In Life Too Often, It’s the Tail Waggin’ the Dog

100_0003 (2)I love the beat of Cody’s tail wagging against the floor, against the door, against the wall, against the bed he is lying on.  I’m not sure whether it will be Cody’s heart that gives out before his tail stops wagging.

Cody’s my 10 year old chocolate lab.  We’re kinda attached at the hips.  He goes to work with me every day.  He goes to work most days, I am out of town on business. I now have a ramp he uses to load up into the back of my SUV.  It is a ceremony.  He’s not fan of the trip up.  I’ve employed what is best to describe as a soft suitcase I wrap him in, to coax him up the ramp.  He’s frantic, so there’s always a treat waiting for him.  Upon arrival, and his descent, he reminds me of an arriving dignitary, including the obligatory pause for photo ops, before his parade trip down the ramp.

Cody knows when it’s time to go to work.  He knows when it is time for his 10 and 4 o’clock walks.  He knows he goes to North Park in the AM and he knows he tours the office park in the afternoon.

Most important he knows when it is time to go home.  Dinner!

If you ask him to change his routine, you meet with the stubbornness of a 100+ lb. dog, who knows who’s in charge.

He knows when the UPS truck arrives.  He knows the drivers.  He knows whether to expect a biscuit or a good rub.  The drivers know him, too.  After all, “What can brown do for you?”

You might say Cody has it made.  Even before you see his beds at home or the leather sofa he spends an increasing amount of time on at the office, but there’s a point to all this dribble. So bear with me.

Cody’s hips are giving in to father time, so he’s getting laser to strengthen his shoulders and flanks.  If it works for him, I’m next in line.

Cody now goes to bed before Terri and I do.  Both of us cracked a smile and laughed the first time he left us to head for bed.  Now we know Cody has more common sense than we do.

A former neighboring business owner had a 10 year old white lab named Jack.  Like Cody, he came to work with his owners each day.  Jack died suddenly.  We were commiserating when Jack’s owner said to me, “give Cody a good back scratch for Jack.”

When I scramble to meet a deadline, decry the political theatre, grouse over a lost order or worry about where the next dollar is coming from, all I have to do is look to my friend.  He’s most often at my feet.

I am reminded.  I have so much to live for, why not make things right in this messed up world?  The solution?

Everyone should get a good tummy rub and a nice back scratch every day.  Cody does.

Threadbare – Not Just Another Pretty Face

“When you bust through all the layers of brevity and you have shaken all the hands of hope, you can begin to share the depths of depression joblessness can bring.”

This pretty much sums it up if you are over 50 and looking for employment.

Reg – Not Just Another Pretty Face.

When I decided to do this story about my good friend, Reg Lepper I thought maybe it would help him by building on the social networking he had already begun on LinkedIn and Facebook.

As I began learning more from him about his 27 plus year career at Hartmarx, known for its Hart Schaffner & Marx and Hickey Freeman suits, and for making President Obama’s inauguration tuxedo and topcoat, I realized the complex struggle he and his cadre of sales professionals and the plant workers endured.

The company and its United States subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in January, 2009. Workers threatened to occupy Hartmarx’s plant if the company’s creditor, Wells Fargo Bank, attempted to lay off workers and liquidate the company’s assets.

In August 2009, Emerisque Brands UK and its partner SKNL North America completed their purchase of Hartmarx.While Reg survived the bankruptcy of Hartmarx, the acquisition, ultimately of a foreign owned conglomerate based in India, many of his friends and fellow employees lost their jobs.

Not to be outdone Reg took it upon himself to write an impassioned plea, (click on the link “a letter to the President”) a letter to the President of the United States, Barrack Obama, the beneficiary of the afore-mentioned Hart Schaffner & Marx suits.  Fifteen (15) months after the acquisition Reg, too lost his job.

