Monthly Archives: May 2015

Taking Care of Business (chapter 2)

(For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

Chapter Two

When Charlie DiMaio arrived at work the next morning, just forty-five minutes after the official starting time of nine o’clock – his earliest arrival in months – he was greeted by a horde of subordinates expressing the same outrage that Marco Lentini had articulated the previous evening. When they all attempted to speak to him at once, he directed them into the conference room adjacent to his office.

‘Work’ for Charlie was the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a governmental agency established by political leaders many years ago for the purpose of creating government jobs that would be exempt from the city’s disturbingly fair and impartial civil service system – government jobs that party leaders could give to their political allies based on who they knew rather than what they knew. The authority’s 900-employee workforce included roughly 800 such people, about 200 of whom interrupted their coffee and meal breaks for about three hours out of every eight-hour work day to write parking tickets and another 600 who spent about two hours a day performing low-skill office tasks while devoting the rest of their time in the office between nine and five to political matters. The final 100 employees were outcasts, looked down upon by their co-workers: individuals who were professionally qualified for their positions and performed the actual work of running the organization.

Charlie DiMaio led an eighteen-employee administrative unit within the authority. He owed his job not to his expertise in on-street parking but to his proficiency in turning out the vote for Democratic candidates for state and local offices. He was one of sixty-six Democratic ward leaders in Philadelphia – and one of forty-nine who held such positions on the periphery of the city’s government. Each of those wards consisted of twenty-five to thirty-five voting divisions, or precincts, each of which could have as many as two elected committeemen. These committeemen elected their ward leader every two years. Charlie had been a committeeman for twenty-five years, building his reputation on the strength of his success in securing especially high pluralities in his own division for Democratic candidates for public office – generally, around eighty-five percent of the vote. Charlie had risen to his position as ward leader nearly seven years earlier, in the great tradition of many ward leaders: upon the death of his predecessor, who also happened to be his father. Despite this obvious advantage, Charlie’s ascent had been highly dramatic. Facing stiff competition for the post despite the obvious entitlement of his birth, he had arranged for his supporters to arrive at the appointed location for the meeting thirty minutes prior to its scheduled start, whereupon he had herded them onto a rented bus, declared a quorum, instructed the driver to put the bus in motion, and then was unanimously elected ward leader by those present. His opponent challenged his election in court, only to find that the judge randomly assigned to hear the case was DiMaio’s wife’s uncle.

As ward leader Charlie was, first and foremost, responsible for directing his committeemen and spurring them to turn out great pluralities for Democratic candidates. In exchange for producing such excellent results, Charlie enjoyed numerous benefits, the most visible of which was his $85,000-a-year job at the parking authority. In addition, he could arrange for the best of his own committeemen to get jobs in his own organization as well as in the city’s housing authority, redevelopment authority, court system, and school district. On election day Charlie controlled a large pool of cash generally referred to as “street money” that he could distribute to – or withhold from, if he so desired – his committeemen based on their performance, on their loyalty to him and the party, or on whether they were related to him or anyone in his family. Much of that money, of course, remained in his own pocket; for it to do otherwise would have breached several generations of party tradition.

Most important, Charlie owned something that contained the true source of his ability to assist his committeemen and turn out the vote in his ward: a small notebook with the names and phone numbers of key city employees who could deliver the public services their constituents sought. With the help of this book, he could – often, with a single call – obtain copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates; arrange for special parking spaces for handicapped neighbors or neighbors who wished to claim a physical handicap despite all evidence to the contrary; arrange for a loading zone in a no-parking area in front of a constituent’s business; secure the presence of a policeman or fireman for a third-grade class; schedule immediate appointments for sick neighbors at a city health clinic even though the normal waiting time for such appointments could be as much as six weeks; and much more. On those rare occasions on which this notebook did not produce the solution Charlie sought, he also had a direct pipeline to the member of Philadelphia’s city council who represented his ward; to two other council members who represented the entire city but clearly owed their electoral success to Charlie and a few other ward leaders in his area; to the state senator and state representative elected by the voters in his and several surrounding wards to represent them in Harrisburg, the state capital; and to several members of the mayor’s staff who had been assigned responsibility for helping ward leaders with their constituent service needs.

