Somewhere behind even the most vanilla snoozefest, there’s a beautiful tale we may never know.
The bargain bin is a good place to push the boundaries of the record collector’s addiction, particularly for that morbidly curious subset of vinyl junkie determined to find the most boring album in the history of recorded sound. The elusive, subjective target of such a quest lies somewhere in the realm of spoken word, where somber documents of professional organizations are a good bet for sleep-inducing patter touched with the gentle rustle of surface noise that has accumulated not due to frequent listening but to the slow decay of time. A plain brown jacket set in ubiquitous Helvetica type promises to surpass even the three-LP set of Amway proceedings (in a similar color scheme) for soporific power, and it comes from that most august of institutions, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The ambitious Hugh H. Reid, a Rutgers graduate and partner in the New York accounting firm Alexander Grant & Company, took it upon himself to guide his colleagues in the best practices for billing. By gum, it is not the least bit entertaining.
Accountants’ Fees: Factors in Determining and Collecting beckons quietly from its unassuming cover in the comforting hue of desk blotter leatherette. Reid saves his head shot for the back cover, a portrait of a successful man who probably played college football and would have fit right in the background of any season of “Mad Men.” What does Reid have to say to his fellow CPAs? It might help to lay out a random passage with careful enjambment to highlight Reid’s mind at work:
“The rate of economic growth
will largely condition the extent of demand
for professional accounting services.
of the normal growth rate
in addition to economic changes
which will put a premium
on reliable information
for a wide variety of purposes
will create an increase in the demand
for professional accounting services
which can only be described as
That “fantastic” takes you by surprise—at least, one imagines that was Reid’s intent, sending the attentive listener through all those convoluted and banal clauses until he whipped the uninspired professional into a certifiable frenzy with the enthusiasm and aplomb that got him to where he is today. That long verbal volley may be the cushy corner-office equivalent of the spiraling touchdown pass he once sent down the field to his favorite receiver. Today, in this new and exciting milieu, the metaphorical pigskin soars in a perfect arc from behind his mahogany desk all the way to you, the game-winning Certified Public Accountant.
Unfortunately, Reid dispenses counsel with all the personality of that plain brown album cover typeset in Helvetica. His advice isn’t without interest; on “Tentative income goals” he makes a valid point that’s relevant beyond his narrow demographic: “In setting his income goal, the practitioner would be well advised to keep in mind that his own evaluation of his worth can have a strong effect on the client’s opinion of his value.” If this were an Adam Sandler movie, this is precisely where Rob Schneider would make his signature cameo, urging the protagonist from the sidelines, “Go on Nicky! You can do eet!”
Yet Reid, for all his success, doesn’t have Schneider’s cheerleading prowess, and one spends some 35 (or 600) interminable minutes with a droning voice turning into little more than Uber-white noise. Crucial suggestions now and then arise from the mid-Atlantic hum: “Avoid publishing minimum rates…the minimums tend to become maximums.”
One is loath to paint an entire profession with such broad strokes of ennui; in an attempt to research the existence of other vinyl albums released by CPAs, one finds a number of current practitioners who either collect vinyl or even, in at least one case, started their own record label. The passion for book-keeping doesn’t preclude a passion for music, and the intersection of such interests can seem somehow touching. If Reid’s vanity project compelled at least one mid-career pro to value his own, unsung work a little more, and maybe led him to earn a little more money to support his family, maybe even to send one of their kids through med school to grow up and save lives; then it was well worth the effort and expense. It would be impossible to prove such an outcome, but that’s the beauty of the bargain bin: the stories it tells, and can’t tell, are innumerable, and somewhere behind even the most vanilla snoozefest, there’s a beautiful tale we may never know. That doesn’t mean anybody should ever listen to this record ever, ever again, but there may be a lesson in it for all of us to ponder in these trying times.