Like many who are unemployed, Reg wants to work.  He wants to support his family.  Like millions of Americans, there have been forks in the road and to make ends meet, he needs a job.  Reg is, as I describe him on LinkedIn.com business social networking site.

Reg’s now been unemployed for 7 months.  Not for lack of trying.  Reg has employed every means of looking for work.  Shunned by “head hunters” most likely due to his age, Reg is 64.  I can personally vouch for the fact he doesn’t behave or look a day over 30… OK so he looks a bit older, but he’s a firm believer in exercise, has been a long time distance runner.  Now his knees are telling him he needs to go shopping for a good bike – cheap!

That aside, Reg has been and is actively looking for work.  Sending out his (click on the link to Reg’s “resume“) resume doing  job interviews, volunteering his time for Career Ministry and consulting their members regarding many aspects of their search for new opportunities and careers.

Reg isn’t alone.  This is a nationwide plight affecting thousands of households across America.  If you are over 50 and unemployed in today’s economy, you could be facing many challenges including a mortgage underwater.  In such cases, how can you move to accept a job offer across the country?  What if you took a second mortgage out to pay for your kid’s tuition?  What if your kid is living at home because he or she can’t find a job or can’t afford to make ends meet on their own?

So is Reg’s story only about being a high income earner and over 50 an age related layoff?  I began to see there are many other dynamics in play.  Those dynamics include government and politics; how an increase in payroll taxes on corporate America has impacted US manufacturing jobs; and the shift in manufacturing jobs overseas.

Add TARP and “too big to fail”. i.e., Wells Fargo into the picture.  Let’s not forget the unions. Hoping to save their jobs and start a national movement, Hartmarx workers were pressuring Wells Fargo, the company’s main creditor, to approve the sale of Hartmarx to a buyer that would keep it alive instead of liquidating it and most likely putting its celebrated labels on suits made overseas, The New York Times’s Steve Greenhouse reported.tty face.

While I’m not going to rehash all the events which took place and detail the timeline I think it is interesting to point out there were a number of high profile players involved in the decline of the 124 year old company.

While researching this debacle 9 out of every 10 – news articles or posts reference corporate greed or the big bad bank, in this case Wells Fargo, as the culprit.

“That begs the question, “who buys Hartmarx suits?”

The answer is, “Wall Street bankers.”  OK, so who is demonizing Wall Street?  Obama and his posse, including Dick Durbin, Chuck Shumer and Barney Frank those who were championing the case for Hartmarx and union labor against Wells Fargo.

As reported by Progress Illinois:   The news of a potential liquidation (of Hartmarx) caused workers, union leaders, and members of Congress to spring into action to aid the company, which employs 3,000 people nationwide, including 1,000 in Illinois.  Rep. Phil Hare, who spent 13 years as a Hartmarx employee, described himself as “livid” at the bank, which accepted $25 billion in federal bailout funds. He went on to enlist the help of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Rep.  Jan Schakowsky, whose great-aunt found a job with Hartmarx after emigrating from Russia, called Wells Fargo CEO John Strumpf and urged him to keep the company running.  Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, meanwhile, sent a letter to Strumpf threatening to sever the state’s business with the bank if Hartmarx was ultimately liquidated.

Days after suit maker Hartmarx was sold to Emerisque and its Indian partner S Kumars Nationwide Ltd, SKNL a textile giant three US plants of the clothier have been shut down resulting in the loss of over 500 jobs.  Not a peep out of President Obama, then or now and the Hartmarx factory making his suits in Des Plaines… still open.

Obama, proudly flashing the Hartmarx label

While they may have saved some jobs, politicians and union bosses who should know better and who have voted consistently for more government and more spending weren’t helping the cause.  They may have acted like they are helping Hartmarx employees but their votes for higher taxes and more spending were helping to drive manufacturing jobs overseas.

Reg, on the other hand took it upon himself to champion the cause for Hartmarx workers.  He wrote a letter to the President and stirred the political “hornet’s nest” to get politicians pontificating and deserves a lot of credit for saving US worker’s jobs.

