Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Temporary Gentleman – book review

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry is a novel about a complex and troubled man which takes place during a troubled and complex time in Irish history.

The story takes place immediately before, during an after World War II; a war in which Ireland remained neutral. The hero of the story is a young  Irish engineer by the name of Jack McNulty who has volunteered for the British Army. Due to his engineering education he is made an officer. (Hence the name “temporary gentleman”.)

However, this book is not what would be called a war story. The main story is about Jack’s life in Ireland before the war when he was perusing the beautiful Mai Kirwan. Like Jack she is a Catholic, but she comes from a family that is so wealthy and conservative that many people “assume they are Protestant.”

Jack wins Mai’s heart, but it is only after they are married that he discovers that underneath the physical beauty Mai is a dark and troubled soul. Jack is total unprepared for her issues, given the many problems he faces with his own personality, not the least of which is his drinking.

The backdrop for the personal conflicts in Jack’s life is the internal conflict in Ireland itself created by World War II. The Irish were deeply divided about what Ireland’s role in the war should be. On the one hand Ireland had only recently won its independence from the British and  many Irish had a deep hatred of all things British. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Irish men volunteered for the British armed forces during the war, and hundreds of thousands of other Irish men and women went to England to work in the munitions factories during the war.

Jack is able to return home on leave several times during the war. He finds that the way the Irish are handling the controversy about the war is to simply  ignore it. On leave he goes to a pub with old friends while wearing the British uniform.  Lots of people say hello, and ask him about his wife and children. People talk about the weather and the crops. And yet, not a single person mentions Jack’s uniform or speaks about the ongoing war.

On each trip home, Jack finds that Mai is progressively getting worse. His time at home is always taken up with attempting to set things right again before returning to the war.

The novel is written as a memoir by Jack McNulty long after the war. It is not really meant to be published, but is more if a cathartic exercise for him where he is able to look back honestly on all the mistakes he made and all the things he should have done. The memoir jumps around in different points in time in Jack’s life, which adds to the mystery of what will happen next. In retrospect, Jack must question his own motivation for the major events in his life. Did he really feel strongly about the war, or was joining the army just a way to escape from a wife on the verge of madness?

This is a beautifully written and very moving story. Sebastian Barry is a prolific writer. He is the author of five other novels, thirteen plays and even two collections of poetry. If you have not read him before, we recommend The Temporary Gentleman as a wonderful introduction to an excellent author.

 

True Subway Stories

The Subway Stock Trader

I was riding the uptown #6 train on the Lexington Avenue Line from Spring Street to Grand Central, when I heard the broker speaking. I assumed he was some kind of stock broker or bond trader. I  had my back to him but he was speaking  very loudly on a cell phone about the various stocks and bonds he was buying ad selling.

Then It occurred to me that I did not understand how he was getting any cell phone reception underground in a moving subway.  I turned around to take a look at him and saw that he was not speaking on a cell phone, but instead had a banana held up to his ear.

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It was not a cell phone in the shape of a banana, but an actual banana he was speaking into. The New Yorkers around the crazy person were all completely ignoring him while he traded millions of dollars in imaginary stocks and bonds. I got off at Grand Central, and the banana subway trader continued his journey uptown.

A Bag of Treasure

Last Winter I was on the Path Train from 33rd Street to Hoboken very late at night. The only other rider in the car was a homeless man who had gotten on carrying clear see-through plastic bag. It was very large, the type of leaf bag used in the Fall.

The man was about fifty years of age and was  wearing a pair of old faded jeans and no shirt. He was guarding the bag like it had all the treasure in the world. Inside the bag were hundreds of different types of men’s shoes. There were sneakers, dress shoes, construction boots, rain boots, loafers, even saddle shoes. No two pairs were alike, but all of them were old and used. I never realized how many different styles of men’s  shoes existed..

The man guarding the shoes thought they were very precious indeed. Too precious to actually use. Despite the winter weather and the hundreds of shoes to choose from, the man was barefoot.

