Author Archive for: Jeff

On Becoming the New Old Fogey

29 Dec 2010
December 29, 2010

As we get ready to ring in the new year, I’m reminded that I’m not getting any younger. And, I’m quite comfortable with that. Late night New Year’s Eve parties have given way to quiet evenings at home with my family and friends. A little Thai, and while the kids play in their bedrooms with friends, we’re nicely ensconced in front of our fireplace, a good old vine Zin in hand. Times Square isn’t even on our radar.

But being comfortable isn’t my only goal come January. Oh, sometimes I aspire to be a Father Knows Best sort of dad, but, if you must know, I’m really more of a Modern Family sort of one. I may be getting older but I’m working on a strategy for not getting old.

Betty White on SNL

Betty White mixing it up with a friend on Saturday Night Live.

The successful campaign to get White a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live by Gen Xers and Millennials is a surprising turn on how we look at age. To what does Betty (may I call you Betty, Ms. White?) owe this adoration amongst young people? She’s 88! But she doesn’t act like anyone’s grandmother. So, what makes a person get old? And why is Betty so young?

As I get closer to geezerhood, I’ve been taking a good hard look at myself. I can’t stop my birthdays (as my father used to say, “Consider the alternative!”). But I can fine tune how I look at the world, and my outlook has little to do with my real age. My neighbor, in his early 50s, is afraid of the future and has said he’d like to go back to the 1960s (as if any point in that decade was a banner year for safety).

My father, an engineer for Lockheed in the early 1960s, traveled the world teaching other engineers how to move from their slide rules to computers. Despite his ability to embrace and evangelize the new, as he got older he lost that edge. Somewhere over the decades he seemed to lose his interest in fresh ideas. His younger self morphed into his older self, afraid of what was coming next. And, like my neighbor, it scared him.

The Bettys of the world don’t seem to work that way. Oh, as White said in her SNL opening monologue, when she first heard about the Facebook campaign to get her to host the show, she had no idea what Facebook was and, in fact, now that she knew, she thought it was a big waste of time. The audience laughed and understood it’s not whether they are technology savvy that makes people like Betty so attractive.

So what makes some stay young while others slowly grow old? Aside from staying buff (okay, it’s an uphill battle), here are a few things I’m doing to stave off old fogeyhood:

  1. Be alert and stay connected. I am constantly observing people and how they work. Last week it suddenly occurred to me that every time I walk out of my office building I come in contact with people I’ve never seen before. So there’s a constant influx of new material and interactions happening right in front of me. Simply by doing things like commuting or walking down the street I’m injecting myself in that daily mix. This allows me to stay connected. Sometimes I merely observe but at other times I interact—sometimes with total strangers.

    I’m what Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, calls an infovore (PDF). “The more information the infovore consumes, the more order he brings to his world.” What a perfect word. (Too bad he’s too young to be an old fogey.) Order in my world includes and embraces the often-chaotic nature of daily life. But if an abundance of information gives you headache and sweaty palms, you’re probably not an infovore. Still, the advantage the New Old Fogeys have is we can take decades of our past experiences and fold them into this novel mix.

    Using Facebook and Twitter, all of technology for that matter, isn’t the goal. They’re just tools which allow me to…

  2. Explore new ideas. But that doesn’t mean I embrace every new idea I come in contact with. The more I explore, the more discerning I become (and the more I discover about myself). But I’m looking for people who share this inquisitiveness.

    Three years ago my oldest daughter, then 10, gave me an impromptu report card on my aging. One day while in the car, I suddenly heard from the backseat: “Dad, you’re really cool. You like cool clothes, you like cool music, and you like technology.” What a gift! I took it to heart and was encouraged to keep up the good work. Two years later I thought I’d better check in with her to see how I was doing. “Well,” she hesitated, “you’re not so good in the music department any more.” (She had just finished a class in the history of rock and roll and thought she knew it all.) I immediately countered: “Do you know who Adele is?” She didn’t. “I predict she will win the Grammy for the best new artist this year!” On the night of the awards, my daughter and I sat together as Adele was named the winner. My reputation was salvaged for at least the next six months—okay, maybe two weeks.

    My ideas are constantly changing and being challenged. And I’ll accept that challenge from anywhere and anyone. This exploration and mixing of ideas allows me to…

  3. Play. The New Old Fogey isn’t just a consumer of new ideas, we seem to inhale, mix them up, and play around with them. The result: newer, perhaps quite idiosyncratic thoughts. Unlike my father and neighbor, we’re willing to take risks. The most engaged senior citizens aren’t just guarding what we’ve acquired over the years; we’re growing and giving it back by interacting with the people around us. Betty White’s willingness to immerse herself in other people’s ideas and inject her own take on them keeps her mind active and engaged. And it’s clear she’s really enjoying what she’s doing. That’s play.

