Friday, June 24, 2016

Of Brexit and Man.

My office, way over in East New Jersey as it is, has broad and expansive views of the Hudson River. Yesterday as I was doing what I do (running from one meeting to the next) I happened to do the unthinkable: I looked up from my phone and out the window.

There, in the giant martial shadow of a giant martial aircraft carrier--we live, let's face it in the giant martial umbra of our military-industrial complex--I saw down in the river, a gaggle of kayakers meandering and splashing their double-paddles.

The world is both an amazing and amazingly frustrating place. Today, or last night, we learned the news of Britain's exit from the European Union. Which to my cynical mind reads in big bold 144-pt. type, "if it can happen there, it can happen here."

Yes, we could elect the short-fingered dancing bear in our three-ring electoral circus as the next president of what Lincoln once called "the last best hope of mankind."

That is to say, it often feels like the world has spun off its axis and is about to hurtle into space. The DAX is down over 700 points and the FTSE 100 down almost 500. I don't even want to think about today's Dow and Nasdaq.

But then, I stop. 

Like Ishmael, "I find myself growing grim about the mouth...it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...[and] I find myself pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral..." 

But then, I stop.

I think about how the Hudson used to be. Viscous and inky, an open sewer. And while I still wouldn't set foot in it (though people do) there are those kayakers, like children in a playground laughing and splashing.

We are, I think, like rivers.

We can be all but dead and choked with effluvia and old shopping cars and a billion soda cans. And then, over time, we regenerate, we clean, we become, again, kayakable.


Maybe this is too optimistic for this dark day. Maybe we've finally destroyed Western thought along with earth's once-balanced ecosystem.

Who knows?

Maybe I'll ask the kayakers. When they come in from the river.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hello, and thank you.

I got another late start this morning. 

For one, my wife is out of town and I have more morning rigamarole than usual. Second, I had my usual Thursday morning therapy. And finally, I had a work review the moment I got in and haven't faced the computer till just this moment.

Yesterday, my friend-from-blogging, the redoubtable Rich Siegel over at Round Seventeen celebrated his 500,000 viewer. That reminded me, I have just passed my ninth year as a blogger. Yes, I have been blathering publicly in this space since the world was somewhat cooler, way back in 2007.

Since then, I have written over 4,600 posts. At 100 words a post, that's almost half a million words. That's about 1,500 written pages, or five 300 page books, which isn't an insignificant amount of output considering that I hold down a full-time job and this is just a hobby.

Also since then, I've made a few friends along the way. The aforementioned Rich is just one. There are others. And I'm not a person who makes friends easily. 

This blog has also helped me find jobs. Work when I was freelance, and full-time employment when I was looking for that. As much as it's important for people to gauge your talent based on your book, these daily doses of writing and thinking, of humor or serious thought, often serve as reminders of who you are, and how you work.

That's one reason why I encourage friends--especially friends who are looking for work, to start blogging. When you do this as avidly as I do, you have to do many of the things in blogging that you have to do in advertising.

You have to show up. You have to be fresh. You have to be readable and relevant. You have to find an audience, and keep it.

That's all for today.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Seeya tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Five minutes with our CYO.


Ad Aged: So, your title is CYO. In my boyhood that stood for Catholic Youth Organization. What does it stand for these days?

CYO: To be honest, with awards-season underway, I’m surprise you don’t recognize the acronym. CYO stands for Chief Yacht Officer.

Ad Aged: Chief Yacht Officer? What does that mean, what do you do?

CYO: Well, right now, we have dozens of high-priced executives in Cannes, for instance. You can’t expect all those executives to drink in ordinary bars, do you?

Ad Aged: I’m not sure I….

CYO: As Chief Yacht Officer, I am in charge of making sure that our agency has the best yacht possible for all our executive parties.

Ad Aged: And best means?

CYO: Well, our last CYO was fired for securing a 47-footer with two wet-bars whereas a competitive agency had a 74-footer with four wet-bars.

Ad Aged: I can see how that would be cause for dismissal.

CYO: In this era of cost constraint, pressures on the share price and decreasing margins, you can’t expect to uphold the image and reputation of an agency with anything less than a 100-foot yacht.

Ad Aged: Of course. Unfortunately, our five minutes are up. I thank you for your time.

CYO: I hope to see you aboard. Put I probably won’t.
Yachts are well-above your pay-grade.


