When I say Mad Men sucks, I’m of course not talking about the excellence of the content. I’m talking about the number of people who actually watch the show, compared to the combination of its consistent quality and other-worldly media coverage. In the weeks leading up to the return of the show, Don Draper and his crew have been covered and analyzed from every conceivable angle, from the historical accuracy of the ads to the subtle linguistic errors of the characters. All the buzz from magazine covers to the Internet would make one assume Sunday’s premiere marked the return of one of television’s most-watched shows. But over the past seasons, only about 3 million people actually tune in to watch an episode of Mad Men. To put that number in perspective: Nine million people watch Jersey Shore, 8 million watch The Closer, and 7 million watch Pawn Stars.
Salon’s Willa Paskin looks at some the reasons why we’re obsessed with Mad Men in her piece, TV’s Greatest Luxury Good. The core of Paskin’s argument is that the show makes us feel “smart and stylish.” I think that’s part of it, but we’re also seeing an example of what I call the Apple Effect. Before the introduction of the iPod, not that many people in the general population used Apple computers. But even back then, every product Apple released, or even just tweaked, resulted in an enormous amount of media coverage (especially considering only about 2% of us were using the products). Why? Because a large percentage of journalists used Macs. People who wrote the news wrote it on Macs, so Macs news got a lot of coverage. That’s part of what we’re seeing with Mad Men. The media coverage is driven not by how many people are watching but by which people are watching. That, and the fact that we all sort of long for a time when it was still considered appropriate to have our young children mix us a martini.
Here’s an exchange between my five year-old son Herschel and his mom while they played a game of Twenty Questions over dinner.
Herschel: Are you blue?
Are you orange?
Are you yellow?
No, and the color is irrelevant.
Are you white?
No, and I just said the color is irrelevant.
What does irrelevant mean?
It means that it doesn’t matter. My color will not help you guess what I am, so don’t waste your questions on this topic. OK?
You get it?
I get it.
Good. So knowing my color will not help you answer the question. That’s why it’s irrelevant. OK, go ahead and ask me something else.
Are you red?
In his latest piece for Slate, Matthew Yglesias argues that cities are threatening to “kill the food truck revolution with dumb regulations.” Many of these regulations are enacted in an attempt to protect local food businesses, but Yglesias suggests that keeping food trucks away from restaurants that sell the same kind of food “would be as if Slate were allowed to complain that it should be illegal to launch a new website to compete with our offerings, and that government should take our complaint seriously.”
Of course, this analogy is completely false. It would actually be as if, after typing in Slate’s URL, you were intercepted by a site with similar content written for a tenth of the cost. I am as big a fan of food trucks as the next guy. But the threat they present to local businesses are very real and worth consideration. The deli in my office building pays rent every month. As part of their lease, they were promised that no other similar business would be allowed into the building (this is a standard term). But now, there is a food truck parked thirty feet from their front door selling some of the same foods they do. The deal they signed up for has been broken and there’s not much they can do about it. Yglesias argues that, “the fact that an existing business owner objects to the practices of a new business is a terrible reason to block a truck from operating.” That’s an oversimplification of a real issue and it’s just plain wrong.
This post first appeared in my daily newsletter, NextDraft.
This morning I asked my three year-old daughter if she’d be my Valentine. She answered: “No, I’m Jonathan’s Valentine.” And thus continued a never-ending streak of Valentine’s Days marred either by rejection or by a disappointment in my failure to mark the occasion with appropriate gusto. I’ve always assumed my love for my wife is too epic to be celebrated along with millions of others with their lesser romances and their silly need to be reminded by Hallmark and 1-800-Flowers that it’s time to be romantic. And frankly, that philosophy briefly won my wife’s approval until about year six of our marriage when she realized I’m also not all that romantic on the other 364 days of the year. Love it or hate it, there’s no escaping February 14. So let’s take a quick look at love.
Americans will spend about $4.1 billion on Valentine’s Day. Eschewing their usual dedication to conservation, parents will buy 72 million paper Valentine’s Day cards (love hurts, even trees). Divorce lawyers see about a 40% increase in business around mid-February. And ten percent of all 2012 marriage proposals will be made on this day (nothing like setting expectations for a generic romance early on). And 15% of women will send themselves flowers (proving that a duet is not required to perform, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers). Here is more of V-Day by the numbers.
+ Check out 150 Valentines from your childhood.
+ A video montage of people saying I love you (or I loaf you) in movies.
+ The Top Ten Famous Love Letters.
+ A new study indicates that many couples stay intensely in love even after ten years of marriage. They really don’t have a choice. They know they need to put up a unified front against their kids who are programed to sense weakness.
