Thursday, July 31, 2014

Life as a freelancer.

After four months now, I'll admit, I am still adjusting to life as a freelancer. 

There are aspects of freelance that I absolutely love. Mostly because, I suppose, I've been lucky enough to have landed an extended gig at a place I respect and admire, working with some really good, honest people.

Since I am at heart a homebody, however, there are aspects that I find less than ambient. I'll admit like Cinderella in the Rodgers and Hammerstein version, I miss having "my own little corner." I feel a little bit like a traveling surgeon in days of yore. Like I ride into town, unload my tools, go to work, then pack up and leave, leaving nary a trace.

But that's ok. I can handle that.

What's more my work-time to meeting-time ratio is outstanding, about 10:1. In most agencies I think that number is reciprocal.

Most of all, for all my personal ebullient misanthropy, I like working at different places, with different people, on different pieces of business. After nearly five years of slogging on the same account nearly everyday, having something new is like an a rainstorm after a heat wave.

All in all, it's going well.

Even when you show up at your work station in the morning and are welcomed by someone's dinner from the night before.

That's ok.

It tastes like chicken.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Far from home.

I am out in an outer-borough this morning. Once again a stranger in a strange land. Far from the streets, charm and filth of my thin spit of land, Manhattan.

It seems that in the past five years or so half of the world has moved out here. Be-whiskered and tattooshioed denizens in flannel fairly kvell when speaking of their cobblestoned home. I'd wager the Dodgers--who left this borough just before my birth--have more fans in these now-rarefied parts than they have in the City of Angels.

Look! There's Pee Wee Reese. Here's "Oisk" Erskine chatting with Preacher Roe. There's Campy, Junior and the Duke. They're all still here. Still thriving in the land that invented the ironic sandwich and artisinal potato chips.

I, for one, can't pass Delancey Street, in Ol' Manhattan, without whistling Cole Porter. "It's very fancy, on ol' Delancey Street, you know/The subway charms are so/When balmy breezes blow." And Manhattan will always always always be home for me, no matter where I live.

But here I am.

In the Manhattan of the outer boroughs.

If I'm not back in an hour, send out a search party.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thoughts from inside the MRI machine.

I had an MRI this morning, a look inside my shoulder to see if the previous x-ray look inside my shoulder was accurate.

As I was entombed in the machine, in the too-hot room, amid the noise, amid nothing to do for 20 minutes but try not to get claustrophobic (fear of Santa Claus) I began thinking about how badly things have turned. How we have become such a litigious, cautious society that we test things, then we test the tests.

If I wrecked my shoulder when I was a kid, I would have been told to ice it, then probably do some light lifting and stretching until I strengthened it. That's not the way we do things today. We over-examine everything. From shoulders to pixels.

Some weeks or months ago when the copywriter Julian Koenig died (I wrote about it here) I discovered that his eponymous agency Papert Koenig Lois published a hard-bound book at the end of each year that featured that year's work. They were titled, laconically, "Papert Koenig Lois: The First Year" and "Papert Koenig Lois: The Second Year."

I ordered, eagerly, the books and have them now. Two things or three strike me.

First, for a relatively small, upstart agency, they produced a boat load of work each year.

Second, they probably didn't half produce double the work and test their way into running what ran. If what they produced didn't work, they yanked it and produced something else. Until what they produced did work.

Third, most of the work, with stylistic updating could run and could be effective today.

Years ago I blurted a line that I think is germane today. "We keep idiot-proofing our work. They keep making better idiots." By that I mean if your "remit" is to keep finding things "wrong" with an ad or a communication, you will eventually "correct that communication to death."

I think that's the case with most ads, most communication, most human intercourse.

It's all so overwrought as to be practically useless.

I started my career working at the in-house advertising agency at Bloomingdale's. And I spent five long and labor-intensive years shepherding the retail account of what at the time was New York's largest retail bank.

I pretty much wrote an ad a day.

If Bloomingdale's rug department was crowded, I wrote a good ad. If it were empty, I had to write a new one.

We are much more sophisticated today in our measurement and analytics. We can tell that our ads are performing under norms of left-handed one-legged dog lovers with Libertarian leanings. We chuck all that data into the great data Cuisinart and harrumph in meetings and talk endlessly about it over bad coffee and worse spread sheets.

