Friday, May 22, 2015

A late night call.

I got a call last night, late, past my bed time.

That can mean one of two or three things. Someone's in trouble and needs me. It's a wrong number and a drunk is calling. Or it's a legitimate call from someone who doesn't know that I'm pretty much lights out by ten.

"Jorge," the crackle at the other end of the line said. "Jorge Navidad."

I didn't recognize the voice. But no one calls me Jorge Navidad anymore. Fact is, I dropped the moniker completely when I returned from Saltillo after my one season down south.

"Yeah, who's this," I growled. To tell you the truth I was in no mood to talk.

"It's Issy," the voice said. "Issy Buentello."

Isael Buentello was a catcher on the Saraperos and probably my best friend on the team. Though we didn't room together on the road (I mostly roomed with Karmen--the girl in the white dress--at least over the second half of the season) but the two of us were close. That said, I hadn't spoken to him but five times in the intervening 40 years.

Guys can do that, I think. See each other every eight years, and still be blood.

One time, the last time I saw him was probably ten years ago. He was flying to Spain for some business interest he had and he had a lay-over at JFK. I drove out there and at a little bar in Ozone Park, we bent an elbow.

"You are coming to the viejos?"

I laughed "Soy viejo."

Buentello was the kind of player every team needs. He was probably 25 when I was 17, but he played older. He was a stern and steady presence behind the plate at catcher and on the bench. He could stop a fight if a fight needed to be stopped and cut off a rag-fest before it got going. What's more, he was keen defensively and had a bat with some power.

"Estoy aun mas antiguo," he laughed. I am even older.

We shot the shit for a good 20 minutes, my wife wondering who I was talking to in my rotten doorman Spanish.

"You are seeing Karmen?" he asked me.

I snuck a look at my wife to to see if she was listening.

"No," in Spanish "Lo último que supe de Karmen fue hace veinte años." The last I heard from Karmen was 20 years ago. I let the subject drop.

We chitted and chatted for another 15 minutes, the went our ways, promising to once again bend an elbow south of the border.

I turned off the light.

And wished, wherever she was, Karmen a good night.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A package from Saltillo.

I got home last night and the concierge in my building handed me a large FedEx package, return address El Stadio de Beisbol Francisco I. Madero in Saltillo, Mexico. I must say, the team has classed up a bit in 40 years. Everything inside was polite, efficient and first class. Like getting a job offer from a major law firm.

First was a letter from the CEO of the club, Pliny Escalante Bolio. He thanked me for agreeing to participate in both the juegos de viejos and the tribute on Sunday, May 31 to Hector Quesadilla.

Then there was a note from the Managing Director of the club, one Oscar Rojas Salazar Neri, who again sincerely thanked me for my participation and then pointed me to a well-prepared sheaf of papers that included information about our accommodations while in Saltillo. We'd be staying at the Quinta Real de Saltillo, a far nicer place than I'd ever stayed before, and just a short walk to the ballpark.

Finally, there was a handwritten note from the Saraperos' new manager, Juan Rodriguez, Juan Jose Pacho, the previous manager having jumped to the Leones de Yucatan in the off-season.

"Dear Jorge," it said. "I am very much looking forward to making your pleasannt [sic] acquaintance. I too was like bread and butter with Hector and he spoke of you much before his demise, which of course was untimely. If there is anything I can do to make your time back in Saltillo more agreeable, please do not hesitate to let me know. I remain in your service."

Also in the package was an itinerary. I would be leaving on the 7:29 from LaGuardia, landing in Corpus Christi at 1:20 pm, where I'd pick up a Ford or other fine car at Avis. From there, six hours through the scruff and desert to Saltillo.

I checked the contents of my overnight bag again. I was fully packed except for my toiletries.

And then I ordered in dinner.

Mexican.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

5 Minutes with our CDO (Chief Decoration Officer.)

Ad Aged: As Chief Decoration Officer, tell me, what is it you do?

CDO: A good portion of my job involves kerning. I make sure the type on a comp that has a snowball's chance in hell of ever running is perfectly kerned. That often involves the tough task of making sure creatives have no time to concept but plenty of time to execute.

