Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Death. A Continuity.





Way back in October, 2019, when the world was somewhat cooler and it actually snowed in the winter, I wrote a post about a book I had just finished reading, "The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters," by Tom Nichols. Right now, it costs just eight dollars and twenty-three cents on Amazon's Kindle. Which kind of proves the campaign against knowledge that Nichols mentions is actually working.

I loved Nichols' book when I read it 42 months ago. With the onslaught of acclaim for our latest rendition of people-annihilating technology, AI or Chat GPT or Whatever, I thought I'd revisit and see WTFIGO (what the fuck is going on.)

But before I go into today's exegesis, let me leap somewhere I don't think a computer program would or could. I'm referring to this item in the January 30, 2023 online edition of "The Wall Street Journal."


Here's the bit that got my head going: "The details of such ruins are often difficult to discern from ground level through dense jungle vegetation, Dr. Hansen said. 'I’ve walked within 5 feet of a 20-story building and didn’t know it was there because the vegetation made it so impossible to detect,' he said. 

"That is where lidar comes in. The technology works like radar except that laser beams rather than radio waves are used to locate and map objects....

“'You can map in minutes what we once mapped in years'” said Carlos Morales-Aguilar, a geography researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the research.

The new lidar data revealed how much previous excavations and explorations had missed, Dr. Hansen said. 'We never would have found all the causeways and numerous massive platforms without it,' he said."

The above example, I think, is important. It changes things around a bit. Tech doesn't replace humans--and human expertise. Tech makes us better humans.

Way back when I was on IBM, the preferred term among people I knew was that AI should stand for Augmented Intelligence, not Artificial Intelligence. And certainly, the technology being used to uncover Mayan civilizations in Guatemala is deepening human perception. It's augmenting--making us greater than our corpuscles can, if left to their own devices.

Surely, however, thousands of marketers will replace shitty human-derived copy with faster, cheaper, never-needs-a-break computer-derived copy. Just as thousands of marketers replaced shitty human call-centers with faster, cheaper, never-needs-a-break computer-derived call centers.

Here's the thing.

Is any of this any good--human or machine-derived? Most copy I read, as an ex-boss of mine used to say, is flat as a plate of piss. It sticks to you like dogshit sticks to a lug-soled boot. I'd imagine that much of the copy that's foisted upon us does more to depress a brand's value than elevate it. Just because you can annoy me doesn't mean you should.

I feel the same way about phone centers and bots that are supposed to help customers.

Yet, they're cheap. Forget about whether or not they suck. They're cheap.

No question we have the power to bombard every human being on earth with a trillion messages a day. I wonder if we have the restraint not to. Will AI--in whatever form--improve our judgment. Or will it make crap more ubiquitous?

My questions about AI, whether it's augmented intelligence or artificial intelligence are these: 

  • Can AI surprise me?
  • Can AI make me laugh?
  • Can AI understand me and show me empathy--
    cheer me when I'm sad, soothe me when I'm in need?
  • Can AI put two things together that don't belong together
    and therefore create an unexpected effect? A tear? A guffaw?
  • Can AI comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?
    Can AI be thoughtful and kind? Respectful and considerate?
  • Can AI be human or just replace humans?
  • Can AI be nonsensical and weird?
My point at the end of all this is simple. The big schmears that run the giant companies that run our lives will always choose cheaper over better. No matter that cheaper can lead to collapsed dams, cancerous pollution in our rivers and crashed airplanes. The people who ultimately rule our days and nights and lives always choose cheap over better and probably always will. 

I've read a lot about Kings, Shahs, Emporers, Satraps, Presidents and Corporate Titans. They're almost always in the "I'll choose what's good for me" business rather than "the be good to customers/citizens" business. 

I don't know why anyone anywhere thinks this latest innovation, really talented AI, will be any different to anything that's gone before.

Before we embrace anything new, we have to think. Think about the law of unintended consequences. It's this simple: I love ice cream. But there's a consequence. It makes me sick. So, I can't eat it.

I'm not sure we think about future effects in the present. Especially when the rolling acclaim for something new and boffo fills the world with a loud echoing chorus. Who can say "this sucks," when all the mavens say "this is great."

I'd just take it easy with all the effusion.

And look before you leap.






