Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Busy.

video
It's funny (haha) when you're cut loose from a job, or when you decided you've had enough, or you just decide you want to go it alone.

You feel stripped. Eviscerated. Gutted like a fat bluefish.

There are moments, or weeks, or maybe even months of panic.

You're adrift, rudderless.

Last night I thought about the Old Man who went 84 days without catching a fish.

It can feel like that.

One day when I was feeling like that, I had lunch with an old, wise friend--a headhunter, in fact.

We talked about the business and my search for work. Every time she mentioned an agency or person who might be looking, I cut her off. "I know so and so there," I'd say. "I already reached out to him."

She didn't get exasperated with me as so many do.

She summed up my career.

"You've done your homework," she said. "You've kept up-to-date. You have a good reputation. You've worked at the right places. You'll be fine."

Then she paid for lunch.

Now I'm about 17% busier than I'd like to be. Juggling not my usual three Indian clubs but four or five of them, with maybe a chainsaw mixed in.

That's ok.

That's when you're alive.

I like it that way.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Not on advertising.

It occurs to me that one of my favorite advertising blogs, Rich Siegel's "Round Seventeen," often has little if anything to do with advertising. Today for instance Rich writes about, among other things, sheets, pillowcases, mattresses and the power of our better halves.

My modest blog is much the same. Though I write about advertising and life within agencies when I am able, when there's something interesting or important, more often than not I write about other crap. Shit that happens to me on the bus going home or a story that knocks into me somehow.

The other day I was listening to a show on our public radio station called "Performance Today." In it the host Fred Child interviewed noted pianist Steven Osborne. Swimming against the tide for a top-flight pianist, Osborne said he doesn't practice eight or 12 hours a day. He said, in effect, that living life to its fullest, not just in a practice room is what makes him a good pianist. It's the experience of life that informs his playing, not just practice.

It occurs to me that in our highly professionalized world, too few people in advertising partake in the experiences of life. The fact is most young people these days seem to enter the business via ad schools that make the creation of ads an academic exercise rather than a living one. 

Therefore, I believe, too many ads have a sterility that is void of human insight. We shout things to consumers but rarely empathize with them. Because we rarely think of humanity. We're too busy thinking of Cannes judges.

When I think of the great ads of the 60s or 70 or even the 80s, many of them touched on some of the pains we feel as we navigate the shoals of life. Volvo talked with sensitivity about the burden of never-ending car payments--and how Volvo's (which they claimed lasted an average of 11 years) could alleviate that burden.

VW talked about the impact of planned obsolescence on your pocketbook and the high price of repairs and gasoline. Hertz talked about the pain of business travel--the late nights, the unfriendly faces.

The humanity I see in work today is most often a contrived one. Look how happy baby-wipes or Toyotas make people, they seem to proclaim. Or Doritos or flying to London.

It's all because we spend so much time studying advertising instead of studying people.  Because awards shows determine the efficacy of our work not real people.

If you want to do good ads don't try to do good ads.

Try to do something real and let the chips fall where they may.

You might start by reading Rich's blog.

It has nothing to do with what it's all about: advertising.

The moon landing. Ramifications.

Reprinted on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the Moon landing.


Years ago--I think it was the 10th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong's moon walk, I had the honor of interviewing Armstrong for my college newspaper.

Being a "writerly" sort, asked him specifically about his words on setting foot on the moon. How did you come up with "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong looked me dead in the eye, "I never said that."

"Mr. Armstrong," I replied, "I've heard the recording a thousand times. I've read about it in history books. Every school child knows you said 'One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.'"

Armstrong said, "What I said was 'one small step for man; one giant leap for Manny Klein."

I begged the famous flier to explain.

Armstrong told me this story, "When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, the walls in our apartment house were very thin. You could hear everything. And every night I would hear our neighbor, Manny Klein, begging his wife for oral sex. Every night, Mrs. Klein would demur.

"Finally," Armstrong continued, "Mrs. Klein relented. She said when a man walks on the moon, I'll give you oral sex. Hence 'One small step for man; one giant leap for Manny Klein.'"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekends with Whiskey.

