Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Have Street Cred

Recently, I documented the time I spent driving a fork lift in a warehouse on the hard streets of Compton, CA. I spent my days, and some of my nights, with Crips, Bloods and guys from Grape Street, I'm not sure of their affiliation.

I remember one Friday morning, the boss handed us our paychecks. At lunchtime the warehouse crew chief, EZ or Yo-Yo or Kermit, said to me, "get in the car we're going to cash our checks."

Thinking we'd be on our way to the nearest Bank of America, I squeezed myself into the backseat of his hopped up lime-green 72 Chevy.

Minutes later we arrived at a sketchy-looking bodega. As EZ/Yo-Yo/Kermit explained, "We don't cash our checks at the bank. We don't have accounts there. Besides we get the stink-eye every time we walk into a place like that."

So I followed the guys to the back of the store where an older Hispanic guy gladly turned our checks into greenbacks. After he skimmed a percent and a half for himself, of course.

That was a long time ago.
But it was hardly the end of my connection to the Hood.

Last weekend there was a story in the LA Times about the surging popularity of Sizzurp. For those of you not in know, let me provide the 411 on this 420-like concoction.

Sizzurp is a cocktail made from codeine-fortified cough syrup (Promethazine), 7UP and Jolly Rancher candies. The opiate-based drink produces a sleepwalker-type euphoria. Indeed, many are speculating that rapper Lil Wayne recently ended up in the hospital because he drank too much Sizzurp.

I don't have any affection for the "music" of Lil Wayne. In fact when I do come across rap, all I hear is "motherf*cker this" and "motherf*cker that." And "grab my glock" and "suck my c....", they just don't write songs the way they used to.

But, I was onto Sizzurp way before any of the homies were.

Back in the late 90's I started having bad bouts of bronchitis. This was aggravated by my allergies to dust and Elm trees. Naturally, I live in a neighborhood forested with Chinese Elm trees. The coughing could get quite violent. And that's when my doctor wrote me the scrip for Promethazine.

Which, for the uninitiated, truly is the nectar of the gods.

I can understand how the Promethazine-induced euphoria could become quite popular. Particularly in neighborhoods east of the Harbor Freeway, where there's not much to feel good about.

Of course, I never abused the powerful narcotic cough syrup. Nor did I ever turn it into a cocktail. And drink it out of my pimp chalice. Though on occasion, I would up my dosage to a tablespoon and a half. And one year, I did obtain an additional refill long after my cough had subsided.

If you take into account that I used to hang with bangers and that I blazed a path for Sizzurp, I have all that it takes to be in a gang.

I'd probably be a Crip. Because I couldn't wear red, the official color of the Bloods.
Red tends to make me look fat.
OK, fatter.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Blondie, Fondly

Yesterday I told the tale of Pinto and Founder.

The story was sparked by an email I got that came completely out of the blue. Turns out it wasn't the only surprise email I got last week.

The other surprise email came from Phil, who asked if I remembered a night in Atlanta, GA way back in 1998.

(BTW, how come I never get surprise emails from women in high school or college who had been holding a torch for me all these years? Where are those emails?)

I told Phil, I had a vague recollection of the evening but couldn't fill in many of the details. Fortunately he could. And with his permission I am reprinting his account of that night:

You were in town to give a talk at the ad club about the ABC campaign with your partner whose name is eluding me now. I was interning with the Creative Club and tagged along for dinner at Highland Tap which was all fine and nice. Then Jim Newberry asked what you guys wanted to do, to which you replied "I don't know. I mean, what do people do in Atlanta that's like a really unique, local experience?" 

"That's easy," said Jim. "The Clermont Lounge." 

"What's that?" 

"Just trust me." 


So out of all the institutions that Atlanta has to offer, both nudity-oriented and non-nudity-oriented, we all went to the Clermont Lounge, which is famous for being the absolute rock bottom of the adult entertainment world. The Clermont Lounge is located beneath a hotel where some guy from a famous 70s punk band overdosed or something. Anyway, the dancers at Clermont fall into four categories: old, fat, addicted to something really serious, or pregnant. There was actually a pregnant woman smoking on stage when we came in. 

