Friday, October 28, 2011

Chicago Dummies and Mannequins

The transportation board of the City of Chicago recently installed mannequins on Wacker Drive along the river.  They represent the 32 pedestrians killed last year in Chicago.  According to an article in the Chicago Tribune:

 The move to shock drivers into being on the lookout and yielding to pedestrians is part of a new large-scale safety effort aimed at reducing injuries and fatalities citywide, officials said.

 I agree that this a noble undertaking.  I disagree with the onsidedness of the campaign.  After photographing the dead pedestrian mannequins at Wacker and Chicago, I headed up the Mag Mile to Pearson and Michigan, where the old pumping station meets the Water Tower Place mall.  I walk this route many times a week and am always amazed at the stupidity of those who look like perfectly normal, full grown adults.
This scene - please note the red light and the flashing do not walk symbol- was repeated through 6 light changes.  Coming at these pedestrians from the left were cars trying to turn left off of Michigan Avenue onto Pearson.  I was astonished at the diversity of the jaywalkers, old, young, tourists, locals, disabled, those texting and those talking on cell phones.  The worst of the bunch are the parents of young children and babies, who not only endanger their offspring, but also set  bad examples for obeying the rules.  I scratch my head in wonder.

So go ahead and shock the drivers into paying attention.  But who is going to shock the pedestrians?
Maybe the Mayor will deputize me and some of my law abiding friends to hand out tickets involving fines.  We could make a good dent in the budget shortfall by enforcing the jaywalking ordinance. We might even be able to save a lives. I know of at least 2 fatalities that took place at this corner.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Mystery Men In My Bedroom

I’ve always preferred the company of men.   From a very young age I was attracted to and hung out with the boys in the neighborhood.  It wasn't  physical or romantic, I just fit in better with them.   I think like a man.  I hate to shop. I’m too lazy to dye my hair or bother with makeup. Women in groups give me the hives.  In high school and college I'd rather hang out with the players than the cheerleaders. At work I preferred working with men; most of them are not jealous or petty.  I liked having at least one man in each department – it made the women behave themselves.  One of my early bosses suggested I needed a jock strap.
That being said, I have been physically and romantically connected with my spouse for well over 50 years or about 73% of my living and breathing time on earth so far. That include the flirting,  dating and breaking up and making up that constitute a courtship.  It doesn’t change the fact that I still enjoy the company of other men.  Many of our male friends have gone on to whatever awaits us after death.  Nobody’s reaching out to me from beyond, so the pickings are slim for male companionship outside my marriage. 
 Thank heavens for my mystery men.   I have many of them and I’m grateful.  They live only on the pages of the many books I read and in my imagination, but they are as real as those neighborhood kids were back in the 40s.
Now for the bedroom part; I love to read in total silence. My spouse needs music and TV and all manner of distractions.  Therefore, he reads in the den and I read in my favorite chair in  the bedroom.  Let me introduce you to my bedroom companions, in no particular order.
MacDonald at work

 John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee is  rugged,tall, tan, and lives my dream life on a houseboat in a marina in Ft. Lauderdale.  He won the boat in a card game, thus its name, The Busted Flush.  He is wildly adventurous and bills himself as a salvage consultant.  What he really does is recover lost or stolen property or people for a handsome fee.   He manages to attract the good at heart, but gone astray women who pop up in every mission he undertakes.  He and his chess genius, economist friend, Meyer, collaborate to bring these gals back on the path to goodness.  He is gentle with women, but doesn’t hesitate to bed them if he thinks it will help them.
 In spite of some of the scrapes he gets into and his sometimes unorthodox methods of dealing with the bad guys, he manages to stick to his principles of honesty and personal integrity.  He is a cynic and increasingly concerned about the demise of the environment in Florida. What’s not to love?  I could live on a boat, and drink martinis at sunset (although he drinks gin and I can’t stand it) and only work when the cash starts getting low. And I so enjoy the conversations between Meyer and Travis.  I want to join in.
Robert B. Parker
Robert B. Parker’s Spenser is a New England version of Travis McGee.  He doesn’t live on a boat, but in a house and sometimes with his significant other and their dog Pearl.  He is a private detective and ex-cop who has a mutually respectful relationship with several law enforcement officers. Unlike Travis, he is in a monogamous relationship with a smart, beautiful psychiatrist, Susan.  Women throw themselves at him, but he resists temptation every time.  His gorgeous, slightly criminal, black sidekick and boxing partner is as bright as Travis’ Meyer, but tries to hide it.  Women also throw themselves at him. He doesn’t deprive himself – well, almost never. 

