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August 31, 2003



No, this photo has not been distorted in Photoshop. This is an actual car, an electric vehicle named "Tango," and it is being made in my home town, Spokane, Washington.


Pump and dump


The perfect Labor Day party game: solving a labor dilemma from today's "Ethicist" column in the New York Times:

Question: "My manager wants to complete our project early and thus save money by laying off many of the support personnel (testing, quality assurance, documentation). To motivate the engineers, he has offered us a bonus pending early completion. Is it ethical for me to profit by firing others or for my manager to put me in this position? "

Think about how you might answer this question, then without reading the Ethicist's answer, click on the Comments link below and tell us how you'd answer the question. Then, and only then, read the Ethicist's answer here. (Free registration to New York Times website required.)

August 28, 2003

A Labor Day Special

In an age when employees are labeled "human capital" and workplace longevity is measured in months, some companies have finally begun to realize that a truly loyal employee is a rare and valuable asset that should be recognized, nurtured, and, ideally, sold to the highest bidder.


August 27, 2003

From Hue via Hugh to you!


Hugh Duthie was an account planner in the Toronto office from 1990-1994, and then in the New York office from 1996 to 1999. He left the agency world a couple of years ago, and set up a small company, Kudzu, with a former planner from Chiat/Day, Lee Polychron. "Our thing is advertising and creative development research," says Hugh. "But because I am an entrepreneur and shopkeeper at heart, I launched this retail venture, Saigoniste, with a really old friend of mine - who also has a full-time job as head of client services at Kirshenbaum (the world just gets smaller by the moment, does it not?)"

Hugh needs our help. Citysearch has nominated Saigoniste as "best gift store" in NYC and since the whole thing is vote driven, he would love it if we all went to Citysearch.com and just clicked for Saigoniste. "We are currently number 2, behind Lale LLC on Mott St. (Go Nolita!)," says Hugh, "but ahead of all sorts of yummy retailers like Mxyplzyk, Conran's, Moss and even Takashimaya. The voting extends for a marathon-like 36 more days... so the best/worst news is that you can think about us and vote for us every one of those days...!!!

"As an added incentive to help, if you print off the poll page after you vote and bring it into the shop, we would be delighted to give you 10% off your purchase. (Note: the discount applies only if you vote for Saigoniste). The discount applies to regular priced merchandise as well as our glam summer collection which is already on sale. The sale will continue until Sept 9, after which Saigoniste will be closing for 10 days while San Gennaro rages through the streets of Little Italy, and the staff of Saigoniste will be raging through Vietnam on our semi-annual buying trip."

Click here to be whisked away to Citysearch where you can vote for Saigoniste.

SAIGONISTE Brings Exotic Vietnamese Design
To New York's NoLIta Neighborhood

From the enchanting Vietnamese capital of Hanoi in the North to the ancient imperial city of Hue in the central highlands, to the bustling, modern Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the South, Vietnam offers a variety of sights, sounds, topography, cuisine and culture unequaled by any other country in Asia. A romantically exotic and storied culture mostly unexplored by the outside world due to the country's conflicts throughout the years, Vietnam is Asia's most romantic and exotic country with a truly East-Meets-West culture, influenced by the Chinese, French and the U.S. Despite this, the country remains a mystery to most Americans, an undiscovered country for all but the most savvy of travelers.

Now, the country is ripe for discovery by Americans and the rest of the world. Opened in November of 2002, Saigoniste brings the first taste of Vietnamese design to America with the opening of its NoLIta store and the Saigoniste.com web site.

Founded by Cynthia Ashworth and Hugh Duthie, Saigoniste is New York's, and the country's, first upscale, design-driven store completely devoted to Vietnamese product. The duo, intrepid travelers both, have scoured Vietnam to bring back the best in design for Saigoniste. In their adventures they discovered amazing products, including the country's signature lacquerware, as well as artists willing to work with them in creating designs exclusively for sale at Saigoniste.

The graphically colorful shop offers tableware, giftware, home furnishings and fashion accessories, as well as one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture and unique one-offs such as a mountain bike crafted entirely of bamboo and stainless steel. Vintage Vespas, a popular form of transportation throughout Vietnam are also available and can be custom colored to the buyerís whim.

Reflecting their devotion to the vitality of Vietnam and its design ethos, each season Saigoniste will feature a different color story. For this Holiday, Silver and Bronze will dominate, whilst the Fall Collection will focus on rich Chocolate Browns and Raspberry.

