Category Archives: hard choices

Recalling the LA Riots: Twenty Years Later

It took the LA Riots to make me realize that this was home, not a place I’d moved to.  I was enraged by the cowardice of the police, judiciary, and everybody else who set the stage for the 1992 LA Riots.

A short list includes:

  • The four LAPD cops who walked free after their trial was moved from LA to Pretoria out in furthest Ventura County.
  • Darryl Gates, who would snarl when the City Hall poodles would timidly suggest he wasn’t doing such a great job. Please remember that Gates at one point had requested a submarine for the LAPD. He already had armored vehicles with rams on them, so why not.
  •  The aforementioned City Council
  • The looters who burned down Esowon, LA’s oldest black-owned bookstore.
  • And all the rest of the looters who got into the act by cleaning out Samy’s Camera on La Brea. Hello, opportunistic white people.

Day One of the riots started late in the afternoon. The verdicts were read out, and my first thought was “Holy shit, we’re in for it now.” Having lived through college riots at Ohio University in 1970, with a subsequent National Guard occupation, I was not optimistic. There was smoke that night, but the main action was south of the 10 Freeway. White people were not overly affected.

Day Two dawned, and I was due to take a Quark class in Westwood. Feeling famously cheap, not wanting to pay for UCLA parking, I rode my bike 8 miles from the Fairfax to the Wilshire/Westwood office building. At 3:30 the instructor said “time to go home, it’s getting bad out there”. From the windows, the north-bound 405 was a glittering parking lot.

The White Zombie Apocalypse greeted me out on the street. Traffic was gridlocked on Wilshire, in both directions. All the white people in their cars had the windows rolled up, and they all had late-stage rigor mortis; lockjawed, stiff-armed, and frozen in place.

I got on my bike, whistle in mouth, blasting, and sliced lanes eastbound to Beverly Hills. Nothing moved. Crossed Santa Monica, which was also totally zombiefied, and raced onwards towards my office on Wilshire & San Vicente, a mile west of LACMA.

The traffic began to open up. I began to see Latino day-workers, stranded at bus-stops as the RTD buses thundered past them. At my office building, I could see smoke, and chaotic traffic. Terry, the black building manager, and Richard, the Ghanaian night desk man, hustled me into the lobby.

“What the fuck are you doing out there?” I told them, and they shook their heads.

Richard was getting a primer on American race politics. Terry was disgusted beyond measure at the looters. One looter had been slip-cuffed in front of the building, but the cops got a call and left him. He saw Terry and said “Help a brother up, will ya?”

Terry scornfully told him “I’m. Not. Your. Brother.” And walked back into the building. Down the street, looters cleaned out Adry’s Discount. Cameras, washers, everything. Somebody got shot in front of the Jewish Center.

Upstairs, the agency was empty. I looked out my window, and counted over 15 columns of smoke. I saw San Vicente being used as a race-track. I rode home to my apartment in the Fairfax.

I watched TV, flipping through all the free channels, watching ashen-faced, overpaid LA newsreaders trying to make sense of it all. Their million-dollar paycheck bubbles were nothing to Koreans protecting their property by any means necessary.

In the midst of all this stupidity, I saw Huell Howser on PBS. With only a sound-guy and camera-man, on Hollywood Blvd, in front of Sears.  Huell walked right up to the entrance, as looters swarmed like roaches, carrying everything, and asked The Big Question.

“Whatcha doin’ that for?”

They were stuck for an answer. He had the biggest balls in the city, making  all of the rest look like the hollowed-out cowards they were. For this alone, he has my undying respect and affection.

That night I slept on the floor the smoke was so bad. I could hear gunshots. My then-girlfriend up in Fresno wanted me to come up. I would, but at dawn, when the curfew was lifted.

I drove to Fresno at dawn. Descending into the San Joaquin Valley down the Grapevine, I saw the Nat’l Guard convoys heading up the mountain. I was thrilled.

When I got to Fresno, the local bobble-head news-readers cheerfully reported events exactly backwards, with the coda of “we don’t have riots up here yet!” Out in ruburbian Madera County, the riots were as distant as in a Tolstoy novel.

