Thursday, April 30, 2015
I don't normally dedicate posts on RoundSeventeen.
But today is hardly normal and if you will permit me, I will explain why this one goes out to a friend and former colleague Kara O'Neill.
Kara was a producer at Chiat/Day. Recently her husband was diagnosed with cancer and is in a fierce battle while undergoing chemo. I don't do the God or prayer thing, but I do believe in the recuperative powers of laughter.
And so I'm hoping this piece can put a small smile on Kara's face and tell a story that might make her family chuckle.
Years ago, Kara drew the short straw at the agency and was assigned to produce a small campaign for me and my equally-obnoxious partner, John Shirley. We had big egos and an even bigger proclivity to make the life of TV broadcast producer a living hell.
The campaign was a series of cheap animated spots. And after the dutiful triple bidding of animation houses, we found ourselves in Portland working with the Will Vinton Studios, who you might remember from the California Grapes or the more current M&M's.
Animation is a slow, laborious process, so we were in Rip City for quite some time.
Kara, being Kara, scoped out all the best restaurants and attractions, including the notorious Church of Elvis. This was a seedy storefront museum dedicated to Portland's eclectic art community. A nice way of saying it was a warehouse full of crap. And the museum docent/operator was a character keeping with Portland's reputation for weird.
She would gather the bewildered museum goers in a circle and begin her awkward lecture. Then she would purposely provoke the crowd in order to elicit rude, inappropriate responses so that she could ceremoniously and quite theatrically "throw them out."
Well, rude and inappropriate was right in the Siegel/Shirley wheelhouse. And John and I wasted no time dishing it out.
We were escorted off the premises so fast we didn't have time to see the collection of hand embroidered Elvis Dish Towels.
That would have been enough for one night, but fueled with free alcohol, and the promise of even more free alcohol, we decided to take the party over a few blocks into the downtown red light district.
Kara had done her research and knew of a tiny little place called Mary's. It was Portland's oldest, and sleaziest, strip bars.
We, John, myself, Kara and diet-Coke guzzling Mikey Collado, a bright eyed, bushy-headed writer who could write more in a day than a dozen of today's copywriters could produce in a month, saddled into Mary's.
There, we saw strippers. Not the kind popularized on TV or in film. These were working class strippers who couldn't afford silicone. Or professional tattoos. Or even hairspray.
They smoked on stage, if you could call it a stage. When they wanted a certain song they simply shouted their request to the DJ/busboy. And they drank. Not beer. Or Chardonnay. They drank highballs of rot-gut authentic Arkansas whiskey. In glasses that were older than anybody in the bar.
One stripper, and this is the one I can never forget, stood over 6 foot tall. She was tatted on one entire half of her body. And she sported a long biker's keychain. One end of the chain was attached to her earlobe. The other draped beside her long, statuesque body and was attached to her…er, "key."
Holy shit, did we laugh that night.
If I didn't thank Kara then, I'm publicly thanking her now.
Those were good times.
I know her husband will beat this.
And there will be even better times for Kara and her family just around the corner.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Last week, there was a great deal of media buzz about the 100 year old Armenian genocide, where, it is alleged, more than 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by Turkey.
To this day, the government and clerics in Istanbul, deny the charges and refuse to take any responsibility for the mass murder.
Yeah, I don't know why anyone would believe that well-armed Muslim militants would willingly rape, butcher and slaughter non-Islamic tribal people who don't subscribe to their fairy tale. That kind of religious-based fanaticism is completely beyond the pale.
Crazy talk, right?
Shamefully, the Israeli government (populated by second generation Holocaust survivors) and our own US government, have been slow to recognize and condemn the Armenian genocide. In diplomatic terms, we don't want to offend our Muslim allies in the region.
I understand that.
But I also wonder when people in the Muslim world are going to start gauging their actions so as not to offend people in the Western World?
In other blood-boiling news, we are now in the punishment stage for Dhjokar Tsarnaev, the jihadist behind the Boston marathon bombing. In all probability he will not receive the death sentence. Nor should he.
For completely ungodly reasons, death in the cause of Islam (shaheed) is a great honor. And he should be denied that honor.
We should also heed the apologists (and there are many) who claim that Tsarneav's actions as well as other terrorists have nothing to do with Islam.
Let's buy into that theory. Let's treat the Tsarnaev's of this world as Un-Islamic. That means, no prayer rugs, no Qurans, no accommodations whatsoever to a religion that they, as the clerics and scholars will tell us, have no right to represent.
Accordingly, Tsarnaev and all future jihadists caught by US authorities, will spend the rest of their lives in prison. Where they will be placed on the all-swine diet. That will surely have the desired deterrent effect.
Or as Homer Simpson is fond of saying:
"Mmmm, bacon. Is there anything it can't do?"
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
What the fuck happened to Bowling?
Last weekend, my wife boarded a plane to Boston for some quality time with her sisters. As you married men will attest, there's nothing like a good mancation.
Falling asleep on the couch, with a blaring TV, a half empty bottle of bourbon and the ugly remains of a Pregnant Burrito™ still on the coffee table. That's living.
