The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘family’ Category

AN EARLY LIFE LESSON–PART II

It was the final Friday of school, the last day I would enjoy the comfortable security of Mrs. Bounds class.  I liked Mrs. Bounds.  She used to tell us about growing up on a small farm in Canada.  It sounded like a good life – but a lot of work.  She and her four siblings were expected to do their part planting and harvesting the crops and collecting the eggs.  I knew I was going to miss her.

When the bell rang, a sense of jubilation ran through the room.  It was electric as my classmates rushed to get out and start their summer, dumping their books in the trash as they left.  Some couldn’t even bother with that formality and merely left them on or by their desks.  I took my books, cleaned out my desk, wondered for a moment who in the next class would sit in my seat the following  year.  But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about that.  I had a mission I needed to start.

During the two weeks from the time I had asked Mr. Tiffany’s permission, I had already set the wheels in motion.  There was a Gristede’s grocery store between my apartment and school and I had gone in several times to ask if they had any cardboard boxes that they would be able to give me.  I already had nine boxes and grandma had picked up another four at some other stores.  Our small apartment was starting to look like a cardboard jungle.

Grandma had allowed me to use the wire grocery cart that she wheeled behind her when she went on her shopping trips to get fresh fruits and vegetables.  It was waiting for me in our foyer when I got home.  I put my books on the desk and immediately returned to school.

I had decided to start on the top floor and work my way down.  The top floor where the older kids had their classrooms was the fourth floor.  I maneuvered the somewhat flimsy cart up the stairs and began by going into the furthest room from the stairwell.  I wanted to be able to track which rooms I had emptied and which might still contain some treasure.

I only completed picking up the books from two rooms and my cart was piled high.  But it was too heavy for me to wheel easily so I had to pull half the books I had accumulated out and put them inside the door of the second room.  I could see this was going to be a bigger project than I anticipated.  With some trepidation I approached the stairwell and the three flights down to the street.

It was pretty difficult getting that first load down the stairs because the cart’s wheels weren’t very thick and it listed from side to side as I gently tried to coax it along.  When I got my load downstairs and started to pull it home, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to collect all the books that I knew were discarded.  I only had three hours until the school would be locked so I revised my plan.  I decided to attack the lower floors first in the interest of saving some time on the stairwells.

Back and forth, load after load.  I was not only getting tired but hungry.  And dinner was going to be ready soon.  I had pretty much resolved that I couldn’t do much more and that I should make this my last load when I encountered Mr. Tiffany.  I hadn’t expected him to be there.

He asked how my project was going.  I explained that I had hoped to clear out the entire school but I hadn’t even finished the first floor classrooms.  I think he sensed that I was both tired and a little disappointed.

Then he said he had some paperwork to do on Saturday and that he would be at the school from nine to one in the afternoon if I wanted to keep working at my project.  By this time my legs were feeling so wobbly and my back was getting sore from loading books at school and unloading them at home.  But I didn’t want to look like a quitter so I thanked him and said I would be back in the morning.  I wasn’t looking forward to fulfilling that commitment.

While she was cooking, Grandma had filled most of the boxes with the books I had brought home.  Even one of my favorite dinners of liver, bacon, onions and a baked potato with a nice salad wasn’t able to erase the fatigue that overwhelmed me.  And her home made apple strudel merely reinforced my need to sleep.  I went to bed within ten minutes of eating dinner.

The next morning I woke to a nice breakfast and then back to school.  As I pulled my cart, I saw that Mr. Tiffany was walking down the street.  He reached the front door precisely at nine o’clock.  I finished the first floor and a few rooms on the second, making another six round trips.  And then I could see from the clock on the wall of the study hall that it was two minutes to one.

I walked down to Mr. Tiffany’s office, pulling my cart and knocked on his door.  He invited me to come in and I said that I had done all I could and wanted to thank him for letting me work on Saturday and wished him a pleasant summer.  He smiled and wished me the same.

After church on Sunday, dad and I loaded up the car.  That took over an hour and we headed down to Barnes and Noble.  Dad went in while I stayed with the car since we were double parked and dad had turned on the flashers.  He returned with two young employees who helped carry our boxes inside while two other employees began calculating their value.  When the final box was unloaded, dad spotted a parking space, told me to wait on the sidewalk by the front door and hurriedly parked the car.