In return for these favors, grateful constituents gladly cast their votes for candidates recommended by their committeemen. Committeemen did not waste this gratitude on unimportant offices like president, senator, or congressman. Instead, they sought the support of their constituents for candidates running for offices that mattered to the local Democratic party: sheriff, register of wills, clerk of quarter sessions, judge, city commissioner, city councilman, mayor, and sometimes governor. These were the positions that kept their party in power and able to do favors and provide jobs for the party faithful. Voters had no idea what some of those offices did and were rarely familiar with the candidates who aspired to hold them, so casting a vote for a candidate recommended by a committeeman seemed a reasonable, no-cost way to repay that committeeman for a favor.

Among the many different types of favors that Charlie and his committeemen performed, their bread and butter, without question, was solving problems involving city streets: fixing broken street lights and traffic signals, filling potholes, and clearing broken glass. If their constituents did not see them as responsible for the delivery of these services, they risked losing the loyalty of those constituents – and the votes that came with that loyalty. People might start deciding for whom to vote based on the merits of the candidates – a prospect that party regulars found appalling.

But now, this newcomer to Philadelphia, this Shaniqua Watson, was threatening to steal this responsibility away from them and, in so doing, jeopardize their ability to retain the loyalty of voters, jeopardize the success of the party, and most important of all, jeopardize the jobs of the political appointees who owed their employment and livelihood to their success on election day.

The political appointees who worked for Charlie and who gathered with him in his conference room now demanded to know what was going on and what he and party officials intended to do about it. All had either seen or heard about the offending television commercial and all of them – despite the exceedingly modest intellectual gifts they brought to their work – unmistakably understood its implications. Explicitly, Watson was promising better, more responsive city government and services. Implicitly, she was threatening to render committeemen partially obsolete – and if others in city government picked up on this outlandish idea of delivering city services directly to the public, she could make them entirely obsolete and destroy Philadelphia’s Democratic party.

Charlie permitted his subordinates to vent their displeasure for about ten minutes, told them he would look into the matter, and sent them back to their desks.

He knew better than to tell them to get back to work.

Charlie then returned to his office and to what he considered “work.” After spending about twenty minutes making a half-dozen phone calls, he was standing outside the building smoking a cigarette during a long-overdue break when he received a call on his cell phone from the party’s vice chairman inviting him to an emergency meeting of all ward leaders at party headquarters at three o’clock that afternoon. When Charlie questioned the desirability of holding a meeting at a time when most people were still at work, the vice chairman laughed and reminded him that most of the party’s sixty-six ward leaders either were elected officials who reported to no one or worked for one of the city’s authorities or agencies and would have no trouble leaving work in the middle of the day to attend a party meeting. Most of the rest of the ward leaders were lawyers in private practice who made their own hours, and no one really cared whether they attended anyway.

Who Knew?

The Washington Post headline this past Monday read

Justice Department reaches settlement with Cleveland over police conduct

clevelandWho knew a Family Guy cartoon character could kick up such a fuss?

Encouraging Cheating

It seemed like a headline designed to earn clicks on the USA Today web site: “8 things you’re still doing wrong with email.” Even though The Curmudgeon knew he’d probably be sorry, he clicked.

And he’s sorry.

Because really, some of them should have been titled “Ways you can use email to cheat and deceive.”

Here’s one of the eight ways:

Do you use Microsoft Office? Set a timer to look like you’re working when you’re not. For example, write an email message at, say, 2pm, but it doesn’t get sent to your boss until 1am to look like you’re burning the midnight oil. Or if you work from home and want to schedule messages to be sent all day – though you hit the beach at 11am – this same trick works great. Start a new message, click Options near the upper-middle of the screen, select Delay Delivery and finally, click Do Not Deliver Before. Now select the date and time when this message should be delivered using the drop-down boxes. Write your message, click Send and it’ll hang in your outbox until your specified time. Note: your computer needs to be on for it to send at the specified time. Boomerang for Gmail also works well.

