Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gamer versus Gamer

There is no room in this world for people who would scam other people. Particularly when those scammers do so cloaked in the guise of godliness and prey upon those who pray.

Which explains why several months ago I posed as an elderly Culver City woman named Ruby Shipp and began a correspondence with the Peter Popoff Ministry. A sham of a man who bilks the weak and witless by promising them the financial blessings of Jesus.

If you haven't seen his late night infomercials you have not seen state-of-the-art hornswoggling.

While I have enjoyed receiving the weekly envelopes from the Popoff people and their phony promises of financial miracles, I wanted to do something more. I wanted to see if these folks had an ounce of an integrity in their supposedly pious bodies. I wanted put their Christian faith to the test.

So again, assuming the identity of a cancer-stricken, naive 74-year spinster, I wrote the good pasteur to tell him of my recent good fortune.

Dear Reverend Popoff,

I have been watching your show on the television for many months now. And have marveled at the wonderful miracles you have delivered to so many people. 

I remember the woman who got a check for $19,000. She cried and cried. But they were tears of joy. Joy brought on by your diligent prayers and reverence for our dear Lord, Jesus Christ. 

Months ago, I contacted the Ministry, with the hopes that one day a financial fortune would find me. 

Per your instructions, I returned the Baruch Wallet, the Love Glove and the Apron of Jesus. I tried to send as much money as I could afford, but it is difficult as I need the money for medical needs. I have the cancer in my knees.

I was about to lose all hope. 
But then, Hallelujah, the miracle you had promised has come true.

Three days ago, I received a letter on my computer from a man named Mantu Ibrahim. He said that I was named an heir to a fortune left by his uncle, a general in the Nigerian Army. I knew we had descended from slaves kidnapped in Eastern Africa, but had no idea I had kin in Nigeria. 

Mr. Mantu said as soon as the documents are cleared I would receive a check for $2,750,000! 

All I need to do is wire him a money order for three hundred and fifty dollars.
That's a lot of money, particularly when I have to have a biopsy on my ankle. 

But the prayers you have said on my behalf have been answered by God. Glory goes to Jesus. 

I don't know how you choose guests for your television shows, but I would love to share my story and my blessings with your followers. I will let you know as soon as I receive a check from Mr. Mantu.

Yours in faith,

Ruby Shipp

If they intervene, I'll be surprised.
If they try to redirect the $350 to the Popoff Ministry, I won't be.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Orchestrating Intuitive Synergies

I love doublespeak.

Not necessarily the people who use it.
They're duplicitous.
And not worth the paper their resume is printed on.
But they do have a way with words.

It may not be my way, but I'll give them credit for taking command of the language (that's the part I love) and mastering it for their own devious ways.

Recently there was news in one of the industry trades about an ad agency that had just hired a new Digital Planning Strategist. Orwell would have had a field day with that kind of job title.

This particular Digital Planning Strategist, like many of his ilk, was accepting his 5th new job in as many years.

I was always told employers like to see some measure of stability in a candidate. But I'm sure this fast-thinking ninja had a rationale for his flightiness. I'm sure he prattled on about the need for agility and the ability to adapt to the marketplace's dinosaur-slaying fluidity. And, that his lengthy resume was simply a reflection of that philosophy.

Naturally I was curious about this young man's credentials and what made him so attractive to all these allegedly-intelligent organizations.

So I scoured the internet. Well, not really scoured. I googled his name and with very little effort at all, was able to find a lifetime's worth of achievements.

On one of his many social media pages, he reveals that he likes to "form groups, cultivate groups, actively engage group culture and develop groups to their full potential."

I don't have a fucking clue what any of that means. But maybe you're not like me. Maybe you know exactly what he is talking about. Congratulations, you'll probably be working for this ambitious go-getter in the next few months.

Here's a little tool that might help you in the future.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Can't Get Enough Beaver

There are a lot of new faces at the agency where I am currently working. And it isn't often one of them is my age. Or even in the near vicinity of my age. So it took me by great surprise when I spotted someone whose social security number predates mine.

"Who is that?", I asked my current partner.

"Oh you know him, he worked at Fallon, back in the day. He had a big hand in the Evil Beaver campaign." he replied.

And with that, my heart raced.

Evil Beaver was a seminal work.

It may, some would argue, have marked the birth of absurdist theater in American advertising. Long before there was a half naked Old Spice man, or a supply room clerk who could turn telephones into Skittles with the touch of his hand, there was an overgrown nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodent fond of pisswater beer and terrorizing the early settlers of the Western Plains.

