Thursday, March 29, 2012

Resting in Peace

I just learned how to do a screen grab off my iPhone so I could share this recent text from my all-too-sassy 14 year old. 

Abby asks where I'd like to be cremated. An unusual question for any child to pose to a parent but I like to think we are unusually frank and open around the Siegel household and that this type of curiosity is sign of a healthy father daughter relationship. 

Of course the rest of the conversation was consumed with the distribution of wealth in the case of my premature departure. Abby has her eyes on the flat-screen TV, the 27 inch iMac and my 2007 Lexus with the failing timing belt, which I assured her would be fixed as soon as possible.

You may look down your nose at this covetous behavior but rest assured that in accordance with the terms of my will none of these assets will be transferred to her until she attains her four year college degree and gets a steady job. And just for good measure I threw in an additional amendment requiring one year service in the Peace Corps.

Tikkun Olam, dammit.

The more curious of you might be wondering about the location of Upper Grays Meadow. It's just west of Independence, CA., where we have been camping for the last 10 years. I hadn't given much thought to my eternal resting spot, but now that Abby has brought it up, it's sort of a no-brainer.

There's Hillside Memorial nestled between the 405 freeway and the Fox Hills Mall, where I could take my place near Jack Benny, Hank Greenberg and Moe Howard :

Or I could have my ashes scattered about the lush meadow grounds cooled by the Onion Valley River in the Eastern Sierras:

Fire up the oven, Abby.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We need to do more research

I recently read that the CEO of Hewlett Packard was going to consolidate several business units including the printer division and the PC unit. "The plan is to have their line of business more readily integrated so they approach customers together with unified product offerings", so says Tom Bradley, EVP of Personal Systems Group.

You can read more about it here

Or you can stay awake for a more personal anecdote about HP here. 

Years ago, my partner and I were asked to fly up to San Francisco on a weekly basis to help the Saatchi and Saatchi office with the HP printer account. The client was threatening to leave and to take their $3 million budget with them. Naturally this was cause for panic. And we were sent in to rescue this showcase piece of business.

In the annals of advertising (an appropriate phrase if there ever was one) computer printer advertising is about as exciting as watching ink dry. There are no core human truths. Or brand essences at play here. It's all about feeds and speeds. It's about sheet tray capacity. And the merits of 560 dpi vs. 720 dpi. 

In other words, the stuff of dreams.

Of course, none of this stopped the genii at HP from throwing, literally throwing, millions of dollars at the marketing efforts. As mentioned in the snoozy article (referenced above), HP had set up all kinds of independent silos to handle the hundreds and hundreds of different product lines. The silo handling the printer division was spearheaded, and I use that word lightly, by 5 or 6 women. I mention that not as any indictment of gender but only because it is pertinent to the story.

Truth is, over the course of my career, I have found women to be more astute than their male marketing counterparts.

So why is the XX chromosome count important here? Well, it turns the HP marketing ladies were all about egalitarianism. None of them, and I can't remember a single name - which is probably for the better, could make a decision about choosing one ad over another. It was left to the whimsy of the focus groups. 

And boy did these women love their focus groups.

For a single page ad that appeared in the inky back pages of Copy Center Digest or The IT Gazette, we would traipse across the country, with stops in Miami, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. I guess if you lived in Boise, Idaho, as these women did, you'd find every excuse in the world to get the hell out as well.

You could admire the professionalism of these ladies. But it didn't take long to discover the real reason for the intensive "nationwide research." Turned out we logged thousands of miles and countless complimentary continental breakfasts because the HP Printer Marketing Committee had a fondness for shoe shopping. 

I'm sure you could never get the Sr. VP Brand Management Director/Laserjets or the Group Management District Supervisor/Inkjets, or even the EVP Strategic Innovation Planning/OfficeJet, to admit to such, but I know from standing at the luggage carousel at O'Hare Airport exactly what was going on. 

It was all an elaborate corporate-funded shopping ruse. And it became painfully apparently after one exhausting focus group produced the following Freudian slip:

Agency Account Exec.: So which one should we move forward with?

