13 September 2009

Cash and its many uses...

It's been said many times and many ways that cash is King. However this post is not about the golden rule (he who has the gold makes the rules); it is about the usefulness of cash.

I think I have avoided this post in the past because I presumed that this was a well known fact of life. Recent events however made it clear to me that it is not standard operating procedure for all men.

I suggest that a gentleman carry cash so that he may properly be prepared for the unpleasantness that life will sometimes put in his way. Allow me to provide some examples from own life that will help demonstrate the usefulness of hard currency.

Many years ago I attended a singles wine mixer with a friend. The mixer was oversubscribed and there was a significant lack of room available for comfortable movement. As is likely to happen in such situations people were bumping into one another with nary an apology. As I am not one to gulp wine, which of course should never be done, I was still working a rather full glass of a forgettable red wine (that should give you an indication of how bad it was, I cannot even remember the type). Inevitably I was bumped and much to my dismay I did not manage to spill the wine upon myself. No, the bump jostled me left to right and thus caused a few ounces of wine to escape my glass and land upon the trouser of a young woman standing near.

Now in my young age I did not know much, however I did know that red wine stained and should be treated promptly. I interrupted the young lady's conversation and informed her of the events that had just transpired and where the stain was on the back of her leg. I offered to pay for the dry cleaning bill and handed her a twenty as compensation for that bill. She proceeded to call me a few choice names and then departed, I presume for the ladies room to dab some water on the stain.

Other occasions where cash has come in handy, while out to dinner with my wife. We had gone to a new restaurant and just ordered our drinks when we discovered exactly how noisy the room was. The restaurant was not crowded in many way, it had very poor acoustics. My wife and I sitting opposite each other at a small table could not hear each other, but could hear the soft whispers of the couple on the other side of the room. While I am sure that such an arrangement is helpful for someone, somewhere, it was not helpful at all for us. We were looking for a quiet romantic restaurant. By having cash I was able to call the waiter over and pay for our small bill without an undue delay while a credit card was charged etc.

Cash is also very handy when out with a group of people and you need or want to leave early before the check has arrived. If you have paid attention to the cost of items on the menu you can be sure to leave enough cash. A few months ago some co-workers of mine gathered at a local watering hole after work. I had a prior engagement later that evening and knew I would be leaving before the gang left. I was mindful of the menu prices when I ordered an appetizer and a drink. This allowed me to leave the gathering at my convenience and put enough cash on the table to cover my portion of the bill. As I laid the money on the table I was assured by the group it was too much, I assured them it was fine and parted company.

There we have three occasions offering us reasons to be sure to carry cash. How much you should carry depends on several factors, how much you can, where you are and the relative prices of things, etc. On some days you may need to carry more than on other days.

07 June 2009

"Buy American, The job you save may be your own."

The title of today's blog was a popular bumper sticker in the early 1980's with union workers. This past Memorial Day weekend I saw it on back window of a newer Chevy pickup in Ohio.

Although I don't work in the manufacturing fields, I can't say I disagree with the sentiment. A few years ago I was in favor of persuading my employer to offer a telecommuting program. However, before I got too far into it I realized that if they thought I could do my job remotely, how long would it be before they off-shored my job?

Back to the bumper sticker. I've been considering the purchase of another vehicle for my household. The current economic crisis has made it a good time to buy if you happen to be fortunate enough to have an income and a good credit score. More specifically I've been thinking about buying a GM pickup truck. What I've discovered is that in all probability the Chevy pickup sporting that "Buy American" bumper sticker, was most likely made in Mexico. It seems that all of the GM trucks I've been looking at were assembled in Mexico. I should mention that I've owned three prior GM vehicles, 1 made in the USA (Janesville, Wisconsin) and 2 made in Canada.

Moral of this tale? Be careful of what bumper stickers you choose.

7 decades and not much has changed

The other night I was flipping though my 57 channels, and nothing was on, as The Boss said. In truth it was more like 398 channels, and there was something on. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", Frank Capra's 1939 picture about a naive man who is appointed to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. It's truly a wonderful movie, as most of Capra's are. So interesting in fact that despite the late hour that I found it, I stayed up until the following morning to finish watching it.

What was most interesting, cinematic technique aside, was the Washington D.C. power game as it was in the 1930's. The sad part is that I'm not sure things have changed all that much in the past 70 years. Powerful men still continue to tell our politicians what to do. Politicians remain more concerned with keeping their jobs than with doing their jobs.

