Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Aryan Brewerhood

In the earlier incarnations of this blog, I wrote much shorter posts.

And I squeezed out articles based on the thinnest of premises, an odd photo, something my daughter said, or even a bumper sticker I had comes across.

Then I caught the writing bug and started 'going off' on anything. And it seems, everything.

That's how we got to more than 1100 posts.
Which is nothing to sneeze at, considering how shallow and uninformed yours truly can be.

Today, in light of the upcoming Labor Day weekend, I'm returning to those roots and taking the easy way out.

Last week, I took the time to look at the carton of light beer I like to drink, Beck's Light. They pack a lot of good Teutonic beer flavor into those 64 calories.

That's when I noticed something odd about the labeling. (See picture above)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Wait until the very verbose Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center sees this.

I'm sure this will merit quite the stern letter. And if I know the good rabbi and his hypersensitivity to anything remotely Holocaust, it'll be a thousand words and then some.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Pith of Pythagorean

There is a meme floating around the Internet that goes something to the effect of:

Another day of life, Another day I never used Algebra.

I get it, algebra is useless.

The same can probably be said of Organic Chemistry, Roman Mythology and Wood Shop.

Truth is, we learned a lot of shit in high school and college that has very little application in real life.

I've always contended there should be more hands on courses like Navigating Marriage 101, Introduction to Pleasing Your Parents, and Advanced Leave Daddy Alone, but that's another blog, for a later date.

Surprisingly there is one course that has come in very useful in my career as an advertising copywriter: Geometry.

I'll explain why.

You're all familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem that states the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle equals the square of the hypotenuse. Or:

But did you know there are more than 400 ways to prove this particular theorem?

Proving theorems accounts for the majority of most Geometry classes. I didn't know it at the time but the practice of laying out a theorem proof could be the most useful skill I obtained in four years of high schooling. That, and the proper selection of underarm deodorant.

Constructing a proof, whether it's Pythagorean or the countless other theorems, requires a discipline, logic and sometimes even creative flair. In many ways it's the same thought process that goes into writing a screenplay, an ad or even a blog post.

There's a beginning, an exploratory middle and a satisfying conclusion.

Properly executed, it's precise and persuasive.

When you do enough of them you can begin to find art and unexpected elegance in every proof.

I don't use Algebra every day, but I do put my Geometry skills to use every time I step up to the keyboard. Clacking away with the hope that I will deliver something compelling, articulate and insightful.

Clearly today was not one of those days.

Monday, August 25, 2014

College Parenting 101

Last week, my wife and I ventured north to the Emerald City for a college orientation at the University of Washington, UDUB. It brought back vivid memories, of a long time ago, when my parents and I stepped foot on the hallowed grounds of Syracuse University.

Oh wait, no it didn't.

You see my parents never did any of the mishegas I find myself doing on behalf of my daughter's higher education.

An hour and half long seminar on the University's health resources and facilities, sign me up.

A 45 minute tutorial on dorm room organization, save me a seat.

A 5-mile walking tour of the enormous campus including a detailed explanation of the university's extensive recycling program and a thorough dissertation on the difference between Composting Material and Organic Waste, that's a memory-maker.

Al & Isabel Siegel would have none of that nonsense.

Here's the way it all went down for me. When I was 12 we took a family road trip to Hamilton in Canada to visit my mom's sister and her family. On the way up Route 81, my father spotted the unmistakable buildings of Syracuse University.

We pulled off the highway, rolled up East Adams Street, followed by a slow cruise down Comstock Ave. and looped back to Route 81. The "tour" lasted all of 5 minutes. No sooner did we turn onto the NY State Thruway did my father turn around and pronounce…

"That's where you're going to college."

No inordinately expensive application counselors.
No SAT tutors.
No exploration of any other choices.

Nor was any of that necessary.
It was Syracuse University.
And if the check cleared, my father reasoned, they'd accept my boy.

Because UDUB is on the quarter system, school doesn't start for another 3 weeks. And I'll be returning for another trip. This time to drop her off and move all her belongings into her room. She's in a crappy dorm but she's on the 8th floor and it has a hotel-like view of Union Bay.

