Flying North

I was in the Austin airport, looking for my gate, when a raspy voice rang out:

“If he wants more than I’m giving him, fuck him. No, seriously, fuck him.”

And I said:

“This must be the flight to New York.”

[tags]NYC, Austin, SXSW, SXSWi, people, glamorous, airports, airtravel, jetblue, flying, jetting[/tags]

MFA Interaction Design deadline

Today, January 15, marks the first application deadline for students to apply to the MFA Interaction Design program at School of Visual Arts. The school will continue to accept applications on a rolling admissions basis as space allows, but don’t count on spaces staying open long—the program is limited to fifteen students. An application timeline shows what students can expect between today and April.

In a city that also boasts Parsons, Pratt, and Cooper Union, New York’s School of Visual Arts holds a unique place. There are no full-time professors; instead, faculty are drawn from the ranks of New York’s top full-time practitioners. They are working designers, art directors, painters, sculptors, and so on. Sal Devito, a creative director for whom I was privileged to work in the 1990s, is a legendary SVA instructor; so is Milton Glaser.

As you would expect, the faculty of the MFA Interaction Design program includes some of the brightest people in user experience. (By some fluke, I am also a faculty member.) Liz Danzico, former experience director of Happy Cog Studios, chairs the program.

A good education is hard to find. When it comes to web and interaction design, it’s almost impossible. I’m honored to be one of the faculty in the School of Visual Art’s MFA Interaction Design program, and look forward to teaching and learning there.

[tags]design, interactiondesign, MFA, program, SVA, schoolofvisualarts, newyork, NYC, lizdanzico[/tags]

Running woman and madman

Two incidents mark my morning walk to work.

i.

On Second Avenue, a long-legged woman in a short black skirt dashes past, late to an unknown appointment, her movements fluid and beautiful.

With every step, her skirt bounces, flashing legs at the avenue. Her left hand hangs at her hip, trying to keep the skirt down. But she fails at this, and the attempt only makes the male viewer more aware of the rhythmic, teasing visual.

The whole thing is unconscious. It has the visual semantics, but not the intention, of cheesecake. She is simply late, happens to be beautiful, and isn’t dressed like an Anabaptist. Nevertheless, her passage fractures the Matrix.

Even businessmen who dress like they never so much as take a breath without running a spreadsheet first can’t help turning back to get a second look.

She runs fast and is out of sight in minutes, leaving a trail of pheromones in her wake.

I want to thank her, but I would never catch up, and running after her is probably a bad idea.

ii.

Minutes later, approaching Lexington Avenue, I see a mentally ill man hurling racial epithets at the street.

“Fuck you motherfucking niggers,” he shouts.

Did I mention this part? He is black.

In his hand is a beer that a clerk at a nearby convenience store apparently thought was an okay thing to sell him.

He screws up his face into a horror mask and screams nonsense syllables as I pass him.

On the corner with several other people, waiting for the light to change, I feel him sneak up on us, and a moment later he defeats his own sneaking by shouting again.

“Don’t GIVE a fuck!”

A large plastic milk carton sits abandoned on the sidewalk. He grabs it and flings it into the street, just missing us corner-bound pedestrians. The milk carton touches down in a busy lane of traffic. Speeding cars begin changing lanes to avoid smashing into it.

Damn it, I think.

I think this because I know I’m going to get tangentially involved, and past experiences with mentally ill street people have not gone well. There was the guy in DC harassing women on the train. I interceded and he messed with me. DC yuppies, watching the whole thing, moved away rather than help. Then there was the guy— Well, anyway, enough.

I walk into the oncoming traffic, pick up the milk crate, take it back to the sidewalk, and push it down directly in front of the raging drunken mentally ill homeless man.

I look at him, he looks at me.

I don’t know whether my eyes are communicating toughness, compassion, or a kind of inattention—as if, by not focusing on him, he might not focus on me. I have no strategy. I’m moving on instinct and my plan is to disengage.

Whatever happened between us passes. I turn back to the street, the light changes in my favor, I move quickly into the intersection.

Behind me, he throws an abandoned filthy bath rug into the street.

I let him win that one.

[tags]cities, NYC, New York City, urban, living, urban living, street, life, streetlife, myglamorouslife, glamour, zeldman[/tags]

What happened here

It’s been a month for milestones.