I still remember when Evil Beaver made his debut. That was a fine time to be in advertising.

Evil Beaver didn't have his own Facebook page. He didn't tweet, he had far too much dignity for that. And he didn't maliciously chew threw the page in some client's awful idea of a page-takeover.

He simply showed up on our TVs? And when he did, we would sing the Evil Beaver song. And we would play the Evil Beaver Air Guitar. And that would be enough.

Try watching it just once.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I'm an African American

Last month, just before I set sail to Europe to explore some of my ancestral roots, I saw a fascinating show on the National Geographic Channel. I might be one of the 38 people who actually watches this network. The show was all about the Genome Project.

A scientist has taken it upon himself (and his team) to crowdsource DNA from willing participants in order build a database and paint a more accurate picture of human migration. You know, since Adam and Eve tried to keep a pet snake and were evicted from the Garden of Eden by the landLord.

In the show, the scientist combs the streets of New York City, my hometown, to find folks from all different backgrounds. One of the more interesting subjects was Paco. A man in his late 20's who was orphaned in Columbia when his parents were murdered in a drug deal that went south. Drug deals are forever going south.

Because of his brownish skin and his first name, Paco thought he had come from a typical Hispanic background. He didn't.

The DNA revealed something interesting. Genetic markers indicated that his background, though most recently from South America, originated in Eastern Europe. And prior to that, the Mediterranean Crescent.

In other words, the scientist told him, Paco was a Jew.

Naturally this piqued my curiosity. What if I had been operating under a mistaken sense of tribal identity? The truth is, we all are. As every human on the planet, including many of those pasty-white Creationists who believe Jesus had a dinosaur, can be traced back to Africa.

So I went online to read more about the Genome Project. And if you haven't already guessed, shelled out the money to participate in the endeavor. In 6-8 weeks I will know the results. Of course, that means in 6-8 weeks, you will also know the results.

If you've been following this blog or even if you're a first time visitor, you know that roundseventeen is an exercise in narcissism. I may have deluded myself into thinking it's a way to limber up the creative muscle or to keep up a daily regimen of filling a page, but seriously, who are we kidding?

It's narcissistic, as all blogging and most writing is. And now with my participation in the Genome Project, I am about to take it to a new level -- the cellular level.

"Open the plastic wrapped DNA collection device and vigorously rub the inside of your cheek for no less than 45 seconds. Then deposit your collected DNA sample into the hermitically-sealed vial marked with your individual QR code."

Hemingway famously said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

Apparently, bleeding is not enough.
In 2013, it also means swabbing.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I Have a Caganer

If you were to visit my house and come into my office you'd notice something new amongst all the clutter, paperwork and Apple paraphernalia -- my new Caganer.

I've written about the Caganer before and still can't get over the fact that folks in Catalonia take the time to adorn their Nativity Scenes with a little man launching a lincoln log.

But it's true. And recently, my friend Laurenne Sala was in Spain, traveling with, of all things, her mother. When she wasn't eating tapas, drinking beer or sampling the latest crop of Spanish bachelors, she took the time to stop at a souvenir shop and get me my very own Caganer.

I was so touched by this gesture.
No one, including my wife, has ever bought me a statue of a little man taking a shit before.

I don't know what else Laurenne brought back from Spain and the other European countries she and her proud mother visited, but I would love to have been a fly on the wall when she returned and went through U.S. Customs.

"Anything to declare?"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Aye, you stoopid Yank."

You were probably hoping I was done with the retelling of my recent European vacation. I'm sorry to tell you, I'm not.

Today, I'm sharing a funny story regarding our short stopover in Glasgow. This seems fitting as Glasgow was the birthplace of my mother. And her passing was exactly 8 years ago.

Following our 5 days in London, we boarded a high speed train towards Scotland to visit what remaining family we have in the Sampson/Horne/Park Clan.

The train ride was incredible. We snagged seats (including a table) for four in the First Class Car. The ride was smooth, fast, and error-free. In other words, everything American travel isn't.

The 6 hours flew by and before we knew it we were pulling into Glasgow. Or as the Glasgowegians like to say (without any hint of irony I might add), the "City Where Style Never Sleeps." I've seen the grey overcoats, the snotty scarves and the ratty shoes, someone at the Chamber of Commerce might want to rethink that slogan.

We got off the train and exited the massive building at the northern exit (as diagrammed in the picture above). We spotted the taxi stand across the street (also diagrammed above) and cued up for a minivan taxi, as there were four of us and all our luggage. We loaded the bags into the back on the minivan and buckled in.

