Friday, November 28, 2008

481 Black Friday

481 Black Friday

Never much cared for that term. It had and has overtones of gloom to it. But the big question this year is "will Black Friday really be black?"

Probably not.

The cash flow will be there. How can it not? But will there be enough to push our money-losing merchants into the black?

Thanksgiving morning, here comes the local paper. It's bigger and fatter than your normal Sunday edition with all the ads and the special sections and pullouts and wrap-arounds.

Best Buy opened at 5 this morning. But you could get coupons for the "door busters" at three. And some of those door busters were bustier than anyone could imagine. Really powerful computers for under $500. Really nice flat screen TVs at about the price of a fill up at Exxon. That kind of thing.

JC Penney opened at 3:30 in the morning. 3:30! John Cash Penney would rotate in his grave if someone could figure out a way to tell him what "his" store was doing. Penney's let no grass grow under its feet. The other majors opened at either five or six. Lazy bums!

While John Cash Penney rotates in his grave, Solomon Boscov is rotating as well. Solly started a chain of department stores in East Nowhere, PA about 100 years ago. Unlike Penney's, they're still family owned. Also unlike Penney's, they're in chapter eleven and waiting for the rest of the shoes to fall.

And there's Sam Klein, also in his grave. Sam's probably laughing. He beat the 21st Century rush by going out of business well ahead of the curve.

Alexander Farkas would be another grave spinner. But Alexanders turned itself from a cheap department store into a very lucrative real estate company. Pretty smart. Or damned lucky. And you can add Robert Hall, Howard Clothes and Crawford's to the list.

The list of stores that beat the deadline for bankruptcy is endless. Kaufmann's, A&S, Orbach's, Korvette, Altman's, Wannamakers, Bamburger's. All were ahead of their time. Oh, and the guy down the street who ran Jack's Hardware or Barrow's Music or The Shoe Parlor.

Then, there's the ad for the National Association of Domestic Automakers. They're telling us to buy cars. That's fine. You need a car, go buy a car. But maybe they should stop calling themselves "NADA." En espanol, "nada" means "nothing."

And maybe they should re-name the day "Bleak Friday."

But first, go out and help Best Buy and JC Penney stay afloat.



Shrapnel:

--If you're squeamish, don't read this riddle: What's the one thing you don't want to see happen during the Obama administration? Biden getting sworn in.

--Barbara Bush has an ulcer. That's not surprising. If you had a kid like that, you'd have an ulcer, too.

--The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was on CBS this year instead of the usual NBC. There was thought it worked that way because a parade without Couric isn't really a parade. But she wasn't there, disappointingly.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

480 Bail Out Wal Mart!

480 Bail Out Wal-Mart!

Alright, so they haven't asked for one. And they don't need one. And they probably never will. But, my right wing-nut readers and listeners, who is more deserving of a bailout thanWal-Mart?

We reward incompetence and misfeasance and malfeasance, why not reward success? We bail out Citi, AIG, the whole banking industry, probably the auto industry and who knows what-all else. So why not throw a few bucks at the most successful company in America and the only store that's doing any business. Shouldn't they get part of the pie?

Think of the benefits to society as a whole. They could expand even faster than they have been. They'll create jobs. They'll be able to afford health insurance for their workers -- real health insurance. They'll be able to squeeze their suppliers a little more gently (a kinder, gentlerWal -Mart, imagine!) They might even be able to afford the shopping cart you always seem to get, the one with the rectangular left front wheel (the right wheels always are perfectly round, making it much easier to turn toward the right wing than the left.)

Rewarding greatness is always better than rewarding failure, which is, so far, what the bailout is.

Of course, we don't just want to throw money at the situation. That would be so, well, public-education/welfare/workfare/food stamps/medicaid of us. We would want a stake in the operation in return for our Generosity of the Proletariat.

When every (legal) inhabitant of America is a shareholder, we'll be a little more careful about dropping candy wrappers on the floor ("was your store clean today?" That's a survey question that pops up often on theWal-Mart credit card keypad. After the bailout it really will BE "your" store.)

We'll be a little more careful about picking up stuff that's spilled in the aisles.

And we'll greet the greeters before they greet us (we're the boss, they're our employees. We should treat them courteously.)

