Thursday, December 21, 2017

Goodbye to all that.

Unless something horribly unforeseen happens, today is my last day in the office in 2017. On Saturday, I leave for Saltillo, Mexico, my annual sojourn to visit the aging Teresa, my surrogate mother and Gulliermo Sisto, who lives just down the block from Teresa, and who was my best friend when I played baseball in the Mexican League so many moons ago.

Since Hector died over winter break three years ago, I have, to my wife's displeasure, made it my practice to travel south to visit the family I never had.

To be sure, I have a brother in Chicago and a sister-in-law, and a niece and a nephew whom I love, and various Philadelphia cousins who have spread over the eastern seaboard, but Teresa and Sisto are two pillars of my life. Further, I can visit my blood-relatives anytime, but Mexican brethren are pushing 90 now--I knew them 43 seasons ago, and I like to spend some concentrated hours with them.

Of course my breathtakingly level-headed wife protests these trips, protests the long drives through the lonely desert from Monterrey to Saltillo, and protests the long hours Sisto and I sit on Teresa's front porch, playing toss the coin in the baseball cap, which from our days playing ball together we can play for five or seven hours at a clip.

Nevertheless, with Beverly Kenney playing on my iPod, blaring on repeating her surpassing single "Tampico," we make our slow sojourn south, to be stupid for some days and do nothing but live, and love, and most of all laugh.

We laugh at unheard jokes, or memories that are ghosts from long ago, or a shuffle of the foot, or a raised eye-brow, or the touch on a shoulder. We laugh the laugh of 43-years of togetherness, that only those who are spiritually blood-brothers and sister can share.

So, this is all to say, I will be writing, if at all, only sporadically while I am away, looking to resume my meanderings when I cease my meanderings south, sometime around the first, or if I persist, the second week in January.

This has been annus horribilis of sorts--with politics, with Trumpism, with the crushing of the middle-class and poor by the dominant and ascendent plutocratic class. On the other hand, it's been, also an annus mirabilis, too. I've had a good career run, I've had my health, and I've written in this space something approaching one-hundred-thousand words.

Once again, thank you for reading. And happy holidays to you. May you enjoy them with peace, love and the aforementioned laughter. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


AD AGED: So, you’re a CIO. I assume that means 
                   Chief Information Officer?

CIO:           Nothing could be more passe, or off the mark. We are post information.

AD AGED: Then what does CIO stand for?

CIO:           I am the Chief Invitation Officer.

AD AGED: Interesting.

CIO:           Not interesting. Invitation.

AD AGED: What exactly do you do as Chief Invitation Officer?

CIO:           I send out invitations. Just as you’re about to get some work done—to write a bit of copy, or sit with your partner, or even do some background reading, I make sure you’re invited to a meeting.

AD AGED: I see. And the reason for these invitations?

CIO:           Well as CIO, I like to make sure our conference rooms are always booked and nine or 14 people are in them discussing things that could have been covered by three people and a
six-minute phone call.

AD AGED: So, is it safe to say, as Chief Invitation Officer you make sure we spend our days in meetings?

CIO:           That’s right. Particularly meetings scheduled during lunch, when no lunch will be served.

AD AGED: I might be missing something, but what’s the purpose behind all these many meetings?

CIO:           Easy. If you’re in meetings all day, it means you have to work all night. That means more billable hours.

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

CIO:           Yes, I have to cut this short. 
                  Obviously, I have a meeting to go to.


A year in writing.

Well, fuck a duck.

It's less than a week before Christmas, and it looks as if I've lasted another year.

To date, I've written 280 posts in this space, and along the way grown my readership to close to 20,000/week. I like to think of this particular endeavor like I am the editor of a small-town newspaper in 1930s America. 

I provide news, commentary and local color for the tiny coterie of people in our community, which happens to be the ad community. I don't make any money from any of this, but somehow writing every morning, and connecting with the handful of people who have reached out to me through the years has been good for my soul and, ahem ahem, my personal brand.

Say what you will about the quality of my output, no one can fault my consistency. I've written nearly every week-day since late May, 2007.

My blogging colleagues and I, Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, Rich Siegel of Round Seventeen, and Dave Trott and his two blogs, are most often dismissive of social media.

Speaking for myself, its over-hyped-ness, its almost weekly proclamations that it would change everything and dominate advertising came across to me as bombast. And I hate bombast.

That said, though we disparage social media, the four of us seem to have done well by it. I think for the aforementioned reason. Consistency.

Somehow I am having the best years of my career when many of my former colleagues are pushing up vocational daisies.

Some of that, excuse my bombast here, is that I never for a moment have believed that "nobody reads the copy." Or, to coin a phrase, that "the written word has been dethroned." And there's "a fundamental shift in how we consume information from textual to visual."

