Two Guys and a Guitar

“And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered or driven to its knees
But it’s alright, it’s alright, for we live so well, so long
Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong, I can’t help it I wonder what’s gone wrong”
American Tune

It’s late and I just got home. For the past three hours I’ve been in a very different place. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Elaine and I had tickets for Simon and Garfunkel at Philips Arena.

On the drive down 75, exhaling a bit from all the holiday pressures and things we have to do before certain deadlines, Elaine wasn’t sure she ever really liked Simon and Garfunkel, but okay, “it might be fun”. She knew she liked some of Paul’s songs when he was a solo act. I bought the tickets, but I wasn’t sure either. I liked them in high school, but later, during the early seventies my tastes had changed. I was into serious blues, and bands like Led Zeppelin and the Velvet Underground. America was still in chaos and kids my age were still coming home from Vietnam in body bags. It was really a very depressing time, to be honest, by the time of my draft physical in 1971, Simon and Garfunkel had become, well….quaint.

But last November, when I bought the tickets, I was remembering that first, and only other time I saw them, at Cornell University in 1967. My high school English teacher took me. She was a professional folk singer who taught high school for a day job. I was an aspiring musician and, like most teenage boys, was praying to be abused by an older female teacher. Unfortunately, she brought her husband along, a bearded guy, the second part of the folk duo, so that fantasy didn’t go anywhere. But, teenage fantasies aside, I remember being overwhelmed by Simon and Garfunkel: two voices and one guitar. That was it. No drums, no amplifiers. Just one of the best guitar players I had ever imagined and two unbelievable voices, on a low stage about 10 feet from our seats in the front row. It’s one of my best memories.

Tonight, I guess I started out cranky. The traffic was a hassle and a cop made me drive around the block two more times before I could cut into a parking lot. The seats in Philips Arena were much higher up than I expected after paying $87 each. And the band started late, but hey, bands don’t ever start on time, and I probably would’ve been upset if they *did* start on time. I was wondering if there would be a lot of traffic to dodge after the concert and thinking about next week. When Paul and Art came on, they started with “Old Friends”, and they looked kind of like old friends, at least the old part.

But then, I felt myself losing my thoughts and taking in the music. They went into “I am a Rock”, Sounds of Silence, Scarborough Fair, American Tune and on and on. This isn’t a concert review; I won’t even attempt to list the songs or what order they came in or whose voice cracked here or whatever happened there and how much money they made. Other people get paid to do nitpick all the “really important things”. As a fan, sitting in a high bleacher seat, there was something way beyond that happening.

They touched me. The music and the lyrics and the sounds picked me up in a way that I haven’t experienced in some time. In many ways, it may have been the first time I really connected with some of the lyrics. I found myself wiping away tears all through the concert. I found myself feeling some of the pain and hope and struggle from a past that in many ways isn’t all that different from the pain and hope and struggle we’re all living with today in America. Strange thoughts and emotions tugged at me from all sides. I found myself thinking of the planes slamming into the World Trade Center and of the terrible and so very sad events that have taken place since then. It occurs to me that I may never have really actually felt that profound sadness that we all carry with us these days.

“And I dreamed I was flying,
and high up above my eyes could clearly see
The statue of liberty, sailing away to sea,
and I dreamed I was flying”

And I felt the presence of the thousands of fans around me, all caught up in the same moment and applauding wildly. Clapping with the beat and singing along is something I just don’t do at concerts. It’s some unwritten rule I picked up somewhere. But there I was, singing harmony with my cracked voice, on I don’t know how many songs and not caring about the poor people around me, who were probably singing along with their terrible voices too….Somehow I don’t think it was just me. There was comfort in sharing that experience with the people around me. Later we’d return to our isolated lives, but tonight we were together. I started thinking about the MoveOn.org meeting I went to a couple of weeks ago, and the feeling of community among strangers. “There’s something happening here but you don’t know what it is….”

At some point, and it couldn’t possibly have been time for the show to end, they went into “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. That song, that overproduced-PhilSpectorized monster that I used to turn off every time it came on the radio, was the pinnacle of the evening for me. This time, I didn’t want it to end. And neither did the crowd. We clapped wildly for a good ten minutes after they left the stage. It was so long that I started thinking they wouldn’t come back. But I realized that after doing “Bridge”, there wasn’t really anything else that could top that. It was the showstopper. But come back they did. And they treated us to “Cecilia” and then “The Boxer”, the final song of the evening.

“In the clearing stands a boxer,
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
‘I am leaving, I am leaving.’
But the fighter still remains”

Yeah, it looks like I’m still here too after all these years. And probably still crazy.
And maybe even a few others…..

Those Old Rip Van Winkel Blues

Phew! I feel like I just woke up and it’s 20 years later.

In net time, that’s probably fairly accurate. Any meandering visitors I may have had dropping by a couple (a few?) months ago are most likely long gone. The ODP has probably fired me by now. The Queue would have grown to insane levels. The helmsman is drunk and rolling around in a disgusting mess below decks. But I’m not going to look in. At least not tonight.

