The road, Rolling Stone and our planet

I began reading Cormac McCarthy a few decades ago — or maybe more. I suppose it was the splash of ‘All The Pretty Horses’ that got me. I then read the rest of that trilogy. And that was it. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve read pretty much everything the man has written. Including ‘The Road.’

Of course, ‘The Road’ is a remarkable book. McCarthy is always intense, but ‘The Road’ is fierce even by his standards. Then they made a movie based on it. I tend to hesitate to see films based on books I genuinely respect. But I finally watched ‘The Road.’ Simultaneously riveting, scary as hell and, honestly, gut-wrenching. But it’s a must for those who genuinely worry about the environment and what we’re doing to the planet.

Now this: Al Gore pops up with one of the best pieces in a while in Rolling Stone. Not that Rolling Stone has lost all its relevance. Far from it. In fact, the work done by the young star reporters at RS, most notably Matt Taibbi, rivals anything out there. Gore, whether you like it or not, has been right about the environment all along. Doesn’t matter what your political views are. If you can’t admit Big Al started ringing the alarm bell about as early as anyone else of his stature, you’re missing something.

Gore came up with this in the current issue of RS:

I’m not sure why, but it seems to me that a lot of people roll their eyes at anything attached to Al’s name. He’s often still the butt of jokes. Good ol’ Al. Ha. Ha. Ha. He’s a hoot, huh?

Enough already. The man may not have been presidential material — oh wait, he did actually win that one, right? — but he’s been Johnny On The Spot on environmental issues and more than a few others.

Read the Rolling Stone piece. Watch the film, ‘The Road.’ Read McCarthy’s book. Then we can talk about what, in the vast scheme of things, is important and not.

Yeah, I guess you could say I’m on a high horse today. Why not?

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Lush rain nice to get, but bring on fall

Fresh back from a quick dog walk. Everything still squishy from the downpours of last night, when large drops fell so hard we couldn’t see our neighbor’s home across the street. This morning we measured two inches, which had come down in what seemed like no time at all.

When the pup and I head out, we stop to remove a large tree limb that  has come down with the rain and landed on our driveway. The oak feels dense enough to drag to the wood pile, later today, just for safe keeping. Down the hill, as we step off the pavement and onto the trail, the soil slurps its way over my sandals and onto my feet, so wet it oozes through my toes. Not what I had in mind, though the walk is restful and welcome for body and soul. The pup doesn’t seem to care, darting into overgrown foliage still dripping and light-catching from the showers, sniffing about and doing important business. At an open and shady spot where there also lie tons of pine shavings and mulch, we come upon a giant mushroom field. All manner of varieties, sitting there so quiet. Big, plump, fresh, tempting. Feels like a rainforest.

Many of the fungi appear harmless, much like those we see in markets. But we dare not pick. Years ago, a friend thought he knew what he was doing and collected his own. Soon he was in the ER puking his guts out. If you aren’t an expert, leave those wild mushrooms alone.

Soggy, soggy morning. With temperatures sure to rise above 90, the humidity will be intolerable in short time. Yes, we need such rain to avoid summer drought. Still, my view stands firm: Once we’ve had our fireworks and the calendar proclaims Independence Day gone, we should all punch fast forward. As I sit here on July 5, I am more than ready for fall. The rest of July and  August here in North Carolina is meant only for snakes, mosquitoes and masochists.

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Digging through an old neighborhood’s past

Our family is fortunate to live in a neighborhood that not only has a listserve, but one that flames red hot with use pretty much all day long. Usually it’s very helpful: Lost Cat. Suspicious vehicle on a certain street. Is it recycling day? Community coming up soon. Power is out but Duke Power vows to have it back on by noon.

Lately we’ve been telling stories about what some of us know about our homes, to help build more history about this wonderful part of Durham. I recently provided a snippet with the promise of more to come:

As a prelude, we live in Duke Forest, literally walking distance to West Campus. On big football Saturdays (don’t laugh) cars park in front of our home. The property once was part of famous Duke Forest, a research forest reserved for ecology and study. In the early 1940s Duke decided to aggressively elevate its status as a national university, so the school went looking for top faculty to lure from Ivy schools and, for the medical school in particular, Johns Hopkins. They had the money. The deals were going well. Then, often at the last stages, the faculty recruits would complain there was not enough suitable housing adjacent to campus. At older East Campus, Trinity Park was created for just this reason. But at newer West Campus, the Gothic heart of campus where the chapel and Cameron Indoor Stadium reside, there were no such homes. So the university took hundreds and hundreds of acres from Duke Forest, the parts that were closest to campus, and chopped them into large wooded lots. When the recruiting got down to the final detais, Duke would throw in a free lot, or at least offer one at a very low price. It worked. Duke’s reputation soared. And our neighborhood, Duke Forest, began to take shape.

