The Locker (7)

April 17, 2020

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Unfolding the letters again, you remembered their secrets. You were surprised your father had shown no interest in reading them, even after you told him what they contained: that his mother (her name was Mary) had unrequited longings for Jack’s brother, Harry. In notes to Harry, dated earlier than ones written to your future Grandfather, she flirted and pined with him. Though modest by today’s standards, you could tell something was going on. Harry had refused her. You have his letters too. And she ended up marrying Jack.

Upon telling these things to your dad, he said only this: “My father always hated his brother.” That was all you got. Your father changed the subject and never returned to it. You knew not to push.

You consider the estrangement with your brother. Wildly different reasons than with Harry and Jack but the result was the same. You met your uncle once maybe twice and have no memory of it. With each passing month, now years, it seems very possible your daughters will forget their uncle as well. The ridiculous feud with your brother upsets your dad. No doubt he draws parallels to the animus between his father and uncle. Maybe the analogy of a chain is a poor one. At times, it seems your family isn’t connected by anything at all.

Placing back the shoebox, you must reconsider your Grandparents as more than old antiques. They were from a simpler era. Things were easier then, cut and dried. Yet, on this hot afternoon, in this crappy storage locker, you uncovered a truth: Jack and Mary had longings that turned into secrets and eventually became lies. Just like you and just like everyone else.

To be continued…

The Game

February 28, 2020

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When you were barely a teenager, you imagined the death of your parents to see if it would cause you any pain. Lying in bed, you would create details in your mind to make it seem as real as possible.

…A policeman sits you down in an interrogation room. Behind the two-way glass other family members are watching. I’m sorry, son but your mother is dead. No reaction. Bad news boy your father was killed, too…

Nothing. No tears.

What was the matter with you? The game created more questions than it had answers. You could only roll over on the bed smashing your face into a pillow; less ashamed for having played such a wicked game than frightened it was proof that love wasn’t real. Not for you anyway.

You still played the game, did not outgrow it. Only now you are the father and your children are the pawns. An unnamed killer gives you an ultimatum: either you die or one of your daughters. He is holding a gun. You have seconds to decide. You’d like to think choosing death for yourself would be easy. But it’s not. You find yourself looking for options: a deal you can cut with the killer, a way in which you get to live too. Give us both a running start, you say. Count to ten. Instead of pleading for your child’s life you plea-bargain.

Your wife is sleeping beside you. What would that be like – her death? You know your children would be traumatized. Would you? You imagine the funeral, all eyes upon you. And once again you are an empty vessel, no tears, not one. Grimly, you wonder if the gathered would suspect you had killed her. An argument could be made.

Then you must imagine the end game, your own funeral. Your wife looking stonily at the casket, tossing a clump of dirt upon it. She isn’t letting go of you. She is getting rid of you. The daughters you let down stand behind her. Young adults now, they look at their phones, texting friends: it’s almost over. There is your estranged brother, his face unreadable. Is it possible he’s smirking? You got what you gave, brother, he undoubtedly thinks. Your mother and father are buried elsewhere, or cremated, their ashes tossed into an ocean. Anyone else? Where are the friends from the old neighborhood? Former colleagues? Is not an old girlfriend present, Michelle perhaps, standing far back, in a tight black dress, smoking a cigarette?

Where is love then?

 

In every version of the game death is the common denominator. Where is love?

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Been thinking about obsession. Not Calvin Klein’s perfume from the late 80’s. Though it is a fitting digression, seeing as Obsession was a quintessential icon of the greed decade, which actually does lead to my thoughts on obsession…

My young daughters love to toss around the word “obsession” to mean something they can’t stop thinking about and/or get enough of. A good example might be a type of candy or a popular song. Maybe it’s a brand of clothing or a food item from this restaurant or that store. And so on.

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Ew.

Now you know why advertisers are so interested in obsession. If only they could get more people to obsess about their products. If only. But obsession is ephemeral, like a vapor. Here today gone tomorrow or, if advertisers are lucky, the day after tomorrow.

As I think about obsession, I realize it lies somewhere between addiction and love: the third point in that Bermuda Triangle. The differences are subtle but profound. Love generally is a “good” thing. Addiction not so much. Obsession can go either way. By my daughters’ definition, obsession is generally harmless.

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“OMG. I’m so obsessed with painting my nails.”

But adults obsess. I am or have been obsessed with all manner of things, including in no particular order: leather jackets, bicycles, running, fishing, zombies, old oil paintings, U2, aquarium keeping, silver rings and writing. To you a random list but for me these things are or have been significant totems. One aspect that marks them as obsessions is my inability to stop thinking about them. It is like my head is a rock tumbler and I keep turning over the same thoughts. I have literally stayed up nights wondering if one of my aquarium corals is dead or merely in a dormant stage. Obviously, the Internet is a fiendish companion to obsession. Search “dormant corals.” Search “reviving dormant corals.” You get the idea.

While obsessive behavior resembles addiction it is not. Addiction is the Ace of Spades in that it trumps all obsessions and very often love for that matter. An addict will stop at nothing and stoop to anything to get what he wants. Trust me.

I do not know what it is like to obsess about another human being. Perhaps there was a girl in high school. But those memories are vague. I love my wife and children unconditionally but I am not always thinking about them. When I do worry and wonder about one of my girls I feel intensely vulnerable and so I stop. Rightly or wrongly, I take love for granted. I’m working on it. On the other hand, obsessing over another person is not healthy either. See stalking.

