Location location location

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‘When “zooming” meant jetting off to a shoot in Paris.’

I cheated a little with the photo at the top of this post. Oh, it’s Actual Paris, all right. But this shot of Dude Man strolling oh-so-Gallicly along the Seine was taken on a long-ago vacation, not on a shoot. He did accompany me once on a shoot; it was for Hershey, and it was in London. I looked for photographic evidence, but the envelope labeled “London with Alice for shoot” in our old-fashioned photo stash was, alas, empty.

Here’s London, with The Child this time. Nope, no shoot then either. Tho we did visit some Ad Biz Buddies

But back to zooming around the world on somebody else’s dime to have a simply fabulous time while making a television commercial.

I’ve written previously about how incredibly cool it was to work in advertising back when I was working in advertising. See pretty much any entry under the “Adland Lore” tab, or jump right to “The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On,” to name just one. Of course, the Biz did have its downside. See “The Naked Boss and the Pussycat Lounge” for a darker view.

Here I am in Africa. I’m “working” on a Huggies commercial

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The time I stole the Vice Presidential couch

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‘From way back when people had actual offices. With actual furniture.’

It’s been ages since most of us have seen the inside of an office. And not just because the Pandemic has had many working folks working virtually.

See, even before The Great Scourge sent office workers scrambling for work-from-home kitchen counter space, actual offices were on the wane.

The Child, complete with laptop and lapdog, at work a couple of years ago in her modern open-plan Boston office. True, she was such a Big Cheese that she had her own space with a door that shut. But the door was glass

I’m talking here about “offices” as not just places where people work, as in “the New York office,” but your very own space at work. A place with four walls and an actual door—where you could shut said door and adjust your slip in complete privacy before settling down at your desk to tackle that Huggies copy.

The Child getting some work done, pandemic-style

Yes, there was a time when even the lowliest copywriter, wet behind the ears and fresh from the Midwest, had an office. The only people who didn’t were the secretaries, who sat outside in the hall. I know this because I was mistaken for a secretary on my first day at Ogilvy. Seated in the hall and handed a sheaf of letters to write, too. (You can read more about this in “Take a Letter, Miss Henry.“) Incidentally, they were indeed called “secretaries;” they even had a “Day” when you brought them flowers.

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Masked and Anonymous

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‘First class service. With a really big smile’

Like most couples in these pandemic times, The Dude and I are spending a lot of time together. Way more time than we used to. Mostly, this is pretty swell.

One of the swellest: going on long hikes together

But (not much, but some) friction arises when we get to talking. I make my living (or used to) with words. So I know a thing or two about their use. Dude Man, while extremely well-educated, has a propensity for the odd word misuse. He’ll use “faux pas,” say, in a sentence like, “I made a real faux pas in my backgammon match.” And then I can’t help myself. I’ll say, “What did you do, burp really loud?”

Then I have to explain that “faux pas” means a social mistake, not a mistake mistake. And he gets all indignant. “That’s the way I’ve always used it!”

Sometimes we bike together too. (Needed something to break up the bickering)

The other day he used “euphemism” wrong. I can’t remember his exact mangled phrase, but our subsequent lively discussion required me to resort to Wikipedia for backup. If you have the time, it’s worth a click to see all the different kinds of “innocuous words or expressions used in place of those that may be found offensive or suggest something unpleasant” there are.

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“I’ve got belts older than you.”

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‘Freelance was such fun. Until it wasn’t’

As you may recall, last week I was all set to share a crabby/funny story about when I was a freelance writer — when, all of a sudden, this happened:

Needless to say, I’m still plenty excited. In fact, so excited I just can’t help treating you to another shot of the Happy Couple.

No one should be allowed to look this all-fired gorgeous on a plane, for heavens’ sakes

All in all, it was a darned exciting week, what with my umpteenth birthday, the afore-mentioned engagement, and the firing of President You-Know-Who (name rhymes with “dump”). There was some sad news, too — the death of Alex Trebeck, the beloved Jeopardy! host. Who was, of course, Canadian. (I say “of course” because I’m convinced, since The Engagement, that all the very best and very nicest men come from Canada.)

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Harvey and the grilled half goat head

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‘A practical joke that backfired, bigtime’

The other day the Times ran a story about procrastination. About how when you put things off it’s not really about laziness — it’s about more emotional stuff, like fear of failure.

Gulp. Got me, New York Times. I started writing this blog instead of writing a book. I told myself I actually was writing the book — only story by story instead of all at once. And that when I had enough material, I’d figure out how to magically turn it into an actual book.

