Days 282-365: I did it!!

March 25, 2011

Days 282-365

I did it.

One year ago today–at approximately 9 AM ET–I drank my last Diet Coke. Actually, it was a Coke Zero since the office cafeteria had sold out of my beverage of choice.

My wife was out of town a year ago (as she is today) and when I told her of my goal to give up Diet Coke and my life long soda consumption habit, her reaction was justified: “Thank goodness I’m not there since you’re going to be impossible to live with.”

I envisioned a soda version of “The Lost Weekend,” although no bottles of Diet Coke were going to be hanging from my window. In fact, only the day after I stopped was when I felt it. I was sluggish. But the headaches I feared never came.

In fact, I never missed Diet Coke. As I have written before, I quickly found a worthy substitute: Poland Spring Sparking Water. I love the Lime and Raspberry Lime.

A year ago, I began this blog, which was inspired (well, stolen, actually) by my pal Dana Kennedy’s blog A Year Without Sugar. My goal was to write daily. I’m sorry I feel far short of that goal.

But I had fun writing the posts and I wish I had actually written 365 posts.

I’m proud that I gave up something I thought would be impossible to do. I wish my mother were alive for many reasons, not the least of which is to witness this achievement. She was after me all my life to drop this awful habit.

In 1998, Diet Coke’s slogan was “You are what you drink.” Well, thanks to the noodging of Jamie, my great trainer, to stop drinking “all those chemicals,” I now only drink water and sparkling water.

I’ll end this blog by quoting another Diet Coke slogan, this one from 2008. For me life without Diet Coke is “What life should be like.”




Days 227-281…Egypt

February 1, 2011

February 2, 2011

Days 227-281…December 9, 2010-February 2, 2011

Yea, yea. I know. It’s been a long, long time.And it’s now 281 days since no Diet Coke. I went to a local Japanese restaurant the other night and the waitress asked whether I wanted a Diet Coke. I guess I have to get used to being asked that question every now and then. Happily, the answer remains, “No, I’ll have a club soda instead.”

I’ve been riveted watching the events in Egypt. If I were still a reporter, would I want to be there? The answer is a resounding “no.” Many years ago, when I was working for the New York Times while still a student at Boston University, I helped John Kifner cover the Boston integration story. One afternoon, a riot broke out in South Boston and Kif and I were walking the streets. A policeman backed his horse into me and then another officer hit my leg with a billy club.

It was at that point I realized being that involved in the action wasn’t for me.

I cannot say the same of someone I know quite well and who is married to one of my dearest friends. CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Nic Robertson is amazing. He goes to every volatile place on the planet. he’s now in Egypt filing amazing stories. His wife, Penny, is in London and actually Tweeting what Nic relays to her. That is the simple, but clever idea to get around the fact that social media tools, such as Twitter, have been shut down by the Egyptian government.

Penny and I have been emailing quite a bit since the demonstrations began in Egypt. Penny once lived in Cairo and it must be surreal for her not to be there.

One of the best byproducts of working for the New York Times in Boston was meeting Penny. I knew of her through my wonderful roommate, Richard. He spotted Penny hobbling down Commonwealth Avenue wearing a cast and crutches. Why she was in such a condition is another (hilarious) story. Richard wanted to go out with Penny, who wasn’t interested at all. (Instead, she introduced him to her roommate; they married and stayed happily married until Richard died suddenly of a heart attack.)

But since Penny was a journalism major, he introduced us. A lifelong friendship was formed. When I was graduating BU and leaving Boston to begin working at the Times in New York, Kifner asked me to pick a successor to my job as his news assistant.

I chose Penny and she was an instant hit. She went on to have a great career at the Times, CBS News and CNN.

She made a confession to me today. She admired the fact that I have kicked the Diet Coke and then told me I may have inspired her to think about giving up Diet Dr Pepper. Good luck! It’s easier than you think.