The train stopped in Hoboken and the doors opened. The homeless man eyed me suspiciously. I was careful to use the door furthest away from him, so he would not think I was trying to steal his treasure.  He stayed on the train to ride it back to 33rd street. Like many homeless people in winter he would ride the train back and forth for hours just to get out of the cold.

It is odd how a chance encounter like that can affect you. Ever since  that ride, I notice what type of shoes men are wearing, ad wonder if they appreciate them.

There’s No Place Like?

The following is a true story. Names and places have not been changed. It took place at General Foods Corporation back when General Foods was a stand-alone company. (It is now part of Kraft)

Martin was very happy with his new job at General Foods in White Plains. Marty had gone right from college to business school to get his MBA. He had graduated near the top of his class at NYU and got a job in Marketing at a great company. Everything was looking sunny. Except for the debt.

Marty was already loaded with student loans and credit card debt. Since General Foods was in the suburbs Marty found he had to buy a car just to get around. Even the piece of junk used Chevette he bought put him further in debt. He hated the car and the color

chevette

but it was all he could afford; and the sleazy used car dealer was actually willing to give him a car loan.

The big problem was rent. Apartments were expensive and hard to find in White Plains. He got a small place on a month-to-month basis. But even this small apartment  was taking up almost half his take-home pay. He didn’t even sleep  well there. The people in the other apartments were very noisy, and you could hear everything they did through paper thin walls.  Often Marty went to work exhausted.

Combined with utilities  and the minimum monthly payments on all his loans, Marty had exactly zero dollars left at the end of each month. Some months he actually had less than zero and had to build up more credit card debt.

Still, Marty loved going to work. It was like a sanctuary for him. The General Foods “campus” was a little world to itself. It had a subsidized cafeteria open for breakfast and lunch, and a gymnasium open until 8 PM every night. It even had a barber shop on premises.

Marty started spending more and more time at General Foods. He had breakfast and lunch there and worked out at the gym every day. He just hated going home to his cramped noisy apartment for the night.

Then one day the Marketing people had a big meeting in one of the conference rooms to discuss a new product launch. It was a very large room with a big oak table. Along the sides of the room were several large plush couches. Marty was very tired since he had not slept well at his apartment the night before.  During one of the Power Point presentations, Marty kept looking at the couches and thinking how nice it would be to stretch out and take a long nap on one of them.

Couch and Bananna 007

That’s when Marty and an epiphany. He realized that the solution to all his financial problems was for him to live at work full time. Over the next month, he put his plan into action.

The first step was to move his clothing to the office. This took a lot of imagination. The General Foods gym had lockers but you were not allowed to leave anything in them overnight, and the gym instructors actually checked. (Yes- General Foods had such an employee-friendly atmosphere it had certified trainers on staff to guide employee fitness).

With the gymnasium off-limits for clothing storage, Marty had to get more creative.  He only had a cubicle, not an office, so space was limited. The first thing he did was to empty out his file cabinets and  arrange the files on his desk and the floor of his cubicle. This left his work space a little cramped, but it meant he could put his underwear socks and shirts in the file cabinet drawers.  He always kept the file locked so that no one would accidentally stumble on  his secret.

The building had large coat closets and no one really paid any attention to what was in them. Way in the back Marty hung all his coast and jackets. He threw his sweaters and other bulky items  on the shelf at the top. Everything else he needed he kept in the old Chevette.

Then Marty took the plunge. He gave notice to the landlord and vacated his apartment.  It was time to become a full time resident of the General Foods campus.

On the first night Marty developed a routine. He worked all day and then went to the General Foods gym to exercise. When he was done, he showered and shaved then drove his Chevette off site to a nice bar and restaurant where he spent a couple of hours having dinner and talking to the other patrons while everyone watched sports on a big screen T.V.

Then it was time to sneak back in. Marty has planned out every detail. He parked his car behind the gym where the maintenance vehicles were. Then he used his key to get into the main building through a side door. He had a key, since  after Marty had decided to live at the office, he had volunteered to be one of the General Foods fire marshals.

