Monday, May 31, 2010

Putting The Decoration Back In Decoration Day

The point of the Memorial Day holiday was to give people time to go out to the graves of the fallen soldiers and decorate them.

It's a Victorian-era notion, and hints at a fascination with death. Cemeteries built during the time were designed to be park-like in setting, and it wasn't unheard of for families to pack a picnic lunch and head out to Calvary or Mt. Olivet to spend the day communing with loved ones long gone.

You'll still find the elderly out there on a Sunday, snipping strands of grass away from a tombstone. Planting a few geraniums.

Tending to a grave, rather than abandoning it, is taken as a sign of love and respect.

Hence, the American military sees to it that every soldier's grave in the national cemeteries is decorated with a small flag on Memorial Day. It takes effort to accomplish the task, and by making that effort, the country expresses its love and respect for those who gave their lives so that others could live in freedom.

If you're not of a mind to head out to the graveyard with Grandma to plant petunias above Granddad, then you might consider decorating yourself. The tradition of the poppy as decoration to honor the war dead came out of World War I, a long ago conflict that was largely forgotten by the greater evils that arose in the second go-round.

Buy a poppy from the nice lady representing the war veterans and twist it into a buttonhole or wear it on your hat. Remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice so you wouldn't have to.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dinosaurs Roaming The Earth

The Ulster Museum isn't British enough to suit the Orange Order, or the Minister for Culture for that matter.

Where's the prominence given to the Ulster Scots? It's their country, isn't it? Forget about the Irish Catholics. They lost the war, didn't they? So why not arrange things in the museum to suit the Free Presbyterian view of the universe?

Currently on exhibit, Plantation To Power Sharing doesn't do enough to put the Orange Order and all the other anti-Irish, anti-Catholic organizations in a pleasant light. Far too much about the United Irishmen, that long ago group that wanted to free Ireland from England's stranglehold. Bad enought that so many of them were Protestants, but is it really necessary to present history as it was and not as Mr. McCausland would like it to be? 

While the Museum is at it, it's high time that they provided some alternative views on the creation of that universe. Nelson McCausland won't call it a promotion of creationism, but he'd like to see creationism presented as science.

Mr. McCausland did not find it the least bit funny that British scientist Richard Dawkins suggested that the museum also include the "stork theory of reproduction", and furthermore, that's an insult to fully one third of the Northern Irish population.

That would be the one third who think The Flintstones was a documentary.

The Ulster Museum is being quite diplomatic about the dust-up, and as the government is providing their funding, the museum's scientists won't laugh out loud at Mr. McCausland and his ilk. Perhaps they could build a diorama dedicated to those who like their world preserved in amber, but not like those prehistoric bugs encased in amber because they're not the least bit old and that carbon dating business is all a nonsense and we aren't sharing a bit of power with the Shinners and the damned Catholics.....

A display of Orange Order loyalists might do. Riding on the backs of dinosaurs, on their way to extinction.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Writing Prompt For The Holiday Weekend

Politics and dirty dealing---the stuff of which commercial fiction is made. If you're in the mood to write and need a flash of inspiration or the skeleton of a plot, look no further than real life.

When the feds sent attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to Chicago, the political class in Illinois grew increasingly unhappy. Mr. Fitzgerald went after the corruption that greases the skids in the Land of Lincoln, and he found success in prosecuting governors, friends of the mayor, and others with their hands in the till.

How to get rid of him with a certain amount of finesse?

The son of ward-heeler and patronage army leader Don Tomczak was a lawyer. The senior Mr. Tomczak had organized the campaign workers for Rahm Emanuel and Mr. Emanuel easily won election in his Congressional district, so the same tricks were used. Keep in mind that Mr. Tomczak is a Chicago Democrat. His son ran in neighboring Will County as a Republican. Dad got the patronage army down there just the same, got out the vote, and Jeff won election.

A state's attorney had to make a splash and generate buzz if he was to be put forward as Patrick Fitzgerald's replacement. Give Mr. Fitzgerald a promotion, have a Democratic Senator (Dick Durban would suffice) recommend Jeff Tomczak in his place, and that would be the end of the heat on the Chicago Machine and Mayor Daley in particular.

When little Riley Fox was found dead in 2003, Jeff Tomczak was the Will County State's Attorney, looking to make his mark.

Local investigators ruled out sexual predators immediately and went after the father. Fourteen hours of interrogation later, the mild-mannered and distraught man broke down.

Case closed. Jeff Tomczak walked into court and prosecuted Kevin Fox for the sexual assault and murder of his daughter. The evidence was thin. They went ahead with the trial before DNA analysis was completed.

