Eulogy for Hogs and Heifers

We spent the second half of 1996 flat broke, working entry-level internships and retail gigs. We shared one enamel pan and one aluminum pot which we used daily on our two-burner hotplate. Most of the time we ate half-cooked pasta and some sort of sauce. One of my four roommates eventually got a job assisting on photoshoots and he traded a week of work for a full-bore, six-burner gas stove. We then began to roast a chicken nearly every night which we got for under two dollars from the bodega down the block. Sometimes we’d light all six burners just to watch the flames. Luxury.

For fun after dinner we’d drive around Manhattan, packed into a two-door worn-out Ford Bronco looking for obscure doorways that led to less-traveled pubs and underground parties. We’d cruise down Broadway from the Upper West Side all the way to City Hall, the air through the windows cooler than the thick static air of our hot warehouse home.

In the Spring of 1997 we each had somewhat stable jobs, allowing us the treat of a chicken and rice dinner sitting at the bar at The Hat or a few beers at Sonny’s. On most night we’d take the train into the city and pick a neighborhood, walk to a spot we heard about through friends at our jobs, and see what happened after our money ran out.

It must have been April or May of 1997 when we went to The Village Idiot over on west 14th street, which was a good place to get a cheap pitcher of Koch’s beer. I think it was $3 a pitcher, I can’t remember. We’d scrape our quarters and dollars together. That night we had enough for two pitchers. There were five of us living at the warehouse then. Sometimes there’d be six people, sometimes four, but there was a core three of us who lived there for at least two years at a time. I moved out in 2000.

The five of us sipped our heavy glass mugs of cheap beer, gazing out the windows, talking loudly about nonsense. It was a warm night, we were wearing t-shirts. I went to the bar to order our second and final pitcher when a lone person sitting at the window edge of the bar, an equally rough-edged guy about our age, turned to me and asked, “How do you like this place?”

“It’s fine.” I said, “It’s cheap enough for us.”

“Right,” he said, drinking his half mug down in one gulp. “Mind if I join you guys?”

“Not at all,” I said. As the bartended returned the filled pitcher to me and pushed over an additional mug, he winked at me and said, “Watch out for that one, he’s more than you think he is.”

I don’t think he ever told us his name though he shook our hands furiously. The first thing he said as he sat down at our table was, “The next pitcher is on me.”

After we finished the fifth pitcher, our new friend having picked up the next three, he said, “Hey, I know a cool place, want to check it out?” The roommates all silently checked with each other by looking into each others eyes, seeing if anyone would object.

“No,” we all said in near unison, “let’s go.”

We half-stumbled out of The Village Idiot and across 14th street and into the Meat Packing District. In 1997 it wasn’t the neighborhood you think of now. It was closer to the 1988 version of the Meat Packing District with dark corners, rotten smells and teenage prostitutes.

We turned a few corners, laughing at some jokes and giddy at our adventure walked face-first into a crowded jumble of people pushing their way up short steps and into some bar. Our new friend walked in first and the crowd parted, creating a clear lane for us to enter. My friend Chris elbowed me hard in the chest, “Check that out.”

As we entered the bar all the faces turned to us to see who we were. We were a ragged looking bunch, up way too late on a workday night, with work dirt on our hands and cheap sneakers. Suddenly there were six opens seats at the bar. Our new friend sat down first, I sat down second. The bartender, a skinny blond lady with a pug nose, tank-top, and trucker cap turns to me, leans across the bar, grabs my face in her bitten-nail hands and yells over the louder-than-hell country music, “I fucked your father!”

Six shots of something clear are placed in front of us with another three for the bartenders. We all raise our glasses and drink. The bartender reaches for my shoulder, pulling my t-shirt halfway to her and yells, “Who let you out of the shit-hole you must be living in?” I turn to our new friend at my right and he looks back at me with a wide grin, “Welcome to Hogs and Heifers.” He makes a swirling gesture with his finger and another round of shots show up. With that the three bartenders jump on the bar and stomp-dance to the music while the packed house cheers them on. Patrons jump on the bar, some get pushed off, some fall, but many remain and throw articles of clothing backwards towards the wall behind the bar. It was loud, and hot, and there was a lot of bare skin in that narrow wedge of a former biker bar that was soon to be discovered by the hip crowd.

I don’t recall when we left, but we didn’t close down the place, we had to be up early enough in the morning to get to our jobs. I looked for our new friend as we left, to thank him, but he had disappeared.

About a month later I was at work at the Strand Bookstore, running the registers. During some downtime I would do the crossword puzzle in the Daily News which I’d buy with a hot tea at the now-gone diner on Broadway just south of 12th street. As I flipped through the pages I saw a small thumbnail picture of our new friend from a month before. It was an obituary.

As I read the obit my heart sank. He was a generous person who wanted to spend time with giddy folks. He liked to drink. It turned out our new friend was Allan Dell, the owner of Hogs and Heifers. He had never let on who he was, though we suspected he was someone important to that place. Later that night I showed the smudged grey-paper page to my roommates. We huddled around our rough dining table, in the near dark of a single light-bulb.