Breakfast with Uncle Slappy.

Last night was a hellish night.

About 50 of us stayed well-past the witching hour to pull together a presentation this morning. That wouldn't have been remarkable or even worth talking about, except that Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie had flown in for a few days and I had to miss the evening with them.

When your surrogate old-man and old-lady are 88 and fly up almost exclusively to see you, well, it's a pity I had to demure.

I got home around 2:30, to a dark house, but nevertheless, was up just a few hours later, around 6, to keep a breakfast date with Uncle Slappy.

The two of us walked to an old 24-hour coffee-shop called Green Kitchen--a holdover from the decades following the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviets when my neighborhood, Yorkville, was a Hungarian-emigree enclave.

Green Kitchen is farther away from my apartment than half a dozen other such coffee-shops, but like I said, it has Hungarian owners and as such they offer really superior Danish pastries, including a poppyseed Danish that Uncle Slappy assures me is to die for.

We sat at a table near the back and drank our coffee and ate our pastries and we did what old Jewish men do and have done for all time, we moaned, we kvetched, we howled at the moon.

"Boychick," Uncle Slappy began. "Too hard you are working. For what? Working till two in the morning. You think maybe you're a street-walker."

"Ach, Uncle Slappy," I said. And it was all I needed to say because Uncle Slappy, of course, understood.

The old man pulled at a ringlet of cinnamon and nibbled at it lovingly, the way you might nibble at the lobe of a tall blonde's ear. 

"You have to decide," he said wiping his face with a cloth napkin. "You have money in the bank."

"I'm lucky that way. I've saved like a character from Dickens."

"You're still healthy."

I agreed. Nothing is really bothering me save for six months of dental surgery I have looming ahead of me.

"You have to decide when enough is enough."

The waitress filled our coffee cups and handed me the bill. Her name is Doris and I've known her since I moved into the neighborhood in 1982. I gave her a twenty for a ten dollar check and told her to keep the change.

She paid me back with the following:

"Listen to the old man," she said. "Listen."



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Uncle Slappy has root canal. (A repost)

I'm at the dentist this morning, and unable to write, so here's a repost:

Uncle Slappy just called and it worried me. He was slurring his words, never a good sign from an 86-year-old.


"I had to have," he told me "emergency root canal. It hurt worse than child birth."

"Uncle Slappy," I admonished, "you and Aunt Sylvie have no children. How can you compare anything to the pain of child birth?"

The old man got defensive.

"Believe me," he answered "I know pain. You don't get to be 86-years-old without becoming an expert in pain. I know all sorts of pain. Heart ache, and headache, and stomach ache, and back ache, and front ache, and foot ache, and knee ache, and shoulder ache, and elbow ache, and pupik ache. I have aches in places I don't even have places--psychic aches. If child birth felt like my mouth, there wouldn't be seven-billion people in the world."

The old man had a point. People willingly have children but nobody opts in to a root canal.

"So how are you feeling now? Are you better?"

"My mouth you could poke with a shish-kebob skewer and I wouldn't feel a thing. I'm as numb as a statue. Vicodin they gave me and some anti-ballistics. So alright I'll be in a bit."

"Well thank god you found a dentist working on a Saturday."

"Not a dentist," he corrected, "a fancy-schmancy endodentist."

"Endodontist," I said.

"When I was a boy, now then did we have a dentist. The worst dentist in all of Philadelphia was what we could afford since two dimes we didn't have to rub together."

"The worst dentist?"

"Thumbs Salzman. We called him Thumbs because dropping things he always was in your mouth. Once on the little pointy poker I almost choked to death. He speared my uvula like Moby Dick."

"That sounds absolutely horrific."

"Well, it was no picnic. But today with Dentist Mort Gershman, he was like a Maestro in my mouth, the Maven of the molar."

"I thought you said the ordeal was painful."

"The endodentisting, that hurt," the old man said. "But the real pain came later."

"When the novocaine wore off?" I asked.

"No," he said, pausing for the punchline. "When I got the bill."

And with that, he hung up the Ameche.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solstice Haiku.

First day of Summer,
Why are hipsters still wearing
Wool caps and flannel?

I leave Saltillo. Again.

When all the games are over (and games always end) it was time for me to say goodbye, once again, to Teresa and goodbye, once again, to Karman Rodriguez Barranca Costales. It was time to get back in my Ford Fusion and drive back through the desert, back past the sun-bleached Coca-Cola signs and the cactus, back beyond the green of Monterrey and the Praetorian guards at the border crossing, back to Corpus Christi, and back to New York.

