Thursday, October 31, 2013


About ten years ago when I had a big office my wife decided to help me decorate it with some former tools of my trade. She bought me a working 1920s Smith-Corona typewriter, a stand-up model that was boxy and upright and measured around two-feet by two-feet by two-feet.

Some years after that, I picked up a small portable Olympia in robin’s-egg-blue. Since I now inhabit a corner, rather than a corner office, I’ve never taken either of them in to work. There is simply no place for personality in the modern work space. Besides, these machines are relics and it’s likely I’d be regarded as one if I had these typewriters with me.

Still, they are great machines. Iconic in their own way of the eras in which they thrived. And who knows what was typed on them by owners before me, rivers of prose or columns of numbers or, simply, letters telling people that their rent was overdue.

I was thinking this morning about writing and about this blog. My readership, for whatever reason, has dropped precipitously—I’m down to about 200 visitors a day—and I worry that the whole thing is getting tired. At times writing, which often comes easily to me, has been strained of late. Even my passing nights at the Tempus Fugit have become less exhilarating.

So, in short, I am not getting joy where I so often do, from the work, the craft, the fitting together of words into sentences into thoughts and ideas. I’ve been thinking that maybe writing has become all too Mac-ized, quiet, efficient and simple. Maybe, I’ve been thinking I should bring back one of my old typewriters. Maybe I need to hear and feel writing. The clackety clack of the keyboard, the grind of the paper being cycled in the roller, the ding-whirr of a line being finished and a new one started. Maybe I miss the visceralality of typing, actually, physically typing on a real mechanical keyboard.

Of course that’s stupid. The computer is infinitely easier, faster, smoother. I will stick to the world’s knitting and use the world’s accepted devices. I will get out to my writing slump and will be able to write again. But for now, I look longingly at dead machines.

The Red Sox of Boston.

The American baseball season ended last night with the Red Sox of Boston defeating the Cardinals of St. Louis six runs to one. That wrapped up what is xenophobically called the 'World Series' in Boston's favor, four games to two.

Like many men of my generation, baseball was my first love. It was virtually the only sport when I was growing up. Basketball was still played in rickety gyms and had professional outposts in cities like Fort Wayne and Syracuse--it was hardly major league. And football was more a boola-boola college game played in the chill of winter than the three season spectacle it now is. That left baseball as the only show in town.

Of course, growing up in New York just a few short miles from the Parthenon of Sport, Yankee Stadium was always a factor. Sports stars, like presidents, were more deified in those days. And we had Mantle, Berra, Ford and a host of other legends to fuel our sports-driven mythology.

Baseball, like American industrial might, has been dying for about 50 years. It is no longer--despite what they self-proclaim--the 'National Pastime.' It no longer rivets the attention of the nation. We no longer wonder where Joe DiMaggio has gone.

That said, the last month of baseball has been sterling. The Red Sox, who wear their underdog-ness like a beauty queen wears a tiara, came through with good pitching, heroic performances and clutch hitting. They fought tooth and nail against the Cardinals, the most-storied franchise in the senior circuit, and each game was something of a nail biter.

I watched more baseball this October than I have for 30 years.

I don't know the players like I used to. And I don't understand certain affectations of how the game is played today. I don't understand why the players wear their pants long, with their hems often caught by the heel of their spikes. That is dumb and asinine. But that is a la mode today, the way things are done, like kids wearing hats backwards. I guess I shouldn't let such things bother me.

Now baseball is over until mid-February when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. Hope will once rise in the human breast.

Because no matter what happens, maybe this will be the year.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Listen to a Ted Talk, or a Ned Talk, or a Dead Talk, and someone somewhere will tell you that we are producing a Library of Congress's worth of content with every bat of the eye. YouTubinistas will tell you things like there are a billion hours of video uploaded every second. The world positively drips with stuff. Even on my short trip to work there are half-a-dozen "newsies" hawking papers free and otherwise, all stuffed to the gills with analog pixels.

Likewise, it doesn't take a lot of detective work to discover what my "friends" have had for dinner or to see their snapshots of the Empire State Building or a 737 stuck at LaGuardia. Further when you have a conversation with any consumer of popular culture they will reel off a dozen and a half TV shows that simply cannot be missed.

It's possible that being 55 my brain doesn't function the same way the brain of someone younger does. I simply cannot make room for all the stuff that is out there. I can't care. So, I carry around with me methodologies to handle the exaflood.

For instance, try as I might, I can't really follow the political stances of the various people who have been running to become the next mayor of New York. I rely on "The New York Times," a brand I trust to tell me who to vote for. I can't make sense of the economy, so I rely on Nobel-prize winner Paul Krugman to unravel its complexity.

This is an editorial process that to my mind separates the wheat from the chaff. Editing makes manageable an unmanageable world.

