Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sexy Time


Today's entry has nothing to do with the picture above. Or anything to do with Sexy Time. Today's entry was all about getting you to click on the link and snag your attention for one millisecond.

It's so easy because frankly you're so predictable.

And when I say you I mean the collective you, friends and family that come here with some regularity for a daily laugh.

There's another image I want you to see. An image that is far more exciting to me than it could possibly be to you. Which explains why I didn't lead with it. It looks like this:

On this, the final posting day of September, the monthly traffic is at an all time high. Surpassing the previous record of 5,163 hits in the month of April 2012. And not just surpassing it, but giving it the serious smack down similar to what Dempsey did to Willard in 1919.

You might have also noticed that we are close to breaking the completely arbitrary 6,000 page views barrier. Again, this means nothing to anyone, anywhere on the planet. But it does give me just enough personal validation to keep this blog going.

And so for that, and for visiting today, I thank you.

Next month I'd like to hit 7,000. And that's why I urge you to check out this link.

BTW, in my paying job as a copywriter I come across clients and agencies who are always looking for ways to increase web traffic to their corporate sites. I've sat for hours, seemingly days, in meetings discussing the merits of "click here" vs. "learn more" vs. "additional info".

If today has taught me anything it's that corporate America can experience exponential growth in their daily website traffic counts. They simply need to tap into the undeniable drawing power of soft core pornography.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day of Attachment

It's Yom Kippur.

As you read this know that I am depriving myself of all food, suffering from terrible coffee breath, and asking a pretend God for pretend forgiveness for any slights or sins I have committed in the past year.

I will be performing this ritual, just as I have since the time I was 5. Just as my tribe has for the past 5,000 years.

So why do it if I don't place a lot of stock in the God/Torah/Talmud/kosher thing? That's a good question. Not just for me, but for most of the other 900 or so congregants who are sitting here at synagogue singing the Hebrew songs that don't mean anything or listening to the rabbis tell stories about people who begat other people who begat still more people.

In a recent poll it was revealed that 52% of Jews, God's Chosen People, don't believe in the entity that chose them.

So again, why are we all here dressed in our Saturday best?

My wife will tell you it's a chance to enjoy three hours of spiritual refreshment. No cell phones, no emails, no mundane responsibilities. A pleasant opportunity to sit down, stand up, recite verse and relax.

For me it's something different. I take my kids to services on the High Holy days, because my parents (also atheists) took me to services on High Holy Days. I hear those familiar prayers and I am transported back to a time of polyester suits, when the women would sneak off to the bathroom for a smoke. And the men, including my father, would step out in the parking lot for a tipple from the flask of scotch he always kept by his side.

That connection never fails to move me.
Nor does the experience of being with fellow members of the tribe.

You see, I don't know most of their names. And I don't know if they keep Kosher. I don't know if they wash their cars on the Sabbath, to the dismay of of their neighbors in Beverlywood.

But here's what I do know.

I know that these 900 congregants want to leave the world a better place than the way they found it. I know they are interested in justice, compassion and doing well by others. Not because there's some reward in it, or a punishment for thinking otherwise. And I know I'd rather be part of a tribe that doesn't  judge others, doesn't proselytize, and doesn't hate members of other tribes.

Even it means going without a turkey club sandwich with melted pepperjack cheese for 24 hours.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kill the Planners

I owe you, the faithful roundseventeen reader, an apology.

Earlier in the year I promised to do a once-a-month posting about People We Need To Kill. I had kept that promise until July. Then, I either got too busy or less angry (doubtful), and failed to deliver in August.

And now we're almost into October.

If you work in advertising, and I know most of the people who come here do, you know there is a whole department dedicated to research, the study of human behavior, marketing insight and the development of creative and strategic briefs. These people are called Planners. And while I have had my difficulties with Planners in the past, the reality is I still draw a paycheck from many agencies.

So while they may be the smartest people in the building (again doubtful), if I were to call for their elimination, I would qualify as the dumbest.

No, the Planners I'd like to send to the abattoir are the ones responsible for LA's burgeoning light rail system. The ones with a billion dollars at their disposal, but not a nickel's worth of common sense.

For example it appears these brain-addled draftsmen and draftswomen have never experienced the wonders of flight. How else do you explain why the Metro Green Line comes so tantalizingly close to LAX but doesn't actually stop there?

This map in no way properly illustrates the stupidity of these Planners. You see, the four dots used to separate the Green Line from the LAX icon should actually be one dot.