Every department in the company had to have one fire marshal. No one wanted to do it since it meant attending a lot of training meetings, and there was no extra pay. However, Marty had noticed that the fire marshals were  all issued special access keys so that they could search the building for missing people in the event of a real fire. They were “hard keys”. That is, they were actual metal keys and not electronic security badges. That way the keys would still work if a fire knocked out the electricity. It also meant that when Marty used the hard key there would be no computer record of when he entered the building after work hours.

Marty used his key in the side door and quietly slipped down the hall to the the Marketing  conference room.  Then he closed the door to the room and stretched out on the couch.  General Foods did have guards that made a sweep of the building each night, but they did it only once. Their main job was to make sure all the employees had left,  and to turn off any coffee pots or other devices  that people had left switched on which might cause a fire hazard. After that the guards stayed in the main lobby.

Marty set an alarm on his watch, stretched out on the biggest couch and fell promptly to sleep.

Marty did this every day and at the end of the first month he was amazed at how much extra money he had. No rent or utility bills meant a lot of extra cash.

At first Marty had just planned on doing this for a short time until he was able to pay off some of his debts. But then he began to really enjoy himself. He felt  like he was a spy with some sort of secret life.

He woke up every day early in the conference room and then used the company bathroom to change, shave and brush his teeth.  Then he worked at his desk until the cafeteria opened. He had breakfast at the cafeteria and then was back at his desk. As far as his manager and co-workers were concerned he was fantastic. He was always the first one there in the morning, and got a tremendous amount done.  He looked great since he was working out every day.

The only tense part of the day was sneaking back into the building each night after dinner, but he guards had such a regular routine that it became easy. Marty became very comfortable with his new life. In fact, a little too comfortable.

He had not really considered weekends when he came up with his master plan. The company was closed every weekend, which meant no cafeteria or gym.  He would have to go out of the building to eat, but he was a little worried about sneaking back in in broad daylight.

Then he realized that a lot of people went into the office for a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday to catch up on work. So Marty would get up early on the weekend and sneak out the side door and walk down the street to a diner for breakfast.

When he was done he would come right back into the building through the main lobby where the guards were and tell them he was there to do some work. It got so they realized he was a real “go-getter” and came to expect him every Saturday and Sunday.

Now that he was “legally” back in the building he was free to walk around and talk to the other people who were doing weekend work. Some of the executives began to take notice of him. They liked this guy who was always putting in extra work time.

But all good things must come to an end and so it was with Marty’s living arrangements. His downfall was that he had just let himself become too relaxed. Marty got sick of sleeping in his work clothing, so he started switching to pajamas before he went to bed. He had been living at the office for almost a full year and it was now winter time. Marty had stashed a bathrobe, pillows and blanket under the conference room couch. Every night he put on his pajamas, made up the couch like a bed and went to sleep.

Three unrelated events and plain bad luck ended Marty’s tenure as an nonpaying tenant at the office. The first was that he had eaten a very large dinner and was exceptionally tired. The second was that after a year of  waking up at the same time every day he had gotten out of the habit of setting the alarm on this watch. The third was that the Finance Department had borrowed the Marketing conference room for a 6:30 am meeting to discuss some issues they were having with developing the budget for the next year.

Marty was having a pleasant dream about swimming in the Caribbean, when he woke up to find fifteen accountants staring down at him like he had landed from outer space.

Marty was fired and escorted out of the building the same morning. It took more than 10 trips back and forth to his Chevette to get all his clothing and other personal items out of the office. He had really made it a home.

Over the next month security was significantly upgraded. Every  lock and code at the General Foods building was changed. Those of us who still worked there had to sit through a series of lectures given by senior management about what was and was not “appropriate” behavior.

We never heard from Marty again, but there were a lot of rumors about what had happened to him. Some people said he is now a wandering homeless bum. Others said he landed in jail. But those stories don’t sound true to me.

The story I believe is the one I also happen to like best. People said he drove his lousy Chevette all the way to California where he got a job with a start-up software company.  Instead of trying to hide why he got fired from General Foods, Marty decided to tell his prospective employers exactly what had happened.  Most of them decided not to hire him, but the software start-up people loved it. They decided they definitely wanted a guy with that king of initiative and imagination.

