Friday, October 29, 2021

Try Angles.

Many years and many pounds ago, I was a decent marathoner. In those days, the training regimen for marathoners was acronymed "LSD," long, slow distance.

About twice a month, my running friends and I would do a 15, 18 or 20 mile run, prelude to running the marathon. We were a good bunch of friends. People you could count on for encouragement when you felt like shit, or a couple jokes along the way, or a good story or conversation. 

This group included my wife, Laura, the best runner among us, Judge Robert Haft, a New York Supreme Court judge and an attorney named Harvey Fishbein. Other people moved in and out of the group through the training season, but this was the core.

The other thing about this group was this: they were all as reliable as granite. There were no excuses like, "it's too hot to run today." And we were all good about time. No meeting at 8AM and showing up at 8:15. Those are pretty much the things that help a group cohere. I suppose today we'd call that culture.

Running 20 miles on a Saturday morning isn't easy, no matter what kind of shape you're in and no matter how jocular your companionship. There are many times when you feel like you can barely take another step, much less run another five or eight miles. That's where running with a group helps you. You're pulled along by the group when you feel weak. You help the group when you feel strong.

At one part of our runs--usually at about 18 miles or so, a road into Central Park from Central Park West split into two. You could go south or you could go north. In between those divergent roads, there was a pizza slice of dirty grass or grassy dirt.

Harvey Fishbein created, enacted and enforced this rule. No matter which way you were going, or how tired you were, there was to be no cutting of the triangle. Over time, like its more well-known geometric brethren out near Bermuda, this little plot-a not a lot of land, became known as the Fishbein Triangle. 

There was to be no cutting whatsoever of the Fishbein Triangle. This was an absolute. A matter of trust and faith.

Not too long ago, I got off the phone with the older of my two precocious daughters. There's always some mishegas happening at work--especially if you're ambitious, intelligent and hardworking (ie threatening) and that mishegas is even more egregious if you're a woman. 

I reminded my daughter of a concept I call the three types of loyalty.

The first is loyalty to the place that employs you. But that loyalty is not blind. It must allow you the second type of loyalty. Your loyalty to your craft. Are you doing work you like? Are you learning? Are you being challenged? The final type of loyalty is often the toughest one to reckon with and remember. It's loyalty to self. Are you getting as well as giving? Are you being rewarded? Well-treated for the first two loyalties. Without all three loyalties, you have a malignancy. A malignant loyalty of the type that 45th presidents and other pomposities enjoy.

As we go through life there are all kinds of choices we can make. There are all kinds of shortcuts we can take. There are a trillion and one Fishbein Triangles we can cut.

You can get away with it, too. 

Nine times out of ten, you can skirt by phoning it in. 

For me, that's where the Fishbein Triangle comes in. Or that old-fashioned definition of integrity: doing the right thing even when nobody's looking.

About an hour ago I turned to my wife, and said, "I don't have a post for tomorrow." 

She said, "Write about the Fishbein Triangle. Every time we go for our morning exercise, I see you paying homage to the Triangle. Completing the circuit. Tacking on an extra five yards or ten. It's giving the client ten ads or 18 instead of the three they're asking for. It's giving more and doing more. Write about that."

I suppose I could also call it the Laura Triangle.

But Harvey would kick my ass.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Broken fixes.

There's a lot you can say about being quotidian about things. By that, I mean, doing something every day. With regularity. Doing things people can count on.

The sun, for instance, rises every day. Give Sol that. Not every morning is "rosy-fingered dawn," but epoch after epoch, the sun rises.

I know no one is supposed to ever again mention Woody Allen in a family blog, but he once joked that "showing up is 80 percent of life." I'd give showing up a little more weight. But what do I know? I've never even slept with a step-child.

I am a creature of routines. Maybe a creative of routines.

I've probably had a toasted bagel in the morning, burnt with light butter for 10,000 straight days. I like burnt food, btw, it reminds me of my mother's cooking. As often as not she'd pour one of my old man's cigar ashtrays into the Wedgewood and call it dinner.

The other day--writing in this quotidian organ--I scribbled a sentence I had never scribbled before. I looked at it like I was an epauletted Stasi inspector. Is it true? Why have I never read this? Why hasn't this been brought us as a counterpoint to those hordes of algorithmic charlatans who believe in the power of ones and zeroes to zero in on one person's soul?

When you do something every day, you get beyond thinking and conscious thought and the great super-ego of don't and you just do. Most people don't can't won't get this. Or even think about it.

As I wander and wonder, I read. Reading is my wondering and wandering. Now I am about three-quarters of the way through linguist John McWorther's book, "Nine Nasty Words."