Our place was one of the first on Perkins, circa 1949, custom built for Frank Bowers who had come to Durham from Pa. to play football for Wallace Wade back when Duke was a power. In fact, he played in the only Rose Bowl ever held outside Pasadena in 1942, when the game was held here because of the recent bombing of Pearl Harbor. No one wanted to take the chance of putting 80,000 people in a single locale on the West Coast in case the Japanese tried it again. Bowers graduated, then turned down offers to play in the NFL. He married, took a job at Duke and eventually rose high enough to secure this lot and build this house. He retired as Sr. VP for Buildings and Grounds. They never had kids. But our lot is elaborate and demanding with landscaping, especially in the back. When we bought it 18 years ago there was no back yard, just ivy and brush. It was a huge job to clear it out and create a lawn and a genuine place to use and enjoy. Once we began the project, we immediately began finding all sorts of stone retaining walls and patios, all made from the famous Duke stone they keep on hand to patch the chapel etc. Found beautiful bushes and other plants that had been carefully laid out throughout the yard, but then had become smothered by ivy. Most of those have come back now.

Also, a few original owners who still lived nearby when Jane and I bought this house nearly 18 years ago have told me about a big blue truck that would pull up ever week or so while a group of African-American laborers would jump out, carrying tools and wearing Duke blue jumpsuits. They’d hit out yard like a tornado, I was told. Then they’d lounge in the front yard under the shade of our pines while Mrs. Bowers would bring out one of those old wooden crates full of cold Pepsis in the tall, curvy bottles. Soon the truck would return, they’d hop back on and return to campus. Must have seemed harmless to Old Man Bowers, but can you imagine this happening today? You just know it’d find it’s way into the media. There would be outrage, at least I hope there would be. The guy would probably have lost his job!
Other original homeowners throughout older parts of the neighborhood have described grand parties in this house. Because in those days good restaurants and entertainment venues were in short supply in Durham, this neighborhood was especially good about having parties and dinners from house to house. Former Mayor Sylvia Kerckhoff, who lived for decades on Pinecrest, has told me many a tale about neighbors in the know taking turns hosting dinner parties, often experimenting with a relatively new cook book by somebody named Julia Child. Sylvia and others have told me about big parties at this home. When dinner and dessert were finished, everyone would tumble downstairs to our finished walk-in basement, open the garage door on one side and party like there was no tomorrow. Dancing and drinking and all kids of carrying on. This would have been primarily in the 50s and 60s, I suppose. Pretty fun to think about those people, most gone now, whooping it up in the room where I sit this very moment writing this.
One more tidbit: I love the fact that when we bought our home in the early 1990s, we were delighted to find a huge, 60-year-old fig tree in the yard. In the summer living here, I was working in the back yard one weekend morning when I hear this odd high-pitched singing, off key at that. I walked around toward the fig and saw a small, older woman filling a bucket with our ripe figs. I said, “Excuse me, can I help you?” And I kid you not, she deadpanned back, “No thanks, I believe I’ve got it.” Once I engaged her a bit more, I discovered it was an older woman well-known in the neighborhood as a character and gadfly. She was a real piece of work. When I asked once again about the figs she, almost indignantly, he told me the original owners, the Bowers, had given her permission to pick all the figs she wanted, some 50 years ago. So by God that’s what she was doing. They were my figs, of course, but I figured a deal was a deal. I just went on back inside to cool off, laughing out loud as I went.


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At the coast, stay home and eat from the sea

HILTON GARDEN, KITTY HAWK — Despite the economy, people don’t seem to be avoiding the coast in North Carolina this summer, at least on the Outer Banks. During the past few weeks, traffic has been heavy, the beaches full and restaurants jammed.

When my son and I moved from Sterling Webster’s fine Hilton Garden Inn just up the beach to Southern Shores, into the family home we call the “Big House,” we joined other family members and began doing more cooking at home. Good thing: When we did try to go out, the lines were very long — and many restaurants on the Outer Banks do not take reservations.

