Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Old friends.

Two weekends ago, somewhat out of the blue, I got an email from my friend Chris. Chris had sent a note to me and to Fred, saying he'd be in the city on Monday night, and can the three of us get together.

When I was 13, I was painfully shy, and I had transferred to a new high school and was having a rough time of it, a rough time making friends. 

Chris was my first friend as a ninth grader, he was also new to the school. He had a sense of humor, an appetite for the absurdities of ninth grade and a wide streak of irreverence. In short, we were two peas in a tight-fitting pod.

My second friend was Fred. We got friendly when we played on the baseball team together and were united by our senses of humor and the feeling that we hardly belonged where we were.

Through the years, our relationships have risen, fallen and risen again, as relationships do. And, truth be told, at least with Chris, many years snuck by without talking or even writing to each other.

But, as it says on some fortune cookie somewhere, there are no friends like old friends, and over the last few years--thanks in part to the connectiveness of Facebook--the three of us, the three cynical Musketeers, are closer than we've been since the spring of 1972.

Last night, we gathered in my apartment and sat around my dining room table for four hours, having a drink of this or that, eating one, or two, too many slices of pizza, and laughing--laughing like there's no tomorrow.

We talked about old times, about the stupidity of high school, and crazy times in college. We talked about our 
kids--Fred and I have two each, Chris has four. And we talked, mostly, I think, about being old men now, and living in a world we no longer precisely understand.

But mostly, in between old jokes and grousing about our various aches and pains, our feelings of displacement, our feelings that maybe we have songs inside us that no one, anymore, want to hear, we laughed. 

We laughed the laughs of 45 years of friendship. Of illnesses and injuries. Of the travails of long marriages and of fatherhood and of parents lost to old age and death.

But mostly we laughed. 

And for four hours, we were teenagers again. Laughing and with our lives ahead of us.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A rainy day in New York, 1979.

It's raining, and has been for 36 hours, and the wind is blowing like a sonofabitch. They predicted last night wind gusts as high as 50 mph, 70 mph on Long Island. 

In the entire five boroughs of New York, there's barely one umbrella that hasn't been turned inside-out, exposing its rib-cage to the world, before being tossed in the garbage like yesterday's news.

In short, to pilfer from Herman Melville, 'it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul. Though we are two days short of that benighted month and that even more benighted spirit.

The office is, of course, empty. There's not a soul here, save for the decorous gentlemen who man the security desk at the front and who greet me like an old friend when they see me, simply because I arrive early and greet them, too, like old friends.

The weather is making me recall one wintry November back in 1979 when I was a graduate student at Columbia University. I had decided I would interview poets who had worked with Budd Schulberg and the Watts Writers Workshop, which grew out of the Watts riots in LA nearly 15 years earlier.

I had contacted a writer called Quincy Troupe and was invited to his apartment in a noble building called Graham Court on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and 116th Street.

In those starving student days I had no money for a taxi and it was nearly impossible to get from Morningside Heights, where I was living, to central Harlem where my appointment was. So, I wrapped myself in an old oil-skin and walked down to 110th, over to Adam Clayton Powell, then up to 116th to meet Quincy Troupe.

It was raining hard and windy and before 9AM on a Monday and the streets were empty, or very nearly so. These were tough days in New York, just four years from bankruptcy and two years from the summer riots of 1977, and I was scared walking alone in Harlem, but I made it without a hitch and Mr. Troupe buzzed me in and I took the tiled stairway up to his place, the elevator being out.

The first thing we did after we sat down in Troupe's wood-paneled study was have a glass of sweet wine--nothing I had ever drunk at 9AM before, but I knew enough to be polite and sipped quietly at my glass, filling up yellow pad after yellow pad with notes on our conversation.

At about 10:30, he was talked out, and I was a little drunk, and I walked back down the stairs and out into the rain and walked home through the still-empty streets, breathing easier when I reached the campus of Columbia. Thank god, I hadn't been mugged. 