Kevin Fox spent eight months in prison, fighting to clear his name. He was falsely accused, pressured to confess, and then falsely incarcerated. Only when the DNA evidence was finally brought forward was he set free.

The Fox family sued and won their case in 2007. In all that time, however, the Will County sheriffs did nothing more to track down the real murderer.

The citizens of Will County found out that they'd been had by the Chicago Machine and Jeff Tomczak was soon out of a job. The dream to replace Patrick Fitzgerald and put an end to the federal investigations went with him. Former Governor Rod Blagojevich is one who deeply wishes it hadn't happened that way.

A girl murdered in 2003, and for seven years the case went unsolved. The FBI got involved, did a proper investigation, and today a registered sex offender has been charged with the crime.

There's the novel you're itching to write. Political hacks manipulate an election for their own purposes, a child is murdered, and the drive to gain higher office devestates the life of a family already devastated by their loss. The protagonist fights to clear his name and find justice for his little girl.

It's what good commercial fiction is made of. Unfortunately, it's often non-fiction in Illinois.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Place To Eat Words

Barbara's Bookstore has been a fixture in Oak Park, Illinois, for almost forty years. It's one of the independent shops that came on board during the 1970's, when being independent was trendy and dinosaurs like Brentano's were for old people. It was owned by Barbara, and she was in the shop to answer your questions and help you find something to read.

You'd go there for hard to find books, like Our Bodies, Our Selves, the sorts of thing that the corporate stores didn't carry for fear of upsetting their elderly clientele.

Amazon, of course, changed everything. Shrinking economies, lack of disposable income, and the introduction of countless electronic entertainment gadgets put a big hurt on the independent bookseller.

Barbara's had to watch its expenses as sales declined, and owner Don Barliant thought he was being double billed on the property taxes due on the Oak Park store. It added up to a sizeable amount, an amount that he deducted from the rent payments. In essence, he refused to pay the rent for several months, until the double billing and rent due evened out.

Building owner Anthony Shaker was not on the same page as Mr. Barliant. He sued for the back rent, and a judge has just issued a ruling in his favor.

The lease might have been convoluted, but it was signed by Mr. Barliant and it's caveat emptor out there where the fittest survive.

Mr. Barliant must pay Mr. Shaker $126,543.18, to cover back rent, current rent owed for the last two months of the lease, and Mr. Shaker's legal fees.

Whether or not an independent bookseller can come up with that kind of money, without gutting the other locations, is a matter for Mr. Barliant to deal with. Barbara's Bookstore has several other stores, but no one shops at Macy's (it was Marshall Field's and Chicagoans are not a forgiving people), and a bookstore in a hospital can't be particularly profitable.

So Barbara's will be pushed out and Potbelly's Sandwich Works will replace it.

Shall we all just go and eat our words?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It Worked For The Godfather

In Mario Puzo's best-selling novel The Godfather, the Mafia don claimed that he had a legitimate business as an importer of olive oil.

Although the book was a work of fiction, it was said to be based on reality, so why shouldn't Dublin's own Christy Kinahan take a page from that book?

He became an importer of Spanish food. Nothing too high end, mind you, as that would cost too much to set up the operation. All he needed, like the Godfather, was a legitimate business front to mask his real operations.

They say that the Mafia was against drug dealing in the early days, but came to see the financial potential that could be realized from trade in illicit substances. To say that Christy Kinahan was awash in money from the drugs trade would be an understatement.

That import business he had? Once he'd established a company with trucks and warehouses, he could discontinue the food end and focus on bringing in drugs from Spain. On his import business trucks. To be stored in his import business warehouse.

Like any good business man, Christy developed a chain of warehouses and made himself the middle man between the seller and the buyer. He stayed clear of the gang wars, never had to fight over turf. Instead, he concentrated on being the most efficient and reliable wholesaler for cannabis and the like. Rival gangs bought from him and he was an equal opportunity merchant.

From a humble olive oil importer, the Godfather invested his returns and grew his corporation. So too did Mr. Kinahan. He bought property across the globe, not only to launder the proceeds of his illegal operation but as a hedge against the future. At some point, a man wants to retire and live out his golden years in comfort, and what better way than to have a steady rental income?

But Mario Puzo wrote fiction and the Godfather prospered. Although threatened by government probes, he was never undone. Not so in real life, as Christy Kinahan can now attest.

His world began to fall apart two years ago when gardai raided one of his warehouses. They then initiated an investigation and traced the drugs back to Spain, and found a link to England. Police in England initiated an investigation and found a warehouse that was traced back to the same front company in Spain, and then the European authorities started digging deep.

Mr. Kinahan no longer need concern himself with retirement income. He can expect to spend his golden years behind bars. Arrested in Spain yesterday, he will be charged with drug dealing, money laundering and whatever else Interpol can throw at him.