This winter I thought about Marty  many times. The winter weather was terrible and the daily commute had become a nightmare.  I sometimes found myself looking at the lovey couch in the conference room and thought, “who would really know if I slept there for the night?”

 

 

 

 

 

What the Flight Attendant Said

plane passanger

The following is a true story. None of the places or names have been changed.

OK I admit it. I don’t like to fly. I don’t like the crowds or being manhandled by security or being cramped in a small metal tube called a luxury jet liner. However, unlike a lot of other nervous passengers, I have never actually worried about the plane crashing. That is, until last year when I happened to sit in the last row of a United/Continental flight from Chicago to Newark.

I was in  the worst seat you can get on an airplane, but I had a rush business trip and it was all they had left. In the last row you cannot recline the seat and you are right next to the bathroom.

The flight was uneventful and it was towards the end of the flight. Two flight attendants were standing in the service area at the back of the plane, and I could clearly hear every word they said. One was an older fellow named Kevin and the other was a very attractive young woman named Mindy with an adorable Georgia accent. Despite the seat not reclining, I was actually quite relaxed until Mindy started speaking.

” I bet you Billy bounces the plane!” , said Mindy.

“Why would you say that?” answered Kevin, somewhat nerviously.

“This is Billy’s first time landing in Newark. And Newark is real hard to land at. There are a lot of strong cross winds, and the runway is not that long; so he is going to be really nervous.”

I glanced at the passengers around me, but lucky for them they had all dozed off.  I, on the other hand, was now gripping the seat armrests so hard my knuckles were turning white.

But Mindy was not done yet.  “I think just before the plane lands, I should get on the phone to the cockpit and shout out, “Bounce! Bounce! Bounce!”

“I really don’t think you should do that,” insisted Kevin. I turned my head for a quick glance and saw than Kevin was now visibly sweating.

Oh great! Not only do we have a pilot who has never landed at a dangerous airport before, but we have a flight attendant who thinks it would be a great practical joke to distract him while he is doing it.

Seconds later the pilot (Billy) announced that the flight attendants should take their final positions for landing. Mindy did not answer, so apparently she had second thoughts about distracting him.

The plane came in smooth and level and then suddenly slammed into the runway and bounced not once but twice before Billy finally managed to get it to stay on the runway. Some guy’s laptop came out of the overhead bin and crashed into the aisle.

As we exited the plane some of the  passengers were visibly shaken.  Mindy, on the other hand had the big smile of a kid who has just gotten off a roller coaster. Pilot Billy wisely chose to keep the cockpit door closed while the passengers deplaned

So apparently Mindy really does know a lot about airports or pilot Billy or both.  However, next time I wish she would just keep that information to herself.

bouncing plane

 

 

The Girl on Stage

The following story is true. None of the names or places have been changed.

Francis White 001Francis (Frank)  White circa 1903;  Columbia University

It was a good time to be a young gentleman in New York and Frank White wanted to make the most of it. He had graduated with a degree in Engineering from Columbia University and then proudly served his country in The Great War.

WWI 001Francis’ White’s World War I medal.

After the war, he got a good job and his life had settled into a regular routine. He worked hard in the “high-tech” field of the day. He was an engineer at the Okonite Company. This company manufactured the amazing trans-Atlantic cables that allowed people to communicate across an ocean in seconds.

His social life consisted of lunch at the Columbia Club or the Engineers Club. Occasionally he would see a play at one of the many theaters in the city. He lived the satisfying, if very routine, life of a working gentleman in New York.

Then one evening his entire world was changed when he saw the girl on stage.

Frank had gone to see a light comedy by a British acting company. The play was an amusing little farce about an English upper class family. In one scene the family was having tea, and it was served by a young actress playing the family’s maid.

The second he saw her, Francis White fell in love. The girl only had a couple of lines and then exited the stage. Frank kept waiting for her to re-appear in another scene but she never did.  At the end of the play, Frank decided to do something rash; totally out of character for him.

