Friday, July 29, 2016

The government we deserve

I watched both political conventions on CNN.

The Republican Convention was out-and-out bizarre. It seemed to have no point, other than to provide a forum for speakers to express their contempt for the Democratic candidate. There was scant praise for Trump from anyone other than family members – and hardly any from leaders of his party. Ted Cruz, who finished second, basically told delegates not to vote for him. The lack of enthusiasm for the candidate, whom everyone in the hall knew is probably going to crash and burn like the Hindenburg and most didn’t care because they resent that he shoved them aside, was palpable. Whenever the camera panned over the audience, many looked bored or as if they were trying to resist the urge to vomit. Delegates, for the most part, appeared to have been air-lifted into Cleveland from the same whites-only country club. The candidate’s acceptance speech was delivered under a gold-plated sign spelling out T-R-U-M-P; it looked like it belonged over the entrance to one of his high-rises rather than above the stage of a major party’s convention. The speech gave me nightmares. It was his delivery as much as the message: “This country is broken and I’m gonna fix it with force if necessary and if you don’t like it, fuck you.” The idea of this megalomaniacal narcissist in the White House scares me shitless.

The Democratic Convention, on the other hand, was the most carefully orchestrated convention I’ve ever seen. It came off without a hitch. The speeches had been edited by the same team of writers, so viewers would know the party stands for E Pluribus Unum unless, of course, you’re a white male in which case you’re screwed but you deserve it, you pig. Hillary was portrayed as a wiser and more compassionate female version of Jesus Christ. Her acceptance speech struck just the right tone and actually made her seem likable. I went to bed thinking I could vote for her. I woke up realizing I and the rest of the country had been spoon-fed bullshit that, for an hour or so and because I desperately wanted to, I had fallen for. Hillary Clinton’s compassion is for herself, not the country, and she is no unifier, she’s one of the most divisive political figures in American history who will say or do anything to get elected. America isn’t a monarchy yet, for the second time this century, we’re being served up a candidate who has something to prove to a relative she feels entitled to succeed as president. It didn’t end well when Bush II succeeded Bush I. It won’t end well again.

It has been said that people get the government they deserve. And so it has come to pass. By selfishly focusing only on issues like abortion or gay rights or guns or any of 100 other hot buttons that are important to us as individuals because of our religious and/or personal beliefs, rather than on what’s the right thing to do for our country, we the people must now choose between two truly awful candidates, one of whom, come January 20, will be sworn in as our next president.

Buckle up. Hold on. Stuff cash under your mattress and try to remember that 2020 is just four years away. Our nation has gotten through worse times. Hopefully we’ll muddle through the next four years without too much damage.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

WWII Posters: "Back Home For Keeps"

There’s a scene in Sideways, a 2004 movie about two forty-something guys (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) who head off for a week in California wine country that I think about every time I open a bottle of wine. Giamatti’s character meets a winemaker, played by Virginia Madsen, who, when he asks, explains why she is infatuated with wine.

“I like to think about the life of wine,” she tells him. “How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now.”

I feel much the same way about vintage advertising posters. As my regular readers know, I have at least 200 of them (maybe more—I’ve been cataloging them for the last week and still have a large stack to cull through). I like to think about the times in which they were issued and how those times differ from today. As an advertising man, I like to think about the objective the marketer who commissioned the poster explained to the artist and copywriter; whether the words inspired the art (as a writer, I always hope that’s the case) or vice versa; where it was printed and by whom; the printing process that was used; where it was displayed; how a fragile piece of paper somehow managed to survive for anywhere from 60 to 125 years; why someone thought it was important enough to preserve; where it has been kept, and how many hands it has passed through to get from where it was printed to where it is today.

My collection is, to put it mildly, eclectic. It includes posters promoting airlines, railroads, travel destinations, wine, beer, chocolate, circus acts, fashion, sporting events, sporting goods, automobile and aircraft manufacturers, and oil companies, among others.

I have a number of posters from both World Wars encouraging Americans, Brits and Canadians to purchase bonds to support the war effort, to keep their lips zipped about troop movements lest they be overhead by enemy spies, to conserve resources, and to enlist.

Today I ran across 10 altogether different types of World War II posters stashed away at the back of a closet. All were issued by Oneida Ltd., a manufacturer of silver service and silver-plated flatware, to address a specific and unusual marketing problem the company was facing.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government ordered manufacturers of silver and silver-plate to cease production – the raw materials were needed for the war effort.  As one of the country’s biggest manufacturers, Oneida found itself in a quandary: How best to keep its brand name alive to capitalize on what would surely be a marriage boom once GI’s, airmen and sailors returned home. Though it couldn’t manufacture its products during the war, Oneida wanted to make sure that, once it was over and brides were in the market to choose silver and flatware, they’d choose Oneida. I'd have to guess that if you're a Boomer whose parents lived through WWII, you probably grew up with Oneida products in your home as a direct result of the campaign I'm about to describe.

