Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Perspective on Perspective


Last week I received 10 identical emails.

These were not spam; the latest advancements in penile enlargement, romantic inquiries from Nigerian princesses or Helpful Tips for Writing the Perfect Resume (no one wants to look at the resume of a 44 year old copywriter, no one.)

The identical email regarded an article written by the late Linds Redding, a former art director who worked at Saatchi and BBDO. The piece, entitled A Short Lesson in Perspective can be seen here.

"Have you seen this, Rich?"

It was written three years ago but has somehow resurfaced on the Interwebs.

And repeatedly, in my Inbox.

I guess, because of my constant ranting, I have become a poster child for a better life/work balance. Please note that I have purposefully placed life before work.

I wrote a response to Mr. Redding's article three year's ago and indeed it is one of the Top Ten posts on RoundSeventeen. It's entitled, "I'm Outtahere" and you can see it just to the right of this column.

In three years the situation has not improved. In fact, it has gotten worse. A few weeks ago, a colleague posted a screen grab of a Meeting Notice Invitation. The notification was sent out at 3 AM for a reconvening of late night working employees to gather around in the big conference room at 4 AM!!!

People, the line has been crossed.

Unless you're pulling home a 7 digit compensation or have a piece of agency equity, chances are you are standing on the wrong side of that line.

Mr. Redding and I are not alone in this opinion.

Head on over to glassdoor.com and read some of the reviews on agency life, any agency, and you will see there is widespread concurrence on the issue. Just not by management, who seem to abide by the maxim…

"The floggings will continue until the morale improves."

But by the people who actually do the work.

It's out in the open. And it's being written about every day on the Internet.

Imagine if you ran a seafood restaurant. And night after night, diners were going home and logging on to Yelp to warn others about the rancid shrimp or the foul mussels. But you've chosen to ignore those loudmouths because your restaurant has an excellent view of the bay. Eventually, the heavy chains will be going up on the front door and beefy moving guys will be collecting the table linens and barstools and putting them up for auction.

In other words, agency C-Suiters and Holding Company officers:

It's time to do something because the clam chowder has gone bad.




Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Avalanche!!!


We all know about the strong El Nino developing in the Pacific and its promise of unusually-high and much-needed precipitation here on the West Coast.

With any luck our reservoirs will be replenished.

Our snow pack will be thicker and deeper than ever.

And my lawn will take on a greener shade of brown.

But today, I'm here to warn you of a different type of onslaught.

You see, last weekend, after much noodling, proofreading, tweaking, cover redesigning, formatting, more noodling and check writing, I finally sent off the manuscript for my new book, Round Seventeen &1/2, The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Inefficient. 

And that can only mean one thing: endless, shameless, annoying, overbearing, suffocating self promotion.

You've been warned.

And if you're a reader of this blog you've been witness to my obnoxious perseverance. 1300 blog entries, some of them actually good, don't just happen overnight. As my fellow bloggers can attest, it takes discipline, caffeine and a willingness to rehash the obvious just to stay one step ahead of the writer's block.

I am apologizing in advance, but I just want you to be aware of what's coming.

I'm going to plug.
And plug.
And plug.
Then, when I start getting emails and tweets begging me to stop, I'm going to plug some more.

I might ask you to write a review on Amazon.

I might ask you to share any digital ink on FaceBook.

I might ask you to come to a book signing or a reading, though this is highly unlikely as I'm not given to public performances due to my problems with excessive perspiration.

The point is, I'm going to be relentless. And won't rest until my new book sits on the toilet lid of every person working in advertising. Or until I've fully recuperated the costs for this literary catastrophe.

Whichever comes first.




Monday, August 31, 2015

At my wit's end


Send help.

Now!

I am trapped in a living hell.

My neighbor, that is the loon who lives on the street behind me and whose property is kitty-corner to my backyard, is the owner of a Malinois Shepherd.

Mal being Latin for Bad.
And noise being accurate for Noise.

This goddamned dog will not shut up. He barks at anything and everything. And not just a wuff-wuff bark. I'm talking a loud, deep, bassy bark that would wake King Tut up from his 3,000 year dirt nap.

Moreover, he howls at the moon and has no compunction whatsoever about barking at midnight, at 2 in the evening, or at 5 in the morning.

I have done everything I can think of to ameliorate the situation. We sleep with the ceiling fan turned on High. I stuff my ears with blue playdo, or what the manufacturer claims are "The World's Best Earplugs." I even bought a white noise machine and crank up the soothing sounds of rhythmic ocean waves.

"That's good Rich. Have you tried talking to the owner?"

Yes.
Yes, I have.

First, I sent an anonymous letter, respectfully asking that the new pet owner comply with the enclosed Culver City Noise Regulations. A week later, I went, hat in hand, to ask the owner if we could reach a reasonable solution and bring the dog in the house at night so that I, and other neighbors, could get some sleep.