I also took the opportunity to get some chow with a buddy of mine, grab my brother and head over to the Westchester Bowling Lanes across the street from LAX. I hadn't been to a bowling alley in years. And after this experience, may not for return for another decade.
For starters it was unrecognizable.
The long artificial fluorescent lights have been dimmed and replaced by swirling lasers and purplish neon.
The J-shaped booths have been replaced by cheap Euro-trash plasticize chairs that were bought from Ikea and bolted into the flooring.
And the scorer's table, once large enough to accommodate the unwieldy scoring sheets, a few pitchers of beer and a couple of overstuffed ash trays are now a tiny table no bigger than a TV tray, barely large enough to fit a Cinnabun.
And then there is the music.
If you want to call it that.
I hate to be oh-so-cliche and step on the Old Man Griping Pedal here, but seriously, what is that crap coming through the speakers?
Glocks and cocks.
Ho's and bitches.
Motherfuckers and dicksuckers.
On what planet, or bowling alley, does the qualify as music? Moreover, on the lane next to us, there were five 12 year old girls with loose hips and the dreaded selfie stick, "dancing" to the constant thumping, while their MILFY mother captured it all video.
"Can you girls keep the gyrations down, I'm trying to pick up a tricky 8-5-10 split."
Naturally, we all lamented the changes and yearned for the good old days of stubby pencils, big black beat-up 16 lbs. balls and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Not unexpectedly, we all bowled miserably, barely cracking into the three digits. The computerized screens wouldn't even let us enhance our score. Or take a Mulligan.
But it wasn't a total loss. I beat my brother at both games.
And the sweet taste of victory that one sibling lords over the other will never change and will always stand the test of time.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Making a television commercial is a tricky proposition.
How, for instance, do you convey the incredible handling and jet-propulsion power of a finely made German sports car?
Or, how do you describe the indescribably salty, tangy, beefy goodness of a restaurant chain's signature Kobe bacon cheeseburger using only the elements of sight and sound?
Years ago, I encountered what is perhaps the greatest of all challenges for a Television commercial -- television.
I was brought in at Chiat/Day to help pitch Pioneer Flatscreen TV's.
Their big selling point? Picture quality. But how, you might ask yourself, do you sell the quality of a new Pioneer TV to people watching TV on their Hitachi's, Panasonic's and old Philco's.
The answer oddly enough, at least for me, was radio.
Not radio specifically but metaphorically, as in theater of the mind. My idea was to craft little paragraphs of copy, not unlike what a screenwriter would present in a screenplay, and have the words read over the air.
The viewer at home would assemble the picture in his or her own imagination and in effect play an integral role in the communication. Not to sound immodest, but not a bad idea. It was different. It was intriguing. And it gave me, the freelance copywriter who had been doing a lot of crappy Year End Sales Events, an opportunity to flex some muscle.
As is often the case, my evaluation of the idea and management's evaluation of the idea were not exactly in synch. Because it was "small", "lacking in scope" and "dry", it got unceremoniously dumped in the huge Siegel Work That Never Made It Out The Door File.
Last week the idea resurfaced. Not for Pioneer TV, they went belly up (you can draw your own conclusions), but for Vizio.
In fact the picture-less commercial for the superior picture Television TV commercial was noted as Creativity's Ad of the Day.
In the past, seeing one of my ideas executed by another team, who will probably get promoted and earn themselves a big raise and buy themselves sportscars that will stave off their midlife crisis for another few years, would have made me steaming mad.
But the truth is, they executed the idea with much more panache than I saw it in my head.
The other truth is, I know the guys behind the work and can honestly they're the good ones. Craftsmen who spend more time working and no time politicking or chest beating or putting up selfies of themselves on Facebook.
Instead of Schadenfreud, I'm now experiencing this uncomfortable feeling of SchadenJoy.
In other words, I'm genuinely happy for them. Which means I've matured quite a bit.
And that's the really scary part.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
A I might have mentioned earlier in the week, recently I was cleaning out my files.
More specifically, I was throwing out old crap to make room for new crap.
Part of growing up, I have found, is the self-inflicted accumulation of records: cashed checks, electricity bills, year end portfolio statements (always disappointing) and copies of insurance policies I hope I never have to need.
I don't know how you do it, but I like to purchase these huge blue accordion envelope/briefcases. Inside, there's a compartment for all the vitals. Which makes it incredibly easy for a slob like myself.
Because I dread an audit from the Infernal Revenue Service, I like to keep about 5 years worth of papers I hope no one will ever want to see. To make room for 2014's stash I emptied out the blue briefcase containing the data from 2009.
It all went directly into the shredder because I also dread the notion of someone stealing my identity.
There's a guy named Rich Siegel from Spring Valley, NY who has already tainted my good name. He's a non-apologetic self loathing Jew who blathers on about barbarous, bloodthirsty Palestinian terrorists and their "oh-so-noble" cause. Freedom fighters, he calls them. I prefer the term, murderous sore losers.
