Monday, September 30, 2013

The Great Advertising Depression.

Over 70% of the advertising jobs in New York are under the auspices of the three major holding companies.

I routinely hear stories of 15 people being let go--all making $200K plus and being replaced by people making less than half that salary.

On Friday I got an email, I assume it was a form letter, praising me for Ad Aged and extolling my industry "expertise."

They then offered me a job opportunity.

I could write ten to twenty 400-600 word articles a month for $75 a piece.

Five years into the Great Depression, advertising has officially become a low wage industry. Except, of course, for the chosen.

And more often than not, the more chosen you are, the farther removed you are from creating what we're ostensibly paid to do: create ads.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Plutocrats are back with a vengeance. More often than not, these people (if you can call them that) act as if their vast wealth and power were the product of predestination. That is, they were chosen by god to be wealthy beyond all wealth. As rich as Croesus, as it were.

These people make Ayn Rand look like Mother Teresa.

I read about two plutocrats this morning in an op-ed by Nobel-Prize winner, Paul Krugman of "The New York Times."

One was an ex-client of mine, Robert Benmosche, the Chief Executive of American International Group (AIG.) Benmosche, whose financial malpractice almost brought down AIG and the world's economy, granted large bonuses to key AIG executives. Benmosche compared the backlash over these bonuses "just as bad and just as wrong" as lynchings in the Deep South.

Another such bloodsucker is Steven Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group. He declared the movement to get people like him (who make billions and pay tax at a 15% Federal rate) "it's like war; it's like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939."

Yesterday a friend wrote that he saw a job listing online.

You had to be award-winning.

Had to know all current software.

Had to have your own Mac.

Had to work onsite.

The pay was $20/hr.

The plutocrats deserve billions.

The workers deserve to starve.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Early morning meeting.

I got into a taxi early this morning and I knew right away I was in a bit of trouble. In New York, hack licenses are issued numerically. So, the lower the number on the license, the longer the tenure of the driver. New drivers have license numbers of around 550,000. Brand new drivers are higher than that. That's where my guy's number was.

He started off saying, "I need help, I don't know uptown."

I directed him to Lex for heading downtown, as opposed to Second, which is a battlezone thanks to the never-ending construction of the Second Avenue Subway.

We dropped my wife off at 42nd and Lex, just a block or two from the "crossroads of the world." Then I told him to head downtown to Greenwich and Barclay.

"I need help," he repeated, "I don't know downtown."

We headed west to Seventh Avenue and sped downtown.

When we reached West Broadway and Warren I said, "I'll get off here." I was twenty minutes early and two blocks from my destination. I figured I'd hop in to Victor's Shoe Repair and get a shine. $3.

I made it to my client meeting.

Not once did I ask for directions.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A trophy for everyone.

There's an op-ed in today's "New York Times" that everyone should take three minutes to read. It's called "Losing is Good For You." And you won't be many words into it before you realize that the substance of the article can be applied to our industry. You can read the article here.

The article is about the ubiquity of winning and it brings to my mind our industry's current mania for awards. In fact, it states that trophy and award sales are now an estimated $3 billion-a-year business in the US and Canada. That's about $8/person on cheap Chinese loving cups.

In other words, everything is trophy-worthy. Everything wins an award. Even if it never ran. Never made a cash register ring. Never changed a perception.

The article specifically talks about kids. And if that isn't relevant to advertising what is? It states: "Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire [people] to succeed. Instead it can cause them to underachieve.

"Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that [people] respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they're talented, smart and so on. But after such praise...they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they'd rather cheat than risk failing again."

Cheating, of course, is endemic in the awards-industrial complex. And, "it's part of a larger cultural message: to succeed, you just have to show up...In the office, they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion."

Showing up isn't enough.

Working hard is.

Casting pearls.

I'm flying back right now from two days in LA, casting for some spots we'll be shooting in about ten days.

I've never enjoyed casting, even when casting impossibly beautiful women. It's hard work, sitting there judging, looking, usually, for something inexplicable that makes someone stand out. It's long. It's boring. And it's filled with pressure.

That said, there's always something to learn when you're casting. Mostly about how important it is to make decisions. How it pays to be fast, to be firm and to be ruthless.

Today we looked at 116 callbacks, for a cast of about 20.

We'd have been there all night if any of us had trouble making decisions.

Fortunately, not only were all of us decisive, all of us have a certain amount of confidence that we have the capability of getting the performances we need from the talent even if we've fucked up somewhere along the way.

