Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hector Quesadilla, star of Mexican League, dead at 87.

I said goodbye to Teresa and any number of well-wishers. I listened to the wailing. I heard the testimonials. I even gave a few.

And of course, I promised Teresa, mamacita, that I would visit. Often. And maybe I will. She's not getting any younger. I should have seen Hector much more than my life allowed me to.

Most often, you're too busy living to do the important things in life. So a guy like Hector who meant so much to me, well, he gets placed a little bit on the back burner. You have your career to worry about, of course, and the kids, and myriad things that sometimes keep you from doing the things you ought for the people you ought to.

Somehow in this topsy-turvy world, the guy who's rebuilding your kitchen--you know, the one you hardly cook in--takes on more importance than someone like Hector. That's life, I suppose.

But still, I feel like a heel.

In the end, however, it was time to go. Time to drive from Saltillo, back to Corpus Christi, and back to the arms of my loving wife.

The ride through Mexico was a lonely one. And that was good. For too many of us, we have forgotten the power of silence, of being alone, of just...thinking, and being where you are.

We fill up our emptiness with the TV or, while driving, a radio. Or we gab--endlessly it seems--on our cells, or text, or IM or Facebook, or do something.

What we don't do is feel.

Feel our victories.

Doubly feel our loses.

The six hours back to Corpus Christi let me do that.

The road--I left at 4:30AM this morning--was empty. I had a full tank of gas. And I had Hector's obituary from Saltillo's English language newspaper in my wallet. I knew my wife would want to see it.

It was a typical obit, if you ask me, an inveterate student of the form. It covered the "David Copperfield crap," but missed the essence of Hector. It said who he was without really telling you what he was like.

I can't blame the newspaper people. They're on deadline. They have to file a story. Quesadilla was old news by the time they got out of diapers. So they write what Detective-Sergeant Joe Friday always asked for: Just the facts.

Maybe that's what got me.

The last sentence, I mean.

Because he left this child. As I left him.



Monday, December 29, 2014

Hector Quesadilla. 1926-2014.

I stuck my phone back into my pocket and quickly, without even looking too hard, found a rickety forest-green taxi with little fuzzy woolen balls hanging from the inside of the front windshield.

I told the driver the address and he threw his late 80s Toyota into gear. It sputtered and choked then slowly made its way to Hector's casa. I went through the route in my head, mentally scanning the terrain ahead for steep hills. There were none, so it appeared we would make it.

I hadn't had time to change any dollars to pesos, so when we arrived, I did as most Northerners do.

"Americano?" I asked proffering a twenty.

"Si."

I let him keep the change, which was more than half of said twenty.

Teresa was down the walk--she had heard the "walnuts in a blender" sound of the old cab's engine--and she greeted me with a double-cheeked kiss.

"Es muy malo," she said by way of hello.

I noticed a dark Chrysler 300 sedan parked in the driveway. That must be the doctor I thought, or the sepulturero--the gravedigger. I walked inside amid a score of crying relatives sitting on every chair and sofa in the place.

Hector, as you'd expect, was in his giant bed. His eyes were half closed and he had little oxygen tubes coming from his nostrils. He pushed up on one elbow when he saw me.

"Mi hijo Americano."

"Mi padre Mexicano."

We laughed at that. It was funny. To us anyway.

"Por lo tanto, eso es todo. Usted va a morir?" I asked him, formally. So this is it, you are going to die?

"Ellos me están llamando a ese campo de béisbol grande en el cielo."

They were calling him, he said, to that big ballfield in the sky.

"You will be a star up there," I said, gripping his hand.  "The best hitter, the best manager. The best hombre. The best padre."

"The best Little Cheese," he said. "The best quesadilla."

Teresa came in. She was happy Hector was awake and talking. Once again she put her soft, fat hand on my soft, fat shoulder.

Hector closed his eyes.

Then opened them.

"Adios, mi hijo Americano."

He closed them.






Sunday, December 28, 2014

A night in Saltillo, Mexico.

I walked from Hector's house down a broad avenue to my hotel, the Camino Real Saltillo on the Boulevard los Fundadores. It was only a short walk, but I was lugging my duffle--I had overpacked for sure--and it was hot and by the time I checked into my room, I was wiped out.

I took a long, cool shower and then I lay on the cool sheets of the queen-sized bed--a bed about a quarter the size of Hector's. I turned the ceiling fan on high and shut my eyes. I was far from the fleshpots of Madison Avenue, far from the bs of building a new kitchen with the mandatory stainless steel appliances that work no better, and maybe worse, than the ones they're replacing. I was in Saltillo again. True, a different Saltillo than the one I had spent my 17th year in, but in Saltillo nonetheless.