And the dividends! A little check from your Uncle Sam each quarter (yes, we will have two uncle Sams -- the guy in the flag suit and the ghost of Sam Walton.)

Let WaMu and Wachovia fall into the water. Let Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo enjoy their shotgun marriages. Let's put our money where it will do the most good. In a place that sells cheap toilet paper and tomatoes that don't give you horrible diseases and books that pass the Can-You-Read-This-In Church test.

Bail 'em out. There's no time to waste.

Shrapnel:

--There really ARE stores that could use a bailout. But there's something untoward about giving money to Nordstroms or Saks. Long live the peasantry!

--Sometimes when a term gets into wide use, we forget what it means, "bailout" to name one. There's something to remember. Like, when you finish removing the water from the boat, there's still a hole in it.

--Consumer confidence rose this month. That's kind of like the gas gauge. It's all the way up to empty.



I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008.



Monday, November 24, 2008

479 Come Back When You're Legal

479 Come Back When You're Legal

This is all you "have" to read to get the gist of it: Today's music often is the autobiography of someone who hasn't lived long enough to do anything, accompanied by sound effects with a semi musical undertone.

There are lovelorn whose lives flash before their eyes. It's a short flash. Usually, it's a long song. Long and repetitive. Gives you a second, third and fourth time to try to comprehend the lyrics (lyrics is a term of generosity.)

These "vocalists" apparently didn't understand that their role models "Alvin and the Chipmunks" were supposed to be a joke, not a singing style. so they've carriedchipmunkism to a new high.

The only reason Tony Bennett's still selling records is because he's so novel.

In olden days (when a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking,) the words had to say something. Maybe not a very good something. But something. Why? Because you can understand what comes out of Bennett's mouth. Or Al Martino's or even Sinatra's.

If you roll back the musical clock, you can see the roots of this distortion in the 1970s, when disco was king and no one cared what the Bee Gees were singing. That's when falsetto and not-hitting-notes and not-having-notes-to-hit started. After awhile, no one can understand anything.

This may help explain the success of drunken, druggie, anorexic-looking Amy Winehouse. There are actual words and actual power and there is actual diction enough to hear beneath the now-customary raw emotion of what passes for songs.

Modern pop music may also be a reaction to years of stultifying abuse by Broadway composers who's stiffness and artificiality are perfect counterpoint to today's whining falsettos.

Part of the cure is requiring I.D. at the recording studio door -- just like at the bar, the beer joint or the liquor store. No one under 21 admitted with an autobiographical song. If they want to sing Irving Berlin or Puccini or Loretta Lynn, fine. If they wrote it and they're under 21, sorry. Come back when you're legal.



Shrapnel:

--This year's round of Hanukkah tableware is made in China. Startling at first. And then you remember that between the Chinese and the Jews, there are 10-thousand years of plugging along through life -- which makes the juxtaposition of the Star of David and the label "Made in China" a little less unsettling.

--We visited the equivalent of "downtown" in these parts the other Saturday. All the parking lots were full, but the stores in town were empty and there were few people on the streets. Maybe they were all at the football game, or maybe the space ship came down at the right moment and vaporized the drivers and passengers as they walked out of the lot.

--Why do they make you wait forever at the doctor's office but cancel your appointment if you're 15 minutes late? That kind-of says "our time is more valuable than yours." Maybe they're right.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

478 Here Come The Holidays

478 Here Come the Holidays

Ah, soon we will Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing. And we don't even have to sneeze to ask. Get ready for the end-of-year dysfunctional family gatherings. And -- trust this -- they WILL be dysfunctional even if the family is generally amiable and normal, normally.

The Thanksgiving Dinner is a mere preview of later holiday gatherings. But it's kind of like the ice breaker that gets us ready. Some family members will slave in the kitchen for days and be too tired for hunger at dinner time. Funny uncles will arrive in time to make the lives of the small children miserable. And every family has its quiet drunk. He'll sit (it's almost always a "he,") in the best chair in the living room with a pitcher of martinis or a jug of marginal wine and quietly turn some shade between pink and deep red.

The Devout Republican and the Devout Democrat will argue about the latest rumors on who will do what in the incoming Obama administration. The little kids will get cranky. The furnace will shudder and seem ready to shut down on what probably will be the coldest day of the month.

