Am I An Honest Man?

I have a choice to make.   I have known for days this choice  might come. The anticipation got me started wondering if I am on Honest Man. I then began to ponder what was the standard for being an Honest Man? Now I must choose . While my choice will not shatter the earth, it may shake my self-image.

What makes an honest man?  It is not that honesty is difficult to define. In my opinion honesty is more black and white than many other character traits.  dictionary .com got it right:

truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness
freedom from deceit or fraud
Saying what you sincerely believe to be true and not deceiving or committing fraud. Clear-cut, easy to understand…to a point. There are shades of grey.   To be an Honest Man must one always needs to be honest?  For if not always where do you dear the line. More than half the time feels inadequate. Is it even in the percentage of time? What about the magnitude of the lie or fraud? (BTW for the sake of this discourse I am setting aside those untruths we say to purely avoid hurting another’s feelings or to maintain marital bliss such as responding to “Do these clothes make me look fat?” or ” Am I funny?”)
If magnitude is measured in dollars or impact on another person”s life, again the standard becomes difficult to define.  If the fraud is small can one still qualify as an Honest Man? For example, if one chooses to pocket the few dollars a cashier mistakenly gives, is that dishonest?  Certainly it is the employee’s responsibility to do their job. You did not initiate the deceit you just chose not to correct it.  In fact you are doing a public service are you not? OK, not.
Anyways, honesty comes easy when the stakes are small.   The psychic reward for being honest often is often greater than the few dollars of gain. Does one need a large test to really know the extent of their honesty?  How far does one have to go to correct a mistake in order to be considered honest to the world or, more importantly in the court of self-introspection?

My dilemma, the choice, that began the quest to understand Honesty falls  into this latest category though the circumstance is a bit more complicated. Let me come back to the specifics. First let’s address the importance of  honesty about honesty at this moment in time.

First, this is personal. We all define ourselves.  I have never been Mr. Excitement, the Life of the Party, the Risk Taker, the Athlete.  I have always perceived myself and tried to live up to The Mensch, the person who does the right thing. Honesty is a core aspect of menschness. Am I honest all of the time? No. I try to be but am occasionally weak when  lack of honesty provides me with some advantage.  Yet I believe that I am honest the vast majority of the time. I definitely even desperately want people to know that they can trust me.  They might not agree with me but know I will be sincerely truthful.
Second,  like many politicians, I am concerned about the morality and values of people and the direction in which they are  headed.  ( I am putting aside from the conversation today the honesty of politicians. That would require an entire book’s worth of writing and more satire than I have time for. Between Jon Stewart and Stephen  Colbert one can find all one needs on that topic.) There are too many media reports of lies and deceit and the media only report on the smallest fraction of a percent of what goes on in the world. I am very concerned that people growing up in these times of high technology especially in terms of interpersonal communications.  The reduction in face to face and voice to voice communications I believe desensitizes us to the fact that what we do and say impacts real people.  Without strong  People to People connections can be  dishonest to a thing. The value of  honesty already falls further.. I am not some Luddite raging against technology I am just pointing out another factor reducing our tendency toward honesty.
I am sure  I do not have the big picture answers to what makes an Honest Man or how to make more of us Honest People. I do know that I have a dilemma.
Last month I bought an expensive camera lens that came with a $100 rebate. Knowing that I tend to forget to submit these on time i filled out the form immediately. In order to minimize fraud the lens company requires that you cut out a part of the box containing the serial number of the lens. There is only one of these. Otherwise, in theory, a dishonest person could send in multiple rebate requests.
I packed everything in an envelope but since I had no stamps the envelope sat in a jacket pocket — until one day when I was rushing to get out of a parking lot before the rates changed (it would have cost an extra $10) the envelope fell from my pocket. I discovered this much later. ( I will save for another post  the mixed emotions and how I beat my self up for hours. That has to do with other aspects of my twisted personality and nothing to do with being honest.)
The next day I called the lens company and explained my tale of woe to a very sympathetic employee. I went out of my way to explain that I understood the reason they require physical evidence of the purchase. That I was not looking to collect an an extra rebate just the one I had counted on when making the purchase. She had me scan and send the remaining documentation to her and said that she would do her best to get the rebate paid. She was true to her word and in a couple of weeks I had my check. At the time of our call we joked that maybe this envelope would be found (it was lost in downtown Chicago) and that the finder would even put a stamp on the envelope and mail it. Neither of us thought that this was a likely ending to the story.
Yet come New Years Eve Day, I received a letter from a man living in a small town in Wisconsin. He found and mailed my rebate on his vacation weekend in the Big City. I was floored. What a nice thing to do for a stranger.  I thought no more about it assuming that the lens company would notice the duplication and ignore the second rebate request.
Then in our electronically connected world I received an email from the company saying that my rebate has been processed and is in the mail. This email was almost identical to the one I had received 10 days before, shortly before my check had arrived. I said almost identical. The processing number was different and so I knew  a second check was on its way.
I had been mulling over this issue of honesty ever since it became a theoretical possibility. The email made it a high probability and the envelope I hold in my hand, presumably with a check inside, is the reality. This is not some random act of a mistake by some big faceless corporation. I had stated to a real person that I had no intention of defrauding them. She took me at my word. If she had not I would have been angry and frustrated. I was happy with getting what I deserved. Now I have more –and I don’t deserve it.  The devil on my left shoulder is saying that it will be more hassle than it is worth to return the check. After all, $100 will mean more to me than to some big corporation who should have had the systems in place so that this would not happen. Shame on them. I do not think that I need to tell you what the angel on my other shoulder is saying. Actually she is not saying a word knowing the greater impact this will have on me than a lecture about goodness would.
As I stated earlier what I eventually do will not be earth shattering. I am just not sure of the consequences to my little portion of it. If Diogenes walked through my house would he find what he was looking for?