On May 31, my site turned 13 years old.

On June 7, making the previous milestone and all others possible, I had 15 years without a drink or drug.

On Saturday June 28, Carrie and I celebrated five years of marriage by hiring a babysitter, eating a meal, and bumming around the east village.

Between these landmarks came a flight to Pittsburgh and back-to-back train trips from New York to Washington DC, and Boston.

In the last-named burg we put on a two-day design conference for people who make websites.

At home during this same period, our daughter outgrew last month’s clothes, began swimming, got a big-girl bed, attended and graduated summer camp, stopped being even slightly afraid of school, hung out with her grandma, and advanced so much intellectually and emotionally that it would qualify as science fiction if it weren’t the lived experience of ’most everyone who has kids.

Between all that came the usual tumult of client meetings, client projects, and potential new business, giddily intermingled with the publication of two A List Apart issues. Make that three issues as of tomorrow.

Been busy.

If I had to pick an image to symbolize the month, it would be me on a rerouted slow Amtrak train from Boston to New York, using an iPhone and one finger to peck out a strategic response to an 80 page RFP.

That would have been the image, but now there’s a new one. For now there’s today.

On the calendar it is Happy Cog New York’s moving day. Today I pack up what for 18 years was either my apartment or Happy Cog’s New York City headquarters (and was most often both).

I hit bottom in this place. Ended a short-lived, tragically wrong first marriage. Rebuilt my life one cell at a time. Found self. Found love. Became a web designer. Found the love of my life. Married well, had a magical child. Wrote two books. Made money and lost it a couple of times over. Founded a magazine. Co-founded a movement. Worked for others. Freelanced. Founded an agency. Grew it.

It all happened here.

This gently declining space that has been nothing but an office since December and will soon be nothing at all to me, this place I will empty and vacate in the next few hours, has seen everything from drug withdrawal to the first stirrings of childbirth. Happiness, anguish, farting and honeymoons. Everything. Everything but death.

Even after our family moved, the place was never empty. The heiress to an American fine art legacy came here, to this dump, to talk about a potential project. Two gentlemen who make an extraordinary food product came here many times to discuss how their website redesign was going.

When I wasn’t meeting someone for lunch, I went downstairs to this wonderful little place to take away a small soup and a sandwich, which I ate at my desk while reading nytimes.com. Helming the take-away lunch place are three Indian women who are just the sweetest, nicest people ever. The new studio is just far enough away that I will rarely see these ladies any more. I will miss them.

I will miss Josef, the super here, with his big black brush mustache and gruff, gently-East-European-accented voice. He will miss me, too. He just told me so, while we were arranging for the freight elevator. We were kind to him after his heart attack and he has been kind to us since he arrived—the last in a long series of supers caught between an aging building and a rental agent that prefers not to invest in keeping the place up. The doormen and porters, here, too, some of whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, my God. Can’t think about that.

I will miss being able to hit the gym whenever I feel like it and shower right in my workplace.

And that is all.

This is the death of something but it is the birth of something more. We take everything with us, all our experiences (until age robs us of them one by one, and even then, they are somewhere—during the worst of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she reacted, however subtly, to Sinatra). We take everything with us. The stink and glory of this place will stay on me even when we are set up in our slick new space. It will be with me long after the landlord’s collection letters have stopped. This place, what happened here, will live until my head cracks like a coconut, and then some.

And now I pre-pack. Adieu, adieu.

[tags]happycog, moves, moving, newyork, NYC, design, webdesign, alistapart, wedding, anniversary, zeldman, zeldman.com, 5years, 13years, 15years[/tags]

Stick out your tongue

While employed at a famous New York advertising agency twenty years ago, a partner and I created a TV commercial touting an over-the-counter medicine client’s revolutionary new cold and flu remedy for young children.

Only when the shooting and shouting was over did we learn that the product did not, in fact, exist.

The commercial whose every creative detail we’d had to fight for was never going to run.

The client—the marketing side of a product development group—had a budget of $60,000 to spend. So they spent it, even though the R&D side of the product development group had not been able to deliver the product.

It was not a liquid medicine that needed to be measured. It was not a pill that needed to be chewed or swallowed. It was a pill that dissolved instantly on the tongue. Or would have been, if the engineers had been able to create it.