"Screw off!" said the old woman in a not-so-neighborly fashion.

And finally, I have contacted Animal Control to talk to my lovely Culver City co-residents.

All for naught and you'll know why in just a bit.

In years past, I would have gone tit-for-tat with these uncooperative louses. You let your dog bark in the middle of the evening? I like to smoke a cigar on my patio and listen to bagpipe music at 3 AM.

But I'm a family man, with a wife and two daughters and there's more at risk here than me getting in a tussle and walking away with a fat lip. Particularly with these folks in mind.

This morning the dog was barking at 6:00 AM. I threw on my shorts and stood on my pedestal and aimed my useless Dog Whistle app on my iPhone at the beast, hoping to dissuade him with 22,000 kHz of high frequency sound.

And then I heard the old woman's son, a 48 year old man who lives in the garage, say to the dog…

"Good barking, Sally. Louder! Louder!"






Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Two Faces of Advertising


If you're looking for hypocrisy in advertising you don't have to look very far.

Last week, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, arguably one of the most creative shops in the land, fired their CEO and Chief Creative Guru Andrew Keller, one of the most talented creative guys in the land.

This, after 17 years of service.

17 years that produced Subservient Chicken, Whopper Freakout and a Mini campaign that set the bar for automotive advertising.

I don't know Mr. Keller and obviously have no agenda sucking up to a guy who is no longer employed, but 17 years is a long time, enough time to raise a child and send her a thousand miles away to pay outrageous, out of state college tuition.

Call me crazy, but whatever happened to this thing we call loyalty?

Every day I hear or read about the demise of agency/client relationships. Or the importance of establishing an AOR. Or how long term strategic marketing problems cannot be solved by short term, flighty jump ball assignments. But you plunk a microphone in front of an ad agency CEO and you're going to get a bloviating earful about loyalty.

We talk passionately about it and then we cavalierly axe people who have steadily drank the Kool Aid and bled the agency's team colors. I personally know of other ad folk, with a dozen, twenty and close to thirty years of service, tossed to the curb like some inedible, stale bear claw.

It doesn't end there.
Hardly.

Agencies are fond of getting on a soapbox and informing the world that "we are storytellers and artists." They talk a big game about how creative departments need to include poets, architects, musicians, photographers and not just people focused on advertising. And then they chain those people to their desks, or a long picnic table, and carve 80 hours a week out of their lives to do nothing but advertising.

Agencies can never stop talking about the democratization of technology. And the power of social media. But when was the last time you read an agency blog or engaged with an agency website or sat through an entire agency self promo? I'd prefer to be drawn and quartered, at least my back would get a good stretch.

Agencies like to position themselves as leading pop culture. Of being on the cutting edge. And a model of progressive thinking. And yet if you were to break down the demographics of the leadership, you'd have a hard time finding any women. Or African Americans. Or 44 year old copywriters. Or anybody frankly, that wasn't young, white, and bearded, with a closet full of fashionable European scarves and a medicine cabinet brimming with hair product.

Don't get me wrong, I love working at an ad agency. Or at least what an ad agency used to be.

But today I enjoy it from the perspective as an outsider looking in and not the other way around.

Should he follow the same freelance path, and once he accepts the fact that there are no free bagels in life, I suspect that in a very short while, Mr. Keller will feel the same way, too.





Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Music to my ears


"They bought one of your spots."

And?

"It's going into production."

And?

"It'll probably be on the air in a month."

You'd think after writing and producing more than a few hundred TV spots during the course of my time in the ad biz, those words would get tired. But they don't. Fact is, there is nothing sweeter.

Particularly now that I am 44 years of age and in, what most would consider, the twilight of my career. When the best I could expect would be the occasional banner ad or maybe, with luck, the stars in the proper alignment and the good grace of God Almighty (see yesterday's post for ironic reference), an Internet page takeover.

But, against all odds and the ever-changing whim of an unnamed client, one of the ideas my partner and I came up with is in full production mode.

Of course as a freelancer I'm rarely brought in for the craftsmanship part of the craft. Which is fine with me. Fact is, I don't have the temperament for long hours on a set. Nor the inclination to sit around and wait until some Key Grips get just the right filter on the light. Or the client waffles between wardrobe selection.

"I can't decide whether I like the pullover or the V-neck sweater."

It takes excruciating pain to a new level. I am much more excited about solving the problem and coming up with the ideas that haven't been done before.

And apparently, despite my advanced age and dwindling capacity to hold my bladder, I still have what it takes.

I'm well aware that the finished spot will be quite different from the original script. There will have been tweaks, rewrites and many, many hurdles of corporate re-thinking and re-hashing. But the idea is essentially intact. And I might even get a slash in the credits.

Which gives me all the validation I need to know that my copywriting career is good for another 6-7 weeks.

