Wednesday, September 30, 2015

If I ran Volkswagen.

At it's "Lemon," "Think Small" best, the best of Volkswagen's 55 years of great advertising did more than sell cars.

The best ads--over the span of decades--sold a company. And they sold that all too rare value--perhaps the rarest value, integrity.


Volkswagen's ads were about cars, yes. But they were great because they exemplified a belief system that was counter to the dominant Detroit complacency.

VW, it's people and its cars were honest. Uncorrupted. Unadorned. They didn't bullshit.

Has all that been lost?

If I were the new CEO of VW I'd do something very simple. I'd buy for everyone of my employees and everyone of my dealers the book, "Remember those great Volkswagen ads." (You can buy it here.)

Companies, like people, lose their way.

They are lured by sex or mammon and make terrible mistakes.

This book could help VW find their center again.

Not bad for $50.

A look back.

Years ago I worked at a mid-sized shop called Rosenfeld and Sirowitz. You haven't heard of the place, but in the 70s and 80s it was a fairly well-respected mid-sized agency in New York, and I think in 1983 or so had won the epigram as 'mid-sized agency of the year.'

Ron Rosenfeld was the youngest person ever inducted into the copywriter's hall of fame and probably won more awards while at Doyle Dane than anyone. His partner, Len Sirowitz also hailed from DDB and was in the Art Director's Hall of Fame. I went there, as a young copywriter, thinking I'd have direct access, that I'd be able to learn at the feet of two advertising legends.

However, by the time I joined the agency in 1988, both Ron and Len seemed less interested in doing great work than in making great amounts of money. They were no longer prodded by Bill Bernbach. The agency's output slunk toward mediocrity.

Still, I was a young writer and had to go over my copy with Ron. Much of what I was doing in those days was pretty copy heavy, including a lot of radio.

I suppose Ron was pretty lonely sitting in his gigantic office overlooking 5th Avenue. If I went in there to go over something, I could easily be there for two hours and leave not knowing what the hell he wanted me to do.

So I devised a strategy to get Ron's approval without having to endure Ron. I would have his secretary call me as he was getting up to leave for lunch. I would then hustle from my office to his and intercept him on the way to the elevator. That 20 yard walk plus the minute or three we had to wait for the Otis was usually enough to get clear direction and permission to move ahead. Ron wasn't about to let a piece of copy get in the way of his lunch.

I stayed at Rosenfeld for just 20 months. And then went to work for two more Hall of Famers who seemed to care more about the work, Amil Gargano and Mike Tesch, at another agency no one has heard of, Ally & Gargano.

Neither place was a bed of roses.

I guess no place is.

But, as the recently deceased Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by watching." And I guess I did, picking up little niblicks of learning and experience along the way.

And most of all continuing to do work that I think is good.

Really. What more can you do?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Alibi Ike.

[apologies to Ring Lardner]

His right name was Francis X. O’Malley but if you ask me, his middle initial, X, stood not for Xavier like it said on his birth certificate, but for “excuse me.” Because O’Malley was almost always making excuses.

He wasn’t a bad guy, really, Frank wasn’t. Outside of the office—stuck in some Midwestern airport or at a seedy bar after another awful client meeting, you wouldn’t mind, really, bending an elbow with him and having a drink or two, provided he could figure out a way to get the client to pick up the tab, which he usually did.

But the thing that really made Frank the object of so much scorn in the agency was his ability to make excuses for almost anything, large or small. It was my partner, my art director who gave him his nickname, after being told, naturally, we had some print ads due in just three hours.

I came back from lunch and Tom said, “Alibi Ike dropped by, he said we have some print due for a meeting with the client at the end of the day.”

I glanced at my watch. It was already 2:15.

“Alibi Ike?” I asked.

“Frank O’Malley. He always has a good alibi when he lays something like this on you.”

“He’s not much of an account guy,” I answered, “but he’s the best excuse guy I’ve ever run across.”

I picked up my desk phone and called the bastard.

“Ike,” I said with no attempt at an explanation, “why can’t we have more time on those ads?”

