Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Whore of Babylon. Revisited.

The Whore rides into Babylon on a seven-headed beast.
An old friend of mine called last week. He had just lost his job and was turning to me for some insights, and maybe a soft shoulder, about the world of freelancing.

Ordinarily, when I go out for a drink, I go solo and I go, almost exclusively to the Tempus Fugit. Many of my friends have asked exactly where the Tempus Fugit is, or have urged me to take them. But since it opened as a speakeasy 90 years ago and was thereby hidden down a labyrinth of hallways and stairways in a Verizon warehouse on way east 91st, I have yet to reveal its exact whereabouts.

The place is well-hidden and a secret. I intend to keep it that way.

That said, when my friend asked me if I knew a bar where we could bend an ear and an elbow, I came up empty. Finally, pressed, I blurted: "Let's go to a place I heard about on 114th and Pleasant Avenue, The Whore of Babylon."
Pleasant Avenue is often anything but.
I don’t usually think of city-planners as blessed with a sense of irony, but Pleasant Avenue is and always was a misnomer. It’s a scab of a street. The scabs hiding the bruises beneath. As such, however, the location suited my needs. It was far away from the sequined banality of the Upper East. Far away from the short-skirted and tight-shirted.
A long way from the short-skirted and tight-shirted of the Upper East Side.
The Whore of Babylon, tonight, would suit me just fine.

The Whore, like the Tempus Fugit, also started in the wake of Prohibition. It also boasts no sign and puts up a threatening front so as to discourage hipsters and other temporal phenomenon. Like the Tempus Fugit, it has made no concessions to the 21st Century. There are no flat screens, no music, no neon. Just a dark old bar, three tables shoved against a back wall, and a burly, Popeye-forearmed barkeep. His tattoos show no trace of irony.

We sat at one of the tables, the bartender brought over our beers, wiping our table damp before setting them down.

"Nice place," my friend said.

The bartender kicked at the sawdust accumulating on the floor.

"This was a place of dissolute wickedness in its day," the bartender began. "As they say, it was fairly swarming with hot and cold-running temptations."

My friend and I toasted to temptation. We drank to those we succumbed to and even more to those few we resisted. The bartender, quick as a furtive kiss, whisked around the bar and brought us another.

"So how is it," my unemployed companion asked. "How is it dealing with the caprices of the job market?"

"You are a ditch-digger now. Wake up, grab your shovel and dig."

"Dig?” he asked.

"This is when you find out if you did your homework. If your reputation's solid. If your opus precedes you."

"And if it doesn't?"

"Well, I can't help you there. Then you're the Whore of Babylon. A wicked creature, the Queen of the prostitutes riding on a seven-headed beast."

"Fuck, you're gloomy."

"There was a time when personality--even a personality on the spectrum like mine--was permitted. We're all supposed to be Little Mary Sunshine these days, but I am that I am."

He drained number two. I was about four sips behind him. I caught up, then signaled the bartender for a check.

We laughed for a minute, like old times. Laughed about the banality of our business. Laughed about being old when we knew each other when we were young.

“Stay away from bars like this,” I said as I got up to leave. “The Whore of Babylon blows often an ill-wind.”

I treated, and we walked silently home.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Shakespeare, Hamlet and Saturday night.

On Saturday night, my wife and I taxied to the Public Theater to see Oscar Isaac in Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

I've seen a lot of Shakespeare in my day--going back to visiting Stratford, Connecticut when I was in high school for a performance of "Macbeth."

My wife and I have been supporters of the Public for about 20 years. So we, more often than not, see two performances of Shakespeare a year, outdoors in the Delacorte Theater.

I've seen Anne Hathaway. Al Pacino. Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Kevin Spacey and other names I'm sure I've forgotten.

I dig Shakespeare.

It's not always easy to get through--and Hamlet, at 3 1/2 hours is his longest and most challenging play--the most Wagnerian of his opus.

A lot of people avoid things that are long and challenging. It seems to my jaded eyes that virtually every movie out today is essentially a video version of a comic book story I outgrew when I was 12. However, Shakespeare is Shakespeare. He deals in eternal truths and the rawest of conflicts and emotions.

Oscar Isaac, who blew me away five years ago in the Coen Brothers' "Finding Llewyn Davis," gave the greatest Shakespearean performance I have ever seen. 

Usually, when the Elizabethan English starts, your ears buckle for a bit and you miss 2/3rds of what's going on until you adjust to the 16th Century.

But Isaac's performance brought the language to life. The theater was silent when he spoke.

I leave you with this.

Perhaps the greatest passage in all of English literature.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The last of the breed.

This morning I had one of those happy circumstances.

My wife, an inveterate veteran freelancer, gets to bring Whiskey, our five-year-old golden retriever to her current office, and we share a cab to get there.

I hailed a beaten Toyota Prius as I was exiting my building and a cab-driver with a leonine grey mane screeched to a halt. As I was sliding across the vinyl, I checked out the number on his hack license. It was in the high 300s.