At least.



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Judgment Day


If you follow the polls, and I do, you probably know the role of organized religion is decreasing in America. I find that to be quite encouraging. It's a trend that has been amplified by social media. And as I have made abundantly clear, I'm more than happy to spread the faith of faithlessness.

Of course this is often countered with the hypothetical…

"Rich, what if there is a God and you have to come face to face with him on Judgment Day?"

That's an excellent question, but I don't see why I should have to wait for this divine encounter.


GOD: Why have you gone out of your way to deny my existence?

ME: Why is it so important that I acknowledge your existence? I see my refrigerator everyday. I see my toothbrush everyday. I see my dwindling stock portfolio everyday. I don't need to stop twice or three times or even five times a day to recognize their they'reness. I don't want to shortchange you but if anything deserves my praise it's the coffee machine. I'd be lost without it.

GOD: How do you think it all got created?

ME: To be honest, I don't think it got created. I think it was always just here. Just like I don't think there is an end to space, I don't believe there is a beginning of time. I believe it is a concept beyond human comprehension.

GOD: Fair enough, but if the universe is so complex and so perfectly designed, surely something must have created it?

ME: The old Watchmaker Theory. Yes, I will concede the universe is incredibly complex. The gravitational pull of the planets, the careful prescribed orbits, the heat and light from the Sun just right to sustain life on earth. And perhaps elsewhere. Yes, one would assume all that necessitates a Creator. But then who created you?

GOD: I am God. I have always been. And always will be. I am beyond time and space.

ME: Hello! (said with a sarcastic shrug of the shoulders)

GOD: But I have given you my commandments and demand your respect.

ME: You also gave us a brain capable of solving differential equations, re-engineering DNA and digging a trough through Central America to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific. Why would you be surprised if we used that same brain to question your being and your mysterious ways. If anything I should be given extra credit for critical thinking…

GOD: You call that critical thinking? I call it glib, facile college freshman Philosophy 101.

ME: You're entitled to your opinion.

GOD: I have to get to an Alabama-Auburn football game, I think we're done here.

ME: While we're on the topic of respect? How about an explanation for Eichmann, the Kardashians, hair growing out of my ears, the last second jumper by Keith Smart to beat Syracuse in the 1987 NCAA Tournament, your fixation on bacon, American Airlines baggage policy, jihad, patriarchy, swamps, the Spanish Inquisition, cancer, kids with cancer, Ken Hamm and his stupid ark, and dogs. You give us these great loving animals and then you take them out of our lives way too soon.

All due respect God, you can be a bit of a douchebag.

GOD: OK, that's about enough.

ME: If you're going to send me downstairs can I get a different robe? Something in all cotton, not a polyester blend. I've got a thing with excessive sweating.

But then, you knew that didn't you?






Monday, August 24, 2015

Noooooorm!


Last week, or maybe it's been two weeks ago, between my Mexican vacation and dropping my daughter off at college my sense of time has been all out of whack, KFC did what nobody has ever done in the ad business -- they rolled out a second Colonel Sanders spokesperson, in the form of Norm Macdonald.

Maybe it's because I have a little history with Norm, but I thought the move was genius.

I actually ran into Norm at Margarita Mix about a month ago. Or maybe it was six months ago. Like I said the battery in my internal clock is dead.

I also used to see Norm, quite regularly, at the gym in Playa Vista. Naked Norm is quite different than clothed Norm.

And years ago I had my most inglorious encounter with one of the funniest men on Earth. I was in NYC for some business which invariably led to an expensive dinner and free flowing alcohol. After dinner, someone suggested we go to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. Before we boarded the elevator, we spotted Norm in the lobby. There was dutiful handshaking and selfies, none of which I can put my hands on. I'm pretty sure I invited him to knock down some whiskey with us.

"I have to go now."

In any case, I am in awe of the Weiden Kennedy move to give us two Colonel Sanders. If for no other reason than it messes with convention. It is, how one agency might put it, Disruptive.

For the first time in years, or maybe just ever, people noticed advertising from Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I even considered bringing home a bucket of the poultry that has never touched my lips, but then I remembered my 36 inch waist shorts were feeling a bit tight.

The cynical among you might believe the Norm Colonel Sanders was concocted in order to make up for the Daryl Hammond Colonel Sanders. I disagree. I believe the smart folks in Portland set this in motion from the beginning.

I read recently that each of us is exposed to 10,000 advertising messages a day. We've become so saturated with addyness the only way to stand out is to bravely mess with the form itself.

The Energizer Bunny did it brilliantly. Of course the client walked away from that approach and now what they're doing with the Bunny is not so brilliant.

When we were doing the ABC campaign, we wanted to roll out a different tagline every day. It would have been a logistical nightmare, but it was a TV network and we had the wherewithal to pull that trigger. The brass didn't see it that way and instead suggested we spend out time coming up with better promos for Hiller & Diller.

