Sunday, December 11, 2011

My brother Scott meets Jack Nicholson

My younger brother Scott died suddenly and unexpectedly this past July. I had three brothers until Scott died and although we all lived long distances from one-another, and we all rarely got together at one time, I thought of us as a unit.

In my mind “one of four brothers” was one of my defining characteristics, along with “handsome, charming and brave.” (I just threw that in because I know Scott would have liked that joke.)

I only saw him a few times a year but it’s still hard to believe I won’t see him again.

Scott was a very interesting and idiosyncratic person. I almost certainly would have written something about him by now, but he was one of the most intensely private people I’ve ever known. He left very explicit instructions regarding the manner in which his passing was to be noted and they can best be described as “minimally.” I don’t think he would have appreciated an essay from me.

However, about six or eight months before he died he sent me a written version of the story of his encounter fifteen years earlier, with Jack Nicholson.

Among Scott’s idiosyncrasies was that he was openly and admittedly star-struck. He’d met dozens – possibly hundreds – of famous people in his life, but none had the back-story or the legs of his Nicholson adventure.

We’re all familiar with the idea of getting our “fifteen minutes of fame” but most of us don’t really get anything like fame. Well, Scott got his. I’m still asked to tell the story several times a year, and rarely does a year go by that I don’t see a reference in the national to the event that led to Scott meeting Nicholson.

And as private as he was, Scott would happily recount the events to anyone who asked. Some of you may have heard the story from me (and even him) but here it is in its full glory, in Scott’s own words. It’s a little long but worth it I believe.

* * *

Los Angeles, February 8, 1994.

At about noon on February 8, 1994 I was driving to a Disney office in Studio City for an appointment with a committee to present an incentive program for ride sharing and car pooling.

About two blocks west of Bob Hope’s house I was stopped at a traffic light. A black Mercedes Benz SL pulled up beside me in the right turn lane. I looked at the car and thought it looked like the Bat Mobile since the windows were tinted black, the chrome was blacked out. I thought it looked very cool.

When the light turned green tried to pull in front of me, instead of turning right. I didn’t let it in front of me. On the other side of the intersection were parked cars, so the driver had to wait until he could get in behind me.

On the other side of the intersection he started tailgating me, and zigzagging back and forth behind my car. I got the impression that he was pissed and wanted to get around me. Oncoming cars prevented him from passing my car. A little further along I had the option of going right, which would allow the driver to pass. However, if he followed me I would have been in front of Bob Hope’s estate which was a walled property for blocks. If the driver had a gun or did something crazy I thought, no one would be around to help.

At the next traffic light which was red in my direction I stopped behind several cars. A passenger got out of the SL (I was not aware anyone but the driver was in the car due to the blackened windows.) The passenger positioned himself at ten o’clock in front of my car with his arms folded. (Although it was long before the show “The Soprano’s”, he could have been type cast for the show.) I was later told he owned a restaurant in Hells Kitchen in NYC.

I could hear the driver yelling as he approached my driver’s side window: ”You Motherfucker, I’ll show you who will cut who off”. (This is a major problem because I DID NOT cut him off; I just didn’t allow him to cut me off.)

The next thing I heard was a “thud, thud” on the roof of my car. (He hit the roof leaving two dents in the steel with something in his hand.) I looked at the man, and thought he would then try to hit my driver’s side window. “No” was the next thought “not at that angle”.

Then I recognized him as the actor Jack Nicholson. I thought, “He’s crazy; someone’s going to recognize him.” There were so many cars around us. Right after that thought he took what turned out to be a golf club and hit my windshield with full force at my eye level. My windshield shattered inside my car and all over me. (I did have sunglasses on at the time which protected me from getting glass in my eyes.)

After he smashed the windshield he calmly walked back to his car, put the golf club into the trunk of his car and drove off.

I followed his car, and reached into my briefcase to get a pen & paper to write down his license plate number. I double and triple checked the plate number.

