Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The cell phone and me.

I look around now at how many people are carrying cell phones, even more than one phone.
Different carriers, different countries, different models. iPhones, Blackberries, normal ones, camera phones and God knows what other kinds there are.
The iPhone was very in before it was available in Greece. People had them from the States and had somebody “break” it so it worked in Greece. Now that it is available in Greece it has lost some of its cache. I think the models that are not available here yet are still in, if you have one that you hacked or had it done.

My first cell phone was in Mexico around the 80’s, it was a giant Motorola that weighed a ton: called a tuvla (brick). It was hardly mobile. Fortunately, I had a driver, Arturo, who carried it for me. You had to find a signal to use it, usually in the middle of an open field and it seemed to be always raining. It was a really unique experience to be able to make a call from wherever you were, sort of. As I remember it, when you had reception the phone was great, worked like a charm.

I grew up in the days of rotary dials, we didn’t have one at home and used the pay phone in Pop’s store.

Ah, progress! I soon had a really portable one, it even worked in the car. One of the first in Mexico. I think Arturo got tired of carrying the Motorola tuvla. He had some connections and got it for me. Mexico is a little like Greece; it is all about whom you know.

One day, my boss from Brazil, who ran the South American region, was on a visit. He came about three times a year to break my balls.

We leave a Coca-Cola meeting, it all went well and he was a little disappointed, he was hoping to get me on something.

We get in the car and he notices the phone, Brazil did not have them yet. He asks if he can call his secretary in Brazil, and we do. He then proceeds to dictate a fax for her to send to me from Brazil, about the meeting, while I am in the car. It had nothing to do with the actual meeting. It seemed bizarre to me to tell me about a meeting we just attended, by fax from Brazil, while I was three feet away from him.
He said it was better to have everything in writing, even though it wasn’t very accurate.

I liked faxes; you could always deny you got it, not like e-mails, which came much later.

Ah, Jens, what a character. He once called his secretary in Brazil to call the receptionist of a hotel we were staying at in Mexico to complain about something. I was in the next room. He really didn’t trust me much.

Cell phones became an obsession, they were a great help, but also very easy to call about nothing. “I am in the car” “we are about to land” “I want fruit for dinner” you have heard them all, trivial crap, rarely of any importance.

I admire people who do not have them, how do they do it?

I jump in the pool and while I am underwater I check to see if my phone is in my pocket. Unfortunately, it sometimes is.

The phone shop says the summer has started when the first customer comes in with a soaked phone.

It is nice to see a shepherd on a donkey with a cell phone to his ear, probably telling his wife what he wants for dinner.

The average Greek has more than one and the tables in the coffee shops look like a Japanese display of every phone available.

I think in a country of 10 million people there must be 30+ million cell phones, not unlike the number of chairs per capita.

I now have an iPhone with more things on it than computers the size of buildings had twenty years ago.

I use about five percent of it’s capacity and I am looking forward to my next upgrade. I want it all, especially on my cell phone, even though I cannot understand how to use it all.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brooklyn Blackie, the Electric Rembrandt and me.

I grew up in Coney Island, during the 40’s and 50’s. Tattoos were big there, sailors soldiers and all sorts would come to have a great time and some to have tattoos. There was a stretch of Surf Avenue and Stillwell Avenue that had a slew of tattoo parlors.

As a kid they all seemed very sinister and dangerous.
They all had great names, Brooklyn Blackie, the Electric Rembrandt being the most famous, but his brother, I think was El Greco, they obviously saw themselves as artists and they were.

As a kid I liked to draw, I would copy the flashes (the samples of the designs they did) that hung up in the windows and entranceways to the parlors.

It was hard to see what was going on inside but you could see into the waiting areas. It was always young guys waiting for their first tattoo, as well as some older guys with many tattoos already. I am sure the young guys, when they got home to Iowa or someplace would have to explain the nudes with sailor hats, tattooed on their arms, with the name of the ship they were sailing on, to their Moms.

I do not remember if I copied the nudes, but I did copy the sailing ships, the horses and the anchors.

Ballpoint pens were new then, but available. They came in colors as well, black, red and blue, good tattoo colors. I used to draw tattoos on my friends arms and shoulders, little 10-year-old kids strutting around with some pretty cool, ballpoint pen tattoos. They lasted a few days at least, Friday was bath night. If Sharpies were around they would still be on some of those kids.

I think I thought about being a tattoo artist, I would be the Coney Island Greek, tattoos for those in the know.

Years later I got a tattoo, my wife’s name in rope with an anchor.
It wasn’t a Brooklyn Blackie unfortunately. Later I added forever on it, against a friend’s advice, he thought forever should only be added on your deathbed, bring the tattoo guy in instead of the priest. He has been married three times, but I risked it, so far we have been married 48 years, that is almost forever.

My daughter’s boyfriend has quite a few tattoos, and I am encouraged to add a few. We went to a tattoo parlor in Athens. Great guy, really nice work and I like the name of the parlor, Honest Tattoos, it ain’t Brooklyn Blackie, the Electric Rembrandt, but it is a pretty good name, although I wish he played softer music. In Coney Island the tattoo parlors usually had the baseball game on the radio.

It may not be too late to become a tattoo artist, I will ask Tasso if I can apprentice with him.

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

...more crazy glue stuff

The crazy glue held!

After almost two years without diving, due to my brain surgery, yesterday I dove.
It seems like the crazy glue held, we only dove five to six meters, and my skull remained intact, nothing seeped in or out.