For those that canít make it to the store, the website is a fun and easy option for purchasing that ideal gift for a loved one [or themselves!]. Nearly all products found in-store are available on the site and are available for shipping across the United States. A hit among customers, the site not only allows you to purchase items, but also encourages the user to enter their details so they can be emailed with the latest news about special events and private sales. And, for those lucky enough to be planning their own trip to Vietnam, the site lists the Saigoniste ď Insider tipsĒ. This section is packed with travel tips regarding where to stay, where to play and what to do and is updated with new nuggets after each of the twice yearly buying trips.

Since opening, Saigoniste has been featured in many newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Food & Wine, Gourmet, House Beautiful, House & Garden, Metropolitan Home, Vogue, Elle Dťcor, Departures, Lucky, Time Out and New York to name just a few.

Saigoniste, located at 239 Mulberry Street (between Prince and Spring streets) in New York's NoLIta neighborhood, is open from 11:00 a.m. Ė 7:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12:00 p.m. Ė 6:00 p.m. on Sundays. The website is available 24/7.

August 26, 2003

The Hayflick Limit

Companies often find that the culture they had when they were small is more difficult to maintain as the company grows. I ran across a new term - in, of all places, biology - that may be useful as a metaphor for explaining this phenomenon.

Cells must divide and multiply so that the body can grow and repair itself. A scientist by the name of Leonard Hayflick discovered that there is a limit to how many times they can divide. That number, which is now called the "Hayflick Limit," is around 50.

Is there an "organizational Hayflick limit?" It's just a thought.

Risk Consulting

How vulnerable is your company (or client) to fraud? What are the chances your accounting dept. and/or auditors are cooking the books? Do you have a plan in place in case of a need to conduct "data forensics?"

One man's woes are another man's billable hours. Welcome to the world of independent risk consulting.


The Permanent Collection of Impermanent Art


An electic collection of advertising images from the 30s and 40s, removed from the context of the ads in which they originally appeared and presented as if it all resided in a fake museum called "The Permanent Collection of Impermanent Art." (Before you start chuckling too heartily, consider which ads of yours someone will be laughing at in 2073?)


August 25, 2003

What time is it?

Watches are SO five-minutes-ago. Let this web page show you what time it is. (May not display using older computers and browsers.)


The fierce urgency of now


One evening, I was watching an expose on racism and hiring. Applicants with exactly the same credentials, one would be black, the other white went to a recruiter for help getting a job. The white applicant got sent out on many job interviews, while the black candidate was told there were no openings for her qualifications.

I learned that recruiters and HR people would use code words to mean "send me white applicants". Words like "All-American" and "clean cut" really meant white only. I was pretty new in HR and I hadn't been let in on the game yet. I'd been asked those questions, and I'd answered "you bet." I was horrified, got on the phone and called every recruiter I'd ever used to clarified what Chiat/Day was looking for...the most talented people in the field. That' was my one and only criteria (and still is). Suddenly, all kinds of smart, interesting and talented people walked in the door of Chiat/Day

It's still true today. Stand in the lobby of a big, tall, downtown business tower and see who is coming in the door and up the elevators.

Each of us can make a difference. We can ask our management that uncomfortable question about their commitment to diversity. We can insist that the recruiters we work with are as diverse as the people they send us. I felt foolish that I lived is a city like New York and it never occurred to me that my company didn't look anything like the community I lived in.

Forty years ago this Thursday, one man made a difference. He stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave us words and visions that still move us. Here is that speech.

I Have a Dream
By Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
August 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Fivescore years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed "the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?"

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for whites only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification," one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day "every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning:

"My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

August 24, 2003

Kirk Varnedoe


An appreciation of curator Kirk Varnedoe, who died of cancer last week.


August 21, 2003

Design Within Reach


Adelaide and I were exploring all of the great new shops in NY's meatpacking district last weekend. One of our favorites was Design Within Reach, which aims to be a small, upscale Ikea. (After watching every episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," I realized that when they were passing out chromosomes, I did not get the "taste in home furnishing" gene. The last time my apartment was painted, Reagan was in the White House.)


August 20, 2003

Art or Bacon?

I think Jay would have loved this tidbit from today's Times:

ENGLAND: ART'S POWER A horrified British burglar who mistook a work of art for a pickled human head not only summoned the police to the home he intended to rob but also renounced his life of crime, Reuters reported yesterday. The "head," afloat in a jar of formaldehyde, was actually some bacon wrapped around a wire frame by Richard Morrison, a conceptual artist who lives near Liverpool. Mr. Morrison, who was not at home at the time, returned to discover that his house had been broken into by both the unidentified burglar and by the police, who battered down his door. Discussing the jarred bacon, Mr. Morrison told The Times of London: "It's obviously a very macabre piece of work, and I suppose at a glance it looks like a head, but I never expected it to get this reaction." He added that he had been told by the police that the experience had prompted the burglar to reform. "He had a crisis of confidence and confessed his crimes to his mother," the artist said.