At the next block I turned right and pulled over to get out and get the glass out of my hair, seat, and cuffs of my suit. When I stopped, two separate cars pulled up to me. Both drivers said that they had seen what had happened if I needed a witness. One gave me his business card, (I believe he was a stock broker). The other driver had written his name and number on a piece of paper.

I asked them if they recognized the guy. Both said yes, and one volunteered, “That was Jack Nicholson! I work on movie sets. He’s an asshole.” I said “thank you” to both and they drove off.

I continued on to Disney, with my head and neck extended to the right so I could see to drive since the driver’s side of my windshield was shattered.

My appointment at Disney was a monthly board meeting. I was to arrive around 12:30, and let the receptionist know that I was there to meet with the committee. They would finish whatever topic they were discussing and I would be brought in once they were ready. In other words I might have to wait a few minutes. (Since it had taken nearly 6 months to get the appointment I was Ok with the arrangement.)

While I waited, I asked the receptionist if I could use the phone in the lobby to make a call. (This was before I carried a cell phone on me everywhere I went. I thought it quaint that there would be a phone in the lobby -- very Hollywood.)

I called John Pike the person whose house I had just left before heading out for my appointment. John’s family is a very old old California family on both his mother’s and father’s side. He knew lots of people, including the Hope’s, where they lived.

I said “John, you are not going to believe what just happened to me”. “Call me the Minute you get out of the meeting”, he told me.

A few minutes later I was escorted into a board meeting to make my presentation on an incentive program to inspire Disney employees to get them to “ride share and car pool.” They had a big budget.

Still shaken I made an effort to overcome my mental state by telling the group, “If I seem a little nervous or if you see glass falling out of my hair, it’s NOT that I’ve never given this presentation, it’s just that I was attacked in my car on the way over to the meeting.”

That was just enough for me to settle myself and was ready to move forward. HOWEVER, it shocked everyone enough that they had questions about what had happened. I didn’t want to get side tracked with the whole story, so I simple said I recognized the guy and that I would deal with it later.
Someone asked, “Was it a friend of yours?”

“No, it was a celebrity.” I immediately realized that that was a mistake. And of course they would NOT let me proceed until I told them who it was, which got lots of reaction.

I made the presentation, which went well. However, they insisted that I see the nurse on staff before I left. Another rather quaint notion I thought of having a full time nurse on staff.

When I got ready to leave I called my friend John. He had made several calls to many well know high profile attorneys. He told me to go to the local police station and fill out a police report.

When I got in line an officer, who never looked up at me barked out, “Wadda you want”.

“Well someone smashed my windshield with a tire iron,” I told him. (Since I could see only part of what he was holding, that’s what I thought it was at first.)

“HOW TALL WAS HE?” the officer barked.

“I’m not sure, but I know who it was”.


“I don’t know, maybe 5-10.”

“HOW OLD,” was the next demand.

“I don’t know but I know who it was.”


“I guess 60?”


Then I got a little confused as how to answer, “Sort of a golfing outfit with knickers, and triangle colored knee socks, and tassel’s, BIG tassel’s on his shoes. But I’ve got his licensee plate number, “AND I KNOW WHO IT WAS”.

“OK, WHO WAS IT?” all the while his head still buried in his computer screen.

I said, “Jack Nicholson.”

For the first time he looked up and asked in the friendliest most surprised voice,”the actor?”

“Here’s his plate number”. He walked to another computer with the plate number and walked back a bit shocked, (Now my new best friend) and said that “it” was in fact registered to a John Nicholson at an address on Wilshire Blvd. He said that it was a surprise since most famous actors register their cars in a manager’s name or company.

Later I found out that Nicholson had a close relationship with the Los Angeles police department.

After leaving the police station I went back to my friend John’s penthouse which was buzzing. He had talked to several attorneys. Some of whom where working on some famous news cases of the time such as the first Michael Jackson case of playing with young boys.

I spoke to one of them on the phone. (I don’t remember his name.) He suggested that I get a lawyer, although he couldn’t take my case because he was busy working on the Jackson case.

