Friday, December 2, 2016

Milt Moss, 1922-2016.

No one's ever heard of Milt Moss, but he was the featured actor in one of the most famous commercials ever made, a commercial inducted in 1977 into the Clio's commercial Hall of Fame.

You can read the obit and see the spot here.
(I'm having trouble downloading from YouTube. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

For a minute think about how good this commercial is. And how it's not effete. It actually does more than just tell a joke. It sells a product.

A night and day in Manhattan.

As we approach the end of this blighted year, it makes a little sense, I think, to back the razor away from the vein, and instead think of how fucking great the world is, or at least New York.

Last night, I went to a "Times Talk" down at the New School hosted by Times' reporter Dave Itzkoff talking to New York comedians Colin Quinn and Jerry Seinfeld.

Quinn and Seinfeld are New Yorkers through and through. Their humor grows from the noise, the mayhem, the mixing of culture and races, and the comedy that friction causes.

I guess they'd be funny if they were born in Kansas or Iowa--this is not fly-over-disparagement, we've had enough of that. But their timing, their observations, their edge is New York.

"I can't say which is worse," Quinn said. "Times' Square in the 70s, when it was 'Taxi Driver,' or Times' Square today, when it's Disneyfied."

"Basically a choice," Seinfeld said. "Between soul-crushing or blood-letting. Between living with Disney or at the point of a knife."

"I can tell you," Quinn said. "I spent more time there in the 70s." (so did I.)

That was the tenor of the night. Jokes and some tips about life.

To wit, "you can't just wing it. You have to confront the fact that you're not a genius," said Seinfeld. That's how Seinfeld faces what he calls "the brutality of writing." That is, the labor it takes to succeed.

As if to prove Quinn's point, and Seinfeld's, about the vibrancy of New York, when the hour-long chat was over, I hopped into a cab, heading west on 13th Street before we made the long trek over to the FDR.

The driver was an old man from Mauritania. We talked for the 30 minutes it took to get us home. We talked and laughed. We shook hands at the end. The fare was $23. But I let him keep the $30 I gave him. Mauritania, after all.

Then just now, I was in a little deli on 45th and Tenth, not my usual place, grabbing my morning java.

Deli manners demand you're as brusque as can be--especially if you're not a regular. 

"Large coffee black and put it in a bag," I said without making eye contact.

"You don't want it in a cup?" The counterman said.

"Got me!"

And we laughed and shook hands.

Be thankful for life around you.

It's better than the alternative.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

6000 years of persecution. Madison Avenue edition.

The history of the Jewish people is not a carefree, blithe and happy story. Our people have been gassed en masse. Our temples have been destroyed. We have been enslaved. And of course we have been expelled from our homeland and subject to pogroms virtually every time a Cossack was feeling like he had nothing to do on a particular morning.

About half a century ago, Woody Allen used to tell a joke about how he was the token Jew in a Gentile ad agency, but got fired for taking off too many Jewish holidays.

Still, all in all, Jews like myself and legions of others, have been welcomed in the advertising industry.

There's no 3% Conference for Jews in the business like there is for women. I don't have any stats, but I'd say we are fairly well-represented--even at the highest, obscenely-compensated holding company level.

That's perhaps why I was struck this morning as I walked into the lobby of my office building.

This is the first decoration you see. A gorgeous 20-foot-high Christmas tree made from cuddly plush teddy bears.

Next to it, there's this two-foot-high acknowledgement of the impending Jewish holiday.

Which is marked by a short, rotund, beady-eyed, long-nosed, bald and yarmulke-wearing creature.

Must be part of the Jewish media's "War on Christmas."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A night in Havana, long ago.

This weekend, this busy Thanksgiving weekend, amid family, festivities, fun and, of course, the concomitant bickering that such weekends bring, the landline rang.

That surprised me for two reasons. For one, Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie were already over. And two, there are no politicians currently running for anything. Landlines, after all, are used only by ancient relatives and by politicians—for whom conventional laws like ‘do not call’ rulings do not apply.

“Jorge,” a raspy voice said through the crackle of distance. “Jorge Navidad.”

No one has called me Jorge Navidad in over forty years, save for one account guy I used to work with about a decade ago whose father knew something of my Mexican Baseball League exploits.

“Si,” I answered, dusting off just about the only Spanish I still knew. 