It’s 8:00 pm and I just dropped off my last group of boxes at UPS. The driver picked up at 2:00, but we got another 12 packed and dropped off. The Holiday Season is officially over. I guess there is still stuff to ship, but the bulk of it is out. The rest don’t really care when they get it. We’ve had a little two month goldrush here.

So. Unless I want to get into politics (no, God, please!), I’d say it’s time for my annual end of the year economic projections, and probably another beer.

Hrumph! Snort! So, (glasses on) let’s see how it’s all stacking up. Slurp….Hmmmmm, were revenues the same, better than or worse than last year? From this vantage, I’d have to say I’m not too sure. Off season trade shows were mediocre to piss poor, like last year. Fall shows were marginal to bearable, kind of like last year. Web sales? Compared to last year? out the roof, unbelievable! Web sales as a percentage of total sales? Uh, still not very high, but extremely high percentage-wise when compared to any other year. This years revenues compared to say, 1998 or earlier? Oh god! We should be living in our cars! Booiinnggg! (no, that’s my eyes popping out looking at the ’98 graph) How could we have done that much business in one year?!?! I don’t even have the capability of *remembering* that much business in one year. Damn, is *that* how good the nineties were? And I didn’t even appreciate it? Dang.

I have two words to say: Down and Size. If it wasn’t for those two words and the fact that my old employees are probably complaining to new bosses about the size of their paychecks by now, I probably *would* be living in a car, and not a very new one at that. Heh heh, downsizing can be a capitalist’s best friend, especially when the going gets tough. Somehow, I don’t think I’m the first business owner to figure that out. On the other hand, it took me long enough. I used to provide “make work” during slow times to keep the employees busy so they could get paid. Wanting a pre-trained group of workers on site for when things got busy was one factor. But I’d have to say, as a once-former employee (long ago) I felt bad letting them go. That was probably the biggest factor. But by either 1999 or 2000, I was forced to downsize. It seemed like the bottom fell out of everything. To make it easier for me, a bunch of the employees staged a “slow-down” and a “late-in” demanding higher wages.

During an obvious economic downturn.

They slowed and lated themselves right out of a job. I’m sure they’re much happier now. I know I am.

The web. Most of our business comes from stores, resellers of our merchandise. Back in 1996, I put up a fledgeling wholesale site where my stores could place their orders and (hopefully) so could new stores. Wellllll, as Elaine used to say, “I hope you weren’t planning on getting rich quick here”. Let’s just say they didn’t exactly cause any servers to crash rushing to my sites. At this point, it’s the end of 2003, and I’d have to say that they finally got here. Not in droves, but poking around, and buying. I’m getting regular large wholesale orders for our stuff. And reorders. Talking to some of them I’m hearing that they’re buying online because they don’t want the expense of going to so many trade shows in a bad economy. Hmmmmm. So at about the time the trade shows started dropping into the toilet, my web biz finally picks up. Well, I guess it’s a tradeoff. Maybe I should not do so many trade shows and sit home and collect web orders instead?…..

But wait, there’s more. Can you spell e-B-a-y? Dangity-Dang. What was originally regarded as an experimental place to get rid of outdated merchandise has turned into a regular revenue-producer. And eBay gets a percentage; I don’t have to pay in advance for trade shows and airline tickets and hotel rooms for the chance to maybe break even. I can stick it on eBay. It goes on and on….Lizardonline and CustomBelt, Google ad-words, all kinds of new stuff to try. It’s still a drop in the bucket of our annual sales, but there’s some actual slow, sustained growth going on. And I haven’t seen that in any venue for a very long time.

Which brings me to that third beer. And my 2004 Economic Projections. Well, we must have made a profit in ’03, because we invested several thousand $ for an additional trade show in Las Vegas in February. Of course, I’ll be staying home taking care of Grandma so I won’t personally end up as a drunken disaster wrapped around a slot machine. Extrapolate, extrapolate, carry the four…..okay, here it is:

I expect Grandma to do very well in 2004. I also expect the stock market to do well, but not great in 2004. Actually, since cashing in my winnings before the Great Crash, I’ve discovered that a federally insured savings account is a great place to put money. Also, a mattress is a great place to put money that isn’t really, uh, well, *money* yet, if you catch my drift.
But seriously, I think in general, economic activity will continue to grow. It will be different. The companies who are lean & mean & who innovate will do best. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be a stock holder or employee in a giant behemoth quasi-monopoly right now, even with Cheney/Bush in the White House. Big is not better in my ’04 Projection. Lean & Mean & Downsized & Greedy & Job-Exportin’ are the new catch words for the New Economy. I also predict that people are real mad now, and they will be even madder in 2004. But if I was a Democratic Presidential candidate, I wouldn’t be mortgaging my home to stick another $625,000 in my campaign just yet. Not right about now. No, I wouldn’t be doin’ that.