Since early this year, January or February, my wife and I have been getting up early on weekend mornings--like 6AM--so we can take our wonderful golden retriever Whiskey for a romp in the country.

We've settled on a rocky beach adjacent to Rye Playland amusement park, an isolated and quiet horseshoe where I stand atop the water-shaped stones and toss a small rubber bumper into the sea for Whiskey to do what comes naturally, retrieve.

Whiskey is all for this activity. In fact on the way down to the garage in our building she is fairly jumping out of her skin. She piles into the back seat and rustles around doing the doggy-equivalent of "are we there yet?" the whole way up to Rye.

She paces the backseat while we're on the FDR. She whimpers on the Deegan. She's wide-eyed and beside herself by the time we hit the Cross Bronx. Once we hit the last stretch, the New England Thruway, she's like an ADHD kid after eating a barrel of Skittles.

I pull into a spot and open the door. She gallops to the beach and fairly does backflips. "Let's go, old man," she says to me. "Let's go already!"

I sling the bumper as far as I can into the water and Whiskey gallops in, then swims the 20 or 30 yards out to the float. I've timed it. It takes her about 1:30 to get to the bumper and a little longer on the return swim.

Then, despite our efforts to train her to drop the toy at our feet, she romps on the sand, digging, rolling and burying. Today she found the carcass of a dead gull and had a chicken dinner with that. But I quickly retrieved she and her toy and out she went again.

We do this for two hours on Saturday and an hour and a half on Sunday when she starts off a little tired. Then we take a mile walk along the empty boardwalk while Whiskey dries off and has a drink of fresh water supplied by my wife. Then it's another mile back to the car.

Whiskey sleeps on the way home.

Dreaming puppy dreams of catching the goose that lays the golden egg. Or at least a dead seagull.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Back to the Mexican League.

Estadio Francisco I. Madero, back in the day.
Call me Jorge.
Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would travel about a little and see another part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get away as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to a baseball.
39 years ago I was fresh-faced and fresh from high school doing what I lived, at the time, to do. I was playing professional baseball in the Mexican Baseball League.

I went down to Mexico to play ball for two or three reasons, the first, of course, being that I loved to play ball. Second, I did not feel like going straightaway to college. I had graduated high school early, at 17, and was a year younger than a lot of my friends. I figured I could bum for a year, playing ball, hunting girls, without doing too much damage to my future prospects. Third, and this was a balm to my harridan of a mother, I would learn Spanish. In entropic and chaotic New York where I grew up, it paid to be able to say "take my money, just don't hurt me," in as many languages as possible.

I showed up in Saltillo, Mexico, nicknamed then and now "the Athens of Mexico," with one small suitcase, my Wilson A2000 glove and $200 in traveler's checks. Rather than finding a place to live or calling home I went right to the Estadio Francisco I. Madero, tried out for, and made the team, the Saraperos.

At that moment I also shed my given name and took the moniker Jorge Navidad as my nom de Louisville Slugger. I was given a too-large flannel uniform, a hook in the locker-room and was told there was a game that evening and I should be at the ballpark by five. The game would start a couple hours after that.

There was no negotiation of salary. There was no contract. There was no chatter or discussion. Show up and play ball.

My start for the Saraperos was nothing if not auspicious. The first professional pitch I ever saw (outside of my try-out) I laced for an opposite field stand-up double. My next at bat, I pulled the ball and got another two-bagger down the left field line. In all, I went three for four, two doubles, one rbi and one run scored.

I stayed hot through my first ten games in the league, going 16 for 44, or hitting .363. Soon however word got around the league about me. I could be beaten inside and had a hard time with off-speed pitches. My average and my ego quickly returned to earth.

My sojourn down south lasted just three months. Then the season ended and as I promised my finger-wagging termagant of a mother, I returned to New York and proceeded to grow-up, as ordered.

