Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Alibi Ike.

[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 excuses.

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 hours.

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 bastard.

“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 it.”

“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 serviceable.

“More than they deserve,” was Tom’s typically laconic response.

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 gives?”

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 Connecticut.

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 return.”

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 them.”

“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 mandated copy.

“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 in Cleveland.”

“I thought you said their sales meeting was in Cincinnati.”

“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 get.

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.”

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