Thursday, August 30, 2012

Trash Talks

I am not a photographer by any means. But I do keep an open eye and look for juxtapositions in life that need to be captured on film.

I came across this the other day while walking my dog home from The Boneyard, Culver City's not-so-cleverly named dog park.

It's less of a park and more of a big empty sandpit where dogs can overheat themselves chasing skanky chewed up tennis balls. Mark territory. And then slobber and hump each other in an effort to establish dominance.

All while their owners are distracted, playing Scrabble on their iPhone.

On the right side of the photo, you can see a large sign declaring: Putting America to Work. Project Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

It's only a little ironic that the sign is sitting in a trash heap by the side of the road.

But even more telling is the red sign on the left, which reads:

Do Not Follow
Sudden Stops
And Turns

I know the orange-vested men were not making an intentional political statement, but the placement of these two signs in such close proximity perfectly summarizes the unstable state of the American economy.

And on second thought, the behavior of the dogs inside the Boneyard is the perfect metaphor for what goes on inside the halls of the Capitol building.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 6 Minute War of 1998

I tell a lot of stories here on roundseventeen.

I write them not only for your amusement, and I hope some do amuse, but also as a way of storing the notions for a later day. It's my hope that when I retire from advertising or the phone stops ringing, whichever comes first, I can revisit this blog as a sort of index. The plan is to expand some of my favorite anecdotes into full blown short stories.

Then, when my wife and I are in a raging emptynester fight, I can retreat to my office and work on my next book. I've been reading a lot of Jack Smith, Jean Shepherd and Erma Bombeck lately and would like to put myself up to that kind of challenge.

Here's a shortened version of a story I plan to expand.

The year is 1998. I'm the new father of two beautiful baby girls. I'm enjoying incredible notoriety from our ABC campaign. And my partner and I are bouncing back and forth across the country, often flying business class and staying at top notch hotels in NYC. And taking every opportunity to enjoy the $54 room service breakfast. There's no better way to stick it to The Man than to order up the room service breakfast.

"I'd like the sausage. Yes, and the bacon."

On one of those occassions I needed to get from the SoHo Grand Hotel in the Village, up to ABC corporate headquarters on West 77th. So I hailed a cab. And entrusted my life to Mohammed ben Mohammed, a recent emigre from Egypt.

Mo was a chatter.
And eager to tell me how much loved living in the United States of America.

What's not enjoy, I thought. It was the dotcom era, money was flowing and there was a schwarma stand on every street corner. Just as I was about to return the niceties, I noticed a large yellow blur whizzed by the front windshield.

And Happy Mo became Not-So-Happy Mo.

At the corner on 47th and 9th avenue, we had been cut off by an old beat up school bus. And not just any school bus. At the next red light I peered out the window and could see a sea of payos. Then I spotted the driver. A full blown Hasid sporting a beaver hat, a thick red beard and the mouth of a battle-hardened sailor.

My driver Mohammed, poked his head out the window and asked,"What's the matter with you?"

The Hasid skipped the pleasantries and went straight to DefCon 1 and replied, "Shove it up your ass, you dirty Arab."

What ensued was a mile and half long epic proxy battle worthy of any Michael Bay movie.

Mohammed would squeeze the bus into the bike lane. Rabbi Redbeard would counter, using the length of the bus to pin us behind a horse-drawn carriage. There was shouting. And screaming. And cursing in  5 different languages, including an ancient form of Aramaic that hadn't been used since Jesus skipped across a lake.

It was all very odd for me.

Obviously I share very little with the Hasids. They're the ugly, misshapen branch on the Jewish family tree. Given to extremism and G-d awful halitosis. I know because I had a Hasid rabbi as a Bar Mitzvah tutor.

Nevertheless, they are part of the tribe. But my life was in danger and with it the very real possibility that I would never see my family again. And so, for the first and only time in my life I found myself rooting against the home team.

It was a hair-raising trip, but Mohammed, the Egyptian Magician on wheels got me to my destination safely. And with 30 minutes to spare.

Just enough time to stop in a local haberdashery and buy a new shirt for the big meeting. Because I had sweat through the one I had been wearing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Dormant Volcano

You're stupid.
The idea sucks.
And I want to leap across this table and beat you up with my shoe.

If you work in advertising, you've no doubt had one of these moments.
And if you've been in advertising for any number of years, you have successfully squelched these completely understandable urges.

