Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#282 In which our hero recounts his quest for the perfect man bag (part 1)

I have a long history with man bags.

It started in college where, like everyone else, I had a backpack to hump around my books. I believe it was the same backpack I used in high school. Some of the backpacks I see today are really cool with ergonomic strap placement and multiple zippered pockets and WiFi and God knows what else... but the bag I used was a plain old blue nylon backpack.

And this served me well for the first couple years of school. Then I came across an army gas mask bag at the Army-Navy store near campus. It was made of heavy, well worn canvas. I thought it was really cool.

And yes, I drew a unicorn on it with a black Sharpie. I hoped it would look like a cool military emblem, but it's clearly more Hello Kitten then Semper Fi. Regardless, I hauled around a lot of books in it.

After I graduated college, I didn't really have a need for a book bag any more. I worked in a restaurant for a while, then got a job at The Columbus Dispatch newspaper. There was nothing to carry to and from work, other than my lunch, and I just carried that in a plastic bag.

After I left that job and moved to Cleveland, I was suddenly in need of a bag again. I was taking the train to work every day, and carried with me the newspaper, a book, my lunch and any work I may have taken home with me.

So I found a new bag.

I got this from The Fray, a website that used to be something very different than it is today. When they offered an interesting messenger bag via CafePress (a brand-spanking new online service at the time) I bought one.

This bag carried dozens of books and hundreds of newspapers on my daily commute. I loved how obnoxiously bright and yellow it was. It also saw me through a couple layoffs and one firing. Presumably unrelated to my choice of bags.

I was still carrying this bag when I came to the agency where I'm working today. However, by this time I was more serious about my career, and I was starting to think that I would be better off with a more professional-looking accessory. So I bought this:

I was hot for hemp at the time (not like that!) so I was really happy when I found an all-natural hemp messenger bag (this one was from Ecolution). This is the bag I've been using for the last two years and it's been great. Well, for the most part. My only complaint is that the bag is a little bit... floppy.

And, now that I look at it again, it sorta looks like a woman's purse. 

So, even though I liked my hemp bag, I continued to search for something better: the perfect man bag. Much like I had been enamoured with hemp, later I decided that canvas was the way to go. So I searched around on the Internet and found this:

Cool bag, but just as floppy as my hemp one. I was becoming clear that I just wasn't going to be happy unless I found a bag with some body to it. Thinking back to my college days, I tried another military bag:

It, too, was made of a canvas too thin to hold its shape. This was also a reminder to pay better attention to dimensions when ordering online. This bag, even if it was heavy enough, is too small to carry everything I need it to carry.

So I continued to search. And did you know that there are numerous websites which have hundreds of bags from which to choose? I wasn'tsurprised, but I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of styles.

However, most of the messenger style bags which I favored where made of nylon, which just didn't appeal. That said, a quick google search for "canvas messenger bags" gave a lot of results. But, I was now gun shy of ordering a canvas bag in fear of it being too thin and floppy yet again.

I also half-heartedly looked at leather bags. Most of the leather ones just didn't do it for me... most were of a thin leather that wasn't as rugged-looking as I would like (and again, many  looked more like a purse than a manly-man's bag).

Then I found it.

I was flipping though the Filson catalog one day. Filson is an outdoor clothing outfitter, kinda like L.L. Bean on steroids. My one brother-in-law favors their clothes so I've seen them up close... their "tin cloth" material seems durable enough to damn near stop a bullet. But, unbeknownst to me, they also manufacturer other stuff besides clothing, including footwear, luggage, hats... and leather goods. Including this:

The Filson Leather Field Satchel.

I feel in love with this thing as soon as I saw it. It was everything I was looking for in a bag: sturdy, cool-looking, professional in appearance... it had it all.

It also had an impressive price tag: $795. Seven HUNDRED and ninety-five dollars.

I know to a lot of people that price might seem a little steep, but not outrageous. Well, I'm here to tell you, it IS outrageous.

Because here's the thing: I have done some leathercraft over the years, and I know that even the finest leather materials don't come close to justifying that kind of cost. And I didn't believe that there was an unreasonable amount of labor in it, either.

I suppose, like anything else, if you don't know what goes into making something, then you can only assume that the given price is a fair one. Looking at this bag you might assume that $795 (plus shipping) is the going price and that's all there is to it. But I knew better and there was no way in hell that I was going to pay that much money.

Then I really stopped and studied it. And I came to a realization:

I could MAKE this bag myself.

To be continued.





Advertising can suck.

Not advertising in the sense of a commercial coming on just as the movie was getting good, or half a dozen inserts falling into your lap when you open a magazine. I mean Advertising, the industry, capital “A.”

I’ve been working in advertising for almost 12 years. I’m a copywriter, and in the decade plus since I’ve been a professional advertising writer, I’ve written copy for nearly everything you can name: print, TV, radio, online, direct response, experiential, outdoor… I’ve never done skywriting, even though I’ve suggested it a couple times.

