Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Work is work.

My older daughter is quite precocious. She's not yet halfway through her Doctoral program in Clinical Psychology and she is already on the way to having her second paper published. Today she's presenting her work to the entire school--faculty and students alike.

As you'd suspect, leading up to her presentation Sarah's been a little anxious. She has a lot riding on this and wants things to go well. She feels the pressure, so she's been fastidious and diligent getting everything just right. Or as right as it can be.

In other words, she's doing the work she needs to do.

At work, my partner and I are at the outset of creating a new television campaign. Around this there's been the usual swirl of bullshit of "the account's in trouble" ilk.

Accompanying that have been a veritable horde of meetings, a flood of powerpoints and a raft of emails.

Meanwhile my partner has carefully delineated from our "concepting" about eight directions that may be worth exploring. Along the way there might be eight more.

But first, we have to put pen to paper and see what works. See if we can take a thought or observation and turn it into something good.

There are two basic forms of human endeavor.

Talking about it. And doing it.

Only one counts.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Because we, as a nation, as a people, as a society, have no grasp of history--even recent history--we are in the grips of periodic upwellings of Hysteria.

Truly, the Boston Marathon bombings were horrific. But we act as if they were some portend of "TEOTWAWKI." (The end of the world as we know it.)

We forget that between 1974 and 1983 when they presumably moved to a retirement village in south Jersey, the FALN--the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional, a Puerto Rican terrorist group was responsible for more than 120 bomb attacks on American soil, including attacks on Fraunces Tavern, four midtown attacks in 40 minutes in mid-town Manhattan and sundry other explosions around New York and Chicago.

Ultimately, FALN activities resulted in 72 actual bombings, 40 incendiary attacks, 8 attempted bombings and 10 bomb threats, resulting in 5 deaths, 83 injuries, and over $3 million in property damage.

No, instead of realizing that terror/anarchy/hatred and explosions always have and always will exist, we act, as a society, like teenagers who believe that theirs is the first generation to discover sex.

In marketing, we have also succumbed to hysteria.

The hysteria of media that's changing everything.

Google +, Pinterest, Foursquare, etc. are all supposed to kill or have killed traditional advertising. Agencies up and down our metaphorical Madison Avenue scurry around like blind mice chasing these tiny bits of marketing hysterics. Entire disciplines and specialties spring up like flies spontaneously generated from piles of offal. Facts and data are ignored.


Everything new is relevant.

Everything old is dead.

Everything needs re-invention.

The world is ending.

Friday, April 26, 2013

This is a test.

One of the great joys in having intelligent, ambitious and earnest daughters who share their lives with me is that I often get a glimpse of the world as they see it. They, in turn, are often willing to get a glimpse of my world as I see it.

Many days our conversations turn to our jobs. Though they're students, they each have a job. To learn. To listen. To get good grades. And to explore while they're finding their calling.

Often our conversation turns to the pressures they feel. A paper due. A presentation. Or, most often, a big test.

My response might not be the most gentle and reassuring one but I think, in the end, it will serve them way better than a raft of platitudes.

Life, I tell them, is a test every day.

Something gets thrown your way--a challenge, a problem, a sticky situation.

You have to answer the bell.

Not long ago I was in the throes of producing six fairly complex spots in just six weeks. Ten times a day there were decisions that needed to be made. Do we do music or sound design? Do we open with the guitar scene or is it better at the end? Should we shave seven frames off the opening title and add it to the end frame?

These are the sort of test questions we face in advertising. Here are some others.

Do I listen to a client comment or do I fight it? Do I argue with my boss when I think he's wrong? Do I say 'fuck it' and phone it in?

These are test questions.

There's no end to them.

That's life.


I haven't gotten back into the swing of things since I returned from New Zealand.

This blog, which I am usually bursting to write, has come harder this week.

Work, which I am usually eager to go to, I've been dreading.

Even interactions with colleagues, which I usually welcome, I've been repulsed by.

I'm sure I will "get over myself" and next week or maybe the week after, regain my usual gusto.

But for now, having spent 18 days away, certain things seem magnified.

The primary one is how little distance most people possess.

How little perspective.

How every cosmic burp or blip sends masses of people into paroxysms of fear and mania.

We have, neither at work nor in the world, a sense of history.

What's happened before.

The question shouldn't be 'how do we respond?'

It should be 'how do we respond intelligently?'

You know, based on what we've learned and what's happened before.

We assail our clients for managing quarter to quarter.

Yet we lurch from day to day.

