Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gratitude.

Perhaps the best thing about having started Ad Aged over seven years ago is that I've met, either in real life or virtually, several people whom I admire. I'll go as far as to say, though I've never even met some of them, they've become friends.

These people keep blogs themselves and write regularly. Through their posts, I feel like I've gotten to know them. Often, we write to each other off the record. And so, my "relationship" has over time with these people, deepened.

Dave Trott writes two blogs. One on "Campaign" magazine's site and one on the site of CST The Gate, an ad agency. His post yesterday, which you can find here is one of the best I've read in a long time. You really ought to read it. I'm glad I did.

If you aspire to be a member of the reality-based community, it also makes sense to read Bob Hoffman, the inimitable "Ad Contrarian." Bob and I have become real-life friends and his blog takes the wind out of the bull-shitters' sails. He's funny, caustic, impeccably logical and fact-based. All antidotes in a world that is serious, bland, spurious and specious.

The funniest guy I know, consistently funny, is Rich Siegel at "Round Seventeen" Like me, Rich is a freelancer. He writes about his successes and travails with candor and comedy. He's also a mensch. Which comes through in his writing. And he's helped me with advice and guidance when I was in the throes of unemployment.

You should also check out Neisha Tweed's blog, "Baby Food for Creatives." Neisha's on hiatus now, it appears. But she is strong and resourceful and has something to say.

Finally, there's Jenny Nicholson at "Mama Needs a Big Idea." Jenny deals with the vicissitudes of advertising, motherhood and life, with wit, humor and wisdom. She's well worth the daily drop-in.

Two more things might be said.

The first three guys I mentioned are guys. And like me, they're in or are approaching alte-kocker-hood. They have the experience of decades in the business. They've been at the top, or nearly so and bring that point of view to things.

Neisha and Jenny are women. And very much younger than I.  Accordingly, their insights and experiences are different than mine are or have, maybe, ever been. They're worth reading because they're great. And because they're different.

Finally, these five bloggers, and a couple more, have supplanted the Advertising trade magazines on my reading list. The trades, I suppose to wring cost out of their system, don't understand and love the business as we do. They aren't in it. They don't live it. And they don't know how to write about it.

I don't believe traditional journalism is dead. I do believe it's stopped trying. And I have to believe that no advertising writer at the "Times," "Adweek," or "Ad Age" has the same kind of following that any of the above have.

Enjoy them.

And, btw, every once in a while, drop them a note or comment.

It's lonely out here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My last at bat.


As Derek Jeter played yesterday the last of his 2,746 games in the big leagues, I went back 39 years to my last game in the Mexican Baseball League. It was a sad last game, and though the baseball gods owed me nothing, I wish I had had a better end to it all.

When I went to play for the Saraperos de Saltillo, I quickly realized I had some adjustments to make. It was a little bit like work, actually, when you work at a really good place. You find the synapses come a little quicker, the thoughts are a little deeper and the demands upon you are a little higher.

It was that way with the Saraperos.

The pitchers were faster than in high school. The ball came off the bat with more speed and power and the arms of those you played with and against were stronger and truer.

In high school, I was a behemoth. I was a power hitter and could swing from my heels. In the Mexican League, dealing with tougher competition, I choked up on my bat and moved up in the batter’s box. I tried to head off the ball before the curve broke in. I also shortened my swing, hoping to spray the ball about, rather than go for the fences.

Though I didn’t set the league on fire, this method resulted in a creditable season for me. I batted more than my weight, .277, and slugged nine home runs including a grand slam. I also had 14 doubles to go with my 66 rbis.

My last at bat was the last game of the season, a home game against our closest rivals, the Toros de Tijuana. We were down three to two and had two outs in the bottom of the ninth with men on first and second. I came up to bat needing nothing more than a base hit to tie the game. I knew these could be not only my last licks of the season but the last licks of my short-lived professional career.

The pitch, I can still picture it, came in shoulder high, just where I liked them. I always was a bad ball hitter. But instead of swinging hard at it, I slapped at the sphere and hit a weak line-drive to short center, right where the centerfielder was waiting for it.

I don’t regret, almost 40 years later, that my last real at bat (I played some softball after this, but no real games of consequence) resulted in an out. Of course, I would rather have retired like Ted Williams, hitting a homer in my last at bat, or like Jeter, getting ahold of one for a single. I hit a lazy fly to center.

What I regret was that I had shortened my swing, that I didn’t lay into one, that, for more than a few good reasons, I had stopped swinging for the fences.

All this, of course, is a metaphor for our business. Sometimes, I suppose, you have to choke up and just make contact. Try to hit the ball, somewhere. You can’t always swing for the fences. Sometimes you just have to meet the pill and put it in play. But when you get the opportunity and you merely slap at the ball, well, that really sucks.

I wish I had that one pitch back.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

We visit Katz's with Uncle Slappy.


Uncle Slappy and I had one more journey to take on Saturday. It had been decided that it would be nice to have sandwiches from Katz's for dinner and Uncle Slappy, my daughter Hannah and I were to procure them.

We got into the Simca and hit the FDR. In just moments we were exiting at Houston and heading west along the never-ending construction of the broad street. I took a quick right through the traffic barricades onto Avenue A, then a quick left onto 2nd Street. Almost magically, it must be the luck of having both Hannah and Uncle Slappy with me, I pulled into a spot mid-block. No meter, no restrictions, no small feat.

I love Katz's. It is the last, pretty much of the old-timey deli/restaurants, and the best as well. It's mayhem inside, organized chaos, and with shoving, and pushing and jockeying for position in front of one of the sandwich makers--middle-aged Puerto Rican men with huge tattooed Popeye forearms from slicing slabs of meat by hand and their dark hair in snoods to keep it from the meat.

Uncle Slappy and I made our way to a sandwich man, while Hannah--who knows her way around Katz's (I taught her well) got Dr. Brown's sodas and Katz's really superior french fries.

Uncle Slappy was called upon.

"I'll have the Jewish Trifecta," he said to the sandwich man.

"Pastrami..."

"Corned beef..."

"and brisket," the sandwich man finished. "Three sandwiches, all on rye, with mustard."

The sandwich man obliged and began hewing the meat like Paul Bunyan felling an oak. With each different meat, he handed over a small plate with a sample. Uncle Slappy who loves my daughters with a love that surpasses all love, shuffled over to Hannah with each plate as it appeared. She had a taste of pastrami. Then corned beef. Then a schtickle of brisket.

I had put a $5 tip in the one-quart plastic soup container. That assured us good samples. And when Uncle Slappy asked for sour pickles and a handful of sauerkraut, the sandwich man obliged with the generosity of a brined Santa Claus.

We handed over our Rosetta Stone of a ticket, and the sandwich guy scribbled some Cuneiform runes. I slid the ticket into my pocket, we reunited with Hannah and headed toward the register, $83.75. We thought for a minute about buying a scented Katz's candle that smells like an egg-cream, but that was $24 we needn't spend.

From Katz's, 205 E. Houston, we walked to Yonah Schimmel's knishery, 137 E. Houston, more to see the old place than to fill up. But to be on the safe side, and to trickle down some money, we bought a container of kasha varniskas and a kasha knish.

We then walked the three blocks back to the car and headed home, getting the timing just right of the lights on First Avenue. Round trip took us slightly less than an hour.

My wife and Aunt Sylvie had set the dining room table with the good china. It made for a rather incongruous pairing, the Katz's and the Wedgewood. But all of us understood the conceit.

This was, after all, a special meal.




Saturday, September 27, 2014

Uncle Slappy on the beach.


