Politics of Change

As a kid growing up in the 1960’s I was a Democrat because I didn’t know better. It had been schooled into me that Republicans were only for rich people and believed in war which was in their opinion good for the economy. It didn’t make a difference since I couldn’t vote.

The first time I took notice of politics was when we road home in a school bus from Orchestra Hall on Michigan Avenue back to our school in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s Far West Side. We had just been treated to seats up in the rafters watching and listening to a matinee presentation put on by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This was around the same time Leonard Bernstein was doing television shows dedicated to the same purpose and they were quite popular.

On the forty-five minute ride home due west we rode through neighborhoods with signs on front lawns or taped to windows that either read ‘Go All the Way With JFK’ (John F. Kennedy) or ‘For the Future’ (Richard Nixon). My buddy Perry sat next to me and he made a point of telling me for whom I should be but it did not resonate. When it came down to it, Kennedy made more sense because he was better looking and didn’t look mean. Besides, I had a kid’s version of Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage or was aware of it so I had somewhat of a sophisticated approach to my choice.

I recall being fascinated on election night watching the news coverage and Walter Cronkite explaining about all the sophisticated computer equipment in the room that was making loud noises in the background.
He said that with the equipment, he would be able to predict who won the election within a couple of hours after the polls closed. In those days, they did not make predictions on East Coast electoral votes until all the states had officially closed down the voting. There was still a sense on the part of the media in playing fair and not trying to discourage West Coast voters in wasting their ballots on a loser.

I liked watching war movies on television but in real life preferred to be a passive bystander although not a conscientious objector. My simple philosophy was ‘leave me out of it’. Besides, I wore glasses due to depth perception problems and double vision as well as had flat feet. I inherited these from Ma.

By the time 1969 came around, I was not yet seventeen and hardly a member of the pot smoking peace movement. Heck, I choked whenever someone smoking a cigarette was within fifteen feet of me. Didn’t have long hair because the high school administration frowned upon it and besides I was not out to make a statement. Did, though, grow a beard which looking back on it was ridiculous as at best it was Solzhenitsyn-like. And you needed a magnifying glass to see the accompanying mustache up close.

During the summer of 1970, after graduating high school, a kind of rash or impetuous thing overcame me. I invited a female classmate to go a movie, a quasi-date. I don’t recall if I even paid for her admission ticket. Wasn’t really that much interested in her romantically- at least, I didn’t think so. I knew her as far back as kindergarten. Anyway, we agreed to meet at the theater and saw Mash. At the time, it was a very risque comedy, totally irreverent, making fun of actions taking place during the Korean War.

The movie had little to do about the 1950 police action in Korea. It was more about the nascent anti-war attitude during the height of the Viet Nam era. There were several things disturbing about the plot- it made fun of suicide, presumed that all married military personnel were playfully cheating on their spouses back home and that all soldiers were against the war. The actors seemed to have haircuts that were more popular after the 1964 Beatles Invasion than the 1950’s crew cuts they should have worn. The dialogue was more late 1960’s than Eisenhower era. It was a distorted political statement. And it helped turn me off to the anti-war cause. Yet, I went through the 1970’s with a “can’t we all get along” attitude mostly because I was hoping to butter up the “man” or basically get on somebody’s good side who would help improve my economic condition.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the conservative approach to politics appealed. When Ronald Reagan ascended to his Presidency I finally felt that the voice of reason and a pragmatic approach to an American lifestyle would finally direct the nation back to our collective senses.

The schism that divides America has always been there. Hey, we even had a civil war, remember? So, why is everyone so worked up about trying to get us all to agree? I kind of like the balance of power. I just don’t like paying taxes at the Federal, State and Local levels.

Everyone hates America but everyone wants to live here. I like things the way they are but also like new ideas if they make sense. I’m a bleeding heart conservative who sides with the underdog.

Hey, if I make sense then give me the change.

Surfin’ USA

This is not about Malibu Barbie and beach boy Ken. This is about that dreadful disease that attacks the elderly- using the friggin’ tv remote control channel changer.

Despite being a member of the Medicare club for about fifteen years, Ma still appreciates the roses, especially this year’s NBA MVP, Derrick Rose. She is very much into sports, specifically the NBA playoffs this year. The other evening, she called to ask if I had just watched Miami hand it to Boston to finish off their mini series. I told her no- that I was busy working, making a living. She ignored my dig and continued with the fact that Memphis and Oklahoma City were about to start playing but that she was tired and going to bed. Well, she is old, you know. (Hey, stop cursing me)

In this round of the playoffs, all the games aired so far were on the TNT cable network. That was easy for Ma to find. It was channel 32 in her Chicago cable television system. Only five notches away from 37 which was home to the Cubs and Bulls broadcasts that were not on good old channel 9.

