Monday, February 8, 2016

Last night's game.

I'll be the first to admit, I am not a football fan.  In fact, I can name exactly one player on each of the teams that squared off in yesterday's Super Bowl.

I find the game too violent. Too brutal. Too faceless. Too too.

That said, along with 114 million other viewers around the world, including half of our $700 billion armed forces who seemed to be at the game or flying over it in $75 million jets, I tuned in at 6:26 or so, just in time to get a panoply of patriotic songs just this side of Horst Wessel.

The game itself I found boring.

Both defenses seemed to hold both offenses in check and the game ground on like the Battle of Verdun with inches being traded back and forth and no knock out blows or even real advances.

Unfortunately, that which I was looking forward to was a disappointment. The commercials were to the art of persuasion what Kraft American Singles are to cheese or Ripple is to wine.

Three words come to my mind.

Predictable. Overwrought. And overthought.

I felt as if every committee approving every ad had obtained a book called something like, "Super Bowl ads for Dummies," and followed a step by step process to make sure everyone in every conference room and every focus group grinned and drooled like a burn victim on too much morphine.

To be completely honest, I turned off the game after the Pepsi half-time show. Between the music, the fireworks, the dumbest logo known to man and the thrusting forward of various body parts by Bruno Mars and Beyonce, well, I had had more than enough of popular culture.

Also I continue to be appalled by tax-payer built stadiums filled only with one-percenters. Next time you think the "system" isn't rigged, look at who gets to go to games like these and then look at who paid for the facilities. The poor pay. The rich go.

I guess it comes down to this.

I've read too much Roman history to be amused by shit like last night.

And I'd rather not see it again.

At least till next year.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

An award worth winning.

Awards season is upon us.

Or should I say, awards season has descended?

In any event, it is here.

Just now I received an email from one of the big art auction houses. I go to an occasional auction and like to browse their catalogs because, well, just because.

It’s either nice or enervating to imagine the things you could have if you had a couple billion  dollars.

Everything from Ferraris, to Phyfe, to fine art.

Then I saw it.

A chemist had put his Nobel Prize up for sale.

The price? Between $450,000 and $550,000.

Now, that’s an award, I said to myself.

Nearly everyone these days has a Lion, a Cube, and a Pencil.

But a 24K gold Nobel Prize?

Imagine how that would play in a new business pitch.

The only agency with a Nobel Prize.

It’s an award that pay for itself in new business.

Think about it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Poking my eyes out.

There are moments, whole days or weeks, actually, where I question whether or not I still belong in the business. Or, more accurately, on earth in the 21st Century.

I feel somewhat like I woke up in a world where everyone has decided to eat cement and I’m the only one left who knows that cement-eating is a lunatic proposition.

Mostly this starts with me, I've always had a philological bent, with language. I hear words thrown about that seem wholly divorced from meaning.

Two words in particular seem the greatest offenders: experience and engagement. 
Somehow a website is now called an experience.

Would you ever call a printed page an experience? Even one with "Call me Ishmael" printed on it. And, as I've said so many times before, if a sitelet is an experience, what is seeing Van Gogh's "Starry Night," or the Grand Canyon, a shooting star or the pyramids.

It's a fucking page.

If you want an experience, drop a hammer on your foot.

Now, engagement. Fuck me with a spoon.

This notion that I'm "engaged" in an "experience," is nothing more than corporate narcissism at its ugliest. To most people brands are like political candidates. They want to run from them as fast as they possibly can.  

If I buy a pair of jeans, or a bar of soap, or even a "passion" purchase like a new car, I am seldom engaged with it. Partly because I speak English. I eat dinner. I don't engage in a dining experience. I drive my car; I do not engage in a joyful vehicular experience.

It's bullshit.

So is calling an idea a strategy.

And being told to re-do work, 'we need to iterate this.'

I am, I'm afraid, a man out of time.

Out of step.

I use a language devoid of buzzwords. 

I might as well be speaking Middle English.

I won't be understood.

But at least I'll be thinking of Chaucer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A homecoming.

Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie could stand the bland stultification of their condo community in Boca no longer. Though they lived just two units down from the center of the action--the pool--and had a passel of friends in the complex, they longed for the furor and excitement of the city in which they had lived the first 82 years of their lives.

They arrived--they had called an Uber themselves from LaGuardia--at my apartment around 8 last night, having taken the 4:20 from Ft. Lauderdale. My wife, a saint, had made about a gallon of her famous viscous coffee, and practically before their coats were off, they were on their second cup.

Uncle Slappy started as he so often does.

"You have, maybe, some stuffed cabbage you can warm for me?'

My wife was pushed back by this. She has in the Sub Zero more food than some small Balkan countries, but she had failed to lay in any stuffed cabbage. She made a go of looking for it anyway.

