Thursday, December 20, 2012

It was a good year.

Hard to believe another year is in the books.
But it is.
And this will be the last posting.
That is until January 7th, 2013.

Soon, and I won't say when, we, the Siegel Clan, will be off for holiday across the pond. After many years of promising my daughters, I finally bit the bullet and planned a European vacation. OK, that's a bit of a misnomer.

My wife planned the trip. I simply wrote the check.

We will fly into London, spend a week doing touristy crap, then board a train north. To the high country. To Glasgow, where my mother was born and where we still have family. With any luck I'll convince them to speak American, because I can't understand a damn word they say.

There will be a lot of nodding and grinning.

Then we'll cross the island and visit Edinburgh. I might even try to sneak in a round of winter golf there. I know we'll be visiting the castle (pictured above).

From there we'll hop on a plane and spend the remainder of our time with French people.

My wife and daughters are looking forward to the restaurants, museums and architecture in Paris.

I'm looking forward to the many expected confrontations with apathetic waiters, rude chain smokers, and arrogant cheese eaters of many stripes. This will provide me with many stories and future blog entries upon my return.

Until then I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Bon Ani.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Popoff, Please.

My posts about the Peter Popoff Ministries are never the most popular, however I never purported to pander to the populist preferences of the people. Besides, I find this crap amusing even if you don't.

The first item (pictured above) came in the latest mailing and an accompanying letter from the good-hearted reverend stating:

I prayed over and over asking God how I could fulfill Mark 16:18, "They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."

Then God opened my spirit, know I could not come to your home, God instructed me to rush you this Secret Healing Touch Glove.

I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but God's Secret Healing Touch Glove is the cheap angstrom-thick latex glove you'd see on a worker manning the mashed potato station at the high school cafeteria. I'm sure the gloves cost thousandths of a penny and are stamped out in a sweatshop in Laos. By godless heathens, no less.

Rev. Popoff further instructs:

Tonight only, you must put on the Secret Healing Touch Glove and touch your body any place you want God to heal. Then, (and apparently this is very important) you must return the glove to me and I will give you God's prophetic word about your healing.

I knew the Lord worked in mysterious ways but this seems very complicated. Couldn't he just prescribe an antibiotic for this urinary tract infection?

The next item is equally fascinating.

You may be wondering what this is, I know I was.

This is Jesus' Blood Red Miracle Apron. No joke. I'm assuming it's a replica, because I hate to think the Reverend Popoff would entrust an infidel like myself with such an important religious artifact.

Also because it's so damn small (as you can see from the referential quarter). You couldn't tie this apron around a mouse, no less a grown hopeless adult desperately seeking the blessings of the Almighty.

I had never heard of the apron until the Reverend conveniently laid out the scripture:

God, you have used aprons from the hands of Paul in Acts 19. As I lay this apron on my boy, heal him, raise him up and use him for your glory.

Finally, I'd like to show you this:

This needs no explanation. It's the Baruch wallet. It's so nice that the Reverend has appropriated some Hebrew and incorporated it into his scam religion. It gives it that nice old timey, Old Testament sheen of credibility.

I think I can speak on behalf of all Jews when I say, if you crazy goyim want to start up new religions and bilk fellow gentiles out of their rent and food money we'd prefer you left us, our literature and our sacraments out of it. We won't feel slighted. Promise.

What I've shared with you is simply the tip of the iceberg. The thick envelopes stuffed with the Popoff crap continues to flood my mailbox. And I've had to find a separate storage place to keep it all. Of course that's a burden I've taken on myself.

But thanks to our 18th century tax codes and the ridiculous breaks afforded organized religion you have been complicit in the charade.

His mailings to me and my mailings back to him are completely subsidized by the US taxpayer.

If we're going to solve our fiscal woes and walk away from this cliff, we ought to make billionaires pay their fair share. But we also ought to make God cough up his.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Calculus 101

When I tell people I used to work at Chiat/Day they always want to know what it was like to present work to Lee Clow. They presume the experience to be intimidating and nerve-wracking. And to some extent, it was.

But I always found that was more self-induced.

When it came to judging work and whether that work had any merit to move forward, Lee was always surprisingly brief. "Yes." "No." "No." "Yes." "No.""No." "Definitely No."(OK, I'm being generous, there was one Yes for every 20 No's.)

The work that passed the yes/no test was always followed with, "That could be funny", "That could be cool", "That could be interesting." Meaning, this has promise, but a lot more work had to be done.

What I find interesting is how the judging criteria has changed over the years.

You see, I rarely hear those type of phrases anymore.
Today, work gets held up to a different measuring stick: the check list.

"This spot has plenty of innovation, but not enough humanity."

"This talks about our features, but not enough about the benefits."

"This speaks about our heritage, but not enough about our future."

If you work in the Creative Department of an ad agency you know exactly what I'm talking about. A brief may have one single communications message, but a good planner knows how to utilize every inch of white space on a page. So that one overriding message will be buttressed with further requests.

These are cleverly disguised as Tone, Copy Support, or the very threatening, Mandatories.

And just because they're at the bottom of the page doesn't make them any less important.
They're all important.

In the end, a spot that was designed to convey X, must also include mentions of Y and Z, while at the same time implying leadership, innovation, customer service and dependability. The spot may be humorous, but not funny.

When it's all said and done, the brief looks less like a strategy for success and more like a recipe for something you'd never want to eat.

Please bake a cake with following ingredients:

2 lbs. white flour
1/2 lbs. ground beef
4 ounces of milk chocolate
3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper
3 ounces 10W-40 motor oil
8 stalks of celery
A dash of curry
A sprinkling of saffron
A smidgeon of Kosher Salt
A pinch of Plutonium

And we need it by 4 PM.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Let's get the Ban together

Like you, I find myself still reeling from the tragic events of last Friday.

I don't even know where to begin.
The tears come easier than the words.

If you don't have children you can never understand what it's like when you do. And if you do have children you can never understand what it's like when suddenly you don't have them.

Nobody should have to cross that threshold.

Sadly, there are many of those shattered parents grieving in Newtown, Connecticut.

