Monday, March 29, 2010



I was wrong.

Yes, I know it’s hard to comprehend, but occasionally I do succumb to mortal failings.

ABC is showing The Ten Commandments after all. It will air Saturday at 7 pm.

Oh well, by then the family and I will have enjoyed a commercial-free viewing of the classic.

I won’t go into how and why I was fooled into believing ABC was passing over (pun intended) the annual ritual of airing the movie. Suffice to say that Internet searches are not always infallible.

Apparently, neither am I. But of course, anyone who talks with Gilda already knew that.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thou Shalt Not...

I have some favorite old movies I watch over and over again. Some are classics, like Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, or The Grapes of Wrath. Others are close to classics, like Twelve Angry Men, or The Last Angry Man. Still others just plain fun to watch, movies like The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Adventures of Robin Hood (The Errol Flynn version) or a Tale of Two Cities (by the way, knowledgeable readers would have noticed that all but two of the movies mentioned—GWTW and Robin Hood—are in black and white).

I was all set for my more-than-upteenth viewing of one of my favorites when I discovered that ABC will not be airing this season the Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments. Heresy! ABC always, always broadcast The Ten Commandments right before Passover. And this year it was to be extra important because Ellie’s boyfriend, Donny, inexplicably to me, at least, had never, ever seen it. Must be something about growing up in Omaha. What better way to bond than to curl up on the couch and watch Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner (Gilda’s favorite) as Ramses go sandal to sandal in the Egyptian desert, verbally jousting for the deliciously campy Anne Baxter as Nefretiri?

The first time I saw The Ten Commandments I was seven years old, shortly after the movie came out in 1956. My mother took my brother, sister and me to Radio City Musical Hall for the showing, prior to which we ate lunch at a nearby Schrafft’s (only real old-timers will remember the Schrafft’s chain of coffee shops). The movie was, quite simply, a spectacle worthy of the big screen. I’ve seen other Bible movies, such as Samson and Delilah, or David and Bathsheba, Quo Vadis or The Robe, but none have the scope and epic proportions as The Ten Commandments.

Had I known ABC would dump The (real) Ten Commandments (ABC has a two-part cartoon version it now broadcasts), I would not have thrown out my videotaped copy several months ago in another one of Gilda’s attempts to get me to be less of a pack rat. At one time I had tapes of more than 400 movies, but DVDs and cable movie channels obscured the necessity of keeping all but a handful of tapes. I rushed to my prized stash, but The Ten Commandments apparently had not made the cut. How could I have been so efficient? How could I have been so compliant with Gilda’s wishes? As Anne Baxter’s Nefretiri says, “Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!”

Last Friday it occurred to me that the White Plains Library might have a DVD of The Ten Commandments. It did. In fact, it’s the 50th anniversary copy, which means it also contains the 1923 silent film version. I’ve already emailed Ellie and Donny that Tuesday afternoon there will be a command performance of The Ten Commmandments. Let the plagues begin!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Inanimate Messaging, Part II

Do your inanimate objects have a secret link to your bank balances? Mine do.

For more than a week I let a $2,000 check sit idly on my desk. It represented payment for arranging a meeting between one of my consulting clients and a supermarket chain. I finally got around to depositing the check on Tuesday.

But the mere presence of that check inspired my IO’s (inanimate objects) to acts of mischief. On Sunday, Gilda took my car to drop Ellie off at the train station. Returning home, she felt a chill in the car. It seems the right front passenger window inexplicably dropped down into the door frame. She could hear the window motor churning, but no glass popped up.

Bottom line: $381.68 for a new regulator.

Wednesday night Gilda awoke from deep sleep to claim she heard a strange noise coming from our sump pump. Since the last time she had a premonition about our sump pump it proved accurate to the tune of a four-foot pool in our basement, I figured it was well worth a midnight visit to the nether regions of our home. Nope, nothing wrong with the sump pump. But while I was down there I discovered a drip from our electric water heater. The next day the plumber confirmed a multiplicity of problems caused by too much water pressure.

Bottom line: $592.49 for a new regulator (I’m beginning to dread that word), a new pressure release valve and a new bladder extension tank (it’s not enough that I have to worry about my own bladder at night, now I have to be concerned with the water heater’s).

The IO’s are also clairvoyant. The check had not even arrived when the microwave oven, for 23 years a trusted part of our household, chose to go to that appliance kingdom of the sky, er, landfill.

Bottom line: $65.01 for a new microwave oven.

