more brutal demonstration of who was the boss.



I watched our once powerful clients react with dismay, as they shrunk back, crossed their legs and folded their hands over their private parts, as if to protect them  from any further attack. Without the wall of tables between us, they felt vulnerable.


Manning, with great presence of mind, moved the easel into the newly created no mans land where the great table had stood.  Ablondi, who had probably had such things happen to him before, was nevertheless non-plussed.  He nervously crossed and uncrossed his legs and folded and refolded his arms across his chest, as if to ward off the charge of a linebacker on a blitz.

Manning now stood a few feet away from Ablondi and, with no less powerful technique than he used the previous week, presented the results of the latest tree shaking. 

It was the most successful meeting we ever had with Ray Ablondi.

Friday, March 11, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: Executive level masturbation.

True Stories of a real Mad Man:  Executive level masturbation.©Joel Baumwoll

Grey Advertising is well known for its prowess in market research.  Many leading lights in the research profession cut their teeth there.  It was this reputation that drew me there early in my career. 
 
In the mid-1960s, the research department was famous for popularizing one type of survey technique called "market segmentation."  These were enormously complex and very expensive surveys, employing highly sophisticated statistical formulas that could be conducted only by computers, which were then just coming into their own as business tools. 


Such a study was commissioned for Foamy Shave Cream by Gillette Toiletries Company, a new client.  Top management eagerly awaited the results.  After eight months of work, the project was completed and the agency team was dispatched to present the findings to the President of the company. 

We assembled in a small conference room and waited for the top man to arrive.  Pre-presentation adrenaline was surging through our blood.  The energy level was high.  We were, as they say, "pumped up" and ready to go.

Thirty minutes past the appointed time, his assistant came in and informed us that Mr. Schultz was detained in another meeting and would not be here for at least another hour.  

Everyone struggled to maintain their focus and searched for something to talk about for the next sixty minutes.  Suddenly my boss asked rather curiously, "Do you think there are more orgasms in a year from masturbation or intercourse?"

The researchers immediately dug in to solve this pungent question.  The challenge of figuring out the answer using our powers of deductive reasoning was irresistible.  Not to mention we were bored out of our minds with waiting.

"Males, 13-17 probably masturbate three or four times a day," we theorized,  "and there are twelve million of them, so we need to multiply twelve million by four....” Our brains worked feverishly in excited collaboration, shouting out facts and hypotheses.  

The blackboard quickly filled with numbers, graphs and calculations.  Soon it looked like a classroom in quantum physics.



In the thick of our deliberations, the door flew open and Ed Schultz, all six foot five of him, strode into the room.  A fast study, he glanced around at the scene that greeted him and said "Sorry I'm so late.  But I see you've made good use of the time to work on our business problems.  I'll sit here while you finish and then you can tell me what you've discovered."

We immediately launched into our presentation of the Foamy study.

No one ever told him the real conclusion we had reached.

Monday, March 7, 2011

True stories of a real Mad man: Lightening strikes at the urinal.

True stories of a real Mad Man:  Lightening strikes at the urinal.©Joel Baumwoll

Creating a new ad campaign for one of the big three car makers is a high-pressure job.  Ideas get shot down faster than your little gray cells can conjure them.  Ford was one of the biggest clients at JWT, and the pressure was on.   In the midst of one of these perennial crises,  the late Arnold Grisman, Creative Director told a story which added levity and relieved the tension. 

Grisman was a short, stocky man, with an Edward G. Robinson smile, and a cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth.  One cold November Sunday afternoon, in the middle sixties, he was sweating out feedback from focus groups.  

The account supervisor was telephoning from the Coliseum Motel in Cincinnati where, in the next room, ten "consumers" were tearing apart campaign ideas with the zeal of lions eating Christians in the motel's Roman namesake.

Only two days remained before the BIG IDEA was to be presented to the
BIG MAN.  And no ideas remained alive after three marathon weeks of
creative brainstorming and focus group carnage.