Spenser and Hawk have taken on organized crime, both in Boston and on the west coast.  This provides me with a wide array of characters to boo and hiss.  I can picture their habitats from the sleazy bars in Boston to the mansion outside of L.A.  It doesn’t make me want to go there, but the pictures are as clear as photographs. There are several episodes that take place on the college campuses in and around Boston.  The students and administrators alike are well defined and while Spenser is less cynical than Travis, he cleverly illustrates the flawed characters of the privileged class and the bureaucracy, while still making some of them pitiable, but likable.
 The conversations between Spenser, Hawk and Susan are smart, clipped, and given to some one or two word wise-crack sentences and indeed paragraphs.  They also reveal that although they are in a tough business, they stick to their  ethical standards and honest values.  The literary references interspersed in the dialogue give me a  feel for their level of intelligence – but it’s not thrown in my face. 
 Spenser, too, is gentle with Susan. He also cooks for her.  I’ve used his chicken and linguine recipe.  His drink of choice is scotch – another spirit I can’t stomach.  I mentally join Susan in her occasional cocktail or her regular glass of wine instead.  I think Spenser and Susan are happy in a committed, but married state.  If they ever decide to get married, I hope they invite me.  I’ll watch Pearl for them, and I don’t even like dogs.


Donna Leon
Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti has sparked in me a love affair with Venice, Italy.   Unlike Spenser or Travis, Guido Brunetti  He is a smart, highly principled and compassionate second in command of the Venetian Questura who solves crimes that are not always obviously  crimes.  His boss is a somewhat incompetent bureaucrat who is more interested in keeping bad news from tourists and shielding elected officials reputations, than fighting crime. 
Brunetti is married to the love of his life, Paola, who unlike him, is a child of wealthy aristocrats and the mother of his two teenage children, whom he adores in spite of their typical teenage ways.  The balancing of his home life and police life are sometimes as great a challenge as trying to solve crimes that his boss doesn’t want made public.

Unlike Spenser, he doesn't cook.  Paola does the cooking. The descriptions of the aromatic foods and fine wines that accompany them practically jump out at you from between the pages.  The fact that they’re talking about mid-day meals in these descriptions makes me think that maybe those three martini lunches in the 60s weren’t such a bad thing.  Civility seems to reign in the haze of the long lunch.   Brunetti has his favorite Inspector,  Vianello, who is as much a sidekick as Hawk or Meyer.  Vianello and Brunetti  complain at length if they have to settle for a sandwich instead of a decent meal for lunch.  The fact that when the Commissario goes home for lunch he has to climb up three flights of stairs to his kitchen, may justify the meals they eat.
He and Paola, a university professor with a weakness for Henry James, have no secrets from each other and are both intellectuals.  They dismiss organized religion in a way you wouldn’t expect in Italy. They don’t insult my intelligence by explaining references to great works or translating the occasional French or Italian phrase – although I admit, I sometimes have to look them up.  Brunetti is hopelessly behind the times, but his beautiful and savvy secretary, Signorina Elletra ,has the skills to hack into any data base and the connections to glean information from agencies all over Europe.
Although often showing the seamy and criminal side of Venice; most notably the problems with illegal immigration, fake artifacts, corrupt public officials and a totally broken judicial system, I still want to visit Venice and experience the architecture, the people and the food.  I am hoping the Commissario will invite me to lunch.  Paola will whip up a wonderful dish of pasta with fish fresh from the sea and vegetable concoction fresh from the market.  After walking up  those stairs, I will deserve that glass of chilled Moet.  At last, a drink I can share with one of my mystery men.

Note:  I have chosen to depict the authors instead of the protagonists.  As readers, we all have mental pictures of the characters.  To try to depict them universally would be a literary crime.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Happens In Vegas..........

It has taken me almost a week to figure out what to write about the latest G.O.P. debate in Las Vegas.  I'm still not sure I've got the angle right.  Judging by the ratings, viewers seem to be hooked on these sessions.  Are they truly trying to decide - or hoping for a possible train wreck?  The sheer number of televised debates leads me to quote Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. " Less is more", he famously said about his style of architecture.  I think I can agree with this sentiment after having watched all the debates from day one.

While "familiarity breeds contempt" (Aesop) is far too strong, "absence makes the heart grow fonder" (anonymous) may come closer to the truth.  Some of the candidates are becoming less likable and others are becoming less believable as  presidential material.  The spot light is fading  their strong points and highlighting their weaknesses.  A no-win situation for all.  In fact I think the biggest winners last week were Jon Huntsman, who chose to go to New Hampshire instead, and Herman Cain whose book jumped onto the New York Times best seller list at number four.

By far the biggest loser was CNN whose sloppy moderation allowed some pretty petty exchanges to occur.  Since when do the candidates have to remind each other of the rules?  That's the job of the moderator.  Although maybe they did it on purpose. Here is one scenario:

Borrow Andy Cohen from Bravo and have him stage "The Real Candidates of the G.O.P Reunion".

