Monday, November 30, 2009

Parental Guidance Divested

Author's Note:  As the "new" Harrisonville McDonald's celebrates its 3rd anniversary, I thought it might be appropriate to pull this column out from the bowels of my hard drive. Unfortunately I haven't gotten any smarter or become a better parent since this column was first written. Oh well, enjoy!

Last summer, without explanation or consultation, the Harrisonville, Missouri McDonald’s fell victim to the wrecking ball—razed without explanation. Our world was suddenly not the same, and we feared for the stability of the food pyramid.

But as we stared at the barren concrete that had, at any given time, held more of our money than our bank, we were relieved to find the seeds of capitalism had already been replanted. A new, better, and more insulin-resistant restaurant would grow back on the same site later in November. And while November, in August, seemed as distant as now seems the return of Jim Talent to the Senate, we pressed on, resolute in our commitment to find other forms of food which was once chicken.

Summer yielded to fall and hope was kindled by rapid construction of new arches. Our anticipation ratcheted to a mighty crescendo when it was announced McDonald’s grand “re-opening” would be at 5:00 a.m. on November 16. Finally, we saw the fries at the end of the tunnel.

Then, in what was perhaps the greatest lapse of parental judgment ever documented in the history of arterial sclerosis, my wife and I (O.K just I) allowed our teenage son and daughter to camp out all night in advance of the 5:00 a.m. re-opening. I would like to admit that I was completely aware of what I was doing when I said “yes” to their request…so I will. In retrospect, I was blinded by the prospect of a year’s worth of Extra Value Meals to the first 200 customers.

Thoughts of free food helped me fall asleep but had no lasting value. At around 2:30 a.m., I awoke in a cold sweat and attempted to call my children on their phones. Neither answered. I feared the worst—they were in jail and the sheriff was on his way to arrest me for endangering the McRib mold. My fears were allayed when my teens returned my call to politely informed me my call had interrupted their drive-in DVD viewing.

The kids returned home at 6:30 a.m., and began to relate stories of deceit, desperation, and self-preservation, the likes of which had not been seen since last month’s elections. They told of a man who, after abandoning his pick-up in the drive-thru to find a bathroom, returned later only to find that thirty individuals had moved it halfway across the parking lot.

Apparently the vigil was attended by people of all ages. Second in line for the Drive-Thru was a 70-something woman who had apparently gone without coffee for three months. In front of her, first in line, a toddler had been hunkered down in the backseat of her mother’s car since 2:00 p.m. (I can imagine the counseling session sometime in late 2034: “But honey, think of the good times we shared…like when we sat huddled together in the new McDonald’s drive thru for 15 hours so you could be the first child in Mother’s Day Out to have a Sausage McGriddle.” )

So young, old, large, and soon-to-be large were united in near-freezing temperatures by one thing: A quest for saturated fat. It was reported this quest spawned a sense of camaraderie among the participants, a certain Esprit de Corps (French for “spirit of Lipitor”) which cemented a bond until about 3:30 a.m. when cars were vacated as lines formed around the doors. Then, at 4:55 a.m., depravity was unleashed in a massive offensive toward warmth.

The evening’s irony was the economic windfall to nearby businesses. Taco Bell handled more customers than ever (its drive-thru becoming a “walk-thru”). Dominoes Pizza boxes littered the parking lot, and the nearby C-Store reportedly ran out of soft drinks. The trickle down effect was textbook Reaganomics. In the end, however, it was McDonald’s who gave us yet another lesson in economic demand, or rather something I once heard about in my sleep called “pent-up demand.”

Later that day, I managed to get within a hundred yards of the new McDonald’s. I observed numerous new features, like a double drive-thru which enhances the speed and ease of testing tort reform after receiving a lapful of scalding coffee. The double drive-thru becomes equally perilous when funneling into one line for payment and food. Except for the gesturing, it’s easier to merge onto a Los Angeles freeway.

But long after the last Extra Value Meal certificates are exhausted, my children will have their memories. It’s fun to think that one day they’ll tell their children how Grandma and Grandpa once let them camp out all night when McDonald’s came back to town. Then they’ll all look at each other and ask in unison: “What….were they thinking?”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ask the Broke Broker II: Lost in Garden City

Welcome back to the second of one installments of Ask the Broke Broker, the advice column which seeks to enlighten the business community on the proper usage of business terminology and unsecured credit.

Question: Mr. Broke Broker, when my boss was discussing with me an important project our firm is working on, he told me he would "keep me appraised of the situation." What does this mean?

Mr. BB: An appraisal is an opinion of value. Therefore, it appears your boss believes you are worth nothing. There is an outside chance your boss confused the term appraise with apprise. To be apprised of a situation means he will let you know when he no longer thinks you are worthless. But don't hold your breath.

Question: My Blackberry keeps giving me a message which says "E-R-R." Is this short for "Error?"

Mr. BB: No, I'm sorry but unfortunately this means you are fat. This is the exact same message displayed on my bathroom scale most mornings, and it is common knowledge that Blackberries and bathroom scales utilize the same computer chip.

Question: A friend told me that I should invest in foreign securities. What's your take on that?

Mr. BB: I receive no compensation or "take" as you say, for any domestic or foreign investments recommended in this column.

