Saturday, March 30, 2013

Uncle Slappy and the turkey burger.

"She's doing it again! She's doing it again!"

It was Uncle Slappy, of course, and I could tell he was more than a little upset with Aunt Sylvie, his wife of nearly 60 years. They bicker and spar almost constantly Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Slappy and it's not at all unusual for me to get a call from the old man telling me he's through, that he's going to leave Aunt Sylvie and take up again with Mindy Haubenslag, his girl friend from just before the Korean War.

"We had hamburger for dinner. Not ground sirloin, god forbid. Ground sirloin is Yiddish for coronary infarction. We had," Uncle Slappy minced his words with the precision of a trained Shakespearean, "we had tur-key-bur-gers."

"Well, they are very low in fat," I temporized. "I eat them all the time."

"My money says they have no more taste than whole wheat matzoh. In fact, when Passover is over, carpenters use whole wheat matzoh as sandpaper."

"I suppose I don't disagree with you." It's been decades, really, since I had a genuine beef hamburger and I had to concede. Despite the salutary benefits of ground turkey, there are times I'd love the genuine article.

"So, of course with the turkey burger, you need ketchup. Something with flavor. A real-live hamburger, I can eat without ketchup. But the next time I eat a turkey burger, you should call Murray Klein my stock broker and buy 100 shares of Heinz."

"I think Warren Buffet beat me to the punch," I answered.

"Whatever," the old man replied. "So I loaded my tur-key-bur-ger with ketchup and put some on the side of my plate for dunking."

"I get the picture," I said. "So what did Aunt Sylvie do that got you so fuhtutzed?"

"The little hill of ketchup for dunking I didn't dunk. At the end of the meal it was still virgin ketchup, untouched by human hands."

"I see."

"I came into the kitchen and found Aunt Sylvie back into the bottle putting the ketchup."

"Oy," I said. Oy being the universal Jewish cry that encapsulates over 6,000 years of our tribe's suffering.

"It's worse than that," the old man continued. "She was tsking. Tsk tsk tsk and back into the bottle with the ketchup."

I repeated the Eternal "Oy."

"I think we moved down to Boca with that same bottle 11 years ago," Uncle Slappy said. "That bottle will outlive the two of us."

With that he hung up the phone. And if I'm not mistaken, probably found a reason or two to give Aunt Sylve a peck on the cheek, probably for the millionth time during their marriage.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Temptation at the Tempus Fugit.

Last night at about 3:45, I found myself leaning on the highly varnished teak up at the Tempus Fugit. Whiskey, my year-old golden retriever was at my feet, and the bartender was leaning on the other side of the bar across from me.

Unlike every other bar in New York, or every other bar I've ever heard of, the Tempus Fugit never closes. It started as a speakeasy back in 1924 and has remained illicit and sub-rosa since then. It's not that anything untoward happens in the Tempus Fugit, it's just that its 'off-the-books-ness' suits the place.

I'm sure there are all sorts of violations the Tempus brooks. No one's asked my opinion, however, and even if they did, I'm ok with them.

The Tempus Fugit is an old and beaten place--a place, I don't think this is stretching things, perfect for old and beaten people.

The bartender drew me a perfect eight ounces of Pikes Ale--The Ale the WON for Yale--and he started in with tonight's conversation.

"I could have been a rich man, you know. I could have had mammon beyond all imagination."

I answered with the words of an ex-boss of mine: "there's very little bad you can say about mammon."

"It happened just a couple of years ago," he continued. "A couple of blue suits had discovered the Tempus Fugit. They liked the atmosphere of the place. They said it had character."

"Well, they're not in the least bit wrong," I conceded.

"They wanted to buy my concept. The wanted to franchise Tempus Fugit all over the country."

Whiskey stirred on the floor and I leaned down to comfort her back to sleep. The bartender drew me another glass of Pike's Ale.

"They wanted to spread something they called "the speakeasy concept" all across the country. They wanted the Tempus Fugit to become the next "Friday's" or "Applebee's." I run a bar. Not a concept."

I choked a little bit on my Pike's. It wasn't the beer's fault.