It's wrong.

It isn't helpful.

But, I suppose, we can tell our mothers how smart we are.

(We'd all be a little better off if we were a little dumber.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The great white way.

Some months ago in the chill of winter, my wife, younger daughter and I were walking through the crowded streets of what's left of Little Italy. (Little Italy is being squeezed out of existence. Asians are encroaching from the south, hipsters from the north.)

Outside one of the many restaurants that still thrive on Mulberry Street, a young man dressed as a cannoli was handing out flyers for a restaurant and posing for pictures. My daughter stood with him, I snapped a picture and began to walk away. He hustled over to me with  his cannoli-ized hand out. "Don't forget to grease the cannoli," he said. I gave him five bucks.

This weekend a man dressed up as Spiderman who plies his trade over in Times' Square was arrested. He demanded five dollars from a photo-snapping tourist who was only willing to part with a single. The police got involved, Spiderman hit the cop and got hauled in to Midtown South. Since then, five other "characters" have gotten arrested. Preying on tourists is a popular sport though illegal.

The front page of "The New York Post," a Murdoch paper.
In the photo above left you can see a cop wrestling with Spidey as well as some of the other denizens of Times' Square who pose for profit.

Certainly when Damon Runyon held court at the crossroads of the world, life amid the neon and hustle was slightly more rarefied. Men still wore suits, ties and fedoras. The seams in women's stockings were always straight, and even the girls in the chorus of the "Hot Box," protected their virtue whenever possible.

Times' Square is squarer than when I was a kid. The porno places and the prostitutes have been shooed to the internet and the classifieds of the Village Voice. There's a Disney Store there now and pretty much every retail venue that you'd find at the Peoria County Mall, just with ruder sales help and flashier signage.

Of course if you look hard enough you can find trouble still. As Damon Runyon said, "I've come to the conclusion that all of life is 6 to 5 against."

Those aren't bad odds, really, 6 to 5. They're enough to keep trying, fighting and struggling.

Just remember as you go through your daily struggles, "punch in, punch out, keep your guard up, and most important, don't forget to grease the cannoli."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A ride to Rye.

Whiskey woke me early this morning. I know we're supposed to believe that our domesticated animals have only marginal intelligence but she clearly knows when the weekend is here. She pawed at me and hit me with her limpid eyes. "Dad, get ready," she said. "It's time to go swimming."

I complied, quickly getting dressed and quickly getting everything ready for our half hour's drive up to Rye. She jumped in the backseat of our 1966 Simca 1000. The mechanic I found, a heavyset Croatian man named Lothar, has the machine running better than ever. The engine turns over at first ignition and then purrs like a powerful tiger.

I drove out to see Lothar after work on Friday. He had said he had a little bit of work he wanted to do on the car and I could wait around his small garage while he finished it. He emerged from under the hood after 30 minutes and said to me "Patek Philippe. She will now run like a fine watch."

While I was writing him a check for the modest amount of money he asked for, he went into his ramshackle house which is attached to his garage. He came out minutes later, screen-door banging carrying a large, grey box. Wordlessly he handed it to me.

"A gift," he said, "for the love of the Simca."

I said he shouldn't have and then opened the lid of the box. Inside was the Homburg hat you see pictured above.

"In my country," Lothar continued, "a Simca is a distinguished car. No one drives one without wearing a proper Homburg."

I tried the topper on and it fit perfectly.

"Lothar, I'm flattered," I said. "Proudly. I will wear it proudly. Even to the beach."

"Yes. Even to the beach, you must," he said.

So this morning at 7AM, we were off for the beach. My wife and I in the front, Whiskey bouncing in the back, me in my Homburg.

Looking good, I must say.

Looking good.

Friday, July 25, 2014


"One never knows, do one?" 
I have, I've been told by my orthopedist, a FOOSH injury, an injury so common they've given it its own acronym.

FOOSH is not, as I suggested, a contraction of Foolish and Shithead. It stands for Fall On Out- Stretched Hand.

