Mr. Coverup

I recently decided it was time to have a piece or two of furniture re-upholstered. I called Arnold, whom I’ve known socially for more than thirty years and invited him to come by, look over the situation and make an offer.
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Normal, Stupid or Jerk?

Ask me to use “normal”, “stupid”, and “jerk” all in one sentence and I’ll say, “normally, I come across at least one stupid jerk a day.” This past Friday, I had the “pleasure” of experiencing more than the usual quota. Permit me to explain:

I live in a 96-unit condo building alongside a major thoroughfare that derives its traffic from the off ramp of the expressway two blocks west of my building. One block east of me is another, much larger
condo complex. My co-owners are the poor cousins and those to the east are the enviable rich ones. They not only have 24 hour doorman service but apparently enough clout so that when the building was built, a stop light was put at the driveway to the complex to make it convenient for the snobs to be able to make a left turn onto the street and go west.

On the other hand, my building has two entrance/exits to the street spanning both sides of the north-side outdoor parking lot and smaller eastern parking area. Our village would never allow for too many stoplights so close to each other, so for those of us trying to get out of the lot and make a left turn onto the busy street, it is pot luck. We have to wait for traffic to subside and sometimes be daring. Those of use, such as yours truly, who habitually use the east driveway to get onto the street have the comfort of taking advantage of a safety island for left turns. If traffic going west is too heavy while nothing is happening on the eastbound side, we can at least make half the effort and get onto the safety island and then wait for the westbound traffic to subside and merge in.

Anyway, Friday morning my car rolls up the indoor lower east garage ramp only to be greeted by eastbound traffic at a total standstill. After waiting a minute or two, I inch my way into it, content to forget about the desire to make a left turn and go westbound. I’m already resolved to the notion of having to go a mile out of my way to finally get my car turned into the intended direction. Even if I tried to just go the one block east to the entrance to our condo neighbors, make a u-turn and take advantage of the stoplight at their driveway, it would not have helped. Other frustrated drivers were not giving up an inch and were blocking any effort at an open path for those at the rich people’s building from making a legally mandate left turn.

As I got closer to ground zero of the cause of this traffic gridlock, it became quite apparent what was occurring. The State of Illinois hands out contracts using taxpayer money to repave streets that don’t need it. You ask how I know that it is a waste? Well, paving the same area three times in six years should be a clue. Worse, they pick the most devastating time of the day to do this work.

They refuse to schedule the work at night because they don’t want to pay a premium for night work as well as fear of their employees getting hit by bad drivers. There is no justification for the first excuse because there should never be a premium paid for working a late shift. In today’s economy, people should be glad to have work. The second excuse is debatable. At night, there is less traffic and it should be more manageable.

I’m not sure if the traffic control workers at the road construction sites are employed by the State or by the contractors who do the work. It doesn’t really matter. Most of the time, they are stupid jerks. (Aha! You were waiting for the tie-in to the title.) Which leads me to first make an observation about this expression:

There used to be a time when being a jerk was synonymous with being stupid. Then, the algorithm changed and one could be stupid or just be a jerk. Jerk became associated with conspiring to be stupid or nasty and not necessarily accidentally. So, if I called you stupid, I understood you could not help yourself. If I called you a jerk, I was confirming that I knew that what you did was intentional, well-thought out and that you would never amount to anything good. But, a stupid jerk! That put someone in a special class. That meant that we all knew that you intentionally did bad by us but you screwed it up and couldn’t even get your evilness accomplished smoothly.

You see, the main corner two blocks east of my building is a diagonal intersect. The road crew decided to repave the left turn lane at the stoplight. In doing so, they closed off the left turn and the left traffic lane, naturally, leaving just the right traffic lane open. However, the stupid jerk traffic control person was holding all cars from pushing into the right lane while the traffic light was green, but letting them inch ahead when it was red. Not only that, but when a dump trump got filled with torn-away pavement and needed to go move it to a landfill, she held up traffic once again while the light was green, instead of waiting until it was red. This kept all eastbound traffic sitting in essentially the same spot for more than ten minutes. And, as I mentioned earlier, this same left turn lane had been repaved twice earlier in recent memory. It did not need another facelift.

