Monday, July 25, 2016

Yesterday. In two pictures.

Genius, Casey Stengel and advertising.

I read a quotation the other day by a ball-player named Warren Spahn. Spahn was probably the greatest left-handed pitcher ever to play the game. Whether you agree with that statement or not, Spahn won more games than any lefty, 363, and 20 or more games—the hallmark of pitching brilliance, 13 times.

One anomaly of Spahn’s career is that he played for manager Casey Stengel twice. First Spahn played for Stengel when he was just 21 and at the start of his career in 1942. And Spahn played for Stengel in 1965 when he was 44 and at the end of his career.

Spahn’s quotation: “I'm probably the only guy who played for Stengel before and after he was a genius.”

That got me thinking about Stengel. And genius. And sic transit gloria mundi. And all that.

Stengel, who had a relatively undistinguished 13-year career as a ballplayer, began his managerial career at the age of 43, leading the woeful Brooklyn Dodgers. From 1934-1943 he led teams through eight losing seasons in nine years, finishing above .500 just once, in 1938 when his Boston Bees won two more games than they lost and finished fifth in an eight-team league—Stengel’s highest standing.

Then, Stengel headed to the Pacific Coast League where he eventually led the Oakland Oaks to a PCL Championship. 

George Weiss, the General Manager of the Yankees and a friend of Stengel's hired Stengel to lead the Yanks. Stengel managed the Bombers for 12 years, from 1949 to 1960. During that time, his boys won 10 pennants and seven World Series. 

Stengel was a genius.

Then, in 1962, Stengel went to the Mets.

His team lost more games in a single season than any team ever, 120. In his four years as the Mets' manager, his club finished in last place each year, scarcely showing any improvement at all.

Stengel didn't start dumb, get smart, then lose it.

Circumstances played a large role in the performance of his teams. I would imagine he managed with the same acumen for the 103-51 Yankees as he did for the 40-120 Mets.

The same shit happens in our business.

We win awards. We go on a streak of good work. We get promoted and lauded and etc. Then the opposite occurs. We win the world-wide Hot Pockets account. And our career goes in the toilet.

Life, in other words, is ups and downs.

Hang in there.

Stick to your knitting. That is do what you know you can do.

And maybe, like Stengel, you'll still be working at the age of 74.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tweeting in Saltillo.

Sometimes, like I get to the office earlier than anyone else, I would get to the ballpark early, just so I could move slowly. We spend too much of our lives, I think, exercising our fast-twitch muscles. Thinking quickly. Acting quickly. Moving quickly. Gobbling up the newspaper as if it were on fire. Or eating lunch like we hadn’t eaten for a month.

Sometimes, I would get to the ballpark early so I could do things ASAP, as slow as possible.

I liked the quiet of the water dripping from the old overhead pipes in the locker-room. I liked the languid process of gearing up. I liked seeing the clean-up crew, slowly and methodically, seat by seat, row by row, bringing order to the filthy chaos of the old, wooden Estadio Francesco I. Madura.

I especially liked seeing the grounds’ crew with their long hoses making lazy arcs of spray in the hopes of keeping our infield green amid the withering summer sere of Saltillo. I could see, as I ran in the outfield, the small rainbows as they swept the field with water. I could hear their lazy chatter, about last night’s game, or last night’s girl, or trouble with a transmission, or a wife, or both.

There was a scrub on the team that summer, a guy I hardly hung with and who hardly played, but whom Hector kept around because Hector kept guys around who could think, guys who understood the game and could do the invisible things that often result in gaining a run, or saving one. Guys who could hit to the opposite field or hit a cut-off man, or lay down a bunt, or distract an opponent. Anything to give us an edge.

One of those guys was, like I said, a scrub utility infielder named Jesus Verduzco who in addition to being skilled with a glove, had those quiet skills mentioned above. Verduzco was 24 when I knew him. Not only was he the sole college graduate on the team, he was, in the off-season attending medical school in Mexico City, so, of course, he went by the moniker, El Doctor.

