Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How About a Quickie?

Is it me or does Facebook feel like a one-night stand with someone you knew a long time ago? First there’s that twitter of recognition when someone from the deep past “friends” you. Then all the memories (or in some cases maybe their pimply high school face) washes up. This is foreplay.

Should I consummate this?

I can walk away right now, before this goes any further, because let’s face it I don’t even remember knowing this person. Second possibility is I accept the Facebook invite, and we will have the metaphorical version of a one night stand. He’ll/she’ll show me his and I’ll show him/her mine. The curiosity will be sated. See you at the 30-year reunion.

Of course this leaves me open to Facebook’s version of stalking, casual instant message notes from someone you haven’t seen in three decades. I mean ‘how are you’ after 30 years? Hmm, let me see. I’ve had two husbands, 10 jobs, lived in three cities, one child, didn’t speak to my parents, now I do, four cats, one dog, where shall I begin?

Ok, I recognize the weirdness of it all yet I can’t stop signing on and reading my “friends’ ” daily posts. I don’t even understand why it titillates me. Maybe it’s just a great way to avoid writing the next story an editor is waiting for.

My true Facebook initiation began at Christmas when an old elementary school pal sent me a message. She started a Canarsie High School Class of 1979 group, and before I knew it, friends were showing up like, well, lost relatives. Turns out I married a boy from high school who kept his yearbook. It is now our most-used reference book. I just can’t stop flipping through the pages, wondering about all sorts of people I’ve not thought about in at 30 years. Puts me in the mood for a quickie but that’s about it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Taste of Technology Small Business Series

View the video. I recently spoke at the Taste of Technology Small Business Series. For more information about this seminar and upcoming seminars, click here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sacred Cow MOOOOVE Over

I grew up in a middle class family in a middle class neighborhood of teachers, cops and shopkeepers. My mother was an elementary school teacher; in fact she taught in the squat brick school where my formal education began. I’ve never questioned the integrity of teachers and I always thought it was a noble career choice.

My mother used to say she taught so she could be home with girls in the afternoon and take us to ballet and art class. She liked spending summers at the Rockaway Beaches, reading on her lounge chair while she dipped her feet in the surf. She could have ascended the ranks and become a principal but she liked the children very much.

I don’t remember much talk of the unions back then.

Now that I’m a parent and a home-owner, I view teachers through a more filtered lens. In becoming intimately familiar with my suburban district’s budgeting process, I have come to see union contracts as outrageous and unreasonable. And that was before the economy imploded.

Having worked for private entities since 1983 – and for myself for the past decade – I know what it’s like to be affected by real-world economic conditions. In the good times, I’ve enjoyed the bounty. In bad times, I reign in my expectations. I don’t regret choosing a private-sector career; it is what writers must do.

Last year, scouring our proposed school budget, I came to understand that union contracts create an unlevel playing field. 3% to 4% raises year-over-year for teachers who work 185 days of the year. Regular step raises apart from these contractual raises. Do these people even know what the word “meritocracy” means? They don’t share the cost of health benefits and pensions. No wonder my mother built such a comfortable cushion.

I couldn’t believe that 80% of total spending in our school district covers salaries and benefits – and we’re talking about many six-figure salaries.

Gov. Paterson is once again talking about trying to build support for a 4% property tax cap, and I applaud him completely. Sheldon Silver, who is in bed with the unions, was able to successfully block the proposal earlier this year, but the tide has turned.

The disparity between union members and the rest of us is finally becoming a national discussion. In part, we have the bankrupt auto companies to thank for that.

But back here in good ole suburbia, the “teacher” is still the sacred cow. Folks in the neighborhood, especially those with kids in the schools, are too afraid to hit the problem with a blunt instrument. It is sacrilegious to take aim at the teachers’ salaries. These same people like to complain about their taxes at Halloween parties but ask them to go public or get involved in grassroots politics and they’ll pretend they don’t know you.

They’re too cowed to criticize teachers’ union representatives for being greedy and unreasonable. I’d bet many people like me come from families with teachers, and have benefited from the system, but hey, as the three auto companies are showing us, change is inevitable.

I believe it will take a property tax cap passing for the union exploitation to come to a head. If union reps could just find a way to be reasonable – to accept a wage freeze for a year or two -- it would be a real teachable moment.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My father pulled the lever

My father pulled the lever in the election booth on Tuesday for a black man. This is an historic moment for me, just as Obama’s victory is an historic moment for America - -and the world.