Someone will need, yes need, to see the ball games on TV. The noise from the game will annoy the little kids even more. And the quiet drunk will fall asleep and snore at top volume. Ah, the roar of the snore and of the crowd. All this goes on as people filter into the dining room to eat.

The kids don't want to sit at the "kids' table." The adults get confused by the passing of a zillion plates back and forth. There will be a dispute about the light meat and the dark meat. And everyone will praise the cook(s) for the stuffing, which, secretly was made not from scratch, but from a box. (Shhhhh! Don't tell anyone!)

When it's all over, the same people who spent time slaving in the kitchen and are too tired to eat will return to the kitchen to clean up the mess. It will take them until the end of December to recover. The year-end holidays will be a repeat of Thanksgiving Day at some homes, but will cause many people make for dinner what many a Thanksgiving Day home cook really wants: reservations.

Shrapnel:

--The coupons are pouring in. Every is getting ready for the year end holidays, and early at that. And each one is searching for money that isn't there.

--Detroit's Holy Trinity, Wagoner, Mulally and Nardelli were on Capitol Hill this week, begging for bailout money. Pretty humbling for them. But it didn't help their cause when each of them flew a corporate jet into DC instead of driving a Cobalt, a Fiesta and maybe a K-car with 150,000 miles already on the clock.

--Some scientists have mapped the DNA of the Woolly Mammoth. They think they eventually will be able to revive the species. Interesting bio-trick and great for the elephant gun business.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

477 Sonny G Retires

477 Sonny G Retires

Sonny G was going to do his 20 and out. Figured 20 years as a cop was enough. He'd collect the pension and then, maybe do some security work. Didn't work out that way. Sonny retired at the end of last month, more like 30 and out.

We're sitting at a diner. Sonny doesn't want you to know where. And you don't need to. He's in a mood to reflect.

"When I was new, I couldn't figure out how the crooks did it. And I couldn't figure out how fast we caught some of them. After I got promoted to Detective Third, it began to dawn on me."

Ears up, crooks, here comes the voice of experience.

Sonny takes a paper napkin out of the dispenser, fishes for a pen ("do you believe it? I still carry a note book and a pen everywhere I go. Retirement!") He draws a crude circle on the napkin.

"See this? You know what it is? It's a wheel. This is a cops' dirty little secret. We know what a wheel is. The bad guys? They think they invented it and we never seen it before. And they usually get it wrong. When we see a wheel, we know what it is."

Sonny has a point. Cops see the same crime over and over. They know what to look for. Or what to not look for. The bad guys -- they have reinvent the wheel every time.

"Guy sticks up a deli? We've seen that 500 times. We know what to look for. We find him, we cuff him. End of story. It's easier now with all those cameras. But it's really the same wheel, just rolled by different guys who've never rolled a wheel before. Or maybe thought they thought it up."

"You can tell the new driver from a block away. You know the stickup artist from the same distance. Sometimes it's like shooting fish in a barrel. "

But sometimes not.

Sonny has a couple of cold cases that bother him.

"I had a pal used to run this diner, Pete Acropolis" he says. "One night Pete closes -- it's maybe 2 in the morning. Empties the register into a white donut bag like he's done a million times before. Locks up and before he can get to the car, some guy rolls him. Okay, he's out a days receipts. But that wasn't enough. This guy beats him to within an inch of his life and leaves him there. Never found the sonofabitch. Burns me every time I think about it. And Pete? He got out of the hospital maybe a month or six weeks later and decided he'd had enough to do just getting around and wasn't goin' back to no diner."

"Burns me. Really burns me."





Shrapnel:

--Doesn't always seem that when you go to a funeral the sky's going to be grey? Does this mean anything? And what does it mean on those rare days when the funeral is held in sunlight?

--The deer are starting their annual march through the narrow woods behind the house. It's always strange to see them as we do each year. But, then, the Deer News has a very low circulation, so maybe some just haven't gotten the word: it's a housing complex now and the woods have been gone for several years.

--The bears have a better newspaper, or maybe its the internet. Haven't seen one in the Deer woods yet. Hope never to have to.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. (sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

476 Heavy Lifting

476 Heavy Lifting

First some facts. Fact One: Abu Dhabi announced last March that it was going to build "worker housing" for 400,000 people by the year 2010.

Fact two: Tuscon, Arizona has a population of something in the neighborhood of 400,000 residents.