Days 136-226..December 8, 2010.

No asked me, but…

Well, no one asked me to restart this blog, but here I am. And, yes, to answer an obvious question, I continue to be Diet Coke free. (Hmmm, Diet Coke Free…that sounds like a new beverage.)

I haven’t a sip of soda in 226 days. It’s far easier than I ever thought it would be.  And the added benefit is that my appetite has decreased dramatically. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I don’t have any evidence, but I’m convinced there is something about soda in general–and diet soda specifically–that stimulates appetite…at least my desire to eat. Thank goodness, that has ebbed.

I continue to exercise with my wonderful trainer and continue to battle the weight. I think I have won that one as well.

Well, why today of all days to pick up the blog again and begin writing?

John Lennon was killed 30 years ago tonight.

I was standing a few feet from the doctor who made the announcement at Roosevelt Hospital that awful night. How?

My evening began several hours before. I had attended the wonderfully joyous annual WNEW-FM Christmas concert at Lincoln Center. I worked at the New York Times and had made friends with several of the on-air personalities and was invited to the backstage after-concert party.

Suddenly, word began to slowly filter throughout the party that John Lennon had been shot outside his apartment house at the Dakota on Central Park West and 72nd Street.

Of course, this was before cell phones, so I rushed to a pay phone outside the room where the party was being held and called the city desk of the Times. I told him where I was and he said to race to the emergency room of the hospital a few blocks away.

Standing in the parking lot of the emergency room was a small crowd of reporters. We were told to go to the main entrance of the hospital and everyone broke into a run. As it happened, I was near the front of the throng and held several microphones of radio and TV reporters as a doctor emerged from a bank of doors and told the world that John Lennon had died.

A NY Times colleague, Suzanne Daley (who is now reporting about Europe from Paris), and I wandered into the parking lot to gather some “color” for the stories that were being written back in the newsroom. A NY Times reporter turned editor who I admired a great deal, Jon Nordheimer, came into the parking lot, spotted us, came over and said, “You two are witnessing and reporting history tonight.”

After calling into the Times and telling a “rewrite man” what I had seen, I called WNEW-FM and gave an on-air report to Vin Scelsa, the DJ who was on the air at the time. By then, Vin had decided no music could be played. Instead, he turned his show into an on-air wake. Members of the staff had long ago left the post-concert party and gathered at the station on Third Avenue and 42nd Street.

I couldn’t just go home after all had happened. I, too, went to WNEW-FM, where I ran into a friend, WCBS TV reporter Tony Guida. He had written a poem and wanted to read it on the air.

I finally got home at 7 AM the following morning. I lived on Columbus Avenue and 72nd Street, a few doors down from the Dakota. I had to show proof I lived on the block to the police.

It was 30 years ago today. It was horrible then, it is horrible now. All those years ago.

The Op-Ed page of today’s NY Times has articles by Yoko and by the wonderful Ray Davies. Read them. The Times also has an Appreciation on its editorial page by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I admire his writing very much and always read his warm essays. But in this one, he names John Lennon’s assassin. In my opinion, he never should have mentioned the monster’s name. No one ever should.

A post script: WNEW-FM played somber music for days following the tragedy. Finally, the talented morning DJ, Dave Herman, said it was time to put aside the sad music. The first song he played after that proclamation: “Oh-Bla-Di, Oh-Bla-Dah” by the Beatles. As usual, Dave hit it on the mark:

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!…
Lala how the life goes on.


Days 107-136: Here I Go Again

Here I Go Again.

More shame on me for not keeping up with this blog and getting a major case of summer laziness. Actually, super busy with my day job, happily. Plus a vacation in East Hampton.