The light was streaming in between the slats of the shutters on my two windows facing the boulevard and the next thing I knew, the sun's light was replaced by the pink neon of the Camino Real's blinking sign. I had slept, I reckoned a good four hours.

A lot of people feel guilt when they sleep the day away, they feel like they wasted something. But this was a sleep I needed. It was a sleep that brought me back to a time when I had long supple muscles in my arms and legs and discernible abdominal definition girding my middle.

For a moment, I forgot if it was 1975 or 2014, and I wondered where I was. In fact, I looked around for my old Rawlings Brooks Robinson model glove, fearing I had overslept that evening's game.

Once I had regained my sense of space and time, I changed into a pair of well-ironed cotton pants and a white linen shirt. I decided to walk to Estadio de Beisbol Francisco, where I had plied those many months.

It was a short walk and everything was different. The little bodegas and the small corrugated tin casas that had lined the road 40 years ago were gone now. Twenty years ago, right after NAFTA, Chrysler had built a plant in Saltillo and the town was now enjoying, for Mexico anyway, a fair level of affluence.

The small tin houses were now small concrete houses. The small stores owned by the people were now small stores owned by faraway corporations. Even the Mexican drug trade had entered Saltillo. Where there are people, there are drugs, I said to myself, shaking my head.

I even recalled an incident I read about in 2012 of a shootout between local gangs at the Estadio during a game.


Yes, the world was everywhere now.

I had reached the Estadio and took a loving walk around it. Like every man who's ever picked up a bat, I wondered what might have been.

If I could have resisted the imprecations of my termagant mother and played another season, could I....could I have made it. Not as one of the immortals, mind you. I had no such aspirations. But could I have lashed a single, made a diving catch on a line drive, or simply mustered my speed to steal a base in the big leagues. Could I ever be more than a might-have-been? Could I have taken a step up and become a never-was?

I thought of Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront." Could I have been a contender? Could I have been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am?

I saw the small green door, the entrance to the player's locker room, outside of which I once signed autographs for neighborhood ninos. Jorge Navidad, I wrote. Not letting on that I was as Gringo as the Westchester suburbs could spit out.

I began walking back to the Camino Real.

Then my cell rang.

It was Teresa.

"Hector."

That was all she said.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Hector Quesadilla and the patata.

Hector was at home, resting in the giant bed that took up his giant bedroom from wall-to-wall. It was nearly twice the size of a normal bed, something Hector had custom-made for he and Teresa, his wife.

He told me that as a boy he had never had a bed of his own, sleeping, most often on a thin mat on the floor usually with two or three of his brothers. For him, a large bed was the ultimate in luxury and accomplishment and this was the largest bed I had ever seen.

In fact, in order to get over to him, to kiss him on the forehead and hug his once broad shoulders, I had to crawl two or three paces. The bed was a big as an open parachute.

"How is he," I asked Teresa, who was in from the kitchen and who had a cold cerveza for me.

"Es mejor," she answered solemnly. "Hector es muy terco." He is very stubborn.

I gripped the cold beer in one hand and Hector's mitt more tightly in the other.

"You remember the story of the patata?" He asked me.

"No one could ever forget. Where is Luis today? He is not here?"

"No, only you come. Luis a telegram he sent. As did Gordo and Marachal. Phone calls I have gotten from everyone. But only you come."

"You are a father to me."

"Tell me the story of the patata," he said, closing his eyes.

"Encarcion was playing catcher," I began, "it was late in the season and we were already losing in the game 11 to 1, or something like that. Mexico City had a man on first when you called time and waved Encarcion into the dugout."

"I did not go out. I had him come to me."

"You had peeled a small patata, a patata the size of a baseball and you slipped it into Encarcion's mitt. 'Pick him off,' you told him.

"And so when Ruiz stood tall on la goma, on the rubber, the Red Diablo on first took his lead. A big lead--testing Ruiz's motion to the plate and Encarcion's arm.

"Encarcion saw the lead, got up out of his crouch and whipped the patata down to Hernandes at first--the Diablo was caught, hook line and sinker. Out three.

"Though we were losing 11-1, we ran off the field as if we had triumphed. If I remember correctly, you proceeded to eat the evidence."

"Yes," the old man smiled, "it was a perfect play. And a good patata."

