Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I travel south.

I arrived in Corpus Christi, dusty hot Corpus Christi, at just before noon. I took a beat up rental company bus to a beat up rental company lot and rented a Ford Fusion from the lady behind the counter. We spoke in Spanish, her native tongue, as if in preparation for my sojourn south to Saltillo.

Whereas I usually waive all insurances when I rent a car—partly because you’re normally covered by regular car insurance and the insurance your credit card company provides. However, going to Saltillo, which has seen a huge rise in crime since I played there, I thought I’d be better off with the extra coverage. The last thing I need is being billed some thousands of dollars for a stolen car or an intact car with all four tires and rims stripped. 

I also stowed my gear in the trunk, not the passenger seat or back seat. This was also a precaution against the rising tide of criminality. In Saltillo, they will throw a brick through your window and grab your gold chains or your handbags. Times, they say, are tough all over. And no tougher than they are in Mexico, where it seems unemployment is high and the price of life is low.

I found a radio station that seemed tolerable, a bit of country-western yodeling followed by half a dozen ads for local car dealers, then steered the machine out of Corpus Christi down southwest on I37, crossing the Rio Grande—where Trump wants to build his $40 billion wall—and I crossed the border not far from an ugly strip of semi-abandoned concrete near a town called Falcon Heights.

Around the border, I merged the Ford onto Mexican route 54, through the green city of Monterey, then on another hour or so through the dried dust of the Coahuila desert, dotted by sun-bleached, nearly unreadable old-wooden billboards urging drivers and their passengers to drink Pepsi, or drink Coke or drink this cerveza or that. Nearly as prevalent were the old political billboards for PAN, the National Action Party, or PRD, the Party of the Democratic Revolution or most prevalent, PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party. We passed them all, and a million crushed beer cans and onto the smoky industrial soot of Saltillo. Saltillo, Home Sooty Home.

I entered Saltillo and drove past the Camino Real Saltillo hotel on the Boulevard los Fundadores, where my teammates would be staying and then made a right on the Boulveard Morelos and down to Calle Viente, and the home I lived in 41 summers ago, that of Hector and Teresa Quesadilla.

I pulled the Ford into the small driveway and as I removed my duffle from the trunk, out came Teresa, huddled over and shuffling and with her a taller, younger Indian woman wearing a white linen dress. Without giving her too much consideration since I was interested solely in seeing Teresa, I assumed the other woman was her caretaker—Teresa is over 80 now, and last I saw her, two New Years’ ago, when she was presiding over Hector’s death, she looked old and frail. I walked to her, dropped my bag and hugged her like I would have hugged my mother, had I had one.

When Teresa and I released from our hug, the other woman offered her hand and then she spoke.

“Jorge, no me reconocen.”

I looked at her more closely.

“Karmen,” I said dumbly. “Karmen Rodriguez.”

It was Karmen Rodriguez, the girl in the white dress from 41 summers ago. We walked, the three of us, into the house.

We had catching up to do. A lot of catching up.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Flying to Saltillo.

I was in an Uber at 5:25 this morning, on my way to that most benighted of airports, Newark. I generally try to stay away from places adjacent to Maximum Security Prisons, but the flights to Corpus Christi were most convenient from New Jersey's finest.

I go to Saltillo, of course, with mixed feelings. It is where I spent the best summer of my life 41 years ago. But it is far, far in the past. The visit also produces for me a fair amount of anxiety. I will be with the boys again--guys I was with when I was just 17. We will all be a year older, a year fatter, a year further estranged from the sinew of youth.

I also have trepidation on seeing again Teresa, Hector Quesadilla's widow and my surrogate mother from so long ago. She is now 88, and since Hector's death on New Year's Eve 2014, her health, too, has declined.

But I go.

I go through the industrial sump and the swamp. I go to Saltillo, through the desert, to my long-ago salad days. 

It was a small serving of salad, I'll admit. But all I have.

