Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Remembering The '"Rath"

My air conditioning is out.

Considering the time of year it is, things could be worse. The forecast calls for dropping temps, so I probably won't be using it this week, anyway. I ran it yesterday just to test it and things didn't go well, so The Guy is coming tomorrow to take a look. If Sully can land a plane in the Hudson, I can go without a.c. for a week.

Still, it's a little muggy in the house, especially in the back bedroom where I take my afternoon nap. The conditions today took me back to Madison, Wisconsin circa 1988. It was the summer of my senior year, and I was taking a couple of classes. It was the final six credits that I needed for graduation. I even remember the classes: World War II and some class that dealt with nutrition. It had nothing to do with my major, but all my requirements for a degree had been fulfilled, so I took two classes that were both of ease and interest to me.

I didn't work in the summer of '88. My parents were cool that way. That said my job was college. Do well at college, then move on to the "real world" (They loved to say that. Believe me, it's true). With two three-credit classes I was never bogged down with too much work (home or otherwise). I was smart enough to realize that the Real World was fast-approaching: September of 1988. I better make the most of it.

The University of Wisconsin is a beautiful campus, surround by four lakes. On the shores of Lake Mendota sits the Memorial Union, one of UW's most historic buildings. The biggest room was the Rathskeller, gathering place place for professors, aspiring intellectuals, drunks, and me. Days like today remind me of afternoons spent at the Rathskeller. I didn't have air conditioning at my Madison loft, so on days that were too warm to swelter inside, I would walk down to the Rathskeller for a pint or two. This was a healthy walk, probably 2-3 miles from where I lived, but the walk always built up a nice thirst. There were plenty of tables on the outdoor terrace with outstanding views of the lake.

Midday afternoons were never that busy, so I'd order a 24 ounce cup of beer (Miller, I think), buy some pretzel rods (a nickel apiece back then), and take a table. From there, I would do nothing. I'd watch the water. I'd overhear nearby conversations. I'd take some crushed pretzels and feed the ducks that would come to shore (the Union folk frowned on that). Hours would drift by. Every time I thought about going home, I would remind myself that September of 1988 was coming fast and go get another beer. Every so often the Union would have live music outside, mostly jazz. Sometimes I'd come across a friend, which would lead to another round. Then another. More pretzels, please. It's as good as it sounds.

Surprisingly, I handled my beer better then than I do now, so waking up the next day never provided any real complications, and the memories of the night before were always crystal clear. I've been employed by the Real World for over 20 years now, complete with all the rewards and heartaches associated with such a promotion. I'm not a dumb guy, and I realized that my time spent on the Memorial Union terrace sipping tepid Miller High Life was time well spent, some of the best times ever. I'm nostalgic for that time, while fully embracing what I have today.

I hear the pretzels are .25 now.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Failure IS an Option

So I'm sitting here watching bits of Conan O' Brian's interview from "60 Minutes" last night. What a guy. He says he wouldn't have done what Jay Leno did. All Leno "did" was rescue the 11:30 time slot for NBC, make the network a whole buncha money, and please a lot of nervous stockholders. That's a pretty good trifecta. What did Conan do? Get bought out to the tune of 20 million dollars, use the publicity garnered from the very public fight with Leno to launch a summer stand-up comedy tour and get paid big bucks for a show later this year on TBS (which will do well in its first week, then fall back to more "Conan-like" numbers).

Simply put, Conan was the loser and made 20 million dollars because of it. He delivered an inferior product to the consumer, who went and bought something else. Price for losing? 20 million dollars. We should all be so lucky. That's the way it is these day. Lose and go home? No no no. Losing has never been more lucrative. Losing is in.

Sure, for the longest time, the worst teams have gotten the best picks and then landed (if they did their homework) the best players to help them improve. Now, losing is in vogue just about everywhere. Signed a mortgage you can't handle anymore? No problem. Banks are now forced to make you a better deal. Close to 50 percent of people don't pay taxes. 50 percent! This means 50 percent of people pay taxes for services that 100 percent of the people use. Nice deal if you can get it. Funny how the more you've screwed up, the more bad decisions you've made, the bigger, more luxurious boat seems to pull up to take you to a safe harbor. A ship that I paid for.

I'm doing things the way they're supposed to be done, right? When the bill comes, I pay it. When something breaks, I fix it. When I marry someone, I don't cheat. The number of people at work who help me do my job better is...0. If I can't do my job to the best of my ability without anyone having to help out, get someone else in there and turn me loose.

Come to think of it, maybe that's the way to go. Losing has rarely been closer to winning than it is today.