“Oh, sorry about that,” Alibi Ike apologized. “I just got a call from the client. There’s a big sales meeting, tomorrow, in Cincinnati and they need the work tonight. I’m sorry I just found out about it.”

“They didn’t know,” I responded “about the sales meeting last week?”

But by that time Ike had already hung up the phone and my partner and I had too much work to do to keep arguing.


We rushed through the ads, Tom and I, like we always do. And while they may not have been Clio winners, they were better than serviceable.

“More than they deserve,” was Tom’s typically laconic response.

We walked downstairs at 5, the time O’Malley set up to see the work. We sat for about 15 minutes in the designated conference room but of course O’Malley didn’t show up.

“Ike,” I emailed him, angry “you made us jump through hoops to get these ads done, then you didn’t show up for our 5. What gives?”

Neither Tom nor I heard anything all night. No response whatsoever came from O’Malley until I was hit with an email at about 8:15 the next morning.

“Sorry for the short notice. I had to bolt early last night. I had a filling fall out,” Alibi wrote. “Can you make it to the client for a meeting at 8:30?”

Of course I couldn’t. By the time I read his email, the meeting had just about started. And the client was way up in Connecticut.

I sent Alibi a flame mail: “First, you give us a mere two hours to do two weeks’ of work. Then you don’t show up for our internal review. Then you go to the client without us. THIS HAS TO STOP.”

In an instant, I received an apology from Alibi. “My bad,” he wrote—apologizing—“My cell phone was out of juice and the client’s in a dead zone anyway. But they loved the work. I’ll fill you in when I return.”

When O’Malley finally got me and my partner, Tom together to discuss the work, it was two days later at about 12:30.

“Let’s talk about those print ads. The client loved them.”

“Let’s do it later,” Tom said, “We were just about to grab some lunch.”

“I’m sorry. The changes are due back at 1:30. Their email was stuck in my inbox from yesterday so I just found out.” He handed me a copy of the ads we had created. It was covered with red ink—“corrections” from the client. Those “corrections” included a set of mandated headlines and mandated copy.

“This is a disaster,” I said. “She’s rewritten everything. You said she loved the ads.”

“She did and she wanted me to thank you for your hard work. She loved the work, she really did.  She just loved her work more. Make these changes and the work will be a big hit at their meeting in Cleveland.”

“I thought you said their sales meeting was in Cincinnati.”

“The outskirts of Cincinnati,” he replied calmly. “Where Cincy’s metro area runs into Cleveland’s.”

I didn’t have the strength left to tell him that the two cities were hundreds of miles apart. Besides, we had changes to make.


All this happened many years, many agencies and many holding companies ago. Somehow, as you might expect, Alibi Ike’s ability to make excuses was, in the circumstance of agency life, his ticket to the top. The more excuses he made, the more promotions he seemed to get.

Though we lost touch, I followed his career from afar. He made an excuse for the loss of a major automotive account, and got a promotion to managing director. After the losses of an insurance company and a big box retailer, he was made head of a large agency.

When he reverse-grew that large agency to the size of a mid-sized shop, having lost a fast-food account and a soda, he was promoted to the deputy head of a holding company.

I saw O’Malley—Alibi Ike—Thursday night, I was working late on some forsaken piece of business and he was coming home from an awards ceremony. We shook hands, chit-chatted and promised we’d get together soon.

I expect he’ll get another promotion before long. He still has his touch.  I was rushing to the 6 when his car pulled up. He said, without skipping a beat, “I’d give you a lift but my car is empty.”

Monday, September 28, 2015

Morning in New York.

The Pope has left town, which clears the roadways a bit but taxi-drivers all over New York are still grumbling. Not only is the UN in town, which ties up the east side from Albany to Sao Paolo, Obama will be in the city today for a one-on-one confab with the shirtless wonder, Vladimir Putin.

My driver this morning was spitting nails. To him the leader of the free world, the leader of the non-free world and the leader of one-billion Catholics were all conspiring against him, all working in some sort of cosmic conspiracy to slow down traffic and make it hard for a guy--a guy with kids and a family at that--to make a living.