Question: Well, what are your foreign recommendations?

Mr. BB: They say Paris is beautiful in the spring. Besides that, the only thing that comes to mind is this rich cocoa merchant who keeps emailing me from somewhere called the Coast de Ivorie.

Question: Which is correct—capital gain or capitol gain?

Mr. BB: It depends on whether or not you are talking about the city or the building.

Question: What are the differences among the following terms: The National Debt, The Foreign Trade Deficit, and The Federal Budget Deficit?

Mr. BB: Virtually nothing. They are all either assets or exports of China.

Question: Mr. Broke Broker, what is a basis point?

Mr. BB: In the olden days (2007), a basis point was 1/100th of a percent, or 1/1000th of the "spread" the bank would make on your loan. But now that loans are a thing of the past, you need not bother your pretty little head trying to remember such archaic terminology.

Question: The other day, I read an advertisement that said "principles only need respond." What does this mean?

Mr. BB: It means that whoever wrote the advertisement didn't have a "pal" in the school administration. It also means that you and I should not respond to the ad.

Question: I attended a wedding the other day where the pastor talked about "authority vested in me." I thought only retirement plans "vested."

Mr. BB: You silly moron. Although I would never watch Project Runway with my wife at 9:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time Thursdays on Lifetime, I believe the good reverend was simply drawing attention to the fashionable dress of the men in the wedding party. More specifically, he was noting the lack of cumberbunds on the groom, best man, and groomsmen. Everyone knows when a man is missing a cumberbund (I like this word), he has no choice but to be properly vested.

Question: Mr. Broke Broker, my personal trainer said he was developing for me a killer abdominal regime. What should I expect at my next workout?

Mr. BB: Most likely he will be playing an exercise video involving the Ming Dynasty. Perhaps that regime will spawn a regiment of soldiers which have an impeccable daily excercise regimen. Having said that, there's no hope for your abs.

I've been appraised that I am approaching the 700 word mark, which means I am fat. Please keep those cards and letters coming to Mr. Broke Broker where our motto is: Collateral… What Is That?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pablo: He once was found, but now is lost

This post has two purposes. The first is to end a three-week or so writing drought for this blog/column. The second purpose is to broadcast a cyber-APB, if you will, for the subject of an earlier post--Pablo. Pablo, the adorable, larger than life, polar-bear-lookin' Great Pyrenees who showed up on our doorstep one evening and after a couple of excursions or benders or whatever you might call them, stayed around... That Pablo, is now gone.

I'm concerned that some of you took seriously my veiled comments in the September 7 column about not really liking Pablo and not really wanting him to stay. I mean, I was just joking. You surely didn't take me seriously did you? After all, this is a humor blog. Things are not to be taken literally here.  I hope you didn't, after reading the earlier post, come to my house while I was asleep and back your horse trailer down my driveway, then employ your boom or crane or winch or whatever assistance you might have needed to hoist Pablo into your stolen horse trailer and whisk him away. Did you really do this? Did you think you were doing me a favor? Dog Nappers! How could you destroy my life like this?!?!

Sorry, I realize I'm letting my imagination run away with me. You don't want Pablo any more than I did, do you?

But now that Pablo is gone, he is sorely missed. He was last seen walking around the "barn" after being snapped at by one of the other dogs at the food trough. I saw the injustice of that and stood idly by. I failed him. I will forever regret my inaction.  If Pablo had only realized his size and strength he would have snapped back and put those other dogs in their place. But instead he walked slowly off toward the creek, never to be seen or heard from again. That was Pablo, a distinguished gentleman at every turn. Not one to make trouble, he left in search of a family who would truly love him. He left in quest of a family and their pets who would accept him unconditionally.

I've included another photo of Pablo above in the event he shows up in your neighborhood. If he does, feel free to bring him back to me or simply enjoy him for yourself. Perhaps Pablo is meant to be enjoyed by everyone. Perhaps he's America's dog. Perhaps he's a poster dog for what's good and pure and right and decent. Perhaps no one family should enjoy Pablo exclusively. I don't know. Perhaps he's just like me and simply looking for a little better place to eat lunch.

One thing I can tell you for sure though. If you see this dog, after two months at our house, he now will answer to "Pablo."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Density Shock

I took a course in college called Demography, which is the science of human population. This course taught me many useful things like 1) China has a whole bunch of people; 2) entire neighborhoods called “population cohorts” move from the “rustbelt” to the “sunbelt” (presumably so  they can play more golf); and 3) that my parents wanted me to be a part of a quasi-political movement called The Baby Boom so that I wouldn’t have to rely on social security when I got old.

But Demography taught me a few things that weren’t quite so useful, like how to implement a complicated mathematical formula to determine something called “population density.” To put it in layman’s terms, population density is a measurement of the number of people in a particular area of geography. As you may know, we live in a rural area so I only counted (including our own) four houses within our particular square mile. If each of those other houses contains three people, then the total population in our square mile of land would be 16. Are you still with me?

Sixteen persons per square mile is what we demographers (people who’ve taken Demography) call a “sparse” population. So as someone from a sparsely populated part of the world, you can imagine my wonder last week when I traveled on a business trip to one of the most densely populated cities in Cook County, Illinois—Chicago. Some neighborhoods in Chicago approach densities of almost 50,000 persons per square mile. And these people are actually live people, not just people who are "registered voters."

