Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Compensation

After checking a few direct resources I have determined that the average teenage babysitter, lacking a high school graduation, earns about $8.00/hour. If they worked 40/week and 50 weeks/year their annual income, before taxes, would be $16,000.
Keeping that in the background I would posit this thought: my wife, talented, highly educated, elegant, lovely, personable, mature and dedicated taught art to elementary age children in a private school. She also arranged all the bulletin boards every month and arranged her classes to coincide with the current curriculum each class level was experiencing – an ever-changing challenge. For this she earned – at the peak of her career – about $25,000.
She had about 15 students per class and taught 24 classes per week. If she had been paid the equivalent of a teenage babysitter the numbers would look something like this: 15 students x 24 classes x 40 weeks x $8.00/hour = $115,200.
Conclusion – your babysitters are being over-compensated

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gentle Reminders

In the hubbub of daily life and maturity I have noticed that issues and individuals that formerly irritated me seem to dissipate and flow off into the ether of ‘old news, apathy or forgiveness.’ Issues of more immediate need come in and usurp the all-important resources of energy and concentration. Perhaps an excellent example of this phenomenon is my perception of former President Richard Nixon. I never personally held him up to much harsh scrutiny but many did and I never begrudged their judgment given his fatal fall from grace and the bizarre decisions he made that led to that fall. However, through the lens of time I continue to admire his intellect, wisdom in foreign policy and political savvy (bad decisions and all.) May it also be remembered, after more than 15 years of prolonged fighting in Vietnam under the guidance of JFK and LBJ, who it was sitting in the Oval Office when our troops finally came home.
I use this example as a preamble to the fact that I have been reminded in recent weeks how repulsed I am by Bill Clinton – and his wife. I have stated in previous journals how I have regretted the 2 most recent presidential votes I cast – not so much the first one in 2000 but certainly the vote in 2004; both, of course, for Dubya. In almost every way since his powerful leadership in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks I have found him to be frail, inept, off-the-chart partisan, almost illiterate, surrounded by hawkish imbeciles and without a compass. During these past 6 years I have even secretly longed for a bit of Bill Clinton back in charge – if only to oversee the economy and markets.
But oh – how I have been reminded in recent weeks of the egotistical, arrogant, lying, despicable, snake-tongued, power-hungry, slimy, elitist, angry, do-anything-to-win politician that he is – and his wife. God forbid they ever live on Pennsylvania Avenue again. 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Low View of High Tech

The Midwest and Midsouth sections of our beautiful USA have recently been subject to irrational and destructive weather. Tornadoes have been the primary culprit. In middle Tennessee, where I have lived for 30 years, tornadoes that reek havoc are rather recent phenomenon. However, when the skies turn green and black at 2:00 PM or 2:00 AM we have learned to seek information. Most of us turn on our televisions. This has become far too helpful. Suddenly we have been introduced to maps that can pinpoint the wind sheer, rainfall and barometric pressure in our driveways. This is troubling, tedious, intrusive and very difficult to watch or process. These idiots, who can never predict the weather correctly, have now been given software that enables them to tell us exactly where the funnel cloud is about to touch ground. They can identify rural roads, addresses, specific times, storm direction, lightning strikes and wind speed. Their hands dance around the screen focusing on this and that county, town, village and street while they continue an annoying, monotone litany of times, locations and warnings. ‘If you are in the Temple Road area south of I-65 within the Green Spring Development you should prepare to take shelter at 7:48. If you are in the Temple Road area north of I-65 you should prepare to take shelter at 7:49.’ And so on until, minute-by-minute, they have bored us all the way to the North Carolina line. At some moment in the near future I am anticipating a warning that says, ‘Thom Schuyler, put down that beer and get into your garage or you and your family will die.’ These instruments should be taken away from them immediately. There was nothing at all wrong with loud, blasting horns placed strategically about the tornado plane. You hear the blast, you go to the basement or, as the idiots say, ‘Go to an interior room or closet away from windows.’ 
Sadly, the same geeks who created this weather software seem to have expanded their market into the newsroom. During this current primary election (2008) several broadcast networks have introduced a variety of high tech maps to illuminate what all their talking heads could not do by their biased and insipid word of mouth. So they slap up a map of Pennsylvania and some well-dressed monkey begins to touch his finger to the screen and pull up the counties surrounding Philadelphia and he says, ‘For Obama to win here he will have to inspire at least 67% of the African-American vote in a minimum of 38 districts. Let’s look at the districts likely to swing for Obama.’ And then he hits the screen again and there is a close-up of all the districts in Delaware County. ‘If he were able to sustain in these districts – especially these 19 (monkey taps screen and it zooms in) and Senator Clinton loses any ground in the west (monkey taps screen and highlights Pittsburgh area) there is the possibility – slight as it may be – that Senator Obama could solidify the nomination in Pennsylvania. Of course, if southeastern Pennsylvania – and let me highlight this on the map (monkey makes semi-circle on map and it illumines the section he has cordoned off) stays historically mainline Democrat, it will be an uphill battle for Obama. This (monkey points to map) is Hillary country. For instance, if this white truck driver residing at 1073 Avondale Street in Scranton (tap screen and zoom on a guy walking to his mailbox) casts his vote for Senator Clinton and this black construction worker who lives at 422 Lebanon Avenue in Valley Forge (tap screen and zoom on a guy cutting his lawn) sways to Obama, the whole thing is up for grabs.
One can only hope that a tornado would rush into every local and national newsroom and destroy these implements; sweep them up in a whirlwind of logic and decency. Perhaps this evening at 8:16 PM.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Boss on The Boss