I'm sure it will be a gut wrenching, 3 Kleenex box affair. Which again differs from that day 26 years ago when my parents shlepped me and my crap up to Sadler Hall on a cold Saturday in late September.

We drove for 4 & 1/2 hours.

My parents smoked their way through three packs of cigarettes, interrupted only by some fevered fighting. We dragged the boxes into the building because Al wasn't about to dole out 8 bucks to rent a hand truck.

We met my roommate and his parents from a very wealthy area of Long Island. My father, from the mean streets of the Bronx, assumed they were mobbed up and whispered to me, "don't accept any favors from him."

And that was it.

Dad shook my hand. Mom cried a little. They bought some more cigarettes and got back in the car for the 4 & 1/2 hour drive back.

And then, it started snowing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An Adventure on Amsterdam Avenue

Across the street from the Bristol Farms, where I get my daily lunch of tuna fish, fresh fruit and cottage cheese, there is a medical marijuana dispensary.

I'm not sure of the name.
I know it's not Doug's Weed Store.
It's usually something more affected like Grace, Sunshine, or Herbal Caregivers.

And every day, I see an eclectic cross section of Angelenos go into the store to be given their special care.

It's all so amazingly nonchalant. In fact, today I am in Seattle, where one doesn't even need a "medical affliction" to be "prescribed" a spliff of Blue Haze.

What a far cry from my youth, when we would literally risk life and limb in order to score some Mary Jane.

If I may indulge, one night my buddies and I were loitering around Greenwich Village. There, in the shadow of NYU, we often found dealers willing to relieve us of our hard earned suburban dollars in exchange for a plastic baggie of reefer.

But on this one particular evening we were having no such luck.

"Tuinal. Seconal. Uppers. Downers. Qualudes. you want em, I got em," barked the peddlers under the arch of Washington Square.

We were just four 16 year old boys from Suffern, NY who had no desire to pop pills. We just wanted to get high. And then we ran across two black guys who could help.

They had weed, they explained. Only it was back at their apartment. In Harlem.

That might have bothered or intimidated some, but it didn't phase our buddy Jim, who was as fearless as they come.

"Let's go," he said, pointing to his sea foam green Dodge Dart parked illegally on Bleeker Street.

And with that, Jim was off to 127th street with his two new BFFs.

We waited. We watched the jugglers, the unicyclists, the clowns, the street entertainers who would work hard enough to collect enough coins for the next meal. Or Malt liquor.

One hour turned into two.
Two turned into three.
And our imaginations ran wild.
How would we explain Jim's disappearance to his parents? More importantly, how would we get out of the city without Jim's trusty Dodge? And should we get on an uptown train and start scouring 125th street for our friend?

This last question merited very little discussion.

Just as we lost all hope, Jim arrived, smiling from ear to ear as if he had already sampled the goods.

He showed us the twenty dollar bag, enough to last the rest of the night and keep us laughing the entire ride back to the suburbs. But it didn't. Because most of what was in the little plastic baggie was nothing more than store-bought oregano.

A story born.
A lesson learned.
Caveat emptor.

We never got our "care" from Harlem again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I hate the Internet

Where's my check, Ariana?

If you've been following the blog lately you know in the past week or so, I've had three, er....four stories republished on the Huffington Post.

I'm not saying this to brag. If anything I should be ashamed of myself. If I could write worth a damn I'd have several books published by now, like my skilled friends, Jim Jennewein, Kathy Hepinstall, Toby Barlow, Ernie Schenck, etc.

Instead, like the schmuck who gets the soup spilled on him by a klutzy schlemiel, I give it away for free.  For the hollow promise of 'national exposure.'

That, and $3.50 will get me a small latte at Starbucks.

Of course, as my published writing friends will tell you, there's not a whole lot of money in the paid-for-publishing world as well.

It sucks to be a writer…er, content creator, these days.

And I blame it all on the Internet.

Thanks to the world wide webs, people can't be bothered to drop 50 cents for a daily newspaper. High brow magazines like National Lampoon, Spy and Mad, are no longer purchased and brought into the stall for a good laugh.  And an even better expulsion.

They've all been replaced by Vines and Instagrams and BuzzFeed quizzes that don't even approach funny.