McWorther is the real deal. He travels thousands of years and thousands of miles to discover how some of the most-used words--curses--in the English language have come to be. How sounds have been dropped, how letters have been transposed, how invasions and marauders have changed words. How neuro-construction renders some words right brain, and others left.

The main thing you learn is something I learned many years ago, 90 feet below the surface of the Caribbean sea. My dive master darted away suddenly and amid miles of sand he saw and lifted an ancient anchor. 

When we got to the surface I asked him how he saw the object. He said, "I saw a straight line. And there are no straight lines in nature."

The sentence I wrote in an earlier post is this: only people can create work that moves people.

Of course, there are exceptions to this. Computers are pattern-matching machines and can derive a spirograph sort of artwork that may fascinate. Likewise, you could program a machine, I'm sure, an intelligent machine, to write like any number of writers. They'd probably do a good job.

But it is weirdness and unusualness that hits people between the eyes and grasps their aorta like a moray eel a wounded fish. It is not data.

It is not data.

Data can help.

It can help a love letter find the right recipient. It can help the author with some knowledge of her auburn tresses and hazel eyes. But data is not human. 

Data can't even do that most-human of all things. Fuck up. And in trying to fix the fuck up come up with something that for all 4.5 billion years since dear Lucy's print was fossilized in the south African mud, has never been writ before.

Since I once worked at a creatively moribund consultancy, I realized that the subject-object split in our industry is between those who think creativity can be regularized and mechanized and those who believe that most human progress comes from human errors. Perhaps the greatest film director of them all, Jean Renoir once said, "Loitering is the basis of all civilization."

The scientists have won in what was the advertising industry. They can tell you precisely what words will move your ad to people's eyeballs and to the pixel how it should look. They can also tell you how long it must take to construct that ad, where it should run and the exact color of the learn more button. 

Like Oscar Wilde's adroit definition of cynics, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

They can make regular squares and rectangles. Shapes that nature doesn't make. That's what they do. And why 99.999% of the shit we see is just that. Shit. Worse--machine-built shit.

Only god, and humans, can make snowflakes. 

No two alike.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Humans. Advertising. And Greta Nissen.

As I round out my 41st year of getting paid for typing, I find myself sometimes thinking of icebergs. Not because of any Anthropocene bomb cyclone polar vortex up here on the Gingham Coast but because of the way the ad industry is currently constructed and constricted.

The industry does a great job hiring people who are enormously creative. Browse people's portfolio sites and you'll see art directors who can paint or sculpt. You'll see writers who have had fiction published in the hoitiest of toity magazines. You'll have planners who do standup and account people who are writing deep, well-researched histories on obscure topics that probably shouldn't be obscure. 

Anyone of these avocations are a rabbit hole you could find yourself digging through for hours upon hours. 

Yet for whatever reason, as an industry, we seem to want to hide the personalities of our personnel from client work. We see only the compliant tip. Not the whole person.

We say to those writers who regularly have worked published in prestigious magazines: "No one reads anymore."

We say to those art directors who can paint and express with paint, "We only have the budget for stock."

We say to those planners who can make people think and laugh that they should stick to their keynotes. 

We say to those account people that they're business people and they should subsume their humanity rather than reveal it.

We have forgotten one of the foundational precepts of our industry. "People read what interests them and sometimes it's an ad."  

We have forgotten "interesting." For bullet-points.

We're all of us under these strictures and structures subsuming our humanity and our selves. We're hiding our personal beliefs and expressions in the restrictive confines of a "tone of voice," or some pompous set of Teutonic "brand guidelines." 

Heaven forfend, we tell a joke.

We might look at work we like--like just about everything Ryan Reynolds does--and we wonder. How does he do it? How is he so fresh, so irreverent, so breakthrough? 

We can say the same thing about this commercial from 2018, aka a thousand years ago.

Or this dopey little thing from Mint Mobile.

My guess is whoever was behind these spots kicked the 24 lines of single-spaced mandatories in the ass. They ignored 98% of the seven-page brief and maybe focused on one-half of one underscored sentence somewhere in that 4,000-word doc. Maybe they used a document like this:

Maybe someone was wise enough to say, let's ask Jill to write this. Jill's funny as shit. 

Let's not bog this crap down with must-haves and have-to-haves and focus-group pleasings and nine weeks of tweakification in a vain-glorious writers' room which isn't really a writers' room it's a second-guessers'-room.

Bev's a storyteller, let's get her to do this.

My point, as inchoate as I am today, is simple. 
We keep hiring people of depth and then make them shallow.

