Wednesday, December 26, 2007

“Business” Relationships

During my 35-year working career, I had just two jobs, the first for nearly six years and the last for thirty. Loyalty to the employer and visa a versa was more typical then. But, more importantly to me, was loyalty to the people, co-workers and vendors alike. In fact, these relationships frequently evolved into deep friendships. And, I think that made the difference between “having” to work and loving work.

I was also fortunate to find the profession that found me. I think of the idiosyncratic title of Anne Tyler’s novel, Accidental Tourist, as I was the accidental publisher. As many others of my generation, I married early. At 21 my first wife became pregnant, erasing plans of going to graduate school. Instead, it was off to work I had to go.

At the time my wife happened to have a summer job at Dell Publishing and her boss agreed to give me a one-hour education in the basics of production as a back door into the publishing industry. Knowing the difference between a point and a pica was invaluable lingo to get a job, but, finally, it was nothing more than my typing skills that prevailed in my job search. In 1964 I began work as a production assistant at the Johnson Reprint Corporation, a division of Academic Press.

Publishing became a continuous postgraduate education, providing an opportunity to work with brilliant authors, skilled vendors, and wonderful staff. And treating business vendors as partners – typesetters, printers, and distributors -- made for relationships that spanned an entire working career.

I was particularly fond of our overseas distribution partners who were expert in markets where different conventions and languages made it difficult for a US publisher to compete. We established long-standing relationships in Europe, Japan, Singapore, and Australia. While contracts governed the major terms of these arrangements, a handshake sometime covered the nuances. We shared budgets, forward plans, openly and honestly back and forth.

Over the course of time, I became close to the principals of these businesses, as well as their families. None were closer than ties to Peter G. who was the founder of a U.K. company that covered the European markets. He was a brilliant and articulate businessperson with savoir-faire.

Although Peter was thirteen years older than I, we met and joined forces when our respective businesses were in their formative stages. We supported each other in our separate but similar endeavors. We spent time together in our respective Westport and London offices as well as the Frankfurt Bookfair, strategizing, sometimes agonizing, and always laughing. I can still see that glint in his eye as he ruminated about an iconoclastic approach to marketing our publishing list in Europe.

In the early 1990’s Peter was diagnosed with cancer. His illness never brought his spirits down, at least in his dealings with me. Hearing this troubling news, Ann and I visited with he and his wife and we went out on the town instead of moping.

Peter died at the age of 63, fifteen years ago last month. Just days after his death I received an extraordinary letter, emblematic of the man and our relationship. “If there is a lesson to be learned here….”

Printed Directly from PG’s Personal Disc
Date as Postmark

Dear Bob & Ann:

Although we have not spoken of it much, you will know, Bob, that I have always valued our very special relationship. Few colleagues in publishing have ever shared such a close understanding of each other’s achievements in the face of, and most usually in spite of, frequent adversity, abiding uncertainty, and the constant fear of failure.

I like to think, on the other hand, that we made good use of such time as we could spend together, helping buttress each other throughout the years. Would that we could have seen the next step through together. But, then, there is always yet another step!

Happily, you have inherited relationships (albethey quite different from ours) with both [my sons]. Thus, there promises to be continuity, as indeed there should. However, it now behooves you to play the father figure! The King is dead; long live the King!

I shall remain ever grateful to my surgeon, whose honest and accurate estimates enabled [my wife] and me to crowd our residual quality time together with joyous and memorable events. And, most of all, to [my wife] whose energy, strength and courage have made all things possible. God could not have blessed me with a more loving, caring, and supportive wife.

I want you both to know that I go in peace and with only the happiest of memories fresh in mind. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is surely that each and everyone of us should value every day along the way – for, certainly, nary a one is given back to do over!

With much love,

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mirror within Mirrors

One of our friends wrote a warm and thoughtful note on my modest efforts here. Because some of her comments are so universal I include it below, as well as my reply to her.

"Dear Bob,

I read, with great interest, your entire blog entries (skipping over, I'm afraid, the tech speech) and found it to be so fascinating because it's such a part of you that has been hinted at in various conversations but never really spoken about in detail. I loved reading it. You are ….so thoughtful and reflective about your life.

It also makes me aware and a bit sad that we spend so much time with people we love, but do we ever really listen to them, do we care about what they think and feel, or, are we just interested in "having a fun time and passing the evening?" Why don't we spend more time talking about life instead of which restaurant we should try next? Is listening and caring something of the past? Did it ever exist? This is something I will think about today, as I am afraid I am as guilty of this as the next person.

Thanks for sharing your blog with me; I will look forward to the next entry."

Dear Friend,

Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and making such insightful comments. It seems that so much of socialization is merely passing time. I don’t tell jokes, not that I don’t enjoy hearing a good one, but I neither remember them nor see the point in retelling them. For the same reason, I don’t forward (or want) broadcasted emails containing jokes, advice, political views, warnings, etc.

Socialization is more challenging as we age. Our working lives are over, although some people still constantly talk about their former working lives as if they are still employed. Everything seems to turn to chitchat. But the kind of personal issues I try to write about are difficult subjects and maybe that’s why “blogging” is a more ideal venue for reflective thought and feelings. Working them out in writing, for me at least, gives them a level of meaningfulness and accountability lacking in conversation.

As to the “next entry,” that is one of my concerns. Once embarked on this path, there are expectations, mostly ones on my part. I’d love to write often but there are other conflicting interests, including my music and a stack of unread books. Eventually I will get around to other projects, mostly autobiographical. May they be worthy of your note.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wintry Moorings

Halyards slap
in the winter morning’s
northwest wind.

The boat yard
is a lonely place.

Hulls are awkward hulks
beached on parking lots,
stringers and fiberglass
settled on blocks and cradles.

