Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Face the music


Last week, the holding company that "holds" the company I am working for (still under an NDA) announced they would no longer advertise on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

It was a bold move backed by bold thinking and the belief that brands must do their part to right the ship that is currently taking on the dirty water of hatred, racial injustice, and foreign election interference.

I, for one, couldn't be happier.

Like many people, I have a love/hate/despise relationship with the Book of Face.

I love it because it gives me a platform to write and publish my own political opinions, jokes and memes. A platform I would never have had I further pursued my dreams in television or film. I've had literary agents. I've tried to navigate that closed world. I've played that game.

Truth is I had no stomach for "taking lunches", "nurturing relationships" or "managing my brand."

Fuck that.

With Facebook, if I get an idea, in between getting ideas for my job (for which I get paid), I simply comp it up or write it up, press post and watch the people in the Red Hats fume. Some even have the temerity to challenge me, publicly. And when it comes to Captain Ouchie Foot and the demise of the GOP, it is not a battle to which I come unprepared.

On the other hand, I hate Facebook.

In particular, their arbitrary rules governing free thought. I have seen Facebook pages espousing white supremacy, Islamic terrorism and the always popular, virulent antisemitism. These pages thrive and often feel like they are lighting the kindling for actual acts of violence. Yet, I have been cited, many times, by the Facebook police. Indeed, I've been banned on several occasions, and served two 30 day stints in Facebook jail -- once for using the phrase "white trash."

And yet look, here's a fan page for a movie (a must see movie) all about White Trash.


Awkward segue.

The move to abandon Facebook is a welcome one. And it was followed by several other large companies doing the same, including Honda, Birchbox (whatever that is) and Coca Cola.

With the death of George Floyd, the ongoing pandemic, the growing support for Black Lives Matter, the cratering of our economy, the Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers and the upcoming election, it truly feels like our nation is experiencing an important inflection point.

With any luck, we will emerge on the other side of this, wean ourselves off this social media and no longer have to write banner ads and email blasts.


Monday, June 29, 2020

Let the Buyer Be Hungry


As you may recall, last week was Father's Day, my favorite holiday of the year.

My favorite holiday was Thanksgiving, but this year, there won't be much to be thankful for unless, by some miracle, we are able to kick this fat fascist monster out of the White House.

Besides, Thanksgiving has turned into so much work, what with the setting of the table, the preparation of two birds, the dirty dishes, and the always disappointing football games, including the obligatory loss by the Detroit Lions.

Plus, because my whiskey drinking usually starts at 11 AM, by the time the big meal is set out on the table, I'm too sloshed to be able to enjoy it. Or remember it.

No, Father's Day is my new favorite. On what other day of the year do my wife and daughters cater to my every need AND produce gifts with sentimental cards telling me how much they appreciate my over-providing for them?

Last week, my oldest provided me with the perfect gift, four Rib Eyes from Omaha Steaks. Due to a miscalculation with the US mail, it didn't arrive until Tuesday. The package came in a large styrofoam container that belied its size. You can imagine the drool dribbling down my chin as I eagerly opened the box.

Not to humblebrag, but I'm somewhat of a steak connoisseur. In fact, I owe my life in Southern California to my innate ability to grill the perfect steak, whether it's a New York Strip, a T-bone, the overrated Filet Mignon or the king of the butcher block, the Tomahawk. You see, for two wasted years of my life, I managed an incredibly popular steakhouse on Santa Monica Blvd. -- S.H. Kickers.

The restaurant was fashioned off a concept native to Texas. And my boss prided himself on serving the best quality meats in the largest quantity of styles. Our steaks started at 12 ounces and went all the way to 32. At one point, the owner wanted to mimic the Pecos Pete restaurant in San Antonio and sell a 72 ounce prime rib steak, with an added twist.

If a customer could clean his plate and demolish the steak within 30 minutes the bill would be a tin roof. What's a tin roof? It's on the house.

Anyway, back to my Omaha steaks.

Beautiful, aren't they?


Well, no they are not.

You see, just as I am no stranger to the carnivorous arts, I've also made a career in advertising, and am no stranger to the deceitful ways of the camera lens. You, like my daughter, have been duped. By an optical illusion.

Here's a better look at my inordinately expensive steaks from Nebraska.


Those are three US minted dimes laid across the top of the biggest filet.

That's not a steak, that's an hors d'ourves. That's an appetizer. I eat more beef than that as I'm carving up a tomahawk BEFORE I sit down to dinner.

Naturally, I got on the horn to the folks from Omaha. And unnaturally, they didn't argue the point or even ask any questions. They simply refunded my daughter's money immediately.

I thanked them and asked them to send me a return packing slip so I could Fedex the meat morsels back. They went one step better and said to keep the steaks.

They said, in essence, it was Tin Roof.






Thursday, June 25, 2020

Cheers


I do my best not disparage other people's creative output. I understand the difficulties of guiding an idea through the corporate labyrinth of stupid, CYA careerism. It's easy to create a TV commercial, it's a lot harder to get one approved.