Even sadder, there are empathetic folks walking around today, going about their business, sending their kids to school, who will be in that same exact boat, weeks or maybe months from now, when another miscreant straps on the cammo vest and gets all locked and loaded.

I often look at the dysfunctional Middle East and the constant turmoil in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen and think to myself, "What the fuck is wrong with these people? Why can't they learn to govern themselves and get their culture moving in the right direction?"

Today, I'm sure many in first world countries like Japan, England, and Sweden, are looking at us and asking the same questions.

I'm no political activist. And haven't a clue about being a community organizer. But I do have a tool, this blog. And a demonstrated willingness to take pen to paper. So I'm going to do what I do best and start prodding our public servants to start serving the public.

This was a missive I dashed off Friday night to several prominent politicians who are in a position to make some change:

I want to know what you are doing?
I want to know what you have done to amend this country's gun laws?
I want to know what you have done since the mass shootings in Aurora, CO?
In Wisconsin?
In Oregon?
And what you plan to do after today's senseless killings in Connecticut?

You are my employee.
You work for me.

If I were running a business and an employee of mine had ignored a customer or failed to come through on an assignment, multiple times, I would fire that employee.
Twenty innocent children have died today and some of that blood is on your hands.
And the hands of your colleagues in the Senate and the House.

How hard can your job be?
If it is too difficult or there are too many other priorities, perhaps you are not best suited for this kind of work.
I'm not interested in a form letter from your office.
Or any mealy-mouthed response.
I'm interested in action.
On this.
On the fiscal cliff.
On the very fate of our nation.
Get to work or we will find someone else to do the job you clearly are not doing.

How warped is the situation we find ourselves in today?

Consider this. In 1963, following the assassination of President Kennedy, Congress was debating the legality of rifles like the single-shot, bolt action Carcano M91/38. 

"We do not think any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing in this bill the instrument which killed the President of the United States." 

That came from Franklin Orth, Executive Vice President of the NRA.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A December to Remember

There is the long-held view that the best time to purchase a new car is at the end of the month.

Even better to purchase a new car at the end of the month, at the end of the year. This is the time when dealers need to clear out their inventory and are most likely to cut the best deal to make their numbers.

We are getting near that magical buyer's hour.

But if you choose to walk into Santa Monica Lexus on December 15th, 2 weeks before the optimal buying period, just so you can get a dried-up cold waffle and have your picture taken with old St. Nick, then I am going to assume you are not a fan of the Jeopardy game show.

And that you prefer Wheel of Fortune.

Moreover, the dealer at Santa Monica Lexus is going to assume that as a child, you went to school on the short bus.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Spruce Douche

I often make fun of ad agency/marketing bullshit.

More specifically, the jargon that is spouted off in meetings in order to produce the veneer of intelligence.

I am not alone in this endeavor.

My buddy Jeff Gelberg writes about on his blog, Rotation and Balance. My east coast doppleganger, George Tannenbaum waxes eloquently on the matter in his blog, Adaged. And CEO/Curmudgeon Bob Hoffman is no less perturbed on the topic in his blog, AdContrarian.

In fact, that is where I found the following video gem which I have embedded here because it needs to be seen, and heard, to be believed.

If you have suffered through the entire 4:08 seconds of that interview, I don't know if you can withstand a play by play dissection. Particularly since most of you actually work in an ad agency or on the client side and will be subjected to more of the same in a meeting scheduled for later this afternoon.

So, if I'm not going to break down the enlightening discussion and I'm not offering up any satirical commentary, why you may ask have I brought it to your attention? To be perfectly honest, I just needed an excuse to play with with my new toy: the Einstein Blackboard Generator.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keep it Simple, Stupid

Last week a bomb went off in Santa Monica.

The Honda Motor Company announced they were putting their $700 million account up for review. And in doing so, possibly ending a 26-year relationship with their ad agency Rubin Postaer and Partners.

The relationship is actually longer. Since Honda had been with Gerry Rubin and Larry Postaer while they were steering the ship at Needham Harper & Steers.

I know this (and this dangerously dates me in this business) because I was a mailroom clerk at NH&S. It's where I got my start. The Honda/NH&S/RPA relationship has been the only constant I have known  in the last three decades of advertising.

I hate to use the word inspired, but watching the way the creative people on the 7th floor went about the business of doing great work for Honda lead me to a career in copywriting.

Bob Coburn was the senior writer on Honda. He might have been a Creative Director or Group Head or any such nonsense. But Bob never struck me as a guy who cared about titles. However, his senior status at the agency never stopped him from palling around with the mailroom clerks.

He'd come into our windowless stockroom, where my partner Jim and I were often opening and reading confidential memos. It could be argued that we knew more about the agency than anybody in  the walled off departments.

Bob would get a kick from our Wall of Shame, sophomoric shit we had written or clipped from magazines and pinned on a wall to amuse ourselves. This was way before the Internet and youtube videos.

One time he spotted a box of empty mailing tubes. He asked if he could have them as well as a ball of heavy string. A week later Bob came to the mailroom to show us his newest invention. He escorted us down to the parking garage and demonstrated how, when draped over a car, his portable contraption of mailing tubes and string could prevent dings or scratches from the careless swinging of a car door.

It was brilliant. And it was simple.
Like everything Bob, and the agency, did for Honda.

I also remember him telling me how they had just sold a double-page long copy ad for the Civic. He told me the 1500 words worth of copy were due in a month. A month! These days the copywriter would be given a day, two tops.

Bob would stew on it. Write down errant phrases. Maybe draw up an outline. But he would take his time. Because it would take time. And when the deadline arrived, Bob would have the copy written and the client wouldn't change a thing, mostly because there was nothing to change.

Am I guilty of nostalgia and painting an overly rosy picture?


But that kind of craftsmanship is rarely seen these days. And now, it appears, it is being joined by its close cousin, loyalty.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Put a fork in it

If you're a regular reader of this blog, and apparently many of you are as last month's web traffic hit an astounding high of 7499 hits, you know that I cover a broad range of topics.