Uncle Slappy and I woke up well before sunrise this morning. We had decided yesterday evening that just the two of us would have some putative father-son time and would drive up to Larchmont and would take Whiskey to the beach.

Uncle Slappy is nearing 87 and I’m no dope. I know he’s long-exceeded the Biblical three-score-and-ten, and each time I see him, I can see the vicissitudes of age visiting upon him. Therefore, I take advantage of every possible moment we can together share.

I’ll admit my actual father and I were more often than not at loggerheads. From a very early age, I was closer to Uncle Slappy than I ever was with my old man. This wasn’t because, as is often the case with grand-parents or favorite uncles, Uncle Slappy indulged me. He was just as likely to smack me in the back of my head as my own old man. He didn’t, as they say, suffer fools gladly. And there are hardly on earth bigger fools that young boys and young men feeling their oats.

Uncle Slappy had no truck with pretense, arrogance, self-absorption or any of the other affectations of youth. To get along with the old man, you had to do one thing. You had to act like a mensch. You had to, simply, be a man.

There was no whining, no excuses, no bs. If there was a job to do, you did it and you didn’t spend the rest of the day telling the world how hard you worked. You hadn’t done anything special. You had just made the correct of the two choices a person faces. You have, after all, just two choices: you can be a schmuck. Or you can be a man.

In any event, Uncle Slappy and Whiskey and I piled into the Simca at around 6:15 this morning and pulled into the darkness as we headed north.

We rattled over the FDR, with potholes as large as the craters on the moon. Things were a little worse on the Bruckner, where the potholes are as large as those on Io, the fourth of Jupiter’s moons. By the time we hit 95, we were traversing up and down the potholes like an old wooden trawler fighting 60-footers during a major storm at sea.

Finally after a little more than half an hour, we wound our way through the stately homes and hit the beach in Larchmont. Whiskey bounded out of the back seat and headed right into the sea. Uncle Slappy and I followed by about five minutes. The old man won’t win any Olympic medals, but he makes his way ok.

I took ahold of Whiskey’s toy, a long day-glo orange float with a two-foot rope attached to one end. I slung it underhand into the water and Whiskey galumphed in after it, half bounding (it was low-tide) half swimming in the murk.

The sun was slowly coming up over Long-Island. The sky was clear and blue. The air was fresh and warm. Whiskey bounded in the surf. She played in the water with a German Shepherd named Truman.

Uncle Slappy took it all in.

He reached out and held my hand.

A perfect morning.




Friday, September 26, 2014

The 11-day rule.

Maybe it's because I've lived a long time, maybe it's because I'm relatively observant, maybe it's because I have a strangely mathematical mind.

I put numbers to things.

When I drive somewhere, I know it's four minutes to the Triboro, seven on the Bruckner, 12 on 95, and so on. I'm logistically acute that way. Always have been.

For instance, I know that it takes my hair nine days to recover from a haircut.

So if I have a big event to attend on October 20th, say, I'll get my haircut on the 11th. Nine days after getting barbered is when I look my best.

I call that my Nine-Day-Rule.

I also have an 11-Day-Rule.

I've noticed that when things you rely on change--titles at work, the design of a favorite website, the speed limit on a stretch of road, whatever, it takes about 11 days to adjust.

There's a great deal of tsimmis about the new iPhone and its operating system ios8.

I have the new iPhone, and I've been using the new OS.

I have to say, the changes I've seen so far are pretty mild. They're on the order of switching from a sesame bagel to a poppy. You have to learn to make sure your teeth are clean. But you don't see seeds all over your upholstery. In short order, everything's cool again.

To all those people who howl and bay and bark at every minor change, then howl and bay and bark that Apple, like every other company, has become incrementalist rather than revolutionary, go find something more important to do for the next 11 days.

Then look at your phone and see if you even remember the change.

We know what's right and we do what's wrong.

This week a 20-year-old memo from David Abbott has been making its way through my Facebook and LinkedIn feeds. It's about the pernicious tendency of agencies to "gang bang" and the negative effects of such behavior.

What makes Abbott's memo great is that he lays it all out, eloquently, in one place. The browbeating, the lack of ownership, the lack of confidence, and the lack of relationship with the client--all of which lead to gang-banging, which leads to sub-par work.

You can find Abbott's opus on Ben Kay's surpassing blog, here.

What strikes me most about Abbott's memo is that most 23-year-old juniors could have written the same thing. Assuming, that is, they can write.

We all know about the negative effects of lack of ownership. Isn't that why the Soviet Union fell?

We all know that time matters.

We all know how foolish it is to spend nights and weekends writing 50 commercials to get one.

We all know these things.

Even the heads of the holding companies know these things--even if they're really insurance salesmen or accountants in real life.

We all know these things.

Yet we do the opposite.

We say, this time's the exception. Or in today's digital world things are different.

We find some excuse. Concoct being a better word than find.

Just like we find some reason to lower our prices so much that we can't reasonably do a good job for our clients.

Or we find some reason not to say "no," not to fight for what we believe in.

We know what's right. We do what's wrong.

Balls.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A non-post for New Year.

I'm taking the day off from blogging today.

Something I should probably do more often.

To preserve myself a bit. To not be so "on," so intense.

It's Rosh h'Shanah. The start of Jewish Rush Week.

When millions of Jews fan out across the world with little booklets, knock on doors and stop people on the street and urge them to convert to Judaism.

Oh, wait.

Wrong religion.

No, it's the start of the Jewish New Year.

A time of both reflection and celebration.

And, if you're a freelancer, a time to write a couple dozen TV scripts.

I'm trying hard to take it easy today, however.

I'm not at either of my usual freelance stations.

In fact, while my wife, Aunt Sylvie and daughter Hannah are at Temple, Uncle Slappy and I abjured. He's trying to teach me to play pinochle for the millioneth time.

I don't have a head for cards.

And I like the shirt I'm wearing.

If I learned, I'd surely lose it to him.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Uncle Slappy on Rosh h'Shanah.

I have a lot of work on my docket, a lot of things hanging over my head, so I got up early this morning--4:17 to be precise--to knock a few of those things off my to-do list. This is my usual M.O. when I'm feeling pressure like I'm feeling now, and it's always worked for me. I might be a trifle sleep-deprived for a few days, but I slay the dragons I'm meant to and I'm able to push the people nipping at me back on their heels. That's a good feeling.

This morning, however, instead of having my quiet time to type away my worries, Uncle Slappy was in the kitchen drinking a cup of cold coffee, eating a day-old danish he had removed from our bread-box and pouring over volume 20 (Madjanek to Mengele) of a 32-volume encyclopedia (abridged) of the Holocaust.

He began, as he so often does, like a champion swordsman, with an offensive thrust that almost, almost cut me.

"Good morning, sleepy-head."

I gave him a kiss on the top of his head and went into the living room and to my Mac.

He padded into the room and sat on the sofa cater-corner to me. "So, on Rosh h'Shanah you're working?"

"Really, Uncle Slappy, the holiday doesn't begin until sunset tonight. There's no Talmudic injunction against writing a bit of copy on the day before the High Holidays."

Even though Uncle Slappy was a Rabbi for 55 years, he looks at religion and doctrinaire "holiness" in much the same way I do. Believe all you want but if god is all-mighty, all-powerful and all-good, where was he between 1933 and 1945 when nearly seven-million of his chosen were chosen to be immolated in ovens. That said, he really doesn't cotton to me working on the holidays. Whether or not you're a True Believer, he believes you have to take the time off because, well, you have to.

"OK, boychick," he said opening volume 20, "this year you're taking off?"