The other encounter with a stupid jerk that day also had to do with being behind the wheel. On my way back from visiting a client as well as taking care of a couple of errands, I decided to take a different route back home fearful of being exposed to more roadwork. As I approached the major intersection two blocks west of my building from the north, the car just ahead of me pulled into the left turn lane as I would do to be able to go east towards my building. The driver- at this point sex unknown- stopped in the left turn lane instead of moving up into the intersection to be ready to finish the turn as oncoming traffic cleared when the light changed. Sixteen year old kids just getting their first drivers license know this. But this stupid jerk sat there with a good thirty seconds more left on the green light and was content to wait until the next change to green. Obviously my honking did nothing to budge the driver, but it was a healthy outlet for me.

As soon as the next green light came along with the obligatory left turn accommodation, the car in front proceeded as well mine did after it. Since the street we were both now on was a two-lane road and the car ahead of mine was moving along slowly, I had two thoughts in my head- one was that the driver was ancient and to hold my tongue while the other was to quickly go into the other lane and beat a path around it. As I came along side the driver, I quickly noticed it was a woman probably in her thirties or forties, yakking away on a small phone she held to her ear. Stupid freaking jerk! There, I said it. Thank you.

By the way, the next day, as I was taking a long walk to a planned destination on the street around 7:30am, I saw that the road gang was back out, this time repainting white lines at the diagonal intersection two blocks east. Once again, surreptitiously, the traffic control person decided to stop cars while they had a green light. I smirked, continuing my eastbound walk. two blocks and at least five minutes later, I turned back to see that the easterly traffic was still at a standstill and thought I heard honking.

As Rodney King once said, “Can’t we all get along?” No!

Life’s Progress Display

Why can’t real life be like downloading files where you get to see a progress display of how far it has gone, how much more to go and an estimated time it will take to get you to the promised land? I’m not talking about the big picture where you want to know how many more years left to your life. Even if you were at that age eligible to join AARP and were told that you have another 30 to 40 years yet on this planet, you’d start doing the countdown, selling all your assets and going into a deep funk. No one wants to know when it is time to check out to that big condo in the sky.

I’m talking about those of us who are members of the Patience Haters Club. In order to stay cool, calm and collected at all times, we need artificial pacifiers that help us get through the rough moments of not knowing. Like pushing the button for the elevator and not seeing an indicator that lets me know what floor it is on and being able to watch it inch the indicator light towards my floor number. Or being able to quickly determine if the elevator that stops on my floor is going up or down.

Or sitting at a stop light that seems to be out of rhythm with traffic flow as I keep looking at the cross light waiting for the damn green to switch to yellow as notice to get ready to ram my foot on the accelerator. Or sitting on the phone listening to an innocuous presentation of loud and unappealing music while waiting for the customer service person to pick up. The better companies have systems that inform you that you are third in the queue with an estimated wait of two minutes. Even if it is lying through its robotic teeth, at least you have something to hang your hat on. The wait doesn’t seem so bad knowing that you haven’t been forgotten.

I’m one to rely on expiration dates on food labels at the grocery store. I will not buy anything past an expiration date even if it is discounted. My doctor says that I can take aspirin type pills sitting in the medicine cabinet several months past expiration. Easy for him to say- he ain’t taking it.

It would probably be the best for both parties involved if they could publish expiration dates on relationships. When you start dating someone seriously, it may be a good idea for both to put in writing how long it is going to last, including the marriage. This way, it won’t come as a shock and psychological issue to deal with when it ends in break up or divorce. A progress display would be great if it could then indicate “four months into it, three months left.” And if something occurs that was not planned, it would inform you, “relationship has either crashed or frozen. Please reboot your life.”

While going to school as a kid, you constantly receive progress displays. You know how far you’ve gone and what you have left to learn. However, no one tells you the truth about what to do after you’ve finished school. That’s like getting off the elevator and not knowing where you want to go. The truth is that education is a lifetime process. The progress display never ends until you do. No expiration date printed on the label of getting schooled about life.

And so far I haven’t found a reason to join AARP. Maybe it’s because I still see that the arrow has not reached the downside yet.

A Jobs Half Done

Steven Jobs was an Albert Einstein type guy that shows up every fifty years or so relative to where the rest of us stand on the ladder of brilliance. There are social commentators who state that he changed our culture three times. Once for the computer, another for listening to music and the third for how we talk on the phone.

