Saturday, January 31, 2009

Service Industry? That's A Laugh.

It's been a wonderful, well pretty good at any rate, false spring day in Streeterville, 40 degrees at the Mini, wind chill be damned. I woke up this morning and looked out the window at the lake. The ice within the barrier had broken up into hundreds of jigsaw pieces. Out beyond the barrier the water was that blue that just melted ice takes on, that blue of clean, clear, unpolluted water takes on on a sunny day under a cloudless sky. Sort of mesmerizing. Then Babs realized I was awake and we had to go to the gym and exorcise the flab. "Get thee out fatty tissue! Out I say!"

Saturdays can sometimes be unpleasant, gotta do all the errands, clean the house, and forget about enjoyment kind of days. Today was not bad, but as June Carter used to say in an old song, "Life gets tedious, don't it?" After the gym we had breakfast out. Tell me, "Is distractedness a recognized disability?" I swear the place we have breakfasts out must be hiring the handicapped, because for two weeks in a row now we've had distracted, "Huh, what did you say you wanted," wait staff.

I'm sure this woman from this morning is a perfectly nice individual, but she asked me what I wanted and I told her, "2 eggs scrambled with bacon." She left and we didn't see her again. Some kitchen help delivered the order and it was 2 eggs over easy. While this was not exactly a world class catastrophe, it wasn't what I ordered. The woman was all over the room, taking orders and probably messing up other orders but we could not get her attention for anything. A supervisory type person came and acted very apologetic and got it straightened out. She brought me a refill on the coffee. The person who waited on us couldn't seem to remember to check on us to see if we needed refills or anything. So we finished our breakfast and finally said waitperson showed up again, sporting a coffee pot. She asked me, "Would you like a little more coffee?" I said, "Yes, a little more. Thank you." At that point she said, "I'll just get the check for you," and walked away. "Welcome to Short Attention Span Theater."

While I'm on the subject of service industry people who probably should take a job doing something else, just let me tell you a little story about purchasing gasoline at a BP station in Bridgeport. I always pay at the pump with my debit card when I buy gas, so I got out and swiped the card at the pump, and the pump wouldn't read it. I got a message instructing me to see the attendant inside to pay by credit. Insert a heavy sigh here. Nothing is ever as easy as it's supposed to be. Forget about installing new software or new hardware or any other kind of ware. It takes longer than it should. Tech support will be needed. It will end up costing more than you were quoted.

Anyway, I went inside and told the young woman at the counter that I had been instructed to present my credit card inside to pay for my gas and she asked me, "How much do you want?" I said, "I don't know. I want to fill it up." Then she told me, "I'll just charge 30 dollars on it and if it's less, the difference will be credited back to your card." My first reaction was, "Thirty dollars! I drive a friggin Mini Cooper. It won't hold 30 dollars worth of gasoline." However, being the kind and decent sort, I kept that last part to my self, sighed heavily (Did do that.), and went out to pump the gas. It came to exactly $24.57. I had to go back in to sign the receipt. I had to ask her to give me my card back. Speaking of distracted. Anyway, off I went with a full tank of gas.

When I checked my bank account online the next day, it had been charged $30.00 with no sign of the $5.43 being credited back to my account. I began to fume. I thought, well maybe it will take a bit, so I put off going back to the BP station in a snit until the next day. When I checked my bank account again the next day, it still read $30.00. I began to fume again. That afternoon, after work I dithered. I really hate confrontation, but being annoyed got the better of me and I drove straight to the BP station. I went in and told a guy who appeared to be the manager what had happened. He said, "It usually takes a couple of days for these things to go through. How long ago did you say this happened?" I paused and said, "It was Wednesday. That was 2 days ago and there still is not hide nor hair of any credit on my account."

It was at this point that this pudgy little trailer trash girl piped up, "I was the one who did that and it went through." Excuse me but it seems that I'm becoming judgemental about certain individuals just now, but she sure appeared bona fide trailer trash to me. Why is it that the guilty always seem to try to turn the tables and make it look like you and not they are the guilty ones? Another of lifes's many mysteries. Anyway,at this point I could barely contain myself. I looked at her and back at the guy who may or may not have been the manager. I said, "I will be checking my account and watching closely and you can be sure I will never be coming back here again." I turned on my heel and walked out. Guess what? I checked my account on line today and the $30.00 charge had been magically changed to $24.57. The point here is that the service industry is supposed to provide just that, service. It should not be so hard to get appropriate and just service for what you pay. It seems like you continually have to argue with people, push people, and sometimes behave in a not so seemly manner, just to get what is owed to you. Oh, and don't get me started on Patrick Mini again. See an earlier post, "Fools and Their Money. Me and My Money," for that saga.

There are some people who think I have an overly cynical view of humanity. They are taken aback by my basic distrust of people in general. I honestly try to like humanity. I honestly like to think people are nice and trustworthy. I like to think that most people are good and decent. It's just that they won't let me.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Friday, Warm, Fuzzy, and Pleasant

This morning as the sun was coming up, the light on the lake was unusually incredible. There are large parts of the lake that have been frozen over continually and are covered in a layer of white from the last snow. There are other parts of the lake that melted off yesterday in the warm midday sun. Then those sections froze over again last night in the single digit temperatures. As the sun began to emerge over the Eastern horizon, the pinkish tones of the Eastern sky were reflected in the shiny ice of the thawed and refrozen sections of the lake, and while not orgasmic, it was truly a very pleasant view. It's currently 18 degrees at the Mini under clear blue skies in the late afternoon slanting sunlight.

I thought about writing on any number of serious and deep topics, but I can't bring myself to address crass commercialism, gun control, rampant crime and poverty, or what's wrong with our schools today. I had a pretty good day and I'm just feeling fuzzy warm and pleasant. I got my W-2 at work and while it was a bit less than last year, it wasn't bad news. I got my lab results back from the doctor's visit I made last week and at the end of the summary it said "All normal results." Cool! Better yet, on the cholesterol section the results were well within the normal range and my doctor saw fit to add, off to the side "Excellent!" Glad to hear it Doc. Makes my chances of living to see a hundred much better.

I told Babs about my lab results and she asked me specifically about the lab results and she asked specifically about the cholesterol. When I told her about the "Excellent!" she remarked, "I guess we can continue ordering pizza." Babs is always concerned about my health. As it happens, I am 11 years older than my lovely wife and she has nasty fantasies about my death (never her own, mind you) and growing old alone and broke with a skinny German Shepherd in an apartment piled high with old newspapers and magazines. Anyway ladies and gentlemen, as regards the pizza, that's what living the good life is about, isn't it? It's about knowing that you can safely order a Chicago deep dish pizza and not worry about heart attack central. And while you're at it, thwarting your wife's nasty fantasies about becoming a widow anytime soon.

Come to think about it I have a great deal to feel all warm and fuzzy about this afternoon. My car is paid off and it still runs great. The home base on the 14th floor is over half paid for, and it still yields lovely views every day. Since I moved to the 14th floor I don't have to shovel snow off sidewalks anymore. I have a heated garage and I don't have to shovel a spot on the street to park in, or scrape the ice off the stupid windows. Working in the education profession, my job is pretty much recession proof. I have a reservation at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach for several days in early May. All of those relatives who get on my nerves live far, far away.

Yessir I'm counting my blessings this afternoon boys and girls. Life is good and furthermore, it's Happy Hour. I think I'll bo pour a glass of red wine for Babs and myself, enjoy the view, and just bask in that warm, fuzzy, pleasantness for a while.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CEO For CPS, Part II

It's a gray afternoon in Streeterville, 30 degrees and overcast at the Mini. The white blanket on the surface of the lake within the barrier just North of Olive Park and the water treatment plant still remains. Beyond the barrier, the ice is broken up, melted off, and turned to deep blue open water. Navy Pier is still, well, Navy Pier, the #1 tourist attraction in Chicago. That is to say that it is to be scrupulously avoided by residents of the neighborhood.

When last I was here, to say yesterday, I went on ad nauseum about why I disapprove of Mayor Daley's recent pick for CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and how a great deal of the so called school reform movement is in actuality school cost reduction, on the backs of the employees of the school system itself. "Let's cut costs by firing people, reducing pay, and forgetting about pensions altogether."

Let's just start anew today by saying that public schools serve a valuable function in this society. Public school employees work very hard at a vital function of said society and as professionals deserve just remuneration and a liveable wage to retire on. It is true that businesses nationwide have fallen on hard times, mostly due to their own stupidity. They have had to take drastic measures. Let's see, what have they done? Oh right they have fired people, cut wages, and cut people's retirement options. Jesus people! MBAs have screwed up the economy. They have paid themselves outrageously high salaries and then blamed it on the working class who actually saw that it was possible for their companies to exist. The workers get the axe. The bosses who mismanaged get bonuses at the end of the year, some of it with U.S. tax dollars, intended to keep the companies afloat. Now public service employees are being given the same treatment. Can we justify this?

Let's just take a look at what public schools do for the country, shall we? The wealthy upper classes have always provided education for their children. Working poor never had the means to do so. In the late 1800's and early 1900's it became clear that with all of the recent immigrants some serious socialization to American ways was necessary. Public schools were the answer. They socialized children. It provided skills that could allow working class kids to become functional citizens, aka holding down a job. Further back, the Puritans in Massachusetts provided public schooling so every child could read the Bible for themselves. Thomas Jefferson advocated public schooling so America could have an educated, informed electorate. He also advocated university educations for those talented children of the working poor who could rise up in society with the right education and credentials. He recognized that intelligence is not the sole province of the wealthy and aristocratic.