The driver turned to me and said, "Where am I taking you mate?"

"The Glasgow Grand Central Hotel."

"You mean the one across the street?" he said, not looking very happy. Nor very stylish.

We all laughed.
Well, all the Americans laughed and we quickly got the hell out of Dodge. It might have been a Ford.

The next day, my aunt took a bus in from Paisely and met us at the Glasgow Grand Central.

I suggested we have lunch at the hotel and my aunt quickly protested.

"Aye Richard, it's weeeey too expensive."

Of course, I would have none of that. And then over lunch, she dropped a bombshell on us. She told us that way back when, my mother was a chambermaid at the Grand Central.

She was a hearty 16 years old. And already employed. Cleaning rooms at a hotel. Possibly even the room I was staying in.

Little did she know that 2 years later she'd be on her way to America, to raise three children, and a lifetime of cleaning up after slobs.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Don't Read This, It's Way Too Long.

Way back in 2002, I was rightfully fired from TBWA Chiat/Day.

Why rightfully? Because I was an arrogant ass. Hard to believe, right? I was so misguided that when I wasn't berating Account Managers for not managing, or ripping apart Planners for not planning, I took it upon myself to start writing so-called White Papers, pseudo-intellectual tripe, about what was wrong with the industry.

They're all gone now. Sitting on a beat-up hard-drive buried in a smelly landfill somewhere in Riverside. But, my friend Susan Alinsangan, an admitted hoarder, saved one and sent it to me.

So today, in honor of legendary copywriter Bob Levenson (who passed last week) and inspired by a fellow blogger's briefer treatise on the topic, I'm reprinting it here. 

I'm tempted to fix it. Or to give it an edit. But then decided to display it, warts, outdated references, and all.

Why We Should Never Not Use Negative Advertising.


A White Paper On Negativity.

“Does it have to be so negative?”  Ask any copywriter or art director and they will tell you these are easily the seven most dreaded words ever uttered by a client reviewing work.

Dreaded, for two reasons.

First, because it's a rhetorical question. It’s not a question at all. What the client is actually saying is, “I don’t really want an answer and any reply you do give me will be sadly insufficient and met with an uncomfortable, stony silence. Though I will thoroughly enjoy watching you hem and haw, stop and start, and generally make an emotional ass of yourself.”

The second reason it is dreaded is…oh, who cares what the second reason is, the work is dead.


Once work is labeled negative there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Or is there?

In tenth grade, a geometry teacher proved to me that the hypotenuse of a right triangle was the square root of the sum of the squares of the other sides. What’s more amazing is that the Pythagorean theorem can be proven 417 different ways.

Unfortunately, the great Euclidean thinkers never got around to dissecting the mysteries of advertising or how to do an end-around a myopic CMO.

That does not preclude us from an equally rigorous, though admittedly, more anecdotal proof of why we should embrace ‘negativity’ or what I like to refer to it as ‘reverse positivism.’

Guess what? It works.

Ask 100 people to name the greatest single television commercial ever produced and 95 of those people will cite Apple’s “1984”, a nightmarish trip into an Orwellian future inhabited by IBM-drones. The tone was dark. The people were unattractive. The environment was oppressive. And probably to the product manager’s dismay, there was not a single word about any product attributes or features or benefits or anything. The copy simply said that with the introduction of the Macintosh, “1984 won’t be like 1984.”

Can an ad get any more negative than that?

Probably not. And yet despite the fact that the spot aired once during the Super Bowl (though countless times on unpaid news programs), many will tell you that this spot not only launched Macintosh, it launched the Apple brand. During the course of the next few weeks following the Super Bowl, Macintosh inventory ran out and Apple had to reconfigure their entire manufacturing process.

What about print you say?

Ask any student of the advertising industry to name the greatest single print ad and many, OK many older ones, will point to a Volkswagen newspaper ad from the 1960’s. There was a simple picture of the VW bug and a one-word headline that read, “Lemon.” (In the automotive vernacular, there isn’t a single word that carries as much negative baggage as the word, “Lemon.”) The ad is about a VW bug that didn’t pass its final inspection because of a blemished chrome strip.

Today, Volkswagen is a household word in Germany and in America, because a brave client who understood the power of ‘reverse positivism’ approved ads with negative headlines like, “Lemon”, “Think small” and “It makes your house look bigger.” 

Need more examples? I’ll name the brand and I’ll bet within seconds you can think of their commercials. Alaska Airlines. Federal Express. IBM. All employ so-called negative advertising, whether it is portraying how their competitors operate or illustrating a situation that can benefit from their product or service.