I don’t remember the score of the game people paid to see between the Delfines and the Seraperos. I stopped caring about games long ago—except maybe for ones my kids played in, and even those, I knew, I know, are dumb and ephemeral. They’re games, after all. Games we play as we struggle to find meaning in a world where there is little. Games that help us pass our days. Games that give us something to talk about. But in the end, they’re games. As meaningless as flying a kite in the dark.

Teresa and Karmen walked me from the house to my rental car. I hugged Teresa and she handed me a small tin-foil wrapped package of bunuelos—donuts—she had made me, with the perfect ratio of cinnamon and sugar. I placed them, along with an iced-coffee on the little island between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s.

Karmen hugged me as well. And we kissed. And hugged again.

“It has been 41 years,” she said. “I have missed you.”

“There has hardly been a day when I haven’t thought of you,” I admitted.

No son siempre los días de vino y rosas.”

My Spanish is rusty, but I got it. “They are not long, the days of wine and roses.” Her Ernest Dowson got to me. “They Are Not Long” was always, since I first read it, one of my favorite poems.

I said to her, in English, like I said my Spanish is rusty.

“Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.”

She smiled a wistful smile. Like the smile I saw so long ago when I saw her in her White dress in the stands at Estadio Francesco I. Madura.

“Sigue sonando, Jorge,” she said, as I backed the Ford out of the drive to begin my drive away from home and to home.

“Sigue sonando, Jorge.”

Keep dreaming.

 



Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Father's Day Remembrance.



My father grew up in a row house in West Philadelphia. The neighborhood was poor and “ethnic,” full of immigrant families where English was not spoken. My father’s parents came from the old country—from Russia or Poland, depending on whose raping and pillaging army was ascendant, and they knew little of the language. They conversed in Russian or Polish or Yiddish, or even some German they learned along the way. My father called grapefruits “oranges” his whole life. Something in some Chomskied corner of his brain prohibited him from seeing the two fruits as distinct.

Despite this my father seems to have read more than anyone I have ever known. I say seems because he knew a million facts, he knew history like a PhD., but I never actually saw him read a book. He just somehow absorbed information from the ether.

My brother and I shared a bedroom in our little-tilted house in Yonkers. Though I was the younger brother, I had the top bunk. Even as a little kid, I couldn’t sit upright because our ceilings weren’t but six and a half feet high.

When my father was around, which wasn’t all that often, he would come into our bedroom to read us a book before we went to sleep. He wasn’t one to read us kid’s books. He didn’t value them and didn’t find them interesting. Even when I was, say three and my brother was five, he would be reading us Plutarch’s “Lives,” Malory’s “Le Morte d'Arthur,” “Gilgamesh” or maybe something more contemporary, “Washington Square” by Henry James or “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Hemingway. There was no Dr. Seuss for us.

One night, my father came into our bedroom holding a greasy brown paper bag and two copies of Richard Lattimore’s just published translation of Homer’s “Iliad.” From the bag he pulled out two sheathed daggers of the cheap sort that in those days you could buy at a museum gift shop of the corner candy store. The daggers were about ten-inches long from stem to stern, with the hasp and the sheath bedecked with ersatz plastic gems. He handed my brother a dagger and a copy of Lattimore. And then he did the same with me.

“Philip of Macedon slept with a copy of Homer and a dagger under his pillow against assassins,” my father said. “His son, Alexander the Great, did the same. And a few centuries later, Mithradates emulated the Macedonians by sleeping with the Iliad and a dagger under his pillow.”

My father continued as if in a trance. “Philip, Alexander, Mithradates. Three of the greatest, most enlightened leaders the world has ever known. Conquerors of Attika, Xerexs, Cyrus and Darius. Conquerors of the riches of the East. Lovers of democracy, liberators of the enslaved.

“I ask you to consider that these men slept with a dagger under their pillows and a copy of the Iliad.”

With that, my father left our room.

Everything would have been ok if things ended right there but, of course, they didn’t, they never do. In school, we were given one of those banal assignments where we had to describe what our dog was like, or our house or our bedroom. I chose to describe my bedroom, which in the scheme of things probably wasn’t the wisest choice because I revealed to my teacher, who revealed to the principal, who revealed to the Yonkers School District that I slept with a dagger under my pillow.

