Saturday, April 18, 2015

Lines from the Bronx.

Spring--maybe even summer--appears to have arrived in New York. According to the thermometer on the dashboard of my car, the temperature as we highwayed through New York's only borough which is attached to the mainland, was 79. "That's almost 80," I astutely observed and 80, to me, has always demarcated summer.

We drove through small pock-mocked streets lined with crooked little houses fronted by large SUVs. The laughter of children was missing. It was still too early. But the traffic on 95, blithely called the New England Thruway, though it's far from New England and far from providing a through-way.

The trash on the side of the road was deep. There were the usual legion of cigarette detritus. I saw the frayed cushions of an old sofa and enough old hubcaps and lug nuts to open up a specialty shop in College Point.

The forsythia were in bloom. In bloom in the Bronx. Along the highway there was a stretch where they blazed yellow for forty yards. They brightened the borough. They would not have been out of place in Kauai, Hawaii.

I thought of Ogden Nash, my favorite poet when I was a kid.

In 1931, "The New Yorker" published these lines.

The Bronx?
No, thonx.

Thirty-three years later, a dean at a division of City College, Abraham Tauber, wrote a letter to Nash, complaining about his earlier epigram.

Nash wrote him this back, which was published in "The New York Times" in 1964.

Dear Dean Tauber,
I can't seem to escape the
sins of my smart-alec youth;
Here are my amends.

I wrote those lines, "The Bronx?
No thonx";
I shudder to confess them.

Now I'm an older, wiser man
I cry, "The Bronx? God bless
them!"


Seeing the forsythia girding New York's grittiest precinct, driving through the litter and the rickety, I thought of Nash's later lines.

I wrote those lines, "The Bronx?
No thonx";
I shudder to confess them.

Now I'm an older, wiser man
I cry, "The Bronx? God bless
them!"

Friday, April 17, 2015

Juego de viejos.

I haven’t watched a baseball game as yet this year. While hope may spring eternal in the human breast, my personal aquifer of optimism is more than a trifle arid. The game itself is sullied for me. Sullied by the robo-muscles of chemical origins that rendered the records of my youth meaningless. Sullied by the fact that the most important component on any team is not a wily lefty who nips the black with a fading fastball, but an accountant who knows how to make the salary cap fit snug over the luxury cap. Sullied because the tax-payer money from poor-folks has built the stadiums only the mega-rich can afford. I see nothing romantic in going to a ballgame and spending $27 for a frankfurter and a cup of suds.

Maybe I am too much like Bierce’s definition of a cynic in that I know the price of everything and the value of nothing. But nevertheless, the season, thus far has not excited my proclivities.

That said, just last night I got a phone call from Saltillo, Mexico that may help me turn the corner. On the other end of the blower was one Juan Jose Pacho, the manager of the Saraperos de Saltillo, the team in the Mexican league for whom I toiled one dusty season some forty rotations ago.

I didn’t know Pacho from when I played—he was only 15 when I returned to college in New York, but I’ve met him a few times through the years and have an amiable, if casual, relationship with him.

Pacho was a damn good ballplayer in his day, compiling a .278 lifetime batting average (in the pitcher-friendly Mexican League) and amassing almost 1,800 hits while playing 19 years for the Yucatan Lions and the Mexico City Red Devils. Like Hector Quesadilla before him, he is proud of his bronze likeness in the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Jorge Navidad,” he said as I picked up the phone.

“We are having an old-timers game, a juego de viejos in Saltillo, juego de veteranos, on el sabado, trigesimo de mayo.”

I translated to myself. Coincidentally, my wife and I were planning on going to Cape Cod that weekend. We almost always head north for Memorial Day.

“I haven’t played ball in 40 years,” I temporized.

Pacho tutted in Spanish.

“In an old-timers game, not much ball is played,” he reminded me.

I thought of my still-unrepaired rotator cuff. I might be accepting a new job soon, yet still haven’t had it repaired. I thought about the extra adipose that’s holding a convention around my mid-section.

