Wallets: A Personal Evolution

Every boy must choose to either embrace the traditions of his father or to throw them off; this dilemma represents the passage to manhood throughout the adolescence that extends into the thirties of American males today. Hence, it’s not uncommon for a man in his thirties, like me, to reflect upon the lessons passed on from the paterfamilias and to determine whether to continue abiding by the wisdom of the predecessors or to strike out in a new direction in search of one’s fortune and moral balance. Thus it was in my thirty-second year that I decided that I would no longer carry a trifold wallet, as my sire had before me; nay, I would embrace the bifold wallet.

My father worked as a carpenter and hunted small game on the city streets of Milwaukee to feed his family for years, and then he stacked food on a pallet in a warehouse to feed his new family. Throughout, carried a worn leather trifold wallet. I don’t remember what sort of wallet my grandfather carried, but I’d bet trifold. The trifold is shaped for the back pocket, for comfortable carrying by men who bend and lift and nail things for a living.

I got my first trifold in high school, a cheap fabric and Velcro piece of swag or garage sale splendor so that I could carry my student ID and the dollar or so I scrounged from my mother for lunch. It nestled the money tightly and comfortably with the extra security of the Velcro strip, its announcement of money spending rarely heard, for I skipped the cafeteria to gather those dollar bills where I could. I carried the wallet until a Christmas gift certificate let me purchase a real leather trifold wallet.

I wore that wallet and its two replacements throughout college and through the first ten years of my working life, when I acted as a retail clerk, as a shipping receiving clerk, and as a printer to pay for student loans and to keep a cheap car mostly running. I even carried them as my career arc accelerated into the information technology field, I got married, and we mortgaged a house.

The trifold signifies a certain protectiveness about the contents, particularly the money within it. The two flaps envelop the contents to guard and protect the funds from the callous outside world and the temptations it offered. Funds were scarce when I was growing up. One’s wallet needed a certain difficulty of access, also, to dissuade one from whipping out gas money or worse, a credit card, to spend frivolously. The trifold represented not only a style of wallet, but a way of life.

However, my life has changed since those hardscrabble days since my life became less hard and more Scrabble; I lucked into a position in the IT industry and became, according to all expectations of my youth, rich. Not only can I pay the student loans, the mortgage, and car maintenance, but I can do it without credit cards. I can get a twenty dollar bill whenever I want, and I can spend it.

The relative affluence combined with a new wardrobe imperative. Instead of worrying about comfort while lifting and toting, I had to worry about the fit of slacks, which meant to avoid an unsightly bulge in trousers. I began carrying my wallet in my front pocket in the world of business casual, and the trifold folded thickly around the security keys, collection of dollar bills, credit cards, insurance cards, and other assorted memorabilia that would somehow not include a picture of my beautiful wife. I wanted something slimmer and thought of the bifold wallet.

Of course, I initially rebelled at the thought, since we have always carried trifold wallets, but the thought returned until I considered it seriously. I liked the idea of a slimmer profile in the wallet, the easier fit into the front pocket of slacks and even jeans. So I found myself looking for just the right wallet in the department store, and in a moment of trepidation and emancipation rebelled against my upbringing and bought the bifold wallet.

The bifold wallet indicates higher class; it’s the top hat of men’s accessories. Barring the cape, monocle, and walking stick, it adds the élan and aplomb that people who stay or dine at the Ritz afford. Instead of guarding money, the bifold flips open easily, like a Star Trek communicator, so its bearer can effectively commune with the natives and so its bearer can access the lubricant of commerce and acquisition easily. I now bear the power and irresponsibility of relative upper middle class, outer-suburb but not over the-river affluence. When my beautiful wife lets me get that extra twenty dollar bill.

Book Report: Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman (1967)

As I mentioned in my review for Assassin of Gor, I bought this book at Patten Books to round out my collection of early Gor paperbacks. I paid $3.95 for it, which indicates how much I enjoy the fantasy series so far.

It’s fitting, I suppose, that I read this the most immediately after Assassin of Gor, as this book is the prequel. In it, Earthman is grabbed while camping by a spaceship and taken to a castle-like home of his father, another Earthman taken to Gor. He’s trained to be a Gorean warrior and is sent to the city of Ar to steal its home stone and to reduce its strength in the eyes of the other city-states on Gor before it becomes the dominant nation.