+ First, sacrifice a goat. Then, rip off its pelt and use it to drunkenly whip women in the name of increasing their fertility. As irritating at Valentine’s Day can be, at least it’s better than it was.
+ The era of women “playing dumb” is over. (I’m just hoping the era of men doing it lasts a a few more years.)
+ McSweeney’s: An online dater’s index.
+ A six year-old with a rare form of brain cancer wanted Justin Bieber to be her Valentine. So he was.
And we end with a story about the power of loving. In 1950, a white guy (appropriately) named Richard Loving went out to hear some music. Across the room, he noticed a black woman named Mildred Jeter. That meeting led to a legal case that would eventually overturn laws against interracial marriage in Virginia and 15 other states. I’m Jewish. My wife is Samoan. And tonight we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day by telling our kids the story of the Lovings.
Today’s 49er game was a tough loss, but it was worth it because my 5 year-old son Herschel learned an important lesson about sports and life.
Right after the game, I took him to his room, sat him down, and gave him the speech.
Me: “Son, last year at this time, the 49ers were already home watching games on TV. Their team was terrible and had been for years. Everyone was sure that their quarterback Alex Smith would never amount to anything. San Franciscans had given up hope and the national media didn’t even care about the 49ers anymore. And now here we are. One year later. And that same team with that same supposedly hopeless quarterback got within one game of the Super Bowl. That teaches us an important lesson, son. So tell, me what lesson did you learn today?”
Herschel: “That you really need to hold on to the ball?”
This is sad, I know, but I wanted a way to organize a year’s worth of tweets and I also wanted my family to have some idea of how the Internet took over my life and gradually destroyed me.
Anyway, hopefully they’ve loaded by now. By the way, they are about 150 pixels below this spot in most browsers, but I guarantee it’s worth the distance.
Happy New Year.
People only consider paying for online content when doing so is as easy as not paying. — Dave Pell (@davepell) March 3, 2011
This is exactly what I was afraid of…My wife just put up a paywall in our bedroom. — Dave Pell (@davepell) March 18, 2011
Man am I lonely tonight.I just had a fourteen minute conversation with Skype Test Call. — Dave Pell (@davepell) March 19, 2011
Whenever Chrome asks me if I’m sure I want to open 78 tabs, I always worry that it’s my family doing an intervention. — Dave Pell (@davepell) March 28, 2011
I’m tired of twitter becoming a popularity contest.I’m totally cool with you fucking losers who only have a few followers. — Dave Pell (@davepell) March 28, 2011
My contractor just asked: “What’s a Kindle?”Makes me feel better about drawing a blank when he asked me to hand him a wrench. — Dave Pell (@davepell) April 16, 2011
Whenever Chrome asks me if I’m sure I want to open 114 tabs, I always feel it’s about a decade and half late for that question. — Dave Pell (@davepell) April 21, 2011
That facial hair is probably a pretty good indicator that your kid is too old to be pushed around in a stroller. — Dave Pell (@davepell) April 22, 2011
Sometimes, in an effort to prolong my sexual endurance, I’ll close my eyes and imagine myself using Windows. — Dave Pell (@davepell) April 25, 2011
This is getting ridiculous. I just dropped my trousers and my wife told me I’d need a Groupon to get any farther. — Dave Pell (@davepell) April 26, 2011
Now we’ve learned that Microsoft tracks the locations of Windows phone users.Hint: All fourteen of them are in Redmond. — Dave Pell (@davepell) April 26, 2011
Retweets are the new laughter. — Dave Pell (@davepell) April 28, 2011
Fuck people who think Leno is funny. — Dave Pell (@davepell) May 3, 2011
If you read something and then race to be the first commenter to mention a typo, here’s a bulletin:The whole world hates you. — Dave Pell (@davepell) May 4, 2011
I unfollowed someone in real life. — Dave Pell (@davepell) May 5, 2011
When you retweet other people’s complimentary tweets about you, I think to myself: “Yeah man, that’s cool.” — Dave Pell (@davepell) May 5, 2011
When driving I’ll look up from my phone and see another driver on their phone and I’ll be like, “Get off your phone you idiot.” — Dave Pell (@davepell) May 7, 2011
The rapture just pivoted. It’s now a mobile, social, deals, photosharing startup with a valuation just north of $100 million. — Dave Pell (@davepell) May 20, 2011
I miss the good old days when liquidation preference was a blender setting. — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 13, 2011
For once I’d like to see an honest political slogan:”I want to reform medicare, create jobs and whip it out.” — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 17, 2011
Favoriting a tweet is like fantasizing about someone. Retweeting is more like actually getting it on. — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 17, 2011
My wife and I have been married for thirteen years.But we still get it on like it’s only been twelve and a half years. — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 20, 2011
