29 January 2009

Men Only

I see the signs. My mind wanders. My flow takes longer. I lose my aim. A little bee is embedded in the base of the porcelain bowl of the Sloan waterfree urinal to help.
Once I read about reducing airport maintenance costs, particularly in bathrooms. It probably was the Wall Street Journal because only the wall street urinal covers how money can be saved. A lot of time and expense is spent cleaning stall-walls and floors around urinals. The problem was no bee. This WSJ was an article on the foreskin of the economic science of "nudging."
Men miss the urinal. Urine is acidic. Uric acid is created when the body breaks down substances called purines. Unless the acid is cleaned up in the Mens room it degrades materials. That's why marble was often used for stall walls. In high traffic areas like a mall men's room maintenance costs are substantial. The missing solution was simple. Managers strategically placed a cartoon bee-character in the urinal, about a third of the way up from the drain, just below an average waist height. Men naturally aim. The result -- airport maintenance costs hit lower targets.
This reminds me of the time I ate linguine with white clam sauce at Umberto's Clam House in New York City. Umbertos was, maybe still is, a terrific restaurant in Greenwich Village near New York University. My clam linguine back in the day was terrific. Umbertos is also where Joey Gallo got whacked. Anyway in the men's urinal was a roulette wheel, a white arrow spinning in a red wheel with sectioned white and black numbers. Of course it was my stream spun the arrow. I didn't bet then. This was for the guys who need action while they wait. Nice touch for the customers.
By the way (gosh, it's so easy to get distracted here) the Latin word for "bee" is apis. Say it aloud. So does that make a men's room an apiary?
Anyway to go back to my beginning . . . I recently went into a men's room, did my business, I looked down to shake off the dribbles. Oh my gosh. There was a pee-pond on the floor. I'm not talkin' a random misdirection. I don't know if it was my pee-pond! Hey no exceptions . . . we all miss from time to time. I gotta say though I hope I don't make pee-ponds. Not yet. No bee or roulette wheel in the urinal either.

28 January 2009


Butternut, cucurbita moschata, is winter squash. "Winter" means it's in season in fall and winter and it has a tough exterior. It's a gourd, native to the Americas, and folks have been eating it awhile, some say since 5,500BC. I don't understand this guesstimate.

I don't care for squash so I rarely choose to it eat. My mother grew up on a farm. She liked summer and winter squashes. I recall being with her on market days. She'd always choose yellow summer sqaush, I don't ever recall her choosing zuchinni, or butternut and acorn squash in the colder months. She prepared them often and they were staples on our dinner table. She didn't make me eat the winter squashes despite slathering them with butter and brown sugar in the baking. It would tempt me. They'd melt and meld in the baking. The stringyness and mashy yellow flesh seperating a bit from the shell repelled me.

I like the butternut shape. I like the name butternut. The word sounds appealing, an immediate imaginary shape and texture contrast arises. The fleshy color, swollen shapes in one form, the delicate shade of yellowish-green in the crevices leading into the stem at its tip suggesting a summer vitality in the waning colder season.

27 January 2009


"If you know how rich you are, you are not rich. But me, I am not aware of the extent of my wealth. That's how rich we are. I did not have three thousand pair of shoes. I had one thousand and sixty."

Imelda Marcos was Ferdinand Marcos' wife. He was America's go-to guy in the Phillipines during the Viet Nam War. He was America's guy for 31 one years. He turned the Philippine government, supported by U.S. funds, into his family's' personal piggy bank. Imelda liked shoes.

Sounds like financier John Thain likes office decorations. Well give Mr. Thain, the dumped Merrill Lynch exec, a little credit. He had sense to say he'd return the million two he spent on office redecoration while U.S. taxpayers were bailing Merrill Lynch out.

When asked by CNBC's Maria Bartiromo why he made the renovations, Mr. Thain said former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal’s office,

"was very different than the general decor of Merrill’s offices. It really would have been very difficult for me to use it in the form that it was in ... It needed to be renovated no matter what."
Huh? Here's some pix of the items in Mr. Thain's redecorated office. You'll get a taste of what this ex-master of the universe thinks Merrill's general decor was. “I should have simply paid for it myself,” he added. Gee yuh think, John?

10 January 2009


I've never felt I've belonged. Well that's not entirely true. I'm from somewhere. I'm from Connecticut. Once I belonged there, that's where my extended birth family was from. I still have extended family there. My family moved from there in the summer of '59. I was eight. It's from that time I've felt dispossessed.