In case you’re not doing the arithmetic, that’s $1,039.18.

I can’t wait to discover what will be the next IO that requires repair or replacement.

Editor’s Note: Long-time readers of this blog might recall a previous missive on my experience with IO’s. Here’s a link, for those who might have missed it:

Editor’s Note 2: The media is full of stories speculating on how Tiger Woods and his fans will react to his return to the links. Here’s what I said last December 4:

Now that Tiger Woods has shown he’s mortal and susceptible to the enticements of flesh not worn by his wife, the question remains how golf fans will react.

Unruly, disgraceful, vulgar fans make sitting in ballparks uncomfortable for many, particularly those with children in tow. Epithets shouted at players like Alex Rodriguez for his womanizing and steroid use would blanche even a sailor’s face.

Golf is different, some say. Fans are deferential. As in tennis when a player is about to toss a ball for a serve, they quiet down when a shot is to be made.

But all it takes is one shrill outcry released during a backswing for decorum to be smashed. Whose to say that one of Lefty’s (that’s Phil Mickelson) ardent fans is not savoring this moment when the Tiger is at last vulnerable, that he or she is not waiting to unleash a verbal missile that breaks Tiger’s concentration during the arc of contact?

Fewer and fewer unblemished icons—in sports, politics, entertainment, business, you name it—remain.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Political Cancer

The health of our democracy requires acute care.

What started last summer as incivility during town hall meetings on the proposed health care legislation has escalated with passage of the landmark reform bill into outright intimidation and physical abuse. Last summer’s occasional gun-toting protester now threatens to turn into a fully armed insurrection led by and condoned by right-wing demagogues masquerading as leaders of the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

How can we demand that imams and leaders of the Muslim world speak out against terrorists when our own leaders don’t denounce violence but rather rationalize its causes, as Karl Rove has? How can we accept without rebuke the not-so-veiled language of Sarah Palin who urges her followers to re-arm themselves and uses cross-hairs to identify (target) congressional seats that should be taken back from Democrats?

The health care protesters are couching their dissent in the words of Barry Goldwater—”Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” But Goldwater never advocated physical, violent disobedience.

Whether you favor the health care bill or not, it was voted on according to rules of the Senate and the House. Proper legal challenges are an acceptable means of dissent. But physical attacks on people and property are not. They demean our democracy.

We have already witnessed parallel outcomes when leaders are lax in denouncing illegal activity. The Right to Life movement created the atmosphere that allowed acolytes to murder doctors and blow up abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood centers.

Our nation has a long history of civil and no so civil disobedience. The American Revolution, after all, was the ultimate act of disobedience. In more recent times, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement had violent fringe factions. As tenacious as the FBI was in pursuing those factions, so too should law enforcement be in vigorously tracking down those who would threaten elected officials.

It is often said that one learns more from a defeat than from a victory. The same can be said for recognizing the quality of our leaders. How they react and respond to setbacks is more illuminating than how they handle triumphs. Sadly, we are observing the moral bankruptcy of the party of Lincoln, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

I’m not a doctor. But I can recognize political cancer when I see it. And I’m afraid it is metastasizing to the GOP brain.

Monday, March 22, 2010

March Madness

While much of the country is enraptured with March Madness (the annual NCAA basketball tournament, for those recently arrived from Venus), I blithely go about my business with nary a thought about this national extravaganza.

Well, maybe a thought or two. But they are decidedly negative thoughts. I hate basketball. Basketball has contributed to some of my worst memories. Basketball reveals my inadequacies. Basketball torments my life.

I’ve broken bones playing basketball. I’ve had to undergo knee surgery because of basketball. But far worse than the physical pain basketball has heaped on my body are the emotional scars I have been forced to live with.

In elementary school, the coach picked Michael Shmidman before me. It was my first lesson in the corollary to the maxim, “Size Matters.” I was a good six inches taller than Michael, but he was chosen before me (in truth, our graduation yearbook did say of Michael, “Although he measures a mere 5 feet, he’s proved himself a great athlete.” I did get some revenge on an undeserving Michael during a spring softball game. I batted a ball into his stomach and knocked the wind out of him. He recovered, but not before we had to end the game. Sometimes, revenge has unintended consequences).