Will we see other clients or purveyors of fast food follow suit? I don't make it a habit of prognosticating, but I'm fairly confident the answer is a resounding No.

"I like the tomato slice through the water in Take 23 but the ripey redness in Take 41 was clearly better."

"And the iceberg lettuce snap in Take 19 was awesome sauce."

"Let's run this by the marketing committee and see which one they like." 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tony Stern, My Rabbi…


Came across an article the other day about the importance of having a mentor. Not just in the ad biz, but in any business. Not sure it's going to resonate with many young people today as they tend to skate through the day thinking they already know it all.

I think we can agree, they don't.

(Hint to young unnamed copywriter, if I tell you a headline is no good or has been done a thousand times before, it would behoove you to pull your pants up and just listen.)

I've been fortunate enough to have several good rabbis in my life, none more impactful than Tony Stern.

If you work or live in the ad community in Los Angeles, you know there are two Tony Sterns. Being a ripened 44 year old copywriter, I, of course am referring to the older Tony Stern.

I met Tony years ago while he and his partner Jeff Roll (also a rabbi), were running the Nissan Regional Account at Chiat/Day. Tony needed a writer. He could have had his pick among many talented folks at the time, my contemporaries, including Jeff, the Other Jeff, Steve, Mike, Rick, Kenny and a host of others whose names I have forgotten.

And any of us would have snapped at the opportunity, because at the time getting into Chiat/Day was more difficult than getting into Fort Knox. Sadly, that is not the case today.

Tony and Jeff made sure they were getting their money's worth out of my partner and I. We did Sales Event ads, Parts Department brochures, flyers for the Fleet, and even retooled the service manual if memory serves me right. It was great training. And it was hard work.

But it was fun.

Presenting to Tony was always a gas. As a former gag-writer for the Tonight Show, he was primed to laugh. Loud. And hardy. And if he laughed at the work, he and Jeff usually sold it.

Unlike other rabbis, actually unlike other Jews, Tony likes to drink, so we hit it off right away. I remember at the conclusion of one horrendous pitch, Tony and Jeff took us for a blowout lunch at some fancy dinery on Abbott Kinney. When the 4 digit bill came around, Tony insisted on seeing the dessert drink menu and tacked on a couple of shots of ancient Courvoissier or some undrinkable cognac, bottled while the North was still battling the South.

Each one ounce glass was over two hundred bucks. It tasted like shit.

On the other hand, because the client was paying for it, it tasted like heaven.

Good times.

Most importantly, Tony and Jeff, two curmudgeonly old mensches taught me about trust. For one of the big year end clearance events, they allowed my partner and I to pitch and produce an entire unscripted, improvised campaign shot on hand held video. We brought in radio legend John Crawford and spontaneously filmed people in Los Angeles, essentially asking them why they weren't at the big Nissan Event.

It was a huge risk. And easily could have resulted in many instant severance checks.

But, in addition to being intimidating, it was different and fresh.
And with Tony and Jeff's guidance, it was funny.

I miss those days of winging and winning. Last I heard, Jeff and his wife were riding horses in Sante Fe and Tony, the tireless writer, is still churning it out for an agency in the Valley.

I'm not sure they were ever given the credit they were due. And who at Chiat/Day ever is? But Tony and Jeff mentored so many young professionals. And did more for that agency than anyone will ever know.

Not just by producing a wealth of great ads, but by producing a generation of great ad people.










Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It's just business


I'm not a trucker hat kind of guy.

I'll wear a baseball cap on occasion, mostly to shield my bald head from the sun, but you'll never see me sporting one of these douchebag, Ashton Kutsher caps.

Especially not the one pictured above.

I know this borders on heresy, particularly since the marketing of brands has put a roof over my head, clothes on my children's back, food on the dinner table and has even given me the opportunity to fly 4,000 miles where I could sit on a Tulum beach and stare at reddish-brown seaweed.

But I don't love brands.

And chunks of past-eaten burritos always come bubbling up when I hear fellow colleagues blather on about how they do.

I wonder if these same brandaphiles also agree with the Supreme Court that corporations are people too.

Maybe it's because I never dreamed of a career in advertising. I sort of fell into it. And discovered it was a great way to make a living while exercising my desire to write. A great lucrative way, that has sustained me well into my mid 40's.

Granted, there are brands that I have liked considerably more than others. Mostly because they were willing to go out on a limb with me and my partners and let us swing for the fences. Those include ABC, Castlemaine XXXX, Bizrate, homestore, Earthlink, Acura, and Baikalskaya Vodka.

But as Sal Tessio tells Michael Corleone before he is taken away to be shot for his betrayal…

"It's was always business, nothing personal."