I hate it when people say I only use twitter for self-promotion. I also use it for self-aggrandizement and ego searching. — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 21, 2011
I came up with a better genre name for Classic Rock:Rock. — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 21, 2011
I don’t allow comments in real life. So why would I allow them on my blog? — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 22, 2011
Whitey Bulger is 88. The FBI probably followed a trail of metamucil. — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 23, 2011
My 5 year-old son:”Dad, what’s the difference between my room and my goddamn room?” — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 26, 2011
I just had a great experience with United Airlines customer service.(Not really. I just wanted to have a truly unique tweet.) — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 27, 2011
The Internet’s Historical Arc:1. Porn2. Browse3. Porn4. Search5. Porn6. Realtime7. Porn8. Social9. Porn10. Porn — Dave Pell (@davepell) July 6, 2011
Klout has no idea how hot my wife is. — Dave Pell (@davepell) July 12, 2011
Here’s what I want on my tombstone:”Please take me off of your email distribution list.” — Dave Pell (@davepell) July 18, 2011
The closest I’ve come to joining the mile high club is jerking off in Denver. — Dave Pell (@davepell) August 3, 2011
I spend about 6 hours a day masturbating in my window in the hopes that one of the Google street cameras will drive by. — Dave Pell (@davepell) August 4, 2011
Seeing Wheel of Fortune players unnecessarily buy vowels gave my dad the confidence to know he’d make millions in this country. — Dave Pell (@davepell) August 5, 2011
When they heard about Michael Vick’s $100 million deal, my cats couldn’t stop laughing. — Dave Pell (@davepell) August 30, 2011
Vendor at Giants game:”Anyone of you hiring so I don’t have to do this anymore?” — Dave Pell (@davepell) August 31, 2011
They just announced the lineup for “Dancing with Someone Whose Name Sounds Somewhat Familiar.” — Dave Pell (@davepell) August 30, 2011
If you have kids. And you have a pair of Angry Birds pajama bottoms. It’s better if there isn’t a green pig near your balls. — Dave Pell (@davepell) September 11, 2011
Reed Hastings: “I messed up. I owe you an explanation.”Me: “I bought Netflix at 7 bucks a share. I owe you a car.” — Dave Pell (@davepell) September 19, 2011
My son’s teacher says he has leadership qualities. That’s good news. Now I don’t have to worry about him becoming a politician. — Dave Pell (@davepell) September 28, 2011
My wife asked me to take out the garbage. So I had to explain to her that I’m a platform, not a service. — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 3, 2011
If you’re a fish, almost every religious story ends horribly. — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 11, 2011
Time again for the Republican Debate Drinking Game.Here’s how you play: drink — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 12, 2011
I walked into an elevator and a woman’s voice said: “This Elevator Going Up.”And Siri responded: “He’s with me now, bitch.” — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 14, 2011
Actual Ben & Jerry flavors that are dirtier than Schweddy Balls:- Karamel Sutra- Chubby Hubby- Boston Cream Pie — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 21, 2011
My parents survived the Holocaust, and yet they regularly tell me not to be so cynical about people.I need to get offline. — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 25, 2011
I love the smell of open tabs in the morning. — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 27, 2011
JoPa passed it up the chain of command and then dropped the issue.Is that legendary leadership?He’ll be out within a week. — Dave Pell (@davepell) November 8, 2011
Flash is dying. Silverlight might be next.One question: My porn’s still gonna load, right? — Dave Pell (@davepell) November 9, 2011
With this economy, my bank went from being too big to fail to being too small to rob. — Dave Pell (@davepell) November 11, 2011
Condensed version of the PBS Woody Allen Documentary:Woody: It doesn’t seem that weird to me.Society: Oh it’s fuckin weird. — Dave Pell (@davepell) November 21, 2011
There’s the you in real life. There’s you inside the car in traffic. And then there’s you in the middle: the social media you. — Dave Pell (@davepell) November 22, 2011
Google Maps gave us satellite views, then street views, and now indoor maps.They’re gonna find the G spot before me for sure. — Dave Pell (@davepell) November 30, 2011
The two most popular jokes of 2011:1. Ask Siri a question.2. Ask Herman Cain a question. — Dave Pell (@davepell) December 2, 2011
People who watch Two and a Half Men have the same vote as you do. There’s no way the founding fathers could have imagined that. — Dave Pell (@davepell) December 13, 2011
Mel Gibson forced to pay out $425 million and Tebow throws 4 interceptions. It’s beginning to look a lot like Hanukkah. — Dave Pell (@davepell) December 24, 2011
I’ve just launched a new app that adds an incredible social layer to your real life.It’s called: Put Away Your Goddamn Phone — Dave Pell (@davepell) March 25, 2011
The XXX domain has been officially approved.Finally. It’s been damn near impossible for me to locate porn on the internet. — Dave Pell (@davepell) March 18, 2011
