Archive for May, 2010

How To Be a Real Man

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I’m not going to get into the inspiration behind the point of this post simply because it would take too long to write and it would muddy the purpose.

A conversation I was having with a girl friend of mine got me thinking about what it means to be a real man. I’ve been reading GQ and Esquire every month for the better part of the last few years. Esquire more than GQ often cites small examples of what it means to be man, a gentlemen, basically instructions for how to behave in situations ranging from the professional, to the personal, to the intimate.

If I were to distill this overall “man” behavior to one word I’d say that word is respect.

Respect for oneself. Respect for others. Respect for tradition… and to some extent, change.

Respect for oneself can be defined in so many ways. My means to defining respect, in all it’s forms, is not an exhaustive list of rules. No. It’s more a general set of guidelines that provide a little room for interpretation given that every man and every situation he faces has different variables.

  • It can be expressed in the way you dress. Style is subjective and can run the gamut of tastes. But taking care to make sure it’s clean, and that it at least looks like some degree of thought was put into your outfit, that’s a form of self respect.
  • Speaking in public spaces about topics that are better left between friends in a more private setting.
    • Don Draper (of Mad Man fame) has a classic line. He said, “take off your hat.” In a short elevator scene on the way up to Sterling Cooper, Don is in the elevator with an older woman. Two young guys step onto the elevator and continue their off-color conversation. Don shoots a look. They continue. Don then says, sternly, “take off your hat.” Straight-faced, eyes focused and unwavering. The guys knew his statement had zero to do with hats and everything to do with ending their conversation while in the presence of a woman. The woman glanced back over her shoulder and Don did nothing other than stare at her briefly. No knowing head nod or wink to let her know he had taken care of it. For him, it was all in a day’s work of being a man.
  • Try to do it well. Whatever “it” is doesn’t matter. When a man engages in an activity, it is a reflection of his values and his capacity to do. If “it” is his career, the effort he puts into it is a reflection of his work ethic. If “it” is the shelves he is putting up to house his entertainment center, the effort he puts into making sure the wires aren’t visible and that everything is level and clean is a reflection of his character.
  • A gracious loser. A man knows he cannot win every time. Despite his best efforts, which are a reflection of his mettle, there will be losses. Respect yourself and your opponent enough to be gracious about your defeat… just make sure you learned from the loss and obliterate them in the rematch.
  • No man is above apologizing… or crying.
  • I once read a quote that said something like, “A man’s true character lies in how he treats someone who is of no consequence to him.” Basically meaning that a CEO who treats an assistant with respect by offering a “please” and “thank you” rather than a barked order is a man of quality and professionalism. Respect for others.
  • Although this sounds cliche, a man knows the right thing to do isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
    • This probably needs it’s own site the topic can be so vast and confusing, but the truth is simple… when a man is breaking up with a woman, he knows that being direct, honest, and having that conversation as soon as you begin feeling like it’s time to move on is what it takes to remain true to what it means to be a man.
    • Esquire had a great table of how to break up based on how long you’ve known each other. Like one date meant you could call her to let her know you weren’t interested. Three dates or more, in person. Text Msg, never.
  • A man isn’t scared to fight. He doesn’t go looking for one as that is the province of juveniles and the uneducated. Solving differences of opinion with words is the truest form of being a man. Defending oneself when if something should come to blows is another one of manhood’s truest forms. Provoking a fight, is unacceptable.
  • Love in all it’s forms is where a real man has lots of room for interpretation. Writing poetry, buying flowers and candy… sure, for some men that’s fine. It pushes the boundaries of my definition, but those things have their time and place. Holding her pocketbook while she shops, that’s tough, but also semi-acceptable. Reading to his children and acting like child when playing with them, completely acceptable form of expression of love and still being considered a real man.
  • Opening doors, listening, being patient, honest, and complimentary are all the qualities a real man has when he is around women.
  • A real man can mix it up when he is with the boys. Crass remarks, the retelling of ethnic jokes, bathroom humor, also acceptable forms of being man… so long as their done during long car trips, at a camp site, and no women are around to hear the men let loose and unwind.
  • Real men believe in something and would fight for that belief. Political, religious, whatever. A man doesn’t impose his view of the world on others, no, but he will listen, discuss, and debate his points of view with anyone.
  • Gentlemen are well read, traveled, and know a thing or two about other cultures.
  • Men should their way around a woman’s body… although lots of practice is the preferred way of men, paying attention to her movements, subtle gasps, twitches, leans, and words is another way.
  • A man doesn’t use pick-up lines. He uses genuine interest in the woman and conversation.
  • He can spot the clues. A touch of her hand on his shoulder, a lingering stare, the closeness of her body to his when there’s plenty of space to keep a distance.
  • Even if she’s open to it, a man knows to limit the dirty jokes around her (and by limit I do mean RARELY). Sure they can get a laugh, but too many and you’re pervert. One or two and you’re a man who can push a boundary but in a comical way that breaks the tension and shows a lighter side to balance his serious one.
  • A man always expects to pay. For dinner. For drinks. For the cab. If she offers, decline. If she offers again, accept. This changes when there is a relationship there, several months long and a stated commitment. A dating man is a gentlemen and when he does the inviting, he’s is paying.
    • If she invites, still expect to pay. If she’s worth your time, she’ll offer to pay before the bill comes or when she invited you.
  • Men shouldn’t gossip. It’s unbecoming. Sometimes a story needs to be retold, or a rumor needs to get some clarity or confirmation. Things aren’t always so cut and dry. A man can rise above this stuff, and should, but every now and then it’s ok for a man to get a little more information about something. “Did she really do that? Wow.”
    • A man doesn’t start the rumor. He also, when possible, removes himself from the area when certain topics are being discussed. Especially when in the confines of a professional setting. Sure the intern is cute, but that’s something you tell only your closest friends and outside of the office… if at all.
  • Honest with himself and others. He doesn’t tell half truths. He stays silent or doesn’t comment.
  • He faces problems and asks for help if he needs it.
  • He understands that he is not an island and the weight of the world isn’t on his shoulders. He realizes that his actions affect others.