Having probably lived longer as an adult than the people who made these profound judgments, I’d have to disagree with this trifecta assessment. For one, his contribution to how we use a computer is not so singular. Jobs is the guy who taught us to look at things spatially rather than linearly by adapting the mouse and iconic graphical screen for the computer. The jury is still out on how pragmatic that is in a work environment where the majority of the application interaction is for accounting and database retrieval. If the purpose of a computer is for playing games and looking at pictures and videos on the Internet, you could make a case.

The true innovator will be the one who makes an all-in-one I-pad type device that integrates business apps, voice and video, chatting, television and radio into a seamless and less obtrusive communicator. The I-pad is clumsy to work with unless you are adept at and satisfied with dragging your finger all over the screen. Okay, maybe it is a generational thing. I concede.

What about listening to music? Again, maybe this old fogey is the not the guy to ask but I haven’t had a transistor radio in years. The clock radio in my bedroom is used only for a few minutes in the morning as I get dressed while I listen to the news. At night, it lulls me to sleep listening to old-time radio shows. In the car, I listen to political talk shows, news and sports conversations. Once in a while if the news is bad along with the local sports teams, I flip to FM and dial in on the fine arts station. No, I’m not the guy who cares what can be downloaded from a podcast. I got other ways to waste my time.

As for talking on the phone- I’ve had a cell phone since they first came out 20 years ago or so. It was a Motorola flip phone that was big and bulky I still have a flip phone- obviously more trim and better featured- and do not pay for a data service option to receive and send text messages. It’s a phone for holding conversations, dammit and not to write notes. I have an email program on my computer, duh!

In baseball, they say that even if you go one for three, that it’s a pretty good batting average. For my team, I see Mr. Jobs with a .333 batting average at best. Okay, I’m not with it and out of touch. I was waiting for Steven to finally come out with something that others of my ilk and vintage and I can relate to. Sadly, we’ll not be able to witness this but hope that one day someone else will pick up and carry on his mantle.

Sharing is For Losers?

Apparently sharing is for losers. Let me explain. Marriott Corporation acknowledges that they took a big hit in corporate-wide profits to the tune of 179 million dollars for this past third quarter of 2011. This compares to 83 million the previous year at this time. The brunt of the loss is due to their timeshare division. The funny thing about it is that they still consider it a positive piece of the pie, so much so that they are rolling off their timeshare division into a separate division.

A Marriott spokesperson says that timesharing is a good thing to be in. If you don’t know what it is all about, I’ll explain, otherwise skip the next couple of paragraphs (yipes!): Marriott owns a lot of resort property in, well- resort areas. The type of locations you head to when you expect a snow blizzard to hit your town in the next four or five days. Let’s say you want to make a habit out of going to resort areas each and every year. It may be too expensive a proposition to purchase a second home as a vacation site, especially if you intend to use it only a handful of weeks a year.

Time-share operators come to the rescue. They sell you a time slot to use a two or three or whatever room suite for the number of weeks you wish on specific days in the calendar. But you have to commit to them. Even if you skip a given slotted period, you have to cough up the dough. Some operators who have resorts all over the place let you swap with other users during your coincidental slotted time if both parties agree. Others purposely let you choose a different location each time. You are just committing to advance booking and agreement to pay whether you go or not.

This all sounds good if your business is doing well or your job is secure. However, this past few years with a not-so-good economy, many people have cut down on doing time sharing. After all, if they cannot pay for the mortgage on their primary residence, how can they even think of taking a vacation?

But that’s neither here nor there. The big thing is how we are now at the point where we can discuss a ridiculously large figure such as 179 million in the same sentence with the word ‘loss’ and the company under discussion does not flinch. If I read correctly, Marriott’s acknowledges doling out in shares and dividends to stockholders over 1.4 billion dollars!

I mentioned the other day to my nephew how in 1978 I was proud of myself because I had a gross weekly income of 80 dollars three and a half years out of college. In 1982, the number jumped to more than 400 dollars a week. My 27 year old nephew was not impressed. He said that the five hundredfold increase was no big deal because of the major bout of inflation in the very early 80’s just as Ronald Reagan was taking office. Here I am getting a lesson in economics from a kid who would not be born until a couple of years after 1982 and he was schooling me on the impact of how much money I had to spend compared to previous years.

In 1976, while making that 80 smackers a week less taxes, I went out and bought an AMC Hornet automobile. Go ask your grandfather about that car. Every time it rained or the car rolled over a deep puddle, I had to wait until the wires dried out under the hood so that the engine would start after coming to an idle position. It cost me $3600 and I didn’t need a co-signer on the three year loan. Not bad for a 24 year old punk. I’m sure the guy who sold me the car at the dealership was laughing for three weeks after that deal.

