The Last Brownie. . . .

A man lay on his deathbed. Perhaps a few hours to live. His hands were crossed on his chest and his eyes were closed. Suddenly his nose began to twitch. A familiar smell. He drifted upward out of the deep recess of sleep. That smell he thought. CHOCOLATE. Brownies baking! An eye flickered open. Then the other. And he slowly tilted his head. The smell of chocolate was overpowering.  The kitchen was just down the hall.  I need. . . one last brownie. . . .

With great effort, he rolled onto his side and let gravity take its course.  He flopped heavily onto the floor.  Slowly, laboriously he elbowed his way toward the kitchen.  After what seemed like hours, he crossed the threshold and there – on the kitchen table – was a plate of warm brownies.  He moved forward and then slowly extended his grasp . . . . fingers . . . . reaching . . . . almost there.

Just then his wife walked in the kitchen – “GEORGE!”  You leave those brownies aloneThose are for the funeral!


I am a simple soul. I get up in the morning.  Exercise.  Go to work.  I pay my mortgage.  Pay my bills.  I take care of the house. I put dirty laundry down the chute and take out the garbage. I drive carefully and obey the law. I pay my taxes and I (usually) don’t grouse. I love my wife and family. I go to Church on Sunday.  I try to eat right.  And I try to be nice to and respectful of all people – those I know and those I don’t.

So you wonder why on earth do you do this?  My question to most of you out there is the same — why do you?  The answer – to me – is the single most important word in the English language. INCENTIVE.  I frankly have incentive to do all of these things.  To earn money.  Keep a nice house.  Eat right.  Be respectful to my wife and family — and others.  To drive carefully.  Yadda yadda. . . .

I’m concerned that we are losing that sense of incentive.  Losing the sense of effort.  The sense of contribution.  It’s being replaced with a sense of entitlement.  A sense of expectation.  Something for. . . nothing.  Incentive is waning.  Maybe it’s a bit old-fashioned.  On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy admonished “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”   There was loud applause.   And approval.  Today though, more and more people are asking what their country can do for them.  With no strings attached.  Does it seem to you that we’re encouraging that attitude??  What’s your take?   

Live to Eat or Eat to Live. . . .

Socrates once counseled “thou should eat to live – not live to eat.”  As I have gotten older, I’ve become more careful about what I ingest into my body. I love movie theater popcorn, potato chips, corn curls, Baby Ruths, Oreos, French fries, Chuckles (yes Chuckles) and Sun Chips.  However, truth be told, you can probably count on one hand the times in the last year I have partaken of all of these.  Combined.  Well, maybe two hands.  The point is — despite my elan for such items, I pay them no — or little — mind.  I mean what’s the big deal with dieting?  Just have discipline, people.   When I bring something back to my desk for lunch while at work (which happens 3 or 4 days a week), it is always sans chips.  My sandwich is always a cappella.   I am strong.   Invincible.  During the day. . . .  

My downfall comes if I call home and Donna asks “Wanna go out for dinner?”  Sure.  My dinner will always be staid.  Serious.  Perhaps a beet salad.  Salmon and vegetables.  It’s then that I begin to sweat. . . . . The wait person sashays over and smiles.  My heart races.   They ask in that enticing come hither way “Would you like dessert?  We have chocolate gooey globs smothered with tubby tubs and whipped cream.  A la modeCovered with chocolate sauceCookies on the side.”   Donna pleads “will you share?”  “Pleeeeasee!”  My trembling hands, glazed look and perspiring brow tell the story — not on your life . . . . . I’ll have a double. . . . .   

I Am One of the Donkeys Here

A long time ago, I studied a bit of Mandarin Chinese. Then about 7 years ago, I decided to get back in the game with a 3 month “immersion” course through Berlitz.  My superb tutor – Weixin – continued on — coming to my office each week for several years.  And we would chat for an hour in Chinese.

Now Chinese is not as easy as it looks. It can be a bit difficult. There are four different tonal sounds so that each word can be pronounced four different ways — with perhaps a dozen entirely different meanings depending on context.  The only word resembling English is the word “mama” which will only get you so far. . . .

After my immersion course and a few months of tutoring, I had the occasion to host a group of Chinese judges and lawyers at my Firm.  I thought to myself I will wow them with my burgeoning knowledge of Chinese and so I took them on a tour of our offices and brought them into our Board room for a meeting.   At one point in my presentation, I noticed some polite laughter which I thought might be a result of my excellent elocution or my Shanghai accent.  However, as they were leaving, their translator pulled me aside and suggested that when I tried to say “I am one of the partners at Holland & Knight,” I had actually said “I am one of the donkeys at Holland & Knight.”  You should say lu shi — not lu zi

I have a feeling that my contratemps was one of the highlights of their trip such that the story will be retold with smiles and great enthusiasm.  Probably for years (sigh) . . . . .   

