Monday, May 13, 2024

It's (Not) a Miracle.

I grew up with something maybe worse than a dead father. 

I grew up with a dying father.

He had a massive infarction when I was in fourth-grade, when I was just nine. And from that point on, he was always on the brink of death.

He had another heart attack just seven years later, which didn't make things better. And then he suffered from a panoply of woes from smashing his finger to smithereens tying his small boat up to a stationary dock, to a variety of kidney and cancer issues. 

He lasted much longer than any of us expectorated, finally dying in a heap running to class at the age of 73. (He had become a marketing professor at Northwestern University.)

As a consequence of his infirmity, I started going to a cardiologist way back in 1981, when I was just 23. I've been going every year since then.

Back in 2013, I was in a major car accident and got into some fairly serious problems. I made the switch from my long-time doctor to the doctor who was considered the best heart-man in Manhattan. I've been seeing him ever since.

He guided me through a murmur and "elephant on the chest" pericarditis. It took time and patience and a rededication to exercise. But I prevailed--and had to jettison my fatboy wardrobe along the way. Every time I have to put on a suit, I'm reminded that whatever I'm wearing dates to one of my daughter's Bat Mitzvahs, more than two-decades ago.

About two years ago I was in once of his small examining rooms and he mentioned a prescription I was taking. 

"Keep taking _____________," he said. "It's a miracle drug. All the research and data say it's a miracle."

The next year he said virtually the same sentence but about a different pharmaceutical.

This year, he did it again.

This year, I caught him off-guard. "This one's a miracle," I said. "Last year you said that one was a miracle."

He was flabbergasted. He had forgotten about his previous year's enthusiasm.

My medical overture is over now. 

It's time to move to advertising.

Like my esteemed doctor, it seems like the entire advertising industry (maybe this is what Bernbach might have marked 'simple, timeless, human truth,')is looking for a miracle cure. Some flash of magic that zeroes in on people, magically reaches them with the right message at the right time and that pin-pointed-ness drives sales right away and a trip to Cannes.

Maybe it's all a part of the old saying, 'sell the sizzle not the steak.'

But here's my point.

In life, in cardiology, and maybe especially in advertising, there are no miracles. They are no if-then propositions. If you do this miracle results will ensue. In war, there are no miracle weapons. In sports, there are no miracle teams or miracle players.

We like the idea of miracles for the same reason 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999-percent of all people are seduced by the idea of 'something for nothing.' That a marital partner will bring untold warmth and happiness. That a car will make you sexy. That a college will pave the way. That a presidential candidate will change things. That a :06-second spot will make a sales' breakthrough.

All of that is wishful thinking.


All of that is delusional thinking.

There are no miracles.

There are things that appear miraculous, that for a moment or a year appear to do miraculous things, but those are really chimera.

Many years ago, way back in 1999, I got thrust into the middle of an account being led by the miracle-man himself, Steve Hayden. 

Holy shit.

We were on location somewhere in the suburban blight of upper-middle-class New Jersey shooting a package of three spots. I shared writing duties with Steve. The 'world's best TV art-director,' Susan Westre was art directing. 

The shoot was going well. We were laughing and believed the spots would be good.

The client came up to Steve. 

"It looks like we have a hit on our hands," he clichéd. "If only we didn't have that disaster the first round." (That disaster the first round is why I was brought up.)

Steve took a moment.

If I were a horologist, I'd have been able to hear Steve's gears turning. Maybe he took a second and closed both his eyes before he responded to the client.

"If we didn't have that disaster," he wised, "we wouldn't have this hit."

That's the end of the story.

There are no miracles.

Only work.

Only falling and getting up.



When I was just 21 or so, with a newly minted Masters' degree, back when Columbia University was still legitimate, I was going through Hemingway like the Cossacks through a shtetl.

I read this.

Maybe the miracle is I never forgot it. 

This was the main thing he had learned so far.

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