Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My early days in the Mexican League.


When I was just 17, I did what none of my friends did. I didn’t graduate high school and head to college.

I had graduated high school early—I had skipped from fourth grade to sixth, so I was a year or more younger than most of my classmates. And while I had gotten into college, I was to attend Columbia University about 14 miles from my parents’ home, I decided to defer my admission for a year and try to play professional ball in Mexico.

My parents fairly bludgeoned me for my decision. Telling me they wouldn’t support me, and that I was ruining my life—their lives, too, somehow. They went months without talking to me. Then worse, they went months of talking to me. We would have heart-to-hearts incessantly. All to get me to see the world their way, the right way.

Nevertheless, I had saved three-hundred dollars and taped it inside into an old pair of tennis shoes and ran-away down to Port Authority on 42nd and 8th, the world’s epicenter, in 1975, of bestiality and other carnal offenses, not to mention drugs, crime, prostitution and god knows what else. From Port Authority, I took a 42-hour bus-ride  to Corpus Christi, Texas.

From Corpus Christi, I took a Mexican Greyhound, the painted dog on the side of the dusty streamlined bus wore a tilted sombrero, to a small city called Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. Saltillo had the worst team in the Mexican Baseball League (AA), el Seraperos de Saltillo, the Saltillo Serape Makers, and I had figured if I could play anywhere in the Mexican League, I could play there.

Worn out when I arrived in Saltillo, I found a small dusty room with a full-sized bed and a ceiling fan missing one of its three blades. I checked in and paid a month’s rent, $35, and then got directions from the cigarette at the front desk for the Estadio de Beisbol Francesco I. Maduro, Francesco I. Maduro Stadium, where the Seraperos played.

I banged on the clubhouse door, the entrance from the street, and in my bad schoolboy Spanish coaxed my way past the guard and into a tryout. I had had a letter of recommendation from coach Babich, my high school coach, translated by Senor Cowan my high school Spanish teacher.

I introduced myself to the manager and handed him the note. It told of my success in el Norte, how I was one of the best high-school baseball players in New York. It said I was a big, strong boy with power and speed who listened to his coaches and had a good work ethic. The manager told me to grab a bat and he would see what I could do.

Barely in Mexico for six hours, not counting the long bus ride through the desert, I changed into an old Seraperos away uniform, then found a Hillerich and Bradsby, a 32-ouncer like the bat I used in school. I dug in against their batting practice pitcher.

The first pitch he grooved over the plate and I put it deep into left-center, on a line and it bounced against the old maroon-planked fence.

“Mas rapido,” said Hector, the manager to the batting practice pitcher. “Mas caliente.”

The ball came in like an aspirin and I corkscrewed around on a swing and a miss. Some of the Seraperos were watching, like they’d watch any newcomer, and they laughed a bit. There’s something funny about a swing and a miss. The futility in public. Another pitch came in and this one I tipped—a small victory—back into the backstop.

Finally a third bullet came in, a bit up and out, right in my power, and I lined it hard, swinging from my heels, just over the low right field fence.

“Su nombre,” Hector said, calling me over.

“George,” I said.

“Jorge,” he corrected.

“Tannenbaum.”

“Christmas tree,” he said in English, “Arbol de Navidad. Su nombre es Jorge Navidad.”

“Jorge Navidad,” I tried it out.

“Su posicion?”

“El rincon caliente,” I answered. “The hot corner—third base.”

Hector sent me out for some infield and I did well enough. I knocked down everything in front of me, a dove to my right to catch a screamer hit down the line on one hop and still made the long throw to first.

“Jorge Navidad,” he said to me.

Hector walked me into the club-house and he sat me down in his small cinderblock office. I signed a contract that would pay me $200 a month, plus two chicken dinners a week at Tino’s just two blocks from the stadium.

Batista, our third-string catcher, bus-driver and equipment manager handed me a Seraperos-aqua duffle bag with a couple of sweatshirts, a home and away uniform, some sliding pads and a few other necessities. They gave me a locker on the end—there was an empty one next to mine, below a leaking pipe.

About a month after I arrived in Saltillo, Mexico, after having played just 25 or 30 games for the Seraperos (and doing fairly well in the offing) I got a telegram at the stadium that my old man needed to speak with me.

