Thursday, November 30, 2017

A swing and a miss.

I got a late start this morning.

While I am usually sitting in my home office and scribbling in the space by 7 or 7:30, I had things I had to do this morning and could not sit down to write.

I tried again--my plan B--in the car I take to work, but again, no dice.

Now I am at my table at work with 12 minutes to go before the onslaught of meetings hits me, and I haven't a thing to write about.

Back when I played for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League (AA) so many summers ago, I had an extraordinarily bad stretch where I went 19 games, 74 at bats, without a hit--a skein of futility rarely matched at any level.

Hector, the Buddha of the Bush Leagues, was stoical about it.

"You keep swing," he said, "the hit come."

But I kept swinging and missing. A streak not unlike the great DiMag's, only mine was bad, while his was unsurpassingly good.

I fear I'm entering another such fallow period. Perhaps it is the gloomy, for me, time of year, and an almost paralyzing amount of work.


As Hector told me nearly 43 years ago: "You keep swing, the hit come."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Surveillance. Continued.

When I returned home from Iceland Monday night, after a week away, our mailbox was fairly stuffed to the pupik with about 11 or 14 pounds of mail. Most of that mail consisted of thick glossy catalogs featuring skinny models selling things to an increasingly fat population. They were sent by companies I've never done business with and, likely, never will. 

These catalogs will sit around for a few weeks like fallen leaves from an over-grown marketing tree, and then in a cleaning tsunami, they'll be tossed out and make their way to a landfill in Staten Island.

Also, amid this data-driven onslaught was a small but intimidating letter-like-object from the company I work for.

It was one of those faux envelopes designed by an accountant to be two-cents less per thousand to mail. Where you have to have pull apart three sides of tiny perforations--as if you are tiny-handed like our president, or are perhaps a shoe-making elf with the requisite manual dexterity.

This piece of mail looked officious and daunting--Kafkaesque is the word--so my wife beckoned me to go through the baroque labor of opening it.

Inside was an offer to sell me insurance from a third party insurance company.

In other words, my company is selling my private information to third parties to market to me.

Yesterday in the Linked In feed of someone I respect, I saw a notice about a "human data company." Ostensibly a company that uses data to help consumers rather than just sell to them.

I'm not buying.

Data--and someone convince me otherwise--is merely a marketing term (and a good one) for surveillance. We are being stalked by the corporate state 24/7 and sold to constantly.

I don't want my habits, predilections, peccadillos, key-strokes, mouse-and-eye-movements tracked and marketed to.

These practices--cookies, tracking, impossibly Soviet agreements to terms and conditions are marketing, surveillance, gone wild. It's overstepping on the part of marketers--overstepping in jackboots.

I can't be alone in this.

I can't be alone in thinking of Garbo.

I want to be alone.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Reflections from a cold place.

Sunday night, my last night in Iceland, my wife (and I) decided that while we had seen the Aurora Borealis--the Northern Lights--three days earlier, you should never pass up the chance to see them again.

It's kind of like seeing whales in the wild, or a good fireworks display, or Ray Charles when he was alive. You grab whatever chance you have, you roll the dice, and you go for it.

However, in Icelandic, there's an ancient saying:
"ekajonfjoll drotollodottir kfjanhollarson."

It means, roughly translated that "Iceland is one cold mother-fucker." So as we headed out on a 41-foot ship to get away from the light pollution of Reykjavik, my wife and I had on layers, then layers on top of the layers. 

My hat wore a hat.

The ship cut slowly through the frigid water as the other passengers scrambled for seats on the top-most deck. My wife and I had arrived early and had already found our perch.

People were fussing. Fussing with their cell-phone-cameras, fussing with snacks, fussing with their clothing for warmth. One man lost his cell-phone at the bottom of a cavernous pocket. He was fairly apoplectic cursing and fretting over his ill-fortune. Nevertheless, my wife and I settled in and looked at the stars.

I don't know much about astronomy--but I quickly recognized the Big Dipper, vivid like in an astronomical atlas. Further along and low to the horizon, I spotted Orion's Belt. After two hours or so we saw a shooting star. Breathtaking, literally, not in the way a really good tuna-salad sandwich is described by the be-whiskered set.

For whatever reason, the people who ran the excursion decided that they'd interrupt the still of a Sunday night on the water in late November with bad 1960s rock and roll from America.