The book is shorter than the later ones in the series, and it reads almost as a tentative dip into the fantasy milieu. At the end, Tarl Cabot is returned to Earth and wonders if he’ll ever see Gor again. Of course, with forty years since the first novel in the series and twenty some years and twenty some novels gone by, we know he will. Still, I found it interesting to see the first try. And I’ve got number 2 around here somewhere; I know Ko-Ro-Ba, Cabot’s home city, will fall and Talena, his love, will be taken somewhere on Gor, but I don’t know how. Which is worth finding out.

The new (!) editions below are expensive; if you look around, you can find these books for a couple dollars each in used bookstores (in different editions). Yes, they’re paperbacks, but take it from your gentle author Brian J. that there are few authors for whom he’ll spend green on the paper. Norman is proving to be one. John D. MacDonald is the other.

Books mentioned in this review:


 

Billboard Draws Fire; Headline Alluding to Violence, Not So Much

Billboard where Ladue student was slain draws fire:

A billboard advertising the apartment complex where a Clemson University student from Ladue, Mo., was strangled with a bikini top is drawing criticism for its sexually suggestive images.

It shows a young woman in a spaghetti strap shirt smiling, with the word “Reserved” below her. A second photo shows a woman sporting a tattoo on her lower back, accompanied by a pair of fuzzy dice. It reads: “Not so Reserved.”

Yes, the billboard is tacky, but really, does the apartment complex have to avoid any mention of sex or bikinis for the rest of its existence to avoid offending the employees of charity where the woman in the murder worked? That’s a little too sensitive even for my bleeding little heart.

Meanwhile, AP headlines this story with a cliché based on a metaphor for actual firearm usage with the intent to kill. Do you think they were being clever, tacky, or merely clueless?

Clarification for Darbo and the Show Me Institute

Compatriot Darbo and I were recently talking about the privilege of working in the city, wherein I get to contribute a percentage of my income to the city’s varied featherbedding commissions, initiatives, and giveaways to developers. Darbo thought the payout was .5%, but I maintained it was 1%. I didn’t have a pay stub immediately handy to offer irrefutable proof, so we tabled the discussion.

Today’s column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by David Nicklaus proves us both right:

Unable to think of a better way of raising $130 million a year, St. Louis leaders have treated the earnings tax as a necessary evil. They listen sympathetically to businesspeople’s complaints, and then they draw up another annual budget that depends critically on collecting 1 percent of each worker’s earnings and 0.5 percent of each employer’s payroll.

So Darbo was thinking like an employer, and I was thinking like an employee. Typical.

Nicklaus is talking about some new study that would replace the earnings tax with a tax on land to replace the property tax:

Haslag’s study recommends phasing out the earnings tax, and phasing in the land tax, over 10 years.

His model suggests a 10 percent tax on land value, in addition to the current 1.44 percent tax on land and buildings, but Haslag says a lower rate might produce enough revenue to replace the earnings tax.

Over time, Haslag says, the new tax regime would do wonders for the city’s economy. The number of jobs in the city would double, and wages and property values would rise.

Wow, coming up with these ideas while on the public dime (the author is a professor at a state university). That’s like a whole other sort of featherbedding, but I digress.

Maybe the concept makes sense in the ethereal world of his projections versus the city’s projections, but it would never work in the real world, nor will it get implemented. Because face it, it shifts the tax burden from the poor proles who go to work every day and onto the landed barons for whom the city continues to suspend tax obligations and cosign loans.

No, the city of St. Louis will continue to fatten its coffers with the money from the powerless and redistribute it to the powerful. Except for its vigorish, necessary to keep the commissions and development initiatives going and to keep landowners and developers happy.

Of course, I’m just fermenting sour grapes here because I’m one of those faceless workers who comes in from the suburbs, gets a small portion of my fleece snipped, and goes home to a functional municipal government and public school system with actual attending students. Someone who has had the opportunity, or at least the offer, or maybe just the thought offered to buy land in the city, but who vowed to never do so, so I’m out of the running for a good city government rub down.

A Dozen Of Dimes

For not particular reason, I started thinking of songs that mention dimes. Including:

  • “My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen
    I was eight years old, running with a dime in my hand….
  • “Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart
    I’m shining like a new dime….
  • “Operator” by Jim Croce
    You can keep the dime.
  • “Raspberry Beret” by Prince
    I was working part time at the five and dime…

Okay, that’s not a dozen, but I do have comments enabled here. You help me round out the list, okay?