During weeks of presentation, the client rejected campaigns that would have caught the attention of the nation’s parents. The client bought a safe campaign that called less attention to itself, then set about systematically softening its edges. My partner and I wanted to cast like Fellini or Woody Allen. We brought in amazing children of various backgrounds, their faces rich in character. But the client picked cute blonde girls instead.

And so on. Every decision, however small, required approval. Everything was a fight. A ladies-and-gentlemanly fight. A fight that sounded like polite, mutually respectful discussion. A fight with invisible knives.

We won some and we lost some. For all the back-and-forth with the client, the resulting commercial wasn’t bad at all. The first few times anyone—even the guy delivering sandwiches—saw it, they laughed. Afterwards, they smiled. It could have been okay. It could have gotten my partner and me out of that agency and to a better one.

After the shoot was completed, the client told our account executive that the product did not exist and the commercial was never going to run.

The client had known this going in. So why didn’t they let us win more creative battles? Because they wanted something soft and safe to show the boss who had the power of life and death over their budget.

Why did the boss give them $60,000 to produce a commercial for a product that didn’t exist? Because that’s how corporations work. If they didn’t spend advertising dollars in 1988, they wouldn’t get ad dollars in 1989, when (in theory) they would finally have a product to advertise.

Governments, at least the ones I know of, work the same way. Since last night, the city of New York has been paving 34th Street in places it doesn’t need to be paved. Why do they do this? To justify the budget. In a better world, money set aside to pave streets that don’t need paving would be reassigned to something the city actually needs—like affordable housing, or medical care for poor or homeless people. But cities are corporations—that Mike Bloomberg is New York’s mayor merely confirms this—and few corporations are agile enough to rethink budgetary distributions on the basis of changing needs.

Last week, in an airport, on one of the inescapable widescreen TVs set to CNN (and always set to the wrong resolution) I saw a commercial for a revolutionary children’s medicine product that melts instantly on the tongue.

I guess they finally made it.

[tags]advertising, design, artdirection, writing, copywriting, TV, production, commercials, adverts, wisdom, work, experience, budgets, business, waste, government, medicine, OTC, overthecounter, newyork, nyc[/tags]

The SXSW Diet

Last year, a month or two before SXSW, I went on a movie star diet, all tiny portions of unseasoned unsucculent nothingness. I lost five pounds and wanted to murder the world.

This year I decided to skip desserts instead of dieting.

It’s amazing how many sweets you’re exposed to as the parent of a young child. Even if you don’t stuff your own larders with sugary treats, every weekend it’s some kid’s birthday party, where the cakes and ice cream flow like apple juice. In an environment where all that sugar and flour is normal, you partake without thinking.

So I started thinking.

Rejecting dessert soon became second nature. No birthday cake at little Johnny’s birthday bash. No fabulous pear thing when Grandma visited. No red velvet cake at the place in our neighborhood where it’s to die for. No exquisite little French pastries at the business lunch bistro. No little tin bowl of mango raisin coconut whatever at the best little vegetarian Indian place in Curry Hill. None for me, thanks. Not having any. It looks delicious, but no.

Man is a fallen creature and the devil weaves endless snares. I stuck to my no-dessert program through an onslaught of spectacular temptations. And then, like a fool, I succumbed.

Yesterday, the mother of the tot celebrating his third birthday came around with cupcakes baked into ice cream cones. Sugary vanilla frosting, M&M crumble topping, ordinary packaged cake batter, stock stubby cone—not even a sugar cone.

“No thanks,” I said, waving her away, but smiling to show that I appreciated the offer and did not judge anyone.

A minute later she came back, revolving them a few inches from my lips. “I made extras,” she said perkily.

“No thanks—well, okay,” I said, grabbing one of the things.

I wolfed it down. It was entirely as expected: an initial burst of pleasure followed by disappointment and regret. An absolutely ordinary child’s treat. Nothing special. No depth. Dutifully, no longer enjoying, I finished it all, even the dry, frostingless part deep in the little cone’s bottom.

It was like throwing away a marriage over a one-night stand with someone you met at a bus station.

[tags]sxsw, sxswi, parenting, dieting, food, treats[/tags]

Dear anonymous

Dear “New Yorker:”

It is snowing again in New York City. I’ll wait while you verify.

