Thursday, March 31, 2016

A slump in the Mexican League.

Back during the summer of 1975 when I played my lone season for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League, the whole team tumbled into a slump at the same time.

It’s not atypical in the course of a season for players to go through dry spells. Even the great DiMaggio did, or Ted Williams, or Willie Mays. It happens and you expect it. The smart players on the team (and I counted myself among them) are parsimonious with their emotions. They don’t get up when they go three for four with two doubles and they don’t get down when they o-fer. They understand the ebb and flow of the game and beyond the game, the waxing and waning of a season.

What’s unusual is when a whole team just runs dry. It’s unusual. And it sucks.

One Tuesday night in July, we got blanked by a lefty on the Sultanes de Monterrey who was throwing aspirins. I think Brutus Cesar scratched out a single and maybe Guilliermo Sisto hit a lone and lucky double late in the game and inconsequential—we were already losing by something like nine to nil. But the rest of the boys, myself included, swung like rusty gates.

Hector chewed us out good for being a bunch of no good chicken fuckers, but the next day was no better. I think we were one-hit or two-hit again and things went down hill from there.

We lost a third game and a fourth and had barely eked one out of the infield. I think over the stretch, I went 0 for 17, barely tapping the ball, not even a foul.

We were well on our way to losing our fifth in a row—we were down four to nothing in the fourth and I was up. We were playing Campeche and their pitcher was good.

Hector stopped me as I was walking to the plate. All he said was this: “Do something.”

Do something. Do anything. Do.

Hector said so.

Their arm shoved a fastball at me, inside, but instead of turning away to avoid it, I turned into the pill and got myself purposefully hit on my lead elbow.

I was on first for the first time in a week. We had a man on and none out. What passed for a rally.

Somehow me getting hit woke the team up. It’s not that my teammates cared for me, just something snapped. If we hadn’t been hitting because we were afflicted with a temporary illness that rendered us afraid of the ball, well, me being hit broke the spell.

Bustamante, up next, took a pitch then connected with an opposite-field double. Buentello knocked us both home with a hard single. 

Hector greeted me as I scored our first run in what seemed like a week. "You can take a punch, Jorge Navidad. You can take a punch."

It was electric. Even Diablo, our short stop, who in the best of seasons barely hit his weight, connected with a pitch and sent Buentello to the corner. Sisto batted for our pitcher, Munoz, and connected with a double—if I recall, his 1500th hit as a minor leaguer.

We kept hitting and hitting. Hitting through the line-up until it was my turn again at the plate.

They came inside to me, retribution for starting our nine-run barrage. This time, rather than present my elbow to the ball, I swatted a dead-pull double and brought in a run. I was brought in a minute or so later when Bustamante lined another basehit.

We wound up winning that game going away. Then against a smattering of teams, we won seven of our next eight, hitting like a pile-driver the whole way. Then as suddenly as it came on, as suddenly as it had ceased, we were back to normal again. Hitting our average, losing winning losing losing winning. A mediocre club in a mediocre league.

But I was ok.

I knew there would be days when I couldn't hit a lick. I knew there'd be days when I was the second coming. I knew there'd be days when I was just ok.

But I knew something more.

I knew I could take a punch.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Five minutes with our CDO.

Ad Aged: You're a CDO. I assume with the ever-growing importance of data, that stands for Chief Data Officer.

CDO: Chief Data Officer, how quaint, passe and antiquated. No, that's not what CDO stands for. My job is much more integral than a Chief Data Officer.

Ad Aged: So, clarify...CDO stands for.

CDO: Chief Disappearance Officer.

Ad Aged: So what is it that you do?

CDO: I show up for meetings. I call meetings. I preside at meetings. My name is on emails for meetings.

Ad Aged: And?

CDO: And the minute accountability is required, or work gets meted out, I disappear.

Ad Aged: So, you do the hard work of not doing hard work? You work hard at not working hard?



Five minutes with our GGO.

Ad Aged:  Good morning, I've never met a GGO before. Tell me, what does GGO stand for, and what is it you do?

GGO: It's pretty simple really. GGO stands for Global Global Officer. I keep track of all the Global officers in our organization to make sure they're not behaving locally.

Ad Aged: I confess, I'm not really sure I understand. Could you break it down a bit for me?

GGO: Yes, in today's modern corporation Global is a prefix that's attached to literally hundreds of titles. We have Global Account Managers, Global Finance Officers, Global Media Directors, Global Creative Directors, Global Human Resources. We have so many Global people we need an ecosystem to keep them all on track.

Ad Aged: And that's what you do, you're in charge of Global Officers....Globally. 

GGO: I couldn't have said it better myself. When you're running a Global organization you need to globalize your operations to optimize GEO efficiencies globally.  We operate Globally and bring best practices from Global down to local affiliates to drive globalization and globular efficiencies.

