Monday, February 6, 2012

To Edna With Love

My mother-in-law passed away the other day following a stroke.

Dr. Edna Richard was 76. 

She passed away barely six months after my father-in-law.  To lose loved ones so suddenly, in succession, leaves us with heavy hearts and often overwhelming grief.

And memories.  Rich, wonderful memories. 

Edna Richard gave the world three wonderful daughters while presenting countless more in a career that spanned over 40 years. 

As an Ob/Gyn, Dr. Richard's eyes were the first ones seen by hundreds of babies.  She spent her life caring for families in their most intimate, joyous moments.

Now that she's gone (and not subject to a howling hospital administrator) I can share a little secret:  She  kissed each and every baby on the forehead before handing it over to the mother. 

Dr. Edna Richard was a beautiful, elegant woman.  My wife has fond childhood memories of waiting in the living room for her parents to descend for some "warm up" dancing before a night on the town.

She was always impeccably dressed, always in a dress, except once, an experience as odd for me as catching Mitt Romney in a Soul Train dance line.

She loved and embraced me and my two children as her own (we like to say in our family the only "steps" lead to another floor).  And once we gave her two additional granddaughters, well, I was good as gold.  

Naturally, for a woman who had at least 50 Godchildren, her grandchildren were the best, the brightest and most beautiful.  "She is so intell-eee-jent," she would gush in her thick Haitian accent, "She connn-nnnnects with people."

Other than watching a kid devour ice cream there are few greater pleasures than watching a grandparent in their element.   

Trust me, if Edna had her way they would be hammering away on Mt. Rushmore for her six grandchildren.

My mother-in-law had a wonderful, often unintended sense of humor.  Countless times I would be sitting in a room with her and Tania (my wife) listening to them speak French and she would turn to me and remind me, in English, that Haitians often speak French.  Then she would turn around and go back to speaking French.

Haitian custom calls for posing stoically, straight faced, in photographs.  It's mostly generational, and if you look closely you see pride bursting through.

When people die we go through photos.  For me, one stands out. 
In it my bride to be, hours from her wedding, is standing in sweatpants and a t-shirt, wearing her veil and a smile set to last through the evening. Her mother is next to her, holding her hand.

On this day, in this picture, Mom is smiling.

And somewhere, today, she is still smiling down on her daughters, her grandchildren, and all of the children she cradled and kissed through the years.

Godspeed cherie.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Debate Envy

I love a good argument.

Just ask my friends and family, and if they tell you I don't like one get back to me and I'll convince you they're wrong.

Some people have this crazy notion that arguing is a bad thing and it's best to keep things to yourself or just nod in tacit agreement.

Which brings me to the Florida primary.  No noddin' in agreement there.  Instead, the Republican wannabes have been flinging poop and hammers at each other since storming out of South Carolina a couple of weeks ago.

It sounds like the new slogan should be, "Come to Florida, and leave your TV at home" given the relentless attack ads from all sides.  And as is often the case, cash is king, with Romney about to be crowned after outspending Newt Gingrich by a large margin.

He who has the most dough has the most toys, and most votes.  Sad but true.

Except in debates, which are the great equalizer.

As a debate lover, this year is special.  In fact, it seems like the debate schedule is tracking the NBA's condensed lockout schedule (teams play every night this year, right?), sans the candidates riding charter planes together or getting busted in nightclubs.

I haven't watched all of them, but I've tuned in to plenty of spin doctors for a post debate house call,  "Sportscenter" like highlights for political junkies.

Some feel that the number of debates is hurting Republicans heading into the general election.  Instead of focusing on their common opponent, President Obama, they are using valuable resources taking live shots at each other on a regular basis.

Not sure I buy that.

For one thing, if there were, say, only four debates instead of the 16 we have had so far, it would force candidates to drum up votes solely through appearances, attack ads, PAC ads and online begging.

With fewer debates, who knows how quickly we would wither down to today's "Final Four."  I suspect the path of attrition would have been far different.

Regardless,  I'll take a live debate any day over the canned speeches and hand picked audiences of the campaign trail.

There is nothing like purely unscripted moments in debates.  Who could forget Richard Nixon sweating in the first televised debate, Ronald Reagan's "I'm paying for this microphone" moment, the Michael Dukakis rape question, George H.W. Bush staring at his watch or Lloyd Bensten's "You're no Jack Kennedy" swipe at Dan Quayle.

Interestingly, only Reagan ended up winning his election.

After Republican voters settle on a nominee, I hope there are just as many debates in the general election.

I also realize 16 plus debates in the fall is as likely as Barack Obama appearing on an episode of "Hillbilly Hand Fishin'."  As the incumbent, President Obama would have little to gain and plenty to lose by engaging in multiple debates, and I would expect him to employ the "Rose Garden" strategy with plenty of safe, staged, scripted moments for the press.

