Category: Storytelling

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That’s the Mom I Remember

The family is still shocked, following my mother’s passing two weeks ago today. In February, a doctor candidly warned my sister Nanette that Linda likely wouldn’t live until Christmas and maybe not beyond summer. But mom was a fighter, with 10-fold a cat’s nine lives. Despite declining health, and repeated rushes to the hospital, she showed herself to be stout and fibrous—and since Spring she reached a relatively stable, vital plateau, seemingly in defiance of the physician’s prediction. What did he know? Eh?

Among other health issues, Mom suffered acute kidney failure, stemming from diabetes, and underwent renal dialysis several times a week. During her last week of life, the purification process went poorly because of problems with the port used to access her vein. Doctors planned to open a new port, and close the other, on Aug. 3, 2017. Something went wrong, and she started bleeding profusely internally. 

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A Short Stay in Long Beach

My niece, Lynnae, is in Long Beach—her first trip to California and the West Coast. We visited last evening and breakfasted this morning, when I used iPhone 7 Plus to capture a portrait. Her family lives on a 7-acre “homestead” in Vermont, where she works part-time for a local company but also operates her own small business—making (and selling) fresh, natural cosmetics from her own recipes; eh, formulas.

Lynnae’s energy, geniality, and clarity are irresistibly endearing. She’s a social butterfly, too. After looking around the Hyatt for a place to eat, and finding nothing appealing to either of us, I suggested dining at the hotel. About an hour earlier, Lynnae told me about trying to beat back jet lag the previous night, her first; she snacked and sipped at the restaurant pub. Ha! The woman makes friends easily. She could have been a regular for years judging from the hand waves and by-name greetings received as we walked in together. 

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Goodbye, Momma

The world is full of narcissists, who gain popularity by self-broadcasting themselves, boasting their own accomplishments, and in process taking praise or gaining glory. They are false. Ingenuine. There is another type of character—someone who naturally gives, asks for nothing in return, and (often too rarely) is well-regarded for their generosity. They are true charmers in the sense self-proclaimers pretend to be.

My mom, who passed away today, Aug. 5, 2017, was social through grace and a kind of innate likability. She was short in stature—adult height of four feet, ten-and-a-half inches—but tall in presence. In any room, she easily became the sun around which all present orbited. I often marveled at how people just gravitated to the small woman without any seeming effort on her part, other than flowing friendliness and generosity. Her buoyant, positive spirit, supported by unstoppable, advocating determination, made mom the person others wanted to be with—and to be like. She was authentic. Genuine. 

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Don’t Believe Housing Market Lies

I once again see disturbing trends rearing their ugly heads in the U.S. housing market. Twelve years ago, I warned about the housing bubble long before it burst—then living in the Washington, D.C.-metro area. Now my vantage point is San Diego, where home prices soar and sales (finally) start to stagnate.

Justification, set against measurable trends, often is a fantastic measure that something is amiss.

Metaphor: In film “The Big Short“, set during last decade, a Florida real estate agent drives around a group of Wall Street investors trying to discern whether or not there is a housing bubble. As they pass property after property for sale, she explains: “The market is in an itsy-bitsy little gully right now”. Eh, yeah. That gully later became a giant sinkhole. This morning, I received a newsletter from a local realtor that claims: “Pending home sales were sluggish in April as low supply reared its head”. Crazy thing, I see plenty of inventory for sale—and for increasingly longer times today than four or five months ago. The newsletter’s assertion rings like a justification worth concern. 

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Amazon Across America

My first reaction to Amazon buying Whole Foods is “Huh?” Few brands could be any more different. The online retailer is all about giving customers the most for the least amount spent, while the grocer is the pricey purview of the alt-organic lifestyle elite. No moment is better metaphor for Whole Foods’ clientele than the exchange I heard between a thirtysomething couple standing at the deli holding chicken luncheon meat. “Is it free range?” the women asked her husband. It had to be, or she wouldn’t buy. They argued. I silently chuckled: luncheon meat—not a bird! It’s all pressed meat, Honey. You do know that?

But from another perspective, and one transcending retail store presence, are other considerations, like brand affinity and buyer demographics. For the first, Amazon may be all about value, but in an increasingly middle-class and well-to-do demographic kind of way, particularly among city dwellers. Despite sharing similar cut-throat margin, expansive business philosophies with Walmart, Amazon doesn’t carry the same stigma among the socially conscious “better-thans”. For the second, who do you think plunks down 99 bucks a year for Prime membership or can’t wait for two-day free delivery or is too busy to go to the store to buy groceries? Without hard numbers to back the supposition, I’d bet there is lots of existing and potential regular shopper overlap among these customers and those who walk Whole Foods’ aisles. 

