Archive for May, 2009

Don’t throw poo at Franco Columbo

If the top of his skull were to lift open like the hood of a car and his brain could jump out onto the table, it’d look like Franco Columbo. The guy was that smart. Not that overly-geeky-look-at-my-five-degrees book smart. But real world, real business smart that was both impressive and intimidating for a marketing type like me. And you know he had those five college degrees somewhere.

Never throw anything at this man.

Franco Columbo. Never throw anything at this man.

For some reason, when I’m in a conversation with someone like that I start to reach. I reach for the big, big words I learned in graduate school. It’s kind of like when you’re at a high-brow party and you want to reach for that Louis Vuitton wallet to pay the valet to prove you didn’t just rent that nice sedan. Just like that.

So he’s asking me all these questions about my approach to PR. He’s intuitive. Calm. Urbane. And, unbelievably eloquent. I can only hope he’ll say something I can build off of so I can ride the coattails of his James Bondness.

I’m listening. Still listening.

But all I can feel myself doing is pining to use my go-to $20 word: fecund. I have no idea why of all the words I jotted down in those two painful years of reading absurdly scholarly dissertations fecund is the one that is always at my hip. It’s my Colt .45 at the ready to show that I too can flex like Franco.

Maybe it’s because it’s a short, yet esoteric word that most people think they know the meaning of, but don’t. It’s probably more that it kind of sounds like fecal or fecal matter. As I type this I realize that that’s it. It’s now clear to me that when cornered in a test of wits and vocabulary my instinct is to go primal like a chimp.

I reach back and want to throw poo. Excellent.

Thankfully, instead of trotting out fecund, he says something about customer behavior as it relates to communications and I am suddenly distracted from my base need to be Curious George. The conversation stays focused on PR strategies and his business model.

As the interview wrapped up, I kept thinking how of all the meetings I had with this company this was the test. If I could get through this one and make him somewhat believe I had a brain stem, I might have a shot at this job. Still, I kept looking for some kind of flaw in this guy. He stood up and I realized that at 5’ 7” I could post him up on the low post if I absolutely needed to.

Now, only if a pick up game of hoops would break out. I’d prove my fecundity.

– Jose Mallabo

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Thank you

A humble thank you to all the U.S. servicemen and women who’ve stood guard over our freedoms and way of life.  It seems every day should be Memorial Day. A special thanks to my immediate family members and friends Jim, Efren, Lito, Larry, Jim and Jeff who have served in the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force in war and peace times. And to my grandfather who received no uniform or medal in WWII to fight along side the U.S. to protect his homeland and my mother in Bataan. I’m sorry I never got to know you, but am thankful for all you did.

– Jose Mallabo

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Enjoy. Costanza.

As I am flipping my eggs this morning, I couldn’t help but think what a world-class prick George Costanza was. But yet we loved him. And, I miss him. Costanza could double dip his chip and walk out of the potty into a dinner party shirtless – but who didn’t love that D battery shaped prick of a man?

His approach was to leave every room with a limerick. Something warm and fuzzy for people to remember him by that would somehow eradicate all the wrongs he’d committed in the previous 22 minute episode.

“Cosssstannzaaa…”

Brilliance, I say.

I used to drive 60 miles one way to work each day. People would ask me how I managed getting through the various traffic pockets that lay in wait for me each day up and down the Bay Area.

That was like playing checkers against an 8-year old. All you have to do is show up. The real battle was me vs. my digestive system. I couldn’t have more than 2 cups of coffee in the morning or I’d feel like a water balloon by the time I got to the outskirts of lovely Fremont. Often, I didn’t have time to make breakfast so getting to the cafeteria grill first was the extra special Olympic game I played.

After I won that skirmish, the game within the game started. At that hour, the Egg Nazi was usually still chopping onions or cleaning the grill. She didn’t appreciate how I had just outwitted my own bladder to get there for her breakfast special. She typically stared me down and marinated me in my own hunger while she finished whatever chore she was ensconced in.

This was a true prick. I loved her.

A pushover compared to the Egg Nazi

A pushover compared to the Egg Nazi

As she handed me my bacon and eggs, that silent scowl always said to me “Take your eggs and your stupid BlackBerry and go Tweet about your soon-to-be-scathing case of salmonella you stereotypical Asian at a dot com,” but those big, pouty lips that looked like two slugs making out in a Petri dish of ketchup sang happily “enjoy…”

Poof.