At one point I tried to write a book on my time with the Saraperos. Of being paid, once with two live chickens and once with a dirty map which would lead me to 'the Treasure of the Sierra Padre.' I tried to write of Hector Quesadilla, the Mexican League's Casey Stengel, the wise old professor of Mexican baseball, but no, nothing came of it. I had accumulated a store of stories, like the time I raced a bull from home to first, but maybe not enough for a real chronicle.

I played for love, really. Like today I work for love. I could make more money doing something else, but I love what I do, and that's the only way to be.

So, to be honest, I put my beisbol experiences away in the bottom drawer of my memory. Some thing this morning, maybe it's the warm hazy blue sky or the muddy melody of the Hudson River flowing by, brought those months to mind again.

I coulda been a contender.

Not really.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

A mystical bus ride.

Last night I had one of those strange New York bus rides that my friends from outside of New York think I concoct. This one was weird and mystical, wise and profound.

I left the office around seven and I walked seven blocks to 54th between 10th and 11th avenues. There I pick up the M31, a snail of a bus, but one that is convenient for me. Heading home, it runs across 57th Street from west to east, then turns up York Avenue where it deposits me just half a block from my apartment.

I prefer the bus to the subway, particularly when where I'm leaving from and where I'm going to is far from the train.

The M31 is, as I mentioned, a slow-ass bus, but the route it runs works for me.

Since when I commute home I get on at the first stop, I always get a seat. What I usually do once seated is open my computer and log onto the internet. This gives me time to finish some work or answer a few emails or just see what various friends are up to on social networks.

Last night however a woman sat down next to me and began speaking to me. In short order I shut down my Mac and was fed 90% of her life story.

Her father-in-law escaped from a Soviet prison camp at the end of World War II. He walked across Europe to Dussledorf from whence he immigrated to the United States. My friend was vacationing in Hawaii, single at the age of 36 she prayed to meet a nice man who didn't just want to fuck. She made a motion with her hands that teenage boys make to mimic fucking.

When she returned to New York she was walking in Central Park and she met her future husband. Even though she's Puerto Rican, he treated her with respect.

She told me about her two daughters and one son. About all of them moving to a studio apartment on 57th Street to get into a better school district. "I didn't want my kids growing up and saying 'yo,'" she said to me. She is obviously no fan of Stallone's "Rocky" movies.

"I worked for 17 years at Young and Rubicam. They had me interview three times because I'm Puerto Rican. They didn't want to hire me but did because I knew how to use a computer back in 1986 and no one else did."

She continued. "I think some people are born with grace. You know what means 'grace,' she asked me.

"It means you're blessed," I replied.

"That's right. You work all the way on 11th Avenue, but you don't work alone, you don't walk there alone."

"No, there are a lot of people who do it."

"That's not what I mean," she said. "You're not alone."

It would be easy to dismiss this lady--maybe she's just a crazy religious zealot who believes her three-year-old grand-daughter can communicate with her dead great-grandmother. But I think she's right.

It's no picnic, I have to say, freelancing, starting over as it were after 30 years in the business. But I think she's right.

If you play your cards right, keep up your portfolio, your reputation and your integrity, you're not alone in the world. Even if it feels that way at times. Someone or many people are watching out for you.

My friend got off at 57th and 3rd. She's 67 years old, she told me and had not a wrinkle on her face. She looked more my age than hers.

"I go to lots of clubs," she told me on leaving. "I go to many because I don't like to gossip and I get bored. Tonight I have Bingo!"

I wished her luck and said I enjoyed talking with her.

I'll bet she won.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Red Klotz, loser, dead at 93.

Globetrotter star "Meadowlark" Lemon handed Klotz thousands of losses.
It's only natural that some times we feel less-than-in-charge of our talents, capabilities and craft. I know I'm a good writer and a good thinker, but some times, rarely, the thoughts, ideas and words don't come. Something is stymying me, hindering me, and paralyzing me. For whatever reason, rightly or wrongly, you feel like a loser.

Everybody feels this way at times. It's as natural as breathing.

The next time it happens to me, I'm going to spend a minute or two thinking about a guy who died on July 12th, Red Klotz.

Red Klotz.

Remember the name.

He was a professional loser.

For seven decades he played for and coached the basketball teams that played against the Harlem Globetrotters.