Some boats still endure the water,
lines urging
finger slips to test pilings;
ice-eaters drone in the briny dark.

On land they are shrink-sealed in plastic
or framed under bulky tarpaulins,
riding out the wintry bombardment,
awaiting next summer’s voyages.

Others lay abandoned
by Captains who are no more

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Turning 65

Yes that is me, some 64 years ago.

Ever since I've received statements from Social Security or a retirement account I have seen the ominous words “you are eligible to retire December, 2007…” etc. When I first saw those words they seemed to belong to someone else, perhaps another person in the future? I never thought about retirement, turning 65, my future health, etc. as I simply loved working and never thought it would end. But, before I realized it, some aspects of my health deteriorated, work ended, and this week I turn 65.

I had thought 50 was a milestone but nothing really changes at 50 other than your age. There are no other markers such as the onslaught of statements from Social Security, Medicare and the endless solicitations for supplemental health insurance, reminding you, reminding you…ad infinitium.

Ann is planning a birthday party for me at our home with friends and relatives. While I look forward to that, the high point will be a musicale I will give, accompanying my friend, Kate, who sings pieces from the Great American Songbook, songs I love. I occasionally accompany her on the piano at benefit concerts in the Palm Beach area. Our brief selection for the party is:

They Say It’s Wonderful by Irving Berlin
So Far by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers
I Won’t Send Roses by Jerry Herman
Anyone Can Whistle by Stephen Sondheim
Thanks for the Memory by Robin and Rainger.

I’ll conclude with two solos, both for my wife, Ann (pictured with me at Looking Glass Falls, NC), without whom I would have never made it to my 65th birthday:

I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face by Lerner and Loewe
and Annie’s Waltz, which I wrote when I first met her. (Someday, when I figure out how to put a sound track on this blog, I’ll post a recording.)

At 50 one is forward looking, and at the prime of one’s life. At 65 one seems to be drawn back into the past. While I am not a naturally gifted pianist, I work at it and it is an important part of my future. Moving forward in some creative endeavor, I think, is the best anti-aging tonic. The little musical selection above has some my favorite artists, especially Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim. I will give you “my take” on the Great American Songbook genre at a later date.

When I turned 50 I wrote a poem that now seems more apt for turning 65 so I incorporate it below. It still expresses my feelings:


Faceless faces wander through his past:
at crowded airports and baseball games;
at conventions and business meetings,
lips, teeth and tongues articulating
understandings and arrangements.

And the faces marching in the
Memorial Day parade,
year after year after year.

Numbers of his life parading past,
some fractional and unmemorable
and others round and etched by
calendars marking milestones.

Friends from childhood
up and down the city street
and now in the suburbs or lost
elsewhere in the cosmos.

Adult friends too,
gradually fall away into the past,
documented by photographs in
albums no one ever sees.

His children move away into distant galaxies
with gravitational forces not
understood by him.

Do they carry his genetic message
to be read in another time,
across light years connecting the past and the future?

The random culmination of today
connected by geocentric lines
to all he has ever known,
translucent as a snowflake
falling to the ground,
this one life.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Politics as Usual – Where is a Leader?

It is that time of the year – political demagoguery to seek the presidential nomination. No wonder it is easy to become inured to politics. Not one candidate exhibits the qualities of leadership but, instead, each is busy tearing down the other, trying to appease every voter. Politics as usual. Leadership as usual.

Whatever you might think of John F. Kennedy, he knew how to articulate an objective and rally the nation behind his viewpoint, albeit he was also a crafty politician – perhaps one of the best in my lifetime.

The Cold War was at its peak when he took office and behind the guise of exploring space and shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, Kennedy threw down the gauntlet on May 25, 1961: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” It was a masterful stroke to rekindle American pride in the post Sputnik era and to establish a battleground in the Cold War (unfortunately, the other one being Viet Nam which was gradually being funded at the same time).

I remember how preposterous and unbelievable this objective seemed at the time, surely an impossible one to achieve. It was something more likely to come out of H. G. Wells or Jules Verne rather than the President of the United States. But I also remember sitting in an apartment on the upper west side of NYC with my future wife (Ann) on July 20, 1969 watching Neil Armstrong taking that “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

How does this relate to today’s Presidential race? Where is the candidate who says, “If you elect me I will dedicate our country to achieving energy independence within a decade.” And this must be the central message of our future leader as all other issues, and in particular the economy and the environment, stem from our addiction to oil.

I remember the GE science fairs that were given at NYC high schools in the 1950’s. The prototype of a solar power car was shown on stage and, then, when a spotlight was focused on its solar cells, the car slowly moved across the stage. It was proclaimed that this would be the car of the future in twenty-five years! The rudimentary technology existed even then, but as gas was 23 cents a gallon and we were able to produce the majority of our energy needs domestically, we did not need the backbone to commit our nation’s resources to alternative energy. And at that time we were unaware of the long-term effect of fossil fuels on our environment.

While the goal of putting a man on the moon with the decade sounded impossible in 1961, energy independence indeed will be impossible without committing to it as a national goal. Failing to achieve that will leave our nation hostage to foreign interests. We think we are fighting the war on terrorism in Iraq. That war is stealthy brewing closer to home as our dollar declines, foreign interests are buying up assets, and we continue to mortgage our future by borrowing.

Not only do we have to create better incentives for conservation, but we have to use, further perfect, and expand our proven nuclear, solar, fuel cell, hydrogen, and wind technologies not to mention the newer tidal and wave technologies. Honda has already produced a hydrogen car that gets 68 miles to the gallon, the only “waste” product being water Is anyone in Detroit or Washington listening?

If one of the presidential candidates ran solely on the platform of energy independence by 2017, he/she has my vote.