Back to basketball—this being elementary school, the coach had pity on me and the other also-rans and handed out yellow uniform shirts to all of us. My first and only playing time came late in a game we were losing badly. Quickly I used my height to secure a defensive rebound. Like Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics who I watched with my brother, a Celtics fan, I spun around and made a sharp outlet pass to a player calling for the ball. Too bad he was wearing a blue uniform. He didn’t dunk the gift I just gave him. Remember, this was elementary school. But he scored the two easiest points of the game with a lay-up

The lay-up. To drive to the basket for a lay-up you have to be able to dribble. I couldn’t. Still can’t, at least in mixed company—me and anyone else on the court. Even if standing beneath the basket I find it hard to bank the ball off the backboard for an easy two-pointer. My idea of a lay-up is a 10-foot jump shot. Swish (if I’m lucky, klunk if not).

To camouflage my inadequacies on the court, I gravitated to sometimes reffing games as an adult. That’s how I found myself officiating a game between elementary schools when the paid ref failed to show. All went well until the closing moments of a tight game. My son Dan’s team was leading by a point with seconds to go. All I had to do was let the clock run out, but noooooo, I had to call a shooting foul on Dan’s team on a controversial play. I could easily have let the play continue on with little argument from the other team. You probably already know the outcome—the shooter made both foul shots and Dan’s team lost by one point. It was a loooong and silent ride home that night.

Sitting in the stands at another game I was anything but silent. I noticed Dan’s team was not lined up properly for a free throw by their opponent. I yelled out for someone to move to cover a vacant spot. He did. The shooter missed, we got the rebound, but the whistle blew. The ref called a technical foul on our team for moving after he had given the ball to the foul shooter. He awarded him another shot, which he now calmly made, and control of the ball. The only reason I am still alive to tell this tale is that our boys had my back and wound up winning the game. But I was banished from watching the next few games and allowed to return to the bleachers only if I promised to keep my mouth shut.

I blame basketball, specifically Madison Square Garden and Knicks management, for depriving Rangers hockey fans of a chance at another Stanley Cup. After the Rangers won the championship in 1994, MSG would not renew captain Mark Messier’s contract the following year. Without their leader, the Rangers languished, and have continued to do so for now 16 years. Instead of rewarding Messier for delivering on his guarantee of a Stanley Cup, MSG executives, I believe, chose to spend their money trying to secure a championship for the Knicks. They gave Patrick Ewing a big contract. Ewing did not deliver.

I hate basketball.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

So my brother and sister-in-law’s 37th anniversary gift to us arrived the other day (our anniversary was in late January, for those who care. Bernie and Annette’s gift was on back order, or so they said, but still managed to come before our gift to them for their 40th anniversary last November has even been selected, their having rejected spa treatment certificates during a recent vacation in Atlantis).

Anyway, their gift arrived—a practical and much-needed pressure washer—just in time for an application prior to Passover guests showing up on our walkway and doorstep that were in dire need of cleaning the accumulated detritus of 26 years, or ever since we moved into our current abode.

I don’t think they were sending me a message. They’re too polite to admit otherwise. And subtlety was never one of their strong suits. Let’s take it as simply picking out a gift that we didn’t have. After all, after 37 years of marriage, it’s hard to select something we don’t already have (that’s why it’s been even harder to pick out their 40th anniversary present!).

So there I was on Friday afternoon spraying the living daylights out of the dirt and scum on our brick walkway and porch. It’s a marvelous machine, but then I got to wondering, why is it that their gift cost me money (I had to buy an outdoor extension cord) and why is it that their gift tired me out. I was pooped after spraying for more than an hour.

Next time they come up with a practical gift idea, I think I’ll ask them to pay for a service to do the heavy lifting. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, but now that I have the pressure washer equipment, Gilda already has lined up other tasks for me—the side patio, the garage door...

Thanks a lot, Annette and Bernie.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Is in the Birds

Forget robins as harbingers of spring. The common grackle, a large, iridescent blackbird with pale yellow eyes, a long, sharp black bill and long tail, is a truer signal that warmer air has arrived.

Flocks of the common grackle have taken over my bird feeding stations, rousting out all but the most tenacious woodpeckers and finches. In truth, these common grackles are nice to observe, their green and blue highlights blazing through in the sunlight. But they sure are domineering.

With forecasts of temperatures almost hitting 70 degrees, I shed my socks Thursday. Like Bill Maher, however, I have New Rules. I’m going to reserve the right to wear or not wear socks depending on my whim, not the weather. So don’t be too disappointed if you can’t see my ankles from now till the next frost in the fall.

Warmer weather also means a change in sheet selection. This morning I put away the polartec bedding in favor of jersey sheets that provide mid-level warmth.