In any case, while throwing out the trash from 2009, I came across an entire stash of Rejection letters from literary agents and publishing houses for my 2005 book, Tuesdays With Mantu.
I had been looking for these for years.
You know, because once Random House comes to their senses and puts me on their roster of esteemed writers and doles out hefty advances they will look back at their prior poor decision and hang their heads in shame.
At least that's the way it plays out in my head.
With 95% of my next book written, I'm about to embark on this journey of shame once again.
Before I do, and without letting out too many details of what is coming, I thought I'd share what once was.
Back in 2004, I had written to C. Michael Curtis of the Atlantic Monthly and enclosed a manuscript of my adventures with Nigerian Con Artists. I told Michael how the only way to dissuade one persistent scammer was to enclose a fake obituary and make him believe I had died.
I also told Michael how I was treated poorly by the publisher of Pizza Today, who refused to run my story in their publication.
I guess he was amused because though he passed the work he took the time to pen a most unusual rejection letter, which I was so happy to find.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
I don't like sharing lanes at the swimming pool.
I don't like old lady perfume or guys with braided hair, so when someone vacates a lane I will always move to a less crowded one. Last week I found myself in empty Lane 3.
Moving there was a mistake.
As I swung my arm down in a perfectly-sculpted Australian Freestyle stroke, I got stung. I've had bee bites before but this one stopped me dead in the water.
It felt like someone had taken a machete to my middle finger, perhaps the most important of all the fingers.
I flicked off my Speedo Performance XT goggles with the anti-fogging protective seal and scanned my knuckle. I didn't find the stinger but I did find the culprit flailing helplessly in the water. I swatted him off to dry land where he would die a slow and painful bee death.
That night there were no ill effects from the bite. But the next day, my middle finger had doubled in size and turned to an unrecognizable shade of purple.
I'm going all Tarantino on you and sharing.
What you can't tell from the picture is the throbbing pain that went with it. Pain that was not easily soothed by Vicoden. Or two.
Not wanting to go to Century City to visit my personal physician, who I had just seen for my 5 year physical, I unwisely turned to the Playa Advance Urgent Care Center, where I became a new patient of Dr. Urshubeggodavozian, an unusually hairy man with a brusk demeanor and the forearms of a grizzly bear. If you have a minute check out their stellar 1 star reviews.
The "Dr." took three very expensive X-rays of my finger, which in retrospect seems unnecessary. But when your finger feels like it is going to explode like a resigned priest released from a three decade long vow of celibacy, you just go with it.
Next, the hirsute doctor gave me two very painful shots. An anti-biotic and a cortisteroid. As the medicine started coursing through my body he decided to have one more look at the bite decided he would do a scalpel-aided exploratory to "dig out the stinger."
As the third shot of Lidocaine numbed my finger I began to get an uneasy feeling about the whole procedure and making my first smart decision all morning, walked out.
The good news is the swelling has gone down and the oozing (no pictures, thankfully) has stopped. The part that really stings was the bill from the Playa Urgent Care, who can expect a colorful Yelp review from yours truly.
The better news is the results have come in from my physical.
Apart from the abnormally high testosterone levels, my real doctor who was impressed with my 3 hour daily exercise routine, says, without hesitation…
"Rich, you're the fittest fat man I've ever seen."
We went over the numbers via the phone and he invited me to look into one of the key indicators of good health, my resting heart beat of 51. Which as you can see from the accompanying chart is not bad for a 44 year old guy.
I was thrilled.
My wife, who after yesterday's post looked over our lucrative insurance policy to see how much she'd stand to gain upon my demise, not so much.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Not long ago, I ran into my former boss and friend Rob Siltanen. We got around to talking shop and he reminded of something he had told me years ago, "always try a spokesman."
When coming up with campaign ideas there are many avenues to go down, a spokesperson, Rob said, was the best.
When you create a spokesperson you are creating intellectual property. It's tangible. And he should know. He gave birth to Baby Bob, who made his debut for FreeInternet.com. The commercials, with the adorable talking baby, became so popular CBS bought the character and turned it into a TV show.
And Rob started receiving residuals.
Mailbox money, the best kind of money.
For years, I have tried to heed Siltanen's sage advice. And for years my spokespeople have never got past the stage of infancy.
Last week while cleaning out my files and making room for the 2014 tax paperwork, I found some work John Shirley and I had pitched for Mass Mutual Life Insurance. It was a spokesperson campaign.
We cleverly called it the Salesman of Death campaign.
It featured a pitchman (Mr. Bean was our prototype) who would travel the country and remind folks they were going to die. And how now would be a good time to consider Life Insurance, Long Term disability and a host of other end-of-life financial products.
John would be the first to tell you the art direction was very rough. This is just first blush material for internal meetings kind of stuff. But you get the idea.
We loved the notion of a man selling Life Insurance against the backdrop of mortality. Of course every campaign needs a manifesto, I actually wrote 5 for this one.
This was my fav:
This was also rough, and upon second inspection, has a few typos and is tad over-written. But as I mentioned it was internal. And when agencies give you two days to crack a brief, this is what happens.