Interesting Only To Me?

Often I see things that I find interesting. Far too often other people do not. Either I have a healthy dose of weirdness or I lack the communications ability to  help others grasp the same fascination that I do.

This is another one of those.

I am at the gym for my fortnightly workout. I belong to a fairly basic gym. It is a facility of Northwestern University. I like it because  both young  and old workout there.

So here I am getting ready to shower and I notice the “gym bag” the guy a few lockers away is using. It is not a bag at all. It resembles a piece of luggage more than anything else. Hard sided, it stands up and has places for everything. I can see shoes, a towel, and clothes all in neat compartments. For what its  worth the guy on my right seemed in his mid-sixties.

Yes I found this interesting. Why you may ask. Simple answer. Heck if I know.

Perhaps the contrast between this organized, structured, piece of gear and my own simple bag. My bag is a one pocket bag with only a small outside mesh pocket as an extra compartment. I got it free as a hand-out at a baseball game. It is the perfect size for me. I holds everything I need to bring. Yes, I sometimes need to search through it to find what I need.

The contrast is not only in the physical makeup of the two cases but in the life philosophies and styles of the two people. I am comfortable with  simple, low-cost, but effective things. As I approach my mid-fifties and have the wherewithal to have nice things if I want them I have begun to move away from old, worn out and unattractive items. But the simple life, and things, for me.

Even if it were free I would never use the case he used. Having said that I am all for individual freedoms and will defend to the death his right to bring a small suitcase into the gym no matter how it turns its back on several centuries of male gym going tradition.

The Value Of Time

“Yesterday is History, Tomorrow a Mystery, Today is a Gift, That’s why it’s called the Present”

Not sure whose quote this is. Sure time has value. It is a non-renewable resource and we either make something of it — or it’s wasted.

But calling time a present is spiritual and directional.  I seek order of magnitude.

Normally I do not have a basis for the dollar value of time.  I get paid a salary, but not an hourly wage. I allocate time to work as need and it tends to need quite a large portion of the available hours. I therefore value any time not working, especially vacation days.

So now to the point of this all. Between now and December 31, 2010 I know exactly how much a day is worth. For reasons that are not material to the story, my company will be cashing out any unused vacation as of the end of the year. I just found out a few days ago. Every vacation day I take between now and then is worth 1/260 of my base salary. I make a decent base salary.