One of the many reasons I had sought to play ball south of the border was to get away from parental demands like these. My parents, when they wanted something from me, could be as oppressive as a sauna in Houston in August. Now, obviously, my father needed something from me—was demanding something.

“Son,” it read in telegraphic terseness, “call me at work, person to person. Dad.”

“That’s funny,” I said to myself. “I never thought of him as a person.”

But I called. I had to. I was raised to be obedient, to be the Good Son, so I followed his imperative.

“Your mother has left me,” he said when I finally reached him.

I was in the middle of a short hitting streak to start my professional career. Like I said I was tearing up the league. After my first month, my line looked like this:

G         AB      H          R         2          3     HR      RBI     BB        SB      AVG
27       114      40        19        8          0      4         21        11         3      .342

“Where is she,” I asked.

“I need you to come home. I need you now.”

“Dad, I can’t come home, I just got here.”

“Baseball isn't your future. What are you making down there?” He said caustically.  “$200 a month.”

I corrected, “$200 a month and two chicken dinners.”

He begged, the old man did and I hung up the horn.

I scanned the 8’x10’ room I was flopping in. It wasn’t much to look at. I slept on a tiny cot and had my few belongings stuffed willy-nilly in a cardboard bureau. There was one small window girded with some ratty brown plaid curtains.

“Nothing to stay for,” I said aloud.

I threw my shit back into my duffle bag, put a dog-eared copy of Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge” in the back pocket of my Levi’s and I walked to the Estadio de Beisbol Francisco I Maduro—about two miles from my small rented room. I figured I would pick up my glove, my spikes and say goodbye to my manager, Hector Quesadilla. Then I would take the bus—whenever the bus came—to Corpus Christi, and then make it home from there.

I arrived at the clubhouse—it was three hours before game time—and Hector was there. He came over and put his arm around my shoulder. I’ve never been much of a hugger, not then, not now, but I took Hector’s arm in stride.

He must have seen me with my duffle and put two and two together. We had just started a homestand and weren’t due to travel for at least a week.

“You no go,” he said.

In my rudimentary Spanish—I’d yet to pick up the language—I tried my best to explain what was going on. Not only was I needed elsewhere, well, this was the end of the line for me baseball-wise.

Hector knew all this. Somehow.

He took my duffle from me and brought it to his office.

“You will stay. You will stay en mi casa con mi esposa.”

“Si,” I answered.

Hector led me into his tiny office and pointed to his phone.

Hector stood beside me as I sat in his chair and called my old man.

I told him to go to hell and hung up.


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Monday, August 13, 2018

Gone writin'.

This week, you won't find me at my "corner desk," in my office. You won't find me at a dimly-lit edit suite, or a recording studio.

Instead, I'll be doing something I probably should have done decades ago. I'll be up in Provincetown, MA, at the Provincetown Writers' Workshop, honing my craft, trying to work some of my writing into better shape.

I'll also find out, I suppose, if I'm any good. If my short pieces of writing can be woven into something more than mere blog posts. If I can get a few bits of them published.

Ever since I was knee-high to a cockroach I wanted to be a writer. A writer of books.

I never pursued writing--outside of copywriting--because I had to make a living. But this blog, and its eventual popularity, has made me think that perhaps I could write something for myself, not just for clients.

After all, I've written about one-million words in this space and have gained a few thousand dedicated readers. 

So, maybe from my workshop, I can find the encouragement and confidence I need to write something more.


Maybe not.

But at the very least, maybe I'll have a couple jumbo cones of soft-serve ice cream on the beach. With sprinkles.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Time kills.

As usual, I have my nose stuck in a book (remember books?) and Wednesday night was no different. 

I was reading a pretty heady book a friend had given me, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel," by Jim Holt and I was struck by a quotation that really stopped me in my tracks.

The words were said by the great French romantic composer, Hector Berlioz: "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils."

I think about this quotation as it applies to agency life today. Maybe it's backward. Maybe it's the teachers who are being killed.

At many agencies (not mine, touch wood) you could send out an All Points Bulletin, six bloodhounds and a dozen predator drones and not find anyone above the age of 40.


People above the age of 40 (this is a 60-year-old's point of view) are "time."