But the public, and I'm looking at you regular readers of RoundSeventeen, loves them because they're Free.

They used to say, "Funny is Money." That was before some four-eyed Silicon Valley geeks started confibulating the flik-flacks and modulating the flux capacitor and pumping the Internet into the ether.

Growing up, I had dreams of becoming the next Art Buchwald or the more WASP-y P.J. O'Rourke.

I would dash off some biting satire or vomit some stream of consciousness ha-ha's onto the page and the adoring public would shower me with wheel barrels full of greenbacks. Enough to pay for a huge house with a huger backyard and enough room for my own personal lap pool so I wouldn't have to slosh around with the unwashed masses.

But you ruined that for me, Internet.

And all your online restaurant reviews, free fetish porn and easy-to-navigate driving maps will not make up for it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On trying harder

Sporting events have to be watched live.

The DVR simply does not suffice. It records the game or the match or the fight fine, but if I accidentally find out the result, it all becomes moot. And like a recent insightful Hyundai commercial (produced by my very smart friends) it's impossible NOT to know the results.

This maxim holds true for most sports.
Not all.

Last week I came across the coverage of the 2013 Kona Ironman. It took place a year ago. And to be honest, I don't really care who won.

In fact, I'm much more interested in the "losers."

Let's be clear about this. There's nothing as boring as watching people swim, bike or run on TV. And yet, like the airings of The Godfather, 12 Angry Men, or Bridge Over the River Kwai, I cannot pull myself away from watching.

I suspect it stems from my own participation in the sport.

I competed in my first triathlon when I was 26, for those of you who are counting, that was eighteen years ago. Growing up I was never involved in any organized athletics. Not in junior high, high school or college. I played Little League baseball and always incurred the wrath of the teammates and teammate's fathers on the bench.

"I bet the fat Jew strikes out. Again."

And of course, I always did.

Nevertheless I always felt like an athlete. So when I moved to California, I started running. And I started competing in 10K races. My obsession grew, so I added swimming. Before long I was doing Tri's and became well versed in carbo-loading, cross fit training and the benefits of ketosis.

The longest triathlon I did covered 1.2 miles in the ocean, 40 miles on the bike followed by 6.2 mile run. It is the Olympic distance and it went by the book. Except for the rib crushing kicks in the water, the flat tire and the bloody blisters. But I finished.

In fact, if I stepped up to the starting line I vowed to myself to always cross the finish line.

At the peak of my involvement I dreamed of crossing the finish line at Kona. That dream never came to fruition. And now with chronic heel pain it never will. I'll never forget the day the orthopedic surgeon showed me the x-ray, pointing out the heel spur, "that's the biggest I've eve seen." If only I had heard something like that from my urologist.

In any case, watching and hearing the stories of those that hurl themselves, despite all odds, over that incredible threshold is nothing less than inspiring. And can often have me grabbing for the Kleenex.

The father with the special needs son.
The woman who lost a leg to diabetes.
The 78-year old widow who wanted to honor his departed wife.

It's all a testament to the better part of the human spirit.

Ample proof that pain is ultimately endurable. Including the pain, I suppose, of fathering two increasingly surly teenage girls.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Taking Care of Business

I tightened the perfectly-made Windsor knot until it pressed the sharp, heavily-starched collar of my white shirt into my fleshy teenage neck.

It was a scratchy wool tie. Mostly because my father was too cheap to spring for anything silk.

But the tie was mandatory, especially if I was going to work in his office at Brownell Electro, the nation's 3,829th leading distributor of electric motors and industrial wire cable.

Brownell Electro. 
Grinding out a living since 1887.

With the garrote secured to my neck, my father led me like a puppy to the Suffern Shortline Bus Station where we climbed aboard the 6:32 AM to the Big Apple. Most teenagers don't know from 6:32 AM. Particularly those who had just discovered the joys of Acapulco Gold.

But then my life, and my summer, hardly resembled the life of most teenagers.

The working men, mostly in their late 30's and early 40's, though they walked slowly as if they were in their 60's, filed onto the bus, stored their briefcases, settled in to their seats and lit up their cigarettes. I pressed my head against the plexiglass window and tried to draw oxygen from the 1/2 inch wide vent that pumped in clean carbon monoxide from the nearby exhaust pipe.