My experience in this industry is that most everything you do is extremely frustrating. Nine out of ten times when you recommend something interesting, engaging or “out of the box” (dear God how I hate that overused term) the client tells you how much they love it, how much they appreciate your thinking… then they take the safe, boring route.

I’ve seen great ideas destroyed by a casual glance. Wonderful concepts die a painful death because another idea is 2% cheaper to produce. Powerful executions that never see the light of day because the client is too cowardly to take even the smallest chance.

I’ve written entire ad campaigns knowing that it was an exercise in futility; that the client was too enamored by the status quo to give my ideas more than a passing glance.

As I’ve gotten more experience and become better at my job, it seems like the clients have pulled back even more, become terrified to try something fresh. I’ve never had a shortage of idea, just a shortage of client with nerve.

And I’m not even talking crazy, wild ideas. Just things that haven’t been done a thousand times before. Something that’s not a print ad with a coupon. A 30-second radio spot. A banner ad that links back to the client’s (worthless) website.

Over the years, my frustration has done nothing but increase. There are days when I can barely stand the monotony of writing the same bullshit claims for the same bullshit products over and over. Days when I’d love to spit in the eye of the sycophantic account managers who are nothing more than order-takers for the client. Times when the sheer banality of my job forces me to get up and walk away from my keyboard before I start to weep.

But then, there are days like today.

Today I sat down with an art director to brainstorm some concepts for a corporate video. I’ve worked with this guy a lot, and we’re good partners. We think along the same lines. Oddly enough, when we work together I often come up with visual ideas, and he comes up with copy ideas.

We walked into a conference room with ZERO ideas. This video is going to come together quickly, and we needed something, and we needed it now.

Ten minutes in, we had the skeleton of an idea. Twenty minutes in, it had flesh and began to breathe. We played off each other’s thoughts, each building on the last, improving with every step. We finished each other’s sentences. We got up and paced the room, getting excited about our shared vision.

This is why I’m still in advertising. This is what makes it all worthwhile.

When you work with someone smart and creative and collaborative to pluck fantastic ideas out of thin air and mold them with your brains to create something amazing… there’s nothing else like it. Nothing for me, at least.

We came up with a truly kick-ass idea. And because we were working against two other teams and didn’t want to walk into the presentation with just one concept… we did it again. The second idea wasn’t as inspired as the first, but it was still damn good.

And they got better as I put them on paper, working out the details, finessing the language, adding in little things that maybe only mattered to us. My partner and I talked about it some more, hammered out some things we didn’t agree on, and they got better yet.

I live for days like this.

Of course, it will never be filmed as we envisioned it today. In fact, it may never go any farther than the client pitch. And even if it does, it’ll be picked apart, watered down and chewed up until only the remains bare only the slightest resemblance to what we dreamed up.

And that’s okay.

Because today was about creating a great idea for a corporate video, and we did that. Big time. Hours later, I’m still jazzed about it. This is why I got into advertising. This is what it’s all about.

I love my job.




#281 In which our hero relates the events of The Great Daycare Debacle (part 5)

But, before we confronted the director, we needed a back-up plan. The Scientist and I were trying our best to be fair, and were willing to hear this guy out… but we both expected the conversation to end the same way: with us yanking the girls out of that daycare on the spot. And if that was going to happen, we needed somewhere else to put them.

We revisited the list of acceptable daycare centers in the area. On was still out because they wouldn’t transport Lily to Kindergarten. We went round and round, but kept coming back to the one center that I liked so much, but was too expensive.

The Scientist got creative with our finances, and it began to appear like we could swing it, just. Or maybe we’d be slowly sinking into debt. Either way, we had gone the cheap route once, and it had bit us on the ass. We weren’t going to do that to the girls again. You get what you pay for, after all, and we were willing to pay what it took, even if it meant maintaining more debt than we wanted for longer than we wanted.

We called the “good” center first thing in the morning and scheduled a meeting. We dropped the girls off at the “bad” center, then headed right over to the other place.

We told this new director our tale of woe, and she was horrified. She reassured us that the children always come first, and that they’d never transport in a private car, and they had an established curriculum, etc., etc. I had already been there once, so I had heard all this before. We talked money and how soon the girls could start (immediately, was the answer, thankfully) and so on. We told the director of this new place that we still needed to talk to the director of the old place first. She was very understanding. We took a bunch of paperwork with us, and drove over to the “bad” center.

The director of this center is a very cheerful guy. A very “no problem!” sort of guy. While this is generally a good attribute, it wasn’t winning him any points when he told us that the illegal turn and subsequent citation was “no big deal.”

We sat down and asked him to tell us what happened. He repeated the story pretty much as it had been told to me the day before from the teacher. She made an illegal turn, got pulled over, was so upset that she couldn’t drive back to the center.

