Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A bulwark at the Tempus Fugit.

I am not what I was.

Before pneumonia.

Before my head on car crash on the Grand Central.

I have not yet regained my strength.

Though my "numbers" seem to be going in the right direction--the threat of Hepatitis has diminished--I am still suffering from atrial fibrillation, which leaves me dizzy and short of breath. Of all the things you don't want to be short of, breath is about number one on the list.

I am too weak still to even walk Whiskey around the block, much less head uptown to the Tempus Fugit, a dark former speakeasy that's hidden in an old warehouse building on east 91st Street.  I miss the place, however. Miss the companionship of the bartender--a guy who seems to have some answers, and I miss the sweet nectar of the brew they serve, Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE.)

So, I was pleased last night at 2:17 in the morning when my iPhone began vibrating. It could be just one person at that hour, the bartender of the Tempus Fugit.

"I trust you will soon be darkening our door," he began with no introduction.

"How did you know I am sick?" I stammered.

"A good bartender is like a good wife or a good friend. We know things without being told. I am glad your counts are heading back down and others are heading back up."

"I am fighting my natural inclination to rush things. To rush back to work. To once again be the bulwark."

I could see him in my mind's eye, cradling the phone between his cauliflower ear and his well-muscled sloped shoulder, wiping the bar all the while with his damp white terry.

"A bulwark. Like Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium. Here's the thing about being a bulwark...the Belgians learned this in 1940 when the Nazis blitzed in.

"It was the largest fort in the world, Eben-Emael, and believed by most to be impregnable. Yet in less than a couple of hours, a couple of German DFS 230 attack gliders with fewer than 60 soldiers knocked over the place."

I instinctively bent my elbow and drained an imaginary eight-ounce juice glass of Pike's Ale.

"The thing about being a bulwark is that you take a lot of hits. Everyone comes at you. Take it easy on yourself, my friend. You'll be back soon."

With that he hung up the Ameche.

And I went back to sleep.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


There was a slight article in "The New York Times" sports page today about a former American League slugger and current announcer for the Chicago White Sox, "Hawk" Harrelson. Unlike so many of today's baseball "cognoscenti," Harrelson does not believe in "Sabermetrics," the excruciating mathematical analysis of the game that is supposed to make mountains out of molehills and frozen-rope doubles out of weak grounders.

Not believing in Sabermetrics, I think is akin to saying in our business "I don't believe in Big Data."

Well, I'll say it here.

"I don't believe in Big Data."

What I believe is the ingredient to marketing success is what Harrelson believes is the greatest ingredient to baseball success.


The Will To Win.

What makes great work, work that works, is people who make that work work.

It's blowing apart dumbness.

It's exploding hoary rules.

It's throwing out best practices.

And doing something different.

That gets noticed.

That makes an impact.

Technology, big data and all its friends is a parity product.

No one has yet chosen an agency based on the efficiency of their HVAC system. Because they are all the same.

As is data.

What differentiates is TWTW.

Dr. Cohen.

Over the next few weeks I will be spending an inordinate amount of time with my internist of 32 years, Richard P. Cohen.

The way Dr. Cohen practices medicine has more in common with how it was practiced in the 1960s than in our heavily industrialized age.

He believes in "laying on hands." In listening. In the "meta" power of humanity as a force stronger than mere technology.

We are all of us--and all our clients, too--about to be victims of a mega-merger. I don't see it making advertising stronger or better or more effective.

What I see are the things that make accounts work--the things that lead to powerful and effective work--they will attempt to wring from the system. Listening to clients, knowing their heart patterns, being intimate with their bloodstream and their desires....there's no room for any of that on a timesheet. It's all so inefficient. Antiquated. Dinosaurish.

What people don't want to wake up and realize is painfully obvious to me. Systems, technologies, software and processes are good for 80% of all cases.

When you get pneumonia, complications, atrial fibrillation and a hosts of other mishegas accompanied by a head-on collision into a concrete wall, I don't want "scale, size and 'efficiency.'"

I want a human.

Hopefully one with insight and compassion.

Who's handled a case like mine before.

Monday, July 29, 2013

My meeting with Maurice Levy.

Years ago when I was an SVP, Group Creative Director on the HP business at Publicis & Hal Riney, I had occasion to meet Maurice Levy.

Hal Riney had been the agency of the 80s and 90s and their iconic building along the Embarcadero in San Francisco stood as a "city on a hill." They did great work that built great brands--that differentiated them and built a soul and personality for them. Saturn. Alamo. Gallo. Bartles & Jaymes.

At the top of the building in a beautiful serif face was a sign that read "Hal Riney." By the time I got there in 2004 they had appended to it "Publicis &".

That appendage seemed to me like adding something to the name of Mickey Mantle. As if when CBS owned the Yankees they mandated that the slugger be called CBS and Mantle. Or Stoneham Mays. Or Yawkey Williams.

One guy knows the game. Is a maestro, the   g e n i u s  of the diamond. The one people pay to see. The other is a genius of the ledger. A man who can add rows of numbers and make them lie.

CBS Mantle.
Stoneham Mays.
Yawkey Williams.
Publicis Riney.

In short, a sacrilege. An affront. An abomination.

Like paying $200 for opera tickets--to something by Verdi or Rossini or Wagner--something godlike, and getting an ad on that ticket that says "brought to you by Bank of America."

Brought to you by me and my labor and decision to attend. All you did, Bank of Fucking America was bring down the world's economy one $17,000 'executive commode' at a time.

In any event I was running the HP business at Publicis & Hal Riney and doing it fairly alone. There were few account people, and none at a senior level to help me fight the fight.

I am a yeoman and took the business on my broad shoulders and made an impact and progress. But it wasn't enough. Maurice and a henchman came in and we were introduced.

He is a wall-eyed little man in a nice suit with a meringue of salt-and-pepper hair. He came up to my shoulders. We chatted and he said, "You are poonching above your weight. We have gotten you help so you no longer will have to poonch above your weight."