Monday, January 30, 2023

TWTW.

The world of advertising being what it is and me being practically the most-senior of the few senior citizens still alive and still kicking, I get a lot of calls from friends, colleagues and clients.

Friends call me about getting work. 

Colleagues call me about getting new business.

Clients call me about slow sales, or under-performing work.

George, what can we do?

Almost five decades ago when I labored for my one endless season playing la esquina caliente, the hot corner, for Hector Quetzacoatl Padilla, aka Hector Quesadilla, manager of the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League, I learned something I think about almost every day.

More often now that I own and operate my own small-large advertising agency.

I think we were up by two runs and it was the top of the ninth and the Tampico Estibadores--the Stevedores--had their player manager Hector Espino coming to bat.

The bases were already loaded, there were two down, we were out of solid pitching and we were facing a future Hall-of-Famer and the best-hitter in the league. Maybe the best player ever to play in the Mexican Baseball League.

With 484 home runs, Hector Espino is considered the greatest player
in the history of the Mexican League.  


The Estibadores had the bases full. All we could hope for was a pop up, or a strike out, or a sudden torrential downpour if we were to escape the friendly confines of Estadio de Beisbol Francesco I. Maduro with a win.

Instead, Espino clobbered a pitch high and inside that went screaming right down the third-baseline at about shoulder height above the faded lime lines the demarcated foul and fair.

Of all the screaming line drives I've seen and heard in my misbegotten days, this one by Espino was the screamiest. I don't know what a German 88mm shell sounds like as it approaches--I know that was the gun that most scared Allied soldiers during World War II--but even with all my faculties still relatively intact, I cannot imagine a terrestrial object moving faster than Espino's line drive.

I instinctively knew I had no chance of reaching across my body with my left, gloved, hand and nabbing it. However, reflexively I stuck out my meat hand at just the right moment and somehow nabbed the ball out of the twilight air. And somehow held onto it. And somehow didn't break eleven bones in the process, though our backup shortstop, "Doctor" Jesus Verduzco, who was a third-year medical student in the off-season at Tecnol√≥gico de Monterrey, had me keep my hand in ice for two hours after the game, then compressed it in an Ace-bandage then had me soak it again for two-hours for every day for a week.

Hector Quesadilla hugged me after the game and said repeatedly to me thereafter, "Jorge Navidad, you have tee doubleyou, tee doubleyou. You have The Will To Win."

TWTW. 

The will to win.

To all those calling me about some business or career miasma, I say the same thing. I don't really care if it's not civil or mannerly or kind. I don't really care if it's a little brutal and mean.

I say, pick a person you know from business who makes a lot of money and does a lot of what you want to be doing. Think hard about them and their success. Study them like Joe Louis would study an opponent before a fight. Know their every strength and how to avoid them. Know their every weakness and how to exploit them. Then stick out your hand and be willing to get hurt if that's what it takes to win.

Too many people in the scenarios I've enumerated at the start of this post, look for something that's similar to the something they're struggling through. They're getting snookered at their current agency, so they look for a new agency. Not ever considering that all agencies are pretty much the same. E Pluribus Snookered, or something to that effect.

They don't employ TWTW.

They ain't willing to take a missile barehanded.

By the way, I still feel the pain today. Somedays more than others.











Friday, January 27, 2023

Manimals.


In my voluminous and peripatetic readings, I ran across a sentence that has stuck with me literally for decades. I'm not exactly sure what the sentence was, but I do remember the gist.

It was this: "If you walk too long on concrete, you turn into an animal."

That led me down a path to Jean Renoir, perhaps the greatest film director ever, with I think four movies in the BAFTA top 100 movies. (If you're curious, send me a note. I'll send back a recommendation or two.)

Renoir, son of the painter Auguste Renoir (Auguste slept with Jean's nanny; later Jean slept with her, too) famously said, "Loitering is the source of all civilization."

Let me mix-master those things up together and get to the point of today's end-of-week-post. 

In today's holding company hegemony, downtime, that is 'walking off of concrete,' or 'loitering,' is anathema to the regimens imposed by the holding companies--that is, financial entities with no real acumen in advertising, marketing or even humanity. So, in those holding-company-held agencies that have squoze out all inefficiencies, availability becomes a capability.

