Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Godfather of Ommmmmmm

Yesterday I told the tale of two Michael Boltons. The one everyone knows about --the guy from Office Space. And the other one, who allegedly sings.

Today, we cross the tracks, to talk about James Brown.
Both of them.

There's the James Brown you all know. He of Hot Pants, Sex Machine, and Make it Funky fame.
And then there's the other James Brown. A fellow copywriter and sometimes-Scrabble-opponent.

Fried from the stresses of the advertising business, James decided to take up meditation. This was no flight of fancy. In fact James dove in until the water went above his head. Making a full commitment, sojourning to India and indeed becoming a full time instructor.

He was so successful at it, he turned it into a thriving business.

If only all the other freelance copywriters out there were so industrious and scratched their entrepreneurial itch. I would have advertising gigs up the ying yang.

James often writes about the benefits of meditation online. And as I ride the tumultuous wave of fathering two teenage daughters have often thought maybe I should smoke some of what James is smoking.

But tempted as I might be, I just can't pull the trigger. You see, I'm just not a meditation type guy.

Maybe it's because I was born in the Bronx, NY, but I don't have the gene for relaxation.

It could also be a tribal thing. Jews are known to worry. And for 5,000 years the world has done its job of giving us something to worry about, pogroms, the Inquisition and The Holocaust, spring to mind.

It might even have to do with an early childhood incident.

When I was 11 my father signed my brother and I up for a Krav Maga course taught by the JDL, of all people. They started the self defense class with mandatory 10 minute meditation session. But as were told to slip into a state of peaceful relaxation, the instructors would come around from behind and launch a sneak attack, usually a hard slap to the back of the head, on one of the unsuspecting students.

All this, in the name of environmental awareness.

Anyway, I'm sure James Brown has a great deal of valuable advice in this arena. And one day I might even take him up on the course. Until then, I will draw my inspiration and wisdom from that other James Brown fellow (the interview and the fun starts at :043)...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In search of swag

Michael Bolton?

What in the world could I possibly have to say about The Least Interesting Man In The World?

Well years ago, upon the advice of friends, my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary with an incredibly indulgent (expensive) trip to the isle of Anguilla. There, we stayed at one of the finest hotels on God's Green Earth, Cap Jaluca. In fact, this resort is consistently listed among the Top 10 resorts in the world.

Deservedly so.
We thought.

And apparently so did Michael Bolton, who was shacking up with his girlfriend at the time, another C-lister Nicollette Sheridan, a platinum blonde who was fond of white string bikinis. In the 8 days we were there, I counted 5.

Our oceanfront hut, appointed in dark mahogany wood and featuring a stone grotto outdoor shower, was between the hotel lobby and Michael Bolton's 5 star thatched unit towards the outskirts of the property. And so he and Nic, would walk by us on many occasion.

There were days when the only people on the 1/4 mile long crescent beach of powdery golden sand and bath-water warm turquoise waters, were myself, my wife, Nicollette Sheridan and the mulletted one.

On those days I'm sure he thought, "I'm a big time star in the music industry why do I have to share this bit-o-paradise with a couple of civilians from Culver City?"

For those of you not in the know, the term civilians is how people in the entertainment industry refer to people who are not. As if you needed another reason to hate Hollywood people.

Oddly enough, I have become a member of the Michael Bolton Fan Club, the other Micheal Bolton. 

You might remember him singing in the cult classic Office Space:

No real point in all this. But here's a dirty little secret in the blogging world. Sometimes I'll mention a brand or a product and some industrious PR person, whose duty it is to scan the Internet for mentions, will reach out to me and offer to barter.

For more press, good or bad, though they prefer good, they will hold out some incentives. Blog about dry cleaning and get a year's worth of light starch. Want some free Diet Pepsi, start clacking away on that keyboard.

I'm not looking for a boxed set of Michael Bolton CD's.
But if the folks at Cap Jaluca are listening I'm ready to take the call.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Greed is good

I had a different post planned (and written) for today.

