Thursday, July 28, 2016

Advertising advice from John Wayne.

I was never a fan of the actor John Wayne. Even when he was at the peak of his long career and being directed by one of my favorite directors, John Ford, I always thought Wayne was a bit of a hack--emotive and overbearing.

Maybe I couldn’t get over his chicken-hawk tendencies. How he appeared in what seemed like countless WWII movies, yet avoided active service. He seemed even more hypocritical when Vietnam raged—where he spoke out in favor of the war, a war he refused to fight.

Maybe I couldn’t reconcile his tough cowboy persona with the reality of who he was—born Marion Morrison, not in the old west of Liberty Valance, but in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa.

In short, Wayne seemed to me to be a phony.

All that said, Wayne gave some advice about acting that serves as pretty good advice for marketers and for those of us in advertising. Would that more people followed it.

Wayne’s advice: “Talk low. Talk slow. And don’t say too much.”

Too many—too many people, too many marketers (too many presidential candidates for that matter) do the exact opposite of those instructions.

They don’t talk low: they feel the need to shout, to bully, to cajole. Throw in a screaming announcer, or bold-face type, or, heaven forfend, an exclamation point! Bully your audience into action.

They don’t talk slow. They blather on endlessly, with more legalese than the tax code, with half-truths and bait and switches and outright lies.

And they say too much: You can call it marketing diarrhea, where messages come spewing forth with the force of a cyclone. Where everyone is a content creator, where every square inch of “real estate” everywhere has to be plastered with imperatives to act now, and worthless, mind-numbing “offers” to get us to do so.

No wonder consumers--no everyone--is turned off.

We no longer even display a modicum of respect.



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ragging in Saltillo.

For all the writing I've done about my season south-of-the-border 41-years ago, I don't think I've ever written about our second-baseman, Arnulfo Adame.

Adame was just one of those players who blended into the woodwork. On the bench, he was quiet, clapping softly to cheer his teammates on, spitting sunflower seeds or tobacco onto the dirt ringing the dugout. In the locker-room, if there was a team meeting and chairs were drawn around in a semi-circle around a lecture from our manager, Hector Quesadilla, Adame's chair was always on the outer ring, on the fringe, and he was way more likely to be staring into his glove than to be looking at whoever was berating us.

At bat, Adame was steady but not spectacular. He sprayed the ball around to all fields, made good contact and was a decent man in the clutch and could lay one down. But he seldom hit a long ball or a screaming liner. The same held true when he was out at second base. He was as steady as Gibraltar, fielding his position with good, not great range, getting everything hit his way with the reliability of a cinder block. 

Adame was one of those players Hector could pencil into the line-up card every day. He would field his position, get a timely hit, and every once in a while do something little in the field or at bat or on the basepaths that might give the Seraperos a tiny edge that could be the difference between winning and losing.

I never hung with Adame. Even though there were only 25 or 35 of us Seraperos, he was one of those guys I barely said ten words to. It's not that he didn't like me or I didn't like him. It's just the way things were, and even now, 41 years later, he stays away from team functions, from old-timers' games and veterans' dinners.

In fact, when I'm at one of those aforementioned events--I seem to be on a once-a-year-circuit--I'll ask Buentello or Angel Diablo if they've heard from his (they were always the most social guys on the team) and invariably they say "que desapareció de la faz de la tierra." He has dropped off the face of the earth.

Back in August or September of 1975, something turned on the team, and some of the boys began ragging on Adame. There was no ostensible reason for it, except that maybe he was extraordinary only in the way he was ordinary. Or maybe it was just the rag fest's turn to hit Adame, as it had hit almost everyone in due course. 

If Adame hit a grounder and the throw from third beat him by two steps, someone would rag, "My mother could have beat that throw." If there was a ball hit into the hole and Adame despite his decent range couldn't get to it, someone would taunt him, "I could have had that in my pocket."

It was relentless, the ragging was, like ragging almost always is. Hector, well, maybe Hector should have done something about it sooner. But ragging is often like a bad spell of weather: there's nothing you can really do about it except wait for it to blow away and move on--which it invariably does.