Just like that she went from being the scary Egg Nazi to the come hither Egg Ingenue.

That little verbal pat on the bum somehow made all the silent abuse worth it. Alas, these interludes over eggs have ended. But I say, it’s better to have enjoyed and lost than never to have enjoyed at all.

– Jose Mallabo

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3 things that don’t matter to the unemployed

3. Dry cleaning. Outside of damp, chilly days in November there’s no reason to wear wool. Except for at work. With the U.S. unemployment rate still clawing at double digits, sheep everywhere are fist bumping and hoping mutton never becomes a universal delicacy.

Take the unemployment check and leave us be, please

Take the unemployment check and leave us be, please

2. The latte. Don’t agree? Just look at Starbucks’ performance over the past year. They brought back Howard Schultz to right the ship, but the company that made coffee both mainstream and exclusive still reported a net earnings drop of more than $83 million.

1. Saturdays. To the guy sorting through Monster.com hourly, Saturdays are what Mondays are to people with jobs. Stores are crowded as everyone is off from work trying to get shopping done.  I once heard that Wednesday is the most heavily trafficked day of the week. Makes sense, only the dense or truly sick call in sick mid-week. So while the workforce is busy trying to stimulate the economy, the 9 percent not working are home cheering you on so they can some day soon stop blogging in boxer shorts and queue up behind you for a $4 coffee and wonder if that wool suit you’re wearing was off the rack or tailor-made. Until then, Wednesdays are my new Saturdays.

– Jose Mallabo

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When 31 MPG is boring

If you’ve ever borrowed someone’s shoes (particularly sneakers), you know what I’m getting at. You think, “great, they’re the right size and it beats walking barefoot through the gravel.”  But then your big toe hits the groove where their big toe has spent the better part of the last year getting cozy — it’s just kissing-your-cousin wrong.

You’re in someone else’s house and it’s going to take a minute to reconcile that with the downside of walking through that gravel. Kiss the cousin and walk on.

Imagine my feeling when I flipped open my phone (probably the one thing I never leave home without) and started sorting through pictures in it and found this front and center:

I thought I drove a Honda?

I thought I drove a Honda?

Two beat pause.

12-14 Bob Newhart-like blinks to hyperbolize my befuddlement.  Was my toe in someone else’s Nike? This isn’t my phone. I thought I drove a Honda?

For a moment, I was in a slight panic that I grabbed someone’s phone or had lost mine.  If you know me, you know losing stuff is my worst nightmare. Death has nothing over a misplaced wallet. That moment of annoyed dread passes and I realize this is the rental car I took from Philadelphia to New York last week. It’s my 3,000 lb. borrowed shoe and for some reason I took a picture of it.

It wasn’t the Ultimate Driving Machine or a Picasso, but it got me, my golf clubs and the cheese steak in my gut 31 MPG up the Jersey Turnpike up through to the Meadowbrook Parkway to visit my nieces and nephew.

This steak made it from Passyunk to Salisbury Park Drive via the Rondo

This steak made it from South Philly to New York via the Kia Rondo

After dropping off two of my sister’s brood at school, her youngest bombarded me with questions that I know now are framed by the wonderfully straightforward thinking  of a 5-year old — questions that a middle-aged non-parent like me is woefully ill-equipped to handle.

“Why are you hear?” To visit you.

“Why are you driving us and not mom?” She’s running other errands and probably needs the break from all these questions.

“Is this your car?” No. It’s a rental.

“What’s a rental?” It’s like borrowing something, only you pay for using it.

“Where’s the TV?” Blink, blink. Huh?

I really had no clue what she was getting at until she pointed at the roof above me. Her mom’s car has a DVD player in it. So I said to her, “we don’t need a TV, we can just talk.”

“No. That’s boring.”

I may not be a parent, but I remember being 5. No mortal without candy can win the boring argument with a child. I was unarmed.

It turns out the Rondo not only gets 31 MPG on the highway, it can get to 75 MPH on a side road right quick when you apply the right amount of pressure with your big toe.

– Jose Mallabo

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Peace to the station wagon

I visited a friend and neighbor of mine in the hospital yesterday.

