Showing posts with label jeffrey lant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jeffrey lant. Show all posts

Monday, April 30, 2012

Don’t make the crucial customer disservice error Hale Groves is making. Pay attention! This article can save you thousands and a lot of customers, too.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Have you heard of a citrus company called Hale Groves of Vero Beach, Florida? If not, you must be living in a cave. Their marketing is everywhere and in all places, online and off. They’re spending the ransoms of two or three kings on it.
But the poobahs who run the place have made at least one crucial mistake: they haven’t tried to order their product…. and as I am here to tell you, the order takers they’ve got are most assuredly NOT in sync with the hot-shots in the marketing department. In other words, if it is not actually impossible to order some of their tasty product, it is very close to it.
That’s why I’m using as today’s incidental music The Supreme’s great tune “You keep me hanging on” because that’s what the folks at Hale Groves have done to me… each and every time I’ve ordered. You’ll find this1966 hit in any search engine. You can play it while you’re on hold…
Still, let’s get into the right mood for this situation… and what Hale Groves and every other dysfunctional marketing machine needs to do before they irritate too many more of the most important people on earth — good paying customers like me!
The facts.
My family has been buying from Hale Groves for decades… and no wonder. I grew up in the snow belt they call Illinois… I went to college in the snow belt they call Massachusetts… and when I graduated… having had insufficient punishment from snow, sleet, ice and attendant miseries, I stayed on in the very same snow belt that snuffed the Pilgrims.
One of the things that made it all bearable was Hale Groves and the utterly delectable citrus… and, of course, I love getting the free citrus spoons, too. I have a drawer full of them.
The Hale Groves shuffle.
I like to place my citrus orders, indeed all orders, by telephone. Like a good citizen, I have my credit card out… and the special offer I want; the offer I am sure the order taker will want to make sure I get. Like most Americans I order when deals are good and pass when deals are not. But the great thing about Hale Groves is that they always have an offer… and I am always pleased to consider it. I am a citrus freak…. and pink grapefruit are guaranteed to brighten any day or palate, especially when the temperature is below zero and I curse the day I heard of Harvard and a frigid place named Cambridge.
Order I would, if order I could.
The citrus season begins November 1, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Hale Groves will have a special offer in your hand, an offer so good you wouldn’t think of missing it. I want to see that offer… I want to take advantage of that offer IF Hale Groves will let me… for that is by no means a sure thing.
Because memory is imperfect, as I dial the number I find my last run-in with them is not the first thing in mind; instead I am tasting in my imagination their citrus perfection… but first I must pay my dues by holding. It is a rule.
Like all good Americans I hate holding…. not just hate it but despise and disdain it. I’d like a choice… hold forever or allow them to call me back in (so many minutes); techies can easily tell them how many: “Your call will be returned in 7.5 minutes sharp.”
Okay, I’m on hold… and second by second I am working up a good head of steam, the better to craft a snide comment that they well and truly deserve. I mean, I don’t begin to have the available time I have to wait for a competent order taker to emerge and assist me. Who does?
But my torments have not even begun…
Codes. Colors. Confusion. Choler.
“I’d like to place an order from a mailing I just received.” These are the words I am hoping I don’t soon regret.
“Do you have the offer there in front of you?”
I do… and I say so proudly, even defiantly because I am hopeful history is not about to repeat itself.
But we are, the order taker and I, about to enter the twilight zone in which the order I want to place… is the order the order taker cannot seem to take. And so The Rigmarole of ordering from Hale Groves well and truly begins, to the growing irritation of both parties.
“Sir, please give me the special order code.”
Code, code, find the code.
I have an envelope full of Hale Groves propaganda… colorful brochures… a special letter from their president extolling their many virtues… I do not see and cannot find a code… and what’s worse the order taker cannot direct me by uttering such reassuring words as “you’ll find the code in big red letters at the top of page 1.” Such essential words, calming to both parties, neither of us can find… and this is what that means.
It means some bright folks in the marketing department have not tried to order the product themselves… and have certainly never bothered to train the hapless order takers who are about to feel the sharp lash of my tongue because no one knows who’s on first and where to find that flippin’ code.