I had some days off planned.  For example, next Friday to make a long weekend around our wedding anniversary. I knew the cost of the hotel and meals, etc., but now the money I forfeit by taking the day off will more than double the cost. Ok, its my anniversary.

But what about the wedding in Philly we are going to next month. Do we leave Friday or Saturday. Leaving Friday I not only have cost of the extra night in the hotel but I lose another day’s pay. The flip side is that I have friends in Philly I would spend the day with. How much is that worth?

Another day after Thanksgiving. Then my wife wants to take a week in December and go somewhere warm. If I wasn’t getting paid for left over vacation days in 2010, I would have considered this a good idea. The week’s pay I would lose would pay for much of the same trip taken in 2011.

I grew up in a family that counted pennies.  That formed my nature. I fortunately do not need to budget so closely. This is however real money and there are so many things we want to do to our house and I am still paying for college.

What’s the value of time? More this year than next. Curse my employer for doing something good.

To Do Or Not To Do. Now That Is A Question!


pronunciation   vey-key-shuhn

–noun. A period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday

The above taken from

I do not take enough vacation time — at least not enough for me. I work many hours and when not working there are many things to do for family, home, etc.

So when I do take vacation  I am conflicted. At the same time I want to do lots of fun things and do nothing in order to rest and unwind. (I also want to exercise, eat great meals and sleep a lot but lets stick to the two primary categories.)

To do or not to do.

In the workplace, the emphasis is on activity, on doing. The more that gets done (well) the better. There are limited workplace exceptions when contemplation leading to enhanced creativity can be both respected and viewed as necessary. The vast majority of the time we focus on doing.

Since work provides the money that sustains our lifestyle, though not our life, and we spend so much of our time working we tend to carry this propensity for doing into non-work time. Like vacation.

I just came back from eight days in Costa Rica. We knew that it was rainy season but given the complicated calendars of my wife, my son and myself, we had one window to go somewhere and Costa Rica has been on our list for quite a while.

We did do. We hiked in a cloud forest, white water rafted, rappelled down waterfalls, went zip lining above the treetops, kayaked on a river through mangroves, went on a guided tour of a national park and took two other hikes in the forests/jungles of Costa Rica.

And yet…

Only one of our activities was an all day event. Most days we left early in the morning and were done by noon or 1 pm. That potentially left a whole day to do more. And why not? Who knows when we will be back in this beautiful country.

There is an answer to why not. The answer is that both body and mind need some time of not doing to prepare it to do more later and more importantly to be able to fully appreciate the acts of doing.

Being in Costa Rica during rainy season can be a pain. One never knows when it will rain (though generally the mornings were sunny and the afternoons and evenings rainy)  But when in the afternoon? Some days as early as 1 pm and other days not until 4 or 5 pm. Sometimes it would rain intensely for an hour and stop and other times it would rain continuously.There are few indoor activities available since the outdoor ones are so plentiful and spectacular.

Being in Costa Rica during the rainy season can be sweet. Though you can try to fight it the rain provides a convenient excuse just to not do. It relieves some of the guilt of not chasing more activities. One day we hung out at the pool and the hot tub during the rain storm — made even easier by the presence of a pool bar. One can swim or sit in a hot tub during a tropical rain. You can’t get more or less wet.

One of my favorite evenings consisted of the three of us hanging out in the room from mid afternoon on. We alternated reading, napping and eating snacks. Rarely were all three of us doing the same thing at the same time. The room was quiet. We enjoyed just being together. We did not even go to dinner that night. No one was hungry enough and we were sooo comfortable that leaving the room was no option. I loved the rhythm of that night and the do nothingness of it all.

Yes there were a couple of days we searched out extra activities.  Sometimes it was worth it and other times maybe not. These were balanced by the quiet times. That to me is a vacation.

I find that more often in the hectic and sometimes stressful life I lead that not doing has become essential. Yet with an inexhaustible list of things to do, the question “To Do or Not To Do?” is always being asked.