Given these challenging circumstances, my erstwhile brother-in-law from Richmond, Va., R.C. Hall, and I resorted to our tedious, demanding and highly laborious ritual of hitting the beach roads each afternoon in search of the freshest tuna. (I jest, of course: We attack this assignment with the enthusiasm of kids on Christmas.) Once the tuna is discovered, the next step is to give it a sniff and a gentle poke with your index finger. If you notice any sort of questionable fishy odor, you should raise an eyebrow. When you press with your finger, you should expect a soft, gentle texture that recovers from your jab rapidly. Instead, if the surface is somewhat firm and the small indention created by your finger remains a while, the fish is not especially fresh. Keep hunting. When you find the good stuff, I prefer to get what some call sashimi grade, which is said to be fresher and more delicate than even sushi grade.

Although R.C. and I somehow have been able to hide this secret for years, it’s now well known now that we aggressively overbuy our tuna. We cook on a grill, of course, attempting to provide the entire group with tuna steaks ranging from rare to medium. We also take three extra steaks or so and place them at the back of the grill. We let those cook slowly until fully done. They must stay moist. And we work hard to leave these out of sight. When the post-meal cleaning is finished, we take the extras, put them in a large ziplock bag and hide them deep in the back of the refrigerator.

The next morning, perhaps when no one else is looking, R.C. slips into the kitchen, grabs a large mixing bowl, the extra tuna, some mayo, a little salt and pepper and the ultimate secret ingredient: dill, hopefully fresh. Mix it all up, careful not to overdo the mayo. Careful with the spices too. The spectacular tuna flavor is what you want coming through. Add the salt, pepper and dill, tasting as you go. Again, do not overwhelm the sweet, delicate flavor of this fine tuna. When finished, pile the salad high on a piece of lightly toasted wheat bread and top it with another slice. If you want to add more mayo, no harm there. Take a bite and savor. If you need a tad more of this or that, go for it. But do it in moderation. This is one concoction you do not want to ruin. At this point, I guarantee you will never again be interested in tuna salad from a can or pouch.

Despite all the recent growth, there remain many things to do in the Nags Head area, just as always. The surf is still among the roughest, most unpredictable and fascinating in the world. The traffic has gotten nuts. Prices have risen. But the fish … the fish remains fresh and bountiful. And if you put a little time into it, you can create something heavenly to eat, plucked from the ocean just outside your door, hopefully that very same day. Remember, this part of the Atlantic is known for claiming so many ships, dating back centuries. These are the same waters where Blackbeard once reigned. The same waters that remain chilly into July. The same waters that can provide fish that have potential to change your views about a lot of things, certainly tuna salad, for the rest of your life.


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Come on down, the weather’s fine!

HILTON GARDEN, KITTY HAWK — You can own a home at the beach. Then you can own a home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. There’s a difference, believe me. All beach houses take a hit from the weather. Everything rusts 25 times faster. Screens blow out. Stuff blows away, never to be seen again. But in Nags Head, Ma Nature is especially harsh.

Look at a map. Notice how the Outer Banks jut with an aggressively angular protrusion into the Atlantic. The winds can be vastly more fierce here, especially from the Northeast. It’s usually cooler. Today, for instance, it’s 79 degrees with a nice breeze. At Holden Beach, south of Wilmington, it’s more like 92. Imagine the difference in January and February, when the winds are howling and the weather, in general, is brutal. I say all this as a build-up to the following: The family cottage has finally gotten to the point that a few quick trips to Home Depot are not enough. We had to call in the professionals, who, with the economy still in the dumps, were delighted to pitch in with some badly needed repairs.

Up the beach, in much more demure Southern Shores, my in-laws are relaxing in what we call “the big house.” Relatively speaking, of course. But for now it’s full. That’s why my boy and I are hiding out at the Hilton Garden. I have to be clear about this, and I hope I don’t sound like a snob because I don’t intend to: I am not a beach hotel kind of guy. I need a house. Any kind of house. Big, small, nice or gnarly. Just a place where I can track in some sand and walk straight down a path to the surf. That’s just me.

But I have to admit this is pretty cool. We’re on the ocean. We have a balcony. We have two pools, one indoor and one out, and a hot tub. He’s only 9, but my son loves him some hot tub action. The breakfast is killer. In fact, I could get used to this, I do believe.