"They had it all planned. Right down to the millions I would make."

"Millions are hard to refuse," I said.

"I'll tell you something," he said. "The Tempus Fugit is the Tempus Fugit. It's not dropped ceilings and waitresses with fake spats and waxed mustachios.

"Did you ever see Faust, the Opera, Gonoud's Faust."

"My wife and I saw it at the Met. I loved it. But must say, I prefer F.W. Murnau's movie."

"You're probably right there," he conceded. "It's an amazing movie. I've seen it a dozen times. And Murnau ain't exactly a sit-com. He never met a Dutch angle he didn't like." He filled me again with another.

"There are devils among us," he said staring down into the bar and wiping it ever cleaner. "There are devils among us. They come wearing blue suits and yellow ties and well-shined shoes that cost a month's rent. They seduce us or try to with their serpents' tongues. There are devil's among us."

I nodded and looked deep into the amber in my glass.

"They tried to get the Tempus Fugit. Devils. Whores of Babylon."

I was about to say something stupid, some platitude like 'thank god they didn't.' But he completed the tale.

"Thank god I saw that movie. Thank god I saw that opera. They warned me off."

I slid a $20 his way and he did as he always does and slid it back my way.

"On me," he said.

"Thank god," I said.

And Whiskey and I walked home.

Elmore Leonard and the carpenters.

Some years ago, the writer Elmore Leonard published ten rules for writers. You can find those rules online in dozens of places.

Today, I want to talk about his last rule.

I want to talk about that rule because everyday I get emails and briefs I don't understand.

By all accounts I'm a pretty brainy guy. I have an advanced degree from one of the finest universities in the world and I am a voracious reader and life-long reader.

But I get these missives and I read them or try to and my brain is tied up in knots. I literally can't make sense of the requests on my time or the exigencies of a proposed assignment.

Here's Leonard's 10th rule: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

In other words, edit like a Cossack through a Jewish shtetl. Mow down everything you can turn your knout to. And leave behind only what matters.

There's an old carpenter's adage that says "Measure twice, cut once."

There should be an old advertising adage that says, "Figure out what to say. Then say it."

Thursday, March 28, 2013


I’ve written about this before, but I think it is worth repeating.

When I was at Ogilvy and under the well-feathered wing of Steve Hayden,
Steve got a promotion from President to Vice Chairman.

“The Wall Street Journal” wrote about Steve’s ascent and in their article there was a quotation by Ogilvy CEO Shelley Lazarus. It said, simply, “Steve never writes in jargon.”

I read that quotation.

And I read it again.

And I thought about it. I said to myself, I would like to be the industry’s best writer someday like Steve is today. I will take “never write in jargon” as my personal brief.

So often when I’m speaking with someone or listening to someone read from some over-wrought powerpoint, I hear a string of words that has no discernible meaning.

They might be all the “right” words.

The words that ring the right linguistic bells.

Words that get the phrasemeisters nodding.

But they are devoid of sense and meaning.

Or as Shakespeare put it and Faulkner re-put it:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Love is a many splendored ad.

I was in a meeting the other day and the client teased me a bit--all in a good natured way (for a client.)

What they ragged me about was that I "love the account I work on."

I laughed, but nervously.

Of course I love the account I work on.

I love everything I work on.

I have to.

Because my job and the reason I've lasted as the 11th oldest copywriter in America-- is that I pour my heart, brain and soul into everything I touch.

Yes, I love what I work on.

Too much of what I see in the agency and in the world is not the product of love. It's by the numbers. It's rote creative. It's tepid, mediocre and meaningless.

You can psychoanalyze me and criticize me.

That's fine.

I know I put too much of myself into my work.

But how else do you do it?

How else can you make something good.

You have to love.


For about 60 years now, or maybe more depending how you're doing your math, we have had "fast food."

For about the last ten years or so--again, depending on your calculus, we have had "fast fashion."

In each case, the long-term value of the product is sublimated to the desire for cheap, uniform and ubiquitous.

Until recently, I'd say, there was very little consideration paid to the real value of either fast food or fast fashion. Deleterious effects on one's health. Or environmental and socio-economic hazards.