Somehow I ended up talking to Charles Ruben, a west L.A. attorney. He sounded good on the phone and I made an appointment to meet with him the following day.

My head spinning from all the events I was not as sharp as I needed to be when we met. He was great at spinning what he could do for me. Later I suspected that was his best quality.

He gave me the impression that he had handled a similar type case against another celebrity and had gotten the client $500,000. Later I found out, he had worked in the office of the case and had nothing really to do with “it”. Makes me wonder if the person even got the half million he claimed.

A few days later I got a call at my office from a Detective from the station where I had filed the police report. Hopefully he never took up acting because as casual as he tried to sound it wasn’t working. He claimed he had some free time and was just going thru some of the stacks and stacks of reports and came to mine. He just happened on to it.

He asked what had happened, if it was in fact the actor that smashed my windshield. Told him the story and that it was him. The Detective asked if I could come to the station that afternoon with my car so he could take pictures.

That afternoon I met with him (wish I could remember his name). Once I was there he asked if I had been in contact with Mr. Nicholson.

When I told him NO, he said that his “people” had contacted him and wondered how they could get in touch with me. (Hmmmm, really…..was that before or after you called me this morning I wondered.) When I told him I had an attorney he asked me what the case was worth. I repeated what Mr. Ruben had implied to me.

The detective wanted to take pictures of the car, then with me standing by the car. While he’s taking the pictures, he was being charming and funny. THEN, after making a joke about something--he took a picture of me standing by the car LAUGHING. I think that was intentional. That picture ended up on the show HARD COPY. Wonder what they paid him for that picture?

Speaking of pictures, my attorney wanted me to take pictures of my car the day of the incident. Someone I knew at the time took about seven or eight pictures so that I could have them should this go to trail.

Those pictures were also sold to HARD COPY, by my SO called “friend.”

Very quickly my attorney got an offer from Nicholson’s attorney Charlie English. (I liked Charlie.) The amount was for $X, NOT $500,000 that the Biography Channel claims I got every time they run a Bio on Nicholson. (I have sent them an email, asking that they correct the misinformation.) The $50,000 was before the Mr. Rubin took his percentage, so I got $x- on or about March 2, 1994.

The City Attorney got involved with the case and wanted to press charges against Nicholson. (As of now I don’t remember the timing.) I don’t remember his name but we spoke several times over the phone.

I believe but can not swear to it, but the fact that I was going to or had resolved the matter thru attorneys did not matter to the City Attorney. He was bringing misdemeanor charges against the actor and I would have to come to court.

At some point feeling overwhelmed with the attention from the press calling me from as far away as New Zealand I resisted the whole agreement and wanted it to stop. It felt as though I was being railroaded into a quick settlement; more by my own attorney than anyone else. Had I know better I would have fired him and hired someone else to represent me.

My attorney and I met in Charlie English’s office with the city attorney, to discuss my settlement and how my signed agreement would affect me legally in court. English said if I wanted to tear up the agreement all I had to do was return the payment. I hadn’t spent a cent of the money, but for some dumb reason I didn’t ask if Rubin would therefore have to return his percentage. So I did nothing.

What was also discussed was the fact that I wanted to move from Los Angeles and that I was selling everything before moving. The real concern I had was selling my car. If the paparazzi found out the car was for sale they would be all over me again. English asked, “What if we get Nicholson to buy your car from you?” Perfect. Once the agreement was made, I would drive the car until I was ready to move. When it was time, I contacted another attorney’s office, brought the title, the keys and the car. I received a cashier’s check.

I believe it was at that meeting that the subject of Nicholson’s regret and his desire to apologize to me came up. At first I didn’t want to hear from him, talk to him, nothing. But something just changed and decided it wasn’t worth being upset over.

The day came that I was to go to English’s office at noon, I came into his main office. My attorney was with me. From a back door out walked Nicholson dressed in a dark suit.

