Friday, March 16, 2018

Uncle Slappy's every-so-often "Slap of the Week."

Thursday, March 15, 2018


I stumbled upon something just minutes ago in Dave Leonhardt's column in "The New York Times." You can read it here.

Leonhardt's column is called "Thank a Teenager." It talks about the hope that can be derived from the teenage-led protests across the country around the rampant over-proliferation of guns propagated by the radical-right and the National Rifle Association.

A quote in the article really struck me, and made me think of life in our industry. The quote itself is from David Axelrod, a  political strategist and former advisor to Barack Obama.

Today's central battle, Axelrod said, is between "cynicism and idealism."

Let's take a second to think about that particular dialectic in terms of advertising.

There are cynics amongst us. They believe, almost to their core, that their work will inevitably suck. They believe, I think, that if they follow certain orders and regimens, they will get to the only place they can go, the land of sucky work, with a minimum of pain and effort.

While I have a dark and lugubrious mien, workwise I am firmly an idealist. I believe that the work we do--no matter what barriers it needs to overcome--always has potential. That it can always be good. 

In short, I believe something Steve Hayden taught me two or three decades ago. "The best revenge is a better ad."

In other words, believe in yourself. Believe in the company you work for. Believe in your clients. 

Believe you can make things better. Believe you can make a difference.

I look around me and I notice things. 

One of those things is that there ain't a lot of 60-year-old copywriters around. Meanwhile, I am producing about 16-tons of work every day, and some of the best work of my life.

Maybe my skills over the decades have improved and that's the reason. Maybe instead it's an all-too-rare alignment of career planets.

But I don't think it's either of those things alone.

I think as I've gotten older, I've gotten more idealistic.

The Ides of March and Uncle Slappy. A repost.

“Shakespeare wrote,” said Uncle Slappy as I picked up the horn at 6:17 this morning, “Shakespeare wrote,” he continued “the words of the soothsayer: ‘Beware the Ides of March.’”

“Set him before me,” I said, “let me see his face.”

“Today is the Ides of March,” Uncle Slappy continued.

“Actually, Uncle Slappy,” I dissertationed, “the Romans divided their months into five or six day periods. One of those—roughly between the 13th and 18th was the Ides.”

“Thank you, perfesser. Your edifications always warmed my heart. But today, I want to talk about what happened yesterday.”

“Yesterday was also the Ides,” I clarified.

“First it was down by the pool, Ida Blumenthal, her husband was in insurance out in Jersey, six chaises by the pool she takes. People on the concrete were laying on towels and she has six chaises all festooned with stolen hotel towels and cheap novels.”

“Ida Blumenthal,” I said stupidly.

“Then Sylvie says, ‘Let’s to the market go and to the pool we’ll come back later.’”

I reordered the sentence in my head.

“So,” Uncle Slappy continued, “We get in the car and drive over to the Stop and Plotz to pick up a few groceries. If you should happen to visit anytime soon, a sponge cake we have in the ice box.”

“I’d love to make it down, Uncle Slappy. But work is unrelenting.”

“We’re in the checkout, the 15-items or fewer and ahead of us is Ida Plotnick with, count ‘em, 22 items.”

“22 items, that’s terrible."

“Well she counts four cans of chicken noodle as one item. That’s how she beats the system.”

“There ought to be a law,” I said.

“So an imbroglio happens between Sylvie and Plotnick. It looked like there would be a cage match between two alter cockers in the Schtup and Plotz.”

“What happened,” I asked.

“The manager, a nice Puerto Rican opens a lane for us. That’s fine but something to Ida Plotnick he should say. Four cans, four items. That’s in the Talmud.”

“You had quite a day.”

“It’s what led me to re-write Shakespeare,” Uncle Slappy said, setting me up. “He said, ‘Beware the Ides of March.’ My version is better. At least for Boca: ‘Beware the Idas of March.’”

And with that, he hung up the blower.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Pemberton Mill disaster.

This being the true account of the Disaster of January 10, 1860.