But, then the NBA governing body did a sneaky thing and decided to spread their wealth around and allow more broadcasting companies to pony up to them for the rights to televise the precious playoffs. This meant that ESPN was able to share in the glory. It also meant that the third game of the series was to switch from the memorized channel 32 to some other.

Ma called me when the game started with panic in her voice. “Where are the Bulls?”

I replied caustically (as usual), “what do you mean where are they? They’re playing in Atlanta.”

“No, idiot,” as she spoke her favorite name to remember me by. “I mean, what channel?”

I proceeded to explain that this game was on ESPN.

“Well, what channel is that?”

I replied, “how should I know? We have different systems. 49 is TNT by me, 32 by you. ESPN is 32 and 33 by me, depending on if you want ESPN1 or 2. Try surfing through the 30’s. Maybe it will show up.”

She calls back and says, “What’s wrong with you? I’m on ESPN and it is a volleyball game.”

I explained to her that I was indeed watching a basketball game and she had probably settled onto ESPN2.
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Under The Weather? Impossible!

Why do people say they are “under the weather” when they don’t feel well?. If I recall correctly, you need a temperature above 98.6 to have a fever. Considering that most people drop dead when their temperature goes over 103 degrees, it would have to be pretty hot aside to be under the weather.

When I was in third grade at the tender age of eight I used to come up with stomach ailments to try to avoid going to school or at least until a little later in the morning when I felt better. By shortening the school day even a little bit I felt I was cheating “The Man”. Ma didn’t seem to mind since she was from that generation of ladies before the feminist revolution. She stayed at home and did the housekeeping unless she had to go shopping which meant taking out the baby buggy with a kid sister in it and walking three or four blocks to Madison Street in the Austin neighborhood. In 1960, you could park your stroller outside a store front and expect to see it again thirty minutes later.
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Fat Free or Low Sodium

By Larry Teren


I’m that “sucker born every minute”. You know- the one who looks for food products with the “fat free” label prominently displayed. I convince myself that by eating such-labeled foods, it won’t be long before I begin again to look like an Adonis.

Yet, it can be quite confusing trying to evaluate what is healthy to eat and what is not. There’s salt-free, sodium free, low sodium, low salt and unsalted. Huh? How about sugar free and low sugar? Or my favorite- caffeine-free and decaffeinated. I once did research on this last one. Apparently, decaffeinated means that the thing you are about to put into your mouth once had caffeine in it, but was heroically removed. Caffeine-free means that it never had it and never will (apologies to that soft drink). That’s why the label on pop bottles read ‘caffeine-free’. By nature, pop does not have caffeine, or if at all, just a mere trace. The pop bottlers add it in to give it a kick. Pop that is labeled caffeine-free means that on that production run, they did not add in your favorite addiction.

So, is caffeine a bad thing? Who knows? Some people need an artificial kick to get them going in the morning. I gave up coffee about thirty years ago… zzzzzzz.. Huh, what? Oh yeah, and I don’t have a problem with staying alert. My grandfather, well into his 80’s had a glass of shnapps to start the day off with luster. It was supposedly good for the heart, especially since he already had three heart attacks and wanted a cheaper alternative to a pacemaker.
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The Pursuit of Free

As my brother says, “time is money”. A week or so ago, the last episode featuring a very popular character on “The Office” television show was broadcast on NBC at 8pm Chicago time on a Thursday evening. Even though an avid viewer of this show there were more important things to accomplish such as generating revenue so I did not bother to watch it at that given opportunity. Anyway, it’s not as if I was going to stand around a water cooler and wait for a passersby to engage him or her in conversation about it.

In fact, I have found watching the show a very personal thing. I imagine a trusted relationship, a bond with many of the show’s characters. This precludes me from discussing The Office with others as they simply would not understand the brilliance of the scripts and subtle ways each actor makes you wonder if they are performing or are you watching a documentary.
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Let’s Get Fat

Let’s Face it- we live in a world where thin rules. No one wants to look at a fat person on television or in a movie. You know, what they say- the camera adds fifteen to twenty pounds. Hogwash! Fat is fat.

