Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Boxed In

Mom and pop are finished. 
The coliseums of capitalism did them out.
How could a small business with a modest inventory, 
and a few workers,  compete with  big-box,  
stand-alone,  mega-stores?
They can’t.

The   corner bookstore with the creaky wooden floor and the big cat who sat in the window, was run out of town by Borders, and Barnes and Noble.

The local hardware store bolted after being overtaken by Home Depot and Lowes.

The Main Street pharmacy was staggered by CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid.
(Duane Reade in urban- speak)

Stationery stores proved to be less than stationary after Office Depot and Staples reamed them out.

Pet stores are endangered by Pet Smart and PetCo.

Doctors'   practices are  going  abdomen-up as they  join Professional Medical Group Management Associations.
A Doc-in-a-bigger-box.

Maybe, in the end, we’ll just have one big box left.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Never Having To Say You’re Not Sorry

Recently, a college basketball player from Oklahoma State, the visiting team, chased a ball into the Texas Tech stands.
A fan screamed at him, “You’re a piece of crap.”
The player went after the fan until he was pulled off by teammates.
The next day, speaking from a podium, the player said, “I really do apologize for it. This is not how I conduct myself.”
The fan, speaking to the media said, “I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies…my actions last night …do not reflect myself….”

So, we have both men telling us that they are truly not the people who they apparently are.
Dissected, their apologies explain that they are sorry for the thing that they did, but it wasn’t really them who did it.

The comedian, Flip Wilson, had an explanation for such behavior.
Call it the apology-denial.
It’s  become   big business in America…our newest cottage industry.
Employed like   Houdini’s escape act, finalize any action with an apology, sprinkle on some denial, and expect the straightjacket to drop to the ground.

The drunks who massacre people on our highways, the public servants who get caught with pockets full of illegal cash, the politicians who can’t keep their ethics straight or their pants up (Yes… it’s always pants), the pious who practice things they'd never preach, all use it.

Of course, the ‘Sorrys’ always come after the headlines, never before.

Yes, I rammed a pencil into your eye, but, after all, I did say that if I hurt anyone by my action, I’m truly sorry.

Now the ball is in your court.
Be a patrician and accept it.




Friday, December 20, 2013

The Gods Must be Crazy

Dr Lehmann, an amazing man, was a recent guest speaker in class.
He   uses his medical and engineering skills to design and manufacture inexpensive and highly portable medical machines.
He developed an affordable home-use ultra-sound scanner the size of a flashlight that can remote an image to a medical center or hospital where the picture can be analyzed. 
After displaying and explaining other low-cost, small-size, medical innovations;  he started talking about another passion of his; Kenya.
He mentioned one  rural village that has no electricity, toilets, or local source of water.
The children have the job of walking about a mile to fetch water for their families.
Dr. Lehman took a trip with the barefoot children and noticed that they walked through human feces on the way to the well.
He showed a photo of the well that was a hole a few feet across and a few feet deep, with a dark puddle at the bottom.
He said, “Notice that the children are standing in the water.
This is the very water that the family will be drinking.”

There was an afterthought.
Didn’t these people ---although humble, poor, and uneducated--- have the good sense to not poison their own well?
Aren’t we all born with an innate sense to not allow waste to mix with our life-sustaining water?
How could the elders not instruct the children to carefully avoid stepping in the waste when going to the well, or, to somehow clean their feet before standing in the water?

Then, another afterthought.
Isn’t that exactly what we’re doing to our own precious water supply?
We pour insecticide and herbicides on our lawns.
We broadcast chemical fertilizer on to our greens to make them greener.
Our cesspools seep human waste down into our aquifer.
We flush unused antibiotics down our toilets.