I might be losing it…I just sent my son to his room for asking me a question that was more than 140 characters. — Dave Pell (@davepell) March 27, 2011
I love when the holiday season approaches and normal people take time off and twitter is returned to just us losers. — Dave Pell (@davepell) December 23, 2011
Overheard:Person 1: Angry Birds? How do you have time for that?Person 2: It’s like Heroin. You make the time. — Dave Pell (@davepell) May 6, 2011
Listen. Unless someone goes to jail for hitting reply all, this is never gonna stop. We’ve got to make an example of someone. — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 18, 2011
In Japanese Siri means buttocks.Oh well. I’ve been talking out of my ass for years. Might as well talk into it too. — Dave Pell (@davepell) October 5, 2011
More and more, Facebook feels like an address book for acquaintances who didn’t make it into my real address book. — Dave Pell (@davepell) June 22, 2011
Parenting Tip:Ask your kids who they love more, you or the iPad.If they answer at all, you’re still good. — Dave Pell (@davepell) November 26, 2011
I wonder if journalism schools now have courses in the making of slideshow formatted top ten lists. — Dave Pell (@davepell) November 22, 2011
Constantly leaving phones and other devices on won’t interfere with airplanes.It just sort of fucks up the rest of your life.
— Dave Pell (@davepell) December 26, 2011
For several years I’ve been a member of a San Francisco group called the Luncheon society. Every month or so, the organizer invites some notable person — an author, a scientist, a politician, an astronaut — to join the group for lunch at a local restaurant.
In all the years I’ve been attending these luncheons, things pretty much work the same way. The guest is introduced, he talks for a minute or two, and then we all sit down to have a good discussion over lunch. That’s been the format for everyone I’ve seen come to these luncheons.
Except Christopher Hitchens.
We were in a private, upstairs room at a downtown restaurant. Hitch was invited to sit, but he said he’d prefer to stand. He then opened a couple windows, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, stood behind his chair, repeatedly lifted a glass of scotch to his lips, and proceded to lecture on a variety of topics for about two hours, interrupted only by a waiter who hopelessly informed him that this was a non-smoking restaurant.
We had to expect that the lunch would be a little different with Hitchens as the guest. Everything about Christopher Hitchens was, after all, different. His timing, his humor, his positions on the topics of the day, and of course, the magnitude of his intellect.
We were, for those two hours, riveted. After lunch, a handful of us walked across the street to sit at some outdoor tables and continue the drinking. This was back in the earlier days of the Internet, before the age of follows and likes, and at the time Hitchens knew very little about topics like blogging and linking. So he asked me questions on human history’s only subject matter about which I knew more than him.
There we were, buzzed at an outdoor cafe on a sunny San Francisco afternoon, and for two minutes, I was explaining something to Christopher Hitchens who puffed and sipped in that beige linen suit he wore everywhere in those days. Those are two minutes I’ll never forget.
And I’ll never forget the urgency with which I would head to sites that featured Hitch’s essays anytime something really big happened in the world. I’d refresh the pages over and over until I could read some analysis by a guy with the firepower to back up his positions (whether you agreed with them or not, they were always well-argued).
Now that Hitch is gone, I find myself returning to those sites and to the pages of magazines where I used to find him. I keep refreshing the sites and turning the pages looking for that one article that would be smart and funny enough to put his passing into perspective. But it’s no use. The only guy who could write that article was Hitch himself. But his furiously prolific words have stopped, and the world’s IQ has dropped about ten percent because of that.
I’ve spent many moments next to people who make one feel awe. Great athletes, famous celebrities, charismatic politicians, leaders of companies. Those moments are always memorable. But the moment is different when the awe you feel is for a person’s mind. And so the moments were always a little different with Christopher Hitchens.
Looking back, I guess it all made pefect sense. In a situation where everyone else sat down, Hitch stood.
My hair was getting too long in back, so I took the same walk I’ve taken every now and then for the past twenty years. I went looking for Amigo.
I didn’t expect to find him. The last eight or ten times I’d walked the four or five blocks down to 2nd and Mission, I came up empty. Most of the time his barber chair sat empty. After a few months, there was another guy wearing a black velour sweatsuit and thick chains standing in his spot. I was desperate so I went in, sat down, and closed my eyes while this stranger worked his neon-striped clippers with one hand and took Android phone-calls with the other.
