Thursday, May 31, 2018

One day in the Mexican League.

Last night, as I was finally settling into the slow-pace of life on Cape Cod, my cellphone rang and the caller ID showed a Mexican country code.

I froze for a moment with fear. Two people I love surpassingly live down in Saltillo—Teresa Quesadilla—Hector’s wife and my surrogate Mexican mother, and Gulliermo Sisto, my closest compadre when I played ball down in Saltillo so many summers ago.

Both Teresa and Sisto are pushing 90 now. And while the last I saw of them they appeared hale and well, there are no guarantees in life and good health can turn as quickly as sour cream on a hot summer’s day.

But on the phone was neither Teresa or Sisto. Instead it was Isael Buentello, my teammate from 43 summers ago, a powerful catcher and Serapero stalwart who retired from the game in the early 80s and has since amassed a fortune selling Saltillo tiles around the world.

“Jorge,” Buentello began, “we have missed you at the juego los viejos.”

“Issy, it is good to hear your voice,” I answered in a mixture of bad Spanish and passable English. “You played the game? Was Teresa there? Was Sisto?”

“Everyone was asking about you. They said your shoulder must be very bad for you to have skipped such an important event.”

“The truth is, Issy, my shoulder has gone downhill fast. And in fact, now with arthritis my good shoulder hurts worse than my bad one.”

Buentello laughed at that, and I laughed along with him. We were two old friends who knew how to laugh together. That is how you get to be old friends.

“We played the old-timers from Monterrey,” Buentello continued. “And once again we lost the game.”

I think I’ve played half a dozen old-timers’ games going back a decade or so, and I don’t think I’ve been on the winning squad but once.

“You know who for the Sultanes pitched? Do you remember Simon Closa, the lefthander?”

“That might have been after my time, Issy. I remember a lot of the boys, but no Simon Closa. He was good?”

“Simon was very good, with a fastball that could scorch your beard. His problem was one of control.”

“Like many of the pitchers we played against. They were missing that thing—either a break on their curve, a mile-per-hour on their fastball, or control.”

“Yes,” Buentello said. “That is why they were double-A, not triple-A or major league. My problem was never the fastball. It was the curve and the slider. I could not hit the bender.”

“Everyone, even the Splendid Splinter has a weakness. Not being able to hit a curve is no reason for damnation. And look, you are as rich as Croesus from selling Saltillo tile.”

He laughed again, and then began.

“Simon Closa had but one eye. He had lost one as a child in an accident. He was kicked in the face by a horse. That is why his control was so bad. And it was also why his nickname was Ciclope—Si Closa, Ciclope, cyclops.”

Now it was my turn to laugh.

“In one game, Ciclope hit with the baseball the first six men he faced.”

“Like Polyphemus,” I said, “killing six of Odysseus’ men.”

“That is exactly what Hector said. He too called Ciclope Polyphemus. When it came my turn to bat, I was scared. I said to Hector, ‘No man can hit Ciclope.’”

I laughed again. It’s a rare baseball team that’s well-steeped in the classics.

“Hector, like Nestor himself, said ‘that is the secret, Issy. Call yourself No Man. And say to Ciclope, ‘No man can hit Ciclope.’ And that is what I did, Jorge. I dug into the box, I looked straight at Ciclope and said, ‘I am No Man. And no man can hit Ciclope.”

“I suppose,” I said, “I know how this one ends.”

Buentello on the other line was already laughing. In his voice I could hear a chortle coming like a train whistle.

“Of course you do,” Buentello said. “You know well the Greeks.”

“And what did No Man do at the plate,” I asked, setting Buentello up, like Burns did for Allen.

“Of course,” Issy said, “I hit a homer.”

"Homer," I said.

I heard his laughter, like the laughter of the gods, or the laughter of the blind poet himself, as he hung up the phone.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sumer is Icumen In.

Well, Summer has arrived, at least on Cape Cod, at least on Saturday. Saturday, which happened to be my wife's birthday. Saturday when my daughters arrived from their far-flung worlds. When my niece arrived with my brother-in-law, and my wife's oldest friend and her family of five.