By the time he and I went into the store, the clerks who had been pulling out the books had only two more boxes to evaluate.  It only took them a few minutes and then they told us the total they would pay me.  When they said, “The value of your books is $1,085.50” I’m sure my mouth widened enough to have put a small cantaloupe in it.  And immediately I thought, “I didn’t even finish two floors.”  I later learned that my old enemy envy had brought with him another vice, greed.

Dad smiled at me and said, “Good job,” and collected the money from the cashier.  I had never seen so much money.  When we got in the car to drive home, he handed the cash to me and asked if I had given thought to what I was going to do with it.  Since I had been hoping perhaps to earn one hundred dollars, this large amount was far beyond my expectations.  I had made no plans for its use.

At dinner that evening my new found wealth was the only subject of conversation.  Grandma who was typically direct had remembered that Mr. Tiffany had suggested a contribution to the school.  She didn’t ask me whether I was going to do that.  She simply asked, “So how much will you be giving to your school?”  Nothing escaped this lady’s attention.  And a question such as that coming from her was less of an inquiry than it was a demand that I behave responsibly.

I thought about it for a minute and asked, “Would three hundred dollars be good?”  I winced a little as I computed that was three years’ allowance – gone in one moment.  She nodded, “That would be good.  And I’ll bake a box of cookies for you to give Mr. Tiffany.  By the time you start school it will be cool enough to bake.”

On my first day of the new school year, mom closed her store early and met me at Mr. Tiffany’s office as the school day was concluding  She carried with her grandma’s cookies and the envelope containing the three hundred dollars and my handwritten note (my mother oversaw its composition) which read:

Dear Mr. Tiffany,

Thank you for giving me the chance to earn some extra money.  Enclosed please find three hundred dollars ($300) which I would like you to accept on behalf of the school.  My grandma baked some cookies to thank you – but they wouldn’t fit in the envelope so they’re in a separate box.

Very truly yours,

 

I thought up the last line myself and when my mother read it she laughed.  But she allowed me to keep it in my thank you note.

Mr. Tiffany thanked mom and me and we went home.  He didn’t open either the envelope or the box of cookies while we were there, but it seemed to me that after that he always had a little extra smile for me when we passed in the hallway and I received the Good Citizenship Award that year.

As to the rest of the money, I made my first stock investments, five shares of Celanese Corporation of America and three shares of Dow Chemical.  The remainder went into my college fund.

My classmates still lived in their fancy co-operative apartments on Park Avenue and they still received distributions from their trust funds.  But I had something that none of them could claim.  With the help of my family and my school, I had taken an idea and turned it into a reality.  That was an accomplishment which no one ever would be able to take from me.

I was ten years old when this happened.   And that was a very good year for me.

AN EARLY LIFE LESSON–PART I

Having the opportunity to receive a private school education had both its benefits and its drawbacks.  As a child, only the negatives were clear to me and it would be many years before I recognized the advantages I had received because of my parents’ self-sacrifice so that I could attend.  But the most important lesson that I learned was that what I thought of as a disadvantage when I was a schoolchild was actually a great character builder and provided one of my most important early life lessons.

That big negative to my young mind was that I was the poorest kid in my class.  No one had to point this out.  I figured it out on my own.  I knew where my classmates lived and I knew where I lived.  I knew the amount of my allowance and I knew my classmates got three or four times as much.  I knew that my classmates’ dads were doctors and stock brokers and my dad was in sales.  And I knew that I was the only child in my class whose mother worked.  And with all that knowing I came to know envy.  And it ate at me quietly, stealthily, continuously.  I didn’t like my new guest – but I didn’t know how to rid myself of him.

It was mid-May and the school year was drawing to a close.  Because part of our tuition paid for our schoolbooks we were free to take those home and keep them if we wanted to review their contents.  But most of my classmates couldn’t wait to dump them in our class wastebaskets when our last class was finished – as if to say they had been given a reprieve from the oppression of having to learn – at least during their summer vacation.  I had seen that behavior play out the previous two years.