But, in light of yesterday's announcement that Omnicom would be merging with Publicis and setting up their worldwide corporate headquarters in the Netherlands, I thought I'd reach deep into the glory files and whip out this fortuitously prescient piece from 1989.

You see while the Flock of Seagulls were making music that would stand the test of time, I was busy working my buddies, two former copywriters (Jim Jennewein and Tom Parker) on a parody magazine about the industry.

We spoofed all the issues of the day, including the mad rush to merge.

Although no more small countries were involved, the $35 billion plus deal does promise to send shock waves throughout the industry.

Not unlike the Blitzkrieg of Double U, Double U Two.

I hadn't paged through MADWEEK in quite some time. And it was quite surprising to see how life was now imitating art. That is if you can call three drunk copywriters writing funny shit about advertising, art.

But I have no doubt I will be sent to an early retirement when the new bean counters at PubliCom or OmniPube find a way to bring this other MADWEEK piece to fruition...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

It won't fit

Here's one of the fringe benefits of being a freelancer. And writing a blog.

I bop around all over town, sometimes all over the country, to work at many different ad agencies. So,when I choose to pen some honest criticism at insidious agency behavior there's really no telling which one I am pointing my finger at.

The truth is, in some small fashion or other, I am talking about all of them.

Take the picture above. Clearly this is linkbait.

But it also illustrates one of the major issues facing art directors and copywriters today, that is the daily stuffing of 10 lbs. of potatoes into a 5 lbs. sack. Or, less colloquially, cramming the entire brief, with its planner-mandated product points, into a 30 second spot.

As problems go, this ranks up there with, "What shade of Royal Blue shall we paint the new Baby King's bedroom?" But for those of us in the biz, it is all consuming and in the end, completely demoralizing.

It points out the people at the top, the ones making the decisions, the C-suite captains who dare to call themselves Chiefs because of their alleged expertise in the art of persuasion, are nothing more than empty-headed animal food trough wipers. They have all the persuasive power of a Florida District Attorney.

I'll give you an example.

Years ago, we were presenting a rough cut to an automotive client. The spot was a Tier II :25/:05. For laymen, that's a 25 second message followed by a local tag like, "Test Drive the new #$%%@ at your local $%^&# dealer."

In the 25 second body of the spot, we made the simple point that the car came equipped with Anti-Lock Brakes, Cruise Control and 6 speed automatic transmission. And the client agreed it demonstrated those  features quite well. Then asked if the 5 second tag could also mention the air conditioning, CD Player and power moonroof. Oh and the $299 a month lease rate. At participating dealers.

If he knew we had the ability to speed up the voiceover via the SpeedUpAthon 9000, he also would have had us mention the free coffee at the dealership.

This problem is by no means limited to the dimmer among us.

In his book Insanely Simple, Ken Segall (terrible spelling) points out a top level meeting between Steve Jobs and Lee Clow. After reviewing a script, Steve had asked if the commercial could make some additional points. Clow rolled up several paper balls in one hand and one paper ball in the other. He turned to Jobs and said, "If I ask you to catch the paper balls, which hand would you prefer I throw at you?"

Jobs correctly selected the hand with one ball.

I fear a different response from today's CMOs.
"Throw them all at me."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Day I Almost Became a Scientologist

When I first arrived in California I thought this was a land of opportunity. Everyone was so peaceful and happy and beautiful, unlike New York.  I thought this was a place where tzuris did not exist.

Of course you can chalk it up to youthful naiveté.

That Eucalyptus-induced haze did not last long. One dead-end job led to another. I had less money for rent and food because I was spending more money on drugs and alcohol. My car broke down and I was forced to buy a used motorcycle. Did I mention this happened during the rainiest winter on record?

The Mamas and the Papas never sang about tooling down the 405 freeway on a 1969 CB 450 during a monsoon. That kind of misery almost had me on a plane back to the Big Apple.

The last straw came when I found out the girl/woman I was seeing, told me she was married.

This was not all the successful prosperous life I had been told I would be enjoying once I had a degree from prestigious Syracuse University in hand.