Let it be stated, from all accounts, Emerisque, a British private equity firm working with SKNL, has been doing all it can do to promote and keep the US plants open. In fact, Bud” McCullar, a partner at Emerisque called Reg and commented on how much he cared about the company and fellow employees.  Here’s a quote from Mr. McCullar on Reg’s LinkedIn profile.

“Reg is the consummate seller for an ever evolving apparel and consumer products segments.  From presenting to closing, ever the professional.”

There’s a great book called Built to Last written by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras.  A very dear friend of mine recommended the book to me.   She has been fighting breast cancer for the past 10 years or more.  Apparently she, too, is “built to last.”  Thank God.

The authors define their choice of successful companies’ continued success to be built on “core values” and continued innovation by trying many things through change and recognizing and staying with what works.

If you are the management (CEO) of a company large or small it is your job to see to it you take care of the bottom line and all that goes with it.  That would be principally “cash  flow” management.  Too often, cash flow management is lost on CEOs who are paid for short term gains which inevitably cause long term pain.

That’s why small business is the backbone (more than 70 percent) of the US economy.  For small business cash flow is king.  Our only short term goal is to stay in business, cash flow and grow.

Maybe if more corporate giants and Wall Street bankers had stuck to their core values we wouldn’t be in as big a mess as we are now in today?  Case in point, the merger and acquisition (M&A) frenzy in the 90’s.  Corporate giants, including banks, joined in the M&A rush, to the extent some industry experts were predicting there would only be 3-4 large bank holding companies left in America.

Hartmarx too, jumped into the fray with an acquisition in late 1996.  They added two more in 1998.  In late summer 1999,they added another.  Maybe these acquisitions were good for the company.  I’m not here to judge.  What’s intriguing about the acquisitions is the correlation with offshoring.

In the 1990’s Hartmarx began the offshoring of production facilities to control costs. During that period, they closed ten domestic factories and shifted production to the Far East, Mexico, and Costa Rica.

Someone should have written a book titled Built to “Be” Last – The Decline in Manufacuring Jobs in America – as American manufacturing companies began moving production overseas.

Now here’s the strongest argument yet to keep as to why there are fewer and fewer manufacturing jobs here in America.  If it were not for payroll taxes many more manufacturing jobs in America would have been saved.

While everybody was pointing fingers, blaming everyone but themselves for plant closings and lost jobs, you need not look further than, “it’s payroll taxes… (I’ll let you finish the sentence).”  Granted corporate greed is a factor here.  The problem is many large corporations are multi-national and feel the pressure from foreign competitors not burdened with the higher payroll taxes on workers.

Our government raised payroll taxes in April 1983.  The illustration here shows the investment US corporations began to make overseas according to PoliticalCalculations.com as “unintended consequences” of the payroll tax increase.

If you are a “for profit” company and it is your job to increase shareholder value, you are going to look for ways to lower your costs.  Increasing the payroll taxes on American workers was a major impetus to shift American manufacturing overseas.

We vote to place politicians in office to spend our tax dollars wisely.  They don’t.  On the other hand, we vote with our investment dollars to allow corporate “greed” to profit on the backs of American workers.  They do.

It’s time politicians wake up and reverse the course of lost manufacturing jobs by eliminating payroll taxes and adopting  the FairTax – see www.Fairtax.org.

Ultimately it is up to us as individuals to make the right choices.  This debt crisis is our wake-up call.  Let’s get back to our core values.  If you ask Reg it’s about God, family the desire to contribute his tremendous talent and work ethic to a company and a country “built to last.”

Made in the USA doesn’t have to be about politics or unions.  My good buddy Reg and many of those that have suffered the “unintended consequences” of increases in payroll taxes and lost  manufacturing jobs, will find no comfort here.

For more on Reg click here resume.

