Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays

We're going to take a well deserved break here at roundseventeen until the beginning of the New Year. Until then, hope you have a Merry Christmas.

Or, if you are Finnish or descended from the people of Fennoscandia, hope you have a Happy Beiwe Festival. Which as many of you know is the celebration of fertility and sanity. In fact, many celebrants will paint their doorways with butter, so that Beiwe, the goddess of spring and sun, can eat and begin her journey to return.

Mmmmm, butter.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A little laugh

Reindeer, radar and urinating elves. They all come together in a spot we wrote and produced for Acura.

I know our current campaign for the Season of Reason Sales Event is dominating the airwaves. Seems everytime I turn on a football or basketball game I see the pompous stocking lady or the Christopher Walken sound-alike guy talking about his new quad-chambered, double-vented chestnut roaster.

It's just a shame this spot doesn't get the airplay it deserves. Particularly since it required us to spend a frigid dusk-til-dawn night in the mountains outside Wrightwood.

By the way, for those of you with a sharp eye and a penchant for HBO dramatic series, the midget/small person/dwarf (I don't know the politically correct terminology) also had a 'small' part in one of the latter episodes of Boardwalk Empire.

In that scene, dripping with irony, he complains about putting on a silly costume, selling out his dignity and entertaining the bigwigs for a few lousy greenbacks.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tis the season

Last week I wrote about some of the incredibly gauche Hanukkah displays popping up, this week we take on the Nativity scene. But not just any Nativity Scene.

You see the man on the right, just outside the manger? In Catalonia, he is known as The Caganer (in English, "The Pooper" or "The Shitter"). If you look even closer, you'll see the man's pants have been dropped and he is 'depositing his frankincense and mir' on the rock.

From what I've gathered on Wikipedia, the custom was started in Northern Spain by farmers as a way to celebrate not only the birth of the Saviour but also the rebirth of the soil, which needs fertilizer, which needs a man pooping in the yard.

If I wasn't so busy with work right now, I would book four tickets for my family to fly to Andora and travel around the countryside just to take in the various and colorful Caganer displays. My oldest daughter, a budding photographer, could take pictures of the Nativity Scenes and we could turn it all into a cool coffee table book.

Dear Random House....

Well, maybe next year.

You might be wondering what would it look like if The Caganer were not some decrepit old man, but someone more contemporary and famous. Oh I don't know, like our President...

OK, you might not be wondering that, but the good folks at have.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Endings

There was a time when the seedier side of life was kept to the back pages of the LA Weekly. Or cheap flyers passed out in Times Square or Las Vegas. But I guess the pundits are right: print is a dead medium.

Spotted this mobile outdoor board on Sepulveda Blvd. while driving my daughter to Hebrew School. I was shocked when I first saw it. Not that I'm any sort of prude mind you, I'm a bit of an absolutist when it comes to free speech. In fact, I find myself in agreement with the lawyers representing the freakish Fred Phelps and his cult of crazed Christians in the upcoming Supreme Court fight. It may be ugly. It may be hateful. But it is constitutional.

But back to the $100 full body massages.

Upon seeing this sign, I was so taken aback, I didn't do a double take, I did a Batman U-turn. And parked the car right next to the sign. This created two dilemmas.

First, my daughter, who is still in the last stage of childhood innocence, wanted an explanation of Massage Outcalls.

"You know honey, when someone rubs your back and soothes your muscles."

Followed by more inquiries about "Full Body", "Thai" and "Swedish."

Followed by the second, more difficult question, "If it's just a sign for someone to rub your shoulders for $100, why did you stop the car to take pictures of it?"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Just as I predicted

Over the summer, Red Lobster -- fine purveyors of ocean bottom food for over 50 years -- conducted a review for their advertising account. As expected many agencies took the bait and agreed to grovel at their feet, that is, participate in the review.

It wasn't for the opportunity to do breakthrough work in the sale of crustaceous products. Red Lobster has never, ever, ever produced a noteworthy campaign.

The winning agency in this review would have the opportunity to keep that long streak of mediocrity alive. (Oh and rake in a few million dollars for their trouble.)

Having been in the ad business for more than 20 years, I had a pretty good idea what the 'next' Red Lobster ad campaign would look like. In fact I wrote about it in August and agencyspy published my prognostication.

I don't know if you've been anywhere near a TV in the last three weeks, but true to my word, the lobster folks have rolled out the first offering in the new campaign, you know, the one that breaks with the traditions of the past, disrupts the marketplace and puts Red Lobster in a whole new mindset.

It's not up on youtube, but being a resourceful and diligent blogger, I have tracked it down for your viewing pleasure. And I use the word 'pleasure' with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Thankfully, some rabid shellfish fan has created a Facebook page for the new Red Lobster Surf & Turf Event.

With the exception of the man in khaki pants eating buttery lobster, my speculative script was spot on. If only my predictive powers were as accurate with NFL and NCAA basketball games, I could make a killing with a sports bookie, buy a beach house in Malibu and forget this sordid business of advertising.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tossed salad and scrambled eggs.

I hate what my daughters choose to watch on television. I suppose if I had boys, it would be a lot different. 24 hours a day of sports. Video games. And World's Dumbest Criminals Caught on Tape.

Damn you Y chromosome, damn you.

The latest crap appearing in my living room is the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. With that much silicone, plastic and nouveau riche affectations, it seems to me they ought to remove the word "Real" from the title.

In any case, one of the wives, Camille Grammar, is now the ex-wife of TV star Kelsey Grammar. I only show mild interest in her segments because I had met Kelsey a long time ago.

I was in a studio, located right above the Hollywood Athletic Club, scoring music to one of the first Nissan commercials I had ever written. It was exciting at the time. But then I was young and stupid and fascinated by all the buttons on the recording board.

When we were done the engineer invited me to stick around for a pay per view boxing match. He ordered some pizzas and said his friend, Kelsey Grammar, was coming over to catch the fight. It was a Friday night and even though I wasn't a big boxing fan, how often was I going to get the opportunity to hang out with Kelsey Grammar, a guy who was literally rolling in money from both CHEERS and FRASIER.

I'm sure I pictured him throwing around money like a drunken billionairre. "Hey kid, here's $1,000 bill, hand me a slice of that pepperoni pizza wouldya?"

