“Near the end of the last century, the art of marketing emerged from its crude mass-appeal beginnings to the highly networked point-market science we know today. The culmination of this historic trend was the appearance of the Personal Needs Technician (PNT), the so-called Pinto.”

— J. Ogilvy, Marketing in the 21st Century, Rand-Bismarck Publishing

Curiously, the promotion did not sit well. Which is not to say that Ellery Fox, database guru of the profitability department, did not deserve it. But he was deeply ambivalent about the extra money. Money means more freedom, more fun, right? But he knew that he quite honestly had money enough already — he had already left a much higher paying consulting job in New York to move west for the windsurfing. The religious guilt of his upbringing tugged at him fitfully. More money seemed to both confuse and thrill him.

More specifically he was annoyed the news was first delivered by his irritating former officemate Fleming. Stork-like and angular, Walter Fleming (affectionately known in the Profitability group as Phlegm) thought he was successfully concealing his envy, but he was in fact spilling it messily all over Fox’s carpet. “Pulled down the big promotion, eh? Well three cheers to you, big guy, heh-heh.” Here he made an abrupt and strangely aggressive toasting gesture, thrusting his stained coffee mug toward Fox. Fox managed a thin smile and watched the sloshing mug anxiously. Fleming continued, “I bet you get a Pinto for this.”

“Walter, you know that only the guys on the executive team get those. I don’t even want one. What the hell would I do with some glorified ad man chasing me around all day?”

Fleming raised an eyebrow and tipped his head toward Fox skeptically. Then came the maddening mechanical laugh: “Heh-heh. Yeah right, and I don’t want to be Bill Gates.” His head bent quickly and sipped from his agitated mug. “I bet you get one. Those guys can work wonders. Heh-heh.” And with that, Fleming poked his free hand into his pocket and ambled stiffly back into the hall.

“As a result of high-speed communications networks, point-of-sale identification infrastructure, and advanced neural prediction software, marketing experts had enough information to exactly predict the needs of their clientele. From this point, it was a simple jump to assign individual specialists, PNTs, to highly-compensated wage-earners. Freed from the horrendous expense of mass-targeted advertising, marketing money was channeled directly to Needs Technicians who expertly matched client income with corporate product.”

— J. Ogilvy, Marketing in the 21st Century

“I hope you don’t mind that I let myself in!” were the words that Peter Martinez, Personal Needs Technician, First Class, used to greet Ellery Fox on his arrival home that night. Fox, doubly stunned, was still standing in the doorway. Stunned once: this stranger, this bizarre marketing person whose arrival had been predicted by his co-worker, had broken into his house and re-arranged his living room. Stunned twice: the place looked great. All he could think to say to the affable man standing in the kitchen doorway was “Where did you find that Hokusai print?” This was in reference to a magnificent Japanese print tastefully framed and hanging over the mantel.

“Isn’t it great? I knew you wanted it. I’ve been doing my homework on you ever since I got the good news last month.”

“The good news?”

“Your promotion, silly! Human Resources automatically notifies the firm and gives us the necessary powers of attorney and so on. It’s all very pro forma.” He smiled brightly, brown eyes twinkling merrily and utterly without malice.

“You’ve known for a month…?” Fox’s voice trailed off in bafflement. He took in the scene: his computer was now atop the elegant maple desk he’d been considering buying for a year or more. The piles of magazines he’d been meaning to straighten up were neatly stacked. The floor was spotless. “Did you clean the place up too?”

“Oh, no no no. You see, I’m not a butler. I simply use your money to acquire the goods and services you’d get for yourself, in an ideal world. In this case, I arranged for a very pleasant young woman from the Philippines to clean the house Wednesdays.” He leaned forward and added significantly, “…that’s your soccer night.”

“I’d been planning to do that,” said Fox in a small wary voice.

“YES!” exclaimed Martinez, nodding vigorously, a fountain of good will, “of course you had! Don’t you see?”

“As our ability to gather accurate information on a wide scale becomes more and more powerful, we expect to make sweeping gains in efficiency, enabling us to employ PNTs with households of lower and lower combined salaries. It is not an overstatement to say that we are on the cusp of an unprecedented rise in human fulfillment.”

