Friday, December 6, 2019

The best I can do while in a haze.

I had a small bout of hand-surgery on my glove hand yesterday morning, and I'm not really up to writing a post. 

In fact, right now I'm typing this with just three fingers of my meat hand.

So excuse me today.

Nothing but some jokes I've been accumulating through the days.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Stark reminder.

In advertising today we're often directed to "think big." 

Mostly that imperative, however, is followed by some contradictory sentences. 

Think big in small space.
Think big in four hours.
Think big for cheap.

When I was a young man in the business, the name Evan Stark was spoken with reverence bordering on awe. He was regarded by many of the big names in advertising as advertising's funniest writer.

But this post isn't about Stark being funny. 

It's about Stark figuring out a way to do more with less. A vital lesson in today's world and any other. A lesson that has everything to do with what was once the essence of good communication: craft and creativity. Surprise and consistency. And simply, doing something different to, you know, get noticed.

This post was inspired by Stark, of course, but also by two friends who keep great blogs.

1. Dave Dye who creates his amazing "Stuff From the Loft" blog and in particular his post from not long ago on Stark.


2. Rich Siegel, my Culver City compatriot and doyen of the unsurpassed RoundSeventeen blog. Rich wrote a brilliant post on Wednesday about the ad below--which started me thinking about overcoming obstacles with ingenuity.

This ad, small space, appeared it the Tuesday, December 2, on page A9 of The New York Times. It's pretty hard not be stopped by it, to read it, and to click on it. Despite the purported unlikeliness of someone actually typing in a url from a print ad, I'll bet people did. (I'll bet even more people got a smile from it.)

This ad, of course, reminds the well-informed of this one, that explorer Ernest Shackleton purportedly ran more than a century ago. (Excuse the gendered-nature of the ad below.)

Small. Responsive. Well-written. Memorable.

Now, to Stark and his early--as in early 60's work, for a small wine brand. You can imagine this one wasn't much larger than a postage stamp.

Subsequent ads ran and ran and ran. All funny. All stopping. All powerful. All look-forward-to-able.

I hear a lot of bushwa today about "social natives." 

Apparently you have to be after a certain year to write snappy attention-getting lines that stop people and get some sort of reaction or even a sale.

From the Lascaux cave drawings, to Evan Stark ads that ran in the 60s to the Kuiper Belt ad that ran on Tuesday, creative people have always come up with brilliant ways to do a lot with a little.

It's a rare talent, I'll give you that.

It's something we all should work on.

But it ain't new. 

And it ain't generational.

It's called creative.

In sum:

Think big.

And think small.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Thanksgiving game with Sisto.

On Thursday morning early, Thanksgiving, I woke up and walked out onto the broad porch that ran along the front of Teresa’s concrete block house. Sisto was there already. He was sitting on a white rocking chair and had a colorful Serape covering his legs. 

Serapes were what had made Saltillo famous. No wonder the ball club I joined back in 1975 was the Seraperos--the serape-makers. Saltillo was also known for Saltillo tiles. You've likely never heard of anything called that by name, but you've probably walked on them at every Mexican restaurant you've ever been to.

Alongside the rocking chair Sisto had placed a small brown paper bag full of loose change he had accumulated through the year. There were maybe one-hundred centavos, various denominations of pesos and sundry slugs in the bag. He had also brought a small enameled bowl with a cracked blue and white design. It was the same bowl we had used the last time we played.

I gave the man a hug, an awkward hug because we are hand-shakers not huggers. But somehow a hug seemed called for.


He nodded and I returned to Teresa’s kitchen and prepared a large mug, sweet, for Sisto and an equally large one, black, for myself. I rested those on the small dining room table and crept into the bedroom I had shared with Karmen, my inamorata so many years ago and I now shared with my wife.

From my worn duffle I brought out a small paper bag like Sisto’s, also filled with one-hundred coins or so, mostly quarters, a habit from my laundromat days so many decades ago when I resided in various run-down Upper West Side tenement buildings without laundry facilities.

I went back out to the porch and sat alongside Sisto.

“This is a fight to the finish,” Sisto said. “The greatest game of coin in a bowl since the sport began so many eons ago.”