He apologized saying that he doesn’t normally do things like that to regular citizens. That the night before he had been up late filming a very emotional scene where he just found out his daughter had been killed by a drunk driver. (The movie was “The Crossing Guard;” his wife was played by Anjelica Huston.)

Ironically when I moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles I lived at Tony Richardson house for about 8 months. He was an Oscar winning director and producer and once the husband of Vanessa Redgrave & father of Natasha Richardson.

The irony is that Tony would have people over for tennis and lunch almost every Saturday and Sunday. Before I moved in, Nicholson & Huston met at one of Tony’s lunches. They then consummated their relationship in the bedroom where I slept.) I was also told that that he had found out that morning that a friend he had known for many years in the film industry had died. (An offer to see the obituary was something I declined.)

Before Jack vanished thru the back door, I asked if it was true that his high school prom date’s last name was also Blank. He seemed stunned by the question, but then said,”Yes, and she was a very nice girl.”

My oldest brother Dennis worked at the time for Fortune magazine. He told me that he got several calls from executives of major corporations asking if it was true that his brother was the one attached by Jack.

The day of or after the apology Dennis asked how it went. “Did he seem sincere?” I told him I thought he was, but if he wasn’t then I had just gotten a private performance by Jack Nicholson. Priceless!

Court day I was to meet Charlie English in the basement of the court building while we waited for Charles Rubin to arrive from another court case. Mr. English and I had a pleasant conversation about nothing in particular that I recall while we waited. Mr. Rubin arrives, am told we will be going to another floor. He also said there may be press there, but that they were not allowed into the court room.

The three of us go up the elevator all dressed in suits. (Charlie English had represented several celebrities so he was well known to the press.) When the elevator door opens, you can see about a dozen reporters sitting all together on the floor. When they see Charlie, they all jump up.
I’m thinking great, just what I DON’T want.

The two attorneys are together talking while they are walking in front of me. The reporters start staring at me with that look of, “Is he the guy?”

Instinctively I acted as if I was lost and looking for where I was heading. Not associated with the two in front of me. I even remember looking at the reporters as if they seemed very odd to me. It threw them off long enough for me to get past Charlie English being interviewed and into the court room.

Inside was filled with people in orange jumpsuits waiting for their day in court. Across the room a camera was being attached to a tripod. I sat in the first row just left of the aisle.

Someone came up to me and started clicking away with a camera about 6 or 7 inches from the right side of my head. I could hear it clicking away over and over and over again. I didn’t move a muscle. I assumed that he was hoping I would give him some expression and make his picture. So much for no reporters allowed in the court room. Finally my attorney had me sit at the table beyond the reach of the photographer.

At some point the city attorney came up to me and introduced him self. He told me he was changing the charge from a misdemeanor to attempted murder. That threw me, but I was told it was because Nicholson had hit the roof above my head and the windshield aiming towards my face. Not being a lawyer, I thought it was an odd time to make that change. No surprise English objected, the judge disapproved, and the city attorney got to look like a hero by “trying” to go after the famous actor.

The settlement came up during the court appearance, which is when we all went in to the judge’s chambers. No one wanted me to mention the amount in court.

The judge asked if I was satisfied. My answer I guess didn’t satisfy him because kept he asking more questions. I told him what was really bothering was the fact that people thought I was getting so much money I could retire. It must have been how I said it, because everyone laughed, even the court reporter. Anyway, the judge asked, “How much?” I looked at my attorney he gave the nod to answer and I did.

After leaving the court room my attorney walked with me on to the elevator. A reporter stuck a microphone on a boom into the elevator preventing the doors from closing. He kept shouting out questions. “No comment. “No comment.”

Then gently I pushed the microphone back and said we need to go. I thought, “Couldn’t my attorney have done that for me?”

I should have mentioned sooner, that my friends all know me by my middle name Scott. But my legal name is Robert Scott Blank. On the police report or any news report I was named as Robert Blank. I told my family what had happened in case they saw something in the news, I told the people at Disney, John Pike and Jeff Angel (the person that took and sold the pictures of my car).