The task?  Merely to create a theme to launch Ford's new flagship model.  The first major restyling in four years had been completed.  NEW BODY!  NEW ENGINE! Billions were riding on this quadrennial gamble.; not to mention the agency's largest account.

In those days, horsepower sold the men and styling got the nod from their wives.  So the client wanted a campaign that would romance the new styling and also sell the big new V8 engine:  two separate ideas to be merged seamlessly into one easy to read, easy to remember slogan.


Grisman recalls taking a much-needed break from the idea furnace that was his office. 



Standing at the urinal, trying to make his mind as blank as possible, his reverie was interrupted by the account executive bringing news from Cincinnati of the latest campaign casualty.  The last idea had gone down in flames.  No "concepts” remained to be fed to the hungry focus group.  What to do? he asked.

Still facing the wall, almost absent-mindedly looking down, Grisman mumbled a line, which had just popped into his head.  The new slogan was dictated to the art director in residence at the motel and presented to the ten "typical car buyers" who gave it the thumbs up!

Later that year a sixty million dollar ad campaign presented car buyers with THE ELEGANT BEAUTY WITH POWER TO PLEASE.

The client was happy.  The agency kept the account.  Only a few insiders knew the source of Grisman's inspiration.  Arnold enjoyed his victory.

Friday, March 4, 2011

How I almost committed murder. Or, fistfights and fear growing up.

How I almost committed murder.  Or, fistfights and fear growing up.
© Joel Baumwoll

By the time a boy is ten years old, he’s had at least four fistfights.  Most of these are more like wrestling matches punctuated by a few shots to the stomach or the ear.  Occasionally a haymaker would land on a guy’s nose, and the fight would usually end in a spurt of blood and howls of pain.  In those cases, the puncher would be as scared as the punchee.

My fighting career started when I was in third grade.  A kid who lined up behind me in the schoolyard liked to poke me in the neck with a pencil.  I have no idea why he picked me, except that I was directly in front of him and a convenient target.   My complaints only encouraged him.  Since “snitching” was against the kid code, I could not complain to Mr. Kennedy, the fourth grade teacher who watched over the line. 

I developed a plan.  Standard kid equipment in the Bronx of the 1940s was a “gun” made from the corner of a wooden fruit crate.  Two parts of the corner, attached at right angles formed the handle and the “barrel.  A nail was driven into the end of the barrel to hold a thick rubber band.  The angled corner, where the hammer of a real gun would be, was cut on an angle to allow the end of the rubber band, stretched tightly from the front, to hook over the small piece of wood.

The trick was to pull the rubber band to the back, hook it over the wood, aim and push the end of the band off the hook.  The band would fly off the gun and travel four or five feet, the first few at some force.  My simple plan was to bring my gun to school, get behind the kid, and shoot him in the back of the neck. 

This I did.  Except I had no idea of the force with which the rubber band would hit at close range.  The kid let out a howl that could be heard in New Jersey.  He fell to the cement, clutching the back of his neck, writhing in pain.  I was more shocked than scared, thinking that maybe I had killed him.  A circle of curious kids formed around us, broken when Mr. Kennedy pushed his way in to find out the cause of this screaming racket.

There I stood, weapon in hand, looking sheepishly down at my writhing tormentor.  It did me little good to explain that this act was justifiable kid-i-cide, brought on by weeks of pencil pricks to the back of my neck.  Somehow that seemed small potatoes next to the devastating blow I had delivered with my “piece.”  

The inevitable visit to the principal’s office followed.  Miss Walsh, a rather stern but fair lady heard me out, and called for my parents to come and get me.  This was the first, but not the last time my mother was summoned to Miss Walsh’s office to learn of some bit of unacceptable behavior perpetrated by her darling first-born son.  Eight years old and I was developing a rap sheet!

Bullies are a natural part of the flora and fauna in which every kid lives.  They always cross your path at times when you feel most vulnerable or afraid to fight back.  Confronting a bully is one of the few real transformative moments in a kid’s life.  Many future events at the office, in parking lots and supermarket check out lines are influenced by early experiences with the class or town bully.  