Jr. Brand Manager/Tri-Color Ink Cartridges: I like the open-toed Guisseppe Zanottis. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The S-Word

I never steer way from controversy here at roundseventeen. Maybe I'm too old to worry about the consequences. I like to think it stems from my belief that frank, honest discussion is the best way to get past our differences.  The truth probably lays somewhere in between.

If I find something funny I'm going to write about it.

Yesterday, I went on about a word not often heard these days, "Kike". Today I'm reaching back in time. And in space. To Jerome Ave. in the South Bronx. To talk about a different racial epithet. One that was sadly used way too often by my immigrant grandparents.

The word is Schvartze.

According to the urban dictionary, it is nowhere near as derogatory as the N-word and therefore I don't have to go all third grade on you and say, the s-word. Plus, if you didn't grow up within earshot of Yiddish, you'd have no idea what I was talking about.

The literal translation of the word schvartze is black.

General Schwarzkopf's name literally means black head. I don't know if this stems from a family problem with acne, I just know that's what his name means. Arnold Schvarzenegger is a compound of two German words, schvartz meaning black and...oh, let's just leave it at that.

I'm happy to say that my grandparents unenlightened use of racial epithets stopped at 174th Street and Walton Ave. My parents understood the transitive law of bigotry. That people who see and treat African Americans, or any other ethnicity, with less respect and understanding will easily transpose those feelings toward Jews.

And so words like schvartze and the n-word were never used in my house.

If I could fiddle with the time and space continuum one more time, I'd love to bring back my grandfather just to hear his thoughts on our black president.

Chances are he'd blurt out something like, "the President is a Chocolate?"


Monday, March 26, 2012

Kiking On

I like getting comments. I think most bloggers do. Getting a comment on something I've written means someone has not only taken the time to read what I wrote, they've taken the time to chime in. It means I've somehow struck a nerve. And I like touching nerves.

My wife likes it, too.

It lets her know that all this time I'm in my office, with the headphones on and the door closed, is not being wasted in lieu of more productive activities like taking out the garbage, straightening out the garage or even rearing the children.

Last week I got a very odd comment. It was in response to an entry I'd written over two years ago, entitled ZOG 101, a spirited tongue-in-cheek argument about the theory of Jewish World Domination. I have thoughtfully and in very un-Jewish fashion, generously linked it here for your convenience.

Here's the comment:

I was shocked to read such hateful speech from one of my readers as most of you are friends and family. And I seriously thought about simply deleting the comment. But then I reconsidered and decided the best way to combat anti-semitism is to air it out and let its own fractured logic and ignorance speak for itself. 

My favorite part of the comment is the sign off, where the anonymous and cowardly reader encourages me to "Kike on". While that phrase may be popular on or the vanguard news network, it's not something you hear everyday. I remember the first time I heard the term. 

I was 11 years old. And a dim-witted fellow named Mark Ghosio hurled that pejorative at me. Followed by a flurry of fisticuffs and a quick trip to the Principal's office. His parents and my parents were hauled in for a peacemaking conference. This did little good as my father pulled me aside and told me anytime that kid makes a remark like that, you have my permission to swing away. 

Needless to say, there were many more dust-ups with the Ghosio kid.  

The funny thing is you could show me a picture from my 5th grade class and chances I wouldn't remember 75% of the names. But you never forget the name of the first person to call you a Kike. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March Gladness

It's Thursday morning and the NCAA madness that was started last week is about to kick into high gear again. Naturally I am thrilled because as of this writing my team, the Syracuse Orangemen, are still alive after thoroughly whipping Kansas State.

But I'm also happy for who is not still alive.

Allow me to explain.

Last summer I was hired to fly to Las Vegas and attend a high school basketball tournament featuring all the top recruits in the country. The players were being scouted by all the top Division One coaches. I was asked to interview each of the coaches for a short film being made on behalf of Coaches versus Cancer. As a huge college basketball fan, it was a true labor of love.

I met many of the top coaches who generously agreed to do a ten minute interview between games. And who wouldn't want to help in the collective battle against cancer?