There are a lot of differences between densely and sparsely populated areas—like transportation. In sparsely populated areas, we drive gas guzzling SUVs 20-30 miles to pick up a pizza. But in Chicago, people take public transportation to the pizza place. They then eat the pizza there and when they’re finished take public transportation back home. Because there are only 16 persons per square mile in our area, we don’t have public transportation—unless you count hayrides.

Public transportation in Chicago is operated under the auspices of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Older readers will recognize the Chicago Transit Authority as a band from the ‘70s and ‘80s who had such hits as Saturday in the Park. After legal action was threatened by the City of Chicago over use of that name, however, the band broke up and decided to try its hand at running busses and elevated trains.

The crown jewel of the CTA is the “L,” which is the elevated train system you’ve seen in shows like E.R. or movies like The Fugitive. I was a little apprehensive before riding the “L,” but found it to be very safe and welcoming, offering no apparent signs of guns, knives, or one-armed men (although a guy who looked eerily like Tommy Lee Jones was looking at me kind of funny).

Another stark contrast between sparsely and densely populated areas is the heights of buildings. My meetings were on the 80th floor of the Aon Center, which is the 3rd tallest building in Chicago and at one time among the tallest in the world. Floors 68-80 of the Aon Center have their own set of elevators—six in fact. Here in the country the only elevators we have contain grain, and the country skyline is usually limited to a handful of silos, wireless towers, and treehouses. So for a guy who lives in the country a meeting on the 80th Floor of a building seems pretty cool. That is until the elevator doors shut and you’re all alone hurtling into space in a capsule smaller than the lunar module.

When I finally got off the elevator and arrived at the 80th floor meeting room I made the mistake of walking over to the window to take a look at the mass of urbanization beneath me. The view was truly breathtaking, but suddenly I realized all that separated me from the concrete nearly ¼ mile below were six tiny elevator shafts which by this time surely did not house functioning elevators. As the room became smaller, a flurry of questions ran through my mind—had this building been inspected during construction? If the building suddenly toppled toward the Lake, would I die at impact or would I live only to drown? I finally regained my composure and entertained more rational thoughts like “Is Tommy Lee Jones still following me?”

Hopefully the study of population densities will bring us closer together as inhabitants of red states, blue states, and Florida. And if these studies do not bring us closer together, let's find common ground in understanding the cardinal rule of Demography—there’s a whole bunch of people in China.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lost Dog: Does Not Answer to "Pablo"

We have five dogs at our house, which according to the Cass County, Missouri Zoning Ordinance classifies our family as bona fide idiots. I decided to research this issue because I had heard that many counties define a residential structure with over five “domesticated” animals as a “kennel.” In our part of the world, a kennel is code for “puppy mill,” which is double-secret code for “redneck-criminal-Michael Vick-lovin’-lowlife.” And even in a state that only recently repealed cockfighting, no one wants to be identified with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But as it turns out, in Cass County you can have as many dogs as you like, but unfortunately you must like the dogs you have. I was forced to wonder about the five dog threshold when a large Great Pyrenees showed up on our property a few weeks ago. For the sake of brevity, and to ensure you don’t further question our already suspect judgment, I won’t go into how we accumulated even four dogs in the first place. Suffice it to say that we succumbed to a series of tears, pleas, and paternity suits and our lives subsequently spiraled out of control. So enter the Great Pyrenees, who despite our best efforts refused to go home. After his arrival I called the pound, our veterinarian, a local dog groomer and scoured the newspaper for “Lost Dog” ads. These efforts turned up no leads on a missing Great Pyrenees. This writing represents our first effort to “go public” in our attempt to get rid of h—I mean find his rightful owner.

You see, dogs come and go out here in the country, but unfortunately around our house they mostly come and stay. I think they see the lavish smorgasbord of dog food which is dumped across the sidewalk each morning (or if not each morning at least whenever we think about it). This spread is often accompanied by some sort of table scrap and the result is something that resembles a Carnival Cruise Line buffet. This may not be that impressive if you’re a suburban dog, but out here it signals the end of treeing squirrels and chasing rabbits for sustenance. It also signals the unlikelihood that you will get shot doing any of the above. You see dogs are attracted to our place because it resembles a canine Club Med. As a dog around our house, you are not expected to do any work to speak of. You’re really not even expected to move or wake up if a band of robbers comes around. The next thing we’ll be doing is buying them robes and lining them up for spa treatments.

Usually these dog visits run their course but not so with our Great Pyrenees friend that my oldest son eventually named “Pablo.” We’re not really sure why my son named him Pablo. So far as I can tell, my son doesn’t have strong convictions on the immigration issue. I hope this doesn’t sound prejudiced, but Pablo doesn’t really look like he would come from south of the border. He looks more like a polar bear, and accordingly like he might have come from a cold climate—maybe Alaska or Scandinavia or Des Moines. Perhaps he should have been named Nome or Duluth or Al Franken.