In between calls and clips I asked what happened to the man who used to cut in this chair. The guy, now with a few clumps of my gray on his black velour sleeves, told me he’d been in the hospital for awhile. Then he switched to Spanish and held the rest of his conversation with the other cutters. I picked up most of it. No one used any of the conjugated versions of word morir, but it didn’t sound good.
Over the next few months, as my hair grew, I took that same walk with that same purpose pretty often. By the time I hit the center of the crosswalk near the shop, I always had my answer. I could see his chair from there. It was either empty or occupied by the guy in velour. So I’d turn around and head back to my office, brushing my fingers through my ever longer hair, becoming more certain with each block that it was inevitable; Amigo was dead.
We shared decades together, me and Amigo, looking at my head in a dented mirror on the corner of 2nd and Mission. That mirror has recorded the silent movie version of my life. Me with brown hair. Me coming back to San Francisco. Me looking out at the rise of the Internet industry as it rushed across the streets South of Market. Me reading the day-old headlines pressed against the plastic windows of the newspaper racks that still attracted a few quarters on this corner that time forgot. Me the husband. Me the father. Me with gray hair. Me thinking of things to write while Amigo thought of things to cut.
I never knew his name. Our exchanges were always the same. I’d get the center of the crosswalk. He’d look up and motion me over to his chair and say: “OK, Amigo. Same ting, tapered in back?” I’d say yes and mumble something about leaving a little length on top, but by then he was already cutting.
For the first part of the cut my mind was back at the office. But by the time Amigo spread warm shaving cream across the back of my neck and pulled out his dulling straight edge, I’d have lost myself in the place. The shelves bowed with a history of brushes, gels, and tonics so old even Google wouldn’t know what I’m talking about; the original price tags covered with layers of dust older than my kids. No one ever bought any of the shampoos, ointments, or replacement blades for razors not sold since the 70s. The wall never changed.
These were the constants. The fans above the door surrounded by cracks of light coming from the San Francisco sky. A little hand broom. A stack of old newspapers. A push-letter board with a list of prices. A few spare jugs of that barbershop blue liquid. Embedded in the wall, a black and white clock with no minute hand. When a place has been around long enough, you stop measuring in minutes.
According to my more modern timekeeping devices, it was usually about fourteen minutes after I sat down when my barber would hold a hand mirror behind my head and say, “OK, Amigo, you like da taper?” I’d peel off a twenty, tell him to keep the change and head back to modern life with shorter hair and a clean neck.
The barbers behind the other chairs changed over the decades. For a few years, there was a Russian guy who wore a silk shirt and a thin gold chain. He once got a tip he considered too small, and when the customer left, he muttered something about him being a kike. I’d been pretty much silent in that chair until that moment.
“Hey,” I yelled, instant beads of sweat rolling over my now filled forehead veins, “I don’t want to hear that fucking word in here.”
There is no silence like a barbershop with the clippers turned off and the scissors still. The guy in silk waved his scissors in my direction. I thought of those Saturdays when my dad took me to the barbershop near my childhood home and repeated the same jokes about being nearly bald. That was before he was one of only two people in his Polish ghetto to survive the Holocaust and then spent years in the forest fighting back against the Nazis. Those are the things you think about when an angry Russian barber is waving scissors in your face. Then you just hold up a finger and say, “Don’t say that word again.”
A long pause. Then, finally, a snip. Amigo went back to tapering.
I’d given up on ever seeing Amigo again when I made my familiar walk down to 2nd and Mission, resigned to having my hair cut by whoever happened to be behind his chair. I got to the middle of the crosswalk, looked up, ready to be disappointed. That’s when I saw him. A little thinner. A little more frail. But it was Amigo, sitting in his own barber chair, waiting. I extended my open palms to my side to silently ask, “What are you doing back?” He raised his fists over his head.
When I walked through the door, we had our longest conversation. I asked him where he had been. He held his thumb and index finder a couple inches apart and said, “Dey take some ting out of my colon, dis big.”
I told him how good it was to have him back. He thanked me, sat me down, and said:
“OK, Amigo. Same ting, tapered in back?”
An older guy with a smoker’s cough walked in, sat down in another chair, and bellowed: “Listen. Let me make this as simple and clear as possible. A quarter inch off. Everywhere.”
I looked at the shelves of old hair tonics and the clock with no minute hand. I’d been meaning to include them in a story for months, but I always figured it would be a eulogy. Instead, there I was with shorter hair and cleaner neck thinking about a new story, the one about the return of amigo.
All of it rushed through my mind. The people crossing the street. The long ago retired hair products. Me as a kid sitting in a barbershop chair next to my dad. In a world that changes by the second, I just sat there for those fourteen minutes thinking about the greatness of constants. The same ting.