But before long, the ragging was hurting Adame. Everything he did at bat or in the field seemed to anticipate the rebukes he would receive. As a consequence he became stiff and frozen. 

Usually a contact hitter, he scarcely moved the bat off his shoulder and he began to whiff with frequency. In the field, his range was reduced to a step or two in either direction. And when one was hit dead at him, he'd often bobble the ball, then have to rush the throw and then throw badly.

As you more than likely know, ragging begets ragging and the more ragging Adame got, the more he fouled up, the more ragging he got, the more he screwed up, and so on.

Adame's batting average dropped. His fielding became a liability. And though he probably weighed no more than 150 lbs. while holding a cerveza fria in each hand, he began skipping meals and dropping weight.

It finally cracked one night game in the heat of Torreon. Adame grabbed his bat and walked tentatively up to the plate. I think Teolindo Acosta, the scrub second baseman, yelled to him. "Your mother sucks dead mice," or something similarly poetic.

Adame turned on his spikes, dropped his bat and walked over to Acosta. He took the leather batting glove off his left hand. He spit twice into the ground. And then got close to Acosta's face.

And whispered, "basta." "Enough."

Then Adame put back on his glove, walked back to the batter's box and promptly hit a double to the opposite field.

And that was the end of that.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Yesterday. In two pictures.



Genius, Casey Stengel and advertising.

I read a quotation the other day by a ball-player named Warren Spahn. Spahn was probably the greatest left-handed pitcher ever to play the game. Whether you agree with that statement or not, Spahn won more games than any lefty, 363, and 20 or more games—the hallmark of pitching brilliance, 13 times.

One anomaly of Spahn’s career is that he played for manager Casey Stengel twice. First Spahn played for Stengel when he was just 21 and at the start of his career in 1942. And Spahn played for Stengel in 1965 when he was 44 and at the end of his career.

Spahn’s quotation: “I'm probably the only guy who played for Stengel before and after he was a genius.”

That got me thinking about Stengel. And genius. And sic transit gloria mundi. And all that.

Stengel, who had a relatively undistinguished 13-year career as a ballplayer, began his managerial career at the age of 43, leading the woeful Brooklyn Dodgers. From 1934-1943 he led teams through eight losing seasons in nine years, finishing above .500 just once, in 1938 when his Boston Bees won two more games than they lost and finished fifth in an eight-team league—Stengel’s highest standing.

Then, Stengel headed to the Pacific Coast League where he eventually led the Oakland Oaks to a PCL Championship. 

George Weiss, the General Manager of the Yankees and a friend of Stengel's hired Stengel to lead the Yanks. Stengel managed the Bombers for 12 years, from 1949 to 1960. During that time, his boys won 10 pennants and seven World Series. 

Stengel was a genius.

Then, in 1962, Stengel went to the Mets.

His team lost more games in a single season than any team ever, 120. In his four years as the Mets' manager, his club finished in last place each year, scarcely showing any improvement at all.

Stengel didn't start dumb, get smart, then lose it.

Circumstances played a large role in the performance of his teams. I would imagine he managed with the same acumen for the 103-51 Yankees as he did for the 40-120 Mets.

The same shit happens in our business.

We win awards. We go on a streak of good work. We get promoted and lauded and etc. Then the opposite occurs. We win the world-wide Hot Pockets account. And our career goes in the toilet.

Life, in other words, is ups and downs.

Hang in there.

Stick to your knitting. That is do what you know you can do.

And maybe, like Stengel, you'll still be working at the age of 74.



Friday, July 22, 2016

Tweeting in Saltillo.

Sometimes, like I get to the office earlier than anyone else, I would get to the ballpark early, just so I could move slowly. We spend too much of our lives, I think, exercising our fast-twitch muscles. Thinking quickly. Acting quickly. Moving quickly. Gobbling up the newspaper as if it were on fire. Or eating lunch like we hadn’t eaten for a month.

Sometimes, I would get to the ballpark early so I could do things ASAP, as slow as possible.

I liked the quiet of the water dripping from the old overhead pipes in the locker-room. I liked the languid process of gearing up. I liked seeing the clean-up crew, slowly and methodically, seat by seat, row by row, bringing order to the filthy chaos of the old, wooden Estadio Francesco I. Madura.