He closed his eyes with that and Teresa touched me on the shoulder.

"He must rest now," she admonished. "Later you come."

I kissed Hector once again and Teresa, too, grabbed my duffle and walked to my hotel.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Hector Quesadilla.

Undated photograph of Hector Quesadilla when he played for the Sultanes de Monterrey.
It's Christmas Eve day and I am flying about four flights to get to Corpus Christi, Texas. From there, I will rent a car and drive almost six hours south west, through Laredo, skirting Monterrey and onto Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila and a city of almost, now, a million.

I spent a year in Saltillo, when I played--forty years ago--my one season in the Mexican Baseball League. Though I didn't exactly tear up the Mexican League, I did alright, I grew up a bit, and now, looking back through those decades, I realized I made some friends for life.

Foremost among those friends is Hector Quesadilla, my nearly round manager when I played for the Seraperos and the man who gave me my Mexican League moniker, Jorge Navidad.

Hector "Little Cheese" had been a bonafide star in the Mexican League when he played in the 40s and 50s. His best season was 1942 when he batted a neat .366, leading the league, with 41 homers and 155 rbis. Save for the darkness of his skin, he surely would have cracked the big leagues. As it stood he was up only for a cup of coffee in 1952, playing for the Boston Braves, and he didn't stick.

Hector's wife called me over the weekend to tell me that "this might be the time," that Hector, burdened with age, adipose and emphysema had probably filled out his last lineup card.

I remember the first lineup card the old man filled out with my name--or my Mexican League name--on it. I had arrived just six or seven hours before game time and Hector, seeing my swing and my power hired me on the spot. Of course, there was little risk in that. My salary was just about $200/month plus two chicken dinners a week at a small diner near the stadium.

Over the course of the 70 or so games I played for the Seraperos, over those weeks and months, Hector and I grew close. I was a 17 year old far away from home--with more than my share of "father issues," and Hector was a stalwart, helping me out when I was in need.

When I slapped two doubles in my first game, Quesadilla dropped his big arm around my shoulder. "Mi hijo Americano" he called me. "My American son."

So now, I am on my way. To see him. Probably for the last time.

I haven't seen him since that dusty 1975 summer, when he and Teresa, his wife, had me over for so many meals, so many cervezas on the front porch of their ramshackle casa, overlooking their rock-strewn yard.

On my way to Corpus Christi.

Then Avis through Mexico.

Then to see the big guy.

Merry Christmas, Hector.

I'll see you soon.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Panic.

I woke up at the crack of Dawn.

Fortunately for me, Dawn stayed asleep.

I hate waking Dawn.

But I digress.

It's my last day in the office for 2014.

I head out tonight for Southern climes.

Where all the drinks are blue and all the women look like Dorothy Lamour.

Because I am busy at this year's end, I arrived in the office at 7 this morning. It was me and a bunch of unshaven custodians. They were playing ping-pong at one of the tables here. I was jamming on some copy someone had deemed a crisis.

I got briefed on it yesterday.

You would think it was the copy equivalent of the Nazis rolling into Poland.

It took me an hour to figure out what they were asking for. (They had given me about 20 background documents which only served to confuse me.)

Finally I sat down with it for an hour and scribbled the outline you see here.

Then I got it.

I wrote half last night, and now that I knew what I had to do, I was able to walk away from it till this morning when from 7-8:15, I finished the rest.

99% of crises aren't really crises. They're equivalent, really, to trying to drive with a blindfold. Dangerous, ill-advised, illogical.

My job, at times, is to remove the blindfold.

Provide vision.

Clarity.

A level-head.

It's a crazy world we live in. As a society we seem to have shiny-object syndrome. On Sunday it was all about cop-killing. Yesterday, Joe Cocker's death. Today? Who knows.

We need some distance. Some measured thought. Some dispassionate response.

But instead we panic.

Good for a freelancer.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Street Scene.

Jammed at work, I made my way early this morning to northernmost of the two offices I am toiling at.

I stepped out of the deli, coffee and seltzer in hand and saw an old Hasid in the baggiest sweatpants I've ever seen shuffling down the street. His beard looked like an explosion at a mop factory.

I waited at the corner for the light to change, not daring onto 10th Avenue before I had full right-of-way. Tenth is a crazy avenue with people streaming uptown at speed from the Lincoln Tunnel, just four blocks south.

The Hasid caught up with me as the light switched. And as it did, a be-turbaned cabbie in a Ford Explorer hesitated his vehicle then tore through the red, just missing me.

