Friday, January 29, 2016

The Hateful Eight.

1. The word “insight.” First off, I went the first 20 years of my career without hearing it. Now people ask for them like they come a dime a dozen.

Seriously, tell me five insights that have had business impact.

I can think of two: Putting baking soda in the fridge and adding an egg to cake mix.

2. People who ask on a conference call “who just joined.” Look, I have news for you. Chinese industrial spies are not stealing your powerpoints. And for someone to pirate their way onto your conference call, they’d have to guess the 11-digit log in. Roughly impossible.

BTW, the people who constantly ask “who just joined?” usually that’s their only contribution to the call.

3. 11-digit log-ins for a phone call. Really, what we do is not so important that it needs to be regarded as ‘top-secret.’

4. Hold music.

5. Over-priced corporate cafeterias.

6. Panic.

7. Self-importance.

8. Lists.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Ronco Idea-O-Matic.

One of the myriad problems of our age is one of size.

We have taken everything of importance and weight and put it through the fractal media and attention span marketplace.

We have sliced and diced messages, content and ideas to so many disparate units that they are as useful as a dictionary printed on a billion bits of confetti.

This is our world.

We pick presidential candidates based on tweets.

We date based on seven-minute impressions.

More germane to our business, we are forced to do something brand moving or audience shaping or sales driving in a space the size of a match book cover. (Mobile is everything.)

Recently a friend got into a bit of a set-to with a client.

The client had bought some online ad units that were roughly the size and shape of a chopstick. When the client was reviewing the work, they felt it had no impact.

Of course it had no impact.

The best of banners gain about two clicks per 10,000 views.

A sneeze on the subway gets more attention than that.

It's pretty simple IMHO.

If you want big, buy big.

Of course you can do things that punch above their weight.

After all, as I'm sure your mother warned you, you can poke out an eye with that chopstick.

But charting the fate of your company based on the slim chance of a media anomaly is foolish.

Stop slicing ideas into little bits.

What's good for coleslaw is not necessarily good for advertising.

Blues for a Wednesday. (The best things you will hear today.)

A collaboration of words by the great poet, Langston Hughes and blues by Charles Mingus: The Weary Blues.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Whose woods these are.

There’s an old phrase I’m thinking of that is as out-dated as an inkwell:
“out of the woods.”

We used to say, “We’re almost out of the woods,” when we had gone through a lot and we were nearing completion of a tough or onerous task.

Like seven weeks into an eight week pitch.

Or 22 miles into a marathon.

Or even if you had completed filling out most of your tax paperwork.

You’ve probably said it to yourself.

But in the new world, I’m afraid we’re never out of the woods. That tasks, burdens, hurdles to clear (I’m mixing metaphors here) are like waves in a stormy sea: they just keep coming.

Some of this never-out-of-the-woods-ness is surely driven by personal pride and ambition. We work hard at our work and at our careers.

But more, I’m afraid is thanks to macro-economic realities. Old people are devalued and have to work ever-harder in a world where experience no longer counts. Wealth and power is concentrated in fat, pink plutocratic hands. And original and insightful work is as devalued as the German mark during the Weimar.

So we endure the abuse, the crap, the hardship of never being out of the woods.

No post today.

I am shooting today and won't be able to post.

It's an intense thing, made more intense by various intense people.

Yes, to be clear, I would rather write my post than be bludgeoned with two by fours.

But for now, I don't have a choice in the matter.

I can't sit there like an idiot and write a blog.

No, I have to sit there like an idiot and write something else.

That's the way it goes.

So, no post today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reflective Tuesday.

Once again, in my continuing (but losing) battle against adipose, I jumped out of my car about a mile and a half from work. I heard my ur mother's voice in the back of my head: "George, but you're not wearing snow boots." But I had to walk.

Traffic, always horrible going across town in mid-town, was 1/3 worse than usual. And every cross street that wasn't blocked by a garbage truck was either being cleared of snow by a battery of small bulldozers or was blocked by an emergency vehicle speeding to the nearest Dunkin' Donuts.

