Monday, October 31, 2011

King Lear in Manhattan.

Last night my wife and I went down to the Public Theater to see "King Lear," with Sam Waterston in the title role. There are many great things about living in New York City, not the least of which being able to see something Shakespearean almost anytime you want. Even if it's a lesser play like, say, "Love's Labor's Lost" with an all lesbian Armenian cast.

In any event, I am still reeling from having spent hours upon hours of forced exposure to speeches at an aforementioned Ted-like conference I attended. I am still stuttering from the administration of intravenous Kool-Aid and injections of huge doses of Newspeak--of curation, of ideation, of masturbation. So, seeing "Lear" served as an antidote to our societal wankfest, our celebration and extollation of all things ephemeral, trivial and inconsequential.

Lear is about life and death. About love, loyalty and language. It is about honor and aging and truth and forked-tonguedness.

Many people through this blog ask me or praise me for my "fearlessness." For writing, while captive within the clutches of a penurious holding company, about the sins of our Lords, our Masters, our Controllers, our Overseers. The signers of paychecks, the demanders of timesheets, the doler-outers of PTO. Why are you not afraid of speaking your mind, some readers ask me? Why are you not afraid?

The answer is easy. I don't think many in positions of authority could read something as long as this, something that's gone on for this many words without false praise or buzzwords.

I heard a fly buzzword when I died.

I leave you with this, from Lear's fool:

Mark it, nuncle:
Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest;
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more
Than two tens to a score.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Boston to New York, 2011.

Last night my wife and I attempted to make it back to New York from Boston using the Northeast's prevailing 150 year-old transportation infrastructure.

We got on a train in Boston's 47-degree-fahrenheit South Station. The train was delayed because they were "checking the brakes." Finally the filthy behemoth shoved off in the cold rain about 20 minutes late. We rode south through a winter storm in October. Perfect evidence of what three-time Pulitzer-winner Thomas Friedman calls "global weirding." After about an hour a so an annoyed voice came on the too-loud speaker. "This train is stopping in New Haven and going back to Boston. Amtrak is making no provisions to get you to New York."

Trapped in the snow in New Haven. All hotels booked and cabs few and far between.

After some time, we wrestled a cab to the ground. (A third New York bound passenger had joined us by then.) We implored the driver to take us the 80 or so miles to Manhattan and we climbed into his Ford Crown Victoria. About two hours and $170 later, we were safe and warm inside our apartment--we got home around the same time we would have had the train functioned.

By the way, and on a separate note, one of the things that has always impressed me is how small companies--companies that don't employ scores of copywriters and marketing people, almost always have better taglines that Fortune 500 companies. In the dingy bar in Boston's South Station last night my wife and I picked up burgers to go for dinner. I came across a middling tagline, shown above on the receipt. It reminded me of my favorite tagline, shown above on the van.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A rerun.

After my agency offsite last night I went to one of those Ted-like lectures where people who have never done, made or thought anything tell you exactly what is wrong with the world, how to fix it and why they're right and everyone else is wrong. It made me think of a previous post of mine.

I've never had a re-run post before and I've written over 2,000--but I can't shake the quotation below from my head. (BTW quotation is a noun. Quote is a verb. Almost everyone uses the word "quote" incorrectly. Another spike of the ass of literacy.)

Anyway, the rerun post, it was called "Scoundrels."

Reading people is an important skill. Not pre-judging, but reading. If you're in advertising I have a simple thesis. Don't trust anyone. Especially anyone that uses words like "model," "monetization," "process," and a few others. They are scoundrels, plain and simple.

In "The Captive Mind", Czeslaw Milosz's memoir/essay/study about artists and intellectuals living under Communism in the early 1950s, he attributed the epigram below to an ancient Jew from Galacia. Makes sense doesn't it?

"When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal."

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I have long and unruly hair, and I like it long and unruly. Consequently I go to the barber three, maybe four times a year. And about every year or so, after having seen a particular barber three or four times, I switch to another barber shop.

It's not that I don't like my barbers, or that I don't like how they manage my mane, it just that I don't want another relationship in my life. I don't want a commitment. I don't want someone to be "my barber." My haircuts are not important enough to me for me to have a relationship that revolves around them.

A lot of marketers would probably find the above group of sentences shocking. Because a lot of marketers act as if the end all and be all of their existence and their brands is a relationship.

Maybe there are masses of people so lonely that they need to converse with lip balm or candy or scrubbing bubbles. Maybe relationship marketing works with these people.

Me, I just want to be left alone.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

From whence I come.

I was born, almost 54 years ago in a hospital that was in one of America's first malls, an outdoor agglomeration of small shops and branches of department stores called Cross County Center. Cross County Hospital was a six-story blue-brick building in the center of things. I don't know why they put a hospital in the middle of a mall, but in any event it's where I was born, and where my sister emerged two years later.

Cross County Center was just over the New York City line in Yonkers, New York. Yonkers was a city exploding with post-war growth and had surged to become New York's fourth largest municipality, after New York City, Buffalo and Rochester.

Yonkers was, and is, a place riven by segregation. An underclass of black families had moved into the downtown areas. The working class neighborhoods began to diminish as small factories began to shutter as factories moved to cheaper labor in the south. More affluent families began moving into large homes on the fringes.