It was already 97 degrees outside. And more humid than Fiji. The windows on the air conditioned Shortline began to sweat.

I was wet, half awake, suffocating and smelt like a carton of Lucky Strikes. And it wasn't even 7 o'clock yet.

At the office, just south of Chelsea in a shabby area of the city that hadn't been gentrified or Disneyfied, I sat in my wooden banker's chair. This was long before the era of Herman Miller. There was no height adjustments. No lumbar support. And no Kevlar backing to increase maximum ventilation and optimal comfort.

This chair had a gimp wheel. And one of the rear railings sported a small knotty oak protuberance. That protuberance was small at 7:30 in the morning. But by 3 o'clock it felt like Excalibur was impaled in my kidney.

Monday through Friday was the same routine.

Peggy, the unusually buxom chief of Accounts Receivable, came by at 7:45 and placed a boxful of checks on my desk. My job was to match each check with the Accounts Payable invoice and then post the amount to the ledger. I had to keep a running tab of all the incoming money. At the end of the day, the checks had to be deposited. So the tally, the invoices and the checks all had to balance.

They rarely did. It never phased my busty boss, Peggy. She knew all the tricks of bank reconciliation. If the amount was off by 9 cents, I had transposed some numbers. If the amount was off by a dollar or eleven dollars, I had forgotten to carry the one. And if the amount were off by anything more than $500, I had simply fucked up.

Then I'd be treated to a full-chested tantrum by my hot-tempered Puerto Rican supervisor.

"Pinche hijo de jeffe!"

The memory of Peggy, sloppy bank slips, torturous bus rides and hours spent waiting at the Port Authority Building came flooding back to me while driving home from the office and stumbling across Bachman Turner Overdrive's, "Taking Care of Business", a song that had vaulted to the top of the pop charts that August.

I took care of business that summer. And the following summer when I worked as a Pot Washer at Good Samaritan Hospital. And the subsequent summers, when I was a Line Cook, a Landscaper and a Forklift Driver in lovely Gardena, California, where the 110 meets the 405 and forms the 9th Gate of Hell.

Each of these character building experiences changed the vector of my life.

And each serve to remind me that since I became a copywriter in the ad industry, I haven't worked a day in my life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let's get high

Shouldn't we be flying by now?

I know we were promised flying cars but I don't want to buy my flying machine from a guy in a polyester suit.

"So can I interest you in some protective undercoating for the wings? You don't want those rusting out at 12,000 feet above sea level."

I want something less cumbersome. Something I can keep in my closet, next to my "winter" coat and my mother's old Mah Jong set.

I want wings.

Da Vinci imagined it 500 years ago.

Why can't Elon Musk design and build it? Instead he's wasting his time on some bullet train that promises to speed passengers from Rancho Cucomonga to Fresno in less than 18 minutes.

Hardly a day goes by when we don't witness new, incredible quantum leaps in technology.

Candles that regenerate themselves.

Advancements in watermelon cutting.

iPhone apps to surreptitiously piss off the neighbor's vicious pit bulls.

Every day, from my office near LAX, I watch massive 747's, carrying hundreds of passengers and their heavy suitcases full of shoes they won't wear and books they won't read, lift off the ground and into the air.

I'm no mechanical engineer but how hard can it be to construct a nuclear powered, strap-on jet pack that would flutter a set of high speed wings, like those seen on a hummingbird, and finally emancipate us from the bondage of gravity?

Steve Jobs could have done it. And would have done it. But he was taken from us way too soon.

If only he had pursued more traditional medical care instead of listening to homeopathic hucksters or  anti-vaccination imbeciles and their ill-informed ilk, who would have us believe you can stave off polio by chomping on a head of romaine lettuce or sucking on some vanilla beans.

I blame you Jenny McCarthy.

It's your fault I don't have a flying machine to slip into. So now I have to walk to the minimart. Because we're out of mayonnaise.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bad Teacher

"I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me." -- Noel Coward.

Because it so aptly sums up my feelings, I've lifted this quote from the Facebook page of my good friend Jim, who is moving to NYC.