We all have campaigns we wish could have made it. The Salesman of Death will remain one of my favorites. It certainly would have been more memorable than what Mass Mutual decided to put on the air. Which for the life of me, I can't remember.
I bring all this up because last week, it happened again. I can't discuss the details suffice to say my partner John Figone and I had come up with a pretty unique spokescritter that we had a lot of heart for.
Like Baby Bob, it could have evolved into an intellectual property. Maybe even a TV show. And then I could sit on my fat ass and collect residual checks.
But that didn't happen. That's never the way it happens.
The idea was killed.
Or, to quote another headline from the Salesman of Death campaign.
"Died unexpectedly." Now there's an oxymoron.
Monday, April 20, 2015
This story is going to sound very familiar to you.
It wasn't inspired by any specific set of circumstances that happened to a colleague within the last month. Six months. Or even a year. Because the truth is, it has happened to me. And it has happened to you. And if it hasn't happened to you, trust me it will.
You take on a new job.
And you've got a hard-on for the business.
Doesn't have to be advertising, but for the sake of this piece, and because I haven't railed or vented about advertising for a week, let's say it is.
You dig in, drink the Kool Aid and devote yourself to the craft. That means taking on a leadership role. Not only voicing a strong opinion but doing the homework and the legwork to back it up. It can be a grind. You eat a tiny bowl of shit once in a while. And you bite your tongue when you have to.
But it's all for the good of the team. And the agency.
A year or two later, you start to see the fruits of your labor. Business picks up. You notch a few pitch victories. And get some decent TV spots out the door….oh, I'm sorry, Integrated Branded Content Units.
All the hard work has paid off. Or at least, in theory, it should.
Because the closed-door, throbbing-vein meeting with the agency CEO did not go as well as you had hoped.
"We'd like to give you a promotion, we really would. And we'd like to give you a bump in salary, but we really can't. I know we had discussed the idea of incentives and bonuses when we first hired you, but as you know, we've all had to tighten our belts."
We've all had to tighten our belts?
Then why am I picking up the Wall St. Journal and reading about a 43% pay hike for the holding company officers?
Why is Business Insider doing a photo shoot of the coolest vacation homes belonging to the 37 Wealthiest Ad Pros? 23 of whom work for this organization?
And how does the agency afford your three times a week in-office Bikram Yoga Sessions?
"Company policy says you're not supposed to be reading the Wall St. Journal, Business Insider, Adweek, Adage, or Mediabistro. Agency employees are also requested not to look at any SEC filings or publicly disclosed financial documents. And under no circumstances are agency staff permitted to read adaged.com, adcontrarian.com, rotationandbalance.com, and definitely not R17."
And so you do what any disgruntled employee would do.
But you never get out of the car at the gun store parking lot. And instead start interviewing with another agency. They are impressed with your achievements and make you an offer you can't refuse.
Not without some delicious feeling of delight, you give your two week notice.
And suddenly, the belt that was supposed to be tightened, miraculously becomes loose. Especially after the agency does the calculations and decides it would cost more to replace you than to properly butter your bread as they originally promised.
Too late, you tell them.
And rightfully so.
If this has happened once, it's happened a million times. It's happening right now.
Some mid-level creative has sweated all weekend long to build up the courage and request a chat with the CCO or CEO. And even as you are reading this, some muckutty-muck is hemming and hawing his or her way through a convoluted monetary discussion that boils down to:
"There's plenty for us, there's none for you."
When I am asked to give advice to younger people, you know younger than 44, I always tell them to strike while the metal is hot.
If you are lucky enough to hit a home run in this business or even knock out a few triples with players in scoring position, you must immediately translate that into some form of compensation.
Do not take "no" for answer.
Because the people you are working for, the ones telling you there is no money, these are the same people who are capitalizing on your success. They're slapping their names on the credit list. They're sitting on panels, bloviating about their imaginary contribution to the idea. They're having private conversations with their bosses. They're asking for more money.
And guess what, they're getting it.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
I often joke that I am 44 years old.
Of course, we all know that not to be true. I've been lying. I'm not 44. I'm actually closer to 14.
The document above confirms that.
As you may recall, years ago I was involved with several scammers from Nigeria, Togo and the Ivory Coast. I would engage these email scammers and collect all the correspondence for my book, which I'm assuming is already on your shelf.
Because I expressed an interest in the deals these scammers were proposing, I would often request official documentation. And because they always thought they had a sucker on the line, they would respond and send me all kinds of goodies.
Like the Certificate above made out to, are you ready, Heywood Jablomi.
Say it three times fast, out loud, and you'll know why I treasure this phony certificate from the Cote de Ivore Office of the Minister.
I've always had a inclination to sophomoric names. I believe this came about while reading Mad Magazine and its infamous list of must read books:
Yellow River by I.P. Dailey
The Zookeepers Death by Claude Bawls
Supporting Athletes by Jacques Strapp
Getting Fired by Anita Job
Still Not Pregnant by Boris Bitchyakockov
All of which brings us to the today's topic, Writing the Phone Book. Mercifully, the last.