Everything from the insane, increasingly meaningless world of advertising to the insane, increasingly meaningless world of Judaism.

And anything that happens to fall in between: corrupt politicians, glamping, people who need to be thinned from the herd, resume title inflation, odd winter solstice celebrations, the dynamics of parenting two teenage daughters, etc.

If it's one thing this blog has going for it, it's diversity.
Which is simply a nice way of saying, I lack focus.

Not unlike the folks at Dixie Smart Stock, proud purveyors of plastic cutlery.

I'm sure there were screaming matches going in the hallways before this brainchild was launched on the public. Pitched battles between the Teaspoon Brand Management Team and the Tablespoon Brand Management Team. Both of whom have it in for the Soupspoon Brand management Team.

In the end, as it often does, it came down to the consumer.

And the upper brass at Dixie made their final decision based on the comments of one Kathy Livingston, a data entry analyst and part-time quilter from Teanack, NJ, who said in a focus group, "I wish someone would come up with a multi-purpose spoon that I could use for my tea and my soup, but yet at the same time was good for everyday use at the table."

The odd thing is, Ms. Livingston was in a focus group to judge commercials for the new Nissan minivan.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

ǝɯoɥ ʎɯ oʇ ǝɯoɔlǝʍ

Yesterday, I made mention of the African-American women, usually wielding a sun umbrella and a copy of The Tower, who show up regularly at my doorstep to pitch me their version of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Lord of Lords. You take your pick.

I also referenced the mezuzah that, for no good reason, hangs on my doorframe in the correct 38 degree angle. This article purports to explain why it is hung at an angle, but like a lot of scripture, I was more confused after the explanation than I was before I had wasted three minutes of my life.

Several months ago, we were having a problem with the circuit breaker box and so we called out an electrician. An olive-skinned man and a thick middle eastern accent showed up at my house. He was very gruff so you can imagine how the many hairs on my back stood up at attention when he turned to me and said,

"You, Jew?"

Uh, yes, I replied, already indexing everything I knew about the Balfour Declaration, The UN Partition of 1947 and Abdel Nasser, in preparation for a spirited verbal combat.

"Me too" he said, sensing my apprehension.

And with that he explained how he and his family had moved here from Israel.

He also pointed out that the mezuzah I had carefully hung on the front doorpost, was upside down. And he was right. I had never noticed it before. But reading the Hebrew letters, and it's amazing that I still can, I saw that it says ya-rush-a-lay-em, or Jerusalem, upside down.

Before the electrician left, he handed me an invoice for the work and scolded me. He said I should yank the mezuzah out and hang it right side up. I didn't tell him, but me, hammers and nails make for an awful combination. That's why we keep an ample supply of Spackle around the house.

As soon as Rabbi Edison left the house, I dashed to the back to check the orientation on the mezuzah on the door to the patio.

Hebrew, as many of you know, is read right to left. But if you're trying to read this, which says sha-lom, Shalom, you will once again have to read it from the bottom up.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

No, thank you

There must be some kind of zeitgeist bug going around.

Because every agency I walk into these days is not only interested in hawking their cars/soda pop/video game/dishwashing detergent/marital lubricant, they want to start a "movement."

They want to take all the media choices at their disposal, particularly the free ones like youtube, twitter and Facebook, and create a groundswell of evangelical exuberance. They believe that with the right manifesto in hand, the right viral film in place, and the right hipsters in their pocket, they can have the whole country buzzing about their cars/soda pop/video game/dishwashing detergent/marital lubricant.

I make no secret about my skepticism. Some have even made a malapropism of my name and called me Rich Cynical. But seriously, what god-forsaken Faris Jacobian planet are these people living on?

A movement?

The Jehovah Witnesses have a movement.

They show up at my front door every three months or so. Two older African-American women, about as sweet as people are allowed to be, will ring my bell and ask if they can share some of the wisdom they have in their hand. I politely point to the mezuzzah on my door frame (assuming they know what that's for) and tell them, "I'm all good in the faith department."

But if the situation were different and I were at a dinner party and one of the guests tried to corner me to tell how excited he was about a certain car/soda pop/video game/dishwashing detergent/marital lubricant, I would quickly dispense with the niceties and tell him or her to, "Eat me."

I don't know where all this "movement" mumbo jumbo started. Nor do I understand why the notion of it has any credibility.

Other than colleagues in the business who create this nonsense, I don't know anybody who spends time online putting decals on cars or following the tweets of Flo from Progressive Insurance. There's a thing called Life out there and it's best experienced without any so-called "branding."

I look forward to the day when ad agencies put down the Kool Aid and resume drinking whiskey at their desks. Then we can abandon these "movements" and get back to the business of selling cars/soda pop/video game/dishwashing detergent/marital lubricant.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Blogging Will Commence Immediately

Clean up your room or you will be blogged.

Yesterday, I wrote about the strange Christmas customs that take place in Europe. Including the appearance of Farmhand Rupert who shames little German children into good behavior by threatening to hit them with a bag of ash.

Germans may not be the warmest people, nor the funniest, but one can hardly argue with their success in the area of discipline. And if humiliation is a proven method of success, who am I, a hapless discipliner, to shy away from its effectiveness.

So today I'm hauling out an old picture of my youngest daughter, Abby, who can't manage to get her dirty clothes into the dirty clothes hamper. I suspect other parents of teenagers have the same issue going on at their house. But I have what they don't: a blog.

I also have at my disposal, thousands and thousands of photos. Photos, which I'm sure, my daughters do not want floating around the world wide web of WTF.

Furthermore, I have stories.
And I'm not afraid to use them.

For instance, last week Abby had a huge final in Biology. She's been struggling with this course so we brought in a tutor from her school. An upperclassman with stellar grades and an incredible ability to coach younger students to success.

This tutor, let's call him Blake, which isn't his real name but will suffice for these purposes, looks like a younger Keanu Reeves.

Unlike Keanu, he is incredibly bright. He's right out of Glee. He plays football. Sings in the choir. And has almost perfect grades. Next year, he will be attending some Ivy league college. And when I drove him home, he told me of his aspirations to join the FBI or CIA. Not only because he wants to serve his country but also because likes the sound of "Officer Blake."

