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Spoiler Alert: We all die in the end

BY LesOverhead / aging, death, future, humor, kangaroo, rattlesnakes / 0 COMMENTS

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I flew to Billings last weekend for a friend’s memorial service and got more than a flight into the past. On August 13, 1976 this friend banged his head on an armrest while lying in the backseat of a car heading home from a bar.

The vehicle had ventured just a few feet off the road, for just seconds. The bumping broke a vertabra and cracked his universe, throwing him into a wheelchair for the rest of his life, a distance of some 40 plus years.

He was one of the good ones who so often get a bad hand. Generous beyond belief. The one who’d gather everyone left at last call and buy us all a late night dinner at Wong Village.

He was a genius math whiz poker-faced Packer fan. A railroad worker with a pocketful of cash on fire. A true class act.

His quadriplegic existence wasn’t easy but he went on living, aging, engaging in life as he rolled his shoulders forward and back and friends raised his drink with straw to his mouth. He swallowed deeply. It was a tough road to roll.

At the memorial service I talked with a guy I hadn’t seen in 25 years. I recognized him and thought he did me. But an hour later he came up and said he had no idea who I was when we talked earlier.

I was taken aback. Everyone else had aged and changed a great deal it seemed, but not I. I wondered how he couldn’t recognize me, until I went to the can and looked in the mirror and wondered who invited my dad. I must have shocked the guy. And no doubt others who pretended to know me.

The next morning after the Memorial Service I visited two matriarchs of family clans who were best friends of our family growing up. They now live next door to each other in a senior care center in Billings.

One had the marks and blotches common with an aging body, but her mind was tack-sharp. The other had not a pockmark on her, her smiling complexion still creamy smooth. But her mind was off skipping to a different tune and time. She didn’t follow too well. Both are exactly alike in one way: they face their future with grace and courage.

My visit with them left me wondering which is better – to look your worst, and have a sharp mind that knows it. Or to look fine, but have a mind that won’t focus. I vacillate between the two. Of course I should pick mind over body. But Vanity is almost my last name and it’s hard to shake.

I most surely will be an ugly old cuss and some will say I already am. Then again, maybe I won’t have to worry about it.
While in Billings I heard that the father of a rancher friend of mine had received a health diagnosis that didn’t sit well with him. So after making and eating breakfast one morning he loaded a revolver, put the barrel to his temple, and shot the diagnosis all to hell.

My mind works in morbid ways and I wondered what he’d made for breakfast. Eggs over (to the other side) easy? Scrambled? Ten pieces of bacon? Had he done the dishes? We all discussed it solemnly, put a brave face on it and said assuredly we’d do the same thing. Maybe not by pulling a trigger, but with surefire thought and action.

I wonder if I would really take that fork. Eat some eggs and bacon, clean up, then blow out the candle for good. I have no idea. I doubt it. I’m not that strong of mind, or that steady a shot. And to give up bacon forever would be hard.

When bored, I often think of ways to die. It’s amusing to me. In my mind, if you imagine in detail the circumstances of your death – like getting bit by a rattlesnake while hiking near Pictograph Cave, or keeling over from a heart attack in the grocery store and causing a cleanup on aisle 7 – the scene you imagine is guaranteed not to happen.

Because NOTHING ever happens exactly the way you envision it. It would be a cosmic fluke, near impossible. But if it does occur that I die in a grocery store on aisle 7, it’s proof the game is fixed and there’s order in the universe. Science will be advanced.

So when I saw the kangaroo headline in the Billings Gazette this weekend – the one that said, “Driver rolls car to avoid kangaroo” – I was pleased. I thought of the scene (near Fort Belknap).

The driver was taken to a hospital and a state patrolman checked on her. She said it was definitely a kangaroo. He said sure, with a smirk no doubt. Then he drove back to examine the scene and sure enough spotted a kangaroo standing 30 feet off the highway. It turned out to be a wallaby.

Now I KNOW I’ll never die in a car wreck caused by a kangaroo (or wallaby). I hope not to be paralyzed by one either – left in a wheelchair, unable to hold a gun, someone making breakfast for me.

Aging is a losing battle and time wins every time. But we still control how we spend it. I plan to spend less of mine looking in the mirror. Get lost vanity.

RIP Kevin D. and Bert H.

Why I no longer hate typos

BY LesOverhead / communication, humor, robots, typos, writing / 0 COMMENTS

Hey! Your your should be you're. But no sweat. You're human!

Hey! Your your should be you're. But no sweat. You're human!

Somewhere, a robot is laughing at me.

Typos used to bug the holy bejezus outta me. They drove me berserk. Whenever I saw one on a sign I wanted to tear it down. If I saw one in a news story or magazine ad I wanted to set fire to it.

Once when a Portland brewery used the words MISSION STATMENT in a huge headline in a full-page ad, I wrote to the brewer in cheeky, smart-ass style: “E” now on sale at Les Overhead! Les Overhead is my one-man business, boss, and alter ego. I didn’t get a reply.