 I'll give you a hint, he likes yellow ties.

On the second of our 14 hour filming days we were all dog tired, ready to wrap up the shoot and call it a day. Our producer however spotted Frank Haith, head coach of the Missouri Tigers. Even though we were all ready to head back to the hotel, Frank said he'd be willing to sit down with us. With one caveat. He wanted to watch a particular kid in the last of the day's scheduled games.

Sure, we thought, we could stick around for another two hours. What's one more game after we've watched about 138? 

We sat on the bleachers right next to Frank. Though we had no vested interest in the game we cheered for one team to put it away as quickly as possible so we could get on with the interview and call it a 16 hour day.

But with three minutes remaining in the game, Frank did the unthinkable. He got up from the bleachers and without so much as a nod to the producer and the crew the documentary, he simply left the building. 

Did I mention it was to fight Cancer

Thank you, Coach Haith for keeping us all there an extra two hours, racking up thousands of dollars in overage charges and contributing nothing towards the effort. It's all so appreciated.

Well last Friday, Lady Karma paid a visit to Omaha, Nebraska and turned the apple cart over for the heavily-favored Missouri Tigers. They were upset by the 15th seed Spartans of Norfolk State (I'm pretty sure it was the Men's team.) 

Of course, it wasn't an upset to me. In fact, it was the complete opposite.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Suck it Idi

Uganda was in the news last week. By now I'm sure you've heard all about KONY 2012. As well as the demise of the man who made the viral hit and the unravelling adventures of BONY 2012.

All this talk of Uganda brought me back to July 4, 1976.
I know I'm dating myself, but in this case there's no getting around it.

Many remember this date as our nation's bicentennial. In fact, I remember my high school buddies Jim and Bob had come over to my house with a case of Heineken to celebrate our nation's birth (the drinking age in NY State was 6 at the time). We were headed out to a fireworks show at Rockland Community College. But before we left the house, there were already fireworks going on upstairs.

News had just come across the TV screen that Israeli commandos had successfully landed at Entebbe Airport, killed the Islamic hijackers of an Air France jet and escaped with 256 survivors. Mind you this was all before personal computers, GPS systems and instant messaging. This was an incredibly brave operation that required precision planning, lightening quick execution and a super human sense of bravado.

You could tell all three were present just in the way my father hooped and hollered for joy. Had my father been versed in Hebrew I'm sure he would have let out the Hebraic equivalent shout of "U...S...A". My father, usually given to fits of anger, was in rare joyous form.

My buddy Bob never understood my father's zeal for Israel and the IDF. And being a well-bred Protestant, always took delight in my self-deprecating Jewish humor. Never failing to join in with a Jewish zinger of his own. Fact is, Bob could have had a promising career as a copywriter.

But like I said he was always looking at Jewish life and Jewish culture from the point of view of an outsider. That is until his grandmother passed away and his father pulled him aside to reveal a little family secret that had been tucked away in a tallit and put in mothballs for a few generations.

Turns out Bob is actually 1/4 Jewish on his father's side.

This of course is a source of great laughter. It has given Bob license to tell Jew jokes. He now has a greater understanding of the importance of the Entebbe Rescue. And he expects gifts from his wife on Chanukah. Well, 2 of the 8 days at least.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Assemble the Firing Squad

It has been over a month since I've posted an entry in the People We Need to Kill Series. I was surprised as you are.

OK, maybe you weren't surprised. I don't want to presume that you pay this platform the kind of attention I do. Nevertheless, it does feel like that just yesterday that I unloaded a lifetime worth of angst and rage on somebody, but that's probably just me.

In any case, with a provocative title like People We Need To Kill, I have to be very careful with my selection of targets. The chosen quarry must be universally despised and worthy of a homicidal rant. And I think if you've ever watched The Learning Channel, you'd agree that the moms featured in Toddlers and Tiaras meet those qualifications.