And so I'm not going to slam the new slew of spots for Miller High Life.

Nor am I holding back for some kind of hidden agenda or hope that I'll ever land a freelance gig at the Philadelphia agency that produced them. I looked at their website and they all seem be about 16 years old. And look far too cheery to have spent any considerable time in the business. Much less, feel inclined to ever reach out to an old-timer like me.

I'm restraining myself because I know how high the bar was for the team or teams who are following in the footsteps of perhaps the greatest TV campaign ever produced.

In my eyes, at least.

I have written glowingly about the early 90's work done by Jeff Kling, Errol Morris and gang. They produced more than 50 spots. And each is a study in wit, wisdom and craftsmanship.

It's a shame and a mystery why they ever stopped running this much-loved campaign. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that Miller High Life is not a much loved beer.

As someone who has consumed more than his fair share of beer, I can tell you that Miller High Life has the appearance, the smell and the drinkability of a freshly drawn urine sample.

But, as my buddy Matt puts it, particularly in advertising, "you play the hand you're dealt."

So kudos go out to the current marketing team at Miller who decided to breath new life into the Miller high Life man campaign. And kudos also belong to the creatives on the other side of the Jersey border. True to the spirit of the original work, they have mined the small moments of life. They celebrate the notion of simplicity. And they have made advertising that doesn't feel like advertising.

Are the new spots as good as the old ones? Uh, no. But as I noted earlier, that bar was impossibly high.

Are the new spots better than 99.99% of any crap commercials you're likely to see today, tomorrow or next week? Indubitably, yes.

Crack open a Heinekin, you kids from Philly. You deserve it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Tale of Two Coins


I'm going to be honest with you, and when am I not?

Two years ago, I contacted the White House Gift Shop and laid out 50 of my hard earned dollars for the commemorative Korean Peace Talks Summit Coin.

When it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. Each coin came individually wrapped in thoughtful plastic cover, for keepsake purposes. Moreover, each coin was numbered and had included its own CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY OF ORIGIN -- which is kind of a word salad, but still.

A CERTIFICATE!!!


Some, namely my wife and daughters, scoffed at this impulsive and reckless purchase. I, on the other hand, was convinced I had gotten in on the ground floor of an investment that would pay huge dividends.

These coins would be the 2017 equivalent of purchasing 100 shares of Apple Computer while Steve Jobs was still assembling motherboards in the dirty garage of his parent's Cupertino house.

I was convinced that once President Trump had laid on the charm with Kim Jong Un, we would be ushering in a new round of American/Asian dΓ©tente.

I thought the acrimony would be over, followed by rich cultural exchanges between our nations.

Furthermore, when I heard that Jared Kushner has pushed the idea of building luxury condos on the beautiful beaches of the northern Korean peninsula, I began entertaining the thought of a Pan Pacific vacation home. Right on the shores of luscious Hong Shwe.

I mean surely, when two leaders openly declare their love for each other and even exchange a flurry of flowery letters to that effect, there can only be brighter rosier days ahead.

Who knew?

Now Little Rocket Man wants nothing to do Captain Ouchie Foot. He's cut off the talks. Ratcheted up the rhetoric. And is now building more nukes than he had before these two beautiful, machine-stamped coins were minted in rare Pennsylvania-grade scrap iron.

Even Little Rocket Man's sister is getting in on the rancor. Threatening to blow some South Korean shit up, just because she can.

All of which means, the coins, Serial Numbers #29458 & #29459, intended to be a family heirloom for my daughters and one day, their offspring, are now worthless. And pushing back my early retirement day, til who knows when.

Looks like I'm going to writing banner ads and email blasts for a long, long time.








Tuesday, June 23, 2020

When you're doing #2 this should be #1


I am not in the habit of promoting other people's books. Particularly when those other books are written by freelance copywriters who are working hard every day to literally scoop up jobs and otherwise steal food off my family's table.

But as I mentioned yesterday, the pantry has been stocked and I'm feeling especially magnanimous.

My friend Mickey Taylor (Paul, for the purposes of his book) has released ADWEAK, Your Leading Source for Fake News. If you work in advertising you are no doubt aware of ADWEAK's twitter feed. It has amassed more than 17 billion followers.

That number may be off a little, but in the era of Grandpa Ramblemouth™, all numbers are subject to embellishment.

Mickey has been skewering the ad industry for more than decade. Often brutally, always incisively. That's my kind humor. With satire, if you're not leaving bloodied bodies in your wake, you're not doing it right.

When he started ADWEAK, back in the early 2000's, it was more as a goof than anything else. Mickey was gainfully employed and had to maintain anonymity. And so in a clever move, he created a fictitious Editor and portrayed him with a stock photo of a fat, bald guy who happened to be sporting swim goggles.

As a result, I had to fend off emails, phone calls and visits to HR, in my own defense, from people who swore I was behind the venture. I wasn't. Though years earlier, my buddies, also copywriters, put out MADWEEK.