Thankfully, I am not, and never was, one of those Creative Directors sought out by the press for  interviews. So I never had to drop to my knees and flap my lips about loving a brand, or their DNA, or their undeniable authenticity, or their invaluable contribution to mankind.

If on the other hand, some probing reporter were to ask me if there were any brands I hate, I'd be more than willing to oblige, starting with:


Time Warner Cable

Comcast

American Airlines (or any other airline)

Dell Computers

Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer

Sit N'Sleep

IKEA

Random House Publishing

Outback Steakhouse

Chevy's Mexican Restaurants



(Before I step on any toes, I better stop there)






Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Must. Be. Bolder.


Tomorrow, my strength will be tested.

Not from any marathons, or triathlons or gamey puerco tacos purchased from a roadside stand in Akumel, Mexico.

Tomorrow, we will be boarding another plane for the short flight to Denver and a hop, skip and jump over to beautiful Boulder, where we will be dropping our youngest daughter off for college.

You probably don't know this about me, mostly because I have the cynical, acerbic, ill-tempered writer thing down to a science, but I am given to ugly streaks of sentimentality.

It's embarrassing.
It's messy.
And it's unstoppable.

On several occasions, last week my wife walked in my room, interrupted what I thought was going to be a private moment and caught me red-eyed and teary.

"Are you worried about how we're going to pay for all this?"

"Yes. That's what it is."

Last year was difficult, when we dropped daughter #1 at the University of Washington. But in the back of my mind, I knew she would be fine. She is resilient, unflappable and has a seriously good head on her shoulders.

My youngest on the other hand, has a flair for the dramatic and tends to live her life in the emotional extremes. She is either incredibly jubilant and vivacious or she is sad and grumpy, suffering from premature curmudgeonliness.

She's also my baby.


Her new student ID photo doesn't look like this, but she will always look this way to me.

Thankfully, my wife can see past all this tzuris and assures me everything will be alright.

But here's the ultimate irony. For years, through all the screaming, playing, yelling, singing, crying, dancing, fighting, stomping, bickering, and just general mayhem that one would expect with two lively daughters, all I wanted was a little peace and quiet.

And now, with the two of them at college, that same peace and quiet is the thing I dread most.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I need a vacation from my vacation


As you may recall, last week was quite eventful for the Siegels.

We went to Tulum, Mexico, home of ancient Mayan ruins and gerry-rigged ATM machines that do not dispense cash but do swipe all your financial information for use by the Mexican mafia at a later date.

My friend Jeff Gelberg often says, "the best part about camping is coming home and enjoying the fact that you're no longer camping."

I think a similar corollary exists for Mexico.

"The best part about a week in Mexico, is 51 other weeks of the year not being in Mexico -- where the toilets flush, where US legal tender comes spurting from a machine, and where every ice cube need not pass a 100 point inspection."

This is why I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

One day, we tried to rent Mopeds in Cozumel.

The learning curve for driving a Moped turned out to be quite steep. As steep as the median embankment that my wife and daughter launched themselves from while accelerating from a stop light.

It all happened in slow motion.

Abby and I were seated on one moped and waiting patiently for Debbie and Rachel to catch up. Instead, they caught air, and like a junior Evil Knievel hopped the curb, left the Earth's bounds of gravity for a split second, before smashing into an apathetic palm tree.

The whole sordid affair included lost tempers (though I remained surprisingly cool), a lot of tears, and the unlawful exchange of $200 USD from my wallet to the sweaty, greedy palms of the Rental Moped/Policia Cartel.

Later that day, we rented a jeep and drove to the southern part of Cozumel, where we found turquoise waters, white powder beaches and buckets of ice cold cervecas. It was there, after some deep breathing exercises, that we laughed.

Recounting how I had just been clipped for two C-notes, I remarked…

"Well I guess we can scratch that off the Siegel Bucket List."

That's when my oldest daughter chimed in.

"Dad, that's not how it works. A Bucket List is a bunch of cool things you want to do, not a bunch of bad things that happen to you." 

Crazy kids and their unfiltered optimism.









Thursday, August 13, 2015

Not in this lifetime.



Last report from Tulum.

Well Mexico, despite the rabid dogs, the errant burning trash heaps and the unfinished structures, I appreciate the attempt at Eco-Tourism. I really do. But unless you put a Diaper Genie in the bathroom, my used TP is going down the toilet.

You rip me off for a scratched moped and I raise you a clogged sewer line.

Este es una cosa se llama, Karma.

Hasta luego.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cuanto Dinero? Aye Cavron!


Tonight a Mexican policeman and his family will be dining on lobster tails (langostinos), Premium Modelo Beer and tortas chocolates.

Compliments of the Siegel family.

Because really, what would a trip to our neighbor to the south be without getting fleeced for mucho American dinero?

The story...