With soiled feet, we stand in our own well.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Saturday, October 27, 2012



More is Less    

America is not struggling through a recession.
A recession would be easy to reel in and gut.
Although the 24-hour evening news instructs us that economies periodically scrape along the bottom when the national tide is low, and hard times come and go like hurricanes, this is something different.
Our country is seriously ill, yet we whistle past the unemployment lines as if it were a bad cold that will pass.
Not this time.
The country is in denial about the fundamental malady.
Like an aging heartthrob, America is simply not the country it once was.
It’s an identity crisis that won’t be cured by leasing a red Porsche convertible and getting a razor-ribbon tattoo.
Sure, it’s still the global powerhouse, and has the weaponry to prove it.
It continues to be the big man on campus with wealth, influence, and a flock of cheerleaders.
But the abs… the six-pack… is gone.
Now it holds its stomach in while it inflates its sagging chest.
America has become  A-Rod;  still able to crush a ball, but, like him, much less frequently.
Our leaders remind us regularly that we’re the best, and we still believe it, but not with the self-assured conviction of the past.
We have become the English gentry who auction off the family heirlooms to maintain a fading lifestyle.
How did it happen?
The Bush tax cuts and wars-a-palooza?
Barney Frank’s quick-change artistry of converting the nearly homeless into new homeowners?
The bankers and brokers who engineered Sanskrit parlor tricks to harvest even more wealth for themselves?
The gasping unions who vigorously fought back against a diminishing supply of air?
The entitled 47 percent who were accused of sucking lady liberty’s teats dry?
The lobbyists who turned our congress into an escort service?
The corporations who gained  ‘Peoplehood’  but lost any residual interest in people?
Well, yes.

But the ones responsible for disemboweling the country were us, the folks.
We wanted more. More house with more closets, and more stuff to fill them.
The timid public service announcements to “Buy American” were meant for some patriotic suckers. Not us.
We fed our insatiable yearning for more,  and, to get more, we started bottom-feeding for the lowest price…a price that was founded from cheap foreign labor that was paid little, worked in unhealthy places with no medical benefits, or benefits of any kind.
Who could compete with that?
We fully bought into the addiction while we surrendered our jobs.
Americans could no longer make shirts, sneakers, or TVs that Americans would buy.
So, we closed up shop and went shopping for bargains.
The Faustian bargain trips to Sam’s Club put Uncle Sam in distress.
We now have more which leaves us with less.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

America's Barn Door

America has become the anguished farmer whose horses have bolted because he left the barn door open. A few examples:
As the nation focuses on the latest jangly shiny object (the Colorado massacre) our government temporarily shifts to its gun control Kabuki-Dance.
Even if an agreement is reached (it won’t be) we arrive rather late.
According to the Survey by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies the United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens.
That’s 270 million firearms in circulation.
The barn door was blown off the hinges.

Our illegal immigrant dilemma is equally late in coming.
Modest estimates of ‘Illegals’ in the country exceed 10 million.
The debate comes about 9+ million too late.
Nobody bothered to lock the barn door.

Even liberals making Conservative estimates put the national debt at $16 trillion. Seems like only yesterday when the wee debt was  running around in Oshkosh-by-Gosh.
My, they grow up so quickly.
Now we can’t afford a barn door.

Moving on to the infrastructure… The American Society of Civil Engineer’s Report Card for American Infrastructure gave the nation a grade of D, and stated that it would take a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion to bring the U.S. up to par with the rest of the world’s major postindustrial nations. This assessment of our dams, levees, bridges, rail, and airports declares that our infrastructure is in crisis.
Our barn door is rotted.

And those who can read, learn that American schools have a drop-out rate of 28%. And the students who stick it out compare poorly with many industrialized nations.
Where we once sat atop the heap, we’re now buried in the middle of our class. Where was the concern when we dropped to second place?
Anybody know how to build a door?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Any Kid in the City

THE FOLLOWING PIECE WAS WRITTEN BY A GUEST WRITER, A FORMER STUDENT AT NORWOOD SCHOOL, AND A FRIEND.                                                                