Add to that the fact that he has sciatica and it's pretty obvious that something's rotten in the state of Egypt, which is where he emigrated from seven years ago,

The Jewish doctor from Maimonides in Brooklyn wants to take an MRI because, well, his entire left side is crippled with pain.

"You're probably doing the thing that is worst for you," I offered. "Sitting all day is no good for you."

"You sit at a desk or in a taxi, what are you supposed to do?" He countered. "My Jewish doctor, he is a good man, tells me that every two hours I have to park my car and take a 10-15 minute walk."

I commiserated. "I had sciatica a few years back. It's debilitating."

"You had the MRI? You had the surgery?"

"No," I answered. "I started walking more, started wearing better shoes and over time, it's seemed to have abated. I only feel it now when I am stressed."

"Stress," he said with the wisdom of Solomon.

We drove in silence for a few blocks and then he said, "On Friday I was on 34th and Fifth. I was stuck there for 40 minutes as the Pope drove by. His car was as far away as that white one." He pointed to a Ford LTD just a few cars ahead of ours.

"My passenger climbed into the front seat to see better. I said 'you don't need tickets to see the Pope in Central Park, he is right here.'"

"I'm sorry I missed him," I laconicked.

We had reached the little Puerto Rican deli where I pick up my second cup of dark brown water they call coffee. It's not a great place, the coffee is lousy and it's none too clean, but I like the guy behind the counter who always takes me in front of the UPS drivers and construction workers getting their big breakfast orders. He also always laughs at my jokes, which I usually pull from "The New York Post," which is in a rack adjacent to the linoleum counter.

I said to the counterman, "You made the Pope an egg sandwich?"

He laughed at that as I knew he would.

"Next time," he answered bagging my java. "Next time."

Friday, September 25, 2015

Uncle Slappy and the Pope.

It doesn't happen very often, maybe twice a century, but today both the Pontifex and Uncle Slappy are in town at the same time.

As you may or may not know, Uncle Slappy--before he was defrocked--was the head Rabbi of a small Upper East Side synagogue, Beth Youiz Mywom Mannow. He led that congregation, presiding over births and brises and deaths and marriages and holy days and sad ones for 50 years. When he hit the age of 80, he was, as you can imagine, too old for some of the younger congregants and too opinionated for just about everyone.

They forced retirement on him, and shortly afterwards, he and Aunt Sylvie left their congregation-supplied two-bedroom coop on 84th Street between Madison and Park for a coop in Boca with the requisite view of the pool.

This morning, Uncle Slappy (who has been staying in our guest room since Rosh ha Shanah) jostled me awake at 5:15 so we could share a cuppa coffee before he and Aunt Sylvie, his wife of 56 years leave for LaGuardia and their 9AM flight back to Florida.

My wife, who makes perhaps the world's hardiest cup of joe, had prepared the coffee maker the night before. All I had to do was throw the switch and pour the brew into a cup. An easy enough job, even for me.

Uncle Slappy, of course, got the first pour. He took a noisy sip, closed his eyes and said, "You I'll miss. Your wife, I'll miss. Your kids--they should visit more often--I'll miss. But this coffee, I'll really miss."

I agreed, of course. There are many mysteries brooked by my spouse. Her coffee-making ability may be foremost among them.

"Let me tell you something about this Pope," Uncle Slappy began.

I served the old man an egg white omelet with two slices of perfectly toasted rye bread, gently buttered.

"He seems like a nice enough guy. He seems to care for the poor and oppressed."

He scooped a forkful of eggs onto a torn section of his toast and took a large and loving bite. His eyes closed as he savored his breakfast.

"He might be the leader of billions, adored the world over. He speaks before a jerk-session of Congress," Uncle Slappy took a long pause and had himself another bite. "But eggs like this, he never had."

And with that, the old man gave me something special. A kiss on my forehead.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A bad day.

For the first time in a very long time, I didn't post on a working day. My  l  a  c  u  n  a  had nothing to do with the Black Dog, a Jewish holiday or Mercury meandering into retrograde (whatever that means.) It was due solely to the crush of work which started early this morning and only just now has begun to abate.