The truth is, I had one half of the scenario correct.

When Kelsey showed up at the studio, he was four sheets to the wind. He was carrying two six packs of beer and he had a quart of whiskey. Half of which he'd already drank or spilled on his trousers.

We've all had those kind of nights. At least , I have. So I don't want to be too judgmental. But at the time, the letdown was palpable.

I didn't really care about the fight. And now, even less about Kelsey Grammar. So I packed up my briefcase, said my goodbyes and left.

Without the $1,000 bill.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do you like gladiators?

In the freelance world of Southern California advertising, I'm affectionately referred to as, "the busiest guy in town."

In years past, this might have bothered me. I would prefer to be known as the "the most talented writer in town" or "the smartest writer in town" or possibly, "the best looking writer in town." (I'm pretty sure Simon Mainwaring has a lock on that one. I'm tired of hearing agency people swooning over that handsome Australian guy. "Oh, we should hire him back.")

Enough about Simon, let's get back to me.

There's a reason why I'm always busy. It has a lot to do with the fact that I stupidly undercharge for my services. I know writers with half the experience and a quarter of the awards I have, charging almost twice what I charge. By all accounts, I should be raising my day rate, I just don't know how.

The other reason I stay busy --and the reason for the screenshot above -- is that I can be very resourceful.

My wife claims I spend way too much time on the Internet, but the truth is the Internet is a great fountain of potential job assignments. I scour job boards, sign up for Monster and Careerbuilder alerts and find jobs where other writers would never think of looking.

Of course, not every lead produces income. Sometimes I'll be sent job openings that just aren't appropriate.

The Orange County Gladiators are looking for a Mascot. I can muster up the energy. I can be friendly and outgoing. I can engage and entertain fans. And on some occasions, I'm even good with children. What I lack however is the ability to withstand high temperatures in a costume. My swarthy Mediterranean genetic make-up produces sweat the way an account planner produces unintelligible marketingese.

So I'm going to have to pass on this job.

It's all yours Simon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What does this button do?

Mosque bombings in Pakistan, Congressional stagnation, tinpot Korean midgets on the warpath, let's face it there's not a lot to smile about on lately.

All that changed last week when Rick "the Iceberg" Ehlert stopped a cruise ship in its tracks. Fueled by copious amounts of tequila, the 44-year old California resident somehow managed to get past the Authorized Personnel Only Door and successfully dropped the anchor of the MS Ryndam.

BTW, I can only assume his poison of choice was tequila. These type of shenanigans are rarely induced by beer or wine. "I say, this Cabernet has a delicate fruity quality and quite a memorable finish. Let's go to the upper deck and release the 2 ton anchor."

I notched some pretty abhorrent behavior myself while under the influence.

I've driven when I shouldn't have driven. I've drunk-dialed ex-girlfriends. Once, I even put myself in harm's way, getting between two German tourists and a redneck looking for a bar fight cause, "they need to speak 'Merican." (Me? Standing up for Germans. I must have been really drunk.)

I even recall an incident from a long, long time ago, when my buddy Jim and I got it in our heads that we should go out on Santa Monica Blvd and harpoon an inflatable 3-dimensional Orca Whale featured on an outdoor board for Sea World. There we stood at 3 AM, hurling darts at this inanimate leviathan. Only to discover later that the vinyl whale was not inflatable and was actually filled with styrofoam peanuts.

So in that spirit of been there, done that, let's lift a glass and toast Mr. Ehlert. You have set a new standard in drunken irresponsible behavior. I eagerly await your next stunt.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jew gotta be kidding

We are in the thick of the season. And when I say season, of course I am referring to the Chanukkah season. As evidenced by this rather over-the-top decorating extravaganza spotted on Overland Ave.

Maybe it's the generational gap talking here, but when I was a kid, we had a simple menorrah and that sufficed. It stood in stark contrast to the lights, the trees, the wreaths, the ornate nativity scenes and the plastic Santas on the lawns of my mostly Roman Catholic neighborhood. And I was fine with that.

There was something dignified about treating a religious holiday with some understated reverence.

Years ago, before children, mortgages and ear hair, my wife and I tooled around Spain and Portugal. One of the most beautiful things we saw was a synagogue built in the 1500's. It was nothing more than a simple white room --sort of the Hebraic predecessor of the Apple Store -- delicately adorned with one simple row of deep ocean blue tile that rimmed the ceiling. It might have been the most incredible building on the entire Iberian Peninsula.

Not that my people are beyond hideous design and ostentation.

If you've ever been inside a Judaica store, you know from which I speak -- monstrous menorrahs, krass kiddish cups and flashy door mezzuzahs with motion detectors. I'm pretty sure it all violates the 11th Commandment brought down by Moses. "Thou shalt not fashion silver and gold into crap."

I'm just thankful that when my kids were smaller there weren't these elaborate displays for sale. Because I know my daughters would have talked me into the giant dreidel-spinning Hanukkah bear. And despite the running, swimming and various other aerobic activities, I know I still don't have the lung capacity to inflate one of those.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mmmmmm, mcribby

Seems everywhere I turn, people are talking about the return of the McRib Sandwich. Talk about clueless? I didn't even know it was gone.

But I do know folks are excited. I see commercials for the McRib. Outdoor boards for the McRib. There's even a Facebook page for McRib devotees.

I'm no food snob.

I love a good dive for Mexican or Thai food. And when we travel abroad, there's nothing I enjoy more than some local cuisine sold by a street vendor. But I generally resist eating at any establishment that has its own indoor playground. And/or a pervy clown.

Maybe the McRib merits all the attention its getting. I'll never know. I've never had one. And like the meat in the McRib it's destined to remain a mystery to me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My goodfellas

One of the things I miss living in Southern California is the mob. I'm sure the Mafia is out here, it's just that I don't see it and I don't have any connection to it.

That's probably a good thing.

The same was not true when I lived in NY. When we lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, my father had all kinds of mob connections. They literally lived in our apartment building. These were not the $2,000 suit-wearing made men of movie fame. These were low level guys, working stiffs, who were probably quite familiar with the ins-and-outs of nearby Kennedy and La Guardia airports.