In the modern world, it has become an important function of every advanced society to provide an education for all of its citizens. As always, the children of the wealthy will be provided for, but the rest of us have to send our children to schools provided by public tax dollars. As always, since those waves of immigrants began arriving on American shores, these schools socialize children, and provide them with the knowledge and skills to pursue further education and move up in socio-economic status or at the very least get a job that pays a low level living wage in society. If the public schools are not there, we get large numbers of uneducated, unskilled kids who become a burden to the society in one way or another. That is to say they are unemployed, sometimes unemployable, criminal and on the streets, or in prison. At any rate, this adds up to dollars in aid, dollars in paying for police, dollars in paying for prisons, and dollars in paying for those big walls people with education and good jobs want to build to keep those other people out.

Let it be known that people who are educators do not have an easy job. With the same amount of education, in other fields, they would make a great deal more money. They educate, serve as surrogate parents for kids, act as counselors, disciplinarians, friends, and any other role that is necessary to enable kids to learn and grow up and become productive members of society. For this, they are continually bashed and trashed by the media and public at large. For this, they are considered lazy and overpaid. For this, they lose their jobs, have their salaries cut, and lose their pensions, so they have to continue working into their 70s in some cases. Justice? I think not.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a wealthy man. I am not a greedy man. I am a regular guy who cares about humanity. I work with a sector of the population that a large number of Americans would sooner forget about, but that population does not realize that they cannot afford to forget about the poor, the immigrants, the lower classes. They cannot afford to neglect them. We are all in this together and without proper teachers and a proper education, these kids will drag the rest of us down with them. The entire nation, and world will go to hell in a handcart. "Am I my brother's keeper?" You damned right you are. We all have to take some responsibility for the nation and its future. That means making sure public education has a future, and those who make public education work have a future too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

CEO For CPS, Part I

It was a lovely morning in Streeterville today. Some might think otherwise, but the view from the 14th floor was tremendous. The lake was totally frozen over and the snow from last night left a fresh, unsullied blanket of white on the surface of the lake all the way to the Eastern horizon. It was not a bad day at all, 20 degrees at the Mini. Still no word on the wind chill factor.

I had a pretty successful day, teaching adolescents at the outpost in the Back of the Yards. For the record, kids always remember the names of famous Italian Renaissance artists because they have the same names as Ninja Turtles. At any rate, good days in education give pause for reflection. What I have been reflecting on today is the change in CEO (Chief Executive Officer) at CPS (Chicago Public Schools). You may have heard that the newly minted Secretary of Education in the Obama administration is a gentleman by the name of Arne Duncan. Mr. Duncan is the former CEO of CPS. He has been held up as a shining example of the right person to bring change to public schools in America, after his stint at CPS.

It is my considered opinion that the results are mixed at best. At any rate, he didn't really screw things up. He did create some amazing magnet schools that are the equal of anything in the nation, or probably the world. Of course, these are restricted enrollment schools that only accept students in the 90th percentile and above. Yes they have been incredibly successful and the neighborhood schools that have been left with the students who didn't get into restricted enrollment schools have been less successful. They are the students from the lowest economic echelons in the city. They include students who read on the 5th grade level while in 9th and 10th grade. As I said, mixed results.

What really concerns me is that Mr. Duncan, and the newly chosen CEO are both business manager types who have no background in education before they came to the Chicaog Public Schools. The new CEO, who has been chosen to replace Mr. Duncan is the former head of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). No experience or education in education. A business manager and government professional. I'm not so sure he did a stellar job at the CTA, and I am concerned about where the CPS will go under his guidance.

I understand that the schools are an expensive proposition and resources are limited. I will grant that it is possible that CPS needs financial guidance and it is possible that with departments that deal specifically with the business of education, curriculum, and such things could hum along magnificently. The problem is that with the head of the entire system being a business type, the bottom line becomes the finances and how to contain them.

Under Arne Duncan, an initiative called Renaissance 2010 came about. Some research shows that smaller schools where staff know all the students and take a personal interest in them create better results. The idea then was to break up some of these huge 2000 and 3000 student schools where 5% of the student population was meeting standards and create several small schools to replace them. Some of these schools were to be what is referred to as Performance Schools (Small CPS schools). Some were to be Charter Schools (Privately operated and partially financed by private funding and partially financed by public funding), and contract schools. By far, the largest number of the new small schools created have been charter schools.

There has been much press nationwide about charter schools and their innovative methods and results. The data, at this point, shows however that charter schools with a restrictive enrollment (Only students with a history of achievement and lack of discipline issues) show amazing results and charter schools that let any student in do not show results any better than ordinary public schools. So what is the benefit to the public schools?

The benefit to the public schools is the amount of cash that the public has to fund. Charter schools get part of their funding from private sources. OK, so far that's not so bad. How else do they save us money, though. The sticking point here is that, being charter schools they do not fall under rules requiring them to allow unions within their walls, and they do not have to pay according to established pay scales. They generally pay teachers less and expect longer hours. They also do not have to pay administrators according to the guidelines established by the Administrator's Association with the Chicago Public Schools. They too are paid less money. To top it off, they save money by not being required to offer the pension plan that CPS employees have.

As more schools are closed, for not meeting the standards set by CPS, and more Charter schools crop up, more education professionals, teachers and administrators, are being forced to look for work for lower pay, longer hours, and with no guarantee of a secure retirement after spending a lifetime in service to the community. This, my friends is union busting plain and simple and is designed to save the community money by keeping educators in the lower end of the economic spectrum. It has nothing to do with improving schools. This ends Part I of this diatribe. I will continue further tomorrow with some detail on what a public school system is for and why it is so important. Hope you have a wonderful day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Don't Like Killin Wild Animals, Just Eatin Em

It's another gray day on the 14th floor. It's starting to look like more snow. On the plus side, it's 23 degrees at the Mini, so the temperatures are on the upswing. The sun was also up before 7 AM this morning, so the days are getting longer. During a two year stint on the island of Guam we watched endless sunsets over the Philippine Sea. Here on the 14th floor in Streeterville, we watch endless sunrises. As a youth, I would've never thought myself of getting up early enough to witness endless sunrises. Age and jobs that pay the bills change things, however. As a poet once said "I've pondered and questioned. It all seems quite clear. Change is the only thing permanent here." At any rate, Babs waxed nostalgic about Daylight Saving Time being the true harbinger of spring. That means about a month and a half.

When spring comes a young man's fancy turns to ......a great many things, including love. In a great many cases being cooped up inside for the cold winter turns a young man's fancy to outdoor activities. If that includes love, so much the better. Love on the beach. Love in the woods. Love on a mountaintop. Whatever. I'm more of a love indoors kind of guy, though, and that goes on year round. No need for the warmup season for that. I do, however, look forward to greater access to the outdoors.

For me the outdoors includes running, biking, going somewhere tropical and snorkeling, hiking, playing tennis, or just generally enjoying a sunny day with a stroll about. You will note that I do not include here such manly guy activities as fishing and hunting. There are those who enjoy these things greatly, but I plead with these individuals not to include me. I don't like them.

As a child, I remember my father owned two shotguns and a .22 bolt action rifle. He hunted. I was 9 years old when I received a Daisy Pump air rifle (BB gun). I didn't get much use out of it and the only thing I ever remember shooting with it was Coke bottles. Of course there was an incident where I told my brother that it was out of BB's and it turned out that I was mistaken. He aimed the gun at my cousin and pulled the trigger, resulting in a BB being lodged between an eyelid and eye and a subsequent trip to the Emergency Room. Oops.

I don't really like guns. I don't really like the prospect of taking a gun and going into the woods where there are drunk people with guns running around shooting at things, sometimes wild animals, sometimes other people, even if by mistake. I do quite well foraging for food at the grocery store and I don't feel it necessary to complement my store of food with things I kill myself. Just not something I care to do. Don't get me started on pistols and assault rifles. Those things are not, repeat, not for hunting. They are for killing other people, nothing else. More on that at another time.

As for fishing, I have enjoyed fishing exactly two times in my life. They both involved fishing in an ocean for big fish with really big hooks. Neither involved me actually baiting a hook. Did I say I'm squeamish? Well, maybe just a little. Very few people have ever actually tried to get me involved in fishing.Most, who know me well, know better. On those rare occasions that I have been dragged along on fishing excursions, I have caught mostly sunburns and a sore butt from sitting in those stupid boats.

A couple of years back a good friend, whom we shall call Fisherguy, thought it would be great fun if Babs and I accompanied him, his wife and kids, and assorted lunatics to the Great Place to the North, known by many as Canada. Fisherguy goes to a fishing camp regularly and he and said assorted lunatics really enjoy fishing for a week and imbibing heavily. Imbibing heavily, I sometimes enjoy. Fishing I assuredly do not. I told him as much. Fisherguy insisted that I had just not caught many fish and when I cast my line into the lake in the Great Place to the North and caught absolutely huge walleye I would then discover the joys of fishing.

Babs and I drove to Canada. It was a long drive. Ever been there? They have these signs along the road warning of "Moose Danger." Apparently, many a Canuck has ruined their vehicle by striking a large moose at high speed. Ah, Wisconsin has its deer. Australia has its kangaroos, and Emus, and don't get me started on that huge lizard I ran over in the outback. Gross! Canada has its problems with moose.

At the fishing camp, guess what? The only thing to do there is, umm fish, and drink heavily. Anyway Babs and I, city folk that we are, were set loose upon the deep blue lake in the North Woods and directed to fish. It was a great surprise to us that in the boat there was a large blunt object, labeled "Walleye Whacker." It was explained to us that fish, not being really dead yet when you haul them into a boat, tend to flop around a lot and cause trouble so the "Walleye Whacker" was for the purpose of knocking them senseless. Oh great! Not only did I have to haul a living thing out of its environment while it's fighting for its life. I also have to knock it senseless with a club. Baby seals anyone?