There is a lot a man should be, but is not. All men should aspire to live to these ideals because even if you can’t hit upon all of them, you may achieve many of them. And well, that’s not so bad.

Go forth and be men… ya jag-offs.

Gentlemen, Remove This From The Playbook

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Men, I’ve obtained some intel from behind enemy lines. It’s imperative that you listen to what’s been gathered and act immediately to remove this from our playbook.

Tonight on my commute home I had one of the more rare occurences happen. I had an attractive girl sit next to me. And I don’t mean sit in the same block of 3 seats where there was one between. Oh no. She was right next to me. After a near sleepless night I was feeling very tired and didn’t even notice her step onto the train. We hadn’t even finished the boarding process before I began to doze off. I was taken from the brink of sleep as she was making herself comfortable in the seat next to me.

About 20 seconds after she sat down a guy who looked older than me (I’m 35, btw) walked by her and tossed her a folded up napkin. He wasn’t slick about it. He didn’t linger. In fact, it almost looked like he was getting rid of some garbage. He tossed it to her lap, made some quick gesture as if to say “that’s yours” and then walked away quickly to a seat several rows back from us. He may have said something to her, but I had my headphones on I wasn’t about to let this guy break into Sometime Around Midnight from The Airborne Toxic Event. Nuh uh.

So the cute redhead began to unfold the napkin, wondering she told me later if he had “blown his nose into it or something gross.” On it, his name and phone number. Kevin 917-???-????. I laughed a little bit, she laughed, and the woman to her right laughed. Mind you, we weren’t laughing laughing. We were just giving a quick 3 second laugh and that was it.

I began thinking about it. What did he expect to happen? Was he speaking with her before they got on the train? Was this phone number on a napkin the natural progression of conversation? Had he missed his chance to just man up and ask for it when they were chatting? Were they even chatting?! I had to know. It was driving me crazy.

