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Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Alibi Ike. (A re-post.)
(Apologies to Ring Lardner.)
His right name was Francis X. O’Malley but if you
ask me, his middle initial, X, stood not for Xavier like it said on his birth
certificate, but for “excuse me.” Because O’Malley was almost always making
He wasn’t a bad guy, really, Frank wasn’t. Outside
of the office—stuck in some Midwestern airport or at a seedy bar after another
awful client meeting, you wouldn’t mind, really, bending an elbow with him and
having a drink or two, provided he could figure out a way to get the client to
pick up the tab, which he usually did.
But the thing that really made Frank the object of
so much scorn in the agency was his ability to make excuses for almost
anything, large or small. It was my partner, my art director who gave him his
nickname, after being told, naturally, we had some print ads due in just three
I came back from lunch and Tom said, “Alibi Ike
dropped by, he said we have some print due for a meeting with the client at the
end of the day.”
I glanced at my watch. It was already 2:15.
“Alibi Ike?” I asked.
“Frank O’Malley. He always has a good alibi when he
lays something like this on you.”
“He’s not much of an account guy,” I answered, “but
he’s the best excuse guy I’ve ever run across.”
I picked up my desk phone and called the
“Ike,” I said with no attempt at an explanation,
“why can’t we have more time on those ads?”
“Oh, sorry about that,” Alibi Ike apologized. “I
just got a call from the client. There’s a big sales meeting, tomorrow, in
Cincinnati and they need the work tonight. I’m sorry I just found out about
“They didn’t know,” I responded “about the sales
meeting last week?”
But by that time Ike had already hung up the phone
and my partner and I had too much work to do to keep arguing.
We rushed through the ads, Tom and I, like we
always do. And while they may not have been Clio winners, they were better than
“More than they deserve,” was Tom’s typically
We walked downstairs at 5, the time O’Malley set up
to see the work. We sat for about 15 minutes in the designated conference room
but of course O’Malley didn’t show up.
“Ike,” I emailed him, angry “you made us jump
through hoops to get these ads done, then you didn’t show up for our 5. What
Neither Tom nor I heard anything all night. No
response whatsoever came from O’Malley until I was hit with an email at about
8:15 the next morning.
“Sorry for the short notice. I had to bolt early
last night. I had a filling fall out,” Alibi wrote. “Can you make it to the
client for a meeting at 8:30?”
Of course I couldn’t. By the time I read his email,
the meeting had just about started. And the client was way up in
I sent Alibi a flame mail: “First, you give us a
mere two hours to do two weeks’ of work. Then you don’t show up for our
internal review. Then you go to the client without us. THIS HAS TO STOP.”
In an instant, I received an apology from Alibi.
“My bad,” he wrote—apologizing—“My cell phone was out of juice and the client’s
in a dead zone anyway. But they loved the work. I’ll fill you in when I
When O’Malley finally got me and my partner, Tom
together to discuss the work, it was two days later at about 12:30.
“Let’s talk about those print ads. The client loved
“Let’s do it later,” Tom said, “We were just about
to grab some lunch.”
“I’m sorry. The changes are due back at 1:30. Their
email was stuck in my inbox from yesterday so I just found out.” He handed me a
copy of the ads we had created. It was covered with red ink—“corrections” from
the client. Those “corrections” included a set of mandated headlines and
“This is a disaster,” I said. “She’s rewritten
everything. You said she loved the ads.”
“She did and she wanted me to thank you for your
hard work. She loved the work, she really did. She just loved her
work more. Make these changes and the work will be a big hit at their meeting
“I thought you said their sales meeting was in
“The outskirts of Cincinnati,” he replied calmly.
“Where Cincy’s metro area runs into Cleveland’s.”
I didn’t have the strength left to tell him that
the two cities were hundreds of miles apart. Besides, we had changes to make.
All this happened many years, many
agencies and many holding companies ago. Somehow, as you might expect, Alibi
Ike’s ability to make excuses was, in the circumstance of agency life, his
ticket to the top. The more excuses he made, the more promotions he seemed to
Though we lost touch, I followed his
career from afar. He made an excuse for the loss of a major automotive account,
and got a promotion to managing director. After the losses of an insurance
company and a big box retailer, he was made head of a large agency.
When he reverse-grew that large
agency to the size of a mid-sized shop, having lost a fast-food account and a
soda, he was promoted to the deputy head of a holding company.
I saw O’Malley—Alibi Ike—Thursday
night, I was working late on some forsaken piece of business and he was coming
home from an awards ceremony. We shook hands, chit-chatted and promised we’d
get together soon.
I expect he’ll get another promotion
before long. He still has his touch. I was rushing to the 6 when his
car pulled up. He said, without skipping a beat, “I’d give you a lift but my
car is empty.”