I thought about the French army, Europe's largest in 1940 surrendering to the Nazi's in 41 days. I wish he knew more about poonching above his weight. A lot of Levy's would have been saved along the way.

A few days later a new account guy arrived. A guy I knew from Ogilvy and IBM to help my punches tell. But frankly, it was too little too late and I blew out of Publicis & Hal Riney in just seven months.

I think the world has become an immensely bureaucratized place.

When our armed forces prepares for a mission they do something called "moving the metal mountain."

It is slow. Ungainly. Complex. Wasteful. Enormously expensive and it consumes everything in its wake.

This is our world. Omnipublicom or whatever advertising's newest behemoth--I propose Fucktardipubliom--will not be about a Hal Riney or Maurice or Charles, or Mantle or Mays. It will be about optimization, globalization, standardization and massification.

Individualism, that which brought us to the business in the first place, will be a casualty once again and we will continue regurgitating processed cheese food.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


I made it home a couple hours ago, thanks to the good, tolerant graces of my wife and a young doctor, who took me under her wing at the hospital.

For all the advances of medical technology, a hospital is a painful place to be sick. And, like the old "Tootsy Frootsy Ice Cream scene" with Chico and Groucho in "A Day at the Races," if you don't like the diseases you have, we'll make up some new ones for you.

Pursuant to that young doctor, she made me think a little about advertising.

We have become in the world corporations.

We protect and serve the corporation.

And the corporation proscribes our behaviors.

Mostly that means work is done slowly, mundanely, and by committee. With more check ins than are humanly bearable.

That way, out the other end, comes just what you'd expect.

A corporate turd.

Every so often, however, someone breaks or ignores that corporate, almost Soviet morass. And smiles and perseveres and prevails.

Our systems in so many ways are so broken.

Everything from phone service to airlines to hospitals to agencies has been motor-vehicleized.

We need to find a way through this.

I any event, I am home now.

Thanks for all the kind wishes.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I'm fine.

One of the biggest issues in my life--and it has been for 55 years, is that "I am fine."

I take a lot of shit on.

I do a lot.

You can throw crap my way and I handle it.

I am fine.

On the weekend, I was not fine. And by the time Monday rolled around I was the apotheosis of unfine.

But I traipsed out to Minnesota to sell a campaign.

My agency needed me to.

My client needed me to and "I would be fine."

Even after the car accident Monday night I said to the ambulance driver, "I'm fine."

I just wanted to get home and see my visiting daughter,

Well, now I have been in the hospital since Wednesday.

And am only now approaching fine.

I won't pyschoanalyze here my need to provide, come through, be fine.

I can only promise to try a little less hard.

And I'll probably be fine.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


So I am in the hospital suffering from a bacterial pneumonia that all but destroyed me. The accident in the gypsy cab only added injury to insult.

Things seem to be progressing...slowly. And sometime I suppose they will release me from the emergency room and into a real room.

This has been just about the worst week of my life.

But I no longer think I'm going to die.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A bad night in Queens.

I have been sick as a dog.

First I thought I had food poisoning.

Then, it turns out I'm having serious adverse effects from a medication my doctor gave me.

Literally my hair hurts, my skin hurts.

I am headachey and dizzy and chills and fever.

Yet yesterday I had to go to Minnesota to present some boards to the CEO.

Which went well.

The flight back to New York was cancelled.

Then on again.

Then cancelled.

Then three hours late.

We landed at LaGuardia after midnight in pouring rain and no cabs.

I can hardly stand up at this point.

So I grab a Gypsy cab.

Big mistake.

His car was from the early 90s and the tires were as bald as Don Rickles.

He was driving too fast, spun out of control, crashed into one concrete wall and rebounded into another.

Thank god I had my seat belt on. I wouldn't be typing this if I hadn't.

I am bruised up pretty bad.

My knee was wrenched.

And like I said, my hair still hurts.

But somehow I got another car, and made it finally home.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The great unraveling.

Sorry there's been no Monday post today.

I'm traveling on business, sick as a dog and the agency saw fit to wedge all 6'2" of me into a middle seat.

I'm important to the agency.

I'm the one they send when there's a meeting with the CEO, as there is today. But I'm not so important that they treat me well.

I subscribe, and have for more than two decades, to the famously liberal magazine "The New Republic." I don't know who's taken over editorial control, but they have revitalized the magazine. It no longer looks like it's printed on foolscap in the basement of a substandard high school in Mississippi.

The cover of this issue really got me. Because everything that's happened to journalism, medicine, and advertising is now happening to law.

What's happened, to keep it simple, of course is that money men have moved in and destroyed our reason for being. They get their $16 million payouts--or more--and we hear that salaries are frozen. They have lowered prices, lowered wages and made yet another industry a furious race to the bottom.

And when the profits--which they have robbed from the system--disappear, people, working stiffs like me, will get the shaft.

As always.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A morning with Uncle Slappy.

Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie arrived early this morning. They had had enough of the Florida heat, hadn't been up for some time, and decided at the last moment to visit me and my wife.

"You escaped the Florida heat for the New York heat," I said to the old man as he arrived at my door.

All he said in response is a single word: "Coffee."

Uncle Slappy believes, as I do, that my wife for all her mishegas makes the single best of cuppa coffee in the world. I don't know how she does it, but day in and day out she does.

After Slappy had caffeinated we decided we would walk to Sable's together. Sable's is one of the best "fish" places in the city. That is, a place to procure your lox, your baked salmon, your whitefish and your sturgeon.

Danny Sze and his brother Kenny, two immigrant Chinese, opened Sable's almost 30 years ago after they had risen to head fish slicers at the more famous Zabar's. Over the last three decades, the Sze brothers have turned "Chewish." That is, Chinese-Jewish.

They speak a smattering of Yiddish, have a mezuzah out front, and know more about the Jewish holidays than most Rabbis.

