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Friday, May 28, 2021

A Simple Twist of Fate

As I continue to clean out the garage to make way for the art studio, I stumbled on this, the sole survivor of some advertising that but for a quirk of fate, could have changed my entire life. You can tell it's pre-digital; even the fonts are hand-drawn.
In the early 1980s, a Korean car company decided to launch its operations here in America. Nobody in America had ever heard of Hyundai, and the agency I was working for was invited to pitch the account, which was by all standards HUGE. I was a Creative Director in the west coast (Los Angeles) office, and a twenty-something wunderkind, a bicoastal creative wizard who stalked the media department for gorgeous female media buyers when I wasn't killing it with advertising awards. I was, in short, impossible. So it was no small thing when the general manager assigned me to be in charge of pitching the entire national account. That not only meant heading up the Los Angeles office's effort, but flying weekly to New York to kick ass on their team, as well.

Heady stuff? You bet. Flying first class (when first class was worth flying) and staying at four star hotels, waltzing into conference rooms in my cowboys boots/no necktie to face the lineups of account executives and creatives all outfitted in Brooks Brothers.

Remember, this was the go-go 1980s, when everything, including hair, art and cars were big and getting bigger. But Hyundai was not an 80's car. Truth be told, it was more like Volkswagen in the 1950s: smaller, more efficient, less money.

My campaign featured Judd Hirsch, the down-to-earth actor starring in "Taxi", who would walk around the car on a seamless white background, cleverly extolling the virtues of Hyundai's practicality. It was, as it were, "a sensible car for sensible people," and thus the tagline, "Built on common sense."

The campaign was quickly chosen as the lead to pitch. It took six months and about $300,000 (these are 1980 dollars), but June 23 -- the day of the pitch -- was getting near. I was all set. Winning this account would mean a ginormous raise, serious national exposure for me, and more job offers than I could handle. I slept at night dreaming of general managers lining up to hand me the keys to their agencies, pleading for me to become a partner. Then something happened on June 21:

Apparently, secret meetings had been going on for some time between our agency and another major agency. Nobody knew anything about it until June 21, when management not only announced the agencies' merger was finalized, but as a result, we were pulling out of the Hyundai pitch. The other agency already had Buick as a client, and Hyundai would have been a conflict.

In sixty seconds, my entire future went up in carbon monoxide.

Every single dream, goal and wish that was supposed to drop in my lap completely missed and went down the toilet. The twenty something wunderkind would not be taking the world by storm after all.

As a result, my life changed radically. I soon left to start my own agency, never trusting anyone in business ever again. I also kissed off that young man's dreams of New York City. I decided that going my own way meant not going everyone else's. I stayed in Los Angeles for the rest of my life, eventually living the life I never could have enjoyed so thoroughly anywhere else.

Sometimes, things work out.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

You Can Look Me Up

If you're a Boomer, you may have forgotten. If you're younger than that, you never knew. But there once was a time when just about anyone, anywhere, could be found by flipping through the pages of "the telephone book."

Every city, town and village had their own telephone books. They were thick, heavy and contained every citizen's name, address and, of course, telephone number. THey were free, and if you owned a land line, they'd be delivered to your doorstep every Spring, updated with the latest listings. The larger the population, the thicker the book. If you grew up during that era, telephone books were de facto booster seats: million of children balanced precariously atop stacks of them at restaurant tables, long before Chinese car seats were invented.
Telephone books aren't really around anymore. Not because people own fewer land lines, but more because this country has long since transitioned from a nation of neighbors to a mass market of automatons. The friendship and openness we once enjoyed as a culture has been programmed out of us, replaced by suspicion, all in the name of "privacy."

Try selling a concept of a phone book today and see how far you get. People would think you're nuts. Who in their right mind would hang out their personal name, address and phone number for anyone to see? Well, not too long ago, the American culture was far friendlier. The phone book was how people found you -- mainly by those who you wanted to find you. Everyone knew that if you wanted to get in touch, all you had to say was, "You can look me up. I'm in the book."

Of course, all that is gone now. You're reading this and thinking about stalkers, murderers and Communist activists doxxing and harassing you. The world, it would seem, is out to get you, so it's far better to hide out under the specter of anonymity.

Not true. As a veritable antique, I can tell you that it was a far better time when we assumed each others' trust. It was a richer life when we opened our lives and hearts, welcoming old friends who looked us up and new connections we wanted to meet.