Speaking of “material”, I’ve got scads of stories about growing up in the Midcentury Midwest. Check out “You Make a Better Door than a Window”

Well, that was almost five years ago. And I have yet to get my turning-this-stuff-into-a-book act together. I was talking this over with The Dude on our trip up to Boston this past weekend to help The Child celebrate her birthday. Told him I was thinking of shutting down The Blog and focusing on The Book. Then he asked the key question: “Have you run out of stories, then?”

The Child and The Dude duke it out in a game of Birthday Chess

“Oh, I’ll always have stories,” I replied. Like this one. It’s about a very colorful boss I worked with years ago. His name was Harvey. Usually I disguise the names of real figures from my past. But Harvey’s essential, well, Harveyness meant he couldn’t be anything other than “Harvey”.

I don’t have a photo of Harvey, but I do have this one of a bevy of ad beauties who worked for or with him. The pic at the top of this post was taken when he got me a promotion

Harvey was a prominent art director — he and his writer partner came up with the famous “Hilltop” commercial for Coke. The one that goes “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”. He was also, well, quirky. He was from the Bronx and was such a died-in-the-wool New Yorker he made Woody Allen seem like he came from Kansas.

Harvey used phrases like (for a boring TV idea): “I gotta tell ya; it lays there like a lox.” Even more boring? “It’s Wheatena. High praise would be: “You took a flower and made it a meadow.” Harvey was so New Yorky, he once got a ticket in LA for jaywalking.

Speaking of LA, this was back when working in advertising was really fun. So fun, in fact, that I have a story titled “The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On”, which you can read when you’re done with this one. (Or in my book, if I ever figure out how to make it happen.)

Me, back in those Fun Days. The shirt is from a studio in LA. Yes, I am wearing it tucked into sweatpants

Yes, I have a zillion LA Ad Stories. Like “Eenie Meanie, Chili Beanie, the Spirits Are About to Speak”. Oh, and one that everyone seems to get a kick out of is a tale of Ad Revenge called Karl Malden’s Nose”.

But today’s story takes place in New York. As I mentioned, advertising was way fun way back then. It still might be, I suppose, if you enjoy open-plan offices and working all weekend on internet banner ads. But I digress.

One of the Fun Things we did was have Group Dinners. That’s when our Creative Group would eat out in some fun restaurant and our Creative Director Boss (in this case, Harvey) would pick up the tab.

Harvey was treating us to dinner somewhere in Little Italy — I’ve wracked my brain trying to remember the name of the place; Perugia maybe? — anyway, we were in this restaurant with a linoleum floor and big long communal tables and waiters who didn’t speak English.

We’re going around the table, placing our orders. There were about a dozen of us, including these two guys, Shap and Gruen, a great art director/writer team and also very funny. (Yup, those are also their real names, because why not?) Anyway, Shap and Gruen decided to play a joke on Harvey.

While everyone was talking and laughing and carrying on, Ad-Fun-Style, S and G surreptitiously ordered Harvey a grilled half goat head.

Well. We continue to talk and laugh and carry on, and pretty soon this waiter brings over an honest-to-god half goat head plopped on a big ole plate. It looks like someone sliced this poor goat’s head right down the middle and, well, grilled it — eyes, tongue, nose, the whole (well, half) darned thing. And it looked like it because that’s what somebody actually did, darn it. Grilled a half goat head.

Shap and Gruen are seated on either side of Harvey and they’re thinking this is pretty funny when Harvey goes, “Capozelle! My favorite!”

He then proceeds to eat said Capozelle, enjoying it lustily while offering choice tidbits to his neighbors Shap and Gruen. “Here, try the eye — it’s the best part!

I guess you could say that Harvey, um, got their goat.

And that maybe I should leave this one out of The Book.

New York City. March 2019

The time I lost my office and found myself on TV

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‘I make a slightly-more-than-cameo appearance in a British documentary’

Last week I attended an event called, I kid you not, The Ogilvy Ancients reunion. This was a nice luncheon held sort of in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the ad agency I worked for longest and to whom I owe my funniest ad-biz stories. (See ‘Short Men and Flat-Chested Women’, ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’, ‘My Head Feels Funny’, or practically anything in the tab labelled Adland Lore for hilarious examples.)

I’m thinking this reunion was called ‘Ogilvy Ancients’ because the organizers believe in truth in advertising. Though none of us in the room were on hand when the late great David Ogilvy founded the place in 1948, many of us in attendance could easily identify with the characters on Mad Men. Honestly, there were four people at this shindig who started at the agency in the fifties. (No, I was not one of them. Though I do admit to being alive in the fifties.)

