Thursday, September 30, 2010

Walk Away Rene

A few weeks ago I was on a commercial shoot. And as is customary, the crew and the agency people exchanged stories. There's nothing else to do between lighting set-ups.

In any case, the director was sharing his experience with the NY judicial system and said he had just come off jury duty.

As one might imagine, a courtroom in Queens, NY can be quite theatrical. But given his druthers, the director would just as soon pass the next time he got called.

I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed the jury experience.

I won't bore you with all the details. We've all been through the grueling selection process and watched countless potential jurors lie or fake their way out jury duty. I did no such thing. I answered the questions truthfully, articulately and objectively. And found myself sitting in the special seat reserved for Juror #5.

The District Attorney opened the case with his trump card.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for graciously agreeing to serve on the panel. Now I'd like you to watch this video."

And with that he hit the play button on his laptop and we all watched a 7-11 Security Cam, in surprising HD, capture the suspect robbing the store and threatening the Pakistani owner with a screwdriver. It was so open and shut that when he shut his laptop he literally announced: The prosecution rests.

Had it been an episode of Law and Order, the show would have been over before the first commercial break.

We convicted the man in less than 45 minutes. As we were leaving the courtroom I was chatting with an older African American woman who was also on the jury. I wondered why the man chose to contest such a slam dunk case. She knew exactly why. He was a two-striker. If he pled guilty he'd definitely get put away for life, so the only option he had was to take his chances with 12 of his peers.

Did I feel bad about sending a man away for the rest of his life for stealing $54? Not really, particularly when I found out about his past misdeeds.

I hope there's a green envelope in the mail today.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tree, Part Two

Here's a little confession: I often write these entries in batches, mostly on Saturday morning and schedule them to be published for the rest of the week. Not that it should matter to any of you. It just helps me to get them out of the way so I can concentrate on the real work, the coupon ads, the banners, the hacky TV spots that puts food on my table.

This past Saturday morning, I only wrote two entries. Perhaps it was the abnormal heat or the fact that I had just started recovering from a freight-train of a cold.

Hours after I had written yesterday's post about the unwelcome tree in my backyard, my wife and I went out to dinner, came back and popped in our Netflix copy of Greenberg, which by the way could be the slowest, most annoying, most narcissistic movie ever committed to celluloid.

I like a good thoughtful character study movie as much as the next pseudo-intellectual, but this film is really unwatchable. Do yourself a favor and scratch it off your Netflix cue and replace it with The Pool, shot and written by my friend Chris Smith.

But back to the tree. At one point in the movie, a character, maybe even Ben Stiller, asks a homeowner what kind of tree he has in the backyard. The tree with the yellow flowers, he inquires.

This struck me as incredibly odd, as only a few hours earlier I found myself digging through old blueprints and landscaping plans trying to identify the exact same tree for yesterday's post. What an odd and meaningless coincidence.

The discussion about the tree with the yellow flowers was perhaps the only redeeming quality of this 149 minute snoozefest.

That, and the ample erect nipple shots of Greta Gerwig.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A tree grows in Culver City

I hate this tree.
It's ugly.
It grows like a weed.
It dumps tiny yellows flowers all over my patio.
And it causes me more grief than a tree should be able to cause.

Moreover, I hate myself for bringing this particular tree into my life. That's right, this tree didn't sprout up from some airborne seed, I paid good money to have three Mexican guys dig a hole, plant a sapling and run irrigation lines to nurture and grow this beast.

Perhaps I should explain. Years ago, my wife and I did a complete remodel on the house. We hired a semi-famous architect, brought in a top notch contractor and literally ripped open the house to accommodate a full second story. It was a grueling, tortuous, expensive experience, but when it was over we had doubled the square footage and had ample room for two young daughters.

No sooner had I finished writing the last check for the designer doorbell, did my wife hit me with another bombshell: Now we have to hire someone to remodel the back yard.

Huh?