We have the wisdom of the ages. We have answered thousands of briefs, seen all manner of problems. We have unknotted Gordian's finest efforts. And those experiences, gained over the decades, are what make us good teachers.

Yet, in many cases, before we teachers get to teach our pupils, before our knowledge is captured and shared, it is we who get killed.

Axed. Shit-canned. Sent out to pasture.


Which, whether or not you're walking with Einstein and Gödel, is an upside-down universe.



Thursday, August 9, 2018

733 taglines.

Just yesterday, I stumbled upon an article by Praveen Vaidyanathan that compiled an exhaustive list of 700 agency taglines and philosophies. You can find the article here.

I scanned the list and was immediately struck by the banality of about 640 out of the 700 lines. I guess, charitably, around ten-percent were worth their salt.

In any event, those 700 lines (and 700 agencies) got me thinking. Maybe there are agencies who need a little tagline help. 

To that end and for a small fee, of course, I've written a few taglines that are yours for the asking:
  • Creating a culture of creative cultures. 
  • Connecting eyeballs. And eyebrows.
  • The agents of agency agency.
  • The frenetic agency for a frenetic world.
  • Interrupting interruption.
  • Work that works by working.
  • The agency for whatever age we say this age is.
  • Passionate about brands. And passionfruit.
  • Bravely inspiring bravery.
  • Imagine imagination.
  • Building brand-love in a loveless world.
  • If you like it, we really like it.
  • We're a day ahead of tomorrow. Today.
  • Data-inspired, aspired and perspired.
  • So Konneckted™ we spell connected differently.
  • Making data human and humans data.
  • Complicating communications with an eye on simplicity.
  • The people agency.
  • The people people.
  • The people people agency.
  • The people people agency agency.
  • Famously famous for famousosity™.
  • Focused on focus.
  • Winning awards for having won awards.
  • Storytellers telling brand stories with data.
  • We're not storytellers. We're story-scapers©.
  • Building brands through Storytechture.™
  • Moving brands by moving people.
  • We make movements.
  • The movement agency.
  • Story. Tellers.
  • The millennial is the message.
  • Purpose-built. Purpose-driven. Porpoise-free.





  

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

In praise of [ ].

The other night, as tired as a two-dollar whore at a rodeo, I slumped into my favorite chair and turned on the television set.

Yeah, I know the words 'television set' mark me as a creature from the Mesolithic Era. I’m supposed to have cut my cords already. I’m supposed to be binge-watching something streaming on a tiny device. I’m supposed to be leaning-in and interacting with something--an ad or an app or, for chrissakes, a web-experience.

Instead, I did what millions of others do, and have done since the early 1950s. I filled a glass with something cold and turned on the ball-game.

To be perfectly clear, it hardly mattered what ball-game was on. Given that the world was too much with me and I wanted to unwind, I would have watched the Mudhens vs. the Top Hats, whoever they are. To my delight, however, the two best teams in baseball, the Red Sox of Boston and the Yankees of the Bronx were squaring off in the final game of a four-game set.

The Bosox had taken the first three games and had extended their division lead over their arch-rivals to eight-and-a-half games. The Yankees wanted this one badly, to save face and to make the Sox think they still had some fight left in them.

The thing that struck me about the contest, however, was not the game itself. (Most games on television start way too late for me to watch much more than their first half. One reason for America’s historically low workforce-participation must be games that start at practically nine p.m. and go on the almost one a.m. The various professional leagues might want to think about that if they want to reverse their waning television ratings.)

In any event, what got to me wasn’t what was happening between the white lines but instead what was happening up in the press-box.

Ostensibly qualified sportscasters—the pundit, the pretty woman and the ex-athlete—were speculating on and on about what would happen in the game. They went through about 30 what-ifs and 30-more this-has-tos before the first pitch was even thrown.

All that jabbering strikes me as one of the central problems of our time. We do things in public, in front of audiences that would be better as private speculation and internal monologues. Instead of waiting to see what would actually happen in a ball-game and report upon that, various people are talking about what might happen.

About six weeks ago I went to a discussion at the New York Public Library with the Pulitizer-Prize-winning writer Seymour Hersh. There were many things he excoriated, Trump, the radical right, television “news.” Prominent among them were people on TV who begin half their sentences with the words “I think.” 

