Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Plans to be a Planner

Stop me if you've seen this movie before.

And I wouldn't be surprised if you had, because this scenario plays out every day in every ad agency across the country, from the wickedly-inspired hallways of Weiden Kennedy in Portland to the anabolic steroid-laced hallways of Zimmerman Advertising in Fort Lauderdale.

A senior planner hands a Creative Director a meticulously-crafted planning brief.

He is peacock proud of the brief's brevity, insight and mapping potential towards marketing success. As the sacred document is passed from one professional to the next, a slight addendum is added.

"We need to show the client something in three days."

"Slow your roll," the Creative Directors responds, "How long have you been working on this brief?"

"About two months. We had initial research. Data Analysis. Loop backs. Deep dives. More research. Oh and then the CMO went to Machu Pichu. So really only 6 weeks," the planner replies, with not a hint of guilt.

The Creative Director, having just enrolled her kids in an expensive private school, bites her lip and tells her team to do the best they can.

And in three days time they do.

The work goes down to the client and in one of those meetings that can only happen in advertising, the Associate Chief Marketing Officer claims he never signed off on the initial brief.

He seizes the opportunity to do a little grandstanding of his own, because he just put a down payment on a Porsche Carerra, and instructs the agency to come back with work in a different direction.

His direction.

The senior planner, with all his various degrees in demographics, psychographics and social media metric confabulation, could push back and contest the point, but he and his wife just bought a new town home. And the formica counters in the kitchen need to be replaced with granite.

And so, the original precious planning brief, the one that incubated for 6 weeks and was pored over with loving care and undue attention, is tossed in the trash can in favor of a new brief. The one that was angrily ad-libbed by the ambitious Associate CMO who is eager to tell the world he has a small penis.

The cynical among you, that's almost all of you, might be thinking, why do we need Planning at all if the client is going to reject our council and write their own briefs based on nothing more than gut instinct and that morning's caffeine intake?

But as a seasoned ad veteran who has spent considerable time in the industry, I know that every problem is also an opportunity.

The silver lining in this case is I can extend my already lengthy career even longer by transitioning into the Planning Department. That's right, I'll become a Copywriter/Planner.

As a hybrid creative/strategist I'll be uniquely positioned to take advantage of the aforementioned scenario. And short circuit the all-too-familar strategic clusterfuck to my advantage.

For instance, I don't need 6 weeks to write a crappy brief. I can do it in three. Which leaves me ample time to work on my online chess game and perfect the Sicilian Gambit.

And crappy ads for my crappy brief?
Well, God knows I have plenty of practice writing those.

It's the perfect plan for a 44 year old.
Who knows, I might get another dozen years out of this industry.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Aryan Brewerhood

In the earlier incarnations of this blog, I wrote much shorter posts.

And I squeezed out articles based on the thinnest of premises, an odd photo, something my daughter said, or even a bumper sticker I had comes across.

Then I caught the writing bug and started 'going off' on anything. And it seems, everything.

That's how we got to more than 1100 posts.
Which is nothing to sneeze at, considering how shallow and uninformed yours truly can be.

Today, in light of the upcoming Labor Day weekend, I'm returning to those roots and taking the easy way out.

Last week, I took the time to look at the carton of light beer I like to drink, Beck's Light. They pack a lot of good Teutonic beer flavor into those 64 calories.

That's when I noticed something odd about the labeling. (See picture above)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Wait until the very verbose Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center sees this.

I'm sure this will merit quite the stern letter. And if I know the good rabbi and his hypersensitivity to anything remotely Holocaust, it'll be a thousand words and then some.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Pith of Pythagorean

There is a meme floating around the Internet that goes something to the effect of:

Another day of life, Another day I never used Algebra.

I get it, algebra is useless.

The same can probably be said of Organic Chemistry, Roman Mythology and Wood Shop.

Truth is, we learned a lot of shit in high school and college that has very little application in real life.

I've always contended there should be more hands on courses like Navigating Marriage 101, Introduction to Pleasing Your Parents, and Advanced Leave Daddy Alone, but that's another blog, for a later date.

Surprisingly there is one course that has come in very useful in my career as an advertising copywriter: Geometry.

I'll explain why.

You're all familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem that states the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle equals the square of the hypotenuse. Or:

But did you know there are more than 400 ways to prove this particular theorem?

Proving theorems accounts for the majority of most Geometry classes. I didn't know it at the time but the practice of laying out a theorem proof could be the most useful skill I obtained in four years of high schooling. That, and the proper selection of underarm deodorant.

Constructing a proof, whether it's Pythagorean or the countless other theorems, requires a discipline, logic and sometimes even creative flair. In many ways it's the same thought process that goes into writing a screenplay, an ad or even a blog post.

There's a beginning, an exploratory middle and a satisfying conclusion.

Properly executed, it's precise and persuasive.

When you do enough of them you can begin to find art and unexpected elegance in every proof.

I don't use Algebra every day, but I do put my Geometry skills to use every time I step up to the keyboard. Clacking away with the hope that I will deliver something compelling, articulate and insightful.

Clearly today was not one of those days.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

WARNING: Graphic Video

On February 26th, 1993, a group of Muslim terrorists set off a truck bomb in the basement of one of the World Trade Center buildings. The bomb killed 6 people and did extensive damage to the underground structure. It did not, however, topple one building into the next as the planners had hoped.

