Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Twenty Cent Wire

There was silence on my end of the receiver. No, make that dead silence.

"Your wire was 20 cents short. You will have to send another wire out for 20 cents. Today."

Not too many months ago I was asked, no required, to address a 2 cent error that THE OTHER SIDE had made in a real estate transaction. Once burned, twice infuriated.

"Are you still on the line?"

The dead air had caught her attention. I was trying to control my emotions.

"Are you kidding me?"

She repeated her instructions, almost verbatim. The message was clear and unmistakeable. She was not kidding.

"I need the wire by 5PM today and the fed reference number."

I understood that her client was about as huge an entity as took up space on this planet. Fannie Mae. I comprehended that the red tape could suffocate even the best intentioned. But really, was there never any room for the tiniest sliver of common sense?

Earlier in this transaction I had advised that my client wished to acquire title to the premises not in individual names, but in a Limited Liability company. You would have thought I had just requested a presidential pardon. After days of endless point and counterpoint, the royal thumbs down was given and the deal disintegrated. Only later, did rational thought intercede and a one sentence amendment found its way into print.

It is just the endless barrage of bureaucracy that is overwhelming. It seems to follow all of us, constructing its own labyrinth of obstacles. Recently my son was seen in an emergency room for no more than a few minutes to examine a bruised finger. Despite all attempts at reason, the hospital refused to adjust, even the tiniest bit, the $1250 bill, all of which had to be paid out of pocket. It was, we were informed, a level 4 protocol. I can only imagine what would fall in a lesser, less expensive category. Cutting fingernails, level 3.

What, I thought in fleeting fashion, would happen if I just mailed them two dimes, or even twenty pennies. Even worse, what if I just refused to accede at all to their demand? The inevitable, inescapable conclusion, was mountains of potential problems, professional sanctions and maybe worse.

My local banker was most sympathetic to my plight. She would, she advised, try to intercept the first wire to add the missing 20 cents. But when she called back to say that it was too late, and indeed I would have to come to the bank to fill out the paperwork for the additional wire, I was not in the smallest sense surprised.

When I did not get there quickly enough to assuage the concerns of those protecting the rights of their client, the calls and emails began. Not one or two, but several, bordering on many. All with the same urgency, all with the same deadline.

I was advised that the inquiry would be made on an hourly basis until resolution was achieved.

"You are not going to believe this." When I informed the real estate broker on the deal what was happening I could almost see his head shaking on the other end of the call.  And oh, by the way, the sentence you just read did not contain the expletives that followed almost each word.

Am I telling you too much, revealing in too bright light, my frustrations and my contemplations? I wonder whether any of you reading this would have responded in a more dispassionate manner. And if so, how can you be so calm in the face of such nonsense?

The banker had the paperwork all filled out on my arrival. As I sat there, I checked my cell phone to see yet another email reminding me that my obligation was still not met. I emailed back that I was doing what needed to be done at that very instant.

The next morning I was in court and did not get to my office until early afternoon. The email  that greeted me advised that there was no confirmation that the wire had been initiated. My first order of business, get the Fed reference number.

Finally, the proper information was relayed and my task completed. I got a very cryptic "tyvm" from my insistent friend.

Are there life lessons in this tale? Be more attentive to detail, maybe? Be less frustrated by the inevitable small calamities that mark everyone's life, possibly? Be happy, be at peace, who knows. Or maybe it was sending me just one large message in blinking red lights. Contemplate retirement.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Lifetime of Loyalty

("They Hook You When You Are Young")

One factor that Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz does not account for in his calculations, is that for those of us well into our seventh decade, there was no Met team (good or bad) to divide our attention or loyalty when we were forming our lifelong baseball attachments as 8 year olds.

The Mets, Jets, the Devils, Islanders and Nets hold no moment for me, whatever their level of success in the years after their formation, as my psyche was permanently attached to the ups (and downs) of the Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Knicks at the optimal sports obsessed moment of my youth. I was born in 1952 and none of these interlopers even existed in 1960, except for a fledgling American Football League team named the Titans that begun operations that very season.

For the Rangers and the Knicks, those were mainly sour times. What I recall most of those days was taking pride only in the number of saves made by Gump Worsley (not the far too few wins) or the magic of Richie Guerin (dismissing the fact that he was a very poor man's Bob Cousy).

So yes, I have bled Yankee pinstripes my entire life, and maybe much had to do with the greatness of Mantle, Ford, Berra and Maris. But with the Giants and Dodgers having exited for the West coast before 1960, and with possibly the worst team in baseball history (how can you not love Ed Kranepool) not operating until 1962, the Yankees were (literally and figuratively) the only game in town.

