Monday, October 31, 2011
Obviously, this is not a picture of me. I don't have a full head of hair. But my arms, back and chest, are beginning to show a resemblance. You know, if you squint your eyes and employ a little imagination.
Yesterday I officially, and faithfully, completed Phase One of the infamous P90X program.
I know you've all seen the infomercial. I know I have for the last five years or so. And have always been tempted to pick up the phone. Then we had one of my wife's publishers over for dinner. He was a recent graduate and was clearly sold on Tony Horton. By desert, I was too. He also convinced me to buy one of those plastic microwavable pasta boats, but that's a different story.
Within a week the DVD's arrived and I started pouring through the material. If you know me at all you know I have deep commitment issues. Once I'm in, I'm in up to my eyeballs. I cleared out half my garage, padded the floor with industrial rubber tiling and made several trips to the sporting goods store for resistance bands, dumbbells and a yoga mat.
That's right, a yoga mat.
Yoga is hardly the chosen sport of barrel-chested Scotsmen like myself. We're more given to throwing logs and tossing kegs. But it turns out stretching and yoga are essential components of the P90X program. I've even found that I'm actually better at some of the balance postures than our esteemed instructor. Though I could hardly be termed graceful on the mat.
My Downward Dog looks more like a Downward Armadillo.
And thirty days into the program I'm about as close to performing the Crane as the Israelis and the Arabs are to sharing a hookah and breaking some pita bread.
My favorite workout is the Kenpo X. Not surprising since the guy who helped Tony design the workout is Wesley Idol, who also teaches karate at the dojo where I once studied. If memory serves, Wesley is a third degree black belt. I think I sparred with him during our regular Wednesday Night fight classes. The instructors loved to throw the lower ranked belts (myself included) in with the guys wearing the black gees. They were quite sadistic. Wesley once caught me with a roundhouse kick to the ribs that separated me from oxygen for a month and a half.
So where am I at, you may ask. Well, at the end of a brutal Phase One, I'm down 6 pounds, lost an inch around my waist, gained an inch around my chest (not that I needed that) and feel stronger, more flexible and more athletically fit than I ever have -- except for the late 80's when I was doing triathlons.
I just saw the long range weather forecast for Southern California and they are predicting an unusually warm winter. That works out perfectly for me. Because after I complete the P90X program, I plan to go to work everyday in nothing more than my flip flops and a Speedo.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Today's post is about a neighbor. Not the people who live across the street from me, or the ones that live next door to me, or even my celebrity neighbor, M. Emmet Walsh, who lives in the house directly in back of me. I don't write about those neighbors, mostly because my wife forbids me to.
I'm talking about a blogosphere neighbor.
Her name is Laurenne and she writes an incredibly funny blog, humans are funny. She's also a copywriter and a competitor so I really have no business promoting her business as it is likely to take food off my table. But Laurenne has a huge number of followers and maybe if I write about her I can ride on her coattails and pick up some readers. (My understanding is that Judd Nelson is a follower of her blog.)
There's a couple of interesting things, actually more than a couple, you need to know about Laurenne. She writes about her vagina. A lot. That alone should have you checking out her blog immediately. And of course I mention that tidbit first because in accordance with the cardinal rule of journalism, "if it bleeds, it leads."
I can hear the groaning through the little speaker on my computer.
Another interesting factoid about Laurenne is that she co-hosts a monthly show in Hollywood called Taboo Tales, where-in courageous contributors reveal their most humiliating life experiences. She has asked me to take to the stage and regale the audience with the scintillating scatological details of my college days and my run-in with a fascist boarding house landlord. But there isn't enough Patron Silver in the 213 area code that will make that happen.
What I admire most about her is her age. More precisely, her lack of age.
I know I go on and on about the millennials and their unwarranted sense of entitlement. And I can get a little crotchety about their lack of professionalism, their sloppy work habits and their god-awful pretension. Not to mention their knit caps. And for the most part, my criticism is deadly accurate.
But Laurenne is the exception that rule. Unlike the many young posers in the ad business who think they're creative because they have a banner under their belt, Laurenne is genuinely talented. She might be half my age but has already found a distinctive writing voice that eludes many of us until we're saddled with a mortgage, a marriage and a couple of leeches...uh, kids.
I rarely write anything complimentary about anyone and I might be in danger of making Laurenne blush. But I'm willing to take that risk. She has after all told the story about a potential Italian husband who shit the bed silly.
