Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Gap in Retailing's Star Power

News that Donald G. Fisher, co-founder with his wife, Doris, of Gap, died on Sunday at age 81 leaves another void in the firmament of retail industry stars.

Too many retailers today are logistics mavens, practitioners of the art of distribution, not merchandising. The Fisher started Gap because they perceived a customer need. In this case, their own. They couldn’t find jeans that fit. Reasoning that others shared their quandary, they opened the first Gap store in San Francisco in 1969. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Gap went on to become a worldwide icon in the retailing industry. Sales last year exceeded $14.5 billion.

One of Fisher’s best decisions was to hire Millard (Mickey) S. Drexler as president and CEO of the Gap division in 1983. Fisher realized his limitations as an entrepreneur. At the time Gap was languishing, without anything that differentiated it from other stores that sold Levis jeans. Drexler went on to become CEO of the entire company, leading the transformation of Gap into a global private label brand, expanding Banana Republic and launching Old Navy, the fastest retailer to achieve $1 billion in sales.

Fisher’s worst decision was to fire Drexler in 2002 after the latter’s magic touch seemed to elude him for several quarters. Drexler landed at J. Crew. He resurrected that brand into one of retailing’s hottest companies while Gap’s results have continued to be uneven, at best.

I was the prototypical target customer for Gap and Banana Republic, but truth be told I have bought nary an item from either store. Their merchandise just doesn’t fit me well. Interestingly, one of the few purchases I do remember making, at a Gap outlet store, were several pairs of white, black and blue crew socks. I’ve actually done better at Old Navy. I’m sitting at my desk now wearing a pair of Old Navy carpenter jeans.

Not being a slave to retail’s category leaders is nothing new to me. I rarely step inside two of the most ubiquitous chains. Not being a frequent coffee drinker, I never became a devotee of Starbucks (or any of the other chains seeking to decaffeinate Starbucks’ hold on the java drinker). And though I’m a big old movie fan, I have been only a casual customer of Blockbuster.

But not being a solid Gap customer did not prevent me from observing the store for three decades as an editor of a retail business publication. Few companies have had the transformative effect Gap had. And Don Fisher was the man who started it all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Collarel Damage

Yes, yes, I know the correct phrase for the headline is “collateral damage.” Retirement doesn’t diminish your grammatical skills.

I chose to be cute with the headline as a way of revealing an unintended consequence of my no socks regimen.

It seems that after one and a half days of wearing socks—part of a traditional synagogue garb for Yom Kippur services that included a collared shirt and tie—my neck is chafed.

Now don’t go blaming it on a fatter neck. I haven’t gained any weight. Nor is my shirt collar sized too small. Apparently my neck no longer is used to being constrained by oxford or broadcloth shirts cinched together at the neck by a tie.

Actually, the anti-tie disposition predates my no socks retirement. My former employer went everyday dress down several months before I retired. So I’ve been tie-less for quite some time.

But it sounded a lot better to link no socks with an irritated neck, and therein lies a cautionary tale for any budding journalists out there, and their audience. If your source does not provide full disclosure, often it is most difficult to ascertain the truth, the proper sequence or relationship of events. For those old enough to remember, think Gulf of Tonkin resolution (for those not old enough to remember, look it up and gain further understanding of our lingering Vietnam legacy).

When truth is obscured, or fudged, we all suffer, individually and collectively.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Birdman of White Plains

The hummingbirds have flown south for the winter.

This summer I became a multi-dimensional birdman. I’ve had a birdfeeder for years, a large gazebo-type structure sitting atop a pole which every year gradually leaned over so much because of the soft soil underneath that it was impossible to use.

This year I finally decided to hang the gazebo from a tree limb easily viewed from our kitchen windows. The birds loved it. So did I. Sparrows, starlings, finches, robins, cardinals, blue jays—all manner of birdlife came to our yard.

But birds being birds, they too often scared each other off. The gazebo’s openness was just too inviting a perch. In their rush for a seat at the table they spooked those already eating to swiftly depart. And it was too easy to create a mess underneath. Almost as much seed wound up on the ground than inside the gazebo. The birds didn’t mind. They became bottom feeders, though they did have to share the bounty with squirrels and chipmunks. A circle of scratched earth where grass used to grow surfaced underneath the birdfeeder, a small price to pay for observing nature.