And editing is what's missing from most marketing communications from most brands. Their au courant story-lines are baroque, noisy and many-tongued.

Our job is to sort, sift, glean, prune, simplify.

It's not to add.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Studebakers and advertising.

When I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time in the back seat of my father's green 1949 Studebaker. The car was my father's pride and joy as I suppose I was to some degree, too.

We got along, at some level, my father and I. Maybe I idolized him as boys often do their fathers when they're young. Maybe I found the wise cracks he was always making actually funny. Maybe, maybe most likely, I disdained my harridan mother to such a complete degree that any time with my father would be a welcome escape from her termagant clutches.

We drove, my father drove all over the Bronx and Manhattan, my father smoking a big cigar or his giant meerschaum pipe. Either of these would fill the small interior cavity of the Studebaker with thick blue smoke. I was a two-pack-a-day man by association by the time I was seven.

In those days, there were no easy-passes and there were hardly even toll-baskets. When you hit a toll, you stopped, handed some old civil service worker a dime, said 'thank you' and went on your way. Such a process is slower than the Near Radio Frequencies that magically allow us to speed through today's tax collection stations, but they were lovely in a way, and quaint.

Like most men of that era, my father didn't wear jeans when we went on these drives. He wore baggy trousers with deep pockets filled with silver coins. When we approached a toll booth, he'd reach into his pocket and fish out the appropriate coin. On occasion, he'd fish out two coins, giving one to the toll collector and one to me. I responded to the jingle in his pocket like Pavlov's dog. A nickel would get me a candy bar. A quarter, two comic books, or five packs of baseball cards.

I've always remembered the jingling of coins in my father's pocket. In fact, it reminds me of much of what is going on in the worlds of technology and marketing today.

Technologists reach into their pockets and jingle coins like Google Glass, or Reddit or even Facebook and ad people act like little kids about to get some change. These technologies are undoubtedly cool and interesting and maybe even useful. But are they advertising vehicles? Do we respond to their eclat because they are valuable or simply because they are new and free.

We are almost 20 years into the digital revolution and I've seen very little marketing that is revolutionary. I've yet to have a conversation about a brand. I've yet to go to a brand's Facebook or Pinterest page, or respond to an ad in any of those channels.

Like driving with my father, I think a lot of people are being duped.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Acidopholusly dumb.

There are a lot of bad ads in the world. But worse than bad ads are dumb ads. Ads that are not just bad, they're a few congressmen short of a shut down.

I saw this one this morning as I walked to the editor.

I am a fan of yogurt.

I am a fan of flavor.

I am even a fan of the subway.

But I'd never coincide the subway and flavor-packed.

Of whale ships and agencies.

The closest I ever got to working on a whaler, of roaming the south seas in search of spermaceti and baleen, was from the pages of Herman Melville in "Moby Dick."

He gave you the jealousies, the camaraderie, the mania, the tedium, the excitement. Melville also gave me an idea of how a business ought to be run.

On a whale ship, every man was apportioned a share of the oil collected. So Queequeg, who had hipster tattoos centuries before that benighted species roamed the earth, had, say, ten shares thanks to his prowess as a harpooner. Whereas Ishmael, a green landlubber had half a share.

This morning I am in before seven to get someone else's work done.

That is someone else was incapable so they called on me.

They will hock me when I try to expense my early-morning cab.

They won't pay me extra for the extra money I am securing for the agency.

They won't, when the time comes, bonus me, or business class me, or even send me a bottle of wine on my four-year anniversary here.

I have no share in the wealth.

I just labor for it.

Perhaps why agencies are growing as extinct as whale ships.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cutting staff.

A friend of mine wrote to me.

Her office is switching to open plan by the start of December.

She said she's never heard anyone say "I like an open plan." She's never heard anyone say all the things the penny-pinchers claim about open plan. That it assists collaboration and adds to creativity.

That's hogwash, she asserted.

It's all about more bodies in less space, saving rent.

Yesterday I read a thing in "The New York Times" that the average person passes gas 22 times a day.

My friend's open plan office will have 57 people seated at long tables.

Per eight hours each of those people will fart 1/3 of 22 times.

7.33 farts/work day.

Times 57 people.

That's an office space punctuated by 417.8 farts a day.

That's a lot of methane.

Breathe deep and create.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What no digital agency has done.

My rap against digital agencies is one borne from experience. I think, generally speaking, they engage in tools and tactics, not brand stewardship. Brand stewardship has traditionally been the province of traditional agencies. And despite the decline of those agencies, they still seem to have a) the bulk of marketing revenue under their roofs and b) a seat closest to the CEO or CMO.

If I ran a digital agency I would take out a full page ad in various national newspapers. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, maybe US Today and The Washington Post. It would read.

Dear President Obama, we will build your website.