Early one morning when you could hear the small songbirds rustling and singing in the scrub trees just beyond the painted-green outfield fence, when you could move to the rhythm ca ca ca-chunk whiiiiiiiir of the automatic sprinklers in the outfield, El Doctor and I were running together from foul pole to foul pole.

We had landed on a good metronomic pace and our legs and arms were in unison. It made, even in the early morning heat, the running easier. I was feeling young and strong and well-muscled and yes, as close to invincible as I have ever felt. I was doing well on the team, I had a pretty girlfriend, I had Hector and Teresa taking care of me like I had never been taken care of before.

New York, my home, riotous, out of control New York, to which I would be returning in a few months was far away. My parents, my absent old man and my termagant old lady, were, for now, out of my life. Even my brother, whom I loved, and my sister, whom I loved, were far far distant. It was just me, strong, powerful, a professional baseball player who had hit a double off the wall in right the night before and a home run to the deepest part of the park the night before that. I was well fed by Teresa. I had money and, for the first time in my life, a comfortable bed to sleep in.

I ran along with Verduzco and thought of Terence and A.E. Housman. The iambs of his words keeping pace with the beat of my run.

                          “Terence, this is stupid stuff:
                           You eat your victuals fast enough;
                           There can’t be much amiss, ‘tis clear,
                           To see the rate you drink your beer.
                           But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
                           It gives a chap the belly-ache…”

Verduzco, silent in our run, silent in a private reverie as was I began to speak.

“Do you hear the birds, Jorge Navidad?” he asked me.

“Of course I hear the birds. In the morning they are louder than the loudest fans.”

“They are loud because they are with other birds they love and they are with their children birds. And they are eating and loving and laughing.”

We ran another loop, from right field to left, leaping up to touch the yellow of the tall mast-like foul pole.

“Me gustaría ser un pájaro,” Verduzco said. “I wish I were a bird. Not a hawk or an eagle. And certainly not a raven or a pigeon or a crow. I wish I were a songbird with a lady songbird in the shade of a tree in the outfield.”

"With gobs of squabs," I added, quoting Marlon Brando from "On the Waterfront."

We ran another loop, this time from left field back to right.

“If I were a bird, I would not be here. If I were a bird, if something made me unhappy, or angry, or if my wife bird annoyed me, I could jump out of my nest and fly away to another tree. Singing all the time.”

We slowly ran another foul-pole to foul-pole circuit in the outfield, slowly and silently, listening to the swoosh of our spikes kicking up the grass and the singing of the little songbirds just beyond the fence.

Finally, after two loops of silence, Verduzco stopped. He shook my hand, thanking me for the run.

“Yes. Me gustaría ser un pájaro.”

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Last week or two weeks ago, a Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter from "The New York Times," died. His name was Sydney Schanberg and more than anyone else, he was responsible for bringing the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot to the attention of the world.

Pol Pot killed literally millions of his countrymen. You may recall some jaw-dropping photographs of his various genocides. The sea of skulls and bones. 

In a movie about Schanberg and his friend and photographer, Dith Pran, "The Killing Fields," there was a scene where Pran ran over acres of skulls to escape from those seeking to capture and kill him.
This morning I had an IM conversation with an old friend whom I worked with over two decades ago. He's 69 now and involuntarily retired from the industry, forced out of a WPP-property a few years ago along with his almost 50 years of experience.

It was all very sad. Sad that as an industry we are throwing out brains like homicidal tinpot dictator.

I know no agency wants to have a 69-year-old around. Most don't even want someone my age. Or someone 44.

But it's sad.

Walking over the dead.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Confessions of a front tooth.

When I was just a young boy I was in an ongoing and titanic war with my older brother, Fred. He had two years on me, but due to the vagaries of our birth-dates we were only one grade apart, and while he was, then, an inch or three taller, I was stockier, and probably out-weighed him.