It wasn’t until mid-summer that my multi-dimensional bird watching developed. While on Cape Cod for a family vacation, I bought a tubular birdfeeder to replace the gazebo, along with a suet holder and a birdbath with a battery-operated agitator to keep the water rippling slightly to ward off mosquito eggs. A week later my niece gave me a hummingbird feeder. I didn’t believe hummingbirds were in our area but within two hours of hanging the glass globe filled with sugar water, the first hummingbird appeared, floating in air next to one of the feeder’s three red plastic flowers (hummingbirds are attracted by red).

Don’t worry, I’m not going to wax euphoric about hummingbirds, or any other birds for that matter, other than to say that watching them visit each day is strangely fulfilling. I don’t go looking up bird types in an ornithology book. I just like the responsibility of keeping them fed and watered. Are they my new staff? Do they represent my need for leadership responsibilities?

Until I wrote that line just now I hadn’t thought of it that way. Since I’m no shrink, I’m going to leave it at the conscious level—I just like looking at them. With and without the binoculars I put on the kitchen windowsill.

After spending the winter in South America, the hummingbirds will be back next spring. The rest of the birds and I will be waiting.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rush to Judgment

I was watching Jay Leno last night (yes, my wife and I like Jay Leno, though I will say his new show is not as vibrant as the Tonight Show was). Leno’s featured guest was Rush Limbaugh. Here was an opportunity for all to see and hear Mr. Conservative Motormouth pontificate on what is wrong with the country.

From Limbaugh’s perspective, capitalism is good and the marketplace will take care of any woes. The auto industry bailout? Shouldn’t have happened, he believes. It was just a handout to the unions. He compared saving the car industry to an effort to saving the buggy whip industry at the turn of the last century.

Government programs don’t help people because nothing the government provides runs well and stays within its budget, he said. He dismissed Leno’s suggestion that social security and Medicare protect citizens not be able to cope without them.

“The market speaks. The market will fix itself for people far better than a bunch of people in Washington without experience tinkering in it, trying to control it,” he said, adding, “You think it’s compassionate to save all kinds of jobs. The market has more compassion than Washington.”

What was most disturbing during the interview was not hearing Motormouth Limbaugh (I call him Motormouth because I find that he does what most conservative media types do—they talk rapidly as if the flow of their thoughts is sufficient to win arguments, that reason can be trumped by volume, both in words and decibel level). What was most disturbing was hearing a sizable portion of Leno’s audience applauding Limbaugh’s diatribes.

What further disturbs me is that we appear to be living in an age of demagoguery. Anyone with a microphone, or an Internet platform, can stir up passions. Time magazine’s current issue put Glenn Beck’s picture on the front cover with the caption “Mad Man.” The magazine The Week had a similar cover story titled “Mad as hell.” Its cover artwork displayed protest posters including one stating, “Stop taxing us to death.”

I can understand, though not always agree, when there is a dispute over religion and government, or gun control, or the proper way to deal with terrorism.

But I find it hard to reconcile with reality Limbaugh’s audience approvals and the popularity of conservative shock-jocks. They and their audiences seem to forget that government provides essential services. Are they willing to forgo appropriate levels of police and fire protection, waste management, road and highway construction and repair? These same “free marketers” seemingly are unwilling to accept higher taxes to pay for the higher cost of providing services. Do they believe public servants do not deserve wages commensurate with their contributions to society? I wonder how many of them will send back their social security checks, how many of them will refuse to accept Medicare for themselves or their elderly parents? How many of them won’t accept unemployment compensation if the “free market” company that employed them closes the location they work in and shifts their jobs to a Third World country? How many farmers do not apply for subsidy monies? How many of Limbaugh’s followers would accept a tainted food supply chain, unregulated medications that do more harm than good, manipulations of the stock market that benefit the few at the expense of the many?

I, too, want our governments to be more efficient. Let’s hold our elected officials accountable. But even the most well-run private corporation has waste. It can and does make mistakes. To expect government to run better than for-profit corporations is a pipe dream.

And let’s be serious about the value many of our public servants provide. Why would anyone deny our policemen and firemen solidly middle class wages? How many among us are willing to put our lives at risk every day? The same holds true for our military. The freedoms we cherish are protected by our troops. We should not be paying them the equivalent of slave labor wages. The future of our country depends on education. Why would we begrudge teachers salaries worthy of their contributions to society? If teaching paid more, perhaps we’d attract better teachers. Yes, hold them to standards. But pay them according to the impact they have on our future. Anyone out there want to be a garbage man? Doubtful. But sanitation workers perform a vital service. For many years I was an editor and publisher of a business magazine. I was well paid, thank you. But had I not performed my duties, had the magazine not been published, commerce would still have transpired. Nothing bad would have happened. But consider for a moment what would happen if we didn’t have a police force, or a fire department, or a system that picked up your garbage every couple of days.