The company’s advertising agency came up with a novel and patriotic series of ads that pictured the fondest dreams of millions of young women – the moment, sometime in the future, they would be reunited with their boyfriends. The campaign, conceived by copywriter Jean Wade Ridlaub and illustrated by Jon Whitcomb (hooray – the writer was credited with the idea) was called “Back Home for Keeps.” From 1942 through 1945, a series of 26 “Back Home for Keeps” ads ran in leading women’s magazines, becoming instant classics.

As reported in a 2012 article in the Oneida (NY) Daily Dispatch, “Oneida became buried under an avalanche of letters from women and soldiers moved emotionally by the ads. A woman from Philadelphia wrote, ‘I’m engaged to a Marine I haven’t seen for two years. Your picture shows me what he’s fighting for.’ A WAC stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, commented, ‘As a morale booster, it tops any lectures or speeches we’ve had to listen to. So many have boyfriends thousands of miles away and we’re hoping that ‘There’ll Come a Day,’ (a popular song of the era), while a soldier stationed in England wrote, ‘The pictures to a lot of fellows over here symbolize a hope and dream that we soon may be able to realize.’

“The impact of the campaign was so profound that it was featured in the May 14, 1945 ‘Speaking of Pictures’ segment of LIFE magazine. The sentimental advertisements had started a new kind of pin-up craze. At Oneida Ltd., a staff of 15 women was required to mail more than 500,000 requests for reprints of the advertisement's beautiful illustrations, which were being hung on the walls of girl's dormitories in high schools and colleges.”

As I was photographing and researching my 10 posters, the reprints mentioned above, it occurred to me that if the campaign was running today, Oneida would most certainly be taken to task for what the posters didn’t include – African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and same-sex couples. All the posters – at least the ones I have – feature Caucasians. Nor did any feature a woman returning home but many women did serve proudly and with distinction, including my mother-in-law, a WAVE.

Who saved the 10 posters I was lucky enough to buy years ago? A young woman whose boyfriend made it home so they could marry and live happily ever after? A woman whose man was killed and who never married ... or who married someone else but never forgot the love of her life? I'll never know.

Below for your viewing pleasure are my  “Back Home for Keeps” posters. Notice how the illustrator captured a moment that perfectly expressed the hopes and dreams of not only millions of women who were terrified they would never see their boyfriends, husbands, sons and brothers again, but of every American who wanted nothing more than for their boy to come home safe and sound … and for keeps.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Posters from the Great Depression

I’ve spent most of the week photographing and cataloguing the collection of advertising posters I’ve amassed over the last 35 years. It’s a big job because I have lots (and lots) of them – I’m up to 200 and still have at least 100 more to go. The ostensible purpose of this project is to sell the ones I don’t want. 

The problem is, I want them all – that’s why I bought them in the first place. We have more than 40 posters – mostly European travel posters from the thirties and forties -- framed and hanging in every room of the house. There are easily that many more stashed in tubes in guest room closets that I wish we had space on our walls for. 

Several years ago I started going through the collection and sold 100 or so through eBay but I ran out of steam. This week I've learned few poster collectors apparently buy though eBay any more. I've listed 30 since Sunday and have only received four or five bids so I guess I'll have to find some other way to sell them. I sold some of my better ones through Christie's but they've just shut down their poster department so that's no longer a possibility. I guess I could rent booths at poster shows and dispose of them that way but I don't know how I'd get them to New York, Amsterdam and the other cities where such shows are typically held. Realistically, I will wind up leaving the majority for my kids and grandkids to deal with some day. At least they’ll now have a list of what’s what and what’s stored where.

I started this post because I want to share with you five long forgotten posters I ran across this morning. These are silk-screened and, for all I know, are one-of-a-kinds. They are from the Great Depression and the dealer who sold them to me said he thought (but wasn’t sure) they were created for a Midwestern bank. All have a tear or two, some rough edges, and one in is out-and-out poor condition, but a poster restorer could, for a couple of hundred bucks, make that one look as good as new.

