Category: Uncategorized

Some Rules to Keep Those Crowded Democratic Debates Moving

debatefullBeen thinking a bit about the challenge of 10 candidates at a time trying to make their best pitches during the two-night Democratic version of “Survivor.”

The combination of binge-watching “Veep” and lack of REM sleep conspired to create this imaginary scenario of how it might go.

NBC Moderator: Welcome to the first Democratic presidential debates for the 2020 election cycle. Since we have so many unknowns, er, candidates on the stage mixed in with a few old guys, er, elder statesman, we’ll have to set down a few rules to make this work.

First, to save time, we’re boiling your names down to one or two quick syllables. For examples, you, from South Bend, you’ll be addressed as Butt, while long, tall, spastic hand-waving guy from Texas will be Butt-O. See the difference? Makes sense, right? There won’t be a doubt whom we’re addressing. The former Veep will be identified as Bye and the other old guy from Vermont will be Burn. The senators from California and Massachusetts will be recognized as Harry and Tonto respectively. Sorry if we seem disrespectful at times, but this is television and we don’t care.

As for the others whose polls barely show a pulse, we’re just going to address all of you as Who? Just jump in if you have a thought, but be prepared to do so only when we’re in commercial. That’s simply to keep things moving and because, again, we don’t care.

Some of you won’t like the names we’re assigned you but let’s face it, for at least half of you, it doesn’t matter because most Americans don’t know who you are anyway, so go with it and enjoy your 15 seconds of face time in between ramblings by the front runners, aka, those sucking up all the donations, airtime and are prominent enough to earn an obnoxious nickname from President Trump.

We’ll start with opening statements. Due to the number of candidates and time constraints please limit your statements to a 20-second pre-written soundbite you hope will go viral. 

From there our panel, chosen from recent visitors to the Bronx Zoo, will fire off piercing questions. Each of you will be limited to either two-word responses or one hand gesture. Rebuttals are allowed, but, again, due to time restraints they will be limited to the following choices:  “Huh,” “Uh uh,” “Well, yeah, but,” or simply a moment of arched eyebrows or a tight grimace.

At the end, each candidate will be afforded a closing statement of 12 seconds or less. That pretty much kills the idea of parenthetical thoughts or tangents and gets us off the air on time because no one in this great country wants to miss even a second of the popular NBC series “Filthy Rich Cattle Drive.” which, you have to admit, is genius programming following this useless cattle call.

We realize not every candidate will have to time to fully flesh out his or her talking points but then again, that’s not why you’re watching, right? You’re here for the inevitable embarrassing screw-up or pantsing of one candidate by another frustrated when his or her arched eyebrow rebuttal was laughed off as an incomplete response.

So if everyone is ready, let’s to this thing! Time’s wasting!

Advertisements

In Defense of Us Older White Guys

biden_token

Ever since Joe Biden jumped into the POTUS race I’ve heard a lot of talk to the tune of “oh crap, just an older white guy.” So I got to thinking. I’m not as old as Amtrak Joe but I’m chugging along in my late 60’s which means I’m probably considered an older white guy too– among younger white guys and their ilk.

Politics aside, I’m here to defend us older white guys…and even older non-white guys, because, well, they may have a shade of white, on top of their heads or in their facial hair. So we’re all brothers in ageism, right?

I read that some younger workers are unhappy with us older guys because many of us are still working–gumming up the corporate ladder for the young pups who want a bigger office and bigger paychecks. I actually retired from full-time work three years ago, but I work a couple of freelance gigs because, in both cases, those businesses came to me seeking someone with, uh, seasoning, aka, actual skills and experience. Not one of them said, “even though you’re an older white guy, we’ll hire you anyway.” Or, “even though we probably have enough older white guys on staff who we wish would finally hang it up so we can have more lower-paid younger white guys on the payroll, we’ll make an exception for you.”

Nope, as I said. They reached out to me, which is extremely flattering and not bad for the self-confidence–especially when my birth certificate blares, “Hey Ed! You’re a freakin’ older white guy!”