Then one day, just a cloudy day, I found myself on the eastern end of Sunset Blvd. A flashing marquis  caught my attention. I'd be lying if I could tell you what it said. But it was something to the effect of: Hey Siegel, your life sucks. Come in here and change it.

I parked the motorcycle and cautiously walked into the gold laced atrium/reception area. There, I was met by a clear skinned blond beauty, like the ones the promised by the Mamas and the Papas. She handed me a pamphlet and said the next orientation meeting would begin in 15 minutes.

In retrospect I can tell you that brochure was incredibly well written. It pushed all the right buttons. And rang all the right bells. There was nothing about Theta's or interplanetary travel or celebrity breakfasts, "Hey, Tom can you pass the hash browns?" They were too clever for that.

They knew, or seemed to know, all about my struggles, my personal demons, my god damned motorcycle that was missing a third gear. And they were going to personally guide me to a better path.

It all felt so right. But before they could hook me up to their patented Truthification Metric Activator, the ©TMA 9000, I got a call.

It was from my Gut.

In a distinctive NY accent, heard exclusively on Jerome Avenue between 170th street and Mt. Eden Ave. it screamed, "What the fuck are you doing here? We didn't lose 6 million Jews to the Nazis only to lose another one to a bunch of sprout-eating, alien-thumping, tooth-whitening, good-time Charlies. Get your sad sack life together and get the hell out of here."

I put the pamphlet down. Smiled at Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and walked out, vowing to quit smoking pot, begin exercising, and get myself on some kind of meaningful career path.

I kickstarted the motorcycle and headed west towards Santa Monica.

Then it started raining.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Dodge Maccabee?

Seen in the parking lot at the Independence Day BBQ/Spelling Bee/Three-Legged Race Celebration in Independence, CA.

A 1915 Horseless Carriage, manufactured by the up-and-coming Dodge Brothers who were determined to offer a luxurious alternative to the Model T. This shiny black model was meticulously restored. Everything about it was in mint condition. The leather on the seats smelled brand new. The tires looked they had less than 5 miles on them. And the burled wood on the steering wheel was perfectly burled. Or however you would describe wood that looked like it was fine furniture.

But what I found most interesting on this classic, nearly century old machine was right under the hood ornament.

You don't see many Jewish stars in Independence, California. And you certainly don't expect to see one on the hood of a collector car.

So what gives, you may ask.
OK, I asked.

One theory is that the Dodge Brothers, two gentile engineers from the Midwest, had no idea the 6-pointed star was also a symbol of Judaism. I'm not buying that. These good old boys from farms where the corn grows as high as an elephant's eye know all about the Tribe. So much so that Oklahoma State Senator Dennis Johnson shows us how that knowledge has entered the cultural vernacular.

Another theory states the two triangles are actually interlocking triangles, or Delta's from the Greek Alphabet, representing D's. That seems plausible.

Also, Freemasonry was very popular at the turn of the 19th century, particularly among the wealthy and powerful. There's speculation that the symbol could be an abstraction of the Freemason's T-square and compass.

Finally, some suggest the Dodge Brothers were thumbing their nose at their former business partner Henry Ford, a man who let's just say probably didn't sit in on many seder dinners at Passover time.

In an attempt to solve the mystery, I tracked down the owner of the Horseless Carriage. He might have had the best answer of all.

"Hell, I don't know. I never even noticed that. Say, aren't you the fellow who just lost the Spelling Bee?  
Mattress, M-A-T-T-R-E-S-S, mattress."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Brand Engorgement

Pretty soon we'll be celebrating the 20 year anniversary of the Internet.

Which means you (well, not my daughters because they're under 20 and they don't read "Daddy's boring blog") and I have been around for every kb of it.

Personally, I have spent a great deal of time on the Internet, probably a lot more than I should have. But as I write for a living, I'm sort of tied to my keyboard. And the keyboard is irresisitibly linked to the web.

But here's the thing, in all those twenty years, I have spent virtually none of it engaged with any brands.


OK, there was one time that VW put out this racing game that could be played on the iPhone or the iPad and I did that for about 5 minutes. But the game was such a poor version of Gran Turismo I dumped it immediately.