This makes eminent sense since that's what I did. I fell on my out-stretched hand and damaged my rotator cuff. Hopefully the pain will be alleviated through nothing more invasive than physical therapy. Though I'm sure I will never pitch again, perhaps one day I will have again a catch with a son-in-law or a grandson or grand-daughter. Perhaps not. As Fats Waller used to sing, "One never knows, do one?"

FOOSH injuries are endemic, I think, to the world we live in. We suffer minor hurts while protecting ourselves from major ones. Surely falling on my out-stretched hand was preferable to falling on my out-stretched nose.

The world has been a pretty shitty place of late. Planes have been shot out of the sky in eastern Europe, rockets rain indiscriminately, it seems, over the Earth's open-wound, the Middle East. Of course hardly a day goes by without a car bomb killing 16 in one of the -Stans or their neighbors. This morning there was a report on the radio about our latest botched lethal injection with quotations from the murder victim's sister saying that the murderer deserved the suffering he suffered.

Things have been awful enough in the world who knows they might even have pushed an American mass-shooting or two off the airwaves. I guess school's out. There hasn't been a school shooting for over a fortnight.

All that said, as a planet, we keep going. People still worry about their tans, leave early for the beach, post photos of their latest blue drink or barbecue. Foolish Shit.

I think that quotidian stuff is our FOOSH. It's our way of breaking our fall.

It's how we bear the larger pain of life on Earth.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My shoulder.

I played ball pretty regularly for about the first 20 years of my life. Baseball was, in fact, the love of my life: I lived in a Mantleian Universe. My world revolved around Mickey Mantle.

For all my strengths on the ball field, my throwing arm was my finest. When I played third base, I could zing the ball across the diamond and beat a fast runner who had hit a slow roller. When I played the outfield, I routinely nailed runners injudicious enough to try to take an extra-base. And when I took to the hill, for the most part, I methodically mowed batters down with Teutonic efficiency.

In all my ball-playing years, through all that throwing, I never had an arm problem.

But today, as the specter of old age increasingly sucks the sap out of my body, I am going to the orthopedist.

Three months ago, I fell in the dog run, chasing Whiskey and as I broke my fall, I wrenched my shoulder. Bumped up and bruised, I didn't go to the doctor right away. After last year's medical travails, I had had enough of doctors. Besides, I had always healed on my own.

Not this time.

My right arm is dead. I can hardly move it at all without pain. In fact, even typing hurts.

Today we'll see what gives.

My wife tells me that the esteemed doctor I'm seeing is the team orthopedist for the New York Knicks.

I hope I turn out better than they have.

Long form thoughts.

Every day on a variety of ad blogs and trade magazine websites, I see "brand videos" that run to two minutes, three minutes and some times even more.

Often, and I'm being cynical here, these videos are inspirational stories about someone who lost their legs and how such-and-such deodorant allows them to, despite their disability, live full lives. I have a feeling if outer-space beings somehow viewed these videos they must think that our planet is inhabited by a race of people enhanced by prosthetics.

But lack of legs is wholly besides my point.

My point is one of length.

I am conditioned to tolerate a :30, or maybe a :60.

What reward are you giving me in return for the time it takes me to view something that's three minutes long? What value am I getting for my time?

Somehow I think smart advertisers need to look at the value exchange viewers are getting from all the crap we can and do produce. It was pretty clear when TV was free. Commercials paid for the shows we watched.

It's not so clear today.

We pay to get online. We pay for TV. Yet we're still charged for our time.

The way I look at it is this: A three-minute video takes 1/40th the time it would take me to view "Citizen Kane." Did I get something 1/40th worth of entertainment, information, craft or thought?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A hot day in July.

It's hot and humid in New York, the air a heavy soup of sweat and steam. It's the kind of weather at least for me, when you'd be better off in your skivvies, sipping something blue or chartreuse and dangling your feet in the cool of sea.

Of course, this being New York, all that is impossible. This morning, like every morning, scores of people were galloping their way to work on every manner of conveyance--bus, bicycle, train, car, feet, skateboards and more. Damn the weather. Damn the sweat and stink. This is New York.

That said, the bus I take to work moves at more or less New York's average surface speed. The 3.78 miles distance from my home to the office I'm working in took the M31 a full hour to negotiate. If it weren't so sickly hot, it would likely be faster to walk.