We rented a car and drove north to Playa Del Carmen. From there we purchased tickets on the ferry to Cozumel. Before doing so, we were cornered by the parking lot attendant who promised to get us a good deal on two island rentals scooters.

It took us a half an hour to find the scooter shop, but once we there, Jaime, our muy friendly rental agent set us up with two of his finest.

Sadly however, my wife did not take to the scooter as one might take to a bicycle.

A block and half away from the shop and stopped at a red light, she went full throttle, jumped the median on Avenida Real and slammed into a tree. All under the watchful and laughing eyes of Cozumel's men in blue.

No one was hurt, but the beat up scooter suffered fatal cosmetic damages -- a few scratches, as if anyone in Mexico would notice.

After much discussion, and me repeatedly asking "Donde esta la biblioteca?" , we managed to extract ourselves from the ugly situation without Debbie spending a night in the clink with several Cozumel prostitutes.

Never underestimate the power of the American dollar.

Suffice to say, it has been a very long, long day.

And the only way to end this story on a good note is for me to retire to the bar for some Mezcal.

Hasta luego, mis amigos.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Who wants to hear a song?


We loaded all the gear in the rented Chrysler Town and Country: the water bottles, sunscreen, insect repellant, diarrhea medicine and more water bottles.

And we set out on the hour drive from the pristine, seaweed-infested beaches of Tulum, inland towards the jungle, and the ancient homeland of the Mayans and their majestic stone pyramids.

We tried to get our two teenage daughters excited about the prospect of seeing feral pigs, howler monkeys and live iguanas. Not to mention the experience of stepping in the same footprints as the Mayan kings who for centuries ruled the Yucatan peninsula.

But along the way, their eyes were caught by roadside stands displaying colorful flapping sarapes and huge dream catchers, so naturally we had to pull the car over and view the trinkets.

And that's when we spotted a whole table of foot long ceramic...skin flutes.

There was much giggling.

Naturally.

At PS 92 in Queens, NY, I, along with the entire third grade was taught to play the Recorder Flute. I believe it was part of the mandatory New York State curriculum, when music and art mattered.

We rehearsed and practiced that damn Recorder, I don't think it ever left my system. The same way I can still pick a book of Hebrew prayers and start reading the divine gibberish.

I thought about picking up one of the "flutes" and knocking out a few chords of Red River Valley.

But then I saw my daughters had their iPhones ready to go. And I didn't want to end up the next Instagram sensation.

Instead, I sprang for few dreamcatchers.




Monday, August 10, 2015

Welcome to Semi-Paradise


Dateline -- Tulum, Mexico. 10:32 AM

We have travelled more than 3800 miles, including 5 hours on a brand spanking new 737-900, with the electrical outlets embedded in the seats, another 1 hour on the customs line which stretched from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, and another 1 and half hour shuttle ride with young Alberto, who spoke no English but still understood that I needed to stop at a store to purchase a 6 pack of Corona, thank you Alberto.

All to arrive at our eco-friendly cabana hotel, aptly named The Beach.

Sadly however, The Beach offers no beach.

In fact, none of the hotels along the Mexican Riviera offer any beach. Because the good Lord, in all his wisdom, or his spite for my militant secularism, has blanketed the entire coast with fuckin' seaweed.

It's as far as the eye can see. If it had legs and a spiteful mind, I'm sure it would be creeping up the beach and helping itself to my huevos rancheros.

In the vernacular of the day -- FML.

On the flip side, the hotel is beautiful. The bar is fully stocked and Ernesto, the bartender, seems to be fond of my broken restaurant Spanglish.

"Chupame my verga" is always good for a laugh.

Plus, I have a veritable treasure chest of opiates that will make all that angst, or at least a good portion, go away.

First world problems at best. In the words of John Cleese, "Adapt, adopt and survive."

Also, if any of you are wondering about the wisdom of telling the world I am on vacation and away from my home, keep in mind that my horse-strong brother is housesitting.

And he has legs as thick as 55 gallon drums.
55 gallon drums packed jelly-tight with seaweed.








Thursday, August 6, 2015

Empty Nesting and Resting


A darkness has descended upon the Siegel household.

A lingering malaise that has nothing to do with inconsiderate neighbors, the inconsistencies of freelance work or even the increasingly annoying nocturnal trips to the bathroom to empty a non-compliant bladder.

It is August.
The end of the summer is within sight.
And soon, way too soon, the exit of my two daughters who will both be in college.

The Empty Nesting Syndrome is upon us. And with it, the 5 recognizable phases that all 44 year old parents must travel through.

Denial. There's no way they are both leaving the house. It was just yesterday they were throwing water balloons in the house, leaving dirty dishes on the table and spilling black nail polish all over the imported green slate tiles in the master bathroom.