— J. Ogilvy, Marketing in the 21st Century

As life became better and better for Ellery Fox, he became more and more miserable. There was no better illustration that his life was without meaning than the fact that his every desire could be pinpointed by the PNT firm within minutes of its coalescing in his brainstem. What depressed him even more was the fact that Martinez was always a step ahead of him, even when Fox was in a funk. Just when he would decide he needed a vacation to some remote island, Martinez would drop off tickets for a well-researched trip to the Galapagos. But then of course, he HAD always wanted to go to the Galapagos, and Martinez cheerfully reminded him there would be a partial eclipse of the sun while he was there. “Go ahead, you deserve it!” was the Pinto catch-phrase, and it echoed endlessly in Fox’s head.

So off he’d go to the Galapagos or the Upper Cascades or Katmandu, and somehow the more it was everything he’d hoped it would be, the more it depressed him. He had bleak visions of planning a suicide only to have Martinez appear at the last minute and offer the neatest, best-researched, and most tasteful exit strategy (“Go ahead, you deserve it!”). It was like being beaten to death by Martha Stewart.

One morning he found tickets to a New York Philharmonic performance of Beethoven’s 9th in his desk drawer at the exact instant that he had begun to hum it, and something snapped. He knew that if he rid himself of all his money, there would no longer be any economic logic to having a Pinto. Sell the house, move to the country, …

The phone rang; it was Martinez. “Great news!”

Fox cried “No, no more great news, Peter! You listen to me for once—”

Martinez continued without pausing, “I got a terrific price for your house, and I was able to cancel on the Beethoven concert. I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

“Indeed, the day is not far off when we may expect to see one-to-one or greater ratios of PNTs to the non-PNT population: Mankind in the service of marketing, and marketing in the service of mankind.”

— J. Ogilvy, Marketing in the 21st Century

From inside the scrubbed whitewashed walls of the old monastery, Ellery Fox contemplated with satisfaction the realities of his life of simple poverty. No more money, no more anxiety, only thin gruel in the morning and the daily rituals of devotion. Now he spent most of his time preparing for his mission work and chanting hymns in the name of infinite compassion. His physical and mental health would have been at a peak had it not been for a chance encounter in the temple courtyard. For there, walking serenely in the orange robes of a priest, was Peter Martinez.

“Peter,” Fox called out with a smile, “you’ve given it up, too, all that rat-race nonsense? Good for you!”

Martinez turned slowly and surveyed him with beatific calm. “What do you mean?” A quaking began in Fox’s knees and moved quickly into his thumping chest. “No no no, Ellery Fox! I still perform my mission work in the name of infinite compassion.”

“But… you never…” rasped Fox.

Martinez shined his smiling face on Fox. “Ellery, listen: Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses. But he got it wrong.” His brown eyes glimmered with saintly benevolence; his white teeth gleamed. Fox was suddenly aware of a warm sense of bliss spreading across his chest. Martinez continued, “If you want to save the world, you need to use the right tools. Your mission time will come soon…” Martinez kept such good care of his teeth! “We’ve just gotten word that Fleming has received his promotion.”

Grounding Day

Happy Grounding Day! The editors of the Star Chamber would like to remind you to enjoy this special midsummer holiday, first described in this space last year. Mischief is afoot, the summer is at the top of its arc, and aliens are abroad. And if there aren’t any aliens here on Earth, well then, we’ve sent our own to Mars.

By the way, careful readers of these pages will recall that we scooped the movie Contact with a tale of our own on these pages about beaming bad TV across the galactic void. Of course the book Contact came out years ago, but we will gently step over this fact by noting that we never took the time to read it.

In the meantime, for the admirers of that noble verse form, the double dactyl, we herewith include a humble example of our own

Life on Mars

Pathfinder, Sojourner:
Where are your pictures of
Martian inhabitants
For us to see?

Is it because of some
Fear of TV?

So in honor of Grounding Day (and before it’s too late), why not avail yourselves of the pleasantries of summer? Fix yourself a martini concocted with iciest gin, juiciest olive, merest hint of vermouth, sit on the back porch and read A Midsummer Night’s Dream one more time. Or better yet, pull up a chair and consider with us the curious tale of Ellery Fox.