Babs and I did manage to subdue a couple of walleyes, but as it turned out, 1 day in a little tin boat was about all we could stand. It was a long week. Turns out I'm not as much into drinking heavily as I was when I was 25 years old. I must admit that when Fisherguy sent a lot of extra fish home with us (because he and assorted lunatics had caught way over their limit) Babs and I did eat and enjoy. However, pleeeeeze, ladies and gentlemen, if at any point I tell you that I do not like fishing, take me at my word. And not only do I not like guns, I wouldn't be caught dead in anything camouflage. Don't think me a lesser man. I'll arm wrestle the lot of you, or better yet, I'll sic Babs on you. She boxed in the Golden Gloves.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Morning Fantasies or Dream Therapy?

It has been a sunny, pleasant day in Streeterville. Nice views from the 14th floor today. Lake's all frozen today and the smoke from the stack at the water treatment facility at Olive Park makes a nice contrast against the blue sky. It has been a bit on the cold side though, 15 degrees per the National Weather Service. This at O'Hare, however. Possibly 16 or 17 at the Lakefront. No data is currently available from the Mini. It might be a bit skewed anyway, since it's parked in an underground, heated garage.

Often I like to sleep late on Sundays before rising for the one big breakfast of the week, accompanied by a local Chicago newspaper and the New York Times. It's a Sunday ritual. Some people go to church. I sleep in and spend a morning getting a serious news fix. When I sleep in on Sundays, though, I sometimes get some strange dreams. There was one this morning about clean floors last night and floors strewn with cat litter when I awoke. Unfortunately this dream was not much of a stretch.

The second dream was a bit farther fetched, though, and it has me wondering. Apparently I was walking down the street alone and the beach in Tumon Bay, Guam had somehow magically merged with the city of Chicago. Two young men decided to join me on my walk and though they possessed a gun, I was somehow unthreatened. I did, however want to ditch them, because they wanted to get me involved in some non-specific unsavory activity. After walking for a while, it got close to lunchtime and I suggested we stop at a Taco Bell for a bite to eat. Another young guy had joined the group by this time.

The dream was taking on the aspect of a road movie or The Wizard of Oz by this time. I said I had to go to the restroom and slipped out the back door. When I came around the corner of the building, there were all the young dudes waiting for me. The gun-toting pair got disgusted and went their own way. The other, nicer kid opted to stay with me. We walked a ways further and came upon a bar/restaurant that looked somehow familiar to me in real life. It was one of those bar/restaurants that have a facade of window/doors that fold away to leave the front open to the air so patrons can sit outside on the sidewalk or just inside, yet still open to the air.

I told the young man with me that this place was a good place to get a bite to eat and asked him if he wanted something to eat. He nodded a yes, so we went inside to look for a host or hostess or waiter or something. All of the tables inside were empty and I began to wonder if they were indeed open. At this point, what appeared to be a hostess appeared and gestured for us to follow her. I would have liked to be seated a bit closer to the front and in the open air, but I was getting really hungry and thought, "Hey maybe there's something in the back overlooking the ocean or something."

What happened was the young woman in question led us into the back of the establishment where there were people practicing yoga and martial arts in a gymnasium-like room. She didn't stop, though and led us a bit further into the innards of the building. When we got there what I saw was what appeared to be a Hindu temple, complete with incense, flowers, and statues of Gonesh and I think Kali, for some reason. I woke up at this point, but boy I have to wonder what that was all about. Just thought I had to get that out so somebody else could wonder too. Thoughts, ladies and gentlemen?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thoughts For a Saturday

It's been a pretty typical Saturday on the 14th floor. Slept in until a little after 8. Got up and cleaned the cat litter box. Packed my bag and went to the gym with Babs. Worked out pretty hard. Went out for breakfast afterward. Made a run to the dry cleaners. Made a list and went to the grocery store. It was 14 degrees at the Mini. It was good to be in the car and not walking to the store. Got back. Ate lunch. Did a crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Swept and swiffered the floors. Whew!

Now here I am at my new desk. How cool not to be working at the dining room table. Babs is happy about the clutter being gone. I'm happy to have an actual space of my own to work. It also organizes me. A place for every thing and every thing in its place, so to speak.

I was looking at the business pages in the New York Times today. The Dow Jones is still in the crapper. This is a clear indicator that I do not want to look at any statements I've recently received regarding IRAs or Mutual Funds, or things of that nature. I am happy to say that CDs, savings accounts, and Money Market funds have not managed to find a way to lose me any more money. They keep plugging away and making me a little more money every month, not much, but a little more.

On the up side...OK I have to admit this. I am addicted to reading the International Currency Exchange Rates. So anyway, on the up side, the U.S. Dollar has gained incredible ground recently against the, hold your breath.....British Pound and the Euro. Of course, the dollar is tanking dramatically against the Japanese Yen, but I'm not planning any trips to Japan any time soon, so "To heck with Japanese money anyway."

Now some of you out there may be wondering where this fascinating tale of currency and intrigue is going. You may well be saying to yourself, "Just what does this have to do with the price of eggs in China?" Not sure about the price of eggs in China, but I read that the Chinese are annoyed about Obama appointees making rude remarks about Chinese manipulation of their currency's value and subsequently the international money market, aka currency exchange. That's not where this is going, however.

When I looked at the exchange rates, I saw that the U.S. dollar, on Friday, was trading at $1.38 to 1 British pound. This is the lowest the pound has sunk in my memory. It was not too long ago that I canceled a planned vacation to Scotland because the pound was trading at $2.00 to 1 British pound. Let me just say at this point that it has been my experience when traveling in the British Isles that the cost of things there usually go something like this. If it costs $1.00 in the U.S., it most likely costs 1 pound in the U.K., which means that during the period that I canceled that vacation things cost just about twice as much in the U.K. and that makes for a pretty darned expensive vacation for Americans with the travel bug.

The Euro has sunk a good bit as well, trading at $1.30 for 1 Euro. The Yen at 89 Yen per $1.00 is pretty expensive. Let's just say that being stuck for 5 hours in the Narita airport a few years back cost a pretty chunk of change (250 Yen for a Coca Cola out of a machine, for instance) and that was when the exchange rate was something like 120 Yen per dollar. You get the picture. Europe cheaper. Japan more expensive.

Quite possibly a more savvy investor would be thinking, "Hmmm, the European currencies are down. This would be an excellent time to invest in European stocks in anticipation of the return to normalcy after the current worldwide economic funk ends. That could possibly yield some very pretty returns indeed." Instead what I'm thinking is "European vacation! Cool! I can afford it now." Remember that canceled vacation. I'm thinking this summer would be an excellent time to get in touch with my Scottish roots. Did I mention that? Ray. An excellent Scottish family name. OK, actually the Rays were a bunch of dirt poor Calvinistic Scots who the British were glad to get rid of. Sent them off to live in Ireland and fight with the Irish. The Rays got tired of that crap and ended up moving to the U.S., helping to establish redneck culture, and building fundamentalist churches all over the South.

Anyway, there is always that possibility of investing in Europe for some delayed gratification down the road. Orrr... there is that instant gratification of the moment before the currency rates change and the opportunity won't be there again. Invest? Vacation? Hmmm. Just trying to get my mind around the possibility that once there may have been Ray men running around in kilts. See ya in the highlands laddies.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Life Is Good Here, But What About There?

It's getting to be late January here in Streeterville. On the 14th floor it all looks very pretty. It was 32 degrees at the Mini last I checked. The lake is melting off, with just a few little iceberglets floating here and there. Currently the lights at Navy Pier are brightening the early evening sky. Down at street level it's another matter entirely.

The novelty of snow and cold temperatures has worn off by this time. Coats and hats and gloves and the prospect of once again walking into a frigid blast of air off Lake Michigan have started to wear on people. Cabin fever has begun to set in. People are openly talking about vacations to warmer climates sometime soon.

The snow has been on the ground long enough now to lose the initial crisp white beauty. There are virtually no stretches of snow that have not been walked on by someone or something. The piles of snow along the edge of the sidewalk have spots of yellow where the dog walkers have paused. (Yes, Frank Zappa did admonish us "Don't eat the yellow snow.") The piles of snow along the edge of the street where the snow plows have pushed them have taken on a dirty gray and black color. (Insert a heavy sigh here.)

In Streeterville you're never far from a smile. It's a 3 block walk from the headquarters on the 14th floor to The Magnificent Mile. There are always tourists and out of towners with smiles, happy to be here and spending loads of money, to be paid off later. In the neighborhood there are lots of ladies in fur coats with doggies with sweaters (Some with booties.). Life is good for these. Warmth is only a flight to the Bahamas away, or Miami, or somewhere. There are some people you see walking their huskies or other long-haired dogs, all of whom are ecstatic to be in the cold and snow they were born to inhabit. That would be happy, smiley dogs with smiley owners in their very best winter attire.

Every weekday I drive to the outpost in Back of the Yards on the Southside. Life is not nearly so happy among the inhabitants there. When I exit the Dan Ryan Expressway, the difference is obvious. No dreams of a weekend in the Bahamas here. No fur coats or sweater-wearing happy doggies here. Tourists and out of towners are carefully steered clear of this place. They might encounter poverty, black people, people who only speak Spanish, drug dealers, prostitutes, run down houses and junky cars, and a whole lot of very angry people.

The anger you encounter in poor neighborhoods is amazing. When you're a white guy from a neighborhood full of BMWs and Mercedes and assorted Lexus, Porsche, and younameit expensive cars, life is good, even if you're the only one around driving a 5 year old Mini Cooper. It does have heated seats. In Back of the Yards people are angry, angry, angry. They're angry about being poor, angry about having to stand in the bitter cold and wait, wait, wait for the f.....g bus, angry about having a drug and/or alcohol habit, angry about having a relationship with someone who just got out of prison and hasn't a clue how to avoid going back, angry about seeing white people on their way to work in a nice car, in nice clothes while they can't find a job to save their life.