During offensives (which often gained no ground) in World War One, there were times when either the allied forces or the entente forces would fire literally thousands of shells a minute at their enemies.

That's what today was like.

They were coming in faster than I could bat them back.

But now it's 6:30. There are corpses about and shell-holes. The smell of cordite and burning flesh.

That's how it goes sometimes.

That's why I didn't write.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yom Kippur and Hank Greenberg and me.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Holiest day in the Jewish calendar. After going pretty hard at work for the past month, I am taking the day off.

I do this because my people have been doing this, or trying to, for 5700 years. Besides, my wife would kill me if I didn't.

In 1934, the original Hebrew Hammer, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers, refused to play ball on Yom Kippur, though his team was in the middle of a pennant race. He was booed by fans and excoriated by the press. However, Greenberg received a standing ovation from the congregants of Shaarey Zedek synagogue when he arrived at temple.

Edgar A. Guest, a poet and columnist wrote a poem in admiration for Greenberg for taking one for the true Home Team.

In any event, I'm taking off.

I'm no Hank Greenberg.

Though I can write a mean piece of copy.


The Irish didn’t like it when they heard of Greenberg’s fame
For they thought a good first baseman should possess an Irish name;
And the Murphy s and Mulrooneys said they never dreamed they’d see
A Jewish boy from Bronxville out where Casey used to be.

In the early days of April not a Dugan tipped his hat
Or prayed to see a “double” when Hank Greenberg came to bat.
In July the Irish wondered where he’d ever learned to play.
“He makes me think of Casey!” Old Man Murphy dared to say;
And with fifty-seven doubles and a score of homers made
The respect they had for Greenberg was being openly displayed.

But on the Jewish New Year when Hank Greenberg came to bat
And made two home runs off pitcher Rhodes—they cheered like
mad for that.

Came Yom Kippur—holy fast day worldwide over to the Jew
And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true
Spent the day among his people and he didn’t come to play.
Said Murphy to Mulrooney, “We shall lose the game today!
We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat
But he’s true to his religion—and I honor him for that!”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A home run in the Mexican League.

In my second at bat in my third game as a Sarapero de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League, I got ahold of a slider that wandered over the center of the plate and sent it about 400 feet down the left field line--I was a dead pull hitter--until the ball, as if with a mind of its own--hooked around the foul pole and landed in the bleachers foul.

The crowd had gotten up over that and some of them, like me, were trying to will the ball straight with their body english. The pitcher did what pitchers do, he chastised himself for serving one down the pipe, rubbed up the horsehide and let go another leather-covered sphere.

This one too was a slider and this one too strayed over the fat of the plate and this one too I slugged deep over the left field wall, fair this time, for a home-run, my first in professional baseball. There's a marvelous feeling, the feeling of Herculean strength and power when your bat hits the ball exactly right. The vibration of the collision runs up your forearms and magnifies into your biceps and shoulders. Your bones know, you've done something just right.

I trotted around the bases, and in short order, my new teammates, I mostly didn't even know their names, variously slapped my ass, shoulder or hand or gave me an old-fashioned handshake. Even Hector Quesadilla, my manager, usually so stolid in the dugout gave me a big hug and put his giant arm around me.

"Senoras and Senores, esto es Jorge Navidad."

I took a dramatic vaudeville bow with that and, by way of introducing myself, shook a few more hands. Even an outsider will be welcomed into a group--no matter how tight knit it may seem--if he can hit the long ball. Though my manner is often icy and diffident, though I've never willingly joined anything in my life, I was being welcomed. A strange feeling for me. A perennial outsider.

We won that game, I can't even remember who we were playing, but I think the score was something like 16-4. I remember it was a rout--a rare rout in that be-dimmed season, and because it was a rout, some of the boys started clowning about.

It started simply enough, with a few of the guys making basket catches in the outfield like Willie Mays in his prime. Fredo Fresno, a little used pinch hitter batted late in the game and bunted himself on with a squib, then he promptly stole second and third. Finally, Brutus Cesar in center caught the final out, a short pop-up, in his cap, earning himself a 500-peso fine that Hector later relented on.

