Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

31 October 2009

McGruff Duty

So I flew McGruff the Crime Dog around all this past week while the Boss was out of town. I got roped into it last year when the Boss generously donated the use of the helicopter to the local county Sheriff’s Department while he was also out of town. They were doing an anti-drug presentation at various local elementary schools and thought it would be neat if McGruff could arrive by helicopter. My boss thought it would be neat too.

The police do this in conjunction with “Red Ribbon Week.” They've been using a helicopter to transport McGruff for three years now. Escambia County (Alabama) Sheriff Grover Smith puts the show on, and it is emceed by the capable, enthusiastic Chief Deputy Mike Lambert who does a great job. Basically, they give a couple of short anti-drug speeches, a drug-dog demo, then show a video of an exciting local police car chase filmed by one of the dash-cams.

The kids either got to see McGruff arrive or leave the school (sometimes both). I gave them a demonstration of how the helicopter can hover in one spot, then move sideways and backwards. No airshow, no funny stuff. The last thing in the world I want is to have a couple of hundred kids seeing McGruff die in the flaming wreckage of a helicopter. Oh, the headlines...

The first year, they used a local operator who is no longer around. The second year, they came to us. And when the police ask for a favor, whaddya gonna say, no?

Atmore P.D. Officer Matt Rabren and his partner, Avalon

That year, I had big “POLICE” decals made up and stuck on the side of the ship. The cops gave me a blue jumpsuit (but no gun, dammit) and asked me to give a talk to each assembly about police aviation. Like an idiot, I said yes. We were all a big hit. But when the Boss got back from vacation and heard about it, he was not pleased. He said we’d missed a golden marketing opportunity with all those potential customers (teachers) in the audience.

My phony police helicopter

So this year, no decals and no jumpsuit. I wore a polo shirt with the company logo so there was no confusion that I was a civilian. In their speeches the cops gave us props for our part in making it all happen, which was nice. I thought I could weasel my way out of giving the kids the police-aviation talk, but no such luck.

When you stand up in front of a roomful of hundred kids or so, it’s short-attention-span theatre, baby. The first year I was pretty nervous, and from their blank stares I realized that some of the things I was telling them were way over their heads, so to speak. During the course of that week I tailored and refined (and shortened) the talk. But it was hardly riveting.

This year I decided to try comedy. I’m a frustrated stand-up comic anyway, and here was a perfect opportunity. I started off making jokes about McGruff, and what he was like as a puppy…e.g. chasing his tail instead of bad guys, “taking a bite out of…” the cat, and solving the mystery of my missing goldfish by pointing out to me the tiny paw prints of the cat on the side of the fishbowl. The teachers were all laughing, but the kids still looked back at me with that now-familiar blank stare.

Finally, at the last school I decided to speak their language. “My name is Bob Barbanes,” I announced. “But my friends all call me Sponge Bob.” (Uproariously laughter.) “They call me that because I’m always sponging off them…like, ‘Hey, you gonna finish those fries?’” (Blank stare/stony silence.)

Ah, well. So I’m no Mr. Rogers or Captain Kangaroo. But I'll do better next year, you just wait! I'm working on new material, and I'll have those little bastards laughing or my name aint Sponge Bob.

20 October 2009

Balloon Boy

It’s not that I’m clairvoyant, but I am a big ol’ skeptic. I figured something was up. I mean, it didn't take a geeeeeenius to see through this one. And who names their kid “Falcon” anyway?

First we heard the alarming news that some sort of helium balloon...kind of a homemade flying saucer...had gotten loose from somebody's backyard in Colorado and there might be a boy inside it. Dear God! Edge-of-seat stuff! Another national emergency of the “baby falls down well” type we seem to do so well. News helicopters circled military helicopters who could only stand-by and do…well...nothing but watch with the rest of us.

Shortly thereafter the craft came down and lo and behold, no boy in the balloon. Did he fall out? Dear God! We were on the edge of our seats yet again. Turned out he’d been hiding in the attic over the garage all along, they said. Next, we heard that the parents had been on ABC-TV’s “Wife Swap” show.


And that they were now "storm chasers."

Publicity stunt, said I.

And that’s all it was.

