Archive for April, 2010

Cockeyed Optimist

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Rodgers and Hammerstein Carousel, 1955

19 The Sermon

20 You’ll Never Walk Alone

Some weeks are just plain hard. I know I’ve had a difficult week, when I find myself listening to Rodgers and Hammerstein albums. Oh, and drinking heavily, too. Many of you already know that when we were at the ranch growing up, the only records we had to play were Rodgers and Hammerstein records in my grandmother’s den. The lyrics had an evil way of knitting themselves into my head. So now, when I feel really crappy, one of those lyrics pops into my head: When you walk through a storm, keep your chin up high, climb every mountain, don’t worry about others not liking you, just try liking them, and you’ll never walk alone are the bits of advice I tell myself. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. There’s nothing wrong with a little pep talk. And when you’re feeling a little beat, play some Rodgers and Hammerstein. And when you’re really, really beat, listen to The Sermon from Carousel (above).

me at the ranch, 1978

Sentimental Journey

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

One of the things I love most about Mad Men is that we know what is coming. We knew that November 22, 1963 was a bad date for Roger’s daughter’s wedding. We know that Don’s daughter, Sally, is destined for counter-culture rebellion in 1968. Reading The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is the same. Sloan Wilson’s 1955 novel follows Tom Rath as he tries to find direction in a materialistic post-war America. Clearly, much of Mad Men was derived from this. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is remarkable because it stepped out of the conformity of the 1950s and asked how an individual could function post-World War II. How does someone go from killing an enemy with a knife and then sitting politely in the suburbs or in a corporate setting?

The book was made into a film with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in 1956. At a time when other films of the time, like It’s Always Fair Weather, are contrived and feel like a cartoon reality, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is authentic. It doesn’t shy away from issues; it doesn’t gloss over adultery, or depression. On the shallow side, it looks great. The set design is beautiful. This is what Mad Men would look like if it had the budget of an A-list Hollywood movie.

As I Lay Bathing

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Saul Steinberg, Girl in Bathtub, 1949

I used to sit across the table from several very well known designers during meetings for AIGA. I was impressed at their ability to take copious notes while someone was presenting an issue. After a couple of years, I felt inadequate, my notes were singular words that later made no sense to me. Then I saw one of the impressive board member’s notes. They weren’t notes at all, only doodles of buildings, and a dog, or someone standing at a write-board. When I later asked this person what was presented, they were able to explain it perfectly. Clearly these notes were some sort of hieroglyph. Some of the doodles were quite nice, but frankly, nothing came close to Saul Steinberg’s spontaneous and simple drawings.

Steinberg is best known for his View of the World from 9th Avenue. This is his famous 1976 New Yorker cover, of the mental geography of Manhattanites. Maybe I’ve seen this one too many times in a New Yorker’s foyer, but I love some of his other work much more. Steinberg was born in Romania in 1914. He came to the United States in the early 1940s to escape anti-Jewish laws in Italy. This outsider point of view is a constant in all of his work. In addition to the remarkable fresh and light style, each piece sees the world through a filter most of us don’t notice. People in this world are dwarfed by the material world, but seem to muddle through with humor.

Saul Steinberg, Drug Store, 1945

Saul Steinberg, Eames chair, 1952

Saul Steinberg, Untitled, 1961

American Holidays

Saul Steinberg, Santa Claus as Christmas Tree, 1949

Saul Steinberg, Duveen, 1952

Saul Steinberg, Feet on Chair, 1946

Saul Steinberg, No, 1961

Saul Steinberg, London, 1952

A Box of Wonderful

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Photo Cube

I love these Photo Cubes. They are very bossy. “Pull, pull, pull” they read on almost every panel. Pull what? I can’t figure out what needs pulling (there’s a joke in there somewhere). These are the original photos included with the photo cubes. I don’t have the following people in my family: the girl with the devil doll collection, the woman mesmerized by the ship model, the woman who has never seen a piano jewelry box, or the odd trio (clearly an alternative arrangement) with matching knit-wear.

It’s a smart idea, though. I’ve often come back to the idea of an image cube when thinking about a 3-dimensional promotion. Then I look in my plastic box of favorite things, and say, “Oh, they already exist.” I also love Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube sculpture from 1968 at 140 Broadway in New York. I wonder, would it have been better as a giant photo cube with the mesmerized woman and ship model?

Photo Cube

Photo Cube groovy Helvetica

odd trio

Photo Cube wholesome girl



Pull, for the love of God

Hypnotized girl with boat

Devil dolls

Isamu Noguchi, Red Cube, 1968

Dickens for Dogs, or Worrying about Winston

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Winston's turkey skewer x-ray

Whenever anyone visits my house, they look around and ask, “Do you happen to have a dog?” If I could see a thought bubble over their head, it would read, “There’s no way anyone could keep their carpet clean if they had a dog.” It is true, there is no dog, and this means no paw prints on the carpet and comforter cover. But we did have a dog for almost 15 years, Winston. Winston was a wire-haired fox terrier with a bad attitude. Like me, he was nice to people he knew, but rather hostile to everyone else. We spent most of Winston’s life making up for his tragic childhood. We made sure he had a dog door, long walks, a nice bed, and lots of petting.

He originally belonged to my parents. Unfortunately, they bought him just before deciding to move to England. Since England was a country with an animal quarantine, he would need to be housed in a kennel for six months to verify that he wasn’t rabid. I had just moved to New York after graduating, and my mother called and asked if I could take him. The alternative wasn’t acceptable, so he flew to New York and moved into my small apartment. A year later, my parents decided they wanted Winston in England, so we put him on a British Air flight, and he went into quarantine.

That Christmas, we visited Winston at his prison. It was on the freezing plains of the English midlands. He had barked so much he lost his voice. They only fed him warm porridge. It was like Dickens’ Oliver Twist for dogs. He spent six hard months in jail.

A couple of weeks before his release, my parents decided they were bored of England and wanted to move back. So on the day he regained his freedom, they picked him up at the kennel, drove him to the airport, and sent him back to me—hence the need to make up for his bad childhood.

Winston had a good life even through the eating of a turkey skewer. He found his way into the garbage one Thanksgiving and managed to eat the skewer. The vet was sure somebody was playing a trick on him when he saw the X-ray. So at 14, Winston went in for surgery to remove his skewer. He survived this, then managed to injure an eye fighting with the dog next door. Then he needed to have his eye removed. In the end he was a tough little pirate dog, with a patch, and big scar.

I never got another dog, because I don’t want a different one.

Winston begging for watermelon

wire and smooth haired fox terriers