Would anybody argue that these commercials are not successful?

Why? Would somebody tell me why?

Trying to explain why negative advertising works is like asking someone to define the number three without using your fingers or a pencil or other numbers. In Luke Sullivan’s book, “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” he writes:

Negatives have power. Try writing the Ten Commandments positively…It would not fit on two stone tablets. Negatives are a linguistic construction we’re all familiar with.

And how did we become so familiar with this particular linguistic construction? From our books, our magazines, our shows, our films, our stories.

Think about it. If we expressed everything in positive terms, our nightly news wouldn’t last three minutes much less thirty.

If you took away the negative linguistic construction from a stand up comedian, how long do you think it would be before he or she was back to bussing tables or driving a cab?

And what about the movies? Years ago, the powers that be at Paramount Studios, put Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a small movie called, “Sleepless in Seattle.” Probably for the same reason that peanut butter goes with jelly, people love to see Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together. But here’s the deal, the movie runs a little less than two hours long, and yet the two superstars are together in just one scene for three minutes. THREE MINUTES.

Did somebody in research say, “we have to change the script, they keep missing each other.” Maybe they did, but fortunately that person was sacked. Because it is the very tension, the conflict, the situations that keep them apart that make their union at the end of the film so gratifying.

Syd Field, in his book SCREENPLAY, writes:

All drama is conflict. Without conflict you have no character; without character, you have no action; without action, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.

Though we are not writing screenplays (OK some of us are, after hours) it can be argued that TV commercials need to work even harder at telling our stories: the story of our product.

And why would we not use the very same tools, drama, conflict, tension, humor, that have served great storytellers since the first markings were put on a cave?

“This White Paper isn’t all that convincing.”

Some researchers at Cleveland State University made a startling discovery.

The researchers created two fictitious job candidates –Dave and John – two identical resumes, and two almost identical letters of reference. The only difference was that John’s letter included the sentence “Sometimes, John can be difficult to get along with.”

The researchers showed the resumes to personnel directors. Which candidate did the directors most want to interview?

Sometimes-Difficult-to-Get-Along-With John.

The researchers concluded that the criticism of John made the reference’s praise of John seem much more believable, and that made John look like a stronger candidate. Showing John’s warts actually helped sell John. (Excerpted from “Selling the Invisible” by Harry Beckwith)

The point is, sometimes we propose headlines or copy that, at first blush may not seem all that appealing or flattering. But honesty has a unique disarming quality. Particularly when it comes unexpectedly from a large organization.

And as the Cleveland State University professors pointed out, honesty can go a long way in the eyes and minds of consumers we are trying to persuade.

Persuasion. Persuasion. Persuasion.

In the end, why we do what we do is to convince other people to do what they sometimes don’t know they need to do or even want to do.

This is complicated by the fact that human beings are as Harry Beckwith states, “unpredictable, frustrating, temperamental, often irrational, and occasionally half mad.”

If using ‘negative’ advertising can get make for a more persuasive argument, and I believe that historically it has, we would be screaming, lobotomized, half-wits not to use it.

I'm sorry, is that too negative?   

Monday, January 21, 2013

I'm not dead, yet.

I've never done this before, but recently someone showed me how to do a screen grab off my iPhone.

So today I thought I'd share some of the often-hilarious texting that goes on between myself and my teenage daughters.

The out-of-the-blue text above, comes from Abby, my youngest.

She's 15 now, but in my mind she's always 4.

This is her communicating with chalk, before she mastered the non-sequitor.

In the text, she asks if I'd like to be cremated and have my remains spread around the fertile foothills of Upper Gray's Meadow -- that's where we go camping every year.

It's a beautiful spot, high in the Eastern Sierras on the northern end of the Owens Valley. It is surely worthy of a final resting place. But I'm not convinced for a moment that my daughter was seeking counsel regarding this very personal decision.

You see my two teenage girls have started bickering, with tongue planted firmly-in-cheek, about how the Siegel estate will be divided among the heirs. They take devilish glee talking about who gets the Lexus? What happens to the big screen TV? Or...

"You take mommy's jewelry, I'm getting daddy's 407K plan."

They're not so clear on the nomenclature.

What's more, they're fond of talking about divvying up the booty right in front of my wife and I. This, despite the fact that we are both incredibly strong, healthy and prepared to stick around for a long, long time.

They know it upsets us so they beat it like a dead horse.