Uncle Slappy and I braved the 90-degree heat and the 90 percent humidity and made it to the cool of Sable's in just under 15 minutes. When we got there, Uncle Slappy immediately recognized the celebrity status of another customer.

"It's Fonzi!" he shouted, shaking Henry Winkler's hand.

The two kibbitzed for a while like they were old friends. Then Winkler left with his lox and left me and the Sze brothers alone with Uncle Slappy.

Danny gave Uncle Slappy a big schtickle of lox and whitefish salad on a small slice of sesame bagel.

"The Chinese make the best Jews," Uncle Slappy proclaimed and "the Jews make the best Italians. Think about it, Paul Muni...Jew. Henry Winkler...Jew. Sheldon Leonard...Jew. John Garfield...Jew. George Raft...Jew."

The Sze brothers didn't know what to make of Uncle Slappy's philippic but they enjoyed that he called the Chinese the best Jews.

They gave him another schtickle of lox.

And we walked together home.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday reflection.

It's Friday.

The end of another seamy, seemingly interminably long week.

A week of back and forth with the client over a campaign.

Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

And back and forth some more.

We are improving the work to death.

Smoothing out the rough edges.

Taking out that which might offend.

Or might give pause.

Or might make one laugh.

I had a talk yesterday with a young journalist about advertising.

Like most young journalists he was unduly influenced and interested in the purported mad man era.

What's the difference between then and now?

Well, to keep this simple, today we have a bureaucratic infrastructure that legislates humanity and soul out of most things.

We have skeins of rounds and hordes of approvers and some times literally hundreds of people who weigh in, and hundreds more not to offend.

It's Friday.

The end, thankfully, of a long week.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Today's journalism.

I admit I do not understand what the issue is with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev being on the cover of "Rolling Stone" magazine. 

Boston's mayor Thomas Menino wrote to the publisher of "Rolling Stone," saying its cover "rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment." Various retailers have said they will not display or sell the magazine.

Again, I do not understand.

It seems to me that people should be smart enough--and should be given the chance--to pass their own judgments of Tsarnaev. Yet we live in a time where we prefer censorship and ostracism to openness and freedom.

I believe Tsarnaev did a terrible thing, would have done more terrible things, and is a terrible person. He should suffer the worst we can mete out--if and when he is tried and convicted. 

But where is the evil, the lack of taste and sensitivity in showing his picture? 

The "Esquire" cover of Lt. William Calley was controversial when it appeared. I'm sure people were outraged by it.

He was charged in 1969 with the premeditated murder of 104 Vietnamese civilians during a Calley-led rampage that killed as many as 500 Vietnamese villagers.

Yet George Lois and "Esquire" put him on Esquire's cover--looking happy if not beatific, surrounded by affectionate Vietnamese children.

What has happened in our world that we need to see things in such a Manichean manner--black vs. white, good vs. evil, light vs. darkness.

What has happened in our world that we eschew diversity of thought. That we cannot tolerate point of view and controversy?

I've also posted a cover of "Time" magazine who had Hitler on their covers more than once. He was even their "Man of the Year" in 1938. (In '39, Time lightened up a bit, naming Stalin their "MoTY.")

Another hot night in the Tempus Fugit.

The heat was like a fat man in the seat next to you on an airplane. It crowded you. It violated you. It pressed against you. There was no escaping it.

And it smelled.

It smelled the smell of a million unshowered.

It smelled the smell of pigeon.

Of steaming sewer.

Of dog shit left to bake.

The city, which always closed you in, loomed now. The sky, way above the towers built by rapacious bankers, was more distant. Its color the color of wet sheet rock. The streets seemed narrower. The toxins in the air more redolent.

Even within my apartment, with five air-conditioning units running at full-bore, the heat was there. Movement slowed. And conversation hung in the moist atmosphere.

I got home late. I had seen an old friend for a couple of drinks and dinner and did not arrive home until after midnight. Even at that hour, long past the time I usually go to bed, I knew that sleep this night would not come. The gates to Morpheus were barred. Nailed shut. Closed for the duration.

I decided to not even try. I slipped a collar over Whiskey and once again we headed north to the Tempus Fugit.

We arrived, long-tongued and languid 20 minutes later. Getting there was like swimming through a thermocline. The Tempus Fugit was a strata of cool alongside layers and layers of oppression.

Whiskey curled at my feet and I assumed my usual juncture, a stool one in from the end.

The bartender once again played Nijinsky, or Pee Wee Reese, and was around the bar with a small wooden bowl of cold for Whiskey and then in a blur was pulling back a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) for me.

"Heat," I mumbled with my usual insight. "Heat," I said again as if the word had meaning anymore.

I drained my Pike's and hadn't even the time to place my eight-ounce glass on the bar before the bartender placed another amber in from of me.

"On a night like to night," he said "there is no need for language. Leave us go prognathous and grunt and point only."

I nodded as he brought over a small wooden bowl of Spanish peanuts. I pushed it away and he filled in the blanks for me.

"I know," he laughed. "A pound in every nut."

By the time I had rendered my second glass half-empty I had returned to the world of the living. My vital bodily fluids were coursing again through my over-loaded system and I was beginning to feel almost human.

"Think of this," he said. He was wiping the clean varnished surface of the teak with a damp white terry. "Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called in the Masai "Ngaje Ngai," the house of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard..." He paused and I finished.

"No one had explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude."

"What are you seeking, my friend, at this altitude? Some yards, either above or below street level on east 91st Street."

I laughed a bit as he refilled my glass. He scooted around the bar with a tumbler of ice and refreshed Whiskey's bowl. She remained asleep and oblivious.

The Tempus Fugit, as usual, was empty and nearly dark. The four or five table along the back wall, each with a geometry all its own were unoccupied. The one stool to my right and the twelve or so to my left were similarly unemployed.

