Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm done

It's that time of the year again. Time to put away the bourbon, rest the synapses, and rediscover the dysfunction that is my family. Maybe I'll keep the bourbon handy.

In any case, roundseventeen is going on a short hiatus and won't be back until January 2, 2012.

If for any reason, and I'm being obnoxiously presumptive here, you need a fresh hit of R17, I've taken the liberty of going through the archives and finding some of my favorite posts that might merit a re-visit. Of course in the re-reading of some of my entries I've discovered some awful and embarrassing material.

I hope these will make up for it and I promise to do better next year.

My Daughter Takes Communion.

Dropping Kids off at the Pool.

Zog 101.

Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, a Joyful Kwanza, and a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Other than the fact that I am not a robot, nor were there computers, nor did I own a pink convertible Cadillac, this short film captures why I left home, family and friends to set up a new life by the PCH.

My only regret is that I couldn't take what I had on the East Coast and have it all transplanted to the West Coast.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Minimum Rage

Make no mistake, I'm no fan of the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates. In fact, I find it hard to believe that the party of the wealthy, the successful, and one would assume, the intelligent, have such a hard time fielding someone worthy of the office.

The least of the evils, Jon Huntsman can barely crack 1% in the polls.  I suspect that number would be halved if more people were aware his inclination towards magic underwear.

Nevertheless, unlike many of my more liberal friends, I try to remain open-minded to the ideas placed on the table. Last week, Newt Gingrich put a discussion-worthy idea on that table. He brought up the topic of child labor laws and noted, quite correctly I might add, the lack of a work ethic among many of today's kids.

Oh Rich, you're not going to dip your toe in that scolding, politically-charged water are you?
No, I'm going to jump in, curled up like a 211 lbs. cannonball.

You see, I happen to believe in the power of work.

When I was 14 years old I got a paper route. When the money from one paper route couldn't support my yearning for ding dongs and ho-ho's, I went out and got a second paper route. When I was 16, I got a job working at the Spring Valley Jack in the Box. When I was 18, I went away to college, and when I wasn't attending classes (most the time) I was working, at dining halls, bars, restaurants, anyone willing to cut me a check.

It's been that way ever since. I literally can't remember a time when I wasn't working. Although some would argue that writing silly TV commercials and advertising is hardly work at all. Of course those same people have never sat in an ad agency status meeting. Or listened to a self important British Planner drone on about paradigm-changing brand core dynamics and their lasting impact on social media landscape architects.

Newt suggests we hire teens to unplug their iPods, lift up their saggy pants, and clean up our public schools. I'm not sure where the objection to this notion could possibly come from. Last year, my daughter attended Culver City High School and while there for a parent/teacher night I noticed the filthy conditions of the facility. Litter everywhere, broken lockers and a men's room that made the Port Authority in NY look like the Four Seasons.

After the schools get gussied up, there's plenty more work to be done at our parks, our beaches and our graffiti-stained highways.

Let's get these slackers into the labor pool, end the generational sense of entitlement, establish good work habits and increase the size of our tax base.

I could go on and on but I have to show my daughters how to use the hydraulic jack on my Lexus so they can get underneath the car and change the oil.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wrecks Appeal

Is there any activity more unsettling than buying a car from a dealership?

Last week I found myself at a local Volvo dealership looking at Certified Pre-Owned Volvos for my oldest daughter. The oily salesman wasted no time telling me all about the different grades of metal used in the manufacture of these Swedish wonder cars. He played right to my paternal instincts and pounded me with everything I'd ever want to know about air bag deployment, whiplash protection and even the actuarial death rates for teens driving Volvos.

He was good. I was about to pull the trigger on a 2007 S40 but then asked to see the Carfax. Turns out the previous owner of this particular cream puff was a car rental agency in Milford, NJ.

That's when I slammed on the 4-wheel anti-lock brakes.

A car rental agency? Listen Mr. Let's-step-into-my-cubicle-and-hash-out-the-numbers, I didn't just fall off the caveat emptor truck, I know all about people who dish out daily abuse onto rental cars.

Hell, I was one of those people.

Many moons ago, my sole transportation was a 1969 Honda CB 450 motorcycle. When the drive chain snapped and needed a week in the shop I found myself without wheels. With no disposable income in my pocket I decided to visit the local Rent-A-Wreck and picked up a 1972 Mercury Comet. It looked remarkably like the car pictured above, in that the rear quarter panel did not match the color of the rest of the car. I'm not even sure it was perfect match, as the seams were reinforced with duct tape.

Perhaps angered by my position in life, I took all my frustrations out on that Mercury Comet. I accelerated wildly through corners until the tires screeched. I paralleled parked by braille. And I went after speed bumps, with extreme prejudice.

One morning on my way to the office in Century City, I was tearing through the backstreets of Cheviot Hills. Coming down a steep incline, I revved the engine for maximum speed and launched the Comet off a drainage cut in the road. To this day I am positive I caught air. The Comet landed with a thud and then slowed to crawl.

I had bottomed out. I ruptured the oil pan. Corkscrewed the front wheels. Cracked the crankshaft.
I wrecked the wreck.

Many angry phone calls were exchanged over the following few days. And I received notice that the folks at Rent A Wreck were suing me in small claims court. They wanted $3000 to cover all the necessary repairs.

Well, I've never been one to shy away from a good fight, particularly one that had a built in stage for theatrical effect. I arrived at court and, acting as my own attorney, proceeded to show the judge the latest Kelly Blue Book figures. The book value of a 1972 Mercury Comet with 179,843 miles, even in mint condition, was no more $599. There weren't just looking to replace the car, they were going to buy 5 others.

The judge did not take too kindly to this blatant attempt at profiteering. I won the judgment and was refunded the cost of my rental. Of course, now in the retelling of this story I feel guilty.

Though not too guilty, because I know when I finally do buy a car for my daughter that I, like anybody else who has ever stepped foot on a dealership lot, am going to get reamed.

It all equals out.
That's the nature of Car Karma.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Toy Story 4

Earlier this week my buddy Greg sent me a news clipping from the Newport Plain Talk, the newspaper that covers everything that goes on in Newport, Tennessee. If you knew anything about Newport you'd know you'd want to know everything about Newport.

You see Newport, like all of Tennessee, is a fascinating place.

Oh they've got their Starbucks, their Walmarts, their parking problems, their corrupt city officials, all the general malaise that affects the rest of the country. But Tennessee, and by proxy Newport, is located at that dark intersection between Appalachia and the Deep South. It isn't afraid to parade around its reptilian DNA that characterizes an America from a different time period. It's chockfull of drunkards, snaggled teeth, moonshine, first cousin sex, snake handlers and more than 93 Chick-Fil-A franchises.

In other words, it's a voyeur's paradise. Particular if that voyeur is smart-ass Jew from NY.

Tennessee is also the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. Unfortunately remnants of that close-minded ignorance is alive and well in the Volunteer state (though hardly to the exclusion of the other 49 states, I'm looking at you Mississippi).

Which is a shame, because until we open our hearts and our minds to different ideas and cultures we can have no hope for the future and for our children. (This was an intentional schmaltzy misdirect.)

Perfect example, take the clipping that Greg sent to me.

It's the story of Deanna Holt, an 18-year old old graduate of Cocke County High School who was just named Miss December. It's a heart warmer and my congratulations go out to her, her family and her make-up artist. But further down in the story, and this is where being open minded and curious comes in, I discovered that December is officially Safe Toys and Gifts Month.

I don't know if other Tenneeseeans dug deeper, but I did. And discovered there's a whole host of toys I should scratch off my Hanukkah list. Like the You Can Shave the Baby Doll from North Korea (pictured above) with the oddly hirsute cankles. I might have purchased that for my daughters, but now I won't.

Similarly, I won't be taken in by the fancy packaging and the "style", "music" and "flash" of this innocuous looking toy...

Maybe it's best that I leave the gift purchasing to my wife. 
Or resort to iTunes cards. 

Of course like most internet-surfing adventures, all was not lost, I did find a must-have, conversation-starting, HR-notifying toy that will be perfect for my work desktop.

In case you're wondering, and how could you not be, the name of this robot is The Punisher.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tienes un Caganer?

As you know I am an equal opportunity offender. So today, apropos of the season, I'd like to talk about Nativity scenes. This meat concoction was found on the Facebook page of an old school friend from the old neighborhood.

I'm sure he doesn't read this blog or follow my ramblings, but I like to give credit where credit is due.

It is a wonderfully artistic use of cocktail wienies, sliced ham, sauerkraut and bacon. What I like most about it is this distinctively Jewish manger/household is constructed with very un-Kosher pig building materials. I believe the artist/architect was making a contextual statement about the intrinsic and often contradictory ties that form the fabric of our Judeo-Christian lives.

Either that or Costco was having a sale on pork products.

I can make out the Canadian Bacon-flavored prophets, the Virgin Hickory-Smoked Mary, and the baby-cocktail wiener Jesus, but I am having trouble figuring out the structure on the extreme right side of the Nativity Scene/Roaster Pan.

Any help out there from my gentile friends?

While we're on the topic of Nativity scenes, let's revisit The Caganer. I wrote about this last year, but since no one reads this blog, I'm not in any real danger of repeating myself.

The Caganer, if you didn't know, is the gnome-like man standing outside the hut. The more observant of you will notice he is literally taking a dump. Or as traditional Catalonians like to say, "offering up a pre-digested burrito."

You can read more about the Caganer on the interweb. I have and it's fascinating. So much so that while my wife was out of town last weekend, I went in search of purchasing a complete Caganer-equipped Nativity Scene. Sadly I couldn't find one. But if you know me at all, you know I would have no problem at all setting it up in my front yard.

Of course, the patrons at the Catholic High School that my daughters attend might not see the humor in it.

Maybe I'll just wait until my youngest daughter graduates. That gives me three years to shop around. And a great excuse for my wife and I to return to the Iberian Peninsula.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Porn to be wild

Weeks ago I mentioned that if you live in Los Angeles, you've brushed up against the porn world. There's literally two degrees of separation, unless you make your home in Irvine, then it goes up to three.

I  might have told this story before but when I was a young copywriter at Abert, Newhoff & Burr I was approached by one of the senior writers. He wanted to know if I was interested in making a little money on the side. That's when he pulled me into the stat camera room (you younger kids can go look that up) and showed me how he supplemented his meager income.

He had hooked up with some porn distributors in the Valley and started writing the copy found on the back of all the VHS tapes (you kids can look those up as well). I never knew why there was copy on the back of the video boxes, it's not like anyone ever reads that stuff anyway.

Exactly, he said, just like the legitimate copy you're writing for the bank ads.

The pay was good, $250 a box, for about 3-4 paragraphs. And the work was easy. Just raid the thesaurus and liberally sprinkle every sentence with words like throbbing, quivering and explosive. It certainly seemed titillating. But I couldn't see myself writing, in what were essence book reviews, for Blazing Zippers, Stalag 69, or Rhinestone Reverse Cowgirl. It was just not a career path I wanted to follow.

Now that I'm married with two daughters, it turns out my instincts were right.

But that never stopped me from participating in a weekly shenanigans with legendary porn star Harry Reems (pictured above with Linda Lovelace, co-star in the iconic Deep Throat). You see, Harry was regular customer at Charmer's Market in Santa Monica. This was a boutique French restaurant/ supermarket. It was very upscale. And at the time, I was employed there as a sous chef in the open-style kitchen located in the center of the store.

Mind you, this was a time when a thick mustache had a very hypnotic effect on young ladies (I can tell you that is no longer the case) and every week Harry made a habit of walking by the kitchen with a different young Wacktress (waitress/actress) on his arm.

We, that is the cooks and the chefs, also made it a habit of clearing our throats as the happy couple walked by. As if that weren't heavy-handed enough, the saucier would feign choking and exclaim, "I think I have something caught in my THROAT."

The joke never got old.
And Harry never failed to slip a $20 bill in our tip jar.
Which was always good for a few extra shrimp in his fettucine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

100% Imitation

Nothing speaks to the insecurity of writers like the theory of 100 monkeys. The theory states that if you place 100 monkeys in a room, provide them with typewriters and bananas, within 1000 hypothetical years one of those monkeys will have successfully typed out a Shakespearean play.

That's how little we think of our craft.

As far as advertising writers go, you could probably knock that down to 38 monkeys, a few dozen Dell laptop computers, and a packet of M&M's, and by year's end you'd have a handful of spots better than or equal to the crap that on the flatscreen today.

The 100 Monkey theory also goes a long way towards explaining the statistically impossible number of similar ideas floating about the airwaves.

I'll give you a fine, and personal example. Last year at this time we had produced a number of funny spots for last year's Dealer Event. While filming those spots we also cajoled the director to shoot one extra spot -- a holiday safety message. You might even remember it:

This was not the best spot I ever wrote. Nor is it one of the worst. It has a good narrative, an interesting way to display a proprietary technology and like all good Christmas stories it was written by a Jew(me), you know, the people who are waging a war on Christmas.

Word has it, that this spot, which and I want to emphasize this, was produced last year, will be hitting the airwaves once again very soon. Because America loves an elf with a bladder control problem.

Another word has it that a very similar, did I say similar, I meant duplicate, did I say duplicate, I meant rip-off of the spot will be running on behalf of Cadillac.

This spot was produced by Fallon, an agency in Minneapolis that was once regarded as the most creative in the country. The irony is that during the late 80's and 90's I would study their cerebral style and try to 'mimic' it in my own work. A decade or so later and they're repaying me with an homage.

I guess by the Transitive Law of Creativity, my work is now good enough to finally get a job there.

I wonder what they feed their monkeys.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Miracle? Feh.

To continue this week's recurring theme, offensive posts about different ethnicities, today we look at what can only be termed the lamest holiday in the multitude of lame Jewish Holidays, Chanukah or Hanukkah or

It's so lame we couldn't even decide on a correct spelling.

Hanukah, as you may or may not know, commemorates the Maccabees, who successfully rebelled against the armies of Antiochus. They liberated and purified the great Temple of Jerusalem (the same temple that was there about 700 years before Islam was even born) in the year 165 B.C.E. According to the story, there was only enough oil to keep the lamps lit for one day, but the Lord, in his infinite generosity, made the oil last for 8 miraculous days and nights. Holy crap, too bad someone didn't have a Sony Camcorder to get it all on tape.

What a cheap parlor trick.

Why didn't the Lord, the King of Kings, the Host of Hosts, smite the armies of Antiochus with a tower of fire or swallow them up with a raging tsunami? Something a little more majestic, for God's sake. I once saw a magician in Las Vegas pull the 7 of clubs from the ass of a cow.

We get the Bronze Age equivalent of flashlights and we're supposed to fall on bended knee?

I'm sorry rabbi, I'm just not buying it. Oh, I'll light the candles. And I'll eat the latkes. And of course I'll shower my daughters with 8 days of of increasingly more valuable gifts, but only because if I didn't I'd never hear the end of it.

But don't try to convince me this was some kind of miracle from the Lord who was looking after his Chosen People. If that were the case he would called off the Inquisition. Or cancelled the pogroms. Or even intervened in 1939 and saved the lives of million of Jews, one of whom probably would have found a cure for cancer. Or invented a toaster-oven that lasts longer than 6 months.

Now that would be a miracle.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ink Different

I watched a lot of football over the long weekend, a lot of football.

