Sunday, September 30, 2007

You're soaking in it.

For the first time in over a decade, I'm enthusiastic about my work.

No, not my fiction writing. That's an obsession, my great white whale. My work is writing copy and if you feel so moved, write your redundancy joke here.

Last week I was talking to a colleague about the grand years of advertising. Our conversation was sprinkled with names like Dan Wieden, Ed McCabe and Hal Riney, people who changed my world. When we speak of these people, largely unknown outside the biz, we speak the way music geeks talk about Keith Moon or Don Van Vliet.

I know most of you probably agree with Bill Hicks when he advised all marketing people to kill themselves, but if you'll indulge me, I want to take a quick look at how we got here.

That classic poster up there was created for Maxell by art director Lars Anderson. The agency was Scali, McCabe Sloves, one of the first New York agencies to take the ad world out of the hands of Ivy League WASPs like the guys you see in Mad Men, and put it into the hands of kids with names that were Irish, Italian and Jewish.

This was in the day of Ring Around the Collar, when big companies advertised to your mom as if she were an idiot. A P&G brand manager once told me their standard formula was 2CK. When I asked what 2CK meant, he told me it involves two women talking together in a kitchen, but in much less-enlightened language.

So when Scali started writing to real people and Doyle Dane Bernbach went against all the big-finned, big breasted, Detroit advertising with this, it caused a revolution.

It lasted a few years and then, in the 70's, pants cuffs got big and brains got small again and advertising became as boring as disco. But like punk, surprising things were happening in surprising places, and while the dinosaurs lumbered about in the cocaine haze of Studio 54, eager young mammals in places like Portland, Minneapolis, Richmond and Seattle were re-inventing advertising with smart work.

This is when I started, learning from giants like Tom McElligott who told us we can outsmart our competition, not outspend them. He also taught us that you didn't need a big client to win big awards.

So I wrote ads like this one with art director Mike Sellers. It was for the Durham County Literacy Council and yes, we won awards.

Great work was being done all over the place and it was exciting to be a part of it. Then I started making money. And I took jobs for money. And my love for the business dimmed as I started working for people whose only passion was making money. I burned out and I quit.

I started writing novels. I still worked part time for a small ad agency where I wrote this ad for a real estate developer. You can still see Tom McElligott's influence (as well as our blatant theft of the layout from an Art Director named Tracy Wong).

But writers have a hard time paying the rent with novels, so I'm working again. I came to this job as a temp, then as a full-timer, happy to reduce my patient wife's angst with a steady paycheck.

This is not a traditional ad agency and that has its benefits. It also meant that for the longest time they didn't quite know what to do with me. Then they hired a new creative director. He understands my passion for the business. He knows who Jay Chiat is and why he's important.

For the first time in years I'm excited about the possibility of doing smart work. It's kind of like going through a really ugly divorce and for the first time being tempted to date again. I like this.

Do you love your work? If you do, do you know how lucky you are?

And are there ads that you love?

Talk to me.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Return From The Edge of the Earth.

Standing at the very edge of the continent, I abandoned e-mails, laptops and phones. It's going to take me a few days to figure out how all this stuff works again.

I am but a simple man of the beach. Your modern ways confuse and frighten me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Today is Jeff Shelby's 8th anniversary. What is the 8th? Jello?

I don't know what amazes me more, that Jeff found a woman who agreed to share her life with him, or that any couple finds a way to stay together through the stresses of kids, mortgages, lost jobs, ill health, in-laws, sleeping habits, sex, incontinent dogs, odd hobbies, televised sports, and the unrealistic expectations of women everywhere. But I'm happy that at least half the time, it works.

I'm going to be best man at a wedding this weekend. I have no idea what is expected of a best man. Maybe I should look that up before Sunday.

My old friend, Jerry (regular readers will know him as Secret Dead Artist), is marrying Heather on the Outer Banks, which will be very cool. That Heather is younger, better-looking, smarter and taller than Jerry has all of us shaking our heads in wonder at Jerry's good fortune.

Mazel Tov.