I couldn’t wait to get back, and returned late Sunday night. And I’ve been here since.


I regret to my everlasting shame that I was taken in by Precision Camera’s website. I should have sent my damaged scanner directly to Nikon. PCR is clearly incompetent! Continue reading

“Kid, it sucks now. You shoulda been here two years ago!”

The day after I graduated, the day before I left.

After graduating from college, I moved to Los Angeles in June 1977, after an eventful trip west on my mortally wounded ’75 Suzuki T-500.

The first place I lived on my own was a dumpster apartment complex in Van Nuys, Located on the corner of Victory and Fulton Blvd, it backed up to a dinky strip mall on Victory Blvd. California Donuts, a CPA, laundromat, maybe a dry-cleaners. It was right across the street from Jimmy Smith’s Supper Club, where Jimmy held forth on his Hammond B-3 Fridays thru Sunday nights.

Immediately across the street was an Alta-Dena Drive Thru Dairy, where you could buy milk, smokes, and the LA Times for a dime (but not all together). Down the street was Changing Times Hair Salon, owned by the irrepressible Juan Lizarraga; “Hair styled by Pierre of Pacoima, formerly Walter of Watts”. But that was in the future.

The traffic was constant, the air gritty with smog, and the neighborhood was relentlessly ugly. It seemed all the trees were several blocks away.

The apartment building itself was a faded 2-story courtyard complex with an alligator pond for a pool. I looked at the apartment the day after my grubstake arrived after being lost in the mail for three weeks. I’d been staying with a college friend whose young marriage was dissolving, the job she’d lined up for me had evaporated, and my wheels were a gigantic beast of a Dodge ’71 pickup truck to replace my dead motorcycle.

When I walked into the courtyard, the pool was half-empty, with several of the mullet-headed vato chicas with their KISS Army t-shirts and heavy eye makeup standing around looking at it. The rental agent was glad that the unit was occupied, and vanished seconds after I wrote the check.

Everything I owned in the world fit into the corner of the apartment, which was $200 a month. That night I went to a Lucky supermarket, wandered the aisles, wondering what I was going to feed myself. I remember buying fish, white rice, household stuff, and a mop. Then I went home and made dinner, and ate it in silence.

As the days passed, I slowly began to come to terms with my new home. The building manager was a rowdy Filipino with a large fish-tank. The Vietnamese extended family lived in one of the 2-bedroom units in the back; the patriarch, wife, daughters, grandchildren, and the Anglo son-in-law. There was a spectacularly ugly Chicana who lived upstairs, and had a face an iguana would’ve loved. She entertained callers at all hours.

The Filipino vanished after a late-night drunk-fight with one of his homies ended in a sickening crack of his fish-tank, followed by a dead-silence, then 50 gallons of aquarium and fish hitting the carpet. He was replaced by a married couple that used their 2 small boys as basketballs. Tom, the husband, was a comic-book palooka with a room-temperature IQ. The wife was a porcelain-faced, Cupid-bowed mouth, heavy-hipped foghorn whose profanities were loud and memorable. Nothing she said was ever less than 90db.

I looked for work. Navigating this very large, strange city was exhausting. My truck got 8mpg with a tail-wind, had one locking door, and a concrete-splattered bed, minus the tailgate. The FM radio had 3 options; KBCA for jazz, KROQ for low-wattage New Wave, and maybe KMET for what’s now classic rock. It was the Ultimate Chick Repellant, which might as well have said “Never Get Laid” on the sides. I’d park this beast next to Jags, Benzos, anything that looked better than me. Nobody jacked my portfolio.

Looking for work here was only somewhat better than looking in Cleveland two years earlier. Now I didn’t have a fallback. This was it.

“Aw kid, it sucks now. You shoulda been here two years ago!”

“Didja go to Art Center? You shoulda”

“Ohio what?”

“Art Center”

“Art Center”

“Art Center”

I kept at it because I’d crossed the Mississippi with the express intention to escape Ohio. I got a hand-typed rejection letter from ABC. After that, the mailbox was empty most of the time. My dad sent a large box with paperbacks he’d plowed through and tossed. There were days I didn’t leave the apartment.

