Monday, December 21, 2020

My last post of the year. Unless...

My last 2020 post unless...

  • Mark Read misplaces another half-a-billion dollars
  • Or WPP hires someone over 40.
  • Or 30.
  • Or actually hires a creative person--not yet another C-level figurehead.
  • Or hires a woman.
  • Or a person of color.
  • Or wins an account with five-figure revenue. Or four. All to the left of the decimal point.
  • Or Mark Read buttons his shirt. Or buys a tie.
  • Or issues a comprehensible statement about being part of culture or cart of pulture whichever comes first.    
  • An agency's offices are as nice as the Holding Company's offices.
  • An agency doesn't downsize to lower their rent.

My last post of the year. Unless...

  • Marcel gives me something to write about.
  • Michelle shows up with something to say.
  • Someone pronounces Publicis so it doesn't sound dirty.
  • Arthur makes a video that is under ten minutes long.
  • Someone doesn't come up with a new, cheaper, uglier production model.
My last post of the year. Unless...
  • Humaning takes off.
  • A holding company decides creative people are worth holding onto.
  • Oreo comes out with a Cole Porter cookie.
  • Someone runs a print ad.
  • With copy.
  • That's over 12 words long.
My last post of the year. Unless...
  • A media person does something really funny that doesn't involve the men's room.
  • An award is given for an ad that's made a material difference in a client's business.
  • A case-study video is produced that contains some truth.
  • A Brazilian agency produces real work for a client that's paid real money for it based on a real brief.
My last post of the year. Unless...
  • Someone succinctly and intelligently explains what brands were doing before they were customer-centric.
  • Or totals up how many CEOs are currently receiving paychecks from Ogilvy.
  • Or Martin Sorrell is hanged for having destroyed the industry through his innate "teddy-bear-ness," $100 million annual paychecks and $300 million net worth.
  • There's a new Kars 4 Kids commercial without pink guitars.
  • A holding company executive issues a statement without using the phrase "an unprecedented new normal."
My last post of the year. Unless...
  • The industry pivots.
  • Or does something brave.
  • Agile.
  • Or unprecedented.
That's all the story-scaping from me for 2020.

See you on Jabberuary 4th.


Friday, December 18, 2020

A guest post: From Whiskey.


George has been really busy lately and I wanted to take a bit of a load off of his broad-shoulders, so I'm surprising him by writing this post for him.

I'll upload it to his Blogger site and when he sits down to write, he'll see I've already done so. He'll be so grateful, he'll probably give me 61 biscuits or maybe make me a piece of steak on the barbecue. He sneaks that steak to me so my mom doesn't see and think he's spoiling me. But the truth is, she knows and spoils me even worse.

By the way, I'm Whiskey. I'm George's golden retriever and really his best friend.

Let me tell you some things about George that you might not know.

First of all, he works entirely too hard and entirely too much. Some days I feel compelled, as I sit alongside him on the sofa I'm not allowed to sit on, to put my nose on his keyboard. Sometimes I put my nose and my paws and try to block him from writing.

Would you believe, he has the temerity to push me away? No matter. I just put my appendages back where they belong. He writes anyway. I think he writes 5,000 words a day. That's 20 double-spaced pages.

George is also good walker. I'm responsible for that. Me and William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens. Me, I just like the outdoors. Wordsworth walked 175,000 miles in his lifetime--he wondered as he wandered, as George does. And Dickens wrote a great bit of essays called Night Walks, his journeys through 19th Century London.

Since I made George buy a small home on the sea in Connecticut, we have been walking mostly to the beach. Our home is on a low alluvial bluff overlooking the Long Island Sound (you can see Mattituck across the waves) and we are surrounded by water.

George, as you know from his asinine baseball stories, still has quite an arm. He's bought me about 17-dozen duck facsimiles and he throws them into the sea for me to go and get. This amuses him almost as much as it amuses me. It's an instinct he has, to throw. And who am I to interfere?

When we walk, George rarely brings his phone. He doesn't much like talking on the phone. But he does like talking to me That explains, I think, my fairly extraordinary vocabulary. It would be good if I were a human. For a dog, it's astounding. 

I'm forever writing "george-words" down and looking them up when I get home. As you might imagine, I did very well on my DSATs. (Dog SATs.)

George also reads all the time. The weirdest books. Right now, and for whatever reason, something about the English Hudson Bay Company and how they settled what today we call Canada. I think George wishes we were up in some barren expanse above the treeline and there were no phones or internet or zoom and we could just hang out together. He'll finish that book over the weekend then read something about the ancient Greeks, or the Nazis or Stalin's Russia. I think he's searching for a home somewhere, feeling tetherless in America as America is today.