When he was done, my barber held up a hand mirror behind my head and said, “OK, Amigo, you like da taper in back?”
I didn’t even need to look.
More like this: Herschel’s Trophy Moment
There have been a few minor rough spots during our son Herschel’s first months of Kindergarten, so my wife and I were pleased to see him having so much fun during his soccer awards dinner, where he was set to receive his first trophy.
There were five tables of teams and the evening’s MC was asking a series of soccer-related trivia questions. The team that answered correctly would be next in line to come to the stage and receive their trophies.
Then came the question:
How do you spell teamwork?
About 10 hands went up.
My wife tugged at my arm, “Dude, why is Herschel raising his hand?”
See, Herschel doesn’t yet know how to spell teamwork.
For us, the room went silent and we heard the MC’s voice like it was coming from a slow motion reel as she called the name: “Herschel.”
He was told to stand on his chair so that the hundreds of people at the dinner could see and hear him clearly.
He climbed up, turned to the audience and said, T.
Followed by a pause. And some more pause. Panic swept across our table. I pulled out my iPhone and started googling for child psychologists.
And the T hung there. A breeze blew a ball of tumbleweed through that pause after that T.
Why did he raise his hand? What was he thinking? His whole team was depending on him and a silent room of kids and parents looked on, waiting for the second letter.
Sensing my panic, my wife covered my mouth as I tried to yell, E.
Then Hersch looked down. Was this the first sign of the public shame that would haunt him through adulthood? But wait, he was looking at his jersey sleeve. And I realized he knew something we didn’t. Just above his elbow, written in large black letters, was the word teamwork.
He looked back up. A twinkle in his eye. A thousand years of public speaking confidence in his voice.
You’re goddamn right E
That’s my son up there.
I don’t see any reason why Hollywood wouldn’t want this kid.
I wet the bed every night during two weeks of summer camp. But this kid is not me. And the fucking word is on his sleeve.
His three year-old sister blows a kiss towards the the front of the room and announces, “Herschel my brother.”
I should probably mention Herschel is, without a doubt, the most handsome and most wonderful guy on the planet. Seriously. He’s magic.
And the whole place erupted into applause as Hersch stepped off the chair to teammate hugs, and they all headed to the stage to get their first trophies.
I was relieved. I was proud. I was happy. I was in love. But honestly, who am I kidding?
Herschel had me at T.
By the time Herschel got home from his first day of Kindergarten, we only had one question:
How was Henry?
It all started about two weeks prior when I initiated my fatherly duty of getting my five year-old son (and me) ready for the big transition to a post-preschool life.
I was determined to do better this time. Back when The Hersch was starting preschool, it was all about brainwashing. He had to be ready. He couldn’t be scared. This is the era of gutter guards at bowling alleys. Any hint of discomfort or stress is off limits. So I went to work. We sat on his bed and read a series of books with big, friendly pictures of various kids, chimps and dinosaurs who all absolutely loved their first day of preschool: having snacktime with their new friends, putting their tiny toy-filled napsacks into cute cubbies, and coming home with a series of lessons learned about the joyful wonders of big kid school.
To this rather generic preschool prep curriculum, I added my own special brand of indoctrination. For a week straight, I told Herschel that he should see himself as the tear-drying superhero, Tissue Man. I figured that if he saw himself as a protector of the other crying kids, he wouldn’t even think to cry himself (which would make it less likely that I’d cry before getting back to my car). So I explained that if he saw any of the other mere mortal kids crying when their Mommy or Daddy dropped them off in the morning, he should walk over to them, smile, give them a big hug and say, “It’s gonna be Okay. Preschool is fun!”
It turnes out that kids crying for their mommies don’t respond all that well to a hug from a stranger wearing a cape with a Sharpie drawing of a giant box of Kleenex.
For this new transition to Kindergarten, I decided to skip the books, the costumes, the superpowers, and the false doctrines and just be more straightforward. Enough with the overprotection and candy-coated tear avoidance. It’s time to face the real world. It’s time to roll some gutter-balls. So one night at bedtime, I gave The Hersch the cold, hard truth.
“Hersch, I’ve got to tell you something about school. In the next few years, it will be totally different for you. You know how in preschool you just sort of rolled in to class and the teacher asked you which toy you felt like playing with? Well, real school is different. You have to sit still. The teacher really tries to teach you things like reading and numbers and science. There’s something called homework. You get these jobs that you have to bring home and finish by the time you get to school the next day. Then, every week or so, the teacher will give you a test to make sure you’ve been doing all your work and if you don’t do well on that test, you sort of get in a little bit of trouble.”
Hersch sat up on his pillow and smiled knowingly: “Okay Dad, so which parts of what you just said are you joking about?”