The Anderson Avenue bully was in the form of a gang of Irish kids from Woodycrest Avenue.  They would show up unexpectedly, like the James gang, often carrying long wooden sticks covered with pastel chalk.  The idea was to hit the Jewish kids with the chalky slats, making hard to remove splotches of color on our clothes.  These pogroms would sometimes escalate into a bare-knuckle battle, with the two toughest members of each side squaring off in a circle.  Lots of punches and flailing later, the event would dissipate with the arrival of a black and white cop car or a few adults who would burst in to pull the combatants apart.

The Irish kids were bent on revenge against us Jews for the killing of Christ.  Or at least that’s what they said on several occasions.  It was a crime I was not to understand until I was much older.

My earliest lesson in the manly art of self-defense came from a tough kid who lived in our building named Sidney Krepel.  Krepel was a rangy ten years old with a shock of reddish-brown hair that fell over his eyes.  He had developed a practiced flip of the head, tossing the mop of hair away from his face.  This move appealed to me, and I worked hard to mimic it.  

My mother, seeing my choice of role model, sternly warned me “Krepel is a “JD” (1940s abbreviation for juvenile delinquent), “and if you act like him you’ll end up like him.  In reform school.”  This syllogism did not quite work for me, since I could see little connection between tossing my hair back and going to jail.  

Krepel liked me, for some reason, and he decided to teach me a few things.  Principal among them was the power of a well-placed kick.  “If you’re fighting a bigger guy, ya can’t mix it up in close, cause he’s stronger,” Sidney advised.  “What ya want to do is stay out of grabbing distance, and wait for the chance to kick him in the nuts.”

“Kick him in the nuts!”  Holy cow, that was dirty fighting.  “There ain’t no rules ya know. These guys come here lookin’ for a fight.  Give it to ‘em.” Krepel reasoned.
Sidney made a lot of sense.  

Armed with this new weapon, I no longer waited in fear for the next attack from the Woodies.  I felt a new sense of power.  I didn’t have long to wait.  Every Halloween, it was a tradition in our neighborhood to mark up the clothes of any kid within reach with chalk or, better yet, with a large splotch of flour administered with a hard whack from a long nylon stocking, knotted above a ball of the white powder.  These would be swung in wide arcs, much as medieval maces were, landing with a painful thud on the back or leg of the victim.

No one ever thought to ask where this tradition came from, or why it was so important to do it on Halloween.  Like sunrise, snow and summer, it was part of the natural kid order of things.  Of course, the Woodies would not let the day pass without a raid, in force.  We knew they were coming, and this time, I was ready. 
They chose a new route of attack, coming over the hill of the vacant lot near 1045 Anderson, looking for all the world like mad Indians, yelling and waving their slats covered with pastel chalk.  

We joined the attack, swinging our nylon maces.  I watched for an opening, and when one came, I ran into the melee and aimed a kick, just as my mentor had shown me, right between the legs of the largest, meanest kid in the bunch.  It connected with a thud and he went over double, fell to his knees and moaned in pain.

Seeing their leader fallen, some of the gang looked at me.  “He kicked Davey in the balls,” one shouted, and they came after me.  Not having seen a Bruce Lee movie until I was in my twenties, I didn’t think my new weapon was going to do me much good against five angry attackers, so I ran like hell.  I made it into my apartment building, closed the door behind me and retreated to the safety of the locked lobby.

I heard several yelling, “we’ll get you next time,” as they gave up the chase.  I waited for an interminable time before I opened the door and crept down the stoop to peer into the street.  All was quiet.  Like squirrels scattered by a cat, my friends and I slowly gathered in the street and excitedly exchanged battle stories. 
The Woodies never did get me, and by the time I was ten years old, my parents decided to quit the Bronx and move to leafy Montclair, New Jersey.  

My fighting career resumed in fifth grade, at the Rand Elementary school.

