Monday, December 11, 2017

A New York cab ride, Part 3432.

I had one of those cab rides this morning, of the sort that make New York New York.

Because I take a shared car to and from work, I sit in the front seat whenever it is available. It means I don't have to scoot over when someone else needs to get in or get out. 

This morning, I got the front seat of the new car of choice for New York's ride shares--a Mercedes Metris, which comfortably sits eight, and I'm told gets close to 20 miles per gallon--doubly the mpgs attained by the once pre-eminent Chevy Suburban.

We headed south on East End Avenue, and before we merged onto the FDR Drive, I felt a gentle tapping on my left thigh.

"Excuse me," the driver said. "What is that music you're listening to?"

I figured it was too loud, even through my headphones.

"Eh, some jazz," I mumbled.

He handed me an adaptor. "Do you mind if I listen to it, too," he asked. "That's pretty smooth."

I put on "Watermelon Man" by Quincey Jones on his sound system.

"Yeah, that's good," he said navigating through what seemed like a presidential eruption of cop cars and holiday traffic all before 8AM on the East Side. "It's smooth," he said.

"Do you know Booker T and the MGs," I asked. I shuffled and found the song.

"Yeah, I could listen to this all day," he said. "It's classy." We drove a half block and he put out his hand. "I'm Abdul," he said.

"George," as I shook his hand.

The cops had for whatever reason blocked all West bound traffic at 7th Avenue and we drove down to 39th Street looking for an opening. Finally, I got out of the cab at 37th Street and hoofed it to work. 

Listening to a little Tiny Grimes on the mile in.
BTW, the Times tells me a man set off a bomb at the subway station at 8th Avenue and 42nd Street this morning. The reason for the nuttiness of my commute and the reason I was able to share so many tunes with my driver, Abdul.


Friday, December 8, 2017

A visit from Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie.

Last night, I was surprised by a knock on my door. Given that our building is watched over by a phalanx-of-Christmas-time-tip-hungry door-people, I couldn’t quite imagine who it was and how they got outside my apartment.

I have muscle memory from the bad-old-crack-infested days of New York, where opening your front door was tantamount to letting in the Grim Reaper. So I put on my gruffest voice and fairly barked through two-inches of reinforced steel.

“Who is it?”

“It ain’t the Avon lady,” came the reply.

Recognizing Uncle Slappy’s voice—even through the armor plating—I quickly opened the door, allowing he and Aunt Sylvie into my digs.

“What are you doing here?” I asked as we exchanged a variety of kisses and hugs. “Is everything ok?”

Uncle Slappy, as he does so often, took over the proceedings. “A little bird has told me someone is turning 60. We decided to come up we should for a visit.”

I led the nonagenarians into the living room and sat them down. It two shakes of an alter-kocker’s tail, my wife was out with magma-hot cups of her famous viscous-thick coffee—coffee you could stand your spoon up in. Moments later, she returned with a platter of selected cakes and cookies. Uncle Slappy took a schtickle of cinnamon rugelach and a deep sip of java.

“First you’ll have a little taste,” my wife said, “then Uncle Slappy, maybe you lay down for a few minutes before dinner.”

“Ach. A nap I could use.”

Then, tasting the rugelach and sipping his joe, “This is why you live in New York,” he said. “The best food in the world.”

Aunt Sylvie nodded in agreement. “We get good in Boca,” she tried.

“Ach,” the old man said. “From Schmear to Eternity doesn’t have rugelach like this. They are to rugelach what a hyena is to a lion. A pale imitation.”

From Schmear to Eternity is the bagel shop closest to their condo development. Though they have a $14.95 all-you-can-eat early-bird special that’s pretty good, I had to agree with Uncle Slappy. Their rugelach leaves much to be desired.

“Boychick,” the old man began like a wily middleweight feeling out a hard-punching opponent with well-directed jabs. “Boychick, how does it feel to an old man be?”

I unraveled Uncle Slappy’s jumble of a sentence.

“I feel ok,” I answered. “But like my doctor says, Richard T. Cohen, the internist, not Richard P. Cohen, the podiatrist, says ‘at your age, if you wake up and nothing hurts, you’re dead.’”

Uncle Slappy laughed at that and spit a small flake of rugelach on the carpet.

“A wise man that Richard T., not Richard P. Cohen is,” said Aunt Sylvie.

“So I thought,” said Uncle Slappy, “we could take a little walk to get you maybe a gift. There’s nothing in Boca for a man of such relative youth.”

