Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thinking about Terry Malloy.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront," written by a former mentor of mine, Budd Schulberg.

The script below recounts my favorite scene. Not Terry and Charlie in the back of the cab, but Terry and Johnny on the docks.

I have the habit of too much speaking my mind. 

I will watch myself more in the future.

Terry walks compulsively down the ramp to the office.                              

TERRY                  (shouts)              
Hey, Friendly! Johnny Friendly, come out here! 

Johnny comes out of his office followed by his goons.                              

JOHNNY                 (shouts)              
You want to know the trouble with you? You think it makes you a big man if you      can give the answers.                               

Listen, Johnny—                              

Go on— beat it. Don't push your luck.                               

You want to know somethin'—?                         

I said beat it! At the right time I'll catchup with you. Be thinkin' about it. 

As he starts to turn back into his office, Terry advances, steaming  himself up.                          

TERRY                  (louder)              
You want to know something? Take the heater away and you're nothin'— take the good goods away, and the kickback and the shakedown cabbage away and the pistoleros—    (indicating the others)               —away and you're a great big hunk of nothing—       (takes a deep breath as if relieved) Your guts is all in your wallet and your trigger finger!                             

JOHNNY                 (with fury)           
Go on talkin'. You're talkin' yourself right into the river. Go on, go on... .                              

TERRY                  (voice rising defiantly)             
I'm glad what I done today, see? You give it to Joey, you give it to Nolan, you give it to Charley who was one of your own. You thought you was God Almighty instead of a cheap— conniving—good-for-nothing bum! So I'm glad what I done— you hear me? —glad what I done!                            

JOHNNY                 (coldly)              
You ratted on us, Terry.                             
TERRY                 (aware of fellow longshoremen watching the duel)            
From where you stand, maybe. But I'm standing over here now. I was rattin' on myself all them years and didn't know it, helpin' punks like you against people like Pop and Nolan an'... .

That's not writing, that's typing.

Many decades ago Truman Capote said "That's not writing, that's typing" about the output of Jack Kerouac.

I'm not going to judge the merits of Kerouac's work. I'm more interested in Capote's pejorative.

How much of what we do in advertising today actually helps a brand? In brief, can we look at our output and that of our agency and say "that's not advertising, that's noise."

I think about this as we as an industry produce tweet events, memes, long-form, short-form and no-form that influences nobody.

It's pretty simple, really.

Advertising that's not noise should lead to some sort of value for the brand.

Either through sales (preferable) or fealty.

I've just recently produced some commercials for a client that is in freefall. For the first time in many quarters, they've sold product. They've sold out product.

Now they're questioning if the spots are on brand, or if they work with the larger brand campaign.

I've got news for you.

A brand without sales is like a sail without wind.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013


When I was a kid, it was often my job, or more aptly, my punishment, to clean out the basement and the attic of my mother's home. This was a woman who never met a National Geographic or Life magazine she didn't save. They'd be piled high--these were the dark days before duct tape served as everything from a plumbing necessity to an S&M must-have--and bound with cheap twine, the kind you bought at the hardware store, 29-cents for 100 feet.

I'd be sentenced to my mother's Coventry and was told not to come out "before you could eat on the floor" and I intended to do a good job and fast, but I'd quickly get lost in a map of Pompeii or a four-color photoessay on deforestration in Vietnam. Before I knew it it would be late--seven or eight o'clock, and all I'd done was further mess the mess by unwrapping that which had been bound.

I'm not sure that all this was bad for me, though it was cold (metaphorically) and isolating and probably left me colder and more isolated than I'd otherwise have been. That said, I found the meander. I found a circuitous way to pursue things I found interesting. I found--as heretical as it may seem if you're an 'educator,' a way of learning that suited my chemistry.

Just a day or so ago I read in the cheery Neo-Fascist Murdoch-owned "Wall Street Journal," an item about a company that laid off nearly 5,000 workers. Apparently in just one month, these workers had watched five-million YouTube videos during work hours. "Thirty-five percent of the bandwidth at headquarters was routinely used for such loafing off."