I remember watching that incident on the news and laughing to myself, thinking do these assclowns actually think they can take down the World Trade Center?

My flippant reaction, and that of our government, represented a monumental miscalculation.

Today, 21 years later, we, who are busying ourselves with cat videos or submerging ourselves in buckets of ice water for worthy charities, are guilty of the same faulty misjudgment.

I'd like you to watch a video.

No women are being stoned. No children are being bombed. And no American journalists are having their heads separated from their torsos in the name of an almighty, loving and merciful God.

But in many ways, this is even more disturbing and more chilling.

We know how the masked, gun-toting militants ravaging through Syria and Iraq feel about establishing a Caliphate -- a one world government designed to bring the planet's entire population under the laws of Allah.

This video shows us how some of the more "rational" followers of Islam feel about the impending unification of the Ummah.

What is most shocking is the cavalier attitude. There is an uncontested notion the Caliphate is coming and we must all, Muslims and soon-to-be-Muslims, live under Sharia law.

It's not a matter of if. It's only a matter of when.

Thankfully and not surprisingly two of the woman state their opposition, though they hardly make a forceful case. Lest they upset their male overlords.

What I find most frightening is how even the most soft-spoken of the men has no issue with the actual establishment of a one government, one religion, one-size-fits-all system of 9th century barbaric Neandarfuck totalitarianism.

It would be easy to dismiss all this if it were espoused by a few hundred, a few thousand or even a few million faithful followers. But Islam is practiced by 1.6 billion people, almost one out of every 4 humans on the planet. And if this video is any indication, I happen to believe it is, the majority of them are eagerly awaiting the day for the Caliphate to come. You know, so things can get better.

Just as in 1993, the warning signs are out there. You can go back to your ice bucket challenges, but the rise of ISIS, the savagery of Hamas, and the naked ambition of Islam should be a pressing concern for all of us.

Particularly if you are:

A woman
A Christian
A Jew
An atheist
A homosexual
A bisexual
A fornicator
A football fan
A Democrat
A Republican
A Libertarian
A Progressive
A beer drinker
A sommellier
A writer, painter, artist or photographer
A critical thinker
A Kafir
A dhimmi
A human being

Or just someone who loves a pulled pork sandwich on crusty toasted ciabatta bread

Monday, August 25, 2014

College Parenting 101

Last week, my wife and I ventured north to the Emerald City for a college orientation at the University of Washington, UDUB. It brought back vivid memories, of a long time ago, when my parents and I stepped foot on the hallowed grounds of Syracuse University.

Oh wait, no it didn't.

You see my parents never did any of the mishegas I find myself doing on behalf of my daughter's higher education.

An hour and half long seminar on the University's health resources and facilities, sign me up.

A 45 minute tutorial on dorm room organization, save me a seat.

A 5-mile walking tour of the enormous campus including a detailed explanation of the university's extensive recycling program and a thorough dissertation on the difference between Composting Material and Organic Waste, that's a memory-maker.

Al & Isabel Siegel would have none of that nonsense.

Here's the way it all went down for me. When I was 12 we took a family road trip to Hamilton in Canada to visit my mom's sister and her family. On the way up Route 81, my father spotted the unmistakable buildings of Syracuse University.

We pulled off the highway, rolled up East Adams Street, followed by a slow cruise down Comstock Ave. and looped back to Route 81. The "tour" lasted all of 5 minutes. No sooner did we turn onto the NY State Thruway did my father turn around and pronounce…

"That's where you're going to college."

No inordinately expensive application counselors.
No SAT tutors.
No exploration of any other choices.

Nor was any of that necessary.
It was Syracuse University.
And if the check cleared, my father reasoned, they'd accept my boy.

Because UDUB is on the quarter system, school doesn't start for another 3 weeks. And I'll be returning for another trip. This time to drop her off and move all her belongings into her room. She's in a crappy dorm but she's on the 8th floor and it has a hotel-like view of Union Bay.

I'm sure it will be a gut wrenching, 3 Kleenex box affair. Which again differs from that day 26 years ago when my parents shlepped me and my crap up to Sadler Hall on a cold Saturday in late September.

We drove for 4 & 1/2 hours.

My parents smoked their way through three packs of cigarettes, interrupted only by some fevered fighting. We dragged the boxes into the building because Al wasn't about to dole out 8 bucks to rent a hand truck.

We met my roommate and his parents from a very wealthy area of Long Island. My father, from the mean streets of the Bronx, assumed they were mobbed up and whispered to me, "don't accept any favors from him."

And that was it.

Dad shook my hand. Mom cried a little. They bought some more cigarettes and got back in the car for the 4 & 1/2 hour drive back.

And then, it started snowing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An Adventure on Amsterdam Avenue

Across the street from the Bristol Farms, where I get my daily lunch of tuna fish, fresh fruit and cottage cheese, there is a medical marijuana dispensary.

I'm not sure of the name.
I know it's not Doug's Weed Store.
It's usually something more affected like Grace, Sunshine, or Herbal Caregivers.

And every day, I see an eclectic cross section of Angelenos go into the store to be given their special care.