What's our plan?

What course have we plotted?

Is that a course worth keeping to?

We'll never know.

We're too busy panicking.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Another cleanse.

It seems just about everybody these days is hyper-connected with their colon.

Which is why just about everyone and his cousin is undergoing some kind of mother-fucking cleanse.

They're drinking kale konkoktions until the krap is kaskading from their pupiks.

They're getting rid of toxins, impurities and chemicals.

In the spirit of true cleansing, I suggest the following:

"Physician, heal thyself."

The true source of your contagion can't be cleansed by kale alone.

Erase your inbox. Delete your sent mail. Purge your trash.

Throw out your powerpoints.

Tear up your briefs.

Stop calling and attending meetings.

Cease using jargon.

Put an end to over-think (and undersmart.)

Stop delegating, blaming, shirking and hiding.




And actually just do.

Administrative Assistant's Day.

Yesterday was what we used to call "Secretaries Day."

There's nothing wrong or diminutive about the word 'secretary.' After all, Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, not Administrative Assistant of State. But none-the-less, the word secretary has become loaded with sexist notes, so we've sent it to Coventry.

So, yesterday was 'Administrative Assistant's Day.'

Naturally we all got an email from HR asking us to acknowledge the important work Administrative Assistants do.

Since, of course, some corporate tool has decided it makes more sense to have someone billing at $400/hr doing their own secretarial work than actually hiring assistants, I am my own assistant. So I took myself out to a nice lunch yesterday and surprised myself with a nice, oversized bouquet of flowers.

Happy Administrative Assistant's Day, George.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The 'new' Tempus Fugit.

After a month-long hiatus--two weeks in New Zealand and a week on either end preparing for or recovering from the trip--I returned to the hallowed space occupied since 1924 (the fourth year of Prohibition) by the Tempus Fugit.

The Tempus Fugit, for those uninitiated is a small, secret bar hidden in an old warehouse on 91st Street between 1st and York. You can find it, if you're lucky, through two sets of beaten industrial steel doors, down a long narrow hallway, up two flights, down another long hallway and through another set of steel doors and a sliding steel expansion gate, down a flight and through a final set of beaten steel.

After that "Pilgrim's Progress," the Tempus Fugit is there, untouched and unimproved by progress for nine decades. Whiskey, my 13-month-old golden retriever and I took our usual seats. Me on a stool one in from the end with Whiskey laying cozily at the foot of my stool.

The bartender drew me a Pike's Ale--the ALE that won for YALE--and slid over to me a small wooden bowl of salted peanuts. He emerged from behind the bar to bring Whiskey a small bowl of water.

I pushed the peanuts back his way. "There's a pound in every nut," I said mechanically. He laughed and brought over a large glass jar filled with pickled hard-boiled eggs. "Cholesterol waiting to happen," I demurred.

Unable to sate what he supposed was my 3AM appetite, he instead leaned on the bar and began his evening's discourse.

"Through the years, there have been attacks on the Tempus Fugit," he said.

"Revenuers? Drys? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? The New York State Liquor Commission?" I asked.

"Naw," he said with the back of his note-book-sized mitt. "Those aren't the attacks I'm talking about. Those attacks are no bother.

"I mean there have been attacks by people trying to modernize the place. Just the other day someone tried to convince me to put two flatscreen TVs in on either side of the bar."

I scanned his 22-feet of mahogany, backed by some feet of tiered bottles and the requisite frosted mirroring. There was one advertising sign present, and old poster for Pike's Ale that featured their slogan (posted above) accompanied by a leather-helmeted football lineman in the classic three-point stance.

"Flatscreens," I said, draining my Pike's.

He pulled me another glass and continued.

"In the 70s a regular kept urging me to put in a quadrophonic sound system with an eight-track. He said it would improve the "ambiance" of the Tempus Fugit."

He clenched his fist when he said "ambiance," showing me his broad-knuckled version of the same.

"Over the years they've suggested jukeboxes, slot machines, foozball, pinball and all manners of televisions--from black and white to color to flatscreens.

"There's always a new new thing someone wants to push on you with the persistence of a creep poisoning pigeons in the park."

I drank down my second Pike's and he filled me again.

"It's the same in my business too," I corroborated.

"Here's what matters--and I'm paraphrasing from Robert Frost now. A bar should be the kind of place when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

"The Death of the Hired Man," I said, getting his reference

"There's no new new thing."


"There's no new new thing. There's doing old things better, that's ok. But there's no new new thing."

"Good beer. Warmth. Conversation."

