Monday, March 28, 2005

Rowland Goes Down


Can I just say something here without people getting all twisted and crazy?

All right, here goes: I’m sorry to see John Rowland going to jail.

Now, take it easy. Before you leap onto that soapbox or pound that table, I already know what you’re going to say.

As Governor of Connecticut, John Rowland violated the public trust. He took gifts and services from businessmen who turned around and won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and tax breaks.

His actions were outrageous, unconscionable, and unforgivable—not to mention incredibly stupid. And I think he deserves every day of jail time he gets—and probably a hell of a lot more.

Yeah, I got all that and I’m a Democrat to boot. And yet I still feel bad for the guy.

I’m one of God knows how many people who thought they knew John Rowland. Back in the early Rowland days, I was a reporter at the Waterbury Republican-American, Rowland’s hometown newspaper and in 1996 I got to accompany Rowland on his trade mission to Mexico.

This was a different John Rowland than the one that shambled into federal court in New Haven recently and pleaded guilty to his crimes in a quivering voice. The John Rowland I knew was confident, purposeful, proudly representing his state and his country in Mexico City.

The Mexican road tour took place when Rowland was new to the governor’s mansion and determined to shake things up. As a business writer, I had pitched the idea of joining Rowland on his trip south of the border. It would mean being away from home on my birthday, but that was a small price to travel with the governor to a foreign country.

And on the first morning in our hotel lobby--my birthday--I learned that John Rowland and I were on the same day in the same year--May 24, 1957. We laughed over that and then it was on to work. As the group of business people and staffers was divided among several vans, Rowland looked to me and said “You ride with us, Rob.”

You ride with us, Rob. I know the worst thing a reporter can do is become star struck by the people he’s covering, but God, I liked the sound of that.

I remember as we slogged through Mexico City’s grinding traffic that morning, Rowland looked out over the pincushion skyline of TV antennas and talked about the vast potential for Connecticut’s telecommunications companies.

The trip only lasted three days and Rowland left after two, but I talked about it for months. I’d joke around with people about my pal the Guv, my birthday buddy, and make like we were the best of friends.

I saw Rowland a few more times after that. Once, after a speech at a Waterbury business person’s meeting, he came out to greet his young son. There was nothing dishonest about the way he smiled broadly at that little boy and hugged him.

I think the last time was just short of our 39th birthday, the real 39th as Rowland called it. He shook my hand, smiled, and said, “Hey, got a birthday coming up, don’t you?”

I left Connecticut in 1997 and lost all contact with John Rowland. When I turned 40, I thought about sending him a birthday card, something along the lines of “hey, we made it.” But like a lot of things I think about doing, I didn’t actually do it.

And when the bad news starting coming out of Hartford, I had to follow it the way everybody else did--through media reports.

As the story went into a death spiral, I kept thinking it was unbelievable that this man, so driven, so sure of himself, could have screwed up so royally. His live appearance pleading for a second chance from the voters was painful to watch.

At the end of the movie “The Producers” Gene Wilder’s milquetoast accountant stands up to speak about his larcenous partner, Max Bialystock. His speech starts off tearing Max apart as a lowlife and a cheat, but ends up thanking him for the ride.

I guess I could say that about John Rowland as I think about that morning in Mexico City on our mutual birthday. Thanks for the ride.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Night at the Movies

I saw myself at the movies the other night. I was just going into the BAM Theater in downtown Brooklyn when I turned around and there I was.

It didn’t look like me at all. I had glasses and a beard, and I was carrying a bag of popcorn. I was also taller and younger with a full head of hair. But it was me all right.

I didn’t need the special effects skills of Industrial Light & Magic to be one person in two bodies that night. All I had to do was take a long look.

This guy I was looking at was another person, but we were so alike we could have been clones. We were both alone on a Friday night and we were going to the movies. I don’t know this guy’s story at all, but in a way, I think I do.

Movies are my favorite form of entertainment. I love seeing them, talking about them, and I’ve tried writing them, and since I’m going to the theater by myself on a Friday night, you can tell how successful I’ve been in that particular area.

Tonight’s feature was a special Italian film selection called “Class Outing” and the main character is a lonely middle-aged character. Now I’m seeing myself on screen as well as the audience.

I fell in love with the craft of movies when I was about 13 after watching the PBS series “The Men Who Made the Movies.” The series featured the stories of some the greatest filmmakers, people like Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Raul Walsh, and William Wellmen.

These are people who gave us some treasures like “Vertigo,” “The Oxbow Incident” and “The Big Sleep.” These are the people who made film an art long before there were film schools.