Half & Half

Not Miami

Not Miami

I have mentioned more than once that I am a half empty kind of guy. I am more likely to envision what is wrong in a situation than what is right. That helps me in work. In life, not so much.

Here are this week’s half full/half empties:

Half Empty. I am leaving the cold Midwest for a Florida vacation but I need to get up at 4:15 am on a Sunday to get this party started.

Half Full. On the way to the airport the snow begins. Before I am out of Chicago 24 hours they receive and I miss 4 inches of April snow. For vacations, the weather differential is more important than the temperature where you will be.

Half Empty. I am in Florida after an on time arrival but the car rental and other related travel delay our arrival at the hotel by almost 3 hours.

Half Full. We are in Ft. Lauderdale. It is 85 degrees, we go to a biker bar/restaurant near the beach and then walk on the beach. It is an amazingly bland beach.

Half Empty. Did I mention we were in Ft. Lauderdale? Yes it is Florida and much warmer than Chicago. However, Ft. Lauderdale seems like the place people go when they cannot afford Miami, a mere 70 miles away but worlds apart.

Half Full. I am here to watch my son in his last high school baseball tournament. He is surprised I came, pleasantly I think, because I usually work rather than make all his games. But we stay at different hotels and I hardly get a chance to be with him.

Half Empty. I am on vacation but I need to work. In one case because a client knew they would need help months ago but waited until the last minute. Yes it is only a couple of hours a day instead of the 10+ I would work normally but I rarely get time just to unwind and enjoy myself. Therefore I rarely enjoy.

Half Full. My son led off the first game with a hit but was caught stealing. He went two for three and played well in the field. We lost 7-1 to a superb team from Florida. They have already played almost as many games as our season will be.

Just Plain Empty. My son’s coach is terribly organized causing parents to be running around doing last minute errands and spending far more money than was promised.

Just Plain Full. I am in the same city as my son sharing the last parts of his high school life before he steps into the next phase of becoming a man. I could not be here but I am.

Groundhog Day: A Classic

Not the holiday, the movie!  To quote a line from the movie, the actual Groundhog Day is “A thousand people, freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat.”

The 1993 movie on the other hand is a masterpiece of romance, comedy and philosophy with the emphasis on philosophy.

I have no idea how to organize a description of this classic movie so I am going into stream of consciousness mode. (This technique was first employed by Édouard Dujardin (1861-1949) in his novel Les Lauriers sont coupés(1888) and was subsequently used by such notable writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner.  So stream of consciousness is a valid literary technique. I am sure most regular readers are trying to figure out when I use any other technique. But I digress.)

To me, Bill Murray is Cary Grant without the devastatingly good looks. Both have brought broad and dry comedy as well as dramatic acting to their work.  Murray has the relative disadvantage as a leading man in that he does not look like Cary Grant. Therefore he needs to work harder to make it believable when he  wins over the beautiful woman as he does with Andie MacDowell’s character.  He has to transform that man-child cuteness into a beautiful soul. Harold Ramis, the c0-writer-director, provides the dramatic technique of repeating  the same day over until the transformation occurs.

Is there humor? Mais oui. It is a Bill Murray vehicle. The humor though is generally dry and does not overwhelm the movie. This is not a joke-off. For me this is the type of humor Murray does better than almost anyone. It manifests from his vocal tone and  facial expressions.

But it is the philosophy combined with the humor that makes me love this movie. How would you react if you were doomed to repeat the same day over and over and over again never knowing if there is an end? What would you do if you had one day to do anything you wanted to do? Would you use the time to become a better you?

Ramis and Murray take us on a magic ride of emotions. First, disbelief. Next annoyance. Then the  first major breakthrough. Phil, Murray’s character, realizes the sense of freedom that comes with knowing there are no consequences to what you do today. This leads to wild risk taking. However after several days even the thrill of car chases and death defying stunts becomes ordinary.

Phil moves on to excess for the sake of excess. There is a great scene where he has platefuls of food in front of him and he stuffs pastries in his mouth between puffs on a cigarette. Worried about cholesterol? Of course not.

