Friday, December 9, 2016

A trip cross town.

I couldn't get out of bed this morning like I usually do. Most often, I growl out from beneath the covers at around 3:45AM, read for a couple hours, do a little writing, spend a little time with Whiskey, my wife and whatever kids are home, then get to work around 7:30 or 8, to essentially do more of the same.

But this morning I felt like an old grizzly who had called it quits for the cold winter months. I had hibernated myself into a deep sleep and, really, felt no desire to wake up until this horrible, impending Trumpian New World Odor is over.

When I finally, growled out of bed, the first thing I did was check my goddamned Microsoft calendar to see if the Meeting-Makers-In-Chief would allow me a rare Friday of repose away from the sturm and drang of the iron-maiden of an office.

Now I am in the back-most-seat of a Chrysler van creeping across town--an hour too late to win the perennial lost battle against Christmas traffic.

We are inching across town only slightly faster than the receding of an old man's hairline or the disappearance of the Arctic ice sheet, and I am thinking of my father.

The old man, who, unlike me, was in many respects, old at 30, had an easy quip for any situation. And sometimes, I'll grudgingly admit, his glibness was underpinned with a foundation of wisdom, or at least a wise world-weariness, that explained the way things were and were Sisyphusian or at least existential in their chemical make-up.

I remember one hot August, I was just a boy, Frank Sinatra was on the radio singing "Strangers in the Night," a song that was played a million times that summer. A grave and gravel-voiced announcer came on the crackle of the AM and said something over my head about Cuba and naval blockades and missiles, and we sat there in my father's 1949 Studebaker, filled, despite the open windows with blue cigar smoke and cancer, and my father creeping in his Studebaker slowly west to east crosstown, going somewhere with his son.

In those days, he would be stopped by a pretzel guy or a hotdog cart and he'd buy a couple dogs right from behind his steering wheel and hand me one slopped with mustard dripping from the ancient antediluvian hotdog water from which it swam like ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny and feed me my lunch there inching crosstown amid the cigar smoke, the end of the world and the traffic.

Then he would break the silence and finally, after one block in twenty minutes say, "The only way to get across town is to be born there."

He would return then to his noisy silence and internal reveries and leave me with that riddle which I would turn over my head for hours and days and weeks, months, years and decades, unable to determine, too young, to raw, too dumb to know if it was wise or funny, sage or satirical.

But somehow, this morning, 55 or so years later, as we make our glacial way across town, I think of my old man and the line.

Can you smell it?

The cigar smoke, I mean.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Reflections in an antique mirror.

I’m writing this in the last few moments before I turn 59.

Fifty fucking nine to put a point on it.

That’s right I have, I’m more than a little saddened and chagrined to say, just completed yet another circuit around the sun.

Being 59 in advertising, well, you might just as well be a Stegosaurus or have sprung from the earth around the same time as boulders.

On the one hand, I know that when Mozart was my age, he was dead for 24 years. On the other, I know creative people routinely produce some of their greatest work in their 80s or even 90s.

Nevertheless, fuck.

I am as old as dirt.

Eisenhower was President when I was born.

There were 48 states.

We had proper winters back then with galoshes and snow.

Shit. We used words like galoshes.

It’s not easy being older than everyone around you, every day and in every meeting.

Even though I have an abundance of energy and probably produce more work and solve more problems than anyone, there are days when I feel positively Cro Magnon.

I suppose I could lose some avoirdupois, dye my hair, sport a soul patch and a tat and start lying about things. Maybe I’d last longer if I did. Maybe I’d feel less-estranged and less the odd-man-out.

I could call co-workers ‘Brahs.’

And drink Pabst Blue Ribbon the second-time-around, this time with irony.

But no.

As Popeye said, ‘I yam who I yam.’

When they kick me to the curb, or in the pained parlance of Willy Loman, ‘eat the orange and throw away the peel,’ well, what can you do?

This is a business where you’re old at 30, and I’m practically double that.

Eventually they’ll have their way with me. They’ll tire of my idiosyncrasies and they’ll hand me my walking papers.