I’d tell you more about it, but the pool is calling. So is the hot tub. So is my tummy. I need some food. Man, 79 degrees and a slight breeze on the beach. Doesn’t get a ton better.

PS: This evening we go in search of former state Sen. Marc Basnight, whose restaurant is down the beach and serves some pretty mean softshell crabs. Need to know what he thinks about the legislative session that just ended in Raleigh.

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Budget mess lies at feet of GOP leadership

Why can’t we get this North Carolina state budget issue resolved? Because the GOP leadership in the General Assembly is basically holding the rest of us hostage with its handling of this entire mess. Imagine this nifty scenario: If the budget doesn’t go through some significant changes and the governor feels she must veto it, that means we won’t have a new budget in place by July 1. Unlike years past, these sharp blades running the GOP juggernaut have changed key guidelines that once allowed our state to adopt a temporary budget to keep things moving until the issues could be settled. Not anymore. Now we’re facing a good old-fashioned state government shutdown. As Rob Christensen pointed out a few days ago in The News & Observer, there will be no one to run our prisons or staff the state’s mental institutions. What about the campuses that make up our venerable university system? Nah, forget ‘em. No one there to unlock the classrooms. I fear speeding tickets as much as the next guy, especially on that long, straight, remote stretch of U.S. 64 through Tyrrell County, through the swamps and between those dark-water canals on the way to Nags Head. Troopers sit in wait to nail us for flying by in anticipation of arriving at the coast. But these same troopers also pursue and catch crooks. They help keep us safe. No budget? No money for troopers. And get this: Our State Constitution stipulates specifically that it is ILLEGAL to spend a penny of state money without a ratified budget in place. Think the GOP leadership is playing some hardball now that they have the reins? Think they’re putting some extra pressure on Bev as the showdown approaches? No one said politics was easy, but this is not in the best interest of the citizens of North Carolina. If it weren’t plenty clear before, it should be now: This is one reason the Legislature has not been in the hands of GOP leaders since the Civil War era. What they’re doing this session is careless and very likely will cost us all a good deal in the future. This catastrophe should serve as a dramatic reminder why we must all, everyone one of us, show up at the polls each and every time we have the opportunity to vote. Period.

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Gone 30 years: Bob Marley showed me soccer

A long time ago, I played soccer with Bob Marley. Also played with his band and his children. No kidding: I really did. He wasn’t a dear friend, but for a short time he treated me like one even though I was only 12 or 13 years old. Bob was kind, funny, easy to like and a good soccer player. Even to a naive kid like me, he oozed unpretentiousness.

It’s hard to believe Bob Marley has been gone for 30 years now. He died at age 36 on May 11, 1981, exactly three decades ago today. His music influenced hundreds of musicians, while his words and actions influenced a generation of people, in Jamaica and elsewhere.

My encounters with Bob happened like this: My father’s best friend lived in Miami, where he’s remained with his family for the past 40 years or so. In the early 1970s, he was chairman of the department of psychology at the University of Miami. My father, also a psychologist, would take me to southern Florida to visit frequently. On one such visit I noticed a group of African-Americans outdoors kicking a ball around in the grassy area between our friend’s house and the one next door. It must have been about 1970 or 1971 and, being from Eastern North Carolina, I knew absolutely nothing about soccer. I had no idea what sport they were playing, but if it involved a ball or stick I was always game. I was also struck by the fact that the people were black. I’d been in this high-scale neighborhood many, many times, but I’d never seen any black people there. Who were these guys and what were they doing?

After a while, I wandered over and just kind of stood around watching. Soon a short, smiling black man with long braided hair approached me. With an accent I didn’t recognize, he asked me to join in. I did. It was a blast. The man, of course, was Bob. I’d never heard of Bob Marley, the Wailers or even reggae, so meeting this guy was no big deal for me at the time. The soccer gang that day included Bob, assorted members of the Wailers and all of their kids. Rita, Bob’s wife, came out for a bit and offered us all something cool to drink, including the young, long-haired white kid from North Carolina. I have no idea what it was (lemonade?) and it doesn’t matter in the least.

Soccer never really stuck with me. When I got back to North Carolina I returned to the basics of American sports in that era — basketball, baseball and football. But the image of playing that interesting game with those even more interesting people did stick. It was Bob Marley!