I'm not sure what the point is today.

If you're reading this you're probably doing so at work, so technically you're loafing. I'm sure you have some job numbers you bill against. And likely that's a better use of your time than watching "gallon smash" videos or some Harlemites shaking.

But, I suppose there's another way of looking at loafing.

It's a form of release.

A form of discovery.

An attempt to form a community.

I'll be the first to say that I think a good portion of people are simply not busy enough. And the case at the company above seems pretty egregious. (It's three videos an hour every hour of the day every day of the month.)

But meandering is essential to life.

The tile shown above is of a form called "the meander." Named after the Meander or Menderes River in Turkey. The country, not the poultry.

It's one of the oldest forms known to man. You see it everywhere, from antiquity to today.

I think there's a reason why.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Who do you love?

People often ask me, I suppose because I'm 55 and possessed with a certain "gravitas," what's changed in our business.

It's hard to pinpoint, actually, but this morning in the "Times" I saw a headline about Barnes & Noble, the nation's largest chain of booksellers. And that's when the answer to "what's changed" hit me.

When I was a kid there were maybe only two Barnes & Noble stores and you had to be on your game to shop there. You couldn't appear like an ignoramus because it seemed like half the staff were studying for their PhD.s in Literature and the other half were finishing up their Master's. In other words, the staff knew their books. They cared. They read "The New York Review of Books," and knew the interstitials between authors. That is, if you liked Faulkner, you might want to try your hand at Flannery O'Connor or Walker Percy.

That's all gone now. The staff, if you can call them that, at big box retailers like a Barnes & Noble aren't required to know anything of the books they sell. They have replaced smart staff with dumb staff and then supplemented that staff with dumber computers.

In short, there's no one in Barnes & Noble who loves their job. This is not to say there are no longer people who love books. I shop at a variety of small bookstores and they're there. It's just not a prerequisite for being hired at Barnes & Noble.

I wonder if the same has happened to our industry. That you no longer have to love advertising to be employed in an ad agency.

It seems there are many more people who are apt to say "the agency model is dead," or "people hate advertising," or "advertising is just interruption," or "no one watches TV anymore," or "everything is DVR'd," or "I don't even own a TV," than there are people who love the business.

No, let's be clear. You can love something and still find fault in it. My point isn't that people who work in advertising should be rose-colored and anesthetized.

But just as the people who staff Apple stores seem to embrace the technology they sell, we in agencies should hold our product in the same esteem.

Some thoughts on paths.

I read somewhere, somewhere obscure, about how rural footpaths are some times maintained in Merrie Olde Englande.

To keep branches and limbs from encroaching along the way, a hooked implement is stationed at either end of the path. You take an implement upon entering the path, and groom as you walk. You leave the implement on the other side of the path when you are finished. And presumably someone coming from the other direction will grab the implement and groom as they go the other way.

It all sounds so reasonable and simple.

I wonder if we do the same thing in advertising, or can.

We are all of us clearing paths for people who come after us.

We are all of us, I believe, charged with keeping those paths clear.

Too often, unfortunately, we are like cage fighters.

We think only of ourselves and our own survival.

Honesty, integrity, mensch-ness are seen as hindrances.

Things that can only get you in trouble.

We should be clearing paths.

Instead we are laying mines.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar's night in the Tempus Fugit.

The bartender pulled back on the Pike's Ale tap (the Ale that Won for Yale) the way an experienced back-hoe operator would pull back on his machine’s sticks. He knew every inch, every beat, every bump of the tap mechanism. He knew how to read it, how to feel it so the Pike's Ale, amber and sweet, filled perfectly my eight-ounce glass.

The coaster. (Artist's rendering.)
He wiped the liver-colored surface in front of me with a small terry towel and placed the glass on a ceramic coaster--blue and white, delft like. On the coaster was a crude drawing of an old hourglass with wings coming out its sides. The hourglass was flying away. In Latinate type the coaster read "Tempvs Fvgit." The Roman's had no truck with curved letters.