But Pablo he is and the name has stuck. Pablo himself doesn’t get it though. He stares blankly at us when we call him and bid him to come to his concrete buffet. He blinks, wags his tail a bit, and offers a slight smile when we say “here Pablo.” When we persist in calling him by his new name he turns his head and looks around, seemingly wondering when this Pablo fellow is going to emerge from the dense underbrush. He thinks he’s caught in some sort of dog version of “To Tell the Truth.” TV Announcer:Will the real Pablo the Pyrenees please play dead?”

We’ll persist in our efforts to find Pablo’s rightful owner, primarily because during this global economic meltdown I can’t start buying Frontline in 55 gallon drums. In the meantime we’ll be relieved that we won’t be the target of any zoning investigation. And, we’ll rest easy knowing that we could add 5, 10, or 27 more dogs without the threat of alerting Al Franken.

And if you promise not to tell anyone, I may just choose Michael Vick in the upcoming NFL fantasy draft

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Twinkies and Greinke

My brother is on an Alaskan cruise, so he gave me a week's worth of his Royals season tickets. In the spirit of Beaver Cleaver, my immediate reaction was "Gee Wally (not my brother's real name), do I half ta go?" I endure enough pain, torment, and blown saves during the day not selling commercial real estate, so I was not necessarily excited about continuing the frustration after hours at Kauffman Stadium.

As it turned out, I could only go to two of the six games, the first being this past Sunday where my expectations of utter frustration were fulfilled. Among other things, I was treated to the Minnesota Twins' 8-run 7th inning which featured Michael Cuddyer's two home runs, a feat not accomplished in the major leagues since David Ortiz did it for the Red Sox last year. I also endured the Royals feeble attempts at a sacrifice bunt while observing the Twins' perfect execution of this most basic of baseball fundamentals.

Other lowlights included a drunken Twins fan who insisted on remaining shirtless for most of the game. He kept waving his Twins hat throughout the game while turning around so that the sun could fully burn his massive girth. To my surprise, when he finally put on his shirt it was a George Brett Royals jersey. I'm not sure to whom the most dis-service was delivered. Was it the Royals jersey to the Twins cap or the Twins cap to the George Brett jersey?

To pass the time I surfed my Blackberry to see how many games the Royals were out of first place as I wondered if they had yet been mathematically eliminated. I then learned from that the Royals were about 19 games out of first place and maybe five games out of 4th place in the AL Central. They own the worst record in the American League but are some three games better than the Washington Nationals of the National League. As if this were not depressing enough, I saw that the Royals were 24 games out of the wild card playoff race. So let's get this straight, it is five games harder to be the 4th best team in the American League than it is to be the Division leader and presumably third best team? Oh well, at least we're better than the Nats.

When the game was over the drunken Twins fan pulled a little broom out of his back pocket to celebrate his team's sweep of the American League's worst team. It was a little wimpy broom, smaller than the whisk broom that the umpires might use during the game. Although it takes a little nerve to bring any broom to the opposition's ballpark, if you're going to be that brazen you should not apologize for it with a whisk broom and come with an industrial strength broom. Crocodile Dundee would have not approved. But this guy had the ultimate defense. If anyone ever considered hitting him he'd pull out his George Brett jersey. A Royals' fan hitting someone in a George Brett jersey is worse than a guy hitting a girl with glasses. It simply cannot be done.

Mourning turned to dancing though when I went to last night's (Tuesday's) pitching gem offered up by the Royals' ace, MVP, all-world, hope-for-the-future, and walk-on-water stopper Zack Greinke. Greinke amassed 15 strikeouts during his 8 innings of work. This total eclipsed his previous personal best of 11 K's and broke Mark Gubicza's Royals' record of 14 set in 1988.

Greinke has changed the way I watch a baseball game at Kauffman. I used to plan trips to the bathroom, concession stand, and miniature golf course around the opposing team's at-bat. I used to want to watch the Royals attempt at offense and wasn't too interested in watching them in the field. After all, I know what it looks (and feels) like to miss a cut-off man. However, with Greinke on the mound, I now will not leave my seat while he is pitching. I'm content to hear the Royals at-bat over the radio play-by-play in the men's room or watch it standing in line at the concession stand. I'll be perfectly fine missing a grand slam or a hit-and-run or even a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt, but I won't miss a Greinke pitch. They are too beautiful to watch, especially the slider that was responsible for most of last night's strikeouts.

Greinke has become a sport within a sport. His pitching is so phenomenal that you forget that he's a play within a play. He's a Mid-Summer Night's Dream. And even though the Royals are entrenched in a bomb of a 2009 production, the Act that is Zack Greinke stands alone.

And last night, that was enough.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Briquettes and Baroque

Does it seem like your business associates come from a variety of different worlds? Besides greed, do your customers and clients have little in common, with interests as diverse as those of an Ohio or Florida election precinct? Do you ever fear these multiple worlds will collide if all these business acquaintances meet at a formal gathering like your funeral?

If these fears grip you, keeping you awake during sales meetings, then allow me to offer a solution. FACE THESE FEARS HEAD ON by hosting a social gathering at which you have complete control. Invite them to your home for a one or more carefully crafted “customer mixers.” To start with, consider the following themed gala which I call Briquettes and Baroque.