So I'm pretty sure, that like myself, she lacks the gene for embarrassment.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
If you've ever dealt with a rodent problem you are intimately familiar with this device. It was invented more than 100 years ago. And believe it or not is still the method preferred by professionals exterminators.
I know because years ago we had discovered mice in our attic.
Actually, there weren't mice, they were tree rats which raises the ick factor logarithmically. One of the screens to the crawl space had come ajar and the rats were entering, climbing up the interior pipes and nesting in the attic. Fortunately we were able to keep this news from my daughters otherwise we would have been forced to leave the house for an expensive stay at a nearby hotel.
The exterminators sealed the hole, set the traps and within a week we were rat-free. They also provided me with a half dozen of the pictured contraptions to set around the house, you know, just in case.
If you've ever tried to set one of these hair-trigger happy bastards up you know it's not that easy. And I'm sure you have the black and blue fingertips to prove it. Perhaps that is what gave birth to the aphorism: Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
The other day I was working on a script about the notion of better mousetraps (this is why I love what I do for a living) and came across what I believe to be, a better mousetrap. You don't have to buy it. Chances are you have the household items you need to build your very own.
Just ignore the rancid water if you can and admire the Maguyver-like construction.
The mouse, or tree rat, walks up the ramp and leans over to eat the peanut butter rubbed on the glass jar suspended by a common broom handle. The jar spins and the mouse or tree rat, unable to maintain its balance takes a swan dive into the 2 inch pool of water. Lacking the ability to swim or navigate the 90 degree slippery plastic surface, the disease-carrying rodent suffers a long and agonizing watery death.
It doesn't have the beauty of the classic spring loaded Victor.
But what it lacks in aesthetics, it more than makes up for in devilish simplicity.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Last week the agency I'm working at, RPA, threw a party to celebrate their 25th anniversary. It's a little ironic that I find myself working there now as this was the very first ad agency where I got my very first ad job.
At the time, they were Needham Harper & Steers. And I was hired to work in the mailroom, where we -- the over-educated/underemployed mailroom clerks -- called the agency Needless Hard-Ons & Tears.
The mailroom clerk position gets glamorized in many rags-to-riches movies, after all it's where many great captains of industry got their start. Everyone from Michael Eisner to Barry Diller to Simon Cowell. But make no mistake, it is a menial job with little pay and even less dignity. (This was a hard pill to swallow for a college graduate who thought his $30,000 sheepskin would garner more than 8 hours of moving boxes, resupplying the coffee machines and delivering mail to a bunch of overpaid "creative" types.)
But, as it turned out, the mailroom was a perfect place to learn the ad business. Particularly the part about having your dignity stripped away.
Years after pushing that damn cart around the office I had landed a real copywriter's job at the now-defunct Abert, Newhoff & Burr. And sold my first television spot for a car. And not just any car. This was a spot for the newest Japanese import, the three cylinder (that's no typo), fuel-injected Daihatsu. It wasn't so much a car as it was riding lawn mower with a glove compartment and a radio.
But that was hardly important. What was important was that my partner and I had sold a spot and our portfolios were about to grow by leaps and bounds. Or so we thought.
Having just finished my breakfast burrito and settled into video village for an exciting day of filming, I was approached by the Creative Director. He pulled me aside for what must have been a difficult chat.
C.D.: Listen, when the director starts blocking the shots and gets the camera rolling you're going to see some unfamiliar things.
Me: Unfamiliar? (this was my first real car shoot) How so?
C.D.: Well, there were some changes made to the script.
C.D.: The client requested some changes.
Me: OK, what changed?
Turned out the clever slice-of-life in a Daihatsu script we had written had been swapped for 27 seconds of running footage and a cheap rendition of a bad Julie Andrews song.
I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. And found myself yearning for the mailroom days when I still had a shred of dignity. Sensing my despair, the Creative Director found the only silver lining in the day.
C.D.: The craft service people are great. For lunch I hear we're having Chilean Sea Bass.
Monday, October 24, 2011
After I drop my girls off at St. Monica's Catholic High School -- just saying that still takes some getting used to -- I drive down 11th street towards Broadway towards RP&, where I am currently working a great long term gig. And every time I make this little jaunt through Santa Monica I spot this beat up old truck parked next to a car dealership.