"I have some chicken paprikash," she began. "Some nice mushroom-barley soup. Some frozen blintzes."

"No no and no," said Uncle Slappy. Uncle Slappy, truth be told can be like a cabbage-seeking missile. Once he locks in on the target, nothing, nothing can get him off it.

My wife kept searching, like an eager prospector in the Yukon.

"Orzo and chickpeas. Chicken shwarma. Mushroom caps. Pigs in blankets."

"No, no, no, and no. What does an 88 year old man have to do to get some stuffed cabbage? Wait for my shiva?"

It was then my wife remembered a place over on 2nd Avenue, the last Hungarian restaurant in a neighborhood that, after the Hungarian insurgency against the Soviets in 1956 was teeming with them.

"You have stuffed cabbage?" She implored.

"We have stuffed cabbage," they answered.

"You deliver?" she begged.

"We deliver," they delivered.

In about 20 minutes a short Mexican was at our door holding a tray of hot stuffed cabbage, In two minutes more they were on the Wedgewood and in front of Uncle Slappy, the steam fogging his glasses.

"Delicious," he said.

And then the killer.

"You shouldn't have."

We shouldn't have.

But we did.

Welcome home, Aunt Sylvie. Welcome home, Uncle Slappy.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A night in Newark airport.

I got a call last night on my cell phone. Unusual, because if it isn't my daughters, my wife, or someone at work, the phone, which I pay through the nose for hardly rings.

To be completely candid, I welcomed the call. At my wife's behest, I had purchased the DVD of the final season of the soap opera "Downton Abbey," and my wife was overseeing a forced march through the English countryside like Boudica against the Romans in millennia past.

I had had enough of tea and elegant ladies and circumspection. I had had enough of elegant settings, the decline and fall of the old order and the inevitable melodrama that goes with it.

So when the phone rang, I picked it up with the eagerness of a public radio fundraiser.

"Jorge," the voice crackled at the other end. "It is Angel Diablo. I am changing planes in Newark and have four hours. Can we bend an elbow. I have until eleven until my next flight."

Angel Diablo was a light-hitting shortstop for the Seraperos de Saltillo when I played for them nearly 41 years ago. He and I were never close, but, still, we were teammates and we were friends, I'd say. We still were friends, somehow, though we hadn't really spoken for more than 20 minutes in the last four decades.

I didn't exactly relish the idea of getting the Simca out of the garage and driving to the swamps of New Jersey, to an airport roughly abutting a maximum security prison, but I looked at the TV, at the breastless mooning women with long strands of pearls and the dapper men who mooned over them, and I decided almost anything would be better, even a warm airport Budweiser, than swirling down the drain of the financially ruined gentry. I threw a coat on, kissed my wife, and slugged the Simca into gear.

Though I had just seen Lothar, my Croatan mechanic and perhaps the world's best Simca man, two weeks ago, I could tell from the outset that something was wrong with the machine. Running down the FDR Drive, I couldn't shift her out of second without hearing a metal-on-metal sound. I should, probably, have gotten off the highway at the 53rd Street exit, but I kept steaming south, down the FDR, to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, dodging Hondas on the BQE, over the Verrazano, the Goethals, and finally to the sump of Newark airport, a dry spot in a Jersey swamp.

I parked in the long-term lot where my two hours with Diablo would cost me just $22 and then I walked to terminal C, looking for a plastic processed emporium called "Beef and Brew," or "Chicken and Chug," I can't remember which.

Diablo was there with a plastic-made-to-look-like-frosted-glass-stein of suds in front of him. He was picking at a bowl of broken pretzel bits like a backhoe. He stood up when I came in. He was wearing a white dress shirt, opened at the collar, a blue-blazer and well-pressed blue jeans with brown-suede loafers. He had put on fewer than 20 pounds, by my estimate since his playing days, and he looked good.

In just moments a sallow waitress came over with another cold one for Diablo and a menu for me. I handed her back the menu--I was in no mood for food that began life frozen and would go to its end over-microwaved--and instead just order a Bud.

"You remember Karmen," he said to me, leaning back and balancing his particle-board chair on two legs. Karmen, the girl in the white dress had been my inamorata so many years ago. The last I heard, she had married a second baseman for the Guerreros de Oaxaca, the Oaxaca Warriors, named Erubiel Durazo. Durazo had four cups of coffee in the bigs as a utility man for the Detroit Tigers. He and Karmen settled in Bloomfield, Michigan, a suburb of Motown and later divorced. In the meantime, Karmen had gotten her high school equivalency, her college degree and had completed her law degree at Wayne State University in Detroit.