I had dinner with Jim and another good friend last week and the evening turned into quite the laugh fest. As I drove home with a belly full of rattlesnake sausage and wheat beer, I couldn't help thinking we should have done this more often.

Prior to that, my wife and I had dinner with another couple who we also hadn't seen in quite some time.

Again, I thought, we should do this more often.

As if all that socializing weren't enough (my daughters insist I'm a hermit), I also broke bread with some old advertising buddies that I hadn't seen in a good decade.

Not surprisingly, all these friends are writers. Also not surprising was the common topic of discussion, "What's next?" As well as the inevitable, "I'm going to be teaching."

Let's be clear, my mother didn't raise a fool.

I know that as a 44 year old freelance copywriter my days in the ad business are numbered.

Sure, I can whip up a manifesto faster than you can you say "an anthemic chest-beating puff piece meant to deceive the public and mask our contemptible desire for profits, profits and even more profits."

And yes I can have ten headlines written before the planner has read the entire brief to me verbatim.

And, if need be, I can even concoct some digital interactive brand engagement unit that involves hash tagging, uploading and instagramming who-knows-what, that will unlock the door that leads to the vault that houses the key to open the purse that reveals the coupon for 15% off your next purchase of steel-belted radial tires.

I can do all that. I don't think those skills disappear when you reach the age of 45, but I guess I'll find out next year.

What I do know is that I'm not cut out for teaching.

Teachers are underpaid.
And overworked.
And neither sounds appealing.

Moreover, apart from chess or 9th grade Algebra (which I have surprisingly retained), what would I teach? Copywriting?

Copywriting often comes from the ether. Synapses fire. Thoughts are born. And discarded. More thoughts, better thoughts evolve. Then words magically show up on the page. That's my process.

I know bad writing when I see it. And I see so much of it. But have no idea how to codify the process that leads to good copywriting.

Moreover, I have the patience of a flea.
A New York flea.
With ADD.

Finally, even if I could master the curriculum and reign in my temper, there's the distinct possibility that my classroom would be populated by eager young attractive women in their twenties.

I don't want to appear immodest but I can't imagine how they would be able to concentrate or glean anything of any value while being instructed by so much eye candy.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is it out yet?

Last month saw the second highest number of visits to RoundSeventeen.

Over 10,000 page views.

I like to think it's because I'm becoming a better writer, but I suspect it's because we find ourselves in sour times and laughter is in such short supply.

Oh sure I may stumble across some insight about the ad business now and again. I may find a nugget of wisdom about fathering two teenage daughters. And I've even been known to ramble on about the current geo-political crisis in the Middle East, armed only with a handful of headlines and a superficial knowledge of the region's history.

The truth is I'm an intellectual lightweight.

I know it.
My wife knows it.
And the 10,000 folks who come here on a somewhat regular basis know it.

You're here for the funny.
And that's just what you're going to get.

Today, I'm moving slower than usual. My wife and daughters went on a little weekend getaway. Meaning I was left at home, free to get away with anything I wanted.

Within biblical limits of course.

On the first night of my stay-at-home mancation, I plowed through 1/2 a bottle of Noah's Mill Kentucky Bourbon. I found myself on the couch at 3:30 in the morning. With the TV blaring. It was on the History Channel, a show about Nazi Hunters and how the Mossad snuck Adolf Eichmann out of Argentina.

I had already seen it.
Six times.

And so today, weary, hungover and unable to muster up the energy for a good rant, I've reached back in the files and grabbed a Youtube video that I had written about in 2009 when nobody had even bothered to read this blog.

I liked it then.
Considering my listless nature, I like it even more now.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

That's what I like

In the rereading of the last 100 or so postings it occurs to me that I spend a good deal of time writing about stuff I don't like.

So much so in fact that I don't like it.

Today, I have decided to turn the tables and commit some digital ink to things I do like.

I hope you won't be disappointed.

I like waking up on Sunday mornings and finding out my wife got out of bed early, drove over to the Bagel Factory in Beverlywood, for the only decent bagels in all of Southern California, and sprung for a small tub of fresh whitefish salad.