I share this not-so-insightful insight with you for a reason.

Last week, out of curiosity I dropped a note to an old colleague. Until very recently he was employed by a small boutique-y type agency. Months before that, this small agency had been looking for an Executive Creative Director. Out of sheer curiosity, I threw my hat in the ring. I had one phone interview, followed by unexplainable silence.

So I asked my former workmate why my name had been thrown in the Returned Goods bin. I asked him to be brutally honest. And he was. He told me someone, and it doesn't matter who, said, "Siegel can be gruff. And has been volatile with clients."

Am I outraged at this slanderous accusation?
Well, 50% outraged.

As I have previously documented in Why I Sucked at Being a Creative Director, I can be gruff. Not something I'm proud of, but also not something I can argue with.

I have on many occassion erupted inside the halls of the ad agency, and brought planners, account executives and even art directors to tears.

However, I was never volatile with clients.
And Lord knows there were many opportunities.

Obligatory war story time.

Years ago I was in charge of Jaguar advertising for Y&R/Irvine. 6 months into the job we were presenting the first new campaign ideas. I was working with legendary art director John Doyle and he had some incredible layouts on 10 double-page print ads. The layouts were so incredible and so meticulous I felt the need to over compensate, so I wrote the body copy for all 10 ads. For those of you not in the biz, that is unheard of.

I don't want to sound immodest, but the writing was crisp, clean and had just the right amount of British flavored wit. Just as I had finished reading the first ad to the C-suite executives at Jaguar, one fucketty fuck in the back piped in and said, "that's fine, next."

Meaning you'd like me to read the next of the 9 carefully-crafted spreads we had prepared? I asked.

"No," he replied, "Move on to the next campaign."

I remember biting hard on my tongue, flipping the foam board over and reminding myself that I had two young daughters in private school. I was anything but volatile. In fact I smiled, summoned some inner strength and moved on to the next campaign. Because that's what professionals do.

I will not reveal the identity of this incredibly rude and disrespectful client who lacked the legendary British sense of manners. Because that's also what professionals do. Suffice to say, that Mr. I-Can't-Be-Bothered-With-Your-Creative-Admakery shares the same first name as me.

Oh and he handily lived up to the pejorative nickname.

Monday, August 27, 2012

You Must Read This

This is funny. But not for the reasons you might suspect.

I have no faith that Paul Ryan knows the Path to Prosperity. Similarly, I have little reason to believe that the Democrats possess the magic formula. These boneheads in Congress don't even know how babies are made.

But as the naive son of a CPA, the answer seems simple: we need to spend less than we earn.

We can eliminate tax loop holes for billionaires, bump the tax rate cap back to 39%, slap an exorbitant tax on bullets and armaments, make college tuition tax deductible, lop 20% off our bloated defense budget, shitcan the lobbyists, and cut off foreign aid to countries that promote fascism and the wholesale abuse of women and children.

That would be a good start.

I'd also like to institute some very strict anti-corruption statutes. A Zero Tolerance policy that states: any politician who gets caught with their fingers in the cookie jar will lose one of the aforementioned fingers.

I know it's a tad Sharia'n, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Of course, as anyone who works in advertising knows, strategies like the one in Mr. Ryan's hands, are a dime a dozen. It all boils down to execution. And you can always count on cronyism, bureaucracy and massive helpings of stupidity to screw that up.

But Paul Ryan has clearly learned a lesson taught to me by my old boss, David Murphy.
It's about packaging and the power of suggestion. I'll give you an example.

The year was 2004. And we were two days before a big presentation, we were reviewing a set of spots for a new business pitch. David liked the concepts and the storyboards but had a problem with the titles. "The titles?" I thought, "who cares about the titles? Consumers never see that."

Ah, but clients do.

So instead of naming a spot "CHOCOLATE" or "BEACH" or something equally obtuse like, "SPARE TIRE" why not grease the skids and start the ball rolling with something that will perk up the clients ears? Something that mirrors the brief and the strategy?

Since that epiphanous day, I have started employing the same method employed by Mr. Ryan. Now I will often start a presentation with:

This spot is called, "LEADERSHIP".


The first commercial in this campaign is called "INNOVATION".