Yonkers at the time of my youth was heavily Italian. There was a unique way the Italian boys had of calling after girls that I learned to mimic. I can still effect the effect if pressed or drunk.

I'm not drunk.

I woke up this morning with an unusual feeling. I realized I didn't dread going in to work. Yes, I had a bunch of soul-sucking meetings already piling onto my Microsoft Calendar. Yes, I had the nitty-gritty of a couple of asinine assignments to attend to. Yes, I even had to "register" for my agency's offsite.

All things I find pretty odious.

But still, I didn't dread going in.

Here's the thing: I love advertising.

I love the work of having ideas, of solving problems. I love the pressure of the deadline. I love the energy it takes to sell something. I love the arguments, the fights. I love writing copy. I love doing work that I like. I love seeing ads run. I love advertising.

Outside of being a small forward for the Knicks, I don't know what else I'd rather do.

Yes, there are moments, weeks and even months where you can't stand the asses you work with and for. Where it seems like everyone has over-dosed on stupidity pills. Where it's all you can do not to rage and storm.

But even though there are times when it sucks,
I love advertising.

Short vs. long.

My lovely wife and I had a conversation the other night. That in and of itself is not worth posting about--we have conversations at least two or three times a month, but the content of the conversation was, somewhat, extraordinary.

"I just called up the Metropolitan Opera," she announced. "Siegfried (part of Wagner's "Ring Cycle") starts at 6 and isn't over until 11:30."

We were going to Siegfried on Thursday, and the news of its length pushed me back in my chair.

"It's five and a half hours," I said, expressing incredulity. "You're kidding me."

"That's right," she said, "Seriously."

A five and a half hour opera got me thinking. So much of what we read, hear and say in the modern world is uttered under the imprecations to "keep it short. Make it fast. Cut it down." Content, which we're told on one hand, is "king" but most people would assert that content's a king with a short reign.

The other day the Ad Contrarian had a seminal post that linked to a paper 20 or so pages long. It was a paper that shakes to the rafters the dominant complacency of so much of our business. It's fully sourced, footnoted and researched.

A week before that IBM published and allowed you to download for free a survey of 1,700 CMOs called "From Stretched to Strengthened." It's an incisive look at the problems facing our clients--the things that threaten their survival. And it's compiled by one of the world's smartest companies.

In the past two week's two new translations of Homer's "Odyssey" have been published. They're each a good week's reading for Evelyn Wood.

None of this content is weak. Sound-biteable. "Easy to read" or digest.

The vast majority have come to equate short with valuable.

That's true neither in penises nor ideas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Madison Avenue. Continues.

We are the 99%.


I have the misfortune of a Manhattan malady. I live far east and I work far west. That means my commute, even on the lightest days is akin to something like the salaryman's version of the Bataan Death March. (My father used to quip that the only way to get across town in Manhattan was to be born there.)

In any event I take the sluggish M79 bus from York to Central Park West, a crowded journey of about 20 minutes and then switch to the downtown C train and take that--the worst of the subway lines--from 81st to 42nd.

What I notice nearly every morning is that no one notices anything. We are held captive by our inches-big screens, thumbing friends or dealing cards to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

I remember about 30 years ago a retailer on 57th Street was having some sort of an event that involved having a genuine elephant in front of their store. He had to hire barkers to exhort passersby to "react to the elephant."

That was many years ago and I suppose people were then rapt in conversation, their Sony walkmans or even the newspaper. But today things seem, to me anyway, to be worse.

Our life may not be in our hands, but that's where our focus is.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What's wrong with advertising

If you think about the advertising industry, as I do, there's an article in today's "New York Times" that merits reading and reflection.
Over the last 30 years or so, and the trend has accelerated during today's era of digital mania, about half the industry's talk has been centered around "what's wrong with the advertising industry."

People have proffered all sorts of theses, but only rarely, if at all does someone come forth and say that the business has been "Wall-Streeted."

Advertising, when it finally came to the attention of bankers in the early 80s was considered an attractive field in which to invest. Agencies generated a lot of cash flow and, outside of offices and typewriters, needed no real equipment or infrastructure. It probably costs less in capital plant to get an agency up and running that it takes to start a nail salon.

The money boys saw this and pounced. Just as they did in the newspaper industry.

The Times reports on enormous bonuses being lavished on people high up in the Gannet and Tribune companies.

Here's the scorecard of one such bandit.

Recently, Craig A. Dubow resigned as Gannett’s chief executive. "His short six-year tenure was, by most accounts, a disaster. Gannett’s stock price declined to about $10 a share from a high of $75 the day after he took over; the number of employees at Gannett plummeted to 32,000 from about 52,000, resulting in a remarkable diminution in journalistic boots on the ground at the 82 newspapers the company owns."

Gannet's board gave Mr. Dubow just under $37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits, on top of a combined $16 million in salary and bonuses in the last two years.

What's happened in journalism has happened in advertising and in other industries. I actually don't think there's anything wrong with advertising that the money moguls didn't cause.

We've been strip-mined.

The wealth has been removed.

The land has been laid waste.

The robbers move on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A poem I tripped across.

It's from "Punch," England's "New Yorker"-like magazine. From 1875.