Can you imagine a world in which there was no orchestrated fear? Lucky me. I lived it. Not so lucky you. Now put on both of your masks and stay six feet away.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thankful Still

I don't feel so bad about losing a year of my life to this madness. I'm not exactly an antique, but my rogue years of adventures are in my rear view mirror. These days, I cocoon in my lair, when I can enjoy the world as I want it, without having to deal with mediocrity of pandemic proportions.
When they tell us "smoking will take years off your life," it's not like they let you live your whole life and then take years 24, 28 and 31 away. You live til 95 instead of 97. Those last two years have far less marginal value.
That's not what's happening now, though.
Today, if you're a young adult, they actually ARE stealing your life. They're stealing what could arguably be called the BEST years of your life -- the teens, 20s and early 30s. You can't meet anyone. Date anyone. Enjoy anyone. Go anywhere.
And those years aren't coming back.
I've got lots to be thankful for. Hope you and yours do, too.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Gloom and Boom

I'm not a young man. I'm not exactly an antique yet, but I'm old enough to have seen just about everything, particularly the legions of self-appointed experts predicting the demise of the planet, its climate, and its inhabitants. Decades ago, we were supposed to have overpopulated the Earth, run out of fossil fuels and died of AIDS. Today, gas is cheap, people are thriving and not one prediction of death by disease has come true.

If you're really into gloom and doom, you're probably inundated by social media rants about how the post pandemic economy is never coming back. "We're doomed!" cry the usual suspects, offering up nothing more than a continuation of their unbroken string of irrational and incorrect rants about people, plagues, and pointless predictions.

On the other hand, if you know your history and human nature, you'll also find that all of these experts have always been wrong about everything, and are just as wrong everything today, including what's in store for the economy. Here's why:

You read it here first: Despite the cruel, pointless destructions of state and local governments, most if not all of the businesses that were closed will quickly spring back to life even stronger than they were going into this disaster. The reasons are simple:

First, just like every hurricane season in the American southeast or earthquake in the west, the horrors of natural disasters always spur an economic recovery boom. Reclamation, reconstruction and all the ancillary services and products accompanying them flood the economy with jobs and activity. The disaster, in effect, creates a boom economy and eventually restores economic stability.

Second, human nature is far more resilient and determined than you might imagine. Think about it: If, for example, restaurant owners were forced out of business by random, baseless state and local edicts -- and I'm talking about these victims going flat broke -- what do you suppose they're going to do when all those pointless restrictions are lifted? I'm talking about a thirty, forty or fifty year old restauranteurs who have been doing this work their entire lives, who have no idea how else to make a living. Do you really think they're suddenly going to change course and start writing code or selling jet skis? No way. They're going right back to what they know best, only this time, you can bet they're going to be eligible for and supported by easy SBA loans with incredible terms.

Third, the goons who have clearly enjoyed creating this inhumane fiasco are completely tone deaf to the pent up demand that all Americans of every political stripe are experiencing with every passing day of their incarceration. Humans are, after all, social animals, and more than 300 million people now understand and appreciate how dismal life can be when there is no watering hole around which to gather. When the hoax is finally obliterated, stand back and watch them stampede in record numbers.

In my years, I've found that the people who are usually wrong are the people who want you to believe they're always right. You might say that includes me. Fine. Think what you like. Just make sure it's after you've finished a great meal at a fabulous bar with plenty of your close friends -- none of whom is wearing a mask.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Irrelevance of Black Lives Matter

Of all the woes one can cast upon the United States, among the worst is its citizens' widespread lack of historical knowledge.  If only people really knew what's happened in the past, they'd be a lot less fearful of their present.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, teachers, administrators and school superintendents decided that gender studies was more important than understanding the Constitution, so now we have a Nation of Children who are more focused on their genitals than on their life goals, freedoms and liberties.

Of course, being the boomer that I am, I harbor no such misalignments of priorities.  I prefer to sit on my porch, chuckling over the repetition of foolishness throughout the ages.  I watch with amusement as others wring their hands over everything from diseases to politics and race wars, all the while knowing the eventual outcome -- because it has all happened before.

Oh, sure, there are those who believe that Antifa and Black Lives Matter are for real.  I agree, they are real.  But they're certainly nothing to be taken any more seriously than their predecessors, because if you know your American history, you'd agree that these types of organizations generally have desperately short half-lives.  They're here one year and gone the next. 