We spent a lot of our time in pitched-battle, rolling on the floor, trying to punch each other’s lights out. One time, I think I was around four, we battled at the top of the steps of my parents’ small tilted house. I tumbled ass-over-teakettle down a flight of steps and, it seemed, landed square on one of my lower front teeth. This was probably 1960 or 1961.

About ten years after that fight, residual damage sent me in to have a root canal on the same tooth. And about five or seven years after that, a foul-tip when I was horsing around behind the plate when I played for the Seraperos, caught my lower jaw and further damaged the already traumatic tooth.

Today, early, as I write this, I am seeing the dental equivalent of the College of Cardinals to rectify the tooth once and for all. Since mid-June, I have been going to various peri and endo dontists and subject to poking, prodding, scraping, gouging, drilling and more drilling as they attempt to reverse the deadness that started back when John Kennedy was president and the country was filled more with hope than with hate.

This restorative process will continue into the Fall and then the Winter, and perhaps some time around 2017, if I haven’t perished from over-work, I will have a gleaming new tooth courtesy of the aforementioned –dontists and the wonders of polymer chemistry.

Until then, I may be smiling less than usual and talking through my lips more than usual. Not being unfriendly. Just hiding my not inconsiderable dark side.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The long view and a bit of Faulkner.

Years ago when I was a young almost-man, I studied to be a professor of English literature. But as I was completing my course of study, I almost did the unthinkable. My focus and interest began shifting from literature to history.

I think if I had been born ten years earlier and had needed graduate school as a crutch to keep me out of Vietnam, I would have gone on for a degree in history. 

Of late, I find solace in history. At a time when it seems like all order is gone in the world, that terrorists lurk around every corner and every cop is a criminal, history tells us that these times we are living through are not really extraordinary or extraordinarily threatening.

Last night as I turned the Republican National Convention on TV, I felt armed, somewhat. I had read, I guess before the 2012 conventions, a New York Review of Books reissue of Norman Mailer's accounts of the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions: "Miami and the Siege of Chicago."

Mailer was a hugely gifted writer. And while I was 10 in 1968, he brought those conventions and the candidates to life in ways I missed the first time around.

If you're trying to make sense of our worldwide entropy epidemic, Mailer's 200-page book might not be a bad way to start. Many of the hatreds and fears and forces that are so visceral today were just as visceral in Miami and Chicago almost 50 years ago. 

Back then, we were a country riven by a murderous war. We were a country at war with ourselves. We were a country where it was plausible that soldiers would shoot down (like in some Latin American fief) protesting students.

The world has always been nasty and brutish. Life has always been short. And leaders from Caesar to Nixon to Trump have always been able to leverage fear of other to make electoral hay.

That's my point today--the historical precedent I'd like to point out. Nothing good comes when candidates and political systems operate on the basis of propagating fear. People are easy to manipulate when they're afraid and when people are easy to manipulate bad things tend to happen.

Of late a lot of people have come to me feeling afraid. Afraid of Trumpism. Afraid of our racial discord. Afraid of the economics of inequality.

All I can do is let them know how I cope.

I read a bit of history. I find that we've been through this before, and somehow survived.

Often I think of Faulkner, too. I guess going back to my literary roots.

This is from his Nobel Prize Banquet Speech, December 10, 1950, in Oslo, Norway. My gentle highlights are bolded.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it.
There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bombings. Murder. Entropy.

Just about every weekend, my wife and I pile into our restored 1966 Simca 1600 and drive up to a beach in Westchester where Whiskey, our four-year-old golden retriever can swim in the Long Island Sound.

If you want to do this, you have to hit the beach around 7:30, because around 9, the cops start showing up and throwing their weight around. There’s no ostensible reason for them doing this weight throwing, it’s just what cops do.

On the way home we dodge the mayhem of i95, switch onto the Bruckner Expressway and cross the Bronx, either heading over the Triboro Bridge into Manhattan, or saving the $5.44 and taking the free Willis Avenue Bridge.