He laughed in agreement and brought back the small bowl of peanuts.

I grabbed a small handful and muttered, "fuck the pounds."

"That's right," he said.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A relic.

Some months ago, after my mother died, I came into possession of my father's  copy of "The Medium is the Massage," by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, co-ordinated by Jerome Agel.

Most people haven't actually read this book. They know it by its title, though they get that title wrong. However, it is a book well worth reading, especially if you can find it in its original edition which is graphic and bold in the manner of a George Lois or Mike Tesch.

Today though as I leafed through this slim volume a thin carbon-copied type-written note to my father fell out and to the floor. It concerned a fired employee and his request for my severance. I don't know how this dispute resolved itself. If the guy got nothing or what. But I found the note, the manner in which things were discussed and the general level of courtliness of interest.

No real point today. Just a relic from 46 years ago.

"March 29. 1967

"Korten's 3-month salary continuation ends on April 3rd. He recently contacted Dave Stewart and then me and made a resentful and demanding plea for an extension until August (!). He claims we were supposed to carry him until he got a job. I disabused Kort of this fantasy, reminding him of the April 3rd limit.

"There was a promise made by Dave Stewart sometime ago that we would consider a review of Korten's situation past the April 3rd date if he were still unemployed.

"The position I am going to maintain is that under no circumstances should we extend his severance pay for more than one month.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Less than sanguine.

Today's my first day back after 18 days out.

There have been sundry crises in my absence.

And sundry people jockeying to be the hero in those crises.

Who invariably--because they are working from a 'panic' position--have made things instead worse.

About 15 years ago I was at a meeting of worldwide creative directors of Ogilvy in Paris.

A guy spoke from the Copenhagen office, I think it was.

He had a nice turn of the phrase.

He said "Clients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

I've always held to that concept.

It seems sensible to me.

In fact, if say Mitt Romney believed it, he might be president now.

I will probably repeat the line a few dozen times while the panic crescendoes around me.

But it will have no effect.

Because listening is part one of caring.

And most people don't care to listen.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Judge by the cover.

Though still exhausted and jet-lagged from our almost 48-hour trip home from New Zealand, my wife and I were up early to take Whiskey to Central Park for her off-leash weekend romping. It was an absolutely perfect early Spring day in New York. The sky a vivid blue, the trees budding and various "Giverney" pinks, whites, lilacs and greens were in bloom.

On our way home we stopped to window-shop at my favorite bookstore, Crawford Doyle. In their window they featured a newly published yet posthumous book by Robert Walser, called "A Little Ramble." It's cover, below, breaks all the rules, yet it stood out amid the clutter.

Which just goes to show you, it always pays to "Think Different."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

More on brutality.

Years ago I abruptly quit the "biggest" job I'll probably ever have.

There were a lot of reasons behind my decision. But one was I realized I was working in a kind of place that for all its mandated HR-fomented-work-life-balance-politically-correct bullshit, was in reality a nasty, brutish place.

One thing that brought that fact home was when we were moving from an older office building to a newer one. As the co-head of the office, I had to "bless" our new seating arrangement. What struck me was the general manager referring to seating arrangements as a "stacking plan."

People are not ergs, or units, or talent, or fucking resources, or even personnel. They are people. And should be treated as you, yourself would like to be treated. You know, that Golden Rule shit.

I'm flying from LA where I gained five hours sleep in an airport Hilton, back home to New York. Along the way, American airlines has blared a video on their new branding.

I'm sorry "brand identity" people.

Identity is a coat of paint.

Most actual passengers, that is people, would trade a gleaming new logo for three more inches of legroom.

What's happened all around us is that clients (and agencies have been complicit, of course) see advertising and branding and all that other communications crap as cheaper alternatives to actually doing a good job. To actually treating their customers well.

McDonald's for instance says "We love to make you smile." But not so much that they pay their employees a living wage--so they might actually have something to smile about. (BTW, minimum wage leaves a worker below the poverty line.)

And so it goes.

And so it will continue to go.

As long as companies treat people as things to be stacked like cordwood or treated as they have the intelligence of a tree slug.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Learnings from afar.

There's a lot of crap we see, hear and live with about marketing, about branding, about advertising. There are new buzzwords every day. New things that "will change everything." New things that "are dead." And new idiocies, memes, technologies etc.

I'm flying home today after two weeks in New Zealand. And my experience here has been a trifle eye-opening.

New Zealanders--almost to a man (or woman) are unfailingly polite, self-effacing and jocose. And much of their advertising and signage is, too.

