Monday, August 31, 2015

Washing windows.

It was another one of those weekends.

Another one of those mornings.

I was in with the window-washers.

Long before the guy who makes the coffee.

As Frank Loesser wrote,

"My time of day is the dark time
A couple of deals before dawn,
When the street belongs to the cop
And the janitor with a mop,
And the grocery clerks are all gone."

That ain't bad.

As poetry.

I don't mind being in with the window-washers.

That's what I do.

Wash windows.

Usually the grunt work that the effete can't do.

You can't think about it too much. You drop the brush in the water and swipe clean. Then you move onto the next panes of glass.

Work that needs to be done.

Not glamorous.

But better than pigeon shit obscuring your view.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cool. Back when.

The Times ran an article yesterday called "When Airlines Looked Cool and Showed It." You can read it here. And below, a few of the 33 posters in the slideshow.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


After nearly two weeks in a "Hot House" and a night last night that went almost to dawn, I slept in today and am slowly returning to the land of the living.

The first thing I did when I finally woke up was take a long walk along the river. I don't believe creativity is served if you are sequestered from sunlight. If you are shackled to a table and stink-eyed if you need to get out and walk.

As Yogi Berra might have said, 'you can observe so much by seeing,' but instead we were heads down in a sticky loft of iniquity peering deep, with electron microscopes, into our collective navels. Not an interesting view, or a good one, or one conducive, I think, to creative elan.

That said, I can't be wholly dismissive of the process either. It demands forced concentration. It brings in people from different entities who carry the banners of different disciplines and who trumpet different points of view.

I think all that's good. I think that part of the process produced a good amount of ideas. Which was the whole point in the first place.

Last night, the last couple of night actually, when work had to be writ, comped, proofed and revised, I thought of a World War II hero (and later Vietnam villian), head of the US Air Force, General Curtis LeMay.

I have a bit, or more than a bit of LeMay in me.

He earned the nickname "Old Iron Ass" for his ability to sit on his keister and grind out work for hours on end. I did a little bit of that for the last two weeks.

It's over now.

I think the work was pretty good and I hope it goes well.

I hope to return to the living soon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The pitch.

For the past month, a group of about 60 of us from literally around the world, have been holed up in a lavish Soho loft working on a giant pitch.

Today, we had our big presentation to The National Caper Board (NCB). Three fully-blown out campaigns, with TV, print, radio, mobile ads, activation, video case studies, landing pages, outdoor and sundry other channels represented.

I worked on all three of the campaigns we presented.

1) Capers. The salt of the Earth.  And,
2) Start a Caper caper. And finally...
3) Be more Caper-ble.

To say we blew the client away would be an understatement. We made them laugh, we made them cry. We even made them think.

No decision yet on the pitch.

BBDO goes tomorrow.

Wieden on Friday.

It's big, this one.

Fingers crossed.

One night, long ago in Saltillo.

The first pitch I saw as a rookie third-baseman for the Seraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League 40 years ago this summer, came in big as a grapefruit, up and out over the plate. I couldn't have called for a fatter meatball. It was right in my power and I swatted it hard to right-center, between their rightfielder and their centerfielder and it hit the green plywood wall on one bounce, right beneath the large white numbers that read: 404, then below that in slightly smaller type, the distance in meters, 123.

There was no play at second, and no chance to making my hit a triple, but I took a pop-up slide into second nonetheless, mainly just to get my flannels dirty. I could hear in my head my old high school coach, Coach Babich yelling at me to do so. Babich didn't believe you were in the game, that you were in it to win, unless you looked like you stepped out of a 1934 photograph of the St. Louis Cardinals' 'Gas House Gang.'
Four dusty Cardinals of the 1934 'Gas House Gang.'

I obliged Babich's voice and stood like De Soto looking at the Mississippi on second. There was a smattering of applause from the Saltillo crowd, a smaller canape of the same from our bench. I had just joined the team that morning and none of the boys knew me yet.

Clemente Bonilla, our big rightfielder was next to the plate and he smacked another opposite field hit, a seeing-eye grounder that dribbled slowly between the first and second basemen of the Tabasco Olmecs. 

When I saw Bonilla's hit going through, and the Olmec rightfielder playing deep, I went full around third, saw the third-base coach waving me in and I scored my first professional run just two or four minutes after tagging my first professional hit.

If I had had parents, or anyone back home in New York who cared, I would have written a postcard. "Dear Mom and Dad," I scribbled in my head. "A double in my first at bat. A run scored a minute later. Major Leagues, watch out."

But I had no one to write to, seldom have. I've always been as lonely as an ice floe, and I like it that way.

To be honest, I don't remember much of the rest of the game. You don't remember your second of anything like you remember your first, and the rest of the evening seemed to pass without event. I've tried to look up the boxscore on the internet. But the Mexican Baseball League was a ramshackle affair in those days--as were most Mexican newspapers, and I haven't been successful in finding an archive that would help me recall the subsequent happenings on that day in June, 1975.

I got back to the dugout that evening, having gotten a hit, having scored a run, and a few of my teammates introduced themselves, welcomed me and shook my hand. Later on that night, our stubbly catcher Isael Buentello sat down next to me on the pine. 

Issy put his arm around my shoulder. "You are welcome here," he said slowly in English. "Thank you," I said to him, tentatively in Spanish. Soon, he became my first and closest friend. He and my manager Hector Quesadilla, well, I became their little brother, or their little son.

I'm not sure why these thoughts are washing back to me now.