So Abu Dhabi is in effect building another City of Tuscon in two years. The original has been around for about 300 years. So things move fast in Abu Dhabi, though they'll probably skip some of the intermediate steps, like the gunslinger era. Those new public housing units probably will have central air conditioning and running water, indoor plumbing and no resident Gila Monsters.

Fact three: The population of public housing in New York City is about 400,000, or the same as the entire population of Tuscon, or the population of the new housing projects in Abu Dhabi.

Most of the New York projects are pretty sturdy places on the surface. Ugly, depressing in the hallways, but decent inside. If you can get there. They've been having a lot of elevator problems lately.

When you live in a rent controlled place with a private landlord, chances are you experience elevator problems, too. That's one of the ways the landlords get rid of the low-rent tenants so they can't charge what they call "market value," and what the rest of us call outrageous. Surely there are private contractors you can hire to help make your low-rent tenants' lives miserable. People who will set fires in the basement, cripple the laundry machines, destroy the lobby and hall lights, and disable the elevators.

In public housing, they don't do that. If the tenants don't do it, the shoddiness of the machinery will take care of it by itself.

The elevators in the projects? Try schlepping a week's worth of groceries up 20 floors worth of stairs. The prime space used to be near the top of the buildings. Nice views. Less noise. Fewer break-ins. No more. The prime space in the buildings is no higher than the third floor.

There are risks. But they're worth it because you can walk up three flights a whole lot easier than you can 20. The city's going to fix the elevators. Any year now.

By the way, you can bet that in Abu Dhabi and in Tuscon, the elevators work.

Shrapnel:

--Bills used to arrive near the first and 15th of any given month. No so anymore. They come in a steady and unrelenting stream, sometimes a steady and unrelenting flood.

--The Internet has put a lot of people out of business. It's not just newspapers. It's the makers of letter openers -- no one's making them anymore, not even the cheap plastic ones with "Eat at Joe's" or "Robert Feinbaum, DDS" printed on them.

--We were shopping at a Target the other day when the lights went out. Think that stops 'em? Nah -- there's a back up generator so you can see your way to the register -- which also works on emergency power.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

475 Speculators Anonymous

475 speculators Anonymous

Think about the plight of the poor speculators. Oil prices are sinking like a body with cement shoes off Staten Island. Guys who bought oil for $147 a barrel are selling it for 57 bucks. You have to feel sorry for these people. And you have to figure they'll figure out a way to get even. They're speculators. They can't help themselves.

If they were normal traders, they'd hold on to the stuff and wait for the price to come back up. But it won't hit $147 again any time soon, so they're going to take a loss, one way or the other. And since they never actually take delivery, there's no way to hold on to it. A shame, really. They'll probably have to default on their rent-a-Benz or their third or fourth house. But they've probably got some money salted away. Some of it, they'll use for suing their would-be customers who will have weaseled out of contracts to buy the stuff. The rest won't be discovered until the IRS finds out about their Swiss or Bahamian bank accounts.

Of course, they can prevent that by never using the money. But being unable to use it is kind of like not having it in the first place.

Some of these newly impoverished, newly depressed fellas will have to go out and do something they've never done before, get jobs. And that's not terribly easy these days, either. Plus they often have no marketable skills.

They will have to start support groups. The name "Speculators Anonymous" has a nice ring to it. "Hello, my name is Steve, and I am a speculator..."

And it's not just oil we're talking about. It's pretty much everything. Even scrap metal. Yes, the market for scrap iron and copper have tanked right along with oil. But with scrap dealers there IS a bright side. If THEY have some bucks stashed away, they can hold on to their metal and wait for the market to come back, which, eventually, it will.

And they can look for new sources of revenue. Paper. Plastic. McCain campaign buttons.

And, again, there's always S-A. Not only will they meet like minded people in similar circumstances, but they'll be able to pass the time they'd usually be using soaking the rest of us.

Shrapnel:

--Farewell Howard Reig. Howard was the last of the great old time staff announcers recently retired from NBC and was 87. Introduced "Nightly News" from the John Chancellor through the Brian Williamsanchorships.

--Yes, Don Pardo is still alive and working. But in his 90s has reduced his work load to "SNL" and a couple of extras now and then. And, yes, he's still as powerful a bellower and as funny as ever.