Hang on, Sloopy, they urged. Sugar, Sugar, they saccarhined. 

I pulled my hats down over my ears, to no advantage. I wanted nothing but quiet--the quiet of the waves and the luster of the silent stars. But popular taste--even at 66-degrees North prevailed.

We saw no Northern Lights that night. Conditions were good on Earth--but solar flares--emanating from our Sun, 93 million miles away refused to cooperate. Some people cursed the Sun--the innocent Sun--and wanted their money back.

I thought a lot in Iceland about the quality of alone-ness. Of being out of the mainstream--away from New York, even away from a tiny Yonkers-sized city like Reykjavik. 

I thought about hopping a flight to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, or Grimsey Island, 40-miles out to sea off the north coast of Iceland. I thought, if only, if only, I were there, with the stars and the quiet, and maybe a good book and Whiskey, a warm sweater and a bit of love, well, how bad could that be.

Now, it is 14 hours later and I am in a shopping-mall-cum-airport about to fly back to New York. A frenzy has gripped so many. The mania to shop, to buy, to consume, to get a bargain, to do the next thing.

Maybe the next thing should be to spend some time doing nothing at all, but looking at the stars and wondering if they are looking at us.

Monday, November 27, 2017

There’s no such thing as precision.

For as long as men have been dropping, or firing, or even throwing ordnance at each other, people with epaulets on their shoulders have called it “precision bombing.”

Precision bombing was tried by both the Allies and the Central Powers during World War One, a trifle over 100 years ago, but abandoned. The promise was way ahead of reality.

In World War Two, all sorts of “advances” were made in precision bombing. Various bomb-sights and electronically-guided rockets and artillery shells were supposed to all-but-eliminate collateral damage. Various droppers-of-bombs claimed accuracy, under certain conditions, of 100 yards, or even 25 yards.

However, by the summer of 1944, by which time the Allies had had a lot of “target practice,” precision bombing was largely a fanciful notion. It took, for instance, 108 B-17 bombers, crewed by 1,080 airmen, dropping 648 bombs to guarantee a 96 percent chance of getting just two hits inside a 400 x 500 ft German power-generation plant.

In Korea and, later, in Vietnam, despite some success with laser-guided bombs which could strike within 20 feet of the intended target, most of the bombs dropped in those wars came from B-52s, which didn’t even make an attempt at precision bombing.

Precision bombing, we were told, had really arrived by the time we attempted to wipe Iraq off the map in 1991. However, despite their purported advantages over “dumb” bombs, precision bombs accounted for less than 10-percent of the ordnance dropped by American imperial forces.

In Sunday, November 19ths' “New York Times Magazine,” there was an article entitled “The Uncounted.” Here is its subtitle: “An on-the-ground investigation reveals that the U.S.-led battle against ISIS — hailed as the most precise air campaign in history — is killing far more Iraqi civilians than the coalition has acknowledged.”

In other words, precision ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.

This post, however, is not about bombing, though I suppose it could be. It’s about not believing men (they are largely men) who wear epaulets, either real or figurative one. That is the people who issue proclamations.

In marketing, I believe, those who use of the word precision—as in precision-targeting—are as full of bombast and deception as are our generals.

Whether it’s my personal email, my social newsfeeds, or the reprobate marketers who call my various phones—willy-nilly better describes their efforts than precision.

I don't believe, because I have never seen, the right message, to the right person, at the right time. If such precision is more than a chimera, how come it hasn't happened to me, once, in the 20 or so years I've been online?

So as far as precision marketing goes, I’ll be precise about this: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

More Lost Tweets of Gary Veinyupchuck.

November 14, 2017
My new Veiny shoes will be hitting the shelves soon. They come in both “left” and “right” styles. I can’t wait to buy a pair from you on eBay someday.

November 15, 2017
Cordless headphones. Check. Three days’ growth of stubble. Check. Crossing a SoCal Street. Check. How many clichés can one man exploit?

November 16, 2017
If you wear enough t-shirts with meaningless statements on them, it’s meaningful.

November 17, 2017
Today’s t-shirt statement: “Medium.” My size. My calling. My temperature.

November 18, 2017
Self-awareness starts with self, and ends with awareness.
Whoa, bro.

November 19, 2017
It’s not important what you say, or how you say it, what’s important is that it’s about me.

November 20, 2017
The moment to hesitate is after you stop hesitating. Don’t let anything stand in the way of your standing in the world.