This late Spring event is designed to assimilate your stuffy, snooty, artsy clients with those whose idea of a museum is the National Quilt Hall of Fame in Paducah, Kentucky. Imagine the following… As each guest arrives to your home, he or she is offered a “door prize” or party favor of exactly one (1) 40# bag of Kingsford Charcoal. Carefully affixed to each charcoal bag is approximately one (1) 14 song compact disc from the Williams-Sonoma Dinner Companion Series entitled Baroque Classics. Since you have rented an impressive sound system with speakers throughout the inside and outside of your property, you are ready for the party to begin.

As Pachelbel’s Canon in D blasts brashly throughout your home and property, you ask each guest to open his or her Kingsford bag and toss exactly fifty (50) briquettes into a carefully constructed backyard grilling pit. (Note: For some of your clients that have never done “real work,” you may consider inviting them over early, asking them to actually dig the pit. We do not recommend this, however, unless they have signed long term purchase agreements with you.)

By the time all the briquettes are in place, Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon should be blasting throughout your neighborhood. When you hear this song, it is time to ask your guests to join soot-laden hands and march in circular fashion counter-clockwise around the pit. Once the guests have circled exactly 3.75 times, provide each with approximately one (1) garden rake. Their task with the rake: Ensure the briquettes are forged into a culturally and socio-economically homogeneous mound of charred wood. To make things interesting, you can make this activity simulate a game of musical chairs by providing one less rake than there are people. Guests are asked to rake then pass the rake, rake then pass, rake then pass, and so on until the music stops. Don’t tell your guests this beforehand, but if they don’t have a rake when the music stops, they get to go home.

At this point, your compact disc should be bellowing Rameau’s Overture from Dardanus as you hand each guest a bottle of lighter fluid. The trick here is to get your guests to do two things—thoroughly saturate all of the briquettes in the pit while challenging them to identify and soak each of the ones they actually placed into the pit themselves. Of course only you know that you will have NO WAY of determining the winner of this activity. But what you must do is simply and savvily award the prize for this event to whoever’s sale you need the most. This takes much less time and is more dignifying than losing to him or her in golf.

As dusk approaches, it’s time to move indoors so your guests may enjoy hors’ devours made exclusively of Spam and lobster tail. Outdoors, you’ll handle the cooking as the briquette pit embers carefully roast a cross-cultural surf and turf composed of catfish, Chilean sea bass, venison, headcheese, and rack of lamb. Meanwhile inside, against the backdrop of Scarlatti’s Piano Sonata in C minor, L352, your spouse authoritatively calls out a Baroque square dance. If the Sonata ends but your guests are still in the mood for dancing, try teaching them a ballet line dance to the timeless Don Williams ballad Tulsa Time.

After dinner concludes and your guests unwind, offer them farewell gifts of Hormel (maker of Spam) stock certificates. To minimize your cleanup, don’t forget to ask them to be sure and take their unused charcoal from their opened bags of Kingsford.
Congratulations! You have successfully forged strategic alliances among your broad spectrum of customers and clients. And, in so doing, ensured multiple worlds won’t collide, because now they now WILL NOT be attending your funeral.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Executive Bio: Liberty or Lie?

I recently updated my Executive Bio, because in the cutthroat world that is commercial real estate you must aggressively market yourself, and the best way to do that is to lie. Well, maybe “lie” is too strong a term, but words like embellishment, exaggeration, and Donald Trump come to mind. The Executive Bio is about making yourself look better than the next guy, so typically your listings, closings, and number of bowling trophies are rounded to the next light year. This concept is borrowed from the world of sports, where for years game programs have been adding 3 inches to the listed heights of quarterbacks and tight ends. It's all about looking good and successful and intimidating on paper, because let's face it—paper may be all you've got.

The Executive Bio usually starts out by giving some information on your education. So, it's at this point that you talk about college majors and degrees and whenever possible drop some Latin on the unsuspecting reader. Generally the Latin should contain a phrase containing "Cum Laude," which means "with honor," or "with praise." The beautiful thing about this is very few people realize what these terms mean, and even fewer readers will have actually attended your graduation ceremony. So if you are so inclined, you could place in your Executive Bio that you graduated "Parenta Cum Laude," which simply translated means “to the surprised praise of his parents.” This is a true statement, although the Latin may be a bit twisted. Not to worry. You’ll not be exposed unless your pharmacist happens to read your Magnum Opus of Executive Bios.

Next the Executive Bio author must deal with his past work history. This is where most people try to write around a glaring gap of unproductive years that are as conspicuous as 18 1/2 minutes of missing Watergate tapes. Here the author may mask three failed businesses and two firings by stating that “he started numerous small business and entrepreneurial ventures which generated unprecedented exit strategies.”

The Executive Bio should be accompanied by a professionally produced photograph (see above). The photo in this column was randomly chosen from those readily available on my hard drive and from those which would not subject Finley River to copyright infringement. The liberal use of airbrush technology to “touch up” your photo is acceptable. In fact, you should attempt to give yourself a virtual facelift if you are older and most likely well passed your prime (again, see above photo). Unfortunately, there is nothing commercially available at this time to make you look 40 pounds lighter (OK yes, once again see above photo).

Next, it’s time to get personal. Whenever possible bring your family into the mix. If your wife works and has a great job, flaunt it. Only a handful of discerning individuals will realize she’s the reason you’ve been able to master Madden ’09 during the workday. If you have any kids, highlight this. Everyone realizes that a man with a lot of kids is well rounded and probably so desperate to make a buck that he will give his services away for practically nothing.