We have built hundreds for the biggest companies in the world.

Websites that have built brands and businesses and sales.

Websites that function seamlessly, intuitively and without a hiccup.

Websites that are smart, self-improving and secure.

We've built them on time and on budget.

We can do it for you.

In fact, if we can't build one for Obamacare in six weeks, we'll do it for free.

Call me.
My guess is the government wouldn't call.

But you'd get some new business out of it.


Yesterday I returned to an edit house I have been editing at for just short of a decade-and-a-half. I cut my first spot down there in 1999. And since 1999, I've probably cut 150 spots there.

This is not cronyism. There are no kickbacks involved. It's not because of some cast of gentle personalities or the sensual curve of callipygian assistants. It's not the lunches or the wine and cheese that seems to magically emerge around four.

I cut at this house because they listen.

I cut at this house because they question.

They look at every frame fractally from every angle.

They are thorough. Experienced. Exhaustive.

They are opinionated.



In fact, all the "collegiality" we are supposed to bring to work--lest we be tarred with the worst of all brushes, 'he's hard to work with,' is missing at this edit house.

In a ambient way, my editor is a pain in the ass. Fittingly described as "prickly."

But just what you want in an editor.

Someone with the doggedness to make it better.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Meeting notification.

Yesterday I received something on the order of my usual 30 calendar notifications. These come from various account people and administrative assistants at both the agency and the client and they exist to reserve my time for some meeting they want me at.

Many times these meetings are for later in the day or later in the week. But almost as often, they are for events a month or so in advance. If I paid attention to them all, I'd never be allowed a day off or a vacation. All my days (that sounds like a soap opera) are spoken for.

Two weeks ago I finished shooting on the west coast. Because of the layers and layers of approval at the client we have an annoyingly lengthy approval process. And because their schedules must be scheduled weeks in advance we now have dates on our calendars from here to eternity. I received a meeting invite yesterday for a month hence announcing picture lock.

I haven't even seen picture yet and we have a meeting set up for picture lock.

Picture lock before picture look.

We have a meeting set up for first review.

Second review.

Fifth review.

Third review of seventh review.

What we've done is bureaucratize everything.

Process is what matters.

Process, procedure, protocol, proctology.

I just want to cut the spots.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Deeds in the Tempus Fugit.

It's been a while since I visited the Tempus Fugit. Not that I haven't wanted to walk up there and have the sweet nectar that is Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE.) It's just that my summer maladies have revisited once again and between a general feeling of weakness and a real bout of an ailment called pericarditis (an inflammation of the pericardial sac) I have been unable to visit.

Last night, however, Dame Insomnia kissed me gently and pulled me lovingly from my sleepy nest. She helped me on with my jeans. She tied my wing-tips. She even helped me place the leash on Whiskey's collar, and before long she guided my feet uptown to the Tempus Fugit.

There are inanimate objects or natural phenomena that change with greater rapidity than the Tempus Fugit. It's entirely possible, to my eyes at least, that the Tempus Fugit has changed less in the 89 years since it opened at the height (or depth) of Prohibition than have the giant Sequoia in Yosemite or, say, the great cataract we call Niagara Falls.

I'd wager that some of the low wattage lightbulbs that illuminate the bar are the same ones bought decades ago by a salesman who might have known Edison in Menlo Park as he tinkered away in his factory and thought about making plastic discs speak and spouting hate against Jews.

Whiskey and I assumed our positions. Me on my favorite stool one in from the end; Whiskey curled like a stock photo at my feet. Once again the bartender with the grace of a Martha Graham, an Isadora Duncan or a young Phil "the Scooter" Rizzuto, swept around and back with a bowl of cold water, salted Spanish peanuts and a short eight-ounce pull of Pike's. In mere moments he was back behind the bar, perched in his catbird seat, leaning and ready to inform, enlighten, amuse and elucidate.

I had drained Pike's number one and second glass was placed before me.

"A man came in the other night," the bartender began his story as he began wiping the bar with a damp terry, both in a circular motion. "He wore high lace-top boots with camouflage khaki tucked in. They looked rather like World War I-style puttees."

"A style I haven't missed," I said.

Ignoring me. "His shirt was also camouflage and over it, he wore a multi-pocketed safari vest. He had two cameras strapped around his neck. One a small automatic, another compact but larger like a Leica."

"'I am a war photographer' he began. 'I take pictures of battle.' I bid him go on. I thought about Capa's work in Spain, or on D-Day's bloody shingle. I thought about Capa with his head blown off by a Vietnamese mine that lay beneath the grass. He turned down a life, he did, with Ingrid Bergman--she wanted to marry him--to pursue war photography. And it killed him in the end."

I drank my drink and drank him in.