We keep saying that's esoteric, or sophisticated, or no one will get that. Or that's too personal. Or too wicked. Or too twee. Or too arty.

A friend just sent me a story--a funny story--he had published in McSweeney's.  Another friend sent me three moving, funny stories about growing old in a young person's game. And another friend told me about a vaunted agency that loved the paintings she's posted on her site.

What the calculus-caluculators in management have never calculated--and they get farther and farther away from understanding it every day, is that only people can create work that moves people. They think machines can do it. They want machines to do it. It will be faster and cheaper and less of a pain in the arse.

We have people with souls--but a soul in advertising will only get you in trouble.

About 65 years ago, an agency then called Young and Rubicam, before it was bought, sold, sliced, arbitraged, derivatized, merged, unmerged, bought back and re-re-merged, ran this ad. 

It was about most of the things our industry has forgotten almost wholly.  Blow the jpeg up and read the copy. The resolution is good enough.

It will remind you of a few salient points.

That we're humans.

Not data.

Not corporations.

Not financial instruments.


With human emotions and feelings that need to be moved if we are to be moved.

Laugh. Cry. Share. Scare. Think. Stink. Help. Whelp. See. Be. Screw. Do.

Those are human things.

As the old song goes, "Try a little tenderness."

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

A reflection on age.

My internist of 40 years, Richard P. Cohen, not Richard T. Cohen, who's a podiatrist, has a few catch-phrases. If he had gone the way of the cloth instead of the way of medicine, he could build a dozen or twenty sermons around this one particular sentence.

If you're too young to understand it, just wait. You will.

"If you're over 35, and you wake up and nothing hurts, you're dead."

I was an athlete for many years. First a ballplayer. Then a middling distance runner, despite my prodigious girth--which was, at the time, less prodigious. I did a hundred 10Ks--a 38-minute time was my best, and a dozen marathons, my best at roughly a 7:15 pace for 26.2 miles, which gave me a 3:10.10 time. That was just about an hour off the "two-pounds of weight for every-inch-of-height leaders." I clock the scales at 50 percent more than that.

For the last eight years or so, I've been taking Whiskey, my perfect golden retriever to the beach so she can do what hundreds of generations of golden retrievers were bred to do: swim and retrieve.

Now that she is nine-and-a-half, battling cancer and no longer as spry as she once was, my littoral sessions are shorter than they used to be. We'll walk half-a-mile to a seaside where people tolerate dogs, and I'll throw apple quarters into the sea. When we're done appling, I'll throw her toy duck, which to Whiskey is a real duck.

Through the years, I've shortened the length of my throws. Some of that is due to my right rotator cuff which I tore back in 2014. Some of that is due to not wanting to knock Whiskey out.

Nonetheless, I hurl whatever I hurl some distance into the chop and off she gallops, like a stockbroker after a sucker.

When Whiskey's tired, she looks at me with her limpid eyes. I've thrown her duck but she wants a marker so she can more easily find it. Usually, I find a small stone, the rounder the better, and toss it as close as I can to her duck. This identifies it for her and motivates her. Off she goes to go get that obscure object of her desire.

Yesterday, Whiskey, my wife and I went to the seaside for a fetch session just before sunset. Though it was blustery, Whiskey jumped the waves and did her thing. I threw apples and ducks and marking stones, and did my thing as well.

There was a middle-aged couple sitting on a seawall by the sea. They were drinking beer, something esoteric of course, and eating cheese and crackers. They were taking Whiskey's actions in as programming, and, I guarantee you, programming more entertaining than anything on any of the 49,000 cable channels that are forced down your throat by monopolistic service providers who provide no service.

We walked up the hill from the beach to walk home. The sea-wall woman turned to me and yelled, "did you used to play ball?" I waved her off from afar--a backhand--like a pitcher indicating to his warm-up catcher that a curve was on its way. I said nothing.

"You threw that duck a mile," she said. And then her husband added, "And you hit it with a rock every time. That was incredible."

I woke up this morning as I do nearly every morning with fairly nasty pain in my torn rotator right shoulder and pain in my equally painful arthritic left shoulder. My left foot is wracked with the crushing pain of plantar fasciitis--sometimes the pain shoots up my leg. In all three cases, I am too stubborn to do anything to combat the hurt. 

But somehow I'm thinking less about my sundry pains and thinking more about that question, "did you used to play ball" and "you hit it with a rock every time. That was incredible." With those comments, to an athlete who didn't die young, the pain seemed to dissipate.

Shit like that keeps old men going.

Monday, October 25, 2021

A matter of money.

One of the things you're not taught in advertising school or in advertising, or frankly, at all if you're a "creative" person is one of the most important. 