They served cans of shitty beer, long before people were ironically drinking cans of shitty beer. 

Anyway, Blondie's thing was that she would dance for tips, but also for $2 she would crush a beer can between her boobs, and for $5 she would write you a poem. 

Four of us ended up getting a semi-private session with Blondie which for three of you involved some brief smothering (with boobs, nothing else), and then she came around to me and said "Close your eyes." I did, and then she actually punched me. Not with a fist - not using her hands in any way – but by merely twisting her torso with such force that her enormous breasts smacked me in the face. I've been punched in the face before, but never with a boxing glove - but I'm pretty sure that's what it would feel like to be punched by someone wearing boxing gloves. 

When we left everyone was like "What now?" and I think between the jet lag and the general trauma of seeing the Clermont Lounge you guys were like "Uhm, sleep would be good." 

So I drove you back to the hotel, nearly killing us all by taking an exit ramp too quickly, and then you guys got out with a semi-dazed expression saying "So this is Atlanta..." 

It was a special night when we all learned a little something about ourselves... possibly. 

It's all coming back to me now. 

In fact, I remember purchasing Blondie's book of poems and artwork. It's in my garage somewhere. Some day I'm sure I'll run across it and when I do, I will post it here. 

After all, a woman who is willing to smack people with her boobs deserves an outlet for her creativity.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, Pinto & Flounder

I got an email last week that almost went straight to the junk folder. I didn't recognize the sender's name and assumed it was another spammer trying to sell me solar panels or erectile dysfunction pills.

Neither of which I need, because my house faces the wrong direction and I'm always saying the wrong things to my wife.

As it turned out, the email came from a young man who said he enjoyed reading this blog. Moreover, he mentioned that he worked with my partner and I way back in 1997 at Chiat/Day's old binocular building on Main Street.

This was an amazing time at the agency, when we were winning accounts and winning awards on just about anything we touched. So to get us ready for the big Levi's pitch, Lee Clow called in extra help from the satellite offices.

Including two tenderfoots from the St. Louis hub.

Knowing we would never remember their names, my partner and I started referring to the green team as Pinto and Flounder. Not only were there physical similarities to the two eager college students in Animal House, there were vocational similarities as well.

Think about it. Two Midwest boys transplanted to the big city hoping to gain the respect and admiration of their well-seasoned, big city colleagues. Not to mention the fact that the inside of an ad agency creative department is very much like a university frat house, complete with bad hygiene, bad fashion sense and bad social skills.

Pinto and Flounder weren't on the floor ten minutes before the hazing and the razzing began.

"Lee is hard of hearing in his left ear. If he starts talking to to you, make sure you speak really loudly and aim it to the left side of his head."

"Can you run down to the first floor studio and pick me up some rubylith paper?"

"Thursdays are pants-optional days."

"Can you get in the horseless carriage and bring us back some lattes?"

I'm sure there were other more elaborate schemes. None of which I can remember.

Maybe Pinto (who is now a big time Creative Director and, apparently, a regular reader of this blog) will help refresh my memory. And maybe he'll throw me an assignment, make my life a living hell and exact a little pranking revenge.

That's what I would do if I were in his shoes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pass the bitter herbs of irony

Today is Passover, the day we celebrate our ancestors escape from the bonds of slavery and their journey from Egypt to the promised land.

The Bible would have us believe they were led by Moses, who wielded the staff of God and turned Pharaoh's heart. Of course I'm not buying that whole miracle, burning bush, vermin, frogs and locusts story.

I'm thinking if you had a few thousand Jews hanging around for 400 years and all they did was kvetch, bitch and moan, and sending the soup back because it's too cold, at some point you would just collapse and say, "Go. Go already."

I've been to enough Bar Mitzvahs, weddings and funerals to know this for a fact.

This year, Passover sort of snuck up on us.