It was Oscar's night in America and reportedly one-billion people around the would would be watching the cleavage live. There were no flatscreens at the Tempus Fugit. There was not even a little transistor radio of the sort that doormen keep in their jacket pockets so they can listen to sports late at night. 

I began this time, “My daughter says you don’t exist.” The bartender hardly seemed to hear me. He kept wiping the already clean bar surface cleaner. “She says that even in New York, there are no bartenders who know Beethoven.” I drank a bit and began again. “Much less conversational Latin.”

His terry was back in its hiding place beneath the bar and the bartender leaned across from me. Our noses—and we were each well-endowed in that department, were only a foot away from meeting.

“And where is this daughter of yours this fine evening? I assume she is studying at some exalted university.”

“Yes, actually. She is 8818 miles away as the Google flies. Taking a semester at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.”

“There are two ways to see the world,” he said, drawing me another. “You can set out as men have for as long as time and chart unknown waters, visit unknown lands, bring back unknown plants, animals, people and soils. This is a way of seeing. This is what has driven our species across the expanse of oceans and through the sea of space.

“But there are other explorers who explore close in. They want to know not every rock in the world, but instead every rock on their own island. Their world might be no more than the 26-miles it takes to circumnavigate Manhattan. Their world might be no more than the tides of the Hells’ Gate. Their world might be nothing more than the Tempus Fugit. That’s the knowledge some are driven to possess.”

I took a swig of Pike’s Ale. It was cold and good. I examined the foam crenellations and the bottom of my glass as they formed new heights and valleys in the scant remaining brew.

“There are two reasons bars exist, my friend.” He began again, filling my glass again expertly. “Two reasons.

“One is libation. We need a place to get cool in the summer and warm in the winter.”

He was again terrying the bar around me.

“What about,” I interrupted “what Robert Frost said about home?
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in.’”

“That’s libation. The pouring of a liquid that’s a sacrifice to a deity. The god of loneliness.’

“I see.” I answered.

“Then there’s fornication. Libation and fornication. Finding a connection. An intimacy. A release.”

He took away my glass, dropping it in a sink of sudsy water.

“Go home,” he said. “You’ve had enough tonight.”

I was about to say I had had only two.

But I knew what he meant.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A night at the Tempus Fugit.

I arrived wet and cold at the beaten reinforced steel doors that hide the Tempus Fugit from both the street and from unknowing eyes. That is to say if you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't know it was there. But there the Tempus Fugit has been, dispensing equal parts alcohol and wisdom since it opened during the Roaring 20s.

I'm not much of a drinker. In fact, I now drink less in a year than I used to in a single evening back when I was a teenager. Nevertheless, I find myself more and more often sitting on a leather-covered stool and leaning on a liver-colored bar and soaking in the atmosphere at the Tempus Fugit.

The bar itself is behind those aforementioned reinforced steel doors, down a long cinder-blocked hallway and a half-flight of steps. Then you go through another door, and there it is.

The Tempus Fugit is a small place. I paced it out and it's just a foot or two wider than my actual living room, which is 13'x20'. Along the far 13' is the bar. And along one 20' are four or five tables for four. Their chairs are mis-matched. And most of the table legs have a match-book crammed underneath them to stop with the ricketing. That said, no one seems to mind. Stability isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Over the bar is an old neon sign advertising "Pike's Ale. The Ale that Won for Yale." A beer that hasn't been sold legitimately since the brewery sold its oasts (that's a kiln for drying hops) way back in 1963. The Tempus Fugit firmly believes that Pike's Ale was the finest brew ever brewed and bought out their stock when the brewery went (beer) belly up. There are dozens of kegs in a back room. All of Pike's Ale.

There's a brewery in Seattle called Pike's that currently sells a Pale Ale. No relation.