There was an old owl lived in an oak
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard
O, if men were all like that wise bird!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Finding your sweet-spot.

It's simple.

Years ago, I read a long essay by an author I admire, a writer whose work touched me, made me think and made me laugh. The author is someone very few people have heard of, Mark Harris, and he isn't considered "serious" because his most famous books were about baseball.

If you're interested, here is the obituary "The New York Times" published when Harris died in 2007.

Back to the essay. In it, Harris was incensed. Not because his book "Bang the Drum Slowly" was passed over by The Book of the Month Club, but because the book that beat his out was hailed as "easy to read." As if ease were a criterion for literature and thinking.

As a society we have placed simple on a pedestal.

If it's not simple, it can't be good.

Unfortunately most sticky problems can't be reduced to simplicity.

Sloganeering can be motivating but without intelligent plumbing and processes behind it, it can also be glib and empty.

My point is that there's a difference between something being simple and something being presented in a simple, understandable manner.

Just recently I bought a new television set. I finally got rid of my black and white Philco and replaced it with a shiny new flat screen.

As I have said before, I toss nickels around like manhole covers. That is, I don't take spending money lightly. So I tried to find out information about various TV sets. I didn't want to make a bad decision.

All the sites I went to online tried to make the process simple for me. They made it so simple, in fact, that they were completely devoid of relevant information. After weeks of shopping, I still felt like I was pissing into the wind.

It was all so simple.

So simple it was empty.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Long ago and far away.

Rich Siegel has a great post today on one of his ads getting a laugh out of Steve Jobs. It got me thinking about a moment early on in my career that meant a lot to me.

I was working at a storied agency called Ally & Gargano, which many people believe was the best American advertising agency ever. Not only did they probably win more awards per dollar of revenue than any other agency (including DDB) they helped build such major brands as Federal Express, MCI, Dunkin' Donuts and Saab.

A walk along the hallways was like taking a walk through a One Show annual. Every nameplate was, to me at the time, someone of incredible talent and accomplishment.

Of course, Amil Gargano, the man in the corner office was the most revered talent of all. It seemed to me that even creatives of unimpeachable talent were intimidated by his bearing, intelligence, austerity and judgment.

I had written a 60-second radio commercial for The Bank of New York that my boss absolutely loved. The client killed it. My boss wanted to get the commercial sold...a radio commercial. And he went to Amil for his help.

Amil read my spot and said he'd call the client. I sat with him as he did. He simply and forcefully made the case for the spot. The client asked for one change--not to soften the spot, but to make it clearer. Amil told me to make the change.

I retyped my script on yellow copy paper which we faxed down to the client. The spot was bought and I recorded it a couple weeks later.

BTW, here is Amil's page from the Art Directors' Club, from when he was elected into its Hall of Fame.

Occupy Madison Avenue.

Yet again, this morning, Jennifer, a young account person who seems to be organizing OMA, handed me a flyer as I sped to work.

The New Media World Order.

I am reading Ian Kershaw's "The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945" right now. It's a long book that details the actions of the German military and police apparatus and civilian behavior during the collapse of their war machine in the last days of WWII.

After the Allied landings in June, 1944, and the Stauffenberg assassination attempt roughly seven weeks later, it was obvious to most that the war, to the Germans was a lost cause. They couldn't withstand the combined men and material might of the Russians in the East and the Allies in the West.

But of course, the Germans fought on for almost an entire year. In fact, they lost as many soldiers in that year as they did in the first five years of the war combined.

All was lost, yet they fought on. By now both military brass and "the people" recognized that the propaganda from Berlin was delusional. Yet they fought on and by fighting on brought death and suffering to millions of people who might have been otherwise spared.

There is an advertising point in all this. It's a point about fanaticism, fervor and absolutes.

In the past dozen or so years we, in the marketing world, have been besieged by an onslaught of braggadocio, bombast, puffery and hype around various media and tools that "will change everything" down to the very wiring of the human brain (such as it is.)

The agencies that have grown up around each of those various media believe to their death in the efficacy of their particular cause. Their way of promulgating their own particular vibrancy is to denigrate the efficacy of the media they compete with.

So what we are living through right now is a battle over the New Media World Order.

As the Tweeters and the Likers and the Grouponers feel ever more attacked by the Traditionals, their blandishments are issued ever shriller.

That doesn't make them more correct, more substantial, more relevant.

Just louder.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Even in the rain, the fight marches on.

In a rainy New York this morning, legions were out drumming up support.
I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead,"
"I never died," says he
"I never died," says he.

"In Salt Lake, Joe," says I to him,
Him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead."

"The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you, Joe," says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man,"
Says Joe, "I didn't die,"
Says Joe, "I didn't die."

And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Joe says, "What they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize."

"Joe Hill ain't dead," he says to me,
"Joe Hill ain't never died.
Wherever workers go on strike
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side."

"From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill,
Where workers strike and organize,"
Says he, "You'll find Joe Hill,"
Says he, "You'll find Joe Hill."

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead,"
"I never died," says he
"I never died," says he.

267 words.

Some years ago, Apple came up with what, to my eyes anyway, seemed like a new online advertising unit. They "roadblocked" "The New York Times," and ran what in digital what in analogue parlance we used to call a "double-truck with gutter."