How to make money. 

Years ago, while I was ECD at a crappy non-entity of an agency, I picked up a large freelance piece of business from an ex-account guy of mine. This wasn't like doing an ad in the pennysaver for your cousin's aunt's nephew's fourth-grade teacher's next-door-neighbor, these were formative ads for a well-capitalized company that wanted to be taken seriously by both its clients and "the street."

The business could easily have been given to a mid-sized local shop and they'd have been glad to get it. But it came to me.

If you're like most creatives (and by definition most creatives are like most creatives) you rightly worry about the work. You find an angle. You learn the brand. You partner up with an art director. You present three campaigns or five. 

There are smiles all around. People like the work. They really like campaign two, but could you add in this element from campaign four?

That mash-up doesn't really make sense, but you work some more. A client's a client for all that. And as long as they're not asking you to shit in the beef bourguignon, you work until you figure out how to make it work.

They're happy. They're very happy. You produce the work. The work runs. The work works.


Now the hard part begins.

You have to bill them. 

Even if you have a business associate, you're closer to the work than they are. You remember the 3AM wake-ups and scribbling ideas on a bed-side pad. You remember the shower-or-dog-walk derived headlines. You remember the trimming and the art-director bickerings. And the hours of tedium. And the night until 2AM printing out (this was years ago remember) ten beautiful four-color decks at Kinkos.

You realize if you put in a bill for $10,000 you've sold yourself, your partner, your family short by about $60,000. You've done this on your "leisure time." And one 101 course in economics will tell you that all time costs money and leisure time, like weekend time, costs more because there is less of it. I think the concept there is called "opportunity cost."

Now, it's late. It comes to your digits to submit a bill for $70,000 or $50,000, or $40,000.

Maybe you're one of the few lucky ones who's learned or was blessed with deep-self-appreciation (DSA). But most people don't have that. So you battle a series of cloven-footed devils.

"$30,000," Beelzebub says, "you're not worth that. That's double what you made in your first job." "Are you kidding me?" A Succubus taunts, "that's the price of the used BMW you want." "They'll never pay that," laughs the Whore of Babylon. "Look at you. You're a schlub."

The battle of leaving an agency, having an agency leave you, or finding firm footing on a shaky-ground universe is the battle of belief in your worth and your power. It's a battle to believe in what you do. In your unique powers, abilities and perceptoins. It's you learning that you might not be the best ________ in the world. But you are the best you in the world and whoever you're charging bought you.

This is something to inculcate. Or mantra-ize if you can't inculcate. Or write on a note and paste on your bathroom mirror until it becomes imbued.

This is about your worth.

Getting the money you deserve.

Demanding it, in fact, not with arrogance and hauteur. But with belief.

We never learn this growing up in the business. We never have to ask for money. That's someone else's job and we're well-insulated from it. 

That insulation hurts us. Tamps us down. Stifles us.

If I ever again, and I won't, take a job at an ad agency in a high-level capacity, I will try to encourage my people to have their own P&L on their own pieces of business. They will learn things no one teaches.

I will encourage them to be like the local carpenter, or snow-plower, or leaf-blower if you live in a small town.

Kindness and friendship and being one of the gang is all well and good. But we are--never forget this--business people. We are in business to make money. We give our souls and hearts and brains and muscles to our clients. And we don't give those things away.

Of all the things I've had to learn in the almost two-years I've been the wandering advertising Jew, this has been the most important and the hardest.

There's a Yiddish word, gonif. It means thief or canoodler. Someone who's always working an angle.

There's another bit of Yiddish I learned along the way: schvare arbiter. I'm sure I'm spelling it wrong. It means a straight-shooter. An honest person. A broad-shouldered human that comes through. Someone with the wherewithal and spine to do and expect the right thing. Demand it.

Be a schvare arbiter. 

Train like a boxer. Lift. Run. Spar. Take the hits and give them. Work hard. Know your worth. Once you do, it increases.

Not to go all Jewish on you, you but 2200 years ago there was a wise old Rabbi born in Babylon, not Long Island. Rabbi Hillel. 

I've never met the man, but he's my business advisor. He should also be yours.

He wrote these words: If I am not for myself, who am I? When I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

It took me decades to learn that. Probably $300,000 of therapy sessions. It's been worth it.

Uncharacteristic for this freelancer: no charge.

Friday, October 22, 2021

You forgot. I didn't.

Back when Mastodons roamed the earth, when I was growing up in advertising, people used to say with some regularity that "the best advertising is news."

