Archive for December 6th, 2007

Guarding the Mens’ Room for Ronald McDonald

Thursday, December 6th, 2007


I found out a lot about reality and the true meaning of advertising on a beautiful May afternoon in Hudson, New York. I was two years out of college and had landed my first real job as an Account Executive for an advertising agency. This agency had won the McDonald’s Hamburger account for all of Upstate New York and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire. It was a pretty big deal in the mid ‘70’s. A large agency in Chicago took care of the national advertising campaigns but the regional agencies were important too. We were responsible for sales promotion, store openings, and Ronald McDonald visits.

Now I’m going to tell you a big secret up front. There is more than one Ronald McDonald; actually, there are many Ronald McDonalds. Well, figure it out. There are thousands of McDonalds restaurants in the world and most of them want Ronald McDonald visits on beautiful spring afternoons. The actor in Chicago who played Ronald in commercials could not be expected to race around the country meeting hundreds of thousands of kids every Saturday. And besides, without scripts, how could he keep them amused? A painted smile and hand-shake only go so far.

So the regional “Ronalds” (in identical costumes and makeup from McDonald headquarters) had to have a “talent” to amuse the kids at appearances. Now some of these “talents” were pretty loosely defined. Although cranking out balloon animals or juggling French Fry boxes was allowed, the real talent for which we looked was performing magic tricks. Fortunately for me, “my” Ronald was an old magician; he could yank rabbits out of Big Mac boxes with the best of them. The heavy clown makeup concealed the deep lines in his face and usually we could hide his cigarette breath and the fact that he really didn’t like children very much at all.

As a matter of fact, my Ronald was kind of cranky and didn’t like anyone very much (including his new wife who was banned from appearances because she had a tendency to become obnoxious to young mothers whom, she thought, had hung on to Ronald’s hand too long). But for some odd reason, my Ronald liked me. And I liked him. And I loved the fact Ronald McDonald appearances were so bizarre, they were like LSD trips without drugs. Ronald was a national icon; he was the world’s most famous clown. And there was nothing quite like standing next to him when a long line of kids and Moms came up to shake his hand and then having him turn to me and say under his breath, “Christ! Didja see the jugs on that one?”

So there I was on my first Ronald appearance in Hudson, New York. I drove Ronald to the restaurant with the usual cigarette hanging from his mouth. When we arrived, he told me to pull up to the side door and park so he could use the bathroom.

Seeing my puzzled look, he said, “Look, you go in first and clear everyone out. Then when I go in, you guard the door. Shit, the kids can’t see Ronald McDonald taking a leak!”

Well that made sense so I did as I was told. And as I blocked the mens’ room door, I realized that advertising is all about perceptions and reality. To most of the world, perceptions ARE reality – and that’s the way it should be. So I was toying with this new idea when I saw two punks walking towards me – and the men’s room door.

Now remember, this is a small town in Upstate New York in the ‘70’s. “Punks” is a relative term. Walking towards me were two 14 or 15 year old boys with leather jackets, slicked back hair, rolling eyes, and a “tough” attitude honed by countless hours in junior high detention. I crossed my arms and played the adult. The larger delinquent spoke first.

“We gotta use the bathroom.”

“You can’t use the bathroom right now. Ronald McDonald is using it,” I said with a straight face.

The punks looked at each other and burst out laughing. They obviously were not there for the Ronald appearance.

“Ronald McDonald is really in there pissing?” one loudly asked.

“Hey guys,” I said, “I don’t know what he’s doing in there. But you can’t go in until he comes out.” Of course this produced more loud laughter and comments that, shall we say, were less than respectful.

Just then the men’s room door burst open and there stood “Ronald” immediately taking in the situation.

“Oooh Ronald,” the bolder punk laughed, “why can’t we see you pee?”

And then in a voice cracked by more than half a century of cigarettes and alcohol, my Ronald growled, “Because, you little bastards, I’ve got a schlong that’s this long (here he put his hands about a foot and a half apart) and it would just scare the shit out of ya!” With that he turned and started walking towards the McDonald’s entrance in his size 22 clown shoes.

Not another word was said as the punks and I stared at each other with slightly opened mouths. After a second or two, I rushed to catch up to the world’s most famous clown.


Why expect a rosier outcome in Iraq?

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Letter to the Editor (Democrat & Chronicle)

(January 27, 2007)
Doesn’t President Bush’s plan to have the Iraqis take
more responsibility for fighting the war sound shock
-ingly similar to President Nixon’s 1968 plan of Viet-
namization? The stated objective of that “new
direction” was “to encourage the South Vietnamese
to take more responsibility for fighting their war.”

If the plan is the same, why would we think the
outcome will be different?


We Can’t Afford Iraq

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Guest Essay (Democrat & Chronicle) September 22. 2003

I grew up in Upstate New York in the 1950’s and it was a wonderful time. My father had an average paying job and my mother never had to work outside the home.

Although our family had five children, we owned our own house and car and never really lacked for anything. Actually, we were considered fairly well off by many in our small town.

However, like kids today, we wanted everything television told us we “needed”. Maybe it was the newest English bike or an autographed superstar baseball glove or the latest Barbie doll. Whatever it was, we pleaded the case before our parents who always listened very politely and then usually said, “sorry, we can’t afford it.”

And that was the end of the discussion. There was no need to babble on about the outstanding merits of the purchase or the fact we would be the worst dorks in the universe if we didn’t have the items, we just couldn’t afford them and that was that.

When growing up, I’ll bet President Bush never heard the words, “sorry, we can’t afford it.” I’ll also guess President, Sr. and Barbara Bush were excellent parents. They obviously instilled high values into their son and infused him with a sense of patriotism, duty, and decency. But unfortunately, they probably never showed the kid a price tag and he just doesn’t seem to understand what things cost.

Which brings us to the war in Iraq. It’s a noble venture. Saddam Hussein is a despicable despot who’s plundered and pillaged his people for his own gain. But out of all the nations on earth, how many are run by despicable despots who plunder and pillage their own people for personal gain? A conservative estimate would be about one third of them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to clean them all up and deliver freedom to their peoples? Of course. But we can’t afford it.

And we couldn’t afford it in Iraq either, but no one seemed to notice. Whenever cost was brought up before the war, out would come the “Remember September 11th!” flag and everyone put his calculator away for fear of being called unpatriotic. The problem is there is not now, nor has there ever been, a direct link between Iraq and the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. The major link to the terrorists was the Taliban in Afghanistan. We justifiably leveled that government and half the country. Great; they asked for it. But Iraq?

Anyway, it now seems the destruction and reconstruction of Iraq will cost well over 100 billion dollars. And it’s quite disturbing to hear from many reports that America’s airports, borders, power plants, and food supply are really no more secure against terrorists than they were two years ago. And the chief reason cited? Not enough money. In other words, right now, we really can’t afford to make this country safe against terrorists. But we’re spending $100-billion to make Iraq a safer place to live. Perhaps we should all just move over there.

How do we get out of this mess? I have no idea. But the next time an American leader decides we should target some distant, vague threat to our country, I hope he or she will talk to my father. Dad served this county for five years in World War II; he knows about genuine foreign threats. But something tells me that if a case like Iraq were brought before him, he’d listen very politely and then say, “Yeh, but we can’t afford it.”

Frank Sr. (1919 – 2005)