Of course advertising isn't always just about the advertising. Often times I find myself presenting work to clients who are embroiled in office politics, with demanding shareholders, and shifting allegiances. In those situations, it's important to zero in on the issues at hand and come up with a title that covers all bases and appeals to other client desires.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do the Rice Thing

Years ago I was hired by the ad agency that handled the Uncle Ben's Rice account. The client, and the agency, wanted to do a campaign that used Uncle Ben as a spokesperson.

Not a bad idea since Uncle Ben had automatic branding and his name has been around for more than 50 years.

But it was an opportunity not without its own challenges. There was the issue of race. This is never a minor issue, nor should it be.

First, a little brand primer.

Back in 1947, not a great time in race relations at all, a group of ad executives from Leo Burnett thought it would be a good idea to give the Uncle Ben's brand a face. This was the Leo Burnett formula. They had also given birth to the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger and the Pillsbury Doughboy to name a few.

They asked the a maitre de, an African-American man, at a Chicago restaurant if he'd liked to be photographed for $500 and one day's worth of shooting. The man agreed. And Uncle Ben, with all its negative connotations, was born.

Fast forward to 2007.

We, the ad agency, suggested that since the character was strictly fictional we could take liberty and make Uncle Ben the fictional CEO of the company. Not unlike the way Jack was made the CEO of Jack in the Box.

By putting him in a high executive position we would take some of the onus off the obvious missteps of 1947. The real Chief Marketing Officer for Uncle Ben's, an African American man, agreed.

100 scripts and 6 months worth of casting later, we found ourselves shooting a dozen commercials on a sound stage in Culver City. These were not expensive commercials. But they weren't inexpensive either. Sadly, no one will ever see them. Because a week before they were due to air, the client shelved the whole project.

Despite testing extremely well in focus groups, the client caved in to pressure from special interest groups. Even though we were trying to right a wrong, these groups claimed the CEO character was offensive. They said we should have given Ben a last name. And that we should have put him in a better suit, without the bow tie.

Really? A last name and a sport coat would have fixed everything?

At one point we had discussed an Armani suit, but the client thought we would have to change all the packaging. And that could get quite costly. We even suggested dropping Uncle from the name. Or changing Uncle Ben from an African American man to a Caucasian man, thus eliminating any controversy whatsoever.

But in the mixed up world of racial arithmetic, those ideas were met by objections as well.

And so what was offensive before, was never corrected. Or even addressed. And to this day it remains patently offensive. But apparently it's less offensive than it would have been had we made Ben a Chief Executive Officer.

It appears we don't live in a post-racial world. And perhaps we never will.

Well the client is no longer with the ad agency. And several of the producers and other creatives with the project have already posted these spots on their portfolio pages, so I guess there's no harm in sharing them with you. And as you'll see, they were always quite harmless in the first place:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Clothing Optional

Last week I enjoyed a rare day off.

I know that as a freelancer I can have any day off, but the truth is I'm cursed with a sadistic work ethic.

It haunts me with the sad numbers of my financial worth and mocks me with my daughter's upcoming college tuition bills. It tells me to crank it and bank it and threatens to play a non-stop slideshow in my head, of dirty nursing homes, leaky bedpans and suspicious orderlies who swipe loose change off the dressers. And so I work. As much I can.

With the exception of my yearly camping trip (which can hardly be considered relaxing) last week was the first time all year when I had consecutive days off.

After spending two hours in the garage hunting for my golf shoes, I headed to PenMar by the Sea, a nine hole executive course known to anyone who lives west of the 110 freeway. I love PenMar. Not only because it's close to my home. It's also relatively easy. The biggest hazard are the overly aggressive squirrels (particularly at the 4th hole) who can literally unzip a pocket on a golf bag and steal a protein bar.

The other reason I like PenMar is the incredibly relaxed atmosphere.

Years ago I was invited to play golf with an ad agency and their client at the very chi-chi Donald Trump Course in Palos Verdes. The green fees were an astounding $300. As if that weren't bad enough, the course sucked. It had faux waterfalls. Tricky moats. And the kind of showboat design one would expect from that merkin-wearing blowhard.

In 18 holes I went through two dozen balls.

PenMar, on the other hand, has none of that pretension. It's funky, it's relaxed and draws golfers from all walks of life. It's golf for the 99%.

Take this codger for example (pictured above). As our group stepped up to the 4th teebox I saw this guy remove his shirt. He looked older than me, but in surprisingly good shape. Not only was he going sans shirt, he was sans shoes as well.