Last April, Jenny and I celebrated 27 years together, a phenomenol thing if you consider that Jenny could have, to quote Mark Twain, laid a trap in the night and caught twelve more able men. It's been great, but it hasn't been easy. They say nothing worthwhile is, but I find drinking more than worthwhile, and surprisingly easy.

In that spirit, I raise my glass to all the happy couples out there. If you're lucky enough to be one of them, take the time to tell your patient SO that your life would not be half as rich, full or wonderfully complicated without her (or him).

We all think we'll have another day, but we all know there's no guarantee, don't we.

Here's to marriage. And here's to the daily miracles that make it possible.

Happy Anniversary, Jeff.

And to Jerry, bon voyage. It's a trip I highly recommend.

So, when do we get our health care, eh?

According to the New York Times, this

now equals this:

and the US dollar's dropped to an all time low against the Euro. So if you've got travel plans you might want to cart around another suitcase full of greenbacks so you'll have enough cash on hand to buy a Guiness.

Our northern cousins get a loon on their money and we get a loon in the White House.

This can't be good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Stop me before I kill again.

I murdered an old friend last night. It was this 1948 National amp you see up there. In my idiocy, I was packing up after rehearsal, got distracted, forgot and backed over it.

It is toast.

I'm happy it wasn't a child or a dog. It was just an amp.

An amplifier I've played through for years, as much of an instrument as my guitars or my box of harps. I don't know how I'll replace it.

Compared with other things that have happened lately, this is a very small thing, barely rising above annoyance.

Still, I loved that old amp.

I hope your year has been better than mine because so far, 2007 has sucked.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I live for stories like this.

In Minneapolis, a state known to be only slightly less polite than Canada, a guy waiting for a bus assaulted another guy with a folder from an anger management class.


The police say Angry Guy was at a bus stop when he started yelling at a 59-year-old woman. When she took out her cell phone, Angry Guy knocked her down. When a second guy tried to help, Angry Guy hit him with the folder.

Angry Guy has been charged with felony assault. This, not surprisingly, is his third assault charge in 18 months, and he's been convicted twice of domestic assault.

"Our hope is that the court will see fit to allow him to finish his anger management class in jail," a cop spokesman said between giggles. "Clearly he has issues."

Happy Friday, people. Let's hope for an uneventful weekend.

Wanted for arson.

This woman, Janiva Magness, burned down the house last night.

She and her band had people dancing past midnight (on a Thursday!) at the Blue Bayou and if she plays anywhere within a day's drive of where you live, drop everything and go. You'll thank me.

Learn more about this great talent here and here.

Thanks, Janiva, and come back any time. We love you here in North Carolina.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Live Lard!

Thanks to Ed for my new watchword.

Live Lard!

And if you want to see Ed, check him out here. He's the drummer sitting in the aura of light, just as God intended.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Crap jobs.

I was inspired to write this by an earlier post over at Bryon Quertermous' place. He was complaining about his job working a call center and asked what lousy jobs we've had. That got me thinking about all the crap jobs I've had and I had to post this (expanded) response over here.

I caddied when I was 15. I weighed 125 pounds and had to carry two large bags to make 50 cents an hour. That lasted until a guy threw his putter at me.

I took my first real job at a roadside hot dog stand where I made 65 cents an hour and all I could eat. At 15 I could eat a lot, but not enough to make that job pay.

When I was 18 I worked in a warehouse loading grocery store trucks from 11 at night to 7 in the morning, all night slinging heavy cartons into the backs of tractor trailers. The dust was so thick you could sculpt it and there was never a moment when there wasn't a truck to be loaded. I made 2.12/hr.

I worked for Uncle Sam for 11 cents an hour. That was probably the worst job and none of the skills I learned was marketable. Huh.

After the Army I worked short order in midtown Manhattan, spiked ties for the Erie Lackawanna RR, set columns on construction sites and managed a janitorial crew at night.

All hard work, low pay and long hours.

The truth is, I actually enjoyed some of the work. Construction wasn't bad and I made good money working on the railroad. Short order was a sure way to get fed, which at that time in my life was a good thing. All of these jobs gave me people and places to write about.

But I wonder, do young people take these kinds of jobs today? I don't know if they do. I pass construction sites and see nothing by Latinos. I go to restaurants and see the same.