Presently the precipitation is recorded as 0.11 inches. But if you venture out, you may notice snow piles that are several inches high. How can we account for this discrepancy between the recorded height of snowfall and the actual height of some snow piles?

People shovel.

In this city, custodians and superintendents salted and shoveled sidewalks before 7:00 AM.

When people shovel, they push the snow into curbside banks that reach inches or even feet higher than the recorded snowfall level.

To see this, walk outside and look. The fresh air may do you good.

Sometimes after a snowfall, the temperature drops. Then those high banks of snow stick around.

Sometimes it warms just enough to rain into those frozen banks of snow. Then you get cold wetness that can reach into a toddler’s shoes (if she’s not wearing boots). And banks of old snow at the edges of curbs that, combined with freezing rain, can wet a small, bootless child halfway to the knees.

If you spent less time fact-checking other people’s blog posts and more time living, you would know these things about snow, and children, and weather reports.

And even if “halfway up to A—’s knees” were off by an inch or more, a person who is alive would say to themselves, “A father, worried about his child’s exposure to weather, sees conditions as somewhat worse than they are.”

A person who understands people might seek further evidence of hyperbole, and would find it: “My kid looked like she had been swimming in the East River.”

A parent, or a non-parent alive enough to imagine the anxieties of parenting, would recognize that this an exaggeration, intended to convey (and through the catharsis or writing, alleviate) parental guilt and anxiety.

Trying to prove strangers liars is no substitute for lived experience. You missed the point of what I shared, and attacked the reality of my story on petty (and false) grounds.

Let me tell you how your anonymous attack made me feel:

Blessed.

Blessed to have a meaningful life.

Blessed not to have to fill my hours poking around, looking for inaccuracies in other people’s websites, hoping to embarrass strangers.

Whoever you are, I hope your life grows richer than it is today.

Lord of the Rains

Relentless winter rain was turning last night’s snow to slush as I with my head cold and A— with her wooly hat left the lobby of our apartment building, headed for the nearby crosstown bus.

From home to preschool is a mile uphill, and we always walk it. But today was no day for pedestrianism. Even the dog could barely be persuaded to lift his leg.

And taking the bus was a form of bribery. A— did not want to go to school today, but she loves to ride the bus.

“We’ll ride the bus to school!” we proposed, and this enticement sufficed to get the girl dressed and downstairs—where we spied the bus, half a block away, accepting passengers and about to leave.

We ran through the slush, holding hands, my office bag bouncing off my left shoulder, the diaper bag bouncing off my right, the stroller sliding ahead of us, guided by my free hand.

You must fold a stroller before boarding a New York City bus. At the bus doors, I had trouble folding. The stroller would not collapse. The driver and the wet passengers inside stared down at me like bison on a nature show, blinking impassively while contemplating my destruction.

A woman in front of me took A—’s hand, to help the little girl onto the bus while her father wrestled with a child carrying appliance.

I saw myself stuck in the slush. I saw the bus doors closing. I saw a strange lady taking my daughter away.

I grabbed A—’s hand, pulled her away from the stranger.

“I’m sorry, thank you, I appreciate it, but my daughter has to stay with me,” I said. At which point, blessedly, the stroller collapsed. I scooped daughter, stroller, diaper bag and office bag into my arms, ascended the bus steps, and placed my Metro card into the card reader.

The bus driver looked at me and said something incomprehensible. The bus beeped; the card reader blinked red and ejected my card.

I reinserted the card, smiling, already soaked, my daughter and possessions balanced against my chest. Again the red, the beeping, the ejection.

This time I understood what the bus driver was saying.

“Your card’s empty.”

“Oh,” I said, the whole bus watching me and my daughter, every face wondering what refugee camp we had escaped from, and whether the bus driver would show mercy and let us ride on this most miserable of cold wet rainy days.

The bus driver blinked at me.

“Um,” I said.

“Pay or get off” the bus driver said.

Buses accept Metrocards and coins only. You need $2 in coins. I don’t carry $2 in coins.

“Can I give you two dollars in bills?” I said.

“No,” the bus driver said.

So the girl and I plunged back into the slush and began the mile uphill walk in the rain.

“Why can’t we ride the bus?” my three-year-old asked through trembling lips.

Her whole world was now about the bus ride she’d been promised, and the promise I was inexplicably breaking.