Leno tried to reason with Limbaugh. He suggested people were fed up with government inefficiency and waste, that programs were good and just needed to be fixed. Limbaugh disagreed and gave his ultimate argument for being against a national health care system. He fears a complete government takeover of our lives would ensue because Washington would be able to dictate what we eat, drink, drive and more, all in the name of making everyone healthier.

It’s a conspiracy theory worthy of Orwell.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Déjà vu, Afghanistan

During my lifetime I never thought the U.S. would replay the Vietnam War.

It was reported in the last two days that the top military commander in Afghanistan has warned that without more troops our involvement there "will likely result in failure."

With each military escalation and request for more troops to fight in Afghanistan, with each revelation that the regime we are propping up is corrupt, with each ruthless act of terrorism against their own people perpetrated by a seemingly vigilante group of extremists clad in turbans and loose-fitting clothes instead of black pajamas, with each description of a terrain of combat not receptive to the type of war our military can easily fight and win, where our air power is potent yet ultimately impotent and occasionally even heartbreakingly catastrophic to innocent civilians, with each passing day that a Democratic president fears he will be accused of losing a war he didn’t start and so feels compelled to send in more soldiers, I fear, I fear for the soul of our nation and for the lives of our youth.

Though we have no compulsory military draft as we did back during my teenage years of the 1960s, and thus no impetus for massive anti-war demonstrations, we are encumbering another generation in a war we cannot win. We’re supporting Afghani political leaders who don’t deserve our dollars, much less the blood of our soldiers.

Yes, 9/11 should be avenged. The time to do that properly was in 2001-2002-2003. No longer is it possible to secure the vengeance and justice we seek. All we have left is a campaign promise to find Osama Bin Laden.

As difficult as it is to admit, let's confront the fact that our nation has more pressing needs at home. We need to save millions of lives by investing in better medical care. We need to improve millions of lives by investing in better education. We need more and better trained policemen. Firemen. Teachers. Social workers. We need to spend more money on our citizens, not on Afghanis who don't want our way of life.

We can still fight Al Qaeda. With drones and cruise missiles we can surgically strike if Osama shows his face. We can "buy" intelligence to guide our missiles. But let's not get deluded into believing that an escalation of 20,000 or 40,000 more troops into a surge will turn the corner in Afghanistan.

The tunnel of troop buildup is long, winding and dark, all too painfully reminiscent of 45 years ago.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shins of the President

Now a word about proper sock length.

Watching a clip Sunday of Barack Obama on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," I was struck by the fashion no-no displayed by the president. Sitting with his legs crossed, Obama showed viewers several inches of bare skin where his pants leg did not meet the top of his socks.

It is inexcusable, it’s a fashion faux pas, especially considering his wife’s keen fashion sense, that the commander-in-chief of the United States does not wear knee-high socks when he is dressed up.

Indeed, anyone, anyone who is in politics, in business or in any way in a public situation, should wear knee-high socks. There is nothing appealing or sexy about seeing a man’s shin-bone skin.

Bottom line—if you’re going to wear socks, make sure they cover all of your lower leg.

Here's hoping someone in the White House reads this before Obama's appearance on Letterman tonight.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Baseball Present

My son, Dan, shared with me the video clip of the 3-year-old girl who tossed away the baseball her dad caught at a recent Phillies game (hopefully, this link will let you see it as well...,189941.

Dan’s approaching his 31st birthday. The first game I took him to he was just under 3. He and his friend Tasha were mesmerized by Yankee Stadium. Courtesy of my employer’s box seats some 12 rows behind the Yankees dugout, their view was among the best in the house. Throughout the game Dan and Tasha sat perched at the edge of their seats, their upper bodies supported by arms stretched out to the railing in front of them where their chins rested. There is nothing better than taking a child to a baseball game, assuming that child is interested in baseball. Fortunately, Dan and Tasha were.

Sitting in those seats for one game a year for the next decade and a half, we never got close to a foul ball. The angle was not right. It didn’t really bother us. The seats were that good, and we greatly appreciated the beneficence of the seats’ owner, Roger Friedman.