And here’s another:

If you were supposed to email something to your boss by 1 p.m. but you didn’t get it completed until 9 a.m. the following day, change the clock on your computer or phone back to noon the previous day, send the email, then change the time back again. If your boss complains he never received it, insist you sent it on time. If he checks the date of the email, he’ll see you weren’t lying. Blame the delay on a server issue: “Yes, it took two days for an email to reach me from Joe in accounting.” Note: you’ll likely need to be the administrator of your computer to make these time changes. Also, if someone emails you at work and you don’t want to face the music about something, why not reply with a fake “out-of-office” reply? That is, in the subject line, manually write “Auto Reply Message: Out of Office” and type something inside such as “I’ll be at an offsite meeting until Friday and will get back to you then.” Sneaky.

Nice, huh? As if it’s not bad enough that people are constantly trying to cut corners and cheat, now we have the largest circulation newspaper in the country giving them tips on how to do it.

Just last week The Curmudgeon wrote about cheating in the world of sports and how in that world, cheaters, contrary to the old saying, often do prosper. Just a few days after he posted that piece major league baseball suspended the second pitcher in the past two weeks for illegally applying a foreign substance to a baseball. The Curmudgeon was going to write about this but he read that the particular way these pitchers were cheating has been quietly condoned and even encouraged for years. The only reason these particular pitchers were suspended, in fact, was because they hid what they were doing so poorly that the umpires, who know about this kind of cheating, had no choice but to throw them out of the game. Now, as a result of these two suspensions just a few days apart, there’s growing interest in baseball circles in changing the rules to make what those pitchers did acceptable. So educated, The Curmudgeon decided – reluctantly, giving them the benefit of the doubt – not to write about it, just to let it go.

And now this.

It’s disappointing, and it’s seemingly everywhere.

May News Quiz

  1. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, on the campaign trail for the Republican presidential nomination, recently defended his state’s requirement that women seeking abortions first see an ultrasound of their unborn children, describing those ultrasounds as “just a cool thing out there.” What Walker really was saying was: a) it’s cool how, even in 2015, men in public office can still find ways to humiliate women; b) I’m not going to back down just because most of the country thinks this is a terrible idea; c) I can’t think of a better way to pander to the far right wing; or d) the Republican war on women is on again, baby!?
  2. German police arrested a prostitute after it found a lamb in her brothel. The prostitute said the lamb was there because: a) it was a stray and just wandered in; b) she loves lamb, especially with mint jelly; c) some men are really into sheep and a sex worker with her own lamb can make some serious money; or d) her name is Mary and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go?
  3. Under a new Kansas law, welfare recipients may use their welfare money to buy only one of the following four items: a) alcohol; b) concert tickets; c) a tattoo; or d) a gun?
  4. Israel scrapped a plan to require Jewish and Palestinian residents to use separate buses because: a) critics pointed out that it sounded an awful lot like apartheid; b) Rosa Parks appeared to Benjamin Netanyahu in a dream; c) someone pointed out that Jews-only buses would be targets for terrorist attacks whereas buses with mixed riders aren’t targets at all; or d) they were too cheap to go out and buy a second set of buses?
  5. 19 Kids and Counting is: a) a television program about a couple with nineteen children; b) what you get when you’re not familiar with the expression “not tonight, dear, I have a headache;” c) the ultimate testament to the value of birth control; or d) the number of young girls touched inappropriately by one of TV’s Duggar children?
  6. The state legislature in North Carolina will adopt a law temporarily exempting the opossum from state wildlife protections so the city of Brasstown can continue a tradition of lowering an opossum in a Plexiglas box from the roof of a general store at the stroke of midnight on new year’s eve because: a) tradition’s tradition and no pansy-assed northern lib’ral animal rights sissies are going to get in the way of their state’s traditions; b) it’s just a dumb animal, so it’s really no big deal; b) unlike unborn babies, which we know feel pain, no one has ever proven that an opossum suspended in mid-air in a Plexiglas box feels fear; or d) if you don’t like it, they can always go back to their old tradition of lowering Negroes in Plexiglas boxes to celebrate the new year?
  7. After a twenty-minute meeting, Pope Francis declared Palestine president Mahmoud Abbas an “angel of peace” because: a) that’s the kind of thing popes are expected to say; b) it’s time to lay the groundwork for the Nobel Peace Prize periodically awarded to an Arabic head of state for pretending to be interested in peace; c) he thinks it’s time for the Catholic Church to return to its long tradition of anti-Semitism; or d) the pope’s a dope?
  8. Texas governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency because of: a) severe weather and flooding; b) a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives proposal to halt civilian sales of green-tip, 5.56 millimeter rounds used in AR-15 rifles that poses a direct threat to Texas; c) he misinterpreted a Pentagon map for a routine training exercise that uses the standard war game colors of blue and red to mark individual territories and believed the federal government was planning a military takeover of Texas; or d) the fall of Ramadi means Sharia law is now one step closer to infiltrating his state?
  9. American Pharoah is: a) a new CIA operation to install as prime minister of Egypt someone sympathetic to American interests in the middle east; b) a spin-off of the Bravo TV series Shahs of Sunset; c) the nickname politicians have given Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush because they want to inherit the presidency rather than earn it; or d) the winner of the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Preakness?
  10. Whole Foods is planning a new chain of stores to court younger customers. The main difference between the existing chain and the new one will be: a) the designer soap will be made with inexpensive cow dung rather than pricier llama dung; b) the chicken dish in the buffet will be free-range but not fair trade chicken with mango chutney, Vitelotte potatoes, and a salad of arugula, organic kale, gold chanterelles, and pine nuts served with a domestic rather than imported radicchio balsamic dressing; c) the cashiers will be trained not to sneer at customers who don’t bring their own bags; or d) customers won’t need to choose between buying groceries and paying their mortgage?