Maybe it's that I am beginning to feel at least partially settled in a new job, with a new bunch of people. Maybe I feel like they know or are beginning to know--after two of the most intense weeks of my working life--that I can hold my own at the plate, that I can line a double that makes the fence on one bounce, that I can field my position, run the bases, dust-up my uniform. 

That I can, strange as it may seem, be one of the 'guys.' One of the go-to guys.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


While playing third base for the Seraperos de Saltillo for one season in the Mexican Baseball League, one thing I learned is that it seems, at least sometimes, that waiting is about 80% of life.

As a ballplayer, you're nearly always waiting. Waiting for a game to start or a rain delay to end. Waiting for a ball to be hit your way. Waiting for your turn at bat. Waiting, even, for the pitcher between pitches.

Though I last played ball "for serious" when I was 17, before I enrolled in Columbia University in the City of New York, it's safe to say at that early age, I had earned my Masters Degree in waiting.

It was during that summer, a full 40 years ago, that I invented and became the all Mexican Champion at a game I called rafter ball.

The clubhouse had exposed 2x6 rafters crissing and crossing the ceiling. While we waited for this or for that, two or four of us would position ourselves underneath a rafter which ran about four feet over our heads. Underhand one of us would toss a baseball up toward the rafter. If it missed, that was an out. If the ball bounced on the rafter once, it represented a single. Twice, a double. Three times, a triple. Four times, a homer. And if the baseball somehow stayed on the rafter, it was an automatic grand slam.

We could play rafter ball literally for hours. We'd play with real imaginary rosters. Games that would go on for hours. Longer than real live human being games. Money, of course, would be bet. Tempers would flare. Time would be passed. Which was, after all, the whole point.

Today, like I said, it's 40 years later.

We are often sent off to do ridiculous tasks at ridiculous speed.

Then, of course, we wait for ridiculous feedback.

Rafter ball anyone?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Two sentences.

I ran across the sentences below in an email from "The New Yorker," announcing the publication, late next month of a new collection of writing from the really very surpassing writer Joseph Roth. You can read the whole piece here. And I think it's worth it. 

I've read a lot of Joseph Roth in my day, and I suppose he's in the top three of Roths out there. He's not Philip--the Roth who stands head and shoulders above all other Roths--read "Portnoy's Complaint" if you doubt that. And Joseph probably falls in behind, just barely, Henry Roth, whose "Call it Sleep," is pretty damn good.

Joseph specialized in feulletons. Little incidental marginalia. Still I regard his "What I Saw," as one of the great books of early pre-Hitlerite Europe.

But back to the sentence at hand:

"On Sundays the world is as bright and empty as a balloon. Girls in white dresses wander about the streets like so many church bells, all smelling of jasmine, sex, and starch."

When my younger daughter was about 15 or 16, I taught her to drink espresso as it should be drunk. Let a drop on your tongue, like ambrosia, and let its flavor spread over your palate.

That's how I feel about Roth's sentence. Each word or phrase is perfect and evocative. Let it sit on your tongue for a while.

Achy Monday.

On Thursday afternoon, after what seemed like 96 straight hours in this giant brainstorm somebody deemed a hothouse, I felt a itchy in my throat and a burning in my eyes. By Friday this had advanced into a full-blown summer cold and by the time I woke up this morning, I was dizzy, disoriented, sick as a dog and dreading the 65-step ascent to the particle-board table I am working at with four or six other people.

I'm not sure who conceived of the idea that four or five dozen people in close confines in an unventilated apartment rife with too much noise and too few bathrooms would be conducive to productive thought. But it probably wasn't a person charged with doing the thinking. I'm 99% sure the people who come of with innovations like these never have to live with innovations like these. And more often than not, no one has the nerve to tell them that the wretched little creatures suffering under conditions like these are none-too-happy about it.

Nevertheless, I made it here, sweaty and achy and fairly disoriented at 8:20. There are just a couple more days and nights of this. Of course they promise to be late and riven by the effects of this illness that is having its way with me.

That's all right, really.

It's life and work and all that.

Still, I wish, as they say, I coulda stood in bed.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Dig, we must.

Once again I started early this morning.

Early at a 'hothouse' where only the women putting out stale bagels were there ahead of me.

There's a lot of work that needs to get done over the next week.

A lot of work and not a lot of time.

A bit too much pressure for me to be loose enough to be productive.

But that's not my call.

You deal with the situation. You try to make the best of it.

When I was a kid, Con Edison, the electric company was, like now, always digging up this street or that. Seemingly causing the maximum amount of congestion on the maximum number of streets.

I guess due to the then-nascent women's movement, Con Edison changed its disruption signs from "Men at Work" to the pre-emptive, no argument "Dig, We Must."

That's how you get through days like today.

Weekends like this coming one.

Keep your fingers close to the keyboard.

Talk low. Talk slow. And don't say too much.

And dig we must.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Is there a hell?

I am, if you've been reading Ad Aged you'd know, ensconced in the middle of a two-week exercise my agency calls a "hothouse."

This is a round-the-clock affair where we work all day and into the night trying to solve some problem or another.

On Tuesday, our second day of the hothouse, we all got called into a group meeting. We returned to our wobbly desks clear out in the open after about 45-minutes. Someone, some bastard, stole the little $9.95 adapter that works with my old Macbook power source and lets me use it on my new machine.

I will say this to whoever stole it.

You'll wish there is a hell.

Because it's surely better than the place I have picked out for you.