August 18, 2003

Have fun in the dark!


Yes, you too can enjoy your next blackout without the hassle of batteries with these attractive crank-powered radios, flashlights, and cell-phone chargers.


August 13, 2003

George Bush Action Figure


No, this is not a joke. It's an actual toy you can buy for your children.


(Somebody resuscitate Eve with some smelling salts.)

August 12, 2003

Creativity Now

Tokion Magazine, in conjunction with Paper Magazine, is sponsoring their first annual Creativity Now conference at the Cooper Union in New York on 9/6 and 9/7. What an incredible line-up of presentations! Speakers include director Neil Labute, the artist Mathew Barney, and the creator of Hello Kitty, Yuko Shi.


Kiddie kalls

A study in Britain reveals that of children in the age group of five to nine, one in nine actually has their own cell phone! Children, in fact, are the fastest growing segment of mobile users. What's fueling the increase? "Pester power."


August 10, 2003

7 Stories

From Susan Wands:

"You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll have a moment. Yes, at the theatre where RENT started, the New York Theatre Workshop at 83 East 4th Street in NYC, we are having a reading of 7 Stories.

"This is an evening of entertainment based on the 7 Basic Plots of Literature, co-written by former personal assistant to Jay Chiat (okay, I lasted two weeks but worked off and on at Chiat/Day for ten years)

"Now if the 7 Basic Plots slip your mind at the moment, they are: Achilles, Cinderella, Faust, Circe, Tristan & Isolde, Romeo & Juliet, and Orpheus & Eurydice. Only Louder, Faster, Funnier. If you plan on attending this free event please RSVP at Robertp852@aol.com."

- Susan

Evert and the Orgasmitron


Of all of my memories of Chiat/Day, there is one that stands out above all others. It involved Evert Cilliers and the Orgasmitron. (In case you donít remember, the coat closets at 79 Fifth looked like the Orgasmitron in Woody Allenís ďSleeper.Ē) I'll let Eve and Adelaide tell the story, as they have better memories than mine:

From Eve and Adelaide:

"We had a new employee: Denise, who was the creative secretary. She and her husband had just moved to NY from a small town in Oregon. They had driven cross country. He applied for the job of a copywriter, but in typical Chiat/Day fashion, we hired his wife instead. Denise and Tom were a bit afraid of the city and went everywhere together. Tom either drove or rode the subway with Denise to take her to work and pick her up. One evening he came to pick her up and we were celebrating a new business win in the conference room with champagne, etc.

ďAmazingly Denise couldn't leave right at 5pm, so Tom sat down in the lobby to
wait for her. Suddenly Evert came out of the conference room and walked directly into the Orgasmitron coat closet and closed the door. Not a word was spoken. Tom waited and waited for Evert to come out Ö maybe 30 minutes. Evert finally came out and said ĎI just wanted to see what it was like to be deadí and walked back into the party.

ďTom was so freaked out, he didn't' want to live in NY any more and he certainly didn't' want his wife working for those lunatics."

And what has Evert been up to since leaving Chiat/Day? Here's his story, in his own words.

Take it away, Evert ...

From Evert Cilliers Ö

Iím becoming an English High School teacher in the Bronx in the New York City Teaching Fellows program (20,000 applied, 2,700 accepted). They subsidize oneís study for a Masters in Education over 2 years (you need it to be a teacher), while you teach in a school in a high-needs area, i.e. in the Bronx where the black and Latin kids live in dire straits. Girls have babies at 13 and 14. Boys end up in jail. Single-parent families. Drugs, abuse, guns, just about every child knows someone whoís been killed.

This Teaching Fellows program started maybe 6 years ago, small, and has now grown to current size. Funded by one of Clintonís things, Americorps, that Bush hasnít tried to kill yet.

We 2,700 are divided between a number of colleges, and my small group is at the best one, Lehman College. Currently I spend mornings in a middle school, hormone age from around 10 to 13, and go to college at Lehman till 6 pm. I have to get up at 6.30 to commute to my school in the Bronx and get home around 7.45 p.m. looking at 4 to 5 hours of homework every night. Itís pretty grueling. Actually worse than Chiat/Day and night.