Personally, I'm reading Sounder for the 297th time. It keeps getting better. Except for the ending, of course.

Finally, I have to tell you this about George. 

He is terrible at remembering names. The other day he had a call with a potential client called Matt and half the time he called him Mike and the other half Mark.

He's just like that.

Mad professor shit.

I'm fine with it, of course.

He always remembers to feed me.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

No Clothes-itis. A modren disease.

Maybe a better name for today's proof-denialism is Bob Hoffman's "The Golden Age of Bullshit."

Except maybe we need to find a precious metal more precious than mere gold.

Because the less people--and agencies and people at agencies and their holding companies have to say about the efficacy and the true quality of their work (work in the service of brands)--the more they do say.

I won't go into trumpianism. That's too easy.

Lazy as I am, I'll stick to advertising. Which is even more obvious, corrupt and liar-filled.

I don't care, either, that this gets a little ad hominem. It was certainly ad hominem when they fired this individual hominem at 4:30 in the afternoon. Feckless, cowardly, and then a litany of lies, "we're just going by the book," because they're too stupid and think you're too stupid to know when you're being lied at.

Ad hominem.

A once-great-agency is now trumpeting work for a lying, spying, intelligence-denying client: Instagram.

There are no two ways about this.

I've tried to watch the work four times now. I can't get past about 20 seconds. 

Maybe they should build a check-out counter at that agency. An express lane labeled, "12 Cliches or Less." The line would be very short.

The badness of the work doesn't bother me. We all do bad work at times. Even the greats. Just yesterday, I found a 14-minute archival reel on 1960s and 1970s Alka-Seltzer spots. Legends had a hand in many of those spots. And many sucked.

But part of being a responsible human--that thing we used to call a "grown-up," is admitting when you came up short. We all do. What's to be embarrassed about. As Joe Louis, who was world heavyweight champion for 12 years during which time he defended his title 26 times said when he retired, "I did the best I could with what I had."

Sorry to all the Ali lovers out there. I much prefer Louis' honesty to Ali's bombast. Maybe I'm alone in that.

Not too long ago, the aforementioned-once-great-agency produced some spots for Instagram. (I think they must be called spots because watching them is like finding spots on your lungs.)

Like I said, I don't mind that the spots blow. 

I mind the outpouring of No-Clothes-Ists proclaiming the goodness of the spots for any one of a number of absolutely asinine reasons.

I guess if my restaurant were going out of business, I'd send out tweets about how special the parsley is.

But, girls and boys, sycophancy is a disease. It might not be a horrible way to live. But it's a horrible way to die. And you will die from it.

I can't really understand the meaning of the quotation from the CCO. I don't really care how hard/late/with whom you worked. I mean it was heroic to bring the Apollo 13 astronauts home. It would be heroic rescue a drowning one-eyed puppy by swimming a mile through cold water. 

This is a fucking spot with 27% too much insipid in every frame. Who cares that you worked hard? That ain't heroism. That's egoism.

I don't understand what's meant by the word culture. That ain't my culture. 

And if I'm the odd cultural person out because I'm not impossibly skinny, I don't expose my midriff (thank god), I don't do spontaneous backflips or undulate in public, and I prefer Cole Porter, Simon and Garfunkel or something properly mixed to the thing they played rather than music, well, all I might say is that there's an economic side that might have a bit to do with culture, too.

Remember, quoters of Ogilvy. It's "We sell or else." 

Not "We yell or else."

Further, economics. 

Why are we ignoring my culture for a culture that has no money? Why are we selling something to people who already spend too much time with it? The better to steal your data, my dear.

Chart courtesy of Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian.

Now with the JD Powering of the Cannes-Industrial-Complex where arm-twisting and payola mean more than good, I will surely be disparaged when this blight on our culture sweeps the show, winning a bronze lion's penis in the Limp category, "Best Flaccidity Without Humility."

But I don't really care.

This ain't putting Shakespeare back with the shipping news. 


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

21.5 Marketing Predictions for 2021.


01. You will click on hundreds of articles like this one. Apparently enticed by the thought of a man holding one glass testicle at the rim of the Grand Canyon.

02. You will wonder when the holding of one glass testicle at the rim of the Grand Canyon became a metaphor for prognostication. Or, more likely, 2021.

03. You will wonder if HR, the Holding Company's Chief Risk Officer or the Global Chief Genital Officer have issued a 33-page POV in ALL CAPS on using the word testicle.

04. QR codes will be back. In a big way. Just ask the people who profit from QR codes. They've created a 68-page white paper, downloadable through a QR code.

05. Everything old is new again. This means absolutely nothing. Therefore it had to be said, because after all, less is more and form follows function.    