I'll go for the memories of youth. For the bonds of friendship. For the chains of obligation. For the requisites of filial obligation--to see Hector's widow, my Mexican mother, Teresa.

I go because time moves in only one direction, and your past disappears like a candle burning out and sometimes all you have left is the wisp of smoke as it vanishes.

I go with a sore right shoulder. I go with work pressure looming large. I go with my spikes and my glove and with what's left of my muscle and eye-hand.

I go.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Leaving for Saltillo.

Memorial Day is upon us and so is my yearly trip down to Saltillo, Mexico for the Seraperos' second-annual Juego de Viejos, Old Timers Game.

I got home late last night--the time and tides of work--and packed my old green Seraperos duffle bag. In went my entire collection of linen clothing (it's hot as hell in Saltillo in late May), my shaving stuff, my heart and blood-pressure medicine and what remains of my old baseball gear.

I have an old leather pair of black Riddell spikes that still have some games left in them, an old Brooks Robinson "Finest in the Field" infielders' glove, and my old, teal-sleeved fungo t-shirt with an ornate Seraperos "S" over the left breast.

Saltillo has grown since I played there 41 summers ago. Now you can fly there stopping only in Mexico City. But I did a little math, and it's still faster to fly to Corpus Christi, Texas, rent a car and drive six hours through the scrub and desert to fair Saltillo.

I'll be down there through the end of the month, playing in my second Juegos de Viejos, battling the encroaching decrepitude and vicissitudes of time. Last year, I escaped the three-inning exhibition having fielded the hot corner creditably and having scratched out a bloop base-hit.

This year, my torn right rotator is flaring up. My eye-hand coordination is a year less adroit. I can only hope I will not be laughed off the field being pelted with beer cans and vicious invective like "El Americano gordo."

I will, while I am gone, try to write of my journey. But I will likely write with less frequency.

Things are often slower south of the border.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fred Papert, 1926-2016.

Fred Papert died on Friday--a famous ad man of yore that no one's ever heard of, much less mourned.

Back in the early 60s, Papert--an account guy by training, teamed up with Julian Koenig (the writer of DDB and VW's 'Think Small') and the notorious and infamous George Lois to form Papert, Koenig, Lois, or P.K.L.

Dave Dye on his surpassing blog, "Stuff From the Loft" wrote about PKL back in October and reprinted dozens of PKL's old ads. If you want to see classic advertising that's withstood the vicissitudes of time and trends, take a look at PKL's work. We could all, as an industry learn a lot.

Anyway, back to Fred Papert. 

Papert, according to his obit in "The New York Times" was fired from my old man's agency, Kenyon & Eckhardt. 

"I had to eat," Papert said, so he started his own agency. David Ogilvy referred one of Papert's first accounts because it was too small for Ogilvy.

That account was Xerox.

Papert was an innovator. His agency was advertising agency was the first to go public since 1929. And he and his partners reputedly made a fortune.

Here's P.K.L's first Xerox spot.

Some time today, think about Fred Papert.

And, maybe, say thanks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An Editorial. Rich Siegel for CEO.

Twenty-eight years ago in 1988, one of the hottest and best agencies was the fledgling start-up Messner, Vetere, Berger, Carey.

Messner et al was a creatively-driven agency that spun off from the great Carl Ally agency. The principals were not silver-spoon, country club guys. They created advertising that was tough and hard-hitting—helping primarily challenger brands punch above their weight.

Messner, a street-fighting agency, realized that they were losing new business pitches to the plaid-panted old school Madison Avenue agencies. So much business was transacted on the golf course. And at Messner, none of the partners played golf.