Today, I decided it merited a photo.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the Carpenter/Remodeler/Handyman who calls this his work truck also calls it his home. For one thing, the van doesn't move. And hasn't moved since my daughters started learning about the sacraments. The other reason, and this should seem self-evident, is I don't think this guy is getting a lot of work.
And I'm not saying that because the economy is bad or because out-of-control government spending in Greece has had a worldwide impact.
This is all about Marketing 101.
This guy, who lives in a van down by the ocean, could be God's gift to cabinetry. He could be a stud among 2x4 studs. He could be Bob Vila, Norm Abrams and Steve Maguyver all rolled up into one, ready to work his magic on any busted pipe, clogged up toilet or broken water heater in the 310 area code. But I doubt his phone is ringing.
And it's not because his AT&T bill is overdue.
I'm sure there are some pithy analogies to be made about myopic clients who similarly don't understand how a bad ad can be detrimental to their business and their brand. But I don't fight that fight anymore. The truth is I simply don't care. Oh I always try to do good, smart work, but if stupid clients want me to write stupid advertising to customers they assume are stupid, I'll gladly take their stupid money.
As for the apparently not-so-handy Handyman, I can only hope that he wakes up and sees the error of his ways. Until then, I've asked my daughters to say a couple of novenas on his behalf.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
I read a great story last week. Screenwriter and fellow Syracuse University alumni Aaron Sorkin remembered the time that he got a random phone call from Steve Jobs. Steve had called to commend him on the writing of The West Wing.
It made Sorkin's day and even led to highest of compliments, an invitation to write a Pixar movie.
I never wrote anything to merit a phone call from Steve Jobs, but I have it from a good source that he did enjoy one of the pieces from my portfolio.
You see Steve was good friends with my former boss Lee Clow, pictured here in front of the wall in his office with some of his favorite work. If you look right above Lee's left shoulder you can spot one of the outdoor boards I did for ABC. Here it is in a different format.
I don't know if Steve saw the reproduction on Lee's wall during a rare visit to the Playa Vista office or if he saw it San Francisco when the ABC work was in its heyday. I don't even know if Steve actually uttered the words, "that was one of the funniest lines in the campaign."
I only vaguely recall that Kristen, Lee's right hand woman, once told me something to the effect of "Steve really liked that line."
You take your flattery where you can get it.
That works for me.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Just got back from Costco where I picked up the jumbo 64 ounce container of Ben Gay.
It wasn't for me, it was for my wife.
Because this past weekend she did what she had previously thought impossible. She completed the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. I know she thought she'd never live to see the day where she could proclaim, "I've run a marathon", because she was always in disbelief when she would see me at the finish line of the LA marathon.
"I don't know how you could do that."
Well, now she has the runner's badge of courage, a couple of lovely thick black toenails. And has gained entry into the exclusive 26.2 mile club. I couldn't be prouder of her.
But believe it or not, crossing the finish line is not the top story here. That honor belongs to a brave 11-year old boy, who fiercely battled and eventually succumbed to leukemia.
Let's turn the clock back a few years when our neighbors suggested we hire their nanny and housekeeper, Sylvia, who was looking to earn extra money. Deb and I were working and we needed the extra help around the house.
Sylvia arrived at her house with her son, David, in tow. He was a smiley young boy with a penchant for soccer and video games. From his affable demeanor you'd never know he was fighting a life-threatening disease. But he was so we did everything we could to brighten his day.
I dusted off the PlayStation 2, which never got much use in my house of Estrogen, and secured as much Sony swag (from friends at Chiat/Day) to give to David. So while his mom scoured every corner of our house, David planted himself in front of the TV and found himself in a little bit of temporary heaven.
And temporary it was.
Up and down rounds of chemo and radiation took its toll on his formerly stout body. That led to all night vigils at Children's Hospital and then a fate no parent, no less a single mother from El Salvador struggling to make ends meet, should ever face.
Fast forward a couple of years and Sylvia, a woman strengthened by the experience, found herself enrolling in the Team in Training to run a race to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Needing running mates, she enlisted my wife and our neighbor Kirsten as well.
Well, the finish line has been crossed, the epsom salts have been purchased and thousands of dollars have been raised. But, if you'll excuse the clicheed writing, the race is not over.
There are other Davids and other Sylvias out there. And their stories deserve a happier ending.
