Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rahm Can Fix It - Pothole Patching

Entourage on LSD
  Okay, Rahm.  Time to change the way we do things - "the Chicago Way" is costing us too much money.  My entertainment this afternoon was watching some pothole maintenance on Lake Shore Drive.  Sounds like a good thing, right?  Think again.

The entourage consisted of:  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
  • 1 CPD squad car
  • 1 City of Chicago tow truck
  • 1 van with the city logo on it (supervisor perhaps?)
  • 2 dump trucks
  • 3 city workers on foot

Men at Work

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume each vehicle had only a driver - not any passengers.  That is a total  headcount of EIGHT (8) - probably on time and a half (Saturday).  That would be great news if they were going to attack a 10 mile stretch of the drive.

I watched them for 40 minutes and they found and patched a total of THREE (3) small potholes and were on their way.    I didn't follow them.  Maybe they picked up the pace when they got further south.
Or, maybe NOT.  There's got to be a better way, Rahm.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rahm Can Fix It - City Council Meetings

Over the next few months - I will be offering advice to our newly elected, but yet to be sworn in, Mayor, Rahm Emanuel. As a lover of Chicago and an observer of most things political I have a short (well maybe not so short) list of things that need fixing.  Consider this a "honey do" list for Rahm.  When he is sworn it, I'll change it to a "suggestion  list" for His Honor the Mayor.

I'm starting with an easy one, City Council meetings - I attend most of them. I would suggest that until the meetings are improved we not allow teachers to bring their classes to observe.  We do not want our children to think that the behavior demonstrated here is a good example of how to act in public.

  • To the casual observer - it looks like an adult day care center filled with ADD victims.  The Aldermen wander around, buzz with each other, pass out papers, talk on their phones, text and twitter - but only when the Mayor is not at the podium - which is often.  When he presides - they all sit in their seats like good  little girls and boys. As soon as he leaves its back to running around. Now don't get me wrong - they're all dressed nicely.  You could take them anywhere - most of them. They're just hyper.
  • The 14th ward alderman  does not run around.  They all come to him and all but kiss his ring.  All the other white haired guys are doing the running around (they're the worst) - if they can do it, he can do it.  Either make him run around or tell the others to sit down.  A couple of them can't move too well - so they're okay.
  • The proclamations are too long.  Shorten them and put them into plain language.  Whereas and therefore  are out of date and needlessly prolong the reading leaving the City Clerk out of breath. If they were shorter, maybe the Aldermen would actually pay attention instead of disrespecting the honorees by doing other things.
  • After the well deserved proclamations honoring our brave firemen and policemen.  Limit the "I rise to support this proclamation" to 2 or 3 and tell your finance committee chairman to use his own words - not those of Jefferson, or Plato or  the Dali Lama or whomever  else he quotes all the time. A real time waster.
  • Make everybody stay in the room while roll call votes are taken.  Saves them from piping up later.
  •  As a public service, provide a list of the ordinances being voted on.  They are read (mumbled) so quickly and only mentioned by ordinance #9876-33000 - how is the public to know what that means?  It could be an ordinance to prohibit parking in front of your house or to allow gambling at your local tavern.  Also direct the public to the committee meetings. They are the meetings where actual decisions are made and the public is allowed to speak.
  • On a final note:  Make them actually debate,think, and come up with new ideas. Rahm - they haven't had to do that in a very long time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Wearin' Of the Green - not so much

Here it is, only March 14th and St. Patrick's Day and the official celebrations are just about done.  Ever since I was a little girl, this granddaughter of 4 Polish immigrants was celebrating.  I learned the Irish Jig before I learned to Polka.  Must have something to do with my mother's family who grew up in a highly diversified immigrant community where the Dempsey and  Corcoran names were as plentiful as  Stachurski and Birofka and Fuschetti and Manganello. Also why most of my maternal uncles and aunts are either Italian or Irish.  It is also why everyone had to learn English to communicate - another subject for another day.

 I went to St. Patrick School - so that's a no-brainer for why we celebrated.  Later we moved to Chicago to St. Luke parish  - where my Irish American husband grew up.  When we first moved to River Forest I described it in a letter to my mother as an Irish Catholic ghetto - but with better houses.  Yet again, another no brainer.