I've always looked at bus rides with a Paul Simon set of lenses. "She said the man in the gabardine suit is a spy. I said, be careful, his bow tie is really a camera." But no one people-watches anymore. No one, it seems looks up from their phone or their pad.

If I were a Marxist, I'd bring some sort of dialectic to bear and talk about the alienation of modern man. And maybe our binary cocoon is evidence of that, evidence of a digital insularity that protects us from unwanted human contact.

That's pretty deep-dish, however, for a hot day in July.

And I've got work to do.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


It's funny (haha) when you're cut loose from a job, or when you decided you've had enough, or you just decide you want to go it alone.

You feel stripped. Eviscerated. Gutted like a fat bluefish.

There are moments, or weeks, or maybe even months of panic.

You're adrift, rudderless.

Last night I thought about the Old Man who went 84 days without catching a fish.

It can feel like that.

One day when I was feeling like that, I had lunch with an old, wise friend--a headhunter, in fact.

We talked about the business and my search for work. Every time she mentioned an agency or person who might be looking, I cut her off. "I know so and so there," I'd say. "I already reached out to him."

She didn't get exasperated with me as so many do.

She summed up my career.

"You've done your homework," she said. "You've kept up-to-date. You have a good reputation. You've worked at the right places. You'll be fine."

Then she paid for lunch.

Now I'm about 17% busier than I'd like to be. Juggling not my usual three Indian clubs but four or five of them, with maybe a chainsaw mixed in.

That's ok.

That's when you're alive.

I like it that way.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Not on advertising.

It occurs to me that one of my favorite advertising blogs, Rich Siegel's "Round Seventeen," often has little if anything to do with advertising. Today for instance Rich writes about, among other things, sheets, pillowcases, mattresses and the power of our better halves.

My modest blog is much the same. Though I write about advertising and life within agencies when I am able, when there's something interesting or important, more often than not I write about other crap. Shit that happens to me on the bus going home or a story that knocks into me somehow.

The other day I was listening to a show on our public radio station called "Performance Today." In it the host Fred Child interviewed noted pianist Steven Osborne. Swimming against the tide for a top-flight pianist, Osborne said he doesn't practice eight or 12 hours a day. He said, in effect, that living life to its fullest, not just in a practice room is what makes him a good pianist. It's the experience of life that informs his playing, not just practice.

It occurs to me that in our highly professionalized world, too few people in advertising partake in the experiences of life. The fact is most young people these days seem to enter the business via ad schools that make the creation of ads an academic exercise rather than a living one. 

Therefore, I believe, too many ads have a sterility that is void of human insight. We shout things to consumers but rarely empathize with them. Because we rarely think of humanity. We're too busy thinking of Cannes judges.

When I think of the great ads of the 60s or 70 or even the 80s, many of them touched on some of the pains we feel as we navigate the shoals of life. Volvo talked with sensitivity about the burden of never-ending car payments--and how Volvo's (which they claimed lasted an average of 11 years) could alleviate that burden.

VW talked about the impact of planned obsolescence on your pocketbook and the high price of repairs and gasoline. Hertz talked about the pain of business travel--the late nights, the unfriendly faces.

The humanity I see in work today is most often a contrived one. Look how happy baby-wipes or Toyotas make people, they seem to proclaim. Or Doritos or flying to London.

It's all because we spend so much time studying advertising instead of studying people.  Because awards shows determine the efficacy of our work not real people.

If you want to do good ads don't try to do good ads.

Try to do something real and let the chips fall where they may.

You might start by reading Rich's blog.

It has nothing to do with what it's all about: advertising.

The moon landing. Ramifications.

Reprinted on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the Moon landing.

Years ago--I think it was the 10th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong's moon walk, I had the honor of interviewing Armstrong for my college newspaper.

Being a "writerly" sort, asked him specifically about his words on setting foot on the moon. How did you come up with "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong looked me dead in the eye, "I never said that."

"Mr. Armstrong," I replied, "I've heard the recording a thousand times. I've read about it in history books. Every school child knows you said 'One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.'"

Armstrong said, "What I said was 'one small step for man; one giant leap for Manny Klein."

I begged the famous flier to explain.