So if Henry and Danielle are free, they'll be assigned an assignment with an impending due date even if they know nothing about the topic or the brand. The same way if you worked in the meat department in a grocery store, you might be asked to help out selling tomatoes. 

But in a grocery store, lack of knowledge doesn't really hurt customers. If you buy roma tomatoes and your wife wanted beefsteak, you're out $1.79 and maybe you'll get sent to the dog house. 

In advertising, the stakes are higher. Million-dollar relationships can be compromised. And crappy work often shows up on the air.

Availability being a capability as a business practice, denying downtime is driving our industry further into darkness every day. Good work comes from knowing the brand, knowing the problems your viewers face, understanding the world and its complexities. I doubt someone who hadn't seen despair and poverty and lost dreams could have written "The Death of a Salesman." It takes deep knowledge to do real work.

So much of what I see is a mish-mash of cliches and recycled imagery. 

I think because people don't work from a place of deep empathy. So we write spots that say "Kellogg's Nutri Grain guava breakfast bars are yummy." And then we all dance around a plasticene kitchen. 

My favorite living writer is an historian--a two-time National Book Award winner and two-time Pulitzer-winner. His name is Robert Caro


I've seen Caro speak twenty times. And in Caro's last book, "Working," he says a line that everyone in the agency business should have on their Macs. Every agency should have it painted on their walls--assuming they have any. It should be the cover page of every pitch presentation.

The sentence is this "Time Equals Truth."

I'm not going to explain what that sentence means to me. That's unimportant.

The question is, what does Time mean to you? To your agency? To your clients? To your work?

We need to stop thinking about advertising as a production line with interchangeable people at each station. We need to start thinking about advertising as thinking that gets people thinking.Then doing.

That takes time.

Because time equals truth.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Great Repression.

Though GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company is essentially a one-person operation, I do have an Account Director who makes a big difference in my life and in my business.

I'm not going to give any personal personnel details here, but an email exchange she and I had late last night is what got me thinking. Thinking not just about my personal situation, but about the macro variables that can help lead to success.

I had written a note to, I'll call her "H," in which I explained my semi-paralysis surrounding a lot of copy I have to write for a complicated brand. They had hired a branding agency to create their look and now had turned to me to create the word part of their story.

In work and in life, we hear voices. 

We read semiotics.

We pick up cues on how we're supposed to behave in a given situation. 

This happens--too often--within the decaying Chinese drywall that encloses the occupants of the advertising industry. When you're incarcerated in such a situation, you quickly discern how you're supposed to act, when you're supposed to speak, who you're meant to defer to. Most social organizations in a sense are self-suppression entities. You conform to them rather than they open up to you.

The writing I have to do is for a very stiff company in a very rigid field of endeavor. You don't hear stand-up comedians doing routines, for instance, based on Collateralized Debt Obligations. There are a lot of companies where humanity and humor (a linchpin of humanity) fear to tread. If I had a dollar for every icy glare I got because I was a wise-ass inside a stiff-ocracy, I'd have enough money now to lay off 10,000 people and not feel guilt.

With all that constraint spinning about me, I was feeling paralyzed--an ad absurdum effect of constraint.

But, I said to myself, the design is avant. The writing should be just as non-cliched and forward-looking. 

But, as I said, I was hearing voices.

Don't. Can't. I wouldn't. They could get pissed. That's not them. You'll get fired. You won't get paid. They'll hate it and force you back.

I shoved them all aside like a husband of 39 years shoves aside the imperative to change a lightbulb in a too-high ceiling. 

And I wrote five bits of copy out of a total of about 10 or 12.

I sent them to my Account Director with a short note explaining my trauma.

In minutes here's what I got back.

"Ok - I get it. YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB WITH THIS. I love how you are speaking. They hired you to be you. Don't be them. The tone of voice is much better than the way they wrote it. Stick with that. You are cutting through the BS, and I like that."

In truth, this is a little thing. 

And I might have gotten there by myself without any help.

But my point remains. Advertising agencies, holding companies, today's greater capitalist system is a self-abnegating construct. We are meant to look, act, and accept like everyone else. As someone said to me when I joined Ogilvy the first time back in 1999, "Don't do anything too good or too bad and you'll be fine. They'll leave you alone."