I didn’t give any of this a lot of thought until the late 1970s and early 1980s, when reggae hit the United States with a huge rhythmic splash. I loved the sound then and still do. It took me a while to recall the events in Miami and to figure out that was who had taught me about soccer. Just to be certain — to double-check my facts — I recently called my father’s friend, who still lives in the same house and is now 81. “Hell yes that was Bob Marley,” he said. “None of us knew who he was at the time, but that’s who it was. His band and all his family. And absolutely: You played soccer with him and his children — and you did it more than once.”

So there you have it. Bob Marley taught me to play soccer.  And although I never really played much after that, my 9-year-old son sure does — and he’s pretty darn good. Perhaps it’s all a coincidence. Or maybe, just maybe, Bob passed on a few vibes back in the old days, when I wasn’t paying attention.

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Customer service is sick, but not yet dead

It’s a common complaint among so many consumers these days: What ever happened to good old-fashioned service? I’ve said it many, many times. Who hasn’t?

As my father likes to recall, there was a time when service providers considered themselves professionals who specialized in their chosen fields. For instance, big-city waiters were just that — waiters. They were proud of it and good at it. Back then, my father says, men in crisp white shirts with crackling ties attended to your table with patience, courtesy, expertise and a willingness to do petty much whatever you, the customer, desired. Didn’t see it on the menu? No problem, I’ll have the kitchen whip that up. The last place I experienced such service was at The Beatrice, one of those wonderful family-owned restaurants down the stairs, below sidewalk level, in Greenwich Village. The Beatrice, interestingly, was set in a space that had been a speakeasy during Prohibition. Right up until his death in 1997, former CBS newsman Charles Kuralt ate at The Beatrice nearly every night. Quite a place.

It was the same in retail stores. Good service was part of the package, one of the main reasons a consumer chose Store X instead of Store Y. Today? Not so much. If you were to blindfold most of us, we’d never know whether we were roaming the aisles of Home Depot or Lowe’s. I certainly wouldn’t. What happened? Where did service go? I believe it slipped away alongside those hometown stores themselves. The same way local pharmacies turned into mammoth chain stores. The same way independently owned department stores, where so many of us were outfitted for our clothes at the beginning of a new school year, were overlooked in favor of Hecht’s and Macy’s.

This same cold, distant and careless attitude exists in most big box retailers everywhere these days — at stores of all shapes, sizes and purpose. That’s certainly been my routine experience. Until this afternoon.
I was fortunate today to encounter someone who understood the value of customer service. Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of dollars at the Best Buy in Durham’s New Hope Commons shopping center. When flat screen televisions burst onto the scene, I bought two there. Of course, I also had to buy a whopper Sony amp to handle the sound. Then six high-end speakers to do the amp justice. Then a Blu-ray DVD player. And so on and so on. We’ve all been there. Seriously: The cables connecting the sound system with our larger TV, in the family room, cost more than two or three of the older-model televisions I grew up watching. HDMI cables. Brass fittings. Wiring that loops around like a Los Angeles freeway interchange. But I digress.
Today I needed something relatively straightforward — a box of those plastic film sheets that cover and protect the screen of a mobile phone. I plopped down roughly $24 for a pack of three and headed out the door with my son, who is going on 10 but already knows vastly more about such matters than I do. Within 15 minutes or so, we realized what appeared to be the simple task of applying one of these film sheets to a screen was harder than we expected. We ruined one immediately. Moments after opening the second, I could tell disaster was approaching again and put it back in the box. Since we were only a quarter of a mile away from the Best Buy where we had made the purchase, we retraced our steps for a quick return. Not so fast. Problem. Again. More issues with service?

I was told by a nice but, unyielding young woman that such products could not be returned once opened. I asked for a supervisor, who also was courteous, yet just as firm. So I resorted to the only thing I know: I asked for yet another supervisor, the boss of the entire store. You would have thought I’d asked to visit the president of the United States. It clearly was a big deal to members of the customer service team. But when the top gun at this store appeared, Vinnie Sharpe was not the swaggering John Wayne type I expected. The only weapons he carried consisted of a mobile phone, a remarkably complete knowledge of store policy and a sparkling personality. At first, he was as unbending as his staff had been. He quoted store policy, but he did it with a smile and a manner that somehow made me feel better. When I explained, as I’m prone to do, that I’d spent thousands at that very store over the years, he cheerfully requested my telephone number to check out my claim. As he clicked away on his computer keyboard, we talked about politics and golf. Within moments, he did what a good manager should: He determined that I was exactly what I claimed to be — a loyal customer. And by rewarding me for it, he made me even more loyal. Not only did he allow me to swap the covers for a new package, he had one of his technicians apply one for me. It now is secured so smoothly and perfectly that not a single bubble or wrinkle can be found. With that one gesture, Vinnie Sharpe gave me what so many managers elsewhere have not — a good feeling and a good reason to return to his store. It was a taste of excellent customer service, smile, good conversation and all.