Armstrong told me this story, "When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, the walls in our apartment house were very thin. You could hear everything. And every night I would hear our neighbor, Manny Klein, begging his wife for oral sex. Every night, Mrs. Klein would demur.

"Finally," Armstrong continued, "Mrs. Klein relented. She said when a man walks on the moon, I'll give you oral sex. Hence 'One small step for man; one giant leap for Manny Klein.'"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekends with Whiskey.

Since early this year, January or February, my wife and I have been getting up early on weekend mornings--like 6AM--so we can take our wonderful golden retriever Whiskey for a romp in the country.

We've settled on a rocky beach adjacent to Rye Playland amusement park, an isolated and quiet horseshoe where I stand atop the water-shaped stones and toss a small rubber bumper into the sea for Whiskey to do what comes naturally, retrieve.

Whiskey is all for this activity. In fact on the way down to the garage in our building she is fairly jumping out of her skin. She piles into the back seat and rustles around doing the doggy-equivalent of "are we there yet?" the whole way up to Rye.

She paces the backseat while we're on the FDR. She whimpers on the Deegan. She's wide-eyed and beside herself by the time we hit the Cross Bronx. Once we hit the last stretch, the New England Thruway, she's like an ADHD kid after eating a barrel of Skittles.

I pull into a spot and open the door. She gallops to the beach and fairly does backflips. "Let's go, old man," she says to me. "Let's go already!"

I sling the bumper as far as I can into the water and Whiskey gallops in, then swims the 20 or 30 yards out to the float. I've timed it. It takes her about 1:30 to get to the bumper and a little longer on the return swim.

Then, despite our efforts to train her to drop the toy at our feet, she romps on the sand, digging, rolling and burying. Today she found the carcass of a dead gull and had a chicken dinner with that. But I quickly retrieved she and her toy and out she went again.

We do this for two hours on Saturday and an hour and a half on Sunday when she starts off a little tired. Then we take a mile walk along the empty boardwalk while Whiskey dries off and has a drink of fresh water supplied by my wife. Then it's another mile back to the car.

Whiskey sleeps on the way home.

Dreaming puppy dreams of catching the goose that lays the golden egg. Or at least a dead seagull.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Back to the Mexican League.

Estadio Francisco I. Madero, back in the day.
Call me Jorge.
Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would travel about a little and see another part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get away as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to a baseball.
39 years ago I was fresh-faced and fresh from high school doing what I lived, at the time, to do. I was playing professional baseball in the Mexican Baseball League.

I went down to Mexico to play ball for two or three reasons, the first, of course, being that I loved to play ball. Second, I did not feel like going straightaway to college. I had graduated high school early, at 17, and was a year younger than a lot of my friends. I figured I could bum for a year, playing ball, hunting girls, without doing too much damage to my future prospects. Third, and this was a balm to my harridan of a mother, I would learn Spanish. In entropic and chaotic New York where I grew up, it paid to be able to say "take my money, just don't hurt me," in as many languages as possible.

I showed up in Saltillo, Mexico, nicknamed then and now "the Athens of Mexico," with one small suitcase, my Wilson A2000 glove and $200 in traveler's checks. Rather than finding a place to live or calling home I went right to the Estadio Francisco I. Madero, tried out for, and made the team, the Saraperos.

At that moment I also shed my given name and took the moniker Jorge Navidad as my nom de Louisville Slugger. I was given a too-large flannel uniform, a hook in the locker-room and was told there was a game that evening and I should be at the ballpark by five. The game would start a couple hours after that.

There was no negotiation of salary. There was no contract. There was no chatter or discussion. Show up and play ball.

My start for the Saraperos was nothing if not auspicious. The first professional pitch I ever saw (outside of my try-out) I laced for an opposite field stand-up double. My next at bat, I pulled the ball and got another two-bagger down the left field line. In all, I went three for four, two doubles, one rbi and one run scored.

I stayed hot through my first ten games in the league, going 16 for 44, or hitting .363. Soon however word got around the league about me. I could be beaten inside and had a hard time with off-speed pitches. My average and my ego quickly returned to earth.

My sojourn down south lasted just three months. Then the season ended and as I promised my finger-wagging termagant of a mother, I returned to New York and proceeded to grow-up, as ordered.