The game has changed quite a bit since I was a kid and marveled at the athletic abilities of Mike Curtis, Johnny Unitas and John Mackey. If you can't tell I was a Baltimore Colt fan.

The play calling is a lot more elaborate.
The hits are more vicious.
And everybody on the team, with the possible exception of the head coaches, is sporting tattoos. There used to be a time when, if a guy wanted a tattoo, he'd slap one on the thick of his shoulder and be done with it. But now these hulking behemoths are covered from head to toe.

On the big cornfed offensive linemen from Nebraska, the herringbone patterns that run the length of their leg-sized arms looks kind of cool. The high contrast between their pasty white flesh and the jet black ink is startling and stunning at the same time.

The same cannot be said for some of the black players.

The dark ink on equally dark skin looks muddled. The writing is indecipherable. And patterns becomes meaningless. Let's not even get into the wisdom of tattooing one's face, but the young man in the above picture is showing off his Gucci tattoo stamped on the left side of his head. If I didn't tell you that was Gucci you might have just assumed he fell asleep on a wire box spring.

But I'm not addressing this issue without offering a solution. And a simple one at that.

It all comes down to Communications 101 and the demonstrably improved legibility of reversed out type.
This is why I'd like to see African-American football, basketball and baseball players consider the wide array of lighter shades of ink.

If not for me, do it for the one woman on Earth who has endowed you with strength, courage and heart,  the woman for whom you have proclaimed your everlasting love and emblazoned across your chest in 6 inch high Times New Roman type.

Do it for Momma.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Un-Thanks

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

We all have the day off (except for some of my unfortunate advertising colleagues forced to write last minute Super Bowl Spots). We'll spend time with family, football and hopefully some fizzy drinks with high alcohol content. And we'll express our thanks to the Lord, to the Giant Spaghetti Monster, to the fickle finger of fate or just to damn good luck, for all the things we have.

But in this, the year of the Occupiers, the 99%-ers, the have nots, I'd like to give thanks for the many wonderful things I don't have:

* I don't have a job. Haven't had one for close to eight years. Could not be happier. I've made the same amount of money I would have as a corporate staffer (maybe even a little more) and I haven't had to sit in many meetings, or live on an airplane, or listen to any 28-year old Ad Manager/Sorority Sister tell me how my work should be done.

* I don't have any health issues. Probably because I don't a have a job and the free stress that comes with it. More importantly, no one in my family has any health issues. This year we have seen many around us stricken with cancer (all forms) and the struggles that come with it. We wish them the the very best and count our blessings not to have health problems.

* I don't have crazy, troublesome, problematic daughters. Oh don't get me wrong, these are two high-drama teenagers who know how to manipulate Daddy, but by and large they are good kids. They may not always take out the trash or do the dishes when I ask them, but they bring home good grades from school, they are respectful around other adults and they have avoided drugs and alcohol (or at least they have hidden it very well).

* I don't have a dog that barks all the time. This may seem unusual but I am very grateful that my dog does note bark or bite. The same cannot be said for some of my neighbor's dogs, who once outside will bark until they pass out from exhaustion. I don't know how some people can be so unaware of their environment. Apparently they lack what I unfortunately have: a conscience.

* And finally I don't have a wife who nags me. Oh I complain all the time about living under her thumb and answering questions about my whereabouts, but its all hyper-inflated. My wife is a saint. She knows it, I know it. Everybody in our sphere knows it. She allows me time to work, to write, to do my P90X, to drink to excess and to fall asleep on the couch (sometimes all in the same day).

She allows me to be me. And if I didn't have her in my life, I don't know that I'd be thankful about everything else in my life that I don't have.

(I hope I got that double negative thing right.)

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


It has not been a good time for college coaches recently.

Last week we had the Penn State fiasco. This week, my own beloved Syracuse University came under the spotlight with new allegations against Associate basketball coach Bernie Fine. And just a few days ago a plane crash took the lives of two Oklahoma State coaches.

One college coach fared better, Coach K from Duke. Many of you will recognize his smiling face in the picture above. Believe it or not that is his smile. This week he recorded his 903rd win, making him the winningest active coach in NCAA basketball.

I met Coach K as well as 30 other Division One basketball coaches during the summer when I went to Las Vegas to sit in on a High School tournament featuring the nation's top recruits. Not only did I meet them, I interviewed each coach on camera for a documentary about Coaches Versus Cancer.

Interviewing people on camera in not exactly my strong suit, but the ad agency was paying my day rate and putting me up at the nice Aria Hotel, so I just clipped on the microphone and winged it.

Every interview started the same way. We'd roll the coaches in, have them take a seat in front of the camera, state their name, the name of the school they coach and the proper spelling of their name. Why do we do this? Mostly for the editor's sake, who dutifully put up a graphic identifying each coach. If the coach spells their name on camera the editor doesn't have to fiddle through reams of notes looking for the right spelling.

It's all about convenience.

Coach K took exception to this. When I asked him to spell his name for the camera, he thought I was busting his balls. And maybe when I asked him to do it twice, I was. But I will always treasure his unfiltered reaction when he stood up to look at the other crew members and said, "Who's this friggin' asshole?" I, of course, being the asshole in question.

But just as I was yanking his chain, Coach K was yanking mine.

He got up from the interview with a big smile. And before returning to the court to turn some high school baller into a multi-million dollar  NBA draft choice, he looked at me
and said, "K-R-Y-Z-E-W-S-K-I."

And added with a laugh, "Don't ever ask me that again."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pull on Excalibur

I'm no Farmville guy.

Somebody once invited me to play Farmville on Facebook and it held my attention for about 3 nanoseconds. I have no interest in feeding virtual pigs or tending to virtual corn when I could be spending my precious time in a more productive manner, like blogging to virtual readers.

I never dove into Mafia Wars as well. Though this appealed more to my Northern New Jersey background and the chance to unleash my inner Capo.

The thing is, I'm not all that into playing role playing games. I don't want to pretend to be other people, I have a hard enough time dealing with the roles that are already on my plate: father, husband, brother, idea comer-upper, and zealous P90X 'er.

None of that has stopped the people from Zynga -- the makers of all these silly RPG games -- from pitching their latest development, Castleville, in the banners ads on my computer. And though it goes without saying that I won't be signing up for a seat at King Arthur's virtual round table, I do have to applaud the copywriters who worked on the current campaign.

It isn't everyday you get to slip a major sexual innuendo in to your work.
Though it should be added, everyday we try.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grand Theft Auto

Yesterday I had mentioned the Joe Paterno firing and the Penn State tragedy. This is a story that has gripped the nation. It has given this generation its own equivalent of the Kitty Genovese incident.

Of course I’m referring to Assistant Coach Mike McQueary who told authorities he witnessed Jerry Sandusky inflagrante delicto with a naked 10-year old boy in the shower room. McQueary says he immediately informed Coach Paterno.

But the questions remains why didn’t he run into the shower, and pardon the phrase, cold cock the old man and rescue the kid?

What was McQueary thinking?

Well, that may be the problem. He was thinking instead of doing. Thinking how a scandal like this could affect the university, the football program, the recruitment efforts, or even his own miserable football career.

What happened to good old righteous indignation and fly-off-the-handle street vengeance?

Years ago, I was driving down Abbot Kinney on my way to work and spotted a 13-year old boy climbing out of a shattered car window with a stereo in his hands. With no time to weigh my options or the consequences of my actions, I swerved to the curb, jumped out of the car and started chasing the bastard through Oakwood.

He was fast but I was in my triathlon days and had plenty of stamina. I’m sure that caught him off guard but I was determined to snag that $99 Pioneer and return it to its rightful owner. Panting and clearly out of breath, the kid stopped just outside a ratty duplex at the corner of Brooks and Indiana. He turned to me just before opening the heavy steel door, and scowled, “You come in here and my daddy gonna shoot yo cracker ass.”