Here it is, summer of ’10 and I haven’t had a sip of Diet Coke. I’m thrilled and proud of myself. Keeping up with club soda and Poland Spring fruit flavored bubbly. I don’t miss Diet Coke at all. Sometimes, I surprise myself and only drink room temperature water. I walked over the a good cart on Avenue of the Americas and 53rd Street on the southwest corner. They’re touted as having the best food card food and there is usually a long line, but it moves quickly. Sometimes, I’ll treat myself to a terrific chicken sandwich with white sauce and hot sauce. I’ll have a large bottle of Poland Spring with it.

I don’t miss the bubbles sometimes.

A major loss occurred the other day. Jerry Flint, a funny, smart, kind, supportive gentlemen, died at 79 of a stoke. Jerry gave me my first professional journalism job at the New York Times. I was a sophomore at Boston University and become friends with a NY Times superb reporter Judy Klemesrud. She told me that the Times had a “stringer” program for college students. Some colleges had one NY Times stringer whose job was to file stories and contribute to “round-up” stories. She gave me the name of Jerry Flint as the person to contact.

Amazingly, just as I called Flint, the BU stringer, Larry Levy, was graduating, creating an opening. Flint hired me on the spot after a very brief interview.

Every time I was in New York to go home, I visited the Times and sought Jerry. He was incredibly patient with me in his cluttered office. He would listen, give advice and chew on his pencil.

I will never forget him for his kindness. Within a few months of what would turn out to be my three-year stint working for the Times as an undergraduate student at BU, I had my first story published. It was about a special program at one of BU’s colleges. A second story quickly followed. Jerry would call often to give me an assignment.

Like many greats of the NY Times, including Doug Kneeland and Roy Reed, Jerry eventually left the Times and joined Forbes, where he was still working when he died. Before and after Jerry’s sting as an assistant national editor at the Times, he covered the auto industry and was the best on the beat.

A heartfelt and sad goodbye to Jerry Flint. One of the greats.

Days 56-107: Shame on Me for Not Posting

My wife asked me over the weekend whether I was still posting by blog. I admitted I hadn’t since we returned from Paris a few weeks ago. This morning, I was quite surprised that I hadn’t posted since the end of May! Shame on me. When I began this blog, I said it would be dropped if I began drinking Diet Coke again.

Fortunately, I can happily say that isn’t the reason I haven’t posted. Let me state for the record: I have NOT had any Diet Coke….or any beverage other than water and sparkling water…since I began this blog. Nor do I expect to. Even being in Paris with the wonderful Coke Light didn’t tempt me. In fact, I didn’t have the excellent french fries when I was there either.

Writing a daily blog didn’t seem that difficult. After all, when I was the daily advertising columnist at the Wall Street Journal, I churned out on average 800-12,000 four to five times a week. But I had material to work with and people to quote. A blog such as this is more difficult. Basically, it is my thoughts and observations.

I’ll try to keep this blog up and running.

So far, it’s been a great summer. My spectacular daughter graduated from high school and is headed off to college in New England. Actually, she is already there taking a course or two and getting a leg up on what she expects to be an aggressive academic freshman year. So far, she loves it.

That means my wife and I are empty nest-ers for the first time in our 24 years together. Bittersweet for both of us.

And any summer that begins with a trip to Paris cannot be bad.

This past weekend, my wife and I saw “The Kids Are All Right” and “Cyrus” and liked them both a lot. Last weekend, we saw the excellent Joan Rivers documentary and “Solitary Man,” which held my attention, but was just OK.  The reason I mention this is not to show release my inner movie critic, but to mention that I no longer have popcorn and Diet Coke–or anything–when going to the movies. What a concept. Sitting for about two hours and not eating. It was similar to the discussion we had last week before driving our daughter to Boston.

“Do what we bring in car for a snack?” my wife asked. I suggested that we can each last three hours in a car without eating. And so we did.

Well, let’s see whether I can continue this blog. Again, it’s been 107 days without Diet Coke. Onward.