I supposed I can't fault politicians for that last one. Many in the corporate world are currently consumed with keeping their jobs. Just the other day my boss told me that it was more important than ever that our team be perceived as adding value to the company. And here I thought it was more important that we actually add value. Typically I operate under the presumption that I'm adding value, and as long as my boss sees it that way all is good. Apparently these tough economic times have changed that. We now need to have others think we add value, even if we aren't.

I've heard that there is to be a new version of the movie "Wall Street", released near the 25th anniversary of the original. Timely in a way, no? The original was released shortly after a market stumble and before the 1991 economic fall out. With any luck the new one won't be followed by an economic fall out.

I guess the saying is true, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

27 May 2009

An Ambassador of your Country

It's been five years since I last left North American soil, and my how the times have changed. But much like the duality expressed in a Charles Dickens novel, at the same time times haven't changed. Thus I wish to share with you some thoughts on traveling.

Whether you are traveling domestically or internationally remember that you are representing your country, region, city, etc. to those that you meet. I don't mean to sound like a parent there, but if you think about it, it's true. The further you travel from home the more true it is. Why? Well that's simple really, the further you are from your home the greater the odds that those you meet will only have you to go by as a representation of people from your country, region, city, etc.

It has often been said that first impressions are lasting. Like most quotes of old folk wisdom, it was said because it is true. Think about the people you've met from countries and regions other than your own. Who lived the furthest from you? How many people from that local have you met since or prior? See it's all starting to make sense now isn't it.

Now I'm not suggesting that you not be yourself. That really doesn't do anyone any good. If you're not yourself then you won't be convincing at it, and you'll then seem insincere and everyone will think that people from where you live are insincere. What you should try and do is to be the best model you that you can be. Be on your best behavior, mind your manners as your parents taught you (or as you learned from school or television if your parents didn't teach you manners).

Americans are constantly berated by Europeans, and others, for being very rude, arrogant, selfish, brash and outspoken. While this may be an appalling characiture to many Americans it stems from years of people exactly like that traipsing all over Europe. In defense of Americans I will say that every country has people who are rude, arrogant, etc. and teenagers are teenagers the world over.

While I was in the Tate Modern a few weeks ago there were two groups of school children there as well. One group German, the other French. Both groups were equally loud, rude, and inconsiderate of the other patrons of the museum. Had I not previously been to either Germany or France I would now only have that impression of their teenagers, and if I were a small minded person, would be thoroughly convinced that all French and Germans were loud and inconsiderate. I offer that little tale up as an example of why it pays to be on your best behavior when traveling. Because whether you want to be or not, you will be looked as representative of all your fellow countrymen.

16 March 2009

Gentleman of the Week

Much has already been written about The Daily Show interview with Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart so I won't belabor the interview here. I will say however that given the nature of Jon's show and his passion for the topic at hand, he conducted himself in as gentlemanly a fashion as was possible, perhaps more so.

Props to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.


Perhaps it's a "guy" thing, but I really do enjoy watches, the intricacy of the movements the various designs possible. When I think about it, they are really one of the few items men can use to accessorize that don't all look like everyone else's. However I should probably clarify that, the possibility is there for them not to look like everyone else's. Certainly if you take a look at the wrists of most men in a major city they all seem to be wearing copies of each others.

At least I've noticed over the past few years a trend for men to wear large chunky metal banded sports watches with nearly everything. Now I have nothing against these sport watches, a number of them have caught me eye, the Omega Seamaster, Rolex Daytona, nearly anything by Tag Heuer. They are all attractive designs. They are designs that are best worn with casual attire.

For more formal attire (like your everyday suit for the office) I think that a subtle style would go over better. Something thin, perhaps a black leather band. The watch should complement the suit and the wearer, not be big and crass shouting "hey look at me!!" After all a Gentleman would never do such a thing himself and likewise shouldn't let his possessions do that for him.

This pairing of watch to clothing is a statement in and of itself about the wearer. What message is your watch, clothing, in general you're outward appearance, giving off? If you're trying to give off a impression of wealth remember that the truly wealth don't flaunt it. The have nice possessions yes, and you can tell by the cut of their clothing that it's better quality, but it's not shouting in your face.

27 December 2008

The Atlanta to Pittsburgh via St Louis Favor

A gentleman should always be willing to do favors for his friends, particularly when it is something they are not capable of doing for themselves. But what about when you're asked by a friend to do a favor for one of their friends who is perfectly capable of doing it themselves?