One day I got a call from a tiny magazine I’d interviewed at. Was I still interested? Uh, yeah. I was down to my last $150. It’d taken me 3-1/2 weeks to find a job. Now I had  it.

Only later did I understand how lucky and fat that was.

Looking for Summer Work, 1975: A Fugue in 2 Parts

Dog Star In Red Dwarves

In 1975 I was a horny, depressed graphic design major. Maybe that’s a given, but I also had vague notions about finding some kind of work for Summer ’75. With a heavy heart I decided to look for ad agency work in Cleveland, Ohio, which at that time had the most agencies in Ohio.

My European summer of ’74 was a fond memory, and no offers were forthcoming. Ginger, the girl I’d hooked up with on that trip had family in Cleveland; but was either in school in Connecticut or at the family escape at Sanibel in Florida. She made herself very scarce.

Hard times had begun to stalk the Rust Belt. The ’73 Energy Crisis was still being played out daily. Coal was four times more expensive than it had been two winters before, and all the power plants burned coal. Legacy steel mills, auto, and other mid-century manufacturing had just been stabbed through the heart, and would never recover their previous glory. Ever. Welcome to the new economy, kid.

The first trip was in early January 1975. I stayed at the YMCA, went to ad agencies and showed my student book. The responses were polite, guarded, tepid. The city was bone-cold. I wore what passed for good clothing; non-jeans, street shoes. I froze my ass off.

At night I’d head back to the Y, and look out the window at the corner liquor store/carryout across the street. It was dead. The steam-heat was alternately comforting and stifling. I’d look at my dress-clothes as they came out of the pack, read whatever paperback I had, and wait for the morning. In the morning I’d go to a diner down the street and eat, hot coffee and something, and head out.

I plodded on for several days. No leads, but I got into more than a few agencies. My theoretical job began to look like an ever-lengthening line that curved over the horizon. Finally, I beat it back to the bus station for Athens, with brave promises that I’d do better over Spring Break.

School started up again, I buried myself in classes. Living at home was not fun, and I had a non-existent social life. It was a self-perpetuating cycle, with no clear escape.

Spring Break loomed, and I made plans to go back up to The Mistake On The Lake. The Sunday afternoon bus trip to Columbus was a reefer-madness comic episode. There were 3 or 4 exuberant young black guys in the back row who had a very large cassette-tape boom box, and a lot of dope. They lit up, and as the bus rolled on to Columbus, the bus slowly filled up with reefer smoke. Meanwhile the tape deck started playing slower, and slower. The mix tape was songs recorded off the radio, with the ends clipped as the DJ would back announce over the end of the song.


On the outskirts of Columbus, the bus passengers had essentially passed out. Finally somebody went to the bus-driver, who opened a wing-vent. A writhing snake of smoke collected itself, and like out of a movie, got sucked out of the bus. Everybody woke up by the time we pulled into the bus station.

The trip to Cleveland was muted. No joy here. I stayed at the Y one night. Then I opened my wallet and realized that I didn’t have enough to stay at the Y. Checking out, I found a SRO cheap-ass hotel—Hotel Bolivar, if memory serves, on 9th St. Walking up the single-width stairs to the buzzer-locked cashier’s window, I rented a room for the next two nights. He handed me a key, a dirty look, told me to read the rules, and buzzed me in.

Walking a maze of jumbled hallways that were painted in cast-off colors, I found my room. It was clean, dry, and barren, opening to an airless airwell. It made the Y look like the Ritz. Here I was. Time stretched on forever.

The first night was punctuated by footfalls in the hallway, faint snorings and phlegmy coughs by men who’d smoked their entire lives.I took a shower in a dim, blighted room that looked like it came from a prison-camp yard sale. Rarely have I showered so fast.

Note to the traveller: Celine’s “Journey to the End of the Night” is not light and frolicsome reading. Save it for when you have lots of money, on a beach somewhere. Also that night I lost any remaining taste for Tom Waits, who was then a boho fave with his “Nighthawks at the Diner“. Here there was no romance; only old, tired, used-up, broken men.

The few days that followed were more futility. I rotated in and out of agencies. One agency studio had middle-aged men sitting at their drafting tables, reading paperbacks. Nobody made a sound, so the bean-counters wouldn’t hear their inactivity, and fire them. It was foreboding.