It seems the urge to mock this industry is quite strong, as I, Mickey and Glenn, Bob Hoffman and George Tannenbaum, will attest.

When you sit in meetings for 3 hours discussing whether a V-neck sweater is brand appropriate or when a client's daughter kills a campaign after 6 months of development, redevelopment and re-redevelopment because, "I just don't like it", it's bound to result in some pent up anger.

In any case, while I made some paltry occasional contributions to ADWEAK, I am not the brains behind it. In fact, when I see their daily brilliance, I often stew in jealousy.

Even moreso, because I found out that despite the brutal take downs and razor sharp wit, some Fortune 500 companies have actually pinged Mickey for project work. One maker of inedible pizza even has them on their roster.

If clients were smart, and by and large they are not, they would hire more renegades and embrace a looser, more entertaining, more truthful approach to their advertising. Ryan Reynolds gets it.

But I digress.

The book will soon have its official release. I suggest you buy it and put it on the lid of the toilet for leisurely sporadic reading. I'd put it right on top this book that also deserves "shelf" space in your wet library.





Monday, June 22, 2020

My Happy Post Father's Day Post


Hope you had a special Father's Day.

I know I did. But not in the typical special Father's Day way. And here's why. On Friday, my daughter got word that one of her co-workers at the office (that's right she works for a company that requires employees to go into an office) called to say that her boyfriend tested positive for Coronavirus.

So, by the Transitive Law of Viral Transmission (a mystery to all in Oklahoma), my daughter's co-worker could be positive. And my daughter could be positive. And she could have brought that home and made myself and my immunocompromised wife, positive.

It's unlikely, but these days you can't be too careful. The notion of being holed up in a hospital room, with a plastic tube rammed down my gullet and no opportunity to lift weights and make Trump memes is too horrifying to consider.

And so, if there were to be any fatherly celebrations yesterday, I was going to be the one who would have to make the arrangements, pull out the credit card (duh) and craft my own special Father's Day.

Thus, a late Friday night trip to the grocery store was in order.

* Tomahawk Steak, check
* Bulleit Rye Whiskey, check
* A big bag of Tostitos Hint of Lime Chips (which should be illegal in all 50 states), check
* a jar of creamed herring, check

It should be noted that when my wife was doing the grocery shopping, she never brought home creamed herring. For some reason she finds the idea of smelly Canadian fish bits, stuffed in a jar with sour cream, garlic and sliced onions, rather unappetizing.

I've probably turned you into a convert, so here's what to look for:


Perhaps you think I've painted a bleak picture of an even bleaker day. And in 2020 it's fair to say we've had an unusually long streak of bleak days.

But you'd be wrong.

Because on Friday we also got some tremendous non-Covid related health news. I share a lot about my life on these digital pages but not everything, so I won't go into further detail, suffice to say, I've been on Cloud 9 since hearing the report.

And along those lines, yesterday, I took a moment of silence to myself. And realized that while this Father's Day may have been lacking in fanfare, gift wrapping, tchotchkes and Hallmark-manufactured emotion, it was not missed at all.

I have my family who I love more than words can tell, I have friends, I have a roof over my head, I have work and I have money in the bank for a rainy day, enough even for 40 rainy days, should we be met by some biblical catastrophe.

In short, today, and yesterday, I have everything I ever wanted or dreamt of, in the days before I became a Father.

Dayenu.





Thursday, June 18, 2020

Meet the neighbors


The first neighbors I ever recall were from this apartment building at 92nd Street and Northern Blvd. In Jackson Heights, Queens. It's where I grew up as a little boy.

The neighborhood, once the home of working class Jews and Italians, is now incredibly diverse, with people from all over the world, crammed into what I remember as tiny, square foot-challenged shoeboxes. Perhaps that's why we, the kids and their mothers, spent so much time in the plaza/park in the center of the building, where it looks like they're doing some remodeling.

I have fond and funny memories of this place. Funny, because in retrospect, I realize how ominously close we were to mobsters and low rung mafioso, who not only lived in the building but who also used to join my father for weekly poker games in the living room.

It wasn't til later in life that I realized my father had a thorough understanding of The Family, not to mention quite bit of contact with the guys in the shiny suits. I suppose, at the time, there were many young scrappy Jewish CPA's, with an eye out for a side hustle, who did.

And fond because it was here that my family became good lifelong friends with the next door neighbors, the Silversteins (name changed because... well, because).

It was a friendship that lasted close to 40 years. In fact, when the Silversteins escaped the confines of The City and moved to Spring Valley, NY, they convinced my parents to follow suit and shortly thereafter moved to the adjoining and aptly named burg of Suffern.

We even sat shiva for my father at the Silverstein's house.

Sadly, we have lost touch. Separated by time, geography and the neverending need to write banner ads and email blasts to put food on my table.

Even sadder, perhaps, is that since that time I, and now we, have never enjoyed that type of neighborly fraternity.  Indeed it's been quite the opposite. A life living next to drunkards, drag queens, porn stars, defrocked rabbis, street bullies, meth head plumbers and many more.