I've been so busy working non-stop on the Honda pitch and my wife has been so busy with the college applications for our oldest daughter, that we got woefully behind in our Pesach preparation. In fact, as I write this we do not have any blood from a gentile child to mix in with our matzo meal. If you've read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, you know how important that is.

I suppose I could run down to the local supermarket, bother the butcher and pick up some animal blood. But it just won't be the same. For as it says in the Book of Exodus 14:27...actually, it doesn't say anything in the Torah about mixing the blood of children in with the matzo.

But this guy says it's so. 
And what better source for the truth than a terrorist Arab sheikh in a bad Miami Vice sport coat.

Oh wait, the doorbell just rang.

It's a Girl Scout selling cookies.

The Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Chag Sameach.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Short Career in Television

Following this week's earlier blunder, where I unintentionally maligned a colleague who is accomplished as both an Art Director and a Copywriter, I feel the need to give something back.

After all, I'm not an asshole, I only play one on the Internet.

It is in that redemption-seeking spirit that I give you, in its entirety, episode #12 of Mission Hill, an animated TV series that was created by Bill Oakely and Josh Weinstein, formerly of a little show called The Simpsons.

This episode, "Happy Birthday Douchebag" was written by myself and Rob Schwartz, before Rob went on to become the Chief Global President Chairman Royal Supreme Master Commander of TBWA worldwide.

And I went on to become an unemployed freelance writer.

A long time ago, Rob and I both thought we wanted to pursue a career in television writing. We spent ungodly hours writing spec script after spec script for Home Improvement, Frasier, Coach, Married with Children, Seinfeld and Coach. Finally, we were able to get a  Larry Sanders script into the hands of Oakely and Weinstein.

They liked it, meaning they actually read it, and hired us to work on the last show of the season.

There, we were put through a week of hell. Crammed in a 12 x 12 room with grease-stained carpet and 7-8 Harvard Lampoon graduates, who were also in need of soap and water, we slogged our way through the story, from page 1 to page 38.

The experience was not like anything you see in the movies. The process was slow and painful and surprisingly not very lucrative. And when it was all over, the Korean-animated product looked nothing like what we had submitted on paper.

That's the life of a TV writer, we were told.
Suddenly, advertising didn't look too bad.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mercurial Rising

I went into a panic last week when I couldn't locate the many Mac photo books I've made over the years. In addition to clever little quips I've written, these books are the only tangible collection of my family's photos. I don't know about you but I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to saving, archiving and duplicating the thousands of photos we have amassed over the years.

While ripping apart the bookshelves, I found this gem.

For those not in-the-know, this little red book was handed to every new employee who joined the ranks of Chiat/Day. It's chock full of quotations from the agency's namesake, Jay Chiat.

Before I share some of these classic nuggets, I'd like to share some of the uncanny parallels of Jay's life and mine.

We both were born in the Bronx, NY.
We both are of Russian/Polish/Jewish heritage.
We both worked as a short order cook.
We both started in the advertising business as a mailroom clerk.
We both began our lives as a copywriter writing shitty recruitment ads (you might know them as Help Wanted Ads.)
And we both worked at Chiat/Day, where we became filthy, dirty rich.
Ok, this is where our lives took different paths.

I met Jay once.

We shook hands, in the men's room, on my third day at the agency. So I don't have any interesting stories to tell on that front. But reading these fortune cookie maxims does give you a good idea about the man.

"We had an unlimited budget and we exceeded it."

"I'm not yelling at you. I'm yelling at the situation."

"Yes I'm happy. I'm just not happy enough."

Of course, all this was said and written in a different time. When advertising was simpler. When craftsmanship stood for something. When Jay guarded the gate and looked at everything before it went out the door.

But I'd pay good money to see and hear Jay operate in today's facacta advertising environment.

"Two million Facebook likes? That and four bucks will get you a cup of coffee."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Next Year in Austin

SXSW concluded their festivities two days ago. I know this not because I hopped on a Southwest jet and flew down to Austin for a smorgasbord of music, wisdom and false camaraderie, but because I looked it up on Google.