The students enter the building through a side door, where they promptly submit backpacks and any other personal items to the NYPD safety agent who greets them at the steps.  There’s a male agent for the boys, a female for the girls.  Everyone is scanned for weapons, cell phones and drugs upon entering the building.  Some of the more committed students have already hidden items inside a shoe, their underwear, perhaps the lining of a wig.  The rest have scattered belongings in various spots throughout the neighborhood.  It’s Monday morning at one of New York City’s Level Five, year long suspension sites.  I teach English here.       I used to remark to friends and relatives that I would gladly teach any kid in the city.  Oh, really?  When I made this statement, I was already working at a large traditional high school in New York.  We had sports teams.  We had a band.  We sang carols to the kids before the holidays.  I signed yearbooks and hugged parents at graduation. Then mayoral control hit our building like an angry, little hurricane, declaring the school dangerous, and sweeping us all away. So how do I describe this strange, new teaching universe I’ve recently entered?  For starters, it’s the greatest lesson on human dignity I’ve ever had.        My new school has a unique and troubled population, but they still have the right to a public education. They earn credits at this suspension site.  They take their state exams here.  We study the speech patterns and motivations of Holden Caulfield, the original troubled New York teen, like we would at any other school in the city.        Yet the drama unfolding in their respective neighborhood often takes precedent over any literature we explore in the classroom.  Whenever a friend or acquaintance suffers a fatality, someone will wear a t-shirt with the departed’s face staring back at me all day long, rendering the book in my hand useless.  If someone needs a pen and I offer one with blue ink, he might not use it.  Some students comprise entire paragraphs without using the letter ‘C’.  Others shun ‘B’ as if the consonant has done them wrong.  Symbols are everywhere and the neighborhood is all that matters.  They resent being here, a completely foreign place, and pine for their home school all year long.  They argue and compete over things I don’t understand. They make remarks in the middle of a lesson that sometimes shake me to the core. So as the student body files into the building kid by kid, and the scanner hums and beeps over every single pocket and curve, I have to find a part of me somewhere that understands the magnitude of being their teacher.           At sixteen, I went to work washing dishes in a Long Island restaurant where my mother waited tables.  The owner, who would later become the county’s district attorney, ruled his establishment in a strict, Steinbrenner-like dictatorship.  It was his place, his rules.  I was observed wearing cut-offs during an unofficial kitchen tour and reprimanded for it.  Minutes later, I committed the error of making eye contact and the tirade began.  I answered back and promptly lost my first job.  As the owner marched me through the kitchen and out a back door, he made a remark that stayed with me forever, invaluable words that I would summon repeatedly during an extremely challenging teaching career in New York City.  “You just wait,” he began.  “We’ll see what becomes of you!”       It was during my student-teaching experience that I encountered my first unruly student.  The kid showed up late, talked incessantly, and pushed all of his assignments onto the floor.  Still a student myself, I was completely flustered and dumbfounded.  As I bent to retrieve the work he’d dropped, it struck me how easy it was to slip into the role of the District Attorney from my dish washing days.  “You just wait,” I thought.  “We’ll see what become of you.”        That summer I pulled into a convenience store and there he was, half asleep against the wall, a can of malt liquor the approximate size of his forearm beside him.  He was wasted and bleary eyed, but recognized me and said hello.  I recalled the prediction I’d made about his future when he was my student and how I couldn’t wait for it to come true.  I sat in my car afterwards and watched him nod off again, my cheeks completely flushed with shame.       So perhaps it’s time to recognize that intelligence appears in various forms.  Not everyone has to love Salinger as I do.  Maybe Holden’s language is getting a bit dated by now and Jay-Z probably lives in the Caulfield’s gorgeous apartment overlooking Central Park.  And when a boy in my class becomes so immersed in the imagery of his time spent at Rikers, the only way to respond is to lay down the books and just listen:        “Mister, in the showers…everyone wears boxers.  And if the soap does drop, you jus’ say, ‘Fuck it,’ and leave it there.”               Important Facts to Remember: (1) There is always plenty of soap to go around at Rikers. (2) The section resigned for minors segregates itself according to race and gang affiliation just like the adults.  (3) If another boy selects you to fight, you cannot ask the C.O. for protection because he’s probably busy securing a back room for the fight to occur.  (4) You cannot back down from confrontation in any way or be dubbed a punk, which may lead to unspeakable teenage horrors that may or may not have something to do with Important Fact #1. (5) If you hope to last as a teacher in a year long suspension site in NYC, the lesson of the day does not always come from you.       Most people though, Americans in particular, have programmed themselves through cinema and sport into honoring the art of a good comeback.  Thankfully, even the New York City Department of Education believes in redemption, permitting students to apply for early dismissal from their suspension if they qualify.  Much like anything else worthwhile, it does comes with an interesting catch to it.  The students must write an essay.  Not only do they have to include every letter of the alphabet, they must also apologize to their school for what they did.  Interestingly enough, every student I’ve ever worked with on an Early Review Essay is completely innocent of any and all charges against him.      “But Mister, I didn’t do it.  It wasn’t even me.  That other kid was lyin’…and my school jus’ don’t like me.”       “Would you like to get out of here early?”       “Yeah.”       “Then you need to redo this first paragraph and apologize…with feeling.”         By the end of the week, E. approaches after class to say goodbye.  Today is his last day.  He’s served his full suspension and will return to his home school next week with a proverbial clean slate.  His regular building is five stories tall with a river view of the midtown skyline.  Our place is a single hallway with very small class sizes.  In twenty-four hours the kid’s world will expand tenfold.   E. makes his way through the building, an actual glimmer to his eyes, shaking hands and saying his goodbyes.  As he takes his final strut down the hall, I can feel the entire school holding its breath and rooting for him.  The mission statement here is really no different than any other school in the world.  As time passes, as it does for us all, we will eventually see what becomes of him. 