It was great when Apple did it. Not only did it dominate all around it, other ads and editorial, the ad itself was informative and entertaining. It built in an interesting way on the equity of the "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" guys.

Since that time a number of other companies have used the same ad configuration. But the effect of their efforts has been less than salutary. In other words, I resented my newspaper being interrupted so intrusively.

The difference between Apple's permission to interrupt and just about every other advertiser is broad. Apple's work is elegant, informative, interesting and funny. Just about everyone else's was nasty, brutish, and short of 'entertainment value.'

What's been forgotten by just about everyone is Gossage's maxim that (I'm paraphrasing now) "no one reads advertising. But they will read what interests them. And sometimes, that's an ad."

It's easy to say that people will have conversations about brands or that micro-eyebeam targeting (already being used in some precincts in Japan) are the end-all and be-all. That's all well and good. People have been selling magic elixers to life's ailments since the beginning of time.

The fact is there is a magic advertising elixer.

It's called "be interesting."

Or, as Carl Ally wrote nearly half a century ago, "Impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's about advertising.

One of the biggest trends in advertising, if you read the advertising trade magazines and sundry ad-focused blogs, is that it is no longer about advertising.

It seems to me that Adweek and Ad Age, Creativity and Agency Spy are more focused upon anti-advertising. On the one hand, you have myriad articles proclaiming the world is post-advertising. That consumers don't listen to messaging. I saw one article just yesterday that portrayed something like "10 All-Star Creative Technologists." One of those technologists said something like programmers and engineers are the copywriters and art directors of today.

(The other mass of content the ad press seems involved with is self-promotion. An ad that never ran for a charity that doesn't exist. A posting of a god-awful agency video on the virtues of recycling. And so forth.)

But let's focus on the advertising-deniers.

If you have a dozen hours or so, you ought to take a look at Neil Shubin's "Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body." In it Shubin makes pretty damn clear that we didn't just arrive in the 21st Century without precedent. Just about every bone, every synapse, every human reaction is the result of billions and billions of inputs made over billions of years.

To wake up one morning and say that the very nature of communication and humanity has changed is ignorance of the highest, or lowest, order. I often think about this when I'm at an art museum. I could be standing in front of a Caravaggio, a Bernini, a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh. If a nice-assed woman walks by, I'm going to look.

That's why advertising, regardless of the bloviating know-nothings say, will continue to move and influence people. The best of it appeals to human nature.

Monday, October 17, 2011

It continues.

I was handed this this morning as I walked to work.

Uncle Slappy writes.

All over the globe people seem to be up-in-arms about something or another. Just two miles from where you are, boychik, hundreds of hipsters are in a privately-owned park waving placards decrying the same sort of inequality of in the distribution of wealth that has afflicted mankind since pre-historic times.

In the Arab crescent people are screaming for freedom and democracy, toppling dictators and tyranny—the only social system they have ever known. All over television airwaves this weekend, large steroidal men wore pink sneakers with pink laces and had pink towels stuffed into their tight nylon pants “fighting” against breast cancer.

Everyone has a cause and, I'll be the first to admit, all those causes are important and significant and worth fighting, even dying, for. That’s great and noble, maybe even Holy. But shit, it’s not where my head is at.

Sure I want world peace. I want cancer to be eradicated. And AIDS. And malaria. I want an end to human trafficking. To blood diamonds. To oil oligarchs. I want better schools for children, a ban on handguns, a widening of bike lanes. I want everything everyone else wants.

And more.

But what I really want is a large plate of perfectly golden waffles, smothered in sweet butter and inundated with a really good maple syrup. I don’t want out of the freezer into the toaster waffles. I don’t want hormonal Belgian waffles, pumped up and puffy like Barry Bonds. I want real, central-casting waffles, still hot from the waffle-iron, coated with thick all-natural grade A sweetness.

I want to eat these waffles, while they’re hot and crispy, then have another stack served to me, with more syrup and butter. I want to go on like this as long as I can. Until I need a bromo the size of a horse.

There's nothing wrong with baying at the moon. Trying to bring down evil. Toppling tyrants.

But sometimes, you just want a waffle.

Civil disobedience.


If you've read your history or, even, your literature, you'd know that protests like Occupy Wall Street rarely, if ever, make a difference.

The government supported malefactors of great wealth, those who have built a system of socialism for the mega-wealthy and brutal Darwinian capitalism for the wretched refuse, simply have their drivers roll-up their darkly-tinted windows, crank the climate-control and drive home to their 17-room apartments on Park Avenue or their 25-acre estates bordered by sea-water and golf-courses in Rye.

Milling about a privately-owned park policed by public servants who are against the public will have little or no effect on the bloated plutocrats.

Most people, in fact, don't understand the real economics of our "trickle-down" economy, in which average CEO pay is something on the order of 400 times that of an ordinary worker. Money isn't printed to pay people that much. Rather than hire 400 workers, we give their money to CEOs. All that money those millionaire 24-year-old investment bankers make comes from somewhere. It comes from you.

Each morning as I walk to work I pass a giant inflated rat that serves as a union protest against union-busting at a national hotel chain. A century ago unions didn't inflate urethane rodents. They wrapped lead pipes in newspaper and bashed people over the head. Two centuries ago, factory workers in France threw their wooden shoes, their sabots, into the gears of the machines they slaved over, sabotage.