"Well you can't spend all this money on the house and have the backyard looking like crap,"
she said

Enter Tim the Gay Landscape Architect from West Hollywood. I only mention that he was gay because gay designers are better than straight designers. And better equals premium. And premium equals more money.

Tim knew just what he was doing. He took an immediate shine to my wife, a calculated move. And together they hoodwinked me with fancy terminology designed specifically to confuse the clueless, schlubby straight guy: arboreal aesthetics, negative green space and botanical balance.

Fast forward ten years and I'm stuck with a tree that I absolutely hate.

Why, you may ask, don't I just have it removed? I'm sure my wife will have some thoughts on that as well. I'm also sure that if I ask for those thoughts it will start costing me obscene amounts of money.

Maybe I'll just invest in a good pair of pruning sheers.

Monday, September 27, 2010

You have some place better to be?

I get a lot of emails from my temple. I don't always open them. Let's face it, there are only so many times I want be hit up for a donation. But sometimes, they come up with a subject line that just cannot be ignored.

The Jewish County Fair? Is this some kind of joke? Because if not, well the jokes just write themselves.

There are plenty of natural associations one makes when thinking of Jews: dentistry, accounting, 1950's college basketball, international banking, and world media domination, to name just a few. But County Fairs doesn't even make the top 100. That's the domain of tattooed, snaggle-toothed carny people. No Jewish mother ever beamed, "My son the Vomit-Comet Operator."

The flyer advertises Carnival Food. Chances are you've already raced ahead of me on this.

"Step right up, get your boiled chicken on a stick."
"Who wants kreplas? You gotta have kreplas."
"You going into the haunted house? Don't go in there on an empty stomach. You'll plotz. Have some brisket."

I'm sure there will be a lot of kvetching:

"Mr. Ferris Wheel Man could you maybe not make the big wheelie thing spin around so fast, my tontelah Jeffrey has an ear infection."

But I'm also sure great fun will be had by everyone in attendance. After all one of the community partners is the Santa Monica Chiropractic Clinic. And those people know how to throw a bash.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Delicious irony

It's been close to two weeks and I haven't mentioned religion once, so today I thought I'd break that silence.

As I was driving to work the other day, I noticed this incongruous image. A Korean Baptist church on one side of Washington Blvd. And across the street, a mosque. But not just any mosque mind you. This is the King Fahad Mosque, the largest in Southern California.

I did a little digging and found out the mosque was literally built by the Saudi government in the continuing efforts (dawa) to promote their particular brand of Wahhabism or Salafism--a staunchly fundamentalist sect of Islam that subscribes to the belief that women should NOT be given equal rights, that adherents not co-mingle with non-muslims, or even non-Wahhabis for that matter, and that innovation is a terrible thing ("Indeed the most detestable thing to Allah are the innovations.")

I mention all this in the midst of the ongoing discussions about the Ground Zero Mosque. One of the arguments by proponents is that, "if we don't allow them to build the mosque we will be providing the terrorists/militants with a recruitment tool." Of course the flipside of that is true as well. If we do allow them to build the mosque, the militants will use that as a recruitment tool.

Personally, I don't believe we have to "prove" our tolerance to anybody (it's not like the Taliban, Al Queda, Hamas, Hezbollah have any capacity for rational thought.) The fact that mosques like the King Fahad, and hundreds like it, thrive throughout America speaks volumes.

I've already stated that as a strict Constitutionalist, I believe Imam Rauf has the right to build the mosque, I just find it insensitive of him to continue his plans. Even the idiot in Florida who proposed burning Qurans and then backed away, has shown better judgment.

But what I find most interesting are the impassioned pleas for tolerance, particularly for a culture that has at its core, such institutionalized intolerance -- for women, gays, apostates, people who eat pork, people who drink alcohol, and in the most ironic twist, people who are tolerant of other people.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Louie Louie Louie

Yesterday, my good friend Carolyn Casey reminded me to start taping the Louie CK show on FX. If you haven't seen it, you don't know what you're missing. Louie is funny. Louie is dark. Really dark. He can make pedophilia seem funny. And he's a father of two daughters, like myself. That's no small feat.