The past two years I've been shooting on Rosh h'Shanah. And the old man hasn't forgotten that. For Uncle Slappy and me, it's not about going to temple, or synagogue, or shul, or whatever, it's about finding some space in your head to think about the world, think about your family, think about your life and think about how you can do better. You're more likely to find that space if you're not ensconced in a conference room listening to some newspeak advertising drivel.

"I'll be home tomorrow, Uncle Slappy. I might need to take a phone call or two, and I'll check email, but I won't be going into the office."

He sat back in the sofa, put a bookmark in volume 20 and closed the book. He sipped at his cold coffee and looked vaguely pleased.

"Listen, boychick," he said. "Do me a flavor, will ya?"

"Anything, Uncle Slappy."

"Zap me a danish. And tomorrow," he continued, "don't work too hard."



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Uncle Slappy arrives.

Our issues with Con Ed continue.
Aunt Sylvie and Uncle Slappy arrived last night, though how they did it, I'm not entirely sure. They showed up at my apartment around eight, having flown in from Boca.

Uncle Slappy was carrying their things in a large dufflebag he had slung over his shoulder. He insists he would rather be dead than pull a wheelie bag. Aunt Sylvie carried a large Corning Ware casserole dish with its glass lid atop it. Inside was, of course, a brisket. Said brisket being her gracious response to our ongoing problem with Consolidated Edison of New York.

They barged in, of course, and Slappy greeted me with these immortal words: "The itinerant cow is here."

"The itinerant cow," I repeated, "the peregrinating pot-roast."

Uncle Slappy dropped the bag he was carrying in our foyer. I give the old man credit. He's nearing 87 and he keeps on going. He's a regular Jack Palance. Aunt Sylvie meanwhile headed right to our kitchen to confab with my wife. I'm sure they were discussing the intricacies of brisket management.

Free from baggage Uncle Slappy and I went to hug. Neither of us are very good at hugging but somehow we managed. When we unclenched he began his gallop.

"Get me Mr. Consolidated on the blower. He needs a piece of my mind."

"I'm afraid that won't help," I said, trying to calm the old man. "We're making do, managing to stave off starvation even though we have no stove or oven."

"It's a cabal. Con Ed's in league with the local takeout places. It's a scandal. A conspiracy."

I led him into the kitchen where my wife and Aunt Sylvie were still in flagrante delicto over the brisket. He sat down and I poured him a cup of viscous coffee, black, and brought him a small platter of danish pastries, including a cherry danish, his favorite. I figured coffee and would take the edge off the old man.

No dice.

"You got these from someone's Shiva?" he asked.
Glaser's on 87th and First. One of the last places on earth to get a decent danish.

"No, Uncle Slappy," I assured him. "These are pre-death pastries. I bought the danish at Glaser's (the last real bakery in my neighborhood) and the coffee's from Fairway--the blend you like. 99% espresso beans with one Colombian thrown in for texture."

He peeled the outer ring of danish off from the main structure of the disc. He took a small bite, closed his eyes, then took another bite.

"No one makes danish like this anymore. It's impossible to find anything like this below the Mason-Danish line."

"You mean the Mason-Dixon line."

"No, I mean there's a line down the center of Bleeker Street below which there's no more good danish. The Mason-Danish line."

He turned his focus from me back to his cake. He was circling around it, isolating the cherried goop in the center.

"This is the apotheosis," he said "of the danish-maker's art. This is the Venus de Milo of danish. The danish-equivalent of Nike at Samothrace."

I went over to the kitchen counter and refilled his cup of coffee just as he was polishing off the last of his treat. He pushed himself away from the small table in our eat-in and he, too, walked to our kitchen table. There, he found a baker's cardboard box with three more danish inside: an almond, an apple and another cherry.

"You are a good man," he said to me.

He then padded off to the guest room.

It was late. And his stomach was full.

Expanding and collapsing.

It wasn't long ago in New York that there seemed to be a Crumb's Cupcake bakery on nearly every corner. Before that, there was a GAP, or a Benetton, or a Blockbuster video nearly everywhere. Before those, something else.

A friend of mine explained it to me once. Her father has been successful in the rag-trade and had explained it to her.

Retail businesses expand to the point of absolute collapse.

They're constantly looking for new money, from either the stock exchange, independent investors or some other form. So the best way they can show they're vibrant and thriving is to hang out another shingle.

If you're lucky enough to ride such places on the way up and get out just before collapse, you can make a fortune. Most people, of course, especially those without inside knowledge aren't that lucky. And they lose whatever they threw into the pot.

All this, of course, comes back to advertising. More specifically advertising holding companies. One holding company, a relatively small one, lists nearly 100 agencies on its roster, in a couple of dozen specialties.

Really?

Do we need all these places? Is there a need for all of them and all their siloed expertise? Or are we just opening shops to show that most ridiculous of words...momentum?

My personal feeling is that the business has over-expanded for visual effect.

Collapse isn't just coming. It's deserved.

Monday, September 22, 2014

As the Jewish Holidays approach.

The Jewish holidays are fast approaching and in less time than it takes for a tray of pigs-in-a-blanket to vanish at a Roslyn Bar Mitzvah, they'll come crashing down around us. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to take off Wednesday or Thursday to celebrate the Jewish New Year. Before long, however, I do know that Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie will arrive from Boca and will set everything straight.

There's a fly in the ointment this year, unfortunately. Con Edison (whose founder Thomas Edison was a notorious anti-Semite--he consorted with Henry Ford and was a subscriber to Ford's tracts published in Ford's infamous "The International Jew") has found a gas-leak in a pipe leading into our co-op. Fearing another building explosion like the recent one on Park and 116th Street in Harlem, they've shut everything off going into our building. This means that neither our stove or our oven are functioning. And this with the High Holy Days upon us.

My wife takes her uxorial duties quite seriously and has rapidly scrambled to come up with a plan B. Is it possible, she began fretting shortly after Con Ed's edict was taped to the front door of our co-op, is it possible to cook an entire holiday meal on a George Foreman grille and a microwave?

Last night from some dark recess of some hard-to-open drawer she pulled out a sheaf of dog-eared papers. Buried within was the recipe book that came with our grille and she began planning.

"Here's a recipe for Coq au Vin a la George Foreman," she defiantly informed me.

"Coq au Vin? How is that even possible?"

"George Foreman fought until he was almost 50 and has five sons all named George. Anything is possible," she assured me.

"I don't understand the physics of it. How does the wine sauce stay on the grille?" I might as well have been asking a wall.

She dove deeper into the recipe book but studied it in silence. I suppose dinner, which I'm sure will be delicious, will be a surprise. This, of course, will set Uncle Slappy off. He looks forward to my wife's spectacular Holiday chicken dishes all year. His particular favorite is a meal from the old country that my wife cooks to perfection--Chicken Kiev. It's the poultry combination of a coronary and heartburn in one cutlet.

There's no telling what she has settled on or how she will pull it all off. Cooking a big Holiday meal for a dozen people with nothing but a grille and a microwave.

Who knows? She could be making Bouillabaisse.


Modern times.

About 20 years ago as Ally & Gargano was going out of business, I made a fairly major career-choice mistake and jumped to Foote Cone and Belding. I had never worked in a giant network before with layers and layers of approvals and a lot of empty people with huge titles.

I decided to ignore all the crap and just focus on doing the work I thought I was hired to do. That is, good advertising that makes a difference in the marketplace.

I quickly found out that this was exactly the wrong tack to take if you want to succeed. The minute I produced something, titles would come out of the woodwork like cockroaches in my first New York apartment. They would scurry across the floor and quickly be everywhere. You couldn't stomp quick enough to get rid of them all.