After he planted his ball 250 yards straightaway down the fairway. He came back to his golf bag and pulled out a Ziploc bag with carrots and cucumber slices. With a pleasing smile and the demeanor of an old hippie, he walked around and offered his group, as wells as ours, a vegetable snack.

"You gotta try the zucchini, I grew it in my garden. With my homemade compost."

Then from the tee box, I watched as he followed up his great drive with an equally impressive approach shot, capped off with a 15 foot birdie putt.

Good karma, dude, good karma.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'm Not Playing

In an effort to increase readership here, I'm looking into gamifying roundseventeen.

Not exactly sure how it would work yet, I only know that gamifying is the latest trend in marketing and that if I'm going to capitalize, I better have the badges and fuel bars to jump on that bandwagon.

When I go to work at various ad agencies, they rarely have a desk or an office for me to work. Which is great because it gives me an excuse to leave the premises and work from home where there's better coffee and no dress code. It's also where I'm much more productive.

(This seems like a good spot to introduce my new personal tagline: 
© Rich Siegel. Three writers for the price of two.)

But agency Creative Directors like to have Face Time, so on occasion I am forced set up shop in the cafeteria or the commons area.

Here, I get to eavesdrop.

Sometimes on sales pitches from magazines. Sometimes on status meetings. And sometimes on Monday morning recaps of weekend shenanigans, all surprisingly tame I  might add. I've never heard anyone talking about mushrooms, or tequila, or 4 AM road trips to Cachuma Lake.

What I do hear a lot about is gamifying.

On everything from cars to packaged goods. Clients, it seems are obsessed with turning their sophisticated marketing message into a chase, or a battle, or a virtual farm.

It's all in the name of some popcockery called "brand engagement." I don't understand the tenets of brand engagement, probably because I don't want to be engaged with my brands.

I love Apple Computers and all their associated products. Mostly because they do what they're supposed to do. Same goes for my used Lexus, which feels and drives like a new Lexus. I also love Thomas' All Wheat English muffins.

But here's the thing, everything I need to know about my Thomas' English Muffins is printed on the outside of the box. That is the scope of my brand engagement. I'm not following their tweets. I'm not visiting their website. And I'm most certainly not going to play an English Muffin game.

So if you ever see me using my iPhone to hunt down Thomas' nooks and crannies, it means there has been a very early onset of Alzheimer's and I'd prefer you put me down with a well-placed large caliber bullet.

Monday, August 20, 2012

For God's Sake

I read a great quote the other day.

It comes from Epicurus, the Greek god of Restauranteering, I believe.

Epicurus said:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil.
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

The logic is indisputable.
But of course the faithful will respond that I have failed to mention Satan.

So let's mention Satan, because that brings me to my second point.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not all that well-schooled in Scripture. I prefer my metaphysical knowledge and beliefs to come from men, and women, of science. I'm much more familiar with the works of Carl Sagan than I am of the writings pertaining to Ezekiel.

Or Jebediah.

Or the dude with the goats who wouldn't cross the Jordan River because he didn't light the proper number of candles.

Or his daughter ate bacon.

Or both.

And so you see I'm not all that clear on Satan's origin. Or his purpose. Is he God's half brother? Does he have superpowers that render him untouchable by God? If God and Satan were in a fantasy football league, who would pick Chad OchoCinco?

Also, and this gets to the crux of my confusion, if God knows where The Dark Lord lives (and since by definition he is all-knowing and all-powerful, he would) why doesn't he smite Satan with a meteoric shower followed by an apocalyptic Ice Age?

You know, the same kind of nasty cold spell that wiped out the dinosaurs 6,000 years ago.

Am I being flippant? When am I not?
Am I inviting God's wrath? I'm just asking the questions.
Am I worried about the consequences? Hardly.

I've looked over the recent Google analytics and though traffic is increasing, I'm pretty sure God isn't reading roundseventeen.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Atoll Tale

Earlier this I week I wrote, with some astonishment, about freshly-minted young advertising creatives who graduate from portfolio school one week and are making million dollar TV spots the next. Without ever having paid some dues or, dare I say it, learned the craft of the business.

As it turns out I stumbled across something that amply proves my point.
Not about the craft, but more about the paying of the dues.

Yesterday I went to the bank to fish out my daughters SS #'s from the safe deposit box. As I was rummaging through the important documents of my life, I found this buried treasure (pictured above).