06. It's all about HUMANING. Oh, and in the agency world, when you create words like humaning, FIRINGING usually follows.

07. Something about Pantone.

08. In the wake of continued economic stagnation and negative growth, the size of the average holding company CEO's Cannes' yacht rental will decrease from 127' to 122'.

09. Agencies will continue to have employees "Work From Home." They won't continue, however, having employees.

10. Agency C-level people will jettison extra office space. And attribute cost-savings to their business acumen.

11. Agency C-level bonuses, due to rent decreases, will be higher than ever. Even higher than the savings in rent.

12. A fistfight in the halls. A fusillade of fists when a Worldwide CCO is called 'the Global CCO,' by the North American CCO.

13. In an effort to return to his roots, Martin Sorrell will buy Gary Vaynerchuk, once he realizes the V-man is made solely of wire, paper and, mostly, plastic.

14. Adweek will run a major expose on Agency diversity. Revealing that 94% of the people of color in agencies are Chief Diversity Officers.

15. The end of late nights. New York State Attorney General, Letitia James will go after the ad industry for forcing employees to work 80-90 hour weeks without additional compensation. "I've spoken to some of the people," James said. "They're mostly 12 and 13-years old. And it's past their bedtime."

16. Marcel does it again. The AI that's is bringing the Publicis Groupeeee "The Power of 7/8ths," develops "the time fitted-sheet." An AI-powered custom timesheet system that took seven years and $21 million to create. Holding Company Marcelbator, Arthur Sadoun, said in a 728-minute video statement, "Nothing."

17. The WPP Merger trend continues. Merging failing Ogilvy with failing AKQA with failing Wunderman with failing VML, the holding company creates "ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ & Friends". Mark Read, in a prepared statement, is quoted as saying, "why even bother anymore?"

18. Award shows proliferate. Including "The Award-ies." The first award show that recognizes and honors award-show entries.

19. 319 nouns will become verbs. More brands want to go humaning. Soft-drinks encourage kids to "don't just drink...soda." Banks sell the seven consumers left who have money on legal-tenderizing.

20. WPP announces new super agency: WTF. A WPP Team Family, is announced. Like WPP's Enfatico, it opens and closes in under six minutes while WPP management receives eight-figure bonuses for "efficiencies gained." WTF.

21. Mark, read. I mean, really. Like a book on Advertising. One with real words. Like maybe Ogilvy on Advertising. It's good, assuming you haven't fired every copy. 

21.5. We will continue not to be above cheap shots.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A permanent state of bafflement.

We are, friends, in an industry that spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year creating, producing, researching and airing UGLINESS.

Not ugliness in a Cinderella's step-sisters' sense. A worse kind of ugliness.

George Orwell's ugliness in the way he uses a synonym for ugliness in his great essay (the one we should all have memorized) "Politics and the English Language." 

Point six of his rules for clear writing reads this way: "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."





Those words describe about 97% of what we as an industry produce. And that's being charitable.

I confess, I don't watch a lot of TV. I dislike sports as they exist in the present empty-stadium days. I can't watch teams with corporate logos on their uniforms. I can't abide watching sports played in tax-payer funded stadiums where the mega-wealthy who pay no tax sit in mega-boxes non-billionaires can't afford. And I refuse to watch anything anywhere on any Fox network or affiliate. Watching Fox supports the worst, most craven, most evil and most retrograde of forces in America.

I watch Jeopardy! when I'm not working. Probably three times a week for a total of 90-minutes. 33 minutes of that 90 is insipid advertising. If my math is right, I wast 57-minutes a week of programming. Most of that insipid, too.

There, I see commercial after commercial like these:

Such fare is par for the course today. I have bayed at the moon about things like this before, I know apologists beating the pro-stupidity, pro-ugly, pro-offense drum will assault me with inalienable reasons spots have to be like this.

It's a regulated industry, they'll say. Or whatever. I don't really care how things that shouldn't be justified are.

And I can't abide by the pussy-footed fuckers who do crap like this. And can tell you the reason why "I'm down with Crestor" is acceptable language for a commercial

Bill Bernbach was the source of modern advertising. The father, if that ain't too gendered for you. The well-spring, if it is.

He made it simple. There's no reason to ever stray from his guidance. His belief in what he called "Simple, timeless human truths."

There is no simplicity, timelessness and no humanity in 99% of what we create and force on people.

Ergo, UGLY.

Here are a couple spots, nominally in the "pharma" category that are simple, timeless and human.

Again the apologists of bad will leap to the defense of bad and say, because these are for OTC drugs, I am comparing apples and porcupines.

They're right.

