Sid Finch Meets Otis Brain
In.the spring of 1985, George Plimpton broke the story of a gangly, French Horn playing, rookie Mets pitcher named Sid Finch. Finch, a student of the Dalai Lama had mastered Tantric principles of body control and had perfected the fastest pitch ever recorded in baseball, a staggering 150mph. The New Age phenom attended Mets spring training on the condition no contract was signed, no pictures were taken of him and that he would be left alone to meditate when he was not pitching. It was as if this modern day Ichabod Crane had emerged from the enchanted woods of New York’s Sleepy Hollow. The enigmatic Finch captivated America and for a brief moment, everyone was certain that the game had changed forever. Finch hysteria started to sweep across Long Island and the five boroughs. Not unlike Orson Welles on October 30, 1938, George Plimpton sparked a brushfire that was fanned by every Met fan across the Northeast. There was only one problem. Most of us failed to notice the byline of George Plimpton’s Sports Illustrated article, “The Curious Case of Sid Finch”. It was dated April 1st. We had been had.
History has provided us some marvelous hoaxes and jokes. Each generation has its own pantheon of merry pranksters and April fools. The MTV generation has Ashton Kutcher, whose show “Punk’d” has introduced a new term into our lexicon : to “punk” or to pull an elaborate prank on another person. This is hardly new. In the 60’s, Alan Funt masterfully planted hidden cameras and recorded ordinary people reacting to extraordinary situations with hilarious and unexpected results.
My father grew up in the industry of the Mad Men – Madison Avenue advertising where two distinct hemispheres of workers applied their talents. There were left brain account management types and there were the right brain creative people – practical jokers, savants, malcontents and others in desperate need of therapy. My father’s firm employed copy writers, art directors and “creatives” that manufactured great ideas and chaos. Perhaps, no one art director personified this disruptive creative genius more than Bob E.
Bob was the king of practical jokes. On certain nights, I would hear my father laughing to tears as he would recount a Bob E joke that had been pulled at the office. One of Bob’s most famous pranks came at the expense of a new creative director, Mr Smith, whose rigid demeanor and poor sense of aesthetics had threatened to pollute the dysfunctionally successful creative department in LA.
The first phone call came to the creative director one morning. A man with a distinctly Southern accent and poor grammar called Smith on his direct office line. ” Is this Mr. Smith?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Sir, this is Otis Brain from MSU. Your name was given to me by a classmate of mine, Levon Delacroix. We have been in our marketing course here in Tucker and have been evaluating Advertising firms and making connections so we might be able to get active employment upon graduation”.
” I am not sure how you got my number but when you get out of Michigan State you can send us your portfolio and resume, but please send it to Human Resources.”
( Laughter ) “We’re not in university, Mr Smith. Me and Levon are in the Maximum Security Unity here in Tucker but I am up for parole next month. Levon’s in for manslaughter but he is up for parole in a year (“weren’t my fault” is yelled in background)
” Please don’t call me again” Mr. Smith barks and hangs up.
A letter arrived the following week addressed to Smith in child-like handwriting from an Arkansas penal institute. It was from Otis Brain. “Dear Sir, enclosed is my resume and art work done while incarcerated. I look forward to meeting with you directly upon my release from this correctional institution, yours faithfully, Otis Brain“. The creative director contacted HR who encouraged him to provide her the letter and direct any calls to her office. For the next few weeks, Mr. Smith continued to receive phone calls with the introduction, “This call is coming from a federal penitentiary, will you accept
charges ?” Visibly shaken, he refused the calls every time. The letters keep arriving including one that included a letter of recommendation from a Warden Charles Culpepper. In the letter, Smith learned that Otis Brain has been paroled.
One afternoon, the creative director’s phone rang. “ Mr Smith , this is Otis Brain! I am here in Los Angeles and I have my portfolio. Sir, I can be in your office in two minutes. I’m just across the street”. Smith was irate but also a bit scared. “Mr Brain, we have no jobs right now. Why not consider a position at BBD&O?”. Otis Brain laughed, “ I don’t want no railroad job, Mr. Smith. Say, can I stay with you at your house. I don’t have a place to sleep tonight.”
Smith hung up again. He was having trouble focusing and snapping at everyone. Bob E and his cronies smelled blood in the water. Smith was under pressure to successfully defend a large account that was out for review. His team was working round the clock. One evening, his assistant came into his team meeting with a perplexed look on her face. She leaned in and whispered, “It’s the uh, LA Police department…They need to speak with you urgently.” Smith picked up the phone and pressed the blinking phone line button. ” Yes ? This is Mr Smith.” In another office, Bob E changed his voice and spoke decisively into the phone, “Yes, Mr Smith, this is Sgt, Bonner. We have a man down here that we arrested for vagrancy. His name is Otis Brain and he says he is your brother”…At this point, Smith unraveled and started screaming into the phone, “He is not my brother for God’s sake, will no one listen to me, he’s not my brother!” The mental strain proved too much. He slammed the phone down and left the office. Despite his best attempts to find and restrain Otis Brain, Smith was unsuccessful. He left the firm six months later.
At my father’s 50th wedding anniversary, Bob E sent this congratulatory note: “I also want to confess that Bill E and I did send the new secretary , Ms Kucaberger, outside with a memo only she received regarding the yearly fire drill at 3:oo that day. Second: it is true that Bill E and I did steal Dick P’s shoes before an important meeting. Yes, I did stand on the office desk next to Bob H’s( the region CEO’s ) office and moan into the air conditioner vent: ‘help me…someone help me’ until Bob H ran out of his office to see what was going on.”
To Bob E, every day was April 1st and the world is a little richer for it.