This time it was over a girl.  After a week in my new school, a tall kid named Fred Keyes approached me as I walked home.  “Hi, I’m Fred,” he offered.  “What do you think of the girls in the class.?” Gee, I had given no thought to the girls in the class, as “girls,” that is. “I dunno,” I think I said.  “Well don’t get any ideas about Diane Fastigi, she’s my girlfriend,” says Fred. 

Of course, next day I made it a priority to look at Diane Fastigi, and discovered a small, dark and kind of voluptuous girl (if a fifth grade girl can be described as such).  I went over and introduced myself.  “You talk funny,” she observed my Bronx accent.  Embarrassed, I wasn’t aware that I talked any different than anyone else.  But ten years in the Bronx does create certain patterns of speech and pronunciations that are hard to miss. “Cah” for “car,” “daw” for “door,” and a host of other often-mimicked traits of Bronxite speech.

The girls found this kind of exotic, much to Fred Keye’s dismay, and Diane and I began to walk from school.  She was full of questions about living in “Noo Yawk,” and I was only too happy to embellish on the strange and distant land where the Yankees played ball.  Fred Keyes seethed, until he was driven to challenge me to a fight after school.

He was half-a-head taller than I, and the prospect of fighting him scared me not a little.  But Diane Fastigi knew about the challenge, her friend Mildred Ruggerio knew, and so did George Gugliotta, Sammy Cutter and others in the group of new classmates from whom I was desperately seeking acceptance.  

I had to fight Fred Keyes.

At ten years old, a kid’s sense of “doing the right thing” is not very well formed, but something inside was telling me that I should not rely on my secret weapon when I fought Keyes.  I don’t know why, but I felt that if I won that way, the kids would not respect me.  Funny how these values creep into your brain without you ever knowing they are there until the time comes.

So it was to be a stand-up fight on the sidewalk on North Fullerton Avenue, just before Walnut Street, a dead end where Diane Fastigi lived, and far enough from the school not to get caught by the teachers.  We faced each other and so it began.  Fred pushed me on each shoulder with both arms outstretched.  I stumbled back, and pushed him in a similar way.  Each push getting harder and each rush toward each other faster, we eventually began to throw real punches.
I had watched many TV boxing matches with my old man on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, a regular Wednesday night program.  

So I took up the stance that I had seen countless times by nameless pugs.  Left hand up in front of my face, right hand cocked back, crouching at the waist.  “POW,” Keyes shot a punch right through my classic pose and hit me square under my eye.  It hurt like hell, and I wanted to cry, but that was out of the question.  I rubbed my face and came in at him with my right shoulder down, like a defensive end going for a sack.  My shoulder hit his gut and he doubled over, the wind knocked out of him.

At that moment there was a shout and the school janitor came running yelling, “Break it up.”  I felt a wave of relief, and made a show of belligerence as I backed away from Keyes, who was gasping for breath.   My nose and cheek throbbed.  But I felt great when Diane came over to me to ask how I was, and invited me to go to her house to recover.

Victory was mine!  Funny thing is that I recall Fred and I became friends after that fight.

But I did take Diane on my first real date, to see The Outlaw, a racy western with Jane Russell that was playing in the Wellmont Theater on Bloomfield Avenue.
After my noble fight for the affections of fair Diane, life was pretty peaceful until seventh grade, when I began to bump heads with Tom Brown.  Tom was huge.  He occupied the locker next to mine in the hallway at Hillside Junior High in Montclair.  I remember him looking like Joe Louis, with a similar skin color and eyes.  He had very large, thick hands and was a taciturn kid.  What bugged either of us, I have no idea. 

For the life of me, I can’t remember what or why, but something got going that drew us toward a showdown. One day, we looked at each other and nodded, like Doc Holiday, in Tombstone, saying to Ike Clanton, “OK, I’m your huckleberry.”
We went at each other with a ferocity that surprised both of us.  Brown had a weight advantage, and probably was stronger, but I was faster.  We wrestled, punched and grabbed.  My arms, chest, neck and back were sore from his hammering. 