Sleazy “Journalism”

“When did you stop beating your wife?”

We all know that for the loaded question it is.

But a headline “30 Walmart Ripoffs You Should Avoid” seems pretty straightforward, right?

Wrong.

The Curmudgeon encountered that headline last week on the philly.com web site, internet home of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News – both respectable newspapers.

The source of the article, though, wasn’t an Inquirer or Daily News reporter or a philly.com writer (The Curmudgeon isn’t quite sure whether the people who write directly for the site and not for the newspapers are reporters). No, it was attributed to gobankingrates.com, a personal finance web site that offers information on bank accounts, loans, investments, credit cards, things like that.

So what “ripoffs” was Walmart perpetrating on its customers?

Apparently, not having the absolute lowest prices in the world on thirty items, including ground beef, organic milk, toys, jewelry, and more. The purpose of the article was to point out that for some products, you can spend less by shopping somewhere other than Walmart.

In other words, Walmart isn’t ripping off anyone; it’s simply doing business and not failing to live up to any claims it’s ever made. Nary a ripoff in sight.

Interestingly, the headline on the philly.com web site read “30 Walmart ripoffs you should avoid,” and when you search the gobankingrates.com site for “Walmart” you get that same title. When you hit the link for that article on the gobankingrates.com web site, though, you’re taken to an article titled “30 Items to Avoid at Wal-Mart.”

Which is quite different.

It’s sleazy all around. Both sites are guilty of creating and sensationalizing a non-story to lure readers into clicking onto the linked headlines (and they succeeded in luring The Curmudgeon). For gobankingrates.com it’s almost understandable (although still wrong): the site probably makes most of its money from clicks and advertisers that pay to place their “news” on the site.

But for philly.com it demonstrates a lack of integrity that can, if exhibited too often, lead readers to wonder if they can believe anything from its “real” reporters.

And that’s something that newspapers, with their declining circulation and advertising revenue, can hardly afford these days.

That’s Not Big Brother Who’s Watching

It’s your mother.

Or at least it could be.

tileThe Curmudgeon recently ran across a new product called Tile. It’s a little gizmo (see the photo) only about 1.5”x1.5” and just 0.2” thick – about the size of a Chiclet (remember Chiclets?). It’s like a GPS locator: attach it to something and use a phone app to find whatever you’ve attached it to.

The advertising stresses the practical value of Tile: you can attach it to the kinds of things you may frequently lose or misplace, like your keys or your purse or your dog (well, you might want to attach it to the dog’s collar rather than directly to the dog), or attach it to things that may be prone to theft, like a laptop or tablet or bicycle. When you’ve lost something, you just pull up the app and if it’s nearby it gives you a map to find it. You also can have the Tile emit a sound. If the lost or misplaced item isn’t nearby you can report it “missing,” at which point any open Tile app near enough to the item to pick it up will send an automatic message to the Cloud indicating the item’s location, which will in turn automatically be transmitted to you.

