July 25, 2011
I was sitting on my front porch this weekend, at twilight, smoking a cheap cigar and listening to the cicadas and crickets rev up for the evening. It’s a strange racket they make, when you sit back and think about it. Whirring, clicking and even beeping, they sound… almost digital. It was as if the sun went down and all our devices crawled outside and… Oh my God, it’s Night of the Living Blackberries!
It hit me how similar insects look and sound to the myriad devices we all harbor: hard, shiny skins, black or translucent or wild in color. The aforementioned noises some of them make. The way they move: click, click, click. Shining intermittently, fireflies (actually beetles) remind me of my Blackberry… Or is it the other way around?
Not many people know this about me but when I was a boy I had a thing for insects. I collected butterflies and moths, raising them from caterpillars to adults. Waking up to a giant Cecropia Moth crawling up my bookshelf is a sight not soon forgotten. I kept a box of crickets on the back porch, much to our cat’s delight. For a time I even had a pet Black Widow spider, much to my mom’s horror. I named her Killer Queen.
The attraction was more than skin deep. I tore into books and movies about the insect kingdom. I must have read my Time Life book of Insects a million times. I learned about metamorphosis and exoskeletons and the differences between species and all their various idiosyncrasies. In college, I parlayed this knowledge into a minor in entomology. Needless to say, I probably know more about insects than any of you.
I know what you’re thinking: what a dork! Perhaps but I met my future wife showing her my collection of butterflies and moths.
And so I watch and listen to these amazing creatures, remembering a time before PC’s and smart phones, being a boy, an odd one at that, chasing fireflies and collecting moths by the porch light. And then my phone starts buzzing, like a June bug. Happy summer, everyone!
Halfway through a family vacation in Mexico’s Maya Riviera. Hot and sunny, within two hours of deplaning everyone got sun burned. That hasn’t hindered the girls from recreating, Thank God. Trust me, nursing a red skinned kid with the shivers is not how you want to spend spring break, unless, of course, you want to catch up on Mexican soap operas. Yet, the tropical heat is welcome respite from the endless Chicago winter. We are blessed to be here, one and all.
We are here with my brother, Jeremy and his young son, Jasper. Some of you in Adland might know my brother. Jeremy currently works for JWT in New York. His boy is a firecracker. How the lad is not sunburned is a mystery to all of us. Though my brother, who is a single father rightfully takes credit for militantly applying sun block on his lone progeny.
Today the sky was powder blue with scattered white puffy clouds. My eldest daughter commented that the vista “looked like the opening scene of The Simpson’s.” I smiled, wistfully. Back in the day TV reminded people of nature not the other way around. Still, at least she referenced quality programming in her reverse analogy.
Speaking of technology, I forgot to sign up for an International Plan for my Blackberry. Even before we got sunburned the email came warning me that I’ve already reached my roaming limit, charges will follow. I tossed the phone into our room safe, which is just as well.
We met a nice family from Arizona. They have a girl roughly the age of one of mine. Gwen is brazen for her age. She pointed at my eldest calling her short for her age and later to my middle child calling her chubby. I asked her if she thought she was at a zoo, pointing like that? My sarcasm was lost on her. She has the bad manners of an only child. I’m sure her parents call it confidence.
Last night at dinner I had the whole red snapper, partly because I love freshly grilled fish and partly because I knew the kids would get a kick out of it. Sure enough, the pink head with its big eyeballs was a hit. I made it “talk” for even bigger laughs.
So, that’s the vacation so far. And this is my holiday post, written blissfully on the deck overlooking the brackish river outside our room. Tonight we go into town; such as it is, for more seafood and endless baskets of chips. Adios.
August 23, 2010
While I’ve written four novels, dozens of short stories, probably thousands of ads, as well as maintained three blogs, I’ve done it all with basically one finger: the index on my right hand. Yes, I use the left index finger to mark punctuation but the other digit taps out all the words.
Crazy, huh? It’s not that I prefer longhand; I don’t. Though I wrote the initial drafts of my first two novels with pen and pencil I quickly migrated to laptops when those became available.
In college I wrote in notebooks or on a typewriter nicked from my father. Back then I was a drinker and a smoker and I used my left hand to do that and my right hand to work. God knows what my brain was doing but that’s how I functioned.
As time went by I stopped drinking and smoking cigarettes (though I still puff cheap cigars) but I never learned to type properly. That’s not to say I didn’t evolve; I did. I certainly memorized the keyboard. Subsequently, my finger tapping became faster and faster. I never timed it but when I’m in the zone I can probably hammer out forty or fifty words a minute, maybe more.
As cell phones became more versatile I began using them the same way. Though Blackberry’s keyboard is made for traditional typing I use the one-finger approach there as well.
This likely is stupid behavior but it won’t change. I’ve gotten too competent in my dysfunctional approach to bother learning the proper method.
Oddly, I don’t know a single person who types like I do. All of you seem to engage your keyboards properly. Even you non-professional writers. Am I wrong about this? If so, let me know. I’m curious: Am I the only one-fingered typist who is not a child or a monkey?
September 16, 2009
My last post was about U2’s 360 Tour, which I generally liked despite having serious issues with Soldier Field. Among numerous comments I received, one stood out for its indictments. Migrane66 wrote the following:
…I suddenly understood why Kurt Cobain put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He looked at his future and saw something like soldier field this weekend: banners reading “Blackberry loves Nirvana”, a huge, dumb stage that was there to take to the focus off the average musicianship emanating from said stage, and a group of musicians who have become mere props in a corporate money grab…
Though I disagree with the writer’s bleak positions, his or her letter got me thinking. (No small feat!) Are not fan disappointment and the band’s success codependent? U2 became hugely popular and now the population holds it against them.
This ironic phenomenon is not limited to bands. Frankly, it applies to many people, places and things. Because of their success the New England Patriots went from unexpected darlings to annoying juggernaut. Now that everyone loves your favorite restaurant you hate going there.
Advertisers should pay special attention. All brands want to get big. But the smart ones worry about it as well. When I worked on Altoids, we rightfully worried that our success would ultimately come back to haunt us. Whenever someone suggested we “merchandise the brand” my spider sense began tingling. New flavors I could accept but Altoids mouth wash? Not on my watch. The key to maintaining Altoids’ cult-like status relied on keeping things under the radar –in brand management and advertising. That was one of the reasons we never did TV.
Has Altoids gone too far? What about Starbucks, Apple or Nike?
Everyone lusts for growth, especially in business. If one isn’t growing their business, one is considered failing. Yet, all around us are age-old examples of people, places and things growing too big or jumping the shark. Hence the above emailer’s brutal review of U2.
Our own industry is hardly immune. Pat Fallon and Jay Chiat both asked, “how big can we get before we get bad?” They got big. One can debate whether they got bad.
The great irony remains. When David slays Goliath we cheer. When David becomes Goliath we jeer. Word of warning to challenger brands: be careful what you wish for.
Finally, GROWTH is not always synonymous with EXCELLENCE. Take cancer for instance.