As those who read Ad Aged know, I read Homer's Odyssey serially, finishing it only to start over again. (If you want to stick your toe into Homer and the Odyssey, I recommend Emily Wilson's new, and widely heralded translation. Many people regard her work as one of the year's ten best books.)

I read Homer because his "story-telling" couldn't be more perfect. His characters couldn't be more vivid. His battles and struggles could scarcely be more well-wrought and, yes, bloody.

3,500 years ago these very chapters thrilled Greeks listening to the epic sung in a town plaza or in front of a fire at night. The very basic human need that the Odyssey fulfilled then, stories and words still fulfill today. There is a basic human need they fulfill.

In fact, if I were to go all anthropological on you, I'd say, in my best Desmond Morris impression, that the basic core of our humanity is our ability to maintain some memory of the past and project it onto the future. We do that more often than not in words and pictures, not just pictures alone.

Apes can't do that, nor can apricots, nor apps, nor APIs.

So, we've made it, nearly, I shouldn't jinx it, through another circuit around Old Sol.

I've got a deal for you:

If you keep reading, I'll keep writing.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Bertrand Russell and more on Confidence.

For the last couple of weeks, for 12 hours-a-day I have been shoulder-to-shoulder with an Academy-award-winning director.

There's a lot we don't have in common--he is a great director, and I am just a copywriter. But there are a few things we do share.

We are both Jewish men of a certain age, with more than our quota of neuroses, insecurities and fears. And neither of us, for whatever reasons, is blessed with a great deal of confidence.

In fact, toward the end of our shoot, if I had a question to ask him, he would only listen to me if I didn't apologize first for having to ask the question, for interrupting him, for, as the kids say, getting up in his grill. Whatever that means.

Just yesterday, the great British copywriter and creative director, Dave Trott, sent me a "New York Times Magazine" article from December 16, 1951--66 years ago.

It was an article called "The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism" and was written by Bertrand Russell. It included what Russell called his "Liberal Decalogue," pasted here:

"Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
1.            Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2.            Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3.            Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
4.            When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5.            Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6.            Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7.            Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8.            Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9.            Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10.        Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

I worry, and always will, about people who find one true way, who have no second thoughts, who know the answers--and answer without doubts even questions they have answered hundreds of times before.

Our business, even if you are as accomplished as the aforementioned director, is not one of absolutes. There are almost always three or five or seven ways to skin a cat. I worry about autocrats in our business and in all things.

While it is no great pleasure to wrestle with self-doubt, it shows an openness to debate and discussion and, as my old man would say, beats being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Power of One. The Power of Bullshit.

Considering we ostensibly work in the communications industry, it never ceases to astound me how deft we are at sheer and utter bullshit.

Further, it never ceases to impress me how deft we are at pretending people actually believe the bullshit we spout so ardently.

A few hours ago I read a quotation from a Publicis spokesman about how--I assume this is a prelude to firing a ton of people--they are consolidating offices.

Consolidating offices and firing people are, let's face it, more and more a part of agency life. You can't pay the tops of the holding companies $74 million a year as well as avaricious shareholders, and not be in a mode that continuously lowers payrolls.

As for office space, the sardineization of workers at impersonal 'work stations,' surrounded by noise, with no place to collaborate or talk to a partner, who in their right mind could think of those conditions as conducive to creativity?

There's no avoiding the plutocrating of the plutocrats. It's what we the workers do. We bring up the last bits of coal in the seam--enriching the mine-owners, only to have them say, 'work harder for less.'

In any event, here is the Publicis spokesperson's statement.

“In the spirit of the Power of One, we strive to better serve our clients through deeper collaboration, cross-agency sharing and insight. As we often do, we are continually considering opportunities to consolidate our operations in major cities where it makes sense for both our clients and people.”

It sounds like the legal disclosure from a bad pharma commercial, where we're told to "activate our within," or some such ugly banality.

It makes me want to club someone to death with a Funk and Wagnalls.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Nobody Asked Me But is my periodic tribute to the great, olde New York sportswriter, Jimmy Cannon. Cannon would write one of the columns of miscellany when he had nothing else to write about.

Nobody asked me, but....

...the best thing about eating barbecue in Kansas City isn't the food. It's that the other patrons in the restaurant make you feel thin...

...I'm not ready to have people ask me about my grandchildren...

....I would rather shave with a cheese grater than watch a Gary Vaynerchuk video.... 

....I don't trust anyone who expresses their opinion with absolute certitude. Most things are open to debate....

....While most things are open to debate, I believe in the maxim 'you're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts'....

We're supposed to see hope in Roy Moore's defeat in Alabama. But nearly half the voters voted for a child molester, a racist, and a doctrinaire theocrat....