TedNeeley2(And before continuing: aren’t you tired of hearing about this amorphous “cloud”? And don’t you envision it being administered by a guy who looks more than vaguely like the actor Ted Neeley?)

So there’s hope for folks who habitually misplace their tv remote or their e-reader. If The Curmudgeon had owned one of these gizmos he might still have that green Adidas gym bag full of belts he lost when he moved back in 1976. (But he’s still holding out hope the bag will resurface one day. After all, it’s only been thirty-nine years).

But it takes very little imagination to envision how Tile and other products like it – there are several – might be used in less innocent ways.

Like snooping on your kids.

You could, for example, slip one into your daughter’s purse; she’ll never notice it. Or into a school book (a place many kids would never dream of looking). Have a seventeen-year-old who just got his driver’s license? You could stick one in the glove box or under the front seat.

Or what about spying on your spouse?

A strategically placed Tile in a purse, suit pocket, briefcase, or car could help you be sure that when your man says he’s not cheating on you he’s really not cheating on youThe possibilities are…limitless.

And also a bit sad.

big brotherBut that’s technology for you: improving our lives in many ways yet potentially eroding our privacy in ways that would make Big Brother proud.

Or even creating a Big Brother out of Your Mother.

Taking Care of Business (chapter 1)

(For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here.)

 

Chapter One

Marco Lentini was sitting in front of a television screen that covered virtually an entire wall of his living room, a can of beer in his hand as he watched the Super Bowl, when he saw the appalling television commercial.

Hi, I’m Shaniqua Watson, the city of Philadelphia’s new streets commissioner, and I’m pleased to announce the streets department’s new service initiative.

If a street light is out in front of your house, call us at 1-800-fixitnow and we guarantee we’ll fix it within twenty-four hours.

If a traffic light isn’t working on your corner or a stop sign has been knocked down, call us at 1-800-fixitnow and we guaranteed we’ll fix it within twenty-four hours.

If there’s broken glass in your street, call us at 1-800-fixitnow and we guarantee we’ll clean it up within twenty-four hours.

And if there’s a pothole on your street, call us at 1-800-fixitnow, and as long as it’s not raining, we guarantee we’ll fill it within three business days.

We’re the new Philadelphia streets department, and we’re here to serve you. If we fail to live up to our guarantee, we’ll give the first person to report the problem a $50 gift card to a local store or restaurant. Visit our new web site at http://www.phillyfixitnow.com for details. Call now: we’re waiting to hear from you.

Lentini slammed down his can of beer – slammed it so hard that he knocked over two of the six empties sitting on the table alongside his Barcalounger.

“What the hell?” he demanded of no one in particular. He sat alone in his living room.

Marco Lentini was not happy, and he picked up the telephone to vent his displeasure.

“Hey, Charlie, it’s Marco. Are you watching the Super Bowl?”

Charlie said he was not. Marco paused, not quite comprehending how a heterosexual adult male could possibly not be watching the Super Bowl.

“Marco?” Charlie asked, not understanding why their conversation had ground to an unexpected halt.

“Oh, yeah,” Marco replied, regaining his composure. He described the appalling commercial.

“What the hell?” Charlie exclaimed when Marco finished.

“My reaction exactly,” Marco replied.

Charlie heard a click on his line.

“Hold on a minute, Marco, I got another call.”

Marco did as asked, and a minute later, Charlie returned.

“That was Jimmy B,” Charlie said. “He just told me the same story.”

“I mean seriously, Charlie, what the hell? Who the hell is this kid and what the hell does she think she’s doing?”

“Calm down, Marco, this is the first I’m hearing about it. Let me get to the bottom of it and I’ll get back to you tomorrow night.”

“You do that, Charlie. I don’t know who this broad is or what her game is, but she just can’t go around telling people how to call the city to get help. That’s just not how we take care of business around here.”

*     *     *

A Musical Interlude

lovettSeeing an item in the newspaper that Lyle Lovett is performing early next week in a theater outside of Philadelphia sent The Curmudgeon scurrying to YouTube for a live performance of one of his favorite Lovett songs.   See it here. Lovett’s really a very talented guy, just ignore the silly hairdo, and if you want to take a chance on him, The Curmudgeon enthusiastically recommends his Joshua Judges Ruth album.

