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.

Monday, July 28, 2014

War Crimes in the Middle East

At the risk of opening up a can of worms, I'd like to weigh in on the tragedy in the Fertile Crescent.

Oh, not the Hamas-Israeli conflict. That can of worms that has already gone putrid from all the Facebook rhetoric.

Besides, as an unrepentant Zionist, or as one unfriended, unglued former colleague called me, a ZioNazi, I'm pretty sure you know where I stand on that issue.

What you might not know is that I cringe every time I hear or read about civilian deaths, or even military deaths, on either side of the warring parties.

I, and I guarantee you 99.9% of my fellow members of the tribe, are not driven by blood lust. And would like nothing more than to see a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israel. Not unlike the peace treaties Israel has willingly negotiated with Egypt. Or Jordan. Hamas, it seems, is not interested in peace.

However I am outraged.

And apparently I am alone on this, about what has transpired and continues to transpire just a few hundred miles north of Gaza.

There, Bashar Assad has exiled millions of Syrians and sent 150,000 of his fellow Muslim countrymen to their graves. By the way, that number is not some trumped up figure by the Jew-run media, that comes straight from Al-Jazeera.

That number includes 8,000, say it with me, EIGHT THOUSAND, innocent children.

I'm not going to stoop to some kind of grisly scoreboard, you can check the statistics on line.
But I will say this, the numbers are staggering.

The world's silence, even more so.

As if what were happening in Syria were not enough, the surging group of ISIS militants, hellbent on establishing an Apartheid Caliphate have been strafing across Iraq, forcing conversions, labeling apostates, murdering thousands and crucifying anyone who stands in the way of their personal Fourth Reich.

Where is the outrage?

Where are the flag-burning protests by the angry masses?

Where are the emergency sessions of the UN?

Where are the random attacks on Syrians, or people of Syrian descent, living in other countries?

Where are the vitriolic Facebook rants that so eloquently detail the senseless butchery of innocent people?

The moral hypocrisy is outrageous.

In the words of the apologists who cannot see that Hamas is Al Qeada is Taliban is Boko Haram is Hezbollah, you could say it's downright "disproportionate."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Proud Papa

This is the time of year when many parents are bursting with pride.

Many, like us, have graduating high school seniors about to trek off to college. And naturally with the advent of Facebook, we wear those college acceptances like badges of honor.

It has even created its own faux pecking order.

"My son is going to Yale."

"Well my daughter is going to Bard."

"It's Santa Monica College for my son, but he's in the honors program."

I'm just as guilty of the rest and have boasted about Rachel's new journey to the University of Washington.

But here's the thing. It's all so meaningless.

In the real world, where you went to college or didn't go to college, matters not. In all my years of advertising, no one Creative Director has ever asked about Syracuse University, one of the premier schools in Communication. Not one.

But today, I am proud for different reason. Last Sunday, my 18 year old daughter fell. And in the vernacular of the agency where I am currently employed, she slew her Goliath.

You see, my daughter did what neither my wife and I could never imagine doing -- she fell from a plane. 10,000 feet high above Lake Elsinore in Eastern Riverside County.

She and her two good friends woke up on a Sunday morning, drove 90 minutes into the scorching Inland Empire, climbed aboard a flimsy prop plane, strapped themselves to some strapping young guys who relished the opportunity to introduce 3 pretty girls into the 2 mile high club, and then...jumped.

Maybe you're wondering if I'm embellishing or even making up the story. I'm not. And I have the proof.

In fact, I'll recreate the hair-raising experience using the novelty of the scroll function. I hope you'll be as relieved as I was when she finally returned to terra firma.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I hate Hemingway

I hate Hemingway.

There, I said it.

I know that's heresy for a writer, correction copywriter, but try as I might I have not acquired the taste for Papa. He falls into the same category as brisket, scotch and Mad Men. I want to like them, but I don't.

Two weeks ago, I went on a camping trip. I brought with me, The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (The Finca Vigia Edition.)

As I lay in the hammock, cooled by the babbling waters of the Onion Valley Creek, I dove head first into Ten Indians. 300 words in, zzzzzzzzz.

Same with The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.

And The Big Two-Hearted River.

All impenetrable.
All boring.
All overrated, as far as I'm concerned.

Call me a lightweight. But if I want a healthy dose of obfuscation that requires tedious reading and re-reading, there are plenty of planning briefs I can get my hands on.

Fortunately, I didn't venture into the foothills of the Eastern Sierras unprepared. On the advice of my east coast doppleganger, George Tannenbaum, the most scholarly copywriter on the planet, I brought along Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel.

Mitchell is everything Hemingway is not.
Accessible, entertaining and not overtly impressed with his own style.

He was a reporter for the New Yorker magazine and covered the hundreds of drinking establishments in lower Manhattan. There, he met and chronicled the lives of New York's most colorful characters.

Including Jane Barnell, a bearded lady, Captain Charles Eugene Cassell, owner/operator of Captain Charley's Private Museum for Intelligent People, and of course, the Bowery's legendary Joe Gould, Keeper of the World's Oral History.

By the end of the camping trip I felt like I had reconnected with Mother Nature while simultaneously connecting with the kind of unforgettable people who made New York City, New York City.