Ad Aged: You make sure the kerning is right?

CDO: Of course there's more to my job than that. Do you know just the other day a CD said, can't we just sketch a comp? I make sure that doesn't happen. That we spend late nights and weekends looking for the right stock photo.

Ad Aged: How do you know when you've found that photo?

CDO: You'll know because you've seen it. I love the feeling I get when my agency's work looks just like everyone else's. I know I've done my job.

Ad Aged: What else does your job entail?

CDO: Basically, I believe we live in a post-meaning world. The medium doesn't matter anymore--I apologize to Marshall McCluhan. Neither does the message. I apologize to Bill Bernbach. What matters is how the message is typeset.

Ad Aged: Anything else?

CDO: Yes. Everything I do is built around the idea that we have to prevent people from thinking. We have five minutes to concept. And five days to build a deck. And believe me, I build a beautiful deck.

Also important are small, colorful splashes on the page. They are without meaning, and we call them abstractions. They permit us to keep art directors working around the clock. Those are billable hours, my friend.

Ad Aged: Thank you for your time, this morning.

CDO: Just let me see this, before it goes out. I'd hate for there to be too much type.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

10 things that will happen right before your next pitch.

1. The printer won't work when you need it to. Neither will the one down the hall.
2. The deck will be late. And too long.
3. There will be more traffic than you anticipated.
4. The air-conditioning will be off all weekend. It will be 90.
5. There will be a glaring spelling mistake. Within the first three pages.
6. The lead campaign will die right before the meeting. Then spring back to life.
7. A high-ranking person will show up late.
8. And be ill-informed.
9. And make you repeat everything.
10. The pizza will be cold.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Ghana, but not forgotten.

A bunch of us got called in to work over the weekend. First, it looked like we'd be able to work from home. Then, it looked like we'd work on Saturday and have our Sunday off. Ultimately, I headed home around 9 last night. And I left on the early side.

It took me forever to get a cab. Ninth Avenue was closed for the weekend for some sort of Food Festival and for whatever reason that closure seemed to tie up the entire city. There were probably people in Staten Island waiting extra long at a light because some suburbanite was selling zeppoles on 46th Street.

I got into a cab and was met with the wild gesticulations of a West African cab driver.

"Where are you from," I asked.

"Ghana. I will go back there someday. New York, I love. But Ghana I go back to."

I mentioned Kwame Nkrumah, the man who led Ghana out of colonial status to independence. I must be one of ten Americans who know Nkrumah, and all at once the driver and I were blood brothers. He opened up to me.

"I want to bring my father this truck," he said pointing to a Ford F-250 that was parked, almost inexplicably in the more rarefied precincts of Central Park West. "I will ship it home to my father, who is a farmer. But then customs takes $7000 and I cannot afford that."

I asked him if he had heard of Johnny Cash and his great song called "One piece at a time," in which an autoworker steals a Cadillac El Dorado one piece at a time over the course of decades, sneaking pieces out in his lunch box.

"Maybe you should try that to avoid customs," I said.

video
He hadn't heard the song. I quickly found the sound on YouTube and we sat in the car in front of my apartment listening to it.

He laughed the laugh of the ages.

"If God does not give you enough water to bathe," he said, "you wash your hands and legs."

I have him a big tip--I had worked all weekend at time and a half, and we shook hands.

He earned it the $10 extra I gave him.

He had made a sweaty Sunday at work worth it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Robots in the Tempus Fugit.

I'm, as usual, feeling a lot of pressure at work. And when 2:18 rolled around last night and I still couldn't shut my eyes, I threw on an old pair of jeans, a sweatshirt and a pair of sneakers and headed with Whiskey in tow, uptown to the Tempus Fugit.

I made my way down and up the various stairways, hallways and egresses. Through an assortment of steel-reinforced doors, past a dozen or so 60-watters hanging naked, and finally arrived at the amber incandescence of the joint.