It's funny, I think, having lived your life in the same place for so long that you can remember things about the same place in three or four or even ten layers like the striations of different geological eras you can see sometimes in an old rock wall.

I can't walk out, alone and cold and wet in New York, without traveling back 40 years. And without once again breathing the deep breath of relief when I make it home once again.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Are you experienced?

People who know me know there are few words I despise more than the word experience--experience as it is used in the world today.

Just now the ad below stalked into my Linked In feed, and had the temerity to call "pre-agent" hold time--a customer experience.

Yeah, you fuckwads. It's an experience. And it sucks.

In any event, some time ago, I don't really remember when or where, I happened upon the chart below. If you make your living with words, or if you just strive to be a human, you might want to consider it. It's quite an experience.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A few good words.

I can't help thinking that some of America's descent into Trumpian hell is a failure of the English language.

The rational world's failure to be, well, rational, persuasive, moving and memorable.

We can't seem to coalesce the inappropriateness of Trump and make it stick.

I'm thinking of one of the great viral campaigns of all time. The fight for women's right to vote in the United Kingdom around 100 years ago.

Someone nailed both the message and the medium with this:

Millions of coins defaced with a simple demand. Millions of coins making their way in front of millions more people. Getting a message across.

Some decades later, the NAACP made their point with five simple words, well-placed. They hung this message where thousands a day would see it, outside of their headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York. It was stark. Emotional. Memorable. It motivated people to act.

What message and what media can we use against our current Kakistocracy, or, if you prefer, our current Kleptocracy? Or, our kakikleptocracy--if you want to get all deep-dish on it.

What simple words will capture the moment, and the peril we are in? Simple, ineffable, unarguable words placed where everyone can see them.

What are they?

Are they out there, or have we just given up.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

You can't do this.

We, as a nation, have decided that experience isn't necessary.

Nowhere is that illustrated better than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We have a leader so wholly ignorant it threatens the very existence of the world.

Deeming expertise unimportant has been a trend for quite a while now. If you want to read about it, download Thomas Nichols' "The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters."

In our business the sentence I hear more than any other is usually spoken by frazzled creatives after a particularly enervating presentation. "If they're going to tell us exactly what they want, why don't they just do it themselves?"

We routinely get our work returned with giant metaphorical Xs through it and orders to do such and such. People who have never written or art directed an ad presume they know more than people who do it for a living.

On Monday I had a day off in Washington, DC and spent three intense and jam-packed hours in the National Gallery. Mostly I went to see 11 paintings by Vermeer--fully 1/3 of the total that are known to the world today.

From Vermeer, to Filippino Lippi, to Andre Kertesz, Van Gogh, amateurs, dilettantes, spouters and poseurs can't do work like the work shown here.

I won't for a second put myself or anyone I work with up at the aforementioned level. But still, most ad people I know, have studied and applied their craft and acres of critical thinking to their work. Additionally, the normal checks and balances of an agency hold that work to creative and strategic scrutiny.

Further, the Vermeer of our industry, Bill Bernbach put it this way 55 years ago in a note to Robert Townsend, then CEO of Avis.

Avis Rent A Car Advertising Philosophy
1. Avis will never know as much about advertising as DDB, and DDB will never know as much about the rent a car business as Avis....

4. To the end, Avis will approve or disapprove, not try to improve, ads which are submitted. Any changes suggested by Avis must be grounded on a material operating defect (a wrong uniform for example).

A long way of saying, leave work to the professionals. Because you can't do any of this, or its advertising equivalent.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Making out.

The World Serious commences tonight and it pits the Dodgers, formerly 'Dem Bums,' of Brooklyn and now housed under the plasticine sunshine of Chavez Ravine, against the Astros of Houston, formerly the Colt .45s, an "expansion" team who joined the league way back when I was a four-year-old in 1962.

I roll back the clock in my head and remember the first World Serious I was conscious of, in 1965, with the Minnesota Twins behind the stellar pitching of Jim "Mudcat" Grant and the lumber of lumbering Harmon Killebrew against the left arm of the greatest pitcher of all-time, Sanford "Sandy" Koufax and a 6'6" righty named Don Drysdale who went on to pitch 58 1/3 scoreless innings in a season down the road.