That's the funny thing about writers. They can control how things end in their novels because they're the ones putting the words together. They don't have to deal with police from three different countries working together to bring down the main character in the drama.

The Hiatus Season

Literary agents are advising that replies to queries will be delayed during the start of hiatus season.

It's what the rest of us call summer, except we don't get Friday afternoons off and shut down for a week before Labor Day.

Book Expo America has opened today, not the most important conference for agents but one that draws some amount of attention. It's being held in New York City this year, making it easy for agents to attend and still go home at the end of the day. Saves money on hotel bills, and it's all about saving money where you can these days.

BEA is about marketing books, and with all the hand-wringing over digital publishing versus traditional paper and ink, there are plenty of conferences planned to address the issue. Literary agents will be there to hear what's predicted for the future, where publishing is going and what that means for author royalties. That's how they get paid, so they'll be paying attention.

Of course, while the literary agents are sitting in rooms at the Jacob Javits Center, they won't be reading your queries or your (if you're one of the lucky ones) full manuscript. A response time that might have been advertised as six weeks gets stretched out because a person can't be in two places at once.

After the show ends on Thursday, the Memorial Day weekend opens. Agents who were out of the office for most of the week won't run in on Friday to catch up on mail and get back to you on that submission. The following Monday is a holiday, and there goes the weekend.

Summer in publishing means time off, with the top executives and super-powered agents heading off to their place in the Hamptons for leisurely weekends. Nothing can get done, so everyone else goes home early.

Again, it's your query letter or manuscript submission that has to wait to be seen.

The hiatus season is coming in. Get used to longer wait times. Learn patience.

Or focus on writing another novel. Makes the time fly by.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

He Is One Of The Challenges

If you were anxiously awaiting Cardinal Sean Brady's lecture at Oxford University two weeks ago, and are now wondering why he failed to show, the answer has arrived.

His Eminence was going to give an address as part of a lecture series that was organized in honor of Cardinal John Newman, a prominent cleric who saw the light as a young man and fled from Queen Victoria's Church of England, straight to a baptismal font in a Catholic Church.

Cardinal Newman is due to be beatified soon Clearly, he's a big wheel in Catholic circles, a man of philosophy and deep thoughts. Newman Centers are to be found at almost every major university, a place for Catholic students to gather and practice their faith.

A big wheel, soon to take another step on the road to sainthood, cannot be honored if there's all sorts of people just outside the doors, roaring and protesting and waving signs and carrying on about the sex abuse scandal that is choking the Catholic Church to near death.

"Challenges Facing The Church In Ireland In The Twenty-first Century" was the theme.

Who better than Cardinal Sean Brady to speak of those challenges, when he's one of them.

Back in 1975, before he was elevated to Cardinal, he mishandled allegations of sexual abuse by Father Brendan Smyth. The organizers of the Newman lectures feared disruption at every turn because Ireland's Catholics are not the least bit pleased that Cardinal Brady failed to resign his post after botching an investigation that left a sexual predator free to abuse again and again.

There's the challenge facing the Church, summed up in the experiences of Cardinal Brady. Mismanagement. Protecting the corporation while the clients were injured. Hiding of evidence, secrecy, blind stupidity....a complete re-organization and change of attitude is quite challenging.

Cardinal Brady, however, was asked not to address the people. He cancelled his appearance, he backed out of the Mass he was to say at Trinity College (Cardinal Newman's old stomping grounds). Didn't want to stir up a fuss and detract from the memory of Cardinal Newman.

Challenges Facing The Church In Ireland? Put up a large picture of Cardinal Brady as an example. A picture is worth one thousand words, isn't it?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bringing Order Out Of Chaos

Google is coming to television soon. They think they've found a niche in need of filling, a service that will help you organize your life, or your TV viewing at a minimum.

Watching television is too chaotic. Too hard to find what you want to see. With a Google equipped TV, you can find your favorite show, find out what time it's on, watch episodes, and even order the previous two seasons on DVD via Amazon.

Somehow, it doesn't sound like the sort of ordering system that I need.

If I want to bring order out of the chaos that is everyday living, I can pick up a pen and write a story. From the corners of my imagination I can sweep away the frustrations of dealing with the general public, the state of the economy, or the decline of civlization.

That's the beauty of writing. It's the reason, I believe, that I'm addicted to the activity.

I can control the outcome of an imaginary scenario because it's mine to direct. The ending can be happy, it can be tragic, it can be left hanging.

Life is chaotic. Event don't go as planned, alternate strategies must be crafted with a minimum of thought. When I write, however, I can pursue the plot line that I've imagined and proceed towards the conclusion, with the characters experiencing set-backs or bumping up against roadblocks. As the author, I'm god-like, knowing the solution to the problem ahead of time, able to steer towards a resolution that arrives intact.