How did this little texting discussion end?
As they all do, with me getting in the last sarcastic joke.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Screeners Are Here

It's SAG screening time again. And the good folks at the Screen Actors Guild, my fellow thespians, are interested in my opinion on the top films of the day.

I am more than happy to give it to them. As well as my $108 a year for guild fees to keep my membership active. And to keep me eligible for SAG jobs I'll never get.

The fact is, I haven't been on an audition for at least 15 years. And when I did, it was only for voiceover work -- easily, the most overpaid job on the planet.

You may be saying, "Siegel, I never knew you were an actor."

And the truth is, I'm not. But years ago, I did the scratch tracks for spots we were presenting to ABC. The client became so enamored with my nasally, awful-though-comedic voice, they decided to stick with it.

In the industry, this is called "Demo Love".

Long story, thankfully shorter, I did the VO on many ABC promo spots in the late 90's. It was only later that I found out that residuals were not paid on media promo spots. So my daughter's college tuition windfall was more like a gentle summer breeze. Or the quick burst warm exhaust coming from the tail end of a Santa Monica bus.

Nevertheless, my voice was on several commercials. I got called back on several auditions. And I gained entry to that most exclusive club in Hollywood -- SAG.

Every year I get free movies. Well, not exactly free. But the math works heavily in my favor. This year for instance, I've received three DVDs, see above. And I've been given free rentals of three additional films on iTunes.

These are all freshly-minted movies playing in theaters.

As you might have guessed, I'm not all that fond of going to the theater. It's expensive. It's noisy. And I always find something repulsive on the seats -- people.

But for $108 I get to watch, from the comfort of my own home, Argo, Silver Linings, The Sessions, Hitchcock and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Of course, my wife and daughters are going to make me sit through Les Miserables, so that puts me just above the point of breaking even.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Parallel Universe

A long, long, long time ago, fate intervened in my life while I was standing in line to register for my freshmen classes at Syracuse University.

How? You may ask.
Well, following the not-so-wise advice of my father, a CPA, I enrolled in some introductory Accounting classes.

I had taken some Accounting in high school. And my father wanted me to pursue more of them while at Syracuse. He argued, quite forcefully, that Accounting was a solid career choice. Or, at the very least, a dependable back up plan should my aspirations in writing not pan out.

He was convinced they would not.
And considering my lowly status in the advertising world, perhaps he was right.

Anyway, back at the registrar's office, I stood in the line for Accounting 101 (a torrid exploration of debits, credits and capital expenditures). When I finally reached the front of the line, I was told there were only openings in one session.

"I'll take it," I said, naively unaware of the failure rate for students who sign up for 8:00 AM class. Any 8:00 AM class.

This freshmen axiom is particularly true in upstate New York. In the winter months. When the thermometer doesn't get into double digits until June.

And so it was that I failed Accounting 101.
And never made it to the infinitely-more exciting world of Accounting 102.

Which is probably a good thing. As it would have changed my life. And altered the very nature of this blog, which would probably consist of entries that looked like this:

I can't believe I missed the deduction for the regional sales meeting in Nashville.

I amortized the heavy machinery for 15 years. Take that Uncle Sam.

Checking account successfully reconciled. Does life get any better?

I'm not sure the current iteration is much better, but I am much comfortable at a keyboard than I ever was at an adding machine.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Thin Mints

(image borrowed from fellow blogger George Tannenbaum at

Later today, Vice President Biden is expected to make an important announcement regarding new gun control legislation in America.

Some will say he has not gone far enough. Then, they'll yawn and go back to sipping their iced lattes, scheduling their pilates classes and complaining about the proposed light rail system coming way too close to their neighborhood.

Some will say he gone too far. They'll get all locked and loaded. And then make testosterone-fueled youtube videos of themselves daring the ATF, CIA or NWO (that's New World Order for those of you not familiar with crazed conspiracist theory) to come knocking at their doors.

The hypocritical liberal apathy and the right winged reactionary rhetoric are both equally disgusting.

When will sanity return to the United States?

The framers of the Constitution and the second amendment did not, and could not, foresee the kind of deadly weapons that are now being used to commit mass murder in our schools. By the way, what part of well-regulated is so difficult to understand?

The topic of gun control hits fairly close to home. And by close I mean we had a neighbor, just two doors away, who dealt guns. Big guns, little guns, guns of every flavor, right out of his garage. This was not more than 25 yards from my home.

And while it did not please my wife, or myself, or any of the other neighbors, the Federal Government had no problem with it and had issued him a license to sell these weapons right in my little corner of Culver City.