I happened to be looking through the newspaper one night and saw an ad that Barnes and Noble had placed.  The ad said that they bought used school texts.  And an idea came to me.  Maybe they would buy all those thrown out textbooks that my schoolmates couldn’t wait to consign to the trash.  So I called and asked if they would buy fourth and fifth grade textbooks.  The young woman who answered my call said, “Barnes and Noble will buy all school texts.”  After I thanked her I got very excited and couldn’t wait to discuss my idea with my parents – to collect all the textbooks that were thrown out and sell them to this bookseller.

Over a baked chicken dinner that night I told my father what I wanted to do and asked if he would help me.  Before he answered, he took a moment, tilted his head and his always kindly eyes seemed to moisten a little bit.  He said, “If that’s alright with your school, I’ll be happy to help you.  But you need to ask the principal for permission.”

The following day I was at school a little earlier than usual.  I went to my homeroom and Mrs. Bounds was writing on the chalk board when I walked in.  I asked her if I could have permission to see Mr. Tiffany.  I had something to ask him.  She agreed and I left the room and walked quickly down the stairs to his office.

When Mr. Tiffany’s secretary showed me in, my heart skipped a beat.  My interaction with him was limited to watching him on the stage during assembly leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and to three days when he taught my English class when our teacher was out with the flu.  Most of us kids did not voluntarily seek out an audience with him.  And those who were sent there by their teacher always appeared a bit shaken by the experience.  He was a tough cookie.  Tough – but fair.

I was relying on that rumor of fairness to get me through and I hoped that I would be able to spill out the words in a sensible way to make my case.

Mr. Tiffany sat behind his desk as I explained why I had sought an audience with him.  He listened attentively as he placed his hands on the blotter in front of him.  His hands and fingers never moved once he had properly placed them and he never took his eyes off mine.  Finally, I had presented my request as best I could.  I remember feeling nervous to be in front of him as a penitent, begging that he would grant me this small sop.

Perhaps a minute after I had concluded he finally spoke.  Here it was.  The pronouncement.  The verdict.  The final judgment from which there could be no appeal.  As he began to speak I could feel my pulse pounding.

“How did you like your school year,?” he asked.  I had no idea why he would ask me that.  That wasn’t the reason for my visit.  But if it came from our principal there had to be a reason – unfathomable to a mere student.

“I liked school very much this year – especially math and history,” I answered.  I wanted him to get to the point of my request.  But he kept on talking about my experience and what I had learned.  And the more he talked about academics, the surer I was that he was going to deny my request.

But he finally paused, leaned back a bit in his chair and said, “The fact that you’re trying to be enterprising shows initiative.  We hope to encourage that in our students and I’m happy to allow you to engage in your project.  There is only one thing I would like you to consider.”

I had no idea what it was he wanted me to consider since I already had a plan for how I was going to pull off this money making venture.

“It would be thoughtful, when you sell the textbooks, if you would consider making a donation of part of your earnings to the school.  Whether you do or not is up to you.  And if there isn’t anything else with which I can help you today, it’s time for you to return to your classes.”  And with that I was dismissed.

In tomorrow’s installment, I’ll tell you how this ended.

CHILDHOOD LESSONS (THE RED BOX)

My father came from a family of seven children.  They had all the amenities of life – an apartment, food on the table and the need for every family member to pitch in to keep the first item over their head and to make sure there was something to put out for the evening family meal.  You might call their existence, humble.  They may not have had much but the were grateful for what they had.

Their meager lives meant that in order to survive they were keen observers of reality and were motivated by a simple principle known as common sense.  They had no choice but to be practical and do what worked because the alternative was too awful to contemplate.

My father, having been raised in this environment, naturally passed along some of his family’s simple wisdom to me.  Among those lessons which he ingrained in me were, “If it sounds too good to be true – it probably isn’t;” “Never put all your eggs in one basket;” and “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

When my father was a child he would occasionally receive a few pennies from his family on important occasions like his birthday.  In addition, my grandfather encouraged him to keep and save a penny or two each week from the money he made delivering papers.  And then, of course, there were those incredibly lucky moments, as he came home from school, when he might find a penny on the sidewalk that someone had dropped.

Now it might not seem like much to us today as we debate whether we should even continue minting Lincoln cents, but in those days there was such a thing as “Penny Candy” – and would you believe you could buy it for just one little copper cent.