Boring, but effective.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jim Cramer The Everyman

As a market commentator I have always taken CNBC's Jim Cramer for what he is: An effective entertainer.  The host of "Mad Money" has been around a long time and is a fixture among financial talking heads. 

Cramer was interviewed the other day by MSNBC's Alex Witt about tax policy.   Here's the link:

I was struck, as I often am in such interviews, as much by what is said as what is not said, or not asked. 


I realize wading into the whole "media bias" cesspool is a dangerous thing, and it's really not my point. 

I could devote an entire post, let alone an entire blog, to the bias (real and imagined) in our media from both sides. 

To wit:  The network that declares itself "fair and balanced" often isn't, while the other one often leaves me wanting to "lean forward" in order to hurl a blunt object. 

My blowhard is smarter, and better, than your blowhard.  Frankly the subject bores me. 

Back to the interview.  At one point Cramer claims he pays a 56% percent tax rate on his salary, which I presume to be a combination of the top 35% federal rate and 21% in his state and local hit.   For the remainder of the talk the scroll at the bottom of the screen reminds us of the high taxes paid by the mad money man.  And yes, Cramer feels that people like him should pay more, particularly in capital gains taxes. 

Here's the problem.  Alex (in this case Dim) Witt takes Cramer at his word and doesn't follow-up.  She doesn't bother with a simple question such as, "Jim, are you saying that you don't have any deductions or capital gains that would make your adjusted gross income and effective tax rate much lower?" 

No property tax or business deductions?  I'm highly skeptical.  Jim Cramer is a smart, successful, wealthy guy. I doubt he pays his 56% and returns to his room at the YMCA, hotplate included.

It's important to note that Cramer is barred by CNBC from buying or selling individual stocks other than for his charitable trust, which he must disclose.

I knew that beforehand, not because Cramer shared (or was even asked) the reason he's not part of the capital gains party.

Maybe I am nitpicking, but this is an instance where I wish the interviewer had bothered to probe just a bit.  Then again, maybe the only point was cross promotion of another NBC show, a tax "chalk talk" filler before the breathtaking tour of Cramers buttons and hats.

Tax policy is a big deal.  And this was a missed opportunity.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wrestlemania, Youth Edition

At 6:00 am last Sunday, my son Thomas, age 13, and I headed out to his club wrestling tournament.

Cue the theme from Rocky, "Gonna Fly Now."

Youth wrestling tournaments are quite the spectacle, beginning with the early morning traffic jam for weigh ins.  We arrive just before 7:00 am at the dark, dank gymnasium north of Chicago, a perfect setting for a blue collar sport.  Forget the brie and chardonnay, this is a Velveeta and Red Bull crowd.  Kids file in with gear over their shoulders, parents carrying coolers.  Once inside, the kids are round up like Holsteins to have their weight, hair and fingernails checked.

After a quick team warm-up, we all sit, and sit, teams and parents clustered together on hard, unforgiving bleachers, which is fitting. 

Wrestling is a grueling sport, who's one-on-one nature and continuous movement results in a twisting, reaching, ongoing vulnerability.  I competed in high school with teammates who now coach my son.  We are all older, fatter and balder, but the lessons remain.  As legendary Iowa coach Dan Gable says, "Once you've wrestled, everything else is easy." 

Beginning at 9:00 am up to 12 matches take place at once on four mats, made possible because kids as young as 5 don't need much room.  Groups of kids are called up to the "bullpen" room by age group, then sent out to wrestle each other, often after a 30 minute wait with nothing to do but stare and flex at each other.

Whoever came up with chaos theory had youth wrestling tournaments in mind.  Where else can a parent sit for over seven hours to watch their child in action for a total of 30 minutes, presuming each six minute match "goes the distance," which at the youth level is as likely as Tim Tebow embracing Buddha.  Unlike baseball or choir (my oldest daughter's passion), where you are vested in a "team" because your kid is part of a group, it's hard to get excited watching the 40 or so matches before my guy is up.  Then again I have never seen someone throw a hip toss on a mezzo soprano.

At the youth level matches are quick and random.  Last year, Thomas lost a close match, after which I went for my constitutional. As I emerged, his coach ran up to me and said, "Man, what a great turnaround." Turns out he pinned another kid while I was, ahem, away.

On this day, Thomas lost his first match, then battled back against three opponents to take fourth place, winning a nice medal (any parent knows it's all about the hardware). 