George Orwell Smiles Knowingly at the Concept of Space Missile For Peace

The Chinese know how to sound all the right notes: China tries to reassure the world on space missile ‘aimed at peace’:

China signalled yesterday that its first missile strike against an orbiting satellite was intended to force the US into talks aimed at abolishing weapons in space.

As it faced an international chorus of protest against its test — the first such launch for 20 years — its officials insisted that they wanted space to be free of weapons.

“As the Chinese Government, our principle stand is to promote the peaceful use of space,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “We oppose the militarisation of space. In the past, in the present and in the future, we are opposed to any arms race in space. Of this everyone can be confident.”

Obviously, the Chinese have been paying attention. Blowing stuff up as a precursor to peace plays well to the International Community of media and those who would be easily cowed.

Senator Durbin and Representative Biggert Support Barrier to Nothern Migration

Undocumented carp:

Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Judy Biggert have introduced legislation that would approve funding for a barrier to stop the spead of the Asian Carp.

[snip]

The carp have no natural predators in the area and threaten Great Lakes species by competing with local fish for food and habitat.

The legislation would authorize the Army Corp of Engineers to finish building a permanent barrier in the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal and study options to stop the fish.

Asian Carp: They just eat the grubs that American carp won’t. I know, some of you will point out that the nation’s carp are all immigrant carp, but that’s not important.

What is important is that the Democrats in Congress recognize the danger of unchecked influx from the south.

MfBJN Offers Its Only Comment on the iPhone

Steve Jobs has certainly recognized, so far, that the products and interfaces that most closely resemble the things we’ve been conditioned to expect from 40 years of Star Trek win, but I’ve got two words for him:

Voice Recognition

Touchscreen is nice on this little tricorder thing (what, you scan it in with the camera and run it through OS X applications and you’d call it something else?), but whomever gives me voice-activated wireless communication with my home network and through the firewalls to the Internet will win.

Whether it’s an affected A like the television show or a little Windows icon on the RFID on my chest that I tap remains to be determined.

Book Report: Robert Frost by Lawrance Thompson (1959, 1963)

Well, this book has certainly held up its cover price well. Sold in the middle nineteen sixties for a cover price of 65 cents, I bought it last weekend at a small book fair in the gymnasium of a small local Catholic church/school for fifty cents because it’s a paperback (hardbacks were a whole dollar). Aside from cars and homes from 1959, there’s probably not much that would have retained resale value like this volume.

Did I say volume? I meant pamphlet. This particular item represents #2 in a series by University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers. Its chapbook (5.5″ by 8″) format comprises 41 pages of text, saddle-stapled. So don’t think I labored over it for weeks. A couple of nights at 20 pages per night. I probably spent more time on Robert Frost’s In the Clearing when I read it (Two years ago? Already?).

Essentially, this volume presents one critical essay that includes some of Frost’s life and an interpretation of his work through 1959 (which did not include In The Clearing) in terms of its inherent contradictions between a heretic and his Puritanical upbringing who believes in the design of an angry God. Or at least a God whose workings are limited and inconsistent to the understanding of Man.

A good pick up for fifty cents, particularly if you like or read Frost. As any bit of criticism, it’s a level removed from what you get if you directly read the poetry, but if you’re like me, you encounter the poetry amongst the maelstrom of daily life and daily stresses–two years ago sometimes. A brief critical interlude, from someone who’s only life’s work was to read Frost’s material in its obra and to comment on it, can provide some additional food for thought. Not that I think it should replace your reading of the original or supplant your interpretations thereof. But it’s grist for the mill, or some other metaphor more relevant to the twenty-first century.

Apparently, this Thompson guy (the author) is the real deal, too. A quick perusal on Amazon of his works indicates a large body of work in covering Frost. Most came after this work, but it’s the same guy.

It’s only this particular volume that came out during the Eisenhower administration and was reprinted until Kennedy got shot. A later edition came out in the Johnson years. Sorry, sometimes I measure these books in their historical context for my own amusement.

Worth fifty cents? Why not? I’m a special sort of consumer for used books, and I don’t think I wasted my time or energy on this book. I bought three others in the series, so time will tell what I think of them. But this book did not discourage me.

Books mentioned in this review:


 

Book Report: Kiss by Ed McBain (1992)

This represented the rarest pleasure: An Ed McBain book that I hadn’t read before. I’ve read most of the 1980s/1990s/2000s Ed McBain books more than once. So even if I don’t recognize the title, a moment will come when I’m reading the book that I’ll click into recognition. And I’ll keep reading the book because I like Ed McBain.