“You mean everything is for old people,” I clarified.

“That’s right,” said Sylvie. “Nothing for a spring chicken such as yourself.”

I got up and gave her a kiss for the compliment. Like I said, I feel good in so many ways. I’m happy in my job. My apartment is all but paid for. And my daughters are happy, healthy and on their way. But still, it’s nice to hear from someone that you’re a spring chicken.

“I’ll tell you how bad it is in Boca,” the old man continued. “Up here in the cab coming in from LaGuardia, we passed a store—‘Bed Bath and Beyond.’”

“Nothing unusual in that,” I said. “It’s a fairly large national chain.”

“Not in Boca,” Uncle Slappy said polishing off rugelach number three and getting up to pad his way to his bedroom for his nap. “In Boca…”

He paused dramatically, “In Boca,” he continued, “we have a store similar.”

“Yes,” I said. I’ve been playing the straight man for Uncle Slappy for nearly all of my 60 years.

“Yes. Deathbed Bath and Beyond.”

And with that he shut out the lights and lay down for his nap.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advertising inspiration. Part 3.

Not everything that inspired me to pursue a career in advertising came from advertising. 

When I was growing up, my parents subscribed to what seemed like every magazine under-the-sun. I didn't read all of them, I'll admit. But "Esquire" because its pages were festooned with a nice selection of scantily-clad women, always caught my eyes.

The American public didn't really wholesale turn against the Vietnam war until maybe 1967 or 1968. There was a lot of, in those days, the sentiment, "My country, right or wrong, my country."

Covers like the one above, designed by George Lois, even when I was just nine, introduced me to the power of words in a way that surpassed just about any other form of communication. Eight simple words, graphically brusque, changed a nation's mood--changed, to be dramatic, the course of history.

You can be moved by "The Grapes of Wrath," but there's nothing like a headline for pure power.

Even as a young boy, the power of words for a service or a cause registered to me. I said to myself, "I want to do that."

As a younger man I pursued, briefly, different forms of writing. From non-fiction, to fiction, to journalism. But advertising is where I've found my 'home,' as unwelcoming as that home is at times. 

I've never ended a war. Just helped sell a lot of stuff.

But we all carry our burdens.

And we all have to make a living.

Monday, December 4, 2017

My advertising heroes. Part 2 in a sporadic series.

Last week, staring into the creative abyss all writers, at times, face, Rob Schwartz, CEO of TBWA\Chiat\Day suggested I write a series of posts about some ad luminaries—who either inspired me, or did work that helped define the industry.

Today’s post is more about inspiration than seminal work, because it features work by my father, Stan Tannenbaum. 

My old man escaped from West Philadelphia’s Jewish ghetto through advertising—a hot profession in the 1950s. He first went to work for his brother, Sid Tannenbaum, who ran an agency in Philly called Weightman Advertising. 

From Weightman my old man worked across river from Philly, in Camden, NJ where the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was based. Then, in 1954, he moved to the ‘big time.’ To New York, where he joined a top-ten agency called Kenyon & Eckhardt.

My father spent the lion’s share of his career there—and rose from copywriter to Chairman of the Board. His work, to be honest was never as “creative” or award-winning as the best work of the day. Nevertheless, he was my father, and there’s something to be said for that. I think. 

My old man’s first spot is, of course, dated. But a classic side-by-side comparison--and for the time, a dramatic one.

The Brylcreem spot shows a side of my father I happily glommed onto--his glib turn of a phrase. 

In this case Brylcreem's tagline entered the vernacular, "A little dab'll do ya." Which, really, father notwithstanding, ain't bad. 

Finally, an ad for Macleans toothpaste. For years, my father's work for this brand was dull and, yes, insipid. However, this spot, created amid the cultural and creative revolution in the 1960s when its effects had filtered down to even the most "package-goodsy" of agencies, is not without its sex-appeal and wit.

Like my old man himself, it's actually not half bad.

In Homer’s Odyssey, which I read as painters paint bridges, finishing one end only to start immediately over again at the other, Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom says, “Few sons are the equals of their fathers. Most fall short, all too few surpass them.”

Certainly, when it comes to making money and acquiring lofty titles, I didn’t equal my father. However much I’ve fallen materially short, I’ve been able to surpass the old man in career longevity. This week, I will complete my 60th circle of the sun and I believe I am doing the best work of my long career—and more of it, more quickly.

None of that’s important here. Just an observation about fathers and sons.