I like to think they came to me because they appreciate what I’ve accomplished during my career in journalism and corporate communications, along with what skills I have that might be helpful to them. In both cases, that’s exactly what they told me, and that’s a pretty nice feeling. I wasn’t ready to be a full-time retiree anyway. I ran into another sort-of retired journalist yesterday I hadn’t seen in a long time and we compared notes about freelancing–not for the money, but because it keeps our gray matter, mattering, and because what we do is just so much fun. “It’s impossible to just hit that off switch,” he said. So true. You just don’t have to slam that switch all the way to 11, as we did during our full-time work days.

There’s a lot to be said about institutional knowledge and overall experience. Aside from the obvious, they can provide valuable context and judgment along with a few tricks that  could be helpful to developing younger workers early in their career journeys.

One thing I love about working with younger people is it works both ways. I learn a lot from them too and that keeps me sharp and current. They also know all the good coffee places that aren’t Starbucks and I act like I’m hip by putting on my best Billie Eilish voice, going around the office telling the Millenials and Gen Z’s “I’m a Bad Guy!” billiee

So don’t write off us older white guys. Sure, it’s great, and entirely necessary, to bring along younger talent, but we’re still in the game. Maybe not playing the field, but we have enough in us to at least be designated hitters who can still sock a homer once in awhile.

Now I’m not advocating for Joe. But I’m also not Biden my time. Just watch out. At age 67, I still play ice hockey with much younger hot shots every week. I’m by far the oldest guy in the game. I’m a bit slower than those “kids” in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, but I’m still a pain in the ass and even score once in awhile. Yeah, this older white guy is still in game, and don’t even try to send me to the bench…I can still yank your balls with my stick.

Tearing Down Re-Building

detroitchampdroughtfreep

The other day I got a ping on my phone from that it has now been 11 years since any Detroit major league sports team had won a championship. There are several reasons for a team’s inability to win the big prize: bad luck, better opponents and, ah, yes…they’re re-building.

What does that mean exactly? The prevailing definition is the team must suffer some fallow years while young, inexperienced players learn the ropes, gain some seasoning and maybe one day will develop into key elements of a championship team.

SPORTS-BBA-TIGERS-YANKEES-SUSPENSIONS-MSWhat does it really mean?  It means your team will suck for an extended period of time because the owners of the team offloaded talented, but high-priced players to avoid busting through the salary cap or simply to save some dough, leaving less expensive over-the-hill scrubs or not ready for the show minor leaguers filling out the roster. Then management crosses their fingers hoping a couple of those kids can quickly morph from newbie to MVP just long enough to win it all. Then it starts all over again. The kids become talented men who know how to play, want either want bigger contracts or test the free agent waters for even more money, so the owners dump ‘em and it’s time to, uh, re-build again.

All this time the tone-deaf owners expect us to pay inflated, major league prices to attend minor-league level games and then wonder why the stands are so empty the vendors can be seen huddling in corners mumbling to themselves, “what am I gonna do with all these goddam hot dogs?” Easy. Beg the owners to stage more “Bark in the Park” nights when hungry bowsers will gladly relieve them of their unsold sausages.

Bottom line is, they’re not doing it right. The whole idea of the minor league system is to constantly develop younger talent that is ready for the big time as the veterans begin to falter or retire. Other positions are filled in through savvy trades and sensible free agent signings. The whole process  should be a gradual and constant but that’s not what’s happening.

buttsolicitorsI often wondered what would happen if other businesses were run this way. Say..in a law firm. A successful firm is stacked with highly skilled, highly paid attorneys who are winning criminal cases and multi-million dollar judgements. The place is flush. The partners are rolling in it. All is good. But at some point the partners realize they could be keeping more money by off-loading their highest paid lawyers and replace them with green rookies straight out of law school. So they pull the trigger. All in the name of, uh, rebuilding! Uh oh. Now the firm is losing cases left and right and their biggest clients have abandoned them. The partners are forced to sell their summer and winter homes, yachts and Bentleys. Despite this precipitous drop in performance, the firm seeks new clients at the hourly rate previously charged when they were flush with experienced barristers…but there are few takers. The firm’s shingle is dangling by a thread. Now..if only they had brought along young, promising rainmakers all along who could gain experience and skill so they were ready when the older attorneys retired or moved on, they’d still be raking in the fees and no vacation homes or ridiculous luxury items would be sacrificed.

It seems like such a simple and logical way of doing things. If you keep the pipeline filled with a constant flow of developing talent, you’ll never have to re-build..because all along you’ve been building.