This book, again, travels to the 87th Precinct, where a new black mayor has been elected. Of course, this would be the beginning of the Dinkins era in New York. You remember that, don’t you? No? Well, Giuliani sort of cleaned the town up and made the city safe enough that it could worry about banning smoking and trans fats. So when I read these books, I tie them to New York history of the time.

The book centers on a woman who has two murder attempts on her life. She goes to the police, and they track down the attempted murderer–her husband’s ex driver. In the meantime, the husband has hired an out-of-town private detective to protect her. But when the attempted murderer is murdered, the plot thickens. It looks like the husband might have hired the driver to kill his wife, but if he did, why did he hire an out-of-town private detective to protect her? We all see where it’s going, and I stayed on to watch it unfold under the masterful direction of Mr. McBain. I almost got the twist at the end, too.

Meanwhile, Kling has broken up with someone, so we know where the book fits in the sequence from that, and Steve Carella’s father’s murderer is brought to trial, so we know where it fits in the sequence from that. So even though I hadn’t read this particular volume, I still felt in touch with the master narrative.

Frankly, it’s encouraging to find a McBain book I didn’t read before; it means that not everything on my to-read shelves of known quality is a rerun.

Books mentioned in this review:


Government, To Help Students, Reduces Number of Student Lenders

The rah-rah:

The Democratic-controlled House voted overwhelmingly to cut interest rates on need-based student loans Wednesday, steadily whittling its list of early legislative priorities.

The legislation, passed 356-71, would slice rates on the subsidized loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent in stages over five years at a cost to taxpayers of $6 billion. About 5.5 million students get the loans each year.

The short term fix that will have unintended, and startlingly unforeseen, consequences:

The House bill aims to reduce the $6 billion cost by reducing the government’s guaranteed return to lenders that make student loans, cutting back the amount the government pays for defaulted loans and requiring banks to pay more in fees.

Let’s see, Congress has just:

  • Cut the profitability by limiting the upside (the interest) that lenders can make.
  • Increased the risk by cutting out the government “insurance” against default. Instead, those defaults will have to be covered with the reduced margin for error (the interest; profitability is just unused margin for error).
  • Increased fees that the lenders have to pay to have access to lowered profit potential and increased risk.

That’s the sort of fiscal and economic thinking that comes from not having to balance your checkbook.

So in 20 years, when student loans are harder to come by, the poor students will have to enter the workforce with naught but a high school education and, to those who can afford it, an Associates degree. To struggle, not make it very far, and vote Democrat.

Just kidding. The same people who strangle the privatesque solution today will determine that education is a right, like health care, and the government–they–should be the ones to fund it and mete it out.

Shrewsbury Licks The Tip Of Its Banning Pen

Pet German shepherd kills Affton woman

In response, the nearby municipality of Shrewsbury, the aldermen and mayor whipped out their special banning pen and began crafting an ordinance to ban German Shepherds, Germans, shepherds, and dachsunds (because they have a German name).

Except for police K-9 units, of course. Because the police can be trusted with German Shepherds, and the citizens cannot.

Wal-Mart Wreaking Havoc On Local Economy

Local family businesses are taking extreme measures:

St. Louis shoppers can expect to see more grocery prices fall as competitors react to Schnuck Markets Inc.’s move to cut what it charges for some 10,000 items.

“We’ve always been competitive, and we always will be. That’s the bottom line,” said Greg Dierberg, president and chief executive of Chesterfield-based Dierbergs Markets Inc. “We’ll react to any items that we need to.”

Are they providing better values for the customers in the region out of the goodness of their hearts or in cutthroat competition between the chains?

Of course not.

Schnuck Markets launched its aggressive pricing strategy on Sunday, ahead of what it sees as rapid expansion of Wal-Mart Supercenters into the St. Louis metro area. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., has more than 2,100 Supercenters in the U.S., including seven in the St. Louis market [sic, in that the story lacked a period]

Proof again that Wal-Mart is destroying mom-and-pop businesses and ultimately hurting the consumer. But it’s so subtle that you can’t see it unless you squint really, really hard until the very dust motes before your eyes become capitalistic monsters.

Book Report: Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows by Rod McKuen (1970)

In July (2006), I read In Someone’s Shadow to my son. Since then, we’ve been working on the innumerable inscrutable complete works of Emily Dickinson. So, to give him a break after a hundred or so, I read him this collection. Most of it, anyway.

