Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Three days off

My 29-year-old daughter, Sarah, is a serial graduator. Today, my wife and I venture north to join Sarah in her graduation from her Doctoral Internship. This is about the third or fourth ceremony we've attended in the past year. But that's fine. And we couldn't be more proud.

My wife had the car out yesterday. Commuting to New Jersey on assignment for her agency. 

On her way home, as I was getting ready to leave, she called me, somewhat frantic.

"The car is shaking," she tremolo'd.

I tried to calm her down as husbands do so effectively by yelling.

As she further described the problem, I grew more and more concerned. We were planning to leave for New Hampshire first thing in the morning.

"Should I take it to the Shell station on 117th?" she asked.

"No. I'll call up Lothar." Lothar is our Croatian mechanic, and probably the #1 Simca repairman in the northeast. 

He's probably the only Simca repairman in the northeast.

And the northwest.

And the country, continent, hemisphere. Perhaps the world.

I ran to Port Authority and took the long bus ride to Toms River, New Jersey to meet Lothar and my wife.

I was there already when my wife drove our 1966 Simca 1500 into Lothar's garage.

He listened as she drove in.

"A spark plug and coil in the third and fourth cylinders," he said. He had his tools out before my wife had stopped the car. 

In short order, Lothar had the Simca running like a top. Or at least as much like a top as you can expect from 1966 Simca 1500. 

My wife and I drove home without incident. And now, fewer than 12 hours later, we are on our way to New Hamphire.

Wish us luck. 

More important, wish the Simca luck.



Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bad mood Tuesday.




I think the central problem with much of American life--at least life depicted on TV or in political campaigns is one of cognitive dissonance. That is, we show a reality dramatically different from what's really real.

video
During the Olympics I saw a horrible commercial for United Airlines about 100 times. Even if it were good, I'd be exhausted by it after 100 views. But this spot was so mind-numbingly overblown and dumb--so divorced from the reality of air travel that it made me hate the brand even more than I did before the spot ran.

Every action, every fake smile, every element and scenario depicted in this blight is an affront to anyone with taste and a sense of what air travel is really like. If you put it on a continuous loop--which they essentially did--it could serve as some sort of Clockwork Orange torture inflicted on serial miscreants. The advertising equivalent of waterboarding.

The un-ending BMW spots were almost as pervasive and pernicious. Worst about them was they have such a great product in such a competitive market and they were able to say nothing. Worse they said nothing with such overblown pomposity that they made me think Little Lord Fauntleroy should be their brand's spokesperson.

For those of us old enough to remember the great BMW advertising done by Ammirati & Puris, it was like Hamlet acted by the cast of Duck Dynasty.

There were too many more to mention here. The overblown spot for someone--a sporting goods store, a brand of sugar water, that told us how trace amounts of gold are in our hearts. Some McDonald's spot that showed us how love blooms via chicken McNuggets.

You know the tripe.

You can only ask.

Is this the best we can do?


Monday, August 22, 2016

Uncle Slappy and the Olympics.

I was doing what I like to do most this Sunday evening. I was listening to classical music—something by Gonoud—when she asked me to turn off the radio and turn on the closing ceremonies, aka, the closing commercials of the Olympic Games in Rio.

Knowing what I know about marital felicity, I, of course, complied. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about flags, smiles, bombast and pomposity, the closing ceremonies were it.

Fortunately at the very moment my head was about to spin 360-degrees around and I was to start spewing green vomit and commence with the incantation “Bob Costas, Bob Costas, Bob Costas,” the land line rang. That can only mean one thing, Uncle Slappy was calling.

I quickly ran into our bedroom, picked up the phone and closed the door against the Hellenic blather.

“Boychick,” the old man began. “You are not watching the closing pheromonies?”

“Frankly, Uncle Slappy, I’ve had more than enough.”

“I’ve had more than enough since the 1964 games in Tokyo. And they’re only worse today with all the commentators and the commercials. They’re like hemorrhoids for your mind.”

I laughed at that and gave him the courtesy of a long pause.

“Besides, an Olympic medal is ok. But it’s not the top award in the world.”

“No, I suppose that’s the Nobel Peace Prize,” I offered.

“Not even close. With Aunt Sylvie watching so much of the Olympics, I went down this afternoon to “From Schmear to Eternity.”

From Schmear to Eternity is the bagel place and deli about two strip malls from Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Slappy’s condo complex.

“They are revamping their menu. They are honoring people by naming sandwiches after them. The Sol Schuster is corned beef, chopped liver and a slice of red onion on pumpernickel.”

“You’re making me hungry,” I admitted.

“The Norma Weintraub is roast beef, turkey and swiss cheese.”

“Not my cup of tea, that one, but I suppose it has its appeal.”