If you haven't I invite you to sample this wonderful clip:

I don't want to heap all my scorn on this particular mom. They are, as a group, a clowder of potato-chip munching, belt-busting, drama queens who never got enough attention in high school and are now all too willing to revisit their frustrations and project their inadequacies on their unsuspecting and, in most cases, spectacularly untalented children.

Take June, the "mom" pictured above, for example. Her Toddlers and Tiaras episode aired last fall. It was one of the most watched shows in the history of T&T. Eager for another fix of media attention, CNN reported last week that June brought her 6-year old daughter to a college bar and had her dance on stage while crazed college students threw dollar bills at her.

When my daughter was 6 we still had her on a leash. For the record we never had her on a leash, but I think you see where I'm coming from.

Here's the irony. These pageant moms and the whole beauty pageant subculture with its emphasis on cheesy decor, faux stripper routines and anti-intellectualism, seem to be most popular in the South and the Rick Santorum states -- the people who are most opposed to abortion.

The same people who could most benefit from it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tomorrow's Young Guns

The St. Monica's Catholic High school mid-term progress reports are here. I know this is not much cause for excitement at your house but it's kind of a big deal around mine.

Looking over a plethora of B+'s and A-'s it's become apparent that my girls have the same scholastic gene for underachievement that I did.

If it weren't for their cynicism and their propensity to laugh at everything, they probably could be great students. Maybe I should just be thankful that they're not considerably-less-than-great students. Like the geometry student who handed in the test pictured above.

While that student did not fully grasp the Pythagorean Theory, he or she gets points in my book for penmanship and sarcasm. And might want to consider a future as an Advertising Copywriter. As should this bright young pupil...

Here's another Copywriter in the making...

This student certainly has a flair, albeit misguided, with words...

And this could be the next Neil French...

Of course not every student who cracks wise to a teacher is destined to become the world's next Steve Hayden. Some are less gifted with words and more inclined to visuals. They too show potential for a career in advertising, like this failed Physicist but promising young Art Director...

By the way if you are fan of these outrageous test answers, you can find a few hours of quality laughter right here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On The Road (Never) Again

I read an article last week that stated 4 out of 10 Americans had made the drive from one coast of the country to the other. Another 4 out of 10 hoped they never have to.

As someone who has done the drive let me just say three simple words, "Hello, American Airlines?"

My cross country tour happened years ago, but the painful memories are as fresh as yesterday's dirty dishes. (Why do teenage girls have such a hard time understanding the concept of loading a dishwasher?)

I had spent the summer between my junior and senior years of college here in sunny Southern California. When August rolled around I naturally had to return to Syracuse for one more year of "education." I thought it would be novel to see the flyover states and go back via America's highways. I quickly planted an index card to that effect on the UCLA Ride Board.

A week later I got a call from Mitch Feinstein, a neurotic teaching assistant who was looking for a companion to share the driving and lodging costs on his way back to Brooklyn. I snapped up his offer, sight unseen. I even lied about my ability to drive a car with a manual transmission, both of which in retrospect turned out to be a bad idea.

The trip started pleasant enough. The small talk took us all the way to Utah, where the nerdy professor and I spent the first night at a campground, sleeping in a tent (to save money) at the Bryce Canyon National Park. I had every reason to believe the next seven days would be equally pleasing.

They were not.

On Day Two, somewhere in western Colorado, Mitch turned the wheel over to me. It was at this point that it became abundantly clear that I had never mastered the stick shift. Or the even tricker three-on-the-tree.

Mitch was not a happy camper. In fact he was a very whiny unhappy camper. The small talk became smaller. The gap in our musical tastes grew wider. And because neither of us wanted to listen to Jesus radio -- which is all you get in the middle of the country -- the silence in the car grew deeper. And tenser. Interrupted only by my habitual grinding of the gears or Mitch's girly pounding of the fists on the dashboard.

By Day Three, we didn't like each other.

By Day Four and little more than half the trip's mileage logged we couldn't stand each other.

Ten hour driving days turned into 14 hour marathons. And the scheduled 8 day trip turned into 6.

When Mitch dropped me off at my house he literally raced from the driver's seat, popped the trunk and unceremoniously dumped my duffel bag on the driveway. If he did say good bye it was muffled by the sound of the screeching tires as he muscled that Buick away as fast as possible.