Spring implies rebirth, a season of beginnings, a time for fresh thinking, new opportunities, a chance to break with the failures of the past.

I don’t pretend to understand all the intricacies of the healthcare debate. But I do know that when both sides claim they know what’s best for America, it’s instructive to look at the record, at least for the short term that involves the same politicians that have “led” our country for the last decade.

Why would anyone with a memory and an objective mind trust those who essentially abandoned the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan to pursue an illegitimate, misrepresented and inefficient war in Iraq, whose cost in lives (American, Allied and Iraqi) and dollars exceeded even the most pessimistic forecasts?

Why would anyone trust politicians who claim to care for the American family when their leaders failed to provide adequate aid and comfort to victims of Katrina?

Why would anyone trust politicians who now claim to worry about burdening our children with deficits when for eight years they piled deficit upon deficit onto our national debt after inheriting a surplus from the outgoing Democratic administration?

Why would anyone trust politicians who cry about the need for bipartisanship when for eight years they rejected input from the opposition?

Sadly, we live today in a world where people are too easily manipulated by slogans and sound bites, by populist TV personalities. Instead of reflection, we get instant analysis. Instead of thoughtful dialogue, we get extreme shouting. What passes as reality TV has diminished our critical ability to think.

The sun shining today does not mask the dark reality that millions of our fellow citizens are without health care coverage, that millions more are vulnerable to action that will strip them of coverage. Just yesterday Arizona’s newly signed state budget eliminated a Children’s Health Insurance Program that covered 47,000 low-income children without coverage. Another 310,000 childless couples are expected to lose Medicaid coverage under the state’s new budget (

The measure of a society is how it protects the less fortunate. Am I supposed to stop putting out bird seed because common grackles are eating most of it? Hardly. The health care bill is far from perfect. But it will be better than what we have now. I’m looking forward to a bill signing ceremony. Perhaps the Rose Garden would make an appropriate springtime venue for the ceremony.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Let's Be Frank

Gilda fried our 23-year-old microwave Sunday, which explains why I found myself on lower Central Avenue in Yonkers at a P.C. Richards on Tuesday. Didn’t find what we wanted, but it being around lunchtime, I had another choice to make—fast food or a trip down nostalgia lane. I chose the latter, in the form of a visit to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletano, a relatively new outpost of a famous New Haven, Conn.-based institution Gilda and I frequented when we lived in New Haven 35 years ago.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I didn’t eat my first slice of pizza until I was 14. Hard to believe, but keep in mind that back in the 1950s and early 1960s most mozzarella cheese was considered not to be kosher. The presumption was the cheese was aged in casings made from animal intestines (for the non-Jews out there, milk and meat products cannot touch, much less be eaten together, a restriction I do not follow now when eating outside the home, but did until my early teenage years). It was a truly big deal when my brother and his friends, especially Jerry who was far more religiously observant than we were, snuck a pizza into our home while our parents were away. Since that fateful day I have enjoyed pizza around the world, in Italy, of course, in Germany, England, The Czech Republic, even Japan.

Arguably the best pizza anywhere is served on Wooster Street in New Haven, where Frank Pepe started baking pies in 1925, to be followed in 1938 by his nephew Sally Consiglio, who opened a rival storefront down the block. On any given Sunday, rain or shine, lines outside form early as the hungry wait for the pizza parlors to open their gates to gastronomic heaven. Fistfights can break out among Pepe and Sally’s loyalists arguing the merits of their respective thin-crusted pizzas.

I’m partial to Sally’s, but that could be because I rather enjoy the Spartan, ramshackle décor that democratizes all who eat there. On our last visit to Sally’s a couple of years ago, ex- senator/governor Lowell Weicker sat at another table with his family. I was tempted to go over and say hello. After all, while working for the New Haven Register, I did interview him during the Labor Day weekend break in the Senate Watergate hearings of 1973 and got him to go on record that he wouldn’t use his heightened public fame as a springboard to run for president (a stance he abandoned several years later). That story made the Associated Press wire, my first taste of national exposure. Perhaps he’d remember me. Doubtful. Since we were seated near the door, I figured my chance to reconnect would come when they walked passed. I was reviewing in my mind what I would say when I looked up and realized Weicker and family had ducked out a side exit. Another opportunity lost to history, and lack of initiative.