Please make a donation at http://pages.teamintraining.org/los/nikesf11/sjustinian
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I'll admit it, I'm a fair weather baseball fan.
Put a baseball game on the TV in the middle of May and I'm more likely to switch the channels to the Home Shopping Network or that odd infomercial for the Trojan Vibrator, the one that "blows your hair back."
But come October and the Division Series, the Championship Series and the World Series and I hang on every word uttered by Tim McCarver. I love the action, I love the nail biting drama and I love the convoluted strategy.
Safety squeezes, pitchouts, running on 2-0 count. I can't get enough of it. It's all so heady. It's the athletic equivalent of chess. Played by a bunch of lunkheads who chew tobacco, light each shoes on fire and wet towel snap each other in the locker room without a hint of homo-erotica.
Last week, we had an Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher named Putz.
And this week, I was happily introduced to the hard-throwing Doug Fister.
I'm going to tread lightly here because this is -- with few minor exceptions -- a G-rated blog and when discussing the practice of fisting and those who are fisters it's too easy to slip into no man's land. Let's just say that when Fister is on the mound I pay special attention and I am on Defcon 5 for any mishandled puns or slips of the tongue.
Speaking of slips of the tongue, I'm pulling for the Cardinals. I hear they're pulling up a utility 3rd baseman from the Toledo Mud Hens in the AA league. His name is Steve Felcher.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Spotted this bumper sticker the other day. It wasn't the first time I had seen it, but part of me wishes it were the last. I have been meaning to jump on these Pro-Drum activists ever since the start of the hunger crises in Darfur.
Look at this clown in the picture. Not only does he have a dozen freshly minted bumper stickers to get the pressing needs of organic drummers out there, he's got the 100% cotton T-shirt that amplifies his ardent feelings.
Now you can call me tone deaf. I don't see or hear a world of difference between a hand-made Pearl High Hat and it's electronic equivalent.
But Rich, I can hear you say, surely there must a hundred other worthwhile topics to rant about than those who despise drum machines. And that is exactly my point.
There are a hundred other rant-worthy topics and this guy, and his ilk, ought to look into some of them.
There are children starving and tribal ethnic cleansing going on in Africa, there is institutional oppression of women and Non-Muslims on the Asian Subcontinent, there is the widening gap between the obscenely wealthy and the obscenely poor, there is pollution, there is violence, there is the depletion of our natural resources, there is a host of problems all worthy of a movement.
And all of them of them are infinitely more important than the flitterings of the percussion-obsessed.
While drum machines may have no soul, neither do the people who are so fervently opposed to them.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Today we feature another installment in my long running series of Things Jews Don't Do.
Recently, I've decided to supplement my daily swimming and running routine with some weight lifting. I've been doing a lot of reading about the beneficial aspects of pull ups but had no place for a chin up bar in my garage. I went online and found a lot of suggestions for mounting a chin up on the ceiling or with a wall mount.
Unfortunately, most of those involved drilling, measuring and lag bolts. Generally, if I hear the words lag bolts, I run the other way. And I have the poorly patched drywall holes to prove it.
Then I came across this unique and deceivingly simple solution (see above) that takes advantage of the rafters that span across the garage. It is a perfect example of quintessential American ingenuity using nothing more than a little imagination and some dirt cheap steel piping.
I hopped in the car, ran to Home Depot and quickly purchased 6 3/4" elbows, 2 3" nipples (their terminology not mine), 2 10" pieces, 2 4" pieces and one 36 inch bar of 3/4" pipe. Total cost: $29.71.
Within minutes I was home and had successfully recreated the apparatus.
A testament to simplicity, this could very well be the first and only home improvement project that did not require two, and many times three, return trips to the Home Depot.
Tomorrow, the next chapter in Things Jews Don't Do:
A proper military-style chin up.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Last week I ran into my old partner at temple. I didn't recognize him at first because I didn't know he was a member of my congregation and also because there are business colleagues I only associate with business. It's a matter of context.
In any case, he's now some bigwig with one of the holding companies. No need for names because, well, I don't need to give anyone a reason to blacklist my name for any future assignments. I'm sure I'm persona non-grata in plenty of places, thank you very much.
Years ago I was working on a freelance assignment at this unnamed agency. The art director and I presented a bunch of concepts to the previous Creative Director. He liked many of them but selected three for further development. Then he told us that the agency had been very successful beta-testing a new software program called Alpha One which tested creative ideas for efficiency and message resonance.