It's all so amazingly nonchalant. In fact, today I am in Seattle, where one doesn't even need a "medical affliction" to be "prescribed" a spliff of Blue Haze.

What a far cry from my youth, when we would literally risk life and limb in order to score some Mary Jane.

If I may indulge, one night my buddies and I were loitering around Greenwich Village. There, in the shadow of NYU, we often found dealers willing to relieve us of our hard earned suburban dollars in exchange for a plastic baggie of reefer.

But on this one particular evening we were having no such luck.

"Tuinal. Seconal. Uppers. Downers. Qualudes. you want em, I got em," barked the peddlers under the arch of Washington Square.

We were just four 16 year old boys from Suffern, NY who had no desire to pop pills. We just wanted to get high. And then we ran across two black guys who could help.

They had weed, they explained. Only it was back at their apartment. In Harlem.

That might have bothered or intimidated some, but it didn't phase our buddy Jim, who was as fearless as they come.

"Let's go," he said, pointing to his sea foam green Dodge Dart parked illegally on Bleeker Street.

And with that, Jim was off to 127th street with his two new BFFs.

We waited. We watched the jugglers, the unicyclists, the clowns, the street entertainers who would work hard enough to collect enough coins for the next meal. Or Malt liquor.

One hour turned into two.
Two turned into three.
And our imaginations ran wild.
How would we explain Jim's disappearance to his parents? More importantly, how would we get out of the city without Jim's trusty Dodge? And should we get on an uptown train and start scouring 125th street for our friend?

This last question merited very little discussion.

Just as we lost all hope, Jim arrived, smiling from ear to ear as if he had already sampled the goods.

He showed us the twenty dollar bag, enough to last the rest of the night and keep us laughing the entire ride back to the suburbs. But it didn't. Because most of what was in the little plastic baggie was nothing more than store-bought oregano.

A story born.
A lesson learned.
Caveat emptor.

We never got our "care" from Harlem again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I hate the Internet

Where's my check, Ariana?

If you've been following the blog lately you know in the past week or so, I've had three, er....four stories republished on the Huffington Post.

I'm not saying this to brag. If anything I should be ashamed of myself. If I could write worth a damn I'd have several books published by now, like my skilled friends, Jim Jennewein, Kathy Hepinstall, Toby Barlow, Ernie Schenck, etc.

Instead, like the schmuck who gets the soup spilled on him by a klutzy schlemiel, I give it away for free.  For the hollow promise of 'national exposure.'

That, and $3.50 will get me a small latte at Starbucks.

Of course, as my published writing friends will tell you, there's not a whole lot of money in the paid-for-publishing world as well.

It sucks to be a writer…er, content creator, these days.

And I blame it all on the Internet.

Thanks to the world wide webs, people can't be bothered to drop 50 cents for a daily newspaper. High brow magazines like National Lampoon, Spy and Mad, are no longer purchased and brought into the stall for a good laugh.  And an even better expulsion.

They've all been replaced by Vines and Instagrams and BuzzFeed quizzes that don't even approach funny.

But the public, and I'm looking at you regular readers of RoundSeventeen, loves them because they're Free.

They used to say, "Funny is Money." That was before some four-eyed Silicon Valley geeks started confibulating the flik-flacks and modulating the flux capacitor and pumping the Internet into the ether.

Growing up, I had dreams of becoming the next Art Buchwald or the more WASP-y P.J. O'Rourke.

I would dash off some biting satire or vomit some stream of consciousness ha-ha's onto the page and the adoring public would shower me with wheel barrels full of greenbacks. Enough to pay for a huge house with a huger backyard and enough room for my own personal lap pool so I wouldn't have to slosh around with the unwashed masses.

But you ruined that for me, Internet.

And all your online restaurant reviews, free fetish porn and easy-to-navigate driving maps will not make up for it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On trying harder

Sporting events have to be watched live.

The DVR simply does not suffice. It records the game or the match or the fight fine, but if I accidentally find out the result, it all becomes moot. And like a recent insightful Hyundai commercial (produced by my very smart friends) it's impossible NOT to know the results.

This maxim holds true for most sports.
Not all.

Last week I came across the coverage of the 2013 Kona Ironman. It took place a year ago. And to be honest, I don't really care who won.

In fact, I'm much more interested in the "losers."

Let's be clear about this. There's nothing as boring as watching people swim, bike or run on TV. And yet, like the airings of The Godfather, 12 Angry Men, or Bridge Over the River Kwai, I cannot pull myself away from watching.

I suspect it stems from my own participation in the sport.

I competed in my first triathlon when I was 26, for those of you who are counting, that was eighteen years ago. Growing up I was never involved in any organized athletics. Not in junior high, high school or college. I played Little League baseball and always incurred the wrath of the teammates and teammate's fathers on the bench.

"I bet the fat Jew strikes out. Again."

And of course, I always did.

Nevertheless I always felt like an athlete. So when I moved to California, I started running. And I started competing in 10K races. My obsession grew, so I added swimming. Before long I was doing Tri's and became well versed in carbo-loading, cross fit training and the benefits of ketosis.

The longest triathlon I did covered 1.2 miles in the ocean, 40 miles on the bike followed by 6.2 mile run. It is the Olympic distance and it went by the book. Except for the rib crushing kicks in the water, the flat tire and the bloody blisters. But I finished.