My grandfather encouraged his children to save by giving each of them a little blue box.  He instructed them to take each of the pennies that they had saved and place them in this little savings bank and further instructed them that when they had accumulated five pennies they should bring them to him and he would exchange them for a nickel.

The day came when my father had accumulated his fifth penny.  He emptied his little blue box and brought them to his father who, true to his word gave him the nickel he had promised.  He also gave my father a little green box, together with instructions that he should deposit his nickels in the green box and when he had five of them he should bring them to him and he would exchange them for a quarter.

Of course, many months went by before my dad saved up twenty-five cents, but that day finally arrived.  As instructed by his father, he emptied his green box and took his five nickels to the family’s patriarch.  Once again, true to his word, grandfather handed him a Standing Liberty quarter and told him to put that quarter in the little red box that hung from the wall in the dining room.  He told dad that, “The red box is the family’s joint savings account.”  Never questioning the wisdom of his father, dad deposited the quarter in the red box as his siblings and parents looked on.  When the coin fell, the family all applauded.

My father, who was only twelve at the time, said it was two years before he understood that the red box was a gas meter and his deposits to the little red box helped keep the gas flowing in their little apartment.

Things were simpler then.

THE POWER OF FAMILY

It would be both naïve and dishonest to suggest that when I was a child we were all nice to one another.  The preferred term at the time was polite.  History has always had its share of people who were mean and cruel going back at least as far as the time of Cain and Abel.  But it does seem to me that more people than not respected the unwritten protocols of how we were supposed to interact with each other.

When I say “unwritten” protocols – those were what most of us in the hoi polloi observed.  The upper crust had Amy Vanderbilt and her guide to proper etiquette which they were expected to observe.  Perhaps my parents were lacking in social skills and that’s why I never learned the correct placement for a fish fork at a formal dinner.  My family didn’t host formal dinners.  Despite this deficiency in my social training, I did learn that it isn’t proper to burp in public, not to chew with my mouth open  and to cover it if I yawned.

The basic lessons of polite behavior were taught to me in the simplest of all ways.  My parents conducted themselves in that way through their dealings with friends, neighbors and strangers and I learned that behavior through imitation.  It might have been as simple as greeting someone with “Sir” or “Ma’am” or giving up a seat on the bus because an elderly person or a woman holding a baby had gotten on at the current stop.  Behaving in a courteous manner became as natural to me as brushing my teeth or washing my face.

My family’s training was further enforced by school.  Mom and dad taught me to have respect for my elders and, of course, my teachers were all older than I was and were, therefore, to be respected – and we students did hold them in esteem.  We might have liked some of them more than others but we obeyed all of them.  There was no threat of physical punishment if we didn’t.  But we knew that if we misbehaved our parents would receive a phone call from the principal.  School and home worked together both to teach and to enforce proper behavior.

But long before I went to kindergarten, my family had already trained me in the basics of human interaction and conduct.  And if we wonder and are shocked by the lack of civility or courtesy in our world, we have no further to look than at the breakdown of the traditional family unit.  The explosion in single parent homes is nothing short of phenomenal – and tragic.  Without parental guidance, why should we be surprised that more and more dysfunctional children are turning into more and more dysfunctional adults?

Naturally government is concerned with this problem.  Unfortunately, passing laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools doesn’t deter the sociopathic adult who was raised in a home where the basics of civilized living have nether been taught nor learned.  As is often the case, we look at the symptoms of dysfunctional behavior and craft punishments for aberrations from what we define as the norm.  What we should be doing is addressing the root problem of which the symptoms are merely manifestations of more latent, deeper issues.

In some regard, while government officials wring their hands over the violence and general bad behavior which we now have come to accept as normal, in no small measure, those same government officials have either crafted laws or are charged with enforcing ones which contribute to those problems.

As we know, the rate at which Americans have been getting married and then raising children has declined over the last several decades.  While I can hardly lay all the blame on one single factor, built into our Internal Revenue Code is a “Marriage Tax” in which two married individuals, both of whom are wage earners, are penalized for their industry by paying a higher amount of tax than they would if they were single.  In light of this discussion, does applying this penalty make any sense if we want to build strong families?