The following statement appeared as the opening sentence in a newspaper article yesterday: “Rock star Bruce Springsteen endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president Wednesday, saying ‘he speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years.’” Although this helps put things into perspective I will not make a final decision about my vote until I hear from Rosie O’Donnell.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The First Coming of Christ

The Baptist church in which I was raised and reared had a very pronounced interest in The Second Coming of Christ. I recall hearing about it as far back as I can remember. There seemed to be a preoccupation with books, sermons, articles and studies focused on the imminent return of Jesus. This sweet and very working-class congregation seemed to be cheering on this event and I became both fascinated by and afraid of this looming, end-of-the-age spectacular.
As early as 1962 I was being introduced to the very intricate grids and timelines that seemed to show a pattern of dates and circumstances that had been predicted by the Old Testament Prophets – circumstances, I was taught, that had to be in place prior to the Second Coming of Christ. They seemed to revolve around lengthy, peculiar and cross-referenced passages in Daniel, Joel and The Revelation of John. There were lots of angels, strange beasts, pronouncements, an Antichrist, a Whore of Babylon and a host of armies, demons and bizarre happenings. My mind embraced these fantastic images and new interpretations of these ancient, prophetic writings seemed to keep tumbling forth into the landscape of the 1960’s. An early zenith for this apocalyptic fascination seems to have been the 1970 publication of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth – the biggest-selling book of the 1970’s having sold, at this writing, over 25 million copies. Lindsey presented one of the first overviews of the pre-millennial return of Christ for the ordinary reader. It is a wild and plodding projection of the complicated conclusions Lindsey (and others) reached while poring over the aforementioned sacred texts. These projections span (roughly) from the time of Daniel’s prophetic writing (about 600 B.C) making a few historic stops along the way until they reach the prime and pivotal moment of the modern day formation of the State of Israel in 1948. From that point forward LGPL details many events in our current era that Lindsey links to specific, Biblical passages, not the least of which is the creation of a European Union of governments. Significant events still yet to occur are the rising up of this Antichrist (predicted to be a political figure who will serve as the leader of the European Union,) the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple on its original site, the rapture of believers (wherein the righteous are mysteriously transported into the heavens,) an international war on the Plain of Megiddo (Armageddon) and the triumphant return of Jesus to the earth.
As a young person – a child, really – all of this made me shiver to the bone. For instance, what if my Mom and I got raptured while Dad was out playing golf? What about my best friend, Rick and his Mom, who were Catholics and pretty much considered to be on the side of the Antichrist? What about the dreams I had about going to college, teaching school and having a family? Why does Jesus have to come back now right as my life is beginning? Selfish? Yes. Real thoughts? Absolutely.
As I’ve matured I’ve kept a more than curious eye on the development of this worldview. In some corners of Christendom the preoccupation with the topic has increased; bookstore shelves are full of reinterpretations but they all basically rehash what Lindsey laid out in his 1970 watershed volume. (Lindsey, himself, continues to write books and has appeared on countless radio and television shows further defining and updating his views.) But mercifully, I have come to a certain peace about the last things. I suppose that I have perceived in my spirit that it is the message of Christ’s first coming that needs to be honored. And, when His feet once again touch the Mt. of Olives, God forbid that we be found reading a copy of Left Behind.   Let us, rather, be caught in the act of giving a cup of water in His Name.