"What wars have you photographed?" I asked. "Congo? Colombia? Gaza? Egypt? South Sudan? The Karen rebellion? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Iraq? Myanmar? Tibet? Or maybe something closer to home? The Bloods? The Crips? The Latin Kings? The Antis? The Pros? The Westboro Baptist Church, perhaps. Have you travelled to the Bronx and seen the war of poverty? What have you shot?

"The war photographer stared into his glass. 'I have shot no wars,' he said to me. 'But that is what I aspire to do. To capture the blood, the sweat, the shit, the human stains.'"

The bartender stopped wiping the bar and he stopped his reverie. Then he began again.

"It was Capa who said, 'if your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough.' Today there are people who call themselves war photographers, but do it from arm chairs or arm's length. There are people who do not create art who call themselves artists. Writers who do not write. Parents who absent parenting. Even, I'm sure, bartenders who cannot pull a brew." He pulled me another Pike's.

"It is an Empire of Illusion we live in. A Cathedral of Ephemera. We are all residents of the United Sham of America."

"That's a little dark for a Monday night," I laughed.

He continued:

"Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur."

"My Latin's a little rusty," I admitted. "Outside of the Tempus Fugit, I seldom use it."

He translated:

"Lo, the Book of Ages spread
From which the deeds, all deeds are read
Of the living and of the dead.

"That's from Thomas of Celano. A 13th Century Franciscan. It couldn't be more relevant today."

"Deeds. Not words," I said.

Whiskey stirred at my feet. She probably looked at her internal clock and noticed it was time to leave. Or maybe she had had enough Latin for one morning.

I pushed two twenties across the bar and held them there.

"Take them," I said.

He began to push them back to me.

"No," I said. "Deeds, not words."

Monday, October 21, 2013


I've been thinking, of always, a lot about television and television commercials and sports. I've been thinking about this drug we have taken as a society that has made us sicker, not better.

Many years ago, when I was a boy, a baseball game took about two hours to play. Today, a baseball game, particularly one that is televised takes almost twice that long to play--something on the order of three-and-a-half hours.

Every moment, every pitch, every play and half-inning is divvied up and put under sponsorship. The play to commercial ratio is about one-minute of action for five minutes of promotion.

What happens next is insidious and invidious.

Put off by watching a stream of unending commercials, viewers go elsewhere.  (Baseball viewership has dropped precipitously since my youth. There are many reasons, of course, prime among them the rise of football, but I believe commercial inundation is among them.) Because viewers have dropped off, prices for commercials and therefore advertising revenue has fallen. So, we cram more commercials in to compensate for the loss of revenue.

More commercials leads to an even bigger loss in viewership. So again to compensate, we add promos.

The cycle continues until the game itself, either on TV or in person, becomes unwatchable.

I believe a similar malady afflicts all commercial enterprises. We compensate for decreases in viewership by adding that which is chasing viewers away.

Cable TV, in particular, seems to have a numbing one to one ratio of programming to promos. There is no show to sponsor, just clutter to further clutter.

If you look at older TV, say "The Jack Benny Show" from the 1950s and late 60s, there were integrated commercials, and about four minutes of commercial time every 30 minutes. That makes sense to me, but that is all thrown to the wind.

To advertisers today, your time is crap, it's worthless. So they beam at you incessantly to try to find your last dime.

It's a system that no longer works but one that we are bound by.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday. Early.

It's Friday.

The end, thankfully, of a long hard week.

A long hard week, a portion of which I spent being poked and prodded and scanned and echoed by various doctors.

I am the only one in my office space now, except for a young production assistant out in the back making coffee no one will drink.

Our weeks are high-speed cyclotrons of spouting and confusion.

Noise goes into and comes out of the machine relentlessly.

We have forgotten the need for filters.

We just clatter over more cliches.

And spew out jargon like a firehose dropped on the ground.

This is what happens when there are no longer any leaders. When everyone gets a vote and when discipline and authority and grown-ups have been excised.

We have big data.

In fact, we also have big blather.

A tale.


By an idiot.

Full of sound and fury.

Signifying nothing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

For Lisa, wherever I may find her.

Almost 25 years ago I worked with a partner, Lisa, on a retail account. That meant that pretty much once a week, we got a brief, had to concept a bunch of ads, sell them internally, then sell them to the client. There's a lot bad you can say about retail advertising, but it does make you put the pedal to the metal. There's no time for dilly-dallying. And if you work for a place that cares about the quality of the work, the demands are pretty pressing.

This was back in the Pleistocene Era. A time in which copywriters still typed their copy on typewriters and art directors drew on a drawing table on proper tissues.

Lisa had a drawing table atop her desk, and as I sat opposite her I was facing the "high elevation" of the table. I noticed one morning that she had written on the side border of the table a small imperative, "George, do the ad."