At security in the Auckland airport, there are no loud voices and Verbotten signs screaming "DO NOT ENTER" or "ONLY TICKETED PASSENGERS ADMITTED BEYOND THIS POINT."

Instead, there's a simple sign that says "Ticket holders only." Then beneath that "Kiss your loved ones goodbye here."

Reading that it occurs to me that for all our manic chasing after of paradigm shifts, we have, as an industry, forgotten something very basic.

Be polite. Be gentle. Be kind. Be warm. Be witty.

There are probably other things that matter in advertising.

They'll talk about them at conferences like TED and SXSW.

People will ascend the corporate ladder sporting new titles while you have no idea of what they actually do.

And the new things that are promulgated might, somehow, matter.

But not if you're not first considerate of your viewer.

Two weeks.

I have been remiss.

I have been so busy in New Zealand that I have not written.

Part of that is a function of time.

I haven't had any to sit down and write.

I am out of my usual routine.

Part of that is that I haven't seen the things that usually set me off,
or experienced office "chatter" that really gets me going,
or even read "The New York Times" which is usually good for a post or two.

What's more, I haven't traipsed up to the Tempus Fugit for a Pike's Ale
("The ALE that won for YALE) or had a walk with Whiskey
or had even a single phone call with Uncle Slappy.

I'm both brain over-loaded--over-loaded with a wonderful new world
and some new Kiwi friends--and brain-dead.

I just haven't had my usual acuity. Or what passes for acuity if you're me.

We are off today.

Stopping in Honolulu where I'll visit Pearl Harbor,
then LA, then home.

Arriving Saturday for a full recovery day on Sunday,
then back to the office on Monday.

At that point, I hope to get "regular" again.

Blog-wise, that is.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When are things outdated?

As regular readers of Ad Aged know, I am an inveterate reader. Among my favorite books are "Gilgamesh," written over 3,000 years ago, "Don Quixote," written about 600 years ago and "King Solomon's Mines" written about 100 years ago.

I realize most people haven't read such things, but if you follow the current shibboleth about "story-telling," you'd be doing yourself a favor if you picked them up. They are riveting adventures filled with deep human truths.

And here's the thing.

They are forever. And they are universal.

They are not and never will be outdated.

Two nights ago my wife and I saw a wonderful play in Wellington on the recommendation of the wonderful Terry Levenberg of Auckland. It was called the "Guru of Chai," and it was the story of a poor Indian street vendor and an important Indian law-enforcement official.

The story was based on a centuries-old Hindu myth, but was recast in modern India. I sat and watched and could only think the story sounded like an early 20th Century Russian folktale--something by Sholem Alechim or Isaac Singer. In fact, the official's name--Punchkin--even sounded Russian-Jewish serio-comic to me.

When things are smart, when things are real and human, they do not get old. Mondrian has not aged. Nor has el Greco. Chaucer or Shakespeare.

Of course, forms of expression and language go in and out of style.

That's to be expected.

But real essence stays true.


Monday, April 15, 2013

A new title.

Yesterday I wrote a post about the centrality of the "idea" in communication and how, it seems to me, that ideas in the "social media age" are encumbered with so much noise and so many incursions.

This is really no different from life 60 years ago when Bill Bernbach looked at advertising and said, in effect, "there's too much decoration, too much filigree, too much pablum and not enough honesty." That distraction had overwhelmed communication.

This is what is happening around the world today.

The art of reduction--the teutonic brutality of killing extraneous ideas, thoughts, farts and predilections, has all but disappeared.

In fact, if I had the business and could open an agency I think I would invent one agency title: Editor in Chief. 

This person would be coffered in a sanctum sanctorum and would be armed with a thick black pencil of the Leo Burnett ilk. Print-outs of everything would be delivered to this person and he would ex out everything that no longer matters. No one would be able to talk to this person--there would be no "explaining" the work. He would remain in solitary confinement and work would be reviewed anonymously.

All that doesn't matter would be exed. Mercilessly.

If the pencil wasn't reduced to a mere nub by the end of the week, the Editor would be fired.

Years ago when I worked on IBM with the unsurpassed art director Tore Claesson, we did a series of very good print ads that followed this reductionist stamp.

We had a few simple goals. 1) We wanted the ads to have the biggest headline type in the periodicals we were in. 2) We had to bury our clients' competitors. 3) We had to make the ads quick to read with convincing arguments along the way.

These were the kind of ads that were already out of fashion when we did them.