I can think of no better way to conclude this ill-thought series than with a list of names actually found in the April 2009 Edition of the Culver City/Marina Del Rey Phonebook.
I know, I know, pretty juvenile.
But as I have often stated on this blog, I am easily amused.
If you made it this far, it's fair to assume you are as well.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Impossibly, we're on Day Three of "Writing the Phone Book."
Oh how time flies when engaged in such a mundane and tedious affair. I assure you next week we will return to our R17 staples: fevered rants about advertising, illogical xenophobic forays into Middle East politics and the slow degeneration of my mind as I slide towards 45.
Today I consider myself quite lucky, because today is tax day.
I'm not sure I had ever written those set of words before.
Instead of meandering about the Yellow Pages in search of a topic, let's go straight to the Accountants, Certified Public.
Fittingly, they are listed after Abortion Services and right before Advertising Agencies & Counselors. I leave you to write your own hardworking jokes about that placement.
Accountancy is something from which I know. I come from accountancy. The last generation of Siegel men, having seen the previous generations earn a living driving NYC cabs or farming grubs in the old country, decided, in Jeffersonian fashion, that it was time to "move it on up."
My father, my uncle and even my brother, schooled themselves in debits, credits and operating income, and all successfully passed the New York State requirements to earn a CPA.
I too was headed down this lucrative path and a lifetime of hunched shoulders, dusty tax code books and the magical ability to work an adding machine while blindfolded.
My interest in accountancy took a nosedive during my freshman year at college, when I had mistakenly signed up for an 8 AM introductory course. Students at Syracuse University learn very quickly that it is impossible to attend those type of early classes when the temperature is in the single digits and the snowfall is in the double digits.
I switched majors and owe a debt of gratitude to Lake Ontario Effect Snow.
So now I see a professional, Don Jung.
Oddly enough Don is not listed in this version of the phone book. Not that he needs to be. He and his firm are legendary throughout the world of West Los Angeles Advertising Professionals. He's the creative's creative. Stashing money in one place so the government can't take money from another.
And his list of clients couldn't be more stellar. He even does the taxes for Lee Clow. I'm sure Lee is just as impressed that Don works on shaving my debt to the government.
"Oh I didn't know you did the taxes for Brian Siegel."
I feel good about using the same CPA as my former boss. I like knowing I'm getting sound financial advice from the same guy who lords over Lee's numbers.
After all I've been to the Clow household. I've sat in the big leather chairs in the family room, looking over the cliffs of the Palos Verdes. I've heard the waves of the Pacific crashing alongside Lee's personal dock. And I've sat up top, on the deck with a 5 star view of the sun setting under a fiery pink sky.
"Hey Don, I've had a pretty good year. Worked for a bunch of different agencies, picked up some new clients and made a ton of creative directors very happy. What do I have to do to get a house like Lee's?"
"Rich, I'm a CPA not a magician."
Magicians are on page 178.
Coming up tomorrow, the thrilling conclusion to The week I wrote the Phone Book and a visit from Heywood Jablomi.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
We're now on Day 2 of The Week I Wrote the Phone Book.
If you're a little disappointed that I'm not going in alphabetical order, I'm sorry. That's just not the way this thing is going to work. When you write the phone book you can do it your way.
As you might expect, the Yellow Pages in West LA is quite exhaustive. Covering everything from Bail Bondsman to Xylophone Repair.
Some sections are quite thick.
In a city of 100 million cars, for example, it's not surprising that there is a full complement of auto shops. Plumbing too seems to be a very lucrative business, you know that is if you don't mind sticking your hands in other people's poop. I guess it's a little like advertising.
Like any other city, Angelenos love their pets. The veterinary section of the phone book goes on for an eternity. But this ad (pictured above) for Dr. Kenneth Jones, DVM, caught my attention.
For so many reasons.
Unlike other practitioners of the veterinary arts, Dr. Jones has included a mission statement:
"All humans & animals are from the same source & have the same life energy. Our hospital honors and seeks to maintain this life energy."
Dr. Ken has gone all Neil DeGrasse Tyson on us.
Talk about a walking, talking cliche of Los Angeles. I'm trying to picture his New York counterpart and how his ad might go something like this:
"Hey, if your dog is shitting all over the rug, come on in, I got pills for that."
Dr. Ken also offers Ophthamology.
It never occurred to me to have my dog's eyes checked. I'm just assuming her eyesight is fine. She finds the food when I put it out. She knows where the water bowl is. And if something doesn't agree with her stomach she always finds a way to vomit on the carpet in a spot that is the most visible. I think her eyesight is pretty damn good.
I don't mean to pick on the good doctor. I'm sure he has many happy customers and saved the lives of thousands of pets.
But he ought to rethink his advertising. There's too much messaging going on.
If you're open 7 days a week, it stands to reason you're open Saturday and Sunday.
The DreamCatcher thingamajig doesn't say ringworm cure. At least not to me.