At one point I tried to write a book on my time with the Saraperos. Of being paid, once with two live chickens and once with a dirty map which would lead me to 'the Treasure of the Sierra Padre.' I tried to write of Hector Quesadilla, the Mexican League's Casey Stengel, the wise old professor of Mexican baseball, but no, nothing came of it. I had accumulated a store of stories, like the time I raced a bull from home to first, but maybe not enough for a real chronicle.

I played for love, really. Like today I work for love. I could make more money doing something else, but I love what I do, and that's the only way to be.

So, to be honest, I put my beisbol experiences away in the bottom drawer of my memory. Some thing this morning, maybe it's the warm hazy blue sky or the muddy melody of the Hudson River flowing by, brought those months to mind again.

I coulda been a contender.

Not really.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A mystical bus ride.

Last night I had one of those strange New York bus rides that my friends from outside of New York think I concoct. This one was weird and mystical, wise and profound.

I left the office around seven and I walked seven blocks to 54th between 10th and 11th avenues. There I pick up the M31, a snail of a bus, but one that is convenient for me. Heading home, it runs across 57th Street from west to east, then turns up York Avenue where it deposits me just half a block from my apartment.

I prefer the bus to the subway, particularly when where I'm leaving from and where I'm going to is far from the train.

The M31 is, as I mentioned, a slow-ass bus, but the route it runs works for me.

Since when I commute home I get on at the first stop, I always get a seat. What I usually do once seated is open my computer and log onto the internet. This gives me time to finish some work or answer a few emails or just see what various friends are up to on social networks.

Last night however a woman sat down next to me and began speaking to me. In short order I shut down my Mac and was fed 90% of her life story.

Her father-in-law escaped from a Soviet prison camp at the end of World War II. He walked across Europe to Dussledorf from whence he immigrated to the United States. My friend was vacationing in Hawaii, single at the age of 36 she prayed to meet a nice man who didn't just want to fuck. She made a motion with her hands that teenage boys make to mimic fucking.

When she returned to New York she was walking in Central Park and she met her future husband. Even though she's Puerto Rican, he treated her with respect.

She told me about her two daughters and one son. About all of them moving to a studio apartment on 57th Street to get into a better school district. "I didn't want my kids growing up and saying 'yo,'" she said to me. She is obviously no fan of Stallone's "Rocky" movies.

"I worked for 17 years at Young and Rubicam. They had me interview three times because I'm Puerto Rican. They didn't want to hire me but did because I knew how to use a computer back in 1986 and no one else did."

She continued. "I think some people are born with grace. You know what means 'grace,' she asked me.

"It means you're blessed," I replied.

"That's right. You work all the way on 11th Avenue, but you don't work alone, you don't walk there alone."

"No, there are a lot of people who do it."

"That's not what I mean," she said. "You're not alone."

It would be easy to dismiss this lady--maybe she's just a crazy religious zealot who believes her three-year-old grand-daughter can communicate with her dead great-grandmother. But I think she's right.

It's no picnic, I have to say, freelancing, starting over as it were after 30 years in the business. But I think she's right.

If you play your cards right, keep up your portfolio, your reputation and your integrity, you're not alone in the world. Even if it feels that way at times. Someone or many people are watching out for you.

My friend got off at 57th and 3rd. She's 67 years old, she told me and had not a wrinkle on her face. She looked more my age than hers.

"I go to lots of clubs," she told me on leaving. "I go to many because I don't like to gossip and I get bored. Tonight I have Bingo!"

I wished her luck and said I enjoyed talking with her.

I'll bet she won.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Red Klotz, loser, dead at 93.

Globetrotter star "Meadowlark" Lemon handed Klotz thousands of losses.
It's only natural that some times we feel less-than-in-charge of our talents, capabilities and craft. I know I'm a good writer and a good thinker, but some times, rarely, the thoughts, ideas and words don't come. Something is stymying me, hindering me, and paralyzing me. For whatever reason, rightly or wrongly, you feel like a loser.

Everybody feels this way at times. It's as natural as breathing.

The next time it happens to me, I'm going to spend a minute or two thinking about a guy who died on July 12th, Red Klotz.