That might be overly-dramatic for comic effect. But the best work comes from people who have selves and aren't afraid to show themselves. Their ideas, their insouciance, their sparks, their weird connections.

When people use the words culture, inclusion and diversity in business today, I don't ever really know what they mean. It usually gets reduced to stale bagels on Fridays and a ping-pong table near the elevators.

It seldom comes down to being human. 

Being silly.

Being contrary.

Being yourself.

Thanks, H, for the kick and the reminder.

Whatever I pay you, you should ask for double.

I won't give it to you; but you should ask.

You're worth it. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Lauding. And Frauding.


Though I've made my living for the past 43 years typing, first on various IBM Selectrics, then on Macs with various names, numbers and sizes, then for a short while back to IBM machines with working on a variety of ThinkPads, then over to H-P while I worked on their PCs during my one benighted year working on their account in San Francisco, then back to Macs for the last 20 years, I consider myself more a Historian than a marketer.

Anyone can write copy and usually does. [ChatGPT.] Very few people bring a historian's understanding of our time and customs to the marketing business. 

Perspective is not unimportant in writing. Not just what something is. But why it's better, how it works, why it's right for you.



As Cicero (not the city outside of Chicago, pop. 85,268) was said to have said, "O tempore, O mores." Which is literally translateable as "Oh the times, oh the customs." It might be more accurately rendered as "Shame on our age and our lost principles."

Alas, as Cicero might agree, principles today are something that earn the wealthy interest. There are few principles today that guide anyone outside of the obsessive and ruinous accumulation of ever-more crap and ever-more money. 



I think we can take our modren philosophy from Budd Schulberg's Terry Malloy as rendered by the surpassing Marlon Brando during his first date with Edie, Eva Marie Saint. "You want to know my philosophy? Do it to him, before he does it to you."

All that is the overture to the blunt Wagnerian opera we're living through. My belief is that we are today, in America, living through the Era of Flagrant Fraud. "Where fair is foul, and foul is fair; [we] Hover through the fog and filthy air."

From advertising agencies trying to establish their bonafides with fake ads and fake case-studies for fake causes or fake clients that never ran in a fake docket of never-ending awards' shows so they can gain more fake business to line the pockets of the fake oligarchs with fake money while reducing everything and everyone else to the lowest workmen's wages. To brands, like Tesla or Volkswagen or Nike or Apple who fake efficacy, or fake data, or fake a sense of ethics and/or nobility while producing what they produce with near-slaves all so a few can accumulate billions.

We have a thousand-mile-long virtual Mount Rushmore of Fraudsters. The faces of trump, Santos, Holmes, Musk, Shkreli, Madoff, Stewart, bank of amerika, goldman, wells fargo, countrywide, dr. oz, pompeo, lindell and the list is near endless, even longer if you include all the products that don't do what they promise to do and even the bags that they charge you for at the grocery store whose handles break before you reach the street.

We laud those with billions never questioning why anyone would need all that money--money enough to spend one-million a day every day for 2.8 years and still have money left over. You know, billionaires, the people who pay no tax. (By the way, Bezos' one-hundred billions mean he could spend one-million dollars a day every day for 300 years and still have money left over.) 

[BTW: According to ProPublica, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid $1.4 billion in personal federal taxes between 2006 to 2018 on $6.5 billion he reported in income, while his wealth increased by $127 billion during that same period. That's a true tax rate of 1.1%.] Translated to an average Ad Aged reader, that's like earning $2000/week and taking home $1975/week.

We witness and accept the tech giants who've amassed billions then lay off thousands. To the frauds of online surveillance, the bot-ification of truth, the lies, the stumpified trumpism of false claims and false promises and real thievery. And let's not forget that this allegedly "christian" nation has forgotten or chosen to ignore the Gospel re rich men and camels. 

I could go on like Kerouac, but as Truman Capote supposedly said this isn't writing, this is mere typing.

But I'll end with this, to anyone who can still read and who's reading this. 

The central issue advertising must deal with today is simple. How can we truthfully, un-hype-ally re-establish trust with people? How can we be fair, honest and believable? 

That's our job. Be truthful. 

That's what we should be thinking about. How do we resuscitate an industry that's bloated and ablated by lies?

Everything else is death and continuity of the present which is death.