“Tu viejo amigo, estupido, Gulliermo Sisto.”

We chattered for a moment or two in what is known in New York as Spanglish.

“You have escuchado las nocitias?”

“What news?”

“El Jefe esta muerto.”

“El Jefe?”

“Fidel is dead.”

And that’s how I learned of the Cuban leader’s demise. From a phone call with Gulliermo Sisto, a team-mate of mine—the oldest guy on the Seraperos when I was just 17 and the youngest.

Sisto was 43 when I knew him—and in his 26 years in the Mexican Baseball League he had played for a total of 50 different teams. He and my manager, Hector Quesadilla had been team-mates some years before and in Hector’s capacious mind, Sisto was exactly what the Seraperos needed as we mediocred our way through our long and doleful season.

Sisto was a wise man on the bench, a guy who could come in and advance a runner or scratch a base hit, and a guy who could field any position without hurting you and maybe even pitch an inning hurting you only a little.

Sisto had the locker next to mine, and in short order he and I became the Mutt and Jeff of the team—our disparity being age, not height. And now, a lifetime after we played together for my one sad but glorious season, Sisto was calling.

I went into my bedroom—away from the cacophony of visitors in the rest of my apartment. I shut the bedroom door against the noise and sat in my worn leather arm-chair.

“Many years ago, when I played for the Rojos Diablos we flew to Havana to play a series of exhibition games against the Havana Sugar Kings.”

“The Sugar Kings were a team.”

“It was the best of Cuba against the best of Mexico. And of course, at such a series of juegos, it was only natural that El Lider would be there with the rest of his Barbudos.”

“The Bearded Ones. Fidel’s team. He was the pitcher, yes? And their best hitter.”

Sisto laughed into the phone.

“If El Lider says it, it must be true. But his pitch had lost its fire and his bat was soft like a noodle of vermicelli.”

“The man and the myth,” I said nonsensically.

“After we lost our games to the Sugar Kings—the best team I have ever played against, we played against El Commandante’s squad. A ragtag game in the twilight with no lights in Estadio.”

“So you played against Fidel?”

“Si, yes. Each of their nine—the Barbudos—the Bearded Ones played while smoking a foot-long cigar which they did not even while they were batting or running the bases or even pitching remove from their mouths.

“They played with the vigor and the laughter of young boys and you could not help but like them, even with machine gun soldiers guarding every move.”

“And how was Fidel? I had heard he was drafted by the Yankees of New York,” I said as if I were Hemingway’s Old Man.

“Fidel pitched well. Though a double off him I hit. Stand-up straight down the leftfield line.”

“You wounded the Barbudos.”

“Yes, and I scored a run a moment later, sliding into home and a cloud of dirty cigar smoke.”

We talked for a few moments—in a desultory fashion.

Then Sisto grew quiet.

“But Fidel, Jorge Navidad, Fidel was the last batter that day. The last batter for the Barbudos.

“I forget who was on the mound for us—maybe it was Triste, perhaps it was El Lacrimosa—the teary one, Estaban Portugal, who cried as he pitched. Maybe it was the Fat One.

“Whoever it was he threw El Lider a corkball, twisting the ball out of his throwing hand like a corkscrew. The ball, like a top to El Commandante flew.”

“The corkball,” I said. “A notorious pitch.”

“The worst. Three men on the Rojos Diablos could throw it—maybe once, maybe twice a game. After that, your arm would fly off like an old branch in a windstorm.”

“Three men could throw it. And no man could hit it.”

“But Fidel hit it.”

We paused.

“He let out from his cigar a puff of smoke like steam from a locomotive. And he swung heavy from his heels.”

“He was a big man,” I said, adding nothing.

“Yes. Taller even than Jorge Navidad.

“Fidel hit the ball straight into the sky. 1000 feet up, through the cigar smoke, through the trees, through the sky, and through the clouds. And we, the Rojos Diablos looked up, looked up for the ball in the estratofera. We looked, we looked, we looked and we waited and waited some more.”

I was on the edge of my leather seat.

“And then?”

“It never came down the ball. Fidel said ‘It has gone to Heaven to be kissed by the gods.’ And no one, to tell you the truth, no one that day had a better explanation.”

Sisto stopped now. He’s 85 and he seemed out of breath from telling his story.