“I’ll let you walk,” I said, since walking, instead of riding in the stroller, is also a perk.

I took out her Dora the Explorer umbrella, which we bought two weeks ago at a premium price.

It was broken, I discovered. The umbrella offered no protection whatever from the rain. On the plus side, you could still read the Dora the Explorer logo, so the licensee was getting his money’s worth.

Umbrellaless, toddling along, we made it to a major avenue where the deep, melting ice and snow came halfway up to A—’s knees, and women stared at the idiot father letting his beautiful innocent child flounder about in wetness.

“There’s too much ice, now; you’ve got to get in the stroller,” I said.

“No!” she said.

There was nothing else for it. “I’ll give you candy,” I said.

In the Duane Reade on Third Avenue, I let her pick the candy—she selected something pink and disgusting—while I unpacked the stroller to get at a plastic sheet at the bottom. The plastic sheet is supposed to snap over the top of the stroller, protecting children from rain, snow, and oxygen. I could not get it to snap or stay or even cover the stroller. Strike three.

So we walked the rest of the way uphill, uncovered, rain-battered, she with her candy and I with silent curses.

We reached the school and climbed the steps in the usual way—the girl refusing to climb the steps, me carrying her in one hand and the stroller in the other.

We were both soaked through and I realized I was the worst father walking the earth. All the other kids came in wearing rain boots. My kid was wearing pretty little black Maryjanes. The other kids were damp. My kid looked like she had been swimming in the East River.

What saved me was this:

In the library at the top of the stairs, preparing to read a Curious George book before school began, the girl sat by the radiator and said, “Look, Dad. This hot stuff will get me dry.”

[tags]zeldman, myglamorouslife, parenting, nyc, preschool[/tags]

Girl. Dog. Night. Day.

I took my three-year-old daughter to her pre-school today. She did not want to go.

When we got there, she asked me to read Curious George to her. I did, then guided her to where her classmates were sitting and painting. The other parents had already left.

My daughter did not want me to go. She wanted me to stay and read more books to her. I told her I would read to her later, then I hugged her goodbye. As I left, she was beginning to paint with the other children.

She did not want me to go, and I did not want to go, but I went, because that is what you do.

I went home, met the artisan who was in our apartment, beginning to assemble our shelving system, then took our dog to the veterinary dermatologist.

Four years ago, when we found him, abandoned, on the streets of New York City, Emile was the sickest, most allergic dog in town. Much of his hair was missing; he smelled like a brewery; he was not what you would call a prize.

Four years later, he is our daughter’s companion, and one of the cutest dogs in our neighborhood, so long as you do not look too closely at the bits that resist healing and that have defied the best efforts of the best veterinarians in our area.

Although he is unrecognizable compared to the suffering creature we rescued, he has been in a near-constant state of infection for four years.

Today I brought him to one of the two veterinary dermatological experts in town. After an hour of examination and discussion, it was time to leave him for another hour or two of additional tests.

He is daddy’s boy, and he had had enough of the doctor. He did not want me to leave—at least not without him.

But there was no sense in my sitting there for two hours. I left because that is what you do.

I thought I would be able to get at least an hour or two of work done today, but I am sad and doubtful of achieving much.

For several nights, the dog and our daughter have woken us up by turns. I find it hard to fall back asleep after his unexplained and out-of-character late-night barking fits, and our daughter’s nightmares that turn into crying jags that end with us needing to move furniture and run washers.

As soon as I fall back asleep, another disruption begins.

There is so much to do, and I feel time slipping through my fingers.

Comments off.

[tags]zeldman, veterinary, medicine, dogs, emile, myglamorouslife[/tags]

Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for

Dragging my cheap three-wheeled suitcase home from Penn Station after a Boston business trip late Tuesday night, I passed three businessmen standing in the middle of Park Avenue with their raincoats awry. White, pushing 40, a few beers past sober. The one who slightly resembled Larry of the Three Stooges was trying to keep the party going.

“One more fucking beer,” he said. “Come on. I’ll fucking pay for it, motherfucker.”

Ever since Pulp Fiction electrified audiences and changed the film industry, every putz pushing 40 with a few beers in him thinks he is Samuel L. Jackson. Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for.

[tags]reallife, myglamorouslife, putz, pulpfiction, tarantino, pennstation, samuelljackson, zeldman[/tags]