Archive for February 2005

Hello, Wall!

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Oh, Wall, full often hast thou heard my moans
For parting my fair Pyramus and me!
My cherry lips have often kiss’d thy stones,
Thy stones with lime and hair knit up in thee.
- the lovelorn Thisby, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Big doings around here the past week - we had our retaining wall rebuilt, arresting for now nature’s desire to pull us into Puget Sound eventually.  Around Thanksgiving, during torrential rains, a good part of the wall collapsed.  It had been leaning further and further toward the street, and I have spent the previous year or so studiously ignoring it.

My wife interviewed all the contractors and pretty much made the final decision on her own, a new exercise for her, and she did a damned good job.  Many of the bidders wanted to haul our granite rocks away and replace them, which just didn’t make a lot of sense to us.  Also, they seemed to prefer “dry stacking” instead of mortaring, a look we prefer.  She held her ground (heh), and ended up with a great deal and a nice looking end product.


It may just be contact paranoia, but my take on the celebrity deaths this week is that Hunter S. Thompson and Sandra Dee have snuck off to make a box-office juggernaut called Gidget Goes Gonzo.

I got a lot of pleasure out of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72.  I think I read it sometime in the late 70s, and it was a good bit of corrective medicine for someone who, with his first-ever trip to the ballot box, voted for Nixon in ‘72 (fodder for another entry at another time - remind me).  And I laughed until I bled out of every orifice reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. 

I thrilled at the idea of New Journalism - it seemed like something I could do, maybe, after dabbling briefly and unsuccessfully in trying to write fiction.  I read Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and HST and huddled in my cocoon of optimistic procrastination (far preferable to the pessimistic procrastination of the days I thought I could write fiction).  I guess it worked out that I didn’t have to do all that crazy shit cuz HST did.

I certainly can’t write a fitting obituary for him, but check out the terrific ones here and here.  On the upside, maybe I can now get Ralph Stedman to illustrate my blog. 

Nocturnal Office Etiquette.

Tour d’Torpor is once again playing in Milwaukee.  I’ve been pretty successful at being out of town for our anniversary, my wife’s birthday and Valentine’s Day the past few years, and I did it once again yesterday.  As usual, I’ll save one or two of my little airplane snacks for her, and everything will be cool.  Won’t it.

I worked late last night at my client’s, alone, and barely restrained myself from prowling people’s desks in search of Valentine candy stashes.  Caffeine was a problem, however, as I was locked in, and there are no Starbuck’s within strolling distance anyway.  So, I went to the lunchroom and pulled one of my more dastardly tricks:  I set up the drip coffee machine as if to make a full pot of coffee, but when the lifegiving elixir started streaming, I caught the first 5 ounces in my cup, then let the watery remainder collect in the pot.   I anticipate several requests from the night crew for a more expensive brand of coffee over the next few days.

Successful Succession

My client in Tucson is a business that started as a sole proprietorship and grew to dominate its niche in Tucson and make major inroads in the larger Phoenix market.  As is often the case, a large part of the success of the business is invested in the personality of the founder.  I’m engaged there because some venture capitalists I know purchased several businesses in the same niche and needed someone to pull all the accounting together into a single system.

I’ve wondered about the logic of the acquisition, since venture capital works best when it’s the wind that spreads a hot local fire to acres of ready tinder.  Something replicable - think Starbuck’s.  This business seems more like a free-standing oak on a savannah. 

Anyway, there is the problem of cloning The Founder in order to not only grow the business, but to merely continue its existence if he croaks or decides one weekend that he just won’t return from his place on the Sea of Cortez.  The original idea was for him to groom a young principal from one of the other acquired businesses, but he’s consistently disdained this fellow, and it’s started to look like it won’t happen.

On my arrival in Tucson this week, I found The Founder’s 30-something Son working across from me.  The Founder intimated to me that his hope was for this Son to assume the mantle that ill fit the hapless acquiree.  My immediate reaction, as I regarded them, was a pang of desire - at that moment, I wished I had the opportunity to bring my son into a business, to work with him as mentor and partner, and for the first time since meeting him I envied The Founder.

The next day, while The Founder and Son were in Phoenix, The Founder’s Brother came into the Tucson office.  The Brother has been very successful in business ventures elsewhere, and is known not to suffer fools.  In conversation with me (he hasn’t discovered yet the profundity of my foolishness, although I believe he has his suspicions), he asked if I’d met the Son.  I said I had, and he shook his head and said, “It’s not going to work.  The kid just has no personality, he’s a dud.  I mean, the kid’s had some hard times and I feel badly for (Founder), but this won’t work out.” 

I had to (silently) acknowledge that my attempts at discourse with the Son hadn’t generated any sparks, and I saw that Brother was pretty much right on the money.  I foresaw then that this would not end well for any of them, and my envy for The Founder was replaced with regret for the strife and disappointment that seemed to await him.

Levy Levity

Next stop on the Caffeine Torpor tour is Tucson. Flying there this morning, coming home late tomorrow night.  I see it’ going to be 72 during the day today but, as usual with business travel, it won’t matter whether I’m there or Nome.  Well, not really, it’s still something of a treat to walk out for lunch or a coffee in my shirtsleeves.

I don’t really practice tax anymore (except on my Mom), but I read the journals and engage fitfully in continuing education, and yesterday I ran across this item about a city tax department employee in Middletown, Ohio who received a suspension for inserting humorous copy in the city’s tax form instructions.

They apparently have a 5-year limit for deducting business net operating losses without turning a profit, because one of the things she was dinged for was this:

 Free advice: If you don’t have a profit in a five-year period, you might want to consider another line of work

While I appreciate the spirit in which Ms. Stubbs offered her levity, I guess I wouldn’t go so far as to declare her a martyr.  I recall inserting similar stuff into internal memoes, etc., when I worked in tax and, as it might be with Ms. Stubbs, it was a sign that I needed to consider another line of work.

Salt In The Wound…And Maybe a Little Nyquil

I got a hit this morning from someone searching for “torpor caffeine”.  I’ve finally found a category I can dominate.


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This isn’t a bad representation of my outlook lately.  Work has just been sucking the life out of me these last weeks.  A couple of projects I’ve taken on that I thought would be controllable have turned out to involve a lot more effort.  The situation will only last another 2 or 3 weeks, I’m hoping, so I can at least catch up to my normal level of “late”, and not these uncharted depths.

So, I have yet to post in February.  I can hear you all pouting out there, and the cacophony has led me to eschew sleep a little longer.   I’ve been doing more of the “Caffeine in the Evening” thing than usual lately, as my evenings turn into extended workdays.  And it’s every bit as satisfying as gin & soda.  Every bit.

I watched most of the Super Bowl with my mother in law Sunday.  It had been billed as so squeaky clean and inoffensive that Mrs. Perils was calling it the Tidy Bowl.  I’ve never paid much attention to the halftime shows - I was in marching bands, damn it, and a halftime show without a marching band doesn’t really count - so I have no way to judge whether Sunday’s was more or less stultifying than others, but I found the ads almost totally without humor or entertainment value.  A shining exception was the one where a guy’s girlfriend walks in to see him holding a cat by the scruff of the neck, a butcher knife in the other hand, wading in a pool of spilled spaghetti sauce and about a nanosecond to differentiate himself meaningfully from Glenn Close.  I had no dog in the actual football game, but it was satisfyingly competitive and I thrilled when my Ohio State boy, Mike Vrabel, caught a touchdown.

The bloodshot lid closes on another day.  I’ll be back.