Otherwise my friends didn’t know, and if they saw or heard something in the news about Robert Blank they didn’t make the connection.

That changed the night of the winter Olympics when skater Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were to skate before an audience of over 120,000,000 viewers.

Earlier in the day I got a call from Harvey Levin who was a reporter with the local CBS news channel at the time. He said he was doing a story about the incident and wanted the “human element.”

I told him he was going to have to do the story without me, (as I told all other reporters) that I wasn’t doing any interviews.

He told me he was very close and read off an address. I sort of laughed I thought just to myself. He picked up on it and asked, “What’s so funny?”

I told him, “You are very close to my mailbox.”

He just called back to the office, got the receptionist and asked her for the address.

About an hour later the receptionist “buzzed me” and told me someone was in the front office looking for me.

I got to her desk and there was Levin and a cameraman. The camera light was off, but it was pointed towards me. I asked them to leave that they were disrupting the office. To get them out of the office I agreed to say “no comment” in the hallway of the building on camera.

Once outside my “no comment” was unusable the way I (hmmm) messed it up. (How could a salesman mess up a line like, “No comment.”?)

That night before the two skaters went on the ice there was a fifteen minute news break on the local channel. Most of the time was devoted to “the case of the dueling Mercedes” as Levin put it.

“Behind me here”…..he went on telling a story of what occurred. (Not sure if he had the facts correct.) Then he showed my car which was in the parking garage of my office that day. Then he showed me walking in the hallway of the office building where I worked.

THEN, my phone went CRAZY. I got calls from people I hadn’t heard from in years. Call waiting just added to the number of calls.

After that night I would be having coffee, or dinner, or even in my car at a traffic light and people would recognize me. Whispering and pointing became common. I hated that more than anything else. It still amazes me that having my face on TV for such a short period of time that anyone would recognize me.

I was already over the floods, the fires, the earthquakes and the riots of Los Angeles. My new fifteen minutes of fame was what it took to get me to leave California.

When I moved from Los Angeles to Florida it was the weekend O.J. didn’t kill his wife. If I had just waited another week I would have been old news.

It was my belief that was going to be the end of the story, but it hasn’t.

Any time Nicholson would be in the news for his bad behavior the entertainment news shows would bring up the story and show the pictures.

One Saturday morning I was outside a cafĂ© having coffee reading the paper in Tampa. I was still new in town so I didn’t know very many people. That morning several people walked out the door, looked at me and said, “Hi!” with a very surprised looks on their faces. I thought it was odd, especially since it happened several times. About an hour later, someone I did know yelled across a parking lot, “Hey Blank! I just saw you on “Current Affair” last night.”

That was more amusing than anything else. I have to admit that telling the story to a few people at dinner was always a nice conversation starter. The irritating and infuriating things came later.

One thing I created myself to some degree. I got sober in October of 1992 thru Alcoholics Anonymous, over a year before this incident. Part of AA is “the 12 steps;” step 9 is “making direct amends.”

After I moved to Florida a sponsor I was working with asked me what my part was in this incident. I said that if I wasn’t so self-righteous I could have just let Nicholson get in front of me even though he was making an illegal move. (Can you hear the self righteous?) My sponsor said, “Write him a letter and make an amends for your part.”

So I wrote the letter, read it to my sponsor. All was good, so I mailed the letter. (I had Jack’s address from the paperwork selling my car.)

In the January 2004, Fiftieth Anniversary issue of Playboy, Nicholson was interviewed.

First he said he felt justified. Then he said, “And after all, he was trying to run me over”.

REALLY, are you fucking kidding me? Run you over?

“I never knew what ticked the guy off, but I can tell you this: Within the past year I got a letter of apology form him. And I accept his apology.”

After reading that I felt I had been attacked again.

IT WAS NOT AN APOLOGY, it was an AMENDS. If anyone is not clear of the difference, look up the two words in the dictionary.