At age 61 I’ve decided to look for a mentor. I don’t care how old he or she is. But as I begin to think about the next phase of my life, I’m looking for guidance and people who are as interested in these things as I am. My father used to say: “Youth is wasted on the young.” He believed that by the time you got old and hopefully wiser, you no longer had any energy or desire to explore. I don’t believe that for one minute. And neither does Betty.

What’s your strategy for becoming a new old fogey?

The Two Faces of John Boehner

08 Nov 2010
November 8, 2010
John Boehner

John Boehner on the cover of Time. Click image for detail.

When the mailman handed me this week’s Time magazine I was immediately drawn to the cover photograph of John Boehner, the presumptive Speaker of the House. But I couldn’t figure out why. There is something very odd about it (see detail). It’s not an attractive portrait. The shallow depth-of-field forces us to confront his face. His eyes are bloodshot and his expression is inscrutable, like Da Vinci’s portrait of Mona Lisa. Boehner looks a little goofy. Is his grin comical, magnified by the soft shadow of his Perot moustache-shaped philtrum? Or are his lips simply pursed. Everyone has had informal pictures like this taken, catching us at particularly odd points in time. Usually, we toss these. So why did Time decide to run this on its cover?

Boehner’s photo in the opening spread of the article seems much more cover-worthy. The Congressman in this image seems more in control, contemplating the opportunities that await him and the GOP. These two images are a study in contrasts.

The accompanying article reinforces Boehner’s extremes: the bar-loving, “dandy” on Capitol Hill who “can’t resist making fun of just about anyone with a bad haircut or too-short tie” (I can see that in his cover persona) verses the astute politician. Throw in the unknown power of the Tea Party on his right I start to feel nervous, wondering just how he’ll handle the next two years. Progress or more gridlock?

A lot of hopes, both from the Left and Right, are pinned to John Boehner. But politics is no longer usual. We don’t feel in control and there is a jittery edge across the political spectrum. How will this play out? Will this be another two years of political games? The people aren’t sure and the Congressman on Time’s cover doesn’t seem quite sure himself. It seems like a big gamble. Perhaps that’s why this photo got top billing.

Related Article: Do You Trust This Man? Look at the Details.

The Rally for Sanity? It Was Insane!

31 Oct 2010
October 31, 2010
Standing at the rally with my poster

I positioned us at the Rally for a good photo op of the Capitol.

At the last minute I decided to bring one of my Chamomile Tea Party posters to the Rally for Sanity here on the National Mall yesterday. So Friday afternoon I got it printed BIG. You might wonder why this wasn’t on my radar weeks ago. After all, procrastination is not my usual style. Let’s see, there’s work, soccer games, work, grocery shopping, exhaustion, and work –well, you get the picture. The Chamomile Tea Party is my “side” biz. Promotion is key to any success but my methodology doesn’t normally include rallies. And my volunteer base is, shall we say, minimal. All I needed, though, was a kick in the pants. And that came from a coworker.

On Friday she said “favorited” my latest poster on Flickr. And when I wrote to thank her she said “You’re bringing it to the rally, right?” And, suddenly, my über promotional skills kicked in (I knew they were in there somewhere). I downloaded the poster from my own Flickr stream, had someone print it 30″ x 40″, rolled it up and brought it home. When I arrived at the house my chief volunteer (my wife) greeted me at the door with a huge piece of Foam Core and double-sided tape. Team Chamomile mounted it to the board and I was set.

As a rally veteran of the National Mall (you might remember my sojourn to the Inauguration) I like to have a plan. I survey the details of the event and then decide which stop on the Metro to exit and just where to find the choicest place to stand. But I have to balance that with realities: did I want to get up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to rouse my 14 year old (she’s a veteran too but needs her sleep)? A balanced approach is key. Staking out a spot in the front row is usually not part of my strategy.

The Rally began at noon but we got there at 10. My sign was a bit unwieldy but light. My first reaction to the poster came as we sat down in the subway car. A smile and then “Great poster!” from the family sitting across from us. The day was beginning just right. As we exited the Metro I headed towards a meet up with The Coffee Party, a large group whose “dial-it-down” philosophy matches my own. Along the way, I wanted to stop off at the meeting area for GovLoop, a social media site for local, state, and federal government workers I’ve contributed to. As I walked down the street, I held my sign facing forward and the poster love really commenced. Knowing smiles and pointing as we passed. I felt like I was on stage. No longer the behind-the-scenes creative I was walking my walk.

