Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Odds & Ends Day

I'm writing on the fly today, at the intersection of two major projects, and so we'll be brief. But I just couldn't let a second consecutive weekday go by without reaching out and touching y'all...

A Sign of Things to Come. One of my favorite bloggers, D.C.-based political maven Josh Marshall, has just posted an appeal for funding that I hope will become the wave of the future. He'd like to cover New Hampshire's all-important presidential primary exlusively for his Talking Points Memo. But in order to do so, he's asking for direct financial support from his audience. Think of it as the equivalent of the Catholic's second Sunday collection--the first for general church/parish/school expenses, and the second for a more specific initiative. I plan to drop a few sheckles into his pot, not only as a reader and admirer, but because he's been so generous with his time in helping me think about revamping my blog...

Sobering Stats. Need a visual to bring the presidential money race into focus? Here it is. As stunningly successful as Howard Dean has been, he's still got some racing to do before catching up with the Bush money machine.

Who Says Economists Can't Write? Practitioners of the so-called "dismal science" of economics are generally teased for their deadly dry manner, and were once thought to be congenitally bad writers. But Paul Krugman is helping put that old notion to bed. Closer to home, the Weatherhead School's Marcus Stanley shows that he has a nice flair for pop culture coverage with this spry piece about Ahhnold in the consistently excellent online zine Flak.

More Cool Stuff from Jack. For as long as I can remember, I've chided my friend, the uber-consultant zen guru Jack Ricchiuto, for not sharing with his pals enough news about what he's up to. But of course, he's so busy being up to it all that, try though he might, he can't always come through for us. And so I've gotten into the routine of occasionally Googling him. And I always find some new gold. The latest is this interesting session on Appreciative Feedback that he gave last month at the Cleveland Public Library, and this even more interesting juxtaposition, in which he's quoted on the topic of inspiration along with the late, legendary inspirer of writers Ranier Maria Rilke. Do please check it out, and keep up the fine work, Jacko...

Mourning Freddy O'Toole All Over Again. And finally, from the pages of the Boston Globe, we bring you the sad, elegaic tale of the deceased cruller. That variety of donut, native to New England, will always and forever be related in my mind with my wife's grandfather, the late Fred O'Toole of Dorchester, Massachusetts, a hard-bitten, working-class suburb of Boston. Since I never really knew either of my grandfathers (one died when I was a kid, the other lived in Italy till his death during my teen years, and I only met him once), I adopted Fred into service in their stead. And he never disappointed me, right up until his death at 90-plus about seven years ago. One of the three or four grandest, coolest people I ever knew, he was a font of history, insight, local color and wisdom. His stories were legendary, and we listened hour after hour (I even tape-recorded more than a dozen hour's worth for posterity, which we subsequently had converted onto CD-ROM after his death). As a kid, he had played semi-pro baseball, and recalled as a kid walking by a tavern with his buddies and seeing the then-Boston Brave Babe Ruth casually drinking beers outside with his teammates. He actually attended the Red Sox's first appearance in the World Series, in 1912! Fifty five years later, he took his grandsons, my brothers-in-law, to the '67 series.

Fred regaled us with detailed recountings of his two or three distinct near-misses at serious wealth: as a young man, he was an early right-hand guy to a green grocer who went on to develop one of the largest grocery chains in New England, but Fred moved on to other work. If only he had stayed around... In similar fashion, he recounted how, as an ace handyman during the Depression, banks and financial institutions would turn over title of repossessed homes to him in return for his taking on all upkeep and tax payments. Again, he could have really cashed in if only he could have held on for a bit longer.

He loved the race track, either horses or dogs, and we spent countless hours with him there, watching him study the program like a physicist. Always, he seemed to emerge at least a few dollars on the upside. When he hit 85 (I think it was), we arranged to have him briefly recognized on the track scoreboard. I remember him beaming like a kid. One day back in Cleveland, I stumbled over a new book on Boston history. It focused on the downtown district that was home to a collection of the dozen or more Boston newspapers in business in the early and middle years of the century, a true marriage of our favorite subjects. I sent a copy along to him, and for years afterward, he would lovingly refer back to various parts of the book, using it as a launching pad to blast off into many more hours of rich reminiscences about his life. In filling our ears and imaginations with all these impossibly rich stories, he couldn't have guessed it at the time, but he was indeed leaving a far richer legacy to his heirs than if he had passed along billions of dollars. And for that, we'll always thank you, dearest Freddy.


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