"Hey!" I screamed helplessly.

"Don't yell," the Hasid said. "Cabbies are allowed to go through lights."

I turned and looked at his disheveled face. It was old and had seen things.

I was about to speak.

"You know that," he cut me off. "You know that."

I agreed. And walked, safely, to work.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Our new kitchen.

Years ago a wise man said to me, "Eventually, time and tide will catch up to you. You will be, no matter how hard you try to elude it, ensnared in the net. The net from which there is no escape. Eventually, your wife will prevail and you will be building a new kitchen."

"Not me," I scoffed, thinking like I was Superman and invulnerable to kryptonite.

The wise man shook his head slowly, laughed and repeated tellingly. "Eventually. Eventually."

Well, I'm sad to say, eventually is now.

My wife, an otherwise intelligent woman with a Master's degree in Genetics, spends her waking hours talking about the relative virtues of Sub Zeroes, Thermidors, Wolfs and Vikings.

When we visit friends we don't talk about our careers, or our travels, or our kids. We look at cabinets. Study the way drawers pull out. And Talmudically discuss the virtues of six burners over four.

Nothing else, not beheadings in the Middle-East or cop killings in Bed-Stuy seems important. We are, finally, building a new kitchen.

The same wise man said to me, "George, look at it this way. A city kitchen is like a Mercedes-Benz. If you have a small one, it will cost about $40K. A mid-sized one will cost $75K. And a large one, well, you can't afford it."

For now on, I order in.


Friday, December 19, 2014

The end, almost, of a long week.

As the year winds down, it seems to get busier.

I've been jamming on sundry assignments which all seem to be peaking at about the same time. All at a time when I'd like to be home, watching a movie, sitting with my pup, Whiskey, in front of a fire.

Good thing I'm not doing that.

I don't have a fireplace.

This year has not been a smooth year.

I'm not sure any years are.

I got fired at the end of the first quarter and felt stripped, old and eviscerated.

I suppose after some dark days, weeks or hours, I rallied and realized I had done my homework. That my reputation, portfolio and network would serve me well.

And they have.

So have friends who have encouraged me.

Who sent me little missives of hope, or leads.

So now as the sand runs out of the clock of 2014, I'm busier than ever.

I don't know what 2015 will bring.

It's a crazy business.

And a crazier world.

I do know.

I'll work right through it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

My father and the dagger. A re-run


My father grew up in a row house in West Philadelphia. The neighborhood was poor and “ethnic,” full of immigrant families where English was not spoken. My father’s parents came from the old country—from Russia or Poland, depending on whose raping and pillaging army was ascendant, and they knew little of the language. They conversed in Russian or Polish or Yiddish, or even some German they learned along the way. My father called grapefruits “oranges” his whole life. Something in some Chomskied corner of his brain prohibited him from seeing the two fruits as distinct.

Despite this my father seems to have read more than anyone I have ever known. I say seems because he knew a million facts, he knew history like a PhD. , but I never actually saw him read a book. He just somehow absorbed information from the ether.
My brother and I shared a bedroom in our little tilted house in Yonkers. Though I was the younger brother, I had the top bunk. Even as a little kid, I couldn’t sit upright because our ceilings weren’t but six and a half feet high.

When my father was around, which wasn’t all that often, he would come into our bedroom to read us a book before we went to sleep. He wasn’t one to read us kid’s books. He didn’t value them and didn’t find them interesting. Even when I was, say three and my brother was five, he would be reading us Plutarch’s “Lives,” Malory’s “Le Morte d'Arthur,” “Gilgamesh” or maybe something more contemporary, “Washington Square” by Henry James or “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Hemingway. There was no Dr. Seuss for us.

All these years later, I have little in common with my friends and colleagues. Their childhood memories of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and such, I cannot fathom. My throwback Thursdays go back Millennia, not decades.

One night, my father came into our bedroom holding a greasy brown paper bag and two copies of Richard Lattimore’s just published translation of Homer’s “Iliad.” From the bag he pulled out two sheathed daggers of the cheap sort that in those days you could buy at a museum gift shop of the corner candy store. The daggers were about ten-inches long from stem to stern, with the hasp and the sheath bedecked with ersatz plastic gems. He handed my brother a dagger and a copy of Lattimore. And then he did the same with me.

“Philip of Macedon slept with a copy of Homer and a dagger under his pillow against assassins,” my father said. “His son, Alexander the Great, did the same. And a few centuries later, Mithradates emulated the Macedonians by sleeping with the Iliad and a dagger under his pillow.”