Since I’ve begun commuting on the Long Island Railroad I’ve made sure to arm myself with a pen and pad because there is a lot of, shall we say, inspiration on the train. I wrote the following down on the pad and angled it towards the girl for her to read:

“I don’t know if ‘he’ is close by so I don’t want to ask out loud… were you talking to the guy who dropped his number on you or was that completely out of the blue?”

I still had my headphones on. She motioned with her head “no.” To which I wrote, “Wow. Ballsy.” She began laughing and must have said something I couldn’t hear, so I took my headphones off and wrote on the pad one last time, “No chance of that working on you, eh?” She said “no.”

Gentlemen, remove this from our playbook. Apparently attractive women who you haven’t spoken with in any meaningful way do not respond well to folded up napkins thrown at them on crowded NYC rush hour trains.

I know! I was shocked too.

I had considered asking, “Well what would work?” but it would have been way too transparent. This guy’s “move” ruined it for the guy lucky enough to be sitting next to her (me!).

Gentlemen, remember that unless you’ve put in some work, don’t go c-blocking your bretheren by pulling some ridiculous move like the folded napkin toss. FFS!

I figured at that point the only way to advance on this mission was to tell her that I was going to write this up. It worked insofar as it piqued her curiosity enough for her to ask where I’d write it up.

Towards the end of her time on the train (her stop was several stops before mine) I offered her a chance to read this and provided her with the URL alexflores.net. She mentioned she was looking forward to reading it.

After sharing a too soon “nice to meet you” and spending an awkward 4 more minutes sitting there silently next to each until we reached her stop, she said good bye and walked off the train. I got a good look at her as she walked on the platform past where I was sitting. Just in terms of pure style I can’t see how the dude who pulled the FNT (folded napkin toss) move could have expected anything to come of it. He was a blue collar-looking Long Islander in his mid-to-late 30s  wearing a gray hoodie, white t, and jeans.

This girl of the red-dyed hair and leopard print body suit, rockin’ the 4 rings (2 on each hand), dark skinny jeans, hipster jacket that skewed almost leather bomber in it’s length but not nearly as bulky, or leather, while was she walked by sportin’ the Doc Martens, was definitely way out of his league… stylistically speaking.

Basically she is my polar opposite in terms of style… which makes us perfect for each other!

Email me. You cute red-haired temptress. She who denied a man his dream by throwing away the folded napkin. Email me tonight! Send it to: alex at alexflores dot com

Chat with you soon.

On Wine

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

At times, I can be that guy at a restaurant. I try hard not to be, but given that I like the stuff so much and actually read the magazines about it, it’s tough to keep from applying what I know.

I’m talking about being the guy who accepts the one ounce (or less) pour of wine, swirls it a bit, pushes his nose into the glass to take in the bouquet, and then says “alright.”

Back in early 2003, when I was 28 years old, I began drinking wine. I had no knowledge of the stuff whatsoever. I thought I liked Cabernet more than Merlot and I knew I liked red more than white. That was the extent of my knowledge. A good bottle, for me, was something in the $12 to $20 range.

My girlfriend at the time wasn’t a beer, or mixed drink, drinker. She liked Merlot. I was coming into my own professionally and emotionally. I had been through a 4 year relationship that taught me a lot about myself and I was feeling more, “adult.” I began reading, and still do to this day, Esquire magazine every month. You know how in their magazine in the MAHB section (Man at His Best) they have “The Rules” at the bottom of the page? There was one rule I read that stated “Know wine, but don’t say you know wine.”

It was then that I began watching Simply Wine, at show on Fine Living hosted by Master Sommelier Andrea Immer. In the 30 or so episodes I watched over the course of 6 months I learned SO much about regions, varietals, vintages, blends, and wine making in general. My girlfriend couldn’t stand Andrea. She could come off a little annoying at times, but that Andrea definitely knew her wine.

Simply Wine wasn’t the only thing I used to teach me about wine. I was reading Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast every month too. I began to understand what a vintage report meant and how to use it. I read them so often that after a few months I was able to walk into a wine shop and know without referring to the vintage report cards which region, during which growing season, produced what varietals, best.

