Monday, July 31, 2017

A midsummer night.

On Saturday night my wife and I strolled over to the 1500-seat Delacorte Theater in Central Park to see the Public Theater’s production of “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.”

Though the day had been cloudy and muggy, the weather broke around 6PM and turned clear and cool. The thermometer read 74-degrees when the play began and dropped ten degrees during the two-hour and 45-minute performance, to a cool but nearly perfect 64.

In a world that seems to hate art, intelligence and anything not related to a big-assed Kardashian, or the small-handed Vulgarian currently jerking-off in the White House, New York, for all its chaos, has remained a bastion of civility.

We still have opera here. And food that isn’t first frozen and pre-desiccated and then deep fried in the oil of pig anus. And we have Shakespeare in the Park, for something like the 50th year in a row. 

It wasn’t quite dark when the play began, and right off twilight’s bat the audience hushed and laughed at the 400-year-old comedy. I looked to the west and saw a sliver of moon rise over the Beresford, over on Central Park West and 81st. In short order I saw the twinkling of Venus, some one-hundred million miles from the moon, rise then hide behind the branches of the park’s enormous London planes.

Still not dark, a vee of long-necked geese flew east overhead toward the Croydon on Madison and 86th, honking against the declaiming of the thespians below.

The night darkened and the play went on with a superior Daniel Burstein playing Bottom and the Ass and Phylicia Rashad as star-power as Titania.

Midsummer is a play I’ve seen a dozen times. The Public prefers comedies outdoors over the summer, whereas I’d love to see a Richard or a Henry, they seem to hit us with Twelfth Night of Midsummer every other year.

A small complaint on my part, for a midsummer’s night, that was very nearly ideal.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A long taxi ride.

Last night, not too late, I slid into the front seat of a ride-share, a black Honda Pilot. The driver, a young African-American man with a James Harden beard, said to me, "Hello, George." 

I heard a ballgame--the ancient sounds of the old American game--on the radio. 

"Mets or Yankees?"


I said nothing.

"You're a Mets fan," he asked. 

"Well, no. I'm really a nothing fan. I enjoy the game. But I don't root for any teams anymore."

I sized him up--as men do with other men. I guessed he was about 25 years old.

"I'll tellya something though, back when I was a kid, in 1969, everyone was a Mets fan."

He looked lost. 1969 was as far away from him as 1850 was to me. And if you're a New Yorker of a certain age, my age, it was the supreme year in New York sports history.

"What happened in '69," he asked as we turned right to head down 54th Street.

"Well," I began like the Ancient Mariner, only land-bound, "the Met's had only ever finished in last place since they entered the league in '62. One year they finished in 9th place, but they reverted to form the next year."

"Ok," he said, swerving to avoid a delivery boy on a bike.

"In '69, the Cubs had a great team and were leading the division by a ton. I think they had four or five eventual Hall-of-Famers on the team. Ernie Banks. Ron Santo. Billy Williams. Fergie Jenkins."

The names meant nothing to him. They had been heroes to me. I even had a Ron Santo autographed infielder's glove. I still have it, in fact.

"But around this time of year," I continued, "the Mets' young arms started growing wiser. They had Seaver, of course, and Koosman and Nolan Ryan and a guy called Gary Gentry who was a pretty good pitcher. They might have started July ten games behind the Cubs, but by August were just two or three games out."

We had made it across town and were heading up 3rd Avenue.

"Leo Durocher was the Cubs manager, and he was reviled in New York. He had coached both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. Then the Cubs and the Mets met in Shea for a four-game set, and I think the Mets swept 'em."

"So the Mets overtook first," he added.

"The whole crowd, I was there with my old man, started chanting "Goodbye, Leo. Goodbye, Leo. We hate to see you go."

We were nearing my apartment house, so I summed up as quickly as I could.

"The Mets won their division. Beat the Braves in four for the pennant--beat Hank Aaron. And beat a great Oriole team with Frank and Brooks Robinson in five."

We stopped at my white brick.

"The greatest year in New York sports history," I told him. "The Jets started off '69 winning the Super Bowl. Then the Mets won. Then finally, in '70 the Knicks won."

We shook hands.

"Thanks for the history lesson, George."

And we shook hands again.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Some thoughts from Papa.

I worked with a guy many years ago who was extremely talented. He worked at some of the best and some of the biggest agencies and almost never failed to do pretty good work.