I've not lived in Connecticut for 50 years. When I've visited, I've felt I've returned home. My landmarks are the same. I know my way around. I can find my way around. My memories return though some landscapes have changed. The belonging lasts for a time. To go back to live . . . well, I wouldn't feel at home. I wouldn't know anyone. I'd be a stranger. I'm in a diaspora, a dispersion of an originally homogeneous family.

06 January 2009


The other day I was struck by an article in the N. Y. Times by William Kristol about the Congressional "bailout" debate for the auto industry. The political grand standers had previously united and fell over themselves pandering to financial executives especially to hedge-fund execs, where the serious unregulated money is now made. Later on the same politicians publicly flogged auto executives and workers. I could only shake my head in sadness for those executives over this political whipping post theatre.

In our collective economic symbiosis the financial and auto business cultures and their political enablers have pandered to the worst material instincts of American consumers: homes and cars. I have long believed the auto industry was in a legalized loan-sharking business. Even some imagery in the adjacent 50's ad show melded dreams of car and home. Sadly both industries are vital to American economic health. But I digress.

William Kristol describes the political welcome the auto executives received in Congress.
Today, G.M., Ford, and Chrysler get no respect. Maybe they don't deserve much. Detroit has many sins to answer for, and it’s been doing plenty of answering. But — and I say this as someone who grew up in non-car-driving family in New York and who is the furthest thing from an auto aficionado — there is a kind of undeserved disdain, even casual contempt, that seems to characterize the attitude of the political and media elites toward the American auto industry.
Kristol goes on to quote Washington Post columnist Warren Brown. Brown writes about cars and the auto industry's culture. Brown is eloquent in defense of the good now produced by Detroit. He says the reluctance of Washington politicians to assist Detroit reeks of class-bias.
There is a feeling in this country -- apparent in the often condescending, dismissive way Detroit's automobile companies have been treated on Capitol Hill -- that people who work with their hands and the companies that employ them are inferior to those who work with their minds and plow profit from information. How else to explain the clearly disparate treatment given to companies such as Citigroup and General Motors?
OK the class-bias cat is out of the bag again. 

I know my parents were products and perpeptuaters of our American culture of class bias. It's tightly woven into the fabric of American aspirational culture.
"If you don't get better grades I'll send you to trade school!"
My Father bullied me when I was in junior high. He bore in on me, got in my face, thrust out his jaw, bared his lower teeth, threw off tiny bubbles of spittle. He was just beside himself, and about scared the pee out of me.

I didn't like schoolwork. I avoided it and made low grades. My parents were horrified, said I was lazy; well maybe. Yet I consistently got "98's" in "industrial arts." I liked the machines. I liked making things with them. I liked feeling my senses, the smell and feel of metal or wood, the sounds, the harnessed power. I liked using my hands with them. I could see what I was creating. It was like SenSuRound to me. Even better, I got awards for what I made. Alas we could not grasp what this "98" was telling us. The grades and awards was not perceived as natural aptitude. It didn't have practical value. It was a weapon for shame. Hmmm.

Of course self aspiration was exactly what my Father was uttering. His first and second generation Irish-American relatives were iron workers who worked the rail yards. His father trumpeted the value of the academic education as the vehicle for social and economic advance. My Father, and later his younger brother, were the first in their extended family to achieve scholastic success. I never saw my Father or my Uncle do a lick of labor. They would've been like blisters, showing up when the work was done. My Father's hobby was reading boarding school catalogues. He had a library of them. My family would visit campuses on family vacations. Just imagine, 

What did you do on your vacation?
We visited St. Georges School in Newport, Rhode Island!

Go figure; summer 1965 I went to summer school there for 8 weeks. Good grades in school, for admission to boarding schools, was the parental goal for the Collins children. My good grades in "industrial arts" was the shit hitting my parents' dream fan.

My older sister Tara attended Emma Willard School for Girls. My older brother Tom and I attended Western Reserve Academy. WRA was a college preparatory school for boys. At WRA an "industrial arts" course was required in the freshman year. Just two years later, as part of an academic restructuring, this "course" was dropped from the body of knowledge with which the school prepared boys for college.

My wife and I drive used Volvos purchased from a man we know and trust and serviced by a woman we know and trust. They specialize in used Volvos. I wouldn't dream of buying a new car today. And the idea of a new $40,000 Chevrolet Volt is ludicrous.

If my parents hadn't had their aspirations and dreams who knows what would have happened . I think it's more likely I wouldn't be writing this blog.