As if that weren't enough, he calls me Mr. Siegel.

Long story short, but no less humiliating for my daughter, the results of the Biology test just came back. And Abby aced it.

Needless to say my fondness for Officer Blake, which was already in the stratosphere, has soared even higher. I now have a huge man-crush on him. And wish he would marry my daughter.

If the times were different and the old customs prevailed, I'd have already pick out the goats and cattle for his dowry.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

If white people in blackface doesn't get your attention, I don't know what will.

It's about the most politically incorrect imagery I am prepared to go near. Of course, I wouldn't go near it if I didn't have a good reason. And that good reason is Christmas. Strange, right? Well, not to the people in the Netherlands, where every year young, liberal, multicultural Dutch people take to the streets dressed as Zwarte Piet.

That's Black Pete for those of you who don't speak Netherlandese.

Apparently, in addition to Will Ferrell, Santa has many helpers including Pete. According to legend, his job is to entertain the children with singing and dancing while Santa goes about the business of gift-giving.

Legend also has it that like the elves, there were many, many Black Petes. And that they would travel by boat. And they would "serve" jolly old Saint Nick. I can't imagine why this fun holiday custom never caught on in America.

But if you'll pardon the pun, this quaint ritual of the Dutch pales in comparison to the Austrians -- the folks that gave us Hitler, World War 1, and state-of-the-art Anti-Semitism -- who celebrate the birth of Jesus every year by carting out Krampus, pictured below. Krampus is the tall one.

These folks know a little about discouraging misbehavior. Unlike Americans, who sing a little jingle about being naughty or nice, The Austrians know if you really want your kids to tow the line, nothing works better than an oversized, cloven-hoofed Satanic man/beast with a tongue the size of a garden snake.

Not to be outdone by their Bavarian brothers, the Germans, also known to know a little something about discipline, have Knecht Rupert or Farmhand Rupert.

He travels the countryside with a handful of switches which he will gladly thrash against the tender asses of ill-behaved Aryan kinder folk. If that doesn't straighten these miscreants out, Farmhand Rupert will hit them with his bag of ash. And no proper German child wants that.

Of course not all European Winter Solstice celebrations are as odd and dark as these. The Spanish, more specifically the Catalonians, have a charming tradition, El Caganer. I've written about The Caganer (The Shitter)  before, and I'll probably write about him again.

He made his first appearance in early recreations of the nativity scene. While the wise men and Mary and Joseph heralded the arrival of the son of God, the Caganer took this divine moment as the perfect time to drop a lincoln log. As seen here...

El Caganer shows up at the end of December as a way to remind farmers to fertilize the land. Or so the reasoning goes. Over the years, the legend of the Caganer has grown. And so has his popularity.

Now, he not only shows up at Nativity Scenes throughout the Iberian Peninsula, there are shopping malls in Spain that boast Caganers standing twenty feet in height.

Though local ordinances say, and common sense dictates, he must be kept at least 100 yards away from the food court.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Excuse Me?

I've been in advertising many, many years.

I know dozens of my contemporaries are looking for ways to get out. These are mostly staffers, working managerial positions and not having half the fun they used to.

I'm not looking for a way out, mostly because I like working the way I do. As a mercenary. Sometimes actually going in to an office. Sometimes working from my house. But rarely meeting with planners, account people or clients. Or dealing with any of the mishigas that can instigate the fight or flight response.

In that respect, I'd like to work many, many more years in this crazy business.

Not to get a spot in the Super Bowl or create another award winning campaign, though that would be nice. Not to build my portfolio. I'm way past that. Not even to prove the remarkably obvious point that age and experience are more instrumental to an agency's success than free bagels, Friday afternoon keg parties or a creative department full of clueless hipsters in stingy brim fedora hats.


I'd like to work in advertising so that one day, maybe, perhaps, with a little luck, on the off chance, with a sprinkle of serendipity, I might hear a client say:

"That's good, but it doesn't make me nervous. I want something that makes me feel nervous."

"I like the dog, but wouldn't it be better with a monkey?"

"I have a gut feeling about this, let's skip the focus groups."

"This feels like spoon-feeding. We shouldn't speak down to our customers."

"I like it, I don't care what my boss thinks."

"I know this should have a social media component, but let's save that money and put into the production budget."

"Let's give it more white space."

"Now that the planner has left the room, can you tell me what he does?"

I could probably come up with 100 more of the quips, but the codeine based cough medicine I've been taking is making me sleepy. Feel free to add your own.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

That's Hot!

Until last week, I had never given much thought to my thermostat. And living here in Southern California, I had even fewer reasons than many.

But recently, a technician came out to the house to do a complimentary service on the furnace he installed last year. He needed to confibulate the flik-flaks or calibrate the manifold exhaust valve pistons. The point is he needed to do something that involved gas and electricity, two forces of nature I usually shy away from.

When he left the house, everything was hunky dory. Then the weather turned cold and neither I, my wife, nor my two gadget-inclined daughters could figure out the thermostat.

I didn't want to program the thermostat because well we're just not pre-programmed people. But I couldn't figure out how to put the damn thing in manual mode. I would turn the temperature up to 70 degrees, the heat would kick in and within minutes it would shut down again and the thermostat setting would magically go down to 62.

And the little brochure, written in Korean pidgin English was of no help. I wanted to "bring great dishonor to cold" but I couldn't find the dishonor button.

So I sprung into action. Meaning I went to the Best Buy store and bought the second generation Nest Thermostat.

Designed by a former Apple Engineer, it has all the beauty and intuitiveness of an iPod. Even the packaging has the careful detailing one expects from the folks in Cupertino.

Naturally I was a little intimidated by the installation process but there were ample videos online that demonstrate just how easy the task can be.

I flipped the circuit breaker, unhinged the old thermostat and carefully drilled the base unit into the wall. As I was inserting the color coded wires, two of them touched and sent a low voltage jolt up my right arm. It was shocking, but not altogether unpleasant.

Within minutes I had successfully, and cleanly I might add, installed the Nest unit. Then I connected to the wireless network that runs throughout the house. Now I can change the temperature on my thermostat from my iPhone.

I realize I'm getting excessively exuberant about all this. But I'm a bit of a control freak and this is just one more element of my environment that is at my command.

If Apple or the people from Nest ever design a gizmo that can reign in my teenage daughters, I'll be the first one camped out on the sidewalk.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Day with Ally Sheedy

The 1970's are considered to be the height of American cinema. That storied decade gave us The Godfather, The French Connection, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Manhattan and Jaws.

Sadly, the 1980's followed with such stellar films as Yentl, Ishtar, and Over The Top.

1985 also gave us the Breakfast Club, a breakout vehicle for many brat packers including Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez and Anthony Michael Hall -- all of whom went on to make a huge impact on the thespianic arts.

I know that for many The Breakfast Club has a lot of nostalgic value. For me it has none. Well, almost none.

You see following its release, another star, Ally Sheedy, also found instant fame and was quickly catapulted unto the A list of actresses. Determined not to become a Rom-Com princess in the John Hughes fantasy world, Ally began searching out meatier, more dramatic roles. And she became a Method Actor.

So when she agreed to play the character of a fast rising Art Director at a hip ad agency there was only one thing to do -- hang out with a creative team at Chiat/Day.

Perhaps because all the other teams were involved with some award-winning campaigns, and because we were not, we were chosen for the task.

The plan was for Ms. Sheedy to spend an entire day with my partner and I to get a feel for what we did and how we did it. If memory serves, she strolled in around 11 o'clock. We exchanged some small talk. She was very pleasant. And then she watched as my partner kerned some body copy and asked me to fill in some widows on a 1/2 page ad for the 1991 Nissan Maxima.

Hardly the stuff of Shakespeare.

She took us to lunch at the Rose Cafe and returned to the office so she could watch us get briefed on a new assignment and shoot rubber bands at the other creative teams in the adjoining cubicles. In addition to her high cheekbones and strong chin, Ms. Sheedy has been blessed with a quick mind.

Because by 2:30 PM her limo showed up and she was out of there.

We eagerly awaited the movie's release. Hoping to get a screen credit as technical consultants. But like so many Hollywood dreams, we were crushed. We found out the film got shit-canned.

Apparently the studio execs came to the conclusion that movies about people in advertising are just not that interesting. I could have saved them millions of development dollars. I have 4 half-written screenplays to that effect.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A New Thanksgiving Tradition

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Like you, we will be partaking in all the usual traditions. There will be two turkeys, one (the big one) roasted, and a smaller backup turkey, smoked on the grill. There will be dull football games playing on the bigscreen TV. Games whose outcome means nothing to anyone at our celebration. And there will be ample excuses to exceed my daily allotment of bourbon.

18 excuses to be exact, including all my sisters-in-law, who, let's just say, have been blessed with the gift of gab.

But this year, thanks to a tip from my niece (who just got her Master's degree and is looking for a job, nudge, nudge) we'll be doing something I'm pretty sure your family will not.

You see, last week her and her boyfriend were watching the Jimmy Fallon show. He and his guest, Jason Sudeikus, agreed to play a little game of Russian Egg Roulette. It's based on the same premise as Russian Roulette, but in this case the game is not played with blanks and bullets. It's played with eggs, hard boiled and not hard boiled.

So after the turkey is eaten and before the Tryptophan sets in, the men will adjourn to the backyard. And then we will engage in a round robin tournament armed with only with our courage and three dozen Grade AA generic brand eggs.

Because what better way to thank the Lord for his blessings than to drunkenly smash that bounty against our foreheads and permanently stain our recently-pressed Oxford shirts?  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I am an idiot

Sometimes I'll be at a party or a school event or simply outside in the real world and somebody will ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I'm a copywriter. That I write TV commercials and such for large ad agencies. What I don't say, or try not to, is...

"I'm a writer."

That is a loaded response, fraught with all kinds of death traps.

You see, when you tell people you're a writer they make the assumption that you are smart. I'm not smart.

I'm smart enough to make a comfortable living. Smart enough to keep myself and my family out of financial trouble. Smart enough to convince Facebook friends that I have a good grasp on geopolitics, current events and the tenets of modern secularism. Smart enough to use a multi-syllabic phrase like tenets of modern secularism.

But make no mistake, I'm not smart.

People also assume writers are readers. I wish I were a reader but sadly I'm not. My wife, an avid reader, jokes that I am the least well-read writer she has ever known. That's when I remind her that I'm a copywriter. Big difference.

I'd like to read more. The problem is there's so much to read, I hardly know where to start.

Years ago, I had a job in Irvine, CA. A 53-mile commute that would take an hour in the morning and an hour and a half at night. To make the most of this time, I started listening to books on tape. Not just any books, mind you. I was determined to put as many classics under my belt as possible. And I notched quite a few: Frankenstein, Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, Beowulf, Dracula, The Fountainhead, The Grapes of Wrath, Brave New World, and about three dozen more.

I was beginning to fill the literary vacuum that had haunted me since the discovery of Cliff Notes in high school. But then the job ended. And with it, my pursuit of a basic 11th grader's reading level.

Recently I tried to muscle my way through Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses. This guy is to prose what Guy Fieri is to nacho cheese, he can lay it on thick. I made it through 52 pages and still couldn't tell you what the hell was happening in the book.

Which makes it all the more interesting that thousands of illiterate Pakistanis managed to pick up Rushdie's subtext and thematic treatment that they would call for the author's death.

I enjoyed listening to Rushdie on the Bill Maher show, maybe I'll go back and give him another try.

But it is difficult. Because time spent reading is time not spent on the Internet and finding gems like this:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bone Us

The Christmas Bonus.

It's that time of year again, when none of us will get one.

Of course that wasn't always the case. I remember getting my first Xmas bonus. It was my first year in the corporate world. There I was, a lowly mailroom clerk, seated among some of the most highly regarded creative professionals in the ad industry. People responsible for making Los Angeles a legitimate advertising town.

We were at the Riviera Country, where, ironically enough, I would return 10 years later to get married. Agency Principal Gerry Rubin, decked out in a fancy suit and an even fancier cowboy hat strutted around the banquet room handing out envelopes. He approached me, shook my hand, thanked me for all the hard work I had put in that year, though I'm absolutely sure he did not even know my name. Nevertheless, he placed a #10 Navajo White envelope on my place setting.

The more seasoned folks simply placed the envelope in their coat pocket or their purse. I had none of that well-practiced Protestant restraint. I ripped it open before Gerry had moved on to the next table. Inside, I found (1) incredibly-crisp, never-been-folded hundred dollar bill.

Until that point in my life, I'd never held an actual C-note. I was giddy with excitement. And thought, naively I might add, this is just the beginning. This is going to get better and bigger with every passing year in the business.

It did not.

Apparently Southern California ad agencies -- and I've worked at all of them --  have been in a recession and in belt-tightening mode for the last 25 consecutive years. Monetary bonuses were soon replaced with trinkets. Umbrellas. Hoodies. Moleskin tablets. When that got too costly, agencies went to gestures.

"In lieu of a gift we have generously made a donation to the Don't Eat the Dolphins Fund in your name."

Never acknowledging that this charitable donation made for a healthy year tax write-off.
For the agency that is.

And soon the gestures became distant memories. Not only had the Christmas bonus vanished, the grumbling about not getting a year end or Xmas bonus had also disappeared. Now savvy staffers, who are lucky that they have a job, know to keep their mouths shut.

After all, happy shareholders are more important than happy employees.

I work for a very small company now. In fact, we only have one employee: Rich Siegel. And he's done a fantastic job this year. So he's going to get a bonus. And an expensive bottle of bourbon. And some new underwear. And we're going to make a donation to Red Cross in his name. And to top it all off, we're even going to let him write the charitable gift off his tax return.

Merry Christmas, Rich.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Lord does provide

Ruby Shipp used to teach English at the nearby Culver City High School. She also lived in my house before we bought it from her estate in 1993.We still get mail for Ruby so I innocently assumed her identity and have started a correspondence with the Peter Popoff Ministry.

Popoff calls his "church", People United For Christ.

I'm pretty sure Jesus would not look too kindly on the right reverend and his crude technique for separating poor people from what little money they might have.

In his latest package, Popoff sent several (Chinese-made trinkets) including this:

It's nothing more than a piece of nylon chord. I placed it next to my car keys for reference. Popoff wants me (Ruby) to return the chord (then why did he send it?) along with a Prayer offering of $38. In exchange, according the letter, "I have hooked up a SPECIAL PHONE LINE so I can whisper these words directly from our dear Lord's heart into your ear."

Additionally, he sent this lovely bracelet, constructed from the finest synthetic materials and hand-molded plastic:

This is my new Luke 6:38 Bracelet of Blessing...JESUS LOVES ME. He wants me to wear it daily, saying, "I am in prayer agreement with you and your financial needs."

I'm not sure that the corpse of poor old Ruby has many financial needs, but it's good to know they are in the holy and generous hands of Peter Popoff.

And finally, there was this:

A blank check drawn from the Bank of Heaven. Lordy, will miracles never cease?

And just in time for me to do all my Hanukkah shopping.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Just Say No.

As I write this it is 10 AM. I woke up an hour ago. Put on a pot of coffee. Had some low calorie cereal. Replaced the batteries on my thermostat. And played a few games of online Scrabble.

In other words, I'm not at work.

This is unusual for me, even as a freelancer. You see, this has been one incredibly busy year. I haven't worked at a lot of different agencies, but the ones I have did work for, just kept extending me.

It wasn't because they like to have some male eye candy walking the halls.
They extended me because I help put out fires.
Many, many fires.

You see, I write. Whereas most of the folks who call themselves copywriters these days do not actually live up to their job title. I've seen what they do. They make presentations on Post It Notes. They conjure up InstaGrams. They mumble on about social media projects that will only be seen by 327 people.

They do everything but write.

And for me, that's the best of part ad life. I'm not big on meetings. Or exchanging small talk in the hallways. Or "collaborating" with client partners. Particularly the latter. Because that's when what I've written gets dumbed down and becomes what a committee has unwritten.

It's when the compromises start. And never seem to end.

And if you haven't guessed, capitulating, checking off boxes, settling for mediocrity, these are not my strong suits. Once in the name of ambition, I had a stomach for it. Not anymore.

Right now I've got two, possibly three commercials, that have been approved at competing agencies. Neither of these agencies bothered to keep me on for production. I understand. Why pay me a full day rate to sit around to eat sushi and approve wardrobe selections?

Some creatives would grumble about not seeing their work through to the end. I call these people, young.

You see when a commercial goes into production the client Hollywood wannabes come out of their cubicles. Suddenly everybody has an opinion.

"I don't like that actress. She reminds me of my neighbor."

"Let's shoot the red car. Or maybe the black one. The silver is nice."

"What lens is he using?"

Worst of all, when you're on a set, the tenuous power balance between agency and client is tilted in the favor of the party writing the checks.

On one unforgettable occasion and under the threat of an impending thunderstorm, a client, who had graduated with an MBA just 8 months prior to the shoot, caused a two hour delay to a tight shooting schedule, in order to angle a Jaguar XK 3 inches to the left.


For a shot that lasted 2 seconds on screen.

I'm sure he's now the CMO of a major auto manufacturer.

This was more than 10 years, and I'm just now purging it from my system.

So here's my compromise. I'll write your commercials. Or your manifestos. Or your print ads. Or your radio spots. But when it comes to producing them and watching them die a thousand bureaucratic deaths, I'd prefer to stay home and eat my supermarket sushi.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Piece of Cake

I was watching one of the Bourne movies the other night. I don't remember which version, but it was the one where Jason Bourne takes out three guys in the span of 1.6 seconds. Anyway, I happened to catch the end credits.

Turns out one of the Executive Producers was Frank Marshall. That name rang a bell and now you're about to find out why.

Before I found my niche in life as a Corporate Word Prostitute ("Wanna go on the air tonight?" "I'll show you my call to action" "How about a half and half? Half manifesto, half anthemic spot?") I was a kitchen manager at Cowboy-themed restaurant in West LA. We did ribs, chicken and steak on a huge open air display BBQ. People would literally line up on Santa Monica Blvd. waiting to get in.

My boss was smart enough to capitalize on this popularity by renting out the restaurant for private events, mostly movie wrap parties.

The first film we did was Poltergeist. It was a huge affair with more than 300 guests, including Steven Spielberg. Not to mention the kids who starred in the movie, many of whom strangely died at an early age.

Also strange, at least to this young ex-New Yorker, were some of the rituals that took place at every Frank Marshall wrap party. You see, before the shindig had started, a crew from a Hollywood bakery showed up with a delivery. They had in their van, a giant sheet cake. How big, you ask. The cake literally had to be brought in on an old door. It was 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. And took four grown men to carry.

I suppose a cake that large made sense if everybody in the party were to get a piece of the Black Forest Chocolate Cake. But they didn't.

As was their custom, after dinner Frank Marshall would address the cast and crew. He'd thank them for their efforts. He'd perform a little amateur magic, to the delight of all who had seen it a hundred times before. And then the cake would be brought out and placed in front of him. Just before he would make the first ceremonial cut, two production assistants would run up behind Frank and push him, face first, into the oversized sheet cake.

Frank would flail around in the cake until chocolate, whip cream and strawberries found their way into every crevice on his body. He would act surprised, but everyone in the room, with the exception of yours truly, knew it was coming. And they howled accordingly.

It was Hollywood's equivalent of the bucket of Gatorade toss on the head coach.

It didn't make sense to me then, but it does make sense to me now.

Sure, no one got a taste of the cake --the busboys and I might have snagged a piece that didn't get trampled -- but the crowd got something even more delicious, a moment of our sheer exuberance and laughter.

These days, Hollywood, advertising, and business in general, are all ruled by the bean counters, the cost analyzers and the fun-sucker-outters. I doubt very much that a line item for a $3000 cake, that would never get eaten, would pass the budget gestapo.

And that's the real shame.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The POTUS Position

I am an unabashed aisle crosser.

There have been years when I have voted for the Republican candidate. And there have been years I have voted for the Democrat. There have even been years when I voted for neither. And threw my support behind a bat house crazy Texas billionaire.

How can you not like a man who once said, " If you see a snake, just kill it -- don't appoint a committee on snakes."

A Ross Perot presidency might not have been the best, but it would have been the most colorful.

This year, I voted for President Obama. And I'd like to explain why.

I have a college degree. I stay fairly informed on the issues. And I can carry my own in a discussion about politics. But all that said, you could pour what I know about Economics into a thimble and still have plenty of room for the thumb of large Samoan football player.

I don't know whether Romney's financial plan or President Obama's plan made better sense. And frankly when you're talking about billions and trillions of dollars, I don't think even the most informed among us have a clue.

But this election came down to something more important than money. It was about people.

As I have mentioned before, I live in a house with my wife, my dog Nelly, and two teenage daughters. I am the Mayor of Estrogenville. Until I get my prescription for Viagra refilled, I'm pretty sure my wife will not be getting pregnant anytime soon. The story is not the same however for my daughters, who have been known to make poor choices on occasion.

Should that situation come to fruition, I don't want the President, a governor, a senator, or any pinhead of any political stripe, taking any of my family's choices away. Particularly while waving a bible in my face.

I don't live my life according to the laws of your religion. I don't even live my life according to the laws of my religion.

Now let's talk about homosexuality.

My uncle is gay. I have friends that are gay. We know gay couples from the elementary school that have started a family and are raising children. It stuns me that they do not enjoy some of the same civil rights as I do. It saddens me that a candidate and a political party would want to enact laws that further stigmatize and marginalize these people.

I know it's hyperbolic to play the Nazi card but in this case it's not a metaphor. Delegitimizing people is exactly what Hitler did in 1933.

Had they not been wearing Brooks Brothers suits, men like Romney, Akin, and Murdock, could easily have been mistaken for Taliban clerics preaching patriarchy in the foothills of Waziristan.

I don't know what the next four years has in store but I do know it won't involve the President setting policy based on the Old Testament or the New Testament. Or, had Mitt been elected, the new New Testament.

Though I am intrigued by this thing called polygamy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Most Scatological Man in the World

Every time I walk into a new agency, and lately that's been happening a lot, I am jumped by the HR people who insist I sign a 10 page NDA, before I step foot in the building.

In this Non-Disclosure Agreement, I agree not to disclose any pertinent information regarding the agency or, more importantly, the client I will be working on. This ominous legal agreement is meant to stem the tide of corporate espionage.

Only after I have signed the document am I allowed to discuss the latest project, often code-named like Eagle Wing or Red Box or Area 52, or some other nonsense proposed by a junior planner, in lieu of any meaningful contribution.

And only after the papers have been properly filed am I to be given a briefing of any kind.

I make my rounds in Southern California, the automotive capitol of the world. And so, I am often called in to work on car assignments. Today I was handed a brief for a new car, a car the account team, the planners and the client, want to portray as "innovative", "youthful" and a leader in its own "category."

That is certainly information I will hold close to my vest.

However I hate to break it to these folks, but three weeks ago I was at a different ad agency, working on a different car, and their double secret probation brief was along the lines of "innovative, youthful and industry leadership."

And next week I'm headed to another agency. Mmmmm, I wonder what that brief will say?

In other words, it's all the same.

About the only thing that differentiates one ad agency from another, is the zip code. And the level of prankdom allowed in the hallowed hallways.

Yesterday I found the picture above in the 2nd floor men's room at my current undisclosed agency in the heart of Santa Monica. When I first spotted it, I found myself laughing out loud in a crowded men's room, which is probably never a good idea.

Today I am able to share this photo with you. But only after a 25 minute discussion with the HR people and the understanding that this will not violate the terms and spirit of the precious NDA.