It's a two-fold black and white brochure that I wrote for a recruitment advertising agency way back in the Mesozoic Era.

The idea was to recruit engineers and software technicians to Kwajalein to help Kentron (a company that was affiliated with Rockwell or Northrop or TRW) shore up our South Pacific defense systems. It was the first piece of copy I had ever written. I kept it. Not because it was good, but because it would remind me of how good I wasn't.

The copy is stilted. It's dry. And I doubt that one intrepid engineer picked up this inconsequential brochure and said, "Honey let's pack our bags and some sunscreen, we're going to Kwajalein."

In other words, it was a total failure.
Followed by 1000 more total failures.

At this point I could launch into a rant about how all those failures were necessary in my development as a writer. And how I learned from my mistakes and blah, blah, blah, rejection, blah, blah, character-building, blah, blah, blah, improvement, blah, blah, mediocrity, blah, blah, blah, halfway-decent, blah, blah, blah, blah, awards, blah, blah, attitude, blah, blah, inflated ego, blah, blah, blah, severance check.

But I covered that earlier in the week.

And frankly I'm tired of listening to myself blather on about that. If clients/agencies want to turn the marketing reins over to a bunch of tenderfoots who don't know the difference between there and they're, that's their business.

Besides there's something more interesting at hand.

You see, I just finished reading Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, the tale of downed bombardier Louis Zamperini and his harrowing four years in captivity as a Japanese prisoner of war. Turns out the first island of his tortuous journey was the very same Kwajalein.

Well, it was interesting to me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who's in the mood for tapas?

I've been doing a lot of writing lately. I looked over the last month of postings and noticed I have far exceeded my welcome.

Today will be mercifully short.

Spotted this the other day in a parking lot. Not sure was what going through the driver's mind. But I have spent some time on this earth and I live with three women, so I do know this:

If you take the time and effort to announce to the world that you enjoy tapping ass, in all likelihood, you aren't tapping any.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Douchebag of the Month

It's now been two days since the closing ceremonies and if you're like me you're suffering from PODD, Post-Olympic Depression Disorder.

Now we have to wait two more years before the world breaks out the long underwear and heads to the glamorous city of Sochi in Russia, just across the border from Abkhazia.

Wikipedia calls Sochi, Russia's largest resort city, an oxymoron if there ever was one.

But as much as I enjoyed these summer games, and there was a lot to enjoy, the sprints, the women's gymnastics, the volleyball, and the ham-fisted opening ceremonies, what I'll remember most is what these games did NOT include: a moment of silence to commemorate the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the '72 Olympic Games.

Prior to the games, Guri Weinberg, son of the Israeli wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg one of the 11 killed, petitioned Jacques Rogge, Head of the IOC (pictured above), to halt the games for a one minute tribute. Jock refused, saying the venue was not appropriate for politicizing.

Yet years ago the IOC had no problem commemorating the victims of 9/11. And because this year the games were held in London, 6 minutes of the opening ceremony were devoted to the victims of the London bombing on 7/7/05.

I have no problems with those gestures, but the 11 innocent victims who were murdered in 1972 were athletes. And they were butchered at the Olympics!

The cowards of Black September chose the Munich Games because it was a world stage. If the Olympic Committee wanted to make a statement about terrorism and the violation of the Olympic spirit, they would have used the same world stage as a venue for a proper rebuttal.

Let's wind the clock back forty years and assume it wasn't 11 Israelis that were attacked.

Let's say a group of Pakistani terrorists broke into the Olympic Village and killed 11 athletes from India. Or that a group of Tibetan extremists murdered 11 athletes from China. Is there any doubt Cocque would have accommodated the grieving families of those athletes?

Am I being overly sensitive and seeing anti-Semitism where there is none?

Consider this.

When asked about the commemoration another member of the prestigious IOC, Alex Gilady set a new world record in the Leap of Equivocation and responded, "What about the Palestinians who also died at the Munich Olympic Games?"

That's very thoughtful of you, Douchebag #2 of the Month.

Congratulations, would you care for the Cabernet or the Pinot?

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Write Stuff

Lately, I have been back on the agency circuit, popping in and out of various ad agencies, large and small.

Or in the parlance of prostitutes, I've been 'doing the ho stroll.' The comparison is not all that labored. After all, I'm willing to pimp out my ideas to any needy agency with a brief in one hand and an over sized check in the other.