My slender finances permitted a day-old loaf of bread, bracketed by 2 cups of watery coffee I got somewhere. The Y, with the vending machine, and the corner carryout was a mirage. Ghetto life in its full ’70s glory was on full display. Street-life characters could only afford one aspect of the Look; the apple cap, the chunky shoes, the high-rise flared pants. The rest of their outfits lagged a decade behind.

I threw in the towel on Wednesday. Caught the bus outta there, back down in painful slowness to Columbus, then back to Athens. The closer I got, the slower it became. I lulled myself to sleep with notions that it wasn’t always going to be this cold and bleak, and somehow I’d have a job, and get laid more often than not.

Once I got to Athens, I started walking through the deserted town,  out to Rt 50, and hitched a ride out to Albany. I then walked the last 2 miles from Albany out to the farm. I think I walked up the road to the house that semi-gray, raw March day, and saw Laird schooling a horse in the ring. Arnold was holed up in his office. I changed back into my workwear.

That summer I was a poorly-paid camp counsellor to the children of rich Texans in New Mexico. I nominally taught art, and having never taught art, made shit up. It was terrifying. I’d gotten out of the mud for 6 weeks; got drunk, fell in love, became fast friends for the summer with people I never saw again.

Tech Triumphalism Never Sleeps

Extracting assumptions and trivia from this video…

1/ Assumes that the mere weight of data is somehow better or more valid than previous technologies or cultures
2/ That an issue of the NYT has more data/info than an 18th century person would encounter in a lifetime assumes that…

  • the info was only written, in a time when most working technologies and cultures were non-literate.
  • ignores the fact that an 18th C. individual was probably better equipped to feed/clothe him/herself than the 21st C urban techno-servant. For instance, when was the last time anyone in any office you worked in made a pair of pants, skinned a rabbit, tended a bean-patch?
  • that all info/data in that lucky issue of the NYT is of equal weight and value to all. In freight terms, what is the difference between a pound of lead and a pound of feathers? None. Mass is a different story.

3/ Broadband penetration: Geography & infrastructure is key. #1 Bernuda = tiny. #19 Japan = highly developed archipelago

4/ Number of text messages? How many actually say something? LOL/STFU. Highlights the metrics of availability and theoretical cost of use.

5/ Water, water, water. The invisible missing element.

6/ All these networks, infrastructures, systems are kept alive by electricity. When the lights go out, party’s over.

For starters.

The Sixth Interview Principle

Panhandler Posts Her Day-Rate

Panhandler Posts Her Working-Rate

There are Five Big Things you want to avoid during an interview. They are:

  1. Being unprepared
  2. Behaving inappropriately
  3. Appearing unfocused
  4. Seeming insincere
  5. Stretching the truth

That’s according to an article by Jerry S. Wilson, Senior VP-chief customer and commercial officer at Coca-Cola Co, in addition to his current incarnation as a motivational marketer, etc.

Continue reading

RTFM Really Means “I Love You”, (But Only If You Were Paying Attention)

Part One: I Get A Wild Hair

Several weekends ago I was reminded that “impulse control” is the woeful precursor to “anger management”. Specifically, I decided to swap out the logic processor on my near-vintage Quicksilver G4.

I’d watched the videos, memorized the moves. I tore open the box, found the processor, pulled the old one, and began to install the new one.

The warning signs were visible early on, but had not yet penetrated my chattering monkey mind.

I plow on.

Part Two: Darkness

Everything was going too smoothly. Didn’t drop any screws, hooked up the fans. Whoo boy. Plugged it back in. Pushed the “on” button.

No signal.

Oh. Shit.

Now I had Terry Schiavo. It lit up, but no brain activity. I re-inserted the old processor, but no life. In my fugue, did I forgot to plug in the power lead? No. There was no brain function.

With a creeping dread worthy of HP Lovecraft, I discovered the install manual. And like the fabled Abdul Alhazred, I begin to page this late-surfacing Necronomicon. Therein were the incantations I did not perform, to wit, the firmware downloads. Of course! This was OWC, not Miskatonic University.