When you become aware of all this anger, it is instructive to drive down the street and just look to see if you can see a smile anywhere. Often the first smile you encounter is when you reach the outpost where you work. The recent campaign and election of Barack Obama to the Presidency had the theme of Hope. I would like to offer all of these angry people some hope. I realize the federal government has to tackle wars, terrorism, the economy that's in the toilet, and a great many things just now. Well I have a proposal. I think they ought to add anger to their list of things that need to be addressed. There are a great many people in this country who are very angry, to the point of going over the edge. Their anger needs to be addressed. How? Treat the root causes, not the symptoms for a change. They're poor. Their lives are shit. They're really pissed off. They see wealth all around them and none of it is their's. We need to help them get a piece of the cake and make their lives a little better so the violence of their angry,angry lives doesn't spill over into Streeterville or Mount Prospect or Osage or anywhere else in America where life is good and you forget about the shit that a lot of people's lives are.

Well, that's the proposal. Now let's see the experts find a way to deal with it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Had a lovely view from the 14th floor this morning. Changed the photo on my profile as a result. Hasn't been a bad day in Streeterville, just a bit busy with the real job. It was 32 degrees at the Mini. Still no word on the wind chill.

I've been wondering what it means to be a Ray. This conjures a great many images and thoughts. Growing up in the South, it seemed like every guy had 2 names. You know what I mean, Billy Bob Thornton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc. Well my name is Rex Ray. People inevitably asked me, "Rex Ray who?" To which I replied, "Not Rex Ray anything. Just Rex Ray. My last name is Ray." This usually elicited an "Oh. What's your middle name?" This was accompanied by a quizzical look. Of course these days a great many people think Ray is my first name and insist on calling me Ray, as in short for Raymond or Ramon. I'm not that either.

Then there is the whole other issue of a first name like Rex. My mother was into singing cowboys about the time I was born and one particular singing cowboy was named Rex Allen. I became his namesake. Got dragged to the rodeo at age 7 to see him ride around on his horse, Cocoa, while sporting a magnificent Rhinestone cowboy suit. In elementary school I became "Tyrannosaurus Rex." About 7th or 8th grade I became "Sexy Rexy." In 9th grade I became "Oedipus Rex." After I became an adult people would ask, "What's Rex short for?" To which I would reply, "It's not short for anything. It's just Latin. It means king." Had to add that last little bit, as a bit of personal pride and thumb my nose attamness. Then there have always been the ones who tell me "I used to have a dog named Rex," or they would bark at me and tell me "Sit Rex. Sit." Really clever and likeable those guys.

Back to the Ray thing, though. Over the years there have been those who wish to know if I'm related to James Earl Ray. We are both Southerners with the last name Ray. We must be cousins or something then, and maybe belong to the same KKK local. I grew very tired of that really quick, just like the insistence that I must like country and western music because I grew up in the South. The funny thing is that no one has ever asked me if I'm related to Rachel Ray. Hey we both have the same last name. Why wouldn't I be just as likely to be a cousin of a TV cooking celebrity as a redneck, racist murderer? Forget it. Ray is an incredibly common Scotch-Irish surname. In the poorer classes of the Southern part of the U.S. we are ubiquitous.

What about my real family? What does it mean to be a member of the branch of the Ray clan that I hail from? What does that mean? Let's see. It means you are usually short and almost as wide as you are tall. It usually means you have a Southern accent, though some of manage to do away with it, for the most part, after living in the North for the last 30 some odd years. It usually means that as a child you went to church a lot and you know more about the Bible than a great many ministers, and can effect the sound of a Hellfire and damnation sermon better than a Baptist minister at a Tent Revival. It means that you grew up poor and most of us have stories about childhood poverty to make a church mouse feel wealthy.

That being said, it also means you have one hell of a work ethic. As a child my father wasn't into giving allowances like most of my classmates received. Want to spend money. Earn money. He saw to it that I worked to earn money and take care of my own wants and needs from, oh about the age of 9 or 10. Mow lawns. Done that. Sell fireworks. Done that. Run a cotton candy machine at a grocery store Grand Opening. Done that. Ride around on a bread truck and carry loads of bread in stores and restaurants. Done that. Those are just as a child. We won't go into the litany of adult jobs I've held.

So what does Rayness really mean? I've been trying to figure that out my entire life and I'm not sure I've figured it out yet. There is a whole past that I try to escape on the one hand and embrace on the other. There is the present that I try to stamp my imprint on, so people will associate that with Rayness. Meanwhile my siblings and Ray relatives as a whole try desperately to keep the world from thinking that I am representative of Raydom as a whole. I guess I'll just keep on keeping on here in Chicago and hold down this spot on the 14th floor. Just don't call me Ray

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama, a Guy You'd Like to Have as President, If Not a Beer

It's a pleasant winter day in Streeterville, one of those days that holds promise of spring, even though it's 2 months away yet. They sun is shining and the late afternoon sun is creating shadows of the row of high rises on Lake Shore Drive on the white frozen expanse of Lake Michigan. It's 26 degrees at the Mini. It's a day for saying good-bye to Bush and Cheney and for saying hello to President Obama and Vice President Biden.

A historic event occurred today and the event was quite a show. I especially enjoyed the quartet that included Yitzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma. Don't really know who the black gentleman on clarinet and the white woman on piano were, but they were excellent. I suppose you have to be excellent to qualify to play with Yitzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma.

We in Illinois, and in Chicago in particular, are very proud of the new President. We have made history once again. We provided the nation with Abe Lincoln who kept the nation together and oversaw the ending of the institution of slavery. Now, after 144 years we have provided the nation with the very first black President. I suppose that puts us on the cutting edge of race relations for well over a century, OK?

All of that is very nice and pats on the back all around and all that, but there is one additional point that is not being made that needs to be made. Barack Obama is not just a black man, but an intellectual, and openly so. This country has a history of anti-intellectualism and for a man to get himself elected to the highest office in the land while not hiding the fact that he is smart is unique. I feel the need to celebrate this occurrence.

If you look back in history, the overwhelming majority of Presidents have been lawyers, with a healthy helping of military men in the mix. I don't mean to denigrate the smarts it takes to become a lawyer or a General in the U.S. military, but most of these guys tried to portray themselves as men of the people, "Men's men," not as guys who were really smart and could use those smarts to lead the nation well. As recently as President #43, people voted for a guy who they thought, "would be a good guy to sit down and have a beer with." We know where that got us.

I recall distinctly, a history teacher in high school who made the point that Woodrow Wilson was the only U.S. President in history with a PhD. Is it any surprise that Mr. Wilson was the guy who hatched the idea for the League of Nations? (Predecessor to the United Nations)Of course Mr. Wilson, the admitted intellectual didn't do really well in getting all of those regular guys in Congress to go along with him, and the U.S. subsequently never ratified the Treaty of Versailles or joined the League of Nations. Lesson to be taken here, "Can't afford to alienate the regular guys Barack. Take note." (Right, like BHO is reading Views From the 14th Floor. It could happen, hey...)

Later on FDR wasn't such an admitted intellectual, but to solve the problems of the Great Depression that all of those regular guys got us into, he hired a whole bunch of really smart guys. I believe they were called a "Brain Trust." The U.S. government wasn't much on openly smart guys for a long time after that, just strong leaders who could roll up their sleeves and go at it right alongside the rest of the regular guys. Right! Now there was Bill Clinton. The guy was a Rhodes Scholar and the first time he spoke at a Democratic National Convention it was like geek central. Somehow the smart-guy stuff got lost in image-making and the Republicans liked to position him as "Bubba" because he was from Arkansas, well that and some sicko with an uncontrollable libido and quite possibly a lying, cheating criminal of some sort. Any vision of smartness got lost in the shuffle, but he did come out of office with a budget surplus and no wars on hand. Can't say that for the guy who everyone wanted to have a beer with.

Well, the regular guys got the nation in such a mess that it was OK for once in history for a guy to admit, "Yes I went to Harvard Law School and did really well there. Oh, and I didn't get in because my parents were wealthy or connected. I got there on my own merits." He speaks well. He's thoughtful. He's putting together a group of thoughtful people to try to think us out of this mess we're in. Oh, and one thing, every example of intellectuals in the Presidency in the last 100 years, is a member of one party, the Democratic Party.

So, let's celebrate the election of Barack Obama, black man, intellectual, man of the people, an Democrat. Those are a lot of hurdles to overcome to get where he has gotten. I believe he has what it takes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. King, Barack Obama, and Tiny Tim

It has been a sunny, mostly tolerable day in Streeterville with much open water in the lake. It's currently 23 degrees and mostly dark out, this from the U.S. National Weather Service and the view out the 14th floor windows. Data from the Mini were not available today.

This day, the day set aside in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the sacrifices he made so that the cause of Civil Rights could move forward, is a day for reflection. Reflection on what came before, how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. The election, and imminent inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America is a remarkable event, a historic event. Dr. King's diligence and hard work and that of thousands, perhaps millions of others, have paid off. American society has taken a great stride forward.

Societies move forward in increments, not in great leaps, and thus it has been in the struggle for equality for all men and women, regardless of race, in America. There are still a great many detractors, those who try to hold on to the old ways, those whose souls have been stained by the ugliness of bigotry. America as a whole, however, has moved forward, at least to the extent that a majority of Americans have been able to accept a man of African ancestry as the next leader of the most powerful nation in the world. This is progress.