I wish the kid had informed me about his father’s shotgun before I covered a mile and half in the back alleys of Venice.

With my visions of being a superhero dashed, I returned to the scene of the crime where I met the young woman whose car had just been violated. I told her I saw the kid who stole her radio and chased him for the last 15 minutes.

“Well let’s go to his house and get my radio back,” she said.

“That’s an excellent  idea, “ I said. And then having my own McQueary moment, added “but I lost him. And don’t have any idea where he lives.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Got Quit.

Last week, Penn State University fired Coach Joe Paterno. In a lapse of moral judgment, the firing came about a week too late. Ironically the coach was fired for the lapse in his judgment, moral or otherwise.

In any case, it set my partner and I off on an interesting discussion about getting fired. My partner, in this case, is much younger than myself and she hasn't had the opportunity to be let go. That's right I said opportunity.

With the benefit of retrospect, I now look at my firing(s) as a true blessing.

Let's look at my most recent involuntary termination. In February it will be ten years since I "got quit" at TBWA Chiat/Day. I had won all kinds of awards at Chiat/Day, helped win new business and steered younger teams to great success in their career path. So of course I felt the firing was unjust. But in hindsight it wasn't. I had grown cantankerous, bitter and frustrated. To the point where I had a poisonous effect on everything around me. Had I been the boss, I would have fired my ass too. Though I probably would have done it a year or two, earlier.

To his credit, my former writing partner, Rob Schwartz, who was in the unfortunate position of having to let me go, recognized this and said upon my departure, "look, we'd love to have you here, if in a couple of years you have a different perspective on things and you find your head in a different place, let's talk."

Where does that kind of wisdom and maturity come from?

Rob and I may have creative differences on a lot of things, but on this he was frighteningly correct. To the point of being prescient.

Had I not been shown the door, I might never have discovered my much happier life as a freelancer. In fact, over the last 8 years and to the great confusion of my brother, I have done the bulk of my freelancing days back at Chiat/Day where I was once escorted from the premises by a beefy security guard. OK, it wasn't really a muscle-bound security guard, it was sweet 26-year old woman from HR.

Nevertheless, that firing provided me with a very critical career course correction, not to mention a big fat severance check.

Many, many years before that, I was a short order cook in the restaurant industry. I had been working a miserable job at Merlin McFlys in Santa Monica, grilling up burgers and potato skins for the beautiful people who frequented the upscale boutiques along Main Street and wouldn't bat an eye paying $1000 for a David Hockney-inspired trash can. The kitchen at McFly's was filthy, the wages were low and the boss was a Grade A Assclown. This job had nothing going for it other than free food and the all-too-rare opportunity to dip my spatula in the company BBQ sauce.

So it should come as no surprise that on one particularly onerous Sunday, when the temperature soared into triple digits, I found myself in the cooler with a case of ice cold Heinekens. I quickly downed the first beer at 11 AM. And another at 11:30. Another at noon. And so on. By the time I had completed my shift, half the case was gone. I punched the clock, cleaned up and took a seat at the bar to continue the binge. Keep in mind I was in my 20's and could do my Scottish drinking heritage proud.

The boss approached me at the bar and asked if I could escort him back to the cooler for a moment. Once there, he opened the flap on the green cardboard box and pointed to 12 empty Heineken bottles still in their corrugated compartments.

"You know anything about this?" he asked, perhaps rhetorically.

"No", I said, trying hard not to grin. And then let out a booming Heineken burp that could be felt from the shores of the Pacific to the brewery back in Amsterdam.

There was no severance check or meaningful impact on the course of my life. There was only the astonished look on the boss's jowly face. And the $25 deduction from my last paycheck to cover the damage.

To this day, that could be the best $25 I ever spent.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Salad Days

"I love it, but I hate it."

If any of you are members of the Tony Horton P90X cult, as I am, you'll recognize this from the intro to Ab Ripper X, the gut-wrenching abdominal workout that promises a six pack to all who faithfully perform the routine. I believe I will achieve the six pack, but it won't take 90 days. I might take 90 years.

"I love it, but I hate it" is also how I feel about Mrs. Winston's Salad Bar, arguably the greatest salad bar in all of Southern California. When I'm working at RPA in Santa Monica, I get my lunch there everyday. It allows me to load up on spinach, kidney beans, mushrooms, carrots, asparagus, just about any vegetable. And I can keep my calorie count in the 500-600 range.

That's why I love it.

Unfortunately, the line at Mrs. Winston's never looks like it does in the picture above. At one o'clock in the afternoon on a typical weekday, every media planner, every paralegal, every dental hygienist, every woman in the 90401-90409 zip code convenes at Mrs. Winston's for lunch.

That is why I hate it.

Because these women don't just bring their appetites, they bring their phones, so they can text while they are assembling their repast. They bring their friends so that in between the sprouts and the three bean salad they can chat about their latest e-harmony adventures or the low slung open toe shoes they have their eyes on. And they bring their god-awful indecision (you're really going to hold up the line to put two lentil beans on your plate), weighing each choice as if it were a Constitutional amendment that could alter the future of mankind.

Ladies, you're building a salad not the next Space Shuttle.

Before the charges of misogyny are leveled against me, it's worth noting that men at Mrs. Winston's go about their business very differently. We know what we want. We shovel it into the plastic tub and we get back to our desks with plenty of spare time to go online and surf for porn...uh, read

We make our salads the same way we shop for auto parts. We go in for a fan belt, we walk out with a fan belt. We don't spend time looking over the carburetors or the new brake pads.

I'm not alone in these sentiments.

Yesterday, the man standing behind me was venting even more vociferously. I suspect if the texting, the non-stop chatting and the high-maintenance salad tomfuckery doesn't end soon, it won't be long before some short-fused man--and I'm not saying who-- explodes in a full-blown case of Romaine Rage.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Onward Christian Soldiers

The season is upon us.

And you can purchase a packet of these real Christmas Cards to send to your friends and family. The cards are available from God's Favorite Church, the Landover Baptist Church, "where the worthwhile worship and the unsaved are unwelcome."

Seems a little harsh doesn't it? But not half as harsh as some of the comments from some of the congregation members at Landover.

Regarding the recent tragedy at Penn State for instance, Bob4God had this to say:

"Jerry Sandusky is a manly man. We can already see how the big Jewish media would want to take this man out. And now they have. Mr. Sandusky was victimized time and again by pubescent operatives of the homosexual agenda. These young men forced Jerry Sandusky to make them take showers with him in the locker room. After compelling him to take them to football games, they lured his overbearing, adult body to wrestle their comparatively smaller adolescent bodies on the gym floor, all so they could make it look like he was sexually abusing them."

In the words of Steve Jobs, "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."

Just when you think you've seen it all from the religious extremists on the right this comes along. I understand the charges about the overarching Jewish Media and their hyperbolic ability to manipulate public opinion to further Jewish interests. Come on, that's very reasonable.

But to claim these 10-year old boys preyed upon this innocent old philanthrope? That seemed beyond the pale. Until I read even further in the forum, where another congregant, Proud Faroese claimed:

"This is probably part of a satanic campaign where godly American-manly football is replaced with the faggot European sport, soccer."

I am somewhat fascinated by hate and the hundreds of hate groups that populate the Internet. I can spend hours reading through the propaganda at various white supremacist or Islamo-Fascist sites. I love seeing how people can concoct wild stories with nothing more than a half truth, a little imagination, some sketchy wikipedia findings and always, but always, a healthy dose of anti-Semitism. And I thought I'd seen it all until I stumbled across the Landover Baptist Church.