And since I've been visiting these various agencies (five if I've counted correctly) I've noticed a tidal wave of change in the Creative Department.

They're all kids!

Mind you, I've always been aware that the Creative Department was getting younger and younger as the hair gathering at the bottom of my shower drain was getting thicker and thicker. And I understand the need to bring in fresh faces who are much more in touch with pop culture than I could ever be. But I always believed that pool of youth needed to be balanced with an equal distribution of seasoned writers and art directors who knew a little something about craft.

Apparently, I was wrong.

With my own daughters away at Jew Camp, I've enjoyed an extra dose of free time. So, being envious of their youth and curious about their credentials, I did a little digging. And I checked out this new confident crop of creatives, who are more than eager to boast about their achievements via social media.

Holy Diaper Change, Batman!

Most of these youngsters, who now call themselves professional writers or art directors, weren't even in the ad business three years ago.

They were folding shirts at The Gap or playing field hockey for their college intra-mural team. Now they're stewarding global brands and bringing their formidable life experience to bear down on complex billion dollar marketing challenges.

It's as if someone in Accounting or HR said, "I like the way that new intern never leaves the coffee pot empty and always brews a fresh batch, let's make him (or her) a Creative Director."

I know this little rant is inviting a certain predictable response along the lines of, "Shut up old man" or "Shut up very old man". But the truth is, I'm just making an observation, I'm not complaining at all.   And I'm not commenting on their work. Because the other truth is, some of them, not all, are actually talented.

But if you were to check the linkedin profiles of these kids, particularly the copywriters, who in effect are my competition, you'd see what I saw: links that don't work, ghastly grammar, and sloppy portfolios and resumes peppered with typos. Did I say peppered? I meant smothered.

You'd also see what I didn't see: writing.

Nothing in the way of great headlines. Or long body copy. Or evidence of a passion for the written word.

But like I said, I'm not complaining. Because when an agency is staffed by writers who don't write, there is often a time when they need one who does.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

That other Antonio

There's an old joke in the movie business. It goes something like this:

Did you hear about the Polish actress trying to make it in Hollywood?
She banged the writer.

I know it's not very politically correct but I bring it up for a reason.

Last week my wife, my brother and I went out to dinner. We were headed to a new fancy Brazilian place on Main Street in Culver City. For $50 (an outrageous price) you sample more than 16 grades of various grass-fed Brazilian beef. Not surprisingly, the restaurant was populated by many muscle-heads from the local gym, all loading up on high priced protein.

We were told there would be a 30 minute wait for the table so we retired next door to a sports bar that had microbrews. While sipping on our Finferfizelheiferviezens, I noticed a commercial playing on one of the TV sets.

It was a dealer spot I had written for Acura.

Dealer spots for those of you who don't know, are done to accommodate dealer associations, who believe car commercials should pound sheet metal. In other words they're not interested in useless, expensive "stories" or anything resembling brand building. They're entitled to their opinion. They're all frikking millionaires, maybe they're even right.

What I'm saying is that this particular commercial was nothing special. But the waiter heard me say it was my commercial. He immediately stopped blathering on about the wheat beer and started blathering on about his acting prowess. That's right, like 10,000 other food and drink servers in the City of Angeles, he was a thespian.

Then, blissfully unaware of the unwritten code of conduct between writers, producers, directors and actors, he handed me a business card and promised to do an excellent job in my next commercial.

The story could have ended with me tossing his card in the nearest trash can, mostly because that's just not the way it works in this business. But I kept his card and found his IMDB page. And it turns out Antonio has a very interesting story.

Turns out he's a political dissident from Iraq. He spent years in an Iraqi jail followed by several years at a Saudi Arabian refugee camp. He also has some legitimate credits and was in a movie with Dakota Fanning.

So now I'm thinking what if I can actually help this guy?

This blog gets read by many people in the advertising business who also know people in the entertainment business. What if one phone call led to another led to an audition that led to a part?

Not only would it be a turning point for Antonio. It could be the death knell for that terrible joke that is highly offensive to Polish actresses. And even more so, to writers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The House of Horrors

The house whose name we dare not speak.

Last week there was an Internet meme that got some viral fever. I'm sure there were more than one, but this one caught my fancy. It's a Yelp review performed by a dramatic actor. The video demonstrates how, with a little soft piano music and some serious thespian chops, even the most banal writing can be brought to life.