So I asked, “She was cited for an illegal turn on red? That was the ONLY citation?” And he assured me that yes, that was the only citation.

Then I told him that Lily had told us that the teacher’s license was expired.

He danced around this for a moment before confirming that, well, yes, as it turns out, her license was expired. We told him that we were pretty horrified that he didn’t know that one of the teachers in his employ was transporting kids with an expired driver’s license. I mean, isn’t that his job to keep track of things like that? He told us that it wasn’t expired when he put her on the center’s insurance.

He tried to glad-hand us some more, reassuring us that he really was taking the situation seriously, but that in actuality it was no big deal. Frankly, I had heard enough already, and decided to end it right then and there.
ME: So, when you told me that Miss A--- was only cited for an illegal turn on red, that wasn’t the truth.
DIRECTOR: Well, at the time, I didn’t know her license had expired.
ME: But when I asked you the question ten minutes ago, you DID know.
DIRECTOR: Well, um, yes, I guess I did.
ME: Okay, we’re done here.

We pulled out the kids on the spot and took them over to the new center.

The director of the new place was very accommodating, and let the girls spend the rest of the day there, getting used to the place. We took a little time with the director, making sure she knew Lily’s schedule of when she had to get to school, and when she had to be picked up.

I was a little concerned that no other kids in the center were going to Lily’s Kindergarten, meaning that she was the only one to be transported to this particular school. This was the issue at the last place. But the director assured us that it wouldn’t be a problem. And I wasn’t really all that worried; this place had it’s act together.

We picked up the girls at the end of the day, and they had had a fantastic time. They actually didn’t want to leave. Very encouraging.

The Scientist dropped Lily off at school in the morning, after briefing her on how she was going to get back to the center at the end of the school day. Things were going seamlessly.

Then, at 3pm, the school called my wife. No-one from the new center had shown to pick up Lily.

I was furious. Bad enough to think that my little 5-year-old daughter was standing at the bus stop waiting, waiting, waiting for a bus that never came; but we had just told the director at the new center about all the bullshit we went through in the past couple months. She was SO horrified and SO sympathetic and now this?!

As my wife was rushing out of work to pick up Lily, I called the center.
ME: Let me speak to the center director.
FLUNKY: I’m sorry, she’s out right now. This is the assistant director, can I help you?
ME: Yes, you'll do. This is Lily’s father—
FLUNKY: Oh yes! We’re just waiting for Lily to get back.
ME: Well, you’re going to be waiting a long damn time because the school just called to say that your bus never showed up!

She was, of course, very apologetic and blah, blah, blah. I drove over there after work to talk to the director, who was equally apologetic. She is a bit of an over-talking and rushed over my words in her haste to reassure me that this would never happen again and I finally had to say, let me finish! to say my peace.

She told me that it was just a scheduling problem, that they thought they could make a stop at another school before picking Lily up but it took longer than they thought and it was fixed now and would never be a problem again.

Then, the next day, it happened again.

While I am quick to anger, my wife is much less so. But after having to leave work early two days in a row she was in a rage to put mine to shame.

This time, the bus actually got there, but just after the school’s cut-off time. The school, which is really strict about these things, told the bus driver, basically, sorry Charlie, and wouldn’t release Lily. And honestly, I’d glad of it. I like it that her school has a no compromises policy on stuff like this.

So, we had another discussion with the center director. We told her that if she couldn't get her act together enough to pick up our kid on time, that we were gone. She told us that she had a new plan, that they were actually going to get another bus from a nearby center and that she, the center director, was personally going to drive Lily to and from school.


I’m pleased to report that this new center has been successfully transporting my kid for months now. No emergency calls from the school. No problems.

And both girls love it at this place. They are learning things, and we get daily report cards on their progress.

It took some doing, but it would appear that we finally got it right.





#280 In which our hero relates the events of The Great Daycare Debacle (part 4)

So it came to pass that I didn’t get to any of the projects I had planned for when I had the house to myself, because I was too busy calling and visiting daycare centers. I stuck to commercial centers (we weren’t going to put our kids into private care again) that were reasonably close to the house, so that narrowed the choices down to four.

Finding daycare this time around was a little trickier, since Lily would be going to Kindergarten in the fall, meaning the center would have to transport her to school in the morning, and pick her up at the last bell. Then she’d be at the center until The Scientist or I could pick her up around 5:30.

One school on the list didn’t transport to her Kindergarten, so it was right out. Another one was at the intersection of two really busy streets, and I thought it would be a nightmare getting in and out of there. A third was fantastic, but just too expensive.

That left one.

This center was housed in an old schoolhouse, so it had plenty of big, spacious classrooms. But “old” is the key word here. It was a little run-down… not dilapidated, but certainly not new. The basement smelled like mildew. The (admittedly large) playground had old, rusted climbing toys. And a swing set without any swings.

