Friday, September 30, 2016

A brief pre-holiday phone call with Uncle Slappy.

The Jewish High Holidays are upon us and that means, with the regularity of the sun rising in the east and corruption in the banking industry, that Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie have flown north from Boca.

Uncle Slappy called just now, prior to boarding the 8:30 flight.

“Don’t bother, boychik,” he said, “picking the altecockers up at the LaGuardia airport. Aunt Sylvie and I will take a Tuber.”

I couldn’t help but correct him. It was a reflex-reaction, really.

“You mean Uber,” I said.

“No,” the old one said, “I mean Tuber.”

He paused, like Jack Benny, for a good ten seconds.

“Tuber,” he repeated. “It’s a car-service for couch potatoes.”

And with that, he hung up the blower, and I headed off to work, more than a little dazed.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. And today.

The word of the day in advertising today is a coinage so mean only a technocrat or an HR professional could have devised it.

While this is supposed to be a "human" business, one in which "you matter," the people on my floor of the agency are being "densified."

Yes, "densified."

We are going from sitting four in a row to sitting five in a row. Our space is being decreased by 20% and, I suppose, our distractions and concomitant noise-level will increase 20%.

In a business where we pay almost constant lip-service to the power and efficacy and primacy of creativity, we have a work environment that resembles something out of a pre-International Ladies Garment Workers Union factory.
The Triangle Shirtwaist building, 1911.
On a lark, I looked up the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911. 123 women and 23 men died in the fire, many of smoke inhalation, many jumped to their deaths. 

The dead were almost all women. The youngest was 14. The oldest was 43.

A typical floorplan in 1911 and 2016.
The youngest were just 14, Kate Leone and Rosaria Maltese.

The owners of Triangle Shirtwaist, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were indicted on first and second-degree manslaughter charges, primarily because they had locked the exit doors in the factory.

Max Blanck and Issac Harria, owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist company.
They were acquitted.

Two years later, Blanck was arrested for once again locking the exit doors in his factory. He was fined $20.

I am not for even a scintilla of a nano-second claiming that our densified conditions violate any fire codes or laws.

I will say it's a helluva way to work.

I have prodigious powers of concentration, but at times the cacophony is such that I feel my head is in an industrial dryer.

Peter Drucker called those who work with data or information, "knowledge workers." 

There was something exalted about the phrase. We think for a living.

Today, knowledge workers are treated like factory workers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Not writing this morning.

I am taking the day off from blogging today. Actually, I am home awaiting a routine medical procedure, and I can't make a post happen.

I am also in the throes of trying to write something considerably longer than my usual post--and it's taking a lot out of me. 

Not the writing part. Writing, fortunately, doesn't torture me.

What's torturing me is finding time to actually write what I need to write.

Truth be told, I'd love to take three months off and see if I could tackle 100 pages or so. But I have a feeling that I am a better writer and a more efficient and effective one, when I am being bludgeoned with demands from all directions.

That's it for now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian.

If you have time to read just one thing today that isn't about last night's debate, please read the Ad Contrarian's latest post: The Devaluation of Creativity.

I'm happy to call Bob (the Ad Contrarian) a friend of mine. We met through blogging and after years of e-correspondance, when Bob's in town, we'll meet over a cup of coffee, or, if we're feeling cavalier, a Katz's pastrami sandwich.

Bob is what composer Ernest Bloch would call "Vox clamantis in deserto," a voice crying in the wilderness. For years, he's been a clarion voice debunking the hyperbole and bullshit that surrounds the shrill bombast of our world.

And Bob doesn't engage (like the candidates last night) in a volley of "he said, she said." He backs up everything he says, every balloon he bursts with facts and data.

So, please, if you care about our industry, if you believe in the power--and primacy--of creativity, take about four minutes and read Bob's post.

You'll be glad you did.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Friends. Facebook and otherwise.

On Saturday night, my wife and I fired up our 1966 Simca 1500 and headed for the leafy wilds of New Jersey.

Of all the states contiguous to New York, New Jersey is the one I have the most difficulty with. The traffic is almost always horrid. The infrastructure in and out of the state peaked about 90 years ago. And the number of criminally bad drivers makes a trip on the Long Island Expressway seem like a Sunday drive on a country lane.