My father is 77 years old. He’s always played the Archie Bunker character. I have no idea why a boy raised partly in rural Connecticut but mostly in Brooklyn has had such deep-seeded prejudice over his long life. It wasn’t something he could readily articulate but it was always present. He would not go to see a Broadway show if the cast was black. He never used the “n” word but he used other labels to let his distaste or phobia or aversion be known.

It has been his experience, and mine, to live in a segregated world even if we think otherwise. Growing up in Canarsie emphasized divisions between race and class. Jews, Italians and Blacks were three distinct groups. Jews and Italians mixed. Blacks were a group unto themselves; the ones who populated the projects on the fringes of Canarsie; the ones who were pointed at when cars were stolen or houses were robbed. My mother didn’t let me ride the LL train to Manhattan because it was “black.” Black became the color of fear. Black was the color of the less advantaged students my mother taught at the elementary school. Black was the color of the cleaning lady to whom we acted falsely deferential until we found out she was taking jewelry. Black was the color of many of the men who worked for my father. They were hungrier than we were; more likely to find themselves in trouble with the law. And here’s the odd thing: when they did, my father was the first man to step up and provide rescue. Why? Was he protecting his business interests? Or was there something deeper in this man that did not really hate at all? I just don’t know.

What I do know is that I was a bleeding heart liberal by the time I was 10. When Canarsie became the flashpoint for racial tension over busing children from poor neighborhoods to our schools, I defended this. I said over and over at our dinner table that it’s not fair to rail against a population that is always at a disadvantage. That viewpoint was not appreciated by my white, Jewish, upwardly mobile parents. I also had the comfort of holding these views while I lived in a safe cocoon.

In my own effort to give voice to man, I became a reporter, and sunk my teeth into any story that fought against oppression or disadvantage. At some point I realized I was fighting for myself.

I have never thought of Barack Obama as black; I fell in love with him at first sound-bite – and that’s because he spoke to me directly. In recent years, I have been burdened by a chronic feeling of sadness; a nagging sense of powerlessess. I feel venomous toward the unions who tie our hands and raise our taxes. I am angry at politicians who’ve stolen our freedoms and ransacked our belief that if you do the right thing, you get a fair shake. I am exhausted.

But today is a fresh day and I’m smiling because my father voted for Barack Obama. And I’m weeping tears of joy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Media - Taste of Technology Small Business Series

I will be on a panel of speakers on November 10th at the Taste of Technology Small Business Series. The focus of this event is how to get publicity for one’s business through media coverage. About 100 small business owners are expected to attend.

The event takes place at 6:30 at the Samsung Experience, Time Warner Center, New York.

The first five people to sign up using this link get free tickets:

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This I Believe - National Public Radio Essay

Mom and Dad are in their mid-seventies, live in a Manhattan condo and play bridge. My sister and I are in our forties, married with children, living in the suburbs. We are a family like many; there are deep strains among members, which have led to times of estrangement, but lately we crowd around a table at Thanksgiving.

My sister and her husband have two birth children. My husband and I adopted our daughter from Siberia five years ago. Oddly, she resembles my dead Polish grandmother.

I believe when it comes to wills and estates, parents should treat their children equally. Uneven treatment between siblings poisons their relationship. I know. And the anger is carried forth to the next and future generations.

When it comes to money, my parents have always been secretive and unwilling to talk. That’s fine; it’s their money. But enough has leaked out for me to know that when they die the bulk of their estate will skip my generation and be divided equally among their three grandchildren. This means my sister’s kids will receive 66%; my child will get 33%.

While I find comfort in knowing my daughter will inherit enough to pay college tuition 12 years from now, I believe my sister’s family benefits disproportionately, simply because she has two kids. We could not, even if we wanted, afford to undertake a second adoption.

I wish my parents understood how hurt I am. To me a 50/50 split between sisters says we love you both the same. That’s an important comfort, even for a grown woman with her own family.

Sadly, my parents don’t care what I think. I have fought with them bitterly on the subject – sometimes screaming at each other in a diner; at other times talking more civilly in therapy. We remain at odds.

My mother and I used to be as close as two front teeth. Our relationship deteriorated after I got divorced in the mid-90s. She thought I was crazy to leave a man who made a lot of money. Remarrying did little to console her. My sister, once more distant from my mother, stepped into the void.

The closer my sister and mother grew, the more hollowed I felt. Confused, I blamed my sister for my parents’ choices about their estate, and we did not speak for four years. I shut out her children. My daughter, now six, didn’t know for several years she had two young cousins.

Not long ago, I called my sister to rekindle our friendship. Lucky for me, and everyone else, it wasn’t too late. But I worry. I worry that feelings of anger and hurt will resurface the day my parents’ will is read.