I had a $2.99 transistor radio from Korvettes in my pocket and a long white earplug. The games were played during God's daylight in those days--during school--and half the boys sneaked in their radios and listened as the Dodgers downed the Twins in seven.

It all makes me think, I am a lugubrious son-of-a-bitch, of my last game as a Serapero de Saltillo so many summers ago when I toiled in the Mexican League.

At the end of the season, the games mattered not at all. We were mired near last place and weren't likely to move either up or down in the standings. 

We were playing the Olmecs de Tabasco and we were down 7-4 as we had our last ups. Somehow we got the bases loaded with two outs and I was coming up to hit.

As I had made the transition from high-school ball to the Mexican League I had changed my swing. No longer would I swing from my heels and try to hit one over the left field bleachers. The pitchers were tougher here and faster with more benders of more varieties. I shortened my stroke, moved up in the box to head off their curves and became a contact hitter with power, rather than a power hitter with contact.

This was my last at bat and I wanted a good one. I wanted to drive in those runs, to win the game with a walk-off, to go out like Housman's Athlete Dying Young. Say what you will about my arrested intellect after a season in the bushes, I knew my Housman.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away 
From fields where glory does not stay, 
And early though the laurel grows 
It withers quicker than the rose. 

I wanted my glory to last longer than a rose. I wanted them to chair me through the market-place.

The pitch came in, the runners went. 

I saw the ball as big as a grapefruit and it was up and in, in my power

And then, instead of meeting it squarely, I over-anxiously got under it and popped it weakly to center.

My season, my baseball career was over.

I think a lot about making out. About being up at the crucial moment and whiffing, or popping up, or hitting an inconsequential grounder to second.

That’s what happens with most of our ups. We try, and we fail. We live, as a result, lives of quiet desperation and die with our songs still inside us, still unsung.

I think how many ups I've had in my life--as I rapidly approach my 60th year. I think about how many times I was caught, with the bases full, and I was caught looking.

But shit, this ain't the Mexican League. And the games go on and on. An hour later, or a day, or a week, another pitch comes in.

And we have another chance not to make out.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Taking the day off.

My eldest daughter ran the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday and I am taking the day off to be with her. And also to see the Vermeer show at the National Gallery.

Ad Aged will be back tomorrow.

Friday, October 20, 2017

And now a word from Uncle Slappy.


Above is an online ad I saw recently heralding the virtues of some data company. I find this sort of behavior on the part of marketers Stalinist. Your every movement is being tracked and (in the parlance of today) monetized.

I call this advertising Stalk-vertising.

Facebook, as of a couple weeks ago, had a valuation of almost $510 Billion, and they claim 2 billion users. My math says, that means each user earns them $255. So, they're selling your data to marketers and making $255 on it, on you.

If you want to learn more about "Stalk-vertising," visit the Ad Contrarian's site, specifically, this post. 

Not only will you learn something. You may be scared by the business you're in.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I'm getting more than a little tired of advocacy ads.

And brands that link to important issues for their own spill-over benefit. Especially when they betray those important issues, or only pay bullshit reverence to them, like the Koch Brothers supporting the arts, or farming, then destroying freedom or the earth.

So, I wrote this.

An overlooked appendage.
We cover them with long pants.
With long skirts.
Wet suits.
As if to hide them from the world.
But at Biloxi Cream Cheese, an Adelaide Company,
we celebrate legs.
And all they do for us.
And people that have them.
People of all colors.
From all nations.
All creeds.
All isms.
They united us.
In standing.
In sitting.
In crossing.
They are vital to us.
And to so many legged people.
And even to people without legs,
legs are important,
because, like it or not, we live in a legged world.
So next time you spread some Biloxi Cream Cheese,
or eat some Biloxi Cream Cheese,
or share some Biloxi Cream Cheese,
think of legs and the people who have them.

They support us.
We support them.