What about you? What were some of the worst jobs that you've had? And are today's crap jobs all that different?

Talk to me.

Republicans attack!

The GOP is in a dizzying snit over's NY Times ad referring to General Petraeus as General Betray Us. I admit, it's a rather juvenile pun, at best.

It might surprise you but I'm not a big fan of this war. Nope. Not even a little bit. And with all the conflicting stories about the surge working and the surge not working and the Sunnis lying down with the Shia and the Kurds singing Kum By Yah and car bombs not counting as violence well, hell, I don't know who to believe.

Unless a member of this administration says it and then I know it's wrong. Completely wrong. Because we're talking about six years of wrong here, setting new standards of wrong, wronger than anyone has ever been at anytime in the history of being wrong.

But back to the ad. You can see it for yourself
here. Republicans are angry that the left is saying this decorated officer may be less than honorable in his report to Congress about success in Iraq. And I sympathize with them. To a point.

Then I remember another decorated soldier who was in the news and during the GOP convention, these same worked-up Republicans made light of the Purple Heart the man received in a war our present CINC ducked, even went so far as to put the Purple Heart on band-aids and laughed, oh how they laughed, because he was injured in combat but apparently didn't bleed enough for this howling pack of sunshine patriots. Yeah, funny. Ha ha. Ha ha.

So when they get their knickers in a twist over a childish play on Petraeus' name I just think of those band-aids and I say fuck them.
Fuck them all.

If they honestly gave a rat's ass for our soldiers they'd bring them the fuck home. Let 'em suck on that, the bastards.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What's keeping me awake.

I'm worried about Manuel Noriega, known to his former countrymen as The Pineapple. He's the Panamanian strongman who came to power in 1981 after Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash that was in no way engineered by George HW Bush.

The fact that Torrijos was popular for building roads, schools and hospitals for the working class campesinos had nothing to do with his death while George HW Bush was vice president. Nothing at all.

Torrijos said, "Having finished with the oligarchy, the Panamanian has his own worth with no importance to his origin, his cradle, or where he was born," and while that had to piss off the well-born Mr. Bush, friend to oligarchs everywhere, that does not mean Bush caused the plane crash that killed Torrijos and brought Noriega to power.

Noriega worked closely with the CIA while Bush was the head of the agency, but sometime in the 80's Bush decided The Pineapple had to go. So George HW Bush sent in the 82nd Airborne and boo-yah, Noriega became just another prisoner in Cellblock Hell.

Now Noriega's sentence has ended. He wants to go back to Panama but Panama says no thanks. France wants him to stand trial on money laundering charges, but Noriega is oddly resistant to spending the remainder of his days as a guest of the French.

What to do? I think I have the answer.

See, as Noriega served out his sentence, Bush's son, George W, became president and had his own strongman problem. The son, ever chafing under the shadow of his more accomplished father, decided he'd do something his Poppy couldn't, and that was to remove Saddam Hussein, another former friend of the family who had fallen into disfavor.

But now there's a problem. The Iraqis have proven to be more restive than the Panamanians. Maybe it's the heat or lack of fruit in their diet. I don't know.
But with Saddam gone, the country has fallen into chaos. What they need is someone who knows how to crack a few heads. Someone with a proven track record, a man who is tanned, rested and ready to take his place on the world stage. A man we know. A man trained by our own School of the Americas in the uncompromising art of guerilla warfare.

Enter Noriega, the answer to our problems in Iraq. Come on, let's give The Pineapple another chance. He couldn't fuck it up any more than it is.

What? So, when you can't sleep, what's on your mind?

And don't look at me like that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What do people who don't read do in waiting rooms?

I asked this question again as we waited in the hospital ER last Friday. What do people do who don't read?

This weekend I finished The Dramatist and Running Blind.

Molly finished To the Power of Three and started Water for Elephants.

Poor Jenny was stuck without a book on Friday so she bought something from the woefully inadequate selection in Duke Hospital's gift shop. She said there were plenty of religious books and inspirational tracts (which I find disconcerting in an institution dedicated to science), but they inspired Jenny to ask where the hell the fiction was.

They found a few books, Jenny bought one but it sucked.