I walked up to the Tempus Fugit with Whiskey, my 11-month-old golden retriever. I had spent much of the afternoon visiting my oldest friend, Fred, who's incarcerated in Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital with a rare blood cancer. We don't talk about death when we are together. We talk about life. Like me Fred is only 55. We're all hoping he makes it to 56.

Seeing a friend of 42 years with tubes in him can take something out of you. So after I left Fred, I dropped by my apartment, picked up Whiskey and headed up to the Tempus Fugit. It's about 20 minutes from my place.

Whiskey lay down at the foot of my stool. The dour but efficient bartender quickly brought her a wooden bowl filled with water. She lapped at it exactly twice then dozed, as she often does when she is not on the hunt. The bartender, now back at his station, drew me a Pike's Ale in a short 8-oz. glass.

I don't know about you, but my two cents says beer should never be had in a glass that's larger than 8-ounces. It gets warm and flat and is generally less satisfying. They know things like this in few places anymore. They never forgot them at the Tempus Fugit.

"You know the thing about Beethoven," the bartender began.

Oddly I had had Beethoven's "Eroica" running through my head all afternoon.

"He makes it sound like it was simple. But it wasn't for him. He worked and worked and worked. He revised and revised and revised.

"Through gloom and despair and darkness and deafness, he worked. He worked and worked."

Another Pike's Ale appeared before me.

"When Napoleon's armies were besieging Vienna, Beethoven's hearing was already fragile. He thought the concussions of the explosions would destroy finally what remained of his hearing. He moved to his brother's basement and worked and worked and worked."

He refilled my bowl with nuts and slid over a big urn with pickled hard-boiled eggs. Then he continued.

"Beethoven always found beauty. He always found light."

"Light," I said nonsensically.

I slid a twenty across the bar to the bartender.

"On me," he said as usual.

And I left for home.

Friday, February 22, 2013

There are no grown-ups here.

I've had a shitty time of it lately.

I won't go into detail.

Going into detail will only get me into trouble.

However as Richard Nixon used to say, let me say this about that.

The problem most societies, most businesses and certainly most agencies face is all the same.

There is a shortage of grownups.

People willing to actually accept responsibility for their actions and for their words.

People willing to actually do the job they're paid to do.

People willing to man up.

Shit, forget about manning up.

People who actually show up.

On time.


With ideas.

Ideas they're ready to defend.

Ideas they're ready to make work.

No, there's no one who takes responsibility.

Who is accountable.

Who makes work work.

I digress now.

Half of the people in agencies don't even know how to put on a pair of pants so their ass-cracks don't show.

They don't know that you don't wear wool hats in 80 degree weather.

They don't know.

They're children.

There are no longer people with the balls to tell people who actually do the work that they did a good job. Or a shitty job.

No, it's so much easier to be a weasel.

A dirty, smelly, mother-fucking, mealy-mouthed, credit-grabbing, panty-waisted, candy-assed, finger-pointing dickwad.

We live in an Empire of Illusion.

Where people rise to the top based on their scarf-wearing ability.

And your prowess in creating ads that never ran for clients that never had a budget for accounts that never existed. Ads that never ran.

The people who talk a lot and say nothing.

The people who see every problem but offer no solutions.




What we need are grown-ups.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

And now some thoughts on agency life from Noel Coward.


What do you do?

It's par for the course at some of the bigger meetings were charged with attending that someone suggests we all "go around the table and introduce ourselves."

This is a nauseating process for many reasons, not the least of which is its pro-forma unctuousness. Usually however, I learn something about the people I'm sharing the table with.

There are those, for instance, who say their whole titles, they utter things like "I'm a group executive associate creative director." That "description" of course leaves you with no idea what these people actually do all day. I much prefer the people in the room who say something simpler, like "I'm a copywriter."

In any event last night I took Whiskey, my ten-month-old golden retriever, into the dog run that is not far from my apartment house. I was standing next to a young lady who promptly let out an old lady's sigh.