JB McGeever teaches writing and literature in New York City Public Schools.  His stories and essays have appeared in Newsday, The New York Times, City Limits, Hampton Shorts, and Thomas Beller's Lost and Found: Stories from New York.      

Friday, June 29, 2012

From Yearbook to Youbook

It seems that we’ll never exhaust ways to expand the lattice of esteem building.
Our everybody-wins-a-trophy society has taken another step in the pursuit of pretending that everyone’s incredible.

A new concept, provided by an upstart but growing company called Tree Ring, provides a platform where students no longer have to get  lost in the generic high school yearbook. A spokesperson for the company says that while a regular yearbook is a nice memento,
it’s not always about each student.

Now it can be.

No longer must students suffer by paging through reality.
No more must they see themselves as they are.
Now they can be the Big Man on Campus.
The Senior Rock Star.
Mister Popularity!
Young Tom Edison!

Tree Ring provides a computer program which allows students and their adoring parents to create a personal, one-of-an-overly-kind electronic version of the yearbook, inserting their own pictures, captions, and compliments.
Over 1000 schools are now participating, including some from Long Island.
No surprise.
Heck, our designer-label Island just might be the Sutter’s Mill of youthful esteem.

Parents are among the most avid supporters because it eliminates the stress over counting the number or location of their child’s photos.

Twenty years from now when the old book is pulled from the shelf no one will know the difference.

Or the truth.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

PROFITEERING

Profit in a market economy is an acceptable and desirable outcome. Profiteering, however, is the ugly abuse of making an inflated profit during an emergency.

Think of a grocery store that doubles prices in the aftermath of a hurricane, while people are desperate, without electrical power, and discarding spoiled food.
We presently have 3 profiteers working the economic crises:
Landlords, Internship Providers, and Colleges.

Curiously, as banks refuse to provide mortgage money, Landlords raise rents in a nearly inflation-free economy. After all, people have to live somewhere. If they can’t buy a house or move in with Mom, the final option is a bulging rent.

The Internship Providers fully understand the employment wasteland where recent graduates desperately hunt for work or resume enhancement. They take full advantage by grinding the ‘lucky’ interns to full sweat, and, in some cases, making them pay for the privilege of being exploited.

Colleges are abusing the drone that the only surviving option for a successful future is the Hobson-choice of college. Since they’ve become the last bridge standing to the land of promise, their tuitions have lapped the inflation rate for the past 30 years.

