But don't take my word for it. Spend some time looking over their site. The folks at Landover have amply demonstrated the need for greater separation of church and state by flaunting their own separation of church and reality.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cranky Pants

Last week, Andy Rooney the patron saint of Curmudgeons, passed away.

Andy might have been getting a little long in the tooth and it was hard to concentrate on his rants while watching his hands tremble with 92 years worth of angst, nevertheless he was amusing. If for nothing else than his ability to dig into the minutiae of life and find the funny.

While mentioning his passing the other day at dinner, my youngest daughter said, "You should replace him."

"Why's that?" I asked, knowing full well she doesn't read this blog or pay any attention to my daily venting.

"Is it because going on TV every week and spouting off my ill-informed opinions and getting paid millions of dollars would be a dream job?" I asked.


"Is it because I have some limited ability to turn a phrase or make an insightful observation?"


"Is it because I have the courage to say what so many, or at least I assume so many, want to say but don't?"

"No, Daddy" she replied, "You'd be the perfect replacement for Andy Rooney 'cause you're a cranky old man."

I have raised a brutally honest daughter.

And then she added, "...and your eyebrows are bushy."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Confessions of a 2% er

Whether it's on the Daily Show or the daily pages of Facebook, the Occupy movement has provided a wealth of comedic material. This sign, taken from the streets of downtown Boston (I believe) is one of my favorites.

But the movement itself leaves me straddling an uncomfortable fence.

I certainly understand the frustration of unemployed and disenfranchised people who have seen Wall Streeters getting bailed out with US tax dollars and then spending those relief dollars on lavish parties and million dollar bonuses. Not to mention that these are the same scoundrels who pumped up the housing bubble then pin-pricked it, making billions of dollars on both sides of the equation with their crappy mortgage-based derivatives.

If they were too big to fail.
They were probably too big to succeed as well.

Why is it that laissez-faire, free-market economics only applies to people and not to corporations?
Didn't the Supreme Court declare corporations are people too?

I saw firsthand how the government turned on the faucet and issued billion dollar checks to GM, Chrysler and AIG, but dragged their feet in bureaucratic quicksand when it came to adjusting the mortgage for my sister-in-law when she found herself underwater on her house.

And let's not even talk about greedy CEO's, including those in the ad business, who take home in one paycheck what many workers won't make in two to three years of working, often til midnight, and even more often on weekends.

It's more than a little disturbing.

But so is the rhetoric coming from the urban campers. Some of whom want to blame Jews and Israel for the current economic malaise. Others are calling for the outright redistribution of wealth. While others still are content to surf their $800 iPads all day with intermittent breaks for hacky-sack.

If what they want is greater regulation to curb corporate greed, to modestly increase the tax rate for billionaires and to put the brakes on government bailouts, then I'm all for it.

But what if the mob mistakes us 2% ers (those of us who have a little, not a lot, because we worked hard and made the right choices) for the 1% ers?

What if the angry, the unruly, and the unbathed start lighting torches and come knocking at my door to snag my flatscreen TV and my George Foreman Grill, which is great for making panini sandwiches? Well that's when I unstraddle the fence, put my mixed political feelings to the side and take to my roof with a bucket full of golf balls and my oversized Callaway Big Bertha driver. That's when I start swinging away.

And I won't be yelling, "Four!"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kiss My Half

Saw this the other day while stopped at a traffic light. I don't know if you can make it out, but there's a pink sticker right above the rear windshield washer blade. It says, "13.1"

In running parlance, thats the distance for a Half-Marathon. 13.1 miles is a long way to run. I know, because I've run the Santa Monica Half-Marathon on a few occasions. It's a good 2 & 1/2 half hours of non-stop chugging, grinding and re-adjusting of sneakers so as not to incur blisters. It's a lot of pain. A little less than half the pain it would take to run a Full Marathon.

And there-in lies the rub.

It's a half accomplishment and doesn't merit a trophy, a t-shirt or even a window sticker for your car. Why would you want to tell people you did half of something? Derek Jeter doesn't hit the showers after 4 &1/2 innings. Tom Brady doesn't call the shots for 30 minutes and then take the mike at the news conference, "I feel good, I went out there and gave it 55%."

There's no pride in doing something half-assed.

A couple of weeks ago, before my wife ran the Nike Women's Marathon for Leukemia in SF, she wavered and confessed, "Maybe I'll only do the half." That's when I dragged out some old Tony Robbins Motivational Tapes and convinced her that if she were only going to do half she might as well not do any.

I don't like half.
Never have.
Never will.
It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It would be as if I started this rant about doing something halfway and

Monday, November 7, 2011

Animal House

I left off last week with the story of the office building that inspired me to move to California.

Today I thought I'd share the tale of my transcontinental move and how I ended up here at the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity on the campus of UCLA. Although old time Bruins might remember this was originally the home of Alpha Epsilon Pi.

Let me also state upfront that I was never a frat boy and abhorred that whole cultish Greek society thing. The only reason I visited a fraternity house while in college was to drink their free beer while feigning interest in their stupid club.

I knew from my summers at Syracuse that frat houses rented out rooms to boarders. It was an easy way for Chip or Wentworth or Tadpole to put a little extra money in their pocket to purchase thesis papers from students who actually did the work.

With that in mind and with my parents already getting on my "OK, now you've graduated from college what are going to do with your life" ass, I packed a duffel bag, emptied out the bank account (that was a short process) and bought a one way plane ticket to El Lay.

I had no idea why I was moving to Los Angeles, other than it wasn't as cold as Syracuse, NY and it wasn't as dismal as Suffern, NY. I didn't have any job prospects and didn't know a soul in California. But none of that seemed to matter to a gung ho 22-year old kid.

Los Angeles had writing opportunities, beautiful blonde shicksas, and beaches, and I wanted to be in the same zip code as all three.

Well, as anyone who watches Survivorman will tell you, shelter is the first priority. So I made my way from LAX to UCLA, where I had hoped to secure a boarding room. The problem was, school was still in session and would be for another month. None of the frat houses, and I trudged up and down Gayley Ave. to talk with every one of them, had any vacancies at the inn.

I was within a minute of snatching up a good sturdy cardboard box and making my home on the gritty, urban streets of Westwood.

But then I ran into Joe, the 75-year old groundskeeper at the former AEPi house. He was an old Jew from the Bronx who had shown promise as a welterweight boxer. Joe said I could have a room in three weeks and that until then I could sleep on a mattress on the roof of the building. For $75 I'd have a place to sleep, shower, and shave.

Notice I didn't say shit. The toilet facilities were so repulsive, I opted for the public bathroom at Sepi's Subs just down the street.

Here's what the rooftop of my first official California home looks like.

It wasn't bad sleeping under the stars. The temperature was mild, the campus was beautiful and the stars were plentiful. Sadly, however, no one had informed me about June Gloom -- a California Coastal condition that moistens everything in its path, including my sleeping bag, my clothes and my three pair of underwear.

My roof-sleeping, wet-clothes, no-pot-to-piss-in adventures didn't seem very amusing at the time. But it did to my father. Who said, with great Springsteen-like acuity, "Someday you'll look back on this and it will all seem funny."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

West Side Story

The other night I was watching Louie, one of the darkest and brightest shows on TV. I saw something I recognized. Not Louie, we all recognize him. And not the attractive dark-haired woman that Louie has no chance of bedding down. I recognized a building. The all-brick edifice in the background.

I know that building because I used to work there. At least for a couple of summers when I was a kid.
My father, however put in many, many years at that hellhole.

The address is 85 10th Ave. The former home of Brownell Electro.

My dad was the Comptroller and had some sway with the owners of the company, who agreed to put me on in the Accounts Receivable Department so I could earn money for college. Notice I didn't say extra money to buy beer and dope and such. But real money to pay for tuition, books and the cheapest meal plan available at Syracuse University.