I certainly didn't come away from the experience with any greater sense of Farfegnugen. Or any greater appreciation of VW. If anything, I was disappointed. And vowed to never get sucked into any more of this digital nonsense.

My slightly older and wiser colleagues, George Tannenbaum and Bob Hoffman have written passionately on this topic. And because they are better writers than myself, they are able to provide academic proof and literary references that are far above my pay grade.

I speak anecdotally.
Mostly to accommodate my facile thinking.

And as the father of two teenage girls (who are most decidedly in the sweet spot for many of these digitally-obsessed companies) I can attest that they too are equally unimpressed by these brand engagement efforts.

I know because I asked them point blank. They cocked their heads and looked at me the same bewildered way my dog looks at me when I pour a bowl of cereal out of a box.

"Why would we spend time with any of that? That's advertising. Advertising sucks."

Completely oblivious to my line of work or the fact that advertising -- that is the making of advertising -- has paid for every gadget, every morsel of food, every remote control, every shoe and every stick of furniture in the house.

"So what, it still sucks."

If this sentiment ended here, so would this blog posting. But my daughter's friends say the same thing. And so do their friends. There are 1.5 billion videos on Youtube they'll counter, who has time for that?

Which has got me wondering.

I know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in ad agencies and on the client side, spending millions of dollars and countless man hours building elaborate digital brand engagement schemes. Everyday we're out there Tweeting and Vining and Instagramming and UXing and HTMLing.

Or as my pal George says, "we're making toys."

The question is, who's playing with them?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Got My Bearings Straight

Years ago, New Jersey had its day in the sun.

There were TV shows -- and I know this because I have two teenage daughters -- about the Jersey Shore, with its gumbas and the gumbettes. Shows about Jersey Bakers. And shows about Jersey Beauticians.

I'm pretty sure they were all on The Learning Channel, which could have easily renamed itself The Garden State Channel.

But now the basking glow of media attention has left Bayonne and turned north, towards the Bering Sea.

By my estimation, The Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel now have no less than 8 shows about Alaska. I don't watch a lot of TV, but it appears I'll watch anything about the people who make their home in Seward's Folly.

It started with Alaska State Troopers. Which is nothing more than a much colder version of the show "Cops". Only with considerably fewer Hispanics and African Americans and a lot more white trash meth-heads.

Perhaps it's because I am so familiar with the imbecile tenets of white supremacy that I find white trash so amusing. Even more so when they're drunk or high on some paint thinner-based drug.

The show I find most fascinating is Life Below Zero. It features a cast of characters that seem chiseled right out of the 19th century. Some are Eskimos. Some are married to Eskimos. And all are just out-of-their-mind crazy for living in such an inhospitable environment.

Why they choose to live here I'll never know. In fact I'm reminded of the late, great Sam Kiniston:

You see, while most of us run away from adversity, these folks run towards it. As if the unforgiving cold, the man-eating wolverines, and vast stretches of wilderness, were not enough, these resourceful trailblazers willingly choose to live on the edge of the edge of civilization.

They chop their own wood, fix their own machines and hunt, skin and cook their own caribou. If the rest of us were singed in a nuclear holocaust tomorrow, their lives would not change one iota.

My favorite, a borderline schizophrenic, Sue Aikens, lives 160 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Her closest neighbor is 350 miles away. When the camera crew isn't there, all she has for company are her Marlboro Reds and 15 wild foxes that share the compound.

Sue is perpetually convinced that a bear, or a wolverine or a raging moose is out to eat her. Indeed her revenge fantasies could fill an entire hour.

I would tell you more about Sue but the oil on my Lexus needs changing. Which demands a trip to Jiffy Lube, because I don't like to get grime on my dainty fingers.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I want my money back

Recently, the AFI put out their list of the top 100 movies ever made. Of those 100, only three were made after 1994.

Yes, it's hard to believe that the original Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman did not crack the list. I'm willing to bet that if the list were extended to 1000, poor Hugh would still be crying in his Foster's beer. Of course that's not stopping the overpaid trash-makers in Hollywood from delivering to us another installment in this can't-miss-series.