What I can't control is the publishing world. I can't force a literary agent to fall in love with my manuscript. I can't terrorize a publisher with an offer they can't refuse, and then see my writing in the window of the book shop.

When any of us write, we exert control over a corner of our world and bring order out of chaos. Don't need a television equipped with a Google search function for that. And we certainly don't need a large-screen image of the latest rejection letter broadcast into our living rooms, with Google's plan to turn every TV set into a computer monitor.

Getting rejected on the small screen of a Blackberry is more than enough, thanks just the same. I don't need all that much order in my life, really. Just a quiet place and a few minutes to create literary order out of the chaos of reality is enough control to see me through the day.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

U2 Are Getting Old

Christ, the pain!

It's always the back that goes, isn't it? You can take the creak in the knee, the pop of the ankle, but God help you when you throw out your back.

Bono's not so young as he once was.

Not so spry. The tendons have lost their youthful elasticity.

Like so many men getting on in years, he's had to undergo back surgery to repair some damage done under circumstances not yet explained.

U2 has been touring for some time now, and were getting ready to make the return trip across America for a round of summer concerts that would close out the 360 tour.

Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.

Bono's recuperating from back surgery in Germany, and the remainder of the tour is postponed indefinitely. Any kind of operation around the spine requires a long spell of recover, followed by therapy. So many nerves coursing through there, and any sort of inflammation adds to the problems. It's not an area of the body to treated with disdain.

What does the future hold? Will Bono be less active on stage in future? Will he rock but not roll, sensitive to the slightest twinge in the lumbar region?

It sucks to get old, doesn't it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Another Week And Still Not Published

Here it is Friday already and the queries I sent out last week haven't gotten a response.

Another query letter has failed. Or the story that took me a year to write isn't a story that any agent believes will sell in today's tight market. Yes, that market is tighter due to economic constraints. It's never been a good time to break into fiction, and now it's worse.

I'm buoyed by hope which was created by the positive responses I've gotten to the writing. So I can string words together.

Can I take those strings of words and apply them to a different time period in American history? How about a little murder and mayhem mixed in, will that make for a marketable story?

I've got to find out. I'm driven to find out.

Every chance I get, I write and the words come. It's almost a contest, to finish as quickly as possible, fly through editing, polish the manuscript, and send out query letters, and all to find out if I have the imagination to craft a novel that is marketable. If I already can write well enough, isn't the right plot the only thing that's been missing all along?

Am I more passionate about this current work in progress because I find the subject matter deeply engrossing on multiple levels? Or am I just determined to keep trying different material until I hit on something that's just what a publisher needs to plug a hole in their list?

Too stubborn to quit, or too stupid to see that it's hopeless. It's a true addiction, this writing game.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reading And Writing And Nudity

Imagine, if you can, the cafeteria of your former grade school.

Got it? Now, put a couple of stripper poles in there, some black lights, a mirrored wall...

Welcome to what was once Pioneer School in the formerly sleepy Neoga school district of central Illinois.

Locals are furious that the building that once housed a center of learning, that was bustling with innocent children, is now a strip joint.

Ever harbor a fantasy about your smokin' hot seventh grade teacher? There's lap dancing in the teacher's lounge. May all your pubescent dreams come true.

No one wants to live in a town that's known for a strip club, even if the owners came up with a clever theme that plays on the building's former use. In the eyes of Bob Kearney and Travis Funneman, they're giving back to the community by purchasing a derelict building, rehabbing it, and providing employment for thirty people.

Mr. Kearney scoffs at the locals, who see the strip club as something dirty. Why, this isn't Nazi Germany or the Taliban, he says. His business is perfectly legitimate. He's even planning on rehabbing the classrooms to provide party areas. Not breaking any laws, there's no liquor served, so where's the welcome for a couple of guys who have brought business to town?

The residents understand that they can't force the place to close. What they can do is stand out in front every night the club is open, praying in loud voices, providing some light in a dark place by lighting a bonfire.

They can shame the place out of existence, and in a small rural town, it's not impossible.

Men might drive some distance to watch women take off their clothes, but there's a limit to how far they might go. And if you live in the area, you sure aren't going to show up at a strip joint when your grandmother or your minister might be watching the door.

It might take some time, but Mr. Kearney should keep in mind the fate of the Cafe Risque in Lavonia, Georgia. The locals didn't care for the business. They fought against it, and today, the place is gone.

Of course, the property's owners made a tidy profit on the sale. Maybe that's what Mr. Kearney has in mind after all.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When The Manuscript Writes Itself

I've read two books, taken notes, and retrieved reams of archived newspaper articles out of the printer. I've thumbed through books of old photographs, scholarly tomes that describe life in past times, sucked up information and crammed my head full of trivia.