Blackberries and Cell Phones and IPhones – Oh My!

Seated in a restaurant a few months ago was a mother, father and two children. Mom and dad were busy checking emails and thumbing their IPhones, one of the kids sat there with earphones plugged in, mouth open, staring into space. The other child sat there.  Alone. looking around.  Nibbling a piece of bread.  Ignored.

I have been guilty of sneaking a peak at my Blackberry while having dinner — especially when I feel the “hum” of an arriving message. But I’m the first to admit it is rude.  It is essentially telling your dinner companion(s) that there is something more important than their company.  In some places, cell phones, Iphones and Blackberries are taboo.  That’s probably the way it should be.   Especially when families are together.  These devices are habit-forming and can be noxious to those with us — and around us.  

As I walk from the train station to my office in downtown Chicago, many people chat animatedly on their cell phones.  Others are busily texting.  And many are just “plugged in.”  Listening to something.  It’s interesting to see two or three people walking together — each with their own electronic device.  Intent.  Tuned out.  Ships passing in the daytime. . . .

Lately, I try to resist the temptation.  I feel noble.  Then again, I have a Blackberry and Donna has an IPhone.   Grrrrrrrr . . . . . . Excuse me. . .  “Donna?  Where’s your IPhone?  I’m playing Scrabble. . . . ”   

The Old Neighborhood. . . .

My parents lived in a 2 room attic in the 6000 block of West Byron Street in Chicago from 1942 until 1950.  Typical Chicago bungalow.  I was born in 1947 and lived in that attic for my first three years.  I remember the place with some clarity.  My mother (who is 90) gave me some old photographs taken in this location.  Last weekend, I paid a visit — to the old neighborhood.  I slowed outside the small brick home.  Gazed.  Memories.   Took a picture.  Then drove around back to see the little porch and the stairway (the only entrance) going up.  There were two guys working in the garage behind the house.  I slowed again.  Looked.  The two guys looked at me.  “I used to live there.  In the attic.  Up there.”  I pointed.  “The bathroom’s on the right.  Bedroom on the street and the kitchen right there.”  They looked at each other.  “You want to go in?”  One asked.  “Sure!” I responded. 

I had tears in my eyes as I climbed the back stairs.  And went in.  The place was neat — and pretty much as I remembered it.  Slanted ceiling.  There was the lone street window where my mother would hold me and I would wave at a little boy across the street.  Bathroom and little kitchen.    The two gents who were from Mexico (two brothers one of whom lived in the attic) could not have been nicer.   No hurry.   What a trip!  I sent them copies of pictures of their home — from 65 years ago.  Though between us, I still think of it as “my home.” 

Election Day

It used to be that Election Day was Election Day. One special Tuesday every two years when America would cast its ballots for those seeking national political office.  From the dawn’s early light until 7:00 p.m.   Lines were long and everyone waited.  And waited.   And voted.  “Absentee Voting” was a rarity — reserved only for those who planned to be away, those who were ill or those with a good excuse for not voting on Election Day.   

Today however, “Election Day” has morphed into a two week spree of voting.  Anyone can show up and vote.  Every day is Election Day.  So I showed up at one of the dozens of polling places open for “early voting.”  Despite the objection by some over the need to show an I.D. to vote on Election Day, I was required to show an I.D. “Do you have some proof of identification?” the man asked. “Yep.”  Maybe I look a little shifty. . . .

I’m not sure why “Election Day” has turned into an “Election Fortnight.” It’s probably a good thing.  Gets more people to the polls.  Perhaps one day elections will be held year round (“I’ll show him a thing or two. . . . I’m going to vote tomorrow“).  Maybe special interest groups could declare their discontent with this or that official, encourage a crush of voting in mid-July and oust the character by Labor Day.  The House of Representatives would have new members showing up on a daily basis.  After all, it’s not hard to get groups of registered voters together.  In Chicago, the cemeteries are full of them. . . .


If a person has $500,000 in  annual income, how much should he/she pay in taxes?  Careful.  Think about this question before reading on.

If 100% of the amount is given to charity, then the answer might be zero. There is no taxable income.  If  the entire amount results from interest on municipal bonds (bonds to fund government projects, hospitals, schools), the answer may also be . . . . zero.   Income on municipal bonds is tax-free.  If the income is derived entirely from long-term capital gain, the answer is no more than 15% of the total less lawful deductions. If the income is derived from short-term capital gain or salary income, then the answer ranges from 10% to 35% of the total less deductions. 

Thus the answer to the question “how much tax is owedshould require an educated man or woman to respond “tell me more” rather than a numeric shot in the dark (or worse a demand that those with such income must pay a “fair share“).  As a lawyer, it is disconcerting that some people seem to have forgotten that the American tax code is the law of the land and not a “loophole.”   Should it matter how much a person earns in a year and pays in taxes, so long as these metrics are lawfully achieved?    What’s your “take”?