Friday, May 11, 2012

I DON'T HAVE PTSD

Note: The following piece was sent to me by my good friend Norma. It was written by her husband, Roger...a fine writer and thinker.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So, let’s meet stigma chin to chin and eye to eye and stare the little bastard in its ugly, intolerant face.    
As a lay person, the dynamics of the mind are out of my reach. I leave that to the professionals. But as a writer, the human condition is the acreage I plow and plow.
We will speak today about this thing called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which some view with a skeptical eye. I have been hearing a great deal about this subject since many of our troops have begun returning home from far off wars. First of all, I would like to congratulate those of you who stop to listen to these vets and thank them for their service. As a Vietnam veteran, this wonderful behavior comes as a pleasing shock. I am from another, colder, less welcoming era.
For example, when I went back to work following my service in the Army, the peacenik manager told me, “You’re not in Vietnam anymore,” inferring that he was opposed to the war and had little use for those of us who participated. Like him and many of my mates, including Tiny, a huge fellow soldier who came home from Vietnam with a Silver Star for killing the enemy and saving his guys, we were peaceniks too.
After our combat tours, Tiny and I served in a special unit burying soldiers in fancy military ceremonies that featured 21-gun salutes, the playing of Taps, folding the U.S. flag over the coffin and my delivering a statement on behalf of all of you. Here is what I told widows and mothers and sisters and fathers: “On behalf of the President and a grateful nation, I present this flag for which he so proudly served.” I stared hundreds of survivors in the eye as I recited that sentence. Sometimes I see them in my sleep. I am 63 years old. I went into the army at 19. I remember those words as though I said them yesterday.
I brought things home from Vietnam. I was in the artillery and shot 105mm Howitzers. Think a 50-pound bullet-shaped round that can be shot as far away as seven miles. I shot thousands of rounds and heard kill counts daily.
One day I was cleaning the Howitzer and my four other guys were near the perimeter of the jungle burying unused powder bags. An explosion erupted in the middle of them and smoke poured out of the ground. My instinct was to run toward them, run as fast as I could. As I covered ground, I heard someone scream “Minefield!,” which I understood immediately, in the tick of a second. My mind processed. Stop or go? I kept running, and without knowing it then, that moment of realization would forevermore be imbedded in my brain like a steel beam. 
All the guys had shrapnel wounds except one. His name was Hoffman. He was from upstate New York and was considered a prospective pro baseball player when he returned home from being drafted. His lower leg was detached above the knee. I learned this holding his limb as it parted from his body.
Whether he died or not I never knew. That was Vietnam. Always a lack of details. I remember that moment when someone called “minefield” all these years later. In fact, there is not a day that goes by when I don’t recall it. There are other memories, many of them personally more dangerous to me, and I often ruminate about them as well, but none have the staying power of that one single moment.
The night I arrived at home, I called the cops about gunshots I heard in my neighborhood. The cops laughed and patted my shoulder when they came to the house and learned I had just gotten home from over there.
I don’t have PTSD. I know this because I have been tested and I monitor my behavior with some medication and with the help of a therapist. Yet, sometimes I have nightmares. I wake up sweating. I remain hyper vigilant, ready to jump out of my seat at any noise. I flinch over loud noises. My sleep quotient is horrible, as is my level of trust in others. I have to constantly check myself for rage, for thoughts of violence. I am often paranoid and always skeptical, which sometimes borders on cynicism. All for something I experienced more than 40 years ago.
My Army experience shaped me like nothing else in my life. And while I don’t recall my daughter’s birth daily, or my wedding day, or the day I won a big time writing contest, every day I do recall a moment frozen in time in a far off place when I ran helter-skelter through a minefield and came away without a scratch. I served for three years, 8 months of which were in a combat zone. Today, soldiers cycle through combat zones three, four or more times.
Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD. But you can’t disremember rape, a personal assault, or the experience of fear. For those of us who are lucky, we are protected by a genetic resilience or loving relationships. Or we embrace our demons and come to a kind of peace with them, as I have.
I’m lucky.
I don’t have PTSD.
Imagine what it would be like if I did?

Roger Verdon