Back to the 21st century.

I called the Apple Store. Of course this all happened when they’d unleashed the 3G iPhone, and all the techno-weenies were howling, or at least texting, with their base desires. I got an appointment for 24hrs later.

Part Three: Dorkness, Unto Light

The lad at the Genius Bar looked at my G4 with an antiquarian’s amusement. Since I’d installed a 3rd party device, they weren’t going to touch it. Besides, they didn’t have the elderly 733Mhz processor card that was original stock. Of course not, it was sitting at home on my desk.

I needed big-ass professional help. Several references led me to Louis Katz. Not too long afterwards, he swung by my office. I led him to the scene of the crime. He smiled enigmatically.

“It needs to come to my workshop”. And off it went. Several days later, Louis calls.

“Larry, how you doing?”

“Louis, I was hoping you’d tell me”

“Well, it’s not looking good”

“I kinda thought so. I didn’t think you were out there eating birthday cake…”

“Sorry for the bad news”

“Yeah, I’m not thrilled either. But hey! it’s a dead computer, not a teen pregnancy…”

Long and short: the motherboard was fried. D-E-A-D.

I turned to face the light. My elderly G4 had run its last lap. I was going to make the long-overdue upgrade that I’d postponed. Lucky for me, it happened at a quiet moment, not in the middle of a crunch. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but here it is.


NEXT: Mr Pre-Press signs off on the fiscal proctoscope(s) to finance a new beast.

Perspectives on Yes and No

barefoot on broken glass
Some days the glass is not half anything.

A Prelude to a Client Meeting

On a chill winter weekend I found myself looking down a steep ice chute in the San Gabriel Mountains. The view was between my legs while front-pointing in a pair of snowshoes with teeth under the toes. My heels were in thin air.

I was in the middle of a glazed, frozen 45-degree slope, a blank 50′ stretch. All that was keeping me on this face were my sticky gloved fingertips, a lowered center of gravity, and by me very daintily chipping out toeholds. One foot at a time. Step. Chip-chip-chip. Transfer. Repeat.

Puts a day at work into perspective.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been in this situation. Once stupid, Twice idiotic. “I will never, ever, leave my ice-axe home again…”. I had to hear myself say it.

The slanting face I was on would get slushy down to the trail bed sometime in May. There were no manzanita bushes, tree roots, rock outcroppings to hang on to like I’d had in the last two miles. Here, I was naked—this was the crux move of the entire outing.

The steep north-west facing chute dropped several hundred feet out of sight into Wikiup Canyon. If the first twenty feet didn’t kill me, the last three sure would. The intervening seconds would be my last vivid memories of this coil.

I made it to safety, and contoured downwards on the trail in the sunshine. Along the way I saw day-hikers slushing up the trail from the Angeles Crest Highway.

That episode was relevant at a meeting several days later.

The Hypothetical Job Presented

I was contacted by a firm looking for a catalog specialist. Their website showed that they definitely were not bottom-feeders. It looked promising.

Meeting with the prospective client revealed the following information:

  • Due to unforseen circumstances, the original designer had left halfway through the project.
  • The project was supposed to be printed and done six weeks prior the meeting I was sitting in.
  • The sample visual shown was the touted as ‘best of the worst’. This image alone would require extensive retouching to clean up sloppy masks, backgrounds, color balancing.
  • There were 170 other images of unknown condition.
  • The target for these troubled images was to be a very glossy, high-end coffee-table sized high retail book, where all the faults of each image would be available to intense scrutiny.
  • There was no clear future print date or time-line, but there were intensely heightened expectations of delivery.

The Meeting Crux Move

My intuitions about this project were not good. Only 10% of an iceberg is visible. Mr Murphy typically lives below the waterline. As much as I was intrigued by this project, I remembered looking down that ice chute.

I looked the Prospective Client in the eye.

“I do not want to disappoint you, but I have to tell you straight out the way I see this project”.

  • Client expectations about print dates are going to have to be set aside to execute this job properly.
  • A high-end book is no place to rush anything. There are too many things that will go wrong. I can guarantee it, despite our best efforts.
  • This is a project that would realistically engage a studio or design firm for a good chunk of time.
  • The ‘best of the worst’ image alone looked like it needed a good 8 hours, and there are 169 unknowns waiting in the wings.

