Confessions Of A Mad Man: Geek Speak, Part One
In his tell-all memoir, author George Parker holds forth about what it's really like to work in the steamy ad world, as popularized by AMC's Mad Men. All it's cracked up to be? Read to find out.
The latest installment in our series of extracts from George Parker’s new book, ‘Confessions of a Mad Man.’ One of the few surviving ‘Mad Men,’ George Parker has lived through more than forty decadent years in the world’s second oldest profession. He’s seen it all and done it all. And a great deal of what he’s done would make the TV show, ‘Mad Men,’ look like Sesame Street. Unless Kermit is caught in flagrante with Miss Piggy on the PBS boardroom table. Ah, the good old days… Sex, drugs, rock & roll… It’s advertising as you always imagined it.
“There’s an extra heavy vehicular loading situation on the Bay Bridge” droned the voice of the traffic dude floating out of the multi-thousand dollar Blaupunkt audio system in my pristine banana yellow Porsche Targa, as I sped up the fast lane of highway 280 with the clip-off roof, clipped-off, whilst enjoying the sybaritic pleasures of yet another perfect day in the High-Tech Paradise of the Bay area. Ahhh, only in “dudesome” California would some super-cool, traffic jock high above me in “KBR chopper #4” inflict such a mouthful of asinine drivel on his listeners, rather than simply telling them… Hey, you fucktards, there’s a shit-load of cars clogging up the bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. So, get off the freeway in Redwood City, and hit one of your favorite drinking spots… And, who knows, there may be a three sheets to the wind lady, with a set of multi-million dollar, uber-manufactured breasts at the bar, who is more than ready to listen to your patently false, bullshit proposition about putting her into your next Ginzu knife infomercial, providing she is ready to join you in a swift casting session at the Shangri-La Motel just down the block.
But hey, that was northern California in the pre-dot-com, sybaritic, shove the “Peruvian Marching Powder” up your nose and think holistically days of the early eighties. Even though the bank account busting bonanza of the PC revolution was barely beginning, the laid-back residents of Baghdad-on-the-Bay had been destroying their nasal septum’s and brains cells for at least the last couple of generations. The arrival of all those lovely, instant dot-com millions, made possible through the magic of “vesting,” would only serve to speed up the process.
Unlike La La Land (Los Angeles) further south, San Francisco has always cultivated a somewhat snot-nosed supercilious attitude to the rest of California. Over the years, they’ve convinced themselves that unlike the churls down south, who are only interested in such grubby things as money, cosmetic surgery and shopping, the residents of Baghdad on the Bay have interests that are more ‘cultural”. This means that while indulging in Gucci, Versace, Ferraris and massive applications of Botox, they salve their consciences with token checks to the Symphony, NPR and San Francisco’s vastly inferior version of MOMA.
I’d arrived back in the US in 1982 after my twelve year stint in London, but instead of returning to New York, Maureen and I decided to enjoy the pleasures of Californian living. I’d been making regular solo trips to Silicon Valley on behalf of several clients, so I had a good idea of what was going on there. Namely, an amazing surfeit of bronzed, slim, very outgoing, and jaw dropping, unnaturally large breasted women.
A friend had turned me on to the potential waiting for me in the Golden State. He was a product manager at Apple involved in the launch of the “Lisa.” This forerunner to the Mac, incorporated what were remarkably advanced features for a desktop computer, particularly when compared to the recently introduced IBM PC. Things we now take for granted, such as a graphical user interface, windows and the mouse came as standard on the Lisa. Albeit, for an outrageously expensive price ($10,000 in 1983 dollars!) But, what many people don’t realize is that all these things, and many more, had been invented ten years earlier at the Xerox’s, Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
In 1973, scientists at PARC didn’t just invent the world’s first personal computer, the Alto, they designed and built a complete system of hardware and software which totally altered the nature of computing as it was known at the time. They invented the world’s first user interface that presented clickable, drag & drop icons operating within windows. They refined and made practical the mouse, the first word processor suitable for everyday use, scalable type, the local-area-network (LAN), an object-oriented programming language, and the laser printer.
And yet, not a single one of these breakthroughs was ever brought to market by Xerox. Primarily because the company’s fucktard Management was too stupid to realize what a goldmine they had on their hands, and were more interested in protecting their leadership in the copier market, which for years had been a huge cash cow for the company. Much later, when I freelanced on the Xerox account for Young & Rubicam, it didn’t take me long to realize that the management of Xerox hadn’t learned anything new over the intervening years.
They were still incredibly stupid fucktards.
This is certainly something you could never accuse the late Steve Jobs of being. One of the stories that have since become a quintessential part of Silicon Valley’s folklore is the occasion in 1979, when Xerox’s senior management contacted Jobs about a possible Xerox/Apple deal. Crafty Steve, who’d been hearing the buzz for years about all the wonderful stuff being created at PARC, demanded a tour of the research center. Xerox agreed, and that, as anyone who knew Jobs will tell you, is like inviting the fox into the henhouse. Which only goes to substantiate my previously stated opinion of Xerox’s fucktard management.