Everybody, my son and daughter, their friends and my dive instructor handled me with kid gloves, very concerned and very caring. Visibility was amazingly clear. It was beautiful and as great as it was the first time.

I think that everybody was concerned because of the keyhole surgery on my skull at the right side of my temple, the piece is glued in and the pressure under water could have an effect. As I said we only dove to six meters max, after ten meters the pressure is double that on the surface, at twenty meters it is triple the pressure. I am sure John, my dive instructor, will not let me go too deep this year.
He is in cahoots with my wife and probably my doctor, thanks John.

My daughter, Justine was here with her boyfriend, who dove for the first time, he was amazed and obviously loved it. We all remembered our first time by his descriptions. I do not know how many of you dive, but it is a mind-altering experience (no wiseass comments about tequila doing it as well).

I started very late, I must have been 67 or so, if I could, I would have been diving all my life. John’s son and nephew have been diving since they were 6 or 7 years old, lucky kids.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Another bleeding white haired Yank..."

London, 1965, we are three Yanks sent to London by NY. Jack, who is head of the London office, and later head of Europe. Big white haired Irish American guy. Great looking, very neat, account guy type. Good boss, funny at times, without meaning to be.

David, executive Creative Director, elegant, wealthy, waspy, white haired guy, wore custom made suits. His suits were copies of his older suits and so well done that the bags and sags of his old suit was diligently copied. His new suits looked exactly like his old suits, amazing tailors on Savile row. He drank a bit. He only made sense before lunch, but insisted on presenting to clients after lunch.
More about that later.

Me, I was the youngest, had a bit of white hair, but was the kid of the group. I was deputy creative director. I liked the deputy part, felt like I was in a western.

We had a wonderful tea lady, Gladys, she and her friend went around the building twice a day serving coffee in the morning and milky tea in the afternoon.
When she was introduced to Jack, by the very serious financial director, after having been presented to Dave and me, she said “another bleeding white haired Yank.’’

She taught me to drink milky tea by putting a little Scotch in it , quite a bit when we started and slowly less and less until I could finally drink the stuff. She told me she taught quit a few Yanks to drink it like that during WW2. She probably taught them more than that, she was something in 1965, I could imagine her in the 40s.

Jack was a stickler for dressing right at all times, he had 2 of every suit he owned and would change into a fresh version after lunch, he always looked great, never wrinkled and always perfectly back lit. He was in the elevator one day and fired some guy wearing orange pants, boots and a crazy shirt with dreadlocks. Turns out the guy didn’t work for us and was just delivering some stats.

Jack called me up to the office one day to complain about the outfits most of the creative department wore. It was after all London in the 60s. I was at my best and told him if you wear a puce shirt, maybe you do not wash it but it gets aired out since you can’t wear it twice in a row. I also told him the account guys in the blue suits never changed, and you could not stand down wind of some of them, same suit and they probably wore them on holiday as well. He reluctantly accepted my argument and never mentioned the dress code of the creative department, he did sniff when he was with the account guys.

We were working on a new business pitch once, we had a spare floor and the team was camped out there working away, 2 days and nights we were a mess,
Jack came to visit the troops at about 9pm one night. He was going out to the theatre and was wearing a tuxedo, he looked great and so did his wife who was in a gown. He was big enough to realize how preposterous this was and left very quickly before there was a revolution.

One last story about those days. David the CD, always had to have lunch before a major presentation. It was always the same, two martinis before, two scotch and sodas with his steak and two brandies after, he always had lunch at the same pub.
One day the meeting is going to be at 11:30, the client insisted, not Dave’s normal two in the afternoon. I have to get the pub to open at ten in the morning so he could have his normal lunch, and be ready to present at 11:30. He felt he was only good after lunch, so we just anticipated everything. Ah London and the Yanks.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Make believe it is vanilla ice cream...''

One of the terrific things about my job was the access I had to some of my bosses, some were almost legends in the business. They were just a phone call away. Obviously you could not abuse this, when you were in real trouble, make that call; If you didn’t, and could not solve the problem, they always said’’How come you didn’t call, I could have fixed it.’'

We were in the situation of losing a large international client when I was in Madrid. We were pitching against four agencies. We made the call, the head of Europe flies in and sets up a meeting with the client, who flew in from Germany, for the meeting.

I and the Spanish chairman are not allowed to attend the dinner.
We hang out at the hotel, really nervous, but optimistic that Phil will solve it.

He comes in at 12:30 am, and we head for the bar. He tells us it is all fixed, I have to develop a campaign that can be used throughout Europe, and we have to give the client a German speaking account guy. Phil is feeling very smug about his sucess.

I only had to beat 4 agencies in Spain to keep the business, now I have to create a campaign for all of Europe, thanks a lot Phil.

We kept the business, I did not create a campaign for Europe, I just beat 4 agencies in Spain and Phil takes credit for saving the account for us, maybe he did. If I didn’t call him and we lost it, we never would hear the end of it, even though for the next 6 months he kept reminding us of how he saved our ass on Henkel.

Years later I am working in Mexico, difficult client, brilliant but really rough on the Agency. I am at my wits end, he keeps sending shit our way, about everything, the work, the commission, the people, anything he can think about.

I pick up the phone and call our international chairman, a legend in the business.

‘’Gene, I am eating a lot of shit on this account, what do I do?’’

This is the top guy internationally, he instantly says

’’Make believe it is vanilla ice cream and ask for another scoop.’’

That’s it? I ask. He immediately answers ‘’forty years experience kid, that’s it.’’ He hangs up.