We, the anesthetized people, tweet.

We can't, of course, do as Thoreau did, 165 years or so ago and not pay our taxes. Our taxes are taken from us automatically.

We don't, I don't, even know how to rail against the world.

This is from Nicholas Kristof in Sunday's "Times."

"According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.

"Three factoids underscore that inequality:

"¶The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

"¶The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

"¶In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent."
As a counter-balance to all this gloom, I have posted 4:45 minutes of what may be the most beautiful movie ever shot. "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Back pain.

Last weekend, I schlepped. Schlepped my Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie, my wife and myself down to the wilds of South Jersey to break the Yom Kippur fast. This week, it's caught up with me in the form of excruciating back pain.

The pain is so sharp, so intense that I can't breathe deep. I went for a half-hour run in the park (which, for whatever reason doesn't aggravate matters) and I could barely double-over and sip from a water fountain. A sneeze is like a gun shot.

There's nothing like back pain. And there's nothing like back pain to put the world in perspective.

The world when your back is attacking you is a horrible, immobilizing place. The simplest act, typing this blog, becomes an act of fortitude. Or even five-itude.

And then, as suddenly as it strikes you, the back pain, if past is prologue, will disappear. It disappears and you are freed. Free to carry milk home from the grocery store. Free to adjust the dials on the radio. Free to breathe deep and cough without hesitation.

It's good to remember what life is like when you have back pain. Because it shows you how good life is when you don't have it. It's a good lesson for people in advertising.

There is so much that is so difficult, so painful about our business. There are times when you feel like giving up. Like you haven't a friend in the world, or at least the agency.

But you hang in there.

Breathe deep.

You think of the joke about the guy who's banging his head repeatedly against a brick wall.


Because it feels so good when he stops.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A day off.

I suppose I inherited my work-aholic intensity from someone. Or, maybe I'm just a true creative and, therefore, so anxious about being discovered as a fraud, that I attempt to compensate for my many failures by working extra hard. Whatever the cause, for about the last two decades of agency life, I've pretty much always been "the first one in and the last one out." Additionally, I've never relied on traffic people or project managers or "producers" (they who don't produce anything) to impel me to do work. I don't need to be reminded, when I have something to do I hie and do it.

Yesterday, my agency send out an invitation to a mandatory offsite event. I maintained that there's no such thing as an invitation to something mandatory. A mandate brings you to a mandatory event. Or an edict. Or an order. An invitation is to something you can decline. It's that simple.

In any event, it all made me fed up. So I decided to take today off. Fuck 'em.

Maybe I'll be fired Monday.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

W. 39th.

Two views of life on one of New York's grittiest and grimmest blocks.

Ecclesiastes on advertising.

"There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after."


I had a quick drink with an acquaintance last night. A guy who gave me some work when he was president of a small digital ad agency and I was (ahem) between jobs. I won't say that we are really friends but there was some symbiosis between us, so while I am most often anti-social, I agreed to meet him at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central so he could, afterwards hop on the 8:47 to Hastings or wherever, and I could take the 6 train home.

My acquaintance had hit what might be, if you're French (or affected) be called an annus miserabilis. In the past 12 months his agency has been merged with another and he was forced out. His wife divorced him. Leaving him lonely and without his four kids. And his father's come down with cancer.

Now, he's asking for my ear and experience as he searches for jobs.


This is just the way life is.

Especially as you get older.

The world, it seems, conspires to strip you like gypsy moths strip bark.

They take away your work identity.

Your identity as a provider.

Your identity as a father.

All that can disappear, I said, as another beer was placed in front of us--his ready for tears.

All that can disappear.

But you remain.

The work you have done.

The network you have built.

The reputation you have forged.

You still have you.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bruce Jay Friedman.

Bruce Jay Friedman--the Philip Roth no one has heard of--has a new book out. It was glowingly reviewed in Monday's "Times."

Here are two selections from the review that made me laugh. And laughter, at the end of it all, is all we have.

"Mr. Friedman sold one of the first stories he wrote to The New Yorker. A letter he received from the magazine read, “All of us here are delighted with your story and we would like to publish it in the magazine.” Mr. Friedman’s response was, he writes, “All of us here in the Bronx are delighted that all of you there at The New Yorker are pleased with my story.”

Richard Pryor with whom Friedman was friends, "asked Mr. Friedman if he wanted to get high. The author responded by explaining why, as he put it, “there were no (or very few) Jewish junkies.” The three reasons: “Jews need eight hours of sleep”; “They must have fresh orange juice in the morning”; “They have to read the entire N.Y. Times.”


For the past six months or so I've had a raft of dental work. You see, I grind my teeth because I'm stressed. My older fillings crack and I wind up having to get crowns. It's a long, annoying process that, thankfully, is nearing its end. My teeth are fully-armored now with porcelain. I could be some sort of Bond character with a bite like a backhoe.

The one consolation of going to the dentist is that his shabby little office is just two blocks from one of the world's largest bookstores, the Strand. The Strand boasts "18 miles of books." And I believe them. They inhabit three floors (more if you count their rare book room) and virtually every square inch of their space is jam-packed with books, right up to the cobwebs on their 14-foot ceilings.