If you're familiar with NYC you know this area has been quite gentrified. There's now an elevated walking park, where this scene was filmed and the building recently housed Craft, a genuine Tom Colichio restaurant.  But when I worked there with my father, there wasn't a hipster to be found within a five mile radius.

It looked like some of the grittier scenes from the French Connection or Mean Streets. It was dumpy. It was dirty. And if you weren't smelling the carcasses from the nearby Meat District there was always the default odor of urine and the Hudson River.

Apart from Peggy Fernandez, my immediate supervisor, a short Puerto Rican woman with the largest boobs on earth who felt the need to press her flesh against me to explain the intricacies of cash flow management, there was nothing remotely positive about 85 10th Ave.

In fact, the third floor corner window (my father's actual office), which looks like someone giving an inverted bird, is an apt metaphor. And yet I owe that building so much.

You see, had the experience, the sunrise bus ride commute into the city, the foul smells, the fighting for oxygen, the dark, dank offices, the mind numbing work, the soul-sucking monotony, not been so unbearably miserable I might never had high-tailed it to California with nothing more than $99 in my pocket and the desire to be as far away from Accounting and Chelsea, NY as humanly possible.

So thank you 85 10th Ave.
And thank you Brownell Electro.
You might have taken my father's life and for that I'll never forgive you.
But you gave me my life and for that I'll never forget you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

This time it's real.

Earlier this year I awarded myself a Gold One Show Pencil for work we did 10 years ago but never earned official recognition. I suspect many of us have stories about work that should have won awards, but never did. And the reasons are just as plentiful: mislabeled entry forms, biased judges, stingy financial officers, etc.

Take our ABC campaign. It cleaned up at every award show in the US, but failed to merit any attention at the Cannes Lion Festival. Later, I was to discover it was never even entered in that particular show because the humor was deemed too inside. Doh!

Sometimes even winning an award isn't winning an award.

Last year I was contacted by David Lee, TBWA's Digital Executive Creative Director. He needed someone to flesh out the writing on It's a very cool site that can showcase the work of photographers, poets, musicians, architects, writers, anyone in need of a mixed media venue. I spent a couple of months helping him write and organize the material. The site went on to great success and was even mentioned in several magazines.

Several months ago it won a Silver Pencil at the One Show Awards.

Naturally, I was excited. Not only to win a prestigious award like a pencil but to do it in the digital arena, where so many assume a veteran like myself is like a fish out of binary water. The truth is I've seen what passes for "digital thinking" at many agencies and find it as inspiring as Windows 95. won an award, but I didn't. My name was never entered on the entry form. It turned out to be a clerical error.

Today, I'm happy to say that what was once wrong has now been righted, as you can see on the now-amended credits.

For $200 I can buy the double-ended metallic trophy that will collect dust in a bin buried in my garage. Right next to my Telly, my Andy, and my Lulu. Or I can take that same $200 and celebrate with my wife and a nice steak dinner at Maestro with multiple refills of small batch bourbon on the rocks.

Make mine medium rare, please.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Do you have soft stools?

As chronicled in many earlier posts, I am easily amused.
I'll laugh at anything.
I've even sat through the Paul Blart movie with my daughters.

Advertising is a different story however, that's when I become a Taste Nazi. Perhaps it's because I've spent considerable time in the trenches. But if I see something crappy on TV or on the web or in a newspaper, I think of the ad agency involved and say to myself, "You have this big brand and this big opportunity and you waste an at bat on something like that?"

But let's get back to stools and the inspiration for today's post.

As anyone who writes a blog knows, it's fun to mine the analytics, just to see how many people are actually reading this tripe and where the traffic is coming from. Just like any small business owner would do with a software program detailing his or her sales volume and sales sources. Only in the case of a blog it's all done without any actual money changing hands.

Last week I noticed that considerable traffic was coming from Naturally I was curious. Turns out it's a European distributor of electronica. Why were Italian musicians looking for the latest offerings in amplifiers being routed to round seventeen? As someone in the IT department explained to me, it has something to do with a spambot.

I have no idea what a spambot is, I thought it was a Hawaiian breakfast treat. But I do know where to find the funny in any given situation. And let's face it, stools and anything stool-related is funny.

So I did what any 12-year old boy would do and found the US based stool store.  Then I called the Madison, Wisconsin establishment at 1-608-271-4088 and spoke with a sales rep.

Me: I was looking at your website.

Salesman: Excellent we have a wide range of products to meet your every need.

Me: How big are your stools?

Salesman: They come in all sizes.

Me: And they have wheels?

Salesman: Some do, yes sir.

Me: That would make it easier to move my stools?


(me fighting back laughter)

Me: Do your moving stools come in brown?


Monday, October 31, 2011

It's now P60X

Obviously, this is not a picture of me. I don't have a full head of hair. But my arms, back and chest, are beginning to show a resemblance. You know, if you squint your eyes and employ a little imagination.

Yesterday I officially, and faithfully, completed Phase One of the infamous P90X program.

I know you've all seen the infomercial. I know I have for the last five years or so. And have always been tempted to pick up the phone. Then we had one of my wife's publishers over for dinner. He was a recent graduate and was clearly sold on Tony Horton. By desert, I was too. He also convinced me to buy one of those plastic microwavable pasta boats, but that's a different story.

Within a week the DVD's arrived and I started pouring through the material. If you know me at all you know I have deep commitment issues. Once I'm in, I'm in up to my eyeballs. I cleared out half my garage, padded the floor with industrial rubber tiling and made several trips to the sporting goods store for resistance bands, dumbbells and a yoga mat.

That's right, a yoga mat.

Yoga is hardly the chosen sport of barrel-chested Scotsmen like myself. We're more given to throwing logs and tossing kegs. But it turns out stretching and yoga are essential components of the P90X program. I've even found that I'm actually better at some of the balance postures than our esteemed instructor. Though I could hardly be termed graceful on the mat.

My Downward Dog looks more like a Downward Armadillo.
And thirty days into the program I'm about as close to performing the Crane as the Israelis and the Arabs are to sharing a hookah and breaking some pita bread.

My favorite workout is the Kenpo X. Not surprising since the guy who helped Tony design the workout is Wesley Idol, who also teaches karate at the dojo where I once studied. If memory serves, Wesley is a third degree black belt. I think I sparred with him during our regular Wednesday Night fight classes. The instructors loved to throw the lower ranked belts (myself included) in with the guys wearing the black gees. They were quite sadistic. Wesley once caught me with a roundhouse kick to the ribs that separated me from oxygen for a month and a half.

So where am I at, you may ask. Well, at the end of a brutal Phase One, I'm down 6 pounds, lost an inch around my waist, gained an inch around my chest (not that I needed that) and feel stronger, more flexible and more athletically fit than I ever have -- except for the late 80's when I was doing triathlons.

I just saw the long range weather forecast for Southern California and they are predicting an unusually warm winter. That works out perfectly for me. Because after I complete the P90X program, I plan to go to work everyday in nothing more than my flip flops and a Speedo.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Today's post is about a neighbor. Not the people who live across the street from me, or the ones that live next door to me, or even my celebrity neighbor, M. Emmet Walsh, who lives in the house directly in back of me. I don't write about those neighbors, mostly because my wife forbids me to.

I'm talking about a blogosphere neighbor.

Her name is Laurenne and she writes an incredibly funny blog, humans are funny. She's also a copywriter and a competitor so I really have no business promoting her business as it is likely to take food off my table. But Laurenne has a huge number of followers and maybe if I write about her I can ride on her coattails and pick up some readers. (My understanding is that Judd Nelson is a follower of her blog.)