My mind is completely wrapped around a fragment of the past that is the setting for a manuscript I'd been meaning to write for a couple of years, until I finally sat down and got started.

It's almost all I can think about.

I pass a building and say to myself that this structure was brand new when the characters walked past on their way to that building over there. The streets are hazy with automobile exhaust today but I can envision those same roads clogged with horses and wagons and cable cars. I can smell unwashed bodies, horse piss and the rank miasma of a polluted river.

The first few pages that I wrote didn't come easy. It took some struggle to get into the story, to see where the characters were going.

Suddenly, the manuscript is writing itself. The characters tug at my brain, urge my fingers to type faster so that their tale can be told.

The problem is, I can't seem to focus thoroughly on my job. Every now and then I'll think of what to put in the upcoming chapter, which character will take center stage for the next few pages. An insignificant one leaps out, to be presented in a more important light in the closing chapter.

The dilemmas of the main actors play out in my head constantly when I should be focused on the phone call or the estimate or the pile in the inbox that keeps on growing because I don't have my mind on work.

Hopelessly stuck in the past, following along behind these imaginary beings who once did exist. I know what they looked like in grainy photographs and newspaper engravings. In my imagination, I bring them back to life and occupy their heads, when I should be concentrating on what's going on in front of me at work.

Either I'll finish the rough draft in record time, or I'll have to exercise a bit of discipline and not let them out of the darker recesses of my brain as often as I do now. There's no money in writing, you see, and an author can't be writing for long if the mortgage goes unpaid.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Written Record

They came in their hundreds, in their thousands. Over one million.

The Great Famine changed the world by scattering the Irish all over the globe. They fled to England, in search of work and food. They came to America in droves aboard the coffin ships, seeking any sort of life that held out hope of survival. They were sent against their will to Australia as convicts, guilty of stealing food to feed a starving child, and if they took their impoverished family with them, so much the better.

Within the ancient archives of Stewart and Kincaid, prominent solicitors of long standing in Dublin, were discovered a veritable treasure trove of documents from the Famine years.

James Adams auctioneers has been charged with selling the collection, and they've reported strong interest from America. The Irish might not have been welcomed when they arrived in New York or Boston or Baltimore, but they flourished. And they never quite forgot why their ancestors had left home to begin with.

Senator David Norris has noticed that this important piece of Ireland's past could very well end up like so many of its America. Clearly this is the sort of material that should remain at home, where scholars might have access to it. The Great Famine is so very much a part of Ireland's ethos, and what better way to explore the mindset of the landlord or the desperate tenant than with source documents?

The collection of letters and documents belongs in the National Archives, but the owner is interested in a return on an investment rather than investing in the public's knowledge of their past.

Nothing wrong with making a euro, but the Irish government is flat out broke. There's no money to pay for luxuries like source documents from the Great Famine, and there surely isn't enough money to compete at auction with descendants of Famine immigrants who made good in America and can afford to possess a fragment of their history.

Col. Wingfield pens his annoyance at having to spend lavishly to ship his tenants off to America. A tenant pleads for understanding with his landlord that the seed money was spent on food. A solicitor advises his client that the tenant has no money to pay back rent or pay to emigrate, so he's accepted transportation for his entire family.

Taken together, the documents paint a complete picture. Scattered among private collectors and public archives, the continuity becomes difficult to trace.

Will anyone step up and purchase the letters so that they can be donated back to the Irish people? Or will it be all about the money, the greed of possessing that which others cannot have...even if those others are historians who might create a more comprehensive record of a time that changed the world.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Variation On A Rejection

Literary agent Laura Gross has Jodi Picoult in her clutches so I realize it's rather foolish to ask her if she'd be interested in my novel. I did anyway.

Turns out her agency can't take on new projects right now.

That's one way of saying thanks but no thanks.

Not that she isn't accepting queries, of course. She's the agent of a super star in the book selling world, and it's possible that someone almost as super might want to switch representation. Ms. Gross is open to those sorts of queries.

Just not interested in unpublished authors with no track record of sales who have no demonstrated talent for turning straw into gold for the Laura Gross Literary Agency.

The interns at Fletcher & Company have a far more expansive rejection to offer. No short and sweet dismissal for them.

Their rejection is more involved and gives the writer a slight ego boost. Sometimes they reject books that are actually good because they don't think they could sell them on to a publisher. Or they're not passionate about the manuscript, and wouldn't be able to sell it on to a publisher. Or they fear that the manuscript would need extensive editing and who has that kind of time?

No is no, in the end. And I'm getting a no more often these days than I once did.