There's too much dithering in our business. Too much hemming and hawing and keeping things alive when the plug should be pulled. There are too many people with too big heads who over-think and under-smart.

Things are better, I think, or at least advertising is, when we're a little more black and white about things. When we reduce the world to: that's good, or that sucks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Interfraud.

There was a news item that was circulating last night that said up to 30% of the five-star reviews that appear online are written by interested parties, most likely the people who own the stores, restaurants and services that received the lofty rating.

Fraud of this ilk is not exclusive to the internet, of course. It's everywhere. Press releases posing as newspaper articles, fake reviews in movie ads, Zagat's surveys adorning every window or every restaurant everywhere.

But there's little on the internet that seems anything but fraudulent.

Whether it's your inbox stuffed with weight loss miracles and penis enhancement blandishments, or inducements for dental whitening on Facebook, the very proposition of the internet seems tainted beyond credibility.

I know it's quaint to remember things like journalistic integrity and standards of truth and decency--that's all gone. But the era of self-publishing has opened up an onslaught of crap that cascades unabated through every portal.

There is no fact checking. No fair-balance. No correction published when a mistake is made.

I'll continue my old-fashioned ways as long as I can.

When I want the news, I'll ask my brother what's happening.

LA's fine.

I'm in LA right now casting for some upcoming spots.

My producer is of the old school and, oddly enough in this day and age, we are doing things the right way. That is, not on the cheap.

We are out here for call backs--we aren't making selects according to video we watch online. And we are meeting face-to-face with the director to finalize our cast.

Along the way, there are some niceties that seem to be relics of a bygone era. We're staying at a sumptuous hotel. And we are eating every heirloom tomato that comes within three yards of us.

The world has grown into a meaner place during my lifetime.

Most companies look aggressively for ways to be cheaper--to not pay people a living wage. Or to threaten them with dismissal because they make too much.

The pendulum has swung a long way back from the halcyon days of the 60s and 70s.

Over the next few weeks I will easily bill 80 hours a week shooting these spots and in post-production.

The way I look at it, I've earned a few nights on 800-count sheets.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I'm not one of the cool ids.

It's finally happened.

After four years with my MacBoo   Pro (they gave me a new one here when I started) one of my  eys has finally fallen off.

I have used tape to try to  eep the ey on and I have tried glue in an attempt to stic   it bac  on. But the  ey  eeps falling off.

The cool  ids get brand new MacBoo  Airs. You see them in s inny jeans with s inny computers.

But I am not one of them and I  now I never will be.

So, I persist without a " " ey.

I will try to adjust my copy accordingly.

And  eep a level head.

A cricket in Secaucus.

I did, I'm sure, many things wrong in a previous life. Horrible, grievous things, for which I am being roundly punished in this one.

The brunt of that punishment was felt this weekend, when on a sunny Saturday, I had to head out to New Jersey, by train from New York's Penn Station.

New York's Penn Station was once a glorious building. Grand, imposing and of marble and granite. It was designed by Mead, McKim and White, the famed architectural firm. Urban-renewalists in the 1960s tore it down--this was during the brief apotheosis of the American automobile era, and they replaced it with a low ceilinged dump of dull linoleum and flickering fluorescence.

Everything about the place reeks of cheap and urine. I think even the rats stay away, preferring the more fertile stomping grounds (and they do stomp, these rats, like bison on the range) of the IRT and IND subway lines which feed into the station.

So there I was, heading out to New Jersey, a state they should pave over to finish the job they started a century ago. I've been told there are nice parts of New Jersey, and yesterday I saw irenic evidence. As I was switching trains in Secaucus, amid the gales of blowing fast-food wrappers, I heard over the rumble and ringing of the rails and the roar of the not-so-distant turnpike, the sweet chirping of a cricket that made its home alongside the tracks.

The cricket reminded me of Hemingway's snow leopard: "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 the Masai "Ngaje Ngai," the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Taxis and advertising.

As a life-long New Yorker (except for one year in San Francisco and two in Boston) I've learned you can learn a lot from cab drivers.

I'm not talking about finding an alternate to the Van Wyck for getting home from JFK (the Belt to the BQE to the Queensboro) I'm talking about what you can learn from literally the first few moments you get into their car.

"I'm going to 83rd and York," I say in a clear voice like a bell.

"86th and Park?"

I repeat myself.

"I'll go up 10th Avenue."