I remember the Tuesday Night poker games in our dining room. 3 Jews and 3 Italian guys, smoking a ton of cigarettes, knocking down cheap scotch, tossing dollar bills on the table, and enjoying a night away from the wives.

It didn't make sense to me then. It makes a lot of sense to me now.

I bring this up because the other day I was out running and heard an old Todd Rundgren song on my iPod. It was the song we used to announce last call at the bar I worked at in college. (Funny how music and odors can bring back such strong memories).

I loved bartending in college.

It paid for tuition and put me closest to the two things I loved most: liquor and women. And of course, I never would've had that job had it not been for my dad and his "friends." You see, he knew the two brothers who owned the bar, Sal and Tony. Or Frankie and Paulie. Or, Sonny and Fredo. I've long since forgotten their names.

I only remember my father telling me these guys were connected (always with a small 'c') and that I shouldn't screw up. Fact is, I couldn't have screwed if I tried. These guys were the most easygoing bosses I ever had. They let us eat. They let us drink. They let us goof off. It was almost as if they set up this legitimate business and didn't care whether it made money or not.

It didn't make sense to me then. It makes a lot of sense to me now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hello, Cleveland.

This landed in my mac account mailbox the other day. Surprising not only because my mac account usually does a good job of sorting out the spam, but also because I had no idea they had finally completed construction on the Kris Kringle Inventionasium.

Many of you may be surprised that there is a Ritz Carlton in Cleveland. After all, you don't expect to find one of the world's finest 5 star hotels located in the heart of America's Rust Belt.

This came as no surprise to me.

In fact, not long ago I had the "pleasure" of staying at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, Michigan where the factories may be closed but the falaffels' as high as an elephant's eye. And like its counterparts in the more sophisticated cities, like New York and San Francisco, this Ritz had all the accoutrements one might expect from such a storied brand. There was free soap in the bathroom. Free slippers in the closet. They even had color TV.

Sadly however, this promotion piece came to us too late and we will not be able to take advantage of the Winter Wonderland Wishes Package in Cleveland.

We've already scheduled our Christmas vacation in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Our ally, Hu Flung Pu."

(OK, I know I'm getting a lot of mileage out of this photo, but it's Monday I'm still hungover from a tryptophan high that lasted all weekend. And so with that I give you a reprint of a short column published in the

In a recent interview, Sarah Palin stated, "we gotta stand with our North Korean allies." Clearly this potential GOP Presidential candidate needs to brush up on geopolitics. I might suggest some simple mnemonics.

North Korea -- Naughty

North Korea -- Not Friends

Or, North Korea -- No

But I think this grizzly mamma might feel more comfortable with simple visual graphics. If questioned, she could use the same technique to answer any questions about our involvement in Vietnam.

(you can also see it here:

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Third Coming

About two months ago I wrote about my adventure in the high desert and how I stumbled upon this haunting painting at a small Mexican bodega in Littlerock, CA. Weeks later I wrote about it again. Unable to put the painting of my head, I returned to Mica's (home of the high desert pork burrito) to actually purchase the painting. I gave it to an old friend thinking that would be the end of the story.

It wasn't.

Last week while working on some promos for The Early Show, I took a little break from the action and tried to look up an old high school buddy on Facebook. He didn't actually go to my high school, but I met him when I started working at the Spring Valley Jack in the Box, the first JIB ever built on the east coast.

Mark Fishman and I grew tight. He was a funny, scrappy, incredibly-intelligent kid who was way beyond his 16 years of age. When he wasn't showing me how to grill up Jumbo Jacks and Bonus Jacks, Mark was always vigorously rolling doobies. Smoking pot on the roof of Jack in the Box at 3 in the morning was always the highlight of the graveyard shift.

Our friendship lasted through college as well.

I went to Syracuse University to "study" mass communications, he went to the University of Buffalo to study civil engineering. We lost touch after that. I would do anything to reconnect with my old Jackster buddy.

But Facebook doesn't seem to be of any help.

I've scoured. I've turned over new leads. I've even managed to find other folks who used to work at the Box. No Mark Fishman. But guess what I did find? To my utter amazement and through pure randomness, out of the 500 million profiles on Facebook, I happen to come across this one...

My heart literally skipped a beat. From the ether, this eerie image of the thrice-crufied Christ has paid me one more unexpected visit. I'm a natural born skeptic so I'm not about to take up the sacrament, but I am willing to put this in writing; if this image crosses my doorstep one more time, roundseventeen will cease to exist and I'll be chanting the rosary at the nearest seminary.

Who knows, maybe that's where I'll find Mark Fishman?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Call of Duty: Dog Ops

In 1982, a scientist on vacation in the Caribbean happened upon an abandoned rum distillery. This is shocking on several levels.

I wasn't aware scientists take vacations. Much less, in the Caribbean. I think of the Caribbean as a haven for hedonistic Long Island gumbas seeking a respite from the daily grind of organized crime.

Furthermore, having spent some time on Anguilla, I can see no reason why a rum distillery would be abandoned. There is no way supply could ever exceed the demand.

Nevertheless, like any good scientist, he collected a sample of dirt, brought it home and discovered a rare actinomycete, Sacchaaropolyspora spinosa. From this odd bacterium he was able to derive spinosad.

Spinosad, as it turns out, is a highly effective pesticide that works particularly well on blood-sucking insects. (It may very well be the answer to the country's growing bed-bug problem.)

If you own a dog you need to know about spinosad.

You see, we've tried all those over the counter methods of flea eradication: the collars, the drops, the homeopathic crap you sprinkle in the dog's food. (In my world homeopathic is a synonym for useless. I like chemicals that need FDA approval.)

In any case, none of it seemed to work. Moreover, it's expensive as hell. So it leaves you with this sinking feeling, not unlike the drug user who drops $100 for a bag of cornstarch and baking powder.

With my legs looking like I'd been abused in some North Vietnamese prison camp, I decided to increase my level of firepower. I called the vet and got hold of some Comfortis, a prescription-grade level medicine containing the magical spinosad.

I chopped up the pill and gave Nellie an early dinner. I watched her lap up every speck of the beef-flavored flea-killing concoction. The vet said the medicine works fast and kills fleas within half an hour. Those might have been the longest 30 minutes in my life.