I love everything about this series -- the motivational messages, the graphics, the colors, the art-deco typefaces that were used to encourage Americans weathering the greatest economic storm in history to keep their sights focused in hopes of better days ahead. My mother's father ran a small town bank that folded in the Depression. Mom's family lost everything they had including their house and wound up living in the bank's basement. Awful, but they weren't alone -- the Depression decimated millions of families.

Aren’t these posters great?  I've listed them as a set on eBay and noted that, if they don’t sell this week (and I'm asking a small fortune in the hopes they don't), I’m going to pull the listing and do what I intended to do when I bought them – have them framed for display in my house.  Don’t know where we’ll put them but I’m sure we’ll find room – we always do.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The astonishing (and 100% true) story of my mother and the Nazi war criminal

1943: Speer receives an award for his service
as Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production from Adolf Hitler

She was a 63-year-old widow from a Missouri farm town. He was Adolf Hitler’s principal architect, Reich Minister for Armaments and War Production and, by the time World War II ended, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany. The odds were slim to none their paths would ever cross but not only did they cross, he invited her to his home for coffee and a chat. And amazingly, she went.

She was my mother, Ruby, who died last year at the age of 102. Ruby was a Methodist Sunday School teacher, a DAR and FDR Democrat who, at the time, had never lived in a town of more than 700 people.

He was Albert Speer whom, in the 1930s, Hitler personally picked to design a 400,000 seat stadium in Nuremberg, the Nazi party headquarters in Munich, and the reich chancellery in Berlin. In 1942, Hitler put him in charge of keeping the Nazi war machine well-supplied and running at full capacity, a position he held until he was arrested by the Allies in April, 1945 at the end of the war.

Thirty-one years later, in 1976, mom was visiting my brother, Jerry, an Army officer stationed in Heidelberg where he was living with his wife, Nancy, and their children. Jerry’s youngest daughter was a fifth grader at the base school.

His daughter's teacher, an American, told her class that her husband's grandfather had served as a judge during the Nuremberg Trials in which leading Nazis were tried for war crimes. Many of them, including Goring, von Ribbentrop and Streicher, were sentenced to death. Speer, the only defendant to admit his guilt, escaped the hangman's noose by claiming he knew nothing about Hitler’s final solution, a claim that, after his death, was disproven. He was sentenced to 20 years in Spandau prison, from which he was released in 1966.

Three years later, he published "Inside the Third Reich," a memoir in which he related his years as Hitler’s BFF and cabinet member. Speer hadn’t been allowed to have a writing pad in prison; he wrote the book based on notes he had penned in micro-handwriting on sheets of toilet paper a sympathetic guard smuggled out for him.

In 1975, he published his second book, "Spandau," detailing his 20 years in prison where, he estimated, his walks in the prison yard collectively covered the distance between Berlin and Guadalajara, Mexico.

My niece’s teacher told her class that she and her husband had actually met Speer, whose address they had looked up in the Heidelberg phone book. When they introduced themselves as the relatives of one of his judges, Speer told them he remembered the judge.

At the time of Mom's visit with Jerry and Nancy, "Spandau" was still atop the best-seller list. They told her about the teacher and her husband who had met Speer. Never dreaming it was within the realm of possibility, mom, an avid reader, history buff and book collector, announced, “I’d like to have him autograph a copy of his book.”

Nancy, who has always had more moxie than anyone else in our family, went to the phone book and, sure enough, there was his number. She called and was surprised when Speer himself answered, “Speer hier” (“Speer here”). When Nancy explained her mother-in-law was visiting and would like to have him autograph his book, Speer, who had learned perfect English from his British and American prison guards, invited them to come to his home at 11 a.m. the following Saturday.

When it came time to leave for Speer's house, Nancy couldn’t go – their six-year-old son, as six-year-olds sometimes do, was having a meltdown. Since Emily Post says it’s considered bad form to take an out-of-sorts child when calling upon Nazi war criminals, Jerry drove mom in his green Buick station wagon to Speer’s villa in the hills above Heidelberg Castle.

And that ... was about all I knew of the tale other than that mom always said she had committed a faux pas by asking Speer if he had ever visited her country. He said no. She later found out that American officials wouldn't allow him to set foot in the U.S.

Last night my wife and I were watching a documentary about how the Nazis looted Europe’s great art treasures during the war, and, naturally, Speer was mentioned. That got me to thinking that I should write this story down. So this morning I called my brother to get more details about his and mom’s visit.

Jerry said that when they arrived, Speer’s grandson, a boy about his son’s age, was in the yard with a large dog. Speer answered the door and showed them around his villa, a grand home that had fallen into disrepair – wallpaper was peeling off the walls and ceilings. The floor and furniture in one room were completely covered with scraps of toilet paper, the smuggled notes that became the basis for Speer’s books.

