An Unforeseen Dinner for One

MTA subways tend to be packed in the morning and evening rushes, conditions a Swiss guy with some China experience lumps in with those in Shanghai and Beijing. Commuting seems to be a highly individual and personal thing here in New York, little short of a private occasion. People, albeit permanently compelled to fight for space shoulder to shoulder, seem to use this timeframe as a slack to recover from the energy killers on its both ends: work and family. The faces look tired, but relieved. It is not uncommon to find oneself in a completely crowded, but amazingly quiet subway car.

On one of those Friday evenings, riding the 7-train back home, I was standing there, tired, groggy, lost in thought, holding on to the pole. After a while, two students standing right next to me asked me something. Silence. I didn’t pay attention, so they repeated their question whether I would consider it weird if somebody offered me two packs of cupcakes, right now, just like that. They came across as if they worked on a psychology project at their institute, so I tried to give them an honest answer to this short description of a rather hypothetical situation: “Yes, that would be somewhat creepy.”

Next thing I held in my hand was a plastic bag with – guess what – packaged cupcakes. Although my new friends (reading from their faces) expected a more enthusiastic response, they apparently decided to complete their planned mission. The explanation was that they had eaten half of the stuff in the afternoon and that they were about to throw it away anyway. I overacted my confusion, had a quick chat, thanked, and decided to give the cupcakes a shot. Back home, I began with a thorough examination.

Being approached by strangers in the Big Apple is anything but unusual. It happens all the time out in the streets and public squares, which is a big difference to my home country. It was the first time though I experienced it in that unique sphere of MTA subway cars. Having the common-sense-mode on, I see such encounters as a positive thing, – especially in times that are characterized by a black eye, a hopefully-not-broken-but-certainly-sprained toe, and other minor and major personal worries. It was a night I just chilled and then passed out, but I will remember it as an evening I had a fine dinner consisting of four high-calorie cupcakes coming out of nowhere.


What people can learn from an underrated Zurich hockey team

The allegedly impossible happened a week ago: Tuesday evening, April 17th, 2012. Steve McCarthy, defender of the ZSC Lions took the decisive shot for a goal that would make his team the Swiss hockey champion two seconds before the end of the regular game time and the logical announcement of a subsequent overtime. He scored. The game was over. The Lions from Zurich were declared champions in Europe’s largest hockey arena, home of their competitors SC Bern. Why is the happening worth mentioning? Because it is one of the most fascinating and impressive stories in the history of Swiss hockey. And because it offers a simple recipe of life.
Looking back at the regular season, the Lions had been struggling hard for long periods. Not only didn’t they find any effective ways to compete against formally stronger teams, but they also indulged themselves in too many mistakes against real underdogs. Throughout the year, they collected 77 points out of 50 games, which put them at risk of not even qualifying for the playoffs, the crucial knock-out stage where several teams play for the actual championship title. Nobody would have been surprised if the Lions dropped out at that point, but they managed to qualify just barely. The playoffs began. And this is when the underdog from Zurich started to shock their opponents one by one.

After eliminating the reigning champion (Davos) in the first round and the winner of the regular season (Zug) in the second round, they had to face Bern in the finals. Experts were in agreement that the Bears from the capital city had the league’s best roster at their disposal, which became evident once the two teams started to play against each other. The first team with four victories would win the championship. Bern led with 3-1. At that point of the series, nobody would have even put one penny on the Lions. Too many factors suggested an easy win by their mighty and forceful opponent. But everything came out differently. Zurich managed to turn the tables and decide the series with a strong morale, an iron will, continuous persistence, and three consecutive victories. Such a rise, from an abortive season to the most unexpected champion in decades, wasn’t even expected by some of the most optimistic and enthusiastic Lions supporters.

