Monday, February 28, 2011

Another year, another 192 entries

Today is my birthday. I try not to make too much of it, mostly because I don't like to remind myself that the end is getting nearer and nearer. And also because when I hear my age in numbers, it brings on some cognitive dissonance.

I don't feel as old as I once thought people my age should feel. I feel younger, stronger and healthier.

More important than the candles on my cake, today also marks a very important anniversary. Not of my birth. But of the birth of this blog.

It was two years ago today that I sat down, poured through my friend Mark's new blog and thought, "Oh, I should do that." Particularly since the Los Angeles Times had just instituted a new policy about publishing Letters to the Editor. They had decided they were going to limit writers to 4 letters per year, one every 90 days. If you've stopped by here with any regularity you know that I can crank out 4 raving rants before the cheese on my omelet melts.

I needed a new venue to vent and I was born anew into the blogosphere.

I don't know where this blog thing is going. I told myself I'd do it for a year, I've done it for two. I have over 400 entries (as if that number were any kind of benchmark of achievement) maybe I'll stop at 500. Maybe I'll stop at 1000.

But I do know it helps to have a goal in mind.

So here it is. Recently my friend Laurenne, a very brave young woman and an advertising colleague, wrote a hilarious blog posting about the smell of her vagina. (They say good writing is about opening up a vein and letting it out onto the page. I think Laurenne got the anatomy mixed up.)

I could never do that. Not only do I lack her courage, I lack her genitalia.

In her very forthright posting she also makes mention of odorous, sweaty balls. These too are in my creative No-Fly Zone. In fact here's the deal, if I ever commit four to five hundred words about my own testicular fragrance, that will be official end of this blog and time to move onto the roundeighteen of my life.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The good side of sidekick

Today, we conclude a week of stories about celebrities I have worked with.

Two years ago I was contacted by my buddy Greg Collins who had been freelancing at TBWA Chiat/Day. He told me they had sold a last minute idea to Pepsi about Will Arnett hosting an online Super Bowl Party. They wanted to bring me in to help brainstorm ideas and participate in a run and gun/improv type production. And because it was going to be broadcast online, it would sort of be no-holds-barred.

Great, I'm in, I told Greg.

We met Will and his handlers who promised to show up at the shoot with an ensemble of A-list comic actors to fill out the cast.

I show up at the shoot at about 7 in the morning. We were instructed to leave our cars in church parking lot and take a production van up to the house in the hills of Los Feliz. I get in the van, still half asleep without the benefit of any coffee. Accordingly, I keep my sunglasses on and stare out the window, so as to avoid any small talk with the crew. I'm worthless in the morning until I've had some caffeine.

As the van is going up the steep and narrow hills, a big chunky guy sitting next to me makes eye contact. I don't recognize him. And I'm still doing my best to skip the chit chat. He, being a poor reader of body language, persists. He leans in closer, extends a hand and introduces himself...

"Hi, I'm Andy Richter."

And it was.

It caught me off guard for so many reasons. First of all, stars don't usually ride in the production van. They usually drive right up to the shoot and have some production boy sort out the logistics. Second of all, I was surprised at myself for not recognizing him. I usually have a good eye for that sort of thing. Recently we were in Healdsburg, CA and I spotted Sam Shepherd walking into a bookstore. My wife didn't believe me until the woman behind the counter confirmed the sighting.

But the most shocking thing was the way Andy introduced himself to me. Most celebrities, even if they're on the B or C list, don't make it a habit to introduce themselves to the civilians (I hate show biz people and their demeaning nomenclature.)

I had always been a fan of Andy Richter's work.
After that day, I had also become a fan of Andy Richter.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Magic, you cover the Town and Country

This week's theme -- celebrities I have worked with-- continues with Coach Pat Riley.

Yesterday I talked about Ricardo Montalban and his stint as spokesman for the Southern California Chrysler Plymouth Dealers. What I didn't mention was the reason he was hired. You see the previous spokesperson, the great Coach Pat Riley had reached the end of his contract and decided not to renew.

It wasn't about money. The relationship had just gone sour. And I was fortunate enough to be caught in the middle of that acrimony.

We were shooting another crappy dealer event spot. The Plymouth Spring Fling Sales Event. Or maybe it was Plymouth Rock Bottom Prices Dealing Days. It doesn't matter. It's all the same.