Could I even make a throw from third to first, a distance of almost 130 feet? Could I even race down the 90 feet from home to first? That is, if I could even scuff a ball with a bat.

I thought about all those things.

Then I quickly said, “si, sin duda.” Without a doubt.

Pacho promised to send an email with travel arrangements and hotel rooms. He said he was looking forward to seeing me at the comida de viejos…the dinner of old men the Friday before the game. I admitted I was looking forward to seeing him, too and hung up the horn.

Somehow I will explain all this to my ever-loving. And for some reason, after rolling her eyes up to the heavens, she will understand.

Play ball.



When you don't "feel" creative.

In the hurly-burly of agency life, there's very little chance to be a prima-donna.

Turnaround times are generally so fast, that there's no time to waste tossing pencils into the ceiling tiles. If you want to be precise about it, ceiling tiles are a thing of the past, too, but that's besides the point.

What I mean is this.

You have a meeting tomorrow and you need to write four pieces of body copy for the all-important deck. This used to be a week's work. Now it's an hour's.

I'm not really complaining. It's the way things are. We have to process and create faster than ever.

Just recently I came upon 11 Commandments from the seminal author of "Tropic of Cancer," Henry Miller.

It's his fifth Commandment that gave rise to this post.

"When you can't create you can work."

There's a lot of wisdom in those seven words.

Some times there's simply no time to flights of poetic fancy. Some times, let's face it, you just don't have it.

Still, you have to get it done.

No excuses.

That's when work comes in. When you put one word after another and make things work.

It would be nice to spend days gazing off into the abyss and waiting for the whim to tickle your caprice.

But life, and work, doesn't respect your moods and your inclinations.

There's only one thing to do.

Work.

--

And now, a dissenting opinion from Mr. Ray Charles.
video

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Some thoughts on doors.

Doors are pretty ordinary things.

I imagine they've existed in some form for as long as humankind has lived "in-doors."

Maybe they began with a large rock rolled in front of the egress to a cave. Put there to keep animals or the wind out.

I know people's homes had doors in ancient Sumer.

Certainly Mongolian nomads had doors on their yurts. As the Bedouin had flaps on their tents.

Comanche tipis. Iroquois long-houses. Algonquin hogans. They all had some sort of barrier.

As did the Napatean cliff-dwellers in Petra. And the Hopi in New Mexican limestone.

Frost wrote about Walls. But they're different, I suppose.

In advertising, however, doors are almost non-existent.

You can win gold after gold after gold. Or have sensitive high-level client communication. Or simply need a modicum of quiet. You do it out in the open.

There are a few people here and there in the business who have achieved door-dom.

I, for one, would love to attend a TED talk on how they did it.

How they've contrived to add so much value to the organization that they've earned one of the seven or dozen barriers.

There's a lot about the new world order that I will never understand.

Add doors to the list.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A new world order.

I took the bus home last night and about two stops in, a young lady sat next to me, and surprisingly, put down her iPhone long-enough to have a conversation.

“I see you’re reading ‘Ad Week,’” she began. “Are you in the business.”

I responded as I usually do when someone asks. I grunted.

“I am too,” she parried. “I head of HR at _____________.”

“That’s a big job. How are things over there?”

“Things are great!” She fairly gushed. “Account people and creatives get along. Doing timesheets isn’t an issue. Everyone is fully billable.”

“That doesn’t sound like any agency I’ve ever heard of,” I said. “What’s your secret?”

She was galloping ahead as the bus rolled slowly east.

“We’ve equipped everyone of our employees with a body camera,” she said. “Every conversation, every interaction is fully monitored.

“If an account person tells a writer some copy is due on Tuesday, it’s all on the videotape. We have full accounting of what everyone is doing every minute, so there’s no need for anyone to do a timesheet.”

“What about privacy?” I countered, “Or if you just need to be alone to think.”

“We’ve found an agency works smoother without those impediments. Remember, our first accountability is to our shareholders. Full body cameras keep them fully informed.”

The bus has taken a left and was now aiming slowly uptown.