And so we sink into muddle, mayhem, a disordered morass. If this were a dance it would be a tango… and that for an order process is completely unacceptable.
Finally, I say what I should have said at the first sign of trouble. “Why don’t you take down my telephone number and call me when you’ve discovered where the code is?’ But my tenacious order taker won’t let go, won’t do the sensible thing and will not proceed with the matter of doing what we both want: placing the order. In other words getting that code, no matter that neither she nor I could find it, had become more important than satisfying the customer. And that’s why this order “process” is such a mess.
But it got even worse…
The order taker, unable to direct me to the code, put me on extended hold while she quizzed her colleagues about the location of that code. No one knew, which meant no one had thought it useful to instruct them on this matter… and so while I smoldered they, with every passing minute, proved that the one hand in marketing didn’t know and hadn’t bothered to advise the other in the order department, thereby generating bad feelings instead of the satisfied customer both parties wanted.
Again, I advised the clueless order taker to take my number and call me back when she was organized and ready. But the poor woman had been instructed, perhaps with severity, to get the code upon pain of death. And she could not, would not get beyond this trifling matter… and so the matter ended in stand-off, no order, no business, and no future.
Hale Groves will now bombard me for years with sales messages and tempting offers, too, too little, too late. For I have now discovered an excellent product from Del Monte, Red Grapefruit, SunFresh. No hassle. No waiting. Already peeled. And no need to deal with the misnamed order takers at Hale who, when needed, could not have been less ready. Which is why I suggest you try to order what you sell. It could well be your weakest link. Oh, yes, and call me to finish my order.
*** Your response to this article is requested. What do you think? Let us know by posting your comments below.

On the value and necessity for persistence if you expect to be successful.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Winston Churchill who left the world so many memorable lines, said this one, too: “No young man should ever take no for an answer.” Allowing for the fact that these days “young man” would need to be changed to “young person”, what he said is as relevant today as it ever was, not least because of the challenging and seemingly unending dismal state of the economy, USA, Europe, the world.
Sadly, though I sound like an old fogey for saying it, today’s young people take no for an answer all the time, seeming to expect it, and certainly having little or no inkling of what to do when it hits them in the face. And this is a problem indeed, calling for immediate scrutiny and action.
To set the scene for this article, which can (kept and used) change your life for the better over and over again, go to any search engine and find the tune “True Grit”, composed by Elmer Bernstein for John Wayne’s 1969 film. Persistence, unwavering determination, in the face of obstacles big and small, is what true grit means. And that’s why, even in our adulterated days, it is in such short supply.
London, Summer 1977, your author, in a single day, learns the unalloyed value and usefulness of persistence.
It was 1977. London was packed with folks from everywhere who had come to find the England of their dreams and memories, and to see H.M. the Queen, celebrating (along with her husband, “always a step behind” Philip of Edinburgh),her Silver Jubilee, 25 years of her (mostly) happy and glorious reign. I was there, too, but not to gawk. I had serious business I meant to transact… if I could find anyone willing to transact it with me, young, green, determined.
The situation.
In 1977, I was a newly minted Ph.D. of well under 1000 days. My credentials — including that Ph.D. from Harvard — were impeccable. “That and fifty cents,” said my ever-practical and deflating father, “gets you a cup of coffee.” I took his point, not least because 1977 was a year of recession, where would be junior professors, from even the best universities, were having a very difficult time getting jobs, much less jobs they liked. I knew that only too well. Employers, academic or otherwise, did what employers always do in such situations if left unobserved: they raise the level of qualifications required… and slash the salary as much as possible.
That was why I was in London, to turn myself into the kind of gilt-edge property even the most supercilious of institutions would rush to recruit. My strategy went something like this:
* take my Harvard doctoral dissertation and cannibalize it for articles that could be sold to appropriate popular publications as well as published by appropriate academic journals.
* once the articles were published, use these to convince an appropriate publisher of my dreams (and I knew who they were) that I as a first-time book author was worth the money they’d have to invest to launch me and my book publishing career.
* Use the published articles and first book (remember, the first of many) to leverage a suitable position at a suitable (read “condescending and renowned”) institution.
Short, sweet, piece of cake — not.