I only know this because last week my wife and I ventured down to the Culver City Multiplex for a night of cheap laughs via Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in The Heat. But before that mildly entertaining movie could begin, we had to sit through 6 trailers.

It felt like 60.

As we walked home it occurred to us we had no interest in seeing any of them.

In retrospect, the movies were all exceptionally loud. They were all sizzle and no steak. And they all seemed suited to the taste of a fidgety 15-year old boy with the IQ of a drunken hummingbird.

The last of the 6 trailers actually started with a premise.

Five middle-aged Englishmen return to their home town determined to complete a one mile pub crawl. A feat that had somehow eluded them in their youth. It held out the promise of colorful characters, a clear narrative and charming rural English authenticity. Then witty repartee turned into shitty storytelling, with the introduction of Zombies, pyrotechnics and 21st century CGI stupidity.

A head-scratching moment to say the least.

Call me an old man, but I was fortunate to grow up when 43 of the the AFI's Top 100 were made. We had The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apocalypse Now, Annie Hall, Taxi Driver and so many more.

But those times are long gone.

Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.
And so does the craft of film-making.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

And now a word about racism

Just past Exit 15 on the New York State Thruway, the only means of escaping The Big Apple to the bucolic Catskills, The Finger Lakes, and the rust-belt beauty of Buffalo, you'll find Hillburn, NY.

On the hill, you can still see the remnants of what once was the MOTEL ON THE MOUNTAIN. Which was unmistakably identified by a large Hollywood-sign type lettering that was visible for miles in all directions.

In the late 70's the place was sold to some entrepreneurs from NYC who decided it would make a perfect weekend gay retreat. In response, some enterprising boys from my high school trekked up the hillside and removed three important letters, so that the sign now read: MO ON THE MOUNTAIN.

Funny, but decidedly mean. (More on that in a bit.)

Years ago I saw a documentary about Hillburn, NY. It was a story I had never heard before. All the more strange because Hillburn is the next town over from Suffern, where I grew up. In fact, it dawned on me that I knew very little about this pocket of a town wedged up against the Ramapo Mountains.

It didn't bother me then. But it bothers me now.

Because all through high school we spent an inordinate time learning about local landmarks from the Revolutionary War. As well as countless hours on NY's own Iroquois Indians. I could tell you more about a log sweathouse than any straight man should ever know.

But the school district, in all their wisdom, never thought it necessary to teach us anything about the 1000 people who lived next door in Hillburn and who were direct descendants of freed African Slaves and the Lenape, a tribe of Indians from Delaware. What a missed learning opportunity.

As if that glaring omission were not enough, I have just come to learn via the interwebs, that 11 years before the historic Brown vs Board of Education ruling, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall argued and won a case for racial integration in the very township where I was raised.

And yet I never heard a peep about this in any Civics or History class. OK, I was stoned through the latter half of high school, so maybe they slipped in one reference. But they definitely tip toed around the issue.

Perhaps it was a case of White Guilt.
But let's not be naive, guilt knows no color lines.

The multiracial folks in Hillburn, who for years had been the victim of political, economic and educational discrimination, were not so accommodating in 1977, just thirty three years after claiming their own legal equality.

The Gay Retreat was met by angry Hillburn residents. "It's not biblical," said Paul Thompson, "It's one of the reasons why Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed."

Another woman claimed, "I can't raise my kids around this, I want them to think a boy should go out with a girl."

In all, not a very enlightened attitude.

Clearly, we have a long way to go before the folks with the Co-Exist bumper stickers can remove them from their cars and claim, "Mission Accomplished."

But all is not bleak.

In the early 1980's, the gay motel (©"Where Gay Entertainment is at its Peak") was sold to a chain of Japanese restaurants featuring highly dexterous fry cooks. It is now known as Mt. Fuji.

