Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good Times with Don Vito

For Halloween a radio forum website – the terrific Radio Sales Cafe - asked its members to recount their scariest sales experiences. That, plus a promo for The Sopranos I saw that evening, reminded me of the following:

For me the scariest experiences involved working with, er, connected businesses in a certain suburban market. (If you've seen any of the Godfather movies, you know what - and where - I mean.)

By the way, in that market, you either worked with such businesses or - do I haveta paintcha pitchure?

There was this one night club, a dinky little dive, that for some inexplicable reason booked all the top talent of the day. (Their tour schedule would be like, Las Vegas ... New York ...dinky dive ... Miami ...)


The owner was a guy we'll call Vinny (not his real name; he had a kid that made Sonny Corleone look like an alter boy, and I don't want any trouble). Anyway, Vinnie was a great guy. Always wanted to give me a little extra sump'n sump'n for my superior service (like I'm going to give him anything but). Like a car. ("Don't worry about those holes; they'll buff right out.")

But then, I guess because he was such a great guy, all his vendors always gave him a little extra sump'n sump'n, too.

Then there was Sal (same deal, except he had a daughter, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Sonny Corleone). Sal was away a lot on "vacation." Upstate. Anyway, in between his “vacations” I spent many an entertaining hour at his estate, where he threw the Best. Parties. Ever. (The entertainment, inexplicably, was the same crowd that played the aforementioned dinky dive.)

Later I found out Sal was the tutti-frutti-di-tutti-capi or whatever it’s called - I don't have my copy of The Godfather handy) of the area branch of the Family. Good thing he liked me.

Good times then. Scary now.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Hole Truth

These days it's fashionable to make a clean breast of things. At last count, 102 U.S. Senators have admitted to extramarital, and often extra-weird, dalliances. (For those of you who are keeping score, 96 Senators revealed affairs with members of the opposite sex, two with the same sex, one with somebody or something in a dark broom closet, and one didn't ask and wasn't told.)

For those of you who are paying attention, the big story is that there are actually two more Senators than previously thought - and that's after Pluto was downgraded to debris - which may explain why the Democrats are having such a hard time getting anything done. (We'd be better off if Harry Reid were downgraded to debris, but that is another story.)

But I digress; only a grand master digresser digresses before he establishes from what he's digressing, so kudos to me for that.

The point is, in the spirit of the times, I am going to come clean, too.

Have I slept with members of my late-night TV show staff?

Have I bolted from my wife, eight kids and reality show?

Have I enjoyed illicit encounters in the men's room at the Boise airport?

No, no, and hell no.

I am addicted to bagels.

"Well," you might say, "There are worse things than being addicted to bagels."

To which I would respond, "Yeah - being addicted to WASP bagels."


During the years I spent in New York, I enjoyed the finest bagels that city could offer, from Daniels to Zabar's and everything in between (including H&H and my personal favorite, Murray's).

But while in the deli-starved wasteland of Iowa, I discovered one of the best bagel shops ever. In Iowa City, Iowa. A place called Bruegger’s, the flagship of a chain started by a WASP from upstate New York who found himself attending Grinnell College in Iowa. A guy named Nordahl Brue, if you must know – a name that veritably pegs the WASP-O-Meter.

God knows why a guy from upstate New York would brave the trek to Iowa. I know lots of reasons not to, starting with weather and culture, unless they have a shorter tractor-pull season in upstate New York.

Anyway, it was in Iowa that I first developed my bagel addiction, buying dozens and dozens of the little doorstops, freezing them and enjoying them toasted.

At this point any self-respecting bagel nosher will cry “Foul!” (or, more likely, “WASP!”) because any self-respecting bagel nosher knows that it is heresy to toast a bagel, much less a frozen one.

I plead guilty with an explanation, your honor. When I lived in Iowa, the nearest Bruegger’s was over an hour way – or, as we Southern Californians say, “just down the block.” Rather than braving the elements – and you don’t know elements until you’ve lived in Iowa – I resorted to a once-a-week fresh bagel (with schmear, thank you very much) and a week of toasted frozen ones.