In fact, if I stepped up to the starting line I vowed to myself to always cross the finish line.

At the peak of my involvement I dreamed of crossing the finish line at Kona. That dream never came to fruition. And now with chronic heel pain it never will. I'll never forget the day the orthopedic surgeon showed me the x-ray, pointing out the heel spur, "that's the biggest I've eve seen." If only I had heard something like that from my urologist.

In any case, watching and hearing the stories of those that hurl themselves, despite all odds, over that incredible threshold is nothing less than inspiring. And can often have me grabbing for the Kleenex.

The father with the special needs son.
The woman who lost a leg to diabetes.
The 78-year old widow who wanted to honor his departed wife.

It's all a testament to the better part of the human spirit.

Ample proof that pain is ultimately endurable. Including the pain, I suppose, of fathering two increasingly surly teenage girls.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Taking Care of Business

I tightened the perfectly-made Windsor knot until it pressed the sharp, heavily-starched collar of my white shirt into my fleshy teenage neck.

It was a scratchy wool tie. Mostly because my father was too cheap to spring for anything silk.

But the tie was mandatory, especially if I was going to work in his office at Brownell Electro, the nation's 3,829th leading distributor of electric motors and industrial wire cable.

Brownell Electro. 
Grinding out a living since 1887.

With the garrote secured to my neck, my father led me like a puppy to the Suffern Shortline Bus Station where we climbed aboard the 6:32 AM to the Big Apple. Most teenagers don't know from 6:32 AM. Particularly those who had just discovered the joys of Acapulco Gold.

But then my life, and my summer, hardly resembled the life of most teenagers.

The working men, mostly in their late 30's and early 40's, though they walked slowly as if they were in their 60's, filed onto the bus, stored their briefcases, settled in to their seats and lit up their cigarettes. I pressed my head against the plexiglass window and tried to draw oxygen from the 1/2 inch wide vent that pumped in clean carbon monoxide from the nearby exhaust pipe.

It was already 97 degrees outside. And more humid than Fiji. The windows on the air conditioned Shortline began to sweat.

I was wet, half awake, suffocating and smelt like a carton of Lucky Strikes. And it wasn't even 7 o'clock yet.

At the office, just south of Chelsea in a shabby area of the city that hadn't been gentrified or Disneyfied, I sat in my wooden banker's chair. This was long before the era of Herman Miller. There was no height adjustments. No lumbar support. And no Kevlar backing to increase maximum ventilation and optimal comfort.

This chair had a gimp wheel. And one of the rear railings sported a small knotty oak protuberance. That protuberance was small at 7:30 in the morning. But by 3 o'clock it felt like Excalibur was impaled in my kidney.

Monday through Friday was the same routine.

Peggy, the unusually buxom chief of Accounts Receivable, came by at 7:45 and placed a boxful of checks on my desk. My job was to match each check with the Accounts Payable invoice and then post the amount to the ledger. I had to keep a running tab of all the incoming money. At the end of the day, the checks had to be deposited. So the tally, the invoices and the checks all had to balance.

They rarely did. It never phased my busty boss, Peggy. She knew all the tricks of bank reconciliation. If the amount was off by 9 cents, I had transposed some numbers. If the amount was off by a dollar or eleven dollars, I had forgotten to carry the one. And if the amount were off by anything more than $500, I had simply fucked up.

Then I'd be treated to a full-chested tantrum by my hot-tempered Puerto Rican supervisor.

"Pinche hijo de jeffe!"

The memory of Peggy, sloppy bank slips, torturous bus rides and hours spent waiting at the Port Authority Building came flooding back to me while driving home from the office and stumbling across Bachman Turner Overdrive's, "Taking Care of Business", a song that had vaulted to the top of the pop charts that August.

I took care of business that summer. And the following summer when I worked as a Pot Washer at Good Samaritan Hospital. And the subsequent summers, when I was a Line Cook, a Landscaper and a Forklift Driver in lovely Gardena, California, where the 110 meets the 405 and forms the 9th Gate of Hell.

Each of these character building experiences changed the vector of my life.

And each serve to remind me that since I became a copywriter in the ad industry, I haven't worked a day in my life.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bumper sticker wisdom

Spotted on the dirty windshield of an SUV in the parking lot.

Not sure why the Can is capitalized. And I don't know what happened to the 'n' in doesn't. Nevertheless, the intent of the decal is clear.

And funny.

I've never taken to affixing decals or political bumper stickers to my car. Not because I don't possess strong feelings or leanings one way or another, I think you know I do.

It's more about not sharing those often politically incorrect opinions with the 450,000 commuters who travel on the 405 everyday. Many of them with baseball bats, hand guns and tiny brains on board.

I prefer the somewhat sanitized and rhetoric-based arena of social media.

Lately I've been going toe-to-toe with friends and coworkers who have an opposing -- meaning wrong -- view of the current crises in Gaza/Middle East.

Don't worry, I'm not going to open up that can of worms again. Frankly I'm tired of the issue and half-heartedly wish the Israelis would just cave in and give their sworn enemies everything they want. The world will thank them. Goodwill will be restored. And finally there will be peace.