The tour was conducted by Larry Tessler, one of PARC’s senior scientists. He tells of how Steve immediately grasped the importance of what he was being allowed to see, and then asked when Xerox intended to market all this great stuff. When Tessler told him the company had no plans to do anything with it, for once in his young life Steve Jobs was speechless (but no doubt already turning over in his mind the best way to take advantage of this once in a lifetime, fucking, unbelievable, here are the keys to Fort Knox opportunity).
Unsurprisingly, nothing came of the Xerox/Apple discussions, but within months Tessler and many other senior researchers at PARC had been poached from Xerox to join Apple, where they immediately commenced work on the Lisa project, the whole thing coming to fruition in 1983 shortly after I arrived in the land of milk and honey.
One final piece of trivia concerning the Lisa computer. Steve named it after his daughter, who was born in 1978, and who, since Steve had decided to concentrate his 24/7 energies on conquering the known computing universe, was left to live with her mother Nancy Rogers, in Palo Alto. But, not the posh part of this famous university town. Oh no… Lisa and her mum were living in a beat-to-shit residence in East Palo Alto, which is the insalubrious part of town that happens to be on the wrong side of the tracks and is known locally as “Beirut California.” The good news is that Steve reconciled with Lisa and her mum long before his unfortunate death. So the story has a happy ending.
But then the many stories about the ruthlessness of Steve are only matched by the awfulness of his best mate, the notorious Larry. Otherwise known as Larry Ellison, Chairman and CEO of Oracle Software, one of America’s richest wankers, and usually referred to in my various rants over the years as “The Shogun of Redwood Shores.” Why do I stick him with this Japanese moniker? ‘Cos the fucktard is obsessed by all things Japanese, to the point where he has constructed a huge replica of a thirteenth century Shogunate citadel/fort/compound in Woodside, twenty miles south of San Francisco, in the heart of the Bay area’s most expensive swath of real estate. This monstrosity has Koi ponds, bamboo forests and Ninja security guards hiding in the bushes. When Larry gets home after sailing one of his various battleship sized yachts, or flying one of his fleet of airplanes, which includes a fucking Soviet era, MiG 15 fighter, he dons his pure silk shogun outfit, sticks his priceless matched pair of thousand fold Katana swords in his belt, and ventures out into his Nipponese estate, cutting down anything that has the unmitigated gall to get in his way. And, if you hadn’t noticed, the advertising for Oracle sucks. It has always sucked. It will always suck. That’s because Larry, like Steve, gets involved in everything. Unfortunately, unlike Steve, he is a tasteless pedant who makes his unfortunate current BDA bleed through the eyes for the sake of his filthy lucre. Which they gladly do, ‘cos BDA’s can’t stop eating shit when it comes to filthy lucre.
One of the first places I worked at in California was a long since gone agency by the name of Winkler McManus. This was amongst a handful, of agencies that’d seen the light early on and decided to specialize in well funded technology accounts. Interestingly, the principals of this pioneering establishment were as different as chalk and cheese. Long since dead, Bob McManus was a lovely Irish-American guy with a great sense of humor and a thirst to match. Agnieszka Winkler was something else. “Iggy”, as her staff referred to her (but never to her face) was the kind of good looking, smile in your face, well sculpted lady, you just knew would unblinkingly stick a ten inch knife in your back before you knew what the hell was going on. Having said all that, she was a crafty sod, kind of a less charming, and far less smart version of Mary Wells, but equally well married. At the time I went to work for her, she was on her third husband. The latest being a rich, easily manipulated, San Jose banker who could afford to buy her an opulent mansion in Woodside (not as big as Larry’s, but still fucking expensive by normal people’s standards) and fly her wherever she wanted to go in his private jet. Apparently her first two failed marriages had been to the same guy. Don’t ask me what that’s all about; sorting out the bent wire coat hangers and slippery serpents of the female brain is not my area of expertise. (More astute readers will catch the homage to Terry Southern there. Bonus points if you can name the book).
I was introduced to the unusual aspects of West Coast culture when close to the end of my first week at Winkler McManus; a secretary approached me and asked me what time I would like my massage tomorrow. Taken somewhat aback, I answered, “What massage?” She looked at me as if I was some kind of non Beverly Hills High School educated idiot. “Your weekly massage”, she sweetly answered. “Ahhh, and exactly what…. kind of massage, neck, foot, back rub, or pinkie, would that be?” I enquired. “Oh, a full body massage” she sweetly answered, flashing me yet another cherubic smile, obviously to humor the bent yellow toothed, English wanker she was being forced to communicate with. “Just one more question” I hesitatingly ventured, “is the provider of this service a masseur, or a masseuse?” The poor girl was obviously not completely au fait with macho massage parlor vernacular. “Is it a man or a woman?” I clarified. “Well, it’s Margo, who happens to a woman… And, also a witch!” She was smart enough to gather from the expression on my face that the last part of her answer had more than somewhat surprised me. “Oh, but don’t worry, Margo is a white witch, not a black one.” Because I was still looking somewhat confused, she further explained… “It’s nothing to do with skin color. White witches work with the power of good. Black witches are demonic and concentrate on the forces of evil!”
“Well, thank God for that” I answered.
And so began my introduction to the California life style…
There’s a lot more to come. Stay tuned. Or, don’t be cheap… Buy the book.