As a freelance copywriter/CD for nearly three decades, typos have long been the bane of my existence. Years ago, I was saved from my own terrible typo incident when my client called at the last minute to say she thought I had misspelled a word in their new ad which I was about to send to the publication.

The all-important call to action I’d written had only four words: Think positive. Hire smart. The designer had retyped the copy in her layout in a small serif font and spelled positive as “positve.” I totally missed the missing “i” when I proofed it.

When my client brought it to my attention (embarrassing enough) and I saw the error with my own eyes, it dropped me to my knees. I almost blew chow thinking of how stupid I’d have looked if the ad had run. It was a full-page ad for a law firm, in a book of ads for other law firms. I’d have had to leave town. Positively.

But I have a different view of typos now. I actually like them. Because, for better or worse, typos are caused by humans. They show that an actual living, breathing person created the message and he or she made a mistake, which is human. We all make mistakes. Some are damn funny.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be the death of us all if we’re not careful. Forget the Russians, it’s the robots we should be worried about. Someone should remake the movie: The robots are coming, the robots are coming! They’re already here, of course.

Automated content-generating writing is already being used in journalism and elsewhere.
Companies like Narrative Science and Automated Insights provide news bots that generate content for many different companies and publications. It started mainly with reporting on sports and stocks.

Now they’re moving more into general news. The Washington Post uses Heliograf, a news bot featuring arguably the most sophisticated use of artificial intelligence in journalism, thus far.

Narrative Science trains computers to write news stories. Its CTO and cofounder, Kristian Hammond, says these basic news stories are just the first step toward a world dominated by automated writing.

When asked what percentage of news would be written by computers in 15 years, Hammond said, “More than 90%.” He went on to say that in 20 years “there will be no area in which Narrative Science doesn’t write stories.”

When told that pontificators had predicted that a computer would win a Pulitzer Prize within 20 years, Hammond disagreed. It will happen in five, he said. I hope he’s wrong. I hope it doesn’t happen for a thousand years. Go ahead robots, laugh.

A P.R. pro once gave me a “tip” on how you can get an editor to read the press release or article you send in. It’s a risky move but kinda genius.

The idea is to deliberately insert a typo or other error in your opening sentence. Something subtle. When editors see it they will scoff, guffaw, and think how awful to have a typo in the opening line! And then they will read on, to the end, looking for more typos. They can’t help it. It’s an addiction. Of course, the rest of your press release must be smoothly and flawlessly written, sans typos.

That’s how you get an editor to read your submission. Just add a typo or spell a word wrong up front — like I did with bejezus (correctly spelled bejesus or bejeezus). Yes, it’s risky and you may look like a fool. But I like taking risks and I don’t fear looking like a fool. It won’t be the first time.

In short, I’m proud to be human. And that’s a sentence no robot anywhere, no matter how advanced, can write. Assuming it’s honest.

Long live typos! Write on, humans!

Hope somebody reads this all the way through.

Happy real outstanding New Year - not fake!

BY LesOverhead / crazy, Creative, future, humor, Performance art / 0 COMMENTS

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Dear Les Overhead clients, associates, and friends -

I am indeed fortunate to work with so many cool people - you among them. Thank you for that! Stay cool (and calm if possible) this year and if you need any copy or creative help, be sure to sing out!

Tom Vandel
Les Overhead (with the Rat Pack)

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A MOBILE ONE-MAN CREATIVE TEAM

20 Odd Years In Business

The true, sober story of Les Overhead.

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I was leaving to buy a keg for a party in the mountains outside Missoula when the phone rang. I picked it up in a hurry. A woman asked if I had recently applied for a job with a radio station in Whitefish.

“Uh, yeah, did I get the job?” I replied, anxious to move the conversation along.

“Not yet. Are you available for an interview?” I wondered if she was in town and wanted to meet right then.

“Not for the next 24 hours,” I said. "To be honest, I'm on my way to buy beer for a party in the mountains."

“I meant next week," she said. She no doubt heard me hit myself in the head with the phone. Well, I blew that I thought.

But I was wrong. I somehow landed the job and showed up for work two weeks later, shaven and sober. After a couple years punching out radio copy on a Smith Corona and doing odd jobs like radio play-by-play for donkey basketball games I headed west.

Eventually, I ended up in Portland where I caught on with a series of ad agencies. I got into everything: print ads, brochures, radio and TV spots, creative disputes… Many words were exchanged. Nobody got hurt.

One day in the shower a hair circled the drain and it dawned on me. I should use my head and get off this manic ad agency merry-go-round. Go to work for myself and provide creative help to anyone with a good company or cause.

That day Les Overhead was born. Freelance Creative Director/Copywriter. A man of his word.

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Les Overhead and Tom Vandel would both enjoy talking with you.

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The best way to reach Les Overhead and Tom Vandel is by email (tom@...), by phone (503-505-4723), or by sending carrier pigeon or mail to 1750 NE 57th Portland, OR 97213. Thank you.