If you've read all 812 posts on roundseventeen or even just a smattering of 3 or 4, you know I'm not big on industry shindigs. Or confabs. Or anything or anywhere advertising people are going to be pontificating.

I'd rather be flown to Indonesian New Guinea, slathered in Kansas City Barbecue Sauce and fed to a tribe of hungry Korowai cannibals.

Once, I was asked to speak on a ProMax panel regarding the new age of broadcast promotion. I was flown, first class, to Toronto. Picked up by car service at the airport. And put up in a big fancy hotel. All, despite my protestations...

"I don't know what the hell to talk about."

And I didn't.

Sure, our ABC campaign was making a lot of waves, but the truth is, I had nothing of any substance to impart to the crowd of eager broadcast promotion people. So when it came time to speak, I  told some funny anecdotes. I might have even mentioned how a certain celebrity was a prick on the set. (The fact is most celebrities I've dealt with are like that and should be the guest of honor at a Korowai Bar Mitzvah.)

But that's neither here.
Nor there.
Or anywhere near Austin.

Now all the SXSW festival-goers are back at their group desks. Ready to apply all their new social media wisdom. And break new ground in the area of brand-to-consumer personal engagement. They'll do it by (and this is an actual quote gleaned from one of the cognescenti on FB)...

"Talking to human beings as if they were human beings."

Damn, that's so 2014.

Speaking of next year, I was able to get a preview of some of the panels being convened for next March. I've curated them here for your convenience.

March 8, 2014 -- The Strategic Incubation of Viral Metrics and Mindshare Methodolgies.

March 9, 2014 -- How to Reinvent Customized Systems with Scalable Supply Chains.
followed by Scaling Your Supply Chain to Meet the Needs of your Reinvented Customized System.

March 10, 2014 -- Build Your Own Burrito Bar

March 11, 2014 -- Monetize Killer Niches and End-to-End Vortals

March 12, 2014 -- Mumford & Sons

March 13, 2014 -- E-enabling and Recontextualizing Granular Bandwith and Extensible Partnerships

March 15, 2014 -- Banner Ads

Monday, March 18, 2013

My apologies

Earlier today I had posted a piece about Art Directors who are putting down their Xacto knives and becoming Copywriters. I took a tongue-in-cheek look at this phenomena. And it was all from the point of view of a writer who sees the freelance pool getting more and more crowded.

In the post I made the mistake of naming (first name only) a friend of mine who has successfully made that leap. And I mockingly recalled a faux conversation he and I had regarding the creative switch.

I screwed up.

I thought he would be amused by my recollection. He wasn't. And now I feel terrible about what has transpired.

So I have removed the post. And I am prepared to eat crow.

I'm sure I have offended somebody in the past four years, but this is the first time I've had to delete a post and ask for a public apology. I hope my buddy sees that there was never any malicious intent. I also hope I won't have to experience this regret again for another 4 years.

At the very least.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Terrible Tale of the Tzitzit

As some of you might know, months ago I contacted the Peter Popoff Ministry, a TV charlatan who claims to be doing the work of Jesus, but in reality, is practicing the exact opposite.

He is fleecing the poor and the weak and adding new Ferraris to his collection of dream cars. I'm not all that schooled in the New Testament, so please correct me if I'm wrong.

I wrote to Peter using the name Ruby Shipp, an old English teacher who used to live in my house and has been dead for more than 25 years. You would think that a man who is in constant, personal contact with the Lord would know such a thing, but clearly he doesn't.

Last week I received another letter from Peter Popoff in which he addresses me, Sister Shipp. The letter, like the ones that preceded it, included a small trinket. You might recall the Jesus Glove of Love or the Red Apron of Jesus, which was nothing more than a small patch of maroon rayon fashioned to look like a miniature apron.

But this week, the good reverend was able to get my dander up.

Because this week he included a small blue and white patch of cloth adorned by a knotted tassel (shown above). These tassels, found on Jewish prayer shawls, are called TZITZIT. Since ancient times, tzitzit have been a symbol of spiritual authority and devotion to God.