“Your father played the game,” I agreed, “And his father. And his father. And mine too. With long beards and hunched backs, mine played with kopeks from their small shetls in the Pale of Settlement. Kopeks the Cossacks had thrown their way after raping our cattle and our women. In that order.”

“And mine played when they had no coins. When all the coins were stolen by the Church and the landowners. We had no land, land that had been in our families since Axayacatl ruled these lands before the bearded ones came. We had no land and we were forced to play with invisible coins.”

“But,” I said solemnly, “still we played.”

“And still we play today,” Sisto said, removing a silver centavo from his bag. "Still we will play when we hear the last ding-dong of doom. We will not only play, we will prevail."

"Senor Faulkner," I said with deference. Then I took the enameled bowl and placed it on the green of Teresa’s small yard. It was about fifteen feet from each of us.

“Que empiecen los juegos,” Sisto said.

“Let the games begin.”

Sisto tossed first and his centavo hit the center of the old bowl and richocheted out.

“A nice shot. You have been practicing.”

“You know me, Jorge. What I lack in talent I have always made up in practice. And I am 87. I must practice.”

I tossed a quarter that was wide left a good three feet.

“There are no strong men in the city,” Sisto mocked. “But pretty women go there.”

He tossed again and nicked the bowl, short.

I tossed and missed again but closer this time.

We went on for fifteen minutes until Teresa’s yard was covered in Mexican centavos and pesos and various American coins. Our bags were nearly empty.

“The stakes now are high,” Sisto said.

I heard some noise behind me in the kitchen. Teresa and my wife, Laura, had begun preparing our meal for that afternoon. They cooked in the kitchen like old friends, like sisters, like family. After a short while my wife came out with Teresa's sweet lemonade and removed our coffee cups. She kissed us each then left quickly. Coin in a bowl is not something generally enjoyed by the uninitiated. 

Sisto ringed one around the bowl and it rested on the bottom.

I got up slowly, grabbed Sisto’s paper bag and began collecting all the hundreds of coins we had tossed.

“There is something wrong with Teresa’s yard,” I stage-whispered to Sisto. “It is lower than the last time we played. The coins are harder to pick up.”

“I noticed too when I put on my shoes in the morning, my feet are further from my hands and my floor is lower from my bed. It is harder to reach.”

I picked up the last of the coins and brought the bag back to Sisto.

“By the bush there there are two,” Sisto said. He wore no glasses but he could see.

I got them then sat down again.

“I have 12 coins left, or 15. Give me the honor of a rematch.”

“We play,” said Sisto, “until one of us is wiped out or Teresa and Laura are serving us their famous chicken.”

I tossed and rimmed the bowl. Sisto did the same.

In short order there were twenty coins on the field of battle and with my last, I landed one plop in the middle of the bowl.

“This time, the winner picks up the coins,” Sisto said. And I did, with a moan each time I bent.

“You are no obrero, my friend.”

“As we used to say, ‘I move like a rusty gate.’ Every hinge in my body aches like Prometheus.”

“I know that pain. We have all grown rusty from too many innings. But I will tell you something, Jorge. I am doing nothing now that I have not done from the moment I began playing ball as a professional in 1946. I played for teams that had no names and no uniforms, in towns that had no electricity and are no longer in the mountains, the buildings having blown away like dreams when you wake too soon.

“But even then, when I would get paid ten centavos or a peso or like you with a meal, a chicken or a plate of tortillas, I learned something. I played for 50 teams in a dozen Mexican leagues. I started when I was 15 and stopped coaching when I was 71. For 56 years and until today I have done the same thing.”

We began slowly tossing our coins. The clattering in the kitchen was growing louder. My wife subscribes to the notion that to cook well is to cook noisily.

“If I made eight, I would spend four. I never had need for many things. I never wanted things that I wished I had. I never saw a big car or a man in a fine suit with a tall woman and said, ‘that, I wish I had.’ I was happier making eight and spending four.”

Once again, I was almost out of coins. Sisto’s bag was still 3/4ths full.

“Watch this.”

He took a centavo and landed it in the bowl. Then another. Then another. Five in a row in all.

“I study everything. Like you when you played ball. Like you, I know every angle, every pitch, every weakness, every strength. More important I know what I can do and what I can’t do. So I do what I do and hide what I can’t. No one but me knows what I can't do."