Don't believe me?  Read on a bit and see if you don't agree:

Remember when Bernie Sanders was going to change the country -- twice?  There was a time that Bernie Bro's were swelling college campuses with their message of "free everything."  Sanders took a commanding presence in the primaries of 2016 and 2020.  But then what happened?  Nothing.  Thousands of young people flushed away years of their lives and got sold out.  Now they're nothing but five years older with nothing to show for it.  The same thing happened in 1972, when George McGovern and his anti-Vietnam War youths were supposed to wipe out Richard Nixon.  Even with the new 18 year old vote, that plan didn't go so well:  Nixon won 49 states.  McGovern won one state and Washington, D.C.

In 1968, Jerry Rubin painted himself up as a latter day Ché Guevara, declared himself a Yippie and led the riots at the Democratic National Convention as one of the infamous Chicago Seven.  What you may not realize is that just a few short years later, Rubin got a haircut, traded in his headband and poncho for a three-piece business suit and took a job on Wall Street as an investment analyst.

How about Linda Sarsour's Women's March? Lots of feminists marching down streets chanting and yelling. Lots of media attention.  But at the end of the day, aside from knitted hats that were, at best, a questionable fashion statement, what did they accomplish?  If anything, the march turned feminism into a cartoon, dismissed by the public and evaporating from view.  No new legislation.  No new anything.  A big zero.

Now the same things are happening with Black Lives Matter and Antifa.  Don't get me wrong, there are way too many people getting punched and killed.  Too much property being destroyed.  Too many elected officials abdicating their oaths, for sure.  However, when you really look at either organization, what have either really accomplished?  Nothing, with the possible exception of some temporary intimidation, and that's nothing new.  If you really want to see racial intimidation done by the master, look no further than Jesse Jackson, whose talent for racial arm-twisting remains unparalleled to this day.  When he was in his prime, the mere threat of a Jackson march on Washington, D.C., was enough to garner him and his family all kinds of cash and prizes, including a Budweiser distributorship in Illinois and much, much more. These guys today?  They don't even know enough to muscle a piece of the pie.  They show up, get some air time, collect a check and go home.

Yes, it's really that simple, and you don't have to go back much further than the 1960s to see this, either.  Anyone remember the Black Panthers?  They're dust.  What did they accomplish?  Nothing. The Ku Klux Klan?  Destroyed by the FBI.  What did they accomplish? Nothing.  Hippies?  Long haired in the 1970s, flipping real estate by the 1980s.  What did they accomplish? Nothing. And that's just in the last 50 years.  If you know your American history, you can see this stuff cropping up about every 50 years or so, but nothing ever really lasts, because in our society, change is brought about by evolution not revolution.

Let's see where Black Lives Matter and Antifa are in a few years -- that's if you can find them.

If history proves anything, it's that media is always looking for the next big story so it can sell more advertising.  Not all of them make it.  Murder hornets, for example, didn't play.  But pandemics, racism, political disinformation -- none of it is new.  And in the long run, none of it is relevant.

We're America.  We endure.  We survive -- no matter how irrelevant the threat actually may be.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

My Non-Racist Friend

You guys should really meet my friend Bob.  I've changed his name for this piece, along with the names of all the other specifics, but Bob is a real person.  I've known Bob for quite a while and lots of people, especially his liberal, college-educated friends, really like Bob. 

Bob is a white man.  He grew up in a white neighborhood and went to all white schools.  Not only did Bob attend a prestigious, mostly white university, he also graduated near or at the top of his prestigious, mostly white law school class, so he knows better than anyone about social justice and discrimination. 

Bob prides himself on being as liberal, as non-racist, as a white man could be. Bob can't understand why more white people aren't as tolerant as he is.  Bob wishes more people could be like Bob.  In fact, Bob wishes everyone could be Bob.

Bob always lets us know how non-racist he is.  You can tell by the way he greets every black security guard in any given office building by asking the guard about the chances of  the Chicago Bulls "going all the way" this year.  Somehow, Bob just knows that every black man is born knowing everything there is to know about the National Basketball Association.  Bob knows this, because Bob is a true friend of black people.  Bob knows how to talk to black people and is quick to point this out to anyone who will listen.  He's much better at this sort of thing than you are, because, well, you're not Bob.

Bob will tell you all about his friendship with black people.  He practically has them all catalogued by age, gender and socio-economic status, just in case anyone challenges his acceptance of black people into his life.  One merely has to ask him, and Bob proudly reads off his roster of non-white pals, displaying them like merit badges at a Boy Scout convention.

Bob takes special pride in explaining that "DWB" stands for "driving while black," probably because he's the only white man to whom black people have entrusted this closely guarded secret.

Yes, Bob is that special.

Bob is friends with all his neighbors, none of whom happen to be black. That's not Bob's fault, though.  That's due to America's centuries of systemic racism.  Oddly, Bob never thought about moving into a black neighborhood, which is too bad, because, you know, everyone there can tell you about "the chances of the Chicago Bulls going all the way."

Bob is also a friend to the Native Americans, although there really aren't any living nearby.  He did, however, see Dancing With Wolves a few times, enough to convince him of the injustices suffered by wise chiefs and pretty Hollywood squaws.  I'm fairly sure he isn't too familiar with the torture practices the Apaches used to terrorize and murder people of any color, the ferocity of which kept the Arizona territory untamed until its statehood in 1912, when it became the last of the lower 48 admitted to the union.

Bob feels sorry for me, as I am so unenlightened.  He wants to use his collegiate superiority to educate troglodytes such as myself about things we couldn't possibly understand, like white privilege and wealth.  These are matters best left to people like Bob, most of whose law school friends became filthy rich multi-millionaires while he didn't.


Of course, for a guy who preaches racial tolerance, Bob himself isn't the most tolerant person in the world. Once, when he was pontificating over coffee, he challenged my social conscience by asking, "How many black friends do you have?" To which I could only reply, "Um, how many am I supposed to have?"  It didn't seem to matter.  I didn't vote for Hillary in 2016, so my fate had been sealed long ago. 

For the record, Bob's tolerance doesn't extend to asian women, because "they're all nuts."  I still can't figure that one out. 

Maybe he should ask more of them about the NBA.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Getting Back in the Game

Rumors come and panics go.  Black swans occasionally swim by, but they inevitably swim away.  I'm always the optimist, investing on the theory that if the USA goes down, there's no point in even worrying about life beyond hunting and gathering. 

At this writing, the Center for Disease Control has continued to lower COVID-19 death rates down to incredibly low levels (way less than 0.001% and dropping so far), which means it may be time to regain sanity and look at opportunities for investment.  So for what it's worth, if you're like me, jumping back in to old Uncle Sam's economy for fun and profit, there are some things you may want to consider:

1.  Up until about 20 years ago, interest rates and stock prices levered off each other: High interest rates tended to lower stock prices and vice versa.  That hasn't been true for a while, because of the Fed's basement level interest rates. As long as stock dividends remain high -- substantially higher than Fed rates -- their prices are going to continue to rise.  They'll keep rising until those dividend yields fall below 3%, where the risk doesn't pay as much.  For now, though, there are quality issues paying 5%, 8%, 11% and more.

2.  Importantly, these days, Federal interest rates have nothing to do with stock prices, because the Fed rates are all about stimulating the market, not providing a safe haven for investors. The two are completely unrelated, except that if businesses borrow at low rates, they'll grow their businesses -- which is great for stocks and dividends.

3.  If you didn't buy into the recent crash prices of stocks, you're not alone.  Sure, lots of hindsight people will claim to have bought into the crash prices, but almost none of them are telling the truth.  And if they are, they're big risk takers: At the time of those basement prices, the market and the state of the union was far too erratic to risk any kind of purchase.  Even now, governors' and mayors' heads have swollen with power, and their policies are political, not economic, which means there are still wild cards out there that could influence markets for no true business reasons. Waiting for a little more stability still affords market watchers plenty of room to recapture their investments and maybe pick up a few bargains, including some that are ripe for the picking right now.

4.  A recovering market is, in my opinion, no time to buy into corporate bonds. Too many companies fell for the propaganda and made rushed decisions that made no sense. Having advised corporate directors most of my career, I learned quickly that the people sitting around the conference table aren't always the brightest bulbs on the tree, and in the last decade, the situation has only gotten worse: Lots of knee jerk reaction, no considered initiative.  You don't want to lend money to those kinds of people, especially when they're not personally or morally responsible for paying you back. Most of them are simply Caretaker Managers whose loyalties are to their employment contracts, not the companies in their charge.

5.  Knowing where to invest is always an issue, but it's never been truer that glamor and high profile companies are usually not the place to be, mainly because they're the most heavily influenced by the media.  My preference runs to dividend stocks and American mainstays, like energy and REITs.  I personally avoid transportation, pharmaceuticals, technology, entertainment and a few other categories that are prone to sudden erraticisms.

You know, like, say, manufactured virus hysteria.

Good luck.  Be careful out there.  And while you're at it, see how much you can sell a box of unused masks for.