Friday, June 14, 2019

Uncle Slappy and the walnuts.

A few weeks ago, after a long drive home from visiting my 31-year-old daughter up in Boston, I opened the door to my apartment and heard the land-line ringing insistently.

The Harass-for-Profit telemarketing industry with the support of our so-called public-servants, places an estimated 2.5 billion robocalls a month—that’s almost 1,000 a second, if you do the math, which you probably shouldn’t.

I suppose like those ad people who retarget us and cookie us and track our every movement, if you asked the various politicians and other flim-flam artists behind these calls they’d tell you they’re providing a public service because people want to hear about their electoral options and time-shares situated alongside a mosquito-infested toxic swamp.

Nevertheless, unusually, it wasn’t a robocall, it was Uncle Slappy. The only person besides robos to actually call my house phone.

“Boychick,” he began. Uncle Slappy needs no introduction and seldom makes one. “Boychick, she’s trying to kill me. She’s trying to send me to an early grave.”

“It would hardly be early,” I reminded the old man, “you’re 91 now.”

Uncle Slappy retorted with the classic Yiddish rejoinder. It worked when Shecky Greene used it. It still works today.

“Ninety-one, schminety-one, Mr. Wisenheimer. She’s trying to kill me.”

“Who is, Uncle Slappy?” I assumed the cleaning woman had upset his universe again by not ironing his handkerchiefs.

“Your sainted Aunt Sylvie. The one everyone assumes has put up with me all these years. They don’t know what she’s doing to me.”

“I can’t imagine…”

“Then you have no imagination, Mr. Smartypants.”

I was chastened by that but said nothing. Fortunately, Uncle Slappy continued.

“Remember last November around my birthday Aunt Sylvie bought me an Apple Watch.”

“Well, Dr. Cohen said you should walk more.”

“Dr. Richard P. Cohen, the cardiologist,” Uncle Slappy clarified. “Not Dr. Richard T. Cohen, the podiatrist.”

“He’s a good man, Dr. Cohen.” I’ve been seeing Cohen, the cardiologist, myself and for nearly 40 years. Like every other one of Dr. Cohen's thousands of patients, I could lose a little weight.

“So, every morning, come fahtutz or come schmutz, out for a walk I go. Usually to the shuffleboard courts and back two times. That’s a mile.”

“That’s good, Uncle Slappy. You feel better?”

“Like a spring chicken I feel. Unfortunately, an already-cooked spring chicken, served with a side of creamed spinach. Rotisserie, maybe”

He paused for his laugh like an old vaudevillian then continued.

“So, I shouldn’t get woozy, Aunt Sylvie packs for me in a little Ziploc baggie a handful of walnuts she gets down at the Costco.”

“You can save a lot of money at Costco,” I lied. “The other day my wife bought me a package of 3,000 razor blades and must have saved 17-cents.”

“I understand. Back when I was in my 70s, Sylvie bought a canister of walnuts about the size of a World War II depth-charge. There must have been 1006-pounds of walnuts inside. I’ve been eating these walnuts since Spiro Agnew resigned.”

“But think of the savings,” I said.

Uncle Slappy ignored my stab at commentary.

“I’m out for my walk, and in the heat with the global warming, a little dizzy I feel. So into the Ziploc baggie I take out a few walnuts.”

“They helped, I hope.”

“No,” Uncle Slappy said, “they hurt. They were rancid like Socrates drinking hemlock. Still in my mouth a bad taste I have. Two hours later.”

“So you made it home and threw them out?”

“Ach, and waste food? I suppose you waste food. But you're Mr Big Shot advertising moneybags. And I'm just a retired Rabbi living on my 401(K). That's K as in kvetch."

And with that the old man hung up the blower.

I looked at our land-line. I brought the receiver up to my eyes and thought hard about ripping it from the wall.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Decline and Fall of Advertising. A Lesson in 90 Seconds.

Late last week I went back and forth over email with a friend of mine. Like me, he is a writer with some laps around the track. Unlike me, he has a giant reputation and list of awards as long as one of Donald Trump's ties.

I sent him this spot, which I love. 

My friend didn't think it could work today. Too slow. Too demanding on the viewer (attention.) Too honest and logical.

In my naivete, I can't see, or don't want to admit that the spot couldn't be successful today.