Behind the bar, amid a forest of various bottles, there was in addition to the 15-watt that lit the cash register, a single neon advertising in crackling blue type Pike's. It cast a glow over the place that reminded me of the color treatment of Victor Sjostrom's 1921 horror "The Phantom Carriage."

"What do any of us seek?" I replied. 

"Some seek company. Some solace. Some peace. Some battle. Some love. Some the absence of love. Some death. Some life. And some, like you seek all of those things."

Whiskey stirred, got up and sniffed a bit around the bar.

"That's a little heavy for a saloon keeper," he said continuing to polish the polish.

"Maybe it's the heat," I answered as I pushed two $20s his way.

"On me," he enjoined.

I leashed Whiskey and we began walking out of the place.

"Stay cool," he said. "Stay cool."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Black Dog barks one early Wednesday.

I'm in early once again and once again the office is as empty as a promise.

There's not a single ass in a single seat and the only sound other than that which comes from my ancient MacBook keyboard (only the cool kids get new computers) is the boom and whoosh of an over-achieving HVAC system.

I don't have a reason, right now, for coming in early. We are in the throes of trying to sell some commercials and our next "deck" is ready to go though our next meeting isn't scheduled until Monday.

This round of spots--my fourth with this client--I fear I've lost the battle. We have negotiated, not communicated. And, I fear, when we produce them, the client will wash their hands of them--like they were our idea--even though we were bludgeoned into them.

There are times when advertising is like the French in Dien Bien Phu in 1954. You keep building your arsenal, you keep fortifying yourself, but the enemy is more plentiful, more determined and has history on his side.

This is a dark age, I fear. An age of darkness, not an age of discovery. An age where the great advances are not drugs to eradicate polio, but are ways to make things cheaper.

Globalization--and it has taken over our industry--where centers of capital are distant from where the work is centered, is the law of the land. Wages are driven ever downward and no one seems to realize what Henry Ford realized a century ago, that without a middle class, there is no consumer class.

I'm no fan of Henry Ford. He was a virulent hate-mongering anti-semite who spewed his hate through a popular newspaper--the "Dearborn Independent." He distributed "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," in multiple languages throughout the world. He sold the Nazis war machinery.

All that. But he paid a living wage.

Today our best companies employ de facto overseas slaves and avoid paying taxes like my mother avoided giving compliments.

We, the people, are anesthetized. Doped out on televised stupidity, and hyped-up cupidity and on global warming humidity.

Our industry is dumb. We can't separate "news" from "new," and build apps and toys rather than businesses.

And it's all ok, so long as your timesheet is done on time and a bunch of bespoke blue-suited financocrats get their $16 million per annum despite having never written an ad.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A choice we make.

There are a few nice commercials on the air now promoting WNET, one of New York's three public television stations. You can view them and read about them here.

Each of the spots purports to be a network promo for a dumbed down television show. One, for example, is called "Long Island Landscapers," ("The boys are going over the hedge and their bad attitude is in full bloom.") Once the spoof is set up, we cut to a super that says: "The fact that you thought this was a real show says a lot about the state of TV."

Idiocy is what I'm talking about.

Immaturity is what I'm talking about.

Nastiness, small-mindedness, name-calling, hyperbole, ugliness, violence, stupidity are what I'm talking about. They exist, all of the above, in our world in spades.

And they will continue to exist as long as we indulge them.

As long as we accept the "dominant complacency," it will prevail.

But we don't have to accept it.

I know we in advertising exist in the world and must be cognizant of it.

But we must also, I think, lead.

As shapers of brands, we are powerful shapers of public mores and opinions.

We don't have to be dumb.

We don't have to succumb.

Half a century ago, when according to TV advertising women cared about nothing but "waxy yellow build-up," David Ogilvy said "the consumer is not a moron. She is your wife."

We can update that for today.

Catering to the lowest is not a mandatory.

It's a choice.

It's one I refuse to kowtow to.

A well-lighted night in the Tempus Fugit.

A hot slurry of pigeons, rats, dogshit, rubbish and what passes for air has descended once again on New York. The temperature, even in the evenings, is circa 90, and there hasn’t been even the wisp of a breeze besides that which comes from slamming shut taxi doors and the curses of Punjabi drivers.

The building I live in has central air, and each of the cooling units in each of the apartments 190 units has been gasping on high—hoping against hope to put a dent in the heat. But by last night, the temperature had creeped up too far, the humidity was too high and Whiskey and I decided to try our luck cooling down at the Tempus Fugit.

I threw on an old grey t-shirt and girded Whiskey with her collar. We set out on a walk—about a mile in length—that we had done so many times before.

We arrived on East 91st Street and navigated downstairs and upstairs, through a warren of small hallways, sliding open steel expansion gates, fiddling with door handles, until we finally hit the Tempus Fugit. The Tempus Fugit was there as it is always there, impervious to time and the elements.

I sat down, my grey t-shirt fairly soaked through with perspiration, on my favorite stool, one in from the end and Whiskey curled by my feet. The bartender was quick from behind the bar on little cat’s feet, like Phil Rizzuto. He nimbly placed a small wooden bowl of ice water in front of her. He was back behind the bar in another instant, pulling in one motion a Pike’s Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) for me and sliding it deftly in front of me.

Before he had settled back to his stance, I drained the full eight-ounces and slid my empty juice glass back his way. He pulled me Pike’s number two and then he began.

“The heat has become like a character in a play by Tennessee Williams,” he began. “It has a presence and a large speaking part.”

“Certainly, the heat is on everyone’s lips,” I added dimly.

He placed in front of me a small bowl of Mr. Salty pretzels. I grabbed a handful if only to replenish the salt I lost walking up to the Tempus Fugit.

“During the heat wave of 1972, the heat played rougher than Raymond Chandler with a set of brass knuckles.”

He paraphrased, “Meek little wives are feeling the edge of carving knives and studying their husbands’ necks.”