No one goes to see the Globetrotters lose and Klotz's teams were meant to do just that. They were meant to be competitive, but they were meant to come up short.

Klotz came up short, he lost to the 'Trotters over 14,000 times. He won just twice.

He said once, "Beating the Globetrotters is like shooting Santa Claus."

Despite those 14,000 losses, Klotz was no loser.

He understood his role against the Globetrotters. He was Hardy to their Laurel. Martin to their Lewis. Costello to their Abbott.

He was a foil.

And he knew how to lose.

While keeping his pride, integrity and dignity.

Hardly a loser.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Working with genius.

If you’re lucky (and most people are without realizing it) during the course of your life on earth you’ll work with an assortment of people blessed with genius.

These are people who are extraordinary at what they do.

Naturals.

People who seem to arrive at the right answer before the question is asked.

Or people who can plot a multi-dimensional course to success—a full-fledged plan while others are still taking in the problem.

These people make large and material differences in the companies they work for, in the relationships they have, in the work they touch.

Genius doesn’t have to mean E=MC2. It can be a slap hitter who keeps fouling pitches off until he gets one he can handle. It can be Jack Benny’s timing, four beats too slow. Or the pizza guy in Santa Margherita, Italy who gets everything just right and then throws in a surprise.

When you work with those people the best thing to do is button your lip and listen. Or as Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

So observe and watch.

Watch how they do things.

Watch how they think.

Watch what they say and what they make.

Watch them and evaluate their strengths. Think about which ones you can adopt to your strengths. Don’t try to “be” them. Do try to learn from them.

You might never be a natural.

But you can be a learner.





On and off kilter.

I am a bit out of kilter today, I'll admit.

For one thing my building pass where I am freelancing has expired and I have to wrestle with a burley Puerto Rican security guard in order to get in in the morning.

Then I have to prop open the door with an old award annual if I want to wash my hands or use the facilities.

On top of that, my trusty five-year-old mac has decided to die.

I am rudderless, adrift, kelp-like.

Even writing on Ad Aged, which I usually do first thing in the morning, well today I did it third thing in the morning.

Which means I'm out of kilter.

That said, kilter for me comes easy.

As Gertrude Stein never said "A QWERTY is a QWERTY is a QWERTY."

I am at home in front of a keyboard. And I know I can solve most any communication problem with an adroit combination of words.

That's what I'm paid to do.

I'm not paid to write this blog.

But it does help me stay in fighting trim. If I were a boxer it would be my equivalent of six rounds facing a journeyman light-heavy with a strong right cross.

Speaking of boxing, it's been said most boxers live life believing they are one punch away from something. One punch away from their name in lights and a Sports Illustrated cover.

The trouble is, they're always one punch away.

Of course, I'm one punch away, too.

One punch away from flooring someone at Apple if I can't get my computer fixed.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The new new new new thing.

Much of what I did while I was away in Italy dealt with culture that was 100 years old, or 500, or 1000, or, in the case of the Romans, 2000 or more.

I saw three operas, countless cathedrals and churches (and their concomitant adornments) and myriad mosaics. Going from the past into my 2014 Alfa-Romeo was like an episode of Star Trek. It felt, at times, like traveling through a time-space worm-hole.

Much of the palaver that circulates ad agencies and marketing organizations can be summed up in one sentence: “This will change everything.” What’s clearer to me than ever is how little has really changed since the beginning of time.

We are still awed by the unknown. We still gape opened mouthed.
We still laugh at the same basic jokes—like a man dressing as a woman.
We still marvel over the same things and feel the same emotions.

What we should be doing as creative people and as people in creative industries, is not chase after the new new new new thing.

What we should be doing is finding the central, seminal truth.

The true promise and power of what moves people.

The Caravaggio above, "Supper at Emmaus," is 400-plus years old. It is not a three-dimensional balloon dog by Jeffrey Koons. But for whatever reason, it moves me as few things do. The story is there. As are the emotions and strain.

This is not to say that all things modern are bad.

It is to cite Faulkner, once again:

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."