We have to find a way to restore trust.


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Whiskey-less in the Tempus Fugit.

In lieu of saying "hello," when I walked in to the Tempus Fugit early Thursday morning--it was around 3AM, I believe--the bartender merely said, "I'm sorry."

Somehow, such is the New York grapevine, word had gotten to the rarefied precincts of the old place and the lights, which were never brighter than twenty or so watts, we're dimmed even more according due respect to the world's greatest canine. 



The bartender frisbee'd a coaster in front of my favorite stool, one in from the end, pirouette'd like Nijinsky and pulled me the chilly glass of amber from a tap labeled "Pike's. The Ale that Won for Yale!" 

At the Tempus Fugit, as always scoffing at the a la mode manners and enthusiasms of today, beer is always served in six-ounce juice glasses, of the sort that were once give-aways at gas-stations with a fill-up. Beer should be cold, the bartender reminded me, in a larger glass it warms up before it goes down.

I drained the suds in one motion like a Central Park Zoo sea-lion with a herring and tapped my glass like Maestro Paganini his baton. In a trice, the mahogany in front of me was wiped dry and my glass was replenished.

"We shall not speak tonight of the noble Whiskey," he began. "Though I'll keep her water bowl perpetually filled awaiting her reappearance, which I'm sure will be sooner, rather than later."

"That's good," I mumbled. "I am already cried out. To say she was an angel is practically unfair to angels."

"You remember the Third Avenue Elevated," he plowed ahead.

"It was torn down before I was born. But I was told, 'You can't get to heaven on the Third Ave El, cause the Third Ave El only goes to hell."

"Cummings said much the same, uncapitalized, of course, with regard to the Sixth Avenue Elevated. 'it took/ a nipponized bit of/the old sixth/avenue/el; in the top of his head: to tell/him."

"Merry old e.e.," I lower-cased. I tapped the rim of my glass for another Pike's.

"Beneath the Third Avenue El were more Irish bars than there were in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Drogheda, combined." 


"I've seen Billy Wilder's 'The Lost Weekend' and I know those bars from Ray Milland's lonely Yom Kippur stagger up Third Avenue. Some of those bars are still there."

"Still there and still steaming corned beef in their hot tables."

"Ah I remember. There was a place near the 59th Street Bridge you could get a sandwich and a beer for $2."

"I heard a story one day, I won't say who told me, about a bartender in one such bar who, fishing through the brine for a well-pickled corned beef came up, instead, with a human hand in his ancient tongs."

The Cyclops loved Greek food and ate man-sized portions.

"Sounds like something Polyphemus might conjure."

"It was not No Man, but instead the left hand of an Irish yegg, nicknamed 'seven knuckles,' who had apparently cracked the wrong safe one-too-many times."

"And was thus distributed at hot tables up and down Third Avenue, like hard-boiled eggs in a giant jar at the edge of the bar or a barrel of good German pretzels."

"Two flatfoots were there in minutes and one of them, it's almost invariably the younger of the two who does the noticing, saw that the hand had more than the usual allotment of metacarpophalangeal joints.

"The older flatfoot concluded 'Tommy 'Seven Knuckles' Doolan.'"

"The fuzz were on it."

"The older flatfoot continued, 'There's an APB out on Seven Knuckles.' And the younger cop used a nickel in the payphone to call it into the station house."

"No cells in those days."

"No fuzz, either. It's when cops walked a beat. Ergo, pedal extremities and fallen arches."

I wrestled my winter jacket on against the pain of my torn right rotator and my arthritic left shoulder. I drained my remaining Pike's and pushed two twenties across the hard-wood."

"You'll be walking the canine beat again before you know it." He wiped the surface of the bar with his well-worn damp terry. 

I mumbled something that sounded like a negative.

"And on me," he said, pushing the two bills back.




Monday, January 23, 2023

The SOTOS. A Guest Post by Lesly Pyle.

Editor's Note: Lesly Pyle is a modern friend. We've never met. We've never spoken. But somehow I feel like I know her and I'd like to have a cuppa with her. Lesly explains more in her lovely post below. Check out her work. Say hi. LinkedIn. And mostly, enjoy.

Thanks, friend Lesly.




Jon Soto is a National Treasure.