The sad thing is that the boy, already saddled with the unfortunate moniker, “Falcon” will now and forever be known as “Balloon Boy.” Just say those words and everyone knows who/what you’re talking about. Ain’t the media wonderful!

My youngest sister Eleanor tweeted, “Developing…Jon Gosselin to adopt Balloon Boy in advance of new poor parenting reality show.” I thought it was funny.

But seriously, who names their kid, “Falcon,” anyway?

15 October 2009

"Catch The Wind" Again!

Two things: I heard an old song on the radio the other day and saw a new TV commercial. Both brought back a flood of memories.

Some time ago I wrote a post about two companies that used the old Donovan song, “Catch The Wind” in their television commercials. Volvo used it quite effectively; GE, not so much.

Now along comes the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. Founded in 1851, it has long been known familiarly as “Mass Mutual.” Coincidentally, that is the marketing name they’ve taken on now: Odd how that works, eh? Of course they are more than just a life insurance company. These days, it’s the “MassMutual Financial Group.”

Okay, they needed a TV commercial. They wanted to stress family values in these troubled times, because that is what every insurance company/bank/investment company/big corporation wants you to feel when you think of them.

So the new MassMutual commercial begins at night with a shot of guy in a huge office. It must be late at night because it’s very dark outside and none of the surrounding buildings have many lights on (so it’s not just 5:30 on a winter’s day). We wonder: What kind of miserable, slave-driving company would pressure an employee to work those kinds of hours? Oh yeah – heh- an investment company! The phone rings, and the poor, overworked bastard looks down at a picture of his daughter on his desk - a daughter he probably hasn't seen much of lately.

The next shot is during the day, ostensibly the weekend. The guy is still in his office, still hard at work. But it is a home office now, and the only view he has is of his small backyard with its tiny pool in which his young daughter and a friend(?) are playing. We wonder: Was he terminated from his investment company job? A sign drawn in a child’s scrawl says, “Daddy’s Office.” Is he into Network Marketing now? Amway, perhaps? There is no dialogue. In the background, some smooth-talking voice-over announcer is saying something about decisions and policy-holders and...some other forgettable crap.

Throughout the commercial, Donovan’s “Catch The Wind” is playing. It must mean something. Is it a metaphor for the guy’s failing career? We don’t know.

If I were doing that spot, they would still show the home office and the sign his daughter made for it. But he would be in in the pool with her, not watching her play while he’s too busy “working.” And in the background, an unanswered phone would be heard faintly ringing…

I love when TV commercials use the right music, images and words. When it happens, it’s magical. Below, you can watch the new MassMutual commercial and decide for yourself whether it works for you or not. I think it is merely average, not very inspiring, and hardly magical. And alright already, I also think we’ve overused “Catch The Wind,” thank you very friggin much.

Okay, so much for that. Next, I heard an old Nick Drake song on Sirius/XM radio that I now cannot get out of my head. It was, naturally, in an advertisement where I first heard it.

So please watch what is probably the best commercial in the history of television commercials. Notice there is no narration. Notice how the people in the ad don't speak either. Notice how you cannot even see the product clearly. Notice the wonderfully appropriate soundtrack song. Notice how unlike a commercial it is and rather more like a little minature drama. But when the company's logo lights up at the very end of the spot, I want one!

I can watch that commercial over and over. One YouTube commenter called it ":59 seconds of art." And I agree! How do you say so much in quick, little shots? I love the part when you just see the backup lights come on, then the next shot is the car driving off down the road. They made their decision! I love the questions the spot raises about the relationship of the couple in the backseat: The way the boy looks at the girl early on - first date, perhaps? And I love how she looks at him at the very end. Car? It's about a car? Who car? What car?

Volkswagen has always put out creative, fun commercials, even today. But this old one for the Cabrio was just the best.

DISCLAIMER: My family has always owned Volkswagens. Many years ago I bought a white Cabriolet for my mom in California, and drove it out to her from Florida. I loved that car - I think my sister in Albany, NY still has it. And I currently own an '85 VW Camper which is (patiently) awaiting a new engine - coming soon!

08 October 2009

Too Funny

I don't often laugh out loud at things I see on the internet (other than Scott Meyers' "Basic Instructions" of course). But I could not resist posting this.