“What a shame,” one of us said.

“What a nice guy, ” said another. We all nodded. I closed the paper.

About five years later I went back to Hogs and Heifers. It was crowded with tourists and people with clean clothes and button-down shirts. I stood by the bar, listening to the voices talk about work and friends and vacations. The crowd pushed at the bar, waving twenty-dollar bills at the tank-topped lady bartenders who stood with their backs to the eager and smirking faces. I finished my beer and left.

—–

 

Hogs and Heifers will close on August 23rd.

Steve, and the fish, at Half-Moon bay

My friend Steve is an early-bird and a perfectionist. He measures the tops of his side-tables and cabinets to mathematically determine the ideal location for a-framed photos, cups and plates, and general keepsakes from his extensive travels around the world. His wife Rachel is the polar opposite. She sleeps late, misplaces papers, and keeps things simple. When they met, they joked that their relationship was doomed, but they had been married twenty years when they decided to travel to a secluded, off-the-grid, beach-hut thirty miles south of Cancun.

On the fourth night of their trip, they were sitting on wooden stools at the local “bar.” They shared small shots of tequila with similar sized glassed of lime juice and tomato juice. They’d sip one, then the other, then trade them. They giggled at their joy over these small glasses. Steve lifted one above his head to find the brand, but couldn’t tell if what he saw was a word or a haphazard scratch along the bottom.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, slightly tipsy, “Let’s enjoy this moment.”

“Maybe I’ll buy the glass from this bar, to take home with us.”

“Why bother, we’ll just have to come back.”

Sometime later that night, after a few more small glasses of tequila, lime juice and tomato juice they sauntered back to their unwired beach hut. His arms around her waist. Hers around his shoulders. He stooped slightly to the left to allow her arms to fully cross his neck. They passed through the beaded doorway and fell into the hard and dusty mattress.

“Looks like its going to be anther beautiful day tomorrow,” Steve said, “I think I’ll get up early to see the sunset.”

The next morning was their fifth morning at the hut. Starting with the first full day, Steve would wake up early, unfurl a woven mat at a specific spot on the beach near the ocean, practice yoga and then swim in the tranquil clear water until he reached the invisible line of the mouth of the small bay where the hut was situated. The bay had two shoulders nearly equidistant from the hut. The area could have been called “Half-Moon” bay as the bay was nearly a true half moon. He would swim until he reached the invisible edge of the half-moon.

As planned, Steve woke a little bit early in order to catch the sunrise as he practiced his yoga. He laid out his mat, exercised through his routine, and walked deliberately in a straight line towards the ocean, aiming for the midway point between the bay’s shoulders.

The water was not cold, but refreshing. He loved the caribbean for its warm and clear waters. Once he was up to his waist in the water he dove in with his hands then his head and began his freestyle stroke, counting his breaths. He thought of his swimming as a mediation where he would vacate his mind of any extra thought beyond his breathing and strokes in groups of ten. He’d count up to ten, then start again. He would often unintentionally insert the word “zero” as  a halfway between ten and one, but he worked to release this thought as well.

He was deep in his meditation, enjoying the water, the air as it entered his lungs, the air as he blew the bubbles into the water. The warmth of the new sun on his back and legs and on the side of his face when he took a breath. It was during one of these breaths where the sun hit his face that he realized he didn’t see the left shoulder of the bay in his peripheral vision. He halted his swimming, looking straight out into the ocean, and he didn’t see either shoulder of the bay in his periphery. He burst around to look back at the beach and then he knew. He had been pulled outside of the bay by a quiet tide. He was nearly four of five times further out in the water than he typically would be and he could tell he was being pulled further out.

He could barely see the small hut. He didn’t see any boats within the horizon either or else he would have started yelling. He floated there, treading water, looking in all directions for something to help him gage the distance he had traveled and at what trajectory he was moving further away.

After what he thought was five minute he tried to swim back, paddling his body at angles to the shore as he had learned as a boy to avoid the riptide. He swam for what he though was fifteen minutes, still using his meditation routine to keep himself calm, but when he tried to measure his success it appeared as if he had stood still. He was growing tired. His arms ached. His hands and feet were numb and tingling.

“Well,” he said aloud to himself, “I guess this is it. This is where it all ends,” and he began to cry, and shake in his misery. He yelled out for help, belting as loud as he could five times. Splashing at the water at his sides. Then the misery passed and he felt an odd clarity.

“What should I do now?” He asked himself. “Enjoy yourself,” he answered himself back. “But how?” he asked himself. “Back float.” He answered himself and turning and stiffening his body he floated on his back and looked up at the clouds. “Beautiful day,” he said aloud. He first started counting the clouds, then he started to identify the meteorological names of the types of clouds, then he started to think of them as characters in a play and wrote lines for them. The sky was a wide blue, the could soft tufts, the sun a pointed orb of hot yellow.