But fuck fashion.

My Editor in Chief would have liked them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Think big.

I just saw this on a site called "Ads of the World. "A Dublin-based creative named Eoin Conlon brought a few classic ads "up-to-date" for "the social media age."

I question, of course, if this is in fact "the social media age." But whether or not it is is not the point of this post. (I don't think I would characterize this age as such--certainly not our advertising age. However, that's a discussion for another post.)

What all of the old ads have in common is that they were all based on a simple premise: Nobody cares about your ad. So your ad, in order to attract attention, had to do or say or show something remarkable.

The social media renditions are not so striking. Nor are they unique. They are based on the idea that they don't have to be because they are so adroitly targeted they know exactly how to speak to you and what to say.

I am of the opinion that it makes sense if you're running an ad to make sure it has the most stopping power of any ad that surrounds it. Apple, of course, does this to great effect.

We act in our "social media age" as if media cacophony, disdain for advertising, ability to zap messages (we could always turn off the set, leave the room, turn the page) are phenomena of recent advent.

They are not.

An ad, or a social media message, if it is to be relevant in any "age" must first get your attention. It must communicate something of interest. Great ads also give you a reason to believe and the impetus to buy. (Or as Carl Ally said: an ad must impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way."

I just don't see that in the social media examples.

Perhaps that's why no one can cite a brand built on social media.

They're ads that are supposed to "engage" you.

But, I think, they are too ignorable to do so.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The disappearing cup of coffee.

It used to be coffee was just coffee.

Now it's a twelve step program.

You have to state your size.

Your type of steamed milk.

Your shots.

And who knows what else.

(BTW, I drink coffee black.)

People don't pour coffee anymore.

They're Baristas.

Coffee isn't for amateurs.

It's been professionalized.



Much the same as our business.

We strategize until it's coming out our ears.

We have created a language of inaction and overthink.

We blather on about utility and technology, forgetting that what most people want most of the time is to be treated, simply and honestly, with warmth and caring.

We have complicated and professionalized our business and along the way have forgotten our business's purpose. Which is to impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way.

I'm tired of hearing about apps and apis.

I just want a good cup of joe.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More thoughts from New Zealand.

I can probably make this very simple without simplifying things to the point of banality. So here goes:

By the time World War II ended, America had more productive capability than the entire rest of the world combined. We had the largest economy the world had ever seen and it was cooking on all four burners. In other words America’s ability to supply was unprecedented.

The same could be said for our demand. Millions of soldiers were being de-mob-ed and after four years of war—and a decade of Depression before the war—demand for things—for houses, cars, clothes, children, etc. had never been higher.

Things were, in a word, overheated.

The policy makers and plutocrats that run our country didn’t even tap on our supply and demand brakes. They kept the engines of production and consumption running at full throttle. Fueled of course by the engine of cheap credit and cheap money.

About 20 years ago I read a long interview in “The Wall Street Journal” with John Updike. Updike said that the central problem with Rabbit Angstrom and all America is that we do not cotton to the word “enough.” There is never enough. There is always the desire for the insatiable “more.”

Some of that desire for more is created by us in the advertising industry. The constant blaring of messages that proclaim we haven’t enough. We do some of that. We all feed the beast—the all-consuming consumption machine.

Things seem different here in New Zealand. The nation has fewer than five million people and in the scheme of things New Zealand is a small economy.

Last Monday I went with my wife and daughter to see Paul Simon and Rufus Wainwright in concert in Auckland. There were no ads on my ticket stub. No giant logos festooning the stage. No blared out “thanks to our sponsors” before, during and after the show.

No, it was just a concert. An event staged so you can hear music.

Not what we do too often in the States.

Stage an event so you can shout commercials.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thoughts from New Zealand.

It's been harder to write while in New Zealand than I imagined it might be.

Primarily because New Zealand is more magical than I imagined it might be.

Right now we are in the mountains of the North Island--in the vicinity of a town called Wakapapa. Though I might be spelling it wrong. There might be more k's or more p's or even more a's.

In any event it is lovely.

The peaks are about 2,000 to 3,000 meters high--which is between around 7,000 and 9,000 feet. The scenery is stunning and there are sheep everywhere.

I've accumulated some savings through the years. Certainly not enough to retire on in Manhattan. But a little cabin somewhere out here might suit me.

We live on concrete in New York and I think too much concrete probably has a way of brutalizing you.