Well you know, except for the raging Muslim insurgencies and real genocide going on in Eastern China, Chechnya, Iraq, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Libya, Kashmir, Somalia, Egypt, etc. Basically anywhere you find a mosque, women in burlaps bags and people shouting obscenities about kafir.

Sometimes these discussions get heated and insults buried in subtext are hurled. My feelings were not hurt. And I hope I didn't hurt anybody else's. OK, truth be told, some I don't really care about.

And I think that former colleague, who is fond of sending me private drunken late night missives laced with blatant anti-semitic insults ("no wonder your people have been hounded for years"), knows exactly what I'm talking about.

So let's get back to the car decal.

It's safe to say the driver of the vehicle in question is a fellow misanthrope.

I love misanthropes. If only for their pragmatic, honest and unfiltered view of the world. We misanthropes should form a club and get together on Tuesday Nights for sandwiches, beer and frank discussion.

Oh wait, no, that would suck.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let's get high

Shouldn't we be flying by now?

I know we were promised flying cars but I don't want to buy my flying machine from a guy in a polyester suit.

"So can I interest you in some protective undercoating for the wings? You don't want those rusting out at 12,000 feet above sea level."

I want something less cumbersome. Something I can keep in my closet, next to my "winter" coat and my mother's old Mah Jong set.

I want wings.

Da Vinci imagined it 500 years ago.

Why can't Elon Musk design and build it? Instead he's wasting his time on some bullet train that promises to speed passengers from Rancho Cucomonga to Fresno in less than 18 minutes.

Hardly a day goes by when we don't witness new, incredible quantum leaps in technology.

Candles that regenerate themselves.

Advancements in watermelon cutting.

iPhone apps to surreptitiously piss off the neighbor's vicious pit bulls.

Every day, from my office near LAX, I watch massive 747's, carrying hundreds of passengers and their heavy suitcases full of shoes they won't wear and books they won't read, lift off the ground and into the air.

I'm no mechanical engineer but how hard can it be to construct a nuclear powered, strap-on jet pack that would flutter a set of high speed wings, like those seen on a hummingbird, and finally emancipate us from the bondage of gravity?

Steve Jobs could have done it. And would have done it. But he was taken from us way too soon.

If only he had pursued more traditional medical care instead of listening to homeopathic hucksters or  anti-vaccination imbeciles and their ill-informed ilk, who would have us believe you can stave off polio by chomping on a head of romaine lettuce or sucking on some vanilla beans.

I blame you Jenny McCarthy.

It's your fault I don't have a flying machine to slip into. So now I have to walk to the minimart. Because we're out of mayonnaise.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bad Teacher

"I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me." -- Noel Coward.

Because it so aptly sums up my feelings, I've lifted this quote from the Facebook page of my good friend Jim, who is moving to NYC.

I had dinner with Jim and another good friend last week and the evening turned into quite the laugh fest. As I drove home with a belly full of rattlesnake sausage and wheat beer, I couldn't help thinking we should have done this more often.

Prior to that, my wife and I had dinner with another couple who we also hadn't seen in quite some time.

Again, I thought, we should do this more often.

As if all that socializing weren't enough (my daughters insist I'm a hermit), I also broke bread with some old advertising buddies that I hadn't seen in a good decade.

Not surprisingly, all these friends are writers. Also not surprising was the common topic of discussion, "What's next?" As well as the inevitable, "I'm going to be teaching."

Let's be clear, my mother didn't raise a fool.

I know that as a 44 year old freelance copywriter my days in the ad business are numbered.

Sure, I can whip up a manifesto faster than you can you say "an anthemic chest-beating puff piece meant to deceive the public and mask our contemptible desire for profits, profits and even more profits."

And yes I can have ten headlines written before the planner has read the entire brief to me verbatim.

And, if need be, I can even concoct some digital interactive brand engagement unit that involves hash tagging, uploading and instagramming who-knows-what, that will unlock the door that leads to the vault that houses the key to open the purse that reveals the coupon for 15% off your next purchase of steel-belted radial tires.

I can do all that. I don't think those skills disappear when you reach the age of 45, but I guess I'll find out next year.

What I do know is that I'm not cut out for teaching.

Teachers are underpaid.
And overworked.
And neither sounds appealing.

Moreover, apart from chess or 9th grade Algebra (which I have surprisingly retained), what would I teach? Copywriting?

Copywriting often comes from the ether. Synapses fire. Thoughts are born. And discarded. More thoughts, better thoughts evolve. Then words magically show up on the page. That's my process.

I know bad writing when I see it. And I see so much of it. But have no idea how to codify the process that leads to good copywriting.

Moreover, I have the patience of a flea.
A New York flea.
With ADD.

Finally, even if I could master the curriculum and reign in my temper, there's the distinct possibility that my classroom would be populated by eager young attractive women in their twenties.

I don't want to appear immodest but I can't imagine how they would be able to concentrate or glean anything of any value while being instructed by so much eye candy.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is it out yet?

Last month saw the second highest number of visits to RoundSeventeen.

Over 10,000 page views.

I like to think it's because I'm becoming a better writer, but I suspect it's because we find ourselves in sour times and laughter is in such short supply.