Here is what Bob Hartley, the winning trainer, had to say after the already mentioned final game: “That’s the image of our season. We win it in the last two seconds. What a crazy team, but that’s who we were. They battled hard all year and they believed that we could do it. And I challenged them that we would shock the Swiss hockey world, and we did. I’m very proud of my boys. The ones who believed were in our organization and that’s where it matters. Hopefully we showed people a great lesson of life: do never quit, do always persevere. And you know what, two point some seconds left, that’s unreal.”

The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. The young team from Zurich understood the performance culture Bob Hartley has been known for in a long time. A friend of mine told me recently that some of the best things are found from tempered persistence and level-headed practicality. The Lions demonstrated this thought in an impressive way. I have never been an enthusiast for idealistic quotes and overdoses of optimism, but this example shows that Winston Churchill used to share a good amount of truth with the world:  “The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.” He can’t be too wrong about that.

Quotes from Mad Men (Season Four)

And finally, Season 4. There has been a long break since its final episode, but Mad Men is back on AMC with Season 5 now. It starts with the fortieth birthday of Don Draper and continues to reflect the mores and conventions of the 1960ies in an exceptional way.

S4/E01 (09:47): “‘I don’t want it like this, I want it like that. Not too much of that, just a little like this’, and then: they look at it and they don’t like it.” (Peggy Olson)

S4/E01 (27:52): “Turning creative success into business is your work, and you’ve failed.” (Bertram Cooper)

S4/E02 (42:22): “My father used to say this is the greatest job in the world except for one thing: the clients.” (Roger Sterling)

S4/E04 (43:35): “How do you know that’s the truth? A new idea is something they don’t know yet, so of course it’s not gonna come up as an option. Put my campaign on TV for a year, then hold your group again, maybe they’ll show up. […] You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.” (Don Draper)

S4/E05 (27:17): “Because no one’s ever won an account by breaking the rules? […] Are you sure to tell me that if we put our backs into this thing we couldn’t turn their heads?” (Don Draper)

S4/E05 (43:44): “Since when is forgiveness a better quality than loyalty?” (Roger Sterling)

S4/E06 (03:23): “You finish something and find out everyone loves it right around the time that feels like someone else did it.” (Don Draper)

S4/E06 (32:35): “My mother always said ‘be careful what you wish for, because you’ll get it’. And that’d people get jealous and try to take it away from you.” (Roger Sterling)

S4/E06 (27:10): “Well, as Danny would say, there’s no use crying over fish in the sea.” (Don Draper)

S4/E08 (21:27): “People tell you who they are, but we ignore it. Because we want them to be who we want them to be.” (Don Draper)

S4/S08 (37:14): “When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there, how he forgot where he was going, and then he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel, and dreamt of being perfect. And then he’ll smile with wisdom. Contented he realized the world isn’t perfect. We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things, and wish for what we had.” (Don Draper)

S4/S08 (41:51): “Aesop has a fable about the wind and the sun: the wind and the sun had this competition to see if they can get a travelers coat off. So the wind blows fiercely on him, but the traveler just pulls his coat tighter. But the sun shines down on him warmer and warmer, and the traveler just takes it off. […] Kindness, gentleness and persuasion win where force fails.” (Faye Miller)

S4/S09 (12:42): “I forgot for a second that you’re incapable of doing something nice without expecting something nicer in return.” (Joan Harris)

S4/S10 (39:45): “You judge people on their work. I’m the same way. Everything else is sentimental.” (Megan Calvet)

S4/E12 (26:20): “You always say, if you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.” (Peggy Olson)

S4/E13 (01:21): “Maybe it’s not all about work. Maybe that sick feeling might go away if you take your head out of the sand about the past.” (Faye Miller)

Quotes from Mad Men (Season Three)

Season 3, the best one in my opinion.