Lonely Man, You Know Who I Am

Lonely manI originally wrote Lonely Man for a Montel Williams Poetry Contest for MS charity. I think “Lonely Man” epitomizes how many of us feel from time to time. At the same time it pokes some fun at those same self-effacing feelings. The most humorous aspect is that I had to submit the prose to a site called poetry.com.  They sent me a letter, said they selected me for a “coffee table” edition of their next book and wanted me to spend $45.00 for a copy. Can you believe someone would actually fall for something so ludicrous?!  If you’re interested, I am selling  a serious surplus of these limited edition books for 1.99 on eBay!  Here my contribution… j/k

Lonely man, you know who I am. 

You’re a labor of love, hand and glove. 

If you ever want to shoot for the moon,

You’ll need to bring your own silver spoon. 

Your drink is empty, nothing’s on the table.  

Miguel your waiter, sells only by the label. 

So you dance to music that never ends,

And toast bartender Mike, your new best friend. 

You’re anybody who has a story.

You’re the blood and guts, but no glory. 

You’re the play that’s no longer afloat. 

You’re the poem, you never wrote.

Lonely man, you know who I am.  

You’re a labor of love, hand and glove.

Johnny Cochran’s not your deal.

You’ll never win on your appeal. 

You’re the crowd in every room. 

The conversation that always spells doom. 

You’re the fly that’s always unzipped,

The greeting card, that’s always skipped. 

You’ve become the sweat on everyone’s brow. 

You’re the answer to, “No, not now!” 

You’re the best friend you’ll never have. 

You’re the rub, without the salve.

Lonely man, you know who I am. 

Labor of love, fit hand and glove. 

Win the lottery prize in your office pool? 

What are the odds you’ve played the fool!

You’re someone’s smile, without a face. 

You’re the awkward in an embrace.

You’re the gaze behind an empty stare. 

You’re the voice that isn’t there. 

You’re the cold pavement under bare feet. 

You’re the toothless grin that never eats.

So when you dare ask for a slice of life,

You’re the one to brandish a knife. 

And when your chapter is finally read,

You already know what’s been said.

When it rains, it pours!

About 1 1/2 years ago, oddly after a terrific summer with Cody in the Summit Valley of Colorado at over 10,000 feet and hiking together, Cody started to gain weight, shed profusely and lose mobility.  I’ve always called him my Cody Bear.  Like me, he is just a load… an Irish/German mish-mash of blood and guts.

Now he’s the brunt of many yucks… he’s even been called a manatee. Have you heard the joke about the dog who needs to lose weight just so he can lick his privates?

I took him into several vets and after a series of tests, he’s been diagnosed with “atypical Cushing’s Disease.”  Not to alarm anyone.  Cushing’s disease is treatable and Cody is getting the best of care.

So what has me bugged?  It just seems like all the great dogs I have known, almost exclusively Labs and Golden’s, are dying early and almost all of whom are dying from the big “C” cancer.  Why is that?

Why are small “yappy” dogs living longer?  Are we researching the increase in mortality, specifically due to cancer, in large dogs, most commonly Golden’s and Labs?  Tongue in cheek, maybe we should?

If you are layed back and loveable you’re gonna die before your disagreeable brethren?

I think the research would be surprising.  If you are a small yappy dog, you’ll live next to forever in doggy years and if you are a big ol’ Cody bear of a dog expect to die too early in my estimation… Can we equate the same to humans?

Heartache

At Eternity’s Gate or On the Threshold of Eternity

When you’re losing someone close, it can empty your heart.  I guess that’s where the expression heartache comes from.

It doesn’t stop there.  You know the feeling.  The one you get in the pit of your stomach.  That tightness radiates back into your thoughts; where sadness is born.

Sadness can linger like a bad cold.  It can leave you weepy, nose dripping, eyes wet and swollen.  It can leave you numb, unresponsive and distant.  Sadness subsides in most. Sadness comes more often during anniversaries and holidays.