Peeling Back the Sheepskins

eg69soccer

Ah…it’s graduation season and the youth of America is chomping at the bit to snag that sheepskin and move on to the next chapter in life–whether it’s college, a career or rearranging the parents’ basement for long-term mooching in lieu of revenue-producing endeavors.

My favorite graduation was when I was sprung loose from high school. It was 1969 and not one of the 1,735 graduates at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, NY could swear on a Bible they didn’t, at one time, stupidly say to someone, “heh heh..I’m in the Class of ’69.” Yeah..we were Beavis and Butthead years before the animated slackers manifested the description of the show in its disclaimer as “dumb, crude, ugly, thoughtless, sexist, self-destructive fools.” Yay MVB Class of ’69!

Anyway, with 1,735 graduates that’s a lot of bored teenagers to schlep on and off the stage as their names are called, but Mom Nature did us a solid. Our graduation was held outside in a park. Rain threatened and the thick, gray clouds overhead promised to make that threat real. With that in mind the principal and others wisely decided to can the roll call and stage/perp walk. They referenced the rainy forecast and gleefully announced, “in light of the expected storm…you’re all graduated! Move your tassel over and head for one of the picnic tables where your diploma is sitting in alphabetized piles. Find yours and run! Congratulations…and get going! It’s gonna pour!”

Graduation in 30 minutes flat. Four years of hard work ends in a 15 second sprint. Always wished I was tall enough to make the track team.

My next favorite graduation came many years later when I was working for CNN as Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent. The great staff in my bureau discovered that in the small Upper Peninsula town of Calumet the local high school’s graduation would be feature not one, or even two, valedictorians….but 8! So we arranged to travel up there on a little puddle jumper that would get us part of the way up there to Houghton, Michigan, then drive the rest of the way. We hit the ground running once we arrived, shot profiles and interviews with each of the 8 honored students then covered the evening graduation, which took a long time because there were 8 valedictory speeches! It was late by the time we were done, but then we had to pull an all-nighter to get the piece written and edited in time to make the morning shows.

This, of course, meant the creative process being fueled by junk food and beer and our tired and cranky, and beer-infused shooter constantly harping on me to get the damn script done. “You done with the effin’ script yet? I’m tired and we’re running out of beer!” Yup…got it done, he shook off the buzz and got it done and fed to Atlanta in time to make air.  I think it turned out pretty well. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I would have loved to see what would have happened, though, if they had held it outside that night. Looked like rain.

 

 

Worth the 53-year Wait–A 12-String Dream Come True

edrick.jpgI’d been dreaming of this day since some time around 1966. Please be patient. The yarn will take a little while. I was 14. Lots of pimples, skinny, awkward, but like millions of others like me, infatuated with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Byrds. Oh…the Byrds. Jim McGuinn’s granny glasses, urgent vocals and that damn 12-string Rickenbacker guitar that made sounds never before heard. Chiming, jangling..think “Mr. Tambourine Man and “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Those opening notes that instantly announced what was to come and sucked you in and sold so much wax. As soon as the first notes rung in you jammed the volume of your transistor radio and did not give one shit if the kid sitting next to you in the library was cramming for finals. The truth is, that kid instantly forgot about physics and got lost in the ringing of the Rickenbacker’s 12-strings as only McGuinn could command them.

I had only begun playing the guitar a year earlier after years of suffering with an instrument that was popular pre-British invasion…the accordion. My mother encouraged my brother and I to play the squeeze box because the right hand played the same as the right hand on a piano. But we lived in a 440 square foot apartment in Queens and there wasn’t room for one, so the accordion would have to do. I actually played it in my first garage band in junior high school called “The Scenics.” It was a strange combination of my accordion, a guy on the sax, a drummer who only owned a snare drum with no stand, so he propped it on a chair and a chubby guy with a clarinet, rounding out possibly the worst band in history. We decided to play for our music class because you could get extra credit for performing. We played “Moon River,” but then the guy on the sax went nuts, left the stage, walked up to the most buxom young lady in our class and started playing “The Stripper.” Our teacher just muttered, “oh my,” then refused to give us the extra credit we definitely did not deserve.