It's that damn close.

If you were riding on the Green Line and a 747 were to land on the south runway, you could literally feel the heat from 37,000 horsepower Rolls Royce engines strapped beneath the wings.

The news is no better for sports fans.

Chavez Ravine, home of the disastrous LA Dodgers and the even more painful Dodger Stadium parking lot, is nowhere near a light rail line. It's as if the Planners went of their way to make sure baseball fans had to go out of theirs.

So much for the Planners.

To make up for lost ground, I'm including another group of people that should be culled from the herd: Islamic Extremists. This should come as no surprise as I have gone off on them many times in the past. And quite often in the past week.

Here's my fantasy scenario:

10 wide body planes, packed to the gills with jihadis, drivers who text, pageant moms, able bodied people who park in handicapped zones and the entire LA Metro Planning Department Staff. All simultaneously colliding in a Michael Bay-type fireball that would set the standard in pyrotechnic cinema for decades to come.

But of course, prior to their collective demise, I would love it if each of these detestable passengers were made to sit through a Dodger doubleheader. Then following two devastating losses, they would travel to LAX using only public transportation. And in the relenting heat of a Santa Ana September day, they would shlep their Samsonite luggage (with one broken wheel) from the corner of El Segundo Blvd and Douglas, a mile and half to the nearest terminal.

Allah Akbar!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Green Grass Blues

This was a sign that was posted at the height of World War II. A shameful time period in our country's history when we carted off people of Japanese ancestry to internment camps, including Heart Mountain in Wyoming.

That's where my gardener, Fred, was interned as a young man.

That wasn't the only wartime action Fred saw however. He told me in the 60's he was shipped to Viet Nam for Black Ops in the jungles of Cambodia. Turned out Fred could speak the native dialect and so he was sent behind enemy lines to scout out tunnel traps dug out by Charlie.

Fred had lots of fascinating stories of his military conquests in Indochina. At one time I thought he would make a perfect subject for a documentary. Former Japanese internee who took on some of the most dangerous missions in the Viet Nam War. Now reduced to a Mow/Blow/Go guy.

Unfortunately, the vim and vigor of his colorful past was long gone and by the time he reached his early 80's he was having a hard time operating a weed wacker.

I didn't want to but I had to fire Fred.
That was 6 years ago.

In the 20 years we've been in this house, we've had about 20 different gardeners.

I mention this because this week I had to fire another one, let's call him Jose. A hard working immigrant with kids, run-ins with the Immigration Department and now, an electronic bracelet strapped to his ankle.

Unlike Mr. Romney, I take no joy in relieving people of their employment. Thankfully, Jose made it easier and told me I had better get a new guy.

And so the pattern begins all over again.

For 8-9 months the grass will get cut regularly, the bushes will be neatly trimmed and the weeds will be dutifully wacked. Then the honeymoon will wear off. The ficus trees will start overflowing. The weekly Saturday morning visits will become bi-weekly. And the crabgrass will do to the backyard what the Nazis did to Czechoslovakia.

Then I will once agin find myself in the parking lot of the local Home Depot breaking out my 10th grade version of Espanol:

"Quierres un trabajo cutting mi grasso?"

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Per Your Request

A few weeks ago I shared an old Uncle Ben's Rice campaign I worked on with a talented team of folks. The million dollar effort never aired and now sits on a shelf somewhere in a storage bin off La Brea Ave.

The posting elicited quite a few reactions. None of them negative. All of them positive. And some of them stunningly positive.

Like this missive I got from a fellow freelance copywriter, Carrie Tallick, who wrote:

I want you to understand that I write this seething with envy for your blog but more so for your talent. God Damn, you're good. This was genius idea that should have aired and would have saved the brand. I completely love the ads. I can offer no consolation but only lament that truly great ideas are still thought up, but ever so rarely made. So, a humble nod to your fucking great ideas.

There is nothing better than making a fellow copywriter jealous.

Though Carrie and I do have many mutual friends, our paths have never crossed. In other words, I don't know her. But I'd like her to meet my wife and daughters, because frankly I don't hear praise like that often enough.

Or even, ever.

Another gracious commenter asked to see other spots from the Uncle Ben campaign. Normally we don't take requests here at roundseventeen, mostly because those requests are along the lines of, "Why don't you shut up?" or "when will you stop with this narcissistic drivel?"