He’s also a Creative Director. A Master of Comedy. And a Door Opener. But not like a concert gate attendant. The kind that helps others succeed.

Cut to September 27, 2015.

Yes. This was the exact date.

This was the day I won my first “SOTO.” Soto’s Caption Contest #152. I know because I had been trying for awhile. And when you finally win one of these rare awards, you don’t forget a thing. It wouldn’t be until May 23rd, 2016 that I would win again. Soto’s Caption Contest #170.

Soon after, the caption contests faded away in favor of Soto’s “Naming” competitions which appear in Facebook feeds across America with much anticipation every Wednesday and Friday.

Wednesday’s contests are “Soto’s Name That Thing.” It features random acts of comedy, such as “This Nail Polish Color Should Be Called _____. Or “This Movie Should Be Retitled_____.” The rules on Wednesdays are loose — allowing for puns, colloquialisms and references to existing things. Jon sees this as a warm-up to Friday — the most coveted of all contests:

“Soto’s Name That Band.”

The rules for naming bands and albums are as strict as the competition is fierce. But what all of Jon Soto’s contests have in common is a hilarious image he’s chosen as a creative prompt. Sometimes they’re curated photos from the bowels of the dark web. Sometimes they’re multiple images he’s disturbingly photoshopped together. Sometimes they’re beloved icons we’re invited to defile. But wherever his source material comes from, Jon will never tell. The mystique of never knowing what’s coming is part of the game. And if your entry gets the most votes, the name you suggested gets art directed by Jon and will be emblazoned on the winners’ page for eternity. Or until Tumblr gets bought by Elon Musk. Whichever comes first.

It may be silly, but it’s hard to understate what an honor it is to win. I’ve heard several highly-decorated creatives say they’d rather have a SOTO than a Cannes Lion. I call BS. But the fact that SOTOS and Lions are in the same conversation is saying something. And I believe they both possess the power to pry open new opportunities. Soto’s competitions level the playing field between lesser-known creatives and those featured in the press. You should see some of the big names Soto’s naming contests have sucked in. People like Gerry Graf. Cameron Day. And, none other than, George Tannenbaum.

In fact, The SOTOS are why George asked me to write this blog post.

The SOTOS are why, in part, TRG hired me.

The SOTOS are why people hate me.

Somehow, I’ve developed a big, fat target on my back. Somehow, I’ve become known as the one to beat. But as Rolling Stone magazine astutely observed in their classic “Perception vs. Reality” campaign, things are not always as they seem.

If you look closer on Soto’s winner pages (pasted at the end of this post), you’ll see “Yours Truly” come up often. I’ve never counted, but I’d guess it’s on there more than any other name. Who do you think that could be? Is it our National Treasure? Our Master of Comedy? Our Door Opener? Yes it is. Jon Soto is the real one to beat. But nobody hates Jon Soto. Because every Wednesday and Friday he brings creative types from all walks of life so much joy. It’s what kept me from going insane during two-years of Covid-era Solitary Confinement.

But even though I am not the actual GOAT of SOTOS, I do have several on my proverbial award shelf at this point. I should mention my actual award shelf has exactly zero Cannes Lions so take this advice with a grain of salt. I believe the secret to my SOTO success leads back to the day an ECD asked me for some writing samples. This was in 2013 when I was a Creative Assistant/Aspiring Writer. The ECD must have noticed the look of shock and fear on my face because a few minutes later, he returned from his corner office to deliver the following three words of wisdom:

“Don’t overthink it.”

That man was Jeff Goodby.

I overthought it.

But since then, I’ve gotten better about going with my gut. Or simply letting things spool in my subconscious. So thanks, Jeff. This SOTO’s for you.

The other tidbit I’ll offer is to vote for others. No votes = no fun. Jon Soto says it best: “If you enter once, be nice and vote thrice.” Plus, people hate you less. I vote. A lot.

Cut to the Near Future.

This brings us to the latest door The SOTOS have opened for me. The one that will hopefully have the greatest impact. Every dear creative soul I named above has donated a short story to my upcoming book: #PyleOfMemories. Its mission is to help raise money for Dementia research. And guess who’s designing the cover? Yours Truly. No, not me. I suck at that. It’s the one and only Jon Soto.