Chicago has always taken St. Patty's day seriously.  The parade used to be on the actual date, March 17th, and it was an unofficial day off for those of us lucky enough to  be able to skip work.  We'd head down to State Street and line the sidewalks where we were thisclose to to marchers, horses,  floats and of course, the bagpipes and politicians.  Our kids, who thought we didn't know they played hooky from high school, probably spent most of the day trying to dodge us. Joe always wore a green tie and I had my bright green cable knit wool sweater. That sweater lasted forever - as I only wore it once a year - and it was real wool.

Some years ago the mayor decided that it wasn't good to have a million mainly adult drunks on the streets of Chicago on a weekday.  He moved it to the last Saturday before the actual date -  to make it a family affair. There's some kind of convoluted thinking  behind the notion that kids are better off watching a million adult drunks with their parents.  That wasn't bad enough.  He moved all the parades to Columbus Drive which makes more sense traffic -wise, because it is wide and off the beaten track.  But it also cut down the crowds because the casual watchers - who may have been downtown shopping  or working might not even know where it is.  It also means you are   t  h  i  s    f  a  r   from the actual parade participants.  And.... don't throw candy at the parade watchers because someone might sue the city if you hit them.

When  the elbows of my green sweater finally became threadbare from toasting and leaning on overcrowded, noisy  bars - I threw it out.  I didn't replace it.  I have some green Mardi Gras beads that I'd throw on over whatever I was wearing.  Joe probably doesn't know what he did with his green tie, as he never wears one anymore and he's lost interest in the whole mob scene. 

My Dooley brother-in-law was  here three years ago and we walked over to watch them dye the river green. My friend Lorraine and I marched in the parade a few years ago with Brendan Reilly's 42nd ward contingent.  My daughter Colleen surprised me for my birthday last year and  she and I watched the dying and part of the parade.

The 2011 parade is over.  The South Side Irish parade was cancelled because of too much rowdiness. The burbs all had their celebrations earlier in March.  I hung my hokey green velvet bow on our door, mainly to amuse the two little boys across the hall.  So its over. I skipped it. I didn't miss it.  On Thursday I'll be at the library with my writing group and hopefully a couple of us will stop for a beer at Kitty O'Shea's on the way home.

Color me..... anything but green

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Uncle Sam, Monroe and Me

It is tax time once again.The rest of you are likely doing one of two things; dumping boxes of receipts at the doorstep of your tax preparer or downloading the latest edition of Turbo Tax or some other tax preparation software.

I too am getting prepared. I've sorted through  2010s 12 months of  financial life and grouped them in not-so-neat piles. I've fine-sorted the piles according to the various schedules that the 1040 requires. I am ready. Out come my tools. Let's start with the absolute essentials. The paper forms that I picked up in the Keys (they are more readily available to the public there). Yes, I did say "paper". Somehow the whole process is more believable on that grainy, hopefully recycled, paper that the IRS produces in ever smaller quantities every year. Out come the #2 pencils - freshly sharpened and ready to roll

 This is the 45th year that I'll be preparing our taxes. Joe did them for the first 5 when we had no money, few assets and an ever growing number of little deductions. Then he got too busy working, going to school, studying and commuting.  His CPA- friendly,  meticulously accurate renderings gave way to my "guess, approximate and just get it done " approach to all things financial or in any way numerical.  We were audited a few times, but never went to jail or owed the IRS much. 

Filing became a lot more stressful when Joe went to work for the IRS.  We were expected to file early and were audited every year - so we sought out the services of a tax professional, Mike Barrett,  a banking buddy turned entrepreneur, to keep us clean.  Now - don't get me wrong - I still do the taxes from start to a finished paper product and then I turn them over to Mike to dig into, scrub, correct the math and create the  electrictronically well turned-out returns  we now file, but still in paper form.  He is scrupulously honest and questions all my entries.  He also has broken me of the running to the post office at midnight on April 15th habit.  I sleep well when they're done.  I still do them myself  because I love the challenge and the sense of accomplishment at conquering something so opposite of my nature and my instincts.