It also amply demonstrates why advertising clients, most of whom lack anything resembling an imagination, should be a little more measured and forgiving when reviewing scripts for TV commercials.

Not all scripts mind you, just mine.

Years ago, before Yelp became the premier restaurant reviewing site, there were other venues for displeased diners to vent their venom. I can't for the life of me remember, but in 2009 I did take the opportunity to pen some pointed thoughts about a "meal" we had at San Francisco's Cathay House (pictured above).

My review was chockfull of stinging similes, well-hewn wit and fiery language. It was a knock out punch, sure to put this "eating" establishment 6 feet under. If I could I'd recreate it for you right now but I would not do it any justice because my review was written while I was in a haze of anger and fighting off the first symptoms of ptomaine.

It is quite shocking that a city like San Francisco, beloved by foodies, could host a restaurant as bad as Cathay House. If the gay community ever ate there, they'd find more reason to despise it than the local Chick Fil A.

How bad is the food at Cathay House?

If you know the geography of the City by the Bay you know that Chinatown is relatively close to the wharfs. And the rats.

To stem the rising population of vermin, other restaurant owners have stopped baiting traps with warfarin, a rat poison that can be exorbitantly expensive. They have found something cheaper and abundantly more effective -- the Kung Pao Chicken from Cathay House.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hail Cesar

Two weeks ago there was a story from Aurora, Colorado about a man who went on a killing spree at a movie theater. He killed 12 people, injured dozens more and ruined the lives of hundreds. And he did it all dressed as The Joker. With any luck it will spur meaningful legislation to get military grade weapons off the street.

In any case, I have a Joker story of a happier nature.

When I graduated college and came to California I knew I was going to make a living as a writer. I just didn't know how. And so I spent a few years floundering. As a kitchen manager, a bartender even as a forklift driver.

How did I find myself behind the wheel of the KC9000 HaulMaster?

My dad was the head bean counter for a NY-based company that distributed electrical wiring. They had a facility here in Southern California. They said it was in Gardena, mostly not to scare visiting suppliers, because the warehouse was actually in Compton. Dad did what dad's do and pulled some strings.

I lived in West Los Angeles. And had no car nor any means to get to my new job in Compton. My father, being who he was, suggested I buy a bike and cycle there. The 23 mile commute through LA's toughest neighborhoods would do me good, he thought. I convinced him a bike wouldn't have lasted five minutes chained to a telephone pole in Compton. So dad went to Plan B.

He asked Dan Lang, the VP General Manager of the facility if he wouldn't mind some commuter companionship. And Dan, a man in his late 60's was more than happy to accommodate.

Dan lived in Brentwood. He was a jovial old Jew, with similar NY roots and recent college graduates of his own. His two boys were already in law school and med school. In retrospect, Dan might have felt sorry for my father and his clueless son.

Every morning, at 6:45 AM no less, Dan would roll up on my shabby apartment building on Stoner Ave. And by 7:00 we were seated in Dan's regular booth at Junior's Deli. The waitresses all knew and loved him. I was still rubbing the sand out of my eyes and he was flirting with anything that moved. He would wink at them. Pat them on the ass. And leave outrageously huge tips. And in return they would all swing by the booth and runs their hands through his shock of white hair that would make Kirk Douglass envious.

What Dan, a bowling ball of a man, lacked in height, he more than made up for in charisma.
And generosity.

In addition to buying me breakfast every morning, he lent me his wife's car on weekends and often had me over to his condo for a home cooked meal. Though after tasting Mrs. Lang's food, I could see why he spent so much time cavorting with waitresses.

It was on one of these visits to Brentwood that I met Dan's next door neighbor -- Cesar Romero, the original Joker from the Batman TV show. He was older and a lot less animated than his signature character, but why would I expect otherwise?

Dan and Cesar were good friends. And on one occasion I remember him joining us for a drink in Dan's living room. There I was, having a beer with the zeta I always wanted and the TV villain I always loved to hate. California, I thought, truly was a land where dreams come true.

I miss Dan Lang. And I'm sure he has passed on. If I ever get some free time I'm determined to pay his gravesite a visit. Until then, this will have to do.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Hallmark Moment

As you might have guessed from my inclusion of the photo above, when it comes to matters of the heart, I profess little, or more accurately, no expertise. I'm not big on sentimentality, manufactured holidays or mushy chick flicks.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when my former art director partner told me he was getting married and that he wanted me to pen something special for his wedding invitation.