Here's a sample of Louie in one of his lighter moments with Conan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk

Louie reminds us of the amazing times we live in. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the arena of technology.

Take these twenty albums that were collecting dust in my garage, for example. I don't listen to them anymore. Not because the music is no good (it's ten times better than today's offerings). But I don't have a turntable anymore. And even if I did, there's a good bet my daughters would have busted it by now.

Now check out this tiny iPod, it's the latest generation of the shuffle.

It's one inch by one square, weighs .44 of an ounce and can store more than 300 songs approximately all the music on the 20 albums pictured above.

I'm not shilling for Apple -- my friends at TBWA do a fine job of doing that. I'm just saying that's pretty amazing. And to Louie's point, I'm awfully happy about that.

Note: after opening up all these albums that haven't been touched in 20 years, I was able to find enough pot in the crevices to fill a one hit bowl. What's the expiration date on dope?


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Whoa Nelly

I may have the sweetest dog in the world.

Here Nelly arches her back to give my nephew Jack a loving kiss. One of the first words to come out of Jack's mouth was dog. And every time he comes to visit he makes a beeline for Nelly.

He will poke her in the eye, pull on her tail, step on her paw, none of it intentionally of course. And yet for all that innocent, playful abuse, Nelly will return Jack's attention by rolling on her back and inviting him to scratch her belly.

We don't know what we did to deserve such a kind-hearted rescue dog. Oh if that were the end of the story?

In a scenario that is reminiscent of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, there is a problem with Nelly. She is a racist dog.

Last week two guys from the Geek Squad came to mount a TV on the wall of my office. (Turns out I could have done the job with a power drill and a good studfinder, but that's a different story). One of the installers was African American. Nelly had the hardest time letting him into our house. The hair on her back stood up. The barking level was intolerable. The reaction, quite visceral.

And this was not the first incident. As Larry David pointed out in his show, it can be quite embarrassing.

We may have an African American President. We may be, and hopefully are, entering a post racial era. Sadly, none of this news or progress has gotten to Nelly.



Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Herb, why?


They say Los Angeles is a city of shattered dreams.

Exhibit A. -- The New Roads School on Olympic Blvd.
Correction -- The New Roads School, Herb Alpert Campus on Olympic Blvd.

For those of you too young to remember, Herb Alpert was a band leader in the 60's and 70's. He and his famed Tijuana Brass brought the sassy, salsa music of Mexico to mainstream America.

It was the kind of music the women in Mad Men would Cha-Cha-Cha too. My mother happened to be a huge Herb Alpert fan. But because my father didn't dance, she chose to vacuum to his music. The minute I heard those trumpets blaring I knew to lift my feet, lest they get mowed down by the 2.5 horsepower Electrolux.

Because she loved Herb Alpert so much, we had every one of his albums.
Including this one:

And that's where the dream shattering comes in.

You see, I can't and I won't, tie Herb Alpert together with the image of educating young children. It ruins the dreamy recollections of my first girlfriend.

If memory serves, this album cover and I went steady for a good six months.




Thursday, September 16, 2010

I cannot look away


Lately, I find myself spending more time in the man cave.

After the girls complete their chores and their homework, we let them unwind with a little TV. And the first thing that comes up on the DVR menu is the latest offering from America's Next Top Model.

I have no stomach for watching these women. Actually, I hesitate to call them women. They're more like high cheekbone, nattering, posing machines. But I do find myself drawn to the antics of Miss Jay Alexander or, as my youngest daughter calls him, Runway Diva Coach Extraordinairre. If you haven't seen him, well here are a few choice shots...


This man takes odd to a whole new level. These photos, grabbed from Google Images, hardly do the experience any justice. In some instances Miss Jay will clothe himself in tenting material or strap a kitchen gadget to his head. It's all in the name of haute couture, an arena I know nothing about.