Every three days or so, the UPS truck would show up with a new delivery. And as soon as the new guns would show up, the new customers would arrive. Leaving the house with their long cardboard boxes. And their scopes. And their bullets.

It was all very lucrative. So lucrative in fact that my neighbor, let's just call him AssClown, was able to stay at home and ring up the register. And not having to go to a real job left him ample time to get soused.

Did I mention that this licensed Federal Gun Dealer was also a certified raging alcoholic? Can you think of a better combination? I can't.

Thankfully, he, his Filipino "bride", his obnoxious barking Huskies, and his mini arsenal, packed up and left the neighborhood a few years ago. He sold his house to a nice young couple with a 9 year old daughter. They don't sell guns. But his daughter is relentless with the Girl Scout Cookies.


When are we going to pass some meaningful legislation regarding the proliferation of Girl Scout Cookies?

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's Tampini Time

Less than 10 days ago, I was in Paris, France. High atop the legendary Montemarte. And taking in the incredible artwork of Salvador Dali.

As you may or may not know, Dali was fond of bending clocks, the symbolism of eggs and elephants, and anything pertaining to the emergence of quantum physics and the growing influence of science in the 20th century.

He was a master of surrealism.

But make no mistake, Senior Salvador has in no way cornered that market. Because this week, upon my return to work and a subsequent chat with the always well-informed Carolyn Casey, I discovered our own homegrown surrealism.

It's the tampini.
(Apparently wordcorrect is having as hard a time with this word as I am with the whole concept.)

Think of the the Tampini as the more refined cousin of the butt chug.

You may remember butt chugging. This is when college frat boys run an enema-like funnel into a new recruit's derrierre and then quickly pump it full of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Bypassing the liver and the kidneys, this apparently increases the speed with which alcohol is absorbed into the system and thus producing a very fast, though potentially fatal, buzz.

The same science is at work with the Tampini, where a tampon is soaked in vodka and placed directly into an orifice located below the belt line. And because no vodka actually passes over the taste buds, one can assume that even the cheapest rot-gut swill distilled from moldy Polish potatoes will do.

Ketel One, no thank you, not when there's Safeway's Select Brand Vodka, conveniently, and poetically, located on the bottom shelf.

I get an eclectic crowd here at roundseventeen and I know I've piqued the curiosity of more than one of you. But if you're tempted to knock back a few Tampini's, I have one simple nugget of advice: you might want to skip the olives.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

At least we had Paris.

If you have read any of the last three posts, you must be thinking my recent trip to Europe was a complete disaster. It wasn't.

I may have been hyperbolic in my complaints, but the truth is, for all the bronchitis, plane mishaps, ill-designed toilets and bad French manners, my family and I still had a great time.

Take the picture above for example.

I snapped this outside a store in the Saint Germain district that specialized in nuisance control. It isn't everyday you get to see a storefront of unusually, large dead rats. If I'm not mistaken the store was located next to a lovely patisserie.

Seeing things you wouldn't normally see is part of the charm of travel.

In Glasgow, we also had the opportunity to see my Aunt Helen, who I love dearly. She is in her late 70's and wanted to see my wife again (we visited 23 years ago) and to finally meet my daughters. And this was something I wanted to make happen.

But I also had my own selfish reasons. You see apart from the thick accent, Helen is remarkably like my mother, who passed away 8 years ago. Her mannerisms are the same. Her contagious laughter is the same. And her gentle spirit is the same.

So as much as this trip was a gift to my daughters and giving them an opportunity to meet their aunt, it was also a gift to myself. Because being with my aunt is the closest thing on earth to being with my mother.

Once in Paris, we also witnessed the birth of Cash Monet, my eldest daughter's alter ego. A French pop star with a thick accent and a penchant for shopping the Champs Elysees. Ms. Monet had us all in stitches. Watching my daughter's world open up and seeing Europe through their eyes and their perspective change, was another gift I'm glad I gave myself.

And then there were all the small things.

Riding the trains. In London. And in Paris. Mimicking the woman's voice who announced each train stop. The chocolate croissants and cafe au lait from the bakery across the street from the hotel. The incredible Dali Museum at the top of Montmarte. The hot panini's we would buy from a crepe stand near the Odeon. The Eiffel Tower on New Year's Eve.

It was also a learning experience.

In the Marais district we spotted signs like this:

A stark reminder that 70 years ago, people like us were butchered simply because we choose to believe one fairy tale over another. It was a little chilling to say the least.

But I promised myself this would be a positive post. So I don't want to end with a reference to Nazis.