Dan’s twenty-first birthday coincided with the date for the seventh game of the world series in 1999. Roger was gracious enough to provide me tickets to the ultimate game as a present to Dan. When he opened the birthday card sent in advance and the tickets dropped out, he was overwhelmed. It was, he told me, the best present anyone could give him. Thank you, again, Roger.

It didn’t really matter that 1999 was the year the Yankees swept the San Diego Padres in four games.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Goodbye, Mary

Part of my youth died yesterday with news that Mary Travers, the lanky, sonorous blonde of Peter, Paul and Mary passed away from complications of leukemia.

Peter Paul and Mary generally did not sing their own songs. They gave voice—beautifully blended and harmonized voice—to the music and words of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and other legends of the folk music world. No one, not even the original artists, could match the trio’s signature sound and interpretations. With eye-level bangs and straight long blonde hair set against a stark black turtleneck, Mary Travers’ electric voice transported the music to another strata.

By the time I got into PPM around 1965 at a concert at Brooklyn College, they already were recognized as the group that transcended folk music and elevated it to protest art. “Blowing in the Wind,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”—these anthems and more of peace, equality, justice and love lifted the spirits of all who heard them. An anti-war rally or a civil rights march in the 1960s was not an “event” without a PPM appearance.

Every summer PPM would play one night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I’d arrange my days off from summer camp counseling to go to the concerts. Twice we scored front-row center seats. Once my friends and I made eye contact with their bass player, Dick Kniss, and actually made him miss a beat during a song. Another time, using my college newspaper press pass, we went backstage after the concert.

Most of my generation of the 1960s matriculated to hard rock. I didn’t. I preferred the lyrics of protest and compassion sung by PPM.

For more than 30 years my job required me to leave my family and board an airplane several times a month. I rarely did so without singing to myself Mary’s haunting version of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I don’t travel as much anymore. Just as well. Mary’s not here anymore to send me off.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Avoiding a Depression

There’s an old expression that says a recession is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you lose your job.

Recessions build one job—one small job—at a time.

Now that I’m home full-time, would it be so hard for me to mow the lawn each week instead of the gardener, or clean the house instead of the every-other-week housekeeper? I already do the laundry, so the added burden of dusting and vacuuming wouldn’t be so great. I even volunteered to cook and relieve Gilda of that chore when she comes home from work.

So far she has resisted my overtures. I’d have to buy a lawnmower and other equipment, and besides, I wouldn’t do a good job weeding, Gilda says. As for cleaning house, she doesn’t see me cleaning the toilets properly. And though she’d like relief from having to cook, she’s not ready to entrust her stomach to me (neither am I, to tell the truth).

Cooking aside, her ambivalence to my gardening and cleaning has real economic repercussions. Taking on those chores would reduce the income of our service providers. I don’t want to sound like we’re flush with cash or the most benevolent, altruistic people in the world. But the fact is, even though I’m unemployed we can still afford to have someone else cut our grass and clean our floors.

I’ve already seen what a decision to cut back on car service transportation to the airport, by me and countless other travelers, has wrought. My car service guy, who owned his own company with some five cars, now is a process server, bringing notices of foreclosures and evictions to those even less fortunate than him.

Yes, we’re in a recession, and we should carefully consider all of our purchases. But it would send me into a real depression to know that I’ve negatively impacted another’s livelihood when I don’t have to. At least for now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Socks in Synagogue

I still wear socks when I attend services in synagogue. Though it’s acceptable in Israel for worshippers to show up in bare sandaled feet, I can’t make the leap out of socks in temple.

I’ve already shed some of my prior Sabbath-day accoutrements. I always wore a tie and suit or sports jacket. First the tie went. Then the jacket.

Socks, however, seem to be where I draw the religious line. Philosophically, there should be no reason why I have not accepted the concept. After all, in biblical times no one wore socks. God didn’t seem to mind. Indeed, when God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush he commanded him to remove his shoes. Bare feet were a sign of respect in a holy place. God’s okay with skin.

I guess it’s just another step in my journey toward a new phase of my life.

Someday, maybe, I’ll show up sockless in synagogue. Maybe next time I’m in Israel.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Yankees Moment

I’m a big New York Yankees fan. Like so many others, Derek Jeter is my favorite current player. I met him once, a few years into his major league career, when he appeared at the opening of NikeTown in New York. He shared the stage with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, as I recall. What I remember is that he was a lot taller than I expected. He’s 6’3”.