Suddenly, I went nuts, grabbed his shirt in both fists, pushed him back and began to bang his head against the steel locker doors.  I was in frenzy, and he began to lose his grip.  Fortunately, the noise brought two men teachers on the run and they pulled us apart.  Both of us began to sob and gasp.  The principal came and took us to the nurse’s office, where we were given ice packs and told to sit quietly and keep our mouths shut.

Brown and I shook hands and in the way of kids, remained on friendly terms for the rest of the time in school.  Whatever it was that had driven us to the showdown was lost in the aftermath.  And it remains a mystery to me to this day. 

Seventh grade was also the year I was faced with the decision or fight or run. I ran. Three or four of us were playing a casual game of fungo baseball when, suddenly, six or seven tough-looking kids, about seventeen or eighteen years old, appeared on the field and ordered us to get off.  My friend, Bob Logan made the unwise decision to tell them to “fuck off.”  They immediately jumped on top of Bob and began to beat him up.  

Even fifty years later, I’ve thought of that moment with some shame.  In my fantasy, I would run to the pile and begin to whack the attackers on the head with my softball bat.  Blood would run and they would give up their attack.  At the moment of truth, however, no such idea came to me. I was sitting on the grass slope waiting for a turn to bat, and it was clear to me that this was not a fight that we could win, or even survive very well.  The other kids in our group came to the same conclusion, and we took off, running like hell to save our skins.  We left poor Bob under the pile getting his lumps.  I found it hard to face Bob again, having abandoned him in his moment of need.  Two years later, Bob and I would share an adventure and a quart of cheap rye whiskey.  

But that’s another story.

I guess bullyism, like alcoholism, is a character flaw that takes hold of a person at an early age and stays with him (or her).  I discovered that all a bully needs is some encouragement that his victim won’t be able to knock him for a loop.  So when this creep decided that I was a good target; I must have fit the bill. 
Every Tuesday, on my way to Hebrew School to learn how to perform the bar mitzvah ritual, a grungy guy, about twice my size, was waiting on the corner.  The minute he saw me, he began to taunt me.  I don’t recall what he said, but the gist was that he was going to break my head or my balls or neck or all of the above.   

Now I realize he was a borderline mental patient.  But at thirteen, all I knew was that he scared the hell out of me, and I wound up walking two blocks out of my way to avoid him.

I never forgot the fear I felt when I saw him, and the humiliation I felt when I felt forced to take another route.  I know this had a lasting effect on me, one that would show up in a later incident.

After a few bouts with booze at the tender age of 14, my parents thought I was in danger of leading degenerate life and accounting for nothing.  So they moved to an upper- middle-class, primarily Jewish community in north Jersey called White Meadow Lake. After research, my mother was satisfied that I would associate with the children of doctors, lawyers and other professionals, go to college and be a macher.  

One week after we moved there, I was attacked by a car full of thugs from the nearby town of Rockaway. Bored out of their skulls, they decided that it would be good fun to drive to the lake and beat up Jews.  At least that’s what they said when they were arrested. 

Fortunately, I was strong enough to fight them off and escape.  Another kid was not so lucky and had a fractured skull as a result.  Later that year (1955), I was fully integrated into the Morris Hills Regional High School; one of a handful of Jews from White Meadow among a gang of auto mechanics and football heroes. 

Athletics was big as Morris Hills, and we often spent an hour or more on the grassy field in back of the school lifting bar bells, hitting tackling dummies and running sprints.  This day I was doing arm curls with ten pound dumbbells when the kid next to me called “hey, are you new here?”  “Yeah.”  “My name is Tony George,” he said.  

Tony George!  This was one of the kids that had jumped me several months ago.  

The brutality and sheer violence of that attack came back to me.  I was walking along on a dark road when they drove up, bright lights in my eyes.  Their car, a Hudson Hornet, stopped, doors opened on all sides, and four kids got out rushing toward me.  Two grabbed my arms and two began to punch me.  I had no idea why, who they were or what they wanted.  Instinctively, I shoved and pushed and broke their grip and ran home.  

I told my father, who called the police and got into the car with two baseball bats to look for them.   We came back to give the cops a description of the car and the names, and one of the cops reacted with a startled look.   