My father continued as if in a trance. “Philip, Alexander, Mithradates. Three of the greatest, most enlightened leaders the world has ever known. Conquerors of Attika, Xerexs, Cyrus and Darius. Conquerors of the riches of the East. Lovers of democracy, liberators of the enslaved.

“I ask you to consider that these men slept with a dagger under their pillows and a copy of the Iliad.”

With that my father left our room.

Everything would have been ok if things ended right there but, of course they didn’t, they never do. In school, we were given one of those banal assignments where we had to describe what our dog was like, or our house or our bedroom. I chose to describe my bedroom, which in the scheme of things probably wasn’t the wisest choice because I revealed to my teacher, who revealed to the principal, who revealed to the Yonkers School District that I slept with a dagger under my pillow.

I suppose this all caused quite a stink. But of course they totally neglected to say Homer was under there too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dick Rich, 1930-2014.

It was reported in "The New York Times" yesterday that Dick Rich died. He was the Rich in Wells Rich Greene. Here's his Times' obituary.

By the time I had entered the industry in the early 1980s, Wells' reputation was already tarnished. But for a few shining years in the 1960s, they were as hot and as good as can be.

Wells Rich Greene opened in 1966 and just two years later had billings of $59 million and were one of the 15 largest agencies on Madison Avenue.

That's a rise.

No one, of course, no one remembers Dick Rich today.

It's like baseball players not knowing Ruth or Dimaggio.

Or even Aaron or Mays.

We eat our young and spit out our old.

video
Dick Rich wrote one of my favorite commercials. The Alka Seltzer one above.

I'll think about him today as I'm tortured by another day of powerpoint.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Meetings. All day.

I made it through a day of fair excruciation.

That might not be a word, but you get the point.

I don't know who decided to build office parks in the middle of nowhere
then have the temerity to call a glass rectangle amid parking lots a park.

I don't know who decided the human brain can function after being
beaten by powerpoint.

And what's powerpoint anyway?

Who has the power and what's the point?

My point is, I'm drained.

I'm supposed to see friends tonight, people from my past
but all I really want to do is curl up with a good Myrna Loy movie.

BTW, I don't think Myrna Loy or any wise-cracking film ingenue
would stand for a day of meetings like this.

She'd say, "Listen, Buster. What you have to say doesn't amount to a hill of beans."
And then she'd sashay out and have eleven martinis.

Me, I'll eschew the martinis.

I've got another day of this tomorrow.

Surviving.

I traveling on business today and tomorrow. I'm in Atlanta.

Actually I'm in a hotel in Atlanta.

Which could be a hotel in Seattle or Cincinnati.

It doesn't matter where I am. By the time you are encased in fluorescence you could be anywhere.

It's not a great way to end the year--traveling right before Christmas.

I'd rather be home winding down.

Than listening to Ray Charles sing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" while it's 60 here.

But I can't complain.

I've worked the whole year save four weeks right after I lost my job.

I've stayed busy.

Done good work.

Made some friends.

Made my monthly nut.

Yeah, ok.

There's more to life than surviving.

But when you get down to it, surviving beats the alternative.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Grow up.

I've been thinking a lot about Uber lately, the app-based cab company that Wall Street values at $40 billion--twenty times the value of the world's newspaper of record, "The New York Times."

You'd think that a company with Uber's market cap would start acting like a company that's in the big leagues. You'd think they'd act something like a grown up.

They'd screen their drivers--you know, for little things. Like whether or not they were convicted rapists.

They'd have a customer service phone number. If you had a problem they'd give you someone to talk to.

And, you'd think, they'd be able to accept and learn from criticism. Not plan smear campaigns against reporter who find out dirt about them.

But Uber does none of these things.

To my mind, they act more like a petulant child than a legitimate business.

Lack of grownupness is endemic in the world today. Failure to do the tough jobs that no one really wants to do. Being ready with excuses instead of solutions. Going through the world as if all the lights on the way to the airport would magically turn green just as you arrived.

I see it with clients.

I see it with agencies.

I see it in the people that work in those places.

I have a friend who screws up on occasion. She has a way of dealing with her screw ups when I call her on them.

"I wasn't thinking," she responds.

What a way to go through life.

Not thinking.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A report from the Upper East Side.

Earlier this week, as my few readers may know, was my birthday. And my wife, as is her custom, decided to provide me with a birthday meal.

"Would you like Italian, Chinese or Jewish," she asked one evening before the blessed event.