November 22. 2017.
Dude, bro, brah, Bae, Dude. Bro.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Things I am Thankful for.

When you're a famous--internationally famous, that is--blogger like I am, it seems that many of your posts fall, gently waft, into the negative category. We complain about the state of our industry, the late nights, the lack of pay increases, and more.

I thought, with Thanksgiving about to come crashing down upon us, it would make sense to write a little something about those many, often overlooked, things I am thankful for.

First, I'd like to thank my agency for allowing me to write this blog with about all the honesty I can muster. It takes a strong agency to put up with my often inflammatory antics and opinions. Not once has anyone wielding the hammer of power said anything negative to me, or coaxed me to "cool it."

While I'm at it, I'd like to thank my client for many of the same reasons. They have been accepting of my opinions and my occasional ill-temper.

I'd like to thank, also, both my agency and my client for allowing me to do some of the best work of my career. The briefs keep coming and we keep making work. At a time in our industry where it seems everyone has been bitten by the impecunious bug, we keep doing work that is interesting, intelligent and cool. Work I am proud of.

Also deserving of thanks are the legions of talented people I am blessed to work with. To a woman, or to a man, they are unfailingly smart, dedicated, driven and more often than not, they challenge me to go above and beyond--simply because I strive to keep up with them.

I am thankful that I was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. Like Sabatini's Scaramouche, I hold onto my laughter like a shield. It keeps me going on my worstest days.

I am thankful for my partners who have made my work better. My planners have made my work better. My producers have made my work better. My account people have made my work better. My clients have made my work better.

At a time when many people my age are beginning to think of lacing up their cleats for their final inning, the aforementioned are keeping me alive and happy--and probably more vital as a creative than I've been for a good 15 years.

Finally, I am thankful that the Old One gave me the will, and the stubbornness to write in this space more than once a day for nearly 10 and a half years. 

I am thankful for you, too, my readers. For dealing with my hypocrisies, my biases, my anger, my points of view, and my myriad typos. Thank you for reading.

I'd be remiss here if I didn't say that I was thankful for Gary Vaynerchuk. Thank god I didn't turn out like he did.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, fellow Americans. I hope it's filled with laughter, love and joy--and is a thorough respite from a world that seems too often mad.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A bit more on more by way of Milton Glaser.

As I mentioned some number of posts ago, on Monday, November 13th, I traveled to Cooper-Union to see the legendary Milton Glaser interviewed by the legendary Steven Heller.

At one point in their discussion, Heller uttered a bromide we hear quite often in our business and in life. "Less is more," Heller said.

Glaser heard that and got a little peckish.

"I've heard that all my life," Glaser said. "And I've thought about it. Actually, I don't think 'less is more.'"

The entire audience of 500 or so waited for Glaser's conclusion.

"If you look at an Oriental carpet, it's very ornate, very complicated, very balanced. Every element is considered. Colors are placed close to each other and visually blend together. The whole thing works together in a very complex manner."

Again, the old man paused and took a thoughtful breath.

"I don't think less is more," he repeated. "I think 'just enough is more.'"

That's one I'll remember. More or less.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A bad stretch, home and away.

We’ve had a rough stretch, I guess you could call it that, at work lately. Late nights, heavy demands and high-expectations. It’s enough, to be perfectly candid about it, to fray your nerves and put your temper on a hair trigger.

As I clocked my 19th or 22nd night of working into the wee hours and working my typing finger to a nub, my mind traveled back to Saltillo, Mexico and that summer 42 years ago that I spent playing baseball for money in the Mexican Baseball League.

We had had a lot of rain that summer, and in the civilized world, that is those parts of the world where baseball is played for profit, rain means rain-outs and rain outs mean, ordinarily, double-headers. However, this being Mexico and the 1970s, and the summer having had an inordinate amount of rain, double-headers in one case gave way to something even more egregious, triple-headers—that is, three games in single day.

As our long-season limped to its sad conclusion (we were entrenched in next to last place, four games in front of the Sultanes de Monterrey and five games behind the Toros de Tijuana) we had a spate of make-up games to play, forcing us to play 11 games in less than one week: two double-headers, followed by the aforementioned triple-bill and two more double-headers.

I don’t know what it’s like working in a coal mine with a pickaxe for hours on end, or working on an assembly line, or doing hard manual labor. A ballgame is different. There’s maybe 45-seconds any one individual does in any ballgame. Unless you’re a catcher or a pitcher, there’s about 45 seconds of running, throwing, swinging.