Red Klotz.

Remember the name.

He was a professional loser.

For seven decades he played for and coached the basketball teams that played against the Harlem Globetrotters.

No one goes to see the Globetrotters lose and Klotz's teams were meant to do just that. They were meant to be competitive, but they were meant to come up short.

Klotz came up short, he lost to the 'Trotters over 14,000 times. He won just twice.

He said once, "Beating the Globetrotters is like shooting Santa Claus."

Despite those 14,000 losses, Klotz was no loser.

He understood his role against the Globetrotters. He was Hardy to their Laurel. Martin to their Lewis. Costello to their Abbott.

He was a foil.

And he knew how to lose.

While keeping his pride, integrity and dignity.

Hardly a loser.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Working with genius.

If you’re lucky (and most people are without realizing it) during the course of your life on earth you’ll work with an assortment of people blessed with genius.

These are people who are extraordinary at what they do.


People who seem to arrive at the right answer before the question is asked.

Or people who can plot a multi-dimensional course to success—a full-fledged plan while others are still taking in the problem.

These people make large and material differences in the companies they work for, in the relationships they have, in the work they touch.

Genius doesn’t have to mean E=MC2. It can be a slap hitter who keeps fouling pitches off until he gets one he can handle. It can be Jack Benny’s timing, four beats too slow. Or the pizza guy in Santa Margherita, Italy who gets everything just right and then throws in a surprise.

When you work with those people the best thing to do is button your lip and listen. Or as Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

So observe and watch.

Watch how they do things.

Watch how they think.

Watch what they say and what they make.

Watch them and evaluate their strengths. Think about which ones you can adopt to your strengths. Don’t try to “be” them. Do try to learn from them.

You might never be a natural.

But you can be a learner.

On and off kilter.

I am a bit out of kilter today, I'll admit.

For one thing my building pass where I am freelancing has expired and I have to wrestle with a burley Puerto Rican security guard in order to get in in the morning.

Then I have to prop open the door with an old award annual if I want to wash my hands or use the facilities.

On top of that, my trusty five-year-old mac has decided to die.

I am rudderless, adrift, kelp-like.

Even writing on Ad Aged, which I usually do first thing in the morning, well today I did it third thing in the morning.

Which means I'm out of kilter.

That said, kilter for me comes easy.

As Gertrude Stein never said "A QWERTY is a QWERTY is a QWERTY."

I am at home in front of a keyboard. And I know I can solve most any communication problem with an adroit combination of words.

That's what I'm paid to do.

I'm not paid to write this blog.

But it does help me stay in fighting trim. If I were a boxer it would be my equivalent of six rounds facing a journeyman light-heavy with a strong right cross.

Speaking of boxing, it's been said most boxers live life believing they are one punch away from something. One punch away from their name in lights and a Sports Illustrated cover.

The trouble is, they're always one punch away.

Of course, I'm one punch away, too.

One punch away from flooring someone at Apple if I can't get my computer fixed.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The new new new new thing.

Much of what I did while I was away in Italy dealt with culture that was 100 years old, or 500, or 1000, or, in the case of the Romans, 2000 or more.

I saw three operas, countless cathedrals and churches (and their concomitant adornments) and myriad mosaics. Going from the past into my 2014 Alfa-Romeo was like an episode of Star Trek. It felt, at times, like traveling through a time-space worm-hole.

Much of the palaver that circulates ad agencies and marketing organizations can be summed up in one sentence: “This will change everything.” What’s clearer to me than ever is how little has really changed since the beginning of time.

We are still awed by the unknown. We still gape opened mouthed.
We still laugh at the same basic jokes—like a man dressing as a woman.
We still marvel over the same things and feel the same emotions.

What we should be doing as creative people and as people in creative industries, is not chase after the new new new new thing.

What we should be doing is finding the central, seminal truth.

The true promise and power of what moves people.

The Caravaggio above, "Supper at Emmaus," is 400-plus years old. It is not a three-dimensional balloon dog by Jeffrey Koons. But for whatever reason, it moves me as few things do. The story is there. As are the emotions and strain.

This is not to say that all things modern are bad.

It is to cite Faulkner, once again:

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."