If you want to characterize our present era in advertising and marketing, I think we could say that vast industry forces are compelling us to produce "fast advertising. Fast communications."

More and more often an agency's "edge" is their "speed-to-market" and their ability to produce cheaply.

Fast advertising.

What fast advertising winds up being, of course, is marketing fast food. It's advertising with no nutritional value. With empty intellectual or emotional calories. It is glib--it looks nice but has no substance. And it is undifferentiated.

I am always set back on my heels when I get to the "insights" portion of a brief or a discussion. Most often those insights are proffered by someone who's never used the product or who is 20 years distant from the target audience. Most often insights are simply verities. Things like "people prefer hot coffee (often with milk and a sweetener) in the morning. In warmer months, they sometimes drink iced coffee."

Just as fast fashion and fast food are the enemies of the intrinsic value of those goods, fast advertising is the enemy of effective communication.

It may look gleaming and delicious.

It may look "designer."

But looks alone are the barest and most shallow of facades.

Advertising if it's to be effective, must be real and true and extraordinary.

To get at the real, true and extraordinary takes thinking and time.

And you can't just supersize it.

By the way, Mark Bittman of "The New York Times," writes today about the aims of the "Slow Food Movement." Slow Food

Would that there were a "Slow Advertising" movement

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pain and sweat.

Most of work, most relationships, most pursuits have huge amounts of mundane in them.

The raising of the flag on Iwo Jima was a culmination. Not an instance. The horror leading up to the glory killed thousands.

Even the millions paid to an actor for a few seconds of commercial work is usually earned, in essence, over twenty or forty years.

In short, much of work is crap.



Nasty, brutish and shorn of meaning.

But here's the thing: you have to do it. You have to slog it out. You have to show up.

Tennessee Williams said it this way in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

"The truth is pain and sweat...paying bills and making love to a woman
that you don't love anymore.

"The truth is dreams that don't come true...and nobody prints your name
in the paper till you die."

That's right.

Work isn't glory and Shutters and trophies and fanfare.

It's pain and sweat.

That's what the prima donnas don't get.

And never will.


A road trip with Uncle Slappy.

The five of us made a motley assortment. And it was 3:45 in the morning. Uncle Slappy, Aunt Sylvie, my wife, Whiskey and I sped home from Boston this morning--leaving three hours before dawn.

Passover or not, my wife and I had work to attend to and since Slappy hardly sleeps at all (except when he conks out watching the ferstunkeneh Knicks) we piled, the five of us into a tinny Mazda 5 and traveled home.

My wife had directions spoken to her by her phone. This was something that flabbergasted Uncle Slappy.

"What kind of job is that, being in a phone? Why didn't you rent a proper UPS."

"GPS," I corrected brusquely. I wasn't really ready for the Slappy show, working as I was on three hours sleep.

"In my day," the old man galloped, "we had proper maps. And no shiksa in a phone telling us where to go."

"That's progress," I muttered

"Yes," the old man agreed for once. "Progress means more efficient ways to get lost."

But for once my wife found our way through the warren of winding Boston streets and onto the Mass Pike. In minutes we had the highway to ourselves.

Whiskey stirred in the far back seat, and Sylvie and Slappy did the same.

My wife kept her eyes on the road and her ears listening for the electronic shiksa.

The rest of us drifted into sleep until we hit the city.

Happy Passover, everyone.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The agency of the past.

Of the many things that annoy the crap out of me, one of the more prominent ones is the statement, ________for the future. Or ___________ for the 21st Century. Or the ____________for the digital future of the 21st Century.

From what I can discern, the 21st Century ain't shaping up to be anything worth writing home about; same with the future; same with the promises of digital. So far, customer service is all but eviscerated, wages have been pushed downward and things like courtesy and job security have become relics.

If I had to open an agency, I'd call myself not "The Agency of the Future," I'd say I was an agency of the past.

I'd say I was an agency built during an era when creatives actually understood the products and the marketplace they were working in. An era when client service was more than lip service. And an era when creativity strove to be unique and trouble-making rather than inexpensive and compliant.

