Friday, June 29, 2012

Freeky Friday: My Umbrella Is Not Really Functional

The challenge - Who is your pop culture alter ego - has nagged at me all week. Should I choose a ballplayer? Musician? Writer? The answer: (d), none of the above.

I have long admired the work of Gene Kelly. From reading about him, I know he was an exacting task master, harder on himself than anyone else. I read somewhere that the teenaged Debbie Reynolds rehearsed a single number (Good Morning) for five weeks under his direction, so that those three minutes of celluloid would be flawless.

Mr. Kelly was an inordinately talented dancer; the contrast between his style (almost athletic) and that of his contemporary, Fred Astaire, who was more ballet-like, could not be more striking. What I most enjoyed about the art of his work was the exuberance he projected on the screen.

In his masterpiece, Singin' in the Rain, Mr. Kelly's character, Don Lockwood, has just kissed the girl and is on his way home. Every time I view this scene, I am struck by the joy that is all over each move. To be able to have that feeling, to have that indescribable elation in one's heart, if only for a moment, ah, that's an elixir for an alter ego to be bottled and trotted out only on the most necessary of occasions.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Freeky Friday - Summer Traditions

Freeky Friday

What's the best thing about summer in my neck of the woods? That's simple: ice cream. Probably the best memories of nearly every summer involve a trip to get this delicious treat. While I would probably eat it any day of the year, it just doesn't taste the same. More importantly, my life is chock-full of rituals surrounding the act of obtaining this delight.

When I was very small, my parents had these friends, Garner & Nell. They were this kind Southern couple, a few years younger than my parents. We all thought Nell pretty cool, as she drove a 53 MG, you know, the one with two seats and the running boards. After playing a baseball game, she would pile us all into her car (we were pretty small) and drive to the local parlor to get cones.

Fast forward about 30 years and I'm taking my children out for ice cream in the summer. When we lived in Charlotte, I would have special time with a young Julia by driving her to Larry's in Mint Hill. In Raleigh, I would take her and younger sister Amanda to Goodberry's (home of the Carolina Concrete!) for frozen custard. Summers in Scituate took us to Dribble's on Front Street. Summers at home in Florida (well, most of the year) frequently resulted in a B-R run. For a really special treat, it was Jaxson's in Dania Beach, which is like no ice cream parlor I have ever experienced.

I have not discovered a special place in Atlanta for my summertime sins, but I am optimistic. It seems my son-in-law has just acquired a new pickup truck. I have asked that my first ride result in a trip to some place that sells ice cream. Then, forever after, I will refer to his Ride as The Ice Cream Truck.

I think it's probably more the memories of the company than the actual ice cream, but it's a summer tradition that I will always treasure.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Freeky Friday

Freeky Friday

I have been asked, in the spirit of Freekware, to Spread the Soul by posting on Freeky Friday. The topic of the week is: what is the best thing that has happened to you the past year?

All in all, it has been a wonderful time to be alive. My niece Michelle gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. While I'm thrilled for both Keira's Mom & Dad, it was as remarkable to see the joy on the faces of my sister and brother-in-law at this little bundle of wonder.

Also, daughter Julia & son-in-law Dave bought a lovely house that rapidly became a home. I was honored to have a few holiday meals there, which I hope are harbingers of many more to follow.

The best thing, though, occurred a few weeks ago. I swelled with (lion's) pride at my daughter Amanda's completion of graduate school at Columbia. She took a tough path to lead to the lofty goal of changing the world, one student at a time. That she was able to find a job caused her dear old dad's heart to stop fluttering quite so rapidly. She undertook a huge challenge and conquered it.

While we were all together in New York for her big event, we visited the Museum of Natural History. Afterwards, she asked if I wanted to see Strawberry Fields, as it was but a few blocks' walk away. As this was the same day she had graduated and we were enjoying a respite from the deluge that had soaked us a few times that day already, perhaps I was feeling a bit more introspective than usual.

This simple plot of land in Central Park ranks among the most moving spots I have ever visited. Those around us seem to have been similarly affected. We decided to wander a bit deeper into the park, when we noticed this oddity that there were no cars; we never did learn why it was closed to vehicles, but it made the day even more distinctive.

But wait, it gets better: we decided to walk back to our hotel, which was a few miles south. Amanda and I were having this rambling conversation about topics ranging from the works of Olmstead to Simon & Garfunkel, from Tavern on the Green to Sheep's Meadow, even to a long-ago weekend I spent at the Sherry Netherland. Somehow, we got on the topic of life's work, or something like that. I confessed that I felt I had missed my calling in life; I should have been a history teacher. Without missing a beat, Amanda said, no, you didn't miss out on anything; your mission in life was to have us.