In a discussion with Babs the other day, she suggested to me that it may be the case that it took an extreme situation to make Mr. Obama's election possible. It took the incredible arrogance and incompetence of 8 years with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, followed by a Republican candidacy that did nothing so much as pander to the most base, ugly, and divisive elements in our society. There may be some truth to that, a reaction to the Republican Party sending America "to Hell in a handcart," so to speak. Nevertheless, America has spoken. We have accepted Barack Obama as our next leader, and have done so with a great deal of hope. Hope for change for the better, hope for a world with less violence and warfare, hope for more and better economic opportunity for all, hope for a society that provides medical services to all its citizens, hope for a society where all of its citizens, not just some elite citizens, have value and hope for the future.

This, to me, is the legacy of Dr. King, the legacy of Barack Obama, and the legacy of all of us who take small, incremental steps every day of our lives to move our society and that of the world around us forward. It takes us all, working in concert, to make a difference and we have done just that. As Tiny Tim told us, "God bless us every one."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Homo Semi Sapients, New Species, or Just Half-Wits?

It's another gray January day in Streeterville and the grayness is enhanced by the fact that the moisture from the dryer tends to fog the windows on the 14th floor, at least my portion of it. It is, although, a good bit warmer today, 28 degrees at the Mini. Still no word on wind chill factor, or on why Patrick Mini tried to take me to the cleaners over a 50,000 mile inspection. (See an earlier post, "Fools and Their Money, Me and My Money," for that saga.)

I have, on occasion, quoted notable literary figures such as Dylan Thomas on these pages. Today, in a change of tone, I quote literary luminary, Monty Python, "And now for something completely different..."

Reliable sources tell us that scientists have recently documented the existence of a previously unknown species of hominid walking among us, masquerading as ordinary human beings. Some members of the scientific community have argued that these beings are, in actuality, a sub-species, and not an entirely separate species, as such. Details are being investigated through DNA analysis.

This hitherto unknown species, or sub-species, has been designated homo semi sapient. Colloquially these beings are known as "half-wits" or "nitwits." In some circles they are known as "pig-headed dumbasses" or "big-headed jackasses." Documentation shows, however, that they inhabit virtually every strata of society, in every sector of the globe.

Of particular note is the fact that a great many homo semi sapients have a deep reverence and esteem for symbolic titles and initials they associate with their names. Apparently these beings, through an abiding stubbornness, spend long periods of time in pursuit of these titles so that they can attach arcane initials to their names, i.e. LLD, PhD, ThD, BLT, etc. Once they have attached these initials and titles to their names, they often hold this up as evidence of their superior reasoning faculties, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It should be noted that when in a confrontation with a typical semi sapient, it is generally useless to provide the being with facts. They have a great propensity to avoid facts and believe that their own version of reality, however convoluted, are the real facts. When faced with facts that threaten their version of reality, they often retreat into repetition of such mantras as "The facts are a great deal more complex than you know or understand," or "We cannot possibly make such a bold statement, based on the facts as we know them," or one of my personal favorites, "The case of Jones v. Smith suggests otherwise."

As a defense mechanism, homo semi sapient often uses the art of confusion to escape detection. An unnamed source assures us that they regularly convince perfectly capable individuals that they know best by using confusing and unnecessarily arcane language. That is to say, they like to "muddy the waters," or convince thinking adults that they "don't know shit from Shinola." Often they are just annoying.

Be on the lookout for these creatures. They are more common than we often realize. In the interest of scientific research, homo semi sapient sightings may be reported at this website. The results will be compiled and forwarded to the appropriate researchers. Have a good day. R.D. Ray, MA

Friday, January 16, 2009


It's been a lovely day in Streeterville, 7 degrees and sunny at the Mini. The lake is mostly frozen, but there are odd streams of open water where I presume there are currents moving. The light is beautiful at this time of day. The Eastern horizon goes from bluish gray near the waterline, to pale pink just above it, to light blue and fading toward dark above.

I was reading an article in the newspaper the other day with a headline screaming, "Boy Allegedly Molested, Then Forced Out of School." Apparently a victims rights group that represents children who have been molested by priests has jumped into the fray. They are demanding to know why the student, the victim in this case, is being forced to leave the school when the teacher was the perpetrator of the crime.

Let's get the facts here, though. The teacher in question is a 22 year old female. The student is a 17 year old male, who is referred to in the article as a star football player. Apparently the incident took place last year, and after it came to light, the teacher was arrested in October. She is awaiting trial. Considering that it took place last year, the parties were probably 21 and 16 at the time. One of the little ironies of this case is that it took place at a private "Christian School" on the West Side of Chicago.

I have a couple of thoughts on this case. First, who are all these ignoramus 20 something female teachers who insist on having sex with teenage boys? What are they thinking? For that matter, what are male teachers who insist on having sex with teenage girls thinking, or female teachers with female students or male teachers with male students, or any permutation thereof? It's just stupid. In the last few years it just seems that there has been a proliferation of 20 something women in the teaching profession who have been caught, or in some cases pregnant as a result of their behavior. The question is, though, should a 22 year old woman go to prison for having sex with a 17 year old boy (young man)? Well, the law clearly states that it is a crime and should be prosecuted. Any school would have to follow the letter of the law to avoid further scandal. Does that make it right?

Secondly, what was the boy thinking? Can we really believe that this poor innocent child was unwittingly seduced by an unscrupulous, conniving older woman? Having once been a teenage boy, and being a high school teacher myself, I can tell you that in all likelihood, what was going through the young man's head was, "Man! How did I get so lucky?" Young men, pumped full of hormones at the height of their growth, youth, and vitality usually jump at any chance to have sex, no matter with whom. I suggest that the school knows this too. It is because of the culpability of both parties, the teacher and the student, that she lost her job and is being prosecuted, and the student was asked to attend school somewhere else. Hey, it's a Christian school and they most likely encourage total abstinence in all things sexual, at least for students.

I need to press one more issue. There are only 5 years difference in the ages of the student and teacher here. If they had been 32 and 27 instead of 22 and 17 no one would have blinked an eye. In some cultures young men of such an age are considered wholly grown adults. Not too many years ago, right here in the U.S., young men of that age married and started families. Was the young man really molested?

Molested is such an ugly term. It suggests 35 year old men forcing themselves on 10 year old girls. This incident is pretty stupid, but it does not evoke the negative emotion of the term "molested." We have a young woman, barely out of school herself, still in the throes of youth and raging hormones. We have, a young man who has been described as a football star, probably attractive, and with his own set of raging hormones. I honestly cannot believe anyone was molested here. The victims rights group needs to check to see if its collective heads are screwed on correctly. This is honestly not the same thing as sexually repressed priests taking advantage of altar boys.

All things considered, the woman should have lost her job. She is just one example of what gives teachers a bad name. She should find something else to do to pay her bills. Working with kids is not a good profession for her. She shouldn't go to prison, though, unless of course I'm way off base and she held the young man at knife point and forced herself on him. Think that happened? Right. And I have some beach front property in Arizona for you. Furthermore, I do believe the school did the right thing. The young man was culpable as well, and should bear part of the responsibility and thus punishment. OK? So back off already, dogooders who can't see the light of day! This young woman is being raked over the coals in the press and lost her job. The young man is attending another school, so he's not being denied an education. And he is probably bragging to his new friends about how he carried on with that young teacher.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Cold Snap Chronicles

It's a frigid, Arctic-like day in Streeterville, -4 degrees at the Mini. Usually the temperature at the Mini varies with location. There is usually a 2-5 degree variance between home in Streeterville and work, in Back of the Yards. Today it was -4 degrees everywhere. There was a brief flirtation with -5 degrees on 51st Street, but it went back to -4 by the time I arrived in the parking lot, so if you're waiting for a bus on 51st Street, I'm really sorry, though only marginally more so than if you're waiting for a bus anywhere else in Chicago at -4.

Not to obsess, but today is an anomaly. The National Weather Service tells us that this is the coldest day we've experienced in 10 years. My students, who are all 15-16years old haven't seen such a day since they were in Kindergarten or 1st grade. This is one of those frigid days that occur with bright sunlight in a cloudless sky. It's too cold for clouds. The air molecules are huddling together in the cold so closely that all the moisture has been squeezed out. It's all on the ground in piles of white.

When I looked at Lake Michigan this morning, the lake was not completely frozen over because it has been very windy and the movement of the lake keeps it from freezing over. The difference in temperature between the slushy water and the frigid air was producing wispy little clouds of moisture blowing over the surface of the lake.

On the Dan Ryan Expressway wisps of dry snow were blowing across the road. Cars that appear to burn clean on a warm day had trails of smoke coming from their tailpipes. The moisture in some exhausts was dripping from the pipes. As I drove past houses, each and every one of them with heating systems working overtime, the smoke curled and blew from chimneys on every rooftop.

From my corner position on the 3rd floor of the school I looked out across the Back of the Yards neighborhood. I could hear the radiators popping loudly, keeping the classroom warm for all the kids who braved the cold to come to school and take Semester Exams. I could see the Sears Tower, Aon Center, and assorted tall buildings downtown in the distance. The smoke from the industrial smokestack in the near distance tried to obscure the top of the Sears Tower, white puffy animals blowing across the pale blue sky, never quite hiding the towers on top of the tallest building in North America.