I had my reservations, but the people (especially the center director) were really nice. The classroom sizes were small, meaning that our kids would be getting lots of individualized attention. And they had a curriculum plan in place so the girls would be learning something. And we could afford it.

And, honestly, I was running out of time.

I really wanted to put our kids in the awesome center, but since we didn’t have the money, this was probably the next best thing. Or, maybe the only viable option.

So, The Scientist and the girls returned from their trip on Sunday, and we got them ready for the new place on Monday. The beginning of Kindergarten was still a couple months away, which was good in that it gave Lily plenty of time to acclimate to the new place before another disruptive element was added to the routine.

The girls quickly settled in to the new center. And things were fine… not great, but fine.

There were some things that didn’t really raise a red flag, but were a little… off. The woman who monitored the girls first thing in the morning was strange. Quiet, withdrawn, emotionless. Not someone you’d look at and say, “Oh, she just LOVES children!”

After a week or so there, we asked the girls if they were having lessons. They said they weren’t. This confirmed something that we had seen… it appeared that no matter what time of day we picked up, they were just playing. Education is very important to both The Scientist and I, and when asked about the curriculum the center director kept telling us that the teachers were “working on it.”

And then one day some little bastard in the classroom wrote “Kick Me” on the back of Lily’s white shirt, in ink.

We knew this wasn’t the best situation, just an emergency fix. And again, it was what we could afford. We rationalized it by saying that Lily would soon be attending Kindergarten, and would only be spending a few hours at the center. And Macey… well, Macey got the short end of the stick. But there wasn’t much we could do about it.

Lily eventually started going to Kindergarten. We had some bothersome conversations with the center director about transportation. We made it clear that she had to be AT school at a certain time, and had to be picked up FROM school at a certain time. His attitude was very much, “don’t worry, we’ll get her there one way or another!” Which isn’t what we wanted to hear… he may have been lackadaisical about it, but we wanted to know EXACTLY when she would be getting there and EXACTLY who would be driving her to school.

The center had some scheduling issues with Lily. Since she was the only one being dropped off/picked up at this particular school, they had to work around it to get all the other kids where they needed to be. I tried to be understanding and considerate about this… but the director said, “Eh, if she’s a little late, she’s a little late.” To which I relied, “No, she can’t be a little late. She needs to be on time, and it’s YOUR job to make sure she’s on time.”

Things came to a head a couple months later.

At this point Lily was being transported by a teacher in her car instead of the center’s van. This made us a little bit nervous, but we were told that the teacher was "certified" to transport children, whatever that meant. And I guess it didn’t really make a difference if it was a van or a car, right?

One afternoon I showed up to pick up the girls, and Lily’s teacher rushed over to me. She told me that there was an incident, and she wanted to explain what happened before we heard it from Lily.

It seems that this teacher made an illegal right turn on red, and was pulled over for it. She had never gotten a ticket in her life before, and was so upset by the situation, she explained to me, that the center director had to come pick her and Lily up.

Now, I wasn’t that upset by this. I mean, I knew the intersection she was talking about, and even though it’s labeled no right on red, I could see making that mistake. And I’ve been ticketed myself for an illegal turn on red. Lily wasn’t upset or frightened by the experience, and there was no accident or near-miss that might have put her in harm’s way. I was prepared to let it slide.

Then, Lily and I had a conversation on the way home:
ME: Lily, what happened today?
LILY: Nothing.
ME: No? You didn’t have a police man stop you on the way home?
LILY: Oh yeah! Miss A--- broke a law!
ME: I heard! And were you frightened when it happened?
ME: Was Miss A--- upset?
LILY: No, not really.
ME: No? She wasn’t crying or anything?
ME: Did the police man say anything to her?
LILY: Yeah! He said she turned wrong.
ME: Yes, she sure did.
LILY: He also said that her license died a year ago.
ME: Wait, what did he say?
LILY: He said her license died a year ago.
ME: Did he maybe say her license expired a year ago?
LILY: Yeah! That’s what he said!

No-one had said anything to me about her license being expired, and I had no reason not to believe my daughter. She sometimes tells tales, but this didn’t seem like something she could make up.

The Scientist was equally concerned about this development. A minor traffic infraction is one thing, but being lied to was something entirely different.

Now, driving on an expired license is a dumb thing, but not necessarily a dangerous thing. It wasn’t like this teacher would drive safer with a valid license. But the real issue was that we were be lied to. Or, at the very least, not told the entire truth.

This incident, in addition to all the other little things that we didn’t like, pretty much decided it for us. We didn’t want the girls there any longer. If the teachers would lie about something like this, then they might lie about other, more important things. And we were not going to leave our kids in a facility that we didn’t trust.

So, we planned to confront the center director the next morning.

To be concluded.