....I don't care for Uber drivers who talk too much....

....The fact is, I don't care for anyone who talks too much....

...I love my therapist of 22 years....

...But in those 22 years, I think he's been on time six times....

...It appears my agency will have no holiday party this year....

....I see this as a good thing....

....Most companies have people move desks every 18 months or so, just to make you think management is paying attention....

...They're not paying attention...

....And if they are, they'd know that moving people around doesn't solve anything....

....When you're in a barbecue place in Kansas City, go for it. It makes no sense to be delicate....

....I ordered two Hamm's beers last night because I liked their commercials when I was a kid....

....That won't show up on any marketing plan...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Some dour thoughts before a flight.

I was awake this morning before rosy-fingered dawn stretched her digits to the sky. I am off to the American heartland, where guns are rife, morals are mutable and republicanism is in full ascendance.

Last night, thank our god of loving-kindness, a retrograde sexual predatory, racist, anti-semitic, theocrat lost his election for Senator of Alabama--a state that hasn't elected a Democratic Senator for almost 30 years.

As the "Times" reported this morning, a "Deep Red State Deals a Stinging Rebuke to the President."

I sure as heck hope so.

Though, I think until the final folly of his fecklessness falls and he is spewed from office like Charybidis spewed out Odysseus' ship, he will remain rebuke-less.

Too self-unaware to notice anything that doesn't jibe with his personal megalomania.

Trump is our fault, I'm sorry to say.

Even this morning, just hours after the election, the news spent more time talking about Christmas recipes than the fascist authoritarianism that is making its way toward our country on little cat's feet.

We are no longer a serious country.

Our news isn't news.

It is infotainment.

We sold our news departments to ratings.

And we are paying for it.

We are of trivia, by trivia and for trivia.

Giving us an electorate and a political class wholly ignorant of our laws and our history.

That's how you get Trump as president.

And very nearly get an avowed racist and child-predator as Senator.

But enough of that for now.

I have a plane to catch.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Odysseus in the Tempus Fugit.

I have a lot weighing on my mind right now, and sleep, while it's never come easy for me, has all but abandoned my habitat. Last night, absent sleep for the 19th or 23rd night in a row, at around 2:15, I threw on some ratty old clothing, affixed a leash to Whiskey and shuffled uptown to my home away from home, the Tempus Fugit.

I made my way down six hallways, up four flights of steps and down five more, through five or eleven galvanized steel doors, sliding one or two expansion grates of the sort you find in freight elevators, and, finally, entered the inviting incandescence of the old place.

As usual, the bartender stood sentinel, rhythmically wiping the polished mahogany of the bar top, though no drinks had graced its surface since the last time I imbibed, some months ago.

He was out from behind the bar striking like a cobra, replete with a bowl of cold fresh upstate-New York water for Whiskey, who had taken her usual position at the seat of my favorite stool, one in from the end.

Then, in one continuous motion, he was back behind the bar and pulling me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE) nicely served in a six-ounce juice glass. Places that know how to serve serve beer in small quantities. It stays cold and crisp that way and doesn't lose its bite like an old toothless dog.

"And so," he began. He picked up a juice glass from a sink of sudsy water. Dipped it in another sink with fresh water, and buffed it dry with his towel.

"And so, Odysseus has returned from his battles. He has returned from ten years of journeys across the fish-filled seas."

"You're right." I said downing my Pike's and awaiting another. "But don't feel sorry for Odysseus. Seven of those ten years of journeying were sleeping with a god, Calypso and another year, he shacked up with Circe."

I sipped at number two as he slid over a bowl of salted Spanish peanuts my way. I pushed them away, thought about saying something in pidgin Greek, but instead demurred with my usual, "a pound in every nut," and turned back to my Pike's.

"Tru dat," he said, "but despite the circumstances ten years of facing delays, sea monsters, drowning, misdirection, false hope and hardships--that is after ten years of war, that is, well, an Odyssey."

"All men face our demons," I drank. "Our Scylla and Charybidis. Our Polyphemus. Our Laestrygonians."

"Yes," he polished. "Yes. Not to mention those many temptations of the flesh."

I tapped for Pike's number three and he filled my glass up to the brim and topped it with a frosting of creamy foam. He was the Michelangelo of malt.

"There are those who disdain Odysseus for his sins. He lost all his men, he angered the gods, he strayed from the constancy of Penelope."

I leaned over to my side and pet Whiskey who had yelped in her otherwise quiet sleep. Then I pulled two twenties from the pocket of my jeans and pushed them assertively across the hardwood.

"Like the Greeks," he said, "I welcome friends into my home and regale them with drink and gifts and, most important, well-wishes."

He pushed the currency back across to me.

"On me," he said, "on me."