But today, we're going to make an exception.

It's a shame. I would have loved to keep writing these and developing the character. And making spots that were informative yet funny. And I would have loved to played a small part in righting the racial wrong of this unfortunate characterization.

As I've said before, Ben may know best, but the folks at the Mars Food Company did not.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Return of Hurty

Remember at the beginning of the summer I recounted our heroic trek to California's Kearsage Pass?

It was a grueling 5 mile walk up hundreds of switchbacks and slippery trails made muddy by the Sierra snowpack. The hike started at 9,000 feet above sea level and climbed 2,760 feet to hook up with trails providing back door access to Mt. Whitney.

The 5 miles up was difficult. But the 5 mile descent was even tougher. And it turns out, it aggravated the bone spur in my heel, nicknamed Hurty, which I thought had sufficiently healed.

As a result, I have been limping around the entire summer. And experiencing excruciating Marathon Man-like pain. Particularly when waking up in the morning. And even more so when making nocturnal trips to the bathroom at night. Thank you enlarged prostate.

Now normally I have a high tolerance for pain.

I work in advertising.
I have two teenage daughters.
And I live in neighborhood populated by yappy dogs and neighbors who don't seem to understand they have neighbors.

But there is almost nothing in the world as tortuous as a heel spur. Imagine you had stepped on one of those old timey railroad spikes, and for unknown reasons, were told it would be impossible to remove.

I say almost, because ironically enough there is one thing more painful than a heel spur and that is the cure for a heel spur.

If a podiatrist, or any other doctor for that matter, tells you that you need a cortisone shot, run.
Run fast.
Even if you have to limp on one good leg, run away.

You see, to properly administer a cortisone shot the doctor must use a needle that is longer than a meat thermometer. Once the drill bit....uh needle, is inserted, he has to work it around to all the affected fleshy areas.  The doctor promised it would take no longer than 20 seconds, but I'm sure the battery on his Casio wristwatch was on its last legs.

When it was over, Dr. FeelBad said, "that wasn't too bad was it?" It wasn't bad for you, you weren't on the sticking end of that javelin.

Then he took another look at the X-ray, pictured above.

Adding, "I can see why you needed multiple shots of cortisone. I've been in the business for more than 30 years. That could be the biggest heel spur I've seen in my entire life."

Oddly enough I felt of surge of pride.
And then I grew sad.

Earlier in the week, I had paid a visit to the urologist. He didn't have any similar comments about my schmeckel.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Not So Swimmingly

I write a lot about my swimming regimen. I think swimmers are more inclined to writing. More so than runners. Or even cyclists, who tend to have no less passion for their activity.

It stems from the environment.

With our heads submerged beneath the chlorinated water, we are trapped with only ourselves for stimulation or company. There's nothing social about swimming. To the contrary, it is distinctively anti-social. And thus, allows for introspection.

Swimming can be also be quite therapeutic.

As Harvey Weiner, another swimmer who likes to write,  noted in his book Total Swimming: anyone can use swimming to achieve an inner calm -- a euphoria that integrates movement and thought and relieves tension like a mantra.

And while I'm not as spiritual as Mr. Weiner, my swimming sessions do allow me to have long, meaningful conversations. With myself. Conversations, that more often than not, result in a blog posting. Or even a new commercial for one of my clients.

The picture above is the swimming pool at my brother's condo complex, where I go at lunch hour. On this particular day the marine layer has persisted and has successfully scared off the kids and those not comfortable with 76 degree water.

That's fine with me. As I often say -- to myself -- an empty pool is a happy pool.
It is my own personal nirvana.

That is, until today.

When I walked up to the front gate I saw this:

Prior to this week, there had been no sign telling those afflicted with Montezuma's Revenge to stay away from the pool. Nor a need to. But now there is.

And the implications are as clear as the deceptively clean water.

Somebody, maybe a poorly potty-trained 5-year old or a forgetful 75-year old, had "launched a brown dinghy off the S.S. Assitania."

The evidence may no longer be visible, thankfully. But it does mean that my very well being and my resistance to some fecal-borne disease rests not in the efforts of some skilled hazmat team, but to 3 or 4 pool cleaning guys snatched up from the nearby Home Depot parking lot for $5 an hour.

This sign has not only tainted my daily swimming experience, with every errant gulp of pool water, it has seeped into my inner underwater conversations.