“Even Soupy Weinstock has a sandwich named after him. Turkey, tongue, pastrami, cole slaw and Russian dressing.”

“That sounds like something Soupy would eat.”

“Would eat and would make you pay for,” Uncle Slappy clarified. “The man never met a check he decided to pick up.”

“How about you, Uncle Slappy? Were you so honored?”

“Me, I got the best.”

“Corned beef, pastrami, brisket with cole slaw. The Uncle Slappy.”

“That’s it,” the old man said.

“Sounds delicious.”

“It’s better than delicious.” I could swear I heard him sample a bite. “It’s positively Olympian.”


And with that, he hung up the blower.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A long week's journey into Friday.

My 29-year-old daughter, the PhD., is training for her first marathon. Last weekend, in the crushing heat and humidity, she woke up at five in the morning and did a 15-mile training run.

She called me afterward. She likes to talk. And you get only one old man. 

"Dad," she said, "It was rough."

"Like the Bataan Death March, I assume." Using a reference her generation--probably anyone born after me, would find abstruse, at best.

I explained the death march. Where in blazing heat and humidity the Japanese marched 60,000-80,000 Philippine and American prisoners 70 miles through the jungle, watching thousands of them die along the way.

Sometimes, work feels like a death march. There's too much to do. Too many people. Too many assignments. Too many opinions. And certainly too many deadlines.

Of course, this is melodramatic. I sit at my desk most often, in a lovely air-conditioned space. I can spin in my chair and see the beautiful Hudson and an occasional wistful sail-boat sliding by.

Nobody hits me. 

All things considered, I'm competitively paid.

Still, in weeks like the past one, you can often feel like you're at the wrong end of a shooting gallery. That no matter how many hours you burn, or how expeditious you are, well, the bullets just keep coming.

But now, now, it is Friday.

It's still just before 9 and virtually no one else is in. At least up here on the creative department's floor. And we've made it to Friday.

Of course, we'll have work this weekend. email to read, things to review. Eyes to dot and tees to cross.

But we've made it through another week-long death march. And we have a small bowl of rice to savor.

Happy Friday.




Thursday, August 18, 2016

The future. And how not to avoid it.

I love my job.

I love to write, and in this job, I get to write in what sometimes seems like dozens of channels. I get to write TV commercials, print ads, websites, banner ads, social tiles, tweets, speeches, and more.

But like many people who make their living with words and who care passionately about them, I worry. 

I worry about the future of words.

Most specifically, I worry about print. Especially the efficacy of print as an advertising medium in a world where it seems no one anymore reads an actual paper newspaper.

Last night, I walked east, to Eighth Avenue and The New York Times building, where I attended a panel discussion called "Journalism of the Future."



Given that title, I was hoping for a comprehensive look at various techniques on how to engage readers in the digital age. I was hoping for, maybe optimistically, some advice about changing reading habits.

What I got was a 90-minute POV on the Times' pioneering use of Virtual Reality in their paper. The panel, lead by Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief of The New York Times Magazine, included Sam Dolnick, who's in charge of the Times' digital transformation, Jenna Pirog, who's journalism's first "Virtual Reality Editor," and Graham Roberts, a Senior Graphics Editor.

I've always been skeptical about virtual reality--I am a traditionalist by nature, and, as a reader of the Times for almost 50 years, I hold the traditions and the standards of the paper almost sacrosanct.

But the panel convinced me.

They could put you among refugees in South Sudan. They could bring you to Pluto--or to the Kabaa in Mecca. They could show you the place on the Mexican-American border where a border patrolman shot a Mexican kid to death through a chain link fence.

Virtual reality, to hear the Times' panel tell it, is essentially a word-less medium. Which worries me. But that doesn't mean it isn't backed by the standards of the Times and a certain writerly fastidiousness.

I, for one, will never hold a cardboard box to my face to consume my journalism. Like I said, I am no early-adopter.

But I left the Times' building last night at a little after 8PM, feeling that something new is happening, something big and important.

You can learn more about it here.

And you probably should.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Remember those great Volkswagen ads?" The Movie.


About 60 years ago, DDB and Volkswagen showed the world how to do advertising.

They created, without question, the greatest advertising ever created. The greatest copy ever written.

(We have forgotten, I'm sad to say, almost everything DDB taught us. We are back to bombast, complication and decoration. But I digress.)

Some years ago, my friend, John O'Driscoll, published with Alfredo Marcantonio and David Abbott, a book every lover of advertising should own...and maybe memorize:
Remember those great Volkswagen ads?

On Monday, John sent me a link to an 18-minute documentary with the same title. It features Helmut Krone, the original art-director, Julian Koenig, the original writer, a little too much George Lois and several British advertising luminaries, including Dave Trott, Sir John Hegarty, Sir Alan Parker, and both John and Alfredo.