Keep in mind, he and I spent close to 5 &1/2 years working together in a small steel cube, the approximate size of a jail cell.

Not only did I know his picadellos, and he had a few, he knew mine. So he was well aware of my emotional inadequacies.

Naturally, I protested his choice and offered to buy him a lamp or a food processor from Crate and Barrel, but he would have none it. So I yielded. And today, because I just received a copy of the printed invite in the mail, I offer it up for your amusement...

The outside cover reads: a marriage

The inside reads:

It is more than a ring.

More than a piece of paper.
More than a $500 cake.
More than a stack of photos that will gather dust for the next 25 years.

It is more than a partnership.

More than joint property.
More than a division of labor.
More than putting the seat up.
Or putting the seat down.

It is more than a dress.
More than a tuxedo.
More than a fancy table cloth.
More than an overly scrutinized first dance.

It is more than saying "I do."

Or "I will."
Or "I'm sorry."
Or "I love you."

A marriage, and the ceremony that starts it, 
is nothing less than a miracle that gives meaning
to the undeniable truth that 1+1=1.

As you can see I had better keep my day job, because a career with Hallmark is not in the cards.

The good news is I have met his fiancé.
And my buddy has done a much better job picking a bride than he did picking his wedding invitation writer.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Slow News Day

We like to mark milestones here at roundseventeen.

The first time we received an angry letter or comment from a reader -- that happened quite early.
The first time we alienated a family member -- that also happened early.
The first time we dropped an F bomb -- surprisingly that took 3 & 1/2 years and it was quite necessary for the story.

We're coming up on another important milestone. And I use the plural 'we' to give the illusion that this (roundseventeen) is something more than just some schmuck at a keyboard with too much free time and too much coffee.

If you look down at the bottom right hand corner, you can see we are closing in on 100,000 hits. I remember when my salary crossed over into 6 digit territory. Now, it's not such an important threshold.

I asked my gardener, and when I say gardener I mean my 'mow, blow and go' guy, how many clients he has. Then I took some pencil to paper and figured he makes almost as much as I do. Of course he has expenses I don't have like lawnmower gas and weedwacker line.

While 6 digits may not carry the weight it once did, in the blogging world it's still quite the achievement. Or so I tell myself.

So, as we have done in the past, we're going to celebrate the occasion with the frivolous changing of the tagline. And you get to help. Consider this a little online focus group.

Your choices are:

A. Roundseventeen. Your one stop shop for misanthropy.

B. Roundseventeen. If it's not offensive, we're doing something wrong.

C. Roundseventeen. A black belt in sarcasm and a PhD in cynicism.

D. Roundseventeen. I'm right. End of story.

E. Roundseventeen. ___________ _____________ ___________ __________ .

Please choose wisely as this tagline will be in place for the next 5 years.
Or until I get bored and decide to change it on a whim.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Serenity Now

There's a lot going on with the world.

The Olympics.
The turmoil in Syria.
The Presidential Election.
The aftermath of the Colorado Massacre.
The Chick Fil A bru-ha.
The nationwide drought.
The wild gyrations of the stock market.

All of which stand in stark contrast to what's not going on at the Siegel Household. We are enjoying a rare moment of peace and quiet. You see my daughters are spending three weeks at Shalom JCA. Or as they like to call it, Jew Camp.

Sadly, the day after they come home from Jew Camp they go right back to the book learning at St. Monica's Catholic High School. Out of the pot and into the frying pan. Good thing my kids are prone to cynicism and can laugh off all this religiousity.

In the meantime my wife and I are enjoying this little sneak preview into empty nest hood. We drink mojitos on the front porch after work. We come home and the house looks as clean as it did when we left in the morning. We've gone out to eat. We've sat down and actually talked, to each other. We even went to a movie.

I'm pretty sure the last movie we went to was Jerry Maguire.

The anxiety we might have felt as we prepared for their departure has long since dissipated. And it has been replaced with a sense of liberation. In fact because my schedule is so free, this afternoon I'm going to workout at the gym for an hour, then walk to El Nopal restaurant for a Pregnant Burrito, and then take an afternoon nap in my hammock.

But don't get me wrong.
I do love my daughters and can't wait for them to come home.
Mostly because I don't like picking up the dog doo in the backyard.