Long after the play was over, Frank waited outside the theater by the side door where the actors and actresses would come out. After what seemed like hours, the actors and actresses came out in a group. No doubt they were headed for a late supper after the show. The girl he was seeking was in the middle. He was astounded that she looked even more beautiful than she had on stage.

Overcoming his innate shyness, Frank approached the group and asked he if he could buy her dinner. Without hesitation she told him, “certainly not!”. She noted that they had not been properly introduced and that she had no intention of going off with some “Stage Door Johnny”. The other actors all laughed and the actors and the girl went off in a group, leaving Frank alone in the alley.

The girl was named Elsie Clayton. She was English, but not the type of English woman she always played on stage. Actresses in those days did not come from the upper classes and Elsie was no exception. She was a Cockney. She came from that poor part of London where people have  the type of accent that all other English people immediately identify as “low class”.

It had taken years for Elsie to learn to speak with an Upper Class British accent. If she spoke in her real Cockney accent, English audiences would have laughed, and American audiences would not have been able to understand a word she said. She came from a family of actors, but they were comedians and Vaudevillian types. They could speak like a real Cockney on stage and get away with it. But Elsie wanted to be taken seriously on stage.

Elsie had finally gotten  a job with a real British touring company and made it to America with them. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt soon after and she was stuck taking whatever bit parts she could get.  She felt lucky to have finally gotten the small part of a maid.

Elsie had liked the shy young gentleman who had approached her after the show. Of course, a young woman had to be careful of her reputation and he was after all, a total stranger.

The day after Frank White tried to meet Elsie Clayton the theater manager was at the theater very early to start setting up for that evening’s performance.

The theater manager was a tough-as-nails middle aged  man named Jack Kelly. Jack did not own the theater, of course. He was the type of man theater owners hire to take care of all the details the owners don’t want to bother with.  He had to get there hours before the actors and stay after them just to make sure everything was running smoothly.

Frank White entered the theater and walked over to Jack Kelly. Mr. Kelly was about to tell him to get lost, when he noticed that Frank was holding out a crisp new one-hundred dollar bill.

That evening, Frank was back at the theater it the front row and saw the same play again. He eagerly anticipated Elsie’s entrance. When she came on stage, she caught his eye for a second and gave him just the hint of a smile.

After the show, Jack Kelly lead Frank back stage and formally introduced him to Elsie Clayton. Jack Kelly gave a beautiful little speech about how he had known Frank and his family for years, and that Frank was “a good lad with a fine reputation”.

That evening Elsie Clayton did consent to allow Francis White to escort her to dinner. Less than a year later she consented to be his wife. They had a long and happy marriage. Frank loved her “real” Cockney accent, although he had to admit it was sometimes hard to understand.

They had been married for over a year before Frank admitted that he had bribed Jack Kelly to “properly introduce” them. Elsie then admitted that she had known a the time that Jack Kelly’s fine speech was a fraud. After all Jack Kelly was a good stage manager but a terrible actor.

And that is the true story of how my grandparents met. – Gregory Farrell

 

 

 

 

 

Eat What You Kill- Book Review

Eat What You Kill by Ted Scofield is a story of a Wall Street “short seller” named Evan Stoess. The best way to describe Evan is “Gordon Gekko on Steroids.

Evan was a poor boy from a trailer park who got a break by getting a full scholarship to an elite prep school. It was a turning point in his life, but not the way the school had hoped. As far as Evan was concerned the main thing he learned in prep school and later in college was that all the other guys had so much more than he did.

Evan pretended not to mind their teasing about his poor background, but on the inside he was seething with rage. He vowed that when he graduated he would do whatever it takes to have more money than any of them.

“Whatever it takes” has a whole new meaning when you are a short seller. In that line of work you make money when the stock of a company goes down rather than up. The worse the disaster for the company he short sells, the more money Evan makes.

The problem is that in New York City, no matter how well you do, there is always someone with more money than you could ever dream of having . Although Evan does quite well on Wall Street, he soon realizes that what he used to think of as a lot of money is just pocket change to to truly wealthy.