That night about a dozen of us went out to Tino's, a small bar not far from the stadium. Back in the States, though it never stopped me since I had my brother's draft card as fake ID, I wasn't even old enough to drink. But that night, I drank. My teammates treating me.

I had hit a home run.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Rich Siegel and his new book "Round Seventeen & 1/2."

My FFB (friend from blogging) Rich Siegel over at Round Seventeen has just published a book titled, as you may or may not expect "Round Seventeen & 1/2." You can and should order it here.

Rich is one of the funniest guys around. And one of the most stalwart. His stories are life-lessons in persistence, humor and gumption. They're also stories of enormous resourcefulness. Rich solves problems, he gets things done. He's a go-to guy, the guy who pulls many an ass out of many a fire.

On top of all that bushwa, Rich is an inspiration.

He's written a few books, a few TV episodes. He's done what so many of us only talk about doing.

For the life of me, I don't know where he finds the time. To raise a family, to poison the neighbor's delinquent hounds, to satisfy typical uxorial demands and to freelance full-time.

For about the price of a day's worth of Starbucks, you can buy Rich's opus.

It's money well spent.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Another strange night in the Tempus Fugit.

There was an old man sitting in the stool next to my usual station at the Tempus Fugit. He was there when I arrived--unusual because the Tempus Fugit is almost always empty.

Whiskey curled up at the foot of my stool, one in from the end, and the bartender scooted around the mahogany and placed in front of her a bowl of cold water. At about 3AM, Whiskey wasn't interested in the liquid, she instead closed her eyes and continued with her nocturnal canine musings.

The bartender terried the woodwork in front of me, laid down a Tempus Fugit napkin, and deftly drew me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!) They serve beer as it should be served at the Tempus, in small eight-ounce juice glasses so it stays cold and doesn't run to flat.

I emptied my first glass without saying a word to anyone and the bartender presented me with glass number two, He slid over a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts which I declined with my usual demurral, pushing them away and saying, "a pound in every nut."

The man next to me was twirling his martini glass in his hand. He took a delicate sip and spoke to me.

"For centuries," he began, "Sandy Isle, Ile de Sable on French maps, Isla Arenosa on Spanish," he sipped again, "was believed to be in the South Coral Sea, roughly midway between the Chesterfield Islands and Nereus Reef.
Sandy Island on a 1908 chart.

"Sandy Isle was charted by Cook in 1774. A whaling ship "Velocity" was said to have stopped there an 1876. In 1881 it appeared on German maps and in 1895 on the most authoritative maps of all, those of the British Admiralty."

He drew another sip from his martini, and the bartender drew me my third Pike's.

"It was marked in the "Times Atlas of the World, 10th Edition" as recently as 1999."
Satellite photo of where Sandy Island is supposed to be.

He paused, looked deep into his clear drink, considered the lemon peel floating in the liquid and continued.

"The island never existed. The sea's bottom where Sandy Isle was supposed to be was never less than 1,300 meters from the surface of the sea. Sandy Isle existed only because people believe it existed. Only because people before them believe it existed."

The night had been cool after a warm day and the man picked up his windbreaker from the stool alongside his to the left. He had finished his martini and ordered another one.

As he put on his windbreaker, he downed his second drink in two or three gregarious sips.

"It was, Sandy Isle, literally wiped off the map. It was never anything more than a figment."

He slid two twenties across the bar, which the bartender slid back.

"On me," he said with his usual generosity.

"I wonder how many of us are merely figments," he said standing up to leave.

That last query had me staring sullenly into my Pike's and pondering.

"I leave you with something more to consider," he said.

The bartender drew me number four.

"A martini is like a woman's breast," he said. Then he paused a lengthy pause so we would consider the simile. "One isn't enough."

I sipped at my suds.

"And three is too many."

With that, he slid into the night and, like Sandy Isle, disappeared.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"A man is not a piece of fruit."

A friend of mine who works at a mid-sized agency wrote me a note. There were layoffs yesterday at his agency.

In terms of how these particular firings were carried out, I can think of only one word: Soviet.

The people were summoned by email. Gathered into a conference room. And summarily executed. Stalin would have been proud. Beria would have laughed.