The change of ownership brought no protests from the residents of Hillburn. Or the residents of Suffern. After all, who doesn't like a volcano made from sliced onions. Or a sauteed shrimp tail tossed in their sport coat pocket.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Bitch of a Pitch

Several months ago, I had a lower wisdom tooth removed. The oral surgeon removing the dead tooth also suggested taking the upper. I agreed. But perhaps due to the Vicodin, he misunderstood my intentions and left the tooth in.

Now, because of the misalignment, food has an unfortunate tendency to get stuck back there. And I am left to ply the errant remains with a pointy, rubber-tipped golden tool that I carry with me at all times.

In many ways the whole mess reminds me of pitching new business. There's pain. There's a tortuous process. And when it's over, a little bit sticks with you like a piece of roast beef wedged between the molars.

Years ago, at an unnamed agency, I found myself leading up the pitch for the Red Roof Inn. It was during a very contentious period of my career when I felt I could do no wrong. Of course I've matured a bit and come to realize that is no longer true.

(These days I'm actually more surprised when I'm right.)

However, in the case of Red Roof Inn, my initial instincts were correct. We had no business going after this business. The truth is, most folks would rather go through an un-anesthetized bout of dental surgery than spend a night at a Red Roof Inn.

We didn't win the account but like all agency people who lose pitches, we feasted on schadenfreude when the winning agency unveiled the "new" campaign. Perhaps you remember Red, the anthropomorphic spokesperson for Red Roof Inn...

Red was not the rousing success the folks at Red Roof Inn had hoped for.

In fact, this 80kb picture of Red is the only one that exists on the entire Internet. Obscurity is hardly the hallmark of a successful advertising campaign. (Though this hardly stops many digital agencies pitching their Vines, Instagrams and other nonsense no one will ever see or remember, but I'll save that for another post.)

Like my interest in the fate of Red Roof Inn, Red did not last long.

The client hop-scotched between several other agencies. Always failing to find the winning formula. In fact, I thought the roof had caved in on this Motel 6 wannabe. Until last week when I saw they had come up with a brand new promotional scheme that has caught the eye of the national media.

If being ruthlessly skewered like that is not the kiss of death for a brand, I don't know what is.

I feel like I just enjoyed a second helping of schadenfreude for dessert. If some of it gets stuck in between my teeth, I'll just savor the flavor.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's a dry heat

Mojave, CA is 90 minutes north of Los Angeles.
But make no mistake, it is a world unto itself.

In the winter, the temperature rarely rises above 40 degrees.
And in the summer, the mercury never stays in the double digits.

These must be the ideal cooking conditions for methamphetamine. Because the town's entire populace seems to be hooked on the stuff.

If you're wondering about Spring and Fall, don't. Those seasons are too nuanced for a place like Mojave, which seems to favor extremes. The roadside Church of Heavenly Grace and Mercy is sandwiched between the Tiger Tail Adult Book Store, now featuring just released hits on VHS, and Mike's Gun Shop, where the only amendment that counts is the Second.

Apparently Mike is not a fan of the government or any nuisance that stands in the way of packing heat. Mike's motto, painted on the window, "Walk in with two arms, walk out with three."

I am inexplicably drawn to Mojave, like a moth to a flame. Its seediness, its remoteness and its general lack of dental hygiene make it feel like a land that time and the California Department of Health and Welfare forgot.

You could safely describe the town as pre-Apocalyptic.

Last week, on our trek to Northern California we made a mandatory pitstop at the Carl's Jr. in Mojave, arguably the cleanest of the "restaurants" along Route 14. I have long abandoned my taste for fast food, but it is the one time of the year I allow myself the indulgence.

Obviously the food is nothing to write home about. The same cannot be said for the diners.

Seated in the next booth was a chatty fellow in his early sixties clothed in camo from head to toe (I'm going to go out on a limb and say Viet Nam Vet). For some reason he seemed to think that my wife, my two daughters and myself were the perfect audience for his half-baked, meth-fueled political ramblings.