Seems he knew the kids.  One was his son.

So here I am, standing over this kid who had attacked me for no reason other than I was a Jew and he was bored.  And I have a ten-pound bar bell in my hand.  My mind went blank. I raised the bar bell and started to bring it down on his face with the full force of my arm.

Mr. Dikon, the gym teacher standing next to us, saw this happening, and reached out to  grab my arm on the downward arc, stopping an otherwise fatal blow.  

“What the hell are you doing?”  I cried for  a long time, explained what took me over.  The cops weren’t called, and I wasn’t sent to the principal’s office.  George and his friends steered clear of me from then on.

Looking back, I realize had the gym teacher not been there, my life might have taken a very different course at age 15.  Who knows what demons possessed me?  But that’s the way things go.  

I knew then that there was a demon in me, one that could take me over and do terrible things.   And I needed to keep him in his cage.

You never know what will turn out to be a formative moment until you are formed. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How I fought Hitler when I was eight.

How I fought Hitler when I was eight.


© Joel Baumwoll


Our “street” in the Bronx was my world in 1947. Anderson Avenue extended eight or nine blocks and ended in mystery to a seven year old. I lived across the street from my school, P.S. 73, and was used to eating a mother-cooked meal at lunch before going back into the fray of Miss Schecter’s class. My favorite meal was a self-made mixture of mashed potato, broiled hamburger and lots of ketchup. Now that meat rationing had ended, my mother served up this delicacy several times a week.

My real day began when school let out, in the early afternoon. Many days, Marty Manson, Larry Alexander, Jerry Friefield and I would play “kill Hitler” in the vacant lot across the street. This game invariably involved putting a toy lead soldier in a small wooden or cardboard box and constructing a series of walls around the small figure from dry twigs and slats taken from grocery boxes. The enclosure would then be ringed with a series of entrenchments in which other lead soldiers in GI uniforms would aim rifles, bazookas, machine guns and howitzers at the Hitler bunker.
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We’d become expert at making the sounds of these weapons with our cheeks and tongues, thanks to the soundtracks of war movies we repeatedly watched like they were historical documentaries. “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “A Walk in the Sun” are two I can recall, with John Wayne and Dana Andrews being two of my GI heroes.

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At some point in the game, we knew it was time to settle Hitler’s hash, and the artillery would add flaming matches to its ammunition. These would be launched by hand, rubber band and catapult until the dry wood took flame. We’d then lay flat on our stomachs, peering into the conflagration, as the flames grew hotter and nearer the small leaden figure of Hitler to be sacrificed that afternoon.
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We never tired of watching the small human form slowly begin to lose its shape and slowly sink into a formless puddle of molten lead.
This activity would be narrated; using our best imitations of Lowell Thomas, or what we thought Ernie Pyle might sound like. “The Marine artillery has found its mark and it looks like Hitler’s Bunker has taken a direct hit. The GI’s pour it on, and the flames are climbing. Hitler’s a goner for sure.” All the time, the ack ack ack and tch tch tch of machine gun fire echoed through the hills of the battlefield on Anderson Avenue.

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When the ashes cooled, Hitler’s remains would be poked out of the pile, now a shapeless
mass of warm lead. We imagined that was how Hitler’s body would look after being caught in his bunker. That it was the Russians who got there first was a historical detail we were to learn much later. 


The remains would then be unceremoniously deposited in “Hitler’s grave;” a shallow hole marked by a large pile of bricks and containing about a dozen similar blobs of lead.

By then it was time to go home to dinner and homework, and listen to radio shows. “The Shadow” and “The Lone Ranger” were two favorites. Oddly, there were few shows that involved the war or wartime adventures. I suppose it was too soon after the killing to make fictional radio entertainment from such horrors.

But we had no trouble creating our own stories, and they occupied our waking thoughts and all preferences for toys. I became adept at drawing Spitfires, Messerschmitts, P-52s, Panther and Patton tanks, locked in ferocious battle. All of our games involved fighting the Germans. For some reason, the “Japs” seemed too scary, demonic or exotic for us to conjure them in our imaginary war.