Ah, well. This time I’d seize the moment by stopping at Pepe’s for a personal size pizza. Nothing fancy, just a plain pie cooked in a coal-fired brick oven. The pizza came in a rectangular baking tray, thin crusted as I remembered it, with a few spots of charcoal. I chomped into the first slice and tasted...rubber. How disappointing! This was not what I remembered. Maybe it was just the first slice. Maybe the second. Or third. Or fourth. Oh, my, god...the whole pie was a concoction of rubbery, chewy dough.

Another memory of my youth shattered by the reality of the present. What’s next to vaporize? Will I discover I really don’t like Yankee Doodles? That would be like turning my back on my childhood. Better play it safe and not eat any. Besides, I’ll be a lot healthier if I stay away from Yankee Doodles. And, truth be told, pizza as well.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pocketful of Jeans

I probably live more than 90% of my waking hours in jeans. Most of my jeans are carpenter style, not because I’m a handyman sort of guy. Quite the contrary. Gilda can convulse you with stories of my manual ineptitude, such as the time I tried to change a shower head in our previous home and gave up in frustration, only to have to hear for more than two decades now how Gilda simply walked into the shower and easily unscrewed the unwanted head. My insistence that I loosened the head has been unable to quiet her counter-insistence that I am physically challenged when it comes to handiwork.

Question: How many husbands named Murray does it take to change a shower head?

Answer: None. It takes a Gilda.

Enough of those “fond” memories and oh-so-true jokes. This is my blog, not Gilda’s, and I’m here (presumably, you too) to celebrate my achievements, not hers.

As I was saying, I live in carpenter jeans. For one simple reason—I like to carry my cell phone in the side leg pocket, where a real carpenter might carry one of his tools, such as a screwdriver. It’s a modern day version of the low-slung six-gun holster of the Old West. I never liked the look of a phone hanging from a belt or pants waist. A leg pocket is also more convenient than a regular pocket for reaching for a phone when in a car.

Having said all that, I was rather frustrated with a pair of Lee carpenter pants that in all ways but one served their purpose rather well. It wasn’t the leg pocket that disturbed me. Rather, it was the small, right side front pocket where I normally carry change, a nail clipper and lip balm. For some strange reason, Lee makes the pocket too shallow to be effective. I tolerated the condition for several months, but this morning couldn’t take it anymore. Looking closer at the pocket, it appeared the depth actually could be adequate if not for a double seam that appeared to cut the pocket in half. I plucked away at the seams, eager to either secure a proper pocket or resolved to destroy an otherwise perfectly good pair of jeans.

It’s an admittedly small accomplishment to report that my jeans are now perfect, small when compared to what many of you might accomplish today, such as signing a new sales contract, or writing a story, or helping a patient live a healthier life. But we on the home front take our victories where they come. And for me, having a better pair of jeans is a true-blue benefit.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life Goes On

You never know how dispensable you are until you see life going on without you.

By life, I’m not referring to “life,” what your family and friends experience after you’ve passed on. Rather, I mean the everyday business of what passed as your daily activity, be it gainful employment or volunteer community work, or whatever kept you occupied while breathing.

No one is irreplaceable, we used to say at my old employer whenever someone left, voluntarily or otherwise. That truism has more meaning to me in the last few days.

For just the second time in the last 22 years I am not participating in and overseeing my former magazine’s signature, 3-1/2 day retail conference and exposition, SPECS (the first time being in 1996 when my mother died the day I was to fly to the event). SPECS ends today, concluding its 46th year as the premiere conference serving those involved in designing, building and maintaining stores. (SPECS is an acronym for Store Planning Equipment Construction Services Seminar.)

While overall registration at SPECS is down from a year ago when roughly 1,200 attended, it’s a function of the economy, not my absence. The same reason holds true for any softness in magazine and Internet advertising. That now old political line, “It’s the economy, stupid,” really does apply here.

Part of me wants to reject the notion I no longer am needed, that my successors as editor and publisher and chairman of SPECS have trekked on successfully without me. But more of me is proud I did what any good leader is supposed to do—I left in place managers who could assume command at a moment’s notice.

I might have been missed by some SPECS attendees, the same way I missed seeing old friends. But I learned early in my career as a journalist that the public cares more for the product than any one individual.

In business, with rare exceptions, we are all dispensable.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Who's in Control?

Spent my birthday weekend visiting with Finley and family. The little guy is now three and a half months old, starting to gain control of the family schedule. It now revolves around his nap times (there seems to be a consistent napping theme in our family).