“You’ve been driving for a while,” I began.

“Ah, you noticed my white hair.”

“No,” I said, “I looked at your number. 35 years?”

“40. I’m the last white, English-speaking, Jewish cabdriver in New York.”

“You own the medallion, I take it.”

“Worthless. We’ve been done in by Uber, Lyft, Gett, Jett, Via, Scmhmia and Gonorrhea. There are more ride services than you can shake a lug wrench at. There are 60,000 cabs on the streets.”

We were speeding down Park, where the rich folk (the ones who get tax cuts live.)

“What was the best cab you ever drove?” I asked.

“The Checker. No more iconic cab for New York than the Checker. Just two problems with it.”

He waited with Jack Benny’s timing.

“No heat in the winter, no air in the summer. Outside of that, you could fit five people in it and they weren’t even touching.” I thought about my family, when I was young, piling into the back of one. My brother and me on the rickety jumpseats, my parents and sister sitting in the bench across.

He turned, disconcertingly while we were crossing East to West on 47th, to pet Whiskey’s head through the opening in the bullet-proof plexi.

“This is a dog,” he began. “My mother just got Chloe, a Muttipoo. Half-poodle half something else.” He showed me a small picture on his flip-phone.

It was time for me to exit the cab.

We shook hands goodbye.

“Julian Krause,” he said with his grip. “The last Jewish cabdriver in New York.”

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A modest Cannes proposal.

Publicis, the holding company with the ugliest name, announced the other day that the 693 agencies under its hairy corporate umbrella will not be permitted to enter awards shows in 2018.

I am a rare creative in that I don't gives a rat's ass about awards.

Not that I don't have an ego.

But when the awards shows started awarding fake work--or nearly fake work--they became meaningless to me.

When the awards shows started handing out awards by the scores, they became meaningless to me.

When awards, not a client's business success, became the motivating force in our industry, they became meaningless to me.

In any event, let's get back to Publicis.

If I were the bushy-eyebrowed Maurice Levy, or whatever of his acolytes made this fiduciary decision, I would have done so with more balls.

I would have done something with more balls--something simple.

I would have said, "We spent XX on award shows last year. And awards are about us. We want to do something for our industry and the world. Not about us. So we're taking half the money the holding company spent, X, and we're dedicating it to diversity efforts. We will become the most diverse agency network in the world--and in so doing, the best. That is worth more than all the awards we could possibly win."

That would be better for all of us.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nobody Asked Me, But....(Longest day of the year edition.)

Nobody asked me but is my periodic tribute to Jimmy Cannon, a great sportswriter for various New York newspapers--when New York had half a dozen or more papers competing for readership. When Cannon was blocked and had nothing to write about, he'd scribble one of these.

Nobody asked me but....

...if someone set up a hammock outside my office building, I'd take a nap.

...and I'd probably wake up more productive.

...I can't help but think marketers spend 11-cents getting the last dime out of their customers.

...I'd rather have a black and white soft-serve cone than just about anything.

....I can't think of anyone less well-suited to enjoy Cannes than me.

...of course, I've always been an iconoclast.

...misanthropy is something I've acquired as I've aged.

...and I'm proud of that.

...and I've earned it.

...if you want to see how dumbed down our world's become, watch an early '60s game-show, like "College Bowl" on YouTube.

...Those Facebook "placards" with quotations on a brightly-colored background make me admire Charles Whitman.

...Chances are, you'll have to look that last one up.

....There should be no such thing as a Kindergarten graduation.

...The longer the day of the year, the shorter women's dresses.

...I've never learned anything from a top-ten list.

...Most lists, including (or especially this one) are dumb

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Five minutes with a CIDO. (Live from Cannes.)

AD AGED: Hello, I hope you’re enjoying Cannes as much as I am. And thank you for agreeing to spend five minutes with me.

Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is a CIDO?

CIDO: Well, look around you. And it’s obvious what my job is, what I do and why I’m needed.

I am a Chief Is Dead Officer.

AD AGED: A Chief Is Dead Officer? I’m sorry, I can’t quite fathom that. Perhaps you could elucidate.

CIDO: It’s simple, really. I proclaim things dead.

AD AGED: So, you’re something of a corporate coroner?

CIDO: Not exactly. I say things are dead when my agency isn’t able to do them.

So, if we’re staffed more with technologists and financial people than creative people, I’m in charge of saying “Creativity is Dead.”

AD AGED: I see. Is it?

CIDO: That’s not the point. Because if you get right down to it, Reality is Dead. Big Ideas are Dead. Television is Dead. Print is Dead. Digital is Dead. Radio is Dead.

AD AGED: You’re pretty good at this dead thing. Anything else?

CIDO: Not to be harsh, but the fact is, insipid interviews like this…they’re dead, too.

AD AGED: Well, thank you for your time today. One more question. Is there anything that isn’t dead?

CIDO: Yes. Rose´.