I’m not fat (hey!) nor am I thin. I’m somewhere in between. I look at pictures taken of me years ago, and yeah- I look thinner back then. You can see it in the face. I used to exercise like crazy, playing baseball, basketball, volleyball, tennis and jogging. Slowly, over the years, each one of the above went by the wayside and my weight edged up.

I used to be able to power walk a couple miles or so at a time; now, I take it as it comes with my bad left foot- the one with the swollen ankle that is here to stay. It’s come down to sitting on a stationary bike and pedaling away like a maniac while watching a live sports presentation or a show that has potential to keep my interest for at least an hour.

But then one day I discovered that too much extended session pedaling was putting too much pressure on my stomach muscles causing me undue pain and I ended up spending a couple of thousand dollars getting MRI scanned at the hospital. Lesson learned- next time ease up on the pedaling and don’t complain about the pain.

My brother Gary, the baby among the siblings, is in his mid 40’s and still thin. He likes to jog for several miles as long as his energy permits. But even he is now at that point in life where he wonders if all the knocking himself out is worth it. A favorite expression of Gary is- “let’s get fat.” There will come a time for him as I say to other younger people as well- don’t wish it on yourself. You’ll get there.

The other day I bumped into a lady friend in her mid to late 60’s, someone who lives in the condo building down the block. She looks positively anorexic. She is not proud of it. She says that her frequent chemotherapy treatments has caused her to loss of appetite. Her equally thin and drawn husband suffers from diabetes and pines for eating sweets which he cannot.

Then there was the fellow who made a living selling illegal tax shelters and ended up spending some time in federal prison. He went in chubby, came out nice and svelte. Our paths crossed a couple of months after he was released and he still looked fantastic. I asked him why he didn’t go back to binge eating. He replied that he had been disciplined to eat only when hungry. So, I took up that mantra. It didn’t help as I found out that I was always hungry.

This obsession with weight brings about mind games. After each successful visit to the bathroom I try to convince myself that it is okay to once again eat like a pig. Or on a day that I decide to take a water pill and spend the next four hours being drained of excess liquid, I am confident that half a bottle of pop will do no harm.

The worst thing you want to say to a tailor when you buy a new suit is “let it out” but then you remember that you are doing this because when you bent down the other day while wearing your one good suit, the pants split in such a way that it was best to just turn it into expensive rags.

I can look down and tell you the color of my belt but that’s only because I memorized it before putting it on and besides- who is going to wear a brown belt with black pants? Yes, I remember when my waist was a 34 and considered anyone who was a 38 just plain fat. Now, I don’t trust anyone under 38.

Dad couldn’t walk and let alone stand the last few years of his life cooped up in a long term care facility but he sure could eat. That was his pleasure. He had no restrictions- he was not diabetic. Well, he did have one eating problem as time went on. He couldn’t eat anything hard- it had to be ground up or otherwise he would choke. He suffered from aspiration pneumonia. He didn’t lose weight. He looked the same as ever until the last few months when he got cancer of the bladder. That was not on his diet plan but then he wasn’t given a right to make a choice.

I’m in the middle of this quandary. Do I want to look corpulent, to be obese or a moving, breathing piece of blubber? Heck no! Can I get back to that size 34 waistline? Fat chance.

Rock of Age

How many times have you walked past someone and nodded at them while at the time thinking, “boy, have they aged!” Of course, you tend to forget that they were thinking the same thing, right?

A few year ago I visited my sister and her neighbor from down the block was over at the time. The neighbor knew me from high school and her husband was in my graduating class. My sister said to me later that her neighbor thought that I looked the same as I had thirty plus years earlier. C’mon, give me a break! If anything, both she and her husband looked like they had never aged- but, me? Really? Uh- You think so? Wait- I’ll turn to the side so you can get a better profile.

The south wall in the living room of my condo apartment is entirely a mirror. That was what sold me on buying the unit. I like it especially because it tends to distort my size and shape when I stand a certain distance away. It takes about two to four inches off the waistline and adds at least an inch to my height.

When friends and relatives in my age group all turned fifty, we spoke the popular phrase, “fifty is the new forty!” Hmmm- what are we going to say when we hit 60? That it’s the new 50? That already sounds over the hill. Many of Ma’s previous generation relatives lived well into their late 80’s and 90’s. If I punch that into a computer-based formula, I think it means that there is a chance that my siblings and I can go on annoying each other well into our 100’s. I then guess we can safely surmise that 60 is truly the middle of the hump. And that means I should not plan on retirement until at least 75 or maybe 80.