Gutter Balls and Boiler Makers

In recent days the candidates vying for the nomination of the Democratic Party for president of these United States have been filmed and photographed engaged in activities very common in The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: bowling and drinking. As a Pennsylvanian by birth I have been most moved by this ‘stooping to conquer’ the votes and loyalties of the citizens of this most worthy Keystone State. Should it be that I was an advisor to either of these campaigns I would urge each candidate to participate in a few other activities that would surely enhance their image in the hearts and minds of these fine people.
For instance, after bowling with the guys on league night Barack should stop into one of the private watering holes in one of the former steel or coal towns that dot the landscape. These are not country clubs; these are dark little bars where (as the bartender said to Clarence the Angel in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’) ‘they serve hard liquor to guys who wanna get drunk!’ These fellas will not be wearing madras slacks and argyle sweaters talking about the condition of the sand traps. They will be cops, fireman, former steelworkers, teachers, bus drivers and electricians. I will take Barack as my guest and we can slide a stool up to the very smoky bar and order a shot and a beer for $1.00. This will be the first of many rounds – most of which will be purchased by the guys sitting next to us or by the bartender. In this environment Mr. Obama will hear, first-hand, what the people really think about him, Hillary, McCain, Bush and every other politician that ever lived: They are a bunch of sorry-ass sons-of-bitches. The only good news for Barack is that these folks will be mostly Democrats because few of them could secure a job without a union membership. About 2:30 AM we will eat a couple hard-boiled eggs floating in beet juice and maybe a few Slim Jims. No concerns about getting up for work in the morning because there are no jobs, thanks, in large part, to the unions.
The next day I would advise Hillary to get behind the wheel of a 1989 Ford Festiva, stop for $2.00 of gas (a half gallon) and head down to the unemployment line where she will be greeted with impatience and rudeness. This will be lovely and effective.
After Barack shakes off his hangover I will remind him to go to the post office to pick up his pension check from the Bethlehem Steel Company. Upon arriving at the post office I will tell him that I was just kidding about the pension check because Bethlehem Steel actually went bankrupt and 100,000 former employees and their beneficiaries were left with nothing. Should he bother to ask me how this could have possibly occurred I will say, ‘It was some poisonous brew concocted from equal amounts of cheap foreign competition, union demands, greedy management and government malfeasance. Thanks for asking.’ 
Following the unemployment visit I would guide Hillary to The Goodwill Shop to see if they have any cheap pantsuits to enhance her wardrobe.
At some point I would pile each of them into the Ford Festiva and drive up and down portions of Route 22 – maybe make them drive all the way across the state – counting potholes, detours, state highway workers and deteriorating roadside diners. I’m thinking a photo-op of the two of them changing the inevitable flat tire would be stunning. (Somewhere near Harrisburg I will coordinate circumstances so that Governor Ed Rendell is also in the picture using a jack.)
Come to think of it, now that Loud Mouth Ed is in tow it is appropriate that we make a stop at one of the new casinos built in his image. Let’s head back to the Lehigh Valley – to the Little Town of Bethlehem, in fact - and play some slots. This will show concern for the economy. If we time it just right we can get a few photos snapped before the whores and thugs wander into the frame.
Surely we should visit the Liberty Bell, grab a cheese steak at Pat’s and actually run up the steps of the art museum like Rocky Balboa. Off through the fields of Valley Forge we’ll go and then slip through Lancaster and on into Paradise. Out past the ghosts of Gettysburg and north we’ll gaze at Three Mile Island and then drop down into Johnstown. Heading west we will pass through Shanksville and travel the expanse of Pittsburgh’s mighty rivers sans those nasty old steel mills. If we listen closely we will hear the shouts of the Molly Maguires, the cries of the rebellious whiskey makers, the agony of the striking steel workers and the hymns of the Moravians. We’ll walk through the sanctuary doors of one of thousands of churches and cling to our Bibles and our Rosary beads. We’ll stand in the middle of 200,000 acres of wilderness and cling to our deer rifles. We’ll drink from a Dixie Cup, take notes with Crayola Crayons, jolt our energy with a Hershey Bar, clean and jerk a York barbell, pound a 6-pack of Yuenglings, explode some Peeps in a microwave, play with a Slinky, fly a kite with a key on the tail, visit the Jimmy Stewart Museum or tour ‘Fallingwater.’ 
Yes, there’s lots to do in Pennsylvania but, as our leaders know so well, we’re just too busy bowling and drinking to be bothered. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No Country For Old Men