The Pemberton Mill was a five-story factory building in Lawrence, Massachusetts. It was built in 1853 and was 280-feet long and 84-feet wide. Its construction was completed at the then astronomical cost of $850,000.

Charles Bigelow, a respected engineer, designed the mill which sat on the polluted banks of America’s foulest waterway, the Merrimack River. During the severe financial panic of 1857, Messers Lowell and Pickering who commissioned and owned the mill, sold it at a loss to George Howe and David Nevins for $500,000.

To recoup their investment, Howe and Nevins crammed heavy machinery into the mill. By 1860, the mill accommodated 2,700 spindles and 700 looms. It was earning Howe and Nevins an estimated $1.5 million a year.

In order to save costs at the time of construction, Bigelow did not use iron beams as was the practice of the day. Additionally, the floor structure was under-girded by substandard iron pillars that were cheap and brittle. What’s more, the mill’s brick walls were improperly mortared and supported. The Scientific American noted, “there is now no doubt that the fall of the building was owing to the most gross negligence and want of fidelity in casting the columns."

January 10th, 1860 was a mild day, unseasonably warm. Some of the second-shift sisters as they called themselves had taken advantage of the temperate weather and were eating their lunches on benches outside the looming factory.

At 4:52 PM , Mary O’Keefe, a spindle-girl newly arrived from County Sligo, Ireland and working the factory’s second shift, was nearly finished with her modest lunch—a tomato sandwich with butter on a hard roll, a bottle of un-pasteurized milk and a small green apple. As she was packing up, she later said to “The Boston Journal-American,” “I heard a rumble like an old man snoring. More a bear than a man, perhaps.”

Moments later, Mary heard the resounding clang and crash and screams of the collapsing factory. She saw George Howe, the owner of the factory rush from its premises. Dozens, however, were killed instantly and more than 600 workers—many of them young women like Mary and children as young as four, were trapped in the twisted ruins.

“The Boston Almanac and Business Directory noted, “The Pemberton Mills at Lawrence, Mass., ... (did) fall-in while nearly 800 operatives are at work, and bury many in the ruins. About four hours after the fall, a fire breaks out, and destroys those not extricated from the ruins. More than 115 people perish by the awful catastrophe, and 165 are more or less injured.”

O’Keefe in a letter to her mother back in Ireland wrote, “There were, coming from nowhere a sudden sharp rattle and then a crash like a thousand dishes crashing to a tile floor. I herd [sic] the screams of those inside, agonizing, and then a heap of nothing but twisted iron, splintered beams and imprisoned human flesh.”

In all, between 90 and 145 people died, the largest industrial disaster until the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911.
In the wake of the disaster, area ministers delivered "sermons on God’s inscrutable wrath" but it was apparent that blame lay in the manner in which the factory was built and operated.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New York in the gloom.

I like New York when it is wet like an old sponge and every umbrella you see is turned inside out from the wind or else stands sentinel in a beaten trash can full of them.

I like New York in the dark and grey gloom when the sky sits just above the tenements and scowls like an old man short-changed for soup at a lunch counter.

I like New York when the color is gone save for the white silver glow of street lamps and the spindly trees in the park look like they grew fully formed from an old Edward Weston photograph.

In the last ten days, the news has told me, we have had in New York three winter storms, including today’s slug in the rib cage. The city moves to the haunt of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung or maybe something dark and gutter scraping by Thelonius. Or maybe something by Sonny Terry--a dark Delta blues number because the city feels like a woman who hurt you.

There’s nothing, it seems, not even climate change that can break the cop’s-rough-grip of winter. While I don’t mind the cold and wet, while I don’t mind the wind in my face and the flakes in my eyes I long, like so many of my vintage do, for the crack of the bat and the laughter of young boys as they round the bases with not a care as we reach the end of all time.

And I think, just then, as my cab avoided a waist-deep pothole and suburbanites who drive as if they’re pinballs, and I think as I so often do, of Ernest Thayer.
Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
I wait, as we all do, for the joy to return to Mudville.