Unable to contain my de-flea glee, I put on my running shoes and knocked out three miles. When I returned I put on my magnifying glasses for a canine inspection. And there under Nellie's thick coat, I found two fleas. Only this time they did not, and could not, jump from my pinchy fingers. They were already dead.

For the following three days I removed flea carcases (carcii) and deposited their unmoving bodies in the toilet. Every new find put a broad smile on my face. There may be greater joys in life. But right now, I can't think of many.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lucy Bouls

So the other day, my daughter was home because there were Parent Teacher Conferences. I decided to take her to the S&W Cafe in Culver City. We have been going there for close to 20 years. In fact, it used to be known as Sam & Woody's. Back then, the cafe was only half the size it is now.

And in a significant demographic change, the S&W used to be quite the lesbian hangout. On a typical Sunday morning, I was the only male in the place. Now that I think about it, a lot like my house.

While the clientele has changed, the operation at Sam and Woody's hasn't. They still don't take credit cards. They don't take guff. And they don't take reservations. You simply put your name and the number of guests on a list and wait until one of the heavily-tattooed girls calls for you.

This old-school, analog system works well. It also never fails to bring out the 14-year old boy in me. I didn't do it that day, because my daughter was with me, but I have on many occasion added to the list a name that screams out for being screamed out.

"Is there a Mike Rotch here? Table for Mike Rotch. Last call for Mike Rotch."

I know that's juvenile, asinine and sophomoric, but I never made any pretense of being anything but that. Some would say (like many copywriters) I've built an entire career around it.

Maybe you're planning a trip to the S&W cafe.
Maybe you'd like to write a funny name on a sign in sheet.
Maybe you should visit, scroll through the Extras section and try out the Scaminator 3000.

And don't forget, the book makes an excellent stocking stuffer for the 14-year old in your house.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ninja, my ass

This video has been making the rounds in the advertising circle lately. I love it because it so accurately skewers our business.

The digital inmates have taken over the asylum. I'll give you a good example. And try not to burn any bridges in the process.

At the end of 2009, a not-so-good year for the self-employed freelancer, I thought about trading in my mercenary status for an assigned parking space. A local digital shop was looking for an Executive Creative Director and they wanted someone who had some big brand experience and had produced a lot of award-winning work. These opportunities don't come around every day, so I threw my hat in the ring.

I didn't get the job. And now, close to a year after interviewing with the agency, neither has anybody else. They still have not hired an ECD.

I suspect other factors may be at work here. Maybe I should have packed another tin of Altoids. Or maybe my aluminum chlorate anti-perspirant wasn't firing on all cylinders that day. But my suspicion is that the agency brass had not seen enough web banners in my portfolio.

Why do I say that? Because these days, as the video implies, the production of web banners, and/or anything web-related, seems to be not only an important criteria in any hiring situation, but the only criteria in a hiring situation.

Is that the whiff of sour grapes in the air?

It's not. I'm actually happy I wasn't offered that job. I don't know how eager I am to fly all over the country, sit in client meetings or go to semantic warfare with 27-year old planners who think they have great insight into the human condition (hint: most of them don't.)

Besides, 2010 was an exceptionally busy (good) year. I've been involved with a lot of cool projects and worked with Creative Directors who recognize that ideas have greater value than the medium in which they are produced.

And to those who don't recognize that fundamental truth, I share the same sentiment of the little bear in stripes: Fark You.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spark it up

One of the cardinal rules of marketing is "know thy audience." So when it comes to roundseventeen and the handful of readers who bother to stop by everyday (OK, 4 days a week), I believe I know mine.

Suffice to say, that most of you are probably against capital punishment. Despite the recent moderation of my politics, this is where you and I will have to agree to disagree.

You see, I am FOR capital punishment. In a big, big way. And I'm not talking that Old Testament capital punishment. Those people were ready to stone people to death for having sex on a Saturday or eating a cheeseburger.

I'm talking about the rational, logical acknowledgment that there are human beings who are not fit to live among human beings. And frankly, we should not let them live among human beings. We need to put them out of our misery.

Case in point: the recent conviction of home invasion robber/kidnapper/rapist/murderer Steven Hayes of Connecticut. He and his accomplice Joshua Komisarjevsky burst into a home, tied two teenage girls to a bed, raped their mother, then set the house on fire, killing all three.

A jury rightly sentenced Mr. Hayes to death. I know some of you will have a problem with state-sponsored death. I don't. Perhaps it's because I am a father with two teenage daughters of my own that this case has struck such a chord.

The truth is, given the opportunity, I would gladly hop on a redeye flight, rent a car, drive to the McDougall-Walker Correctional Facility and pull the switch that would send 50,000 volts through that monster's worthless body.

But I would bring a friend. An electrician. And have him skillfully reconfibulate the flik-flaks on Old Sparky. So that I could administer those 50,000 death-inducing volts, 100 painful jolts at a time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Please spare me

So I'm at the Lexus dealership the other day to drop off my car for a service and I spot this bozo's car in the lot. ("But wait Rich didn't you just buy a new car? Why is it in for a service?" Please, I'm trying to be mellow and zen and not get into any of that.)

I generally abhor people who take the time and money to have a license plate engraved with their own vanity message. If this guy were really thankful for the Lord blessing him with an LS 460 he should've taken the $89 he spent for the vanity plate and donated it to St. Judes.

The hypocrisy is only superseded by the narcissism.

Does this blowhard literally believe the big Sky Captain had anything to do with putting him behind the wheel of this beautiful luxury sedan? Because I guarantee you that on the same day he was praying for a big, new shiny car, little children with leukemia were praying for a new treatment, women in Iran were praying not to be whipped with morality sticks, and families in Africa were praying for their next meal.

But the good Lord saw fit to ignore the prayers of those needy people and answer those of Mr. I-Need-a-GPS-System-to-avoid-traffic-on Beverly-Glen.

Is that the way it works?

The Lord has time for people who want cars, football teams who want victories and actresses who want meaningless trophies, but no time for people in true despair. If so, not only are you a Dick, Mr. LS 460 owner, your Lord --who seems to need endless praise and gratitude-- is an even bigger Dick.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Lovernator

Last week, me and my fellow Californians elected Jerry Brown to be the next governor. Jerry was hardly an enthusiastic choice. He was more the proverbial lesser of two evils. I'm no fan of his special ties to big labor unions who stand in the way of real reform.