Finally you’ll want to provide some interesting fact about yourself—something that the reader will “take away" and remember you by. Here is where you desperately mine the depths of your past to uncover something remotely interesting about yourself. It is here that you will also want to aggressively and liberally employ what we call “editorial license.” Again, you’re not lying here, but you acknowledge that your space limitations will simply not allow for full and complete disclosure. For instance, we looked at the Executive Bio of the same fellow which is pictured above and found this statement: “While attending (unnamed university) he participated on the school’s football team and was named to the conference all-academic team while leading the team in scoring in 1982. True enough, but further research unmasks these troubling facts:

1. The “conference,” as it was referred to, had only four teams. Yeah, I know—not exactly the Big XII or Pac 10 or Big 10 (Question: Why does the “Big 10” have 11 teams?),
2) The criterion for being named to this conference’s all-academic team was, vaguely, “periodically showing up to class.”
3.) This fellow led his team in scoring not by rushing for 23 touchdowns or catching 37 touchdown passes but instead by… kicking five field goals and 25 points after touchdown. Yes, he was a placekicker and no one else on the team could muster up more than six touchdowns. And finally,
4) He missed more field goals than he made. Pathetic. This is perhaps the most troubling usage of “editorial license” that we have reviewed to date.

I just realized that I need an unprecedented exit strategy from this column. So I’ll conclude by encouraging you to get to work immediately by authoring or updating your own personal Executive Bio. Hopefully someone will read it, and maybe, just maybe…they’ll believe it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ask the Broke Broker…Solvent Advice From an Insolvent Expert

Since the commercial real estate business is EXTREMELY SLOW, we here at Sperry Van Ness/Fiducia Properties are approaching things from a different angle and have chosen to dust this column off the hard drive and publish it for the very first time here today on Finley River. We hope you enjoy.


Today is the first of one installments of Ask the Broke Broker, the advice column which seeks to enlighten the business community on the proper usage of business terminology and paper clips.

Question: Mr. Broke Broker, what is the correct definition of a Statue of Limitation?

Mr. BB: Excellent Question! The short answer is I don't know. The long answer is that a Statue of Limitation is a figurine made of granite or marble which memorializes great business pioneers who risked it all and lost it, only to never try again. This term should not be confused with Statute of Limitation, which is the typical amount of time one may avoid paying his attorney before said attorney terminates your fiduciary relationship and free coffee.

Question: In common real estate vernacular, should I refer to a parcel of land as a track of land or a tract of land?

Mr. BB: Neither. I've checked with a variety of nationally recognized real estate experts (and game show host Donald Trump) and the correct terminology is "dirt."

Question: Mr. BB, I have another real estate question. I received a title report on my property which described my house lot as Lot 4, Bubba's Plat, First Edition. Shouldn't that be "First Addition," and if so, will my title be properly insured?

Mr. BB: You are very astute in recognizing this error. Should unforeseen encumbrances later surface which affect clear title on your lot, you WILL NOT be insured. Regarding usage of the term First Edition, intellectual property experts agree that usage of this term is precluded by a trademark secured by artist and former theme park owner and pineapple pitchman Kenny Rogers in 1967 when he and three other former New Christy Minstrels formed the group Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. By the way, tell Bubba to name his next plat after his daughter.

Question: Mr. Broke Broker, I don't know anything about sports, but in business settings I keep hearing terms like "slam dunk, " "hit it out of the park," and the "whole nine yards." What do these terms mean?

Mr. BB: Without resorting to "psychobabble," you are dealing with frustrated jocks who on the one hand, couldn't memo their way out of a paper bag and are skating on thin ice and need to signal fair catch or call time out. On the other side of the totem pole flip side of the corporate ladder, these specific terms all relate to guys who seem to be down for the count and are really, really, behind the cue ball. As a personal note, I prefer mixing it up and confusing co-workers in business meetings by exchanging the use of "whole nine yards" for the more preferred "whole enchilada."

Question: My accountant recommends I undertake something called estate planning? What are your thoughts on this topic?

Mr. BB: Contract your funeral director. This is a business column.

Question: No, no. I think estate planning has something to do with wills, trusts, etc. Does this change your advice?

Mr. BB: It depends. Please send me your asset list and I'll provide you the correct spelling of my non-pen name.

Question: What is the difference between "business dress" and "business casual."

Mr. BB: Depending on the retailer, about $275, or 353.54 New Zealand Dollars.

Question: Someone accused me of "tortuous interference of business practices." Should I be concerned about this?

Mr. BB: Not if you have a public defender who is well trained in corporate litigation.

Question: I heard someone talk about buying silver on margin. This is a new term for me. What is its origin?

Mr. BB: The term margin has its origin in ancient papyrus known as Big Chief Tablet. Often the silver crayon from the 64 Crayola set was used to color on the Big Chief Tablet, hence the phrase "silver on margin." Unfortunately I never experienced "silver on margin" as my parents would only purchase the 16 Crayola set which was devoid of the silver crayon.