Feeling like a cross between Charlie Brown and Ernest Shackleton, I made my way steadily west. I leaped over three foot piles and forded seemingly impassable slush puddles, all while avoiding the spray of cars streaming up or down-town. I braved the cold and the wat'ry wake of a thousand speeding buses and made it to my desk after a hardy half hour, hardly worse for wear.

I got in, I'll admit, later than usual. But I needed the time to walk and think and maybe listen to some Puccini or Segovia before my day begins. I needed to have an empty head, I needed to expel the frustrations and doubts and fears and even the anger that seem to accumulate in the course of a normal day.

Work is not easy.

Neither is growing older.

I joke that I am the 11th-oldest copywriter still working. It's funny because I'm probably the third oldest.

It has it's travails.

But I learned something years ago at my best-friend's dad's memorial service.

Wise men.

When someone asked him how work was going, he would answer, "Still learning. Still loving. Still laughing."

Not a bad way to go through life.

Not a bad thing to shoot for.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A snowy weekend.

Saturday I was up at six and out with Whiskey. The snow, which we were half anxious about and half disbelieving, really did arrive and it was sharp and stinging, being blown by 30+ mile per hour winds. We headed out to the East River to play despite the weather and though we were mere yards from the water below, we could hardly see it, the snow was too thick.

We headed to the basketball courts, the same ones where pre-children I played many a pick-up game. There were only dogs of the hardy type there with their owners more Nanook than Upper East.

The dogs cavorted. They rolled in the deep. They chased each other and their tails.

I had brought a fluorescent throw toy for Whiskey, but one long toss and it buried itself in the fluff and between her nose and my eyes, we still couldn’t find it. No matter, we walked and walked through the blizzard, thinking of the Cremation of Sam McGee and Jack London’s “To Build A Fire.” After an hour we headed back home, dropping our wet boots and wet gear in the hallway to dry.

Work intruded like a blizzard. Conference calls and re-writes and more conference calls and more re-writes. For a while it seemed like the various pings and bings and chimes from the various digital tethers that encase us were coming in as fast as the blizzard. However, the blizzard stopped after eighteen hours. The pings and chimes and bings and bongs did not.

I sat in my leather chair in my reading nook and did the best I could do with various comments and concerns. Whiskey decided to settle with me and climbed up on my ottoman and lay down in a ball. From the living room Wagner’s “Tannhauser” was on. Suitable music for the roil of the day.

I did my work. I walked Whiskey again and got the eggs my wife wanted. Then I did more work.

My worries piled up like snow.

There was no one to shovel the drifts but me.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Nobody asked me but...

Nobody asked me, but…is a tribute to the great New York sportswriter, Jimmy Cannon. When he had no topic to write about, he'd write one of these. About everything but sports.

....I think it's strange--and some indication of the fall of man--that New York's Winter Carnival, scheduled for this weekend is closed because of an impending snowstorm.

...sometimes I dream of moving to Queens because I like complaining about traffic on the Van Wyck.

...I refuse to go to ballparks named after giant corporations.

...if the pace of business slowed by 1/3, we'd be 2/3s more productive.

...When meetings are scheduled between 12-2, lunch should always be provided.

...a really good cheeseburger might be the secret to happiness.

...not to mention a vanilla milkshake.

...I won't believe in Big Data until I stop getting junk mail and spam.

...The more I hear Ted Cruz, the more I like Benito Mussolini.

...And he ended up hanged.

...Steinbeck's Tom Joad had it right. 'I'm just trying to get by without shoving nobody.'

....if you want to see an agency at its quietest, don't stay till four am, get in at seven.

...You could do worse than listening to an hour of Bruckner in the morning.

...why is it that every time someone dies, social media acts as if no one ever died before?

...and I don't care about your recipes either.

...even if they're shot from above.

....80% of the people afraid of 'stormpocalypse 2016' will go out without a hat.

...wear a hat.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A day in the life.

