Archive for May, 2006

Governor Granholm’s Presentation in Japan

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, May 22, 2006

As summer approaches, my mind wanders. Maybe it’s being conditioned to anticipate summer vacation from school. Maybe it’s the full bloom of beauty that draws one to stop and dwell. Maybe it’s the radiated heat of a sun burnt scalp that causes hallucinations….How was your Memorial Day weekend? Mine was fantastic. I got to go to my kids’ soccer games; drive a convertible; sit on the back patio with Janie, the kids, my sister, brother, and his partner and sip cool drinks; walk the sprinklers around the yard; read; nap; play lightning; swim in the neighbor’s pool. What do you think of when you get pool water up your nose — especially the first time it happens outdoors during pool season? I am instantly transported back to the West Reading pool in Pennsylvania.West Reading is a suburb of Reading, but by most standards it’s a city: a main street surrounded by row homes, corner stores, and sidewalks buckled by the roots of established sycamores. No room for backyard pools, so there is a community pool. We used to go there when I was little, ages birth to five. Mom would pack a lunch, and we’d sit by the wading pool all afternoon. There was a concession stand and sometimes we’d get lucky and Mom would buy us something. I remember the bags of Lance’s brand potato chips that looked sublime. But I would pick a Treasure Chest. It was pressed sugar bits (like Necco wafers) in coin shapes inside a box made to look like a pirate’s treasure chest. You know how food tastes especially good after playing outside all day? Well this wasn’t actually food, I guess, but man! It was delicious! Even the pink ones that taste like Pepto-Bismol.

So like I said, my mind wanders….

And my mind was definitely going on an aimless stroll for this week’s comic. It’s hard really to call it an editorial comic. It’s more of a “John finds it funny when very stern Japanese businessmen say silly things.” Our governor Jennifer Granholm just got back from a trip to Japan to scare up some new business for Michigan. Kind of a cheesy concept, which made me imagine that not all Japanese businessmen (and they are typically men) would want to attend these meetings. Which made me think, what if it turned out to be an Amway presentation? It went from there….

So, hey, I’m going to be taking my summer break from writing. I wish you all a safe and blissfully random summer. See ya in the fall!


Finish What’s on Your Plate, Mister!

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, May 15, 2006

Among the many, many sins currently being revisited upon me by my children is my son’s appetite, or more specifically, lack thereof. I was a picky eater, and Atticus is certainly a picky eater. He has a very limited palette — breakfast cereals, certain cookies, hamburgers (plain), hot dogs, carrots, ice-creams (vanilla or cookie-dough), apples, peanut butter, plain noodles, milk, and blue sugar-water. That’s about it. And he typically doesn’t eat much of those at any one time.

Drives me crazy. It shouldn’t because those are pretty much the things I remember having an exclusive taste for. There are some small differences, but they’re nuanced. I was, for example, a Froot Loop man; Atticus is a Lucky Charm guy. But for all intents and artificial flavors, the same.

I don’t know what it is about seeing your own quirky behavior being played out by your own children (Ellie’s reluctance to answer a ringing phone, Lena’s insistence on doing things her own way, no matter how convoluted), but it touches a nerve. You want to fix it, even though in most cases it really doesn’t require fixing. For Atticus and eating, I think it may come from having expanded my tastes. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying asparagus season, and I want to share it. Ah, there’s nothing quite so evangelical (or annoying) as the recently converted….

To my credit, though, I’ve never attempted to force Atticus to eat anything by telling him that there were starving children in China who would love to have what’s on his plate. Probably because I don’t recall my parents ever using that tactic on me. (My Mom *did* dump a bowl of spaghetti on my head one time, but that’s another story.) Besides, I don’t know that the “starving children” guilt-trip ever worked. The obvious answer is always, “Fine. Send them my lima beans. Maybe they can eat them without puking.”

This week’s comic is a twist on that theme. It turns out that as the new generation Chinese experience the benefits of upward mobility, they are less inclined to work in sweatshops. Which could eventually pose a problem for me and Atticus: Who’s going to make the cheap plastic toy prizes that come in our favorite cereals?


When Bono Comes to Town


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, May 8, 2006.

When I was 19 and on summer break from college, I was itching (as ever) to figure out a way to be a cartoonist. So I sent in a few editorial comics to the local alternative paper, the Michigan Voice, and I followed that up with a visit. I hoped to, you know, strike up a conversation with the editor, have him take me under his wing, pay me money, publish my work, sing my praises, that sort of thing. In other words, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.

The newspaper office was actually a house out in Burton on Belsey Road (for you Flint readers). I walked in and introduced myself to the distracted young lady behind the counter. Behind her were the editor and another lady in an agitated conversation over I don’t know what. The counter lady was doing her best in a nice way to make me go away, but I asked to talk with the editor. He was standing right there, so with no choice and very little enthusiasm she turned and waited for a pause in conversation. It was uncomfortable. I stood there watching without anything to do. It was one of those periods of times where you become aware of your hands and feet, and you shift around in a sad little dance trying to find places to put them.