I'll never understand why high school and college English teachers are so smitten with Ernest Hemingway. Nor will I ever understand my families love of brisket, come the High Holidays.

That's what's great about being an adult and living in a free country. I don't have to subject myself to either.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Names will be named

Years ago I made the mistake of putting a friend's name in a blog posting hoping he would understand the tongue-in-cheek nature of the piece. It backfired. I publicly apologized. And swore never to name names in any RoundSeventeen blog posting.

Today I'm welching on that promise.

For two reasons.

First, I'm getting to a privileged point in my career where I just don't give a shit anymore.

And second, I've come to the painful conclusion that what I write matters to no one because frankly no one (apart from you faithful fourteen followers) is reading what I'm writing.

So what bullshit am I calling bullshit on?

Years ago, I was in charge of advertising for El Pollo Loco advertising. They had a minuscule budget and an ambitious media plan. Somehow we had figured a way to make 45 TV commercials on less than $250,000. Even by 2004 standards, that was quite a feat.

One day, the account people requested my attendance for a meeting with the folks from Cruz Kravetz, their Hispanic Marketing Agency. They were going to produce some El Pollo Loco commercials and thought it would be a good idea to get some guidance.

Wait, what?

The money I was told I didn't have for production was being used to fund the production of other commercials. Why, I naively thought, are we making two different sets of commercials?

Because, as the bullshit machine was slowly being cranked to 11, Hispanics eat El Pollo Loco's citrus-marinated, fire grilled chicken for completely different reasons than general market Caucasians or African Americans.

You see, I was under the mistaken impression that people from Mexico or El Salvador or Belize might enjoy EPL because they were hungry or appreciated fresh chicken or authentic salsa and tortillas.

But that, it turns out, is a narrow white man's view of the world devoid of any ethnographic insight.

As the Cruz Kravetz experts expertly pointed out, Hispanic people are all about, "family, passion and the family-oriented, passionate preparation of food products."

And then I was treated to a cavalcade of storyboards featuring large families. Being passionate. Eating chicken. And then, impossibly, being more passionate.

If it weren't so politically incorrect I would have told these professionals exactly what I thought of their fiesta de mierda.

They are by no means alone in their hoodwinking.

I've never had the pleasure of sitting in with an African-American speciality boutique, but I can spot their spots a mile away. Most often in car commercials. The copy, accompanied by needle-drop 'urban' music, invariably includes nonsense like "flow", "smooth" or "get your drive on."

Frankly if I were Hispanic or black I would be seriously offended by these cliched marketing approaches.

Then again, who am I to judge. I'm not a member of any minority. I'm just a white Jew. And the only advertising I respond to usually involves liquidation sales or 30% discounts.

Wait a minute…

Monday, July 21, 2014

On bedding a woman

I want to tell you about the first time I bedded down with a woman.

I should clarify that.

What I meant was a woman who wasn't under the influence of way too much tequila and too little in the manner of standards. In other words, a woman who had every intention of making me breakfast.

This was when I was first introduced to the world of excessive bedding accessories.

I remember walking into her room, heavily perfumed with patchouli (this was a long time ago), looking at the bed and thinking, "What the hell is all that?" More importantly, where was the mini-step ladder I would need to climb in.

There were shims and shams and ruffles and raffles. There were duvets. And it seemed the blankets had their own blankets.

There was even a headboard.
My parents had a headboard.

Until then, I had been sleeping on a twin mattress, laying on a wooden floor.

Even now, as a grown man, the world of beds and bedding is still quite alien.

Not long ago my wife convinced me to buy a new mattress. Guided by the "happy wife/happy life" principle, I reluctantly agreed to this newfangled memory foam.

The first night was a living hell of tossing and turning and muffled screaming about spending $3000 to sleep in a heated ©Playdoh mold.

The second night was even worse.

This went on for a week until I called the store manager. Having identified myself as a long-winded Yelper and a prodigious blogger (I might have told him I was lawyer too), he quickly offered to replace the foam mattress with a standard coil and spring model.

That bed was enormous. A California King they call it. The mattress is so wide it spans two different zip codes. My wife and I bring cellphones to bed so we can communicate with each other. The bed is so big we're thinking of subletting out a portion of it.

And now I find myself battling with bedding accessories of a different nature.

The extra, extra firm mattress is covered with a pillow top. I didn't want that feature but I refer you back to the time-honored maxim of "happy wife/happy life." The pillow top, it seems, needs to be covered by a mattress pad, for reasons which still remain unclear.

As if that were not enough, the mattress pad also requires a protective latex sheathing which serves to shield the mattress from the natural dead skin cells, oil and hair that come off a sleeping body.

There's so many layers between me and the mattress, I wake up in the morning feeling like I slept on a load of wrinkled laundry.

My wife assures me it's all necessary to preserve the integrity and value of the bed, though I'm not convinced there's a huge market for second hand mattresses. Particularly those previously slept on by swarthy Mediterraneans.

I told my wife, when it's time for the Dirt Nap, put me in a plain pine box. No sheets, no shams, no dust ruffles, no pads, no pad covers. Use that money to buy some good Noah's Mill Bourbon for the wake.

I'll sleep better.