I keep the memory of that miserable cross country trip in an easy-to-access part of my brain. Because when we're doing a family road trip and my daughters start their inevitable squabbling, it's good to remind myself that it could be a lot worse.

In fact, it was.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kony Baloney

There's a short viral film that is making waves on the Internet. Something called Stop Kony. I'll be completely frank here and tell you I have not looked into it. I know there's some controversy brewing about context. Factual errors. And whether the film will actually help or not.

I'm not here to talk about any of that. March Madness and tax season are in full swing and I haven't had the time to see what all the buzz is about.

But I can tell you the buzz reached my house before it reached Facebook, Twitter, or even this new fakackta social media, Pinterest.

When I came home from work the other night, my two teenage daughters had already been showing the youtube video to my wife. They knew all the Kony details. They were emotionally moved by it. And they were fully vested in the story. And I can't stress this enough, this was before the film blew up on the Internet.

That's when it occurred to me that have I have been blessed.

Not only because I have two beautiful, healthy teenage daughters, but because as someone employed in the marketing/advertising/entertainment arena, I have my own personal trending detectors living right here under my roof.

Let's face it, the clock on the wall isn't going backwards. In fact, last weekend it jumped an hour ahead. Making me one hour closer to "who's the old guy writing our commercials?" (Or websites, or tweets, or Facebook/mobile applications)

But I try not to spend too much time thinking about that. I may not sport a porkpie hat, a nose earring or a sleeve full of tattoos, but I'm pretty confident I can out-idea, out-write and out-think, any of the kids that do.

Besides, I don't need any of those affectations of creativity, I have a secret research weapon (my girls) that enables me to stay on top of the ever-changing media landscape. In fact, when I finish this post, my oldest daughter has agreed to help me update my myspace page.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's a dog's life

Seen the other night on television, a commercial for diet dog food. It might have even been this brand. The brand is of no consequence, the category however is.

We had a problem with our dog, Nellie, years ago. The vet told us she was in fine health. But because she is a lab mix, there's a good possibility she could develop hip problems further down the road. The best way to prevent that, have her lose a few pounds.

The vet didn't say how we should trim Nellie's weight, he just said it would be in her interest to do so. This being Southern California, we had many options, options which fuel the reputation of Los Angeles of being one enchilada short of a combo platter. 

We could have, for instance, paid a king's ransom and hired a canine personal trainer. It's like P90X for dogs. Or P630X in doggie time.

Cleansing seems to be a popular method of weight loss in trendy LA. And sure enough someone is pimping the cleansing technique for dogs.

Or we could have opted for the Science Diet brand of dog food (pictured above) for the weight conscious canine. Science Diet, especially formulated to reduce dogs' body fat by 22% in six months.

We could have chosen any of those options. But being rational people with east coast roots and a nose for obnoxious pretention, we chose none of the above. 

We simply employed some psychology. And some simple discipline. 

We bought Nellie a smaller feeding dish so she wouldn't notice that we had cut her meals from 1 full cup of food to 3/4 of a cup. And we upped her exercise regimen. Meaning more walkies. Which she didn't seem to mind. If there's one thing dogs love, it's the opportunity to pee on top of another dog's pee and poop in other people's yards.

The program worked wonders. Within 6 months, Nellie dropped about 17 pounds. And she seemed happier. 

It was that easy. 

I wish I could drop 17 pounds using the same exact method. 
Though I don't think my neighbors would appreciate it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Things Jews Don't Do, Pt 14

It's been a while since I've posted an entry in the Things Jews Don't Do Series. Not because I haven't been doing things most Jews typically don't do, because I have: I built an Ikea bed weeks ago and I hardwired some outdoor lighting for the garden.

But those activities felt more like Things Jews Occasionally Do. We have standards here at roundseventeen, albeit arbitrary ones.