Thank you, Jon. Not just for what you’ve done for me, but for all of us. Including everyone who’s about to lose a ton of productivity going down these winner-page rabbit holes.*

*If the images you saw pasted here are any indication, you’re in for a very un-PC and un-PG ride.

You’ve been warned.

“Soto’s Name That Band” Winners: https://sotosnamethatbandwinners.tumblr.com/

“Soto’s Name That Thing” Winners:
https://sotosnamethatthingwinners.tumblr.com/

“Soto’s Caption Contest” Winners:
https://sotoscaptioncontestwinners.tumblr.com/






 

Friday, January 20, 2023

The World Plans; New York Laughs.

One of the reasons I so much love New York is that New York has a sense of humor like no place I have ever been. New York is a fast-paced city and to get along here you have to be a little quicker than other people. Quick on your feet. Quick-witted. Quick to shut up, too. 



A couple months ago I had lunch with a friend in one of the last Jewish delis in what used to be the garment district, Ben's. Ben's has a sign out front that says, "We cure our own corned beef. Our chicken soup cures everything else." 

Inside the cavernous restaurant, there's a joke written out that circles virtually the entire restaurant. It tells the story of a Chinese waiter who speaks perfect Yiddish. A customer is amazed and asks the manager how this feat came about. And the manager answers, "quiet, he thinks I'm teaching him English."

In any event, my cellphone had fallen in a gap between the wooden booth and the wall. I tried everything and couldn't reach it. The manager came over. He tried with a long stainless spatula. He couldn't get my cellphone either. After a while, an old Black waiter came over. He figured out how to move the bench. In a moment he had retrieved my cellphone. 

I made a crack of course about Jews being mechanically unable. The Black waiter heard that and when he handed my phone back to me, he looked me dead in the eye. "I knew you'd get it," I said. He paused a perfect Borscht Belt beat and then said "Shalom." Ten-dollar tip. Earned.

On Wednesday I had another such incident. I had a client meeting in Midtown and was trying to get through security at their building. I checked in with an older gentleman at the front desk. 

"I'm going to blank blank blank and blank," I said.

Again, Borscht Belt timing. "Not today you're not." Beat beat. "They're closed."

I was about to argue when I caught him smiling. He got me.

I said to him, "That's what I love about New York. Everyone is funny."

"I got you," he said.

We fist bumped and I was on my way.

There's a lot I hate about this misbegotten world, my misbegotten life and this misbegotten time we're living in.

But none of that's important when someone in the regular course of the day makes you laugh. It's special, godlike and extraordinary.

That's New York at its best.

And funniest.

No joke.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

In Memoriam. Whiskey. 2012-2023.

I was at a client yesterday in a pretty intense meeting. Then my cellphone rang and it was my wife on the other end. She was crying when I picked up. 

Whiskey died.

Between the time I left for the client at two and 3:30 when my wife called, Whiskey just gave out. I don't think I've ever cried so hard in my life. Including when my sister died and my best friend of 50 years.

Whiskey was a perfect creature.

As happy as any creature ever.

And she created more happiness than any creature ever.

I'm calling her a creature. Call it tannenbaum-deprecation. I think she was more a god than a dog. Blessed with the ability to live fully alive. Blessed with a lust for life. Blessed with a love of fun. And most important a love of love. She wanted a lot and she returned what she got with Warren Buffet-like dividends.

Whiskey got cancer when she was nearing eight. The doctors hoped we'd get a year more with her and we got almost three. But still.

I think of Sabatini's Scaramouche.

"He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad." Whiskey was too. And she embraced that world.

Running on the beach, jumping through the waves, swimming twelve months a year through the surf. And enjoying barbecue, where often I'd sneak her some steak or some chicken and my wife would too, pretending she didn't know that I had.

As I work predominately at home now, Whiskey would spend the day by my side.

I taught myself to type one-handed. Because for hours at a time, I'd hold one of her paws in my non-typing hand. You'd be surprised how good you can get at one-handed typing when you have a love like Whiskey training you.

Whiskey was such a gentle dog. I think in her almost eleven years she barked fewer than ten times. However, I took to teasing her by calling her "Killer." Everyone in my little Connecticut neighborhood got to know her, and half the people in my city neighborhood. We all got a laugh from Killer.

And now, finally, she's killed something. 

My heart.