Not that I ever take public transportation, but I’m still waiting for the day that a youngster- say someone between 35 to 45, gives up their seat to me or calls me ,”sir”. Yeah, sure.

It used to be that AARP considered one eligible to join once they hit 55. But, who wants to acknowledge that they are getting up there? I admit, though, that I steal a read of Modern Maturity when I go to visit Ma. I couldn’t believe it when I saw Robert Redford gracing the cover. It would be a hoot if they could convince Burt Reynolds to pose for a centerfold wearing only a Depends.

You are as old as you feel- and I will leave that line alone.

Second Banana in Business

I’m what you call a “second banana” in the world of business. My job is to make the “top banana” look good. The top banana is usually the controller and sometimes owner of a company. They need help maintaining the company records as accurate as possible. They want to know where they are having successes and disappointments. They want to take credit for the successes. And they are always looking for ways to improve procedures and processes to make them more efficient and less error-prone.

This is where I, Mr. Second Banana, enter the picture. A controller whose business sells products with expiration dates asks me, “can you give me a list of all items that have a certain quantity of stock that is over a certain number of days old?” Or another will ask, “if I give you a spreadsheet of item codes and unit costs, can you import into the system new costs for the products we build as opposed to purchase for resale?” Or, “is there a way I can combine these four reports into one so I don’t have to run them separately?” Or, “how can I convert this information into separate spreadsheets to be sorted by sales rep so that they can be emailed to them?” Or, the real clincher, “is there a way to make all orders get inventory immediately allocated to them by bin as well have multiple bins for each item with their own unique quantity?”

Now that I’ve bored you with such detail, my usual answer to requests such as listed above is, “I can do anything for money”. In other words, if the client is willing to commit reasonable programming time to allow me to get the request done, I can do it. It’s my job to make him or her happy and look good to their bosses, creditors and/or auditors.
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Bottom Line

I’m a bottom line guy. I say that because it is one of my favorite expressions. I like to cut to the chase and get to the core of the issue. I like saying it so much that I can use that expression several times in a five minute conversation, which makes you wonder what really is the bottom line. It’s like digging deeper and deeper until you think you finally hit China. My luck, there would be a Chinese man standing upside down holding a shovel with a dumbstruck look on his face saying something in a sing-song like fashion along with the word “America”.

I use the “bottom line” tactic in a negotiating stance. The last time I bought a brand new car was nine years ago which makes me due for another one in a few more years, right? At the time, I went to the dealership loaded with ammunition convinced I wasn’t going to be taken for a sucker. After all, I had done all the necessary research on the Internet and had a good feel for what the exact car I was interested in should cost. Or at least I thought I did.

Like the coach who prepares his own team for a basketball playoff game by figuring which players are going to start on the opposition, I was mentally ready to shake hands with a tall fellow with greased back hair and a somewhat loud sport coat and a patronizing attitude. But, no! Instead, a short kid- okay he was maybe 25, but that’s a kid to me- approaches and shakes my hand and before you know it goes into a sob story about how he is in the military reserve and is waiting for his notice to be sent to Iraq.

“Bottom line- how much is this baby going to cost when you add in all the extras?” I asked “Uh, there are not extras. That’s the price”, he replied. “You wanna take it for a spin?”
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Life is a series of compromises. As a kid, you learn essential things at your own pace such as toilet training, walking, talking and eating and then you go to school and they tell you- like it or not- that you will learn what everyone else learns in the same time period and at the same mental capacity.

Of course, this is not fair to the kid who excels in a specific area and is held back because the teacher cannot deal with thirty individuals at each their own pace. In second grade, we had a “Think and Do” book which was a workbook full of arithmetic questions and challenges. I found the examples too easy to do and finished them very quickly much to the shock of the teacher. So, she had me go around the room and help all the slowpokes.

The same thing happened twenty years later when I took a course in computer flow charting. Another student and myself- both of us were not coincidentally about ten years older than the other students- had figured out the logic flow for just about the entire workbook we were using. The workbook was written by the instructor herself who admitted that there were some factual errors. She said if anyone could find them, she would be grateful. Naturally, yours truly found them all. She had me help her teach the logically challenged ones in the class and took over for her one week while she was having a hysterectomy. No kidding!
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