Jeter’s my favorite current player. Perhaps my favorite all-time player, and that’s saying something as I’ve been following the Yankees since the mid-1950s. I’m judging Jeter against the likes of Mantle, Ford, Berra, Howard, Kubek, Richardson, Munson, White, Mattingly, Williams, Rivera and Posada. (I really find it hard to lump rent-a-players like Jackson, Hunter, Mussina, A-Rod, Giambi, Clemens and Matsui with those other Yankees, despite their significant contributions to the team’s heritage, though I will admit to liking Giambi the most of that group because of his frailty, both physically and emotionally.)

Watching Jeter year-in, year-out brings joy to any true baseball fan. Sure he’s had a full reel of highlights. But it’s the everyday work ethic and performance that impresses me.

During the early Joe Torre years it seemed whenever we needed a late score, if Jeter led off an inning he ignited a rally. Because he was not a home run hitter, or exceptionally fast, or had the best arm or range at shortstop, Jeter made you feel comfortable, made you feel that you too could do his job if only you had dedicated your life to his career choice, to baseball. But then he’d corral a pop up into short left field with an over the shoulder, back to the infield catch and you’d say, “I couldn’t do that.” or he’d glide into the hole and do one of his now patented jump throws to first, and you’d say, “I couldn’t do that.” or he’d hit a home run when you least expected it, as he did to become Mr. November in the Series against Arizona in 2001, and you’d say, “I couldn’t do that, not under the pressure, the constant pressure, he’s under.”

Jeter tied Lou Gehrig’s Yankee career hit record on September 9, exactly one year to the day after passing Babe Ruth for second place on the Yankee hit parade. He broke Gehrig’s record for most hits on September 11.

For many New Yorkers he turned a day of eternal mourning into a day of celebration. Like all great performers, Jeter has an impeccable sense of timing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A State of Mind

Today was a nasty day. Temperatures in the low 60’s. Windy. Rain. The type of day that alerts you that summer is really over and the dampness and chill of autumn is about to engulf us. The type of day when your feet want to be warm, softly cuddled inside socks.

But I’m determined to hold out as long as I can without socks. I shut all the windows. I wear a long sleeve shirt. On top of that a fleece. But no socks.

It’s not a fashion statement. It’s a state of mind.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Housewife's Hand

Barely one month into my retirement I developed “housewife’s hand.” That’s the commoner’s term for eczema. It’s commonly caused by excessive exposure to dishwashing and the use of detergents or strong abrasives.

Now, before you go rushing to judgment that it’s a response to my finally contributing real work around the house, let me say I have ALWAYS done the dishes. My wife, Gilda, and I have a very workable arrangement. For the last 36 years she dirties the pots and pans by cooking, we both dirty the dishes eating up her mostly gourmet meals, and I clean up afterwards.

I am actually quite defensive about my cleaning abilities. I resist offers from my sister-in-law when she volunteers to wash some of the pots and pans. Many times, after we’ve entertained parties of 16 to 30 guests, and Gilda is deservedly already resting in bed, I stand at the sink for upwards of an hour cleaning the remains of the evening’s repast.

Over the years, my skin has cracked from doing the cleanup. I often use gloves, especially during the winter. But I rarely suffered during the summer, so naturally I was caught off guard when the skin on my right thumb started cracking and flaking. I bathed it in lotions, even added some prescription ointments, but the condition refused to disappear over the last six weeks. I finally gave in today and headed off to the family dermatologist who quickly diagnosed it as housewife’s hand and prescribed a stronger ointment.

I must say I am rather miffed at this turn of events, considering that a few months ago I had actually cut down on much of my dishwashing after reading that it is more “green” to run full loads of a dishwasher than cleaning dishes in the sink.

At one time, early in our marriage, a dishwasher saved our union. Gilda always wanted me to clean up right after dinner. I always wanted to wait a while. She usually got her way, but not without repeated and to no-avail arguments from me. It was only after we moved to our second apartment that the fighting stopped. That apartment had a dishwasher.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sucker Punched

Even though I'm retired, I still look through many press releases that show up in my email inbox. And it's still possible, after all my years of cynically looking at PR, to be sucker punched. It happened today.