And finally, if you insist on using a photo of yourself with a disgusting possum on your shoulder maybe it shouldn't be a possum the size of a small Grizzly Bear.
Tune in tomorrow for a spine-tingling look at chartered accountancy.
Monday, April 13, 2015
This is going to require a lot of coffee.
If you have ever watched one of those annoying talent shows on TV -- I live with my wife and two daughters and despite closed doors, double insulated walls and noise-canceling headphones it is impossible to escape them -- you've no doubt heard one of these exuberant judges claim, with complete seriousness,
"You have such a beautiful voice I could listen to you sing the phone book."
In the spirit of mixing things up at R17, I've decided to challenge myself to a similar endeavor.
All this week, and maybe next week, and maybe for a considerable time after that, (I mean who knows where this is going, this could be my milieu), I will write the phone book. Well not exactly "write" it, but whatever the equivalent of singing it would be.
You might be wondering what inspired this exercise in irrelevancy.
Last week the new West LA phone book arrived. It came wrapped in plastic, to protect it from our ferocious drizzle. It sat on the Adirondack chair on the front porch.
Naturally, because we lead busy lives, it remained untouched there for considerable time. Also naturally, when I went to retrieve it this morning to begin this journey, it was gone. My wife had chucked it in the recycle bin.
And so the more astute of you will recognize this phone book from 2009. If I'm not mistaken that's Troy Aikman running the quarterback sweep for the UCLA Bruins.
I could probably do a few hundred words and some well-spaced paragraphs about the futility of the phone book. Because we have the web now and there's no need for this wanton waste of trees. But other pundits, other more talented pundits, and stand up comics working at places named Guffaws or Chortle Hut, have amply covered that ground.
So let's get started, where one would naturally start when "writing the phone book."
If you haven't looked, the first page is nothing but listings of companies trying to cut in front of the line for your precious dollar.
A-AAA Heating and Air Conditioning
Aardvark Cab Company
AA Acme Satellite Television
These businesses operate under the misguided assumption that Mr. or Mrs. My-Dishwasher-is-Leaking will run to the phone book and immediately turn to the white pages and opt for the first name they see because they're at the front of the book and they must be good.
Of course, that's a faulty business assumption.
Much like the notion if you work in advertising and you keep your nose to the grindstone and do a good job, the boss and the holding company will reward you at the end of the year with a bonus and a bump in your salary.
It's Bullshit. And to prove it, I started smiling and dialing.
I called A Classy Act Entertainment to find out what kind of classy acts they were pimping and it turned out they were no longer in business. Apparently their placement at the front of the book didn't make the phone ring.
I also let my fingers do the walking and tried to reach A Cow Jumped Over the Moon in Beverly Hills and found their cows were no longer jumping.
Finally, I noticed A Century City Dental Group.
Then it occurred to me that if you're seeking a professional dentist by scanning the first listings in the West LA phone book, the cavity in your mouth is dwarfed by the cavity in your skull.
Coming up tomorrow, Dr. Kenneth Jones, the Hippie Dippie Weimaraner Man.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
If you've been anywhere near a TV for the last 6 months, it seems like 6 years, you've been subjected to the spots for Asiandate.com and Anastasiadate.com.
They run the two spots back to back and the music for the Russian dating site is an earworm more insidious than any commie subterfuge Senator McCarthy might have dreamed up in 1956.
I haven't dated for a long time. And I can't say I miss it. All those gold digging women trying to snatch my fortune by running their hands through my thinning hairline. Or calling me at all hours of the night in search of some kinky fetishized pleasure.
It got so tiresome.
But if I were a dating man I know I'd steer clear of these two services.
We once had a neighbor who I am glad no longer lives near us. He sold guns out of his garage. He was a fat, drunken slob.
His wife was not. She was Asian. Thin, attractive and considerably younger.
If I had to guess, and I'm more than willing to, they didn't meet at a party. Or a blind date. They met via one of these cleverly disguised mail order bride sites.
From what I could hear a few doors down the street, there wasn't a lot of that Asian serenity promised in the commercial. There was loud fighting. And on those occasions when I would wake up early to go for a pre-sunrise morning run, I would often him hiding in the driveway, behind his van, downing a Tallboy of beer from a brown paper bag so she couldn't see him. Though you could smell him from Pacoima.
She was a bonafide Dragon Lady and I'm sure he was on the phone quite often with Customer Service inquiring about a refund.
Similarly I can't imagine hooking up with a money-for-marriage woman fresh off the boat from Stalingrad or Smolensk. Maybe it's just my imagination running wild, but I have to believe many of these comrades are tied to the Russian Mafia, the worst mafia of all the Mafias.
Before you know it I'd be sending 4 digit moneygrams back to Moscow or find myself sleeping with the creamed herring.
No thank you.
And even if that weren't the case, I can't see myself with any woman who could drink me under the table.
Or beat me at arm wrestling.
In case you're still wondering about that earworm, listen at your own risk.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Whenever there is a discussion about the Open Office Plan -- and there have been many -- some clown will always mention Jay Chiat as a pioneer of the idea.
I use the word clown purposefully because it's simply not true.