From the window, the brightness of the sunlight glinting on the piles of snow gives one the urge to reach for sunglasses. It's an Arctic beauty out there today boys and girls. All white and blue and wisps of smoke. People bundled to the bundlest. Snuggle up warm and enjoy your fireplace if you have one, and dream of tropical climes. Stay indoors if you can. Or, like natives of Minnesota, make friends with winter and "Buck up ya." Oh and make sure to get out that "Hat With Flaps." (See the earlier entry related to that.)Feel free to put on attire that makes you look like the Michelin Man, or Ralphie's poor little brother in A Christmas Story. You know the one who, bundled in his snow suit, fell over and was unable to get up, repeatedly. Merry Cold Snap.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fools and Their Money, Me and My Money

It's a cold day in Streeterville, 13 degrees and sunny at the Mini. The windchill is, well, really friggin cold. Put on your hat with flaps and if you own them, don your longjohns. It promises to be colder yet as the sun goes down. It's as Walt Kelley would have said in Pogo, "Looks like Friday the 13th comes on a Tuesday this month."

I took the Mini in to Patrick Mini to get the oil changed last Saturday and in the "Marketing Ploy of the Month," I was told, "We can't reset the counter because your car is due for a 50,000 mile checkup. Would you like us to do that today? It usually takes most of the day and it costs somewhere around $1000." Do I have sucker tatooed on my forehead or what?

But let me back up and explain a couple of things to you. Mini Coopers are no longer made by an English owned company. They were purchased by BMW. As a part of the makeover and marketing strategy, BMW installed onboard computers that tell you the temperature, your average speed, your average miles per gallon, how many miles you have left on your current tank of gas, when your next oil change is due, and, yes, when you are due for a tuneup/inspection. Now, every time I start my car I get a flashing readout that tells me I'm currently 25 miles overdue for scheduled maintenance service. It won't be reset so it stops flashing until I get that service performed. $1000? What are they planning on doing, installing gold plated spark plugs and a platinum Mini insignia?

I went to the dealers website and sent an e-mail to the service department to complain and I got a chirpy e-mail from a salesman who said he'd heard that I contacted them trying to get info on 2009 Minis. He was all too happy to sell me one of those. What? I don't like how they're trying to gouge me on service, so I'll buy a whole new car and take on a new set of payments so I can get free service for 4 years or 50,000 miles. Oh, did I forget? My car is no longer under warranty.

I sent the chirpy salesman an e-mail explaining that I merely wanted a realistic estimate of the costs of a 50,000 mile inspection, just in case the young man quoting me the $1000 figure had been mistaken. In short order, I got an e-mail stating, "You'll have to talk to the service department," and he left a phone number. I was under the impression that I'd tried to contact the Service Department before when the dealership in question tried to sell me a new car, instead of giving me a reasonably priced tuneup/maintenance check.

What this all says to me is that the dealership's unstated motto is, "We don't care what you think about us. Plenty of other suckers are out there clamoring for our popular little vehicle, so give us your hard earned cash and shut up."

In an unrelated incident,except for the fact that it is another example of over the top American marketing, I got an e-mail yesterday from someone claiming to be a blogger. The e-mail said something to the effect, "Could I link my site to yours? Your observations could complement mine." Anyway, I clicked on the website in question. It turned out to be something called and was a blatant sales pitch for Nike, with lots of pictures of what, guessed it, shoes. Oh what a tangled web we weave..... I'd say, "Pardon the pun," but frankly I live to pun.

I realize that we live in the center of the capitalist universe and a great many people would love to see Adam Smith added to the canon of saints. Saint Adam, the patron saint of greed. Wait, that's not possible. Greed is one of those no nos. Is it a "Deadly Sin?" Didn't read that book, so I couldn't say, but it's at least a pretty bad sin, if not one of the 7 deadly ones and this country, and most of the developed world, for that matter, are swimming in greed and excess marketing.

Good old Ben, or someone like him at least, told us, "A fool and his money are soon parted." It seems that the main job of the MBAs of the world has become to help everyone they deem to be the fools of the world to get parted from their money, and they pretty much think most of us qualify as the fools to get parted from that money.

Somewhere back in Junior High, I think, I learned about the Republican Party and trickle down economics in the 1920s. Then I learned about the great depression. The haves convinced the have nots that if we all just listened to them, kept government out of the economy, and bought lots of stuff, we'd all live the Life of Reilly. Thought we'd all learned our lesson about that and then came the Reagan Revolution. History repeated itself yet again. Greed and lack of restraint ran amuck. This was brought to you from the Department of Redundancy Department. Enough! Enough! Enough! It's time we all took a stand and let them know that we are not simple fools waiting to be fleeced. Oh, and Mini, I'll be taking my business elsewhere to get a simple tuneup.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jacques Brel Was a Liar

It's another gray winter day in Streeterville, 27 degrees and overcast at the Mini. A colleague of mine left work in the middle of the day today. His mother died this morning. My heart goes out to him.

The gentleman in question, we'll call him Bill for the sake of privacy, has been a bit depressed for a while as he is an only child and his elderly mother's health has been declining for some time. She has had Alzheimer's for some time and as the only child was set the task of seeing that she was taken care of. Every weekend became an adventure, as she slipped more and more away from any sense of time and reality.

The issue was complicated by the fact that his father had already passed away and now he was the last of his family, alone. Mind you, Bill has a wife and children, in-laws, and a healthy set of friends with whom he socializes regularly. His birth family, though, is gone. This is a terribly difficult rite of passage for any of us.

Who really wants to be alone? There may be some individuals out there who wish to remain alone, who could care less about human contact, and a sense of belonging. This is not true of the vast majority of humanity, however. We all long to belong, to be liked, to be loved. Family serves an incredibly important function. It gives us security. It keeps us sane. When the family unit we were born into disappears, it signals a crisis of identity. We are the sole identity of that group at that point in time and when that reality bursts into our consciousness, it's a tough one to handle.

I have been seriously alienated from my family for most of my adult life and as a result left home, family, and the state of my birth early on. I had very little contact with my family even before my parents died, but when both were gone, it was a bit unsettling. I have siblings, but they all live in different states and have families of their own and I found myself really alone. I have a wife, Babs, and we have carved out a lovely life together, but the reality of the matter is that certain aspects of life cannot be shared with one another. We are all, in essence, alone, trapped within the confines of our own minds, bodies, beings.

We are born alone. Sure your mother is there to comfort you, but it's a totally new and unique experience to be a body and mind outside the womb in a big, scary world. And now you have to feed yourself, instead of getting everything you needed through that cute little tube attached to your belly. We live our lives trying to fight off the aloneness, building bridges to other individuals, building families of our own to give us that sense of belonging and being wanted and needed. In the end, though, despite all of our best efforts, we die alone. No one can share that experience with you. Frankly, my experience in witnessing people in their last days, minutes, seconds suggests to me that a great many of them would rather all those guilty, needy, clamoring relatives and friends go away and leave them the hell alone.

In the end, someone very close to you can hold your hand and comfort you. That someone can try to make it easier for you, but you alone can face the coming darkness and whatever is on the other side. Some seek solace in religion and belief that there is an afterlife. Some of us with a rational bent to our thought find the
possibility of gods and afterlives a bit far-fetched. I only wish it were that easy. It would take a great deal of responsibility off of my shoulders. Ultimately, there is only the darkness, the nothingness to face, and you are the only one who can face it.

I think about Dylan Thomas and his "Rage, rage against the dying of the light," and I fully intend to do so. Where this line of thought has taken me, as it ultimately must, is to the realization that when we face being alone because of the death of loved ones, it brings us to face the reality of our own ultimate demise. It's funny that thinking about this brings to mind Dylan Thomas, but it also brings to mind Kenny Rogers, who had at least one profound moment in his career with a line from The Gambler. "The best that you can hope for, is to die in your sleep."

So Bill, our thoughts are with you, even if it means very little. You still have to face it alone. Of course, in a circuitous manner, this brings us to the title. Jacques Brel wrote a song called, No Love You're Not Alone It's unfortunate, but he was wrong.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Snowing on Your Parade

It's been a couple of days since last I was here. It's been pretty busy with work, jury duty, and Saturday errands. It has been a pretty nasty day in Streeterville out there, 30 degrees and snowy at the Mini. Still no word on the wind chill factor. No soft snow, silent snow this one. We're talking about a hard snow, a loud snow. A howling, pelting, in your face kind of snow. We're talking about a reminder that it's January in Chicago, right on the lakefront, kind of snow. We're talking about a "Maybe I should have stayed indoors and read," kind of snow. We're talking about a "Maybe I should have taken that job in Miami for a lot less money," kind of snow. We're talking about a snow that evokes W.C. Fields movies in which he advises us, "Not a fit night out for man nor beast." That's the kind of snow we're talking about today.

I sat in on an IEP conference the other day. For those of you who don't know, IEP stands for Individual Education Plan. They are for special needs students who need accommodations in the classroom. They have some learning disability. These conferences are attended by regular education teachers, special education teachers, counselors, administrators, psychologists, social workers, students, parents, and case managers. At this particular one there was a case manager, a special education teacher, an Assistant Principal, the student, and myself, no parent in sight.

The student in question reads at a grade level several years below the grade she is currently in. She has difficulty in English and Social Science classes because they are reading intensive. Yet, when reading the details from past IEP's it was brought to light that the student plans on going to college and eventually law school. Who has allowed this poor deluded child to continue into high school thinking that this is possible for her? The law profession is one that requires excellent reading and writing skills and a diligence I have never seen from her.

I had a conversation with a member of the Special Education Department about this and received a shrug and this statement, "We have to be politically correct and allow this if that is what she says she wants to do. There are repercussions otherwise." I am the last person alive who wishes to step on a child's dream. I also realize that there are some students who blossom later, but there are students who have the ability to make their dreams happen and there are those who should be counseled honestly and steered in another direction. Otherwise they are in for a big shock.