When my daughter and I got to the Coffee Party meet up point no one was to be found. And, suddenly, I could see why. There were people who DID get up at 5 a.m. to get to the Mall. Thousands of them. And if we didn’t get our place soon, we would be pushed to the hinterlands. The Coffee Party must have staked out their spot and we needed to do the same. So we got as close to the stage as we could and I positioned us as close to the middle of the Mall to get the Capitol centered in any pic I took (what I lack in organizational skills I make up for in photographic composition). Yet, I realized as we watched the large video screens on the sides that the organizers had roving cameras looking for interesting signs and costumes and we were too far away for any of that free publicity.

And this brings me to the root of my dilemma. I think hard and I work hard –even on these posters. I love getting my work out there. But there was part of me that just wanted to enjoy the day with my daughter and the hundreds of thousands of others who were tired of the political positioning, the elections, and the dogma. Promotion of my posters –yes I did some of that. People all around me wanted to take a photo of it. And I always “pressed the flesh” with my signature “You can download them yourself at chamomileteaparty.com.” During the rally, I would often hold it up high and make a 360. And when the rally was over, I held it above my head on the slow trek out of the area. But I didn’t want to forget why we were there in the first place.

The front page of the Huffington Post

Others had brought their Chamomile Tea Party posters to the Rally! Click on image for larger view.

This morning, as I surveyed the online world, I suddenly discovered that I had more volunteers at the Rally than I thought. This photo of some of my other posters made it to the front page of the Huffington Post! I’d been promoting my “download and bring to the rally” approach for weeks. And some good people actually did it. It’s gratifying to see others take up your efforts and turn it into their own.

The best part of the day? On a packed subway ride home, my daughter and I finally got a seat near the end of the line. It was the first time we had sat down all day. I put my arm around her and said “What’cha think?” “I liked it,” she said, “but I didn’t understand all the words they used.” “Like what?” I asked. “Like liberal. I know I should know that but I don’t.” “Well, you see,” I replied, “there are liberals and conservatives. Sort of like Democrats and Republicans but a bit different…”

The Genesis of a Message

26 Sep 2010
September 26, 2010
Careless Talk

The latest poster by the Chamomile Tea Party (click image for larger view).

Posters distill the essence of ideas or messages to their most economical form. You glance at a poster as you walk by the wood barricades of a construction site or, these days, as you peruse the walls of the Internet. When remixing someone else’s poster as I’ve been doing with World War II-era propaganda posters for the Chamomile Tea Party, I’m initially attracted to the design and then to its message. Simple and direct is best. Then the real thinking begins.

What do I want to say? What’s my message? In order to recontextualize the image I need to break the poster down and look at each element to see how it functions. In the original 1944 poster by Stevan Dohanos, there is the award –the medal, what this medal was being given for (Careless Talk) and why. And, finally, who was awarding this “honor” (in Dohanos’ design it was the Nazis as evidenced by the ring on the hand of the person holding the medal). I would have to consider each of these parts in order to rework the image and its message.

The keystone in this poster was “For Careless Talk.” That drew me in. While the original poster referred to divulging sensitive data on troop movements and other war efforts, I immediately connected it to the rhetoric we were hearing in contemporary political discourse today. Healthy and respectable debate is good but it’s clear the “talk” has gone way beyond that. Inciting spin has taken precedence over insightful information and discussion. So who deserved to be given a medal for this most egregious tactic and who would this honor come from?

My initial thought was the American people should award this medal to Fox News. The ring would sport an American flag and in an early version of the poster the medallion was the Fox News logo. “For Careless Talk” would remain and underneath I listed all of the issues I felt Fox News was guilty of skewing. But after some vigorous discussion with friends I realized those who believed in Fox would be more than honored to receive that award. And that wasn’t my intent at all. I returned to the drawing board.

I changed the list of issues to a group of Fox commentators who should rightfully be awarded this medal. And I tried on a few different medallions to replace the Fox logo. The most interesting was a picture of a wind-up toy of chattering false teeth. I was getting closer (the medal was becoming a source of biting commentary) but it still wasn’t quite right. I created a drop shadow underneath “For Careless Talk” that was an amorphous “Fair and Balanced,” the tagline for Fox News. Underneath that notion of irresponsibility was the idea that the deeds of these commentators were being touted in just the opposite fashion.