But I discovered a secret weapon that hopefully will save me from nosh Purgatory (or, as Dante would put it, “The second bagel of Hell”): the Cuisinart CPT-180 toaster, which has settings for both “Defrost” and “Bagel.” And unlike many Cuisinart products, this one is not a steaming pile of bat excrement in the shape of an appliance.

So now, although we live a mere stone’s throw from the neighborhood Bruegger’s, the once-a-week dozen-plus-one-with-schmear habit persists, thanks to our trusty CPT-180.

Self-respecting bagel noshers are even more pissed, I’m sure. But for them I have a simple response:

I’m a WASP. So sue me.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vene, Vici, Via

As most of the civilized world – which recently imposed a Time Out on the U.S. Congress, but that is another story – is aware, the venerable but vulnerable Starbucks chain has unveiled the latest brainstorm from its Seattle brain trust.

A microwave oven that doesn’t ooze odors that harsh the caffeine mellow?

An espresso machine that rocks an Americano in record time?

Bathrooms that clean themselves after an ex-Smith Barney rep leaves his makeshift home for the day?

No, no, and Hell no. It’s instant coffee.


The Starbucks people are understandably defensive about Via, as it is called – or in marketing parlance, “a solution in search of a problem.” But I never for a moment thought they needed to be. Even before I participated in their little taste test, I trusted that the product would live up to the hype. And it does.

I guessed correctly which was the instant, not because I could tell, but because it was prepared stronger, which I rightly assumed to be a strategy for throwing us off.

This is the same strategy Starbucks is using in announcing the opening of its so-called stealth stores – Starbucks cafes without Starbuck branding. They assume, probably rightly in this age of Sarah Palin and John Boehner, that we’ll forget they even mentioned it.

Let’s hope the D.O.D. doesn’t get wind of this, or they’ll string Christmas lights on all their stealth bombers.

Anyway, the Starbucks people are proud of developing an instant coffee that tastes – and, at a dollar a serving, is relatively priced – like the real thing. The Starbucks of instant coffees, if you will.

Did anybody do market research on this? Did they discover a huge Folgers Crystals contingent who wanted to pay four times as much? Or a Starbucks regular who wanted a Folgers experience?

Methinks instead of creating the instant coffee of Starbucks, they’ve ended up with the Starbucks of instant coffees. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ve brewed up a plan – see how I did that, choosing from among all available lame idioms the most predictable of all? Comedy gold, my brothers and sisters – to bring the Seattle bean-brains to their knees:

When you take the Via taste test, you are given a coupon for a free cup of coffee. During the three days of the campaign, if I visit all 6500 Starbucks outlets in the U.S., I’ll be able to rack up enough free beverages to enjoy a cup a day until the year 2028.

But there are three minor details to work out:

  1. I’ll have to hit 181 stores an hour, which means each taste test has to last just under 20 seconds, not counting travel time.
  2. Second, the coupons expire at the end of the year, so I’ll have to enjoy – or perhaps a better word is endure – 72 cups of coffee a day.
  3. The fine print on the coupon says “one per store per day,” so I have to redeem the coupons at four different stores every hour, 18 hours a day.

The good news is, If I can nail #1, #3 is a piece of cake.

But the only guy in the world who can help, won’t: Santa Claus isn’t returning my calls.

High Time

It’s been two weeks since I reported the acquisition of my Keurig single-cup coffee maker, or as we like to call it, The Second Coming of Dr. Kevorkian.

jay-crazy My prediction of burning through all 72 included so-called K-cups (insert your own breast joke here) in two weeks has not come true. Although there have been days when I’ve enjoyed several large beverages made with two units, there have been other days when …

  • I was in a coma and able neither to push the “Brew” button myself, nor communicate those instructions to loved ones. (Not that it would matter: my spousal loved one is not sympathetic to the cause, applying to it words best reserved for particularly bad days at military installations; and my canine loved one has trouble following even the simplest of commands, so the process of preparing a cuppa may well be beyond her capabilities, awesome as they are. Especially since, like most of us, she ignores the manual and tries to figure it out for herself.)
  • I was engaged in Plan Via, about which I write in another hilarious posting.
  • I crashed so completely from the previous day’s overindulgence that nothing could move me to action. (Although this was not fully tested: Angelina Jolie did not appear on my doorstep, tearful and vulnerable after being dumped by Brad and the kids.)