Pat power walks out on the dealer floor. Pat passes by enthusiastic couples eager to get fleeced by their Chrysler Plymouth dealer. Pat does hackneyed basketball joke about driving the lane or not dropping the ball. Something about the deals going faster than a Laker fast break. Pat does a call to action. Logo. And Cut.

At least that was the way it was supposed to go.

On the set, one of the dealers thought it would be a good idea for Coach Riley to point out some of the specifics on the deal, like $1500 cash back on a New Yorker. Or 2.9% financing on an Imperial.

Coach didn't think it was such a good idea. He said it cheapened his image and his brand. He flat out said he wasn't going to pound sheet metal and shill cars like Cal Worthington.

The sparks began to fly. And phone calls to lawyers were not far behind. Coach Riley retreated to his trailer, read the newspaper and smoked cigarettes. (I was more upset about the smoking than his stand for integrity.) And the dealer stood his ground, demanding that his spokesman do the dog and pony. Naturally the account team turned to me -- the "writer" -- to solve this mess.

The standoff lasted 5 hours. And to be honest I don't remember how we got passed the impasse, but we did.

Coach Riley went on to win 3 more NBA championships rings. The stubborn dealer sold the dealership and made millions on the ground floor of a budding frozen yogurt franchise. And this week I'm writing dealer ads for a different car company:

Open on Abe Vigoda walking onto car dealership floor...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Wrath of Frank

I've decided to go thematic this week. Yesterday I wrote about the passing of Kenneth Mars, a great comic actor I had worked with a long time ago. Today, we turn our attention to Ricardo Montleban (he's the one in the middle). I don't know the other two gents, but I believe one of them is an unknown Facebook friend (there's an oxymoron).

Before Fantasy Island and the iconic Star Trek movies, Mr. Montleban enjoyed huge commercial success as a spokesman for Chrysler. Most of you are too young to remember his days hawking "rich Corinthian leather" -- which by the way is pure Madison Avenue trickery. There never was a country of Corinthia, nor any cows endowed with buttery smooth hides.

Nevertheless, the Southern California Chrysler Dealers imagined translating that national acclaim into huge success at the retail level and signed Mr. Montleban on to pound some sheet metal for their cheesy tent sales. And I was the lucky young writer to make that magic happen.

Before any writing started, Ricardo and I went out to dinner. We lunched by his pool in Bel Air. And we bonded. Though I must say he was always more interested in our female producer than discussing any details of the campaign.

Of course, before any campaign gets committed to celluloid it has to get approved by the Dealer Council Board.

(Spoiler Alert -- I'm about to recount a story I've told on this forum before, but it's so indicative of the ad business today, as it was 20 years ago, it bears repeating)

Having written a slew of spots that answered all the dealers needs and incorporated Mr. Montleban's unique charming delivery it was time to present the work. 25 Chrysler Plymouth dealers from Ventura to San Diego gathered at the Downtown Athletic Club in Los Angeles. With storyboards in hand, the entire team from Bozell arrived to meet them. I was told to wear a suit. That never happens in advertising and gives you an idea of the crucial nature of this presentation.

I greeted these self-made millionaires, with their polyester jackets and their 9 AM bourbon breath, and assured them they were in for a treat. Then I calmed my nerves and single-handedly walked them through 5 campaigns of what I considered to be advertising gold.

When it was over, the room was silent. If you've ever sat in a room full of car dealers, you know that was quite an accomplishment. I figured I had put so much good work on the table they were simply awestruck and unable to choose one they liked more than the other.

Then Frank, a 50-ish year old man with a plaid jacket that matched the plaid complexion of his skin, stood up and turned to his colleagues, "I don't know about the rest of you assholes, but I'm not putting a dime of my money into any of this shit."

The room went silent again. But not for long. Before I could even recover from such a stinging indictment, the room erupted in a flurry of unfiltered, unabashed trashing of the work. As if the creator (me) were not even sitting there in a freshly pressed funeral/wedding/bar mitzvah suit.

Mr. Montleban called me later that afternoon.

R.M.: Are we shooting next Thursday?