But, I'm an even lesser fan of Meg Whitman and other greedy corporate billionaires who take from the till and line their pockets while telling employees there's no money for raises or promotions or anything else that might improve morale.

There's something else at work here. The crazy world of 6 degrees of separation. You see, it turns out the entire trajectory of my life was changed by Jerry Brown, more specifically Jerry Brown's family.

A little more than twenty years ago, some colleagues at an ad agency wanted to set me up on a blind date with a friend of theirs. Trying to move past since the recent passing of my father I agreed.

But a week before that blind date was to happen, a buddy of mine said he knew about a big bash in the Hollywood Hills. It was at some mansion. The party was being thrown by Jerry Brown's nephew while his parents were out of town.

I went. And by sheer coincidence, so did the woman who was to be my blind date the following week. So instead of strained small talk over spaghetti bolognese, we met, with about 300 other people, at a wild summer soiree in a home that belonged to the sister of our future governor.

Today I share a bed, a family and a life with that woman. And we both recall the night so vividly. Like the cliche, it was love at first sight.

21 years later, we still love each other. But now that love has its own rhythm and cadence. And often sounds like this, "Do you have to put the toilet paper roll on upside down?" Or, "I don't like the way you breathe, do you have to breathe like that?"

Monday, November 8, 2010

From the lucrative world of publishing

(reprinted from this Month's issue of Brief magazine from Promax.)

I live with my wife, two teenage daughters, a retriever mix named Nellie and two goldfish, who for the purposes of this article, I will assume are also female. As the lone Y chromosome carrier in the household, it’s my job to take out the garbage. If I don’t take the cans down to the curb, the cans simply do not get down to the curb.

You may be asking what any of this has to do with TV, broadcasting, advertising or promos. But, I suspect those of you in creative roles can spot the stretched metaphor from a mile away. As a copywriter with more than 20 years experience, I’ve gotten quite accustomed to taking out the trash. And by that I mean the creative brief.

I still make my living writing for ad agencies, clients, cable networks, digital boutiques, etc., so I’ve got to tread lightly here. I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me and keeps my fridge stocked with Blue Moon.

But the truth is, most creative briefs I see are neither creative nor brief.

An agency planner once told me, “You can’t expect the kind of creative strategic brilliance like the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign on every brief.”

Is that so? I’ll have to employ that method of managed expectations on my next creative presentation, “You can’t expect great creative on every assignment. Here’s my invoice.”

What about brevity?

Years ago, a dozen or so freelance teams were assembled to rebrand a major car manufacturer. It was, we were told, to be a milestone campaign. A clean break from the past. A blank slate on which we would be free to rewrite automotive and advertising history. What creative person would not be excited by that kind of opportunity?

“As soon as we receive your signed NDA,” said the agency creative administrator, “we’ll email you the 109-page briefing document.” She was not kidding. It looked like the blueprint for an Iranian nuclear facility. There was more clarity to the Pentagon’s plan for victory in Afghanistan.

The best brief I ever got wasn’t a brief at all. It was just a guttural insight from Lee Clow, who said, “People think of TV as a sanctuary.” From that, the ABC “Yellow” campaign was born.

I don’t know how to solve the garbage in/garbage out phenomena. But I do know if we want the work to get better, the briefs have to get better. They have to get simpler. Shorter. More visceral. And they have to stop rehashing the same ideas over and over and over again.

That reminds me, I have to take out the recyclables.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Born every minute

I did something last week that I hadn't done in a good seven years --no, it has nothing to do with the unwanted hair in my ears -- I bought a new car. OK, not a new car. Only suckers buy new cars. I bought a Certified Pre-Owned Car.

To be able to swing that I had to trade in my old car, the one you see pictured above. Upon seeing my old Lexus for the first time, the dealer went into great detail to describe his disappointment with the vehicle.

"Wow, this isn't at all like you told me over the phone. It's pretty ratty. The leather's all beat up, there's lots of scratches and dings, the car definitely looks a lot older. I don't even know if I can sell this rust-bucket." (He didn't actually say rust-bucket, I just like that phrase.)

You can imagine how surprised I was to see the car on their internet listings the following day.
You can imagine how even more surprised I was to hear it described as, "super-sharp, well maintained quality luxury automobile." And sporting a price that was well above what I got for it.

The dealer is probably is on the lot as we speak. Telling a prospective buyer that this creampuff was driven once a week to church by a little old lady from Pasadena.

It kills me to know I'm that little old lady.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The new ink cartridges are here

Try as I might, I cannot get over last week's attempted bombing of two Jewish Synagogues in Chicago by some crazed Yemenis. CNN reported that one of the temples was dedicated to serving the lesbian and gay community, hence the photo of Rosie O'Donnell.

I know Rosie is not Jewish but when you type the word 'Lesbian' into Google Search, the result is a lot of pornography. It's a Sunday morning, my daughters are running around the house and I can't be pouring through hundreds of shots of sapphic erotica, titillating as that may be.

Actually, if I'm being honest and brutally candid, and when am I not, lesbian porn does little for me. I know some men are into it, I'm not. Even though I profess to have a healthy imagination, when I see two women satisfying each other I can't help feeling like I've been left out of the equation. If anything, I'd enjoy watching two naked women wrestling. Then, at least, I could fantasize that they were fighting over me.

I seem to have gotten a little off track.

Back to the bombing.

I can't imagine life in Yemen is any picnic. Between the heat, the sand, the illiteracy and the camel shit which stretches out as far as the eye can see, it's no wonder Yemenis are jumping on boats to skip across the Sea of Aden for some well-needed R&R in nearby Somalia.

What I don't understand is how a bunch of k.d. lang-loving, lattke-making yuppies from Ravenswood, Illinois have anything to do with the sad state of affairs in Yemen. I'll grant you these women have a misguided love for deep dish pizza --for that matter so does everybody else west of Trenton, NJ -- but that is not a crime worthy of an inkjet toner full of plastic explosives.

Of course through it all you have to admire the Jewish sense of humor in the face of such terror.