When I finished, the Prospective Client looked at me with a steady gaze. I’m sure that my assessment was not what they wanted to hear that day. They had voiced the Rosiest Possible Scenario. That’s what they do. And it’s my job to provide the most honest, realistic assessment. If you have cancer, do you go to Cedars-Sinai or Dr Phil?

Furthermore, ever been in a room with a client who is frothing with rage because you gave them a lollipop assessment to get the job? And then it went south? It’s up to you, bucko.

I passed on that job. In that instance I would have been in way over my head. There wasn’t enough protection from the exposure. It put my front-pointing episode into perspective.

Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop

hammer on anvil
Hammer and anvil at work. Autry Museum, Summer 2004.

Education has been on my mind a lot recently.

Earlier I mentioned that late one night in 1997, I got fed up with being fed up, and that eventually led me to Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop. It took a lot more than a casual “gee, I think I’ll, like, go to night school, and…like, you know, work on my book…?

I had crashed into the side of the professional mountain. Completely. My Dick-n-Jane book was a symphony of tin cans tied to my tail. Every piece screamed AMATEUR BARNEY. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t getting any art direction work. I was getting a lot of horrifed looks.

In desperation I begged an appointment with Adrienne Lowe, one of my Art Center at Night teachers. I showed up early. She took one look at my book and curtly told me to “broom at least half of what’s in there”

As in “throw overboard”.

You cannot imagine my relief. It did suck! What a load off!

I thanked her profusely, left her office, and renewed my professional links with temp agencies. I wanted every shop that had seen that crappy book to completely forget they’d even heard of me. Ever.

Now I had a burning reason to get past that. And a copywriter I knew told me about the Bookshop.

The first Bookshop class I sat in on in late winter 1998 had me hooked within an hour. But I was holding out for additional evidence.

The next week I went to the 1998 International Student Show, hosted by the LA Creative Club. I was floored. The Bookshop took about 40% of the prizes, including Best of Show. Ahead of Art Center, Portfolio Center, VGA, Creative Circus, NYU. All this from a peripatetic night-school operation that met in an agency conference room once a week.

Now I had 2 big hooks in my mouth, and I was swimming for deep water.

From the git-go, writers and art directors were teamed up by assignment. Mike would hand out creative briefs. Typically we’d crunch through three projects in the course of the twelve week term.

The classes were a cross-section of designers, art directors, copywriters, post-college types, character actors, ex-70’s punk musicians, AE’s, some debutantes and poseurs who hadn’t tumbled yet, ex-service post-GI Bill vets, and working production professionals like myself. Everybody in the room was hungry. Everybody wanted to buid a book and get outta whatever dead-end they were in.

It was an intensive flame-off process. Concepts had to stand up to critical scrutiny, and frequently the slings and arrows of your peers. Nothing was sacred. I burned through more crap and dead-wood in my inventory than I imagined. Finally the decent concepts and executions began to emerge.

This also applied to working relationships. Some people didn’t understand that Mike was replicating the agency structure. Have a problem with your partner? The smart choice was to work out any personal beef behind closed doors and get through it. I’m sure people went to Mike over the years with one ache or another. I’m also sure he took notes. Maybe not.

Bottom line: the client doesn’t care about your problems, you are there to solve their problem. Oh.

And so it went for the better part of two years. When I finished in March 2000, I was exhausted. I’d gotten my equivalent of an MFA. More importantly, I had a marketable book. I got that art director job I’d wanted for so long.

That lasted as long as it needed to. I was laid off 10 weeks after 9/11. The ad business was in a tail-spin. I also remember looking out the window and seeing new Escalades on the dealer lot near the office. I thought Detroit had lost its mind. They did, but the blow-back took six years to hit for them.

Its been several years since I was an art director. However the education I got from the Bookshop has proved highly useful in other areas of my work and life. Thanks again. I continue to use it to this day.

Young Creatives & Old Production Guys

shoes on the line

I remember the day the light went on. I’d figured out the ad industry wanted young creatives and seasoned, experienced production people.