Driving away, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that sojourn through the hospital was like. Having not been in one since I was wheeled out after leg surgery several years ago, I’d forgotten how ominous, humbling and flat out awesome hospitals can be. By awesome I mean it in its literal sense, not in the Mountain Dew sense.

Everything there is beyond a typical person’s comprehension.

hospital

You see it in people’s faces and their demeanor. No one is putting on airs. No one is needlessly text messaging plans for dinner. And the doctor doesn’t give a crap if you came in on the bus or behind the wheel of a BMW 740.

People there are actually in the moment – forced by the gravity of whatever brought them there – and arguably better, more urbane human beings for it.

Whether you’re there to visit a newborn or bid adieu to a loved one, it’s a place – maybe one of the only places I know of – where status, wealth and ego mean absolutely nothing.

By the time I got home I figured it out. That hour in the hospital – absorbing all that was around me – there was a sense of peace that was oddly comforting to me. Like, dropping all the concerns of daily life, stresses of work and the weight of having to be in control of it all was OK. It was OK to be small and humbled by the life and death situations going on all around you.

The Vista Cruiser: Great Sunday driver, proven girl repellent

The Vista Cruiser: Great Sunday driver, proven girl repellent

And the only thing it brought me back to…was the walk from Sunday mass with my family to our used-to-be cool wood-paneled station wagon parked across the street. In that 4 to 5 minute stroll after a sermon that was to me the voice of God, I always felt alright and unconcerned about the material stresses of the day. I always felt at peace with just being a small speck of carbon on the planet.

If only those moments weren’t so fleeting.

Wishing you a speedy and full recovery, Joe. I miss our talks about Philadelphia sports, Penn State football, mortgages and the stock market.

– Jose Mallabo

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Tweets and tee shirts in America

The tee shirt said, “Mind if I Tweet this?” underneath an AIG logo.

I may have been the only one in the coffee shop today that appreciated the humor and gravitas of it. The kid wearing it was probably more concerned about how to ride his skate board out of the store while drinking his fuzzy little latte and still maintain his street cred.

As one who has been Tweeting (yes, that’s the current parlance for using Twitter to update your followers on your every breath) for a few months now, it was only just then that it occurred to me to ask where the heck this is all going?

Twitter Logo

Ten years ago, I was sitting on a cross town bus in Manhattan thinking I was Internet cool with my messenger bag and Motorola StarTac phone rigged to the shoulder strap. Mind you, most of the world at that point wasn’t slinging around a $400 phone let alone text messaging or Tweeting. When I answered my clamshell phone as we were pulling away from 72nd and 1st, a woman that I swear looked like an actress from M*A*S*H (not Loretta Swit, the other woman) leaned back and flamed me with the look of death. Her scowl made it clear that in her world view the cell phone and all it represented – always on contact with the free world – was the spawn of Satan itself.

I remember thinking to myself “Hey, what if you needed me to call 911 and save your ass with this phone? You wouldn’t hate it then. Now, weren’t you in M*A*S*H?”

None of that escaped my lips because she kind of frightened me. I just kept talking to my business partner about some JavaScripting and XML mumbo jumbo that probably pissed her off even more. This little Asian dude not only is talking on my bus, he’s plotting world domination with XML!

The StarTac has since been replaced as the bad ass mobile accessory by the BlackBerry and iPhone. And as annoying as the ubiquity of cell phones can be, it’s hard to argue against the safety and social benefits they’ve come to provide. It’s been well chronicled how mobiles played a role in helping passengers commandeer the flight headed to the Pentagon on 9/11. And personally, I’ve more than once called emergency services for stranded motorists. I’m an extreme commuter and have the utmost empathy for that guy walking down the shoulder with a gas can in hand. No one wants to be there so that guy gets my help every day of the week and 9 times on Sunday.

So what about Twitter?

This dude’s tee shirt hinted to more than just the joke that is AIG today. But it flirted with the idea of what role Tweeting might play as part of the Fourth Estate. Unlike news papers, Tweeting is hyper-real time. Unlike text messaging, Tweeting is one to many – many of whom can be the news media, government regulators and other influencers. Unlike online media, devices to Tweet from are now in every employee’s pockets in every corporate meeting in America. Someone, dozes off or says something untoward in a meeting, he’s free game in today’s Tweet happy world.