While they were away from their desks, IT reclaimed their computers. They were erased.

I think a lot, I’ll admit, about how things are broken. I’m gloomy that way, lugubrious.

I think how the HR/Holding Company Hegemon, who produce nothing, have turned our offices into sumps of inhumanity. No one has any private space. No one, even after decades of service or regardless of seniority, rates a private conversation.

Our corporate ethos is so mean, so devoid of humanity and simple decent kindness. No, you are a resource. To be disposed of when your shelf-life has passed.

Two quotations I’m thinking of right now.

One from Preston Sturges in “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.” “A man works all his life in a glass factory; one day he picks up a hammer.”

The second from Willy Loman, by way of Arthur Miller: “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away. A man is not a piece of fruit.”

But it seems Sturges and Miller were wrong.

We can be tossed away. And there’s no one left to pick up a hammer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Things I miss.

Back when Hector was a pup and I was still wet behind my advertising ears, copywriters had IBM Selectrics.

These were big, sleek machines that took a commanding position on your desk. They were as broad as a linebacker. As heavy as a Rottweiler. And when they were turned on, they hummed the hum of authority.

The first thing I would do when I got in in the morning, back in the 80s and 90s, was turn on my Selectric. The hum of its engineering let everybody know I was open for business.

I would roll a piece of paper into the carriage. It too sounded strong and authoritative.

I was ready to work.

This morning I got in early. Well before anyone else.

A storm was brewing, or rather storms, and the opening salvo of raindrops seems to be inundating me. That could be my natural paranoia. But it could also be reality.

The reason I'm thinking of my old Selectric this morning, is I miss its hum.

There was something, like I said, strong about it. And reassuring.

And I knew, when the time came, it would be there and I could write.

And my writing would either be the answer, or not.

But at least I had tried.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Five minutes with a CRttMO.

Ad Aged: So you're the new CRttMO. I'm unfamiliar with that title. Tell me what does CRttMO stand for?

CRttMO: I am Chief Regression to the Mean Officer. I make sure, in short, that the work my holding company produces is as comfortable as an old sweatshirt.

Ad Aged: What is it exactly that you do?

CRttMO: Essentially, I bring things back to the middle. I put the status in Status Quo. If someone shows me work that is exciting, challenging and unexpected, I know how to handle that.

Ad Aged: Please elucidate.

CRttMO: Well, say I'm shown a campaign for a financial services client that doesn't feel like anything else in the category. I'm well prepared for that.

I say: The client will never buy that. 

That won't work in the category.

That's not how their customer thinks.

Ad Aged: That must be pretty disillusioning to the creative teams involved.

CRttMO: When you're in my position, you quickly learn that regressing to the mean isn't about happy creative teams. It's about making things that don't stand out.

Ad Aged: So in your aforementioned bank commercial, continue with that example.

CRttMO: I make sure there's happy tellers, smiling. A glass door with a logo on it. And--here's the kicker--a handshake between a black customer and a white banker. Once we've ticked all the standard boxes we're on our way!

Ad Aged: You've helped create work....

CRttMO: ...That stands out because it blends in. It's work that sure to not be noticed. Therefore no one gets in trouble, the client gets what they want and everyone's happy as a clam.

Ad Aged: Any final thoughts?

CRttMO: Yes. Remember my motto: Normal is the new normal. Keep that in mind and you'll shorten the distance you need to regress.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The holidays with Uncle Slappy.

I woke up at 4:30 this morning, slightly earlier than usual and was unable to go back to sleep. Mostly because Uncle Slappy was awake and sitting at the dining room table drinking his cup of very black coffee and eating two slices of very black toast.

Uncle Slappy likes his toast burnt. He says it reminds him of his mother's cooking. I poured myself a cup of viscous java and sat down beside the alte cocker.

"So work you're going to today?" That question may sound innocent enough, but very little Uncle Slappy says isn't loaded with buckshot or festooned with landmines.

"Of course," I sighed. "Work is what I do. There's a lot going on right now and they're putting a lot of pressure on me."