Me: Maybe two months from Thursday.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mars descending

Last week, Kenneth Mars passed away at the age of 75. You might not recognize the name, that is the fate of character actors, but you have surely seen his work. In movies like Young Frankenstein, Radio Days and The Producers to name a few.

I did a voiceover session with Mr. Mars, many years ago. I couldn't tell you the name of the product or even the name of the agency where I was working at the time, but I can tell you he was one the nicest, funniest guys I've ever met.

Naturally I was in awe of anybody who had the opportunity to work directly with Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. (I find their work a bit shticky today, but back then they were heroes.)

It was with great grace that Kenny signed my copy of The Producers Soundtrack.

It reads, "Hi Rich, The Furher never said:"Baby." Love from Franz Liebkind.

That wasn't the only gift he left me. He told us this great story about working on the set of Radio Days. In one particular scene, he played a rabbi who is upset with Joe (played by a very young Seth Green) for stealing money from the Unicef box. He had to yell at the 10 year old boy and give him a slight slap on the back of the head. Woody Allen, the director, wasn't happy with the zeal Kenny brought to the scene so he pulled him aside.

WOODY: I want you to be really stern with the kid.

KENNY: Alright.

WOODY: And give him a good whack on the back of the head.

KENNY: I don't want to hurt him. He's only 10. He's a kid.

WOODY: Exactly, he's a kid. They're a dime a dozen. Now this time, smack him.

On the next take, Kenny gave the kid a five knuckle wallop and sent him crying to the social worker. He was a real craftsman.

Rest in peace, Kenny.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sleeps with the fishes

Last week, AMC ran a marathon showing of The Godfather and The Godfather II. As I noted on Facebook, it is literally impossible for me to pass this up when I come across the film on TV. Apparently, others feel the same way.

I could launch into a pretentious faux-literary review of the movie and point out its wonderful tapestry of textures, colors and characters, but frankly I find movie reviews, often by failed screenwriters, to be as useless as tits on a bull. Or, for my advertising friends, qualitative focus groups.

I remember my introduction to film pretension came in college. In my senior year I signed up for a course in film history with the esteemed Dr. Arthur LeGacy, who droned on about the difference between the "really real" and the "really reel." You can't make shit like that up.

I didn't care for Dr. LeGacy. And I cared for him even less when he failed me for the course, leaving me three necessary credits short for graduation. He claimed I never turned in the final assignment: a 3 minute film.

The fact is, I turned in the film. He might not of liked the short tale of a young man who ejaculated through his nose every time he sneezed (for a 21-year old that's what passed for clever), but I spent many nights shooting and editing that cinematic masterpiece. And I had the receipts to prove it. So I arranged a sit-down with the chairman of the Film Department and showed him evidence of my hard work.

Professor LeGacy was forced to admit that he had lost a boxful of final projects, offer me an official apology and change my grade to a passing C. Bringing me to 120 credits and a GPA of 2.21, one-one hundreth of a point over the bare minimum for getting a sheepskin at Syracuse University.

To this day I still have nightmares about the LeGacy affair. And have cursed his name accordingly. But a Google search reveals that Dr. LeGacy got very ill last year and now sleeps with the fishes. So there's no need to besmirch his name.

God Bless you, Dr. LeGacy.

And gehzundheit.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Run Forrest Run

When I was kid they used to advertise P.F. Flyers as the sneaker (this pre-dates the 'running shoe') that would make you "run faster and jump higher." I recognize that now as nothing more than Madison Avenue puffery, but back then those shoes held out a glimmer of hope to a chubby 9-year old boy with dreams of playing for the Baltimore Colts (this pre-dates Indianapolis.)

Of course P.F. Flyers were way beyond my mom's allotted budget for sneakers. Even though they were a less expensive knock off of Converse.

Nope, my sneakers were purchased at a Jackson Heights grocery store, in a bin wedged between the cantaloupes and the umbrellas. They were often purchased two pairs at a time, particularly when the price dropped to 99 cents (this pre-dates the 99 cent stores.)

Oh how times and sneaker technology have changed.

Last week I bought a new pair of Asics Nimbus 12. I shelled out $125 for the Impact Guidance System, the Biomorphic Fit Upper and the trademarked Space Trusstic System. I could lie and fudge my way through an explanation of these space age technologies. But to what end? The real proof is in the numbers.