I am going to turn 56 in a few months (June of 2008.) That makes me a lot of things: a Gemini, a baby-boomer in the prime of life and an over-the-hill songwriter. I have lived more than half my life in Nashville, having moved here at the age of 25 to do the only thing I wanted to do: write songs – and have someone sing them. Although I am delighted that this has happened from time to time in the past, I am saddened and perplexed that it happens no longer.
Vince Gill, a most gifted gentleman I consider a friend and colleague, wrote and performed a song called Young Man’s Town. It is a poignant tune about the moment one begins to realize that they’ve drifted outside the inner circle – that what they do (and often do so well) – is no longer recognized as worthy; that they have aged beyond relevance and been replaced by a youngster with a better look, a hipper attitude and a younger sound. In my case this realization was accompanied with appropriate amounts of anger, envy, incredulity, sadness and eventually, acceptance. 
It is inevitable, of course; it happens in every aspect of our lives. However, the issue I put forth here is a bit complicated. You see, in most businesses folks will work for 30-40 years, steadily progressing in their companies until retirement comes at the age of 60, 62 or 65 – typically at the peak of their earnings. They’ll get a watch, maybe a cruise and a pension. For songwriters it’s a different story. With few exceptions the peak of a songwriter’s career – assuming, that is, that they ever have a career - may last 10 years. If a successful writer takes advantage of his or her moment in the sun and saves some money during their productive era, things can work out reasonably well. Then again, truly successful songwriters are scarce – rare individuals, indeed. Songwriters are self-employed, responsible to make quarterly payments to the IRS, pay for their own health insurance, answer to their own decisions regarding investments and, as a group, have no right to a collective bargaining agreement.
But, that’s not the real issue. The real issue is this: unlike athletes, most gifted songwriters improve with age. Their skills are honed, intuition more reflexive, insight keener and their sense of wisdom deepened. What they lack is the piss and vinegar and endless energy of youth – that audacious, internal mantra that says, ‘I don’t give a shit what you think, I’m the best there ever was!’ Although the mantra may still be playing quietly in their souls it lacks the combustion it had in the early years. 
So, we sit now in small gatherings of our peers, lost in recent memories of fleeting success, talking smack about the state of the music, telling each other ‘It’ll come around again,’ knowing it will not. We replace the beautiful nakedness of a guitar, a pencil and a blank sheet of paper with a stack of technological gear far beyond our ability to use adequately and pump out drum loops, bass patterns and synthesizer pads as if in some freakish Mayan ritual calling up visions of youth, vigor and energy. In so doing we taunt and tease the modest gift we may have been given and it begins to retreat. If we are fortunate and perceptive we will be humiliated back to our senses when we realize that the rhythm pumping from our speakers has created an audio environment that can only be defined as a vacuous shit hole and we are sitting in the middle of it. And so we turn off all the gadgets, power down the computer and bang at the gates of our meager talent begging to be allowed back in.
Oh Mercy, let me in again - There is no country for old men