I suppose there was a good deal of recompense working with me. For all my moods, digressions, anger and wandering, I come up with ads. And nine times out of 10, I probably came through for Lisa.

I've been thinking lately about that little demand: "George, do the ad."

That in today's marketing world, no one appreciates the people who actually do the work. The winners are the puffy pontificators who make circles magically move in powerpoint, thereby lending a false profundity to their abiding banality.

I might stop listening to Lisa someday soon.

I might not do the ad.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I've been thinking strange thoughts of late.

Maybe they're precipitated by three months of battle with my health, when I've never been sick before in my life.

Maybe they're from some weird chemical side-effect from some of the meds I'm on.

Maybe the acidophilus in the yogurt I now eat for breakfast as I try to lose weight has invaded my cerebellum. Bacteria scourged grey matter.

Or maybe I'm realizing something bigger, something deeper.

That I have been selling myself short.

I've been working hard to prove my worth.

When I should be working less to prove it.

Let them see what life would be like without me.

Let them try to do what I do. Without me.

I'm in the office again today.

Feeling better.

The drugs they've given me seem to have vanquished the pericarditis for now.

I slept last night for the first time in a week.

Maybe I seeing.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The derivation of OY.

I guess if I could have a talk with Noam Chomsky, or some other eminent linguist or language morphologist, I would know this officially.

For whatever reason, we do things in threes. Jokes are usually in threes. We most-often present three concepts for a creative presentation. It's probably also the number of times we ask our boss for a raise before giving up.

I think about this because I realize I have three levels of "OY." And yesterday, I skipped levels one and two and leapt right to level three.

The first level of OY, is generalized anxiety, hardship, malaise or disdain for the world we live in. It's a free-floating sort of OY. It comes out willy-nilly and is a pressure release. You feel better saying it but the pervasiveness of your plaints are such that nothing will change. It's "Oy, this assignment sucks." Or "Oy, this line producers is a dick-less herring."

The second level of OY is more heightened. With the addition of VEY IZ MIR it becomes personal, a hardship happening directly to you that will affect your life. An unreasonable deadline. A client comment from the CEO. This is when you go up a notch and let loose an OY VEY IZ MIR.

The third level of OY struck me yesterday. I got a late in the day call from my doctor. Our conversation went like this:

"George, it looks like you might have a blood clot in your lungs."


OY FUCK combines the ballast of 6,000 years of Jewish suffering, tragedy and displacement with the sensate horror of our modern sensibility. It is everything bad, past and present, in two syllables.


I jumped into a cab. I was injected with iodine and CT-scanned.

No clot.

Just persistent pericarditis.


Monday, October 14, 2013

A slow night in the Tempus Fugit.

You don't hear me say this often, but last night, I needed a drink. The crushing demands of work (we need George to do this. Oh, George will do this. George, will you help out on this?) had left me literally with a crushing pain in my chest. It's called pericarditis, if you want the technical term for it, and it's the swelling of the protective membrane around the heart.

It's been described to me as feeling as if you have an elephant sitting on your chest. I can only say it's all that, and more. It's like severe lower back pain, only it's in the center of your chest, radiating up to your jaw, and to make you feel really sick and vulnerable, down your left arm--you know, just like a heart-attack.

Additionally, pericarditis, at least for me also comes with dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath, so I spent a good part of the weekend as mobile as a tree stump. In any event by about three last night, or more accurately this morning, the pain had begun to subside, so I somewhat rashly decided to head uptown to the Tempus Fugit and have myself a Pike's.

I arrived at the dim incandescence around 3:15. The night's games were settled, the pyrotechnic roar of mass-produced fan fervor was silenced. I seated myself on my stool and the bartender pulled me a Pike's Ale. I held the eight-ounces of amber in my hands and let the glass settle there. The weight, the color, the aroma, it was all right by me.

"You're still feeling poorly," the bartender began.

"This is a tough one. Pericarditis" I said. "Just when I thought my woes were over, I am once again stricken."

"You are like the teak of this bar here," he said as he brought out his small white terry and began buffing it. "You are like the teak of this bar. You are a bronze. You will outlast the temporal. You will triumph over Pericarditis."

I drained my Pike's.

"I have to tell you, it didn't feel that way this weekend. I thought I was deep into the scary realm of infarctions, and angioplasts, and bypasses, and pacemakers and nitrogylcerin pills."

"Go home," he said to me. "Go home and get some sleep."

I pushed a $20 his way. Uncharacteristically he picked it up, folded it in half and slid it into his breast pocket.

"A deposit on your health," he said. "You get your money back when you can breathe again."

I stood up to leave.

"One thing," he said, stopping me. "As your daughter says: 'check yourself before you wreck yourself."

I took a taxi home.

Friday, October 11, 2013

My illness returns.

It seems that my summer of discontent and illness is not yet over.