Not only has advertising as news make sense to me, I would see proof of it almost every day. I'd see great ads capitalizing on items in the news and they'd give me the sense that the company advertising was in the right place at the right time. They knew what they were doing.

When fronald frump fwas ftill fresident, my friends Rob Schwartz, Patrick O'Neill and editor Dan Bootzin put this news item together. It didn't elect Biden. But it didn't hurt. And it got, without any paid media, almost half-a-million views. Not bad for something that doesn't feature a bare midriff.

Beyond that, in years gone by, when the awards books came out, I'd see example after example of "newsy" ads winning accolades. I think because they "punched above their weight." Not merely because they were notorious.

Here are just three examples, all I believe from the hard-edged fine point pen of Ed McCabe. McCabe was one of the founders of the great agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves and was the youngest person ever inducted into the advertising Hall of Fame. 

Today, because our corporate lust for Mammon is so great, the  news and entertainment divisions of many television networks have merged. You can scarcely find out about a genocide. We're too busy grinning about some d-list celebrisham who has a "baby bump" to pay attention. (PS. the genocides don't stop. We just stop paying attention.) 

Even the once austere and authoritative New York Times seems to blur the distinction between the two. The "newspaper of record" now has items like this on its home-page. There's more about fashion than the Sixth Extinction--an event that has already led to the displacement of hundreds of millions of people.

Today, the advertising "phrase that pays," tells us repeatedly that advertising must influence and become a part of culture. No one tells you why. And I seldom see actual examples of culture being influenced. What's more, no one wants to admit that my culture (and I have a lot of disposable income) is not the same as what seems to be the prevailing culture. I am not one to break into spontaneous dance and it's been years since I've undulated in public and spoke what to my ears is a grating vernacular.

I see a lot of culturally adroit work these days that I just don't understand. I don't know how something like this sells a $90K automobile. (If you worked on the ad--drop me a note and explain. I'll be glad to listen until you argue tautologically. That is that it is part of culture because it is part of culture, therefore it is part of culture.)

A few months ago, I wrote some "newsworthy" ads for a client. A very dear client.

On Friday, this one ran in the Journal. My client posted it on LinkedIn and many people remarked, "How did you do that?" Or"Amazing placement." 

Other people commented. They said things like this:

I'm not trying to be humble. Or unhumble.

I'm almost 64 now, and through the long decades in advertising I've picked up a small handful of tricks. More than five but less than 20. I could print them all here, but then this blog would be out of business.

One of those tricks, as above, is "The best advertising is news."

For about 55 of my 64 years I've read two or more newspapers every day. You get a gut along the way. A sense about things. With training you can sometimes tell when something is going to stay on the front pages longer than a belch.

I just wrote a simple line. That had something to do with the news. It played off headlines I knew were coming.

The client ran it.

The news stayed news. I got lucky. The ad ran almost as a call-and-response to the Journal article right above it.

If my luck continues, the ad will get more business for the client and I'll get more business from the client. That's what running your own agency is about.

There's no telling that I'll be able to do it again.

But I'll try. I didn't forget how.

Thank you.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

I leave for Saltillo.

When I escaped the silent noisy penitentiary I grew up in, I had read no primer on running away, unless you count those dopey episodes of Leave it to Beaver where some kid is worried his mom will be angry for riding his bike into a hydrangea or getting a C in arithmetic, so he hides for six hours--till just past dark--in a small clump of trees the neighborhood boys call the woods. 

I was thinking more like Huck. Turning to the barefoot and stupid for guidance. Huck, like me. Or me like Huck, locked in an old shed by a drunk of a father who had disappeared somewhere, who was laying, maybe, on the muddy bottom of some metaphorical river, with me locked up with no way to escape. Or my drunk of a mother locked in her room and howling silently like a de-trachea'd wolf on a moonless night, mad at the world, mad at it all, mad at herself and mad at the bottom of her glass because too much had gotten away and would never be.

If you've never set foot amid the sonic boom silence of a house filled with hate, you don't know what fear is. You don't know what emptiness is when you are punished, not for anything you did but for who you weren't and couldn't be. 

Punished with silence and straps that turned off and on like a broken traffic light, without rhyme or order. The hatred and the hurt, the stench of stench filled every crack between every piece of parquet on their expensive for-appearances hardwood floors and none of it made a difference, I was locked in Huck's shed, the door nailed closed, no windows and no way out.

Also like Huck said, both my parents had gotten too handy with their hick'ry, and I was all over with welts. The worst kind. The kind no one could see.

For months I planned without telling anyone. Coach Babich, I asked him, one afternoon after I had gone three for four with maybe a double thrown in, could you write me a letter, to coaches I'll play for someday, describing my skill as a ballplayer. A testimonial? Could you do that for me, Babich? Of course he would.