My internal hard drive is near capacity with stories and recollections of these misfits. And so I'm going to do what any writer would do, I'm going to commit it all to, brutally honest and probably embellished, ink.

I'd like to have the book done by December.

But probably won't release it until 2021, just to avoid the curse of ©2020.







Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A breath of fresh air


I bought my daughter a present the other day.

It's not her birthday. And other than being recently promoted at her job, there's no particular achievement to be recognized. But I have a little extra money in my wallet, mostly because we're housebound and can find nothing else to buy but groceries, so I did the nice fatherly thing.

Behold the $49.99 Personal Mini Air Cooler.  I would tell you what brand it was, but from all appearances, Chinese manufacturers of cheap appliances don't believe in that sort of thing.

Like me, you've probably visited Amazon and purchased similarly made products from Wuhan-adjacent sweatshops. Unlike me, you probably haven't taken the time to savor the product packaging.


Upgraded wind speed with much joy.


Color.


Reducing Temperature.
Money Save/Energy Save.
Good to Health.

And my favorite, if you can enlarge the photo: KICTCHEN. By using IDI Mini cooler and enjoy cooking your delicacies.

You might be wondering why, after installing a $15,000 central air conditioning system in my 2 story house, my daughter's room doesn't get any cooling? 

I know my wife is wondering. And despite my many explanations including several viewings of the blueprints, she's still stumped. And still won't let it go.

Years ago, we added another floor to our ranch style California bungalow. Building three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It's all housed under -- I hope I get the architectural lingo correct -- a ridge vented roof. Meaning there is no attic, per se. 

The hallway upstairs has high vaulted ceilings, supported by steel beams. Additionally meaning, there was no way to install duct work to carry cool air from the condenser on one side of the house to reach the other side of the house, where my daughter's bedroom is situated.

If you're following along, that means the cool fresh air produced by the $15,000 a/c unit must travel, in a duct, two stories down the interior of our side of the house, transverse, in the crawl space, to the other side, and then rise back up the two stories to my daughter's southern exposed (hotter) bedroom. By the time it makes that journey it has lost all its palliative value.

I hope this unbranded Personal Mini Air Cooler will put an end to this ongoing discussion, with the unspoken, though clearly intentional, implication that I hired the wrong a/c guys and fucked up.

If it does, it could be the best $49.99 I have ever spent in my life.







Tuesday, June 16, 2020

June Glee


Following my precarious graduation (2.1 GPA) from Syracuse University, I moved back home to Suffern, NY, where I could suffer small town provinciality and family dysfunction for barely 3 weeks.

At the tender age of 22, I bought a $99 one way airline ticket to Los Angeles, where I knew no one, had no money, had no place to stay and no idea what would happen with my life.

This is not at all surprising, nor impressive, as I come from sojourners. Story has it that my mother, 17, and her older sister Mary, 19, boarded a ship in Glasgow, Scotland and migrated to America, with even less. Moreover, they did it for the strangest of purposes, to be as close as possible to jazz legend Stan Kenton.

I like jazz, but in a cruel twist of fate, find his music unlistenable.

When I arrived in LA, it was sunny and hot. Which was to be expected as it was the beginning of June. I stepped off the #83 brown bus from LAX to Westwood and began searching for cheap living quarters. I knew from experience that fraternity houses often rent out rooms to nomads like myself for the summer. Unfortunately, UCLA was on the quarter system and class was still in session. Meaning all the houses were full with fraternity brothers who doing asshole fraternity stuff.

At the end of a long, frustrating day of travel, that included lugging a 75 lbs. duffel bag up and down Gayley Ave. I struck pay dirt and found a frat that would sell me shelter.

Sort of.

"We have an old mattress up on the roof. You can sleep there and shit and shower in our bathrooms. 75 bucks for the first the month. Then we'll rent you a room for 100 bucks a month."

"Sold."

When I woke up on Day 2, of what would be my lifelong California adventure, I was sopping wet. I looked up and could not see the canopy of palms and eucalyptus trees. Replaced by a thick, gray, ugly and very wet layer of June Gloom.

It's one of those phenomena that doesn't get a lot of publicity. Nor do pop singers like BJ Thomas or John Denver write songs about it.

But it is real. And it's something that Southern Californians have grumbled about ever since the first settlers arrived here, booted the Indians and Mexicans off their land, and built mile upon mile of strip malls selling the essentials of life: donuts, liquor and Fatburger.

That is until this year.

I am writing this post on a Saturday morning, June 13th, on what would have been my mother's 87th  birthday. It is warm and sunny and the sky is clear blue. In fact, it's been no different than this for the last 6 weeks. Meaning we've also haven't experienced the legendary precursor to June Gloom, May Grey.

I don't know what accounts for this.

In 2020, a year ravaged by a pandemic, racial inequality, economic collapse, social upheaval and a feckless fascist regime that threatens the future of America and indeed the world, there are no clouds, but there is this much-needed silver lining.