Harvey Weiner didn't include a chapter in his book about "Dropping the Sloppy Kids Off at the Pool."
I wonder why.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

This event is FREE!!!

The High Holidays are upon us. So naturally you might think I'd write a post bashing this annual ritual. But that would be predictable, and I'm not fond of predictability.

So to mix things up I won't be ragging on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. But I don't want to disappoint those of you who might have been looking forward to a good laugh at the expense of Judaism.

Well there's good news on both fronts. Because in going through my files I found this left over gem (pictured above) for the Fun & Wacky Passover Family Adventure.

I know many elitist Jews look down their hooked noses at our Christian brethren and their crass commercialization of all that is holy. Take this screen grab from the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida for example:

"Say Honey, let's visit the #18 The Whipping Post where Jesus was scourged."

"That's a great idea dear. Afterwards let's  follow it up with a #22 Centurian Treat."

"Mmmmmm, turkey legs and pretzels. Those were John the Baptist's favorite."

But the truth is, we are no better.

I don't know how we resisted, but way back in April, Camp JCA hosted this Exodus-themed Carnivale. Normally, I don't associate the escape from bondage and slavery with Fun and Wacky, but apparently the good folks at Shalom Institute do.

The festivities included an opportunity to "toil the land and gather parsley." And seriously, what kid doesn't want to do that?

Of course the weekend did include an opportunity to "zip line across Red Sea." We all know that technology did not exist then and the Hebrews had to schlep their crap across the Red Sea. But had the Almighty, Host of Hosts been a little more prescient he might have provided high tech zip lines with galvanized metal aircraft cable and drop-forged U-bolts.

In which case I dare say, our numbers would not be in the millions, but the billions.

All of which reinforces a point made by many comics: we Jews simply don't do holidays well.

It also explains that while my family is gathered for Rosh Hashanah, the fireworks-less  New Year's celebration, and dipping their apple slices in honey, I will be dipping my liver in Maker's Mark.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

She's talking about my colon

A few years ago I remember reading an interview with Gerry Graf, perhaps the best ad writer in the business today. A reporter asked him why his characters are so strange and twisted. Gerry's response, or my paraphrasing of it, was great.

Gerry didn't think his characters were weird at all. To the contrary, he wondered why America had such an easy time accepting and digesting characters who seemed hyper-normal.

Take the woman in the commercial above for example. She is a bridesmaid at a wedding. And instead of wishing the newlyweds a life of happiness and prosperity she takes her time on the microphone to inform the wedding guests about the wonderful probiotics contained in a spoonful of Colon Health.

Without so much as a nod or a wink to the fact that she is talking to people wearing $1000 dresses and rented tuxedoes about making a doodie.

That, counters the very insightful Mr. Graf, is disturbing.

And yet this ad, and thousands like it, sail through focus groups and stream across our TV sets everyday.

Well, the answer has to start with the people responsible for advertising in the first place: clients.

I've been on set for hundreds of TV commercials. Eaten thousands of breakfast burritos. And parked my ass in those uncomfortable director's chair for more time than I'd like to think about. And Video Village is no place for a creative person to be.

You see, high level clients rarely show up for shoots. Shoots are dull, tedious and can easily swallow up a 14-hour day. So high level clients send low level assistants to 'supervise' the shoot. More often than not, these are people with little or no thespianic, production, or even marketing chops.

You know, like their bosses.

The results are predictable.

When asked for feedback on a particular take, one will often hear:

"Can she say it with more energy?"


"He seems angry, can he be not angry?"


"I know she's done it 37 times, can we get one more for safety?"

Those of you in the business know exactly what I'm talking about. And for those of you not in the business, this should serve to explain why DVRs with commercial skipping ability are as vital to life as food and oxygen.

Everyday, we in the creative department do our best to run away from contrivances, plastic characterizations and out-and-out phoniness. And everyday, clients turn us around and make us run in the other direction.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Welcome to the Penthouse

My mailbox gets stuffed everyday.

If it isn't a bill from the phone, TV or Internet companies, it's a direct mail flyer from a window replacement company. Or a local real estate team. Or a telecommunications company offering to bundle my phone, TV and internet services.

I might be interested in bundling if only to save some trees from the sawmill.

Well, you can imagine my excitement the other day when an actual package arrived in my mailbox. A personally addressed package to Richard Siegel, no less. (No one calls me Richard, with the exception of high school buddies or my crazy aunt in Paisely, Scotland who speaks some indecipherable dialect of English.)