Another bewildering aspect of the show is the very nature of modeling. The panel seems to go to extraordinary lengths criticizing the model's performance, which I always understood to be the responsibility of the photographer. No one more so than Tyra.

"If you want to make it as a top supermodel, the spark that is within you and makes you unique and distinctive must come through. It's not about posing for the camera it's about being one with the camera. So try doing less of this (cocks her head at an angle) and do more of this (cocks her head at the same angle). Do you see what I'm getting at?"

No.






Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ho-ho-ho

Who did you see at work today?

The mailroom clerk with the dreadlocks and the bad breath?
The Chief Financial Officer on the lookout for employees browsing Zappos.com?
The creepy old dude who can't stop leering at the sorority-fresh executive assistants?

Me?
I ran into a living, breathing Rangifer Tarandus, one of Santa's reindeer.
Oh, and Stan Toyama (third from the right.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I suppose you think that's funny

Last week I got a friend request on Facebook. What makes it noteworthy is that it came from an old boss of mine. A man who I had butted heads with repeatedly. And not always so gracefully.

We were both working at a Recruitment Advertising agency, which is like AA ball compared to the Big Show. We worked on Help Wanted ads for big companies like Northrop, Bank of America and Kaiser Permanente.

My boss, let's call him Mr. X, took the job very seriously. I was perhaps not as zealous. (This type of scenario would revisit me later, only flip-flopped, when as a Creative Manager I was handed a bunch of writers and art directors who seemed to be in the business for the free T-shirts. That's some karma.)

With the kind of dedication to his craft that one rarely sees these days, Mr. X made it a point to work harder and longer than anyone else in the office. Yes they were help wanted ads, but they were going to be the best damn help wanted ads out there. And if it required Mr. X to give up his nights and weekends, well, so be it. (It was a lesson I was yet to learn but one that came in handy at Chiat/Day.)

When it came time to leave AA ball and work at a real ad agency, I gave my two weeks notice. I also brought my sleeping bag to work and placed it on the desk just to let Mr. X know that if any big projects came up I was ready and willing to work into the wee hours of the night.

Mr. X approached my desk, leaned on the sleeping bag and said, "I suppose you think this is funny?"

With the benefit of hindsight, I see what I colossal ass I was.

But, I still think it's funny.
I hope Mr. X does too.




Monday, September 13, 2010

Thank You Mr. Foch

"None but a coward dares boast that he has never known fear."
--Ferdinand Foch

I've never quoted Mr. Foch before, but I do know that to go through life with a name like Foch takes a certain amount of courage and thus his well-earned take on the matter.

I bring all this up because weeks ago I overcame one of my greatest fears. An entry I wrote for this blog was republished on agencyspy.com. To those of you in the industry, I'm sure you understand why this caused some minor trepidation.

For those of you who are not, you should know that agencyspy.com is the unofficial grapevine for the ad industry. But their stock and trade is not just the news about clients switching agencies, new campaigns about to break or even who got fired and who got hired.

People read agencyspy.com for the dirt. And there's plenty of it. With the protection of internet anonymity, ad folks from throughout the land have turned the "Comment" section into a libelous cesspool of vitriol that makes the Real Housewives of New Jersey look like a bunch of girl scouts.

Some of it is funny. Some of it is spot on. But a lot of it is unfair and ugly. Thankfully agencyspy.com was not around when my career was more high profile.

In any case, I was pleasantly surprised when the first comments started appearing. So was my wife. In fact, when one reader wrote, "Rich is one of the funniest guys to ever grace this business."

My wife noted, Rich Siegel and "grace", those are two words you rarely find in the same sentence.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Never again, again

There's been a lot of talk about Islamophobia lately. But I wonder if that term is appropriate?