There's a couple of interesting things, actually more than a couple, you need to know about Laurenne. She writes about her vagina. A lot. That alone should have you checking out her blog immediately. And of course I mention that tidbit first because in accordance with the cardinal rule of journalism, "if it bleeds, it leads."

I can hear the groaning through the little speaker on my computer.

Another interesting factoid about Laurenne is that she co-hosts a monthly show in Hollywood called Taboo Tales, where-in courageous contributors reveal their most humiliating life experiences. She has asked me to take to the stage and regale the audience with the scintillating scatological details of my college days and my run-in with a fascist boarding house landlord. But there isn't enough Patron Silver in the 213 area code that will make that happen.

What I admire most about her is her age. More precisely, her lack of age.

I know I go on and on about the millennials and their unwarranted sense of entitlement. And I can get a little crotchety about their lack of professionalism, their sloppy work habits and their god-awful pretension. Not to mention their knit caps. And for the most part, my criticism is deadly accurate.

But Laurenne is the exception that rule. Unlike the many young posers in the ad business who think they're creative because they have a banner under their belt, Laurenne is genuinely talented. She might be half my age but has already found a distinctive writing voice that eludes many of us until we're saddled with a mortgage, a marriage and a couple of leeches...uh, kids.

I rarely write anything complimentary about anyone and I might be in danger of making Laurenne blush. But I'm willing to take that risk. She has after all told the story about a potential Italian husband who shit the bed silly.

So I'm pretty sure, that like myself, she lacks the gene for embarrassment.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Victor, you're fired

If you've ever dealt with a rodent problem you are intimately familiar with this device. It was invented more than 100 years ago. And believe it or not is still the method preferred by professionals exterminators.

I know because years ago we had discovered mice in our attic.

Actually, there weren't mice, they were tree rats which raises the ick factor logarithmically. One of the screens to the crawl space had come ajar and the rats were entering, climbing up the interior pipes and nesting in the attic. Fortunately we were able to keep this news from my daughters otherwise we would have been forced to leave the house for an expensive stay at a nearby hotel.

The exterminators sealed the hole, set the traps and within a week we were rat-free. They also provided me with a half dozen of the pictured contraptions to set around the house, you know, just in case.

If you've ever tried to set one of these hair-trigger happy bastards up you know it's not that easy. And I'm sure you have the black and blue fingertips to prove it. Perhaps that is what gave birth to the aphorism: Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

The other day I was working on a script about the notion of better mousetraps (this is why I love what I do for a living) and came across what I believe to be, a better mousetrap. You don't have to buy it. Chances are you have the household items you need to build your very own.

Just ignore the rancid water if you can and admire the Maguyver-like construction.

The mouse, or tree rat, walks up the ramp and leans over to eat the peanut butter rubbed on the glass jar suspended by a common broom handle. The jar spins and the mouse or tree rat, unable to maintain its balance takes a swan dive into the 2 inch pool of water. Lacking the ability to swim or navigate the 90 degree slippery plastic surface, the disease-carrying rodent suffers a long and agonizing watery death.

It doesn't have the beauty of the classic spring loaded Victor.
But what it lacks in aesthetics, it more than makes up for in devilish simplicity.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Needless Hard-Ons & Tears

Last week the agency I'm working at, RPA, threw a party to celebrate their 25th anniversary. It's a little ironic that I find myself working there now as this was the very first ad agency where I got my very first ad job.

At the time, they were Needham Harper & Steers. And I was hired to work in the mailroom, where we -- the over-educated/underemployed mailroom clerks -- called the agency Needless Hard-Ons & Tears.

The mailroom clerk position gets glamorized in many rags-to-riches movies, after all it's where many great captains of industry got their start. Everyone from Michael Eisner to Barry Diller to Simon Cowell. But make no mistake, it is a menial job with little pay and even less dignity. (This was a hard pill to swallow for a college graduate who thought his $30,000 sheepskin would garner more than 8 hours of moving boxes, resupplying the coffee machines and delivering mail to a bunch of overpaid "creative" types.)

But, as it turned out, the mailroom was a perfect place to learn the ad business. Particularly the part about having your dignity stripped away.

Years after pushing that damn cart around the office I had landed a real copywriter's job at the now-defunct Abert, Newhoff & Burr. And sold my first television spot for a car. And not just any car. This was a spot for the newest Japanese import, the three cylinder (that's no typo), fuel-injected Daihatsu. It wasn't so much a car as it was riding lawn mower with a glove compartment and a radio.

But that was hardly important. What was important was that my partner and I had sold a spot and our portfolios were about to grow by leaps and bounds. Or so we thought.

Having just finished my breakfast burrito and settled into video village for an exciting day of filming, I was approached by the Creative Director. He pulled me aside for what must have been a difficult chat.

C.D.: Listen, when the director starts blocking the shots and gets the camera rolling you're going to see some unfamiliar things.

Me: Unfamiliar? (this was my first real car shoot) How so?

C.D.: Well, there were some changes made to the script.

Me: Changes?

C.D.: The client requested some changes.

Me: OK, what changed?

C.D.: Everything.

Turned out the clever slice-of-life in a Daihatsu script we had written had been swapped for 27 seconds of running footage and a cheap rendition of a bad Julie Andrews song.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. And found myself yearning for the mailroom days when I still had a shred of dignity. Sensing my despair, the Creative Director found the only silver lining in the day.

C.D.: The craft service people are great. For lunch I hear we're having Chilean Sea Bass.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Matt Foley

After I drop my girls off at St. Monica's Catholic High School -- just saying that still takes some getting used to -- I drive down 11th street towards Broadway towards RP&, where I am currently working a great long term gig. And every time I make this little jaunt through Santa Monica I spot this beat up old truck parked next to a car dealership.

Today, I decided it merited a photo.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the Carpenter/Remodeler/Handyman who calls this his work truck also calls it his home. For one thing, the van doesn't move. And hasn't moved since my daughters started learning about the sacraments. The other reason, and this should seem self-evident, is I don't think this guy is getting a lot of work.

And I'm not saying that because the economy is bad or because out-of-control government spending in Greece has had a worldwide impact.

This is all about Marketing 101.

This guy, who lives in a van down by the ocean, could be God's gift to cabinetry. He could be a stud among 2x4 studs. He could be Bob Vila, Norm Abrams and Steve Maguyver all rolled up into one, ready to work his magic on any busted pipe, clogged up toilet or broken water heater in the 310 area code. But I doubt his phone is ringing.

And it's not because his AT&T bill is overdue.

I'm sure there are some pithy analogies to be made about myopic clients who similarly don't understand how a bad ad can be detrimental to their business and their brand. But I don't fight that fight anymore. The truth is I simply don't care. Oh I always try to do good, smart work, but if stupid clients want me to write stupid advertising to customers they assume are stupid, I'll gladly take their stupid money.

As for the apparently not-so-handy Handyman, I can only hope that he wakes up and sees the error of his ways. Until then, I've asked my daughters to say a couple of novenas on his behalf.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I read a great story last week. Screenwriter and fellow Syracuse University alumni Aaron Sorkin remembered the time that he got a random phone call from Steve Jobs. Steve had called to commend him on the writing of The West Wing.

It made Sorkin's day and even led to highest of compliments, an invitation to write a Pixar movie.

I never wrote anything to merit a phone call from Steve Jobs, but I have it from a good source that he did enjoy one of the pieces from my portfolio.

You see Steve was good friends with my former boss Lee Clow, pictured here in front of the wall in his office with some of his favorite work. If you look right above Lee's left shoulder you can spot one of the outdoor boards I did for ABC. Here it is in a different format.

I don't know if Steve saw the reproduction on Lee's wall during a rare visit to the Playa Vista office or if he saw it San Francisco when the ABC work was in its heyday. I don't even know if Steve actually uttered the words, "that was one of the funniest lines in the campaign."