Ad Aged: Thank you for clearing that up. And thank you for your time.

GGO: Well, I'm glad I could help. I'm off now to an IGLT meeting.

Ad Aged: IGLT?

GGO: A meeting of the Inter Galactic Leadership Team.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Plutocrat Math.

I, for one, have never quite understood phrases like "the agency model is broken." I always figured that language so obtuse, so cliche and so inherently without meaning was masking a Hoover's Dam worth of bullshit, bombast and blather.

The fact of the matter is, there's nothing wrong with the agency model that the guillotining of the 1% of the 1% wouldn't remedy

I am reeling, frankly, from having gotten a gander at some of the publicly announced compensation packages of the holding company chieftains. (I think they call them 'holding companies' because they hold you by the balls like a hawk with a snake in its talons. To be more accurate, perhaps they should call them 'twisting companies.')

In any event I'm trying to make sense of how much a $20 million pay package is. Or a $40 million one. Or a $60 million one.

It's so much money, it's hard, I think, for us working stiffs to reckon with. But here's how I think of it.

With $50 million put into an agency's payroll rather than the overseas account of a corporate plutocrat, an agency could hire 500 $100K workers for a year.

Think of that next time you hear that bonuses are non-existent, raises are frozen and the finance people are hocking you about a $12 cab ride home at 2AM for a shoot you had to cover because there's no one else.
Maybe it's the corporate rot, decay and corruption but it all reminds me of Graham Greene's Vienna as depicted by Carol Reed in "The Third Man." So, if you can, listen to Anton Karas' zither. And read Greene's opening.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Of MRIs, trout and pain.

I had played ball all my life, and in the summer, endlessly from sun-up till about an hour past sun-down, when it would finally be too dark to play. But even then, we'd find the occasional field that was lit, or a stick ball square that was illuminated by a nearby street lamp.

I had played ball all my life, but I never played as much ball as I played when I played for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League 41 long summers ago. We played hundreds of games in just about as many days and in-between games, we played more games--intrasquad games, exhibition games that earned the club extra pesos, and most of the boys some extra meal money or, at the least, cervezas frias. We played four-inning mini-games. Twi-light games. Early morning games. Games of pepper. Double-headers. Even an occasional triple-header.

Playing that many games is a battle against pain. After the 20 or 25 games you'd play in high school ball and the 30 or 40 you'd play in summer leagues, there would be pain. But after hundreds of games, everything hurt. Bending down, standing up, pulling out a dresser-drawer or twisting open the bottle cap of a beer, everything hurt.

There was, in the locker room, a big, couple-gallon drum of a liniment called "Atomic Balm." Most players would slather it over their joints and limbs. My old man, with a rare glimmer of wisdom, had warned me off the stuff.

"It only masks the pain," he told me. "You'll feel better, then do yourself real harm."

So instead, I taught myself to throw like a trout. By that I mean, I lowered my arm-speed like a trout in the winter lowers his pulse and I looped the ball from third to first without a trace of crackle. I lowered my arm-speed playing catch, lowered my overall mien and temperament until I got to the point where I essentially had crammed my muscle-skeletal woes into the bottom drawer and slammed the drawer shut not to be opened again.

Slowly, I worked my arm back in. Tossing only lightly and moderately, maybe making one throw every game or every other game with any real velocity. And that was enough. I bit my lip and told no one my wing was essentially dead.

Today, I had an MRI for pain in my shoulder that's bothered me for two years. I'm working full-time now. I'm not slaving for a day-rate that I'd miss if I were cut and patched. So, with insurance card in hand, I got ahold of the best shoulder man in New York and he's having his way with me. 

The abatement of pain, of putting it away, of suppressing it, of not admitting it into your frontal lobes, is something you learn along the way. You learn it at work--every crisis is not really a crisis. You learn it raising kids, staying married, paying the bills, paying taxes. 

You learn to hide the hurt and throw without your usual snap. Until the pain ebbs and you're back to where you ought to be.

I don't know if I'll need to be put under the knife to mitigate the aches of the last 41 years. I don't know if they'll insert a titanium ball and socket and wish me well. I don't know if at my next Juego de Viejos--old-timers' game--down in Saltillo over Memorial Day weekend, if I'll be able to chuck the pill the 130 or so feet from third to first.

I do know one thing: I might wince, I might shudder, I might cringe. But I will get through.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Macro thoughts on a missed-flight Friday.

For about the last two weeks there has been much talk about discrimination in our industry and the almost complete lack of diversity. (As an aside, there is little chatter in the trades about ageism, though people over 40 in the industry, not to mention 50, or nearly 60 are as scare as back hair on a dolphin.)

I somewhat think all this talk of diversity misses a more macro issue in our world.

Let's be honest.

Wages are down. I believe (conjecture only, they are lower than wages of 20 or even 30 years ago.)