Sam Harris, famed atheist, NY Times Best-selling author and neuro-science Ph.D (in other words, NOT a Fox News spokesmouth) doesn't think so:

"There is no such thing as Islamophobia. Like all religions, Islam is a system of ideas and practices. It is not a form of bigotry or racism to observe that the specific tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society. Nor is it a sign of intolerance to notice when people are simply not being honest about what they and their co-religionists believe."

But isn't unfair to tar and feather an entire people because of the extremist actions of a relative few? That is unfair. Just as it would be unfair to cite Timothy McVeigh as being representative of Christianity or even the storied activities of the Irgun as being representative of Judaism. With that understanding, I'm only concerned with the terrorist activities of the "relative few."

I have yet to see anybody in the media, mainstream or otherwise, do the math to determine what constitutes the "relative few?" So let's apply a little objective deductive reasoning to the matter.

Moderate Muslims, we can all agree, are against terrorism, stoning women, female circumcision, homosexual persecution, suicide bombings, anti-semitism, etc, etc. Those barbaric activities are only condoned and supported by radical extremists.

But what percentage of Muslims are moderate?

Is it 50%? That's way too low. Despite the incredible polling support for Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in countries like Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Iran, Afghanistan and Egypt. It can't be anywhere near that.

Fair enough. Let's say Moderate Muslims are in the 75 percentile range. That's a significant majority. Hogwash, you say, Islam is a religion of peace. It has to be much higher than that.

Fair enough again. I'm willing to go all in on this.

Let's say the people who sport the co-exist bumper stickers on their hybrid cars are right. Let's say that contrary to all appearances and the deafening silence on so many human rights issues, moderates account for 99% of all of Islam.

That still leaves 1%.

1% of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world equals 15, 000, 000. That's 15 million religious psychopaths who would gladly slice your infidel kaffir head from your body.

That might not give you concern, but 15 million is roughly equal to the total number of Nazi soldiers that fought for the Third Reich during World War II.

But maybe I'm wildly mistaken.

Maybe the number of jihadists is actually 1/10 of the previous stated 1%. In other words 99.9% of all Muslims are moderate. That still leaves 1.5 million active, zealous radicals that are fervently seeking the destruction of modern western civilization. By the way, 1.5 million is about the same total number of active soldiers wearing a United States uniform.

Being leery of a sizable, capable enemy of that size (that is not confined to one country and has no qualms about attacking civilians, particularly those of the Jewish variety) does not make me an Islamophobe.
It makes me a realist.

Just some thoughts from one canary in the coalmine.





Thursday, September 9, 2010

Movin' on up

Don't ask me how I found this website that assigns a monetary value to various blogs, I stumbled across it the same way I found pictures of Electchester in Queens, NY where grew up I before moving to the suburbs. The same way I found a pull up bar that magically mounts to the door casings with no bolts or screws. The same way I found more than I'd ever want to see of amputee fetishism.

That's the beauty of the Internets.

In any case, the good folks at...you know I don't even know the name of these particular website evaluators...well, they've scientifically calculated the value of roundseventeen and its 323 some odd entries at a whopping $547.

Keep in mind I started with nothing. And there's no overhead involved. It's just a little labor. OK, a lot of labor. A labor of love, however. Which makes that $547 pure unadulterated profit.

For those of you keeping track, that works out to about $1.69 per entry.

If I maintain this pace, I will clear one million dollars with 591,392 more entries. At roughly 200 entries per year, that will happen in 2958 years.

That's why I've made it a habit of starting every day with a healthy breakfast of multi-grain oatmeal.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Just one bite

Yesterday I had a little fun with a very creepy Jesus painting. I hope I didn't get anyone's religious undergarments tied up in a bunch. In order to show I am an equal opportunity offender of the great Abrahamic religions, today I am taking on the Kashrut, the dietary laws of my own people.

Last week, I spent 13 grueling hours at a commercial shoot just outside of Wrightwood, California. As anyone who has ever been on a night shoot can tell you, there is a lot of sitting around, eating and getting to know fellow ad whores in ways that are sometimes deeply personal.