When asked about the possibility of opening the ill-fated package, Congregation Beth El Binah President Diane Litke remarked, "we get our office supplies from Office Depot, not Yemen."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Here comes the Crescendo

In case you missed it, last Thursday's post was published in the Huffington Post. You can read it here on roundseventeen or you can go to the link I've provided:

I think you should read it there. Somehow it feels much more legitimate when it's in the company of real writers and journalists.

Now on those rare occasions when the Huffington Post or some other publication decides to publish what I've written, I like to reward myself with a day off. Today is one of those days. So I leave you with this photo I stumbled across in a column about "The 10 Most Unintentional Sexy Album Covers Ever Produced."

Take it away Ms. Gruebbersolvik.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Absentia

Next Tuesday, this will be you. Not in the metaphorical Christine O'Donnell, I'm-you-but-I'm -really-not-you, hocus-pocus kind of way. I mean this will literally be you.

Getting up early before work, skipping breakfast so you can get to the polling place, and standing on an excruciating long line, wedged between a 19-year old woman who won't(correction: can't) get off her new Droid phone and a 58-year old plumber who has already smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes before 8:30 AM and has the clothing stench to prove it.

The line will move slow. Achingly slow. So slow you'll be thinking about a thousand other things you'd rather be doing. Having your teeth cleaned with a dull scraping tool will be near the top of that list.

And throughout it all, you'll be trying to keep your mind straight about your selections. Oh sure, governor, senator, district attorney, those are the easy ones. No, you'll be fiddling around with the very confusing Propositions which seem to be written by the birthers of democracy -- the Greeks.

"Let's see, Prop 63, repealing the ban that overturns an earlier measure that allows oil companies to contest the local governments ability to pass legislation regarding the imposition and/or the elimination of additional taxes per the earlier-passed Proposition 62."

But it's all worthwhile, right?

My wife contends, "I'll stand in a line a mile long just to cancel out your vote." Of course, now with my mixed about Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Coffee Partiers, Greens and Reds, she has no idea how I'm voting.

Actually, I should use the past tense, because the truth is I've already voted. Through the magic of absentee balloting I've already exercised my civic responsibility. I did it at home, in my comfy sweat pants, and with all the pertinent research necessary to make an informed decision at my beck and call.

I'm a firm believer in absentee balloting. In fact I wish they'd extend the concept of not having to show up and mailing it in to include 'absentee working', 'absentee Department of Motor Vehicle registration', and, as I acquaint myself with the painful life as a father of two teenage daughters, 'absentee parenting'.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Unhappy Horse

The universe works in very, very strange ways.

Yesterday I wrote about my dad's ill-fated dairy farm in upstate NY. Of course the farm wasn't his only investment. He also bought a limited partnership in a shopping mall in Shelton, Connecticut.

And that's where today's post takes us.
Oddly enough, it too involves farm animals.

Pictured above is Marian Weigel. He was arrested recently in Shelton. Apparently Mr. Weigel's neighbor had a horse that was scared by a loud noise. And in a generous act of animal husbandry, he went over to comfort that horse and inadvertently stuck his fingers in the horse's vagina.

When told of her son's amorous adventure with the horse, Marian's 83-year old mother replied, "what's the matter with you, you couldn't find a nice chicken?"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Yesterday, my good friend Laura told me she had received a catalogue in the mail from some Heifer organization. She's an art director so she gets weird stuff from any company with a computer and a laser color printer.

Heifer is not a word you hear everyday. And as Laura reminded me it's not a word any woman wants to hear at all.

But it conjured up an old memory that quite frankly I hadn't thought about for a long, long time.

Years ago, my dad and a friend went in on a dairy farm in upstate NY, near Sarasota Springs. Though a skilled CPA, he had terrible luck picking investments. My dad was the anti-Warren Buffet. When he called me to tell he bought the farm I thought my inheritance had literally bought the farm.

A Bronx-born tough guy who could handle himself on the streets, he didn't know the difference between a Holstein and a Jersey. In fact if you had asked him, I'm pretty sure he'd tell you a Jersey Cow came from Newark.

Nevertheless the dairy farm served its purpose. As my dad explained, it was a tax shelter. A device to write off additional income expenses. So the more expenses he could write off as a loss, the better.

I never mastered the confusing terminology and practices of modern accounting, but if losing money was good thing, my dad's ill-fated dairy farm was a raging success.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Home Field Advantage

More specifically at 1:24 on the video, the yellow box behind the old red Datsun was home for close to 6 years.
And actually if I'm to be completely accurate, that was just one of my offices.
I've officially done three stints at Chiat/Day (I prefer the old nomenclature) in the course of the last 20 years. And I had several offices throughout the 'city'.

I loved working in this building, but not for the obvious reasons.

Yes the place is full of architectural eye candy but to a luddite like myself that wears off after a week. Besides, there isn't enough recycled cardboard furniture or post-modern art in the world to take the sting out of a numbskull client rejecting the career-changing brilliance of one of your ideas.

No, my love for this office was purely pragmatic.

It's located 1/2 mile from my brother's condo complex where I used to swim at lunchtime.
It has its own cafe with a wide selection of high protein foods.
Best of all, it's only 3.5 miles from my house in Culver City, enabling me to refrain from public restrooms and providing me a convenient alternative option when it became necessary to "let the brown bear out of the cage."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A death on Wall Street

A couple of weeks ago it was reported that the man who bought the Segway company died after he fell off a cliff on his Segway. Naturally this news spread like wildfire all over the internet because it was, well, funny.

The man's death might have been ironic, but it wasn't deserving.

Unlike the case of the Angeleno who, while on oxygen therapy (most likely at taxpayer expense) could not go without a cigarette. The lit coffin nail ignited the oxygen tank causing a fire at his downtown Wall Street apartment, which happened to be a tax-funded halfway house for people trying to get back on their feet.

The resulting fire made this cigarette his last cigarette.
It also made this man's Darwinian demise darkly humorous. But unlike the British cliff diver, I would argue this nicotine-addicted cretin had it coming to him.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Craig's Listless

There was a time when I swore by Craig's List. I'd put up a photo of something I was selling, crank out some snappy copy, hit the submit button and within seconds, literally seconds, my phone would start ringing.