Once I was hooked, I started going to the art houses in Manhattan—or “retrospective cinemas” as a college film instructor put it--all the time to see the old classics. I remember the Elgin Cinema, which had a cat roaming the theater. There was the Carnegie Hall Cinema and sometimes I’d go uptown to the Thalia, although that was rare.

I was so crazy I’d much map my weekend life out through the movie timetables. Some people couldn’t understand how I could go to the movies by myself, but it never bothered me…until recently.

It slowly crept into my mind just how lonely I really was, and how, while I may actually be enjoying and learning the art of film by all this movie-going, I was missing out on life, the real life that was waiting for me when the movie ended and the lights came on.

The movies were my escape and as I’ve tried to improve my social life, meet more people, talk to breathing life forms, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to go to the movies alone. When those lights come on, I feel like a criminal caught by some social alarm system: Loser! Loser! Loser!

So I cut down on my solo movie trips. I’ve joined some online social groups, where people get together and do things—go to museums, concerts, or just dinner and talk.

Now that I’m out of work, I find myself backsliding into the dependable darkness of the theater. I don’t want to tell people my story, see the sympathy in their eyes when I tell them I’m out of work. I just want to go to the movies.

The Seventies band the Spinners had a song that began with the warning, “Don’t ever be a lonely poor little fool like me.” It was a warning to all within hearing distance not to end up alone.

If I had thought of that song a little sooner I would have gone up to the younger version of myself tonight and told him the same thing. Get out there and live. The movies will always be here, pal. But you won’t.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Classified Mad

Are you a creative, enthusiastic, team player who has tons of initiative? Can you hit the ground running, carry an intense workload, handle heavy call volume, speak seven languages and still maintain your sense of humor?

Well, good for you.

I’ve been out of work since July and after 9 months of reading classified ad copy I think I’m a little punchy. I’ve answered ad after ad, in newspapers, trade magazines, online and on the backs of buses. The result of all this effort is a handful of interviews, no job, and a non-stop headache from reading all these ridiculous ads.

It’s another language, the want ads, written for another world. A world where people love their jobs, are rewarded for working hard, earn the respect of their employers and co-workers and lead happy, productive lives. In other words, Fantasy Land.

Who writes this stuff? Who actually believes that anyone is this talented, dedicated or interested in a job? Hey, I’m out of work, I need a paycheck, let’s stop screwing around. Of course I don’t want to work here, I don’t want to associate with you or anybody else in your crummy little office, but I’m doing it for the money. Just like you.

Please save the “enthusiastic team-player” crap for those who might actually believe it, like space aliens. I already have a religion. I just need a job.

The ideal candidate will be a hungry self-starter who is willing to carry a Blackberry at all times and work some unpredictable and weekend hours.

The ideal candidate will also be mentally ill and have a masochistic streak wider than the Mississippi. A hungry self-starter sounds like some sort of rabid lawn mower and as far as carrying a Blackberry at all times and working unpredictable hours, why not clamp a monitor onto to my ankle and get it over with? The Navy SEALS don’t ask for that much and at least with them I’d get to travel.

Must have a “can-do” attitude and be willing to go the extra mile, as well as have a proven track record of timeliness.

I’ve been in the work place a long time now and I’ve got to say I’ve never met anyone with a “can do” attitude. I’ve met a lot of “no way” and “get lost” and quite a few “drop dead” attitudes, but a “can do”? Hell, no.

But I do have a proven track record of timeliness. As soon its time to quit, I make like a track star and set a record going out the door. When do I start?

Must have strong communication and interpersonal skills, team player, ability to act independently be a critical thinker, and a quick learner.

Again with the team player? Look, if you ever watched professional sports, you’d know that you don’t want a team player in the office.
That is, unless you’re really looking for hulking, steroid-crazed millionaire infants who scream obscenities, break every rule they can find, and attack the fans just to break the monotony. But I can do that if you like; after all, I’m a quick learner.

The ideal candidate must be a fast and prolific writer and used to quick turnarounds and meeting deadlines.

Oh, please. An employer’s ideal candidate is a soulless android who puts up with all kinds of misery, never complains, never eats or sleeps and doesn’t want money. An ideal candidate pays you to work.

As far as quick turnarounds and meeting deadlines, when I have to meet a deadline, I quickly turnaround and run like hell. Where's my office?

Must be able translate complicated medical jargon into clear, lucid text geared towards the average reader.

Hey, stupid, you’re sick! Go to a doctor!

Speak Chinese…dig trenches…bob for piranhas…eat gerbils…eat a team of gerbils…with a can-do attitude…

Enough already. I’ll do it. Whatever it is, I’ll do it and be creative, work sweat shop hours, and show enough initiative to power the Reading Railroad. Just give me the damn job.

But I’m not joining any team…