You're preaching to the choir, preacher.

I know what tzitzit are. I was introduced to them as a 12-year old attending Hebrew School. I still remember the giddy laughter that spread throughout the classroom when the rabbi gave us permission to use a word that was very close to tit-tit. Or titties. Or zit tit.

The better question is, what the hell are you doing with the tzitzit? And why are you appropriating the oddities of my religion to propagate yours?

Popoff isn't alone in this regard. Now you have Christian evangelicals making pilgrimages to Israel. You have Southern Baptists celebrating Easter and Passover. You even have born again kids tattooing their bodies with exotic looking Hebrew words.

You people need to leave our shit alone.

Mostly because all this culture thievery fuels the neo-Nazis and the conspiracists out there, who claim it's all part of a grand plan to Judaize the world.

Well it's not.

The fact is I, and I suspect most tribe members, liked it better when you didn't like us. When you called us Dirty Jews. Or Christ Killers. We liked it better when you kept us on the outside. And looked at us as oddballs. Because as underdogs, we learned to work harder and fight smarter.

It's a system has worked for 5000 years, let's not go changing that now.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nice job Pierre

Recently, I was showing a creative director a new set of commercials I had written. I thought they were quite good. But they were also a "no sale." The creative director felt the stories were too funny.

He sent me back to the drawing board with the direction to, "...make them less narrative, more observational. Take a look at the old Miller High Life campaign."

So I did.

And now I wish I hadn't.

I don't want to sound immodest. And I don't want to take anything away from the genii that gave birth to the Miller High Life Man. But damn, I was born to write that campaign. It was topical. It was biting. And it was, as my friend Claudia might describe it, muscular.

And it was true.

Take a look:

More than that, the creative team(s) that brought the High Life Man to life tapped into a rich vein that could sustain itself for years.

Now a client could look at a script and a shooting board for the mayonnaise commercial and say it's not very exciting. And the subject matter was seemingly inconsequential. But that's exactly where the artistry of the campaign lived. In the nooks and crannies. In the tiny unexplored spaces that we all take for granted.

I'm not sure that in the CGI-world we currently live in, where potential commercials are held up to examination by a panel of tuna-fish eating, half-wit, hobby-less, focus group groupies, anything of any similar substance could survive.

In fact, I'm sure they would not.

Anyway, I returned to the creative director a few days later, with newer, more observational scripts in hand. The verdict: once again, I was guilty of writing spots that were too funny.

When did too funny become a bad thing?

Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I've gotten too close to the work and maybe I'm not the best judge of the subject matter. If these blogs ever become too funny, and I doubt they ever will, I hope you'll have the good manners to tell me so.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Management 101

Years ago, I found myself in an upper management position. Today, with clear hindsight, I find myself asking, "What were they thinking putting me in charge of so many people?"

The truth is, I had no management training whatsoever. None. I barely managed to shave three times a week. And yet here I was managing teams, going to brass meetings, and filling out bi-annual performance reviews.

BTW, I never met a human resources document that I didn't feel deserved a good defiling.

Briefly describe Jeff's weaknesses and what he can do to improve upon them.

Jeff has some very bad halitosis. He should invest in a different toothpaste and look into flossing.

(That is verbatim, BTW)

The other truth is, most Associate Creative Directors, Creative Directors, Group Creative Directors and Executive Creative Directors, also have had no formal background in management. Go ahead, ask them to describe Six Sigma and watch the color drain from their uninformed face.

So how did I, and others, make the ascent up the corporate ladder? The answer is quite simple. And it shouldn't shock anybody. It's about money. Ad agencies, in fact most companies, don't want to part with it. So, in lieu of giving out actually cash money, they hand out unremunerated titles.

"Hey great work on that campaign, here's a meaningless title that may eventually lead to a bigger more meaningless title. Congratulations."

And that's how it happens. That's how creative folk get sucked into a vortex of bureaucracy, status meetings and org. charts.