So what do people who don't read do in waiting rooms? How do they pass the time? I can't imagine.

Ever been stuck somewhere with nothing to read? That, my inspirational friends, is my idea of hell.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

An update.

Every so often one of you asks how my daughter, Molly, is doing. That's her with my mother from last October.

Yesterday she went into the hospital. There's not much more that we know. I'll know more after we see her this afternoon.

For all of you who have offered your love, concern and support, I can only express my most sincere gratitude.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Something to entertain you.

While I'm working, here's something to listen to. This is Jake Shimabukuro and he's playing a ukulele. That's right, a fucking ukulele. So before you crack wise about Tiny Tim or Don Ho, shut the hell up and watch the video.

Because I bought a uke last Saturday and I haven't been able to put it down. Jenny's not enjoying it so much, but it beats the screaming drunks and howling crack whores I usually bring home.

I'm working at it, but right now I sound less like Jake and a lot more like, well, this jerk:

Monday, September 03, 2007

...but before I go...

These pictures are of West Virginia, a place I lived for a while, where I drank some fine mountain whiskey and played some good gut-bucket music long into the night with girls who wore overalls without irony or shame, God bless 'em.

West Virginia is a poor state and it doesn't have much, but what it does have is beauty.

Beauty and coal.

Which is why the Bush administration has given us a Labor Day present, dumped last Friday before a three-day weekend. They're giving their blessing to a type of strip mining called mountaintop removal and its as ugly and destructive as the name implies. Instead of digging mines into a mountain and extracting coal, this technique allows the coal companies to blast off the tops of mountains and dump the rubble into valleys and streams.

Gee, thanks, President Bush, that's swell!

Mountaintop removal has been used for 20 years under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion but under the leadership of President Bush this new rule would encourage coal companies to expand the practice providing that mine operators "minimize" the debris and cause "the least environmental harm."

Given the history of the coal industry's loving care for mountain communities, I'm sure they'll do their gosh darn best.

According to the New York Times, "The regulation is the culmination of six and a half years of work by the administration to make it easier for mining companies ... " They don't say how much money the coal industry gave to Bush campaign but I'll guess it was enough to make a hooker blanch.

Just to show how little the industry gives a fuck, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, told the Times that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to make a buck which makes Jesus weep in sympathy for them, I'm sure.

And as most of us are writers here, I thought you'd like to see some wonderful euphemistic language the coal companies use to describe the poisonous sludge they dump in those valleys and streams. They call it "overburden." Doesn't that make it sound cleaner? Why sure it does.

For years, this toxic crap has been trucked away and dumped in remote hollows of Appalachia, which was bad enough, but now environmentalists say the rule change will lead to accelerated pillage and the obliteration of hundreds of miles of streams.

''This is a parting gift to the coal industry from this administration,'' said Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, W.Va. ''What is at stake is the future of Appalachia. This is an attempt to make legal what has long been illegal.''

Again, according to the Times: "Mountaintop mining is the most common strip mining in central Appalachia, and the most destructive. Ridge tops are flattened with bulldozers and dynamite, clearing all vegetation and, at times, forcing residents to move."

Want to see what mountaintop mining does? Look at the mountain view at the top of this post again. Now look at what happens to that view after the coal companies have come through.

Why not take a minute and drop a line to your representative and tell him or her what you think of this Labor Day gift from Mr. Bush. Next time I see you I'll buy a round of mountain whiskey, or as close to mountain whiskey as these flatland laws will allow.

Now, I'll resume my time off. Play nice.

The party never ends.

Thanks to everyone who sent me jokes and links and particularly Deb for that great mullet PDF.

I'm taking this week off. Everything's fine, but I want to concentrate on getting this novel back on the front burner. As much as I try not to let this blog eat away at my writing time, it does. So I'm giving myself a break and trying something new with the schedule. I'll let you know how it goes.

And if you're in the neighborhood our band, Twelve Cents Shy, will be playing this Thursday at the Blue Bayou in Hillsborough. We'll be recording a demo CD so come on out and make some noise. If we get a few cuts that don't make me want to open my veins, I'll find a way to post them. I'll let you know.

Thanks again and I'll be back in a week or so. Play nice and read books.