“Chandler could really sling it, couldn’t he?”

“From July 13 to July 20th, 1972, there were 57 homicides in the City. That’s more than seven a day. That would add up to more than 2,500 for the year—more than three times the number of US soldiers than were killed that year in Vietnam.”

I emptied my second Pike’s and he filled me up again. He did so with not a single wasted motion.

“Of course murders happen in darkness. And there was no shortage of darkness that July. In just over a week, New York saw outages that hit 400,000 people, then 200,000, then three-quarters of a million.”

“That sounds about par for the course these days,” I said. “Though I have to give Con-Ed credit, since hurricane Sandy, the lights have been on.”

“The lights have never gone out in the Tempus Fugit.” He wiped the varnished bar in a tight circular motion with a white terry towel.

“What about in ’65?” I asked. “What about in ’77?” Those were the years of two major blackouts in New York. The first was in November and half of New York feared it was prelude to a Soviet nuclear onslaught or a Cuban one. The second one spurred the worst riots and looting since the 1863 Civil War draft riots.

He removed the glass in front of me, wiped it a few times, then drew me another Pike’s. He circled around the bar with an aluminum tumbler full of ice-water, he re-filled Whiskey’s bowl. She was still panting from the heat of the walk up and eagerly welcomed the cool.

“We never lost power,” the bartender said calmly. “It was like the miracle at Lourdes.”
“Verizon must have its own generator,” I offered. Verizon--the telecom company--occupies most of the old warehouse building.

He smiled and continued polishing the varnished teak to the bar-top. We sat in silence for a good five minutes.

“No,” he said. “We never lost our lights.”


"We have an obligation," he said as he polished.

I got up to leave. The sun would be up in an hour. I passed two twenties over to him. He pushed them back like a champion volley-baller.

“On me,” he said.

And Whiskey and I walked home in the dark.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The best revenge.

Years ago I was taught something very simple by Steve Hayden who was then Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather.

Steve never acted like I expected a Vice Chairman would. He was never high and mighty. He never toed the company line. He never gave you bullshit about how great things were.

In short, he pretty much told it like it was. And that's why scores of people in the industry, from coast to coast, admire and miss Steve, and would give their left arms to work for him again.

He was honest.

He cared about the work.

And he cared about the people who cared about the work.

No matter where you work, the best place or I suppose the worst, we all go through an excruciating number of rounds, revises, re-dos and rethinks before work ever gets produced.

Crappy agencies and clients allow work to get a little worse through each of these renditions.

Good agencies and clients allow the work to be improved.

Good agencies, and this is what Steve taught me, know that the best revenge is a better ad.

I'm on round 87 of a bunch of commercials now.

I'm trying hard to keep them from sucking.

Friday, July 12, 2013


We had a great meeting!

It was really great!

We presented seamlessly!

Everything went off without a glitch!

Everyone was happy!

The clients' attention didn't waver!

The clients were nodding in agreement!

Everyone felt good about the work!

We're getting there!

We had a great meeting!

It was great!

We had a great meeting!

Everyone was pleased!

We got a great email about the meeting!

We had a great meeting!

It was great!

(We didn't sell a thing.)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Social media in the Tempus Fugit.

I got off my flight last night at around one AM. I unfolded myself from the seat they had wedged me into and walked the dead-man's walk through the dead-world's airport (LaGuardia) past the skeins of shuttered fastfood restaurants, ardently hoping my Town Car would be there and I wouldn't have to hold-music and phone-tree while waiting for it.

It was hot last night and humid. There wasn't a breath of air anywhere in the five boroughs and even the Town Car, whose air-conditioning was blasting like an Apollo space-craft, was as sticky as a caramel apple.

The driver read out my address.

"No," I said, and instead I gave him the address of the Tempus Fugit. We sped there through the nearly empty streets. I arrived before one-thirty.

"Where's the pup?" the bartender said as he greeted me. "Oh, I see you've been traveling."

I dropped my overnight bag and my computer case at the seat of my stool one in from the end. He pulled me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) and leaned over the bar to begin tonight's interchange.

"I want to pick you brain about some marketing ideas I have for the Tempus Fugit. See if we could bring more folks in from the neighborhood."

"You could start with a sign out front," I said.

"Let's not get radical. A sign is a bit mercantile from where I sit. I was thinking more in terms of consumer interaction and engagement."

"It sounds like you read a book on marketing in the digital age."

He schluffed me off like a bear swatting a honey bee. "Here's what I want you to do. I want you to tweet about the Tempus Fugit."

"I'm not sure what that will do." I answered somberly. "I have just 79 followers."

"I want you to Vine about the Tempus Fugit as well. A six-second looped film of a Pike's being served."

"I'm not really sure how the whole Vine thing works," I answered.

"Before long these Vines will spread. I'll ask people who come in to Vine their Pikes, then we'll post all the Vines we get on the Tempus Fugit website."

"I didn't know you had a site," I was beginning to cry into my beer.

"I don't. But can you imagine a virtual Tempus Fugit, serving virtual Pike's Ale. My heart flutters when I think of all the conversations we could generate."

He filled my eight-ounce juice glass with cool amber.

"We'll have Mayors of the Tempus Fugit on Foursquare. And Dukes on Yelp. People will be positively swilling in our Ale!"

"My friend," I began.

He was wiping the mahogany clean and dry with the damp of a white terry. He seemed to be doing it with an usual intensity.

"Imagine how my Klout score will rise," he continued.

"Your Klout score," I laughed to keep from crying.

He then broke from the role he was playing and drew me another Pike's. Then he did something he never did before, reaching across the bar to put his hand on my shoulder. He gave it an affectionate squeeze.

"No," he said standing straight up. "No, the Tempus Fugit shall remain a place that time has forgotten. A place that the years cannot improve."

"You had me worried there for a moment," I said.