Next comes days of anger, in which a montage of alarm clock destruction occurs. Then comes the second breakthrough. While the rest of the world resets, he remembers what he has learned. Knowing that he can use information learned on the last repeated day to your advantage in the next one first leads to the equivalent of parlor tricks by an amoral man. He picks up an attractive woman, he allows someone to step into a deep puddle he had been stepping in, and then finally tries over days to win over Rita, Andie MacDowell’s character.

Phil sincerely wants Rita but he is still an amoral jerk above all else. Each day uses something he learns about Rita to make it further with her but ultimately his lack of true sincerity means that every day ends with a slap in the face. Slap after slap after slap.

Next comes the suicides. electrocution, jumping off a building, being hit by a truck and the piece de resistance. He steals Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog and after a long car chase does a Thelma and Louise off a cliff–and gets a laugh.

The final breakthrough is when Phil finally pays attention to an old beggar man that he had passed every day. After an act of charity, his first, the man dies. For several repeat days Phil tries harder to avoid the death but to no avail. This seems to set him off on a quest of self improvement and helping others that leads to the final Groundhog day. I will not attempt to describe all that happens that day other than to tip my hat to Ramis and Murray. This day needs to be seen. I guarantee many smiles. At the end of the day Phil’s transformation is complete.

Beyond the philosophy and humor, Ramis brings several cinematic structures to the film that demonstrate advanced movie making. There is the quick cut repetition from day to day that strings together days into a single scene. There is the filming of the digital alarm clock as the numbers turn from 5:59 to 6:00 am signalling to Phil and to us the rebeginning of another Groundhog Day.  He also makes each day seem the same and yet just a little different. You begin to feel Phil’s personal hell.

Andie Macdowell is attractive as always and her minimalistic acting style is the perfect counter to Murray. My favorite Andie MacDowell moments are when she begins to smile, pulls it back and then smiles again.  

Clearly in 1993 Bill Murray is somewhere as an actor between Meatballs/Stripes/Caddy Shack and Lost in Translation. This is some of his best work as an actor and comedian.

It is a movie that you can enjoy watching over and over and over again.

4 Stars.


I do not make New Years resolutions. I never keep them and if I need to do something better or stop doing something I am not the type that needs an artificial start date.

However, before the holidays the word Generosity popped into my head. I resolved to consider this as a resolution. I decided to try it out without announcing it to anyone but myself and see how well I do. I am failing so far. Thankfully there are 49 weeks left in this year and, hopefully, many years left in my life to get this right.

So, what do I mean by generosity? Certainly the monetary definition holds. I will try to contribute to charities at least at the same level I have in the past despite the damage done to my retirement portfolio.

There is also generosity of time. Especially as it relates to my son who will leave for college in the fall I want to give as much time as he will take. I will also for the rest of my life need to make time for my autistic sister who is not dealing well with the death of our mother and needs as much family time as possible. I need to find more time with my wife. It will be just the two of us in the house starting next year and we should start finding more things to do together now. The other time issue will be others who may need a moment or an afternoon or even a day of my time that will make their lives better. Figuring out where this time will come from given a fairly packed schedule will be challenging.

However important money and time are I believe they pale in comparison to generosity of spirit. By this I mean being more aware of what and how I say things to people as well as how I interpret their words and actions. It also means sharing emotions which I often keep bottled up. This facet of generosity will be the most difficult for me. I find that I am programmed to respond to certain people and circumstances based on years of history. I am short or condescending to people including people I care about–especially people I care about. A scientific 6 week study of ME has revealed that even though I am aware of the desire to be generous of spirit I often fell into familiar traps. I liken it to having one of those out-of -body experiences in which I hover over my self and watch myself speak in ways I know are wrong. Good thing that I am perfect in all other ways!

So I have decided to go public with this Generosity thing so others can hold me accountable as part of my plot to be successful with this endeavor.

I am also offering it up to the rest of the world.  Generosity of spirit, time and money could go a long way to making this a better place to live.