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NY Ephemera #2

Sometimes when you’re sitting on the subway train there’s nothing to do but stare at the ads.  Remember these ubiquitous ones from the 80’s, glossy yellow squares that said “Pregnant?  We can help!”?  I was an art student then and I collected them for kicks.  You used to be able to pry ads out of the subway cars, even the 24”X36” ones at shoulder level.  I’d find myself on the D or N Train about 1 o’clock in the morning, alone, and take what I could.  The only things that were secured were system maps.

Granted, from before my time.  You can see ads like this at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn

Granted, from before my time. You can see ads like this at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn

Ads were from everywhere, and nobody seemed to have more than a couple of feet of space per car.  Local doctors clinics, sports, cigarettes, beer, WFAN ads for the Mets; you could find all kinds of stuff.  This changed sometime in the 90’s when companies started placarding one whole side of the subway car, including the 24”X36” spaces.  I recall those Captain Morgan ads that turned up everywhere; they became annoying because you could never really look away from them.  One time I got on a PATH train heading to Jersey and found them there too, and then all over the Hoboken Station!

Part of the fun of getting into a subway was to see all the different advertisements there were.  When that was taken away, advertising uniformity became a real drag.  Also, with the delivery of new subway cars came plastic coverings over ALL the ads.  With advertisements now protected, the days of my petty thievery were over.

Around 1991 ads for local dermatologist Dr. Jonathan Zizmor appeared, I never noticed them among all that other visual noise on the cars.  But as the 90’s went on his ads stayed put, they even stayed when almost the entire remainder of some cars was taken up by Captain Morgan or an ad for some Broadway play.  I noticed him then, because he stayed, he was a survivor.Zizmor

The ads were almost all alike through the years, “Dr. Z” on the left side with a faint yet earnest smile, kind of like a Mona Lisa for the Five Boroughs.  He had an overall kind of hangdog look because of his eyes, kind of hapless.  He was a young looking guy with a hint of a receding hairline.  There was, next to him, an inspirational message like “Don’t accept bad skin” or some similar sentiment.  Next to that was a picture of the Statue of Liberty or the Chrysler Building, reminding us that he was just a Metrocard swipe away.  The backgrounds always changed every few months but his picture was always the same.  I’ve heard he even designs all his ads himself.

Dr. Zizmor prescribed treatments for blotchy skin and or acne.  He also offered anti-aging treatments.  I always thought his name was a near pun, kind of like “Dr. Zits-More” or, more appropriately, “Zits-No-More.”  He’s steadily maintained an office on East 58th Street for many years now.IMG_3957

He and his subway ads have survived good times and bad; the economic boom of the 90’s, the horror of 9/11, and petty things like the Bloomberg parking “scandal” and the occasional subterranean incursion by Improv Everywhere.  Over the years I’d visit the City, 1999, 2004 and 7, 2014; and look up on a train and see his reassuring hound dog face.

“See, Bill, you’re not getting old…look at me!  I’ve been here since 1991 and haven’t changed a bit!  Buck up Pilgrim!”

Seeing the ads was definitely a reminder of the past, to a time when I was not gray and was a New Yorker.  But as the years go on and he still refuses to change, well, isn’t that now a bit of false advertising for his business?  I’ve never been to his office so I don’t know this for sure; but maybe his anti-aging treatments consist of simply not updating the photo.

But then again maybe what he’s really saying is “I use the treatments myself and I just haven’t aged at all.”

Then I Googled him.

Dr. Z: Nowadays. I know it hurts, but don’t look away.

I can’t “un-see” these updated images of Dr. Z; it’s not that he looks bad; he just got older like all the rest of us.  Too bad.  For a while there I really thought he should “keep it real” and update his picture.  Now I really hope next time I’m in New York I see his vintage 1991 visage looking down at all of us, while we’re blithely zipping through the tunnels.  It keeps me feeling young, like a free anti-aging treatment.

2 replies
  1. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    Bill, I remember those ads too. It is nice being able to see his same photo all these years later. I agree, the variety of advertisements helped pass the time and gave your gaze a focus, while avoiding the other subway riders. Great writing, as usual!!! 🙂

  2. Alannah
    Alannah says:

    Bill, we also have adverts in the underground here, but they are often so incredibly boring, I never notice them. For a while, there was a campaign where you’d see poems from various authors, famous and not so famous. I really enjoyed that, as sometimes they were beautiful and made you go look up the author on the internet etc, but I never see them any more, which is a shame.
    Love all your stories about the towns you’ve lived in. Very entertaining.


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