So, being street-fighters, they had a solution. They went up to a mini-golf course in Pelham Bay in the ramshackle Bronx and created their own golf tournament—an agency/client affair. Here’s how “The New York Times” covered the vaunted competition:

''It's a tough, competitive, awful business,'' [Schmetterer] snarled. ''If we're not golfing with the clients, someone else will be.'' Thus was born the Turtle Cove Miniature Golf Pro-Am, sponsored by the agency and held Thursday on a truly dilapidated course in the Bronx's Pelham Park. One didn't need to read the specially printed T-shirts to know where one wasn't. ''What'd you expect, Pebble Beach?'' they read.
"The greens - composed of threadbare carpeting - are pockmarked with cigarette burns. Graffiti are everywhere. Water holes don't have water because garbage would rot in them, and on Turtle Cove's signature hole -No. 4, where you roll the ball under a turtle -the reptile's head is missing. Explosions from the Police Department's adjoining bomb disposal range tend to throw off golfers' strokes."
You can read the entire piece on the agency and the tourney here.

I bring this up because I’ve always—in a Manichean way—divided agencies into two groups. 1) The agencies that exist because they do superior creative. And 2) The agencies that exist because they play superior golf.

Right now, there’s a lot of discussion about the incipient retirement of one or two of the heads of one or two of the major advertising holding companies. My friend, Rich Siegel—a stellar creative and even-more-stellar satirist is throwing his hat in the ring. He claims he wants to be the next CEO of the whole ball of wax. See his blog here.

Dozens of Rich's friends are jumping on the bandwagon, piling onto the joke.

But let's take it seriously for a moment.

When all the bullshit is done, lord willing, when all the neo-scientific blather comes crashing down on itself, when marketers realize that "programmatic" is still emailing baldness cures to the hirsute, maybe someday people will realize that the real competitive edge marketers have is better creative.

Think of the world's most-successful brands. 

Most of them make successful commercials.

Not always.

But often.

So what would be wrong if a holding company were headed by a creative? What would be wrong if a holding company doubled-down on great work?

In other words: Why not Rich Siegel? Why not now?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Five minutes with our CAAO.

AD AGED:               So your title is CAAO. I haven’t heard that amalgam of letters before. Tell me what do they stand for?

CAAO:                     That’s easy. I am Chief Architect Architect.

AD AGED:               That’s a real mouthful. Tell me, what does a Chief Architect Architect   do?

CAAO:                      I architect what other architects architect. The last thing you want is  information architects architecting information in an unarchitected   way. Not to mention the architects who are architecting our new  collaborative work space.

AD AGED:                Oh, your office is moving into new digs?

CAAO:                     We don’t call them digs. That’s low-brow, déclassé and ugly. Our new  space is architected with the most advanced architectural features. We  call our space, “The Office for the Connipted Age TM.”

AD AGED:               The Age of Connitptions TM.

CAAO:                    That’s right. We have dozens of innovations you won’t see anywhere else. We have windows. Natural and artificial light. We even have chairs on wheels that can actually move. We also have ingresses and egresses and a broad inclined-plane that gives our workers the ability travel—using their personal mobility appendages—from level to level.

AD AGED:               It all sounds amazing.

CAAO:                     Yes. Amazing. And the architecture of architecting architects has helped us architect a workforce where all our employees are happy. That's life in the Connipted Age TM.

AD AGED:               Well, thank you for your time today.

CAAO:                     My pleasure. 

AD AGED:               Enjoy your conniptions.

CAAO:                     How could I not? I'm working in “The Office for the Connipted Age TM.”

The Nussbaums stay over.

The Nussbaums came over this weekend, Ettie and Freddy. 

They're friends of Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie from their condo complex, and their grandson, Teddy, was graduating from Columbia Medical School, and with all the graduations this season, they couldn't get a hotel room in Manhattan for less than $800, so Uncle Slappy asked could they stay, and I said 'yes, of course, they could stay with us.'

Ettie and Freddy called when they landed at LaGuardia to let us know they arrived safely.

"We just picked up our baggage at carousel three," Freddy said, "and now we're headed to the taxi line."

"Good," I soothed. "Then we'll see you in about half an hour."

"Carousel three is a dump," Freddy continued. "It creaks like an old man's knees and is dirty, to boot. The taxi-line is covered in nicotine and monoxide."