Moreover, the package had some heft. There was something inside. Something, somebody wanted Richard Siegel to hold and to cherish. Of course my excitement dimmed the minute I saw the return address. It was from Marlo Thomas at the St. Jude's Children Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

I have a been a regular contributor to St. Jude's since my father lost his battle with prostate cancer in 1989. He was not always the most charitable person, but spending a lot of time in the Oncology wing of many hospitals left an impression on him. So he made me promise to support the work of St. Jude's because he couldn't imagine the pain of the parents and the children who found themselves fighting the same battle.

So, given my 20+ years of regular and sometimes generous support, I thought, rubbing my fingers together like Montgomery Burns, "Perhaps this charity-thing is finally paying off."

Then again, maybe not.

The package consisted of a two-page, poorly-written form letter and a 3-inch black velvet, faux velvet, box containing an old timey key that looked just like the one used by the late Bob Guccione and his Penthouse Empire, as seen in the traffic-attracting picture above.

The 50th Anniversary Commemorative Key, opens nothing. And as you can see from the Certificate of Authenticity, it is handcrafted using only .74 ounces of the finest Metal.

Meaning, it is completely worthless. Not unlike this story, which has neither a point or as you've come to expect, a snappy witty closing.

However, in less than 500 words, I have effortlessly strung together a story about Marlo Thomas, window replacements, enormous tits, Mr. Burns, AT&T, cancer, Bob Guccione, Paisely, metallic tchotchkes and my own inadequacies as a writer.

That's not something you see everyday.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I want to sue a Jew

Last week a friar got in trouble for saying that in some cases, young boys actually initiated the sexual contact between themselves and throbbing members of the priesthood. And much the way VP candidate Paul Ryan is walking back from his claim of running a sub three hour marathon, that friar is now walking back from his previous statements.

"Walking back" is media-speak for "I fucked up."

Much has been made in the last few years of the abuse perpetrated upon these young men. And the church has been forced to shell out millions of dollars in reparations. 

All of which got me thinking that I need to contact an attorney.

You see when I was 11 years old we moved from the very Semitic confines of Flushing, NY to the corned beef and cabbage Catholic confines of Suffern, NY. When the glow of owning his first home wore off, my father realized he had done nothing to get me ready for a Bar Mitzvah.

He quickly enrolled me in a Hebrew School in nearby Monsey, NY, the most Jewish township in all of America and sometimes referred to as West Jerusalem. With 18 months to go before my impending 13th birthday, it became clear that this rapid fire immersion into Hebrew was not going fast enough to prepare me for a complete Haftorah reading. 

Drastic measures were in order. 

And soon my Tuesday and Thursday afterschool sessions at Hebrew School were supplemented with private tutorial classes with a genuine Hasid, Rabbi Chechuchmuchen. Or something to that effect. I only know that when he said his name out loud, large chucks of creamed herring came flying from his piehole.

If it isn't already clear from my tone of voice, these thrice-weekly visits to Rabbi Chechuchmuchen's shabby house off Route 306 were my personal versions of hell. Mind you, he never touched me or G-d forbid ask me to touch him, so in that respect my claim could be considered quite frivolous.

But I was forced to sit next to this hulking, heavy breather whose beaver skin clothing rarely made it to the laundromat. 

And I had no choice but to inhale the G-d awful fumes emitted from Mrs. Chechcuchmuchen's kitchen, where she was always preparing some odd, Halakhic-approved venison stew from a shtetl recipe that would have been best left behind in Eastern Lithuania. 

Lastly, I could not escape the non-stop wailing/davening of the 11 Chechcuchmuchen children, who were a constant reminder that the incredibly unattractive Chechcuchmuchen parents were having regular and productive sex. 

I hope I have painted a vivid accurate picture. 
Because if that's not child abuse, I don't know what is. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The way advertising should be

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I do a lot of kvetching about advertising. The business is filled with so much nonsense, so much stupidity, and so many incompetent clueless people, that for an angry writer like myself, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

And I'm talking about flat fish like halibut or flounder, that swim on their sides, so it's even harder to miss.

But today I'd like to tell a story of a different kind.

In 1994, after an incredibly frustrating year at BBDO, I was hired to work at Team One Advertising. A creative hot shop at the time, teeming with a staff of talented Writers and Art Directors, many of whom have gone on to become the Grand Creative Puba at places like Chiat, Dailey, RPA, McCann Erikson and such.