The perception is, as it always has been, that it's a tight market for fiction. The atmosphere in our troubled world accentuates that perception, and until there's a feeling that the economy is turning around, I would expect that it would be harder than ever to get a literary agent to bite unless you've got some hefty credentials or a degree in creative writing from a prestigious program.

At least if you've been trained how to write according to accepted formulae, there's less chance the agent would have to spend a lot of time editing your work before trying to sell it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Giant Gesture Of Fear

"They're scared of the Mexicans," said a long-time friend.

He grew up on Chicago's North Shore and was sent to a Catholic college prep school because Highland Park High School didn't meet his parents' strict standards. It's the Jesuits who mold young men, not a gaggle of ex-hippies and dreamers.

"They were scared of the Italian kids," he added.

Some of his friends were Giants back in the day. Their lockers were grouped together in a hallway that they called 'Skid Row'. Highland Park students didn't walk there.

They were scared of the Irish kids as well, back when the Ft. Sheridan army base attracted the 'wrong sort'. Drinking, gambling, fighting....definitely Not Our Kind in the eyes of the well-to-do Highland Parkers.

First came the Irish, the manual laborers who did the back-breaking work that native born Americans didn't want to do. On their heels came the Italians, fleeing Mussolini's version of fascism and willing to tackle the most menial of jobs because it was better than anything they'd left behind in Italy.

Today it's the Mexicans, escaping from an impoverished country that offers them no hope for advancement. They're willing to do all the work that the Irish and the Italians did when they first arrived in America. Once it was Paddy on the railroad. Now it's Manuel digging ditches.

The well-heeled of Highland Park feared the Irish, then the Italians, and now the Mexicans. Afraid to anger them, because you just never know when violent people known to fight and kill with impunity might take a notion to murder every Giant in their beds.

"The basketball team's trip got cancelled because the administration is scared shitless," he concluded. "Don't want to offend the Mexicans in case the Hispanic kids start a riot."

What of the children of sailors and marines whose parents are housed at Ft. Sheridan? Wouldn't there be some concern that they would take offense?

The bureaucrats who made the unilateral decision to screw the girl's basketball team aren't afraid of the military brats. They're scared of the Mexicans.

So much has changed in education over the years. It's good to know that racism, bigotry and prejudice are in full bloom at Highland Park High School. The blue-collar kids are still finding discrimination disguised as concern for their welfare.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Message Received

No one else could see the Blessed Mother, but Joe Coleman assures us all that he witnessed an apparition at Knock yesterday and he was given a message.

It's a secret message from Herself, but he did wish to impart one key portion.

The Mother of God is upset about Joe's treatment there at Knock. She's got her knickers in a knot because Joe and his followers aren't being allowed to pray as he'd like in the shrine.

Thank you. Message received.

Anything else Our Lady would like us all to do for her faithful servant? Perhaps he could claim that She's furious over the fact that Joe isn't receiving a hefty government stipend to continue his praying work. Why, he could kneel in the grass outdoors and stare at the sun all day if the Dail would see fit to grant him a salary.

Not too self-serving, is it? To cry to the press about the clergy who run the shrine at Knock is one thing, but to proclaim that Mary is less than pleased is bordering on farce.

So take that, figures of authority. The Virgin Mary says you should do what Joe says. Because Joe said so.

Little wonder that the crowds who have shown up when Joe announces an impending vision has dwindled, and yesterday reached 200 trusting souls, praying with all their might.

You can bet that the clergy in charge of the shrine are praying that Mr. Coleman's fifteen minutes of fame are coming to an end. So hard to shepherd a flock in the midst of such distractions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Avatar This

By the thousands they donned their 3-D glasses and watched cartoons.

Avatar this, Mr. Big Time Producer Cameron. Hugh Hefner's got your 3-D right here, and it ain't no cartoon.

In his wisdom, Mr. Hefner has decreed that the first thing any man wants to see in 3-D isn't some blue-hued imaginary creature but a genuine naked lady. Desperate to sell magazines, he's taking that "Give the customer what he wants" notion into full nudity.

Some years back, Sport Illustrated did the 3-D glasses thing for the swimsuit edition. It was so successful, apparently, that it was never repeated again. The editors of Playboy must think that the lack of interest had something to do with the models being partially clothed, since they're planning on inserting a set of 3-D specs in the June issue and figure on record sales.

The problem is, once you've lost the glasses or they've fallen apart, you the magazine buyer are left with a blurry picture. And what of the soldiers who post the centerfold so prominently in their barracks? Are they to be expected to sit around daydreaming with 3-D glasses perched on their noses at all times? Hard to catch a casual glance of Miss June in focus without them.