Do you have 18 minutes? You can see the entire movie here. 

It's not an over-promise to say you will be a better creative for having watched.

And maybe, even, a better human. 















Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ghosts, my sister and Choo Choo Coleman.


I don't really believe in ghosts, but I do believe we get visited by vivid spirits or visceral memories from our past. These spirits don't haunt me. Now and again, however, they do drop in to give me some words of advice or to just squeeze my hand with a reassuring grip.

Even my father, whom I was never close to, and certainly not "touchy" with, has come by--it's been 15 years since he died. The other day he put his arm around my shoulder and then he left as quickly as he came.

My sister, Nancy, however is more social. Nancy died in a motorcycle crash in 2007 at the age of 47. She comes by about once every two weeks.

Last night at 2:47 she woke me up and told me to go read the newspaper. She pointed me to the obituary you can find here of one of the worst players to ever play in the major leagues, Choo Choo Coleman.

Roger Angell wrote of Coleman in "The New Yorker." "He handles outside curve balls like a man fighting bees.” 

Nancy was born on Valentine's Day in 1960 and the New York Mets sprung into life in April, 1962--bringing National League baseball back to New York after the desertion by the Polo Grounds' New York Giants and Ebbets Field's Brooklyn Dodgers.

Quickly the Mets emerged as the worst team ever to play the game. In their first two seasons they won a total of just 91 games--a total that many more respectable teams could amass in just one season.

I don't remember a lot about Nancy when she was a baby. I was only two years older than she. But I remember that some of her first words mentioned the player pictured above: Choo Choo Coleman. 

There was something about the name that made children laugh, and Nancy was no exception. I remember her at the age of two or three, in 1962 or 1963, running around our little tilted house singing, "homerun Choo Choo Coleman."

My parents were inveterate Phillies fans, so it's likely that Nancy's words took place after a Mets loss to the Phillies exactly 54 years ago on August 15, 1962. Coleman hit a homer that day off of Art Mahaffey.

Nancy probably imitated the excitement of an enthusiastic radio announcer.

"Homerun Choo Choo Coleman."

Run home Nancy Tannenbaum.



Monday, August 15, 2016

A summer's day in New York.

For about the last five days, the city has been under siege by a lump of warm, humid, almost fetid hot air. The heat, the oppressive heat, sits upon us like a fat man sitting too close in a crowded subway car.

The heat, the oppressive heat has slowed the city down. Last night, after a heavy half-hour rain storm that didn't cool things down, I went out with Whiskey for her evening walk.

There's a Puerto Rican family down the street who live in one of the old tenements that were occupied by the Irish and German and Italian and Hungarians before them. They are a fixture on the block, as are Whiskey and I. We don't really talk, but we say 'hello,' and we comment on the weather, or whatever is going on on the block.

They were in foreign territory yesterday, on the other side of the block, in a group of about a dozen, sitting in cheap beach chairs in the well-regulated gush of a dog-stained fire hydrant. They had brought out old buckets of various sizes and were filling them and throwing water at each other. Their laughter was the loudest noise of a quiet New York.

Alongside them, next to the hydrant sat a giant black New Foundland dog who probably weighed 150 pounds. Her broad pink tongue, bright against the black of her fur, rustled from her panting moving in and out of her broad mouth like the sleight of hand of a boardwalk magician.

Whiskey and I walked east, toward the river, looking at the huge stratocumulus turning salmon in the sunset. Other dog walkers were out and moms pushing strollers returning from the park with their kids, and dads with kids on their backs like chimpanzees.

We stopped after five blocks or so, with Whiskey looking at me and seeming to say, "don't you know what the real-feel temperature is?"

I ignored her, refusing to go home until she completed everything a dog is supposed to do in the evening. Finally she finished the uglier of her tasks making a significant deposit next to a woman who was sitting on a stoop talking on the phone and smoking a cigarette.

The woman was too languid to move and simply smiled at her predicament. I removed the offending detritus and made my way home, to the cool of central air-conditioning that cools my apartment even against the vector of my wife's surpassing but near incessant cooking.

Whiskey settled at the foot of my chair. I put the Rio Olympics on the television set, drew a glass of seltzer and finished, finally, this week's edition of the Sunday Times crossword.

I hardly broke a sweat.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Before Air Conditioning. (A guest-post from Arthur Miller).

From "The New Yorker," June 22, 1998.

One of the finest things I have ever read by one of my many writing heroes.
I first read this almost 20 years ago and it remains something I look at when
New York is having a heat wave.