Shortly after that my mother began saving trading stamps. Not S&H, which were the most popular back then, but the upstart Plaid Stamps. Once she accumulated 10 books she cashed them in for a nylon string acoustic guitar. It came with a little pink pamphlet that showed you how to play a few basic chords and contained the charts for tunes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “She’ll Be Comin’ “Round the Mountain.” Well..as any guitar player knows, you can play a ton of tunes with just a few chords in your quiver. That’s when my friends and I started hanging around the neighborhood music store called Lee Benson’s. It was owned and run by a wedding and bar mitzvah band trumpeter Lee Benson who’s real name was Lee Lebenson. Thin, balding, mustachioed,  very mellow and very patient. Teenagers with dreams of becoming rock stars hung around the store, bullshitted with Lee about music, and bought tons of picks, strings and sheet music so we could learn to play some of the hits of the day. Here’s the sheet music for “Revolution,” “We Can Work it Out,” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”

sheetmusic Whenever you paid for the music Lee would smile and say “great tune, great tune.”

Mannys-Music-Music-Row-300x186Hang onto those thoughts of Lee Benson for a moment while I skip to the next chapter of this tale. My friends and I often hopped a bus and subway to catch a Knicks or Rangers game at the old Madison Square Garden, about a mile up 8th Avenue from where it is now. We’d arrive early then walk around the area and invariably ended up on 48th Street near Times Square–New York’s “Music Row,” so-named because of the strip of large music stores. There was Rudy’s and Sam Ash, and, my favorite, Manny’s. Ah..Manny’s. You never knew who would be just sitting on a stool just jamming away. Anyone who was anyone in the music biz bought their stuff at Manny’s. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones…everyone. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a magical place and there, in the front window was that Rickenbacker. Only moments before a guy with a 12-string Rick was playing the opening to the Beatles’s “If I Needed Someone” with a little crowd around him in one of the aisles. What I wouldn’t do to own a Rickenbacker. But man, the price tag dashed my dreams–$365. Holy crap! With an allowance of a buck a week, I’d be in Depends before I could even think of owning one. I was obsessed but also realistic. It just wasn’t gonna happen. Ever.

But the next time I headed over to Lee Benson’s it looked like he had a Rick in his window. What!?! It had that same fireglow finish, acoustic slit in the body and….and….the brand name “Ideal” on the headstock! WTF? I immediately starting quizzing Benson about it and he said it was a “quality recreation” of a Rickenbacker at a fraction of the price–$75. HUH? In reality, a Japanese knockoff. Smart salesman that he was, Benson locked in on my obvious infatuation, took the fake Rick from the window and set it in my hands. I started playing. Not bad..not bad at ALL! Now, where was I gonna get 75 bucks. Well…I had 80 in my bank account. Just enough to cover the price and the tax. After a spirited spat with my mother about cleaning out my account for a guitar, she gave in and I took it home. Smart guy Benson even wrote “Rick” on the receipt. Such a smooth bullshitter he was. My friends oohed and ahhed and I swung that thing like it was a real Rick. idealrick

I joined another lousy garage band called The Purple Perception. Yup..we sucked but we practiced in our drummer’s basement which always attracted his hot, blond next door neighbor sisters to come over and watch. We were too awkward and stupid to get anywhere with them but at least it was an audience. They would be our only audience because we also sucked too badly to get any real gigs. Yup..we broke up after a few months.

I took that bogus Rick with me everywhere. Played it day and night, hauled it up to college, tortured my roommate and it’s been with me ever since. It still actually looks and sounds pretty freakin’ good. But it wasn’t a real Rickenbacker. Over the years I added a Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster to my collection, as well as an electric bass, and acoustic 6 and 12 string guitars–along with a set of drums. But no Rickenbacker, which now would cost more than $3,000. I did well in my career and could certainly afford one, but just never felt I should spend that much money on a guitar. Until this weekend. I found what was billed as a “used” 12-string Rickenbacker on the Guitar Center store website.

realrick.jpgIt was at the store up in Saginaw. I contacted the store and the guy told me the fellow that traded it in only played it twice, was really more of a collector and just didn’t want it any more. I drove the hour and 20 minutes up I-75 to Saginaw to check it out and it was in mint condition. For the first time in my life I laid my hands on a real Rick–a 330 12-string..the same one the late Tom Petty played and Jim McGuinn had sometimes used. I plugged it in to the Vox amp in the store and started shaking. I took a pick out of my pocket and started playing the distinctive intro to “Ticket to Ride,” then “Mr. Tambourine Man,” then “Here Comes the Sun” and even the riff from Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise.” I looked over at my son who was just smiling a smile that only comes from one’s senses being pleased…and maybe being a little embarrassed by his old man trying to, but failing miserably, to look a little cool. I asked him if I should buy the guitar. All he could say was “you HAVE to have it!” I now I do.