But weíll be done by August 1, and Iíll be free for 2 weeks. Except Iím still hunting for a job, because I want a choice or two, and will do my bit in a rat-feces-infested school if I have to for 2 years (where some of my colleagues are teaching summer school), but would actually prefer a school with a fairly clean building and no bullet holes in the walls.

My teaching fellows, whom I meet in 3 groups -- Psychology, Technology, and a practical course from 4 to 6 with a teacher to prepare us for actual teaching -- canít quite make me out, but enjoy my candor and eccentricity and wit. I introduced myself to a high school class as follows. "I donít have the time to tell you who or what I am, because Iíve got to get through this lesson to prove to the principal and the assistant-principal that they should give me a job, but for now, just think of me as the man from Mars with the power to destroy any stereotype you may have of any human being on earth." (We were four teachers competing for the same job. I donít think I got it, but I really want to work there, and Iíll apply there again in 2 years time.)

More than half of my Teaching Fellows are in their twenties, many 22, though the program was supposed to be about giving older people the chance to give something back to society. In our FA class of 31, weíve got 3 blacks, one Iranian, a number of Jews, four gays, among whom one flamer and one butch guy who thinks the flamer gives gays a bad name, one out lesbian, one just about full-blooded Native-American, though I canít pronounce the name of her tribe, a couple of high-powered Connecticut 40 plus women (one of them once showed Bill Gates how a new piece of tech worked, and pumped him about the days when Microsoft had barefoot guys who never brushed their teeth sleeping under their desks working all over place)Ö anyway, despite the fact that most of us are white, we cut across all lines of gender, age, sexual orientation, profession, states, and whatnot, and I think we might even have a closet lesbian, or maybe sheís just discreet. I keep thinking she should say partner when she says roommate.

The buzz in our class is like Florence Nightingale radiation bouncing off the walls. Iíve never been among a bunch of such wonderful and amazing and creative and committed people. Makes one proud of America, as much as the problems we face make one mad.

Two weeks ago I had a real breakthrough and it was as if a light switched on in me. I had been so ambivalent that just before the program actually started, I contacted a headhunter in Toronto for a copywriting job. He came up with one or two possibilities. Iíd also gotten disenchanted with the U.S. now that the curve of oligarchic power is still trending upwards and doesnít look to hit its peak even if Bush gets voted out. That great old divide between the top dogs and the rest of us. The rest of us may not include some of you, but most of those who earn under 100k a year are now worse off than we were in 1970, and WE DONíT KNOW IT. It doesnít help me to know that the left has won the cultural war either.

Anyway, two weeks ago, I had my first lesson. Sat down with my 12-year-old kids in 6th grade, read a story, acted things out, and went home very excited. I loved it. They were so adorable. I think I can be brilliant at this. I can improve the minds and lives of these kids, and be one of those teachers theyíll never forget. Does something to my soul to know this.

I said to myself if an ad agency came and offered me my dream job now, $300k a year supervising 30 people, some good safe accounts, and the time to pitch new business, Iíd turn them down. Itís that serious. Why should I mess around with the problems of motivating 30 adults when Iím faced with 30 kids whose very lives are at stake?

Yes, there will be a book, fiction, to protect the innocent and spare the guilty. Or maybe a memoir, an Afrikaner teaching in the Bronx. Or maybe a crusading expose.

Travis, our most disturbed boy: Everyone yells at him except me; he's driven them that crazy. Never works. Has issues and disturbs teaching. If he's not distracting, he's sleeping. The first time, not knowing his history, I asked him, a foot away from the side of his head, if he had a problem getting started. He stared straight ahead, didnít move a muscle, nothing, a statue. Startling, to say the least. I tried again, saying I want to help (I shouldíve started with a neutral "how's it going?" instead of using the negative word "problem"). He didn't stir, flinch, nothing. So I asked him his name. He turned slightly and asked:

Interesting that what I thought then was incredibly rude did not move my emotional meter one inch up or down. I said "Well, my name is Mr. Cilliers and I just wanted to know yours," and moved on, baffled. We got a chance to talk the next day and again I asked him his name, and this time he asked "why?" again, and I realized it was an automatic tic.

The Boy Who Asked Why.

At the end of the day as the kids were leaving, I happened to look his way and he gave an almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgement, on which I lived for the whole night. I knew I had managed to slip in there somehow. The next day he started doing work, something I'd never seen him do. The day after that there was a commotion, and in his other class he hit his best friend Ennis who'd called him a name (probably faggot). Travis was restrained by security. I saw a Last Resort in Action.