Did I mention the hot panini's sold off the street carts? They were so good I'd spend 11 hours on a plane just to have one more.

Just not a plane from British Airways.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Home Sweet Home

At the risk of seeming like a provincial rube, here are some additional thoughts on my return to the United States after spending two weeks in England, Scotland and France:

I like the way American toilets flush. I like the predictable swirl of soft water and not some haphazard release of the Aswan Dam that sends errant fecal matter into the air of a bathroom designed for a dwarf.

I like the liberty of ordering what I want on a menu. I'm not interested in pre-fixed choices. I don't want your starter plates. Or your firsts. Or your seconds. Or even your delicious mandatory desserts. If I want two appetizers for my meal, that's what I'll order. And any scowling or whispered grumblings on your part will do nothing to dissuade me.

I like Oxygen. I like filling my lungs with clean, fresh air, which ironically enough is in greater supply in Los Angeles than it is on the streets of London, Glasgow, Edinburgh or Paris. Where, it is not uncommon to see children chain smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. By the way, if you're standing on line to get into the Musee D'orsey and you light up up a fag while surrounded by other would be museum goers who may not be interested in contracting emphysema, you're not some culture-loving bon vivant. You're a Grade A douchebag.

I like American money. Our coins make sense. A blind man can tell the difference between a penny, a nickel, a dime and a quarter. Why would you make coins that are worth two Euros or pounds, look and feel the same as the same 30 cent coin need to operate a pay Toilette? Oh yeah, I don't like paying to use a bathroom.

I like American TV. The once great British Empire has been reduced to a Simon Cowell orchestrated freak talent show. Like us, the Brits have upwards of 500 separate cable channels. Unlike us, every one of those channels is populated by some worthless variation of American Idol. So You Think You Can Juggle. Is Your GrandMother A Pop Star? Show Us Your Magic Act. Can You Do It On A UniCycle? Are You Blightey's Next Great Throat Singer?

I like personal space. The historians may say what they will. They may explain the early 20th century rush to Ellis Island as a collective journey to start a better life in the New World. Personally, I think those historians are wrong. I'm convinced those Germans, Jews, Poles, Italians and Potato-Eaters  simply wanted to come to America to put some distance between themselves and their smelly, obnoxiously loud neighbors.

I like retailers who understand that the customer is king. On New Year's Eve, we stopped in at a pharmacy near the Eiffel Tower to pick up some OTC cough syrup. While I was retrieving my medicine the store manager began a fracass with my daughter, claiming she had knocked a jar of cold cream off the shelf. My daughter claims she did not. Then the manager motioned for me to pay for the lost merchandise. And she did it in a most unpleasant manner that can only be affected by a snooty Parisian. I looked at her, smiled, and as we walked out the door, sarcastically reminded her of three little words that could only be uttered by an American: Nor Man Dee.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The British American War of 2013

I can be an unusually stubborn man. Fortunately, I married a woman who can endure my obstinate nature but who is also strong enough and wise enough to overrule my more stupid instincts.

Following our Trans-Atlantic journey through hell (see yesterday's post), we attempted to fight off the jet lag and enjoy some dinner in the Covent Garden section of London. I told my wife I was feeling well enough for a meal but, having downed enough codeine-flavored cough syrup to sedate a rhino, I almost fell head first into my bangers and mash.

She knew something wasn't right when I refused to eat and even worse, when I left 7/8 of a Guinness Stout on the table.

So at 6 AM the next morning she dragged my feverish ass across the street from our hotel to the very convenient St. Thomas Hospital, where I was attended to in the Accident & Emergency Section.

Upon my immediate reception, I was told, almost with a certain nationalistic pride, that all my healthcare costs would be picked up for by the British taxpayer. This, I thought was fair, considering the torment I had experienced on the airline that represents the realm.

For the next 6 hours I was given more medical attention that I had accumulated in my entire life of 43 years.

Blood tests. Urine tests (twice). Chest X-rays. EKG. Even an HIV test, which for some reason my wife thought laughable. In total, I saw one receptionist, two nurses, three technicians, one radiologist, two doctors and a consulting supervisory doctor who wanted to admit me to the hospital for overnight observation.

Of course I had no intention of staying in a hospital room, when across the street I had a perfectly good $350/night hotel room with cable TV and a fully-stocked minibar. My low oxygen count be damned.

The doctors concluded my bronchitis had been inflamed by the 11 hour plane ride and that I had picked up some nasty airborne virus as well, which for reasons rational or not, I blame completely on Dirty Gepetto.