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Christmas in June?

I spotted Santa Claus while walking in Balboa Park this afternoon. He was out for a stroll—to where is anyone’s guess. An elf helper tagged along, so surely there was some purpose. After passing him, I stopped. Hesitated. Stepped forward. Then turned around and approached Mr. Kringle, rather than let the moment pass. I asked to shoot a portrait.

As you would expect, Santa responded jovially, accepting the invitation. While couching low with Leica Q, I asked about his presence, joking that it wasn’t Christmas in July. He smiled and said something about Christmas being every day for people who keep it in their hearts. Now that is a lovely sentiment. 

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Joe College

I started writing song lyrics around age 14, when given a typewriter. I long had fancied myself a lyricist, and you can be the judge by reviewing some of the verse. Songwriting was harder, but the first song came to me while walking home from high school (gasp) 40 years ago—perhaps a May day like this one, year of my graduation. I don’t recall the date. All my writings from the 1970s and 80s were left, and later lost, in Vermont circa 1989.

“Joe College” is simple, purposely repetitive, and peppy. I remember trying to hold the melody and words together in my head as I rushed back to my bedroom. The tune, as first inspired, changed because of short-term memory loss before being committed to permanent neural storage. Strangely—and I do mean strangely—the inspiration came from an animated Peanuts special, which in part featured Snoopy the dog as Joe Cool attending college. 

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The Ring Returns

Yesterday, I put on my wedding ring for the first time in 13 years. The saga starts in January 2004, in an incident described in missive: “Man on the Train“. I got poison ivy—in Winter, no less—after giving a homeless guy money while riding the DC Metro. That was the suspected scenario from my then doctor, now retired, Gabe Mirkin, a well-known fitness physician whose office was around the block from our house. Dr. Mirkin surmised that the homeless dude had residue on his hands and clothes from sleeping outdoors. Brrrr.

I closed the blogpost recounting the incident: “My left hand is so swollen, today I may ask a jeweler to cut off my wedding ring”. And I did, returning to White Flint Mall, where was the store from which my wife and I bought matching gold bands in 1989. The shop had closed, but another jeweler expertly performed a clean hackjob. Whoa, color returned to my finger! White Flint is gone now, BTW. The upscale mall was torn down in summer 2015. WTH? 

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Regarding ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Before my wife started watching the new series streaming from Hulu, I warned her: “I can’t imagine how I would feel if a woman”. I had already finished first hour “Offred” from the production based on 1985 tome The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Three episodes are online now—and their tone and timeliness are visceral and all too familiar, like was the Battlestar Galactica miniseries that followed the 9-11 terrorist attacks by two years. There is something that is too real, too possible—and, unlike the so-called Trump “Resistance”, I don’t refer to the current government in Washington, D.C. No imminent right-wing coup is on the horizon, as so many Liberals want to believe. That’s as fictional as The Handmaid’s Tale.

What’s disturbing is another kind of currency, which is largely lost in the torrent of “it could happen here” commentary: The plight of women portrayed in the series isn’t far removed from what many of them experience elsewhere in 2017. Not in some alternate-reality United States, but across swaths of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East—if not both American continents and Europe. Severity may vary by degrees, but where on this planet isn’t there, at the least, some vestige of the subservient, objectified woman? Liberals, who as a class supposedly champion for the human rights of all people, shouldn’t ignore what is while obsessing about what might be for fear it could happen to them. 

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Fly the Unfriendly Skies

Spanning most of my career, whether working as analyst or journalist, I have repeatedly railed against how U.S. law treats businesses—essentially as people. Reason: Moral dichotomy, where the ethical priorities of publicly-traded companies vastly differ from—and often contradict with—values of the people founding, running, or working for them. Keyword is value, where one usage refers to beliefs and another to money; meaning stock price and proceeds returned to shareholders.

My first, best articulation of this concept came during an April 2006 radio interview—I believe for NPR marketplace—when discussing major U.S. search providers Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo censoring results in China, at the government’s insistence. Behind the action there loomed censorship’s morality, such as restricting search terms like “democracy”. I expressed that there is no moral high ground in business. The high ground is quagmire, because all public companies share a single, moral objective: Make profits for stockholders. Plain, pure, and simple. Sadly, that moral agenda explains why United Airline’s PR week from Hell is Heaven for shareholders. Overbooking means the carrier fills seats; operations are lean and mean (quite literally, the latter).