"I really have no preference," I said evasively. "Frankly, they all turn out Jewish anyway."

She laughed at that and we went on with our days.

When I arrived home on the evening of my birthday, a delicious aroma was wafting down the hallway and the crockpot was simmering with a brisket the size of, if not the Ritz then at least as large as a Con Edison two-man manhole cover.

I think somewhere in Texas or wherever they breed cattle, grizzled, spit-strewn cowboys pick out the largest bovines they can find and brand them with the Star of David.

"We got us a Jew Cow," they say to each other. And they corral them into a separate pen complete with vinyl slipcovers and deep-pile carpeting where they have both dairy and meat cud for said cattle to chew on.

These Jew Cows are shipped to New York and women like my wife get a little beep on their phones--a text message reading "Jew Cows at Fairway."

They quickly run there and buy a brisket that could feed the Denver Broncos for a week.

Esthetes and hipsters disparage the Upper East Side where I live. "It's boring," they tell me.

Of course it is.

We can hardly move.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Knight Spot.

My old man never stopped writing songs and never stopped trying to sell them. He had had one hit--a follow up to the Be-Bop classic, "Salt Peanuts," written, depending on who you believe, by either Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker.

When Salt Peanuts was filling the "beat-sunglasses-in-the-dark" end of the dial, my father wrote a follow up, a song he called "Two Peanuts." Somehow he peddled the song to Charlie Parker who, strung out, or drunk, or just plain nasty, or something, turned my old man down. My father then took it to a local trio, Woody and the Termites, who happily recorded the song.

This was the summer of, I think, 1963, before the Kennedy assassination when the world seemed full of much more promise. A local radio station started playing "Two Peanuts," and playing it a lot. Before long, station after station picked up the single, and my father's little ditty jumped from our shabby little precinct in Yonkers and became a nation-wide sensation.

The old man was a young man then, just 35 or so. He decided he had had enough of working for someone else. He'd take the $2,500 he made from "Two Peanuts" and go into business for himself.

Just down the street from our tilted little home was a small empty building that had been about nine different restaurants in the previous six years. This joint my father decided he would turn into something every town needs: the last place everyone goes before they go home.

He decorated the place with some old faux armor and swords and lances and junk he had found and picked up for $75. With these accouterments in place, he named his restaurant "The Knight Spot," and he was in business.

There was one catch, or at least one primary catch.

My father decided the Knight Spot would be open 24-hours but he didn't want to hire help. He figured that between him, me and my brother, we would somehow manage. Here was his thinking. He would do the heavy-lifting, the morning rush that stretched from about 5AM to 9. He'd nap at the cash register from 9 to 12 when the lunch crowd would arrive. My brother and I would show up and man the shop when school was over, from say 3 to 11--my father's sleeping hours. Then my old man would return and the whole cycle would start over again.

Things went along fairly ok for a month or two. The Knight Spot was bringing in money and my father was feeling like he finally held a winning ticket. He didn't even question that he had a seven-year-old (me) and a nine-year-old, my brother running the place for a good portion of the day.

I, in particular, was a resourceful sort. I knew at an early age my way around a kitchen. And the Knight Spot's menu was pretty basic. Most of the customers between 3 and 11 would want little more than a burger, or a slice of pie and a cuppa. It wasn't too hard to keep the Knight Spot up and running.

One night, however, things went bad. A bear of a man came in and sat across from me at the 12-stool counter. He mulled over the vinyl menu like a Talmudic scholar and finally he announced "steak. Broiled. With onions and mushrooms. Medium well."

I turned on the giant industrial broiler in the back--it was an oven the size of the bedroom my brother and I shared. It went on with the whoosh of a Gemini rocket. I placed the steak, just as my old man had showed me, about an inch or two under the flame. Then I went off to saute the onions and mushrooms.

In just about a minute, the Knight Spot was filled with a thick viscous smoke. Apparently, I had placed the cow too close to the broiler's flames and some fat, and then the fatty steak caught on fire. Flames were leaping out of the broiler.

My brother, always a calm head, called the fire department while I ran into the kitchen with what my father called a "fire distinguisher." It was roughly the same size as I was.

By the time my father and the fire department had arrived the fire was out, the windows were open and the Knight Spot was airing out.

However, that's where the trouble began. The fire department--some wise guy my old man said--called child welfare and the whole infrastructure of Yonkers' government came around to shut the Knight Spot down.

My old man attributed the whole thing to me and my brother "horsing around" and swatted us, accordingly, in the heads.