They called his Mom. He was very upset. "Why you call my Mom?" Tears. Sat in the assistant-principalís office, wanted to walk out, stopped by inflexible arm of security guy. I told the a-p that he'd started work the day before. She said, hey, Mr. C, talk to him, he was with fatherly-figure-type guidance counselor Mr. Perez in office next to a-p. So I said to Travis I appreciated how he'd started work the day before. He was calm; Mr. Perez had chilled him out. Then I said that maybe some time he and his friend could work it out, and it was touching the raw wound, he flared up again. "He call me a name, I never talk to him again!"

Saw his Mom, seemed friendly and stable, had baby on arm and little girl next to her, a good 8 years younger than Travis, maybe he feels displaced by them.
The next day he was back at school, and his name came up in front of the class outside my hearing.

The teacher, loud, glaring his way: "Travis! He have to change his ways!"

She might as well have driven a nail through the kidís head.

Maybe two days later we turn our desks into a circle so I can read a story to the class, my first or second day "teaching," and this was the one that threw a big switch in my mind: I love this, I can do it brilliantly.

Sitting down, I read with them a really lame story from one of their readers. Travis is in the circle, but he doesn't turn his desk around to face in, he's facing out, sleeping. I tell him to turn his desk around. He doesn't. I dart over to him quickly (this is all instinctual after being told it's bad to embarrass kids in front of others) and say softly, "Look, Travis, while youíre in the circle you have to turn your desk around, otherwise, go sit over at the side." I turn and dash back to my seat expecting him to head for the wall with the out I gave him. As I sit down I see him turn his desk around.

Some time later he actually does a few lines on something they're supposed to write. Excited, I rush over to the fatherly type guy who thinks I want him to come and talk to Travis, and I literally have to stand in his way and tell him, "later, not now, when Travis is actually doing something." He says he's looked at the boy's record, Travis will have to shake a leg to pass, family issues; can't wait to get them out of him.

A day later Travis wants to know how to start writing an assignment. I guess his Mom and the fatherly guy told him he'd better shake a leg; he has some catching up to do. But then he wants more lines from me, so he can just write them down. I tell him to do them himself and at that moment, I write him off in my heart, and for the rest of the day.

When a remedial reading teacher comes, a contract with an outfit from Australia (hey, weíll try anything, and the Aussies know more than we do) Travis acts out again, and she tells him not to talk. Twenty seconds later he's talking again and she darts over, "Is there a problem? because if there is I must ask you to leave, because it's rude and impolite and doesn't show respect, it's unacceptable behavior." Travis shuts up, maybe sleeps. Easy for her to be deft when she's not there every day.

When the time comes to choose a 'Just right for me' book (you like cover and title, you read back of book and are intrigued by premise, you read first page and find no more than 5 words you can't understand), and they go up in threes to pick a book, Travis asks her if he can go to the bathroom. Ducks out of anything that will show up the fact that he knows nothing, in a system of social promotion that has let him pass till heís a big problem at 12. She says she isn't his teacher, Miss J has to do it. Miss J does, stupidly in my opinion, and he and his friend leave (Ennis, who canít read either, who called Travis the bad name, and is a borderline case with another kid Dorrel).

Travis comes back and chooses some picture books about fish. His friend stays in his seat. I ask his friend why he doesn't go choose a book, and he says no, Travis will do it for him. I don't know what to say and move on.

I tell my Fellow Adviser during a break at College about Travis, and tell my advisor the boy is lost, he'll be in prison, and I tear up, as I'm doing now. He takes me outside and I go to the bathroom to bathe my reddened eyes. He says he can't tell me how often this scenario happened to him the first year of teaching and broke his heart. Now I am actually crying. Lack of sleep, I guess.
I also have a teacher's pet, Spanish, Madeline, who writes 3 pages for every page the others write, and is a real storyteller, though somewhat unfamiliar with conventions of English spelling and grammar. I told her she writes well, she has the talent, and repeated myself, and asked her why she never wants to read aloud in class, "Are you shy? I used to be shy," and she patronizes me beautifully: "Don't you see how many others are waiting for you to mark their papers?"

I asked her what she was doing in summer school and she said the math was hard. So I go over and ask the math teacher, "hey, this Madeline is great in English, how's her math?" and Ms. R says, "Her math is terrific, look, she tutoring another child," and there sits my Madeline, teaching another kid, side by side.
I go ask the a-p did Madeline fail or did she just pass? The failures and the almost-failed are in summer school, if they fail again theyíre held back, and not socially promoted as happened before. It turns out she failed. Can't believe it. Maybe they mark her down for grammar mistakes. Maybe she tests badly. But I told the a-p she's one who could pass. Want to call her mom and tell her sheís got a kid who could go all the way to College, but what will the mother think of my encouragement if Madeline fails again?