Here, like in San Francisco, people seem to live outdoors. They are forever "tramping" through the wild, jumping into the sea, popping on a mountain bike or hurling themselves off high-bridges or towers tethered only by dental floss they call bungees.

It's a bit like summer camp. There is a lot of activity.

Speaking of activity, I'm off now. To Rotorua--where there are hot springs and boiling mud and who knows what else.

I will let you know if I bungee jump however.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Personality vs. posing.

I worked at FCB two decades ago and it was the second worst experience of my advertising career. The place. simply put, was devoid of soul, personality and humanity.

Their lacunae in these areas could be summed up by their logo of the time: the letters FCB in heavy bold black type and then beneath that those letters, a big blue brush stroke of a hideous blue.

The brush stroke was their attempt at saying "look at us--we're bold, brash, daring and ever-so-slightly irreverent. And, we have a personality!"

What it really communicated was something quite different. "We have no taste. And we like to underscore that."

I think about that FCB logo a lot. I think about how many companies and entities--under the shibboleth of gleaming (or ugly) logos and "brand architecture" are cold, faceless and dull.

Here in New Zealand, there is a soda company called LP.

I've been here but four days yet I'm already impressed by their personality. It is a real personality. You can tell it hasn't gone through 97 layers and 44 focus groups.

No, a line was written by someone. And someone else laughed. And didn't forget they laughed. They said "that's good. That's us." And they then plastered their line on everything they make.

There was no bullshit about brand voices and personalities. There were no decks describing brand behavior.

They were smarter than all that blather.

Instead of talking about personality, they decided to have one.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ubiquitous branding.

We hear a lot in advertising and marketing about branding.

About how every "point of contact" must "enhance the brand."

What strikes me about all those points of contact is how many of them are in reality destructive of the brands they are allegedly enhancing.

I'm thinking, oddly enough, of things like commercials for the airline you're flying on that come on--talk about forced exposure--before you're flight.

First you're folded, spindled and mutilated, then you're charged too much, then you're crammed into a seat built for a midget pygmy and then you're forced to see a sappy spot with smiling airline employees saying how much they're glad you're here and how hard they're trying.

If how I'm being treated makes them glad, they should be placed somewhere on the Eichmann scale.  As in Adolf Eichmann.

Then there are things like sports and concert sponsorships.

This time I've paid a fortune to see entertainment that has nothing to do with telecom service or banking. Yet I'm forced the whole time to see your logo. As if you had anything to do with the performance other than shelling out money you've stolen from me so you can assault me with your butt-ugly logo.

Advertising shouldn't be that hard.

If it's not making people like you, it's probably making people hate you.

I wish clients could remember that.

Old Man Strength.

About eight years ago I was in Israel to watch my older daughter swim in the Maccabi Games. For those who aren't initiates in the ways of the Tribe of Abraham and Moses, the Maccabi Games are essentially the Jewish Olympics. Jews from scores, if not hundreds of countries around the world compete in scores, if not hundreds of athletic events.

My daughter Sarah was a gifted distance swimmer and made the team. My wife and I, of course, flew out to see her compete.

One night we visited Sarah at her hotel. She was sitting in the lobby on the lap of a young American athlete. She stood up and so did the kid on whose lap she was perched. And we all shook hands or kissed.

My daughter on a boy's lap--my paternal protective side was in full fury--I said to the kid:

"What sport are you competing in?"

"I'm a wrestler."

I looked him up and down. "I can kick your ass," I said, reassuring myself.

Now, he looked me up and down. "You probably can," he said, "you have old man strength."

Since that moment, the notion of "Old Man Strength" has stayed with me. I notice when furniture needs to be moved in my apartment, or a carpet rolled up, I am worth two workmen. I do myself what it usually takes a small crew to accomplish.

But there's another sort of Old Man Strength, too. And I've noticed it hanging out here in New Zealand with my friend, Terry.

We have the strength to read books and look for meaning.

We have the strength to appreciate new art while understanding the old.

We have the strength to question orthodoxy and establishment thinking, as befits our 60s upbringing.

We have the strength of having survived business upheavals and economic disruption and malaise.

Our strength is in learning. In questioning. In our stamina.

Now, I am not for a minute saying that young people can't or don't possess these qualities.

But I am saying you'd be a fool to bet against an old man.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Down Under-er.

I am in Auckland now, having arrived tired but safe around eighteen hours ago,

And I think this is the perfect time to write about the power, I guess, of writing.

Somehow, through the magic of the internet, I attracted a reader or two in New Zealand. And somehow, along the way, one of these readers, Terry Levenberg, and I have become friends.