My point is a simple one.

As a society, we talk too much. 

We talk about what might happen. We talk about what might happen if that happens and what might happen if that doesn’t happen. Then we talk about what if something else might happen. We talk and talk and talk.

We talk to fill our days and we talk to make our insignificance seem less insignificant. We talk to allay our anxieties.

As my mother would say, with venom, we talk for the sake of talking.

I am by no means for taking a vow of silence. Talk is a social lubricant, currency in an alienated world. Truculence is not the answer.

But I am for internalizing some things. Especially perseveration. And for working things out yourself, in your head, in private.

I am for quiet. 

Which often speaks louder than words. 

That is if you're listening. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The persistence of annoyance.



One of the things that really rubs my goat the wrong way is the very thing that butters my bread.

It is the persistence of advertising. (When I think about the persistence of advertising, my mind naturally conjures up Dali’s painting, “The Persistence of Memory.”  Except instead of melting clocks, we have melting brains.)

Yesterday on my flight back from LA, I turned on the “navigation” function of the eight-inch screen that was, thanks to the comfort of American Airlines’ “comfort class” was about four-inches from the tip of my nose.

All I wanted to see was when we would land in New York.

Instead, I got an ad beckoning me to switch to the telco Sprint.

I thought about the asinine nature of that ad placement. What are the chances that someone seeking to discover whether they’re over Scranton or Cincinnati will switch to Sprint because they see an ad?

Likewise, when I see a sixty-foot Chase logo on the roof of a tennis stadium that my tax-dollars paid for, or the similarly-sized logo atop CitiField, I don’t start frothing at the mouth, reaching for my phone and getting the urge to refinance my mortgage.

No, I feel the way I think a lot of people feel. I feel besieged by messaging at the least appropriate times in the least appropriate places.

I just ran across a link in my LinkedIn feed. It asks: “Can Creative Production Keep Up With The Demand For Content?

Does anyone for a second really think there is a ‘demand for content’? About 12 seconds of research reveals that over 30% of YouTube videos have fewer than ten views.

If anything most brands today act like the last kid chosen at a third-grade kickball game. Look at me! Pick me! I want to play! Oooh oooh oooh! They’re trying so hard to be “part of the conversation” that they’re turning off the very people they’re trying to woo.

Is anyone not annoyed when they’re trying to get information on a site and instead a survey or an ad pops up? Is anyone not annoyed at the way ads are mixed into everything we do from watching an in-flight safety video, to going to the opera, to seeing the Rustoleum “paint-yourself-into-the-corner” instant-replay?

All of these annoyances betray the original equation that built advertising in the first place. You rented your eyeballs to brands; in return brands gave you sports or television shows or your news for free or for a dramatically reduced cost.

Now advertisers are bludgeoning you two, three, four or four-hundred times after you’ve already paid for something. For cable. For web access. For tickets.

Maybe people don’t hate advertising.

Maybe they hate the Johnstown Flood of advertising that brands and their agencies perpetuate.

Shit. I’d gladly watch ads once again if I didn’t have to pay for cable.

And I might even venture to a ballpark, pay my $75 for a $20 ticket and see a game. But I’d be damned if I’d go to a game, pay my money and then be assaulted with screaming ads on every square pixel.

Give me something in exchange for my attention. Or you won't have my attention.

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BTW One.

Not coincidentally, I just ran across an article in Monday's cheery neo-fascist "Wall Street Journal," that only adds ballast to my contention that there is too much advertising. I'd paste a link here, but the Wall Street Journal has an aggressive paywall, so you'd only get frustrated. 

The gist is that Facebook has asked America's four largest banks, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, U.S. Bancorp and the ever-benevolent Wells Fargo for detailed financial information on their customers so Facebook can "offer new services to their users."

This will boost, says Facebook, user engagement.

The idea that advertising is a useful service is often a charade by brands and advertisers used to assuage their true motives which are to get deeper and deeper into your life and wallet.

A Facebook spokesperson said, “Like many online companies, we routinely talk to financial institutions about how we can improve people’s commerce experiences, like enabling better customer service.” 

I can save everyone a lot of money. If you want to "enable better customer service," answer your phones.
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BTW Two.

Has there ever been a Content Strategist whose strategy didn't include creating more content?

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