I had just settled into my new office, notice I didn't say cubicle, this was a time when management respected the creative process and doled out offices, with real doors and windows. The Creative Director called and said one of the writers was going on vacation, back to Wisconsin for a week. He asked if I would fill in for him and work with the art director on a new beer account, Castlemaine XXXX, an Australian brew with new distribution in the US.

Naturally, I said yes. Because the boss had asked me to. Not because I had snaked the assignment away from anybody. Which has been known to happen.

The XXXX people wanted to position their brew as the authentic beer of the Australian Outback. And they wanted to use outdoor boards, my favorite media. So the art director and I cranked up the headline machine and started spitting out funny lines.

It wasn't difficult at all. And within three days, we had enough material to cover a wall.

Here's where it gets interesting.

By Wednesday the Creative Director had seen all the work and culled it in half.
By Thursday we had a meeting with three of the top clients. No planner intervention. No junior clients. No focus groups. No hierarchy of any kind.
By Friday, we had approval on the campaign. Not a qualified approval. Not a pending approval. Not a let-me-show-this-to-my-wife-and-make-sure-she's-good-with-it approval.

I'm talking about a signed estimate, cash on the table, let's do this approval.

By the following Monday, the day the vacationing writer returned to the agency, mechanicals were already being made.

A year later, the art director and I were at Lincoln Center in NY accepting a couple of One Show Silver Pencils for the campaign that went from start to finish in less than a week. If memory serves, we smoked fancy cigars and bought a bottle of champagne one only buys when spending someone else's money. Thank you Saatchi & Saatchi shareholders.

Even as I write this I can't believe the surprising turn of events and the uncomplicated way the planets fell into alignment. Mostly because in the 18 years since, and the countless tales I've heard from other creatives, it's never happened that way ever again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It's Downhill From Here

Thanks to the bone spurs in my heels, I've had to give up running.

In its place, and to get my necessary calorie burn, I've started walking the 1.4 miles to the nearby Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. Once there, I take on the challenge of the 282 unevenly spaced and incredibly tortuous steps and ascend to one of the highest peaks in the Los Angeles Basin.

A special treat awaits all who make it to the top of the hill. And I'm not talking about the spectacular view, from the peaks of Mt. Baldy on the right sweeping all the way to the far stretches of Catalina Island on the left.

I'm talking about the opportunity to view Los Angeles in all its wonderful diversity.

Boxers run the steps to increase their aerobic endurance. Housewives from Culver City climbs the stairs to erase those second glasses of Pinot Grigio. Entire Hispanic families trudge up the hill because it makes for inexpensive entertainment. But by far my favorite are the fatties, people pushing 300 sometimes 400 lbs. who all but collapse on that final 282nd stair.

I have struggled with weight all my life, so these folks have my empathy and my respect. But I am a little ashamed to admit that seeing them huffing and puffing keeps me motivated and makes me feel a little bit better about myself. Because there, but for the grace of a few breakfast buffets and a couple hundred pints of Ben and Jerry's Rocky Road Ice Cream, go I.

(If the folks who ran the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook had a suggestion box, I'd tell them they should keep a portable defibrillator up at the top. That hill is a heart attack waiting to happen.)

On the way home from the park I walk through a grove of pungent Eucalyptus trees. That distinctive smell brings me back to my very first day in California, a long, long time ago. There were no Eucalyptus trees in Suffern or in Syracuse, NY. But there were plenty in Westwood Village, before the UCLA Hospital started their expansion program and turned into a small country.

That Eucalyptus aroma transforms me back into a naive 22-year old boy/man with his whole life in front of him. Possibilities, dreams, lovers, friends, successes, failures, even children, these were all great unknowns. And because they were unknown, I had no way to perceive or appreciate the magic of the moment.

Occassionally I try to pass on this piece of jaded wisdom to my daughters, but they roll their eyes and resume their iChats.

Now I'm older, with a wife, two kids, a couple of mortgages, a never ending stack of bills, 3 cars, insurance premiums, property taxes, a lethargic stock portfolio and looming college tuition expenses. The carefree days of my youth are long gone. And with it, the always pleasant associations I had attached to the Eucalyptus.

The other day my buddy and I were headed to lunch. He got in my car and said there was a funny smell. I thought it could be some residual from my swimming gear. No, it wasn't mildew, he said, it was something else.

"Oh that my friend," I blurted out, "is the stench of responsibility."