The first bottle I bought that cost over $20 was a 1999 Silver Oak. It’s a Napa Valley cabernet aged in 100% new American oak barrels. I bought it on a wine shop on Beacon St. just outside Fenway in Boston. It was close to $70. I remember when we opened it up and had a taste. The difference could be said to have come from my mind as much as it was from the wine itself, but it was SO MUCH better than anything I had before. From that point forward I began buying bottles at an average of $45 to $60 per. Honestly, none quite lived up to that first Silver Oak experience, but the quality of the over $40 bottles was easily distinguishable from those under the $20 price point.

I won’t get into it in this post, but in 2005, about two years into my passion for wine, I wound up moving to San Francisco with my girlfriend. We spent just a smidge under 2 years there and we went to Napa almost every month. My wine education was catapulted, not into snobbery, but into a full-on hobby. I upgraded from a wine rack to a 20-bottle fridge, then to a 35-bottle one, and then onto a 50. Decanters, restaurant-grade corkscrews, Riedel stemware, all these could be found in my home.

Aside from my first sip of Silver Oak, my most memorable wine experience came in September 2005 in Las Vegas. My best friend and I went to Vegas together about a month or two ahead of his wedding. I brought with me a bottle of 1967 Chateau Latour. It was funny because I flew to LV from SF and he came from NYC. The bottle was at my sister’s house on Long Island and I made him pick it up from there to bring to LV for us to have with our big dinner at the top of the needle at the Stratosphere. He was so concerned about how “gay” we looked that every chance he had to put into the conversation with the hostess, the waiter, the sommelier, and even the chef when we met him, that “my best friend and I are in Vegas because I’m getting married to a woman in a couple of months.” It was hilarious.

What I remember about that wine wasn’t so much the wine as the experience. The sommelier came over with the bottle and said, “Wow, we don’t see many of these come through the door. Where’d you get it?” I told him about Wine Commune’s web site and how I bought it at auction. He hadn’t heard of it and so he wrote it down and said he’d def. go there to check out the auctions.

I had learned from my reading wine magazines and web sites that if you offer the sommelier a taste of your wine, they’re more likely to wave the corkage fee. Towards the end of our meal, I asked the waiter to bring the sommelier over. When he arrived I offered him, and the chef, a taste. He was so genuinely happy to accept that he rushed away to get himself and the chef a couple of glasses. They came over, chatted with us for awhile, and asked if we enjoyed everything.

When the bill came, no corkage fee was applied and the desserts were on the house.

What I’ve found in the last 7 years of drinking wine pretty regularly is that what I remember most about the great bottles I’ve had isn’t so much the wine as it has been the occasion… and the people with me during the occasion. There’s the 1997 Groth I had when I left Boston to move to Los Angeles. It was at my going away party and I had several friends there to drink it with me. There was the 97 point 2003 Sea Smoke Ten I drank on New Year’s Eve 2006 in San Francisco at One Market. The vertical of Sea Smoke Tens (2002, 2003, 2004) I had with a special someone on Long Island in March 2008 before I left for LA.

I guess the last thing to say about wine is this… you can buy really good, quality wines for less than $20 (try Cabs from Washington State and South Africa, Malbecs from Argentina, Pinots from Oregon, Chards from Santa Barbara or Long Island, and Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand), and you won’t really taste the difference between those and $50 to $75 bottles. The difference will come from the occasion surrounding the more expensive bottle.

What Does Coffee Make You Think About?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

My office recently switched coffee machines. We went from a Keurig pod-based machine to a Flavia single-packet one. It was a change that happened democratically. The office was using Keurig for I don’t know how long, then one day the Flavia machine was installed. After a few days of Flavia an email was sent out asking everyone to vote on which one we’d keep.

Flavia won in a landslide.

I was not happy.

So there’s the background. I am sitting here wondering what to write about. With all that is going on in the world; the oil spill in the Gulf, the Supreme Court nomination of Kagan, the continued story on the attempted Times Sq. car-bombing, the only thing I feel qualified and informed enough to write about is coffee.