Bonuses are caput.

Job security is nil.

All the money in the industry is sucked up by holding company chieftains and other anointed who are so far removed from the creation of ads that it's almost laughable.

Meanwhile we are, or have been, as an industry, commoditized. More often than not accounts go to the lowest-cost provider. We have not staked a claim as to our worth in building brands or driving sales.

Why would we, under all these circumstances, decry our lack of diversity.

The bigger question in my mind, is this: why would anyone want to enter the business.

To sit at a desk amid pandemonium. To work ridiculous hours for stagnant wages. To work for decades and then be deemed obsolete because you're no longer "cool," or tatted or skinny.

The issue isn't one merely of diversity. Clearly diversity is important.

But there's a bigger issue.

There's the issue of making our industry, again, a decent one in which to work.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My life and loves.

In about two week's time, I will be celebrating the 32nd year of my marriage. And while my wife and I have had our share of ups and downs (usually because I often act like an idiot) we have not only endured, I'd say we have thrived.

That said, I have fallen in love with another woman.

The young lady I see each morning in the food truck before we start shooting.

She makes a breakfast burrito that puts all other food-stuffs to shame.

The meltedness. The symphony of flavors. The right amount of hot sauce. All served with a genial Latin-American smile that is like a soft summer breeze.

The burrito is ambrosia.

Resisting would be as futile as Odysseus resisting the sirens or the charms of Circe.

You could stuff my olfactories with beeswax and lash me to a mast.

I would get her burritos.

I do not know her name.

Or anything about her.

Except she is perfect.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A walnut in a Cuisinart.

Yesterday, as the blades of the food processor were spinning at thousands of rpms, my scripts were fed into a Cuisinart and chopped up into little pieces.

This is not a good thing to have happen 12 hours before a shoot.

But more often than not, it is reality.

We scrutinize things to within an inch of their lives.

I have often said that most copy is no longer a communication, but a negotiation.

This is the case today.

We have lost sight of the people who matter, the viewers.

Instead we succumb to the screwers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Too candid by half.

Of all the infuriating commentary we get back from the legions (lesions) of people who today are permitted, empowered, emboldened to make comments, the line that frustrates me most is "this one's really close." Not only does it signal to me a bit of dick-slinging, that is, only someone as astute as I can really make this can only get close, it also says that the other work you've submitted is not close.

My humble opinion is that my work was close from the get-go.

I am not an idiot.

And the 27 rounds of scattershot feedback has served, basically, only to make something that was good, less close along the way.

A long time ago I had a "scoping" discussion with a project manager.

Two words I never heard during my first 20 years in advertising.

"How many hours will this work take," he asked.

"Ten, if they want it good. 75 if they want it to suck."

That's really close.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Too busy writing to write.

I am in LA this week allegedly shooting some commercials.

Accordingly, I am being folded, spindled and, yes, mutilated.

Also accordingly, there's a chance I will not be able to keep up in this space.

So, apologies.

I will try to write.

If I'm not too busy writing.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Old Iron Ass.

There is yet another crunch at work.

I suppose this is normal. I suppose this is everywhere. I suppose this is Standard Operating Procedure.

I came in, as I do, early.

At 5:15.

My brain works better then.

My wife's amazing and practically viscous coffee is in full-effect.

I had scripts to write.

On complicated briefs.

I sat in the expensive chair they supply us. 

To be honest, with the callousness of holding company life today, I'm surprised they don't rent us our chairs.

But that's besides the point.

I sat in my chair.

At my mac.

And I typed.

What else could I do?

There's no focus group or app that turns out scripts.

Yeah, I know advertising is dead and all that and we need, instead, to be part of the social conversation, but still, somehow, I have airtime to fill.

I sat.

I typed.

Not getting up, not writing this post, not even going to the men's room, until I had something I liked.

Old Iron Ass.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Leaving and returning.

A little more than a decade ago, I left the advertising business.

I had been named co-head of one of the world’s largest digital agencies, but my day-to-day existence was as far from the pleasures and sorrows of advertising work as Auschwitz is from Eden.

I had been elevated out of relevance.

In those days I had this picture of myself in my head. I saw myself tied to a dolly and wheeled by senior account people from meeting to meeting. In those meetings I would say something oddly relevant, or strangely clarifying, or an inciting insight, and then I would be wheeled to the next meeting.

I hated it.

And I turned my efforts back from where they had been directed. I wanted to be a copywriter again. I wanted the fear and pressure. The dire deadlines. The horrible politics, thievery and back-stabbing. I wanted to be, not above the fray, in an ossified office, but back doing, for all its crap, back doing the work.

It’s work that gives us joy. It’s creating things born like Athena fully-formed from the head of Zeus.

There is pain in this. A lot of pain. Insecurity. Failure. And the heart-twisting pressure and weight of coming through with the goods.