Compared to Dickinson, McKuen is a breeze to read. I’ve done my share of coffee shop open mikes, so I’m familiar with the flavor of easy, first person emotional free verse. I understand the line breaks and can read them aloud with the self-conscious and self-important air of the turtle-necked hipster. That doesn’t make the poetry any better. As a matter of fact, it detracts.

Overall, although many of Dickinson’s pieces are riven with weird capitals, unfathomable line breaks, and often run to the simplistic, they’re built on imagery often whereas McKuen’s, like other poems by free versers of the era and all juvenile journaler poets moving into the English programs of today, rely upon the biographical poet narrator saying I did this or I did that or I loved you or I served in Korea. Sure, it’s cathartic for the poet narrator and it can speak to a subset of people who share your experiences directly, but the words don’t evoke the emotion through imagery. They report it in the idiom of the day.

Ultimately, it explains why so many Rod McKuen books are available at book fairs, I suppose.

(Oh, my, and I bought so many volumes at the Carondolet Y Book Fair this year. It’s going to be a long year of poetry-reading, gentle reader.)

Books mentioned in this review:


 

Book Report: Grifters & Swindlers edited by Cynthia Manson (1993)

No doubt, I picked this book up because I thought it was a compendium of true cases (back in the old days, I hoped to write for DamnInteresting.com and expected I would need constant pointers to interesting cases). But, no, this book is a collection of short fiction collected from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and was edited by the Director of Marketing for those two brands. Trying to extend the brand, you see, into some hardcover publishing dollars since Ellery Queen aren’t churning out the books like they used to.

The anthology collects its stories from a number of decades, so some seem dated (not that I disprove), but others are remarkably contemporary. As you might have noticed, gentle reader, I’ve returned to a fondness for short fiction because it lends itself to easy truncation of a night’s reading when I need to go to bed. Forgive me that I don’t enumerate the stories here, but I’m lazy. Overall, the book was entertaining and short and worth the buck I paid for it. There you go.

Books mentioned in this review:


Why Stop At Meddling With NFL Owners?

Hey, maybe Congress, following Diane Feinstein’s example, can give the Chicago Bears hope tomorrow:

    Durbin unveils legislation to start Griese at quarterback

    Sen. Dick Durbin introduced legislation today aimed at blocking the Bears from starting Rex Grossman on Sunday by giving the United States Senat the right to vote on all coaching moves.

    The measure, called the Bears Fan Protection Act, would require an exemption from common sense, which the United States legislature seeks to subvert instead of repealing entirely.

    Durbin, a Democrat who has claimed to be a fan of the Bears, was furious last week when he learned that the current Bears starting quarterback had admitted to underpreparing for the season’s last game, a loss to the hated Green Bay Packers. Some fans had questioned Rex Grossman’s ability as a quarterback, given his stunning meltdowns in certain games this year.

    “This legislation is designed to prevent coaches from inflicting suffering on fans, which leads to the financial and intangible costs of poor decisions,” Durbin said. “Our football teams are more than just businesses. They are a common denominator that cuts across class, race and gender to bond the people of a city. They are a key component of a city’s culture and identity. The city of broad shoulders should not tie its identity to a young, often injured quarterback prone to utter collapse when the pressure’s on. Instead, the city more properly reflects the spirit of a journeyman whose name looks a lot like ‘Grease’ and who’s probably somewhat rusty after a period of inactivity.”

    As an alternative, giving other NFL teams the right to veto an individual coach’s decision at least give the government the ability to lobby NFL owners to do what it deems politically suitable for its constituents.

    “We need to address the real costs imposed on communities by poor coaching that we have witnessed in the past 25 years,” Durbin said in offering his Bears Fan Protection Act.

The First 100 Hours: Democrats Nationalize Football League

Hey, Chavez is nationalizing Venezuelan industry and Illinois legislators want to run the electric companies, so why shouldn’t the new Democrat-run Congress jump into an industry in which its members have no knowledge and experience?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation today aimed at blocking the 49ers from leaving San Francisco by giving National Football League owners the right to vote on all franchise moves.

The measure, called the Football Fan Protection Act, would require an anti-trust law exemption.

Is it possible that our legislators take themselves too seriously, or is this evidence that they don’t take themselves seriously enough?

I mean, seriously, what’s the slogan here? “Government out of our bedrooms, out of our wombs, but into our sports”?

UPDATE: Added link to San Francisco Chronicle story about the actual legislation.