To manage a space so vast, you need a strategy. You either a) decide to spend three hours scouring the place or b) you have a series of checkpoints that you hit, shortcutting your way through those 18 miles.

I almost always choose "b." I never have half a day to laze through the stacks. Half days thus spent is my retirement plan.

Last night I went through my shopping route. I scoured the new fiction table which contains about 50 just-released books, then I went through a deeper cleaning of the non-fiction section, paying particular attention to Steven Pinker's new tome "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined," which argues through 800+ pages that the "good old days" were way worse than our present Dark Ages.

Finally, I went to my bookstore homeland, the vast German lebenstraum which stretches stack after fully-packed stack both East and West. There, within seconds I landed on William L. Shirer's "This is Berlin, radio broadcasts from Nazi Germany."

Shirer, author of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" was there, as witness to the rising horror, cruelty, inhumanity and fervor. He broadcast a two to three minute report--sometimes two or three--virtually every day.

Writing under such deadlines is no place for dilettantes. It is demanding. It serves a purpose. It must needs power, breath and speed.

Here are just three or four randomly chosen sentences:

From June 2, 1940: "Those British Tommies at Dunkirk are still fighting against the advancing German steamroller like bulldogs."

From February 23, 1940: "Returning here after a fortnight's bout with the flu in Switzerland, I find things little changed. For one thing, it's warmer in Berlin than when I left it two weeks ago. You don't see that frozen look in people's faces..."

From September 24, 1939:
This fourth Sabbath Day since the war started has been spent by the people of Berlin in church, and lining up for the new monthly food-cards which go into operation tomorrow. No meat, bread, milk, fats and such things will be obtainable in Germany after today except through foodcards, regardless of whether you eat at home or in a restaurant."

This is the sort of writing that is missing from so much today. It doesn't worry about style, euphony or asininities like tonality. It doesn't demand a week to write 300 words.

It speaks the truth.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I never sang for my grandfather.

This weekend as we convened in darkest New Jersey to break the Yom Kippur fast, a 19th cousin 43 times removed revealed to me that she had a family portrait that included my father's parents, my grandparents as well as my Uncle Slappy and my Uncle Oscar.

I had, briefly, known my grandmother and my father's brothers, but my grandfather, Morris, died before my father was even bar mitzvah'd and I had never even seen a picture of him. Until Sunday night.

Morris was a tailor in West Philadelphia. Family legend had it he was the only tailor in West Philly who didn't know how to sew. I can believe this. Both my father and my brother have the manual dexterity of a clubfoot, though I am actually pretty adept with a needle and thread, having obviously taken after my harridan of a mother in that department.

When you get a photo of a "close" relative you have never seen before you examine it to find yourself. Are those my eyes? My ears? My cheekbones? My chin? Is he tall and endomorphic as I am? I find none of me in Morris. Except that his left eye is more closed than his right, his eyes are un-even. As mine are in many photos of me.

Whenever I think back on my family--the people I never knew, who, at an early age threw me to the wolves and demanded I fend for myself--I think of Rod Steiger in Sidney Lumet's 1964 movie "The Pawnbroker." I become woozy, disoriented, nastier and more misanthropic than usual. I want to be left alone.

I started this blog when I was unemployed and needed an outlet for the writing dexterity that resides in my fingertips--the dexterity my grandfather lacked in his small, basement tailoring shop. I know what I write is supposed to be about advertising. But sometimes you fuck up and write about lives you never knew.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It has begun.

A well-dressed young lady, an account person I assume, handed me the above on my way to work this morning.

Let the streets run red, let the columns topple, let the ruling classes quake.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A farewell to Slappy.

Yesterday we took the train to Philadelphia with Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie to visit our cousins and break the Yom Kippur fast. Howard, my cousin, the son of Herb whose mother was Emma whose sister was Ida who was my grandmother, mother of my father, Stanley, picked us up at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. We then drove out to the suburbs, to Cherry Hill over the Delaware in Jersey where there are neither cherries not hills.

There, Uncle Slappy spent the evening chatting with Aunt Dot, his distant cousin, who he now only sees when someone dies or someone has an 85th birthday. At some point in the evening, Dot and Slappy tried to unravel the baroque connections in our family.

"Your mother was Big Ida and my mother's sister was Little Ida," said Dot.

"So, what happened to Medium Ida," Slappy asked, without a hint of humor.

"Medium Ida ran off to Altoona with some schmendrick who was opening up an appliance store" said Dot, "this was in the early days of radio."

"Altoona," said Slappy knowingly, "the New Jersey of Pennsylvania."

Dot continued. "We have a photograph of Big Ida and Little Ida with you, Slappy and your brother wearing dresses."

Cousin Howard butted in, "And haircuts like Moe in the Three Stooges."

"I don't know that picture. I wish I could see it," said Slaps.

"Let me run home and get it," said Dot "It's no more than 5 minutes."

"No," said Slappy, "I've lived 86 years without seeing it, I'll survive."

In any event, Dot scanned the photo yesterday and sent it to me.

Big Ida is the heavyset woman in the backrow, right. That's my grandmother, Uncle Slappy's mother. Little Ida is in the back row, left, the bee-kissed woman with the black belt in the light-colored dress.