But my friend Fred and his wife Celia had invited us to their home. My wife and I bought the requisite bottle of wine (I have this image in my head of one bottle of wine being passed around like a virus from suburban house to suburban house every time someone visits) programmed the Waze and headed West.

It was a big deal going to Fred and Celia's. They've lived in their home since the early 90s but they are both private people and rarely open their doors.

Fred and I have been friends since 1971. We met as 13-year-old high school freshmen. And over the ensuing 45 years we have remained friends. 

We attended each other's weddings 32 years ago. We meet for dinner now and again in the city. We exchange, in as au courant a manner as we can muster, the occasional text and email.

Our friendship endures through times of sickness and wellness. We have dealt with hardships together and good times, of course, too.

We have done the funerals together and the hospital visits. We have been listening ears and wise advice. We have tried, when asked, to help each other's children get a start in the working world.

At home our TVs get thousands of channels and our computers give us access to millions of websites. I wind up watching one of about five or six channels and browse a total of fewer than 15 websites. 

We live in a world where even a virulent misanthrope as myself can claim, publicly, 916 friends. In real life, however, when the rubber meets the road, when I face sturm and drang or wine and roses, the friends dwindle to a precious few.

People I have known for decades. People whose frailties and quirks and even annoyances I have grown to accept and love. People who, to me, fulfill Robert Frost's definition of home:

"When you have to go there, they have to take you in."


The Death of the Hired Man

Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table 
Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step, 
She ran on tip-toe down the darkened passage 
To meet him in the doorway with the news 
And put him on his guard. ‘Silas is back.’
She pushed him outward with her through the door 
And shut it after her. ‘Be kind,’ she said. 
She took the market things from Warren’s arms 
And set them on the porch, then drew him down 
To sit beside her on the wooden steps. 

‘When was I ever anything but kind to him? 
But I’ll not have the fellow back,’ he said. 
‘I told him so last haying, didn’t I? 
If he left then, I said, that ended it. 
What good is he? Who else will harbor him 
At his age for the little he can do? 
What help he is there’s no depending on. 
Off he goes always when I need him most. 
He thinks he ought to earn a little pay, 
Enough at least to buy tobacco with, 
So he won’t have to beg and be beholden.
“All right,” I say, “I can’t afford to pay 
Any fixed wages, though I wish I could.”
“Someone else can.” “Then someone else will have to.”
I shouldn’t mind his bettering himself 
If that was what it was. You can be certain, 
When he begins like that, there’s someone at him 
Trying to coax him off with pocket-money,— 
In haying time, when any help is scarce. 
In winter he comes back to us. I’m done.’ 

‘Sh! not so loud: he’ll hear you,’ Mary said. 

‘I want him to: he’ll have to soon or late.’ 

‘He’s worn out. He’s asleep beside the stove. 
When I came up from Rowe’s I found him here, 
Huddled against the barn-door fast asleep, 
A miserable sight, and frightening, too— 
You needn’t smile—I didn’t recognize him— 
I wasn’t looking for him—and he’s changed. 
Wait till you see.’ 

                          ‘Where did you say he’d been?’ 

‘He didn’t say. I dragged him to the house, 
And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke. 
I tried to make him talk about his travels. 
Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off.’ 

‘What did he say? Did he say anything?’ 

‘But little.’ 

                ‘Anything? Mary, confess 
He said he’d come to ditch the meadow for me.’


              ‘But did he? I just want to know.’ 

‘Of course he did. What would you have him say? 
Surely you wouldn’t grudge the poor old man 
Some humble way to save his self-respect. 
He added, if you really care to know, 
He meant to clear the upper pasture, too. 
That sounds like something you have heard before? 
Warren, I wish you could have heard the way 
He jumbled everything. I stopped to look 
Two or three times—he made me feel so queer— 
To see if he was talking in his sleep. 
He ran on Harold Wilson—you remember— 
The boy you had in haying four years since. 
He’s finished school, and teaching in his college. 
Silas declares you’ll have to get him back. 
He says they two will make a team for work: 
Between them they will lay this farm as smooth! 
The way he mixed that in with other things. 
He thinks young Wilson a likely lad, though daft 
On education—you know how they fought 
All through July under the blazing sun, 
Silas up on the cart to build the load, 
Harold along beside to pitch it on.’ 