Oh, I know. I'm another old, bitter curmudgeon.

But if you really think about the words ____________for the 21st Century, the only implicit promise contained therein is faster and cheaper. And in fact, from what I've seen, most things that promise to be fast and cheap are neither.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

While I'm on the subject of Philip Roth.

My therapist, loathe as he is to own up to it, spent his youth about a dozen or so miles from where Philip Roth spent his. And though Roth and my therapist are probably about 20 years apart, my therapist's aunt was friends with the Roth family.

One Saturday my good doctor found himself in attendance at a Bar Mitzvah Roth was also attending. Some one came up to my therapist's aunt and bid her to shake hands with Roth. To meet the great man.

To which she replied, "I'm not touching that hand."

Philip Roth on writing, editing and awards.

Philip Roth, who many have called "America's greatest living writer" has just turned 80 and everyone (at least in certain rarefied circles) is celebrating the man and his over 50-years of literary output.

Roth was not only productive for over 50 years, many critics believe that his best work came in his 70s an estimation that only contributes to his prodigiousness.

This morning on NPR's "Weekend Edition," Roth was interviewed by the great Scott Simon, host of the show. You can listen to the 11 minutes here Roth and I strongly encourage it. There's much to learn listening to the old "pud puller" (it was he who "put the ID back in YID") much to learn about life and writing and sticking with it.

What I particularly liked was that Roth understood that "It isn't that you write down what happens to you every day — you wouldn't be a writer if you did that. But it gives you a sense of, you know, from your experience what life is like, and you weigh what you invent against your sense of actuality."

In other words, despite my quotidian posting—what I do, or what Twitterers do, or Instagrammers, is very different from what Roth does. He creates. He adds. He crafts. He makes art. We make virtually undifferentiated binary bullshit.

Second, is Roth’s grappling with the problem of “And.” That is, what word, what thought comes next—or what doesn’t come next.

In both these instances Roth isn’t just about producing. He’s about editing. Separating the crap from the good.  Something lost or all but lost, today.

Finally, there’s Roth’s view on awards and on those he’s won and hasn’t. (About the only thing he hasn’t won is the Nobel Prize for Literature.) About awards, Roth says, “Some mean a great deal to you, and when the prize befalls a certain book that you like particularly, it's wonderful. But look, receiving a prize excites the child in you, and then you go back to work the next day.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Dante and advertising.

Dante, for all his brilliance as a writer, missed some shit.

He missed shit because he never worked in a corporate environment.

So he never had to imagine the horrors earned by motherfuckers who call a meeting on a Friday at 8:30--to discuss work they should be doing but can't because they are candy assed lazy turd munchers, and instead have you stay late to do their work and then they show up 15 minutes late for a conference call scheduled for their convenience.

That's all for now.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New titles.

I wrote a post last month called "De-Coding, Part 2." In it I imagined what would happen if agency titles encapsulated what agency people actually spend their days doing.

I sat in one of those long and unwieldy meetings today.

And I did some more thinking on the matter.

Here are some new titles I've come up with:

Chief Data Officer
Director of Data Sifting
Minutia Enlargement Sheriff
Serif Sheriff
Client Estrangement Officer
Punctuation Provisioner
Cliché Distribution Manager
Associate Director of Meetings
Curator of Disposable Trends
Powerpoint Illegibility Optimizer
Williamsburg Extrapolation Sommelier
Customer Journey Tour Guide
Director of Rounded Corners
Associate Director of Associate Directors
Ass-Embracement Manager
Chief Story-telling Officer
Director of Bullet Placement
Deck Construction Manager
Associate Director of Italics
General Manager/Distortion
Director of Ersatz Ideation
Chief Bombast Officer
Associate Director of Blathering
Obfuscation Ombudsman
Vice President/Second Guessing
Global Glibness Officer
Chief Chief Officer
Disambiguation Ambiguator
Community Infiltrator
Director of Hashtag
Social Media Medea
Financial Prevarication Associate
Director, Gouging
Confusion Coordinator
Panic Instigation Director
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Manager