It’s easy to recognize an empty heart.  Look for that far away expression.  The one that comes when you see  someone absentia.  They think they are alone or just don’t care about their surroundings.  It’s brought on by a sense of loss.  It can be an illness or irk.  Someone could cause you more pain than you can bear.  You can’t bear the loss.  Sometimes sadness follows anger and easily succumbs to a sense of loss.

Losing someone can take time or it can happen in a moment.  You can fall out of love.  You can disagree with someone and fail to find your way back.  You can lose someone you love or failed to love (enough).

You can watch someone struggle and slowly grow old.  You can listen to them labor to breath.

The most amazing thing about losing someone is dealing with an empty heart.  We don’t talk about it.  We don’t share it.  We prefer to suffer in silence. I guess it is human nature?  We don’t want anyone to know we hurt.

We know those who are feeling sorry for themselves.  You will hear all about all their aches and pains!

And we sure know how to celebrate when we are sad!  We even celebrate death.  It even has leaders called the “funeral party”.  We all get together and cry and hug.  Then we go eat and drink ourselves silly.

Best friends!

Man’s best friend!

The expression can truly be a misnomer because it works both ways.  In my case, Cody is my best friend.  I’m not mincing words.  Everyone knows he’s the guy.   There’s no competition.

I’m not picking up anyone else’s poop.  I won’t give anyone else a bath, at least not with flea and tick shampoo.  If you’re nudging me with your cold nose and you’re asking me to get up in the middle of the night to take you out so you can pee in my back yard, what are the chances I’m OK with that?  Only for my man Cody Bear.

What are best friends?  I have to believe best friends will do just about anything for you.  They aren’t going to pick up your poop, but they are willing to change your diapers and clean up after you.

I’m saying, they will drag your ass out of bar when you are being booed for singing karaoke.

They will refuse to loan you money when they know you’re throwing good money after bad.

They are your best friends in the first place because they share your “bucket list”.

Best friends will give you grief, let you grieve, and they will be there when you are ready to let go.

There is no such thing as fair weather friends.  Friends are friends or they are suspects.  It’s not their decision to make.  Friends are friends until you decide otherwise.  You can take them or leave them.

What’s wrong with having sometime friends?  That is the key to friendships.   If you decide a friend is no longer a friend, is he still someone else’s friend?

Why can’t you have a friend that likes a part of you?  Friends may like some of what you do, some of who you are; but not all of you.  So what?

You have to be a saint to be everyone’s best friend so why not just be a friend to anyone who wishes to enjoy your company?  It’s not mutually exclusive.  I have friends I have offended, at least in some respects.  They may have even been offended by some of my other of my friends.

How many of you hang out with someone else’s friends for a friend’s sake?  That’s a good friend!

Cody Bear, “Bear” being the operative word, is a saint.  Bears forage for food heavily throughout the Summer and Fall months so they can hibernate throughout Winter.  They survive until Spring on the fat they have stored.

Unfortunately Cody, my Chocolate Lab has exceeded his quota and he doesn’t hibernate, choosing to forage throughout the Winter months, as well.  Before you jump to any conclusions, he is fed two measured cups of dry all natural, gluten free food each day with a rawhide chew for dessert and a small treat each time he does his business.  So think thyroid problem.

We treat him for that, too, but the medication makes him hyperactive and if you knew Cody, hyperactive means heavy breathing.  “This dog don’t hunt”!  He’s not jumping through burning hoops or running in circles chasing his tail.  A fifteen minute walk/sniffathon is enough to drive a patient man to the brink and Cody to barely avoid the 911 call for an EMT.

All that said, the Bear and I are soul mates.  If I want Cody to lose some weight all I have to do is leave town.  I can pull out the suitcase and just watch him go into a tailspin.  It’s to the point I pack in the dark, when he’s not around; carry my roller bag so he can’t hear me roll for my exit.