I’ll be the old gunslinger, going out not in a hail of bullets but with a whimper. Like MacArthur, fading away.

Until then, I’m gonna keep writing.

With any luck, better than anyone.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Grey December, early.

Here we are in deep and dark December and I have a pile of work hanging over me that's accumulating like the blizzards we used to get when the world was some degrees cooler and maybe some measures saner.

The tops of the buildings I see over in midtown, some blocks to the east from our lonely outpost on 11th Avenue, are shrouded in fog. The air is damp with impending rain.

The office is bright in its obsequious fluorescence but quiet. The desks are silent sentinels, waiting to be manned--or womanned--waiting for noise and work to begin.

I have Coltrane's "Favorite Things" on my iPod. A masterpiece of melody and improvisation. Wild, yet restrained. Free, yet tethered. It was something I needed to hear this morning. Its dissonance and euphony.

We are, happily, coming to the end of this benighted year. This horrible year where hate has been awakened and energized. Where a rabid know-nothing has emerged as the leader of the free-world. God only knows what will happen. If dissent will be crushed, like the poor will be under their heavier than ever tax burden.

But that's enough for now.

It's early in the morning.

And like Frost, 
I have promises to keep.
And miles to go,
Before I sleep.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The 7 richest people in advertising, ranked by their distance from actual work.

7. T. Snavely Pilkington, $3,452,188. Pilkington has his four personal assistants remove all ads from all media he sees. They even stand in front of his TV during commercial breaks.
6. Ersatz Mergatroid, $3,659,008. Mergatroid has been with since it was a bait and tackle shop in Coventry. He has yet to meet a creative person.

5. Lazslo J. Tupperware, $3,882,989. As head of legal affairs, Tupperware has had many legal affairs.

4. H. Robert Hrobertson, $4,008,210. Board member for three decades, Hrobertson once said the word ‘mechanical,’ but that was in 1977.

3. Elmer Prettywillie, $4,222,208. Prettywillie famously said at ‘UnSeen2016,’ a conference on interactive advertising, “The effectiveness of ads that never ran is declining.”

2. Ambroze Sniggot, $9,459,775. Global Worldwide Director of Worldwide Global Insight Experiential Activation, Sniggot speaks no discernible language.

1. Trapeze Hiwire, $21,989,002. Fully half of Hiwire’s compensation is compensation for being compensated.

Some thoughts on New York, Jean Renoir and more.

This morning, as I do so many morning, I was ruminating (perhaps my therapist would say 'perseverating') about New York and the many changes I have lived through, since I was born seven miles from mid-town way back in the black-and-white fifties.

Lately, don't ask me why, I've been somewhat fixated on the crispy sugar donuts that came individually wrapped and with a cuppa for 77-cents at the undulating formica counter of the Chock Full O' Nuts coffee shop at 116th and Broadway.

Somehow, spreading out the hot-type Times on the counter and absentmindedly sipping away at the bottomless Joe and nibbling at the sweet and greasy donut was the height of civilization.

Many years ago, the great French director, Jean Renoir said something that's always stayed with me. (Renoir directed half a dozen of my favorite movies, including "Boudu Saved from Drowning,' and 'Rules of the Game,' which is regarded by many amongst the cognoscenti as the greatest movie ever made.) 

Renoir said, "All great civilizations have been based on loitering." 

How I wish the timesheet police who run our lives and the arbiters of everything would understand that downtime--thinking time--is necessary for us to be creative. 

That Chock Full O' Nuts was, for me at 17 and skinny and scared and overwhelmed in New York was the perfect place for loitering. It was there I plotted my novels, where I wrote my theses, where I studied my amo amas amat while trying to make eye contact over there in the corner by the knocked-down pepper shaker with that blonde in the argyle sweater.

This morning walking the long way to work--getting out of my car about two miles from my assigned work space, I walked and loitered and like I said, ruminated my way to work.