I suppose this all caused quite a stink. But of course, they totally neglected to say Homer was under there too.

Friday, June 17, 2016

This Band of Brothers. And Sisters.

I’ll be the first to admit, there is very little I detest more than working late.

The fact of the matter is, most often I’m the first one in the office in the morning and I do my best work while the frost is still on the pumpkin.

But now I am working with some of the best people I have ever worked with. On a major brand. With major challenges.

It’s demanding.

Tough.

Even enervating.

Annoying.

Frustrating.

That is the nature of work, maybe even the nature of relationships. And life itself.

You are, if you’re lucky, faced with things that challenge you. That scare you. That make you question yourself and your ability.

But time and again, working with really good people, with fortitude, you come through.

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 
Shall be my brother;"

Peace out, brothers and sisters.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Tempus Fugit Ghost Story. (A re-post.)

"When the Tempus Fugit opened up," the bartender said to me by way of introduction, "When the Tempus Fugit opened up, all the buildings around us that are health clubs and gourmet shops and doggy day-care and nail salons, were small industry."


He wiped the teak in front of me and pulled me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!) He hustled around from the back of the bar and brought Whiskey, my 21-month-old Golden Retriever a small wooden bowl of cold water.

"One of the businesses was owned by a German man, Berkholdt, I think it was. He was a flour merchant. Though it might of been Berkholdtz."

"I suppose it doesn't make a difference. They're both long gone."

He ignored my characteristic gloominess and plowed ahead with his tale.

"Mrs. Berkholdt--that's the name I'm landing on--was a big woman, and there was nothing she liked to do more than dance. Not the Charleston or the dances the flappers were doing. But formal waltz-like dancing, like she had grown up doing before she emigrated from Germany."

"This was a German neighborhood back then," I added.

"Berkholdt was quite prosperous and when the couple went to a ball, the Mrs. would gird herself with all kinds of jewelry. They were proud of their wealth--their accomplishment, and they liked showing it off.

"This particular dance happened in the summer, they might have been celebrating July 4th. In any event, it was hot as the gates of Hell in the dance hall. These were days long before air-conditioning."

I had finished Pike's number one and the bartender silently pulled me number two. He filled a small bowl with salted Spanish peanuts and pushed them in my direction. I pushed them, politely, away. As always, I am watching my weight. The last thing I need is salted nuts.

"Mr. and Mrs. B were having quite a time cutting the rug, as they say. But it was hot, and all of a sudden, Mrs. Berkholdt swoons and collapses to the floor."

"She was a big woman, I assume."

"They all were at that time. She had the arms of a butcher and the shoulders of a milkmaid. She was large, heavily dressed and dancing like St. Vitus.

"They tried to resuscitate her. An ambulance showed up, a local doctor. But she was gone."

"Dead," I said sagaciously.

He took my empty glass and dipped it into sudsy water and then into clean water. He polished it dry then filled it again.

"Berkholdt wanted her buried right away and he wanted her buried just as she died. In her dancing gown and in her jewelry. A day or two later, they were all ready to lay her to rest in the family vault in Woodlawn, in the Bronx. But just as they were about to commence with the burial, the heavens opened up."

"It poured," I added.

"It was positively diluvian. They laid her on a slab out of the rain and decided to try again the next day. Everyone left except for the undertaker. He saw her jewels and he wanted them.

"He took off her broach, removed her watch, her earrings. And wrestled a large gold ring from her finger. It was hard to get off. She had been running to fat, might have been swollen, or it could have been rigor-mortis. In any event, he ripped the skin of her finger as he was removing the ring."

I sipped at Pike's number three. "Go on," I said.

He said nothing for a good minute, instead he wiped the well-polished surface of the bar top with a damp white terry.

"Taking off the ring woke her up. She sat bolt upright and screamed. Of course the undertaker did too. And he ran away as fast as he could."

"Jesus."

"Jesus is right," he agreed. "Mrs. Berkholdt, I don't know how she did it--she made it out of the cemetery, out of the Bronx and right to our door. Right to the door of the Tempus Fugit. Where she collapsed again. And this time she really was dead."

"That's quite a story for a Sunday night," I said. And I shoved two twenties his way.

"Cover charge," I said, "for entertainment."

"On me," he said and he pushed the bills back.

Whiskey and I walked, gingerly, home.