--The job of staff announcer once was the most prestigious in broadcasting. And the guys who were in the job when the job was eliminated got lifetime guarantees of continued work. Back when unions were still labor organizations.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

474 Smart is Beautiful

474 Smart is Beautiful

This space has long and often talked about Presidential tone-setting as the most important single function of the job.

The most obvious example is Ronald Reagan. Reagan re-set the swing of the left-right pendulum. Soon after 1980 or '81, what once was considered extreme right wing became closer to the center and what had been considered moderate-liberal got labeled hard left. These labels were and are wrong. But the President has the power to set the tone.

So does Barrack Obama. And he's already started.

Obama is making smart fashionable. Beautiful. Acceptable. Once again, smart is good.

Bill Clinton might have done that, but his intense intelligence was diffused to the point that he either didn't try or no one noticed. Clinton ... aYalie. An international scholar. Oh, and also he came off -- probably intentionally -- as a rube and a hayseed.

Obama is different. He's neither a rube nor a hayseed. Nor does he go around flaunting his brain. It speaks for itself.

We've had smart Presidents before. Clinton wasn't the only one. Carter was very bright, and a disaster in office. Nixon was pretty bright, but nefarious.

Obama is just smart. And this is just what we need after 44 years of rampant anti-intellectualism. Maybe anti intellectualism is too kind. We've had 44 years of mindless ranting that passes for thought, for philosophy, for ideology, for political action.

Some of it was anti intellectualism masquerading as populism. Most of it was just plain mental thuggery.

So now, it's not only "okay" to be black, it's okay to be black and brilliant. Or even white and brilliant.

Obama has the same kind of "above the fray" intelligence that JFK had, but without the County Limerick bravado, which, entertaining as it was, never got much done. (It should be noted that Kennedy wasn't a legacyadmitee to Harvard, though there probably was some "pull" exerted.)

So, with all else that's going on, at least we don't have to fear our own brains. We don't have to fear our own intellect. We don't have to fear that we'll be branded elitist by the populist, delusional right wing that considers original thought second only to original sin.

Look for a resurgence not of the blather-filled college professor, but the real intellectual -- the public intellectual who has been hiding under a rock for the last four decades in fear of discovery.

Shrapnel:

--Obama's not perfect. He's barring some lobbyists from his transition team. He should be barring ALL of them.

--The auto industry cannot be allowed to fail. Too much depends on it. But in addition to bailing out Detroit, Washington would be wise to remove the upper management of the so-called big three and put in charge people who know and love cars.

--The Bush Library is going to have some unique pictures. The President will color some of them himself. Say inside the lines, George.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

473 The Church Fair

473 The Church Fair

Note: this was to have been auto-published one day earlier than it appeared, but the genius who handles that put the wrong date in the "schedule" column.

There's nothing like a bazaar at a Catholic church to make a New York Jew feel welcome in the middle of nowhere.

The bazaar itself was nothing much. The usual pre-Christmas tchatchka tables. The wheel of fortune. The tree ornaments. But there was a difference.

First thing, there was our pal Yetzy with his two pre-adolescent boys in tow and an open can of beer in his hand. Good stuff, too. "Hey, beer in church?" "Hey! We're Catholics." Ceremonial beer? No. They were serving wine and pina coladas as well. And they were carding people.

Then there was the brass ensemble. A trombone, a trumpet and a couple of twisty horns, behind which were young girls who not only could play music, but could play music together. Brass instruments in the hands of youngsters trying to play in harmony generally drive people out of the hall in a big hurry. Not these.

And there was Father Basketball. Why Basketball? Well, for one thing, he apparently is wearing one around his middle and for another, he seems pretty tall cruising the floor beaming benevolently from behind The Collar and the Irish sweater.

It's tough for a New Yorker to NOT identify with the rolly pollys who manned (or womaned) the table. There's a looseness among the people at this thing that you don't often find around here.

I'm not dissing the people who aren't like this. They are, after all, part of what we learned during the Presidential campaign, the Real Americans.

But every once in awhile it's nice to stand among and converse with people who don't have perpetually strained neck cords and clenched jaws.

These guys probably didn't vote the way we did. They probably have a completely opposite views on such matters as heaven, hell, abortion and guns. But for the first time in a long time we-all didn't feel like invaders from another planet. Or maybe refugees from another universe.