In short order they had taken the funny commercial I had done for AT&T and flogged it into crap. They had ruined it. But more important than that, they had peed in my pool and therefore earned their keep.

I was young and naive and kept fighting for the work.

Wrong.

It's much easier and much more important to be able to ruin something than to be able to make something. Much easier to judge than create.

We live in a world where about 2% of the people actually do anything, actually put their asses on the line, and 98% say "That's not how I would have done it." Somehow, that dichotomy has become the acceptable norm. Tearing down trumps building something.

Of course, now I am a freelancer and I am paid solely solely soley to do things. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

There's frustration in this.

Frustration in always being second-guessed.

That's ok.

I can make 'em quicker than you can break 'em.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Early one Friday.

There are at least two great things about getting in early to the office.

One is the absolute silence of the place.

This morning around the area in which I sit, it looks like the aftermath of a Civil War battlefield. I worked 'til about 7:30 last night, but there was a gang going, I suppose, all night preparing for a big meeting this morning.

There's no leftover Thai food around. Just a giant inflatable pig head, a couple hundred miscellaneous comps and chairs out of trim like a marching band at an anarchists' convention.

But it's quiet.

The furor and sweat of the evening has vanished.

Most of the changes made in the stealth of night, no one, I think, will ever notice. But if you're serious about what you do, you make them anyway. You move something over a pixel. You change a "but" to a "yet." You thicken a hairline or shorten a headline.

William Carlos Williams would understand. He said so much depends upon...

The other nice thing, at least from where I now occupy a freelance seat, is the slow blue of the Hudson. There it is, out of the north windows. Occasionally a ship goes by. And then another. Every once in a while, if you're lucky, you'll hear, above the white noise and the distance, the sonorous howl of a ship's horn. It can make you feel like you're at sea.

Sometimes, I look at the river and think about the same view 406 years ago, before Henry Hudson arrived. When Manhattan was called by the Lenni Lenape Manahatta and had over 350 species of birds and more varieties of flora and fauna than Yellowstone Park does today.

They're nowhere to be seen today. Except for an occasional pigeon, or squirrel, or sparrow, or rat.

Like I said, no one's in yet.

And I like that.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Worry. A pep talk.

We live in a fear-based world.

Something is always hanging over us.

If you're employed, you worry about losing your job, of pissing off a boss or a client, of making some sort of cataclysmic error that will send your world spinning off its axis.

If you're high up in the food chain, you worry about making your numbers, about having the holding company ride up your keister.

If you're freelancing, you worry about the well drying up and never working again.

If you're faced with the crush of a big assignment, you worry about coming through. You worry about losing your ability to create. You worry about selling something to your boss or your client. If you carry the day, you worry about producing the work, and how it will come out. You worry if it sucks, you worry if your friends will blast you or the anonymous anarchists on Agency Spy.

We have become consumed by worry.

ISIS.
ISIL.
Melting ice.
Deteriorating eyesight.

We're so busy worrying that we've forgotten how to laugh.

We've made everyday a crucible of pain and tension and worry.

We're more busy worrying than working.

Worry is our pathology. Our Scarlet "W."

Eat.
Pray.
Love.
Worry.

You know what, lighten up.

Live.

If you've worked hard and done your work and used your brain and your skill and some elbow grease, if you've tried, and thought and listened, take a pill.

You've done your homework. Stop worrying and take the day's test.

Worry is the culmination of believing you suck and the world is against you.

Stop.

The world doesn't care enough about you to actually be against you.

You have to care for yourself.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Michael Jackson on the Far West Side.

Every neighborhood in New York has one or two or three little delis that sell almost anything imaginable, but mostly a cup of non-Starbucks coffee and an egg and cheese sandwich or a corn muffin for a couple of bucks.

These joints are usually pretty grimy affairs, not given to cleanliness, more to the efficiency of getting your breakfast into a paper bag and your shekels into their cash till as quickly as possible. They usually sell all manner of things. They have a tired salad bar or a cadre of breaded chicken cutlets in a refrigerated case lined up like soldiers marching off to war.

They tend to be places that are habit forming. You go in every morning before work, usually grab the same victuals, throw your money across some worn formica, and that's the end of the story. And while these places have names, they're names no one knows. You just call them "the place on the corner," or "the joint on 49th," or more simply you say, "I'm going to the deli."

The place I go on my way to work, I call "the deli on 49th." There's nothing special about it. Maybe it's a little dirtier than most but that's ok, because the only thing I've ever bought there is a couple bottles of seltzer a day and once-in-a-while a cuppa from one of those giant cisterns the size of a good high-school football lineman.

Yesterday I picked up my usual two bottles of Schweppes black cherry seltzer and walked from the refrigerated case up to the front to pay. There was a small crowd of men waiting for their egg sandwiches. I went up to the counter to pay as the cashier was assembling a bag for one of the patrons.

He filled the bag with a large can of fake iced-tea, a foil-wrapped sandwich and a few napkins. Then the patron said, "And give me a Michael Jackson."

The counterman nodded and went to get one.

Ignorant and curious, I asked the customer, "What's a Michael Jackson?" I immediately felt like an idiot.

"It's one of them black-and-white cookies," the customer said to me.

"Of course it is," I laughed.

I walked the two blocks to work, still laughing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Joe Sample and advertising.

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A friend pointed me in the direction of Joe Sample’s obituary. Sample died last Friday at the age of 75. You can read his obit here.

I never really followed Sample's music, more because my tastes run to bebop, classic jazz and blues than his genre-bending blends. But that’s ok. You don’t have to love someone’s work to be able to learn something from his life.

What I got from Sample’s death notice was this quotation: “Unfortunately, in this country, there’s a lot of prejudice against the various forms of music. The jazz people hate the blues, the blues people hate rock, and the rock people hate jazz. But how can anyone hate music? We tend to not hate any form of music, so we blend it all together.”

Yesterday I listened to an interview with an ex-boss and current friend of mine, a guy I have a great deal of respect for. He was talking about how “analog” and “digital” creative can work together better, can get along.

You know, so the digital people don’t hate the analog people and vice-versa.

I think, as an industry, we make collegiality entirely too hard. We act as if digital guy and an analog guy getting along is about as likely as Glenn Beck and Elizabeth Warren French kissing.

Fifteen years ago, when I was working on a major global account, my boss gave me a simple brief. “Make 360 work.”

I think it’s not that hard. Show people and tell people that you won’t tolerate territorial bullshit. And, as Sample points out above, find people who love all forms of advertising. Who get excited by doing cool stuff. Who enjoy newness and challenges and laughter. People who focus more on doing things than on the boundaries between those things.

I really do think it’s that simple.

The under/over.

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The other day a friend whom I respect wrote to me about a mutual acquaintance. “He’s very talented,” my friend wrote, “but I think he’s being underutilized where he is.”

At the risk of damning an industry that has provided well for me and my family, I can think of few people in our business who aren’t underutilized. Quite often advertising attracts very bright and very creative people and then assigns them very dull and mindlessly meaningless tasks.

“Re-write the sentence without using the word ‘titwillow.’” I’ve been told recently. “That’s a word our competitors own.”

“Ok,” I answer in my most obliging tones, “I’ll say ‘titmouse.’”

“No,” they say, slapping my hand with a metaphorical ruler. “They own the word ‘titmouse,’ too.”

"Lake Titicaca," I inquire, thinking of catching the next plane there.

"I'd stay away from that altogether."

These are the sorts of things we have to deal with every day.