In the mid-90's, one may recall, Jay gave us the Virtual Office. Not the same as the Open Office with it's long sweatshop tables, the shoulder-to-shoulder employees banging away at their computers and the non-stop thumping of some Belgian bullshit house music.
In the Virtual Office, as the theory went, employees were free to take their laptops and cellphones and work anywhere in the building, a war room, the cafeteria or even a refashioned Tilt-A-Whirl caboose. Management was also cool with employees leaving the building and doing their business off campus, at a coffee shop, a library or even a strip club (so I've heard).
In fact, they encouraged people to leave the office.
Mostly because due to a planning error, the famed Binocular building wasn't big enough for all the employees.
Prior to the Virtual Office, I worked for Jay Chiat at the Warehouse on Main Street. This too was not an Open Office. My partner and I, like all the creative teams, had a large, airy, walled off cube.
It was easily 300+ square feet of space.
Big enough for two then, adequate for twelve today.
In 1997, Chiat/Day moved into the Playa Vista office. Lovingly shot by my buddy, Bill Hornstein in this piece for the Clios.
Again, not an Open Office by any stretch.
In fact, recognizing what office planners today fail to recognize, each creative team was given its own semi-private, territorially-intact cube in what is referred to as the Cliff Dwellings.
That's my old office right there behind the old Datsun. As you can see it's occupied by someone (guy on phone) thinner, younger and more handsome, but I spent a lot of good hours right there.
I didn't have to wear noise canceling headphones. I didn't have to whisper my thoughts so other creatives might "lift" them. And I didn't have to go to the parking lot to speak with my doctor about my irritable bowel syndrome. Though my former partner will be happy to verify that phenomena.
I hear a lot of people grumbling about leaving advertising because it's not creative anymore. Or it's not fun anymore.
I'd leave cause it's not private anymore.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
If you've been on Facebook or Twitter lately you might have noticed I've been on a little tear about Bacon Bits.
I make this assumption knowing that the 23 people who regularly read R17 are also friends on social media.
If you haven't caught any of my Bacon Bit bits, I'll gladly back the truck up a little.
I like to think of myself as a problem solver. I get paid to come up with ideas for companies with marketing or advertising challenges. But my thinking doesn't stop where the foam core board ends. There's no reason why I can't apply some of this 44 year old creativity to other, more pressing problems.
And none could be more urgent than the ClusterFuck that is the Middle East.
As I write this, parents of Kenyan college students are mourning and burying 148 children slain by un-Islamic Al Shabaab terrorists.
In Yemen, Un-Islamic Shiite rebels are at war with a brutal Un-Islamic Sunni regime.
And in Syria and Iraq, Un-Islamic Sharia-loving, Caliphate-builders are in a battle of the ages with other Un-Islamic Sharia lovers who want to build a slightly different Caliphate with a slightly uglier flag.
It is so mindbogglingly stupid there can be no political or military solution.
But there may be a culinary one.
You see, these brave extremist warriors who so courageously attack shopping malls, college campuses and preschools, desperately seek martyrdom. And the 72 virgins. It is, I believe the only way these incredibly ugly men will ever get laid.
Death, they will tell you, is an honor. And honor, or their twisted notion of honor, is a value above all others in that part of the world.
And this where Bacon Bits come in. If we can't strike fear into their hearts with bombs, let's rain down dishonor upon them with the power of pork.
Think about it. During World War II, our home forces including Rosie the Riveter, mobilized en mass to build planes, tanks and whatever was necessary to defeat the Nazi war machine. Today, in 2015, we could put our farmers and Monsanto Food engineers on DefCon 5 and call for the massive production of Bacon Bits.
We could load these tiny nuggets of infidel-goodness onto belly-dragging C-130's.
Then, with much fanfare, we could carpet bomb 1000 square miles of desert. You pick a country, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, they all have vast stretches of unused sandy wasteland, mostly because they haven't reached out to the Israelis who could show them a thing or two about 21st century agriculture.
When it's all said and done, that patch of desert would look like a platter of potato skins during Applebee's Endless Appetizer Hour.
There would be much fury throughout the Fertile Crescent.
But no one would get hurt.
No one would die.
And the message would be loud and clear.
And oh so tasty.
"Cut this radical Sunni and Shia shit out. Get your act together. And stop fucking the planet up for the rest of us or we will do to your sorry ass country what we did to this small patch of desert. We will go all-porcine on you and pull out the pulled pork weapons of mass humiliation."
Monday, April 6, 2015
"We're ordering food, do you want some?"
I do want food.
But I don't want to eat it here with you slobs. I don't want to watch you assemble a 259 page deck. And I definitely don't want to be here when a higher level boss gets the pdf at home and starts barking changes just as Jimmy Fallon signs off the air later tonight.
I want to go home. I want to change out of these "business" clothes, lift some weights, jump on the elliptical I have in my garage, and then set my fat ass in front of the TV where I can slaughter the contestants at Jeopardy, drink beer and pretend to listen to my wife.
That's what I want.