I could never attribute that kind of success to my photography skills.
Nor could I attribute it to stellar copy I might have written, my sagging career as a copywriter would attest to that.
So clearly, the power of Craig's List is Craig's List.

But not anymore. Last week I advertised this brand new, box-sealed, 8G Apple iPod Touch at the ridiculously low price of $150. They retail for $200. And my phone did not ring once. There was an unidentified caller from the 818 area code but that turned out to be a salesman for vinyl replacement windows.

You may be wondering why I'm selling a new iPod or why I don't just return it to the apple store for a refund? Actually you're probably not wondering either of those two things because you've got more important things on your mind.

Well, the iPod was free with the purchase of a new desktop computer. And coming from a family that would hoard little packets of sweet sauce from every visit to a Chinese restaurant, I wasn't about to turn down a free iPod. But, like the packets of Chinese sweet sauce, I've got more iPods than I know what to do with.

So, in recognition of your loyal readership, I'm offering this snazzy piece of electronic wizardry to the first person that offers me $100. I know, I know, why don't I just give the iPod away for free?

Because even though we fight in the same weight class, I'm not Oprah.
That's why.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Missed the shot

We had our nephew Jack visit for the weekend. Naturally, a trip to the Los Angeles Zoo was in order. As we passed by the large game, gorillas, hippos, giraffes, the only animals a healthy
2- year old boy would be interested in, I was reminded of poor career choice I had made a long, long time ago.

Unlike the kids today who graduate from some hot shot ad school on Sunday and expect to be a Creative Director by Thursday, I came through the ranks with this odd notion of paying one's dues. That meant crappy jobs at crappy agencies working for crappy bosses who were all too happy to shovel the crappy assignments to crappy know-nothing kids.

One of those crappy jobs was at Bear Advertising. Or as one of the more jaded senior guys with one foot already out the door told me, "Welcome to Barely Advertising." And he was right. This was an agency that had a plethora of fishing and hunting equipment accounts. I didn't come from a fishing and hunting background but I was eager (read stupid) and willing to learn.

One of the first things I learned was that most the rifle advertising produced at Barely Advertising looked like the photo above. A hot chick holding a large calibre weapon standing over a recently dead animal. It was a formula that worked well for them and I was expected to follow that formula.

The account executive who was showing me the ropes also offered to show me something I hadn't expected. He brought me to the basement of Barely Advertising and invited me to pore through the files kept in ancient green steel file cases. There, he showed me the extra pictures from the photo shoots. The pictures that didn't make it into the ads. There was the hot model and the large rifle but the dead animal was missing. And so were the clothes on the model.

Following my first week at Barely Advertising I decided I'd better acquaint myself with the intricacies of the hunting and fishing world. So I booked myself a 4-hour fishing expedition on a party boat leaving Malibu that Saturday. It was actually fun. And informative. And altogether pleasant except for the communal gutting station at the back of the boat. That was quite nasty.

Eager to demonstrate my enthusiasm, that Monday morning I told the owners of the agency of my weekend adventure. They snickered and dismissed my outing in the most shocking manner, "A party boat in Malibu?" they said, "that's not fishing, that's n*gg*r fishing."

Really? I thought, stunned beyond belief.

I wondered how the bosses were going to react when I had to request that Friday off for Rosh Hoshanah. But I didn't have to wonder too long.

Because Tuesday I didn't show up for work.
Nor did I show up on Wednesday.
Or any other day after that.

Now in retropsect, I wish I had handled it differently. I would've handed the boss a letter. He would've opened it in my presence and said, "what's this?"

"That's my resignation and two weeks notice." I would've replied.

"But the paper is blank."

"That's right, "I would've said, "I didn't think white trash like yourself were worth the effort. That's how we cheap Jews roll."

Damn you retrospect, damn you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The case against Flash

As my wife will tell you, I bring a scary commitment to my life as a professional curmudgeon. I've written letters to CEO's about anything and everything. From poor customer service to shoddy product design. Today I had a phone chat with my fishmonger about the less-than-satisfactory cut of my salmon steaks.

While I like to think I do a damn fine job with my letter writing, the sad truth is I will never reach the pop culture hero status as the nameless fellow who flew Continental airlines and occupied Seat 29E.

If you've never read about his exploits, I urge you take the time and read of his ordeal (see the link above). In the history of airline complaint letters, his soars above all the rest. Not only is his command of the English language stunning, yet simple, he propels the reader further into his woe with sparse, yet telling, line drawings.

At the end of this masterpiece I felt as if I had taken the flight with Seat 29E. As if I were on the other side of the fuselage in Seat 29B.

As I was tracking down the link to the pdf of of this letter, I came across something disturbing. A flash video rendition of the letter, that while high on gimmickry and visual stimulation, does nothing, in fact weakens the purity and rage of the original complaint.

See for yourself at:

It amply demonstrates how technology can sap the art out of something so pure and powerful. And it symbolizes the philosophical battle between the new practitioners of media and old school people like myself.

If I were the Seat 29E guy and I saw this Flash piece of trash, I'd be really mad.
In fact, I'd be tempted to write a letter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Not green with envy

One of the great things about working at a place like Chiat/Day is the opportunity to encounter truly talented people. Artistic people whose insight and ability to tap into the human condition far exceed the confines of advertising.

Early in my career, I met Hillary Jordan, an exceptional writer who left advertising to become a full time novelist. Her book Mudbound has won several awards and earned highly critical acclaim.

Another novelist to have passed through the halls of Chiat is Kathy Hepinstall. She has three published books. Not only am I thoroughly impressed with the quantity of her writing, the quality is not bad either. Kathy is a real writer. She uses complex sentences, metaphors, similes, even subtext. You'd be hard-pressed to look at anything I've written and find subtext.

And of course there's April Winchell, who has just published her hilarious book Regretsy. While her book doesn't stand as any great literary achievement it does remind me how much funnier she is than me.

Suffice to say, all this success has left me feeling quite jealous.

But then there's Nigel Williams. I worked alongside Nigel a long time ago. He was an Art Director at the time. But now he has written a book. You may recognize him from the TV infommercials hawking his book The Green Millionaire.