"Tough day at work?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said.

"I recognize the sigh." I responded. "What do you do?"

"I'm a marketing strategist for the MTA."

Hearing that, I wondered what does a marketing strategist for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority do?

Do you strategize about the circled numbers and letters that indicate train lines? Maybe the IRT should be blue and the BMT red?

Do you do double-blind studies that conclude that trains should run on time and actually be well-lit?

We have "double-speaked" our business and our lives to the point of oblivion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I’ve not gone off the deep-end.

I haven’t been abducted into a Mitzvah Tank.

The Watchtower people haven’t gotten to me.

Nor have Radical right Republicans or televangelists.

What’s happened is a strong dose of life.
Agency life.
Modern, vicious, nasty, lying, deceiving, idea-stealing, credit-grabbing agency life.

Agency life in all its harsh unfairness.

It didn’t happen to me, but to a friend--a friend at another agency.

He told me about it.

And through it, I found a bit of religion.

Common sense.

Fatherly advice.

The wisdom of the Ages.

It doesn’t make the wrong go away.

It doesn’t punish the needle-dicks.

It just is.

As much as it sucks.

“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”  --Ecclesiastes 9:11

Angry. Very angry.

I've read that rats will eat the corpses of fellow rats. The difference therefore between rats and agency people is that rats wait until you're dead.

Perhaps I have a heightened moral sense.

I've been told, for instance, by my therapist of 17 years that I have "an Old Testament view of the world." I see things in terms of absolute good--the way things should be and absolute evil, the way things shouldn't be.

Perhaps my "high dudgeon" is my fatal flaw. Perhaps it's why I am no longer a big wig but am planted instead with both feet firmly rooted in middle management.

It's just I hate schmucks.

Back biters.






And ass-kissery of all kinds.

People ask me, often, 'how can you be so honest on this blog. Aren't you afraid of being schmised?'

Yeah, I suppose I am.

But aren't you afraid of being castrated, ball-less, spineless, feckless, cowardly?

Listen, if you come up with a campaign, it's your campaign.

If people more connected decide they want to take it from you, that's their prerogative.

But they should at least have the decency to fire you.

After all, they don't like the job you're doing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Henny Youngman on Advertising.

There's an old Henny Youngman one-liner (how's that for a redundancy) that goes like this: "I haven't spoken to my wife for 30 years...I don't want to interrupt her."

The longer I stay embroiled in agency life, the clearer it becomes to me that that joke works not just for gabby wives and beleaguered husbands, but also for our industry.

Everyone at every juncture and at every level in every agency I've ever been cosigned to, is so avid to show how smart they are, that listening, that consideration, that moderation have gone the way of the dodo bird.

I'm often asked to help young writers with the "craft" of actually writing. Mostly I tell them to sit back in their chairs and relax. To not try to hard to prove something through every bit they write. To breathe and think and listen and ponder before they attempt to dazzle you with their fucking brilliance.

In fact, it seems to me that there's no longer any sort of communication in agencies today and between agencies and clients. All we do is interrupt each other.

Regardless of how you feel about the Richards' Group Super Bowl spot "So God Made a Farmer," it asked you to listen. It gave pause. It invited you to think and feel.

Their solution to the surround of noise wasn't to be noisier. It was to be quieter. And by being quiet to be commanding.

I don't think it's that hard.

Be quiet.

Let others talk themselves into a corner.

When they have, take over.


It's the opposite of interruption.


My friend Fred and I have been friends since we met during the gawky first days of 9th Grade. We were 13 then and though we were young, we had both already acquired a cynical view of the world. Our cynicism, our underlying misanthropy led to a closeness that grew throughout our high school years.

We went our separate ways in college but reunited at Columbia University, where Fred went to Law School and I was bent on getting a Ph.D. in English Lit. I washed out after a year and entered the "fleshpots of Madison Avenue," but given our proximity to each other, Fred and I kept close. In an era of ephemeral digital friendships, ours was real.