I did call my former attorney Charles Ruben regarding the interview. Mentioning Nicholson’s violation of our signed agreement, Ruben said that since I sent him the letter it was OK for Nicholson to discuss it. Again, he made no legal sense. In a fax I sent to Ruben I quoted section 4.1 of the agreement:”…and Blank & Nicholson shall engage in no further discussion unless compelled to do so in a judicial proceeding”. So much for contracts and agreements.

The Biography channel’s piece on Nicholson as I mentioned before, states that I had received $500,000. Which as I said before was exaggerated, and Nicholson as far as I know has never tried to correct any misinformation. Of course why would he? It makes him look like he’s the taken advantage of famous actor. Poor guy, don’t you feel sorry for him?

I could go on, but I won’t. I just wanted to write my side of the story. Maybe one day it will be read and reported on.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Liberals tell me how…?

I ask all my liberal friends: please tell me how Geoff Colvin is wrong in his recent Fortune column?

Just because the Republican Party has devolved into a pack of Druids in bad suits doesn’t mean they can’t have a good idea now and then. And in fairness, Rep. Paul Ryan seems less Druid-like than most of them. Nor is he playing Chicken Little when he warns us that the budgetary sky is falling on top of us at this very minute, and the principal cause is Medicare.

It cost over half a trillion dollars last year and it is rising fast. “Well, the wars cost even more than that!” you reply? “So what!” says I. End them too; the hole we need to fill is big enough for both plus agriculture subsidies and one or two other big programs. (I nominate HUD, but that’s another post.)

Besides, money isn’t the only problem with the current system; it may not even be the biggest problem. Conservatives are right when they say little good comes from the government making health care decisions. That doesn’t mean they have no role to play, but when grandma is 92 and could use a new knee, or even worse, a couple of months in intensive care before finally kicking off, it is grandma and the family that should decide if the expense is really worth it – not the fact that, “Oh, what the hell, Medicare will cover it.” And grandma and the family should have some skin in the game.

Having some skin in the game would surely cut down on waste, fraud and unnecessary procedures. It might even put an end to ads for the Scooter Store (see 6/4/10 post), which is justification enough for me.

Colvin is correct in saying that “the people aren’t dummies,” at least most of the time but especially when it comes to spending their money. If you are worried that some people won’t do well at making health care decisions you would be right, but you could always join the ranks of the many that will step up and provide intelligent counseling to consumers who want it. In any event, it will cause less pain and suffering than the collapse of the entire system. Just remember, the U.S. has greater debt per capita than Greece; this isn’t a small problem we are facing.

So, how is Colvin wrong?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A question for Senator McCain

If the United States removes its troops from foreign countries but continues to be an active diplomatic voice and the largest source of both government and non-government aid, plus a major cultural and media influence around the world, how is it possible to call that isolationism?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The media conspiracy

I have a number of relatives who are Glenn Beck and Fox News fans. They regularly send me emails in which the underlying theme is that the “Lame Street” or “drive-by” media is the enabler of a liberal conspiracy to ruin America. One such email today, in combination with a sore back that kept me from going to the Y, prompted me to try to explain why this is a canard. I hate to waste nearly 600 words so I thought I’d post my response.

“I spent 30 years working for Time Warner, one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world. It doesn’t make me the ultimate authority, but I think I have some insights worth considering if you believe the New York Times leads a conspiracy to drag the country into European socialism. I can’t prove you wrong but maybe you’ll at least consider how inherently illogical such a construct is.

I’ll begin by admitting that by-and-large, media people – writers, editors, producers, etc., are more liberal in their political views than the average American. But 50% of all people are more liberal than the average American, so that in itself doesn’t mean all that much. Look to the person on your left and then on your right. One of those people is probably more liberal – or more conservative than you.

But these folks are not defined solely by their political views. They are in the main regular working folks. For every Brian Williams pulling down $10 mil a year there are hundreds of people tolling in good but not great jobs, struggling hard to find a way to find profits in an industry whose customers expect everything for free these days. It’s these people who write the words that Brian Williams speaks each night on the news.