How sad is that?

How sad is that when it comes to things I believe I can write about intelligently, coffee, advertising, baseball, and wine are the only things that come to mind?

When I think about coffee and what it means to me there are so many ways to write about it. The first way to write about it begins with my first memories and impressions of the stuff. They lead me to thinking about my father as a younger man. He’s 73 years old now and has been drinking coffee for better than 60 years. Every. Day. He’s told me stories about his mother making him coffee before he’d go out to sell newspapers each morning before school. I remember being a kindergartner, an elementary school kid, a high schooler, and now a 35 year old adult, and to this day, seeing my father drink his coffee and read his newpaper. For me, in this first way to write about coffee, it’s an emotional connection to my past that makes me happy and sad at the same time. Sad that it’s coming to an end in the coming years, happy that I have such great memories of something so seemingly trivial. A man and his coffee.

The second way to think about it is when I became a full-on coffee drinker and addict. I was 26 years old, just turned, and starting a job at Mullen. This was back in October 2000 when Mullen was still located in Wenham, MA. I didn’t own a car for the first 9 months of working there, despite living all the way in Fenway (Boston proper for those who don’t know). I’d take the T to North Station and then the Rockport line to Montserrat where my friend Matt would pick me up on his way to the office.  I began drinking coffee each morning at the Dunkin Donuts in North Station. After only a few weeks of drinking it on the regular, I began finding that on the weekends I’d feel sluggish and all headachy. A cup of coffee on the weekends began to remedy that and I was done. My love (read: addiction/dependency) had begun.

Another way to write about it is still based in my triggered memories, but the third way is focused on how coffee was at the crux of a budding relationship with an ex-girlfriend of mine. She was a Starbucks barista while in college and when she and I met while she was interning at Mullen, she opened my eyes to the world of coffees beyond Dunkin. Not that I like Sbux coffees, but she and her mother really liked all kinds of coffees and turned me on to Gevalia, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Yerge Cheff, Casi Cielo, Kona, and so on. Coffee was a common thing we’d do together before we entered into a relationship. We admitted to each other early in our 4+ years together that we both drank coffee as much as we did just to make excuses to see one another. It was adorable. If you want to take a moment to throw up, that’s cool. Do your thing but admit that it’s a cute story.

Moving on… I think the last way to write about in any meaningful way is to talk about it in terms of how I use it as a point of conversation with new people I meet. I don’t even do it on purpose, but people are so often drinking coffee that it’s almost a natural conversation for me to have. It’s kind of like people talking about the weather, only much more personal because people have strong views on how they like their coffee and how often they drink it.

Think about it. If you’re a coffee drinker you “take it” a certain way. If it deviates from that way you’re unhappy. A “good” cup of coffee makes you feel better. It’s not just the caffeine, it’s the combination of strength, sweetness, temperature, and amount all coming together in the right way to make the experience of drinking coffee quite pleasing. I feel sorry for those people who cannot drink it because they get all jittery.

I guess the last thing to say on the subject of coffee is that it is important to me because of so many reasons other than the taste or the result of feeling more awake (even though it does those things for me). This post got me thinking about other things too. Little rituals all of us have come from somewhere and if you think about where they come from and what memories they inspire, you can take yourself into so many places your mind doesn’t usually end up going. In the last 30+ minutes while writing this I’ve thought about my father, an ex-girlfriend, my first few months working at Mullen and my friend Matt, as well as all the different people I’ve spoken with about their coffee. It’s been a fun journey through my memory.

What to write about next? Hmm…

What Can :30 Seconds Do?

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Until recently I used to say “it’s not a matter of life and death” or “it’s only advertising.” 

Those statements are meant to provide perspective; for the person saying it and for the people hearing it. They both do a little bit more than that. Those statements create an excuse. They can also minimize the impact and significance of what we can do.

That’s unfortunate.

Advertising isn’t like treating or curing a disease. Of course it isn’t. And it’s certainly not akin to, or even in the same ballpark, as providing food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, or sanctuary for abused children or battered women.