Here is a snapshot from my first run with the new sneakers. 2.89 miles in 28 minutes and 14 seconds. That's about a 9:35 pace per mile. Not bad for a man of my advanced age. And quite a considerable improvement over last week's 10:22 mile pace.

So finally, a sneaker that can actually make me run faster and jump higher. Of course at $125 a pop, there's no way I'm buying these for my kids.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Hallmark Moment

Today is a very special day. A day millions of men in America have been looking forward to. A day when lovers, poets, artists, writers, men of all stripes, get to renew and recharge our relationship -- with Alex Trebeck.

That's right. Tonight marks the debut of Watson, the IBM supercomputer on Jeopardy. Watson will square off against Ken Jennings, the all time reigning champion. And some other doofus know-it-all. (I don't even know why he gets to share the stage with these two heavyweights.)

I love Jeopardy. It's the perfect transitional show that takes me out of my workday state of mind and into my enjoy-the-evening state of mind. I'm also fortunate that my family enjoys the show. It gives me ample opportunity to show off my vast knowledge of useless, meaningless trivia.

It's particularly fun when it's a close game and everything hinges on the final Jeopardy Clue. And somehow, through some magical firing of synapses, I'm able to pull out a correct answer when no one in my living room or even on the set of the show can. This irks my wife to no end.

"How the hell do you know that Gioachino Rossini wrote the opera, The Barber of Seville, but you can't remember the names of my co-workers of my cousins in Minneapolis?"

I don't know. That's just the beauty of the human mind.

Oh shit, today is Valentines Day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Someone will be with you shortly

I write a lot about Islamo-fascists or Muslim extremism or Middle Eastern Neanderthals, pick whatever name suits your fancy. It, and/or they, represent the biggest threat to western civilization in my humble opinion. If I were 25 years younger I'd volunteer to serve in the CIA or Army Special Forces to fight this scourge. Surely, they could use a man to write snappy ad copy on the front lines of this global battle.

While our intelligence units have done an excellent job dismantling and scattering the leadership cells of Al Queda, they have adapted and splintered off into new organizations capable of horrendous terror. Last week Chechen separatists, or as I like to call them "Other Muslims", killed 35 people at a Moscow airport.

Will we ever see an end to this random butchering of innocent people?

Perhaps we've been going at it all wrong. What if, and I'm just spitballing here, instead of trying to prevent attacks on civilians we offered our Muslim brothers our least-liked people to satisfy their blood lust.

That's right, I'm suggesting human sacrifice.

It served the Aztecs well. Ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians practiced the ritual. Even the Chinese offered up humans to their river gods.

Now you might think we'd have a difficult time agreeing on who to place on the altar of ultimate sacrifice. Red Staters. Blue Staters. Evangelicals. Atheists. Carnivores. Vegans. Heterosexuals. Homosexuals. People who signal when they are changing lanes on the freeway. People who don't.

It can be very divisive. But I think we can all concur that if there is one group of people deserving of an untimely and painful death it would be the smart-ass customer service genii who came up with the phone tree.

If you've ever sought technical help with your internet service provider, if you've ever wanted to contest a charge on your credit card bill, if you've ever needed to speak to a human being about refinancing a loan, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Cue: Steely Dan's Ya Mo Be There

"Thank you for remaining on the line. We appreciate your patience, your business is important to us."

No, it's not. Say hello to Mohammed.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Naval Gazing

I don't get paid for doing this blog. There is the random email from friends or a passing comment at parties and get-togethers to the effect of, "I love reading your blog everyday." But the truth is I do this for me.

It's just good old-fashioned narcissism. And a way to stave off early senility. Now that I've made it a daily habit, I'd probably write this blog even if no one were reading. But, as the Google Analytics indicates, people are.

From strange places I might add.

I have no idea who could be following this blog in the Netherlands. Although Wieden & Kennedy has an office in Amsterdam. I'd be flattered if W&K, regarded as the smartest people in the advertising industry, were reading my narcissistic daily dumpings.

France, I have no idea. France and French people are a mystery to me.

Germany. Well it could be my friend Claudia, the Teutonic Planner who used to work at Chiat/Day, who not surprisingly never budged an inch when it came time to adjust the strategic brief. Or it could be a woman I went to high school with, she was always an easy laugh. That would be flattering, too.