Stay regular, my friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Canary Island Date Palm, R.I.P.

This is the majestic Phoenix Canariensis, the Canary Island Date Palm.

It's is also known as the Pineapple Palm tree, because when trimmed properly, the base beneath the tree leaves resembles a pineapple.

The tree pictured above has been in my back yard since we bought the modest Culver City home in 1993. At that time it already stood 20 feet tall, so we can assume it had been there quite a while. Sadly, or stupidly, the landscaper who planted this beautiful tree in the mid 20th century couldn't have picked a worse spot: right under the Department of Water and Power's High Voltage electrical lines.

Last week, I got frantic call from my daughter with the one word no homeowner wants to hear: Fire.

One of the neighbors spotted smoke coming off the tree and wisely called 911. In less than a minute firefighters were high on a cherry picker putting out my palm tree.

You can't see it from the picture, but the top of the 'pineapple' is all scorched.

Faced with no other choice, today a crew of indifferent Mexican gardeners are swinging chainsaws and reducing this beautiful queen into garden mulch. There is a mammoth wood chipper sitting on my driveway and the scene resembles something out of Fargo. But without the blood, the bones or the legendary Coen Brothers snappy dialogue.

My wife and daughters have been reduced to tears. They had an emotional attachment to the tree. I've witnessed this all before, when we got rid of the old dining table. And when we sold the minivan.

I'm also sad.
But for a completely different reason.

Before the hacking, the sawing and the cutting all began, the tree specialist who came out to supervise the operation told me that had they been able to remove the tree (impossible because of the power lines) I could have sold it. Apparently these trees are quite popular with city municipalities. And many Las Vegas hotels that would pay top dollar for a mature 35 foot high Canary Island Date Palm.

So instead of walking away from this with $20,000 in my pocket (that's right $20,000) I now have about $27 worth of smelly firewood.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

De plane, de plane

I'm a big believer of non-believing.

I have little faith in religion, politics, media or anything resembling an institution. I'm a natural born cynic. And though I have a healthy respect for those consumed by doubt, I'm also acutely aware of when skeptics go off the rail.

Particularly the conspiracists.

The Birthers who claim President Obama was born in Kenya. The 911 Truthers who believe it was the CIA and Haliburton that blew up the World Trade Center. Or even the white supremacist militias who put their stock in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and who are convinced the Jews run the world.

This is particularly troubling because if my tribe is pulling all the strings I'd like to know why I have not been invited to one god damn meeting.

Of course, what these conspiracy theorists lack in credibility, they more than make up for in sheer imagination.

Perhaps that's why I end up spending an inordinate amount of my time paging through their websites and watching their incredulous youtube videos.

I don't have the energy or the inclination to debunk all their harebrained notions. I would hope most people with any common sense would see that's exactly what these folks lack. But I'll give you a great cherry-picked example -- which, by the way, is the favorite methodology of conspiracists.

Take this picture for instance. On many videos and on many websites, the 911 Truthers allege, there is a missile strapped to the bottom of the 767 that struck the South Tower.

A missile? Really?

I don't see a missile in this grainy shot but if there were one, the reality is it would measure more than 15 feet in length. Hardly something the baggage handlers at Logan Airport would have missed that morning.

"Hey Bobby, hand me that Samsonite... what the that a two ton LGB-AF62 with laser guided telemetry and infra-red capability jerry-rigged to the bottom of this wide body commercial airliner?"

It simply doesn't add up. Unless the baggage handlers and anybody else who saw the planes that morning, including other pilots, ground crew, and little children staring out the window before boarding their flight and torturing 250 innocent passengers, were all in on the jig.

Is that what these folks are suggesting?

This is where conspiracy theories fall apart. They depend on massive collaboration, deception and off-the-chart intelligence.

And frankly from my experience in the world, and in the advertising world in particular, people are just too damn stupid to pull that off.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Anger Management 101

Dear Neighbor with the Car Horn Alarm that goes off at 5 in the morning,

Even though you live 1/2 mile from my house.
Even though I have never seen your car.
Even though I have never seen your face.

I know you.

And I hate you.

I hate your face.
I hate your shoes.
I hate your mayonnaise.
I hate the school you obviously did not graduate from.

Mostly, I hate the fact that you are completely anonymous to me and that I can't confront you.

I could drag my butt out of bed, throw on some shorts and flip flops, get on my bike and track down your car via the obnoxiously loud alarm. And then I could vent my rage on your precious 2005 Ford Taurus or your irreplaceable 2003 Buick LaCrosse. But if I'm going to jail I don't want it to be for minor vandalism.

I want them to throw me in the clink for Major Verbal Battery and Assault on your cretinous ass. And your tiny reptilian pea brain.

Deep breath.

First of all, who counts on a car alarm to deter thieves? That might have worked in 1986. But today's thieves are much more sophisticated. They can disarm a security system and hot-wire a car faster than you can say Flock of Seagulls. Who, by the way, are no longer recording music and now working as barristas at the local Starbucks.

Secondly, we might share the same zip code but I don't know what kind of alternate universe you live in. When a car alarm goes off, particularly one as grating as yours (a car horn that beeps every 1 &3/4 seconds) no one, and I mean no one, runs to the phone to alert the Po-Po.

"Officer, I believe there's a vehicle being stolen from across the street. Please send the SWAT team."

To the contrary, I suspect your incessant alarm, which has now gone off four times within the last week (all at the worst possible hours of the day) sends a different kind of signal to the community. I think it tells your more immediate neighbors, who are in direct eyesight and earshot of your car...

"Pardon me for interrupting your sleep, can you please urinate on my door handle?"

It's now just before 6 in the morning. Your car horn stopped honking 20 minutes ago but there is still a phantom ringing in my ears. The initial wave of raw anger has begun to subside. Now that my heartbeat is back into the double digits it occurs to me that I owe you a small debt of gratitude.

You see, at the beginning of this year I promised the 11 regular readers of roundseventeen a monthly addition to the list of People We Need to Kill. That well was running frightfully dry. That is, until 5:02 AM this morning.


Your neighbor with a full bladder