I’ve done this drive maybe a thousand times in my life, and if you want to know the truth, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I know exactly what lane to be in when and I know where every pothole and storm drain is and know how to avoid them.

At one section, just as you’re crossing over an old drawbridge on the Bronx River, the road precipitously narrows from three lanes to two and you need to make a sharp left turn under the Sheridan Expressway. The road is rotten now but was worse when I was a kid when this was the entry point into the South Bronx and the road was pock-marked like something you’d expect to have seen in Beirut. Back then, in the1970s, a Puerto Rican separatist group dominated the area and had scrawled everywhere under the culverts F.A.L.N: Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional.

According to Wikipedia they were responsible for the following bombings and deaths:

Maybe I am looking too hard for solace in a world that seems with every passing day to be falling further and further into horror.

But, according to "The New York Times," from January 1969 to April 1970, the United States sustained 4,330 bombings—3,355 incendiary and 975 explosive, resulting in 43 deaths and almost $22 million in property damage.

You could say that “The Summer of Love,” was in reality “The Summer of Bombing,” since we averaged over eight blasts a day.

Clearly, this does not excuse, or mitigate, or even temper the horror and terror we are living through now when it seems like your best bet for survival is not to leave your apartment or even raise your head above window level.

Today, it seems everyone has a gun and is ready to use it. And every day it seems that more people are senselessly cut down.

But I write this for a reason.

I suspect as the Republican convention begins today in Cleveland, we will hear how the world has absolutely and perhaps irrevocably fallen apart. We will, I suspect, hear the need for law and order--whatever that means--and the affirmation to do everything possible to stem the time of dynamite-laden trucks into crowds of people. (We will hear nothing about curbing arms that can fire 700 rounds per minute.)

Let's try as viewers, to remember, it was ever thus.

That there are always forces of darkness and entropy looking to tear down civilization. That calls for law and order are usually merely well-coded calls for repression, oppression or some violation of constitutionality.

This is not binary.

The world wasn't at one time "safe," and has now somehow and suddenly slunk into mayhem.

No, it's going on as it always has: cruelly, violently, sadly. 

Try not to, when hearing over-heated rhetoric and demagoguery, over-react.

Friday, July 15, 2016

On a dark and sunny Friday.

This is one of those mornings, and there have been more and more of them lately, where I am finding it hard to write.

Maybe it's because the world seems to be so bent on coming to an end. With horror in France, Donald Trump in the US and god knows what else our eviscerated newspapers and news departments no longer have the resources to report upon.

There seems to be nothing to write about in my little sphere of advertising. It's all been said. 

We have bemoaned the lack of creativity. The gutting of our industry by the money men. The small accomplishments of small executions that no one ever sees. And the lusting for awards--the modern day equivalent of simony.

The summer is half over. And what a summer it's been, with a mass murder every week coming out as regularly as Time Magazine. 

I don't know if the world is truly going to hell in a handbasket or if it's a pernicious example of the availability heuristic. That is, we are aware of today's horrors and have forgotten yesterday's. So it seems like things are getting worse.

I mean on the bright side, we aren't killing 50,000 American boys on our way to killing two-million Vietnamese. Millions of Biafrans aren't dying, nor are millions of Bangladesh, nor millions more by Mao or Pol Pot.

We forget about the horrors of the past. The bombings and the cop shootings and the gunning down of students at Kent State. 

We forget about villages being napalmed and whole countries be Agent-Oranged.

That was all long-ago and faraway.

So we forget.

Maybe in 2030 when we are slaves to machine-masters and the Donald Trump Reich moves into its second decade, we will look back on this summer as the golden age. 

Maybe this is awfully dark for a post on a Friday when I have a non-working weekend ahead of me, a package of spots to shoot and, touch wood, my health.

So, that's all for now.

Try to have a nice weekend.

Try to dip your toes in the sea.

And if you have someone near you whom you love, give them an unsolicited hug, and tell them.

You'll feel better.

And sometimes that's all we can do.