The first challenge requiring persistence involved the cannibalization of my dissertation, mined for two very different kinds of publication: popular (newspapers and magazines) and academic. I wanted to publish at least 10-15 popular articles from what some (with consummate snobbery) called “ephemeral” publications… and an equal number for academic journals bearing lofty names and high credentials but few readers. By pursuing this two-pronged strategy I got maximum value from the dissertation and paved the way for its ultimate use as the launching pad for my publishing career and the Nobel Prize for Literature, which must, in due time, be granted. (Still waiting.)
Writing the articles, researching where to send them, organizing an efficient production process.
“Well begun is half done”, we say in New England, and fortunately for me the dissertation (entitled “Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee 1887″, covering the creation and perfection of English royal pageantry) covered events known, attended, and loved by millions of people. This apt selection of subject made the achievement of my objective the more likely than those who has selected more recondite (read “dull”) subjects. I wanted fame, acclaim, and all the trimmings therefrom and selected my subject accordingly.
I confess now (but never would then, insouciance being an essential part of a Harvard degree) that this was demanding… and needed discipline, focus, and persistence. It also required at least a one-way ticket from Boston, Massachusetts to London, for you see the overwhelming majority of these publications were there. Money being tight I worked hard to get it. I won’t say I resorted to cutting grass and baby sitting… but it was close.
And this is why on a sweltering Summer day, so hot English mates stripped thereby exposing the whitest of flesh, that is why, I say, I was standing on Fleet Street, my lengthy list of publications in hand, poised to enter the Daily Telegraph and ascendant celebrity.
That confident pipe dream lasted for 5 minutes, maybe less. No, the features editor wasn’t in; what’s more if she were, she wouldn’t see you anyway, Harvard man that you claim to be. Yes, this mere receptionist all but kicked me out shouting “Get out maggot.” I was shocked… and it was but the prelude to a very, very long day of being turned down by newspapers great, mediocre, and provincial, many of which I had thought (only that morning too) beneath my superior notice Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
And so it went, with only fellow countryman Johnny Apple of the New York Times agreeing to see me. He was a true gentleman, he was, the late Johnny, for all that he told me (in the nicest possible way) that hell would freeze over… not least because some of my article subjects the revered New York Times was paying him to render. And that was that.
The “luck” that is persistence.
And so it went until at last I was at the end of my day, my tether, and my list… just two more places left to reject me and my once vibrant ideas. I was bushed, crestfallen, irked, with a dollop of self-pity (I’m sure) in the mix.
And so I entered the offices of the Associated Press, London, one of the most important journalistic operatives on earth. And there I commenced to tell my story to a bored clerk, the clerk who had the power to crush 1/2 of my available prospects… a giant to a fly. And then, then, a disembodied voice bouncing off the wall divider… “Did you say your name is Jeffrey and that you’re from Massachusetts?”
It was as if the voice of God.
And in less time than it takes me to tell you, there was a chipper person before me with an American smile and directness. “You look terrible” my benefactor said, “Come in and tell me what’s on your mind.” And I did, to a length which only his good nature and courtesy would have excused. But from this encounter, which so easily might not have occurred, everything else, everything else ensued… for Reporter Jeffrey, whose surname I to my everlasting chagrin long ago misplaced… published a story titled “A Massachusetts Yankee in Queen Victoria’s Court”… a marvelous story, a story of intelligence and timeliness, well written too. And this story ran everywhere on this planet thanks to the giant reach of the Associated Press.
But I had one more place to go, The Times, the paper Charles Dickens dubbed “The Thunderer”. And here again, nirvana for the Features Editor saw me, knew AP reporter Jeffrey who was indeed from Massachusetts, and told me to prepare one article for her perusal. It was on her desk the next day… and accepted at once; the first of five articles bought by The Times and syndicated to the world; articles which my soon-to-be editor Roger Machell read in his office at Hamish Hamilton, that exquisite house I so longed to be part of and thanks to my AP benefactor now was. How I would like to see that man again and shake his hand, for he — and my own persistence — were decisive in shaping my life.
*** Your response to this article is requested. What do you think? Let us know by posting your comments below.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Of me I sing. 4 things you really wanted to know about the Baby Boomers…. but were too polite to ask!