On the other hand, if there's enough hype, maybe a few more men will choose Playboy over Maxim or whatever other girlie magazine is outselling the old dinosaur. Get a copy into the hands of the desired demographic, even if it takes a silly gimmick, and maybe those same young men will buy the next month's issue.

Marketing strategies can make or break a publication, but sometimes the cutting edge gets dull with time. Being the first out of the blocks doesn't mean you'll win the race, even if you're the one who laid out the course and smoothed out the rough spots for those who came after.

Monday, May 10, 2010

23 Days And Counting

Wondering what to do with yourself in June?

Like books and authors and seminars that deal with books and authors?

Always wanted to visit Chicago but needed a good reason to come?

The Printer's Row Lit Fest is what you've been waiting for.

Opening on Saturday, June 12 and closing up late on Sunday night, the annual festival of all things literary is a hot ticket and you'll want to make your reservations early.

A few literary agents may show up, but the festival is more about connecting writers with readers. You could listen to someone like Audrey Niffenegger talk about the process of writing and learn something that would improve your manuscript. You could browse the tables of the used book vendors and find things you never knew existed but which you must own.

Independent publishers, independent book sellers, and a few literary journals will set up shop to display their wares, hoping to attract the attention of the general public that might not know that they exist. And that they can help you find a book based on your general interests because they know books, unlike the computer that connects you to a big chain website.

The Tribune Company, which owns the festival, is counting down the days. Hotel rooms are cheaper in Chicago over weekends when the business travelers have gone home.

What better vacation could you have than one spent among books?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Avoid The Salad

Looks harmless, doesn't it.

But it's deadly.

Your mother told you to eat your vegetables. She served up a bowl of lettuce with every meal and insisted that it was good for you.

Happy Mother's Day, Ma, and you're wrong, wrong, wrong.

Lettuce will make you sick. Lettuce could kill you.

Another outbreak of E. coli is making the rounds and romaine lettuce is being pulled from shelves. College students were hit particularly hard, but you'd have to believe that they're most likely to be served up the cheapest food and cheap food requires cheap labor and handling.

You can't cook up a salad and serve it bacteria free. By its very nature it's a raw food, and every little bug and bacillus goes down your gullet with all that lovely roughage.

Should you be taking your mother to brunch this Sunday, be sure to keep her well away from the lettuces.

It's not good for you, you might say. Don't eat that. You don't know where it's been.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

And Now To Kick Aunt Aggie Out The Door

Time to update a blog post from 28 April as more news comes in on the eviction front.

At that time, news was breaking about Agnes Albinger, a centenarian who was on the verge of losing her farm to foreclosure.

On the heels of a publicity storm, the bank holding the mortgage declared their willingness to work with the unfortunate woman so that she wouldn't be seen out on the street with her meager belongings piled up behind her.

The building inspector in Monee, Illinois also agreed to give her some time to fix up her ramshackle house so that the place wouldn't be condemned and Aunt Aggie forced into a nursing home.

So much good news and hope calls for a reality check.

Ms. Albinger's niece, Bridget Gruzdis, wrested control of the farm from her elderly aunt, who recalls signing some papers but had no idea what was going on. Silly Aunt Aggie, to trust a family member whose actions put paid to the notion that dear Bridget was trying to help out. Help herself, more like it.

To further burnish her stellar reputation, Ms. Gruzdis has served an eviction notice on Agnes Albinger, 100 years of age. The normal channels didn't work to get the old bat off the farm, you see, and there's all this sympathy been generated. And when you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Ms. Albinger has thirteen days to vacate or be removed.

Her reason? According to Ms. Gruzdis, she's skint and can't afford to "maintain the property or provide for the occupants."

The occupant was doing just fine until Bridget tried to "provide" for her.

The Will County State's Attorney is on the case, to do what can be done to keep Ms. Albinger in her home. There's laws againts preying on seniors, aren't there?

The Foreclosure Crisis Can Hit U2

Any downturn in a property owner's finances and they're looking at foreclosure.

Take, for example, Carol Hawkins of Dublin. She lost her job and now she's in arrears on her condominium association fees. It's only a matter of time until she has to sell something to raise the cash, and all she seems to have is the condo itself.

Adam Clayton of U2 is going to ask a New York court to stop her from selling the place.

Ms. Hawkins lost her job with Mr. Clayton when she was caught helping herself to the odd bit of coin. Thinking, no doubt, that her employer wouldn't notice a few thousand missing when he had millions, she used his credit cards and took money without the U2 bassist's permission.

He may be a rock star, but he's not dumb. A good accountant is a busy man's best friend when he's short on time to mind the till.