“Sorry Dude,” I said. “I’m not joking. School really does get that terrible.”
Understandably, this exchange didn’t give Herschel much in the way of an enthusiasm boost. So I switched my focus to the social aspects of school by sharing the names of the other kids who would be in Herschel’s class. He listened quietly as I read off the alphabetized list of first names. Until I got to Henry.
“Did you say Henry?”
Herschel has a guitar-playing, drum-beating, rock star of an uncle named Henry. He loves his uncle. He loves the name Henry and all of its various invented rhymes: Uncle Henry. Uncle Benry. Uncle Lenry. Uncle Zenry.
Once he heard me read the name Henry, that was it. I never made it past the letter H. Herschel was locked in.
When can I play with Henry?
Henry is my best friend.
I don’t care what my teacher’s name is, I just want to see Henry.
Can we have Henry come for a sleepover?
How many more days until the first day of Henry?
At first I pushed back a little and suggested that maybe he should actually meet Henry before deciding that they were best friends. But Herschel would hear nothing of these details and besides, his excitement about seeing Henry was so extreme that it easily overwhelmed any of the expected anxieties associated with getting started at a new school.
During the last few days preceeding that first bus ride to Kindergarten, all we really talked about was Henry. Herschel’s enthusiasm grew to such an extreme that I looked up Henry’s dad’s email address in the school directory and sent him a note suggesting that he give Henry a heads-up about the best friend he’s never met.
And then came the first day of school. As we walked towards the bus stop, I looked at Herschel’s face for any sign of trepidation. There was none. He smiled as the bus pulled up and didn’t even look back as he climbed aboard for his first bus ride without me. Why would he be worried? He was on a bus ride to meet his new, best friend.
That day, the minutes passed like hours. I came home early to make sure I’d be there when Herschel returned from this monumental experience. We all surrounded him as he walked through the front door. No one cared about the bus ride, the teachers, the lunchroom, the playground, the cubbies, the songs, the art work, or any of the typical new school stuff. We only had one burning question:
So how was Henry?
The Hersch dropped his napsack by the door and answered.
“He was good. But I made another friend too.”
Really, who is your other friend?
“She’s a girl. Her name is Henrietta.”
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Birth: Shit Happens
Infancy: Shit in my pants
Adoloscence: Who gives a shit?
Teenager: I don’t take no shit from anyone.
Twenties: I think I know something but I don’t know shit.
Artist Phase: I am the shit.
Artist Phase Ends: I am shit.
Career: I do, in fact, take shit.
Marriage: Get my shit together.
Three shots of Juan Julio and no condom: Little shit.
Parenthood: I’m covered in shit, but now I realize none of that other shit mattered.
Forties: God, I wish I could take a shit.
Divorce: We split up our shit.
Grandparenthood: Finally, you can experience all the shit you put me through.
Retirement: Was all that shit really worth it?
Home for the aged: Shit in my pants.
Death: The shit hits the fan.
McSweeney’s was kind enough to publish my piece on my experiences at a recent heavy metal festival.
Troy Aikman doesn’t have a son. But on HBO’s Real Sports he wondered whether he’d allow one to play football now that we know more about the damage that repeated hits can do to the brain.
If I had a ten year-old boy, I don’t know that I’d be real inclined to encourage him to go play football.
That’s a Hall of Fame quarterback with a long history of violent concussions who also said he believes the NFL is at a crossroads.
I’ve been investing in start-ups since the early days of the first internet boom. I’ve seen or read thousands of pitches. I’ve had a few winners and my share of losers. I’ve seen trends come and go. I’ve been on the money giving side, the money-taking side and the entrepreneur who took no money side.
Since the topic of angel investing is hot these days, I thought I’d share a few reflections from my days as a part time angel investor. It’s probably worth mentioning that I almost always co-invest with a friend and colleague who is a lot smarter about these things than I am. I hate reading term sheets. I’m all about the products and the personalities.
And in all candor, I’m probably not what you’d call a great investor. But I’m a decent and pretty smart guy, and I’ve been investing in, building sites on, and writing about the internet since the blink tag was in its heyday, so it can’t hurt to check out these reflections from my own personal angel island.
1. Taking Sides
I’ve always seen myself as being on the same side of the table as the company founders. That makes sense to me. I’m investing in the person, first and foremost. Sure, I’ve seen the occasional start-up Powerpoint presentation manifest itself in real life (I was lucky enough to be along for the Open Table ride, for example). But that’s the exception. Usually a successful product or business ends up looking a lot different than it did when it was first drawn on the whiteboard. The start-up world is about reacting and adjusting. You want to go into that battle with someone with whom you have an adversarial relationship?