"Really?" I said.
"Really." He replied.
So, he added, can you go back and rewrite these ideas and mention the client's name within the first 7 seconds of the commercial?
"You're shitting me, right? I said.
"Not shitting you." He replied.
Adding, it would be better if you could mention the client name in the first 5 seconds.
It's funny how little we have learned from Steve Jobs, the greatest marketing visionary to ever wear a client hat. Imagine if the "1984" spot had been put to the Alpha One test. We wouldn't be talking about it. Same thing for the Apple's 1998 "Think Different" campaign. In fact, the same applies to every commercial that has ever made its way into your memory vault.
Had I a set of balls and not a looming mortgage/car/tuition/insurance payment due I would have simply followed the Creative Director's logic to its logical conclusion and brought him back an
Alpha One-friendly script like:
Open on art card of (Client's name).
Cut to a man and woman talking at a restaurant.
MAN: Client's name client's name client's name?
WOMAN: Client's name!
MAN: Client's name client's name client's name Client's name client's name client's name Client's name client's name client's name.
WOMAN: Client's name.
SUPER: Client's name.
Cut to plane dragging a banner across the sky.
BANNER: Client's name.
WOMAN: Oh client's name.
TAG: We're not just (insert industry type), we're Client's name.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Read enough business books and you'll stumble across this golden nugget of wisdom, "aspire to be the dumbest person in the room." That is hardly a difficult task when planners/strategists/Chief Experiential Innovation Officers put up slides like the one pictured above.
Can somebody please explain this to me?
There are six arrows, four ovals and a gay three-dimensional, five-layered pyramid that defies all logic and reason. And I haven't even mentioned the two acronyms, the multicolored type and the ridiculous redundancies.
Isn't Assessment the same as Findings of fact and opinion?
Isn't Analysis the same as Experimental Observations?
Surely there must have been a simpler way of saying what this chart (?) intends to say. Something with one simple circle or a triangle or even a nice parallelogram. I would suggest an alternative, but frankly I don't know what the hell chart intends to say.
I do know that the person who prepared this had something very important in mind. Seriously, look at the carefully drawn light streaks on the left side of the pyramid. That's some impressive shading. Same goes for the strategically-placed ovals that seem to pop off the page. I had no idea that art was part of the current MBA curriculum.
And yet still after laborious assessment and analysis the only insight I have gained is that I am an incurable Luddite.
Perhaps the pundits are correct. The problem with the American economy is that we have become a nation of marketers and information shufflers. We have stopped making things. We don't manufacture anything of any value to anyone, anymore.
Of course, if you needed to document that monumental decline with a snappy pie chart or a trapezoid, well, we could have that to you before noon.
Monday, October 10, 2011
As I mentioned before, you can count me among the easily amused.
The other night, for instance, I had to fiddle with the DVR to get just the right shot of this young man, a relief pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks with the sad surname of Putz.
I can count on one hand the number of Yiddish words that have successfully slipped into our vernacular. Putz, schmeckel and schmuck come to mind. I'm sure there are a dozen more, but I'm writing this on the morning of Yom Kippur, I have no food in my belly (and won't until sundown) and in a couple of hours I will have to slap on the monkey suit and sit in shul goose-stepping to a God I don't believe in.
If you're that interested get off your tuchas and look up your own Yiddish words.
I can't imagine the grief J.J. Putz took growing up with such a last name. Particularly since he pursued a career in the testosterone-fueled world of athletics. Maybe it wasn't so bad in Michigan, where Putz grew up. After all he was named Mr. Baseball. And Midwesterners, like my Minnesota-born wife, are so notoriously nice.
But in 2009, Putz was traded to the NY Mets. Meaning he played in Flushing, my old neighborhood. Which also means he came under the careful scrutiny of the NY Post reporters, who can mercilessly spin a good headline.
That must have been tough. But I'm sure J.J. handled it all with aplomb. After all, by this time in his career I'm sure Putz has developed a thick skin.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
You people ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
Last week I shared the story of Sandee Westgate and one of the last Taco Bell commercials we filmed at Chiat/Day. And to lure you in I baited the hook with an almost-NSFW shot of her from Google images. Well, the traffic numbers have been analyzed and let's just say you people are driven by base instincts.