Last week I found myself seeking the unique medical attention of Dr. Anthony Catipay, who works out of the steel-gated storefront pictured above. The store is located on Pico Blvd. in the shadow of the 405 freeway. It is so close to the 405, that in the very early hours of the morning, between 6:17 AM and 6:23 AM, this ersatz 'medical' office literally is in the shadows of the 405.

I went to see Dr. Catipay in order to 'manage the pain' brought on by my recently discovered heel spur, who I have named Hurty for those of you who follow this blog regularly.

Typically, when we Jews seek healthcare we abide by the unwritten mishpachah rule. Meaning we tend to seek out doctors and specialists with Jewish surnames, your Goldbergs, your Feldmans, your Silversteins. Chalk it up to our annoying clannishness.

We also tend to shop our doctors, and our dentists, and our lawyers by their addresses.

And most of those folks are found in Beverly Hills or the tonier neighborhoods of Santa Monica or West Los Angeles. Not shabby storefronts wedged between the Billingsly Steakhouse and the Sawtelle liquor store selling Courvosier for $13.99 a bottle.

So it was with a little trepidation that I walked into the 'office' with the blacked out windows and surveillance cameras. I was greeted by the 'nurse' and instructed to fill out a new patient questionnaire. I took a seat in the austere waiting area that felt very much like the DMV. No magazines. Cheap folding chairs lined up in rows of 5. And a musty smell like the place hadn't seen a whiff of ammonia in months.

I grabbed a clipboard and began answering the questions. Clearly, Dr. Catipay runs an efficient operation on a shoestring budget with no margin for niceties. I noticed the ball point pen had been double-chained to the clipboard. Probably to deter his clientele from running off with the goods. For all I know there could be a huge black market for 38 cent pens in this neighborhood.

After the formalities, the nurse led me back to the 'examination room'. This is when things got surreal. I was led through a hallway to the back of the store...uh... office. And was introduced to the 'doctor', a squat Filipino man with a thick tuft of jet black hair that was swirled over the front of his scalp. I was so engrossed by his combover that I almost didn't notice his unusual surroundings.

His office looked like it used to be the closet that housed the store's water heater. It was barely 5 feet wide and 8 feet long. When I walked in, the doctor was watching a soccer match on the TV he had hung above the medical files but below his doctor's degree. I didn't recognize the name of the university that gave Dr. Catipay his sheepskin, but in terms of medical schools this was the equivalent of the DeVry Institute.

The 'examination' did not last long. And apart from the introduction when he shook my hand, he at no time touched any part of my body. For which I was very grateful.

It was, by far, one of the strangest experiences, I have ever had.

Why subject myself to something like this, you may well ask?

There are 420 reasons.
And alleviating my 'chronic' pain was one of them.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Do Unto Others

You don't hear much about it now, but for years the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland, that is the nationalists and the unionists, were at each other's throat. Although the conflict was tinged with politics, the battle lines were largely drawn according to religious affiliation.

Even here in the United States, denominations of Christianity do not always see eye to eye. In 1960, that discord prompted a very Catholic JFK to deliver a speech that distanced himself from the Papacy in order to win the hearts and minds of Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, Snake Handlers and the 100 other sects of Protestantism.

In the Middle East, as Americans are now discovering, there is a millineum-old rift between the Sunnis of Islam and the Shiites of Islam. This conflict often erupts in full blown wars, mosque bombings and yearly stampedes at the Hajj pilgrimage. The only thing that unites the Sunnis and Shiites is their mutual hatred of Sufis, Druze, and Ibadi, and other the smaller sects that are apparently, 'not Islam enough'.

And of course they all hate the Jews.

Of course, we Jews are not exempt from this theologic illogic. Just two months ago a group of Hasedim in Israel spat on and cursed an 8-year old girl, and harassed her for "dressing like a whore."

If you see an 8-year old girl and your thoughts turn to paid sexual intercourse, I would suggest the problem is more in your head and less than her choice of school attire.

Religion as a whole leaves me baffled. It is devoid of any reason or scientific proof. But inter-religious fighting, well that's even more absurd. Particularly when the differences between sects are so picayune.