While much of our play (that wasn’t stickball) took place on the rubble and weed-strewn vacant lot, occasionally we would expand to parked cars, firing our M-1s and Tommy guns from behind their shelter. Our game would move seamlessly from small lead soldiers to our own bodies, as we became the GIs and the “Natzees.” To be fair, we took turns playing the hated German.

During one of these games, I remember working my way, crouched behind the fenders of the ‘37 Plymouths, ’47 Dodges and open-back trucks and I came up to an incredible sight! There, parked amid these black steel turreted relics of the 30s was an actual, authentic, real Jeep! It was painted a perfect GI olive drab and had ammunition boxes strapped to its sides, along with two large knobby tires.

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Like every Jeep we’d seen in the movies, it was open to the air, with low curved doors than could be unhooked from the inside. Two seats in front and a wide bench seat in the back invited us in. The large black steering wheel tilted up at a rakish angle, and the thin steel gearshift, topped by a black knob poked up from the floor between the seats. Two large rectangular mirrors were mounted on the side of the windshield.

Incredible! Here, right in front of our lot stood the real McCoy—a genuine fighting
machine. All it lacked was the mounted .50 Cal. air-cooled machine gun, and we could supply that with a bit of imagination and a few sticks of wood. We were electric with excitement.

In no time, the Jeep became the central weapon with which we would fight and defeat the entire German army. Hitler didn’t stand a chance. As Marty, Larry and Jerry swarmed  over the Jeep, I held back. Strangely, I felt uneasy. “Hey guys,” I yelled, “what if the guy who owns the Jeep comes back? He ain’t gonna like this.”

I might have just as well tried to convince them to give up one of the girlie magazines we’d found with pictures of models with bare breasts. No way! This was big.

The game began to form and I decided I’d be a German, attacking from behind an old
Ford. Ack ack ack….tada tada tada—I imitated the sound of a German Schmeiser. Kapow Kapow Kapow, they fired back, making the M-1 sounds we’d all seen spelled out in yellow and red bursts in Milton Kaniff comic strips.
While I was slowly snaking toward an unguarded spot on the Jeep’s flank, I see a guy about halfway down the block running towards us, waving his arms. 


I could hear just a bit of what he was shouting… 
“youfunkinmotherfrigginpisspotkidsI’llbreakyurheads,” or something close to that.

I quickly realized this was his Jeep and he was not willing to let us use it as part of our war games. I yelled a warning to my friends, who looked up and saw the stampeding form of the man coming closer. They jumped and ran like hell.

Me? I figure, I’m in the clear. I didn’t get on the Jeep. I’m OK.


At least that’s what I thought until the guy got close enough for me to see the blue smoke coming out of his ears, and the sparks flying from his eyes as he reached our his hand to grab my coat. Then I realized I had made a mistake. A fundamental error in human judgment.

I knew I was innocent. But they guy that was about to beat my nose bloody didn’t and he wasn’t going to give me a fair trial either. He was gonna haul off and clock me one good. With the agility of a seven year old, I spun around and ran out of my blue pea jacket, disappearing into the wilds of the vacant lot. The pissed-off guy stood there for a minute, holding an empty coat before he realized there was no kid in it to hit. I was gonna catch hell for losing my pea coat. My old man didn’t make a lot of money and clothes were dear. But so was my life!

The guy began to rant and shout, and made a half-hearted attempt to find me, and my friends, in the weeds and rubble. All the while I could hear him mumbling “goddam kids. Get my hands on them. Teach ‘em a lesson.”

But I had already learned my lesson.

Sometimes, even the innocent need to run.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: How Xerox missed eating the apple.

 True stories of a real Mad Man:  How Xerox missed eating the apple. 

 

Being given a glimpse of the future is heady stuff.  And when it happens to you, you don't forget it.

My turn came in 1982 when, as president of Xerox' ad agency, I was invited to their super secret technology center in Princeton, New Jersey.  This facility was a branch of the now legendary PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), the fount of much of the technology that has made other companies very rich.  