No, it’s not like that either.

At it’s very best, advertising can be a lot like art. I’m not saying those infomercials for Oxy Clean, Life Alert, or even the Snuggie, are forms of art. I’m definitely not saying that.

What I’m saying is that advertising can be a lot like art in that while the purpose is to inform a large audience of message or product “X,” a person can take something away from it that’s inherently more personal.

For instance, when my sister got married I wish I had done something like this, which isn’t to say I was chubby bumbling idiot like the brother in that commercial. Well, at least I wasn’t a bumbling idiot.

Tell me you can walk away from this longer-form ad without holding back a tear and I’ll call you on cold-hearted son of a bitch.

And this commercial just rips me up. My father is getting older. He’s moving more slowly, napping more often, and the thought of losing him has been on my mind more and more these last few months. It’s painful the mere thought. This commercial visualizes it. Ugh.

I think that after those three videos I’ve made the point and you’ve understood it. Right? Mass messages, pimping a product or service, can do, if done well, so much more than “sell” and “inform.”

I guess the reason behind my writing about this today is that I’m surrounded by what seems like meaningless, shallow, and sometimes empty opportunities to create an ad for a client. In taking a step back every now and then, I allow myself to think about what can be. And what these opportunities can be are inspirational, life-altering, and moving… but sometimes, they can just be funny. And to be honest, after writing all this gut-wrenching stuff, I can use a laugh.

When Dating & Advertising Become One

Friday, May 7th, 2010

I really thought I’d be writing in this blog a lot more.

Anyway, I was chatting with a good friend from OMD today. She and I were catching up and she asked about my office crush. You know what an office crush is, right? It’s that person who even if you’re dating someone, engaged, or married, you just like. She (or he) is just nice, or cute, or sexy, or whatever. There’s just a little chemistry there that you’ll never act upon (at least not without copious amts. of beverage) but you like to use as a fun distraction during the day.

My OMD friend and I were chatting about my new office crush. I gave her some details and left it at the basics. OMD girl said, “I hope it works out.” To which I replied, “No no, this is an office crush. Nothing is ever going to happen. I’m dating someone else.”

OMD girl asked, “Did you know her from before you moved to NY?”

Here’s the story, quickly, we met the weekend after Thanksgiving in NYC. I came back for Christmas, she and I had our first date. I flew back, just to go out on another date with her, in late January. I began interviewing in NYC in early March, was flown out for a face-to-face, and went out with her again. I moved to NY a few weeks ago.

OMD girl said, “you flew across the country for her?”

“Yup. I’ve put in some effort. It’s like 95% me in terms of effort.”

And that’s when I went full-on nerd. You see, being an advertising professional it’s tough to separate work from regular life. Since OMD girl is in media, I thought it was best explained in this way (I’ve bolded all the industry terms)…

The campaign to build positive brand image and awareness in Alex© began slowly because my impression levels were low (i.e. I was only able to see her once a month). My impressions were strong because there was a lot of time spent. We’re talking several hours of time spent per visit! But like most brands, if frequency and recency aren’t there, the brand’s lasting impression and eventual recall metrics begin trending downwards. Having localized my campaign (i.e. my move to NY) the impression levels have increased and there’s a chance we can get this girl to convert. I have no idea if she is into other brands (that would suck) but as she is an attractive consumer I have to acknowledge that other brands are definitely interested in adding her to their loyalty programs.

My campaign has some positive word of mouth going. It’s not paid for either, this is unaided WOM that’s going on. My ex-girlfriend’s good friend is a teacher at this girl’s school and as recently as last week said some very positive things about me. Unsolicited votes of confidence in a product (or brand) usually do well for conversion rates. It’s proven.

I’m not sure how long I’m willing to commit funds to this campaign. The early numbers don’t provide a clean read. Different DMAs, campaign tactics, etc. Now that I’ve ironed out some kinks (3,000 miles of them) the numbers should provide a roadmap that will help me decide whether or not to fund phase II.

I would say that I hope this works out, but David Ogilvy once said, “Hope is not a strategy.”