This brings us to "Monroe".  Just as Tom Hanks had "Wilson" on his desert island.  I have "Monroe" on my kitchen island.  I couldn't do the taxes without him.  Here is his story:

When I started working I found few opportunities for solitude at home and started going to the office on Saturdays to work on our taxes.  I did all the sorting at home and then worked a few hours at a time using my Monroe calculator.  I liked that it had a tape so I could double check my numbers. Sometime in the 80s the bank gave us computers and took away our typewriters and calculators. At that point I had a nice office on the first floor.  I knew they had stored the calculators and typewriters in the basement - ready for disposal - so one night I snuck down there and hid two of them in a remote corner of the space where we kept the marketing supplies - I was one of only 2 key holders to that space.  Every tax time Monroe would come out of the closet for me.

After several years I was enough of a big shot that I started openly consorting with Monroe and moved him into the built- in closet in my wood paneled office.  I was careful to do taxes only on my time, not bank time - but by now everyone knew that tax time would find me behind closed doors on many an evening and Saturday with only Monroe for company.

When they finally forced me out of my North Avenue office and out to corporate headquarters, the first thing  I packed was Monroe.  It soon became evident that Monroe was not a good fit for the slick, modern building in Rosemont.  I placed him lovingly in my trunk and drove him downtown to our Michigan Avenue branch where I also had an office.  He had a place of honor in my desk and continued to assist in the tax preparation which I continued to do on Saturdays and after hours.

When they remodeled the branch, poor Monroe was so stressed that I brought him home until it was over.  The newly remodeled facility re-opened. I no longer had an office. I secured a place of honor in the supply closet for Monroe - with a boldly precise WARNING - of what would happen to anyone who moved, or God -forbid disposed of Monroe.  My then-retired husband spent endless hours trying to track down the paper tape for Monroe- just as several of my wonderful  administrative assistants had done back in the day.

I spent tax season in the several years before I retired in our downtown branch in a conference room with  no doors and therefore no privacy - but everyone knew not to bother me. 
When I planned my retirement - I hoped I could still "visit" the branch and do my taxes, little did I know that they would consolidate that branch into another one. My retirement and the branch consolidation came within a short time period.

At my retirement party I received a number of wonderful gifts and remembrances -but none as loving and appreciated as Monroe, adorned with a festive ribbon, and presented to me by the thoughtful staff of my downtown branch and their manager.  I think of them daily every tax season since and, as a customer,  still think they epitomize "service".

Today, from April to February,  Monroe lives in my storage closet in a protective plastic wrapper, along with the rolls of tape we found.  I lovingly invite him into our kitchen in March.  If the ink cartridge ever wears out, the engine fails, or the IRS prohibits paper  filing - I guess I'll have to find a new use for Monroe. Maybe as a cheese board.

If all the electronic substitutes are rendered useless by satellite failure or a  massive communication bomb, I can become his agent and rent out his services to the next generation. In the meantime I'll selfishly harbour him in our hall closet.

Love you Monroe.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Happy New Year

Yeah, yeah - I know.  You all celebrated this months ago. I'm a little bit behind.  Here is why I consider this my New Year - even though I meant to post this on March 1st. I'm still a procrastinator.

  • I finally feel like leaving the house - I need to walk
  • There are only teeny weeny traces of snow on our lawn
  • I'm re-econnecting with friends -started today with old Pioneer Bank friends
  •  I'm finally able to attend our fabulous writing group
  • I put the #$%@&^* Christmas cards either in the recycle bin or the scrapbook
  • I started the taxes
  • Aches and pains will not deter me - they are part of life and help me avoid certain chores
  • I actually like American Idol without myopic Paula and mean man Simon - good talent this year
  • I saw a private pleasure boat on the lake today
  • I have about 10 topics for my blog
  • My oldest grandson paid a visit
  • Two of my granddaughters sent me letters - real, handwritten  letters
  • Finally cancelled the terminally ill Tribune
  • Newberry  Library classes have started 

  • Looking forward to seeing my old "roomies" in Tucson in May
  • I've accepted that death is part of the cycle of life and celebrate my departed kith and kin
  • Hope someone can describe "kith" 
Now - the next challenge:  BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH.