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Archive for May, 2010

The Guy With the Website

Since October 2009 – roughly 8 months ago – my website – www.chetson.com – has brought in just over $200,000 in business. Quite a lot of this business I’ve referred out. But in referring it out, I’ve made clear to the receiving lawyers that I’d like to learn from them, would approach them with questions from time to time, have them review briefs etc. I try not to be presumptuous or demanding. Right now I’m in the business of learning the law and building a reputation as a smart, helpful, and good criminal lawyer.

This has worked out well, to the extent that by the time the year’s over I’ll probably have had at least two jury trials. I’ve gotten to interact with some of the top lawyers in town. One guy – a fantastic lawyer – has taken to calling me, half-jokingly, a “cash cow” and whenever I show up at his door, unless he’s with a client, he’s happy to help. I’ve gotten a ton more experience than I ever could had I simply been an associate in a law firm. By operating as my own law firm, and by bringing things to the table, I’ve been able to present myself more as a “peer” with lawyers whom I respect.

To be honest, I could make a decent living by just doing the web work for other lawyers, but my goal has always been to become a great lawyer, and so this doesn’t interest me much.

Here’s how I’ve done it: focusing relentlessly on clear and cogent content, taking advantage of all the tools that Google – Google Local/Place, Google AdWords (for a time), Google Analytics to measure, and Google Webmaster – has to offer to promote my business, by building links to the website, and by offering a good service that people are happy to write reviews about following the conclusion of their cases.

By trading on things I already know – how to build a promote a website that will bring in business – I’ve been able to make headway quickly in learning the law and in getting real-world legal experience.

This has been cause for some jealousy as the guy “with the website”, which I’ve been careful to guard against. Basically my motto is: I’m not here to take business from anyone. I’m here to help people grow their businesses and, if they treat me fairly and honestly, refer business as I get business I can’t handle or can’t take.

I’m also transparent about my process. I tell lawyers who ask me exactly how to build a website. I tell clients who hire me exactly what they can expect from my services. I do this because I’m ultimately building a reputation and brand that will pay off in the future. I also am happy to tell lawyers how to build their businesses because I know it falls on deaf ears. In other words, the problem isn’t how to build a website that’s like mine. The problem is building a website that performs well and, importantly, is part of the entire client experience. If you have a great website, but offer a mediocre experience, the website will not perform. Knowing that most people won’t follow-through, I’m happy to give as much advice as they want. In addition, I’m happy to give advice to people WILL follow-through because those are just the kinds of colleagues I want in the legal community.

5 comments

What does it take to be a successful real estate agent?

Being relatively new to the real estate industry (coming from a military background, followed by some time in the NYC finance sector), I came into it wide-eyed, green and full of expectations, realistic or not.  I believed that in real estate, like most facets of life, you could succeed through hard work, perseverance and a healthy dose of common sense.  Now I’m beginning to question if I had any of that right.

Intelligence.  An asset that will guarantee your success regardless of what you do.  But is that applicable in real estate?  I’m not saying I’m the smartest person in the room (even when I’m alone), but I have met some real estate ‘professionals’ who really push this issue to the brink.  And I’m talking about top-producing agents!  Just a few days ago, I overheard a conversation where an agent, who just got a listing for over $2.4M, asked another if he knew what ‘TMK’ meant. Really, I am not making it up.

Hard work.  Sure, most successful agents are hardworking.  But in it of itself, hard work does not guarantee even the slightest bit of measurable success in this industry.  Sure, having systems in place to ensure efficiency should make the work load a bit easier to handle, but I’m finding more and more than even when you do all the things that the experts say you should be doing, success is not necessarily within reach (at times it seems to be the opposite, actually).

Professional appearance.  Well, this one may be more touchy to me since I live in a tropical area where casual attire is the rule of the day. But really, how is it that people look like they just rolled out bed, slapped on whatever dirty clothes were on the floor, slipped some beach flip flops and land multi-million dollar deals?  Sure, I get it, ‘Aloha Friday’, but that could mean a number of things (i.e. nice shorts with a tommy bahama shirt) besides just being plain sloppy.

Knowledge of the market.  I can’t wrap my head around this one as I thought for sure this would be one area where a successful agent MUST be proficient.  Recently I had a conversation with a top producer who didn’t know the area very well (really, after 10+ years in the area) and claims he never reads the market statistics, national or local.  Sure, I could understand if this was a new agent or someone who recently moved to the area.  But a top producing professional?

Is there one trait or a combination thereof that makes a successful agent?  Genuine charisma? Experience? Good looks? What is it?

Could Horatio Alger given us a real estate agent? I’m starting to doubt it.

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Rand Paul’s take on private property rights is correct — and daring to tell unfamiliar, uncomfortable truths to voters is laudable.

Well.

I’m thinking that “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” has brought us a nearly universal display of cowardice from the RE.net. If I am mistaken in this, I will happily amend my error with a link and a courtly bow. But I expect there is even more room for quivering, quibbling, cowering, caviling cowardice on this fine and perfect day.

Like this: The position Kentucky senatorial candidate Rand Paul took on property rights yesterday is correct — not just as regards property rights, but as an expression of the errors we need to correct in the body politic if we are to reemerge, eventually, as something resembling a civilized society.

The left is attempting to smear Paul as a racist for insisting that private property owners themselves have the moral authority to be racists, even if Paul and virtually everyone else find that position to be morally-repugnant. This Two-Minutes-Hate campaign doesn’t seem like a winning strategy to me, in the age of the internet. The left will have no trouble finding reasons to hate Rand Paul, but his own tea party admirers may find in his principled arguments even more cause to admire him.

But mainstream Republicans are in full-reverse mode, backing away from Paul as quickly as they can. This seems to me to be a mistake. The tea party movement is an artifact of the age of the internet. At the least, tea partiers check up on the things they are told by the mainstream media. And it seems plausible to me that many of those folks are aware that the United States has been pursuing the wrong policies — as a matter of philosophy — since the end of the nineteenth century, at least. Anyone seeking greater human liberty has to regard this present moment as an incredible opportunity to get ordinary Americans thinking about ideas they might never have considered before. For Republicans to race away from the actual philosophy of liberty seems to me to be hugely stupid.

So let’s start here: Racism is by far the stupidest and most morally-repugnant form of collectivism. This is completely obvious to any thoughtful individualist, but what’s missing in America — the deficiency that has robbed the body politic of its once-robust good health — is a serious if not terminal shortage of thoughtful individualists. Rand Paul’s position on the Civil Rights Act is exactly right: No government should ever favor one citizen over another, but individual people have complete moral authority over their own behavior, subject to post hoc claims of damages.

So suppose the morally-repugnant hate-mongering racist minister Jeremiah Wright decides to form a club with the morally-repugnant anti-semitic racist Jesse Jackson and the morally-repugnant socialist racist Al Sharpton and the morally-repugnant islamo-fascist-wannabe racist Louis Farrakhan. Would they have the moral authority to exclude me, as a white devil? Why not? Let’s make it a no-whites-allowed night-club — just to get the quivering, quibbling, cowering, caviling cowardice out of the way — since the restrictions on businesses in the Civil rights Act were putatively authorized by the commerce clause to the U.S. Constitution. Can you think of any reason why flagrant, blatant, notorious black racists should not be free to dance and drink only with their own chosen associates, excluding me utterly, without naming their reasons and without my having any recourse at law?

I think this would be their perfect right — even though they don’t need to go to these lengths to get me to detest and ridicule their ugly racism. But this is the consequence of the portions of the Civil Rights Act that impose obligations on private citizens. Yes, racism by merchants in the Jim Crow south was ugly and abhorrent and repugnant — and you might think for a moment about how those folks might have taken to me, had I been alive there and then. But pushing innocent people around at gunpoint is far worse, and the loss of freedom for all Americans as a result of this coercive philosophy of government has had devastating consequence upon all of us — with black Americans by far getting the worst of everything from the perpetually-infantilizing pretend-benevolence of the welfare state.

As soon as you say — upon any pretext whatever — that one person has an unearned, unnegotiated, nonconsensual claim on another person’s property, you have undermined private property as a standard of human justice and enshrined that pretext, whatever it might be, instead. As a species of irrationality, racism is a very poor profit-seeking strategy, but that does not matter. What matters is that the absolute right to own, use, enjoy, profit from and sell private property is a fundamental principle of human justice. Free commerce is based in rational agreements among free people. Any alternative, no matter what it is, is necessarily corrupt, leading, as now, to sustained pressure group warfare and ultimately to full-blown civil war. There are only two ways to coordinate human activity: Peaceful cooperation or bloody coercion. When you undermine the former, you enshrine the latter as a matter of unavoidable necessity.

Far from shunning these philosophical arguments, lovers of human liberty must embrace them. America stepped off the path of individual liberty a long time ago. To get back to where we were, we have no choice but to retrace our steps. Republicans don’t want to do this because they don’t want to admit in public that all of socialism is evil, that it is nothing other than a criminal conspiracy to despoil people engaged in morally-laudable behavior in behalf of morally-repugnant people of all races, creeds, colors and persuasions.

That’s a mistake.

We’ll have to wait to see what the mainstream media does to Rand Paul. I expect it won’t be pretty, but I’m hoping it won’t be effective, either. But at least Paul is willing to tell the American people the whole truth, instead of trying to work them and play them and manipulate in the way the Republican party always has.

10 comments

“Jihad, Las Vegas!”

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“C’mon, Sahib,” the Cabdriver said. “Let’s get rollin’.”

Sahib said, “Again I must remind you that my name is not Sahib. And also I must ask you again to wait. Even now I am about to win the jackpot.”

Sahib was sitting at a penny slot machine in the casino of the Stratosphere, in fun-filled-Las-Vegas-Nevada. Max coins, no less, a real player.

“Jeesh!” said the Cabdriver. “Your jackpot’s a hundred freakin’ bucks!”

“No, you are very much mistaken. The colossal-grand-jackpot on this machine is ten thousand American coins.”

“It’s a freakin’ penny slot! Ten thousand pennies is a hundred bucks!”

“Even so, I have every confidence that I must certainly hit the jackpot. By now I have eliminated nearly every other possibility.”

“No memory.” I said that. I was at the bank of machines behind theirs, playing video poker.

Sahib said, “I regret that I must ask you to repeat yourself.”

“No memory. ‘The wheel has no memory.’ Blaise Pascal. Inventor of roulette. Also of probability theory. There’s a random number generator inside your machine. Sixty times a second it spits out a new random number. Doesn’t remember the last one. Doesn’t care about the next one. When you hit the max coins button, you get the current number, and nothing you did before, nothing you’ll do later will change that number.”

The Cabdriver leaned over to murmur in my ear. “Freakin’ fascinating,” he grumbled, “but I’ve got to get this clown out of here!”

“In addition,” Sahib continued, “a young woman has promised to bring me another one of these very appealing citrus beverages.”

“Margarita,” I said.

“Again I must beg your indulgence in repeating yourself.”

“It’s a Margarita. Lime juice and tequila, plus Triple Sec or Cointreau or Grand Marnier.”

Sahib was aghast. “Promise me, sir, that I am not consuming alcoholic spirits!”

“Not here. Not by half. Here they make ’em with lime-ade and monkey-puke.”

“Thanks be to Allah,” he sighed. “I am very much enjoying my monkey-puke.”

The Cabdriver was seething. “Sahib! Hadn’t we better go about assembling your freakin’ bomb?!”

To the Cabdriver I said, very quietly, “This is Las Vegas and it’s all about fun, but since nine-eleven I don’t think it’s all that funny to talk about bombs. I mean, I think you have the right to yell anything you want in your own damn theater, but anyone who shouts bomb in a crowded casino had better ‘freakin’’ expect to get crushed by the mobs.”

He leaned back over. “You don’t get it! This clown and his two buddies have a plan to bomb Vegas on the Fourth of July!”

“Oh, I heard about that. I thought it was a hoax.”

“I don’t know if this is the same deal or not. For all I know, the whole city’s crawling with teams of terrorists.”

“Praising Allah and hogging all the lap-dancers.”

“You ain’t freakin’ kiddin’! Sahib Two hasn’t left the Olympic Gardens in two freakin’ days! I think he’s over there pickin’ out his seventy-two freakin’ virgins!”

“To be honest with you gentlemen,” said Sahib, “I am not completely convinced that every one of those young women is a virgin.”

There was a pause while the Cabdriver digested this remark. “Yeah, well Sahib Two is givin’ ’em the full inspection.”

“This has proved to be a difficulty for myself, as well. Today at the spectacular-all-new-Stratosphere-swimming-pool there were two young women sunbathing while wearing only half of their bathing costumes. It was an endless time of prayer and study before I was able to avert my eyes.”

“My week,” the Cabdriver grumbled to me. “They hired me to keep them on track. Sahib’s chasing penny-slot jackpots. Sahib Two’s getting terminal eye-strain at a titty bar. And I can’t remember the last time I saw Sahib Three.”

At just that moment we were joined by another Arab, shorter than Sahib and portlier. On his arm was his date — and by ‘date’ I mean a dried up old fruit. ‘She’ was comfortably in the shadow of sixty, bleached-blonde and teased, a picture-perfect-vintage-Vegas-bar-fly — with a little something extra where Sahib Three might least expect it.

“This is Trixie,” Sahib Three said breathlessly. “She has promised to help me get a job at the hotel as a very highly paid bellman!”

“But this is demeaning,” Sahib One countered, “to carry baggage for money.”

“Ain’t nothin’ demeaning about sixty grand a year,” Trixie said out of the side of ‘her’ mouth.

“You can freakin’ say that again!” said the Cabdriver. “But what about Sahib Two? Is he still at the strip club?”

“Oh, I am very happy to report that he has also become gainfully employed!” Sahib Three rejoiced. “On the second floor of the incomparable-Olympic-Gardens, there is a special stage set aside for men to dance for women.”

“Or something like that,” Trixie muttered.

“Our great friend in Allah has been engaged to dance upon that very stage! Even now he is being instructed in the art of the ‘grind.'”

Sahib One was swearing softly at his slot machine, which still had not paid its colossal-grand-jackpot. Tapping him gently on the shoulder, I said, “Come here. Look at this. That machine pays ninety-three percent. For every dollar that goes in, ninety-three cents comes out. This machine pays one-hundred-two percent. If you play it just right, you’ll average a two percent profit. Forty dollars an hour, if you play the way I do. Sixteen hundred dollars a week. Plus free passes to the buffet and all the monkey-puke you can stomach.”

“I may not be entirely understanding what you are saying.”

“I’m saying you can have a job, too, right here at the Stratosphere, just like your friends.”

“Can it with the freakin’ job!” the Cabdriver murmured urgently into my ear. “I’ve got to get these clowns to the FBI. They finally agreed to arrest ’em, and I want to get ’em over there before they change their minds!”

“Why bother?” I asked out loud. “The house always wins. Vegas eats everything.”

“Say what?”

“Vegas eats everything. It devours everything it sees, and its end-product is just more Vegas. Was there a desert here? Vegas ate it. A river? Vegas ate that, too. Cowboys, miners, missionary Mormons in their Sunday best? Vegas ate them all. The Mob? The Feds? Wall Street? Las Vegas ate them one-by-one. Paris? Vegas ate it. New York? That, too. Disneyland’s at Treasure Island and Hollywood is everywhere. Not the real things, the Vegas-real-things, charming post-modern parodies scaled down to the size of a good time, so you forget how much money you’re leaving behind. Vegas eats everything. A year from now these gentlemen will be dressed up as Elvis, singing ‘Jihad, Las Vegas’. Their on-stage bomb will explode and blow their sequined jumpsuits away, and they’ll be grinding in G-strings for screaming hausfraus from Milwaukee.”

“These screaming-hausfraus-from-Milwaukee,” Sahib One began. “Do you think they would be willing to instruct me in the art of American fornication?”

I smiled. “Them or someone just as nice. Welcome to Las Vegas. And Happy Independence Day.”

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How the bank robbed Bonnie and Clyde

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“Stick ’em up!” said Clyde. I swear that’s what he said.

My first bank robbery. I was right behind Clyde in line, so I saw it all. It wasn’t what I expected…

Behind the teller’s cage was Hello-my-name-is-Annabelle, the world’s most unflappable teller. She said: “Do you have an account with this bank?”

“Huh?! Lady, this is a stick up!” Clyde had one of those cheap little .25 caliber pistols, the kind that are guaranteed for three armed robberies or one family brawl. He was wearing nylon hose over his head so it was very difficult to tell that he had brown hair, brown eyes and a pitiful little attempted moustache. I don’t think his nose is really that flat.

“I understand that,” said Annabelle. “I asked you if you have an account with this bank.” The prim people worship Annabelle as a goddess: she is primness personified, right down to the last tittle and jot. Her mousy-brown hair was wound up in a tight little bun and her little half glasses rode half-way down her nose. She wore a forest green dress with the tiniest white polka dots. I couldn’t see her shoes, but I’d bet they have buckles.

“Oh, just put the money in the bag!” commanded Bonnie, Clyde’s moll. She’s an unbearably thin woman with bleached blonde hair and greasy jeans. She didn’t bother with a disguise, since the downtown of every city that has a downtown is crawling with unbearably thin women with bleached blonde hair and greasy jeans.

“I would like to do that,” said Annabelle. “But first I’ll need your account number.”

“I don’t have a damn account!” said Clyde. “Okay?! If I had money, why would I be robbing the damn bank?!”

“Well, if you don’t have an account, I’ll need eight dollars.”

“Eight dollars! What the hell for? If I had eight dollars, I could wait until tomorrow to rob the damn bank!”

“Non-depositor’s transaction fee,” said Annabelle. She tapped her pen on a little sign mounted on the counter: “If you don’t have an account with First American Interstate National Trust, we will be happy to process your transaction for a nominal non-depositor’s transaction fee of $8.00.”

Clyde scratched his nylon-plastered chin. “What if somebody wants to cash a pay check?”

“Eight dollars,” said Annabelle.

“Money order?”

“Eight dollars.”

“Change for the bus?”

“Eight dollars.”

“Judas Priest!” Clyde observed.

Annabelle was not one to be distracted. “I’ll need eight dollars to process your transaction.”

I think Clyde might have shot her right then, but Bonnie said, “Wait. I got an account at this bank, I think.”

Annabelle said, “May I have your bank card, please?”

“My what?”

“Your bank card. Your ATM card, if you will. I cannot process your transaction without a bank card.”

Bonnie had an enormous purse, somewhat larger than a duffel bag. She sat down on the floor and began to pull things out of it. There was an amazing quantity of stuff in there and all of it was garbage, only dirtier. Finally she looked up in triumph. “I got it. I got it.” She handed the card up to Clyde who handed it to Annabelle.

Annabelle said, “Now enter your PIN number.”

Bonnie struggled to her feet. “My what?”

“Your PIN number. Your secret password. The number you enter when you use an ATM machine.”

Bonnie looked very confused but she stood at the little keypad and typed in a number.

“Incorrect. Try again.”

Bonnie scratched her head and tried again.

“Incorrect. Are you sure this is your card?”

“I’ll get it, I’ll get it.” Bonnie typed in another number.

“Incorrect,” said Annabelle.

I leaned forward and whispered, “The last four digits of your social security number.”

Bonnie’s face lit up and it took her only two more tries to get it.

“That’s correct,” said Annabelle and Bonnie beamed with pride.

Annabelle typed about twenty thousand keystrokes into her computer terminal, pausing now and then as the machine prompted her for more information. After an eternity she looked up and said, “This account is overdrawn.”

Clyde said, “Huh?”

“Overdrawn. This account is overdrawn. By… two dollars and fifty-seven cents.”

“Wait,” said Bonnie. “I got thirty, forty dollars in this bank!”

“That was five months ago,” said Annabelle. “Since then, we’ve deducted your account maintenance fee of seven dollars per month.”

“Great…,” said Bonnie. “Good thing we’re robbing the bank, because I’m broke.”

“It is a bit of a problem, though, isn’t it?”

“What problem?” Clyde demanded.

“I cannot process any transactions on this account while it is overdrawn. You’ll need to make a deposit to bring it into a positive balance.”

Clyde guffawed. “You mean we can’t rob the damn bank until we give you two dollars and — what was it?”

“The minimum cash deposit is five dollars,” Annabelle said primly.

“Wait,” said Bonnie. “I got it, I got it.” She rummaged through the many pockets of her purse, pulling out coins and crumpled up, greasy bills. “You take Food Stamps?”

Annabelle coughed softly. “No.”

Bonnie finally dumped her cache of cash on the counter top and Annabelle primly counted out five dollars.

“Now fill the damn bag,” Bonnie growled.

“There is one more small issue…”

“Oh great!” said Clyde. “What now?”

“There is a teller usage fee.”

“Sheesh!” Clyde exclaimed. “How much…?”

“Two dollars.”

Bonnie looked at the coins left on the counter. “I don’t got it…”

Clyde turned his gun on me. He said, “Gimme two bucks. Now!”

I said, “You must be joking.”

“Now!!”

“I’m sorry, but I’ll have to charge a ten dollar armed robbery fee, payable in advance.”

He screeched his frustration. There was a little boy behind me with a mayonnaise jar filled with rolled pennies. Clyde said, “Gimme two bucks, kid!”

Bonnie pounced on his gun arm. “No way!” she said. “I’ll rob a bank, but I ain’t rippin’ off no kids.”

A businessman three or four places back in the line reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge wad of bills. He peeled off two dollars and handed it to Bonnie. He said, “I’ll pay anything to get this line moving.”

Bonnie gave the money to Annabelle, who turned back to her terminal and typed in another forty or fifty thousand keystrokes. Clyde finally had time to be nervous. He looked every which way, sweat pouring down his nylon-hosed temples. He was fascinated by the surveillance cameras, and his eyes darted from one to another. Bonnie was clearly bored, and she spent the time examining her nails. They were bitten down to the quick, and, if I were to guess, I’d guess that she planned to have some new ones installed with her share of the swag.

Annabelle completed her typing chores, and it didn’t take much longer than ten minutes. She took the bag off the counter and began to fill it with the cash from her cash drawer. When she finished, she looked up and said, “I’ll need eighteen dollars.”

“What!?” If Clyde had been a steam boiler, he would have blown.

“Eighteen dollars,” Annabelle said primly. “Excessive withdrawal fee.”

“God damn!” said Bonnie. “Just take it out of the damn bag!”

Annabelle shook her head. “It’s eighteen dollars over and above the amount of the withdrawal.”

“Christ on a crutch!” Clyde shouted. “Is there anything in this bank that’s for free?!”

Annabelle smiled brightly. “We are always happy to explain our fee structure at no charge.”

Bonnie said, “I give up. I just give up. I never thought robbing a bank would be so much damn trouble. Let’s go knock over a liquor store, where they got some sense.”

“Hell with it,” said Clyde, stuffing his gun in his pocket. “Let’s just go to a liquor store. We can cadge quarters ’til we get enough for a bottle.”

Bonnie looked doubtful. “She’s still got our money…”

“Leave it!” He clawed at his hose-clad face. “Man, does this stuff itch!”

Bonnie scooped her change off the counter. “I don’t got enough for bus fare…”

“I don’t care! We’ll walk!”

They shambled out of the bank and Annabelle took the bag of money off the counter top. She fixed me with a prim little look. She said, “Next, please.”

6 comments

What Does “Primacy” Mean?

From Bloomberg News:

U.S. stocks tumbled yesterday after Germany’s announced its ban on naked short-selling. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she will lobby governments to introduce a tax on financial markets, and for ratings companies to come under European supervision so governments regain “primacy” over markets. The euro is at risk and Europe may be facing its greatest challenge since the founding of the European Union, Merkel said

I boldfaced the word “primacy” because I believe it means “first in importance”.  Essentially, that means the State is upset because markets operate independently of government planning.  It sounds like Chancellor Merkel is trying to play with her superhero action figures again.  It won’t work; the markets are demanding competition among currencies to better reflect the risks and opportunites of sovereign nations.

It gets better:

“Policymakers are determined to protect the euro zone, and they have identified the financial markets as the key obstacle for stability, which implies risks of further regulation,” Erik Nielsen and Dirk Schumacher, economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote in a report.

I boldfaced the phrase to show you how crazy this is.  Could you imagine the Yankees blaming the scoreboard as its key obstacle to victory?   None of this will work.  A competing global currency will re-emerge.  Then they’ll steal it.

3 comments

Cooler than a corpse…

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“I… uh… I thought we’d be meeting with the brands committee.” Manny Kant said that. He gnawed at his lower lip.

The Big Boss lowered his girth into the chair at the end of the conference table. He took his time, and Manny accommodated him by breaking out in a sweat at the temples.

“Naw,” said the Big Boss. “I don’t need no ass kissin’, no blame shiftin’, no idea snatchin’, no duty skirtin’. Not today. Today I need an answer, so I come down myself to see what you got to say. What you got to say, boy?”

Manny swallowed hard. “Well, I, uh… I… uh…”

“Go ahead, boy, spit it out. I ain’t gonna bite you!” He laughed from deep in his belly and the laugh turned into a crackle in his throat and the crackle turned into a cough and the cough turned into a fit. When he was finally able to stop coughing his face was florid. He chuckled and shook it off and fished into his breast pocket for a cigarette. He coughed again with the first puff of smoke but he was able to contain it.

The Big Boss was big. He was a commanding presence, and, now that I’ve seen him, he’s even a commanding absence. He was fat and fleshy and pink, but there was a power in him, a strength of purpose and a physical strength buried beneath the fat. He wore a blue seersucker suit and a starched white cotton shirt and a red bow-tie, a letter-perfect son of the South. He was bald with just a fringe of white hair at the base of his scalp and his eyes were small and dark and beady. They were overwhelmed by the flesh of his face, like a pig’s eyes.

Manny presented a nice contrast. He wore an Armani suit in a dusky plum color and a collarless linen shirt open to the third button. His slick black hair was pulled back into a pony tail and he had a tiny little triangle of an imperial mustache beneath his lower lip. Indoors, in a conference room on the twenty-third floor of an office building, he wore opaque black sunglasses. Perhaps to calm himself, to take charge of the situation, he slowly removed them. His eyes were small and dark. And beady.

“Listen, boy,” said the Big Boss. “You ain’t got nothin’ to be a-scared of. You make your presentation. If I like it, you gonna walk outta here a wealthy man.”

Manny toyed with a button on his shirt. “And if you don’t like it…?”

The Big Boss smiled and it was an ugly, ugly smile. “Then you gonna walk outta here with space for a second boyfriend. If I may be so blunt in front of the–” he curled his lip “–lady.”

He was referring to Istvana, an extremely high-priced fashion model who has had her hips and her last name surgically removed. She was lounging languidly, half asleep, in the chair beside Manny’s. Her boredom and her indifference and her ennui lounged languidly with her. Beyond trim, beyond thin, she was emaciated. She was wearing a champagne-colored evening gown in the mid-morning and it concealed none of her assets, so that everyone who dared to look knows with certainty that Istvana has no assets. Her hair was a dusky, dishwater blonde and it fell about her head in greasy clumps. Her face was composed of sunken triangles, her skin pasty and gray. Her eyes were small and dark, the pupils tight little dots, and there were deep black circles beneath them.

The Big Boss remembered his upbringing. He said, “Would the lady care for a smoke?”

“I don’t zmoke,” Istvana replied, her accent thick, her voice low and seductive. “I zmolder…”

“That’s right!” said Manny. “That’s one of the pitches. Istvana sitting backwards on a chair, her elbows on the seat back, one hand holding up her head, one hand holding the cigarette. The headline is, ‘Silky, smoldering cool…'”

The Big Boss sucked on his lips until they smacked. “If you don’t mind my sayin’ so, the lady looks about half dead.”

Manny was nodding with delight. “You’ve got it! She’s the coolest. The absolute coolest model we could find.”

The Big Boss harrumphed but he didn’t actually say anything.

“What is it that we’re selling? Cigarettes? No. Cigarettes are poison, everybody knows that. Are we selling sex?”

“That’s what you smart boys keep tellin’ me I’m sellin’.”

“No. You can’t sell sex. Prostitutes sell sex. What you’re selling is the prospect of sex. The promise of sex. What you’re selling is an accessory that the buyer thinks will get him sex. All you’re really doing is taking his money in exchange for poison, but that’s why we have advertising, isn’t it?” Manny smiled and it was an ugly, ugly smile.

“The committee asked me to come up with a brand to sell to kids,” Manny continued. “Not little kids. Joe Camel is an idiot; little kids don’t have five bucks a day to piss away on poison. What we wanted was a product targeted at teenage boys. Get them to smoke because they think smoking will get the girls to come across. That gets the girls to smoke, so they can be like the boys. Maybe three out of five are smart enough to listen to their bodies when they get sick. But the other two… Get them and you’ve got ’em for at least ten years, maybe for life.”

“And you think this here… lady is gonna sell cigarettes to teenage boys?”

“It not just Istvana, it’s the whole concept. You’re skinny and you’re scared and you’re lonely. Your voice breaks half the time and your face is broken out half the time and there is no chance, no prayer, no hope whatever that any one of the geeky little girls you go to school with is going to drop her drawers for you. And then you flip the page of a magazine and there’s Istvana, the perfect woman for a teenage boy, the woman too lazy to say, ‘No.’ That’s half of it.”

The Big Boss did nothing to hide his skepticism. “And the other half…?”

“You’ve got to be cool, you’ve got to be cool, you’ve got to be cool. It’s the Teenage Imperative. So what does cool mean? Affected indifference, right? It’s not just aplomb, it’s a studied contempt for values because they are values. Who cares? Why bother? Burn, baby, burn… Cool is indifference to life. Cool is a way of rebelling against the people who want you to live by acting as if you’re unmoved by the thought of your own death. To be really cool is to make people believe that you don’t care if you die…”

“What the hell does that have to do with anything, boy?!” The Big Boss erupted in another coughing fit but he stopped it by an act of will.

“What…” Manny Kant asked slowly, “could be cooler… than a corpse?”

If in fact there are levels in hell, the Big Boss redeemed himself to a gentler torment by his look of horror.

Manny sailed three mock-up cigarette packs across the table, one for me, one for Istvana, who did not deign to notice, and one for the Big Boss, who looked but didn’t touch. I picked mine up and examined it closely. The package was printed in black ink, flat and buffed like black velvet, very rich. It was dominated by an enormous white skull-and-cross-bones, the death’s head symbol, the poison symbol. Printed over that in blood red ink that looked like it had been spray painted through a stencil was the brand name: “CORPSE”.

Manny waited ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds. He said, “The tag-line on every ad is, ‘Nothing’s cooler than a Corpse…'”

The Big Boss said nothing for a long moment. Finally he looked up and gestured toward me. “What’s he doing here?”

Took Manny by surprise. “Oh, he’s just my… assistant.” Untrue. I wrote about Manny a long time ago and he’s always been ticked about it. He’d invited me along because he was convinced this would be his day of triumph. He tried to regain the moment: “Silky, smoldering cool… Nothing’s cooler than a Corpse…”

The Big Boss looked down, his chin buried in his chins. His lips were pursed tight and his eyes were focused on nothing.

“The secret’s out,” Manny said. “It never was a secret anyway, but now the cover’s blown. What do you do when they say you’re selling death? If you’re cool, you throw it right back in their faces. Let’s sell death, damnit! Nothing’s cooler than a Corpse… And there’s Istvana. She doesn’t look half dead, she looks all dead. Nothing’s cooler than a Corpse…”

“There’s a… There’s a name for that. Isn’t there?”

“It’s called necrophilia, the love of the dead. What could be cooler than that?”

The Big Boss fished into his coat pocket for another cigarette. He took his time lighting it and pulled a big draft of smoke into his lungs. He held it and held it and I wondered if he was going to asphyxiate himself. He finally let it out in a long thin stream, coughing a little behind it. He said, “The motto of this company is ‘Veni, vidi, vici.’ The words were said by a man who got himself killed for his own hubris. You see, I had an education once in my life. I had a future, once, a long time ago…”

Manny bit at his lower lip. He said, “Am I… Am I a wealthy man?”

“You gonna make a lot a money, boy, but you ain’t never gonna be anything but poor.” He looked down at his hands. They were immaculate and manicured, but I know what he saw there. “I guess that goes for me, too, don’t it?”

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Facebook, Privacy, Monopolies, and Marketing Revenue…

More than several years ago, I used to snicker at those who were (in my mind) overly concerned about Google OWNING all of the data in their disparate enterprises. “What would happen if they would put all of that data into a large data warehouse and mine it?” folks would ask.

For the most part I thought of that as tinfoil hat stuff. (Did you notice where I said “More than several years ago?” I came to the quick realization that those with tinfoil hats may have a point. And it is not on the top of their heads.

Enter Facebook’s latest privacy debacle. Another site (granted social media vs search engine) that appears to be not NEAR as graceful as Google and dancing on that three way line of conundrums between privacy, monopoly (which Facebook book arguably is…FOR THE MOMENT), and marketing revenue.

I read with interest Louis Cammarosano’s take on the subject. And in very large measure I agree. His take was more bent towards the use of social media in business. But the underlying privacy issues conundrum remains the same. We (consumers) enjoy social media. Heck, it’s FREE. (please remember that NOTHING is FREE-grin). Nothing.

Facebook is making a huge miscalculation (in my opinion) by not dancing as gracefully as Google has. They are giving people an excuse to head for the exits when they had over 400 million people comfortably numb. (That is more than the population of the US and the President only gets around HALF of the vote…and you have to ask yourself…who REALLY is the most powerful man in the world?) It may be more of a footrace between Obama, Zuckerberg, and Page/Brinn than one would care to admit.

Could a President really get THAT many people to waste THAT MUCH time at work??? One wonders.

Although Google has danced more gracefully, that is not saying much.

I guess my wish for 2010 and beyond is this…here’s to competition (it makes all parties better), the lack of monopolies, privacy, and to do that, folks need to be prepared to pay for what they receive in terms of social entertainment.

Thoughts?

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In Remembrance of a Stealthy Icon – The King

I remember one day back in early 1974. I was sittin’ at my desk, a 22 year old pondering the future, as it was the first full time day after being part time since a teenager. We were in a recession, but I had less than a clue what that was. It was about six weeks ’till I was to be married, and I needed to figure out what to do no later than 4:30 PM yesterday afternoon.

As the son of the boss I had no dearth of available mentors. Hell, he spawned more successful new brokerages from 1964-75 than almost any two companies. Back in the period 1964-70 his East San Diego office was akin to the freakin’ ’27 Yankees for Heaven’s sake. Problem was, most of ’em were busy runnin’ their own firms now. Dad had hung up the semi-permanent Gone Golfin’ sign on his office door. He’d downsized from six offices plus an escrow to one office and no escrow.

What was left? Me, and the 8-10 loyal agents for whom he’d kept that lone remaining office open. So I started calling the OldSchool guys who’d mentored me as a snot-nosed teen who knew everything (not a damned thing). A couple hours later I was faced with a dilemma. Though the flavor of their advice had differed slightly, the crux had been the same — work harder than you ever have at anything, and see more people who can tell ya to ‘go to hell’ than the other guy. Lord only knows what magic elixir I was expecting them to serve up, but that certainly wasn’t it.

Of course, of all the agents who knew the generic answer before asking the question, I’d been given that answer countless times. Why even ask then? Cuz it’s human nature to want the easy way, when, paradoxically, the easy way is only easy to understand — not necessarily to execute. Lookin’ back, I guess a 22 year old searchin’ for the EasyButton isn’t exactly unique.

I got tired of hangin’ with the leftovers from a bygone era, and moved my license, with Dad’s encouragement, to a two-horse operation called King Milligan Real Estate. And yeah, King was his real name, from Ohio no less — a sixth generation son of a farmer — who WAS NOT gonna farm. He knew who Dad was, and my background. He said he’d take me on if I did exactly what he told me to do. I signed up.

King was one of the wisest, kindest, and goofiest guy I’d met in the business. Did I say goofy? Not only in personality, but looks. He made Homer Simpson look like George Clooney. He’d raised the first three of his six kids selling vacuum cleaners door to door. That’s a salesman. Folks loved him after knowing him for 10 minutes. He was possibly the least pretentious guy I’ve ever had the privilege to have know so well. He was also one of the five finest men I’ve ever had to honor to have known well.

His work ethic would’ve made Calvin blush.

He taught me so much. But the most valuable lesson he may have beat into my 20-something pea brain was that a poor plan executed with the single-mindedness of a dog with a bone, will generate far better results than no plan, or worse, a great plan not married to action.

Imagine how a 1970’s Sears appliance salesman dressed, and that was King. A Penny’s short sleeved shirt with a clip-on tie. Everybody dressed better than King, yet most couldn’t carry his jock when it came to producing listings and sales outa nothing more than his decision to make it so. He raised six kids and built two fine homes being his goofy self, executing the principles he would, for two of the luckiest years of my life, teach me.

For instance, one day he took me out with him to a randomly selected neighborhood. He was gonna show me how to knock doors to get listings. Yeah, sure King. Son of a bitch if he didn’t end up gettin’ a listing AND a sale from that one two hour walk, while talkin’ to complete strangers — mostly just laughin’ ‘n scratchin’.

Folks who say that can’t be done today are so full of **it their eyes must be brown. But, I’ve learned not to pound that subject too much, as folks get pissed when confronted with why they don’t/won’t do stuff like that — and no, it’s not cuz they’re kickin’ such major ass online. What a joke THAT is for most, but a different post for sure. They won’t do that kinda lead generation for one major reason — their tender little ego/psyche can’t deal with the remote chance of rejection of any kind, so they avoid it like they do the plague.

King? His plan was to talk with as many folks a day as he could. It didn’t matter to him how or where, just that the conversations took place — in great numbers. He cold called, knocked doors, did the expired listing thing, sent out hand written letters, and anything else he could think of. Wanna know how obsessed he was about it? His office was located in a regional mall — in a blue collar area. Once a week he’d ‘door knock’ the damn stores themselves. He listed or sold homes from those visits all the time. He made money doin’ things most brokers/agents would dismiss outa hand as a waste of time.

How effective was his mentoring? From roughly June of ’74 through August of ’76 I not only survived the two year recession gripping the country, I thrived. The only reason I left him, with his typical enthusiastic encouragement, was because I’d tired of the subjectivity of listing/selling homes, and longed for the investment side of the business. He completely agreed. In fact, he often said he thought of my time with him as my two year basic training course.

What a wise and selfless man he was.

King Milligan was a giant. To coin an oxymoronic phrase, he was a stealthy icon. Nobody came close to teaching me more than he did about what we do. It was hands on, no messin’ around, and never failed to produce the intended results. Though King died a while back, his stamp on me is permanent. He took me when I was a virtual blank chalkboard and wrote in the permanency of timeless principles. If I leave any legacy at all, I’d love it to be similar to King’s — a lofty goal if ever there was one.

I miss him.

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The Desperation Waltz

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“Hey, Tommy,” Jimmy said without looking up from the newspaper he had spread out on the bar, “what’s Reubenesque mean again?”

“Jeesh! It means ‘fat’. How many times do I have to tell you that?”

“Statuesque?”

“Fat.”

“Weight proportionate?”

“Fat.”

“Full figured?”

“That means really fat. Whaddaya doin’ that for? We got a whole club full of babes here. How do you expect to get next to a girl in the personals?” He thumbed his own chest. “Tommy Klein, he knows better. Tommy Klein is an operator. You just stand back and watch me work.”

This is the truth: I don’t even like bars. I can go for years at a stretch without taking a drink, and the last place I’d be tempted to drink would be a bar. But I had come to a club that is not but ought to be called Desperation to see a singer and songwriter, a chanteuse named Celia Redmond who is making a name for herself.

Desperation is her name for the dumpy little country bar stuck right in the heart of the big city. The real name is “Country City” or something equally forgettable. It’s a costume bar, really, as phony in its way as a gay bar or the tap-room at the American Legion Hall. Country transplants and the children of country transplants and would-be country transplants put on clothes they don’t wear all day, speak in an affected diction and dance and drink until the house band strikes up “The Desperation Waltz” at midnight. Desperation is a place to escape from the real life of the big city: Office work, factory work, construction work — and unemployment.

Jimmy and Tommy were not untypical of the crowd, just more immanently pitiful. Jimmy’s a gentle giant of a man, as broad as he is tall. His hair was cut down to the scalp and he had a fringy little mustache and his neck was very, very red. Tommy was dapper. If Jimmy had asked me what dapper means, I would have told him: “Short, and overcompensating for it.” He was trim and toned without actually bearing muscles and his cowboy costume fit him snugly. His hair was unconvincingly brown for a man with crow’s feet around the eyes and he wore enough Old Spice for a dozen desperate aging men. Jimmy was slowly nursing a bottle of beer but Tommy was throwing back Seven and Sevens, one after the next, and belching delicately behind his hand.

“I don’t see what you got against the personals, Tommy. I think it must take a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that.”

“Yeah, sure. Guts. You can’t see ’em. You can’t touch ’em. And you sure can’t dance with ’em. Take that one over there.” He pointed to a pretty little girl in a starched white cowboy shirt and blue jeans. “She’d be all right if she’d drop a few pounds.”

“Stuff it,” the girl said. “My baby loves me just the way I am.”

“He’d have to,” Tommy scoffed.

Jimmy shook his head slowly and went back to reading the personals.

That was when Celia came on. The house band cut off the dance music in the middle of a song and all the dancers inside the split rail dance corral shuffled back to their tables, back to their drinks. At the far end of the room a single spotlight illuminated a bone thin blonde haired woman in a white sequined gown sitting behind a baby grand piano. She introduced herself not at all, just nodded her head and began to play and sing.

She did you some permanent damage
You’re still kinda trusting but it only goes so far
She did you some permanent damage
How can I touch you when you’re nothing but scars?

I knew when I met you you had some things to get through
I took one look and saw the pain in your past
But I let my guard down caught you on the rebound
It hurt me to watch you but I thought it couldn’t last

Her voice was low and slow and haunting. It cut through the crowd noise easily and soon enough there was no crowd noise. Tommy tried to make some rude comment about her appearance but Jimmy and everyone around him shushed him to a resentful silence.

She did you some permanent damage
You’re kinda suspicious but it don’t mean a thing
She did you some permanent damage
How can we make music when you can’t even sing?

You tell me she’s done now I’m the only one now
You call me late at night to say you’re always so alone
You tell me you need me can’t wait to see me
But when we’re together there’s just nobody home

She did you some permanent damage
The ghosts in your eyes they’re haunting me too
She did you some permanent damage
I wish I could help there’s not a thing I can do

I must have been crazy to think I’d be your baby
I’d be the one who could help you start again
Thought I’d break through you get in next to you
Now I know I’ll always be on the outside looking in

She did you some permanent damage
You’re still kinda trusting but it only goes so far
She did you some permanent damage
How can I touch you when you’re nothing but scars

She did you some permanent damage
Permanent damage
That’s the way you are…

At the end of the song the piano chords faded into a stunned silence and it was a moment before the crowd burst into applause. Drinks and bottles of beer were sweating untouched on tabletops and a few people, Jimmy among them, were wiping away tears.

“Hey, what’s the big deal” Tommy said. “I mean, she’s a looker, but she’s no spring chicken, is she?”

“Shut up, Tommy.”

“Hey, what’d I say? I wouldn’t kick her out of bed or nothin’.”

“Shut up, Tommy.”

Tommy scowled and downed another Seven and Seven.

Celia started playing an up-tempo tune and she played through two full verses to give the dancers time to get back out on the floor.

If you can’t compromise don’t
Don’t say you will if you know you won’t
Don’t stay with me if you’re just playing a part
Don’t give your word if you can’t give me your heart

Don’t ever feed me a line
If it’s just water don’t say it’s wine
If it’s a fever don’t tell me it’s more
Nothing worth having’s worth lying for

If you resent it don’t stay
It’s not just me that you’ll betray
A bad performance won’t turn lead into gold
We’ll both get nothing but we’ll both get old

Don’t cheat yourself out of life
There’s more to marriage than just taking a wife
If there’s no one at home you’re hurrying to
It’s just a graveyard you’re hurrying through

If it’s not right then it’s wrong
If there’s no poetry it’s just a song
Everything crumbles when it’s built on lies
There’s never anyone behind a disguise

If it’s not me it’s not you
Better than nothing will never do
Better late than never is a much better plan
If I can’t love me I can’t love any man

If you can’t compromise don’t
Don’t say you will if you know you won’t
Don’t stay with me if you’re just playing a part
Don’t give your word if you can’t give me your heart

She played a few more songs and then the spotlight dimmed and the house band took over, playing covers of country radio hits and the Macarena by request. Celia found a place at our end of the bar and deflected one would-be suitor after the next. Tommy gave it a shot, of course, and was shot down with dispatch.

“How’d you do?” Jimmy asked.

“Oh, forget her!” Tommy muttered. “Just another depressing babe with ‘issues’.”

Jimmy shrugged. “She sure can sing.”

I walked over to her and said, “May I speak with you?”

She gave me a slow smile of genuine amusement. “I’m not god, am I?”

I smiled back. “Only when you write.”

“And when you sing,” Jimmy added.

“It’s just country music, fellers,” she said in an affected drawl. “Just the waltz, plucked and strummed, with lyrics. No counter-melody. Nothing but layered harmonies. And a high warblin’ voice like a hound dog bit by a hedgehog. You think I’m joking, don’t you?”

I nodded.

“But I’m not. It’s the English ballad grafted onto the Viennese waltz, and the charm of it is that the simplicity of the music leaves all the room in the world for the lyrics. If you want it to be stupid, it’s the stupidest music there is.” She started to sing softly, just loud enough for me and Jimmy and Tommy to hear:

The humor is forced
The bathos is boring
And everything’s smothered in schmaltz
It’s the music of degenerates
The degenerated waltz

“What if you don’t want it to be stupid?” I asked.

She smiled a tight, bitter little smile. “What if you don’t?”

I shrugged. “I hate everything about country music except for the things that I love. Like everything else, it’s almost always desperately about nothing. But unlike everything else, sometimes it’s desperately about something. I like art that’s about something. That’s all I like in art, I guess.”

“Boy,” she said in her affected voice, “you got no bidness talkin’ about art and country music in the same mouthful of words.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I don’t sell enough beer as it is. I don’t pluck and I don’t strum and I’m too close to a piano bar singer for some of these folks anyway. So please don’t start talking about art. They won’t be able to run away fast enough.”

I said, “You underestimate your audience.” Jimmy nodded agreement.

“I think I overestimate their tolerance for pain. Songs about something do all right on the radio, but these folks came out to dance and get drunk. If you want to play in bars, sing up-tempo songs about nothing.”

“Sing songs about shex,” Tommy slurred.

“Okay, so why do you do it?” I asked.

She looked down at the bar. “That’s another story.”

“I have time.”

“What are you, a reporter or something?”

“Or something.”

She scowled at the bar. “Look out for your own.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Nothing. I was married once, a long time ago. I had two children.”

“I have two children,” Tommy said. “Two children? No, three children. Three ex-wives, three ex-children, three child-support payments.”

“Look out for your own,” Celia said.

I started to ask another question but she stood up and strode back to the piano. When the spotlight hit her she said, “Over at the bar there’s a reporter ‘or something’, and I think he wants to know if a white girl can sing the blues.” She started to play another slow ballad.

For all the bitter shades of blue you put me through
For all the stains of hungry pain I washed out of my clothes
For all the nights of dreary fear of what you wouldn’t do
I’ve had to face the brutal truth everyone around me knows
And maybe bitter shades of blue are all you’ll let me show
But baby I’m not blue today I’m indigo

For all the blasts of shattered glass my dreams became
For all the cries I locked inside where no one else could hear
For all the sly beguiling lies all different all the same
I’m trading your opacity for one vision crystal clear
And maybe shattered shades of blue are all that you’ll permit
But baby I’m not blue today I’m violet

For all the passions passing leaving ghosts undead unmourned
For all the wasted days spent playing games I couldn’t win
For all the years the salty tears of life always unborn
I’ve pushed us to the end at last so my life can begin
And maybe ghostly shades of blue are all that you require
But baby I’m not blue today I’m sapphire

The song had been very quiet, very much a piano bar kind of country. But now the piano came up strong and full and Celia’s voice came up strong and full to meet it.

Maybe baby shades of blue are all that you can see
But baby I’m not blue today I’m free

Again the crowd was stunned to silence. A good ol’ boy tried to steal a kiss and a good ol’ gal stomped his booted foot good and hard.

The spotlight went out on Celia and the bartender hollered out, “Last call!”

From the center of the riser the singer of the house band counseled, “Last call, my friends. Y’all know what that means. Last call is when the Fairy Godmother comes down and turns every fair maiden into Cinderella and every proud man into Prince Charming. One last drink, one last dance, one last song. It’s ‘The Desperation Waltz’.”

By this time Celia was standing next to me at the bar. She said, “Everybody goes home lonely, but nobody goes home alone.”

I laughed. “On that cheery note, can I walk you to your car?”

She looked at me through squinted eyes. “Yeah.”

The crowd from Desperation had spilled out on the sidewalk, desperate people milling about in the desperation waltz, silently sizing each other up and silently tearing each other down.

When we had left the throng behind us I said, “That was a beautiful song.”

“Thank you.”

“It wasn’t the story, though, was it?”

“How’d you know?”

I shrugged. “Everyone cried but you. You said you had children. What happened to them?”

“What are you, some kind of voyeur?”

“Sure. Just as much as you are. A collector of impressions. A spinner of yarns, a teller of tales. I like to think that on my very best days I manage to shed a little grace. What happened to your children?”

She smiled and it was the most painful smile I’ve ever seen. “What do you think it means to be selfless? People say that word all the time. A selfless devotion to the poor. A selfless pursuit of excellence. A selfless regard for the needs of others. What do you think it means?”

“You tell me.”

“There was a time in my life when it was very important for me to be selfless. I was committed. I was radicalized. I was empowered. I was organized. I was everything except alive. Marching here, protesting there, meetings, pickets, sit-ins, sing-outs, one-two-three-four we-don’t-want-your-dirty-war. I was selfless. I was without a self. When I thought about doing something for my own sake or for my husband’s or for my children’s, I’d talk myself out of it. I had two little girls and they needed a lot of my time, but there were poor little children all over the world who needed my time, and who was I — who was I — to put my own children first? My daughters wanted bikes, but I convinced them and convinced myself that the money was better spent on our causes. I was raised Lutheran and my husband was raised Lutheran and there was a Lutheran school right across the street from our apartment, but I convinced my husband that private schools were elitist, so our girls went to public school on the school bus instead.”

We were walking slowly down the street, murkily lit by widely-spaced streetlights. “Go on.”

“Are you sure you want to hear this?”

“If you can bear to tell it, I can bear to listen.”

“It’s not that much to tell. One day we all woke up late, so my husband had to drive the girls to school. A truck driver in a hurry ran a red light and killed everyone I loved. I bought bikes for the girls and buried them with them. It was a stupid thing to do, but I wanted for that to be the last stupid thing I did.”

We want for the horrifying to be outsized and intentional, the devious plottings of a mastermind of evil. But the horrifying is almost always small and banal and common, much too common. Celia was stoical and grim, buried twenty years deep in her grief and her guilt. I said, “But you couldn’t have known…”

“Life isn’t about what you can’t know and can’t do. It’s about what you can know and can do. I couldn’t know my children would be taken from me so young, both at once, but I knew they’d die someday. And the worst of it is, I would have neglected them forever. I was wrong, and I learned my lesson. Exactly one day too late. I don’t want to be absolved for anything. That’s the last thing I want. Pretending your past didn’t happen is just another kind of selflessness, isn’t it?”

“I guess it is.”

“I’ll do like you. I’ll try to shed a little grace instead.” She stopped in front of a dusty brown Toyota. She said, “You’re not coming on to me.”

“Is that a question or an observation.”

“An observation. An expression of surprise, if you want to know the truth.”

I chuckled. “Aren’t we the vain one? Should I make an effort to join the vast host of men you’ve rejected tonight?”

“You must be happily married.”

“The opposite, I think.”

Unhappily married?”

“Happily unmarried.”

“You’re not…?”

“No, I’m not gay. And I’m not indifferent. I’m just not like that.”

“A gentleman. Who’da thunk it?”

“Go home,” I said. “Sleep and don’t dream. Shed grace when you write and when you sing.”

She smiled. “Same to you, bud. Look out for your own.”

I walked my way back up the dark street and when I got back to Desperation, Tommy was leaning against the wall. Jimmy was beside him, coaching him as he puked up one Seven and Seven after the next.

Jimmy nodded to me. Looking at Tommy, I said, “What do you think it means to be selfless, Jimmy?”

Tommy looked up at me and sneered. “It means you didn’t get laid either, smart boy!”

People who think the worst of themselves think the worst of everyone. It’s baked in the cake.

“Oh my darling,” Tommy sang and puked.

“Oh my darling,” he sang and puked.

“Oh my darling, Tommy Klein. You’re a boozer. Three time loser. And your name is Tommy Klein.” He puked again, the vomit splattering all over his cowboy boots and carefully pressed jeans.

I don’t even like bars. But grace is where you find it. And everybody’s gotta take a side.

I said, “Look out for your own, boys.”

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@tcar’s manifesto: “Toothy chumps of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your brains.”

Witness: “The next big project from 2nd Century will be Realtor University. A fully accredited educational institution[.]”

I do not for one second hate to say I told you so:

We know sheep will follow a Judas goat to their slaughter, as will cattle. Now the NAR is testing the idea on lemmings…

Todd Carpenter becomes one with the Borg and the charming little lemmings elbow each other out of the way to dive off the cliff head first.

One of two things will happen: Todd will discover he’s made a terrible mistake and will quit this job with dispatch — I hope very loudly. Or: Todd will deliver us to our slaughter.

Anyone who expects anything other than evil from the National Association of Realtors has either not been paying attention, or, much worse, embraces that evil.

In any case, this is not something to be celebrated, not even to affect to be “nice” in chorus with the rest of the lemmings.

The NAR may want to infest our world in order to destroy it. More likely, they want to take it over.

What they certainly do not want is to approach the public as we do — openly, authentically, concealing nothing. The entire edifice of residential real estate is founded on secrets and lies, and, as long as it is, the NAR will be nothing but a cesspit of tyrannical motives and vendorslut con games.

And — more is the pity — Todd Carpenter cannot take their money without being their shill and their Judas goat — or worse.

I’m saddened by this, because of all the gutless big-name real estate webloggers, Todd has more guts than most. But nothing good for us will come of this, and the only good that can come of it for Todd is for him to escape with his scruples intact as quickly as he can.

Too late for that now. If you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound.

Four years ago, almost, when I started this little project, I had huge hopes for a newer, cleaner style of real estate, one based on integrity and transparency. I’ve watched as one person after another slithered over to the dark side, to the Inman whorehouse, to the vendorslut mafia, to the Borg itself. Now the chickens come home to roost, with a palpable criminal conspiracy aimed at making the residential real estate business even more anti-consumer. Nice.

Here’s the bright side: If your eyes are still open — if you have not surrendered your mind to sly, beguiling lies — in this ugly #RTB dance you are witnessing Rotarian Socialism in action.

3 comments

Dawn in America: The American Evolution

I’ll say it out loud;   I like that Arizona Immigration Law.  I was initially unclear about it but I read the text , alongside the text of the 4th Amendment.  For me, it boiled down to what  an “unreasonable search” is and what is “reasonable suspicion“.  At the end of the day, I have to trust that the law enforcement officers will follow both the letter and the spirit of the law.

That’s not why I like this law so much.  I support open borders.   As far as I’m concerned, let anyone come into this country…only after we have abolished all the silly federal subsidies like health care, public education, and welfare for all.  Until we do that, we have to ration those silly programs and the litmus test of citizenship seems a reasonable enough hurdle for that rationing.

I like it because a state had a problem, couldn’t get the Federal Government to enforce its laws, and decided to take matters into its own hands.  This law was more powerful than nullification or secession because it asserted the state’s sovereignty, while being in full compliance with the Federal statute. It worked within the system and exposed the system for the folly that it is.

I like it because it is the Bunker Hill of the American Evolution.  Notice I didn’t use an R in that word.  I’m optimistic that reason will triumph over irrational thought in The American Evolution.  There will be no violence nor bloodshed in the American Evolution but there will be a test of wills.  I’m watching it unfold right now:

Arizona made a law.   A few California cities and a Texas city decided to boycott Arizona, for enacting that law.  No conventions, no trade, no money whatsover, from these “progressive” cities, for the “racists” in Arizona.  Sadly, my city followed San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin in the boycott.  Pretty stupid, huh?  Well,  California politicians live in a narcissistic bubble.  The past California influence on the world’s economy has afforded them the luxury of doing what they want, in SPITE of local businesses.

…until today.

San Diegans are yelling  “Psyche” to the Zonies because our government’s “censure” has consequences.  A summer without Zonies, while appealing to the surfers, is NOT appealing to the businesses… you know, the ones who pay all the bills in San Diego.    A chunk of Arizonans will summer in Flagstaff, Prescott or the Mogollan Rim rather than dump their dollars on our Southern California beaches.  Do you blame them?

It could get worse.  Imagine if Arizona Public Service (which owns Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station) told the City of Los Angeles to buy its electricity somewhere else.   They could refuse to sell water to Los Angeles as well.  Arizonans could push back and California, with its economic fragility, could get hit pretty darned hard without power or water.  That doesn’t bode well for the incumbents come November.

This is all very sad but necessary. Words do have meaning and actions do have reactions.  States and cities, which meddle in other states’ affairs, should suffer the consequences of that meddling.  The Arizona economy, beaten down by this recession, has nowhere to go but up.  Arizona’s immigration legislation really is a public safety measure.   When gangland turf wars and human trafficking move from Arizona, to the more “friendly” cities in California, Arizona tourism will rebound and take market share from its westernmost cousins.

Moreover, the protesting California cities are hypocritical.  The extolled “sanctuary city” of San Francisco is actually reporting immigrants to the Feds when they get fingerprinted…but you ain’t hearing about that on MSNBC.  California, which has a higher risk of defaulting on its debt than Lebanon, would do well to cultivate its own garden rather than scream about what Arizona grows in its.

Yet, I still live in California.  I moved here from Arizona and have no intention of leaving.  I’ve always said that I’m optimistic about The Golden State and today, I have Arizona to thank for that optimism.  All of this silly little posturing is kicking off the Great American Evolution.  Immigration is the very small issue which will be the shout heard round the world.

Reason will triumph in the end.

PS:  I’m gonna miss you Zonies, at the track, this summer but I’m hopeful that your absence will force new ownership.  Either way, y’all can count me in next summer.

39 comments

Turbocharge Your Income On A Steady Diet Of 3-0 Bases Loaded Fastballs

Here’s what hasn’t missed for me since Reagan was in office — a super narrowly defined database, from which you can call or write, and eventually email. Stop rollin’ your eyes, as this isn’t what you might be thinking. The concept of ‘narrowly defined’ has taken a beating, to the point it means almost nothing these days. I mean a concrete set of parameters, ALL of which must be present for a home to be in the database.

Who’s most likely a potential seller in your market? What facts will be in evidence on tax assessor records? It’ll be a little different for each region, each neighborhood. Sometimes you’ll need many factors, while other areas might need only a few.

For example, in my neck of the woods, San Diego, my Virtual Farm contains real estate investors who share ALL of these factors.

  • They bought in the spring of 2003 or earlier
  • They haven’t refinanced — OR — LTV is 70% or less
  • The property(s) is 1-4 units
  • They’re located in a small subset of zip codes
  • They live outa town
  • You can mail all these folks every month for less than $100. Budget super tight? Do it quarterly, or monthly, or to half of ’em each month. When I used to do this, before I stopped doing business in San Diego back in late 2003, it produced like clockwork. Rarely did a letter generate nothing. My best year produced six figures — from 104 names. When I had their phone numbers, my batting average zoomed, big time. But then, I don’t cry when folks reject me, so I’m willing to make those calls. 🙂

    Let’s use a baseball analogy.

    When constructed as narrowly as I’m advising, this database will be populated by nothin’ but the kinda reduced velocity, straight-as-a-string fastballs delivered on 3-0 counts with the bases loaded. What’d’ya think the batting average is for hitters on that particular pitch — especially since even Grandma knows exactly what’s comin’ — and where? I don’t know, but my experience watching MLB since the fifth grade, plus my years of umpiring at a relatively high level, leads me to believe it could approach .500 or so. For Heaven’s sake, where do ya think most grand slams come from? It’s certainly not from 91 mph Randy Johnson sliders. 🙂

    Look, you know your area pretty well, or know somebody who does. Construct a set of parameters that’ll yield this micro-database of 3-0, bases loaded fastballs. In baseballese they’re known as cripple pitches, and hitters live for them. Marketing/prospecting to a database populated by a buncha guaranteed 3-0 ‘please-hit-me’ pitches is nothing if not several leisurely trots around the bases.

    5 comments

    Unchained melodies: You either get Glee — or you will.

    A fun bit from Mother’s Day was agreeing with my mom, on the phone, about the intense and comical excellence that is Glee, the FOX-TV musical teen melodrama. The melodrama is hugely repetitive, but still very rude and pomo, but the music is often simply breath-taking.

    There is this: They harmonize the voices, so everyone sings with perfect pitch in a slightly mechanical tone. But the song choices — coupled with the dancing, the meta-melodrama, and the incredible quantity of incredible vocalists — serve to deliver the aural equivalent of a Broadway musical every week.

    But that’s not right: I hate Broadway musicals, and I love Glee. The whole thing just works. I make time for it somewhere in my week, every week.

    Here’s a fun contrast, playing off of last week’s episode. First up is Total Eclipse of the Heart, as recorded by Bonnie Tyler. This song was written by Jim Steinman, who wrote all of Meatloaf’s hits. The tune has melodrama of its own to spare, but it’s still a totally killer rock ballad, maybe the last chapter in the story of The Seventies.

    Glee took this song and wove it into its plot — not without consequences. Take this, for example, from the original lyrics:

    Once upon a time, there was light in my life.
    Now there’s only love in the dark.*

    That’s painfully simple, but it works as poetry because it’s so excruciatingly full of pain. But to make Total Eclipse work in the context of the Glee story arc, that lyric was cut.

    Not cool. But still… This is a searing cover of the song. When Rachel soars upward on her second time through the chorus, I’m ready to take flight with her.

    Sadly, my mother doesn’t love South Park, my other weekly TV obsession. But if you will give Glee a chance, it could be you’ll see why so many seemingly sane people are raving about it.

     
    *She sings it right in this video. A mystery…

    3 comments

    WP Cache plugin creating firesavez7 Virus Zombie?!

    If you have no idea what i’m talking about, you’re one of the lucky few!

    This weekend my sites were attacked by a virus trying to install maleware and redirecting visitors to URL that started with firesavez7.com/ and then a long line of characters that led straight down a path to virus hell.

    I have enough computer prophylactic mechanisms in place that I did not download anything but the job of cleanup is just beginning.

    I was out of town at a conference this weekend and was unable to be in front of my computer, but while frequently checking my analytics with my iPhone app I noticed my daily traffic, bounce rate and time on site were WAY down.  Like almost non-existent!

    My sites are hosted at Bluehost, and with a little research discovered that they were indeed a victim of this attack along with many other providers.

    The Solution was not that bad

    To initially resolve the problem, I had to restore my entire public_html directory to a previously backed up version from about a week ago, this was Sunday night.  That seemed to solve the problem.

    I went the entire day yesterday with no occurrence of the dreaded redirect notice and anti-virus alarm.  Site traffic, time on site and bounce rate (vitals) were normal….whew, that was close.

    But the dead rose to feed again

    Tuesday is my marketing day.  The day that I send an update to my entire consumer and agent database (9,100 recipients of this email update) to notify them of the articles I wrote this week about claiming California’s tax credit.

    Initially, there were no issues….and then it started.  One, then two, then three emails came rolling in warning me that I was sending out a virus!  HOLY S%&T!  This isn’t happening.  I saw my reputation being flushed before my eyes.

    I screamed through my site with absolutely no challenges, no virus, no warnings, no redirects….what the hell was going on?!

    I jumped on the phone with the smartest and nerdiest guy I know, Ryan Hartman.  He mentions that it’s common for viruses to attack your .htmaccess file in WordPress – so we look at it.

    Ryan saw some stuff in there that didn’t look right so he removed it and it fixed the challenges he was having from his computer.  The code he removed was:

    # BEGIN W3 Total Cache
    <IfModule mod_setenvif.c>
    SetEnvIfNoCase Accept-Encoding (gzip) APPEND_EXT=.$1
    </IfModule>
    <IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} \/$
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !(\/wp-admin\/|\/xmlrpc.php|\/wp-(app|cron|login|register).php|wp-.*\.php|index\.php) [OR]
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} (wp-comments-popup\.php|wp-links-opml\.php|wp-locations\.php) [NC]
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_METHOD} !=POST
    RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} =””
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_COOKIE} !(comment_author|wp-postpass|wordpress_\[a-f0-9\]\+|wordpress_logged_in) [NC]
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !(bot|ia_archive|slurp|crawl|spider) [NC]
    RewriteCond /home1/califow1/public_html/wp-content/w3tc/pgcache/$1/_default_.html%{ENV:APPEND_EXT} -f
    RewriteRule (.*) wp-content/w3tc/pgcache/$1/_default_.html%{ENV:APPEND_EXT} [L]
    </IfModule>
    # END W3 Total Cache

    Relieved, I didn’t put 2 and 2 together at first.

    At the same time I was on the line with Ryan, one of the readers of the email that I just infected the world with was also emailing me with suggestions on how to fix the virus and recommend I pull my site offline until it’s fixed.

    I reported to him that we found code that didn’t look right in the .htmaccess file and it seems like a cure.  My helpful reader shot me back an email and said “Yup, looks like it’s all good”.

    Then I got to looking at that code again that Ryan pulled out….and there was something strangely familiar about it (even from a very NON-code savvy person like me).

    And it struck me….W3 Total Cache is a caching plugin for wordpress that loads cached pages to viewers for faster load times.  And then, the second blow.  I wonder if it was loading infected pages?  Was my site serving up virus zombies from the grave?  Looks like it might have been!

    Not everyone receiving the email was reporting the virus, as a matter of fact, replies and responses were fairly normal.  I can only assume now that those that were getting hit were viewing cached pages?

    I’m no genius when it comes to coding and viruses.  I belong to the “just do it and figure it out later” theory of blog development.  I deactivated the plugin for now, even after removing the code.  Reports coming from several reputable sources still say thumbs up, so it looks like that finally fixed it.

    In closing – here are a couple of things I discovered that may be of help to you.

    First:  My helpful reader, Evan, sent this to me in an email before I killed the Zombie (Thanks Evan!  You Rock!):

    I think there’s removal instructions here: http://www.ghacks.net/2010/05/09/mass-shared-host-website-hack/

    Second:  A restore of my public_html directory seemed to roll back my entire account (about 10 sites) to a non-infected backup from April 28th with little to no trouble.  It was actually too easy….

    Third: If you have a Cache plugin in your wordpress blog – it may save some of the infected files and serve up virus zombies at a later date.

    Hope this helps anyone else that ran into this crazy thing.  I’ve been hearing of attacks all over – this is a nasty one!

    8 comments

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