The ad biz wasn’t looking for another 49 year old art director. Especially one with less than 2 years in a B2B shop. The business looks for, and gets, 25 year olds; who are typically beaten with a stick for 60-80 hrs a week, and are paid a lot less than a senior guy or gal makes. Everyone hopes they make their bones before they fall over from complete burn-out.

However—a senior production guy/gal who knows their game is a different proposition. I went home that afternoon and rewrote my resume to say boldly “25 Years of Print Production Experience”. I started working regularly after that.


I didn’t set out to have a career in print production. Honest. But here I am.

Long before I was a junior art director I was a disgruntled print-production guy. I tolerated it as it enabled me to pursue other things like running 100-mile mountain races and other outdoor pursuits.

Late one August night in 1997, I got fed up with being fed up and started back to school. Foreplay was Art Center At Night for a couple of semesters. There was a pause. I was still looking.

In late 1998 I lucked out and found out about Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop. I sat in on a class and realized that the Bookshop was the real deal. This became my after-hours MFA. It took 2-1/2 years, and when I had my book, I was wrung out. But it got me a job as an art director in a small B2B shop,

Our primary client was Aon Insurance. I got laid off after 9/11. Aon’s New York office had been on the 105th floor of the South Tower. Aon and my agency went into vapor-lock along with the rest of the economy.

I spent the next 18 months looking for art direction gigs. The job market was not good. The sky was raining art directors. I reluctantly went back to freelance print-production.

One day in 2003 I was down at a huge direct mail shop in Marina del Rey. Looking around me, I saw men, mostly; guys who’d been group creative heads, creative directors, guys with TV reels. They were doing direct mail. And the tanks were rolling across the Iraqi sand, hotf00ting it to Baghdad.

And that’s when I got it. Something else also happened. Being an art director didn’t define my entire creative existence. And not being one was a relief. Didn’t have to stay up nights and weekends agonizing over things I didn’t care about. Being a Lee Clow whose sole life was advertising struck me as being a monocultural retard, like genetically modified corn.

I’d begun to allocate energy in a different way. And that freed up considerable calories to deal with both print production and my photography in two different capacities. I became a happier guy in the process.

But Wait, There’s Always More

The starting line is continually redrawn. Nobody can afford not to stay engaged. Or in a more cruel vein, the rest of you can go back to sleep while I pursue my studies. Don’t mind me if I eat your lunch.

While working at Grey Advertising in the mid-90’s I met Ben Worthing. Underestimate Ben, but only at your own peril. Yes, he wore powder-blue polyester suits, and looked like the kindly grand-dad you wished you’d had. But he never missed an opportunity to look ahead and learn.

Ben was officially kept on the payroll well after the mandatory 65 retirement age because he was too valuable to let go. He’d schooled the young whelps who later on ran the agency in his print estimating office when they were fresh out of school and useless.

One evening I asked Ben a FileMakerPro question which had been bothering me. His answer was straight to the point. I then asked him how come he “got” computers when many in middle and upper management simply didn’t.

He quietly told me that it went back to his flying days in the Army Air Force in 1942. He was trained as a navigator on a B-17. He didn’t get sent to England because one of his original crew got sick, and the crew was pulled from the flight line. This probably saved him from being shot down over Germany somewhere. He was reassigned to Fort Bliss as an instructor.

By the end of the war in 1945 he was training crews in B-29s. The transition was from an unpressurized, manually controlled, 3-ton payload bomber; to a fully-pressurized, high-altitude heavy bomber that had electro-servo motors for flaps, landing gear, bomb-bay doors that unleashed 10 tons of destruction.

So when the first Macs appeared in the late 80’s he saw a tool that would change his work life for the better. He could now turn estimates for outdoor boards in three locations and four sizes in less than an hour, instead of four hours using an assistant riding a crank-calculator and a pencil on an estimating sheet.

He smiled gently, and walked slowly back to his office on bad knees. I saw him in a completely different light. Ben had remained engaged and curious when his peers resisted. An open engaged mind is a powerful thing. That’s the kind of grand-dad we could all use.

You’ll excuse me—one of my cameras needs to be exercised.