Similarly, our welfare system encourages single family homes, paying more to an unmarried recipient than her married counterpart and by offering her additional monthly stipends and increased benefits based on the number of children she bears.  It would be difficult to have the expectation that a welfare mother is going to have either the skills or the time to school her children in the finer points of being polite and courteous while she’s trying to make ends meet on a limited taxpayer-funded stipend..  There is some truth to the old saw that, “Only a rich man can afford to be a philosopher.”

And what of the child who is born into this environment of hopeless poverty?  We know that children who come from single parent family homes have a far higher likelihood of dropping out of school, being unemployed and turning to crime.  Many of these children have either no contact with their fathers or no knowledge of who they are.  So it is natural that they have children, taking as little concern either for their actions or their progeny as their sires had for them.  They actively, although unthinkingly, perpetuate the cycle – knowing that the taxpayer will be there to bail them out.

Is there any way out of this morass – one which we created ourselves by the policies we have implemented over the last half century?  The short answer is that a problem as systemic as this is not going to be remedied through any single piece of legislation nor is it going to be corrected in a short period of time.  This problem is generational in nature and it will take at least a generation, if not longer, to begin to fix it.

The longer we delay discussing the situation honestly and admit that what we have done in the past, however well-intentioned, simply has not worked, the faster we can start down a better path.  I doubt that most of  those in Washington recognize or refuse to acknowledge that the breakdown of the traditional family is at the core of our problems as a nation.

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to replace those who want to take us further down the road of intellectual ignorance,  generational poverty and taxpayer subsidy.  The political process and the ballot box are our weapons.  But if we don’t actively use the tools at our disposal, then we have abrogated our own responsibility and are as much at fault as those who have brought us to our present place.

CHILDHOOD NIGHTMARES

One of our neighbors, Mr. O’Connor had passed away and my family got me dressed up in my best Sunday clothes to attend his funeral.  He was a warm and wonderful man who always went out of his way to make sure that he held the door for any of the residents who were entering the building.  He was a person whom we called a “gentleman.”

Mrs. O’Connor was similarly caring and always made sure to ask all the kids in the building how we were doing at school.  She was a retired teacher and was passionate about her life’s work.   I remember her telling my friend Timmy who was struggling with his spelling that she would be happy to help him if he wanted some extra assistance.

Mr. O’Connor’s was the first funeral that I attended.  His Requiem Mass was a solemn high celebration at St. Jean Baptiste Church, a wonderful, traditional building that inspired awe because of its massive size, its excellent stained glass windows and the many candles that flickered at all the side altars.  But the thing that I remembered most about that funeral was that I would no longer see Mr. O’Connor’s smile or hear his happy voice.  Ever.

Several nights later, mom came quickly into my room and sat on my bed.  Apparently I had been yelling in my sleep.  She asked me if I were alright – but I didn’t want to tell her the subject of  my nightmare.  After a few minutes I lay back down but the rest of the night my sleep was troubled.

From the time I was in third or fourth grade I realized that my interests were different from those of most of my classmates.  Different doesn’t imply better or worse – simply, different.  I would rather spend my free time reading or listening to classical music than playing hopscotch or jacks or softball.  While that didn’t involve me with my classmates in many of their pursuits, I was normally the person to whom they turned when they were stuck on a math problem.

In class I was usually one of the first to raise my hand and was typically one of the last to be selected for a team when we chose up sides.  So I was “different” but I had a voice and I wanted to sing with it.  And then came the nightmare.  I can only believe that the genesis for it was both Mr. O’Connor’s funeral and my childhood experience with my peers.  While I never shared the nightmare with my parents I remember it today as vividly as when I first had it.

I was in a glass coffin which had been buried in Times Square.  I could see through the sidewalk but apparently the passersby had no idea I was there since, despite my yells telling the pedestrians who walked directly over me that I was underneath their feet, no one took notice.  The nightmare was centered around this horrible sense of isolation and inability to communicate.

As I look at the country and the world today, I am honestly grateful that I lived most of my life at a time when there were people like my parents and Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor.  They were courteous and generous people – not unlike the vast majority of those whom I met on a daily basis.  Perhaps they have disappeared because we took their behavior and them for granted.

We have come to believe that the only proper use of the word “civil” is as a modifier for the noun “litigation.”  We talk incessantly and say very little that is meaningful.  We addict ourselves to media which celebrate the trivial, the mundane and the vulgar and wonder why there is so much rude behavior, violence  and mayhem in our society.