And if you, Mr. or Mrs. Agency Big Wig had any inkling about creative management or even took Psych 101 in college, you'd insist I unplug my laptop and head for the door.
Years ago, I heard an anecdote about a legendary freelance writer whose name I will not mention because it's a little embarassing to place the word legendary next to the word copywriter.
Louis Zamperini was a legend. Some schmuck who writes an Oreo tweet during a Super Bowl is not a legend.
This anonymous writer famously told a hardballing recruiter, "If you can't afford my day rate, you can't afford me." I love that. He also said, "Don't expect any new ideas after 4 PM."
He wasn't being rude.
He was being honest.
Maybe it's a writer thing, but we are at our best in the morning. If I'm brain deep in a challenge I will often wake up with half-formed ideas already in my head. If it's a manifesto type thing, or long copy or even headlines, I've got 500 or so words strung out in my cerebellum before I've stepped out of the shower.
By the time the hipsters in their skinny jeans and Pharrell hats come strolling in, I'm already mapping out a second campaign.
I'm not being immodest, but I'm 44 now and I know what works best for me.
And I know what works best for you, Mr. or Mrs. Potential Employer.
You're paying me a handsome day rate.
Or as I often put it:
Three writers for the price of two.™
You're not paying me to manage. Or sit through meetings. Or navigate office politics. You're paying me to come up with ideas and write. Extending my normal day into a tortuous night of flip flopping, strategic changes, and deck assembling is robbing me of my routine. A routine that allows me to unwind, recharge and refresh.
In other words you can squeeze me for all I'm worth today, but tomorrow I'll be as worthless as a Zune.
It's all about efficiency and cost-to-work ratios.
The smart employer will come looking for me at 5:30 PM and tell me to hit the high road.
The really smart employer will already be in my face at 3:59 PM.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
You'll hear this from a lot of ex-New Yorkers, but the bagels and the pizza in Los Angeles, suck.
You'll also hear the reason why, the water.
New York water, counter-intuitively, tastes great. And it makes for the best dough, used in bagels and pizza. There are now LA bagel shops that import NY's finest, but in my mind, their products will never measure up to the legendary biales and onion bagels my father and I used to buy at a little shop off Horace Harding Blvd. in Flushing.
You know what else in the bread family sucks?
And it's that time of the year to go to the store and bring home the cardboard boxes of the cardboard bread.
Well, 2015 is going to be a little different.
Because this year we're going all foodie and making matzo the old school way. In the vernacular of the day, we're curating our own ingredients and holistically preparing artisan matzo the way it was meant to be prepared.
And as any Islamic cleric worth his jihad will tell you, that means we need to secure a few liters of fresh blood from the children of gentiles. Blood, like New York water, is the secret nectar that gives matzo its crave-worthy taste.
I'm not exactly sure how the tradition was born.
The way the story has been told to me, including 44 seder dinners, Pharaoh told the Hebrews to leave in great haste. So quickly indeed that the bread was not given time to rise.
But, according to these Islamic scholars, the same geniuses who prohibit women from driving and insist that they leave the house wrapped in a Coleman Pup Tent, these newly freed Hebrew slaves had enough time to slit the throats of little non-Jewish children, drain their non-Jewish blood and faithfully mix it in with the yeast and water to prepare the holy matzo.
If you can't trust an Islamic Scholar who can you trust?
In any case, we found a good recipe on Yelp.
So now my wife and I are off to the blood bank to sample the goyish hemoglobin and bring home some of that good red stuff.
The Yelp reviewer, Protocols984, says the B+ has a nice bouquet and finishes with a nice nutty flavor.
I'll let you know after the holidays.
For all my fellow gentile child-slaying Tribe members I wish you and yours a Pesach Sameach.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
I should have seen this coming.
My relentless ribbing of Dear Leader has finally caught someone's attention at the DPRK.
I'm assuming after the dust settled on Seth Rogen's movie, Kim's notetaking henchman finally noted the amateur from Culver City -- me.
The missive above arrived in my email. I was hesitant to open it thinking it might contain some malware. But that was almost instantly outweighed by my curiosity. Needless to say I went straight for one of those Internet based apps that translates Korean into broken pigeon English.
And naturally I am going to share it with you.
From the Ministry of Defense operating under Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea,
To the Yankee pig who maintains and posts pictures of great disrespect, you are a product of slovenly hygiene and nothing but a puppet of the American Imperialist Regime. Your unsheathed aggression will not go unanswered and a strong wind from the noble Kangnam Mountains will soon blow most unwelcome in your direction. You are hereby commanded to cease your seditious activities. Furthermore, you are to remove the offensive, warmongering material or suffer sinister consequences. Officers using state of the art equipment have already compiled a profile of you from the information superhighway. Should you persist with this insulting propaganda, your friends and family will know of your proclivity for furrys. We also have in our possession pictures of unwanted grey hairs growing in your ears and on your shoulders, disclosure of which would bring you, your wife and your daughters great unbearable shame. One last item, Dear Leader does not eat Be Bim Bap.
Die American Mongrel, Die