The top commercials are made by an industry that thinks its customers are morons. They look stupid. They speak stupid. They act stupid. Communicate to them accordingly.

They think if you show impossibly pretty people in impossibly pretty settings doing impossibly pretty things, why, that's aspirational. And people will like them.

You can kiss my as-pirational.

The commercials below were created by people who actually liked and cared for their audience. Actually tried to speak to them. In a simple, timeless and human way.

I'm 63 years old.

I've seen a lot my myriad trips around the sun.

Even though people are smiling, singing and dancing in the contemporary spots above, they are completely inhuman. As inhuman as those spots where people say things like, "Let's take my Buick."

Nah. People say, "I'll drive."

They seldom feel compelled to mention a client's brand name in real life. 

"Hey wife, would you wrap up the leftover meatloaf with Saran-wrap brand plastic wrap, a product of the DowDupont Chemical company?"

"Sure, husband. Just as soon as I kill you with a 'The Choke's on You-brand of designer garottes."

Gag me.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Quixote. A 63-year-old Jew from Yonkers.

I have just entered my eleventh-month of independent-business-hood.

I've learned more in eleven months, done more, made more friends, won more business and made more money than ever before in my life.

I won't say it's more fun.

It's hard to dance with the notion of fun today. 

Ours is a funless and mean world. And as I am out of New York City, the well-spring of humor, life and vitality in the world, it's hard for me to calculate if my dour mood is due to being independent or being in a dark, Trumpian, anti-fact, Covid-ridden world.

That said, I've learned a lot.

A lot of what I learned can be summed up by a stray line by a Langston Hughes poem I probably read almost fifty years ago.

"My soul has grown deep like the rivers."

I read those words today differently than I ever have before. I read them believing that Hughes knew of the resiliency of nature. That every time we think we've done it and finally destroyed the earth, there's a force that through green fuse drives the flower.

We come back. 

Rivers, oceans, skies, cities, countries, freedoms, creativity come back.

Even independence will come back.

We don't stay buried forever.

I've come back.

I have good friends.

I have good accounts.

I am doing good work.

I am winning good amounts of business.

The impecunious and hate-filled technocrats who run the agencies and holding companies my brains and sweat helped build, are ticks on the body of humanity. 

They suck. They disease. They cause pain. 

And that's the good news.

I've learned more.

I've learned I don't need those people. Nobody does. My friends, talent and reputation beat your bullying. Hands down.

As opposed to your hands in my pockets. 

I've learned you can take a flying leap and no one would miss you.

I've learned that you couldn't tell the truth from a lie if your mother's life depended on it. Assuming you had a mother. And weren't born of a chemical reaction between sewer sludge and old french fry oil.

I learned that you may have giant offices, golden parachutes, and expense accounts as thick as a Katz's pastrami, but when it comes to soul, well, you have about as much as the tick I described above.

I don't give a fuck that I'm angry.

I am angry.

We all should be.

You've come in with your corporate mafiosoing and ruined companies, legacies, lives and livelihoods. In our pusillanimous age, people are too cowed to speak. Serfs. There are no longer any journalists independent enough to write. There's Hoffman. Siegel and me. And we're tiny. So you're safe.

But we'll outlast you motherfuckers.

I remember a stray quotation from an old Borscht-Beltian, "He hasn't an enemy in the world--but all his friends hate him.”

And this one, "He lights up the room the minute he leaves it."

Those will be on your tombstones--whether they're engraved there or not.

That's all for today.

It's the end of the year.

The end of a long, dark year.

Maybe some lights will come on in America in 2021. Maybe in advertising, too.

But, I've learned things.

I'm a dumb, naive, idealistic dope tilting at windmills. The ones Trump says cause ear-cancer and kill birds.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

And I don't care who hates me. 

That's a sign that I'm doing something right.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Le Agency Holding Company CEO sings.


A Friday rumination on Joy.


Since I began GeorgeCo., a Delaware Company after being fired by Ogilvy at 4:30 PM (the better to get a whole day's work from me) on January 14th, 2020, I have hired just one person to work with me full-time.

I've got a ton going on and sometimes I feel like a surfer surrounded by sharks. My associate, Hilary, handles that "you-look-like-lunch-feeling" for me.

There's more though.

And this is a bit of a rumination about the sorry state of our business today.

We laugh.

Whether we're speaking on the phone, texting or emailing, we laugh. 

Sure, sometimes we're all business. But we laugh.

Many years ago I worked with a very good and very senior account guy: Steve. He went to become CMO of a giant bank. Before going client-side was a thing.

The agency I was with was invited to pitch his account. It was probably a $100 million account. 