  Watch what happens now - There can be a screaming match featuring Mitt Romney inappropriately touching Rick Perry.  Newt, Paul and Santorum can gang up on Cain and quiz him mercilessly about world geography and current events.  Andy himself can chide Michelle Bachmann about her manicure as a distraction from her words - and does she care, and does it matter?
And will Andy visit her husband's clinic for a "conversion"?

What do you think?  Emmy winning stuff?  Move over NeNe, Ramona and Vicki.  Here come the new reality show leaders.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Low Hanging Fruit

Throughout my business career I avoided the lingo and the buzz words like the plague.  Call a spade a spade.  Don't call your employees some quirky name to make them feel different.  They are employees. I think I was still calling personnel just that - long after others adopted human resources and people teams.
 Don't christen every damn sales campaign with some cutesy slogan.  A sales campaign is just that - not a Quest for Success or any other thing.  And yes, we were in the business of lending and borrowing money from customers for their profit and ours,not making anyone's dreams happen.  Just keep the money safe, send me an accurate accounting, smile when I visit and occasionally remember my name. I'll make my own dreams happen.  I think you get the point.  So back to the title of this post.

I loved budget season when it was really a bunch of decision makers sitting around a table doing a reasonable job of give and take and "who can cut what and on what do we need to spend more to make our numbers?"  To start our budget sessions we would rattle off a list of "low hanging fruit" - the easy to do, obvious, no harm to the customers type of spending cuts or revenue enhancers. 

So I now break my own rule of not using the lingo, by offering a few "low hanging fruit" suggestions to some of the many governments and institutions drowning in budget deficits:
  • Medicare -  Quit sending this book out every year.  Send it out the first year of enrollment and thereafter only send page 4 which tells of all the changes from the prior year.  Don't send spouses each their own copy - we can share.  Give medicare recipients a $10.00 break on their premium for reading this only on line.  The day after they come in the mail our dumpster is filled to the top with them - mostly untouched. I also don't need a 5 page monthly summary of my drug expenses - there are only two drugs and I know what they cost and how often I get them.  Once a year is enough.
  • USPS - You still haven't figured out that we have 6 mailboxes within easy walking distance of our building and other neighborhoods have none.  Share the wealth and cut down the drivers' time in any given area.  You should also QUADRUPLE the postage rate for junk mail and political propaganda. Stop Saturday mail or charge for it.
  • City of Chicago and other governments - practice temperature control.  Every time I go to City Hall, the County Building or the Harold Washington Library I go equipped with sweaters in the summer and a fan in the winter.  Turn the thermostats up or down 10 degrees and see how much you save.
  • CTA -let me count the ways.  Start by getting rid of live staff at the stations.  They are seldom helpful and almost never look busy.  Spend some of that money on infrastructure, install cameras for safety and machines in working order for buying fares. With those improvements you will increase ridership.  You also need to adjust the heat/cooling on the buses and trains. Call New York or D.C. and ask for their advice.
  • CPS - look at the expenses of the Chicago Board of Education members.  I've heard and seen some pretty boondoggle sounding stuff.  I know the board has been re-vamped so maybe that is in the past.  But it is worth a look.  Get the board members out visiting the schools instead.
I think Rahm Emanuel and Tony Preckwinkle are on top of expenses and Governor Quinn is trying. Our elected officials in Congress and the Senate seem clueless and probably need to be replaced since they'll never allow themselves to be subjected to term limits.As soon as they are elected it is just the start of one lifelong re-election campaign.

We need to start making suggestions whenever we see waste - especially when we experience it first hand.  No need to march or occupy just let those in charge hear your voice. Sort of a national suggestion box.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bloomberg Republican Debate - #4 - Some Shifts

Okay - it may have felt like more of the same, yada, yada, yada............ BUT there were some  changes of note in addition to the seating and the moderators, who were very good.  In alphabetical order:

  • Bachmann - the circular seating forced her to actually look at someone and not stare into space and she abandoned the red jacket look.
  • Cain - finally treated like a contender. 9-9-9 under scrutiny.
  • Gringrich - still free to say whatever he thinks.  Entertaining if not electable.
  • Huntsman- nice sense of humor - who'dda thunk?
  • Paul- still the guy with whom I'd like to have lunch.
  • Perry-came in second place for being out of it only after the inappropriate Katy Perry acne ad that interrupted Charlie Rose's introduction.
  • Romney-held his ground without a hair out of place.
  • Santorum- the red tie isn't working.  Change to the yellow power tie like Herman did.

There are exactly 6 more days until the next forum for these 8 candidates.  Time to winnow the field?Anybody else think there are too many "debates"?  Have we heard any new ideas?