It's as if you and I were to believe in the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. We not only believe in this fantasy, we have taken the story as the guiding principle for our journey through life. We believe in the evil queen and her abiding vanity. We believe in the eternal innocence of Snow White. We even genuflect at the same magic transmorphic mirror.

Our shared belief in the Snow White tale is so fevered we are willing to collectively let it cloud our thinking on politics, morality, sexuality, even the way we raise our children.

However, one seemingly-minor point separates us.

You choose to call the fourth dwarf Sleepy and I, because of something some old goatherder said 800 years ago, choose to call him Drowsy.

Therefore, I must kill you.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

N*gg@, Sil vous plait.

My daughter and I have a rule, when she is driving -- that is when she is behind the wheel and I'm behind in my Valium refills -- the radio is turned off. I want her focused on the road, the traffic and most importantly, the cars ominously parked less than a yard away to my immediate right.

In return, when I'm driving I let her pick the radio station of her choice. Here's a hint, they all suck.

It seems all her favorite radio stations share the same playlist of 20 crappy songs I wish I had never heard. Somewhere along the way I have failed as a parent. My buddy Paul has a daughter one year younger than my oldest. Not only does she play guitar, she has an appreciation for real music including the Kinks, the Stones, Lou Reed, Led Zeppelin, etc.

My daughter's taste -- that is both my daughters -- lean towards Jay Z and Kanye, regarded as poet laureates in the hip hop world. And I can see why. Let's examine some of the writing prowess demonstrated in their recent hit, N*gg@s in Paris.

(I was going to write out the word without the dingbats but I was afraid it was going to be offensive. Frankly I don't see how changing an 'i' to a '*' or an 'a' to a '@' puts me in the safe zone. In the end, it's the same word, whether I spoke it, wrote it, or hid it like some scared kindergardner.)

Even if I did spell out the word it couldn't be more offensive than this:

These other n*gg@s is lyin,
actin' like the summer ain't mine
I got that bitch in my home,
You know how many bitches I own.

Misogyny is hardly new. Lots of writers speak poorly of women. Bukowski took misogyny to new heights. And he too wrote about alcohol. Though I think Hank would show a great disdain for Cristal champagne, this duo's drink of choice. Of course Bukowski never mastered the tricky mix of misogyny and McDonald's fast food:

And show me why you deserve to have it all
That shit cray,
ain't it Jay?
What she order, fish filet?

And it takes a special kind of artiste, with mad rhyming skills, to artfully craft a song that delicately balances misogyny, McDonald's fast food and bad iconic 90's TV:

Prince Williams ain't do it right if you ask me,
Cause I was him, I would have married Mary Kate
and Ashley

That's some ballin'.

The National Academy of Music is working hard to establish a Songwriter's Hall of Fame. As of this time, the museum only exists online but has already inducted Lennon and McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, Bacharach and King.

I think you'll agree, and I don't think it's premature in any sense of the word, that the Academy set aside some shelf space for the hugely talented team that brought us N*gg@s in Paris.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Oh No, Another Story About Butt Plugs

This is Kevin Brann, a 41-year old man from Hobe Sound, Florida. He was recently arrested for DUI, an infraction that happens way too much in this country. His circumstances merit special attention, but we'll get to that a little later.

While in college, I roomed with a couple of newspaper reporters from the Syracuse Post Standard. I was enrolled in the Newhouse School of Journalism and it appeared I was headed for a career writing newspaper articles. Like my roommates.

The problem was these guys lived like paupers. They never had a dime to their name, they drove old shitty cars, they ate a lot of top ramen, and they dressed like homeless men who happened to have some proximity to a laundromat.

The other problem was that for the life of me I couldn't pass the mandatory Journalism school typing test. I breezed through college, stoned most of the four years. Who am I kidding? I was stoned ALL four years. Nevertheless writing stories, whether for journalism class or creative writing class, was never a problem. But when it came to time to bang away on the IBM Selectric II,  well hunting and pecking and laughing did not always produce winning results.

There was no way I could meet the 25 words per minute requirement.