At the time $100 million was a lot of money. Now it's what the dry-cleaner finds in Mark Read's pockets each month.

We didn't get the account.

Afterward, Steve and I had a drink. (I wasn't involved in the pitch or on the pitch team. But we had a drink anyway.)

"Steve," I said, "How do you choose an agency?"

"George, essentially the work agencies present is the same. Occasionally someone does something incredibly good or incredibly bad. But usually picking an agency comes down to this: "Do you want to sit across a table from these people for 20 hours/week?" 

I think about this because it seems to me that so many brows are impecuniously furrowed on Madison Avenue, and so many sphincters are so furiously clenched and so many mouths are grimacing. 

Exactly how I would be if I were the business equivalent of the soft drink, Tab. And every year I had sold less and had less revenue than the year before.

It's no wonder people have forgotten fun. And laughter. 

It's fairly obvious to me.

When work sucks, the work sucks.

I used to write headlines for a living and that one's pretty good. I'm going to repeat it.

When work sucks, the work sucks.

Loving what you do--and doing it--is the key to good work. The key is not 17-rounds of excruciating revisions and nitpicking, so some small-penised fucker feels powerful and additive. The key is not dotting every I and crossing every T.

The key is having fun and doing fun.

Because that's how you do good work.


By the way, you might not know the song "Twisted," written and made famous by Annie Ross. Here, along with her partners, Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks, and the Astoundingly good Joe Williams, the four of them sing "Every Day I Have the Blues." (BTW, Count Basie is back there, on the piano. Like no one else, ever.)

I saw this clip recently, and I said to myself, that's what work should be like. Fun. Free. Together. 

I'm not a Chief Culture Officer.

Or a Chief People Officer.

Or a Maestro of Mirth.

Or a Doyenne of Delight.

Or a Pasha of Playfulness.

But work should be as fun as the work they're doing in the clip above is fun. Joyous.

Because joy--at work or anywhere that matters--begets good.


My wife just went down a Joe Williams rabbit hole
and came back with this joyous gem. I'm more than a little lugubrious by nature, but we can all use four minutes of this about every four minutes.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

When I grow up I want to be a Chief People Officer.

A friend, probably a small part of the 40%-60% of staff Ogilvy has fired since the start of the year, sent me a note yesterday.

Since the start of their free-fall, since the veritable demise of what was, until recently, one of Madison Avenue's strongest and most important brands, I get a lot of these notes.

Most, like this one, have a touch of anger. 

Anger because it's only natural to hate liars and a lying culture. 

But these notes express something else and with more vigor. They express "Thank god"-ness.  

Thank god I got out of the moribund, decrepit and corrupt House of Read, and found my soul, my integrity and my lust for work again.

This particular note got specific.

It started with a screen-grab from WPP's "Global Head of Culture." 

Three generations of Tannenbaums have for the last 75 years had good careers in advertising. Egoism aside, we Tannenbaums are a fairly brainy breed. 

I have absolutely no idea what a Global Head of Culture does. Especially if her job has nothing to do with supplying agency cafeterias with yogurt. In fact, I invite any Global Head of Culture at any agency or holding company to contact me. 

This stupid one-man-boat of a blog gets about 85,000 readers a week. 

Many of them in the C-Suite of various agencies around the world. 

If you have the wherewithal to respond to this question, I will give you this space for free to tell my readership what a Global Head of Culture does for 1875 hours a year and why it's important and why it makes life better for employees and how it improves their creative output better.

What strikes me as bizarre is this.

WPP's Global Head of Culture is speaking out, ostensibly, against the ageism that is rife in our industry. 

Yet, WPP's most-recent annual report, harkening back to Mark Read's stupidity, cupidity and humidity clearly states that WPP is a virulently ageist company.

Here's their spread, jokingly I presume, headed "Attracting and Retaining Talent."

The only thing WPP retains is water after a long company-paid-for first-class flight for a do-nothing-execucant.

Here, as a bad 70s disc-jockey would say, "Is the phrase that pays." Or updated for the current moral sump of Madison Avenue's more voracious and least stable holding company, "The chart that farts." 

From page 69, of WPP's 2019 Annual Report.


This is petty but that egregious 1% who are 60 and over is half the number of people 60 and over WPP employed just one year earlier. You're not only bad, WPP. You get worse every year.

What will 2020 bring? 1/2 of 1%?


So which is it WPP?

Do you love older people and hate ageism.

Or do you just hate everything that costs money?

BTW, there's an old--very old--Latin phrase that you probably don't know because it harkens back to the 80s. 

As in 80 BC.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

It's pretty much means, "After this, therefore because of this."

Or since event Y followed event X, then just maybe event Y was caused by event X. 