By the time I knew him, he was high up at an agency. So high up that he stopped doing what made him good in the first place. 

He stopped putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, or nose to grindstone.

He once said to me, "I don't want to have to crack it any more."

I get a lot of Linked In requests and notes every day, every month. This is conjecture, and maybe a soupcon of egoism, but I think I get many of them because I'm pushing 60 and still doing the best work of my career--and plenty of it.

My guess is people think I have some sort of special sauce, some other-worldly good luck, or something I can help them get, too.

If I do, I'd have to say it's this: I don't want to give up cracking it. To me, it's where the pleasure (and the pleasurable pain) of the business resides.

I guess to reduce this to its most limbic, it's where the fear lives. The fear of failing. The fear of having lost it. The fear of putting yourself out there. The fear of younger, thinner models beating you out. The fear, in short, of being old.

My two cents is you have to face this fear--hit it head on with your best work, with your best self. Not some days. Every day.

Hemingway's Old Man said, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

I think the same might be true about careers. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A meeting of the minds.

On my way to work this morning, on a surpassingly beautiful summer's day, I ran into an old kvetchy friend of mine from days of yore.

We toiled together when the world was somewhat cooler and the business was somewhat kinder. But both of us being on the work-a-holic spectrum, neither had ever taken advantage of the bygone humanity of the business which, these days, has all but disappeared.

We bumped into each other on a noisy Manhattan street. This was at 7:15 and both of us were fairly rushing to our respective offices.

I spoke first.



We kissed while holding our work bags and our coffees.

"How are you?" I began.

"I'm well now," Diane said, "but last week I thought I had a cold. It turned out to be a sinus infection."

"They can really knock you out," I added, adding nothing.

"On Thursday and Friday, I thought I was dying," she said. "I stayed in bed all weekend taking antibiotics."

"And, of course, you were back at your desk on Monday. You should take two sick days just out of principle."

She gave me the look a young deer gives you after you shoot its mother.

"I've been doing this for 40 years," she said getting into a cab. "I don't think I've ever taken a sick day."

We kissed again goodbye.

"Me neither," I said. And I hustled into my ride share.

We streamed our separate ways down the avenue, waving goodbye through dirty glass.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sumer is.

Svmer is icumen in

Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu

Last night, by the time I had left the agglomeration of desks and wires and purportedly ergonomic chairs they call an office, the temperature had dropped precipitously.

When I arrived at work, the thermometer had been heading up toward 90 for the fifth straight day. But now it was in the low 60s, with a cool, wet wind blowing down 11th Avenue. As I was walking toward my ride-share, I saw an urban leaf—where it came from, I’ll never know, there are no trees on the far west side. The leaf was brown and desiccated; it was dressed already for Fall.

Rain fell while I was in my car. My driver was of the old school and refused to turn on his wipers, like wizened prisoners will sometimes refuse privileges while incarcerated, just to assert their independence, their right to say no.

The sun was peeking out from behind huge stratocumulus as I arrived in my sleepy neighborhood, and thanks to the rain, the streets looked clean, like asphalt straight out of LA. I saw a red Honda as I exited the Chevy Suburban, it was covered by a thick quilt of fallen leaves.

I walked to my apartment house—the car had dropped me 200 feet from my door—and I chastised myself for not having worn a light jacket. It was that cool out. Instead, I pulled my baseball cap down half-an-inch as if that would afford so protection, but no.

I thought of all the work we’ve done this summer. The commercials, the ads, the banners. I thought of all the late nights and endless rivers of powerpoint as long as the Ganges and just as dirty. I thought about all the beaches I haven’t visited, all the quiet walks along the East River I haven’t taken, all the ballgames I haven’t seen—not big games at tax-payer paid for stadiums only the rich can afford to attend, but Little League games in the park with eager kids playing for fun and young parents marveling at it all. I thought about all the soft-serve I haven’t eaten, and sweet corn with variegated yellow and while kernels. I thought about lemonade stands and earnest children selling a synthetic drink for a buck. I thought about lonely walks with Whiskey by my side, carrying her duck decoy in her soft mouth. I thought about all that disappearing and another summer, come and gone.

The doorman opened the door for me and said something innocuous about the cold. I guffawed back, as I do, with a big gregarious laugh.

“Yep,” I said, “summer’s slipping away.”

He walked me to the elevator, being friendly.

“Not so fast, Mr. Tannenbaum,” he said. “Not so fast.”