I like showing up at the pool for my noon workout and seeing all the regular swimmers are absent. Including the old lady who likes to jump in the water as if she were a dolphin.

In addition to empty pools, I like empty airports, empty bathrooms, and empty restaurants.

I like going to bed with my wife and both daughters, already sleeping, in the house.

I like drinking an ice cold beer on my porch when the sun is setting on a warm Friday evening.

I like having to tell recruiters I can't do their project because I'm already booked somewhere else.

I like getting on the elevator and having a pretty woman half my age throw me an unexpected smile.

I like misinterpreting that smile and thinking to myself, "oh, if I were single and 10 years younger." OK, 20 years younger. And 30 lbs. lighter.

I like getting the Final Jeopardy answer right when my wife, my daughters and the contestants don't.

I like walking into a new agency, being introduced to someone in the Creative Department and having them say, "Hey you're that cranky old dude who writes about all the shit he doesn't like."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Boyhood, revisited

A month ago, my wife and I as well as several friends, were camped in the foothills of the Eastern Sierra.

Our campsite was by no means glamorous. We were not glamping. Nor was it as cushy as some of the cabins that are still standing three miles to the west at the Manzanar Internment Site.

We had a tent, a bear box and pop up to shade us from the 100 degree heat. Oh and a cooler full of Coronas.

Naturally, as men are wont to do, especially when inebriated, we started telling tall tales.

My buddy, let's call him Tad because it's so much more humiliating than his real name, is the son of a Navy Seal. As such, he's no stranger to the outdoors or surviving in tough conditions, after all, he grew up in gritty San Diego.

Tad is also a former Boy Scout.
Not just any Boy Scout, he was an Eagle.

I was also a Boy Scout and reached the lofty rank of Second Class. Of course I didn't grow up in the soft suburbs of Southern California but in the significantly tougher environs of Northern New Jersey/Southern New York.

I think you can see where this is going.

A few more beers and perhaps a shot or two of Patron lead me to boldly assert that my Second Class Adirondack experience was equal to or exceeded his glampy SoCal Eagle standing.

What, other than copious amounts of alcohol, would warrant such a statement?

I told Tad of the time, when at the tender age of twelve, I was forced into a Winter Klondike. In the middle of January, on a barren patch of forested land off Rt. 59, we winter camped. I slept on 6 inches of snow, separated only by a 1/2 inch thick sleeping bag from my father's old Army days.

If I'm not mistaken, and mind you this was 32 years ago so I might be, the tent was crafted from old handkerchiefs sewn together with knots used by the local Iroquois Indians.

Not to be outdone, Tad said he would send me a picture of his sash.

The fact that I don't own a sash tells you all you need to know.

As you can see, Tad was quite accomplished.

He didn't have the same merit badges that we had on the East Coast: Rock Chewing, Possum Poking or Gasoline Fire Starting.

His scouting tokens are distinctly more erudite; including Mocassin-Making, Recycling and Water-skiing.


I rest my case.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Get back in the box

The 30 second TV spot is dead.

Industry pundits are fond of making outrageous, click baiting statements like that. And in most cases their proclamations couldn't be further from the truth. But in the case of the declaration above, they are 50% correct.

Agencies are still filming spots for TV. And the Internet. And the mobile screen. But the 30 second time constraint is dead.

It's gone the way of the complimentary airline meal, the live customer service representative and the yearly raise and bonus.

Now spots run 1:27 or 2:43 or even 4:39. They're big and bloated. Not unlike the compensation packages for holding company CEO's.

It's this newfangled thing the kids are calling long-format video.

And like the cold matzo ball soup that sometimes emerges from the kitchen at the Roll 'N Rye Deli, I don't like it.

Not that the content isn't good, sometimes as in the case of this short, it is exceedingly good.

Though I will add it's relevance to Expedia is a bit tenuous. Don't get me wrong I enjoy watching outrageously attractive lesbians as much as the next fellow, I just don't know what their exotic lifestyle has to do with me renting a Nissan Altima and booking my next cheap flight to Tacoma?

My main objection, however, is the open endedness of it all.

When there's no time limit there's simply no degree of difficulty. In essence we've removed the skill and artistry needed to perform a high dive and turned it into belly flop.

