How I Got to Madison Avenue. And beyond.

As with life, this blog is developing and changing. It began with a lot of stories that occurred on my career path from Albany to Madison Avenue and back.

There were some similarities to the AMC series "Mad Men," and then I went even farther back in time with a somewhat fictionalized version of growing up in Troy's Little Italy.

And now, a new development. As my free lance advertising and marketing career winds down, I'm becoming more interested in the theatre arts that my father and his 3 brothers helped instill in me as I grew up.

As a result, I've volunteered to help promote the Theatre Institute at Sage, and now, to continue a long-interrupted desire to be behind the proscenium, I've joined the newly formed Troy Civic Theatre, and was actually fortunate enough to appear in their first production.

So, I hope you'll enjoy the new stories that will develop from this latest turn.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dating in Manhattan

I'm a movie fan. Been going to movies since I was seven years old. Back then, a kid in Troy could walk a few blocks from wherever he lived, and get to a neighborhood movie theater. Yes, the world had changed in a couple of ways.

I like a wide range of movies, but especially quirky ones. I don't mean silly, although they qualify, too.

Quirkiness is probably what makes a filmmaker a good filmmaker. You may wonder what all this has to do with dating in Manhattan, so I'll tell you. It's a long and winding road to get there, but I'll get there.

First, I want to tell you about my personal rating system – it's a negative system, not like giving stars or thumbs up. It's based on how long it takes me to become aware that my rear end is numb. The sooner I become aware of that while watching the movie, the worse the movie is – because if a movie engrosses you, you forget about physical discomfort. If you're aware of your discomfort, the movie has not grabbed you.

I watched a quirky movie last night – quirkier than most: “Silent Light.” Believe it or not, it was about Mennonite dairy farmers in Mexico. And that was just the setting. The story was not quirky – it was about a man and two women – the eternal triangle.

The movie was excruciatingly slow-paced, and the dialog was so spare that the total amount of speaking would probably total just about a minute. Sixty seconds of speaking in a 2 hour plus movie!

This was the first time I've watched a movie whose opening scene was so slow that I actually was aware of my discomfort from the very beginning. But I stayed with it, because it was so unbelievably slow that I figured the director had a reason for it. I was right.

That sparseness of pacing, lack of camera movement, laconic acting and bare vistas added up to a hypnotic experience.

And the spareness of dialog is what made what the characters said stand out. When the son told the father that he was in love with a woman other than his wife, the father said it was because of “The need to feel.” That seemed to nail it for me.

The need to feel. That's what got me thinking about dating when I was in New York in the 1980's, and was a bachelor again, after my second successful divorce.

I needed to feel wanted, I needed to feel connected, I needed to feel.

I dated actresses who, as the joke goes, wore reflective glasses with the mirror on the inside, so they could always see themselves. One such woman told me she was constantly on a diet, and it turned out to be mostly true. The only exception was when I was buying dinner. She ordered a salad and water, and I was thinking what an inexpensive date she was, until it came time for dessert and she ordered a heaping bowl of rich, cheesy, creamy fettuccine al fredo and wolfed it all down with a half a loaf of bread! Pasta. For dessert! Of course, after a meal like that, all she wanted to do was sleep.

I didn't need to feel like a patsy, I'd had enough of that in my marriages. So I didn't see her again.

But it took me a long time to figure out what I really needed. More of the adventures along the way next time.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Love is climate, like is temperature.

Today, the weekly blog entry takes an interesting turn. Last week, I teased about writing about women I dated in Manhattan in the 1980's, while I was working on Madison Avenue.

I'm beginning that part of the reminiscence today, but with more of a general outlook on dating and relationships. Just because spring begins today, and there's a lot of thinking and discussion about the subjects swirling around me.

I'm thinking about where I was in 1980, after experiencing my second successful divorce, and having ended a torrid affair with a buxom blond upstate saleswoman who didn't think twice about canceling a date at the last second for a better opportunity. I was relationship-less, having told Hilda that I would not date anyone who treated me worse than I treated myself, and feeling very lonely in my newly adopted city – the one that never sleeps, and will keep you awake letting you know that, just for spite.

But I was in the dream job of my life, and I was surrounded by beautiful, intelligent women, and certainly, it would only be a matter of time before, well, you know.

I had also had a disastrous affair with a blond I worked with, so another rule I established was to never date anyone I worked with. I pretty much stuck to that, for a few years, anyway.

Anyway, to pay off the metaphor in today's headline, I usually chose tropical climate, and, as you might expect, raised quite a few temperatures.

In the advertising business, creatives meet a lot of actors and models. And an acquaintance recently posted a list of reasons to never date that type. I didn't have that list back then, and so, I succumbed.