Melancholy. The other day my daughter grabbed a peach out of the refrigerator while I was filling up on coffee. The sight of her taking one bite, claiming it was mealy and then throwing the perfectly good fruit in the trash, brought back so many memories. I hugged her and got a little weepy. Right after I yelled at her and reminded her, "expensive fruit doesn't grow on trees."

Clingyness. I've turned into a cliche Harry Chapin record. The girls were watching the Bachelorette on TV the other day. For no other reason than I wanted to hang out with them, I parked myself on the couch. We spent a good 4 minutes together. I can't stomach that shit.

Acceptance. Reality can be a tough mother@*%$er. Perhaps that's why I chose a career in advertising, where nothing is real. Strategy isn't real. Deadlines aren't real. Signed estimates aren't real. It's all make believe, like the Big Data coming from the digital world. Life at home is the exact opposite. It's really real. I know the girls will be gone because their rooms will be clean and the house will be quiet. I just have to deal with it.

Furniture Shopping. We stopped bringing home crap from IKEA a long time ago. Just as I was getting the hang of those twisty inset bolts and cheap wooden dowels. But we never graduated to the good stuff. We frequented Ethan Allen or the up-and-coming shops at the old Helms Bakery Furniture Center. But now it's just Deb and I, with no careless kids to trash our investment. Now, after all these years, we can get away from the distressed wood and shabby chic and step into the highly-polished, refined world of burled wood.

"Show me something in mahogany, my good man."

I still have two weeks before the teary drop offs, so we are off to the Mexican Riviera to see ancient Mayan ruins, drink tequila and spend quality time in cheaply made beach hammocks.

I'll be live blogging from there next week.

Or, I won't be.

Being restful, content and relaxed doesn't make for good writing.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Oh for Christ's sake


It's been awhile since I touched on the topic of religion, but it is a major pet peeve of mine and I need to unload.

Last week, there was a Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv. By the way, you wouldn't find another Gay Pride parade in a 2,000 radius as Israel is surrounded on all sides by people still living in the 9th century.

Sadly, however one mentally deranged Orthodox Jew -- a redundant phrase -- took it upon himself to stab 6 of the parade goers, one has since passed away.

"Hey Shlomo Patheticowitz, we don't do that stuff."

Even worse, three days ago Jewish settlers torched a building and an 18 month old Palestinian baby lost his life.

That is some god-damned stupid shit. I like to think you'd have a hard time finding 10 Jews on the planet who sanction this kind of misguided butchery.

I go out of my way to point out Islamic terror, but the truth is I'm more disgusted when the blood is on the hands of fellow tribe members.

On a lighter note, a few weeks ago we got together with my nephew from Boston and my sister-in-law's family, to watch the Angels clobber the Sox at Anaheim stadium. On the inebriated walk to the parking lot we passed a man bearing a huge Trust in Jesus sign, between the two oversized batting helmets at the entrance to the park.

A couple of courageous young men started getting into it with the proselytizer, who countered each of their statements with Scripture.

"Jesus loved gay people."

"Thou shalt not layeth down with another man, blah, blah, blah."

Keep in mind this is in the heart of Orange County, California's own little Bible Belt. Turns out I was not the only one taking note of the "discussion". A wiry drunken man, I'm guessing from Vista Hills, threw himself into the fray and forcefully took up the cause of the God of Love and turn-the-other- cheekness.

"Jesus didn't love gays. He hated you faggots. If I had a stone, I'd bury it in your skull and leave you to die by the pop up tent selling Mike Trout jerseys and bobble heads."

Maybe that 9th Budweiser was not a good idea. Thankfully, the man's cooler-headed family pushed him away from the growing altercation so he could drive them back to their loving home of faith, tolerance and doing unto others.

I don't understand people.

Religious people, even less.

The other day I was reading an article from a physicist who had discovered what he believed was the largest known object in the universe. This Gamma Beta thingamajig was more than 18 billion light years from end to end.

18 billion miles is hard to comprehend.
And I spent two and half years commuting on the 405.

18 billion light years will turn your head to mush.

And yet, you want me to believe that God/Jesus/Allah goes all bonkers when Lance puts his hand on Chad's pee-pee? Or when Mary starts practicing scissor kicks with Betty?












Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Prins among Princes


Weeks ago, I put out the call to the many art directors in my life.

I needed a favor, more specifically an idea for a cover for my upcoming release of my next book, Round Seventeen &1/2, The Names Have Been Changed To Protect the Inefficient.

The response was overwhelming.
In an underwhelming kind of way.

Apparently the people I have so generously turned on to freelance gigs and kept gainfully underemployed for the last dozen years are unfamiliar with the concept of reciprocity. Fair enough, names have taken, lists are being compiled and future blogs posts are being planned.

One former partner and friend bucked that trend, Robert Prins.

Two weeks ago he sent me an entire deck full of juicy book cover choices. The one above features a picture of a raccoon humping a beagle. We happened across the grainy photo while working on a recent assignment and couldn't stop laughing.