We've taken the lid off the box.  And staying in the box, as my pal Ernie Schenck argues, is where the magic happens.

The box gives birth to craft.

When I first started in the business, Lee Clow would tell us to edit rough cuts as if they were 37 or 41 second spots. Get the story right, he would say. Make it clear. Go from Point A to Point B and make your case.

Then, when everything is in place, start shaving, or frame-fucking as we used to call it.

What happened? The 30 second finish line made us run faster, leaner and smarter. In other ancient ad industry vernacular, we learned how to "kill our babies", those precious magical moments that would make us smile but did little to serve the purpose of the spot.

I know my colleagues don't like to hear this, but we are employed in the advertising business. We're not, as Stefan Sagmeister put it "storytellers."

We spend our client's money to make communication pieces that help our clients sell more of their shit, like diapers, compact trucks, or brown fizzy water.

Put another way, if you wanted to be a storyteller and have your vision committed to celluloid maybe you shouldn't have gone into advertising.

You should have pursued a career in film or TV, you know, industries with pure artistic integrity that have not been sullied by commerce.

Monday, August 4, 2014

You're going to eat that?

Have you seen Jon Favreau in Chef?

It's a good movie.
Not a great movie.

But it is thankfully devoid of gunfights, aliens and zombies. In other words, it's fit for your adults. I still find it hard to believe there are grown ups, folks I work with everyday, who are entertained by the notion of walking dead flesh eaters.

The movie Chef is about the eating of non-human flesh.

You could say it's the culmination of a foodie craze that has dominated our culture for the last 10 years.

From the food trucks to the insufferable Guy Fieri to the Top Chef game shows to an entire network devoted to nothing but food.

But I'm here to tell you all that farm-to-table glorification of the restaurant business is just that, glorification.

I started working at the Spring Valley Jack in the Box when I was 16 years old. The not-so-ambititious night manager liked to nap. So as soon as his shift started he ordered us to cook up 100 cheeseburgers, 100 tacos, 100 Jumbo Jacks and 100 whatever their fish sandwich was called at the time.

They sat for hours under the heating lamps. And when the stoners came through the drive through, they got what was handy. No special orders. No substitutions. No exceptions.

Three years later I found myself working the breakfast shift at the Carrier Circle Denny's in Syracuse, New York. They taught me how to crack eggs with one hand and flip omelets. You know when I wasn't in the back freezer with the local townie boys sucking the nitrous oxide out of the whipped cream cans.

After Syracuse, I arrived in Southern California. I landed a job at the Good Earth in Westwood. There were waitresses hotter than Sophia Vergara (Jon Favreau's ex in Chef) but they weren't dating the guys in the back of the house with avocado in their hair and grease stains on their shoes. Oh sure I had a college degree and could work a 750 degree wok, but I was no match for Dale, the surfing waiter with the feathered hair who appeared as bus passenger #3 in an episode of Starsky & Hutch.

Later, I got a job at the T.G.I.F. I thought I was going to be a line cook but the manager rarely saw college educated applicants and decided to give me a cushy white collar assignment. He handed me a clipboard and showed me to the attic where, in 98 degree heat, I had to do a physical count of all the non-food inventory: knives, cups and napkins.

The following day he handed me a ski parka and sent me into the deep freezer to tally up the T-bones. But it wasn't the sauna or the frostbite that hastened my departure, it was the 11 AM staff singing of the fight song.

Fuck you T.G.I.F. and fuck your fucking flair.

The point is this, you can gussy up the restaurant business all you want. But the cool Cuban music, the glamorous stars, the manufactured exuberance, should all be taken with a grain of salt. Like everything else the media gets its hands on.

The kitchen is a dirty, grimy, greasy place, more often than not crawling with German cockroaches and Chihuahua-sized rats. And it's often populated by sketchy alcoholics and former felons who got their tattoos at Folsom not at some hipster ink joint on Melrose Ave.

The food that comes out of the kitchen comes off their sweaty, well-callused hands and goes directly into your mouth. That is if it hasn't fallen on the floor first.

Because in the kitchens of your favorite bistro, cafe or trattoria, the 5 second rule is more likely the 50 second rule.

Bon Appetit.