Slappy is in the front row, the little boy on the right, wearing the Mary Janes. Uncle Oscar who died in the 1980s is to Slappy's right, his feet just touching the floor.

On Sunday afternoon, Howard drove me and my wife and Slappy and Sylvie back to 30th Street Station. Slappy and Sylvie would pick up the Amtrak "Palmetto" which would take them down to Boca. My wife and I were taking the "Keystone" back to the city.

"Call me when you get it," I said to Slappy as we put him on the train.

"Call you?" he asked, "I will if I'm not dead."

Friday, October 7, 2011


1. A person's buttocks.
2. Power to endure or to persevere in an activity; staying power.

Years ago when I had the best, and longest-lived, job of my career, I was unhappy with a lot of my agency's politics. There was a no-talent sitting on top of me who I felt was squashing my advancement. Though I produced a lot of work and all of it good, this guy kept on trying to keep me down.

At the time my regular therapist suggested I see a super-therapist--the guy who had trained him. My regular therapist reasoned that he and I had been together for ten years. It was time to let an outsider evaluate us and see how we were progressing.

We set up a one-time-only special two-hour session and I gave him the lay of my land. At the end of the session he suggested I summon "sitzfleisch." I shouldn't do anything I might later regret. I should be patient. I should give the agency a bit of time and see if things would work themselves out.

Unfortunately, I was unable to do what the doctor suggested. I left the agency for places West, walking into a dying agency which has burned through creatives like a Texas wild-fire.

Sitzfleisch, however, is something I've never stopped thinking about, even when quitting places abruptly, I wish that my ability to endure was greater.

Today, a guy I worked with was pushed out of the agency. I started here freelance about two years ago with probably two-dozen other people who had to wrestle to the ground an account that was just won.

Of all those two dozen, only I remain.


The future of Jobs.

In the broad and foaming wake of Steve Jobs' death, I think it makes sense not just to adorate his genius. That genius is all around us, in our pockets, on our desks and on TV screens.

I think it makes more sense to consider the gap between Jobs and just about everything and everyone else. Jobs' vision and genius was of such strong magnitude that he and Apple became something to admire but not to emulate. "We could never be like Apple," is an admission you'll hear from just about every client, as if Jobs' strictures were somehow beyond the capacity to even imitate.

David Brooks, the brilliant but annoyingly conservative op-ed columnist for "The New York Times," has an astute piece, nominally about Jobs, in today's paper:

In it he puzzles over "innovation starvation" and today's "great stagnation."

He says, "we travel at the same speeds as we did a half-century ago, whether on the ground or in the air. We rely on the same basic energy sources...

"The Green Revolution improved grain yields by 126 percent from 1950 to 1980, but yields have risen only by 47 percent in the decades since. The big pharmaceutical companies have very few blockbuster drugs in the pipeline. They are slashing their research departments..."

Innovation at least from a marketing communications point of view should be simple. We might all be lacking Jobs' genius. But we would all be better off if we at least copied his deeds.

If we remembered what Jobs said when asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

Uncle Slappy visits the cardiologist.

Uncle Slappy is still with us. He's alive and well and staying through the weekend which culminates in the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. While up north, Slappy's seen a host of doctors, the medical professionals he's been seeing for the last two or three decades. Yesterday he went to Dr. Warshauer, his cardiologist, for a stress test.

"I saw Richard P. Cohen on Monday," Slappy began, stressing the middle initial of his long-time internist.

"Richard P. Cohen?" asked Warshauer.

"Well, there's also in the phonebook a Richard T. Cohen, but I didn't want you should think I saw a podiatrist."

"Let's see how the old ticker is," said Warshauer. The nurse had Uncle Slappy remove his sweater, shirt and t-shirt and affixed sensors in about a dozen places on his upper half including the inside of each wrist. The old man sat on a table and they ran the EKG. (Above.)

"Good, good" said Warshauer as the results began printing out.

"Good?" asked Slappy. "What does good mean?"

"Good means everything's normal."

"Well, if I feel like trafe when everything's normal, how should I feel when something's bad?"

Warshauer has an older clientele and knew enough to feint the jab.

Next, it was time for Uncle Slappy's stress test. He stepped onto the treadmill, held onto the urethaned handle and the doctor started the machine. Slappy walked slowly, then more vigorously to keep pace with the ever-increasing tempo of the tread.

After a while, the Dr. began dialing down the pace of the machine, finally allowing Uncle Slappy, sweating now, to step off.

"You have the heart of a 50-year-old man," Dr. Warshauer pronounced.

"Yeah, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it," Slappy answered.

He paid his ever-increasing co-pay and we walked, together, slowly home.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On death and dying.

I am reading right now a book by William Ian Miller, a professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. It's called "LOSING IT in which an aging professor LAMENTS his shrinking BRAIN which he flatters himself formerly did him Noble Service ***
A Plaint, tragi-comical, historical, vengeful, sometimes satirical and thankful in six parts, if his Memory does yet serve."

I began reading the book before Steve Jobs died. It seems even more relevant after his death.

I have nothing to add about Jobs. I never worked with him though many of my past colleagues had.

Nevertheless his untimely demise recalled to mind this, by A.E. Housman. Jobs, it seems to me, was an athlete who died young.