If I, ever so gently ask, “Why don’t you share a list with me of all the words owned by competitors?” Well, then I will be marked “hard to work with,” the gravest of sins possible in our HRocracy.
                                                                                                                                  
We are all underutilized because, I think, there’s so much over-think and over-scrutiny everywhere. Instead of actually creating things we spend our days and nights scratching at a million gnat bites of pre-guessing, second-guessing and post-guessing.

Our “talk” to “do” ratio is about 30:1. Our “revise” to “create” ratio is similar.

Not every place, thankfully, is like this. In fact, I’m dividing my time between two places that leave me relatively free to do what I think is good. 

For that I thank the advertising gods who, since I lost my job six months ago, have not yet abandoned me.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Me and Derek Jeter.

"The New York Times" has done its usual brilliant job on a bit of data visualization about how many swings Yankee great Derek Jeter has taken over the course of his 20+ year career.

You can take a look at it here and it's well-worth, I think, the minute or two it will take you to enjoy.

The gist of the item is that over the course of his professional career, Derek Jeter has taken over 342,000 swings at a baseball. In fact, it would take you four full days of non-stop watching to see all of Jeter's swipes at the ball.

It all made me think about longevity and doing something well over an extended period as Jeter has.

My first printed "ad" came out about 34 years ago. I was a young copywriter, more junior than junior, writing about shoes for the Montgomery Ward catalog. Over the course of the two years that I worked for Wards, I probably wrote two or three-hundred pages of shoe ads.

Eventually, I left and joined Bloomingdale's as an in-house copywriter. There, I literally wrote ten ads a week or maybe more. Most retail ads are not in the least conceptual. They have headlines like "Save 20% on plush cotton towels." And body copy is downhill from that. But the ads have to be written, and I got paid for two years to write them.

I probably wrote a thousand ads for Bloomingdale's, add to that total the two-hundred I wrote for Wards and the probably one-thousand I wrote as I was putting my portfolio together, I had probably writ 2,500 by the time I got hired for my first agency job at Lowe.

Since then, I've probably written 15,000 more. I'm figuring ten ads a week for 50 weeks a year for 30 years. So, counting liberally, I've probably written 20,000 ads by now. I think I'm pretty good at it. I'm not Derek Jeter. I'm no "immortal," no Hall-of-Famer. But I do, more often than not, put good wood on the ball and I often wind-up on base.

Unlike Derek Jeter,  I'm not wealthy enough to call it quits. And my powers, unlike his, have not withered with the onset of years. I'll keep stepping up to the plate and keep swinging.

I still like the feeling I get when I get ahold of a good one. 


Blogging in real time.

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Once again I am running late this morning. I blame this on the Mexican food I had this weekend from a place out in Corona, Queens. It’s been rated the best Mexican food in the city and we just had to try it. Unfortunately, my intestines didn’t agree with “Yelp!” and I was up half the night re-writing the reviews I read.

Not many of them were favorable.

I made it to the bus stop just as a bus was pulling out. But rather than dash two blocks to catch it at the next stop, I apprised the situation with bourgeoisie diffidence. “Another one will be along soon,” I reassured myself. But my assessment was wrong by about 20 minutes.

As an homage to modernity, my phone holds two apps that tell me when buses will be coming and where they are at any given moment. It’s an advance, to be sure. We are no longer in the dark about such things. We can live a quantified life when it comes to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

That said, we can do nothing to speed the arrival of one of those languid behemoths. We have no app that eliminates traffic and lets the M31 cover its four-mile route faster than its usual 75 minutes.

So as I write this, it is approaching 9:00 and I have just passed Sixth Avenue—Avenue of the Americas—as we used to call it. Before, of course, half of the Americas were the United States’ immigrant problem and we turned our noses up at our neighbors because they are dark and poor and don’t speak our language. It looks like I won’t make it in until 9:15 or so, which for me, who prides himself on a timely arrival is the perfect way to start a week off like shit.

It’s okay, I tell myself, pretty much no one else will be in before ten. But I have old-fashioned ways. I feel remiss, even derelict if I get in late. Much the same way I feel about shaving.

I know life isn’t like this anymore, that by the time I’m an old man, even US Presidents will show up for meetings with other heads of state with three days growth, uncombed hair and their shirt untucked. But I can’t do it. And I pray I don't see Hilary like that.

I have to shave every day or I feel like a bum. You’d have to give me electroshock to get those 1950s voices out of my head.

We’re at 11th Avenue now, about at the end of the line. From here it’s a short walk to work.

At least I wrote my blog entry.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A day at the beach.

Though we still have another week of summer, today seemed the first day of autumn. The temperature barely touched 60, the sky was a forbidding grey with nasty cumulus rolling by at speed, and though the trees were as yet green, leaves blew along the asphalt with abandon.

Nevertheless, at just before seven, we piled into the Simca and headed up to a rocky horseshoe of beach, where no one but lonely Puerto Rican fishermen go to lose their weekly supply of tackle. We've been heading up the coast for seven months now, I've seen in that time precisely one fish caught, a small stripper that in a kinder world would have been thrown back to grow.


Whiskey and I stood on the alluvial, struggling over the rocks until we found a sandy bottom that didn't hurt our paws. The water was warmer than the air, but turbid. It was low tide and the mud, clay and sand was roiled. I could barely see my feet, though I was in no deeper than just above my knees.


The water was rough, rough for the Sound anyway. There must have been a storm last night. I tossed Whiskey's fluorescent float out into the rip. It traveled quickly out to deeper water, too fast for Whiskey to catch and too far for me to mark it with a thrown stone so she could locate and fetch it. Were my rotator cuff not torn, I could have thrown a rock out to it, overhand, but I'm not throwing overhand these days. My arm, once my source of pride and strength, is crippled.


We lost the float in the turbulent sea. I asked some passing paddleboarders who were enjoying the surf to return it if they happened upon it. But it's a little toy in a big sea and it's gone.


Fortunately my ever-level-headed wife had another float, a white pebbled affair in the knapsack she carries with Whiskey's accouterments. She handed it to me and Whiskey and I played fetch for nearly two hours.


We ended when this one too got swept out in a rip. Whiskey returned to shore empty-mouthed. I spent a good ten minutes reassuring her that she did not let me down. Any dog could lose two floats in one day. Even the great DiMaggio struck out with the bases loaded. Speaking of DiMaggio, I consoled Whiskey with a bit of Hemingway. "I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing," the old man said in the great book. "They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as poor as we are and would understand."

Whiskey looked at me like I was daft, and maybe I am. But she does seem to understand, mostly because she has the wisdom of the universe in her deep brown eyes.

We walked, as we always do, past Playland Amusement Park to the boardwalk that runs for about three-quarters of a mile along Rye beach. The park is empty now and there is perhaps nothing sadder and emptier than an amusement park on the cusp of winter. You can almost hear the ghostly shards of laughing kids reverberate off the wooden superstructure of the old, landmark roller coaster. It's a sad laugh like they just dropped their ice cream.

Around 10:30, we got into the Simca. She started right up, as reliable as a golden retriever. We clattered down the New England Thruway and made it home in just over 30 minutes.

It was a good day.

Though we lost two floats.


Friday, September 12, 2014

“Our plans are confusing [and our] marketing was a hamster talking to people. We are having a hard time selling the products.”

The quotation above was made by the new President/CEO of Sprint, Maurcelo Claure.

It might well be the Advertising Quote of the Day.

Put its humor (and its pain) aside for a moment and Claure's plaint is a difficult one to solve.

I never liked the Frobisons but I admired the chances taken by all concerned. They did something different in a category inundated by screaming sales, confusing offers and general ugliness. I respect their agency for presenting and selling something different. I have a modicum of respect for Sprint for trying to stand out while they're being outspent, probably 10-1, by the combined hegemony of AT&T and Verizon.