"The Pike's are on me," he answered. "Just don't tweet about that. I don't want it getting around."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


A lot of people of late have taken to calling me a curmudgeon.

I don't like this.

I feel it is today's au courant language.

A politically-correct way of calling someone old and grumpy.

I am not old.

I am not grumpy.

I have run a dozen marathons and can out think and out write and out present nearly anyone out there.

I get frustrated which leads me to vent my spleen at stupidity.

At asking consumers to engage with brands in ways that are more complicated than building in balsa wood a scale model of the "Little Indian Girl" genuine replica cedar canoe complete with reinforcing ribs.

Or in making things that no one will ever see that might win an award but does nothing outside of Madison Avenue's bubble.

I get frustrated when people treat this business as if we make toys not drive sales.

I get frustrated at grand proclamations that are 100% puffery and 0% accountability.

I get frustrated by people who phone it in when something doesn't interest them.

I get frustrated by a lot of things.

Healthy outrage is healthy.

It doesn't mean I hate my life, or my boss, or my agency, or my client, or the industry.

It just means I want to make it and them better.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fuck perfection.

I'm in the filthiest place on earth, or one of them, LaGuardia airport, on my way west to present some work to some C-level people.

The work has stayed essentially the same for the last six weeks.

But for the last six weeks we have probably permutated two versions of the deck a day, everyday.

We are trying to make it perfect.

With not an extra space between words.

Not a punctuation mark hanging.

Not a participle dangling.

I hate perfection.

I hate the mania, the obsession to scrub something so clean that it's antiseptic.

They say kids today don't have the resistance to illness enjoyed by previous generations because over-protective parents have shielded them from every germ.

I fear that we are doing the same in our business.

In the quest for perfection we are destroying humanity, life, wit and worst, serendipity and surprise.

We have plowed over reality and laid down astroturf.

It might look good but it has no life.

I just looked up "goofs" on IMDB's listing of "Citizen Kane," arguably the greatest movie ever.

I counted 34.

Fuck perfection.

The pizzo.

There's an article in today's "New York Times" about a restauranteur, Vincenzo Conticello, in Italy who's refusing to pay what's known as a "pizzo" to the Mafia.

The pizzo is a protection fee. In Conticello's case, the pizzo runs to tens of thousands of euros. When he refused to pay, some of his customers' cars were damaged. One of his house cats was killed. Arson is another popular tactic. As is murder.

According to the "Daily Telegraph," around 80% of businesses in Italy pay a pizzo. This translates into untold millions of euros in graft.

Contincello is joining a small but growing movement to resist the pizzo. He says, "I know that many prefer to pay the pizzo. But in the long term we become slaves of criminality..."

Naturally, I think some form of pizzo is in effect in our business. Four major holding companies hold 70% of the ad business in New York. Which likely "limits trade, movement, salaries and benefits."

The advertising pizzo also places restraints on your freedom. There are no longer scores of shops to choose from. Instead there are essentially four.

It ain't criminal what the unofficial gang of four are doing. There's no anti-trust legislation in the ad business. And of course, you're "at will." You can quit any time.

But it still feels, at least some days, that we have become slaves to a system.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reflections on writing and life.

I've been writing Ad Aged for six years now. Except for a few days while on vacation, a few more while chased by the darkest of Black Dogs and most Saturdays and Sundays, I've written every day. In fact, over the past 2,000 or so days, I've managed to write something like 3,500 posts--more than one and a half a day.

That said, it's unusual that I wake up knowing what I want to write. And that's why I love having a blog. I feel the need to write, but don't know what to write about. So, I am forced every morning to think.

That is to think. Really think. To think about what's going on in my world and our industry. To balance that thinking with the consideration of what readers may or may not find interesting. And then to throw all that together and come up with a post.

I suppose if I had a more orderly mind, I could plot out days or even weeks in advance what I want to write about. But I prefer the spontaneity of fear. Of having to face every morning this white rectangle. Of having to type and hoping for the best.

Along the way, I've created a few characters who speak to me when I am up a tree. There's my Uncle Slappy--wise in the way of the world and always ready with a crack or a witticism. And there's the bartender at the Tempus Fugit, another man wise to the world with a view, I think that's jaded but unique. These guys help me. They're almost always there when they're needed.

There's a third guy I think about when I am stuck and though I've never written about him, he spurs me on when I can find no reason to keep on going.

This is a guy called Andre who I played baseball with when I was a precocious teenager.

In those days, say in 1973 when I was 15, I played on a summer league team with mostly college kids. The most gifted of these was a pitcher named Andre. He didn't stick around long enough for us to learn much about him. But what we did learn was pretty frightening.

He had come home from Vietnam without all his faculties intact. He could hardly have a simple conversation--he seemed like a fuse that had already been lit, a temper waiting to explode. However, he had a fastball like Tom Seaver, and that was good enough for us. I would put a small sponge in my mitt when I caught him.

About halfway through our summer season, Andre got arrested and taken away. He had been using heroin and was caught. Another casualty in a world full of horrible casualties.

Five years later, I saw Andre again. I was riding the number one train up to my dorm room and I saw him begging on the subway platform at 50th Street. He looked like a Central Casting homeless man. Still long and thin, but somehow longer and thinner. His hair cascaded around his unshaven face like a waterfall. He had on his fatigues which were filthy and he was begging loudly and aggressively.

It scared me seeing him. I didn't know what to do. I probably should have run out to help him, but he scared me. And what could I do that the Veteran's Administration and Social Services hadn't already tried? Besides I was late for class.

I never saw him again.

But I've thought about him often.

I've thought about the sadness that arrives when someone can no longer fight. When someone has succumbed to the defeats that are all around us. When someone is ruined and without hope.

I think about Andre as I struggle, at times, through my own depression, through the travails of my life and my career. I think about him the way I think about Viktor Frankl.

We are all handed a portion of hell.

How we deal with it makes all the difference.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A heat wave in the Tempus Fugit.