Honesty, intelligence, straight-talk. All the qualities most of the world disparages.

I was born old. And old-fashioned values have always made sense to me.

Call me a dinosaur, that's ok. Dinosaurs lasted on our planet almost 200 million years, humans just 200,000.  Who's to say they were the foolish ones?

In response, my friend sent me this spot.

Same basic technique. But with no balls, no honesty. No understanding of people or expressions of empathy.

And cliche followed by cliche like telemarketing phone call follows telemarketing phone call.

I refuse to give up on the notion that we can do intelligent, thoughtful work that will move and motivate people. Until my very end, I will continue to believe (and fight for) the plain and simple notion that the consumer isn't a moron, that people will read what interests them and sometimes that's an ad, and that care and craft and warmth and wit and laughter are universal values even in our dark, uneducated Trumpian era.

But maybe I'm just stupid, naive, Sisyphean. 

And like I said, a dinosaur.

But at least I have a brain large enough to fight against crap. And the crapification of our standards, our work and our livelihoods.

When we all go down because we've lost faith in ourselves and by application in humanity itself, at least I'll go down swinging.

What more can we do?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Optimism. And my daughters.

If you spend any amount of time these days keyed into what might be called “the fact-based-community,” it’s pretty easy to feel down-right lugubrious about the state of the world and our prospects for the future.

According to “New Yorker” writer and Pulitzer-Prize-winner Elizabeth Kolbert, our entire planet (you and me included) are on the verge of a “Sixth Extinction.” This is a tragedy at least one order of magnitude worse than your WIFI going out for twenty-minutes. And Kolbert is one of about a billion scientists sounding the ecological and environmental alarm.

Then there is all the evidence of our dimming “dark age.” An age where learning is held in disdain and ignorance is extolled. There’s the rise in retrograde, anti-enlightenment thinking and policies. The concentration of wealth (and the failure of governments to enforce the paying of taxes) and the deplorable and disgusting rise of Trump and all the effluence and hatred he instigates and inspires.

In short, the world sucks. And is going to (or has gone) to hell in a hand-basket. Our future is one where things will only get worse. And life, if you can call it that, will once again recall Thomas Hobbes’ description of the world of almost 400 years ago—as writ in his “Leviathan.”

“…there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

In other words, life is short. And then you die. Penniless and ragged.

But then I came out to San Diego, CA to attend my daughter Hannah’s graduation ceremonies from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. On Tuesday, June 11th, Hannah, along with 26 women and men in her program, presented her thesis, and on Friday, she and her colleagues get their Masters’ in Marine Sciences.

27 young people.

27 young people who are brilliant.

27 young people who will change the world.
Who will make the world better.

27 young people might not be able to beat back the world’s galloping regression to darkness. The forces of Koch-ism, McConnellism, Trumpism and a thousand more Evilisms have a lot going for them.

As Arthur Miller wrote more than half-a-century ago in his great, dark poem "Lines from California,"

"Law is order, Justice a decent return on money.
Progress is anything turning on and off by itself.
Beauty is teeth, deep skill, and the willingness.
Freedom is the right to live among your own kind.
A philosophy is a keen sense of land values
and the patience to wait.
War is peace waged by other means .
They know they are the Future.
They are exceedingly well-armed."

And they appeal to the base instincts that are never too far from the surface of so many.

But the 27 people, well, I wouldn’t bet against them.
Because if each of the 27 has just 27 friends, that’s 729 good people.

And if each of the 729 has 27 friends, that’s nearly twenty-thousand people who will back positive changes. And if each of those twenty-thousand has 27 friends, all at once we’re at more than half-a-million good young people. Once again by 27, we're at almost 15 million.

But right now, I’m not really in the mood to extrapolate.

I’m thinking just of my own, personal extrapolations.

Hannah, a 27-year-old with a Master’s Degree in Marine Science. And her sister, Sarah, a 31-year-old with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

Beacons of the Enlightenment, which began with Newton, Rousseau, Voltaire, Jefferson and dozens of other (flawed, but) remarkable men and women who, simply because they believed in people and in freedom and liberty, they could make the world better.

It’s easy to be down about the future.
I understand.
You are not alone.

But you should talk to my daughters some time.

And you’ll feel better.