As a child, I realized that I was “different” and that caused me to have nightmares.  The only thing that has changed in that equation is that I have come to terms with my individuality and I sleep much better.   As I view the alternative option, I think I’m in a decent place and am firmly resolved to stay there.  And to those of you who, like me, miss the civility of former years and feel estranged in our new world, take heart.  We may be few in number – but we are not alone.

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
― Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”

BENEFITS

In the course of twenty-six years in the executive search business I don’t know how many times a candidate for a position asked me the question, “What are the benefits that come with this job?”

I realize that “benefits” are part of a total compensation package.  Generally, they were worth between ten to fifteen percent of the base salary the prospective employee would receive in dollar pay.  So it always astounded me if the prospective employer were likely to give an applicant a new starting salary that was twenty to thirty cent above his present compensation why there should be such a concern about the extra benefits that came with the job.  To me, the greatest “benefit” of a position was having enough money in the bank to be able to pay the bills, put money aside for savings and take the rest and have some fun.

We have become a country that has lost focus on the potential of a job, a business or a career and have become absorbed with “benefits.”  We have also become a country where more of our citizens have decided that having a job is either demeaning or not worth their trouble because the “benefits” that government is showering on them makes it easier to sit home, eat some chips and watch the tube.

If a person followed a particular path for fifty years and found that path led nowhere, it has to be hard to admit that he went down the wrong road.  Or maybe he simply lies to himself and says, I know my destination is only a few more years further along.  That is exactly what our welfare programs have done since LBJ got the ball rolling with the Great Society.

If you are a regular reader you know that I am not a fan of the president.  But Obama came out with what may be the first acknowledgement that has occurred from the Democrats in fifty years that there is a deeper, more fundamental problem – a real human problem – that throwing benefits at our poor population will not fix.  It is a problem of family and a problem of education – or more correctly – a lack of them.  For that I applaud him.

The president pointed out that in many black homes there are few if any educational emphases placed by the family which often consists of a single mother parent.  This retards a child’s learning ability from an early age and that disability carries with him throughout his educational career.  Thus, many black children are left at the starting gate which is already behind the place from which other children begin the race.

Providing an environment through pre-school may improve a child’s chance to gain a desire to learn and to acquire good study habits.  That would certainly be a plus.  But if we consider the amount of time that children spend at school versus the time they are at home it is important to realize that they spend more time with their parent or parents than with their teacher.  If the home environment does not support or see a value for education that will in some measure mitigate negatively the positive influence of schooling.

The president touched on the fact (though he cited statistics that underestimated the real numbers) that a large percentage of black children are born out of wedlock and are raised in homes where only a mother is present.  He further cited the fact that coming from a single parent home, a child had a far lower chance of either competing or excelling in school and that consequently there were only poorer paying jobs for which he would qualify later in life.  This is at the heart of the problem – educational under-achievement being a derivative of the actual problem.

The entire basis of our welfare and for that matter our tax system encourages people to have additional children either through increased welfare payments or additional tax deductions.  While people may realize that having additional children brings with it additional responsibilities and additional costs, there have been many cases of people who view having additional children as a way to increase their income.  So if the president wants to address this problem fully he should offer some welfare reform plan which would minimize that thinking and the current reality.

As a role model for the black community, the president may make a difference in dealing with what is a national problem.  But while religious faith may be waning in other sectors of the populace, the influence of pastors in black churches remains very strong.  They, more than any politician, are likely to carry the most influence on the members of their congregations.  And if there is to be a sea change in what has become a generational problem it will be up to them to set an example and preach the message.

There may be some who look at the record we have amassed in trying to deal with poverty, discrimination and ignorance and will say, “Great, another government program that won’t work.”  Perhaps some will secretly find anger in the fact that the president specifically addressed this as a program for young black children.

But the fact is that uneducated, unskilled people turn to crime just to survive and all of us are potential victims of their ignorance and need.  Anything that we do to improve their future has a direct impact on all of us.  And if this program does make a difference, that would be a benefit to all of us.