They have mortgages to pay, children to educate, car payments and all the other pressures of modern life just as you do, and just as those with more conservatives views have. They are not exempt from tax hikes, diminished public services, union excesses or financial disasters. They are no less oppressed by political correctness or the excesses that are a part of many well-meaning government/social engineering programs. There is no special category for them; they toil daily in an industry with steadily shrinking employment.

The business they are in is the business of building an audience. There are only two ways to bring revenue into a media company. Either the consumer pays to see/hear it, or advertisers pay them a sliding fee based on the number of people consuming what they produce.

Regardless of any one person’s political point-of-view, that person puts his job in jeopardy if he gives his political views a higher priority than building a larger audience. He risks failure if he aims his story at only those who will agree with his pov; he leaves money on the table if he alienates those he knows do not share his opinions. Despites these facts, it still happens sometimes, but if it happens too often his competitors will notice and will swoop in like the Barbarian hoards and take what has been left up for grabs. It is a blood-thirsty business – the media.

Finally, when you think of Time and Newsweek, think Coke and Pepsi. NBC and CBS? GM and Ford. The New York Times and Washington Post? They are IBM and Apple. It’s impossible to prove a negative, but these companies do not get together and agree to push a set of ideas and ignore another set of ideas. Did we not have electric vehicles for decades because GM and Ford met secretly to agree not to make them? There are naive people who believe this is the case, but logic and facts suggest the reason was that the public did not want them enough to buy them – until they did, and now everyone is making them.

It is no different with the media. The media produces what it believes will sell to an audience that has highly diverse political views. The rewards accrue to those who do that job the best. There are no rewards for political dogma disconnected from the moods of the broadly defined public.”

Friday, March 4, 2011

Going underground

This is going to be my last post for a while. I’m leaving Florida in 52 days and am starting to feel a little overwhelmed by my to-do list. Keep in mind that after 16 months in retirement I find it very difficult to commit more than a few hours per day to any task not directly related to nurturing my own comfort or amusement, but that’s how it is and there isn’t much I can do about it.

There is a lot to do, however, in preparation for my move to Ohio where I plan to begin a second career as an unpaid social provocateur. I’m not ready to talk about those plans yet, but they require complex planning and preparation. In addition, I continue to work on writing a book about something. Exactly what the something is keeps shifting on me. I’m certainly no threat to Stephen King in the category of “prolific authors.” After almost a year of pecking away I’ve written about 25,000 words, which is probably about 80 or so pages; I’ve a long way to go.

I really enjoy writing the Daily Blank. Of course has never been close to a daily, but I liked the name the moment McRik proposed it over a martini at Alfredo’s one cold winter evening after work (or was it over a shot and beer at Jimmy’s Corner?). And I enjoy reading your comments and getting a little conversation going even more. The last thing I want is for writing the blog to become a chore or an obligation rather than the fun it’s been the last three + years. I hope to be back this summer once the move is complete.

So while I'm going underground, I'll still be moving. And remember, the longest road out is the shortest road home.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The U.N. strikes again

I just heard that the U.N. may consider removing Libya from their Human Rights Council, possibly as early as next week. You can always count on the U.N. to take swift and effective action when the lives of people are at stake. The bad news is that Yemen is in line to take Libya's place.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On the road to visit Bam-Bam

A Florida road trip is just not a proper road trip. A proper road trip should take place as much as possible on state or county routes or other two-lane highways. Florida is the ultimate Interstate Highway state. They are everywhere and often it is all but impossible to get from A to B without spending at least part of the trip on I-something.

Going anywhere in south Florida for me demands a run through Orlando that is a one-hour, bumper-to-bumper, 70-mile-per-hour NASCAR simulation on a good day; on a bad day it is a 90 minute slog behind an endless string of minivans and SUVs, filled with kids, driven by Midwesterners and Canadians, each one searching for Disney World, Universal Studios or Bibleland (official name: Holy Land Experience). However, they all intuitively know the one unbreakable Florida traffic law: slower moving traffic keeps to the left.