“It sounds horrific,” I said as I got up for my stop.

“Be careful what you say,” she reminded me. “I have this all on film.”



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Found copywriting near NYU.


Some thoughts on the candidate's logos.

I'm of two minds about the early logos of some of our putative presidential candidates.

Hillary's, which is festooned with a red arrow pointing sideways and to the right, seems like the candidate itself. Nobody really liked the logo but I guess it made it through rounds and rounds of committee meetings, so they went with it. And as for the arrow pointing upwards, well, I'd say that would render it priapic.


If you judge presidential candidates as how they'd be to work with if they were your client, I think you'd toss out most of them. They seem, as a rule (or as in the case of the lower tier of republican candidates, as a drool) to be too heavily influenced by polls and focus groups and legions of advisors whose sole skill is ass covering.

I don't mind Hillary's logo, though. At least it isn't some wretched design that morphs into flag bunting on the bottom which has been the trend for so long. That and five-pointed stars. At least she's avoided those.

So far, anyway.

Marco Rubio's logo, like the candidate himself, seems to be trying too hard to be humble. Rubio, 43, is clearly a megalomaniac, and his logo compensates for that, or tries to, by being in lowercase. The line "A NEW AMERICAN CENTURY" to me reeks of neo-fascism and suggests that we will once again impose our white will on a dark world. Of course, the small map of the continental US as the dot over the i in Rubio is downright frightening. Not only has he pissed off, I'm sure, Alaska and Hawaii, the idea that most of America punctuates the man is odious, and as I said, megalomaniacal.

Of course, my forte in marketing doesn't really extend to logos. But that's my two cents.

Which is more than my comments are worth.




Monday, April 13, 2015

When I worked with Gunther Grass.

I just read Gunther Grass’ obituary. I had always admired Grass. In my mind, his memoir “Peeling the Onion,” was the best book I ever read about post-war Germany and reconciling your past to your present.


Years ago during a somewhat less-than-luminous period in my career, I was asked to run the Scott’s lawn care business. This, in my opinion, was not an adroit bit of creative casting. Neither me nor my partner Craig had ever lived in a house with a lawn. Neither of us had ever lived in the suburbs where lawn-culture so predominates. But an assignment is an assignment, so we took it on.

I was sitting in my office early one morning, as usual devoid of ideas. Craig came in a few minutes after ten with a pad and markers, ready to work. We chitted and chatted for a while. Then I asked Craig what he had done the evening before.

“I watched a video,” he answered. “I saw ‘The Tin Drum.’”

“Gunther Grass’ Tin Drum,” I clarified unnecessarily.

Craig immediately threw open his drawing pad and scribbled these now immortal words: “Gunther Grass on Scott’s Grass.” That was it. We would use the Nobel-prize winning author as our spokesman.

I quickly got on the blower to Grass’ flat in Lubeck.

“Herr Grass,” I said as he answered the Ameche. I explained our concept.

“Das is gut,” the taciturn Teuton tutted.


Two weeks later we were shooting him standing on a verdant green lawn. The camera pulls back and you see he’s standing next to a horse’s head teeming with live eels. Some people thought that was too much. But we got the shot. And it worked.

“A lot can happen to your lawn,” he said as the camera cut to the equine and piscine scene. “This is Gunther Grass. Protect your grass with Scott’s.” And then the tagline. “Scott’s. Das is gut.”

Rest in Peace, big fella.




My coffee shops.



One of the things that non-New Yorkers who come to New York only occasionally miss about New York is how like a small town it really is.

We think of huge skyscrapers. Suffocating crowds. And interminable gridlock.

Sure we have all of that.

But we also have the guys in the deli to kibbitz with, a pretty interesting bunch of cab-drivers and an ever evolving cast of delivery boys who now are cycling through Latin and South American countries. It used to be they were all Chinese. Then Puerto Rican. Then Mexican. Now the lowest rung on the ladder is manned by Guatamalans, Ecuadoreans, or those from Honduras.