In that light here's another story about my brush up with the porn world. And by the way, if you live in Los Angeles, even if you're a Southern Baptist, home-schooling, tomato-canning survivalist, you're within 6 degrees of fornication of the porn world.
In March of 2009 I was hired to be the Interim Creative Director at DIRECTV, in charge of their Tier 3 and Tier 4 communications. It was FSI's, local dealer inserts, newspaper ads, the kind of stuff that is frankly more useful as kitty litter lining than meaningful persuasion. But it was a good day rate, a long term gig and we, the country, were in the middle of a financial crisis.
I was happy to take their money and churn out the kind of punny work that so easily passes for clever.
It wasn't very challenging but it was interesting to immerse myself into the client environment. I think all ad agency creatives should do this so they get a proper perspective on what it means to actually work.
Everyday I would show up at the corporate headquarters in El Segundo with hundreds of DIRECTV staffers. They were always dressed up. They didn't show up with their dogs. They didn't ride Razors down the hallways. And when you'd walk by their cubicle, they weren't shopping on Zappos or Facebooking or playing Snood, they were nose-deep in spreadsheets, analysis reports and sales charts.
I never knew what any of it meant but the results speak for themselves. DIRECTV is the number one provider of satellite TV service. They are the market driven kingpins. They are meticulous and leave no trend or percentage point or customer comment card unturned. It's all about the details.
Which is all the more fascinating when you consider that they have an entire team committed to bringing you the finest in adult entertainment. As my buddy Jeff pointed out, a significant portion of DIRECTV's revenue stream comes from channels 593-599, the pay per view porn.
"Ever push the button for the 7th floor? You can't go there unless you have a certain key card. That's where the porn people work", Jeff added.
That's when it struck me that everything I was seeing on the fourth floor was being duplicated on the seventh. Dedicated professionals striving, fighting, aching to do their best and make a career for themselves in the efficient delivery and distribution of smut.
I hate status meetings, but oh what I would have given anything to sit in on one of theirs.
"Where are we with the new MILF movies?"
"I just got off the phone with Vivid. Next month they're releasing Housewives Gone Wild 14 and Cougars and Corndogs."
"Good. Dennis, I'm seeing a 2.3% revenue drop in Legal and Latino. What's going on?
"My team is digging into the ASI reports as we speak and we have some focus groups scheduled in Houston, Detroit and Des Moines."
"Alright let's get to bottom of that. Liz, I understand you've got a new poster for the new Sappho series?"
"We have it as a pdf. I'll put it up on the powerpoint so everyone can see it."
"That's nice. Good work. One thing though. That dildo looks a little small. Anybody else think that?"
Murmur, murmur, murmur.
"Can we make that cock 10% bigger? Can we do that?"
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Spotted at the Waterpark Office Complex in Santa Monica.
I almost didn't see the abysmal rating until I overheard two women who had made a beeline for the exit when they saw the "C" rating. You have to be awfully hungry and lacking for choice before you sit your ass down for a Cobb Salad at a place that has barely earned the right to keep their doors open.
Getting a "C" is not like getting a "C" in Geometry because you momentarily forgot the Pythagorean Theorem or a "C" in English because you dangled a participle. The restaurant grading system is far more lenient. In the name of commerce it has to be. In reality an "A" is "B", a "B" is a "C" and a "C" is "let's go eat somewhere else, somewhere free from vermin infestation."
I know this because I paid my way through college, and a few misguided years after college, as a short order cook/saucier/line cook/ and chef apprentice. I've seen the inside of restaurant kitchens and if you've seen what I've seen, you'd opt for a Swanson's HungryMan Meal 7 days a week.
Before I entered advertising, I was the Head Cook and Kitchen Manager at a steakhouse in West. LA.
In addition to the great ribs and steaks, we catered wrap parties for movies including PolterGeist and the original Twilight Zone. On one particular weekend, the delivery guys had just dropped off a month's worth of dry goods: linens, condiments, and non-refrigerated produce. That afternoon I ripped open a 50 lbs. box of extra-large Idaho baking potatoes. As I tore the cardboard flap open, a potato-sized rat darted across my hand and scurried out into the restaurant. I didn't know what the hell had just happened. It was like a potato had sprouted legs and sprinted from the box like Carl Lewis.
I almost had a heart attack. At the ripe age of 23.