HISTORY, HANSOM CABS AND HIZ HONOR

During the Holidays my parents and I would frequently take long walks through Central Park.  Sometimes, if the weather were conducive, those would take us past Wollman ice skating rink and down to the park’s southern end.  I always enjoyed those long walks – particularly because it gave me the opportunity to go up to and pet the horses that drew the hansom cabs.  My favorite was a roan named Buttercup.

My parents strongly believed that children should be raised with non-human companions and so there was always a dog in our home.  They believed that sharing childhood with other creatures was essential in teaching kids respect for life in all its forms.  There was nothing that upset them or me more than stories of animal abuse.  This was my introduction to respecting life and celebrating diversity – long before the latter became technically chic and we restricted the definition to other humans.

One night , two weeks before Christmas, dad came home from work and made an announcement at dinner.  The following evening he was going to take us to Central Park and we were going to take a carriage ride in the hansoms.  I remember my sense of excitement at this news.  I had always wanted to ride in the back of one of these vintage carriages but I knew the rides were expensive.  I hoped that we could ride in the carriage that Buttercup drew.

As it turned out, Buttercup was off duty that evening so our ride was pulled by a horse named Alfie.  It occurred to me that in the hour the carriage moved along that this was an incredibly slow way to travel.  It gave me a new appreciation for the pioneers who made their way west in Conestoga wagons.  And I must admit that the ride wasn’t all that comfortable.  Still, it was a fun thing to do and turned into what is most likely to be a once in a lifetime experience.

One of the first pronouncements of New York’s recently elected mayor, Bill de Blasio is that the hansom cab rides will be terminated because they represent an expression of animal cruelty.  Frankly, if I believed that I would be one of the first in line to support their retirement.  But the facts tell a different story.

The horses and their drivers are, like almost everything else in New York, highly regulated by the city.  They are required to get a complete veterinarian exam twice a year; the rules regulating the business requires  that they have at least an eight week annual vacation and are not permitted to work in rainy or extreme weather; and their diet must meet high standards set by the city.

While I haven’t lived in my birth city for a long while, I have a sneaky suspicion that the well-being of the hansom cab horses is not the most pressing one that New Yorkers face.  If it were, they should rename the city, Utopia.  And perhaps as the mayor matures into his responsibilities he will find, as he did several weeks after his announcement regarding the hansom cabs, that New Yorkers are more concerned about the clearance of snow from their streets – particularly in the streets in neighborhoods which did not vote for him.

It always amazes me that the liberal left in their pursuit of securing peace on earth and equity for all so often disregard the bodies they are willing to throw under the bus in the interest of achieving their goals.  In the case of the hansom cabs, those bodies are the two hundred drivers who earn their living guiding their steeds through the park.  Some of them have been at their jobs for over thirty years.

Now in fairness to the mayor, he has a plan to replace the hansom cabs with pseudo-vintage electric cars.  Thus he can both placate animal rights groups and the various environmental groups which helped fund his election campaign.  Oh, and this idea co-incidentally came from a campaign contributor, a chap by the name of Steve Nislick.

Actually, Mr. Nislick is more than just a contributor to the mayor’s successful election campaign.  Mr. Nislick happens to be the CEO of a company named Edison Properties which operates parking lots and storage units.  Interestingly, the bulk of Edison’s business interests happen to be in the vicinity of the five stables which house New York’s hansom cab horses.  Naturally, if the horses are retired those stables would most likely be sold and converted to other uses – such as parking lots or storage units.

Perhaps the casual reader will think that de Blasio’s motivation is nothing more than the typical iconoclastic destruction of anything that represents tradition.  The hansom cabs certainly fit that mold as they have been active since Central Park was opened in 1857.  But that theory comes into question if you realize that the day he was sworn in, he and his family moved into Gracie Mansion, the official residence of NY’s mayors, built in 1799 which had been eschewed by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.  Incidentally, the former mayor had, at his own expense, completely refurbished the residence as a gift to the people of the city.

Of course suggesting that personal self-interest might be the guiding force in the mayor’s reversal of his position on the hansom cabs from the days he was a member of the City Council will undoubtedly bring the left to its feet, shouting cries of “racism.”  After all, the mayor’s wife is a black woman.  That is if they have time left over from calling black conservatives “Uncle Toms” and making fun of Justice Clarence Thomas for having married a spouse who happens to be white.

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