Monday, June 15, 2020

Glutton for pun-ishment


I never bought into that old trope about how the fluttering of a butterfly wing in Malaysia can, through a series of contrived consequences, determine the price of tile grout in Des Moines.

Nevertheless, in writing this post, I'm about to set off a string of events that will result in my mailbox being stuffed as well as the possible crashing of my internet.

We need to hire a copywriter.

When I say we, I mean the company (still under an NDA) where I am currently employed. Perhaps 'employed' is a little misleading, I'm still a freelancer with a discussion about possible permanence to come. But that's another story, yet to be written.

What needs to be written right now are digital ads, emails, product packaging, social media, experiential activations and even the occasional TV spot. In other words, everything a copywriter does now at an ad agency.

Only it's not an ad agency.

It's better.

If you know me, and I have to assume if you're reading my blog, you do (I'm not internet-famous like my colleagues George Tannenbaum or Bob Hoffman), you also know I'm not big on apple polishing.

There's a lot to dislike and criticize about the ad industry, and much to my wife's dismay, I've committed plenty of digital ink to the topics, including The Long Table of Mediocrity™ and FFDKKs, Frivolous Fuckwadian Digital Knick Knacks™.

But I've been punching the clock at this job for more than 6 weeks now. No, literally punching a clock. The online timesheet system requires me to "Punch in" and "Punch out." It's charming in an analog way.

And while, like any job, there are things I don't enjoy, processes, apps and the whole Google eco-system, they are far outweighed by the things I love. The company, the brand, and the in house agency have put a premium on great creative and an even greater need for absurdist, unexpected, push-the- envelope humor.

And that is music to my 44 year old, increasingly hairy, ears.

So let's see the resumes/portfolios. Young or old, black or white, male or female, and everything in between. This is an opportunity to work for me without the bothersome annoyances that go hand in hand with being in the same room as me.

Flood the mailbox at: siegelrich@mac.com






Thursday, June 11, 2020

At the corner of Raucus and Rowdy



It's been a heavy week here at R17. We've discussed racism. We've discussed Captain Ouchie Foot. And because the two are intertwined we've discussed racism and Captain Ouchie Foot.

Today's fare is considerably lighter.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot at Culver Center, I noticed construction and remodeling going on at Chez Lantana Jay.

Southern California property owners have this funny idea that they have to name their apartment buildings. I know that years ago I did a post about that and the many preposterous, pretentious names they have conjured up for their crappy cheese box apartments.

In any case, this one caught my eye and so I pulled the car over, whipped out my iPhone and snapped a few shots of this beauty near the corner of Overland and Venice Blvd.

Why? You may ask.

Because a long, long time ago, after I had been evicted from another apartment complex,  Les Champs de Palmes, I was close to signing a lease at 3820 Overland. Again, you may ask, why is that of any interest?

"You can't be serious," said my wife when I showed her my near calamitous mistake. 

"What? It was here on the Westside of LA and it was all I could afford at the time," I replied.

SFX: CACKLING LAUGHTER

I believe this explains everything.


And yet, despite my inability to locate appropriate living quarters, or my unwillingness to buy a bed frame for the mattress on the floor, or my inability to properly manscape the wild hairs on the back of my neck, she still went ahead and married me.

Only to discover there were 30 more years of incredulous faults waiting to be discovered.

Nevertheless, part of me wishes I had moved in to this noisy hellhole of an apartment where I would have been treated to late night night drunken brawls and an endless parade of tweakers loudly entering the Minimart for Ho-Hos and Dings Dongs.

You see, much to the dismay of my social media followers, who tolerate my shameless self promotion, I am working on a new book of short stories about the places I have lived and the unforgettable neighbors I have known.

And I can only imagine the colorful cast of characters who did sign a lease at 3820 Overland Ave. I'll bet there would have a been a few good chapters there.





Wednesday, June 10, 2020

I owe, I owe, it's off to work I go


Last week, you might remember, the president was crowing about the unemployment numbers and the historic drop to only 13.3%. He also disingenuously suggested that the uprisings across the country would result in monumental progress in race relations, days after he sicked the US Military on American citizens.

He even went so far as to say that George Floyd, an African American man brutally and mercilessly murdered by an arm of the government, his government, was looking down from heaven and smiling upon yet another monumental achievement of Captain Ouchie Foot, God's unique gift to America.

Only neither case was true.

Let's not forget this is the same schmuck, who told law enforcement officers, on many occasions, to "rough up" suspects. And stop "being so nice."

Furthermore, it turns out the BLS, Bureau of Labor and Statistics, made a mistake, and is now in the process of issuing a correction. The cynic in me could argue that this entire fiasco was manufactured in advance. That the president was willing to take a little public egg on his face on this matter in order to distract from another economic disaster that will stain his historic CV.

You see, on Friday the total US debt reached an all time high. It surpassed $25.9 trillion. And there's no indication it's slowing down.

This earmark is of consequence.