2. Term Limits
I’ve seen thousands of hours spent on detailed seed round terms. I’ve never seen these details matter. Never. If it goes, me and the founders win. If it doesn’t, the details go into the incinerator along with the stock certificates.
3. Stop Vesting
When I first started in the business, I’d keep my feedback close to the vest. I was worried that I might give a founder an actionable idea or two and then they’d have no reason to include me in the deal. I would have already blown my advising wad. Later, I realized this was crap. If I added value in a meeting and a founder tried to block me from a deal, then I wouldn’t want to be in the deal anyway.
4. Car Salesmen
The best advice I’ve ever given a founder during a pitch is: Don’t take any outside investment from me or anybody else. Most of the start-ups that are really products being built to flip to one of the big web companies are better off bootstrapping it than taking on outside money and all the hassles and headaches that come with that decision. If you can swing it without investors, do it. Especially early on. There are of course many exceptions, but if you only need a few grand, it’s better to sell your car than your soul.
5. Let’s Get Small
On a related note, there is nothing wrong with having a successful small business on the web. You get to wear t-shirts to work, you often have a flexible schedule and you can make money while you sleep. Once you take outside money, you can’t have that small business. If you do, your investors will have little choice but to shut it down and write it off. Then you’re back to dressing like an adult, and no one wants that.
6. Vision Quest
Most investors will have a boatload of opinions, even on parts of your business that have no overlap with their areas of expertise. It’s always good to listen to input. But ultimately, the investor is making a bet on you. Stick to your gut and vision. You may think every investor wants to hear that you’re going to take all of their advice. But sometimes you’re better off saying, Fuck you, I’m doing this my way. Then the investor will know he’s going to make some money.
7. Lose the Cape
Although I occasionally throw on a cape in the privacy of my own home, I’m not a Super Angel. Angel investors who have personal brands that are bigger than the brands of the companies in which they invest scare me. When I see certain names on a term sheet, it increases the likelihood that I’ll skip the deal. I also worry about the trend of angel investors machine-gun spraying cash out of their checkbooks. Like my old colleague Jon Callaghan explained, we’ve all seen this movie before. To the extent there is anyone who can be called a super angel, his name is Ron Conway. And what made him super are the same things that have made people super in business for years. He’s a straight shooter, he supports entrepreneurs, he remembers everyone he meets and treats them well. He’s about helping folks build super companies. And drumroll please … He’s a nice guy too.
8. Your Eggs are Done
I can see the benefit of incubators. I’ve even considered starting them over the years. But I generally see a greater benefit in a founder who doesn’t want to be part of someone else’s club. Again, there are lots of exceptions. I’m just giving you my immediate reaction to the issue. You have a vision. I have some dough. I’m guessing you can figure out the chair and desk part on your own.
9. The Glengarry Leads
All talk of collusion, etc, aside – the best lead generators for any investor are the entrepreneurs in whom he has invested in the past. Put that in your term sheet and smoke it, brother.
10. The Ego Bubble
I don’t care which side of the table you sit on. It’s hard to find a mensch in this business. That might be more true now than ever. The last time this industry suffered from growing pains, it looked the final scenes of Scarface. But in our case, these corrections don’t just include one dude in a bad white suit. We all suffer together. So why don’t we all let a little air out of the bubbles – the internet bubble and the more quickly growing ego bubble – before we’re forced to party like it’s 1999 again.
Now I’m going back to posting at Tweetage Wasteland – Confessions of an Internet Superhero
Inspired by Mel Gibson’s outlandish recorded phone calls to his ex, I decided to call the internet with some complaints that have been building up. And I did it, Mel style.
For my more appropriate takes on the impact of the realtime, social web, see my other blog:
Charlie Sheen recently signed a deal that will keep him employed as the leading actor on the show Two and Half Men. He’ll make about $2 million per episode. Here are the deal’s winners and losers.
Hookers Turned Extortionists
Crisis Management Firms Hired by CBS
People Who Insist America is on the Decline
Investors Who Shorted CBS and Time Warner
Judges on the Take
Guys who get drunk and insist they’re as funny as those idiots on TV
People who, at a recent dinner party, argued that this is the golden age of television
Anyone who has appeared on, written for or been associated with any show that’s shared a medium with Two and Half Men
Lawyers who bet they could proofread an entire contract without cracking up
Parents whose six year-old says to them, “Wait, I don’t get why this is funny.”
People who loved Jon Cryer as Duckie in Pretty in Pink and inadvertantly wondered what he’s up to these days
Really funny comedians who never got their pilots picked up
People who already hated Mondays
Reminder: Check out the new blog, Tweetage Wasteland.