These days, I can't tell you how many jealous Creative Directors I hear from who yearn to get away from their current management responsibilities just to sit down and art direct or write again.

Which is ironic because I never hear myself saying, "I wish I could sit in on some committee meetings to discuss furniture expenditures or the agency picnic plans."

This is not to suggest that I was completely ill-suited for management.

A couple of years ago I received an email from a young writer who used to work for me.

He wrote to express his appreciation. Explaining that years ago I called him lazy (see illustration above). I said he had enormous talent but lacked the follow through on his work. I was more a General Patton than a Tony Robbins type motivator. He resented the blunt criticism at first, but later thought long and hard about it.

And then, long after I had left the company, it was as if a light switch had gone off. He began working harder. And smarter. He started winning awards. Then hopped from one agency to the next. Getting better assignments. More responsibility. And, you guessed it, better titles. Today he is a Group Creative Director at one of the top shops in Southern California.

In the email, he offered me his thanks.
In my reply, I offered him my condolences.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Out of the mouths of babes

So last week was my birthday.

Which is always good for me, but can never be good for my wife. Or my kids. Because they had the chore of buying me a gift. And this may come as no surprise, but I'm not an easy person to shop for.

You see, I'm not one of those people who collects things. Those folks are easy. You buy them a clown painting. Or a glass eyeball. Or a 1942 Joe DiMaggio baseball card. And you're done with it.

I'm not a hobby guy. I don't play golf every free moment of my life, like my brother. I don't fly model airplanes. I haven't immersed myself in kickboxing. Or Muay Thai. I try to swim everyday, but I can't expect my family to buy me a pool. Or even a Speedo.

And believe it or not, I'm not a fashion hound. So buying me a sport coat or some expensive shoes costing more than a hundred dollars would have made little sense.

The truth is, I don't really want, or have a need, for much. It's not like I'm a Zen Buddhist. And have no appreciation for material things. I'm just simple minded man who likes to keep things simple.

Perhaps that's why I was so delighted when my daughters sprung Richard Beason's book, F In EXAMS on me.

It's a collection of the very best totally wrong test answers. They are hilarious, real responses from high school students who realized that they had no hope of answering a question correctly, and decided to have a little fun instead.

I happen to love these. Not only for their apparent silliness. But also because they make a collective statement about the state of education in America and our failure to promote creative thinking.

Here's one of my favorites, for instance:

This student clearly meant to say monogamy. But if I were the teacher, I wouldn't be so quick to mark the answer incorrect.

The book is brimming with hilarity. And I'd gladly post some more, but the truth is I had to take a picture of this with my iPhone and send it to my blog.

Maybe next year my daughters will buy me a scanner that works.

A pox on you Hewlett Packard.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Make My Day

Years ago, this photo was used for a cover of National Lampoon. The accompanying headline was, "Buy this magazine or we'll shoot this dog."

When National Lampoon ran this edition they had no intention of actually pulling the trigger. Even in those pre-PETA days, that would have been unacceptable.

The same cannot be said for today's ad agencies. Where the urgent need for fresh creative ideas is often accompanied by the implicit threat of, "...and if you don't come up with the campaign by 5 o o'clock we'll fire your ass and find someone who can."

This is a prevailing sentiment I am finding at more and more agencies.

I'm handed a brief at 9 o'clock in the morning and asked to show work at the end of the day. This used to be qualified with, "they don't have to be well-thought out ideas, or anything, we just want to see where you're roughly at when the sun goes down."

But the goalpost has been moved.

Now, it's "we need the work as soon as possible and it has to be polished, we have focus groups tonight at 8."

Don't go jumping the gun on me and assume I'm about to bitch and moan about this situation, because I am not. The truth is, I like the added pressure.

Mostly because before the pressure can be applied to the execution it needs to be applied to the strategy. This forces the account team, the planners and even the Creative Director to whittle down the messaging to one simple statement.

"Make it about technology."

"Make it about safety."

"Make it about convenience."