Fred was there for me when I sustained a serious injury to my right eye that would have left me partly blinded. I was there for him when he lost his first job as a lawyer. We were both there for each other when we got married, raised kids, grew old.

We've been friends for 42 years.

Yesterday I visited Fred in his private room on the "Red Floor" of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. He has a rare cancer in his blood and marrow and is undergoing a long and winding regimen of treatment.

Fred seems to be handling things, as I expected he would, well. He was in good spirits yesterday. And he looked robust and hale. He was focused on the exploits of his sons, 21 and 17. The oldest plays football and studies at a Division 1A college, and the youngest is prepping to play ball, and presumably study, at a D3 school.

Fred has a lot of time on his hands and enjoys talking about the various successes and foibles of his sons. If Fred hadn't been a successful Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan for the past 30 years, he would have been a brilliant advertising man. No one I've ever met tells a story better than he.

We have what I call a male friendship. We see each other infrequently, talk only slightly more, yet we are friends. We have been there through the sump of our parents' deaths and the death of my sister. We have been together through our blackest days.

He is there the same way I suppose Americans regard the Capitol Dome or the Statue of Liberty or Brits regard Big Ben, or Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral defiantly braving the Battle of Britain. There's no real purpose to these edifices but they need to be there. They are stability and life and in our case laughter when others might cry.

People smarter than I have commented on the devaluation of our language. We have debased political disagreement to such a point where everything we disagree with is likened to Nazi-ism. Tuna Helper or pizza pockets are awesome. And the Hyundai President's Sale is unbelievable.

Of course the word friend is devalued well. I have almost 800 on Facebook, but maybe eight in real life.

There's a scene from George Stevens' great movie "Shane," in which Alan Ladd (Shane) and Van Heflin (Joe Starrett) wrestle with the stump of a giant tree. The two men work the stump over the course of many days and weeks and finally, with great sweat and effort, the roots give and the stump is unstumped.

That's like so much of life. There are great hinderances, impediments, fears or barriers that you must axe-away at in an attempt to remove them. Like Joe Starrett in Shane, there are stumps you cannot handle by yourself.

This is where friends, where people you love and trust enter the picture.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Uncle Slappy on Oscar season.

"Aunt Sylvie has done it again," Uncle Slappy began without even saying "Hello."

He does this, Uncle Slappy does. He's so eager to talk, to get things off his chest, he forgets most proprieties and manners.

"Aunt Sylvie has done it again," he repeated. "She dragged me to another movie, "Silver Pupik Playbook."

When Slappy wants a laugh, or some sympathy, he inserts the Yiddish word "pupik" somewhere in his speech. At best, the word means navel. At worst it's slang for a woman's nether regions.

I was hoping he would pause so I could at least ask him how he's doing, but Slappy ploughed ahead like a runaway locomotive.

"She wants to see the Oscar nominees. So she drags me to this trafe. 'It's got DeNiro,' she says. Personally, DeNiro couldn't carry Paul Muni's jock-strap.

"So, a vote you get, I asked her, from the ferstunkeneh Academy? They care that you went to the movie? They care about your opinion?"

"Well, how was it?" I finally got four words in.

"They almost didn't let us in. The bastard schvartza girl in the box office."

"Why would they not let you in?"

"Because I tried to reason with them. If Senior Citizen starts at 62 years old--at 62, you save two dollars, I told them I should get in for eight dollars off. To me, a 62-year-old is a mere stripling. I'm almost 86 years old. I shouldn't have to pay the same as a 62-year-old."

"That seems reasonable."

"They didn't think so. The manager came out and said I was causing a disturbance. We paid nine dollars each."

"So what's on the docket for today?" I asked, trying to nudge the old man away from his anger.
"She wants to see 'Les Miz.'"

"I heard it's pretty good," I told him.

"Sylvie," I said to her, "You want miserable, you don't need to go to the movies for nine dollars. Just watch me. I've got enough miserable for ten movies."