Greed, as it turns out, is not good.

Greed, as it turns out, is not good.

What if iPhone Tweeters were inside AIG? Inside Enron? Could those meltdowns have been averted by whistle Tweeting insiders?

I’m not sure where this is all going. But those are the questions that ran through my head as I was watching this guy skate out of the Peet’s. They’re interesting questions.

I ask because in the past month or so, I’ve seen a shift in the Tweets of the 80 people I follow. Unlike 3-4 months ago when everyone was just pushing out cool articles or links to fun web sites, now I’m starting to see people Tweet what’s going on right in front of them wherever they might be. I’m guilty as charged.

I Tweeted the cigarette smoke-filled Dodge Ram 2500 that cut me off with the “Yes on 8” bumper sticker it. I wasn’t angry so much as in awe of his magnificently un-PC persona in what is easily the most PC place in the world.

Not exactly a social benefit or crisis aversion tack my Tweet, but it happened and the 95 people on my Twitter feed experienced it with me in real time. The best part about Twitter is I can quietly Tweet the ill-matched socks of any has been actor on any bus in America. Because, just like that Dodge driver has the right to smoke cigarettes and vote as he sees fit, I have the right to Tweet his bad driving.

– Jose Mallabo

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You meet the safest drivers on a Kawasaki

As I got cut off on the freeway today, I muttered to myself “probably a Celtics fan.”

 

You see, in one of my all-time favorite books ‘Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs,’ Chuck Klosterman made an epic and never-before-heard-of argument that the ‘80s rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics represents everything in life and the world.

 

He didn’t just argue that there were two kinds of people on the planet. Chuck goes off. He says that the rivalry explains race relations, religion, politics, math and even the metaphor of Man vs. Beast. I’ve been a Lakers fan since Jim Brewer was lacing them up with Jamaal Wilkes. I get it.

 

As I pulled into my garage, there it was. Chuck’s holy grail of modern media based satire sitting on the shelves next to my Kawasaki. I flipped to the Lakers chapter. His first quasi-sociological test is this question:

 

“What kind of car should I drive?” 

If you’re a Laker Person, buy a two-door car, preferably something made in America. I’d go with a Camaro IROC or possibly a Ford Probe. These are fast, domestic vehicles, just as the “showtime” automaton was a sleek, streamlined machine that came from the streets of Michigan (which is where Magic was raised). Meanwhile, Celtic People are four-door sedan owners. I lean toward the Chrysler LeBaron and the Chevy Cavalier, the veritable D.J. and Ainge of the automotive universe.

 

I swear. He wrote that. And, as I re-read it, I still think he’s more right than wrong.

 

If I could build a case to Chuck to update his thinking, I’d say that there is another way of looking at the denizens of the world: two wheel drivers and four wheel drivers. Now that I’ve been riding a motorcycle for more than a year, the world is far clearer to me. Those who voluntarily risk their lives by balancing themselves on 100 horsepower rockets in rush hour traffic are the most careful, most defensive drivers on the planet. In all my years of driving a car, I’ve never once been cut off by a motorcyclist. But the minivan swoop into my lane or up my tail pipe is a regular activity.

Chuck Klosterman striking a pose for Spin

Chuck Klosterman striking a pose for Spin

Short of making every drivers license test include a motorcycle safety course (which would teach all motor vehicle drivers the life and death proposition of getting behind a wheel or straddling a bike), I’m wondering why we can’t simply turn those oversized shoulders into motorcycle only lanes?

With the international push to be green, can’t people see that even the least fuel efficient motorcycle gets more than 30 mpg? My Kawasaki gets 45 mpg and would be my daily driver if it weren’t for that Chrysler Town & Country lurking to cut me off at freeway speeds because junior is late for a play date.

It’s a given that riding a bike 70 mph is dangerous. So is cutting a bagel, but most of us don’t get tackled by a car while spreading cream cheese. And if it does happen to you you might want to think twice about eating breakfast on the median. While Chuck is right that the Lakers – Celtics rivalry explains humanity, driving or riding with the fear of death explains how people go about their days.

Riders know. For the most part, bikes don’t kill people. Crashing does.

– Jose Mallabo

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