Evan  comes to the conclusion that great statistical analysis and good luck will never make him a true Titan of Wall Street.  He decides to take a more active approach to making disasters happen to the companies he is short selling. After all, a lot of hi-flying companies are dependent on one or two key executives.

What if something were to happen to these key players? How far will Evan  actually go to achieve this goal?  How much money is enough?

This is an exciting and  well written book by a first-time novelist. The author, Ted Scofield, knows Wall Street well, since his background is that of a securities Attorney, and he is still the General Counsel of Icebreaker Entertainment.

We recommend this  book and look forward to Mr. Scofield’s next novel.

The Gentle Woman’s New Bunny Part 2

We have received overwhelming response to the stories of The Gentle Woman’s Bunny and The Gentle Woman’s New Bunny. Many people have asked for an update on how Sunshine is doing.

Well, he has settled in very nicely to his new home. He is still not too sure about the other animal in the house, a 10 year old Ragdoll cat named Lubby.

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Sunshine is out of his cage and exploring the living room, where he loves to jump effortlessly on an off the couch.

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If you click on the link above to  this Moving Bunny video you can see Sunshine just as he is about to leap.

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Despite the looks of the picture, the cat is very accepting of Sunshine, but is a little startled about how much energy this young bunny has.

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The Gentle Woman asked us to pass along her thanks for all the kind comments people have posted.

The video clips below show Sunshine jumping out of and into his enclosure.

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Enjoy!

 

The Gentle Woman’s New Bunny

Sunshine 003Sunshine Explores the camera

When the Gentle Woman’s Bunny passed away, she was so sad she vowed that she would never get another rabbit.  But whenever she went on the internet, she couldn’t help clicking on stories and pictures about rabbits.

Then one day she was on the internet and she happened upon the website for Safe Haven Rabbit Rescue Inc. This is a non-profit origination that cares for and finds homes for abandoned, stray or abused domestic rabbits.

Sunshine 007Sunshine explores his new home.

Unfortunately it turns out that abandoned bunnies are  common. People get rabbits as pets, get tired of caring for them and then just dump them.

Some people drop the rabbits off in a woods or park thinking they will “return to the wild” and be free.  These people are unknowingly sentencing these bunnies to death. They cannot make it though a Northeast winter. Even in the summer or spring, they will be quickly eaten by the many predators roaming the area.

Other people are simply cruel. Domestic rabbits have been found by the side of highways, or even in dumpsters. One woman brought a bunny to Safe Haven  Rabbit Rescue, after she happened to see a motorist drive by and simply throw the rabbit out of the car window while the car was still moving.

Sunshine 008This fellow was abandoned by the side of a road.

The Gentle Woman was taken by the story of a bunny which has been found abandoned on Route 27 in Edison, N.J.  A Good Samaritan took him to Safe Haven Rabbit Rescue, where he turned out be be a lively little fellow.  He was a real jumper and had to be put in an extra large cage with a very high top so he would not hit his head when he jumped.

A lot of people did not want to adopt him since he was a little too lively. However the Gentle Woman thought he would be perfect. After taking care of a very sick bunny for a few years, it would be fun to have one whose only issue was too much energy.

Summer Bag 001Sunshine examining a new bag

But Safe Haven Rabbit Rescue will not let you just stop by and get a rabbit. After the bad experiences these animals have already gone through, Safe Haven Rabbit Rescue wants to make sure that the new owners will have a serious interest in caring for their new friend. They interview you to make sure you know how to care for the rabbit, and even come to your house to make sure your are set up properly for your new friend.

Finally the new bunny arrived and the Gentle Woman named him “Sunshine”.  He is slowly getting used to his new environment, and is very curious about everything around him.

Summer Bag 002Testing out a grocery bag

It is interesting to see how different rabbits have different personalities. Although the cat pays no attention to Sunshine whatsoever, Sunshine instinctively freezes and watches carefully until the cat has walked by.  The last   bunny (Summer) used to hop up to the cat and actually bump into him.

If you are interested in helping these abandoned rabbits you may want to join the “Bike for the Buns” ride in the Bull’s Island Recreation Area.  All proceeds go to a good cause and are tax deductible. It takes place Saturday June 14th.