Because when this beslubbering, idle-headed maggot pie took office on January 20, 2017, the debt was $19.9 trillion. And if you'll recall, we never heard the end of it from the Tea Party, The GOP and the ruttish, rump-fed skainsmate, who promised to set the country on a different fiscal course and right the wrongs of feckless Democrats.

HA!!!

In less than one full term, because of misguided tax cuts for the wealthy, obscene militarization and the failure to recognize and manage a pandemic that has taken the lives of 110,000 Americans, this lying, clapper-clawed fustilarian has added $6 TRILLION to our collective promissory note.

Moreover, he did this while we were allegedly enjoying the BESTEST, BOOMINGEST ECONOMY
ever in America. It wasn't. It wasn't even close. And I beg one of my GOP compatriots to challenge me on this.

Please.

I also beg you to take a look at usdebtclock.org

The spinning of the red numbers is a constant reminder of this regime's failure to live up to its promises.   It's also mesmerizing. I'm willing to bet that by the election, the total debt will exceed 26.9 trillion and we will find ourselves drowning in Grandpa Ramblemouth's $7 trillion of red ink.

I wonder what George Floyd would think of that.







Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Pale Green Dot (apologies Carl Sagan)



Two months ago, I didn't know their names.

Two months, ago, I didn't know what they looked like, how they dressed or how they liked to furnish their homes. (lava lamps, really?)

Two months ago, they were perfect and total strangers.

Now I am in their house. I am at their kitchen table. I am in their bedroom. Sometimes for 4 or 5 hours a day!

Of course I'm referring to the phenomena of video conferencing, be it Zoom™, Meetings™ or Teams™.  Can behemoths like Google and MicroSoft really trademark those words? I think under the current regime and free-floating corruption, corporations with enough money and morally ambiguous congresspeople like Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski or Tom Cotton, can do just about anything they want.

But I digress.

I'm new to the little green light that sits atop my computer like a well armed sniper/guard sits in a prison tower. And I must say it's a little disconcerting. Don't get me wrong, I love working from home, free from the noisy distraction found at The Long Table of Mediocrity™.

But I don't love being tethered to the computer. Good writing requires focus. And unfocus. I know I'm at my best when I can walk, exercise, read a newspaper, and let my mind flitter about.

I also don't love being on camera. As Seth Myers so aptly put it, the camera not only adds 10 lbs. it adds 10 years. And believe me, no one is going to want to hire a 54 year old copywriter.

Even worse, now I have to listen to my wife who insists I replace all my favorite old T-shirts, with the worn out collars and the holes in the underarms, and replace them with something respectable.

Damnit, I hate when she's right.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Breaking the silence


I'm being harassed.

I'm being harassed by a 23 year old white woman.

I'm being harassed by a young lady, who terrorizes me daily, and is relentless in her zealous pursuit.

Occasionally, she also has difficulty making her money stretch as far as it should and hits me up on Venmo.

I'm talking about my daughter. And she is responsible for this post.

You see, the crabapple has not fallen far from the crabapple tree. And like many young people across this country she has been moved by the events of the last two weeks. She has attended protests. She's speaking out online. And she's donating profits from her silk screened T-shirts (featuring the design above) to BLM.

Am I proud? Yes.
But, as she pointed out I should also be ashamed. Because while I'm often quite vocal on other issues, I've been relatively silent on this. Here's how our phone call went...

"Dad, you have a platform. People think you're smart. They want your opinion, your take on this. It's important that you use your blog to address the matter."

Ok, she's wrong on all counts. Nevertheless, I'll chime in knowing full well that anything I say has the potential of being criticized. You know because it comes from an old white man.

Actually, that's only partially true.

If you listen to or read the ramblings of the Klan or Neo-Nazis or even those ultra right folks on the not-so-far-end of the spectrum, I am NOT a white man. In fact, my Hebraic ancestry puts me among the "Mud People", their phraseology, not mine.

And I'm fine with that. I don't want to be associated with white supremacy. I don't want to be in the vicinity of white supremacy. These days, I don't want to be on the same planet as white supremacy.

I cherish being "the outsider." Mostly because it affords me a different perspective. Not a perfect one by any means, but different. One rooted in empathy. A great deal of that credit goes to my parents.

To my mother, who grew up poor and on the wrong side of the tracks in Glasgow. I'm not sure there is a right side of the tracks in Glasgow. And to my father, who grew up on the hardscrabble streets of the Bronx and spent a year of his youth in an Army brig (for smoking pot) and was one of a handful of white boys in a Southern prison dominated by African Americans.

Both grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. And drilled into me an understanding of the unspeakable atrocites visited upon my people. With the warning that is familiar to every Jew in America, "Never forget, it can happen again." Adding, and keeping in mind this was during the tumultuous 60's, "If it does happen again, it will probably start with the Negroes (the vernacular at the time). But it won't end there."

In short, I was taught my heritage. And as someone whose people have been persecuted, and I am obliged to understand people who are currently being persecuted. If it can happen to them it can happen to us.