If you do find a back road worth driving you will find the parts of Florida Tosh.0 describes as “flat, hot and dumb,” not that you can see anything because you will now be behind either an RV, an SUV pulling a boat or jet-ski, a landscaping crew in a king cab pulling a trailer loaded with eight lawnmowers, a full sized pesticide van, an F-150 4x4 jacked up at least 24 inches, or a Ram Heavy-duty with four tires on the rear axle. If you pass it, another will be right there in front of you. If you are the first car stopped at a light, three of them will turn from the cross street into your intended path as you wait helplessly for the green.

Thank God for the blues. I had a couple of Roadhouse episodes on the iPod and heard some good new (to me) stuff including Doug MacLeod and Chainsaw Dupont.

I went down to Ft. Myers to see my former Fortune colleague Bruce McNaughton, now 77 and retired; that’s him above. He may be the most memorable character I’ve ever known and no one I know was ever better able to force a major corporation to shape itself around his idea of how to do his job. I learned a lot from him over the years and I wanted to ask him a few questions for a writing project I’m working on. That’s going to take some time to complete, but you might enjoy a short anecdote that sheds a good deal of light on the essence of the man.

It was 1980 and I had just joined the ad sales staff at Fortune. I was 31 which was then pretty young for the job. One quiet afternoon Bruce’s 300-pound, bald countenance suddenly filled my office doorway.

“What are you doing right now kid?” he bellowed, which was his soft voice.

“Nothing special. Why?”

“Come with me. I want to show you how to treat a customer.”

I grabbed my suit coat and followed him down the hall, down the elevator and through the lobby of the Time-Life Building. We crossed 6th Avenue past Radio City. Bruce, often referred to as BAM (an acronym for his full name: Bruce Angus McNaughton) carried a gift-wrapped box which I was sure held a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt Whisky.

“Where are we going?”

“BBDO” he shouted over his shoulder as I struggled to keep up. At Fifth Avenue he turned north in front of Sak’s.

“I thought we were going to BBDO” I asked. ”Why are we going uptown?”

“I need to pick up the rest of the parade.”

At 54th Street there was a busker dressed in full Scottish garb – kilt, sporran, tam – the works -- playing the bagpipes, a tip box at his feet. Bruce handed him a twenty and commanded him to follow us as we turned towards Madison and continued our journey to BBDO.

We entered their building and in those pre-9/11 days there were no ID checks or other formalities. We got in an elevator and Bruce punched 18. At 16 the last people in the car who were not part of our little parade got out. As soon as the doors closed Bruce shouted, “Hit it!”

I simply lack the words to describe what it feels like to be in an enclosed elevator car inches from a bagpiper in full throttle. I’ll just say it’s nothing I recommend unless you’re the sort of person who sits in the first row of the Daytona 500 without ear protection and enjoys it.

The doors opened on the executive floor of BBDO and the world stood still. The receptionist rose half way up and froze in her place. We marched out of the car and past her without a pause; Bruce in the lead followed by the piper and then me. I felt like the guy the Second City cast had pulled out of the audience to be a part of some unfathomable improvisation. I nodded sheepishly to the receptionist who looked right through me.

We entered the office space and time stopped. The pipe’s volume ended all phone calls and conversations instantly. It was as if someone had pushed the ignition button on an F-16 inside the building. Heads popped up from cubes. Closed office doors opened and open doors filled with gob-smacked faces.

We turned down one corridor and then another until we reached a corner office where the object of our visit stood slack-jawed in awe of the approaching chaos. I’ve long since forgotten who he was; he could not have been too important or Bruce would have worn his full Scottish kit as well. This fellow was important, but ranked only a bottle of Glenfiddich and a serenade. When I visited Bruce last week he confirmed that he made this sort of musical presentation a number of times and he did not recall this particular event.

But I can guarantee you that the recipient never forgot it, or the man who brought the magic to his door.