AKA: Since your collapse as a viable business accelerated when you fired everyone over 31, maybe your collapse as a viable business was caused by your firing everyone over 31.

Such logic, is of course, fallacious.

But I do wonder if you ever read the smartest man in advertising, my friend the Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffman. 
He published this data on Sunday, December 6th. You remember data, don't you? 

You might have missed it. You were probably speaking out against ageism. Or displaying similar pusillanimity on another topic.

Anyway, according to Mr. Hoffman, some data:

BTW, just because I'm an asshole, I found this in WPP's Annual Report as well.

If I were, god forbid, Mark Read, I'd file this under "Be careful what you wish for."

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Death by the numbers.

I loved math when I was a kid and I was very good at it. Without knowing too much about it, I thought I might grow up one day and become a mathematician. 

I could do numbers in my head like nobody else. I still can--almost always arriving at answers well-before media people, account people, planners and certainly other creatives. In fact, my facility with numbers freaks people out some times--to some people it's as weird as a sumo wrestler being a great high-jumper.

About 400,000 years ago, it was April 16, 1990 to be precise, I went to work for Mike Tesch, a recently-deceased Hall-of-Fame art director who was then Executive Creative Director of Harvard Business Review's Ad Agency of the 1980s, Ally & Gargano. (Read Mike's obituary here.)

I started there as a copywriter making just $56,000 a year. But in less than three years I had been promoted to Senior Vice President and Group Creative Director. I had moved up so far and so fast that senior executives--the money people--would talk to me about finances.

The partners who owned the agency had sold it to a small holding company, and to make their leveraged buy-out payments, had to pay the master owner something like $2.7 million a month, roughly $30 million a year.

One thing I've learned through the years is what so many today--especially republicans and supporters of the fraudster ex-president never learned. Just as science doesn't lie, numbers don't either. 

You don't want to owe money to Meyer Lansky.
You don't want to owe money to bankers.
You don't want to owe money to the holding companies.

In the end, they're not much different.

(Of course you can make them lie--just ask Meyer Lansky, the Koch Brothers and the like. Just ask Mark Twain who said, "there are lies, damn lies and statistics." But used properly, honestly math doesn't lie.)

What I saw happening at Ally & Gargano is what I see happening at another once vaunted agency I more recently worked at.

A $20 million account leaves. A $10 million account leaves. A $50 million account leaves.

A $500,000 account comes in. A $1 million account comes in. A $300,000 account comes in.

In other words things ain't looking good.

Mostly because you've got your nut to make.

Ally & Gargano, like this other agency whose name I'm not mentioning, could pick up an account here and there. That's a testament to the residue of creative talent that hasn't been shit-canned.

But you can't make up $100,000,000 of losses with $1,000,000 of gains.

And you can't make that payment of $2.7 million a month.

It's not me being Draconian about this. 

It's math.

I left Ally & Gargano in April, 1995. They closed for good just three months later. 

One night after its death, I had a couple of stiff ones in a smoky bar--I think the Bull & Bear in the Waldorf--with a friend if mine from Ally who had been there for decades.

"George," he said to me, maybe taking a bit too much whiskey in one draw "Ally had always been an up-and-down place. Carl Ally had a temper. Amil was uncompromising. Clients would get pissed off. They'd say, 'sure they're the best agency in the world, but they're just not worth the trouble.' And they'd fire us."

Now it was my turn to take too much whiskey. We each got a refill.

"When a client fired us, like IBM or something else that was large, it sucked. We might have to fire 100 people out of 200. We might have had to sublet a floor."

"That sucks," I answered almost entirely without wisdom.

"No, not really. When shit happened we could cut back--we could fire half the staff. Then we could redouble our efforts, pitch like hell, and come back stronger."

The burly waiter refilled us.

"Today, when you're owned," he passed me a small wooden bowl of salted peanuts the waiter had dropped on our small table. "When you're owned," he said, pointing at the legumes, "the owners got you by the nuts. You have to pay that $2.7 million come hell or hot water."

I had spent five years at Ally helping to run the Bank of New York account. At the time, they were the third biggest retail bank in New York.

My friend looked at me, "You know something about banking. You were running a $30 million account. When you left, they left."

I nodded.

"Some people think bankers and holding companies are kinder than the mob." He pulled at his Johnnie Walker.

I laughed.

He laughed.

"You know what's really funny. Mob, holding companies or white shoe bankers, when they're cutting off your balls, it doesn't much matter who's doing it."

We got up to leave.

I wished I had an expense account to charge it to. But I paid out of my own pocket.

It was the least I could do for the lesson.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Baseball Annie, 1947.