Thank you, Amanda, for that generous sentiment. That was the best thing that happened to me all year.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

That clinking clanking sound is all that makes the world go round

The Baby Boomers were going to save the world. The earlier members of my generation marched with Dr. King, stopped a war and ousted one crooked President. Two of the figures who stood for what was right were Ben & Jerry. You remember them, of course. They were the two kind, bearded souls who started a company that made good, albeit expensive, ice cream. They used natural ingredients, adding nothing remotely harmful to any environment beyond its consumers' arteries and waistlines. The names selected for their products were humorous, Cherry Garcia being a particular favorite. Ben (a person) and Jerry (a person) also ran their company (not a person) that followed strict ethical guidelines. A portion of their profits were donated to charity. They have partnered over the years with several charitable organizations to allow them to benefit from their annual free cone day. They also had a rule that the highest paid employee of their company could not earn more than seven times what an entry-level employee was paid.

My brain itched this past week when I read an article describing the amounts paid to CEO's in the past year. The average compensation for a CEO at a publicly-held US company last year was $9.587 million. That is not a typo. That works out to over $3072 per hour, or $51.21 per minute.

Sadly, I was not shocked by this astounding accumulation of wealth shared with so very few. Instead of allowing myself to be consumed by righteous indignation, I decided to determine what I could do with that amount of money. My list:

Since I would be compensated (note: I did not use the word "earned") this staggering amount, I could afford the best tax accountant in the land, who would arrange for me to pay a tax rate not to exceed 15%. After my tax liability of $1,438,050 was paid, I would be stuck with a paltry $8,148,950.

Let's take care of my retirement. I'm going to sock away $2 million. That would be enough to pay me $100,000 a year for 20 years. Of course, the previously mentioned tax accountant would cause that wealth to accumulate, so I could live much better than that, for much longer. Balance: $6,148,950.

Next, I would like to pay off my children's grad school loans. They actually do good things (teacher, physical therapist), but will never earn buckets of lucre. While I'm at it, I'll pay off my son-in-law's law school loans too. Rough estimate: $350,000. Balance: $5,798,950.

I should get a new car. Now, I could afford a Bentley (I guess they cost $500,000?), but I would not wish to be perceived as someone who flaunts their wealth so shamelessly. So, let's get my dream car instead: Honda Civic Hybrid. When fully loaded, this will run me $29,000. Let's round it up to $30K (includes: taxes, tag, title, dealer prep and destination fees); balance: $5,768.950.

My children should have some money, too. I'm going to give each of them $1 million. I'm also going to insist that they follow the advice of George Clooney's character in The Descendants: "You give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing." Balance: $3,768,950.

I know many who have lost loved ones, none dearer than my sister's son Mark, a youthful victim of a form of Hodgkin's Disease. Let's give the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society $1 million. Maybe it will help them to find a cure or to ease some other family's pain. Balance: $2,768,950.

Speaking of nieces and nephews, I'm quite fond of mine and my children are close to all their cousins. There are 5 cousins; let's let each of them have $200,000, again, following the caution uttered by Mr. Clooney. Balance: $1.768,950.

I want to take a great vacation. I wish to visit: Aix, Normandy, Salzburg, Florence, and see my ancestral stomping grounds in Ireland. Assuming I take a friend, fly business class, stay a month in the equivalent of Ritz-Carlton hotels, I should be able to consume another $100K, if I really work at it. I still have over $1.6 million left.

I should buy a new home. Assume $500K for a pair of them, which will bring me down to around $1.1 million. But, that's still far too extravagant an amount to use for such mundane purchases like groceries, clothes, shelter and reloads to my Starbucks card. Let's give $1 million to Children's Miracle Network, or some other organization that benefits children at risk.

All of which leaves me with a mere $100K to pay for the basic expenses of life; I think that's sufficient. I have stashed away far more than I will ever need to retire, taken care of my children for life, bought a new car, taken a dream vacation, helped out the cousins and donated a ton of money. I do not fear, however, that I will soon be applying for food stamps. You see, the average CEO salary goes up by about 20% per year. Next year, I'll be paid over $11 million!

At the risk of sounding like Marx (Groucho, not Karl), I ask the question: how much do you really need?