"No, 8th" I say. "It's quicker and cut through the park at 81st."

We head up 8th but he goes speeding past 81st and crosses the park at 86th.

"I said 81st."

"No, you said 86th."

"You said 86th," he repeats, getting angrier.

"I said 81st," in a voice that would make John Gielgud cower.

"Ok, ok, ok," he answered, cowered.

This is a typical ride home for me from the new breed cab driver.

It's not a matter of language.

It's a matter of listening. Or not listening.

I fear that we in advertising are afflicted with the same malady. Clients often tell us what their issues are. And we persist in trying to form-fit agency agendas as a means of answering them.

We don't listen.

We tell.

That's what I see in cabs. I suspect it's the same on Madison Avenue.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An early morning.

The last three days in New York have given us a delicious foretaste of Autumn. The air has been clean and crisp and cool. The sun has been bright and everything, even the filthy, grungy neighborhood I work in looks better for it.

I've been getting to work early--earlier than usual, and staying later than usual. I am on sundry pitches, plus, I'm shooting in two weeks time, with all the pressure, chaos and uncertainty that comes with shooting.

So, it's been busy.

Busier than I wish it were.

It's been hard to stick to my post-illness pledge to pull back. To give 80% of my usual 100%.

It's hard to do--less.

Human incompetence coupled with human lassitude creates holes.

I'm a filler of holes.

As my internist said to me many years ago, "20,000 years ago, you hunted the mammoth, skinned it, cooked it and made clothes out of it. You provide."

I'm trying to provide for myself, too.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

East River explosions.

For almost three hundred years, from the time Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing under the Dutch flag, sailed up the Hudson River in 1609, becoming the first white tourist to visit New York, until October 10, 1885, a nine-acre-sized rock obstructed passage on another of New York's rivers, the East. It was called Flood Rock or Flood Island.

Actually, the East River isn't a river at all, it's a tidal estuary that links New York's magnificent deep water harbor with the Long Island Sound.

In any event, back in 1885 the East looked different than it looks today. (It's probably cleaner today thanks to the sort of government regulations that are being decried by the radical right.) It was strewn with dozens of rock obstructions, making Hells Gate--already treacherous as the tidal confluence of the flow of the Long Island Sound against the tides of the New York Harbor, even more treacherous.

There were large rocky outcroppings everywhere, to wit: Bald-headed Billy, Hens and Chickens, the Pot and the Frying Pan, Bread and Cheese, the Hog's Back, Mill Rock and Rat Island. The last two of these are still there.

New York decided it was time to clear the waters of these rocks and islands. The city gathered together some 300,000 pounds of dynamite and exploded Flood Rock and many of the other aforementioned outcroppings.

The explosion was the largest ever made by man until our 20th Century nuclear escapades. Tremors could be felt almost 50 miles away in Princeton, NJ.

I do a lot of walking along the esplanade that follows the banks of the East. Though it is adjacent to the FDR drive, it is as serene a place as you're likely to find in New York. Most often the only other denizens of the esplanade are be-ear-budded runners and ruddy Puerto Rican fisherman, who are out there more for the malt liquor they drink than the fish they don't catch.

For the most part these compleat anglers bring an over-sized pail to sit on, a large thermos cooler and two or three long surfcasting rods. They attach these rods with bungee cords to the wrought iron fence which girds the esplanade. The more enterprising of these pescatores sometimes attach a small bell to their bungeed contraption. If a fish does visit their bait the bungee keeps their rods from falling into the drink and the bell wakes them from their 24-proof slumber.

These Puerto Ricans are to a man, philosophers. Their pensiveness is induced, I'm sure, by long solitary hours of silent staring into New York's waters. There isn't much to catch down there. Though the East is cleaner than it's been for centuries, the stripers, blues and weakfish have not returned en masse. Perhaps one day they will.

And when they do, perhaps, my Puerto Rican friends will spend less time sleeping and more time catching.

If that happens, I will miss the quiet.

I like it that way.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bad mood Tuesday. Continued.

As has been written on the Morton's Salt cylinder for god knows how many years, "when it rains, it pours."

Well, it's pouring right now for me at work.

It seems every time something needs figuring out, I get a phone call and get asked to lend my nimble brain.

I got a phone call on Wednesday evening as we were going into the holiest days of the Jewish year. "Can I just help out?"

I'll be honest with you. I live in a very Manichean universe. I see things in absolutes. Therefore, I don't like helping out.