I don't suppose it's unusual, especially among men of a certain age, to have thoughts about what it's like being a professional ballplayer. 

After all, the writer James Thurber said so many years ago, "The majority of American males put themselves to sleep by striking out the batting order of the New York Yankees."

I suppose I can entertain thoughts of what it must be like to play ball today. An era of trillion-dollar contracts, first-class travel, celebrity status and firm-buttocked women fairly falling over you.

When I played ball for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League (AA) way back in 1975, the world was very different. 

Various crime scenes around Estadio de Beisbol Francisco I. Maduro.

For one thing, I was just seventeen years old--I was barely shaving--and I was probably paid less than nearly any other player in the league, just $200 a month with two-chicken dinners a week at Tino's, a small hut of a restaurant not far from the friendly confines of Estadio de Beisbol de Francesco I Madura. 

The real bus was teal with a Seraperos logo on each side, and slightly larger,

For another, we traveled over the rocky crags of that benighted land by means of a 27-year-old retired American school bus. Porfiro Diaz, Mexico's putative emporer from 1876 to 1911, said it this way and he was right: "Pobre México, tan lejos de Dios y tan próximo a los Estados Unidos."  Poor Mexicoso far from God and so close to the United States.

Yes, it was poor. And dark. And brutal. And mean.

And silent. And funny. And loving. And warm.

So just maybe, despite all that cacophony the best single year of my life. Most of that year was not playing games or hanging with the fellas or canoodling with my summer's inamorata, Karmen Rodriguez, the girl in the white dress,

No, most of that year was laying down along the green vinyl seat of the team bus, gears grinding through the Sierra, Gordo Batista cursing the old bus up a crag, and listening to Hector Quetzalcoatl Padilla, Hector Quesadilla, my manager tell me the tales of the game.

I suppose I might have become an academic--an English professor--as I had set out to become. I suppose I could have read acres of Melville and Dreiser and Wharton and various James' and Faulkner and Hurston and Chesnutt and made a lifelong study of their morphemes and phonemes. I could have, maybe, published--not perished--and read and read. I could have gone that way for sure. 

But I never would have heard the stories as alive as those I heard on that darkened bus, gears grinding through the mosquito night, twenty men snoring through their beer and stubble as we pistoned our broken way to another broken city in a thoroughly beautiful but thoroughly broken world.

These stories were told in a mix of Spanish with a teaspoon of English when Hector thought it would help. They lodged, I didn't even know it, in the lonely gauze of my brain. And now, almost half a century later, a story will seep out, like the ooze from a silent wound, slowly sneaking through the guarding, careful cotton, instigated by what, I don't know.

"Many years ago," Hector began one evening as we were dieseling from one sad dusty city to one even sadder and more dusty, "Many years ago, when I was just a young ballplayer, we had with the club a hanger-on. I was probably 20 then. Just five years playing in the league. But already a star. Estuardo must have been 70."

Hector was one of nine boys--the youngest. His father left when he was nine to become a ball-player. All his brothers became ball-players and Hector too, at just 15, left his two-room home where nine boys and one mother slept cold on four mattresses, to become a ball-player.

His brothers returned to the village. A step too slow. Too ham-handed to field, or with too-much of a Swiss-cheese bat, but Hector prevailed. He played for three decades in the Mexican League, and became a Hall-of-Famer, as a player when I knew him, and later on as a manager.

"Estuardo had been a player in the early days of organized ball in Mexico. Before there were big stadiums. Before the major leagues were aware we were alive. When Porfiro Diaz was the king and had sold our land and our resources and our peasants and our oil and our railroads to the Americanos.

Diaz ruled like a god for five decades.

From the peasants they took. To the rich they gave.
Like el Norte today.

"As Diaz's soldiers killed the Zapatistas. And Madero's soldiers shot back. And the US helped Diaz shoot back with even more machine guns because the American money insisted, and bodies were piled high in the streets and the dead outnumbered the living, all because of the love of a filthy buck, Estuardo did what so many of us do."

Madero fought Diaz. Madero fought the Americans.
But Madero was killed.

One million were killed in the Revolution.
99 percent of them died in the only clothing they had.

"During times of revolution," I asked. 

Ours were the only voices in the dark. Besides the screams from the scrub of the desert of a trillion angry cicadas.

"It is always the time of the revolution. The world has been shaven by a drunk holding a straight razor. A drunk. Blind. And we are all bleeding from one-thousand places."

I felt my still whisker-less face for blood.

"We do what we do. We put on our pants and we look at the deep brown eyes of the woman we are with. We see them and we think of bellies that are empty--ours and hers and bellies that may someday be bellies. We think of that emptiness and we grab our lunch in an old small bucket and we go off to work. 