Day 55: Summer In The City

I emerged from Metro North this morning as I usually do: exiting the back entrance of Grand Central through the J.B. Morgan building on Madison Avenue.  As I stepped into the Morgan building, I was hit with a blast of cold air conditioning. The first time this happens each year, it immediately takes me back to the summer I spent working as a messenger for my father’s (successful) one-man advertising operation, which he called The Other Studio. It was located on Madison and 41st in what is now the boutique hotel The Library.

I had nothing to do that summer and my father, one of the kindest and supportive people who ever lived, took pity on me and brought me on to schelp packages and envelopes around midtown Manhattan. Walking around the hot and humid city was terribly uncomfortable and I remember what a relief it was to push through the revolving doors and have air conditioning hit my face. This was before buildings installed major security and I was able to enter at will.

While it was great to hang out with the my father that summer–and commute back to Brooklyn with him driving–this wasn’t the best summer job I had. By far and away, the most magical summer was when I worked as an unpaid intern at the insightful, ahead-of-its-time journalism review magazine, (More), while I was a college student.

I got that job by sheer audacity. Upon the urging and recommendation of my NY Times friend Judy Klemesrud, I called J. Anthony Lukas, an incredible former NY Times reporter, who left the paper to write books.  He was working on a book about the disgraceful end of the Nixon presidency and Judy thought he might need someone to help with research. So I called Tony and had a pleasant chat. It was clear he was looking for a professional researcher and not some college kid. But, he said, he co-founded (More) magazine and perhaps it needed someone.

I called the magazine’s co-founder, Richard Pollak, and was immediately hired. (More) was struggling and there was no pay. No matter. I met some of the most colorful people ever, including the fantastic No. 2 editor, Claudia Cohen. She was fun, smart, ozzed New York, and incredibly generous. Each morning, I walked in to see Claudia, dressed in fashionable slacks and top with her feet up on her desk telling the office of a great event she attended the evening before. At cocktail hour, we would go to a local bar and have the food freebies. Of course, I would have a glass of Coca-cola.

Even though we–there were one or two other interns–weren’t paid monetarily, I thought we received the best payment ever. (More) had access to virtually every journalist in town and Richard and Claudia would bring in anyone we wanted for a brown bag lunch. I met David Halberstam, Nora Ephron, and many others. Tony Lukas even tore himself away from the research of his book, which he eventually called “Nightmare,” to have lunch. So did Joel Siegel, the movie critic, who was then at WCBS/2 and would move to “Good Morning America.”

And we got to write items for the magazine’s “Hellbox” section. This–and working in Boston with John Kifner at the Times–was the best training I got ever have received. A dirty secret: this was by far and away better than any education I ever encountered in journalism class.

Claudia, one of the the nicest people, died way too young. Tony Lukas committed suicide in 1997. Halberstam was killed in a car accident while on his way to interview someone for yet another book.

I ran into Richard Pollak at Simon & Schuster when looking at proofs of my book, “Conflicting Accounts: The Creation and Crash of the Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Empire.” He was doing the same for a book he had written. Richard has one of the kindest, most open faces ever and it was so pleasant to see him again and catch him up on my career.

He was very proud.

Sadly (More) folded. Journalism needs it now more than ever.

Days 53-54: “I’ve Heard That Song Before”

I walked into the company cafeteria this morning where the staff usually has on WCBS-FM, the oldies station. Oh, wait…you cannot say oldies anymore for that format. Why? Because some no nothing in radio decided that is a bad word. It implies the audience is also old and not attractive to advertisers.Now, WCBS-FM plays the “greatest hits of the ’60s and ’70s.”

WCBS-FM used to be an interesting station. But that was pre-1972 when it became an oldies station. It used to be a free form station of sorts with terrific DJs, including Bobby “Wizard” Wayne, Steve O’Shea, Tom Clay, Bob Bobaloo Lewis and Steve Clark. Then it was a fun oldies station with many of the former WABC DJs, including the best DJ ever Dan Ingram as well as Ron Lundy and Harry Harrison.

