by Mark L. Levinson

I’d just handed my column in and I was waiting for the elevator, meanwhile admiring the sylvan surroundings of Yokneam from a window high in the Elephant building, when the door chimed open and Mumpy stepped out.  Maybe she knows a good graphic artist, I thought.  I needed to produce a brochure for the TiePlumb computerized necktie straightness gauge.

“Garfinkle Graphics is okay,” she said.  “Just tell them what you need done and they’ll do it.”

So I set an appointment with Wink Garfinkle and I showed him the TiePlumb.  I explained that a big convention for men’s wear was coming up and if we could peddle the TiePlumb to haberdashers for their fitting rooms, then their customers would be inclined to buy the home version.  I explained to him about silk and wool and the various knots and widths, and he said, “So you check whether the tie’s color goes with the shirt and jacket.”

“No,” I said.  “We only check whether the tie is straight.  That’s what we want the brochure to put across.  You’ve designed dozens of brochures and you’re charging a lot of money, so I’m not going to cramp your style.  You know the message.  I trust you to know how to express it in graphics, just as I expect to be trusted for text.”

Wink came back a week later and said, “It’s amazing.  I took this photo fifteen years ago in Vermont and it’s perfect.”  He showed me a page that said “TiePlum,” with a photo of a squirrel.  The squirrel had somehow been snapped head-on an instant before completing a jump.  Its paws were forever a centimeter from the branch in the foreground, as if immortalized on a Grecian urn.  “Fifteen years ago.  I’d forgotten all about it till you showed me your product.”

“It’s quite a picture,” I said, “but what does it have to do with neckties?”

“Neckties?  Your customers see nothing but neckties all day.  They’re sick of neckties.  This will grab their interest.  And you understand what it says?  Precision.  Just as everything depends on catching that tree branch, everything depends on a tie with exactly the right color.”

“Straightness,” I said.  “We only check whether the tie is straight.  And is there space for a line of text on the cover?  I want to write something like ‘Software to line your tie up flawlessly.’”

“Then why don’t you just write something like ‘Don’t bother opening this brochure’?  If you tell it all on the front, you’ve killed the curiosity.  And anyway, the whole story is in the picture.  Do you see how the squirrel’s tail epitomizes the idea of perfect balance in mid-air?  He does it by instinct, you do it by software.”

“Well, I’ll have to show it to the boss,” I said.

“Oh, I could give you neckties on the cover,” said Wink.  “But I’d be stealing your money.  Any Bezalel dropout can give you neckties.  Sure, I’ll give you neckties, but I’m taking my name off the brochure.”

“No, you’re the professional,” I said.  “But it’s TiePlumb with a ‘b’ at the end.  Just make the correction and we’ll bring the cover to the boss next week.”

When Wink showed the cover to the boss, the squirrel was wearing a necktie.  For the sake of drama, the tie streamed backward as if it were made of silk georgette.

“Why doesn’t the cover explain the product?” the boss said.

“We want the reader to need to open the brochure,” I explained.

“Well, I don’t want anyone to need to open the brochure,” the boss said.  “I want the brochure to work when it’s closed, I want it to work when it’s open, I want it to work when it’s upside down.  And whose idea was the squirrel?”

Wink looked at me.  “Never mind,” said the boss.  “I want a man on the cover getting his necktie straight.  If you can put a girl in, that’s a plus.  But not too Israeli.  ”

“I’ll use Russians,” said Wink.

“Trust this guy,” the boss said to me.  “He knows his business.  You can learn from him.  Don’t sidetrack him with your National Geographic wildlife ideas.”

Yesterday I ran into Mumpy again.  “How did it go with Wink Garfinkle?” she asked.

“In the end it worked out,” I said.

“You have to tell him what you need done.  I did say that,” she reminded me.

“I thought I told him,” I said.

She put her hand to her mouth.  “Don’t tell me he tried to sell you the jumping squirrel.”

Comments and questions are welcome: ]]

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.