Joining Lovett in that clip is another favorite of The Curmudgeon: Rickie Lee Jones. See The Curmudgeon’s favorite Rickie Lee song here. If the girl ever learns to sing with a little emotion…

How Quickly They Forget

Wasn’t it just a few years ago that the U.S. economy was in the toilet?

And wasn’t it clear that it was in the toilet in large part because of the immoral, rapacious, cynical business practices of Wall Street, a collective community that, when left to its own devices, always does the wrong thing because of its unquenchable greed?

And didn’t Congress respond, albeit weakly, with legislation commonly known as Dodd-Frank that regulated credit cards, loans, and mortgages, all of which were abused by financial companies and contributed to the economy’s crash; provided oversight over the financial industry; stopped banks from gambling with their depositors’ money; regulated the complex derivatives that wreaked havoc on the economy; forced hedge funds to stop conducting their business in secret; provided for oversight of the credit rating agencies that gave good credit ratings to failing companies because it was the failing companies that paid their fees; and provided new oversight over insurance companies and their risky and reckless practices.

Dodd-Frank was decent, but not ideal; it was watered down by Republicans (and, to be fair, some Democrats, too) beholden to Wall Street.

But the economy has at least partly recovered, and those same Republicans (and, to be fair, some Democrats, too) beholden to Wall Street now want to water down those Dodd-Frank requirements.

They want to raise the threshold of what constitutes a bank that’s too big to be allowed to fail, apparently because even though Republicans (and, to be fair, some Democrats, too) don’t want government meddling in financial industries, they don’t mind bailing out banks.

They want to ease the mortgage-lending rules even though millions of Americans lost their homes because of deceptive mortgage-lending practices in the past. Ease off how? By once again permitting banks to extend mortgages to people who can’t demonstrate that they’ll be able to pay those mortgages.

They want to permit smaller banks – you know, the ones with the less-skilled staff – to engage in the kind of risky trading that helped cause the financial meltdown in the first place.

So why is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee proposing all of this?

Does he think the Wall Street and financial industry people got a bum rap for causing the recession?

Does he think the Wall Street and financial industry people have learned their lesson and won’t do those bad things anymore?

Does he think the regulations are no longer needed since the economy’s now returned to some kind of equilibrium?

Or are he and his fellow Republicans (and, to be fair, some Democrats, too) under pressure from their big campaign contributors to remove the handcuffs and free them once again to do anything they can think of to swindle ordinary people out of their last dime?

About that last one: Richard, Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and the guy advancing this proposal to dilute Dodd-Frank, raised $6.7 million in campaign contributions between 2009 and 2014 (even though he’s eighty-one years old and has no business running again). Of that $6.7 million, $710,000 came from securities and investment firms; $362,000 from insurers; $279,000 from real estate interests; and $262,000 from finance and credit companies. His biggest corporate sources of contributions? Travelers, Bank of New York Mellon, General Electric (although you know GE mostly for its manufacturing, it makes much of its money from GE Capital, its lending arm), American Express, Fidelity Investments, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs.

But surely that’s just a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

A Novel Idea: A Novel

On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in 2007, The Curmudgeon was sitting on his patio enjoying the nice weather when the book he was reading gave him an idea for a short story; that’s often the way such inspiration arises. The novel was Indecent Exposure by Tom Sharpe, the best and funniest writer you’ve never heard of, and it was about the incompetence of the government of South Africa during its apartheid period. Among other things, the government in the novel was unhappy with white policemen having sex with black women, so at the suggestion of a psychiatrist, they attached electrodes to the testicles of police officers and showed them photos of naked black women; if the policemen got aroused, they received a shock to those aforementioned testicles. It worked, and more: not only did the white policemen no longer have sex with black women but they also lost interest in sex with any women at all. For this and other observations about South Africa, Sharpe, a native of Great Britain, was given a courtesy ride to the country’s border and invited never, ever to return.

The novel inspired The Curmudgeon to contemplate a fictional account, just a short story, of one of his pet theories about why urban government in the U.S. so often doesn’t work very well. The idea was to be satirical and funny but not to tell jokes. It would require a deft touch, but it would be a challenge. So decided, The Curmudgeon took out a notebook and jotted down some plot ideas before returning to his reading.