Last night it was as hot in the city as the handles on the gates of Hell. The temperature during the day had risen to the mid-90s. Though the mercury had dropped some when the sun went down, nearly every surface of the city was radiating stored heat. What's more, the exhaust of a million cars and a million more air-conditioners only added to the swelter.

The heat must have awakened Dame Insomnia, because she jostled me from my slumber at around 2:15. I tried ignoring her as I almost always do.

I picked up my book and headed to the living room. Whiskey followed me and curled at my feet as I read a dozen or so pages on America's entry into Vietnam. Those pages didn't tire me. I looked at the clock, it was now 3. Whiskey and I made eye-contact. It was time to face facts. This night would only pass from the welcoming environs of the Tempus Fugit.

I be-leashed Whiskey, grabbed a handful of low-calorie biscuits and we headed north. With ever-watchful eyes and bearing scars, we headed up-town, full of the hazy notion that sleep would someday come unsullied, undiluted, unending.

In just a few minutes, we arrived in the cool of the Tempus Fugit. There was an old oscillating fan on the bar-top. It sat in the place of the large jar of pickled hard-boiled eggs that a few of the regulars, not me, enjoy. I'm not much of a pickled hard-boiled egg guy; I suppose they're delicious. I'm just not ready to take the plunge. Somewhere, perhaps, a hen is thanking me.

As I do, I sat on my usual stool, one in from the end, and Whiskey once again curled at my size 14s. The bartender was out from behind the mahogany like Nijinsky, and was quick with her small wooden bowl filled with icy water.

Back behind the bar he slid over to me a cool Pike's Pale Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) in an eight-ounce juice glass. I've found through more than 40 years of drinking that beer is best served in an eight-ounce glass. You can nurse it along and it doesn't go warm or flat on you. They understand nuance like this at the Tempus Fugit.

"It's nothing, this heat, compared to 1972. In that year, 891 died in New York alone. That's more than died in the Chicago fire and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake combined."

"I was living here then, and I don't even remember that."

"No one remembers anything anymore. We have sensationalized everything. Nothing has any meaning."

"You're running a little gloomy today."

He slid a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts my way. I slid them back his way, saying as I always do "a pound in every nut."

Then he took my glass and refilled it again with cool amber.

"I remember there was a movie theatre up on Broadway and 88th Street in those days. There's a Duane Reade, a Starbucks, a condo and nail salon there now." (Here's what the street looked like in 1971.)

"Ya, the New Yorker," I said. "I used to go there when I was in college at Columbia. They tore it down probably 30 years ago."

"New York isn't worth shit anymore thanks to nail salons, Starbucks, Duane Reades and condos." He wiped the already spotless bar-top ever cleaner with a damp white terry towel.

"You're damned right, I'm gloomy. I'm tired of hearing about the weather. We knew how to handle it before New York got pasteurized. Before they took the impurities out of it. We went to the New Yorker--the air-conditioned New Yorker--they would play Charlie Chaplin movies all day long. $5 would get you in for as long as you wanted to stay. That's how you beat the heat."

"I guess watching Chaplin in "The Gold Rush" would lower your temperature a bit," I said.

"You're darn tootin' it would. Today, the city opens up 'cooling stations' for people without A/C. Today if we had a heatwave like we had back then--today with the cooling stations, ten-thousand would wilt and die. They ought to open up the old movie theatres and play Chaplin."

"The old movie theatres are no more," I said sadly. "Like you said, they've been Duane Readed, and Starbucked, and nail saloned and condo'd."

He filled Whiskey again and me too, with my third Pike's. He stood behind the bar from us, wiping in an efficient circular motion. He had gone laconic on me. Something that had never happened before during all my hours in the Tempus Fugit.

I didn't like seeing him like this--didn't want to leave him like this. But it was time to leave. I pulled two 20s from my wallet--it was clammy with sweat--and placed them on the bar top.

"On me," he said.

And then he smiled. And then he laughed. And then he said, "stay cool."

Whiskey and I walked home along the East River.

Hoping to do just that.

Hoping to stay cool.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The 4th on the water.

My kids have been in for the last couple days, Hannah from all points of the globe (most recently New Zealand) and Sarah with her boyfriend in tow, in from Boston.

My wife got tickets that gained us entrance to Pier 66A, which juts out into the muddy, turbid Hudson from just about 26th Street. The pier itself is on two levels, and because we paid at a higher rate, we were allowed to go topside.

We finally found a small round table near the western-most part of the pier. We were about 20 or 30 yards out into the Hudson and about 150 yards from the southernmost of the four Macy's barges from which fireworks were being launched.

There was an open bar and some runny hummus and we each got a drink and sat down to watch the night darken and the fireworks light up the sky.

Around eight o'clock a fleet of seven NYPD helicopters flew low overhead in a classic V. It looked like something out of "Apocalypse Now" and you could hear people humming Wagner from various other tables. The sun was going out and the lights of the city were coming on, most spectacularly the new Freedom Tower, about three miles south of us was illuminated in three tiers of red, white and blue.

Seven miles north or so, the towers of the George Washington Bridge went on. Then the string of pearls, the illumination of its suspension superstructure. Further down the river, about five miles you could see the green of the Statue of Liberty.

At 8:30 it wasn't yet completely dark, but some towns in New Jersey couldn't wait and their fireworks flaccidly lit their small portion of sky. All the while the massive Macy's barges sat stolidly in the river, each with a Macy*s logo burning bright.

The city seemed to quiet as it neared 9:20 and time for the fireworks. A police boat sped by, its emergency lights flashing a bright blue. And then a Coast Guard zodiac boat. The area around the barges was cordoned off. Boats, there were literally thousands of them were kept about 100 yards away.

New York's police, fire and emergency services departments are probably the best in the world outside of Israel or London. They are supremely efficient and frighteningly paramilitary and they had cordoned off a fair portion of the west side, for safety's sake. There were numerous check points, no bags allowed, and radiation detectors to boot.