We headed back around 4:30, stopping for his obligatory McFlurry before we talk about the day.  In his fourth match, for third place, he faced a kid known for headlocks, youth wrestling's version of a "one trick pony."  Thomas countered him the first two times, stepping in and managing a takedown, but missed the third time and got pinned.  I tell him how proud I am, for persevering, at which point he flashes a sheepish grin and says, "Thanks Dad, but I was just tired and ready to go."

Marv Levy, who led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls, used to walk the field during warm-ups and ask his players, "Is there anywhere you would rather be than right here, right now." 

My answer, of course, is no. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Growth 1, Resolutions 0

I'm not much for New Year's resolutions. 

I'm not much for New Year's anything besides football, movies, Chinese take out, busting out the karaoke player or a good game of cards.

Many years ago I got in the habit of taping the "Rockin' New Year" show with the ball at Times Square.  The kids and I would watch over breakfast, same result.

A creature of habit, that I am. 

But I have never been big on resolutions.

Not that I don't reflect or look to improve.  That I do quite a bit.

Since I hit my forties, perhaps coinciding with my metabolism's screeching halt, I took aim at three things I have always wanted to do, but not with a big pronouncement on January 1st.

I picked up a guitar several years ago. 

I thought it would be fun to play for the kids, though I picture them telling stories someday of the times Dad "held us against our will" to hear the opening riff of "Day Tripper" several hundred times.  Today I could probably earn half a sandwich on a subway platform.

I took a year's worth of improvisation classes at Second City, performing a few times with an ensemble which was great fun.  I would love to do more but one artist in the family is enough. 

And I started this blog. 

A couple of years ago my boss at the time handed out an evaluation with space for "personal goals."  I wrote that I wanted to start a blog. 


If you are a reader of Just...Getting...Started, loyally or occasionally, I thank you.  The response has been great. 

Lord knows I have opinions.  The idea of being "out there" with them and that people would enjoy reading them is both flattering and humbling. 

Changes are coming in the new year as I take Just...Getting...Started to a bigger stage.  Stay tuned. 

And Happy New Year to all. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tim Tebow Is Not My Shepherd, Or Jesus Calls An Audible

Did the clock run out on "Tebow time?"  Has "Tebowmania" run its course?

After leading the Denver Broncos to a series of dramatic, come from behind victories in recent weeks, quarterback Tim Tebow and company lost to the New England Patriots last Sunday.

“God’s Quarterback” has come back to earth (pun fully intended).  Or has he?

For some, the game is an afterthought. 

It is Tim Tebow's Christian faith, combined with his leadership, that has the football world caught up in "Tebowmania." 

Fans everywhere drop down on one knee with a fist to the forehead in prayer.  "Tebowing," it's called, the pose Tebow strikes during games. 

Tim Tebow may be the savior football fans are looking for.  Or he may just be a hard working, consistently average quarterback on a so-so team. 

Did I mention that Tim Tebow believes in God? 

Born in the Philippines and raised by Christian Baptist missionaries, Tim Tebow was an All-American, national championship winning quarterback at the University of Florida and a Heisman Trophy winner.

He had the credentials and leadership "intangibles," but most scouts questioned his ability to succeed in the NFL.

He appears to be a man of strong character, genuine and gracious, a leader by example not given to prothelizing. 

Tim Tebow is hardly the first athlete to give thanks when given the forum.  The "God Squad" is everywhere.  We see it in player interviews, after a big play, or in player prayer circles after games.  None of this bothers me unless it is somehow implied that God roots for one athlete or team over another (though it's hard to imagine God rooting for the New Jersey Devils). 

As an aside, I couldn’t help but laugh when my son, then 9, thumped his chest and pointed his index fingers toward the sky after grace one night.  I found it funny.  My wife?  Not so much. 

The difference between Tebow and other jocks is that his ardent faith makes him a polarizing figure.  He's gone on missions, says he's a virgin, and created controversy last year by doing a pro-life commercial during the Super Bowl with his mother, who went against her doctor's advice to terminate her pregnancy with Tim.   

There's a vulnerability around religion that sets Tebow apart.  He's "walking the walk," being specific, not simply pointing to the heavens.  That rankles some people but Tebow appears, character wise, to be the real deal. 

He also seems to take the constant attention in stride while pundits have a hard time controlling themselves.   Announcers and scribes are all a flutter for Tebowmania.  At some point I expect Tebow to get sacked, then have Fox announcer Joe Buck scream, “He is risen!!”

So no, we have yet to see Tim Tebow turn day old bagels into Lobster Newburg or  a jug of Gatorade into wine.  And there's no truth to the rumor that his image lingered on a gym towel or that Topps plans to create a Tim Tebow football card with scripture passages instead of stat lines.

All is well in Tebowland as long as he is winning. If the Broncos hit the skids and finger pointing begins, he’ll get thrown to the Lions.

And I'm not talking about the ones from Detroit.