I had the opportunity to chat with an Israeli born Orthodox Jew. This is not something I normally get to do. Much less in the relaxed tell-all environment of a commercial shoot. I have always found people will tell you the strangest thing at 4 AM.

After discussing our two very divergent opinions on the universe -- she believes in God, I believe if there were a God I'd still have hair, my nose would be smaller and my neighbor's dog would have died a long time ago -- we got around to talking about bacon.

In all of her 30 some odd years, she has never had a strip of bacon. Not the cheap ass bacon you can buy at Safeway. Not the thick, center cut, chewy applewood bacon they sell at Trader Joe's. Not even the tiny artificial bacon bits you can drizzle over your salad at Carl's Jr. She's a bacon virgin. Moreover, she's never had scallops. Or lobster. Or, and this is a mind bender, meaty fall-off-the-bone baby back pork ribs slathered in smoky barbeque sauce.

What kind of God visits his people with such suffering?

It doesn't seem right does it? In fact, it seems downright stupid.

But I'll tell you what's even stupider. This week I will pay my temple dues and purchase tickets to high holiday services. In other words, I will fork over hundreds of dollars for the privilege of belonging to this ancient and honorable tribe of pork-deniers.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mojave DesArt

I'm not sure this is what Robert Frost had in mind, but it does offer ample proof that road less traveled does indeed make all the difference.

Last week, I was on the Pearblossom Highway (rt. 138) on the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains. I was heading up the backroads for a nighttime car shoot on the Angeles Crest Highway.

Unable to traverse more than 40 miles at a time without a bathroom break, my bladder demanded a pit stop in Littlerock, a hard scrabble town east of Palmdale. I pulled into a Mexican restaurant called Mica's. The hostess directed me to the outhouse behind the main building. As I made my way out the door, I noticed a small alcove. The room was filled with surreal, ultra-religious paintings.

Having concluded my business, I went back inside and queried the young woman with the poor broken english...

"Con su permiso, mi tengo photografias, por favor?"

She couldn't have been more hospitable.

As I perused the dozens of paintings I found I was struck by this particular Escher-like painting. It is a study in overstatement. Note how the bridge of Jesus' nose is made up of....another Jesus. Even the beard of Jesus is made up of smaller, crucified Jesi (multiple for Jesus?).

There's even a Jesus on Jesus' shoulder. And another approaching from the right hand corner wearing a blue robe. I don't even know what to make of the floating eyes above him.

But I do know that everyone I have shown the painting to has had the exact same visceral reaction:

"Jesus Christ!"

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that's exactly what the artist was going after.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

King of the world


OK a little full disclosure. Today's post was going to be about "Islamophobia", but being that the topic is so sensitive I wanted to give myself time to make sure I articulated my point of view without appearing ill-informed.

Back to the funny.

Way back when I first started this blog, I did an entry about the Titanic slide I had seen at Santa Anita Park.

Some entrepreneurial hotshot had opened up a whole new field of kitschy children's playground paraphanalia.

Not to be outdone, some inventors in Tel Aviv with a tubful of hot unprocessed polychlorovinyl and a healthy fascination for animal alimentary functions pushed the envelope even further.


"I don't want to go home mommy, I want to play in the elephant's poop chute."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You can't lose

Never underestimate the acumen of the American businessman or woman.

In order to keep gamblers in their casinos longer, some whip smart young Turk said, "the idea is to get them to our gambling tables, so we'll keep them tethered to the dining table."

A few extra bags of rice, potatoes and dirt cheap iceberg lettuce translates into more people throwing dice, spinning the roulette and hitting on a soft 16. Sure the furniture will have to be replaced more often, but in the end the house wins.

For a truly integrated approach, I'd have offered the All Day Buffet Eating Patrons a 10% discount on all Sansa-belt slacks purchased in the hotel lobby gift shop.