The graphic interface (Apple, Windows), the mouse, the Ethernet cable and data transmission system, the desk top work station (networked PCs), and more, all were funded by Xerox and developed by brilliant scientists in their employ.
 
That afternoon, we were to be shown something called the "Star workstation."
  
Remember, at this time the highest technology equipment that was evident on the desks of most offices was an IBM Selectric typewriter with changeable type balls.  The Wang word processor was just beginning to find its way into a few courageous and leading edge companies.  


This not so little marvel allowed secretaries to type their bosses priceless prose on a screen and print out a draft.  Changes could be made on the screen and the new document could then be printed out.  The future of the White-out company was about as secure as the buggy whip manufacturers when Henry Ford caused the disappearance of horse manure from the streets of America.

We were ushered into a brightly lit hanger-like building that was ringed with large tables.  Each table had on it some object mysteriously covered with a tarp.  The resemblance of the place to the county morgue did not escape me. 

Wires and cables snaked from under the tarps and were plugged into some sort of wall sockets I didn't recognize. In the center of the room a man in shirtsleeves sat in front of a machine that looked like a large TV with a typewriter keyboard attached and a small plastic object that looked like a yo yo connected to it by a thin cable.  This device was also plugged into a strange looking outlet in the wall.

We were waved closer.  The man moved the yo-yo and a black arrow moved exactly in the same manner on the screen!  Then he clicked the yo- yo on a picture and a document appeared on the screen.  The arrow moved over the first paragraph and it was covered in light blue.  Then magically, the whole paragraph moved to the bottom of the page and remained there.  I was astonished by what I saw!

 

But there was more to come.  A business letter popped up on the screen and the man clicked some places with the yo-yo (which he said was a "mouse") and told us to go to one of the tables against the wall.  Lifting a tarp we saw a machine identical to the one in the center of the room.

On the screen was the letter we had just seen on the man's screen!

Returning to the man, he clicked again and I heard a mechanical sound come from an adjacent room.  We were instructed to go to the room, where we saw a large machine that took up half the wall.  It was printing copies of something.  I picked one up and saw it was the letter that had been on the screen moments ago! 

The next thing we saw really blew my mind.  The man clicked on the screen and the letter vanished.  'I sent this to Fred in Palo Alto" he said.  

A few minutes later the letter appeared on the screen, with comments and alterations suggested, along with a note from Fred.  Micro-wave transmitters had whisked this document from the roof of the building to California and back in less time than it took me to type this sentence.

Obviously, with benefit of hindsight, what we were being shown was nothing less that the future of communications.  

This technology was so far ahead of the curve that the average company manager would be scared to risk converting his company to it.  Imagine being offered a flight to Europe shortly after Lindbergh's journey.  Few would readily hop on board. 

That was the challenge.  How could we sell this magical stuff when the bread and butter of Xerox' salesman came from leasing huge copiers and charging customers per copy fees?  I was to discover that these technical wizards looked down their noses at the copier as an antiquated machine, and the copier guys looked at the wizards as a threat to their livelihood.

Top management was apparently unaware of this brewing civil war, or considered it unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Some weeks later at dinner with the executive who had been tapped to run the nascent Office Product Division, the group that was charged with selling the new technology, I asked him how he thought we should introduce the product.  He described a campaign that would dazzle people with the technology and what it could do.  I could understand why he was so enamored of the magical machines.  I certainly was.

Hesitantly I suggested that maybe we should go easy on the "2001" stuff
(this was 1982).  "It might scare people,"  I said uneasily.  "Perhaps we might position it as a new generation word processor.  One that is far ahead of the Wang.  That way people can relate to it.  Then, once they buy it, you can slowly introduce all these other capabilities.  Sort of a Trojan Horse strategy," I offered.

"Word processor?" he said incredulous. "Word processor!  That's like
calling a Porsche a coffee grinder.  That demeans our product!  This is the future."

He was right, of course.  But it was Jobs and Wozniac, inspired by Xerox's innovations, that owned the future.