Thus, maybe success is not the overriding criteria for a lifetime of loyalty. I was hooked not from the residual effects of great triumph but merely from the presence of these franchises each and every day, come heaven or hell.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Death Panels

("Health Care Nightmares")

We have, after all these years, finally discovered the true meaning of "death panels". It is the intransigence by many states with Republican leaders to accept money, being offered by the Federal government, to expand their Medicaid roles. The result, as Mr. Krugman notes, is the likely demise of thousands of people.

Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in 2012, which struck down the requirement in the Affordable Care Act compelling states to expand their definition of Medicaid eligibility, states were able to reject FREE money the first year and virtually free money for years thereafter. The result is that there are an estimated 5 million people, in various Republican controlled states, who are not earning enough to qualify for subsidies to pay premiums for health care coverage, but make too much to obtain Medicaid assistance.
And these people, predicated solely on the mindset of their state government that it can and will do anything and everything to make the President and his signature legislation fail, are the victims. Not victims in a hypothetical sense, but in a real world, DEAD sense.

For that, there should be remorse where there is none, and shame where its absence is striking. And so, death panels do exist and our Republican leaders continue to watch idly as those who can so easily be saved are not.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney's life read like a B movie: fame and fortune far too young with far too little understanding, followed by wild excesses and extreme poverty and a final act of redemption. As a script it would have undoubtedly been rejected.

He will forever be linked with Judy Garland, two hugely talented young performers who struggled to deal with the realities of life once the director yelled "cut". Theirs was a partnership born in a very different moment in time in the film industry and in our culture. On the heels of the Great Depression and on the eve of war,  we were a country less cynical and more willing to embrace the promise of hope. Rooney and Garland captured this with a spark of the spirit and the twinkle of the eye.

And one other item caught my attention as I read the NY Times piece on the life of Mr. Rooney: how hard working an actor he was at the height of his stardom. We have grown accustomed to our biggest stars appearing before us for a brief moment and then disappearing into the night. Not so in the days when there were contracts with studios and even a Mickey Rooney had a clock to punch and a job to go to every day.

He was a little man of big stature, and though his star certainly faded over the years, he will hopefully be remembered kindly by history as something more than a meteor who shined for a moment and then burnt out.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Summertime Blues

And we thought it was a long cold winter. We ain't seen nothing yet.

With financial coffers wide open thanks to the long arm of their advocates in the Supreme Court,  with the sense that the Democratic majority in the Senate will shortly be but a memory, with the open wound of the health care roll-out still festering despite last week's numbers,  the mid-term Republican blizzard of mis-truths and misdeeds will soon begin in earnest.

Shut down the government, shut off monies for the long term unemployed, take food out of the mouths of babes and the vote from those who oppose you. Kill gun control, treat immigrants like dirt and global warming like a fantasy. Make the President a four letter word and abortion a crime. Protect the wealthy at any(and very substantial) cost to everyone else. Consider the basic right of health coverage for millions of our most vulnerable a grave mistake. THIS is the party much of our country is waiting  to embrace.

Bear responsibility for mandating a course of economic austerity at just the wrong moment,  base your position on financial inclinations that are abysmal and social predilections which are even worse, THIS is the party much of our country is waiting to embrace.

If this the winter of our discontent, I can't even imagine what this summer will be.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Daisy and Sarah

I looked at the clock as I woke up. It was 6:22 AM on a Saturday in late June of 2013. I would be dead 12 hours and 11 minutes later. I was seven years old.

I always hated my name: Daisy. What kind of a name is that? I was not a flower. I did not bloom from the ground.  But I guess it was ok because I got my name from my sister Sarah. She was three years older than me, and she was my hero. When Sarah first saw me, I was being cuddled in my mother's arms. I was tiny and precious, small noises coming from me, sounding very much like a purr.

"What shall we name your little sister?"

"Penny", Sarah said.

"That's good, really good, but anything else you can think of" my mother asked.

"Wendy, Tony, Patty,  Nancy." It seemed certain my name would end in a "y".

"Daisy, because she smells good."

"Daisy, it is" my mother said.

My habit was to jump into Sarah's bed every morning, as soon as I woke up, and cuddle with her. When I was smaller, Sarah used to love this, holding me so tight I thought I would burst.
But she grew tired of this after a while, and this morning, like so many others, she yelled out to my parents in the next room: "Mom, Daisy's bothering me."

"Daisy, leave Sarah alone. Let her sleep. It's Saturday morning. Nobody is getting up with you yet."
I waited as I almost always did for everyone to start their day.

This Saturday I had no real plans except to follow Sarah around no matter what she was doing. I thought she had some girlfriends coming to our house in the afternoon, but I wasn't certain.

It was 8 AM before my mother got out of bed and went downstairs to make breakfast for the family. She was dressed in the tee shirt that she wore to bed almost every night once spring arrived. It was an old baseball shirt that my father had worn when he was much younger.