I took my usual stool one in from the end, and Whiskey took her usual place at the foot of said stool. In a trice, the bartender was around the bar with a bowl of water for the pup, then back behind the hardwood, frothing my glass with a Pike's (the ALE that won for YALE!)

By way of salutation he offered this: "Tis an ill wind that blows no good," he said.

I looked around the joint. It was the same as it ever was. Everything was in apple pie order except for one table in the back, near the signed glossy of Gene Tunney, heavyweight champeen of the world from 1926 to 1928. On the table, open to the racing form was a well-read copy of "The New-York Journal-American." It was last published in 1966.

"That's lugubrious for an otherwise sterling night," I said, draining my Pike's.

He pulled me some more ounces of suds, wiped the teak in front of me and presented me with the brew.

"I have read an article," he began, "that leaves me more than a little distraught."

Mechanically, he slid over a small wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I pushed them away to my right, saying, as I always say, "A pound in every nut."

"I fear the rise of robots," he continued. "They build our cars, defuse our bombs, stock our warehouses, vacuum our floors. I'm told that soon they will slice our onions, wash our tomatoes and even make our hamburgers. They say robots will write our newspapers, film our TV shows, record our music, drive our automobiles, perform our surgical operations, make our machines--even machines that make more robots. And all the while, these robots will be getting smarter and learning and doing more."

He drew me another Pike's.

"It won't take much," he said, "to put a robot in the Tempus Fugit, capable of dispensing equal parts programmed wisdom and pulling the Pike's tap for sallow-eyed sots like you."

"I can see the reason for your torpor," I said. "I too fear a future that gets steadily worse everyday. Like the Mets."

He grabbed his damp terry and polished the already gleaming woodwork. I stared deep into my glass and saw a mechanical Scylla and Charybdis, reaching and screeching at a small ship of humans trying to sail by.

After some uncomfortable moments of silence, I pushed two twenties across the teak in his direction.

"There's one thing robots won't do," he said, brightening.

I waited for the night's only good news. "What's that," I straight-manned.

"They won't ever say, 'on me.'"

Whiskey and I walked quietly home. Choosing to ignore every traffic signal along the way.




Thursday, May 14, 2015

30 years of intense therapy. 3 words.

I've been in therapy for so long, I joke that if I ever visited Vienna, Austria, half the population would come out to thank me.

For the last 25 years or so, I've been seeing a very wise man whom I've grown to love and respect. I need therapy. Not because I'd be Norman Bates of Richard Wagner without it--howling at the moon and falling down a rabbit hole--but because I need 45 minutes a week that are solely about me.

Me.

Me.

Me.

We spend our lives--so many of us do, anyway, doing things for other people, coming through at work, dealing with spouse tsurrus, money issues and bullshit at work that we forget something very important.

Those three words I promised above.

Deep self-appreciation.

They're not easy for me. Nine assignments out of ten I think I fucked up. I'm always worried someone will hate something, or will think I suck.

I've got to stop.

Stop.

Stop.

Every once in a while you've got to stop.

Look around.

Breathe.

And appreciate who you are, what makes you unique, and let yourself be.

Try it.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Phonies.

I guess if you think about advertising, you might be able to boil its constituencies down to five parties.

1.     There’s the agency or group that’s creating the work.
2.     There’s the client or business they’re creating it for.
3.     There’s the audience the work is directed toward.
4.     There are the award show judges that can make your career and/or agency.
5.     There’s you. You doing what you think is good based on your knowledge, experience and the criteria you’ve developed over time.

Ideally whatever you create should appeal and move all five of these constituents. But if you visited Madison Avenue from Mars and observed for a while, if you were able to stomach the trade press and the babble on agency blogs, you’d conclude that only one or two of the components above matter.

That is, how did the work self-promote either your agency or you. And how will it do at Cannes. I see on my various feeds work cited at various once-prestigious award shows that never really ran or never had an impact on any marketplace.

We have lost that “selling feeling.” We have lost the plot.

We’re so busy being cool that we act the fool.