"You know," he sarcasmed, "The Joosh Holidays are coming up. Taking off you will for a little time?"

I re-jiggered the order of the words.

"Well, Rosh Ha Shannah starts Sunday, but I can't take Monday off. Too much to do."

"What about Hadoop Ha Sheem?" He asked.

"Hadoop Ha Sheem?" I repeated.

"Hadoop starts today at sunrise and runs through Columbus Day. Among the liturgical cognoscenti  it is the holiest of holies, commemorating the exodus of the Jews from the 96th Street Broadway subway line on a Friday night in the fall.

"There's Ah Gut Las, which recognizes the purchase of the last seeded Challah bread from the bakery on 82nd and 2nd."

"I see."

"Then there's my favorite. Tu Sens Plen, it celebrates the wandering of Jews for 40 years in the desert and their subsequent discovery of seltzer water."

I was beginning to catch on.

"Look, Boychick," the old man continued, "I'm for 50 years an eminent Rabbi. If you need a day off, there's always a Jewish holiday I can invent."

I had finished my coffee and was eager to get ready for work.

"Thanks, Uncle Slappy," I said as I went in for my shower.

"This year, Boychick," he said, "Make sure you're agency gives you off like they give off the goyim. Make sure you stay home between Christmas and the Jewish New Year."

Despite all that, I showed up for work anyway.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Spreading yourself thick.

I got two emails this morning, each from a friend and former co-worker. Each, in its own way about the business.

In one email, from a writer friend, I was asked if I knew the line Joseph Mitchell wrote about his friend and colleague, AJ Liebling. Liebling was a rotund man, an over-eater and an over-drinker. He died way too young at the age of 59--two years older than me.

Mitchell wrote, "Liebling spread himself thick."

In advertising of course, in our lives, we do the opposite. The farther we advance, the bigger our titles, the better the location of our out-in-the-open desk at work, the more we are asked to spread ourselves thin.

This is the opposite of what we should be doing. Bringing our 20 years or 30 years of acumen to bear. Instead of having real impact, we throw another coat of paint or paper over problems.

My other friend, an art director with whom I partnered for nearly a decade was on the same leitmotif. He asked if anyone was paying attention to the heavy lifters, the people who do the back-breaking work of the agency business.

We live in a world where substance has taken a back seat to bluster. Where simplistic bromides pass as serious discourse. Where cliches masquerade as wisdom. And where the most bombastic are often the most successful.

See Trump. See Palin. See Cruz, Rubio, Walker, Scott Brown and more.

A little somber on a rainy Thursday.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Five minutes with our CFUO.

Ad Aged: So you're a CFUO? Tell me, what do those initials stand for?

CFUO: They stand for what I do. I fuck things up and I fail up. I’m the agency’s Chief Failing Up Officer.

Ad Aged: What is it that you do?

CFUO: I wait till the last second.

Ad Aged: And...

CFUO: And I make enormous changes.

Ad Aged: That’s it?

CFUO: It’s not easy making enormous changes that make utterly no sense. 
They’re 1) capricious 2) contradictory and 3) constant.

Some people can give you two of the three. I can deliver the whole shebang.

Ad Aged: In other words, you bring chaos to bear?

CFUO: That’s only half of what I do. Once chaos has its way, once it ruins creative work, 
disillusions everyone and drives clients to seek new agencies, once disaster happens, that’s when 
spring into action.

Ad Aged: And what do you do then?

CFUO: Well, the first thing I do is issue proclamations. Mostly about how our abject failure is
really a new beginning. How our loss is really our gain. How small is better than large and foul is 
better than fair.

Ad Aged: Positively Shakespearean.

CFUO: Then comes the coup de grace.

Ad Aged: And that is?

CFUO: I get promoted.

Ad Aged: Promoted? After causing disaster?

CFUO: That’s why I’m the Chief Failing Up Officer. It’s not a disaster I’ve caused. It’s a growth 
reversal opportunity.

Ad Aged: Any final thoughts?

CFUO: Yes. Tomorrow is my last day as CFUO. Next week I’ll start a new job, turning around yet 
another agency.

Remember my personal motto: nothing succeeds like failure.