She opened the door to the backyard for me. I loved this yard, with all its nooks and crannies. I could run around there for hours, and every chance I got, I headed out there.

"Don't wander Daisy, breakfast will be ready in a minute."

In the distance, I heard the loud, unmistakeable sounds of Timmy. I didn't like him. He was very mean. He scared me. He lived around the corner, and on many days we would pass one another. I always ran as fast as I could to make sure I got away from him.

"Daisy, breakfast."

I moved out from behind the tree, where I had been digging a little hole. I shook myself off, and hurried inside. I was very hungry.

Sarah and my dad were already in the kitchen when I got there. Sarah was eating the cereal she loved so much. She always made sure to give me a bite or two, despite my parents telling her not to.

I ate very quickly, my food gone well before everyone else. My dad was always the last to finish. He studied the newspaper between bites, hardly looking up to see what the rest of us were doing. He was nice, but never seemed to pay much attention to me.

Until I was four, we lived in the city. I never liked it because it seemed that I was never free to do what I wanted. When we moved to the country, to the house with the big backyard, I was very happy. There was so much more space for my toys. That morning, after finishing my food, I went searching for my favorites and played with them for a long time.

When I got tired, I looked out the big window in the living room, letting the sun warm me. I stayed there staring at everything that was going on, and I think I even fell asleep for a little. That is until I heard Timmy as he headed past our house on a morning walk with his family. He got very noisy as he came closer, and his mother scolded him. "Keep quiet, Timmy. Leave Daisy alone."

The rest of the morning passed quickly. Sarah watched some tv shows and then went to her computer, playing some games and making plans for the afternoon with her friends. Mom showered first and then dad. After, they both sat down in the living room sipping their coffee and reading. I kept mostly to myself, sometimes walking close to Sarah and gently nudging her to pay attention to me.

"It's too nice a day to do nothing" Mom said. "We are going to take a little ride".

l loved being in the car. I would mostly curl up and fall asleep as soon as we went anywhere more than a few minutes away. My favorite trip was to visit mom's brother Harry. He lived in a house with Terry and Groucho. Terry was my age, and my size, and we were always so happy to see one another. As soon as I got to Harry's I would go looking for Terry and once we got together, well we never wanted to be apart.

And so, we headed over to Harry's for lunch. "Hello Daisy", Harry yelled as he spotted me running out of the car. "How is the big girl doing?" But I would have nothing to do with him, for I was on a hunt for Terry. And when I found her, I ran in circles, going faster and faster, as we chased one another forever. "Slow down girls", Harry said,"or one of us is going to trip over you." Everyone in my family was laughing as they watched Terry and me. It was perfect.

Way too soon it was time to leave. Sarah's friends were coming to our house and we couldn't be late. As we got back into our car, I looked out the window to get one last glimpse of Terry, but she was nowhere to be found.

Sometimes, Sarah would let me rest my head on her lap during our car rides. This was one of those times. And when she looked right into my eyes and said "Daisy, I love you", my body just about melted into hers. My sister gently stroked my hair until I fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up when the tires of the car hit the gravel of our driveway. We had a pretty long driveway and a yard in the front of the house, not as big as in the back, and not fenced in, but still with plenty of room to play.

Soon, Sarah's two friends came over. It was late afternoon, after 5PM and they were planning to stay for dinner and a sleepover.

"Hello Daisy", Samantha said. "Hello Daisy" Leslie said. I nodded a greeting to both of them.

Dad was making hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill in the back. It would be a little while before dinner was going to be ready.

Normally, Sarah and I went to the backyard to play. But for some reason, today, Sarah asked if it was okay to go out front.

"Just make sure if Daisy is with you that she doesn't wander into the street" my mother said. "It is your job to watch out for her".

"I will" Sarah promised.

Sarah, Samantha and Leslie were on the same softball team this summer. Each of the girls had brought her mitt along. They decided to have a catch. I was very good at chasing after balls.

It was 6:30. Dinner would be ready in just a little while. The girls were almost finished and ready to head in. Then I heard Timmy coming around the corner.

Sarah yelled for me to come to her. I was just so mad at Timmy that I couldn't listen. I was so tired of him and decided that I would not be afraid any longer.

As he headed past our driveway, I made a dash for him. I was going to run around him in circles, going faster and faster, sure that he could  never catch me.

"Stop, Daisy, stop." Sarah was screaming. "Stop."

Just as I headed full steam past Timmy, a big black car drove by. I never saw it.

As I lay there, I was sorry that I hadn't listened to my sister. I could hear her crying a type of cry I have never heard before. It was more like moaning and she was calling my name over and over. I couldn't walk up to her and nudge her. I couldn't put my head in her lap. I couldn't tell her it was not her fault.