Terry and I became internet friends. Which isn't creepy because we've led strangely parallel lives.
Terry is married, has two kids in their 20s and has toiled in the advertising industry for at least two decades. A lot like me.

Terry and his wife visited New York last fall, and we tried to meet up with them, but I was out in LA shooting and things never worked out.

However, mensch that he is, when he found out through Ad Aged that my daughter Hannah was taking a semester in Auckland, Terry and his wife and his two kids have fairly adopted Hannah as their sister from another mister.

They've shown her the sights in and around Auckland. Invited her over for Passover. And even given her their old "New Yorker" magazines so Hannah doesn't feel so far from New York.

Yesterday, Terry and Hannah picked me and my wife up at the Auckland airport. He drove us to the top of One Tree Hill where we could get an overview of the configuration of the city and the surrounding islands. He took us to his office--he runs an agency here called Apropos--and finally to his lovely home and to our hotel.

On the one hand this all makes sense.

We share a religion.

A having worked at Ogilvy.

And we're roughly the same age.

On the other hand we live almost 9,000 miles apart (that's a greater distance than the #1 train covers) and would never have met if it weren't for the odd binary beaming of what I write in this space.

It's all making it very hard for me to be a misanthrope.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Uncle Slappy and the cleaning woman.

Uncle Slappy, who left New York for Boca a little more than a decade ago, is flying to New York this afternoon. He'll be house-sitting the weeks my wife and I are gone. The old man is comfortable in my place--we have a well-appointed guest room complete with a Sony flatscreen and a pull-out bed with an extra-comfortable mattress approved by the both of them.

Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie love New York. They will enjoy our membership to the museums not far from our place, our health club and we even, as a surprise, bought them opera tickets for and evening with "Rigoletto." Truth be told, the two of them should never have left New York. But Florida rang and they answered.

Uncle Slappy called just now and he was laughing.

"I just gave the cleaning woman the seven-layer-cake we had leftover from Passover," he began. "I told her it was kosher."

"What did she say to that?" I asked.

"She said, 'I hope it has taste.'"

"That must have set you off," I said.

"I told her that our people haven't survived for 6,000 years by eating tasteless cake."

If you're in my neighborhood while I'm gone, take a few minutes and check in on Uncle Slappy. I'd appreciate it.

Another night at the Tempus Fugit.

Last night, like so many other nights, I was jostled awake by my old Nemesis, Insomnia. She gripped my shoulder and shook me. When I resisted her wiles,
she spoke unsettling thoughts into my non-pillowed ear. In short order, my feet were planted on the parquet, I was fully-dressed and Whiskey was be-leashed and eager to ambulate.

As we do so often, we headed north on York Avenue in the direction of a relic of a bar called The Tempus Fugit. The Fugit is a snug former speakeasy down a warren of hallways, through an Escher-like ascent and descent of flights and behind a number of sturdy-steel industrial doors. The whole affair is situated not behind some brightly-lit neoned construction, but rather in a half-empty warehouse that’s home to a few dozen beaten white Verizon vans and a few dozen more Verizon equipment trolleys.

Somehow through Prohibition, repeal, depressions, recessions, booms and half–a-dozen wars, the Tempus Fugit has thrived. It’s the last extant place that still serves the sweet amber of Pike’s Ale, the Ale that Won for Yale, an ale that, in the words of those who know will “help you find the answers.”

I arrived at the Tempus Fugit around 2:30 and Whiskey and I assumed our positions. Me on a leather upholstered stool one in from the end and Whiskey, comfortably and faithfully at my feet, or better, at the feet of my stool.

The bartender quickly brought Whiskey a small wooden bowl filled with water and gave me my usual Pike’s in an eight-ounce glass and another small wooden bowl filled with peanuts.

The bartender began as he usually does. I am painfully laconic and in about 99% of all social interactions I won't speak until spoken to. 

"I'm afraid I was, perhaps, overly gloomy last time you stopped by."

Last week I had witnessed the bartender's exegesis on heaven, or more aptly, hell.

"I feared that maybe I scared you off for good. I can be a little, how shall I say this, morbid at times."

I drank a long swig of my Pike's.

"What is life, if not morbid?" I answered.

"Ah," he smiled slowly. "A man after my own heart. Since we share an enlightened sense of gloom, I'll continue in a slightly different metaphorical vein. Sometimes I think of the world divided between champagne glasses and bricks."

He brought a champagne flute to the teak, I suppose for comic effect.