At a comparable age, his father, Dan, had control of our family, but in a much more negative way. Dan didn’t really nap. Dan, and by extension, his parents, suffered through severe colic. I went off to work every day, but Gilda had to contend with a baby who demanded he be held all the time and constantly cried. Each day when I'd call home around noon, the story was the same. Our beautiful-looking baby was a terror to live with, requiring total attention.

Most days Gilda found relief when I came home to assume primary responsibility for carrying Dan around until bedtime. When I traveled, however, she was on her own, and that could lead to almost inhumane torture. In late January, when Dan was a little more than three months old, I went to a conference for several days. When I came home, I called out but got no response. Gilda's car was in the driveway, the stroller was in the hallway, so they should have been home. But where were they?

As I made my way through the house the mystery remained unsolved. I entered our bedroom and heard some whimpering. I pulled back the comforter to discover Gilda and Dan. At wit's end, she had retreated with Dan to our bed, pulled the covers over their heads and resigned herself to endure until I came home. Both were crying.

I’d like to say Dan got better upon my return. He didn’t. Days turned to weeks turned into a month with no visible or audible improvement. I began to wonder how long Gilda’s sanity would last, how long she could hold out without breaking, without retaliating.

In late February I called home as usual around noon. No answer. 12:30—no answer. 1—no answer. 1:30—no answer. Gilda usually told me if she planned to go out around the time I would be calling. 2 pm—no answer. 2:30—no answer. Every half hour, no answer. Until 5 pm, when I normally called to say I was leaving work. Gilda answered the phone, not a trace of anything unusual in her voice. I asked where she had been. She giggled. I asked again. She giggled louder, a tinge of mystery now in her laugh. Seriously, where had you been? Maniacal laughter was her reply.

Thinking back to my discovery of her covered in bed, crying, I panicked and thought the worse. Gilda, I said, where’s Danny? Put Danny on the phone!

Now she really exploded in laughter, for she, too, deduced what I was thinking and fearing. She tried to reassure me everything, including Danny, was okay, but I was inconsolable and determined to get an explanation, not when I came home, but now, on the phone.

Turned out, Danny had woken up that morning happy as a lark, so Gilda took advantage of the moment by bundling him up in the car and going to my cousin in Middletown, NY. Paul was a jeweler. Gilda went to buy a gift for my 30th birthday.

It was a wonderful present, but even in the thoughtfulness of the gesture, it was controlled by the youngest among us.

Postscript—Dan’s colic lasted until he was five and a half months old. After that, he repaid his taxing times by being the most carefree, happy and easy to raise child you’d ever imagine.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happy Bear-day

Do you share a birthday with anyone you know? Not just the date you were born, but the actual day?

I do.

For years I would tell people I was born on the date the Alamo fell, March 6. Now I tell people I was born the same exact day (and same year, for those who may be confused about this) as Maxine Clarke.

Most people reading this blog probably never heard of Maxine. Her business title is Chief Executive Bear. She is the founder and head of Build-A-Bear Workshops.

I’ve known Maxine for close to 30 years, but only in the last 10 or so did we discover our birthday link. When I first encountered her, Maxine was VP Marketing for Venture Stores, a poor facsimile of Target Stores. Based in St. Louis, Venture was part of the May Department Stores Company. Led by David Farrell, known in the retail industry as King David, May had a steel-firm policy of not talking to the press. Under his direction and that of Julius Seeherman, chairman of Venture, Maxine kept a tight lip. Even after she left Venture to be president of Payless ShoeSource, at the time another May division which was spun off, Maxine kept a profile lower than her under-five-foot stature.

In 1997, after leaving Payless, Maxine developed the idea for Build-A-Bear and opened her first store in St. Louis. She’s been talking to me about her project from the get-go and has become one of the more accessible executives I have ever met. The company is now publicly traded and has more than 400 stores around the world.

There are few, if any, more imaginative, creative, effervescent, community-minded and dedicated retailers than Maxine. She and husband Bob Fox have no children of their own, but millions of kids cherish the loving companions they created through her entrepreneurial genius.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Hitchcockian Note

I love my Toyota Avalon XLS. I’m also very thankful it’s relatively old, a 2002 model, so far unaffected by recall-mania.

It’s my second Avalon, the first one being a 1999 lease. I bought the current transport when the lease offered in 2002 was 30% higher for a car whose sticker price remained the same, plus the dealer wanted about $2,500 up front.