Why? Because I'm doing something for you and you're doing nothing for me. There's a lot of quidding and no pro quoing.

That is, I help win business. And someone else gets bonused.

Of course it's hard to be grudging with your time. People, bosses get on your ass. You get hocked.  And remember, we're all supposed to walking around feeling grateful that we're working.

So, dig we must.


Monday, September 16, 2013

A messy desk.

There are many banalities in modern life, many onslaughts against common sense, many a full-frontal attack on productivity.

The open-plan office sits high on that list. The idea that without a modicum of quiet, without the room to seclude yourself, without the space to concentrate work will somehow, someway be improved.

I am tired, already at 9:35 on a Monday morning, of hearing about: people's weekends, when the 10 o'clock meeting is, how lousy commutes are in the rain and the haplessness of both the New York Giants football tearm and the New York Yankees baseball team.

I like quiet in the morning. Garbo said it best (no surprise there) I vant to be alone.

With open plan seating comes other garbage.

Just about every morning there is an aggressively gregarious maintenance guy who comes around and makes sure our office space is neat and orderly. Mind you though our space in general looks like an Afghan refugee camp, we are supposed to keep our eight square feet in apple pie order.

Now it happens, I just read an item in "The New York Times," that compared creativity between people who keep their rooms clean versus those who keep their rooms messy. Here are the neat-messy research findings: "the messy room subjects were more creative, as we expected. Not only were their ideas 28 percent more creative on average, but when we analyzed the ideas that judges scored as “highly creative,” we found a remarkable boost from being in the messy room — these subjects came up with almost five times the number of highly creative responses as did their tidy-room counterparts."

Leave me the fuck alone.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Uncle Slappy leaves. Finally.

Not two hours ago I piled Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Slappy into a cab to LaGuardia, so they could make a 6:45 flight back to Boca. The period of Rosh h'Shanah and Yom Kippur lasts ten days and Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Slappy were up for all of those days. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being exhausted from their visit.

It's not that I don't love them and that they don't bend over backwards to be unobtrusive, but the fact is, they're 86 now and, let's face it, ten days is a lot of time to share proximity. It started, actually when Uncle Slappy arrived. He began asking for a cherry danish.

Maybe you don't understand exactly how Uncle Slappy asks for something. He is as persistent as a fog horn.

We sat down in my eat-in-kitchen and I poured the old man a cup of Joe. He likes it black as pitch and as hot as magma. I actually zapped it after I poured it from the coffee pot.

"Good," he says, "your wife makes good her coffee. But better it would be with a danish cherry."

Uncle Slappy speaks English as if it were translated from the Yiddish. His word order is as neat as a Jackson Pollack painting.

"We have no cherry danish," I answered. "Would you like a slice of babka or a 'nilla wafer." Uncle Slappy is the only grown-up I know who loves 'nilla wafers. He described them to me once as a "cookie apotheosis." A line that surely won't appear in their advertising any time soon.

"No, a cherry danish is all I want. Sweet with tart and subtle rivers of cinnamon."

"I'll bring some home tomorrow. I'll get some at Glaser's on 87th or maybe from Zaro's in Grand Central."

"Ach," he spat. "Train station danish, no thank you. Not since they closed Eclair will I eat from the train station a danish or even a rye bread."

"Then Glaser's it is," I answered. Glaser's is the last real bakery in our neighborhood--the genuine article. It's been around since the 1910s, even longer than Uncle Slappy.

"Twelve hundred miles we fly and no danish," he said into his coffee. "You can't in all of Florida get a good danish. In all of Florida they have nothing that resembles a danish."

The next day I walked up to Glaser's a bought a dozen assorted danish--cherry, prune, cheese, even blueberry. That evening when it was time for Uncle Slappy's coffee lava, I gently warmed a cherry in the oven.

"Now this is good," he said. "Not as good as danish used to be, but better than an airplane danish at least."

"I did the best I could do, Uncle Slappy," I said. "Things like danish are hard to come by, even in New York."

"What kind of world are we living in? What kind of world? Poison gas in Syria and no danish in New York?"

"The geo-political part I don't understand," I told him. "The connection between tyranny in Syria and pastry in Manhattan is beyond me."

"When you're my age, you'll understand," he said. He got up and began walking out of the kitchen, leaving his coffee still steaming on the table. "For my shiva," he said "I want better than this."

Like I said, I love Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Slappy.

But ten days is a long time.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Marxism in the Tempus Fugit.