I will be home soon my friend!

Livestrong Anyway!

Make no mistake about it, Lance Armstrong is no Mother Teresa!   If Lance is guilty of doping, what should we do?  Take away his bike? 

My message is less about Lance, the man and more about Lance, the messenger.

I am sure you have heard the expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”  Regardless of how you feel or think about the man, the message is clear, “Livestrong Anyway”.

Recently my sister Kay was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Thank God, she will survive, albeit after suffering surgery, chemo and radiation therapy.  For Kay, amongst  many untold stories, there is a long hard road ahead.  Our family, myself included, has always been an advocate for the fight to cure cancer.  We have friends and family members fighting Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer and MS.  We are no strangers to the challenges life imposes upon all of us.

I maintain a good fiction writer could tell a story as good as the story Landis has told about allegations Armstrong was doping (In 2006 Floyd Landis was stripped of his title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone).  Landis knew all the ins and outs of doping and he wasn’t the only malcontent that had hung out with Armstrong, so the courts will need plenty of corroboration from cyclists who either were complicit or witnessed the doping.  As soon as Landis came out with his story Armstrong should have sued him instead of dismissing him as a loser.  There’s too much at stake.

For my part, there are lots of questions.  How many of us could have endured Armstrong’s road to a cure from a tumor that had metastasized to his brain and lungs?  How many of us could have endured the challenges of winning seven 7 consecutive Tour de France races, typically 21 days of racing and covers 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi) championships?  Is he less of a champ if he was cheating or only if he is caught?  Could it be said he won fair and square since most likely everyone was cheating?

In 1998 the race stopped in protest at what the riders saw as heavy-handed investigation of drug-taking allegations.

In 1998 the Festina team was disqualified after revelations of organized doping within the team.

In 2006 Floyd Landis was stripped of his title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone.

In 2007 team Astana abandoned after Alexander Vinokourov was caught doping

In 2007 Michael Rasmussen was removed by his team while wearing the yellow jersey for lying about his whereabouts during a team training session in Mexico.

In 2008 Riccardo Ricco was kicked out of the race after testing positive for CERA

In 2008 Moises Duenas Nevado was kicked out of the race after testing positive for Erythropoietin

In 2008 Manuel Beltrán was kicked out of the race after testing positive for EPO

In 2010, Alberto Contador,  the three-time Tour de France champion was provisionally suspended by the international cycling federation after a small amount of the banned drug clenbuterol was discovered in one of his samples by a laboratory in Cologne, Germany.

My message is Livestrong Anyway!  LIVESTRONG  http://www.livestrong.org/ has a life of its own.

Many good-hearted folks worry about the consequences of the weighty accusations and bad press about Armstrong which Livestrong and Armstrong must endure.  A friend of mine, pictured here below has raised thousands of dollars for Livestrong and for a cure.  She recently wrote, “It makes me nervous for Livestrong and the 28 million people living with cancer.”  So what happens to an organization built on the courage and determination of one man?  The organization is built upon people who are dedicated to the fight against cancer; who have family members with cancer or who are cancer survivors themselves, such as Doug Ulman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Livestrong.  Whatever the outcome, what the many volunteers and the organization Livestrong has done for cancer victims cannot be undone, which has  all been great.  Excellence survives!

In any case, I’m a much bigger fan of Mother Teresa.

Anyway

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway!
If you do good, people will accuse you
of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway!
If you are successful, you will win
false friends and enemies.
Succeed anyway!
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway!
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway!
What you spend years building may be
destroyed overnight.
Build anyway!
People really need help
but may attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway!
Give the world the best you have
and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway!

Written by: Mother Teresa

Whatever the outcome, whatever Armstrong  has done, what Livestrong has done for cancer victims cannot be undone, which has been all great.  Even Mother Teresa had her doubts about her God, so why should we doubt Lance, the supreme being of cycling?

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