It took me a while but I finally made the connection to the Tea Party and placed a tea bag in the role of the medallion. But it still came across as an award Glenn Beck and company would be proud to wear. The original tea bag image I used had a big drip at the bottom. And that led me on the right path: turn the tea bag symbol “upside down” by making it a sopping wet mess. I made a bigger drip in Photoshop and then showed its effects on the commentators’ names below. Stains and drips turned the tea bag and all it’s come to stand for into a symbol of something gone awry. My commentary was complete.

Related: See all the posters from the Chamomile Tea Party and friend us on Facebook.

Just Thinking Good Thoughts

12 Sep 2010
September 12, 2010
tombstone

My mother’s tombstone is so high above my head, it’s hard to connect with her grave.

Every trip to Los Angeles is punctuated by a visit with my parents. They’re buried at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, just a few hundred feet from each other. I haven’t lived in L.A. since the mid 1980s but it will forever be the place I come from. And this visit has become part of my ritual each time I return. I’m usually alone with my thoughts but this time the city was a stop on a family vacation so my wife and girls were with me. As we drove toward the cemetery gates we stopped by the roadside to buy a bouquet of flowers from a vendor.

These visits are never comforting. My early life wasn’t easy but the city holds those memories, always waiting for me to return. As we walked to my mother’s grave I explained to my family we would divide the flowers into two uneven groups. The larger one would be for my mother and the smaller would be for my father. The imbalance reflected part of that old family history, one my wife was familiar with. But how do you explain the details to your questioning children? I didn’t. Someday, when they’re older I’d get into the details but for now this would have to do. However, leave it to them to understand more than you want to make clear. As we pruned and arranged my mother’s bouquet my twelve year old said “When you and mom die we’ll create two equal bunches.”

This led to further questions. “Where do you want to be buried, Dad; here or in D.C.?” “Do you want to be cremated?” “Do Jewish people get cremated?” Mom had already made her last wishes known but I’d been silent. “Can I be buried here?” my youngest asked. I had no answers to these queries. And, truthfully, I didn’t want to think about them at that moment. I was working too hard on my past to consider that future.

My mother is buried in a crypt stacked ten feet above other crypts. I never liked that distance. It’s too high to really feel a connection with her but she’s buried next to both of her parents and I wouldn’t want to change that. Her grave marker, however, is a different story. “BELOVED WIFE AND MOTHER,” it says. Not very creative or personal. Hundreds of beloved wives and mothers surrounded us. But I was connected to only one. When she died my father took care of all the funeral arrangements. And even though my sister and I were adults he never asked us what we’d like to say.

• • •

When I was nine, I watched the scariest movie I’d ever seen, Invaders from Mars. The film was about a boy named David who was just about my age. One stormy night he looks out his bedroom window to see a spaceship landing in the open field behind his house. When his parents go out to investigate the ground opens up and a celestial chorus crescendos as they disappear. Shortly thereafter they return “changed.” The Martians have implanted a device to control them. David knows but nobody believes him. At the climax of the film he suddenly finds himself back in bed, woken up by the same thunderstorm that began the story. His parents come in to reassure him his nightmare was only a bad dream. Even now I cringe.

But as scared as I was back then I watched the movie four more times that week. Such are the inconsistencies of boyhood. I never walked through a vacant lot again without looking down at the ground, ready to sidestep any opening that suddenly appeared.

As I lay in bed after the fifth showing I couldn’t get that vision of David’s altered parents out of my head. I was wide awake, too afraid to close my eyes. When all my young survival skills failed me I yelled for my mom and when she popped her head inside my bedroom door I admitted to my scifi film addiction. She listened quietly as I spilled my guts and when I could spill no more I remember her saying “Just think good thoughts.” That was it. “Just think good thoughts.” As if that would solve my biggest problem ever.

• • •

As we stood looking up at my mother’s grave I mentioned to my wife my desire to change my mother’s tombstone. “What would you like it to say?” she asked. I didn’t know. “Well,” is there any phrase or word you remember your mother saying?” Immediately I remembered the story of that very scared little boy, a set of Martians, and a mother. “How about ‘Just think good thoughts.'”

It was perfect.

The Real Reason AT&T Has Exclusive Rights to the iPhone

25 Jun 2010
June 25, 2010
Western Electric Picturephone

A recently discovered magazine ad fuels speculation that Steve Jobs can time travel.

This morning, in an old dusty box hidden in the corner of my attic I unearthed some old magazines. I can’t remember why I kept them. But thumbing through their pages I came across this 1960s ad for Western Electric’s Picturephone ® and something in the shadows caught my eye.

Steve Jobs knew Marty McFly. But more importantly, proof positive why AT&T, the descendant of Western Electric, is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone.

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