S3/E01 (33:10): “Well, ‘our worst fears lie in anticipation’. That’s not me, that’s Balzac.” (Salvatore Romano)

S3/E02 (19:53): “I was in California. Everything is new, and it’s clean. The people are filled with hope. New York City is in decay. But Madison Square Garden, it’s the beginning of a new city on a hill.” (Don Draper)

S3/E03 (34:50): “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.” (Paul Kinsey)

S3/E04 (20:00): “Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. That’s how I was raised.” (Bertram Cooper)

S3/E05 (07:54): “Pennies make pounds. And pounds make profits.” (Lane Pryce)

S3/E05 (29:55): “I wanna take you both with me to the promise land. At Grey, an account man is expected to have ideas. And creatives are expected to be geniuses. You’ll be sitting on velvet pillows showered with riches, awards.” (Herman Philips)

S3/E06 (37:01): “Well, Conny, there are snakes that go months without eating. And then they finally catch something, but they’re so hungry that they suffocate while they’re eating. One opportunity at a time.” (Don Draper)

S3/E06 (45:56): “This is your little brother. And he is only a baby. And we don’t know who he is yet, or who he is going to be. And that’s a wonderful thing.” (Don Draper)

S3/E08 (41:12): “You’re going to have a lot of first kisses. You’re going to want it to be special so you remember. It’s where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone. And every kiss with him after that is a shadow of that kiss.” (Betty Draper)

S3/E09 (20:15): “I think you know I’m in a bit of a crisis tonight […]. I think about my business day and night. And I’m harsh critic, especially at myself. And sometimes it collects and I feel bad, and then I realize maybe that’s the reason I am so lonesome.” (Conny Hilton)

S3/E09 (21:39): “After all the things we threw at Khrushchev, you know what made him fall apart? He couldn’t get into Disneyland.” (Conny Hilton)

S3/E09 (32:46): “How to lure the American traveler abroad. What more do we need than a picture of Athens to get our hearts racing? And yet, the average American experiences a level of luxury that belongs only to kings in most of the world. We’re not chauvinists, we just have expectations. Well, now there’s one world that promises the thrill of international travel with the comfort of home: Hilton.” (Don Draper)

S3/E10 (03:58): “I would’ve told Charlie that my job is about boiling down communication to its essentials, and that I know that there is a blue that at least 45% of the population sees as the same […]. The truth is people may see things differently, but they don’t really want to.” (Don Draper)

S3/E10 (40:27): “You know what the Chinese say: ‘The faintest ink is better than the best memory’.” (Paul Kinsey)

S3/E11 (08:11): “The most important thing about an interview is to express enthusiasm in a believable way. No self-deprecating humor. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re great to be around, but you haven’t decided if they’re the right one.” (Joan Harris)

S3/E11 (11:08): “I like that you thought of me […]. You wanna be on some people’s minds. Some people’s you don’t.” (Roger Sterling)

S3/S12 (02:10): “It’s become apparent that you are excellent at making the clients feel their needs are being met. But Mr. Cosgrove has the rare gift of making them feel as if they haven’t any needs.” (Lane Pryce)

S3/E13 (02:46): “You know, I got everything I have on my own. It’s made me immune to those who complain and cry because they can’t.” (Conny Hilton)

Quotes from Mad Men (Season Two)

This is a follow-up on last week’s post Overcoming Triviality of Television Series, which included quotes from the first season of Mad Men. I pointed out why this TV drama constitutes an exception on a market characterized by predominantly trivial media content (which I in fact do not want to criticize). People who are interested in television series in general should check out this recent, nicely made post by re:design, and test their knowledge: 15 Iconic TV Shows to Guess. Personally, I wasn’t really able to shine here.

These are the quotes I took down while watching Mad Men Season 2. The sequel will follow by next week.