"This is New York, Freddy. Not everything is as spic-and-span as we'd like. Just don't take a Gypsy cab. Not only will they rip you off, they're dangerous, too."

"Forty dollars this will cost me. Is there no other way to get to Manhattan."

Freddie was a Certified Public Accountant in Rosyln Heights. He's been retired for 20 years and living in Boca--two down from the pool. He has plenty of money but acts as if his will run out any minute.

"I'm turning off the cellular now," he barked. "We're in a taxi, 2B19, should we get abducted and I don't want any roaming charges."

I tried to explain--as I've tried to explain to Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie--that the phone company doesn't charge you any longer when you just leave your phone on. And turning it off defeats the purpose of having a cell in the first place. I tried to explain, but the line had already gone dead.

The Nussbaums arrived as I expected in about half an hour. They quickly dropped their Tumi luggage, which Howard, my second cousin got for them half price (he's in the business and knows people) and sat at the dining room table where my wife served them some fresh-brewed coffee and a slice each of cinnamon babka she had removed from the freezer and toasted.

"You toasted," Freddy said.

"It was in the freezer," my wife owned up.

"Ach toasted. It's from Glaser's? I'll have another slice-ala."

"So," I said sitting down with the Nussbaum's, "A doctor in the family."

"It's about time," Ettie said. "It hurts when I go like this." She said, touching her left shoulder blade with her right hand.

On cue, Freddy said, "So don't go like that."

He got up to leave the table, brushing a pound's worth of babka crumbs on the floor, "for the hundt. Then he padded into our well-worn guest room.

"A nap I'm taking," he yelled from behind the closed pocket door. 

"Forty winks will do you good," I answered.

"Thirty-nine," he said. "I don't want you to think I'm a lazy bones."

Friday, May 20, 2016

A bit more on writing good.

Yesterday I had no time to write, so I reposted something called "How to Write Good." I don't know why exactly when I wrote the post some years ago I titled it ungrammatically, but I guess that's part of the point. I could have called it "How to Write Well." That would have felt supremely mannered and tucked in. But in my estimation would have been less friendly and approachable.

This morning, like so many mornings, I am not bristling with topics for this blog. There's nothing, lately, that's enraged me, nothing I've seen that I've felt worthy of commenting on, nothing that feels so much like I need to write about it.

When you've written over 4,600 posts stretching back almost nine years to 2007, you hit a lot of dry spells. I wish I had a dime for each morning I faced this space with nothing to say.

So maybe this post is about what happens when, as a writer, as a creative person, you have nothing to say.

I've never taken a formal writing class--though many people I respect have and sometimes it seems like they're all around me like leaves in the fall.

Still, I've resisted.

Often in this business and in life, we're handed something difficult or inchoate. Often, we just aren't in the mood. Or people around you in your workspace that's allegedly designed to foment collaboration is so fucking noisy you can't concentrate your way out of a paper bag.

I'm afraid that's life.

Every profession from copywriting to housepainting has its vagaries. In my opinion, as copywriters, we don't get a choice. Your way through confusion to clarity is a path you must often blaze. If you wait for the perfect topic to present itself to you, or the most elegantly refined and disciplined brief, you might find yourself waiting yourself out of a job.

If I didn't write in this space until I had a fully-formed topic, this blog wouldn't right now be the 17,279th most-popular blog on advertising written by an old Jew from Yonkers.

My point is simple.

This most I can tell you about writing is this: write. Write your way through confusion, through noise, through intractable problems. 

Think of writing not as something elevated and erudite, but as something rudimentary and basic. Banish phrases like "I'm not feeling it" from your head. Imagine if you had a leaky toilet and the plumber said that.

Writing, yes, is an art. But don't use that as an excuse.

Treat it more as a bodily function, like breathing. Make it something you do to stay alive. Something that's at the core of who you are.

I've never written anything importat. I am miles away from anything like "Absalom, Absalom." But still, I am a professional writer who gets paid to make things clear and interesting.

If you want to do the same, there's only one way to start.