The lesson? If you try hard enough — and keep your cool while doing so — you can find genuine customer service. At least at the Best Buy at New Hope Commons in Durham. At least when Vinnie Sharpe is on duty. Today, he restored a bit of faith for me in this era dominated by too many service providers who show no interest in making customers happy. Thanks, Vinnie. But we aware: Next time I need some brass-tipped cables for my TV, I’m coming to see you personally.

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Neil Young, the enigmatic Shakey

After Neil Young’s killer performance at the DPAC in downtown Durham this past Friday, the scene at the stage door was interesting to say the least. Shakey, known for his glaring stare and intense personality, softened to allow a young man with a developmental disability onto his legendary tour bus for a quick look-see. Neil then refused to sign autographs for the crowd that had rapidly formed and whose members were waving everything from shreds of trashed paper to tickets in the air, to no avail — until I shoved myself to the front of the line and showed him my authentic, vintage concert poster promoting a CSNY show in Providence, R.I., in 1969. Shakey studied my cherished relic, stared a hole straight through me, grunted … then signed it. He then made for the bus, which sped away the instant the doors closed.

David Menconi, the excellent music critic at The News & Observer of Raleigh, reviewed the show and told my story on his blog, “On The Beat.” You can read about the show itself and my own brush with Neil at David’s blog here:

Check it out!!

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Condos, Target and pennies in my pocket

I must admit I’ve never owned or lived in a condo. Closest I’ve come was a nicely appointed townhouse my father once owned in Alexandria, Va. But that doesn’t really count. First, it wasn’t exactly a condo. Second, I never really lived there. I digress.

We all know the condo market has taken a whopper hit lately. That’s been the case everywhere  — even here in what business boosters still call recession-proof North Carolina. Even Raleigh’s desirable Glenwood South area, touted for nightlife, dining and general shenanigans, has been wounded. Witness: A condo development, called simply West, hit the auction block not long ago. Potential buyers flocked, some hoping for a deal on a place to live. Others sought only  a good investment. Why would backers this handsome project be reduced to a fire sale? Because its investors had gotten antsy. Check that: They were freaking out. They wanted their investment back, which no surprise. Now, several weeks later , another auction is planned for March, this one for the nearby Quorum, whose circumstances are virtually the same as those at West.

A third condo development is 222 Glenwood. It’s in a different boat. (I must admit I have some ties to this project. Big deal. It’s my blog.) Why? At 222, the bank has been paid. Most units have been sold. It’s just a better bet for the buck. One thing the economy should have taught us is the importance of evaluating what is and isn’t a good buy. Example: I’m in Target the other day and there’s a bin of tools and various electronic gizmos. The bin is marked CLEARANCE . Upon closer examination, the prices are indeed low. In no time, I’d gathered half a dozen items. Then it struck me. Why? Another tape measure? Come on. So yeah, I know low prices are hard to resist. (Why else would the bottom-barrel retail outlet Big Lots still exist?) But these days, I have to side with those who say it’s important for the country’s economy if we all are wiser with our money. Sure, freewheeling spending can cure some ills, but that’s a short-term fix. (Even Bush family knows this by now.) So I use the condo example as only that — an example. But the people who attend the next auction should do it with their eyes open. We can expect more twists and turns before the economy stabilizes. In the meantime, my wife and I have vowed to use our resources more carefully, which, admittedly, doesn’t take much.

Hey, I don’t like using clichés any more than the next writer. But let’s face it: They’re here for a reason. Most are tried and true. (There was a song by an obscure band in the late 1980s — okay, it was Aztec Camera — that contained this gem: “My life is in ruins … Every cliché seems to fit me like a glove.” Always loved that one. Twenty years later, another cliche may not be such a hoot, but it’s as true as ever: Most of us still tend to get what we pay for. Whether at Target, Big Lots or on Glenwood Avenue.

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