Or maybe he reads my blog and had me pegged for someone who is fascinated, I should say amused, by anything involving the Illuminati, Alex Jones, Freemasonry, the New World Order, The Trilateral Commission, Tin Foil, The Bilderberg Group, Mossad Plots, International Banking, and UN-enforced Fascism. He managed to work all those topics into a casual discussion that only lasted 14 minutes, roughly the time it takes to consume a grilled turkey burger and onion rings.

And it all started with an innocent question, "Say, pal, how many colors are there on the United States flag?"

Red, white and blue, I answered confidently, having graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited university.

"That's what it should be. But have you ever seen the US flag that are now sporting a gold fringe?" he replied.

I had seen those and hadn't realized those flags were part of a larger UN conspiracy, a conspiracy my new friend would have been glad to explain well into the late afternoon. That is, until my youngest daughter surreptitiously shot me a look that said in no uncertain terms...

"Dad, let's get out of here, this guy is way sketch."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Go to Hell

Ever find yourself in a dreadful, stressed out situation?

Of course, you have.

You breath oxygen. You have family. You have to work for The Man to put food on your table. What a dumb question. But the advice given by psychiatrists, therapists, life coaches or gushy optimists who write for pop teen e-zines, is even dumber.

"Go to your Happy Place", they'll say.

Go to Hell, I say.

If I'm stuck in an endless pitch meeting that has gone south or find myself in a knock down, drag out fight with my wife, why in the world would I want to imagine myself in some place better, like at the House of the Cherished Seacoast in Kauai

That doesn't help to ameliorate the situation. In fact, it only serves to make it worse. Because I keep thinking, "that's where I want to be, but that's not where I'm at."

My approach, the more pragmatic one, is to dwell on my most Unhappy Place.

Here's how that works.

Sure this client is telling me how these concepts are off strategy. And the spots are dull. And the writing  could have been improved upon by a third grader. But at least I'm not stuck at the Long Beach Hampton Inn with my wife and two screaming toddlers, taking turns at the toilet and the bathroom sink to expel the food poisoning that has a merciless grip on the entire Siegel clan, following the reception at my sister-in-law's wedding.

Give me your worst Mr. or Mrs. Client. Unless you want to sprinkle some Staphylococcus in with that critique, I'm impervious to your unprofessional behavior.

The fact is, I collect Unhappy Places the way some people collect baseball cards, Tiki mugs, or sculptures by Alexander Calder.

My collection is robust. And my Unhappy Places are ranked. And most importantly, they are all easily accessed with the instantaneous connection of a few memory neurons.

So go ahead world, take your best shot.
Sig Alerts on the 405, pffft.
Mechanical delays on a 737, please.
Two weeks of no freelance work and no prospects or leads, pour me another mojito.

Stress will have to work a lot harder to take me down. I once spent 54 sleepless hours in Frankfurt, Germany, fueled by an unhealthy concoction of Red Bull, Xanax and Jim Beam bourbon. Further compounded by a staggering case of jet-lag, latent Nazi-phobia and severe career buyer's remorse.

You see, I've already been to Hell.
Any thing else, is a piece of cake.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The check is NOT in the mail

You would think that after being away for 10 days, recharging my batteries and reconnecting with nature on a remarkable camping trip in the High Sierras, I would return to roundseventeen with some pleasantries and some funny, heartwarming anecdotes about friends and family.

But the truth is I don't traffic in predictability.
The other truth is, I don't do heartwarming.

Prior to leaving on my 'vacation' (I'm not sure camping can be called vacation) I was freelancing at an agency in Orange County. It was a great gig. I got to reconnect with old friends. And bask in the warmth of bitter, cynical colleagues who willingly shared their treasure trove of advertising war stories.

It was during one of these collaborative venting sessions that one former freelance copywriter, now gone staff, asked if I had ever been stiffed?

I went through the Accounts Receivable Ledger in my mind and was happy to tell him that it had only happened twice.

Once with a small agency in Santa Monica. They were having financial difficulties and were completely transparent with me. Also, they provided me with a lot of work during the financial meltdown of 2008 and were people I genuinely liked. So we came to an agreement and I wrote the incident off to the cost of doing business.

The other financial transgression I'm not so willing to forget. Even though it happened 7 years ago.

