Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tillie and Millie at the Public Library.

Last night I ran over to the New York Public Library after work to hear the brilliant polymath Paul Holdengraber interview the even more brilliant polymath, Seymour Hersch.

My wife had arrived early and so secured us seats in the third-row, center. I arrived about twenty-minutes till seven, the time the show was to begin, and settled into my seat.

The average age at a New York Public Library event is Methuselean. Meaning that to three-quarters of the audience I was a young whippersnapper and 23-skidoo. Two older women were sitting behind me. Over their long years they had lost the ability to modulate the volume of their voices.

"You heard about deer ticks," Tillie said.

"Ach," said Millie.

"They're coming into the city. The city should do something. They're coming."

"I heard they're already in New Rochelle." Millie said Rochelle with the slightest bit of a French accent.

"They come in on the backs of raccoons. There are raccoons in Central Park and they all have deer ticks. Mark my words, the city should take this seriously," Tillie continued.

"It's not just deer with deer ticks, then. There are no deer in Central Park," Millie said. "Deer ticks can come in on dogs if they roll in the grass."

That salient fact outraged Tillie. 

"Mark my words, the city should take this seriously. They took it seriously when there were coyotes in the Bronx. But the raccoons, they're everywhere."

"I wonder," answered Millie, "who are a raccoon's natural enemies?"

"What you want to bring bears in Central Park to eat the raccoons? The deer ticks will get the bears, too."

"And what do we do with all the bears?"

The evening's discussion was about to begin and Millie and Tillie began to settle down.

The night's speakers were walking onto the stage as Tillie said one more time, "You mark my words. The city should do something."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Bill Bernbach in Cannes. A ghost story.

Last night with a shock I sat bolt upright in bed. No one else was awake in my apartment, but I heard a clattering sound coming from one of my spare bedrooms.

It was a sound I was familiar with, but couldn’t immediately place. A sound I hadn’t in years heard. I got out of bed and grabbed an old pull-up bar off its bracket in the hallway. I’ve used that bar against the putative advances of burglars since the bad old days of New York in the 1970s and 80s.

Brandishing the steel bar like a medieval mace or sword, I headed to our extra bedroom and the clacking, clattering sound emanating from it. Just then, I heard the “ting” of a small bell. It brought into focus the sound I was hearing. Someone was typing on the old blue-green Olivetti typewriter I had decorating my rolltop desk in the room.

I swung open the door and at the desk wearing a well-blocked fedora and smoking a Chesterfield a man sat as an apparition. He removed the cigarette from his mouth and sipped at a cup of coffee. Then the being rose and put out its well-manicured right hand, to shake mine.

“Bill Bernbach,” the ghost said, introducing himself. “Sorry to barge in like this. But I just got back from the festival at Cannes and I couldn’t find a typewriter anywhere.

I stood there mute. As I’ve written so many times before, I’m no stranger to seeing ghosts but I hadn’t expected Bernbach—especially since of the 12 or 16 agencies I’ve worked for, I never got into Doyle Dane.

“Hello, Mr. Bernbach,” I said dumbly. I pulled up a seat near him.

“Get me another cuppa jamoke, willya?” he said, turning back to the Olivetti. “Black. And hand me my attaché case.” He rifled through the case, found some scrawled-upon yellow legal pads and went back to the old Olivetti and began touch-typing again.

I shuffled into our kitchen and made a pot of coffee. I filled his mug and ran back into the spare room.

“It’s my dispatch from Cannes,” he said. The carriage of the old machine was moving like a piston in an old V-8. He typed for a few moments in silence, pausing only to drag deep on his Chesterfield or to drain another cup of Joe.

Then he pulled the sheet of foolscap from the machine, pushed back in his seat, rotated to face me and then read with his cigarette balanced on his lower lip like a skilled tight-rope walker.

“Cannes, France,” he began reading like Ed Herlihy or another old newsreel announcer. “Dead on arrival, 2018. The advertising industry. Dead from an overdose of its own self-absorption. Killed by a passel of gimmicks soaked in rosé and served with a heaping portion of egomania, pretense and indulgence.

“Here lies the ad industry. Overwrought, overproduced, over-professionalized. Infested by consultants. Made soulless by research. Destroyed by data. Bastardized by best-practices. Beaten by blockchains. Trampled by transparency.

“We award and herald ads that never ran. We create pharma ad after pharma ad, for illnesses that don’t exist. We have devolved into indulgent statuary and stunts, pretense and puffery. We pat ourselves on the back as our industry is withering and dying. We have forgotten, or worse, ignored human emotion—we fail to connect with people in honest, warm and comforting ways. We afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable. We forget to make—and keep—promises to our viewers and treat them as we ourselves would like to be treated.

“We subject people to Stasi-like surveillance and sell their personal information to profit on their every motion, move, hover and thought. We do this in the name of commerce and have become, as Marx foretold, the rattling stick inside the swill bucket of capitalism. We have become the embodiment of Gresham’s Law—bad has driven out good.”

Like a powerful outboard engine running out of gas, the old man was fairly sputtering now. While his words, his tirade was accelerating, his image was right in front of me growing dimmer and more diffuse.

And then, as ghostly as he had appeared, he vanished. 

I returned to bed. But not to sleep.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Etiam si omnes, ego non.

The following is not political. It's human.

The title above is in Latin, a language I have studied off and on for nearly my entire life. There's something magical about Latin. Things sound profound and important in it.

The phrase means, "Even if all others, I not."

In other words, I will not go along with the horrors that are happening in our country right now.

The violence against the environment. The violence against our own citizenry. And the violence against those attempting to emigrate to the US for their own safety.

Back in 2014, the great German writer Joachim Fest wrote a memoir of growing up in Nazi Germany. It was called in German, "Icht Nicht." In English, "Not I."

The book, it pains me to say this, is worth reading today. Not as a memoir, but as a warning. You can read a review from the Times' here.

Things are bad in our country. And we must pay our taxes and obey our laws. So we are going along with it.

You might want to read Nobel-prize winner Paul Krugman on the matter. Here.

If the economy really picks up, or an American Reichstag fire is discovered, there's a decent chance the Regime's popularity with soar.

With that popularity will come oppression of people like myself who speak as loudly as they can against the Regime. National broadcasters are already demonizing the opposition. Former politician and television judge Jeanine Pirro on national TV just called Democrats Demon Rats.

Once you start calling people rats--whole groups of people--mobs violence probably isn't far behind.

There's not much we can do. We can spend our money to support blue candidates and our time.

Until things, god willing, change in November, I will remember a Latin phrase and a German one.

Etiam si omnes, ego non.


Icht nicht.