“You’re ok, Sissy?”

“Yes, mi amigo. Si. But I know one thing.”

I gave him the courtesy of a pause.

“That corkball that Fidel hit. It is rising still. It is rising through the heavens to be kissed by the gods.”

The old man hung up the horn.

And I went into the living-room, giving everyone there, my kids, my wife, my niece, Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie, a kiss.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Our mandatory ethics training.

Every year around this time, no matter what holding company I'm working for, I get a shrill notice in my mailbox telling me that I've missed eleventeen previous all-cap edicts and it's time for me--I must I must I must--take my mandatory ethics training.

This is usually an hour of animated powerpoint--with the kind of professional finish you'd expect from the Topeka, Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles--that warns you against taking bribes, doing favors or hiring your dimwit second cousin three-times removed, the one who had the childhood accident and is really a good person but is none-too-bright.

There's no sense fighting against these courses. You get hit with them about once-a-quarter and I'm sure they make the moguls at headquarters feel good and powerful, like the German overlords who would post "Achtung" notices throughout Paris during the occupation.

This year, like last, Ethics Training coincided with "Business Insider's" list of top paid people in advertising. 2016's list, like so many of these lists in past years features well-tanned white men who have nothing to do with the craft and profession of marketing.

Top on the list is "he who must be obeyed," to bastardize a phrase from H. Rider Haggard.

Every year I look at this list, particularly the men at the top of the list and wonder--how much would they suffer if they had to get by with $5 million or $10 million instead of their $24 million or $87 million.

I think about the always-on overwork of the people who actually do the work. People who are so burned out by the time these salary lists and ethics commands come out that you could barbecue ribs on their asses. I think about the rising young teams stuck--or forced to leave--because even for incipient superstars, salaries are stuck like fossilized bees in amber.

I think about the utter paucity of people over 40 in the business. The stripping away of dignity and the ever-ratcheted-up demands on our time.

Then I go back to that salary list.

I check it again to make sure I'm not just being a Red.

Then I open up the mandatory Ethics course. And I look for a place to type in: "Where are the ethics in taking home $80 million in salary--my guess 800 times what an average employee makes."

I think about all that.

I'll do my ethics training tomorrow.

Monday, November 28, 2016

12 rules for December.

1. Never put a snowflake in an ad.
2. Never use Santa as a spokes-myth.
3. It's not any better using Mrs. Clause.
4. Or reindeer.
5. Or elves.
6. Or even gangly hipsters with funny ears.
7. Avoid at all costs use of the word "ho."
8. And the word "merry."
9. Also avoid puppies/cars/large appliances bedecked with ribbons.
10. And the word "bedecked."
11. Stay away from resolutions.
12. And mentions of "A new year of savings."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A memory of Fidel.

A repost.

El Pollo Cubano.

Years ago I did some freelance work for a local fast-food chain called El Pollo Cubano (the Cuban chicken.) 

My partner and I were charged with introducing an addition to their menu, El Pollo Cubano's fish sandwich. Having a lot of competition in their marketplace and not a lot of money, we named El Pollo Cubano's fish sandwich the "Fidel o' Fish." Both a tribute to the now-retired Cuban president and a play on McDonald's Fillet o' Fish.

I suppose I hardly have to tell you that El Pollo Cubano could hardly make enough Fidel o' Fish sandwiches. They were practically flying (fish) off the shelves. The commercials I helped create earned me the first of my many international awards. You can imagine my surprise a couple weeks after the campaign launched that a small package arrived at my desk with my name and address handwritten. I opened the package figuring it was some swag from yet another production company. 

Instead, it was a box of 24 Corona-Corona's, a signed glossy head-shot and a personal note from the famed dictator. In that note he asked for a half-dozen of his namesake sandwiches. Custom regulations being what they were, I was unable to comply with the bearded one's request. I did start a correspondence with Fidel and we became fast-amigos.

I'll miss you big guy. Eat well, mi amigo, eat well.

Friday, November 25, 2016

And so it goes. Thanksgiving edition.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone.

Another day of family, football, friends and food. With my daughters home from far-flung fields. With family over from midtown and crosstown. With my mother-in-law in from the barefoot wilds of New Jersey. And, of course, Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie, up from Boca.