About two weeks ago I felt a sharp pain in my chest, like I had gotten smashed with a brick in the solar plexus. I let it ride, figuring as I so often do that that which does not kill me only makes me stronger.

As I predicted the pain went away in about three days. I even participated in a 5K race and generally ran around like a Banshee.

However Tuesday night the pain was back and back with a vengeance. Not only was I in pain I was short of breath and disoriented. Rather than walking across the park yesterday morning, I took the bus. That's how out of it I felt.

I finally got in to see my doctor around 1 yesterday. He ran, and what doctor doesn't, a battery of tests. He bled me. EKG'd me. Blood pressured me. And listened to me breathe. Breathing hurts right now. Like I said I feel as if I've gotten smashed in the solar plexus.

After the requisite poking he pronounced that I had pericarditis. To my ears that sounded like something I'd order at a Mexican restaurant. "Pericarditis with carne asado, por favor," I might say. But it turns out pericarditis is a swelling of the membrane that surrounds the heart.

It's more painful than dangerous. But it does wake one up to one's own mortality.

My doctor prescribed some meds--some of the same meds I was on during the summer, and hopefully the pain and discomfort will begin to ebb. But so far, I am running on empty. I made it to work through sheer force of will. And the 43 steps up from the C-train to the street were enervating.

The agency world we live in today is a cruel one. There is no compassion. No one to wish you well, to take it easy. When I was hospitalized over the summer, the agency sent not a single note. In fact, though my wife and I probably have 25 years combined tenure at Interpublic, there wasn't a thing, not a smidgeon of reassurance.

If agencies treat their employees this way (often while claiming to be in 'relationship marketing,') do we really believe for a second that they really give a rat's ass about a client's business outside of the money it generates.

No. These are cold, brutal and inhuman places who care nothing about the people who make them wealthy.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I'm packing up this morning having finished three long days of shooting on the Left Coast. It's always hard packing up. Not because I am sentimental or I don't want to go home. It's hard closing my bag having taken so many bottles of jasmine-cucumber-kale shampoo from the hotel.

I finally got it closed five minutes ago and I'm ready to go.

It was a good shoot. My partner, producer, the director and I did a good job casting. Out of the 30 or so people we chose, only four stunk. And even from them, we'll probably get something usable.

We were also good at scheduling our days efficiently. So our obstreperous celebrity talent had nothing outside of his brain-chemistry to be obstreperous about. We were ready to shoot when he arrive on location. And we wrapped with him early. That kind of thing counts as courteous consideration and goes a long way.

There were of course the usual monkey wrenches, but nothing we haven't seen or dealt with before. And after pretty much a week in production "Das Boot" no one wants to kill anyone else, including the client.

All-in-all it went well.

Of course our editor might think otherwise.

But I think we did our job.

Time for my last sinfully-expensive breakfast.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Primum non nocere.

Like Rich Siegel of Round Seventeen renown, I have been ill-served by an e-marketer. As such, I am waging a war of retribution against a company called Vistaprint.

They have been sending me, literally, seven to a dozen emails a day, always with the same asinine message. I have been unable to remove myself from their list, and even a call to Mumbai where their phone center is sited has proved meaningless. So, I have been marking up their Facebook page with posts, calling them, rightfully so, inveterate spammers.

Yesterday, someone from their social media department sent me a note giving me an address to send my complaint to. But their spam continues unabated.

All this brings to my mind some Latin: Primum non nocere. First do no harm.

This notion seems to be missing from so many advertisements and marketing plans. We are inundated and annoyed. We are not informed or entertained. We are bludgeoned.

That is, most advertising, I think, does harm. 

It not only doesn't help the company behind it, through its relentless air time and shrill stupidity, it assaults and annoys the viewer.

It hasn't made the company more likable.

It's harmed the company's reputation.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rollicking in a dead medium.

I am on the Left Coast, the coast of cotton candy skies and really good Mexican food, shooting a series of new commercials.

We are living the advertising cliche. Staying at the cliche hotel, driving the cliche cars, shooting with the cliche directors and ordering cliche room service at night when we are clichely too tired to move after a day of getting our hopefully un-cliche shots.

Even checking in on Saturday I had a cliche experience.

"Mr. Tannenbaum, your room is ready and you have a partial ocean view."

"I'd rather have a Pacific Ocean view," I replied.

"It's a partial ocean view," the check-in minx repeated.

"I haven't heard of that ocean." And then, with mercy for all, I let it drop.

Today we were all up early, getting ready for another day of shooting.

There's been much talk over the last 20 years or so about the absolute demise of all these cliches. But they seem, out here to be thriving.

What's more, regardless of what you think about television, regardless of the fact that you live in Williamsburg and never watch it, it's a helluva lot more fun than another 728 by 90 banner ad.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Celebrity sighting with Uncle Slappy.