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Peggy Lee sang an insinuating song in Disney’s “Lady and
the tramp” that pretty much summarizes how we Baby
Boomers feel about ourselves  — and those who are
not ourselves. (Released in June, 1955, the film was one
of the first that cashed in on my always media driven generation.)
“We are Siamese if you please.
We are Siamese if you don’t please.”
Face it, we (and I must include myself, riding
hard towards 65) are the Most Important Generation
in the History of the World. Of this there is not nor
will there ever be a whiff of disagreement, capiche?
Today, as we  massively approach 65 (at the
rate of 8000 per day), one truth about the Baby
Boomers remains consistent: everything we touch
is transformed forever and stamped with our irresistible
That’s why you must know about us… and why we don’t
need to know nearly as much about — you! Let us begin…
Baby Boomers are smarter than you are.
We are the first generation that transformed collegiate
instruction from the preserve of the well-to-do and privileged
into a de rigueur Rite of Passage, mandatory for anyone with
pretensions to professional standing and deference. As a result, higher 
education is now ineffably part of the American Experience, something
that we mortar boarded Boomers have now bequeathed to future generations.
They should be grateful.
Without us , they would have found it more difficult to party hardy at 
Alma Mater, at inexhaustible 18. You owe us…. and we shall surely collect from you…
as we draw our senior serenity from your Social Security fund.
We are not organization people.
If the prototype of our parents’ famously regimented generation was
“The man in the gray flannel suit” by  Sloan Wilson (published 1955), 
we want it to be clear: we own no flannel, gray or otherwise… and
wouldn’t be caught dead wearing this mantel of corporate thraldom.
Jimmy Buffet and margarita soaked parrot heads are more our style; 
we have set the pace for casual apparel, worldwide travel and insipid
ditties like Buffet’s, the anthem of a generation that wishes to get
wasted more often with better company.
Let me be very, very clear: we hate regimentation. We don’t take
orders well. We cannot abide and will not do the mundane, prosaic
tasks that keep organizations ticking along. Whereas my mother
worked hard (for free) doing things like writing and printing (with a hard-to-
jiggle gelatin press) “The Percolator” newsletter for Puffer School,
Downers Grove, Illinois, my generation has No Time for such lowly
(much needed) tasks. We have Better Things To Do. 
As a result, organizations of every kind, in these Boomer dominated
times, are hard hit by a degree of indifference, apathy, disdain that would
have horrified community-spirited mum and her “he’s a good provider”
hubby, your dad.
We do have better sex, and oftener.
Okay, you’re wondering, whether ye be of pre- or post-Boomer vintage,
you’re wondering, I say, whether all the scuttlebutt and (sometimes)
scurrilous tales of lubricity and  pagan Woodstock love-in-the-mud stories
could possibly be true.
They are.
And even more so.
We discovered, early on, that we liked our bodies tremendously…
and that others, gay and straight, liked them, too. It was all “if it
feels good, do it.” And it still is. The fact that our parents Strongly Disapproved
of such glorious,  indiscriminate minglings made it inevitable that we should
have and enjoy them the more.
After all, for the first time in human history, we, the bona fide possessors,  
owned our bodies, not the state, the church, or even our “forsaking all 
others” spouse. “Till death do us part,” indeed; quaint, antediluvian
idea that.
Divorces skyrocketed, so did couples counseling… but  sex gave us something
other  than Scrabble to pass away a few hours, as pleasantly (and freely) as
possible. We took to it with avidity, enthusiasm, and (too often) boredom and
bruised feelings. Perfection, in anything, is difficult to find… but we keep the
search going.
So there.
We aim to live forever, and remain forever young.
Now to the crux of the matter, the focus of fervid Boomer interest
and actions. Since we as a generation either already own or will own
shortly own (at the demise of our careful Great Depression touched parents),
every single thing on earth worth having… we are now engaged in the
hot pursuit of eternal youth, being the first generation to secure
forever for itself.
Oh, yes, make no mistake about it. Having gathered the lot, we
want to keep it “forever and ever, hallelujah.”
This means obsessive focus on the foods we ingest (and avoid), 
the pounds we put on(or take off), gym bodies and sweat inducing
exercises. It’s all part of our massive assault on Eternity; for let’s be clear:
whatever we have wanted, we have secured. With only this, the biggest,
the Big Prize to go.