Oh sure I may stumble across some insight about the ad business now and again. I may find a nugget of wisdom about fathering two teenage daughters. And I've even been known to ramble on about the current geo-political crisis in the Middle East, armed only with a handful of headlines and a superficial knowledge of the region's history.

The truth is I'm an intellectual lightweight.

I know it.
My wife knows it.
And the 10,000 folks who come here on a somewhat regular basis know it.

You're here for the funny.
And that's just what you're going to get.

Today, I'm moving slower than usual. My wife and daughters went on a little weekend getaway. Meaning I was left at home, free to get away with anything I wanted.

Within biblical limits of course.

On the first night of my stay-at-home mancation, I plowed through 1/2 a bottle of Noah's Mill Kentucky Bourbon. I found myself on the couch at 3:30 in the morning. With the TV blaring. It was on the History Channel, a show about Nazi Hunters and how the Mossad snuck Adolf Eichmann out of Argentina.

I had already seen it.
Six times.

And so today, weary, hungover and unable to muster up the energy for a good rant, I've reached back in the files and grabbed a Youtube video that I had written about in 2009 when nobody had even bothered to read this blog.

I liked it then.
Considering my listless nature, I like it even more now.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

That's what I like

In the rereading of the last 100 or so postings it occurs to me that I spend a good deal of time writing about stuff I don't like.

So much so in fact that I don't like it.

Today, I have decided to turn the tables and commit some digital ink to things I do like.

I hope you won't be disappointed.

I like waking up on Sunday mornings and finding out my wife got out of bed early, drove over to the Bagel Factory in Beverlywood, for the only decent bagels in all of Southern California, and sprung for a small tub of fresh whitefish salad.

I like showing up at the pool for my noon workout and seeing all the regular swimmers are absent. Including the old lady who likes to jump in the water as if she were a dolphin.

In addition to empty pools, I like empty airports, empty bathrooms, and empty restaurants.

I like going to bed with my wife and both daughters, already sleeping, in the house.

I like drinking an ice cold beer on my porch when the sun is setting on a warm Friday evening.

I like having to tell recruiters I can't do their project because I'm already booked somewhere else.

I like getting on the elevator and having a pretty woman half my age throw me an unexpected smile.

I like misinterpreting that smile and thinking to myself, "oh, if I were single and 10 years younger." OK, 20 years younger. And 30 lbs. lighter.

I like getting the Final Jeopardy answer right when my wife, my daughters and the contestants don't.

I like walking into a new agency, being introduced to someone in the Creative Department and having them say, "Hey you're that cranky old dude who writes about all the shit he doesn't like."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Boyhood, revisited

A month ago, my wife and I as well as several friends, were camped in the foothills of the Eastern Sierra.

Our campsite was by no means glamorous. We were not glamping. Nor was it as cushy as some of the cabins that are still standing three miles to the west at the Manzanar Internment Site.

We had a tent, a bear box and pop up to shade us from the 100 degree heat. Oh and a cooler full of Coronas.

Naturally, as men are wont to do, especially when inebriated, we started telling tall tales.

My buddy, let's call him Tad because it's so much more humiliating than his real name, is the son of a Navy Seal. As such, he's no stranger to the outdoors or surviving in tough conditions, after all, he grew up in gritty San Diego.

Tad is also a former Boy Scout.
Not just any Boy Scout, he was an Eagle.

I was also a Boy Scout and reached the lofty rank of Second Class. Of course I didn't grow up in the soft suburbs of Southern California but in the significantly tougher environs of Northern New Jersey/Southern New York.

I think you can see where this is going.

A few more beers and perhaps a shot or two of Patron lead me to boldly assert that my Second Class Adirondack experience was equal to or exceeded his glampy SoCal Eagle standing.

What, other than copious amounts of alcohol, would warrant such a statement?

I told Tad of the time, when at the tender age of twelve, I was forced into a Winter Klondike. In the middle of January, on a barren patch of forested land off Rt. 59, we winter camped. I slept on 6 inches of snow, separated only by a 1/2 inch thick sleeping bag from my father's old Army days.

If I'm not mistaken, and mind you this was 32 years ago so I might be, the tent was crafted from old handkerchiefs sewn together with knots used by the local Iroquois Indians.

Not to be outdone, Tad said he would send me a picture of his sash.

The fact that I don't own a sash tells you all you need to know.

As you can see, Tad was quite accomplished.

He didn't have the same merit badges that we had on the East Coast: Rock Chewing, Possum Poking or Gasoline Fire Starting.

His scouting tokens are distinctly more erudite; including Mocassin-Making, Recycling and Water-skiing.


I rest my case.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Get back in the box

The 30 second TV spot is dead.

Industry pundits are fond of making outrageous, click baiting statements like that. And in most cases their proclamations couldn't be further from the truth. But in the case of the declaration above, they are 50% correct.

Agencies are still filming spots for TV. And the Internet. And the mobile screen. But the 30 second time constraint is dead.

It's gone the way of the complimentary airline meal, the live customer service representative and the yearly raise and bonus.

Now spots run 1:27 or 2:43 or even 4:39. They're big and bloated. Not unlike the compensation packages for holding company CEO's.

It's this newfangled thing the kids are calling long-format video.