These kind of single-message marching orders don't come around too often. And like most creatives, I'd gladly sacrifice time for some precious clarity.

Of course, if I'm going to be asked to constantly hit the three point shot just before the buzzer, we might have to talk a little contract renegotiation.

"Oh no that? That was my old day rate."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Good Kids

When my daughters (pictured above standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower) were in pre-school, the Director of the School suggested that all the parents read a book, The Blessings of a Skinned Knee.

The book posits the notion that harm, physical, mental or even emotional, is not always a bad thing for a child to experience. It teaches the importance of resilience. And it nurtures the ability to bounce back from adversity.

I mention this because last week I did a posting about crappy jobs. And how crappy jobs help build character.

And now, I've I just put two and two together and realized I have done a terrible job raising my children. Because my girls have had everything handed to them.

Everything but hardship, that is.

Since they were infants, they've each had their own rooms.
They each have their own laptop computers.
Actually, since the school runs a laptop program, my daughters each have two computers.
They each have a closet and half full of clothes.
They each have enough nail polish to cover the Superdome.
They each have an iPhone.
They each have a surprising knack for avoiding household chores.
And they each have an amazing ability to talk twenty dollar bills out of my wallet and into their purses.

In other words, they never received the blessings of a skinned knee.
They hardly know from hardship.
And to this very day, have never experienced any adversity of any kind.

There is one possible saving grace.

In the great lottery of Life, they drew me as their father.
I find it difficult living with myself, I'm hoping it will suffice for them as well.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Caveat Emptor

Last week I was chatting with several copywriters and we were exchanging horror stories about car dealers. This is chock full of irony as we are all employed at agencies that service car manufacturers and their related dealership organizations.

In essence, the people who are paying us are the same people who are trying to rip us off.

Years ago, while a staffer at one of these agencies, I attempted to take advantage of the pre-arranged discount offered exclusively to agency employees. They called it the "friends and family deal". The dealers had a different name for it, "fresh meat."

A day after driving all the way out to Duarte and securing my brand new SUV, I took the time to look over the long, barely legible sales agreement printed on tissue paper designed to self destruct in 30 days. That's when I noticed the "special deal" I was given also included an $89 a month payment for credit insurance.

Credit insurance is the financial equivalent of undercoating. It's a sucker's game. So I sucked down some coffee and made a beeline back to Duarte to set the dealer straight on the meaning of friends and family.

Of course, we all have stories like this.

But the best came from a Director I worked with years ago. He was shooting a Porsche commercial and told me the legend of Captain Hook, a Porsche dealer from Philadelphia who had lost an arm in a meat cleaving accident.

When Captain Hook caught customers staring at his prosthetic for too long he would volunteer that the amputation was necessary due to combat action in the Mekong Delta. It wasn't true, but fighting off Charlie in a firefight scored a lot more sympathy points than the errant splitting of a rump roast.

Once Captain Hook had his customers seated across the desk from him, the charade would escalate to the next level. He started all negotiations the same way. He'd ask a customer to write down a fair price for the Porsche. There would always be paper in front of the customer but there would never be a writing utensil, prompting:

"Here, let me get you something to write with."

And then Captain Hook would attempt to pick a pen out of a wire cup that sat on his desk. For able-bodied people, this would take no more than 3 seconds. But Captain Hook would have none of that. He fidgeted. He fussed. He purposefully went about his business like an epileptic child trying to claw a stuffed bear at a carnival midway.

Once the pen was secured between the two metal tines, he rolled it across the desk while simultaneously explaining that the VA was holding up his benefits and that he was trying to raise enough money for a new more dexterous hook. Many times the pen rolled off the desk.

That was never an accident. And the agony would start again.

When it was over, Captain Hook would wave goodbye to the owners who paid way too much for their new 911 Carerra. Then he would gloat in front of all the other salesman by easily grasping a thick black Sharpie and with meticulous handwriting that defied all reason, inscribe his name at the top of the sales leader board.

Captain Hook had won another trip to Tahiti.
For the eighth year in a row.