I'm still freelancing but been pretty much booked full-time by two pretty prestigious places. One on the far West Side (the last agency before the Lincoln Tunnel) the other near Union Square in one of the city's more rarefied precincts.

I travel to the far West Side by two different routes. And therefore have two different places I go to for my cuppa.


One is called Pom-Pom, don't ask me why. And it's manned by two identical twin 30-year-old Greek Brothers with Dick Gautier hair. They are efficient, friendly and pour a good, cheap cuppa joe. They have it bagged and ready in a jiffy.

The other place I go to is called simply "Gourmet 49." It's not the cleanest place I've ever been in. They haven't a single ceiling tile that isn't stained by a leak from somewhere. I reckon, with the explosive growth on Manhattan's Far West Side, neither place is in it for the long haul. New buildings are rising like boners in a frat house, and each of these joints occupies the main floor of a two-or-three story building.

In Gourmet 49, everyone working is Puerto Rican. I know it's good and a good value because all the UPS drivers stop there as do all the construction workers who toil nearby. The guy who gets me my java is a dead ringer for Che Guevara, right down to the military green cap he wears. I keep waiting for revolutionary rhetoric with my black but instead get nothing more than a Puerto Rican gracias with its dropped S.

Downtown, my little coffee place has no name that I know of. It's a Korean grocery, deli, salad bar place with a selection of about nine different coffee spigots you can pull as you serve yourself. Then, like a salmon swimming against the current, you make your way through the crowds to the Korean women behind one of four cash registers.

One or two of the women know me by now and know I like my coffee cup in a brown paper bag, napkins on top so it doesn't spill. Occasionally, I banter with them about the weather. Once I even got a comment back.

The Koreans I've found tend to be taciturn.

That's a slice of my New York.

Come visit some time.

Friday, April 10, 2015

More lessons from a cabbie.

The other day, I wrote a post about Eugene Salomon, a cabdriver whose taxi I stumbled into as I made my way home one night. At the end of my ride--at the end of our talk, he gave me his card. That's how I've remembered his name. That and he was a character. That and he's probably one of the last of what used to be legions of Jewish cabdrivers in New York.


Since baseball season is once again upon us (when Salomon gave me a ride home, the Yankees had dropped their opener against the Jays in the Bronx) we talked about baseball, Salomon doing most of the talking.

He got to a story about about a pitcher he had had, serendipitously, twice in his cab. "I knew from having him in my cab," he said, "that he would lose."

Here's the situation.

Our pitcher, Kirk McCaskill was, when this story took place in 1986, a rising star for the Anaheim Angels. He went 17-10 that season with a sterling 3.36 ERA. McCaskill, as a pitcher, fulfilled the Hippocratic oath. He did no harm. He finished his career with almost as many wins as losses. He won 106 and lost 108.

Salomon's story puts McCaskill in the back of his cab with a winsome blonde--what else--and fretting over having to face the Yankee's great Ron Guidry on the mound. Guidry was almost a decade from the best season of his career, 1978 when he won 25 and lost a mere 3. And only the year before did he notch his second best season, 22 and 6, leading the league in wins and winning percentage. But in '86, Guidry had fallen to mediocrity. He was 9-12 with a rather pedestrian 3.98 ERA. Combined in his last three seasons he won 16 and lost 23.

"McCaskill though was moaning like a man who ate too much," Salomon said, skirting a Chinese boy on a bike. "Ron Guidry. The Gator. I'm facing the Gator in Yankee Stadium.

"Even though McCaskill's career was on the way up, and Guidry's down, McCaskill was intimidated.

"I knew he'd lose his game, and he did."

Here's the pitching line for the day. Note that McCaskill threw five walks, two wild pitches and gave up two homers.


There are a lot of times in our business when it's easy to get intimidated.

Maybe you're working for a new boss who's austere, demanding and unforgiving.

Maybe the client's a harridan or the deadline's impossible.

Maybe the brief sucks.

Whatever.

You can't give in to external circumstances. To paraphrase JFK, you can't let the other guy see you blink.

You have to play your game the best you can.