I have seen a number of students who graduated from Chicago Public Schools and went on to enroll in one of the city colleges. The students took placement exams and when it became apparent that they could not read or write at level, they were enrolled in remedial, non-credit classes. On many occasions, these students did poorly or failed these remedial classes, still had to pay tuition, never got any credit toward graduation, eventually got frustrated and angry, and dropped out. Each and every one of these students would have been better served by being counseled toward some vocational education. They would have been better served by helping them try to achieve realistic goals.

I know that this goes against the grain of American thought. The mantra in schools of education today and in public schools across the country is "All children can learn." People want to believe that every child can, with the right approach and methodology be successful and attend college. This is a big lie. Anyone who teaches in a classroom knows better. Every child is different. Every child has individual abilities and learns at their own rate. Some children learn faster than others. Some children have greater innate ability and can learn more than others. That is to say that some children cannot learn as much as others and when the educational system recognizes this, they should not continue to play out the charade that these children can be successful academically and go to college.

The only way that some students can be successful on the college level is if we water down the curriculum so that it actually means nothing. If no one tells students of limited ability that they should think about some profession that will not need academic skills, the student continues to believe they can be successful and eventually have their egos crushed when they fail. They, then, find themselves in the position of having dropped out of college and still not having any saleable skills in the job market. If they had been steered correctly in the first place they would have come out of high school with some saleable skills and perhaps a direction to go for higher training in their chosen vocation. They would then be more successful and productive in the current economy than they would be as a college dropuout.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. Who decides who has academic ability and who doesn't? How do we redesign the public school system? Who has the job of telling some child with limited ability, "I'm sorry but you should really think about vocational training."? No one really wants to be the bad guy, but as adults, as adults whose profession is preparing the youth of America for the future, we have to take on these hard tasks. Otherwise, unemployment and poverty persist, and our prisons continue to fill beyond capacity. There are far too many children being "left behind" because we refuse to admit the individual differences in ability.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

This Is a Job for Skinny Man

It's gray, snowy, and 26 degrees in Streeterville this afternoon. This information comes to us from the National Weather Service. I neglected to check the data at the Mini on the way home. You can barely see Navy Pier this afternoon because, well, it's snowing. The serious weather guys, meteorologists for the uninitiated, would say "limited visibility." The serious weather guys would also not say they forgot to check the temperature and conditions at the Mini. They would say, "Mini conditions: N/A." In all likelihood,these serious weather geeks would tell you, "Lake Michigan water temperature: 32 degrees." I prefer Lake Michigan, frozen on top and pretty damned cold underneath. Sometimes inexactitudes tell the story pretty well.

We're a full week into the new year now and the resolutions have officially been kicked off now. I went to my songwriting workshop last evening and I changed the strings on my guitar. I have ideas and I've committed myself to further dilettantery in that area. I solemnly vow to be the best musical dilettante that I can possibly be.

Then there is the weight. As usual I gained about 5 pounds over the holidays. Now it is time to take it off and then some. I told Babs I'd lose 10 pounds before we go away to South Beach in April. This means exercise at least 4 times per week and eating substantially less. Seems simple doesn't it? The body is, after all, a biological machine. Fuel up. Burn it off. Too much fuel, it turns to fat for future use. Too little burn, it turns to fat for future use. Man, at this point I have a lot of future use stored up. Fuel less! Burn more!

The trouble with this scenario is that when a person is in their 20's they burn fuel just by looking at it. Drop 10 pounds? Hah! Do that in a week. Then come the 40's and 50's and that old metabolic rate takes a hike somewhere. I believe mine went to the beach one day and never came back, leaving me with a complement of spare fuel that gives the old torso a resemblance to certain aquatic mammals of large proportions.

I took up running a few years back and it was encouraging. I lost about 25 pounds. I ran the Chicago Marathon. Then I hit the wall. No, not the wall that comes at about mile 20 in the marathon, the wall that comes when your body achieves some kind of stasis and won't shed any more weight, no matter what you do. That still left me about 20 pounds beyond that youthful figure I once cut before middle age stole up behind me when I wasn't looking and mugged me. (Don't get me started on the hair.)

Well this 20 pounds less than the worst scenario was OK, but then I began to realize that every year I gain weight at the holidays and have to work extra hard to get it off to get back to that 20 pounds down state. Oops didn't quite make it back last year. Then I began to realize that sometimes work, and life in general get in the way and it's not always possible to run 25 or 30 miles per week to keep the weight down. What? You mean I'll have to make eating concessions. No more Deep Dish Pizza. I live in Chicago for Christ's sake. Forget that crap. So now the 20 pounds down became only 15-17 pounds down.

15-17 pounds down? Well that's certainly better than the all time high of *&%#. Trouble is along came Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's again and now the weight loss is only 10-12 pounds. I know there's a skinny guy inside of me waiting to get out but he lost his GPS device and can't find his way to the surface. Furthermore, I look at all of my siblings and I'm still the skinny one. OH MY GOD! My genetics are trying to make me one of those short red-faced guys who are very nearly as wide as they are tall. I have seen the future and it is my older siblings. Enough is enough. This is a job for (Insert trumpet blast here.) Skinny Man! Skinny Man, savior of the portly, defender of the diet! Leaps high blood pressure (and cholesterol for that matter) in a single bound! Faster than a trip to the fridge for a secret snack! More powerful than an empty calorie! Skinny Man!

Alas, skinny man moved to Southern California and is currently appearing in Grade B movies. What's left is a lot of hard work, so I must go to the gym and shed these hard-earned pounds one at a time. Catch you later, after the sweat. Then maybe I can justify ordering out for a pizza. Hope your resolutions are off and running as well, so to speak.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rod the Hair Guy Goes to the Circus

It was a fairly pleasant winter afternoon in Streeterville, 31 degrees and sunny at the Mini. Still no word on the wind chill factor. It was the first day back at work after the holidays and there was a great deal of buzz about Rod the Hair Gov's appointment of Roland Burris to the Senate seat formerly belonging to President-Elect Obama. I guess I feel it necessary to comment here, since I am rapidly becoming the only person in print anywhere, in the newspapers, in the magazines, online, or on TV or radio who has not yet commented on Crazy Rod the Hair Guy. I wouldn't want to be left out. This is a trend going back to childhood, when I was often one of the last ones chosen for teams on the playground. First chosen in a spelling contest, last chosen for a baseball team. OK, usually not last, but second or third from the last. Close enough.

Let's get one thing straight. Rod's in total denial about the fact that the FBI has him on tape doing things that are totally illegal and in all likelihood is going to spend some time in the Big House, and by Big House I don't mean the Governor's Mansion in Springfield. He's gone wacko. The Illinois legislature is in the process of impeaching him. The Attorney General of the state failed to have him removed by delcaring him unfit and unable to do his job anymore. The U.S. Senate has told him repeatedly that they would not seat anyone he appoints, as he is going to be removed from office and will be going to prison, in all likelihood. Yet, in spite of all, he went ahead and appointed a second or third tier candidate who didn't appear on anybody else's list of possible U.S. Senators from Illinois. Apparently, everyone else had already turned him down since he'd already been all over the news trying to hawk the position to the highest bidder.

This is the thing, though. After everyone else had been rejected by Rod the Hair Guy or had themselves rejected his offer, so as not to have a stain on their own personal record, Roland Burris accepted. Let me say that again. Roland Burris accepted Rod's appointment, immediately causing a shit storm in the media and in government. To make it all worse, a number of African-American Congressmen who had formerly backed the members of the U.S. Senate in their determination not to seat a Rod the Hair Guy appointment, suddenly made an about face and were accepting Mr. Burris with open arms. Thus was born a racial issue. Anyone who would not accept Roland Burris was called a racist. Just another plot to keep the black man down.

Let's be clear here. Rod the Hair Guy has not, at this point in time, been convicted of any crime, nor has he been convicted on impeachment charges being brought by the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield. He is still legally the Governor of the State of Illinois. According to the Constitution of the State of Illinois, his appointment is legal. Roland Burris is the Junior Senator of the State of Illinois. I'm not a lawyer, but that much seems pretty clear to me. There may be some legal machinations that all those lawyers in the Senate in Washington D.C. can come up with to stop his being seated, but we'll see where all of that leads.

This is not the point, however. The point is that the people who are opposing his being seated are not doing so because he is a black man. They are opposing him because the man who appointed him is a crooked politician who was caught on tape trying to sell that Senate appointment and anyone, white, black, Latino, Asian or Martian who takes that appointment is immediately under suspicion and is likely to lose that Senate seat when he runs for re-election next time around.

The fact that the Congressional Black Caucus chooses to make a racial issue out of this is entirely disingenuous. I understand the impulse to want at least one African-American in the lily white legislative body, known as the U.S. Senate. I understand the impulse to want a woman in that augustly male body known as the U.S. Senate. I also understand, however, the impulse to want someone competent and electable there to do the job for the people of the State of Illinois. I teach the U.S. Constitution to high school students every year, and in all the times I have read that document, beginning to end, I have never seen anything in it guaranteeing a Senate seat to any person, based on race, gender, or any other special interest group. In order to be a Senator you must be at least 30 years of age, a citizen of the state you are representing, and a citizen of the U.S. for I forget just how many years. That's all.

For a group of African-American legislators who formerly opposed any appointment by Rod the Hair Guy to suddenly cry "Racial discrimination," because the guy appointed is African-American is unconscionable manipulation. It has no place in the circus that replacing Obama has become. For shame.

As for the other guys, they may just have to recognize that it is a legal appointment. Why not jus quietly accept him and give him the support that any new Senator needs to do his job well. Maybe if we give him the opportunity to prove himself he can do a decent job. Of course, there is also the possibility that further investigation will show that Mr. Burris donated money to Rod the Hair Guy's campaign fund and got his reward and then we'll suffer further embarassment by having Burris and Blagojevich share a cell down the hall from former Illinois Governor George Ryan.