That said, the Frobisons were just plain weird. They existed to be different. They gave me no reasons I could hear because I was too busy trying to unravel or decipher their weirdness.

I think phones are a place where people don't want weird. They want normal.

There are indications that Sprint will now revert to the sort of advertising that's par for the telco course. Claure said "Whenever you got to make a choice of why you are going to buy a phone, you are going to buy it because of pricing."

I'm about 99.9% sure vehement price advertising won't help Sprint either.

Besides, while I agree with Claure on the reluctance of people to buy from a talking hamster, I don't believe that they buy solely on price.

Apple's dominance of the PC market belies that. They charge more than twice as much as Dell and HP. Federal Express, for decades, was far more costly than the US Postal Service. But to whom would you entrust an important package.

The point for my money is fairly simple.

Sprint's messaging dilemma is a thorny one.

It won't be solved by cute and clever.

It can be solved by smart and consistent.

It can be solved if Sprint creates a better product--if they actually do something better. I think creating a product that works is perhaps even more important than creating distinctive branding.

I'm not sure what creative I would come up with were I asked to pitch the Sprint business (though I'd love the assignment.)

I do know that I'd start here, with something I learned from Robert Townsend's book "Up the Organization."

Townsend, former CEO of Avis, said the following to Bill Bernbach when he was looking for an ad agency. By the way, Avis might have been the Sprint of its day. Their lunch was being eaten by a variety of competitors.

“I have 1/5th the money Hertz has to spend on advertising. How do I get advertising that's 5 times as effective from my agency? Hertz is spending five dollars on advertising for every one dollar that Avis spends. So Avis’s advertising needs to have five times the impact of Hertz’s."

Bernbach responded with this:

"Most clients put their advertising through an approval process that destroys the work and kills the morale of the creatives. If you promise to run whatever we recommend, every creative in my shop will want to work on your account."

Bernbach and Townsend arrived at this.
Sprint and whomever its agency winds up being, needs to do something similar.

Friday meanderings.

I am running a little late this morning. Shame on me.

Since I got on the bus about 15 minutes later than usual, it took about 30 minutes longer than usual for me to make the trek from Manhattan's far east side to Manhattan's far west side. The fact is, the only mode of transportation slower than the M31 bus is a caravan of three-legged camels stumbling across the Sahara in a full-on sand-storm.

 I guess I'm feeling a little under it lately, and a little black-doggy. What's more, yesterday I presented a 17-page copy deck and that was no great joy. It went well, but I'm not cut out to talk that long, especially on the phone when you can't see if your "audience" is rolling their eyes, playing solitaire or vomiting in a waste-basket.

That said, it all went well, and the few changes they recommended will surely be done by one today as I promised them.

The longest copy I ever presented was to a recent client of mine who wanted a brand book that defined who they were and showed some pictures of their smiling faces. I wrote 64-pages of copy. It took almost a year to get it approved and printed. Probably longer than it took to write the Torah or Gilgamesh or Don Quixote.

I don't know why everything in advertising has gotten as slow and unproductive as the M31 bus. Maybe our business processes in some corrupt permutation of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny has come to resemble Congress. We can't get anything done. We can't get anything approved. Everything is stymied and stifled. And there's certainly no place to actually be bold.

Well, as John Wilkes Booth and Suetonius, alea iacta est, the die is cast, the copy is done, the revisions will soon be on their way.

Oh, and it's Friday.

We made it, or nearly so, through another one.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

From whence I come. (This being a story of my Grand-Father.)

I've written before about my grand-father, Morris Tannenbaum, who settled in Philadelphia in 1913 and who opened up his tailor shop in the basement of a row-house some years later. While he never had two pin-cushions to rub together, and died a youngish-man in 1936 when my old man was just eight, he somehow in the short time he was alive, was able to earn the sobriquet "The Worst Tailor in Philadelphia."

According to my father, every seam he sewed was crooked. No two pant's legs or sleeves were even and there was barely a suit that left his shop without extra room across the back should you, for some inexplicable reason, develop a hunched back.

Morris cut his tailoring teeth in a city called Krasnoyarsk (pronounced Krasnoyarsk), Siberia's third largest city, and judged, by Chekhov of all people, as its loveliest. It was also an important junction on the Trans-Siberian Rail Way, and that's where our story begins.
Life was cheap as the Trans-Siberian Rail-Way was being built. Thousands died, many more wish they had.

With baggy pants down around their ankles, the cry of "Hem boy!" would ring out.


It's hard, really, to appreciate the magnitude of the job of building the Trans-Siberian. It's nearly 6,000 miles long and was built through some of the most desolate and forbidding terrain in the world. What's more, in the summer, temperatures could drop to 200-below (Celsius) and it got even colder in the winter.
Temperatures dropped to -200 (Celsius.) Colder in the shade.

The railway was built over the decades beginning in 1890 when my grand-father was just a spit of a boy. The men who constructed it were a) liberated serfs; b) drunken rabble; c) political convicts; d) criminal convicts and e) Jews for whom any labor represented a step up from the abject poverty of shtetls that would make Anatevka look like Greenwich, Connecticut.

My grandfather got a job as a "hem boy" for the railroad.

The workers who laid the tracks were given by the Trans-Siberian one pair of work pants. By the time they had reached Krasnoyarsk, they had generally lost so much weight from eating their meager rations, that their pants were down around their ankles. Of course, when you're pounding in spikes all day, having your pants fall down isn't just embarrassing, it's downright dangerous.

So the railroad hired scores of "hem boys" who would run along the rail way waiting for a worker to sing out "Hem boy!" Then they hustled over to pin up and hem the workers' pants.

There's no telling how many hems my grand-father shortened this way. Or how he managed to last the years he did. But somehow he lasted long-enough to save what he needed to land in America and start a new life on our teeming shores.


His first day on the job.

The other night I worked moderately late and so when I left the office, the first thing I did was look for a cab. (BTW, most mornings I get in before eight, so when six rolls around, I have had enough for the day. I don't shortchange anyone on the hours I work. I usually put an hour in when I get home. I'd just rather be home than hang around the office.)

I noticed about half a block ahead of me a cab pull to a stop and I saw a delightfully long pair of gams swing out. The owner of those gams batted her eyes at me and pointed to the hack. "He's all yours," she purred. And then she rolled her peepers.

I slid in and buckled up. "Eighty-third and York," I directed.

The cabbie hugged the wheel and stuttered, more in Mandarin than in English.

"First day on job," he said brokenly. "You tell me how."

I checked his hack number. It was 560,000 or something. He was truly brand new.

He drove like it was not only his first day driving a cab, but his first day driving as well. We creeped east on 48th Street and I told him to swing up 10th, where the lights are elegantly timed, and if you play it right you can make it all the way into the 70s or 80s without hitting a red. We stopped pretty much every five blocks. He went barely 20 miles an hour.

I started to react like a real New Yorker. "Can't you hurry up," I thought. "Give it some gas," I felt like saying. But I bit my tongue. It was his first day on the job.

We finally made it to my apartment about 30 minutes later. It took a full ten minutes and about three dollars longer than it should have. I thought about stiffing him on the tip, but then thought about my first day on the job in advertising and gave him $25 for a $19 fare.

I'm a freelancer now, I figured. It's all deductible.

"Good luck," I said as I exited.

He was hugging the wheel like a soldier on leave seeing his girl.

"Good thank you," he said.

And he drove off at about eight miles per.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Johnnie Friendly and fighting back.

video
There's a lot of crap in the world.

And when it comes to handling that crap, there aren't a lot of people you can learn from.