D. O. Himself holding forth at my very first Agency Christmas Party — which was not in the fifties. OK, ok, it was in the seventies. (Same diff, you say)

I don’t think I was the only one at this ‘do’ who had worked in all three Ogilvy New York locations, but I’m thinking there weren’t many who could make that claim. I started out (see ‘Take a Letter, Miss Henry’ for deets) at the Original Ogilvy on Madison Avenue, next door to which was the infamous watering hole Rattazzi’s, which was the model for the bar on Mad Men. Everybody used to go to this bar after work — even the married guys who commuted to Connecticut or Westchester. (Actually, they were the ones you could count on to always be there.) Little weenies were served with big drinks, and Ideas were, quite literally, thought up and scribbled down on cocktail napkins.

But I digress. This Gathering of Ancients took place in Ogilvy’s current location, which is a converted chocolate factory on the Way West Side of Midtown. There wasn’t much there before — except for car dealerships, crumbling wharfs, and other disused factories — but now it’s the kind of nabe you’d want to live in if you were, say, a hipsterish 25. It’s cool and trendy and somewhat spotty — you can still nod ‘hello’ to confused-looking halfway-house residents on your walk from the subway — kind of like non-Colonial Williamsburg (the Williamsburg that’s in Brooklyn) used to be before it got full of strollers. Continue reading

The friend who had a nanny for her dog

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‘Way up on the Upper East Side’

One of the many things I enjoy about living in New York City is the, well, mix of people. Where I grew up in the Midwest — at least when I grew up there — a brunette was pretty darned exotic.

But here you get to rub elbows (and sometimes much much more) with a wide variety of folks. Some of whom live on a scale that can take some getting used to. Like, one day The Child came home from nursery school with this to say: “Mommy, Helen’s mommy has a couch in her bathroom!” Me: “How nice for Helen’s mommy!”

And I once shared Safety Patrol duty with a very congenial fellow mommy who, it turned out, had the same last name as a whole wing of the Metropolitan Museum. (No, she wasn’t named after it; it was named after her.)

My mommy friend’s namesake

And you may recall (from my story “Three, and You’re Under the Host”) that when The Child was attending that Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School, we were invited to some pretty swell parties. (All the parents, not just us, were invited to these parties. But still.) Continue reading

“Eenie Meanie Chili Beanie, the spirits are about to speak”

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‘The time Rocky starred in a Hershey commercial’

I was all set to write about the origins of the Henry HooHah when, oh no, I saw in the Times that June Foray had died.

I’ll be back. Tune in next week for the origins of the HooHah

Now the name “June Foray”, no doubt, does not ring a bell. But for those of you, like me, who grew up watching the ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’, you’ll know her as the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel, AKA ‘Rocky’. (Yup, Rocky was a girl.)

Now, it may be hard for those of you who did not grow up watching this show to understand not only how hilarious it was, but also how, um, culturally pervasive. Well, at least at my house. We kids would torture each other — and our parents — by endlessly repeating the show’s catch phrases, “Eenie meanie chili beanie” being just one example. And the puns? Ouch. Here’s the Times, from that juicy June obit:  Continue reading

HooHah Time is Story Time

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‘The one about the Big Midwestern Paper Company’

First, big fat apologies for being late with my story this week. I was Out West for a big ole family reunion (referred to in my fam, with infinite fondness, as a ‘Henry HooHah’). Many adventures were had which I honestly do not have the time nor the photos (yet) to go into right now, including a last-minute extra bonus day with my Favorite Sister Laura, courtesy JetBlue:


The one thing I can report right now is that, yes, many amusing stories were told at this HooHah, most while holding a glass of wine, and sometimes, if the story-teller was really really lucky, with an extremely cute baby in his or her lap.

Me, mid-story, no doubt, pacifying fussy-yet-still-adorable teething baby with nice cold wine bottle (chewy rubber spatula not having done the trick)

Oh, before I forget. The picture at the top of this post — the one showing me not really smoking but scaring my teensy niece by pretending to do so, was taken at one of the very first Henry HooHahs, held in Amagansett in, oh, I’m thinking, the early 90s. Yes, I was telling a story at the time. The one about the Chicago Manicurist shouting “Hold on to your son!” after being frightened by the sight of Middle Younger Brother Roger wearing a beret. (Someday, maybe, I’ll tell this one. But it involves using an accent, in a non-PC way at that, which would be tricky to relay in a blog post.) Continue reading

“You looked so nice I almost didn’t recognize you.”

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‘Appearances can be deceiving. Or something like that.’

So. Today is February 14. And yes, I did get something red and shiny for Valentine’s Day: my nose. Maybe by next week — when it’s (fingers crossed) only a miserable memory — I’ll find this cold amusing enough to write about. We’ll (sniff) see. In the meantime, I’m going with what I originally planned.

Which is a riff on Being Compared to Someone Else.

You know. Like when someone comes up to you at a family reunion and says something along the lines of “You remind me so much of your Aunt Net”. (A real Aunt of Mine whose name was Annette. She wore a hairnet, which is how she got that nickname. Or so we kids thought.) Continue reading