I especially liked seeing the grounds’ crew with their long hoses making lazy arcs of spray in the hopes of keeping our infield green amid the withering summer sere of Saltillo. I could see, as I ran in the outfield, the small rainbows as they swept the field with water. I could hear their lazy chatter, about last night’s game, or last night’s girl, or trouble with a transmission, or a wife, or both.

There was a scrub on the team that summer, a guy I hardly hung with and who hardly played, but whom Hector kept around because Hector kept guys around who could think, guys who understood the game and could do the invisible things that often result in gaining a run, or saving one. Guys who could hit to the opposite field or hit a cut-off man, or lay down a bunt, or distract an opponent. Anything to give us an edge.

One of those guys was, like I said, a scrub utility infielder named Jesus Verduzco who in addition to being skilled with a glove, had those quiet skills mentioned above. Verduzco was 24 when I knew him. Not only was he the sole college graduate on the team, he was, in the off-season attending medical school in Mexico City, so, of course, he went by the moniker, El Doctor.

Early one morning when you could hear the small songbirds rustling and singing in the scrub trees just beyond the painted-green outfield fence, when you could move to the rhythm ca ca ca-chunk whiiiiiiiir of the automatic sprinklers in the outfield, El Doctor and I were running together from foul pole to foul pole.

We had landed on a good metronomic pace and our legs and arms were in unison. It made, even in the early morning heat, the running easier. I was feeling young and strong and well-muscled and yes, as close to invincible as I have ever felt. I was doing well on the team, I had a pretty girlfriend, I had Hector and Teresa taking care of me like I had never been taken care of before.

New York, my home, riotous, out of control New York, to which I would be returning in a few months was far away. My parents, my absent old man and my termagant old lady, were, for now, out of my life. Even my brother, whom I loved, and my sister, whom I loved, were far far distant. It was just me, strong, powerful, a professional baseball player who had hit a double off the wall in right the night before and a home run to the deepest part of the park the night before that. I was well fed by Teresa. I had money and, for the first time in my life, a comfortable bed to sleep in.

I ran along with Verduzco and thought of Terence and A.E. Housman. The iambs of his words keeping pace with the beat of my run.

                          “Terence, this is stupid stuff:
                           You eat your victuals fast enough;
                           There can’t be much amiss, ‘tis clear,
                           To see the rate you drink your beer.
                           But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
                           It gives a chap the belly-ache…”

Verduzco, silent in our run, silent in a private reverie as was I began to speak.

“Do you hear the birds, Jorge Navidad?” he asked me.

“Of course I hear the birds. In the morning they are louder than the loudest fans.”

“They are loud because they are with other birds they love and they are with their children birds. And they are eating and loving and laughing.”

We ran another loop, from right field to left, leaping up to touch the yellow of the tall mast-like foul pole.

“Me gustaría ser un pájaro,” Verduzco said. “I wish I were a bird. Not a hawk or an eagle. And certainly not a raven or a pigeon or a crow. I wish I were a songbird with a lady songbird in the shade of a tree in the outfield.”

"With gobs of squabs," I added, quoting Marlon Brando from "On the Waterfront."

We ran another loop, this time from left field back to right.

“If I were a bird, I would not be here. If I were a bird, if something made me unhappy, or angry, or if my wife bird annoyed me, I could jump out of my nest and fly away to another tree. Singing all the time.”

We slowly ran another foul-pole to foul-pole circuit in the outfield, slowly and silently, listening to the swoosh of our spikes kicking up the grass and the singing of the little songbirds just beyond the fence.

Finally, after two loops of silence, Verduzco stopped. He shook my hand, thanking me for the run.

“Yes. Me gustaría ser un pájaro.”


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Somber.

Last week or two weeks ago, a Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter from "The New York Times," died. His name was Sydney Schanberg and more than anyone else, he was responsible for bringing the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot to the attention of the world.

Pol Pot killed literally millions of his countrymen. You may recall some jaw-dropping photographs of his various genocides. The sea of skulls and bones. 