S2/E01 (13:40): “It’s not about the majestic beauty of the Mohawk Nation. It’s about adventure. To be a pirate. It could be a knight in shining armor. It could be a conquistador getting off the boat. It’s about a fantastical people who are taking you to some place you have never been.” (Don Draper)

S2/E01 (16:24): “Tell Duck: clients don’t understand. Their success is related to standing out, not fitting in. It’s a fad. Paint you a picture, something like: one wants to be the needle in the haystack. Not the haystack.” (Don Draper)

S2/E01 (36:47): “[‘Sex sells’] says who? Just so you know: the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. And they take all this monkey crap, and just stick it to briefcase, completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. You are the product. You, feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.” (Don Draper)

S2/E01 (45:08): “Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern. The country is grey and brown and white in trees, snows and skies of laughter always diminishing, less funny not just darker, not just grey. It may be the coldest day of the year, what does he think of that? I mean, what do I? And if I do, perhaps I am myself again.” (Don Draper; Frank O’Hara: “Meditations in an Emergency (1957)”)

S2/E03 (32:05): “Controversy means viewers. Women will find a way to watch this, maybe just because they don’t wanna be left out. […] It’s catharsis. That’s hard to come by. What is better than tears to make a girl ready to hear she can be beautiful?” (Don Draper)

S2/E04 (30:18): “American Airlines is not about the past any more than America is. Ask not about Cuba, ask not about the bomb. We’re going to the moon. Throw everything out. […] There is no such thing as American history, only a frontier. A crash happened to somebody else. It’s not about apologies for what happened. It’s about those seven men in the room on Friday and what airline they’re going to be running. […] Let’s pretend we know what 1963 looks like.” (Don Draper)

S2/E04 (39:01): “Don’t you love the chase? Sometimes it doesn’t work out. It’s at the stakes. But if it does work out: it’s like having that first cigarette. Head gets all dizzy, your heart pounds, knees go week. Remember that? Old business is just old business.” (Roger Sterling)

S2/E05 (09:31): “This is America. Pick a job and then become the person that does it.” (Bobbie Barrett)

S2/E05 (29:46): “I’ll tell you the same thing I told my daughter: if you put a penny in a jar every time you make love in the first year of marriage, and then you take a penny out of the jar every time you make love in the second year, you know what you have? A jar full of pennies.” (Roger Sterling)

S2/E10 (41:21): “Advertising, if anything, helps bring on change. The market, and I’m talking in a pure Marxist sense, dictates that we must include everyone. Consumer has no color.” (Paul Kinsey)

S2/E12 (17:12): “I don’t know. I have been watching my life. It’s right there. I keep scratching and I’m trying to get into it. I can’t.” (Don Draper)

S2/E13 (34:56): “Well, Bert, when the economy is good, people buy things, and when it’s bad, they don’t. There’s no reason for us to be tied to creatives’ fantasies of persuasion.” (Herman Philips)

Overcoming Triviality of Television Series / Quotes from Mad Men (Season One)

Despite my strong preference for television as a personal source of entertainment with regards to media consumption, I watch significantly less TV series than the average viewer. In fact, I can hardly get motivated to start following current series, mainly because of the unbearable tediousness they bring along together with all the witless and entirely shallow characters and storylines. People watch them to kill time and to keep themselves entertained. Both very legitimate reasons of course. It is why I cannot pass judgment on women for being obsessed with Glee, New Girls and GCB, or dudes for watching Lost, Fringe and CSI. Everybody gets entertainment as one pleases, but I have not been able to figure out how certain content can be perceived as entertaining in the long run if the characters playing in it do not share the slightest commonalities with people from the real world. This can work just fine within a movie, if well executed, but why would somebody check it out week after week, episode after episode? Personally, I find it very tiring being exposed to fictional material that was only produced with the aim of being hip and original, but instead ends up in an awkwardly distorted reflection of the actual reality that does not produce any uniqueness at all. Today’s content is being sold by adding unnecessary exaggeration to it. “Human” characters do not seem to be sexy anymore. This factor remained absolutely crucial for me though when it comes to the question whether I am about to watch multiple episodes or seasons of a specific TV series or not, whether I will immerse myself in it completely or not, and whether I will account it a good entertainment product or not.