And like the cold matzo ball soup that sometimes emerges from the kitchen at the Roll 'N Rye Deli, I don't like it.

Not that the content isn't good, sometimes as in the case of this short, it is exceedingly good.

Though I will add it's relevance to Expedia is a bit tenuous. Don't get me wrong I enjoy watching outrageously attractive lesbians as much as the next fellow, I just don't know what their exotic lifestyle has to do with me renting a Nissan Altima and booking my next cheap flight to Tacoma?

My main objection, however, is the open endedness of it all.

When there's no time limit there's simply no degree of difficulty. In essence we've removed the skill and artistry needed to perform a high dive and turned it into belly flop.

We've taken the lid off the box.  And staying in the box, as my pal Ernie Schenck argues, is where the magic happens.

The box gives birth to craft.

When I first started in the business, Lee Clow would tell us to edit rough cuts as if they were 37 or 41 second spots. Get the story right, he would say. Make it clear. Go from Point A to Point B and make your case.

Then, when everything is in place, start shaving, or frame-fucking as we used to call it.

What happened? The 30 second finish line made us run faster, leaner and smarter. In other ancient ad industry vernacular, we learned how to "kill our babies", those precious magical moments that would make us smile but did little to serve the purpose of the spot.

I know my colleagues don't like to hear this, but we are employed in the advertising business. We're not, as Stefan Sagmeister put it "storytellers."

We spend our client's money to make communication pieces that help our clients sell more of their shit, like diapers, compact trucks, or brown fizzy water.

Put another way, if you wanted to be a storyteller and have your vision committed to celluloid maybe you shouldn't have gone into advertising.

You should have pursued a career in film or TV, you know, industries with pure artistic integrity that have not been sullied by commerce.

Monday, August 4, 2014

You're going to eat that?

Have you seen Jon Favreau in Chef?

It's a good movie.
Not a great movie.

But it is thankfully devoid of gunfights, aliens and zombies. In other words, it's fit for your adults. I still find it hard to believe there are grown ups, folks I work with everyday, who are entertained by the notion of walking dead flesh eaters.

The movie Chef is about the eating of non-human flesh.

You could say it's the culmination of a foodie craze that has dominated our culture for the last 10 years.

From the food trucks to the insufferable Guy Fieri to the Top Chef game shows to an entire network devoted to nothing but food.

But I'm here to tell you all that farm-to-table glorification of the restaurant business is just that, glorification.

I started working at the Spring Valley Jack in the Box when I was 16 years old. The not-so-ambititious night manager liked to nap. So as soon as his shift started he ordered us to cook up 100 cheeseburgers, 100 tacos, 100 Jumbo Jacks and 100 whatever their fish sandwich was called at the time.

They sat for hours under the heating lamps. And when the stoners came through the drive through, they got what was handy. No special orders. No substitutions. No exceptions.

Three years later I found myself working the breakfast shift at the Carrier Circle Denny's in Syracuse, New York. They taught me how to crack eggs with one hand and flip omelets. You know when I wasn't in the back freezer with the local townie boys sucking the nitrous oxide out of the whipped cream cans.

After Syracuse, I arrived in Southern California. I landed a job at the Good Earth in Westwood. There were waitresses hotter than Sophia Vergara (Jon Favreau's ex in Chef) but they weren't dating the guys in the back of the house with avocado in their hair and grease stains on their shoes. Oh sure I had a college degree and could work a 750 degree wok, but I was no match for Dale, the surfing waiter with the feathered hair who appeared as bus passenger #3 in an episode of Starsky & Hutch.

Later, I got a job at the T.G.I.F. I thought I was going to be a line cook but the manager rarely saw college educated applicants and decided to give me a cushy white collar assignment. He handed me a clipboard and showed me to the attic where, in 98 degree heat, I had to do a physical count of all the non-food inventory: knives, cups and napkins.

The following day he handed me a ski parka and sent me into the deep freezer to tally up the T-bones. But it wasn't the sauna or the frostbite that hastened my departure, it was the 11 AM staff singing of the fight song.

Fuck you T.G.I.F. and fuck your fucking flair.

The point is this, you can gussy up the restaurant business all you want. But the cool Cuban music, the glamorous stars, the manufactured exuberance, should all be taken with a grain of salt. Like everything else the media gets its hands on.

The kitchen is a dirty, grimy, greasy place, more often than not crawling with German cockroaches and Chihuahua-sized rats. And it's often populated by sketchy alcoholics and former felons who got their tattoos at Folsom not at some hipster ink joint on Melrose Ave.

The food that comes out of the kitchen comes off their sweaty, well-callused hands and goes directly into your mouth. That is if it hasn't fallen on the floor first.

Because in the kitchens of your favorite bistro, cafe or trattoria, the 5 second rule is more likely the 50 second rule.

Bon Appetit.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Poison Pen

I kicked up a bit of a kerfuffle recently when I wrote of my displeasure with Ernest Hemingway. I don't know how I ventured into Comparative Literature as this is by no means my strong suit. Anymore than Organic Chemistry. Or Renaissance Art: The Age of Enlightenment.

I might have taken a Comp. Lit. course in college, some 20 years ago, but there's a good bet I was stoned and don't remember a thing.