When we saw the shot, there was projectile snot that reached the ceiling tile.

Robert offered up other choices as well.


This one had a nice simplicity about it. And one of the stories in the book regards shrimp.

But it felt too fancified and frankly promised the reader a literary experience I knew the writing could not deliver.


I liked this one.

Because it features yellow, and for better or worse, my entire ad career seems to be synonymous with one inconsequential Yellow ABC campaign.

Also, I like monkeys.
Except for Ken Ham and the Creationists, who doesn't like monkeys?

And finally there was this.


The carefully sculpted geometric patterns of the sidewalk casually desecrated and overtaken by the random meandering of an unleashed dog's piss. If that's not a perfect metaphor for advertising in the year 2015, I don't know what is.

In the end, I chose None of the Above.

You'll have to wait to see the winning design and the genuinely-sophopmoric writing when the book finally hits the shelves in late September.

Then, when Random House calls and offers to pick up the second printing and drops a fat advance check on my ass, I'll be prancing off to deposit the money in the bank.

Note to all you art directors who couldn't be bothered: And so will Robert.




Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Tower of Babel in my Pants


I'm standing in the cabana at the LA Fitness club at Jefferson and Lincoln.

It's a beautiful sunny day.

I've had a productive morning at home and an assignment that will earn me a few more day rates.

I'm also cursing to myself about the crowd in the pool, including my nemesis, some old crazy cat lady that likes to take up an entire lane with her useless snorkeling and then hog the shower so she can condition her ugly grey hair with 13 different kinds of oils and lotions.

After she "exercises" she goes back to her car and chain smokes an entire box of Marlboro's. Marlboro Light, because you know she's health conscious.

Anyway, as I'm standing in the cabana, buck naked, and about to pull up my swim trunks I notice the instructions for the proper Care and Maintenance of my Quiksilver trunks. That's when I break out my iPhone and without a tripod (insert joke here) I snap the photo above.

I don't know if you can tell, but that's SEVEN tiny pages detailing the materials used to fabricate the bathing suit as well as a United Nations treatise outlining the correct way to wash said garment, that, it should be pointed out, was made for the express purpose of going in and out of a pool of highly-chlorinated water and old lady urine.

I'm not sure what type of dim wit needs these Ulysses-ian cleaning instructions, but rest assured if he speaks English, German, Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese or Tagolog, the good folks at Quiksilver have got him covered.

Also, I checked just for good measure, and on the back of the last tag I found the blueprint for a modern nuclear bomb.

It was written in Farsi.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My tough kid


Came across something interesting while walking the Baldwin Hills Stairs the other day.

Truth is, I find something interesting every time I decide to make the 2 hour journey, from my house to the trailhead, up and down the stairs 4 times and the 1.7 mile return trip, my fingers swollen to sausage-like proportions from the exertion.

As I was descending the hill, making my way down the winding switchback where I often find lightening-fast lizards and startling brown and yellow ringed gopher snakes, I spotted a young Hispanic family coming up the hill.

The young couple, in their late twenties at best, were trailed by a brood of 5 toddlers. Actually, one kid was not walking, he was in a stroller.

Not one of those fancy-schmancy REI-endorsed $400 strollers with the ergonomic seating, the built-in iPod player and the hydraulic shock absorbers for rugged off roading.

No, this was a street model.

Probably picked up at a K-Mart or a flea-market. It had four wheels, three of them wobbly, a torn fabric seat, and beat up plastic handlebars that were machine extruded from a Taiwanese sweatshop in 1992.  It looked out-of-place here on the fashionable Westside of LA, not unlike the parents, who were not wearing $200 hiking shoes, $100 cargo shorts or $50 cool-wicking headbands from the fine folks at Patagonia.

They weren't outfitted for the hike. And neither were the kids, who sported hand me down flip flops, threw dirt and rocks at each other and played without a care in the snake-infested sagebrush.

As our paths criss-crossed, one of the mijas tripped on a jagged rock. She hit the ground hard. And fast. So fast, that her parents, who were a few yards ahead, didn't even see it.

Nor did they have to.

The four year old girl, snapped back up, brushed the dirt from the fresh bloody raspberry, and didn't miss a beat. There was no crying. No whining. No 5 alarm dash to the Cedar Sinai Emergency Room.

I thought about all this as I recently brought my own daughter back to JCA summer camp after her bout with the flu.

I offered to help bring her belongings back to the cabin but she declined. Perhaps she didn't want to be humiliated by her father. But as I pulled away I looked in the rear view mirror and saw her trudging up the hill with a 25 lbs. duffel bag, a backpack, a 10 lbs. handbag and her oversized pillow.

She's a hearty little camper.
Maybe not as rugged as the little girl with the bloody knee, but still tough.

And toughness is a good thing to have in this world.

A very good thing.