At 9:20 the explosions began. Boom! Boom! Boom! Loud, palpable percussions that you could feel in your bones. The sky lit up a variety of colors and the pyrotechnics went on and on. It's astonishing, really, when you see something like we saw how your vocabulary and your cameras fail you. Neither words nor pixels can capture the effect of such an event.

Around 10:00, the whole affair was over and everyone in New York streamed away from the river, toward mid-town and in search of a toilet.

Magically, I found, almost immediately, a gypsy cab and we got the hell out of there without getting our hair too mussed.

That was it.

New York on July 4th.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Uncle Slappy on the Egyptian revolution.

Uncle Slappy called tonight just as the news on PBS was over. I picked up the phone on the second ring. I knew it was Uncle Slappy and I knew he had a good one for me.

"The fancy Puerto Rican anchorman with the mustache said the Egyptian army got him," he began, as usual without even saying hello. "They ousted their President Morty."

I'm used to playing his straight man. The fact is, I actually enjoy it.

"That's President Morsi, Uncle Slappy, not President Morty."

"The last I saw of Morty he was kicked out of the co-op association for stealing paper towels from the clubhouse. The first time, they looked the other way. But when they caught him again, he was gone."

"Time and tide wait for no man, I suppose."

"I'm not quite sure how Morty became president of Egypt, but there you have it. Let me read you the Times' headline: "Army Ousts Egypt's President Morty.

"I wonder" he continued "if they caught him with a roll of bounty."

With that, the old man hung up the phone. And I was left staring at mine.

Golden Retriever paws.

A little over a year ago my wife came home from one of her many trips to California with a bouncing 10-week-old Golden Retriever whom we named Whiskey.

We had no idea how big Whiskey would get. While her parents were large, she was the "runt" of the litter--the smallest of the dozen or so of her brothers and sisters.

Maybe it's a unique feature of Manhattan living, maybe it's the magnetism of a puppy, but as we walked Whiskey in those early months, we would often be stopped by dog-lovers, experts and a variety of commentators.

It wasn't unusual for us to be stopped on the corner of, say, 83rd Street and hear someone say "look at those paws, she's going to be big." And then be stopped on the corner of 82nd Street and hear someone say, "look at those paws, she's going to be petite."

My point, of course, has nothing to do with Golden Retrievers.

It's twofold.

1. Everyone always acts the expert.
2. People are usually wrong about 50% of the time.

I think that holds for Golden Retriever paws.

I know it holds for advertising.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Death at an early age.

I've been working in the industry since 1984, at major agencies, for major creative directors, on major clients.

During those 29 years I've earned applause--actually hand-clapping--maybe three times. Each time, it was pre-cursor to a painful death.

The last time before this time was back in the 90s. We were pitching an account that, if won, would have brought Ally & Gargano back to respectability. It had been one of the great agencies of all time and winning this account would have given it the opportunity to be great again on a national stage.

My partner and I worked all weekend long and came up with something we knew was good. We presented it to about 15 people at an internal meeting Monday morning. To a man, they stood and applauded.

Over the next six weeks of the pitch, that work was picked at and emasculated. Finally, just a week before the client presentation, I ripped the tissue off the wall, crumbled it up and threw it at the Chief Creative Officer.

I remember what I said to him like it was yesterday. "You want it dead, it's dead."

The same has happened recently. A client screamed after I presented a campaign, "I love it. We have to do this."

Since that point, six weeks ago, advertising cadaver-ists have stormed in. They are the most thorough type of surgeons. Armed with razor sharp implements of torture, they've had their way with the work.

Removing real. Removing grit. Removing truth. Removing humor.

The campaign is now cardboard thin.

An embarrassment.

We are showing it to the big boss in a week, only because he saw it before and liked it. We have an obligation.

But the destroyer-gnomes who never liked it (they exist at both clients and agencies) have gnawed it into nothingness.

So much for applause.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Black Dog Monday.

I don't feel like writing today.

In fact, prolific as I am, there are many days I don't feel like it. I either can't think of anything to write. Or, more often, I am in such an abyss of a mood that I feel like crawling under my metaphorical rock and shielding myself until such time that I can emerge.

Most days, I write through my lethargy and/or anger. I'm a stupidly committed type of person, and I'm afraid that the few readers I do have would disappear if I stopped writing so assiduously. Rich Siegel over at Round Seventeen is taking a full week off. I have never been able to do that.

Today I'm in a shitty mood.

Shitty because for the past ten weeks everyone has been telling me "it's my pool." And then they go ahead and piss in it. There ain't enough chlorine in the world to make it mine again. I'll be looking elsewhere to swim.

Along the way we've subjected ourselves to literally two client "check-ins" a week. Two opportunities for them to express disdain, to show their pusillanimity, to make things worse. Today this buggery is called "working together," or "partnering" with clients. It's supposed to be good.

We have also constructed an elaborate schedule of about two agency check-ins a week. No good ever comes from people who say "we're just trying to make this better."

I can think of no creative pursuit worth its salt (I am not talking Hollywood movies which are an industrial product) that allows itself this sort of gestation.

Last night I saw Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors," via New York's Public Theatre, outdoors in the Delacorte Theatre in New York's Central Park. It's as about as dumb a play as you will find anywhere. A pure conceit with two sets of twins not realizing the other set are alive and in the same small city. There's canoodling, merry mix-ups, dull-witted jailers and pompous Dukes.

In all, it's about the level of the old Patty Duke TV show where Patty Duke plays both herself and her identical cousin Cathy. Hijinx abound.

No point here today, except that some days it's harder than others.

Somedays you wish all the people who were telling you that they care about what you think didn't really mean "we don't give a rat's ass for your talent and experience. We want to get our grips on this work and make it ours."

Somedays I handle the bullshit better than others.

Today isn't one of those days.