The Curmudgeon is able to recall so precisely exactly when he had this inspiration because he had been to a radiologist the day before for a test and received a call at home from his doctor’s office only an hour later telling him to go out right away for another test and moving up his next appointment from three weeks away to first thing in the morning on the first business day after Labor Day. He was pretty certain he was going to be told he had been diagnosed with, well, you’ve read about that before in this space.

In other words, it wasn’t going to be an ideal time to try being funny, and he knew it. Consequently, the idea sat for nearly a year, with The Curmudgeon occasionally returning to his notebook to add new ways of bringing out the point he wanted to make in the story. Over time, that list grew…and grew. The following August – eleven months after the idea first bloomed – he broke out a fresh notebook and started writing. Three days and sixty-seven handwritten, double-spaced pages later, he stopped because he knew he wasn’t even halfway through all those ideas he had accumulated and his short story was about to reach a point where it was no longer short.

In fact, it was starting to look more like a novel.

The problem was that as novelist, The Curmudgeon thinks he’s a pretty good short story writer. He’d started a novel in college that he never finished, started another while in college and finished it after graduation, started and abandoned another while still in his twenties (and twenty-five years later succeeded in saying everything he wanted to say in that novel in one of the best short stories he thinks he’s ever written), and then started a novel in his late thirties and finished it in his early forties knowing that he had no interest in ever writing a novel again.

Why not? Novel writing is, to be honest, not a whole lot of fun. The ratio of creativity (the fun part) to drudge work (typing, editing, polishing, refining, editing, polishing, refining, editing, polishing, refining, – you get the idea) in writing a short story is far, far more favorable than when writing a novel, so The Curmudgeon was hesitant to turn his short story into a novel. For that reason, he stopped work and spent the next month just thinking about it, about whether he could salvage his idea as a short story or if it needed to be told as a novel, if told at all – and if he concluded it was the latter, did he really want to embark on what would probably be a two-year project that would prevent him from spending much time on the short stories that are his first love?

It took a month, but ultimately, he decided he liked the idea too much to let it go and that he would plunge ahead and pursue the novel. As he suspected, it took nearly two years, with an occasional week off now and then when inspiration struck to crank out the first draft of a new short story that he could come back to when the novel was finished. He likes the final product but doesn’t love it but has decided that instead of just letting it sit on his shelf with his other work that’s never been published because that’s not why he writes, he would share it.

With you.

Dickens-style.

You learned about this in school, about how many writers, like Dickens, wrote novels that were serialized – that may be one of those verbifications The Curmudgeon dislikes so much – in newspapers. New installments would appear weekly, and the writers were paid by the installment (which is why, come to think of it, that in addition to being exceedingly boring, Dickens’ work is also exceedingly long).

Because he prefers writing short fiction, The Curmudgeon naturally gravitated toward writing his novel in short sections, piecing together all those little ideas he had for advancing his story’s theme (okay: did his use of the word “theme” give you an ugly flashback to an unpleasant high school English teacher? If so – sorry) into a more cohesive story. As a result, the finished work is actually fairly short for a novel – more along the lines of Animal Farm than Great Expectations.

So beginning this Sunday and then each Sunday for the next nine or so months – he was serious when he said a lot of short sections – The Curmudgeon will post a chapter, or section, of his novel Taking Care of Business (and no, it’s not a behind-the-scenes look at the 1970s Canadian band Bachman-Turner Overdrive); some of the sections are pretty short, so he may occasionally post two at a time. The longest sections are no more than four or five pages, so they shouldn’t be onerous, and many are only a page or so. On the left-hand side of the screen on which you’re reading right now is a heading that says “Pages” and beneath it is a sub-heading that reads “Taking Care of Business.” There, The Curmudgeon will list all of the sections that have already been posted with a link to each and a list of the characters and a brief description of each as they appear in the story (there aren’t that many characters that appear more than once or twice) because you may be reading – if you stick with it – over such a long period of time.

And he guesses that means he’s also committing to continuing writing this blog for at least the next nine or so months.

And he surprising himself even as he typed those words.

Happy reading:   see you on Sunday for the first installment of Taking Care of Business.