A lot more time is standing around of course, more, even, sitting around. A fair amount of kibitzing and a giant portion of ragging and scratching. Still, 11 games in just five days fairly ground us to bone meal.

Mostly it started the way these things almost always start. Arulfo would be on the bench during a game next to Cespedes and he’d poke Cespedes in the ribs. Cespedes would brush his hand away. Arulfo would redouble his efforts. Before long Arulfo had poked one time too many and the two were rolling in the dust, squaring off trying to club each other halfway to hell or Hoboken with Louisville Sluggers.  

It was like that times the 25 guys on the team. As the youngest guy on the squad, only an ersatz Mexican and Hector’s putative hijo, I was fairly immune from such. That said, at dinner one evening German Barojas, who three seasons after I left Saltillo got called up to Detroit and wound up marrying and divorcing Karmen Rodriguez, hid a baseball in a heap of mashed potatoes and gravy on my plate at dinner.

Usually when ragging stuff like that happened, someone put cockroaches in your bed or Ben-Gay in your jock or glue in your hairbrush, I had enough personal wherewithal to walk away. That mashed potato dinner was different, at least that evening. Like the Hands of Orlac, I found mine gripping Barojas’ neck and threatening to choke him to death.

“Fuck you, Barojas.”

“No, fuck you.”

Generally, the discourse degenerated from there.

11 games in five days meant everyone hated each other. Players hated, coaches hated, batboys hated. Even Hector Quesadilla who was blessed with equanimity the likes of which I haven’t seen since Mother Teresa died, or since that summer 42 years ago, was frazzled to a fine crisp.

I read somewhere that the great Yankee perfesser, Casey Stengel, once said, “the secret to managing is keeping the 10 guys who hate you away from the 15 who are undecided.” Well, in this Hector had a lost cause. Everyone hated each other, everyone hated him, everyone hated the stupid league we played in and the game we had dedicated our lives to.

A typical conversation would go like this:

“Their pitcher telegraphs his curve. Watch how his elbow tucks in,” one player would say to another.

“Fuck you,” would be the invariable response.

Soon a gaggle of men would be standing in the dugout, groups of six, maybe, squaring off, teetering just millimeters from a full-blown pier six brawl.

11 games in five days, and we lost the first four, dropping both ends of a double-header twice. My bat had all but vanished and as a rag, someone, I don’t know who, had taken all my lumber from the bat rack in the dugout, hidden my wood and replaced it with an old fly-swatter they had stolen from some down-at-the-heels Holiday Inn in Campeche or somewhere.

We won, magically all three games of a triple-header, leaving us at 3-4 for the stretch and then proceeded to drop the next three by a combined score of something like 50-10. They were out-and-out slaughters, which only raised the tension and the rancor in the clubhouse.

Our last game, our 11th, before a day-off started inauspiciously at best. “Brutus” Cesar, our fleet centerfielder was leading off. Adame in the on-deck circle called as Cesar stepped up.

“Brutus, you suck.”

Cesar stepped out.

“Fuck you, Adame.”

“No. Fuck you.”

In seconds, the two were sprawled on the ground and our bench was empty with a dozen guys backing Cesar squaring off against the dozen guys backing Adame.

Hector had had enough. He ran out to the imbroglio grabbing the first thing he could put his hands on, a 10-lb sack of sunflower seeds. He began swatting at the boys with the bag and yelling, “Parada, pollo cabrones.” “Enough chicken fuckers.”

At the exact moment Hector said pollo cabrones, Hector’s bag of sunflower seeds split, spilling thousands of seeds everywhere and sending Adame and Cesar ass over teakettle onto the dirt.

The 4,000 or so fans in the stands were clustered predominately behind home and saw the whole shebang. Naturally, they picked up on ‘pollo cabrones’ and began chanting it in an elongated fashion, pooooy yooooooo caaaaaa broooooo nessssss.

Whatever, the pollo cabrones fight broke the tension of the week. For the rest of the game we were loose again, slapping each other on the back with a hearty greeting of chicken fuckers.

I think we scored 12 runs that last of 11 games, going into a much-needed day off, and we won like a good thoroughbred, going away.

Or rather, we won like a bunch of chicken fuckers, flapping our weary wings away.