On the evening of the 23rd I received a frantic call from a friend who needed to ask a favor. He wanted me to invite someone to have Christmas dinner with me. If my wife and I were hosting Christmas dinner this would not have been a problem. However we were not. We were in fact traveling to my parents for the holiday, a few hours away. "Oh, well do you think you could secure an invitation for this person?" was the reply of my frantic friend.

For the record, it is in incredibly bad form to ask someone to ask their host for an extra invitation.

The situation was described to me in parts, which when added together will make no sense to anyone. Least of all me. To clear things up a little, and make for an easier read, I'll call my friend "Chris" and his friend "Lucy". Okay, on with the tale.

Chris had previously invited Lucy to join him for the holiday. Lucy is in the area on a business project for the year and is hundreds of miles away from her family. This sounds very sweet and I fully encourage the welcoming of people into ones homes for the holiday's.

Chris explained that over the prior weekend he injured himself, and that was why he was asking if I could take Lucy in for the holiday. Thinking that this must be a serious injury if he was trying to find someone else to look after Lucy I inquired as to the nature. "Oh it's nothing really, I'll be back at work tomorrow." I started to wonder why he could return to work, but not accept Lucy's company the following day.

It was then that Chris remembers that our friend Joe lives closer to Lucy, and it would be easier for Joe to take her in for the holiday. It would be easier for Joe, however he already has full house with children, their spouses, and grandchildren. I'll just throw this in as a piece of relevant information, Joe and I have only meet Lucy three times, during which she's barely spoken to us.

About fifteen minutes later I get a call from Chris again, Joe is going out of town for the holiday and won't be able to take Lucy in, would I mind trying to get her invited to my family's dinner. "I'll see what I can do." I hang up with Chris and call my mother, as I'm talking with her Chris called 10 times during my conversation, never leaving a message. On the 10th call I put my mother on hold, figuring there's some sort of emergency for Chris to be so relentless in his calls. No emergency, just another idea. I do manage to secure an invitation from my mother, for Lucy. God bless my mother, she has a very warm heart, I knew if I explained the situation properly she'd welcome Lucy with open arms. I call Chris back with the news and he informs me he'll try and reach Lucy and get back to me tomorrow.

The following day Chris calls, Lucy doesn't want to impose on my family so now Chris wants me to drive Lucy to his place on my way to my parents. Geography is a pain, especially when you know it and others don't. This plan would have made sense if Chris' was along the way, but it wasn't. Imagine going from Atlanta to Pittsburgh, but stopping in St. Louis first.
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That was what I was now facing. I asked Chris why Lucy just didn't drive herself out to his place, she had a new car, was college educated, not in poor health, and the weather was going to be clear.

Then Chris explained that she was hopeless with directions and that if I didn't drive her out to his place (his injury made it difficult for him to drive) she'd just spend the holiday by herself in her little apartment with no heat, probably crying all day.

This caused a whole host of questions on my part. Why was she in an apartment without heat? Why doesn't she do something about it, like call the landlord? Because she lacks communication skills. What?! She's in a management training program at her company, how can she lack communication skills? How can she not know how to read turn by turn directions from mapquest or google maps? From all outward appearances she's a competent person, why is she being presented as incompetent?

On the ride back she thanked me for the lift and explained that she'd have just spent the day watching TV in her apartment. At that I could no longer resist, "Really?! You have a car, no? You could have driven yourself anywhere." And with that Lucy didn't say a word for the rest of the trip.

What troubles me about the situation was that she didn't even try. From where she was to Chris' is three roads and four turns in 50 miles. It frankly isn't that complicated, but it is time consuming. It doubled my driving time each direction.

A coworker of mine recently moved to a new town and is learning where everything around her is. Her second night at her new place she got lost trying to get to the shopping center. She called her boyfriend in a panic because she was lost. Turned out she was only 200 yards from the shopping center, a fact that she laughs at today, but at least she tried it on her own.

My wife has a friend who has lived her entire life in a major city and does not have a car nor has she learned to drive a car. If we're going by her place and she needs a lift that's on our way, we're happy to oblige

There are a lot of things to take away from this little holiday tale. I'll let you pick what you should take away. I only ask that you provide a comment of what I should say to Chris. I'm torn in my own emotions since I agreed to the favor, and yet I'm very annoyed at Lucy for not even trying.

How would you have handled the situation?