I dated a couple of actress/waitresses, one of whom was also a lingerie model and had been on screen in a minor sci-fi cult classic, a smart executive who has led the ad research departments of a couple of major national publications, the daughter of the head of a great boutique agency, and others, too numerous to mention right now.

More on each of them, one at a time, in future entries.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The River House & the Pied a Terre

This is the way the riverside house and I looked in 1988, when I bought it. Anyone who has seen it recently probably wouldn't recognize it. I've done a lot of remodeling and expanding, so the only things that are the same are the lantern light behind me, above my head, and the walkway at my feet. (Oh, and I still have that sweater, given to me by one of my daughters.)

I had two more years of working in Manhattan ahead of me, but this house kept calling me back, so that I would spend long weekends, then all my vacations, and finally, in 1990, I took a three month leave of absence to stay here and write, knowing full well that the agency's terms were that they wouldn't have to take me back when the sabbatical was over.

They didn't, so I effectively left the job without quitting and without getting fired. In fact, I offered to work for them 3 days a week, an offer they could refuse. But soon a smart agency owner in Albany knew it was a good deal, and so I was back, pretty much where I began, but with more skill, more maturity, and more time for myself.

I also had a neat little studio apartment rental on the upper east side, on 94th Street, that a agency producer had been renting for years, and only gave up because she bought a condo in an up and coming section of Brooklyn.

It was a fourth floor walk up, but that was manageable, and, being a lucky person, I found a sub-let deal that was almost too good to be true. It was an Albany resident who took a job with the National Audubon Society in Manhattan. He didn't want to move his family to the city, so he used the apartment from Monday morning until Friday afternoon, leaving it to me to use for weekend trips to continue to enjoy New York's museums and shows. (I even got a free lance job because of the acquaintance, and created a series of one-minute public service spots called "The Audubon Answer," featuring my interviews with Audubon experts. It was awarded an environmental prize from the United Nations.)

The apartment was basically one room, with a small alcove for a bed, a galley kitchen with a pass-through to the main space, which had a fold-down table that a previous occupant had installed, and a small bathroom.

The rent was miniscule, thanks to the many years of one-renter minimum raises. New York City's rent controlled and rent-regulated increases made it possible for even a mid-level creative like me to keep it for years.

I don't have any photos of that little apartment, but I do remember that it was the only Manhattan apartment I had ever been in that didn't need a regular spraying to keep roaches away. It didn't have any, because there was a dry cleaning establishment at the base of the building, and that acted as a repellent.

If only it had repelled some of the women I dated. But then again, if it had, I wouldn't have the stories I'm about to start relating.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


My Nightlight.

It's 1988 and I'm down to my last two years in Manhattan. Time for some personal memories of places and people before I move back north.

Here's what started this memory: I went to a party in a brownstone apartment last night, along the only private park in New York State outside of Manhattan's Gramercy Park – Washington Park, in Troy.

The hostess has access to the building's roof, and is planning a party there this summer. And that triggered a memory of my 5th & 6th floor, penthouse duplex apartment on Manhattan's east side, in a rehabbed brownstone, complete with tiny elevator, slightly bigger than a phone booth. The apartment was slightly bigger, but it was well placed. A block or so from the East River on 28th Street, it had the tiniest kitchen and bathroom, but a living room with a working fireplace, and a second floor bedroom with walk-in closet and sliding glass door out to the rooftop patio, which I shared with the beautiful blond occupant of the mirror-imaged apartment next door.

My futon bed pretty much filled the space of that bedroom, but there was a beautiful view from that bed – the glowing top of the Chrysler building was my nightlight!

Every July 4th, Macy's would sponsor a spectacular fireworks display launched from barges – alternating between the Hudson River and the East River. On those east side years, my neighbor and I would host a gathering on our roof, from where we could see the major portion of the pyrotechnic display.

Despite the convenience and ideal location of the apartment (I could walk to work, and did, when my agency's offices were first in the Pan Am Building, then in the Flatiron District, then on 5th Avenue in the Bank of New York Building, and finally on Park Avenue South.), I gave it up when I found my “weekend house,” which I found while house-sitting (on Albany's Madison Avenue!) for my most recent ex-wife during a month's vacation in June of 1988.

Being a Vice President of the agency, I was entitled to four weeks of vacation, and I managed to take them all in a row. My plan was to spend the time writing my first novel in what was normally a very quiet house. But the day I moved in, the street repairs began, and continued all month.

I had an old bicycle stored in my mother's house in Troy, so I retrieved it, had it reconditioned, and started riding, and thinking maybe I could use the time to find a small cottage to buy near the bike path that used to be the old Troy-Schenectady Railroad, which runs in large part along the Mohawk River.

I found it, and managed to buy it a few months later. But it meant giving up the expensive apartment, and maybe even not living in Manhattan altogether. Until I found a rare, low-rent-stabilized place in the nineties. More about that next time.