We regard eternity not as a miracle, but as a problem, greater perhaps
than any other problem we have assayed and solved… but still nothing
that we can’t handle in the hard-headed, inexorable fashion we have
made our own and which has affronted, aggravated, and threatened
other, lesser folk. We care nothing for that. After all the stakes are
enormous this time. So far, we have challenged and rebuilt ideas,
cultures, even an entire civilization, now we want more, the whole
Now, indeed, is our past our prologue, for we are determined not
to go gentle into that good night. (Dylan Thomas, 1951) Absolutely
We know what we want.
We are at work on its achievement.
And in due course, if not sooner, we shall seize Eternity and
savour it. This is our destiny., and yours. Truly it’s better than
any science fiction book ever written.
In all previous generations, for every person in them, eternity
was unimaginable, stuff for philosophers and theologians.
Now, each us of us, in the most pivotal of generations, can
not merely dream, but (soon?) own this, too. After all, millions of us are now
at work on thousands of pathways to eternity. One of us Boomers
will find the way, you betcha. With consequences to fall out later…
when we, massively, have gone on to Something Else.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to get thousands and thousands of responses to your blog… and what to do when you get ‘em.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Of course you already have a blog, right? You are, I mean, on the cutting edge of the Internet, yes?
Well, if you are still blog-less today is indeed your lucky day, because I am going to show you right here, right now how to use your blog to get not a few but a positive avalanche of the best prospect leads on earth. And the great thing is, you can start today, this very minute.
Now affirm and reaffirm this: when you’re in business, running a business blog, the objective is and always will be to generate terrific prospect leads… and follow them up to make money.
It’s easy to forget the objective when you’re publishing a blog which can all too easily be seized by the shear joy and vanity of seeing your name in print. Folks, if you need lovin’ and crave adulation get a dog. They give unqualified affection. But don’t subvert the purpose of your blog.
Nothing sells itself, absolutely nothing.
I have amongst my marketing students some of the very brightest people around… and when they make a mistake, I know the pedestrian run of mankind and marketers are making it, too, in spades.
One of the most rooted errors of these folks is the pernicious, invidious notion that their blog and its contents will sell themselves; that what they are promoting and selling in their blogs needs no introduction, nor powerful words of recommendation; it’s good enough on its lonesome.
In a word: rubbish! In two words: complete rubbish!
Dear friend, there is nothing in this world, not the policies and messages of presidents, popes, and sovereign kings; not the very finest example of the most potent of salubrious medications; not the safest swiftest modes of transportation…. absolutely nothing sells itself.
Once you have realized this essential truth of business, you enter a new, higher level of commerce and marketing… for you are now a puffer in the Great Age of Puffery…. and your daily objective is clear: to puff better, more artfully, more carefully, more successfully than any other puffers on this planet. He (or she) who puffs the most, the best, reaps the most.
Thus, say you intend tomorrow to publish a jim dandy article on some subject of note and significance. The duffer puffer, the one on the bottom of the marketing heap, merely publishes the article, with this unvoiced sentiment: “Here’s the article. Make of it what you will. I can’t be bothered to tell you why you should read it… perhaps I don’t even know.”
And some dare call this marketing.
Now, try this instead…
(puff the day before you publish the article.)
Tomorrow, you readers have an incredible gift coming. I persuaded internationally known author and commentator Dr. Jeffrey Lant to let me have, in advance of publication, his latest article. It details the truth about the relationship of Snow White with those with-it guys, the 7 Dwarfs. You won’t believe what one of the most perceptive commentators around has discovered about Snow… and those Dwarfs. Can you say ‘Happy.’ You certainly will tomorrow….”
With these fast-moving words, you are keeping your audience, your present and future customers all, on the very edge of their seats. You want them in a pother of anticipation and excitement about What Happens Next. You, cleverkins, are ascending in the crucial business of puffery; selling the sizzle, not the steak. And you’re frolicking all the way to the bank.
Remember, puffing is not something occasional or episodic. It is not merely one essential thing in marketing; it is the essential thing and it must be regarded accordingly… from this moment on. Let me make this point absolutely, crystal clear:
If you want to sell a product, you must puff it.