To An Athlete Dying Young

THE time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flying the very friendly skies.

Air travel has introduced a new indignity. I'm calling it "crotch shoulder."

I am in an aisle seat and in the overhead bin right above me are the thin sheathes of petrochemical fibers they call blankets. It's too much work for the airline to put them on seats. They're all stuffed, randomly in this particular overhead bin.

At this point in the flight, there are just a few blankets left. That means most people have to stand on their tippy-toes and reach back into the bin to fetch a blanket. Which means my shoulder is being assaulted by crotches of all shapes and genders.

All of which has led me to write this couplet.

I'll say it here with no addendum,
I do not welcome your pudendum.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lunch in Minneapolis.

I've talked a lot about the overuse, or perversion, of the word experience in "marketing speak." For instance, some call a data-field on a web site "the log in experience."

I think in life experiences--and by that I mean something fun, worthwhile or memorable--are few and far between.

In any event, I had lunch in Minneapolis yesterday with a bunch of colleagues. Someone decided we'd go to a place called "The Great American Burger." Their logo promised "A Burger Experience."

I can't even conceive of what a burger experience might be. Though Philip Roth's Portnoy had an experience with a liver once, if I remember correctly.

In any event, I had a chicken Caesar salad.

It was quite an experience.

Take back the Language.

Generally speaking I despise fashion advertising. It is most often banal, insipid and devoid of anything but sallow looking models with physiques that remind me of survivors of the Bataan Death March. Most often such ads have no story, just emaciated people in "sexy" poses.

For a few weeks now I've noticed the pomposity of Uniqlo ads all over Manhattan. They are expanding like mad, taking over storefronts all over the city. Almost invariably Uniqlo's candle will burn for a few years then they will suffer from over-expansion, contract and then collapse. Like Benetton did. Like the Gap has. etc.

In any event, my dear friend, ex-partner and brilliant photographer Tore Claesson sent me this last night.

A uniqlo ad. Amended.

(I especially love the graffiti at the bottom of the ad, "I heart grammar.")

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pinching yourself.

"The New Yorker," yes, the New Yorker is a magazine I've been reading for more than 40 years. It's one of those journals that causes regret. We regret we simply do not have the time to read it as we should. Except for its dark, Tina-Brown-led years when it became flip and slipshod, the New Yorker has been intelligent, entertaining, important and fun.

Some years ago, the magazine inaugurated something called "The New Yorker Festival." Three days of events featuring writers affiliated with the New Yorker and people its organizers deemed would be interesting to its readership. Three years ago, my wife and I did an eating and walking tour of lower Manhattan with the great humorist Calvin Trillin. Last year we took a tugboat tour of New York harbor and its many estuaries. And yesterday we went to a preview of Ralph Fiennes' soon-to-be-released movie, "Coriolanus," followed by a chat with Fiennes and New Yorker movie reviewer Anthony Lane.

Every once in a while, maybe especially if you live in a great city like New York, you see something that makes you want to pinch yourself. I took my kids, for instance, when they were young to hear Ray Charles wail in Radio City Music Hall. When he sang "Hit the road, Jack," I was for a moment thrilled to be alive. I saw Meryl Streep outdoors in the New York Shakespeare Festival playing in Brecht's "Mother Courage."

Yesterday afternoon, after Coriolanus (which was great) and after their chat, Anthony Lane asked Fiennes a favor. Would he read from TS Eliot's "Four Quartets"? Fiennes agreed and in his sonorous voice read, slowly and deliberately from number 2, the first part of East Coker.

The New Yorker and its Festival isn't crowd-sourced. The public doesn't vote on what it wants to see and read. It is tightly led and edited. Thank goodness.

Fiennes cleared his throat. He sat upright and leaned toward the audience. He read. Eliot sprang to life. The audience sat silent and listened, really listened.


In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


As I have stated before in this space, I believe, though they don't win advertising awards (not cool enough, I guess) IBM does just about the best advertising in the world. It is ubiquitous, intelligent, thought-provoking and, dare I say it, influential. As my mentor said to me some time ago, "IBM does advertising that influences the Presidents of countries, not just the Presidents of awards shows.

In any event, as part of their 100th Anniversary IBM has a giant interactive exhibit at Lincoln Center. It's open for a few more weeks and my wife and I made it over there yesterday afternoon.

The exhibit is beautiful to look at and intelligently conceived. It does what advertising is supposed to do but what very little advertising does do. It "imparts useful information in an executionally brilliant way." All told, the exhibit includes a double billboard-sized LED message board, two informational timelines, a multi-screen ten-minute movie and interactive touch-screens. From start to finish, you've got about 30-45 minutes to take the whole thing in and it's time well spent.

From a macro point of view, IBM charts the course of thinking, or development, of progress. According to IBM, it goes like this.

First we see. (For instance, we noticed the stars.)
Then we map. (We drew their formations.)
Then we understand. (We plotted their locations, orbits and behaviors.)
Believe. (We believe we can learn more.)
Finally, we act. (We send up rockets and radio waves to learn even more.)

This model seems so simple and elegant when you write it down.
It probably applies to good advertising, good communications, intelligent, moving work.

The only thing that's missing is a good fart joke.