We need it now. We need it yesterday. We need it the day before yesterday. We need it fast. We need it in an hour. We need it or we lose the client. The client is screaming. The client needs it. The client is coming down on our ass. They're ok with work in progress. They need it now. We have to. We must. We need it NOW. NOW. Not later. Not in an hour. Not tomorrow. This is an emergency. This is red hot. This is a panic. This comes from the top. This is a mandate. This is do or die. This is late night and weekends. This is drop everything. This isn't a fire drill. This is real. This is the most important brief in the agency. This has to happen or else. This has to happen now. Or else. Or else. Or else. Don’t you understand. If this doesn’t happen, we’re dead in the water. We need to make this happen. We need to make this happen en oh doubleyou. Stop what you’re doing. Drop everything. Hop to it. Stop. Drop. Hop. This is now. We need it now. We need it fifteen minutes ago.

"El Gigante y El Ciego." (The Fat and the Blind.) A repost.

Back in 1975 when I signed on to man the esquina caliente (hot corner) for the Saraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican League, the team was made up of a bunch of cast-offs and oddballs.

I had chosen to try out for the Saraperos for exactly that reason. They were new to the Mexican League, having joined it in 1972 and they were perennial cellar-dwellers. I figured of all the teams in the league, I would have the best chance of playing with the Saraperos.

Back a century or more ago, a centerfielder named William Ellsworth Hoy played for the Washington Nationals and the Cincinnati Reds among other teams. In 14 years in the big leagues, Hoy amassed more than 2,000 hits.

He also carried the nickname “Dummy.” He was stone-deaf, having contracted meningitis at the age of three.

The Saraperos had no deaf players back in 1975, but our starting catcher, Luis “El Gigante” Mantequilla was partially blind in his left eye.

Mantequilla’s blindness was of the baffling sort. The way I understood it, his vision was a bit like the vertical hold on an old television set. There were times you could adjust and adjust and the picture would keep flipping. And other times, inexplicably, when the picture would be just right.

In other words, there were times when El Gigante could see out of his left eye, and times when he could see nothing at all. 

But when he could see, watch out! He stood only 5’6” but weighed well in excess of 350 lbs. And he had the strength of ten men. When the bus in which we traveled to games had a flat, more often than not, El Gigante would lift one end while the tire was being changed.

And when Mantequilla could see (which happened without notice about once every four or five games) he could larrup the pill into the next county, or even the country after that.

One afternoon, we were playing the Pericos de Puebla, the Puebla Parrots, when El Gigante dug in at the plate. The pitch came—a tirabuzon (screwball) and it bent so sharply that the plodding Gigante couldn’t dodge it. It hit him square in the right eye.

The big man tried to shake off the pain, he tried to continue playing, but in short order our Manager, Hector Quesadilla ran out to home and yanked him from the game. El Gigante was now blind in both eyes.

The next day, however, in a double-header, a doble juego, against the Tabasco Olmecs, Mantequilla was back in the line-up as usual, overcoming the admonishments of Quesadilla to take a day off.

“Estoy bien,” Gigante said. “Estoy bien.”

Strange as it seems, Mantequilla was indeed “bien.” Though he was blind now in both eyes, inexplicably he was hitting like never before. Whereas for months his batting average was below the storied “Mendoza Line,” (The Mendoza Line is an expression of batting incompetence based on the exploits of shortstop Mario Mendoza) now the fat man was blasting the ball.

His average climbed like the temperature of Hell in August, until it finally settled in and held at the improbable height of .477. With power.

 Before long, his nickname “El Gigante,” was replaced by “El Ciego,” the blind.

It doesn’t matter what league you play in, and it doesn’t matter if your physique makes the Michelin man look svelte, if you’re hitting .477 with 54 homers with one-third of the season left, major league scouts will flock to you like frat boys to flat beer. The scouts came in droves. They came brandishing contracts. They came will all sorts of mammon, from Lucullan feasts to ample temptations of the flesh.

“Estoy bien,” was all El Ciego would mutter. “Me quedo aqui.” I am fine. I stay here.