All well intentioned, but there's a serious, if not tribalistic fault in that logic.

And it was made clear to me by a touchy discussion on race that I had with an African American friend and colleague. He pointed out, and this was years ago so it has clearly made an imprint, I'm paraphrasing and shortening the story, "Rich, you don't get it. There is no Them and there is no Us, there is only We." 

Racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, misogyny are problems that belong to all of us.

Put another way, if Black Lives Don't Matter, and we don't take concrete steps to address racial injustice and racial inequality, then No Lives Matter.














Thursday, June 4, 2020

Lost in America, the book, not the movie


I never liked giving book reports in high school. Or even in college. Mostly because there's the likelihood I never read the assigned book.

Truth is I wasn't much of a reader.
Until I became a writer.

My perspective on the written word has come full circle. And now I no longer read because I have to, but because I want to.

And I'm not talking about reading the newspaper, either the NY Times, IRL. The Washington Post online. And even the Wall Street Journal when I find a way past their paywall. With the help of my friend George Tannenbaum, I have been getting my hands inky with books. I'm halfway through the book pictured above.

It's written by Dr. Sherwin Nuland, a man with whom I have much in common.

Turns out when his family traversed the Atlantic to escape the pogroms of Eastern Europe they arrived on Ellis Island, whereupon the admittance clerk translated his father's occupation, a tailor, and wrote down Nudelman, Yiddish for Needle Man. Get it?

Well thanks to the 23andme folks, and correspondence with cousins I didn't know I had, I found out my great grandfather was also a tailor. Similarly, he hightailed it to America to escape drunken
Kossacks.

The book recounts the doctor's youth, first in the pastoral grounds of the East Bronx. And later to apartment living in the West Bronx, near Jerome Ave (where many of the scenes from JOKER were filmed.) In the vicinity of the Grand Concourse, which at the time was known as the Champs D'elysee of the Jews. Who knew?

It certainly didn't seem like that when we visited there.

The doctor grew up poor. As did my family.

My father was determined not to stay that way and worked as waiter by day and went to college (CUNY) by night. He didn't become a CPA until he was 38 years old. And only by sheer persistence and dogged determination did he succeed.

Sherwin had a troubled up and down relationship with his father. As did I. The book, his memoir, is an examination of that dynamic and his growing understanding of a father who he was often at odds with. He comes to this understanding via empathy. And the burgeoning ability to place himself in his father's shoes.

It is thought provoking and haunting at the same time. It resonates because in all those battles and screaming matches and sometimes even physical blows with my father, not once, never, did I look at the situation from his POV.

How could I? I was a kid. A stupid, myopic, selfish kid.

As the past week in America has demonstrated, we could all learn to put ourselves in other people's shoes. Because not only are we $26 trillion in debt, when it comes to Empathy, with a capital E, we are even deeper in the hole.





Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Letters, we write letters, lots and lots of letters...


Despite the protestations of colleagues, on the other side of the political aisle, who have suggested I write better headlines than I do of any substantive forms of persuasion, essays, blog postings and short stories, etc., I like to think I write a pretty damn good letter.

I like writing letters. Old girlfriends and HR professionals will tell I can be quite charming in the letter format. An attribute that quickly vanishes with an in person appearance.

I like writing letters because it's a lot like a personal conversation. Only better, because it's one way and I don't have to listen to someone else's drivel. I told you the charm wears off quickly.

People don't write letters any more.

I do.

Back in the day, I had 50+ or so Letters to the Editor, published in the LA Times, NY Times and other rags throughout the country.

When the occasion demanded it, I've written to banks, airlines, and Senators. And more often than not been compensated in response.

I'm a letter-writing Karen. And proud of it. When not one of the 53 GOP Senators met my satisfaction or returned the effort in the form of correspondence, I turned my letter writing into a book, still available on Amazon despite the publisher's mad scramble to keep up with demand.

Last week, some neighbors and friends of mine, who also happen to be colleagues in advertising, made it known they were being shortchanged by a major auto manufacturer. So I did what I thought anyone in my shoes with a penchant for bitching out Fortune 100 companies would do, I offered to step in and write a letter for them.

Not just any letter. I wrote one to the CEO.

I like writing letters to CEOs.

Why? Because I've sat in a room and dealt with so many of them. They don't intimidate me. Oh sure most CEOs are obscenely wealthy and wield their power as if they were potential customers of former AG Mathew Whitaker (seller of the Big Dick toilet), but by and large, not always, I've been unimpressed.

I've also found it unproductive to deal with middle managers, who often can say "No" but are not empowered to say "Yes."

And so I go to the top. Years ago, when the folks at Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae would not let me purchase a condo from my sister-in-law in order to keep her from losing her home, I Fedexed a 2 page letter to the CEO. I also included a DVD of "It's a Wonderful Life" and signed off with the question, "Do you want to be remembered as a modern day Mr. Potter?"

Within a day, the purchase went thru.

I hope the missive I penned for my friends yields the same results. If it doesn't, I'm happy to keep click clacking on my keyboard.