If you want to sell your service, you must puff it.
If you want a person to read your blog, you must puff it.
If you want that same person to read an article in that blog, you must puff it.
Get the picture?
A few more hints
Your puffs must appear prominently in your blog, at least 1 at the top of the first page.
They must be short, enticing, action oriented. They must radiate a single imperative message: Look at all you get, look how delicious it is, grab it, grab it now…’
Here’s another example.
“Wow! I’m ecstatic to tell you that I’ve snagged another one of Dr. Lant’s superb articles. Yesterday nearly 400 of you smarties emailed me with your thanks, congratulations, and sincere appreciation for his last insightful article. Now I’ve got another for you. Stay tuned… you’ll have it in just HOURS. Make sure to email me at once with your reactions and compliments… it’s another winner!!! You can reach me by email (email address here); cell phone (number here)… or land line (number here.) And I want to hear from each and EVERY one of you!”
You must get on with the essential business of puffing each and every day, without exception, that you want money.
And, I guarantee you, that as you improve in your puffery, you will improve your prospect responses, dramatically.
And your bottom line? Why that will improve, too, and dramatically so if and only if you follow up each and every response, as quickly as possible, with a special offer. In other words, thank the respondents, thank them as soon as possible… and always give them a thing (or two) which makes you money. Thus are you benefited as you benefit your fast-responding prospects.
There are many things, of course, which factor into consummate blog success. They include
* having good content, interesting, practical, timely;
* publishing according to a schedule, never missing a deadline;
* writing directly to your readers, always using “you”;
* keeping every word of text short, peppy, upbeat,
* and, always and forever, every single day, puffing.
Because if you don’t puff, if you do not encourage, recommend, admonish, excite, and motivate you are leaving the crucial act of marketing in the hands of those least able to discern for themselves what to do. That decision must be yours. You and only you must advance the necessary reasons for acting as you want them to act. That crucial aspect of marketing belongs to you… and you must do this every time you want results. Like today.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A tale of the city. Someone to watch over me.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. This article will touch you more deeply than you might otherwise allow if you find one of the innumerable renditions of George Gershwyn’s “Someone To Watch Over Me”. (1926, from the often-revived musical “Oh, Kay!”) The one by the late chanteuse Amy Winehouse (given the tragic and squalid circumstances of her end) is both ironic and haunting for she most assuredly had no one to watch over her… much less save her from herself.
Go to any search engine now, find the singer you like… play it once or twice…for this is the desired, unmistakable sound for today’s tale…
It starts with a boy from the Prairies…
“Know thyself!” is perhaps the most famous (and surely the shortest) command (and admonition) of our culture. Pausanias, a Greek writer of the second century A.D., had the words chiseled in the wall of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. There’s been plenty argumentation ever since, as curious offspring seek to live those words, fully, completely, ardently…
… while protective parents, wiser to the world’s ways, say and will say to the end of the universe “Over my dead body, buster! And be back by 11… or else!”
If I tell you, confess really, that I was the boy who always was home early and never (except for one notable occasion, too notable to tell you here) knew what transgressing against “or else” might mean, you will perhaps have an inkling about the subject of this tale. I was always “The Best Boy”, sheltered, protected, indulged… I was not insensible of my privileged situation… but deep within (so deep for years I didn’t even know the notion existed) there was a desire to taste forbidden fruit and find out what happened when you walked on the Wild Side in dead of night
Others were anxious to help me out of my deep-seated predicament. Once, at university, a determined bunch of boys, affronted by my puritan outlook, tied me to a chair and, for an unblushing hour or two spat every four-letter word, every expletive (none deleted), and every vulgar configuration known to advanced eighteen year olds at me… my hands tied to my side, no chance of protecting those virgin ears. I was appalled… horrified… but I emerged, despite their strenuous efforts, unscathed. What was more notable than their failure to brand me was the fact that every one of my outspoken captors, every single one, was a clergyman’s son… the apple of the bishop’s eye being by far the most advanced and knowledgeable about the devil’s flamboyant lexicon. In due course, he, too, became a clergyman…
It didn’t matter where I was, people, being the helpful souls they are, sensed my situation… and wished to autograph it with a unique imprecation, malediction. One day, in about 1967, I attended a packed poetry reading given by Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982). It was standing-room only; I know. I was standing.
