Wednesday, February 10, 2010


In the DC area in the wintertime, very occasionally two jet streams will converge, cold dry air will pour down from the Great Lakes and Canada while moist air will come up from the Gulf of Mexico. The two will spin together in a vortex, pulling down even more cold air from the north and moisture off the North Atlantic, sitting tight overhead for 24 hours or more and dump and dump and dump.

When I was younger, the storms from this convergence would always catch the weather forecasters by complete surprise, though they have begun to watch for it in more recent times. Some years we go without any snow all winter, other years we get
3 or 6 inches here and there. But when this happens, comes the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

About fifteen years ago I remember catching the train to work even though they were calling for a couple of inches and it had already started to come down. Once there, I went through my morning rituals, and talked with friends about office mates living nearby too chicken to make it in. I also stopped by the credit union to withdraw a large amount of cash. If I remember right, I needed it to close the deal on a second-hand tool purchase.

But the snow kept coming down, harder and harder, and the wind began to blow. The forecasters changed their story from a few inches to several inches to a major storm. One by one my co-workers abandoned their posts. .Finally our whole office was dismissed, as were most others. The streets quickly became impassable.

The train of course only runs at rush hour. I knew that the first train back, after 3, would be packed. So although the office was getting very, very quiet, I did not venture out until time for the next train.

But by this time in the late afternoon, the wind was howling, blowing snow, the temperature had dropped, snow had piled up in drifts, the streets had become deserted, even the plows had quit. I had boots. I had gloves. I had long underwear. I had a hat on under my hood. But it was cold.

I got to the station about 10 minutes before the train was due – I did not want to miss it. The station was locked and there was not a single other person around. I waited in a corner, trying to protect myself as much as possible from the biting wind. I stomped and shuffled my feet, closed my eyes, breathed lightly, and tried to remember as much as I could about Jack London.

When the time came for the train to come … it did not come. It did not come and it did not come and it did not come.

And I was just a little bit scared. I started to consider my alternatives. I knew no one was left at the office to let me in. I did not know anyone who lived nearby. There was one hotel I knew of but it was over a mile away and tromping through knee-deep snow and fighting that wind did not make that option appealing. There was one more train due in another 50 minutes.

I could burn the money in my wallet.

I prayed that the train, which had always been there for me, for years and years and years, even if sometimes a couple of hours late, would still come.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


One spring our boy scout troop participated in a "jamboree", a
camping trip and contest to show off our skills for all the troops in
the area. We all gathered on a piece of land adjacent to the CIA.
Two boys did get over the fence and into spyland, but that's another
The big shots organized inspections of our campgrounds, our
entrance ways, the monkey bridges or other rope constructions,
our cooking and our latrines. They also held contests on the
common area, such as a pancake-flipping contest. I was chosen to
represent us in the fire-starting contest.
Each contestant was given a small area to build a fire.
We were completely restricted to natural materials that we gathered
on site and we were given two matches. Our areas had been prepared
with two cotton strings at twelve inches and twenty four inches.
Our materials could not exceed the first string. We were each to
have, I think, 5 minutes to in which to burn away the second string.
Everybody went to work while the judge circulated. I was way
at one end, there were twenty or thirty contestants. I had carefully
prepared some green cedar branches and, underneath and inside,
some tinder from the shreddings of the cedar bark.
We all were instructed to light our matches at the same time.
After a couple of minutes the judge made his way down to my site.
By then, it already looked as though a few boys were going to be
successful but a large majority had already failed, probably for
lack of sufficiently small, fine tinder.
There was nothing but prodigious smoke coming out of my
green effort. The judge pompously proceeded to pronounce my
effort a failure in advance of the time limit. He patrimoniously
explained to me that green material would not burn, that I needed
to use dry material.
Just then, in the middle of his speech, four things happened
v.bery quickly.
First, the second string completely disappeared.
Second, the smoke disappeared.
Third, in its place suddenly burst forth the largest, biggest
licks of orange fire in the whole area.
Fourth, the judge stopped talking.

I was the first to burn through the second string. I was not,
however, awarded the first prize, because, the judge explained,
I had not done it according to the way he believed that it should
have been done. My frends and troopleader protested that I had
been ripped off but their protests were ignored.

The rest of my life is pretty much going along the same lines.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Structural Deflation

...must be Lloyd (God's Work) Blankfein's worst nightmare.

think about it ... suppose society gradually builds in an expectation that prices are gong to fall, like, say, 2% or 5% per year, forever.
Then what happens?
For one thing, people postpone important purchases - most especially real estate - for as long as possible, knowning that the prices are sure to come down.
Then, by the same token, they become very reluctant to borrow money to make a purchase because the loan balance could be expected to end up larger than the value of the purchase.
And, by the same token, banks and bankers become even more reluctant to make loans, because there would never be adequate collateral to make sure they were repaid.

It'll never happen here. We love you too much, Lloyd.

giggle ...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Evelyn Fields

I flatter myself to believe that, just a little bit, Evelyn Fields was my friend.

From time to time, she would come in to work out of uniform, wearing jeans or some old throw-on dress. I must admit, the first time that I caught her doing this, there was just the merest fleck of gold from her hat, peeking out of her purse, to clue me off. I quickly understood that this was a game … maybe the only pleasure she had in a very, very difficult position.

Because, of course, you know what happens. During the day, in uniform, she received stern, dignified respect from the white pot-bellied associate directors. But let her show up out of uniform and not even the guards recognized who she was. Instead, they would treat her the way they saw her, as some old black lady trying to take advantage of the system. And so she would be openly dissed.

And I? Well, I guess that I was the only little white boy to ever look her in the eyes, and see what she looked like, and recognize that little twinkle of an impish. boyish miscreant that she got when she knew she was making fools of them. I knew exactly who she was and what she was doing. She earned huge respect from me for the incredible rigidity that she had to display, without the faintest hint of a crack, whenever she was around other folk. Once in a while, we got to do silly stuff alone together in the elevator.

At the end of her career, when she announced that she wished to retire, she was asked to serve for six months more while they found a replacement. Reluctantly she obliged. And during that time, the application for promotion of my boss’s boss, among others, came to her desk. Perfunctorily she passed on it.

And at the end of six months, it came to pass that someone noted that those applications for promotion had not been passed on through Congress as was the protocol.
Don’t you know that after her brilliant career, after attaining a rank never before held by either a woman or a black person, and executing it with aplomb and grace, they had to find this petty, petty excuse to denigrate her and even demote her, after her retirement.

As for my boss’ boss, she was soon forced to leave the corps because she had difficulty keeping her mouth shut, at the dinner table. She stayed on in her position for many years afterward, in a most undistinguished role, bringing many a man to his knees begging, yelling, pleading, her to allow them to do some useful work.

So it goes.