The website describes the book as a bestseller which strikes me as ironic since he gives the book away for free. And therein lies the catch. I did a little digging and discovered the Green Millionaire is nothing more than a come-on designed to put consumers on the hook for a magazine subscription they cannot cancel.

Currently it's in the allegation stage and in the hands of the courts and the Better Business Bureau. Nevertheless it is a little upsetting, because I like to think of Nigel as a decent guy and not someone who would scam his way to wealth.

Professional envy can have its ups and downs. I may never write anything meaningful or worthwhile, but at least I'll have shared some laughs along the way. And in the morning I can wake up and look myself in the mirror.

I won't like what I see, but that's more about what I'm eating not what I'm writing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Found My Inner Magellan

As many readers of roundseventeen know I am obsessed with mathematics. At one time in my life I even considered a career in Math. Perhaps as an engineer. Or as a math teacher. Or both.
But, as irony would have it, there's no money in Math. The numbers simply didn't work out. So I ditched Calculus and Education for a field in which I could really make a difference in the world -- Advertising.

Nevertheless, I still love math (as does my oldest daughter who despite being in 9th grade is studying 10th grade honors Geometry. You'll have to excuse my kvelling.)

Today, as logged my latest 3 mile run into my journal, it occurred to me that I have been running steadily for the last 26 years. As many of my neighbors can attest, I am faithful to the discipline. I'm often stopped at the supermarket by complete strangers, "Hey you're that mustachioed guy I always see running in Culver City."

26 years equals a lot of miles. How many, I thought.

Here's how it breaks out: I average 3 miles a day, 6 days a week. Mind you when I was training for marathons or triathlons, I logged considerably more miles. But then I also have to subtract miles for vacations, illness, business travel or days I was simply to hung over to slip into my Dolphin running shorts (never a pretty picture).

18 miles a week X 52 weeks a year = 936 miles per year.
936 miles per year X 26 years = 24, 336 miles.

The circumference of the Earth is 24,901 miles. Which means in approximately 6 more months I will have circled the planet.

In 1522, Ferdinand Magellan completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth. It took him 3 years to complete the journey. And actually, according to Wikipedia, he was killed in the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines and never literally accomplished the task.

So barring any unforeseen tragedy, I will achieve what Magellan could not.
And I'm not on a boat.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Brett Favre, Brett Favre, Brett Favre

Who is that guy in the pickup truck delivering an oh-so-natural testimonial about his Real. Comfortable. Jeans.?

If you're a football fan, you know it's Brett Favre, the should've-retired-a-year ago quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. But if you didn't recognize the grizzled, greying 40-year old, well the folks who put this lame excuse for a commercial together are more than happy to identify the geezer.

Not only is Brett willing to shill on behalf of Wrangler he's given them an autograph. And to make sure you see that autograph, the Wrangler marketing genii have sandwiched his autograph between two supers.

On top you have the all caps version that simply reads BRETT FAVRE. And below the autograph, a smaller super in the initial cap version, that reads Brett Favre for Wrangler Jeans.

That's an awful lot of Brett Favre for one frame of film.

Which naturally begs the question: If I, the jeans-wearing consumer do not recognize Brett right away and I need the supers to identify the spokesmouth, why would I care what brand of pants he chooses to wear?

Moreover, even if I do know who he is, why should I care?

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Two weeks I recounted the story of the freaky Jesus painting I had discovered in Littlerock, CA.
The imagery of the painting had been gnawing at me, so in what can only described a foolish flight of fancy, I filled my travel mug up with some dark Columbian Roast coffee and made the 90-minute trip to the Pearblossom Highway.

I returned to Mica's Restaurant, home of the High Desert Pork Burrito and entered into some serious negotiation with the painting's owner -- Mica.

She wanted $100 for the Jesus in a Jesus painting, but I Jewed her down to 75. (Oh come on I had to use that particular phrase. On the delicious irony scale of one to ten, that's an 11.)

Upon the advice of my buddy Paul, I also took time to visit Charlie Brown's Farms in Littlerock, a fascinating store with all manner of tchotchke. In fact, I spent 2 jaw-dropping hours combing the store --actually it's more like 6-7 tiny stores cobbled together under some jerry-rigged aluminum roofing.

That's when I ran across this interesting assortment of World War II memorabilia:

From all accounts these were actual medals worn by actual Nazis. I could feel the hairs on my back rising.

I didn't buy anything from behind the locked glass display. But like the painting, these badges of butchery are gnawing at me as well. And given my impulsive inclinations, who knows, I may be back in Littlerock in the very near future.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Suck it Sanchez

Last week CNN fired one of its anchors Rick Sanchez, after he had made some disturbing anti-Semitic remarks regarding Jon Stewart and the media industry. Apparently Rick wasn't too happy about the progress of his career and attributed the stagnation to some grand conspiracy of the Jewish Media owners who are trying to keep down minorities.

Really Rick? Because apart from your Hispanic surname, I assumed you were one of the white guys who have benefitted from decades, no centuries, worth of white guy superiority.

Maybe the reason your career is not where it should be has something to do with the fact that you once referred to Obama as a cotton-picking president. Or that you are unable to identify Hawaii on a map.

I don't know and I don't care.

Of course, Rick did correctly point out that many Jews are employed in the media industry.

To which I say, so what? Turns out Jews are good at telling stories and engaging the audience. Have you heard of a little thing called The Bible? Only the best selling book, Ever.

Movies, TV, radio, largely a construct of Jewish imagination. Would you prefer to live in a world without these media outlets? I suppose we could have all gone into dentistry. But it wouldn't have been long before someone would've railed against the Worldwide Jewish Dentistry Domination.

Apart from the rantings of the Aryan Nation, I've never heard anyone complain about how the NBA or NFL is dominated by African Americans. Nor do I hear a peep about how the oil industry is sole domain of rich, white WASPS.

Why then should it bother folks that so many Jews are in media?

I know for sure it's not about us pumping out a single agenda. Like every other ethnicity, we do not speak, act or vote as a monolithic block. In fact, to the contrary we Jews are more fractured than most.

To wit, David Ben Gurion (FYI Rick, he was the former Israeli Prime minister) once noted,
"for every two Jews there are three opinions."