Because as I have mentioned, I like writing letters.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

I'm down with PPP


Did you get money? I got money.

Not a lot of money like Ruth Chris Steakhouse or Shake Shack. But when the government rolled out the PPP and $350 billion in aid to small businesses hurt by the mismanaged response to Covid 19, I thought, "I'm a small business." Actually, I'm the smallest of businesses, a one person self employed, underemployed, small business.

So I got off my digital ass and got in digital line.

Why not, particularly since February and March were the most barren months of my 16 year freelance copywriting career.

Do I feel guilty about this? Particularly since I have savings in the bank as well as other investments that guarantee there will always be a roof over my head and the occasional Tomahawk steak on my plate. Not in the least.

In fact, as our stable genius businessman/president would put it, "that makes me smart."

The stipend I was given was small. A shade over 4 digits small. A grain of sand on a wide stretch of beach dominated by large greedy corporations that fatten themselves on government subsides. You know, the usual suspects: Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Agriculture and of course, Big Defense. The same motherfuckers who decry socialism on one hand and pickpocket Uncle Sam with the other.

Here are some other reasons why my conscience is not troubled.

I live in Culver City, with, allegedly some of the best schools in LA County. But even though I pay hefty property taxes, my girls went to private school. In effect I was paying -- through the roof, I might add -- for the education of four kids, not two.

When my oldest turned 14, we enrolled her at Culver City High School. Big mistake. After 6 months in an advanced Math class, the teacher didn't even know her name. And so we shipped her and her sister off to St. Monica's Catholic High School. In light of my militant atheism, you can imagine how that sat in my less-than-spiritual Hitchian stomach.

It didn't end there.

When college rolled around, we tried, and to no avail, to gain admittance into the UC (University of California) system. I'm convinced there's an unspoken and unholy agreement among governors and the regents to reject in-state applicants disproportionately. Forcing parents all across the country to pay the higher non-resident tuition.

Looking for Deep State conspiracy, there it is.

That's just the tip of the financial Shitberg. I'm sure I can dredge up plenty of instances where more of my money went to pay for pothole repairs and gold plated Pentagon toilets than the contributions of Jeff Bezos, The Koch Brothers or Captain Ouchie Foot.

As it turns out the government will have the last laugh.

The SBA recently put out the PPP forgiveness application, wherein recipients can apply for loan forgiveness. There's little, I should say no chance, I will be absolved.

The application is a Joseph Heller nightmare and might as well have been written in Cyrillic.

How bad is it? I've seen 159 page briefing decks that make more sense.


Monday, June 1, 2020

And justice for all.


This is the museum at the Manzanar Internment camp.

Years ago, we, three families and children, visited this stark patch of land at the base of the Eastern Sierras. We were there for our annual camping trip and the best campground I've ever laid my overfed, dirty, sweaty body on.

Interestingly enough, I've worked with people of Japanese descent who either have parents who were once interned at Manzanar or have actually spent time in this, another one of America's shameful aberrations.

Having been familiar with camps of a different sort in a different country but at the same time, 1940's, I didn't know what to expect. Particularly since many of the townspeople in the surrounding are of the Fox News watching variety. I suspect the area boasts one of the highest red golf cap owning population per square mile than anywhere else in the country.

Thankfully, the experience was informative and respectful. There was an acknowledgment of the misjudgment, bigotry and the outright violation of Constitutional rights.

In other words, it was 180 degrees from what we experienced when we took another cultural excursion years later.

This time in Louisiana. We were visiting potential colleges for my oldest daughter who had taken a liking towards Tulane. I think my daughter also took a liking to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.

On our third day, a sober day, in New Orleans, my wife thought it would be a good idea to see one of the locally advertised plantations, where slavery and racial hatred were rooted and still raise their head like a nasty persistent bulb.

It was anodyne in the worst possible way.

The slave quarters, situated near the parking lot, had been gussied up made to look as habitable as a glamping site. Each one, the size of a tool shed, had a table, a chair, and beds. I'm sure if the revisionists had their way they would have hooked up the wifi and the cable TV.

After the cursory 10 minute tour of the slave quarters, "guests" at the plantation are led to Big House and expected to marvel and drool over the stolen majesty of the place, the plush carpets, the European artwork, the floor to ceiling shutter windows and the ornate furniture once occupied by hateful murderous men and the dainty Southern belles that loved them.

We were even treated to a complimentary Virgin Mint Julep. That legendary Southern Hospitality.

As we passed through the gift shop on the way out we were also shown the Plantation Banquet Room, where for a modest fee, local Louisianans could stage a wedding, birthday or Bar Mitzvah celebration. Though I'm sure there were no takers from my tribe.

In short, it was appalling. The contrast couldn't be clearer.

And in light of the crisis that has gripped this nation last week, it amply demonstrates that what troubles America most can be summed up in one word: Melanin.

Because it is painfully obvious that we are failing to live up to the principle that this nation was built on: All men (and women) are created equal.

Not now, not ever.