Not being hung up having to drive the newest and flashiest car means I have kept most of my wheels for double-digit years. In 1999, it was time to replace my 13-year-old Mazda 626 which had replaced my 13-year-old Chevy Vega. Nothing really wrong with it, but Gilda and I were turning 50 and she thought it was time for us to get a grown-up car. So I test-drove our friend Jacob’s Avalon on the way to another friend’s son’s bar-mitzvah party in the city and liked it. I haven’t regretted the decision. Nor has anyone, especially larger than average passengers, who have sat in the back, as there’s plenty of room there even behind the driver’s seat.

Only one sign signals the age of my black beauty. Actually, it’s more than one sign. It’s multiple signs. Along the right rear passenger door is a series of pock marks where the door from Gilda’s car has claimed territorial rights in our garage. No matter how careful Gilda tries to be, the Jeep door invariably opens into, and I do mean into, the Avalon’s door. That’s another reason I’m not rushing out to replace the Avalon. I can’t imagine being so tolerant and forgiving is she were beating up a new car.

But I do hope Toyota fixes its problems quickly. By the time I’m ready for a new car I want to have renewed confidence in their product.

Snow Days Feedback: Reader feedback is always exciting and welcome, but a comment on my recent Snow Days blog ( made me scurry around town to find its meaning. Here’s the message: 酒店美女照片.

I didn’t know which language it was, much less what it meant, so this morning I made the rounds of our Korean dry cleaner and a Japanese grocer, only to be told it was Chinese. I remained frustrated because four Chinese restaurants I stopped at had not opened. Finally, a Chinese worker at an Oriental food mart translated the missive: “Liquor store pretty lady picture.”

Damned if I know what that’s supposed to mean. If Alfred Hitchcock were still alive I’m sure he could use it as a clue in one of his mysteries.

Spring Alert: The calendar still says winter but there are telltale signs of spring. Seen lots of robins around the bird feeders lately. More significantly, three times in the last two days I’ve noticed men walking around in shorts.

Be alert—daylight savings time begins 2 am March 14. We lose an hour’s sleep as the clock moves ahead by one hour.

Nap Time Followup: Speaking of sleep, after seeing my recent blog on napping (, Gilda clipped an article from Tuesday’s free Metro newspaper. “Naps, diabetes linked” blared the headline above a story of a Chinese study of 20,000 adults, 50 and older. According to Reuters, the study found people who usually napped four to six days of the week were more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes. About 15% had diabetes vs. about 12% for those who napped less often or not at all.

Despite being thin, I’m proof that weight has nothing to do with susceptibility to diabetes. I’m borderline; I try to avoid sweets as much as possible. I also try to stay away from processed starches and carbohydrates that turn into sugar once digested. Hard not to eat good bread when dining out, though.

Despite my resident medical expert’s constant care (for those not aware, Gilda is a nurse practitioner), here’s some dietary advice sure to amuse you from Dr. Sum Ting Wong, passed along by my friend Milton who received it from a mutual friend, Walter:!5F44E10329175E2F!925.entry.

The Good Doctor: One more medical note—the other day I watched The Last Angry Man, starring Paul Muni as a dedicated general practitioner in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in the late 1950s. A good, not great movie from 1959, but one with deep overtones and uncanny prescience to not only the current health care debate but also to the spate of reality shows flooding the airwaves. Rent it or catch it next time it’s on Turner Classic Movies.

Political Forecast: Joe Biden will be 70 years old in 2012. Assuming he and Obama win re-election, he’d be 74 at the end of their second term, too old to seek the presidency. My prediction—despite being a good vice president, Biden will either choose not to run again or be eased into making that decision. Obama will select Evan Bayh as his replacement. Bayh will be 57 in 2012.

Though he recently announced he won’t seek re-election to the Senate because he is fed up with the Washington bickering scene, Bayh would make a strong VP candidate. He’s a moderate, has shown he can win even in GOP-leaning Indiana and, if the Democrats maintain control of the White House in 2012, Bayh gives them a chance to extend their hold even longer. Remember, you read it first here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Scarlett O'Hara Palin

Did you see her last night? Did you see Sarah Palin doing stand-up on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as part of her victory sprint through the psyche of the American electorate as she refashions her image? (To view several segments of her appearance, go to

Oh, she’s so cute and so disingenuous as she explains that joining Fox News as a contributing commentator was her way of trying to bring back fair and balanced reporting to the national media. Only someone delusional could believe and say with a straight face that Fox News was fair and balanced.