Speer served coffee in his parlor and they talked for a half hour or forty-five minutes. Understandably nervous, Jerry doesn’t recall specifics of what they discussed other than mom asking Speer if he had ever visited America. Speer autographed mom’s book, “To Ruby Dryden with best wishes.”

Jerry said mom took the book back to the states, gave it to him a few years later, then asked for it back. As we were going through mom’s collection of 700 plus books in 2012 after she had moved to an assisted living facility, Jerry pulled it off the shelf and took it home with him.

I’d have to guess the book is one of the few autographed copies in existence. Unlike most best-selling authors, Speer didn’t go on a book tour and certainly wasn’t invited to sign his book in any bookstores – none in Germany would allow him to promote it lest they appear to sanction his behavior. He remained by and large a recluse until his death in 1981.

So why, you ask, am I telling you this bizarre story?

I’m not telling it for you. I’m posting it for members of my family born in the last 40 years who have no clue their grandmother, great-grandmother, grandfather, uncle and great-uncle not only came face to face with one of the most notorious men of the twentieth century, they actually sipped coffee with him in his parlor. Many of my readers knew mom and know Jerry, two of the most unlikely Nazi sympathizers on earth, and will have trouble imagining them sitting in Albert Speer’s parlor making small talk, but it happened and, by God, I'm a storyteller and this is one story that needs to be told if for no other reason than to allow me to write the headline above.

I don’t know if mom would want me to tell it -- she probably wouldn't -- but Jerry, when I asked him, said to go ahead.

And I just did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

How to lose 6 lbs. in 6 days

Want to lose six pounds in six days without dieting or exercising?

Do as my wife and I did – go on the Salmonella Diet. Yesterday was the first day since last Tuesday we’ve felt vaguely normal thanks to carryout chicken salad we ate for dinner that night. Chicken, mayo and a careless cook proved to be a near-lethal combination for us. Though all of the symptoms have pretty much subsided, I'm still feeling like, well, you know.

I never want to see, smell or taste chicken salad again. Heck, I may never even eat chicken again. The clip below, one of my favorite movie scenes from Five Easy Pieces, expresses my sentiments perfectly.

Eat safe. Be well.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ask Madam Secretary

An FBI insider who participated in Saturday’s meeting with Hillary Clinton slipped me some startling information just minutes after today’s statement from the FBI director in which he announced he won’t be recommending the Justice Department indict her.

Turns out Mrs. Clinton insisted on maintaining her own server during her years as Secretary of State for a simple reason: she had a second job she didn’t want anyone in the administration to know about as, of all things, an advice columnist.  

Here are a few emails the FBI was able to recover that the insider shared exclusively with

To: AskMadamSecretary
From: HA

I'm beside myself. Just learned that A. texted yet another dick pic to some chick. I told him last time that if it happened again I was going to do something drastic. Knowing you have experience in handling horndog hubbies, what do you recommend I do?

To: HA
From: AskMadamSecretary

Run for an office. Trust me when I say the sympathy votes will put you over the top.

To: AskMadamSecetary
From: CCM

We are thinking of trying to get pregnant. What would you and dad prefer -- a boy or girl?

From: AskMadamSecretary

Girl. Females make up 51% of the population, which means the majority of people of voting age who are parents have daughters and/or granddaughters, so they’ll identify with our family. That two percent edge could mean the difference in '16.

To: AskMadamSecretary
From: AM

My name is Abdul. I am 8 years old and admire you very much. Would you please send me an autographed photo? Also, my father wants to know if you can introduce him to someone who can sell him some uranium. Can you?

To: AM
From: AskMadamSecetary

Of course, darling, I’m happy to accommodate your request. You'll find my autographed photo in the attached PDF file. As for your father, tell him to contact the Clinton Foundation. The routing number is 52626673 and the account number is 10058205702850206660. (Your dad will understand what I am talking about here.) Once he has established contact, the bank will let him know about a private phone number he can call.

To: AskMadamSecretary
From: DJT

The more I think about about it, the more I agree with you. It’s clear that the idiot Republicans won’t be able to field a single electable candidate in ‘16. Isn't it grueling to be on the campaign trail for months at a time?

From: AskMadamSecretary

Not if you have your own 757 and your expenses are being covered by my campaign. Though you will, as we discussed, lose in a landslide, just think how much value you can add to your brand name by running against me. Instead of being known just in America, your brand will become famous globally, which means you'll be selling more condos, vodka, golf memberships and neckties than ever!