Rexroth, with Satan’s own radar, read a poem, perhaps it was about innocence, then announced he would, dowser-like, find the most innocent boy in the crowd. As he searched, he made his way closer to… me. And then, to my acute embarrassment, he announced he had found him… and that he was…. me. Thereupon he planted a fervent wake-the-dead kiss on me. I sank to the very earth, red, abashed, humiliated… most of all for the unwelcome designation that came with the buss: the most innocent boy on campus. Worst of all, it may have been true…
And, if so, it stayed true, for I was on the determined path to fame and fortune, which had not so much been prophesied as promised me… and I meant to have them, all of them, just as fast as possible….
It was then I discovered Nick and Nora Charles. Quick! Do you know who they are? Your parents could tell you. They were the utterly attractive couple invented by Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) the crime writer and brought so memorably to life by William Powell and Myrna Loy in a series of 14 “Thin Man” films from 1936-1941. They were what ever boy wanted who was sure life was what was happening wherever he wasn’t… and he yearned to go to that place at once, no questions asked, full speed ahead. As a result, I didn’t merely watch… I scrutinized Nick and Nora and every aspect of their wonderful lives.
This included the way they dressed, how they made their martinis…. and how they comported themselves when they’d each had one too many (crucial for a boy who had never tasted alcohol at all)… and of course just who was included amongst their extensive acquaintance. Why, they knew everyone on both coasts, governors, mayors, congressmen, thieves, murderers, marauders of every kind. And, of course, a small army of the “little people” who keep big cities going 24 hours a day and who see everything and everyone.
I learned a lot from just how Nick and Nora (who was always quick to follow Nick’s fancy footwork) treated these folks: always with courtesy, good humor, and no “side” whatsoever. It was an eye-opening revelation; you could be a convicted felon and yet be treated, by respectable folk, like the human being you were. I saw the same truth at work when in “Gone With The Wind” Melanie Wilkes met Belle Watling when Belle dropped off a pocketful of gold for Atlanta’s desperately needy hospital. Miz. Wilkes said she was proud to be under an obligation to Miz. Watling… This, I learned for good, was what a real lady would say.
And thus, firmly convinced that each person I encountered, no matter how black their history or damning their circumstances, deserved my politeness, my empathy, my kindness, I embarked on Life 101 and began to collect an astonishing grab-bag of people from the gutter up. One day one of the most troubled of these, a young man whose life, at just 22 or so, so, resembled nothing so much as the essence of chaos, confusion, mayhem and pain, said that he respected me because I treated him the same way I treated everyone else, not like a petty criminal with a rap-sheet as long as my arm. It was one of the most profound compliments I have ever received. Such people called me “Dr. Jeffrey” and said that in the certainties of my life they found a refuge, no matter how limited, for the uncertainties of their own. And, of course, the “helps” (as Queen Victoria called them) helped, too; the food, the clothes I (the least fashionable of men) no longer needed, the few bucks that cost me so little to give… all these were thankfully received. Most of the time, it was just the thought that counted and the unjudging ear.
But just the other day, the potential hazards of my behavior was borne home to me when I received a phone call from the bank that someone had just tried to cash one of my checks, only to discover just how well known I am, since the teller knew (as she would) that the signature was not mine. The miscreant fled… in unnecessary trouble for just sixty dollars. I probably would have given it to him… after all I know he has a young child.
My valued bank officer Helen read me the riot act. How could I have let him in, into my house of all houses… and left my checks out? How could I explain… she would only say, and rightly so, that I might have been killed. But she knows nothing of writers and their needs; hers was the advice of common-sense and bankers. I took the dressing down like a boy of 20, not a respected man of 64. Then later that day I called the lady and thanked her for looking out for me, grateful for her concern and even the sharp words delivered with her Irish up. You see, I have someone, and maybe many such, to watch over me… while the thief I befriended faces misdemeanor charges and perhaps the dawning recognition of the worst that’s yet to come…. without anyone to watch over him.

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