One woman, from Frankfurt, said she came for the food and for the football game on TV.

We didn't stay late enough for that.

But I have to tell you, there's nothing like a piece of home made carrot cake and a glass of white wine in a church to make a New Yorker feel at hom.



Shrapnel:

--Most of the leaves are off the trees. This makes the world look pretty baron. But that's okay, they'll be back.

-So will the Gypsy Moth Czar, a guy they hired to catch and kill those pests. He did such a good job last year that they're going to take a chance on him again, but don't bet on that lasting if there's a real invasion this time.

--A fancy local supermarket says it's reducing prices by abut 20%, expecting lower costs for 2009. So what's lower now than it was a year ago, wholesale food, rent, taxes what? Only the cost of help -- which always can go down when you fire a lot of people.




I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them (sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

472 Breakfast at the Chicago White House

472 Breakfast at the Chicago White House


President Elect Obama is spending a lot of time at the gym. That's how he remains skinny and fit. The rest of us will have either to go to the "Y," or accept that we're just going to remain "double wides," which may be our destiny. How do we know this? Because his every waking moment -- and probably his every sleeping moment is getting full coverage.

Yes, from now until inauguration day, we all will be forced to learn what the President Elect does each morning, noon and night. We will know how many strawberries he had with his Cheerios. We will learn what brand of beer he has with lunch, if any. And we will learn which of the National Security briefings he heard each day, but, of course, not what's in them.

We will know what kind of car he drives (Ford,) we will know where he buys his suits (Marshall Field's now Macy's) and what kind of puppy he will be giving his girls.

We will learn who is under consideration for a cabinet post, and what he orders from the McDonald's Dollar Menu (I'd bet the double cheeseburger, a genuine bargain.)

This is no fun. It's no fun for the President Elect, it is no fun for the reporters, photographers, sound technicians, satellite and microwave truck operators, producers, directors, editors, news anchors, viewers,listeners or readers. But compared with what comes next, this is the fun part.

After inauguration day and the surrounding hoopla, the real work begins.

It's always seemed amazing, being able to put together an administration and have it up and running in as short a time as they do it.

Can you imagine after taking the oath, President Obama leans into the ear of Chief Justice Roberts and says something like "Listen up, cement head, 'Roe' Stays."

Won't happen, of course, but it's a nice thought.

The right wing talk machines are cranking up The Big Scare. "Obama, the baby killer." "Obama will take your guns." "Obama will raise your taxes to the point you won't be able to afford your house." The talk-heads are in full panic mode on the outside, but secretly gloating on the inside. After all, if one of their guys had been elected, they wouldn't have anything to say for the next four years. That, of course is a generous assessment. The more thoughtful among us may have realized long ago that they never have anything to say.

Yes, the Rushes and Savages and such have become even less relevant than they were a few days ago. Of course, they hedged their bets all along, by criticizing McCain, too. Golly, what would they have done if Romney had won?

Oh. And by the way, how many strawberries DID Obama have with his Cheerios this morning?

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. (sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

471 A Letter to Ms. Emma

471 A Letter to Ms. Emma

Mrs. Emma McClain
516 W. 143rd St
New York, NY 10031

Dear Emma,

For the first time since you passed away, I'm hoping there really IS a heaven and if there is, I know you're in it and probably watching what's going on in the neighborhood and in the nation. But in the event you aren't, I think you'll be interested in what has been happening down here.

Yesterday was election day, and the guy who won? He's a black man. Can you imagine that? No, I didn't think you could. I'm having trouble grasping it, too.

You and I? We argued, fought, laughed and cried together for years. And there always were things about which we disagreed, sometimes with great vigor. But not this. We -- Americans -- Americans of every race and every upbringing and ever idea and every ideal, elected a President we can be proud of. And, like you, he's mostly black. Forgive me, Em, but I know about your white relatives, because one day you told me. Maybe a bit too much wine. Maybe you were just feeling talkative, your son Cleve already in the great beyond. Your dog (I can't remember his name,) also there.

But the point isn't that we have an African American President ready to take the oath in just a few months. The point is we have a President who understands us and lead us and who happens to be African American waiting in the Wings.