In Ireland, Mr. Clayton obtained a restraining order last December, and Ms. Hawkins was barred from selling any jewelry, real estate or other valuables. There's a dispute as to how much she took, and until that amount is determined, she can't dispose of things that might help her raise the cash she needs to cover expenses on the New York City flat.

The condo was purchased three years ago, free and clear, although no one has asked specifically how a personal assistant came up with $465,000. That transaction alone would have been enough to raise a bean-counter's eyebrow.

Since the restraining order on asset disbursement applies in Ireland, an attorney in New York will file a request to prevent any intercontinental finagling.

Ms. Hawkins' attorney would like to sell the place now and tuck the money away until the Irish courts determine whether or not she lifted the funds that paid for the place. Mr. Clayton's attorney would like everything frozen in place until the embezzlement case is settled.

Considering how bad the market is right now for high priced real estate in New York City, you'd have to find merit in Mr. Clayton's request. If he gets the place back as part of a settlement on the theft charges, he could wait out the downswing and realize a bit of a profit at the other end. Why sell now, in the teeth of a bad market?

Unless, of course, you're desperate because you lost your job, your former employer is suing you, and no one will hire a personal assistant with a questionable past.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

From The Era Of The Sexy Stewardess

There was a time, in the long ago days, when the person who brought you your meal or beverage on an airplane was female, young, slim, and sexually appealing to the gentlemen on board.

A stewardess had to maintain her figure and watch her weight, or get fired. The restrictions had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with enticing business travelers. Marketing an airline was all about the prettiest girls, and ugly girls need not apply. If they wanted to work for an airline, they could answer the phones where no one would have to gaze upon their homely mugs.

Jeff Smisek, CEO of Continental Airlines, must be forgiven for adhering to an old image. He can't help himself.

In his mind, it's the pretty girl who makes the best match and it's the ugly girl who has to settle for whatever she can get. Obvious to him, then, that Continental was the pretty girl in the United Airlines courtship.

His airline got ahead on its looks, a swivel of the hips, a flutter of an eyelash. That left US Airways to play the role of ugly girl, sitting along the wall praying to get asked to dance.

Little wonder that the CEO of US Airways fired back, calling Mr. Smisek both chauvinistic and insulting to the employees of US Airways. You think US Airways is the ugly girl? Then Continental is the dumb blond, the airhead---the gold-digger who's only after a man's money and she has no intention of being faithful.

As for the female employees of all three firms involved in merger talks, they can shake their heads and sigh. A cabin attendant can't be fired for getting old or losing her pre-gravida figure, but the mentality at the top still hasn't changed.

A woman can be highly competent, efficient, well-organized and just plain smart, but if she isn't pretty, the CEOs think she's inferior. Not exactly what you want to hear when you're looking to move ahead in the airline industry.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Time Constraints

I can compose a blog post or I can work on a new manuscript.

There's not enough time in the day to do it all.

For business people, customer service has become a high priority as they attempt to appease and please the paying customers. Losing business is part of life, and it's a desperate struggle to dig up new clients when few are willing to part with their money.

So I can't let work slide. At the same time, I can't give up on a compelling story idea that's tumbling around in my head, making a nuisance of itself until it gets written down.

Therefore, I will work on a manuscript when a few minutes appear.

It's all about making choices these days. Conserving scarce resources.

Monday, May 03, 2010

If You Can't Fly Continental, Try To Have A Nice Trip

Before long, former Continental Airlines employees will join former Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt workers in the unemployment lines.

It's been announced that Continental and United Airlines are going to merge. The new company will be...United Airlines.

The new company's headquarters will be in Chicago, where United is already headquartered. Plans already in the works to consolidate United's corporate offices in Sears Tower will go ahead, which would likely indicate less need for cubicle space in Houston.

Not that Houston will be shut down completely. As usually happens in a merger, the company being acquired bears the brunt of the downsizing pain. Besides, Houston is hot and the city's not as attractive as Chicago. Doesn't have a bean-shaped sculpture or a Frank Gehry designed band shell, either.

Some office space in Houston will be needed because the merged airline will be bigger and someone who knows something about Continental will be needed to handle business that will be new to United.

There's more to it than that, from a bean counting perspective, however.

Officials in Houston will put together a package of tax incentives and other inducements to convince the merged entity that it would be cheaper to do business in Houston. As for Chicago, they've already done all sorts of shady deals with United, a few years ago when Mayor Daley set out to lure United from the suburbs into the city where corporations have to pay a head tax on each employee.

So, Houston, what have you got that's better? United has gained Continental Airlines hubs, planes and employees. Have they also picked up a bargaining chip? Texas versus Illinois in a no-holds-barred cage match, and the winner gets to host the expanded United Airlines.

There's a lot of tax dollars to be won, and all United has to do is pit one state against the other to reduce their operating expenses.