The phone rang just as I was leaving the house for a week shooting in California. Three types of people call me on our landline. There are telemarketers, even though we are on every DO NOT CALL list known to the NSA. There are politicians, to whom the do not call laws, and most others, don't apply. And there's Uncle Slappy.

The thing is he learned my home number when my wife and I moved to our current apartment 15 years ago. That's from before the time cell phones were prevalent and Uncle Slappy never saw the need or had the desire to learn a different number for me.

If you're the only relation of an older relative like Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie, you pick up the phone when it rings. Though, knock wood, the both of them still have sap running through their branches, they're not, as they'd be the first to admit, getting any younger. Besides, you should never take the health of 86 year olds for granted. So even though my producer was downstairs waiting to travel with me to JFK, I took the call.

"You'll never guess who I just met," the old man began.

"Hi, Uncle Slappy, everything ok?"

"Guess who I just met. The most stunning woman by the pool."

"I'm sure Aunt Sylvie is enjoying that," I said.

Uncle Slappy is, like I said 86, but he still enjoys a well turned ankle. Even if it is housed in granny shoes.

"I met Ingrid Berman."

"Ingrid Bergman's been dead since the early 80s," I said.

"That's neither here nor there. I met Ingrid Berman. From Massapequa Park."

"And she's beautiful, Uncle Slappy?"

"Well," he said with timing that would put Jack Benny to shame, "Of course she is." He paused a long pause. "Of course, she's no Ingrid Bergman."

With that Uncle Slappy hung up the blower.

I made my flight with about an hour to spare.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Coming back.

The most American of all poems ever written is not something by Whitman, or Ginsburg, or Longfellow, or even Edgar Guest. It was written by Ernest Thayer in 1888 and was titled "Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in 1888."

It's not the best American poem. I leave that to more rarefied names. Just the most American.

There's one line in particular that leads me to this poem this morning.

"The rest/Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast."

Yesterday, I'll admit, I had let hope unclung my breast. I had given up the fight, the endless fights you have to have just to produce something decent. I despaired of the bludgeons of second-guessing, the lack of trust, the primal fear that something won't be feared.

But you rally.

You come back on a humid Friday.

You put on a clean shirt.

Hike up your pants.

And try again. Even if you're fated only to ultimately strike-out.

That's being human, alive and, xenophobically, maybe American.

The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."
"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

How We Die.

Some time ago I read a book called "Lost in America: A Journey with my Father" by Yale doctor and National Book Award-winner Sherwin Nuland.

I loved it.

And I promptly went out and got more books by Nuland, including "How We Die," for which he won his National Book Award.

We have an odd notion in the 21st Century that there's such a thing as dying with dignity. We've gotten this impression through the years in war movies and the like. Heads aren't blown off. A simple trickle of blood suffices.

We also have this idea that if we're spared long entubement before our entombment we are somehow spared the specter of death as something like waiting in line at Motor Vehicles.

No, there's nothing pleasant about death. It involves pain, suffering, incoherence, anger, gushing vesicles and putrescence.

Sorry, Dylan Thomas, there is no going gentle with a tender kiss closing your be-dewed eyelashes. Death is a complete breakdown of the functions of life and like a car collapsing into junk or a microwave sparking irrationally, there is no beauty in it.

Death comes in our industry, too. Without beauty.

I am feeling it this week. Prior to a week of shooting.

The vicissitudes of corporate pusillanimity and small-minded-ness, those things which I have sloughed off so many times before, have entered my marrow. They are forming tumors of hatred and tumors of despair.

My breathing is pained. My heart infarcts.

My wrists pulsate uncontrollably. They writhe with the urge to strangle.

These are the death rattles of advertising.

The mandatory measured-ness of moderate comportment doesn't come.

The anger doesn't subside.

Restraint fibrillates.

Tolerance flatlines.

That is death.

Advertising style.

Silence is paycheck.

Back about ten years and five agencies ago, New York and much of the east coast, was hit by a major black out. The lights went dark. Computers didn't work. New York's highly-efficient (if clattering) subway system stalled.

There was no power. Even our phones, which run on a separate power system, were out.

I had a dream in the midst of all this that the power quickly came back on but one thing, unbeknownst to us continued to malfunction.

The mute switch on our phones would shine red but the muting would not mute. In other words, all the comments that we utter privately would be shared publicly.

We suck a lot up in the industry.

In return for our weekly bread, we duct tape our mouths.

We allow into our work bullshit and new speak and blather and unlikeability because the truth won't will out.

We keep silent.

And good.

And obedient.

We do our jobs.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Eleven cents will get you ten.

I don't think there's a client anywhere that doesn't think their agency is too expensive. In fact, the cost of advertising has been decried as too high by clients since at least the days of John Wanamaker, 100-plus years ago.