We made it through the Lucullan meal with a minimum of sturm and drang. There were no battles over drumsticks, or, even, heated discussions over the political chasm that separates Americans as widely today in the mid-21st Century as it did pre-Civil War, 160 years ago.

Even Uncle Slappy who swore he would pour boiling gravy into Grandma Millie's wide Republican lap, behaved like a proper English gentleman. He, unusual for him, had a civil word for all.

The meal was festive. The wine flowed freely, and there was a procession of courses and desserts that reminded me of the Triumphal March from Verdi's Aida.

Now, my wife is in New York's Most Expensive Kitchen, putting away the remainder of the dishes and oversized serving trays we could, in the event of a disaster, use as life-rafts if our ship of state begins to founder.

Sarah is out moving her car and taking a spin class. Hannah is cuddling with Whiskey and reading her third or fourth book of the weekend.

And Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie are drinking their coffee slowly in the dining room like old Viennese before the Anschluss.

I won't say all is well with the world.

That would be too optimistic for me.

But we've made it through another one.

And I wish you all love, joy and peace until the next one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My daughters vs. Donald Trump.

Like virtually every reasonable person in the civilized world, I am terrified about the results of America's recent Presidential election and the country's headlong dive into cheap banana-republic-hood.

I'm terrified that a "man who can be baited by a tweet now has his finger on the nuclear trigger."

I'm terrified by more things than I have assignments hanging over my head at work.

But, I am hopeful.

I'm hopeful and thankful.

Mostly because there is only one Donald Trump, but I have two amazing daughters who will, slowly and inexorably, defeat him and the Dark Age he ushers in with him.

Hannah, my youngest, will fight his climate denial one reef at a time. While Trump's Mar-a-Lago sinks into the ever-encroaching seas, Hannah will be healing a sick planet. She will be rescuing sea creatures, repairing the world, and, mostly, teaching love of the earth.

She and her like cannot be defeated. There are too many of them. And they are too smart, too passionate, too driven and, even, too funny and resilient to be thwarted.

The same holds true for Sarah, my oldest, the holder of a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She betters an ill world one patient, one family at a time. Making the world healthier, happier and hardier every day. 

You cannot keep her down. She pops back up and comes out punching.

My daughters and billions like them will not go gentle into Trump's bad night.

They will rage rage against the dying of the light.

I am scared of Trump. I am angry at our country. I am fearful of our future and that of the world.

But I see my daughters, and yes, I have hope.

That is what, among all the blessings I've had bestowed upon me and all the blessings I have earned for myself through my almost 59 years, I am thankful for this gloomy, bigoted, misogynistic year.
I'm just a copywriter. I don't have the income to make giant donations to important causes. I don't have the personal stamina to devote thousands of hours volunteering. I give too much to work to do that.

But with my wife, I have educated my daughters. I have helped cultivate their intelligence, their drive, their humor and their utter irrepressible-ness.

That has been my contribution. For that I am thankful.

BTW, this morning, I was waiting for a car to take me to work. Waiting across the street from Central Park.

I saw this tree. This too, I am thankful for.

Then in the deli, picking up my coffee, I saw this "Daily News" cover. This too, I am thankful for.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fearing fear.

"I get the willies when I see closed doors. Even at work, where I am doing so well now, the sight of a closed door is sometimes enough to make me dread that something horrible is happening behind it, something that is going to affect me adversely; if I am tired and dejected from a night of lies or booze or sex or just nerves and insomnia, I can almost smell the disaster mounting invisibly and flooding out toward me through the frosted glass panes. My hands may perspire, and my voice may come out strange. I wonder why.

"Something must have happened to me sometime."
                                                --Joseph Heller
"Something Happened"


Fear is what hangs over most people and most businesses. 

Fear of being found out a fraud. 

Fear of being exposed.

Fear that people will find out that you don't know what you're doing or what you're really saying.


Fear I think is what's behind a lot. A lot of everything. (I'll leave it at that for fear of getting my hand-slapped for this post.)

Fear that you spent too many media dollars.

Fear that your message isn't right.

Fear that all those hours burned in creating work will prove to have been a waste.


So, I have an idea.

A way to minimize fear.

Let's run the work where no one will see it.

In ads so small and placements so obscure that no one will see them.

But since they didn't cost a lot.

You're ok.

You have nothing to fear.