"You look worn out," the bartender said to me as I crushed the leather of my usual bar stool.

"Well," I answered "it is three in the morning."

He attended to Whiskey, my year-and-a-half-old golden retriever who was already curled at the foot of my stool. He parabolaed around the bar and lay a small wooden bowl of ice-water by her head. In a second or two he was back behind the bar.

He slid over a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts which I pushed aside with my usual demurral, "A pound in every nut," I said. And then he asked, "Pike's?"

"What else?" I answered.

In just a few moments he pulled me a Pike's, the ALE that won for YALE, and placed a juice-glass of the amber nectar in front on me. I drank immediately, long. And the moment after my glass had settled back onto the mahogany, he scooped it up and refilled me.

I drank again, long and full, like a hungry man in a soup kitchen.

"I'll try again," he said. "You look worn out."

"I'll keep this macro," I answered. "It's my employer."

"Careful," he said, "you're supposed to be keeping this macro."

"Right. Macro. I'm tired of capital treating me like a capital resource, not like labor. I am merely a machine to be optimized with the least amount of capital expenditure as possible."

"You sound a little Red this evening."

"Marx may be out of favor," I pushed back, "but he was no slouch."

"Perverted by Stalin, Lenin, Mao, and the Kim family I suppose, not to mention Fidel. But I agree, no slouch. I'll take him over Milton Friedman any day."

"There's no thanks, no gratitude, to quid pro quo. No recompense. You're supposed to be glad you haven't been outsourced. The rich are getting. The top 1% have seen 95% of the income gains since 2009. The top 1/10th of 1% have seen 60% of those gains."

"Stay macro," he said. He took my glass and dipped it in soapy water, then rinsed it, then wiped it clean. He filled me again with another Pike's.

"Class warfare has ended," he muttered. "The rich have won."

I pushed to twenties at him across the bar to him.

He looked at me, deep into my eyes. He picked up the bills, then placed them down onto the bar and smoothed them flat. He pushed the bills back my way.

"Keep your capital," he said. "You labored for it."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

All hands on deck.

As those few who regularly read Ad Aged know, I began my career as a copywriter in the in-house advertising agency at Bloomingdale's.

That meant I produced, every week, week in and week out, a couple of dozen ads. More if you count resizes. Annually, I produced on the order of 1,000 ads.

When I switched to my first agency job, I knew my production would slacken. One, I was no longer working in retail. And two, at least I hoped, the quality of my work would improve. During my first year at Lowe, I had the most productive year in the New York agency. I produced 12 print ads.

This year in my agency, I had another very productive year. I produced countless online ads, a lot of internal video pieces, a lot of ideas for pitches, and nine television commercials.

But today, in agencies I have the distinct conviction that the large majority of people produce nothing but decks.

This is not to say deckage doesn't involve a lot of work. Or doesn't generate valuable revenue for agencies. Or doesn't cement relationships with clients who relish innovative theorizing.

I would just rather produce things that live outside the echo chamber of the Williamsburg-Madison Avenue "Axis of Decking."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


55, making less than I did at
45, taking direction from people who are
35, scorned by people who are

The Death of...

I did a search on and for the word “death.” Here’s a 10-minute gleaning of the results:

Death of Google Reader
Death of Digital
Death of the Social Check-in
Death of a TV Genre
Death of Broadcast
Death of Consumer Segmentation
Death of Detroit
Death of Papers
The Death and Life of the American Newspaper
Death of Jane Magazine
Death of the Rock Star CMO
Death of TV Upfront
Death of the 30-second Spot
The Death of Beer
The Death of Mass Culture
The Death of the Great Advertising Idea
Death of the Advertising Jingle
The Death of GM’s brand system
Death of Propaganda
Death of the Arts Snob
Death of a Magazine Industry Icon
Death and the End of a Dallas Agency
Death of the Tagline
Display’s Death
Death of the TV Spot
Death of Branding
Death of Content
Death of Legacy
The Death of Offers
The Death of Advertising

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A sump of stupidity.

I read yet another one of those "Death of..." articles this morning and like just about every Death of article this one really rubbed my goat the wrong way. (For years I've wished that someone would write a "The Death of The Death of"article. Maybe I'll get around to it someday, if I ever finish an essay I'm working on called "The Death of Procrastination.)