Yet here's what's happening every day, everywhere.

We sit in meeting rooms with a dozen or half a dozen people and we build "experiences" that will never be experienced.

Just doing the math in my head, these "experiences" must cost more to create than TV commercials. They certainly demand more man power and more time.

And who uses them? And what impression do they make?

Such projects seem to me to be an effort to get every last dime from customers even if it costs 11 cents to get that dime.

So, for once, I agree with clients.

Agencies are too expensive.

We are encouraging, promulgating, pr-ing things of dubious efficacy. Expensive things of dubious efficacy.

We have not, as stewards of companies, said "hey wait a minute. What will all that extra get you? Why not be like Apple and focus on media that deliver the most bang for the buck. Not every single incremental buck."

Sorry if this is gloomy. It's only Wednesday. But it already feels like Friday.

Next Friday.

Weather report.

It has been cool in the city, what we used to call Indian summer.

I suppose now that everything is sanitized and made politically correct, I should call crisp weather in early October 'Native American Summer,' but I can't. It's not in me to bleach things so clean. So if any Cherokee, or Cree, or Iroquois, or Seminoles are reading this, I apologize. The last three days have been beautiful Indian summer days.

The leaves are beginning to turn outside New York. And even in Central Park, where the summer colors of the foliage sometimes lingers into November, there are ambers and umbers and numbers of fallen leaves.

The squirrels are working overtime too. When Whiskey spots one and chases it up a tree, you can see by the tree's base a veritable compost pre-heap of cracked acorn shells. Despite global warming, New York's famous furry-tailed rats are bracing for a winter that likely will never come.

The seasons barrel along. We are all a few months older. Soon, the hipper among us will be wearing $79 wool pullover caps indoors, seemingly not cognizant that the weather has shifted again and it's 83-degrees out.

It must be hard to accessorize every aspect of one's life. It would be so much easier just to live it. But once again, I repeat, I am not and never will be one of the cool kids, so I can't hope to understand the ineffable something that comes from the aforementioned pullover.

Clients march on as well. Seeing bogies where none exist. Making proclamations that bear no relation to reality, except the reality you can find on tiny cells on an Excel spreadsheet.

When I was 21, my mother was trying to force me into law school or business school. I should do anything but that which would make me happy. As a consequence I took fill-in-the-bubble entry exams for each pursuit and fairly scored off the charts. I suppose if I had chosen MBA school I would have mastered the classes they must teach in monkey-wrench-throwing. How such people can spot the smallest grains of life in a piece of work and plutonium blast it out of existence.

We march on, like the mutated seasons and do our jobs. We try to fight the fight, but the CO2 in the client atmosphere has risen inexorably.

We are choked by it and can hardly breathe. The sea level of nitpicking and stupidity is rising. We can build sea walls.

But the water is lapping at our souls.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Email marketing, and then some.

Every morning I wake up and do what so many slavish salarymen do all around the world. I barely peck my wife and pet my dog before I check my email.

We have been Pavlovicized by beeps, rings, flashes and numbers in bright red to believe that all hell will break loose if we don't check check check our various email accounts to see what we've been missing while we grab a few hours of anxious, restless sleep.

I check my mail and delete the noxious.

The magic fruit weight-loss advice from someone named Dr. Oz.

The 2.75 mortgages that will change my life.

The cars at half price.

The e-imprecation to once again to all caps do my time sheets because it's a) the start of a month; b) the middle of a month; c) the end of a month or d) over 20 minutes since we last screamed at you.

We are assaulted and barraged by this nonsense and more.

Meeting invites that slice your day into 19 half-hour segments, none of which include time for a shit or for lunch.

We are captives of this stupid system.

Where all is junk and junk is all.


As the dysfunctional government in the United States has shut down for the third time in 20 years, I began thinking this morning about compromise.

To many on Capitol Hill, compromise is a dirty word, an anathema. To many in our business, a compromise is similarly viewed. It goes something like this: If we don't stick to our creative guns we will ruin the work and our careers and become the embodiment of Agency Spy's favorite word: hack.

Intransigence, the opposite of compromise, is regarded as the equivalent of integrity. Likewise, loud and fractious intransigence is seen as the hallmark of creative genius.

Over the nearly 30 years of my career, I've taken a much more diplomatic approach to compromise, mostly because, I believe, that clients are entitled to their point of view. My policy has always been to listen to what the client is saying and either find a way to accommodate it without sacrificing the whole, or tear up the ad and start fresh.

It would be nice to live in a world where you always got your way. And perhaps my portfolio would be better if I won every pitched battle and never had to add some bullshit line of copy to a script.

But I always think of this.

Legend had it that Bill Bernbach carried a card around in his wallet. Printed on it were these words: "Maybe he's right."