In a movie about Schanberg and his friend and photographer, Dith Pran, "The Killing Fields," there was a scene where Pran ran over acres of skulls to escape from those seeking to capture and kill him.
This morning I had an IM conversation with an old friend whom I worked with over two decades ago. He's 69 now and involuntarily retired from the industry, forced out of a WPP-property a few years ago along with his almost 50 years of experience.

It was all very sad. Sad that as an industry we are throwing out brains like homicidal tinpot dictator.

I know no agency wants to have a 69-year-old around. Most don't even want someone my age. Or someone 44.

But it's sad.

Walking over the dead.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Confessions of a front tooth.

When I was just a young boy I was in an ongoing and titanic war with my older brother, Fred. He had two years on me, but due to the vagaries of our birth-dates we were only one grade apart, and while he was, then, an inch or three taller, I was stockier, and probably out-weighed him.

We spent a lot of our time in pitched-battle, rolling on the floor, trying to punch each other’s lights out. One time, I think I was around four, we battled at the top of the steps of my parents’ small tilted house. I tumbled ass-over-teakettle down a flight of steps and, it seemed, landed square on one of my lower front teeth. This was probably 1960 or 1961.

About ten years after that fight, residual damage sent me in to have a root canal on the same tooth. And about five or seven years after that, a foul-tip when I was horsing around behind the plate when I played for the Seraperos, caught my lower jaw and further damaged the already traumatic tooth.

Today, early, as I write this, I am seeing the dental equivalent of the College of Cardinals to rectify the tooth once and for all. Since mid-June, I have been going to various peri and endo dontists and subject to poking, prodding, scraping, gouging, drilling and more drilling as they attempt to reverse the deadness that started back when John Kennedy was president and the country was filled more with hope than with hate.

This restorative process will continue into the Fall and then the Winter, and perhaps some time around 2017, if I haven’t perished from over-work, I will have a gleaming new tooth courtesy of the aforementioned –dontists and the wonders of polymer chemistry.


Until then, I may be smiling less than usual and talking through my lips more than usual. Not being unfriendly. Just hiding my not inconsiderable dark side.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The long view and a bit of Faulkner.

Years ago when I was a young almost-man, I studied to be a professor of English literature. But as I was completing my course of study, I almost did the unthinkable. My focus and interest began shifting from literature to history.

I think if I had been born ten years earlier and had needed graduate school as a crutch to keep me out of Vietnam, I would have gone on for a degree in history. 

Of late, I find solace in history. At a time when it seems like all order is gone in the world, that terrorists lurk around every corner and every cop is a criminal, history tells us that these times we are living through are not really extraordinary or extraordinarily threatening.

Last night as I turned the Republican National Convention on TV, I felt armed, somewhat. I had read, I guess before the 2012 conventions, a New York Review of Books reissue of Norman Mailer's accounts of the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions: "Miami and the Siege of Chicago."

Mailer was a hugely gifted writer. And while I was 10 in 1968, he brought those conventions and the candidates to life in ways I missed the first time around.

If you're trying to make sense of our worldwide entropy epidemic, Mailer's 200-page book might not be a bad way to start. Many of the hatreds and fears and forces that are so visceral today were just as visceral in Miami and Chicago almost 50 years ago. 

Back then, we were a country riven by a murderous war. We were a country at war with ourselves. We were a country where it was plausible that soldiers would shoot down (like in some Latin American fief) protesting students.

The world has always been nasty and brutish. Life has always been short. And leaders from Caesar to Nixon to Trump have always been able to leverage fear of other to make electoral hay.

That's my point today--the historical precedent I'd like to point out. Nothing good comes when candidates and political systems operate on the basis of propagating fear. People are easy to manipulate when they're afraid and when people are easy to manipulate bad things tend to happen.

Of late a lot of people have come to me feeling afraid. Afraid of Trumpism. Afraid of our racial discord. Afraid of the economics of inequality.

All I can do is let them know how I cope.

I read a bit of history. I find that we've been through this before, and somehow survived.

Often I think of Faulkner, too. I guess going back to my literary roots.

This is from his Nobel Prize Banquet Speech, December 10, 1950, in Oslo, Norway. My gentle highlights are bolded.


Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it.
There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.