I took that note to Senor Cowan, my Spanish teacher, the class I goofed off through, where in ninth grade a girl called Bev showed me her left breast when we were silent and smirking taking a test on el camino real. Senor Cowan translated Babich's note and I folded it in thirds and put it in an envelope, properly, like kids were taught in those days and sto
red it in my old army surplus olive drab canvas duffle.

I saved my money, here and there. Summer funds from being a game-room attendant at a cheap ping-ping-ping arcade, where I made $2.30 an hour and was able to save $300--which was a middle-class week's pay in 1974, though it took me an entire summer to do it.

Every night, it was like Marciano in the ring against me. Two Marcianos with heavy, well-taped hands. Pummelling away at my soul, with short hard rights and roundhouse lefts, hating anything, everything, any idea I had about doing what I wanted to do, and doing it my own way. Every night, Marciano, pere and mere, pummeling. 

It will kill your father. He is not well. It will kill your mother. She is not well. It will ruin your life and you will never recover. You will fall behind and never catch up. College. You must. You can't delay. It will kill us.

And every night, I bounced back. Or tried to, against the scar tissue. I will go to college in January, instead of September, I promised. I'm still young for my class--I skipped fifth remember, and I am a December birthday. Everyone else is 18, I'm barely 17, I tried.

But it would kill them, they assured me with needles and lasers. It will kill them--not just me chasing a dream--me even having a dream. It would kill them, it would kill me, it would kill the world, some how, if I were to play baseball for a season--if I were to find out if I were any good and play baseball for a season, or most of a season, I had already missed a dozen or twenty games, down in the Mexican Baseball League (AA).

But I had read my Huck Finn, in Mr. Pike's 9th Grade class, and through the beatings and the bleatings and the weedings and the cheatings, Huck's words, Huck's decision to "lit out someplace," was like a beacon. What was lit was the light of hope, the light of escape, the light that I could have a life of light away from the vise and the vice of my parent's mis-correctional facility. 

So like Huck, I lit out for somewhere, somewhere I had never been, to do the one thing I loved doing, and the one thing I was good at, playing ball.

I left when it was still dark, not all the way closing the front door lest their hatred-heightened-hearing would somehow stop me at the doorman. I left in the still dark, with a note written by my Huck in my neatest private school script.

Off to see, I wrote. Off to play ball. Off to discover. 

I signed my name, first and last, to be sure they knew who the note was from.

And with my bag and my glove and my spikes and my $300, I headed to the 
urine-scented capital of the world, New York's Port Authority bus terminal for a bus ride to who knew what.

With ever-watchful eyes and bearing scars, visible and invisible, I headed South, looking, hoping that I might win some redeeming meaning for having struggled and suffered here beneath the dirty skies.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Tears and the man.

I think it was Lenin who said "There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen." Sometimes life is like that for us mere mortals, too. 

Sometimes, you're in the middle of a therapy session, 45 stinking minutes during which you return from deep inside your scraped knee childhood, through the beatings and the anguish and find yourself old and forgotten--alone--and thinking about a piece of raisin bread you had 75 years earlier that might have been the best thing ever to happen to you, the apotheosis even, if you went to an Ivy League school.

I had one of those therapy sessions--or I've had a few of late. Endless vistas of despair like something out of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. Where the despair goes on and on like a powerpoint presentation, yet there's no leaving the room, it just goes on.

It was one of those sessions where I sat at the bottom of an emotional Niagara Falls and every stupid thing I've ever done or said or even thought, every chance I didn't take, every left that should have been a right comes crashing down on me fracturing my fractures until my head itself is Benoit Mandelbroit- fractalized.

The good news here is stupid and simple.

I think a lot of people look at old, nominally successful people like myself and think, somehow that we're like Marvel superheroes. Somehow we're able to resist the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or able to summon up our strength and Stoic our way through whatever adversity comes our way.

They think every assignment ends in a victory and every blurt contains champagne bubbles of brilliance. I suppose that's an image a lot of people project. It makes them feel good and strong and powerful. Maybe after a while they believe in their own imperviousness.

Today, whatever day I wind up posting this, let me tell you something: It ain't that way. For anyone.

No one is impervious. Outside of a few money-ed republicans, very few people are born on third base and think they hit a triple.

There's crying in baseball.

Crying in life.


I cried when I got fired from R/GA. Cried when I got fired at Ogilvy. Cried when I looked at myself--old for the business and unemployed and boom, done. 

I've cried when I've been passed over. For money, for promotions, for the good assignments. Cried when others, who I don't think are as good as me, bound ahead of me because of this reason or that.