Finally a pause came; the counter lady pointed my way and whispered my intentions. The editor glanced at me, made a dismissive sweeping motion with his hand, and said to the counter lady that they only had room for the Feiffer cartoon. (This was a syndicated editorial by the Village Voice cartoonist, Jules Feiffer, which — while brilliant — typically had very little to do with Flint, Michigan and everything to do with New York City.) The counter lady relayed this to me even though I already heard it, and because I was only 19 and had no other plan, I said thanks and left.

The editor, of course, was Michael Moore. And so before Roger and Me, before Bowling for Columbine, before Bush-bashing Oscar speeches, books, and Fahrenheit 911, I hated Michael Moore. And I had a good and personal reason for doing so. I’m not saying it’s a better reason than your reason, I’m just saying that I’m a better person. Wait. Did that come out right?

Last week Bono, lead singer of the group U2, came to Grand Rapids to give a speech, mostly centering on the AIDS crisis in Africa. There were those who wouldn’t bother to listen just because he is a rock star. The unfortunate thing is that he is deeply sincere, quite articulate, and even self-depreciating when it comes to his rock star status. There are also those who won’t give Dick DeVos, the Republican candidate for governor, the time of day just because he comes from a well-to-do family. And as this week’s comic points out, we tend not to be at all consistent in how we apply this dislike for the rich and famous. It’s silly.

That said, I have to admit that my ongoing hatred of Celine Dion has never been stronger….


Small Business Owner: She’s Busy Working

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, May 1, 2006

I tell people that I’m an “accidental entrepreneur.” I say a lot of things just to try to be witty. I don’t know if this one qualifies, but it does happen to be true. Most other folks I’ve met who have started their own businesses have done so with some sort of formal plan or at least a long term desire to “be their own boss,” which, by the way, is a huge fallacy perpetuated by ponzi-schemers: You’re never really your own boss — if you have clients, you have bosses.

But, yeah, I’m a small business owner because it seemed like a sensible thing to do at the time, and I’m still one because it seems like the sensible thing to do at the time. So I can often feel something of a pretender, a poser, when grouped with real entrepreneurs. It’s like I’m there in spirit, but I haven’t formalized it by taking vows. And yet, even if I’ll never be an orthodox member, I can comfortably associate myself with other small business owners in at least one respect: I like to work.

It’s not as noble as it sounds, of course. Lots of people in all sorts of careers like to work. It’s just that a small business can fail more easily if you don’t work, so liking to work dovetails nicely with continuing to work.

This week’s comic is a bit of a love letter to that notion. Michigan’s economy has been down for quite a few years now. And although it shows signs of recovery in fits and starts, we all expect ongoing difficulty in transitioning from our traditional manufacturing base. Still, people like to talk about it. Sometimes too much. Especially our supposed leaders: politicians, corporate executives, pundits. In the meantime, small business owners just continue to work. Me, too.


Grand Rapids Development: A Bird in the Hand…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal,April 24, 2006

I’m good at hiding things, but I’m lousy at finding them. Kinda weird. Intuitively, one would think that I would be able to use the same brain functions for, say, hiding Easter eggs for actually finding the Easter eggs. You know, just reverse the process. But no. It doesn’t seem to work that way.

Growing up, my Dad used to say that I couldn’t find my own ass if it wasn’t attached. Actually, I was so skinny that — attached or not — I had a difficult time locating it. I can clearly remember one time being sent to the garage to get a broom. Couldn’t find it. Got sent back. Couldn’t find it. Got sent back a third time. Couldn’t find it. So my Mom, in total exasperation, marches past me, reaches her arm from the kitchen into the garage, and plucks the broom off the wall bracket. You know, one of those brackets for brooms and mops. I never thought of looking there.

My Dad would try to help me. If I had to fetch something from the basement, he’d give me a landmark. “Do you know where the washing machine is?” “Um… yeah.” “Right. Start there and….” He’d try the same thing on my brother, but my brother would be insulted. “Yes, Dad! I know where the washing machine is!!!” I recognized that my father was being sarcastic, but I wasn’t going to turn down a good clue.

Anyway, this odd dichotomy turns out to be useful for editorial cartooning. I’m good at loading up a comic with hidden messages and inside jokes, but then I also recognize how difficult it can be for me to find those sorts of things, so I’m typically able to balance the two. And the best editorial cartoons, I think, are the ones where you give readers enough to get to a point where they can figure out the rest on their own.

Of course, you still have to know the back-story and, briefly, this is it: Downtown Grand Rapids will soon be home to the Michigan State Medical School, which is something like landing a GM assembly plant 40 years ago — lots of jobs, lots of growth. In the meantime, there is another potentially huge downtown project (known to this point as the “Mystery Project”). But this is many, many years away. And so, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Which is especially true for me because I would never think to look outdoors for birds, let alone in the bush….

Comments (1)

Please Don’t Feed the Animals

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Family magazine, April 2006