Archive for August, 2009

What Kind of Messed up Health Care Game Show Is This?…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, August 17, 2009

As a young man barely out of my teens, I would often make the summer pilgrimage to Pennsylvania to visit relatives with my then girlfriend Jane. My only living male relative, my great Uncle Mike, would be keen for some guy time, so I would take him on a field trip. This meant revisiting old stomping grounds (read: bars) in the City of Reading. The one I remember best is the Walnut Tavern, at Ninth and Walnut, just up from the Ludens candy factory and kitty-corner to St. Paul’s Catholic Church.                               

Uncle Mike had actually lived for some time in a room adjacent to the Walnut Tavern, so he pretty much knew all the barflies. He seemed to hate them all, but he knew them. Anyway, picture this: an oppressively hot late morning in a stifling old city made of brick, me winding a borrowed Buick down the warren-like streets, holding up traffic to drop my 80 year-old uncle with bad knees off near the door and then finding a street spot near to parallel park(!), catching up with my uncle, entering the bar, the light disappearing, the air becoming hotter and denser, and the smell of old dust, latrine, and regrets filling my air cavities. Got that?

Uncle Mike and I would sit at the bar. You didn’t want to sit at a table. Those were taken by the young ne’re-do-wells using the pool tables, the “Porta Rickins,” as Uncle Mike called them. (I could never tell if they were in fact of Puerto Rican decent — it was much too hazy to make out facial features. Besides, I was advised not to make eye contact.) The bartender would never actually acknowledge me. My uncle would order whatever and the bartender would put whatever in front of me. Mostly it was Heinekens. My uncle was hell on Heinekens. He would dismiss all other beers (especially massed produced American beers) with a barely audible curse and a twitch of his cane, like a cat burying something nasty.

Now realize this is not yet noon, I was hungry for lunch, and I wasn’t much of a drinker. Things would start to get weird. Generally an old man would sit down at the other side and try to engage me in conversation — except not with actual words but with kind of words and indecipherable hand gestures followed with a laugh. I would laugh along and that seemed to make those guys happy. Eventually Uncle Mike would advise (loud enough for the guy to hear) that he was a crazy [expletive], and I shouldn’t pay any attention to him. Nobody ever seemed at all bothered by this. As the beer ran through me, I’d stumble off to the bathroom to try to regain my senses. This only made reality worse; the bathroom had not been cleaned since the Roosevelt administration (not sure which Roosevelt) and was certainly no place to linger.

But getting around to my point and this week’s comic: At 11:30 the Price Is Right would come on the TV above the bar at an obscenely high sound level. As the TV was the only light source, it was hard not to look at it. So to recap: It’s morning, I’m drunk, I can’t breath, I can’t see much, my uncle is telling me stories about awful things that he had experienced in life, I’m surrounded by lunatics and ruffians, and Bob Barker is frickin’ screaming at me to guess the price of canned peas. …Yep, not too different from the health care debate. 

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Above All, Never, Ever Read the Comments…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, August 10, 2009
Click here for a larger (and possibly readable) version.

Every once in a while I’ll see my boy Atticus stomping away from the computer in our living room. In years past, this was a pretty good indication that either the CD game he was playing wasn’t working right (and typically due to the scratches, boogers, and finger prints on the playing side from improper storage and handling), or he had lost the game. The second eventuality was highly improbable because he always played the lowest levels — especially in Backyard Sports — so he could win, say, hockey games 47 to 0.  I would point out that he should perhaps consider a higher level, but he’d very logically tell me that it was just as much of a challenge to see if he could make it 48 to 0 the next time. What he was actually telling me of course was, “buzz off, old man.”

Anyway, these days if he’s stomping off, chances are he has just read the comments under a posting of something he likes. For example, on YouTube one can view a Weird Al video (or a Weird Al tribute video or a Lego version of the tribute, and so on) and then scroll down to see what other users had to say about it. The problem is that my boy is a sensitive kid who assumes that the people posting these comments are decent folks with actual opinions. They are not. And it doesn’t take long to find something nasty or witless or tangential or incomprehensible or needlessly confrontational. It’s usually the last kind get him.

So I give him this advice, advice — in case you think me some sort of Luddite who simply doesn’t get this Internet communication thing — also dispensed to him by his two teenage sisters: Never read the comments. Never. Ever. DO… NOT… SEEK… THE COMMENTS! No possible good can come from them. Except maybe inspiration for an editorial cartoon. Maybe.

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Doctor Andy Dillon’s Bitter Pills…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, August 3, 2009

Busy working my small business hiney off this morning; check out this Free Press article for the backstory on the comic….


Steelcase to Close Famed Pyramid…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, July 27, 2009

Steelcase was to office furniture manufacturing what GM was to automobile manufacturing. (Not entirely accurate but certainly close enough for a blog post.) The point being, Steelcase was once the big-dog, safe, secure, well-paying employer in its world. In the salad days of 1989, it built an innovative, seven story pyramid as its new Corporate Development Center. Twenty years later, it’s closing the building and consolidating the workers in a rather bland corporate structure. So it goes. Here’s hoping it can be reused and not become a relic of an ancient time. (I hear it has got some really nice office furniture!)