On March 18, 2013, I had a post titled “Streetwise.”  I spoke of Manuel who sells Streetwise – a weekly publication in front of the Corner Bakery across from my building.  Manuel needs crutches to walk and he struggles mightily to sell his weekly journals.  Today, Streetwise has an article featuring Manuel.  And it mentioned my blog post about him.  I am really happy for Manuel and his moment of fame.  If you have a chance, stop by and see him.  Say “hello.”  Talk to him.  He’s a nice guy.  Maybe buy a copy of Streetwise.  Buy it from Manuel or from your local Streetwise vendor.  It’s two bucks.  I’m also pretty proud of Streetwise for giving people a chance to have a meaningful opportunity.  For dignity.  And for making a few dollars.        

In my original post, I quoted Henri Nouwen – the great religious writer.  His words from Out of Solitude bear repeating:  “The temptation is that we use our expertise to keep a safe distance from that which really matters and forget that, in the long run, cure without care is more harmful than helpful.”   Streetwise is on the right track — offering cure . . . . and the all-important care — and compassion.  We can all learn from this example.  And help make the world a better place.  Bravo.  Bravissimo.     

Wrongful Convictions

With the number of headlines about “wrongful convictions” sprouting up in the newspaper, you would think that police and prosecutors are conspiring to put anyone and everyone behind bars. Don’t believe it.

As a former prosecutor, I can say – with some authority – that I never prosecuted anyone I thought was “innocent” (or for whom the proofs were not established).  Never.  They were all guilty.  Everyone knew that.  Even defense attorneys.  On one occasion where there were doubts, my partner and I asked that the case be dropped.  And it was. Where there were mitigating circumstances, we had authority to reduce the charge.   The police for the most part were solid – upright – honorable men and women – whose job it was to put criminals where they belonged.   My colleagues — the prosecutors — were the same.  We read of some schools with projects designed to investigate those convicted – and “spring” them out of prison on the theory that they are “innocent.”  I am very suspect of motives. I tend to believe these projects are run by people with little motivation other than money and publicity. 

And remember — after a trial where one has been found “not guilty” that does not mean they are “innocent.”  It just means that a judge or jury did not accept the proofs presented for a conviction.  

Retail is Dying. . . .

Does it seem to you like retail stores are dying? “For Sale” “For Lease” are signs that you see increasingly in commercial areas. On city streets. In shopping malls. And in retail areas. Stores empty. Parking lots depleted. Is this a good thing? I guess like many things, the answer may be yes and no.

I shop increasingly online. It’s easy and I don’t have to run between raindrops or skid on slippery streets. I need something? I log on. Make a selection. And push a button.

As you may have gathered from my numerous references to cooking, I love to prowl the aisles of food stores — seeking inspiration for culinary experiment.  Thus I doubt that food stores will go out of style since we all have to eat (though Peapod and other home delivery services are making their mark).  Maybe shoe stores will endure. Some clothing stores. Hardware stores (for a handyman like me). But frankly, I don’t see much of a future for run of the mill retail. It seems like it’s on the way out.  Am I wrong?  Is there anything we can do? 

Memory Gardens

Donna and I were 24 years old when we were married. A few months after we moved into a small 3d floor walk up in Arlington Heights, we got a call.  The fellow said “I would like to welcome you to the neighborhood and stop by and bring you a present.”  I looked at Donna and briefly explained.  She shrugged – “maybe it’s the ‘welcome wagon’.”  I turned back to the phone.   “Sure” I said.  And we set up a time for him to visit.  A present.  Sounded nice. 

A week or so later there was a knock at the door and there stood this smiling chap holding a bag.  “May I come in?”  “Sure,” I said.  “May I sit down?”  “Sure.”  With that, he started telling us about how Donna and I needed to plan for the future.  The best thing that we could do for ourselves would be to plan for that day when we wouldn’t be around.  Donna and I looked at each other.  The fellow wanted to sell us plots — ideally a 6 pack — in Memory Gardens which was down the road.   “This is the best time to buy,” he said.  I guess they were having a sale. . . .

We did not buy plots that night – or any night.  But we did get the free – and to this day – incredibly memorable – gift.   Two tubes of Pringles potato chips.      

Empty Handed

Graham Green’s wonderful classic The Power and the Glory is set in Mexico in the late 1930’s. Mexico has turned against the Church.  Priests, nuns and the faithful are executed.  Public prayer is forbidden.  Church bells are silent.  One lone priest – the “Whiskey Priest” – escapes and is on the run.  He is being pursued by a methodical – and merciless – police lieutenant who is tasked with his capture.  The Whiskey Priest – an alcoholic who has sinned in varied ways – tries to remain faithful – as he travels around – incognito – ministering to his flock sub rosa.   But he is doggedly pursued by the lieutenant and narrowly escapes capture.  The book tracks the ills of a society which attacks and tries to destroy the Church.  And faith.  Do we see this today?   

In the end, the Whiskey Priest is captured.  And condemned.  He regrets not his imminent death but rather his failings.  His sins.  Green concludes with: 

He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all . . . He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointment place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted—to be a saint.

There are abundant lessons in this work.  But for me, the book seems to distill into one phrase:  “to go to God empty-handed.”  I know that most of those who read these posts volunteer, contribute, help, do good deeds and empathize with the human condition.  But I sometimes wonder – am I doing enough?  Could I do more to make things better?  If every person – spurred by that simple query – did one extra act of kindness, charity or contribution daily, just think about how much better the world might be.     