One person I learned from, more from his writing and his movies than from having met him a couple times, was Budd Schulberg, the screenwriter of "On the Waterfront."

I happen to think it's one of the best things ever written.

I met Schulberg when I was getting my Master's degree in English at Columbia. I was doing original research and somehow my Byzantine research trail led to Schulberg. I went down to Grand Central Terminal where they had a giant room filled with literally hundreds of various phonebooks. In about an hour I found his number in the Suffolk county white pages.

Somehow I screwed up my courage and called him.

I was 21.

He answered the phone and we arranged to meet in the city. He took me to dinner where we talked for two hours. Then he took me to an off-Broadway play he was somehow involved in. We had a drink or two afterwards.

And we had a few phone calls after that as I worked on my thesis.

But back to "On the Waterfront," and like I said, crap.

Everybody, or most everybody, freelance or staff, has a Johnny Friendly or two in their lives. Someone bossing them around, making them feel small. Someone taking eleven cents of soul from every dime you earn.

Maybe it's just in the movies where you can stand up to them. Maybe you never really get to in real life. And maybe if you do, you almost get beaten to death by Johnnie Friendly and his mugs, including one "Two Ton" Tony Galento, who was featured in the scene above.

Like I said, there's a lot of crap you have to deal with in life.

And you can't always sock people in the jaw, even if "you wuz gonna be the next Billy Conn."

That said, rather than reading something dumb on Buzzfeed, or even this blog, you'd probably be well-served watching that clip above every 30 days or so.

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BTW, you might spot Fred Gwynne at the 2:40 mark. He worked at J. Walter Thompson before he chased down his dream of being a Thespian.

Andre Nadeau and the Black Dog.

The best baseball player I ever played with was a guy called Andre Nadeau. He was 20 and I was a big 15-year-old when I played in a summer league with him up in New Hampshire.

I was playing catcher in those days, a tribute to my size and to my brick-like hands that prevented me from really excelling in the field. Besides, the team I was on was short a catcher, so they stuck me there. They wanted my bat in the lineup.

Andre was a pitcher and as fast as he was wild. These were the flannel uniform days before radar guns, but I'm sure he threw in the mid-90s. Like a Ryne Duren (look him up) when he did get in the groove and was able to throw the pill over the dish (perhaps during those rare times when he wasn't high) he was all but unhittable.

Andre had come back from Vietnam as a heroin addict. We all suspected it then but no one knew exactly for sure. In any event, he kept to himself, never having a thing to do with anyone on the team, including me, his catcher.

On the rare occasion when I would head out to the hill to calm him down if he was wild, he would merely ignore me or stare into the dirt. More likely, he was apt to tell me to shut the fuck up, an appropriate imprecation to a 15-year-old, especially one who was feeling his oats as I was, playing on a team of college kids.

About midway through the season the manager of the team got wise to Andre's drug use and he was kicked off the team. I think they threatened to call the cops. Guys had been kicked off before, mostly for smoking pot, and I figured that would be the last I'd see of Andre.

But a couple years later in what was then the Wild West of 1970s New York, I saw Andre strung out on a subway platform of the Number 1 line on Broadway and 50th Street. He was long-haired and bearded and wrapped in rags and shrouded in an old green Army blanket he must have gotten from a shelter. He probably smelled like cheap wine and dirt and sweat.

"Andre, man," I said to him.

He didn't recognize me.

That was it. A train had pulled in to the stop and I was on my way to a class I've forgotten up at Columbia and I didn't want to miss it.

That was the last I saw or heard of Andre Nadeau.

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Lately, maybe it's some nettlesome vagary at work, maybe it's that I've been bitten by a ferocious Black Dog, I've been thinking about Andre.

About a guy dead to rights at 21 or 22.

Maybe I've been thinking about loneliness and feeling un- or under-appreciated.  You know, I suppose that happens to the best of us. Periods where we feel so estranged and detached from our fellow man that we might as well be shrouded in an old green Army blanket and doped out on the subway.

I resigned from life yesterday.

I was pissed about shit. No need to explain here.

Angry at myself for being in the employment situation I'm in. Again no need to explain.

Angry at the world, really. There's so much to be angry about.

A bunch of people reached out to me over the last 24-hours, my older daughter with her wisdom of the ages, Keith, Andrew, my dear friend Terry in New Zealand, Julian, my soul-mate Rich, and more than a few people I've never even met.

They've made me, at least for now, reconsider my rashness. I've always been rash. Another thing that's hard to be these days. We're supposed to NOT be feeling and emotional. We're supposed to tut tut politely instead of howl at the moon. Tutting good. Howling bad.

So, I'm writing for now.

Cautiously, maybe. I'm not throwing any spears in the direction of anyone. In the words of Fats Waller, "I"m not giving my right name."

I'm writing because writing is what I do and it's who I am.

Writing keeps me sustained if not sane. I need it. I am compelled by it.

So I'm sorry if yesterday I said fuck you and quit. I'm not a quitter. I don't don't have anything to say. And I refuse to let them rip out my tongue.

At least for now, I'll keep trying.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The reason I say good-bye.

On Saturday night I went to Shakespeare in the Park--a special performance that was about one-third the Bard and two-thirds community outreach.

Before the performance, Oscar Eustice, the heir to Joseph Papp spoke. As did New York's new mayor, Bill DiBlasio. They spoke of the non-elitist, egalitarian nature of the theater, how it represented the true spirit of liberal New York. They thanked various pre-schools for helping to supply young talent. They thanked the Domestic Workers Union who added also to the cast. They thanked everyone in creation, it seemed for the diverse and color-blind interpretation of Shakespeare.

Then they put a knife in it.

They thanked their sponsors.

Including Bank of America.

You know, the bank that foreclosed on millions of mortgages and nearly brought down the global financial system. The bank that was just fined $17 billion for those crimes.

Of course I booed.

I hate Bank of America. They are the "Malefactors of Great Wealth" that Theodore Roosevelt warned us about. (People heard him 100 years ago. They are deaf today.)

My daughter turned to me when I booed and said, "If you don't approve of Bank of America, stay home."

I thought about all those super-patriots who used to spout "America. Love it or Leave it." As if protest and amendment were somehow un-American (this from a nation founded on protest.)

My daughter hurt me. I felt cut, censored and tongue-tied.

Then yesterday at lunch I noticed that the napkins in the company cafeteria are from the Georgia-Pacific Company. Owned by the radical right Koch Brothers. Heirs to the founder of the John Birch Society and against everything I am for.

What, now I can't take napkins in the cafeteria.

Both incidents made me feel beaten.

The system of powerful moneyed interests have so taken over our lives that we are rendered mute.

Of course, without mentioning names, agencies or anything else, because I can't, shit went down at work that appalls me.

I can't say anything.

I can't do anything.

I'm not even allowed to think without being excoriated.

People will say I'm negative, angry. You name it.

A blog is only worth writing if, in my opinion, you can be honest. Utterly honest.

I don't feel I can be.

I feel they have robbed me of my voice.

Good-bye.

For about the last three weeks, the "Blogger" program has not been working properly when I open it with Chrome. To write my daily dose of drivel, I've had to stroll over to Firefox and post from there.

I think perhaps Chrome is trying to tell me something.

I'm tapped out.

I think I have nothing left to say.

It's been a good run. Nearly 4000 posts.

Along the way, I've introduced the world to my Uncle Slappy, to the Tempus Fugit, my one fractured season in the Mexican Baseball League and I've even, now and again, written about advertising.

But I think I'm done.

The ideas aren't coming.