Sometimes you donít want to call the parent about a problem. The parent might beat the shit out of the kid, and you made it happen.

Yesterday I hear something has finally been done about Travis. Heís going to go to Special Ed, where theyíll use all the resources of the city to bring him up to speed and save his future. His family will also go to counseling.

Heís so weird. Heís not only totally truculent, but he canít sit still, so he wanders around in this zombie-like way, floating out of the classroom when you turn your back to go disrupt another class. His math teacher: "I donít like myself for saying this, but I hate that kidís guts." Mr. Perez says heís the kind of kid whoís so un-centered and out of touch with reality, gangs will use him for small jobs, and soon heíll get caught holding a bag of dope, and then enter the prison system and be lost forever.

When I asked Mr. Perez why it took so long for intervention to happen, Mr. Perez just sighed and said: "Thatís a good question."

Today a brilliant teacher came to substitute teach, and by accident I saw best practice whereas up to now Iíve been working with an English teacher who canít spell, and who mixes her tenses and her singulars and plurals, and manages the class by yelling at them. Itís great when they yell back, but heck, no way to run a class. This teacher thinks a ravine is a raven, and told the kids a cock-and-bull story about how a raven told a dog in their lame reader where the missing dog was, when the missing dog happened to be in a ravine in a shed. She argued with me about the spelling of "whinning," which she had changed from "whining" in all the kidsí papers. But now sheís beginning to trust my expertise, and doesnít mind asking me anymore how to spell and pronounce words (didnít know how to pronounce "scarce") in front of her students.

The brilliant teacher was a joy to watch, like a thrilling performance. Real-life performance art. Better than anything Iíve seen on stage except maybe Sam Shepardís Buried Child. She was in this school the year before, so she knew the kids, and told me how she had told the authorities again and again that Travis had to be tested, and spoke to me about how she managed another problem child, Gabriella, by ignoring her into behaving, until the kid, who now drives everyone so crazy that sheís been suspended for 3 days, started bringing her presents and actually working.

All that these poor damaged kids need is stability and someone to care for them. I will be one of those who do that for them, so help me.

I felt so honored to be in the presence of this brilliant teacher, black and proud and only 24, and more brilliant at her job than Iíve ever seen anybody at their job, and Iíve worked for some really brilliant Creative Directors. Still young and unaware of her brilliance: she enjoyed me telling her that I want to be her, and that Iíve never seen anything like how she controls a class. This woman should be president, her instinctual flair for handling people is unbelievable, and she developed her bag of tricks, very neat ones, in 3 weeks flat when they threw her as a rookie in with the hard cases.

Other colleagues tell great stories. Of a young, tough, known drug dealer who begged the teacher to give him a little golden star sticker. He finally finished his work because the other kids were getting stickers and he wanted one.
Of a teenage girl who said casually: "Miss M, last night my friends came over and pulled a train on me."

Of a white female teacher who yelled at a black 12-year-old for 3 minutes, ending her harangue as follows: "Do you want to be a cop killer? My cousinís best friend is a cop; do you want to kill him? because thatís what youíre going to be, a cop killer! Are you going to kill Vinny? You cop killer!"

Etcetera. Iím fastening my seatbelt, because Iím in for the ride of my life.

- Evert

August 08, 2003

Celebrity voiceover from hell

Here is a transcript of a recording session in which the great Orson Welles does a voiceover for what appears to be fish sticks.


August 01, 2003

Jon Higgins


Jon Higgins worked out of the LA office for Bob Thomas and Associates, C/D's PR division. He was just about the nicest person I ever met and he let me tease him mercilessly about my theory that he was secretly David Hassellhoff's body double.

He spent six years in San Francisco as a partner at Ketchum Public Relations. Jon now heads up Ketchum's European division out of their London office. Here are photos of Liam and Mallory, the two adorable offspring of Jon and his wife Julie, who I'm told is expecting progeny #3 in October. (Somebody's public relations campaign is highly effective!)

Another Commencement Address I Wish I Had


A gem from Anne Lamott, the author of "Bird by Bird" and "Traveling Mercies."

Anne Lamott's commencement address at Berkeley
June 6, 2003

I am honored and surprised that you asked me to speak today.

This must be a magical day for you. I wouldn't know. I accidentally
forgot to graduate from college. I meant to, 30 years ago, but things
got away from me. I did graduate from high school, though -- do I get a
partial credit for that? Although, unfortunately, my father had
forgotten to pay the book bill, so at the graduation ceremony, when I opened
the case to see my diploma, it was empty. Except for a ransom note that
said, see Mrs. Foley, the bookkeeper, if you ever want to see your diploma
alive again.