Sometimes I long for the simplicity of politics in someplace like Minnesota where former Saturday Night Live comedians run for the Senate and are called pornographers by the Republican opposition, where former WWF wrestlers are elected Governor. While we're at it, why don't we just have Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey take over the entire U.S. Congress and farm out the government of the states to The Three Stooges? Even if the stooges are dead, they can't possibly create less of a circus in state government than we already have.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Live to work, or work to live?

It's a bit of a gray day in Streeterville. It's 35 degrees at the Mini. Still no word on the wind chill factor. Been looking out the window and the ice melting and breaking up on Lake Michigan has created these little oval iceberglets that look like nothing so much as white blood cells as seen under a microscope, or at least as I imagine they would look under a microscope, based on my vast experience, having seen the Bell Telephone science film, "Hemo the Magnificent," in 6th grade or somewhere thereabouts.

It's Sunday afternoon and the holiday period is over. Christmas is done. New Year's is done. This means but one thing. Tomorrow I return to work. I'm sure there may be some odd duck out there who will be returning all refreshed and ready to go, looking forward to meeting the new year of work and conquering all, against all odds. For most of us, though, we will greet Monday morning, January 5th with a hearty, "Oh shit, I have to go to work."

Now I must admit that, as jobs go, working in education is not too bad. I could, after all, be working in a coal mine, "going down down down...." Thank you Sam Cooke for that. Reality is, however, that no matter what you do as work (We all know about the dignity of work, the feelings of accomplishment, blah, blah, blah...), if work were that exciting or cool, they wouldn't have to pay you to do it. I am a professional educator. Note the word professional. That means they pay me to hang out with adolescents and educate them. No pay, no education.

Like many another working stiff, I face Monday morning after a holiday thinking about when the next holiday will be. Hmmmm. I do have Jury Duty on Friday, so that's kind of a holiday, unless I actually get chosen for a case and have to sit and listen to testimony and stuff. Had to sit on a Federal jury for a civil rights case once. Was stuck for a week listening to how this woman resisted arrest and she claiming that the cops used undue force and assaulted her. Was it worth a week off from work? The jury is still out on that one. Bah De Bump!

There is that Martin Luther King Jr. holiday coming up, but come to think of it, I scheduled a doctor's appointment on that day. Truthfully, what I have to look forward to is Spring Break. In educatorland, we get this week off in the spring to go do whatever for a while, before buckling down to ACT tests PSAE tests, AP tests, final tests, and that stretch run that happens at the end of yet another school year. Spring Break is a wonderful time. For most of us in the colder climes it means going to a beach somewhere and getting too much sun and spending way too much money and enjoying the hell out of it.

Babs and I already have reservations at a very nice hotel in South Beach. Babs has a thing about hotel beds with sheets that have a high thread count and a bathroom with a nice stand alone shower. The hotel in question has access to the beach and a pool to end all pools, with waiters to bring you drinks and food and basically to make you think for a moment that you are someone special, not just another working stiff. That's what vacationing is about.

This is not to say that I have not had a sense of accomplishment at times, over the years, when students come back to visit and say, "Thank you." When I have run into former students who are doing well in college and looking forward to a productive life. When I have run into former students who didn't hold much promise and find out that they turned out alright anyway, and they are happy to see me.

It's just that there are people who live to work. They don't quite know what to do with themselves or their families when they aren't working. Their jobs are their lives. Furthermore, most of these people are not Warren Buffett. Most are very ordinary working stiffs, like you or I. I know about one person, ... OK he's my brother, who retired from the FAA as an electrical engineer and after a year or so, I suspect of going stir crazy, he went back to work for a private contractor. In my estimation electrical engineers, while not exactly factory workers on a line, or construction workers with hammers, are still not Warren Buffett either, and thus qualify as working stiffs.

What I don't get about this scenario is why a guy who owns a perfectly nice home, car, and lots of stuff, who has a perfectly nice wife, who has all the retirement income he needs goes back to work when he doesn't need to do so. The only thing that I can figure is that the thing that he loves is the work, or that possibly that he has spent so much time and energy doing that work thing, that he can't think of anything else to do to fill his time.

I am not one of those. As we used to joke in high school, "I should have been born rich instead of so darned good looking." Man, I can think of thousands of things to do with my time, rather than work. There's music and writing, and reading, and travel, and just plain relaxation. My inner self does not identify itself with what I do to pay the bills. I have a self that embraces so much more than that. It is just one small part of who I am.

This brings me to one of life's little petty annoyances. How many times have you been at a party or fuction and when you meet someone the first thing they say to you is, "So what do you do?" As if what you do for a living should define who you are as a person. I submit to you that there are some persons out there who are defined by what they do, scientists, politicians, full-time artists, actors, musicians. For the most part, though, humanity works to live, not vice versa, and each and every one of us is so much more than what we do for a living.

With that in mind, I will be back at work tomorrow morning and I will do the very best job I can at educating those teenagers. I will, however, continue to look forward to the next time I can devote to living the life I have earned, not earning the life I live.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Resolutions and Change

It was a pretty nice day on the 14th floor. Lots of frozen water out the window. When I went to the grocery store, it was 30 degrees at the Mini. Still no news on the wind chill factor. It is undeniably 2009 and even though it is the second day of the new year, I am just now getting around to serious consideration of that New Year's pastime, the New Year's Resolution.

Truthfully, Babs has come to me almost every year and asked me what New Year's Resolutions I was making. Inevitably I have told her in no uncertain terms, "I don't make New Year's Resolutions." I have always based my life on continuous growth and change and I always felt that resolving to change something about myself for the new year was just idiotic since my whole life has been one big resolution for change.

This year is different, though. I realize that sometimes people form habits over the years. Sometimes we don't get the results we hoped for. I realize that that old saw about "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results," has a bit of truth to it. It's time I made some resolutions and began making things change, taking control of my life (for a change). I had some serious disappointments last year and hope to enjoy this year and succeeding years a bit more.

Let's just review the last year. I spent 6 months of the last year, one weekend per month holed up in hotels for business retreats, and completing seminars that were designed to make 37 other people and myself competent to go into a failing school and turn it around. I spent a great deal of time and effort after the fact applying and interviewing for administrative jobs that never materialized. I'm still a teacher, not an administrator and the politics of that fact are positively mind boggling. That is a subject for another rant altogether. At any rate, lots of time and effort, zero results.

In previous years, I have padded the old teacher income with part-time administrative gigs after hours and by teaching in summer school. All of that dried up last year and I made substantially less money than in previous years. Not going broke mind you, but let's just say the road to a six figure income has become a long and winding one. Not there yet. Not clear if I'll ever get there in education. My other options at this point being primarily creative ones, I may continue to be one of the working class, not one of the elite. What else is new?

Taking a look at the larger picture from last year, we had another year of George W. Bush mismanaging the country and creating more ill will against the U.S. abroad, while sending the economy into the worst spiral since the Great Depression. Apparently he was unable to outdo Herbert Hoover, so his debacle will have to be known as the "Pretty Damned Bad Recession." Part of this is the fact that Babs's investments from all of her hard work of the last few years took a pretty serious hit. We don't need to go into number specifics here. Lots of Baby Boomers are being faced with delaying their retirement. Remember this important credo, "Friends don't let friends ... vote Republican." Oh, and the value of the home on the 14th floor is in all likelihood somewhat diminished. Thank goodness we have some serious equity we brought into this residence from the years in Gayberry. (Also the subject of another essay altogether.)

I recommitted myself to my creative endeavors last year, though. I just didn't do quite as much with those efforts as I probably should have. I let work and life in general get in the way of those things. I also continued to let family and friend considerations get in the way of being who I am. I can ill afford to spend any more of my lifetime worrying about what other people think. In addition, I continued to do one thing I love, run. However, I let life get in the way of that and I didn't run as much as I should have to train for the races I ran. I never got my weight down to the level I should have in order to get the results I wanted. OK, everyone should have gotten the picture by now. It wasn't a stellar year.

That being said, I have come to the realization that I need to make some resolutions this year. I have thought long and hard about change and I realize that change that comes quickly and radically is not often lasting change. Real change is change that comes slowly and incrementally. One still has to take action to make these incremental changes take effect, though. The more we realize our own control over our destiny, the more we are able to take steps to control it, to effect necessary change. It is time to resolve.

So what do I need to resolve for this new year? I have to realize that, in all likelihood, I will continue to be a teacher, not an administrator and I need to embrace that and be a very good teacher until the day I can realistically afford to quit teaching. I need to embrace that creative side of myself and devote more time and effort to it to create a better result. I need to seriously commit to completing creative projects that sound wonderful in their infancy, but need many hours and hard work to be completed. Otherwise, I will never get the results I seek. I need to work harder at being happy with the life Babs and I have carved out for ourselves and accepting that it is what it is.

Will I quit being a thorn in the side of the bad administrators at CPS? Will I put more effort into reaching those kids in my classroom? Will I actually practice my guitar and rewrite songs once I've gotten past the initial purge? Will I finish the play that still has only one act? Will I actually write the book that needs to be written about education? Will I get it together to write an entire book of fiction? Will I make the effort necessary to sell the children's stories I wrote? Will I lose the weight I need to lose in order to be the guy I want to be? Will I focus on one thing at a time enough to actually make some of these things happen? Well, this is my resolution. I resolve to make as much of this happen as I possibly can. Incremental works. One thing at a time. Small steps. Most of all, though, I have a pretty good life, and I resolve to be happy with it, not content, but happy.

Happy New Year all. Do what you can to make a better life for yourself. Stop whining. Stop talking about it. Do it. You are the only one who can make it happen. It just takes small steps, a little bit at a time.