I cried.

I cried when I couldn't sell work. 

When I could no longer stand my boss and asked off business I loved.

When I had more work to do than any 10 other creatives and could get no help from the agency and less respect. I cry when the prevailing story in the industry becomes, 'he was born white and male, he had it easy.' Rather than, 'he was born poor and was beaten by his mother, he had it hard.' I cry at the simplicity of bias that obscures and detracts from the complexity of reality.

Every once in a while I have a long phone call with an old friend or two. Or a pastrami sandwich at Sarge's. Or a cheese omelet at some diner in mid-town. Believe it or not, sometimes, I have these repasts with people older than I, and certainly more accomplished. We eat like Monks, taking disinterested little bites and mostly just pushing our food around. We weep into our dirty tap water.

And mostly we cry.

If you've read this far and you sometimes feel like you've fucked up, or you don't know what you're doing, or you did something that turned out lousy, or you got asked off a piece of business, or a partner walked out on you, cry.


And keep on crying.

That's ok.

That's how it's done.

Everyone does it whether or not they admit it.

Cry. And cry some more.

And then keep on going.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Agency and Agencies.

Lately, like for the last 63 years, I have been burning the candle at both ends. The American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay said it best. (By the way, her middle name is St. Vincent because she was born in that hospital in Greenwich Village. Just call me George Yonkers Hospital Tannenbaum.) 

Millay's poem was called "First Fig." Here goes:

My candle burns at both ends;
    It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
    It gives a lovely light!

I've been talking to a new old friend of late, the surpassing copywriter and Executive Creative Director, Debra Fried. Debra wrote this wonderful post for this blog not long ago. If you didn't read it first time around, do yourself a favor and read it now. Also, follow Debra on Medium. It's well-done.

In any event, I said something to Debra the other day--a throw-away line that she picked up on. I'm giving us both credit for it. I did the easy part--I wrote it. Debra did the hard part--she noticed it.

The line goes like this: "It was only when I left the agency world that I got my agency back."

I started thinking about my two-years since I was kicked to the curb by an agency I was making money for--presumably due to the white hair around my temples and the convocation of avoirdupois around my mid-section. I can reach that conclusion because only 1/100 WPP employees is over 60. Around the world, 1/7 people are over 60. Go DIVERSITY!

(I'll write an homage to Millay's doggerel above with more than a soupcon of Ogden Nash added.)

If you live today
Anywhere in the universe,
You must quickly learn,
To use the word diverse.

Use it here. Say it there.
Whether you're feeling bad or feeling great.
Use it in writing, use it in speech.
Just don't forget to discriminate.

It doesn't matter,
Whiskey or beer,
Say there or say it here.
Just make sure you're insincere.

Right now, I have about a dozen clients with multi-billion dollar marketcaps. I am working on building a couple of teaching programs. And with some friends, I am working on a book on advertising. 

I am working harder than I ever have. With greater productivity, happier clients, and better work than I've ever done as the output. I'm also exercising and reading more. 

Dr. Lewis, are you reading this? I'm happier, too.

During one of my long, wayward walks, I started thinking about this productivity phenomenon. Why do I suddenly have my agency back? What accounts for my prodigious productivity. Here's a list that might begin to make sense of it all.

1. I no longer have a coterie of jealous supervisors and so-called colleagues who spend parts of their day keeping me down because they're afraid of me getting ahead.

2. I no longer have to sell my work 61 times internally to people who are not concentrating or are looking at their phones or wondering how they can make my thinking theirs.

3. I no longer have to spend weeks at a time bringing people along because they were expecting one thing and I gave them something else.

4. I no longer have to sit in six hours of meetings a day so the people presiding over the meeting can feel important--showing up late to show you what's what. (Read John Kenneth Galbraith's thoughts on meetings here.)

5. I no longer am forced to watch stupid compliance videos to satisfy corporate lawyers. I must have watched 20 anti-bribery videos over the years. But WPP, not me, was sued by the Securities Exchange Commission for bribery and was forced to pay $19 million in fines--though they admitted no guilt.

6. I no longer get a badly-written all-caps emails yelling at me for being nine-minutes late on timesheets.

7. I no longer have to listen to the insane jargon that spews out Vesuvius-like from mindless doyens of corporate tomfoolery under the guise of "we can see the future."

8. I no longer have to deal with 17 rounds of client revisions and track-changes in more colors than your average Alfred Sisley painting.

9. I no longer have to deal with the petty squabbles inherent in social organizations.

10. I no longer have to deal with the turf wars that take place when an agency is a zero-sum game--that is, a place where when someone gets, someone else loses.