She plays the perfect victim—she’s the Scarlett O’Hara of politics. Whenever exposed for contradictions, inconsistencies or incompetency, she smiles away her predicament and the darlin’ public melts. Even Tina Fey’s dead-on satiric caricature she now uses to her advantage, to humanize a calculating politician, for who doesn’t like a pol who can’t take a joke? But the joke’s on us.

Trust me when I tell you that from the get-go I considered Sarah Palin long-term trouble for the Democratic Party and the country at large. Like many, I laughed at her naivete and just plain dumbness. But I quickly realized that her “aw-shucks” traits would strike a deep chord with many of the electorate who have proven time and again they vote with their hearts, not their minds, they vote with their rose-colored, patriotic, bi-focaled mis-beliefs rather than their pocketbook balances.

Sarah Palin is just one of us, they believe. She, along with George W. Bush, give rise to the absurd belief that anyone can be president. No! Anyone should not become president. I want someone who’s smarter than I am. I want someone in the Oval Office who understands economics, understands world history and diplomacy, who understands science (OK, maybe not an A student, but at least someone who doesn’t let religion undermine scientific advancement). I want someone who understands sociology, who understands how people interact, and can do so for the greater good. I want someone who did not major in cafeteria, as I did.

Sarah Palin. She’s not the problem. The problem is we are a nation of too many idiots. Too many crazies.

We’ve allowed our “government of the people, by the people, for the people” to become a government captive of fringe people.

I don’t consider Sen. Kay Hutchinson to be a moderate. But compared to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, she is. So she lost her state’s primary bid for the gubernatorial nomination because she was considered to be too centrist.

Our nation is polarizing. It used to be along racial lines, then economic lines. We increasingly are carved up into too many non-interlocking segments. We’re no longer a melting pot stew of shared experiences and aspirations. We’re a stew of conflicting emotions and prejudices.

Politics used to be the art of compromise. Today, politics is the art of deception. Of obstruction. At least with Sarah Palin, her script is out in the open. She’s obvious, to a fault. And that’s the truly scary thing—too many of our fellow citizens are drinking her Kool-Aid.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cover Story

As the editor and publisher of a business magazine on retailing, I let my staff have wide latitude with the articles they wrote. They decided which topics to cover and how to frame the issues involved. In short, I was a mostly hands-off editor.

Except when it came to main feature articles, the ones usually reserved for cover stories. Those articles commanded my interest. If I disagreed with a writer’s premise and presentation, I would counsel change. If the writer resisted, I permitted a rebuttal. But if I remained unconvinced and the writer continued to persist, I invoked my authority as chief editor, and my responsibility to lead, to run the story the way I wanted it to read.

A little more than a year ago I had high expectations for progressive, thoughtful leadership at the highest national level. Today, I am a frustrated citizen, frustrated that Barack Obama, along with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, have allowed both Republican and Democrat senators and congressmen to usurp their leadership roles. Obama, in particular, is trying to be a conciliator. All fine and dandy. But what we need is a leader, someone who viscerally demonstrates he was elected president because of his ideas and programs, not because he possessed the traits of a nursery school teacher trying to get all the kiddies to play nice together.

Reid and Pelosi, with Obama’s assistance, must strong arm, yes, strong arm, their members to vote the party line. Pass legislation through reconciliation, just like the GOP did when it was in power but lacked the super majority needed to fend off a filibuster. Stop being Mr. Nice Guys. There’s too much at stake.

A few weeks ago the president, his secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came out in favor of allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the armed services. Last week, two top generals testified they opposed such a move. Fine. They are constitutionally allowed to express opinions. But let them do so as private citizens. If they can’t support their commander in chief, the defense secretary and the top ranking military officer, they should either resign or be fired for insubordination. Sometimes, you need to kick some ass to show you really mean what you say. Bush fired the general who disagreed with the assessment of how many troops it would take to control Iraq. Bush was criticized for it, but he showed conviction, however wrong he turned out to be. Obama has to back up words with action.

Obama let the health care debate be framed by others, inside and outside his party. Last week he tried to corral kittens at the health care forum at Blair House. Nice theater. Poor leadership. Obama was elected with the largest majority in decades in the House and Senate. He has squandered the opportunity to use that leverage to enact his agenda.

I am proud that we have a cerebral president. But I want a little more action, more leadership. I want to support a second Obama term based on accomplishments, not out of fear of Palin or Romney or some other far-right yahoo who believes that tearing down government is the answer to our national problems.

At the end of the day, who’s imprint will be on the cover story for this administration? Obama’s or someone else’s?