I only vaguely recall that Kristen, Lee's right hand woman, once told me something to the effect of "Steve really liked that line." 

You take your flattery where you can get it.
That works for me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I left my arch in SF

Just got back from Costco where I picked up the jumbo 64 ounce container of Ben Gay.
It wasn't for me, it was for my wife.


Because this past weekend she did what she had previously thought impossible. She completed the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. I know she thought she'd never live to see the day where she could proclaim, "I've run a marathon", because she was always in disbelief when she would see me at the finish line of the LA marathon.

"I don't know how you could do that."

Well, now she has the runner's badge of courage, a couple of lovely thick black toenails. And has gained entry into the exclusive 26.2 mile club. I couldn't be prouder of her.

But believe it or not, crossing the finish line is not the top story here. That honor belongs to a brave 11-year old boy, who fiercely battled and eventually succumbed to leukemia.

Let's turn the clock back a few years when our neighbors suggested we hire their nanny and housekeeper, Sylvia, who was looking to earn extra money. Deb and I were working and we needed the extra help around the house.

Sylvia arrived at her house with her son, David, in tow. He was a smiley young boy with a penchant for soccer and video games. From his affable demeanor you'd never know he was fighting a life-threatening disease. But he was so we did everything we could to brighten his day.

I dusted off the PlayStation 2, which never got much use in my house of Estrogen, and secured as much Sony swag (from friends at Chiat/Day) to give to David. So while his mom scoured every corner of our house, David planted himself in front of the TV and found himself in a little bit of temporary heaven.

And temporary it was.

Up and down rounds of chemo and radiation took its toll on his formerly stout body. That led to all night vigils at Children's Hospital and then a fate no parent, no less a single mother from El Salvador struggling to make ends meet, should ever face.

Fast forward a couple of years and Sylvia, a woman strengthened by the experience, found herself enrolling in the Team in Training to run a race to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Needing running mates, she enlisted my wife and our neighbor Kirsten as well.

Well, the finish line has been crossed, the epsom salts have been purchased and thousands of dollars have been raised. But, if you'll excuse the clicheed writing, the race is not over.

There are other Davids and other Sylvias out there. And their stories deserve a happier ending.

Please make a donation at

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Play Ball

I'll admit it, I'm a fair weather baseball fan.

Put a baseball game on the TV in the middle of May and I'm more likely to switch the channels to the Home Shopping Network or that odd infomercial for the Trojan Vibrator, the one that "blows your hair back."

But come October and the Division Series, the Championship Series and the World Series and I hang on every word uttered by Tim McCarver. I love the action, I love the nail biting drama and I love the convoluted strategy.

Safety squeezes, pitchouts, running on 2-0 count. I can't get enough of it. It's all so heady. It's the athletic equivalent of chess. Played by a bunch of lunkheads who chew tobacco, light each shoes on fire and wet towel snap each other in the locker room without a hint of homo-erotica.

Last week, we had an Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher named Putz
And this week, I was happily introduced to the hard-throwing Doug Fister.

I'm going to tread lightly here because this is -- with few minor exceptions -- a G-rated blog and when discussing the practice of fisting and those who are fisters it's too easy to slip into no man's land. Let's just say that when Fister is on the mound I pay special attention and I am on Defcon 5 for any mishandled puns or slips of the tongue.

Speaking of slips of the tongue, I'm pulling for the Cardinals. I hear they're pulling up a utility 3rd baseman from the Toledo Mud Hens in the AA league. His name is Steve Felcher.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Spotted this bumper sticker the other day. It wasn't the first time I had seen it, but part of me wishes it were the last. I have been meaning to jump on these Pro-Drum activists ever since the start of the hunger crises in Darfur.

Look at this clown in the picture. Not only does he have a dozen freshly minted bumper stickers to get the pressing needs of organic drummers out there, he's got the 100% cotton T-shirt that amplifies his ardent feelings.

Now you can call me tone deaf. I don't see or hear a world of difference between a hand-made Pearl High Hat and it's electronic equivalent.

But Rich, I can hear you say, surely there must a hundred other worthwhile topics to rant about than those who despise drum machines. And that is exactly my point.

There are a hundred other rant-worthy topics and this guy, and his ilk, ought to look into some of them.

There are children starving and tribal ethnic cleansing going on in Africa, there is institutional oppression of women and Non-Muslims on the Asian Subcontinent, there is the widening gap between the obscenely wealthy and the obscenely poor, there is pollution, there is violence, there is the depletion of our natural resources, there is a host of problems all worthy of a movement.

And all of them of them are infinitely more important than the flitterings of the percussion-obsessed.

While drum machines may have no soul,  neither do the people who are so fervently opposed to them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Two Things Jews Don't Do

Today we feature another installment in my long running series of Things Jews Don't Do.

Recently, I've decided to supplement my daily swimming and running routine with some weight lifting. I've been doing a lot of reading about the beneficial aspects of pull ups but had no place for a chin up bar in my garage. I went online and found a lot of suggestions for mounting a chin up on the ceiling or with a wall mount.

Unfortunately, most of those involved drilling, measuring and lag bolts. Generally, if I hear the words lag bolts, I run the other way. And I have the poorly patched drywall holes to prove it.

Then I came across this unique and deceivingly simple solution (see above) that takes advantage of the rafters that span across the garage. It is a perfect example of quintessential American ingenuity using nothing more than a little imagination and some dirt cheap steel piping.

I hopped in the car, ran to Home Depot and quickly purchased 6 3/4" elbows, 2 3" nipples (their terminology not mine), 2 10" pieces, 2 4" pieces and one 36 inch bar of 3/4" pipe. Total cost: $29.71.

Within minutes I was home and had successfully recreated the apparatus.

A testament to simplicity, this could very well be the first and only home improvement project that did not require two, and many times three, return trips to the Home Depot.

Tomorrow, the next chapter in Things Jews Don't Do:
A proper military-style chin up.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Branding 101

Last week I ran into my old partner at temple. I didn't recognize him at first because I didn't know he was a member of my congregation and also because there are business colleagues I only associate with business. It's a matter of context.

In any case, he's now some bigwig with one of the holding companies. No need for names because, well, I don't need to give anyone a reason to blacklist my name for any future assignments. I'm sure I'm persona non-grata in plenty of places, thank you very much.

Years ago I was working on a freelance assignment at this unnamed agency. The art director and I presented a bunch of concepts to the previous Creative Director. He liked many of them but selected three for further development. Then he told us that the agency had been very successful beta-testing a new software program called Alpha One which tested creative ideas for efficiency and message resonance.

"Really?" I said.

"Really." He replied.

So, he added, can you go back and rewrite these ideas and mention the client's name within the first 7 seconds of the commercial?

"You're shitting me, right? I said.

"Not shitting you." He replied.

Adding, it would be better if you could mention the client name in the first 5 seconds.

It's funny how little we have learned from Steve Jobs, the greatest marketing visionary to ever wear a client hat. Imagine if the "1984" spot had been put to the Alpha One test. We wouldn't be talking about it. Same thing for the Apple's 1998 "Think Different" campaign. In fact, the same applies to every commercial that has ever made its way into your memory vault.

Had I a set of balls and not a looming mortgage/car/tuition/insurance payment due I would have simply followed the Creative Director's logic to its logical conclusion and brought him back an
Alpha One-friendly script like:

Open on art card of (Client's name).

Cut to a man and woman talking at a restaurant.

MAN: Client's name client's name client's name?

WOMAN: Client's name!

MAN: Client's name client's name client's name Client's name client's name client's name Client's name client's name client's name.

WOMAN: Client's name.

SUPER: Client's name.

Cut to plane dragging a banner across the sky.

BANNER: Client's name.

WOMAN: Oh client's name.

TAG: We're not just (insert industry type), we're Client's name.