11. I no longer worry about being fired because I'm big and old. White and male. Outspoken and funny.

I could easily go on--adding 40 or 50 more items to this list--all before my Eggos pop-up from the toaster. I'd bet a lot of you already have a pain or two in your neck from nodding in agreement with the above.

So that's enough for now.

Besides I have work to do.

Monday, October 18, 2021

F-You. With Fellini and Frost.

There's something about doing things year after year that gives me the hope of a placid continuity in a world that seems to be on the brink of spinning off its axis.

According to many, the Sixth Extinction is here--and as someone who's read a fair bit about the first five--it's safe to say that as a species on a dying planet, we have more to worry about than what Halloween candy to buy, who's wearing what at whatever talentless awards show or some outrage from some comedian about something that will be of no consequence two-sneezes from now.

Last Saturday, however, my wife woke up with an apple-cheeked glow on her face and I knew what that meant. It was time for our annual sojourn into the country. Time to visit one of America's few remaining farms and to pick more apples than is remotely reasonable. 

My entire family loves apples, however. And since my early 20s, blessed with the manual dexterity of a Philadelphia tailor or a Rififi safe-cracker, I've once-or-twice a year peeled and sliced dozens of pounds of apples then made container after container of the most-sumptuous apple-sauce you can imagine. My wife, with a coffin-sized freezer in our rickety garage, keeps it all year. She gives it to people she visits, sends it to our faraway daughters and even sneaks it frozen past the TSA who often have to be convinced it's not some sort of plastic explosive and she's not a page out of The Battle for Algiers.

It's the passing of time, however and the events that mark that passage that this post is about. Apple time means something. It means the winter holidays are coming, the year's end is near and it means hours in the kitchen steaming up the windows with an incipient apple-infused torpor.

When I was a boy, a city-bound boy, I'd anticipate the coming of the seasons by the plastic menorahs that would pop up in shop windows along Jewish Broadway, appearing just before Thanksgiving. They were as tilted as cones after a new driver's test--placed willy-nilly in the windows of drug stores, hardware stores and drycleaners always hewing one way or another, a-kilter to an old flatiron or some gift-set of monkey wrenches.

As Jewish Broadway's Jewish shop owners retired their shops were bought by the next generation, cigarette smoking Asian men and women who spoke more Yiddish than they did English, spitting along the way.

Unsure about the neighborhoods' holidays, as we are unsure about theirs, those same plastic menorahs--never with the right number of candles lit, would begin to pop-up like crocuses earlier and earlier. Conflating, I suppose "Jewish Rush Week," (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) with Hannukah, the candelabra would be up and running around the time the baseball season wound into the playoffs.

The best recounting of the passage of time--of ephemeral and eternal--I viewed as a 16-year-old boy when my friends and I decided to go see, instead of a summer blockbuster, Fellini's "Amacord." It was playing at the local art house bijou--and it was really the first movie I ever saw without a discernible plot.

The movie opens with a harbinger of spring. Small white spores are wafting through the air. Children are running after them, chasing them. Windows are thrown open. Boys are chasing girls. The white flows waft.

The movie goes on with a thousand scenes. Sad. Funny. Sadly funny. Funnily sad. And more.

At the end, my friends and I not really knowing what we had watched, the white spores came again. 

I said aloud, "A year in Italy at the rise of Mussolini's Fascism."

Oh. My. God.

A canvas of hope. Despair. Laughter. Lust. Mischief. Hate. Death. Life. Birth. Fucking. Eating. Pissing and more.

The movie so moved me, that forty years after first seeing it, I drove in an Alfa Romeo 200 miles out of my way in Italy to visit Fellini's home-town of Rimini, because I needed to see it and breathe the same air he might have breathed.

I don't know if the rise of Amerikan Fascism will be chronicled as well as the rise of Italy's. I know, Amerika's descent will be deeper, darker, crueler and more deadly. And won't be set to the music of Nino Rota--some of the best music ever recorded for the movies.

The apples are picked now. A good 75 pounds of them. They take up every bowl and container my wife owns and our house smells like a symphony. Soon, I will be dragged away from this Apple--my MacBook Pro, and the weekend assignments I have to do and go to work on Macouns, Jonah Golds, Empires, Pink Ladies and more. 

As we think about the passage and the permanence, I leave you, as I do pretty much every year around this time, with this from Mr. Frost.

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

By the way--if you ever have a chance to hear Frost read Frost,

put down your phone and listen. I promise it will do more for your soul than the status meeting you'll be late for. Actually, listen twice through--you'll get eight times the pleasure.