Day Trading

When I was about 10 years old, I started charting stocks: Ling-Temco-Vought (later LTV) , Polaroid, Levitz Furniture, Fairchild Camera and others. I would lay on the living room floor with the business section and a notebook.  I noticed that these stocks would “channel” — go up and then down. Up and down. Somewhat predictably. I tried to get my father to give me a few hundred dollars to invest but he would pat me on the head and send me back to the newspaper.  Jimmy Ling (1922-2004) became an idol for me when in 1956 he turned his electronics business into Ling-Temco-Vought.  I still have articles about him which I cut out of magazines.  I still have his biography on my bookshelf.  I wanted to be Jimmy Ling.   

These days, I still enjoy checking out the stock market.  Morning.  During lunch.  And mid-afternoon. And there are new stocks that I watch: Pfizer, EMC, Xerox, Hillshire Brands, AES Corp., and so on. And you know what? These stocks “channel” as well.  Often predictably during the course of the day.  They are all “A” or “B” rated (with solid records or dividends) so risk is somewhat contained.  I may jump in and jump out in the space of a few hours. And make a few bucks.

I’m reminded of the old Wall Street saw “pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.” Thus I am never greedy about trying to maximize a profit (I have rarely had a loss). Selecting blue chip stocks which may be dipping to a 6 month or 6 week or 6 hour low sometimes provides interesting opportunity.

Eve’s Favorite Book

My granddaughter Eve just turned two!   As I mentioned in my Christmas email, the days seem long (sometimes ever-so-long) but the years go fast.  I can’t believe that Eve is now two years old
One of her favorite activities is books.  Books books and more books.  Books before bed.  Books with breakfast.  Books any time.  For the last year – or more – when having her diaper changed, she would call out “Book!”  And a book would be delivered into her hands.  And she would look at it (sometimes upside down) intently.  Flipping pages.  Then tossing it aside and calling out “Book!”   
One of her favorite books is a book with few words.  It is a $5.00 art book that we bought at the Art Institute of Chicago.  It is titled Mary Cassatt published by Taj Books International of Cary, NC.  The book features Mary Cassatt’s (1844-1926) paintings of mothers – and babies.  Eve stares intently at the pictures — turning pages.  Looking.  Pondering.  And then moving on.  “Baby” she’ll say – and point.  Or “A mommy.”  
If you are looking for a very special gift for a very special little person, you probably could not spend your $5.00 bill any better.  Amazon features only the Kindle edition (from what I could see) but I’m sure that book stores may have the real McCoy.  If you really can’t find a copy, and really want one, let me know and I’ll walk over the Art Institute and pick one up for you (if it’s still in stock).  It will make a little someone very happy.   🙂          

Music Videos

I play guitar. Fairly well. And I love to play the Blues (see post of April 20, 2012). I play some drums learned from my old friend Paul S. of the “Shadows of Knight” (I went to high school with the Shadows).  I sometimes sit at the computer and play along with music videos or downloads.  And sing.   Do you ever log on to music videos? Some of the best I’ve seen are the following – some of which have literally millions of “listens.”  Oh come ON.  Check it out.  At least, check out Little Richard:
Spencer Davis – “Gimme some Lovin'” –  (1966 – really good stuff)

“Rock Me Baby” – (the original was taken down – now see BB King)  

Little Richard  – “Good Golly Miss Molly” –  (you have got to watch this!  Please!  You will not regret it.  I promise you will smile)

Jerry Lee Lewis – “Great Balls of Fire” –  (for a 3 piece group – an amazing presentation)

Billy Lee Riley – “My Gal is Red Hot” –      

Kenny Chesney – “She Thinks my Tractor’s Sexy” – (there are several iterations of the video.  This is a good one.  Great for boot scootin’)

Michael Jackson – “Thriller” – (best music video of the ’80’s.  I miss MJ’s creativity)

Lady Gaga (Yeah – Lady Gaga) – “Poker Face” –  (her best. . . nearly 200 million hits!)

I continue to tell Donna I should get my old group back together (I played in college with “Scott and the Bookends” – two girls and me – and the “Corydon Trio’).  But Donna keeps saying “Don’t quit the day job, Elvis.”  (Sigh)  Wait a minute. . . . maybe Lady Gaga needs a backup guitarist. . . . .

Swedes and Danes

My mother’s heritage is Swedish. My father’s was Danish. When my parents announced their engagement in 1942, their respective families said “you are marrying a Swede?” “A Dane?” “You are no longer my son.” “My daughter.” It was bad.  When I was born, my mother’s parents refused to see me for several weeks (“that little Dane“). Then my mother’s father came to see me and I guess I put on a show because everything got a little better.     

I have always had a slight inward “harrumph” when people spell my name wrong. “PetersOn” is a Swedish spelling. “PetersEn” is the Danish spelling. And all too often I see scrawled on cards from people we know well – “PetersOn.” Mercy – my father’s family would have a hissy fit.  So do I.  Inwardly. . . .

Today, most people look upon Swedes and Danes (and – save me – Norwegians) as all the same. But they are different culturally.  Trust me.  There is an old story about a dozen Swedes, a dozen Danes and a dozen Norwegians who all suddenly find themselves grouped together in a room. In a half hour, the Danes are off having a party. The Norwegians are off skiing. And the Swedes are still standing around waiting to be introduced.  That’s probably not a bad characterization.  Me?  I’m probably the quintessential half and half.  Let’s have a party. . . . after we’re introduced. . . . .