He's from Hawaii. And lately, he's been living in Chicago. I guess that's not quite as good as having been from rural Georgia and living in New York. But no one's perfect. What IS perfect is that the kind of thing we worked for -- you and I -- has finally come to pass. If you were still in the world of flesh and blood, you'd be 95, now. I wish you were here to see this. It would have made your living heart glad -- just as it's making mine.

I had to work election night. When my chores were over, I got into the car and I cried. And I came home with fresh tears still in my eyes. And some of those tears were tears of joy for our country. But some of them were for you, because you deserved to see this. And unless there really IS a heaven, and you really CAN look down on us -- which I doubt -- I cried for you, too. Because you deserved to see this when you were alive. And I'm not sure the message'll get through.

But a lot of this is sentiment. My employer at the time of your death was Mike Bloomberg. He ran for his first term as Mayor of New York and he won. And when the cameras were turned on that night, he said "now comes the hard part."

President Elect Obama did not say that election night when he addressed the huge crowd in Chicago's Grant Park from behind bullet proof glass. But he knows -- and we know that that's the case.

Now comes the hard part.

The tone of the opposition was set tonight by Senator McCain, the Republican candidate. Mr. McCain was graceful and eloquent beyond what he needed to be. He asked us to come together as Americans and to get behind President-Elect Obama, and he sounded -- maybe for the first time during this slimy and ugly campaign -- that he meant it.

So, Emma, if you happen to be watching from that heavenly perch of yours, please do what you can to help us. We need this President, and we need your guiding spirit.

Love,

Wes.

PS. I still think you spoiled that dog rotten.

Monday, November 03, 2008

470 Where'd The Cities Go?

#470 Where'd the Cities Go?

Connie Fuentes is sitting behind her "Assistant Manager" name plate at her desk at the Last Big Bank on North Clybourn Avenue right near the river and one of the Presidential Expressways. in Chicago. Connie came up from from Lima, Peru, maybe 35 years ago. People think she's Mexican, but she doesn't mind. Mexico has big cities, too. Bigger than Lima. It's a Sunday morning. "Can you believe this," she asks, "a bank that's open Sundays? Look around you, what do you see?"

You see nothing. The bank is open, but beside one lonely teller, whose name also is Fuentes but is not related to Connie, there's no one in the bank. No one in Chicago goes to the bank on Sundays. There are no customers. But she's an officer, and the rules say an officer has to be on hand whenever the place is open.

So she's got the Trib in front of her and she's saying "This paper never picks Democrats, but they picked Obama. Me, too. I picked Obama. Tuesday is my day off and I'm going to the voting place and taking along a book or maybe a couple of puzzles." Like many people whose first language is not English, Connie takes pride in her skill with crossword puzzles enIngles.

"You know," she says, "the guy is sort of from here, Chicago, and you'd never know there was such a place if you look at his campaign stuff. Same with the other guy. I like the other guy, too. He was born in Latin America. That's not supposed let him run, but there was some law down there a million years ago that makes all those guys 'natural born Americans.'

"But the guy from Chicago? You never see Chicago in his ads. That TV show the other night? It was all out in the country. Same with McCain. Something happen to New York and Los Angeles, maybe they disappeared some time back and no one mentioned it? If I weren't right here, I would have thought Chicago disappeared, too. Maybe it did, and all these streets are just an illusion."

Her visitor notes that perhaps both campaigns either figure they have the cities locked up in their camp or can't make any inroads here so they don't bother.

"Nah, they want the farm vote," she says. "They want the guys in trucks and with AK47s in their kitchens. They forget us, here. You're from New York, what do people there think."

Can't claim much knowledge there. Maybe they're used to being ignored or taken for granted.

The visitor asks "Hey, Consuela, you got change of a five?"

She goes digging through her purse.

"No, I mean behind the counter. Might as well do SOME business."






Shrapnel:

--We had a time change yesterday. It was a little later than usual. But it remains fraught with the usual confusion and forgetfulness, searching for clocks you see every day and forget are there until you need them and then notice they're still on daylight time.

--Time is on every one's mind these days. Like the credit card companies that have shortened your grace period without telling you plainly. Gets you into that upper interest bracket late-payers have faced, and much faster than it used to.

--Time is on everyone else's mind, too. Like the companies that print coupons. Some of them expire so quickly now that they're out of date before they're printed.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008