So I switched to broadcast journalism and fell into the much more lucrative world of advertising. The difference between newspaper reporting and writing ads: I still dress like a homeless man, but now I own the top of the line Kenmore KZ7000 Washer and Dryer with the automatic Sock Sorter.

So you see I have no regrets about my career path. But thanks to my friend Robert Chandler, I stumbled onto a piece of journalism that gave me pause. It is, if you haven't already guessed, the story of Kevin Brann, the man who according to the headline, "Rear-Ended A Car With A Sex Toy In His Ass."

A headline like that does not come along everyday. I can tell the writer, Rapheal Orlove, exercised a great deal of restraint when committing this story to type.  And for that he deserves our respect. But Orlove, and his editor, deserve a little something more.

Because with the addition of one little line, 9 somewhat minor words, the picture of Mr. Brann's arrest and his excruciating exercise in humiliation is complete, nuanced and utterly visceral:

He was wearing flip flops at the time.

Someone alert the Pulitzer committee.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Related to Monkees

Last week, we lost another celebrity. A celebrity from my childhood. This got me thinking about the Monkees. You see, Pete Torkleson, the drummer in this ill-fated faux band, is actually one of the branches on my family tree. Albeit through marriage.

Peter is my sister-in-law's brother-in-law. Throw in a divorce and 3,000 miles of geographical separation into the mix, and I have no problem admitting that I was never really a big fan of the band. They were, at least at the time, always seen as cheap knock-off kiddie version of the Beatles.

But my Monkees relationship doesn't end there.

Sometime in the 80's, my writing partner Jim and I managed to get a shot at working on, get this, The New Monkees. It was a terribly conceived remake of the original. Only it had less charm, less music and less humor. What it lacked in those arenas however, it more than made up for in hair products.

Neither Jim nor I remember much about the experience. We only knew that someone read something we had written and was willing to let us get a foot in the door.

Had we been smart we would have looked around that room -- that we now had a foot in -- and seen Hollywood for what it really was, a cesspool of money-grubbing hackmeisters without the slightest inclination towards smart, funny, or anything that bore even the slightest resemblance to good.

You could argue that's just years of frustration and rejection talking. And you might be right. So let's go to the youtube video that proves my point.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Weak Thinks

Maybe you caught this last week on the Colbert report. Or maybe you saw it on, where one incredibly witty and succinct anonymous tipster sent it in.

If you haven't, take a few moments for some must see TV.
Particularly if you're in the ad biz.

Colbert masterfully skewers the concept of brand standards and the notion that a snacking cracker is anything more than a snacking cracker. It is, for those of you who have suffered at the hands of Planning, funny because it is true.

When I go to a party and tell people what I do for a living they often say, "Cool, coming up with ideas for commercials, that sounds like fun." And it is fun.

The hard part of my job is not coming up with the ideas or solutions, the hard part of my job is sitting with a dozen or so undereducated, overconfident "executives" who have no idea how to define the problem. The kind of folks who spew out this kind of marketingese.

I know for instance that if I were given the assignment to come up with ideas for Wheat Thins it would have very little to do with portraying Wheat Thins as "a connector of like-minded people, encouraging sharing" or as "a snack for anyone who is actively seeking experiences."

Human beings are, by definition, actively seeking experiences. When I wake up in the morning I actively seek the toilet for the urinating experience. Then I actively seek the shower for the cleansing experience. Then I actively seek the closet for the dressing experience. Do you see where this is going? It's a meaningless phrase.

Right now I am actively seeking a writing experience that will adequately vent my rage at this unabashed popcockery.

And yet somewhere, sometime, somebody committed that profound thinking to paper. And it was agreed upon by other addlebrained MBAs, whereupon it earned their blessing and found its way into the accepted brand standards.

The sad thing is I've sat in hundreds of meetings listening to this kind of nonsense. And until I hang up my copywriting cleats, I'll probably sit in a hundred more.

Years ago, probably about the same time I decided to a make it as a freelance writer and not as staff guy, one of the fuses on my bullshit meter went on the fritz. I never replaced that fuse.

I probably never will.