His back hurt and his arms continued to tire, to seem to turn themselves off, to not listen to his brain.

“What should I do now?” he asked himself. “Why not dive and look at the fish?” he answered himself. He turned his body, took a gasp of air, and dove into the water, not using his muscles too much in hopes to conserve his energy. He laughed at himself for the thought of conserving his energy seemed fruitless, but he decided he wanted to see as many fish as he could, and he needed his energy for that.

Under the water surface were schools of fish of all different types and varieties. Some scooped around his feet, others chased after invisible forces further down in the deeps. The fish would appear out of the invisible and then disappear out of his vision. He couldn’t believe how beautiful the underwater happenings were and thought about how many times in his life he had swam above these things without seeing them. He continued to watch the fish and then noticed how one group seemed to disappear behind something dark. He rose his head above the water and didn’t see any hint of a difference on the surface. He dove again and swam towards the shadow.

It was a reef or a sandbar or mixture of the two! He swam to the landing, wedged his feet where they could gain traction and stood. His head, shoulders and torso were above the water.

“I’m saved.” he said to himself. “I’m going to make it.” He looked down at his hands under the water, at how pale and wide they looked. He raised them up to his face, splashing water on his mouth and nose.

A little bit at a time he’d lower his face into the water to find and follow the path of the sandbar, making sure he didn’t get too close to the sharp edges of the coral. He realized that this sandbar was making an arc back towards the left shoulder of the bay, as if it was the other half of a full moon. He wondered if the bay was either the former mouth of a volcano or potentially the site of a meteor landing.

He slowly and deliberately made his way back to the left side of the bay, and then walked along the curve of the beach until he reached his wife sleeping on a mat to the left of the mat he placed on the beach earlier in the morning. She was snoring loudly. She had pulled the mosquito net over her entire body and over her heard. On top of that she placed her wide straw hat over her face and neck. He saw that her wrists and tops of her feet were becoming sunburned. He walked the few steps to the hut, pulled a towel from the drying bar, and draped it over her lower half. She woke, and moved the hat from her face to make sure it was him, then plopped it back down. She spoke to him through the layers.

“Hey, there you are. I thought you had decided to go into town or something.”

“No, I was swimming.”

“Oh, I couldn’t see you. Did you take a new route or something? That’s so unlike you.”

“Yes.”

“Well, good for you.”

“Yes. I guess it was.”

“Plus, it’s such a beautiful day, it’s a perfect day to be in the water.”

“Yes, it’s definitely a beautiful day.” Steve said, then laid back on the mat and felt the hot air wash over him. Rachel tugged her hand out from under her wraps and found his hand and held it tight. He gripped her hand right back.

The Drama Hidden within PR Week’s Power 50 Data

Each year since 2007 PR Week creates and posts a “Power List” of the most powerful and influential people in PR. From 2007 to 2010 the list topped at 25. From 2011 to present the list has expanded to include 50.

If you gather up the lists and look at the individuals chronologically from 2007 through to 2015 the results resemble the board game “Chutes and Ladders.” I specifically wanted to see how the 2007 winners fared throughout the years, and then wanted to see how the current batch of winners wound their way to their current positions. The below is a back-of-the-napkin, data-visualization analysis.

Here’s a quick guide to read the images…

  • Grey lines represent a continuous position on the list from year to year
  • A black line means that person laddered-up to the top position
  • A red line means that person exited the list after their position
  • An orange dotted line means the person was off the list for this period of time, but returned
  • A green dotted line means the person handed-off their position to a new/different person at their company (As example, in 2013 Harris Diamond passed the Weber Shandwick baton to Andy Polansky, and Leslie Dach handed the Wal-Mart baton to Dan Bartlett)
  • An “X” next to a name means they were one-time listees

2007 Power Listees and their Trajectory:

More individuals seem to “chute” than to “ladder,” potentially due to the expansion of the list in 2011. What’s also visible is the bunching of the top leaders. Most of the top leaders maintained a position within the top 10 year-over-year until 2013, when some of their replacements took over the roles. Though many of the replacements trended back up.

2015 Listees and their Paths to Glory

A different story appears through this data-visualization, though some of the principles remain. One key remaining principle is the top people on the Power List tend to remain at the top. You can see that a new wave of individuals emerge in 2012 and incrementally ladder their way to the top 10. The dramatic churn of individuals between 2010 and 2012 is also apparent, with a few years of list stability until this year, then there is a new wave of disruption in the list. Still, this new disruption is more of a changing of seats than people dropping from the list. Many of the people from 2014 remain on the list in 2015.

Areas of high drama in this visualization include:

There’s a lot more than can be derived from this data, such as the impression that women fare worse then men, and that strong brands hold their positions even through leadership changes (Wal-Mart, P&G, Fleishman-Hilliard). The above was my first take on this data.

Notes:

  • I once worked for a venture capital group that owned the celebrity index Popex. I wonder if a tool/game like that would be a valuable add-on to this list.
  • I captured the above data points within excel, then used PowerPoint to create the images.