The idea that when there’s an ad on TV or the web or even print, it’s meant to do one of two things. It’s meant to either change thinking or change behavior.

Like good writing in general, advertising is not meant to be merely an exercise in skill, craft and beauty. Skill, craft and beauty—along with persuasion for the ends of a client are what our careers are meant to be about.

As Bill Bernbach pointed out many orbits of the sun ago (I found this quotation on the wonderful, extraordinary and intelligent “Sell! Sell! blog,”) here.:

“Today, everybody is talking ‘Creativity,’ and frankly, that’s got me worried. I fear lest we keep the good taste and lose the sell. I fear all the sins we may commit in the name of ‘Creativity.’ I fear that we may be entering an age of phonies.”

I don’t fear that we have entered the age of phonies. I fear the gravity of our world has shifted to favor them.




Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Just one more.

A lot of times when I get a new assignment, I get it because there's a lot of pressure. Either there's some mishigoss at the client, or we've struck out before, or the CEO wants to see things in two days and we're up against it.

It doesn't seem like anything these days is a walk in the park. An assignment where you can let the juices marinate for a while. You pretty much have to jump right into typing.

This blog has been good training for that.

I don't plan my posts.

I write, 90% of the time, in the morning. And I keep thinking about a topic until a topic strikes me. I've veered into my Mexican Baseball Days, my Uncle Slappy, the Tempus Fugit and even Doyle's Diary as fall backs when nothing comes.

Usually, when I'm faced with a ton of pressure and a cryptic brief (and what brief isn't cryptic) I'm able to make short work of it. I often have two spots doped out before the initial briefing is even over.

If the first check in is four hours away, or 24, I say to myself 'well, I have those. I'm ok.'

But then I do something difficult.

I've got two written but that's not good enough. I silence my surroundings, or walk around the block. I push myself to do "just one more."

Not one more like the first two.

One more that's different.

That doesn't come easy.

One more that could die a thousand deaths on its way to being written, but I don't let myself give up until I've got it.

I haven't tracked through the years the success rates of my just one mores. I don't know if, because I sweat over them, they're less good or more better than the ideas that came more fluidly.

I do know I keep doing just one more.

And usually when I'm done with that, just one more after that.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Packing for Saltillo.

I went down to the catacombs of my apartment house this weekend. Two levels down, where nearly every wall has an old Civil Defense sign from the early 60s when my building was built.

I was two levels below 83rd Street, where maybe we would have outlasted Red plutonium back 50 years ago, but I doubt it.  Since I moved into the building 17 years ago, the shelter space has been given over to storage for the shareholders. My wife and I own about 300 shares, so we have about 7x6x5 feet of space.

Of course, people don't abide by their allotted space. There are old steamer trunks in the hallways, usually marked by the American Indian names of Jewish Sleep-aways in New Hampshire. Camp Merrimac, one trunk read. Another read Camp Tawonga. I wondered if Indian kids went to camps with Jewish names. Probably not.

Our stuff had been moved by the aggressive land-grabbing of 4J--I pushed their stuff back where it belongs, but I found the old suitcase I was looking for. Inside, wrapped in generous wads newspaper from 1975 were three items. 1) My black Riddell leather spikes, still dusted with Mexican infield dirt. 2) My Saraperos game cap and 3) My Hillerich and Bradsby Louisville Slugger Boog Powell-model 34-ounce bat.

I put the hat on. It still fit. Snug, I guess because it contracted over-time, but ok. The bat I tried, checking my swing in the narrow confines of the storage-room space. It's too heavy for me now, I thought, I'd never be able to get around on a fastball with that. I promised myself to borrow someone's 32-ounce lumber.

I walked to the elevator, depositing the 1975 "Times" everything was wrapped in in a large garbage pail by the boiler room. Then I went upstairs.

I tried my spikes on. They fit. My head and feet haven't grown over the last 40 years. Though everything else has. I gathered up my stuff and packed it in my black Tumi overnight bag along with a couple pair of linen pants, a few nice shirts, etc.

I would be leaving for Saltillo at the end of next week. As ready as I'll ever be.