‘Yes, I took care to keep well out of earshot.’ 

‘Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream. 
You wouldn’t think they would. How some things linger! 
Harold’s young college boy’s assurance piqued him. 
After so many years he still keeps finding 
Good arguments he sees he might have used. 
I sympathize. I know just how it feels 
To think of the right thing to say too late. 
Harold’s associated in his mind with Latin. 
He asked me what I thought of Harold’s saying 
He studied Latin like the violin 
Because he liked it—that an argument! 
He said he couldn’t make the boy believe 
He could find water with a hazel prong— 
Which showed how much good school had ever done him. 
He wanted to go over that. But most of all 
He thinks if he could have another chance 
To teach him how to build a load of hay—’ 

‘I know, that’s Silas’ one accomplishment. 
He bundles every forkful in its place, 
And tags and numbers it for future reference, 
So he can find and easily dislodge it 
In the unloading. Silas does that well. 
He takes it out in bunches like big birds’ nests. 
You never see him standing on the hay 
He’s trying to lift, straining to lift himself.’ 

‘He thinks if he could teach him that, he’d be 
Some good perhaps to someone in the world. 
He hates to see a boy the fool of books. 
Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk, 
And nothing to look backward to with pride, 
And nothing to look forward to with hope, 
So now and never any different.’ 

Part of a moon was falling down the west, 
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills. 
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw it
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand 
Among the harp-like morning-glory strings, 
Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves, 
As if she played unheard some tenderness 
That wrought on him beside her in the night. 
‘Warren,’ she said, ‘he has come home to die: 
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.’ 

‘Home,’ he mocked gently. 

                                       ‘Yes, what else but home? 
It all depends on what you mean by home. 
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more 
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us 
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’ 

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, 
They have to take you in.’ 

                                      ‘I should have called it 
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’ 

Warren leaned out and took a step or two, 
Picked up a little stick, and brought it back 
And broke it in his hand and tossed it by. 
‘Silas has better claim on us you think 
Than on his brother? Thirteen little miles 
As the road winds would bring him to his door. 
Silas has walked that far no doubt today. 
Why didn’t he go there? His brother’s rich, 
A somebody—director in the bank.’ 

‘He never told us that.’ 

                                  ‘We know it though.’ 

‘I think his brother ought to help, of course. 
I’ll see to that if there is need. He ought of right 
To take him in, and might be willing to— 
He may be better than appearances. 
But have some pity on Silas. Do you think 
If he’d had any pride in claiming kin 
Or anything he looked for from his brother, 
He’d keep so still about him all this time?’ 

‘I wonder what’s between them.’ 

                                                ‘I can tell you. 
Silas is what he is—we wouldn’t mind him— 
But just the kind that kinsfolk can’t abide. 
He never did a thing so very bad. 
He don’t know why he isn’t quite as good 
As anyone. Worthless though he is,
He won’t be made ashamed to please his brother.’ 

I can’t think Si ever hurt anyone.’ 

‘No, but he hurt my heart the way he lay 
And rolled his old head on that sharp-edged chair-back. 
He wouldn’t let me put him on the lounge. 
You must go in and see what you can do. 
I made the bed up for him there tonight. 
You’ll be surprised at him—how much he’s broken. 
His working days are done; I'm sure of it.’ 

‘I’d not be in a hurry to say that.’ 

‘I haven’t been. Go, look, see for yourself. 
But, Warren, please remember how it is: 
He’s come to help you ditch the meadow. 
He has a plan. You mustn’t laugh at him. 
He may not speak of it, and then he may. 
I’ll sit and see if that small sailing cloud 
Will hit or miss the moon.’ 

                                      It hit the moon. 
Then there were three there, making a dim row, 
The moon, the little silver cloud, and she. 

Warren returned—too soon, it seemed to her, 
Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited. 

‘Warren,’ she questioned. 

                                     ‘Dead,’ was all he answered.