But I soldier on, getting in at least three cups a day, leaving me in a more less permanent state of buzziness. In the process, I have discovered some useful things:

  • The neighborhood kids do stop screaming – from 2:00 to 2:07 am.
  • It is easy to make shaken beverages if you don’t have a blender.
  • It is not that hard to mimic the symptoms of St. Vitus’ Dance.
  • Adding a spare room all by yourself takes no time at all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Trouble Brewing

It's nearing the end of the year, bringing with it the annual family pile-up of birthdays, anniversary and a little thing we Christians like to call Go Broke for Jesus.

Over the several hundred years Sharon and I have been together - or, counting only this incarnation, forty - we have boiled our gift-giving down to a no-surprises-left policy; unless and until we park one of those bow-topped luxury cars in the driveway, we play it low-key and open.

This year, the score is this: Sharon gets a Mac and an HDTV/DVD combo; I get a single-serve coffee-maker. And therein lies the story.

The aforementioned coffee-maker, a Keurig from Costco, if you must know, makes it waaaaaaaaaaay too easy to overindulge in a substance best consumed in moderation.

Heretofore there were natural impediments to breaking the caffeine piggy-bank: either you had to put on actual clothes and make the arduous 0.10-mile trek to one of about a dozen neighborhood Starbuckses, or you had to indulge in the time-consuming ritual of grinding and brewing a cuppa at home.

No more. With this miraculous machine, you simply pop in a little plastic gizmo, push a button, and in about a minute you enjoy a nearly-perfect cup of coffee.

Since I tend to be a very late-adopter, it's likely you've had one of these units for years, and the awe and wonder I describe is analogous to my discovering how amazing it is to have opposable thumbs. But this is my show, so work with me.

The particular model I got from Costco comes with a grand total of 72 of the little coffee pods, which smokes the 12 that come with the unit elsewhere. This seems like a great value, until you realize that you actually only want three of the 72: a decaf coffee, a hot chocolate and an herbal tea. The other 69 pods contain various varieties of caffeine-laden beverages, the consumption of just one of which can cause me to perform unbelievable feats of strength and stupidity.

But I feel duty-bound to take advantage of the value - especially since there are less fortunate souls in remote parts of the world who went for the twelve-pack and are thus 60 pods short.

So, after unpacking, cleaning and setting up the unit, I brewed my first cup of coffee - a tasty Newman's Own Organic Fair Trade blend. It was so easy to do that I had downed the entire portion before realizing how much caffeine it contained. That, coupled with the Thai tea I had at lunch and the free sample of Red Bull they gave me outside Trader Joe's, gave me enough energy to power a small country.

Now, several days later, as I work through the K-cups that came with my coffee-maker, I feel like Julie Powell, who cooked all of Julia Child's recipes in a year. But at the rate I'm going, it'll take me less than two weeks to exhaust my stash.

At this point I feel good. Invincible, even. I'm negotiating with California Edison to hook myself up to the grid; my contributions will make me wealthy enough to afford a constant stream of caffeination. After a few more weeks of convenient joy-joy beverages, I will be the grid.

Where Were You Last Monday?

Probably sampling Leno’s “new” show, along with 17 million of your closest friends.

I have to admit that my respect for Leno has grown over the years, as a result of seeing his show live … seeing his very different standup routine (he doesn’t work blue, but he’s edgier) … and seeing his consistent, consummate professionalism.

I like and watch Letterman, but I respect Leno.

That said, I found his new format to be surprisingly low key. I expected more show-biz razzle, but instead saw the video equivalent of comfort food. Nothing was knocked out of the park, but Leno’s relaxed amiability wears well.

Interestingly, his opening monolog, which ran about 13 minutes on his 11:35 show, clocked in at only ten – an interesting choice, given that his routine tests well and that his 10 o’clock show is billed as a comedy hour.

The set is suitably cool, but these days it’s hard to be visually distinctive. The simple two-chair setup is fine for his one-on-one interviews, but it smells a little of a “we don’t need no stinking desk” denial.

Bottom line: I’m not above checking in from time to time when CBS is running a repeat of a weak episode of Criminal Crime Scene Numbers Investigation, but Leno is unlikely to be a prime-time habit.