He'd have to come up, now, with a new scheme to make his fortune.



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Nobody asked me but…

… After huge national or international tragedies, 
wait a few hours before posting pictures of your dinner.
…Even if you’re just walking home from the gym, put on pants. It’s December.
…97% of offices are too hot or too cold.
…100% have filthy bathrooms.
…I’ve never really had fun at an office party.
…As great as Macs are, it’s impossible to keep your keyboard clean.
…There should be a ring in hell for recruiters who don’t call back.
…The New York Times does better interactive work than any agency I know.
…I don’t trust writers who can’t spell.
…Most writers can’t spell.
…I spend more time untangling my ear-buds than I do listening to music.
…There’s absolutely nothing I like about Taxi TV.
…I miss S. Klein on the Square.
…And Korvettes.
…And Tad’s Steaks.
…And, though it might be sacrilege to admit, the New York Coliseum.
…When it snows, there’s no good way to get uptown.
…Or cross-town.
…Never get into an argument with a West-Indian cab driver.
…Speaking of cab drivers, tip well. It usually means you can get a cab in the rain.
…Next time you doubt the concept of “genius,” consider that Orson Welles wrote and directed “Citizen Kane” when he was 25.
…Writing on deadline is good for your soul.
…Reporting on the Knicks might be the worst job in sports.
…You can never have too many spare lightbulbs.
…Or batteries.







Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writing copy.

Man, for the past few days I've been fighting and I've been writing.

I've been given brain dumps on topics that are so esoteric that they could make your head fall off.

It's like I have to write brochures on the Higgs Boson particle.

This is complicated shit.

On top of that are ten pages of briefs.

I called them brain dumps.

But that's not really fair to brains.

Or dumps.

It's hard to approach things like these.

It's easy to find distractions.

Do I have any red Facebook numbers? Is anyone looking at my LinkedIn profile?

But shit, they pay me to do this.

So you slowly fall in love with the product.

You learn what it does. Why it helps people. How it's like nothing else.

You will yourself into believing.

You learn to love.

This is what you do.

You write a thousand words--with authority--on something you knew nothing about 24-hours earlier.

That's what we do.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Loving the business. And hating it. (This is a long one.)

Yesterday I completed one more circle around the sun.

A high-falutin' way of saying it was my birthday.

As is today's custom (o tempore, o mores!) I received a ton of little birthday wishes on Facebook.

It wouldn't be a birthday if you didn't get little innocuous notes from people you love along with little innocuous notes from "friends" you barely know.

Thank you.

Around four o'clock, I got an unexpected note.

It was from my first ECD--the guy who hired me into my first agency job.

It wasn't the typically glib and mildly whimsical kind of thing we write.

It was deep and thoughtful.

My ECD, I'll disguise his identity by calling him Fred, got out of the business.

He had been a very successful copywriter who had become miserable now that he had been promoted to the point where he could no longer create.

So at night, on weekends, whenever he could amid the crush of careerhood, fatherhood and neighborhood, he wrote.

He wrote some plays.

He wrote some movies.

Some novels.

Some TV shows.

He was in his early 40s but he pictured himself in his 60s.

He didn't want to be lugging a heart attack into a skyscraper and pouring blue liquid into a maxi-pad.

He wanted to live up in the country.

And write.

The business no longer accommodated his love of writing.

And it didn't permit a modified Thoreau-like lifestyle.

You know, long walks in the woods with a black lab.

Fred said he'd been reading my blog and he'd come to the conclusion that I hate advertising more than I love it.

That I was living a dream I had as a 27-year-old, to work in advertising.

But that dream hadn't kept up with who I was today.

Nor had the industry.

It was pretty mind-fucking stuff. I mean that in a good way, though it did disturb my sleep.

There are days in the business where I'm given a steaming pile of shit and four hours of time.

I have to figure out what to do with it all.

I have to make it work. Sell it to a client. Make it good.

There's joy in that. The same joy, I suppose, a carpenter feels when he makes a perfect dovetail.

Craft. Pride. Integrity.

There are other days when I scribble little numbers in my notebook.

How much I've saved. What my apartment's worth. How much social security I've earned.

Do I have enough?

And if I do, what do I do all day?

I can only take Whiskey for so many walks.

I love to write.

Outside of being a dad, it's probably the only thing I'm good at. Or halfway good.

My friend Rich thinks I have a few books inside me.

My ex-ECD Fred thinks so too.

My wife thinks so.

My therapist wants me to write something important.

Three days out of seven, I like what I do.