This concludes today's Addition. We sincerely hope our time here has improved your business savvy. Keep those questions (and 64 Crayola sets) coming to Mr. Broke Broker where our motto is: Solvency—What's All the Fuss About?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Courthouse Signs

In the operation of my not-for-profit real estate business, I have the opportunity to visit a number of county courthouses throughout the Midwest and South. Now please understand this involves me undertaking painstaking research and does not mean that I visit court-rooms. Instead, I hang out in assessors' and recorders' offices, trying to figure out what you own and how much you overpaid for it (you did—by A LOT). I do this not to enhance my chances of making money. I simply do it because, by virtue of an intrusive piece of Federal legislation called the Freedom of Information Act, I CAN.

During the course of my research, I've observed that signs play critical roles in the typical courthouse decorating scheme. Besides the usual signs you see in courthouses, things like "Exit", "Prosecuting Attorney," "No Weapons," and "We're Closed On Every Holiday Known to Man, Including Cinco De Mayo," I've noticed some other interesting and informative signs which are worth mentioning here.

A recent business junket which took me to several courthouses in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa uncovered a disappointing discriminatory phenomenon—most men's bathrooms are in the basement. To make matters worse, one county courthouse in Iowa, which shall remain nameless because I can't remember where it was, blatantly reveals that the so-called "gender gap" is alive and well. While pleasantly referring to the ladies room as the "Ladies' Restroom," this courthouse's signage simply refers to the men's bathroom as the "Men's Toilet." Why not just call it a latrine or "the head?" We men have feelings too, you know!

A second observation, apparently uniquely problematic in Missouri, is that the number one public safety issue is not handguns or knives or reality television. The number one problem plaguing Missouri courthouse is in fact chewing tobacco. Now I haven't been in every courthouse in Missouri, but in at least two counties I visited last January the issue commanded a good bit of signage.

Consider this ominous posting observed in the Livingston County Courthouse in Chillicothe, Missouri: "Please do not spit chewing tobacco on the floor." Perhaps well meaning county commissioners, when enacting the legislation behind this signage, didn't realize that banning spittoons from county buildings in 1957 triggered this problem. Return the spittoons, I say. What's a fella supposed to do, swallow?

Down in Dallas County, Missouri, at its courthouse in Hartville, one must go into the men's bathroom, er toilet (the head) before discovering that chewing tobacco is alive, well, and NOT swallowed. Consider this intimidating sign observed in the men's bathroom: PLEASE DO NOT PUT CHEWING TOBACCO IN THE URINALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the sake of accuracy, I have typed 18 exclamation points after this request, in the exact same manner as the sign's author.

The above sign is understandable. I've witnessed this problem. Chewing tobacco definitely compromises the standard issue courthouse urinal's ability to effectively flush chewing gum, cigarettes, and handguns. Indeed, eschewing chew in the loo is overdue and should be pursued.

Let's assume that the average patron of the Dallas County Courthouse men's room (which by the way is not in the basement) tries to abide by this command. Well, he probably feels a little confused, bewildered, and like he just plain can't win when he reads the sign over the paper towels (this assumes he has washed his hands). This sign offers a contradictory message: "PLEASE EMPTY ALL CONTAINERS BEFORE PLACING IN TRASH. Thank You! (Note 1 exclamation point; "Thank You" not in caps).

So what's a guy to do here? Let's say after several minutes of anguish he's decided not to spit on the courthouse floors. So, he goes into the bathroom to spit out his dip or chaw. He's confronted with "the sign" then decides he better spit everything out into his styrofoam coffee cup. Then he goes to dump the cup in the trash can but instead washes his hands. At that point he is directed not to place the cup into the trash without emptying its contents. So he goes back to the urinal and is beaten over the head with sign number 1. Then he walks back and forth from the trashcan to the urinal; the urinal to the trashcan; the trashcan to the urinal, and so on for what seems like an eternity. It seems like he's found himself in and endless computer loop until he sees the traditional toilet. He then proceeds to swallow the contents of his cup to avoid walking the extra fifteen feet.

But problems in courthouses are in no way limited to certain counties, or regions or even states. Take Wilson County, Kansas for instance. Public enemy number one in that county's courthouse (found in the city of Fredonia) is none other than begging. Its courthouse signs boldly warn: "NO BEGGING." Perhaps county officials there are tired of the citizenry begging for a personal stimulus package.

And how about Warren County, Missouri? A sign at its courthouse in (surprisingly) Warrenton, greets you at the front door cautioning: "No Concealed Weapons." Presumably one can brandish a .357 Magnum while entering the front door as long as it is in plain view. But Warren County, in the true courthouse sign spirit, saves its most intriguing and insightful signs for the bathroom. Outside the restroom doors in the courthouse annex, signs plead: "As a courtesy to others, please do not tie up the restroom by making personal phone calls." After reading these signs, I couldn't tell what the true issue is. Is the real problem that employees were tying up bathrooms, forcing co-workers to jump up and down outside the door while waiting for the bathroom to be vacated? Or, is the real issue that personal phone calls were being made in the bathrooms, rather than from the office phones where everyone knows personal phone calls are supposed to be made. Would the same outrage exist if the restrooms were being tied up because of an overuse and abundance of business phone calls? Don't bet on it!