I exited the hospital with 38C degree temperature -- I think that's 115 degrees Fahrenheit but I'm not completely sure -- and a couple hundred British pounds worth of unpronounceable antibiotics.

I also left with my 2013 New Year's Resolution: Take down British Airways.

I don't know if one man, armed with nothing more than a blog, an unusual commitment to writing letters, an inexhaustible supply of righteous indignation and a serviceable knowledge of social media can change the way an airline inhumanely hauls humans from one location to the next.

But as the Brits might say, I'm ready to give it a go.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Welcome To British Airways

"Our non-stop 11 hour flight to London's Heathrow Airport will begin shortly. So please sit back, relax, take advantage of your 29 centimeters of generous legroom and enjoy your flight. And don't think for a moment we have forgotten all that unpleasant Colonist business about Lexington Concord, the dishonorably discharged tea and your precious declaration of independence."

So began my 2012 European Vacation back on Dec.22, which literally seems like a lifetime ago.
Or at least one lung ago.

Allow me to explain.

Before embarking on our family jaunt across Western Europe I had suffered a bout of bronchitis. As these yearly bouts go, it wasn't all that severe. And in fact it had all but cleared. That is until I boarded a 747 and was directed towards Seat 23D, in what British Airways calls their Economy Triumphe Classe. Or some bullshit marketing-driven name, because the more appropriate monikers like Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Dauchau had already been taken.

When I saw the "seat" I literally thought I was being filmed for some Punked reality TV show.

How bad was it?

Next time you're at the supermarket, stop by the breakfast food section. Remove a Jumbo Grade AA egg from one of the cartons crafted from recycled cardboard. Now imagine trying to jam an Ostrich egg into the severely undersized vacated container.

Those, were the first class seats.

On the plus side, every seat was thoughtfully furnished with its own personal entertainment center. Sadly however, the 5 inch screen was jammed so close to my face, all the images were blurred. It was an hour and a half into some lame romcom before I realized Jennifer Lopez was actually Mathew Perry. (By the way, Mathew Perry and the notion of inflight entertainment do not belong in the same sentence.)

Do you feel like you've walked through three gates of Hell?

There's six more to go.

I like babies. I like smiling at babies. I like making faces at babies. I like making babies laugh.
I did not however like the baby seated in 24F. He had a unibrow. He cried like a wounded duck. And he looked like he had been constipated for all of his 14 months on this earth.

I would have gladly left that wanker, in his squirrel pajamas, sitting on the tarmac on runway 24Right.

Finally, there was Dirty Geppetto, the man seated next to me and my personal docent into Dante's Inferno. I'm not sure his name was Geppetto, but he bore an uncanny resemblance to the puppeteer who, you might remember, hand crafted Pinochio.

Try not to pay too much attention to the cheerful craftsman in this picture. Dirty Gepetto was less pleasing to the eye. And considerably less pleasing to the nose. In fact, we, my entire family, could smell D.G. from 10 rows away.

It was as if prior to boarding the plane, and knowing he would not catch a whiff of nicotine until he had transversed half the globe, he had smoked an entire carton of Marlboro Reds. Then, in an unusual act of common courtesy to his fellow passengers (me), he stopped in at the duty free shop and picked up the Costco sized jug of Drakkar Noir, you know, to kindly mask the odor.

To make matters worse, he was cloaked head to toe in heavy denim, the kind of denim that retains every fume it has ever come in contact with, dating back to 1975.

All of which began to trigger my dormant bronchitis.

A tickle over the Rockies had escalated to a hack as we crossed over the Canadian border. By the time we had reached Greenland, I was coughing non-stop. Iceland saw the first smattering of blood. And by the time we were over Dublin, I was bringing up tissue matter that was as thick as peat bog.

Heathrow Airport, Terminal 3.
(Terminal is the right word as I surely felt I were going to to die.)

My bag is literally the last to come off the conveyor belt. I rip it open, tear through my suitcase and make a mad grab for my toiletry bag. There, I find my purple relief, a half a bottle of Promethazine Cough Syrup fortified with hydrocodeine.

The proper dosage for Promethazine is one tablespoon every six hours. I didn't have a tablespoon. Nor did I want one. I wasted no time with the childproof cap and quickly chugged 1/4 of the bottle. As the fast acting opiates started to take effect, I gathered my clean clothes off the baggage claim floor and noticed Dirty Gepetto high stepping his malodorous body to the nearest designated smoking area.

So far, Great Britain isn't seeming so great.

Next up: High fever, low oxygen and a trip to the St. Thomas Hospital.