And certainly money is important.

Is it greedy to want to be happy every day?

Is it even possible?




Looking back.

Twenty-nine years ago today, exactly today, was my first day in my first ad agency job.

I had been working for a few years in the in-house advertising department at Bloomingdale's, but this was my first real job.

I was as intimidated as hell.

It was in a grown-up skyscraper in midtown.

Everyone seemed brighter than me. More confident. More accomplished.

I was painfully shy and almost paralyzed.

To make matters worse, I was given an office diagonally across from the corner office of the ECD, the guy who hired me.

There was no place to hide. My biggest fear was that the ECD would find out that I can't type and would fire me. 

I was a fraud. I would be found out.

Somehow I survived those first few weeks.

Then I started getting my sea legs.

I started learning how to be less intimidated, more confident.

And I started producing a lot of work. Much of it considered good.

It's twenty-nine years later now. I've have 11 full-time jobs some of them quite senior. 

The business is a completely different business than the one I joined 29-years ago.

And there's a lot I don't like.

And I spend a lot of time thinking about what else I could do.

But for now, it's what I have.

Thanks for reading.



Monday, December 8, 2014

A history lesson in the Tempus Fugit.

The Tempus Fugit opened in 1924, at the height or depth of Prohibition.
The bartender at the Tempus Fugit, not that I’ve ever seen him do it, seems like the sort who could spit between his teeth and ring like a cheap Chinese gong the brass of an old spittoon. He’s old school that way and his eyes have seen more in the comings and goings of the world than a thousand poets dreaming for a thousand years.

“During Prohibition, when the Tempus Fugit opened, the Feds opened a speakeasy down on 44th Street between Madison and Fifth, 14 East 44th to be exact.”

“Remind me to chart it on Google maps” I answered.

He wiped clean with a white terry a small six-ounce juice glass and filled it obligingly with Pike’s Ale (The ALE that won for YALE.) He then wiped the mahogany in front of me and placed my suds down on a small paper cocktail napkin emblazoned with the logo of the Tempus Fugit.

I sipped at the amber then asked him, “What were the Feds doing opening a speak?”

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes," he answered. Obliquely.

"Who will guard the guards," I confirmed.

He nodded. Again obliquely.

“It was called ‘The Bridge Whist’ club and it was a bona-fide speakeasy. Except for the fact that the G-Men ran it in the hopes of attaining information leading to the arrest and conviction of liquor smugglers.”

“Bootleggers,” I unnecessaried.

“They had had no success closing down the little neighborhood jernts,” he said, pronouncing ‘joints’ with an extra helping of Brooklyn for old-time’s sake. “They had no success padlocking the big places like the ones Tex Guinan ran. No luck with the El Fey, the 300 Club, the La Ray or the Casa Blanca Club.”

He pulled me Pike’s number two and deftly sidled a bowl of salted nuts so they landed just in front of me like a Romanian gymnast.

I pushed the legumes away, as I do, and started in on the brew.

“And they had no luck shutting down the Tempus Fugit. Fact is, they could barely find the place. By the time they did, by the time they went down one hallway and up another, and down one flight and up two more, then down another passage and through three sets of double doors, by the time all that happened, we were all drinking tea from porcelain tea cups.”

“You run a respectable operation,” I laughed.

“Never have, never will,” he corrected placing the goobers under the woodwork. For later.
 
Arnold Rothstein, 1882-1928. He kept New York wet when the country was dry.
“The coppers were feeding the small fish to try to get to the big ones. Opening a blind pig in the hopes that they'd corral Rothstein, Legs Diamond, Dutch Schultz. The big fish.

“The thing is,” he continued, wiping the bar with his terry, “the Bridge Whist, classy as it was, served up denatured alcohol. Booze made with wood alcohol—methanol.”

“That’ll give you a hangover,” I said draining my third. “You’re not trying to tell me something.”

He laughed at that.
 
Drink is the curse of the working class. And vice-versa.
“Pike’s is as pure as the driven snow. It tiptoes into the glass like a maiden and dances the dance of a foamy Anna Pavlova.”

“I second that,” I said.

“The drinks at the Bridge Whist blinded some, killed others and gave still more the shakes. As far as I know, they caught no bootleggers.”

“A gloomy story for a Sunday night,” I mentioned, putting on Whiskey’s leash and then my heaviest winter coat.

“Christmas cheer,” he said.

I handed him two twenties which he sent back my way.

“And Merry Christmas to you.”

Whiskey and I walked home through the still of the silent evening.