In any event, this morning, I was treated to “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees while getting my fruit selection and my Poland Spring Sparkling Water. I thought to myself, “I don’t care if I ever hear that song again.”

Commercial radio is littered with such boring programming as playing the same few songs to death. Really…what if you never heard the following tired songs again: “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Light My Fire,” “Baby Love,” “Ronnie,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” and so on.

You wouldn’t know it from listening to oldies stations, but Bob Dylan actually has other recording beyond “Like A Rolling Stone.”

I don’t agree with the reasoning that radio stations play the same garbage over and over again in order to prevent listeners from hitting the button to switch stations. Commercial radio, unfortunately, has become nothing but “Feel Good” oldies–or pick your format–and used as background.

I grew up when radio was in the foreground and was theater of the mind. Want to hear what I’m referring to? Listen to “Idiot’s Delight,” Vin Sclesa’s amazing show on SiriusXM’s The Loft, heard Wednesdays and Thursdays from Noon- 2 PM ET. It’s repeated Sundays at 8 PM. He is also heard on WFUV-FM in New York ( Saturdays at 8 PM ET.

Oh yea, throw “Layla” in that list.

Day 52: The 5 AM Gym

May 18, 2010

Day 52: The 5 AM Gym

I am the last person anyone ever thought would go to a gym. But in 1997, I took a baby step and joined the Equinox near our apartment on the upper east side. Amazingly, I liked it. I went in the evening after work and I only did the treadmill.

But then I started going middays. One morning I couldn’t sleep and decided to get the gym out of the way by going at 5 AM. The next morning, I just woke up early and decided to do the same. Very quickly, this became the routine. (Although I don’t know how many of my fellow gym goers would leave after a workout and almost immediately grab a Diet Coke.)

I love working out at 5 AM. First, it gets the workout out of the way. I’m not tired. I begin the day accomplishing something for myself and my family. I work out with a fantastic, personable, caring trainer three times each week.

The same cast of characters are at the gym each morning. We all know one  another and often chat though not so much as to interfere with the workout. Sometimes we bemoan the fact that we’re there at 5 AM, but I have a feeling none of us will have it any other way.

There are a few unfriendly people who never say hello or acknowledge anyone else. Ever. I’m sure they’re not shy. I never bought that explanation when I would observe that someone is unfriendly. “Oh, no,” someone would respond. “They’re just bashful.” Maybe because I’m not bashful I find it hard to believe someone cannot even say a quick hello.

I’ve had two trainers. To be fair, my heart wasn’t in the workouts with my first trainer, a former Marine with a heart of gold. He left the gym and I introduced myself to another trainer, someone who I observed and liked. I told him my goal and we’ve been working together for over a a year.

Both trainers told me to give up Diet Coke. I didn’t listen to either. Each said to me, “you know, you’d lose even more weight if you just gave it up. It’s not good. All those chemicals.”

As with almost everything about me, I had reach that conclusion myself. Both are thrilled. (I still keep up with Trainer No. 1.)

And you know what? I don’t have cravings since I gave up Diet Coke. Nor do I feel hungry. Nor–and this is the most interesting—do I get headaches.

It’s good to know that I am no longer lifting cans or bottles of Diet Coke, but what I am lifting are weights at the gym.

Day 51: Upfront and Personal

Today is the first day of the Upfront presentations from the television networks for the 2010-’11 primetime season. It’s a ritual of spring. I attended my first upfront presentation in 1984 as a reporter from Variety. I still get a kick out of them. You see programs that “civilians” won’t see for four or five months or longer. The stars are there and, at lunches or cocktail parties, you get to mingle with them. You see your pals from other publications who you haven’t seen in awhile. You eat incredibly well. In short, it’s fun.