A seemingly sincere item was sent out on the PRNewswire under the following title: "New Survey Reveals Effects of Current Economic Conditions on Americans' Relationships." The subheadline was, "Expert Shares Advice for Putting the 'Spark' Back into Your Relationships."

I read with interest how the economic downturn had put a strain on personal relationships. That "78% of (the 1,001) adults surveyed said they now spend about the same or less time and effort maintaining their relationships with their significant other compared to before the economy turned."

On the heels of a New York Times article on Sunday that reported findings of a similar survey by Rutgers University of 1,200 unemployed—that 58% admitted to strains in family relations and 52% said they avoid social situations with friends and acquaintances—I was intrigued to find out more.

And then the worm turned. The PR story continued by saying that aside from unions with their significant others, "consumers spend a large portion of their lives in relationships with valued objects, like the ones they have with their cars," and those relationships are deteriorating as well from less scheduled maintenance and lower tire pressure.

Aha! Though the release offered tips to reinvigorate relations with one's partner from Dr. Robi Ludwig, a relationship expert and psychotherapist who hosts the reality TV show, "One Week to Save Your Marriage," it really turned out to be no more than a shill for an oil company trying to sell more of the gasoline it claims can help a car run "younger and longer."

Upon further review of the press release I should have been quicker to realize the fix was in. The name of the survey was, "Renew Your Vows and Valves Survey."

Perhaps retirement really does slow down your mental reflexes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sockless In New York

I haven't worn socks since I "retired" June 19. After more than three decades on Park Avenue, with its attendant dress code, even I am surprised by the freedom my toes are enjoying. During my corporate life, my children would tease me that sandals and socks were a fashion no-no.

To be totally honest, I have worn socks since that fateful last day of work. Exercising, going to synagogue and attending two weddings and a bar-mitzvah tripped up my casual ways, as did an appearance on Fox Business News.

I don't really enjoy not wearing socks. I think my feet sweat more without them. And I'm self-conscious about my thin ankles, and how untanned they are. But no socks is a statement of where I am in life. Call it retirement. Call it a "pause." Whatever you call it, I am free to do and dress as I please, to wear jeans or shorts every day, to shave every other day. Showering every day is still an absolute.

I'm free to go to an afternoon movie, and thanks to our cable company's triple-play option, movies are free every Tuesday. I'm only constrained by my working wife's admonition not to see anything she'd like to see. That means most good movies. So my list of permitted titles is dominated by B-grade action and sci-fi movies (read, Transformers II) or crude comedies (read, Year One or The Goods), or animated flicks such as Up. But they're free, and they get me out of the house.

Not that I sit around all day moping or watching TV soap operas or Oprah or The Price Is Right. I have lots of errands. Now I run them during the week to avoid the crowd of "civilians" who descend on stores and streets on weekends. Of course, that means I no longer can evade my wife's weekend requests to help in the garden or elsewhere by claiming I have a haircut appointment or some other chore now fulfilled Monday through Friday.

One of my errands took me to the NY State Department of Labor's job counseling office in White Plains. The last time I received unemployment compensation was 1976. Then, you had to apply in person every week. Today it's all automated, online. I have no idea where they get those TV news pictures of the unemployed standing on line. Even at the job counseling office, no more than two people stood at the reception desk. Everyone else sat at computers or at tables filling out forms, waiting for their turn with a counselor. It was all quite civil, except for the lack of toilet paper in the washroom. A symbolic, regrettable indignity the unemployed had to endure.

It's not easy starting over at 60. I'm not complaining. With my skill sets and contacts I hope to develop business relationships with several firms. But this recession, coupled with the strategic transformation of the publishing industry that employed me for nearly four decades, is tearing the fabric out of the middle class and the aspirational upper class. In my last six months as publisher and group editorial director of a business magazine, Web site and related conference program, I had to lay off 20% of our full-time staff. And then it was my turn. Each associate let go was either the sole or primary wage earner of his or her household. The recession decimated ad pages, while the economics of publishing have been intermediated by the ubiquity of free Internet information. Don't believe anyone who tells you they have the answer to print journalism's dilemma, or that they have found the formula for profitable Web news sites. Publishing has entered a black hole few will escape.

I spend my days sockless, without angst, saddened to observe from a distance the fate of my profession and the many friends who toil in it. They are like the French aristocracy who waited for their names to be called to face the crowd a final time. By all accounts, they dressed up for the occasion. They wore socks to meet Madame La Guillotine.