All told, there were 12 of us for dinner--not counting Whiskey, who despite her best efforts, doesn't eat people-food.

12 people. So of course, I barbecued enough for, no exaggeration here, for 30. 

We had about nine chickens, four racks of ribs, a dozen hotdogs, potatoes, corn, salad, and of course my ever-loving felt absolutely obliged to serve cheese, and dips and crudite lest anyone spend 12 or 13 seconds without having their maw filled. Oh, and a salad large enough to fill a small swimming pool.

Then, my wife preferring pie, we had birthday pies--an apple, and a mixed berry, and my niece, having turned 21, a chocolate cake.

Oh, and fruit.

Oh, and god knows what else.

The kids ate, and had beers, and drank wine, and cuddled and played tug with Whiskey. And we all just laughed and told bad jokes and hugged and laughed some more.

Summer has arrived.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Uncle Slappy's TGIF Slap-of-the-Week.

Dear Readers,

I'm off for ten days or so. I'll write in this space, but likely less often.

As always, thanks for reading. And keep what remains of your waning faith.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Joy. And missing joy.

Despite the gloom that pervades from our current Trumpocalypse, there is joy to be found in this world.

A lot of joy comes from seeing people you’ve brought up doing things on their own, and doing them with great success.

Just recently, my younger daughter returned from 17 months of journeying, where she literally traveled around the world.

Yesterday, my older daughter, who has a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology held a webinar aimed at parents of ADHD children. 648 people attended.

I listened in for 15 minutes of the webinar. And I couldn’t be prouder.

In our business, one of the few remaining joys comes from working with young and receptive people who learn from you while they’re pushing you away. Sadly, some of our ability to nurture people has been waning.

We have fewer people doing more work faster. Which means, from a corporate point of view, it’s hard to find time to teach people. Often you get one chance and twenty minutes to do something, so a lot of us old guys (I’m very guilty here) cut to the chase and do things themselves.

By doing that not only are we denying young people the chance to learn, we are denying ourselves the pleasure of helping people along.

To be blunt about it, I’ve gotten more “nachas” from watching the continued ascent of a team who used to work for me than I get from a hundred awards.

When I was young in this business, I had sold a long-copy print campaign. The copy was really long, like 500 words on a spread. My boss sat with me for hours, questioning every word. 

It was excruciating. And I figured he was being so critical because he thought I was an idiot. It took me a while to figure out he was being so critical because he thought I was good.

There are a lot of things I wish I could change in our world. I wish I could make our industry focus more on big ideas than on little tactics. I wish I could reassert the notion that advertising is a craft—and demands time and training to do it well. And I wish the demands of the day slackened a bit and afforded us the time to help others as we were helped.

And then, we could enjoy more of the joy I’ve felt recently seeing my real kids, and my work kids as they begin to conquer their worlds.

BTW, these (fucking) days, you can't spit without hitting someone trumpeting a "New Agency Model." Here's some blather about that I just read moments ago in something called "The Drum."

"It’s clear that the model that has served the ad agency well for many years may no longer be tenable. Revenues are flat or declining, margins are shrinking and consultancies have their foot firmly in the advertising door. Meanwhile, brands are bypassing agencies to take their advertising in-house, while calling them out on hidden fees and demanding transparency throughout the digital advertising supply chain.
"The technology platforms, once hailed as oil for the wheels of digital advertising, now wield the power in the bloated ad tech landscape.
"While some demand side platforms (DSPs) do help agencies to use their in-depth knowledge to create new value and provide bespoke solutions for each client, many offer little in the way of flexibility and therefore cannot be customised for the needs of each advertiser, or individual campaign, or specific business goal."
Not only am I fed up with writing like the writing above, I am tired of people who forget what agencies--when they're working--do well. What agencies can do is have old people train young people. 
The bullshitters out there will deny training, deny expertise and deny craft, and claim it's to be had when they go in-house or go to consultancies. 
Call me arrogant. I call bullshit.