"The champagne glasses contain all the light and beauty. Bricks are strong and brutal. They are the foundation of most things we build."

He filled my glass again and I bent my elbow and emptied it.

"Bricks, of course," he continued "can destroy things. They can overwhelm and smash apart champagne glasses."

"Yes," I said "like your friends in the blue suits wanted to overwhelm and smash apart the Tempus Fugit."

"That's right," he said. "There's one thing to remember."

He walked around the bar and filled Whiskey's water bowl again. He then walked back to his station across the bar from me. He wiped the immaculate teak with a damp terry cloth in a well-practiced circular motion.

"There's one thing to remember," he repeated. "You can't drink champagne out of a brick."

Our eyes met just briefly. We exchanged the slimmest of nods. And then as I put on my coat and leashed up Whiskey, he beat me to the punch.

"On me," he said.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

18 days out of the office.

In about 25 hours, my wife and I will board a plane and head out on vacation. Two weeks with our younger daughter in New Zealand, where she is taking a semester. Studying and vagabonding.

It's hard for me to take two weeks off, but it's important to. And I almost always have.

Even when my daughters lived at home, I felt I spent too little time with them. Or, rather, that I wanted to spend more time with them. And two weeks is usually about all anyone can take. But it's a good amount of time. Enough time so that you can find time not to "do," but to just "be." I think being together is the source of real closeness.

In any event, I'll be out of the office until April 22nd.

Undoubtedly there will be emails I have to answer and calls I have to take.

There will probably be some sort of crisis or anxiety attack where my calm steady hand will be called upon.

That's ok.

As they said about Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman," "It comes with the territory."

As for Ad Aged, I will write as I always do, as often as I can.

I'm sure New Zealand will bring crazy adventures, stunning sights and interesting new friends. That is, a lot to write about.

New York morning.

New York is a many splendored city. The juxtaposition of anger and civility often results in special moments.

This morning I got in a little early. My partner and I have no time, but we were asked to help out on a new business assignment. We agreed to get in around eight so that we'd, hopefully, have something to share before our ten o'clock meeting.

The C train, perhaps the most decrepit of all of the MTA's many routes (with the possible exception of the G-line--the only line that doesn't extend into Manhattan) was less-crowded than usual. Of course, it was still standing-room-only and a mess.

There is a breed of subway rider who takes great comfort leaning back against the doors--and barely making space when those doors open. That breed was in full-flower this morning.

Nevertheless I got on at 81st Street and quickly found a seat. Then I noticed just a few feet away from me an older man standing up against a pole and seemingly holding on for dear life as the train lurched downtown.

He was wearing a lopsided baseball cap and a ratty grey sweater that was many sizes too big. His pants were hiked-up around his navel, as is the style among people born in his generation. I must say, from an aesthetic and practical pov, I prefer pants worn too high than pants worn down below the ass. I don't get a vote, of course, and "prison-style dressing" seems all the rage.

I saw this old man standing there. He had easily 20 years on me and he looked none-too-stable. I got out of my seat and motioned to him. He paid no attention. Finally, I walked over to him.

"Would you like my seat?" I asked.

He snarled at me. "What do you think I am, a fucking invalid?" And he turned his back to me.

Just another morning in the greatest city in the world.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Williamsburg, then and now.

Pretty much since the time television was invented, there have been puffed-chest poseurs who claim repeatedly that they “never watch television.”

I’m sure in ancient Greece there were people who spouted that they never watch Aeschylus or Euripides, the implication being that such entertainment was entirely too low-brow or plebeian for their refined palates.

Likewise, I’m sure there were those Romans who never went to the Forum and those Elizabethans who shied away from Shakespeare. Such popular entertainment was too dumbed down to be worthy of their precious time.

“Are you going to that new Aristophanes at the amphitheatre tonight? There’s a new play he’s written called ‘Frogs.’”

“ ‘Frogs’? That sounds absolutely idiotic. I never go to the amphitheater—I don’t even spell it the asinine English way you do, mixing the e and r. I’m staying home and chipping my latest thoughts onto a stone tablet then sharing them with friends down at the mall—I mean agora.”

“You really should check out Aristophanes.”

“Listen, I don’t even know anyone who goes to the theater anymore.  I hated ‘Clouds.’ I hated ‘Wasps.’ And that ‘Lysistrata’ that everyone was raving about? I thought it sucked grape leaves.’

“You didn’t like Lysistrata? For the sex scenes alone it was priceless….”

“Naw, I’d rather stay home and have an on-stone experience.”