But the most puzzling item has to be the 10 people in Vietnam. I don't know anybody in Vietnam. To my knowledge, I don't anybody who does know anybody in Vietnam. There's a new Pho restaurant in my neighborhood, I haven't even eaten there yet.

I can only assume the people in Vietnam who are reading roundseventeen are not coming here for the sophisticated wordplay and insightful observations about politics and culture, but rather the occasional funny picture. So, (with thanks to my pal Steve Morris) this is for all my friends on the 16th parallel, Good Morning Vietnam:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A word on packaging

So the other day on Facebook, between games of Scrabble and finding out what my 700+ "friends" had for breakfast, I came across this banner ad tucked in the corner. It's both fascinating and frightening to realize how much the computer knows about me. Not only is it tracking my behavior and my consumption, it knows what I do for a living and taunts me with ads from my competitors.

I don't know how much it cost him, but kudos to "Mr. Haack" for scoring this type of national exposure. There was a big pitch in NY for Mrs. Kunkel's Bunion and Fungus Remover. I wouldn't be surprised if I lose that gig to Haack, who had the foresight to ply his wares on Facebook.

While Mr. Haack has outflanked me in the Facebook arena, his game plan is not without flaw. And I say this without any presumption of condescension, but rather as a colleague looking to help another colleague in the copywriting game.

Dude, you gotta rethink your handle.

Hack, or even the Dutch-flavored Haack, and copywriting do not belong in the same sentence. It's an industry pejorative that does not serve you well. When a Creative Director finds himself short-handed and in need of a word guy, he's not going to turn to his Creative Assistant and say, "Get me that Haack fellow, pronto."

If I were you, I'd legally change my name. Find a moniker that could not remotely reflect on the kind of work you do.

It's the same reason why I don't call myself Rich Past-His-Prime, Self-Deprecating, One-Trick-Pony.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cleaning house

Continuing on Tuesday's theme of home improvements, this is the shower door in my downstairs bathroom. When we remodeled the house in '98, we had planned to completely redo the bathroom, but like anybody who has gone through the process knows, we simply ran out of funds.

So the ugly tile and the not-so-ugly shower door remained.

This is the original door installed by Mrs. Ruby Shipp, the woman who owned the house since it was built in 1947. Mrs. Shipp is an interesting character. We learned she was an English teacher at nearby Culver High School. And that she died a happy spinster. Oddly enough, even after 18 years in the house, we still receive mail addressed to her. Why a dowdy old English teacher would want a nubile naked girl on her shower is anybody's guess, but that's what makes life interesting isn't it?

With the economy coming back to life so has my wife's desire to complete the bathroom re-do. I had entertained the notion of ripping out the old tile and replacing it by myself. But in the file of Things Jews Don't Do, tiling/retiling is somewhere near the top of the list. I believe it's sandwiched between 'changing out a transmission' and 'hunting moose.'

Of course, when the old tile goes, so will Aphroquarius, my given name to the goddess of the happy shower.

I feel overwhelmed by a nostalgic sense of loss. I'll leave it to you, the dear reader, to fill in your own snappy, puerile ending to this post.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Because I said so

Last week, a mom in Florida (identity not necessary) picked up a gun and shot her 16 year old daughter and 13 year old son. The story is tragic on so many levels. Not the least of which is my understanding of her state of mind.

I have two teenage daughters who have cornered the market on sass. When they're not fighting with each other, they're fighting with me. Or their mother. They're combative about homework, chores, respect, hygiene, and so, so many other things. It's one reason why my pantry is always well-stocked with bourbon.

I suppose it's all karma coming back to pay me a visit. After all I was no joy as a teenager. I remember my mom always saying, "Just wait 'til you have kids of your own. You'll understand."

I do understand. Of course technology has afforded us many ways to deal with teens afflicted with excessive 'mouthiness'.

You see, I've had many moments when I've heard my inner voice scream, "Damn, I like to strangle this kid." But unlike the mom in Florida, I don't own any firearms. I can however reach for the nearest computer and retreat to the digital library.

It's pictures like this, and the memory of when I actually liked my kids, that keep me from landing in jail.