And frankly, since I'm freelancing now, I'm fearful of pissing people off, losing a job and the money that goes with it.

So, I'm hanging up my cleats for now.

I think this is sufficient.

I've had enough.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Office pre-7.

I have a lot to do right now and so I got in this morning well before seven.

The building security guys, each of whom seem NFL-sized, have nothing to do. A workman walks by pushing a three-level cart loaded with tools and a tall blue ladder attached to one end. He cachunks over the floor tiles.

The only other sound is the hiss of the white noise system. You don't hear the white noise during the day when the place is a hubbub. Now, it's doing its job, filtering. But when it's noisy about the agency, it's noisy. You can hardly hear yourself think.

The sun pours in through the north-facing windows not far from the table I sit at. It looks like a beautiful day--at this point the temperature is cool and the sky is devoid of clouds except for thin strips of cirrus on the horizon on the Jersey side above the Palisades.

Occasionally there is the glint of a helicopter in the sky, making its way over the Hudson to places east, either Laguardia or perhaps the Hamptons, bringing one of the .001 percent back to Wall Street from a weekend at the beach.

It's quiet. I have my headphones in, listening the Maria Callas--perhaps the greatest voice ever.

I have work to do, and nothing to say right now.

It's just before 7.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday. And thoughts of Mammon.

Since the beginning of humanity we've always chased things that we can never quite touch.

Maybe, the bones of a Saint. A splinter from the True Cross. Or the Holy Grail.

Maybe we were chasing a perpetual motion machine. Or looking to turn lead into gold.

Not long ago, it was flying cars and colonies on the stars.

Yup.

We chase after illusions.

Doing so is as human as flatulence.

For the last 15 or 20 years, we've lusted after the killer app.

The one thing that will change everything.

It's the path to riches beyond our wildest dreams.

Marketers look for it. They have entire departments of powerpoint creators writing incomprehensible drivel about it. Agencies do the same, matching the most prolific MBA powerpoint page for powerpoint page.

The worst, of course, is the aristocracy of the world. The great Guru Class. The spouters, the poseurs, the do-nothing anointed who ride their soaring cipher to fame and riches. That their proclamations are banal, trite and facile, it doesn't matter. They supply and feed the great cliche machine that keeps the whole bullshitocracy going.

There is a killer app.

If you're a client, do something different. Do something better. It's really that simple. It works time and again. Samsung is doing well, as are Tesla and Chipotle and HBO, because they make something cool that people want.

If you're an agency, do work that gets noticed, that's disruptive and inspiring.

We all look for the magic potion, the fairy dust, the sorcerer's stone, the hand of god or something cosmic--the stars, maybe--that have all the answers, that will give us an EZ-Pass to Mammon.

I happen to believe that it's there.

It's only ephemeral or hard to reach because it takes work to reach it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sprint and the demise of advertising.

A lot of people, at least a lot of people in my circles, have been flapping their gums about Sprint firing its agency and, more specifically, the failure of $800 million in advertising to move the Sprint brand forward.

They're crowing, a lot of these people. "See," they proclaim, loudly and proudly, "this is proof that advertising is dead." That even nearly one-billion dollars of the stuff can't save Sprint from doom--either being subsumed by another Telco or flushed into oblivion.

A decade ago I worked at the agency that handled the Sprint account. As I was then considered a very smart guy (I'm no longer considered smart. Just opinionated and loud.) I was asked not to work on Sprint, but to attend one meeting with some important Sprint people and to talk--somewhat extemporaneously about successful brand transformations.

Accordingly, I read, and I re-read yesterday, the agency's deck on the decline and fall of Sprint.

1. Their messages were mixed
2. They can't win the price war
3. They don't stand for anything--there's nothing to believe in

Those were and are the maladies affecting the Sprint brand. They weren't solved by James Earl Jones or the Frobisons.

They weren't solved by special pricing.

As Gertrude Stein was purported to say about Oakland, "there's no there there."

There's also no there when it comes to Sprint.

It's not that Advertising (capital A) has failed. Their advertising has.

And one other thing, and I think, in part, this is being proved by the slight revitalization of the American auto industry.

Sprint can succeed if they make a better product.

They're me too now and that ain't good enough.

Buick came back, not because their ads got less sucky, but because their cars did.

If Sprint decides to act like the Nordstrom's of telcos, they'll come back. And if they advertise intelligently and consistently, they will have a chance.

Yes, I do believe it's that simple.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Simplisticissimo.

I just glanced at an article that's being passed around Facebook. It was written by a guy I nominally know about a topic I am nominally interested in (advertising) and it was published in a magazine I have nominal respect for, "Fast Company." All that being said, I gave it my nominal attention, for a nominal couple of minutes.

When I was in college, I took a course in Existential Philosophy. We were assigned to read Sartre's tome, "Being and Nothingness." I tried but I could barely understand a single sentence.

Compared to this Fast Company piece, Sartre was as weighty as "Hop On Pop." What's more, it reminded me of an essay on "How to Ride a Bike" written by someone who suffers from vertigo who happens to have no legs. In other words, the assumptions in the article were naive and uninformed. There are too many to delineate here. You'll have to sip the soup yourself to see how it tastes. Article.

Here's the thing--in the form of a sports metaphor.

You can talk all you want about strategy, and positioning, and insight, and big data, and a thousand other jargony-buzzwords.

But some times, the best thing to do is just hit a two-run double.

I mean really.

You can blather all you want about this and that.

But unless you hit those doubles, your team won't score and you won't win.

Doubles in ad agencies can be many things. But they're usually not decks. Or research. Or, perish the heresy, an extremely well-crafted brief.

Usually, they're a good, coalescing spot.

In the 2008 election, it was Shephard Fairy and the word "Hope."

Nike's done dozens of them, so has Gerry Graf and David Droga.

We keep trying to ratiocinate our way into making advertising an exact science. Actually, we dwell more in the realm of fantasy--like creating from base metal, gold. Or a perpetual motion machine.

We sell by saying, this will be cheap and ever-lasting.

That's bullshit.

And if it's not bullshit, show me the cases where it's worked along with creative examples. I've seen real-life commercials that have built brands. I've seen them with my own eyes.

I've never seen a platform do the same.

Or a Like.

Tweet.

Google Plus.

Or snapchat.

I refused to be taking in by the Bullshit Bubble.



On the bus. A love story.

I am on the bus right now and there’s an old man with long white hair who’s reading a story by G.K. Chesterton.

His wife, who looks very much older, sits to his left and it appears she has melted into her seat. She is vertically compressed, as if she no longer has a spinal column. The man is trying to read his Chesterton. It’s one story in a collection of short stories housed in a grimy paperback he is carrying. It has no cover.

He is trying to read and his wife is talking to him constantly, without a pause or a break. He does not look up from his book, but does not make progress either. He is suffering the reader’s greatest hell, reading sentences over and again without finding meaning. Finally, he barks at her. “You’re 79-years-old,” he says almost unbelieving that he himself, a man of vim and vitality is with an almost eighty-year-old woman. “You’re 79-years-old,” he says, “Can’t you let me read?”

“Sixty-ninth Street,” she answers. “We have to get out there.”

“I know that,” he continues barking. “I know when 69th Street is coming.” He shakes his book, like red cape before a bull. “I’m trying to read.”

“Ok, but we’re on 74th and we have to get off in two stops.”

“Do you have to be such a nudge?” he asks loud enough to make the question rhetorical.

The bus stops at 69th and the bus driver calls out the stop. The old man rises first on his three-pointed walking stick. She pulls herself to the full-height of her 79-year-old frame, about four-and-a-half-feet. They shuffle out, slowly, together. Holding hands.