"It's a good strategy for life. Hide your weaknesses, show off your strengths."

“Making eight and spending only four is what I do. And now I own a piece of a factory that makes the tile Saltillo is famous for. Two owl wagons down by the Chrysler plant where the men get their lunches. A piece of property over by estadio Francesco I. Maduro and a dozen or twenty other businesses.”

I gathered the coins. His coins.

“I use Marty in Chicago, the man who handles your money," Sisto said.

"He handled my mother's money, too. He is a good man."

"He is a good man, and a loyal fan. To be a loyal fan of the Cubs is to be a good man."

"They went 108 years without having won a championship. Still, he cheered them. I admire his stamina," I added. 

"That is the kind of man who should watch over one's money. He is not interested in the quick win. He believes instead in the long road.

"He tells me I have two point seven American dollars mostly in equities. I don’t even care. I have more than I could spend in 100 lifetimes.”

I returned with the coins to my rocking chair.

Teresa yelled through the screen door that we should come in and set the table.

“Do you know what matters, my old friend. Making eight, spending four. Helping friends. Having Teresa’s arroz con pollo and Laura’s helping her.”

I hugged the old man again. This time without feeling awkward.

“And beating you at coin in bowl like no one…”

“Like no one has ever been beaten since time itself began.”

This time, Sisto hugged me. Then shook his bag of coins. Then hugged me again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Worries. And more.

This is going to be fairly heavy. So either buckle up or click somewhere else.

I worry about a lot in the world today: the dislocation of billions of people due to climate change. The end of democracy and the rise of totalitarianism. The pernicious effects of an unblinking surveillance capitalism.

I worry about never-ending wars that people aren't even aware are being fought. I worry that a mere 26 people have as much wealth as 3.5 billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. I worry about our inability to provide reliable electricity, clean water, smooth roads, decent educations. 

I worry about all those things. But what I worry most about is our inability as a culture, as a species to distinguish any longer between reality and fantasy.

I worry that as a culture and a species we are so distracted by the every day that we no longer notice what is happening in the world.

If you're watching and listening, you see this in small ways and large ways.

There's a photo of Trump pasted onto "Rocky's" body. People believe it. People deny the efficacy of life-saving vaccines. They deny climate change as a hoax. A staggering number of people deny that the earth is round and that Americans landed on the moon. People deny evolution. They deny gender equality. Racial equality.

Taken separately such things are scary. Taken as a whole, and a trend, they mark humanity's gallop to the end of rational thought. Or, the equal-time-ization of irrational and rational.

Some of the normalization of the irrational, the legitimizing of kooks is due to how language is being used today. Even the most benign messages we receive are so laden with sloppiness and deception that we have grown used to being brutalized by words.

This morning, before 7AM, I heard or read all this:

"Alternate side of the street parking is suspended for snow operations.(We're shoveling.)

"By continuing to use our site, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. You can learn more about how we use cookies by reviewing our Privacy Policy.(We're slicing and dicing and selling your data to anyone and everyone who will pay for it. You can't really learn more unless you have a law degree and about 20 hours to spare.")

Please note that support for the TEM application is provided by your nominated mobile administrators. (I can't believe that one person in five-thousand knows their "nominated mobile administrator." Or what a TEM application is. Or, frankly what support is.)

Nearly everything we see, hear, buy and interact with today is mean, demeaning and meaningless. We have stopped using words and images effectively because we have allowed ourselves to become desensitized to them. We no longer think about what we're writing and reading and shooting and cutting, we just string together platitudes, half-truths and tautologies that we then sand down to an anodyne nub.

I don't care what you do for a living. I don't care if you're an art-director or a writer or an anything else. We are allowing darkness to prevail because we have accepted the absence of light.

Communications should be bold. Interesting. Human. Unique. Thoughtful. And real.

That's our job.

Not as ad people.

As human people.

By the way, if you're interested in the power of the aliveness of good writing, try something by Joseph Mitchell now and again. 

You can buy his great book "Bottom of the Harbor," used for $1.83 plus shipping. If you care about words if will make you care more. If you just like a good story, it will hand you one-hundred, if you just want a sober look at sadness, it will brighten your day.

Here's a Forshpeiz, for the six of you who made it this far.