I went to Goucher College in Maryland for the best possible reasons --
to learn -- but then I dropped out at 19 for the best possible reasons --
to become a writer. Those of you who have read my work know that instead, I
accidentally became a Kelly girl for a while. Then, In a dazzling
career move, I got hired as a clerk typist in the Nuclear Quality Assurance
Department at Bechtel, where I worked typing and sorting triplicate forms. I
hate to complain, but it was not very stimulating work. But it paid the
bills, so I could write my stories every night when I got home. I worked at
Bechtel for six months -- but I had nothing to do with the current
administration's shameless war profiteering. I just sorted triplicate forms.

You've got to believe me.

It was a terrible job, at which I did a terrible job, but it paid $600 a
month, which was enough to pay my rent and bills. This is the real fly
in the ointment if you are crazy enough to want to be an artist -- you
have to give up your dreams of swimming pools and fish forks, and take any
old job. At 20, I got hired at a magazine as an assistant editor, and I
think that was the last real job I've ever had.

I bet I'm beginning to make your parents really nervous -- here I am sort
of bragging about being a dropout, and unemployable, and secretly making a
pitch for you to follow your creative dreams, when what they want is for you
to do well in your field, make them look good, and maybe also make a tiny

But that is not your problem. Your problem is how you are going to spend
this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to
spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power
over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy
it and find out the truth about who you are.

At some point I finally started getting published, and experiencing a
meager knock-kneed standing in the literary world, and I started to get
almost everything that many of you graduates are hoping for -- except
for the money.

I got a lot of things that society had promised would make me whole ad
fulfilled -- all the things that the culture tells you from preschool on
will quiet the throbbing anxiety inside you -- stature, the respect of
colleagues, maybe even a kind of low-grade fame. The culture says these
things will save you, as long as you also manage to keep your weight
down. But the culture lies.

Slowly, after dozens of rejection slips and failures and false starts and
postponed dreams -- what Langston Hughes called dreams deferred -- I
stepped onto the hallowed ground of being a published novelist, and
then 15 years later, I even started to make real money.

I'd been wanting to be a successful author my whole life. But when I
finally did it, I was like a greyhound catching the mechanical rabbit she'd
been chasing all her life -- metal, wrapped up in cloth. It wasn't alive; it
had no spirit. It was fake. Fake doesn't feed anything. Only spirit feeds
spirit, in the same way only your own blood type can sustain you. It had
nothing that could slake the lifelong thirst I had for a little immediacy,
and connection.

So from the wise old pinnacle of my 49 years, I want to tell you that what
you're looking for is already inside you. You've heard this before, but the
holy thing inside you really is that which causes you to seek it. You can't
buy it, lease it, rent it, date it or apply for it. The best job in the
world can't give it to you. Neither can success, or fame, or financial
security -- besides which, there ain't no such thing. J.D. Rockefeller was
asked, "How much money is enough?" and he said, "just a little bit more."

So it can be confusing -- most of your parents want you to do well, to be
successful. They want you to be happy -- or at least happy-ish. And they
want you to be nicer to them; just a little nicer -- is that so much to ask?

They want you to love, and be loved, and to find peace, and to laugh
and find meaningful work. But they also -- some of them -- a few of them --
not yours -- yours are fine -- they also want you to chase the bunny for
a while. To get ahead, sock some away, and then find a balance between
the greyhound bunny-chase, and savoring your life.

But the thing is that you don't know if you're going to live long enough
to slow down, relax, and have fun, and discover the truth of your spiritual
identity. You may not be destined to live a long life; you may not have 60
more years to discover and claim your own deepest truth -- like Breaker
Morant said, you have to live every day as if it's your last, because one of
these days, you're bound to be right.

So I thought it might help if I just went ahead and told you what I think
is the truth of your spiritual identity ... Actually, I don't have a

I do know you are not what you look like, or how much you weigh, or how
you did in school, and whether you get to start a job next Monday or
not. Spirit isn't what you do, it's ... well, again, I don't actually

They probably taught this junior year at Goucher. But I know that you
feel it best when you're not doing much -- when you're in nature, when
you've very quiet, or, paradoxically, listening to music.