In any event this particular article, which you can find here was titled "The Death of the Tagline." The human who wrote the piece, Denise Lee Yohn is a self-described "brand-building expert." In it Ms. Yohn writes "In the past, advertisers may have needed to summarize lengthy ad copy with a pithy phrase. But shorter attention spans have prompted a shortening of ad copy. There also seems to be fewer big-brand campaigns." (Shorter attention spans indeed. Yohn's article is almost 700 words long and includes three interstitial links.)

Yohn continues "Moreover, companies are moving to flexible branding, in which they present different identities to express their range (Yahoo's 30 days of brand logos, for example) or a targeted brand strategy, in which they target specific brand messages to different audiences...A single brand tagline has less value in these more fluid and variable applications."

Yeesh and ick.

I happen to believe that most brands refuse to brand themselves because it takes commitment and work--two qualities which are in short supply in our feckless "next-quarter-driven" economy. The four or five brands that people really understand (and like) Apple, IBM, Nike have been unwavering in their brands. They do the opposite of "flexible branding."

By the way, try explaining "flexible branding" to the rear haunches of a cow. A brand is a brand and a brand is resolute in what it stands for. Yohn's Yahoo example is a perfect one of brand suicide. Besides that's not branding. That's a logo. The two ain't the same.

A brand exists to simplify things for consumers. How do you choose between the 79 soaps in the supermarket? Usually you choose the one you understand--the one that stands for something.

The best brands define themselves inviolably. BMW, whether they say "The Ultimate Driving Machine" or not is led by those four words. As has Apple been led by "Think Different."

Bad mood Tuesday.

As usual I arrived at my table at work early this morning, well before anyone else. It's a gray day here in the city. In fact, the only color seems to come from the lavish advertising placards urging you to vote for this or that candidate. It's primary day or election day, I'm not sure which, and the candidates are as blah as the weather.

I have a lot of shit to do at work. But since my illness I have been somewhat lacking in my usual passion. I worry about my tendency to work too hard. And my agency's tendency to not reward that work.

The "contract" between us is broken. I am supposed to work my ass off. Only to be told "we didn't make our numbers and perks are small or frozen."

I suppose I am considered just another stray bit of "wretched refuse," and therefore too stupid to know when I'm being lied to. Sorry. I'm not that stupid.

In any event, I do the work they ask of me. And since they keep asking, I must be doing it well. Or well enough.

But I know my heart ain't in it.

Because their heart ain't in me.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Over the past month or so, our home phone has fairly leapt off the hook. Our answering machine flashes a number in the high double-digits, indicating that we have scores of messages awaiting our ears.

The reason for our sudden tele-popularity is that it's election time in New York city and everyone and their cousin seems to be clamoring for our vote--clamoring in the form of pleading robo-calls.

On another note, once again the United States seems to be marching on its way to yet another war. Everyone understands that we're supposed to bomb Syria's Assad because he used chemical weapons but no one quite understands why it matters to us. And where the billions our incursions will cost is coming from. After all, we have no money for schools, for roads, for food for the poor, for unemployment relief, to battle climate change.

The point of today's post isn't politics.

The point is this: in an era where every pundit says the words "story-telling" approximately every 30 seconds, no one in either case cited above has articulated a compelling story as to why I should support their position.

Allegedly silver-tongued Barack Obama has failed to paint a picture of a world where chemical weapons are used with impunity. He's failed to own up to his own failure (how did Syria amass these weapons in the first place.) And he's failed to say why the red-line he drew was drawn.

In New York's mayoral race, not a single candidate has given me a single reason why.

I happen to think that talking about story-telling is thriving but story-telling is actually dead.

Friday, September 6, 2013


Over the last 48 hours or so, advertising and design naval gazers have been blathering on about Yahoo!'s new logo.

I could give a rat's ass about it.

I don't even care enough to wonder how to properly use an apostrophe after Yahoo!'s banal exclamation point.

Yahoo! will live and die as a brand not because of a new logo.

They will live and die if people like them and if they provide a value that outweighs the cost they exact through spam and exposure to ads.

Image is undoubtedly important but it lasts only so long.

Sooner or later, intrinsic value comes into play.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Uncle Slappy and the multiplying brisket.

My wife, as usual, cooked a glorious Rosh H'Shanah meal. There was tsimmes, a stew of sweet potatoes, prunes, apples and other fruit. There was potato kugel, there was a pizza-sized round challah bread, there was chicken soup with matzo balls, and of course, there was a brisket.

Even though there were just seven of us for dinner, the chosen brisket was of gargantuan size. It was easily as large as a manhole cover or the lid of an industrial garbage pail. In fact, I am sure that though I assiduously try to avoid eating red meat, I will be having brisket leftovers well into October.