There are two series I consider PERFECT and probably unbeatable in every sense, each from one genre. On the comedy side, King of Queens has more heart than any other sitcom I have ever seen and it works with a few, but very unique yet tangible characters that interact with each other in a perfectly elaborate social setting. Unfortunately, it is not being produced anymore. On the drama side, I see Mad Men as a masterpiece that stands out from the whole bunch of past and current television productions. It is the only TV drama I am aware of that succeeds in overcoming the general triviality of television series in such an impressive way. Not only does Matthew Weiner portray the mores of the sixties and the social and economic advancements of the United States in a ridiculously meticulous and authentic way, but he also created an incredible complexity to every single character. Tastes differ and I know that many of my friends will find it boring, especially those who rate South Park, Family Guy and American Dad among their favorite series. I recommend everybody else to start watching it, and do that from the very beginning in order to comprehend how the storyline and the characters unfold. I have been following the first four seasons very keenly on DVD. The fifth season is currently airing on AMC. In order to offer a glimpse into the excellently depicted moods of the sixties and the advertising business of that era, I am going to share some quotes that stroke me instantly. These are the extracts from the first season. The others will follow within the next few weeks.

S1/E01 (30:37): “Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams, with reassurance, that whatever you’re doing: it’s ok. ‘You are ok’.” (Don Draper)

S1/E01 (39:03): “You mean love? You mean a big lightning ball to the heart, when you can’t eat and you can’t work and you just run off and get married and make babies. The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me – to sell nylons. […] You were born alone and you die alone, and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts, but I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” (Don Draper)

S1/E02 (41:08): “What do women want? Any excuse to get closer.” (Don Draper)

S1/E04 (35:19): “New York is a marvelous machine, filled with a mash of levers and gears and springs, like a fine watch, wound tight, always ticking.” (Bertram Cooper)

S1/E04 (38:54): “I bet daily friendship with that bottle attracts more people to advertising than any salary you could dream of.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E05 (40:57): “People wanna be told what to do, so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.” (Don Draper)

S1/E06 (02:29): “Stop smoking so much. It’s a sign of weakness. You know how Hitler got Neville Chamberlain to give him everything in Munich? He held a conference at an old palace that forbids smoking. And after an hour and a half of not smoking, Neville Chamberlain would have given Hitler his mother as a dance partner.” (Bertram Cooper)

S1/E06 (19:05): “When a man gets to the point when his name’s on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E08 (27:40): “I’m not one of those boys who look forward to escape the wife and kids. I’m really a home buddy. But New York: When you arrive and that train starts slowing down and it gets all dark, my heart pounds and I think: I’m gonna climb that staircase and be in New York.” (Elliot Lawrence)

S1/E08 (39:36): “Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.” (Don Draper)

S1/E10 (09:18): “Well, honestly, the unpleasant truth is you don’t have anything. Your customers cannot be depended on anymore. Their lives have changed. They’re prosperous. Over the years they have developed new tastes. They’re like your daughter: educated, sophisticated. They know full-well what they deserve, and they’re willing to pay for it.” (Don Draper)

S1/E10 (15:35): “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing him.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E10 (15:39): “You know what my father used to say? Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get in with for the wrong reasons and eventually they hit you in the face.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E10 (16:33): “Remember, Don, when God closes a door, He opens a dress.” (Roger Sterling)

S1/E11 (10:44): “Peggy, just think about it – deeply – then forget it. And an idea will jump up in your face.” (Don Draper)

S1/E12 (37:50): “The Japanese have a saying: a man is whatever room he is in. And right now, Donald Draper is in this room.” (Bertram Cooper)

S1/E13 (33:50): “Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old pro copywriter, Greek, named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is ‘new’, create an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. What he also talked about: a deeper bond with the product, nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek ‘nostalgia’ literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘the wheel’, it’s called ‘the carousel’, let us travel the way a child travels, round and around, and back home again. It’s your place, where you know when you’re loved.” (Don Draper)