In 1981, I bought an Oldsmobile (remember that line of cars? No? Go ask your grandfather again.) Omega, with its front-wheel drive, digital dashboard, air-conditioning and rear-defroster. I don’t remember what I paid for it but I can assure you that it was not five or even 3 times as much as the Hornet. So, please go tell my nephew that inflation did not affect me as much as he thinks it should have.

That is part of the problem with making any money in today’s economy so that we can go out and buy into those time-share deals and give Marriott a chance to show profit for a change. There is no inflation – or at least that’s what they want you to think- so they have an official excuse to keep the interest rates to practically nothing. When we had that crazy inflation in the early 1980’s, we were getting close to 10% interest on many money market accounts. But, the Feds don’t want us to share and share alike.

I stay at relatives when I go on vacation anyway.

Bad Timing in a Nobel Cause

By Larry Teren

The other day they announced three winners of the Nobel Prize in the area of physiology medicine, specifically on how immune systems work. It was bad timing for one of the winners. Ralph Steinman had died three days earlier of pancreatic cancer at the age of 68.  Nobel Prize rules stipulate that they do not award prizes to dead people. However, in this case they made an exception because, frankly, they made the announcement before they were made aware of his demise. They decided to not renege. Continue reading “Bad Timing in a Nobel Cause”

The Collaborator

By Larry Teren

We live in a divisive world culture today where everything seems to be evaluated in terms of black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. There is little room for compromise. This putting of things into such perspective has shaped our hero worshiping. Celebrities whom we cherish can quickly become vilified if we disagree with their politics.

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Loyalty is a Two-Way Street

Recently the manager of the Chicago White Sox decided to part ways with the organization he coached for eight years. He pushed the issue in the last week of the season. Rather than wait until it was over and then press his demands, he made for a disruptive situation. Apparently, it was his goal to leave if certain conditions were not met because he had an ace up his sleeve, or maybe next to the lineup card in his back pocket. He knew that there was an offer on the table from the Florida Marlins to become their new manager. In fact, it had been reported that the Florida people begged Chicago to release the manager the previous year so that he could switch organizations.

But, my disdain is not for the ex-manager of the Chicago White Sox. He did the smart thing. He knew he was being forced out regardless. He played his hand to his advantage and got what he wanted. This is the realization of the American Dream. Never mind the fact that the ex-manager was born and raised in Venezuela.

The aggrandizement comes with players on the Chicago Cubs who decided to make some public statements as reported in one of the daily newspapers. Supposedly, the third baseman who had been with the club for eight and a half years expressed a desire to play for Florida and its new manager. This was said before the season was over. When someone in baseball management expresses desire about a player on another team signing with them next year while the current year is still in play, that is called tampering and the team is subject to a fine. But, I guess it is not so the other way around.

What made it worse is that the third baseman allegedly said that he expected the Cubs to officially extend to him to play out his option year at the agreed-upon 16 million dollars. He said it was a formality so that in case he decided to not accept the option and defect, they would then get compensation for him signing as a free agent elsewhere. But, what if he decided to grab the offer? Who wouldn’t want to grab a new one year contract for 16 million? Apparently, not him because he wanted a multi-year contract. I doubt if anyone would give him anywhere near that yearly figure for an extended period of time due to his age, knack for getting injured, and the fact that he was not a top-tier quality player. Okay, there are always the New York Yankees rocking the boat- but they have a Mr. Rodriguez playing third base.

There is also the first baseman who played in Chicago for just this past year. He is a self-confessed .230 hitter with the ability to mix a lot of strikeouts with 25 to 30 home runs a year along with half-decent defensive capability. No one else wanted him at his asking price of 10 million a year but the Cubs got him when he agreed to defer half the pay to the following year when he could be already gone to another team.

The first baseman also expressed a keen desire to play for Florida next year. This after he had several times expressed how he wanted to die a Cub. But, that was before Mr. Guillen was hired by Florida. Again, what irks a baseball fan is when a player makes these comments to newspaper reporters before the season is over.

I would love to hear that these two ballplayers made statements off the record or were misquoted or suffer from short term memory lapses. Anything. In the meantime, these are the reasons that as I get younger, I lose loyalty and adoration to professional athletes.