I wanted, to be clear, to hear more about Karmen. We had lost touch after I left Saltillo. That was the way it had to be. But what kind of man wouldn't be curious about such moments in his life. However, Angel Diablo had other conversational plans. And I was, as usually, too diffident to probe.

"Do you remember," he veered, "Rico's? It was there you got your two free chicken dinners."

"I have often looked in this greatest of all cities for a place that comes close to Rico's," I told him. "But I have not found it."

"One night I had no money, many nights I had no money," Angel continued. "I had no money and I remembered Rico's gave you two free chicken dinners a month. I went in. I sat at your table and I said to Rico himself, that you lost a bet to me and that your chicken dinner was now mine."

I drained my beer and laughed.

"I wondered what happened to that pollo. I wish I had it now."

An announcement crackled over the loud speaker, it said that Angel's flight to Charlotte, North Caroline would be boarding in 30 minutes.

"I must go," he said to me, leaving a twenty on the varnish.

"This is on me," I said, throwing forty dollars down. "For the news of Karmen. And for solving the mystery of the chicken."

He laughed and I laughed.

We hugged goodbye, which I do not do well. And I walked toward the long-term lot and my Simca.

I drove home in second gear.

Never reaching top speed.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Hateful Eight.

1. The word “insight.” First off, I went the first 20 years of my career without hearing it. Now people ask for them like they come a dime a dozen.

Seriously, tell me five insights that have had business impact.

I can think of two: Putting baking soda in the fridge and adding an egg to cake mix.

2. People who ask on a conference call “who just joined.” Look, I have news for you. Chinese industrial spies are not stealing your powerpoints. And for someone to pirate their way onto your conference call, they’d have to guess the 11-digit log in. Roughly impossible.

BTW, the people who constantly ask “who just joined?” usually that’s their only contribution to the call.

3. 11-digit log-ins for a phone call. Really, what we do is not so important that it needs to be regarded as ‘top-secret.’

4. Hold music.

5. Over-priced corporate cafeterias.

6. Panic.

7. Self-importance.

8. Lists.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Ronco Idea-O-Matic.

One of the myriad problems of our age is one of size.

We have taken everything of importance and weight and put it through the fractal media and attention span marketplace.

We have sliced and diced messages, content and ideas to so many disparate units that they are as useful as a dictionary printed on a billion bits of confetti.

This is our world.

We pick presidential candidates based on tweets.

We date based on seven-minute impressions.

More germane to our business, we are forced to do something brand moving or audience shaping or sales driving in a space the size of a match book cover. (Mobile is everything.)

Recently a friend got into a bit of a set-to with a client.

The client had bought some online ad units that were roughly the size and shape of a chopstick. When the client was reviewing the work, they felt it had no impact.

Of course it had no impact.

The best of banners gain about two clicks per 10,000 views.

A sneeze on the subway gets more attention than that.

It's pretty simple IMHO.

If you want big, buy big.

Of course you can do things that punch above their weight.

After all, as I'm sure your mother warned you, you can poke out an eye with that chopstick.

But charting the fate of your company based on the slim chance of a media anomaly is foolish.

Stop slicing ideas into little bits.

What's good for coleslaw is not necessarily good for advertising.

Blues for a Wednesday. (The best things you will hear today.)

A collaboration of words by the great poet, Langston Hughes and blues by Charles Mingus: The Weary Blues.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Whose woods these are.

There’s an old phrase I’m thinking of that is as out-dated as an inkwell:
“out of the woods.”

We used to say, “We’re almost out of the woods,” when we had gone through a lot and we were nearing completion of a tough or onerous task.

Like seven weeks into an eight week pitch.

Or 22 miles into a marathon.

Or even if you had completed filling out most of your tax paperwork.

You’ve probably said it to yourself.

But in the new world, I’m afraid we’re never out of the woods. That tasks, burdens, hurdles to clear (I’m mixing metaphors here) are like waves in a stormy sea: they just keep coming.

Some of this never-out-of-the-woods-ness is surely driven by personal pride and ambition. We work hard at our work and at our careers.

But more, I’m afraid is thanks to macro-economic realities. Old people are devalued and have to work ever-harder in a world where experience no longer counts. Wealth and power is concentrated in fat, pink plutocratic hands. And original and insightful work is as devalued as the German mark during the Weimar.

So we endure the abuse, the crap, the hardship of never being out of the woods.

No post today.

I am shooting today and won't be able to post.

It's an intense thing, made more intense by various intense people.

Yes, to be clear, I would rather write my post than be bludgeoned with two by fours.

But for now, I don't have a choice in the matter.

I can't sit there like an idiot and write a blog.

No, I have to sit there like an idiot and write something else.

That's the way it goes.

So, no post today.