Exactly what year it was I can no longer recall—probably 1927 or ’28—there was an extraordinarily hot September, which hung on even after school had started and we were back from our Rockaway Beach bungalow. Every window in New York was open, and on the streets venders manning little carts chopped ice and sprinkled colored sugar over mounds of it for a couple of pennies. We kids would jump onto the back steps of the slow-moving, horse-drawn ice wagons and steal a chip or two; the ice smelled vaguely of manure but cooled palm and tongue.
People on West 110th Street, where I lived, were a little too bourgeois to sit out on their fire escapes, but around the corner on 111th and farther uptown mattresses were put out as night fell, and whole families lay on those iron balconies in their underwear.
Even through the nights, the pall of heat never broke. With a couple of other kids, I would go across 110th to the Park and walk among the hundreds of people, singles and families, who slept on the grass, next to their big alarm clocks, which set up a mild cacophony of the seconds passing, one clock’s ticks syncopating with another’s. Babies cried in the darkness, men’s deep voices murmured, and a woman let out an occasional high laugh beside the lake. I can recall only white people spread out on the grass; Harlem began above 116th Street then.
Later on, in the Depression thirties, the summers seemed even hotter. Out West, it was the time of the red sun and the dust storms, when whole desiccated farms blew away and sent the Okies, whom Steinbeck immortalized, out on their desperate treks toward the Pacific. My father had a small coat factory on Thirty-ninth Street then, with about a dozen men working sewing machines. Just to watch them handling thick woollen winter coats in that heat was, for me, a torture. The cutters were on piecework, paid by the number of seams they finished, so their lunch break was short—fifteen or twenty minutes. They brought their own food: bunches of radishes, a tomato perhaps, cucumbers, and a jar of thick sour cream, which went into a bowl they kept under the machines. A small loaf of pumpernickel also materialized, which they tore apart and used as a spoon to scoop up the cream and vegetables.
The men sweated a lot in those lofts, and I remember one worker who had a peculiar way of dripping. He was a tiny fellow, who disdained scissors, and, at the end of a seam, always bit off the thread instead of cutting it, so that inch-long strands stuck to his lower lip, and by the end of the day he had a multicolored beard His sweat poured onto those thread ends and dripped down onto the cloth, which he was constantly blotting with a rag.
Given the heat, people smelled, of course, but some smelled a lot worse than others. One cutter in my father’s shop was a horse in this respect, and my father, who normally had no sense of smell—no one understood why—claimed that he could smell this man and would address him only from a distance. In order to make as much money as possible, this fellow would start work at half past five in the morning and continue until midnight. He owned Bronx apartment houses and land in Florida and Jersey, and seemed half mad with greed. He had a powerful physique, a very straight spine, a tangle of hair, and a black shadow on his cheeks. He snorted like a horse as he pushed the cutting machine, following his patterns through some eighteen layers of winter-coat material. One late afternoon, he blinked his eyes hard against the burning sweat as he held down the material with his left hand and pressed the vertical, razor-sharp reciprocating blade with his right. The blade sliced through his index finger at the second joint. Angrily refusing to go to the hospital, he ran tap water over the stump, wrapped his hand in a towel, and went right on cutting, snorting, and stinking. When the blood began to show through the towel’s bunched layers, my father pulled the plug on the machine and ordered him to the hospital. But he was back at work the next morning, and worked right through the day and into the evening, as usual, piling up his apartment houses.
There were still elevated trains then, along Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Avenues, and many of the cars were wooden, with windows that opened. Broadway had open trolleys with no side walls, in which you at least caught the breeze, hot though it was, so that desperate people, unable to endure their apartments, would simply pay a nickel and ride around aimlessly for a couple of hours to cool off. As for Coney Island on weekends, block after block of beach was so jammed with people that it was barely possible to find a space to sit or to put down your book or your hot dog.
My first direct contact with an air-conditioner came only in the sixties, when I was living in the Chelsea Hotel. The so-called management sent up a machine on casters which rather aimlessly cooled and sometimes heated the air, relying, as it did, on pitchers of water that one had to pour into it. On the initial filling, it would spray water all over the room, so one had to face it toward the bathroom rather than the bed.
A South African gentleman once told me that New York in August was hotter than any place he knew in Africa, yet people here dressed for a northern city. He had wanted to wear shorts but feared that he would be arrested for indecent exposure.
High heat created irrational solutions: linen suits that collapsed into deep wrinkles when one bent an arm or a knee, and men’s straw hats as stiff as matzohs, which, like some kind of hard yellow flower, bloomed annually all over the city on a certain sacred date—June 1st or so. Those hats dug deep pink creases around men’s foreheads, and the wrinkled suits, which were supposedly cooler, had to be pulled down and up and sidewise to make room for the body within.
The city in summer floated in a daze that moved otherwise sensible people to repeat endlessly the brainless greeting “Hot enough for ya? Ha-ha!” It was like the final joke before the meltdown of the world in a pool of sweat.