Crossing 9th Avenue I ran into the guy you see photographed here and I noticed two things about him. One, he was smoking a cigarette while carrying another butt unlit out of the side of his mouth looking nasty and dangerous like George Raft in an old Warner Brothers 'shoot 'em up.'

Second, I noticed the hat he was wearing. A great editorial, if you ask me, about the impending Trumptastrophe and the anesthetized world we seem to be living in.

No, I'm not nostalgic for the days when New York averaged nearly seven murders a day. I like not walking down the street at night with my keys interwoven between my knuckles like a set of improv brass knuckles.

Still and all, I miss the old place sometimes. And sometimes I feel like rewriting Graham Greene's or Carol Reed's opening lines to the American version of "The Third Man."

"I never knew the old Vienna before the war with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm."

Well, I did know the old New York. 

Muggers, drunks, and poverty aside. 

I sometimes miss the entropy of the old place.

And I miss the loitering.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A dark night in the Tempus Fugit.

Last night, or more precisely, this morning at 3:32, the battle between me and Dame Insomnia finally ended, with the Princess of Sleeplessness being declared the winner for the eighteen thousandth night in row.

I peeled myself from beneath the down my wife has piled over the bed, one layer, two layers, three layers, more. We have so many toppings on the bed, we are ready, not for the world turning into a cinder as it burns in its own exhaust, but for the return of Mammoths to Manhattan and ice-floes in the Hudson.

I threw on an old pair of sweats I leave by the side of my bed and a pair of what we used to call sneakers before even footwear got fetishized. Whiskey, obedient, bent her head to receive her collar and we walked a mile uptown to the bar that time forgot, the Tempus Fugit.

The bartender was slumped over the mahogany, reading a 1961 edition of the "New York Journal-American" and smoking a White Owl "Invincible" five-cent cigar. 

I interrupted him through the haze of blue cigar smoke.

"What's new in the world?" I said with more than a soup├žon of sarcasm.

He put down the old newspaper, opened his cash-register and laid his still-lit panetella atop a stack of ones in the cash drawer. He took a six-ounce juice glass from beneath the woodwork and pulled me the Caravaggio-lit gold of a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!)

"Papa Hemingway," he began. "He shot his head off yesterday."

I pretended it was 1961, not almost 2017.

"Double-barrel in his mouth, trigger with his large articulated toe. Back of the skull against the wainscoting, dripping grey to the wide-plank flooring."

"Thanks for the picture," I gloomed. 

He took my empty from in front of me and replenished the small container. He slid over a small wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts and began wiping with a square of white terry the already-gleaming surface of the bar-top.

"We are all apprentices in a craft," he quoted "where no one ever becomes a master."

"That sounds like Papa," I said.

"You lose your power. You never have it permanent like a tattoo. It comes and goes. And sometimes when you're 61 like Papa was, it just goes."

"You're especially lugubrious tonight." I drained my second and reached to my right to give Whiskey a pat on her head. She looked up from her slumber, winked lovingly at me, then continued her romp in doggy-dreamland.

He repeated: "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."

The bartender rang 'no sale' on the till and removed his still-lit White Owl from its cot. 

"You don't mind the effluvia?" He said taking a long drag.

"Tonight is a night for a smoke."

"Papa was here last week," the old man continued. 'I can't write anymore, I can't write. I have lost my powers.' "That was all he said."

"Hemingway bellowed. 'I am like the great Mantle who can no longer hit. I am DiMaggio, slowed and walking with a limp. I am like Bob Feller with no more fastball.' I tried, of course, to calm him. It was like talking to a cyclone."

"We all feel small and insignificant at times," I temporized. "I too, have been battling the Black Dog of late."

I tried to cheer the old man up, but he wouldn't bite.

I finished my third amber and took my coat from the wooden coat-tree at the corner of the hardwood.

"Sometimes," I said, "lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for."

I zipped up my Mackinac against the outside world. I even buttoned the two hard-to-button buttons at the top of my neck. 

The bartender drew long on the last inch-and-a-quarter of the White Owl and pushed my twenties back to me.

"On me," he answered. "On me."