If you read the comment section of that post you'll see I got into some playful back and forth with a Papaphile but was disappointed he didn't want to go another few volleys. If you know me at all, and I would think after 1100 posts you'd know a little, there's nothing I enjoy more than the opportunity to get behind the keyboard and start swinging.

But the commenter didn't oblige and I channeled that excess energy into some bench presses.

In any case, it reminded of an article I had read about famous authors taking potshots at other famous authors.

In today's sterilized world of political correctness people are hesitant to come out and say exactly what they are thinking. This is especially true in Hollywood, where one misspoken word can be the difference between a promising film career or becoming Steven Dorf.

But that type of vocational dishonesty didn't stop these very famous authors. As a service to RoundSeventeen readers, I've collected, I'm sorry, curated, some of my favorites.

We'll start with one of the most famous insults.

Truman Capote about Jack Kerouac:

"That's not writing, that's typing."

Here's what Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita) had to say about Hemingway:

"I read him for the first time in the early forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, I loathed it."

Mark Twain was quite clear on his opinion of Jane Austen:

"Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

Some of my favorite heated exchanges involve Groucho Marx and famed screenwriter S. J. Perelman. The two enjoyed a contentious, though hilarious, relationship.

Groucho to S.J. with regards to his new book:

"From the moment I picked up your new book to the moment I put it down, I convulsed with laughter. Some day, I intend reading it."

S.J., no slouch in the wit department, once said:

"I did two films with them, which in its way is perhaps my greatest distinction in life, because as anybody who ever worked on a film with the Marx Brothers said he would rather be chained to a galley oar and lashed at ten minute intervals until blood spurted from his frame than ever work for those sons of bitches again."

Decades later S.J. was visiting Groucho at his home in the hills and asked, "Do you mind if I smoke?" Groucho replied, "I don't care if you burn."

Discretion and good manners prevent me from throwing jabs at fellow copywriters suffice to say there is one hack in this town known for closing commercials with…

"See your local _______ dealer and lease a new _______ for just $349 a month."

That's weak.
Written by someone who should be cold-cocked on the head with their own femur bone.

I would have stated it much more eloquently.

"Lease a ______ for just $349 a month. See your local ______ dealer."

Much better. Right?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Chevy Dolts

Recognize this car?

Of course you don't. This is the Chevy Volt before it was picked apart by middle managers, focus group housewives, and career-minded designers with little integrity and an uncanny willingness to compromise and please their org. chart superiors.

"Got it, boss. Take off edges, water it down and make it look more like the 1979 Chevy Vega. No problema."

Chances are you've seen today's Chevy Volt.
Hell, 38 people in America drive one.

You just can't remember it. That's because the committee that fought diligently to find the least common denominator and brought the Volt to fruition got everything they asked for: a bland, non-polarizing electric vehicle with all the pizzazz of an office stapler.

Alternatively, the current best selling electric vehicle is the unforgettable Tesla Model S. Did you see how I cleverly buried the AC pun into the wording?

Tesla can't keep these cars in stock.

In fact there's a waiting list to get one. They've succeeded beyond their dreams. And are preparing to unleash a Tesla Roadster and a more affordable sedan to the electric car buying public.

This, more than anything I can remember, demonstrates what is wrong with American business, and I'm looking at you Advertising Industry, today.

There are talented, imaginative, creative people who have the gonads to bring something unique and daring to the table.

And then there are committees, governed by mealy-mouthed sycophants whose inability to move the ball forward is surpassed only by an instinctual drive to cover their ass and crush the dreams and aspirations of fat, bald Jewish bloggers like myself.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Getting In

I'm always amazed how many young people gain entry into the business of advertising.

They "graduate" from of the many ad warehouses throughout the country and walk right into one of the youngblood/intern/indentured servitude stints at one of the holding company ad agencies.

Voila, 6 months later, after knocking out a few banner ads and some viral content that received 413 views on Youtube, they're a copywriter.
Or an Art Director.
Or an ACD.

In my day, meaning 20 years ago, it didn't work like that.

I knocked on more doors, lugging a shitty portfolio of shitty work, than I care to remember. But I'll never forget the first bite.

A woman who was the Creative Director at Bernard Hodes Recruitment Advertising had an opening for a junior copywriter. She thought my book showed potential but wasn't convinced. She clipped one of the recruitment ads that had just come off the press, handed me the inky newspaper tearsheet and said come back on Monday with three alternative headlines.

And so I did.

I cleared my weekend docket of all the dates I had scheduled with leggy supermodels. Canceled the test drive I had arranged at the Porsche dealership. And I went to work.

On Monday I showed up in her office. Not with three alternative headlines but with ten. If memory serves, I even wrote the body copy for each ad. None of it was any good. All of it sounded something like…

Tomorrow's challenges, today.


Opportunity is staring you right in the face.

To be honest I don't think any of that mattered. They had an empty desk and they needed to fill it with someone who could churn, burn and grind it out. Oh and gladly take home $17, 000 a year.

That was 3,489,621 words ago.
Today I'm still grinding.

The words come easier now. And hopefully they pack more punch and feel more relevant. When they don't, they're often changed by clients, account managers or Junior Creative Directors, recent college graduates who, at 22 years old, are exactly half my age.

I think that's the definition of irony, but I'm not sure.