Uncle Slappy, naturally, presided over the meal. With a different accent and maybe a beret, you might be inclined to call Uncle Slappy a raconteur. However, given that he was born over 85 years ago on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when that area was the province of Eastern European Jews, we call Uncle Slappy a "tummler." In Yiddish tummler means "racket" but in the old Borscht Belt hotels of the Catskills, a tummler was someone who mixed it up with guests, someone who got people laughing, someone who got the party started.

That's Uncle Slappy. The very model of a modern tummler.

"Did I ever tell you," Uncle Slappy began "of the multiplying brisket?"

Aunt Sylvie and my wife got up immediately from the table. Surely there was something more pressing that needed attending to in the kitchen. But Uncle Slappy was undaunted.

"It happened over 100 years ago, back in the old country. Miriam had pinched her kopecks all year and saved up for the biggest, the grandest, the fattest brisket the shtetl had ever seen. This was more than just a slab of cattle. It was a gift from god, a masterpiece.

"For days and nights she prepared the brisket. Seasoning, peppering, salting and tenderizing. Miriam did everything. She made the tsimmes, she made the kugel, she baked the challah. And finally, just a day before Rosh H'Shanah, she lovingly placed the single brisket in the oven.

"Now Miriam was superstitious. Spill salt...throw salt over your shoulder. Little household superstitions that so many people believed back a century ago. And one of Miriam's superstitions was not checking on things while she was cooking them. Especially a tour de force like this heaven-sent brisket.

"Five hours passed and the sun was about to set and finally Miriam had to check on the meat. She opened up the oven and mysteriously there was no longer just one gazunta brisket in the oven...there were two!"

"A multiplying brisket," I interrupted.

"Miriam her eyes couldn't believe. She opened the oven again and there weren't two briskets there any longer. Now there were four!

"You can imagine, this is a family that was so poor they ate a chicken only when they were sick or the bird was. And now they had four briskets.

"But wait, now the heavy iron door of the over was pushing open. Miriam counted quickly...eight briskets! 16! 32! They were spilling into her cramped kitchen. She screamed for Moshe her husband to come. Someone had put the evil eye on their brisket.

"Moshe arrived and tried to beat the briskets back with an old straw broom. But soon there were more. 64 briskets! 128 briskets.

"'Go, Yitzhak' he said to his oldest son. 'Go get the Rabbi. He will know what to do.' The Rabbi arrived and was stupefied. There were 256 briskets! 512! The entire little hovel of Miriam and Moshe and their four children was filled with briskets. They were breaking through the windows and their flimsy front door."

Aunt Sylvie came in with a cup of coffee. "Ach," she said, "he is telling the multiplying brisket story again?"

"Sylvie, quiet" Uncle Slappy spat, "I'm telling a story."

"Some story," she said. "Feh."

Uncle Slappy sped ahead, undeterred by the cynicism of his wife of 55 years.

"Now the whole village became aware of the brisket phenomenon. They were rushing to Miriam's hovel with soup pots and platters. Hoping to take away a magical multiplying brisket.

"But here's what happened. As soon as someone touched a brisket to take home, they started UN-multiplying. 1024 briskets to 512, to 256, to 128, to 64.

"In just seconds, the commotion was over and Miriam and Moshe and their four children were down to the single brisket they started with. The town and the brisket had returned to what you would call normalcy.

"So with nothing else to eat they all sat down to their Rosh H'Shanah meal. Moshe carved the brisket and took the first delicious bite.

"'Needs salt,' was all he said."

With that Slappy left the table, went into the kitchen and grabbed off the meat platter a tiny schtickle of meat.

"Needs salt," was all he said.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Reflections on my millionth meeting.

I have been keeping track since I started in the agency business in December, 1984. Keeping track by marking down with little scratches in a little notebook how many client meetings and client phone calls and client drinks and client dinners I have attended.

I mark down each meeting, filling page after page. When a page is black or blue (as I am black and blue) with ink, I tabulate the total for that page. After filling ten spreads, I tabulate that total. It is written and it is sealed. And after 100 spreads I tabulate that total.

Yesterday I tabulated and totalled.

It hit me. I had my millionth client meeting.

Just since March.

We took the train down. It's faster than a cab. And it suits perfectly the low-wage workers we have become.

We schlepped into the urinated swelter of the old Independent subway line.