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Leather me up…

What I like about obsessions are their ability to fill one up. A hobby (fish keeping), collection (leather jackets) or passion (U2 music) somehow makes life keener and more fun. I’ve been instructed that it might behoove me to set my compass on a more spiritual course. Alas, I may be too cynical for that. Perhaps that’s why I’m obsessed with U2. Like Bono, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. In the meantime, I’ve got my eye on this badass vintage biker jacket on ebay.

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Forgive me for I have hated…

Since I began Gods of Advertising almost a decade ago (!), I’ve carefully avoided demonstrating hatred of any kind to persons, places or things. When I was critical, say of an ad campaign, I tried to look at it from all angles, positing why, perhaps, an advertiser or agency would put something so questionable into the cosmos. Most of the time I have succeeded in being personally true to my feelings while maintaining respect for other points-of-view. (My last post bemoaning Selfies is a good example.)

When I’ve (perhaps) crossed a line you let me know. And I’ve published virtually every comment to that effect, unless they were patently offensive or obscene. Take a look at a piece I wrote about an ad campaign for Walgreens, featuring the cloying (in my opinion) voice-over talents of John Corbett. 62 people came to John’s defense, condemning me for being rude, cynical and worse. Precious few take my side. Either way, a new comment to this post shows up in my inbox every month or so. I publish all of them.

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I’m just not that into you…

While I seldom defend myself I don’t freak out either. We have a conversation. I’ve written far more interesting pieces. Yet precious few engender as much feedback as the Corbett story. Proving, yet again, everyone loves or hates a critic.

As an experiment, I tried come up with three things I hate unequivocally. My one criterion (or do you say “criteria?”) was to limit selections to only matters germane to advertising and popular culture. God forbid, I drift into politics or anything particularly important.

As cynical as I am it was harder than I thought. I came up with three.

1. Laugh tracks. Oh my God, how I loathe laugh tracks. A remnant of the Golden Age of Television, the laugh track is, for me, an utter and complete turnoff. Now mainly a staple of kid’s TV, they elicit the exact opposite effect in me: one of utter and complete revulsion. I find all programs that use them guilty by association. A pass is given to the many inane sitcoms of ancient times, like Green Acres or Gilligan’s Island. That shit’s funny.

2. Auto Tune is to popular music what the laugh track is to TV. Why this dopey audio implant isn’t as reviled as lip-synching I’ll never know. A million years ago Peter Frampton Comes Alive came out to boffo reviews and went mega-platinum, largely because of his “Wa-Wa” infused number, Do You Feel Like I Do. I hated it then and make-out nostalgia aside I still do now.

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Is Auto Tune his fault?

3. My most controversial and final selection is the current spate of faux premium lagers, like Bud Light Platinum or Miller Fortune. Who’s kidding whom? These variations on a theme are nothing more than marketing ploys to upsell customers, who are dumb enough to fall for them. Like the so-called Ice beers of yore, they come in gaudy bottles that supposedly evoke class and distinction. They are anything but. I consider these brand extensions the Ed Hardy of beers. A badge for douche bags.

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#douche-y

4. Honorable mention goes to Reality TV. This much-reviled yet inexplicably popular genre is far too low hanging fruit to make my list. None of these shows are real. They’re just shitty.

So, that’s my hater blog for 2014. I hope you liked it, or hated it, as the case may be. If you have something to add, this is the time and this is the place.

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“Two Miller Fortunes…and a f–king lime.”

I have a very special relationship with my laptop computer. For going on 15 years I’ve owned one, almost since Apple began making them. I hooked up with my first at Leo Burnett, where they doled out Macbooks to the copywriters and desktops for the art directors. I still think we writers got the better deal. Back then, few of us actually knew how to use a computer and so Leo Burnett provided mandatory lessons. A saucy blond woman taught me, which, at the time, may have been the biggest motivator to take the class. Like most creative people, I loathed tutorials, even when they were for my own good. Needless to say, I’m glad as hell I went. In retrospect, I should have been first in line.

My machine quickly smote me. You have to realize how exotic these svelte devices were, coming off an IBM Selectric or whatever the hell we’d been using. The IBM machine was swell…like your mother-in-law. Believe it or not, lots of writers still hacked away on manual typewriters or gave their copy to assistants to type. Sounds like ancient history but it isn’t. I’m talking 1996.


No love lost here.

Within a couple years we became inseparable, my laptop and I. Now it’s like we’re married, only without human frailty. She stays up with me at night telling me her secrets. In the morning I run to see what she’s saved for me. I take my laptop everywhere. She is way more than a tool. The Ipad or Iphone might be sexier but they do not seduce me. As a writer, I cannot ply my craft on those devices.

I realize the “life online” idea is nothing new. It’s so 1999. But that’s not what I’m talking about. My relationship with my computer is more involved than what teenagers have with smart phones or executives and their Blackberries. Those people can’t wait to get the new, new version of whatever their using. Me? I get attached to the hardware. I hold on until the bitter end. Though dead, I still have my 2004 G4. The dings on its silver shell are special to me. As is the backstage pass sticker from the 2005 Secret Machines concert I attended at Cabaret Metro.

Even though my new computer rocks, I can’t chuck the old one. I started this blog on that machine. I wrote the final draft of The Happy Soul Industry and Sweet by Design on it. It is also where I wrote my last TV commercial, for Cabot stains. Alas, my G4 died two years ago. Ironically, it now rests under the landline in my office, which I never use anymore either.

I bet many of you (writers especially) would have a hard time voluntarily getting rid of your old laptops if your company didn’t take them from you.

Is it old school to think of technology this way? I don’t know. Musicians fall in love with their instruments. Especially guitarists, right? When you use a machine to create stuff it takes some of the credit; it becomes a part of you. As awesome as the latest flat screen TV is, it’s still only a delivery system and, as such, the newer one is always better.