For the next hour, Valentino, Abel, Fernando, Paco and I, with broomsticks in hand, chased that wily rat to no avail. In the following weeks we were to find out the rat was not only wily, but pregnant. In two months time we had more rats than we had customers. They were behind the drywall. On the ceiling. One even bolted across the dining room floor, in the middle of Happy Hour.
Which didn't make anyone happy.
The restaurant, like most restaurants, didn't last much longer.
But through it all, we never had a Health Inspection rating lower than a "B".
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Tomorrow morning my oldest daughter will be taking a test to get her driving learner's permit. And though I've invested a few hundred dollars for her to take a course to prepare for the test, I am secretly hoping she fails.
I'm just not ready to hand her the keys to a car. Ok, today's cars don't actually use keys, but I think you get my drift.
I'm still not comfortable with the fact that she wears a bra. With two teenage daughters and a wife, there's enough bras in my house to outfit a nunnery. I can't pull a pair of socks out of the dryer without getting my hand snagged in a Maidenform. What has my life become?
If by some circumstance she does manage to pass the test my next task will be to hire a surrogate father. You see, I know myself. I know my short temper. I know that at the very first incident that requires hard braking, my right foot will go through the floorboards on the passenger side of my precious Lexus.
My father had the same self-awareness.
He relinquished that responsibility to Coach Brentnall, who supplemented his high school teacher's salary moonlighting as a Driver's Ed teacher during the summer. Of all the coaches, Coach Brentnall was perhaps the best natured. He never had much use for me on the football, soccer or baseball fields -- the only sport I excelled in was water polo -- but he liked having me in the back seat of the 72 Chevy Impala, if only to add some levity to what was always a dangerous adventure.
My memory may be a little off, but I'm pretty sure one of the girls in the class hit a deer while we learning how to execute a proper three point K-turn. It was either a deer or a freestanding mailbox that looked like a deer. In either case it brought great laughter from those of us seated in the back.
In retrospect, the '72 Chevy Impala might be the perfect driver ed vehicle.
It didn't have airbags or energy absorbing crumple zones. It didn't have a collapsible steering column or a Blind Spot Detection System. It had seatbelts for 6 passengers, but in those days we couldn't be bothered by seatbelts. But what it lacked in today's modern safety measures it more than made up for in Bethlehem's finest. Because the '72 Chevy Impala was 4,342 pounds of rolling Grade A galvanized steel, impervious to anything but a direct hit by a Mack Truck.
I know my daughter has something sportier in mind for her first car, but I think I'll start scouring the pages of autotrader.com for an old road-hogging Impala.
I'll let her pick the color.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Here's a universal truth about labor: if you're not in management the economy is always bad.
I've been around the working world long enough to see several economic cycles. The recession of the early 90's was followed by the boon of the dot.com era. President Clinton even managed to erase the deficit and, in addition to a Smithsonian-worthy blue dress, he produced a budget surplus.
The early 2000's saw the economy go in the shitter again. And again, it rose from the ashes. With unemployment levels hovering around 5%.
The current recession, which started in 2008 shows no sign of relenting. And management hopes it never does. Because with unemployment high and headlines of fiscal doom choking our newspapers, they have everything they need to cart out the old, "we're in belt-tightening mode."
But can anybody remember or tell me when their employer wasn't in "belt-tightening mode"?
Like god-awful rap music it seems like it's here to stay.
Years ago during one of the boon times, I held a pretty senior position with one of the big holding companies, I'll leave them unnamed because occasionally I still feed at their trough. I was Senior VP of whoseywhatsits. It was impressive for about half a second. I remember telling my mother about my new title. She yawned over the phone. And pressed on with her more riveting story about winning $600 at Bingo that week.
Having served faithfully for more than 20 months under this burdensome title and won two National Effies for my efforts, I approached my boss with the notion of a bonus and a pay raise. The idea was floated back to the NY mothership and summarily rejected within 48 hours.
"We don't have the money," I was told with a straight face.
One week later, Adweek spelled out the details of a proposed bonus package under consideration for the CEO of that same unnamed holding company. For holding the line on costs and eliminating redundant employees, he was handed a check for $120 million.
Now $120 million is just a pittance compared to the bonuses brought home by the boys at Goldman Sachs.
But it's still $120 million.
I was hoping for a simple 5% bump. In other words, a relatively tiny pittance of his pittance.
There's a great Yiddish saying that sums all this up:
Don't pee on my back and tell me it's raining.