"We go off to work and we try to make our pesos because we have to eat and to have a roof and to have a beer at night or a cigar or a woman and for that we must work and have money."

Hector, though he had no formal schooling to speak of read books like an old salesman would read a train schedule. Books were life to him. Almost as much as hitting a curveball. "We can't be like Henry Thoreau and live by a pond and raise peas."

"No, peas have there place. But we must do as Estuardo did. Like what you and I are doing now. We do what we know how to do. Estuardo played ball."

"Was he good, Estuardo?" 

"He was good enough to play but not good enough to remember but too good to let go. Estuardo just kept coming to the ballpark. He was, in a way, like Gordo."

Gordo, driving the bus, sitting six feet from us, honked the wheezy old horn twice.

"Gordo is our third-string catcher. He plays maybe eight games a year. He is our first-string bus-driver. He can fix a bus, too. He is our equipment manager. If a boy from a small desert village comes and can play, Gordo finds him a not-too-dirty uniform. If he needs shoes, as so many of these boys do, Gordo finds him a pair, matching usually, of spikes. And because the boy has no friends and nowhere to sleep, Gordo helps the boy there, too."

"He handed me my first uniform. And somehow knew, without asking, that I preferred the number twenty."

"Gordo knows. You looked like a twenty. And one day, when someone is aching and cannot swing, I will say to Gordo who has grown thick with cerveza and sitting, 'you must bat today.' And Gordo will play in the outfield, and maybe hit a double. He will not embarrass us. He can even pitch if we need a wing."

"Estuardo was like that?" I asked.

"Not at 70. Not anymore. But still every day to the ballpark he came. He would fungo to the outfielders. Ground sharply to the infielders. Warm up the pitchers and maybe throw one-hundred pitches of batting practice. Estuardo would do anything."

"Like Gordo."

"But no bus-driving," Gordo yelled from his seat as he down-shifted into a long descent.

"In baseball, there have always been baseball Annies. Pretty girls who like the pretty players."

"Karmen?" I asked.

"She is no baseball Annie. She is a girl who is like a house made of stone with a deep foundation. Baseball Annies are more like tents on a windy field."

"They blow with the wind."

"And they are gone with the wind. Usually leaving behind a hurt and sadness and the pain of loss. Baseball Annies are those things that come too easy. It is the things that come too easy that hurt the most when they leave."

I thought about a girl, Beverly, from eleventh grade who had done the same to me.

"Estuardo had a baseball Annie, half his age or less. They were in love, he believed, for three weeks, then five, then twelve.

"Even though he was 70, he wore always a uniform. And then we returned from some cerveza city and Annie was gone."

"Like a tent on a windy field," I said.

"Estuardo in the locker room was a dead man. He stood in front of the large mirror and his uniform he removed. Leaving on nothing but his shorts, his sliding pads."

"Though his sliding days were over."

"He examined his body, like a doctor or like a woman. 'Here,' he said inspecting his arms, 'used to be round and hard like a polished stone. Now it is flat and gone.'

"He moved down and looked at his belly. 'Here,' he said, 'used to be flat and tough. Now it is round.' And then he said what I will always remember. What I will always fear."

"Fear? I've never seen you fear."

Hector laughed, nervous. "Fear is that which we don't think about."

"What did Estuardo say""

Gordo down-shifted again. Someone in the back of the sleeping bus screamed from a nightmare. Probably Geronimo, who was beaten as a boy.

"Estuardo said, 'I know. Old is this. Everything that was round is flat. And everything that was flat is round.'"

Up ahead in this mountains we could see the twinkle of the lights of Oxaca, like Denver, Colorado, a mile-high city. 

Gordo honked the bus horn again. A celebration on driving through the mountains at night and arriving without dying. 

In a moment we were in the cool air of the city. Turning down old Spanish streets to find our old pink-neon hotel. Hector took a bat and clubbed twice the floor to wake the boys from their sleep.

"We are here," he yelled. "We play tomorrow at seven. We leave for the stadium at three."

The boys with their teal green duffles shuffled off the bus and to their rooms. I waited and left after they had all gone, leaving just ahead of Hector.

The small, dim lobby was empty when we got there. The Seraperos had gone to bed or to a bar down the cobbled avenue.

Hector stopped me and hugged me. 

Unusual. We weren't huggers. 

And then he laughed a laugh from the back of his throat.

"Everything that was round is flat. And everything that was flat is round."

We climbed the stairs to the second floor of the small hotel. Hector turned left to his small room. I turned right to mine. 

The game the next night was to begin at 7PM. It was just before midnight. Nineteen hours.

We might have gotten three hours' sleep between us.