I can tell you're begging me to wrap this up, so I'll just tell you to go read the sign in Fredonia, Kansas. But I actually don't mind your begging, just as long as you don't spit that nasty chaw on me. Spit it on your office floor while making a personal phone call.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tom Watson: Some Final Thoughts

I exchanged emails Monday with my friend Allen Reed from Lawrence, Kansas. The topic was of course Tom Watson and the beauty of what he had accomplished over the weekend in Scotland. It seemed like for both Allen and me, Tom Watson's effort had rekindled passions and emotions for sports which had at some level subsided as we've gotten older.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Watson's run at the Open Championship was the way it bridged generations. When we talk to our sons and daughters about great athletes of our youth, we typically have to compare them with a modern-day athlete for a frame of reference. We may tell our children about Bret Saberhagen or Steve Busby and make comparisons with say, Zack Greinke . They may ask us if Len Dawson was better than Trent Green and we try to frame the greatness we witnessed in our youth against something they can grasp today.

But last weekend, watching the events at Turnberry, it was different. Father and son could both marvel at Watson in real time. It was like I was watching Watson with my 14-year-old as a 14-year-old myself. It was as if my 17-year-old and I were high school golfing buddies both watching our idol at the same time. Imagine watching with your son this coming October as George Brett suits up to go 4 for 4 with a walk-off home run in game 7 of the World Series. Imagine traveling to Arrowhead with your son in January to watch Len Dawson conduct a game-winning drive to beat the Raiders in the AFC championship game. That's what it was like last weekend. We didn't have to tell them how good Watson was. Watson showed them. And he showed them better than our words and stories could have ever done justice.

I think the beauty of what Watson did over the weekend is that he brought each of us back to a time when things were just a little bit simpler. He brought us back to a time that contained the priceless expectations of youth—a time where our tomorrows far outnumbered our yesterdays. And while going there, Watson let me bring my sons along with me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Lesson That is Tom Watson

The numbing sadness of Tom Watson's playoff loss to Stewart Cink in the Open Championship has not yet begun to subside. For a little over three days we dared to dream what was not just improbable, but by all accounts impossible. The Kansas Citian's bid to become the oldest major champion in golf, at just shy of 60 years of age, would not have been considered a plausible plot for even a Disney fairy tale. At age 59 (and 300+ days) you're just supposed to show up and give the fans a bit of nostalgia. You're supposed to just show your face so that fathers and grandfathers can point you out and tell their children and grandchildren that you are a living legend standing before them. Then, on Saturday after you've missed the cut, you're supposed to take your place in the broadcast booth and commentate and critique and reminisce.

But Tom Watson was not content to play the role of elder statesman or broadcaster this past weekend at Turnberry Golf Club on the western coast of Scotland. He showed up to compete, and on Thursday he said he felt like he was playing well enough to win. Then, he looked like he could make the cut. Then, he looked like he actually could win. Then, we believed he must win. We dreamed the impossible dream right along with him. And we were swept away by something of which our minds could have never conceived. We were swept away by what seemed like certain destiny, something that we were sure we wouldn't witness again in our lifetimes. As one national writer said yesterday….Watson was on the "precipice of the greatest accomplishment in the history of golf."

But we fell from the precipice into the chasm below as a missed par putt on 18 and four abysmal playoff holes unfolded before us. And our dreams were dashed. And now the pain of what might have been cuts deeper because we dared to dream it. We lament that it would have been better for Watson to have not made the cut. We cry foul. And if we had believed in something that many call the "golf gods," we'd shake our fist at them in anger. We wonder if it would have been better to not have been swept away by the dream in the first place than to awake to its gut-wrenching conclusion.

I must confess that I don't believe in the golf gods. I believe in the one true God that gives and takes away for His good pleasure, and I'm not going to speculate on how much (or if) He cares about golf's major championships. But one thing is certain, on a human level Tom Watson taught us many things over these last few days.

Tom Watson taught us the value of never giving up and of never letting anyone tell you you're too old to play competitively. He taught us the value of staying in good physical condition and of staying sharp mentally. He reminded us that golf is a "gentleman's game" and that one can be the fiercest of competitors while still being an exemplary sportsman. He showed us that golf truly is a "lifetime sport" and can be enjoyed in a multi-generational fashion.

But the lesson that is Tom Watson transcends the golf course. It transcends sports. Watson taught us this week that life is to be lived from the cradle to the grave. He taught us that we should dream big dreams. He taught us to live for as long as we have breath to breathe. Maybe after watching Tom Watson this weekend it will be a little easier to get out of bed tomorrow morning. Maybe we can push through the arthritis or the pulled muscle or other little ailments that have held us back. Maybe someone will start writing that book they've always wanted to write. Maybe someone will take up a new hobby they thought they had been too old to begin. Maybe someone will go back to school to pursue and education they had to put on hold for some reason. Maybe someone with cancer will be inspired the way Watson inspired Seve Ballesteros, who after suffering through four surgeries for a malignant brain tumor, says Watson has caused him to dream of coming back to St. Andrews in 2010 to compete in the Open to thank the fans who've supported him over the years.

There was a little piece of all of us that trod Turnberry's fairways this weekend with Tom Watson. And because of Tom Watson, we can wake up tomorrow morning and dare to dream a little bigger.