I received a call from a freelance art director in Florida. He had found my credentials on  and wanted to know if I would partner up with him for a job he was contracted to do for McCann Erikson in NY. He said we could do it all over the phone, with emails and the occasional Skype. We agreed to a price and got to the business of doing business.

But things got sticky right away.

He ignored every idea I put on the the table. Not most. Or virtually all. Every, as in 100%. He was only interested in developing his "concepts", if one were generous to call them that.

Now, I knew where my grits were being gravied. And since he called me, I obliged and did my best to make a silk purse from his sow's ear. By the way, I'm intentionally using a tired cliche because it seems like an appropriate way to describe this man's contrivances.


Him: "What if we did something with the Fun Police?"
Me: That sounds great. (thinking, I wish the Fun Police would shoot me)

Long story, mercifully shorter.

I sent him the invoice and got a check back about a month later. But it was only for 50% of what we had agreed. Then the ugliness ensued. Nasty emails. Heated phone calls. And threats of litigation.

I was never all that clear about words like "libel" and "slander", and though I had the truth on my side, I didn't want to risk going to court over a pittance. So I dropped the matter and tore up the column I had written for Adweek.

But I'm a self-admitted grudge-holder. I don't take kindly to being screwed over. So over the years I have made it a point to check in on this guy's linkedin profile. Just so that when he sees my name he starts wondering, "Why the hell is Siegel looking at my profile?"

And now I'm just about ready to put the matter to rest.
So last week I sent him an email...

Dear Tim,

Invoice #273 is now 7 years overdue. With a remaining balance of $2,000. I was going to ask you when I could expect a check? 

But here's the thing. 

I've retold this story about how you conduct business so many times and with so many advertising colleagues, including many high level Creative Directors that I've more than gotten $2,000 worth of laughs at your expense. 

In fact, this tale has proven so timeless, I feel like now I owe you money.

I'm more than happy to get out my checkbook. What is your current address? 


Rich Siegel

Monday, July 8, 2013

Good morning campers

It's good to be back. With my hands on the keyboard and a tankful of tales to be told.

Though where I had been sitting for the past 6 days, at a beautiful campsite, 7000 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains was not so bad either.

Take the photo above, for example.

I snapped it from our camping table.

This young fawn/doe/deer/buck/moose (I couldn't tell you the difference if I had a zoological picture book parked in front of me) strolled right into our campsite. It happened shortly after sunrise, while I was enjoying a concoction my wife had whipped up, a slice of propane-toasted bread, topped with pepperjack cheese, several salami nuggets and a fried egg.

Its mother, lurking to the left and out of frame, watched carefully to make sure I posed no threat. As long as he/she/it didn't come anywhere near my salami, we were good.

Many people still find it hard to believe that I pack up my gear, and willingly sleep on the ground, take showers from a plastic bag, and do all my personal business without the aid of running water -- hot, cold, or even grey.

The truth is these people just don't know me that well. And as my wife will attest, they're better off that way.

The fact is, camping -- the act of abandoning civilization and subjecting my mind and body to physical and mental discomfort -- is part of my nature.

Years ago, my father schlepped my brother and I, on a 7 day backpacking Death March through the backside of the Grand Tetons. We had 80 lbs. packs, enough freeze dried beef stroganoff to survive a nuclear holocaust, and a slew of meaningless topographic maps that we used to start illegal campfires.

Each night we had to hoist our packs, and anything that smelled remotely like food, over a high tree limb so as not to attract bears. And not just any bears, grizzlies.

Had we not made it out of there alive, I'm convinced the headline in the local Wyoming paper would have read, "Three NY Jews Complete Suicide Pact in Yellowstone Park."

One of these days I will sort through the plastic bins in my garage and fish out the photos from that near-fatal trip. And in an act of self-flagellation post pictures of myself sporting nothing but short shorts, rainbow suspenders, and $200 Asolo Hiking boots fashioned from the hard leather of a Nepalese Mountain Yak.

That post will go up the day after I can no longer find cynical things to write about the advertising business.