I know you can feel it and hear it in the music you love, in the bass line,
in the harmonies, in the silence between notes; in Chopin and Eminem,
Emmylou Harris, Bach, whoever. You can close your eyes and feel the divine
spark, concentrated in you, like a little Dr. Seuss firefly. It flickers
with aliveness and relief, like an American in a foreign country who
suddenly hears someone speaking in English. In the Christian tradition,they
say that the soul rejoices in hearing what it already knows. And so you pay
attention when that Dr. Seuss creature inside you sits up and says, "Yo!" We
can see spirit made visible in people being kind to each other, especially
when it's a really busy person, taking care of a needy annoying person. Or
even if it's terribly important you, stopping to take care of pitiful,
pathetic you. In fact, that's often when we see spirit most brightly.

It's magic to see spirit largely because it's so rare. Mostly you see the
masks and the holograms that the culture presents as real. You see how
you're doing in the world's eyes, or your family's, or -- worst of all--
yours, or in the eyes of people who are doing better than you -- much better
than you -- or worse. But you are not your bank account, or your
ambitiousness. You're not the cold clay lump with a big belly you leave
behind when you die. You're not your collection of walking personality
disorders. You are spirit, you are love, and, while it is increasingly hard
to believe during this presidency, you are free. You're here to love, and be
loved, freely. If you find out next week that you are terminally ill -- and
we're all terminally ill on this bus -- all that will matter is memories of
beauty, that people loved you, and you loved them, and that you tried to
help the poor and innocent.

So how do we feed and nourish our spirit, and the spirit of others? First,
find a path, and a little light to see by. Every single spiritual tradition
says the same three things: 1) Live in the now, as often as you can, a
breath here, a moment there. 2) You reap exactly what you sow. 3) You must
take care of the poor, or you are so doomed that we can't help you.

You don't have to go overseas. There are people right here who are poor
in spirit; worried, depressed, dancing as fast as they can, whose kids
are sick, or whose retirement savings are gone. There is great loneliness
among us, life-threatening loneliness. People have given up on peace,
on equality. They've even given up on the Democratic Party, which I
haven't, not by a long shot. You do what you can, what good people have
always done: You bring thirsty people water; you share your food, you try to
help the homeless find shelter, you stand up for the underdog.

Anything that can help you get your sense of humor back feeds the spirit,
too. In the Bill Murray army movie "Stripes," a very tense recruit announces
during his platoon's introductions, "My name is Francis. No one calls me
Francis. Anyone calls me Francis, I'll kill them. And I don't like to be
touched -- anyone tries to touch me, I'll kill them." And the sergeant
responds, "Oh, lighten up, Francis." So you may need to upgrade
your friends. You need to find people who laugh gently at themselves,
who remind you gently to lighten up.

Rest and laughter are the most spiritual and subversive acts of all. Laugh,
rest, slow down. Some of you start jobs Monday; some of you desperately wish
you did -- some of your parents are asthmatic with anxiety that you don't.
They shared this with me before the ceremony began. But again, this is not
your problem. If your family is hell-bent on you making a name for yourself
in the field of, say, molecular cell biology, then maybe when you're giving
them a final tour of campus, you can show them to the admissions office. I
doubt very seriously that they could even get into U.C. Berkeley -- I talked
to a professor who said there is not a chance he could get in these days.

So I would recommend that you all just take a long deep breath, and stop.
Just be where your butts are, and breathe. Take some time. You are
graduating today. Refuse to cooperate with anyone who is trying to shame
you into hopping right back up onto the rat exercise wheel. Rest, but pay
attention. Refuse to cooperate with anyone who is stealing your freedom,
your personal and civil liberties, and then smirking about it. I'm not going
to name names. Just send money to the ACLU whenever you can.

But slow down if you can. Better yet, lie down. In my 20s I devised a
school of relaxation that has unfortunately fallen out of favor in the
ensuing years -- it was called Prone Yoga. You just lie around as much as
possible. You could read, listen to music, you could space out, or sleep.
But you had to be lying down. Maintaining the prone.

You've graduated. You have nothing left to prove, and besides, it's a fool's
game. If you agree to play, you've already lost. It's Charlie Brown and
Lucy, with the football. If you keep getting back on the field, they win.
There are so many great things to do right now. Write. Sing. Rest. Eat
cherries. Register voters. And -- oh my God -- I nearly forgot the most
important thing: refuse to wear uncomfortable pants, even if they make you
look really thin. Promise me you'll never wear pants that bind or tug or
hurt, pants that have an opinion about how much you've just eaten. The pants
may be lying! There is way too much lying and scolding going on politically
right now without your pants getting in on the act, too.

So bless you. You've done an amazing thing. And you are loved; you are
capable of lives of great joy and meaning. It's what you are made of.
And it's what you're for. So take care of yourselves; take care of each

Thank you.