I recall one NBC upfront presentation in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf many years ago. The head of entertainment said the network was so excited about a specific pilot, we were going to see the entire show instead of the usual clip. The show was “The Golden Girls” and it was an immediate hit with the audience at the upfront. If you think the audience at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a tough room, try upfronts. The audience is the media and advertisers. They rarely react. But “The Golden Girls” was an exception. And, as I remember, this was a breakfast, so getting people to laugh that early was a challenge.

At another upfront, this time for ABC, Tim Allen was introduced after a clip was shown for “Home Imrpovement.” Tim, dressed in white from heads to toe, bombed. Big time. No one laughed. But, of course, he had the last laugh as his show went on to become a monster hit.

My favorite upfront story involved Johnny Carson telling the audience he would retire within the year. I was a reporter at the Wall Street Journal and, truth to tell, I wasn’t interested in this as a major story. I didn’t love stories that everyone else was pursuing. Happily, in the case of the exit of Jonny Carson, neither were my editors. While my fellow reporters were writing huge stories, I didn’t file a word.

My goal was to stop covering the television beat before I had to cover Carson’s retirement and the jockeying to be his successor. I was chosen to be the WSJ’s Advertising columnist, succeeding a close friend who was becoming an editor, before the Carson story heated up.

The other great aspect of upfronts are the cocktail parties and lunches. The stars are there and it’s always interesting to watch advertising executives and media buyers line up to have their photo snapped with a primetime star.

I followed the same routine: I would head straight to the bar and secure two Diet Cokes before beginning a conversation with someone from the network or a reporter.

Now my need for a drink is less desperate. I can wait to have my club soda or water with no ice.

But, wait, where’s that tray of jumbo shrimp or sushi?

Days 48, 49, 50: Little Honey

You mean to tell me that I have gone 50 days without a Diet Coke? A slap on my back. And the summer is coming. I must admit that I miss my carbonated pal from time to time. But I’ll do it. Again, last night, my daughter had a Diet Coke with our sushi dinner at Haru on the Upper West Side and I had my club soda with lemon.

Quite a day yesterday. My wife and I drive early to East Hampton and one of our destinations was Main Beach. Simply beautiful. On the way to East Hampton, we drive through Bridgehampton. I have great memories of both Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor. Many years ago, when I was in college and just out of college, I went to Sag Harbor quite often as a guest of a great, great New York Times reporter who I have mentioned in previous blogs. Judy Klemesrud. Every Times article I wished I had written had her byline. I wrote her a fan letter when I was a freshmen in college and she wrote back. I was lucky. She was the kindest, funniest, most supportive person I ever met. She invited me to lunch and, as it turned out, she lived a block from my parent’s co-op in NYC.

We had lunch on a Saturday at PJ Clarke’s and a close friendship was formed. She nicknamed me her “little honey” and lectured me that as a college student and reporter-in-training I should never pay for anything. She rented a house in Sag Harbor with a group of friends and invited me out to sleep in a guest room. An amazing time. I was hanging out with reporters and authors who were heroes to me. Judy treated me as an equal and I will always be in her debt.

I remember once she took me to Bobby Van’s in Bridgehampton (its original location across from its current location; it’s now a restaurant called World Pie). In the summer of 1976, an upstart from Manhattan, JG Melon’s, opened at the edge of town (the corner where you’d turn left for Sag Harbor). Judy had the ability to turn anything into a story and this was no exception. As the saying goes, you could look it up; in the NY Times on August 3, 1976, Judy’s article on the competition between the two appeared. (Bobby Van’s survives; JG Melon’s is now The Ocean.)

As I got older, Sag Harbor and the beach eventually wore off on me. I thought, why am I spending all this time to travel out here in horrible traffic and go to the beach to see people in bathing suits who I see all week in their work clothes?

Then in 1986, I met the woman who would become my wife.  She owned a house on the east end and, well, I fell in love…and in love with the beach again.

Now East Hampton is my destination each summer. Good friends….and a Diet Coke-free zone.

Sadly, Judy died of cancer in 1985. She was 46.