My father and mother came running as fast as they could, trying to calm Sarah down. It would be many hours before she would stop crying and many months before she would smile again.

I, Daisy the dog, was cremated and my ashes were placed in a small box on the windowsill near where I loved to sun myself on warm summer days. Every day I make sure to tell Sarah not to be sad, that I still love her and miss her..

And that she is still my hero.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Price of Perfection

("What Umpires Get Wrong")

Lou Piniella, Billy Martin, Earl Weaver. Leg kicking, dirt flying, chest bumping, cap askewing, base throwing, expletive producing, mayhem. Should this all be deleted with a push of a button?

This is, after all the 21st century. The bad boys of tennis, from Nastase to Connors and finally the king of the potty mouth, McEnroe, have disappeared as our gaze turns to the giant screen in the sky for answers.

Have we witnessed the last of the Bobby Knight like chair flinging episodes as referees huddle under an umbrella of secrecy, checking the angles and maybe their stock portfolio while the game grinds to a screeching halt?

And John Madden's face would  today have far fewer opportunities to turn ever increasing shades of angry over an act of sheer incompetence, as the not so instant replay booth takes human error out of the equation.

Is part of the fabric of all these games the imperfection of those adjudicating or is the umpire/referee/official  merely a distraction, an unnecessary distortion of the athletic endeavor?

What would happen to baseball if 0% of the calls were blown? We could  measure the height and depth of the pine tar on the bat of Mr. Brett and leave him with nothing but a computer printout to protest. Armando Galarraga would have his perfect game, and the heartfelt apology of Jim Joyce would never have been heard. I can even well imagine the tones of  the artificial voice advising the beleaguered batter "Strike three yer out."

In 2040 when Derek Jeter's son is trying to leg what appears to be a routine single into an improbable two bagger, will we be waiting to learn his fate from hand signals on the ground, or from the computer's infallible information that flashes on the screen on the back of the seat directly in front of each one of us?

If "kill the ump" becomes nothing more than an artifact, will we have advanced or fallen prey to our own achievements? Will we be taking the humanity out of the equation or accomplishing what we have always sought?

At what cost perfection?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Alms for the Rich

("A Nation of Takers")

Mr. Kristof speaks of five public welfare programs turning us into a nation of takers. I believe his categories deserve alternate names:

1. Welfare subsidies for private planes -  "King Lear-Jet"
2. Welfare subsidies for yachts - "Choosers Can Be Beggars"
3. Welfare subsidies for hedge funds and private equity - "The 1 PerCent's Solution"
4. Welfare subsidies for America's biggest banks - "Too Rich to Fail"
5. Welfare subsidies for American corporations from cities, counties and states - "The Well-Off State"

And I suggest the title of his op-ed might instead be called "Alms for the Rich".

Monday, March 24, 2014

Christie's Defense

("Inquiry is Said to Clear Christie, but That's His Lawyer's Verdict")

Perhaps there will be no smoking gun located. Perhaps there was only the pervasive attitude, the implicit understanding that steamrolling those who stand in your way is not only permitted but required. Perhaps Governor Christie will survive and grow emboldened by the inability of the opposition to destroy him.

But an investigation by the very law firm that is also responding on the governor's behalf to other ongoing inquiries screams conflict of interest. To spend a million dollars of taxpayer money essentially to mount one's own defense strategy, and then to announce vindication, seems ludicrous. To contend that the analysis even approximates completion when many of the central figures in Bridgegate have not spoken is only to arouse skepticism.

Who among us would have expected the law firm hired by the Governor to advise us that he was at the heart of the Fort Lee debacle? What has transpired is that some very high priced counsel are now more ably equipped to go on the offensive. Until all the information is in and assessed, this position amounts to nothing more than a distraction.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Slap on the Wrist


Re “Putin Recognizes Crimea Secession, Defying the West” (front page, March 18):
It appears as though President Vladimir V. Putin does not even need a fly swatter to deflect the sting of the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union in response to Russia’s march toward annexation of Crimea.

I understand the complexity of the situation and that we need Russia’s assistance in many other battles, from Iran to Syria and beyond. But this opening gambit seems only to invite ridicule rather than serious concern.

In the face of the magnitude of the invasion and occupation by Russian troops, and everything it has wrought, we should either demonstrate our opprobrium with something far more concrete than a slap on the wrist for 11 Russians and Ukrainians who easily look upon their penalty (frozen assets and a travel ban) as a badge of honor, or just say nothing for the moment.

Maybe there is little we can or will choose to do to change the course of Mr. Putin’s trajectory in Ukraine. But symbolic acts of no consequence seem to send the worst of all messages.