We scooted past the derelict, the homeless, the deranged and worst of all, the tourists.

We made it past the security desk.

We made it past another security desk.

To my one-millionth client meeting.

Just since March.

There's never a shortage of article and comments about the decay of "creative" in our industry. In point of fact, over the last four decades, creative has never been as good as it used to be. It never was.

But there's one sure way to improve creative.

It's not better briefs.

Or bigger budgets.

Or even more time.

It's simpler than any of those things, and therefore more impossible.

If you're a client, say 'thank you.'

It's been a million meetings.

Just since March.

It would do me good to hear it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

God in the Tempus Fugit.

My younger daughter Hannah who had been traveling around the world since January--she visited the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Bali, California, New York, Boston, St. Maarten,
St. Kitts, St. Barths, Saba, Stacia, Nevis and some places I'm surely forgetting--packed up her bags and left yesterday morning for her senior year of college in California.

It's hard when your children do what they're supposed to do, which is fly the coop and bravely make their way in the world. As proud as I am of them, I miss them intensely, and so, last night, unable to sleep and looking for some compensatory companionship, I headed north once again with Whiskey in tow and found myself some few minutes later within the warmth of the Tempus Fugit.

The Tempus Fugit, I'm sure, is not for everyone. I suppose there are those who might find it gloomy. Its dark bar, its mis-matched tables and chairs along the back wall, its dim incandescence and its thoughtful, almost pensive ambiance. Some people prefer a bar to be garrulous and loud. But I find the Tempus Fugit just the sort of place I need. When I'm staring into a short glass of Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) or trading grudging words with the bartender, I find I can see a thousand miles.

Whiskey took her place as usual at the foot of my stool, one in from the end. And as usual, the bartender fairly leapt around the bar, carrying for her a small wooden bowl filled with water. He was back in a trice at his usual station behind the bar.

"Are you drinking again?" he asked. "Have you recovered from your elevated liver readings?"

I nodded assent. "I am told I am well. My levels are level. My a-fib is gone."

With that he pulled me a Pike's in an eight-ounce juice glass and slid it over the highly-varnished mahogany to its place just inches in front of me.

"I have been looking forward to this," I said.

"Let your Pike's tiptoe to you like a maiden. Never should a Pike's approach like a linebacker."

I sipped at the amber. It was cool, sweet, clean and unlike any other beer I have ever tasted.

"Nectar," I said.

"Nectar," he echoed.

He placed in front of me a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I pushed them to my right and laughed along with him as I said as I always do, "A pound in every nut."

He then began his discourse. He fairly declaimed like a stentor.

"A little man walked up and down,
To find an eating place in town,
He read the menu through and through,
To see what fifteen cents could do."

"One meatball," I completed.

"That is correct," he said. And then he continued.
"One meatball. He could afford but one meatball."

He filled my glass with another Pike's and began wiping the bar in a circular motion with a damp white terry. 

"Today's disquisition is on meatballs?" I asked.

As he so often does, the bartender plowed ahead. My question was not even an underachieving speed bump.
"He told the waiter near at hand,
The simple dinner he had planned.
The guests were startled, one and all,
To hear that waiter loudly call, 'What,

"'One meatball, one meatball?
Hey, this here gent wants one meatball.'

"The little man felt ill at ease,
Said, 'Some bread, sir, if you please.'
The waiter hollered down the hall,
'You gets no bread with one meatball.'

"'One meatball, one meatball,
Well, you gets no bread with one meatball.'

"Most people," he said "prefer the Andrews Sisters' version. But for me 'One Meatball' starts and finishes with Josh White."

I sipped at my Pike's. In an eight-ounce glass your beer doesn't go flat or stale  or warm. I agreed with him. Josh White took the song from novelty to Biblical.

"To use your word," he continued "the lyric seems a disquisition on those who want something for nothing."

"Bread with a single meatball."

"It's not about wanting something for nothing. It's not about being a gonif. It's about goodness. Helping a fellow man, perhaps someone down on his luck."

"Fifteen cents can't do much. Never could." 

He pulled me another Pike's and placed it in front of me. He swept from behind the bar and refilled Whiskey's bowl with some ice-water. Back behind the bar he brought me again the bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I took a half a handful.

"It's about being there," he said. "Maybe it's about God."

I stared into my Pike's a thousand miles. Then I finished it off in two gulps and pushed two twenties across the bar.

"On me," he said, pushing the bills my way.

And Whiskey and I walked quietly home.