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.