The scouts took a hint. They gave up recruiting Mantequilla. And it’s a good thing they did too. Because after they left, the lucky/unlucky batsman got hit once again in the noggin. And just as inexplicably, this blow restored his vision, 20/20, to both eyes.

Now that he could see, he could no longer bat. His batting average plummeted like a runaway elevator.

At the end of the season, when I hung up my spikes, El Ciego/El Gigante/Luis Mantequilla hung up his.

The world doesn’t need another fat .220-hitting catcher. 

No matter how good his vision.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A short conversation.

Yesterday was one of those days.

It started early and ended late.

And I was so encumbered by demands on my typing fingers, that I was essentially rendered useless.

There was a  p a r a l y t i c  amount of work to be done.

Accompanied by a Torquemada-like crush of meetings.

Consequently, I ran out around 3:15 to get lunch.

On the way back into the building, I ran into an HR-guy.

"How's it going," he asked.

"Well, I'm eating lunch at almost 4 o'clock," I replied.

He answered as only a bureaucrat could.

A combination of Monty Python and Franz Kafka as written by Arthur Koestler.

"Well, you gotta eat," was his reply.

And he went on his (merry) way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A day in New Jersey.

It was cold this weekend, with gale-force winds and a light dusting of snow.

Of course, I had picked Saturday, the mildest day of the three-day weekend to get the heater repaired on my 1966 Simca 1600.

I called Lothar, my Croatian mechanic who lives down in Toms River and made an appointment for 11 on Saturday morning. Lothar is probably the world's top Simca mechanic. But given that the company ceased operations in 1970, the demand for his services does not run fat. The fact is, Lothar makes the bulk of his income from his auto body business (may we have the next dents) and repairing, or more accurately, rebuilding Simcas is a labor of love.

My wife gathered three woolen Afghans her crazy Aunt Louise had crocheted before she went to that great looney bin in the sky. We draped one of the back seat to protect Whiskey from the chill and each of us bundled in another. Of course I had on my Persian wool Ashtrakhan hat which the Simca's high-roofline could accommodate.

I turned the ignition and the Simca's 3.0 liter BMW 6-banger roared into life. I threw the machine into gear and in a mere 45 minutes we were in the wilds of New Jersey, maneuvering around EPA SuperFund sites and mob body-disposal dumps. Before long, I pulled into Lothar's ramshackle garage. My machine clattered to a halt and Lothar came out from the back with a small rubber-headed mallet and the front passenger side panel off an old Ford Country Squire.

"The problem," he said eyeing the car, "is the connector duct from the radiator to the engine is off. It will four hours take me to repair."

He reached into his pocket and handed me the keys to his car, a 1974 Fiat 128, with 614,000 miles on it.

"Back at one, you come. She Simca will be like a top running then."

We jumped in the Fiat and, surprising, it held against our collective weight. Driving the Main Street, my wife spotted a place that seemed on the correct side of toxic where we could get brunch. I noticed two dog grooming shops "Rub-a-Dub-Pup," and "Snip Doggy Dog."
Whiskey freshly groomed by the groomers at Snip Doggy Dog.

We picked the later and brought Whiskey in to be groomed while we waited for the Simca's repairs. Then we went an eatery down the street for our Adams and Eves on a raft accompanied by gallons of Joe and a glass each of city juice.

We walked the town, such as it was. Then when one finally came, we picked up our newly shorn pup and headed back to Lothar's.

He had waxed the Simca and even shined the vinyl interior and treated the tires so they gleamed.

"Hot like Hades you will be," he gleamed.

I gave him eighty dollars and two jars of apricot lekvar I had brought from an Hungarian place in the city.

"Again, soon, I see you." He shook my hand.

Then went back to banging the Country Squire with his rubber mallet.

We jumped onto the Outerbridge Crossing, then veered across Staten Island on 440 to 278 across the rest of the landfill, onto Brooklyn and were back in Manhattan by 3.

It was warm in the car.

We rolled down the windows in the 20 degree weather to let out some heat. Whiskey slept in the back.

Not a bad day.