Maybe, since I’ve been a copywriter since 1980 (it only feels like I’ve been one since 1908) coming through is easier for me, or more of a “sure thing.”

But the thing about creativity is this: Past performance is no predictor of future success.

The only predictor is doing it.

A slight rebellion on Madison Avenue.

I am, I'll admit, tightly wound. 

Yesterday, I was plumb worn-out. 

Between the effects of a chest-cold and my painfully painful right rotator cuff, I felt like shit. At one point, running to a meeting (we spend 70% of our days running to meetings) I even got dizzy and my eyes were unable to focus.

It's not hard to understand why.

In the modern ad agency we make more creative than ever before and have fewer people to make it.

Every ferstunkeneh campaign needs print, TV, this that and the other thing, including tweets, that seem to take longer to write than keynote addresses before a Joint Session of Congress.

I am burning the candle at both ends. And maybe at the middle, too.

So at around 4PM, I decided I had had enough.

I will go home on time, and you know what, I'd have a drink or two.

I'd stop coming in at seven and doing a day's work by nine.

I'd start acting more creative. I'd stop shaving, stop showing up relatively on time, stop being so fucking diligent.

Maybe I'd even play the occasional game of ping-pong on the communal ping-pong tables corporate uses to try to persuade us that work is fun.

That lasted all of 20 minutes.

I worked late last night.

I'm in early this morning.

Cleanly shaven.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hog butcher for the world.

Last weekend, as you may or may not know, I ventured out to the City of Broad Shoulders (and fat asses) to celebrate my brother Fred's 60th birthday.

My parents moved to Chicago when I was 20. And as I was already ensconced in an eastern college, I never made the city my home. I lived there for two summers and two winter breaks. I like the city, but what with the demands of life and the vagaries of everyday living, I have not spent as much time in the city and its environs as I would like.

I remedied that a bit last Friday. We flew out and immediately rented a car and drove to Oak Park, a leafy suburb just nine miles from the John Hancock tower.

In Oak Park, you'll find the house Ernest Hemingway was born in.
You'll also find the first home Frank Lloyd Wright designed and his studio, as well as eight more of his houses, all built on Forest Avenue around the turn of last century.

Bad type breaks and all, I was particularly smitten by this inscription over the "hearth" of the home he built in 1889.
Those words reminded me of the short inscription over the door of Milton Glaser's studio.

In this brain-dead era we live in, where spectacle and bombast has shoved thinking to the fringes, I'll take every chance I can get to rub up against thoughtfulness.

As my old man would have said, it's better than a poke in the eye.

Or a butchered hog.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A warning from Uncle Slappy.

“Shakespeare wrote,” said Uncle Slappy as I picked up the horn at 6:17 this morning, “Shakespeare wrote,” he continued “the words of the soothsayer: ‘Beware the Ides of March.’”

“Set him before me,” I said, “let me see his face.”

“Today is the Ides of March,” Uncle Slappy continued.

“Actually, Uncle Slappy,” I dissertationed, “the Romans divided their months into five or six day periods. One of those—roughly between the 13th and 18th was the Ides.”

“Thank you, perfesser. Your edifications always warmed my heart. But today, I want to talk about what happened yesterday.”

“Yesterday was also the Ides,” I clarified.

“First it was down by the pool, Ida Blumenthal, her husband was in insurance out in Jersey, six chaises by the pool she takes. People on the concrete were laying on towels and she has six chaises all festooned with stolen hotel towels and cheap novels.”

“Ida Blumenthal,” I said stupidly.

“Then Sylvie says, ‘Let’s to the market go and to the pool we’ll come back later.’”

I reordered the sentence in my head.

“So,” Uncle Slappy continued, “We get in the car and drive over to the Stop and Plotz to pick up a few groceries. If you should happen to visit anytime soon, a sponge cake we have in the ice box.”

“I’d love to make it down, Uncle Slappy. But work is unrelenting.”

“We’re in the checkout, the 15-items or fewer and ahead of us is Ida Plotnick with, count ‘em, 22 items.”

“22 items, that’s terrible."

“Well she counts four cans of chicken noodle as one item. That’s how she beats the system.”

“There ought to be a law,” I said.

“So an imbroglio happens between Sylvie and Plotnick. It looked like there would be a cage match between two alter cockers in the Schtup and Plotz.”

“What happened,” I asked.

“The manager, a nice Puerto Rican opens a lane for us. That’s fine but something to Ida Plotnick he should say. Four cans, four items. That’s in the Talmud.”

“You had quite a day.”

“It’s what led me to re-write Shakespeare,” Uncle Slappy said, setting me up. “He said, ‘Beware the Ides of March.’ My version is better. At least for Boca: ‘Beware the Idas of March.’”

And with that, he hung up the blower.