It’s an almost lifelong dream come true and a lesson that no matter how long you defer a dream, it’s never too late to try to bring it to fruition. Whether it’s a career goal, athletic accomplishment, educational attainment…never just shrug it off, because no matter how long it takes, it’s worth the effort. Never stop dreaming and never stop trying to make them come true. I’m gonna go play that Rick now..the real one..the real dream come true. 

Kitsch and Tell

viddlersexterior

Thought you might like to know I recently bought a blue thing that’ll keep my sunglasses from sinking in the river…and a kazoo. These were not impulse items. Indeed, I had considered both for some time but never had the ambition to search among many stores, or online, for either. But I found them them mere yards apart at an old emporium in East Aurora, New York. It’s called Viddlers 5 and 10 with the subtitle, “you never know what you’ll find there.”

viddlerstuffLet’s clear up something first. The 5 and the 10 do not mean nickel or dime. I found nothing there that costs pennies, but I suppose you could make the case that you do need at least 100 pennies to make a buck and most items there cost several of those.

Unlike the 5 and 10-cent stores I remember as a kid, Viddlers doesn’t have a tank of homeless goldfish for sale or a lunch counter serving up malts, BLTs or Bromo Seltzers.

Vidlers bozoWhat it does have is the luscious aroma of old wood-planked floors that squeak with every step, a million little tchochkes begging to collect dust in your home, lawn art, pots and pans, board games, paint, back scratchers, a billion types of candy and other sweets, books, magnets for your refrigerator with a picture of the store, (bought one of those too) and silly signs.

childrensignI love the one that says, “Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten.” No one actually buys them, but if you wanted to, Viddlers has ‘em for you.

 

How about a dopey hat that looks like a cheeseburger….or a bison? Might be a hit at the synagogue where every other guy just sports a little round yarmulke? I think bisons are kosher, no?hamburgerhat

Then there’s the toothpick bird. Got something caught in your teeth? Touch the birdie the right way and it coughs up a handy toothpick. I can only hope Viddlers finds the floss flounder one day.

toothpickbirdWhen visiting Viddlers it’s important to check out every one of its many rooms and every corner in each room because that’s where some of the best stuff is hiding, like a some odd sized pan or garden gargoyle.

kazooI found my kazoo begging for attention on a lower shelf. It competed against two other kazoos, but I settled on mine because I liked the box and color. I wanted to try it out, as you would with any musical instrument, but I was told it’s not cool to slobber over something you may not decide to buy. So I took a chance and gambled two bucks it would mesh with my particular playing style.

The blue thing for my sunglasses was hanging near a bunch of toys, and not anywhere near sunglasses, which I’m not even sure Viddlers sells. I need this thing because I’m always afraid my sunglasses will fall off my head and into the drink when I’m kayaking or attempting to walk across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. Now I can enter water with full confidence that no matter what unfortunate circumstances befall me, my sunglasses won’t sink.

sunglassesViddlers hasn’t always been called Viddlers. According to its website, “Robert S. Vidler, Sr. opened “The Fair Store” in the quaint village of East Aurora. Family legend has it that his mother-in-law complained of having to go all the way to Buffalo (16 miles distant) to buy a spool of thread – and Robert saw the opportunity for a new, local business.”

He changed the name to Viddlers 15 years later.

This was technically my second visit to Viddlers. My first didn’t last long. We intended to stop in on our way home to Michigan from my in-laws place in  Rochester, N.Y. East Aurora, which is near Buffalo, is way off the route but my in-laws had enthusiastically recommended, so we took the detour. Hmm..plenty of parking in the back. Good start. Uh oh…door locked. It was Memorial Day. Sign informed us Viddlers not open on Memorial Day. Bad ending. So now it’s a year later and we avoided all holidays and tried again. This time there was still plenty of parking, but many of the spaces were taken…and the door was open.

We may go back to Viddlers again some day. I do like corn on the cob and ribs. I hope the toothpick bird is still available.